Sunday, September 21, 2014

Mattingly needs to adjust his bullpen habits... NOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But hey, I can still hope.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And oh ya, go Padres!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Kemp getting after Puig is a good thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 15, 2014

Fun with Kershaw's numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dodgers fight back to play their best game of the season

"Yuck" was how I described Friday night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 13, 2014

After Friday's clunker, Dodgers need a big weekend

Yuck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So ya, a lot went wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Dodgers have the big guns lined up vs. the Giants

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

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

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

Fun, indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

Now THAT'S going to be fun to watch.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Donnie eyes the big picture with Kershaw

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

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

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

And to that I say this - good for Donnie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 7, 2014

For the Dodgers to win the West, it's all offensive

The Dodgers were able to pull away late from the Diamondbacks on Saturday night, scoring three runs in the eighth to claim the 5-2 victory.  It's a good thing, too, because the Giants jumped all over David Price and the Tigers, then held them off for the 5-4 win.  At the end of the day, both teams are right where they were to start the day, as the Dodgers are two games up.

For much of the Dodgers' game, it was same old, same old.  They got a couple of runs early thanks to a two-run shot from Adrian Gonzalez, his 20th of the season.  Then they sat on that 2-0 lead, doing a big pile of nothing while Hyun-Jin Ryu settled into a groove.

Then Ryu got chased in the seventh, giving up a couple of runs, and denying him of a much-deserved victory.  He ended up striking out nine in 6 2/3 innings, with an ERA that stands at 3.16.

After gathering one hit from innings 2-7, a Dee Gordon infield single in which he was soon erased trying to swipe second, the offense finally woke up on a two-out RBI single from Gordon and two-run double by Hanley Ramirez.

So here's the bottom line: if the Dodgers want to win the NL West by holding off the Giants and avoiding the dreaded one-game Wild Card playoff, their offense HAS to find a way to score consistent runs.

It's really that simple.

Look, the Dodgers will give you good starting pitching, especially in the playoffs where they can rely on Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Ryu to start the majority of the time.  Even Dan Haren has turned things around, as he suffered through a horrible July with an ERA close to 10, and now has 12 wins.  The bullpen has middle relief issues for the most part, but closer Kenley Jansen has 41 saves.

With the pitching being able to do their part, the offense has to do theirs.  Since the beginning of August, the Dodgers are 18-15.  In those 15 loses, the offense averaged 2.4 runs/game.  In the 18 wins, it's 5.2.  That's nearly a three-run difference between winning and losing, which is a pretty big gap.

The funny thing about stats is that if you look at total runs scored in the National League, the Dodgers are sixth, which isn't bad at all.  In August they were ninth, and early in September it's the same.  So that does show obvious regression.

What can they do to pick things up?  Well, we need to see more of what we saw last night in the eighth inning.  Two-out hitting with runners on will equal victories for lots of teams, just as it did for the Dodgers.  Gordon kept it simple by going back up the middle for the first run, and Hanley finally did something other than pop up by driving in two.

I've pointed out many times before just how worried I am about Gordon and Yasiel Puig, as the two All-Stars are obviously wearing down from the long season, something they're not quite accustomed to yet.  Puig didn't even play last night, as his bat has completely cooled off.  If he can do something, ANYTHING, with the bat again, this team is so much better.

It's good to have Hanley and Juan Uribe back, because if they can stay on the field and get plenty of at-bats, they can only get better with improved timing.  A-Gon and Kemp have found ways to drive in runs, so they need to keep it going.

The wild card (not the game, but figuratively) is Joc Pederson.  You can tell Don Mattingly is a huge fan of his, as he's getting lots of chances to show his stuff in center.  He's only 2-for-12 right now and hasn't driven in a run, but once that bat gets going, look out.  He can be the surprise star of October if given a chance.

