Saturday, May 23, 2015

Dodgers keep trudging through offensive struggles

Friday night was the latest in a line of poor offensive outputs, as the Dodgers managed only two runs at home against Andrew Cashner and the Padres.

Fortunately for them, Zack Greinke, Chris Hatcher, and Kenley Jansen were even better, as they pitched the Dodgers to a 2-1 victory.

It was a much-needed win, as the Dodgers have had one hell of a time getting anything going lately.  This game was no different, as they managed only six hits, going 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position.  That "one" was a fifth inning RBI double down the right field line for Andre Ethier, snapping the Dodgers 35-inning scoreless streak.

35 painful innings, mercifully down the drain.

Greinke had it going until the seventh when Derek Norris hit a ground rule double to left, and scored on Will Venable's soft single into center.  Joc Pederson did a great job trying to nail Norris at home, but he was called safe, and held up on replay.  It was a very close call, and even though Norris's lead leg did not make contact with the plate, I thought it was still the right call.

At 1-1 in the eighth, the Dodgers were looking for a spark... ANY sort of spark.  Leave it to Mr. "Swing Hard or Don't Swing at All" Pederson to do just that.  He absolutely creamed an 0-2 fastball from Joaquin Benoit that caught way too much of the plate into center for a 430-foot solo homer.

Kenley Jansen didn't need many pitches, 12 in total, to set down the side in order for his second save.

It's not like the Dodgers busted out the big sticks and put all of their frustrations behind them, as they were a lot more bad than good on Friday.  But, the positive way of looking at this game is that Pederson stepped up when his team needed him the most, and that can hopefully be the baby step that gets them going.

Speaking of Pederson, I did like the small adjustments he seemed to be making, as he went the other way in his first couple of at-bats.  That's smart hitting, especially for a slumping guy hitting leadoff on a slumping team.  When his team needed a big fly, that's when he went back to his all-or-nothing approach.  It worked.

Now his team needs to get more guys in on the act, but it won't be easy.  Yasmani Grandal had to exit after the fourth with concussion-like symptoms.  He took the back end of a swing a couple of innings before, and though he tried to stick it out, was soon sent home.  A.J. Ellis took over from there, and needless to say, that's not exactly an offensive upgrade.

Maybe this weekend will see guys like Adrian Gonzalez or Howie Kendrick go 5-for-5 with two homers.  Or maybe they just add a couple of RBIs here or there.  Whatever it takes to get different guys in the order going, I'm all for it. 

And maybe that will lead to a sweep of the Padres, taking some of the sting away from getting crushed by the Giants.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Dodgers need Puig back. NOW.

If you're looking for any sort of good news after the Dodgers were embarrassingly swept and shut out for three games in San Francisco, it's this: Yasiel Puig is apparently feeling much better and nearing a return.

THANK GOD.

I'd also like to personally thank Jon Heyman of CBS Sports for putting somewhat of a smile on my face after these last few days.

Every team goes through slumps, but the Dodgers' offense looks just plain pathetic right now.  They haven't scored a run in 31 straight innings, and haven't won a game since a 1-0 squeaker over the Rockies on Sunday.  They've dropped six of their last eight, and have a grand total of two runs in the last five games.

So yes, Puig's return cannot possibly come any quicker.

Before this recent slide, Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke, and Alex Guerrero have done a great job in splitting some time in the outfield.  It's been Ethier exclusively filling Puig's spot in right, and he's responded by hitting .314 with five homers and 14 RBIs.  Guerrero (.307) and Van Slyke (.306) have each provided big hits as well.

That is, before these past few games.  Now none of them can get anything going, which isn't a whole lot different than the rest of the team.  This has just reinforced the fact that Puig is very missed, and taking his bat out of the lineup over the long haul is hard to overcome.

One thing I'd like to see Don Mattingly do, at least when Puig first comes back, is to insert him as the leadoff hitter.  Both Joc Pederson and Jimmy Rollins are hitting .192 in that role, which is obviously really low.  Pederson has been there for the last 19 games, and has 25 strikeouts.  No matter how electric he looks, that's just way too many swings and misses, and it's stalling the offense as a whole.  When he's hitting home runs that somewhat makes up for it, but that hasn't happened the last seven games.

Puig certainly has his fair share of strikeouts as well, but it's worth a shot.  We all need to remember that Pederson is still a rookie who's adjusting to big league pitching.  I liked it when Donny put him at the leadoff spot a few weeks ago, but now it's time to slip him back down the lineup.  Puig leading off the game is a scary thought for the opposing pitcher, so it can definitely work.

But before all of that happens, Puig just needs to make sure he's completely healed up so there's not another setback.  It looks like he's doing just that, which is good news for a team that really needs it right now.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

With Ryu out, Beachy's signing is that much more important

Remember when the Dodgers signed Brandon Beachy to a one-year, $2.75 million contract back in February?

No?

