Thursday, June 28, 2012

June swoon has pelted the Dodgers

Matt Guerrier.  Juan Rivera.  Mark Ellis.  Ted Lilly.  Matt Kemp.  Javy Guerra.  And now, Andre Ethier.

What do they all have in common?  The Dodgers were once able to replace them with someone new at one time or another without skipping a beat.  It worked up until June 17, when they beat the White Sox to improve to 42-25, good for a five-game lead over the Giants in the NL West.

A week-and-a-half later?  Try 43-33, and a deadlock with the Giants thanks to getting swept in San Francisco.  Oh ya, they didn't score one run in three games.  No runs.  Three games.  Yikes.

Folks, the June swoon has it, and boy has it hit hard.

So how exactly have the Dodgers managed to drop seven of eight?  The biggest thing, quite simply, is the offense.  Kemp is irreplaceable, but the Dodgers still found ways to win without him for much of the season.  It looks like his absence has finally caught up to them.

Let's take a look at the culprits, and how they've performed since that win on June 17:

Juan Uribe: 1-for-20 (.050 AVG), 1 2B, 1 RBI, 8 K's.  Ned Colletti brought this guy along last season for his championship experience.  I guess that "championship experience" is showing everyone what not to do.  He has been a colossal disappointment to say the least.  I know he's had trouble staying healthy, but when he is in there, he's awful.  Just plain awful.

James Loney: 0-for-15 (you know the average), 1 BB, 2 K's.  Mr. Groundout to 2nd said earlier this year that he believes he's an everyday player.  Well, if he is, then the Dodgers would be 0-76.  Seriously, I'm insulted that somebody as bad at the plate as him would even have the nerve to say he should play more.  That's just ridiculous.

Elian Herrera: 2-for-31 (.065), 1 R, 1 2B, 9 K's.  Not to mention all of the double plays he's grounded into.  Look, I like Herrera, as he's as versatile as they come.  But it's obvious he's either worn out, or pitchers have caught up to him.  He's as lost as can be at the plate, and it's not getting any better.

Tony Gwynn: 6-for-26 (.231), 1 R, 1 2B, 2 BB, 3 K's, 1 SB.  For a guy who should get on base to use his speed, he has an OBP of .298.  That's really bad.  He's another guy who gives his all on defense, but gives you nothing at the plate.  And that's why he's a career reserve, plain and simple.

Bobby Abreu: 2-for-26 (.077), 1 R, 1 HR, 4 RBIs, 2 BB, 8 K's.  Abreu has been a big pickup for the most part, but he's someone else who looks worn down.  There's no way anyone thought he'd be playing this much, but the injuries have made it happen.  And it figures, the one game where he crushed a three-run homer, Chad Billingsley choked away the lead for a loss.

Dee Gordon: 6-for-36 (.167), 2 R, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 8 K's, 3 SB.  Gordon did have three straight games with two hits apiece, but is still not getting on base nearly enough for a leadoff hitter, as evidenced by his .277 OBP.  Plus, his defense is still a work in progress.

If you add up the numbers of these six regulars, they're hitting a combined 17-for-154 for a .110 average.  Holy crap, that's really, really bad.  I mean REALLY bad.  Of course, there's also starting pitchers like Billingsley and Nathan Eovaldi getting pounded recently, but it's hard to blame the pitching when the offense barely backs them up. 

As good as the Dodgers have been (until recently) without Kemp, the bottom line all along was that they needed him if they wanted to make some noise in the playoffs.  Now they need him just to keep from getting shutout every night.  We can only hope he won't rush back to save the day, but it looks like the earliest he'll come back is after the All-Star break.  And no matter what happens, his health comes first, so it's a good decision.

Starting with Thursday night's home game against the Mets, the Dodgers have 11 games left before the break.  And now that Ethier looks like he will miss some time, whether that be long or short, the guys who are in the lineup have to find a way to gain back some respectability.  It won't be easy, as they play the Mets and Reds at home before taking on the Diamondbacks on the road. 

There's a tired, old sports cliche of "take one game at a time" that players say way too much.  Well guess what?  I'm about to say it now, as that's exactly what the focus needs to be.  Maybe the Dodgers will look back at this stretch as their low point, and they start to play ball again.  Or, it could get even worse, and the losses will be too much to overcome.

Either way, the guys mentioned above have to get better if the Dodgers want to start winning again.  If not, then the trade deadline could get a whole lot more interesting.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Eovaldi rocked, Dodgers bombed

Suddenly, it's the San Francisco Giants who look like the best team in the National League.  And it's the Dodgers who need to find a way to break their slump.

The Giants pounded on Nathan Eovaldi for a four-run first, and they never looked back in creaming the Dodgers, 8-0.  The Dodgers are still in first place in the NL West, but it's only by two games now.

The Dodgers have done a lot of good things this season, but one area that they've struggled in is grounding into double plays.  In fact, they lead all of baseball in that.  Sure enough, after Dee Gordon led off with a walk (which is a pretty shocking experience), Elian Herrera grounded into the DP, and the Dodgers went down quietly.

Right away, the Giants set the tone for the rest of the night, and perhaps for this three-game series when it's all said and done.  It started on an infield single by Ryan Theriot, in which Gordon made a good stop, but couldn't make the throw.  Melky Cabrera singled for two on.  Angel Pagan bounced one off the first base bag for an RBI double and 1-0 lead.

Things wouldn't get any better from there.  Pablo Sandoval is back from the DL and starting to pick up steam again.  His two-run double to right made it 3-0.  Hector Sanchez found room in center for an RBI single, and the Dodgers were in an early 4-0 hole.

Juan Rivera and A.J. Ellis both worked walks in the second, but nothing came of it.  Eovaldi was obviously frustrated at this point, as he walked Barry Zito leading off.  Things went from bad to worse.  Gregor Blanco singled to put two on before Theriot grounded into a fielder's choice.  Three straight RBIs came next on singles by Cabrera and Pagan, and a sac-fly from Sandoval.  Add it all up, and the Giants were ahead 7-0.

For all intents and purposes, the game was over from there.  The Dodgers managed only five hits all game, and the only one for extra-bases was Tony Gwynn's double in the ninth, where he was stranded on James Loney's groundout to second to end the game.  Gee, Loney with a groundout to second, I'm shocked!

The Giants scored the game's final run in the sixth when Sanchez doubled home Sandoval to make it 8-0.

Eovaldi has been really good this season, but hasn't gotten much run support.  Well, he was awful in this one, and still didn't get any support regardless.  He somehow made it through five innings for 10 hits, eight runs, one walk, and one strikeout.  Give the Giants credit - they were aggressive against him, and also got a couple bounces to go their way. 

I'm not worried about Eovaldi, because his stuff is too good, and he seems like he's tough enough to let this one go.  But, the offense is a cause for concern, as they can't seem to get anything going lately.  It seems as if one thing may go right, but the other thing goes wrong.  For example, Gordon reached base three times and stole a base.  Herrera, hitting second, pulled an o'fer and grounded into a double play. 

Then there's Juan Uribe and Loney.  Uribe made his return from the DL on June 11 and has five hits all month.  That's right, five freakin' hits.  That's good for a blistering .143 this month.  Absolutely pathetic.  Loney isn't much better, as he's hitting .232 this month, and continues to underachieve.  Actually, he probably isn't good enough to be labeled an "underachiever."  He just plain stinks.  Defensively, both men are good, and that shouldn't be overlooked.  But the Dodgers seriously need upgrades at the corner infield positions.  Enough is enough!

Right now, all of the momentum is clearly on the Giants' side, much like the Dodgers had it for most of this season.  The Dodgers aren't facing Matt Cain this series, so if they drop two of three or get swept, that will look even worse.  Thankfully they have Clayton Kershaw going tonight.  He'll go against the solid, and even underrated, Ryan Vogelsong.  Let's see if the pitching matchup lives up to its billing, or if the runs will be flowing.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Angels attack Lindblom to claim the Freeway Series

For the second straight outing, Josh Lindblom watched his numbers skyrocket.  It also cost his team another game.

