Tuesday, September 30, 2008

25-man roster all set for the NLDS

I guess it won't take until tomorrow to find out the roster for the NLDS against the Chicago Cubs. Here you go:

Derek Lowe - S/RH
Chad Billingsley - S/RH
Hiroki Kuroda - S/RH
Greg Maddux - LR/RH
Clayton Kershaw - LR/LH
Ramon Troncoso - R/RH
Cory Wade - R/RH
Joe Beimel - R/LH
Chan Ho Park - R/RH
Jonathan Broxton - C/RH
Takashi Saito - C/RH

Key: S = Starter, LR = Long Reliever, R = Reliever, C = Closer

Russell Martin - C
Danny Ardoin - C
James Loney - 1B
Nomar Garciaparra - 1B/Utility
Blake DeWitt - 2B
Jeff Kent - 2B
Rafael Furcal - SS
Angel Berroa - SS
Casey Blake - 3B
Manny Ramirez - LF
Matt Kemp - CF
Andre Ethier - RF
Juan Pierre - OF
Pablo Ozuna - Utility

So there you have it. The biggest surprise in my mind was taking Ramon Troncoso over Scott Proctor. I had talked plenty about how good Proctor looked when he came back from injury... then promptly got hit around hard against San Francisco in the last weekend. Torre likes Troncoso's sinkerball, and facing so many right-handed hitters this series, it makes sense.

The other surprise might be seeing Pablo Ozuna's name, but I think Torre had hinted all along that he would go in that direction. Mark Sweeney could have easily taken this spot, but after hitting .130, he played his way right out of that role. Delwyn Young was another player on the fence that just misses out.

With 11 pitchers, the lone lefty on the bench is Pierre, which could be a problem, but we will see.

Lineup for Game 1 is released

Joe Torre has made up his mind, and here is your official lineup for Game 1 of the NLDS tomorrow in Chicago:

1. Rafael Furcal - SS
2. Russell Martin - C
3. Manny Ramirez - LF
4. Andre Ethier - RF
5. James Loney - 1B
6. Matt Kemp - CF
7. Blake DeWitt - 2B
8. Casey Blake - 3B
9. Derek Lowe - P

The first thing that jumps out to everyone is that Furcal has convinced Torre that he's healthy enough to not only play, but be a big factor. While some may point to how well Angel Berroa has played lately, I think Raffy deserves this kind of treatment. After the way he started the season so red-hot, if he says he's good to go, then they should take his word for it.

I was a bit surprised to see Blake in the #8 spot, but that may have more to do with Torre wanting his left-handed hitters bunched up against the righty Ryan Dempster. It's understandable. If we get to a Game 4 and Ted Lilly takes the mound, then Blake will more than likely find himself hitting higher.

From what I can tell, sometime tomorrow afternoon is when the official rosters need to be in for the first round. What we do know is that Raffy is in, Jeff Kent is probably in, and Hong-Chih Kuo is out.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Key postseason questions for the Dodgers

I'm kicking around a bunch of different thoughts running through my head about the playoffs. In my view, here's some questions the Dodgers will be faced come gametime on Wednesday:
  • Will Derek Lowe continue his great pitching over the second half of the season and be a true ace in Game 1?
  • If Lowe falls, will Chad Billingsley step up to the pressure of Wrigley Field and a deficit and get the job done?
  • Can Manny pick up where he left off in his Red Sox career and be a postseason hero?
  • Will Andre Ethier continue his red-hot hitting when it most counts?
  • Can Russell Martin limit the Cubs' running game?
  • What roles to Rafael Furcal and Jeff Kent play? Can they accept not being starters?
  • Will Blake DeWitt and Angel Berroa control the middle of the infield and give production at the bottom of the order?
  • Will the loss of Hong-Chih Kuo be too much of a hole to fill?
  • Can Jonathan Broxton handle being a closer in the postseason, even with little experience in his career?
  • Is Takashi Saito ready to resume a big role in late innings?
  • What happens if a 4th starter is needed? Can Greg Maddux be the Mad Dog, or a postseason flop late in his career?
  • Can the Dodgers at least get one win on the road before returning home to LA?
I know, that's a lot of questions, but they are important. I still have not seen a finalized 25-man roster for the first round, so who knows if someone like Greg Maddux will even be in the mix. I'll let you know when I do.

To whet your appetite for Game 1...

Here's a great breakdown of the Dodgers-Cubs NLDS. The article focuses mainly on the team's strengths, like the Dodgers' great pitching against the Cubs' power offense. It's short, sweet, and to the point.

Dodgers-Cubs NLDS breakdown

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Kuo is a no-go in Round 1

While the returns of Rafael Furcal and Jeff Kent have been encouraging, the news today that Hong-Chih Kuo will have to sit out at least the first round of the playoffs is seen as a tough blow. Kuo complained of having no feeling in his fingers while warming up Saturday night in San Francisco. Yikes.

This is scarily reminiscent of the last time the Dodgers were in the playoffs in 2006. Joe Beimel was their main lefty reliever, and we all remember how he cut his hand in a bar right before the start of hte series vs. the Mets and couldn't pitch. Now, while they do have Beimel still (alcohol free), another strong lefty from the 'pen is out. Not good.

Look for Clayton Kershaw to be counted on more than usual, as he will be the only lefty in the 'pen to go along with Beimel.

Dodgers to take on the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS

As I mentioned before, the Dodgers will travel to take on the Chicago Cubs starting on Wednesday, October 1 at 6:30 ET. With the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins still battling for the last spot over in the American League, I'm sure all the times are still being worked out.

All I know is that the schedule will look like this:

Game 1 - Wednesday, Oct. 1 in Chicago, 6:30 ET
Game 2 - Thursday, Oct. 2 in Chicago, 9:30 ET
Game 3 - Saturday, Oct. 4 in LA, 10:00 ET
Game 4 (if nec.) - Sunday, Oct. 5 in LA
Game 5 (if nec.) - Tuesday, Oct. 7 in Chicago

Look for a breakdown on the matchup in the next couple of days before the first pitch is thrown on Wednesday.

Go Dodgers!!!

Dodgers end the season 84-78

Tim Lincecum improved to 18-5 while finishing with an MLB- best 285 K's as the San Francisco Giants beat the Dodgers on the last day of the regular season, 3-1. The Giants and Dodgers faced each other 18 times this season (splitting 9-9), but this was only the 2nd start from Lincecum in a bit of lucky scheduling. Man, am I glad it worked out that way.

With the New York Mets choking away the NL Wild Card (and NL East earlier) and the Milwaukee Brewers getting in, the Dodgers knew at some point during the game that they'd now open in Chicago against the Cubs on Wednesday. So, while some of the regulars played, it was a blow off day for the most part.

This game was 1-0 Dodgers for most of the way, thanks to an RBI double by Andre Ethier in the 4th to plate Juan Pierre. Hiroki Kuroda was fantastic in his final tuneup before he goes in Game 3 at Dodger Stadium later this week, going 5 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K. Clayton Kershaw followed with a shaky inning in which the bases were loaded with 1 down, but John Bowker lined into a double play to end the inning.

Maybe I'm being picky here (can't help it), but for the 2nd time in 3 nights, the main relievers really looked pretty bad. Chan Ho Park had the lead to start the 7th, but was easily hit around, surrendering 2 runs on 3 hits in 2/3 an inning. Joe Beimel came on and gave up an RBI single to Nick Schierholtz, but was bailed out when he was out stretching to 3rd. Cory Wade could only get 1 out while giving up a run.

I'm sure the mindset has to be totally different in games like this, no matter how much you try to take it as seriously as any other game. The division has been won, so it's not like they were playing for anything. I just hope that guys like Park, Beimel, and Wade will be firing when it counts, because they didn't exactly end the season on the highest of notes.

The only main guys who started and stayed in all game were James Loney, Blake DeWitt, and Angel Berroa (and combined to go 0-11...). The important thing here is that nobody got hurt on the field and they're ready to go to Chicago.

Looks like "manager" Nomar Garciaparra will have to wait for another day before getting that first big win...

Torre names first 3 starters for NLDS

Joe Torre has decided on his first 3 starters for the playoffs this week, and it's really not at all surprising. Derek Lowe goes Game 1, Chad Billingsley in Game 2, and Hiroki Kuroda in Game 3. After that, it's a toss-up.

I think Lowe and Billingsley each have great cases to start the first game, but with the obvious experience edge going to Lowe, it's a good call. Granted, the last time he start Game 1 for the Dodgers back in 2006 against the Mets, it didn't go so well. But this time around, I think we all have a much better feeling about how well he can do.

Billingsley has gone 16-10 with a 3.14 ERA, 201 K's in 200.2 IP, and 1 complete game shutout. Take away Lowe's World Series run with the Red Sox, then it may be him taking the hill first. It really doesn't matter either way. In my mind, it's like having 2 aces go in consecutive games.

Kuroda has one last tuneup today against the San Francisco Giants before he's unleashed in Game 3. We've seen him look absolutely brilliant in some games, and struggle in others. In a way, he reminds me of how Lowe has been in the past, where you never know which pitcher will show up. However, he's earned his way to this spot, so I think he'll be fine.

In other news, Clayton Kershaw will pitch in relief, a role in which he says he's excited for. The Greg Maddux question will be answered soon. His great start Saturday night should earn him some sort of spot one would think.

