Los Angeles Baseball: A Tale of Two Intersections
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim squared off in their annual Freeway Series this week, with both teams only winning the games they hosted. The atmosphere at Chavez Ravine and Angel Stadium was hostile and crossed like the colors on the flag on Memorial Day, as fans witnessed the action.
While the rivalry was intense, both teams are underperforming on the diamond and giving their fans precedence to call out their clubs with negative chants. Here's a look into the major storylines that surround both clubs following the freeway split, with both teams having major questions moving forward.
Big Money, Little Production
The Dodgers and Angels have two talented outfielders in Matt Kemp and Josh Hamilton, but neither have played even close to being worth the monster contracts they just signed.
Kemp, the Dodgers centerfielder, signed an eight-year, $160 million-dollar deal last offseason. His production so far: two home runs and a measly .251 batting average. These numbers are historically low for the 28-year-old, who continues to fight pain in his shoulder despite numerous reports that Kemp thinks his struggles are more mental than physical.
The news for Kemp got even worse Thursday, as the Dodgers placed him on the 15-day DL. Now, Kemp and the Dodgers will listen and wait as mounting disapproval surrounds the superstar who is searching for his groove at the plate.
The struggles began back on a fateful day last August, when Kemp crashed into the Coors Field wall in Denver, the site where the Dodgers travel this weekend.
Over in Anaheim, the Angels made an equally big splash by reeling in Josh Hamilton, who has been anything but magical this season. The lefty has shown tremendous pop in his career, hitting 169 home runs, including a career-high 43 last season, but his big issue this year has been a lack of patience at the plate that is forcing him to swing at pitches out of the strike zone.
Hamilton's batting average has plummeted to .219 this year, and he has a 0.0 WAR (Wins Above Replacement Level) and is on pace for 150 strikeouts on the year. Those numbers will not cut it for the Angels lineup, even though the team continues to score runs at a profilic pace despite having a record under .500.
Dodgers Blockbuster Trade Looking Like A Hollywood Thriller
For all the talk of the Dodgers half-billion-dollar investment from the Boston Red Sox, the big pieces of the deal are performing at a strong pace.
Not only is Crawford hitting, but he can also flash the leather, highlighted by a tremendous diving catch down the right-field line.
The marquee piece of the deal was Adrian Gonzalez. After a slow start last season, the Dodgers first baseman has been red-hot this year. Gonzalez is hitting .328, while also leading the team with 39 RBI. Not only is Gonzalez hitting consistently, he is resurrecting his 2009 days with the San Diego Padres by single-handedly carrying the offense by hitting a blistering .452 with RISP.
The power may be down at Chavez Ravine, but Gonzalez continues to cash in as the investment the Dodgers took on last August.
Don’t forget that Nick Punto was the final piece of the deal. Punto was shipped from Boston as dead weight, but has been rather useful in Los Angeles. Given the Dodgers' injury concerns with Mark Ellis and Hanley Ramirez in the middle of the infield, Punto has gotten quality at-bats and cashed in on the opportunity. The 35-year-old utility man is hitting .309 on the year, and has held down the fort at shortshop, third base, and even second base this season.
The Chosen One Rising At The Right Time
Coming into the season, Los Angeles fans knew that the Angels were going to put up runs, and a whole bunch of them. But this year’s contributors are rather surprising.
Albert Pujols is an injured shell of himself, a .246 hitter who struggles to run the base paths without grimacing with pain from planter fasciitis. The man who has stepped up for the Angels in none other than Howie Kendrick, the man that has played below expectations throughout his eight-year career in Anaheim. Kendrick is hitting .304 on the year, but more importantly, is slugging a career-high .464, including a six-hit performance against the Dodgers this week.
When the Angels are truly clicking, they are knocking doubles around the park with ease and allowing their combination of speed and power to overpower teams. In the Dodgers 8-7 wacky victory in the rivalry opener on Monday night, the Angels mashed five doubles off their former number two pitcher, Zack Greinke. These types of nights have fueled the Angels' recent rise in the rankings, winning nine of their last 11 games.
Angels in the Outfield would be proud to don Mike Trout as the next generation of superstar to patrol the pasture. The magic man from New Jersey continues to flourish after a rough start to the season, hitting .327 with eight home runs and 21 RBIs in the month of May. For the Angels to climb out of their eight-and-a-half game deficit in the AL West, they will need their stars, young and old alike, to continue their hot streaks at the plate.
Angels Pitching Making Life Tough
The squad quieted the "Fire Mike Scioscia" talks following their hot play to finish the month, but the pitching has made matters difficult for the former Dodgers catcher who is under contract in Anaheim for over $25 million until 2018.
Joe Blanton (1-8, 5.94 ERA) is the final piece of the rotation, who has provided little help on the other side of Los Angeles. The former Dodger posted a 2-4 record in the second half of last season, and was the Angels' main free-agent signing to replace Greinke in the already-battered rotation.
Former Mariner Jason Vargas, has been a refreshing bright spot for the Angels over his last six starts, throwing at least seven innings in each. Vargas kept the Dodgers off-balance all night long, throwing seven innings of five hit ball, including a season-high 17 fly-ball outs.
Luckily help is on the way, as Jered Weaver made his third start of the season over the course of the Freeway Series, and pitched six innings of one-run baseball. The bullpen is also starting to solidify with Ernesto Frieri working well against the Dodgers this week, recording two saves in the series.
Clutch Hitting Nowhere To Be Found in Tinseltown
The difference between the Angels/Dodgers and the top teams in the league is relatively simple: they don't cash in with runners in scoring position. Teams like the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers are the tops in the league at bringing runners home, and of course have two of the best records while the Los Angeles clubs are at the middle of the pack.
The Angels are hitting .255 on the year, 15th in the MLB, while the Dodgers are hitting .246 and have really struggled playing situational baseball that extends far beyond the numbers. When the situation gets extremely tough, with running in scoring position with two outs, the Dodgers are hitting a horrendous .207 on the season.
Both sides' struggles were best exhibited in some of this week's action, as the Dodgers failed to come from behind in Anaheim, while the Angels ran themselves out of situations over at Chavez Ravine.
The best of the weekend came in the opening game of the series where both teams combined for 15 runs but also went 7-28 with RISP. In a game that went back and forth all night long, including a Dodger five-run comeback, clutch hitting was necessary for both teams.
Big Picture: Los Angeles's Summer Canvas
The Dodgers and Angels are both facing large deficits in the standings, but there is a glimmer of hope for each as May turns to June.
The pieces are starting to come together in the Dodgers rotation, which could be the only solution to the team's problems. With Ryu, Greinke and Kershaw at the top, the Dodgers can afford to play low-scoring, grind-it-out baseball. But first, the Men in Blue need their shaky bullpen to settle down. Ronald Bellisario has allowed the most inherited runners in the league to score this season, and the closer combo of Kenley Jansen (5.40 ERA in May) and Brandon League (4.66) have both struggled to shut the door in the final innings.
For the Angels, it's even more simple: find ways to get hot at the plate and on the mound at the same time. We saw the Angels rip off seven straight wins earlier this month, showing that when hot, they can compete with any team in the big leagues. The mounting concern is that the bats and arms will never synch up, reminiscent of Dodgers last season, and the Angels will once again be sitting in low 80-win mark and end up missing the postseason for the third straight year.