Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bullpen flaws front and center in Pittsburgh

Normally if the Dodgers score seven runs, they're going to win.  They have excellent starting pitching, and a closer with 29 saves.

The downside, however, is the back end of the bullpen.  And on Tuesday night, they showed just how shaky they are.

Josh Beckett didn't do much in his return from injury, but the trio of Paul Maholm, Jamey Wright, and Chris Perez did even worse in a 12-7 loss.  Heck, even Brandon League was bad giving up two hits in 2/3 an inning, but escaped from getting charged with a run.

The Dodgers actually had the deficit at only 8-7 entering the bottom of the eighth... and then Perez got the call.  That was already a mistake considering he entered the game with a 4.37 ERA.  He got the first out on a popup to short.

Then he walked Gregory Polanco.  And he walked Travis Snider.  And he walked Andrew McCutchen.  And to top it all off, he walked Neil Walker to force in a run.  The floodgates opened after that, as League gave up three runs that were all charged to Perez, and just like that it was 12-7.

It was an absolutely embarrassing, pathetic performance by Perez.  His ERA shot up nearly one full run to 5.35, and his WHIP is 1.42.  The guy literally walked four straight batters.  You would think he was imitating Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn early in the movie Major League, only this wasn't nearly as funny.  It was frustrating and sad.

As I tweeted out during the game, if I'm Ned Colletti, I'm releasing his sorry ass and recalling someone like Paco Rodriguez or Jose Dominguez.  Why not?  Those guys can't possibly be any worse.  The idea to bring the former closer Perez in was a good one, but it's clearly not working out.  Get rid of him!

The two long relievers, Maholm and Wright, didn't exactly do much to encourage confidence in their abilities either.  Maholm started off OK, getting four straight outs.  But with the game tied 4-4 in the sixth, he gave up consecutive leadoff singles to Russell Martin and Ike Davis.  Wright was brought in to clean up the mess, but instead made it was worse by giving up a two-run single to Polanco, an RBI single to Snider, and uncorking a wild pitch to score another, making it 8-4.

I've already stated plenty of times in the past how bad I think Maholm is, but Wright has certainly taken a turn for the worse as well.  After pitching a scoreless inning on June 29 against the Cardinals, his ERA was 2.11.  In his six appearances since then, he's given up 10 runs to raise it to 3.74.  I don't know if he's tired or what, but he's obviously not the same pitcher as he was early in the year.

Right now, the Dodgers have a good closer in Jansen who's improved his numbers over the course of the season.  J.P. Howell has been fantastic with a 1.30 ERA and 20 holds.  League still has a 2.01 ERA, even if he still doesn't pitch big innings.

After that... UGH.  That's about all I can say about some of these numbers.  Brian Wilson, Pedro Baez, and Perez all have ERA's above five.  The two long relievers aren't getting people out.  It's not like Don Mattingly can call on Jansen and Howell every night, and when he doesn't, the results aren't pretty.

Let's see what, if anything, Colletti and the Dodgers do about this.  Do they start to rev up the trade machine for bullpen help?  Do they call up some arms from the minors?  I would hope he does SOMETHING.  If he doesn't, then don't expect to see these numbers change much.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Show some fire, get a win

Good news on and off the field for the Dodgers on Monday.  Hyun-Jin Ryu went seven strong innings, the offense got some clutch hits, and Kenley Jansen earned his 29th save in a 5-2 win over Pittsburgh.  The win keeps them on pace with the Giants, who hit around the returning Cliff Lee for a victory in Philly.

Off the field, there was definitely good news on Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez.  Both X-rays came back negative on their hands, so they should be good to go any day now.  Knowing the injury history of this team, it's a huge relief.

Back to the on field action, and it was two straight games where the Dodgers showed more grit than anytime in recent memory.  They have pretty much been lifeless in the few games before and after the All-Star break, so any sign of waking up is a welcomed sight.

It all started with the guys at the top of the order, as both Dee Gordon and Justin Turner shared two hits apiece.  Gordon scored a run and stole a base, his league-leading 45th.  Turner hasn't started in awhile, but with Hanley sitting out, he got the nod at short and stroked a two-run double in the fourth to make it 4-0.  He also scored twice.

Just as important as these two setting the table all game long was their defense up the middle.  Gordon nearly had a fantastic diving catch off of Andrew McCutchen's bat, but still ended up combining with Turner for some big outs.  Turner should definitely get more looks at short, as he not only showed the glove, but can hit much better than Miguel Rojas.

Even when Hanley is back in the lineup, Don Mattingly shouldn't be afraid to sit him when his bat isn't going.  Turner plays MUCH better defense, and is hitting .301 with a .359 OBP in 63 games.  Give him more playing time!

Maybe watching his teammates getting beaned in St. Louis is just the thing that Adrian Gonzalez needed, as he followed up his game-winning RBI Sunday night by reaching base all five times on Monday.  He went 3-for-3 with two doubles, a run, and two walks.  When's the last time we've seen a game like this from him?  Wow, it's been awhile.  But you have to start somewhere, so maybe Pittsburgh is the place.

The final piece of the puzzle was Ryu.  As I pointed out before, he was very solid in keeping the Pirates grounded.  This was good for his phyche, as his last road start was getting obliterated in Detroit.  Since then, he's won both his starts, giving up only two runs in 13 innings against the Padres and Pirates.  He's now 11-3 with a 3.39 ERA and 1.21 WHIP.

I caught some of Baseball Tonight after the game, and Ozzie Guillen made a good observation that the Dodgers have played with much more energy the last couple of games.  He's right.  And what do you know - they won.  They've made some diving stops, got some good starting pitching, excellent work from the bullpen, and finally had some clutch hits.  It all adds up to wins.