Well, take my word for it, because they did.  And it's a good thing, too, considering the news from today concerning another one of their starters.

Hyun-Jin Ryu has opted for shoulder surgery on Thursday, all but ending any chance he pitches in 2015.  Never say never, but I haven't read a thing yet that makes me even somewhat optimistic that he'll be toeing the rubber come this postseason.  It ain't gonna happen, folks.

So, this is where the Dodgers start to scramble with Ryu and Brandon McCarthy already KO'd for the year.  They've gotten good starts out of rookies Carlos Frias (3-1, 2.55 ERA, 1.26 WHIP) and Mike Bolsinger (2-0, 1.04, 1.10).  In fact, those are very good numbers, so it's hard to expect them to stay that way.  That's not to say they can't pitch well, but numbers that low can't be counted on over and over.

That leads us back to Beachy, who's showing signs of fighting back from his second Tommy John surgery in three years.  He hasn't pitched since August of 2013, so you can understand just how long a road he's been on in pitching again.  His most recent step came a few days ago when he tossed two innings of a simulated game pain free.

At the time, I don't think anyone could've expected Beachy to be so important this early in the season, but he is.  In 46 career starts with the Braves, he's 14-11 with a 3.23 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 275 K's in 267 2/3 IP.  Those numbers are very promising, and you can see why the Dodgers were willing to take a chance on him.

What's next in the recovery process for Beachy?  According to Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles,com, he's expected to go on a rehab assignment soon.  Assuming that all goes well, then it's very possible we'll see him with the big club in June.

That's a best case scenario, and considering how fragile his arm has been in the past, we'll have just wait and see how he responds after increasing his workload each start.

But let's stay positive here and say that all does go well.  Beachy can then slot himself right into the back end of the rotation over the summer and give a nice boost.  It'll be hard to match Ryu's consistency, but as long as he can keep his WHIP low, the much-improved Dodgers' defense can help him in a big way.

The bottom line is to keep your eye on Beachy over the next few weeks.  If he's feeling good and getting hitters out, he can be just what the Dodgers need in June.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

We may not see Ryu this year for awhile... if at all

Tough news for the Dodgers today, as the LA Times is passing along a report from South Korea that says Hyun-Jin Ryu may need season-ending shoulder surgery.  That would end his 2015 campaign before it even started.

After making a couple of starts in Spring Training, Ryu was shut down due to "shoulder inflammation," which is basically saying that they hoped whatever was bugging him in his shoulder would go away with rest.  Obviously, it hasn't.

Now the Dodgers are faced with one of two options: cut open the shoulder, see what's wrong, and perform the surgery; or keep resting him and hope for the best.

You get the feeling that the "rest" option is being thrown out the window, as he's been doing so since March, and it doesn't seem to be making any difference.  As Dodgers' reporter Dylan Hernandez points out in the article linked above, shoulder operations are historically much riskier than elbow surgeries, so Ryu is reluctant to go under the knife.

The Dodgers are in first place by 4 1/2 games over the Giants in the NL West, but the concerns remain.  Brandon McCarthy is already out for the season with Tommy John surgery, Brett Anderson hasn't gotten hurt yet like he usually does, and Clayton Kershaw has actually appeared human.  They were hoping Ryu would come back and be that stud #3 starter, but that's looking increasingly unlikely.

In two MLB seasons, Ryu is 28-15 with a 3.17 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 293 K's in 344 IP.  Those are some great numbers, but considering the workload he brought with him from Korea, perhaps it's not a surprise that his body is starting to fail him.  That's a lot of pitches over the last few seasons.

We'll see if Ryu really does opt for surgery over time.  Let's hope it doesn't come to that, and he is back in the rotation over the summer.

I'm just not counting on it.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

For the bullpen: a bad week, or sign of things to come?

For the fourth straight game, the Dodgers' bullpen, which started off the year a house of fire and drew appropriate praise, was knocked around.  This time it was Sergio Santos looking lost, as the Rockies took a 1-0 lead in the seventh and quickly turned it into a 7-1 victory.

There wasn't a whole lot he did right, other than giving the Dodgers two innings of work, which I guess rested some guys.  Notice I'm really digging for the silver lining.  The Dodgers stood at 22-10 after a Tuesday shellacking of the Marlins, but have dropped three of four since. 

Here's how some of the shoddy performances in the 'pen looked in those four games:

* Wednesday vs. Marlins: Adam Liberatore (0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, couldn't hold the lead)
* Thursday vs. Rockies: Yimi Garcia (1 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, Blown Save)
* Friday vs. Rockies: Paco Rodriguez (0 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, couldn't strand Clayton Kershaw's runners)
* Saturday vs. Rockies: Sergio Santos (2 IP, 3 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, turned a 1-0 deficit into a 7-0 hole), Rodriguez (1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER)

Probably most frustrating is that in four games, four different guys were responsible for giving up runs.  It wasn't like it was just one guy, it was a collection of bad pitching.  And that list doesn't even include Chris Hatcher, who has a 6.00 ERA in 16 appearances.

