Monday, March 31, 2008

The lovefest starts off with a win

The Joe Torre Era started off perfectly today, mainly for 2 reasons. 1) They won, 5-0. 2) The schedule makers thankfully let them play the San Francisco Giants, who are barely a Triple-A team anymore. Seriously, they really suck. I actually missed watching Barry Bonds only because he'd bring excitement to games. Now... who cares?

It was an overall great day for LA. The pregame ceremony was described as a "lovefest" by Vin Scully (perhaps he was a little too happy about it), but it was nice to see. Giving Brad Penny the start turned out to be a smart move. While I did not think he was flawless by any means (he'll have better days at hitting his spots), he made the out pitches when he needed to. His final line was 6.2 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K. Ok, after looking at that stat line, maybe I'm being too picky by saying he could have located better, but keep in mind that he did play the Giants, so it's not like they'd ever make him pay for mistakes. Did I mention that they really suck? Well, they do.

Other than the Giants sucking and Penny mowing hitters down, my other main thought all throughout the game was how deep of a lineup this could be. I can't recall the last time I watched the Dodgers and was as encouraged as I was today with the hitting. I love Furcal leading off, the Kemp-Kent-Jones heart of the order is good, and Loney and Martin at the bottom is still a threat. They are deep, talented, and could potentially have some fun scoring runs. So far, I like what I see. 5 runs is not that many, but they could have scored much more if they didn't leave 15 men on base.

Unfortunately for Andre Ethier, he left 6 of them. You know Juan"ting to be traded" Pierre was smiling on the inside. Hitting in the 2 spot, Ethier went 0-4. He did hit a nice liner to center that Aaron Rowand made a nice play on to end the 6th. That would have scored 2 runs. He'll have better days.

My final thought was not even about the Dodgers, but about Barry Zito. Remember when this guys was like... good? I think the rest of the league has caught up to his curveball. There's nothing about his stuff that scares any hitter anymore. At one point in the game, there was a graphic about his Cy Young season in 2002, where he went 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA. My oh my, does that seem like forever ago. His huge contract looks like a worse and worse investment each start.

At 1-0, the Dodgers are now projected to go 162-0, and then sweep the playoffs at 11-0 to be the first undefeated team in baseball history. It could happen.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Andre Ethier wins the left field job

Joe Torre has just announced before the last exhibition game of the season that Andre Ethier will begin the season as the starting left fielder. This FINALLY ends months of speculation about whether or not Juan Pierre would remain a starting outfielder.

From the looks of things, it's a smart decision. Simply put - Ethier is a better player right now. Pierre still has plenty of value as a basestealing threat, but Ethier is a better hitter with more power and a much better defensive presence because of his stronger arm. Pierre has a bloated contract, and it's good to see that was not the deciding factor.

Ethier's Spring Training could not have gone any better: .365 AVG, .473 OBP, 6 HR, 16 RBI. On the flip side, Pierre's could not have gone any worse: .169 AVG, .225 OBP, 0 HR, 4 RBI. For a guy that has been complaining about being thrown out of position and of a job, he sure didn't do anything that made his case look better.

And while we're on that subject, it would be nice for once if Pierre were to actually acknowledge that he's stunk this Spring. Instead, all you hear about is the "Whoa is me" routine. Face it, Juan, you were beat out by better players and are no longer the threat you once were. Your free swinging, no walking ways have finally caught up to you.

Like I've said for months, Pierre will still get some starts, mostly because of injuries and random days off. So it's not like he'll be buried on the bench never to be seen or heard from again. I have to think that if some team out there needs outfield help and is willing to eat that big contract, now is the time to make that deal.

Congratulations to Ethier. He's earned it. Now let's play ball.

NL West breakdown: 3rd base

Now it’s time to look at the hot corner, 3rd base.

1. Garrett Atkins (.301 AVG, 25 HR, 111 RBI)
Colorado Rockies

Atkins by far leads the list of one of the weaker positions in the West. He had a monster 2006 where he broke out in a huge way (.329, 27, 120), and while his AVG dipped, his run production remained high. He is the real deal.

Entering his 6th year in the league, he has placed himself in the top tier of 3rd basemen. Back in 2005, he gave a glimpse into what kind of a player he could be when he hit 13 HR and 89 RBI in 138 games. The last 2 years have solidified his status as a notch below the top guns (A Rod, Wright, Cabrera). With more seasons like the last couple, his numbers could be just as good.

As is the case with the rest of the Rockies, his defense is superb. He committed only 14 errors in 484 chances mainly at 3rd (with 10 appearances at 1st). He’s part of the young left side of the diamond with Troy Tulowitzki that will be part of the foundation for the Rockies in years to come.

2. Kevin Kouzmanoff (.275, 18, 74)
San Diego Padres

Kouzmanoff shook off an absolutely horrific start of the year to post respectable numbers when the season was all said and done. April was a month he’d love to forget. In 71 AB, he collected a measly 8 hits for a .113 AVG. Wow. Thankfully for him, he hit .338 in August and September to regain respectability.

It’s not hard to figure out why he’s had plenty of hype surrounding him. His minor league stats with the Cleveland Indians organization are really good. In 2005 at various levels of A ball, he hit .333 with 12 HR and 58 RBI. In 2006, splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A, he hit a fantastic .379 with 22 HR and 75 RBI. He was shipped to the Padres at the end of the ’06 season for Josh Barfield.

His hot streak to end last season should only serve as a sign for things to come. The Padres will need his production if they want to win the West, because their pitching will remain top-notch. He could be the next breakout star in the league.

3. Chad Tracy (.264, 7, 35)
Arizona Diamondbacks

After very encouraging 2005 and 2006 seasons, Tracy went into last season with high hopes. Instead, his season was doomed by a right knee injury that limited him to 76 games. He eventually went through microfracture surgery in September.

2005 was his breakthrough year with final numbers of .308, 27, and 72. Even 2006 saw great numbers with .281, 20, and 80. It’s amazing to see how well the Diamondbacks did in his absence, which speaks to how tight of a team they were. While he may not be ready to start the season, he looks like he’s getting close. When he’s fully healthy, it’s not unrealistic to think of him gathering around 20-25 HR and 75-85 RBI.

If he’s not able to fully recover for whatever reason, Mark Reynolds will be waiting in the wings again, and he filled in very nicely last season. With 17 HR and 62 RBI in 111 games, Tracy might feel the heat to rush back before Reynolds takes the job for good.

4. Nomar Garciaparra (.283, 7, 59)
Los Angeles Dodgers

While he will start the season on the DL, Garciaparra will be back well before Andy LaRoche, which gives him the nod as the starter. He knows he has a lot to prove after a very mediocre 2007 campaign.

Battling injuries to pretty much every part of his body, he saw all of his major numbers take a hit. In the first 3 months of the season, he hit only 2 HR. If not for hitting one out on the last day of June, he would have gone through the entire months of May and June without one. He’s never been a big power threat, but he did have 20 in 2006. Injuries have simply crippled his career.

