Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dodgers take down the champs on Opening Day

Don Mattingly's debut as the Dodgers' skipper will forever be a winning one.

Taking advantage of some horrible defense by the Giants, the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw got the narrow win in game #1, 2-1. The Dodgers now have the best record in baseball, and should carry this undefeated record the rest of the season.

Or hopefully at least through tomorrow.

Facing the dreaded shadows with a 5 P.M. local start, Kershaw was just brilliant. He finished with seven innings pitched, four hits, no runs, one walk, and nine strikeouts. Through four innings, he already struck out eight, and was just as sharp as can be. It's definitely a great sign going forward.

Tim Lincecum was the opposing starter, and the Dodgers were actually able to piece together some hits off of him in the early going. Back to back singles by Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp with two down came in the first, but James Loney grounded out to first.

The next inning, Juan Uribe made his Dodgers' debut with a single, then sped to second on a misplaced ball in center, only to get called out after oversliding the bag. It came back to haunt them, as Rod Barajas singled, taking away the RBI opportunity. Jamey Carroll and Kershaw both struck out to end the inning.

Two more men reached again in the third, as Tony Gwynn got the start in the #2 spot and singled to left, then sped to second on Pat Burrell's bobble. Ethier flew out, Kemp walked, and Loney again couldn't come through with another groundout.

After Kershaw got out of a bit of trouble in the fifth and sixth, the Dodgers finally got on the board in the bottom of the sixth. Kemp took another walk with one out. Loney then grounded to short, but Miguel Tejada fired wide of second, putting runners on the corners. Uribe was then beaned to load 'em up.

After a pitch to Barajas, Buster Posey tried to catch Kemp walking back to third with a quick throw, only to sail it into left. Kemp scored, and it was 1-0.

Another run was tacked on in the eighth. With Santiago Casilla taking over for Lincecum, Kemp took his career-high third walk, and easily stole second. Loney finally got the big at-bat he was waiting for with an RBI double, making it 2-0.

Hong-Chih Kuo had already pitched the eighth, so now it was time for Jonathan Broxton. We all know what he did at the end of last season, and if I were to reiterate it here, I'd be up all night. But anyway, he got Posey bouncing out to first leading off.

Then in an eerie flashback, Burrell lined a fastball over the wall in left, cutting the lead to 2-1. How would Broxton respond? Well, thankfully. Tejada tapped one out in front of the plate, and Brandon Belt lined a soft one to Uribe at third to end the game.

It was a big night all around for the Dodgers, as they were debuting a new manager against the defending champs on national TV. While the bats didn't exactly break out (facing Lincecum has that effect), Kershaw made sure his team represented. And I don't care what the situation is - beating the Giants is always fun.

This game could serve as a microcosm for the rest of the season. The Dodgers don't have the big boppers in their lineup, so runs could be scarce. But, they do have great pitching, and they do have the ability to score when they absolutely need to. That's what happened in this one.

Both teams are back at it on Friday, as the new millionaire Chad Billingsley will take on Jonathan Sanchez. Bills has a tough act to follow, so let's hope the bats can drive in more runs for support.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dodgers lock up Billingsley with new deal

With Opening Day this week, the Dodgers made a big move this week by locking up one of their best young pitchers. Chad Billingsley extended his contract by three years and $35 million. Other contract details include an option for a fourth year, and the rights to block a trade to 10 teams.

The Dodgers are obviously happy with the progress Bills has made, as he is slotted just underneath Clayton Kershaw atop the rotation. Last season he went 12-11 with a 3.57 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and 171 strikeouts in 191 2/3 innings pitched. For his career of five seasons, he has a 59-41 record with a 3.55 ERA and 1.35 WHIP.

Before this deal was struck, the Dodgers knew they had their top two pitchers in Kershaw and Billingsley only signed through this season. Kershaw is a hotter commodity, so now that Bills is signed, the attention will shift to the southpaw. If he has a season anything close to last year's great numbers, expect the Dodgers to shell out even more money than this.

Billingsley will make the second start of the season against the Giants on Friday, April 1.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

2011 roster appears to be set

An article on the Dodgers' official website sheds plenty of light on just who's in and who's out as Opening Day is less than week away. Based on their projections, here is the 25-man roster:

Catchers (2)
Rod Barajas
Hector Gimenez

Infielders (6)
James Loney
Juan Uribe
Rafael Furcal
Jamey Carroll
Ivan De Jesus
Aaron Miles

Outfielders (6)
Matt Kemp
Andre Ethier
Jay Gibbons
Marcus Thames
Tony Gwynn
Xavier Paul

Starting Rotation (4)
Clayton Kershaw
Chad Billingsley
Ted Lilly
Hiroki Kuroda

Bullpen (7)
Jonathan Broxton
Hong-Chih Kuo
Kenley Jansen
Matt Guerrier
Blake Hawksworth
Mike MacDougal
Scott Elbert

DL (4)
Casey Blake
Dioner Navaro
Jon Garland
Vicente Padilla

Three names who look to be on the outside looking in are A.J. Ellis, Juan Castro, and Lance Cormier. In some cases, it's a matter of keeping guys out of options (Paul, Gimenez) over those with options (Ellis). Castro will stay back in Arizona to work with minor leaguers, but will be given the chance to hook up with another club. Cormier refused an assignment to the minors (which Ramon Troncoso accepted), and could possibly be added at the last minute over Elbert.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Injury updates on Blake, Padilla, and Garland

Some Dodgers are already banged up, so let's take a look at just how bad.

