Saturday, April 25, 2015

Are lineup changes in store for the Dodgers?

The good news from Friday night is that the Dodgers got back on the winning track, a 3-0 victory in San Diego.  Zack Greinke was terrific, pitching seven shutout innings with seven strikeouts, including wiggling out of a bases loaded jam in the second.  Yimi Garcia looked unhittable in the ninth, moving the ball all over the plate for an easy save.  He looks like a future star.

The not-as-good-news?  The offense continues to sputter along, one week after hitting the ball with fury.

Yes, this is baseball, and that's bound to happen over the course of a long 162-game season.  But that doesn't mean you can't adjust when it's time to adjust.

Guess what?  I think it's time to adjust.

The offense put up three runs on eight hits, which is actually an improvement over scoring two runs in the Giants for three straight games.  Three straight loses, too.

Last night's lineup was a typical one for Don Mattingly.  Jimmy Rollins leading off, Yasiel Puig in the #2 spot, Adrian Gonzalez and Howie Kendrick in the heart of the order.  Yasmani Grandal, Carl Crawford, Juan Uribe, and Joc Pederson rounding out the lineup, followed by Greinke.

Is that truly the best batting order the Dodgers can produce?  Well, no.  Alex Guerrero is still sitting on the bench, the same Alex Guerrero who's hitting .472 with four home runs and two doubles in 19 at-bats.  Scott Van Slyke is hitting .417 with a homer and three doubles in 17 at-bats.  Andre Ethier (who did enter after Puig exited with a tight hamstring) is hitting .300 with a .405 OBP.

Those guys are riding the pine, while Rollins, Uribe, and Crawford continue to play.  Rollins had a terrific Opening Day, yet is hitting .180 with a .282 OBP and 15 K's.  That's horrific for a leadoff hitter.  Uribe had his first RBI of the season, but at .250 with one extra-base hit, looks to be on his last legs.  Crawford jacked a home run to extend the lead in the seventh, but that only raised his average to .244 with a .262 OBP.

To sum it all up, those three aren't getting many big hits and aren't getting on base.  Meanwhile, the three riding the bench are doing both quite well.

This is the National League, and automatically, you build your team with pitching and defense.  The Dodgers have the pitching, and will get even better when Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenley Jansen return.

The defense is a major reason why Rollins and Uribe play, especially.  Despite their age, they continue to flash great leather, which is what makes it difficult for Mattingly to just yank them that quickly.  Crawford, on the other hand, will never be confused with a great left fielder.

So what's the solution?  Donny needs to find more balance with his lineups, and not be afraid to bench one of the "starters."  He can say all he wants about how he's concerned with Guerrero's defense, but he clearly has an electric bat right now that's going to waste as a pinch-hitter only every few games.  Get him in there while he's hot.

If Puig is hurt for any amount of time, then plugging in Ethier in right will happen.  But with a fully healthy outfield, we need to see more of Van Slyke in left, even if a right-handed pitcher is on the mound.  Ethier can also get some time, but Van Slyke has so much power that can come out at any time.

As for the actual lineup, here's a look at mine:

1. Yasiel Puig - RF
2. Yasmani Grandal - C
3. Adrian Gonzalez - 1B
4. Howie Kendrick - 2B
5. Joc Pederson - CF
6. Alex Guerrero - 3B
7. Scott Van Slyke - LF
8. Jimmy Rollins - SS
9. Pitcher's Spot

As you can see, the only spots I'd leave alone are A-Gon and Kendrick.  Even with that, I wouldn't hesitate to move Kendrick around if he stops driving in runs.  To his credit, he's surprised everyone with 10 RBIs through 16 games.

In a perfect world, Puig would hit cleanup.  But, he's more effective right now at the top setting the table since he has shown much more patience at getting on base, hence his .380 OBP.  Grandal is a switch hitter who gets on base with sneaky power.

The young guns would be slotted in to begin the second half of the order, as Pederson and Guerrero could be interchangeable depending on the pitcher.  Van Slyke could also hit higher, but could be in a great spot to drive in the people right in front of him.  As long as Rollins isn't getting on base, he needs to be at the bottom, not the top.  I don't care what he's done in the past, he's a flyout machine right now, and if he's going to play, needs to be in a less important spot.

We'll see what Donny has in store this weekend.  Hopefully it's a more creative lineup.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Red hot Dodgers... get swept by the Giants

The old adage of "Throw the Records Out When These Teams Meet" certainly applies to the Dodgers and Giants.  It's one of the best rivalries not just in baseball, but in all of sports.  They've had countless number of big games played against each other.  So despite the records on either side, you know you're in for quite the battle.

Still, when the Dodgers enter on a seven-game winning streak, and the Giants were losers of 9 of 10, it's pretty disappointing to see the red hot team get swept by the struggling one.

Nonetheless, that's exactly what happened when the Giants walked off with a victory for the second straight day, a single by Justin Maxwell in the 11th, as the Dodgers fell 3-2 in 10 innings

It's not like the Dodgers got crushed, as save for Tuesday's 6-2 setback, the last two games were 3-2.  But, a loss is a loss, and even though it's only April, any sweep at the hands of the Giants is tough to swallow.

