Sunday, June 29, 2014

Stellar D has the Dodgers thinking first place

There's a lot to like about the Dodgers right now.  Their starting pitching is second to none, the offense put up nine runs on Lance Lynn and the Cardinals on Saturday, and an 11-4 run has them one game in back of the Giants for tops in the NL West.

The biggest reason to be happy, especially for Don Mattingly, has been the much improved defense.  Simply put, it's been fantastic in June.

How good?  Try three errors in their 16 wins.  That's right, only three.  Of course, the most infamous one was Hanley Ramirez's wide throw of first, denying Clayton Kershaw a perfect game, but I digress.

Towards the end of May, Mattingly made a big point about improving the porous defense.  He sent Matt Kemp to left field after an absolutely horrendous performance against the Mets on May 22.  The next day, Kemp was on the bench, Andre Ethier was in center, and Kemp hasn't played anywhere but left field since. 

Three infielders deserve a lot of credit for the turnaround, and they're all bench players.  Justin Turner has played a little second and short, but mostly has filled in for Juan Uribe at third with only three errors in 35 games.  Miguel Rojas made a terrific play to keep Kershaw's no-hitter intact, and has one error in 52 total chances between second, short, and third.  Erisbel Arruebarrena hasn't played much, but was flawless in six games and showed off his gun of an arm.

That's not to mention the strong play Adrian Gonzalez (two errors) and Uribe (three errors), who have been very good at their positions for years.  Dee Gordon has seven errors, but has never played second until this year, and looks more comfortable there every game.  Hanley stinks at short, so he gets no love.

A pair of outfielders have been error-free all season in Yasiel Puig and Ethier.  Puig still have five assists from right field, despite teams not running on him nearly as much as last year.  Ethier continues to justify playing in center with no errors, as he has a great knack for taking the right path to the ball.  It's just natural to him.

Let's give Kemp credit, too.  Since he's gone to left, he has not committed an error.  His defensive WAR is pretty bad at -2.0, but like Gordon, gets a bit of a mulligan since it's a new position for him.  Just the fact that he's out there contributing and staying healthy is a great sign.

The bottom line is that better defense is only one piece of the puzzle in playing winning baseball, but it's a big one.  The pitching can be dominant, the offense can hit like crazy, but if the gloves can't pick it, then they wouldn't win as many games as they could.  The Dodgers are showing that doing their part on defense gives them plenty of more opportunities to win games.

That's why you might see the Dodgers tied for first at the end of Sunday, as Clayton Kershaw takes the hill.

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