Look, there's no way to expect a bullpen to continually be perfect game after game.  There's a couple of things working against them to go along with that: most arms are young and unproven, and the starters are banged up and not pitching deep into games.  Even Kershaw and Zack Greinke were at the 100-pitch mark after six innings, which is way too many for them.

So, it's understandable for those of you saying that the 'pen is overworked, and therefore regression is expected.  I somewhat buy into that, but not totally.  All of the guys listed above gave up runs right off the bat when they were fresh.  Santos surrendered two and then three runs, so he was all over the map.  The bottom line is that they were bad, no matter how you slice it.

The good news is that Kenley Jansen is back, and boy was he in his prime form on Friday.  Four strikeouts in one inning, and a cutter that was thrown right down the middle, but still unhittable.  Imagine if he starts hitting corners with that thing!  Maybe he almost did too good, so we should keep in mind that he's just getting it going again, as it's like early April to him.  But he needs to close, and nobody else.

Let's also hope that Joel Peralta and even Brandon League can come back soon, as at this point, they look like much better options than guys like Santos and Hatcher.  Pedro Baez just went on the DL with a straight pectoral muscle, so keep him in mind down the line a bit.

The Sunday finale in Dodger Stadium will see Mike Bolsinger get his third start.  In his previous two starts, he's had identical lines of 5 2/3 innings, five hits, and one run, good for a 1.59 ERA.  Great stuff, but don't expect him to go seven or eight innings unless a lot is going right.  The bullpen will be needed again, so let's see who steps up and delivers.

Because if they don't, then to answer the question in the title, it might be a sign of things to come.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Kershaw and Jansen show the Dodgers at their best

For six innings of Clayton Kershaw, and one inning of Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers showed just how tough they can be when their big dogs are delivering on the mound.

For one of those innings in between, nearly everything slipped away, but we'll stay positive for now.

Kershaw was able to gather 10 strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings, and Jansen got the rare four-strikeout inning in the eighth, as the Dodgers held off the Rockies in Dodger Stadium 6-4.  After two straight games of blowing leads, the Dodgers were able to get back up to a five-game lead in the NL West thanks to the Padres getting blown out by the Nationals.

Kershaw had been waiting a few starts for win #100, and it finally came on Friday.  It was smooth sailing through six, as his pitches looked sharper than his last few starts, and the offense built a 6-0 lead.  His slider, which sometimes goes MIA, was back and getting lots of swings and misses.

The only problem was that his pitch count was getting way up there, as his location was better, but not where he normally is.  That caused him to unravel a bit in the seventh, as he got a couple of outs, but was yanked with two on.  Paco Rodriguez gave up a bases clearing double to Daniel Descalso, so Kershaw's final line looked a little worse than he probably deserved with three earned runs.

Earlier in the day, the Dodgers activated Jansen, who was not expected to be in any big situations right off the bat.  Well, that's all well and good in theory, but with a struggling bullpen this week, those plans were thrown out the window as he entered a two-run game in the eighth.

The results?  Absolute perfection.  He struck out CarGo, who went to first when Yasmani Grandal couldn't catch the damn ball.  No worries, as Jansen struck out the next three hitters swinging as well, emphatically ending the inning.

You can't possibly have a better return at a better time than Jansen did, as their young arms have taken a step back the last few games, and injuries to Joel Peralta and Pedro Baez have only made it worse.  Don Mattingly may say he wants to ease Jansen back in, but give me a break.  Give the guy the ball in the ninth and let him go!  His cutter looked really good, so unleash him.

With an offense that is as deep as Andrew Friedman was hoping it would be, Kershaw and Jansen pitching at the top of their games show how good the Dodgers can be on any given night.  These two are the best at what they do (starting pitcher and closer, of course), so when they pitch like that, it's all good.

There's a couple of important things for them to do from here on out: keep building on this success, and stay on the field!  Heck, that's what every player wants to do, but with the D(L)odgers, it means even more.  When they take the ball, the club expects big things from them, just like Friday night.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

If I'm Carl Crawford, I'm very nervous right now

Carl Crawford hasn't played in a game since an April 27th victory over the Giants.  In that game, he tripled, then had to leave after the third with a sore right side.  That turned out to be a torn oblique, and other than placing him on the 15-day DL, not much has been said about him since.

With the way Scott Van Slyke, Andre Ethier, and Alex Guerrero have performed in his absence, I'm not sure we'll see much of Crawford from here on out.

So, like the title says, if I'm Crawford, I'm very nervous that this is the injury that KO's me from the lineup completely.

At this point, there's really no reason at all to rush Crawford back, or even to make it seem like he's needed at all.  That's how well those other three players have performed.  Add in the impending return of Yasiel Puig to play right field, and that makes Crawford needed even less.