Before the Sunday night game, I was also watching Baseball Tonight (I guess I really like that show), and it was Barry Larkin correctly saying how the Dodgers certainly have the big names on paper, but at some point, you've got to do it on the field.  For two days anyway, they've carried it over to the game and gotten wins.

We'll see if this is fool's gold, or if it's the start of leaving it all on the field and not making excuses.  Josh Beckett is lined up to come off the DL and start on Tuesday.  All reports on him are very positive, so hopefully that's true.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Will the Cardinals' beanings ignite the Dodgers like the DBacks' brawl of '13?

If you're the Dodgers, you have to hope so.

One year ago, the Dodgers were 27-36 after Brandon League blew a save against the Diamondbacks at home.  Generally, they looked like crap, played like crap, and were pretty much just that: crap.

The next night is when the "crap" hit the fan.  Then-Diamondback Ian Kennedy beaned Yasiel Puig in the face, then soon followed that up by hitting Zack Greinke, and the brawl was on in the seventh inning.  In all, two players, two coaches, and manager Kirk Gibson were ejected.  The Dodgers went on to win 5-4.

By the end of the season, the Dodgers ran away with the NL West, clinching in Arizona, then celebrating in their pool.  The Diamondbacks were not happy.  Remember that?

Now it's 2014, and while the Dodgers have a better record at 55-45 and are tied with the Giants for first place, they're still looking for something to get them going.

Sunday night may have just been that something.

One day after Puig was plunked in the hand, holding him out of this game, Hanley Ramirez got hit twice.  The last one came in the ninth inning against flamethrowing closer Trevor Rosenthal, which soon led to Adrian Gonzalez's game-winning RBI single for the 3-2 victory.  Clayton Kershaw hit Matt Holliday in the side in the fourth, prompting a warning for both benches.  Rosenthal, however, was still not ejected.

After A-Gon's hit, and Kenley Jansen's perfect ninth for his 28th save, the only thing I kept thinking about was how this is just like last year's DBacks brawl.  You could tell at the time that was a wakeup call for the Dodgers, and maybe this is, too.

One thing that cannot be compared is the intent.  Kennedy was clearly throwing at Puig and Greinke, but it didn't appear that Carlos Martinez and Rosenthal were doing the same.  However, I think A-Gon said it perfectly with the following quote:
"One thing is pitching inside and another thing is pitching inside carelessly. They're obviously showing that they don't care if they hit him. They're not on purpose, but they don't care if they hit him. They hit Hanley last year, they hit [Yasiel] Puig yesterday, they hit Hanley twice today. It's almost like, 'Hey, we're going to throw it inside. If we hit you, we hit you. If we don't, we don't.'"
At this point, the Dodgers are looking for any sorts of signs to shake them out of their mediocrity.  Before the ninth inning came, they got two hits and an RBI from Matt Kemp, a triple and RBI from Andre Ethier, and three hits from Juan Uribe.  Kemp even threw in a diving catch charging towards the infield for good measure.

Then Rosenthal beaned Hanley, and A-Gon responded with a clutch two-out RBI.  In fact, all four runs were driven in with two outs.  When's the last time we've seen that happen?

Only time will tell if this game will truly motivate the Dodgers to, as I put it yesterday, put up or shut up.  On ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, they put up on a night where Kershaw finally gave up more than one run (7 IP, 3 ER, 8 K).  They got some big hits, got some big outs from the bullpen, and got a big win to avoid the sweep.

Let's see the Dodgers use this game as a springboard to bigger things.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

It's time for the outfielders to put up or shut up

The Dodgers are in a tailspin entering Sunday night's game in St. Louis.  They've dropped two straight, their offense is a disaster, and their outfielders aren't doing much to help.

Take away Yasiel Puig, and there's a whole lot of nothing left.  Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Carl Crawford combined to go 0-for-5 on Saturday with a big strikeout in the eighth (Kemp) and a game ending double play (Ethier).  Those guys are making about $57 million combined this season.

And to that, I say this: Boys, it's time to start performing on the field.  Or get out of the way and let others do it for you.

How many times are we going to go through this?  There's a whole lot of talk about what they've done in the past, but not a whole lot about what they're doing this season.  Probably because they're doing a big pile of nothing for the most part.

I'll give Ethier and Crawford this - they at least appear to play hard.  They're not getting the results that justify their contracts, but they aren't dogging it.  I'm doubt that makes anyone feel better, but it's something.

I'm not sure I can say the same about Kemp.  Saying you want to be the everyday center fielder is commendable, but not taking ownership for just how awful you've been is not.  As I pointed out the other day, it would be great if he said something along the lines of, "My bad, I've been terrible.  I've got to play better."  But have we?  Nope.

Instead, we've seen a lot of swings and misses, a lot of hanging his head, and defense that is so bad, it's gotten to the point where analysts are ripping apart how he chases after the ball.  Seriously.  I'm not sure I've ever heard an outfielder being criticized so harshly for how he simply runs after the ball.  That's pretty pathetic.

Ethier should be very thankful that Kemp is getting so much attention, because his offense has gone MIA.  Right now he's hitting .249 with four home runs and 34 RBIs.  He's slugging .374, by far the lowest in his career (.421 in '11 is his second lowest).  There's absolutely no reason to fear him at the plate.

True, he is ridiculously better in center than Kemp, but playing him so much there is at the expense of the offense.  He has no power left, doesn't get on base well (.313 OBP), and strikes out way too much.  There's just no magic left in that bat.

The odd man out was supposedly going to be Crawford when he came off the DL right before the All-Star break.  Kemp can be thanked again, this time for being so atrocious that plans changed.  But is he an upgrade?  It's hard to make that case.  In 49 games, he's hitting .255 with four home runs, 19 RBIs, and 10 stolen bases.  Not exactly numbers that get a manager excited to pencil his name in the lineup.

