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.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

September is a big month for Hanley

Hanley Ramirez was activated off the 15-day DL on Sunday and started at shortstop against the Mets.  The Dodgers were trying to close out their homestand on a positive note by getting the sweep, one week after the Brewers swept them.

Well, things didn't go so well, as Kevin Correia was bombed, the defense committed another error, and the bats went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

As for Hanley, he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts hitting in the #5 spot.  The error was also partly his fault, as a low throw to Adrian Gonzalez got away.

Not exactly the type of impact the Dodgers were hoping Hanley would make.

That is why I'm looking at the home stretch of September (and hopefully beyond) as being huge for him.  Right now he's appeared in 101 of the 132 games the Dodgers have played, once again showing how injuries have kept him off the field, just like last year.

Unlike last year, when he has played, it hasn't been at an MVP level.  He's hitting .274 with a .363 OBP, 12 homers, 58 RBIs, and 12 stolen bases.  Those numbers certainly aren't bad, but the combination of Hanley and Puig last year really propelled the Dodgers into the postseason.  That version of Hanley hasn't showed up this year.

Keep in mind that this is Hanley's contract year, meaning he's free to test the free agency market after this season.  There's no doubt in my mind he would want to stay in LA, where he can play with a contending team and make a boatload of money.  But, as has been brought up many times already this year, how badly do the Dodgers even want him back?  Enough to break the bank to keep him?  I'm not so sure.

The scouting report on him probably looks something like this: injury prone, good hitter but not as impactful when he's banged up, and one of the worst defense shortstops in baseball.  The Dodgers are willing to overlook those defensive shortcomings when he's hitting.  But when he's not hitting?  It's a tricky situation.

If Hanley can step up in this last month plus, be the run producer in the middle of the order the Dodgers need, and at least hold his own at short, then the team as a whole is so much of a bigger threat.  He's shown in the past he can do it, so maybe he's about to breakout at any moment.

If he continues to just kind of tread water, then this could be the last season we see him in Dodger blue.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Greinke passes the elbow test

I'm sure there were plenty of nervous people in Dodger Stadium last night, as Zack Greinke and his admittedly "tender elbow" took the mound on seven days' rest.  Any time your $147 million star pitcher says his elbow is sore, there's plenty of reason for concern.

How did he do?  Seven innings and 105 pitches.  And a win for the Dodgers.  I'd say he handled things well.

The Mets did tag Greinke for a couple of homers, but a big five-RBI night by Adrian Gonzalez helped lead the Dodgers to a 7-4 comeback win over the Mets.  After starting out the homestand by dropping three straight to the Brewers, the Dodgers have taken the next four of five from the Padres and Mets.

In other words, they've won the winnable games.  And they now find themselves up 4 1/2 over the Giants in the NL West.

Of the four runs Greinke surrendered, only three were earned, as an error by Miguel Rojas at third on a should-have-been inning ending double play led to a Juan Lagaras three-run jack.  The other blemish was a solo homer by Lucas Duda in the sixth.

Other than that, I really like the way Greinke battled.  I'm sure part of him realized just how much the Dodgers need him right now, as both Hyun-Jin Ryu and Josh Beckett are on the DL.  He said he was ready to go, and proved it by pitching deep into the game and tossing over 100 pitches.

I thought coming into this game that the Dodgers would be fortunate to get five innings out of him, and there was no way I saw him throwing 100+ pitches.  I was waiting to see someone like Carlos Frias get ready to pitch multiple innings in relief.  I guess that's the pessimistic side of me, because while I read how Greinke said he was good to go, I wasn't so sure.

But, that's a testament to the competitor that Greinke is.  He took the ball, battled like crazy, and came away a winner.  Let's just hope this elbow thing isn't an issue going forward.  Or more specifically, doesn't get any worse, and he can continue to provide good starts.

