Sunday, September 30, 2012

With 4 games left, Dodgers are 2 in back of the Cards

As the Cardinals overcame a 4-0 deficit only to lose in 10 innings to the Nationals, Matt Kemp made sure the Dodgers pounced all over the opportunity.

Kemp's two homers, one of which was a 461-foot bomb, gave the Dodgers all the offense they'd need behind Joe Blanton in downing the Rockies, 3-0.  Four games remain in the regular season, so the Dodgers still have to find a way to close the two-game gap on the Cardinals.

The scoring didn't get started until the fourth.  That's when Kemp stepped up first and absolutely unloaded on a missile out to deep left, which landed only a few rows away from the top for the 1-0 lead.  He looked free and easy on the swing, maybe a sign that he finally is healthy after scuffling away for weeks as the whole offense slumped.

With one out, Hanley Ramirez collected one of his three hits, a single.  He followed that up by stealing second, and Shane Victorino walked.  Luis Cruz struck out, but A.J. Ellis picked him up with an RBI single, and it was 2-0.

The score remained as is until the eighth, when the Dodgers tacked on another.  Who was responsible for it?  That's right, that Kemp guy again.  Once again he led off, and once again he lifted a big fly to make it 3-0, this time out to right center.  That gave him 22 on the season, along with three in the last four games to go along with seven RBIs.

Brandon League got a 1-2-3 save in the ninth, striking out Chris Nelson to end it.  It's his sixth with the Dodgers.

While Kemp was the star, it was Blanton who put together a gem on the mound.  He went six innings for seven hits, no runs, no walks, and six strikeouts.  He also earned his 10th win of the season.  While his Dodger tenure didn't start off so hot, he's only given up one run in his last two starts, and has a 3.38 ERA in September.  I'd say that's slightly better than his 6.67 ERA last month.  Yup, just a bit.

Going forward, it's also a great sign if the Dodgers somehow do sneak into the playoffs.  Clayton Kershaw is back and doing his thing, Josh Beckett has been very effective with the Dodgers, and now Blanton has seemingly figured things out.  As the Cardinals showed last year, it's huge when your guys are peaking at the right time.

The bullpen was also big in this one, as Ronald Belisario, Kenley Jansen, and League threw a perfect final three innings.  I can't imagine that's a good feeling for the opposing team to see those three guys lined up ready to go.  Jansen and League are both proven closers, and Belisario is more proven to be a setup man.  Nine up, and nine down.

The Cardinals will send Lance Lynn to the mound today against the Nationals' Ross Detwiler.  They then stay home to face the Reds, who have already wrapped up the NL Central, and are pretty much only playing for the top record.  I'm not sure if that's a huge priority for them, so expect them to not exactly play all their regulars.

As of now, the Reds are planning on pitching their regulars, so here's the what the matchups look like: Bronson Arroyo vs. Jaime Garcia, Mat Latos vs. Chris Carpenter, and Homer Bailey vs. Adam Wainwright.  As you can see, it's pretty much flip a coin in any of those.

Regardless of what the Cardinals are doing, the Dodgers know they still have to take care of their own business to even have a chance.  They have the last few games, and look like a completely different team than even a week ago.  Of course, actually hitting the ball and scoring some runs makes a world of difference.

The Dodgers will go for the sweep on Sunday by sending Beckett to the mound against Jorge De La Rosa.  The Giants will then come to town, and much like the Reds, they are only playing for more home-field advantage.  The pitching matchups will be Matt Cain vs. Aaron Harang, Barry Zito vs. Chris Capuano, and Ryan Vogelsong vs. Kershaw.  We'll see how it all plays out.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dodgers ride the Ace and 8's

The Ace?  He did his thing, throwing shutout ball over eight innings, striking out 10.

The 8's?  That's three straight wins by scoring eight runs.

The end result?  Well, it was another win for the Dodgers by beating the Rockies, 8-0.  The flip side is that the Cardinals easily beat the Nationals, 12-2, so the deficit is still three games with five to play.

After Clayton Kershaw struck out five in the first couple of innings, the offense went to work in the second.  Adrian Gonzalez singled leading off, and Hanley Ramirez took a walk.  Andre Ethier found just enough room to bloop an RBI double into left to make it 1-0.  It was one of those hits where if the Dodgers were still losing, that would be caught.  Since they've gotten hot the last few games, it found grass.

Shane Victorino stepped in and lifted a long fly to left center that found its way out, a three-run bomb to make it 4-0.  It was his second big fly in 48 games with the Dodgers.

The Dodgers added another in the fourth.  The first three hitters reached when Ethier singled, Victorino singled, and A.J. Ellis was beaned.  Kershaw grounded into a "double play," though in reality he was clearly safe at first.  Ethier still scored to make it 5-0, but there would be no RBI for the pitcher.

Each team made a great defensive play in the next couple of innings.  In the fifth, the Dodgers had two on from a single by Luis Cruz and a walk to Matt Kemp.  With one out, Ramirez hit a long one to right center that sure looked like would bring in some runs.  Instead, Matt McBride made a fantastic catch at the wall, keeping the Dodgers from increasing the lead.

Kershaw set out to top that play in the seventh.  With all eyes watching him because of his recent hip injury, he didn't help his cause by walking Andrew Brown leading off.  DJ LeMahieu then grounded one back up the middle in which Kershaw gloved between his legs, threw to Mark Ellis to second for one out, then back to Gonzo to complete the double play.  It was a bit of a lucky play, but still awesome nonetheless.

The game was put away for good in the eighth, when the Dodgers reached the eight-run plateau again.  Ethier hit another single with one out, and soon advanced two bases on two wild pitches.  A.J. Ellis doubled into left center to bring him home, and it was 6-0.  Bobby Abreu pinch-hit for Kershaw, took a pitch high and tight, then smashed a two-run shot into right to make it 8-0.  He also took one of the slowest damn trots I've ever seen.  Good for him!

Josh Wall did a great job in setting the Rockies down in order to end the game.

It's hard to describe Kershaw in many more ways than we already have.  The guy just continues to go out there and dazzle start after start.  There's no way he's 100% right now either.  But completely healthy or not, there's no denying that he's once again a Cy Young contender.  On this night, he went eight innings for five hits, no runs, two walks, and 10 strikeouts.  He's now 13-9 with a 2.58 ERA and 1.03 WHIP.

To put things in perspective, Kershaw is first in ERA and WHIP, and one K behind R.A. Dickey for first.  He obviously won't win the pitching Triple Crown again because he only has 13 wins (thanks for some bad run support), but he's every bit the dominant pitcher this year as we was last.  And boy is he fun to watch.

All the bats needed to do was score one run thanks to Cy Kershaw, but it was great to again watch them string together some big innings.  Hitting a couple long balls certainly helps as well.  So now they have 24 runs in the last three games.  You want to know how many games before that it took to get to 24?  Try nine.  Uh, not good.

The game was a bit of a letdown before it even started thanks to the Nationals getting their clocks cleaned in St. Louis.  But like the saying goes, all the Dodgers can do is win their games and hope for some help.  It would be nice if that "help" maybe doesn't lose by 10 runs this weekend.  That would be nice.

Don Mattingly will now turn to Joe Blanton to make it four straight, and to slowly chip away at the Cardinals' Wild Card lead.  Blanton didn't get the win last start in Cincinnati, but still pitched very well.  As for the Rockies, they're just trying to win one of their last five games to avoid the magical 100-loss mark.  That's a full season of some really bad baseball.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Kemp powers Dodgers past the Padres

The old Matt Kemp found his way back in the lineup, and for the first time all month, the Dodgers enjoyed a blowout victory.

Kemp was a triple short of the cycle, belting his 20th homer of the season to go with four RBIs, and the Dodgers beat the Padres, 8-2.  Almost exactly one month ago on August 25, the Dodgers beat the Marlins by the same 8-2 score.  Since then, it's been a bunch of close game, a bunch of loses, and barely any margin for error in the wins.

What this game did do was put the Dodgers 3 1/2 back of the Cardinals for the second Wild Card spot with seven left.  They'll need a few more nights of wins and Cardinals' losses to even think about pulling it off.

The tone was set from the get-go, as the Dodgers put a couple on the board in the first.  Nick Punto had a great night at second, and his single with one out got things going.  Kemp got his first hit with a single to put runners on the corners.  Adrian Gonzalez followed with an RBI single up the middle, and Hanley Ramirez added one into left to make it 2-0.

In the third, Punto started things with a bunt single.  Kemp recorded his only out of the night by grounding one hard back to the mound, but Punto did get to second.  Another RBI single from Gonzo later, it was 3-0.

The runs soon kept coming, which was a welcome sight for a team that has struggled to consistently score anything.  Juan Rivera started in right to face the lefty Clayton Richard, and he crushed a solo homer to left, his eighth of the season, making it 4-0. 

Matt Treanor then reached on an error in left on a misplayed fly ball by Jesus Guzman, and he went to second.  A couple outs came next, but a single by Punto kept the inning alive, which led to an RBI double from Kemp for a 6-0 lead.

