Thursday, June 28, 2012

Dodger hitting woes part players, part lineup

The Dodgers are back in Dodger Stadium Thursday after a dreadful trip along the West Coast. They're not hitting left-handed pitchers, and they're not hitting right-handed pitchers. After being shut out three straight in San Francisco this week, the Dodgers and Giants now are tied for the National League West lead.

By BILL PETERSON
Big Leagues in Los Angeles


On the radio about three weeks ago, Vin Scully was on one of his favorite on-air topics, the San Francisco Giants. On that particular night, Giants right hander Tim Lincecum struggled again, prompting Scully to point out that it's quite hard to view the Giants as a threat to the Dodgers unless Lincecum gets himself straightened out.

On that night, the Dodgers were in that five-game lead they nursed for most of the last month. We agree with Vin. How can we expect the Giants to overtake the Dodgers if Lincecum isn't pitching effectively?

Wednesday afternoon at Pac Bell Park in San Francisco, Lincecum threw seven shutout innings at the Dodgers, allowing four hits, striking out eight and walking two. The Giants won, 3-0, shutting out the Dodgers for the third straight time as the blue ones endured one of the very worst weeks in their very long history. It means the Giants now are tied with the Dodgers for first place in the National League West.

Does it mean Lincecum is straightened out? Lincecum now has pitched 12 straight shutout innings, but they all came against the Dodgers and Oakland. Time will tell. And we still agree with Vin: The Giants won't win the division without straightening out Lincecum. That just seems to be a necessary condition.

With the win Wednesday, Lincecum is 3-8 with a 5.60 ERA. With the loss Wednesday, the Dodgers lost eight of nine on their trip through Oakland, Anaheim and San Francisco. They scored 13 runs in the nine games. So, Lincecum didn't do any better against the Dodgers than Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito in the previous two days. The Dodgers didn't even face Matt Cain and they still were shut out three times by the Giants.

Nor did Lincecum pitch much better against the Dodgers than Oakland's Travis Blackley, Tommy Milone and Brandon McCarthy earlier on the road trip. Teams all over the Eastern Time Zone face these nine- or ten-game West Coast trips with dread that they will work out the way this one went for the Dodgers. But the Dodgers shouldn't be having this problem. They're a West Coast team.

The Dodgers have two problems right now: They can't hit left-handed pitchers and they can't hit right-handed pitchers. Both problems have the same root: Without Matt Kemp in the lineup, the Dodgers don't have enough right-handed sock in their lineup to produce the two- and three-run moments they need to turn games their way.

Against left-handed pitching, we have no idea how Dodgers manager Don Mattingly should proceed, because they have not a single right-handed hitter on their club right now who you could write in at the beginning of the season as a productive starting player. You might count catcher A.J. Ellis now, but he is a catcher and we don't know how he will hold up.

Here is the combined line for the last four left-handed starters against the Dodgers (Jose Quintana of the Chicago White Sox, followed by Milone, Blackley and Zito): 32 innings, 14 hits, two runs, both earned, four walks and 18 strikeouts.

So, that's that for the Dodgers against left-handed pitching. They just don't have enough right-handed hitting to compete on a major league level right now. You lose Kemp, the best lefty killer in the game, and that happens. But it's also on the Dodgers general manager, Ned Colletti, whose job it is to stock the team with weapons for his manager. It's simply not reasonable to expect any big league manager to beat left-handed pitching with this roster. It's not that people like Juan Rivera and Jerry Hairston are bad players. But they are supporting players. The Dodgers need another real deal, right-handed bat.

Against right-handed pitchers, the Dodgers are every bit as punchless in the last couple weeks, and we're putting that one on Mattingly, because it is his job to know a good thing when he sees it, and he appears to have missed one here. Every day before the Dodgers face a right hander, we look at the lineup and simply can't believe what Mattingly is doing. Then the Dodgers score two runs or one run or no runs, and we end up blaming the hitters.

Remember all the magic at Dodger Stadium during the second half of May, when Kemp went on the disabled list and the Dodgers kept winning anyway? That wasn't magic. It was a solid, successful approach to beating on right-handed pitching, and Mattingly has all but abandoned it, for reasons that only he knows.

On May 17, a couple days after Kemp went on the disabled list the first time, the Dodgers embarked on a run of eight wins in ten games to reach their high point of the season -- 32-15 with a 7 1/2-game lead in the division. In six of those games, all wins against right-handed pitching, Mattingly stacked his left-handed hitting, with Bobby Abreu, Andre Ethier, Adam Kennedy and James Loney going third through sixth, followed by Ellis, a right-handed hitter well suited for the seven hole.

The Dodgers won all of those games, scoring at least six runs every time and totaling 40 runs. Aside from Ethier, the hitters named in that core aren't especially fearsome. But the constant procession of left-handed hitters seemed to break opposing pitchers apart. That's kind of the point. It's not that the hitters, themselves, are so fabulous, as that the cumulative platoon advantage takes a toll on the pitcher. We have discussed these lineups at length here and here.

Mattingly went back to stacking the left-handed hitters against right-handed pitchers on June 2 at Colorado. Same kind of result, a 6-2 win. Mattingly hasn't stacked his lineup in the manner described since then. Now, they're 3-9 against their last 12 opposing right-handed pitchers.

So, the stack of left-handed hitters is 7-0 and we haven't seen it in nearly a month. Since the Dodgers returned to the West Coast from Philadelphia on June 8, they're 6-12. The stacked lineup is nowhere to be found.

It's perplexing. The Dodgers' problem against left-handed pitchers is that they don't have the right-handed hitting to beat them. But, then, Mattingly seems to think that the way to beat right-handed pitchers is to stick one of these right-handed bats in the middle of his left-handed hitters.

But that approach doesn't work. The approach that works against right-handed pitchers is to stack the left-handed hitters. Let's hope Mattingly finds it again. And soon.

The Dodgers are back home Thursday night for four against the New York Mets and three against Cincinnati Reds. They return to town tied for first place. How will they leave it?

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