A pair of offseason additions are having the desired effect on the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Buoyed by an improved offense, the first-place Dodgers look to continue their fast start when they face the punchless New York Mets in the opener of a three-game series.
After Los Angeles batted an NL-worst .243 last season, it wasn’t difficult to see the team had to improve its offense to compete in 2004. In an effort to bolster a lineup with little power, Los Angeles acquired Juan Encarnacion from Florida on Dec. 13 and fellow outfielder Milton Bradley from Cleveland on April 4.
“When (Bradley became a Dodger) less than 24 hours before the season started, it allowed us to put our plan in motion,” manager Jim Tracy said.
Though Bradley is hitting just .265 and Encarnacion is batting .232, their presence in the lineup has benefitted holdovers Dave Roberts, Adrian Beltre, Shawn Green, Paul Lo Duca and Cesar Izturis. Los Angeles is hitting .277 this season.
“They weren’t around to listen to all that negative stuff about our hitting,” said Roberts, batting .281 with a major league-leading 13 steals.
The improved offense has helped the Dodgers win 12 of their first 18 games. They were 7-11 after 18 games last season—8 1/2 games behind San Francisco in the NL West.
Bradley hit a pair of solo home runs for his first multihomer game and Kaz Ishii pitched a four-hitter for his first career shutout and complete game in a 9-0 victory over San Francisco on Sunday.
It was the sixth win in seven games this season against the Giants for the Dodgers, who lost 13 of 19 against their biggest rivals in 2003.
While offense is the main reason the Dodgers are in first place, a lack of production is the biggest problem for the Mets, losers of three straight and eight of 10.
New York was held hitless for 6 1-3 innings and struck out 13 times against Chicago’s Matt Clement Sunday in a 4-1 loss to the Cubs.
The Mets, who batted .225 (14-for-62) in three straight losses at Wrigley Field, have scored 13 runs in their last nine games. They are batting .229 this season, better than only Montreal in the NL.
“I’m getting tired of seeing the same thing everyday,” New York manager Art Howe said. “Everybody needs to get it going. It’s not just one guy.”
“It’s very similar (to last season) to a large degree because we were short-handed,” Howe said. “The injuries we had last year, we knew were very extensive, and it cost us a lot of games. We’re hoping we’re going to be getting a couple of these guys back.”
New York has won 15 of its last 23 games at Dodger Stadium.
STANDINGS (through April 25): Mets - 4th place, 5 1/2 GB, NL East. Dodgers - 1st place, NL West.
METS PROBABLE STARTER: Tom Glavine (2-1, 1.00 ERA). The left-hander has been very sharp in his first four starts, allowing three earned runs and 15 hits in 27 innings. Glavine limited Montreal to one earned run and five hits through seven innings Wednesday in a 2-1 loss. He is 16-18 with a 3.68 ERA in 44 career starts against the Dodgers.
DODGERS PROBABLE STARTER: Hideo Nomo (3-1, 6.55 ERA). Though the former Met doesn’t have an impressive ERA, he has pitched effectively in three straight starts. Nomo lasted six innings in a 9-4 victory at Colorado on Wednesday, yielding four runs and nine hits. He has been helped by a Dodgers’ offense that has scored 23 runs in his past three outings. Nomo is 3-3 with a 3.15 ERA in 10 career starts against New York.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Mets - Shane Spencer, .333 avg.; Mike Piazza, Karim Garcia and Mike Cameron, 3 HRs; Wigginton, 9 RBIs; Cameron, 11 runs and 5 SBs. Dodgers - Lo Duca, .452 avg.; Beltre, 6 HRs; Bradley, 18 RBIs; Green, 15 runs; Roberts, 13 SBs.
2003 SEASON SERIES: Tied, 3-3.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Mets - New York has scored one run or fewer in eight of the last 13 games. … C Piazza has gone 16 straight games without a home run, driving in two runs during that stretch. … CF Cameron leads the majors with 23 strikeouts. Dodgers - Los Angeles has won all four games this season when scoring in the first inning. … C Lo Duca is 9-for-17 (.529) lifetime against LHP Glavine. … SS Izturis is batting .288 during a 13-game hitting (15-for-52) streak.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Mets - 3-6 on the road; Dodgers - 6-3 at home.
INJURIES: Mets - 2B Reyes (hamstring), 15-day DL; 3B Wigginton (ulcer), 15-day DL; OF Floyd (quadriceps), 15-day DL; RHP Scott Erickson (hamstring), 15-day DL; RHP Scott Strickland (elbow), 60-day DL; INF Mo Vaughn (knee), 60-day DL. Dodgers - OF Jayson Werth (oblique), 15-day DL; RHP Paul Shuey (thumb), 15-day DL; C Todd Hundley (back), 60-day DL.