Other thoughts from the game:

* While it was great to see Greinke pitch well, A-Gon ended up stealing the show.  He hit an RBI single in the fourth, a three-run tater to take the lead for good in the fifth, and chipped in another RBI with a sac-fly in the seventh.  Despite hitting only .185 against lefties, he's second in the NL in RBIs with 88.  And for fun, he even threw in a sick grab at first while sprawled out to finish off a double play.  What a game he had.

* Yasiel Puig took the night off, and it was a good idea.  He's been getting on top of so many balls at the plate lately, leading to a lot of choppers in the infield.  Maybe some rest will get him back to driving the ball.

* Kenley Jansen picked up another save, his 37th, thanks in large part to a great cutter.  When that thing is moving, it's so hard to even make contact with.  Striking out David Wright to end the game was sweet.

* Speaking of Wright, what happened to him?  He looks completely lost, going 0-for-5 with two strikeouts.  I have to wonder if his best years are already in the past, which would be a shame considering the Mets never put enough talent around him when he was really good.  Seems like a waste.

* The one negative, and it's a BIG negative at that, was Don Mattingly once again inserting Brian Wilson in the eighth.  So, so stupid.  After J.P. Howell got Duda for the first out, Wilson was lucky to get the next out on a hard hit ball to Rojas, then gave up two straight hits.  Wilmer Flores grounded out to end the threat.  It just makes no sense whatsoever to keep putting him in the setup role.  None!  Stop putting him in there for crying out loud!  Geez.

OK, rant aside, the Dodgers have a chance to get the sweep today.  With Ryu will out, Kevin Correia will get the ball again.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Dodgers take full advantage of bumbling Mets

Being a Mets fan has got to be tough.

I live in New York, and while it's mostly Yankees and Red Sox dominating the talk, there are still those who show some Mets love.  And after watching how pathetic their defense looked on Friday night, I can't help but feel sorry for them.

Kind of like how people feel sorry for me being a Raiders fan.  But I digress.

The Mets committed three errors, and pretty much handed the Dodgers chance after chance.  A three-run seventh, with thanks to a huge throwing error by Wilmer Flores, broke the game open, as the Dodgers rolled 6-2.  The Giants rolled as well, ending the Nationals 10-game winning streak, so the lead in the NL West remains 3 1/2.

In case any of you wondered why Don Mattingly was so incensed at his defense earlier in the season, this game should show why it's so important.  With the Mets in town, it was a reminder about the last time the Dodgers were in New York, and that was when Matt Kemp put on such an awful display in center, he was booted out of there.

In this game, poor little Flores made one too many errors.  The first one came in the fifth on a Yasiel Puig grounder, which was booted by Flores, then he flat out fell on his face.  The loaded the bases, so naturally that meant Adrian Gonzalez easily grounded to first to end the inning.

The next error was costly, as Gonzalez grounded one to Flores with two on and two out in the seventh.  Considering Gonzalez is about the slowest human alive, that should've ended the inning and kept it a 2-1 game.  But, the throw was way too low, a run scored, and Kemp's two-run double then made it 5-1.  Game over.

The Mets are sixth in the National League with a .985 fielding %, so it's not like they do this a lot.  It just shows how little a margin of error they have.  The Dodgers are ninth at .984, but that's an improvement over earlier in the season.  Making some adjustments in the outfield has helped with Puig in center and Kemp in right.  Plus, Hanley Ramirez being hurt has given more playing time to Miguel Rojas and Errisbel Arruebarrena, who have slick gloves.

The bottom line is that a Major League team should be able to take care of the little things, something the Mets obviously didn't do on Friday.  And for that, Mets fans, I sympathize with you.  That's gotta be rough!

Other thoughts from the game:

* If you thought Dan Haren would last seven innings and pitch great after surrendering a leadoff homer to Curtis Granderson, then I probably would call you a liar.  But he did, as he gave up only two more hits the rest of the way, striking out six, and not walking anyone.  His pitches had great movement on them, and he just looked to be in total control.  Good for him.

* The eighth inning again was not an easy ride, though the Dodgers did escape unharmed.  Brandon League got a couple of outs and gave up one hit.  J.P. Howell has great numbers on the season, but lately has been way too wild.  He walked one, gave up a passed ball, then struck out Granderson looking on a very favorable call.  I guess you could call him "wildly effective."  We'll go with that.

