Thursday, May 31, 2012

Uh-oh... Kemp goes down again

The baseball season is full of peaks and valleys.

Wednesday night marked the Dodgers' first valley.

Clayton Kershaw scuffled all night, Matt Kemp reinjured his hamstring, and the Dodgers dropped a third straight against the Brewers, 6-3.  Another loss on Thursday would give the Brew Crew a four-game sweep against a team that came into this series 21-5 at home.

The first inning would not be a good one, with the irony being that the Dodgers actually came out of it up 1-0.  The first batter of the game, Corey Hart, lifted a long fly ball that was caught by Bobby Abreu in left.  Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez each struck out, but on pretty questionable calls, even this Dodger fan has to admit.

Kemp was making his second start since coming off the 15-day DL, and he worked a walk with two outs.  Andre Ethier then lined an RBI double into center.  As Kemp was coming around third, it was obvious that something was wrong, as he started lumbering as if he were Manny Ramirez.

The pain was obvious, as Kemp was so frustrated in the dugout that he literally broke a bat over his good leg before heaving it in disgust.  That was it for him on the night, and probably for the next 15 days once again.

That seemed to suck the life out of the Dodgers, as the Brewers took the lead in the fourth.  Ramirez doubled with one out, and Kershaw then issued walks to Rickie Weeks and Cody Ransom to load the bases.  Chris Gomez's two-run single made it 2-1.

With the bats going silent, the Brewers added more in the sixth.  Weeks doubled leading off, and Ransom took another walk.  After a groundout, Martin Maldonado executed a perfect suicide squeeze to go up 3-1.  The icing on the cake was an RBI single by Yovanni Gallardo to chase Kershaw.

Javy Guerra came in and gave up a bloop single to Hart for runners on the corners.  Norichika Aoki then grounded one to Elian Herrera at second, who decided to take three years to throw to first, resulting in the infield hit and RBI to make it 5-1.

The Dodgers did make a push in the seventh at least.  A.J. Ellis and Dee "Strike 3" Gordon each singled leading off (yes, it was a surprise to me that Gordon finally singled).  Ivan De Jesus pinch-hit and singled as well to load 'em up.  Manny Parra came in for Gallardo and immediately gave up a two-run single to Herrera, and it was now 5-3.

Still with nobody out, James Loney flunked in a big spot yet again by striking out.  Tony Gwynn of all people grounded into a double play, and the Dodgers were done after that.

An RBI groundout from Ramirez in the eighth rounded out the scoring.

I'm not sure what was going on with Kershaw, but it was very surprising to see him struggle so much.  That's the sign of a great pitcher - any bad outing is newsworthy.  He lasted 5 2/3 innings for eight hits, five runs, four walks, and seven strikeouts.  The K's were nice, but the walks were a season-high.  For some reason the Brewers give him trouble.  It's just one of those things.  He'll bounce back.

Kemp's injury was obviously the big story.  But what was just as big to me was how he admitted afterwards that he was hiding it all along, even after resting for a couple weeks.  I can appreciate how he wanted to come back right away, but it turned out to be the wrong call.  About the only thing we can hope for is that this next stint on the DL truly does heal him, or that he'll take all the time he needs.

I don't care what the record shows, the Dodgers need Kemp if they want to go anywhere this season.  The only way that will happen is if he gets 100% healthy.

Right now the Dodgers are in a bit of a lull, as they became the last team in baseball to suffer a three-game losing streak.  The injuries are still there, and they face the possibility of getting swept at home.  It's been all good this season so far, so let's see how they react to some adversity.  Time will tell.

Chad Billingsley will be put up to the task of grabbing back a win as he takes the mound on Thursday.  He'll be up against Zach Greinke, who's been fantastic at home (1.30 ERA) and horrific on the road (7.30).  Let's hope the road version stays true to form.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sans Kemp, the Dodgers didn't miss a beat

If you didn't believe the Dodgers were a good team before, you surely have to now.

Tuesday night will mark the return of the mighty Matt Kemp to the Dodgers' lineup, returning right on time from the 15-day DL with a sore hamstring.  At the time of his injury on May 12, the Dodgers were 23-11 with a six-game lead over the Giants in the NL West.

Fast forward to today, and the Dodgers are 32-16, 6 1/2 games over the Giants. That, my friends, is the sign of a good team.

So how is it possible that a team with very little power somehow lost a legitimate Triple Crown threat, yet  won 11 of 16 games in his absence? 

The Dodgers are a T-E-A-M, that's how.

There's been plenty of credit to go around.  One guy I wanted to see step up was Andre Ethier, and he did not disappoint.  He collected an even 50 at-bats over this span, hitting .360 with 3 doubles, 2 homers, and 10 RBIs.  Not exactly huge power numbers, but he continues to deliver with runners in scoring position at .392.  His bat was very much needed.

Then there's A.J. Ellis, whose All-Star campaign is only heating up.  He hit .310 with 2 doubles, 2 homers, and 8 RBIs.  Plus, he had two big walk-offs, one on a walk, and the other on a three-run shot.

The two guys who got plenty of playing time in the outfield were also clutch: Bobby Abreu and Tony Gwynn.  Abreu came over never thinking he'd play this much, but boy has he been a big signing.  He hit a fantastic .361 and took 10 walks.  Gwynn has recently been hitting in the leadoff spot, and has hit .304 with 8 RBIs and 3 stolen bases.

Let's not forget about Elian Herrera, who in 12 games this season has hit .310 with three doubles.  Plus, he's already played three positions in such little time.  He's just plain fun to watch.  Jerry Hairston, Jr. recently returned from the DL himself, and has a hit in all four games, including a perfect 5-for-5 on Sunday.

What else?  Oh, there's been big home runs by Scott Van Slyke and Matt Treanor along the way as well.

The starters have been up and down a bit.  The "up" (Clayton Kershaw and Chris Capuano) have continued to pitch huge innings, while the "down" (Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly) have seen their numbers get worse.  Aaron Harang has been somewhere in between.

What has been consistent during this stretch, however, is the bullpen.  Kenley Jansen had a couple of blown saves, but did only give up one run in six games, picking up three saves.  Javy Guerra has been flawless since his demotion from the closer's role.  Josh Lindblom has become a great setup man for Jansen.

All in all, the contributions have been plentiful.  It really has seemed like a new guy has stepped up every night.  Make no mistake about it, though, the Dodgers need and want Kemp back, and here he is.

Let the fun continue.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Dodgers ride Hairston's big game

Add Jerry Hairston, Jr. to the list of "unsung heroes" for the Dodgers this season.

Hairston was a perfect 5-for-5 at the plate hitting in the #3 hole, and the Dodgers took another series from the Astros, 5-1.  Yet again, the Dodgers will spend another day atop Major League Baseball with a 32-15 record.

Chris Capuano is another one of those "unsung heroes" thanks to a 6-1 record coming in, but he was quickly in trouble when Jose Altuve tripled to lead off the game.  A groundout by J.D. Martinez scored him, and it was 1-0.

The Dodgers knotted it up in the second.  With one out, Matt Treanor and Dee Gordon singled.  Capuano failed to get a bunt down, so it was now two outs.  Tony Gwynn has done a great job playing center for Matt Kemp during his time on the DL, and his RBI single made it 1-1.

From there, Capuano was overpowering, and the Dodgers slowly started to tack on runs.  In the fourth, Treanor hit his second homer of the season for a 2-1 lead.  He's only made 10 starts this year, thanks to the incredible start from A.J. Ellis, but he's taken advantage of the time he's in there.  In his five starts this May, he's hitting .438 with two homers and four RBIs.  And because of that, he's another "unsung hero."

In the seventh, the Dodgers loaded the bases, thanks to an error and a little patience.  Hairston singled with one out, and Andre Ethier reached on Chris Johnson's error at third.  Fernando Rodriguez came on to pitch to Scott Van Slyke, but when James Loney pinch-hit, he was given the intentional pass to load the bases.

With the bases loaded and one out, Bobby Abreu pinch-hit for Jerry Sands.  Xavier Cedeno relieved and got an 0-2 count, but lost him to force in a walk and make it 3-1.  Treanor grounded into the inning ending DP, so the game was still close.

Josh Lindblom pitched a perfect eighth, striking out the final two.  That led to a single and stolen base from Gordon to start the bottom of the frame.  A grounder by Adam Kennedy moved him over, and Gwynn got him in with a single and 4-1 advantage.  Hairston made it a career day with his fifth hit, which was an RBI single to go up 5-1.

Both Kenley Jansen and Javy Guerra were warming up for the ninth, but when the Dodgers went up by four, it gave Don Mattingly the perfect opportunity to get Guerra some ninth inning action.  And, as he's done every appearance since being demoted from the closer's role, he pitched a scoreless inning, getting Carlos Lee to fly to right to end it.