Saturday night belongs to Maddux

Greg Maddux had 2 goals coming into tonight's game in San Francisco: pitch efficiently enough to earn his way onto the postseason roster and move past Roger Clemens into sole possession of 8th place on the all time wins list.

He exited a winner in both categories.

Needing a big start to prove that the Mad Dog still has plenty to contribute, Maddux went 6 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K. His only blemish was a solo homer in the 4th by Randy Winn. Other than that, he was a ground ball machine, with 10 of his 15 outs coming on the ground. Granted, he was playing the Giants, who are pathetic, but it was still a great start exactly when he needed one.

The Dodgers played this one similar to the last couple of games, with the main guys starting and then coming out towards the middle of the game. It was a little different in that guys like Casey Blake, Matt Kemp, and Russell Martin stayed in the whole game, but it was mostly the B-team. I would comment on if the Giants played their main guys or not, but I honestly have no idea. Their roster is full of guys that I've never even heard of. Wow, what a pitiful season for them.

The scoring wasn't much, but just enough to win. Blake DeWitt hit a solo shot off of Matt Cain in the 3rd to go up 1-0. Winn's homer in the next inning tied it at 1. DeWitt came through again with an RBI single in the 7th to score Blake (uh, that's the other Blake, as in Casey Blake, for those of you confused like me). And that would be it.

Chad Billingsley pitched the 7th and 8th, giving up no runs on 2 hits. He's in line to start Game 2 of the Division Series, so getting some work in was the goal. It was good to see Takashi Saito come on and get his first save since July 9 by retiring the side in order. I figured he'd get a shot tonight at it more because Jonathan Broxton would get a rest after pitching the night before. Will he be the closer in the postseason? I still lean towards no, but we will see.

An interesting moment came in the 8th when some clown named Billy Sadler struck out Blake (not DeWitt, Casey Blake... ah man I'm confused again). Sadler pumped his fist as if he just clinched a playoff spot, which really pissed off Matt Kemp as the 2 were crossing paths. Apparently this Sadler idiot forgot that his team is a joke, and acting like he just won the World Series in that spot is stupid. The benches emptied, but nothing happened. The Dodgers have bigger fish to fry.

The regular season finale is Sunday, and Hiroki Kuroda gets the call. He just received some good news in that he will be starting Game 3 of the playoffs, so this is a bit of a warmup for him. He goes against Tim Lincecum, who's still eyeing the NL Cy Young award, so he has plenty to pitch for. It should be fun to see who Joe Torre lets manage the team, as he's done in the past with the Yankees.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Kuo to get a test today

Hong-Chih Kuo will get an inning of relief work today in an effort to test his left arm. He's been unavailable in the last 3 weeks due to stiffness in his triceps above his surgically-repaired left elbow. If he shows that he can be the shut-down reliever he's done flawlessly all year, it will be a huge lift for the Dodgers going into the playoffs.

A couple other notes for today's game as well. Chad Billingsley will get a couple innings of work to stay sharp for his start on Thursday in Game 2 of the playoffs, wherever that may be.

Finally, because of the iffy status of Kuo and Takashi Saito, Joe Torre said he will take a 11 pitchers on the 25-man playoff roster. If Jeff Kent stays on as a pinch-hitter (seems likely after his crushing homer last night), Pablo Ozuna could get some outfield work in an effort to find a spot for him. If he can't handle that, he could be one of the odd men out.

Giants win wild one

On a meaningless night for the Dodgers, it was the San Francisco Giants who gave their fans at least SOMETHING to make them cheer about.

The Giants came back from a 5-4 hole in the 9th to force extras and Dave Roberts' single with 2 down in the 10th won the game, 6-5. Obviously, the game and result means absolutely nothing to the Dodgers, as nearly everybody on the bench got in the game at some point.

Still, it was a bit disappointing that some of their main relievers didn't get the job done against practically a Triple-A team. The positives was the start by Derek Lowe and the relief appearance by young James McDonald. Lowe got some work in, going 3 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K. McDonald came on next and gave up only 2 hits in 2 innings.

From there, it wasn't as pretty. The other day I talked about how good Scott Proctor looked. Last night? Not so much. He got only 2 outs while giving up 2 runs on 3 hits. Chan Ho Park tried next, but he gave up 2 runs and got 2 outs as well. Jonathan Broxton came on in the 9th, and while an error by Russell Martin didn't help, he still blew the save and didn't look that great. Maybe they're just working the kinks out, at least I hope...

There were 3 homers hit by the Dodgers, though with only 5 runs scored off of them, you probably wouldn't have guessed that. Jeff Kent hit a 2-run shot in the 4th to score Blake DeWitt. With closer Brian Wilson in to start the 9th up 4-2, James Loney rocked a no-doubter to right to get within 1. Danny Ardoin got the start at catcher and singled, part of his 2-3 night, and A.J. Ellis pinch-ran. Martin pinch-hit and hit one out to left to give the Dodgers the lead.

On this night, it didn't matter, as Omar Vizquel's 2 out double in the 10th off of Jason Johnson set up Roberts' winning single. I get the feeling that Vizquel can play until he's 80 and still contribute. Age is no factor with that guy.

Today is potentially a big start for Greg Maddux, who is most likely trying to pitch his way onto the postseason roster. As I've said in the past, he really has been a disappointment with LA, sporting a 1-4 record and 5.71 ERA. He'll be opposed by Matt Cain, who has been rumored to be dangled in the offseason for a bat (which I believe is the right thing to do, in case any Giant fans out there are wondering).

In my mind, the Dodgers have to decide on Clayton Kershaw or Maddux. Do they go with the young arm with great stuff or the veteran who's "been there, done that"? If Maddux struggles against an inferior Giants team today, it would be hard to find a spot for him.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

At long last, Raffy makes his return

A day before the Dodgers officially clinched the NL West, they received some great news on the injury front: Rafael Furcal has been activated from the 60-day DL and added to the 40-man roster. In his place, Brad Penny's season is done with right shoulder problems, swapping places with Furcal.

With the Dodgers in the postseason, it will be very interesting to see if Furcal is added to the 25-man roster. Let's face it - he hasn't played in practically forever, and his back may be feeling better, but I would hardly consider it pain-free. I give him a lot of credit for fighting his way back and trying to help the team... and the fact that he's up for a new contract may have something to do with it!

He did get an AB last night against the Padres and struck out. Oh well. Him being back in the fold can only be seen as a good sign. We shall see what the immediate future holds for him in the coming days. Will he be given a start to show if he can contribute? Or will he be like Jeff Kent and Penny, and be unable to be a part of the playoff mix? The answers will soon come.

Then there's the flip side of this, and that's Penny. This has been a lost year for him, as he was originally the opening day starter. It's really been all downhill since then, as 3 trips to the DL have totally derailed his season.

Another interesting note about Penny is that he may be done as a Dodger. The club can either exercise his $9.25 million clause or choose a $2 million buyout. At 6-9 with a 6.27 ERA, it would appear as if he's done, but I wouldn't say that quite yet. If Derek Lowe leaves, that leaves a big hole, and a healthy Penny can fill that. The offseason will be an interesting one for him.


It's time to pop some bubbly!

The Dodgers have just wrapped up the NL West, all thanks to the Arizona Diamondbacks dropping an afternoon game in St. Louis, 12-3. With Jake Peavy taking the mound tonight and facing a road trip to end the year in San Francisco, it's a sweet feeling to have this all taken care of.

Much more on everything about the playoffs later, but for now, read this and enjoy.

October baseball, here we come!!!

4 up with 4 to go

The time for celebrating is near.

Thanks to another huge output in 1 innings (this time 6 in the 8th), the Dodgers easily handled the San Diego Padres last night, 12-4. With the win and the loss by the Arizona Diamondbacks (thanks, St. Louis), it's now a 4 game lead in the NL West as 4 games remain.

Needless to say, the odds of winning the division have just shot up.

Despite the big run differential, it was the Padres who struck first for 2 runs in the 4th on a double by Ardian Gonzalez and single by Nick Hundley. Needing a response, the Dodgers did just that in the bottom of the frame. Nomar Garciaparra led off with a long homer to left, his 2nd in as many games to go along with 5 RBI's. Back-to-back walks to Casey Blake and Blake DeWitt put 2 more on, and Matt Kemp singled home Blake with 2 down to knot the game at 2.

From there, the Padres didn't stand much of a chance. In the 5th, Andre Ethier walked, and Nomar came through with another big hit, which was an RBI double. Angel Berroa's sacrifice plated Nomar, and it was 4-2. The Padres cut the lead to 4-3 on Chase Headley's double to keep the game close.

Manny Ramirez stroked a 2-run homer in the 6th, and that would be all the Dodgers needed on this night. The 8th is when 6 more runs were tacked on, and here's how the runs were scored: single by Ethier, double by Loney to score 2, double by Chin-lung Hu (yes, really!), single by Berroa, and single by Kemp. Game, set, and match.

Deep inside the box score is another great sign. After giving up a single and wild pitch to start the 9th, Scott Proctor struck out the side. He's given up 0 runs in 6.1 IP since returning from injuries - all great numbers needed for the postseason.