The Angels broke a three-all tie with two runs off Lindblom in the seventh, and the Dodgers couldn't respond in dropping another one, 5-3.  The Angels took two of three this weekend, and combined with losing two more against them a couple weeks ago, the Dodgers once again could not top their crosstown rivals.

About the only good news is that the Giants lost to the A's on a walk-off homer, so the lead remains at three in the NL West.

The Dodgers scored in the first inning in each game of this series.  In this one, it started with a bloop double by Andre Ethier with one out.  Old Angel Bobby Abreu again burned his old mates with an RBI single and 1-0 lead.

After Tony Gwynn made a great catch off Mark Trumbo's deep drive to right center to end the first, the Dodgers got another run in the second.  Adam Kennedy singled leading off, and Gwynn followed with one as well.  Matt Treanor laid down a great bunt to advance both men to scoring position.  Dee Gordon grounded out, but was plenty good for an RBI to make it 2-0.

Erick Aybar started the comeback by taking a walk with one out in the bottom of the second.  Peter Bourjos, who only had one homer coming into this game, hit one out to left to tie the game at two.

The Dodgers shot themselves in the foot with double play balls to end the third and fifth, the first by James "Double Play" Loney and the next by Abreu.  The Angels took advantage of that, as Mike Trout singled leading off the fifth.  After he stole second with one out, Albert Pujols grounded one through the middle for the RBI, making it 3-2.

Juan Rivera's double to start the sixth showed the Dodgers weren't going to roll over.  Loney lined one back to Garrett Richards on the mound, who couldn't quite glove it in time, allowing Rivera to get to third.  Kennedy's sac-fly RBI to center made it a whole new game at 3-3.

Harang made it through six, so Don Mattingly turned to Lindblom to try and redeem himself from last Thursday's meltdown against the A's.  Simply put, it didn't happen.

What made this outing even more frustrating was that he got the first two hitters with ease.  Then he walked Pujols and beaned Kendrys Morales.  Sure enough, those mistakes were costly, as Trumbo's RBI single made it 4-3, and Howie Kendrick hit one as well to give the Angels a 5-3 lead.

Not much happened for the Dodgers from there.  Ivan De Jesus was caught stealing to end the eighth, and Jerry Hairston, Jr.'s single to start the ninth went nowhere as Gordon struck out to end the game.

After winning two of three from the White Sox last weekend, the Dodgers have scuffled ever since, losing five of six.  Make no mistake about it, even though they're 13 games over .500, they're definitely slumping now.  In these last six, they're scored 13 runs, so the offense isn't driving in runners like they have all season long.

Then there's the Lindblom issue, who had an ERA of 2.12 two appearances ago, and now it's 3.81.  Five runs in 2/3 of an inning will do that to you.  Perhaps it's just one of those things.  Or, just maybe, he's starting to show some signs of fatigue.  I think we all have to remember that he was never meant to even be with the big club this year, but has managed to survive thanks to a variety of injuries, and because he started off the year red hot.  It looks like Ronald Belisario will now serve as the setup man, and rightfully so.

The upcoming schedule doesn't get any easier.  First up is three games in San Francisco, followed by four at home against the resurgent Mets.  The first half of the season will then conclude with three at home against the NL Central leading Reds, and four on the road in Arizona, which is never easy.  What does this all mean?  There's no gimmes, and the Dodgers could easily see their lead in the West slip away if they don't start hitting again.

You don't get to be 13 games over .500 by not responding to some adversity over the course of the season, so let's give the Dodgers the benefit of the doubt that they can do this again.  It's not like they're getting blown out, it's more like all the clutch plays are being made by the other team.  Maybe now it's time to swing that momentum back their way.

Monday night starts a big three-game set with the Giants.  I don't think the Dodgers will be shedding any tears because Matt Cain won't be getting a start.  The Dodgers took two of three from them in early May, but the Giants are a much better team now.  This should be fun.  Nathan Eovaldi goes against Barry Zito on Monday night.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The mastery of Capuano continues

The Dodgers are learning very quickly that when in doubt, turn to Chris Capuano.

Once again, Capuano put forth a fantastic effort, limiting the Angels to one run over seven innings, as the Dodgers ended a four-game slide with a win, 3-1.  The Giants survived a late charge by the A's to win again, so the lead for the Dodgers in the NL West remains at three games.

A combination of the speed of Dee Gordon and some shoddy fielding by the Angels got the boys in blue going in the first.  Gordon led off the game with a single.  He then stole second on a pitchout, which is a good measure of just how fast he is.  Jerry Hairston, Jr. grounded one to Albert Pujols at first, who tried to nail Gordon at third, only to have the ball bounce away and allow the hustling Gordon to score to make it 1-0.

Hairston soon went to third on a wild pitch.  With two outs, Juan Rivera was able to reach on Maicer Izturis's error, and the Dodgers had the early 2-0 lead.

Unlike the bumbling Chad Billingsley a day ago, Capuano made sure not to blow the early advantage.  He still let hitters reach, but came away from it unharmed for the most part thanks to some strikeouts and a couple double play balls.

In the fifth, the Angels did break through for a run.  Howie Kendrick hit a leadoff double.  Izturis then bounced one near the mound, which was gloved on a dive by Capuano for the out at first.  Kendrick easily got to third on the play, and soon scored on Erick Aybar's RBI infield single, making it 2-1.

To start the sixth, the Dodgers got that run right back.  The outfield was playing shallow with Gordon up, and he made them pay by smacking a triple to the wall.  Hairston ripped one off the third base bag for the RBI, and it was now 3-1.

Capuano exited after seven innings, turning the ball over to Ronald Belisario in the eighth, and not Josh Lindblom.  Lindblom, as you may recall, was crushed on Thursday in Oakland, surrendering the walk-off three-run shot to Yoenis Cespedes.  So, Belisario got his chance for a hold, and he immediately watched Mike Trout single and steal second.  The heart of the Angels' order, however, did nothing with it, as Torii Hunter, Pujols, and Mark Trumbo failed to score a run.

Kenley Jansen came on to record his 12th save in 15 chances, setting the Angels down in order.

After losing in a variety of different ways during the week, the Dodgers were waiting to finally get something positive going their way.  Capuano turned out to be just what they needed.  Over seven strong innings, he gave up seven hits, one run, no walks, and four strikeouts.  He had to pitch with runners on in every inning but the second, but showed how to bare down and make big pitches when needed.  Plus, he didn't walk anybody, which is always a big plus.

Even though the Mets have looked great this season, they still have to be kicking themselves to some degree for letting Capuano walk.  Right now he's 9-2 with a 2.60 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 84 K's in 93 1/3 innings.  Also, opposing hitters have a .221 average against him.  That's pretty filthy.  He just continues to get better and better.

Someone else who left a big impact on this game was Gordon.  This was one of those reminders of just how good he could be... if he could ever get on base more.  He went 2-for-4 with two runs, a triple, and a stolen base.  He actually should've been 3-for-4, but was called out on what looked like a bunt single.  Nonetheless, his speed and aggressiveness on the bases gave the Dodgers the early jump they needed, and they never looked back.  That's how good he could be.

Like last weekend, a winning effort on Sunday would equal an Interleague series win.  Aaron Harang will get the call, and he's coming off a horrendous start against the A's that resulted in eight walks in just over three innings.  Um, yuck.  Fortunately, he says he discovered a mechanical flaw, so he seems ready to go.  Let's hope so.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

It's time for the Dodgers to move Billingsley

Friday night was the last straw.

The scenario looked like this: the Dodgers had been on a three-game losing streak after being swept in Oakland.  They jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead in Anaheim against a team they've always struggled with in Interleague play.  Things were looking up again.

Then Chad Billingsley decided to do what he does best - flush it all down the toilet.

Once again, Billingsley showed the Dodgers and the rest of the world why he'll never live up to anything close to his potential.  Then again, that's what potential is - you may have the talent, but you have yet to do anything with it.  And that's where we are now.

I've said for the last couple of years that Billingsley isn't anything more than a #3 starter at best.  Well, I was wrong... he's worse.  He belongs in the bottom part of a rotation, if in there at all.  The numbers back it up.  He's lasted past seven innings only one, and that was in his first start of the year.  Five times he hasn't even gone past five innings.

