The momentum may have been stolen from the hurricane.
Tinseltown was turned upside down when outfielder Manny Ramirez, the lead singer of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the hottest act on the West Coast and the sole constituent of "Mannywood," tested positive for the fertility drug human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) Thursday, May 7. The result: a 50-game suspension from Major League Baseball and a blow to the momentum of one of this season's rampaging clubs.
Ramirez, 37 this month, has been a monster bat in the middle of the otherwise Dodgers' tepid offensive cast. After he was traded by the Boston Red Sox last August the rebellious outfielder hit .396 with a 1.236 OPS and mashed 17 homers in 187 at-bats in an unfamiliar league. His bat gave the Dodgers a high they nearly rode to the World Series.
In fact, from April through July last season the Dodgers had hit only .256 with 74 home runs. From Aug. 1 on, with Manny, they hit .281 with 63 round-trippers in only two months. Bluntly put: With Manny they've scored 4.95 runs a game versus 4.22 without him in 2008 and '09.
The start of this season has simply been a replay of the end of last season for the boys in Blue. They have taken advantage of a weak NL West and, through Wednesday May 13, own the best record in baseball at 23-12. Their offense rates second in the majors in runs (196), first in on-base percentage (.374) and tied for second in hitting (.288). However, Manny's six homers and .641 slugging percentage in 2009 will likely be missed; the Dodgers have managed only 28 homers (23rd) as a club.
The effect of the absence
Whether Manny was coming off a steroid cycle or attempting to mother a child won't really matter for the rest of the Dodgers' lineup. The bottom line is that one of the game's elite hitters is out and LA bats will likely suffer.
Outfielders Andre Ethier (.273, .852 OPS) and Matt Kemp (.281, .826 OPS), as well as second baseman Orlando Hudson (.348, .968 OPS), are off to great starts. Ethier may have benefited most last season from Manny's arrival as he hit .368 with nine homers in the season's last two months while primarily hitting in the No. 2 hole. Hudson, primarily hitting directly in front of Manny in '09, has scored 29 runs after scoring just 54 in 104 games last season with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Speedy but extremely light-hitting outfielder Juan Pierre will replace Ramirez until the latter is eligible to return, July 3. Pierre is a career .301 hitter and can steal 40-plus bases. However, the Dodgers don't need someone to steal bases; they need to fill the 500-point gap between Pierre's OPS (.690) and Manny's OPS (1.200) over their Dodgers careers. In 5,209 career at-bats, Pierre has only 13 home runs and a .372 slugging percentage. In nine seasons his single-season high in RBIs is 55, back in 2001 with the Colorado Rockies. Los Angeles finished 21st in the bigs in runs when Pierre was the club's everyday center fielder, in 2007.
The Dodgers not only need for Ethier and Kemp to become a presence in the middle of the lineup but also first baseman James Loney (.277, one home run, .708 OPS) and catcher Russell Martin (.273, zero home runs, .712 OPS) to produce in the manner in which they're capable. Without Ramirez, getting both on track may be more difficult.
However, it has been noted that some Dodgers may have become complacent with Manny in the lineup, becoming too relaxed because they expected him to deliver. Last year Martin was more productive before Ramirez joined LA (.300-10-52 in 370 at-bats) rather than after (.246-3-17 in 179 at-bats). Perhaps the loss of the dreadlocked one will inspire the Blue's slumping hitters to pick up a little of the slack.
Perhaps the Dodgers will put up a lot of 3-2 and 2-1 tallies, although the first seven contests without him (5.00 runs per game) suggest otherwise. Their pitching staff has posted the second best ERA in the game at 3.76, but the stress to make up for lost offense may result in fewer victories and a little more inconsistency.
Expect a moderate drop-off for Ethier, Kemp and Hudson; all three have lost the biggest security blanket west of St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols. Ethier and Kemp are still good enough to start most nights, but cold spells may last a little longer because they'll see fewer good pitches. Both are accomplished against same-handed pitchers, though.
Hudson is posting a career-high average on balls in play. While his supporting indicators suggest he may be on his way to a career year, his current pace is unsustainable. He's also prone to injury. You may have missed your window to trade him, but see what you can get. It shouldn't be a loss if you hold him until Manny returns, either.
Loney is driving the ball (24.0 percent line-drive rate), but he hasn't been very fortunate. He may not realize the power potential the Dodgers hope for, but any slight boost in the lift he generates with his swing (33.9 percent flyball rate) should turn things around for him in the slugging percentage department.
Martin has shown plenty of life in May (14-for-32, .438 average). He has seven hits in 15 at-bats since Manny's suspension. It's likely a coincidence. A bounce-back is likely a result of some much improved selectivity at the plate.
As for Pierre, he is a great pickup if you need short-term steals. He will likely hover between .275 and .300 and can steal 15 to 20 bases in 45-plus games. You know what you get with Pierre, and you know what you don't get. Based on his lengthy history, do not expect his 2009 OPS of .986 to continue.
David has been a KFFL writer since 2005. He is a San Diego native and a History and Geography student at California State University-Chico. He has a writing background and has appeared in, and helped produce, various local newsletters and magazines on sports and music. He also pitched for the No. 2 nationally ranked Rancho Buena Vista Longhorns his senior year of high school in 2002.