To me, the next month for the Dodgers is crucial. If they play well, they will go to the playoffs, but if they slump, they will have a difficult time repeating as the National League West champions.
In my 30 years of watching the Dodgers, I don't remember them having a seven-game division lead -- ever. This season the Dodgers have it before the All-Star break, and they don't show any signs of letting any team catch them. Lately, the Dodgers have been challenged with great pitching, limiting their offensive production. However, the Dodgers still average 4.8 runs a game, while they allow 3.75 runs a game. Their offense will pick up soon, even without their superstar.
Everyone knows the Dodgers need to have more power to dominate the NL further. Although they have 51 wins, people want to see more domination from the Dodgers. They have 59 home runs, the 13th-most home runs in the National League. Andre Ethier, Casey Blake, and Matt Kemp are among the top 32 players in the league in home runs. Dodger Stadium isn't a paradise for power hitters.
The hot summer months are in front of the Dodgers. The baseball carries better in hot air, so the Dodgers should have more home runs after the All-Star break. James Loney always has hit more home runs after the All-Star break than he has before it, and I don't see this season as an exception. Russell Martin, whose on-base percentage is among the best for catchers who play regularly, will display more power than he has. The Dodgers have three players who will have at least 20 home runs by the end of the season if they stay on their pace. No one knows if the Dodgers' superstar will hit any for the rest of the season.
The Dodgers have the second-best on-base percentage in the NL. This is important. When players are on base, the Dodgers have an opportunity to score. The greater frequency of scoring opportunities will give the team more runs. Although home runs are exciting, they are a rarity, and successful teams must manufacture runs. The Dodgers are fast, and they are using their speed to help them score. They have the second-most stolen bases in the NL. Now that their superstar is back, they will lose some speed, making it harder to manufacture runs.
The Dodgers have committed the second-fewest errors in the National League. Their almost flawless defense has helped them to have the best record in the Major Leagues. They have four possible Gold Glove winners if they continue playing superior defense, but the superstar will weaken the outfield defense.
Martin guides a young pitching with the lowest ERA in baseball. Though the Dodgers' pitching staff throws many pitches in the dirt, Martin has allowed only one passed ball, and he has thrown out 33 percent of potential basestealers.
Orlando Hudson has enormous range for a second baseman. It seems every day he makes an unbelievable, spectacular play that probably has saved the win for the Dodgers. Though he has four errors in the season, his incredible range enables him to get to more balls than most second basemen. Hudson helps the pitching staff greatly.
When Casey Blake joined the Dodgers, many Dodgers fans didn't know much about him because he spent his career in the American League. The flamboyant superstar, who was obtained a week later, easily overshadowed a quiet, serious man. Blake has been the Dodgers' Most Valuable Player since he came to Los Angeles. This season, while providing constant offensive production, Blake has played a stellar third base. Though some third basemen have more range than Blake does, they don't have the throwing accuracy that Blake has. He has made fabulous plays that have bailed the pitchers out of jams.
When Matt Kemp came to Los Angeles at 21, he had raw talent playing in the outfield but had limited knowledge of how to approach a fly ball. Now he is a terrific center fielder. Seemingly twice a week, Kemp makes a fabulous defensive play that prevents many runs. His amazing athleticism enables him to make plays that make fans gasp in awe because we don't think anyone can make those plays.
The Dodgers pitching staff has been dominating every team. They are second in the NL in strikeouts. They have allowed the lowest batting average in the league. When the season began, many people thought the Dodgers' weak link would be their pitching. Now the exact opposite is true. The Dodgers and their fans hope their pitching staff continues to be excellent.
On Friday, the Dodgers got their superstar left fielder back. Most people feel he will help the offense. I don't know about this because sitting out 50 games is a long time, especially for a 37-year-old. He changes the dynamic of the Dodgers, and they will need time to adapt. It will be interesting to see if they will continue their torrid march to the playoffs, or if they will start playing like other Major League teams.
Sarah D. Morris is the editor of Sarah's Dodger Place. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.