* Good to see Dee Gordon get three hits in the leadoff spot, as he struggled lately.  Also, Justin Turner continued his solid play at third with two hits, including a double, and a stolen base.

* I love watching Arruebarrena throw.  So smooth and in control.  It seriously looks effortless.  If that guy can learn to at least hold his own at the plate, he'll be playing a long time.

* Give A.J. Ellis credit for how he played late in the game.  He took a pitch from Howell right off of his right thigh in the seventh, which obviously hurt.  He then stepped right up the next inning and stroked an RBI double.  He hasn't done much this year, but no one can say he isn't tough.

Saturday will be a big day for the Dodgers.  Zack Greinke will take the mound, as he admittedly has a creaky elbow.  I'll give the Dodgers the benefit of the doubt that they would never start him if they thought it was serious.  I'd look for someone like Carlos Frias to be ready to go in long relief if Greinke can't give them much.  This will be interesting to watch.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Turner provides just enough pop for Kershaw

It sure looked like another lifeless night in Dodger Stadium on Thursday.  Tyson Ross was mowing the Dodgers down left and right, and Clayton Kershaw was down 1-0 despite not giving up a hit until the sixth (to Ross, of all people).

So what finally made the crowd come to their feet and wake everyone up?  Why of course... a two-run homer by Justin Turner!

Yes, that really did happen, as Turner's two-run shot in the eighth put the Dodgers ahead for good, as they went on to beat the Padres 2-1.  It sure didn't seem like it, but the Dodgers actually won two of three in this series, and are 3 1/2 games in front of the Giants in the NL West.

Mark Saxon of wrote a great article about how Turner's blast not only gave the Dodgers a needed jolt, but kept Kershaw's MVP hopes alive.  It's true, because any loss Kershaw takes from here on out, no matter how good he is, will only hurt his chances of claiming the NL's top prize.

Right now, Kershaw is 15-3 with a 1.82 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, and 184 K's in 153 1/3 innings.  He's now leading the NL in wins, ERA, WHIP, winning %, and complete games.  He's third in strikeouts, despite missing all of April with a strained back muscle.  Stephen Strasburg leads with 198 K's, and he's made six more starts than Kershaw. 

So yes, Kershaw has been awesome.

What Turner's game-winning homer did was put the spotlight back on Kershaw and his dominant run.  Say the Dodgers took another loss because their offense didn't come through, just like his last start against the Brewers, then the focus would be on the pitiful offense.  It's not like the bats did a whole lot better in this game, but they came through just when it was needed.

And with a little over a month left in the season, the Dodgers will gladly take wins by any means.

Other thoughts from the game:

* I actually feel badly for Padres fans.  If they had any clue how to finish games, they would've gotten a sweep.  Instead, despite grabbing the lead in all three games, they drop two of three.  That lineup is just brutal, and I'm not sure if there's any help on the way.  They just have to hope different guys like Ross step up and deliver.

* Kenley Jansen's 36th save gets him up to fourth in the NL, only two behind leader Francisco Rodriguez.  Who would've though that guy would flashback to his K Rod days?  Good for him.  Jansen is tops in strikeouts by one over Craig Kimbrel (83 to 82) among closers with at least 10 saves.  Pretty impressive.

* Take away Turner's homer, and the last two games have been pretty ugly at the plate.  On Wednesday they had one run on six hits, and last night it was two runs on four hits.  Add it up, and that's three runs on 10 hits in two games, which really sucks.  They just look like a tired bunch.

* Some good news is that all signs are pointing to Hanley Ramirez being activated from the DL on Sunday.  He's not the same hitter as last year, but still an instant threat that this offense desperately needs.  Considering his replacement Miguel Rojas is hitting .203, it's safe to say it's an offensive upgrade.  I mean, duh.

