Eye on the Enemy: Hot April has Dodgers on top NL West for now

The season’s opening month is in the books and at 13-8, the Los Angeles Dodgers already look like a team that is on the fast track to the postseason. The ever so annoying commonly used baseball phrase “it’s early” doesn’t apply to this statement because these Dodgers are backed by back-to-back trips to the playoffs.

So far, the Dodgers have been flexing their LA Fitness offensively. They are among the top teams in baseball in every offensive category. They currently pace the National League in home runs (32), walks (78), on-base percentage (.345), slugging percentage (.486), and OPS (.832).

First baseman Adrian Gonzalez has been the top Dodger to watch so far this year. The 32-year-old leads the National League in home runs with eight and his .383 batting average is the fourth highest in baseball.

By virtue of hitting .295 Second baseman Howie Kendrick is looking like a decent acquisition so far this season. In 26 April at-bats, infielder Alex Guerrero has five home runs and 13 RBI while hitting .423 as Don Mattingly’s secret weapon. Rookie Joc Pederson is also making Dodger fans forget about Matt Kemp by hitting .298/.461/.596 with four home runs.

While the bats have been very big for the Dodgers, their pitching could pose a problem down the line. Even though their pitching staff is among the top five teams in the National League in terms of ERA and they are striking out more batters than any other team, they have lost Brandon McCarthy for the remainder of the season due to a torn UCL that will likely require Tommy John surgery. While McCarthy had a 5.87 ERA, he was 3-0 with 29 strikeouts in 23 innings. Hun Jin-Ryu is still sidelined due to injury and their other rotation acquisition, Brett Anderson, also had a 5.49 ERA. With a 3.73 ERA and opponent batting average of .267, reigning Cy Young and MVP Clayton Kershaw seems slow out of the gate by his standards, but his 43 strikeouts in 31.1 innings suggests a more unlucky streak rather than possible decline.

At least they have seemed to have finally figured out their early bullpen problem. They were short staffed thanks to the injuries of closer Kenley Jansen and Brandon League. After giving Chris Hatcher – a relief pitcher that’s just a few years removed from being a catcher – a try, Joel Peralta seems to have the role down pat, thanks to three saves in three chances and a 0.00 ERA in seven appearances.

Zack Grienke stands out as the ace of the staff with a 4-0 record, a 1.93 ERA and opponent batting average of .193 in four starts. Two of his starts have been against the Padres, where he has given up only one run in 13 innings while striking out 10.

The Dodgers will face a lot of teams in May who are still trying to find themselves. That could end up being the month where they separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

When catcher Yasmani Grandal got traded from the San Diego Padres to the Los Angeles Dodgers, he expected to hit better simply because he was no longer hitting in Petco Park. He even had his doubts of the Padres newly retooled lineup ever getting over the vastness of their ballpark.

“Yeah, they brought in the fence a little bit,” Grandal said back in Spring Training, “but the park still plays big. I’ve had guys who come and have played in the biggest parks in the big leagues and the first thing they say is ‘San Diego is the toughest park to hit.’ I feel like that’s why not too many big time power guys sign, because they want to keep on rolling with their careers.

“There were a bunch of times last year where I hit a ball and I had the coach from the other team come up and say ‘Man, I thought that was going to be a home run.” My exact response was ‘yeah, we have to think about the fact that we play in San Diego’.”

One could say that it is still early, but one month into the season, the Padres are making their former catcher eat his words. While the Dodgers top the National League in home batting average, home runs and RBI (.304, 15 HR, 59 RBI) the Padres are right there with them at fifth on the list in batting average (.261), fourth in home runs, (10) and second in RBI (42). The Padres have three hitters in the top 20 in batting average and four in top 20 in RBI with Matt Kemp leading the pack. Left fielder Justin Upton is among the top five in home runs.

Meanwhile, Grandal has gone 10-for-50 with just one home run and two runs batted in. He also has a .322 on-base percentage, for what it’s worth.

The rivalry between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres has been dormant for a long time. One would have to go back a decade to a time when both Southern California teams were on their way to the postseason.

2006 was the last time the Padres made it to the playoffs. They came close in 2007 and 2010, but fell short in the very end. The Dodgers meanwhile, went two back-to-back NLCS appearances in 2008-09 (lost to the Philadelphia Phillies both years) and back-to-back playoff appearances the last two years (lost to the St. Louis Cardinals both years).

First-year Padres general manager A.J. Preller’s offensive blueprint is paying off so far and have been the closest thing to the Dodgers’ equal in nearly every offensive category. The Dodgers currently have a 4-2 advantage over the Padres having won both series this month. The next time they’ll face off is the weekend series of May 22-24.

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About: Tony Capobianco

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Sports Kave senior writer and podcast host

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