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The Return of Rafael Furcal

Since Rafael Furcal went of the disabled list last May with lower back pain, the Dodger shortstops have not performed well at all.  Furcal's last game before going on the DL was May 5 against the Mets.  Up to that point, Furcal was easily the Dodgers' MVP, hitting .366/.448/.597, with 34 runs scored in 32 games.

Since last May 5, the Dodgers have played 169 regular season games, slightly more than a full major league season.  Here are the stats for the Dodger shortstops during that stretch:

668 610 77 134 28 3 7 48 44 .220 .276 .310 .586

Mark Belanger, anyone?  That is truly awful production out of the shortstop spot.  Luckily for the Dodgers, Furcal is expected back tonight against those same Mets against whom he last played.  Hopefully, his return will increase the production of the...

What's that?  Furcal has been playing this season?  All season?  Are you sure?

Furcal has played the worst baseball of his career in 2009, hitting to the tune of .233/.290/.293.  Furcal and the Dodgers say he's fine physically, but I don't think a healthy Furcal would be hitting as badly as he is.  Kevin Baxter of the LA Times suggested the problem might be overanxiousness:

Furcal's anxiety is causing him to jump at some pitches and overswing on others, a tendency opposing teams are exploiting.

The Dodgers have had the best offense in the National League, even with subpar production from their shortstop, but they need Furcal to get going offensively to remain on top.  Juan Pierre won't be hitting .419 all year, after all.

Among National League teams, only Pittsburgh (.543 OPS) and Philadelphia (.557 OPS) have received worse production out of their shortstops in 2009 than the Dodgers.

Hitting coach Don Mattingly suggests a fresh approach at the plate for Furcal:

"I really get more concerned with just him getting frustrated and letting things kind of snowball. That's what I don't want to happen," Mattingly said.

"There's a big chunk of the year left and sometimes guys let that early-on [slump] affect what's going to happen instead of putting this behind them.

"And that's really what I want to happen. For him to flip the page and start over. It's today. It doesn't matter what happened yesterday."

Furcal's new season starts tonight, against the last team he played against before getting hurt in 2008.