At this point, the Dodgers are stuck with these guys, at least for this season.  Every other team in baseball looks at their contracts and just starts laughing.  And after they get done laughing, they say, "Thanks, but no thanks" when it comes to talking trade.  Unless the Dodgers take on a BUNCH of cash remaining on their deals, you can forget about them going anywhere.

If these guys want to play as much as they think they deserve, then show it on the field.  If you're not in the lineup, then stay ready for when you eventually will be.  Because taking away Puig in right, there's two positions remaining in the outfield that have yet to be fully claimed, and we're at game #100 tonight. 

Show why you deserve to play.  Get a hit.  Take a walk.  Move a runner over.  Cut down the strikeouts.  Just do SOMETHING.

Or, accept the fact that your best days are behind you, and let someone else (Scott Van Slyke?  Joc Pederson?) come in and play that spot.

As the headline says, it's time to put up or shut up.  Make a choice.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

All-Star break does nothing to wake up putrid offense

So much for being fresh and rejuvenated after taking four days off.

The Dodgers brought more of the same on offense to the table Friday night... which is basically saying, they did a big pile of NOTHING.  A two-run homer by Matt Holliday in the fifth proved to be the difference, as the Dodgers fell to the Cardinals 3-2.

The formula remained the same from a handful of games before the break against the Tigers and Padres: good-excellent starting pitching, horrible hitting.

How bad has the offense been?  Here's a look at the last six games:

7/9 at Tigers: 4-for-30 (.133), 1 R, 0-for-5 w/ RISP, 4 LOB
7/10 vs. Padres: 9-for-31 (.290), 2 R, 2-for-13 w/ RISP, 7 LOB
7/11 vs. Padres: 6-for-31 (.194), 3 R, 2-for-9 w/ RISP, 9 LOB
7/12 vs. Padres: 4-for-26 (.154), 1 R, 0-for-5 w/ RISP, 7 LOB
7/13 vs. Padres: 7-for-29 (.241), 1 R, 2-for-12 w/ RISP, 7 LOB
7/18 at Cardinals: 5-for-32 (.156), 2 R, 1-for-8 w/ RISP, 8 LOB

Totals: 35-for-179 (.196), 10 R, 7-for-52 w/ RISP (.135), 42 LOB

Wow, that's bad.  Really bad.  What's even worse is that Dodger pitching has given up only 13 runs during that six-game span, which is a mere 2.2 runs/game.  Doesn't matter, though.  When you can't hit, you can only survive for so long, and that's why they're 3-3 in these games.

The "controversy" coming into last night's game was all about the recent comments from Matt Kemp and his willingness to be traded if he's not going to play everyday in center.  Well, Matt, I can tell you that after watching how did you last night, you have absolutely NOTHING to complain about.

Kemp went 0-for-3 at the plate with a strikeout and walk, including a big fat K to end the third with the bases loaded.  It was typical - talk a big game, but when they chance came to prove how good you think you are, you go down miserably.

Then there's his defense, which continues to be a bigger and bigger joke each game.  I watched the game on MLB Network with Bob Costas and Tom Verducci (who did a very good job, by the way).  During one of the breaks between innings, they cut back to the studio where I believe Darryl Hamilton gave a demonstration of just how bad Kemp has been taking angles to fly balls.  Twice he was burned by the awkward routes he takes to the ball.

Ya, and he wants to play center again.  Give me a freakin' break.

Kemp wasn't the only problem.  Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, and Andre Ethier all had big strikeouts in key situations.  It's almost as if you expect the worst in big spots, and then it happens. 

A.J. Ellis was about the only one who showed up, as his RBI double and then hustle from third to score on a wild pitch in the seventh cut the deficit to 3-2.  That's as close as it would get.  I'm glad he did something, because I can't recall the last time he made any noise at the plate considering he's hitting .215.

Other thoughts from the game:

* Dan Haren didn't look so hot in the first, rebounded a bit, but couldn't overcome Holliday's homer.  He only lasted 4 2/3 innings for eight hits, three runs, two walks, and four strikeouts.  He's clearly the odd man out at this point if Ned Colletti brings in another starter.  I don't see any hitters being fearful of him.

* Good to see Paco Rodriguez make his return, as he pitched a scoreless seventh.  He certainly couldn't do any worse than he did to start the season, so maybe some time down on the farm got him refocused.  J.P Howell is the only other lefty in the 'pen (I don't even count Paul Maholm, who's terrible), so Paco will definitely be used if they keep him with the big club.

* A-Gon actually went opposite field for a hit, something that a graphic on the MLB Network broadcast showed he's been doing a lot less of.  I just don't understand why?  Maybe it's something physical with his swing?  I don't know, but it was great to see him go the other way.  Considering how often he strikes out now, it's something he should try to keep doing, especially against those damn shifts.

* On a final note, if you ever want a good laugh during a frustrating Dodger performance, just go to Twitter.  I had some good conversations with a couple of fellow fans, and let me tell you, I was laughing so hard at some of their comments!  We could definitely feel each other's pain.

Two of the All-Star Game standouts in Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw take the hill this weekend.  You know they'll do their thing.  Will the offense contine to do theirs?  If so, look for more 2-1, 1-0 games.  Gee, I can just imagine the excitement...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Historically, Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu better after the break

If you're looking for some good news concerning the Dodgers' chances of winning the NL West again, it's this: the top three in the rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu have better numbers after the All-Star break compared to before.  Here's a look at those numbers:

Pre-break: 2.72 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, .208 BAA
Post-break: 2.28 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, .212 BAA

Pre-break: 3.75 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, .261 BAA
Post-break: 3.40 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, .250 BAA

Pre-break: 3.25 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, .254 BAA
Post-break: 2.87 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, .261 BAA

(I didn't bother with wins/loses, strikeouts, and walks because they obviously have pitched a lot more innings in pre-break compared to post.  I just stuck with the important numbers.)

