Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dee's feeling good for Game 1

After the Dodgers clinched the NL West last Wednesday, one of the biggest issues for Don Mattingly was how much playing time he should give to the regulars in the last few games.  After all, the last thing anyone wants to see is an injury.

And then Dee Gordon left the second-to-last game of the season with a hip injury.  Ugh.

What was unknown at the time was just how serious it was, as the Dodgers obviously erred on the side of caution, and rightfully so.  An MRI didn't reveal any damage, which was good news.

Even better news came today, as Gordon made it through a workout at Dodger Stadium, and has declared himself good to go for Game 1 of the NLDS.

Despite his numbers dipping in the second half of the season, his presence in the lineup is huge.  He can completely turn a game around with his legs.  A league-leading 64 RBIs and 12 triples show just how much his speed impacts the game.

What will be fun to watch is Gordon vs. Yadier Molina, one of the greatest caught stealing catchers of all time.  Even at 100% strength, swiping any base on Molina is darn near impossible.  However, I still think Gordon will step up to the challenge and test his luck.

Keep an eye out for the first time Gordon reaches first.  You know that one way or another, he'll be looking to steal second and set the tone for the rest of the series.

Monday, September 29, 2014

2014 Report Card

The Dodgers are fresh off a sweep of the Rockies, a five-game winning streak, and most importantly, home-field advantage for the NLDS against the Cardinals.  All is good.

Before the NLDS opens in a few days, let's take a look at the season that was for the boys in blue.  Here's my 2014 report card.

(Also, here's my Midseason Report Card, where you can track who's gone up, down, or stayed the same.)

A

Clayton Kershaw - I mean, duh!  There simply is no one better in baseball at what he does than Kershaw on the mound.  He ends the season at 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 239 K's in 198 1/3 IP.  Absolutely sensational.

Adrian Gonzalez - Who would have thought that A-Gon would lead all of baseball in RBIs?  I doubt even his biggest fan, but he got the job done time and time again.  His 116 RBIs were five more than Mike Trout.  He also continued to strut his stuff in the field with only six errors and a .996 fielding %.  What a season.

Zack Greinke - Once again made his case as the best #2 man in baseball.  Went 17-8 with a 2.71 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 207 K's in 202 1/3 IP.  He just continues to take the ball and do his thing without much publicity.

Kenley Jansen - Some early season struggles gave way to another big season when it was all said and done.  His 44 saves were tied with Francisco Rodriguez for third in the NL.  If the Dodgers can somehow bridge the gap and give him a lead, it's as good as over.

Matt Kemp - After a mediocre (at best) first half of the season, he would've had to do something special to earn a high grade.  He did.  His second half saw him lead the NL with 17 homers, and right behind A-Gon with 54 RBIs to his 56.  Plus, he settled into right field very well.  Quite a turnaround for a guy who looked washed up for a long time.

Dee Gordon - His second half saw him regress some, but for a guy who wasn't even penciled in as the starting second baseman in Spring Training, had a terrific season.  He was tops in all of baseball with 64 steals and 12 triples.  His defense at second got better and better with each game.

Juan Uribe - Missed some time with various injuries to only play in 103 games, but made his mark when he was in there.  Hit .311 with nine homers and 54 RBIs, and was fantastic at the hot corner of third.

Yasiel Puig - I went back and forth with him between A and B due to his drop-off in the second half.  But, it's hard to ignore .296, 16 homers, 69 RBIs, 37 doubles, and 11 steals.  And then there's that arm in center, which continues to amaze.

Justin Turner - There might not be a better bench player in baseball.  Appeared at all four infield positions, hitting .340 with seven homers, 40 RBIs, and 21 doubles.  His two home runs against the Giants helped put the Dodgers a game away from clinching.

B

Hyun-Jin Ryu - He put up good numbers at 14-7 with a 3.38 ERA and 1.19 WHIP.  Ran into the injury bug this year, which limited what the Dodgers could get out of him.  Hopefully he's good to go in the playoffs either at or close to 100%.

Josh Beckett - He gets a bit of an incomplete, because his numbers are almost exclusively from the first half.  Unfortunately, he's lost for the season with a bad hip, and perhaps that'll do it for his career as well.  What you can't take away is a 2.88 ERA and first career no-hitter against the Phillies back in May.

Dan Haren - Things weren't looking good at all for him in the summer months, but a 3.48 ERA in August and 2.70 in September got him back in the Dodgers' good graces.  For a guy brought in to pitch in the #4-5 slot, that's not bad at all.

Carl Crawford - How many people even realize he hit .300 this year?  Well, hitting a ridiculous .448 in September made his season peak at the right moment.  With him lacing the ball like he is now, is quietly a big threat in the playoffs.

Pedro Baez - Not the largest sample size with only 20 games, but on a team that desperately is looking for setup men, his 2.63 ERA and 0.88 WHIP are huge.  Maybe he's the answer in the eighth inning? 

J.P. Howell - Is most definitely trending downward, as hitters are either taking walks off of him, or are flat out killing his "fastball" of late.  His season numbers are still very good with a 2.39 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 27 holds.  And for that, he gets some love.

Scott Van Slyke - Appeared in 98 games playing here and there, and did reach double-digit homers with 11.  Strikes out too much, but did hit .297 despite that.

Darwin Barney - Proved to be a very solid backup in the infield, especially for Gordon at second.  Also hit .303 in 22 games with the Dodgers.

