Inconsistent Dodgers open 2nd half with NL West lead

July 16, 2015
No pitcher has ever done better than $215 million over seven-years in the Major League history. (AP)

Clayton Kershaw’s t-shirt says everything about the first half of the season, for him and the Dodgers.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Dodgers begin the second half with a 4 1/2-game lead over San Francisco in the NL West, having managed to remain in first since the end of May despite a rotation hit by injuries and an inconsistent offense.

They’ve used 12 starting pitchers after losing two-fifths of their rotation for the season, the bullpen has been rocked by injury, and yet they own their largest lead at the break since 2009.

It helps that much of the National League has been playing .500 ball so far.

“I want to stay where we’re at,” manager Don Mattingly said. “If that’s what it takes to win a division, then hopefully we do that. How you get in (the playoffs) has zero to do with it.”

The Dodgers open a 10-game trip against NL East opponents starting Friday at Washington. The first-place Nationals have won nine of their last 11 at home. Clayton Kershaw (6-6, 2.85 ERA) will start for the Dodgers after taking the loss in the All-Star Game on Tuesday.

The trip takes the Dodgers to third-place Atlanta for three games before playing four games in New York against the second-place Mets.

The Giants have a more favorable schedule coming out of the break. They travel to third-place Arizona and fourth-place San Diego before returning home to host Oakland, last in the AL West, and Milwaukee, last in the NL Central.

The Dodgers and Giants are tied for the most shutouts in the majors with 13.

“This is when baseball gets really fun the rest of the way,” backup catcher A.J. Ellis said.

Zack Greinke (3-2, 1.39) has overshadowed Kershaw with a scoreless innings streak of 35 2/3 while positioning him for a Cy Young Award bid. Brett Anderson has stepped up as the third starter to salvage a rotation weakened by season-ending surgeries to Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy.

“You got to replace and that’s where you have trouble,” Mattingly said. “It has a trickle-down effect on your club.”

Especially the backend of the rotation, which has struggled on the inexperienced arms of Mike Bolsinger and Carlos Frias, leaving the team in need of reinforcements at the July trade deadline.

Kershaw’s .500 record didn’t impress his peers or fans enough to vote him into the All-Star Game, with the left-hander getting there as a replacement in his fifth straight appearance.

“It has been frustrating at times this year,” he said. “People have high expectations for me, and that’s good. I expect a lot out of myself, which helps me. I wasn’t very good for a while there.”

Closer Kenley Jansen has come back strong after missing six weeks because of foot surgery, but five other relievers spent time on the disabled list.

Even when their pitching has been good, the Dodgers have struggled to score runs.

Yasiel Puig’s numbers highlight the inconsistency. The 24-year-old right fielder is batting .261 with four home runs and 14 RBI after dealing with a hamstring issue and a callus on his left hand.

“He just needs to continue to work and be consistent with his work,” Mattingly said. “You get out what you put in. Sometimes it’s more trouble for guys like Yasiel who things come easily to. If you do that work, your talent is going to shine.”

Rookie Joc Pederson had 20 home runs in the first half, and he finished second in the Home Run Derby. But the 23-year-old center fielder tailed off before the break, hitting .145 with 21 strikeouts, eight hits and three RBI in his last 15 games.

“It’s a matter of him staying steady,” Mattingly said. “His demeanor has been good, which tells me a lot.”

Catcher Yasmani Grandal has settled in since coming from San Diego in the Matt Kemp trade, earning his first All-Star bid while hitting .282 with 14 homers and 36 RBI.

Adrian Gonzalez was 1 for 11 in the last three games before the break, but he’s been the team’s most productive hitter with a .283 average, 18 homers and 55 RBI.

The Dodgers expect some additions in the second half. Left fielder Carl Crawford is close to returning from rehabbing an oblique strain. Cuban infielder Hector Olivera, who signed a $62.5 million deal in May, will join the team when his hamstring allows.