Those are some very encouraging numbers, especially since the Dodgers' offense has been known to go into hibernation a little too much.  If you want a perfect example of this, look no further than the Saturday and Sunday before the break in which the Dodgers won 1-0 two straight times over the Padres.  Excellent pitching, and very mediocre hitting.  And that might be generous.

There's no shortage of trade talk with this team as the deadline approaches in two weeks.  Already you've seen names like David Price and Jonathan Papelbon linked to being LA bound.  Then there's the tale of Matt Kemp, who could be on his way out.  Andre Ethier has been in trade talks for years.  You just never know what's going to happen.

Through all of that, it's great to know that the Dodgers have three studs at the top of the rotation who not only get the job done, but continue to do it better and better as the season wears on.  And that's why Dodger fans should feel good about the second half.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Dodgers could be a match for Papelbon

A week ago, Phillies' closer Jonathan Papelbon expressed an interest in being traded to a contender.  He's still owed some mega-bucks in his current deal, most likely limiting the amount of teams that would make a serious run at him.

But these are the Dodgers, they are contenders, and have the payroll flexibility to add more.

Jonathan, meet Los Angeles.

This is all just talk at this point, but with the trade deadline a couple of weeks away, Mark Saxson has tweeted that a baseball source expects the Dodgers to make a run at him.

And why not?  The Dodgers will no doubt look to add to their bullpen, as former closers like Brian Wilson and Chris Perez have underperformed this season.  Brandon League has a 2.09 ERA, but after being hit so hard last season, still does not appear to have Don Mattingly's full confidence in pitching more meaningful innings.

Papelbon would be an expensive setup man, as he's owed $13 million this year and next, and a vesting option for the same amount in 2016 for finishing a certain number of games (55 next year, or 100 total between this year and next).  But again, these are the Dodgers, and they show no care in the world about throwing big money at closers to pitch in middle relief.

I think this would be a great move for the Dodgers.  Papelbon has been a bright light in a dark Phillies' season, converting 22 of 24 save opportunities with a 1.21 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 33 K's in 37 1/3 innings.  He did blow seven saves last year, but still managed a 2.92 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, so it's not like he was atrocious like League.

Papelbon has championship experience with the Red Sox, so he knows what it's like to pitch in big games and succeed.  The price tag is high, but I'm guessing the Dodgers don't really care.

What's not to like about a Papelbon-Kenley Jansen combination to close out games?  That would be a huge advantage in the playoffs with their already strong starting rotation.  For that reason alone, I can see Ned Colletti aggressively pursuing a deal.

Will the Dodgers look to trade Matt Kemp?

If it's up to Kemp, it might just happen.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported on Wednesday that Kemp's agent Dave Stewart, the former All-Star pitcher, acknowledged that if Kemp doesn't get a chance to play everyday in center field again, he'd be open to a trade.

That's not exactly the same as flat out saying he wants out, but it's not exactly a ringing endorsement of staying with the Dodgers long-term either.

Now let's ask the question - Should the Dodgers be willing to trade him?  I think so.

If you've read my recent posts, then you've seen that I haven't exactly been thrilled with the amount of strikeouts and bad clutch hitting Kemp has shown lately.  He did hit well in June at .317 with three homers and 16 RBIs, but in July it's .231 with no homers and four RBIs.  He's striking out once every three at-bats this month (13/39), and generally looks like he's lost.

That's not to mention his horrific play in center, which sent him packing to left in late May.  Don Mattingly hasn't appeared to entertain the thought of moving him back to his original position yet.

This is a bit of a tough call, because we've all seen how good he can be when he's on.  We'll never forget just how awesome he was in 2011, hitting .324 with 39 homers and 126 RBIs, while stealing 40 bases.  There was no better player in baseball that year, even though the soon-to-be busted Ryan Braun claimed the NL MVP award.

Since then, it's been a series of injuries, which has caused him to lose a step.  Or even two steps.  Basically, he looks like a shell of his former self.

Right now, the Dodgers have a couple of examples of guys who have turned things around after playing some atrocious baseball: Juan Uribe and Brandon League.  Uribe is one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball, and is hitting .297; League had a 5.30 ERA last year, and now it's 2.09.  So, it's very possible Kemp can start playing better.

Here's why I would be in favor of seeking out a trade: I have yet to hear Kemp say anything along the lines of "my bad."  I've heard him say he'll go to left for now, I've heard him say he would like to play everyday, and now I've heard him say he'd be open to being traded.  But when have you ever seen Kemp come out and admit he's been awful and needs to pick things up?

If he has, then I certainly missed it.  It would be nice if he just acknowledged how poorly he's looked rather than acting like he's owed what he wants.  Not on a team contending for a championship, and not on a team with four other legit starting outfield options.  No way.

Rosenthal pointed out that last year the Red Sox and Mariners expressed interest in Kemp, and the Sox were known to have scouted the Dodgers this year as well.  Were they looking at Kemp?  I wouldn't be surprised, as the Sox' offense has been horrible.

This is definitely a story to keep an eye on, as the trade deadline is a couple of weeks away.  Maybe the Dodgers aren't even considering this, but maybe they've been thinking about this for quite awhile.  I tend to lean towards the latter.  We'll all soon find out.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

3 of the 4 Dodgers' all-stars strut their stuff

The American League used an early 3-0 lead against a pitcher from the St. Louis Cardinals to help lead them to a 5-3 win in the All-Star Game.  That's two straight for the AL, and also two straight times the National League manager chose to ignore Clayton Kershaw's eye-popping stats and go with someone else to start the game.