Capuano continues to amaze, as he ran his record to 7-1, tied for tops in the majors.  He went seven strong innings for two hits, one run, two walks, and eight strikeouts.  Yet again, he located his fastball and used his nasty off-speed stuff to completely confuse hitters.  That little two-year, $10 million deal he signed is looking like a thing of genius.  Who would've ever thought he'd be doing this?  Probably not even him.

Someone else who deserves credit for a good game is Gordon, who has settled into his role as the #8 hitter.  He went 2-for-2 with a walk, a sacrifice, a run, and two steals.  Most importantly, he looked like he was a factor again and played with confidence.  Now that Justin Sellers has been added to the DL list, the Dodgers need Gordon to play like that.  And it's fun to watch when he does.

With a win-loss ratio of just over 2:1, the Dodgers haven't had many negatives the season.  But, back in mid-April, the Brewers took two of three from them at home.  The Dodgers will look to get some revenge as they open a four-game set before hitting the road for 10.  Aaron Harang will go against Shaun Marcum.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A.J. Ellis needs to be an All-Star

If Saturday night's walk-off didn't already prove that A.J. Ellis belongs in the All-Star Game, then I don't know what will.

But make no mistake about it, Ellis deserves to be in the Midsummer Classic this June in Kansas City.  He's been one of the biggest and best surprises in baseball this season, and has been played every bit a role in the Dodgers' success as Matt Kemp has.

For those of you who know about Ellis, then you know the story of the yo-yo start to his career between the minors and majors.  For those of you who do not, it's time to get educated.

Ellis got his first taste of the majors in 2008, playing in a whopping four games.  In 2009, it was 10 games.  Those game totals were increased to 44 and 31 the last couple of seasons, as bigger names like Russell Martin and Rod Barajas got all of the important playing time.  The only time you'd see Ellis was during an injury or at the end of the season with the other callups.

What the Dodgers quickly discovered was that playing catcher in LA wasn't an easy thing.  Paul Lo Duca and Martin were practically mirror images of each other in that they started off red hot, then quickly fizzled out.  Barajas did have a pretty good season last year with 16 homers, but at 37 this September, was not worth giving a big deal to.

So the Dodgers made the somewhat usual move (for them at least) in turning the catching position over to the little-known Ellis, who was finally getting a chance to start and stay with the big club.  And what a good decision that is turning out to be.  Through 37 games this year, he's hitting .317 with 7 doubles, a triple, 5 homers, and 23 RBIs.

But those stats don't even tell the true story of his worth.  His OBP is an incredible .442, thanks in large part to the 26 walks he's taken.  That puts him third in the National League.  The two guys in front of him?  Oh, just some dudes named David Wright and Joey Votto.  No big deal.

While Ellis is playing like an All-Star, I also realize that getting him to that game won't be easy.  The catching position in the NL is pretty packed.  Guys like Brian McCann and Miguel Montero aren't hitting as well, but have the name value.  Then there's guys like Buster Posey and Yadier Molina, who have better numbers and the star power.  Then there's still other guys like Carlos Ruiz and Jonathan Lucroy, who have higher averages and big hits this year.

I'm not taking anything away from those guys.  There's some really good talent there.  But if you ignore the name value and take a look at who truly deserves to go to Kansas City in July, then Ellis cannot be denied.  The Dodgers still have the best record in the majors at 31-15, which is 7 1/2 games in front of the Giants in the NL West.  There's not one major publication this year that had the Dodgers winning the division, and that's been proven wrong so far.

Then you can look at the defensive side, and Ellis is excelling even more.  He's thrown out 16 would-be stealers, tied for second with Montero in the NL.  His stolen base % of .543 is right behind Montero for the top spot.  Then you throw in the fact that the Dodgers have a collective ERA of 3.19, which is second in the majors, and he's been behind the plate for nearly every inning of it.

Add it all up, and it equals an All-Star.  I'm not even saying he should be a starter, though he definitely could be.  But if you're a baseball fan, or if you're a coach who picks the reserves, you need to do the right thing.  Ignore the more higher-profiled names and go for the guy who has been a huge reason why the Dodgers have the best record in baseball.

Pick Ellis for the All-Star Game.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A rare home loss for Kershaw

Hey, he's only human, right?

Clayton Kershaw gave up three early runs and the bats were unable to get a big hit.  Combine them both, and it equaled a win for the Astros, 3-1.  The Dodgers have now dropped two straight after winning the previous six.

The game opened with a double by Jason Altuve, which was part of the five extra-base hits Kersahw surrendered, a career high.  J.D. Martinez reached an out later on interference by A.J. Ellis, something you don't see too often.  Carlos Lee grounded into a potential double play, but Elian Herrera threw the ball away after getting the first out, scoring Altuve to go up 1-0.

The Dodgers put two men on in the first and second with one out, but both times did nothing with it.  In the third, Jed Lowrie doubled with one out.  Martinez followed that up with a two-run homer, and the Astros surprisingly had a 3-0 lead.

Kershaw eventually settled down from there, as the Astros never scored again.  But, the damage was already done thanks to the Dodgers' sputtering offense that just could not find a way to push a few runs across.

The biggest chance to at least tie the game came in the eighth.  Hererra singled with one out to chase Lucas Harrell, who pitched a great game.  The lefty Wesley Wright entered to pitch to Bobby Abreu and Andre Ethier, who both responded with a walk and single to load the bases.

Out went Wright, and in came Wilton Lopez.  Just like that, the returning Jerry Hairston, Jr. got an RBI on a walk to make it 3-1. 

With James Loney up, the lefty Fernando Adab came in.  Don Mattingly had a decision to make here.  Would he stick with Loney, who has struggled against lefties and grounded into a double play earlier this game?  Or, would he go with a young gun off the bench?  He chose the latter, as Ivan De Jesus got the call.

Did it work?  Um, no.  De Jesus struck out, and Ellis flew out to end the inning.  Herrera struck out to give Brett Myers his 12th save.

I'm sure Loney won't be happy about being pulled in a big spot, but I applaud Mattingly for taking that stand.  If anything, it's a message to Loney that no matter what he says, he has to produce more against lefties when given the chance if he wants to be in there more.  When you're 7-for-40 for a .175 AVG against lefties this year, you haven't earned that at-bat.  Turning to De Jesus didn't work out, but it was the right call to make at the time.

Kershaw had a hard time getting on track, as he admitted after the game to not having much control.  But his final line was still good, as he lasted seven innings for five hits (no singles, strangely), three runs (two earned), three walks, and six strikeouts.  He dropped to 4-2, but with a 1.97 ERA and 0.90 WHIP.  So ya, he's still pretty good.

The offense didn't do their part to back him up, as seven hits and five walks led to 10 men left on base.  Ouch.  Abreu got on base all four times thanks to a hit and three walks, and Hairston was the only one with an RBI from the walk.  There's not a whole lot to say after that.  The hits just weren't coming.

Saturday night will be a good challenge for the Dodgers.  The Astros have something to play for, as a win would get them to .500, and they have their ace on the mound in Bud Norris.  The Dodgers counter with Chad Billingsley, who is anything but an ace.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

DBacks pound Lilly early and often

The six-game winning streak for the Dodgers came to a screeching halt on Wednesday, as the Diamondbacks put up eight early runs off of Ted Lilly to claim the win, 11-4.  Still, the Dodgers won another series with two of three, and are the only team in baseball with 30 wins at 30-14.  So they'll take it.

With a lineup that didn't include Andre Ethier (rest), and coming off a big comeback the night before, you got the feeling the Diamondbacks would either A) Roll over and play dead, or B) Come out aggressive and with something to prove.

If you guessed B, then give yourself a pat on the back.

Elian Herrera doubled leading off, but Joe Saunders then struck out the side.  That was not a good sign, as Ryan Roberts hit a solo shot with one out to begin the onslaught.  Justin Upton walked, and Peter Goldschmidt also did an out later.  Aaron Hill's RBI single made it 2-0.

Things went from bad to worse, as Lilly just never found a groove.  In the second, Willie Bloomquist hit an RBI triple to go up 3-0.  A sac-fly RBI from Roberts tacked on another run.

An RBI single from Gerardo Parra in the third increased it to 5-0.  A.J. Ellis answered in the top of the fourth with his third homer of the season, giving the Dodgers a glimmer of hope at 5-1.

That glimmer would soon be lost, as the DBacks put the game away for good in the fourth.  Bloomquist singled and Roberts walked leading off.  Upton struck out, but Jason Kubel made up for it with a two-run triple.  Another walk to Goldschmidt followed, and another RBI single by Hill followed that, bringing it to 8-1.

