Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Crawford can't hit, can't catch a pop-up... and is making $21 million this year

One day later, I think the Red Sox are still laughing.  Now you know why they were so anxious to get rid of Carl Crawford.

A dropped fly ball by Crawford in the 10th inning led to the game-winning run for the Phillies, as they defeated the Dodgers 3-2.  That's two straight loses for the Dodgers, as they're 2-3 on their current 10-game homestand.

As if it's not already bad enough that Crawford couldn't catch a simple fly ball, he also went 0-for-4 with a sacrifice fly in the leadoff spot, dropping his average to .217.

Want an even worse stat?  His OBP is an anemic .226.  He's been to the plate 61 times this season, and has taken ONE WALK.  You would think he'd accidentally have at least three or four, but I guess not.

Needless to say, Tuesday night was a night that Crawford will not soon forgot, and was also quite symbolic of just how far he's fallen from his superstar years with Tampa Bay.  From 2003-2010, he was as good an all-around player, if not the best, in baseball, doing everything from hit doubles and homers to steal bases.

Then came his disastrous stint in Boston that saw his numbers tank in 2011, and only appeared in 31 games the next year before shutting it down for Tommy John surgery.  That's when he was dealt to the Dodgers in the mega-deal with Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett, amongst others.

Last year did have some good moments, as he hit .310 in 10 playoff games, along with four home runs.  The hope was that with more time away from surgery, he'd get back to some form of his old self.

Um, no.

Look, is Crawford really this bad of a player now, someone who drops fly balls and hits near the Mendoza line?  Of course not.  But, it's hard to have much faith in a guy who just looks like he's trying to hold onto his glory days.  His bat doesn't have nearly the pop it once did, and his arm is so average (not that it ever was that great to begin with).

I'm not sure how much patience Don Mattingly is going to have with Crawford at this point.  Mattingly was clearly ticked off after the game at not only that error, but the Dodgers' sloppiness in general on defense.  It's just inexcusable for a Major League player to not make a play like that.  It's downright embarrassing, quite frankly.

The Dodgers outfielders aren't setting the world on fire, as the highest average among any of them is Scott Van Slyke at .273 in limited time.  Yasiel Puig is at .254, Andre Ethier .220, and Matt Kemp .196.  Yet, each of those guys bring something to the table that Crawford does not.  You know Puig and Kemp can bring the total package to the field, Van Slyke has a good amount of power, and Ethier is second on the team with 13 RBIs.  What can Crawford bring?  Maybe some gap power and speed, but those numbers are trending down.

Like it or not, the Dodgers are committed to him until 2018, when he finally becomes a free agent.  After this year, he'll be making about $21 per year the next three years.

All of that money for a guy who can't hit well anymore, can't throw, and now has difficulty catching pop-ups.  Ouch.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Out goes Figgins, in comes Dominguez

The Dodgers were thumped 7-0 by the Phillies at home on Monday.  Cliff Lee was fantastic, Paul Maholm was not, and there really wasn't any reason to think the Dodgers stood at chance in this one.

As if the loss wasn't bad enough, the overworked bullpen didn't get a chance for some rest, either.  Maholm lasted five inefficient innings, and has a 5.40 ERA through three starts (six games total).  Brandon League pitched two scoreless innings.

Let's say that again: Brandon League pitched two scoreless innings.  Somehow he has a 3.60 ERA.  Good for him, but then again, the Dodgers were getting waxed, so it's not like there was any pressure on him.

The final two innings were pitched by Jose Dominguez, who was once again recalled to make it stint #3 with the Dodgers already this year.  He certainly throws hard, but a two-run homer by Carlos Ruiz put the exclamation mark on a Phillies' victory.

Dominguez took the place of Chone Figgins, who was sent to Triple-A Albuquerque.  He only has six at-bats this season and was pretty much the forgotten player.  It's not like he's had a chance to really show his stuff, to his defense.  But then again, if you were the manager, would YOU want to play him?  I think not.

If you're wondering why Paco Rodriguez wasn't recalled, he still has to wait 10 days before he's eligible, unless he's replacing an injured player.  He's pitched two scoreless innings at Triple-A.

For obvious reasons, the Dodgers can't wait for Clayton Kershaw to come back, if for no other reason than to give the bullpen a break.  That would potentially bump Maholm to more of a long relief role, something Don Mattingly has strangely not utilized Jamey Wright for.  With Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu as the top three in the rotation, the bullpen wouldn't be needed a whole lot.

With Maholm, Dan Haren, and Josh Beckett going the last three games, the bullpen was needed too much.  Hence the move to add another bullpen arm.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Yasiel Puig: The Total Package

If you're Josh Collmenter, walking Adrian Gonzalez intentionally is probably a smart move.

Throwing a fastball right down the middle of the plate to Yasiel Puig right after is not.

And so, with the Dodgers trying to build on a one-run lead, Puig lined a three-run shot out to left center, and they never looked back in beating the Diamondbacks 4-1.  I'm sure the DBacks are really looking foward to playing the Dodgers again in about a month considering they're 1-7 against their NL West counterparts.  Yuck.

