Wednesday, October 31, 2012

League inks 3-year deal to assume closing duties

Brandon League was given two things on Tuesday: a fresh three-year contract, and the key to the closer's role in LA.

Despite Kenley Jansen saving 25 games and seemingly healthy going into Spring Training after recent heart surgery, Ned Colletti made it all crystal clear - League not only will stay with the Dodgers, he will enter 2013 as the closer.

Citing a "thin" market for closers this winter, Colletti wasted no time in drawing up a contract for League.  In breaking it all down, the deal covers three years and $22.5 million.  According to Dylan Hernandez of the LA Times, 2016 will be a vesting option for $7.5 million, which will only vest if he finishes 55 games in 2015.

League was one of many names brought in around the trade deadline this past season, as he became expendable in Seattle after blowing six saves and only converting nine.  It's a good thing the Dodgers did get him, as after a few growing pains, he took over when Jansen went down with more heart problems.

The result?  6-6 in save opportunities, and scoreless in 20 of his last 21 appearances.  Overall, his LA run ended with a 2.30 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and .183 BAA in 28 games.

It's not hard to see why Colletti and the Dodgers wanted him back, as a trio of Ronald Belisario, Jansen, and League is pretty nasty at the back end of games.  Jansen has already commented how much better he feels after surgery, so if he somehow gets even better, that's as good a setup-closer combo in baseball.

Even though League is called the closer right now, we all know how things can change in the heat of a season.  Look no further than this past season, as Javy Guerra was quickly bounced after one month of shaky relief.  I don't care what anybody is saying now - if League stumbles, then Don Mattingly won't hesitate to flip-flop him with Jansen.  That's the uncertainly of the life of a closer.

This move is important for another reason, and that's the overall health of the 'pen.  Jansen, Belisario, Guerra, Matt Guerrier, and Scott Elbert have all battled some sort of ailment in recent times.  If anything, a reliable guy like League goes a long way.  Then again, the Dodgers also thought Guerrier was dependable, and he pitched in whopping 16 games this year after pitching to a 4.07 ERA in 70 games the year before.  So, nothing is guaranteed.

Even though we all saw the Dodgers make a million moves during the 2012 season, you have to think they  are still only getting started in the Hot Stove season.  I think it's a great first move, as the end of the game is strengthened.  Now it's time to look at the beginning and middle.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Aloha to Rivera, Treanor, and Coffey

The Dodgers have already made the decision to release the trio of Juan Rivera, Matt Treanor, and Todd Coffey.  Each will receive a buyout of $3.5 million, $800,000, and $2.2 million, respectively.

Add it all up, and it's savings of $6.5 million.  Don't expect the Dodgers to hold onto that money for too long.

I can't really say these were tough decisions, as all three were pretty much forgotten about by the end of the year.  I do like how Rivera played hard no matter if he was playing outfield or first base. He only hit .244 with 9 homers and 47 RBIs while appearing in 109 games last season.  Once Shane Victorino and Adrian Gonzalez were brought in, he was a man without a position.  About the only reason he played from September on was because Victorino slumped.

Still, it was obvious he is on the decline, as he's no longer the feared power hitter he once was.  At least he went out with a bang, hitting a two-run homer in last at-bat of the season.

Treanor backed up A.J. Ellis, but only appeared in 36 games, hitting .175 with 2 homers and 10 RBIs.  There's no way he could have envisioned such little playing time coming into the season considering Ellis was largely unproven.  However, Ellis caught fire to start the year, and never got hurt.  In turn, that only hurt Treanor.  At least his wife is a gold medalist (volleyball star Misty May Treanor, in case you've forgotten).

Coffey only pitched in 23 games before blowing out his elbow, leading to Tommy John surgery #2 in his career.  He was terrible, too, with a 4.66 ERA.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Injury updates on Kemp, Jansen, and Crawford

As the hated Giants march towards their second World Series championship in three years, here's a look at three of the Dodgers' big guns and their progress on injuries.

Matt Kemp - Remember when Kemp ran into the outfield wall in Coors Field on August 27?  It's hard to forget if you saw it, and for Kemp, it turned out to cause the unraveling of his season.

His shoulder has slowly gone from bad to worse, so when he went under the knife on October 5, he was told that rehab will be longer than he anticipated.  All he can really do now is cardio work, as he won't be allowed to even swing a bat until January.  From there, it's all about not rushing back too fast, even if it looks like he will be able to start Spring Training on time.  Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez have gone through a similar procedure, so there's a couple guys he can rely upon for advice.  Let's hope he listens to it and doesn't come back at half speed.

