Friday, July 10, 2015

Greinke vs. Scherzer: All-Star Starter Tale of the Tape

With a few days remaining before the All-Star Game, Bruce Bochy still has to decide which horse he wants to ride to start for the National League. 

Sorry, Bruce, but Madison Bumgarner is not one of those horses he should be considering.

It's basically down to Zack Greinke and Max Scherzer, who've each been terrific to say the least.  Let's take a look at each, and try to decipher who should get the ball in the first inning.

Zack Greinke: 18 starts, 8-2, 1.39 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, .191 BAA, 106 K's in 123 1/3 IP
NL Ranks: 1st in innings, ERA; 2nd in WHIP

The Case for Greinke: The guy has a 1.39 ERA at the All-Star break.  That's the lowest at the ASB since 1968.  It's also the fourth lowest at the ASB since World War II.  He's currently on a scoreless streak of 35 2/3 innings.  Last night's 6-0 win over the Phillies was his fifth straight scoreless start.  He's retired 35 of his past 36 hitters.  He hasn't allowed a runner to third base in the past 27 2/3 innings.

Need I say more?

There's not much Greinke can't do right now, save for literally being absolutely perfect in each outing, but he sure is close.  He's in his contract year, and is pitching like a guy who will blow the roof off of free agency this offseason (following in Scherzer's footsteps from last year).  Whatever the motivation, he's clearly not only the hottest pitcher in baseball, but probably the best.

Max Scherzer: 17 starts, 9-7, 2.12 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, .188 BAA, 143 K's in 123 1/3 IP
NL Ranks: 1st in innings, WHIP, complete games; 2nd in ERA; 4th in wins, ERA

The Case for Scherzer: There might not have been a better pitched three-game stretch in the history of baseball than what Scherzer did in June.  First he pitched a complete game, one-hit, 16-strikeout shutout over the Brewers.  Then he came within one hit batter of tossing a perfect game over the Pirates, settling for "only" a no-hitter.  He capped it off by retiring the first 16 batters in Philadelphia before finally giving up a hit in the sixth.  It was simply amazing watching him.

That alone might get him the start, as he was as close as you can possibly be to untouchable in those starts.  He's allowed two earned runs or less in 13 of his 17 starts, with 10 of those being one run or less.  His strikeouts have been very impressive, tallying six starts in double-digits.

The Nationals haven't run away with the NL East like most experts thought they would, but on a team with some question marks, Scherzer has far and away been the top dog.

The Verdict: This is a really tough call, as you're pretty much flipping a coin between two phenomenal pitchers.  In a perfect scenario, they'll each give the NL two shutout innings in the ASG.

However, if Bochy is looking at his best chance of winning the game, then Greinke is the guy.  He's simply peaking at the perfect time.  While he's riding a five-game scoreless streak, Scherzer is coming off his worst outing of the season, giving up five runs while not making it out of the fifth inning against the Reds on Tuesday.  It was clearly a blip on the radar, as he was sensational in his starts before that... but so was Greinke, who's been even better.

If I had to take a guess, I get the feeling that Bochy will lean towards Scherzer, simply because he's been getting more press this year.  There's not much Greinke can do about that, because he just quietly goes about his business as most of America is asleep.  Scherzer gets the luxury of more eyeballs on his starts.

I'm hoping Bochy will show some NL West love, and not deny a Dodger pitcher from rightfully starting the ASG for the third straight year (Clayton Kershaw was bumped for Matt Harvey and Adam Wainwright).  Plus, Greinke would make a better choice to start because he won't fall victim to being too pumped up by trying to blow everyone away.  That was the old Greinke.  The new one is all about locating and changing speeds, and that's exactly what he'll do in the first inning.

Both men have already made their last starts of the first half, so they've done all they can do.  I just think Greinke has done a little more, and should get the nod for the start.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

"What's an All-Star Game without Clayton?"

That's the rhetorical question posed by A.J. Ellis after Wednesday night's game.

Considering Clayton Kershaw just got done polishing off the Phillies with a complete game, 13-strikeout, shutout performance in a 5-0 win, it's one plenty of people around the game are asking too.

Left off the roster by both the players' vote and manager Bruce Bochy, Kershaw also saw his name in fourth place out of five in the Final Vote before toeing the rubber at Dodger Stadium.  What followed was his best performance of the season, and even more encouraging was how he rose to the occasion with runners on base, as the Phillies did get eight hits.  That's what's been crushing him earlier this season.

With his final start before the All-Star break in the books, Kershaw finds himself first in the National League in strikeouts (160) and second in innings pitched (123).  Digging a little deeper, he's tied for third in all of baseball at a 3.7 Pitcher's WAR with Chris Sale.

Yet, he still finds himself on the outside looking in, and as of now, it's going to stay that way.  Keep in mind that as we get closer to the actual game in Cincinnati next Tuesday, there will need to be injury/rest replacements.  Any pitcher scheduled to throw this Sunday can either be replaced, or choose to throw just one inning.  The rules are a little petty, but also understandable in a way as they're meant to protect the arms.