I could go on and on, but I'll just focus on the four Dodgers' representatives and break down their performances.  Which, by the way, were much better than Adam Wainwright's.  OK, that's it, I swear.

Clayton Kershaw - Down 3-2 in the second, Mike Matheny called on Kershaw to face the bottom three of the AL order.  He immediately got Adam Jones to pop to Aramis Ramirez in foul territory at third on two pitches.  Josh Donaldson was a little more of a battle, but an inside fastball was good for a swinging strike three.  Salvador Perez rolled a soft one to Ramirez at third, who made a great barehanded play for the quick throw and final out.

All in all, it was another scoreless inning for Kershaw, who is flawless in four ASG performances, all for an inning apiece.  It would have been cool to watch him pitch to Derek Jeter, who was on deck.  Maybe in the World Series?  Who knows.

Zack Greinke - Someone who actually outperformed Kershaw was Greinke, who had a couple of strikeouts in a scoreless fourth, keeping the game tied at three.  Jose Bautista led off and grounded easily to third on a slider.  A couple of power hitting Orioles came up next in Nelson Cruz and Adam Jones, and they both went down swinging on inside fastballs.

Greinke tied four other pitchers with a couple of K's, as no one worked more than an inning.  Craig Kimbrel shined the brightest by striking out the side in the seventh.

Dee Gordon - It was an early entry into the game for Gordon, as he pinch-ran for Chase Utley in the fourth after Utley was beaned on the arm from a Chris Sale fastball.  He didn't waste any time in leaving his mark, flying home to score from first on a Jonathan Lucroy double.  That temporarily tied the game at three.

He did get one at-bat, and nearly beat out a grounder to Jose Altuve in the sixth.  Altuve ranged to his right and made a great play on it, though.  Gordon showed his leather as well, robbing Michael Brantley of a base hit in the bottom half.  All in all, it was a good night.

Yasiel Puig - Then there's Puig, who definitely did not have a good night.  Or a good couple of nights for that matter.  After failing to hit a single home run in the Home Run Derby on Monday, Puig had three at-bats against Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish, and Max Scherzer.  Guess how that went?  Strike three, strike three, strike three.  Ouch.  In the field, he did come close to robbing Mike Trout at the wall, but it was just out of his range as Trout went to third for a triple. 

I was glad to see him play five innings, as he appeared to be having a great time.  I just wish he could've had at least ONE moment from the two days.  There were people predicting him to be the MVP after his big fat zero in the Derby.  That obviously didn't happen.  It's not like he went in the box just hacking away, as he went to a full count twice and 2-2 in his first at-bat.  It just wasn't meant to be.

Bottom Line - The Dodgers have to be proud for how they played, even with Puig's hat trick at the plate.  Kershaw and Greinke were just awesome, as they combined for two perfect innings with three strikeouts.  No ball even reached the outfield, and they faced some power hitters like Bautista and Cruz.  I knew Kershaw would pitch, but wasn't so sure if Greinke would be on the list of pitchers being saved for extra innings.  Thankfully he wasn't, and he looked really good.

Someone else who should be proud is Gordon, who put on a wicked display of speed, then turned around a couple innings later and made a great play with his glove.  It's hard to imagine a more unlikely all-star selection coming into this season, but he showed he more than belonged.

And Puig?  Well, he'll be back.  He can only go up from here, right?  Right!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Puig in the Home Run Derby? Not so good...

Move over, Mike Piazza.  You have new company in the infamous Home Run Derby Donut Hole Club.

Just like the great Piazza did in 1993 and 1994, Yasiel Puig went homerless in the Derby.  He had a monster shot to left in his final swing that went foul.  That's about it for "highlights."

Seriously, it wasn't pretty.  I had a bad feeling that Puig would either get hurt or barely hit any out by overswinging.  Well, there aren't any reports of him getting hurt thankfully, but a lack of experience and most likely some nerves led to a goose egg.

Puig still brings a lot of eyeballs to the tube, so I wouldn't be surprised if he appeared in this again soon.  Teammate Matt Kemp participated in 2011 during his monster season, and only hit two.  He came back the next year and tried his luck again, and only hit one.  That was kind of strange because at the time, he was recovering from injury and didn't appear in the All-Star Game.  Guess he was healthy enough to hack away in the Derby, though.

Tonight is the All-Star Game, and Puig is hitting second for the National League.  You know he has redemption in mind, so he'll be swinging away full force against Felix Hernandez.  I predict either a home run or a bad looking strikeout.  Tune in and see for yourselves.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Wainwright edges out Kershaw as All-Star starter

About the only remaining question for tomorrow's All-Star Game was who NL manager Mike Matheny would choose to start the game - Adam Wainwright or Clayton Kershaw?

Well, he just chose.  And he stayed with familiarity in Wainwright.

So Wainwright will toe the rubber in the first inning against the American League, as "King" Felix Hernandez will go against the NL. 

I have to admit I was disappointed, but certainly not surprised.  Buster Olney tweeted out this morning that all signs were pointing to Wainwright getting the honor.  Plus you throw in the fact that Matheny just happens to manage him, and it's understandable.

For fun, let's take a look at just how close of a race this has been in the first half:

Kershaw: 14 GS, 96 1/3 IP, 11-2, 1.78 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 126 K, 3 CB, 1 SHO
Wainwright: 19 GS, 138 IP, 12-3, 1.83 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 115 K, 3 CG, 2 SHO

What can we take away from all of that?  Both are really, REALLY good.  That's it.