The two biggest culprits were the offense and bullpen.  Let's start with the offense.  Over the course of the seven-game streak, they put up an average of 6.3 runs per game.  In the last three?  2, 2, and 2, which averages... 2.  I think.  Obviously, that's not going to get the job done against much of anyone, let alone the defending champions.

The bullpen has mostly been successful this season, as was pointed out by Dave Cameron from the entertaining Just a Bit Outside website.  They obviously cleaned a lot of house from last year's way overpriced, way underachieving debacle.  Gone are losers like Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, and the injured Brandon League; in are young flamethrowers like Yimi Garcia, Pedro Baez, and Chris Hatcher. 

But while the young arms have experienced plenty of success, the last two days show that they are indeed young and will go through growing pains.  Hatcher let two runners reach in the ninth on Wednesday, which soon led to the winning sacrifice fly RBI by Joe Panik against J.P. Howell.  We won't even talk about the ridiculous missed call on interference, because the game was in San Francisco, and there's no way the umpires would call that.  And that's the truth.

Today, it was Joel Peralta nearly blowing the lead in the eighth, but getting bailed out big time by a sensational diving catch from Howie Kendrick to end the inning.  Baez was given the chance for the save, but right away gave up a single to Casey McGehee, and then an RBI triple to Brandon Crawford.

Baez at least got out of further damage... but then Juan Nicasio could only get one out in the 10th before Maxwell's walk-off.

Add it all up, and it was a more cost-effective bullpen that gave up big runs one right after another.  Perhaps Don Mattingly just needs to let his starters go a little deeper in games, but that's much easier said than done.  Without Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenley Jansen, the pitching is naturally going to regress a bit.

The Dodgers are still a solid 9-6, but have only one win in six road games.  That needs to change as they tangle with the Padres again, with three games in San Diego coming up.  That's not exactly the ideal place to wake up an offense, so let's hope Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, and Zack Greinke can go deep into the game so less arms are needed at the end.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

It must be good to be Don Mattingly right now

After watching the latest dominating Dodgers' win, you get the feeling that Don Mattingly can walk into the clubhouse before the game, scribble down any names he wants on the lineup card, then come away with a win.

That's how hot the Dodgers are right now.

Sunday afternoon was their seventh win a row, a 7-0 shellacking of the Rockies to run their record to 9-3.  Brandon McCarthy was fantastic, the bullpen shut the door the final three innings, and the offense used a bunch of bench players to get one extra-base hit after another.

Out were the names Yasiel Puig, Juan Uribe, Carl Crawford, and Yasmani Grandal.  It didn't matter.  The replacements of Andre Ethier (a walk and a run), Justin Turner (4-for-5 with three doubles and an RBI), Scott Van Slyke (3-for-4 with a two-run shot, two doubles, and three RBIs), and A.J. Ellis (two hits and a run) were more than enough to beat a dejected Rockies team.

Some regulars played, so it was about half of a normal lineup on a Lazy Sunday.  Jimmy Rollins was back at the leadoff spot and collected a single and walk.  Howie Kendrick hit a solo home run to dead center to continue his scorching start to 2015.  Joc Pederson also walloped a solo shot to make it back-to-back jacks with Van Slyke in the sixth, and three total in the inning.

The only guy to not get on base?  Wouldn't you know it... Adrian Gonzalez.  He had his chances with runners on, but went 0-for-5, with four of those at-bats coming with runners in scoring position.  That performance dropped his average to .469.  Yes, he DROPPED to just under .500, in case you needed another reminder just how huge he's been this year.

So yes, the offense was on fire, and as I pointed out in the post right before this, they're getting a little of everything from everyone.  Big home runs?  Check.  Extra-base hits with RISP?  Check.  Bunting runners over to scoring position?  Check.  Taking walks?  Check.  Check, check, and check.  It's all clicking right now.

Perhaps a little lost in all the hitting fun was the start by McCarthy, who went six innings of scoreless ball.  He stuck out six, walked two, and surrendered three hits.  By far, this was his best outing, lowering his ERA from 6.75 to 4.50.  His stuff was fluttering all over the place, and when he needed to dial it up, he did at around 95 mph.  Simply put, he had it all going on today.

With Hyun-Jin Ryu still out, McCarthy is the #3 starter right now, and he showed today what he can do.  His first two starts saw him getting a sore neck from watching one home run after another leave the yard (six total).  In this one, it was still a lot of pitches to get through six innings at 92, but he did what he needed to do to give his team a chance to win.  And that they did.

Now Donny can shift his focus to the Giants for three games starting on Tuesday.  To say the defending champions are a bit of a mess right now would be an understatement.  They lost again today to drop their record to 4-10, easily the worst in the NL West.  They do have Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner lined up to go in the first two, so maybe they're feeling good about that.

As for the Dodgers, they're feeling good about everything.  Just fill the out the lineup card and watch his team go to work.  That's the winning attitude Donny has about his team right now.

Deeper Dodgers' lineup paying off dividends

The Dodgers completed a perfect week on Saturday night, claiming their sixth straight victory in a 6-3 win over the Rockies.  After starting the season out 2-3, they're now tops in the NL West at 8-3, a division that features only one team under .500, the current World Series champion Giants. 

There's been quite a few reasons why the Dodgers are playing at such a high level right now, but the biggest is the improved offense.  The front office wanted to make the lineup a threat from the top all the way to the bottom, and so far, that has indeed been the case.  From leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins, to red hot Adrian Gonzalez hitting third, to Joc Pederson down in the #8 spot, there's threats all over.