Even when he is back on the field, once LaRoche comes back, it will be a battle for playing time between the 2. LaRoche has shown great promise in the minors, but he has a bad injury history as well. Both men have plenty to prove this season.

5. Jose Castillo (.244, 0, 24)
San Francisco Giants

Poor San Francisco. They are constantly at the bottom of my position previews. Their offense is really that poor. A combination of bad players and injuries have forced them to claim Castillo off of waivers from the Marlins, and he’ll probably be the starter at 3rd. Sad.

He’s spent his first 4 years in the league with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He’s never hit above .268 and never hit more than 14 HR. His play was so bad that he was actually benched for last season in favor of Jose Bautista. After only getting in pinch-hitting and running appearances, he was released after the season.

It’s hard to imagine him having much, if any, impact with the Giants. Their offense is really bad around him, so it’s not like anybody can pick him up. This is definitely not a good time to be a Giants fan.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

NL West breakdown: Shortstop

Time to swing along the diamond to shortstop, where our look at the top position players in the National League West continues.

1. Troy Tulowitzki (.291 AVG, 25 HR, 99 RBI)
Colorado Rockies

Tulowitzki gets the edge here, even though he has only completed one full season in the majors. His numbers last year came out of nowhere, and were huge for a team that went to the World Series. He hit .291 with 25 HR and 99 RBI. 33 doubles and 104 runs scored ain’t too shabby either.

What really puts him on top, however, is his fielding. He had a .987 fielding %, which largely contributed to the Rockies MLB-record .989 fielding %. He was also tops in putouts, assists, double plays turned, and total chances in the entire majors. How in the world he did not win the Gold Glove award is beyond me (it went to Jimmy Rollins), which goes to show just how much of a joke this award can be sometimes.

As one of the top ranked SS in baseball now, he goes into this season with the job solely his, and will look to top last year’s high marks. With that offense surrounding him, anything is possible.

2. Rafael Furcal (.270, 6, 47)
Los Angeles Dodgers

Furcal did not enjoy last season by any stretch of the imagination. He was hurt in Spring Training by chasing after a measly pop-up, colliding with outfielder Jason Repko, and injuring his ankle. That one play would affect the rest of his season.

His AVG, SLG, and OBP all took big hits as he battled a bad back as well. Normally a leadoff hitter who can get 10-15 HR, he only hit 6. Instead of netting around 60 RBI, he had 47. He still managed to play in 138 games, but probably none of them were completely healthy. Any way you slice it, it was a year to forget.

Coming into this season, he appears to be injury-free. The Dodgers desperately need him to make a lot of noise at the top of the order, which is how they made the playoffs in 2006. He’ll always have a cannon arm, so his defense is never in question. When he’s hitting line drives and stealing bases, the Dodgers are a tough team to beat. He is the key.

3. Khalil Greene (.254, 27, 97)
San Diego Padres

Probably one of the more underrated players in baseball, Greene showed last year just how much pop in his bat he can have. After 3 straight seasons of hitting 15 HR, he tore it up with 27 last season, to go along with 97 RBI. In Petco Park, those are not easy numbers to achieve.

He’s definitely a free swinger (138 K – 32 BB), so he’ll get hacks in every at-bat. Because of this, he’ll always face the criticism of having a lower AVG (his highest was in 2004 at .273). But, he can now hit in the heart of the order with Adrian Gonzalez and be counted on as the main source of runs.

With a newly-signed 2-year deal, he will look to build on his stats as the Padres all-time leading producer of HR and RBI for a shortstop.

4. Stephen Drew (.238, 12, 60)
Arizona Diamondbacks

Drew snuck into 59 games in 2006 and ended up with a .316 AVG. He came into last season as one of those young players with a huge upside. For fantasy lovers, he was a guy to grab late and gloat about it since he had such a big upside. But, things did not pan out as well as he would have hoped.

Much like teammate and fellow prospect Connor Jackson, he never seemed to get into a groove. September turned out to be his highest hitting month, and that was only .266. He played in 28 games in August and hit a pathetic .202. Based on his minor league stats, he has shown to be a much better hitter, so perhaps it was just first-year jitters.

Much like Tulowitzki, his defense has been fantastic. In 638 total chances, he committed only 17 errors. Based on his defense alone, he will have a spot in the Diamondbacks order. But, he needs to show that he’s a more capable hitter than last season, or other options could be sought after.

5. Omar Vizquel (.246, 4, 51)
San Francisco Giants

Entering his 20th season, Vizquel continues to show the world why he’s one of the best defense shortstops in the history of baseball. A career .988 fielder, he nearly reached that number last season at .986. He continues to defy Father Time.

He’s had his ups and downs with the bat, and last season was clearly defined as a down. Normally a .274 hitter, he only hit .246. The most telling stat was the OBP. At .340 on his career, it was way down to .304. That’s quite eye-opening. I knew he had a rough year, but that’s really bad.

Despite his poor hitting, his defense and clubhouse presence caused the Giants to resign him to a 1-year deal with a club option for a 2nd year. The Giants are in the midst of rebuilding, and he will be counted on to mentor the young players. From that standpoint, the Giants made a very smart decision. But, if his hitting continues to tank, it’s not unrealistic to see this being his final year in the Bay Area.

Esteban Loaiza is officially the 5th starter

After an offseason of speculation, Esteban Loaiza has emerged as the winner of the 5th starter battle. The decision was made by Joe Torre before Friday's exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox.

Chan Ho Park had been the other main candidate, mainly because he pitched really well this spring with a 1.69 ERA in 16 innings. Since he did sign a minor league deal, he could be send to Triple-A Las Vegas to get his regular starts in, or stay on the big club as a long reliever. I haven't seen anything to make me believe that he'll be cut altogether, so that's a tremendous compliment to just how effectively he has pitched.

Loaiza will start tonight against the Red Sox in his final Spring tuneup. His first official start will be on the road in Arizona on March 8. He has 3 other starts scheduled, though they were not made clear against whom they will be. My best guess is that his next start will be at home against Pittsburgh (March 14-16), then possibly in either Atlanta or Cincinnati (March 20-22), and home vs. Arizona or San Diego (March 23-27). Again, those are just educated guesses on my part. With off days, the rotation can be juggled at any time.

With Hong-Chih Kuo looking like a long reliever, I would think Park would be sent to Triple-A for the time being. Keep in mind that Loaiza has only 1 win in 5 career starts for the Dodgers, and those other 4 starts were all horrible. So, it's not impossible to think that this could flop, but let's hope not.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Blake DeWitt could start at 3rd base

Andy LaRoche? Torn ligament in right thumb, out 2 months.

Nomar Garciaparra? Microfracture in right wrist, out 1-2 weeks.

Tony Abreu? Strained right groin, out 2-3 weeks.

And that, my friends, is why young Blake DeWitt could find himself thrust into the 3rd base position to start the season.