Kenley Jansen - The news is better for Jansen, who was finally unable to have surgery for is irregular heartbeat on October 23.  What's even better is that his recovery time is only 7-10 days, after which he's back to training like usual without restriction.  That's some great news.

Anything involving the heart is scary enough, so we can only hope this isn't something that keeps popping up for him.  The blood thinner medication that he was on during his time off caused him to not even be able to sit in the dugout for fear of getting hit by a ball.  If the Dodgers resign Brandon League, who filled in very well in the closer's role when called upon, then the trio of Jansen, League, and Ronald Belisario will be one of baseball's best in 2013.

Carl Crawford - In a bit of an odd sight, Crawford met with the media on Friday... despite the fact he was acquired two months ago.  But since he's been shelved with Tommy John surgery, he hasn't actually said a word to anyone, so I guess now's the time.

The two months also represents the amount of time he's been healing since elbow reconstruction, which is good news for Dodger fans.  The early timetable is that he may indeed be ready for Opening Day.  Keep in mind that TJ surgery requires much more downtime for pitchers, with obviously more strain they put on their arms.  Crawford pretty much has a noodle arm even at 100%, so don't expect Vlad Guerrero out there.

Crawford feels like he's ahead of schedule, so take that for what it's worth.  Like Kemp, the key is simply to be patient in an impatient world.  Like the Giants are showing right now, it's about peeking late in the year, not early.  If the Dodgers can keep their main guns grounded until they are completely ready, that will benefit everyone.

Friday, October 19, 2012

2012 Report Card

As the Tigers get set for the World Series, and with the Cardinals looking to join them soon, let's take a look back at the season that was for the Dodgers.

That's right, it's report card time!


Clayton Kershaw - Lead the NL in ERA for the second consecutive year at 2.53.  Finished one behind R.A. Dickey for tops in strikeouts at 229.  Might not be the top candidate to repeat his Cy Young Award, but is still the best in the bigs on any given night.

Brandon League - A little shaky when he first arrived, but gave up only one earned run over his last 21 appearances.  Took over the closer's role in September when Kenley Jansen went down and was a cool 6-6.

Josh Beckett - Somewhat quietly pitched very well upon arrival for Boston.  In seven starts, put together a 2.93 ERA and 1.33 WHIP.  A huge lack of run support only gave him two wins, but he was a completely different pitcher than the 5-11, 5.33 ERA he had on the East Coast.

Luis Cruuuuuuuuz - Came out of nowhere to be a fan favorite in the last part of the season.  Played both short and third with ease, hitting .297 with 20 doubles, 6 homers, and 40 RBIs.  Leapfrogged Dee Gordon in the pecking order for 2013.

Kenley Jansen - Took over the closer's role from Javy Guerra early in the season, and went on to gather 25 saves with a 2.35 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and 99 K's in 65 innings.  The seven blown saves is a bit much, but was still dominating.


Matt Kemp - He's really only here because he played in 106 games thanks to a variety of injuries.  Still hit .303 with 23 homers and 69 RBIs, but wasn't the same player after a scorching April.

Andre Ethier - Put up good numbers at .284 with 20 home runs and 89 RBIs.  But, when his team needed him most in September, slumped to .245 with only seven extra-base hits in 98 at-bats.  He certainly wasn't alone, but became pretty much just a singles hitter.

Ronald Belisario - Certainly had "A" numbers if not for a horrendous July that produced a 6.60 ERA.  Other than that, had a 2.54 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 25 holds, and 69 K's in 71 innings.

Scott Elbert - Pretty much forgotten about due to another injury-plagued season.  In the 43 games he did appear in, pitched very well with a 2.20 ERA.  Plus, was one of the only lefty options most of the time until Randy Choate was acquired.

Chad Billingsly - Was looking like the "same old Billingsley" for much of the season, then flicked the switch in July and August.  In nine starts over that time period, lowered his ERA from 4.20 to 3.55.  Unfortunately, elbow problems shelved him for good at the end of August.

Aaron Harang - His numbers are just pretty good, going 10-10 with a 3.61 ERA and 1.40 WHIP.  But he also started 31 games anchoring the back end of the rotation, which the Dodgers gladly took.

