Dodgers – Rockies Series Preview (4/5 – 4/6)

The first full week of the MLB season begins this week. With the Dodgers traveling to Colorado to face the Rockies, Kenny Shulsen at Lasorda’s Lair and Logan Burdine of the Rox Pile have teamed up to bring you an in-depth look at this brief 2 game division series. We’ll look at the pitching matchups, hot/cold players, an injury report and finish with a 6 pack of questions, 3 from each team.

Los Angeles Dodgers

2011 Record: 3–1, 1st in N.L. West

Colorado Rockies

2011 Record: 1-1, 3rd in N.L. West (1.0 GB)

Pitching Matchups

April 5: Clayton Kershaw vs. Jhoulys Chacin. 6:40 PM MT

Chacin was supposed to make his season debut on Sunday but mother nature was not going to let that happen. Chacin had two outstanding starts against the Dodgers last year, pitching 7 1/3 scoreless innings on May 8 in an 8-0 win, and eight scoreless innings on Sept. 18 in a 12-2 win. However, the Dodgers tagged him for seven runs — just two earned — in a 7-6 loss two starts later. Overall, he started six games against the Dodgers last year, going 3-3 with 2.87 ERA.

Kershaw was absolutely dominant in his season debut in front of a national audience against the reigning MLB champs. He gave up only 4 hits and 1 walk in 7 innings while striking out 9. The left-hander is 5-3 with 3.63 ERA against the Rockies in 13 starts and has limited them to a .227 batting average. He went 3-0 with a 2.10 ERA against the Rockies last season.

April 6: Chad Billingsley vs. Jason Hammel. 1:10 PM MT

Hammel, also making his season debut, pitched in eight games, including five starts, against the Dodgers,  he is 1-1 with a 3.31 ERA and 7.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Last year, he was 1-0 against the Dodgers in three starts, but had a 4.70 ERA.

Chad Billingsley pitched better than his line appeared in a win over the Giants in game 2 of the season, aside from a three-run homer by Brandon Belt he scattered 5 hits and a walk over 6 innings, and only threw 93 pitches. He has struggled in his career going 1-3 with a 6.29 ERA in four starts at Coors Field.

Who’s Hot

Los Angeles: Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw

For the Dodgers Matt Kemp has continued his hot spring and has carried the Dodgers offense.  In four games against one of the best pitching staffs in the National League, Kemp went 5 for 12, .417 average, with a home run, two doubles, three RBI, three walks, and a stolen base.  Oh yeah, he also scored four runs and had 10 total bases. He has the Dodgers only home run and stolen base on the season.

As mentioned above Kershaw was lights out in his first start. However the Rockies lineup figures to pose a greater threat than the Giants, and there is always the ‘Altitude’ to deal with when pitching at Coors Field. Whether it’s mental or if breaking balls truly break less in the thin air we shall see when Kershaw takes the mound.

Colorado: Chris Iannetta and Rafael Betancourt

Chris Iannetta looks like a new player this year.  He’s busted out the Bull Hurley look and he’s driving the ball all over the field.  In two games, he is 3-6 with two doubles, two walks, and three runs scored.  It’s been a very promising start for a player that hit below the Mendoza line last season.

Rafael Betancourt picked up where he left off in 2010.  He’s made two appearances and hasn’t given up a run.  He’s the most underrated arm in the Rockies bullpen.

Who’s Cold

Los Angeles: James Loney and Dodgers Bullpen

Even though Loney is hitting just .133 to begin the season there are hopes that a trip to Colorado is just what the doctor ordered. He is 5-for-15 in his career against Chacin, and had a nine-RBI game at Coors Field in 2006. Overall, Loney has enjoyed success in Colorado, where he has a .319 career average and 44 RBIs, nearly twice as many as he has in the next closest road stadium.

The Dodgers bullpen went a perfect 3 for 3 in hold/save chances over the weekend, but they certainly were not pretty in doing so. Jonathan Broxton gave up home runs in 2 of his 3 outings and only struck out 1 of the 12 hitters he faced; his ERA currently sits at 6.00. Hong-Chih Kuo who was one of the most dominant set-up men in 2010 has issued 2 walks and a hit in his 2 innings of work and has an ERA of 5.40, and Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers rookie who was virtually unhittable in 27 innings in 2010 had a rough start to the season, he gave up 4 hits, 2 walks and 4 ER in his lone inning of work. His ERA is a whopping 36 and he will have to pitch almost flawlessly for the next 2 months to get that back down to a respectable number. If the games are close late the Dodger bullpen should have Rockies fans on the edge of their seats.

