Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dodgers hang on to win season's final game

The Dodgers nearly found a way to blow a huge lead for the second straight night, which would have been one more dark cloud to add to this season.

Thankfully for them, Matt Kemp and Kenley Jansen made sure that didn't happen.

Kemp hit a two-run homer to end the season as the National League's leader in homers and RBIs, and Jansen got the last couple of outs to avoid another collapse as the Dodgers won their last game of the season over the Diamondbacks, 7-5. The Dodgers have ended their season with an 82-79 record, which is a 2 1/2 game improvement over last year's 80-82.

Much like the night before, the Dodgers were in full control until very late. With Ted Lilly on the mound taking care of business, the offense went to work in the first. Dee Gordon, the NL's Rookie of the Month, singled and swiped his 24th base right away. A groundout by Justin Sellers got Gordon to third, and Kemp was beaned. Juan Rivera's sac-fly RBI made it 1-0.

Another run was added in the third. It started again with Gordon, who singled with one down. Sellers then roped an RBI double to left, and it was 2-0.

The fourth inning brought a couple more runs. Jerry Sands finished the season with hits in 15 of his last 16 games, and he singled with an out. With two outs now, Jamey Carroll lined an RBI triple to make it 3-0. Lilly got in on the fun with a single up the middle, scoring to Carroll to make it 4-0.

The Dodgers played longball in scoring their final three runs. In the sixth, James Loney launched a solo shot, putting his team up 5-0. To say his resurgence was unexpected would be a giant understatement. At the end of July he was hitting .256 with four homers. At the season's end, he was up to .288 with 12 homers. Who knows what got into him, but I'm glad it did.

With the Dodgers comfortably ahead, there was really only one story left to unfold, and that was Kemp's battle to lead the league in the power categories. A three-homer night from Prince Fielder on Tuesday deadlocked him with Kemp at 38. One more dinger would put Kemp in a class by himself.

So, after Sellers doubled with one out, it was time for Kemp to shine. He lifted a big fly into deep left for a two-run shot, putting the Dodgers up 7-0 and putting him at 39. He did have one last chance at getting a 40/40 season, but struck out in the ninth. Still, 39/40 is just awesome.

Much like Blake Hawksworth the night before, Don Mattingly gave the ball to a struggling reliever with a huge lead. And just like Hawksworth, it was a pure disaster for Ramon Troncoso. The bases became loaded with one out on singles by Peter Goldschmidt and Collin Cowgill, and a walk to Ryan Roberts.

I guess the DBacks have this thing for grand slams, because they made it two games in a row when Cole Gillespie blasted one to make it 7-4. Troncoso stayed on to pitch to Henry Blanco, so naturally Blanco also homered, and it was 7-5.

We can only thank the big guy above that Jansen was able to get out of this mess, as he got Sean Burroughs and Josh McDonald flying out to end the game and the season. It was Jansen's fifth save. Oh by the way, he also set a major league record with 16.1 K's/9 innings. Incredible.

There was a lot to like about this game, even if the Dodgers nearly handed it all away again. Lilly ended the season as one of the game's best pitchers over the final couple of months. He lasted seven innings for three hits, no runs, one walk, and five strikeouts. His ERA at the end of July was a horrendous 5.02. Wednesday's great effort improved it to 3.97. That's the kind of stability in the middle of the rotation the Dodgers signed up for when they gave him a three-year deal this past offseason.

The three young guys in the lineup - Gordon, Sellers, and Sands - combined to go 6-for-13 with four runs, an RBI, two doubles, a stolen base, and a walk. Most importantly, they showed once again that they can perform on the big stage and win games. They're young, they're exciting, and you can believe in them.

Kemp may not have gotten his Triple Crown that he made a late charge for, but his final line is still tremendous: .324 AVG, .399 OBP, 115 runs, 195 hits, 33 doubles, 4 triples, 39 homers, 126 RBIs, and 40 stolen bases. MVP? I certainly think so when you look at the his total game. He tracks down numerous fly balls in the outfield, and had 11 assists. He is the most complete player in the game, hands down.

Yup, there was certainly plenty to be excited about, even in a non-playoff season. But then there's the tale of poor Eugenio Valez. His groundout in the eighth inning put him at a final tally of 0-for-37, a new major league record for non-pitchers. Going back to last season with the Dodgers, he's 0-for-46. How in the world he managed to stay on a big league roster this long is anybody's guess. Watching his futility went from funny to just plain sad. I really do feel badly for the guy. That's just brutal.

Since July 7, the Dodgers put together a 42-25 record. That's an incredible turnaround for a team that looked like it could finish anywhere from 10-20 games behind .500. It still doesn't makeup for the lousy start they had, as they were long out of the playoff race. But at least they showed some very positive signs for the future.

Now the Dodgers will sit back, relax, and join 21 other teams in watching the postseason from home. The focus will now shift to the offseason in getting extensions for the Big 2 in Kemp and Clayton Kershaw. Plus there's the ownership drama. And there's also a couple of huge first basemen who will be free agents. Will one of them be in LA next season? Hmm...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

DBacks shock the Dodgers in 10

It's a good thing the Dodgers weren't playing in their last game of the season on Tuesday night, because a loss like this would leave a bad taste in their mouths... even if they aren't in playoff contention.

The Dodgers scored five runs in the top of the 10th to go up 6-1, then gave them all right back as the Diamondbacks stunned everyone, 7-6. For the DBacks, the win was big as they are still battling for that second seed in the playoffs.

For the Dodgers, it was one final reminder of why they've been long out of the postseason mix.

In looking at the final score, it's hard to believe that the game's starting pitchers, Hiroki Kuroda and rookie Jarrod Parker, were both fantastic. They both combined to pitch 11 2/3 innings without allowing a run.

It took until the seventh inning for a run to be scored, and it was first from the Dodgers. With one out, Rod Barajas singled and Jamey Carroll walked. Tony Gwynn then forced Carroll at second as pinch-runner Eugenio "o'fer" Valez advanced to third. Dee Gordon hit an RBI single into left to go up 1-0, but was gunned down at second for the final out.

The DBacks responded right away, which was their calling card for the night. Matt Guerrier relieved Kuroda and was terrible. He walked Chris Young right away and then gave up an RBI double to Lyle Overbay to tie the game. Scott Elbert walked his only batter in Aaron Hill, but Mike MacDougal did a great job in getting out of the inning still tied.

Both teams put runners on in the ninth, but came up empty, so it was off to extra innings. The DBacks sent Micah Owings to the hill, and boy was he awful. Gordon doubled right off the bat, then scored when Owings threw away a grounder from Jerry Sands at first. Matt Kemp stroked an RBI single, and it was 3-1.

The runs kept coming, as with one out, James Loney's RBI single made it 4-1. Miles drew a walk to put two on. The big blow was a two-run triple from A.J. Ellis to put the Dodgers in a commanding 6-1 lead.

With a five-run lead late in the game, you would think Don Mattingly could put just about any of his pitchers on the mound and get three outs. So, Blake Hawksworth got that honored distinction. Three outs before five runs? Yes, it seemed possible.

Until it wasn't. Oh, Hawksworth did get the first couple of outs with ease. Then came the onslaught. Connor Gillespie and Miguel Montero both singled, as they both soon were in scoring position. Young drew a walk to load the bases.

Josh McDonald hit a hard one to Miles at third that should've ended the game, but Miles couldn't handle it, and a run scored to make it 6-2. Javy Guerra was then given the ball, but forced in a run by walking Hill, and it was now 6-3.

Still, the Dodgers had a big lead, and just need one more damn out. Did it happen? Nope. Ryan Roberts lined the first pitch he saw out to left for the walk-off grand slam. Simply stunning.

I know the Dodgers aren't playing for anything, but regardless, this was a really tough loss. They looked every bit the team that was lifeless for the most of the season, and not the team that has really turned it on since the middle of August. Their bullpen and defense betrayed them at the worst possible moment.

Lost in all of this was the possible last career start of Kuroda, who might be back in Japan next season. He went six innings for five hits, no runs, no walks, and five strikeouts. He ends the season with a 13-16 record, 3.07 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 161 strikeouts in 202 innings. The wins, strikeouts, and innings pitched are career highs.

Kuroda was never someone who got a lot of recognition, but Dodger fans know just how valuable he's been. Over his four-year career, he's 41-46 with a 3.45 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. He also was a big part of the Dodgers' postseason success in 2008, going 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. If he really is done with the Dodgers, I'll really miss the steady hand he provided every fifth day.

As for Hawksworth, while the error by Miles certainly wasn't his fault, the three hitters he allowed to reach base with two outs before that was. He had an ERA at the end of July of 2.95. But two horrible months since then has pushed it up to 4.08. It's hard to imagine him being back next season with such a lousy end to this one.

Right now the Dodgers are at 81-79. Last season they went 80-82. So win or lose on Wednesday, they improved ever so slightly. But, it's a pretty nice accomplishment considering all the crap going on in the organization and the bad stretch of play they endured for much of the season. The fact that they even got over .500 is something not even the most positive of Dodgers' supporters could have envisioned.

The final game of the season will see Ted Lilly take the mound against Joe Saunders. Since the DBacks are still trying to get home field advantage in the first round, it will certainly be a meaningful game. Playing a bit of a spoiler would be a cool way to end the season.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dodgers assured of winning record

No, really!