Puig got the start in the #5 hole one day after sitting out, his fourth DNP of the year.  He was in the lineup on Friday and took three walks, but also three strikeouts.  That dropped his average to .235 with only one homer and five RBIs.  So, it was obvious that he was scuffling in the early part of the season.

Maybe watching A-Gon get walked so someone could pitch to him was just what he needed to wake up.  With two down and an 0-1 count, Puig shortened his swing a bit, and still drove it 409 feet for the three-run tater.  Granted the pitch was right down the middle, but the relaxed, composed approach paid off dividends.  Hopefully that's something he learns from and keeps trying to do.

The other side of his game was also on display, hence the headline of "The Total Package."  Miguel Montero singled to right leading off the second, and as he went to second for what looked like a sure fire double, Puig sprinted to his left, took the grounder, and fired into second on a perfect strike, nailing him.  Another reminder of just how incredible this guy's arm and athleticism is.

I can only imagine what Puig is going through right now every time he arrives at the ballpark.  ESPN has certainly made his life much more scrutinized thanks to their fascination with his defection from Cuba.  Couple that with his less than productive start to the season, a far cry from how he started his Dodger tenure last year, and that's got to be a lot of stress.

So, it's great to see him have such a great game on Easter Sunday.  One throw and one swing is all he needed to help the Dodgers win and stay in first place.  That's how good he is.  I've been a big proponent of hitting him up in the order, but if he shows an ability to adjust his swing like he did today, but hitting in the heart of the lineup will lead to some big RBIs.

Other thoughts from the game:

* Lots of credit goes to Josh Beckett.  He's one of a handful of Dodgers battling the cold/flu bug, but still threw shutout ball through five innings, striking out seven.  It ended up being his third straight no-decision to open the year, but that's not his fault.  His last two outings have been 10 innings, no runs.  He'll get bumped down to the #5 spot when Clayton Kershaw returns, so those are some awesome numbers for that role.

* The bullpen had some potentially shaky moments, with Jamey Wright, Chris Perez, and J.P. Howell getting into some deep counts.  But, only Wright was charged with a run, as Perez stranded two in the seventh with two strikeouts.  Howell got Paul Goldschmidt to ground into a forceout to end the eighth.  Nicely done.

* Also nicely done was Kenley Jansen, who mowed through the ninth by striking out the side on only 11 pitches.  Fastball, cutter, and OFF SPEED pitches did the trick.  That's the mixture I love to see.

* Someone might want to tell Tim Federowicz that Goldschmidt already swings hard enough, so two straight games of catcher's interference probably isn't the smartest way to stay healthy.  Geez.

* Hanley Ramirez claims his hand is OK after leaving Wednesday's game, but he's only 1-for-12 since then.  Maybe it's just a coincidence, but the ball definitely isn't jumping off his bat, and he's down to .246.  Let's hope there's nothing to it, and he's ready for a big series against the Phillies.

Indeed, it will be the Phillies coming to Dodger Stadium for four starting on Monday.  Unfortunately, that also means three straight days of Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett, and the returning Cole Hamels.  After Paul Maholm goes on Monday, the Dodgers send out Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Greinke, and Dan Haren.  Add it all up, and this will be a fun series to watch.  Just maybe not for the hitters.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Streaky Dodgers wake up just in time

The Dodgers found themselves down 4-0 before they even had a hit on Saturday night, and it looked like a lifeless night in Dodger Stadium.

Then Andre Ethier turned back the clock, the Diamondbacks couldn't field a grounder, Adrian Gonzalez extended his hitting streak to 14, Brian Wilson nearly blew a four-run lead, and Kenley Jansen stuck out Paul Goldschmidt to preserve the 8-6 win.

That, in a nutshell, was how the Dodgers bounced back from their first loss to the DBacks on Friday night.

This was not the cleanest game you'll ever see, as both teams committed two errors, the DBacks handed away a 4-0 lead, and the Dodgers looked like they wanted to hand it right back in the eighth.  Thankfully they didn't, and with the Padres beating the Giants, first place in the NL West belongs to LA once again.

Let's give credit to a couple of guys: Dan Haren and Ethier.  Haren got virtually no help in the third, when Hanley Ramirez dropped an easy throw to second, taking away what could have been a double play to end the inning.  Four runs were put on the board, sure enough.

Ethier got the start against the right-handed Mike Bolsinger, who looked really good early, then watched Ethier smack a three-run shot in the fourth to make it 4-3.

The bottom of the fifth pretty much summed up how lousy the DBacks have been this year.  Three straight singles by Haren, Dee Gordon, and Carl Crawford started the inning, then Martin Prado booted an easy grounder from Ramirez.  Yes, one that should've been a double play.  It was on from there, as Gonzalez had a two-run single, and Matt Kemp a two-run double.

This could've been a game where the Dodgers just rolled over and died.  But, with Haren hanging tough, and Ethier's big swing (plus some shoddy DBacks defense), it turned into a good win.  We'll take it.