At this point, Aaron Harang was well on his game, as his mix of fastballs and breaking stuff held the Padres hitless entering the fifth.  He got a couple of outs, but with Cameron "Tiki" Maybin on first from a walk, Everth Cabrera legged out an infield single, just beating a great effort from Ramirez.  Logan Forsythe flew to left to end it.

The Dodgers got their last runs of the night in the sixth.  Harang slooooooowly doubled leading off.  Two outs later, Kemp launched a two-run bomb into deep center to go up 8-0.

The Padres did chase Harang in the sixth when Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, and Will Venable all singled with one out.  Shawn Tolleson came in and did an excellent job in striking out Guzman and getting Maybin to pop up for the last out.

The only runs the Padres could muster came in the seventh.  With Tolleson still on, Chase Headley's double and Grandal's single each brought in a run, and the scoring ended at 8-2.

While it was great to see the Dodgers put together a complete effort on both sides of the field, it does seem like quite a long time ago that Gonzalez and the boys from Boston came over via trade, then lit it up in that first game against the Marlins I mentioned before.  Never at one point when I was watching that game did I think the Dodgers were about to go into a huge slump.  If anything, I'm sure we all thought the pitching might let them down.  Not the other way around.

But in this one, it all went right.  Kemp had four hits, Punto had three hits and four runs, Gonzalez had two hits and two RBIs, and Ramirez and Rivera each had two hits and a run driven in.  Production up and down the lineup... it's been awhile.  But hey, at least it finally happened again.

Harang did a fantastic job of keeping the Padres held in check as the offense was going to work.  He lasted 5 1/3 innings for four hits, no runs, four walks, and three strikeouts.  Most importantly, he earned his 10th win of the season.  He won't get to the 14 wins he had in San Diego last year, but his ERA this year (3.68) is nearly identical to last (3.64).

Let's see if this win can springboard the Dodgers towards bigger things, as their last three wins were followed by losses.  With only seven games left, they obviously can't keep doing that.  They pretty much need to run the table, or win six of seven, and still get plenty of help.  We all saw the Cardinals sneak in last year and win it all, but even as a die hard fan, it's hard to imagine the Dodgers doing that now.  I wish I could say differently, but I'm just being realistic.

All they can do is keep winning the game in front of them, and they wrap up their road schedule on Thursday night.  Chris Capuano will try to get over .500 by getting his 12th win.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The playoff flame still slightly flickers

Adrian Gonzalez could not have possibly made a bigger splash in his Dodgers' debut on August 25, slugging a three-run homer in his first at-bat.

His 115 plate appearances since then?  Exactly zero balls sent over the wall.

On Sunday night, however, Gonzo turned back the clock to late August by hitting two solo homers, helping the Dodgers get the win over the Reds, 5-3.  With nine games left in the season, the Dodgers remain three games in back of the Cardinals for the second Wild Card spot.

The major story coming into this one was the start by Clayton Kershaw, who not too long ago looked to be lost for the season, and possibly into the next one, with a hip injury.  We can all be thankful that the early diagnosis looks to have been too harsh, as Kershaw took the ball and went five strong, giving up only one run.

The Reds did make him sweat, though.  In the first, they loaded the bases.  Chris Heisey led off by getting beaned in the forearm, Joey Votto walked an out later, and Miguel Cairo singled with two outs.  Denis Phipps hit a long fly to center, but Matt Kemp was easily able to glove it to end the inning.

The second is when Gonzalez finally broke through with a solo homer to right leading off.  Any home run for the Dodgers is big, as Andre Ethier and Kemp are tied for the lead with 19.  Seriously, that's it.  Gonzalez loves to hit against Homer Bailey, as he's now 8-for-15 with five homers in his career against him.  Talk about having someone's number!

In the third, the Reds got their lone run against Kershaw.  Wilson Valdez started things with a walk, and Votto followed with his second straight base on balls as well.  Todd Frazier took a low breaking ball near the dirt to center for an RBI single, and it was 1-1.  Kershaw was able to get Cairo to ground into a double play, and Phipps struck out.

As Bailey was settled in against a lifeless Dodgers' offense (a phrase I have cut and pasted for the last few weeks now), the Reds again blew a golden chance with the bases juiced in the fourth.  Daniel Stubbs led off with a single, but was picked off by Kershaw at first.  Ryan Hanigan grounded out before Bailey hit what looked like an innocent two-out single.

That single turned into a big scoring chance as Heisey also singled and Valdez walked.  The Reds rested some of their big guns like Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce, so Votto was the perfect guy for them in this spot.  Kershaw manned up, though, and got him swinging for the final out.

Kershaw lasted through the fifth before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the sixth, much to his dismay.  Just who exactly hit for him?  You guessed it (or not), Juan Uribe.  It was his first at-bat since Game 5 of the 2010 World Series with the Giants.  OK, just kidding, that's wishful thinking on my part.  In his first swing since August 26, he hit a single!  Holy crap!  Nearly one whole month of being on the roster, yet never getting a chance to hit.  Too bad for him, he was stranded at first.

The Dodgers put up a four spot in the seventh, which seemed like a long time coming.  It started with another solo bomb from Gonzo, this time to left center, to make it 2-1.  Hanley Ramirez gritted out a single moments after fouling one off his left ankle.  Dee Gordon came in for him, and he scampered to third on Luis Cruz's single.

After Elian Herrera struck out, A.J. Ellis laid down a bunt to Bailey.  For some reason, Bailey never really looked Gordon back, and on the putout to first, Gordon flew home to score easily and make it 3-1.  That's the different dimension to the game that Gordon can so excel at.  Bobby Abreu pinch-hit and took a walk, bringing in Jose Arredondo.  Mark Ellis greeted him with an RBI double, and Ethier with an infield RBI single, putting the Dodgers up 5-1.

Kenley Jansen struck out the side in the seventh, handing the ball over to Ronald Belisario in the eighth.  Cairo reached right away on an error by Gordon, which unfortunately is one of those "dimensions" that he also does so well at.  Sure enough, Phipps launched a two-run shot to make it 5-3.

Brandon League was given another chance for save, and with two outs, Gordon's throw to first was wide to Gonzalez, but he made a great tag on Frazier just before he got to first to cap off the night.  It was League's fifth save.

Before Gonzalez made the night about him, it was all about Kershaw and his surprise start.  He certainly didn't have his best stuff, walking five to tie a season high.  But he also struck out five to put himself back in the NL lead at 211.  His one run surrendered lowered his ERA to 2.68 as well.  It was just awesome to watch him step up and get big outs when he needed them.  The guys is a true warrior and a pleasure to watch.

I think this was the kind of night we all envisioned Gonzalez having when he was acquired from Boston.  It's not like we expected two homers each game, but I certainly think we thought he'd give more than 3 homers and 11 extra-base hits in 27 games.  It was nice to watch him make an impact with the long ball again.

There's really not a whole lot the Dodgers can do other than win every, or very, VERY close to every, game the rest of the way.  They've got three coming up in San Diego, followed by three each at home against the Rockies and Giants.  The Cardinals have the Astros, Nationals, and Reds.  The Brewers are only three back as well, and they've got the Reds, Astros, and Padres.

No matter which teams play which, no matter how good, bad or ugly the opponents are, and no matter if it's home or away, the Dodgers just need to win.  That's it.  Win and then pray for some help.  Don't win, and none of this matters.  They've dug their own grave, so let's see if they can claw their way out.

Monday is an off day before traveling to play the Padres in the final road trip of the year.  Josh Beckett has a 3.45 ERA in five starts with LA, and his team will need another big start from him.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

With backs against the wall, Kemp comes through

Matt Kemp has certainly experienced a tale of two seasons this year.  From the best player in baseball to start the season (by far), to an injury-plagued, frustrating end of the season, he's been through it all.

Friday night reminded everyone that even at less than 100%, he can still deliver the big hit.

With the bases loaded, two outs, and an 0-2 count, Kemp lined an inside fastball to right for a two-run single, giving the Dodgers an advantage they would not relinquish, winning 3-1 in 10 innings.  The Reds came into this one needing a win to clinch the NL Central, but they'll have to wait a little bit longer.

A ninth inning comeback by the Cubs in Wrigley led to a win in extras for them over the Cardinals, so the Dodgers are back to two down for the final Wild Card spot.

There obviously wasn't much scoring in this game, not that news like that should surprise any of you considering the Dodgers have a personal vendetta against scoring runs in September.  Both of the big guns for each team, Kemp and Joey Votto, singled in the first, but nothing came of it.

The Dodgers did crack the scoreboard in the second.  Hanley Ramirez legged out an infield single leading off, with a little help from a bobble at short by Zack Cozart.  He then stole second and took third on Luis Cruz's single.  Juan Rivera got the start for an ailing Shane Victorino (sore wrist), and his RBI groundout made it 1-0.

Both Joe Blanton and Bronson Arroyo turned back the clock a bit, as they gave the hitters pretty much nothing to work with.  In the fifth, however, the Reds finally broke through.  With two outs, Xavier Paul (remember him?) hit a ground rule double.  Ryan Hanigan was given the intentional pass to pitch to Arroyo.  And wouldn't you know it, Arroyo came up with an RBI single to tie the game at one.