Before looking at the whole situation, let's look at DeWitt. He's had 41 at-bats thus far, hitting .224 with an OBP of .339. Of his 11 hits, 4 have been doubles, 2 were home runs, and 1 was a triple. He has more walks than strikeouts at 9 to 7. So, it shows he has pretty good pop in his bat when he does get a hold of one.

Still, a .224 AVG isn't exactly Earth-shattering. In today's day and age, it seems like more baseball people worry about the OBP, and at .339, that's not really jumping off the page either. Seems to me that his extra-base hits have caused optimism on his behalf.

He's never played about the Double-A level, but in the Dodgers' case, they don't exactly have many other options. Chin-lung Hu is more of a SS or 2B, which is where he'll find himself if Jeff Kent can't go to start the year. Therefore, DeWitt it is. His minor league stats show that he could be good for around 15-20 HR and 65-75 RBI a year.

I think it's worth a shot to see what he can do. He really doesn't have much pressure on himself, unlike LaRoche last year, when he failed miserably. LaRoche was expected to immediately start producing runs, whereas DeWitt has better hitters surrounding him this year (addition of Andruw Jones, improving hitters of Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Russell Martin). It could work for the time being.

In the meantime, the injury bug that seems to always find its way to the Dodgers' clubhouse has not disappointed. Kent's injury seems minor, so that's a plus. Nomar's could go either way from what I can tell, which is not at all surprising. Abreu keeps digging himself more and more of a hole with another injury and a poor Spring. His days could be numbered when LaRoche is healthy and if DeWitt and/or Hu play well.

Goodbye to Mike Myers

Scratch Mike Myers off the list of potential bullpen members, as he was released by the Dodgers yesterday. He had been battling to be one of the situational lefties behind Joe Beimel.

Largely considered a Joe Torre guy, he really did not do himself any favors this Spring. He finished with the stat line of 0-1, 7.2 IP, 9.39 ERA, 1.79 WHIP, 9 H, 8 ER, 4 BB, 4 K. Giving up more than run per inning was a recipe for disaster.

Since Hong-Chih Kuo is a virtual lock to make the roster, that leaves 2 lefties in the bullpen, assuming that Esteban Loaiza is the 5th starter. Unless they make some sort of move to get somebody else, that could very well be it. I'm not a big believer in the whole "you need lefties to win" debate, since I think that if you can pitch well, it doesn't really matter what arm you throw with. But, even I would admit that only carrying 2 seems thin. Hopefully talent wins over depth here.

Of course, with only 2 lefties, the name Clayton Kershaw is probably being tossed around as we speak. He is a lefty, you know...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My other writings

As much as I love writing about the Dodgers, I also enjoy writing about other sports as well. That's why I have recently become a member of the Associated Content team. It's a pretty cool website where you can submit articles on just about anything. If you're lucky, you may actually earn a few bucks along the way.

I have recently written a few different articles, mostly about the NCAA Tournament. If you have time and would like to check them out, be my guest!

Aaron's Associated Content page

Rudy Seanez is gone

In a somewhat surprising move, the Dodgers have decided to release relief pitcher Rudy Seanez. Thus, his 16-year Major League career may finally come to an end.

Seanez turned out to be a pleasant surprise for the Dodgers last year. He finished with a 6-3 record, 3.79 ERA, and 1.38 WHIP. Good numbers for a guy that was not expected to last with the team all year. Another impressive stat was his 73 K's in 76 IP.

What was the kiss of death for him was his 7.71 ERA in only 4.2 IP this Spring. A strained groin early on caused him to never get into any type of rhythm. If he had been healthy, who knows how effectively he could have pitched.

The release now opens up another bullpen spot. Who could it go to? Hmmm.......... is Clayton Kershaw now in the running? Now that would be interesting.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Clayton Kershaw dominates once again

For all of you Clayton Kershaw lovers, your argument for having him join the rotation just got stronger.

Pitching 3 innings of relief for Brad Penny, Kershaw gave up 1 meager hit and struck out 6 to lower his Spring ERA to 0.90. To put in perspective just how great he has been, in 10 innings of relief work, he has allowed only 1 run and K'd 10. All of this from a 20-year-old kid. Just amazing what he has done.

Yes, it's only Spring Training, and who knows how he would have done when the lineups are at full strength. But, not only has he backed up all of the hype, he has made himself look like a legit major league player. Will he land the 5th spot? I still don't think so, mostly because Esteban Loaiza has been good enough to earn it (and that contract of his...).

What will more than likely happen is that he'll be sent to Triple-A Las Vegas. Truth be told, that may be best for him right now considering he's never been about the Double-A level. Let him go to Vegas and get consistent innings, and then reevaluate him. Like I've said a hundred times before, the injury bug is going to hit at some point (just ask Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra), so he'll get another look.

As for the rest of today's game, it ended up being a 3-3 tie with the Milwaukee Brewers. Good thing it was a tie because the Dodgers have already lost 5 in a row. With a Spring record of 9-18-2 and after traveling to a million different places to play (because after all, Spring Training is about seeing the whole world, you know), I think it'll be a welcome sight come Monday when the games count and the Bonds-less Giants come to town.

Just start the season already!

Monday, March 24, 2008

The 5th starter battle

A simple question to pose:

If the season started right now, who should be the 5th starter?

Notice I didn't say who WILL be, but rather I said who SHOULD be. Big difference.

So, let's take a look at the battle, with all of the pitchers in contention and their Spring Training stats.

Esteban Loaiza
1-1, 4.20 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 15 IP, 7 ER, 3 BB, 12 K

Chan Ho Park
0-0, 1.69 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 16 IP, 3 ER, 6 BB, 10 K

Hong-Chih Kuo
0-0, 2.35 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 7.2 IP, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K

Clayton Kershaw
0-0, 1.29 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 7 IP, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K

Collectively, none of these 4 pitchers has been that bad at all. In fact, Park, Kuo, and Kershaw have been flat-out dominating for most of the way. The one guy that was expected to take over the spot, Loaiza, has had mixed success. A 4.20 ERA is not that bad for a 5th starter, and his WHIP is very encouraging. He's striking people out and not giving up walks, which is a great sign.

Park was pitching lights-out until he hit a small bump in the road against the Diamondbacks, giving up a 3-run homer to Chris Snyder. 1 small blip in 16 innings is very impressive for a guy that should be nowhere near consideration for this job. He has certainly made Joe Torre's decision even more difficult.

Kuo has once again shown signs for being a great pitcher. But, like always, there were arm problems along the way, as he was slowed down by soreness. While his numbers have been great, it's worth noting that he only pitched a little over 7 innings, so it's not like there's a whole lot to judge from. Because he is out of options, he'll either be the 5th guy or in a long relief role, which is something he should handle well.

The last guy is the most intriguing one, Kershaw. I think it's more wishful thinking on the fans part to see him in there, and 7 K's in 7 IP is a reason why. He can be as good as he wants to be for many years to come. Will he make the team? No, I really don't think so yet. Let him develop, then bring him up if absolutely need be.