C

Hanley Ramirez - Maybe a little harsh, as he certainly didn't have a bad year.  But it's not like he had a good one by his standards either.  Is still as injury prone as it gets, playing in 128 games, hitting .283 with only 13 homers and 71 RBIs.  His defense at short is among the worst in the league, too.  Not quite the impression this free agent wanted to leave going into the winter.

Brandon League - Put together a very solid ERA at 2.57.  But don't be fooled.  His 1.46 WHIP is very high, and only shows how many guys reach base off of him.  Can't be counted on to pitch big innings, either.

A.J. Ellis - I'll be nice here and point out how good he is at handling a staff, which is the only reason he gets rated even this high.  Hit a pathetic .191, and his caught stealing % plummeted from .444 last season to .250 this year.

Miguel Rojas - Like Ellis, is definitely not ranked here because of his bat, which produced a .181 average.  Rather, his defense was very good, as Don Mattingly regularly inserts him in at short to preserve late leads.

Andre Ethier - My last example of a guy who is here not because of his bat (.249, 4, 42), but because of his defense.  Took over for Kemp in center back in May, but eventually because relegated to bench duty.  At least has a solid glove, though.

Jamey Wright - Was having a good season... and then July hit.  His ERA shot up from 1.91 at the end of June to 4.26 overall.  Doesn't look like he's fooling anyone anymore.

D

Brian Wilson - So much for teaming up with Jansen to be the best setup-closer combination in baseball.  Time and time again Wilson would stink it up in the eighth inning.  His ERA and WHIP are sky high at 4.66 and 1.61.

Chris Perez - Another former closer who was a complete letdown.  Walked way too many guys, and finished with a 4.27 ERA and 1.36 WHIP.  A wasted signing for sure.

Drew Butera - Caught Beckett's no-hitter, which counts for something.  But still gave nothing at the plate by hitting .188, and is very replaceable.

Paul Maholm - Became lost for the season in early August with a torn ACL.  Didn't do much of anything before that anyway, as the long reliever and spot starter went 1-5 with a 4.84 ERA and 1.56 WHIP.

Roberto Hernandez - Started off pretty well, but constantly can't go deep into games because of high pitch counts.  In nine starts with the Dodgers, went 2-3 with a 4.74 ERA and 1.51 WHIP.

Carlos Frias - Had one good moment when he went six scoreless against the Nationals in early September.  But that was it, as his 6.12 ERA is hard to ignore.  Had one of the worst starts in baseball history when the Rockies lit him up for eight runs in only 2/3 of an inning.

F

Kevin Correia - Went six innings and gave up one run to beat the Braves in his first start with the Dodgers.  The rest was pretty awful.  Ended up becoming a complete afterthought, going 2-4 with an 8.03 ERA and 1.70 WHIP in nine appearances.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Looking at the possible NLDS roster

The Dodgers won in walk-off fashion on Saturday night in kind of a meaningless game.  OK, it was a completely meaningless game, as the Dodgers are locked in for home-field advantage in the NLDS and the #2 overall seed.  The Rockies have been eliminated since the start of Spring Training. 

Anyway, Scott Van Slyke scored on a wild pitch, and the Dodgers outlasted the Rockies 6-5 in 12 innings.  Good thing, too, because the bullpen blew a late two-run lead.

Sunday is the regular season finale, and Don Mattingly will let the boys have some fun.  Juan Uribe gets to manage, and Clayton Kershaw gets a good look at his future many years from now by handling pitching coach duties.

After that, it's back to business, as the NLDS opens Friday night at Dodger Stadium.  As for the opponent, the Pirates still have a chance to catch the Cardinals, so we'll see how that plays out on Sunday.

In the meantime, let's take a look at what the possible NLDS roster will be.  Last year the Dodgers went with 14 position players and 11 pitchers.  How will it shake out this year?  Let me take my best guess.

Starting Position Players
A.J. Ellis
Adrian Gonzalez
Dee Gordon
Hanley Ramirez
Juan Uribe
Carl Crawford
Yasiel Puig
Matt Kemp

Analysis: No surprises here, as this is the lineup Mattingly has settled into.

Bench
Justin Turner
Scott Van Slyke
Andre Ethier
Darwin Barney
Miguel Rojas
Drew Butera

Analysis: Because the starting pitching, especially Kershaw and Greinke, can go deep into games, I think Mattingly will opt to go for an extra bench player over the bullpen.  With Gordon leaving early on Saturday because of a bad hip, it makes even more sense, as Turner could very well be starting at second.  Van Slyke can play outfield and first base if A-Gon gets lifted for a pinch-runner.  Barney and Rojas are purely for their gloves, as Mattingly won't hesitate to use one or both to protect a late lead.

Starting Rotation
Clayton Kershaw
Zack Greinke
Hyun-Jin Ryu
Dan Haren

Analysis: The wild card is Ryu, but the word on him is that he's feeling much better and should be good to go.  He won't needed until Game 3 at the earliest, which is Monday, October 6.  Haren has settled down from a horrific July to post a 2.70 ERA in September.  If he needs to go in the third game, Mattingly will feel much better about giving him the ball.