Each team had chances to score in the sixth, and each blew it.  For the Dodgers, Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez singled with two outs, but Ramirez could only muster a pop up in foul territory at first.

The Reds again made some noise with two outs.  Scott Rolen kept the inning alive with a single, which also brought the hook for Blanton.  Randy Choate came in to pitch to Jay Bruce, but after Rolen stole second, Bruce was put on intentionally.  Scott Tolleson entered, walked Drew Stubbs to load the bases, but got a called third strike to set down Paul for the last out.

That was really the last threat in paid baseball, as Ronald Belisario struck out five of the six batters he faced in the eighth and ninth.  The Dodgers also saw the return of Jonathan Broxton, who also went 1-2-3 in the ninth.  I'm surprised the Dodgers didn't try and sign Matt Stairs for this series, just to see Broxton sneak out of the stadium and disappear until Monday.

In the 10th, the Dodgers came within a hair of blowing a golden opportunity to score, but mercifully got that one big hit they needed.  Seth LeClure started the inning by beaning Elian Herrera.  A.J. Ellis then grounded one to Bruce at first, who tried to force Herrera at second, but came up empty because of a low throw.  Nick Punto sacrificed both them into scoring position before Mark Ellis walked to load the bases.

So here the Dodgers were with the bases loaded and one out.  Sean Marshall was summoned to pitch to Andre Ethier hitting in the #2 spot.  It worked, as Ethier struck out and failed to at least push one run home.  Marshall stayed on to pitch to Kemp and got two quick strikes, but Kemp collected his third hit of the night with a two-run single, making it 3-1.

Brandon League is still the closer right now as Kenley Jansen slowly makes his way back, and he recorded his fourth save when another old friend, Dioner Navarro, grounded to Gonzalez at first to end the game.

The Dodgers are only 8-10 in the month of September, and it's a good thing they actually won three straight to start.  In fact, six of their wins have been a single run, and Friday night's game by two.  About the only game you can call a "comfortable" win was back on September 15 when they beat the Cardinals 8-5.  But even in that, they game was 5-5 until Cruz hit a three-run homer in the sixth.  The bottom line is that it's been one grind after another.

It's an old saying, but the Dodgers sure will take any win they can get.  Blowout or nail biter, it doesn't matter.  They just have to find a way as they battle through an offense that looks lost most nights and a starting rotation that is permanently without Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley, and with Clayton Kershaw on the mend.  Things sure haven't been easy.

Blanton deserves a whole lot of credit for this win.  I wasn't exactly feeling confident when I saw he was starting, especially considering he was sporting a 4.97 ERA coming into it.  But much to his credit, he looked very good by going 5 2/3 innings for four hits, one run, one walk, and six strikeouts.  I think a veteran start like this is exactly what the Dodgers had in mind when they traded for him.  He's someone who shouldn't be afraid of the moment.  On Friday night, he pitched like it.

Once again, let's give big props to the bullpen for their flawless work.  Choate didn't exactly do much, but Tolleson, Jansen, Belisario, and League pitched the final 4 1/2 without giving up a hit and striking out eight.  The Reds bullpen has widely been regarded as the best in baseball, and rightfully so, but the Dodgers can be just as good when everyone's healthy.  They sure were in this game.

Every time the Dodgers get a win, the question is then asked if it will propel them to a bunch more.  Well, that hasn't happened yet, as a win is usually followed up by a dud.  We all know there's no time for slumps anymore if they want to play in that one-game Wild Card playoff.  If they lay an egg this weekend, their margin for error becomes super slim.

Young Stephen Fife will get another start as the Dodgers await word on Kershaw's status for Sunday.  It won't be easy for him, as he goes up against Matt Latos and his 12-4 record.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Nationals roll right over the Dodgers

With the Nationals coming into Thursday night's ballgame sporting a magic number of one, you know they wanted to get the win themselves, and not back their way into the postseason.

And fortunately for them, they got to play the Dodgers. 

The Dodgers only got one run to continue their trend of futility, and the Nationals were able to easily dispose of them to get the win, 4-1.  While the Nationals are 5 1/2 in front of the Braves for the NL East crown, the Dodgers continue to tumble by falling three games in back of the Cardinals for the second Wild Card spot.

There's not much to report here after another frustrating night, but what the hell, here goes nothing.

Chris Capuano was put in charge of getting the Dodgers back on track, but in the third, the Nationals started their scoring.  Jayson Werth singled leading off, but a Bryce Harper grounder forced him at second for one down.  Ryan Zimmerman then hit an RBI double to make it 1-0.  Zimmerman advanced to third on a grounder and came in to score on a wild pitch.

Down 2-0, the Dodgers had the top of their order due up after going down in order the first time through.  Mark Ellis got into one leading off, as his solo shot to left made it 2-1.  Shane Victorino then struck out and Matt Kemp popped up.  Adrian Gonzalez singled, but of course Hanley Ramirez popped up for the final out.

Any thought of a comeback was quickly erased in the bottom of the inning.  Ian Desmond walked leading off.  Danny Espinosa then doubled him in to go up 3-1.  A sac-fly RBI by Kurt Suzuki later, and it was now 4-1.

When you look at a Dodgers' lineup of Victorino, Kemp, Gonzalez, Ramirez, and Andre Ethier, normally you'd think that an early three-run deficit isn't a big deal.  At least that's what you should think, right?


These current Dodgers couldn't string together a good inning if it was their sole job on Earth (which it kind of is if you think about it...).  From the fifth inning on, only Kemp and pinch-hitter Bobby Abreu singled, and that was it.  A whole lot of swings, and a whole lot of nothing.

A whole lot of nothing, kind of like what the Dodgers have shown the world this entire pitiful month of September.

Capuano had a couple of rough innings, and unfortunately, that's not nearly good enough to get a win these days.  He went only five innings for six hits, four runs (three earned), one walk, and three strikeouts.  Through June he was 9-3 with a 2.69 ERA.  Now he's 11-11 with a 3.65 ERA.  It hasn't been very pretty.

I guess the only positive is that the bullpen did a good job.  It didn't matter one bit with the offense sucking so bad again, but I digress.  Jamey Wright, Paco Rodriguez, Kenley Jansen, Randy Choate, and Shawn Tolleson pitched a nearly perfect final four innings, giving up only one hit and one walk.  It was especially good to see Jansen back in the mix.  Glad he's healthy and ready to go again.

Honestly, there's just not much I can even say anymore about these guys.  It's the same old story over and over.  The lineup looks like it should be lethal, yet it's strikeouts, pop ups, and weak grounders all game.  They still look like they're all trying to hit grand slams with nobody on base.  I'm stunned they haven't even considered changing their approach at the plate, but I guess that's just not gonna happen.

At only four games over .500, not only are the Dodgers dangerously close to being left in the dust for the postseason, but they might not even finish with a winning record anymore.  At this rate, it wouldn't even surprise me.  Like Don Mattingly admitted after the game, the season is definitely slipping away.

And lucky them, they get to go to Cincinnati for three starting Friday.  The Reds' magic number for the NL Central is down to two, so beating the Dodgers will get them a pass into the Division Series.  Joe Blanton and his sparkling 4.97 ERA takes on Bronson Arroyo.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A disputed run, a collapse, and a home run

What do all of these things have in common?

It all led to the Dodgers earning a split with the Nationals on Wednesday.  After lifelessly dropping the afternoon game 4-1, the Dodgers built up a comfortable 6-0 lead in the nightcap.

Then the Nationals broke through for six in the eighth, and the Dodgers looked dangerously close to getting swept.  It's a good thing Matt Kemp flexed his muscle and hit the game-winning homer in the ninth to get the win, 7-6.

As for the disputed run?  Just wait, we'll get to that.

The first game was more of the same: good pitching, but horrible offense.  With the Nationals up 1-0 in the third, Andre Ethier and Kemp both singled with one out.  Adrian Gonzalez stuck, but Hanley Ramirez's RBI single tied the game at 1-1.

The score remained that way until the fifth when Bryce Harper tripled leading off.  An RBI groundout by Ryan Zimmerman followed to make it 2-1.  An inning later, another RBI groundout from Tyler Moore gave the Nats a 3-1 lead, and the Dodgers would get no closer.

Of course, those 11 men they left on base didn't exactly help things, either.

The second game was a thing of beauty... for 7 1/2 innings anyway.  But the Dodgers were putting it all together for awhile.

Most of the damage was done in the third and fourth.  Mark Ellis got things started with one out in the third by singling.  Shane Victorino struck out for two down, but John Lannan walked both Kemp and Gonzalez to load the bases.  Ramirez ripped a two-run single, and Ethier followed with an RBI single to make it 3-0.

Matt Treanor got the start in the nightcap and singled leading off the fourth.  Josh Beckett sacrificed him over to second and Ellis grounded out.  Once again, the Nationals couldn't get out of the inning with two outs.  Lannan pegged Victorino to put runners on the corners.  Kemp's RBI single made it 4-0.

A single by Gonzalez loaded the bases, and also brought an end to Lannan's night.  Chien Meng Wang came in.  No, really, he still exists!  His first pitch bounced all the way to the backstop, allowing Victorino to make it 5-0.