His numbers now show a 4-6 record with a 4.15 ERA and 1.40 WHIP.  That's barely better than his numbers last year (11-11, 4.21, 1.45).  In other words, there's really no reason to believe he'll ever make big improvements.
So, my solution is simple: it's time to trade Billingsley.

I don't care if people out there think he can be effective still, he's simply WAY too inconsistent to be trusted.  One game he shows signs of life, the next two he stinks.  Friday night was symbolic and scary all at the same time.  You could almost laugh at yourself when the Dodgers spotted him a five-run lead, because you've seen him collapse before.  Sure enough, he collapsed again.

Now is the time to see what they can get for him.  I know the Dodgers have been linked to a couple of Cubs' pitchers, Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza.  I'm not sure Theo Epstein has any interest in Billingsley, but he'd be worth dangling along with others in order to get a real pitcher to LA. 

With Magic and the boys in town, I know Ned Colletti will have a busy, but fun, month of July looking at trades.  He no longer has to be so restricted by the money situation, so he can make things happen.  Moving Billingsley and getting another starter has to be one of them.

Before last season, Billingsley inked a three-year, $35 million extension that lasts into 2014, and has a $14 million option for 2015.  The timing isn't very good, especially since the Dodgers showed faith in him, and instead he seems to only be getting worse.  Depending on the team he'd be moved to, I can see the Dodgers eating some of that deal.

But so what?  If that's what it takes, then go for it.  I know it's easy for me to say, but if there really is a new regime in town ready to do what it takes to win, then this is a good first step to take.  Trade Mr. Inconsistency and bring in someone fresh.  It's time to make that move.

It's time we move on from Billingsley.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Weary Dodgers swept in Oakland

Clayton Kershaw did all he could, giving up one run in eight innings.  But with the offense AWOL once again, it still wasn't enough.

Yoenis Cespedes hit a three-run, walk-off homer just down the left field line in the ninth to give the A's a win over the Dodgers, 4-1.  After taking two of three from the White Sox over the weekend, the Dodgers have now dropped three straight.

The A's got on the board in the second.  Jonny Gomes doubled leading off and went to third on a wild pitch.  Brandon Inge followed that up with a sac-fly RBI, and the A's found themselves with the early 1-0 advantage.

In the fourth, the Dodgers found a way to muster a little offense.  Elian Herrera hit a one-out double, but was left there when Andre Ethier grounded out for two down.  Juan Rivera found just enough room by lining an RBI single over the first base bag to tie the game at one.

From there, both Kershaw and Travis Blackley gave the hitters fits, as the score remained tight through eight.  Rivera's double in the seventh was the only baserunner the Dodgers had in that time.

A's closer Ryan Cook came on to pitch the ninth, and Matt Treanor led off with a walk.  Dee Gordon laid down what looked to be a good bunt, but Treanor was still thrown out at second for one down.  Gordon was then caught stealing, and Herrera struck out to turn what looked like a threat into a thud.

Kershaw lasted 111 pitches, so he was yanked for Josh Lindblom, who came into this game with a 2.12 ERA and probably the most consistent reliever the Dodgers have.  But, on this day, it got ugly and fast.

Coco Crisp walked leading off, then took second on a wild pitch.  Jemile Weeks bunted, and Lindblom turned to throw to third, yet Juan Uribe wasn't there since he was charging on the play.  Cespedes ended it with his three-run jack.  And with that, Lindblom now has a 2.91 ERA.  So goes the life of a reliever.

It's a good thing the Dodgers had those couple of comeback wins against the White Sox, because if those were losses, they'd be in the midst of a bad stretch.  Even when I watched them on Tuesday night, I couldn't shake the feeling that they were a tired ball club.  Scoring two runs in three games kind of backs my thoughts up.

This is also a good spot for us all to remember that Matt Kemp hasn't played a lick since May 30 with a bad hamstring.  You can even back that up to May 13 since he last played full-time, as he only got in a little over a game when he tried to come back.  Don Mattingly has done an excellent job of piecing together lineups in the meantime.  But the bottom line remains the same - for the Dodgers to go anywhere, they need a healthy Kemp.

At least Kershaw put together a great start, going eight innings for three hits, one run, two walks, and seven strikeouts.  Even with a few bumps along the way (for him, anyway), he still has a 2.73 ERA and 1.01 WHIP.  Pretty amazing when you can look at those numbers and know that he's capable of doing even better.  And look out, because starts like this will only catapult him to bigger things over the summer, just like last season.

Another Freeway Series is up next, as the Dodgers will now play three in Anaheim.  Thankfully they avoid Jared Weaver, but then again, the Angels avoid Kershaw, so I suppose it's a wash.  Chad Billingsley goes up against Dan Haren on Friday.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ten walks + two hits + one big error = an easy L

I'm guessing this is not how Aaron Harang and his teammates wanted to start the road trip.

Harang was all over the place, walking eight in a little over three innings, and the A's picked up three early runs to cruise to a 3-0 victory behind Brandon McCarthy.  A huge error by Tony Gwynn in center in the first was really the nail in the coffin, even that early.

After the Dodgers went down in order to start the game, Coco Crisp hit a bloop double between three men in left to get the A's going.  Harang then walked Jemile Weeks before striking out Josh Reddick for one down. 

Seth Smith then singled to center, and Gwynn badly misplayed the hop, allowing both runners to score and Smith to get to third.  The "strikeout, walk" theme continued next, as Brandon "7 Year" Inge struck out, but Brandon "Randy" Moss walked to keep the inning alive.  A single by Jonny Gomes made it 3-0.

That, my friends, was all McCarthy and his boys needed.  The Dodgers' first hit came in the third on a single by Gwynn.  A single up the middle by Andre Ethier in the fourth was the only other hit the entire night.

It's hard to say the Dodgers threatened to score at any point, but they did put a couple men on in the ninth.  With new closer Ryan Cook in, Ethier reached with one out thanks to an error in center by Crisp.  Bobby Abreu walked next.  Then came James "Double Play" Loney... who grounded into the game ending DP.  And he wonders why he doesn't play more.  Give me a break!

I think we definitely should give McCarthy credit here.  He was pitching for the first time in 11 days because of a sore shoulder, so it was obvious he was pumped to be out there again.  He's really put it together the last couple of years, and has quietly turned into one of the best pitchers in the American League.

With that said, it's not like Harang gave his team much of a chance thanks to his wildness.  I'm not sure what it was about the A's .225 team batting average (last in the majors) that intimidated him, but for whatever reason, he just couldn't get the ball over the plate.  He lasted only 3 2/3 innings for three hits, three runs, eight walks, and six strikeouts.  It almost was like watching Chad Billingsley out there, as he had a hard time attacking the hitters.

Granted, Gwynn's error in the first certainly didn't help, but eight walks is just crazy.  Want to know what's even crazier?  He threw an astronomical 105 pitches... and didn't even get out of the fourth.  Wow.  

One positive from this game was the work the bullpen.  The combination of Jamey Wright, Scott Elbert, Todd Coffey, and Shawn Tolleson pitched the final 4 1/3 innings without allowing a run on only two hits.  It's especially good to see Tolleson get a scoreless inning in, as he hasn't had much luck in his other two appearances. 

Two more games are left in this series, and Nathan Eovaldi goes on Wednesday night.  He has the ultimate oxymoron line thus far: 0-2 record/1.82 ERA in four starts.  You would think he'd be due for a win at some point.  Maybe he should give up more runs, which would then inspire the offense to go off.  Or something like that.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Great Practice Equipment for Every Baseball Fanatic

(Note: This is a guest post from freelance writer Becky Wilcox.  Enjoy!)

Everyone knows, as the saying goes, that practice makes perfect. However, this cliche does not tell the entire story. In reality, simply practicing is not enough. A modified, and more accurate version of the saying has been adapted by coaches around the country: Proper practice makes perfect.

