Tim Kurkjian

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Wednesday, May 28
Updated: June 8, 8:42 AM ET
 
Dodgers offense in arms' way

By Tim Kurkjian
ESPN The Magazine

In this era of spectacular offense, juiced balls and now, it seems, corked bats, the Dodgers are attempting to win almost solely with pitching. It's an admirable undertaking, and not one completely without precedence, but it's not going to be easy -- this isn't 1966 anymore.

Kevin Brown
An injury-free Kevin Brown has been dominating.

At least the Dodgers have the best pitching. There is no question about that. Through Wednesday, they led the major leagues with a 2.96 ERA, 1.36 runs below the major-league average. Their bullpen ERA is 2.04, around two runs below the league average.

The next best ERA in the National League is the Cubs' 3.63, a a gap of .67. Only four times in league history -- and not since 1953 -- has a team finished a season with an ERA .50 lower than the next best in the league. The 1907 Cubs hold the league record for the largest gap between first and second in ERA: .56. The Dodgers are on a pace to smash that.

"Dodger Stadium has been one of the greatest pitcher's parks for 42 years,'' said Dodgers general manager Dan Evans. "We're going to tailor our team to it, with pitching and defense. You're not going to out-slug people in this park.''

No NL team has finished with an ERA under 3.00 since the 1989 Dodgers. This staff has a chance. It has five above-average major-league starting pitchers, led by the indomitable Kevin Brown, who, despite offseason back surgery, has been the league's best pitcher. No team can match the five-some of Brown, Hideo Nomo, Odalis Perez, Darren Dreifort (who's currently on the DL) and Kaz Ishii.

"Kevin's back has been bothering him for a few years,'' said Dodgers pitching coach Jim Colborn. "As a pitching coach the last two years, I only saw spots of greatness. To see it every start is mind-boggling. It's like an art connoisseur having a free day at the Louvre by himself. You're turned on by the experience.'' The Dodgers bullpen has been even better than the rotation. Their top five relievers have an ERA under 3.00: Paul Shuey (1.02), Paul Quantrill (1.46), Guillermo Mota (1.77), Eric Gagne (2.17) and Tom Martin (2.70). Gagne, for the second straight year, has been virtually un-hittable. He has pitched 29 innings, allowed 13 hits, walked six and struck out 52.

Great disparity
Through June 4:
Pitching No. Rank
Staff ERA 2.96 1st
Bullpen ERA 2.04 1st
Runs allowed 184 1st
Hits allowed 420 1st
Hitting No. Rank
Average .250 22nd
Runs 209 29th
Home runs 35 30th
OPS .682 29th

"When Eric gives up a hit or a walk, you wonder, 'What the hell is wrong?' '' Colborn said. "It's like that with everyone. With Shuey the other night, he got an out and gave up a double on three pitches. I went to him on the bench and asked, 'What did you do wrong?' He said, 'I only threw three pitches.' I was just wondering how they get a hit off of him.''

The question is, can this pitching overcome the LA offense? The Dodgers have scored the fewest runs in the league. No team in major-league history has gone to the playoffs as the lowest scoring team in its league. Two teams, the 1973 Mets and 1985 Royals, have gone to the postseason as the second-lowest scoring team in its league. Last year, the Braves finished 10th in scoring, won 101 games and the NL East title. But they scored 708 runs. The Dodgers were on a pace to score only 590 runs. The 1966 Dodgers, the NL champions, scored more than that (606).

"I've wondered if we scored six runs a game whether that would take an edge off our pitching,'' said Colborn. "Our expectation, realistic or not, is to allow three runs a game. For us, the first to four runs, wins. We all know how bad pitching can affect a game. Same thing with offense, the same ramifications, the same ripple effect. You change your philosophy. But we sit there and beg for a five-run lead in the seventh.''

During the Dodgers' 10-game winning streak this year, they scored only 40 runs. Evans has said that he's not going to trade any of his pitching, especially his bullpen depth, to upgrade his offense.

Plus, the Dodgers remain adamant, at least for now, that they won't go over $117.5 luxury tax threshold -- theirs is roughly $115 million. Still, there have been rumors that they're going to add another hitter -- Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell is one possibility, a totally enthused Roberto Alomar could be another -- in hopes of winning the NL West.

"If you gave me the choice of great pitching and a sub-par offense, or sub-par pitching and a great offense, I'd take the great pitching every time,'' Evans said. "That always gives you a chance.''

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Baseball Tonight. E-mail tim.kurkjian@espnmag.com.







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