* Dee Gordon continues to struggle, as he's only hitting .243 this month.  He's swinging and missing too many times, and when he did get a single last night, he was instantly erased trying to swipe second.  I wasn't surprised to see him press the issue, as I'm sure he's trying to make things happen a little too much.  The Dodgers really need him to get back on track in September and beyond.

The Mets are next into town for three.  They are once again going nowhere, but are 5-4 on the road this month, if you're a Mets fan and looking for a silver lining.  Dan Haren gets the call in the first game.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Wednesday sums up the state of the Dodgers right now

And what exactly is the state of the Dodgers?  Not so good.

With news early in the day that Zack Greinke's elbow is not 100%, but he'll make a start on Saturday anyway, to the lifeless performance against the Padres at night, it was not a day to remember.  The early 3-0 hole was not overcome this time, as the Padres rolled to an easy win 4-1.

Let's start with Greinke, who provided either good news or bad news, depending on your view.  In case you missed it, he will avoid a trip to the DL, which on this team is obviously some good news.  The flip side is that he admitted to pitching with elbow discomfort for about a month, and in his own words, "can't guarantee I'll be good from here on out."  Not exactly the most comforting words from an ace.

I wrote about this yesterday, so I'll reiterate how much the words "elbow issues" and "pitcher" make me concerned.  Greinke was brought in to pair with Clayton Kershaw as the league's best Game 1 and 2 starters in any playoff series.  But the playoffs are well over a month away, and even though the Dodgers are in first place now, there's no guarantee that they'll even be in the postseason if they keep playing like they have been lately.

Maybe Greinke will go out on Saturday, throw a gem, then report that his elbow feels great and he's ready to roll with it.  Or he'll get hit around and provide even more concern.  I guess we'll all just have to wait until Saturday against the Mets to see.

As for the game on Wednesday, there wasn't a whole lot to feel good about.  For the second straight night, the Padres got up 3-0 in the early going.  It was a combination of three soft singles, two walks, and a horrible bobble by Scott Van Slyke in left.  Oh ya, and Eric Stults had an RBI single with the bases loaded.  It was bad.

How did the Dodgers do at the plate?  Well, they had six hits and one run against a guy who came into the game at 5-13 with a 4.64 ERA.  So that should sum up how sorry the Dodgers looked.  Only Adrian Gonzalez had an extra base hit with a double, and Van Slyke was the only guy with two hits.  Basically, it was a whole lot of nothing going on.  With runners in scoring position, they were 0-for-5, including another blown opportunity with the bases loaded.

And by the way, the defense committed three errors.  It looked like a flashback to April.  Ugh.

A lot has been made about the Dodgers "easy" schedule down the stretch, at least in terms of winning percentage compared to other contenders.  So far, the Padres aren't rolling over, and the Mets come in next, and they took it to Jeff Samardzija and the A's yesterday.  In other words, I don't care what the records say, these teams are not going to roll over and play dead.

At least the Dodgers can turn to Clayton Kershaw tonight.  Then again, his last start he went the distance, gave up three runs... and still lost to the Brewers 3-2.  And with Tyson Ross on the mound for the Padres, who's one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball, winning will be tough once again.  Let's see how the Dodgers respond.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

More injury issues as Greinke has a "tender elbow"

The Dodgers stopped their slide on Tuesday night, fighting back from an early 3-0 hole to beat the Padres 8-6.  Carl Crawford came alive by going 3-for-3 with a two-run homer, Justin Turner added two doubles, and a great defensive play at third ended the game.

That's the good news.

The bad news?  Zack Greinke will most likely miss his next start on Thursday due to what is being called a "tender elbow."  The club doesn't seem too concerned with it right now, as he has been able to throw off flat ground at least.

Still, any time a pitcher is dealing with any sort of elbow problems, it has the potential to be a huge worry.  Especially when that pitcher is a former Cy Young Award winner and current All-Star.

There's no doubt that Greinke has not been his normal self over his last three starts.  He certainly hasn't been pounded, but did walk five Brewers his last start, surrender four runs on eight hits to the Brewers the start before, and three earned run in seven innings against the Angels the start before.  They've all been Dodger loses, though that's certainly not all his fault.