Then came the "disputed" part of this game.  Ramirez grounded one to Zimmerman at third, who bobbled it a bit.  As he reached for it and was rolling over, he actually tagged Gonzalez out as he tried to advance.  That was the final out, but then Don Mattingly came out and argued that Kemp's run should count since it wasn't a forceout.  Technically, he's right.

But realistically, Kemp really wasn't even close to the plate when the tag was applied, something the umpires apparently didn't notice.  And despite a fuss from the Nats, the run did count, and it was 6-0.

With Beckett looking awesome on the mound, it looked like a moot point as the Dodgers entered the eighth up 6-0.  But wouldn't you know it, as if things haven't been bad enough for the Dodgers this month, Michael Morse led off with solo shot, Ian Desmond singled, and Steve Lombardozzi hit a two-run homer.  As fast as you can blink, it was now 6-3.  Even the sure-handed Gonzalez committed an error at first, which chased Beckett.

Randy Choate came in and was terrible.  Mark DeRosa singled, and Harper followed with an RBI single to make it 6-4.  Ronald Belisario tried to keep the now slim lead, but a two-run single by Morse that just found its way through the infield to tie the game.  Unbelievable.

I'm sure plenty of Dodger fans turned the game off at that point, as it went from slightly uncomfortable to just plain painful.  We can all rejoice that Kemp turned back the clock to April and hit an 0-2 pitch out to center to give the Dodgers a 7-6 lead.  Brandon League got his third save by retiring the Nats in order.

Wow, that was certainly a crazy game.  Yes, a win is a win, but it's hard to be excited over a team blowing a huge six-run cushion so late in the game.  And lo and behold, that "run" Kemp scored actually turned out to be the difference.  It just figures.

The Dodgers will gladly take the break, but they also know they lived up to their team name by dodging a major bullet.  They ended the night two games in back of the Cardinals in the Wild Card.  They should consider themselves lucky that it's just that.

With the Nationals' magic number to clinch a playoff berth down to one, they'll be looking to take Thursday's game at home.  As for the Dodgers, they need to take just about every game here on out.  Chris Capuano will take on Ross Detwiler.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jansen is back, but Kershaw could be done

These days, it seems like the second you find out something positive about the Dodgers, it's immediately followed by something negative.

Case in point, today's news about Kenley Jansen.  After sitting out since August 28 because of more issues with an irregular heartbeat, he has been cleared to return tonight in Washington.  The Dodgers' pen has been very good lately (save for John Ely on Sunday in the 12th), so this will only make them stronger.  Lord knows the Dodgers play in enough close games, so any power arms late in games can only help.

Brandon League has been filling in quite nicely since Jansen went down.  He's gone 1-0 with two saves, and surrendered one run in 11 1/3 innings.  Ronald Belisario has also been great, going 3-0 with one save, and no runs over 12 innings.  Those are great numbers.  If Jansen is still at his best, those three form a fantastic trio at the end of games.

But like I said before, it's one step forward, and one step back.  We've learned over the last few days that Kershaw is quite possibly done for the season with lingering hip inflammation.  And to make matters worse, there's a distinct possibility that he will need surgery, which will KO him until next May.  Ouch.

Kershaw is scheduled to get a second opinion on Tuesday in New York, so we are all anxiously awaiting those results.  Not only do they impact the postseason race this season, but missing over a month into next season is big as well.  Who knows if he's been pitching hurt all season, as this seems to have occurred out of nowhere.  But, this is also the same guy who tried to pitch Opening Day sick as a dog (and did for a few innings), so he probably has been grinding it out much longer than we realized.

If Kershaw is out, then the top two in the rotation of Chad Billingsley and himself will be on the shelf, in addition to Ted Lilly, who's been out nearly the whole year.  For a team that's struggling so much already, that's a big blow.  That immediately elevates Josh Beckett and Chris Capuano as the new 1-2.  No disrespect to them, but that's not exactly the most intimidating duo on Earth.  It's a pretty scary thought, but one that we might have to accept pretty soon.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dodgers Cruuuuuuuuuz to a late victory

Despite many high-priced acquisitions and multi-millionaires on the roster, when the Dodgers needed a late lift to tie the Cardinals, they turned to little known Luis Cruz.

Well, Cruz might not be so unknown anymore, as he once again gave the Dodgers the big hit they needed.

Down by a run against the Cardinals and closer Jason Motte in the ninth, Cruz lined a game-tying double to center to tie it, and Juan Rivera's walk-off single gave the Dodgers the win, 4-3.  After all of that, both teams are now deadlocked for the second Wild Card spot in the NL.

With news before the game that Clayton Kershaw could possibly be lost for the rest of the season with lingering hip issues, it was even more depressing watching Joe Blanton give up a couple of runs in the first.  Matt Holliday singled with two outs.  Allen Craig whacked the first pitch he saw out to left center for a two-run shot, and it was 2-0.

The Dodgers got one back in the bottom half, thanks to some shoddy Cardinals' defense, though.  Shane Victorino grounded one to Daniel Descalso at short, and he nearly threw it into the stands for an error.  Keep in mind that Descalso is playing in place of old friend Rafael Furcal, who's lost for the season.  Also keep in mind that his "defense" will play a big role in this game later on.

Matt Kemp struck out as part of another miserable night for two down.  Victorino stole second, one of three swiped bases for the Dodgers on the night against Yadier Molina, something I doubt anyone saw coming.  Adrian Gonzalez came through with an RBI single, making it 2-1.

As Blanton began to settle down, it was Mark Ellis who provided the power in the third.  His leadoff homer tied the game at 2-2.  It was his sixth of the season, which is about five more than I guessed he would have all year.  Hey, no disrespect to him, I love the guy.  In fact, for a five-year stretch from 2005-2009, he had double-digit homers, so maybe it's not as rare as I think.

Blanton set down 13 in a row as he went into the sixth, where he walked opposing pitcher Jaime Garcia leading off.  That would not be a good thing, as John Jay singled for two on.  Matt Carpenter stuck out for one down, then Blanton got Holliday to ground into what looked like an inning ending double play.  But, on a bang-bang play at first, Holliday was called safe, as Don Mattingly argued to no avail.

Sure enough, Craig burned the Dodgers again with an RBI single, putting the Cardinals back up 3-2.

If you thought the Cardinals had a slump when they failed to reach base for 13 straight hitters, then the Dodgers blew that away as the game progressed.  After Ellis's homer to start the third, it was a whole bunch of nothing until the ninth.  Just how dry was the offensive well?  Victorino walked right after the homer in the third, Blanton reached on another Descalso error in the fifth, and that was it.  A whole lot of swings, and a whole lot of nothing to show for it.

Even with that, it was still only a one-run game entering the bottom of the ninth.  Gonzalez flew out to center leading off and Hanley Ramirez struck out swinging for two quick outs.  Andre Ethier had two strikes on him, but he kept things alive with a single into right.  Dee Gordon pinch-ran and just got in safely stealing second in a big play.

I'm convinced that Cruz is now Dodger Stadium's favorite player, and he scorched one into deep center that was just ahead of the outstretched dive of Jay in center, brining home the tying run.  Rivera hit for A.J. Ellis, and he lined one off the a jumping Descalso at second, allowing pinch-runner Elian Herrera to win the game.  Probably a catchable ball, but the Dodgers will gladly take a break going their way.

If Dodger fans were looking for a reason to believe that these boys really can turn things around, then this was it.  It was just an awesome scene at the end of the game watching the place go wild as Cruz and Rivera were mobbed by their teammates.  That's what makes watching baseball so exciting.

Perhaps best of all was that fact that they did it against one of the best closers in the game, Motte.  His 34 saves rank him only two behind Craig Kimbrel for tops in the NL.  So, this wasn't an easy guy to comeback against by any means.

Of course, anytime your team puts up blanks for about 5-6 straight innings, it's hard to consistently win, so the offensive problems are still there.  Kemp again suffered through an 0-for-4 night, as he continues to look lost.  As a whole, they only had six hits and one walk, and reached on a couple errors by Descalso.  Cruz and Rivera made people forget about all of that for the most part.  They still have plenty of room for improvement.

Blanton shook off a bad opening frame to pitch pretty well, as he lasted 5 2/3 innings for four hits, three runs, one walk, and six strikeouts.  For the second straight night, the bullpen was fantastic.  Jamey Wright, Paco Rodriguez, Randy Choate, and Ronald Belisario (who got the win) pitched the final 3 1/3 without surrendering a run, allowing only two hits.  That's some great stuff.

Sunday is the perfect opportunity for the Dodgers to take full command of their own fate, as a win would give them three of four and sole possession of that second Wild Card spot.  It's a shame Kershaw can't go, but young Stephen Fife has a chance to show his stuff.  He'll take on Adam Wainwright.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sleeping bats awaken for one night

It may have been only for one night, but it was nice to finally see the ball bouncing off the Dodgers' bats for a change.

Key homers by Andre Ethier and Luis Cruz helped erase an early 4-1 deficit, and the Dodgers got back on track in their quest for a Wild Card berth with an 8-5 victory over the Cardinals.  The Dodgers are now one game in back of them again for that final spot.