Van Slyke got the start in left on Monday night, and it's a good thing he did.  After Yimi Garcia blew the save in the top of the ninth, Van Slyke launched a walk-off, three-run homer to dead center to defeat the Marlins 5-3.  He's played in 20 games, and is hitting .340 with five doubles, two homers, and 12 RBIs.  He's strong as a freakin' ox, and his bat brings instant impact.

Guerrero started off the season red hot in any role, cooled off a bit in May, but is still hitting .326 with three doubles, six homers, and 14 RBIs in 21 games.  Simply put, Don Mattingly was forced into giving him more time because of his bat.

Ethier has gotten the most playing time of anyone at 28 games, and he's responded very well.  Last year was practically a giant waste for him, but so far, he's hitting .286 with three doubles, two triples, four homers, and 10 RBIs.  He can put his glove on and play any of the three outfield positions, so he's invaluable in that aspect.  It's great to see him contributing again and looking like he's healthy.

You know Joc Pederson and Puig are locked into their positions, and rightfully so.  They can do it big on both sides of the field, and considering all of the pitching injuries the Dodgers have suffered, they need to play the best defense they can night in and night out.  Barring huge slumps, those two will be etched in stone in the daily lineup card.

That leaves three other guys Donny will mix and match with for left field.  Ethier has a documented history of poor results against left-handed pitchers, so he'll be looked at against righties only.  Van Slyke and Guerrero can get looks when lefties are on the mound for the most part.  However, I would hope Donny would play the hot hand no matter who's on the mound.

And that leaves Crawford on the outside looking in.  At this point, he just needs to get his legs fully healthy, then contribute as a pinch-runner in late innings.  That's not to say he'll never see left field again, but it's hard to imagine him getting much time there.  The other guys have leapfrogged him.

Who knows what the future will hold, but considering how well Van Slyke, Guerrero, and Ethier have played, I doubt it will include Crawford regaining his starting role in left.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Kershaw still scuffling, but the bats pick him up

Clayton Kershaw very badly wants a couple of things: his 100th win, and the pinpoint accuracy that earned him three Cy Young Awards at such a young age.

He didn't get either one today, but thanks to a big offensive display, the Dodgers still got the victory over the Rockies 9-5.  With 30 games already being played, the Dodgers are 20-10 and in first place of the NL West.  Considering all of their injuries and that Kershaw has a 4.26 ERA, I think they'll gladly take that.

There was plenty of good about the Dodgers fighting back from a 5-2 hole to cruise to a victory, but let's focus on Kershaw first.  This was his seventh start of the season on Sunday, which came with an extra day of rest thanks to Saturday's rain out/snow out.  Things started off normally, as he got through three innings with ease, allowing no runs on one hit.

Then the fourth inning came, and the combination of some bad luck and bad location really did him in.  It all started on a walk to DJ LeMahieu, and things fell apart from there.  A Tulo single soon led to RBI singles from Wilin Rosario and Nick Hundley, making it 2-2.  The unlucky part came when Drew Stubbs hit a nubber in front of the plate in which A.J. Ellis could do nothing with, loading the bases.

Another bit of unlucky came next, as Rafael Ynoa slowly grounded out to first, allowing the run to score.  Then the icing on the cake came when Jorge De La Rosa stepped to the plate.  As if the inning wasn't already frustrating enough, he hit a 2-2 pitch to center to score two, and just like that, Kershaw was down 5-2.

Granted, Kershaw wasn't hit all over the place, which is still easy to do in Coors Field.  But he also was his own worst enemy too many times with four walks, and generally having very poor location with his fastball.  It's what's been killing him all this season - not having control with the hard stuff.  He got through 5 2/3, but needed 110 pitches to do it.  Hardly the effective guy we're used to.

Look, Kershaw has built such a high standard for himself, anytime he gives up multiple runs in a game, it's alarming.  But what cannot be argued is the problem he's having with surrendering leads.  It happened on Opening Day against the Padres.  It happened last start in Milwaukee.  And it happened again today.

And I doubt I have to remind everyone how it happened against the Cardinals last October.

Maybe this will end up being a good thing for him, as for the first time in his career, he's not delivering with the consistency we're so used to seeing.  People will start to think the Cardinals really messed him up, and maybe even think he's hurt.  Just when all the doubters are being loud and proud, he can start to dominate again.  At least we hope.

Kershaw's next start is scheduled to be Friday night at home against these same Rockies.  If he can get into a groove and get win #100, then maybe he'll start cruising from there.  We shall see.

(On a side note, be careful referring to Kershaw on Twitter as having a "poor outing."  Even though it was true, there was some pure venom being spewed my way.  Some even threatened to unfollow me!  I appreciate people defending Kershaw, but.... Good Lord, lighten up!)