Bullpen
Kenley Jansen
Brian Wilson
J.P. Howell
Brandon League
Pedro Baez
Paco Rodriguez
Jamey Wright

Analysis: As I said before, I think the starters' ability to go deep knocks out at least one arm in the 'pen.  To me, the biggest decision is between Paco and Scott Elbert.  I'll go with Paco, though I wouldn't at all be surprised if it's Elbert.  This is definitely the weakest unit of the group, so if the Dodgers to advance to the NLCS, they could shake up the roster yet again.

Who's left out?
On the offensive side, the biggest name is probably Joc Pederson.  He has a bright future ahead of him, but he's only 4-for-26, so I'd be very surprised if he beats out one of the veterans.   Erisbel Arruebarrena is another solid glove, but is behind Rojas in the pecking order.

The pitching staff has tougher decisions.  I don't see Kevin Correia or Roberto Hernandez getting in, as they've sharply regressed after pretty good starts.  Carlos Frias pitched very well on Saturday in relief, so perhaps he's kept for just that role.  But I doubt it.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

How the NL West was won


It was all good in Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night, as Clayton Kershaw dominated, Yasiel Puig homered and showed off his amazing arm, and the Dodgers rolled right by the Giants 9-1.  The NL West once again belongs to the good guys.

Just how did the Dodgers get to be back-to-back division champs?  Here's how:

* Clayton Kershaw.  Unbelievable.  The guys has done it all this season.  After mowing right through the Giants in the clincher, he finished this season at 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 239 K's in 198 1/3 innings.  He even added an RBI triple last night.  There's simply nothing the guy can't do on the field, as he embraces putting the Dodgers on his back and carrying them.  That's what they'll need in October, too.

* The second half resurgence of Matt Kemp.  Before the All-Star break, he hit .269 with eight homers and 35 RBIs.  Decent numbers, but nothing special.  Plus, his defense in center was so bad, Don Mattingly pulled the plug in late May.  After the break?  A whole new player at .303, 16 homers, and 51 RBIs.  As for his defense, it was a whole heck of a lot better in right.  He's peaking at the right time, and is once again a true power threat in the cleanup spot.

* First-time All-Stars Dee Gordon and Puig.  Both guys took a step back in the second half, but still play major roles on this team.  Gordon has an MLB-leading 64 stolen bases, and has even outlasted the blazing fast Billy Hamilton.  He also is tops in triples with 12.  Puig is certainly an enigma at times, but there's no denying the high ceiling of talent he possesses.  He went through a huge power outage in the middle of season and finished with 16 home runs, but is still a big threat every time he steps up to the plate.  Oh ya, moving to center has been a great move, as he continues to gun down runners.

* Zack Greinke, baseball's best #2 starter.  How many other teams would he be the ace?  The All-Star has more than settled into his role with LA, and his eight-inning gem on Tuesday helped put the Dodgers on the brink of the division title.  Overall, he finished at 16-8 with a 2.74 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 201 K's in 197 1/3 innings.

* Kenley Jansen and his 44 saves.  It was a bit of a bumpy ride at times in the first half of the year, as he seemed to be too reliant on throwing the same pitch (cutter) over and over.  Since the start of July, however, he's given up five earned runs in 29 appearances, lowering his ERA from 3.67 to 2.67.  He's as close to automatic as closers come.

* Justin Turner, the unsung hero.  What an end to the season he has had.  He cranked two home runs in support of Greinke on Tuesday, and finished the year by hitting .333 with seven homers and 41 RBIs in 106 games.  Clearly, he's a sparkplug when he's in the lineup, and has become a big weapon for Mattingly to deploy off the bench.  Plus, he's versatile enough to play all four infield positions, which is huge when making double switches in the playoffs.

* Last, but certainly not least, MLB's leading RBI man, Adrian Gonzalez.  Quite an accomplishment for a guy hitting .201 against left-handed pitchers.  After hitting the cover off the ball in April, it looked like it was going to be a lost season with a very rough May and June.  That all turned around with a big July, and he reached the 20 RBI plateau in each of the last three months.  The Dodgers would be lost without all the big at-bats he's had.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Kershaw's Wednesday Checklist: clinch the West, clinch an MVP

If Dodger fans could dream up a scenario of how to win the NL West, then Wednesday night is probably it: the magic number over the Giants at one, a home start, a nationally televised audience on ESPN...

And oh ya, Clayton Kershaw is on the mound.

Kershaw can more than emphatically leave an impression on MVP voters when he has a chance to knock any hope out of the Giants of winning the West.  With more eyeballs than usual on this start, he also can firmly cement his status as the true Most Valuable Player of the National League.

Think about it - how many people actually get to see Kershaw pitch?  I live in New York, and while I'm a die-hard Dodger fan, there's still a good amount of people who know about Kershaw, but don't really get to see what he can do because the games are on so late.

Wednesday night's game is late as well with the typical 10 p.m. start time, but with no football being played, more eyes should be on him.  And what a chance he has in front of him.

A couple of things to note about this start.  Kershaw is actually coming off a subpar performance by his own lofty standards.  Last Friday afternoon he lasted a mere five innings in Chicago and gave up three runs.  The last time that happened was way back on June 8 in Colorado.  The reason he didn't last long?  The game was called in the sixth due to rain, so he got a gift complete game to his credit.

That Chicago start did give him his 20th win at least thanks to a red hot offense that day, so he'll look to cap his season at 21-3 tonight.  He's currently leading the NL in wins, ERA, WHIP, and complete games as well.  Had he not missed over a month due to a strained back muscle, then he would be first in the NL in strikeouts, not third.