Casey Blake
Even though he's not buying into it quite yet, Don Mattingly fully expects him to start the season on the DL. The specific injury is being called an inflamed thoracic spine, which just sounds painful. Despite taking injections, all he's been able to do is swing off a tee, and even that is still painful once his swing in complete. Considering he's 37 and coming off a down season, this is definitely not the way he wanted to start off the season. Look for Juan Uribe to slide over to third and Jamey Carroll to take over at second for the time being.

Vicente Padilla
A 30-pitch bullpen session last Friday resulted in being shut down the next day, but he's been able to bounce back with 10 pitches today. Afterward, he reportedly felt good. If he stays that way, then it's a positive sign that he really is progressing at a quick pace. Unfortunately for Padilla, we've all seen him collect one injury after another, so it may be hard to believe that he'll be back sooner rather than later. In order for him to be at his best, there's no need to rush him whatsoever.

Jon Garland
He's still nursing a strained oblique, but was recently able to throw 70 feet without any discomfort. As for when he'll be back in the fold, the Dodgers won't need a fifth starter until April 12 in San Francisco. It's being pretty optimistic be expect him back then, but he did get hurt on March 9, so that will be a full month of recovery. Like Padilla, though, I wouldn't count on that quick of a recovery.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Garland out with strained oblique

*** UPDATE ***

An MRI confirmed that Garland will miss four to six weeks. The Dodgers won't need a fifth starter until April 12, so it's possible he'll only miss a start or two.


The durable Jon Garland just got hurt.

Lasting only until the second inning against the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday, Garland was removed after straining his left oblique muscle. It's not known exactly as of yet how long he'll be out, but this type of injury usual takes at least a month, if not longer.

The ironic thing is that the Dodgers signed Garland because of his reputation for pitching inning after inning. Eight times in his career he has pitched 190+ innings, including an even 200 with the Padres last season.

But the Dodgers will now have to look to other options at the start of the season. Vicente Padilla is the "swingman," but he is once again battling injury problems of his own, and isn't expected ready until May at the earliest.

Just who can the Dodgers turn to? A couple guys are John Ely and Tim Redding. Ely made 18 starts last year, going 4-10 with an enormous 5.49 ERA. He does have six scoreless innings thus far in spring, though. Redding seems like he's been pitching since Lincoln was president, but he has eight scoreless innings in spring.

The good news is that Garland got hurt now, and not during the season, so there is a silver lining. If the Dodgers have to endure a few starts from someone else in the #5 spot, so be it. They still have a great chance to win plenty of games because of their top four in the rotation.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Early spring rotation results encouraging

It's hard to get too high or low when it comes to Spring Training, as the game results are as meaningless as they can get. But, if there is a reason to be happy, it has to be the work the rotation has put in thus far. Check out the numbers for the big 5:

Clayton Kershaw - 7 IP, 0 ER (0.00 ERA)
Chad Billingsley - 6 2/3 IP, 1 ER (1.35 ERA)
Hiroki Kuroda - 4 1/3 IP, 2 ER (4.15 ERA)
Ted Lilly - 3 1/3 IP, 1 ER (2.70 ERA)
Jon Garland - 3 IP, 0 ER (0.00 ERA)

Total: 24 1/3 IP, 4 ER (1.48 ERA)

A 1.48 ERA? I'll take that! It's still very early, obviously, so don't expect these numbers to remain so stellar. But, do expect solid production 1-5 as the season progresses, which is exactly what the Dodgers are hanging their collective hats on to make a postseason run.

10 questions for 2011

After two straight season appearing in the NLCS, the Dodgers took a step backwards last season in Joe Torre's farewell. Now with Donny Baseball at the helm, here are 10 important questions the Dodgers will face in getting back to October baseball.

1. Will Clayton Kershaw be the ace?
There's no doubt Kershaw has all the tools to be the top dog. Last year he went 13-10 with a 2.91 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 212 strikeouts. He's already been named the Opening Day starter against the Giants, a very well-deserved honor. His biggest enemy in the past has been his walk on the wild side, but his innings pitched went up last year by over 30, and his walks were down by 10. With more run support, he can approach 20 wins this year.

2. Can Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier provide the power?
After a red hot start to the season by Ethier, a pinky injury of all things completely turned his season around. As for Kemp, he looked like his head was stuck in the clouds from day one. The good news? Both men are young enough and talented enough to really make a difference. With no Manny Ramirez around anymore to take the pressure off, these two will really need to show that last year was a fluke if the Dodgers expect to win.