Those threats have put up quite the impressive numbers in the National League.  Here's a look at just how good they've been through 11 games, with rankings in the NL in parenthesis:

* Runs - 56 (1st)
* Hits - 103 (5th)
* Doubles - 29 (2nd)
* Triples - 3 (tied for 4th)
* Home Runs - 14 (tied for 1st)
* Total Bases - 180 (1st)
* RBI - 55 (1st)
* AVG - .278 (2nd)
* OBP - .363 (1st by far)
* SLG - .486 (1st)
* OPS - .850 (1st by far)

Wow, those are some very impressive numbers.  It should be noted whenever you're discussing offensive numbers in the NL, the Rockies get a boost because of Coors Field.  Don't get me wrong, they have a good lineup themselves, but the home/road splits are always going to be much more different for them than any other team.

What's even more encouraging is that guys like Rollins (.227 AVG), Yasiel Puig (.267), Carl Crawford (.258), Juan Uribe (.214) and Yasmani Grandal (.214) haven't even gotten going too much yet.  They've just made their hits count when they have gotten on base.  You know their averages will start to creep up in due time.

Adrian Gonzalez has obviously been the Alpha Dog of the offense, as he's just blowing away the competition in the NL right now.  He's leading the league in average, home runs, RBIs, runs, OBP, slugging %, and OPS.  He's hit safely in all 11 games, with seven of them being multi-hit games.  He's also taken six walks and struck out only three times.

Now, shocker of shocks, there's no way he's going to keep up such a torrid pace, as he's just lacing the ball practically every time he's up at the plate right now.  But the good news is that as he starts to scatter in some hitless games, the guys I listed a couple of paragraphs above will pick up his slack.  Hence, the offense can keep rolling along.

Finally, the last major reason for the offensive surge has been the bench.  Andre Ethier (.292, a homer, three RBIs), Alex Guerrero (.385, two homers, eight RBIs), and Scott Van Slyke (.286, two RBIs) have all collected big hits.  It's encouraging because the starting lineup is full of veterans who are very productive, but can use some rest along the way.  Ethier has plugged each outfield hole already this season, Guerrero has been electric filling in for Uribe at third, and Van Slyke can play anywhere in the outfield and even a little first base, too.

Coming into this season, I said that there will be games where the Dodgers miss the instant impact that Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp provided in the past.  So far, they certainly haven't missed them.  This lineup is capable of putting guys on base and driving them in from any part of the order.  They don't need to hope a long ball bails them out.  They're getting on base, moving them over, and getting them in.  It looks simple, and they're playing like it is.

With the next two weeks being full of division games, the Dodgers will need that offense to keep clicking as they look to create some early separation.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Even when he's "off," Kershaw still dominates

If you look at the box score from Friday night's game, you saw that Clayton Kershaw struck out 12 Rockies in six innings, getting his first win of the season.  You would think that it was smooth sailing in the Dodgers' 7-3 win at home.

If you watched the game, you know that he wasn't quite his usual sharp self.  And you know what?  It was still more than enough to win.

Right now, Kershaw would be the first to tell you that he's still trying to find his groove.  Tossing 104 pitches in six innings is a lot for any pitcher, especially someone as accomplished as the three-time Cy Young Award winner.

His biggest issue right now is fastball location.  He gave up a laser home run to Troy Tulowitzki in the fourth that cleared the little fence in left.  In the fifth, spotted a 4-1 lead, Charlie Blackmon hit a no-doubter to deep right, a two-run shot measured at 380 feet.  By the way, Blackmon is a lefty, and a long ball from that side of the plate is especially rare against Kershaw.

I'm certainly not a scout, just a guy who's watched a lot of baseball, and a lot of Kershaw since he was a wee little lad in 2008 with an electric arm, but not the greatest control of it.  From what I can tell, he's worrying too much about throwing his fastball by batters instead of locating it better.  Both his home runs he gave up on Friday were because of this.  He might throw 94 mph, but when it's straight down the middle, good hitters will square it up.

Also, I'm surprised he's not throwing his slider more.  To me, that's his best pitch and hardest to drive.  Maybe he doesn't feel like he has the best control of it right now, but it sure looks unhittable when he does throw it.  His curveball is still very effective in the proper spots, but when he hangs it... then it's Matt Adams in the NLDS all over again.  Let's not talk about that.

So yes, I just typed quite a bit of words dissecting what's wrong with a guy who gave up one earned run in six innings while striking out a dozen.  Of course I know he'll get going as the season progresses, as that was only his third start of this young season.  He might be the most stubborn guy in baseball, which is good in a lot of ways, but not when he's just trying to throw the heater by everyone too much.  A little better location, a few more sliders, and he'll reach the 100+ pitch count in the eighth or ninth, not the sixth.

And if he gets support like he did from Adrian Gonzalez (3-for-4, two doubles, two RBIs), Howie Kendrick (2-for-4, two-run homer, RBI double), and the bullpen (Paco Rodriguez, Yimi Garcia, and Adam Liberatore all a scoreless inning apiece), then Kershaw won't need to be flawless, he just needs to be good enough.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

No aces, a banged up outfield... and the Dodgers sweep the Mariners anyway

Sometimes the mark of a good team is how you compete when the chips are down.