Ignoring the 6-6 record because of the Dodgers' awful runs support (Zack Greinke only has seven wins, which is criminal), Kershaw has lowered his ERA a full run from 3.86 at the end of May to 2.85 right now.  One thing he's been constantly mentioning as something he wants to improve upon is how deep he pitches into the game (we all are, considering how terrible the bullpen is).  Last night he went the distance for the first time, and since the start of June, he's hurled at least seven innings in six of his eight starts.  Not bad.

But, once again, it might not mean anything as far as the All-Star Game goes.  And you know what?  Maybe that's not a bad thing.  I heard John Smoltz, soon to be enshrined into Cooperstown this summer, say on MLB Network that Kershaw should just enjoy the rest and get ready for the second half.  The more I thought about it, the more I liked that idea.

While everyone wants the honor of being an All-Star, it's not like he hasn't been there before, as he's made the previous four.  He's actually scoreless in those games, pitching an inning apiece.  In 2012, he loaded the bases but wiggled out of it, and other than that, has barely been touched.  So, he's proven that he can get it done on that stage.

Don't get me wrong, I would be thrilled if he does get in, as he's proven since June that he most certainly deserves it.  I'm just saying that if he doesn't, taking over a week off from starts isn't a bad thing at all.  He's been going nonstop the last couple of seasons between the regular season, All-Star Game, and postseason, without a breather.  This could be a rare chance to get one.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pederson's an All-Star... but let's face it, he's struggling at the plate

Joc Pederson was honored with his first All-Star selection on Monday, joining a few of his Dodger teammates.  Right now he's third in the National League in walks (56), fifth in home runs (20), and 10th in slugging % (.502).

He also has a chance to be a starter if Matt Holliday can't comeback from a quad injury.

Things are going very well for him, no doubt.

But now comes a dose of reality: Pederson has struggled more and more as each month passes by.

Here are the numbers to prove it, as we look at his average and slugging % by the month:

April: .298 AVG, .596 SLG
May: .236 AVG, .519 SLG
June: .222 AVG, .495 SLG
July (5 games): .059 AVG, .111 SLG

No matter who the player is, those aren't pretty numbers that continue to dip more and more each month.

Look, I'm a big fan of Pederson.  It's hard not to like a guy who can patrol center and make amazing catches with such ease.  He sure as heck is a big upgrade from watching Matt Kemp struggle there at the beginning of last season, giving away one run after another.

This isn't about his defense at all.  In 164 total chances this year, he only has two errors, good for a .988 fielding %.  He's quickly turned himself into one of the best defensive outfielders in the game.

I'm focusing solely on his numbers at the plate, where he's regressed a little more and more as the season has gone on.  He puts all of his eggs in one basket, as he's all about the power.  Well, over his last 13 games, he's hit two doubles and one homer.  Everyone goes through slumps, but he only has six hits total over the span, so it's not like he has a Plan B to go to.

One area that he's been consistent in is unfortunately strikeouts.  Over that same 13-game span, he's struck out a whopping 17 times.  In fact, he's currently leading the National League in strikeouts at 99, placing him fourth in all of baseball.  I know power guys will experience their fair share of K's, but it's getting harder to ignore when it seems like every game lately he's walking back to the dugout instead of around the bases after a big hit.

By the way, here's his strikeouts by the month: 22, 37, 35, 5.  That's a lot of swings, and a lot of misses.

I'm not trying to rain on Pederson's parade, as based on his overall play, he deserves to be in the Midsummer Classic in Cincinnati.  Along with guys like Kris Bryant and Carlos Correa, he's one of the most exciting young players in the game.

But I am saying that there's still plenty of room for improvement, and it starts with the little things like cutting down on his swing with two strikes, and not being so "homer happy" in any circumstance.  As the Dodgers go through the ebb and flow of scoring runs, he's a huge part of that hitting leadoff most games. 

Some adjustments at the plate can go a long way.  He just needs to embrace that.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Four Dodgers are off to the All-Star Game in Cincinnati

The Dodgers were shut out of any starters for this year's All-Star Game, but they certainly weren't for reserves.

Congratulations are in order for Joc Pederson, Adrian Gonzalez, Yasmani Grandal, and Zack Greinke for representing the Dodgers in the National League.  All very well-deserved picks.

Clayton Kershaw is one name not on the list, but he still has a chance to be added via the "Final Five" voting.  Simply put, if the fans want him in, he'll have to beat out Troy Tulowitzki, Johnny Cueto, Jeurys Familia, and Carlos Martinez.  It's hard to ever guess how this voting process can go, so it's a toss-up right now.

Two names who had a chance but are on the outside looking in are Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen.  Turner is a bit of a disappointment, especially considering he's .312 with 11 homers and 37 RBIs, and has taken over full-time duties at third base for the departed Juan Uribe.  I think he still has a chance of getting in once injury replacements are named.  Jansen has a bit of a chance with 13 saves and a 1.93 ERA, but losing some time with the injured foot didn't help his cause.

Both Greinke and Pederson have great chances at ending up being starters.  Greinke is 7-2 with an NL-leading 1.48 ERA and 0.89 WHIP.  He next pitches on Thursday, which lines him up perfectly to pitch the following Tuesday on full rest.  Of course, Bruce Bochy also can say the same about his own Madison Bumgarner, who will be on four-days' rest.  Max Scherzer will be on a full week of rest, and it's hard to ignore his numbers, too.