Clayton Kershaw was the starter, and he wasn't too bad I guess, going 5.2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7 K. It will be interesting to see what role he'll play should the Dodgers get into October. Does the organization trust starting a 20-year-old on such a big stage? I'm not so sure. If this is his last start, a 3-0 record and 3.58 ERA in September shows that he'll be a star in no time.

So now, the Dodgers would have to suffer the collapse of all collapses to blow this thing. The DBacks are still in St. Louis for an afternoon game, so the ideal situation would be for a Cardinals win so the Dodgers are playing for kicks tonight. Over there, it's Doug Davis vs. Joel Pineiro.

In LA, it's Greg Maddux vs. Jake Peavy. Peavy has just owned LA his whole career, so winning will be tough, even with the bats swinging well the last 2 game. It would be great to see the old Mad Dog return tonight, much like in Colorado recently.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Huge 1st inning = 3 game lead

The Dodgers came into Tuesday night's game facing some adversity. The Arizona Diamondbacks were suddenly hot, and only down 2 games in the NL West. The Dodgers had not been playing good ball the last few games, and needed to respond. Did they?

Yes, they sure did.

With a new lineup of Matt Kemp, Russell Martin, Manny Ramirez, Andre Ethier, and Nomar Garciaparra, respectively, the Dodgers saw their first 7 men reach en route to a 6 run inning to put this one away very early. More runs were tacked on later as they took the victory over the San Diego Padres, 10-1. The other good news was that the DBacks lost to the Colorado Rockies, so the lead is increased to 3 games with 5 to go.

Since Manny was practically being treated as Barry Bonds (nobody pitches to him, hence all the walks), Joe Torre made the perfect move in getting Ethier behind him. Kemp was restored to leadoff to get some power, and Martin back down to 2. For one night anyway, it worked to complete perfection.

The big first inning looked like this: Kemp walked, Martin ground rule double to left, Manny doubled home both, Ethier walked, Nomar 3-run homer to center, Casey Blake singled, Blake DeWitt singled, Angel Berroa popped out, Chad Billingsley RBI sacrifice bunt, Kemp grounded out. Phew... did you get all of that?

Obviously it helped that Jake Peavy was moved back to Thursday and Wade LeBlanc started. This would be LeBlanc's 4th start against the Dodgers this year, and his stuff did not fool anybody. 7 runs in 2.2 innings is not exactly the best way to impress the boss into making the rotation for next season.

On the flip side, Billingsley was solid yet again. He finished at 6 IP, 9 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K. He was probably a bit lucky that with 11 runners reaching in 6 innings, only 1 scored. Still, when he needed to, he got the job done. That's now 16 wins and a 3.17 ERA. He was projected as a potential breakout star by all of the fantasy people before the season, and he has undoubtedly fulfilled that.

In addition to Nomar's big shot, the other star was DeWitt, hitting in the #7 spot. He also hit a 3-run tater, and went 2-3 with 2 runs and 3 RBI's. This month, he's hitting a solid .286 with a very good .400 OBP. Getting plenty of PT earlier in the season has really helped him now.

It would be really sweet to wrap up the division at home, and by winning the next 2 days along with 1 loss by the DBacks, it can be done. 2 losses by the good guys and 2 wins by the bad guys would mean a 1 game separation heading into the final series of the season. It's still not over.

Clayton Kershaw has had 3 great starts in his last 4, and he can keep the ball rolling with a big start tonight against Shawn Estes. Estes was not any good in his last start against the Dodgers (5 ER in 5 IP on September 10), so he's looking to bounce back. In St. Louis, it's Max Scherzer against Adam Wainwright, who's been great since coming back from injury.

Let's hope the magic number is at 1 at the end of tonight.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Peavy's start moved to Thursday

The Dodgers will get a bit of a breather on Tuesday, as Jake Peavy's start has been pushed back to Thursday. In his place, Wade LeBlanc will get the nod.

Even though LeBlanc will be making only his 4th Big League start, this will be his 3rd one against the Dodgers. He hasn't exactly been that great, giving up 9 runs in 10 innings, good for a 1-1 record. His goal is to prove he belongs in next year's rotation, and a big win on the road against the first place Dodgers will undoubtedly help his cause.

So now it's LeBlanc vs. Chad Billingsley, Shawn Estes vs. Clayton Kershaw, and Peavy vs. Greg Maddux. Needless to say, it's the biggest week the Dodgers have had in a couple of years.

One day after Manny's heroics, the offense goes flat

I know it's been said before, but it definitely can't be overstated: without Manny Ramirez, the Dodgers would have been lining up their offseason plans long ago.

Look no further for proof than Saturday night's game in which he hit 2 homers for 5 RBI's to practically carry the Dodgers over the San Francisco Giants, 10-7. It was a one-man wrecking crew.

With all of that offensive explosion, it's almost mind boggling that the very next day, the well ran completely dry. Matt Cain gave up 5 hits in 6 innings, and the bullpen combined to no-hit the Dodgers the other 5 innings as the Giants won a nail biter, 1-0 in 12 innings. With a win by the Arizona Diamondbacks, it's now a 2.5 games lead in the NL West.

It also means that winning the NL West won't be so easy after all.

Historically, Cain has had a very rough time against the Dodgers, but you wouldn't know that by watching yesterday. Not only against Cain, but any pitcher that went out, the Dodgers just looked completely baffled. Give them credit for pitching so well even with their team being down and out for most of the season.

Derek Lowe did all he could to keep the lead in the West over 3 games. He finished with 7 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 7 K. Like Cain, he kept the hitters off balanced from the start. Cory Wade pitched 2 innings of great ball, followed by a shutout 10th from Jonathan Broxton.

Unfortunately, it was Takashi Saito that was the first one to crack in the 11th, and his long delivery cost him. With 2 outs and a runner on 1st, Brad Hennessey (yes, the starting pitcher), pinch-ran for Pablo Sandoval and STOLE 2ND BASE. Wow. After an infield single by Eugenio Valez pushed Hennessey to 3rd, Rich Aurilia's RBI single was the game's only run.

CJ Wilson had to work hard to get the save, and he K'd Manny and Casey Blake, and got James Loney to line out to center. And with that, the Giants took 2 of 3 in what was no doubt a frustrating weekend for the boys in blue.

Suddenly, it's the DBacks who are hot, winning 6 of 7, and the Dodgers who are looking ordinary. The Dodgers are still in the driver's seat with a bit of a cushion, but it's definitely not over. The good news is that the DBacks travel to St. Louis for 4 while the Dodgers stay home against the San Diego Padres, who are a complete embarrassment this year.

The bad news is that Jake Peavy takes the mound today, who's about the only reason to even somewhat pay attention to that team. Chad Billingsley also goes today, and he's coming off a rough outing in Pittsburgh. Still, it's a battle of 2 aces in the NL, and it'll be fun to watch. If the Dodgers can step up and beat Peavy, then I like their chances much more. Another loss would make everyone start to sweat a lot worse.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ouch... Maddux pounded by Giants

Everything seemed to be setting up nicely for the Dodgers last night. The Arizona Diamondbacks dropped a close one to the Colorado Rockies, 3-2. The San Francisco Giants were in town, who have had a terrible year. And Barry Zito was pitching, who's career has tanked the last couple of years. Yup, it all looked like a great night.

Except for the fact that Greg Maddux was shelled, and the Giants beat the Dodgers, 7-1. Good thing the Rockies had their backs, so the NL West lead is 3.5 games and the magic number is 6.

It all started going downhill in the 1st inning when Bengie Monlina hit a 2-run double for the quick 2-0 lead. Dave Roberts singled home a run an inning later to go up 3-0, and things were starting to get away. And it got even worse in the 5th on Pablo Sandoval's 2-run double and Molina's 2-run shot, all with 2 outs.

In all, Maddux had a final line of 5 IP, 9 H, 7 ER, 0 BB, 1 K. Obviously, he wasn't fooling anyone last night, even a team with as weak a lineup as the Giants. Don't get me wrong - I like Maddux, but I've got to say that this trade has been a letdown thus far. He's had a couple of good starts, but when he's off, he gets shelled. Since the trade, he's 1-4 with a 5.71 ERA. Uh, not good.

Basically, the entire game can be described as one of those night where nothing went right from the get-go. The top 3 in the order of Matt Kemp (Russell Martin got the night off), Andre Ethier, and Manny Ramirez did fine, going 5-10 with a walk. The rest of the order didn't even get 1 damn hit. Save for Pablo Ozuna's pinch-hit homer in the 8th, and it would have been a shutout. The tell-tale sign that it was going to be a long night was when Manny led off in the 4th and doubled, but never even advanced. It was one of those games.

The Dodgers are usually described as a "streaky" hitting team, which I can agree with. But, what team in baseball isn't streaky? It's not like they can always put up 5+ runs a night. It's just that the Dodgers seem to turn the switch on an off more than others. Manny will do his thing, but when the others can't get on, they won't win.

One game is one game, and the Dodgers have still only lost 4 games in their last 19. But they have been awful the last 3 games, and are lucky they played the Pirates on Thursday, or that would have been a loss as well. Zito looked more like the guy who pitched with the A's than the guy who is flat out stealing millions of dollars to pitch like crap.

