But here’s what we’ve really learned: almost nothing. We’ve learned almost nothing, because there’s not much you can learn about a team by April 4, especially not when Zack Greinke & Chad Billingsley & Hanley Ramirez haven’t even played yet. One bad inning by Justin Sellers hasn’t taught us that he’s suddenly a lousy defensive shortstop; one error by Skip Schumaker hasn’t taught us that he’s a poor infielder, because we already knew that. Anybody who says they know, with absolute certainty, anything more about this team than they did four days ago is either lying or mistaken.
That all being said, these three games all count, and we can take away some early observations from a few days of play. Observations like…
1) I’m starting to get pretty excited about Carl Crawford.
Crawford’s been unquestionably the brightest surprise of the young season, having reached base six times in ten trips to the plate. (I’m going to assume here that we all understand the concept of “small sample size” by now and that I don’t need to repeat it ten times in this piece.) He’s looked comfortable at the plate and on the bases; in the field, it’s a bit more of a work-in-progress, but we expected that. What we had no idea about was how he’d be with the bat, and after a good spring he’s off to a wonderful start. If — and this remains an enormous if — a healthy left arm and a revised stance can get him back to something resembling the threat he was in Tampa, that not only solves the leadoff hole, it completely reshapes the offense. There’s still a long way to go before we can say that, but so far, so good.
2) It’s not time to panic, but it is okay to be a little worried about Matt Kemp.
After a slow spring, Kemp is hitless through his first three games, and fans are noticing. I can’t argue that he looks a little… off. On Opening Day, he had a great at-bat against Matt Cain, fouling off pitch after pitch that helped cost Cain 29 bullets in the first inning and almost certainly contributed to Cain’s relatively short day. Kemp was celebrated for that tough appearance, and rightfully so. Except… what was somewhat lost in that glee is that when he’s right, Kemp doesn’t foul those pitches off. He squares them up, and he crushes them. Obviously, Kemp’s coming off shoulder surgery which limited his workouts, and while he claims he’s fine, I think this is going to take a little time. There’s no action to take here other than to let him work things out.
3) The bench is an oddly-constructed mess.
Sellers can’t hit. Juan Uribe really can’t hit. Schumaker can hit, sort of, but his utility is limited when he’s that much of a downgrade from Mark Ellis with the glove. Jerry Hairston won’t embarrass himself with the bat, but he can only play one outfield corner at once, which means either Crawford or Andre Ethier sees a ton more lefties than they really ought to. Nick Punto‘s not completely without utility in the right situation, but being on a bench with four other guys who basically are Nick Punto isn’t one of them. I don’t know if it’s a trade — Casper Wells, where are you! — an Alex Castellanos recall, or something else, but this is a bench without power or hope. I can’t see this working for too long.
4) So far, so good with the pitching.
No one’s happy about last night’s outing, though I’ll give Josh Beckett some understanding for getting beat on a neck-high ball that Pablo Sandoval had no business swinging at. Still, in 27 innings, Dodger pitching has walked just two and allowed four earned runs. Again, that’s without Billingsley or Greinke, and while you can’t expect Kershaw to be that wonderful every time out, at least Hyun-jin Ryu showed some promise in his debut.
Three games down, 159 more to go.