Just for good measure, the DBacks ran it up to 11-1 in the fifth.  With Jamey Wright on the mound, that darn Roberts got another run in on a groundout.  Upton then unloaded on a two-run tater.

The only thing the Dodgers could do from there was get RBIs from Dee Gordon, James Loney, and Herrera in the seventh.  But obviously, it was too little, too late.  Well, definitely too little.

Lilly has had plenty of great games so far... but this was not one of them.  He only lasted 3 1/3 innings for nine hits, eight runs, five walks, and three strikeouts.  He just had a miserable time with his location, and when he did get it over, it was hit hard.  He's proven an ability to bounce back, so I'm not worried about it.  I do think it was just one of those games.

If you looked at the lineup that Don Mattingly had, it resembled more of a Triple-A game than anything else.  Even Justin Sellers was a late scratch with a sore leg.  Hererra had two doubles leading off, but the 2-4 spots of Jerry Sands, Bobby Abreu, and Scott Van Slyke went 0-for-10 with six K's.  I'm guessing you won't win much doing that. 

There was one miracle in this game, however.  Todd Coffey pitched a scoreless inning.  Now his ERA is only 8.53 with a 2.37 WHIP.  Talk about improvement!

Thursday will be an off day to travel back home.  Clayton Kershaw will get the ball on Friday night to open a three-game set against the Astros.  He'll look for his fifth win.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Capuano and the Dodgers keep on rolling

Fresh off a three-game sweep against the defending World Series champs, the Dodgers picked up right where they left off.

Another strong performance by Chris Capuano was backed up by three homers as the Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks, 6-1.  The win increases the lead in the NL West to a whopping seven games... and we're not even in June yet.  Amazing.

A.J. Ellis got the night off, which is something that's hard to do considering how fantastic he's been this year.  But, Matt Treanor made sure the production was still there, as his two-run shot also scored Jerry Sands for the 2-0 lead in the second.

Capuano was perfect through three, but Willie Bloomquist greeted him with a leadoff triple in the fourth.  An RBI single by Aaron Hill made it 2-1.  Chris Young singled to put two on with two out, but Jason Kubel's liner was snared by Capuano to end the inning.

It was still pretty much anybody's ballgame until the seventh, when the Dodgers' offense took over.  It started with a one-out homer from Andre Ethier, his ninth of the season, to go up 3-1.  His 38 RBIs lead the National League.

The Dodgers put the game away for good in the eighth.  With Bryan Shaw on the mound, Ivan De Jesus, freshly recalled after Mark Ellis's scary leg injury, singled leading off.  An out later, Sands gathered an RBI triple to make it 4-1.  James Loney came in the previous inning for defense, but it was his offense that made the difference, as his two-run shot put the Dodgers emphatically ahead at 6-1.

At 6-1, Capuano is showing that his two Tommy John surgeries are thankfully a thing of the past.  Heck, they probably helped him more than anything.  He lasted six innings for four hits, one run, one walk, and five strikeouts.  He's clearly an All-Star candidate right now, and is pitching like a guy with total confidence.

The bullpen of Ronald Belisario, Javy Guerra, and Jamey Wright shut the door the final three innings.  Belisario earned his fourth hold and has yet to give up a run in seven appearances.  Guerra got demoted after blowing a save on May 6 against the Cubs, but has gone 6 1/3 scoreless innings since.  Can't do better than that.

Let's give Loney some credit here, too.  Before the injury bug started running wild like Hulkamania through the Dodgers, he was mostly being platooned at first with Juan Rivera.  He still envisions himself as an everyday player, and has gotten much more PT because of those injuries.  So far in the month of May, he's hitting .300 with five doubles, a homer, and eight RBIs.  He certainly heated up as the season wore on last year, so let's hope that's happening again.

All in all, everything is going right for the Dodgers.  On the flip side, it's not all fine and dandy for the DBacks.  After winning the division last year, they were clearly the favorites coming into this season, but have stumbled to a 19-24 start.  They have talent, so it's correctable, but their team ERA of 4.19 places them near the bottom in the NL.  Wade Miley and Joe Saunders are pitching well, but that's about it from the starters.  Ian Kennedy needs to get on track again if they want to fight back.

Aaron Harang will look to give the Dodgers their sixth straight win on Tuesday.  He's given up only three runs in his last three outings.  Trevor Cahill goes for the home team.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cy Kershaw shuts down the Cards

As A.J. Ellis accurately stated after the game, Clayton Kershaw just keeps getting better... and it's scary.

Kershaw went the distance for his fourth career shutout, as the Dodgers beat the reigning World Series champs again, 6-0.  It's also another day atop Major League Baseball at 27-13, and an incredible 18-4 at home.

The game was scoreless until the fourth, and that mainly changed thanks to an injury from Lance Berkman earlier in the game.  Bobby Abreu walked leading off, and Andre Ethier smacked a ground rule double.  Berkman's replacement, Matt Carpenter, then botched a grounder from Adam Kennedy, allowing both runs to score to make it 2-0

Of course, that's all Kershaw would need, but the Dodgers poured it on anyway in the seventh.  With one down, Justin Sellers hit his first homer of the season to left.  Kershaw "helped himself" (typical pitching cliche) by hitting a double, the first extra-base hit of his career. 

Out went Jake Westbrook, and in came Eduardo Sanchez.  Tony Gwynn met him with an RBI single to center, and it was 4-0.  After Gwynn went to third on a groundout and Abreu walked, Gwynn scored on a wild pitch.  An RBI single by Ethier capped it all.

Kershaw was given the chance to go for the shutout, and he got help from double play balls in the eighth and to end the game.  The last one came from Carpenter, so it's safe to say Saturday night was not alright for him.

It's hard to constantly come up with new things to say about Kershaw, but it's fun anyway.  He only had four strikeouts, which is low for him, but he also didn't walk anybody.  He's now 4-1 with a 1.90 ERA and 0.88 WHIP.  That's just unbelievable. 

Oh ya, he's also 14-1 with a 1.40 ERA in his last 19 starts at home.  That's slightly above average.  Or better.

Don Mattingly gave Dee Gordon the night off, and will continue this going forward for the next few days.  Sellers started at short and homered.  Gwynn hit leadoff and had an RBI single.  We'll take it.

Ethier went 2-for-4, and has played well this week in Matt Kemp's absence.  I looked at him as being the main guy that would need to lead the way while Kemp serves his DL stint, and so far, so good.  In six games this week (I'm counting Monday since Kemp didn't play, even though he technically went on the DL after the game), he's 7-for-22 (.318 AVG) with a double, a homer, and four RBIs.  More importantly, the Dodgers have gone 4-2.

A sweep tonight would be sweet, much like it was last year when the Dodgers pulled it off in St. Louis.  That may have been the best thing that happened to the Cardinals, as we all know how they went on to win it all soon after.  It won't be easy, as Mr. Inconsistency Chad Billingsley gets the start.  Maybe the offense can put up a 10 spot on Kyle Lohse.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A minor's stint for Gordon could soon happen

After suffering through another 0-for-5 night on Friday, Dee Gordon may soon find himself working things out in Triple-A. 

According to Tony Jackson of (and shared by Jon Weisman of, Don Mattingly conceded after the walk-off win over the Cardinals that Gordon may soon be out of the leadoff spot, and could be out of LA altogether.

To summarize Mattingly's comments, he obviously didn't like what he saw from Gordon, as he failed to even hit the ball out of the infield.  "The game seems to be moving awfully fast for him right now" was the quote that stuck out to me the most.  And, simply put, it's true.  If he isn't striking out, he's grounding out to first or second.  It's not pretty.

While Mattingly never said anything about a demotion, Jackson did a little "reading between the lines," and seemed to get the impression that could happen.  It's more a matter of getting the regular at-bats to work on things, as he'll get more leading off in Triple-A than he would riding the pine in the majors.  So who knows.

It's hard not to like Gordon, but the time has come to, at the very least, move him out of the top spot.  A simple solution would be to put Tony Gwynn there when he is in.  In games Gwynn isn't in the starting lineup, perhaps guys like Justin Sellers or Elian Herrera could do it.  I know, not exactly intimidating names, but Gordon has an abysmal .239 OBP right now, so it's hard to get any worse.  Plus he has 10 errors at short in 35 games, which is already as many as he had in 54 games last year.  Not good.

Mattingly has shown patience with his players, but also is not afraid to do the right thing for the team.  One example is how he pulled Matt Kemp out of last Sunday's game after was clearly hurting.  Another was turning to Kenley Jansen as the closer over a struggling Javy Guerra.

