Let’s Not Forget the Bright Spots

Let’s face it: this season has been nothing short of a disaster so far. The things we all thought would go wrong (weak starting pitching, lousy bench, existence of Garret Anderson) have indeed gone wrong. But it’s been far more than just that – and Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts has an extremely detailed and worthwhile look at exactly this subject – because even the things we thought would go right, like a solid bullpen and decent defense, have gone wrong as well.

So after Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley each got slapped around in the first two games of a disastrous series against the Brewers, if I told you that in the finale you’d be seeing the second career start of unheralded rookie John Ely (who gave up five runs to the Mets in his first start last week) followed by Jonathan Broxton blowing a rare save attempt, you’d probably have been wise to not even turn the game on.

Yet… as bad as things are, there’s still glimmers of hope, most of which can be found wearing #16 in right field, because Andre Ethier is simply outrageous right now. Last season’s run of walkoff hits was fun, but generally considered a statistical oddity, much like how Don Mattingly set the single-season record for grand slams in 1987, and never hit another one again. Yet for all the excitement about the five-tool athleticism of Matt Kemp (when we’re not harrassing him for his celebrity girlfriend or indifferent defense), Ethier’s the one who provides more excitement than any Dodger we’ve seen in years.

After he saved Broxton (and no, I’m not getting on Broxton here. Joe Torre pitches him once a week. What did you expect was going to happen?) with a walkoff grand slam, Ethier’s line is an unreal .371/.440/.722. A .722 slugging percentage! Not that I expect him to keep that up all year, but if he did, that would tie him for the 23rd highest mark in major league history. (And that moves up to 15th highest, if you don’t respect the work of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire.)

Seriously, look at the NL leaderboard right now for the Triple Crown categories, and remember that this is a league with guys like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, and Hanley Ramirez:

And that really could be his face on all three of those, because he’s tied with Kelly Johnson for the home run lead, and “Arizona” just comes before “Los Angeles” in alphabetical order. 

But what’s really impressive is that – at least over the first month plus – Ethier has solved his biggest problem from previous years, and that was his complete inability to hit lefties:

2006: .842 vs RH, .846 vs LH
2007: .830 vs RH, .816 vs LH
2008: .953 vs RH, .692 vs LH
2009: .960 vs RH, .629 vs LH

Granted, 9 of his 10 homers in 2010 have come against righties, but he’s still got a line of .387/.457/.581 against his fellow southpaws. If he’s truly figured it out, and no longer needs to be strategically kept away from lefties, then he’s ascended from “damn good player” to “legitimate superstar”. It gets better – last year he struck out 116 times against 72 walks, which is still pretty good as far as power hitters go. This year, that’s an even 11 of each, and he’s on pace for 62 homers and 185 RBI. I wouldn’t be too disappointed if he doesn’t quite reach those historic heights, but we could be looking at one of the greatest offensive years in Dodger history right here.

I don’t want to let Ethier’s heroics completely overshadow Ely’s performance, either  – taking a scoreless game into the 7th, striking out 7 while walking zero is an amazing performance. (Even if he didn’t get the win, because… well, you know.) This does lead to an interesting situation, though. Most expected that Ely would get sent back to AAA when Jeff Weaver is activated this weekend. But how do you send him down now, after a performance like that, when the rotation is completely in shambles? There’s still a chance that Charlie Haeger gets the boot, but he’s already been named the Saturday starter, and even if he’s not in the rotation his ability to pitch for long stretches out of the bullpen is invaluable to a team like this. You could lose Carlos Monasterios, but he’s been impressive in his short time up.

Could it be that this is finally the end of Ramon Ortiz? A man can dream. Plus, Xavier Paul got on base three times last night and stole a base, while Garret Anderson flew out as a pinch-hitter. With Manny coming back this weekend as well… well, I won’t get my hopes up. Let’s just say, if I could get rid of both members of the “old guy DFA tracker” at the same time, life would be good.