The Dodgers came into their three-game Interleague set against the Mariners losers of two of the last three, and did not have Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke on the mound.  They also would have to battle through injuries to two starting outfielders in Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig.  They also found themselves down 4-0 and 3-0 in two straight games.

And you know what?  None of it mattered.  They found ways to stage big comebacks in games one and two, and then turned the tables with a big start of their own to get the sweep.  Who knows where the Mariners will be when the season is over, but they are considered division favorites in the AL West, so it was good to see.

There were a whole bunch of different parts to make this sweep possible, so let's review:

* Howie Kendrick had a game-tying and game-winning RBI in the first two games, proving why he's a clutch bat in the cleanup spot, even without the power.

* Andre Ethier doubled to start the rally in the 10th inning of the first game, hit a solo homer in the second game, and an RBI single in the third game.  Yes, signs of life from Ethier!

* Joe Pederson reached base seven times in the three games with three RBIs.  Plus, he added a fantastic diving catch in center on Wednesday night.

* Adrian Gonzalez continues to rake, collecting a hit in each game, five hits total, and is hitting .528.  He's been simply amazing.

* Alex Guerrero just keeps rolling along, hitting a walk-off single to win the first game, then a pinch-hit RBI single in the next.

* For two straight nights, Yimi Garcia picked up the win with a scoreless inning and two strikeouts.  Fill-in closer?  I wouldn't mind it at all.

Andrew Friedman wanted the Dodgers to be a deeper club this year, and in this series anyway, he certainly got his wish.  There were clutch hits from all over the place, and good pitching at the end of the game to put the club in a position to win.

Wednesday night showed what happened when the Dodgers get a good start by the guy on the mound.  Brett Anderson went five innings giving up two runs (one earned), and struck out three.  The offense put the pressure on right away with three runs in the first, pushed the lead to 5-0 after three, and cruised to a 5-2 victory.  It was especially fitting since it was the Civil Rights Game honoring Jackie Robinson.  It's always fun to win on that night.

The Dodgers will now welcome in the surprising NL West leader, Colorado Rockies.  They're playing great baseball at 7-2, and have given up only 25 runs.  Oh ya, they're 6-0 on the road, so they shouldn't be scared coming into Dodger Stadium for three starting Friday.  Kershaw takes the hill looking to get back to normal.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Could the third base race of '15 be like the outfield battle of '14?

If you're Alex Guerrero, you're certainly hoping it is.

In case you missed it, Guerrero got another chance to strut his stuff on Monday, and strut his stuff he did.  He got another start at third for the banged up Juan Uribe and Justin Turner, and responded with a bases loaded, walk-off single in the 10th to lift the Dodgers over the Mariners at home 6-5.  The Dodgers fought back from an early 4-0 deficit.

While the single was Guerrero's only hit of the night, it certainly was the biggest, and showed the confidence he has at the plate.  He said right during Spring Training that he had no desire to be sent back down to Triple-A and deserved to be with the Big Club.  So far, he's right.

And with that, we have to wonder what Don Mattingly is now thinking when it comes to playing Uribe as the everyday third baseman.  Or for that matter, giving Turner the call on Uribe's days off.  Is Guerrero going to get more serious looks at the hot corner?

While it's too early to compare this situation to the outfield logjam of 2014, there are certainly some similarities.  Last year featured Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke, and Joe Pederson (in September) as guys who all wanted time in one of the three outfield spots.  For Mattingly, it was a daily juggling job that left few happy with the lack of an everyday role.

Now, we have three guys for one spot at third.  Actually, I'll say it's more like 2 1/2, only because Turner knows his role of utility man means he'll be playing all over the place.  That's what he was brought in for and excelled at so much last season, so that won't change.

So that leaves Uribe and Guerrero as the everyday options at third.  Uribe is a clubhouse favorite, Gold Glove contender, and two-time World Series champion.  He's also 36, has battled hamstring injuries, and isn't getting any younger or fresher.  Guerrero is 28 with plenty of mileage left in his body.  He certainly has a small sample size, but has clearly shown an ability to make a difference with the lumber.  You can't ignore that.

As of now, Uribe looks to at least get a chance to show why he's still the top dog, as Mattingly will start him at third on Tuesday night.  However, much like last season when he moved Kemp out of center and sat Ethier in the second half, I wouldn't be surprised to see him lean towards Guerrero over the long hall.

Every year there's some sort of position battle, and third base looks to be the one in 2015.  Kick back and enjoy.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Young kids shine, but oh that darn bullpen...

Sunday afternoon in Arizona was the ultimate "glass half full or half empty" kind of game.  Why, you might ask?  Here's why:

Glass Half Full:

* Two of the young studs of the future - Joc Pederson and Alex Guerrero - got starts in center and third, respectively.  Both showed why they could be starters for years to come.  Pederson had his best game as a pro, going 3-for-4 with a towering solo homer, two runs, and a walk.  Guerrero was 3-for-5 with a run scoring single and double, and a two-run shot.

* Oh by the way, those homers were the first in their Big League careers.

* Zack Greinke was sensational, which was much-needed a day after Clayton Kershaw got hit all over the state of Arizona.  Greinke tossed seven scoreless innings with five hits, no walks, and seven strikeouts.  He was a step ahead all day.  After two starts, he has a 0.69 ERA.

