Sunday, March 31, 2013

25-man roster for '13 is set... for now

With several decisions to be made, especially for pitching, the Dodgers have submitted their 25-man roster.  Let's take a look:

Catchers: A.J. Ellis, Tim Federowicz

Infielders: Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Ellis, Justin Sellers, Luis Cruz, Juan Uribe

Outfielders: Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier

Utility: Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto, Jerry Hairston

Starting Pitchers: Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Josh Beckett, Zack Greinke

Bullpen: Brandon League, Kenley Jansen, J.P. Howell, Ronald Belisario, Matt Guerrier, Paco Rodriguez, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang

15-day DL: Hanley Ramirez (thumb), Ted Lilly (shoulder), Chad Billingsley (elbow), Scott Elbert (elbow)

There's lot of things to discuss, so here we go.  First of all, keep in mind that Punto, Schumaker, and Hairston can all play multiple positions in the infield or outfield, so that's why I have them listed as utility.

Yes, Uribe is still around.

Sellers went from being demoted to being declared the starting shortstop.  That moves Cruz back to third as everyone waits another six weeks for Ramirez to get back into action.  Sellers hit .283 with a .373 OBP in 23 games this spring, with a homer and 10 RBIs.

The starting rotation only has four listed because Billingsley will not be long for the DL.  The early word is that he'll be activated by next Saturday and be the fifth starter.  Of course, that will lead management to make another tough call when they need to clear a roster spot.

Capuano and Harang are in the bullpen, but it sure looks like only Capuano will stick around for long.  Harang could very well be the one dealt when Billingsley makes his return.  In management's view, Capuano will be the long reliever and third lefty option behind Howell and Rodriguez.  Harang looks to be lost in the shuffle.

Lilly is another question mark.  He appears to be in a holding pattern for now, almost waiting for an injury to occur so he can be activated.  You have to wonder how long that'll last.

One last thing to remember is that the Dodgers can change this roster at any point before they open on Monday against the Giants, so this isn't exactly set in stone.  Maybe they'll flip flop on Cruz at short or third again!

Let's go Dodgers!

Friday, March 29, 2013

10 questions for 2013

Expectations are sky high in LA, and Opening Day will only begin to show just how prepared the Dodgers are for a deep run in October. With that in mind, let's take a look at 10 key questions facing the Dodgers on their quest towards a World Series.

1. Is Matt Kemp ready to regain his MVP form?
It's not hard to see some major differences between Kemp's 2011 season and his 2012 one. Just take a look:

2011 - 161 G, .324 AVG, .399 OBP, 39 HR, 126 RBI, 40 SB
2012 - 106 G, .303 AVG, .367 OBP, 23 HR, 69 RBI, 9 SB

Obviously, those are some pretty big drops in numbers across the board. Not only did his power suffer due to playing in 55 less games, but his running game went from Adrian Peterson to the Oakland Raiders (non-existent). The good news is that he got five months to heal in the offseason as March hit, and has been a regular performer in Spring Training games towards the end of the month. That's a fantastic sight, and with guys like Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez (when he returns from injury) surrounding him in the lineup, I can see Kemp doing some big things this season. I don't think we can expect another 40-40, Triple Crown push, but a dominant player no less.

2. Are Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke the top 1-2 punch in baseball?
On paper, it would be hard to dispute that. We're talking about a couple of stud, #1 pitchers on any team, and here they are pitching together on the same one. That's pretty awesome. I highly doubt anybody is worried about Kershaw regressing. He just turned 25 and has already won a Cy Young Award. It's scary to think that he's only getting better as he reaches his prime.

Understandably so, it's Greinke who concerns people the most. Not necessarily that he won't pitch well, but for a couple other reasons. One, there's question whether he can handle the big spotlight of Los Angeles. Two, he's already had some elbow issues this spring, and is pushing it to even make his first start on time. I can see him taking a little bit of time to adjust, but in the end, there's just so much talent there that if his elbow truly is fine, the Dodgers really will have the best 1-2 tandem in the bigs.

3. Will Hanley Ramirez try to comeback too soon? Will he even be the same player once he does return?
Talk about getting a kick in the stomach while winning a championship. Ramirez and his Dominican Republic team made is all the way through the World Baseball Classic unblemished, and he tore a thumb ligament in the final game. Ouch. Now the Dodgers are without his services until at least late-May.

As we saw from Kemp last season, it's never in anyone's best interests to return from a major injury too early, no matter how badly he wants to. The tricky thing is if the Dodgers are not playing very well when May is upon is, then Ramirez may start getting the itch to return earlier than expected. That didn't work well for Kemp last season, and it also derailed Andre Ethier's 2010 season after he had a scorching hot start. Let's just hope common sense prevails and he does the right thing by sitting out however long he needs to get right.