3. Which Jonathan Broxton will show up?
It was the ultimate tale of two seasons for Brox, as he went from saving the All-Star Game for the National League to getting the boot from the closer's role. Want further proof? Pre-All Star: 2.11 ERA, Post-All Star: 7.13 ERA. Ouch! I believe much of his problems were mental, as he seemed to wilt against good competition. Another problem was that his fastball wasn't blowing people away anymore. Either way, he'll be given every chance to be the man in the 9th inning again. But after watching him last season, I'm not sure anyone can get too comfortable with him one way or another.

4. Will Hong-Chih Kuo hold up?
One of the real bright spots for the Dodgers last season was Kuo's performance, which was absolutely phenomenal. A 1.20 ERA, 21 holds, 12 saves, and 73 strikeouts equaled one of the best seasons for any reliever of all-time. But, as usual, the question of his fragile left arm has to be asked. This offseason, he kept on a regular throwing schedule, just like the one he has during the season. The hope is that his arm will remain strong. Let's hope it does, because a bullpen without Kuo isn't nearly as effective as one with him.

5. Who will emerge in left field?
I liken the Dodgers' claim that they have three legit starters in left to that of a football team with two starting quarterbacks: If you say you have more than one starter, do you really even have a starter at all? On the surface, it doesn't really look like it. The three in competition are Jay Gibbons (power), Marcus Thames (power), and Tony Gwynn (speed and defense). My guess is that Gibbons and Thames will platoon, and Gwynn will play the super-sub role late in games. But who knows, maybe one of them will get hot.

6. Who will emerge behind the plate?
Just like in left, there's three candidates: Rod Barajas, Dioner Navarro, and A.J. Ellis. Barajas hit 17 homers last year, including five in 25 games with the Dodgers. Navarro is eerily similar to Russell Martin in that he was once a hot, young All-Star, and is now fighting to prove himself all over again. Ellis finally hit the ball at the end of last season, but has never done that before. The Dodgers have to like Barajas's power, so I see him getting the early nod.

7. Will Juan Uribe provide a spark, ala last year in San Francisco?
Uribe hooked up with L.A. on a three-year, $21 million deal after helping guide the Giants to a ring last season. He's a career .256 hitter, but launched 24 homers last year, his fourth time over the 20 homer mark. His versatility is nice, as he can play anywhere from second to short to third. With a low average, the Dodgers are going to have to hope that he will make his hits count and be a leader in the infield.

8. Will the 'pen get back to business?
2009 was a fantastic year for the bullpen. 2010? Not so much. Throw out the great work of Hong-Chih Kuo and Kenley Jansen, and it was ugly to watch. Jonathan Broxton led the way, as he inexplicably blew up in the second half of the year, and lost his role of closer. With Ronald Belisario's status up in the air (again), the signing of Matt Guerrier takes on an added significance. If Kuo's arm holds up, Jansen continues to develop, and Broxton can regain his confidence, the bullpen can once again be among the league's best.

9. Is James Loney here for the long haul?
It's no secret that the Dodgers like Loney, but don't love him. That may sum up the feelings of fans, too. What he does bring is an ability to get RBIs, despite hitting for little power, and a slick glove. The problem is that nowadays, first basemen are looked at for their home runs, and that just isn't Loney's game. That's probably not going to change, so don't be surprised if he gets moved at some point if the Dodgers really want to go get an impact player.

10. How will Mattingly leave his mark?
Last season was not a fun ride, as Joe Torre retired and left behind a squad that largely underachieved. The knock on Torre was that he didn't get his club to play with any fire. Was it because he knew he was on his way out the door? We'll never know for sure. What we do know is that Mattingly has a chance to breathe some life into a team that really needed a kick in the collective behind. He'll have to do it without a big power threat like Manny Ramirez. Despite never managing on any level before (save for a stint in the Arizona Fall League), he'll have to show the ability to manage all sorts of different game situations and fast. I think he's up to the task, so I'm excited to see what happens.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Dodgers get Kershaw on the cheap... for now

Enjoying the fact that Clayton Kershaw cannot command high figures yet through arbitration, the Dodgers signed him to a one-year, $500,000 for this upcoming season. It's a slight raise from the $440,000 he made last season.

It seems like Kershaw's been pitching for a few years, probably because as Dodger fans, you've followed him through the minors. But, this season will only be his third full one, although he did pitch for much of the 2008 season as well. Next year he'll be eligible for arbitration, and you can bet his salary will take off.

In addition to being the Opening Day starter, this season takes on even more significance from a money standpoint. If he has another year with numbers like a 2.91 ERA and 212 strikeouts, then the Dodgers will need to get their checkbooks ready for rich, long-term contract. And it would be very well-deserved, of course.

The following players were also signed as well: Ivan DeJesus, Scott Elbert, A.J. Ellis, John Ely, Javy Guerra, Blake Hawksworth, Jamie Hoffmann, Kenley Jansen, John Lindsey, Jon Link, Russell Mitchell, Carlos Monasterios, Xavier Paul, Trayvon Robinson, Travis Schlichting, Ramon Troncoso and Luis Vasquez.