In what seemed like a complete improbability about a month and a half ago, the Dodgers will finish in the black when the season is over thanks to a 4-2 victory over the Diamondbacks on Monday. And, for a pretty laughable fact, they also are three games over .500 (81-78) for the first time the entire season.

Better late than never, right?

With Daniel Hudson on the mound, the most likely #2 starter for the Diamondbacks come playoff time, the Dodgers went to work right away. Dee Gordon began the game with a double thanks to his blazing speed. Jerry Sands took a walk, and up came that Matt Kemp guy.

Kemp, as we all know, still has hopes of winning the Triple Crown, thanks to leading the National League in homers and RBIs, and being close in batting average. Still needing more good at-bats, he delivered. Kemp creamed one to dead center for a three-run shot, and it was already 3-0. It was Kemp's 38th of the season to go along with 123 RBIs. It was also his last hit of the game, which didn't exactly help his cause.

Dana Eveland was put in charge of keeping the lead, despite being lit up his last couple of starts. How did he respond? Very nicely, thank you very much. He mowed through the first 11 hitters he faced before Chris Young broke up a shot at perfection with a two-out single in the fourth. Miguel Montero grounded to first to end the inning.

The Diamondbacks had a great chance to get right back into the game in the sixth. Hudson singled leading off, and Ryan Roberts followed with his own. After getting Aaron Hill to fly to center, Young singled again, and the bases were juiced.

Eveland stayed on to pitch to Montero, and it worked as he struck out. With Peter Goldschmidt coming up, Don Mattingly gave the ball to Josh Lindblom to leave all three runners stranded. One strikeout later, Lindblom did just that to keep the score at 3-0.

The Dodgers added their final run in the seventh. James Loney has been a big piece of the puzzle in getting the Dodgers over the hump in recent weeks, and he doubled to start. A sacrifice by Aaron Miles sent Loney to third, and A.J. Ellis was beaned. Justin Sellers came through with an RBI single, and it was 4-0.

Matt Guerrier plowed right through the DBacks in order in the seventh, and handed it over to Nathan Eovaldi in the eighth. Unfortunately, as has been the case since Eovaldi went to the bullpen, he was hit around. It all started on a walk to Sean Burroughs. Roberts grounded into a fielder's choice for the first out, but Hill and Young both walked to load the bases again.

Out went Eovaldi, who did about the worst thing possible by walking everyone with a lead, and in came Scott Elbert. Ellis allowed a passed ball to bring home Roberts, and it was now 4-1. The bases became loaded again on another walk to Montero.

That meant the end of Elbert, and the arrival of Mike MacDougal. Goldschmidt struck out again in a big spot, which added to his 0-for-4 night with three strikeouts and six men left on. The DBacks did get a second run in, though. How did it happen? You guessed it - another damn walk! Gerardo Parra flew out to end the inning. I'm surprised he didn't walk just for kicks.

Javy Guerra had to work around Gordon's throwing error to start the inning, but got through the next three in order to earn his 21st save.

Much credit goes to Eveland, who certainly bounced back from a couple of poor outings. He lasted 5 2/3 innings for five hits, no runs, no walks, and five strikeouts. As the Dodgers found out later in the game, when their pitchers don't issue walks, they're pretty good. He improved to 3-2 with a 3.03 ERA to finish out the season. Not too shabby.

As for Eovaldi, he clearly is not the same guy coming out of the 'pen as he is starting the game. In six starts, he was 1-2, but with a really good ERA of 3.09. In four appearances out of the bullpen covering 2 2/3 innings, he's given up three runs on three hits and three walks, and without any strikeouts.

Kemp has a nice 10-game hitting streak in which he's raised his average from .314 to .324. The negative side is that in his last four games, he's collected only one hit apiece. With Ryan Braun and Jose Reyes both at .334, Kemp will pretty much need to be flawless and those two hitless over the final couple of games in order to grab the batting average crown. In other words, try hard to keep the faith, because it's not likely to happen.

The Dodgers will look to continue their strong play over the last couple of games in Arizona. Hiroki Kuroda will make the start on Tuesday in what very well could be his final appearance with the Dodgers. I sure hope not, and despite the Dodgers certainly wanting him to come back in 2012, he may not be able to resist a return to his native Japan as he wraps up his career. Time will tell, so enjoy him while we have him.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Kershaw finishes historic season with 21st win

If there was ever any doubt that Clayton Kershaw should win the Cy Young Award, another masterful performance on Sunday put an end to all of that.

Kershaw hurled 7 1/3 innings of two-run ball, and Rod Barajas's two-run blast keyed the Dodgers in beating the Padres, 6-2. The Dodgers took two of three in this series to up their record to 80-78 with a three-game set to go in Arizona.

While Kershaw came into this game as the most likely favorite to win the award, this was still a big start in that he had to put that one last great effort in to convince the voters. What was important as well was getting the win and tying Ian Kennedy for tops in the National League at 21.

The offense made sure to back him up, as they got on the board right off the bat. Jamey Carroll took a walk with one out. Matt Kemp, who as we know is battling for the MVP and Triple Crown all at once, got his only hit of the day with an RBI double to make it 1-0. Juan Rivera's fly ball got Kemp to third, and he came home on an RBI single from Aaron Miles.

Would Kershaw not be his normal self and perhaps try too hard to win? Nope. He struck out three of the first four hitters he saw, and kept the Dodgers in the lead.

Another one-out walk to Carroll led to more runs in the fifth. Kemp dribbled one to third, but it went right underneath Alberto Gonzalez's glove for two on. No controversy here, because it was a clear error. Rivera smoked one into center for an RBI single, and it was 3-0. Miles followed that up with an RBI on a fielder's choice, and the Dodgers were in full control at 4-0.

The Padres finally gave themselves a little bit of hope in the bottom of the frame. Up until this point, Kershaw had only faced one over the minimum, issuing a walk to pitcher Cory Luebke in the third, and picking Nick Hundley off of first after his single in the fourth. With two outs, Aaron Cunningham got into one to left for the solo shot, going down 4-1.

Both teams didn't have much going at the plate until Barajas changed that in the eighth. Erik Hamren was brought in with two outs to pitch to Jerry Sands, and Sands responded with a walk. Barajas then launched his 16th jack of the year out to left, putting the Dodgers in full command at 6-1.

After Kershaw got through the seventh in order, I thought Don Mattingly should've turned the game over to the bullpen and called it a season for him. But, with his pitch count still manageable, and with a new five-run lead, he was sent back out there. Right away, Orlando Hudson doubled leading off, and scored on Gonzalez's RBI triple an out later.

That would be the last batter of the season for Kershaw, who gave way to the flamethrower, Kenley Jansen. Like usual, Jansen was simply overpowering, striking out pinch-hitter Will Venable (after Venable sent his bat flying by swinging and missing twice) and Cameron "Tiki" Maybin. Those poor batters looked as lost as could be.

Javy Guerra pitched the ninth, and gave up a single to Hudley and a walk to Jesus Guzman with one out. After Barajas called him down, Chris Denorfia grounded into the game ending double play. It was a non-save situation, but Guerra still lowered his ERA to 1.97.

There isn't a whole lot left to say about Kershaw, other than giving him another "WOW." His last loss on the season was on August 7 in Arizona, which put his record at 13-5 with a 2.79 ERA. Since then, he's gone 8-0 in nine starts, and his ERA is 2.28. That's as remarkable an end-of-season run as you can get.

As Kemp is hanging on to his Triple Crown hopes, Kershaw has all but locked up the pitching Triple Crown. He's tied in wins with Kennedy at 21, and first in ERA at 2.28 and strikeouts at 248. The only man standing somewhat in his way is Cliff Lee, who will start on Monday against the Braves. Lee's ERA is 2.38 along with 232 strikeouts. Obviously, he'll have to pretty much throw a no-hitter with a ridiculous amount of strikeouts to overtake Kershaw. But he is Cliff Lee, so don't fall asleep on him.

In switching gears to Kemp, for the second straight game, he collected a hit in his first plate appearance, then struggled the rest of the way. His 1-for-5 day puts his average at .324. Ryan Braun came up big again by going 2-for-3 to raise his average to .333, and Jose Reyes was 2-for-4 to jump to .331.

The uphill climb for the Triple Crown became even tougher, with lots of credit to the two guys in front of him. Albert Pujols was hitless, so Kemp is still tied with him at 37. Ryan Howard collected his 115th RBI, but Kemp matched that with one of his own to get to 120.

Kemp has three games to go, and figuring he'll get 4-5 at-bats per night, he'll have between 12-15 more trips to the plate to make his final push. It's going to take a combination of big swings from him and Braun and Reyes cooling off for the deed to happen, but it's still possible. Maybe not probable, but certainly possible.

There's three games left in the season, and they'll start Monday against the Diamondbacks. The DBacks have already clinched the NL West, so I'm sure we'll see some strange lineups out there, from both teams for that matter. Dana Eveland got rocked his last couple of starts, so he'll look to end on a good night in the first game.

Harang has his way

One night after the Dodgers shutout the Padres in Petco Park, the Padres flipped the script, as Aaron Harang's eight masterful innings gave the Padres a win, 3-0. The loss sends the Dodgers back to one game over .500 with four games left in the season.

Harang may have also derailed Matt Kemp's chances at the Triple Crown. After singling in his first at-bat, Kemp went hitless over his next three, dropping his average to .325. Ryan Braun was 2-for-3, so he's at .331, and Jose Reyes's 1-for-3 day put him at .330. Needless to say, Kemp's going to have to get hot again to have a crack at this.