Today appears to line up favorably for the Dodgers, but I thought that way against Zito as well. Hey, it's baseball, anything can happen. Hiroki Kuroda goes today, and he's been very solid in his last 2. He's opposed by Brad Hennessey, who's actually only given up 4 runs in 14 innings in his only 2 starts. It's time to get back on track at home today with a solid win.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It takes 12 for win over Pirates

One day after getting their faces kicked in by the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Dodgers survived many close calls in getting the win today in 12 innings, 4-3. The win bumps the lead in the NL West back up to 4 games, and the magic number is at 7.

The last couple of days have been crazy to say the least. The Dodgers gave up 8 runs with 2 outs in the 7th to lose yesterday, 15-8. Today, it was all of the main guys in the lineup, probably because taking another loss would not exactly be the best thing considering the Arizona Diamondbacks are playing the San Francisco Giants again today. It wasn't pretty, but the job was accomplished.

The Pirates got on the board right away on a double by Nigel Morgan. He went to 3rd on a wild pitch by Clayton Kershaw, and scored on a sac-fly RBI from Nate McLouth. Nothing was happening for the Dodgers until the 4th. Manny Ramirez led off with a walk and Matt Kemp doubled 2 outs later. Blake DeWitt stepped up and delivered a 2-run double for the 2-1.

That would be the first of 2 leads that would disappear, as the Pirates refused to roll over like they did on Monday and Tuesday. Old friend Andy LaRoche singled home Nate McLouth to knot the game at 2. In the 7th, Andre Ethier got the lead back on an RBI single to score Kemp for a 3-2 lead.

Unfortunately for LA, things would not be easy on this afternoon. The Pirates got a big hit with 2 outs themselves by Luis Cruz, and it was all tied at 3. In the 8th, the Dodgers had runners on 1st and 2nd with 2 outs for Angel Berroa. We'll never know how that may have turned out because Kemp inexplicably got caught stealing 3rd. Had the Dodgers lost this game, there'd be a lot of talk about that boneheaded move.

The Pirates certainly had their chance to win in the 10th. With runners on 1st and 2nd, a dribbler was hit back to Chan Ho Park, who fired wide of 2nd. DeWitt made a diving stop, then fired home to nail Morgan, who bulled over Russell Martin in the process. Talk about going from one extreme to the other.

Fast forward to the 12th, when the Dodgers finally scratched a run across the board. They did it with the bases loaded and 1 out on a single by James Loney with 2 strikes. He was 0-5 at that point, so it's good to see him salvage his game. Jonathan Broxton let a couple of men reach in the bottom of the 12th, but got Jason Michaels to pop up to DeWitt to end it and gather his 14th save.

Phew... that was way too close for comfort. In a way it's not too surprising, though. I talked about how the Pirates were a .500 team at home entering this series, so it's not shocking to see them put up a fight. I also talked about how it would be a letdown if the Dodgers dropped the final 2 games after winning the first 2, and that didn't happen. I'm sure they'll take it and move on.

More good news for the Dodgers is that Tim Lincecum pitches against the DBacks tonight. The Giants are still atrocious, but if they're going to win at any point, this has to be it. The DBacks counter with Randy Johnson, who, if you haven't heard, has had himself a decent MLB career. Just thought you'd like to know.

The second part to that good news is that with Lincecum going tonight, he'll miss the series with the Dodgers this weekend. Friday night will see Greg Maddux vs. Barry Zito. Hiroki Kuroda and Derek Lowe will follow, so things are definitely in the Dodgers favor. The DBacks will go to Coors Field, where any crazy thing can happen.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

It's good to play the Pirates

Make that 14 wins in 16 games after tonight as the Dodgers easily pushed aside the Pittsburgh Pirates, 6-2. The Arizona Diamondbacks are in action as I type this, so the lead is at 5 games in the NL West. You know the drill by now: 5.5 if they lose, 4.5 if they win.

There's really not a whole lot to say about the Pirates other than "they suck," so I'm not going to waste my team trying to tell you why. If you actually know a Pirates fan, ask that person. I'm sure you'll get a long lecture of just how dreadful that franchise has become.

This game was put away early in the 2nd inning, as the Dodgers hung a 4 spot on Jeff Karstens. Casey Blake started it off with a solo homer, his 10th as a Dodger and 20th overall. The bases were then loaded with 1 down on singles by Blake DeWitt and Angel Berroa, and from a throwing error by Karstens to put Derek Lowe on (Ok, I admit that was a blown call, so there). 3 straight runs were scored on a sac-fly from Russell Martin, a single by the returning Andre Ethier, and a double by Manny Ramirez.

It was the Casey Blake show from there on out, as he was responsible for the other 2 runs being scored as well. In the 3rd, he again led off with a hit, this time a triple. DeWitt's sac-fly RBI scored him, and it was 5-0. Later on in the 6th, Blake singled home Martin for a 6-1 lead. In all, he was 3-5 with 2 runs and 2 RBI.

Much like Hiroki Kuroda the night before, it was Derek Lowe who pitched very well with the comfy lead. On the night, he went 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K. Between the 2, that's 14 innings and 1 run to start this 4 game set. Chan Ho Park pitched a scoreless 8th. Joe Beimel gave up a run, but got 2 outs, and Jonathan Broxton K'd Andy LaRoche to end the game.

Obviously, these are very winnable games for the Dodgers. The Pirates are playing a lot of young blood, and half of the roster you've probably never even heard of. Hell, I consider myself a huge baseball fan, and I'm still trying to figure out who these people are. With 2 games down, getting 1 more would be considered a great series. But, dropping the next 2 would make wrapping up the West a little tougher than it should be.

With 11 games left in the season, every start is huge. Chad Billingsley will be the man tomorrow on the mound, and he will look for win #16, and possibly lower his ERA to under 3 (currently at 3.02). He'll be opposed by Zach Duke, who used to be really good, but has seemingly fallen off the face of the Earth. Actually, he had 2 great starts in a row recently against the Cubs and Giants, combining for 15 IP and 2 runs. So, who knows which pitcher will show up.

Dodgers breeze by Pirates

The Dodgers looked at their schedule to end the season and most likely circled the 4 games they had in Pittsburgh. No matter if they were in first or close to getting there, those 4 games were just what they need. For one night, they didn't disappoint.

Barely breaking a sweat at any point, Hiroki Kuroda pitched 7 strong innings for his first road win in 2 months as the Dodgers won, 8-2. It was pretty much a shutout, save for a 2-run homer by old friend Andy LaRoche with 2 down in the 9th. Still, it was a pretty sweet night. It would have been even sweeter had the Arizona Diamondbacks not won, so the lead in the NL West remains at 4.5 games.

Sometimes these types of games are a cause for concern, only because anything but a win would be a huge letdown. You never know if teams like the Pirates can embrace the "spoiler" role of disrupting the playoff plans of some teams. Sure didn't seem that way, though.

The Dodgers had the bases loaded in the 2nd with 1 down, but Kuroda grounded into a double play. The Dodgers of earlier in the year may not have put any pressure on the opposition after something like that happened, but not these guys. Russell Martin walked and Juan Pierre singled to start the 3rd, and they came around on Manny Ramirez's double. Manny eventually scored on a bad throw down to 2nd trying to catch James Loney stealing for the 3-0 lead.

Man, you may as well have ended the night there, because the Pirates just helplessly flailed away, all in an attempt to pretty much get the game over with as quickly as possible. More runs were scored on James Loney's 2-run single and sac-fly, and Blake DeWitt's sac-fly as well.

But without a doubt, the best run came from the bat of Pierre, who hit his first home run in... oh... about 12 years by hitting one out to right. Nice touch by the Dodgers' dugout of giving him the silent treatment when he first went back in. When you're winning, everything is fun, as evidenced by that display.

Big run support or not, Kuroda brought his best stuff by finishing with 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2K. Even with playing a crappy Pirates team, that's some good stuff. It was also great to see Takashi Saito pitch in his first game since July 12. He K'd 2 in a scoreless inning, which is naturally a great sign.

The Dodgers have to be feeling great about taking at least 3 games in this series with Derek Lowe due on the mound today and Chad Billingsley tomorrow. Lowe's on a 3 game winning streak, giving up only 1 ER in his last 19.1 IP. Wow. Even his last loss was really good, giving up 2 runs in 8 innings against Washington. He's been lights out to say the least.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Rockies nip Dodgers in 10

The Colorado Rockies ended the Dodgers winning streak at 7 games today by winning in 10 innings, 1-0. The day was not all bad, however, as the Arizona Diamondbacks lost to the Cincinnati Reds in 10 innings, so the lead in the NL West remains at 4.5 games.

I never thought I'd see the day where the game would be scoreless heading into extra innings, but that was the deal today. Greg Maddux and Aaron Cook were absolutely fantastic, as both deserved the win. Neither issued a walk, and both made it look like Coors Field switched locations overnight.

I had a fear yesterday that with Andre Ethier out due to the birth of his first child, Juan Pierre would be leading off. Unluckily for me, I was right. He responded with a 1-4 day, and was largely responsible for the winning run being scored in the 10th.

Here was the situation. Hong-Chih Kuo came on to pitch the 10th. Matt Holliday greeted him with a single, but Brad Hawpe struck out. Garrett Atkins then singled to put 2 men on. Ryan Spilborghs hit a lazy fly ball to shallow right center. Instead of taking command of the ball and easily making the catch, Pierre simply looked on and let Matt Kemp make a diving attempt, which he missed. The ball lands, and the bases were loaded. On an 0-2 count, Troy Tulowitzki singled home the winning run.