In order to take your game to the next level and maximize your potential--whether you are trying to break into the professional ranks or are just a dedicated recreational player--it is absolutely vital to take advantage of your practice time by using proper practice aids. Here are a few of the best pieces of practice equipment that every baseball fanatic should own:

1. ATEC Pitching Machines

ATEC pitching machines are the perfect practice aid for hitters of all ages and all levels of experience. You can adjust the location, the speed, and the delivery of the pitches you will see. Having this pitching machine will enable you to work on your swing on your own time, since you won't have to rely on having someone else around to pitch to you. Everyone, from little league hopefuls to Major League Baseball All-Stars, can benefit from having one of these machines available for whenever they want to work on their hitting.

2. Portable Sports Net

This is the perfect tool to either pair with your pitching machine or to bring with your team for pre-game batting practice. Have someone throw a couple of soft tosses for you to practice your swing or take a few swings off a tee wherever you want, whenever you want.

3. Radar Pitching Trainer

This piece of equipment is the perfect practice tool for prospective pitchers of all ages. Not only will it show you the speed you are throwing at, but it includes an all-important adjustable strike zone. A pitching trainer will help you not only work on the velocity of your pitches, but the location and control of them as well.

Once you have the right practice equipment, you have already won half of the battle. You will already have a leg up on the rest of your competition, and all you have left to do is put in the work yourself.

With a little bit of diligence and dedication and the right practice equipment by your side, you will be well on your way to becoming a better baseball player in no time at all.

Monday, June 18, 2012

An ejection, a bad call... and another comeback W

The Dodgers had every reason to fold on Sunday.  Their offense couldn't get going, they had a run taken away by a horrible call, and their manager got tossed again.

So, as they've done all season, they found a way to win regardless.

After Juan Rivera's sac-fly tied the game in the ninth, Dee Gordon hit a two-out, walk-off single to give the Dodgers a win over the White Sox, 2-1.  The Dodgers took two of three from the Sox, and coupled with a loss by the Giants to the Mariners again, have a five game lead in the NL West.

It was mostly a lazy Sunday afternoon, as both Chris Capuano and Jose Quintana mowed through the hitters with ease.  The game was scoreless through five, as both teams collected a decent amount of hits (seven), but nothing came of it.  The Dodgers did have two on in the first, only to have Rivera ground into a double play.

The White Sox got the game's first run in the sixth.  Brent Lillibridge led off with a single into left, which was bobbled by Elian Herrera, allowing him to scamper to second.  Two outs later, Dayan Viciedo's RBI single just past the diving Jerry Hairston, Jr. at second made it 1-0.

The bottom of the sixth is when things got crazy.  Matt Treanor has made the most of his brief starts this season, and his surprising bunt single started things.  Capuano laid down a perfect sacrifice to sent him to third, and Gordon's infield single put runners on the corners with one down.

Herrera had two hits at this point, and he hit a fly ball that was caught in right.  Treanor tagged up and appeared to score the tying run.  But, not so fast said third base umpire Jerry Meals, as the Sox appealed the play successfully, resulting in a double play.  Replays clearly showed it was a missed call, so the Dodgers were jobbed.

To make matters worse, Don Mattingly came out to say his piece, then was tossed walking back to the dugout.  If you think you've seen Donny Baseball mad before, then you ain't seen nothing yet.  He got his money's worth by refusing to go quietly.  And who can blame him?  It was clearly a bad call, and at the time could've cost them the game.

Addison Reed came on to try for his ninth save in as many chances, but the Dodgers had other ideas.  Bobby Abreu pinch-hit and singled into left leading off.  I thought maybe he'd be lifted for a pinch-runner, but since Ivan De Jesus already hit and Tony Gwynn was in the lineup, there was really nobody to turn to.  Turns out, it didn't matter.

Gordon had a terrible at-bat by bunting foul for strike three.  Herrera, though, singled into right to keep the game going.  Rivera hit another fly ball into the outfield, and this time got the runner home, as Abreu hustled to tie the game.  Andre Ethier was walked to pitch to Hairston, who flew out to send it into extras.

Ronald Belisario pitched two scoreless innings starting in the ninth, so the Dodgers were given the chance for another walk-off win.  Gwynn has been struggling at the plate lately, but he made up for that by hitting a sinking liner into left that was not gloved by a diving Jordan Danks, rolling to the wall for a triple.

Treanor had a chance to be a hero, but grounded out to second for two down.  Gordon then swung the bat like a man with a walk-off single into left.

While the offense failed to get going until the very end, it was Capuano who more than led the way.  He was fantastic in pitching eight innings for six hits, one run, one walk, and 12 strikeouts.  The 12 K's were one short of his career high.  It's too bad he didn't get a decision, but at 8-2 with a 2.71 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 80 K's, he's more than proven he should be in the All-Star Game.  He's given the Dodgers everything they could possible hope for, and then some.

The Dodgers have already played in a whopping 31 one-run games, winning 18 of them, tops in the majors.  That's a lot of clutch hits and good bullpen work.  Pretty amazing considering their best hitter Matt Kemp has only played 36 of the 67 games this year.  It's great to see them competing so well without him.

I will say that the Dodgers did look pretty tired most of this game, even extending back into Saturday night when they went hitless over the final five innings.  It's a good thing they get a day off for travel before settling in Oakland for three.  Aaron Harang will go against the A's ace, Brandon McCarthy.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

One rally not enough for the Dodgers

The script was practically the same as the night before.  The White Sox built a comfortable early lead, only to see the Dodgers come all the way back.

The difference?  The White Sox were the ones who pushed ahead soon after and didn't look back.

The Dodgers battled back from a four-run hole, but went hitless over the final five innings in falling to the White Sox, 5-4.  The Giants fell again with Tim Lincecum on the mound, so the lead in the NL West remains at four games.

Chad Billingsley got through the first in order, but in true Billingsley fashion, got hit around in the second.  Paul Konerko doubled leading off, and went to third on Alex Rios's single.  Rios soon stole second with an out, and both scored on a two-run single by Alexei Ramirez.  With two outs, Philip Humber hit an RBI single (of course) to make it 3-0.

The Sox tacked on another run the next inning.  Singles by Gordon Beckham and Adam Dunn greeted Billingsley.  A slick strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play came next, as Konerko K'd and Beckham was gunned at third.  How would Billingsley use this momentum?  By watching Rios smoke an RBI triple to make it 4-0.  Figures.

The Dodgers didn't wait around long to make a new game of this, as they put up four runs in the bottom of the third.  Billingsley actually had two hits, and the first came on a single leading off.  Singles by Dee Gordon and Andre Ethier loaded the bases with one out.  Jerry Hairston, Jr. hit in the cleanup spot, and his sac-fly RBI to deep center made it 4-1.

The next three hitters chipped away little by little, as Bobby Abreu, A.J. Ellis, and James Loney all collected RBI singles to make it a whole new game at 4-4.

In the fifth, Billingsley coughed up the lead, though to be fair, it wasn't completely his fault.  It was his fault when he beaned Ramirez leading off, who then stole second.  Orlando Hudson, who might be one of the worst hitters in baseball at this point in his career, hit the easiest grounder ever to Hairston at second, who booted it.  With one out, Alejandro De Aza's fielder's choice scored Ramirez, and it was 5-4.

The offense for the Dodgers went largely silent after that.  Billngsley again hit a leadoff single in the fourth, and Ethier walked with two outs.  Both advanced a base on a wild pitch, but Humber got Hairston to pop to short for the final out.

About the only other threat of the night came in the seventh.  Elian Herrera walked to start it, and swiped second as Ethier struck out looking on a bad call.  Hairston and Abreu could only weakly pop up, though.

Addison Reed went through the Dodgers in order for his eighth save, striking out Herrera for the final out.

Maybe the Dodgers just didn't have enough left in the tank for another rally, as they certainly expended a lot of energy doing so on Friday.  I think this is a time we need to keep in mind just how many injuries they have, which is why you've gotten real used to seeing guys like Hairston, Herrera, and Tony Gywnn getting lots of PT.  Don't get me wrong, they've been great, but they probably are a bit worn down too.