Based on the overall presentation, the 5th starter should be... (I never thought I'd say this), Chan Ho Park. He has earned it. Loaiza hasn't been bad by any means, but Park has made enough strides to be given a chance at least. Take away that 1 home run he gave up, and who knows? Maybe he would have gone scoreless thus far. There's a possibility he could fall flat on his face, but he hasn't yet, and should be given the shot.

With that said, do I think Park will get the nod? Uh, no. It'll be Loaiza. Torre knows what Loaiza has done in the past, and his numbers are good enough to be slotted in there for the time being. I don't know what will happen to Park considering Kuo will be kept, but if he goes to Triple A and continues to pitch well, knowing all of the wacky injuries that go on in LA, he could be back in no time.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Pierre already unhappy about role

Juan Pierre has been arguably the major subject of Dodger fans this offseason. The second Andruw Jones was signed, the question was not only where Pierre would play, but if he would even start anymore. Now, Pierre is showing signs that the tension is getting to him.

After only pinch-hitting in Thursday's game against the Chicago White Sox, he met privately with Joe Torre. The issue of the meeting was obvious - he wanted to know where he stood in the outfield log jam. He claimed that he had no idea that Jones' signing meant that he would now be in competition for a starting spot. I guess he was under the assumption that a position change would be all that was asked of him.

While I can certainly understand his willingness to play, I find it hard to believe that he had no clue about not starting. I mean geez... couldn't he have at least turned a TV on or read the Internet at some point? Even non-Dodger fans knew he might be squeezed out.

With a .200 AVG and .273 OBS this Spring, it's a little hard to take his complaining seriously. Just last game, he was 1-5 with an RBI and was caught stealing 2nd base. He needs to start playing better to even come close to justifying his contract. Sitting on the bench to start the year would hopefully light a fire under him.

Torre knows that the Dodgers haven't done jack squat since the 1988 World Series, and he was brought in to win now. Playing the hot hand in Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp with Jones is the best option now. Pierre will still get some playing time, but until he shows that he can get on base more, he should get a seat right next to Torre on the bench.

With Nomar hurt, is Mark Loretta on his way in?

Yet another rumor is being thrown around concerning trading for a 3rd baseman. This time it seems legit, given that both Andy LaRoche and Nomar Garciaparra won't be ready for the start of the season. In the past the names have been Brandon Inge and Joe Crede. Now, add Mark Loretta's name to the mix.

Loretta is currently with the Houston Astros, but will be behind Kaz Matsui when he gets back from his pain in the ass injury. Sorry... I couldn't resist! Anyway, Loretta is a steady, singles hitter. He has a combined 12 home runs the last 3 years, and his AVG will be in the mid-.280's range. If the Dodgers are willing to get a guy that will get hits, but provide absolutely no power, then they should go for it.

I do like Loretta because he is a guy that can get on base. He's certainly not flashy, but at this point, the Dodgers can't be too picky about who they want. If he can come cheap, it should be worth a shot.

The other options include Blake DeWitt, Tony Abreu, and Chin-Lung Hu. Their averages this spring are as follows: DeWitt - .243, Abreu - .214, Hu - .243. While they obviously are still raw and will be better in the years to come, those averages don't exactly make the Dodgers too confident in handing one of them the job. Abreu may be called to duty at 2nd to fill in for Jeff Kent until he returns, so DeWitt and Hu remain.

If it were up to me, then I'd lean towards Hu, only because he has more experience being in the Bigs. DeWitt's time will come at some point. Who knows how long Nomar will be out, but it's one of those injuries that looked minor at first, and gradually it becomes longer and longer for him to come back. When Kent comes back, I think Hu and Abreu can hold the fort down for awhile.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Penny is sharp, Dodgers win

I'm blogging from the road this week enjoying the NCAA tourny from a friend's house. Man, was Belmont this close to pulling off THE upset of upsets. Oh well.

Anyway, great to see that Brad Penny was flawless in his start today. His final line was 6 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 K. He's now ready for his Opening Day start against the Giants. No offense to Derek Lowe, but if was given the ball to start another season, I was going to flip out.

Rafael Furcal has raised his spring average to .327 by going 4-5 with a home run, double, and 2 runs scored. It was an interesting lineup today that had Furcal leading off and Ethier in the 2 hole. Must have worked because they ran off 8 runs. Matt Kemp bombed a 3-run shot in the 7th inning. Not a bad day at all for their Arizona debut.

Chan Ho Park and his 12 inning scoreless streak will take the mound tomorrow vs. the Diamondbacks. It's still a tossup between he and Esteban Loaiza, so it's a big start.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

NL West breakdown: 2nd base

Let’s take a look back at the NL West position previews, this time with 2nd base.

1. Jeff Kent (.302 AVG, 20 HR, 79 RBI)
Los Angeles Dodgers

Kent now enters his 4th year controlling second base for the Dodgers, and now he’s an old man at 40. There was hesitation before the season if he would come back or not, but the additions of players like Andruw Jones and Hiroki Kuroda must have convinced him that they are serious about a playoff run. For the Dodgers, it’s a good sign that he’s back.

Even if his range has been reduced in recent years and the inevitable injury bug will hit for someone his age, no one should dispute his heart when he’s on the field. He appeared 136 games last year, but still lead the team with 20 homers. He’s driven in over 100 runs in 8 of the last 11 years, although he has not done so since 2005 because of injuries.

With Jones in the lineup everyday, plus the emergence of youngsters like James Loney and Matt Kemp, Kent will once again assume the cleanup role and should put up the appropriate numbers. Staying healthy will once again be the big question mark he will have to answer throughout the year.

2. Orlando Hudson (.294, 10, 63)
Arizona Diamondbacks

The O-Dawg was having a very solid season last year before a wrist injury ended it in September. The DBacks still made a good playoff run, but could not get by the Colorado Rockies in the NL Championship series. Would a healthy Hudson have pushed them over the top? It’s hard to make that argument considering they were swept, but seeing that they did score only 8 runs in 4 games, perhaps he could have helped.

Hudson will never be a big power guy, as around 10 home runs is what you can reasonably expect. What he will do is hit in the #2 spot and do what is necessary to win. His AVG and OBP reached career highs last season, and he can drive in around 60 runs a season. All are signs that his offensive ability is picking up while his team around him has gotten much better.

The other major positive is his glove work, which has earned him 3 straight Gold Glove awards, 2 with Arizona and 1 with Toronto. Improving hitter or not, that statistic will get him plenty of playing time alone.

3. Tadahito Iguchi (.267, 9, 43)
San Diego Padres

Iguchi will be playing on his 3rd team in the last 2 seasons after being dealt from the Chicago White Sox to the Philadelphia Phillies last year. He had the unenviable role of taking over for the injured Chase Utley, but actually performed quite well. While he only hit 3 HR and 12 RBI in 45 games as a Phillie, he did have a .301 AVG and .381 OBP while helping them win the division out of nowhere.