Once he is back, now we're back to the pre-injury question of whether or not he can regain his superstar form from earlier in his career. The move to LA definitely seemed to at least wake him up from a two-year hibernation, now we have to see if takes the next step. When he's at his best, he's right up there with Kemp and Kershaw as far as talent and impact on the game. He can hit for power and steal bases, something that's an increasingly hard combination to see anymore. It may take him awhile to truly get going, but if he is rolling once August-September rolls around, the Dodgers can be a very hard team to stop.

4. Is Brandon League the true answer at closer, or will it be Kenley Jansen's time again?
Even with the boatloads of cash the Dodgers now have, they still raised plenty of eyebrows as last offseason started by signing League to a three-year, $22.5 million deal. Considering he lost the closer's role with the Mariners last season and struggled when he first got to LA before turning things around in September, that's a pretty loaded deal he got.

The biggest question people have with this deal is probably because of Jansen. Simply put, why don't the Dodgers just make the flame-throwing Jansen their closer? Maybe the Dodgers prefer League and his 60 career saves closing, while Jansen is the bridge in the eighth to get the ball to him. I can understand the reasoning, as Jansen is basically a one-trick pony (cut fastball), though he does it better than nearly everyone not named Mariano Rivera. Plus, while he does have 34 saves in his brief career, he also has eight blown ones, which is a little high. Then again, League has 24 blown saves, so...

You get the point. Here's the bottom line: League will be given the chance to show he can handle the job once April 1 hits, ala Javy Guerra from last season. Big contract or not, I don't think Don Mattingly will hesitate at all to move Jansen to the ninth if League channels his inner-Guerra. Ideally, those two will form a terrific setup-closer combo if they're both on.

5. What to do with all of the leftover starting pitchers?
The Dodgers are in one of the most interesting situations in baseball with so many capable starting pitchers on their roster. After the big two, there's Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, and Ted Lilly. With the exception of Ryu, every single one of those pitchers has had some sort of success in the majors. Anyone of them is capable of being a starting pitcher on most staffs. But, anyone of them could find himself on the way out the door at any moment.

I think it's safe to assume Beckett and Billingsley are locked in the rotation. I have a hard time believing Ryu wouldn't be as well, especially with the size of his contract, and that he's gotten better and better this spring. So do the Dodgers really want to store Capuano, Harang, and Lilly in the bullpen? That just doesn't seem probable. I know I read that Lilly was asked to start the season on the DL, so that would be one way around the problem. If he turns that down, then you have to expect one of them will be moved. There's been reports at various times this spring about scouts attending starts for Harang and Capuano. Lilly is getting over bad shoulder problems, but he's the best of the three when everyone is healthy.

With injuries occurring so often to pitchers, the Dodgers will most likely look to keep two of the three around for as long as they can.  But all three?  I just don't see that happening.

6. Is Luis Cruz the real deal?
During a lost 2012 for the Dodgers, one of the lone bright spots was a young kid who quickly became a fan favorite playing third and short.  One of the biggest chants from Dodger Stadium (for those who actually bothered to show up) was the "Cruuuuuuuuuuuz!" call at the end of the season.  And with good reason, as he hit .297 with 20 doubles, 6 homers, and 40 RBIs in 78 games.

If you're a fantasy baseball player, then this is the type of guy whom the "experts" label as a "regression candidate."  It's understandable in a way because he's never had big numbers in his career, dating back through the minors.  By looking strictly at the numbers, people can guess that he found lightning in a bottle and a lot went right for him.

I'm going to take the flipside and buy into him, though.  I like his aggressive approach at the plate, and think it's a welcome addition to a lineup that can use more power.  Plus, he's very versatile in the field, as he can flip-flop between short and third, as he'll do to start the season because of Ramirez's injury.  I don't think he'll approach .300 again, but he's an exciting player and I look for him to get plenty of big hits this year.

7. Which Adrian Gonzalez can we expect?
There was plenty of buzz last trade deadline when Gonzalez was brought in from Boston.  Finally the Dodgers had a true cleanup hitter to put behind Kemp in the #3 spot.  Here's a guy who hit 30+ homers for four straight seasons with the Padres and Red Sox, and is still one of the most feared sluggers in the game.

The result?  Three homers and 22 RBIs in 36 games.  How many people remember that his first at-bat in LA was a three-run homer?  Hard to imagine a power outage like that.  All of a sudden that shoulder surgery he had back in October of 2010 looked a lot more serious.  Maybe it's a lingering injury that is starting to really take its toll.

I suppose only Gonzalez knows the answer to that, but no matter how you slice it, the Dodgers need him to be the big bopper again.  He's really the only other true power threat with Kemp, and if Carl Crawford is leading off and getting on base, then Gonzo can have some big numbers this year.  Three taters in 36 games aren't the numbers of a cleanup hitter, so let's hope his shoulder is fine and he's more comfortable this go around.

