HALFWAY REPORT

With the All-Star break now history, the Boys in Blue start off the 2nd half of the season beginning an 8 game road trip  with consecutive 4 game series starting tomorrow night at St. Louis, as rookie Chad Billingsley will be called upon to begin tomorrow nights opener.  The Dodgers start the second half in good shape,  2 games behind the Padres in the NL West but leading the wild card race  1.5 games on the Giants, Rockies, and Reds. 

The first half has perhaps given us a glimpse for what the future has in store, and if that is the case, there will be many more bright days ahead here in L.A.  Two of the biggest rookies who have made a huge impact are outfielder Andre Ethier and catcher Russell Martin.  Ethier, acquired from the Oakland A’s that sent talented but contoversial outfielder Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez up north, is on of the leading candidates for NL Rookie of the Year and is coming off a NL Player of the Week honor.  Catcher Russell Martin, also in his first season in the Bigs, has shown he’s anything but a rookie behind the dish, giving the Blue their first true quality catcher since Paul LoDuca.  After starting off his big league career with 7 home runs in the first two weeks of June, outfielder Matt Kemp’s power numbers have cooled off a bit but when given a chance, continues to deliver.  Though the Dodger outfield is flooded with quality every day players and players with more then  enough potential to be every day players, Matt Kemp will be a great backup and occasional starter behind Kenny Lofton and JD Drew during the  2nd half.  Speaking of the outfield, where do we put Repko once he comes back healthy ?  Do we have Repko, Lofton, and Drew out there?  Where does that put Ethier?  Or does Repko, Kemp, and Ethier share time in left ?  Or does Repko share time with Kenny Lofton or JD Drew?  Does Jose Cruz Jr. become a trading piece for a 5th starter come July 31st ? 

As for the infield, enough can’t be said about the season Nomar Garciaparra has given us.  After being on the DL during the first two weeks of the season, Nomar has quickly become a fan favorite here in his native hometown, while leading the league in batting average, especially from the 7th inning on, where he is batting over .400 .  Man that’s sick.  As for the rest of the infield, after slow starts with the bats, our middle infielders Jeff Kent and Rafael Furcal have bounced back nicely, however, Kent’s health remains an issue at this time.  Furcal has been somewhat of a disappointment to this point, leading the team in errors, most on routine plays.  However, the job at short stop still remains his, while Cesar Izturis, back much earlier then anticipated from Tommy John surgery, has displayed solid defense at 3rd base.  Here’s hoping the Dodger Brass does not put him up for trade bate later this month.  And when it comes time to turn to the bench, who better than to have Olmedo Saenz and Ramon Martinez, two proven veterans who know how to come through in the clutch, with Martinez being very expandable, playing any position ( With the exception of pitching) if need be. 

The catchers postion may be has also been one of the recent successes the Blue has had on the field as well.  This may also be one of the deeper position’s with Russell Martin continuing his growth behind the plate and Sandy Alomar  all 40 years of him, taking Russell under his wings.  Recently acuired Toby Hall has given the Dodgers a formidable 3rd catcher and may even see more playing time ahead of the veteran Sandy Alomar.

And now, our obvious achilles heal for the season.  PITCHING. 

The fact that we are only 2 games behind the Padres and 1.5 games up on the Wild Card, inspite of all the rookies we’ve played to this point, and the lack of presence in the #’s 4 and 5 spots in the pitching rotationfor all intents and purposes, the Blue is actually in good shape.  And as for the pitching, after struggling to find an identity earlier in the season, and with the knowledge that GAME OVER is no more, ( Perhaps maybe even for his Dodgers career ), the bullpen has slowly found it’s niche as 37 year old rookie Tak Saito has been a pleasant surprise in his closer role.  Danys Baez, picked up from TB to be Gagne’s setup man and occassional closer had Gagne gone down, has come through as well serving as Saito’s setup and could still have a role with the Dodgers in the future as a closer.  Jonathan Broxton and Joe Biemel have also provided quality outings as well, but could tire later on if our 4 and 5 guys in the pitching rotation continue to struggle in the 2nd half.  However, there could still be some hope in the current rotation.  With the exception of Brad Penny and Derek Lowe, the 3-5 positions are still in doubt.  Aaron Sele has done a terrific job since joining the Blue, but now the fans are wondering does he still have enough in the tank.  Brett Thomko, when he returns from the DL, must regain his early season form if he is to keep his spot secure.  Mark Hendrickson, acquired in a trade from Tampa that sent catcher Dioner Navarro and pitcher Jae Seo to the Rays, has for the most part been a victim of some bad luck during his first two starts, thanks to some shoddy defense and seeing eye grounders.  So I’m willing to give Hendrickson another chance to prove himself.  Also, playing for a contender for the first time in his career could also be having an impact as well after years in Tampa.  So where does that leave Chad Billingsley?  Well, unless the Dodgers can find someone to claim this albatross on their necks known as Odallis Perez, Billingsley will probably head back to Vegas for more polishing.  So, here’s my projected 2nd half pitching lineup ( Barring trades )

STARTERS

Penny, Lowe, Sele, Thomko, and Hendrickson.

BULLPEN

Broxton, Biemel, Baez, Carrara ( Welcome Back, Gio…), Perez, and Saito.

On the Way Back to Vegas

Billingsley, unless we find a taker for Odallis.

AND THE PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP

SS Furcal

CF Lofton

1B Nomar

RF Drew

2B Kent

LF Ethier

SS Izzy

C Martin

THE BENCH

Kemp, Repko, Cruz Jr. , Martinez, Saenz, Hall, Alomar Jr.

ON THE WAY OUT ?

Kemp.  Can hit a fastball, but still needs to hit a pitch that has movement.  Also reminds me so much like Repko in the outfield.  Aggressive, but prone to make mistakes because of his style of play.  Main reason for the move back to Vegas is because outfield is on of our deepest positions once everyone is back healthy and it would not be fair for Matt to just sit around.  A little more fine-tuning would be a good thing for this youngster, who can only get better with more actuall playing time, even if it be in Vegas.

Cruz Jr. Outfield depth and the possible need for a 5th starter would be reason to move Cruz Jr. who has played with 4 different teams in the past 3 years.  Cruz could probably get more playing time elsewhere.

With the depth the Blue has, in the NL West, where each team is within 4.5 games of each other, I still give the Dodgers the edge to win the division.  The key will still be the pitching, traditionally a strength for the Blue. 

NOTE

Tomorrow, I will be doing a live weblog during the Dodgers-Cardinals game at 5:10 PDT.  I hope you will find some time to join me as I make my 2nd post of the season.  GO DODGERS !!!

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