The bottom line is that with the Giants playing some great baseball lately, and the Dodgers kind of stuck in neutral, lots of work still need to be done to win the West.  And the offense will be the key to it all.  Will they continue to score a little here and there, and put lots of pressure on the pitching?  Or will they get more guys to step up and lighten the load?

It will be an interesting September, that's for sure.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Dodgers can't pull through when needed the most

The good news in Wednesday afternoon's 14-inning marathon loss to the Nationals was that the Dodgers hit a couple of big home runs.  Justin Turner's two-run shot in the seventh started the scoring, and Carl Crawford's game tying two-run homer in the 12th kept the game going.

The bad news?  More and more futility with the bases loaded, a bad defensive play that ended up costing them dearly, and a bullpen that lost the battle to the other 'pen.

As Vin Scully said during the game, it's surprising that the Dodgers are even in first place with these kinds of performances.

Adam LaRoche came off the bench to drive in five, and the Nationals outlasted the Dodgers in a loooooooong game of five hours and 34 minutes by a score of 8-5 in 14 innings.  The Giants were slapped around by the Rockies, but in the end it didn't matter, as the Dodgers failed to do a damn thing with it.  The lead in the NL West remains two games.

The Dodgers absolutely should feel good for the way they came back in the 12th, as Crawford's home run to dead center was clutch.  But that still does not excuse the fact that time and time again, this team flat out blows it when the pressure is on.

Here's a couple of examples.  With the score tied at three in the 10th, the Dodgers loaded the bases with one out.  Adrian Gonzalez then struck out, and Juan Uribe pinch-hit and did the same.

No problem, as they had the same exact opportunity an inning later.  This time it was Drew "I Can't Hit to Save My Life" Butera popping to third after a long at-bat, and Dee Gordon striking out, something he seems to be very comfortable with lately.

Crawford did tie the game in the 12th in response to LaRoche's two-run single off of crappy Brandon League.  So shocking the League couldn't get big outs.  I absolutely cannot wait for his contract to be up and he hits the damn road.

The 13th saw another chance, as Joc Pederson hit a leadoff single to left.  He soon went to second on a bad pickoff throw to first, and advanced to third on a grounder.  With two outs, Gordon again failed to come through by grounding a bunt out to first.

Then Kevin Correia came on, Justin Turner made another blunder at short on a bad throw, and the onslaught was soon on.

Right now, the Dodgers look like they will win one game in the playoffs, and that's Clayton Kershaw's start.  As good as guys like Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu are, the offense is so pathetic, I don't trust them to give the proper support.  They'll get hits, but not when they're needed the most with runners on.

In fact, the hitting with the bases loaded is just downright embarrassing.  In those situations, they are 17-for-99 for a .171 average, by far the worst in baseball.  That's pathetic!  It's just inconceivable to me how so many so-called "superstars" can have that many at-bats and not even get a hit 20% of the time.  So pitiful.

Simply put, that kind of output will not get it done when it matters the most in October.  There's no way a team can survive and advance when they give away so many scoring opportunities.  I don't care how good the starting pitching is, it's just not realistic to win that way.

The Dodgers will play each of their NL West opponents in three-game sets coming up.  The Giants series will be tough, but they should be favored in the other three.  Then again, if they don't bring that focus and execution to the plate for those games, then they could be heading towards an ugly September no matter what the opposing records are.

Other thoughts from the game:

* All of this extra inning stuff could've been avoided had Kenley Jansen closed things out in the ninth.  Alas, a two-run lead was not enough, as he was lit up by LaRoche's two-run homer, and an RBI single from Denard Span.  It didn't look like Jansen was throwing any differently than normal, so I'll chalk it up to just one of those days. 

* Speaking of giving leads right back, Jayson Werth did his best Matt Holliday impersonation by dropping what should have been the game's final out in the ninth.  Sure enough, the error led to the tying run, and on and on the game went from there.