We'll see what move, if any, is made with Gordon, but it sure looks like something has to give.  And whatever that decision is, let's hope it will get him back to being the electric player that he is.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Harang on target in Dodgers' victory

Aaron Harang made sure the third time was the charm against his old mates.

After suffering a loss and a no-decision in his previous starts against the Padres, Harang was masterful in shutting them down, as the Dodgers got the easy win, 8-1.  It's their first win in the Matt Kemp DL Era after two straight losses.

There was plenty of run support, as Harang got all he needed in the first.  Dee Gordon led off the game with a walk, something he needs to do much more of.  An out later, Bobby Abreu lined an RBI triple to make it 1-0.  Andre Ethier followed that with an RBI single for a 2-0 edge.

The hits and runs just kept on coming from there.  In the third, A.J. Ellis walked and went to second on Tony Gwynn's single.  Harang sacrificed them to scoring position, and Gordon scored Ellis on a sac-fly RBI.

Moving ahead to the fifth, Abreu had another good at-bat with a one-out double.  Ethier hit one to Cameron "Tiki" Maybin in center, but he misplayed it, and Abreu scored for the 4-0 advantage.  It was then pushed to 5-0 on a two-out RBI double from James Loney.

Harang got in on the act in the seventh, and ended a horrific 0-for-42 stretch at the plate himself.  Ethier and Adam Kennedy singled with one out.  A.J. Ellis hit an RBI single, and it was 6-0.  Gywnn was handed the intentional pass to pitch to Harang, who responded with an RBI single of his own for a 7-0 lead.

Both teams traded singled runs in the ninth to close it out.  A.J. Ellis had another productive at-bat with an RBI groundout, and Chris Denorfia's RBI single finally got the Padres on the board.  Not that it mattered.

The offense was great with 12 hits and 4 walks, but Harang was still the star of the show.  He went seven innings for four hits, no runs, no walks, and six strikeouts.  If you recall, he struck out nine in a row the last time he faced these guys.  So, it's safe to say he's more than settled in against his old team. 

After taking a loss in Colorado on April 30, Harang has definitely turned things around in his three starts since then.  In starts against the Cubs, Rockies, and Padres, he's 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA.  Overall, his ERA has been lowered from 5.72 then to 3.83 now.  Granted, he's not exactly facing the stiffest competition, but that's still very good, especially from your #5 starter.

Someone else who was very good was Abreu, as he collected a double and triple with an RBI.  After starting the year with the so-called "powerhouse" Angels and hitting only .208, he's now hitting .314 with the better LA team.  Injuries have helped him get regular at-bats, and he's responded very well.  He still doesn't have a homer, but like Juan Rivera last year, is showing that the veteran guy can be a good source for driving in runs when needed.  I like it.

Interleague play is here... but not for the Dodgers.  They get the one NL-only matchup, and it's against the World Champion Cardinals.  Albert Pujols may be gone, but that's hasn't stopped them from still being atop the NL Central.  It'll be a fun three-game set this weekend in Chavez Ravine, that's for sure.  Ted Lilly and Lance Lynn will go on Friday, and they're a combined 11-1.  Something's gotta give.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

No clutch hits as DBacks topple Dodgers

If the Dodgers were looking for positive production from others now that Matt Kemp is on the DL, this game wasn't it.

If they were looking for Chad Billingsley to step up and be the man, this game wasn't it either.

The Dodgers collected nine hits, but hit into a couple double plays and stranded nine total in falling to the Diamondbacks, 5-1.  The loss split the short two-game series and ended the winning streak at five.

Don Mattingly had a pretty interesting lineup on this night, as Scott Van Slyke hit in Kemp's #3 spot, Ethier hit cleanup, and A.J. Ellis right after him.  Van Slyke ended up going 0-for-4, and even though it's just one game and the lefty Wade Miley was on the mound, I'm not sure we'll be seeing him hit there anytime soon.

Billingsley has been struggling lately, which is pretty much been the norm of his whole career: show signs of dominance, then stink.  In the second, Jason Kubel led off with a double to left.  Following a couple outs, Aaron Hill was intentionally walked to pitch to Miley.  Miley struck out swinging, but hustled to first to beat the wild pitch.  Sure enough, Billingsley walked Gerardo Parra to force in a run, and nearly did the same to Willie Bloomquist, who flew out.

Those two double play balls the Dodgers hit into came in the second and fourth.  In the third, Dee Gordon and Mark Ellis both singled with two down, but Van Slyke couldn't do anything with it on a groundout.

The DBacks took full control in the fifth.  Miley, who's actually a good hitting pitcher, started it with a single.  Parra and Bloomquist did the same to load the bases.  Justin Upton and Miguel Montero also did the same, as their RBIs made the score 3-0. 

That was it for Bills, as former closer Javy Guerra was summoned.  He immediately gave up an RBI single to Kubel to make it 4-0.  But, a big double play ball from Ryan Roberts and a forceout from Hill limited any further damage.

Speaking of damage, it was already done, as the Dodgers could only come up with a solo homer from Mark Ellis in the sixth to make it 4-1.  A sac-fly RBI from Lyle Overbay an inning later rounded out the scoring.

Not that he got any help from his offense, but Billingsley still didn't pitch well at all, and definitely not like a #2 starter.  He lasted a mere four innings for eight hits, four runs, two walks, and three strikeouts.  He's now 2-3 with a 3.83 ERA and 1.37 WHIP.  Rewind to early in the year after his third start, and he was 2-0 with a 1.33 ERA and 0.69 WHIP.

And so it goes for Billingsley, as he just cannot ever seen to get into a groove.  At this point, I've just accepted him for what he is and stopped thinking that he can ever be more consistent.  He'll have his games where his stuff is brilliant.  Then he'll have more games where he's all over the place and his own worst enemy.  It's been the latter lately.

About the only positive was the work of some guys in the bullpen who really needed good outings: Guerra, Todd Coffey, and Scott Elbert.  Guerra gave up Kubel's RBI, but he entered with the bases loaded and nobody out, and only one run scored.  I'll take that.  Coffey and Elbert teamed up to pitch a scoreless last two innings.  Coffey still walked two, which is bad, but no runs is no runs at least.

The Dodgers will have another two-game set coming up, this time in San Diego.  Man, it seems like these two teams play each other like 40 times a year.  I'm not complaining, other than the Padres being just plain boring to watch.  The magnificent Chris Capuano will go on Wednesday.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

With Kemp on the DL, it's Ethier's time to shine

As great as the Dodgers have been this season (MLB-best 24-11), the injuries are starting to pile up.  Matt Guerrier, Jerry Hairston, Juan Rivera, and Juan Uribe are all on the DL right now.

Add to that list the mighty Matt Kemp, and you can guess that rougher days may be ahead for the boys in blue.

Who can be the man in Kemp's absence?  It's simple: Andre Ethier.

Simply put, Ethier has a chance to carry the Dodgers over the next couple of weeks while Kemp rests that sore hamstring.  He's the only true "superstar" in the lineup right now, and will be the at the heart of the Dodgers' order that will somehow look to keep winning with consistency.

It was already a big year for Ethier even before the season started.  After coming off a second consecutive All-Star Game appearance and a first ever Gold Glove Award in right field, he still entered the 2012 season with plenty to prove.  His 2011 season was cut short thanks to right knee surgery, and he's also in the final year of his contract.  Add to all of that an attitude that hasn't always been perceived as the greatest, and it's been something to prove indeed.

So far, it's been so good for him.  He's hitting .308 with 8 homers and 33 RBIs through 35 games.  The RBI total has him in first place in the National League.  Most importantly, he's given teams plenty of reasons to think again when it comes to intentionally walking Kemp.  Walk Kemp, and watch Ethier drive in runs.  Don't walk Kemp, and watch them both beat you.  It's been that much fun.

Now Ethier will need to step up and show the world that he can also be "the man."  And he'll need to do it with a bunch of scrappy hitters, but no power threats.  Game 1 of the Kemp DL stint went perfectly for him, as he went 2-for-4 with a solo homer in helping the Dodgers down the Diamondbacks, 3-1.

If Ethier struggles, then it's easy to see the Dodgers doing the same.  They can't win every game by hitting singles and out-pitching other teams.  Ethier can be that guy who delivers those big hits.  In fact, his numbers have increased with runners on base (.400) as opposed to nobody on (.240).  That's the ultimate sign of a clutch hitter.

Like it or not, Ethier is squarely in the spotlight while Kemp recovers.  Now is his chance to show that the Dodgers are more than just a one-man show.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The replacements do the damage

So Matt Kemp left the game early with a bad hamstring, Andre Ethier and Don Mattingly were ejected, and Ted Lilly gave up three runs in the first.  Probably not the types of things you would think the Dodgers could overcome for a win.