Pederson could quite possibly sub for Matt Holliday, who is battling a sore quad.  If Holliday can't go, then an outfield of Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen (subbing for Giancarlo Stanton), and Pederson would be young and fun to watch.  He will have to compete with A.J. Pollack and Justin Upton for the honor.  On the season, Pederson has smacked 20 homers and 35 RBIs, though he's struggled a bit with a .234 AVG. 

A-Gon will be making his fifth appearance, and first as a Dodger.  He hit a home run in his last appearance in 2011 with the Red Sox.  This year, he's hitting .291 with 23 doubles, 15 homers, and 50 RBIs.

It's great to see Grandal getting the final nod at catcher behind Buster Posey and Yadier Molina.  Hopefully he can sneak at least one inning in, as those two could probably go the full nine if they wanted.  Grandal leads NL catchers with an .881 OPS, just above Posey.  Not bad.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

With each start, Greinke gets more expensive. And that's fine with me.

If you're Zack Greinke, you're sure loving life right now.

Coming off another masterful performance, seven shutout innings in a 4-3 win over the Mets on Independence Day, Greinke now has a 1.48 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in 17 starts, to go along with a scoreless innings streak at 27 2/3.

Life is good.

What's even better is that after this season, he has an out clause in contract that would allow him to test the free agency market.  Before the 2013 season, he inked a six-year, $147 million deal.  He's earning a cool $23 million this season, along with a $2 million signing bonus.

Those are some huge numbers, but in today's baseball world, he can probably get even more dough if he keeps putting up blanks like this.  Take Max Scherzer, for example.  He turned down the Tigers' offer of a $144 million extension, rolling the dice that he could get north of $200 million.  After posting monster numbers last season, he was right, as he signed a seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nationals.

What works even more in Greinke's favor is Scherzer's success this year.  Rather than getting the money and seeing his numbers slip, he's been even more dominant this season at 9-6 with a 1.82 ERA and 0.78 WHIP.  He also has a no-hitter, and is seemingly in contention for one every start.

With Scherzer's success comes the increasing likelihood that Greinke will choose the same path.  It's the old "gamble on me" way of thinking that can be somewhat dangerous.  That is, somewhat dangerous for people who have not allowed one run or less in 13 of his 17 starts.

One thing that is working against Greinke is simple: his age.  He'll be 33 next season, and the magic number of 30 for pitches is when they usually start to go downhill.  But, if you read Buster Olney's article on him (sorry, Insider only), then you'll see that rival evaluators believe he can keep replicating his success because he's in the mold of a Greg Maddux: that is not, not a power pitcher, but a guy who hits corners, changes speed, and has a great arm slot on his release.

As of now, there's no way the Dodgers can't throw the bank at him.  It's not like they can't afford it!  The new analytics-driven front office might not like giving that much money to someone his age, but he's clearly the Dodgers #1 need heading into the offseason.  Yes, he's been that good.

Or, if Greinke truly cares about getting more wins (he's 4-3 right now), then he'll stay with his current contract, or even offer to give some of that money to get better middle relief.  It took all of two innings for clowns like Yimi Garcia, Adam Liberatore, and Pedro Baez to nearly blow a 4-0 lead.  Imagine if the Dodgers could score more runs and protect the lead in the middle innings more often.  Greinke might have 30 wins by now.  Kidding, of course.  Kind of...

Anyway, as Clayton Kershaw is still looking to be more consistent with his location, Greinke has vaulted into the #1 pitcher for the Dodgers as they lead the NL West.  I'm pretty sure that fact isn't lost on Greinke's representatives, who will look to cash in on his terrific numbers this offseason.

Let's just hope he cashes in with the Dodgers.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

For the first time, I seriously wonder if the Dodgers will trade Puig

Let me start off by stating this: I am not advocating for the Dodgers to go ahead and move Yasiel Puig to another team.  If I'm the GM, I'm not pulling the trigger on that right now.

But let's also get something straight: for the first time since Puig came to the Dodgers in 2013, I'm starting to seriously wonder if the Dodgers will be open to trading him.  That's how crazy things are getting with him.

I have no knowledge this will happen, or that the front office is even thinking about it.  I'm just a huge fan who happens to follow his favorite team very closely (hence, me writing this blog), and I call it like I see it.  Puig looks uninspired, and combining that with all the recent reports of just how negative a clubhouse influence he has been, it's gotten me to this point.

In 34 games this year, Puig is hitting .286 with three homers and 10 RBIs.  That's right - he's barely a home run threat anymore, and with runners in scoring position, he's hitting an even worse .152 (5-for-33).  What stinks even more is that with RISP and two outs, he's a pathetic .059 (1-for-17).  I don't care who you are, that's really bad.

Don Mattingly recently made a bit of news when he challenged Puig to start adjusting his hitting. He didn't get into specifics too much, but it doesn't take a baseball whiz to guess that Puig is probably not the type to study video of the opposing pitcher's tendencies, or to study his own video for how to improve his mechanics.  It's see the ball, swing as hard as you can, and hope for the best.