Chris Capuano - There's no doubt that his first three months were better than the last three (plus one October start).  Ended June at 100 innings and a 2.69 ERA.  Ended the season at 198 and 3.72.  Still, much like Harang, more than solidified the end of the rotation, especially with injuries to Ted Lilly and Billingsley.

Jerry Hairston, Jr. - It's a shame the Dodgers lost him at the end of the season, because he definitely brought energy both starting and from the bench.  Appeared in 73 games playing multiple positions with a great glove, and hit .273.

A.J. Ellis - Like a few other players, was putting up "A" production most of the way, but really faded at the end.  A .216 September only added to the team's miseries.  Pretty solid overall, though, considering it was his first full season behind the plate.

Hanley Ramirez - Gave a pretty good spark from Miami, hitting .271 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs in 64 games in LA.  Still is capable of doing more, and needs to cut down on his strikeouts, as 132 is way too high.

Mark Ellis - Maybe only hit .258, but something needs to be said about his leadership and hard-nosed style.  Courageously battled back from a nasty leg injury in mid-May to get back on the field in July.

Nick Punto - The last of the big names to come from the Red Sox, had a .390 OBP in 22 games.  Gave some good energy at second late in the season.


Adrian Gonzalez - Could not have possibly started his Dodgers' career off better, stroking a three-run homer in his first at-bat.  Unfortunately, it took him 26 games until he hit his next, as he failed to be the big power threat at cleanup we all thought he'd be.  Does have a 15-game hitting streak to carry into next season, though.

Elian Herrera - Much like Cruz, went from unknown to everyday player for a bit.  Unlike Cruz, couldn't keep it up.  Add it all up, and he played in 67 games, hitting .251 with a homer, 17 RBIs, and 4 steals.

Juan Rivera - Was relegated to mere spot duty late in the season when Shane Victorino and Gonzalez came aboard.  Did hit 9 homers and 47 RBIs, but was pretty much an afterthought late in the year.

Javy Guerra - Started the season as the closer with five straight saves, but lost it soon thereafter with three blown ones.  Definitely figured things out at the end with a 2.60 ERA, but a 1.49 WHIP suggests he was a bit lucky, too.

Matt Guerrier - Wasn't terrible with a 3.86 ERA and 1.07 WHIP, but still hasn't filled that role of great setup man like he was signed to be two years ago.  Injuries can be blamed this year, limiting him to only 16 games.

Randy Choate - Very average when he came over from the Marlins, which is what a "C" is all about.  After putting up a great 2.49/0.99 line with Miami, proceeded to give the Dodgers a 4.05/1.65 line.  Not exactly the shutdown lefty they hoped he'd be.

Shawn Tolleson - Had his moments where he flashed good stuff, but overall was just so-so.  In 40 games, collected a 4.30 ERA and 1.33 WHIP.  Someone to keep an eye on in the future, however.

Jamey Wright - Filled many different roles out of the 'pen, appearing in 67 games with a 3.72 ERA, but a high 1.51 WHIP.  I doubt many people thought he'd last the whole season, so that's a credit to him.

Adam Kennedy - Pretty wretched through June, but a good July and August gave him hope, raising his AVG from .217 to .262.  And just like that in early September, went down for good with a strained groin.

Bobby Abreu - Cut loose by the Angels in May, was thrust right into the action with a banged up outfield.  There's no doubt he wore down after a good start, ending with a .246 AVG, but a very good .361 OBP.


Shane Victorino - Should have been a slam dunk choice for the leadoff spot after coming over from the Phillies.  Instead, struggled with a .245 AVG and .313 OBP in 53 games.  Never was able to get things going, which was a big disappointment.

Todd Coffey - One of the last signings of the offseason for depth in the bullpen.  Ended up with a 4.66 ERA in 23 games before Tommy John reared its ugly head in early July.

Joe Blanton - The Phillies pretty much gave him away, and after watching him go 2-4 with a 4.99 ERA and 1.42 WHIP, I can see why.  Never was able to stabilize a rotation that suffered a couple of big injuries

Dee Gordon - Started the year with all sorts of promise after a great finish to '11.  Then he couldn't get on base hitting leadoff, committed 18 errors, and broke a finger on a slide on July 4 which effectively put him out of the picture with Ramirez and Cruz in the fold.  Still has all sorts of speed with 32 swipes, but 10 times gunned down is a bit much.