Right now the Dodgers' depth is seriously being put to the test, as Hyun-Jin Ryu, Juan Uribe, and Hanley Ramirez are all sitting on the DL, to name a few.  Their numbers are very hard to replace, obviously.  So if Greinke gets added to that list, or is forced to miss a start or two, it will be even harder to win.  There's no other way about it.

It's a good thing Ned Colletti added a couple of arms in Roberto Hernandez and Kevin Correia recently.  Yes, I know they're not the greatest pitchers on Earth, but they are veteran starters who can take the ball at any time.  And that time is now.

Let's all hope Greinke is just fine, and some extra rest will do the trick as the Dodgers try to regain some momentum.  If he is hurt worse than we think... then that's a huge blow for this team.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Dodgers hit a lull, so what's the problem?

For anyone who thought the Dodgers might be able to run away with not only the NL West, but the National League as a whole, think again.

The Brewers came into Dodger Stadium and showed why they're a legit contender with a three-game sweep, finishing off the Dodgers with a 7-2 shellacking on Sunday.  Couple that with last weekend, and the Brew Crew have to feel good about taking five of six from LA.  And that's with both Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke starting four of the six games.

After getting the lead in the NL West up to over six games, the lead over the Giants has dropped to 3 1/2.  Washington and Milwaukee are now ahead of the Dodgers in the race for #1 seed in the NL.

Simply put, like the headline says, the Dodgers are in a lull, dropping three straight and four of five.  So what's the deal?  Here's the deal:

* In those four loses, the offense has scored nine runs, averaging 2.3 per.  Even with great starting pitching, it's hard to win many games like that.

* Hyun-Jin Ryu was placed on the DL with a sore glute muscle.  Kevin Correia will fill in, and while he had a great opening act, isn't the caliber of Ryu over the long haul.

* Juan Uribe was placed on the DL with a strained hamstring.  Justin Turner will see action at third, but his glove has been shaky to say the least of late.

* Greinke hasn't been as sharp in August.  In three starts, he's 0-2 with a 3.50 ERA.  He walked five in only five innings his last start, running his pitch count way up to 99.

* The bullpen completely imploded on Friday night, as Jamey Wright and Brandon League combined to give up five runs in the eighth.  The eighth inning, as I recently wrote about, has been a huge disappointment.

* Even Kershaw was off his normal dominant self, giving up a couple of home runs in losing on Saturday.  Of course, he still went the distance and only surrendered three runs, but his offense gave him nothing.

* Dee Gordon still has his big games, but has seen his numbers dip a bit after the break, and one has to wonder if he's slowing down a bit just from the grind of the long season.

* Matt Kemp was red hot in July, but in August he's back down to hitting .219.  He's actually hit safely in 12 of 17 games, but most of those are 1-for-4 or 1-for-5.

* The defense is much-improved since the start of the season, but is still middle of the pack in fielding %.  Losing Uribe at third does nothing to help, either.

* All the good vibes Dan Haren had coming into Sunday may have come to screeching halt, as the Brewers smacked him around.

Brian Kamenetzky of wrote a good article about how this is not a time to panic, and to instead "keep the faith."  It makes a lot of sense, as every team is bound to go through peaks and valleys over the course of a 162-game season.

But, for the many reasons listed above, it's also realistic that the Dodgers need to figure things out in order to keep that first place standing in the NL West.  When one of their key starting pitchers and starting third baseman get hurt, then they get swept at home, there's reasons to be a little nervous.

There is some good news, as Hanley Ramirez looks like he'll be ready to go when he comes off the DL next Sunday.  As a bonus, it looks like he might play some third, something he did in his Marlins' days when they acquired Jose Reyes.  That will get his bat back in the lineup, and keep the better fielding Miguel Rojas at short.

That's still a week away, and in the meantime the Dodgers will welcome the Padres and Mets into town starting Tuesday.  Even though they both stink, with the way the Dodgers play at home, they can't afford to overlook anyone.  If they do, they might find themselves in second in no time.