Since Utley is obviously back and one of the best 2nd basement in the league, Iguchi was squeezed out. He shouldn’t have any real competition in San Diego, so playing time won’t be an issue. He’s good for around 135 games a year, and can put up some decent power numbers for a 2nd baseman (15-20 HR, 60-70 RBI), although last year his power was not as good.

With Mike Cameron gone and the only real hitting threat being Adrian Gonzalez, he could get a chance to hit in the middle part of the order and drive in more runs.

4. Ray Durham (.218, 11, 71)
San Francisco Giants

In 2006, Durham had a tremendous year, hitting .293 with 26 HR and 93 RBI. Then last season, he crashed and burned. He played in the same amount of games as ’06, so it’s not like injuries hit him. He just flat out stunk, plain and simple.

Entering the 14th season in his career and at age 36, it’s hard to imagine that his production will get better. But, the previous 4 years he hit .282 or better, so maybe his AVG just had a 1-year slump. Without Barry Bonds in the lineup, I doubt he can even reach the 71 RBI he had last year. There’s not a whole lot of reason for optimism to be perfectly honest.

Who knows where he’ll hit in the lineup, but without any big boppers (unless you consider Aaron Rowand one), chances to post big numbers should be scarce. Don’t be surprised if he’s a victim of a youth movement at some time during the year.

5. Jayson Nix (Triple-A: .292, 11, 58)
Colorado Rockies

Nix gets the last part of the rankings mostly because he’s a newbie and he might not even get to be an everyday player yet. What I do know comes from his minor league statistics, where he has played for his entire 7-year career.

He’s spent the last 2 seasons at Triple-A Colorado Springs, where he saw an increase in every major hitting statistic from the year before. Playing in 21 more games than ’06, he saw his OPS jump from .630 to .793. He doesn’t exactly strike me as a big power threat, but he does play in Colorado keep in mind, so that could always change.

As of now, he’s still battling Clint Barmes and Jeff Baker for the everyday job. So, it’s absolutely no sure bet that he’ll get a lot of starts.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stats so far

For those of you that care about Spring Training (or even don't), I'm going to take a look at the stats for what I believe to be the starting lineup. Andy LaRoche will not be included since he will not be ready for Opening Day.

C - Russell Martin
40 AB, .175 AVG, .333 OBP, 7 H, 7 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI

1B - James Loney
54 AB, .259 AVG, .333 OBP, 17 H, 6 R, 0 HR, 3 RBI

2B - Jeff Kent
10 AB, .200 AVG, .200 OBP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 HR, 0 RBI

SS - Rafael Furcal
50 AB, .280 AVG, .333 OBP, 14 H, 9 R, 2 HR, 10 RBI

3B - Nomar Garciaparra
16 AB, .375 AVG, .412 OBP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI

LF - Andre Ethier/Juan Pierre
50 AB, .340 AVG, .459 OBP, 17 H, 11 R, 5 HR, 13 RBI
54 AB, .204 AVG, .271 OBP, 11 H, 6 R, 0 HR, 2 RBI

CF - Andruw Jones
33 AB, .212 AVG, .381 OBP, 7 H, 6 R, 2 HR, 6 RBI

RF - Matt Kemp
42 AB, .310 AVG, .318 OBP, 13 H, 6 R, 2 HR, 12 RBI

Vero Beach memories

As the Dodgers wrap up their Spring Training home of Vero Beach after 60 years and prepare for the move to Arizona next year, a lot of fuss has been made over this. I've got to be honest here - while I totally understand why people would not be happy about this, I really don't care too much about it. That's it. No disrespect meant to anyone, but where the Dodgers play Spring Training is not exactly a big concern of mine.

With that said, I do have one memory of Vero. Being a New Yorker, the chance to see the Dodgers isn't exactly a big one, but fortunately for me, I do have a brother-in-law that lives near there. So, during Spring Break of my 10th grade year in 1997, the family made the trip to Florida to visit other family members. Luckily for me, a trip to Dodgertown vs. the Mets was in store.

And oh what an interesting game it was. This was during the Billy Russell Era, if anybody even remembers him. For those of you that don't, he's the guy that took over after Tommy Lasorda called it quits. The Mets weren't the powerhouse that they are today, but the Dodgers had the big guns out, especially Mike Piazza and Eric Karros. In other words, my 2 faves.

Ismael Valdez got the start for LA (I have no clue who started for the Mets). It was a bright, beautiful, sunny day. Not a cloud in the sky. A packed house. I even got some autographs beforehand. All in all, a great day for baseball!

And then... Valdez got smacked. Hard. I'm talking really, REALLY hard. My gosh, I thought batting practice ended before the game started. The Mets absolutely unloaded on him. I'm not aware how long he lasted, or was supposed to last, but to get pulled in the middle of a Spring Training game probably doesn't say much for your performance that day.

The final score? 21-8, Mets. Ouch.

The good news is that Piazza launched one out to center, so that was cool. The rest was pathetic. But still, as little as I care about where the Dodgers will be next spring, nothing can change the fact that I was lucky enough to have been to Vero Beach at least once.

Here's some links to Vero Beach stories from

Lasorda's goodbye

The final day

E-Ticket: Blue Heaven

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dodgers fall in Vero Beach finale

The final game for the Dodgers at Vero Beach saw an uncharacteristically high scoring game with the Houston Astros. The Astros had just a bit more fuel in the tank to take the back-and-forth game, 12-10.

Chad Billingsley got the start, and had a hard time giving up the long ball. Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn, and David Newhan all went yard. His final line was 5 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 3 K. I'll focus on the positive in that he only walked 1 in 5 innings, which is a sign that his control was at least in check. Too bad those 3 fly balls that left the park weren't.

The bats were on fire throughout, and Rafael Furcal was awesome. He launched a home run in the 3rd, then hit 2 triples en route to a 3-run game. Delwyn Young scored twice and had 2 walks. Jason Repko raised his Spring Training AVG to .343 with a 2-hit day. And some young player named Preston Mattingly hit his first homer of the spring.

The best player of the day, however, was once again Andre Ethier. He finished 4-5, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, SB. Getting the start in right field and hitting 3rd in the order, he once again proved how valuable a player he could be if given enough playing time. His AVG is now up to .354, which in my book is pretty good.

Yup, it was a great day for the Dodgers at the plate...

...EXCEPT FOR JUAN PIERRE. I can pretty much just cut and paste the same comment from the other day. Hitting in the leadoff spot, he was 0-5, lowering his AVG to .196. Man, this is getting to be really pathetic. In 51 at-bats, he's taken 4 walks for an OBP of .296. Again, pathetic. I know Joe Torre likes to give veterans chances to play, but even a blind man can see that Ethier is doing all he can to earn the spot, while Pierre is doing all he can to sit the bench.

I can say with full confidence that an Ethier-Jones-Kemp outfield is looking better and better each day.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

More proof that Ethier could be the man

Yesterday's game was exactly what Andre Ethier needed to do to continue his push for left field.

And on the flip side, Juan Pierre continues to stumble even more.