Billingsley scuffled for the most part again, which is absolutely no surprise anymore.  He went six innings for eight hits, five runs (four earned), one walk, and four strikeouts.  Not terrible by any means, but not very good either.  He was awesome in his last two starts, but once again just can't seem to string together any sort of positive stretch.  It's just not gonna happen.

If there's something to nitpick about the Dodgers, it's that they've lost seven of their last nine home games.  Remember, they were swept by the Brewers in four at the end of May, which makes this stat look ugly.  A win on Sunday would at least give them their first home series win since taken two of three from the Astros before the Brewers' series. 

The final game of the homestand will see Chris Capuano take the mound.  He's struggled a bit in June, though it was only natural be suffer somewhat of a letdown after his incredible start.  He'll go against young Jose Quintana.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Two rallies, and a wild win for the Dodgers

So much for a pitcher's duel.

What looked like an offensive struggle coming into the game between Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale was anything but.  Instead, the Dodgers rallied from a 5-1 deficit, then scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch in the eighth to get the win over the White Sox, 7-6.

Kershaw knew he'd be in for a long night in the first.  After striking out Alejandro De Aza leading off, Gordon Beckham hit a soft single to center.  On an 0-2 count, Adam Dunn launched a two-run homer to right, and the Dodgers were immediately behind.

The Dodgers used their speed at the top of the order to get one back right away.  Dee Gordon did the unthinkable... he took a walk leading off.  Elian Herrera then stroked an RBI double to make it 1-0.  He was in scoring position with no outs, but could only get to third.

Unfortunately for Kershaw, he never seemed to get into any sort of rhythm.  He gave up single runs in innings 3-5.  In the third, Dunn walked with two outs and went to second on a wild pitch.  Old Dodger Paul Konerko's RBI single made it 3-1.

Aramis Ramirez hit an infield single to start the fourth, though Gordon didn't exactly make a good play on it.  Speaking of Gordon, his wild throw to Juan Rivera at first on Orlando Hudson's grounder brought home Ramirez, and it was 4-1.  A solo homer by Alex Rios the following inning put the score at 5-1.

Sale was sure looking like he would cruise to a victory, especially with Kershaw struggling and the Dodgers leaving all sorts of men on base.  But these are the 2012 Dodgers, where this is no quit.  That was never more evident than in the sixth, where they not only came back, but took a lead.

Like a lot of big innings, it all started on a walk to Jerry Hairston, Jr.  A single by A.J. Ellis came next, which then led to an RBI double by Juan Uribe to make it 5-2.  With one out, Ivan De Jesus hit for Kershaw and came through with an RBI single, and it was now 5-3.

Gordon tried to bunt his way on, but Konerko deflected the ball to Beckham, who barehanded it for a great catch.  That was it for Sale, who gave way to Jesse Crain to get the final out.  Herrera, though, had other plans, as his two-run double tied the game at five.  Rivera went opposite field for an RBI single, giving the Dodgers a 6-5 lead.

Todd Coffey, Scott Elbert, and Ronald Belisario teamed up to get through the seventh with an out apiece.  Belisario stayed on to pitch the eighth, but Rios greeted him with his second homer of the night, a long blast to left, and it was once again a new game at 6-6.

Matt Thorton came in to keep the score as is for the Sox, but the Dodgers had one more rally left in them.  James Loney came in on a double switch in the seventh, and he singled with an out.  Gordon walked to put two on.  Herrera's groundout put Loney on third with two down.  With Bobby Abreu pinch-hitting, a wild pitch easily brought home Loney to go up 7-6.

Kenley Jansen was giving a chance for his 11th save, and he set the Sox down in order, striking out Beckham to end the game.

It's a good thing the Dodgers had their big run in the sixth, because if it came later, most of the fans would've been heading home.  OK, so maybe that's a bit harsh, but it's easy to see how this was an improbable victory after being down 5-1 against a really good pitcher.

But, like I said before, the Dodgers just have no quit in them.  They didn't even hit a homer, or even one that came close, as opposed to the Sox and their three blasts.  Instead, it became a single here, a walk there, an extra base taken here, a stolen base there.  Without Matt Kemp, that's been the formula for success.  And that's a big reason why they're 17 games over .500, and it's not even July yet.  Amazing.

By the end of the night, Kershaw's start was somewhat forgotten, which I'm sure is fine with him.  He lasted six innings for eight hits, five runs (four earned), two walks, and seven strikeouts.  Again, the long ball was a problem, as he surrendered two more.  Despite the seven K's, his location just wasn't there, and even had a hard time putting hitters away with two strikes.  Thankfully his offense bailed him out of a loss.

I wouldn't say I'm worried about Kershaw, as you can't expect a shutout every time he's on the mound, no matter how good he is.  But the homers are a concern, as the season isn't even halfway over, and he's already hit double-digits.  From 2008-2011, he allowed the following: 11, 7, 13, 15.  So, he's obviously on pace to exceed that.  As he's said in the past, he just has to find a way to make sure his mistakes aren't hit over the fence.

After dropping two of three in the Freeway Series, a series win over an American League team would be sweet.  Chad Billingsley will look to get over .500 by going on Saturday.  He'll be up against Philip Humber, who has gone from perfect game to clinging onto his rotation spot.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ethier's deal is good news all around

When Andre Ethier officially signed his five-year, $85 million extension on Tuesday, it was a win-win for each party involved.

First, let's start with the player himself.  Now in his seventh year with the Dodgers, Ethier has slowly transformed from a guy who looked like he had one foot out the door to a centerpiece for the future.  And you know what, his hard work is what got him to this spot.

Just two years ago he was a house of fire to start off the year, leading the National League Triple Crown categories.  But, a broken pinkie in batting practice derailed his season, and he slumped badly down the stretch.

Last season he collected a 30-game hitting streak, good for second in franchise history.  But, once again, the season did not end well.  He was shut down in September with a knee injury, then implied that Don Mattingly was forcing him to play through the injury.  Probably not the best way to get along with your new manager.

Maybe Ether grew up, maybe he finally got fully healthy, or maybe a combination of both happened, but this year he appears to be a new player.  With Matt Kemp on the DL for the second time with a bad hamstring, Ethier's clutch hits (55 RBIs lead the NL) and slick glove have led the Dodgers to the best record in baseball.

As for the Dodgers, the deal makes perfect sense for them from a business and production standpoint.  Obviously, Magic and the boys are looking to make a splash and send a message that there's a new regime in town ready to win.  Extending a player of Ethier's caliber with a nice, new deal is a great way to start.

Also, I'm glad they didn't go overboard with the length of the extension.  Right now Ethier is 30-years-old.  He's in his prime, but he also doesn't get the luxury of days off to DH.  By the time this deal is over (which can also be extended to a sixth year), he'll be in his mid-upper 30s.  It just makes sense that the Dodgers don't have to worry about paying a boatload of money to a guy nearing his 40s.

All in all, it's a great move from both sides.  Now we need to hope that Kemp, Ethier, and Clayton Kershaw can continue to get get some help as they lead the Dodgers into the future.  Something tells me they will.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Rivera's blast lifts Dodgers over Angels

Tuesday night was a good one for a couple outfielders filling in the space left by Matt Kemp.

Andre Ethier got a new deal and a game-tying RBI.  Juan Rivera took the lead for good.

Rivera's three-run homer in the eighth proved to be enough, ending the Dodgers' five-game home skid with a win over the Angels, 5-2.  They're now the first team in the majors with 40 wins.

The Angels got the win in the first game, and they started out on top in this one.  In the third, pitcher Jerome Williams smacked a double to center with one out.  Now with two outs, Torii Hunter drew a walk and Albert Pujols singled.  Kendrys Morales grounded an easy one to second, but Adam Kennedy booted it, allowing a run to score.

Rivera started off his big night by tying the game in the fourth.  A.J. Ellis hit in the #2 hole and singled leading off.  Ethier also singled, which led to an RBI single from Rivera to make it 1-1.

The score remained locked until the sixth, when another infield error burned the Dodgers.  Morales walked and Mark Trumbo singled to start.  Aaron Harang got the next two outs, but Hank Conger singled to load the bases.  This time it was Dee Gordon who made the error, scoring Morales to put the Angels up 2-1.