We'll see what the Dodgers' depth can do, as they will go deep into their 25-man roster to stay afloat.  It would be great if guys like Kemp, Gordon, and Adrian Gonzalez have a big week, and the Dodgers can get rolling again.  They are the stars, so now they need to step up and play like it.

Oh ya, and not blowing more leads in the eighth inning would help too.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

8th inning could be the Dodgers downfall

Remember last season when Brian Wilson was signed, and the Dodgers had the ultimate 1-2 punch with Kenley Jansen down the stretch and in the postseason?

Well, it sure was fun while it lasted.

The combination of Jamey Wright and Brandon League were the latest to not get the job done in the setup role, as they turned a 2-0 lead into a 5-2 deficit, and the Dodgers dropped one to the Brewers 6-3.  At least the Phillies had a comeback of their own in beating the Giants, so the lead in the NL West remains 5 1/2.

To say the eighth inning was ugly would be an understatement.  Here's the final tally: nine batters, four hits, five runs, one walk, one strikeout.  Most of that damage was done against Wright, who gave up four of those hits and one intentional walk.  Even his one out was a hard lineout by Jonathan Lucroy leading off.  Every ball hit against him was hard.

League was put in a tough situation of the bases loaded and one out, but he did get Rickie Weeks swinging for two down.  But, as has been the case over his three-year deal worth $22.5 million, he couldn't get a second big out, as Lyle Overbay's double cleared the bases and any hope of the Dodgers winning.  It was pathetic.

There's no doubt in my mind that the biggest issue the Dodgers face right now is bridging the gap to Jansen.  There certainly isn't a Wilson circa 2013 Don Mattingly can turn to.  Wilson, by the way, had an 0.66 ERA in 18 appearances last season.  Little did we realize just how much we'd miss that version of Wilson.

About the only reliable guy in the 'pen before Jansen is J.P. Howell, but he's not your prototypical setup man.  He relies on the soft stuff, and is very effective at it.  In 39 1/3 innings, he has a 1.37 ERA.  I think Mattingly should just ignore the lefty-righty stuff and pitch him more in the eighth regardless.  It certainly can't hurt.

But other than Howell... yikes.  It's just a whole lot of nothing to turn to.  Here's my breakdown of the other choices, and why they're.... well, not good choices:

Wilson - 5.26 ERA, and can't seem to pitch a clean eighth
League - Much better ERA at 2.32, but the bigger the pressure, the worse he gets
Wright - Had a chance to make a positive impression, and showed why he's much more suited to pitching earlier in the game
Chris Perez - Currently on the DL, and when he's back, has absolutely no business taking the mound in any inning
Pedro Baez and Carlos Frias - Too young and inexperienced to pitch in a big situation.  But then again, it's not like they can do any worse, so why not try them?

So like I said, there just aren't any solid options to turn to.  I actually liked it on Friday night when Donny gave Wright a chance to do the job.  It definitely backfired, but the other options are so bad, it was worth a shot.

This is definitely a big concern heading into the postseason.  The only positive is that the Dodgers have really good starting pitching in Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu (who hopefully can rest his sore butt!).  They can pitch deep into games, which would then limit the amount of relievers needed.  We hope.

If I'm Jansen, I'm making sure my arm is plenty rested and ready to go in October.  I absolutely think Donny will call upon him in the eighth for more than the traditional three-out save.  Donny really has no choice.  Might as well skip all the other bums and go with the Big Dog.

Will someone actually step up and finally claim that setup role over the final month-and-a-half?  That will be the major question facing the Dodgers the rest of the season.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Dodgers sure like to hit the road

Everyone likes a little home cookin'. 

The Dodgers apparently prefer to do their eating away from home.

And so it went on Thursday afternoon, as the Dodgers continued to play some really good baseball on the road in a 6-4 win over the Braves.  They also like to pound on the Braves, taking six of seven games from them this season.

Today's win marked the 40th away from home this season, as they're the first in the majors to do so.  It also increased their lead over the Giants in the NL West to 5 1/2 games.