All of those stats are great, and will undoubtedly lead to his third Cy Young Award in four seasons, but he's got bigger fish to fry this season.  It starts with KO'ing the Giants tonight, which will soon lead to the ultra-rare MVP award for a starting pitcher.

And after that?  Why channeling his inner Orel Hershiser circa 1988 and winning the World Series, of course.

But first things first, let's see him dominate on Wednesday and take it from there, OK?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Bullpen Day goes the Dodgers' way

Don Mattingly rolled the dice a bit when he turned Sunday's road finale in Chicago into a "bullpen day."  His thinking was to save Dan Haren for Monday against the Giants, followed by Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw.

It worked.

Jamey Wright started things, and five relievers finished it off, as the Dodgers used 16 hits in beating the Cubs 8-5.  In total, Wright lasted two innings, Carlos Frias three, Chris Perez 1 1/3, Paco Rodriguez 2/3, Pedro Baez one, and Kenley Jansen one for his 43rd save in 48 chances.

I wouldn't say Wright was fantastic, but he got through a couple of innings giving up one run.  He worked around a single and walk in the first for no runs, but another walk and single in the second led to an RBI single from Chris Coghlan.

Frias then took over from there, pitching the next three.  As has been the case with him, it wasn't a smooth ride.  Arismendy Alcantara stroked an RBI double in the third, and after a scoreless fourth, an RBI single by Luis Valbuena and a wild pitch brought in two more runs.

The good news is that the Dodgers' bats came to play, and gave more than enough support.  Kind of like the day before, though Mattingly's bumbling bullpen management blew that one.  But I digress.

The offense put up two in the first, two in the third, and single runs in the fifth, sixth, seventh, and ninth.  Normally it seems like the Dodgers do their damage in one big inning, but Sunday it was nice to see them score early and keep the pressure on throughout.

Matt Kemp was the star, as his two-run homer in the third made it 4-1.  He ended up 4-for-5 with four RBIs, as he continues to swing a hot bat with 23 homers and 84 RBIs.  Adrian Gonzalez added two hits and his 40th double, tied for sixth in baseball, along with RBI #112, best in all of baseball by three over Mike Trout.  Wow, that's just amazing.

Other players with two hits included Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, and Juan Uribe.  The team went 8-for-17 with RISP, as opposed to the Cubs going 3-for-13.  There's your difference.

All in all, it was a great way to end the season on the road, as the Dodgers took three of four at historic Wrigley Field, and ended the season 49-32 away from home, which is currently the best in baseball.  That's great news for the postseason if they have to win a big game on the road.

Also great was Mattingly's plan for resting a starter like Haren and relying on the many arms in the 'pen.  The day before, I, along with countless others, took him to task for stubbornly keeping J.P. Howell in the game too long, and for using crappy Brian Wilson in the setup role.  On Sunday things went much better, and he can thank his offense for keeping it that way.

With the magic number at three, the Dodgers have a GREAT opportunity to clinch at home and celebrate with the home crowd.  It could come as early as Tuesday if they win the first two.

But in my opinion, that's not good enough.  I say the Dodgers clinch on Tuesday, quickly acknowledge the crowd, then fly to Arizona to celebrate in the Diamondbacks' pool again.  Now THAT would be sweet!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Mattingly needs to adjust his bullpen habits... NOW

Saturday afternoon was one of those games that leaves you wondering just how long the Dodgers can last in the postseason.  Not because they don't have the talent, but because they don't exactly make the smartest decisions at times.

And that starts with Don Mattingly's use of the bullpen.

Look, I swear I'm not one who constantly points the finger at Mattingly when things don't go well.  Even last season when he was virtually a game or two away from getting fired before the Dodgers went on their historic 42-8 run, I was fully on his side.  And I still like him as a manager.

With that said, I'm going to criticize him big time on one particular thing right now, and that's his CONSTANT and STUBBORN use of Brian Wilson as a setup man.  As yesterday showed, it just makes no sense whatsoever.

But let's back up for a second and take a look at the seventh inning and J.P. Howell.  With the Dodgers up 7-2 thanks to two homers and five RBIs from Adrian Gonzalez, Howell started the inning walking Chris Coghlan.  Following an out, a wild pitch sent Coghlan to third, and Anthony Rizzo's RBI single made it 7-3.

No big deal, right?  Well, no.  Right-handed Mike Olt pinch-hit and singled.  Left-handed Luis Valbuena flew out to right to make it two down.  Right-handed Arismendy Alcantara then lined a three-run shot out to left, and all of a sudden it was 7-6.

For those of you keeping score, Howell faced righties in two of his last three hitters.  Why in the world Mattingly decided to keep in the lefty Howell when he had righty Brandon League warming up is completely beyond me.  And what do you know, League came in next and got a grounder to short to end the inning.

OK, so that was a hiccup, and hopefully Mattingly learned from his mistake.  Wrong.  In came Wilson and his 4.53 ERA to pitch in the setup role.  Time and time again he has shown why he's lousy for this role, yet Mattingly sticks with him.

And on Saturday, sure enough, Wilson was rocked.  After a John Baker single greeted him, Coghlan continued his huge day an out later with a two-run homer to put the Cubs up for good.  Carlos Frias had to relieve and get the last out.

Hey, I'm all for managers showing confidence in their players.  But there has to be a line drawn somewhere, and that line should have been drawn a long time ago in regards to Wilson pitching the eighth.  I don't care how shaky the bullpen is - Wilson is the shakiest, and has absolutely no business pitching in that role.  I just can't believe Mattingly can't see what is so obvious to even the most casual of Dodger fans.