Ethier went 3-4 with 4 RBI's off a 2-run homer and 2-run single to lead the Dodgers to a 6-1 win over the Washington Nationals. Rafael Furcal also added a 2-run single to round out the scoring. Brad Penny was fantastic, pitching 5 innings of shutout ball. Takashi Saito got on the board with a scoreless, hitless inning while only throwing 11 pitches. So pretty much, everything was clicking for the Dodgers yesterday....

...except for Juan Pierre. Hitting in the leadoff spot, he went 0-4 and left 3 men on base. That's bad enough, but for him to see Ethier go off like that, it made matters even worse. Perhaps that's why an article from the Orange County Register suggests that his days may be numbered, since Ethier and Kemp have clearly outplayed him thus far.

5 years and $44 million... and he may be heading to the bench. That's gotta be tough to swallow.

No matter how you look at Pierre's past success and his current contract situation, even the biggest Pierre fans would have to admit that Ethier is the better player right now, and would certainly add more to the Dodgers from an overall standpoint.

13 games are left in Spring Training, and Pierre needs to start making some noise and FAST, or he'll be on the outside of the starting lineup looking in once March 31 hits.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pierre vs. Ethier - the early results

With Andy LaRoche on the shelf for a couple of months, and seeing that I'm constantly talking about the 5th rotation spot battle, I'll shift my focus back to the battle for left field. I'm still under the assumption that Matt Kemp is a lock in right, but sometimes I read something stating otherwise. But, I know he'll get the majority, if not all, of the starts there anyway. By my calculations, that leaves Juan Pierre vs. Andre Ethier for left.

16 games into Spring Training, here are the important stats for each man:

Juan Pierre - 39 AB, .205 AVG, .298 OBP, 6 R, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 4 BB, 5 SB
Andre Ethier - 36 AB, .250 AVG, .400 OBP, 8 R, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 8 BB, 1 SB

It does take a good ol' Rocket Scientist to figure out that Ethier is playing better right now. Not surprisingly, his power numbers are much better (not that Pierre is expected to his homers). Projected over a full season, he's at 30 HR and 60 RBI, which would be great. His AVG isn't good, but his OBP is. So far, he's been willing to take a walk and wait for a pitch to hit out, which is a mark of a good power hitter. Not a bad start.

Pierre, on the other hand, has done what you'd expect him to do: not get on base much, but run a lot with success when he does. A .298 OBP is pretty pathetic for a guy who hits at the top of the order. Let's face reality - he is who he is, and it's not like he'll drastically change his game at this point. His work ethic can never be disputed, but his results are still not want Dodger fans are looking for from a leadoff man. And that's just the truth.

Seeing that Matt Kemp is slugging .615 to go along with 2 doubles, 2 triples, 2 home runs, and 9 RBI's, that should further support his case for being a starting right fielder. Andruw Jones hasn't done too much yet, but you know his power numbers will be there when it's all said and done. If Ethier continues to be a decent power threat, it would be hard to keep him out of the lineup. Ethier, Jones, and Kemp looks like a solid, young trio that us fans would be excited to see everyday.

As for Pierre, well... he can always pinch-run in the 8th!

Loaiza continues his 5-spot push

Esteban Loaiza is pitching very well. Yes, I did just say that.

Loaiza had his 4th straight strong outing, giving up only a solo shot in 5 innings and striking out 3 against the St. Louis Cardinals. Oh ya, the Dodgers still lost 6-4, and Tommy Lasorda probably hates life right about now.

Let's take a look at Loaiza's spring stats:

at Atlanta - 2 IP, 3 ER, 4 H, 0 BB, 1 K
at Washington - 2 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 0 BB, 2 K
vs. Boston - 3 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 2 BB, 4 K
vs. St. Louis - 5 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 3 K

His first outing was the ESPN game against Atlanta, and wow was he awful. And I do mean AWFUL. Since then, he's finally started to pitch like the guy that won 21 games in 2003. The Boston outing was impressive because he had to face guys like David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. The Cardinals didn't have Albert Pujols in the lineup, and they pretty much suck anyway, but hey, 5 innings of 1 run is still great.

Now the million dollar question is, Will he get the 5th spot in the starting rotation? Coming into the season, it was pretty much his to lose, and after that first appearance, it sure looked like he was trying to do all he could to lose it! All the Dodgers need is someone on the back end of the rotation who can provide some sort of consistency because that didn't happen at all last year. 12 IP, 4 ER, and a 3.00 ERA will most definitely fit the bill.

It's not like this decision will be an easy one for the Dodgers. Chan Ho Park has gone 12 and none, and Hong-Chih Kuo is at 6 and zero. I don't think anyone thought that Park would be pitching this well, but he sure has. The Dodgers are known for reclamation projects, and this could be it. Kuo's intriguing because he'd be the only lefty in the rotation, but injuries just kill him at the worst times (see LaRoche, Andy). It's going to be hard to cut any of them if need be.

Still, my guess is Loaiza based on his past winning experience. And uh... that contract may have something to do with it. Anyway, at least he's stringing together some solid innings. He'll have 2-3 starts left this spring, so he still has more chances to prove his worth.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

ESPN to telecast Dodgers home opener

ESPN and ESPN2 will broadcast 5 games on Opening Day, and fortunately for this New Yorker, the San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers is one of them. Game time is 4:00 EST (or 1:00 LA time). Here's the full schedule, including the Sunday night opener:

Sunday, March 30
Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals - 8:00, ESPN

Monday, March 31
Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees - 1:00, ESPN
Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago Cubs - 2:00, ESPN2
San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers - 4:00, ESPN
Anaheim Angels at Minnesota Twins - 7:00, ESPN2
Houston Astros at San Diego Padres - 10:00, ESPN2

The Sunday night games are listed through the month of May, and the Dodgers are left off. Heck, they've got to have at least 1 game on Sunday night at some point, right?

Public Enemy Number 1!

Looks like Vin Scully is quite the Clayton Kershaw fan. Check out this video where Kershaw's wicked curve apparently has a new nickname.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Brazoban shelled in loss to Marlins

With the Dodgers in a back-and-forth battle with the Florida Marlins this afternoon, Yhency Brazoban had a chance to hold a 2-run lead in the 7th. Instead, he failed miserably.

Lasting only 0.2 innings, Brazoban gave up 3 runs on 2 hits and a walk. Joe Beimel didn't do a whole lot better, as he was charged with 1 run on 3 hits in 1.1 innings. The Marlins ended up edging the Dodgers 7-6.

Maybe I'm being too harsh here (it's only Spring Training, bla bla bla), but the disheartening part about this whole thing is that those are 2 guys the Dodgers will rely on the most to keep leads in the late innings. Brazoban is still coming back from an injury, which may be why he's given up 5 runs in 2.2 innings for a 20.45 ERA. To be pulled during the inning of a Spring Training game is also not a good sign. I hope he gets his stuff together because he's overpowering when he's on.