With Williams rolling on the mound, he was left in to pitch the eighth.  Elian Herrera entered the game for Kennedy at second the inning before, and he walked with an out.  Gordon's grounder forced him for two down.  Gordon then took off for second and was called safe for his third stolen base of the night, but in all reality, was probably out after looking at the replay.

The Dodgers took the break, as Ellis got on base again with a walk for two on.  Ethier then tied the game with RBI single.  Mike Scioscia, who was celebrating his own bobblehead night from his great career with the boys in blue, chose to leave Williams in to pitch to Rivera.

Uh, bad move.  Rivera smoked the first pitch he saw into left for a three-run tater, and the Dodgers were now up 5-2. 

Kenley Jansen struck out the first two hitters he faced, then got Pujols to line out to center for this 10th save.

The Angels definitely have a reason to think they could've won this one had Gordon's last steal gone in their favor.  But, there were still two outs, so the Dodgers still had to make things happen in order to win.  That's exactly what happened.  Like it or not, the Dodgers were given an opportunity, and they pounced all over it.

Harang had his fourth straight solid start, and is really turning into a good option in the back end of the rotation.  He went seven innings for six hits, two runs (none earned), four walks, and five strikeouts.  He did load the bases a couple of times, which is obviously dangerous, but his defense let him down as well.  Still, he more than gave his team a chance to win, and that's what eventually happened.

Like I said before, the day belonged to the guys in the outfield, even though Rivera started at first in this one.  Ethier and Rivera combined for four hits, two runs, and five RBIs.  I'm sure Ethier is relieved to have his deal all taken care of, but was naturally a little nervous to show his worth right away.  Rivera continues to find ways to drive in runs, and by being versatile enough to play first base.  And that's another reason why the Dodgers keep winning.

Also worth noting is that Juan Uribe made his first start since going on the DL in mid-May.  It's always good when players are healthy, but now Don Mattingly has to juggle guys like Jerry Hairston, Jr. and Elian Herrera, who both have played so well this season.  For Uribe's sake, he better start hitting, or he won't be an everyday starter, that's for sure.

The rubber match of the Freeway Series is Wednesday night, and it's a good pitching matchup.  Nathan Eovaldi makes his fourth start with a sparkling 1.93 ERA... and an 0-2 record.  Winning won't be easy this time either, as C.J. Wilson goes for the Angels.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

From no hits to 14 overnight

Hey, the Dodgers could only go up from being no-hit, right?

That was certainly the case, as one night after six Mariners' pitchers combined for a no-hitter, the Dodgers broke out 8 runs on 14 hits to get the win, 8-3.  Throw in 12 strikeouts from Clayton Kershaw, and the Dodgers emphatically bounced back from the no-no.

As the Dodgers have done better than any team in baseball this season, they got on the board in the first.  Dee Gordon singled leading off, which is always a good sign.  With one out, he stole second, and then with two outs, Andre Ethier drew a walk.  Jerry Hairston, Jr. was your offensive star of the night, and he blasted a three-run homer to left for the quick lead.

Clayton Kershaw had to work around a single by Ichiro and double by Jesus Montero in the first to escape harmless, thanks to striking out the side.  It was a sign of things to come for the Mariners.

In the third, the Dodgers again struck.  Elian Herrera singled to start, and two outs later, stole second.  More solid two-out hitting came next, as Hairston collected an RBI double to make it 4-0.  The lead was increased by one again on an RBI single by James Loney.

Kershaw had seven K's at this point, but in the fifth, ran into some trouble.  With one out, Justin Smoak singled to center.  A walk to Kyle Seager came next for two on.  Much like his last start against the Phillies, a bad slider resulted in a home run, this time a three-run job by Miguel Olivo, making it 5-3.

Both teams played evenly until the eighth, when the Dodgers began to pull away again.  Juan Rivera singled with an out.  Once again with two outs, the offense delivered, as Hairston again smacked an RBI double to go up 6-3.

Ronald Belisario put the Mariners down quietly in the bottom of the frame, and the Dodgers ran away with it in the ninth.  Tony Gwynn singled and Gordon did as well an out later.  Both executed a perfect double steal to get into scoring position.  Herrera scored one on a fielder's choice, and Rivera on a sac-fly to make it 8-3.

With the increased lead, Kenley Jansen was given another day off, which is a good thing since he was very busy in Philly during the week.  Todd Coffey allowed one walk in the ninth to finish it off.

Kershaw upped his record to 5-3 thanks to a season high 12 K's, his first double-digit effort as well.  He lasted seven innings for four hits, three runs, and two walks.  Even though his ERA has crept up an an astronomical 2.65 (yes, sarcasm), he's still 11th in the NL.  Opposing teams are only hitting .213 off of him, so I wouldn't expect him to keep giving up homers like that.  He's still the best pitcher in the NL.

Hairston came off the DL on May 25, and thanks to a 3-for-4 effort in this one, has hit .426 since then.  That's just incredible for a guy who was only supposed to fill a utility role off the bench.  Much like Herrera, it's hard to keep him out of the lineup with production like that.  It's definitely a good problem to have if you're Don Mattingly.

It obviously wasn't fun watching the Dodgers flail away helplessly on Friday night, but once again they showed their mental toughness by coming right back a night later for a win.  It's another reminder of why they have the best record in baseball at 38-22.

And besides, the defending world champs were also no-hit, so why not the Dodgers?  Maybe it's a good sign!  Or at least I can tell myself that.

Chad Billingsley takes the mound in the rubber match Sunday afternoon, and he's coming off a good start in Philadelphia.  Can he possibly put together two straight solid starts?  History tells us to be very skeptical, but we'll see how it plays out.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Dodgers get their swag back in Philly

One week ago, Matt Kemp hit the DL for the second time, and the Brewers went into LA and got a four-game sweep.  The Dodgers were reeling.

Fast forward to a week later, and the Dodgers have turned that all around, thanks to a four-game sweep in Philadelphia.

The Dodgers battled back from a 3-0 hole to take the lead for good in the sixth, then tacked on four more in the ninth to cruise to a win, 8-3.  The major's best team is now 37-21.

Aaron Harang was given the start, and he was coming off a big win to snap five-game losing streak in Colorado last Saturday.  But, he ran into some trouble in the third.  Cole Hamels got things going with a leadoff single.  Jimmy Rollins followed that up with another single, and he went to second on Alex Castellanos's error.

Another error came next, as Elian Herrera's throwing error with one out let Hunter Pence reach, scoring Hamels to make it 1-0.  A sac-fly RBI by Ty Wiggington made it 2-0.  Shane Victorino took a walk, and Mike Fontenot's RBI single put the Phillies up 3-0.

The Phillies had to think they would finally put things together and get back a win, but the Dodgers had other ideas.  Of course, it helped that Wiggington committed two straight errors to open the fourth, which is pretty sad.  With Herrera on third, Juan Rivera picked up an RBI on a sac-fly, and it was now 3-1.

Small ball put the Dodgers on top to stay in the sixth.  Herrera walked leading off, and much like Hamels early in the game, it led to some runs.  Rivera singled to put two on before Jerry Hairston, Jr. popped up.

Castellanos struck out for two down, but James Loney put the Dodgers within one with an RBI single.  Tony Gwynn and Matt Treanor came through in a big way with RBI singles of their own, and out of nowhere, the Dodgers found themselves in the lead at 4-3.

Harang got himself through the sixth with the lead, then gave the ball to Jamey Wright.  Over the next two innings, Wright did a tremendous job in holding onto the slim lead, only giving up a couple singles.  He has been up and down, but this should give him some fresh confidence going forward.  At least I hope.

The ninth was interesting, as the Dodgers separated themselves with four runs.  Chad Qualls came in for the Phills, but immediately surrendered singles by Treanor, the pinch-hitting Bobby Abreu, and Dee Gordon to load the bases.  Some bad glovework bit the Phills again, as Fontenot's error on Herrera's grounder made it 5-3.

Andre Ethier had been in an 0-for-16 slump, but he busted out of that with a two-run double down the right field line for a 7-3 lead.  Hairston finished it off with an RBI single.