The Padres did all of their scoring, and the game's scoring for that matter, in the fifth. With Chad Billingsley on the mound, Anthony Rizzo singled with one out. Andy Parrino then walked for two on. Harang struck out to make it two down, and Billingsley had a great chance to escape the inning unharmed.

But, as has been the case far too often this season, Billingsley couldn't make the big pitches when he needed to. Will Venable drove in a run with a single, and it was 1-0. Orlando Hudson did the same on an RBI single, and it was 2-0. Then young Tim Federowicz made a bad throw, allowing Venable to score for the 3-0 lead.

The Dodgers never got anything going after that. Kemp did send a long fly ball to deep center in the sixth, but it came up just short. A leadoff single by Dee Gordon in the ninth off of Heath Bell gave a glimmer of hope, but Kemp grounded into a double play to put this one in the books. It was that kind of night for the boys in blue.

Billingsley sailed threw the first four innings, giving up only a couple of walks, and one hit (in which Jeremy Hermida was gunned out by Jerry Sands at third trying to stretch a double). Then the fifth inning came, and it was time for his annual "hit a wall" inning. Three singles, one walk, and one hit batsmen gave the Padres three runs. True, the last run wasn't his fault, but he still unraveled with two outs.

Overall, Billingsley went five innings for four hits, three runs (two earned), three walks, and three strikeouts. He dropped his record to 11-11 in his final start of the season. He also set a career-high for ERA at 4.21, and his WHIP jumped from a solid 1.28 last year to a sky high 1.45 this year.

Needless to say, it was a disappointing year for him. He ended last year on such a high note, posting a 3.52 ERA in August and 3.06 in September. But after ending the month of May with a 3.46 ERA, he seemed to fall apart. One start he'd show some promise, then he'd follow that up with stinkers.

We hear all the time about how good he could be, but maybe it's time we face reality that he's just an average starting pitcher. He's just way too inconsistent to be counted on anything more than that. Yes, I realize he was an All-Star in 2009, but he even stunk at the end of that year. He is what he is, and that's a low-end rotation guy and nothing more.

As for Kemp, he'll have to really turn it on the last five games to win the batting title. The problem isn't so much that he only had one hit, it's more that he has to count on great hitters like Braun and Reyes to go o'fer, and that's just so hard to fathom. Those guys are just too good. But Kemp has already proven how hot he can get, so there's still a chance the Triple Crown could happen. Just keep the faith.

With the Diamondbacks having already wrapped up the NL West (and congratulations to them for doing so), Don Mattingly will keep Clayton Kershaw on schedule and have him start on his regular rest Sunday. You see, had the Giants still been alive, Mattingly would've saved Kershaw until Monday against the Diamondbacks in the interest of competition. And rightfully so.

Much like Kemp is chasing the offensive Triple Crown, Kershaw has a great chance at winning the pitching version's. He leads in ERA at 2.27 and strikeouts at 242. The next closest in those categories is Cliff Lee at 2.38 and 232, and he'll make his final start of the season on Monday in preparation for the NLDS. Ian Kennedy has 21 wins after winning on Saturday, and Kershaw is at 20 with one start to go.

So, Kershaw can put the finishing touches on his Cy Young push with another good start on Sunday. He definitely has momentum on his side, as he's 7-0 in his last eight starts, with his last "bad" start on August 7 in Arizona (4 runs in 6 1/3 innings). He'll be matched up against Cory Luebke.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Lilly and Kemp dominate the Padres

Matt Kemp had only one hit on Friday night against the Padres, but he made it count with a solo homer to keep his Triple Crown hopes alive. Combine that with over six fantastic innings from Ted Lilly, and the Dodgers shut down the Padres, 2-0.

The Dodgers are now 79-77, and are two games over the .500 mark for the first time since... April 11! Holy crap! Winning 22 of the last 30 games may be too little too late, but it's sure been refreshing to watch after struggles for most of the season.

Somewhat lost in all of this Kemp hype has been the emergence of young Jerry Sands, who found himself hitting in the cleanup spot thanks to a 10-game hitting streak. He made that 11 as he doubled leading off the second. Trent Oeltjen nearly beat out a bunt, but was still plenty good enough to sacrifice Sands to third with an out. Russ Mitchell started at first, and his RBI groundout made it 1-0.

That score held up all the way until the seventh when Kemp did his work. At this point, he was 0-for-2 with a strikeout and a flyout. He changed all of that with one mighty swing, hitting a 426 foot shot to right center for the 2-0 lead. With Albert Pujols going homerless on the night, Kemp is now tied with him for the NL's lead at 37.

Lilly was barely threatened all night. In the third, he walked Andy Parrino and Cameron "Tiki" Maybin, but got around it. After giving up a leadoff double to Aaron Cunningham and a groundout to Alberto Gonzalez in the seventh, Mike MacDougal relieved to pitch to Kyle Blanks. It worked, as Blanks grounded to third, and Justin Sellers got Cunningham in a rundown. Jeremy Hermida walked, but Maybin K'd to end the inning.

The bullpen took over from there, as the Kenley Jansen-Javy Guerra combination was practically untouchable. Jansen struck out the side in the eighth to improve his ERA since returning from injury in June to a minuscule 0.61. He also has 56 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings pitched. Filthy, just plain filthy. He's credited a new Mariano Rivera-like cutter for his success.

Guerra got a groundout, popup, and struck out Gonzalez to end the game. He recorded his 20th save in 21 chances, which is awesome considering he made his first appearance on May 15. Also, his ERA went down from 2.27 at the start of September to 2.01 currently.

Unfortunately, for all that went right in this game, there's the story of poor Eugenio Valez. As if his season hasn't been bad enough, he now is tied in the record books for futility at the plate by going hitless in his last 45 at-bats with three other men, including Craig Counsell this season. It's gotten so bad, it's almost uncomfortable watching him flail away.

I feel just awful for the guy. But I honestly do think that Don Mattingly should keep starting him until he gets that hit. I just can't even imagine going hitless for the entire season. There's five games left in the season, which means around 20 at-bats. If that's what it takes to get this poor guy one damn hit, then do it.

Lilly quietly put in another great performance, putting 6 1/3 innings for four hits, no runs, two walks, and seven strikeouts. I saw a great stat on him after the game: in his last 11 starts, he's put together a 2.42 ERA and .174 batting average against, good for tops in the majors. That's awesome, especially considering how hittable he was for much of the start of the season. He's gone 4-1 in his last six starts.

In looking at Kemp's Triple Crown race, Ryan Braun also went 1-for-4 with a homer, which actually lowered his batting average a point to .329. Jose Reyes was rained out against the Phillies, so those two are tied for the lead with .329, and Kemp is at .326. Another RBI by Kemp increased his lead by one to 119.

It's a fun race to keep track of, but here's an interesting fact that people are probably forgetting about: the Dodgers will only play in 161 games this year. They were rained out in Washington on September 7, and they tried to play two the next day, but only got in one. Wouldn't it be crazy if Kemp lost out on the Triple Crown by the smallest of margins, and playing one more game could've made the difference? I'm sure Major League Baseball wouldn't like that scenario to play out.

Nonetheless, Kemp and the Dodgers will look to take full advantage of the five games they have left, as Chad Billingsley takes the mound on Saturday. He'll go against Aaron Harang, who has a 3.29 ERA at home in 16 starts.

Friday, September 23, 2011

On Tommy's birthday, Kemp puts on a show

Tommy Lasorda probably wishes this Matt Kemp guy was around when he was managing.

Kemp helped the Dodgers close out the home season in style, hitting a homer and three doubles, as the Dodgers beat the Giants, 8-2. The win gave the Dodgers two of three, and even sweeter, helped push the Giants on the edge of playoff elimination. Yes, it was a good night.

With Lasorda serving as Don Mattingly's honorary coach, Hiroki Kuroda took the mound for what very well could be his last time in front of the home crowd. He got a couple of grounders to begin, but then watched Carlos Beltran laser one out to center to give the Giants a 1-0 lead.

No matter, as the Dodgers took the lead for good in the bottom of the frame. It all started with Kemp, who hit the first of his career-high three doubles with two outs. Juan Rivera stepped in and absolutely crushed a no-doubter to left to make it 2-1. It was his fifth as a Dodger.

In the third, Dee Gordon and Jerry Sands hit consecutive singles to open up the inning. The only blemish on Kemp's night was a long fly to right that was just tracked down by Beltran for the first out. With Gordon on third, Rivera hit one back up the middle for the RBI single and 3-1 advantage.

The Dodgers kept the pressure on against Madison Bumgarner as Kuroda settled in. Rod Barajas singled with one down in the fourth. An out later, Kuroda did damage with his stick, singling for two on. An RBI single by Gordon later, and it was 4-1.

With Steve Edlefsen now in, the Dodgers increased their lead even more in the fifth. It was Kemp who started it with his second double. Two straight walks an out later to Aaron Miles and James Loney loaded the bases. Waldis Joaquin came in, and Barajas also took a walk to force in a run. Jamey Carroll's RBI grounder gave the Dodgers a commanding 6-1 lead.

The rest of the game was gravy, as it was all about what else Kemp could do. After Pablo Sandoval hit a homer in the seventh to make it 6-2, Kemp returned the favor, and then some, in the eighth. With Gordon on base from a walk, Kemp smashed one to center for his 36th of the season, ending the scoring at 8-2.