Tony Gwynn - Much like Rivera, was lost in the shuffle once all the trades were made.  Pretty awful at the plate with a .232 AVG and a pathetic .276 OBP.  Sent packing for good in early August.

Matt Treanor - Almost not even fair to evaluate his season considering he played in only 36 games backing up A.J.  Realistically, a .175 AVG is pretty hard to defend no matter how you slice it.


Juan Uribe - I'm a firm believer that he was the worst player in baseball this year.  66 games, .191 AVG, 2 homers, 17 RBIs.  I was actually at the game he hit a homer off of Dickey in New York.  I still haven't recovered from shock.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Wanted: Another new batting coach

With the Dodgers' late season collapse on offense, Dave Hansen is the first guy to take a fall.

The team announced he will not return as hitting coach in 2013.  He was offered a chance to be reassigned within the organization, but he declined.  And I certainly can't blame him for that decision after being fired.

Since Ned Colletti was hired seven years ago, he has cycled through six batting coaches.  First came Eddie Murray, then Bill Mueller, Mike Easler, Don Mattingly, Jeff Pentland, and Hansen.  I can only hope these coaches chose to rent in LA and not buy.

I'm certainly no expert on this subject, but I'm also a believer that batting coaches can only do so much.  I think pitching coaches have a much bigger impact on the game, as they can work on gameplans for the opposing offense and work on new pitches and deliveries.  While hitting coaches can certainly tinker with stances and gameplan on which pitches to attack, I'm not sure what else they can really do.

Let's not kid ourselves - if Matt Kemp was healthy, then the offense would've ended the year much better.  But he wasn't, so they didn't.  The other major problem was that too many guys went up to the plate trying to hit a grand slam with nobody on base.  Way too many times we'd see strikeouts, pop ups, and little dribblers with runners on because they were trying to do way too much.  I highly doubt Hansen instructed them to do that.

I do think that whoever is picked as the next hitting coach will have a lot working for him right away.  We can only hope Kemp will be 100% after his shoulder surgery, then he'll have guys like Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier, and Hanley Ramirez to work with.  Not to mention an emerging Luis Cruz, and hopefully a returning Carl Crawford.  There's plenty of horses to make you look good.

I haven't heard about any replacements yet, but I have to think that Mickey Hatcher is a candidate.  He spent years as the Angels' hitting coach for Mike Scioscia before being canned this past year.  He then finished the season with the Dodgers as a special advisor to Colletti.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

2012 ends with more Kershaw dominance

Pitching the day after the Dodgers were officially eliminated from the postseason, Clayton Kershaw does what he always does: take the ball, and wipe the floor with his opposition.

Playoffs or not, nothing was going to stop the reigning Cy Young Award winner.

Kershaw put the punctuation on another terrific season by holding the Giants down to one run over eight innings, and the Dodgers took over late to get the win, 5-1.  The final tally is a second place finish in the NL West at 86-76, eight games behind the Giants.  Playoff-wise, they were only two games in back of the Cardinals.

Playing in a virtually meaningless game since the Giants already knew they'd be playing the Reds in the NLDS, Don Mattingly and Bruce Bochy both chose to start the game with mostly a regular lineup, and a couple of stud pitchers in Kershaw and Ryan Vogelsong.  Through three innings, nobody even reached base.

In the fourth, the Giants scored their first and only run of the game.  Marco Scutaro singled with one out, and went to third on Pablo Sandoval's double.  That damn Buster Posey burned the Dodgers again with an RBI groundout to make it 1-0.  Hunter Pence struck out for the last out.

The Dodgers did break up the perfect game by Vogelsong when Andre Ethier walked with one out in the fourth.  It took until the fifth for them to score to tie the game.  With two outs, Luis Cruz reached on an error by Scutaro at second.  Tim Federowicz got his first start of the season, and he singled to put two on.  Kershaw then stroked an RBI single before Federowicz was nailed at third to end the inning.

With changes to the lineup starting to trickle in, the Dodgers took the lead for good in the sixth.  Ethier hit a one-out double to right.  Now with two outs, Adrian Gonzalez extended his hitting streak to 15 games with an RBI single, and it was 2-1.

Kershaw stayed on to get through eight innings as the Giants were still within a run.  But, in the bottom of the eighth, the Dodgers showed some muscle to put the game away.  With one out, Alex Castellanos hit his first career home run, a no-doubter to left, to make it 3-1.  Elian Herrera then singled, which led to a two-run bomb to dead center from Juan Rivera, putting the Dodgers in full control at 5-1.

