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Like the Dodgers or not, the numbers don't lie

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Jon Paul Morosi

Jon Paul Morosi is a National MLB Writer for FOXSports.com. He previously covered baseball for the Detroit Free Press and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He began his journalism career at the Bay City Times in his native Michigan. Follow him on Twitter.

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We've heard hosannas about the Philadelphia and St. Louis rotations. We've followed the wild card race closely enough to ask whether Colorado or San Francisco has the better utility infielder. (Let me guess: You prefer Omar Quintanilla to Ryan Rohlinger.)
And then there are the Dodgers, who lead the National League with 80 victories, who are in first place by six games, but whose popularity has declined steadily since June. Dismissed and disparaged, generally on account of their rotation, they are perceived by some as the fifth-sexiest entry in a postseason that has room for four. But did you happen to check the league-wide statistics on Thursday morning? Care to guess where the Dodgers ranked in batting average? First, at .273. Care to guess where the Dodgers ranked in ERA? First, at 3.49. I'm not about to declare that Joe Torre will win one for the thumb in early November. But he could, and it's time we remind ourselves of that. Despite a 14-15 record in August, the Dodgers are a very good team with October experience and a genuine chance to win at least one more postseason series than it did last year. Jon Garland made his Dodgers debut on Thursday against his former Arizona teammates, allowing two earned runs in seven innings. He struck out six, tying his second-hardest total of the season. He earned the victory in a 4-2 win. I assume Garland's outing spread good cheer at Chavez Ravine and Granada Hills, the Southern California town where he grew up. The folks there probably smiled as Vin Scully told them that a guy they know had just retired 14 consecutive hitters. I know, I know. Jon Garland is not Cliff Lee. He's right-handed and has one fewer Cy Young Award. By that, I mean that he has zero. The Dodgers coveted Lee before the Indians traded him to Philadelphia at the non-waiver deadline. But their offer was either too late or just plain insufficient. And general manager Ned Colletti might not have uttered those magic words: Yeah, we'll take on all the money. So, the Dodgers spent some prospects on reliever George Sherrill instead. They have since added two bench players (Ronnie Belliard and Jim Thome) and two starting pitchers (Vicente Padilla and Garland). Did Colletti get a No. 1 starting pitcher, on the order of Lee, Tim Lincecum or Chris Carpenter? No. But did Colletti make his team better? Absolutely. And the upgrades came at a relatively small cost in dollars, in keeping with a budget that seems tighter than the snare drums in USC's marching band. The Dodgers' payroll is roughly $105 million, fourth-highest in the NL behind the Cubs, Mets and Phillies. So, owner Frank McCourt isn't brazenly cheap. But he's not known for liquidity, particularly in the middle of seasons. When Colletti deals in July and August, McCourt apparently wants him to surrender better prospects if it means avoiding additional payroll obligations. That's why the Dodgers received roughly $20 million in cash as part of their midsummer deals this year and last (Manny Ramirez, Casey Blake, et al) ... and why Carlos Santana is the Indians' catcher of the future, not their own. Overall, though, the strategy has worked well — partially because management seems to have no other choice, partially because Colletti has the negotiating savvy to pull it off. And the impact on the Dodgers' farm system has hardly been catastrophic. "I don't think it's as deep as it was when Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Russell Martin and James Loney were there, but nobody has that much talent, year after year," said Jim Callis, executive editor of Baseball America.
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"It's thinner than it used to be, but I don't think Colletti's strategy is the reason. They've graduated guys to the big leagues. They haven't drafted quite as well recently as they did earlier this decade, but they haven't done badly, either." So far, Garland and Padilla have combined to go 2-0 with a 2.60 over three starts. Just how Colletti drew it up, right? But come October, the Dodgers will need the starters who were in the organization long before Aug. 1, 2009 — Billingsley, Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda, Randy Wolf. One scout pointed out this week that the Dodgers "still don't have that power arm" to shut down a team in the postseason. And the popular perception is that the Dodgers' rotation pales in comparison to that of potential postseason opponents like the Cardinals, Phillies and Giants. We seem to have forgotten that the Dodgers began last postseason as something of an underdog, an 84-win team beginning the NL Division Series at Wrigley Field against the 97-victory Cubs. We know how that turned out. Kuroda, while not a prototypical power right-hander, won both his starts in the postseason last year. He is scheduled to return Sunday after taking a line drive to the head in mid-August. If he pitches in September (and October) the way he did right before going on the disabled list, the Dodgers might have their Game 1 starter after all. Wolf, the older lefty, and Kershaw, the younger lefty, have been good since the All-Star break. Billingsley hasn't. Come to think of it, Billingsley wasn't very good in the playoffs last year, either. He's young and talented and was named to the All-Star team earlier this year. But he's still inconsistent. Colletti, though, stressed that the scrutiny doesn't belong on one pitcher alone. "We have pitchers that are capable, obviously, or we wouldn't have won as many games as we have," Colletti said Thursday. "Those numbers wouldn't be what they are if we didn't have quality people and quality pitchers." Oh, right. The numbers that say the Dodgers have the best batting average in the league. The numbers that say the Dodgers have the best ERA in the league. The numbers that say the Dodgers have the most wins in the league. A lot of teams in baseball would love to be this flawed.
Tagged: Indians, Dodgers, Mets, Phillies, Cardinals, Giants, Rockies, Jon Garland, Jim Thome, Casey Blake, Chris Carpenter, Cliff Lee, George Sherrill, Omar Quintanilla, Tim Lincecum

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