* Besides Pederson and Guerrero, four other Dodgers collected at least two hits: Jimmy Rollins, Adrian Gonzalez (big surprise there), Yasmani Grandal, and... Andre Ethier!  Yes, really!  Ethier started for Carl Crawford in left and swung the bat very well, including a triple.  Maybe there is some life in those legs.  Or maybe it was a mirage.  Who knows.

* Yasiel Puig showed some signs of life, hitting a laser shot out to left.  He's still only hitting .240, but he looked better today.

* Pedro Baez pitched a scoreless eighth with two strikeouts.

Glass Half Empty:

* UGH... that damn ninth inning.  Paco Rodriguez, Chris Hatcher, and Joel Peralta were each handed a freakin' 7-0 lead, and the Diamondbacks actually managed to put the tying run on-deck in the mighty Paul Goldschmidt.  Thankfully it didn't come to that, as after a long at-bat, Peralta got Ender Inciarte to fly out to center to end the game.  Paco wasn't all that bad, but Hatcher was pathetic and could not make the big pitch when needed.  Peralta was a bit wobbly, but at least held on.

* The closer situation is still a giant mess, as Hatcher went from terrific on Opening Day, to terrible in his two appearances since.  Peralta needed 10 pitches to get some unknown out.

I guess I should mention that the Dodgers did beat the DBacks 7-4, so at least they didn't get swept against a pretty mediocre team.

The Dodgers will gladly focus on the positives of the game, which were quite a few as you could see.  After all, they did lead 7-0 going in to the last inning, so there naturally had to be plenty of good.  Don Mattingly has to be feeling really good about playing his young guys more.  Pederson is already the starting center fielder, but Guerrero could find himself plenty of time at the hot corner if he can hit like that.  That was pretty impressive, as was his glove today.

Obviously Donny and his staff will have to keep going to the drawing board as far as the ninth inning goes.  I'm guessing Peralta will slide into the interim closer role, and hopefully Yimi Garcia gets a bigger role as well.  Hatcher throws hard, but he's not fooling anybody right now.  And uh... his ERA is 33.50.  Yikes.

Next up is Interleague play against the Mariners at home on Monday.  Thank God they miss Felix Hernandez by a day, as he pitched today against the A's and actually had to leave after five innings with a tight quad.  Brandon McCarthy will go against James Paxton.

Press Release - Gazillion Bubbles



 
 
 
 
 
For Immediate Release

 
 Gazillion Bubbles becomes “The Official Bubbles of the Los Angeles Dodgers”

A Season of Activities and Giveaways for Southland Families At Dodger Games!
April 6, 2015 – Los Angeles, CA - LA-based Funrise Toy Corporation has signed an exclusive agreement with The Los Angeles Dodgers, making its premium Gazillion® Bubbles brand the “Official Bubbles of the Los Angeles Dodgers” for the 2015 MLB season.  Throughout the season more than 1 million Dodger fans and families will be treated to extraordinary Gazillion Bubbles activations throughout their Dodger Stadium experience.

Viva Los Dodgers! Funrise Toys will bring the bubble fun to each Sunday home game this season as part of the celebratory “Viva Los Dodgers” pre-game events. Dodger families can enjoy the amazing Gazillion Bubble-blowing car and giant Monsoon bubble machine as they fill the sky with bubbles! Fans will also receive limited edition Gazillion branded giveaways during the events.

Concourse Activations

Gazillion Bubbles will also make its way to the kids’ zone located in Dodger Stadium at select home games where they’ll bring more bubble fun by displaying the Gazillion Bubbles car and giant Monsoon.

Activation Dates: April 19th, April 27th, May 15th, May 25th, June 19th, June 21st, July 4th, July 31st, August 10th & September 20th

Lucky Fan Giveaways! This season, Gazillion Bubbles’ prize packs will be a part of 4 of the Lucky Fan Giveaways that are given away throughout the season during games.

Giveaway Dates: April 19th, April 29th, May 2nd & June 5th

About Gazillion Bubbles

Trusted by parents for over a decade, Gazillion’s premium bubble solution has been formulated to create the biggest, brightest most colorful bubbles, providing the young at heart with hours of open-ended, outdoor play. Gazillion Bubbles products are appropriate for kids three and up and are available at toy retailers nationwide throughout the spring season.

About Funrise

Founded in 1987, Funrise is an adventurous innovator of superior toys and an industry leader in the manufacturing and distribution of the most popular children's toys. Simply put…we create fun! Funrise is the manufacturer of leading licensed power brands such as TONKA®, MY LITTLE PONY®, BABY ALIVE®, POUND PUPPIES®, LITTLEST PET SHOP®, and their core property portfolio includes Gazillion® Bubbles, Stackins Stackable Friends™ and Shelcore’s line of pre-school toys and more, making their product offerings diverse and full of fun for kids of all ages! Funrise Toy Corporation is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Matrix Holdings Limited. Funrise U.S. headquarters are located in Van Nuys, CA, with an office in Hong Kong, and with additional showrooms in Dallas, Minneapolis, Bentonville, United Kingdom and Australia. For more information, visit www.funrise.com

CONTACT:          
Janis Van Tine
GennComm for Gazillion
T: (818) 839-0117 E: Janis@GennComm.com

From Kershaw on down, it was an ugly night in Arizona

The Dodgers came into Saturday night's game in Arizona looking to get back on track from dropping a 10-inning affair the night before.  They had Clayton Kershaw on the mound, and they were facing a kid making his MLB debut.  A lot to like, right?

