About six weeks ago, I examined the Dodger batting order, wondering how this oddly assembled mismash of players would fit behind Rafael Furcal at the top. I reviewed some options, but basically determined that there was no perfect solution, particularly at #2.
Over the weekend, a story from Ken Gurnick of dodgers.com has helped us gain a little bit of insight into what Don Mattingly is thinking:
One day before he addresses the full squad for the first time as manager, Don Mattingly said Monday he plans to bat Ethier third and Kemp fourth and keep them there “all year long.”
Mattingly said he’s still thinking about Casey Blake as a No. 2 hitter behind leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal. That would likely mean James Loney following Kemp, with Uribe sixth, the left-field platoon of Marcus Thames/Jay Gibbons seventh and the catching platoon of Rod Barajas/Dioner Navarro eighth.
Ethier at 3 and Kemp at 4 is what I predicted in January, and it could be awesome, or it could just as easily be disastrous. Nonetheless, it’s an acceptable use of imperfect options, because we’ve known all winter that the success of the 2011 largely hinges on what you get out of those two. JaMarcus Gwybbons, Jr., at 7 and the catchers at 8 is also the best you can do with those subpar choices, so that’s fine as well. Loney at 5 and Uribe at 6 seems to also make sense, continuing the L/R balance of the lineup and pushing Uribe’s inferior OBP down as far as you can; ideally, he’ll often come up with some combination of Ethier, Kemp, and Loney on base, allowing his occasional power to do the most damage.
That brings us to the only really questionable idea, which is putting Casey Blake in the two spot. I certainly understand Mattingly’s thinking there, because it does make for a great L/R lineup balance (on days that Gibbons or Gwynn starts at #7, there wouldn’t be a single situation with back-to-back hitters from the same side), and there’s quite honestly no obvious solution. The problem, of course, is that Blake is hardly the ideal answer himself. At 37, he’s coming off what is arguably the worst year of his career; his 27.1 whiff percentage is the highest he’s ever had, and his .159 ISO is the lowest he’s had since 2002. He’s making less contact, he’s hitting for less power, and his age doesn’t exactly promise a rebound. It’s not really the kind of hitter you want to see getting the second-most at-bats in your lineup, or the kind of guy who gives you hope that he can advance Furcal into scoring position for Ethier and Kemp to take advantage of.
Still, I’m hard-pressed to offer a better solution. Uribe’s brand of low OBP and decent power certainly doesn’t fit the spot any better, though I do wonder if James Loney may be an interesting choice there. We all know that Loney has little power, though his K rate was 10% less than Blake’s. On the other hand, that could certainly turn into more double plays, given Loney’s propensity for hitting grounders nearly half the time. I guess the tiebreaker here is that it would also mess with the L/R split, because you’d have lefties at 2 and 3, and righties at 4-5-6 (assuming it’d be Kemp-Blake-Uribe).
So I suppose it comes down to this: I don’t like Casey Blake as a #2 hitter, but there’s also not a really great alternative. So I tentatively approve of Mattingly’s choices here, since he’s doing the best with the limited options he’s been handed.
Vicente Padilla is heading to LA to have MRI on his right elbow, which has similar pains as last year. Results expected tomorrow.
That’s not a great sign, though it does underscore the importance of all of the pitching depth Ned Colletti put together this offseason. If anything, it might scuttle any prospective battle between Padilla and Jon Garland for the #5 spot, since it sounds like Padilla’s injury concerns might make him more effectively used in short bursts anyway.