In better news, the offense has picked up the slack in a big way recently, starting with a 20 spot on Saturday. Matt Kemp and Andruw Jones have all hit key home runs the last few days that helped lead to wins. Rafael Furcal added a big triple and 2 RBI's today. Basically, the guys you want to see hitting have been.

With half of the team off to China for 2 games, the rest of the squad plays the Washington Nationals on Wednesday. Chad Billingsley gets the ball, with Jason Johnson to follow.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

New 3rd base options

All it took was one injury to Andy LaRoche, and the good old trade rumor mill has been given new life.

Now take a deep breath for this one... Guess who's being talked about as a potential trade option for 3rd base? But you'll never guess...

Why it's Brandon Inge, of course!

This on again, off again trade talk has seen the switch flipped back on, all because LaRoche is out for 2 months. How serious is it? Well, doesn't exactly make a specific link for it, but they seem to more in the speculation stage. For the last time, the guy had 1 good year and that's it. Let it go!

Another name being tossed around is one that has also popped up in the past, Joe Crede. I will admit that this one has me intrigued just a teeny, tiny bit. It was just 2 years ago that he hit .283 with 30 HR and 94 RBI. He also had +20 HR seasons the previous 3 years (ok, he had 19 in 2003, but close enough!), so he has shown pretty decent pop. But, last year was a disaster as a bad back held him to 47 games and 4 HR.

A couple of different sources to check out concerning Crede. The first is from South Side Sox where they accurately point out that not only does Crede bring more power than Inge, but he's also in the last year of his salary, as opposed to 3 years and $19.1 million for Inge. Perhaps he can be plugged in with Nomar Garciaparra for the time being, then be reevaluated when LaRoche is healthy. It could work.

The second is from ESPN's Buster Olney, who points out that scouts claim Nomar's unusual throwing style from 3rd could mean he's not being counted on there for the long haul. Interesting point, though I tend to think that is just scout-talk and wouldn't read too much into that.

Man, Nomar has got to be feeling like crap right now. There was a time when he was one of the top players in the game, now people talk as if he's completely washed up. He's practically handed the 3rd base job, yet the Dodgers might not want him to play that much. Oh ya, he also was hurt the other day when he was hit on the right wrist by a pitch.

IMHO (cool Internet slang), I would take a serious look at bringing in Crede. BUT, the price has to be reasonable. What would the White Sox want? If it's an arm out of the bullpen, I'd consider that. If it's a young stud, then forget it. For a reasonable price, this deal may very well happen.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Could Clayton Kershaw become the 5th starter?

Looks like Kershawmania is starting to run wild through the Dodgers.

After pitching only 1 inning of 1 Major League game, Clayton Kershaw has made such a great impression that his name is now being thrown into the hat of pitchers who could be the #5 starter. Why is this such a big deal? He's about to turn 20 next month.

Think about that. He's only TWENTY FREAKIN' YEARS OLD! Damn. At 20 I was just trying to pass my history class at community college. The thought of starting at Dodger Stadium never really entered my mind.

Even though he gave up a leadoff homer and then allowed the bases to be loaded, the fact that he struck out the side is what left people in awe. His money pitches are his fastball and curveball. Russell Martin, widely regarded as one of the top catchers in baseball, said the following after catching him for the first time:

"For the first time in a big league game -- wow. He's got just a heavy, heavy fastball and an easy delivery. He's very deceptive. His curveball, it just drops off the table. I think it's the best curveball I've ever caught, to be honest. He keeps the ball down. You can see he's a tremendous competitor, giving up a home run to the first batter, getting into a bases-loaded jam and bearing down to strike out two guys to get out of it."

Not bad praise at all. The best curveball he's EVER caught? Yes, I would say that is a high compliment indeed.

So, what are my thoughts on rushing him to the Bigs right now? Well, fair or not, I can't help but think back to another "can't miss" prospect that the Dodgers threw in there at a young age: Edwin Jackson. True, Jackson started off on top of the world when he beat a then-invincible Randy Johnson, but man has his career sputtered since then. Was it because he was brought up too soon? It's very possible.

Now, I realize we're talking about 2 completely different players that are separated by a few years, but it's still worth looking at. If Esteban Loaiza, Hong-Chih Kuo, or Chan Ho Park (even him) end up stinking up the rest of Spring Training, then even I would admit that seeing Kershaw make the big club would be fun to see. Is it likely? At this point, I still think no.

For all of you fantasy buffs reading this, taking a chance on Kershaw in the late rounds might pay off big time in the long run, especially in keeper leagues. But, don't count on early returns quite yet, it'll take the inevitable injury bug to hit at some point during the year for that to happen.

Torn thumb ligament sidelines LaRoche for 8-10 weeks

This sucks.

That was my first thought, and is still my only thought when I read the news that injuries have yet again derailed Andy LaRoche's rise to the majors. This time, it was a freak play involving an attempted pickoff play that caused the injury. No matter how you look at it, Nomar Garciaparra is now the man at 3rd base on Opening Day and beyond.

According to my 5-star math skills, 8-10 weeks means a return in early-mid May. Nomar will have a good month and a half to prove if he's the man for the job. If he slips, I can only hope that LaRoche is ready to step in.

It's a shame this happened because we'll never know what direction Torre was going to lean in. I always was a believer that both men would get their shot at starting and showing what they have, but that's all for naught right now.

The ironic part to all of this is that Nomar also left today's game when he was pegged in the right wrist with a pitch, but fortunately X-rays were negative and the injury is considered minor. Both men were hitting very well so far, and Nomar even went deep today, so that's a good sign. His days of hitting for power are gone, but I can assume he'll hit in the bottom part of the lineup and still get on base if all is well.

With LaRoche's injury, that takes care of 1 position battle and leaves the focus on 2 more: left field and 5th starter.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Lowe lit up, but Repko is slammin'

Note to Dodgers organization - don't start Derek Lowe against the Red Sox in Spring Training.

Against his former team, Lowe did not even survive the 3rd inning as he was charged with 5 runs and 6 hits in 2+. He explained that his arm path was not right. I guess his arm path was right in line with the hitter's bat paths all day. At least David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez didn't get a hit. Too bad just about everyone else did.

Now the reason for my first line is because this has happened in the spring before. I can recall year after the Sox took the World Series and Lowe went on to the Dodgers, he started against them and was rocked. Even Bronson Arroyo got a hit! Deju vu strikes (all over again).

In case you're wondering if the second part of the title is wrong, well, I can't blame you. But it's not. JASON REPKO of all people hit a grand slam in the 9th to give the Dodgers the cushion to win. That can only help his cause for being an extra outfielder, even if his odds are still slim at best. I've always appreciated his grit and hustle, and if he's healthy (which is rare), he can help win games.

Lowe is the first of the Big 4 (Penny, Lowe, Kuroda, Billingsley) to get rocked, and 8 games into Spring Training, it's hard to complain about that. It's an indicator to what kind of a pitcher he is: great one day, shelled the next. The roller coaster ride is what we've come to expect, with hopefully more good than bad along the way.