But this is 2012, and for now anyway, it's all going right.

Bobby Abreu and Scott Van Slyke drove in five runs off the bench, Lilly pitched into the seventh, and the Dodgers rolled to a three-game sweep over the Rockies, 11-5.  The Dodgers remain the best team in baseball at 23-11, and are a ridiculous 15-3 at home.  Wow.

The game didn't start off promising at all, as the Rockies put up a three spot.  In fact, four straight singles by Marco Scutaro, Tyler Colvin, Carlos Gonzalez, and Michael Cuddyer made it 2-0 before an out was even recorded.  After a double steal with one out, Ramon Hernandez collected an RBI on a groundout, and it was now 3-0.

Tony Gwynn made sure the Dodgers responded right away.  He got the start in left and hit leadoff, as Dee Gordon was mercifully given the day off for Justin Sellers.  Gwynn doubled to left, and following a groundout by Mark Ellis that sent him to third, another grounder by Kemp scored him to make it 3-1.

James Loney again gave the Dodgers a double to start an inning in the second.  A.J. Ellis, who had a big day again, blooped a single into right for an RBI and a 3-2 deficit.  A couple innings later, Scutaro's RBI single scored Dexter Fowler, and it was 4-2.

The fifth inning brought all sorts of excitement.  It started on a Sellers single, and two walks to Gwynn and Mark Ellis loaded the bases.  Here is where Rockies' manager Jim Tracy made a mistake.  Matt Kemp left the game after the third with his bad hammy, so the lefty Abreu was up.  Rather than bringing in their own lefty, Mark Reynolds, Tracy stuck with young Alex White, who was in line for a win if he could wiggle out of trouble.

Bad move.  Abreu cleared the bases with a three-run double, giving the Dodgers a 5-4 lead.  They never looked back from there.  Now with Reynolds in, Ethier struck out looking, jawed a little with home plate umpire Mark Carlson, and was tossed.  The frustrating thing about it was that Ethier was walking back to the dugout when it happened, but was still run.  Mattingly didn't like that, and he got the same treatment with his fourth career ejection as a manager.

Even with all of that going down, the inning was far from over.  Loney drew a walk, which then lead to a three-run homer from A.J. Ellis, his third of the season, making it 8-4.

Both teams traded single runs in the seventh.  The Rockies got an RBI groundout from Gonzalez to make it 8-5, but the Dodgers responded with a beautiful suicide squeeze from Adam Kennedy to plate Van Slyke to get that run back.

Van Slyke would continue his best day of his brief career in the eighth.  Three walks to pinch-hitter Juan Uribe, Mark Ellis, and Abreu led to a two-run double from Van Slyke, closing the scoring at 11-5.  Javy Guerra pitched a perfect ninth to end it.

Let's start with the pitching first.  Lilly wasn't his sharpest, but benefited from great run support to get to 5-0.  He lasted 6 1/3 innings for six hits, five runs (four earned), three walks, and one strikeout.  My gosh, who would've thought he and Capuano would be a combined 10-0?  That's just crazy.  It's good to see the old men still got it.

Ronald Belisario was terrific, getting four outs with ease.  The decision to go with him over Mike MacDougal looks like a genius move so far.  As for Guerra, he needs to start building up confidence again, and maybe an outing like this one will continue that.

Let's give the guys off the bench a ton of credit here.  Abreu, Van Slyke, and Uribe combined to go 2-for-3 with three runs, two doubles, five RBIs, and three walks.  Those two doubles were huge, too.  As a team, the Dodgers drew 10 walks, had eight hits, and two sacrifices.  And that was with Kemp getting two at-bats and Ethier three.  Not a bad day indeed.

The Dodgers will look to follow up their fourth sweep of the season already by welcoming the Diamondbacks for two starting Monday.  Two studs will be on the mound, too, as Clayton Kershaw takes on Ian Kennedy.  The first to score may just be the winner in that one.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Chris Capuano has been $$$

Make that, money well spent.

After quietly signing a two-year, $10 million contract this offseason, Chris Capuano has rewarded the Dodgers with a perfect 5-0 record and 2.06 ERA.  Not too shabby for a guy projected to be the fourth or fifth starter.  Forget that - he looks like the staff ace.

As the season has slowly chipped away, Capuano has gotten better and better.  Just how good has he been?  Take a look at his career numbers: 62-64, 4.29 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, .263 BAA, and 846 K's in 1007 1/3 innings pitched.  Last season, he was 11-11 with a 4.55 ERA and 1.35 WHIP.

All of that looks like an aberration right now, as he has used his variety of pitches to constantly keep batters off balance.  He's not afraid to pound the inside part of the plate against righties, and his off-speed stuff has been incredible.  Simply put, he shows no fear on the mound, no matter how big and bad the batters are.  You hear that, Chad Billingsley?  Show no fear and go after those guys!

Perhaps the most satisfying part about watching Capuano is knowing just how much adversity he's gone through in his career.  I'm not sure it's too uncommon anymore to hear about pitchers having Tommy John surgery, but twice?  Not as much, and that's exactly what he's had in 2002 and 2008.  It's been four years since the second one, and his arm looks as strong as ever.  Talk about that procedure being a Fountain of Youth.

Fair or not, when a pitcher puts up numbers that far exceed his career stats, the natural question to be asked is if he can can keep it up or not.  Well, I'm not sure he can win five of every seven starts (two no-decisions thrown in there), but I like his chances of maintaining his effectiveness.  If you recall, his first start on April 7 in San Diego was going well until he started walking everybody in the fifth.

How did he respond to that?  By winning his next time out against the Pirates, giving up two runs in just over five innings, striking out seven.  And from there, he's taken off and hasn't looked back.  After taking a no-decision against his old team in Milwaukee, he's now won four straight, defeating the Braves, Nationals, Cubs, and Rockies.  In that span, he's surrendered a mere 2 runs in 27 2/3 innings, good for a 0.65 ERA.  Throw in 24 strikeouts and 8 walks, and you can see how much stronger his arm has become.

While the attention has mostly been on Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier (who completely deserve that attention, by the way), let's not overlook guys like Capuano, who plays hard each time out and leads by example.  If he can pitch anywhere close to this as the season rolls on, then the Dodgers will realize their playoff dreams for the first time in three years. 

Bank on it.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lincecum still can't solve the Dodgers

Tim Lincecum must have breathed a huge sigh of relief when he saw Clayton Kersahw wasn't pitching against him on Wednesday night.  After getting burned over and over last year by the Cy Young Award winner, he probably was ready for a change.

Too bad for him, it didn't matter.

Tony Gwynn's three-run triple in the fourth gave the Dodgers a lead they would not relinquish, as they defeated the Giants, 6-2.  That gave them two of three against their hated rivals to open back up a five-game lead in the NL West.

The Giants took an early lead with single runs in the second and third.  Chad Billingsley walked Joaquin Arias with two down, then gave up a single to Brandon Crawford.  Lincecum was able to leg out an infield single to make it 1-0.

The next inning, Miguel Cabrera tripled with one out, and scored on Buster Posey's RBI single.  The Giants really shot themselves in the foot, though.  With two outs, Arias singled again, and as Belt was rounding third to score, Matt Kemp nailed Nate Schierholtz rounding second a little too far, just before the run scored.

An opportunity lost for the Giants led to an opportunity gained by the Dodgers.  In the fourth, they put it all together.  Andre Ethier led off with a double, and Bobby Abreu singled.  Juan Uribe delivered an RBI single to make it 2-1.  They both advanced to scoring position on a wild pitch, as Lincecum definitely had a fair share of balls in the dirt.

After James Loney struck out (shocking... or not), A.J. Ellis drew another walk to load the bases.  That was it for Billingsley, who was yanked already for Gwynn.  It was the perfect decision from Don Mattingly, as Gwynn's three-run triple pushed the Dodgers ahead at 4-2.

Jamey Wright was fantastic at going through the Giants in order the next two innings.  In the sixth, Ellis tripled with one out, which came right after Loney had another big at-bat... by popping up.  Youngster Scott Van Slyke was summoned, and he made his first ever plate appearance memorable with an RBI single, making it 5-2.  Andy's kid looks like he has a bright future ahead of him.

Ronald Belisario survived a two-on, one-out dilemma in the seventh, as he got Posey swinging and Belt grounding out to end it.  The Dodgers closed out the scoring in the eighth when Uribe doubled leading off and Loney collected an RBI single.  Finally!  I hate to pound on the guy, but geez... he wants more playing time and only has a .213 average.  I mean seriously now!