Now that he's been in the big leagues for about two full seasons, pitchers are doing a much better job exploiting his weaknesses, such as fastballs inside and breaking stuff away.  If he showed any desire to make adjustments at the plate, do you really think Mattingly would make such a statement when he first came back from injury?  That's doubtful.

In the field, Puig can still flat out catch and it and throw it.  Nobody can take that away from him, which is why he's still so valuable to the team.  His body language, however, continues to disappoint.  He somehow looks even more bored and annoyed when he's catching fly balls, as if he can't possibly believe a hitter would dare test him.  I know he's always done that, but it looks even worse now.  It shows his head is not where it should be.

So basically, he's not hitting that well, and his moodiness carries out onto the field on defense.  Throw that together, and add in the front office's desire to cleanout all of the nonsense that has plagued this team in the past, and the writing might be on the wall.  Maybe not this year, but in the offseason, Puig could be on his way out.

Right now Puig is in the middle of a seven-year, $42 million contract he inked starting in 2012.  He's earning $4.5 million this year, and that will tick up another $1 million until it's over following the 2018 season.  Considering how bloated many contracts are, this one is actually very team-friendly, and one many other clubs would jump at to bring into the fold.

The best thing Puig can do is to simply WAKE UP.  Have a plan at the plate that doesn't involve swinging for the fences that he rarely clears anymore, or swinging and missing while trying to stay in his cleats.  It wouldn't hurt to also look like he gives more of a crap in the field as well.  Oh, and no more reports of being a freakin' prima donna like when he first came up.

If changes aren't made, then like I said above, I really am starting to think the Dodgers will want to trade him.  That was once unthinkable to me, but not anymore.  He is who he is.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Cahill comes in, and League goes out

A couple of news items on the pitching staff...

* Trevor Cahill has been signed to a minor league deal.  He was recently with the Braves, where he got canned after going 0-3 with a 7.52 ERA and 1.72 WHIP.  Um, that's not good.  No wonder he got released.

There has been plenty of good in Cahill's career, as he was an All-Star in 2010 with Oakland, going 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and .220 BAA.  That was by far his best year, as his numbers started to slide the next year.  A move to the Diamondbacks in 2012 didn't exactly help, as he had an ERA in the high-3's for a couple of years, but was horrific last season with a 5.71 ERA in 32 games (17 starts).  He was a complete disaster with the Braves in three starts this year.

If you're the Dodgers, you probably figure, What the heck?  Give it a shot and see what he can give you.  Maybe down the stretch he teams up with Brandon Beachy and gives the Dodgers some good starts at the end of the rotation.  If not, then it's a very low-risk signing, so no harm done.  We'll see what happens.

* In a bit of a surprising move, the Dodgers have decided to DFA Brandon League, who was on a Minor League rehab assignment for about a month.  If he clears waivers, he can either accept another Minor League assignment, or be released. 

How much will League gather if he's sent home for good?  Try $7.5 million.  That'll probably make him feel a little bit better when he's sitting on the couch sipping iced tea.  Or maybe something stronger.

Anyway, League was really good on rehab, giving up only one run in 10 2/3 innings.  Despite that, with his 30-day rehab window coming to a close, the Dodgers did not see enough out of him to bring him back to the big club.  His fastball barely reached 90 mph, and his hard sinker was largely a thing of the past.  That's not too surprising considering his right shoulder had long been giving him problems.

For Ned Colletti, this is yet another signing that proved to be a major flop, much like Brian Wilson, Jason Schmidt, and Matt Guerrier in the past.  Mega-bucks to guys fading in their careers, and it cost them.  While League was very good to close out 2012 (6-6 in saves, 2.70 ERA), he was mostly horrendous in 2013-14, getting the boot at closer for Kenley Jansen, and largely being relegated to mop-up duty.

Give Andrew Friedman this - he's not afraid to eat money if it means improving the team.  Wilson is being paid $10 million to get the hell away from the Dodgers, and barring some team shockingly wanting League at this point, he'll be paid $7.5 million to do the same.  That's a lot of dead money, but oh well.

Kendrick at 2, Turner at 3 works just fine

Through all of the lineup changes the Dodgers have undergone this year, one tweak should stay: Howie Kendrick in the 2-hole, and Justin Turner at 3.

Want proof?  Check out these numbers:

Kendrick at #2: 6 games, .542 AVG, .586 OBP, 1 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 3 SB
Turner at #3: 13 games, .277 AVG, .382 OBP, 3 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 11 RBI

Any questions?

Obviously, you can't expect Kendrick to continue hitting that well, and Turner isn't exactly a home run threat.  But right now, it's all working out, and there's no reason to toy with it.

What each man has going for him is that they're both described as being "professional hitters."  They're prone to slumps like anyone is, but they're also experienced enough to figure things out and not keep the slump going for long.

With the All-Star Game approaching us, both guys should receive plenty of consideration.  Dee Gordon will get the start at second for the National League, and deservedly so.  Kendrick will have competition from Joe Panik, Brandon Phillips, and Kolten Wong for the backup spot.  It'll be close.