Other thoughts from the game:

* Wilson's location certainly isn't as sharp as he's used to, as both tying runs were on base before he got Chris Owings grounding out to end the eighth.  His slider isn't that bad, but is just missing off the corner, and hitters are laying off of it.  With a 10.13 ERA and elbow troubles already this year, it's pretty concerning.

* Good decision by Don Mattingly to sit Yasiel Puig, who's whiffing could use a day off.  It turned out to be a good move to play Ethier and Crawford, who each contributed in the big middle innings.

* You think anyone outside of LA (and fantasy players) realize Haren is 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA?  Doubtful.

* Jansen needed a big strikeout to regain some swagger, and he got it by K'ing the mighty Goldschmidt to end the game.  How did he do it?  With an 83 mph slider.  I love it!  Finally something other than just a cutter!  You see, it can work!

* Not playing Justin Turner was also a welcome sight.  Gordon went 2-for-4 with a run in the leadoff spot, and is hitting .375.

* Shout-out to Stealing Home for his Ethier love he showed a few days ago after I referred to him as "overpaid."  He definitely showed some of that good situational hitting in this one!  Now keep it going!

The Dodgers will look to take the three-game set by sending Josh Beckett to the mound on Easter Sunday.  Following that game will be four straight at home against the Phillies.

Wright's role was all wrong

To start off with, the Dodgers' offense scored two runs in 12 innings, which were a couple of solo shots from Scott Van Slyke and Juan Uribe.  So when they eventually lost 4-2 to the Diamondbacks, five hits and two runs in over four hours of baseball is usually not going to win many games.

With that said, I was surprised to see how Jamey Wright and Chris Perez were used.  More specifically, the long guy went too short, and the short guy went too long.

With the Dodgers down 1-0 in the seventh, Wright came on and only gave up a single.  The strange thing was that his spot in the order was due up fourth, and sure enough, he ended up getting pinch-hit for by Chone Figgins after Van Slyke's homer tied the game up.  Sure enough, Figgins grounded out, which was pretty much an automatic.

Don Mattingly used both Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen the day before in San Francisco, so it's understandable that they were being avoided.  That's fine, but it also meant that when Wright, Chris Withrow, and even Brandon League were already used, it came down to Perez and J.P. Howell to pitch in extras.  Perez plowed through the 11 unscathed.

But hold on, the game was still tied, so back out went Perez.  The first two guys got on, and following a sacrifice, a two-run single by Aaron Hill effectively ended the game.  Perez gave up his first runs of the season, and threw the most pitches at 26.

So that brings me back to my original point.  Shouldn't Perez pitch the seventh, and Wright be saved in case of extra innings?  Especially since Wilson and Jansen probably weren't going to pitch?  It just didn't seem to make much sense to me.  I would think Perez would be much more comfortable pitching closer to the ninth, and not afterwards.

It's not like Wright needs to only be used for extended innings, but of his nine appearances this season, only two have gone more than one inning.  Friday night was the perfect chance to give the ball to him in extra innings and let him go.  Instead, Perez was put out there longer than usual, and the Dodgers paid the price.  And Howell wasn't even used at all.  Just some weird stuff.

Of course, if the offense could do anything then probably none of this would have mattered.

Other thoughts from the game:

* Yasiel Puig was back at leadoff, took three walks, but struck out the three other times.  Right now opposing pitchers are blowing it by him up in the zone.  There's just way too many swings and misses right now, and he needs to adjust in those situations.  I'm guessing he's not the easiest guy to get to adjust, though.

* Justin Turner hit second and went 0-for-5, dropping him to .185.  Yuck.  If I'm Alex Guerrero, I'm taking grounders at second until my hands go numb so my bat is back in the LA lineup.  If I'm Turner, I'm nervous about that happening.

* Zack Greinke only gave up one run in six innings, which was a fortunate thing considering his location was all over the place.  Still, he struck out eight and lowered his ERA to 2.42.  He's fifth in the NL in strikeouts.

Dan Haren and his sparkling 2.04 ERA will take the mound on Saturday night.  He'll look to get the Dodgers back on track after dropping their first game to the Diamondbacks following five straight wins.

Friday, April 18, 2014

How are the leadoff hitters doing?

Here we are 16 games into 2014, and one spot in the order that hasn't quite been figured out yet is leadoff.  Let's take a look at the numbers of each player in that spot:

Dee Gordon
8 G, 12-for-32, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 4 R, 6 SB, .375 AVG, .417 OBP
There was no way at the start of Spring Training that anyone would have thought Gordon could put up these types of numbers leading off, or any spot in the order for that matter, but much to his credit he has.  The word on him was that he put on some muscle in the offseason, and maybe that combined with more confidence and seasoning has paid off.  He still isn't the slickest fielder on Earth, but what he's done at the plate in the early going cannot be ignored.