Um, no.

Kershaw was hit all over the place, the offense put up a pathetic two hits, and two third basemen left in a matter of minutes as the Diamondbacks rolled to an easy 6-0 victory.

Just how ugly was it?  Let's take a look:

* Kershaw couldn't get it going the entire night.  He gave up single runs in the first and third, and a couple runs in the fourth and seventh.  His location was all over the place, and the DBacks' hitters didn't miss their chances to exploit those mistakes.  Plus, he gave up 10 hits.  You want to know the last time he's given up double-digit hits?  October 18... of 2013!  Yes, that was the infamous Game 6 shellacking at the hands of Cardinals in the NLCS (not to be confused with last year's beatdown in the NLDS).

* The offensive highlights were a double by Howie Kendrick in the fourth, and a single by Adrian Gonzalez in the ninth.  That's it.

* The only threat to score came after Kendrick's double in the fourth, which moved A-Gon to third from his walk.  Andre Ethier got the start for Yasiel Puig in right, and he did was Ethier does best... strikeout and prove why he shouldn't be starting in the first place.  Pinch-hitter Alex Guerrero grounded out to end the threat.

* As I said, Puig was mercifully given the night off, as he's done a big pile of nothing so far this year.  With the right-handed Archie Bradley on the mound, Don Mattingly went with the lefty Ethier over the righty Scott Van Slyke.  It didn't work, as Ethier only drew a walk and nothing else.  Can we just trade him and get it over with already?

* The top two hitters in Jimmy Rollins and Carl Crawford went 0-for-8.

* Joc Pederson struck out all three times, putting him at .176 (3-for-17) for the year.  Add it all up between this year and last, and he's 7-for-45 for a .156 AVG.  Yes, it's a small sample size, but he's been completely overmatched so far.

* Justin Turner started at third for Juan Uribe, and had to leave when he got spiked on his left index finger attempting to tag a guy out stealing (a play in which he dropped the ball, giving the DBacks another out).  Right after that, Uribe came in, then just as fast went back out with a tight hamstring.  It wasn't pretty.

* Hey, at least Juan Nicasio looked good, striking out two over a perfect 1 2/3 innings. 

Now the Dodgers hand the ball to Zack Greinke, who pitched very well in his first start but received a no-decision.  It's WAY too early to say this is "must win."  But, considering the DBacks are regarded as potential cellar dwellers in the NL West, getting swept by them would sting at least a little bit.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Lefties in the 'pen continue to be a problem

Remember back at the end of last August when J.P. Howell had a 1.24 ERA?  It's safe to say that that guy hasn't been seen since.

A lousy September (11.81 ERA), lousier playoffs (13.50), and another lousy start to this season (5.40) has left us wondering just what in the world has happened to the guy?  Does he have a dead arm?  Or have batters simply figured him out?

I have no idea if there's something wrong with his arm, but I definitely think batters have improved their approach against him.  They basically lay off of his breaking stuff, because most of the time it barely gets to the plate anyway.  He doesn't throw hard enough to blow anyone away, so there ya go.

Friday night in Arizona, he had a chance to keep the game going in extras, as the Dodgers and DBacks were deadlocked at two apiece in the 10th.  After getting a groundout to start the inning, he walked Cliff Pennington, uncorked a wild pitch to get him to second, and walked A.J. Pollack.  Don Mattingly brought Yasiel Puig to play third for five infielders, but Ender Inciarte ripped a walk-off single down the first base line to beat the Dodgers 4-3.

There's plenty of reasons to be excited about the Dodgers in 2015, but right now, the bullpen is not one of them.  Kenley Jansen is hurt and won't return until May.  Brandon League is also out for awhile, and even though he's been a disappointment, he did have a 2.57 ERA last year.  Take those two away, and it's only natural for things to not go as smoothly.

While Yimi Garcia and Joel Peralta did look very good on Friday, Howell let the game get away.  The only other lefty in the bullpen is Paco Rodriguez, who started his career a couple years ago on absolute fire, but has faded since then.  The only other lefties are Clayton Kershaw and Brett Anderson, and I'm guessing neither one of them will be pitching out of the bullpen anytime soon.

It's not uncommon for teams to have a shortage of lefties in the later innings, as left-handed pitchers just aren't seen as much in the Majors.  But for the Dodgers, this is an issue that isn't going away.  Howell looks like a shell of his former self from this time last year.  Paco is about to turn 24 in a few days, so he obviously has youth on his side to turn things around.  But saying it and doing it are two different things.

These are the Dodgers, so a trade is only a moment or two away.  That happened a few days ago when they acquired Ryan Webb from the Orioles, but he's another righty and may get sent to the Minors anyway.  The Dodgers were not able to sign Andrew Miller this past offseason, who was the premier lefty on the market.  I'm hoping they don't regret not making a bigger push to get him.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

It's A-Gon's world, and we're just living in it


How good must life be for Adrian Gonzalez right now?