Colorado: Troy Tulowitzki and Huston Street

Tulo is 0-8 to start the season.  Frankly, it’s not that surprising.  He’s probably putting extra pressure on himself after signing such an enormous contract in the off-season.  He’s always been a streaky hitter.  He won’t slump for long though.

In two appearances last weekend, Huston Street didn’t exactly inspire confidence.  I’m going to hold off on the panic, but he has to be better.  After last season, the Rox won’t wait around on him if he continues to struggle.

Dodgers

15-day DL: Casey Blake is eligible to come off of the DL on Thursday so he will miss the series, meaning Rockies fans can enjoy a mix of Aaron Miles or Jamey Carroll at 2nd or 3rd base, ugh. Also on the DL are Vicente Padilla (out 2-3 more weeks) Jon Garland (hoping to be back to pitch this weekend in San Diego) Dioner Navarro (who will be out until the middle of May) and Jay Gibbons (Contact lens problems no date set for his return). This list speaks to how weak the Dodgers bench is right now that people like Jay Gibbons and Dioner Navarro are on the DL and the team is actually hoping they return, when really neither has been a productive major leaguer for several years.

Rockies

The Rockies need to design a hand protecting glass case like the one David Duchovny’s character wears in Zoolander.  Right now their injury report consists of three pitchers and all three are dealing with finger injuries.  Aaron Cook is on the 15-day DL after slamming his finger in a door.  He might be ready to go in May.  Ubaldo has a cuticle issue on his thumb.  It sounds like no big deal, but it was enough of an irritant to take 8 MPH off his fastball.  Jorge De La Rosa left Saturday’s start with a blister, but the injury appears to be insignificant.  He was terrific before leaving in the sixth.

Series Six-Pack: Six Dodgers/Rockies Questions

We’ll each be asking the opposing team’s writer 3 questions regarding what to expect from the team in an effort to get more information to you, the readers, look for our answers to be posted on here and on their site as well. As always, anything that was covered by either site is an invitation for any kind of feedback from you in the comments section below!

Dodgers Questions from Logan at Rox Pile:

1. The Denver Post’s Troy Renck recently named Clayton Kershaw as his sleeper pick to win the Cy Young.  Do you think that is realistic?

Kenny: Absolutely, Kershaw has had a sub 3 ERA in each of his first 2 full MLB seasons. He pitches in a very friendly pitchers park in Dodger Stadium, as well as 18 starts a year in Petco and whatever they’re calling the ball park in San Fran these days. There are very few lefties with his mix of plus fastball, plus curve, and a developing changeup and slider. The only thing that could hold him back is a potentially weak Dodgers offense, will he get the kind of run support like Roy Halladay to rack up enough wins, but from a pure stuff-wise perspective he’s as good as any lefty in the NL.

2. Last year the McCourt’s messy divorce derailed the Dodgers’ season.  How much of an effect will it have in 2011?

Kenny: Ugh I guess I should get used to answering this question for every series this year. Let me qualify my comments by saying I respect the Dodger organization tremendously, however the ways in which Frank and Jamie McCourt have used the Dodgers to finance their personal Hollywood wannabe lifestyles disgusts me. Forbes recently reported that since they took over they have racked up $459 million in debt, most of it for personal use. So when you see the product on the field, know that funds for our potential stud left fielder were used to purchase matching 19 million dollar Malibu beach homes, and the list goes on and on. The team’s payroll is up about 10 million from 2010, but without a doubt the product on the field suffers because the owners have used the club to fuel their out of control spending. The Dodgers were recently valued at $800 million and I see the divorce going on for a long time as it’s really the only asset either Frank or Jamie has. And you only need to read stories of how dirty Dodger stadium has become, how there is a lack of security, and all signs point to cutting corners by ownership to save $ where ever possible. At least they have finally started to invest in their minor league system, which was largely ignored for several years.

3. Closer Jonathan Broxton already has three saves this year, but he his performance has been underwhelming.  He gave up two home runs and his velocity is way down.  If Broxton can’t return to form, what is the Dodgers’ back up plan?

