The Nickel: 5-3, The Season: 12-12
The Developing Theme:
The team seems to be coming together despite the continuing struggle to get above .500. We finally got a look at our first baseman and he delivered the best moment of the season so far with a 9th inning grand slam off of Brad Lidge. If this is the Nomar we got, it's a steal. The pitching looked nice, too. Tomko had a couple of good starts, and the bullpen pecking order was established with Saito and Baez taking the leading roles. Lowe looked like a front-of-the-rotation guy as well. While Penny cooled a little, he still looks like an ace out there.
Unfortunately, the big story continues to be the struggles of the 1 and 4 hitters, our middle infield. Furcal's bat is nowhere to be found, and the defense isn't really impressing either. There is some speculation that his body is hurting. If that's the case, he probably needs to head to the DL and make room for somebody else. Even more vexing is Kent's recent slump at the plate. He hasn't been the threat that he was last year, leaving one to wonder if his wrist is O.K. Regardless, we head into nickel number 4 hoping these guys can find even a mediocre stroke while the others maintain.
The Hot Ones:
Jason Repko has been on the hot list all year. He's beginning to make that hot start not look like a fluke. He actually improved to a 1.189 OPS for games 17-24, leading the team in both slugging percentage (.727) and runs scored (7, tied with Lofton). He deserves a chance to play regularly at this point.
J.D. Drew keeps it going with a three-homer nickel, 1.013 OPS and a team-leading 8 RBI. He and Repko have been the steady forces in a volatile season.
Kenny Lofton also came through with a monster nickel, scoring 7, stealing 2 out of 2, and mixing in 2 triples to OPS 1.083. He'll make a fine leadoff hitter if Furcal has to be moved out of there.
The hot hitter list wouldn't be complete without mentioning Nomar Garciaparra and Dioner Navarro. Nomar, of course, had the most exciting moment of the year with his grand slam off of Brad Lidge. He OPSed .965 in 6 games, with a couple doubles and four walks. That's a nice line, even for a first baseman. Dioner broke out of his funk by hitting in 7 of the 8 games, despite striking out 8 times (also in 7 of 8 games). The .900 OPS closed the hole at the end of the lineup
Derek Lowe replaces Penny as the top starter for the nickel. A WHIP of 0.86 was stronger than his 5.1 K/9, and the good start came at an opportune time. Nomar wouldn't have had a chance to be the hero if Lowe hadn't gotten the team through the early innings.
Bret Tomko looked solid with a WHIP of 0.92 despite only 4.2 K/9. His timely contribution allowed the Dodgers to win in both of his starts.
Takashi Saito continues to deal baffling stuff, recording a 12.8 K/9. While he gave up the go-ahead run in the comeback victory against Houston, he still struck out the side. His WHIP rose to 0.79, which is still nice for a number 2 reliever. He was rejoined by Danny Baez for the nickel, who recorded a 0.38 WHIP, albeit with a slightly weaker K/9 of 5.1. If this trend continues, Saito may end up being the go-to guy when we need a strikeout, though Tim Hamulak showed some ability as well with 9 K/9
The two pitching disappointments, Lance Carter and Hong-Chih Kuoboth exhibited wildness which cost them and the team. Carter's dismal 3.00 WHIP and 18 BB/9 got him sent to Las Vegas, as did Kuo's 2.70 WHIP and 16.2 BB/9. I'm guessing what's sent to Vegas stays in Vegas, with Broxton looking very good in the altitude and adding some heat to the Dodger `pen.
I recently referred to Rafael Furcal and Jeff Kent as the Mendoza Brothers. With the nickel they turned in, it looks like I was being generous. Furcal OPSed .402 with a .133 BA. His saving grace was the 4 walks he earned and the 5 runs he scored. Kent did even worse: .393 OPS, .120 slugging percentage. Yes, slugging percentage. With all that, and 6 K's to boot, he still managed 6 RBI. Whether you credit his ability to drive in runs or his ability to be batting fourth, its still not enough to make up for the lack of production.