I know it's easy to pile on Pierre because of his bloated contract, lack of OBP, spaghetti arm... but good player or not, he has got to make that play. He turned a very simple catch into an adventure. Not getting on base and bad play in the outfield... yup, that's why he finds himself on the bench these days.

Ethier, good luck with the birth of your child... and please hurry back!

The offense didn't do zip today, but that's bound to happen at some point. I'll look at the positives, and that's the final line of Maddux: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K. Cory Wade pitched 2 flawless innings, as he furthers his great year for someone that wasn't even on the roster to start the season. And look - Angel Berroa was 2-4, raising his average in September to .294.

Now comes an interesting road trip for the Dodgers. They have 4 in Pittsburgh starting Monday. The Pirates, without any doubt, are horrible. Big shock, I know. But, they are playing .500 ball at home (37-37), so it's not like they're completely clueless on how to win. They just don't do enough of it.

In my estimation, 3 of the 4 pitching matchups clearly favor the Dodgers. Tuesday night is the only tossup with Clayton Kershaw vs. Paul Maholm, and that's only because Maholm has been pretty good since August. Hiroki Kuroda goes tomorrow night looking to get his 9th win of the season. The Dodgers can't pull a "Washington Nationals" and get swept by an inferior team on the road. Time to finish this deal.

Over in Arizona, the DBacks will welcome the San Francisco Giants to town for 4. Doug Davis takes on Brad Hennessey in the first game. Thankfully, Tim Lincecum is scheduled to go in the last game on Thursday, which also means he won't pitch against the Dodgers this weekend. Ha!

Saito makes his return... and Jones is officially done

The Dodgers had some win-win news on Saturday. Takashi Saito has made his long-awaited return from a torn right elbow ligament. To make room for him, Andruw Jones was placed on the 60-day DL, ending what was one of the most miserable seasons for a big-time free agent signing in baseball history.

First, let's look at Saito. Joe Torre said he will be eased back into his relief role, probably pitching in non-pressure situations to begin with. Will he be closing again? Who knows, but Jonathan Broxton is doing fine in that role, so I really don't see a big rush. Just having him back is good enough. Assuming the Dodgers hold onto the NL West lead for the playoffs, that will give Saito 2 1/2 weeks to work on his arm strength. Definitely good news.

Then there's the story of Jones. I really don't know what else to say about him that hasn't already been said. Just looking at his numbers of a .158 AVG, 3 HR, 14 RBI in 75 games pretty much says it all. He was given a chance to start in center field the other night, and went 0-4 with 2 K's.

At least Jones acknowledges that he has A TON of work to do if he ever wants to regain any form of respectability. Perhaps showing up to camp in shape would be a start. Just click on the link above to read all about his awful season and you'll get the point.

Ethier misses game for birth of first child

In case you didn't see last night's game and only looked at the box score, you were probably mad that Andre Ethier was benched in favor of Juan Pierre. Turns out, Ethier wasn't even there.

Ethier flew home to Chandler, Arizona to be with his wife on the birth of their first child. Joe Torre said that he will definitely miss today's game as well, and then who knows from there. The Dodgers fly to Pittsburgh for 4 starting Monday.

In his place, Pierre will probably get the start again. He is 7-17 lifetime against starting pitcher Aaron Cook, so I guess it's the logical thing to do. I like that he's not hitting leadoff and in the #2 hole instead. I hope that's the case again today.

Kershaw steps up

Clayton Kershaw made sure that the horrors of pitching in Coors Field would not resurface, as he led the Dodgers over the Colorado Rockies, 5-1. It was a doubly good night, as the Cincinnati Reds beat the Arizona Diamondbacks in 10 innings, meaning the NL West lead for LA is now at 4.5 games. And getting larger by the day.

The Dodgers never trailed in this game, but they were tied at 1 after 3 innings. Casey Blake started the 2nd inning by hitting one out to left, his 9th as a Dodger. Clint Barmes responded an inning later with a 2 out single to score Willy Taveras and knot the score at 1.

From there, it was all Dodgers, as they put up a 3 spot in the 4th inning that was more than enough to put this game away. Matt Kemp led off with a single, and Blake DeWitt walked for 2 on. Angel Berroa, who is somehow giving the Dodgers great production in the #8 hole, doubled home Kemp to regain the lead. After Kershaw grounded out, Russell Martin hit an RBI single and Juan Pierre hit a sac-fly RBI for the 4-1 lead.

The real story on this night, however, was Kershaw, who really gave the Dodgers a huge start. His final line was 6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K. Giving up 4 hits is great, but the real key is that he kept the walks to a mere 2. Even with some starts up and down lately, he's largely been able to keep his walks in check, which is a great sign that he's adjusting to pitching in the Majors. He definitely earned his 4th win of the season.

I had said a day before that I hoped Kershaw could give around 5 innings, and he gave a solid 6. Chad Ho Park was terrific in relief, pitching 2 scoreless innings and K'ing 4. Jonathan Broxton pitched the 9th and K'd 2. You can't ask for better pitching in a tough park than that.

Now let's flip over to Arizona, who lost in about the most humiliating way possible (and laughable for that matter). Tied at 1 in the 7th, Adam Dunn was beaned with the bases loaded to take the lead. Leading 2-1 in the 9th, the DBacks did the unthinkable. You guessed it... the bullpen blew the lead. The first 2 men reached on singles, then Corey Patterson flew out to Justin Upton in right. Upton fired it home on a strong throw to force Danny Richar back to 3rd, but catcher Miguel Montero could not handle it, allowing Richar to score and tie the game.

But here's the funny part. The first 2 hitters went down for the Reds in the 10th, but Chris Dickerson walked. Enter Micah Owings, the same guy who was traded from the DBacks to the Reds the day before to complete the Adam Dunn deal. Known for being a great hitting pitcher, he didn't disappoint by doubling home Dickerson to take the lead. Francisco Cordero retired the side in order for the win.

Wow, I'm not sure where the DBacks go from there. Then again, the Dodgers were swept by the Washington Nationals, and have since gone on to win 12 of 13, so it's not over yet. The DBacks just looked fried, though. They have a lot of work to do to catch up.

Today is a big day for Greg Maddux, as he has the chance to pass Roger "It WASN'T Steroids!" Clemens for sole possession of 8th place in the all-time wins list. He'll be opposed by Aaron Cook, who has a nice record of 16-9, but has struggled since August. In Arizona, it's a battle of youngsters of Johnny Cueto against Max Scherzer.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Dodgers continue surge with win in Coors

The Dodgers got all the right hits at all the right times as they continued to roll by beating the Colorado Rockies, 7-2. The Arizona Diamondbacks survived a rocky 9th inning by barely beating the Cincinnati Reds, 3-2. At the end of the night, we're all back to where we started with the Dodgers up 3.5 games in the NL West.

Matt Holliday hit his first homer in 79 AB's in the 1st inning to give the Rockies an early lead. The Dodgers bounced right back in the 2nd when Nomar Garciaparra, getting the start at 1st base in place of James Loney with a lefty on the mound, took a walk with 1 down. Matt Kemp then cracked a double that scored Nomar, and let Kemp go to 3rd on an error from Brad Hawpe. Blake DeWitt hit a sac-fly RBI to make it 2-1.

The bottom of the 2nd saw Clint Barmes single home Troy Tulowitzki to tie the game at 2. At the time, it looked like a big scoring night from both teams. But that would be it for the Rockies on this night, as they would leave 9 on base. Other than Holliday and Brad Hawpe, nobody else would do much of anything.

Nomar got the scoring going again in the 4th with a leadoff double, and then scored on a single from Kemp to take the lead for good. Later on in the game in the 7th, a long single off of the right field wall by Manny Ramirez would score Angel Berroa, and the lead went up to 4-2.

Entering the 9th up 4-2, it wasn't a bad idea to tack on some insurance runs considering that this is Coors Field, where simple fly balls can leave the yard. Chin-lung Hu started it with a walk (why they didn't just attack him is beyond me). With 1 out, Andre Ethier and Manny hit consecutive singles to load the bases. Juan Pierre pinch-hit, and of course popped up to 3rd, because he sucks. Loney pinch-hit for Nomar and came through big-time with a bases clearing double, blowing the game way open.

While the hitting came through, it was the pitching that yet again paced the victory. Chad Billingsley was a little shaky for himself, but still posted a great start at 6 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 3 K. After the first couple of innings, it looked like a rough night, but he settled down very effectively after that. Teams facing Derek Lowe and Billingsley in consecutive games basically stand no chance these days.

The Dodgers will look to pad their lead in the West even more by sending Clayton Kershaw to the mound today. His last start in Coors was his first start from being recalled for good on July 22, and he was pounded for 5 runs on 10 hits in 3 innings. He went on a great roll in his 6 starts after that, giving up only 5 runs in the process, but has been up and down in his last 4. It's typical for a young pitcher, so I'm not surprised.

This start kind of scares me, but I hope Kershaw can at least keep the Dodgers in the game and maybe give them around 5 innings. With Hong-Chih Kuo and Brad Penny available, they can give them a couple of innings if need be.