Last night before the Dodgers played the final game of a three-game set against the Padres, Gonzalez picked up his fourth Gold Glove and second Silver Slugger awards from 2014.  He'd already collected six hits, two homers, and three RBIs through two games, and was clearly flying high.

Well, after Wednesday night's mammoth three home run outburst, which helped down the Padres 7-4, I'd say he's flying as high as the moon right now.

And with that, A-Gon set a bit of history by becoming the first player EVER to hit five home runs in the first three games of the season.  That's just incredible.  I'm a little surprised nobody else has done that in the history of baseball, not that it's an easy thing to do.  But to do something that nobody has ever done through all of the years of professional baseball is downright crazy.

I'm not sure many people would even remember, much less guess in the first place, that he led all of baseball in RBIs last season with 116.  Not Mike Trout.  Not Miguel Cabrera.  Not Giancarlo Stanton.  Gonzalez did.

So maybe we shouldn't be the least bit surprised at what he's doing, even as he's approaching the "old" age of 33 in about a month.  OK, so maybe that's not THAT old even in baseball terms, but it's still on the wrong age of 30 in a sport that focuses so much on young talent.  He's not getting any younger, but he's still playing at a very high level on both sides of the field.

It's hard to know where the Dodgers would be without him.  He came over to the club in the infamous mega-deal with the Red Sox in 2012, and he's been a fixture at first base ever since.  After hitting 22 homers and 100 RBIs in 2013, he followed that up with his 27/116 campaign last year.  Obviously, he won't kill the ball like this all season, but there's no reason to think that with a deeper lineup around him this year, those numbers won't go up even more when it's all said and done.

Let's see how long he can ride this current hitting streak, which can best be described as "white hot."  Maybe if we ask him nicely, he can spread out some of these home runs so the Dodgers can win every game?

Just a thought.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A lot went right on Opening Day

There was a lot of "new" in the air at Dodger Stadium on Opening Day.  New center fielder, new double play combination, new closer, and new rival in Matt Kemp.  There was also some "new" in Clayton Kershaw watching him give up three runs (the nerve of him!). 

But here's what was to like about the squad after beating the Padres 6-3.

* I have to start with the guy leading off, Jimmy Rollins.  He led off the game with a single, walked and stole second in his next at-bat, then provided the dramatics in his fifth AB.  With the score tied at three and two runners on, he whacked the eight pitch of the AB out to deep right for a three-run shot.  He was brought there for veteran, championship leadership, and after one game, he's already paying off.

* Kershaw is indeed human, though he deserved better than three runs over six innings.  Juan Uribe took too long to play a slow bouncer by Derek Norris with two outs in the sixth, leading to an infield single.  It was more like a "mental error" than a hit.  Sure enough, old friend Kemp gave the Padres a 3-2 lead with a two-run double.  Kershaw still struck out nine, and it was encouraging to see the offense pick him up when he wasn't at his best.

* Twice the Dodgers were down (1-0 and 3-2) and twice they came back to tie the score, and Rollins's homer grabbed the lead for good.

* The biggest question mark going into the season?  The bullpen, no doubt, especially with Kenley Jansen on the shelf for a month or so.  For one game at least, they were fantastic.  Yimi Garcia struck out two in an inning, Joel Peralta worked a scoreless eighth, and Chris Hatcher got the save thanks to a double play ball and a strikeout to end the game.

* Adrian Gonzalez continues to put up numbers quietly.  People thought he was washed up a few seasons ago after shoulder surgery zapped much of his power during a disappointing stint with the Red Sox.  On Monday he was 3-for-5 with a solo homer, double, and two runs.  Throw in Gold Glove defense, and I get the feeling he can play until he's 50.

* The other part of the double play combination, Howie Kendrick, had two hits, including the game-tying double in the seventh.  I was surprised to see him hit cleanup and not Puig, but Don Mattingly clearly likes Kendrick's ability to drive in runs when the pressure is on.  So far, he's right.

* Joe Pederson got his first taste as an everyday Big Leaguer, and he responded with a hit, walk, run scored, and diving catch.  Not a bad first day, and can only get better.

So as I said, there was plenty to like.  Zack Greinke will look to keep the good times rolling when he takes on Tyson Ross on Tuesday night.  We all know how good Greinke is, but Ross is a very underrated fireballer himself.  He gets practically no run support, which perfectly summarizes this stat: in six career starts against the Dodgers, he's 0-4 with a 2.45 ERA.  That's just crazy.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Dodgers set 25-man roster to begin 2015

It took until the very last Spring Training game to be played for the Dodgers to officially reveal their 25-man roster to open the new season.  Here's a look:

Catchers
A.J. Ellis
Yasmani Grandal

Infielders
Adrian Gonzalez
Howie Kendrick
Jimmy Rollins
Juan Uribe
Justin Turner
Alex Guerrero
Darwin Barney

Outfielders
Yasiel Puig
Joc Pederson
Carl Crawford
Scott Van Slyke
Andre Ethier

Starting Rotation
Clayton Kershaw
Zack Greinke
Brandon McCarthy
Brett Anderson

Bullpen
Joel Peralta
J.P. Howell
Chris Hatcher
Paco Rodriguez
Yimi Garcia
Pedro Baez
Juan Nicasio

Disabled List
Kenley Jansen
Hyun-Jin Ryu
Chris Withrow
Brandon League
Brandon Beachy

Analysis:
One point Don Mattingly and Andrew Friedman have been harping on over and over this spring is how much they like their depth.  And guess what?  It's true.  Just take a look at some of the names sent down after Saturday's game - David Huff, Sergio Santos, David Aardsma, Adam Liberatore, Chris Heisey, and Kiki Hernandez.  Sure, those names won't blow you away, but they are good enough to make many other clubs out of the gate.  This at least gives the team much more depth at the Triple-A level when the inevitable injuries occur.