Kemp received a curtain call that he most assuredly deserved, as the home crowd paid their proper respects to the MVP candidate. Scott Elbert struck out Hector Sanchez to end the game.

Before getting to Kemp's bloated numbers, Kuroda deserves plenty of respect as well. He added to his career-high total by winning his 13th. He lasted seven innings for five hits, two runs, no walks, and four strikeouts. His only two runs were on solo homers. With a 3.17 ERA, Dodger fans can only hope he'll be back for even more next year.

Because of Kemp's 4-for-5 outburst, a realistic question can now be raised: Can he win the vaunted Triple Crown? Well, it may not be so unrealistic after all. He's third in average at .326 to Ryan Braun's .330, second in homers at 36 to Albert Pujols's 37, and first in RBIs with 118, five in front of Ryan Howard. And with the Phillies wrapping up a postseason berth in April (seems like it anyway), Howard's been resting his sore ankle.

It's obviously a very difficult accomplish to pull off, but if anybody is up for it, it's Kemp. His average on September 15 was .314, and it's now .326. He needed to get on a homer role again, and he has with three since then. He also drove in eight runs. In other words, just when you thought he didn't have much gas left in the tank, he refuels and looks even better.

So what needs to happen over the last six games to make this thing happen? For starters, he can't go all or nothing with his at-bats by thinking about only homers. His average will dip a bit if he does that. He'll get his homers if he relaxes and swings like he has been the last week.

Of course, he'll also need some help from Braun and Pujols, as a few hitless games from them can go a long way.

If the tentative pitching matchups don't change, then Kemp get a nice little boost by avoiding Ian Kennedy. The toughest pitchers he'll face look to be Aaron Harang and Daniel Hudson, who are solid, if not spectacular hurlers.

The home schedule has concluded with the Dodgers at 42-39. They will now hit the road for the season's last six games, as they look to also get over the .500 mark with a current 36-38 record. Ted Lilly will take the mound against Wade LeBlanc.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Kemp does work, but Eveland doesn't

Matt Kemp did his best to put the Dodgers on his back on Wednesday night, hitting a three-run homer and scoring a couple of runs.

Dana Eveland, on the other hand, came crashing back to Earth.

Eveland suffered his second straight sub-par performance, getting knocked around in only four innings, as the Dodgers lost to the Giants, 8-5. The Dodgers continued their yo-yo of going above .500, back to .500, and below .500. For now, it's all even after 154 games.

The Giants didn't waste anytime in thanking the Lord that Clayton Kershaw wasn't on the mound again, as they came out swinging in the first. Justin Christian led off and singled. Jeff Keppinger grounded into a double play, and it looked like an easy inning for Eveland. But, Carlos Beltran doubled and Brett Pill hit an RBI single to make it 1-0.

Eveland then became his own worst enemy, as he issued two straight walks to Brandon Belt and Mark DeRosa to load the bases. Mike Fontenot delivered on a two-run single, and the Giants were up 3-0.

The Dodgers put a couple men on in each of the first couple of innings, but came away with blanks. The Giants made them pay for that by increasing the lead to 5-0 in the fourth. DeRosa singled to start, Chris Stewart walked with an out, and both men advanced to scoring position on Ryan Vogelsong's sacrifice. Christian against came through, as his two-run double gave the Giants a big lead.

After again wasting a couple of singles in the fourth, the Dodgers finally got something going in the fifth. Eugenio Valez still doesn't have a hit, but he was beaned leading off. Dee Gordon singled to put two on, and Jamey Carroll hit an RBI single to make it 5-1. Kemp then deposited one into deep center for a three-run shot, and just like that, it was now 5-4.

The bullpen couldn't hold the Giants' offense down, as Josh Lindblom pitched the sixth. DeRosa led off with a single, but the next two batters were retired in order. The two-out bug struck the Dodgers again, as Conor Gillaspie walked, and that darn Christian had another big at-bat with an RBI single, and it was 6-4.

In the seventh, the Giants pretty much put the game away. This time it was Hong-Chih Kuo in, and he again got roughed up to add to his miserable season. Andres Torres walked leading off, and scored on Pill's RBI double. Pill then went to third on Belt's fly ball, and was plated on DeRosa's sac-fly RBI off of Matt Guerrier, making it 8-4.

The Dodgers did get a little two-out rally in the ninth, as Kemp singled and Juan Rivera walked against Santiago Casilla. Brian Wilson was then summoned, and James Loney greeted him with an RBI single to make it 8-5. Aaron Miles flew out to end the game.

At this point of the year, the Dodgers really have three goals: finish above .500, get Kershaw the Cy Young, and get Kemp the MVP. Well, they're at 77-77, Kershaw has vaulted into the lead position for the Cy, and Kemp had another big night to add to his MVP push.

In looking at the big three stats, Kemp is third in average (.322), second in home runs (35), and first in RBIs (116). Plus, he's first in runs (108), third in hits (184), second in steals (40), and second in OPS (.969). Just like his teammate is doing on the mound, those are some awesome stats.

Will Kemp actually get the MVP? Right now, Ryan Braun seems to be the frontrunner, as his unbelievable August and September have not only catapulted him into the MVP lead, but the Brewers on the verge of a playoff berth. Unfortunately for Kemp, the Dodgers haven't been anywhere close to the playoff race all season, which may hurt him in the end.

As for Eveland, he's started to look more like the erratic pitcher who's already playing on his sixth team since 2005. In this one, he went four innings for six hits, five runs, three walks, and one strikeout. His ERA two starts ago was 0.60. Now? 3.75. Um, not good.

Eveland was bad, but Kuo was even worse, giving up two runs and only getting one out. There's not a whole different to say about him at this point. He just continues to completely stink up the joint with a 9.72 ERA and 1.84 WHIP. How many other pitchers out there would even be sent to the mound with those numbers? He's obviously pitching just on past performances, as he looks like he has no business being out there. What a shame that is.

The Dodgers will finish up their home schedule on Thursday night. Win or lose, they'll finish over .500 at home with a current 41-39 record. Hiroki Kuroda will make his last start, possibly for good in front of the home crowd, looking for his 13th win.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Kershaw downs Lincecum for win #20

Clayton Kershaw reached the magical 20-win plateau on Tuesday night, becoming the first Dodger to do so since Ramon Martinez in 1990.

What may be even more impressive, however, has been Kershaw's repeated dominance over Tim Lincecum and the Giants all this season.

Kershaw upped his record to 5-0 against the defending World Series champions this year, including 4-0 against the two-time Cy Young Award winner, as the Dodgers beat the Giants, 2-1. It was your latest example why Kershaw should clearly be the front runner for this year's Cy Young Award.

The Giants actually put a couple runners on to start the game: one on an error by Aaron Miles to allow Andres Torres to reach, the other on a bloop single by Carlos Beltran. But, they were their own worst enemy, as Torres was gunned trying to steal second, and Beltran was picked off of first by Kershaw.

Knowing runs would once again be at a premium with these two flamethrowers on the mound, the Dodgers were able to put some pressure on right away. With two outs in the first, Matt Kemp and Juan Rivera hit hard singles. James Loney lined one right back up the middle for an RBI single and a 1-0 lead.

The next inning, the Dodgers again got a run. Jerry Sands led off and crushed a solo shot in to deep left, making it 2-0. It was the fourth of the season for him, who's clearly settled in at the plate. In 12 September games, he's hitting .386 with a .460 OBP, along with two homers and five RBIs.

A 2-0 lead in a game like this may as well have seemed like a 10-run lead, as Kershaw got locked in. Even when he'd allow hits, they'd get stranded. In the third, Justin Christian hit a leadoff double, stole third with one out, but couldn't score. Two singles were hit in the fifth, but Christian was the latest to get erased on the bases to squash a threat.

After mowing down the Giants in order during the sixth and seventh, Kershaw got Christian flying out to start the eighth. But, Chris Stewart came out of nowhere and hit a solo home run, cutting the lead to 2-1. Kershaw has pitched five complete games this year, but he clearly ran out of gas by walking Pat Burrell and Torres.

If there's another pitcher who's been just as impressive as Kershaw, it's Kenley Jansen, who's been absolutely on fire since returning from injury on June 18. The Giants were still clinging onto their slim playoff hopes, and sent Pablo Sandoval and Beltran, the heart of the order, up to the plate.

The result? Two strikeouts from Jansen, preserving Kershaw's chance at his 20th win.

Javy Guerra has also played a huge role as the season rolled on, and he was summoned to close it out. However, he immediately threw one away to allow Mark DeRosa to reach on an error. No matter, as Brett Pill flew out and Aubrey Huff grounded into a double play to end it. It was Guerra's 19th save.

The story was once again Kershaw, who was making his final home start of the season. He lasted 7 1/3 innings for six hits, one run, two walks, and six strikeouts. Jansen was huge in getting the last couple of outs in the eighth, and Guerra in closing it out.

It's been fun to look at Kershaw's stats, especially as the year has worn on and winning a Cy Young has become more and more realistic. His 2.27 ERA, 242 strikeouts, and .208 BAA are tops in the National League, and his 20 wins are tied for the lead with Ian Kennedy. He's also right near the top in complete games (six), shutouts (two), and WHIP (0.99).

For good measure, he also leads the NL with eight pickoffs. Hey, why not? Everything else has gone right.