Over in Arizona, it's a good matchup of Edinson Volquez and Randy Johnson. Johnson hasn't started since September 1 because of a sore shoulder, so who knows what to expect from him. With Brandon Lyon in a complete mess, they're anything but a sure bet to beat even a bad team like the Reds.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

2 bombs from Manny carry Dodgers

Manny Ramirez conquered perhaps the hardest ballpark in baseball to hit home runs by blasting 2 to lift the Dodgers in Petco Park, 7-2. The homers were measured at 435 feet and 405 feet to the deepest part of the park in center field.

Earlier in the day, the Arizona Diamondbacks played a typical game that summed up their season. They were losing 2-1 in the 9th when they scored twice off of Giants closer Brian Wilson. How did they respond to their new lead? By giving it right back as Brandon Lyon was shelled, and the Giants won, 4-3. All of that means the Dodgers are now up 3.5 games in the NL West.

The Dodgers went down in order to begin the game, then the Padres got one on Kevin Kouzmanoff's RBI groundout to score Brian Giles. Much like the night before, the Dodgers found themselves in a brief hole, but were more than ready to battle back.

It all started in the 2nd. James Loney hit a solo shot with 1 out, his 12th and first since August 27. Matt Kemp walked, and Blake DeWitt doubled him home for the lead at 2-1. With 2 outs, Shawn Estes issued a horrible walk to Derek Lowe, which set the stage for Russell Martin's RBI single, scoring DeWitt and pushing the lead to 3-1.

From there, the Padres never were a serious threat, mostly because of their inability to take advantage of men on base. Sounds an awful lot like the Dodgers for much of the season, but the difference is that now they are coming through. It's amazing what a few hits with RISP can do.

The rest of the game was the Manny Show, as he hit 2, 2-run home runs, scoring Andre Ethier both times. Ethier had singled ahead of him to finish 2-4, and getting his average to .301. For a guy hitting .278 at the start of September, he's sure on an incredible run. I hope he doesn't burn himself out. He's played out of his mind lately.

Lowe gave another great start, which is no surprise. I had my fun ripping his inconsistency at the start of the year, but I'll be the first to admit that he's been fantastic this year. Sure, he'll have his occasional hiccup, but for a guy who had a 4.10 ERA at the start of August to a 3.48 ERA now, he's more than proven his value. I guess enjoy it while it lasts, because everything I read about him resigning appears to be unlikely.

The Dodgers return to Colorado on Friday, and we all know those games are an adventure to say the least. The Rockies were making a small push to get back in the NL West race, but at 8 games back because of poor play lately, that's pretty much squashed. Chad Billingsley goes in the first game against Jeff Francis, who has finally settled down lately to pitch very well.

The DBacks host the Cincinnati Reds for 3 on Friday as well. The Reds are terrible, but at least Edinson Volquez goes on Saturday, so hopefully that's one win. No matter what, the Dodgers will come out of this still in first place, but it could be as large as 6.5 games or as little as .5. I like the former much better.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

No stopping Ethier as Dodgers increase lead

Whatever Andre Ethier is drinking these days, I hope he has plenty more of it. In the month of September, there isn't another player in the Majors playing as well as he is.

Ethier drove in 4 of LA's 6 runs, and Manny Ramirez hit a solo homer to give the Dodgers the victory over the San Diego Padres, 6-2. The San Francisco Giants complied and beat the Arizona Diamondbacks, so the lead in the NL West has been upped to 2.5 games.

For the first half of the game, it was the Padres who were slowly building a lead. It wasn't much of one, but it was 2-0 after 5 innings. The Dodgers only managed 3 hits during that span, so it sure looked as if Monday's game was being carried over.

In the 6th, the momentum started to turn. Brian Giles led off with a double and went to 3rd on a sacrifice bunt. Kevin Kouzmanoff grounded out, and after an intentional pass to Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Headley grounded out to end it. Right away, Manny hit a laser homer to left, and the lead was slashed to 2-1.

Following a scoreless 7th, the Dodgers had their top of the order due up in the 8th. Russell Martin didn't waste any time by doubling, and Ethier drove him in with a triple. Manny then hit a sac-fly RBI, and the Dodgers grabbed the lead at 3-2.

Joe Beimel and Cory Wade kept the Pads in check in the bottom of the 8th, and the Dodgers went to work again in the 9th. Blake DeWitt and Matt Kemp singled, and Martin drew a walk. With 2 outs, Ethier continued his unbelievable play by hitting a bases clearing double to blow the game open. Jonathan Broxton finished things off for the win.

It was another huge night for the Dodgers, thanks in large part to Ethier, who pretty much put this team on his shoulders to win. Hiroki Kuroda wiggled out of trouble all night to finish at 6 IP, 9 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K. 11 runners is way too much, but he still found a way to get the job done.

One person who did not get the job done is Andruw Jones. Playing in his first game since August 9, he was 0-4 with 2 K's. He sucks.

Now back to the positive, and that's the Dodgers ability to take advantage of the DBacks' recent futility. It can certainly continue tonight, as Derek Lowe takes the mound. He'll be opposed by Shawn Estes (remember him?), who is coming off a solid start in a win at Milwaukee. There's no Jake Peavy, so the Dodgers dodged a bullet there. Do you feel badly about that? Nah, neither do I.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bats go quiet in loss to Padres

The Dodgers came into a 3 game set in San Diego in first place and ready to take on some guy named Cha Seung Baek. With 8 consecutive wins and momentum largely on their side, things were looking good.

Turns out that "random guy" named Baek pitched his best game of the year in shutting down the Dodgers for 7 innings, as the Padres took this one, 4-0. Thankfully for LA, Arizona got slapped around in San Francisco as they continue to look awful, so the lead in the NL West for the Dodgers remains at 1.5 games.

There really isn't a whole lot to say about this one, other than the Dodgers were either jet lagged (hard to believe since they were flying in state) or forgot to bring the lumber with them. They did have to grind out a tough one on Sunday in LA against the Diamondbacks, so perhaps it was a good time for the Padres to get a win over them.

Greg Maddux got his 4th start with the Dodgers, and only has 1 good start to show for it (hence his 1-3 record). Brian Giles started things with a double, but the next 2 hitters could not advance him. Didn't matter as Adrian Gonzalez launched a 2-run shot that in effect put the game out of reach right then and there.

The first hit of the game for the Dodgers didn't come until the 4th on a single by Andre Ethier. In fact, Ethier's the only one who really showed up, going 3-4 with 2 doubles. After hitting a paltry .195 in June, he's been steadily rising ever since. In September, he's 16-24 (.667 AVG), 2 HR, 8 RBI, 5 2B, 1 3B. Hitting in front of Manny Ramirez has done wonders for his confidence.

The only other positive was that Maddux did last 6 innings, so the bullpen only needed to work 2 innings. Scott Elbert pitched a scoreless 7th and Scott Proctor and Joe Beimel combined to shut down the 8th. Well... at least most of the pitchers got to rest. And that's about it for the positives.

Hiroki Kuroda goes tonight against Wade LeBlanc in a rematch of last Wednesday's game won by Kuroda. The Dodgers had their loss, so how will they now respond? Can they regain momentum by beating an inferior team, or will the DBacks get back into this thing? We'll all know the answer soon.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Advantage LA

The Dodgers took advantage of 2 big errors by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 7th inning to score 2 runs, and they held on late to take the game and the sweep, 5-3. With the win, the Dodgers are now up 1.5 games in the NL to go along with 8 wins in a row. The DBacks have now dropped 6 of their last 8.

It was kind of funny how this pitching matchup came to be. It was originally supposed to be a battle of first ballot Hall of Famers with Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson. But, Joe Torre elected to go with Clayton Kershaw and push Maddux back a day, and Johnson rested with a sore shoulder. So, enter 2 young phenoms in Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer. Talk about going from one dynamic to the other.

Both didn't last into the 6th, but it was Scherzer getting the better of the battle with 11 K's in 5 innings. Kershaw went 4 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K. He somehow threw 92 pitches in only 4 innings, but walked 1. Weird. Not one of his better days, but it's not like he got bombed either.

After Arizona left the bases loaded with 1 down in the 1st, the Dodgers then struck. Andre Ethier singled and Manny Ramirez doubled for 2 on. James Loney then hit a 2-run single for the 2-0 lead. More 1st inning scoring for the Dodgers - not too shabby.

The DBacks tied it after 3 with solo homers by Chris Snyder and Adam Dunn. In the 4th, Snyder struck again with a double to score Mark Reynolds and go up 3-2. The Dodgers would knot it up at 3 in the 6th when Ethier walked, Manny singled, and Loney hit a sac-fly RBI.

The bottom of the 7th just killed the DBacks, as they handed the Dodgers chances to score, which they did. Blake DeWitt greeted new pitcher Chad Qualls with a ground rule double. Angel Berroa was looking for a sacrifice bunt, but Adam Dunn bobbled it, allowing runners to get to 1st and 3rd with no outs. Nomar hit a sac-fly to score DeWitt, and Berroa advanced to 2nd on an error by Justin Upton (not his best 2 games defensively this weekend). Berroa went to 3rd on Russell Martin's groundout, and scored on Ethier's infield single to go up 5-3.