The infield is especially loaded, one year after Hanley Ramirez and Dee Gordon have moved on.  All four starters are very good with the gloves, and all can still do damage at the plate.  Turner is coming off of a fantastic year playing the utility role, Guerrero hit .308 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring, and Barney did even better by hitting .354 with six doubles, a triple, a homer, and four RBIs.  With Van Slyke and his great spring numbers (.354, three homers, nine RBIs) able to play some first base as well, Mattingly can easily find time to spot his starters and not miss a beat.

As for the outfield, it's pretty obvious that Pederson will be the starter in center.  He put up big numbers in the spring (.338, six homers, 13 RBIs, three stolen bases), and is clearly the starter for years to come.  This leaves Ethier in a position he won't like, and for that I certainly can't blame him.  His contract is so bloated, I'm not sure if trading him is a realistic possibility, so he might have to just grin and bear it for awhile.

The starting rotation was a mixed bag of results in the spring, but it's not anything I'd be even remotely worried about over the long haul.  You know Kershaw and Greinke will do their thing.  Heck, they can worse numbers than last year and still be the top 1-2 punch in the game.  McCarthy and Anderson both allowed .300+ averages, but again, it's hard to get too worked up over such a small sample size.  The only bummer is Ryu's injury, and the Dodgers really need him.  Hopefully it's nothing major and a little rest to start the season will do him good.

Finally, the bullpen is the biggest question mark, and that was before Jansen hurt his foot.  Now that he's out for a few weeks, there's no clear-cut closer.  My best guess is that Hatcher and Peralta get the first crack, and Howell perhaps if the situation is warranted (lefty on lefty).  Nicasio can play the swing man role, so maybe he gives a spot start if the #5 slot in the rotation is needed.  The best part about the 'pen is that there's a few names ready to be called up if any of the ones who made the big club flop.  It truly is put up or shut up.

With all that said, the Dodgers have to like their ability to make some noise from every spot in the order.  There's no "Stanton or Cabrera" threat to put one out of the park at any point, but there's plenty of guys who will drive in the big runs.  I do think we need to acknowledge Matt Kemp and Ramirez's abilities to drive in big runs during their tenures with the team, so replacing them won't be easy.

As with any club, getting guys healthy again will be huge, because Ryu and Jansen's injuries really cast a dark cloud over the pitching depth.  It's not like they will be lost without them, but their injuries do have a trickle down effect, especially in the bullpen.  Let's see how the month of April goes without them and hope for the best.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Pederson vs. Ethier: Who has the edge?

Don Mattingly is not ready to declare Joc Pederson or Andre Ethier as his starting center fielder come one week from today.  But that won't stop me from comparing how each has done this Spring Training, along with my pick.  Here goes...

Pederson: 22 G, .389 AVG, .421 OBP, 4 2B, 6 HR, 12 RBI, 2 SB

If Pederson was looking to leave his mark, he most certainly has this spring.  He leads the team in home runs, and is one behind Yasiel Puig in RBIs.  His 1.217 OPS is highest among potential starters, so he's showing everything he can do with the lumber.  That includes a team high 12 strikeouts, though that's not preventing him from getting on base.  His defensive abilities are rated as top notch, and he got at least some playing time there during his cup of coffee last September.  Add it all up, and he's doing everything possible to be the man in center.

Ethier: 18 G, .313 AVG, .389 OBP, 4 HR, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB

On the other hand, old dog Ethier is not ready to concede a starting spot just yet.  Well, I should say he's ready to prove why he should start again considering he was kicked to the curb by Mattingly last season (and justifiably so).  Let's not forget that just three years ago, he hit 36 doubles, 20 homers, and 89 RBIs.  Those numbers have gone way down since then, as injuries and poor play have made him almost a forgotten man.  To his credit, the numbers he's put up this spring show that he's all business and ready to show what he can do.  Maybe not for this team, but some other one.

Verdict:

With all of that said, it's just hard to picture Ethier being named the starting center fielder while Pederson is riding the pine.  This is actually eerily similar to a few seasons ago when Ethier was the fresh, new player, and Juan Pierre the old dog.  Joe Torre went with Ethier to start the season because the new guy gave him every reason why he's ready.  That's exactly what Pederson is doing right now.

Both men would hit closer to the bottom of the order, so the pressure is off to produce in the middle.  The Dodgers have plenty of guys who can reach base, and I can definitely see Pederson getting his chances to successfully drive in runs.  That's how he can build himself up to a future with a bigger role.

Ethier did a good job taking over for Matt Kemp in center last season, but it's not like he was out-of-this-world good, leading to Mattingly placing Puig there for the rest of the season.  Now Puig will be back in right because Pederson is looked at as the next big thing in center.  He already has the glove, and now that he's showing a relaxed approach at the plate, Mattingly needs to roll with him from here on out.