Carl Crawford
5 G, 6-for-22, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 3 R, 2 SB, .273 AVG, .304 OBP
Crawford seems like a more prototypical leadoff hitter compared to Gordon, but the results aren't as good.  Then again, taking walks has never been Crawford's thing, so maybe these numbers shouldn't be too surprising.  It's hard to get too excited about him these days, as he clearly looks like he's on the downside of his career.  That's not to say that he can't contribute anymore, because he can, but with five healthy outfielders, his playing time is pretty scattered.

Yasiel Puig
3 G, 3-for-14, 1 RBI, 1 R, .214 AVG, .267 OBP
I came into this season really believing in Puig leading off.  I still do, but these numbers don't exactly back me up.  If Gordon comes back to Earth some, then I can see Puig getting more starts in the #1 spot.  Obviously his weakness is swinging and missing, as he's pretty much all or nothing at the plate.  But when he's on, he sets quite the tone.  We definitely have not heard the last of him leading off.

(Note: Justin Turner has three at-bats in the leadoff spot, but that was in relief of Gordon.  He did have an RBI single, at least.)

Gordon has earned more starts at leadoff, as you can't ignore those numbers.  The only downside is that he's hitting .222 against left-handed pitchers, including being blanked against Madison Bumgarner on Thursday.  Hitting .405 against right-handed hurlers is much more encouraging.

Like I said above, I still believe in Puig at leadoff as well.  So here's my simple solution: if a righty is on the mound, then Gordon is at leadoff and Puig hitting second.  With a lefty, flip-flop it.  Imagine both of those guys getting on base to start a game.  How distracting would that be for an opposing pitcher and defense?  That would be fun to watch.

Crawford in the leadoff spot?  Not so much.  Let Gordon and Puig handle it.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ryu + road start = 26 straight scoreless innings

For most people, home is where the heart is.

For Hyun-Jin Ryu, anywhere but home is where his heart is.

Needing a win to avoid a sweep in San Francisco, Don Mattingly turned the ball over to Ryu, and the results were outstanding: seven innings, four hits, no runs, one walk, and three strikeouts.  And most importantly, a win for the Dodgers over the Giants 2-1.

This was a far cry from the last time Ryu took on the Giants.  That was the home opener back on April 4, and he didn't even make it to the third inning in getting drilled for eight runs (six earned).  This time it was one changeup after another, and boy were the Giants off balance.

Take away the home opener start, and he'd be 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA.  That's because all four of his other starts have been on the road.  The Dodgers are about to start a 10-game homestand, so he'll get a couple starts in Dodger Stadium, most likely against the Phillies and Rockies.

This domination on the road is a role reversal from last season, where he had a 3.69 ERA in 15 starts on the road, and a 2.32 ERA in 15 starts at home.  Obviously he won't go the whole season at this torrid pace on the road, but the encouraging thing is based on last season's numbers, he can be pretty darn good at home, too.  Add it all up, and it's looking like an All-Star season for Ryu.

While we all wait on the impending return of the great Clayton Kershaw (who had a good bullpen session today, by the way), Mattingly has to be thrilled that Ryu and Zack Greinke are a combined 6-1 and are more than carrying the load in Kershaw's absence.

Other thoughts from the game:

* Yasiel Puig certainly had an interesting day in right field.  He dropped a simple fly ball, recovered in time to gun the runner out at second on the force, immediately came back and made a terrific catch facing the wall, then had a great running catch in the eighth.  Considering all of the stuff coming out about his defection from Cuba, you can't help but wonder where his head is at now.  And that's an understatement.

* My headline would've easily been about the bullpen had they blown Ryu's gem, but thankfully Kenley Jansen held on for his fifth save.  Brian Wilson got the hold and didn't allow a run despite a leadoff double and a walk.  Jansen should've gone 1-2-3, but Tim Federowicz bumbled a dropped strike three to Michael Morse leading off.  Ehire Adrianza hit an RBI single, but with two on, Brandon Crawford flew out to end it.  Close one.

* Good to see Scott Van Slyke's name back in the starting lineup, as it looks like Mattingly is trying to get him in more.  That's a good decision.  He hit a double with a run scored and a walk, and hit the warning track with another swing.

* A night after going 3-for-4 in the leadoff spot, Dee Gordon had no answers for Madison Bumgarner, going 0-for-4.  With Hanley Ramirez sitting out because of his hand, Justin Turner got the call at short and played well with a double and a run.

* One of the runs scored was from an RBI single from Federowicz.  Yes, really.  He still can't hit at .091, but he picked a good time today for his first RBI.

As I mentioned before, the Dodgers will be home for the next 10 games, starting on Friday against the Diamondbacks.  I'm guessing these two teams will play each other about 120 games this season.  Greinke goes against Wade Miley.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jansen says he's feeling good, so what's the problem?

Good update over at ESPN LA from Mark Saxon about Kenley Jansen and his rejuvenated fastball.  Last season it was in the 92-95 mph range, and now it's shot up to 95-100.  The reason could be a healthier offseason after needing plenty of rest the previous year because of his abnormal heartbeat scare.

