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Black Tie Optional
2004-04-23 09:52
by Jon Weisman

As they begin their second homestand of the season, the Dodgers are like a guy in a tux who hasn't showered in three days. They're awful pretty until you get real close.

For the Dodgers to have a 10-5 record while outscoring their opponents for the season by one run, 70-69, is strange at a minimum. It's also something to be concerned about, though perhaps not as much as it appears.

The surface explanation is simple: The Dodgers have gone 5-0 in one-run games, while four of their five losses have been by at least five runs.

The other five games, all victories, have been by 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 runs.

So what you have basically is a team that is splitting the blowouts while winning all the close ones. In other words, a .500 team that has had some luck. Or, given the fact that the blowouts have been slightly more blowy when the Dodgers lose, a .480 team that has had some luck.

For years, the popular notion is that winning the one-run games is the sign of a champion, but more and more people are coming to accept that one-run victories are more the sign of luck than force of will.

A team that wins a game by many runs dominated that game. A team that dominates many games is dominant.

A team that wins a game by one run - could just as easily have lost. A team that wins many games by one run is like a coin that happened to land on heads a few times in a row.
That being said, a team doesn't need to dominate to win its division, especially if it's the 2004 National League West. If none of the teams in the division are better than .500 in blowouts, then it is the team that happens to get the coin to fall their way that will emerge on top.

That winning team could easily be the Dodgers, given the inordinate problems facing the competition, such as tonight's opponent. Even with Barry Bonds, the Giants have an OPS 35 points below Los Angeles.

That being said, the Dodger starting pitching has to improve.

3.20 Odalis Perez
6.48 Kazuhisa Ishii
6.55 Hideo Nomo
6.89 Jeff Weaver
7.88 Jose Lima
5.93 Team

Admittedly, they've played three games at Colorado and three games against Barry Bonds, but you know, they do that every year. As shocking as last year's extreme hitting deficiencies were, that any Dodger starting rotation could post an ERA of nearly 6.00 for any 15-game stretch is mindblowing.

In doing so, Dodger starting pitchers are averaging less than six innings per start. If the struggles continue even over the short term, then Wilson Alvarez, who has picked up where he left off in 2003 with great numbers, should move into the rotation.

Jim Tracy reportedly wants Alvarez in the bullpen as a lefty reliever, but Alvarez is used as a long reliever, facing batters from both sides of the plate. If you know Alvarez is going to end up in the game anyway, you might as well have him enter when the game is scoreless, rather than when the Dodgers are down by seven runs.

Dodger Stadium will no doubt rehabilitate some of those poor ERAs - just as it will probably hasten Paul Lo Duca's decline from the .490s in batting average. But keep a close eye on which regresses to the mean more quickly: the offense or the defense.

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