* Lost in all of this was a fantastic start by young Carlos Frias.  His first career start yielded great results, as he lasted six innings for three hits, no runs, one walk, and four strikeouts.  It was important to give everyone else an extra day off, and he deserved a win.  But, as usual, the bats didn't agree, and it was a no-decision.

* Kevin Correia really stinks.  He now has a 6.75 ERA in 14 2/3 innings with the Dodgers.  Granted, all three of his runs were unearned today, but it's not like he still pitched well.  He'll easily be left off the postseason roster, and rightfully so.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A big September for Pederson could make things interesting

Joc Pederson got his first taste of big league action on Labor Day, and it didn't take him long to see how cruel life can be.  With two on and two out in the ninth, and with the Dodgers down 6-4 to the Nationals, he took a called strike three on a full count courtesy of a perfect breaking ball from Rafael Soriano.

Alas, his first "Big League" moment will have to wait.

Perhaps he won't have to wait long, as he gets the start in center field on Tuesday night, with the horribly slumping Yasiel Puig taking a seat.  It wasn't a hard decision for Don Mattingly to make, as the combination of wanting to see what the organization's best minor league player in baseball can do, along with needing to let Puig clear his head made it easy to pull the trigger.

In case you're not familiar with Pederson, check out his numbers at Triple-A Albuquerque this season: 121 games, .303 AVG, .435 OBP, 106 R, 17 2B, 4 3B, 33 HR, 78 RBI, 30 SB.  Considering he was the Pacific Coast League's Rookie of the Year and MVP, I'd say he more than tore things up down on the farm.

Now of course comes the obvious question: If Pederson plays like a star, will he be starting for the Dodgers in October?

That's certainly getting way ahead of ourselves, as there aren't many people who have made a Puig-like impact in such a short time.  But if you're looking for talent and looking for a guy who can lift a lifeless offense, this is the guy.

Take away the ridiculously crowded outfield, and it's not unreasonable to think that Pederson would've already been in LA long ago.  Maybe not to start the season, but he would've gotten the call at some point earlier than now.  That's how good of a talent he is.

What could hold him back?  Well, duh... the crowded outfield.  Was there ever any doubt?  Trying to get him consistent playing time when Donnie has to mix in Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Scott Van Slyke, Andre Ethier, and Puig is really difficult.  Of course, after watching how putrid their production at the plate has been for the most part, Donnie can always just go with the hot hand and use that as his reason.

It'll be easy to root for Pederson to succeed, because he's undoubtedly one of the of the stars of the future, and a guy the Dodgers will build around once the mega-millionaires are off the books.  Ned Colletti refused to include him in any deals, and if he had, then guys like David Price or Cole Hamels would be wearing Dodger blue right now.

For Dodger fans who are looking for reasons to get excited down the stretch as the lead in the NL West continues to shrink, Pederson could be exactly the kind of guy to get behind.  And who knows?  Maybe that means he'll be a feature player in the postseason.

Let's just see if he's on the field enough to show what he's got.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dodgers getting healthier, but still need more fire

Let's start with the good news.  Hyun-Jin Ryu is scheduled to come off the 15-day DL and make the start on Sunday in San Diego.  He's been missed, as the Dodgers have had to rely on Kevin Correia to make his starts, with mostly bad results.  Plus, Ryu is a really good option in the #3 rotation spot.

The other good news is that Juan Uribe isn't far behind, and should be good to go within the next couple of days (same link as above).  He has one of the best gloves at third base in all of baseball, and is having a good year at the plate towards the bottom of the order by hitting .293 with six homers, 18 doubles, and 35 RBIs.

Oh, and September call-ups means we should see the debut of Joc Pederson, who should instantly add some punch to a punchless lineup... if the Dodgers actually play him.

OK, so that's the good news.  Here's the bad news: the Padres walked-off on the Dodgers for the second straight night in extra innings on Saturday 2-1.  Once again, the Dodgers wasted a great performance by their starter, this time by Zack Greinke, and the rest of the team looked as lifeless and boring as can be.  Hence, even against a pretty bad team like the Padres, it was another loss.  And of more concern, now only a 2 1/2 game lead over the Giants in the NL West.