8. With that in mind, which Carl Crawford can we expect?
One of, if not THE, biggest question marks surrounding the Dodgers this spring was the health of Crawford, who underwent Tommy John surgery last year with the Red Sox before being traded to LA.  He's been everything from completely out, to making a comeback, to suffering a setback, to playing as if everything is fine.  He's hard to figure out.

The good news is that he's currently at the stage of playing as if everything is fine, and that is some absolutely great news.  The Dodgers have zero options other than him to hit leadoff.  They can have some guys doing spot duty like Nick Punto, Mark Ellis, and Skip Schumaker, but obviously nobody like Crawford.  He has gap power and blazing speed on the bases, and truly can be a difference maker.

He'll never have a golden arm, but that's not why he's there.  When he was in his prime with the Rays, he was one of the best players in baseball, much like Ramirez was with the Marlins.  Now the Dodgers have both of those guys with something to prove.  Elbow injuries are no joke, but if he really is over all of the bad stuff, I'm pumped to watch him atop the Dodgers' order.

9. Will Don Mattingly earn a new contract... or will this be the last we see of him in Dodger blue?
A story that has been kept on the back burner so far has been the contract status of Mattingly, who is entering the final year of his three-year deal.  The only time it's come up was when he looked into getting an extension but was turned down.  For a team with sky-high expectations, management wants to see how things go this year, which is their right to do.

I love Mattingly's fire, and really do believe in him leading this team.  There's times that fire burns too hot, as he has to control getting ejected so much.  In other words, he can't be going all Bobby Cox on us!  Though if that leads to Cox's success, now we're talking.  But anyway, anything less than a playoff appearance will not be good news for him.  He has to win and has to win now.

10. Last but not least, what will the Dodgers do with phenom Yasiel Puig?
In 26 games this spring, Puig hit .526 with 5 doubles, 2 triples, 3 homers, 11 RBIs, and 4 stolen bases.  What did that earn him?  A ticket to Double-A Chattanooga.  I guess when you're 22 with zero big league experience, even the best Spring Training ever isn't a guarantee of a roster spot.

But let's not kid ourselves, you have to believe that it's only a matter of time before Mr. Puig makes his return to Dodger Stadium.  And boy, if he keeps progressing as the five-tool talent that he's shaping up to be, even an inexperienced kid this age is going to get his shot.  It only makes sense.

The biggest problem right now is the loaded outfield the Dodgers employ.  With names like Kemp, Crawford, and Ethier etched into the lineup, it's not like one of them will be benched.  That's a whole lot of money and big numbers riding the pine, so that's not going to happen.  The most likely scenario, assuming there's no injuries, is a trade.  I recently wrote about Ethier being the favorite in my view to be moved.  His declining power could be swapped in order for Puig's bat to make an impact.  I'm not saying that's even on the table right now, as a lot can happen during a season.  But, it's certainly something to keep in mind.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Will Puig eventually push out Ethier or Crawford?

With news today that Dodgers' phenom Yasiel Puig has been sent to Double-A Chattanooga to start the season, the Dodgers have already declared him unready for the rigors of Major League Baseball.  Still, after an absolutely scorching Spring Training that has seen him draw comparisons to the mighty Bo Jackson, this question needs to be asked:

Should Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier start getting worried?

It's a valid question without a simple answer.  There's three key factors to consider when diving into answering it:

1) Puig is only 22 and has never been on a big league roster.  He's only had 82 official at-bats in his brief minor league career.
2) Crawford and Ethier have a combined six All-Star Game appearances, with Crawford claiming the game's MVP in 2009 with the Rays.
3) Crawford and Ethier are signed through the next five years, and are making a total of $33.5 million this season alone.

And no matter how well Puig has looked this spring, it's #2 and #3 on the list above that might ring the loudest.  Plus, with Crawford back playing after some elbow problems earlier this spring, and with Matt Kemp looking healthy after shoulder issues derailed his 2012 campaign, there isn't any room in a loaded outfield in LA regardless.

But let's not worry about right now, let's take a look into the future.  Just how far?  Well, even that is tricky, as the "future" for Puig could be sometime this season if he continues to rake in the minors.  And, if Crawford and/or Ethier struggle against lefties (and we all know Ethier and his .238 career average against southpaws isn't exactly inspiring confidence for Don Mattingly), then the calls for Puig will start heating up even more.

I'm sure many Dodger fans, much like myself, have looked at different ways in which Puig will get to the big club.  Taking away the injury factor (which is not in Crawford's favor, like it or not), then in my mind it may come down to moving either Crawford or Ethier and their big contracts.  Crawford is the speedster who is pretty valuable right now at the top of the lineup because the Dodgers don't really have any other true leadoff hitter.  Ethier has some power, but is more about singles and doubles and good defense.

