Dodger Doldrums


The 2011 season started under a cloud for the Los Angeles Dodgers. An off season divorce amongst ownership grabbed all the headlines. Early season financial troubles forced the commissioner's office to get involved. Unsurprisingly, the team started playing like a bunch of guys who knew this was going to be a wasted season.

*After a 6-4 start, the Dodgers are 17-24 since.

*The Dodgers are 8-15 their last 23 games, meaning the bulk of their fade came after the franchise was embarrassed by news of financial woes.

*The Dodgers were 4-10 their last 14 games heading into Sunday's series finale against the Florid Marlins. That poor stretch came against a portion of the Dodgers schedule that shouldn't have caused that many headaches.

0-2 vs. Arizona…a team that was well under .500 at the time but has since gotten hot (thanks partly to a soft schedule)
1-2 vs. Milwaukee
0-2 vs. San Francisco
1-2 at the Chicago White Sox…currently the second worst team in the American League
1-2 at Houston…currently the worst team in the National League
1-1 vs. Florida in the first two games of the weekend series

Los Angeles was favored by Las Vegas to win 9 of those 14 games. They could only manage four victories. Sure, Milwaukee and San Francisco are likely to be playoff contenders. If you know what you're doing, you're not supposed to go 1-4 at home against them! The road trip to Chicago and Houston was a mini-debacle considering the opposition involved.

What's gone wrong? The owner and his ex-wife aren't in the batting order. The commissioner doesn't come in from the bullpen to pitch the 8th or 9th innings. Why are the Dodgers struggling?

The biggest reason of late has been offense. They're just not scoring many runs. Some of that is playing home games in a pitcher's park. But, bad teams lose low scoring games in pitcher's parks, and higher scoring games in hitter's parks. Here are the numbers from low to high for LA's offense during that 14-game stretch:


The Dodgers only topped three runs three times in 14 games. Their average was a woeful 2.5. The midpoints in the line are where the 2 bumps into the 3.

You're asking A LOT of your pitching staff if that's the only run support they're going to get. They can't get a win when you pop a zero. They have to throw a shutout if you only pop a one. The first six games on that listing above are 0's and 1's.

Would the starting pitchers be winning with a normal level of run support? Let's take a look:

Kershaw: 2.96 ERA
Kuroda: 3.50 ERA
Billingsley: 3.69 ERA
Garland: 4.31 ERA
Lilly: 4.41 ERA

At first glance, those numbers range from very good to acceptable. Sure, you'd prefer better than 4.31 or 4.41 from a National League starter. But, at the back of the rotation, the standards are different. You can live with that if you're getting good stuff from the top of the rotation, and your offense can give you some help when the lesser guys are on the mound.

The problems here are:

*Home games are in a pitcher's paradise, so anybody with generic or worse numbers for the season is probably much worse than their numbers are suggesting.

*Los Angeles DOESN'T have an offense that can bail the lesser guys out very often. The team has to sweat with their aces and is in deep trouble at the back end.

Here's what we mean about the effects of the home park on a mediocre pitcher's numbers. If you look at the home/road splits…Kershaw and Kuroda are doing a good job everywhere. Lilly has held his own (consistently mediocre). But, Billingsley and Garland fall off the map when you look at the road only stats.

Kershaw: 2.64
Kuroda: 2.94
Lilly 4.54
Billingsley: 5.67
Garland 5.94

Stick a guy with an ERA near 4.5 or 5 as a normal state of affairs on the field with a bad offense, and it's going to get ugly very quickly.

Does any blame fall on the manager? Don Mattingly took over for Joe Torre this year. Torre has had a lot of critics. All successful managers do! We always felt he didn't get enough credit for his handling of star ego's, his ability to make hitters drive up pitch counts for opposing hurlers by being patient, and the consistency of his success. He was obviously doing something right…for a very long time.

Mattingly learned at the feet of Torre. But, it's interesting that he was overlooked for the Yankees job when Torre left the Bronx. Then, he didn't get other jobs where he was up for consideration until finally landing this one. Given a chance to prove himself…you can't say he's lit a fire under the team. He's dealing with some very tough off-field distractions. And, he doesn't have the slugging that Torre had in New York or here with Manny Ramirez. You can't judge a manager on 40-50 games. This may have been a situation where a more veteran hand was needed. (And, in five years, nobody may remember that Mattingly had early troubles!)

We're putting the Dodgers on your radar now because they're about to have a very tough stretch. In fact, the next two weeks are truly make-or-break for the entire season.

Monday-Wednesday: vs. Colorado
Friday-Sunday: at Cincinnati
Monday-Wednesday: at Philadelphia
Thursday-Sunday: at Colorado
Monday-Wednesday: vs. Cincinnati

No weak spots in the mix. And it wouldn't be a surprise if any of those teams reached the playoffs this season. Should the Dodgers continue their recent form…and go something like 5-10 over those 15 games…their season would basically be over. You don't really from a dozen games below .500 in mid-June to reach the playoffs! Just treading water at 8-7 over the 15 games would be an accomplishment considering nine of the meetings are on the road. That kind of performance or better could provide the confidence boost needed to get the Dodgers back on the radar.

The 2011 season is about to be defined for the Los Angeles Dodgers in our view. They could veer toward a 72-90 or worse type of season very easily. They could veer toward an 85-77 type season and wildcard contention if they get their act together NOW and get some wins during this challenging stretch.

We'll be watching very closely. We watch ALL 30 TEAMS this closely because understanding the storylines as a season unfolds is one of the true keys to beating the Vegas line. Oddsmakers are focused on the past…or, better put, perceptions of the past. JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK is anticipating the future. We're good at it. That's why we've been winning big money for our clients for more than 25 years.

You can join the fun by linking up with us here at the website. Game day selections are always available for credit card purchase. Be sure to ace EARLY today because of the Memorial Day afternoon action. We have great rates for longer term packages. Complete details are available at 1-800-323-4453.

Among the holiday matchups we're looking at closely:
NY Yankees at Oakland
Texas at Tampa Bay
Chicago White Sox at Boston
San Francisco at St. Louis
Milwaukee at Cincinnati

We're back to basketball tomorrow to preview Game One of the NBA Championships matching the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat. We'll then alternate basketball and baseball through the week here at the NOTEBOOK to make sure you're on top of important developments.

It's a big week in the world of sports. Make sure you spend it with the biggest name in handicapping, JIM HURLEY!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by and For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.


Today’s Hot Plays