Everything was going fine. Matt Kemp was the best player in MLB. The Dodgers were sporting the best record in MLB. Andre Ethier was hitting again and A.J. Ellis looked like an All Star.
Then, everything went to hell.
When Kemp returned from his hamstring injury, everyone believed the Dodgers would take off and not have to even glimpse in the rear view mirror on their way to winning the NL West. But Matt didn't stay for long, re-injuring his hamstring and returning to the disabled list. The team, which had already done so well in his absence, crumbled.
Not the whole team, though. Mainly, the offense. In June, the team hit .212 with 6 home runs. They OPS'd .571. They scored 83 runs, dead last in MLB. Not just a bad month, a historically bad month.
And don't get me started on the three straight shutouts against the Giants and the 33 inning scoreless streak.
So what happened? Well, everyone stopped hitting. And I mean everyone. The only player with a batting average of above .230 was Juan Rivera. Juan Uribe was, by far, the worst offender, posting a line of .119/.140/.190 in 42 at bats. A.J. Ellis stopped hitting for power, Andre Ethier went on the shelf with an injury. It's a miracle that the club finished the month only 6 games under .500.
Should this recent team-wide slump concern Dodger fans? Yes and no.
By all accounts, Kemp and Ethier should be healthy in the second half. However, soft tissue injuries like the ones to Kemp's hamstring and Ethier's oblique have a tendency to crop out throughout the season. If they stay healthy, the team should have a chance to compete.
Also important are the contributions of role players like the Ellisi, Elian Herrera and Bobby Abreu. Mark Ellis, after returning from his leg injury, could provide a stabilizing presence at the top of the lineup with Dee Gordon out for several weeks. A.J. won't hit for too much power but, again, will give the team a high OBP guy that Mattingly will inexplicably bat 7th. Herrera has the discipline to hit leadoff and I'd much rather bat him at the top of the order than Tony Gwynn Jr.. As for Abreu, if he keeps drawing walks and showing just a little pop, he won't be a black hole in the offense.
I don't expect the left side of the infield to do much. It's been the worst in baseball this season, with Dee Gordon, Juan Uribe and Adam Kennedy posting a sub-.600 OPS collectively. Luis Cruz looked good in spring training and has hit a little in his 7 games, but if the Dodgers are counting on him for run scoring, they're in trouble.
And then there's first base. For as much grief as James Loney has gotten, Juan Rivera is OPSing just .003 points higher. Rivera has proven relatively ineffective against lefties, OPSing .711 against them. Meanwhile, Loney hasn't hit them at all, but hasn't hit righties either, with a .661 OPS against them. This is easily the biggest problem on the Dodgers and one that will likely require some creativity to solve.
The real issue will be getting the right people playing time. With Cruz likely the everyday shortstop and Mark Ellis the everyday second baseman, it's imperative that Jerry Hairston Jr. gets the majority of starts at third and Elian Herrera is given a shot as the full time center fielder.
There's always the possibility of improving the offense through trade, which I'll discuss soon. For now, a healthy Kemp and Ethier along with normalized production from the role players should keep the club in contention.
Next up, the pitching.
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