So which one would go?  I just have this feeling that it may be Ethier who gets moved.  Like I said above, a healthy Crawford can wreak havoc on opposing defenses with his speed and gap power.  He makes so much of a difference when he's right, which is how he got such a monster deal with the Red Sox in the first place.  The big "if" is definitely his Tommy John surgically repaired left elbow, which is an issue that obviously won't go away.

That leads me to Ethier.  On April 10, he'll turn 31.  In 2009, he hit 31 homers and 106 RBIs.  The last two years combined he hit 31 homers.  Last season he set a career-high with 124 strikeouts, and tied a career-low with a .351 OBP.  To be fair, he still hit .284 with 21 homers and 89 RBIs last year, which are certainly solid numbers.  But, the point is that an argument can be made that his career trends are slowly ticking downward, which comes with older age.

The power is something that concerns me the most, and is the biggest reason I can see the Dodgers valuing Crawford over Ethier.  Right now the Dodgers have big boppers in Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez, and to a lesser extent Hanley Ramirez.  Imagine if Ethier's struggle to get extra-base hits becomes worse and worse, then I can definitely see Puig getting his shot to turn that around.

I'm sure the idea of pairing Puig and Kemp in the heart of the Dodgers' order is getting their entire management very excited.  And if that means making some sort of trade of an outfielder not named Matt Kemp, then I can see Ethier being the one. 

Let's remember that Puig still has plenty of room for improvement, and getting regular at-bats in the minors will only help that.  If he continues to mash down on the farm, then look out.  The Dodgers' front office will have some big decisions to make to get him to Dodger Stadium.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Visit for great custom apparel

I would happily like to tell all my readers about a great website for designing custom apparel, DressUnited.  I recently ordered myself a new white hoodie, and custom designed it with the LA logo on front.  Here's what it looks like:

In the past I have done business with their sister websites, BuildASign and EasyCanvasPrints.  Each time I have ordered material from these sites, it's been fast and easy, and I've been more than satisfied with the products.  The same goes for their new site, and I look forward to ordering from them again in the future.

Bottom line, visit these sites, and order away!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

On second thought, maybe Cruz will play short

After news broke of Hanley Ramirez missing two months with a torn thumb ligament, the speculation quickly turned to who will take his place.  One option was to keep Luis Cruz at third and play the likes of Dee Gordon, Jerry Hairston, and Nick Punto at short.  The other was to move Cruz to short, while Hairston, Punto, and Juan Uribe play thrid.

I thought for sure that Cruz would stay in his spot at third while the others filled in at short. 

Naturally, I thought wrong.

At least it sure appears that way, as Don Mattingly seems to be favoring moving Cruz back to short.  In 23 starts at short (24 total appearances) with the Dodgers last season, he compiled a great .981 fielding %, with only 2 errors in 104 total chances.  He's also had much success in short stints with the Pirates and Brewers in the past.

So, it's not hard to see why Donny Baseball likes Cruz to move over a slot, because he's shown to be very capable of pulling it off.  Throw in the fact that he's hitting .308 this spring with four homers, and that he played very well in the World Baseball Classic (when he wasn't inciting bench-clearing brawls), and you can see why he needs to be in the lineup no matter where he is on defense.

Now that leaves the aforementioned other three guys to man the hot corner.  Whom should it be?  Well, Hairston has a career .893 fielding % in 19 games manning the hot corner, Punto is at .908% in 40 games, and Uribe is at .964 in 259 games.  The advantage in career stats is with Uribe.

But this is also the same Juan Uribe who hit .204 in 2011 and .191 last season with the Dodgers.  So ya... I don't see him starting everyday at third.  Sadly, he probably will get some time there, and that's just something we all have to deal with.  I fully expect Hairston and Punto to get the majority of time there, though.  As well they should be.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Busted thumb costs HanRam 2 months

First "Captain America" David Wright, now Hanley Ramirez.  And just like that I'm starting to agree with the people who are against the World Baseball Classic.

After injuring his right thumb on a dive in the championship game of the WBC (which the Dominican Republic would eventually win), Hanley Ramirez will need surgery to repair a torn ligament, cosing him eight weeks of action.  He'll be in a splint for the first three weeks of rehab.

According to Ramirez, the injury occurred early in the game when he dove to his left on a hard hit grounder.  His right thumb got stuck into the ground and bent backwards, tearing the ligament.  The funny thing is that he actually stayed in the game and picked up a single before the pain really kicked in and manager Tony Pena forced him to sit out.

Even though the Dodgers are dripping with money, don't expect them to go out and make a move to replace him.  The obvious choice is to turn to Dee Gordon, who was the starting shortstop last year at this time.  He'll need to improve his defense and OBP if he wants to earn the everyday nod.  There's also the option of moving Luis Cruz over to short and platooning third.

I would think Cruz will be left alone, and Gordon will get first crack at starting in his old spot again.  What's working against Gordon, in addition to what I listed above, is a mild ankle sprain he's trying to get through.  Thankfully the strain is "mild," so hopefully he'll be good to go soon.

