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There's a golden opportunity in Cali: rush and take it like it's 1849

Remember early May? The Rockies appeared to be gifted with the chance to chisel away at the 8.5 game deficit they faced with the Dodgers. Given that Colorado has won 20 of the last 23, you might think they have done just that. Well, in truth, they have cut into the deficit over the past 47 games...

By one game. One measly game.

Part of that is the futility the Rockies played with under Clint Hurdle the first 24 games of that stretch, but part of it is how the Dodgers have continued to excel in that time. Despite losing consecutive series last week for the first time in 2009, Los Angeles has put up a 27-20 record during the suspension, which, as Rox Girl noted yesterday, is best in the NL only to the Rockies' 29-20 mark.

As much as I'd like to say the Dodgers aren't the best team in MLB, I can't. They still have the best record in the majors, 1.5 games ahead of Boston, as well as the best run differential. And they are statistically very good, still without Manny Ramirez, who is in his last three games his suspension. He's finishing up his minor league "rehab" and will join the blue Friday at Petco Park. That bubbling circus of a distraction in addition to Los Angeles coming off their worst week of the season makes this an especially good time to visit Dodger Stadium, if ever there was one.

That sweep at Coors Field in Clint Hurdle's last three games looks a lot more painful now. But we're not out of it, and now is a golden opportunity. The Rockies are just 1-8 against the Dodgers this season, but all of those came with Clint Hurdle. I'd guess these Rockies wouldn't lose games like this or this or this now.

This isn't a must-win series, but it is pivotal. A series sweep at Dodger Stadium would mean an unstable 4.5 game deficit and clear contention in the NL West. Even a series win would pull us within 6.5 games, a very doable deficit with more than half the season to play. Getting swept, besides being emotionally debilitating, puts us over ten games out, effectively killing our chances at the division.

Check out True Blue LA to see how scared Dodger fans are of the Rockies.


Los Angeles Dodgers (48-28, L2, 1st)

Monday-Wednesday: 3-game series at Dodger Stadium, Dodgertown

The Bats: B

Joe Torre's lineup is strong even without Manny Ramirez. They lead the NL in batting average and in OBP, good for fourth and third in MLB, respectively. However, they don't slug particularly well without ManRam, just 16th in MLB, and only the Pirates, Mets and Giants have less home runs than Los Angeles. This all leads to a team wOBA of a good but ot great .336, tenth in the majors, or about equivalent to Ian Stewart this season.

Where it counts, Los Angeles has scored 387 runs, 8th in the majors.

Juan Pierre - LF .323 0 24 .384 .414 .359
Rafael Furcal - SS .245 3 16 .320 .328 .290
Orlando Hudson - 2B .303 5 41 .371 .438 .360
Casey Blake - 3B .293 11 48 .359 .508 .369
Andre Ethier - RF .261 14 50 .357 .481 .355
James Loney - 1B .278 5 49 .343 .389 .322
Russell Martin - C .247 1 21 .367 .300 .311
Matt Kemp - CF .311 10 41 .373 .489 .382

I never understood how Matt Kemp consistently gets relegated to the bottom of the lineup, and that was before I saw he was the Dodgers' best hitter by wOBA. He ought to be hitting second or third. By wOBA metrics, the lineup features one strong All-Star caliber player (Kemp), four solidly above average hitters (Pierre, Hudson, Blake and Ehtier), two below average hitters (Loney and Martin) and one flat out bad hitter (Furcal).

Joe Torre's sparsely used and very weak bench includes IF's Juan Castro (.345, 1, 7) and Mark Loretta (.264, 0, 14), catchers A.J. Ellis (0-for-2) and Brad Ausmus (.265, 0, 4), and OF Mitch Jones (4-for-12). Claudio Vargas could get activated Wednesday, which might mean a demotion for Ellis.

The Arms: A-

Up until this last week, LA had the best staff ERA in MLB. Their 3.65 now trails Seattle's 3.64. Their ERA/FIP/tRA splits for their rotation is 3.80/3.84/4.18 and their bullpen is 3.40/4.01/4.30. So they've been overachieving their numbers slightly, but that still puts them as one of top five staffs in baseball. Still. Grr. They've also allowed the second least runs in the majors - plus, we'll be facing their top three starters. Chad Billingsley, Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw will all pose their own unique challenges to the Rockies' lineup.

Joe Torre's hard-ridden bullpen has been anchored by closer Jonathan Broxton (6-0, 2.27, 18 SV), but Ramon Troncoso (1-0, 2.02, 4) and rookie Ronald Belisario (1-2, 2.01) have stepped up to bolster the set-up innings.

The D: B+

Los Angeles has committed 32 errors, 4th least in MLB, and has a UZR/150 rating of 0.9, good for twelfth. With Ramirez still not appearing in the outfield, the combo of Pierre, Kemp and Ethier provides above average range. Hudson and Loney are studs, Ausmus is a defensive catcher and Martin has a gold glove so he must be hella good.

The Ballpark: Moderate pitching park

This year, Dodger Stadium has a park factor in the 94-95 range, making it a legitimate pitchers' park. However, the multi-year factor is closer to 99-100, making it almost neutral.

Probable Pitchers:

Tonight, 8:10 pm MDT

2009 - Ubaldo Jimenez 6-7 3.83 1.36 81 39

2009 - Randy Wolf 3-3 3.64 1.20 70 30

Tuesday, June 30, 8:10 pm MDT

2009 - Jason Marquis 9-5 4.22 1.41 48 36

2009 - Chad Billingsley 9-3 3.10 1.27 99 48

Wednesday, July 1, 1:10 MDT

2009 - Jason Hammel 5-3 4.21 1.43 51 19

2009 - Clayton Kershaw 5-5 3.70 1.32 83 47

33_15_10---fire-flame-texture_web_mediumClayton Kershaw has allowed just 2 ER in his last 18.2 IP and has allowed 3 ER or less in 10 of his last 11 starts. Andre Ethier has a 1.000 OPS in his last 18 AB's thanks to 3 HR, but he has no hits in his other 15 ABs, yet he's still the Dodgers' hottest hitter.

IceChad Billingsley is coming off his worst start of the season, allowing 5 ER in 6.0 IP, 4 BBs and 2 HRs. That start pushes him over a 3.00 ERA for the first time this year. Randy Wolf allowed 5 ER in his last start, his 3rd time doing so in 5 starts in June. The top three of the lineup struggled last week: Juan Pierre (5-for-24), Rafael Furcal (4-for-20), and Orlando Hudson (6-for-26).

Bandaid_mediumClaudio Vargas (elbow) is eligible to come off the 60-day DL Wednesday. Doug Mientkiewicz is still on the 60-day from a shoulder injury April 17. Jason Schmidt (shoulder), Hong-Chih Kuo (elbow), Eric Stults (thumb), Will Ohman (shoulder) and Xavier Paul (knee) are all on the 15-day DL.