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Dodgers, Angels Give Fans Reasons to Believe After Dubious Starts, Both Teams In Playoffs Hunt PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry   
Thursday, 03 July 2014 02:58

Courtesy of Angels Baseball

High Flying Angel — Shortstop Erick Aybar is fourth among the Halos in runs batted in.

July 4 is often symbolically and sentimentally looked upon as the halfway point of the Major League Baseball season, even though teams have already played more than 81 games. Still, this is a good time to check on our local (and somewhat local) ballclubs as they now navigate the fourth full month of the 2014 season.

At present there’s good news to report: both the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the thick of their division and Wild Card races.

The Blue Crew is not having the kind of out-of-body run they had last season when they won 42 of 50 from June 22 to Aug. 18; that would be too much to ask. But, like last year, they have made up a 9.5 games deficit in the NL West standings, this time on the rival San Francisco Giants. After defeating Cleveland on Monday, June 30, Los Angeles shot into first place by a half-game.

As of July 1 the Halos still trailed Oakland by five games in the AL West, but were 10 games above .500. Last year Anaheim was never above .500 after the first game.

Both teams are also atop their respective Wild Card standings. The Dodgers and Giants were tied in the National League, and the Angels were 2.5 games in front of Seattle in the American League. Two teams from each league partake in the postseason (the wild card teams facing each other in a one-game playoff ).

Of course, nothing yet is etched in stone. But it’s always better to be the one chased than doing the chasing. Barring a second half collapse, both teams have a genuine shot at playing October baseball in the same season since 2009.

Here are some things to keep in mind as events unfold in the second half (but not the Dodgers on TV, unless you’re one of the 30 percent with Time Warner cable).

Let’s start with Los Angeles.

What We Know About the Dodgers

The pitching is boffo, especially the starters.

Despite the crazy start to the season in Australia in March (remember that?) that led to Clayton Kershaw missing a month with a back injury, the Dodgers’ rotation ranks with the best in baseball. Both Kershaw and Josh Beckett have thrown no-hitters. Kershaw (9-2) went 6-0 in June with an 0.82 earned run average and 28 consecutive scoreless innings. Zach Greinke is 10-4 in 17 starts. Hyun-Jin Ryu (9-4, 3.21) continues to repel any notion of a sophomore slump. Beckett (5-4), back after missing most of last year and needing surgery to remove a rib, has changed his approach and rediscovered his control. Even Dan Haren (8-4) has contributed more than expected.

Jon SooHoo/LA Dodgers

In Command — Left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who has already thrown a nohitter, is the ace of the Dodgers’ rotation.

The team’s collective ERA (3.21) is bettered by only two MLB teams — Washington and Oakland. The Dodgers have given up the 12th fewest hits (695) and the eighth fewest runs (302), are second in strikeouts (712). Their bullpen is tied with St. Louis for the third most saves (27.)

What We Still Need To Learn

Are the bats alive or has this recent 15 wins in 21 games stretch been a tease?

On paper the Dodgers should have enough offense. Dee Gordon (.292, nine triples, 40 stolen bases) has figured out major league pitching in 2014, and is the team in homers (13) and RBIs (50).

Still, run production can be spotty. They’ve already played 23 one-run games and are 12- 11. They were tied with Cleveland for eighth in runs scored (357). And the Dodgers are not going to bludgeon you with the long ball, totaling only 70 homes through June.

Last year’s NL West champion scored only 649 runs. It would seem the Dodgers have to do better than that to reach a World Series.

A Move Out There To Make

General Manager Ned Colletti should think hitting, not pitching.

Since the outfield is overstocked, another veteran infield bat would protect against losing Henley, Jose Uribe, or — even worse — Gonzalez for an extended period of time. Maybe inquire about David Wright if the Mets continue to stink. And might Texas consider sending Adrian Beltre back to the place where he started his career?

Colletti should not, however, part with any top Dodger prospects. The farm system appears ready to start sending the next wave of home grown talent that can grow together and keep the team competitive over for several more years.

If Dodgers do deal, just cash money homie.

As for Anaheim….

What We Know About The Angels

Fan voting for the All-Star teams ends today, July 3, and outfielder Mike Trout seems a lock for his third straight appearance. As ridiculous as it sounds, Trout — the league MVP runner-up in his first two seasons — continues to get better ns this, his third full season. Entering the July 1 doubleheader against the white Sox, Trout leds the club in average, homers and RBIs (.314/18/59), as well as also hits, runs, and walks ( 90/54/48). His defense isn’t exactly shabby; just two errors in center field.

But Trout is not a one-man wrecking crew. Both Albert Pujols (16 homers, 49 RBIs) and Josh Hamilton have been delivering when healthy. Erick Aybar, with six homers and 41 RBIs, is quietly headed toward career high power numbers.

The Angels offense as a whole is performing the way it was envisioned when Pujols and Hamilton were signed to huge contracts. Entering July, Anaheim was tied for fifth overall in batting average at .261, was fourth in runs scored (386) and RBIs (367) and ninth in hits (732). Their 4.8 runs per game average could rise as August and September temperatures continue to rise and sap overworked pitching staffs.

What We Still Need To Learn

Can the Angels arms hold up?

The pitching is improved from last year primarily because Garrett Richards is, at last, fulfilling the potential team scouts saw in him and has become a dependable, occasionally dominating starter. Like Kershaw, Richards had an undefeated month of June, going 4-0 with a 1.05 ERA. Most impressive, his fastball can still hit high 90s in the seventh inning as well as the first. He has a realistic chance of being named to the All-Star game.

Richards, along with Jered Weaver (8-6, 3.33) and C.J. Wilson (8-6, 3.90) give Anaheim three solid starters (although Wilson had a so-so month of June: 2-2, 5.97, giving up 33 hits and 21 earned runs in 31.2 innings). But neither Tyler Scaggs (coming off injury), journeyman Matt Shoemaker or winless Hector Santiago have proven they can hold up the lower end of a rotation in a pennant race.

The bullpen is the bigger issue. Entering the week, Angels relievers have blown 12 saves in 30 opportunities; only Pittsburgh, Oakland and the New York Mets have blown more. And the Angels had blown eight of those saves with a lead of three runs. That’s scary.

A Move Out There To Make

For all the talk of the Dodgers potentially making a push for Tampa Bay left-hander David Price, that roll of the dice makes more sense for Anaheim. Price (who becomes arbitration eligible after this season, and who could become a free agent after 2015) would not have to learn a new league and its hitters over the remaining three months. Put the former Cy Young winner in the Angels rotation along with Weaver, Wilson and Richards, and said rotation looks as formidable as the ones Oakland, and Detroit can throw out there.

If nothing else, the Halos should want to keep Price away from Seattle, which reportedly has real interest in adding him to help make a playoff push.

The big question: what could the Angels offer the Rays in return, beyond taking Price’s salary off their books. Righthander Alfonso Alcantara is one of the better Angel pitching prospects currently toiling in Class A with a mid-90s fastball, but might not be close enough to being major league ready. Neither is infielder Jose Rondon, considered the Angels fifth best prospect, who is also playing A level ball.

Both Alcantara and Rondon are on the rosters for the All- Star Futures game, a showcase for top minor league prospects on July 13.

Even if they can’t swing a deal for Price, the Angels ought to find another top frontline pitcher. Or at least a dependable arm for the undependable bullpen.