Home runs through the night air of Dodger Stadium aren't exactly a common occurrence, so it was all the more surprising to see five of them being hit on Friday night.  The Cardinals collected the first couple in the second.  With one out, Yadier Molina hit a solo shot off of Chris Capuano to make it 1-0.  An out later, Matt Carpenter did the same, and it was 2-0.

The Dodgers got one back in the bottom of the frame.  Adrian Gozalez started things by smacking a ground rule double to right.  Hanley Ramirez grounded a hard one to first in which Allen Craig made a nice diving stop on, but Gonzalez still got to third.  Cruz's RBI groundout scored Gonzalez, and it was 2-1.

The long ball burned Capuano again in the third.  He got the first two outs on grounders, but Ramirez threw wildly to first on another grounder to allow Carlos Beltran to reach on an error.  Sure enough, Matt Holliday made the Dodgers pay with a two-run homer to right, and the Cards were back up 4-1.

I'm sure everyone had the "Here we go again" feeling when Holliday hit that homer, but the good news was that the game was still early, so there was time to make something happen.  Thankfully, that's exactly what took place in the third. 

Like the Cards did in the top of the inning, it was some two-out power that got the Dodgers right back into this one.  Shane Victorino was back in the leadoff spot as Mark Ellis took the night off, and he worked a walk.  Ethier was still hitting #2, and with a 3-0 count, he was green-lighted and smoked a two-run shot to make it 4-3.  It was his 18th of the season.

The score remained as is until the sixth, when Cruz gave the Dodgers another jolt of life.  Ethier started things with a single, but Matt Kemp and Gonzalez failed to advance him, which has happened way too much lately.  Ramirez was beaned to keep the inning alive.  Edward Mujica relieved, and Cruz launched his three-run homer to deep left, putting the Dodgers up 6-4.

A couple more runs were tacked on in the seventh.  Elian Herrera (remember him?) pinch-hit and walked leading off.  A single by Victorino put two on.  Ethier and Kemp both struck out, but Gonzalez picked them up with a two-run double, and it was now 8-4.

Brandon League gave up a run in the ninth, but that was all as he finished out the non-save situation.

I think this is how we all envisioned the Dodgers' offense looking like after the trades with Miami and Boston: lots of big hits, and lots of pressure being put on the opposing team.  Well, we all know that hasn't exactly been the case... at all.  But it was fun to watch for one night, and goes to show that if they get even a little more production from each guy in the lineup, they can still win some games.

It was great to see Ethier have such a big night, as both of his hits came at key times.  Placing him in the #2 spot is a good idea by Don Mattingly in my mind.  I always go back to something Tony LaRussa believed in, and that's to have a power threat hitting in that spot.  It's a good move, and like we saw with his homer in the third, one swing can immediately change the game.

Capuano wasn't at his best, but then again, Ramirez's error in the third made him look worse than he actually did.  He finished with 4 1/3 innings for six hits, four runs (two earned), no walks, and two strikeouts.  When he was removed in the fifth, he was already up to 82 pitches, so it was obvious he wasn't at his best.

One good sign was the work of the bullpen, which really kept the Cards quiet, allowing the Dodgers to work their way back into this one.  Matt Guerrier, Shawn Tolleson, Randy Choate, Jamey Wright, and League pitched the final 5 2/3 innings, giving up only one run on two hits.  That couldn't have come at a better time.

If there was a downside, it's Kemp.  He once again struggled mightily at the plate by going 0-for-4.  His average is all the way down to .307 right now.  After hitting .286 in August, he's now 5-for-40 in September for a .125 average.  Wow.  His two RBIs the whole month might be even more surprising.

The Dodgers may have survived in this game, but we all know that if Kemp continues to came up empty like this, it's hard to see them going anywhere.  He means that much to their success.  I think we can all officially declare his shoulder injury to be much worse than we thought.  There's no way he's playing at 100%, or anywhere even close, right now.

Coming into this four-game set, the Dodgers were talking about taking at least three or four.  They can still do so, but they'll need a weekend sweep in order for it to happen.  Joe Blanton will take the hill on Saturday night.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Lots of L's and zero O for the Dodgers

Both the Dodgers and the Cardinals came into Dodger Stadium on Thursday night trying to find any way possible to make that final push for the Wild Card.

While the Cardinals only scored twice, it was the Dodgers that once again failed to get any sort of big hit when they needed it.

An RBI single by Allen Craig in the seventh proved to be the game-winning run, as the Dodgers lost again, 2-1.  Since winning three straight to begin September, they've now dropped seven of eight, and are 6-12 since the big trade with Boston.

Yet somehow, through all of this horrible baseball, they are still only two games in back of the Cardinals for that final Wild Card spot.  The bad news is that the Diamondbacks, Phillies, Brewers, and Pirates are all within at least 2 1/2 games of the Dodgers, so it's not looking good.

For a change, it was the Dodgers that cracked the scoreboard in the first.  Remember when they routinely would do this in the first half of the season?  They've practically given all of that right back since then.  Anyway, Mark Ellis singled leading off.  Andre Ethier was moved up to hit #2, and he took a walk. 

That of course meant that in a big spot, Matt Kemp grounded into a double play.  One month ago on August 13 he was hitting .358, now it's tumbled all the way down to .311.  Wow, that's a HUGE dropoff.  At least Adrian Gonzalez found enough room in the outfield to bloop an RBI double, and it was 1-0.

The fun was short-lived, as Josh Beckett gave that run right back.  Well, he didn't exactly get a lot of help from his infield, though.  With one out, Yadier Molina's grounder was just past Hanley Ramirez at short for a single.  Not an easy play, but one that could've been made.  Then Carlos Beltran whacked one past Ellis at second.  Again, not easy, but could've been made.

An RBI single by Skip Schumaker scored Molina, and was 1-1.  Beckett did leave a couple stranded by getting the final two outs.

Both teams blew chances to take the lead in the fourth.  The Cards loaded the bases with one out on a single by Molina, a walk to Beltran, and another single by Schumaker.  Molina probably should've scored, but he was stealing on Schumaker's single, and ended up sliding to third instead of rounding it.  He stayed put, and Beckett got Daniel Descalso and Lance Lynn swinging to leave 'em loaded.

Kemp singled to open up the bottom of the inning.  Gonzalez then struck out, and as he was doing so, Kemp was easily gunned down trying to swipe second.  Ramirez struck out looking (again) to end the inning.

Much like the fourth, both teams blew it again in the sixth, as they each had two men reach and nothing to show for it.  Paco Rodriguez (no matter how much the Dodgers lose, he still has one of the best names in baseball!) relieved Beckett with two on and one out and got out of the jam.

The Cards broke through in the seventh, and you knew that with the way the Dodgers (weren't) swinging, it was very costly.  Rodriguez stayed on to walk Shane Robinson leading off.  After John Jay popped up a bunt, Matt Carpenter singled.  Ronald Belisario came in to get Matt Holliday, but Craig's single scored Robinson to make it 2-1.

Not much happened for the Dodgers in the seventh and eighth.  Luis Cruz reached on an error with one out in the seventh.  Dee Gordon pinch-ran for him, and was then nailed trying to steal second.  So if he can't steal a base, what can he do?  It's not like he can hit or field.

Ramirez did hit a two-out double in the ninth to bring up Shane Victorino.  And like he does oh so well, he hit a measly pop up into left to end the game.  He's really torn it up since coming to LA with a blistering .245 average.  Pathetic.

It's the same old recap at the end of every game - the pitching does its part, but the offense completely sucks.  It happened once again in this game, as Beckett wasn't his sharpest, but still was effective.  He lasted 5 1/3 innings for seven hits, one run, two walks, and six strikeouts.  In his four starts with the Dodgers, he's 1-2 with a 3.38 ERA and 1.50 WHIP.  The WHIP is high, but the bottom line is that his ERA is very good, yet he only has one win to show for it.

I'll give Don Mattingly credit for trying to shake up the lineup, as he swapped Ethier up to #2, and Victorino down to #6.  It hardly mattered, as the offense was facing a struggling Lynn, who went through August with a 6.66 ERA, and couldn't do a damn thing.  Six hits, two walks, one run.  That's it.  I don't care who you play, you're not going to win any game.

There's three game left in this series, and the Dodgers still have plenty of chances to make something happen.  Only 18 games remain in this season, but we all have seen already that with that second Wild Card spot, the races are a lot more exciting and tight because of it.  Chris Capuano will try to even up the series on Friday.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

One error is all it takes to beat the Dodgers

Matt Kemp.  Adrian Gonzalez.  Andre Ethier.  Hanley Ramirez.  Shane Victorino.

Want to know how to beat them?  Score one unearned run, and you've got it made.

So this is what it's come to for the Dodgers.  Despite Clayton Kershaw looking fantastic after being bumped back a game with a sore hip, the offense once again came up empty.  An error by Ramirez in the seventh led to a run-scoring double by Miguel Montero, and the Diamondbacks beat the Dodgers, 1-0.

I'm not even sure why I even bother updating the NL West standings anymore, but the Giants are now up by six games.  Thanks for Bud Selig, the Dodgers are only one game in back of the Cardinals for the final Wild Card spot.  So there is hope, even when the Dodgers seem hopeless.