Other thoughts from the game:

* An early MVP candidate has to be Adrian Gonzalez, who delivered once again in a huge way.  Right after Kershaw lost control, A-Gon smacked a bases clearing double, finishing with two doubles and four RBIs.  He ranks in the top three in the NL in the following categories: average, home runs, RBIs, runs, slugging %, and OPS.  Simply put, he's been THE MAN this year.

* Justin Turner had the winning hit, lifting a two-run homer to center in the eighth to go up 7-5.  That was as a pinch-hitter, proving his versatility.  He even threw in a nice putout when he stayed in at third.  Who would've thought he'd mean so much to this team when he signed before last season?

* The bullpen?  Terrific, as usual.  Pedro Baez bailed Kershaw out of the sixth by striking out Tulo with the bases loaded and two down.  He then pitched another scoreless inning.  Lefty Adam Liberatore got the next four outs, and Yimi Garcia the final two, both on strikeouts.  They all throw very hard and locate really well.  I can't wait to see them paired up with Kenley Jansen soon.  The bullpen will be even deadlier.

The Dodgers will gladly get out of cold and snowy Colorado for LA, as they begin a three-game set with the Marlins on Monday.  Zack Greinke will put his perfect 5-0 record on the line in the first game.

The Rollins experiment isn't really working

Of the many offseason moves made by the Dodgers, one of the biggest ones was plucking Jimmy Rollins from the Phillies after spending 15 years there.  Hanley Ramirez wasn't offered a contract extension, and Corey Seager wasn't quite ready yet to assume full-time shortstop duties with the big club.

The thinking was that Rollins could set the table at the top of the order with some power, provide a good glove at short, and give his veteran leadership in a clubhouse that wasn't exactly harmonious last season.

The results thus far?  EH... just OK.

That's my nice way of saying that Rollins hasn't exactly set the Dodgers on fire.  At 36, he looks more like the guy on his last legs of life, rather than getting a career resurgence across the country in LA.

In the field, he's had pretty good results in comparison with the rest of the shortstops in the National League.  Right now he has a 0.3 Defensive WAR, which ranks him fifth.  His fielding %, however, is .951, putting him in the lower half at 12th.  The one thing he definitely does have going for him is that he's a clear upgrade from Hanley, who was probably the worst defensive shortstop in all of baseball last year.

At the plate, it's been a completely different story.  He enters Sunday's game against the Rockies, the team's 30th, hitting .167 with a .248 OBP, four doubles, one triple, three homers, and 11 RBIs.  He's also struck out 24 times, and been 3-6 in stolen base attempts.  Simply put, those numbers are pretty awful for hitting in the upper half of the lineup.

Yet, there's his name constantly being written in the #2 hole, and that was only because Don Mattingly finally yanked him from the leadoff spot for a much more exciting Joc Pederson.  Young Joc has responded with six home runs and a .366 OBP.  Rollins in the #2 hole?  A .103 AVG, .122 OBP, and two homers.  Those are some really pathetic numbers.

That leads us to this simple question - What should the Dodgers do now?  It seems like a simple answer, but because of how much the Dodgers talked him up in the offseason, it's not quite as easy as it looks.

The simple way would be to move him lower in the order at the very least.  There is no reason at all he should be hitting in the top half.  He's absolutely stunk it up by striking out way too much, and not getting on base nearly enough.  Hopefully Yasiel Puig comes back soon and can take that spot, but that shouldn't matter.  Rollins needs to be dropped.

In the field, there's no clear cut replacement.  Justin Turner could get some time there, but he's better off at other positions.  Darwin Barney is in Triple-A, and Kike Hernandez is only a temporary replacement until guys like Puig get healthy again.

If you're a big follower of the Dodgers, you know that someone else is lurking in the Minor Leagues.  That someone is Seager, who was just promoted to Triple-A after tearing up Double-A ball.  In 20 games at Tulsa, he hit .375 with five homers and 15 RBIs.  Oklahoma City has proven to be a little tougher so far, as he's 7-for-30 (.233) with no homers and four RBIs in eight games.  It's a very small sample size, so you know he'll get adjusted soon.

And if Seager does get adjusted, then like Pederson last September, I have to wonder how much longer the Dodgers will let the #5 ranked prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America linger in Triple-A.  Say Rollins continues to do... well, a big pile of nothing.  And say Seager gets his power stroke going.  I can definitely see the future getting in some action with the big club before this season is all said and done.

The bottom line is that, as great a career as Rollins had in Philadelphia, it's time for him to start putting up the numbers in LA.  If he doesn't, then no matter how much "veteran leadership" he brings to the clubhouse, the Dodgers have to look to Plan B.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

With depleted rotation, will the Dodgers' bullpen eventually wear out?

One of the biggest, and best, surprises of the season has been the effective Dodgers' bullpen.  Paco Rodriguez, Juan Nicasio, Joel Peralta, J.P. Howell, Yimi Garcia, and Adam Liberatore all have ERA's at 1.29 or below.  Pedro Baez is at 2.08, and Sergio Santos 3.00.

