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Arms Race

Dodgers Have Park, Baldwin and a Feeling It's Their Year

July 31, 2001|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The injury-ravaged Dodgers are atop the National League West despite several rotation make-overs. Now comes the hard part.

The second-place Arizona Diamondbacks and third-place San Francisco Giants are in close pursuit, have acquired rotation help and are still trying to bolster their rosters before today's 1 p.m. PDT nonwaiver trading deadline.

San Francisco, coming off a four-game sweep at Arizona in which it received a boost from newly acquired first baseman Andres Galarraga, raised the stakes again Monday, acquiring starter Jason Schmidt and outfielder John Vander Wal from the Pittsburgh Pirates for outfielder Armando Rios and reliever Ryan Vogelsong.

The Dodgers got starter James Baldwin, the top player on their wish list, but the Chicago Cubs outbid them for former Milwaukee Brewer reliever Dave Weathers in another deal Monday.

The Cubs gave the Brewers better prospects than the Dodgers offered for the right-hander, who might have been a good complement for setup man Matt Herges.

Trading can occur until postseason rosters are set Aug. 31, but players must clear waivers after today, meaning the roster will be set barring some unexpected good fortune for the Dodgers.

They're relying on the new-look rotation to keep them ahead of the West and wild-card packs, hoping this edition remains intact.

"I've never seen any team have the amount of injuries we have, let alone a rotation," said starter Kevin Brown, on the disabled list for the third time this season because of a torn muscle in his pitching elbow.

"It's just been one thing after another, but we've had guys step up and keep us in this thing."

Dodger starters are 10-1 with a 3.59 earned-run average since Brown suffered his latest injury July 15 in a 4-2 victory against the Pirates at PNC Park.

The Dodgers have the majors' fourth-lowest starter ERA at 4.06, and have limited opponents to a .243 batting average--second in the majors.

Chan Ho Park, selected to his first All-Star game, tops the staff at 11-6 with a 2.85 ERA.

The right-hander is among the league leaders in most categories, emerging as the ace in Brown's absence.

Converted reliever Terry Adams has been the surprise of the staff at 7-3 with a 4.73 ERA, including 5-1 since he joined the rotation June 5.

Rookie starter Luke Prokopec is 6-5 with a 4.31 ERA, and has pitched well recently despite being winless in his last 10 starts.

Second-year starter Eric Gagne (4-4, 5.31) has victories in his last three outings after a triple-A wake-up call, and Baldwin was impressive in his Dodger debut Sunday.

But is that enough to win the West or a wild-card berth?

"It doesn't do any good to compare your staff with [Arizona starters] Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, or to the Atlanta [Brave] staff," pitching coach Jim Colborn said. "There was a time I thought our pitching staff was the best in baseball, and it turns out it doesn't matter because that thought process doesn't achieve anything.

"Part of believing you can succeed is not taking the time to compare yourself to other people. You just believe strongly that while on any given day any team can beat another one, it just happens that we're that team."

The Dodgers are believers.

"I think we stack up just as good as any team that's contending right now," catcher Paul Lo Duca said. "The Giants and Diamondbacks are tough, they've made deals and we know they're not going to go away, but we also made a really huge move getting James."

The Diamondbacks, 1 1/2 games behind the Dodgers, acquired starter Albie Lopez and catcher Mike DiFelice from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays last Wednesday, a day before the Chicago White Sox sent Baldwin to the Dodgers for two pitching prospects and a journeyman minor league outfielder.

Some baseball officials said the four-player Baldwin trade was a lopsided deal in favor of the National League West leaders.

Then the right-hander pitched eight strong innings, getting a no-decision, in Sunday's 3-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies.

"I'll tell you this: I think that's one hell of a trade," Colorado Manager Buddy Bell said repeatedly. "He really knows how to pitch."

Lopez did not fare as well in his debut Saturday, an 11-4 loss to the Giants, giving up seven runs and 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings.

"You never know how these things are going to work out," interim General Manager Dave Wallace said of deadline deals. "You just gather the information and try to make decisions that make sense.

"Our focus was on trying to add another starter, and we got someone we believe can help us. We wanted to do something to help our rotation, now we just have to wait and see what happens."

The Giants have rolled the dice twice, sending prospects to the Texas Rangers for Galarraga last Tuesday, and completing the deal for Schmidt and Vander Wal.

San Francisco, four games behind the Dodgers, hopes Schmidt helps it keep pace.

Schmidt, 28, is 6-6 with a 4.61 ERA in 14 starts and can become a free agent after the season.

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