Billingsley didn't go long enough to qualify for the win, but he didn't do himself any favors either.  He made 85 pitches through four innings, giving up seven hits, two runs, four walks, and five strikeouts.  After three straight great starts to begin the year, he's gone right back to the good one, bad one roller coaster.  I wish he would just attack hitters rather than nitpicking so much, but he is what he is.

The bullpen deserves a ton of credit in this one. Wright, Belisario, Josh Lindblom, and Kenley Jansen teamed up to go five scoreless innings, giving up only two hits, two walks, and striking out eight.  Does this mean they've settled into their roles?  I sure hope so, and appearances like this might prove it.

As for Gwynn, I can imagine his go-ahead triple must have felt really good for a couple of reasons.  The obvious one is that it gave the Dodgers a lead for good.  The other is that he gets his name out there again, as he's been pushed to the backburner with Abreu's arrival, even with Juan Rivera hitting the DL.  He'll always been great with the glove and on the bases, so maybe this will help give him more time to shine.

Thursday will be an off day before a three-game set at home against the Rockies.  The perfect Chris Capuano will go for his fifth win on Friday.  He'll go against old man Jamie Moyer.  I think the Dodgers should quickly trade for Chipper Jones just to watch those two argue again!  That's some great stuff!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Debate: Kemp vs. Hamilton

On the heels of Josh Hamilton's magnificent performance Tuesday night (four homers and a double), a question that I saw raised on ESPN today concerns which player you'd rather have, Matt Kemp or Hamilton?  It's a fun debate, so let's break down each player.

Josh Hamilton

Career (6 years, 616 games): .313 AVG, .926 OPS, 393 R, 146 2B, 17 3B, 132 HR, 461 RBI, 38 SB

Best Year (2010): .359 AVG, 1.044 OPS, 95 R, 40 2B, 3 3B, 32 HR, 100 RBI, 8 SB

Awards: 4-time All-Star, 2-time Sliver Slugger, 2010 MVP and ALCS MVP

Pros: Hamilton is as true a power hitter as there is in baseball.  Anytime you hit four home runs in one night, that pretty much goes without saying.  But he also doesn't sacrifice average for power, as evidenced by his .359 in 2010.  Take away an injury-plagued 2009, and he's put up consistently good power numbers with the good average to match.  He also plays great defense in the outfield with a career .985 fielding %, and possesses a big arm.

Cons: Fair or not at this point in his career, he does have baggage from his early days.  He admitted to a relapse this past offseason, though it does not appear to have affected his play at all.  Still, there is a feeling that he's one slip-up away from going downhill again.  Also, he is injury-prone, as from 2009-2011, he appeared in 89, 133, and 121 games, respectively.  He's definitely not old, but at 30 right now, he's not getting any younger, either.

Matt Kemp

Career (7 years, 817 games):  .297 AVG, .862 OPS, 493 R, 145 2B, 29 3B, 140 HR, 484 RBI, 146 SB

Best Year (2011): .324 AVG, .986 OPS, 115 R, 33 2B, 4 3B, 39 HR, 126 RBI, 40 SB

Awards: 1-time All-Star, 2-time Silver Slugger, 2-time Gold Glove

Pros: It appears Kemp is just starting to heat up, as the 27-year-old with a $160 million contract looks like the most complete player in baseball.  After a miserable 2010 campaign, he turned in a near-MVP performance last season, and was knocking on the door of the 40-40 club.  He is the ultimate 5-tool guy.  He can change the game with his power, speed, and arm in the outfield.  He's currently played in 394 straight game, tops in the bigs.

Cons: We've seen how well he can do in the past, but we've also seen how unfocused he can be judging by that 2010 season.  That appears to be a thing of the past, however.  For all the good he does, one of his biggest flaws is his strikeouts, as he's had at least 139 the past four seasons.

The Verdict: Like the guys on PTI said, you can pretty much take one side or the other and feel perfectly satisfied by it.  But since I'm here to pick a side, I have to go with Kemp.  Yes, I know I'm biased, but there's a few reasons for this.

One, Kemp has shown he can hit for average and power like Hamilton.  But, Kemp has a clear advantage on the bases, as he stole more bases last year (40) than Hamilton has his entire career (38).  Granted, Hamilton's role isn't to run, but that's still a pretty big difference.

Two, Kemp has done his damage with minimal help around him, while Hamilton has big guns around him like Adrian Beltre, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, and Elvis Andrus.  Kemp has Andre Ethier and not a whole lot else.  The fact that Kemp put up 126 RBIs last year is just unbelievable considering the lack of talent around him.

Finally, Kemp is entering his prime, about three years younger than Hamilton.  That's not a major difference, but considering how banged up Hamilton has been his whole career, and that Kemp is approaching 400 straight games, there's no denying that Kemp has much more durability.  When building a team, that's a big factor.

Final Analysis: It's pretty much grasping at straws when it comes to picking a winner between the two, but I still like Kemp just a notch above.  No disrespect to Hamilton, though.  He's amazing to watch.  I'd be perfectly happy with either one of these guys on my fantasy team.  Then I might actually win something for a change!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The new owners must like this

With Magic and the boys taking in their first home game as official owners of the Dodgers, the boys in blue didn't disappoint.  With nearly every run scored from the sixth inning on, the Dodgers cruised to a win over the Giants, 9-1.  It's the first matchup of the season between the two rivals, and the perfect start for what is a new day in Dodger history.

Two wily old veteran lefties got starts in this one, as Ted Lilly took on Barry Zito.  Both were effective early.  The Dodgers took the lead in the third when Juan Rivera's RBI grounder scored Mark Ellis.  The Giants knotted it up in the sixth when Joaquin Arias's RBI single plated Miguel Cabrera, who reached base on an error by Matt Kemp to start the inning.

Once the bottom of the sixth came, however, the Dodgers dominated and never looked back.  It began on a single by Bobby Abreu, who started in left.  Juan Uribe walked, and A.J. Ellis hit an RBI double to make it 2-1.  Tony Gwynn then pinch-hit for Lilly and laid down a bunt single, which was biffed by Conor Gillaspie, scoring Uribe to make it 3-1.

Another Giants' error brought in another Dodgers' run in the seventh.  Kemp doubled leading off the inning.  Rivera then bounced one back to pitcher Steve Edlefsen, who tried to nail Kemp going to third and instead threw the ball away all together.  Kemp practically walked home, and it was 4-1.

After James Loney made a phenomenal diving catch to rob Hector Sanchez to end the top of the eighth, the Dodgers put the game away for good in the eighth.  A.J. Ellis singled, Gwynn reached on an error by Buster Posey, and Dee Gordon bunt singled to load the bases.  A walk to Mark Ellis made it 5-1.

An RBI single by Adam Kennedy (yes, he actually got a hit) and a two-run single by Andre Ethier upped it to 8-1, and the scoring ended on another RBI groundout from Rivera.

The game was noteworthy for a couple of reason.  One, the obvious reason of new ownership in the house, as Magic got a nice, comfy seat near the on-deck circle.  Who knows what the future holds, but it's so nice not to have this dark cloud of the McCourt family BS hanging over Dodger Stadium.

The second reason really has nothing to do with this game, but it was about news made beforehand.  Don Mattingly has officially turned to Kenley Jansen as his new closer, demoting Javy Guerra.  I was surprised to hear this, as I got the feeling that Guerra would be given more chances.  But Sunday's meltdown was clearly the last straw.  Combine that with what I'm sure is a lot of pressure to see what Jansen can do, and there you go.

As for this one, perhaps a little lost in all the scoring was another great start from Lilly.  He's now 4-0 for the first time in his career thanks to a line of six innings, four hits, one run, two walks, and six strikeouts.  That's now seven straight wins for him going back to last season, and nine of his last ten.  He's quietly been one of the best pitchers in baseball, and looks like he's not slowing down at all.

The Dodgers now sport a shinny five-game lead in the NL West over the second place Giants.  I'm not sure anyone would've predicted that before the season.  Giant-killer Clayton Kershaw will look to stretch that lead even more by going on Tuesday night.  He'll miss another big matchup with Tim Lincecum by one day.  I'm sure the Giants are thankful for that.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Guerra struggles again as Dodgers fall in 11

Is it too early to say the Dodgers have a closer problem?

That's the question they're left to ponder after Guerra gave up a run in the ninth for his third blown save.  A walk-off walk by David DeJesus off of Jamey Wright gave the Cubbies a win in the 11th, 4-3.  The Dodgers dropped two of three in this series to finish their road trip at 2-4.

The news for the Dodgers was practically all negative before the game even started.  The game was delayed by nearly three hours because of rain.  Not a big deal, but considering they play the Giants at home on Monday, it's not ideal.  Then they had to scratch Matt Kemp because of a tight hamstring.