That's a lot of great stuff, and to think that Kenley Jansen hasn't even pitched this year, makes it even better.

The only problem?  The rotation is beat up, their ace has been human, and one has to wonder how long the 'pen can keep putting up these great numbers.

Clayton Kershaw isn't getting chased early, but has only gotten into the eighth inning once, and that was when he blew a two-run lead against the Brewers on Monday.  He's 1-2 with a 3.72 ERA.  He's certainly getting strikeouts with 51, good for second in the National League. 

What's causing him headaches is when he misses location, he's getting seriously pounded.  His fastball usually tops out at 94 mph with little movement, and that's what caused him to surrender five home runs already.  Clearly, he's not feeling his slider yet, and has been hoping his fastball gets his through the game.  It hasn't quite worked out that way.

With Kershaw scuffling, the bullpen has had to rev it up even more in his games than they've had to in the past.  Normally those are "rest days," meaning only a couple of arms would be required at most.  It's not exactly fair to continually put all that pressure on Kershaw to put up blanks over and over, but he'll be the first to tell you that he needs to pitch better and be the stopper.

Fortunately, Zack Greinke has been a stopper at 5-0 with a 1.56 ERA.  He's won his last five straight starts, and is pitching like a guy who wants to opt out of his deal for more cash... which is exactly what will happen at the end of this season at this rate.  That doesn't mean he won't be a Dodger next year, it just means he's keeping his options open.  Who can blame him?  Not this guy.

Brett Anderson received a gift complete game victory on Friday, picking up the win on a rain shortened, 5 1/2 inning, 2-1 victory over the Rockies.  He's been scoreless in his last two starts, covering 11 innings, and lowering his ERA from 5.49 to 3.52.  We all know the story with him - if he stays healthy, he can be really good.  So far, he's been healthy, and he's settling into his role of #3 starter very well.  Let's hope it stays that way.

The rest of the rotation has been a complete patchwork job, as Brandon McCarthy is done for one calendar year thanks to Tommy John surgery, and Hyun-Jin Ryu has suffered a setback on his comeback from a shoulder injury.  I don't like the sounds of that at all, as I have to seriously question if Ryu will be back anytime soon, if at all.  The Dodgers are being very quiet about it, which doesn't seem good.

All of that leads us back to the bullpen.  Right now, they've tossed 89 innings, which is ninth highest in the NL.  That's not bad at all, and with a 1.92 ERA and .186 BAA, both good for second, they've obviously stepped up and delivered.  I just worry that the innings will go up, and the other numbers will suffer because of it.  That's what rotation injuries can do to a team.

There's a couple of reasons for optimism.  For one, Jansen is rehabbing and on his way back soon.  As good as the bullpen has been, Jansen is clearly the best option to close games.  Maybe Don Mattingly eases him back into that role, but I hope not.  Jansen needs to close right away if he's healthy.  That bumps guys like Garcia and Rodriguez into setup roles, which can be really good.

The other reason is that these are the Dodgers, and you know a trade or two could be only a few days away.  Cole Hamels and Scott Kazmir are two names that come to mind whenever "trade" and "starting pitching" are being tossed around.  Don't be surprised at all if one of those big arms are in Dodger blue before the end of the season.

Andrew Friedman has done a great job in getting fresh arms called up to give Mattingly some new options.  That's been more out of necessity, but it's still worked.  Santos and Liberatore both did not start the year in LA, but when their number got called, have been really good.

The bottom line is that for the bullpen to keep producing at a high level, a couple of things have to happen: Kershaw needs to get deeper into games, and the rotation will need to be bolstered with an addition or two.  I really worry that at this current rate, with Kershaw giving up runs in bunches and the rotation featuring one spot start after another, the arms in the 'pen will start to wear down.  It's only natural if that were to occur.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Grandal is slowly starting to show his value

It may have taken a few weeks, but Yasmani Grandal is finally getting locked in.

And the Dodgers are starting to reap the benefits of the Matt Kemp trade.

Grandal had his "Welcome to the Dodgers" moment on Sunday, smashing a 424-foot walk-off home run, lifting the Dodgers to a 1-0 victory over the Diamondbacks in 13 innings.  It was a well-pitched, albeit largely boring affair between two teams that were desperate to score.  Thankfully, Grandal gave the Dodgers a much-needed jolt.

The final result gave the Dodgers a three-game weekend sweep.  At 16-8, they have a three-game lead over the Padres for tops in the NL West.  It's much too early to worry about that, but hey, first place at any point is still pretty sweet.

For Grandal, he became the unlikely hero after not even being in the starting lineup.  On Saturday night, he broke out of a five-game hitless slump to go 3-for-4 with a double and run scored.  That game alone raised his average from .179 to .217, and today's 1-for-1 with a walk raised it again to .230.  Not at all where he wants to be, but with a .356 OBP, he's clearly getting there.