As if Kershaw's stats aren't reason enough to give him the award, his last start of the year is scheduled to be Sunday against the feeble Padres. To put in perspective just how bad the Padres are at the plate, they're dead last in the National League in average, slugging, hits, and home runs. In other words, it's pretty much the perfect matchup to improve on his stats even more.

Even if Kershaw is just so-so, there's no way he can be denied winning the Cy Young this year. On a team that has struggled all year, he has given them a huge advantage every fifth day, no matter what team the Dodgers are playing. He's just that good. And his numbers more than reflect his dominance.

The Dodgers are down to two home games remaining on the season, and they will continue to try and spoil the postseason hopes of the Giants. Dana Eveland came back to Earth a bit in his last start, as the Pirates handed him his first loss. He'll look to bounce back against Ryan Vogelsong.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Red hot Loney flexes more muscle

Ted Lilly needed one more good start to reach double digits for the ninth straight season. James Loney made sure he did just that.

Loney homered for the second straight night, Kemp reached 100 runs and 40 steals, and the Dodgers slapped around the Pirates, 6-1. The Dodgers have taken two of the first three with one game to go.

After Lilly got the Pirates in order with a couple of strikeouts to start the game, the offense went to work. Dee Gordon singled leading off, but was quickly erased on the bases. Justin Sellers drew a walk, and an out later, Juan Rivera singled. Loney gave the Dodgers an early 3-0 lead with a three-run shot to right, his 11th of the season.

The Pirates scored their only run of the night in the second. Lilly issued two straight walks to Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick to open it up. A flyout by Brandon Wood got Lee to third, and Josh Harrison delivered an RBI double to make it 3-1.

That was as close as the Pirates would get, as the Dodgers played longball again in the third. Kemp started it off with a single. Rivera then smacked a two-run shot, and it was now 5-1. It was Rivera's 10th homer of the season, and fourth with the Dodgers. It all gave Kemp a nice, round 100 runs.

The young guns got into the act in the fifth to close out the scoring. Well, old man Aaron Miles was the first to reach on an error by Wood at third. Sands then singled for two on. Tim Federowicz, acquired at the trade deadline for prospect Trayvon Robinson, had his big league moment with an RBI single to make it 6-1.

Once Lilly exited after seven innings, Nathan Eovaldi struggled in the eighth. The Pirates loaded the bases on singles by Chase d'Arnaud and Andrew McCutchen, and a plunking of Lee, all with one out. Out went Eovaldi, who's clearly struggling after transitioning to the bullpen, and in came Kenley Jansen. Two strikeouts of Ludwick and Garrett Jones later, the threat was over.

Mike MacDougal pitched the ninth, and despite allowing a couple of runners, didn't allow a run.

There were plenty of positive happenings in this game. Lilly went seven innings for four hits, one run, two walks, and seven strikeouts. He went through a horrendous couple of months in June and July, but posted a 2.35 ERA in August and 3.12 in September. His ERA has gone down from 5.02 to 4.27 in the process.

In addition to Kemp getting that one more run and steal, a couple more hits raised his average to .317. For MVP purposes, I'm sure he'd like to bump that up to .320, as well as up his homers from 33 to 35. He could go o'fer the rest of the season and still have awesome numbers, but a late push for those voters would be huge.

Rivera continues to quietly be a good addition. He's now played in 53 games for the Dodgers and is hitting .283 with four homers and 37 RBIs. I'm sure he'd like to have a little more power than that, but I didn't expect him to even hit that high, especially since he was hitting .243 for the Blue Jays before coming over. Still, he's a decent power threat for a team that needs power, so I can see him being brought back next season.

Finally, there's Loney, who has put the game away for the second straight night with a three-run jack. The knock on him his whole career has been a strange lack of power, especially for a tall guy with a seemingly good swing. His defense has always been sharp, to his credit. I'm not sure anyone will ever be able to figure him out, as he either appears red hot or ice cold at a moment's notice.

With the organization in such a mess right now, it's hard to see someone like Prince Fielder being signed to a huge deal in the offseason to play first base. So, after looking like absolute garbage for much of the season, Loney could realistically be resigned again for next year.

The Dodgers finish their set against the Pirates with an afternoon game on Sunday. Chad Billingsley will look to get over the .500 mark with his 11th win.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Loney puts the game away

With the Dodgers in the middle of a youth movement during their four-game set against the Pirates, James Loney found himself getting the night off.

That is until he pinch-hit in the sixth and put the game out of reach.

Loney's three-run blast backed up Hiroki Kuroda's solid effort, and the Dodgers beat the Pirates, 7-2. The Giants have run off six straight wins, so it looks like the Dodgers will have to settle for third place in the NL West, as they have a four-game edge over the Rockies.

Kuroda was making the start despite a stiff neck, though an MRI showed no new damage. The Pirates got to him in the second. Garrett Jones led off the inning with a single. An out later, Pedro Alvarez took a walk. Ronny Cedeno then grounded one that should have been a double play, but after getting the out at second, Dee Gordon's throw sailed past first, as Jones scored to make it 1-0.

The Dodgers battled right back in the bottom of the frame. Jerry Sands doubled to start things off. Rod Barajas followed with his own double, and just like that, it was 1-1.

Gordon began to atone for his error with a leadoff single in the third. Sellers walked to set things up for the mighty Matt Kemp, who delivered his 111th RBI on a single. With Sellers at third, Juan Rivera's RBI fielder's choice put the Dodgers up 3-1. Believe it or not, big man Rivera actually stole second but was stranded.

Clinging to a two-run lead, Kuroda had a scare in the sixth. Alex Presley led off the inning with a long solo shot to right, and it was 3-2. Neil Walker and Ryan Doumit then hit consecutive singles to start a threat. Kuroda, however, relaxed, and got two popups and a strikeout to escape with the lead.

The Dodgers put the game on ice in the bottom of the sixth. Russ Mitchell started at first, and he singled with one out. Jamey Carroll also singled, and Aaron Miles did as well pinch-hitting for Kuroda. Gordon then hit a slow roller that forced Miles at second, but easily scored Mitchell to make it 4-2.

Don Mattingly then went for the knockout blow by sending up Loney in Sellers's spot. It worked, as after Gordon stole his 18th base to leave first base open, Loney still got to swing with Kemp lurking on deck. On a fastball, Loney cranked one to right that hit the top of the wall and out for three-run blast, and it was 7-2.

The bullpen took care of things from there. Hong-Chih Kuo looked like his old self (for a change) with two strikeouts and a groundout in the seventh. Scott Elbert worked the eighth with ease. Matt Guerrier worked around a rare error by Kemp on a liner and a passed ball by Barajas to finish the game off.

The win gives Kuroda a career-high of 12. It's hard to believe he's never had more than that despite an ERA that's never been above 3.76 on the season. But, that's a result of some poor run support along the way. With a career 3.49 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, he's more than proven his worth. In this one, he lasted six innings for five hits, two runs (one earned), two walks, and seven strikeouts.

To continue Kemp's MVP watch, he was 2-for-4 with an RBI. He's stuck on 99 runs and 39 stolen bases, so one more of each of those would look a little better. He also has 33 homers, so tacking on a couple more there will only help his cause. With 12 games left, there's no doubt he has a great chance at getting all of the above accomplished.

Loney was absolutely on fire in August, hitting .367 with a 1.066 OPS. He slowed down some this month, but Friday night's blast again showed what he's capable of. I'm not sure what's going on with him, but something clicked in his head. The question now is, Will he be back next year with this resurgence? To his credit, he's making that decision tougher and tougher.

The Dodgers have two more games this weekend before getting their first scheduled day off since August 25, though they did get rained out in Washington on September 7. Ted Lilly will look to get in the double digits by taking the mound on Saturday.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Kershaw gets the win... and the boot

Clayton Kershaw did it all on Wednesday night. He allowed only hit in five scoreless innings. He won his 19th game. Heck, he even laid down a sacrifice bunt.

He also got ejected in a crazy sixth inning.

Luckily for him and the Dodgers, they were able to hold on to beat the Diamondbacks, 3-2. After dropping the first couple of games, the Dodgers got one back and are now two games under .500.

After Kershaw got through the first on only nine pitches, the Dodgers sent seven batters to the plate for a couple of runs. Dee Gordon singled leading off, and Tony Gwynn beat out a bunt for two on. Gordon showed his youth (that is, made a boneheaded decision) by trying to swipe third with Kemp up and got nailed. Actually, he sure looked safe to me, but that's not how the call went, so it was a dumb move.

Gwynn took second on the play, and he hustled around to just beat the throw home on Kemp's single to make it 1-0. Kemp then went to third on James Loney's grounder, and Aaron Miles walked to keep the inning going. Jerry Sands hit an RBI single off shortstop Willie Bloomquist, and it was 2-0.

Kershaw looked to be well on his way to another gem, possibly the complete game version considering he was only at 63 pitches when he got tossed. The trouble actually stemmed from the night before when Gerardo Parra admired his home run off of Hong-Chih Kuo. Kershaw didn't like that and yelled at him from the dugout. Who's the only person to get a hit off him in this one? That's right, Parra, on a double in the third.

So with Parra getting plunked to start the sixth, you had to wonder if something would happen. It did, as Kershaw was immediately run from the game. The pitch hit Parra's elbow, which was close to the plate, so it wasn't the traditional beaning of the back. Still, as is usually the case these days, umpires don't mess around with this stuff and opt for the ejections.