It'll be tougher for Turner to get in, because the NL is loaded at third.  Todd Frazier, Matt Carpenter, Nolan Arenado, and Kris Bryant are just a few names, not to mention someone like Matt Duffy.  Hopefully he can get in based on his versatility, and can be the NL's "super sub" for late in the game.

All-Star nod or not, these two have been steadying influences on a team that has gone through many injuries, and many inconsistencies at the plate.  They're both locked in right now, and should keep doing what they're good at.

I still say Yasiel Puig should be the leadoff hitter, as he's not hitting home runs, but is fast enough to beat out infield hits, and takes some walks.  Don Mattingly can then pair up Adrian Gonzalez and Joc Pederson in the 4-5 slots, and even Yasmani Grandal when he's swinging a hot bat.  That's a pretty good lineup.

But it all circles back to keeping Kendrick at two and Turner at three.  Donny, please don't mess with that!!!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

So far, the Dodgers are winning the Kemp-Grandal deal

Back on December 11, the Dodgers and Padres pulled the trigger on a deal centered around Matt Kemp and Yasmani Grandal.  It had been discussed for awhile, and when it finally happened, it was the end of an era for Kemp in LA.

It seemed like Dodger fans were split right down the middle on this.  Those who liked the trade pointed out how Kemp was often injured, on the downside of his career, and that Grandal was a huge upgrade over A.J. Ellis.  Those who didn't like it pointed to Kemp's second half success in 2014, and that at long last he looked healthy again.

Here we are a couple of games from exactly the midway point, and a couple weeks from the All-Star Game, and the Dodgers are in first place at 44-35, while the Padres are still struggling at 37-42.

So who got the better of the deal?  Sorry, Padre fans, but it's the Dodgers.

Let's look at their offensive stats:

Grandal: 59 games, .269 AVG, .380 OBP, 8 2B, 12 HR, 31 RBI, 1.1 WAR
Kemp: 78 games, .247 AVG, .283 OBP, 16 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 41 RBI, 7 SB, -0.2 WAR

While Kemp has more RBIs and steals, Grandal is leading in the home run department, and has a sky high OBP compared to Kemp.  Also, you have to remember that Kemp gets nearly all of his at-bats in the third or fourth slot, leading to more chances to drive in runs (he recently has started hitting leadoff thanks to his lack of power).  Grandal mostly hits anywhere between 5-7.  Big difference.

The other big difference is the reason why each guy was swapped in the first place.  The Padres were looking to make a splash on offense after years of futility, bringing in guys like Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris, and Kemp.  Upton has certainly done his part, leading the Padres in practically every offensive category, including steals.  Norris has 20 doubles and 11 homers.  Myers has been hurt, so it's hard to judge him.  Kemp, however, has not found his power stroke at all.  That's been disappointing.

Grandal had a bit of an advantage when his numbers are compared to Ellis's.  OK, he has a HUGE advantage, especially since Ellis hit .191 with three homers and 25 RBIs last year.  That's almost comically bad.  Well actually, he's at .171, no homers, and three RBIs this year.  He's somehow topped his own futility.

Anyway, Grandal has been a big uplift regardless of how pitiful Ellis has been.  Take last night's 6-4 win over the Diamondbacks.  He hit a two-run homer to start the scoring in the second (two straight games with a homer for him), then added on insurance in the 10th with a two-run double, which were runs the Dodgers needed for the win.  At a time when the Dodgers are struggling to score, his seven homers is tied with Joc Pederson for tops in June.

Defensively, I don't think either guy will be confused with Bryce Harper or Yadier Molina.  Kemp is no longer even allowed to touch center field, instead patrolling right all season long.  Grandal has long been described as not the greatest defensive catcher, but a great pitch framer.  So there's that.

Grandal's Defensive WAR is -0.5, and Kemp's -0.8.  Neither is good, but Grandal's rates just a bit better.

To sum it up, the Dodgers have to be thrilled with what they've gotten out of Grandal thus far.  He's brought plenty of pop at the plate, and has thankfully yanked all sorts of playing time away from Ellis.  To be fair to Kemp, he might have another second half breakout in him like he did last year for the Dodgers, so we'll wait and see.  But it sure has been fun not to have to deal with the outfield drama that plagued the Dodgers last year.

Advantage: Grandal.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bad relief, bad replay review, bad loss for the Dodgers

Monday night's game in Arizona was the definition of "an adventure."  One that didn't end well at all for the road team.

Despite having leads of 4-0 and 6-4, a combination of some horrific bullpen work and an even worse replay review gave the Diamondbacks a 10-6 win.

Let's take a look at all of it:

* Mike Bolsinger cruised through four innings, allowing three hits and striking out four.  Unfortunately for him, and for the Dodgers as a whole, he had to leave with flu-like symptoms.  It seemed like a struggle to even get any innings out of him.  He took a no-decision, but lowered his ERA to 2.76.

* That leads us to the work of the bullpen, which was absolutely, positively, ATROCIOUS.  Six straight relievers followed Bolsinger, none of which lasted more than an inning, and each allowed at least two runners to reach.  Joel Peralta, Yimi Garcia, and Juan Nicasio were each charged with two runs.  Pedro Baez was horrific with four runs.  Adam Liberatore and J.P. Howell, the only lefties in the 'pen, could not get any big outs.