Of course, that begs the question about why Jansen has blown two of the last four save opportunities, in addition to taking a loss to the Tigers last week trying to keep the score tied.  One theory is that his increased velocity has resulted in a straighter cutter, which isn't exactly a good thing.

That could be true, but I think there's something else: opposing hitters know the cutter is coming, have seen it before, and are more prepared to hit it, no matter how nasty it may be.

It's tough to get on Jansen too much because he's been practically unhittable since 2010.  But right now, the 39 batters he's faced have hit .343 off of him.  Want to know the highest average he's surrendered in his career?  Try .177 last year, the same season he collected 28 saves, a 1.88 ERA, and struck out 111.

I've said for a couple years now that as good as Jansen's hard stuff is, I do get concerned that he goes to the well way too often.  Watching the Giants hit against him on Tuesday night (his second blown save), I couldn't help but think of that again.  While the hits against him were a bit lucky, the bottom line is that I didn't get a sense that the guys from the Bay Area were intimidated by him, as many hitters have been in the past.  It seemed like they were prepared for what was coming.

There are some interesting numbers over at that back up what Saxon was saying.  All of his pitches (fastball, cutter, slider) are being thrown about 2-3 mph harder than in the past.  I'm definitely not a pitching expert (I coach junior high softball, and even that confuses me), but maybe harder doesn't always equal better.

I don't think it's too late to start incorporating some softer stuff.  The only other pitch he's been tracked at is a slider at 5% of the time.  He hasn't been tracked throwing a changeup since 2011, and even that was barely at 2%.  He's coming at you hard and often.

When thinking about other great closers in Dodgers' history, I obviously think of Eric Gagne.  To compliment his 92 mph fastball, what other pitch did he rely on?  A 70 mph changeup that buckled knees every game.  I know that's not Jansen's thing, but it goes to show how having two reliable pitches at different speeds make you more deadly on the mound.

Maybe Jansen is about to reel off 20 straight saves and we'll forget about his April troubles.  Or maybe opposing hitters will keep having success against him.  I just hope he's more open to mixing in some softer stuff when he's on the mound.  It can only help.

The overpaid guys let the Dodgers down

After about five hours and 12 innings, the Dodgers walked away from AT&T Park shaking their heads for many reasons.

The biggest one is the money they're paying a couple of guys who aren't earning anything close to their bottom dollar.

Those two guys are Andre Ethier and Brandon League, who both had chances to either get a lead or keep the game tied.  Neither happened, and on Jackie Robinson Day throughout baseball, the Giants beat the Dodgers 3-2.

Let's start with Ethier (trust me, I'm anxious to get to League, but I'll hold off a few paragraphs).  Ethier was 1-for-6 with a single in the fourth.  That blistering night at the plate dropped his average to .213.  Of his 10 hits, only one is for extra-bases (a solo home run), so his slugging is a paltry .277.  Maybe worst of all, he got the start while Matt Kemp had to wait until the seventh to get into the game, something I'm sure he was just thrilled about.

Wait a minute, I was wrong.  Worst of all is that Ethier is making $15.5 million this year, and is signed through 2017, and possibly 2018 because it's a vesting option.  Remember when he extended for five years and $85 million, and we thought it was a good idea?  It wasn't.

Needless to say, "Andre the Giant" is nowhere to be seen anymore.  Two years ago he hit 20 homers and 89 RBIs, and those numbers dropped to 12 and 52 last year.  I'm not sure he can even get to that this year.  It's time for Don Mattingly to stop playing him so damn much.  I'd rather see a guy like Scott Van Slyke start against a right-handed pitcher than Ethier.  Yes, I know Van Slyke is a righty himself, but so what?  Ether is hitting .243 against righties, so enough is enough.  The magic in his bat is gone.

OK, now let's get to good old League.  How appropriate is it that he's the one who took the loss after such a long game?  Very, I'd say.  This guy makes Ethier's contract look like a bargain.  That's how utterly disastrous these last two years have been for him.

What pisses me off even more is what happened before the game.  Brian Wilson was activated from the 15-day DL, and instead of Ned Colletti just cutting his loses with League, Paco Rodriguez is the one who gets sent down.  Why?  Because he has "options," meaning there's no penalty to send him to Triple-A.  Wouldn't you know it, League stays and takes the loss just hours later.  Typical.

The League contract is one of the worst ones in Dodgers' history.  After posting some good numbers in 2011 after being traded from the Mariners, Colletti threw three years and $22.5 million to get him to stay as the closer.  It's not working.  He got booted early in the season last year from that role, and isn't even close to regaining it this year.

Yet here the Dodgers are, with the highest payroll in all of baseball, stubbornly keeping this guy around.  Amazing.  I guess they are content watching him collect $15 million this season and next, while effective relievers like Rodriguez are in Albuquerque because of the numbers game.

If I'm Colletti, I'm taking care of a couple of things.  Ethier plays good defense, but his lack of pop makes him expendable, and certainly not worthy of as many starts as he gets.  I'd look to move him and roll with Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, Kemp, and Van Slyke in the outfield.  If one of them gets hurt (or WHEN, I should say), then call up Joc Pederson.