Seriously, if you're a Dodger fan like me, you want to see your boy Kershaw get the honor of starting.  But since he's not, you certainly can't complain about it being Wainwright instead.  He's a guy who's won a world championship as a closer, and finished in the top three in the Cy Young voting three times.  I'd say he's more than proved his worth.

And like it not, the few starts Kershaw had to miss when he was on the DL probably cost him.  Say for instance he never missed a start and still put up those sick numbers?  Then we'd all have a big reason to complain.

Look for Kershaw to get the ball anywhere between innings 2-4, I would think.  He'll still play a big role in the game at least.

2014 Mid-Season Report Card

Here we are at the All-Star break, and the Dodgers find themselves with the best record in the National League, and holding off the Giants by a game in the NL West.

It hasn't always been an easy ride, so let's take a look at who has done what and assign grades, report card style.  Here goes:


Clayton Kershaw - This is about the easiest pick I'll have to make.  It wasn't looking that way at the start of the season, as he was out six weeks with a pulled back muscle, then got shelled in Arizona in May.  Since then, he's thrown a no-hitter and 41 straight scoreless innings.  At 11-2 with a 1.78 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, and 126 K's in 96 1/3 IP, he's right at the front of the Cy Young race again.

Zack Greinke - The guy who had to carry the load in Kershaw's early absence was Greinke, and he's an All-Star because of it.  He's 11-5 with a 2.73 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.  Not bad for a #2 guy.

Yasiel Puig - Don Mattingly thinks he's the best right fielder in baseball, and it might be true.  His power numbers have dipped since the end of May, but he's still hitting .309 with 12 homers, 52 RBIs, and seven steals.  Plus, the cannon in right field stops runners from advancing a lot.

Dee Gordon - Who would have guessed this?  After adding some muscle this offseason, he's responded by leading all of baseball in stolen bases with 43, and is hitting .292 with nine triples as well.  His defense at second looks smoother every game.  I'd say he's found a home there.

J.P. Howell - Forget the 1-3 record, his 19 holds show the value he's brought.  Both righties and lefties are hitting under .200 against him, making him a big weapon late in games.

Josh Beckett - From being out of baseball with finger numbness last year to throwing a no-hitter this year, he's been everything the Dodgers could hope for and more.  His record is only 6-5 thanks to his shoddy offense, but has a 2.26 ERA and 1.03 WHIP.  Seems to have perfected the curveball, which has given him new life.

Brandon League - Why not?  Had zero expectations coming into the season, and owns a 2.09 ERA and 1.28 WHIP.  Still isn't closer material, but the bottom line is that when he's been in there, he's gotten outs.  Good for him.


Hyun-Jin Ryu - His pitching performance in the last game before the break was an A+.  A couple of rocky starts (home opener, at Detroit) have been the only rough spots, but still has a 3.44 ERA and 1.23 WHIP.

Juan Uribe - Continues to provide a great glove at third, and is hitting .297 with five homers and 26 RBIs.  Did miss about a month with a hamstring injury, which bumps him down a bit.

Adrian Gonzalez - His 60 RBIs are tied with Justin Morneau for fourth in the NL.  Also has a .997 fielding %.  But, despite the high RBI total, his bat has been hibernating since April, as he's hitting .223 since then.  He just seems like he's slowing down a little more each game.

Kenley Jansen - Has figured things out of late, as he's now on a string of nine straight scoreless appearances.  Is 27-30 in save opportunities, but a few rough spots has his ERA at 3.49.  Still a dominant strikeout pitcher with a 14.43 K/9.  That's awesome.

Jamey Wright - His role has been a bit hard to figure out, as he was signed to be a long reliever, but hasn't always been used that way.  Through it all, he had a 2.11 ERA entering July before he hit a rough patch to raise his ERA to 3.50.

Andre Ethier - This is more for his defense than his bat, as he's hitting only .253 with little to no power to speak of.  Because Matt Kemp was so abysmal in center, he got switched there in late May and hasn't committed an error all season.

Scott Van Slyke - Still doesn't get as much playing time as he should, thanks to the big $$$ of the other players.  In 60 games, is hitting .268 with eight homers and 16 RBIs.  For such a big guy, is agile enough to play all outfield positions and first base.

Justin Turner - Currently on the DL with a hamstring injury, but before that was really playing well.  Found himself playing plenty of third base, and is hitting .302 with 21 RBIs.  He provides good value at different positions.

Chris Withrow - Is lost for the season, and then some, with Tommy John surgery.  Had good numbers in the 20 games he did appear in, striking out 28 with a 2.95 ERA.  Look for his name in the second half of 2015.


Hanley Ramirez - It's hard to see him getting his big money contract in the winter since he's so injury-prone.  His defense at short is ranked as among the worst, or perhaps THE worst, in baseball.  At the plate, he's hitting .275 with 11 homers and 48 RBIs.  You just keep waiting to see more from him, and who knows if we will.

Dan Haren - Through April, had fantastic numbers with a 2.03 ERA.  Hasn't been awful since, but not that great either, as his numbers have gone up each month since then.  Right now is 8-6 with a 4.23 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, and looks like the clear odd man out if the Dodgers trade for a starter.

Carl Crawford - An unfortunate turned ankle chasing after the ball cost him a month and a half of time.  Was hitting very well in May at .333 with four homers, 14 RBI, and five steals.  I'm not sure you can count on him being on the field without getting hurt, though.

Miguel Rojas - This certainly isn't for his hitting (.208, one homer), but for his great arm in the field.  Has filled in very well defensively for Uribe at third and Ramirez at short with only two errors.

Drew Butera - For a backup catcher, has a very good 3.08 catcher's ERA, along with 11 RBIs.  Not much else can be said about him at the plate with a .207 AVG, though.