Josh Lindblom relieved and struck out the side to keep the Dodgers on top. He then gathered a couple more strikeouts in the seventh for an impressive two innings. Let's hope he can keep that up.

With Javy Guerra taking the night off after taking the loss on Tuesday, that also bumped Kenley Jansen from the setup role to the closer spot, and Don Mattingly had a decision to make. Nathan Eovaldi was given the ball in the eighth, and it didn't start off well as Ryan Roberts doubled. Smug little Parra then lifted a long fly ball to right that almost went out, but was caught by Sands. Geoff Blum got a run in on a groundout, and it was now 2-1.

The Dodgers responded off of Ryan Cook, who was relieving Daniel Hudson. Kemp took a walk with one out, then got his 39th stolen base. Loney also drew a walk. Aaron Miles came through with an RBI single to go up 3-1 and grab that important insurance run.

It's a good thing Miles did get that hit, because Jansen gave one back in the ninth before closing it out. Aaron Hill singled leading off, and after advancing to second a couple outs later, scored on Miguel Montero's RBI single. Chris Young struck out to end the game and give Jansen his fourth save.

It's a shame Kershaw didn't get a chance to finish what he started, but Lindblom more than picked him up. With five shutout innings, Kershaw's stats are even filthier: 19-5, 2.30 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 236 K's in 218 2/3 innings. In addition to leading the National League in strikeouts, he's 0.01 ahead of Johnny Cueto for the ERA lead, and tied with Ian Kennedy for tops in wins.

Call me biased, but I'm pretty sure those numbers alone are Cy Young worthy.

There's now 13 games left in the season, and the Dodgers will face the Pirates for four, then Giants for three, then hit the road to play the Padres and DBacks for three each. Mattingly has already stated that in the upcoming Pirates series, he will play the young guns. So look for lineups that include Gordon, Sands, Justin Sellers, Russ Mitchell, Trent Oeltjen, and even Tim Federowicz. Not sure how that'll play out, but the Pirates are back to sucking again, so maybe it'll be fine.

Dana Eveland has been fantastic in his only two starts, and he'll look to improve to 3-0 on Thursday.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Quick start fizzles away

The Dodgers did everything they could hope to do against Ian Kennedy to start the game. After Chad Billingsley (not) surprisingly allowed a couple runs, the bats collected four runs on five hits and took control of the game.

Three whole hits and some lousy bullpen work over the final nine innings gave the game right back.

Javy Guerra fell apart in the 10th, walking home the go-ahead run, and the Dodgers fell to the Diamondbacks, 5-4. The Dodgers have now dropped three straight after finally reaching the .500 mark.

The first inning was full of action for both teams. Gerardo Parra led off the game with a single and then stole second. Billingsley got Aaron Hill and Justin Upton, but then watched Miguel Montero launch a two-run shot for the 2-0 lead.

Facing an ace like Kennedy, the Dodgers knew they'd be in for a tough haul. But, not only did they get those runs back, they took the lead as well. It all started with a double to left by Dee Gordon. Justin Sellers hit a bloop single into right, and Matt Kemp got one run back with a sac-fly RBI to make it 2-1.

Juan Rivera popped up to make it two down. The next three hitters all made noise to grab the lead. James Loney ripped an RBI double to tie the game. Aaron Miles followed with an RBI single, and Jerry Sands lined another run-scoring double. Add it all up, and the Dodgers had a 4-2 lead.

The Diamondbacks got within a run in the third. Hill doubled with one down and went to third on Upton's single. Montero got another run in with a sac-fly RBI, and it was 4-3.

With the Dodgers' offense suddenly quiet after a big start to the game, Hong-Chih Kuo had another horrible relief appearance in the seventh. Billingsley got the first out before making way for Kuo. Collin Cowgill then popped up, and it was looking like an easy inning. And just like that, Parra blasted a solo shot, and it was 4-4.

Kenley Jansen had to bail Kuo out of the rest of the inning, and then went ahead and pitched a scoreless eighth. The Dodgers could do nothing against Brad Ziegler and David Hernandez, but got a threat going against Micah Owings in the ninth. Sands walked with one down, and Jamey Carroll singled with two outs. Gordon tried to be a hero, but lined out to left to sent it into extras.

Extra inning games for the Dodgers have actually been a good thing, as up to this point, they were unbeaten at home. You wouldn't know that, though, from watching Guerra, as he came undone after pitching a flawless ninth.

Parra started the rally with a single leading off. Hill sacrificed him to second and Upton struck out to make it two down. Montero was intentionally walked to set up the forceout, only Peter Goldschmidt drew a walk to load the bases. Chris Young also walked to force in the game's deciding run.

J.J. Putz collected his 40th save by striking out Sellers and Kemp, and inducing a grounder from Loney to end it.

Even though the Dodgers have long been out of the playoff picture, this was still a pretty disappointing loss. For starters, they put up a four-spot against a Cy Young candidate in the first inning, and could not capitalize on it. Then there's Kuo, who's season continued to dwindle down even further.

It's hard to criticize Guerra too much, mostly because he's been so good this year. Obviously, his control problems were too much to overcome, as he just handed the last run away. It was eerily reminiscent of the troubles Jonathan Broxton went through the last couple of years. Thankfully Guerra isn't that bad, so let's not go crazy here!

Another big reason for the loss? Kemp and Rivera, hitting #3 and #4 in the order, went a combined 0-for-8 with one RBI and four strikeouts. Needless to say, it's hard to get much going when the heart of the order does squat.

The Dodgers will look to salvage at least one game of this three-game set on Wednesday night. Good thing for them, they have Clayton Kershaw taking the hill. With an 18-5 record and three starts left, he has a realistic chance at getting that magical 20th win.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Eveland leads Dodgers back to .500

One month ago, the Dodgers blew an early six-run lead and lost to the Phillies, 9-8. Their record at the time stood at 52-64 as they battled the Padres for dead last in the NL West.

Fast forward a month, and 15 wins in 18 games later, the Dodgers have finally returned to .500.

Dana Eveland threw a seven-inning gem, James Loney and Matt Kemp each hit big triples, and the Dodgers made the Giants' lives even more miserable by getting the win, 3-0. As the Diamondbacks run away with the NL West with a 9 1/2 game lead, the Dodgers are only 2 1/2 games in back of the Giants for second place.

Saturday night was all about the youth, as both Don Mattingly and Bruce Bochy featured multiple rookies in their lineups. For the Dodgers, Dee Gordon, Justin Sellers, and Jerry Sands all received starts. On the other side, Hector Sanchez, Brett Pill, Brandon Belt, and Justin Christian all got the nod.

The Dodgers got the ball rolling in the second against Ryan Vogelsong. With one out, James Loney tripled as part of his 2-for-3 night, raising his average to .279. His average a month ago? .252. Wow. A soft grounder to second from Sands got the run in, and it was 1-0.

With Eveland cruising already, the Dodgers tacked on a couple more runs in the second. It all started on Kemp's triple leading off, his 63rd extra-base knock of the year. Juan Rivera then hit an RBI with an infield single, making it 2-0. Loney also followed with an infield hit, and ditto for Sands to make three straight and load the bases.

The third run came on an unlikely play, as Vogelsong was called for a balk to force in Rivera and make it 3-0. Let's just say Vogelsong wasn't very happy about it, but that didn't matter. The bottom of the order couldn't get another run in as the Giants at least stayed within striking distance.

About the only threat against Eveland came in the fourth. With two outs, Pablo Sandoval singled, and Pill put runners in scoring position with a double. Belt lined a hard one to third, but Sellers was in great position to snare it and end the inning.

The Giants again threatened to finally break through in the eighth, but once again came up with blanks. Eveland was given the chance to continue, but he walked Sanchez on a full count leading off. That was it for him, as flamethrower Kenley Jansen entered. However, Mark DeRosa pinch-hit and singled, putting runners on the corners.

With two on and no out, the Giants again showed why they've fallen out of the playoff race, and the Dodgers showed how they've won lots of games lately. Aubrey Huff struck out for one down. Jeff Keppinger also K'd for two outs. The big deadline acquisition of Carlos Beltran? A measly grounder to second, and the Dodgers still had their lead.

Javy Guerra has been a busy guy lately, and he got the ball in the ninth in this one as well. It wasn't exactly smooth sailing, as he walked Sandoval leading off and Orlando Cabrera singled with two down. The end was appropriate, as Pat Burrell struck out to give Guerra his 18th save.

Eveland, much like Rubby De La Rosa and Nathan Eovaldi before him, made a great case to be in the rotation next season with another strong performance. He went seven innings for three hits, no runs, two walks, and three strikeouts. His stuff is by no means overpowering, but he's done a fantastic job of locating his soft stuff.

The combination of Jansen and Guerra shut the door in the last two innings, and gave Dodger fans a hopeful glimpse into next year. To me, these guys can even be interchangeable. Guerra has been awesome in the closer's role, but I can definitely see Jansen doing the same. Either way, they've made their mark to be a great 8-9 combination into the future.

I've talked plenty about Kershaw's strong chance to win the Cy Young, so let's look at Kemp now and his MVP run. The stats that stick out are his Triple Crown numbers: .319 average (4th), 32 home runs (3rd) and 107 RBIs (3rd). Plus, he has a bunch of other big numbers: 170 hits, 96 runs, 71 walks, and 38 stolen bases.

