COMMENTARY | As the Los Angeles Dodgers begin the post-All-Star Game "second half" of the season, they find themselves in second place in the NL West with a 47-47 record, just 2.5 games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks. After a rough start with injuries galore and a number of unproductive and roster-clogging veterans, the club got mostly healthy and infused talented and productive youth into the roster.
As the All-Star Break passes, the Dodgers -- who have made their move with strong play over the last month, going 17-8 since June 19 -- will need to do a lot well, have a few breaks go their way, and be healthier than they've been for most of the season in order to find success and make the postseason.
Though I've written that shutting down Matt Kemp is the Dodgers' best option when handling their stud centerfielder's shoulder woes, I doubt they would really consider it. With that in mind, a healthy Kemp improves the Dodgers' lineup immeasurably, even with him likely hitting for less power.
Yasiel Puig has been an entirely different player since injuring his hip after running into the outfield wall in Colorado. Since that game, he's been in and out of the lineup and hit just .267/.306/.311/.617. He was never going to hit as well as he had to start his big league career, particularly with less batted ball luck, but his BABIP since then is still .375 (it was .513 prior to the injury).
Carl Crawford has battled a number of ailments this season, but prior to a hamstring injury he was very productive in left field for the Dodgers. The club could use a healthy Crawford hitting like he was before his DL-stint, especially with Kemp and Puig hurting.
Strong Play From Unlikely Sources
Juan Uribe has been somewhat of a godsend at third for the Blue Crew. His defense was never a question, but he's been solid with the bat while expectations were anything but. A .270/.343/.413/.756 line isn't great, but combined with excellent defense and the fact that it prevents Luis Cruz/Nick Punto/Jerry Hairston from starting the majority of games makes it look oh so much sweeter.
Stephen Fife, though he's currently injured, was a stabilizer at the back end of the rotation. Though he hadn't pitched as well as his 2.76 ERA would suggest (3.94 FIP), he was striking out almost three times as many guys as he walked. He was a more than capable number 5 and his return could save the club from unnecessarily dealing prospects for Matt Garza, as I discussed recently.
Puig's projected playing time this season appeared to be limited at best with an outfield logjam in L.A., but injuries forced the Dodgers' hand. If he can be half as good as he started out before hurting himself, he'll be a huge factor down the stretch.
Hanley Ramirez isn't going to continue hitting as well as he has, but he's more than capable of being closer to the guy he was between 2006-2010 than the guy whose falling offensive prowess made him even more of a liability playing a disastrous defensive shortstop (2011-2012).
Hyun-Jin Ryu entered as an unknown, but he's been an excellent number three and gives the Dodgers one of the best 1-2-3 punches in all of baseball. If he can put up anywhere close to a 3.09 ERA and 3.58 FIP in the second half and the Dodgers make the playoffs, their rotation will give them a great chance to advance.
The Dodgers can only do so much and will need other teams in the NL West and NL Wild Card race to play worse than them. Winning their division games will go a long way towards that, but luck is already such a huge factor in winning and losing baseball games that a bit extra falling on the Dodgers' side of the ledger is certainly needed.
Not Putting Brandon League in High-Leverage Situations
This one's pretty self-explanatory, and quite crucial. League in 2013 has been a horrendous albatross around both the Dodgers' payroll and chances of winning close games. He's got an ERA of 6.25; a FIP of 5.24; a negative fWAR; and the confidence of nobody in the organization that he can actually get meaningful outs.
Greg Zakwin is the founder of Plaschke, Thy Sweater Is Argyle, a Dodgers' and sports card blog. He writes with an analytical tilt about The Blue Crew at ChadMoriyama.com. You can find and follow him on Twitter @ArgyledPlaschke. A graduate of UCLA in 2011 with a Bachelor's in History, he's been a follower of the Dodgers since birth and still mourns the loss of both Mike Piazza and Carlos Santana.
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