How are the Dodgers getting it done on the road so well?  Take a look at their rankings in all of baseball:

They're first in... hits, triples, and OBP.

They're second in... runs, RBI, and pitching shutouts and strikeouts.

They're third in... total bases, AVG, and OPS.

Not bad.

Seriously, those are all very impressive and encouraging numbers for a team that looks destined for the playoffs.  Considering that went 1-4 on the road last postseason, including a horrendous loss in St. Louis to end the season, this year's squad looks like it can win anywhere.

If you're a big follower of the team like me, then you'll notice how they just look so much more relaxed on the road.  And that leads to more timely hitting to support their excellent starting pitching.  Heck, they're hitting .265 on the road and .252 at home, which is a pretty big difference at this point of the season.

Every team wants to have home field advantage in the playoffs for as long as possible.  Right now, the Dodgers are two up on the Nationals for the #1 seed, with the Brewers lurking right behind at 2 1/2 back.  Oh by the way, the Brew Crew visits LA for three this weekend.  That should be fun.

While the Dodgers would gladly take all those home games, it's good to know that they're the most dangerous road team in baseball right now.  That means if there's a big closeout game or elimination game they're facing on the road, they're more than capable of playing well to win.

The Dodgers have 15 games remaining on the road against the Diamondbacks (2), Padres (3), Giants (3), Rockies (3), and Cubs (4).  In other words, not many big challenges.  I fully expect that road record to stay hot, if not improve.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Kershaw's ready for a pitch-off!

Here's a cool little story involving my favorite pitcher and yours, Clayton Kershaw.

If you're a follower of the Little League World Series like I am, then you've heard about young Mo'ne Davis, who pitched Philadelphia all the way to Williamsport with a blazing fastball and nasty breaking ball (sound familiar, Dodger fans?).  Pretty cool right?

Oh by the way, Mo'ne is a girl.

That's right, Mo'ne is the Big Dog of Little League right now, and has a chance to rule the world based on her performance these next couple of weeks in Williamsport.  What a great story that is.

Mo'ne is feeling so good, in fact, that she's openly challenged Kershaw to what she described as a "pitch-off."

Check out Kershaw's response to her.  I don't care what it takes, the Dodgers need to make this thing happen!

Good luck to Mo'ne and all the other participants in Williamsport.  And good luck to Kershaw, who's going to need it against her!

In the early going, Colletti's small trades have paid off

Let me start off by saying that each of the three players Ned Colletti has traded for have only started one game for the Dodgers.  So let's not get too carried away about what we see.

But hey, Roberto Hernandez, Kevin Correia, and Darwin Barney have all played great and the Dodgers are six games up in the NL West.  So why shouldn't we be excited?

All three men were brought in for depth, and they had great debuts.  Encouraging enough for the Dodgers to feel pretty darn good about who they have going forward.

Let's take a look at them:

Robert Hernandez.  He got the start last week in Milwaukee in what turned out to be a 9-3 loss.  That was more because Justin Turner had a meltdown at short, and the floodgates opened.  Hernandez overcame two runs and three hits in the first inning so throw five perfect innings after that.  Can't beat that.

How effective was Hernandez during that game?  He retired the final 17 batters in a row he faced.  The offense gave him a 3-2 lead in the seventh, but like I said before, it was all downhill from there.  Still, he looks like a legit option for the fifth starter, and has definitely earned more starts going forward.

Kevin Correia.  Hernandez had pretty good numbers coming in from Philly... but Correia definitely did not in Minnesota.  His ERA hovered around five on a team going nowhere.  So when he got the start against the Braves on Monday, it would've been hard to be optimistic.

The result?  Six innings of one-run ball, guiding the Dodgers to a 6-2 win.  He just looked rejuvenated, mixing his pitches and looking sharp all night.  He probably could've kept going at only 82 pitches, but it was probably a smart move by Don Mattingly to yank him on a high note.  I would think that's only a spot start and he'll eventually fill the long relief role vacated by Paul Maholm.  But if Monday was any indication, he looks like he can fill either role just fine.

