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2004-05-17 08:43
by Jon Weisman

A four-game losing streak after a six-game winning streak hits you like an unwelcome shot of humidity on your vacation.

In the Dodgers' case, perhaps we should have expected some warm, thick air, considering their fragile starting pitching and that nearly half of their victories came by one run.

I've kept it pretty cool myself - didn't get too high over the Dodgers' hot start, won't get too low, now - especially when three of four National League West rivals got swept over the weekend as well. Los Angeles is still hanging on to the best record in the National League.

The team has an interesting week coming up, starting with a visit to Philadelphia, winners of 12 out of 18. Once again, the Dodgers are starting a road trip against a contender in the NL East - just as they did against Florida two weeks ago. The Dodgers were coming off a disappointing homestand against Montreal and New York, but came alive on the road, winning two out of three against the Marlins and five of six overall.

With a day of rest today, the Dodgers will reach the City of Brotherly Like before the hometown Phillies, who finish a four-game series at Colorado. The Odyssean Wilson Alvarez will kick off the Phillies series for Los Angeles on Tuesday in a pivotal game for the Dodger psyche - either he will continue to live the dream, or the Dodgers will have a five-game losing streak with Hideo Nomo set to be the stopper.

The Dodgers' two-game cushion in the NL West is relevant here. Should Alvarez and Nomo lose, potentially dropping the Dodgers into a tie with the Padres (who play Pittsburgh), all the stars would be aligned for Jim Tracy to cut bait on Nomo's spot in the starting rotation. Tracy clearly likes Nomo and has every reason to be grateful for the performance Nomo has shown during his tenure, so you can sympathize with Tracy's desire to keep in him the rotation. But the fact that neither Tracy nor Colborn can identify the cause of Nomo's problems (beyond what would seem to be the obvious - his lack of recovery from offseason surgery), could force Tracy to skip Nomo out, if for no other reason than to protect Nomo from himself.

Of course, there are nuances here. The Dodgers could win Tuesday despite Alvarez getting pounded; they could lose Wednesday despite seven shutout innings from Nomo. And then we'd just say, "Well, that's baseball," and regroup.

At the same time, another reckoning day may be approaching Adrian Beltre and his ankle - the latter seems to have made the former more desperate at the plate. Yes, I have noticed the pre-2004 Beltre creeping in, diving at outside pitches. I don't know that I've ever watched a player more carefully. Beltre's swings look positively violent, and the result is that on almost every hack, he loses balance as if recoiling from a shotgun blast. I am not retreating on my pledge that Beltre is transformed, but watching Beltre during the homestand was painful in every sense of the word, and if it continues, Beltre may have to swallow more than painkillers - he may have to swallow a month on the sidelines. The memory of Shawn Green's lost 2003 summer remains strong, and with Beltre's condition apparently curable through surgery, you have to wonder if it isn't time for him to sacrifice a month of play now.

As for Green, I've stayed far away from talking about him this year. Part of it is that he hasn't really been the story of 2004 so far, but also, because of the grim forecast that I generated during the offseason, I have wanted to give him plenty of time to prove me wrong. And in fact, Green is on pace to hit 32 home runs this season, with every mathematical chance of climbing higher, so you can't say that he won't. He is drawing walks at a better rate this season than last, so that even though his batting average (.231) is down 49 points from 2003, his on-base percentage (.345) is down only 10 and his OPS (.810) is down only five. Milton Bradley, hailed by many as the savior of the Dodger offense (and certainly a strong defensive player), has his own ankle-depressed OPS of .768 - well below Green's.

That being said, if we're talking about the Shawn Green of Old returning - the pre-2003 version - he's got a ways to go. Green's OPS is down 133 points from 2002 and 160 points from 2001. And it's hard to imagine he's going to go on the kind of tear that will get him to those levels - especially when his shoulder remains an issue.

It's important to retain perspective about Green. Right now, he's a good player. He's a good player. He's a good player.

But Green is not great.

Green has not been the story yet in 2004. And as long as an ailing Nomo or Beltre remain center stage, he probably won't be. But that day may soon come ...

* * *

A couple of links:

  • Jay Jaffe, he of the dual Dodger-Yankee citizenship, turns his analytical mind toward the 2004 Dodgers on The Futility Infielder.

  • The Hardball Times has begun posting Win Shares for 2004. Here's where Dodger players rank in the National League, position by position:

    Paul Lo Duca, C, six win shares, tied for first.
    Shawn Green, 1B, four win shares, tied for eighth.
    Alex Cora, 2B, six win shares, tied for second.
    Cesar Izturis, SS, three win shares, tied for fifth.
    Adrian Beltre, 3B, eight win shares, tied for second.
    Dave Roberts, OF, five win shares, tied for 13th.
    Milton Bradley, OF, three win shares, tied for 27th.
    Juan Encarnacion, OF, three win shares, tied for 27th.
    Wilson Alvarez, P, five win shares, tied for second.
    Eric Gagne, P, four win shares, tied for eighth.
    Kazuhisa Ishii, P, three win shares, tied for 23rd.
    Guillermo Mota, P, three win shares, tied for 23rd.
    Odalis Perez, P, two win shares.
    Duaner Sanchez, P, two win shares.
    Jeff Weaver, P, two win shares.

    By all means, let's be thrilled for Cora. But have you looked at the second basemen in the National League? It's like an American Idol audition out there.

  • Dodger Thoughts East Coast reader Doug Novelli is recruting writers and photographers for Baseball Minor, a "free magazine dedicated to covering Eastern League baseball." Submission guidelines are here.

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