Two games and 21 runs in to kick off the second half has me in a good enough mood to post Part II of the midterm report card.
Actually, that's very good hitting. The Dodgers lead the NL in runs scored (443), and that's why their somewhat average record doesn't seem so bland. Led by off-season pickup Nomar Garciaparra, the lineup has cranked out a team OPS of .804 in 3,103 plate appearances through July 4th (Technically, this is a little off. For example, it doesn't include Ross' numbers, which would make the numbers even better).
Here are some of the tops in OPS:
1.010 Nomar Garciaparra (279 PA)
.928 Andre Ethier (166 PA)
.909 Jason Repko (80 PA)
.877 Matt Kemp (114 PA)
.869 Olmedo Saenz (130 PA)
.858 J.D. Drew (301) PA
.837 Jeff Kent (260 PA)
.817 Ramon Martinez (116 PA)
.814 Russell Martin (194 PA)
The striking thing about that list is that there are four rookies and two reserves on it. A pessimistic fan might claim that it is doomed to collapse, but the optimist in me says that the veterans will get it going in the second half. There's probably some truth in both views. Kent's .837, for example is mostly due to his strong performance since the beginning of May, and Repko's .909 was achieved in just 80 plate appearances. I think that it is fair to expect Kent to be superior with the bat in the second half.
Nomar is the crown jewel of the Dodger offense, posting an OPS of 1.010, coming through repeatedly in late innings, and generally making Ned Colletti look good. Nomar is a name brand, the likely last addition to the all-star squad, and a great personality. Oh yeah, and he leads the NL in batting average. I still wonder if he might be better used at third base, at least against lefties when Saenz could start at first. Izturis, bless him, just doesn't scream "corner infielder" to me.
If Drew and Kent produce to their career levels, Nomar stays hot, and Furcal wakes up, the offense should continue to dominate for the second half. The nice thing is that it isn't unreasonable to expect all of those things to happen.
Good Pitching (Some of it)
In the bullpen, two pitchers stand out, plus one honorable mention.
Takashi Saito, who started the season at Las Vegas (AAA), has been a savior in the bullpen. With a WHIP of just 0.78 and sporting a K/BB ratio of over 6.5, he has become the go-to guy in tough situations. Baez was supposed to fill this role, but you just never know what will happen, especially with relievers. It's fair to say that he's done more good for the team than any pitcher in the bullpen.
Also at Las Vegas at the beginning of the season was Jonathan Broxton. Many fans were hoping that the team would use him as the closer until Gagne arrived even before the season began. I think those views have been vindicated, at least so far. Broxton has a WHIP of 1.21, which pegs him as a very effective reliever. Combine that with his ability to go multiple innings, and he gives Little a potent weapon.
The honorable mention goes to Joe Beimel, who has had an unusually successful run so far. His career numbers just don't support the notion that he can sustain the 1.28 WHIP that he flashed in the first half. For his sake and mine, though, I hope he does.
Two starters have come through, too. No surprise that they are all-star Brad Penny and Derek Lowe. Penny, while struggling at times to work deep into the game (and providing us with some drama when he expressed his displeasure at being pulled in the fifth when he had 8 runs of support), has really shined. His ERA of 2.94 and WHIP of 1.20 have allowed the Dodgers a chance to win in virtually every start. With the team leading the NL in runs scored, it's no surprise that Penny has a record of 9-2. Meanwhile, Derek Lowe took a while to get his record to match up with his peripherals. While he is now 7-4, he was not getting "wins" in the early going. But who cares? His WHIP is a solid 1.20 and his ERA is 3.49. While these may not be Cy Young numbers, they are way more than adequate.
Come to think of it, three starters have really come through, because Aaron Sele has done far more than expected. Like Saito and Broxton, he was not part of the opening day roster. Yet he has been consistent and solid since he was brought up. His WHIP of 1.32 and ERA of 3.05 are good for a number three starter, so as a replacement number five starter, he's been great. Really, he is the number three starter now.
I think the prospects for the second half are pretty good for the pitching, too. But it is much harder to figure out how it will all play out. First, it remains to be seen if Colletti will make a move for someone in the class of Lowe and Penny, or if he will try to make do with weaker/less consistent pitching. Also, will Perez get a chance to prove himself? At this point there seems to be little to lose by simply packing him off to Las Vegas and letting him get himself sorted out. He might come in handy if Sele stumbles, or Tomko can't regain form. There are a lot of ways to go, and this seems to be the key for success this season.