There's also utility men Jerry Hairston, Jr. and Nick Punto, who can pretty play wherever.  There's also the recently demoted Justin Sellers, who has the glove, but can't get a hit.  Speaking of not hitting, Juan Uribe is still lurking whether we like it or not.

Now we move onto the issue of the WBC, which has claimed two stars to injury.  There's two sides to every story, and here they are for this one.  On one side, injuries can occur at any point, at any place.  So it doesn't matter where Ramirez's injury occurred, it just did.  Not much you can do about it.

The problem with that is the other side, which is that a "major" tournament like this is too risky because of the injury factor.  Guys aren't used to going this hard so early in the season, as Spring Training eases them back into action.  So while country pride is a big deal, it's hard to justify it being bigger than being at full strength for the team that pays you millions of dollars for your day job.

Look, I very much enjoyed watching Team USA in their six-game stint in the WBC.  It was a nice warmup for me before the real season starts.  But it's a shame that two players the caliber of Wright and Ramirez had to get hurt because of it.  It almost makes it seem not worth it.  Or at the very least, not worth playing before the season starts.  After the season?  Maybe that's the compromise that needs to be reached.

In the meantime, Ramirez will go under the knife on Friday.  Eight weeks of recovery will put his return around mid-late May.  The Dodgers will be in Milwaukee for three starting on May 20, and back home for three against the Cardinals on May 24.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

An updated look at the rotation candidates

As we currently stand, there are 13 games left in Spring Training.  Here's another look at how the rotation is shaping up, as the battle for the fifth starter heats up.

Clayton Kershaw
2-2, 19 IP, 20 K, 4 BB, 3.79 ERA, 1.32 WHIP
Kershaw recently took a liner off of his calf, but as usual, wasn't affected at all.  Rumor has it he's pretty good.  'Nuff said.

Zack Greinke
0-0, 5 IP, 3 K, 1 BB, 3.60 ERA, 1.40 WHIP
Obviously, this hasn't been the start to his Dodger tenure that Greinke has hoped for.  On the good side, his elbow injury appears to be minor, with the only setback being that he might not be ready for his first start.  After that, he appears good to go.  With the money he makes, the Dodgers will take every precaution necessary, especially since they have plenty of other starters who can plug a gap in the meantime.

Chad Billingsley
0-1, 7 2/3 IP, 6 K, 3 BB, 7.04 ERA, 1.96 WHIP
The numbers are high, but the good news is that he's even pitching at all.  I still have plenty of worries about Billingsley lasting all year, or with him being effective at all if he's not 100%.

Hyun-Jin Ryu
1-2, 16 1/3 IP, 18 K, 6 BB, 4.41 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
Ryu has gotten progressively better as he settles into pitching to MLB hitters.  His last start against the Brewers he surrendered one run in 5 2/3 innings, striking out six while allowing only three hits.  I really like him towards the end of the rotation, as hitters aren't used to him yet, and he has the stuff to matchup very well against other 4-5 starters.

Josh Beckett
0-0, 9 1/3 IP, 11 K, 3 BB, 0.96 ERA, 0.75 WHIP
Speaking of pitchers I like this year, Beckett is right atop that list.  He showed last year that coming to LA has dramatically helped his career, and I expect him to be great this year as well.  A full season in LA will show that he still can get it done, and very well, too.

Chris Capuano
0-1, 9 1/3 IP, 10 K, 2 BB, 10.61 ERA, 1.61 WHIP
Not the greatest of starts for Capuano, who hasn't gotten going at all.  The K/BB split is encouraging, though.  The longball has killed him, as he's already given up four, so if he figures out how to cut down on that, he'll be fine.

Aaron Harang
1-0, 9 IP, 4 K, 5 BB, 10.00 ERA, 2.44 WHIP
Yikes.  It's hard to believe his record is even 1-0 with numbers like those, even if it is Spring Training.  When opponents are hitting .395 against you, it's probably not the best way to earn a rotation spot.  It's hard to imagine that happening at this point.  He better get ready for long relief or another team.

Ted Lilly
0-2, 6 2/3 IP, 5 K, 5 BB, 9.45 ERA, 2.40 WHIP
Once again we have a candidate for the #5 spot who has awful numbers.  Lilly has the most to prove, as he missed nearly all of last season with a shoulder injury.  And like Harang, I can't see how he gets that last spot.  Just ugly numbers to say the least.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

And just like that, it's all over for Team USA

Just a few days ago, you would have thought that Team USA was well on their way to the championship round by defeating Puerto Rico to open Round 2 play.

After Friday night, it's back to the drawing board for the third time in as many WBC tournaments.

Nelson Figueroa dominated the Americans for six innings, and three big runs in the sixth got Puerto Rico all the runs they would need as they advanced to the semifinals, 4-3.  The US ends their WBC run with an even 3-3 record.