For League, it's simple: call him in, say your good-byes, and move on.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A-Gon looks like a Padre again

With four homers in four straight games, Adrian Gonzalez is playing like the 30/100 guy he was in San Diego.

And what do you know, the Dodgers swept the Diamondbacks in three because of it.

One night after a five RBI performance, A-Gon gathered three more on a homer, and the Dodgers held off the DBacks 8-6.  In addition to the sweep, the Dodgers have now won five of six, and are sitting atop the NL West at 9-4.

There have been a lot of reasons the Dodgers have been winning, but Gonzalez is right at the front of it.  Like I said before, I can't help but think of the guy who torched the Dodgers for years while wearing a San Diego uniform.  For five years from 2006-2010, he averaged 32 homers and 100 RBIs.  Those are monster numbers for a place known for favoring the pitching in Petco Park.

Offseason shoulder surgery in October of 2010 zapped him of his usual power, though he still put up 27 and 117 in 2011 for the Red Sox.  But, his home run totals dropped to 18 in 2012 with the Red Sox and Dodgers, and 22 last season.  He set a very high standard for himself in the power department, and reconstructing your shoulder is not the best way to keep reaching those numbers.

Maybe it really did take a few years for A-Gon to feel normal again, because at 31 (32 in about a month), he looks young again.  Obviously it's still early, but he's second in the NL in home runs and third in RBIs.  He's hit cleanup in every game, and no matter which side of the mound the opposing pitcher is delivering from, Don Mattingly has no reason to change that.  The parts around him change, but he's been the one constant through 13 games.

There is no better sight than the sweet lefty swing of Gonzalez, and hopefully there's plenty more to come.  I'm sure there is.

Other thoughts from the game:

* Dan Haren scuffled and struggled at 110 pitches in 5 2/3 innings, but got plenty of support to get the win, improving to 2-0.  He was practically untouchable his first two starts, so maybe he was due for some reality.  Still, a win's a win, so he'll take it.

* If there has been one blemish during the 5-0 stretch against the DBacks this season, it's been the bullpen.  Paco Rodriguez gave up a run and only got one out.  Jamey Wright gave up a towering three-run bomb to Mark Trumbo.  Fortunately J.P. Howell, Chris Perez, and Kenley Jansen were perfect over the final two innings, as Jansen earned his fourth save.

* Dee Gordon was in full "Flash" mode with four stolen bases.  One of them was when Randall Delgado wasn't paying attention on the mound.  He got on base three of his five plate appearances and scored a run.  More and more he's showing why he's the everyday second baseman.

* In addition to A-Gon, Matt Kemp and Juan Uribe each hit solo shots, which turned out to be the difference when this was all said and done.

* I'm wondering if Chone Figgins is on borrowed time.  With Brian Wilson, Clayton Kershaw, and eventually Chad Billingsley on their way back, Figgins seems like he's expendable.  It's not like he does much, as he pinch-hit and struck out in this one, so I wouldn't be surprised if he's sent packing.

* Let's see more of guys like Perez and Howell pitching in the seventh and eighth, and not Wright, who should pitch in long relief.  Maybe Mattingly intended to stretch Wright out, but Trumbo changed all of that.

* This was a really long game at 3:39, but it's always worth it in the end with a win.

Monday is an off day, then it's off to San Francisco for three.  The Dodgers won't exactly be starting the series off with a bang, as Josh Beckett and Paul Maholm go the first couple of games.  Then it'll be Hyun-Jin Ryu, whom the Giants whipped around in the home opener.  Plus the Giants are in second place at 8-5, so they'll be looking to take over the lead by the end of Thursday.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

New lineup, same domination in Arizona

Don Mattingly must feel like a kid in a candy store.  No matter which players he scribbles into the starting lineup, a win over the Diamondbacks is near.

With Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, and Dee Gordon all sitting against the left-handed Wade Miley, Mattingly stacked the deck with eight righties and one lefty.  Sure enough, that one lefty was Adrian Gonzalez, and his two-run homer helped key the Dodgers to an 8-5 win.  The Dodgers are a perfect 4-0 against their NL West rivals this year.

I liked how Mattingly switched things up a bit with Miley on the mound.  Yasiel Puig led off, then Matt Kemp was right behind him, taking a page out of Tony LaRussa's book of putting some power in the #2 hole.  Hanley Ramirez and A-Gon took their customary 3-4 slots, as well they should, followed by Scott Van Slyke, who started in left, and Juan Uribe.  Justin Turner and Drew Butera rounded things out.

The results were huge, as the offense put up eight runs on 12 hits and seven walks.  Every starter, save for Zack Greinke, got on base at least once, and everyone but Kemp and Ramirez had hits.  Kemp was the only downer at 0-for-4, but I still hope Mattingly gives him more looks in the second spot.  As an opposing pitcher, starting the game facing Puig, Kemp, Ramirez, and Gonzalez can't be a comfortable feeling.

