The Nickel: 3-5, The Season: 15-17
The Developing Theme:
The Streaks. The team that hadn't put together more than two wins or losses in a row coughed up a 6-0 ninth inning lead to start a five game losing streak, followed by a sweep of the Brewers. It was bound to happen sooner or later, but I would have preferred to start with the wins (which the Dodgers were about to do, considering that they would have swept the Padres if they could have held on to the win). This group seems to be pretty even-keeled, and the players all indicated that they had seen this before, and it's just the way the ball bounces.
Still, it was a disappointing stretch. In letting the Padres off the hook, they not only lost a game in the standings, but seemed to have woken the Pads up. "Seemed" is the key word here, as the Padres could hardly be expected to continue floundering the way they have. It was actually the games against the Diamondbacks that hurt the most, as they are as prospect-rich as the Dodgers and likely to be tough to catch down the stretch. With the Dodgers clawing their way back in it, it appears to still be anyone's division.
As a group, the Dodger pitchers struggled, which shouldn't surprise anyone since they went 3-5 for the nickel. It all started with Lance Carter and Danys Baez failing to preserve a 6 run lead in the ninth inning at Petco Park. This was just a day after I had to listen to Kevin Kennedy and Steve Lyons go on about how brilliant Ned Colletti was for getting a proven closer. Well, here are the proven closer's numbers for the nickel: 2.77 WHIP, 2 strikeouts, 2 walks, a hit batter, a wild pitch and no save in 4 1/3 innings. Not shockingly bad for four appearances, but it hardly confirms Colletti's genius.
The guys who struggled out of the bullpen the most during this stretch were Saito and Hamulack. Saito struck out 4 in 2 2/3 innings, but wildness (4 BB) hurt him, and he ended up with a team-high 3.75 WHIP and an ERA of 16.88 for the nickel. Hamulack also struck out 4 in 3 innings, but walked 3 and ended up with a WHIP of 3.33 and an ERA of 18.00. Only Joe Biemel (called up to replace the struggling Hong-Chih Kuo) impressed out of the pen. He posted a team-low 0.63 WHIP in 6 1/3 innings. While he only struck out 1, he made a pretty good pitch to stay with the big-league club.
With the exception of Odalis Perez, the starting pitching was pretty solid. The veteran pitchers Brett Tomko and Aaron Sele were particularly encouraging, posting WHIPs of 1.00 and 0.90, respectively. This marks Tomko's second consecutive hot nickel, which is more than I would have expected. Sele's performance is somewhat suspect, since he only struck out 2 batters, but Tomko racked up 9 in seven innings of one-hit (and barely a hit, at that) ball. Derek Lowe continued to pitch well with a WHIP of 1.05 and an ERA of 1.35. Penny, while not terrible, still struggles to strike people out (4 in 11 1/3 innings). This worries me.
It was a strange nickel for the batters. Of the five players with more than 15 at-bats in the eight games, only Nomar Garciaparra (.874) managed to OPS over .800, but Rafael Furcal may be breaking out of a season long slump with an OPS of .726, which included a home run. Despite this fact, the team OPS was a decent .793, supported by a strong performance from players who saw less playing time: Olmedo Saenz, Russell Martin, Jose Cruz, Dioner Navarro, Oscar Robles, and Ramon Martinez all OPSed over 1.000, which is amazing. If the team hadn't been losing, the lead story for the nickel would have probably been "The Bench Comes Through in the Clutch," or something like it.
Bill Mueller struggled while playing with some aches and pains, posting an OPS of .451, which was actually impressive in light of his .077 batting average. Jason Repko also struggled for the first time this season (.397 OPS and 2 K's in 12 at bats). His playing time was spotty, with only 3 starts in 8 games. Hopefully the two are not related, because Repko is unlikely to be installed as an everyday player. It's a sad state of affairs when an OPS of .576 is encouraging, but Jeff Kent is taking only baby steps to get on track, posting a 2.15 batting average, but managing to show a little power with 2 doubles. The team will be thankful when he gets it going (please).