Next up is a home game vs. the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. It'll be Chad Billingsley taking the mound, probably looking at going at least 3 innings.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Old Guy and New Guy strut their stuff

The last couple days were a good glimpse into the past and the present. The past was Chan Ho Park, the present was Clayton Kershaw. And, to the satisfaction of many, both produced solid results.

Chan Ho Park started today against the New York Mets and pitched very effectively again. This time, it was 2 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 1 BB, 3 K. Overall, he's pitched 4 scoreless innings. Hey, it's baby steps, but it's working. When he first arrived, I thought it was an atrocious signing (flashback to this post), but he's been great so far. Ya ya ya, I know... it's only 4 innings. Trust me, I'm not ready to call him an ace again, I'm just giving credit where credit is due. And, quite frankly, he deserves credit.

Clayton Kershaw is the star of the future, and he got his first taste of action yesterday against the Washington Nationals. The final stat line is ordinary, but check out the end: 1 IP, 1 R, 3 H, 1 HBP, 3 K. I didn't see the game, but the review is that he gave up 2 bad-hop hits, so there's not much you can do about that. Striking out the side in his debut was quite possibly a great case of foreshadowing. Expect BIG things from him, maybe not now, but down the road.

On a side note, Hong-Chih Kuo was said to be feeling much better today after being scratched from his last start due to elbow tenderness. He's looking to go on Sunday, so stay tuned if that will actually happen or not.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Juan Pierre and Brandon Inge talk

While the Dodgers are going through Spring Training trying to sort out outfield, 3rd base, and 5th starter issues, a couple of names keep popping up about either coming or going.

The first is Juan Pierre, who went from being a big outfield signing last year to feeling completely unloved this year. Not only has he been squeezed out of center field, but possibly of being an everyday starter as well. Now, there's rumblings about the A's showing interest in him, despite their history of shying away from big contracts. Could it be true? Well, the names Emil Brown, Travis Buck, and Chris Denorfia don't exactly leap off the page at you, so you could see why adding a player with past success to their outfield would work.

But, according to the original source of this rumor, Susan Slusser, that's not going to happen anymore. And quite frankly, I don't think anybody is surprised that this rumor was a dud all along.

The next guy is Brandon "7 Year" Inge, who I wrote about back in December about a possible 3rd baseman. It was shot down back then, but apparently wasn't dead and gone quite yet. Inge is regarded as a popular player with Detroit, which is a bit odd considering he hasn't exactly lit the world on fire from the plate recently. True, he hit 27 HR and 83 RBI 2 years ago, but hasn't touched those numbers since then. Joe Torre and Larry Bowa are fans of his, which is why this one won't go away.

But (again), Dylan Hernandez of the LA Times says that this one is also not going to happen. Why? Well, considering he's owed $19.1 million over the next 3 years, that may be a good reason.

I think once and for all, Pierre, Nomar Garciaparra, and Andy LaRoche will all be with the Dodgers for the foreseeable future and keep battling for playing time.

Monday, March 3, 2008

How's the starting pitching doing?

We're only 5 games into Spring Training, but every starting pitcher (or wannabe starting pitcher) has had a turn at the mound. Let's take a look at how each has fared thus far:

The Big 4
Hiroki Kuroda: 2 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 K
Brad Penny: 2 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 1 BB, 2 K
Derek Lowe: 2 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 0 BB, 2 K
Chad Billingsley: 2 IP, 1 R, 3 H, 0 BB, 2 K
Total: 8 IP, 1 R, 6 H, 1 BB, 6 K = 1.12 ERA

Please, make me the 5th starter!
Jason Johnson: 4 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 1 BB, 1 K
Esteban Loaiza: 2 IP, 3 R, 4 H, 0 BB, 1 K
Chan Ho Park: 2 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 1 BB, 0 K
Hong-Chih Kuo: 2 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 1 BB, 1 K
Total: 10 IP, 3 R, 8 H, 3 BB, 3 K = 2.70 ERA

Wow, not too shabby at all. Some of the relievers, on the other hand, have been knocked around, but that's another story for another day.

As far as the starters go, it's really not a surprise considering how much talent they have. ESPN's Tim Kurk...jian (I love the dramatic pause) wrote a great article about how good the rotation can be, especially if Jason Schmidt comes back anywhere close to his former self. I really feel like they can carry the Dodgers much deeper into games than last year.

Looking at the potential 5th starters, the results have been largely great, with one slight exception. Granted, it's hard to make too big a deal either way about just 1 appearance (Johnson has 2). Judging by the results, it's easy to jump to conclusions that Loaiza is just terrible. There's no doubt about one thing - he was terrible against the Mets. He was terrible when the Dodgers picked him up. Does that mean he'll keep stinking the place up? No, but he certainly hasn't done ANYTHING to make you think he can turn it around. He really needs to step up and pitch some shutout innings and fast.

What's most encouraging is to see how the "wannabees" are performing. Johnson is the well-traveled journeyman who is hoping to land on yet another team. He's making a solid case right now. Park is facing a big uphill climb, but putting up zeroes will only help his cause. I really don't think he stands a chance of making the team, and I really have no idea if he's willing to try Triple A before the inevitable injury bug hits. It's probably his best option.

Kuo is the most intriguing option. Will he ever be healthy enough to hold onto a starting job? What works in his favor is the fact that he's a lefty in a rotation without any. Oh, and he can have some nasty stuff when he's healthy. At this point, I'll be Dodger fans would much rather see him get a shot at starting than Loaiza, I can pretty much guarantee that!


It's Monday, and time for a new mailbag. This week, the topics are who will be the 5th starter, interest in trading for Brandon Inge, locking up Russell Martin long-term, players on the 2007 Opening Day roster no longer with the team, and what constitutes a simulated game.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

More great pitching... and more lousy hitting

It's just Spring Training.

And for the hitters, it's a good thing it is.

3 games into the preseason, and the Dodgers aren't exactly lighting the world on fire from the plate. 9 innings of baseball, 31 different plate appearances, 2 hits. Granted, the lineup was about 50-50 of starters and reserves, but those reserves will be counted on all throughout the year for big at-bats. Any way you slice it, it was a pretty pathetic performance.

Fortunately for the Dodgers, the pitching was clicking on all cylinders. Brad Penny: 2 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 2K. Chan Ho Park: 2 IP, 0 R, 1 H. Hong-Chih Kuo: 2 IP, 0 R, 0 H. It's early, but it's encouraging to see that. Actually, in the case of Park, it's downright shocking to see him pitch any scoreless inning. For Kuo, it's a possible start to making his case for being the 5th starter. Jason Schmidt has been shut down temporarily with a sore arm, and Esteban Loaiza was just plain lit up the other day. Could it be Kuo in the end? Wouldn't surprise me.

Derek Lowe gets his first start today, with Eric Stults and Mike Myers the other scheduled pitchers to follow. I can only hope that 2-hit outing hasn't completely worn the offense out and they can find it within them to muster up another heroic performance today.