That's the nice thing about depth and health.  Simply put, when there's good health, there's depth.  Gordon is hitting .405 and Crawford .306 and have combined for nine steals.  Ethier is only at .216, but with nine RBIs in 12 games.  All three of those guys are everyday players on numerous other teams.  But on this team, they can be sat here and there depending on matchups.  It might lead to some hard feelings, but when your team is in first place in the division, there can't be any complaining.  The results speak for themselves.

Other thoughts from the game:

* Greinke threw a lot of pitches, 103 in 5 1/3 innings to be exact, but made the big pitches when he needed.  He gave up a run on eight hits with eight K's to improve to 3-0.  Not the sharpest outing, but plenty good enough.

* Good to see Van Slyke's name back in the lineup, as he's been victimized by the numbers crunch.  It's a shame, too, because he's the fifth outfielder, and can't get time at first with A-Gon heating up at the plate.  In this one he doubled and scored a run.  It's a small sample size, but he's hitting .333.

* Butera had two hits.  Seriously!

* Chris Withrow again struck out the side, the second time he's done that in three appearances.  He has 12 K's in 7 innings, which are Kenley Jansen-like numbers.

* Speaking of Jansen, he again was called on to get the last out after the bullpen struggled with a big lead.  Just like the second game in Australia, things got way too interesting in the ninth.  Whose fault was it this time?  Good old Brandon League, who was just awful.  After giving up three runs, Jansen struck out Gerardo Parra to end the game for his third save.

The Dodgers will look for their second sweep of the DBacks already on Sunday when Dan Haren takes the mound.  Monday will be an off day before playing three in San Francisco.  And then it's back home next weekend to face... you guessed it, the DBacks.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ryu dishes, Gonzalez delivers

Don Mattingly had it right: "There was really no true stress in the game."

If the Diamondbacks were pumped up to play the Dodgers in their first meeting in Arizona since the infamous Pool Incident, they sure as heck didn't act like it.  Ryu had no issues in two-hitting the DBacks over seven innings, and AGon drove in five of the six runs in the 6-0 win.

The true stars of the show were Ryu and Gonzalez (with a special nod to Hanley Ramirez and his three hits), as they made it look easy, as Mattingly put it.  Ryu was coming off a very rough home opener in which he was chased after two innings and eight runs.  He struck out eight and only walked one.

Want to know what his ERA would be covering three road starts?  Try zero.  That's right, he's all but perfect on the road, with 19 innings of scoreless ball.  Even with getting rocked against the Giants, his ERA is still a very solid 2.57.  He said he was in better shape coming into this season, and he's sure pitching like he meant it.

Coming into Friday night's road game, Gonzalez had actually gotten a hit in 7 of the 10 games, but they were all single hit games for a .189 average.  Friday looked more like the guy who collected 100 RBIs last season, as he hit a two-run homer in the first, a two-run single up the middle in the third, and an RBI single to left in the eighth.  One night of big swings raised his average to .244.  He looks ready to unload.

Other thoughts from the game:

* Like I mentioned above, let's not forget that Ramirez in the #3 spot with two doubles and an RBI.  Hes' up to .310 after starting the year 1-for-15 through four games.

* Yasiel Puig was back in the lineup in the #2 spot, gathering one hit and two runs.  Matt Kemp sat out while Puig, Carl Crawford, and Andre Ethier started against the right-handed Brandon McCarthy.

* Jamey Wright is getting work when he can, and he struck out the side in the eighth and stayed on to finish the game out.  He has a 1.59 ERA in six appearances.

* Juan Uribe was 0-for-4 with two double play balls, but it didn't matter.  He made at least two fantastic plays at third.  He sure as heck can glove it and throw it.

* The DBacks sit in dead last in the NL West at 4-9.  The injury to Patrick Corbin is obviously a huge one, as their staff looks just plain ordinary.  Take away the mighty Paul Goldschmidt, and there's not a lot to be scared of.

Both teams are back at it on Saturday night, as Zack Greinke looks to go 3-0.  Wade Miley started the first game in Australia and took the loss, but has bounced back for two straight wins since then.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Time to worry about Jansen?

What a surprise, a closer with some question marks.

Already this season we've seen Jim Johnson and Jim Henderson get demoted; Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Bobby Parnell and Casey Jansen get hurt; and Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon, and Glen Perkins get pounded.

And then there's the Dodgers and Kenley Jansen, who all of a sudden looks very mortal.  And even this early in the season, you can't help but wonder if something's wrong.

That's exactly what was asked to Ken Gurnick of, as he addressed this question in his latest mailbag.  What Gurnick pointed out is that nothing appears to be wrong, as he's actually throwing 3-5 MPH harder than last year.  Maybe, just maybe, throwing harder isn't the best thing for a cutter, as it becomes more of a straight fastball.

Or, just maybe, the rush to get to Australia has victimized another stud pitcher, just as it has Clayton Kershaw and Brian Wilson.

The Dodgers certainly hope that's not the case, as the last thing they need is their end-of-game combo of Wilson and Jansen to be on the shelf with some sort of arm injuries.  To Jansen's credit, he's been so good as the closer, any sort of hiccup raises eyebrows.