The offense started the game in red hot fashion: Mark Ellis struck out, Victorino struck out, and Gonzalez dribbled one to the catcher.  Wow, talk about setting a tone for the night!  Actually, that's exactly what they did now that I think about it...

Anyway, Kershaw got through the first couple of innings with ease, and helped himself by picking off Paul Goldschmidt at first. 

The third was a little more interesting.  After the Dodgers shockingly grounded into a double play (at least they're consistent with that), the DBacks loaded the bases on a single by John McDonald, and walks with two outs to Adam Eaton and Aaron Hill.  Kershaw settled down to get Jason Kubel grounding to second.

Still a scoreless game in the fifth, the Dodgers finally had a chance to score, so naturally they were burned by some terrific defense in the outfield.  Ethier doubled with two outs to bring up Luis Cruz.  Cruz lifted a long fly to left, but Kubel made a great leaping catch to hold the Dodgers off the board again.  Figures.

The seventh is when the DBacks got their lead and kept it for good.  Goldschmidt grounded one deep into short that Ramirez bounced to first, and Gonzalez was unable to make the play.  Justin Upton flew out, but Goldschmidt took advantage of the E6 with an RBI double to right, and it was 1-0.

Cruz tried to get things going with a one-out single in the eighth.  The returning Dee Gordon then came in to run for him, which seemed like a good idea...

... Except that A.J. Ellis grounded into his second double play of the game to squash that threat.  I like ya, A.J., but your breakout season looks like it's long since come to a screeching halt.  His OBP is still high at .385, but he's hardly made much noise at all lately.

The DBacks put a couple on in the eighth, but Paco Rodriguez (great name!) struck out Kubel to end the inning.  Victorino doubled off of David Hernandez with two outs in the ninth, but of course Gonzalez struck out to end the game.  Shocking.

I think Don Mattingly said it perfectly by stating that he knows these guys will hit, but he needs them to hit now.  And speaking of "hits," he really hit the nail right on the head.  I continue to be more and more amazed and bewildered that this group just looks flat out lost at the plate.  Never in my wildest dreams did I picture this group struggling so much to score runs.  If anything, I thought it was the pitching that would drag the team down.  Not so.

Kershaw did what he could, as he battled through seven innings for three hits, one unearned run, three walks, and five strikeouts.  He's given up three earned runs in his last three games... and all three games the Dodgers lost (one no-decision for him along the way).  That's really all you have to look at right there.  Their ace is being an ace, and he gets zero support.

I'll give plenty of credit to Ian Kennedy for looking every big like the Cy Young contender he was last season, as he gave up four hits and no walks in over seven innings, striking out six.  It's not like the Dodgers have been hitting anyway, but those are still great numbers for him.  All he needed was that one run.

The crazy thing about this slump is that the Dodgers can win the next two, the Cardinals can lose the next two, and the Dodgers are playing postseason baseball.  Doesn't seem like they really deserve it, though, but that doesn't matter.  They just have to find a way to get in.

Maybe Aaron Harang will throw a complete game shutout and hit a solo homer on Wednesday.  That's kind of what it's come to for this team.  Trevor Cahill will counter for the DBacks.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dodgers get one back in San Fran

Not that this should surprise anyone, but the Dodgers were again locked in a close, low-scoring ballgame on Saturday in San Francisco.  If they have any hope of still winning the NL West, this was one they couldn't let slip away.

A wild pitch by Matt Cain in the eighth, and a clutch RBI double by Hanley Ramirez in the ninth gave the Dodgers a sense of hope again.

After Alex Castellanos tied the game in the eighth on a wild pitch by Cain, Ramirez's double scored Adrian Gonzalez as the winning run, and the Dodgers finally beat the Giants, 3-2.  The Giants are still comfortably ahead by 4 1/2 in the NL West, but the Dodgers at least pulled within a 1/2 game of the Cardinals for the second Wild Card spot.

The first inning sure made it look like another long afternoon for the Dodgers.  Mark Ellis led off the game with a single, but a double play ball by Gonzalez wiped out that inning.  In the bottom half, Marco Scutaro doubled, Pablo Sandoval singled, and Buster Posey's RBI single made it 1-0.

Ramirez started the second with a single, but was then caught stealing.  Andre Ethier walked, but Luis Cruz grounded into a double play.  One step forward, and then one step back.

Chris Capuano settled down quite nicely after Posey's RBI, retiring 12 straight before Gregor Blanco's bunt single with one out in the fifth.  The Dodgers' defense then flashed their leather, as Cain laid down a sacrifice in which he was out at first, then Mark Ellis threw to A.J. Ellis covering third to nail Blanco.  That turned out to be big.

It was Capuano who gave the Dodgers the lead back in the sixth.  Mark Ellis followed with his own single, moving Capuano to third, and Ellis soon advanced to second on a wild pitch.  Shane Victorino had a good at-bat with a deep sac-fly RBI to center, making it a 1-1 game.

The Dodgers turned a double play off of Sandoval to end the sixth, but the Giants did end up taking the lead back an inning later.  It started with that damn Posey again, as he doubled leading off.  In case you didn't know, he's pretty good.  Hunter Pence sacrificed him over to third, and Joaquin Arias was intentionally walked to pitch to Brandon Belt.

It looked like a good decision to go after Belt, as he grounded one back to the mound.  But, Capuano let it bounce off his glove just enough to allow Posey to score as Belt was thrown out at first. 

With Matt Kemp out for a few days with a bum shoulder, Juan Rivera got a rare start since the major deal with the Red Sox.  He doubled leading off, and went to third on A.J. Ellis' sacrifice.  That brought in Castellanos to run for Rivera with the scoring opportunity.  Bobby Abreu hit for Capuano, and as he was taking ball four, Castellanos scampered home on the wild pitch to tie game at 2-2.

Ronald Belisario pitched the eighth, and despite some wildness (again) with two walks, was able to get Pence striking out to keep the game deadlocked.

The Giants brought in lefty Jeremy Affeldt to pitch to Gonzalez to open up the ninth, and thankfully for Dodger fans, it didn't work.  Gonzalez found plenty of room in center for a leadoff triple, his first of the entire season.  That's when Ramirez collected his 19th game winning RBI of the season, tops in the majors, with a double.

Brandon League got another opportunity to get the save, and he came through, despite a two-out double by Blanco.  It's his second save in LA.

Any win at this point is big, and one against the division leader obviously takes on added significance.  It's also the first win the Dodgers have against the Giants in five games dating all the way back to July 29.  That's the game Clayton Kershaw went the distance for a complete game shutout.

Capuano didn't quite have those numbers, but he was still pretty awesome in this one.  He lasted seven innings for five hits, two runs, three walks, and three strikeouts.  He didn't get a decision, which is a shame considering how good he was, but it was still great to see him revert to his early season form.  Let's hope it lasts.

I wrote the other day about how lousy Kemp has been lately, and how running face first into the wall in Colorado might be a reason why.  Sure enough, not even a few hours later we all find out that he's been scratched this weekend with a hurt shoulder.  The early results are encouraging, as he looks like he'll be back for Tuesday's game in Arizona. 

In the meantime, it's up to guys like Gonzalez and Ramirez to step up, and they did in this one.  Gonzalez only had one hit, but it was that big triple to start the ninth.  Ramirez had two hits hitting in the cleanup spot, and his double in the ninth again showed how clutch he's been this year.  I doubt many people would've guessed that he's the one leading all of baseball in game winning RBIs.  I didn't have a clue either.  But hey, it's good to know.

If Saturday was a must-win, then it's not a stretch to say that Sunday probably is, too.  Being down 3 1/2 is a heck of a lot different than being down 5 1/2.  Even though it's a football-crazy Sunday, tune into ESPN Sunday Night Baseball to see this one, as Clayton Kershaw takes the mound against Barry Zito.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

In the stretch run, Kemp needs to find his inner Beast Mode

Let's make one thing perfectly clear: no matter how many trades and "upgrades" the Dodgers make to their roster, one thing remains the same.

If the Dodgers want to reach the postseason, Matt Kemp needs to be the man.

It's time we get the return of Beast Mode.

That was obvious once again on Friday night in AT&T Park, where Kemp painfully went 0-for-5 and the Dodgers lost to the Giants, 5-2.  The loss drops the Dodgers to 5 1/2 games in back of the Giants in the NL West.  And with 23 games left, time is ticking away.

Even with the arrivals of Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez, and with Andre Ethier signing an extension earlier this season, Kemp is unquestionably the leader of the team.  He's also the guy who gets things going, or the "straw who stirs the drink," to steal a term made famous by Reggie Jackson.

And there's no doubt that Kemp's struggles over the past month have directly correlated with the Dodgers' overall struggles in scoring runs.  If their big gun in the heart of the order is relegated to little groundouts and strikeouts, then the Dodgers can forget about a turnaround.  It ain't gonna happen.

On August 14 in Pittsburgh, Kemp went 2-for-5 with two runs and an RBI, raising his average to .359.  The Dodgers won that game 11-0, and even though he only had one hit the next game, his three RBIs helped the Dodgers win again, 9-3.  At this point, the Dodgers were up by a game over the Giants in the West, and more help would soon be arriving via the trade from Boston.