Matt Kemp - My how his star has fallen.  Strikes out way too much with 87 in 86 games, isn't nearly the power threat he once was, and had to be taken out of center field because he was so bad there.  Maybe he can only go up from here, but he looks like damaged goods at this point.

Brian Wilson - Was fantastic last year, and couldn't have possibly started off this year any worse.  Right now has a 5.64 ERA and 1.88 WHIP, and those numbers are actually an improvement since the end of May.  So much for being the top setup man in baseball.

Paul Maholm - Finally had a good start against the Padres before the break, going scoreless for six innings.  Prior to that did a big pile of nothing, as he's not really a reliever, but certainly isn't good enough to be a starter either.  I can see him getting chopped at the trade deadline for some new blood.

Chris Perez - The thought was to bring the ex-Indians closer in and let him work innings with less pressure.  So far, not so good.  Has a 4.54 ERA and 1.37 WHIP, and just lets way too many hitters reach base.  A pretty big disappointment early on.

A.J. Ellis - His 3.38 catcher's ERA is good, but that's about where it ends.  Missed some time on the DL with an ankle injury, is hitting a paltry .214 with seven RBIs, and is letting people run wild on him.  Pretty disappointing lack of production on both ends.

Chone Figgins - Was a surprise member of the roster coming out of Spring Training, but was kept because of his versatility.  That's all well and good, but when you hit .217, there's not much reason to play you at any position.


Paco Rodriguez - Poor Paco.  He went from being a key member of last year's run to demoted this year.  Appeared in 10 games this year for a 6.43 ERA and 1.86 WHIP.  His arm ran out of steam at the end of last year, and doesn't look like it's regained much juice.

Miguel Olivo - Found himself promoted to the big club in May because of his power in Triple-A.  Then thought it would be a good idea to get into a fight with Alex Guerrero when he was sent back down, bite part of his ear off, then get released.  What a complete moron.  Good riddance.

Carlos Triunfel - Maybe a bit unfair since he clearly wasn't ready for the Majors when he was called up.  But, because of many injuries, was put into action and hit .143 with an .889 fielding %.  Um, not good.

Tim Federowicz - Hitting .131 in yet another chance to prove his worth should signal the end for him.  Simply cannot hit Major League pitching.

Jamie Romak - Played a few different positions, but was 1-for-21 at the plate.  That's .048.  Ouch.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

1-0, again? Sure, the Dodgers will take it

For as bad as the offense has been this week for the Dodgers, there were some good things to come out of Sunday's game: they won, they took three of four from the Padres, they have the best record in the National League, and Hyun-Jin Ryu more than shook off getting creamed in Detroit.

So, despite one run for the second straight night, it's another win for the Dodgers over the Padres.

Hey, at least they did better than one run on four hits on Saturday, right?

If you want to read about how poorly the Dodgers have been performing at the plate, then take a look at my article on yesterday's game.  I could have written the same exact thing today, because Yasiel Puig's RBI single in the sixth was the lone highlight of the game for either team.  Tyson Ross, Ryu, and a few relievers completely shut these teams down.

What I will focus on is just that, the pitching.  The start of the Dodgers' offensive ineptitude began on Tuesday against the Tigers.  After taking a 5-0 lead in the first inning off of Justin Verlander, Ryu got pounded for 10 hits and seven runs in 2 1/3 innings as the Dodgers got destroyed 14-5.  Today Ryu went six innings for two hits, no runs, no walks, and 10 strikeouts.  His off speed stuff was awesome.

From there, Brandon League, J.P. Howell, and Kenley Jansen combined to shut the door.  League was a little shaky, walking Yasmani Grandal and giving up a single to Cameron Maybin.  Howell put out that fire when Brooks Conrad lined to Carl Crawford in left.

Howell stayed on in the eighth, still with only the one-run lead.  Even though Adrian Gonzalez dropped a throw to first for an error, Howell had no issues.  At the break, he has a 1.32 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 19 holds.  Lefties are 8-for-56 (.143) and righties are 9-for-54 (.167) against him.  Very quietly, he's turned into one of the best middle relievers in baseball.

Jansen had to toughen up today for the save, as he walked Carlos Quentin on a very close full count pitch, then watched Grandal bounce a single into right with an out.  Two strikeouts later, the game was over for his 27th save.

Back on June 20, Jansen blew his third save in San Diego, giving up three runs in the ninth and being hit all over the place.  His nine appearances since then?  All perfect, collecting seven saves and a win while lowering his ERA from 4.55 to 3.49.  He also has more K's (13) than walks (1) and hits (5) combined.  He's finally mixing up his pitches and figuring things out.

Other thoughts from the game:

* OK, so here's a bit more talk about the offense.  Matt Kemp didn't start (good move), but pinch-hit in the eighth with Puig on second and two outs (bad move).  Predictably, he struck out.  Man, he really stinks now.  That's all I've got to say about that.

* I don't think I've ever seen A.J. Ellis yell and get visibly upset at himself during a game before, but that's exactly what happened after he K'd with two on and none out in the second.  He's had a rough year between injuries and a big lack of production at the plate and in not throwing out stealers.  Let's hope the All-Star break does him some good.

* It was good to see Crawford get the start in left, as he singled and walked in four at-bats.  Like I wrote about recently, there's no way Kemp should be handed every start in left.  Give me a break.  Let's see what Crawford can do with more time.  Better than watching Matt "Swing and a Miss" Kemp.

* Can you tell I'm down on Kemp?

* Ross is a very good young pitcher.  His slider is practically untouchable.  I initially wasn't so sure about him making the All-Star team, but he showed he deserves it today.  Too bad for him his team sucks behind him.

Every team in baseball will take the next four days off, then return to action Friday.  The Dodgers will be in St. Louis, and Dan Haren will get the ball.  Gee, if that doesn't get you pumped for Friday, then I don't know what will!