Things got quite interesting in the 9th. Jonathan Broxton was on and had no trouble getting the first 2 out. Then Chad Tracy doubled and Adam Dunn walked. Conor Jackson hit an absolute rocket that was snared on a dive by Nomar, who was playing 1st base on a defensive switch. A terrific play to end the game with style.

The bullpen for LA deserves a ton of credit for this win. The combination of Scott Proctor, Chan Ho Park, Hong-Chih Kuo, and Broxton went 5 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 7 K. You really can't do a whole lot better than that. It's good to see Proctor pitch well in his 2 outings since returning from injury.

Here's a couple of stats that are hard to believe. In games where the Dodgers score at least 5 runs, they're 52-6. WOW. The other is that on August 29, the DBacks held a 4.5 games lead over the Dodgers in the NL West. My how times have changed just like that.

So now the Dodgers find themselves in an interesting spot. 13 of their remaining 19 games are on the road, but every single one of them is against teams under .500 (Padres x2, Rockies, Pirates, Giants x2). I'd say that's a pretty favorable schedule. The DBacks really don't have to sweat much either, but they do have 4 in St. Louis right near the end, which is always tough. Like the title says, Advantage LA.

It's right back to work for the Dodgers, as they hit the road for 10, starting with San Diego Monday night for 3. Greg Maddux goes against his old team just like last Monday where he got the win. The Padres are terrible, but they did split 4 games in Milwaukee, including a 10-1 romping today. In recent years, the Dodgers haven't played well in San Diego, so these games cannot be overlooked.

After 5 long months, the Dodgers regain first place

The Dodgers came into yesterday's game with a tall order. They were going to face Cy Young favorite Brandon Webb, and first place hung in the balance. They've been here before, teetering on the edge of first, only to lose and fall back.

But that was then, and this is now.

Manny Ramirez drove in 5 with a 2-run shot and a double, and Chad Billingsley went 6 plus innings to shut down the Diamondbacks, 7-2. With the win, it's the Dodgers who finally find themselves in first place again since virtually the start of the season by 1/2 a game.

Much like Friday night, this game was surprisingly easy. Actually, the last 4 games against the DBacks were so easy, the Dodgers practically never broke a sweat. For as poorly as the Dodgers played for a couple of weeks, it was Arizona that blew a great opportunity to put this division away. They're the ones who look completely lost right now.

Both Billingsley and Webb were throwing blanks through the first 4 innings, and it looked for awhile that the first mistake made by either man would mean a loss. The Dodgers had 2 on in the 3rd, but Manny struck out to end the inning. Other than that, there were little to no threats.

Fortunately for LA, it was Webb who made the first mistake. In the bottom of the 5th, Angel Berroa led off with a single (I can't believe how often I've talked about his hitting lately - it's like a completely different person). After Billingsley and Russell Martin failed to reach, there would be more 2 out magic for the Dodgers. Andre Ethier drew a walk, and Manny unloaded on a 3-run bomb to go up 3-0. I can't imagine just how much Ethier is loving life right now hitting in front of Manny.

From there, Webb just seemed to fall apart, as he uncharacteristically just handed the Dodgers walk after walk. The bottom of the 6th started with a walk to Casey Blake, and 2 more would soon be added. Too bad for Webb that both of those walks to Martin and Ethier would force in runs. With the bases loaded and 2 outs, Manny lifted a deep fly ball to Justin Upton in right, who lost that ball in the sun, landing near him and bouncing into the stands for a ground rule double. Even if that was caught, the Dodgers were still comfortably ahead, so it didn't matter.

The DBacks didn't score until the 9th when the game was well in hand, as Scott Elbert let a couple of guys on. I'm not worried - he's still got nasty stuff, so he'll be ok. Billingsley had another ace-like start, going 6.1 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K. I just wish the offense could have scored more runs for him in the beginning of the season so his record would be more impressive, because if that was the case, he'd certainly be in the Cy Young chase right now.

Today's game is just like yesterday, where the winner gets first place. As great as the Dodgers have played, a loss would mean they're right back to where they started (granted, not in as bad a spot). Clayton Kershaw gets the call, as Joe Torre likes how he looks against the DBacks. Randy Johnson was supposed to start, but has been scratched with a sore shoulder. So, it's another young fireballer, Max Scherzer, who will go. That'll be fun to watch.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

5's are wild for Ethier

It was Andre Ethier night at Dodger Stadium, as he turned what should have been a close battle into a blowout. On the night, he went 5-5 with a homer and 2 doubles. 5 also represented the number of RBI's he had, as the Dodgers beat up Dan Haren to win, 7-0. The lead for the DBacks is now only half a game.

What a difference a week makes. Last Friday night, they lost 9-3 to Arizona, and were looking like a big, heaping pile of dog crap. That loss made their roadtrip 8 losses in a row, 10 of 11 losses overall, and 4.5 games in back of Arizona. But here's the thing - the DBacks weren't exactly lighting the world on fire either. After last night's game, they've lost 8 of 11, and are looking completely beatable.

Haren got pounded in his last start against the Dodgers (which started the winning streak), and in the 1st inning, Ethier drilled a solo shot to right for the early lead. Little did we know at the time that that's all the scoring the Dodgers would need.

The 2nd inning is when the game was broken open, and most encouragingly, it was all done with 2 outs. Angel Berroa doubled, as he's finally starting to show why he was once AL Rookie of the Year, and Derek Lowe worked a walk from Haren on some very strange pitches (like throwing a breaking ball when he's behind in the count... hello! Throw a fastball!). Russell Martin doubled home a run, and Ethier scored 2 on his double.

The rest of the night, much like the beginning, would belong to Ethier. In the 4th with 2 outs, Martin singled and stole 2nd. Ethier hit a ground rule double to score him for his 4th RBI. Then in the 6th, again with Martin on, another double scored him, giving him RBI #5. What a night.

Just like last Sunday in Arizona, the offense was putting up big runs, and Lowe was untouchable. He finished at 8 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K. Along with Chan Ho Park tossing a scoreless 9th, the DBacks managed only 4 baserunners all night. Lowe has been absolutely brilliant in 8 of his last 9 starts, and it's nice to see the offense give him plenty of cushion for a change. Even with reports out there saying his is probably his last year in LA, the Dodgers will take it while they can.

The only bad thing about last night's game was that Steve Phillips (ASS) was one of the announcers. Man, you would think the Dodgers have won no games this year and are the worst organization on Earth. This from a guy that got fired from a team that has countless millions to spend. How's that Victor Zambrano for Scott Kazmir deal working out? Ya...

Anyway, he did say one thing that made sense (in between all the idiotic ones), and that's what will happen when the Dodgers do lose a game. Will they crumble again like last time, or continue to play solidly? Time will tell, but they have yet another great opportunity to win this division. In any other division, they'd be toast, but who cares? With the way they've been pitching and driving in runs, a playoff run is definitely possible.

For now, the Dodgers need to concentrate on this weekend, and at least getting 1 more win. Another great pitching matchup today, as Chad Billingsley takes on Brandon Webb. Webb was pounded in his last outing against LA, so let's hope for more of the same today. It's a Fox game today, and I've got the Phillies and Mets (at least it's a good game), so for those of you that can watch, enjoy.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Power comes from unlikely sources

Quick, name the combination of players that hit the first back-to-back homers for the Dodgers this season last night?

If you were to guess Blake DeWitt and Angel Berroa... well, you cheated, because you already knew the answer.

No matter how many times I look at that above sentence, it still doesn't seem true. The only thing that matters is that it is, as the Dodgers swept the San Diego Padres by winning, 6-4. The win gets them back up to .500 after being 5 games under a week ago. 5 also is the number of games in a row won by them as they are now 1.5 games back of Arizona.

The 3rd inning marked the first run of the game for either team, though the Dodgers had a chance to blow it open but couldn't. Russell Martin singled home Berroa, who had doubled. The bases were loaded with 1 out, but Casey Blake hit into a fielder's choice and James Loney flied out. Still, it was 1-0 LA.

The Padres got 3 in the 4th, and at the time made the Dodgers blowing it with the bases loaded look a lot worse. Kevin Kouzmanoff led off with a home run, and Josh Bard doubled home 2 with 2 outs. After the pitcher Wade LeBlanc singled to put 2 on, the game could have gotten quickly out of hand, but Brian Giles grounded into a fielder's choice.

DeWitt and Berroa got right to work next, as DeWitt's homer scored Matt Kemp, and Berroa followed with his 1st shot of the year. After failing with RISP last time, Blake came through by singling home Andre Ethier. The lead was 5-3, and they would not look back.

Bard got the Pads within 1 with an RBI single, but Blake tacked on a homer to close out the scoring. Hitting in the cleanup spot for the first time in blue, Blake was 2-4 with a homer and 2 RBI. Even Berroa was 2-4 with 2 runs. I'll give credit where credit is due: he's finally starting to look like a solid player. The defense has always been there, but it's his offense that has come through lately. That's now 7 hits in his last 8 games, raising his AVG 25 points to .235. It's still low, but at least he's coming on.

Hiroki Kuroda wasn't sharp at all, but thankfully the offense gave him the win anyway. He went 5.1 IP, 10 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 4 K. The bullpen of Scott Proctor, Scott Elbert, Cory Wade, and Jonathan Broxton shut the door the remainder of the way. With Proctor healthy (and hopefully not pitching like he was at the start of the year) and more additions to the 'pen like Elbert, the back end of the game is looking really good.