* Total it all up, and the six relievers allowed 10 runs in six innings of work.  They also gave up 10 hits, walked five, and surrendered two home runs.  Oh, and two double steals as well, which was embarrassing.  I can't believe just a couple of days ago I was singing their praises.  They are who they are, and that's a terrible bullpen.  Bottom line.  It's once again their downfall this season.  What a shame.

* Despite all of that, the tone of the game I believe was at least somewhat set in the first.  Diamondbacks' starter Allen Webster literally could not find the strike zone, walking both Joc Pederson and Howie Kendrick before beaning Justin Turner.  Adrian Gonzalez went to 2-0, and for God knows what reason, swung away on the next pitch.  Horrible idea, as he grounded into a double play.  The guy is slower than a 3rd grader, so he's the last person who should do something like that.  Just terrible execution, and wasted what could have been a monster inning.

* Now let's talk replay review.  Before this game, I wasn't big on the complaints that the boys in New York were protecting their fellow umpires on the field, but I do now.  In the sixth, Yasmany Tomas hit a laser to left that a fan (a Dodger fan, actually) reached over the wall to interfere with.  The call on the field was home run, and Don Mattingly challenged it.  It was a clear, obvious call of interference, and the runners should have been sent back to the field.  So of course what is clear and obvious to someone with an IQ of at least 3 is not to the IDIOTS at MLB.  The home run stood, and I haven't stopped shaking my head since.

It was a crazy game, as you can see.  About the only thing that went well outside of Bolsinger's four innings were the three home runs hit by Andre Ethier, Yasmani Grandal, and Joc Pederson.  None of them came with runners on base, and the team ended up going 1-for-8 with RISP.  In other words, they once again could only do damage with the long ball.

Needless to say, the Dodgers came crashing back to Earth after taking two of three in Miami this past weekend, as their road record continues to suffer at 16-22.  The replay stuff they can't do anything about, only to hope that the system as a whole gets a complete overhaul.  The bullpen and hitting with runners on base they certainly can control.  If they have any dreams of leaving a dent in the postseason, that's stuff they absolutely have to get better at.

And considering that Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke both are not pitching in this series, get ready to see a whole lot more from the crappy bullpen.  Gee, I can't wait...

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Move Joc out, and move Puig into the leadoff spot

There's a lot to love about Joc Pederson.  From his mammoth home runs to tracking down fly balls all over the outfield, he's certainly an exciting guy to watch play.

I just happen to not like watching him strikeout to start every game.  I doubt I'm the only one.

As good as Joc is and will continue to be, hitting him in the leadoff spot needs to stop.  Now.

Let's check out the numbers.  He's started 46 games in the leadoff spot, and is putting together this line: .231 AVG, .357 OBP, 14 HR, 24 RBI, 30 BB, 60 K.  If you're someone who can live with the strikeouts in exchange for all of the longballs, then he's your guy.

But a deeper look into his stats leading off tells a different story.  When he's leading off an inning, as in only the at-bats when he's up first no matter what inning the game is in, here's how he looks: 14-for-83, .169 AVG, .296 OBP, 4 HR, 4 RBI, 13 BB, 38 K.

Not nearly as impressive.

The last three games in Miami (two wins), Joc has done the following leading off the game: struck out looking, struck out swinging, and struck out swinging.  The Dodgers scored seven runs on Friday, then put up two runs apiece the next two games.  I'm not at all saying that Joc is solely responsible for the offense flattening out over the weekend, but he's not helping it either.  When you're starting each game with the leadoff hitter walking back to the dugout after strike three, it's not exactly setting the right tone.

So what's my solution?  Well, it's definitely not putting Jimmy Rollins back in the leadoff spot, as he barely deserves to even be starting anymore.  I'm not that crazy.

However, I would suggest putting another "power" guy in that slot: Yasiel Puig.

Here's the thing with Puig - we're still waiting for more power from him.  (That's why I just referred to him as being a "power" guy in quotes.)  In 30 games this year, he has three homers.  After the All-Star break last year (and after he pulled an O'fer in the Home Run Derby), he hit four homers in 215 at-bats.

Maybe he'll be a big home run hitter someday, but that day isn't right now.

I would put Puig in the first spot, where he's not nearly as susceptible to striking out (20 in 29 games) as Joc is (89 in 75).  Plus, Puig is hitting .360 (9-for-25) when leading off an inning, so the Dodgers will gladly take that.

Joc can then slide down to hit somewhere in the heart of the order, which can be anywhere from 3-5.  Maybe he'll be more comfortable there, as he clearly hasn't looked good swinging and missing over and over leading off.

The offense as a whole is still not scoring much, as it seems like the second they have a good couple of games or so, they go right back to barely scoring a thing right after.  Tweaking the lineup a bit can only help, and this is where I would begin.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Dare I say the Dodgers' bullpen is putting it all together?

If the past week is any indication, then the answer is an emphatic "YES."

