Sarah's Take: Dodgers have obstacles to overcome in West race
For the rest of the season, the Los Angeles Dodgers will attempt to hold on to their lead in the National League West. If they can, it will be the first time in franchise history that they have won three consecutive division titles.
Are the Dodgers up to the task?
Sunday night while playing the Pittsburgh Pirates, Howie Kendrick pulled his hamstring. Three times in the past, the same injury has put Kendrick on the disabled list. His hamstring had been OK since 2011.
This year, Kendrick has given the Dodgers everything that they hoped for when they acquired him from the Angels last December. His .296 batting average is the second highest on the team. He usually delivers a hit whenever the Dodgers need it. Defensively, he has been one of the most consistent second basemen in the league.
The Dodgers don't know how long Kendrick will be out, but manager Don Mattingly estimated that it would be at least three weeks. One report said it might be the middle of September before Kendrick can return. This is quite a blow for the Dodgers.
Although they have other players who can play second base satisfactorily, the Dodgers will miss Kendrick. He gives full effort on every play and provides veteran leadership in the clubhouse.
Despite the front office's efforts at the July 31 Trade Deadline, the pitching hasn't improved. On the most recent road trip, every starter had a subpar outing -- even Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. The bullpen is ranked 25th in the Majors in ERA.
On Tuesday, the Dodgers had to put Joel Peralta on the disabled list with a right neck sprain. That won't help the bullpen situation, even though Peralta hasn't had a good season. No team with playoff aspirations can realize them with a poor bullpen. Last year, the Dodgers' Achilles heel was their bullpen, and it hasn't improved dramatically this year.
The bullpen troubles might be a factor as to why the Dodgers struggle to beat teams with a .500-or-better record and are a poor road team. Also, they can't score enough to win unless they homer.
All year, the Dodgers haven't been able to play small ball, so manufactured runs have been nonexistent. Everyone thinks home runs are exciting and the quickest way to overcome a large deficit. However, relying on home runs is impractical for any team -- especially the Dodgers, who play half of their games at Dodger Stadium, where pitchers thrive. Although the front office says they didn't build the Dodgers to be a home-run team, most of their runs come via the long ball.
The Dodgers lack speed. They have the fewest stolen bases in the Major Leagues, and without steals, it is difficult to manufacture runs. They don't go from first to third often, so they must link hits together to score.
The Dodgers don't have a bona fide leadoff hitter. Finally, Jimmy Rollins has emerged from a season-long slump to assume the important role. In the past he was a fantastic leadoff hitter, but now he doesn't get on base regularly enough to be effective.
Mattingly finally removed Joc Pederson from the leadoff spot in the lineup. At the beginning of the season, Pederson looked ready for the Major Leagues, offensively. Yes, he struck out a lot, but he demonstrated a good eye for the strike zone and power. Now, however, he has struggled to make adjustments, so he doesn't hit many home runs anymore. Pederson doesn't know how to shorten his swing, so he is slow getting to the ball. Long swings generate much power but have holes where the pitchers aim to strike out the hitter.
At least Yasiel Puig is showing signs of coming out his slump. He has worked hard with hitting coach Mark McGwire. Puig had his front shoulder flying open, producing weak ground balls to the left side of the infield. Opposing teams could employ the traditional shift to get Puig out. Tuesday night, when he drove in all five runs for the Dodgers, his three-run triple went to right field. If he can continue going to right field occasionally, Puig can make up for some of the lost offensive production from Kendrick.