There was some question as to whether or not Kershaw would return for the complete game.  He ended the eighth inning at 229 strikeouts, only one behind NL-leader R.A. Dickey.  But with the Dodgers now enjoying a comfortable lead, he decided to end the season on a high note.

Kenley Jansen came in instead, and after walking Aubrey Huff leading off, breezed through the last three, striking out Xavier Nady to end it all. 

I can imagine that there's plenty of pitchers out there who easily would have called it a season when his team was officially out of postseason contention.  Not Kershaw.  Here's a guy who started the season pitching with the flu and sick as a dog on Opening Day, and ended it by taking the ball in a meaningless game.  He also could've thrown in the towel after his recent hip issues, but nope.  Not Kershaw.

His latest effort resulted in eight innings for three hits, one run, three walks, and eight strikeouts.  He got enough offensive support for the win, which hasn't exactly been the case for much of this season, so he finishes at a record of 14-9.  Add in an NL-best 2.59 ERA and 1.02 WHIP, and he's once again in the thick of the NL Cy Young Award race.  And deservedly so.

It pretty much goes without saying that the difference in atmosphere between Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon was tremendous.  If the Dodgers could've pulled it off on Tuesday, who know how this game and the Cardinals' game would've turned out on the last day.  It's definitely an opportunity missed, and a painful one at that.

That will do it for this season, as the playoff begin on Friday.  The Braves and Cardinals will meet in the one-game Wild Card playoff, with the winner facing the Nationals.  The Giants and Reds open on Saturday.  I guess I can try to root for an NL team to take the World Series.  Just not the Giants!

If the second half of the season is any indication, then the new ownership group will definitely be busy in the offseason.  Even though many of the main guns are already locked in for next season and beyond, you know Magic and the boys won't stop adding to the roster.  Let's see how much they open their wallets this time.

To all of my readers of this site: a big THANK YOU, and talk to you real soon!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Dodgers bend.... and finally break

In the end, the Dodgers weren't eliminated from the playoffs because of the Cardinals.  They did it all to themselves.

With a runner on second and two outs in the ninth, Mark Ellis' sinking fly ball to center was caught by Angel Pagan, ending both the game and the playoff chances for the Dodgers, 4-3.  The six-game winning streak coming into this game was history as well.

History... something the Dodgers will keep adding to in a negative way.  As in, 24 years since that magical 1988 World Series championship.  Another year added to the tally.

There was plenty of reason for optimism as Chris Capuano toed the rubber to begin this game.  The Reds were on their way to taking care of the Cardinals, holding onto a 3-1 win.  The magic number for the Cards remained at one, and the Dodgers stayed alive to fight another day.

After both teams went down in order to start the game, it was Buster Posey who once again imposed his will.  Leading off the second, he crushed a long solo homer to center, putting the Giants up 1-0.  I'm not sure what the point was of even pitching to a guy who is clearly their top hitter, but Capuano wanted to challenge him, and he got burnt.

The Dodgers did get that run back in the bottom half.  Hanley Ramirez took a one-out pitch down the right field line for a triple.  Luis Cruz got him home on an RBI groundout, and it was 1-1.  Andre Ethier doubled, so A.J. Ellis was given an intentional walk to pitch to Capuano, who struck out.

Just like the last inning, the Giants started the third with a boom.  This time it was Joaquin Arias who belted a long shot leading off, making it 2-1.  Pagan and Marco Scutaro singled with an out, and just as Capuano was on the ropes, he got a big double play ball from Pablo Sandoval to escape more trouble.

Capuano was soon chased in the fourth, as Don Mattingly clearly wasn't messing around with his starter.  Posey singled to start, which brought a hook for Caps, and an opportunity for Jamey Wright to keep the game manageable.  He sure did, as Hunter Pence struck out on three pitches, and Xavier Nady grounded into a DP.

As the Dodgers were clearly pressing on offense against Barry Zito, the Giants added to their lead in the fifth.  Once again, the leadoff hitter reached as Hector Sanchez singled.  Arias grounded out, but Sanchez went to second on an error by Wright.  Zito struck out for two down, and with Pagan due up, he was put on to pitch to Scutaro.