After Brett Anderson dazzled with 10 strikeouts in seven innings of one-run ball, Adam Liberatore and the returning Pedro Baez each struck out the side in the last two innings, and the Dodgers cruised to a 7-1 win in Miami.  It helped that the Marlins looked completely incompetent at times, and that their big superstar Giancarlo Stanton broke a bone in his left hand during the game.  But the Dodgers looked really good nonetheless.

We all know the book on beating the Dodgers: get their starter out of there early enough to attack their middle relief.  If you can't do that, then forget about it, because Kenley Jansen is as good as it gets at the end of the game.  For much of the season, the Dodgers looked helpless at times in getting the ball to Jansen.

Maybe that's finally turning around, as over the last seven days, the bullpen has been nearly flawless.  Yimi Garcia, J.P. Howell, Matt West, Juan Nicasio, and Jansen have all pitched at least a couple of innings without being scored on.  Baez made his return on Friday and was perfect, blowing away the three Marlins he faced.

Liberatore has bounced back from a rough start in June to lower his ERA to 2.82.  Joel Peralta is also back, and has two straight scoreless appearances.

Add it all up, and for the first time in quite awhile, the Dodgers have to be feeling good about their options in innings 6-8.  There's been so many moving parts this year that it's hard to pinpoint the exact roles for each, but here's what I would do if I'm Don Mattingly:

6th - 8th Innings: Garcia, Howell, Nicasio
8th Inning: Liberatore, Peralta, Baez
9th Inning: Jansen (duh)

I'll leave Liberatore in the late-inning role right now only for matchups.  Peralta was brought in to be that setup guy, but as long as Baez throws that hard and effectively as he showed Friday night, he deserves some chances as well. 

Nicasio was never meant to be playing such a big role, but much to his credit, he's been fantastic with a 1.78 ERA.  I think he'd be good as a bridge in the earlier innings to the setup and closer.  That can easily change if the other guys flop.

The bullpen has been maligned at various points this year, but if you're looking at the bottom line, it's that they're third in the NL in ERA (2.96) and K's (236), and second in BAA (.219).  That's pretty darn good. 

With healthier arms now, those numbers could get even better soon.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Dodgers getting everything they can out of Bolsinger

Let's give Mike Bolsinger lots of credit here: there were never any expectations for him in the 2015 season.  He was merely an additional arm brought in from the Diamondbacks to possibly make some spot starts.

Instead, season-ending injuries to Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy have thrust him right into the rotation, and through 10 games, he's responded very well: 4-2, 2.95 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 55 K's in 58 IP.

Wednesday night was his latest start, and he held the Cubs to two runs over 4 2/3 innings, just missing going the required five innings to pick up the win in the Dodgers' 5-2 victory.  He literally was a Kris Bryant walk away from getting through five.  But who the heck can blame him for walking that guy, right?

The obvious question is how long Bolsinger can keep up such a good pace, especially considering in nine starts last year with the D-Backs, he went 1-6 with a 5.50 ERA and 1.59 WHIP.  He's a much better pitcher now, but probably not THAT much better to have a sub-3.00 ERA and a 1.3 WAR.

Andrew Friedman has made no secret of the fact that he wants to upgrade the starting pitching, and rightfully so.  Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke anchor the top two spots, and even if Kershaw is having home run problems, you still feel great about rolling those two out in the first two games of any series.  Brett Anderson has held up so far (3-4, 3.29, 1.33), but we all know that it's a huge IF that he can continue to make his scheduled starts without breaking down.

That brings us to the back end of the rotation, where Carlos Frias and Bolsinger have combined to make 20 starts.  Frias hasn't been as good, going 4-5 with a 4.68 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, but his major problem is that he's either brilliant or completely horrible.  At least some of his starts have given the Dodgers a chance to win.

In watching the ESPN broadcast on Wednesday, they made a big deal about Bolsinger's inability to get hitters out after he gets through the order once.  His BAA actually skyrockets after two times through, and with that in mind, Don Mattingly had no choice but to yank him in the fifth inning at 87 pitches.  That's a pretty big concern going forward.

At 40-33, the Dodgers have played 45% of their games with basically 40% of their rotation being out (McCarthy only made four starts before being shelved).  Even though the offense has gone into a huge dry spell in June, when you look at this team in-depth, it's no wonder why they want to get more starting pitching in the fold.  Relying on Anderson, Bolsinger, and Frias over and over isn't the most realistic way of winning a division in the long run.

With all of that said, Bolsinger still deserves a ton of credit for positing the numbers he has, despite some flaws.  A regression in the future might, and probably will, happen, but that doesn't change the fact that he's stepped up big time when the Dodgers needed him to fill lots of inning.  Good for him.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dodgers continue to be a mess at the plate

Remember when the Dodgers busted out for 10 runs against Tim Lincecum and the Giants on Sunday?

Mirage.  It was all a giant mirage.

Things are right back to normal - that is, the Dodgers have scored two runs in two games since then, both big, fat L's.  Simply put, they are just not capable of putting up runs to support their pitching.

The result on Monday night was a 4-2 loss in which Clayton Kershaw gave up a couple of gopher balls to the Cubs.  And on Tuesday, it was an even more frustrating 1-0 loss in 10 innings, completely spoiling six innings of shutout ball from Zack Greinke.

