Posted 05/20/2009 at 04:11 AM
The Los Angeles Dodgers have the best record in all of baseball. They’re 28-13 following the Tuesday night win over the Mets, and it certainly looks as though they’ve recovered nicely from the initial shock that they appeared to suffer when the stunning suspension of Manny Ramirez was announced.
Juan Pierre obviously has a far different skill set than Manny, but the veteran speedster has done a great job since reclaiming an everyday job. The pitching has been fine, they’re getting solid contributions off the bench, and Dodger fans rightfully have a great deal of confidence in their team right now.
There’s that old adage that says if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Nevertheless, I’d like to see Joe Torre make some changes in the batting order for the Dodgers, as I think a little tinkering might result in more production out of the power spots. I like Pierre and Rafael Furcal hitting 1-2, although I would have no argument if Torre moved Orlando Hudson back into the second spot and dropped Furcal to the lower third until his bat comes around. Hudson is flourishing wherever Torre hits him, and while he’s anything but the prototypical #3 hole hitter, you can’t argue with the results so far.
But the one spot Torre really ought to consider changing is cleanup. Andre Ethier has suffered the biggest impact from Manny’s absence, and he’s tumbled all the way below .260. Meanwhile, Matt Kemp is stuck hitting seventh and I feel that’s way too low for such a talented offensive force. Kemp is a better offensive player than Ethier and needs to be getting more plate appearances. Regardless of how well the team is going presently, I firmly believe they’d be better with Kemp and Ethier being flipped in the batting order.
The other possible move would involve Casey Blake, who’s on one of his rolls right now. Blake is somewhat streaky and I’d like to see the Dodgers capitalize on his current form by getting more whacks. Instead of hitting Blake eighth, I’d have him in the #6 hole behind James Loney.
The suggested alterations to the batting order would also create more righty-lefty alternating spots. That’s always nice late in the game in terms of creating matchup problems for opposing bullpens. The bottom line is that, while there’s little to complain about right now, there are ways for the Dodgers to become even more productive.
David Ortiz returned to the Red Sox lineup on Tuesday and managed a walk in four plate appearances. He also struck out twice and looked terrible in his final AB of the evening. As noted previously, he’s still cheating on the fastball and is therefore dead in the water on anything off speed. I’m getting more pessimistic by the day as to whether Big Papi is just stuck in a slump or may simply be on the wrong side of that slippery slope.
In any event, I can’t see Red Sox manager Terry Francona continuing to kill the offense with Ortiz sitting in the #3 hole. Kevin Youkilis comes off the DL today, and I’d waste no time putting him into the all important third spot. As for Ortiz, I think he has to be dropped to #6 for the time being. I understand the loyalty factor and the reliance on the past performance chart as a barometer, but it’s really tough to argue with the eye test. The Red Sox clearly have the pitching to contend, and the defense is good enough as well. But with half the schedule being played at Fenway Park, offense is always big for the Red Sox, and like it or not, David Ortiz is a major liability right now.
There’s also little doubt in my mind that the Red Sox will move one of their three big pitching prospects to get a big bat, and it might be sooner than many think. My initial thoughts when Daniel Bard was brought up from Pawtucket to replace Javier Lopez in the bullpen was that it was more than just a move to fortify an already strong bullpen. Bard is going to be a big league closer, but it won’t be in Boston. Getting Bard big league innings right now is a great way to showcase him for a swap, and I think he’s going to be the bait. Michael Bowden is another candidate and so is Clay Buchholz. But I don’t think the Red Sox are crazy about having to part with Buchholz, and Bowden just doesn’t have quite the same ceiling so he wouldn’t likely draw as much in a potential deal. But Bard could be the perfect asset for a trade, as he’s big league ready right now and could close immediately for a team in search of a dominant young ninth inning guy. We’ll soon find out if Red Sox GM Theo Epstein has this in mind.