I think it's safe to say we all jumped the gun in thinking the Dodgers would cruise their way to the playoffs.  That most certainly has not been the case.  While injuries to Chad Billingsley and Kenley Jansen have not helped, as well as the revolving door of arms in the bullpen, it may all come down to Kemp's ineffectiveness as the major reason why the Dodgers are home in October.

In September alone, Kemp is stuck in a huge 3-for-26 slump (.115) with one homer, two RBIs, and no steals.  August started off well, but ended on a 10-for-50 skid from August 15 on with six RBIs.  Add it all up, and in his last 20 games, he's 13-for-76 (.171) with one homer and six RBIs.


To be fair to Kemp, I have to wonder if part of the problem is lingering affects from running into the Coors Field wall on August 28.  He only has three hits in seven games since then.  We saw earlier in the season how he tried to comeback too early from a hamstring injury, and boy was that a bad decision that cost him even more time, including the All-Star Game.  Is he making the same mistake right now?

Only Kemp can truly answer that, as we know his stubbornness for missing starts.  Much to his credit, he wants to be out there performing.  It's the "performing" part that is clearly dragging the Dodgers down right now, and the only way the offense will change is if he gets hot... and fast.

Let's all be thankful for the new Wild Card format, as the Dodgers are only 1 1/2 in back of the Cardinals for the #2 spot, as opposed to six in back of the Braves for the top spot.  In previous seasons, the panic meter would be sky high.  Now, not so much, though the sense of urgency is definitely there.

The good thing about Kemp is that we've seen what he can do when he starts hitting.  Let's not forget the start of the season, when he was the hottest hitter in all of baseball by hitting .417 in April with 12 homers and 25 RBIs.  While the Dodgers may not need those kinds of numbers, they need him to get back to Beast Mode again.  Anything less won't get it done.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Can the Dodgers survive two more weeks without Jansen?

Today the Dodgers received news on Kenley Jansen that's mostly good - he'll be out of action another two weeks.  He's not lost for the year like originally thought, so that's obviously a positive.

The negative?  The Dodgers have to try and find a way to survive at least 14 more days without him.  And that's a tough situation to be in.

Currently, the Dodgers are 4 1/2 games behind the Giants in the NL West.  On the flip side, they're only a game in back of the Cardinals for the second Wild Card spot, and 3 1/2 in back of the Braves for the top Wild Card spot.  At some point, they Dodgers may need to shift their focus to this and forget about the West.

And with the postseason still in reach, Don Mattingly has the unenviable position of trying to patch together his bullpen while his big dog misses more time.  It's amazing how things can get so thrown out of whack when a team's closer goes down.  It means everyone below him gets bumped up a notch, and that's not always a pretty thing.

Right now Mattingly is using Brandon League as his closer, and Ronald Belisario as the setup man.  League picked up the save last Saturday, and hasn't given up a run since August 17, so he's settled in.  Belisario was pathetic in July with a 6.60 ERA, but has bounced back very nicely since then, and has lowered his ERA from 3.20 at the end of July to 2.54 now.

So while those two may not be the problem, it's the guys underneath who really worry me.  Take a look at how Matt Guerrier performed on Tuesday.  Clayton Kershaw just got done pitching one-run ball over seven innings (with the one run literally coming on the first pitch of the game).  Guerrier started the eighth up 3-1, gave up a single to Chase Headley, then a homer to Yasmani Grandal.  Just like that, it's a tie game again, and all the momentum the Dodgers had was gone.

If Jansen was healthy, then either League or Belisario would've gotten the ball, and I sure like their chances of pitching better than that.  It's the trickle-down effect that killed them.

Fast forward to the 11th, and John Ely was in the game still tied.  He did just get through the Padres with ease in the 10th, so he went back out there for another inning.  An error by Luis Cruz didn't help, but Ely certainly wasn't able to get the job done, as a two-run single by Logan Forsythe and RBI single by Headley pretty much ended the game.

Once again, it showed the lack of depth of the bullpen.  Jamey Wright pitched two innings the night before, so he was unavailable.  Javy Guerra is hurt again, so obviously he wasn't an option either.  Mattingly really had no choice but to hope Ely could pitch another shutout inning, and it blew up in his face.

As long as the Dodgers' offense continues to scratch and claw for any run, the importance of the bullpen is magnified even more.  And right now, that's a scary though.  If they can't get a lead in the late innings to Belisario and League, then it's going to be really hard to get a win.

If losing Jansen for two more weeks isn't bad enough, the schedule makes it worse.  After wrapping up with the Padres on Wednesday, they go to the Giants for three, to the Diamondbacks for two, home against the Cardinals for four, and on the road against the Nationals for three.  It's during that Nationals' series that Jansen hopes to return.

The next 10 games before going to Washington are tough games with or without Jansen.  The Giants and Cardinals are slotted in the playoffs as of now, and the Diamondbacks are trying to fight their way back.  Not exactly the best schedule to have when there's a big injury.

We'll see how the bullpen steps up the next two weeks.  Between injuries and ineffectiveness, recent history isn't so pretty.  If the 'pen continues to bumble away leads late in games, you can all but stick a fork in the Dodgers in 2012.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Walk-off September continues

The Dodgers certainly aren't making things easy on themselves in the stretch run.  They'd much rather show their flare for the dramatic.

A two-out, walk-off single by A.J. Ellis gave the Dodgers their second consecutive victory in the last at-bat by beating the Padres, 4-3.  Of course, the Giants won on a walk-off as well, so the NL West is still separated by 4 1/2 games.

Joe Blanton got the call on the mound, and three hitters into the game, it looked like it could be a long Labor Day in Dodger Stadium.  With one out, Will Venable legged out an infield single, then stole second.  Chase Headley has quietly put together a great season, and his two-run homer to right gave the Pads a 2-0 lead.

Blanton did settle down after that, though he still played with a bit of fire here and there.  The bases were loaded in the fourth on singles by Chris Denorfia and Cameron "Tiki" Maybin, and an intentional walk to John Baker an out later.  But, Blanton got pitcher Andrew Warner and Everth Cabrera striking out to end the threat.

After Blanton turned a slick double play to end the Padres' fifth, the Dodgers finally cracked the scoreboard.  Luis Cruuuuuuuz (as the crowd loves to say) singled leading off.  Ellis flew out, but Blanton sacrificed Cruz to second.  With two outs, Mark Ellis came through with an RBI single to make it 2-1.

We've all seen the Dodgers swing for the fences for the better part of a week now with mixed success, but Hanley Ramirez made it two homers in his last three games with a solo shot in the sixth.  His 24th of the season tied the game at 2-2.

Blanton stayed on to start the seventh and got a couple outs, but also gave up a single to Werner.  Don Mattingly went with Randy Choate to pitch to Venable, but Bud Black countered with Logan Forsythe.  A liner right off of Choate's thumb put two on and meant a quick end to the night for him.  Headley's run-scoring single off of Ronald Belisario put his team back up 3-2.

Much like Sunday, the Dodgers had work to do in the ninth.  Luke Gregerson entered the inning before to get Matt Kemp grounding out, so he stayed on for the save opportunity.  He immediately struck out Ramirez for the first out.  Andre Ethier then made it a new game with a solo shot to right, and the Dodgers were back alive at 3-3. 

Neither team made any noise in the 10th, and Brandon League pitched another scoreless inning in the 11th.  Ethier started the two-out rally with a single off of Cory Burns.  Cruz kept it going with a single, and A.J.'s walk-off followed that.

For awhile it looked like the only exciting thing about this game was watching the Fierce Five throw out the first pitch.  Well, three of them anyway in Kyla Ross, Gabby Douglas, and McKayla Maroney.  Hey, I'm a big gymnastics fan, so it was cool for me too see.

Anyway, the offense woke up in time, and Blanton avenged his early troubles.  He ended up pitching 6 2/3 innings for seven hits, three runs, two walks, and six strikeouts.  It's too bad he got charged for that run in the seventh, as the bullpen of Choate and Belisario shouldn't have let that happen.  But at least he wasn't hit with a loss either.

Lots of credit needs to go to Jamey Wright and League for this win.  They each pitched a couple scoreless innings, striking out four.  For Wright, he's been perfect in his last five innings.  And for League, he hasn't given up a run in his last eight appearances dating back to August 17.  Apparently that mechanical flaw discovered by Rick Honeycutt really did help his improvement.  With Kenley Jansen sidelined, his reemergence comes at a perfect time.

Let's also recognize Ethier's contributions here.  He's hit safely in 10 of his last 12 for an average of .457.  Those numbers don't lie.  He's homered in two of his last three, and with the Dodgers obviously struggling to score anybody, that's a welcomed stat.  You know Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez can't keep struggling forever, so as soon as they start to hit like normal, Ethier can have so many more RBI opportunities.

As the Dodgers continue the "wait and see" approach with Chad Billingsley and Jansen, all they can really do is continue to get better from within and hope those guys can lace 'em up again at some point this season.  I'm not holding my breath on either one of them, but I hope to be wrong.  With all the trades they've made, it's still really hard to overcome losing a starting pitcher and closer.