It's an off day today before hosting Arizona for 3. Man oh man do the pitching matchups look good. Friday: Derek Lowe vs. Dan Haren, Saturday: Chad Billingsley vs. Brandon Webb, Sunday: Clayton Kershaw vs. Randy Johnson. Wow. Don't miss a minute of those games... I know I won't.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Padres put up little fight in loss

Last night's performance by the Padres was pretty much an exact replica of how the Dodgers looked for much of their road trip. That is, they offered little to no resistance in rolling over dead.

The Dodgers were up 7-0 by the end of the 4th, and Clayton Kershaw gave 7 great innings as the Dodgers won, 8-3. The Arizona Diamondbacks fell to the St. Louis Cardinals last night... but then had a late rally today to win, so the lead is 2 games in the NL West.

It's pretty much perfect timing that the Dodgers drew the Padres at this time of the year, because the Pads really stink. They've been lousy hitters all year long, but when they have some guy named Cha Seung Baek starting, you pretty much know their chances of winning are slim and none, and slim just took a hike! Ya, it's good to play the Pads.

Manny Ramirez (who else?) got things going in the 1st with a no-doubter to left to score 2. In the 3rd, Andre Ethier continued his stellar play by tripling down the left field line (not Brian Giles as the Yahoo recap says... idiots). A sac-fly by Manny gave them a 3-0 lead.

The 4th was when the door was slammed shut, starting with a solo homer from Blake DeWitt, his 6th and first since way back on May 29. Walks to Angel Berroa and Ethier, as well as Kershaw reaching on a fielder's choice loaded the bases with 2 down. James Loney came through with a 2-run single, and Russell Martin hit an RBI single for the 7 run lead.

Kershaw redeemed himself from 2 really bad outings to go 7 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 6 K. Ramon Troncoso couldn't get an out before giving up a run, but Joe Beimel went 2 innings of scoreless ball to end the game. It was good to see the relievers have a chance to rest, as they have tonight's game, a day off, then a big 3 game set with the Diamondbacks Friday-Sunday. They'll need all the strong arms they can get.

Hiroki Kuroda goes tonight, as he takes on some guy named Wade LeBlanc. I've never heard of him, but that's par for the course considering I've never heart of half of the Padres anymore. The DBacks got 2 runs each in the 7th and 9th to beat the Cardinals today, 4-3. Gotta love that Cards bullpen. Jackasses. So, a win keeps the Dodgers under 2 games back.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Maddux ties Clemens for 8th on career wins list

After 2 very encouraging victories against 2 of the NL's best in Dan Haren and Brandon Webb, the Dodgers came home today and took care of business in defeating the San Diego Padres, 5-2. The DBacks had a big win of their own, overcoming a 5-1 hole to beat the Cardinals earlier today, so the margin is still 2.5 games in the NL West.

The Padres wasted no time in getting to Greg Maddux, as the first 3 hitters of the game singled, with Kevin Kouzmanoff singling home Brian Giles for the early lead. 2 runners were stranded though with nobody out. The Dodgers responded in the bottom half with a James Loney single to score Andre Ethier to tie the game up.

From there, the Dodgers simply took over little by little. The bottom part of the order got in on the action in the 2nd, starting with a single from Casey Blake. He stole 2nd, and Angel Berroa of all people hit a big RBI double for the lead. Maddux then hit a single to score Berroa, and it was 3-1 after 2.

Blake continued his hot streak (7 game hit streak) with a homer in the 4th for the 4-1 lead. The Padres added a run in the 6th, but the Dodgers got it back in the 7th on a sac-fly RBI by Manny Ramirez.

4 runs in the first 3 innings was good, but this game was more about the pitching. Maddux went 5.2 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 K for his first win as a Dodger (well, since the last time he was there). More importantly, he's now on the verge of passing Roger Clemens into 7th on the all-time wins list. I think it'll happen, mostly because I'm going out on a limb and predicting that Clemens won't be pitching anytime soon...

The bullpen was great after he left in the 6th. Joe Beimel walked his only batter he faced, but Cory Wade picked him up by retiring catcher Nick Hundley. I thought Hong-Chih Kuo wouldn't pitch tonight, but I guess I'm not giving his arm enough credit. He went 2 flawless innings, K'ing 3 along the way. That's now 93 K's in 78.1 IP this season. Wow. Jonathan Broxton got the save, his 11th.

It's hard to believe just how bad the Padres are, but at 53-84, it's no wonder I barely recognize their lineup tonight. They're doing the right thing in giving some unknowns a shot - you never know what good might come out of it. Still, for a team that was that close to the playoffs last year to this, it's one of their most disappointing seasons in a long time.

The Dodgers get 2 more against the Pads before Arizona is back in town this weekend. For now, it's time to win the winnables, as they thankfully avoid Jake Peavy, the Dodger Killer. Clayton Kershaw returns from a brief demotion to get the start. He's been horrible lately, as the Phillies and Nationals have pounded him into the ground. Time to get back on track.

Kent out for now with knee surgery

Jeff Kent has decided to undergo minor knee surgery, which will sideline him for the time being. However, the early word is that he will be able to return in time for the end of the season. The surgery will take place on Tuesday.

You know, Kent's season was really starting to turn around when Manny Ramirez came aboard. He was hitting in the #3 hole, was seeing plenty of pitches to hit, and was really starting to come through again. All was looking good.

And then he decided to run his mouth about Vin Scully, and he has looked dreadful since then. For those of you that have forgotten, Kent took exception to Scully claiming that having Manny protect him has really upped his production. In fact, he said that Scully "talks to much" and went on to claim that Scully is never around the players and shouldn't say things like that. Needless to say, those comments made him look like a total jackass, or an even bigger one than normal.

With Kent down, Chin-lung Hu was recalled. Hu has a very solid glove, but is lost at the plate, compiling a meager .159 AVG in 49 games earlier this year. Basically, he's another version of Angel Berroa, accept he's actually a worse hitter if you can believe that.

Callups and returns for September

The start of September means it's roster expansion time, and here's what the Dodgers have cooking:

  • Eric Stults, left-handed pitcher
  • James McDonald, right-handed pitcher
  • Jason Repko (remember him?), outfielder
Back from the DL:
  • Andruw Jones, outfielder and overall letdown
  • Delwyn Young, outfielder
  • Scott Proctor, right-handed reliever
3 more pitchers gives the Dodgers more depth out of their bullpen, where guys like Hong-Chih Kuo and Chan Ho Park have been overworked lately. Scott Elbert is already up, and he will be relied upon as well.

I've long since given up on Jones, mostly because he's a joke who has turned out to be the biggest free agent bust this season, and possibly in a long time. Young can provide a good bat late in games when they need some pop. Who knows what to expect from Repko, but if he truly is healthy, he'll give the team good energy.

Dodgers jump all over Webb early

So I think this weekend's games officially makes the Dodgers the weirdest team in baseball to figure out.

The Dodgers had probably their most complete effort of the season, pummeling Brandon Webb early and often as they easily won, 8-1. The win makes the margin 2.5 games, as the Dodgers took 2 of 3 in Arizona. Not bad for a team that was absolutely pitiful in the other 8 road games.

It was really amazing to see just how lost Webb looked, and how great the Dodgers were in pounding the ball all night. Even their outs were mostly hit hard. In all, they had 12 hits (including a double and 2 homers), stole 2 bases, and took 7 walks. True, they still left 10 men on base, but that's bound to happen to some extent when so many men get on base. It was obviously the type of clutch performance they've desperately been waiting for.

It all started in the 1st when Andre Ethier launched an 0-2 pitch to right-center for a solo shot. Manny Ramirez took the first of his 3 walks and James Loney singled. Matt Kemp hit into a fielder's choice, and 2 were on with 2 down. Casey Blake then continued on his solid weekend by hammering a 3-run shot to dead center, and the game was pretty much over after that.

Blake DeWitt contributed with a sac-fly RBI in the 3rd for a 5 run lead, and the scoring continued in the 4th. Ethier started it with a long double to score Russell Martin. With Ethier on 3rd and Manny on 2nd, Kemp's dribbler along the 3rd base line was misplayed by Mark Reynolds, and both runs scored. It capped a pretty miserable night overall for the DBacks.

The offense was on fire, but Derek Lowe made sure the lead would never even come close to being threatened. He went 6 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K. His stuff was nasty, as the DBacks really stood no chance against him. Another good sign was the 2nd appearance from lefty Scott Elbert, who despite giving up a solo shot to Reynolds, looked really good. He and Kershaw are pretty much clones, with wicked fastballs and good breaking stuff. Look out for him.

With rosters expanding and some of the DL guys being healthy, the Dodgers will be given more options to find the right combination. I'm sure Martin will be kept at leadoff, more because they're 2 for 3 with him there. The key will continue to be guys like Ethier, Kemp, Loney, and Blake. The team cannot afford to watch them go through hitting slumps again if they want to make their move.

It's a lot of division play from here on out, starting tonight with a 3 game set at home against San Diego. After a 2-8 road trip, getting home will be a very welcome sight. Greg Maddux will try again for his first win as a Dodger against the returning Chris Young, who hasn't pitched since August 10. The DBacks play St. Louis, who are battling for a playoff spot themselves.