Dodgers keep eye out for pitching help
Starter, late reliever could bolster LA's balanced team
They lost their best hitter for 50 games and their Opening Day starter for another 50, yet the Dodgers hit the All-Star break with the best record in baseball.
The roster that general manager Ned Colletti has built, and manager Joe Torre has guided, probably represents the most balanced Dodgers team in a generation.
From a patient yet relentless lineup to a deep pitching staff to dependable defense and an experienced bench, this club spent most of the first half threatening to run away from the National League West.
On the other hand, it didn't run away. For the past month, the club has basically tread water, even with Manny Ramirez hitting home runs again and Hiroki Kuroda making starts every fifth day.
That's why Colletti is on his annual Trade Deadline search for pitching help. He will inquire about Toronto's Roy Halladay, even though that acquisition would require a package not only costly in young players (probably starting with left-hander Clayton Kershaw) but the kind of CC Sabathia mega-contract the club had no appetite for seven months ago.
Perhaps more important, the Dodgers want a seventh-inning reliever to replace injured workhorse Ronald Belisario, who has provided such a valuable bridge to Ramon Troncoso and closer Jonathan Broxton. Should Hong-Chih Kuo's left elbow cooperate, his return would be a bonus.
The Dodgers had three All-Stars (Chad Billingsley, Broxton and Orlando Hudson), but cases could have been made for 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote candidate Matt Kemp, Ramirez's replacement Juan Pierre and the steady Casey Blake at third base.
Club MVP: Traditionalists can't believe he's batting eighth, but it just shows how talented Kemp is. Offensively, he's added consistency to the tools package that scouts drool over. Sometimes overlooked, he's improved routes on fly balls and has become his pitcher's best friend by turning extra-base hits into outs.
Call him "Ace": There were doubts after his playoff debacle and an offseason broken leg, but an All-Star berth is pretty good proof that Billingsley succeeded. He did win 16 games last year, so it's not like he came out of nowhere. But he's learning the value of pitching to contact and lasting deeper into games, important signs of a staff leader.
Greatest strength: The 103-mph radar readings catch the eye, but Broxton also has become more than just a hard thrower. He's the latest in the line of Dodgers All-Star closers (most recently Takashi Saito and Eric Gagne) in a well-defined bullpen. Troncoso sets up, a revitalized Guillermo Mota has been lights out in the middle and Jeff Weaver a versatile swingman. However ...
Biggest problem: The injury to Belisario creates a concern. Cory Wade had an early-season shoulder injury, then was ineffective, and Kuo's elbow can't be trusted. So management isn't convinced it has a replacement for Belisario in-house.
Biggest surprise: Belisario had never pitched above Double-A in nine previous professional seasons and he was even sent out early in Spring Training. But he came out of nowhere to make the Opening Day roster and emerged as a workhorse with a darting mid-90s sinker. He'll be out at least a month with an elbow strain.
Team needs: In addition to a rubber-armed seventh-inning reliever, the Dodgers want to acquire a fifth starter along the lines of another Randy Wolf.
He said it: "Our theme is resiliency. I love the fact that we haven't lost three games in a row. That says it all. We believe in ourselves. We get contributions from so many guys. It goes back to winning our first 13 games at home. Joe and the staff have a lot to do with it. He reminds us before every series how good we are, but not to take anything for granted, too. He doesn't let us get complacent. He keeps us focused." -- Mark Loretta
Mark your calendar: The second-half Dodgers schedule looks easier than the first half. It starts with 10 games at home, where the Dodgers have the best mark in the league. The last trip in September is against three teams (Washington, Pittsburgh and San Diego) currently in last place in each division. They do have seven games against St. Louis (July 27-30 away, Aug. 17-19 home) and play a September stretch with 15 of 24 on the road.
Fearless second-half prediction: Ramirez will put up even better numbers after the break than he did after his trade last summer.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.