In other words, despite the Dodgers not being in the race, he's doing everything he can to show why he should be an MVP candidate, ala Kershaw and the Cy Young. If the Dodgers continue to play good baseball over the last few weeks, then that should only strengthen his case to take home baseball's top award. Let's hope he gives voters a few more highlights to convince them as well.

The Dodgers are currently at 7-2 on the road trip, and are looking to add one more win as it finishes on Sunday afternoon. Hiroki Kuroda will take on Madison Bumgarner.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Dodgers pull away in the 9th

The Clayton Kershaw-Tim Lincecum duel was everything we thought it would be: neither man would give an inch. Once those guys left after eight innings, it was a battle of the bullpens.

On Friday night, it was advantage Dodgers.

Jamey Carroll's RBI grounder scored Eugenio Valez in the ninth as the Dodgers downed the Giants, 2-1. At 8 1/2 games in back of the Diamondbacks in the NL West, the Giants can forget about the playoffs. They may have to worry about the Dodgers taking over second, who are now only 3 1/2 games in back of them.

The only run of the night for the Giants came at the very beginning of the game. Justin Christian grounded one to Dee Gordon at short, who then fired to first wide for an error. An out later, Christian stole second and Carlos Beltran walked. Pablo Sandoval hit an RBI single to make it 1-0. Gordon more than redeemed himself by making a great diving/leaping catch off Cody Ross's blooper to end the inning.

There wasn't much action to report of until late in the game. The Dodgers did get some runners on, but couldn't deliver them to the plate. In the second, Juan Rivera and Jerry Sands walked with one down, but were stranded.

In the fourth, Matt Kemp and Rivera opened the inning with singles. With runners on the corners and nobody out, Aaron Miles popped up, and Sands and Rod Barajas struck out. So much for getting at least one run in.

As Kershaw was getting stronger and stronger as the game progressed, his offense finally got on the board in the eighth. It started innocently enough with two outs, as Kemp reached on a little dribbler along third for his second hit. As usual, he stole second for his 38th swipe of the season. Rivera delivered an RBI single up the middle to tie the game at 1.

After Kershaw finished out the eighth, the Dodgers struck gold in the ninth against Santiago Casilla. Barajas started it all with a single. As he was lifted for Valez, Justin Sellers laid down a great bunt to get him to second with an out, and a wild pitch would then get him to third. With the infield in, Carroll hit one sharply to second. Valez used his speed to beat out Jeff Keppinger's throw to home, and it was 2-1.

With momentum clearly on the Dodgers' side, Javy Guerra collected his 17th save with ease as the Giants went down in order to end the game. Guerra is now 17-18 in save opportunities with a 2.04 ERA.

For anyone who has paid close attention to these two teams lately, it's not too surprising how the end of this game went. The Giants have struggled mightily to win, and the Dodgers have quietly been playing much better baseball. Hence, the Dodgers were the ones to take control the last couple of innings to grab the win.

Kershaw was, once again, simply phenomenal. In eight innings pitched, he allowed three hits, one unearned run, one walk, and nine strikeouts. Like I said before, he got stronger as the game progressed. He's now 18-5 with a 2.36 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. His 231 strikeouts are by far the most in the NL, and only one behind Justin Verlander for the most in the majors.

With the season winding down, Kershaw has three starts left in him against the Diamondbacks, Giants, and Padres. So, he's got a great chance to get that magical 20th win. How awesome would that be? Very awesome considering it's been since Ramon Martinez did the trick in 1990. That just seems crazy.

Roy Halladay and Ian Kennedy also put together great starts the last couple of days (no surprise there), so this race could very well come down to their last starts. With the playoff races pretty much non-existent, this could get more attention than usual. I just hope Kershaw finishes on a high and the Dodgers give him some run support so he gives the voters every reason to give him the Cy Young nod.

The Dodgers will look to have more fun in San Francisco when they tangle again on Saturday night. Dana Eveland had his last start rained out in Washington, so he'll get the call here for his second start.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Dodgers pounce on Storen to grab a win

*** UPDATE ***

Game 2 of the doubleheader has been rained out. The Dodgers will now travel to San Francisco as Clayton Kershaw takes on Tim Lincecum on Friday night.


Faced with a 4-4 tie going into the ninth inning and facing Nationals' closer Drew Storen, the Dodgers would probably be happy just going to extra innings.

Eight batters and three runs later, the Dodgers continued their late-season surge.

Powered by a huge two-out, two-run double by Tony Gwynn, the Dodgers took the first game of a doubleheader in Washington, 7-4. And with the win, the Dodgers creep even closer to the .500 mark at 70-72.

Early on, the Dodgers looked like they would run away with this one, as they built a 4-0 lead against Chien-Ming Wang. It started in the first on a single by Dee Gordon, who went 4-for-5. James Loney followed with a ground rule double to left. Matt Kemp grounded one sharply to Ryan Zimmerman at third, who then fired home to get Gordon out in a rundown. No matter, as Juan Rivera's two-run double made it 2-0.

Chad Billingsley got through the first easily, then ran into trouble in the second by walking the bases loaded. Thankfully it was Wang up with two down, and he struck out.

The Dodgers scored again in the third, and it was practically a carbon copy of the first. Gordon singled, Loney singled, and Kemp again grounded to third in which Zimmerman gunned down Gordon at home. And once again, Rivera smacked a two-run double, making it 4-0.

That lead would not last long, as Billingsley completely unraveled in the bottom of the third. It all started with a leadoff single by Ian Desmond. An out later, Zimmerman's RBI double made it 4-1. Michael Morse also got an RBI on a double to slash the lead in half. Jayson Werth tied it up on a two-run homer, and we had a brand new game.

Josh Lindblom was summoned already to bail the Dodgers out, and he did just that by getting the last two outs in order to keep the score as is.

Nothing happened over the next five innings, as both bullpens seemed to find their groove. That was until the ninth when Storen came in and the Dodgers seemed to wake up again. Aaron Miles popped up to start, then Jerry Sands was beaned. Rod Barajas singled, but Trent Oeltjen struck out for two down.

From there, the Dodgers turned it on, as Gwynn's two-run double made it 6-4. After he stole third, he scored on Gordon's RBI single up the middle for a 7-4 lead.

That was all Javy Guerra needed, as he shut the Nationals down without any problems to collect his 16th save.

Before getting to the good stuff, I've got to start with another disappointing, and quite frankly, lously, start from Billingsley. For the whatever amount of times, he was given a comfortable lead, and gave it all right back. He lasted only 2 1/3 innings for five hits, four runs, three walks, and two strikeouts. He's lucky it wasn't worse considering he walked the bases loaded in the second.

With a 4.30 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, he continues to fall further and further down the rotation. Forget about him being a #2 guy behind Clayton Kershaw, he looks more like a #4 guy until he proves otherwise. Maybe he's hurt, maybe it's all mental... call it what you want, but he's about as unreliable as you can get.

What was reliable was the phenomenal job by the bullpen. It started with Linblom pitching 2 1/3 innings of scoreless ball. Hong-Chih Kuo walked the only batter he faced, but Matt Guerrier picked him up by getting the next four outs. The last three innings were controlled by scoreless innings each from Kenley Jansen, Mike MacDougal, and Guerra.

Add it all up, and that's 6 2/3 no-hit innings, with only three walks and six strikeouts. On a day where Billingsley stunk it up (again), that performance couldn't have come at a better time. That's more like the 'pen we expected all season long.

The offense picked it up early and late, and they were led at the top by Gordon. Boy is he showing what kind of threat he can be with his legs. I'm already looking forward to seeing what a full season out of him will look like. Rivera and Loney also had big days with two hits each.

The next game was supposed to start about 30 minutes after the end of the first, but as I write this, it's raining and neither Dana Eveland or Ross Detwiler have started warming up. So, it remains to be seen if they'll get it in. Regardless, it's off to San Francisco for three on Friday as the long road trip concludes.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Smooth sailing... once Strasburg left

For the opening five innings of Tuesday night's ballgame in Washington, the Dodgers could not have looked much worse against Steven Strasburg.

Then Strasburg was lifted, and the Dodgers took over late.

Despite being completely shut down by the returning Strasburg for half of the game, the Dodgers went to work against the Nationals' bullpen and came back for the win, 7-3. The win gets them back to three games under .500.

Dee Gordon started the game positively by using his blazing speed for a double to center. James Loney, Matt Kemp, and Juan Rivera all couldn't reach, and the Dodgers wouldn't get much else going against Strasburg.

The veteran Ted Lilly opposed the phenom, and he allowed the bases to be loaded on a walk to Jayson Werth, a single by Ryan Zimmerman, and a walk to Jonny Gomes. Danny Espinosa then struck out to end the inning on a nasty breaking ball.

After the Dodgers went down in order in the second, the Nationals did some damage. Chris Marrero led off with a double and scored on Wilson Ramos's double to make it 1-0. Strasburg then laid down the sacrifice, but Lilly threw it away to allow Ramos to score. Following a single by Ian Desmond, Werth's grounder to short got another run in, and it was 3-0.

All the Dodgers could do in the next three innings was a single by Rivera. Strasburg was lifted after five innings and 56 pitches, giving up only two hits, no walks, and striking out four. National fans have waited awhile to see him, and I'd say he more than delivered.