Changes have to be made.  Howell was having a great season, but has fallen apart in September to the tune of a 13.50 ERA.  Perhaps hitters have finally caught up to him, as the book on him is to lay off the soft stuff, and make him bring the "heat" that wouldn't blow a Little League player away.  He's only made six appearances this month, yet his ERA has gone up over one full run since the end of August from 1.24 to 2.27.

As for Wilson, it's just the same old song and dance.  Apparently Mattingly still thinks the Wilson who collected 171 saves and two rings with the Giants is walking through that door.  Even though he had a great run in a short span last season, his arm is obviously shot.  I'd be willing to bet every single person who watches him pitch realizes that except one: Don Mattingly.

The solution is that Mattingly needs to rely on new blood later in the game to get the ball to Kenley Jansen.  Guys like Pedro Baez, Scott Elbert, and Paco Rodriguez should get the call.  Howell is slowly crumbling, and Wilson is just plain awful.  Opposing teams are salivating every time they see one of those two being trotted out to the mound.  Try something different for crying out loud!

The Dodgers are assured a playoff berth.  If they want it to start in the Division Series and not the one-and-done Wild Card round, then Mattingly needs to make adjustments in the 'pen.  He hasn't yet, so I'm very skeptical it will happen.

But hey, I can still hope.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Role reversal day in Wrigley puts the Dodgers 3 1/2 up

If you were to be told coming into Friday afternoon's game in Wrigley Field that Clayton Kershaw would give up three runs in the first and A.J. Ellis would hit two home runs, how would you react?

Or better yet, after you pick yourself up off the floor from shock, what would do after?

Hopefully be very happy and enjoy it, because the Dodgers put it on the Cubs 14-5.  Over in San Diego, Tim Hudson struggled mightily again, and the Giants' offense could do no better in falling 5-0.  Add it all up, and the Dodgers are 3 1/2 up in the NL West, and the magic number is six.

With all the talk about Clayton Kershaw's historic season and MVP chances, I have to wonder if being spotted a six-run lead before he even took the mound might have been the worst thing possible.  And maybe it was, because he walked leadoff man Arismendy Alcantara.

Things didn't any better than there, as a scuffling Kershaw surrendered an RBI double to Anthony Rizzo, an RBI triple to Jorge Solar, and a sac-fly to Rafael Lopez to make it 6-3.

Much like Zack Greinke the day before, a high pitch count did in Kershaw, but he was at least able to get though five to qualify for the win.  He went scoreless over his final four innings, and did end up striking out nine.  His ERA stands at 1.80, and he's 20-3.

And fortunately for him, his streaky offense was on a peak, not a valley.

It was bombs away for the offense, as once they found their groove, they absolutely took off.  It all started in the first on a three-run tater by Matt Kemp, and then Ellis's two-run shot.

Ellis apparently was having fun, as he added his second two-run home run in the third.  His home run total coming into this game?  One.  I guess it's a good day when you literally double your home run output in one game.

The icing on the home run cake came from one Yasiel Puig, who certainly has been trying to find his power stroke for quite awhile now.  He hit one out on Tuesday to break a slump dating back to the last day in July, and in this one, he absolutely creamed a three-run homer to deep left, measured at 421 feet.  It's the kind of swing that reminds you just how ridiculous good he is.

This past week has certainly been a crazy ride for the Dodgers.  Starting last Friday in San Francisco, they've lost three games by the scores of 9-0, 10-4, and 16-2.  The flip side is that they've won five games, with three of those wins by scores of 17-0, 11-3, and 14-5.  I guess it all depends on what side of the bed they wake up on.

Any offensive surge is encouraging, but it's as equally as frustrating and scary when you see them lay a giant egg as well.  They look like the type of team that will win Game 1 of a playoff series 11-2, then turn around the next day and lose Game 2 10-1.  There's just no telling when they will show up.

For now, let's just hope they continue to pound on the lowly Cubs, as they've got the Giants at home for three starting Monday.  If they handle their business this weekend, then they'll be celebrating another NL West crown sometime at home next week.

And oh ya, go Padres!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ryu's value has skyrocketed... and oh ya, he's still hurt

As I type this, the Dodgers are still being creamed in Colorado 16-1 in the top of the ninth.  This is a game that saw Carlos Frias make a spot start for Hyun-Jin Ryu, and it could not have gone any worse.

How bad was Frias?  He only lasted two outs, giving up eight runs on 10 hits, including a three-run homer to Justin Morneau that started the scoring.  His ERA coming in was 3.91... his ERA going out is 6.58.  That's hard to do.

There's also this little tidbit, courtesy of Dodgers' beat writer Dylan Hernandez: Frias became the first pitcher in the modern baseball era to give up 10 hits and not complete an inning.  Wow.  Just plain wow.

Kevin Correia also made an appearance today, giving up six runs (five earned) in three innings, raising his ERA with the Dodgers to 7.73.

Roberto Hernandez has made seven starts with the Dodgers for a 4.76 ERA.  He's failed to last longer than 4 1/3 innings in each of his last three starts.

Ladies and gentlemen, Ryu's value has suddenly gone through the roof without even throwing one pitch.