Puerto Rico opened the scoring right away, as they got one on Ryan Vogelsong in the first.  Angel Pagan led off the game by singling to center.  With two outs, Yadier (not Bengie, as Harold Reynolds kept calling him) Molina also singled, and Pagan scored on Mike Aviles's RBI single.

The US couldn't do a lick at the plate through five innings.  Here's their offensive "highlights": Brandon Phillips reached first on an error in the first (to which Ryan Braun grounded into the dreaded inning ending DP), Ben Zobrist walked in the second, and Phillps singled in the fourth.  They looked lifeless, and sure as heck played like it.

The sixth is when Puerto Rico busted it open, and when Joe Torre made his first of two questionable decisions on the night.  Vogelsong was lifted with Carlos Beltran on first from a walk and two outs.  That was a bit odd because he was only at 73 pitches, and you're allowed 80.  Vinnie Pastano was called upon instead, and he immediately loaded the bases on a single to Aviles and walk to an ice cold Alex Rios.

Another walk to Carlos Rivera made the score 2-0.  Pestano then failed to get his fourth straight batter out when Andy Gonzalez ripped an RBI double to left, making it 4-0.  That was it for Pestano, as Jeremy Affeldt had to get the final out.

It took until the seventh before the US showed any sign of life whatsoever.  For the first time in a whopping 15 innings, they got an extra-base hit on a triple by Joe Mauer.  He scored on Giancarlo Stanton's RBI single.  With two men on and Jose De La Torre pitching, Adam Jones struck out looking with a full count on another terrible strike three call.  But then again, poor umpiring in this tournament should no longer be a surprise, and it's not.

The eighth inning brought the Americans within one, but it also brought the second questionable Torre decision.  Jimmy Rollins and Phillips each singled with one out.  Braun stroked an RBI double, and it was 4-2.  Mauer took another walk to load the bases, and after Stanton popped up for two down, Zobrist forced in a run on a walk, and it was suddenly a one-run game.

Here's where Torre dropped the ball, quite frankly.  Eric Hosmer was due up, so Puerto Rico manager Tony Pena called upon lefty J.C. Romero.  Rather than pinch-hitting for Hosmer, who's had a decent WBC but only hit .200, Torre let him stay in there.  The result?  A simple groundout to second.

You could say the air was sucked out of the Americans, as they went down 1-2-3 to end the game.

First thing's first, let's give plenty of credit to Puerto Rico.  They fought back against Italy on Wednesday, and did the same in this one after losing 7-1 to the US on Tuesday.  Figueroa was fantastic, as was Romero getting the final four outs.

But, it's hard not to wonder what might have been had Torre made some different calls during the game.  Vogelsong started off the game a little shaky, but more than settled down.  Why not leave him in to pitch to right-handed Aviles and possibly Rios in the sixth?  He certainly looked ready for it.  Pestano is normally a very good reliever, so nothing against him, but it clearly wasn't the right call.

Then there's the Hosmer at-bat in the eighth.  That's a spot where Torre could've turned to Jonathan Lucroy, who's a career .325 hitter against lefties, including an incredible .400 last season.  Then he could've stayed in to catch while Mauer moved to first.  Seems pretty logical to me.  Instead, Hosmer grounded out, and that was that.

Look, I'm in no way trying to diminish the great career of Torre, as I very much enjoyed his three years managing my Dodgers.  But I have to be honest here, and I didn't like the way he managed this game at all.  Of course, not having a great hitter like David Wright didn't do him any favors, either.  It was just a bad night all around, I guess.

The final four is now set, as Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Netherlands, and Japan will look to earn international bragging rights.  As for the US, it's back to trying to figure this thing out for 2017.  Will they try to convince younger stars they have to play?  Will they try to get the guys who commit some sort of extended Spring Training so they're more in game shape?  Or will it be status quo?

I guess we all have four years to think about it.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Dominicans crack Kimbrel, USA in do-or-die

In the three-time history of the World Baseball Classic, Thursday night's tilt between the United States and Dominican Republic was arguably the biggest game of them all.  The winner advanced to the championship round, the loser needs to beat Puerto Rico to get there as well.

Who would've though it would be Craig Kimbrel to hand the Dominicans their ticket to San Francisco?

As unlikely as it seems, the Dominicans scored two runs in the top of the ninth to crack open a 1-1 tie, and Fernando Rodney put the exclamation point on a thrilling 3-1 victory.  Team USA is now back in action on Friday looking to stay alive.

R.A. Dickey was handed the ball to start this one, and he looked as sharp as can be in getting the Dominicans in order, striking out Robinson Cano for the final out.  It was a complete turnaround from his start last Friday against Mexico, where he scuffled over four shaky innings.

