Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Way too easy to knock Dodgers 9-1 start

The Dodgers won nine of their first ten games, playing the San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates. Is that a good sign? For the Dodgers, it's a very good sign.


By BILL PETERSON
Big Leagues in LA

Concerns about the quality of opposition have tempered euphoria about the Dodgers' 9-1 start. Should fans be giddy about beating the San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates?

Depends on what makes you giddy. If you're happy with a playoff contender, any 9-1 start is a good sign. Only the playoffs compel your baseball club to defeat winning teams. During the regular season, winning teams win by defeating losing teams, which lose.

In 2011, the six clubs that won divisions held the six best records against losing clubs. The best was Milwaukee at 69-32. The worst was Detroit at 67-44. Of those six clubs, two held losing records against winning teams, one broke even against those teams and three finished with winning records against those clubs. The best was Philadelphia at 37-25. The worst was Milwaukee at 27-34.

Half of the 2011 playoff field failed to post winning records against winning teams – Arizona, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Texas. St. Louis (30-30 against clubs .500 and better) and Texas (35-37) played in the World Series.

If your team can win two out of three against the losers and just break even against the winners, it adds up to around 95 wins, which should be comfortably enough for a playoff berth. So, Dodgers fans should fear nothing from their 9-1 start against the Pirates and Padres. Neither club is very good, true, but neither is even approximately the worst in the National League. They still haven't gotten to the Houston Astros or Chicago Cubs.

Dodgers fans should take wins against losers as a good sign, for two reasons. First, the games are all weighted the same. The Dodgers receive no more "points" for beating winners than for beating losers.

Ask the Atlanta Braves. Last year, the Braves missed the playoffs by one game as the Cardinals overtook them for the wild card position. The Braves were 61-41 against losing teams and 28-32 against winning teams. But for two more wins against the Padres or Pirates, the Braves would have made the playoffs and history would be changed. The Braves finished a combined 8-7 against those clubs last year.

The other reason 9-1 is good news? It's early. Last year, the Dodgers were 37-51 through the Wednesday before the All-Star Game. From that point, they were 45-28. The difference was entirely in their results against losing clubs.

During those first 88 games, the Dodgers were 21-33 against losers. During the last 73 games, they were 28-8 against losers. Throw in this year's 9-1 and the Dodgers are a torrid 38-9 against losers from then to now.

Against winners, there was almost no difference. The Dodgers were 16-18 against winners during the first portion of 2011 and 17-20 against winners during the second portion.

Apparently, the Dodgers you see now are the Dodgers you missed while you were boycotting Frank McCourt last August, but not the Dodgers you missed while boycotting McCourt last April. In fact, the Dodgers were 14-3 against the Padres and Pirates during their winning portion of 2011, but 5-4 against them during the losing portion.

The difference between the early 2012 Dodgers and the late 2011 Dodgers is that early 2012 started the season with a clean slate, while late 2011 started 14 games below .500. As Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly told reporters after Sunday's game, everybody is fighting early in the season. It's not like you’re beating teams that have packed it in. These are all good wins.

If we're looking for problems with the Dodgers, they're easy enough to find. We might start by pointing out that only two guys are hitting – Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Maybe Kemp is hitting enough for two hitters right now – 39 at bats, 13 runs, six homers, 16 RBI, .487/.523/.1.026/1.548. NL Player of the Week three weeks running – the first two weeks of this year and the final week of last year. A great player on a hot streak carrying a team offensively. A sight to behold.

Kemp won't hit three homers per week through the entire season, so the Dodgers need to hear more from James Loney, Juan Uribe, Juan Rivera and Dee Gordon. But Ethier is giving Kemp good support right now, and that has been enough.

Is that because the Dodgers are playing Pittsburgh and San Diego?  Don't knock it. They count.

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