It's important not to get too high or too low during a 162 game season.  That's the message Don Mattingly has been trying to deliver to Yasiel Puig, but considering he struck out another three times, it doesn't look like it's registering much.  But with that in mind, there's no other way to put it than to come out and say these last two nights have been bad, bad loses.

Look, let's take nothing away from the Padres.  Their pitching is much better than people realize, and they looked much hungrier for the win.  The Dodgers, on the other hand, almost appear to just go through the motions way too much, and hope one of their former All-Stars turns it on for a win.

Well, Friday night Hanley Ramirez drove in both runs, and one night later it was ex-Padre Adrian Gonzalez launching a solo shot.  And that was it.  Nobody else did a damn thing.  Dee Gordon has gone 0-for-11.  Puig has struck out four times.  Matt Kemp has five strikeouts.  Hanley went 0-for-5 following up his good Friday performance.

So many swings and so many misses has led to 25 punchouts the last two nights.  Yikes.

It's obvious the Dodgers need some serious adjustments at the plate.  I don't know if they're trying to do that, or are just too stubborn to realize they can't hit a home run on every swing.  I know the Padres have good pitching, but there's still no excuse for that many K's in only a two-game span.  When they actually put runners on, they're not moving them over, and they're not doing the little things to get them in.  Instead, it's one giant hack and one giant miss after another.  So frustrating.

Sunday is a big day for the Dodgers.  It would be really bad to get swept by a team six games under .500.  Couple that with the Giants playing so well of late, and the lead in the NL West could shrink even more by the time Labor Day rolls around.

Yes, Labor Day will also signal some new blood, whether that be from the DL or from the minors.  But to the guys already on the team, it's time to start playing with more fire, more sense of urgency, and quite frankly, more intelligence.  If not, they'll be the ones looking up to the Giants in no time.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Slumping Puig and Gordon showing their youth


The Dodgers lost to the Padres on Friday night in 12 innings, 3-2.  They managed to get two hits, but only Hanley Ramirez could deliver RBIs with a double and solo homer.  Yasmani Grandal had the walk-off RBI single with two outs, and that cut the Dodgers' lead in the NL West to 3 1/2 games.

There was a lot to take away from the game, especially the four-man right side of the infield the Dodgers unleashed on Seth Smith in the 12th.  But what I took away is just how much Dee Gordon and Yasiel Puig are struggling.

They're young, they're slumping, and it's showing.

Yesterday I wrote about five key questions the Dodgers face down the stretch, and two of those questions were about Puig's power and Gordon wearing down.  Well, those concerns were exemplified even more on Friday, in which both players had rough games.

Let's start with Gordon, who did not have a night he'd like to remember by any means.  He started the game hitting .293, but 0-for-6 in the leadoff spot dropped it to .289.  He's now down to .272 in August, which isn't terrible, but of much more concern is his .286 OBP this month.  His next lowest OBP of any month was .311 in May, and that was with a much worse average of .244.  The bottom line is that he's stopped taking walks, has too many swings and misses, and doesn't look energized.

That's the offensive side of the game, and on Friday, his defense was a glaring weakness as well.  He had two bad throws that really cost the Dodgers in the end.  In the second, his wild throw to Hanley Ramirez at second ruined a potential double play, as they couldn't even get one out and soon led to a run.  In the 12th, his low throw to A.J. Ellis at home only resulted in one out, instead of an inning ending DP.  Sure enough, Grandal walked-off right after.

As I pointed out yesterday, it's obvious that his lack of experience in playing so many games is catching up to him.  Friday was game #128 for him, and his next previous high was 87 back in 2012.  It's only natural to be somewhat worn down.  I just worry that he won't be able to regain his mojo going into October.