Don Mattingly then handed the ball over to young Shawn Tolleson, making his big league debut.  And, uh... it didn't go well.  Two straight walks to Hector Luna and Jimmy Rollins made his first appearance a short one.

Ronald Belisario came in and got Juan Pierre to bounce into a forceout.  Pence came up trying to extend the game, but Belisario got him to ground into the game ending double play.

This was a total team effort for the Dodgers... with a little help chipped in by the Phillies' errors.  But hey, we'll take it.  Harang had his second straight solid start, going six innings for eight hits, three runs, one walk, and three strikeouts.  Not exactly overpowering stats, but still solid for the #5 starter.  He's now 5-3 with a 3.95 ERA.  Oh by the way, he also has 100 wins on his career.  Good for him.

The bullpen made sure the lead stayed, as Wright and Belisario combined to shut down the last three innings on only two hits.  I won't count poor Tolleson, who's ERA reads "N/A" and WHIP reads "INF."  I guess it can only get better from there.  Let's hope he gets a chance to prove that.

The offense came through in clutch situations time and time again.  One look at an important stat tells the true story of this game: with runners in scoring position, the Dodgers went 6-for-13, while the Phillies were 1-for-12.  Ouch.  And to think the Dodgers only had one extra-base hit all game (Ethier's two-run double).  Small ball indeed.

Most importantly, like the headline says, the Dodgers got their swag (cool slang for "swagger") back.  They pretty much traded off getting swept last week for the sweep this week.  They won close games, late games, and turned a slim lead into a big one late in this one.  Without question they are better with Kemp, but it's awesome to see other guys get a chance to step up and deliver in his absence.  That will only make them better going forward.

Up next is the first interleague series of the season by visiting the Mariners.  Remember they were the lone NL-only matchup last time around against the Cardinals.  Actually, the next five series will be against American League teams: at Mariners, vs. Angels, vs. White Sox, at A's, and at Angels.  The next time they return to a regular schedule is Monday, June 25 against the Giants.

The youngster, Nathan Eovaldi, goes up against the old guy, Kevin Milwood, on Friday.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

More late-inning magic for Herrera

After nine years toiling around the minors, it's obvious that Elian Herrera is doing everything possible to stick with the big club.

One day after his RBI single off of Jonathan Papelbon gave the Dodgers the go-ahead run, Herrera was money in the clutch again.  This time it was a two-run double off of Cliff Lee to lead the Dodgers to a win again, 2-1.  The Dodgers have taken the first two games of a four-game set in Philly.

The night didn't start off so hot, as the Phillies got on the board right away.  Jimmy Rollins has struggled mightily in the leadoff spot this year, but his double got things going.  After tagging to third, he scored on Hunter Pence's sac-fly RBI to make it 1-0.

Andre Ethier made sure the score stayed that way with a nice leaping catch at the wall to get out of the inning.

Both Chad Billingsley and Lee put up blanks for the majority of the game.  The Dodgers' bats couldn't do much of anything, as they tallied a mere two hits through seven innings.  Bills pitched much better than he has in the past, and when runners would reach, his defense made plays behind him to limit the damage.

Now in the eighth, the Dodgers finally got that big hit they were waiting for.  It all started on a leadoff double by Matt Treanor, who's made the most of his short playing time this year.  Then again, he also got nailed at third trying to advance on Tony Gywnn's grounder for the first out.  Bobby Abreu pinch-hit for Billingsley and singled into right... only to have Gwynn also get gunned down at third via Pence's big arm.  Ugh.

With two outs, Dee Gordon kept the inning alive by singling.  Lee, still looking for his first win, stayed on to face Herrera.  A long fly ball was hit to left that was just out of the reach of Juan Pierre at the wall, easily scoring two to make it 2-1.  Pierre had a slight chance at catching it, but still, that was a tough play.  Trust me, I know how limited he can be in the field, but you can't fault him in this case.

The bullpen still had plenty of work to do, and Josh Lindblom set the Phillies down in order in the eighth. 

Kenley Jansen entered looking for his eighth save, and he got it by striking out the last two hitters.

Much like Monday night, this was another dramatic win for the boys in blue, who came into this series staggering a bit from dropping two of three in Colorado.  Just when you thought the Phillies would jump all over them at home, the Dodgers yet again found ways to win, led by Herrera.

When you look at the box score and see that your team only had six hits and struck out 12 times, the odds are definitely not in your favor to win.  But, credit Billingsley for settling down after the first and pitching great.  He lasted seven innings for six hits, one run, one walk, and three strikeouts.  I'm glad to see he only had one walk, because that stat alone seems to make or break him.

The Dodgers have a great chance now of taking this series by winning one of the next two games.  Imagine if they got a sweep?  Even though the Phillies are very banged up, they're still the Phillies, so that would be awesome.  And on the road, no less.

First things first, as Chris Capuano goes on the hill Wednesday night.  He suffered a rare loss in Colorado last outing, though his defense was absolutely atrocious behind him.  He'll go up against Kyle Kendrick.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Dodgers make a DL swap with Rivera and Guerra

The Dodgers pulled off a double switch before their game Monday night in Philadelphia, activating Juan Rivera from the 15-day DL, and placing Javy Guerra right in his place with knee inflammation.

Scott Van Slyke has been optioned back to Triple-A Albuquerque to make room for Rivera.  In Guerra's place will be righty Shawn Tolleson.

It's good to see Rivera back, especially since Matt Kemp will be gone until the end of the month at least.  He was only hitting .247 with 2 homers and 13 RBIs before getting hurt, but proved last year that he can be an effective run producer, driving in 46 in 62 games.  Plus, he gives Don Mattingly a better option than James Loney at first when lefties are on the mound.  Heck, even with righties on the mound considering Loney's hitting a pathetic .248.

Tolleson is the reigning organizational Pitcher of the Year.  He had a 1.17 ERA last season, along with an incredible 105 strikeouts in 69 innings.  This year his ERA is 2.82, along with 34 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings.  He'll slide right in the spot left open by Guerra, who has pitched well since being demoted from the closer's role in early May.

No offensive love for Eovaldi

Nathan Eovaldi did his part, pitching very well into the sixth, but the offense again came up empty for him as the Dodgers fell to the Rockies, 3-2.  The Giants won again, and combining that with 8 losses in the last 11 games for the Dodgers, the lead in the NL West is down to three.

The Rockies got on the board in the first.  Dexter Fowler has been playing very well lately, and he singled leading off.  He then swiped second and scampered to third on a passed ball by A.J. Ellis.  With the infield in, Marco Scuturo was still able to score the speedy Folwer on a groundout to make it 1-0.

Not much was happening on either side in the first part of the game.  Alex White came into the game with a 6.28 ERA, but you wouldn't know it by the way the Dodgers were hitting.  Or, weren't hitting in this case.  Ellis and Eovaldi both took walks in the third with one out, but Dee Gordon and Elian Herrera couldn't do anything with it.

In the sixth, the Rockies broke through for more runs.  It started with a walk to Fowler.  Scuturo forced Fowler at second, but a single by Carlos Gonzalez and sac-fly by Michael Cuddyer got him to third.  Eovaldi needed one more big pitch, but couldn't find it as Todd Helton stroked an RBI single, and Jason Pacheco an RBI double to make it 3-0.  Josh Lindblom came in early to get the final out.

The Dodgers fought right back, finally showing some life at the plate.  James Loney took a walk with one out.  Ellis has been awesome all season, and that continued with a two-run laser to right, his sixth of the season, cutting it to 3-2.  Adam Kennedy and Gordon soon found themselves on with two outs.  Alex Castellanos pinch-hit against Mark Belisle and hit a sharp grounder to second that was gloved beautifully by DJ LeMahieu for the final out.  That was definitely a game-saver.

Rafael Betencourt survived a couple deep fly balls from Ellis and Tony Gwynn in the ninth to earn his 10th save.

One day after breaking a five-game losing streak, the Dodgers showed again why they miss Matt Kemp, as they were unable to get that one more big hit.  They only managed three hits all game (Ellis's homer and singles by Gordon and Jerry Hairston, Jr.).  I know White had a good day, but still, that was a pretty weak effort at the plate.