We all knew that Ryu was good before, but after having to sit and watch some of these other scrubs pitch way too often, it's obvious the Dodgers need a healthy Ryu if they stand any chance in October.  The last thing anyone wants to see is one of the above mentioned guys get a big start in the postseason.  That's as scary a thought as I can possibly think of.

Right now, Ryu is not on the DL, but is out with left shoulder soreness.  The latest update is that he has no structural damage, which is huge.  He's considered day-to-day as the Dodgers just hope they can win enough without him to wrap up the NL West and keep him resting as long as possible.

That's the silver lining on a day like this, as the Dodgers just wrapped up a horrible afternoon of baseball with a 16-2 loss.  I know it's Coors Field, and I know every team has clunkers throughout the season, but these last two days have been very discouraging.  To go from dominating the Giants the last two games in San Francisco to being outscored by the Rockies 26-6 the last two days is pretty frustrating.

And that's why Ryu's imminent return is such good news.  Let's not forget his Game 3 start against the Cardinals last year in which he hurled seven shutout innings after the Cards defeated Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke the first two games.  The stage is definitely not too big for him, and that's what the Dodgers need again next month.

Maybe four games in Chicago against the Cubs will get the Dodgers going again, as Kershaw and Greinke are scheduled to go.  Maybe the bats will drive in runs again, just like the did last weekend against the Giants.  Maybe the Giants will help out and lose some more.

And maybe, just maybe, Ryu can comeback strong and be that rock in the #3 spot of the rotation.  That's what the Dodgers need the most.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Kemp getting after Puig is a good thing

In case you haven't heard, the Dodgers extended their lead in the NL West to four games with an 11-3 drubbing of the Rockies on Monday.  That, combined with the Giants falling to the Diamondbacks, only pushes the Dodgers closer to their goal of back-to-back division titles.

The eight-run sixth inning should've been the biggest news of the night, but it wasn't.  Instead, it was Matt Kemp appearing to be very angry with Yasiel Puig, as he was seen yelling at him in the dugout.  It's not like they threw punches, but the little that we saw on video showed that Kemp was clearly PO'd.

What caused Kemp to get so angry?  Well, it was ironically something Puig did during that big sixth that set Kemp off.  With Puig on first from a walk and Dee Gordon on second, Adrian Gonzalez stoked an RBI double to right.  Puig, for some reason, never advanced to third, perhaps getting a bad read on the ball, or just not thinking he'd make it. 

Next up stepped Kemp with runners on first and second, and he struck out.

Apparently, Kemp wasn't happy about Puig not getting to third, and giving Kemp an easy RBI opportunity, especially in hitter-friendly Coors Field.

A lot has been made of this today, as Kemp was seen walking the length of the dugout giving Puig a piece of his mind.  It wasn't the most demonstrative situation, but Kemp was clearly making his point that Puig needs to run the bases better.

And for that, I say this: Good for Kemp.

After Friday night's shellacking in San Francisco, the Dodgers' offense had to pick things up.  In the three games since then, they certainly have, scoring 32 runs, or about 10.7 runs a game.  I'd say they certainly responded.

Still, the Dodgers have had consistency issues on offense all season, and as good as they have looked of late, that can quickly turn around if they fall asleep again.  Kemp has had a resurgent season, and because he has the numbers again, I applaud him for stepping up and calling out Puig for not doing the little things the right way.

Ultimately, Puig ended up scoring, the Dodgers won in a runaway, it was another good night at the ballpark.  But the point remains the same that it's good to see the veterans on the Dodgers hold everyone to a high standard.  Much like $215 million man Clayton Kershaw competes every game as if he's trying to make a big league roster, Kemp is showing the young buck how to take care of business.

And who knows, maybe Puig was dogging it a bit, and now got the message that he can't do that anymore.  That little bit of extra hustle could be all the difference in October.  Kemp knows that, now let's hope Puig does as well.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Fun with Kershaw's numbers

It was another day at the office for Clayton Kershaw on Sunday, as he hurled eight dominant innings, giving up two runs and striking out nine in a 4-2 win over the Giants.  Any win over the Giants is big, as this gave the Dodgers a three game lead in the NL West, and combined with Saturday's football score win, helped erase that ugly Friday night loss for a weekend sweep.

At this point, it would be a surprise if Kershaw didn't win the NL MVP, as he continues to further and further distance himself from the competition.  I don't give a crap if he's a pitcher - there is simply no one better at what he does, and no one can take over a game quite like him.

Just how good is he?  Check out this article from "Cut 4" on MLB.com.  In it, 13 facts on Kershaw's season are listed.  Here's a few samples:

* Since 1920, only nine other starters have posted an ERA under 1.70.  The last was Greg Maddux in 1995.

* Since the start of the 2013 season, his ERA is 1.77 over 421 innings.  The next lowest is Jose Fernandez at 2.25 and 224 1/3 innings.

* His career H/9 is 6.7.  The next lowest EVER?  Nolan Ryan at 6.5.

* He's on track to lead the NL in ERA for the third straight season.  Only Sandy Koufax from 1962-1967 has done better.

* His fastball and slider are ranked as the best in the league, according to Fangraphs.com.  His curveball is ninth.

Wow, wow, wow.  Those numbers never get old to read.

Most importantly, his team is in first place in the NL West, and are a mere 1/2 game in back of the Nationals for the #1 seed.  With 13 games left, there's still plenty of time to grab that top spot.