Team USA came to bat knowing they'd be without the services of "Captain America" David Wright, who was a late scratch with sore ribs.  However, Brandon Phillips and Joe Mauer each singled to get things going.  With two outs, Miami's own Giancarlo Stanton hit an infield single to short, as Mauer was just able to beat the soft toss to second.

With the bases loaded, the US was in a great spot to unravel Dominican starter Samuel Deduno, who obviously doesn't have the pitching credentials of someone like Dickey (not that many people do).  Eric Hosmer worked a walk to force a run in.  Adam Jones, on the other hand, struck out looking at a breaking ball, and the US again failed to really capitalize with runners on.

The Dominicans got that run right back in the second.  Hanley Ramirez absolutely unloaded on a solo homer to left measured at 451 feet to make it 1-1.  If he swings the bat that well during the season, then hopefully I'll still be doing Dodger recaps deep into October.

This game looked like either offense could take off at any point, but for the next six innings not a single run was scored.  Dickey ended up going five strong for one run and four strikeouts.  Deduno made a name for himself by K'ing seven over four innings of impressive work.  Basically, the US had their chance to KO him early, but couldn't get the job done.

Off to the ninth we went, where Joe Torre correctly inserted Kimbrel to keep the score even.  He did what just about any smart manager would do in this situation.  Considering that Kimbrel's 2012 saw him record 42 saves with a 1.01 ERA, you would think that even with the Dominicans' powerful lineup, they'd be silenced.

So it was definitely a shocker to watch Nelson Cruz double on the first pitch he saw.  That more than revved up an already raucous crowd, and Carlos Santana had a good at-bat by getting him over to third on a groundout. 

Erik Aybar's at-bat was probably even more impressive when you factor in an absolutely horrendous strike two call by umpire Angel Hernandez.  His RBI single to right made it 2-1.  An out later, with Aybar on second from a steal, Jose Reyes brought home another run with an RBI single, chasing Kimbrel in the process.  Mitchell Boggs got the last out.

As if things weren't bleak enough watching the game's best closer give up two runs and Wright being hurt, the US had their bottom part of the order due up against Rodney in the ninth.  Jones continued his rough night by flying out.  Pinch-hitters Ben Zobrist and Shane Victorino couldn't do any better, and that was that.

Miami isn't exactly known for having the game's best baseball fans.  I keep thinking back to a tweet that went out a few weeks ago that showed just a few people (if that) standing in line when single-game tickets went on sale for the Marlins.  But make no mistake about it, these fans were awesome from the start, and really added to the energy of the game.  I could've done without that damn horn the whole game, but still, it sure was fun to watch.

Now the US finds themselves in a must-win situation... again.  The good news is that they've been down this road before, as they needed W's over Italy and Canada last week just to get to this point.  The bad news is that Puerto Rico just ousted Italy in comeback fashion, and even though they dropped a big one on Tuesday against the Americans, they do have some momentum going for them. 

Ryan Vogelsong will take the hill for the US, while Puerto Rico counters with Nelson Figueroa.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

All Sports Talk's NL West Preview

Recently I was able to contribute a preview of this year's Dodgers as part of an NL West preview at  In this article, I discuss the probable lineup, starting rotation, bullpen, and reserves.  With a nearly half a month left before Spring Training comes to an end, whet your appetite for Opening Day.

While you're at it, check out the other previews from some other great bloggers as well.  A big thanks goes out to website owner Aaron Garcia for allowing me to contribute.  Enjoy!

Captain America powers Team USA

If Team USA is going to win this World Baseball Classic thing, they have the perfect guy with the perfect nickname ready to carry them all the way.

"Captain America" David Wright came through with another huge night, driving in five runs to back Gio Gonzalez's gem, as the US pounded Puerto Rico, 7-1.  The win earns them a berth against the loaded Domincan Republic on Thursday, with the winner of that onto the championship round.

With Gonzalez looking every bit like the 21-game winner he was last season with the Nationals, the US finally scored first, unlike their previous three games.  Ryan Braun took a walk with two outs in the first, and Joe Mauer's RBI single made it 1-0.

From there, the US added a single run here and there, while the combination of Gonzalez, Jeremy Affeldt, and Vinnie Pestano shut down the Puerto Ricans through seven.  In the third, Brandon Phillips singled, Braun did the same, and Mauer walked to load the bases.  Wright got his first RBI on a fielder's choice, though Mike Aviles's diving stop at short kept the damage to one.

"Captian America" tacked on another RBI in the fifth, as his single scored Jimmy Rollins, who singled leading off the inning, to make it 3-0.  The lead was stretched to 4-0 in the seventh when Adam Jones singled to center, scoring Eric Hosmer.

About the only threat Puerto Rico could muster was in the eighth, and even then they only scored one run.  Miami's own Steve Cishek beaned Jesus Feliciano leading off.  That brought in David Hernandez, who gave up a double to Eddie Rosario and an RBI groundout to Angel Pagan.  Alex Rios popped up to end the inning.