Eovaldi, on the other hand, brought the goods, just didn't get much help.  He lasted 5 2/3 innings for five hits, three runs (two earned), four walks, and four strikeouts.  The four walks is a little high, as his walk to Fowler in the sixth started their rally.  But, he also showed how good of stuff he has, and that he's more than ready to step in as a permanent starter when the time calls.

Right now the Dodgers are in the midst of a 10-game roadie, and have started 1-2.  Considering they just got swept at home in four straight by the Brewers, I still think it's a good thing they are on the road.  They are about to play four in Philly, followed by interleague play for three in Seattle.  Both teams are a combined 52-59.  They're certainly not terrible, but not the greatest right now either.

First up is the Phillies' series on Monday.  Clayton Kershaw will get the start, as he's taken a couple straight losses.  If the Dodgers are banged up, then the Phillies are really hurting, considering Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley are all on the DL.  Vance Worley goes for the Phillies.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Harang steps up to end the losing streak

Aaron Harang gave the Dodgers exactly what they needed - and also increased the team's Saturday record to 9-0.

Harang pitched through a hot offense and some crazy weather to give up one run in six innings, Bobby Abreu chipped in with his first homer in blue, and the Dodgers won for the first time in nearly a week, 6-2.  With the Giants also winning, the lead in the NL West remains at four.

The Dodgers got on the board in the first once again, which is something they've done better than any team in baseball.  Of course, it helped that DJ LeMahieu booted Tony Gwynn's grounder leading off the game.  Abreu took a walk with one out, which led to an RBI single from Andre Ethier to make it 1-0.

The Rockies came right back with a run of their own.  Dexter Fowler tripled leading off, which must have given the Dodgers a "here we go again" type of feeling.  Harang did get the next two outs in order to keep Fowler planted on third, but an RBI double from Michael Cuddyer tied the game.

As the winds and rain were howling in Coors Field, the Dodgers slowly started to take control.  Two straight singles by A.J. Ellis and Dee Gordon started the second.  Harang sacrificed them over to scoring position, but Ellis was nailed at home trying to score on Gwynn's grounder.  Elian Herrera came through with a two-run single up the middle to make it 3-1.

A little patience led to another run in the fourth.  It all started with two outs, as Gwynn walked, Herrera doubled, and Abreu walked to load the bases.  Ethier worked a walk for an RBI, though may have gotten a little lucky with a very close call that could've been strike 3 along the way.  Adam Kennedy flew out deep to right to end the threat.

The moment of truth came in the fifth.  The Rockies had a golden opportunity to get right back in the game, but blew it.  A single by LeMahieu and walks to Fowler and Marco Scuturo loaded 'em up with one out.  Carlos Gonzalez stepped in, who's perhaps the hottest hitter in baseball right now.  But, he popped up in foul territory for two outs, and slammed his bat in disgust.  Cuddyer bounced a slow one to second, in which Kennedy gloved and tagged out Scuturo for the last out.

The Dodgers were pumped after that, and it showed.  Abreu lifted a solo shot to right center to make it 5-1, and to give him his first homer on the season.  Ethier doubled to right, and Kennedy scored him on an RBI single, making it 6-1.

Javy Guerra started the seventh and gave up an RBI double to Wilin Rosario.  Scott Elbert came in and got Gonzalez to ground into a double play to end the inning.  I'm guessing Gonzalez would like to forget about this game.

Ronald Belisario and Kenley Jansen teamed up to go six up, and six down to finish the game.

Needless to say, this was a good win for the Dodgers.  After losing five straight, they'll take any win they can get.  But, playing well in Colorado is never an easy thing.  I talked about the need to win the weekend games to get back on track, and so far, so good.

Harang reminded me of a wily veteran on Saturday, unfazed by the losing streak.  He lasted six innings for four hits, one run, three walks, and six strikeouts.  His last start in Coors didn't go so hot, so this was a good bounceback for him.  Now in his 11th season, there's not a lot he hasn't seen, so I'm sure a little losing streak wasn't going to shake him.

The 2-3-4 part of the order of Herrera, Abreu, and Ethier came through.  They combined to go 5-for-11 with 2 runs, 5 RBIs, 2 doubles, a homer, and 3 walks.  They've gotten pretty used to playing with Matt Kemp, and they know that's the kind of effort it will take to play well in his absence yet again.  Their averages show it can be done: Herrera - .328, Abreu - .324, Ethier - .327.

The final game of the three-game set will be on Sunday, as young Nathan Eovaldi takes the hill.  He had one blemish in his last start (a two-run homer to Ryan Braun in the first inning), and ultimately took the loss because of it.  Still, he pitched great, and will look to get some run support this time around. Father's Day Promotion

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Dodgers stumble to five straight L's

If the Dodgers want to prove they can win without Matt Kemp again, they sure aren't showing it.

Four errors led to an early deficit, and shaky bullpen work put the game out of reach as the Dodgers lost to the Rockies, 13-3.  It was by far the worst game of the season for the Dodgers, and now puts their losing streak at five straight.

A sign of a long night came right in the first.  Tony Gwynn singled leading off, and Andre Ethier did so an out later.  Gwynn stole third to put runners on the corners, but Jerry Hairston, Jr. grounded into a double play to end it.

The sloppy play started in the second.  Ivan De Jesus's throwing error allowed Michael Cuddyer to reach leading off.  Wilton Rosario walked with two outs as Cuddyer went to third.  Matt Treanor got the start behind the plate, and as Rosario was trying to steal second, Treanor's throw went into the outfield, bringing home both runners to make it 2-0.

The lone highlight of the night for the Dodgers came in the third.  With Scott Van Slyke on second with a double, Alex Castellanos hit an RBI triple to make it 2-1.  It was his first career big league hit, and he did it in style.

Too bad errors ruined any chance of making this game a close one.  Hairston's error led to another run for the Rocks in the fourth, making it 3-1.  An RBI single from the red hot Carlos Gonzalez an inning later increased it to 4-1.

Castellanos collected another RBI on a sac-fly, cutting it to 4-2, but that would be as close as the Dodgers would get on this night.  After Todd Helton doubled to start the sixth, Rosario cracked a two-run shot to left, and it was 6-2.  Run-scoring singles by Dexter Fowler and Marco Scutaro, with another damn error by Hairston along the way, put the Rocks up 8-2.

The rest of the runs didn't matter.  Jamey Wright pitched the end of the sixth and into the seventh, and wasn't any good.  Three more runs came in, but shockingly, none on errors!  Wow!

Treanor collected an RBI on a groundout in the eighth to cut it to 11-3.  But, back-to-back homers by Chris Nelson and Cuddyer closed the night out at 13-3.

Coors Field has been known to cause some crazy games.  But I don't care where this game was being played - the Dodgers stood no chance with that kind of defense.  Four errors in one game will never lead to a win.  They're now ninth in the NL in fielding % and seventh in total errors.  That's about middle of the pack, but if the Dodgers want to compete without their star for a month, that number has to get better.

Chris Capuano suffered his second loss on the season, as he lasted 5 1/3 innings for seven hits, seven runs (four earned), four walks, and three strikeouts.  Not very good numbers, but it's not like he got any help, either.  It's not easy to pitch when your defense is throwing the ball all over the place. 

Speaking of not being very good, the combination of Wright and Josh Lindblom gave up six runs (five earned) in nearly three innings.  Wright looked really bad, as his ERA shot back up to 5.01.  He got it down to 3.50 after a scoreless appearance on May 21, but that's been quickly erased.  He's just too unreliable right now.  Lindblom gave up the consecutive homers, but that's one of his few bad outings he's had.  So, he gets a pass.

The bottom line is that the Dodgers need to forget about who's not playing (Kemp, among a few others) and remember how they won without him last time.  Every team goes through these stretches, but the concerning thing is that they seem to be getting a little worse with each loss.  Winning a couple this weekend would erase all of that negativity.

Aaron Harang will get the ball on Saturday.  This will already be his third start against the Rockies this year, as he was dominant at home, but not so on the road.  Maybe he can channel his inner Chavez Ravine today.