Who knows if the Dodgers knew this at the time, but the whole Dodgers' season pretty much came down to Scutaro's at-bat.  And that's because Scutaro lined a two-run double into right to go up 4-1.  That was bad enough, and made even worse because of the intentional walk to Pagan right before that.  Donny Baseball gambled and lost.

The fifth and sixth brought chances for the Dodgers, but no results.  In the fifth, Juan Rivera pinch-hit and singled, and Shane Victorino doubled with two outs.  Matt Kemp had a horrible night by going 0-for-4 with three K's, and his only contact was here on a groundout back to the pitcher.  Ouch.

The next inning, a double play from Cruz erased a leadoff single from Adrian Gonzalez.

The seventh, however, finally brought Dodger Stadium back to life.  Zito's last pitch of the night came here when he beaned Ethier to start.  Out he went, and in came Guillermo Mota.  A.J. Ellis greeted him with a two-run homer to right center, just out of the reach of a leaping Pagan, and it was 4-3.

Now, the seventh was also an equally frustrating inning for the opportunity the Dodgers wasted.  With one out, Mark Ellis doubled into center, and maybe forgetting that he's no longer 20-years-old, he tried to get to third and was gunned down with ease.  That mental lapse was made even worse when Victorino stepped up and tripled next, only to be stranded by a Kemp strikeout.

Still, it was only a one-run game, and Kenley Jansen blew away the Giants in the eighth by striking out the side.  The Dodgers couldn't do any better, but Brandon League kept the Giants in check again with a scoreless ninth.

The whole season came down to the bottom of the ninth, as Ethier greeted Jeremy Affeldt with a single.  That brought in Sergio Romo, who got A.J. Ellis swining for the first out.  Mattingly turned to Dee Gordon to run for Ethier, and to Bobby Abreu to hit for Elian Herrera.

Abreu ended up flying out to center for the second out, but Gordon kept the night alive by swiping second, his 32nd in only 86 games.  Mark Ellis had a great chance to make up for his baserunning blunder a couple inning before, but flew out to end it all.

Obviously, this was a really tough way to end the season for the Dodgers.  They went from red hot in April, to cooling off thanks to the injury bug, to making a few huge trades, to playing like crap with those players, to getting hot again at the end, to running out of time.  That, in a nutshell, is the story of the 2012 Dodgers.

One constant of the winning streak was the starting pitching, but Capuano definitely did not add to that run.  He lasted a mere three innings for five hits, two runs, no walks, and no strikeouts.  He was on a short leash as it was, but to only last three innings is very disappointing.  He just never got anything going.

The other big letdown was Kemp.  He was as good a hitter as one could be for the last week, but on Tuesday, he flat out stunk.  Three strikeouts and a dribbler back to the mound.  I was shocked to see that happen, as I was very confident he could get to Zito.  Obviously that didn't happen, and boy did the Dodgers pay because of it.

Of course, Gonzalez and his one single in four at-bats didn't exactly set the world on fire either.  The 3-4 part of the order went 1-for-8 with no extra-base hits and four K's.  It's a wonder how the Dodgers didn't get blown out.

I guess one of the only minor consolations from this game is that even with a win, the Dodgers still didn't control their own destiny, as the Cardinals had the one-game edge.  Just losing that opportunity to put even more heat on them sucks enough, though.

Wednesday will be an afternoon start, as Clayton Kershaw will take the mound.  This start has gone from a chance to pitch into next week to solely impressing the Cy Young voters.  Man, I was really looking forward to a big game #162, and hopefully #163 on Thursday, but it wasn't meant to be.  Sigh...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

It's simple: win 2, and hope the Cardinals lose 2

There is no other way.

After another successful night for both the Dodgers and Cardinals, the Dodgers know exactly what they have to get done and hope to get done on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Beat the Giants in the remaining two games, and hope the Reds can take down the Cardinals for two.  Anything else isn't good enough.

A couple hours after the Cardinals beat the Reds 4-2, the Dodgers found themselves deadlocked with the Giants 2-2 in the ninth.  That's when Elian Herrera stepped in with the bases loaded and smoked a walk-off single off of Marco Scutaro's glove at second to keep the Dodgers alive another day.

The second NL Wild Card spot is the lone remaining playoff spot up for grabs, and thanks to a six-game winning streak, the longest of the season for the Dodgers, the race gets extended again.