Raise your hand if you're shocked that Greinke received zero run support.  That's right, no hands raised.  The guy hasn't won since May 5, and in nine starts since then, he's give up 12 runs (five in one start in Colorado).  The Dodgers have scored two runs or less in seven of those starts.

If that isn't a completely embarrassing stat for the offense to chew on, then I don't know what is.

As Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles points out, the Dodgers are pretty much stuck with who they have right now.  Hector Olivera, their heralded prospect, is on the seven-day DL with a left hamstring strain.  Nothing major, it would appear, but enough to delay his arrival to the big leagues.  Corey Seager is other big dog down on the farm, but he's hitting .282 at Triple-A, and the Dodgers understandably would like to see a little more from him before rushing him up.

So, there's not a lot of guys to turn to.  They're stuck with what they've got.

Here's the funniest stat about the month of June: the leading hitter for the Dodgers is Kershaw at .364.  In third is A.J. Ellis at .357.  In fifth is Scott Schebler (remember him?) at .333.  Obviously, we're talking really small sample sizes, as Kershaw has 11 at-bats, Ellis 14, and Schebler 3.  But it's very symbolic for just how lousy this team has been.

Adrian Gonzalez has fallen off a cliff at .241 in June.  He'll have the occasional game where he drives in a few runs, but is very easy to get him out in most of them.  Joc Pederson still connects on some taters, but when he's not, his .227 average this month reflects his struggles.  Jimmy Rollins is pathetic at .221 in June, and .207 overall.  He looks about as washed up at the plate as one can possibly look.

If there's any hope, it's that patient Dodger fans (and it's getting tougher and tougher to stay that way) will remember the start of the season and how red hot they were.  It was the same cast of characters playing then as they are now.  Carl Crawford is about the only guy who is not, but he's not much of an impact player nowadays anyway.

The Dodgers still have two games left in Chicago before moving onto the Marlins and Diamondbacks to wrap up the 10-game roadie.  About the only pitcher left whom they should be concerned about is Jon Lester, but even he's struggled some this year at 4-5 with a 3.80 ERA (not terrible numbers, but like Kershaw, not close to what he's capable of).  The rest are a bunch of names only die-hard baseball fans would be familiar with.

The schedule then gets very favorable with a 10-game homestand before the All-Star break against the Mets, Phillies, and Brewers.

At this point, though, the Dodgers simply aren't good enough to count on wins against anybody.  Their offense won't allow that to happen.  Until they do, we have to keep watching games where they have to grind out everything.  That's not going away.

Monday, June 22, 2015

If you're going to break out of a slump, then do it BIG

That's exactly what the Dodgers did on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, pounding Tim Lincecum into his earliest submission ever, and getting a rare win over the Giants 10-2.

So basically, the whole country got to see the Dodgers at their best.  Nevermind that they could barely scrap together more than a run or two for the better part of June; on Sunday night, they looked terrific.

Maybe the Dodgers are a very good "mistake" hitting team, meaning that they take full advantage of the opposing pitcher's flubs.  Such was the case on Sunday, as Lincecum spun one lousy curveball after another, and the Dodgers did not miss.

It all started in the first inning when Justin Turner scored on a wild pitch.  I'm talking a pitch that was so wild, catcher Andrew Susac stood absolutely no chance of snagging a ball thrown clear over his head.

The second was when the most damage occurred.  Yasmani Grandal did something a lot of other lefties should do - he bunted against the shift, and easily made it to first.  Jimmy Rollins followed with a single, and both men advanced on Brett Anderson's sacrifice bunt.

That's when the floodgates opened, as Yasiel Puig put together an excellent at-bat that ended with a two-run single up the middle.  After Joc Pederson scored one on a double and Turner gathered an RBI single, Lincecum exited for the shortest start in his career.

Up 5-0, it was time to have some fun, and the Dodgers followed with four solo homers: two by Grandal, and one apiece from Adrian Gonzalez and Turner.  They were feeling that good, and it showed.

I'm not much of a Curt Schilling fan (he's a glory hog for the most part), but one thing I completely agreed with was his analysis of getting a big win on getaway day.  The Dodgers are off to Wrigley Field for four starting Monday, so with a late-night flight after the Giants game, they had to be feeling really good.  Couple that with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke going the first two games, and they feel even better.

What does all of this mean?  Well, most importantly, they increased their lead over the Giants in the NL West to 1 1/2 games.  No matter how pitiful they've looked for much of June, the bottom line is that they're in first.

It also means that maybe they've gathered some momentum for a 10-game road trip, starting with a Cubs team that is seven games over .500, yet seven games in back of the Cardinals in the NL Central.  That is one tough division.

Finally, it hopefully means their bats have woken up again, and they're ready to improve on their lousy 12-18 road record.  I don't expect them to be 22-18 by the time they're done playing the Cubs, Marlins, and Diamondbacks.  I would hope they'd at least split them, if not picking up six wins.  Considering Kershaw and Greinke each go twice, I think that's a realistic goal to have.

The 10-game roadie is followed up by 10 straight at home to finish the break, and that's when the schedule gets very favorable.  They play the two worst teams in baseball in the Phillies and Brewers, and start with the Mets for three.  Not a bad way to enter the All-Star break, right?