The Rockies face the Dodgers for the first time since May 1st, when Los Angeles finished off a sweep at Dodger Stadium and kept the ball rolling on what would finish as a 10-game Colorado losing streak, the low point of their season so far. Before that, though, the Rockies won the first two games of a series at Coors, including the April 22nd complete game barnburner (which I attended) that introduced the world to Jeremy Jennings.
As hard hit as the Rockies have been by the injury bug, Los Angeles has even more reason to complain. The Dodgers won the NL West last year and were considered at least candidates to take the division this season. Instead, the club is below .500 and slipping, with Jose Valentin, Eric Gagne, Milton Bradley, Wilson Alvarez, and Odalis Perez all on the disabled list as of this writing. Gagne is out for the year. What's more, today brings the news (reg. required) that J.D. Drew will be out at least 6-8 weeks with a broken wrist.
Who's left? Well, mostly All-Star Jeff Kent. Kent, who shares the team lead in homers with Drew with 15, carries a unique distinction. He is the current wearer of the Paul O'Neill Memorial (Tossed) Batting Helmet, presented to the active major leaguer whose guts I hate the most. Sure enough, in that Jennings gem earlier in the year, it was Kent's long ball that prevented me from seeing my first-ever Coors complete-game shutout. Perversely, I'm glad he's playing well even into his late '30s, as things just won't be the same without him. I really loathe Bartolo Colon, but hating a guy every fifth day just isn't the same.
Unless Kent and Olmedo Saenz can somehow take the Dodgers on their backs, the Padres are going to win the NL West in a landslide. The rest of the Los Angeles offense looks very poor indeed. Hee Seop Choi has 13 homers, but half of them came in one freaky series against the Twins. Cesar Izturis had a nifty May but has been otherwise worthless with the stick. Jason Phillips has proved an inadequate substitute for Paul Lo Duca behind the dish. With Drew and Bradley absent, it'll be a challenge for L.A. to even field three outfielders. Ricky Ledee has been fair to middlin', but guess what, he's on the DL. The rest of the Dodgers OF's are 1) named "Jason" or some variant thereof and 2) can't hit to save their lives.
The Los Angeles pitching staff has been hit equally hard. Brad Penny, whom they acquired down the stretch last year to be their postseason ace (he then got hurt), has proven worth the risk. His 3.49 ERA and 1.14 WHIP are the best in the Dodgers' rotation. Big free agent signing Derek Lowe has been reasonably good (3.96, 1.36, 6.18 K/9). In the aggregate the Dodgers' staff ranks 11th in the NL with a 4.53 ERA, not a good number considering the hurler-friendliness of the Stadium and the organization's pitching 'n' defense tradition.
The Rockies will catch both Penny and Lowe in this four-game series, in addition to the average Jeff Weaver and Perez (scheduled to come off the DL). Today will see Weaver facing Byung-Hyun Kim, then it's Perez-Jeff Francis, Penny-Joe Kennedy, and Lowe-Jamey Wright. Thursday's getaway game is a day tilt; the rest are night games. Go tonight if you can as Coors Field will probably be fairly full for the postgame fireworks show, and it never hurts to get nostalgic for those halcyon days when it was full all the time. Given the Dodgers' injury woes (and a Francis start, which is happily starting to mean an automatic win), a split here is probably a reasonable assumption.