As of now, Kershaw is scheduled to pitch two more times in the regular season: Friday, September 19 in Chicago against the Cubs; and Wednesday, September 24 at home against the Giants.  Considering the Cubs are terrible and the Giants have looked helpless against him, you have to feel good about his numbers getting even better.

Of course, winning the Cy Young and MVP would mean so much more if he can carry that success into the postseason.  That's the one piece of the puzzle left for him to conquer.  While he was pretty good last October with a 3.13 ERA, he took a couple of loses, including the ugly Game 6 shellacking in St. Louis.  Over his career, he's 1-3 with a 4.23 ERA and 1.28 WHIP, some very un-Kershaw-like numbers.

Let's all kick back and enjoy his last two starts, then see what fall baseball brings.  It could be the next step in what is shaping up to be quite the Hall of Fame career.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dodgers fight back to play their best game of the season

"Yuck" was how I described Friday night.

"WOW" is the best way I can describe Saturday.

One night after getting crushed, the Dodgers not only turned things around, they stomped a mud hole and walked it dry (as Stone Cold would say) all over the Giants on Saturday.  A four-run first started the barrage, and by the time it was all said and done, the Dodgers won a 17-0 laugher.  Best of all, the lead in the NL West is back up to two games.

I broke down what went wrong on Friday, so here I go again breaking things down, only this time it's a little more enjoyable to do:

* Zack Greinke could do no wrong.  Not only did he strikeout five in six scoreless innings, but he had two of the hardest hit balls of the night.  He walked leading off the third, doubled and scored in the fourth, and absolutely smashed a two-run tater in the sixth to go up 13-0.  Don't forget that he won a Silver Slugger Award last year, in addition to his Cy Young Award won with the Royals.  His talent was on full display, and there's no fear from him taking the hill in San Francisco.

* The offense had three hits total on Friday, and on Saturday, they already had that by the time Carl Crawford in the #6 spot came up.  Overall, the Dodgers put up four runs on six hits, including three doubles, in the first to turn the tables.

* It's been a slow process, but maybe Yasiel Puig is starting to get his mojo back.  He went 3-for-5 with a double and three runs scored hitting second.  The night before he led off and reached base twice.  The ball was definitely jumping off his bat, which is always great to see.

* Every starter had at least one hit, and everyone but Adrian Gonzalez had at least two.  I knew this offense was streaky, but that's crazy.

* The best offensive stat of them all was this: 11-for-19 with RISP.  That's just nuts.  Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp had three hits apiece in those situations, and Crawford two.

* Heck, even A.J. Ellis had two hits to raise his average to a blistering .190.

* Congratulations to Alex Guerrero, who entered the game in the seventh playing left field, then collected his first career big league hit in the eighth on a single.  He was given big money because of his bat, so keep an eye for him next season.  Hopefully Miguel Olivo doesn't attack his ear again before then.

* Scott Elbert saw his first action since August 26, 2012 with a scoreless seventh.  With Paco Rodriguez also activated, the Dodgers suddenly have two more options with J.P. Howell from the left side, which is a good thing.

All in all, Saturday night was one of those games where the fans of the winning side got to kick back and enjoy one big play after another.  The funny thing was, Tim Hudson struck out Dee Gordon to start the game, and it immediately looked like another long night.  Well, it was... for the Giants.  Ha!

You'd could say the momentum is back on the Dodgers' side, as they send Clayton Kershaw to the mound for Sunday's finale.  How exactly does he do in AT&T Park?  Well let's see here... he pitched a complete game shutout back in July, and on his career is 7-2 with an 0.69 ERA and 0.80 WHIP.  Kind of makes you wonder how the heck he even lost two games.

Anyway, Kershaw will be ready to go, as he looks to increase not only his MVP chances, but the lead in the West to three games.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

After Friday's clunker, Dodgers need a big weekend

Yuck.

That's really all I can say about Friday night in San Francisco.  The Dodgers were pathetic and got rolled 9-0, cutting their lead in the NL West down to a single game.

There's a lot that went wrong, so I'll try to break it down right now:

* Hyun-Jin Ryu lasted all of one inning, getting shelled for four runs before exiting with a left shoulder injury.  It's the same type of injury that shelved him for most of May.  He could barely reach 90 mph.  It was basically batting practice for the Giants.

* Both long relievers, Carlos Frias and Kevin Correia, were awful as well, giving up five runs combined in five innings.  Not exactly the type of stability you're looking for from your bullpen while trying to fight back.

* Dee Gordon and Carl Crawford sat against the nasty lefty Madison Bumgarner... and it made no difference whatsoever.  Their replacements were Justin Turner and Scott Van Slyke, who went 0-for-6.  Van Slyke struck out all three times, and is basically useless these days.

* Yasiel Puig hit leadoff and went 1-for-3 with a walk.  Not bad, but not all that great either.

* The offense went 0-for-6 with RISP.

* You'll be shocked to know they left the bases loaded... AGAIN.  They are now 17-for-104 in those situations for a .163 average.  That is just completely embarrassing.

* A.J. Ellis continues to get all sorts of playing time, and is hitting .185.  Atrocious.

So ya, a lot went wrong.

All the Dodgers can really do is get back up, brush themselves off, and move onto the Saturday and Sunday games.  And good for them, they have Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw lined up to go.