The night didn't start off so hot, as when the Cardinals were taking a lead for good from the Reds, the Giants struck in the first.  Scutaro took a one-out walk before Pablo Sandoval popped up.  Buster Posey, a clear MVP candidate thanks to a fantastic season on both sides of the field, cracked an RBI double off of Aaron Harang to make it 1-0.

Both teams traded double plays in the second, as Xavier Nady and Shane Victorino pulled the tricks.  Harang and Matt Cain breezed through the third as well.

It took until the fourth for the Dodgers to get their first runs.  Mark Ellis was back in the leadoff spot, and he singled to start.  Andre Ethier has seemingly always had a good time against Cain, and that continued here with a long two-run shot to center, making it 2-1.  Ethier has certainly had big hits in his career, but it's a little hard to explain just why he drives a great pitcher like Cain so nuts.  Just one of those things, I guess.

The Dodgers had chances to score in both the fifth and sixth, but couldn't make a dent.  In the fifth, Victorino and A.J. Ellis were in scoring position with two down, but Mark Ellis grounded out.  The next inning, Adrian Gonzalez doubled and Hanley Ramirez was intentionally walked with two down.  Victorino singled, but for whatever reason, third base coach Tim Wallach sent Gonzo home.

How exactly did that work out?  Uh, not so well.  Gonzalez was thrown out by about 12 miles, and the inning was over.  I'm not sure why Wallach felt the need to send him there, as even Juan Rivera can claim to be faster than Gonzalez.  That's probably not a good thing.

Still up 2-1, Don Mattingly turned the game over to his power-throwing bullpen.  Ronald Belisario was first up, and he got the first couple of outs before running into a little trouble.  Brandon Belt singled and stole second before Nady drew a walk.  Brandon Crawford struck out swinging, though.

Kenley Jansen was summoned next, and for the first time since coming back on September 20 from his heart issues, he gave up a run.  With one out, Angel Pagan doubled to right.  Scutaro tied the game with RBI single on a fastball up, and we were once again back to square one.

The Dodgers couldn't do anything in the bottom of the eighth, but Brandon League still came in to start the ninth.  He gave up a two-out single to Aubrey Huff, and as Emmanuel "Tiki" Burriss pinch-ran, Ellis gunned him down trying to steal second for the final out.

Bruce Bochy sent in Santiago Casilla to try and get the game into extras.  Ramirez got everything started with a leadoff single.  Victorino sacrificed him over to second.  Luis Cruuuuuuz singled, but perhaps learning his lesson from earlier in the game, Wallach kept Ramirez at third.  A.J. Ellis as then given the intentional pass to load the bases.

Herrera has had an interesting season.  He wasn't on the big league roster to start the year, then went from unknown to everyday player when Dee Gordon got banged up and Juan Uribe (remember him?) still couldn't hit.  Then Herrera forgot how to hit, and was sent back down.  Then rosters got expanded, and he was brought back up.

Looking for any sort of spark to keep the Dodgers' playoff hopes alive, Herrera lined a single off of Scutaro's glove as the ball bounced into center to end the game.  It was a great moment for a hard worker who can play so many different roles.

As a Dodger fan, it's great to see them play so well over the last week.  It's also just as frustrating, because if they started this run even a week earlier, they could easily be in the position the Cardinals are in right now.  You can't help but wonder what could have happened if they just figured this thing out a little sooner.

While the offense has certainly picked it up (not that they could've gotten any worse for most of September), one constant of the six-game run has been the starting pitching.  That continued with Harang's solid effort, going six innings for two hits, one run, two walks, and three strikeouts.  He didn't look so good in the first, but he certainly found his groove against a playoff team featuring their regular players.  That was very encouraging.

By the time the Dodgers throw the first pitch on Tuesday night, the Cardinals will already be well into their game, just like Monday.  So, it can either be a depressing sight, or another opportunity to stay alive.  In St. Louis, it's a great pitching matchup between Mat Latos and Chris Carpenter.  Let's hope the Reds send out their big guns like Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips.  Please don't do what the Red Sox did against the Yankees and send out the equivalent of a Triple-A team!

At Dodger Stadium, it'll be Chris Capuano against Barry Zito.  Capuano has certainly not been the same pitcher as he was in the first half, but he is coming off his first win since mid-August against the Padres.  Zito somehow has 14 wins despite a 4.19 ERA.  Not terrible, but I do like the Dodgers' chances in scoring runs off of him.

I just hope those runs lead them to a big game on Wednesday, and not an early start to winter.