When the game actually started, it was more bad news as Jerry Hairston, Jr. had to leave the game with a bad hamstring beating out a single in the second.  The news finally got a little better that inning, as the bases became loaded on walks to A.J. Ellis and Tony Gwynn.  Aaron Harang then bounced a grounder for a sure-fire double play, but Starlin Castro's throw to first was off, allowing pinch-runner Adam Kennedy to score and make it 1-0.

Mark Ellis started another rally the next inning, singling and stealing second leading off.  Juan Rivera has been battling a sore hamstring himself (it's time to hire a new hamstring stretcher guy), but he started in left and blasted a two-run shot, his second of the season, making it 3-0.

The Cubs responded in the bottom of the third off of Harang.  Starting pitcher Travis Wood doubled with an out, and DeJesus walked.  After a groundout advanced them to scoring position, Castro's two-run double made it 3-2.  Castro was thrown out trying to stretch it to second on the same play.

That score held up all the way through eight innings, even though the Cubs had at least one baserunner in each inning of this one.  It's a wonder how the Dodgers even had the lead as long as they did, but with 12 runners left on base, the Cubs were their own worst enemy.

Harang made it through six innings by only giving up a pair of runs, so it was time to test the trio of Josh Lindblom, Kenley Jansen, and Guerra.  Lindblom walked Reed Johnson to start the seventh, but got the next three in order.  Jansen gave up a single to Bryan LaHair leading off, but blew away the rest in order for a pair of K's.

So now it came down to Guerra, who had four saves and an ERA of 2.16 as recently as April 20.  Well, it started off just fine, as Welington Castillo struck out for one down.  Then the downfall started, as Ian Stewart singled and DeJesus drew another damn walk.  The speedy Travis Campana then lined a run-scoring single into right, but Andre Ethier made a good cutoff throw to Mark Ellis, who then fired home to the other Ellis to nail DeJesus at home and keep the score at 3-3.  Castro struck out to send it into extras.

The Dodgers could only muster a single by Rivera in the 11th, as it looked like the life had been sucked out of them.  Jamey Wright got through the 10th, but with the bases loaded and nobody out in the 11th, DeJesus ended it with his third walk of the day.

I hate to admit it, but I had a bad feeling about the ninth inning the second I saw Guerra coming in.  Maybe it was the fact that the Dodgers were just barely wiggling out of trouble left and right the whole game, and the Cubs were due to finally get a big hit.  But maybe it was also the fact that he had struggled so much lately, and just didn't look like a shutdown closer as he entered the game.

I'm not going to go crazy yet, but I do have to say that his latest outing had some eerily similar qualities to when Jonathan Broxton started to go into meltdown mode a couple years back.  No, I'm not saying Guerra has reached that point yet, as Broxton was legendary for not being able to step up in big situations.  What I am saying is that Guerra needs to get that swagger back that gave him five straight saves to start this season, and 21 total last year.

The Dodgers will look to get back on track with a three-game set against the Giants starting Monday.  Hopefully Kemp will be good to go, as he did extend his MLB-best consecutive game streak to 393 by pinch-hitting in the seventh.  Matt Cain won't go in this series, but the Giants still have a good staff even without him.  Veteran lefties Ted Lilly and Barry Zito will go in the first one.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Dodgers show fight, but fall in Wrigley

The Dodgers put up three runs late in the game, but were unable to get over the hump in falling on the road to the Cubs, 5-4.  After sweeping the Nationals last weekend, the road trip has been a little rough at 1-3.

Chad Billingsley got the ball one start after pitching to a standstill last Saturday against Stephen Strasburg.  This start, however, wasn't as good.  It started right in the first when David DeJesus doubled leading off.  A groundout sent him to third, and he scored on Starlin Castro's RBI single.  A two-out RBI single by Alfonso Soriano made it 2-0.

One of the more underrated stars for the Dodgers this early in the season has been Jerry Hairston, Jr., and he continued to show his worth in this one.  He led off the third with a liner out to left for his second homer of the season, making it 2-1.  That was just a part of his big day, as he collected three hits, including a triple, to raise his average to .327.

The Cubbies got that run back in the fourth.  It again started with a double, this time by Darwin Barney.  With two outs, Billingsley again couldn't get out of the inning, as DeJesus delivered with an RBI triple, and it was 3-1.

The deficit was increased to three in the sixth when some guy named Joe Mather homered... with two outs.  No offense or anything, I just have never heard of him before.  But anyway, it was now 4-1.

Both teams traded single runs in the seventh.  Andre Ethier led off with a double.  After going to third on a grounder an out later, Hairston's RBI triple made it 4-2.  Bobby Abreu made his Dodger debut with two outs, but struck out looking.

Scott Elbert was put in charge of keeping it a one-run game... and flunked.  Tony Campana singled leading off, but was gunned out by A.J. Ellis attempting to steal.  But, Castro and Bryan LaHair hit singles, which chased Elbert and brought in the returning Todd Coffey.  Castro then stole third and came in on Soriano's RBI double, and it was 5-2.

To their credit, the Dodgers didn't give up and made this a close game in the eighth.  Mark Ellis walked with one down and stole second.  It's probably no surprise that the combo of Matt Kemp and Ethier drove in runs, but they did.  Kemp had an RBI triple, and he scored on Ethier's sac-fly RBI, making this a whole new ballgame at 5-4.

With Carlos Marmol getting booted from the closer's role, Dale Sveum gave the ball to young Rafael Dolis.  He beaned A.J. Ellis with two down, but got Abreu to line out to deep right to end it.

It was a disappointing start for Billingsley, mostly because he just couldn't find the pitches he needed to wiggle out of damage with two outs.  He ended up going six innings for eight hits, four runs, three walks, and four strikeouts.  The Cubs left 10 men on base, but did have three RBIs with two outs compared to the Dodgers' one.

These last couple of days must have been a whirlwind for Abreu, who instantly because a big bat off the bench.  I'm not sure he really expected to get in this one, but sure enough, there he was with two at-bats and some time in left field.  Time will tell if he's washed up, but he hit 20 homers and 78 RBIs as little as two years ago, so it's worth a look to see if he can get some big hits again.

Chris Capuano will take the ball on Saturday afternoon, as he looks to get to 4-0.  Matt Garza has been pushed back a day to Sunday because of a virus, so the Dodgers will instead face the awful Chris Volstad.  Let's hope we're still saying he's awful after the game as well.

Belisario is back as MacDougal gets the boot

The Dodgers have decided to roll the dice on Ronald Belisario, activating him off of the restricted list on Thursday.  To make room for him, Mike MacDougal was designated for assignment.

It's an interesting move by Ned Colletti, who in effect is hoping that the Dodgers see the Belisario who dominated 2009, and not the guy who has tanked both on an off the field since then.  I think this move is more of a reflection of how up and down the bullpen has been this year, and how Colletti will try to do anything to fix it.

It's easy to see why Belisario can be so valuable.  In that '09 season, he collected 12 holds with a 2.04 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 64 K's in 70 2/3 innings.  He formed a great 1-2 punch with Jonathan Broxton, another guy who's career suddenly went into a tailspin around the same time.

Then came the bad, and that was the 2010 season.  His strikeouts were down (38 in 55 1/3 innings), and his ERA ballooned to 5.04, a remarkable jump over the course of one year.  Visa problems and a month in rehab made for a disaster of a season.

But, the one thing he has going for him is his stuff, and when it's on, it's wicked.  The same can be said about MacDougal, who finished last season with a 2.05 ERA in 57 innings.  A closer look, however, reveals that his 1.46 WHIP meant he was constantly living on the edge, yet made big pitches when needed.  This year, not so much.  An ERA of 7.94 and 2.65 WHIP meant he was odd man out. 

I can't say I disagree with this decision.  MacDougal just isn't reliable enough because of his lack of command.  If hitters are patient with him, they'll probably get walked.  Belisario could flop, but he also could give big innings.  It's worth the risk in my mind.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Dodgers cling to victory in Coors

Spotted a 7-0 lead, the Dodgers did everything they possibly could to hold on.  Fortunately for them, the Rockies missed the extra point after scoring a touchdown.

Thanks in large part to the great glove of Mark Ellis, the Dodgers held on to beat the Rockies on the road, 7-6.  It was an ugly end to what looked like an easy W, but a win's a win, right?  Exactly.

The offense was dominant early on, and once again they pounded on the opposition in the first.  Dee Gordon, who has had all sorts of trouble getting on base lately, decided not to mess around anymore.  He crushed a leadoff homer, which would be career #1 for him.  He made it count too; that was a no-doubter all the way.

Ellis got the first of his four singles on the night next, and Matt Kemp also singled for runners on the corners.  Andre Ethier then swatted a three-run shot to center for the 4-0 lead and to take the RBI lead from Kemp at 27.