Kenny: Option 1 would be Hong-Chih Kuo who was an all-star in 2010 as a set-up man. However, he has had 2 Tommy John surgeries so they are very careful and typically don’t use him on back to back days. Long-term I think the answer is Kenley Jansen. He was converted from catcher in 2009 and made it to the bigs the following year. In 27 IP last year he had 41 K’s and only allowed 12 hits. He got roughed up in his debut this year, which showed all of Dodger fans that he is human, but he has the poise and stuff you look for in a closer and his fastball has a natural cut to it, something you can’t teach which makes him that much tougher. In 26 career games he’s basically had 1 bad outing, and he’s still just learning to pitch so he would seem to be the logical long-term solution.

Rockies Questions from Kenny at Lasorda’s Lair:

1. The Rockies have a terrific 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation with Ubaldo and De La Rosa and Chacin looks like he could be a solid #3. Can they get enough out of Hammel and Rogers to make a serious run at a division title?

Logan: Last week in a start against the Rockies’ Double A affiliate, Rogers gave up three home runs.  I’m hoping his poor performance was due to a lack of intensity, but it doesn’t bode well.  I think he will be replaced in the rotation by May.  Look for Aaron Cook or John Maine to fill out the fifth spot.  Hammel had a solid spring and word out of Rockies’ camp is that he is primed for a breakout season.  I don’t think it is realistic to expect 17 wins and a sub-4.00 ERA from Jason — though that would be fantastic.  Ultimately, he needs to be an innings eater for the Rox, someone that can preserve the bullpen while keeping the team in games.  If he throws 200 innings this season the Rockies will be in great shape.  He has a great chance of hitting that mark.

2. CarGo and Tulo are obviously a premier 1-2 punch. Where will they rest of the offense come from? Does Todd Helton have anything left in the tank and is Ian Stewart ready to take the next step?

Logan
: Dexter Fowler and Seth Smith will be more important to the team than Helton or Stewart.  After all, those are the two players setting the table for Tulo and CarGo.  The good news for the Rox is that both Fowler and Smith are off to good starts.  I wish I had more answers on Stewart, but he’s too much of an enigma.  I can’t decide if he cares too much or not at all.  Obviously, he’s extremely talented, but at what point does it all click for the third baseman?  We’ve been waiting for an answer to that question for three years.  Right now, Helton looks okay.  Obviously, he’s no where near the player he once was, but he looks much better than he did last season.  I think the beat writers’ glowing articles caused the fans to be a little too optimistic about him during spring training.  I was convinced he was going to hit .330 this year — then I saw him play two games.  A realistic expectation for Todd is a .285 batting average with a very low slugging percentage.  By the end of the season, Giambi and Wigginton will receive a sizable share of the work at first.  Aside from those guys, Chris Iannetta and Jose Lopez have been swinging good bats early on.  Lopez hit a laser beam home run on Opening Day.

3. The Rockies could have some closer questions of their own. Houston Street has a track record of injuries and Manny Corpas was pretty much a 1 year wonder as a closer. Matt Belisle is a solid set-up man but is the Rockies bullpen improved over last year?

Logan: All I can say about Corpas is that baseball is a very tough game.  I really don’t know what happened to him.  It’s hard to believe that he is basically out of baseball.  Street was underwhelming this past weekend and his injury history does raise some concerns.  However, most within the organization see the bullpen as a team strength.  They are very high on the newly acquired Matt Lindstrom.  According to the team, he is the backup closer.  He throws quite a bit harder than Street, but doesn’t have the same control.  I don’t see them using Belisle in that role; he’s too effective as a set up man.  A dark horse closer for the team is lefty Rex Brothers.  Brothers was sent to AAA, mostly because Franklin Morales is out of options, but he’s filthy.  Ask Joey Votto.

Thanks to Kenny for teaming up with me on this and enjoy the series.  Go Rockies!!!

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Topics: Chad Billingsley, Chris Iannetta, Clayton Kershaw, Colorado Rockies, Dodgers - Rockies Series Preview, Huston Street, James Loney, Jason Hammel, Jhoulys Chacin, Jonathan Broxton, LA Dodgers, Matt Kemp, Matt Lindstrom, Rafael Betancourt, Rex Brothers, Troy Tulowitzki

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