Darwin Barney.  With Dee Gordon slowing down a bit as he's playing deeper in a season than he's ever been used to, the Barney acquisition looked really good on Tuesday.  Getting his first start at second, he went 1-for-4 with an RBI single and run scored.

But, his real value didn't really show up in the box score.  He showed his legs in the ninth when he reached on an error at short and hustled to second.  After going to third on a groundout, he perfectly read a passed ball and scampered home to go up 4-2.  With Kenley Jansen going for his 33rd save, he ranged behind him to catch a popup in short center.  Not a bad first start to say the least.

Overall, all three have at least given Mattingly confidence to rest some regulars and put them in again.  What also helps tremendously is that the Giants are in another free fall, and the rest of the NL West flat out sucks.  Why not sprinkle in some bench players to keep everyone fresh in the stretch run?  Makes sense to me.

If you throw in Dan Haren's last two starts, which have been great, then there's a lot to like about the back end of the 25-man roster.  It's not like I expect all of them to keep dominating, as there were plenty of reasons why they had subpar numbers in the first place.  But, I do think something has to be said about joining a winning team.

It makes everyone feel better about themselves and how they play.  Now keep it going!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Clayton Kershaw, MVP frontrunner?

Clayton Kershaw continues to set the bar even higher for himself.  Sunday afternoon in Milwaukee, he put the Dodgers on his back with a marvelous performance, holding the Brew Crew down for one run in eight innings, striking out six.  And that was on a day where he probably didn't even have his best stuff.

Oh by the way, he also added an RBI single, took a walk, and was hit by a pitch.  But the true highlight of the day came on a diving catch of Jean Segura's suicide squeeze attempt in the fifth, which he then tossed to third for a double play, preserving the one-run lead.

Oh by the way (again), he's won 11 straight decisions for a 1.16 ERA, and hasn't lost since May.

He's already won the Cy Young Award twice, and certainly appears to be well on his way to a third in four years.  So what can he possibly do next?

How about the MVP of the National League.

On the Sunday night SportsCenter, a case was made that a combination of Kershaw's dominance and the lack of a true great hitter in the NL makes him the favorite.  And you know what?  It's probably true.

I want to present to you the case for Kershaw:

* Start with the overall numbers: 14-2, 1.78 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 163 K's in 136 1/3 IP.  Wow.

* He's currently leading the NL in wins, ERA, WHIP, Winning % (.875), and Complete Games (5).

* In you're a believer in WAR (Wins Above Replacement), he's leading that as well at 5.9.  The next closest is Troy Tulowitzki at 5.6.  Tulo is a great player, but he's also on the 15-day DL right now and plays for a horrible team.

* The Dodgers have the best record in the NL.

* All things considered, Kershaw is now viewed as the best pitcher in baseball, ala Justin Verlander when he won the MVP in 2011.  That season, Verlander was 24-8 with a 2.40 ERA and 0.92 WHIP.  Kershaw probably won't get that many wins, but he can definitely best the other numbers.

One factor that will definitely be huge is how the Kershaw and the Dodgers finish up the season.  If he remains at the top of his game and the Dodgers keep the #1 seed in the NL, then there will be strong consideration for him winning the MVP.  If both slip, then that will be fresh in the voters' minds, and he might not get it.

The Dodgers certainly have talent on their team, but there's no doubt Kershaw is the top dog.  Even though he plays in only one out of every five games, his impact is bigger than that.  Need a stopper after a two-game skid?  Kershaw is the guy.  Need a guy to give the bullpen a rest?  Call on Kershaw.  Need a guy to win a big game, no matter the situation?  Of course, it's Kershaw.

Depending on how Don Mattingly toggles his rotation, Kershaw has about 8-10 starts left in the regular season.  Many of those starts are against NL West opponents, and judging by the way they swing the bats, his numbers can get even better.  Things are definitely looking good.

So good, in fact, that a 2014 MVP trophy could go right next to his third Cy Young Award on his mantel.