Speaking of being tired and slumping, there's Puig.  Don Mattingly admitted that the reason he didn't start Friday night's game was because of frustration, and that he's letting his emotions affect his play.  Donnie hit the nail on the head right there.  There's no doubt a combination of the long season and things not going his way has really plagued him.

Like Gordon, the jump of playing a part of the season to being a full-timer this year seems to be taking a toll.  Last year he appeared in 104 games, and with about a month left in the season, it's up to 123.  And considering how he puts his whole body on the line in every game (or heck, even in every swing), it's no surprise that he's in a big rut.

Probably more concerning for Puig as compared to Gordon is that Puig's numbers have taken an even bigger nosedive.  He came into August hitting .319, but that's gone down to .301.  A 19-for-87 month equates to .218.  He pinch-hit for Dan Haren in Friday's game, but again struck out, leaving him hitless in his last six games, going 0-for-17.

Let's not forget that Puig was also pretty ragged in September last season, but the Dodgers still went to the NLCS.  He seemed like he was ready to be one of baseball's top stars based on how the start of the this season went, as his bat was explosive and he dramatically cut down on his silly mistakes.

Well, that's changed, as he can't get a hit now, makes no adjustments at the plate to correct this, and let's not forget his boneheaded baserunning mistake where he was thrown out at home against the Mets last Sunday, handing them a triple play.  That summed up his frustrations right there.

With the Giants not going anywhere, you know the Dodgers have plenty of work to do to claim the NL West.  Nothing will be handed to them, meaning Donnie probably won't have the luxury of resting his guys much down the stretch like last season.  And from the looks of things, rest is exactly what these two young All-Stars need.

Maybe both guys have already hit their low points, and they'll be ready to play much better baseball in September.  The Dodgers certainly need them to.  Because if not, there's two glaring holes at the top of the order.  We'll see what September has in store for them.

Friday, August 29, 2014

5 questions the Dodgers face down the stretch

Here we are at the end of August, and there's a month left of regular season baseball on the schedule.  The Dodgers find themselves up 4 1/2 games over the Giants in the NL West, and it's a race that doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

With that said, here are five key questions the Dodgers face for the September pennant run.

1) Will Clayton Kershaw win the MVP award?
There's certainly little reason to doubt that he not only can, but he will.  After another masterful performance on Wednesday in Arizona, a place where he was pounded in May, his numbers look like this: 16-3, 1.73 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 6 CG, 2 SHO, 194 K's in 161 1/3 IP.  I'm not sure how he keeps topping himself, but he does.

We all know how rare it is for pitchers to win the MVP, as they only appear in around 20% of the games, and that's with really good health.  Kershaw was hurt for over a month at the start of the season, so his percentage will be lower.  But in addition to his awesome numbers, what he also has going for him is that there aren't many other strong candidates.  Troy Tulowitzki was, but he's done for the season already.  Andrew McCutchen has good numbers again, but he's been banged up a bit and the Pirates aren't as good as last year.  Guys like Anthony Rizzo and Justin Upton aren't getting the buzz.

The only guy who is in strong contention with Kershaw is Giancarlo Stanton.  He leads the NL in homers, RBIs, OPS, SLG, and BB.  The Marlins aren't that good, but are still hovering around that final Wild Card spot.

In my mind, if Kershaw continues to do his thing, and the Dodgers claim the top spot in the NL, then the award is his.  If he slips up at all, and the Dodgers do as well, then I'd lean towards Stanton getting it.

2) Will Yasiel Puig regain his power?
Puig was the starting right fielder in the All-Star Game, has been moved to the important position of center field, and is still one of the most exciting players in baseball.  What he doesn't have going for him right now, however, is power. 

He's currently leading the Dodgers in batting average (.301) and OBP (.388), and is eighth and fifth in the NL in those stats, respectively.  He also has greatly improved his plate discipline, with higher walk totals this year.  Unfortunately, since the end of May, he only has two home runs.  Two.  That's it.

