Monday, June 22, 2009

Sans Manny, Dodgers Continue to Ride Hot Start

The absence of Manny Ramirez has seemingly meant little to the first place Los Angeles Dodgers who, despite missing one of the finest power hitters in the game, still enjoy the best record in the Majors and an eight game advantage in the NL West over the second place Giants. Since losing Manny, however, the Dodgers have seen their win percentage drop 10 percentage points.

Manny left the Dodgers at 21-8, a .724 winning percentage. Since his suspension, the Dodgers have gone 24-16, a .600 winning percentage. Nothing to sneeze at, but Manny's absence has clearly been felt in those games. In the 27 games Ramirez played before his suspension, he hit 6 home runs, 9 doubles and knocked in 20 RBIs. He scored 20 runs and was batting .348 with a .492 on-base percentage during those games.

It's no secret that the Dodgers miss Ramirez's bat. Who wouldn't? He's one of the most productive offensive forces in baseball whose mere presence draws baseball fans from all over to the ballpark. The Dodgers, however, have held their own since losing Manny. Juan Pierre currently holds the 10th best batting average in the MLB with a .330 average and Orlando Hudson is tied for the 7th most doubles in the league with 21. Manny's .348 average would currently sit second only to Ichiro Suzuki. The Dodgers have also failed to produce a prominent home run hitter or RBI machine since Manny's suspension.

Still, despite all of this, the Dodgers have maintained their lead in the NL West and the best record in the Majors. How is this possible after losing a player like Manny? Has the pitching been lights out? Is Los Angeles still riding that hot start from the beginning of the year? Or does Joe Torre have something to do with the team's perseverance without their star hitter?

The answer is a combination of the three. The Dodgers' pitching has been exceptional to say the least. Jonathan Broxton is considered by some to be the frontrunner to win the NL Cy Young and Chad Billingsley is also on the shortlist at this point in the season. The pitching staff has its weak points, but the Dodgers owe a great deal to their pitchers.

It isn't hard to see how the Dodgers' hot start to the season has carried them through the first 40 games without Manny. They have only 10 more to get through before Ramirez's return to the lineup and if their offense thus far is any indication, they will be just fine. With Manny out, others have stepped up. Pierre has filled the hole in the outfield, reclaiming his place as one of the league's premier lead-off hitters. He currently sits 8th in the Majors in stolen bases with 17, while teammate Matt Kemp sits tied in 6th with 18. James Loney, Andre Ethier and Casey Blake have also stepped up for the Dodgers, belting homeruns and knocking in runs, although none of the three have single handedly established themselves enough to fill Manny's empty shoes.

Torre was surely a steadying influence for this young team when Manny went down. His experience in New York, helping the Yankees to four world championships and leading a team full of all-stars for 12 years as Yankees skipper, gave him worlds of experience as he pushed through adversity and controversy. His guidance is what has kept the Dodgers from faltering and flaking out for these 40 games.

Manny's return is nearing. On July 3, he will be eligible to return to the Dodger lineup. The big question is how graceful Manny's return will be. Fans and sports pundits will watch intently to see if the transition is seamless for the big slugger or if he and Los Angeles stumble a bit at first.

Sans Manny, the Dodgers have been quite successful playing small ball. Currently, the Dodgers have produced 343 runs this season, good for the eighth most in the Majors, and have hit 133 doubles, tied for 9th. Additionally, the Dodgers have stolen 60 bases, 4th most in the Majors. On the downside, they have hit only 50 homeruns, the 27th most in the Majors, but it's safe to say that with Manny's return that number will climb.

Will Manny's power conflict with the Dodgers' newly adopted style? Or will it compliment it? We will have to wait until July 3, assuming he returns as soon as possible, to find out. It's a good bet, though, that although Pierre and others have effectively kept his spot warm, he will find himself enthusiastically welcomed back to the lineup by the fans, his teammates and Torre.

Written By Danny Hobrock

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