The Dodgers are 8-17 since July 20, during which they have fallen from a first place tie with San Diego to 7 games back of Arizona, in 4th place. Baseball analysts have been blaming the recent swoon on Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent, and Juan Pierre. But, in fact, both Kent and Garciaparra are hitting well over .300 during the losing streak, and Pierre is hitting .287 with a .350 OBP, better than his overall 2007 numbers.
One of the problems has been Russell Martin, who has played 113 more innings than any catcher in the NL and is finally showing some fatigue at the plate. He carried the team while Garciaparra was slumping and Kent was hurt, but since July 20, he is hitting .208 with a 612 OPS, even including his 2 HR game a couple nights ago. Many critics foresaw this. Overuse has limited the production of similar (though perhaps not as talented) speedy, run-producing catchers like Paul Lo Duca and Jason Kendall. Hopefully, Grady Little will learn his lesson and give Coltrane more rest in the first half next year.
The biggest problem, however, is that Little refuses to entrust his young outfielders with everyday roles. Since June 28, Luis Gonzalez is batting .227 with 1 HR and an abysmal 558 OPS. The Dodgers are better off with Brad Penny (.271, 654 OPS) at the plate. They are definitely better off with Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, or Delwyn Young. During that same stretch, despite limited playing time, Ethier has hit .288 with 9 2B, 1 HR, and an 833 OPS. Kemp hasn't been quite as good, only .211 with a 632 OPS, but does have 3 HR, and might be expected to improve with regular at-bats. Young had seven hits in fourteen chances during his eight game cup of coffee. All three offer significant upgrades on defense. The Dodgers need to take a lesson from the division-leading D-Backs. The best solution lies within the organization.
The Dodgers have enough talent and pitching to climb back into the thick of the NL West race. But they need to shake things up immediately. Little won't do it, but they have the ideal lineup for the now-infamous La Russa maneuver of batting the pitcher 8th. I think their order should look like this:
Furcal - SS
Martin - C
Loney - 1B
Kent - 2B
Ethier - RF
Garciaparra - 3B
Kemp - LF
Pierre - CF
The theory here is that you should not be giving the most possible at-bats to a player with an OBP twenty points below the league average, Juan Pierre. However, if you bat Pierre in front of the pitcher you are less likely to get full advantage of the skills he does have, creating havoc on the basepaths and scoring runs, because the easy out behind him will kill a lot of opportunities. By batting him ninth, you give him the opportunity to do many of the things he would do as a leadoff man. When he does get on base, he will have dangerous hitters coming up after him and his pesky presence provides a distraction for the opposing pitcher.