Back in the middle of December, after the Dodgers completed a flurry of moves in the Winter Meetings, they finally pulled the trigger on trading Kemp.  It was done for a couple of reasons: they weren't sold on Kemp being the long-term answer after his many injuries, and they needed to free up the outfield logjam.  They still have too many outfielders, but not finding the need to cater to Kemp's demands is a relief.

The biggest name coming to the Dodgers was Grandal, who in the past had torn both is ACL and MCL, and had been busted 50 games for PED use.  Not exactly the type of guy most Dodger fans thought they'd get for the former MVP candidate in Kemp.

Grandal, though, was a big piece in the Dodgers' makeover towards a more complete lineup.  A.J. Ellis would no longer be relied upon as the everyday catcher, and considering he hit an atrocious .191 in 93 games in 2014, that was a good thing.  Grandal gave a lot more pop with 15 homers in '14, and the reputation of being a great pitch-framer behind the plate.

After a couple of big weekend games, the switch-hitter looks ready to consistently start driving in more runs in the lower half of the lineup.  More importantly, he can keep Ellis on the bench for only occasional spot starts, such as day games after a night one.  No one will ever question Ellis's heart, but with all due respect to him, he's a backup at this point, and needs to stay that way.

Now Grandal and the Dodgers invade the hitter-friendly Miller Park in Milwaukee for four games starting Monday.  With Clayton Kershaw on the mound, you can bet the bats are looking to add to their NL-leading 37 home runs.  They're in the perfect place to make it happen.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Young Joc, Big Production


How much fun is it watching Joc Pederson right now?

The answer is: A LOT.  After watching him hit a grand slam and make a terrific catch on Friday night in the Dodgers' easy 8-0 win over the Diamondbacks, it's obvious LA has a future star on its hands.

And the "future" looks like it'll happen now.

As Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com pointed out, Pederson is doing to the Dodgers what Yasiel Puig did in 2013.  The only difference is that Pederson is doing it a couple of months sooner, as Puig was called up in June, while Pederson started the season in center.

So far, it looks like the Dodgers' brass has handled his arrival to LA perfectly.  They didn't rush him through the system, even when it was obvious that his skills were way above the minor league level.  He got his feet wet last September, and even endured some good-natured rookie hazing when he had to get his teammates coffee dressed in full uniform.  He's still getting the business, as he entered each at-bat on Friday to a different boy band like Hanson.  Wow!

During his appearance last September, he got 28 at-bats... and collected a measly four hits (all singles).  He did take nine walks, so he at least showed an ability to get on base with a good eye.  But he learned that the transition to the Big Leagues wasn't going to be all fine and dandy for the Pacific Coast League MVP.

And you know what?  That small blip on the radar turned out to be a great thing.  It gave Pederson plenty of motivation to improve his game for 2015, as there was no way he wanted to accept starting the season in Triple-A again, especially with Matt Kemp now out of the picture.  Say what you want about Spring Training, but it was very important for him, and he responded by hitting .338 with six homers and 13 RBIs in 26 games.  Point proven.

Now Pederson is on the same level as Puig as "guys who should never come out of the starting lineup" (save for an occasional day off to rest).  He's hitting .300 with five doubles, five homers, 14 RBIs, and one stolen base.  He's right up there with the big boys of Adrian Gonzalez and Howie Kendrick for team leader in many offensive categories. 

He's also the new leadoff hitter, and that's worked out beautifully through two games.  Ideally, someone else will take over that role at some point, allowing him to drop down in the order to drive in more runs.  But as long as he has a .463 OBP, there's no need to switch it now.

We could be watching this season's Rookie of the Year in action, getting huge hits and tracking down every ball in center along the way.  Let's enjoy the ride.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The new lineup is clicking, for one night anyway

If Don Mattingly wanted to give his stagnant offense a jolt, it took all of one swing from Joc Pederson to do just that.

A leadoff homer by Pederson was followed by a towering shot from Adrian Gonzalez, which was then followed by a two-run homer from Andre Ethier in a tremendous first inning.  Jimmy Rollins added a solo blast as well in the third, and the Dodgers easily beat the Giants 7-3.

Knowing that he couldn't just keep watching Rollins create out after out at the top of the order, and with Yasiel Puig on the DL, Donny made the right call in turning over leadoff duties to young Pederson, who now has a sensational .461 OBP after his homer and walk on Wednesday.  I discussed this in my previous post, and it pretty much held true: he'll either hit a homer, walk, or strikeout.  He accomplished all three of these last night.

Of course, it helps that the Dodgers were facing Ryan Vogelsong, who already looks completely washed up.  A 9.31 ERA to start the season is probably not what the Giants were banking on with him.

Anyway, after the Dodgers gave up a run in the first, which seems like it happens every game now, the bats were quick to respond with four runs.  They once again showed their depth, and that was without Puig or Alex Guerrero.  Carl Crawford was out too, but he doesn't do much these days.

