Analysts, sports writers, and fans spent a majority of this past offseason and spring training focused on the Dodgers' pitching staff. After all, General Manager Ned Colletti spent buku money locking up two key additions to the starting rotation in Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Greinke, a 2010 AL Cy Young candidate, and Ryu, the 2006 Rookie of the Year and MVP for the Hanwha Eagles of the Korean Baseball Organization, dominated the early headlines and were hyped as the much needed pieces this Dodgers team needs to make a serious post-season run.
With Chad Billingsley, Josh Beckett, and 2011 NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw all returning to the rotation, a sense of excitement developed in Los Angeles and Dodgers fans began to believe their starting five put a 2013 World Series Championship within reach.
Not so fast.
Despite Kershaw's stellar opening day performance in which he tossed a complete game shutout, struck out 7, and hit his first big league home run, the Dodgers have very little to celebrate regarding their opening series with the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants.
Offensively, the Dodgers have been difficult to watch. Remove from the picture Carl Crawford, the lone bright spot in the lineup so far this season, and the Dodger hitters are a combined 11 for 82 for a paltry .134 batting average. More alarming is the fact that the team is 2 for 27 with runners in scoring position (.074 average). Outside of Kershaw's solo home run, the Dodgers have yet to score a run on a clean hit and have only posted 3 total RBIs. Yikes.
Sadly, these embarrassing statistics don't even illustrate how poor the Dodgers' situational hitting has been. In Wednesday's game, Matt Kemp stepped into the box against Giants' reliever George Kontos with the bases loaded and no outs. After quickly getting ahead in the count 2-0, Kemp rolled over on a meaty, belt-high fastball one hopping a routine double play ball right into the glove of Giants' third baseman Pablo Sandoval. The reluctant manner in which fans applauded the run that scored on the play embodies the frustration that has developed regarding the consistency with which Dodger hitters continue to have poor at bats when the opportunities are most ripe.
Kemp downplayed the series loss after Wednesday's game in which the Dodgers were 1 for 14 with runners in scoring position.
"It's only three games of the season, we're not panicking," Kemp said. "They got big hits and we didn't get the job done. Bases loaded and I hit into a double play. I've got to find a better pitch to swing at. It won't be the last time I have a bad series. I'm turning the page, not worried about that at-bat anymore. If I stay within myself, I'll be the 2011 version of Matt Kemp that everybody knows."
The good news is that it's early in the season. Indeed, that's an understatement. The team has played a measly 3 games with 159 to go. Fans can point to the absence of Hanley Ramirez, and take comfort in the common knowledge that a hitter's average following the first series of the year does not indicate what's to be expected over the span of an entire season. But for a team with a payroll over $200 million loaded with offensive firepower, the opening series results are maddening for a fan base with such high expectations.
Sure, one can always counter that the Dodger hitters were up against the likes of 2012 NL Cy Young candidate Matt Cain, rising star Madison Bumgarner, and two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum, but aren't they the types of pitchers the Dodgers will have to beat if they expect to contend for a 2013 World Series Championship?