Of course, there were still a few innings left to play, and the Nationals suddenly remembered they were the Nationals. With Doug Slaten now in, Jamey Carroll and Gordon singled to start. James Loney struck out for the first out. Brad Peacock then entered to pitch to Kemp, and Kemp hit one to short that took a strange hop, allowing Carroll to score and make it 3-1.

The Dodgers weren't done there, as Rivera walked to load the bases. Andre Ethier had a big night, and it started here with a two-run single to tie the game at 3-3. Aaron Miles kept the inning going with a single to load the bases, but Rod Barajas grounded into a double play.

Matt Guerrier got through the bottom of the sixth unharmed. With two outs in the seventh, Gordon singled, which also brought about a rain delay. About 30 minutes later, he stole second but was stranded on Loney's strikeout.

In the eighth, the Dodgers took the lead for good. Rivera singled with one out against Henry Rodriguez. Tony Gwynn pinch-ran for him and stole second. Ethier grounded one to short in which Gwynn was nailed trying to get to third. Miles kept the inning going with a single, and Barajas stroked a two-run double to make it 5-3.

A couple of insurance runs were added in the ninth. It all started with a two-out double by Loney. Kemp worked a 3-0 count before given an intentional pass. Gwynn walked, and just like that the bases were again full. Ethier again delivered in a big spot with a two-run double to make it 7-3. Gwynn was thrown out at home trying to score on the hit.

Javy Guerra came on in the non-save situation and was shaky to start. Rick Ankiel found some luck with an infield single, and Desmond walked. Werth struck out, but Ryan Zimmerman walked to load 'em up. Guerra wiggled out of trouble by striking out Michael Morse and getting Corey Brown to fly to left.

This was the ultimate tail of two games, as Strasburg really made them look pretty silly during his five innings. Take him out of the picture, and the Dodgers put 14 men on base in the final four innings. Compare that to two in the first five innings... well, you get the point. I think it's safe to say the Dodgers woke up once that dude was gone.

Four men had multiple hits, led by Gordon's three-hit night. He also stole his 16th base in 19 tries, and he's only played in 36 games. Ethier made his two hits count with four RBIs. It was a good bounce back game after going 0-for-4 against the Braves on Sunday.

Lilly really only had one bad inning in the third, which was made worse by his error. He went five innings for four hits, three runs (two earned), three walks, and two strikeouts. The bullpen of Guerrier, Hong-Chih Kuo, Kenley Jansen, Mike MacDougal, and Guerra went the other four innings without allowing a run, with only two hits and eight strikeouts. A job very well done.

I would preview Wednesday's game, but it's already been postponed due to rain. Instead, both teams will play a doubleheader on Thursday. Dana Eveland will go first, followed by Chad Billingsley.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bad start spells doom for Kuroda

All season long, the Dodgers' starting staff has done an excellent job of not allowing any runs in the first inning.

Today was not one of those days.

Matt Kemp gave the Dodgers a 1-0 lead, but three home runs for the Nationals later, the score became 4-1. The Dodgers didn't have a comeback in them, as they fell easily, 7-2. It's the second straight loss after winning 11 of the previous 12.

One day after dropping a game in the bottom of the ninth against the Braves, Kemp looked to get the Dodgers right back on track in the first. Jamey Carroll doubled with one down, which led to Kemp's 106th RBI of the season on a double to left. He's still neck and neck with Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard for first in the National League. It changes by the day.

The Nationals got that run right back from an unlikely source, as Ian Desmond led off with his seventh homer. Things didn't get any better for Kuroda, as Rick Ankiel singed next, and Michael Morse smacked a two-run shot to make it 3-1. Jayson Werth then got in on the fun with the third homer of the inning, and the Nationals held a 4-1 lead.

Kuroda settled down from there, but the offense couldn't do a lick against John Lannan. They did put two men on to start the fourth as Juan Rivera walked and Aaron Miles singled. Russ Mitchell was recently called back up to the bigs, but he grounded into a double play, and Tony Gwynn grounded out.

In the sixth, the Dodgers again wasted two men on base. Rivera singled with one out, which chased Lannan from the game. In came Collin Balester, who got Miles to fly out, but James Loney pinch-hit for Mitchell and singled. Tom Gorzelanny was then summoned and got Gwynn swinging to end the threat.

Morse once again was a thorn in Kuroda's side with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the sixth. It was his 26th of the season and made it 5-1.

From there, the Nationals kept tacking on a run in their last couple of at-bats. In the seventh, Desmond singled and scored on Ankiel's RBI double. The following inning, an error by Miles allowed Werth to reach. Ramon Troncoso got the next two outs, but Wilson Ramos made the Dodgers pay with an RBI single, and it was 7-1.

With the game already in the fridge, the Dodgers at least got one more run out of it. In the ninth, A.J. Ellis doubled with two outs. Justin Sellers got him in on an RBI double to make it 7-2. Dee Gordon grounded to short to put an end to it.

It's too bad Kuroda was way off the mark in the first, because he cruised through the next five innings. But, giving up three homers in one inning is usually a recipe for disaster. In all, he lasted six innings for eight hits, five runs, no walks, and nine strikeouts. Take away the bad first, and he only gave up one run on three hits the rest of his day.

The offense did a pretty good job in gathering nine hits, but they left eight men on base. The funny part is that they actually had four doubles, yet still struggled to push more across the plate. Like many other loses, a big part of it was not getting key hits with two outs. Four of those men left were in scoring position with two outs.

Still, it's hard to blame the Dodgers if they have tired legs. After playing 13 straight days in mid-August before getting a day off, they're now in the midst of 24 games in 24 days. Right now they have a great record of 8-3. With 13 more games to go, you can expect to see Don Mattingly taking full advantage of September callups to give guys some needed rest.

Tuesday's game should be fun, as Stephen Strasburg makes his comeback from Tommy John surgery to make the start, a little over one year after going down. I'm not sure the Dodgers' hitters will agree that it's fun, but this should be great to watch. Ted Lilly will go for the Dodgers looking to get his 10th win.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A good day on and off the field

Dana Eveland made his return to the majors with eight terrific innings of one-run ball, and the bullpen just managed to hold on and get the win, 6-4. It was the Dodgers' ninth win in their last 10 games.

Off the field? Well, there was that report of a $1.2 billion offer to take the Dodgers off of Frank McCourt's dirty hands.

Yes, it was a good day.

Another great start to the game got the Dodgers going. Dee Gordon made his return from the DL with a single leading off. An out later, Matt Kemp's single put runners on the corners, until Kemp stole his 36th base. Andre Ethier was intentionally walked to pitch to Aaron Miles, who made the Pirates pay with a two-run single. Tony Gwynn's sac-fly RBI made it 3-0.

Eveland's only run surrendered came in the second. Ryan Doumit and Neil Walker each hit singles to start. Josh Harrison grounded into a double play, but Doumit still scored to make it 3-1. Brandon Wood lined out to Kemp in center to end the inning.

Both Eveland and Brad Lincoln didn't give up a run in inning 3-6. The Dodgers loaded the bases in the sixth on walks to Ethier and A.J. Ellis, and Jamey Carroll getting plunked. Unfortunately, with the Dodgers playing game #7 of 24 straight, Don Mattingly chose to let Eveland hit and grab some rest for his bullpen while he had the chance. Eveland flew out for the last out.

The next couple of innings, however, proved to be important insurance runs scored for the Dodgers. In the seventh, runners were on the corners on singles by James Loney and Kemp. Loney then lumbered home on a passed ball, and Kemp even made it to third on some great baserunning, only to be stranded.

In the eighth, the bases became loaded again. With one out, singles were hit by Ellis and Carroll, and Eveland even drew a walk. Gordon lined one down the right field line for a two-run double, and the Dodgers were in full command up 6-1.

It's a good thing the Dodgers got some separation, because Blake Hawksworth tried to give the lead right back in the ninth. Jose Tabata led off with a single. Alex Presley then hit a long two-run homer to right, and it was 6-3.

That was it for Hawksworth, who's fallen apart. In came Kenley Jansen, who's been dominant lately. Still, it wasn't easy, as Andrew McCutchen walked and Doumit singled for runners on the corners. Walker scored one on a sac-fly RBI, making it 6-4. Jansen struck out Harrison and Wood to end the game.

I'm glad the bullpen didn't blow it, because Eveland more than deserved the win. He lasted eight innings for six hits, one run, no walks, and three strikeouts. I mentioned the other day how he had a chance to earn more starts, and I'd say he more than did that. I don't think anyone expected those kind of numbers, even against the sliding Pirates. Hopefully he can follow that up.

This couldn't have been an easy game for the Dodgers, as they flew across the country to play just this one game after beating the Padres Wednesday afternoon. Like Mattingly said, they basically flew, slept (a little), played the game, and are now off to Atlanta. A month ago, I doubt the Dodgers would have won this.

In looking at the numbers, four guys had two hits (Gordon, Loney, Kemp, Ellis), as the offense as a whole collected 11 hits, four walks, a sac-fly, and a beaning. They did leave nine men on, but got big hits when needed from Miles and Gordon with runners on. Once again, it was great to see guys other than Kemp make some noise. That's why they've been winning lately.

After beating up on lowly teams like the Padres and Pirates, the Dodgers are about to get tested by playing the Braves for three. The Braves are running away with the wild card with an 8 1/2 game lead over the Cardinals. Winning a couple this weekend would be awesome. Chad Billingsley goes on Friday against Brandon Beachy, another solid, young arm for Altanta.