First up is Greinke, who dominated the Giants in AT&T Park back in July.  He struck out 10 in seven scoreless innings, giving the Dodgers an 8-1 victory.  His ERA is a very good 2.73, but one area he's struggled with lately is high pitch counts.  The Dodgers need him to keep that under control and pitch deep like last time, because as you can see, the bullpen isn't the strongest group to turn to.

Sunday will see Kershaw take the hill, and with Giancarlo Stanton's recent injury on a horrific-looking beaning in the face, his MVP chances look to be even stronger.  What better way to get that hype up even more with a big start in San Francisco.

Like Greinke, Kershaw was simply sensational back in that July series, pitching a complete game shutout with seven K's.  That bumped his ERA down to 1.73 at the time, and now it's 1.67.  Ho hum, ho hum... just Kershaw being Kershaw.

No matter how good these two are, it's still very difficult to count on 16 scoreless innings, so the offense has to give some sort of support.  In other words, they can't get three-hit and look completely overmatched like they did Friday night.  I don't care how good Greinke and Kershaw are - if the bats don't do SOMETHING, it won't matter.

The Dodgers can go one of two ways.  They can roll over and play dead like Friday, get swept, and be down a game in the NL West by the time Sunday night rolls around.  Or, they can get big starts from their Big Two, get some of the hibernating bats to actually wake up, and get a three-game lead back in the West.  It could happen.

Now the Dodgers just need to MAKE it happen.  Stay tuned and see.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Dodgers have the big guns lined up vs. the Giants

The Giants won again on Thursday afternoon, easily taking care of the Diamondbacks 6-2.  No surprise there, as the DBacks were just as helpless against the Giants (three-game sweep) as they were against the Dodgers a week ago (three-game sweep).

Through it all, the Dodgers' lead in the NL West remains at two games.  And guess what?  Friday night starts a three-game set in San Francisco.  The fun is just about to start.

What else should be fun?  In these three games in San Francisco, and in two weeks back in Los Angeles, Don Mattingly has lined up his rotation perfectly: two starts apiece for Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Fun, indeed.

There's really no other way to go about this, as those six games will most likely be make-or-break.  Both teams could very well end up in the postseason either way, but obviously, both want to avoid the dreaded one-game Wild Card playoff.

Rainouts could always wreak havoc on these plans, as the Dodgers play seven games in between in Colorado and Chicago (Cubs), and we know the weather there isn't exactly sunny and calm.  Let's just hope nothing crazy happens.

I also like how both series will see Ryu, Greinke, and Kershaw pitching in that order.  It splits up the two lefties, and leaves the best pitcher in baseball at the end to either salvage a series, or emphatically give a series win.  There's no other guy I'd want to have the ball than Kershaw in a sticky situation.  You know he'll take it and battle until the last pitch.

A few days ago I wrote about the Dodgers' offense being the key to getting into the postseason, and I still very much believe that to be true.  The bats simply cannot afford to go AWOL during these games and waste good starts.  Of these six games against the Giants, you know the starting pitching will be good, if not very good in each one.  The bats need to step up and make sure they aren't wasted performances.

The Dodgers and Giants going toe-to-toe is what pennant race baseball is all about, and I'm glad to see the big guns on the mound, and not guys like Roberto Hernandez or Kevin Correia needing to outperform themselves just to stay in the game.  Nope.  It's all about the Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu proving they're the best 1-3 in the game.

Now THAT'S going to be fun to watch.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Donnie eyes the big picture with Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw has everything going for him right now.  He's 18-3 with three starts left to get to 20, plays on a first place team, and has been so dominant that he sure looks like the front runner for NL MVP.

And what is it about him that trumps all of that stuff?  His fiery desire to be the best and finish what he starts.

Such was the case on Monday night, as Kershaw was yanked by Don Mattingly after eight innings, 89 pitches, and an 9-3 lead.  Kershaw immediately protested, if not flat out begged, but Donnie was having none of it.

And to that I say this - good for Donnie.

It's obvious Donnie has learned from last year's postseason, in which Kershaw unraveled in a horrific season ending loss to the Cardinals in Game 6 of the NLCS.  If you need a reminder of his final line, here it is: 4 IP, 10 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 5 K.  And a big, fat 9-0 loss.  It was a pretty big thud to end what was another Cy Young Award winning season.

Right now Kershaw is lined up for three more starts, and two of them are against the Giants.  You know, the same Giants that are three games in back of the Dodgers for tops in the NL West.  That same team that looked dead and buried earlier in the summer, only to remind everyone why they're contenders every year.

It's a smart move to save Kershaw's bullets for more meaningful games than finishing off the lowly Padres in a five-run game.  I'll be the first to tell you how lousy most of the bullpen is, but even I would admit that it's a smart thing to turn it over to them to get three measly outs.

And here's another thought to store in the back of your heads: Suppose the Dodgers and Giants have to settle the score for the NL West in a one-game playoff, or if the Dodgers have to face another team just to get in, then which guy will be on four days' rest at the end of the regular season?  That's right, Mr. Kershaw.

So, a lot is going on in Dodger land these last three weeks, and Kershaw is right at the top of all the action.  Let's remember that he did spend some time on the DL earlier this year with a sore back muscle, so as durable as he's been in taking the ball and delivering time after time, you can never be too sure with starting pitchers.  The possibility of some sort of arm trouble is always there.

Say what you want about Mattingly, as plenty have, but he absolutely made the right call in yanking Kershaw after eight innings on Monday.  Just a little more rest could be the difference in pitching deep into October, or watching it from home.