I really liked how Scott Van Slyke was not only playing left, but hitting fifth as well against the right-handed Vogelsong.  Donny showed confidence in him, and it paid off with a double, sac-fly RBI, and a walk.  He's hitting .393 with a .471 OBP, so even in limited at-bats, he's showing a tremendous ability to do some damage.

By the way, how many people realize Juan Uribe has an 11-game hitting streak?  Yes, I know... 10 of those games he's gotten one hit, but he has raised his average from .190 to .278 at least.  As long as he hits decently and keeps flashing the leather, he'll stay in the lineup for the majority of starts over Guerrero whether we like it or not.

All in all, Donny needs to keep a similar look to his lineup for the time being.  Guerrero can easily be inserted against lefties, pushing Van Slyke over to right in place of Ethier.  Other than that, let it roll and see what happens.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pederson in, Rollins out at leadoff. That's a good thing.

I just glanced at the lineup for tonight's rubber match between the Dodgers and Giants, and there's one big change: Jimmy Rollins will not be leading off for the first time in his brief Dodger tenure.  Joc Pederson will be, as Rollins slides down a spot.

Don Mattingly may have been a bit stubborn about this, but it's a move that needed to be made.

Rollins was brought into the Dodgers for his veteran leadership and championship experience.  He also brings a great glove at short, even in his advanced age, and pop from the leadoff spot.  That was on full display on Opening Day, as his three-run home run in the eighth inning broke a tie and helped lead the Dodgers to victory #1.

Since then?  Well... it's been a whole lot of nothing.  He hasn't homered since and only has four more RBIs.  He's not getting much of any hits in fact, which explains his .182 AVG and .281 OBP.  I don't care who it is - those are some flat out ugly numbers for the guy at the top of the order.

Now Pederson and his .296 AVG and .458 OBP gets a shot at setting the table.  He's already an early candidate for NL Rookie of the Year based on his big bat (five doubles, three homers) and awesome defense in center.  He leads the team in walks with 16, so he's not afraid to be patient and take first when given the chance.

What's a downside to each guy?  Pederson has 21 strikeouts, and Rollins 17, both by far the team leaders.  Pederson looks like he'll do one of three things: get a big hit, walk, or strikeout.  Rollins is second with 11 walks, but has no big hits and definitely strikes out.  So Pederson is the better choice right now.

Ideally, Rollins will work himself out of his slump, return to the leadoff spot, allowing Pederson to drive in runs lower in the order.  But for now, I applaud Donny for making the switch.  It had to happen sooner rather than later.

Monday, April 27, 2015

With Puig on the mend, Guerrero gets his chance

If there's ever going to be a silver lining in a superstar like Yasiel Puig getting placed on the DL, it's this: Alex Guerrero may finally get his chance to play everyday.

And if all goes to plan, maybe he never comes out of it.

That's what the Dodgers can only hope for, as they'll look to turn a negative into a positive.  Don Mattingly won't go so far as to say Guerrero will be in the starting lineup as long as Puig's not, but comments like the following are encouraging:
"There's a good chance you're going to see him out there. Obviously with Yasiel down, it changes some things. A guy swinging the bat, you're going to find a place to play him, that's just the way it is."
I like the sounds of that.

The Dodgers are 11-7 right now, which is tops in the NL West.  Even though they're the division favorites by most accounts, there's already some cracks in the armor.  The back end of the rotation has the potential to be a mess, as Brandon McCarthy may have a creaky elbow, Hyun-Jin Ryu is still on the DL, and Brett Anderson hasn't exactly set the world on fire.  The bullpen is better than last year, but very young, and still without Kenley Jansen for a few more weeks.

The other problem is the offense, which looks to be deep and dangerous one game (11 runs on Saturday), and lifeless the next (one on Sunday).  It's not like we can count on six or seven runs a game, but after going a perfect 6-0 a couple weeks ago, they followed that up by going 3-3 last week and scoring six runs total in the loses.

A guy like Guerrero can help turn around an offense that is a bit stuck in neutral.  He's only appeared in 11 games, only has 22 at-bats, but his numbers are incredible: .500 AVG and OBP, five homers, two doubles, 13 RBIs, and five runs.  You can't ignore stats like that, especially when he was regarded as being a very good hitter when the Dodgers signed him before last season.  He may not have the greatest glove, but he looks to have definitely improved upon that as well.

The bottom line is that with Andre Ethier sliding over to right field to fill in for Puig, Guerrero will get looks both at third and left field.  In my mind, if he's not playing one position, he needs to be playing the other.  Juan Uribe (.244, one homer, three RBIs) and Carl Crawford (.229/1/3) look terrible and old.  I can appreciate Donny wanting to give his veterans a chance, but not at the constant expense of someone as exciting with the lumber as Guerrero.

The best thing Guerrero can do is continue to play well on both sides of the field, and force Mattingly to etch his name into every starting lineup.  The offense will benefit on the whole if he does.