The Dodgers will look to make it four straight with another matchup against the Padres on Tuesday.  Clayton Kershaw will take on Ex-Dodger Eric Stults.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Gonzalez's clutch swing keeps Dodgers alive

After spending the last seven games in a 5-for-28 slump, Adrian Gonzalez woke up his sleeping bat to send Dodger fans home happy.

Gonzalez's two-run double off of J.J. Putz in the ninth gave the Dodgers a wild, comeback victory over the Diamondbacks, 5-4.  The win earned a split with the DBacks after dropping the first two games of the series, and kept them within 4 1/2 of the Giants in the NL West.

One day after losing a close 2-1 game to the Dodgers, Chris Young led off the game by doubling against Chris Capuano.  Aaron Hill sacrificed him over to third for an immediate scoring chance.  Justin Upton then grounded one that was gloved nicely at third by Hanley Ramirez, who got Young tagged out in a rundown before Jason Kubel flew out for the last out.

Matt Kemp hasn't homered since August 8, a drought of 21 games.  Thankfully he got on the board again with a solo shot leading off the second, a blast that was just out of the reach of a leaping Young in right.

As has been the case for the last week, the Dodgers again failed with runners on after Kemp's homer.  With one out, Andre Ethier and Luis Cruz each singled.  Matt Treanor's grounder forced Cruz at second to put runners on the corners, and Capuano grounded a bunt out to third to end the inning.

Any joy of having an early lead was immediately vanquished, as John McDonald led off the third with a solo shot to left, making it 1-1.  The DBacks then took the lead the next inning.  It came with two outs, as Paul Goldschmidt singled, and Miguel Montero unloaded on a two-run shot to left, and it was now 3-1.

The Dodgers put runners on in both the fourth and fifth, but came up with blanks.  They did cash in on one run in the sixth.  Kemp drew a walk with one out, then Ramirez doubled for runners in scoring position.  Ethier had a chance to drive in both, but had to settle for just one on an RBI groundout to second.  Cruz flew out to center, keeping the Dodgers down 3-2.

Sure enough, the DBacks got that run right back in the seventh.  Shawn Tolleson relieved and watched Goldschmidt and Montero single off of him right away.  Chris Johnson laid down a sacrifice to advance both men.  McDonald delivered again with an RBI single, and it was 4-2.  Gonzalez made slick play off of a Wade Miley bunt to get Montero at home for the second out.  Young then grounded into a forceout.

To their credit, the Dodgers kept chipping away after facing another increasing deficit.  With one out in the bottom of the seventh, A.J. Ellis pinch-hit and doubled.  Mark Ellis couldn't do anything with it on a flyout to right, so it was up to Shane Victorino to deliver.  He did just that, as his RBI single up the middle again brought the Dodgers within one at 4-3.

It all came down to the ninth as Putz was looking to put the Dodgers away.  He looked good at first, striking out the recently recalled Bobby Abreu for the first out.  Mark Ellis then hit a single to start the rally.  Victorino drew a walk, which set things up for Gonzalez in the #3 spot.  He ripped a walk-off double down the right field line that allowed Victorino to beat the throw home.

The hit by Gonzalez could not have possibly come at a better time.  With another win by the Giants, the Dodgers were not only looking at going 5 1/2 back, but falling even further back in the Wild Card standings as well.  However, because of the walk-off, the Dodgers are now a 1/2 game behind the Cardinals for that final spot. 

Here's another reason the hit was big - it made you forget that the offense still did not deliver well at all with runners on.  With runners in scoring position, they went 2-for-9, including nine left on base.  The only two-out RBI was from Victorino, so at least they got one.  The lineup is still scuffling, but the ninth was a great sign that if they don't worry about the long ball too much, they can still make plenty of noise.  A single, a walk, and a double is what won the game.

Capuano put in a pretty good effort, but was crushed by the two taters.  He went five innings for four hits, three runs, no walks, and four strikeouts.  The two-run shot by Montero was a pure hanger, and boy was it crushed.  If he got that one pitch back, his final line would be so much better.  Then again, that's what lots of pitchers say after giving up a homer.

The bullpen of Javy Guerra, Tolleson, Matt Guerrier, and Ronald Belisario took over the final four innings, giving up only one run.  It was good to see Guerrier bounce back from taking the loss in his first game back on Friday.  Belisario struck out the side in the ninth to earn the win.

Maybe the walk-off by Gonzalez will propel the Dodgers towards greater days going forward, as Lord know they could use something to kickstart them again.  Hopefully this is it.  Labor Day marks exactly one month to go in the season, so let's see what happens. 

Labor Day also starts a three-game set at home against the Padres.  Joe Blanton will look to make it two in a row for himself in Dodger blue.  And if you're a gymnastics fan like myself, then consider it good karma that Fierce Five members Kyla Ross, Gabby Douglas, and McKayla Maroney are throwing out the first pitch.  It won't hurt to have some gold in Dodger Stadium.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Even in victory, offensive woes persist

The good news: Josh Beckett was fantastic in his home debut, leading the Dodgers to a win with over six innings of one-run ball.

The bad news: An offense with Matt Kemp back in it scored two runs on six hits, and were very fortunate the pitching carried them.

For one night anyway, the Dodgers were finally able to taste the thrills of victory, as solo homers by Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier held up in beating the Diamondbacks, 2-1.  The win helped them keep pace with the Giants, who beat the Cubs, as the NL West deficit is still 4 1/2 games.

The game all came down to three big hits, and fortunately the Dodgers had the majority of them.  In the second, Ramirez lifted a no-doubter out to deep center for his 23rd homer of the year to make it 1-0.  Ethier and Luis Cruz both singled next, but A.J. Ellis and Beckett couldn't score them.

Aaron Hill hit a one-out single to start the third, but was thrown out trying to steal second by Ellis for the second out.  That was a big play, as Justin Upton absolutely crushed a solo shot to deep left to make it 1-1.

More offensive frustrations came in the fourth for the Dodgers.  Kemp singled leading off, and Ramirez took a walk.  Ethier failed to get either runner over by flying out to left.  Cruz hit one hard, but right to Upton in center for the second out.  Ellis forced Ramirez at second with a grounder, and after putting two on with none out, the Dodgers couldn't score anyone.  Ugh.

Ethier gave the Dodgers a jolt in the sixth, though.  Matt Albers relieved Tyler Skaggs, who really kept the Dodgers off balanced.  Albers struck out Kemp and Ramirez before getting a couple strikes on Ethier.  With a full count, Ethier hit one out to left center, making it 2-1.  It was his 15th home run of the season.

With Kenley Jansen out indefinitely, the question now is how Don Mattingly will align his bullpen.  On this night, it was Jamey Wright who got the call for the hold in the eighth.  He did a great job, getting the top of the DBacks' lineup in order.

In the bottom half, Shane Victorino finally did something other than pop up with a single to left.  He then easily swiped second and went to third on the bad throw.  So now there was a runner on third and nobody out.  You would think the Dodgers would at least score him, right?

Wrong.  Adrian Gonzalez popped up to left in a horrible at-bat.  Kemp flew to right, and Upton nailed Victorino trying to score on it, as Miguel Montero did a great job absorbing a big hit to get the final out.  I don't even blame Victorino for tyring to make something happen and score there.  It was the right call, despite not actually scoring.

Brandon League got the save opportunity, and Paul Goldschmidt greeted him with a single.  That was all that would happen, however, as League got the next three in order for his first save in Dodger blue.  It was his 10th save overall combined with the Mariners.

Let's start with the good, and that was the pitching.  Beckett looked very sharp, as his pitches had lots of movement.  It was his first win since the Red Sox beat the Rays on July 15, which seems like a long time.  Then again, it was nine starts ago.  In digging a little deeper, this was probably his best start since June 6 when he gave up two runs in eight innings against he Orioles, but actually took the loss (2-1).

So, this a welcome sight, especially with the uncertainty facing Chad Billingsley.  If the Dodgers somehow do squeak into the playoffs, then a 1-2 punch of Clayton Kershaw and Beckett should be very formidable.  I'll take that.  But of course, they have to actually make it into October first.

The trio of Randy Choate, Wright, and League pitched the final 2 1/3 innings flawlessly, with only one runner reaching.  Choate got the pinch-hitting Jason Kubel to end the seventh, and Wright and League kept the one-run lead as well.  Nicely done.

Then there's the offense, which is still struggling beyond belief.  I never thought I'd see these kinds of results, as inning after inning goes by without much noise.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: their biggest problem is that way too many of them are swinging for the fences.  How many pop ups and deep flyouts are we going to see before they change their approach?

A win is a win, and believe me, I'm glad they found a way to grab this one.  But the offensive problems are still there, and it's time for them to quit worrying about home runs and start swinging to get on base.  If they concentrate more on getting on and moving runners over, the big hits will come naturally.  Granted I'm no expert at this, but the last week has been hard to watch.  It's time to make some changes at the plate.

After dropping the first two games of this series, the Dodgers have a chance to at least gain a split on Sunday.  Chris Capuano is an ugly 2-7 since the start of July, so he'll again look to regain his old form.  The DBacks will deploy Wade Miley, who in his first full campaign is enjoying an excellent season.