You know the Dodgers are going to give him plenty of more chances to close, so there's no use in getting all bent out of shape over a couple of bad nights against a really good team in the Tigers.  Even though his numbers aren't pretty (4.76 ERA, 2.29 WHIP), he still has 10 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.

But, the one thing that does concern me is something I've been saying for a couple of years now: I just don't think he's going to survive throwing only a cutter.  It's a nasty pitch, and we all know that Mariano Rivera made a living off of it for years.  But Jansen isn't Rivera, and quite frankly, no one is.  I really think he'd be much better off mixing in other pitchers.

I know that's tough for a closer to do, as they want to just blow people away.  That's something Jansen is certainly capable of doing, I'm just not so sure he can do it for long stretches, as Major League hitters are too good and too smart, so they're able to adjust to anything.  Unless you're facing Rivera, of course.

Maybe a couple of saves this weekend in Arizona will do him some good.  I also think tweaking his approach a bit will also do him some good, as the cutter isn't the put away pitch it normally is right now.  If he's stubborn and keeps going to the well too often with the same pitch, then my fear is seeing his name added to the struggling list above. 

That's something none of us need to see.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Quietly, the Haren signing looks pretty darn good

How about these numbers for your first two starts with a new team:

Start #1: 6 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K
Start #2: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K

Those belong to Dan Haren, who was signed this offseason to a one-year, $10 deal, with a 2015 option for $10 million that vests with 180 innings.

I'd say his chances of staying in LA and making some more cash are looking pretty good.

Beating the Padres is one thing, but beating the Tigers is a whole different story.  That's exactly what he did on Tuesday night, as he went toe-to-toe with reigning Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer for much of the game.  Haren was denied a victory, and Scherzer a loss, when Kenley Jansen blew a save in the ninth.

Not to worry, as Carl Crawford's walk-off double in the ninth scored Chone Figgins to win the game.

If anyone saw Haren pitch in Spring Training, then you had plenty of reasons to be worried.  In four appearances covering 12 innings, his ERA was 6.00, and opponents were hitting a whopping .373 against him.  His last start against the Angels was just awful, giving up six runs in two innings.

I do recall hearing the great Orel Hershiser on SportsNet LA discuss how Haren's stuff had no break to it, perhaps because he was in Arizona at the time.  When he got back to LA, things would be better, and he'd be ready to go.

As much as I love Orel, I thought that looked like a bunch of wishful thinking.  Sure enough, two starts an 0.75 ERA later, he was right.  Again.

With news that Josh Beckett is due to start Wednesday night against the Tigers, the Dodgers' pitching staff looks like it can at least hold its own until Clayton Kershaw returns sometime in May.  A top three of Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Haren looks pretty good right now, and hopefully Beckett can find his groove as he did when he first came to the Dodgers in 2012.

Of course, if Paul Maholm gets another start, that wouldn't be a good thing.  But four out of five ain't bad.

Obviously Haren won't continue to put up six innings and one or two runs.  That would be awesome, but it won't happen.  What we can hope for is that when everyone is healthy, he can be the best #4 man in the game.  If you can go pitch-for-pitch against someone like Scherzer, I certainly think he can beat any #4 in the game.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

With A.J. gone 4-6 weeks, Dodgers have catching problems

No disrespect to Drew Butera and Tim Federowicz, but the thought of them starting behind the plate for the next month-and-a-half doesn't exactly get me excited.

In fact, it kind of makes me cringe.

A.J. Ellis is done for the next 4-6 weeks thanks to a torn meniscus in his left knee.  Butera was already the backup catcher and got the start on Sunday.  Federowicz has officially been recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque today.

Look, it's not like Ellis is the starting catcher because of his awesome bat anyway.  On the season he was 4-for-24, all singles.  He has reached double digit homers the last couple of seasons as the full-time catcher (13 and 10), but has only hit .254 for his career.

On the contrary, he's the starting catcher because he calls a great game and can throw people out.  Period.  The hits are a bonus.  He has gotten some timely hits, such as the game-winning home run that led to a victory over the Diamondbacks last September, clinching the NL West.  So he has his moments.

Butera has an even 500 at-bats in his career, and is hitting a pathetic .180.  He has virtually no power and doesn't get on base in any way.  Federowicz has a much smaller sample size with 176 AB's, and is hitting .227.  It's a little sad when you're a .227 hitter and that's considered better than some other guy.

Any way you slice it, the Dodgers should not expect their catchers to make a difference at the plate for April and most of May.  These guys just cannot hit.

The Dodgers might want to consider doing one of two things.  One, they can call up Miguel Olivo, who's only played in four game in Albuquerque, but is 7-for-15.  He's the journeyman who's now with his seventh team in his career.  Two, they can make a trade.  I have no idea for whom, but I would hope he'd hit better than .227.

Who knows, maybe more consistent playing time will get someone like Butera or Federowicz going.  We will all wait and see.