While his game shouldn't be measured just on homers, it's still a shockingly low number for such a strong guy.  He certainly swings for the fences quite often, but is settling for choppers or simple fly balls.  He's pressing to make things happen, and it just isn't.

Even though he hits in the #2 spot, if he can start driving in more runs, and hitting more out of the park, then the Dodgers are so much better.  It would be no different than what Mike Trout brings to the Angels, as he has 30 homers and 92 RBIs in that spot (with the other 2 RBIs in the #3 spot).  Puig isn't as good a hitter, but is such a big talent that he can definitely make more happen.

3) Will the setup role ever be settled?
Ugh... the eighth inning for the Dodgers.  Whether it's Brian Wilson, Brandon League, or anyone else who has been given a shot, the results have not been pretty.  It's been an adventure, to say the least.

Ned Colletti was unable to secure a top reliever before the trade deadline, and in the waiver period he went for starters in Roberto Hernandez and Kevin Correia.  Who knows how close the Dodgers were to getting a reliever, but the bottom line is that they are stuck with who they have at this point.

One thing I know for sure, and that's Wilson and League are NOT the answers, and should NOT be given more chances to pitch in the eighth.  Wilson's ERA is 5.05, and League continually chokes in big situations.  Guys like Jamey Wright and Chris Perez haven't been able to do anything either.

About the only guy who has been solid is J.P. Howell, but even he has his bouts of wildness.  He still has a 1.97 ERA, and lefties are hitting .133 against him, so that's someone you want to pitch in the setup role.  Right now, that's it.  Maybe someone like Pedro Baez steps in and fills the role.  Hey, why not?  The Dodgers have limited options, so this is an area I can definitely see haunting them in October.

4) Will Dee Gordon run out of juice?
Gordon has had a great year, as he more than earned his All-Star berth at second base, and is leading baseball with 58 steals.  He's been a huge boost to the Dodgers in the leadoff spot, a role that was questionable coming into the season.

He also has slowed down in August, and is clearly showing some wear and tear of playing the long baseball season.

In a way, this should be expected.  Right now he's played in 127 games.  Want to know what his career high was before this season?  It was 87 in 2012.  Wow, that's a big jump.  He made headlines coming into this season for "bulking up" in his words, and it most certainly paid off.  But, August has seen his average dip, his strikeouts go up, and his OBP go down.  Not a good formula for a leadoff hitter.

Don Mattingly has been giving him days off here and there, which is a good move.  The best thing that can happen for Gordon is that the Dodgers run away with the division, and he can afford to take more rest towards the end of September.  That way he'll be as fresh as he can be going into the playoffs.  If he's forced to play too much and his numbers continue to tumble, he might not be able to do much in October.  And that hurts the Dodgers a lot.

5) Which Hanley Ramirez shows up?
Hanley can go one of two ways.  There's the MVP talent who drives the ball and leads the Dodgers in the heart of the lineup.  Or there's the broken down guy who grounds out, strikes out, and continues to be awful defensively at short.  What's is gonna be?

That's a major question for the Dodgers.  It's also a major dilemma for Mattingly.  If Hanley can't hit, there's little reason to play him, other than being a threat based on past success.  Clearly guys like Miguel Rojas and Erisbel Arruebarrena are better options at short, and considering the Dodgers want to win with pitching, it makes more sense to play them despite their offensive shortcomings.

I wrote about Hanley and his big September ahead earlier this week.  Basically, if he can be that guy in the #3 spot (or around that) to get big hits, the Dodgers will be hard to stop in the postseason.  Plus, he'll earn a big payday next season, whether it's with the Dodgers or some other team.  If he looks old and broken down, it's hard to imagine him getting the money he thinks he deserves.  He'll look more like yesterday's news.

As you can see, despite the Dodgers being almost 20 games over .500, there are still questions that remain that could hold them back from their ultimate goal of being world champions.  September will be a fun month to watch, so let's see what unfolds.