Dodgers in First Place

It may not be how they planned it. But after Hiroki Kuroda's near-perfect 1-hit gem last night, the Dodgers are tied for first place in the NL West with a 44-45 record.

While it's easy to be cynical about the Dodgers current standing, it's hard to deny that they have been playing visibly better baseball of late. The Dodgers are 8-3 in their last 11 games, and appear to have bought into Joe Torre's system. Torre's New York teams always seemed to get better as the season wore on, and it's possible that we'll see the same with the Dodgers. One of Torre's strengths is his ability to manage a clubhouse for a full 162 game schedule, and keep a team mentally strong through the ebbs and flows of a long season. The Dodgers may still be in a transition period, but it's nice to see Torre's influence begin to rub off on this bunch.

In the meantime, some Dodger fans are upset that the team couldn't pull off of a deal for CC Sabathia, who wound up with the Brewers. While Sabathia would have been a fantastic addition, as Bill Shaikin points out in the LA Times today, the Dodgers didn't really match up well for a trade with the Indians.

Some have bemoaned that the Dodgers are trying to win with "kids," but in reality, the best way to win in baseball these days is by building a solid foundation through a strong farm system. While it can be extremely frustrating to watch some of their young players go through growing pains, it's the right way to go. The Dodgers are on their fifth general manager this decade and have been inconsistent in recent years because they haven't had the leadership in place long enough to be patient with a plan.

A few days ago, Bill Plaschke in the LA Times said the Dodger young players have been "coddled." I'm not in the Dodger clubhouse, so I don't know what is really happening. But as Jon Weisman points out in Dodger Thoughts, that seems a bit far-fetched. Weisman notes that most of the Dodger young players have been sent down, benched, and/or criticized in the media. Yet I would argue that Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Russell Martin, James Loney, Blake DeWitt, Chad Billingsley, and Jonathan Broxton have all earned their places in Dodger lineup. Also, from my perception, Ned Colletti and Joe Torre don't seem like the type of people who would coddle anyone.

I do think the young Dodgers could benefit from some veteran leadership though. The Tampa Bay Rays (which I have close connections to) are having an excellent season thus far and have benefited from the additions of Troy Percival and Cliff Floyd. Both players have been fantastic veteran leaders on one of baseball's youngest teams, and they have played an instrumental role in leading the Rays to the best record in baseball to this point. Down in Orange County, I think the Angels have really been helped by the leadership that Torii Hunter provides.

While it's possible the Dodger veterans are providing this leadership, I don't recall having read too many articles or quotes praising them in this role. I have read quotes from Jeff Kent criticizing his younger teammates though. It's also worth noting that many of the Dodger veterans have been injured this season, and there have been large chunks of this season when the Dodgers have had a higher payroll on the DL than on the field. It is somewhat difficult for a player to lead when he's at the training table or on a rehab assignment

If the Dodgers can continue to get healthy, and if they can continue to learn from Joe Torre, then I do like their chances to improve in the second half. They are fortunate to be tied for first place considering all of their struggles this season. But it does seem like they're getting better at the right time.

July 8, 2008 6:39 AM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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