Dodgers lacking a true Big Bopper

If you're looking strictly at box scores and standings, then you saw that the Dodgers beat the Padres 1-0 on A.J. Ellis's sac-fly RBI in the ninth inning on Saturday, putting them back in first place of the NL West.  You also saw that with the win, the Dodgers have the best record in the National League.

If you're someone who watches the game closely like I do, then you know the truth - the Dodgers are very fortunate to be in this position because their offense is practically on life support.  Those guys better be buying the pitching staff a whole lot of gifts.

Right now, the Dodgers don't have that one guy who strikes a whole lot of fear in the opposing team.  Last year it was Hanley Ramirez and Yaisel Puig, and even Adrian Gonzalez at times.  Before that it was Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier at various points.  Even before that, it was all about Mannywood.

Outside of MAYBE Puig, the offense is really struggling to find that one guy to step up and lead the way.  And even though Puig is starting in the All-Star Game and is in the Home Run Derby, he's hit one home run since the end of May and has seen his average dip from .344 to .307.  So he's on the list of struggling players as well.

How about the other guys?  Well, let's take a look:

Kemp?  He continues to look like a shell of his former self more and more each game.  Two more strikeouts last night, including one in the ninth when Gonzalez led off with a double, making it nine K's in the last five games.  Before that, he walked leading off the seventh, but was quickly erased on a stolen base attempt.  There's no life in his bat, as he can't catch up to fastballs and is constantly tricked by breaking balls.  What a waste.

Gonzalez?  He was hitting .337 with eight homers and 24 RBIs through April, but that has dramatically changed.  In the three months since then, he's hit six homers with 36 RBIs.  So while you look at the bottom line and see that he's fourth in the NL with 60 RBIs, the truth is that he did most of that damage at the start of the season.  A .182 average against lefties has really hurt him.

Ramirez?  Last year he was able to perform at a MVP level when he was on the field for half the games.  This season he seems to be getting hurt every two minutes, and when he does play, it's a nothing special.  He's hitting .275 with 11 homers and 48 RBIs, which aren't bad numbers, but again, nothing great.  It's his contract year, so I'm sure that's weighing on him heavily.  But the bottom line is that his injury history and lack of production is not giving him a good outlook for that huge contract he's seeking this offseason.

Ethier?  Let's just say that the days of "Andre the Giant" are long gone.  Much to his credit, he plays hard each time he takes the field, which is why he's claimed the starting job in center field.  But at .252 with four homers and 34 RBIs, there's barely any magic left in that bat.  Plus, he's just as lousy against lefties as A-Gon is, hitting .190.  Wow.

With all of this talk about the Dodgers trading for guys like David Price or Cole Hamels, I think it's only a matter of time before we start hearing about upgrading the offense.  Why not?  The guys I just listed above are either hurt, past their prime, or both.  They're certainly not showing any signs of turning things around.  Maybe they can, but most likely it wouldn't be anything drastic.

At what point does Ned Colletti decide to bring up young studs like Joc Pederson or Alex Guerrero?  They'd clearly add some life to an offense that lacks punch and consistency.  I'm sure that would lead to hard feelings if some of the rich boys have to sit, but so be it.

I have all the confidence in the world the Dodgers will make the playoffs.  They have a starting rotation that can give them plenty of chances to win.  But do they have the offense?  That's the part that really concerns me.

Without the big threat on offense to get the job done, then it will be another year without a ring.

Friday, July 11, 2014

I don't think Crawford will be a bench guy for long

Before Clayton Kershaw's scoreless inning streak was snapped at 41, the news of the day for the Dodgers on Thursday was the return of Carl Crawford.  He was activated off the 15-day DL, and Clint Robinson was DFA'd to make room.

Don Mattingly has gone on record as stating that Crawford will strictly be a bench player for now, as he will leave Matt Kemp in left field.  The Dodgers' better play of late is the prime reason.

And to that, I say this: Carl, don't get too comfortable on the bench.  I see some starts in your near future my friend.

There's a couple of reasons for this.  The first, and biggest, has to do with Kemp.  While he did hit .317 in June, he's down to .242 this month and .271 overall.  His slugging % is a mere .435.  He has five stolen bases and has been nailed four times.  So not only is he pretty much a singles hitter at this point, it's not like he's going to run wild on the bases and make things happen.

Then there's his defense in left.  Right now his Defensive WAR is -2.4, by far the worst on the Dodgers to Hanley Ramirez and his -1.1.  It should be noted that he's still adjusting to left, so some mistakes are almost bound to happen.  However, the reason he was moved there in the first place was because he was so bad in center, Mattingly had no choice but to make a switch.  So before people complain that it's unfair to critique Kemp so harshly in left, just know that he was a disaster in center before that.

The second reason is strictly a money thing.  Crawford's contract runs through 2017, and he still is owed over $80 million.  Unless the Dodgers have dreams of a team like themselves coming in and swooping a big chunk of that contract away, he's not going anywhere.  We need to get used to that.

Do you really think someone who's getting paid as much as Crawford will just sit by and settle for pinch-hitting the rest of the year?  Especially since he's backing up a guy in Kemp who is shell of his former self?  I don't think so.

While I appreciate Mattingly's desire to keep a consistent lineup, I don't think it's an issue at all to split Kemp and Crawford in left.  The same can go for Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke in center.  Kemp and Ethier have been given plenty of playing time of late, and neither one of them has set the world on fire.  I'm not saying they've been bad - that's not the case at all.  But their days of All-Star caliber play are far behind.

If I'm Crawford, I'm carefully biding my time until I get back in the starting lineup.  Kemp and his slow bat can't possibly hog all the time in left field the rest of the season.  Crawford's time will come.  Just wait and see.