The Dodgers would continue to scorch the ball early.  The bases were loaded in the second, but James Loney lined out to end it.  In the third, Tony Gwynn singled and stole second leading off.  After an errant pickoff throw advanced him to third, A.J. Ellis hit an RBI double to push it to 5-0.

The Ellis behind the plate again got a big hit in the fifth.  And again, it started with Gwynn, who doubled.  An out later, Ellis hit his second homer of the season, a two-run shot, to put the lead to a comfortable 7-0. 

Ted Lilly was rolling at this point, but had a hiccup in the sixth.  Eric Young singled leading off, and one out later, Carlos Gonzalez got the Rockies on the board with a two-run homer, and it was now 7-2.  Still, Lilly got Troy Tulowitzki looking and Todd Helton lining out to left to end the inning.

Things were definitely looking up for the Dodgers, but Josh Lindblom changed all of that.  He's been fantastic this year, but not on Tuesday night.  He relieved in the seventh and just got pounded.  Two straight doubles by Ramon Hernandez and Chris Nelson with one out made it 7-3.  Tyler Colvin pinch-hit, and he came through with a two-run shot, and just like that it was 7-5.  Scott Elbert had to put out the fire to escape the inning.

The eighth wouldn't be a whole lot better, as Kemp was picked off to end the top of the inning.  In the bottom of the inning, Kenley Jansen immediately watched Tulo rip a triple to right leading off.  He scored on a sac-fly RBI by Helton, and it was now a one-run game.  Jason Giambi pinch-hit and struck out to end the inning.

With the bullpen already shaken, Don Mattingly gave the ball over to Javy Guerra, who certainly has been through some shaky outings lately himself.  He got Colvin swinging for one down.  Wilin Rosario pinch-hit and singled, then went to second on a passed ball.  In the play of the game, Mark Ellis made a diving stop on Marco Scutaro's grounder to stop the run from scoring.  Gonzalez then struck out to end the game and give Guerra his eighth save, and first since April 20.

It was quite the dramatic way to end the game, as Ellis was just the guy to get the job done in the right spot.  In one night alone, his 4-for-5 showing at the plate raised his average from .247 to .280.  But, it was his glove that ultimately proved to be the difference, as who knows what would have happened had Scutaro's hit gone through to tie the game.

Lilly was again on target, as he went six innings for four hits, two runs, one walk, and four strikeouts.  He only threw 79 pitches, but I can understand Mattingly turning the game over to Lindblom in the seventh.  The Dodgers had a big lead, Lindblom had been on fire, and Lilly will have plenty of more starts left in him.  Too bad it all almost blew up in everybody's faces, but thankfully the Dodgers held on.

Even though the Dodgers were ahead by a big margin early on, you almost got the feeling that something was still going to happen to make it a game again.  And that something came in the seventh.  I'll give them  credit for at least winning this one, as there were definitely more than a few anxious moments late.  But, like I said before, a win's a win, so they'll take 10 games over .500 already.

Wednesday afternoon will be the rubber match, as Clayton Kershaw will look to give the Dodgers another series victory.  He'll look to match Lilly at 3-0.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

April was a month to remember

As a life-long Dodger fan, I can tell you that the opening month of the 2012 season was as much fun watching baseball as I've felt in a quite awhile.  With a 16-7 record and a lead in the NL West nearly the entire month, it's about as good a start as you can ask for.

There's many reasons this has been an awesome month of baseball, so let's take a look at 10 of them:

1) MATT KEMP.  It's good to hear the "baseball guys" on TV finally refer to him as being the best player in the game.  Because, well, he is.  He could not have possibly played any better when you look at these ridiculous numbers: .417 AVG, .490 OBP, 24 R, 35 H, 4 2B, 12 HR, 25 RBI, 2 SB.  Holy crap!

He's currently leading the Triple Crown in the NL, and in all of baseball as well (Josh Hamilton is tied with him at 25 RBIs).  If that wasn't enough, he's also leading in runs, hits, slugging %, and OPS.  In addition to playing his usual great D, it's been a pleasure to watch him very night.  Each at-bat I get the same feeling that I got when Manny Ramirez came on the scene at the end of '08 - every time he's up, something big is going to happen.  He is far and away the best player in the bigs now.

2) Clayton Kershaw.  Ho hum, ho hum.... 2-0, 1.78 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 28 K's in 30 1/3 innings.  Seriously, it's pretty amazing when you come to expect such minuscule numbers from him and not even be surprised when he delivers anymore.  What might be most amazing is that he gutted it out on Opening Day by pitching three scoreless innings with the flu.  We knew he was good, now we know he's tough too.

3) The other three starting pitchers: Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Chris Capuano.  We knew Kershaw would be Kershaw, but there was a bit of unknown about the rest of the rotation.  And to their credit, they have more than been on the money.  Billingsley is the most satisfying to watch thus far.  He's 2-1 with a 2.64 ERA and 0.95 WHIP.  His low WHIP is fantastic, which shows he's pounding the strike zone and not beating himself with walks.  Is he finally the #2 starter we've been waiting to see?  I sure hope so.

Lilly has picked up right where he left off last season, as he's 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA and 0.85 WHIP.  Can it possibly get any better than that?  I though for sure he was washed up last year, but boy was I wrong.  He's keeping hitters off balance and getting the results.

Capuano was sort of like a wild card, as he throws hard, but the numbers didn't always look pretty.  But with numbers of 3-0, 2.73 ERA, and 1.21 WHIP, he's been a great addition.  It's especially sweet considering he's the #4 starter, and pitching like an ace.

Sorry to Aaron Harang, who did strikeout nine straight Padres in one game, but has an ugly 5.72 ERA.  So no love to you yet.

4) Josh Lindblom.  Javy Guerra, Kenley Jansen, Matt Guerrier, Todd Coffey, Scott Elbert and Mike MacDougal have all gone through their share of ups and downs, which makes it even more remarkable that the Dodgers have played so well.  But, if there's one rock in the bullpen, it's been young Lindblom.  Here's a guy who looked like he was going to be sent back to Triple-A early in the month when Lilly came off the DL, and now he has an 0.68 ERA and four holds.  If he keeps pitching like that, I'm sure fans will start clamoring for him to be the closer in no time.

5) Andre Ethier.  Ethier probably has to laugh at how little attention he gets with the numbers he has.  He can thank Mr. Kemp for that.  But for a guy who has gone through a roller coaster ride in LA for the most part, he's now playing like a guy who deserves a fat contract extension.  His .276 AVG isn't too high, but he's right behind Kemp for the RBI lead with 24, which shows he's getting timely hits again.  The middle of the order is as good as it gets in baseball.

6) A.J. Ellis.  I'm as proud of this guy as I am of anyone else on the team.  Ellis been sent up and down like an elevator so many times, I'm sure he couldn't help but wonder if he'd ever get a true chance at starting.  Well, he's starting now, and he looks great.  His .291 AVG is great, but what sticks out is his .443 OBP, thanks to 15 walks he's drawn in the #8 hole.  Plus, he plays very good defense behind the plate.  Good for him.

7) Jerry Hairston, Jr.  Yes, Hairston has been a big part of the huge start.  Where else can you find guys who can play nearly every position in the field, make spectacular plays, and hold his own at the plate?  And all in a reserve roll?  He has already made some highlight reel diving grabs, and is hitting .300 with a .417 OBP.  The Dodgers lost Jamey Carroll and Aaron Miles from last season, two guys who filled the same type of roll.  But Hairston looks even better, and will continue to earn more playing time going forward because of it.

8) Don Mattingly.  Who knows how much or how little managers really affect their team's play, but I really do believe that Mattingly's calm, business-like approach has rubbed off very well on his team.  He's gotten these guys to embrace finding ways to get on base with a .333 OBP, third in the NL.  They are also hitting .267 with runners in scoring position, also good for third.  Then there's the defensive side of the field, as they have a .985 fielding %, fourth in the NL.

Considering Donny Ballgame has a career .358 OBP and an incredible .996 fielding % at first base, it's no surprise that he's gotten his club to excel in these two areas.  Yes, it helps to have one guy alone smack 14 homers, but all of the wins are because of a team effort.  And that's the mark Mattingly has been leaving.

9) New ownership.  With the team of Magic Johnson, Stan Kasten, Mark Walter, and a few others behind the scenes, it's nice to not have this drama hanging like a black cloud over Dodger Stadium anymore.  Time will tell what kind of a mark they will leave, but it's safe to say that playing with the Dodgers can become a cool thing again, thanks to their wallets.

10) No Frank McCourt.  Sorry, Frank... but I couldn't resist.