Monday, October 1, 2012

5 straight wins keeps the pressure on

Say what you want about the Dodgers and their late surge, but this much is true: they're at least making the Cardinals sweat a little.

Not too long after the Cardinals slapped around the Nationals 10-4, the Dodgers went right out and won again, blowing past the Rockies, 7-1.  And with that, the Dodgers remain two games in back of the Cardinals for the final Wild Card spot, eliminating the Brewers in the process.

The Rockies and their 97 losses at least made the game interesting through 3 1/2 innings.  Both Jorge De La Rosa and Josh Beckett put some runners on, but nothing came across early.  Becket was especially helped out by a fantastic double play to end the third, as Mark Ellis ranged to his left to nab Jordan Pacheco's grounder to start it.  If that goes through, who knows if the Rockies put a big rally together.

Leading off the fourth, Andrew Brown took one out to left for a solo shot go to up 1-0.  That would mark the first run of this pitiful series for the Rockies, as they had been outscored 11-0 up to that point.

The fun for them would be short-lived, however, as the Dodgers immediately went to work in the bottom half.  Shane Victorino was in the #2 spot for this game, and he singled leading off.  Matt Kemp then stepped in and hit another home run, a two-run shot to right that just found it's way over to the wall for the 2-1 edge.  It's his third in the last two games, as he's clearly found his stroke again.

Adrian Gonzalez kept things going with a single before Hanley Ramirez flew out.  Luis Cruuuuuuuuz out-Kemped Kemp with a two-run laser out to left, making it 4-1. 

The Rockies did put two on to start the fifth, as Cruz threw away a grounder from Josh Rutledge, and Rafael Ortega successfully bunted.  Nothing came of it, though, as a strikeout, pop up, and fielder's choice ended that threat.

Another run was added in the fifth for the Dodgers.  With two outs, Victorino and Kemp singled, and Gonzo walked.  Ramirez ripped an RBI single to left to go up 5-1, but Kemp was thrown out at home trying to get more.  It was a good throw out in left by Chase Blackmon, so it was worth a shot.

The third two-run homer of the game ended the scoring in the seventh.  Andre Ethier drew a one-out walk, which led to a big fly from A.J. Ellis, his 12th of the season, to make it 7-1.

Over the final three innings, the Rockies put five men on base, including loading the bases in the seventh, but could never get that big hit.  It was very much like watching the Dodgers from earlier in September.  The Rockies were that miserable in scoring opportunities.  No wonder why they stink.  Really, really stink.

The guy who once again led the way was Kemp.  His 23rd tater of the season only shows how much better the Dodgers are when this guy's right.  He started September with a .331 average, only to watch it nosedive down to .298 on 25th.  In the five games since then, he's 11-for-20 (.550) with four homers and nine RBIs.  I'm not sure if he's simply healthy now or just seeing the ball better, but whatever the reason, he is on fire.

And no surprise, as Kemp is hitting, the Dodgers as a whole are hitting, and the wins have piled in.  They've won by scores of 8-2, 8-4, 8-0, 3-0, and 7-1.  Add it all up, and they've outscored the Padres and Rockies 34-7.  Hey, that's about what the Raiders lost to the Broncos by on Sunday.  Sorry, but as a Raider fan, not all is rosy in the sports world.

Anyway, it's clear the Dodgers feed off of Kemp's energy, and as he goes, so goes the offense.  I know the Padres and Rockies aren't the world's greatest baseball teams, but the Dodgers looked bad against everybody not long ago, even teams like them.  To see them finally score like they're capable of is refreshing.

Beckett gave a good lift as well, going six innings for six hits, one run, three walks, and five strikeouts.  I remember Curt Schilling saying how Beckett would be the big winner in the Boston trade, and although I'm no Schilling fan by any stretch, I have to say he is correct.  Forget the 2-3 record, his 2.93 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in seven starts show how effective he's been.

The magic number for the Cardinals is two, so despite the much-improved play of the Dodgers over the past week, it could all be over after Monday.  Simply put, if the Cardinals win and the Dodgers lose, then it's back to the golf course starting Thursday.  Of course, if the opposite happens and the Dodgers are only a game back, then Tuesday and Wednesday become so much more interesting.

For now, the Dodgers have to focus on the hated Giants, who just enjoyed an awesome September.  Aaron Harang will need to step up and deliver one of his best starts of the season, as he'll go against Matt Cain.