The bottom of the eighth is when the US took over for good, as has been the case during this three-game winning streak.  Rollins and Braun singled, then Mauer took another walk.  Wright smacked a three-run double to deep center, blowing the game open at 7-1.

Craig Kimbel put the cherry on top by getting Aviles to ground into a game ending double play.

Two things are becoming quite apparent as this tournament rolls on.  One, if the opposing team wants to win, they need to grab an early lead and build on it.  Two, the US gets more comfortable at the plate as the game progresses, so you can count on some runs late in the game.  In other words, to beat the US, you better build a big enough lead to withstand a late charge.

And while you're at it, you might want to avoid pitching to Wright, even if men are on base.  Of course, that's kinda hard if the bases are loaded, but you get my point.  Through four games, "Captain America" is hitting .438 with a 1.276 OPS and 10 RBIs.  The RBIs are tops in the tourney.  Right now the Mets actually look like a brilliant team for once, as they clearly have the right guy to build around.  At the plate and with the leather, he's been awesome.

What's nearly forgotten in this one is the great start by Gonzalez, who pitched five shutout innings, striking out five.  His stuff looked very sharp, too, which isn't exactly good news for the rest of the league.  Kudos to the bullpen as well.  We all know that the pitch counts turns these games into bullpen affairs as the game wears on, and the US looks more than ready for that.

When the WBC is all said and done, we may look back on Thursday's matchup as the biggest game.  The Domincan Republic boasts and undefeated record, plus studs like Robinson Cano, Hanley Ramirez, and Jose Reyes.  The US is getting better and better each game.  That's going to be fun to watch.

Joe Torre will turn to R.A. Dickey, who is definitely looking to bounce back after a subpar performance in a loss to Mexico.  Puerto Rico goes with Samuel Deduno, who is mostly a middle reliever with the Twins, rather than Wandy Rodiguez, who is not on his regular rest.  The winner earns a ticket to San Francisco, the loser plays Friday against the winner of Italy and Puerto Rico.

Monday, March 11, 2013

USA battles back and battles onto round 2

For the third straight game, the US found themselves in an early hole, and down by one entering the eighth inning against Canada.

Two mighty swings by Adam Jones and Eric Hosmer later, it's onto the next round against Puerto Rico.

Pac Man hit a one-out, two-run double to put the US up one, and Hosmer's bases clearing double in the ninth put the icing on the cake in a 9-4 victory.  It certainly wasn't easy, as the US had to play catchup once again, but found a way to get it done for the second straight day.

In a sign of the times, the US gave the ball to Derek Holland in a win-or-go-home scenario, which shows just how many other pitchers decided to skip this tournament.  Nothing against Holland, but he doesn't exactly ring of "shut down pitcher" when a win is needed.

A major reason Holland was held off until Sunday was due to the lefty-heavy Canadian lineup.  That worked for a couple of innings, but the third was different.  Justin Morneau led off with a double, and Michael Saunders, who hit just about as well as you possibly could in this tournament, cranked a two-run shot to right, making it 2-0.

What's probably lost in all of this is that Canada had runners on the corners with nobody out, yet Holland wiggled out of trouble unharmed.  In fact, those were the only two runs he gave up in five strong innings.  So give the boy some credit, he pitched a solid game.

In the fourth, the US got those runs back, with a little help from the other team.  Joe Mauer singled leading off and David Wright walked.  Ben Zobrist got the surprising start in right, and his bunt single led to a ball thrown away at first, bringing in Mauer.  A sac-fly RBI by Jones later, it was 2-2.

Things stayed even until Canada plated one against Glen Perkins in the sixth.  Joey Votto walked and Morneau singled to start the inning, but Perkins got the next two.  Adam Loewen had a great at-bat by battling off many pitches before hitting an RBI single, putting his team back up 3-2.

The pressure was definitely on the US in the eighth, especially after blowing two runners in scoring position with one out the previous inning.  Mauer and Wright again singled and walked to start things up, but this time Zobrist popped up a bunt, which was horrible execution.  Fortunately, that's when Jones found his power with his two-run double, grabbing the lead at 4-3.  Shane Victorino added an RBI single, and it was now 5-3.

David Hernandez was summoned to shut down the eighth... which is precisely what he didn't do.  He didn't give up the lead at least, but sure made it interesting.  Votto, Saunders, and Chris Robinson all singled to load 'em up.  Loewen grounded one into the hole between first and second, which is where Brandon Phillips made a fantastic diving stop to get an out, allowing only one run to score.  Steve Cishek came in, walked Pete Orr intentionally, and got Tim Smith grounding out to end the threat.

With only a one-run cushion, the US went to work in the ninth.  Phillips led off with a double and scored on an RBI single by Jonathan Lucroy, hitting in Mauer's spot.  Closer Jonathan Axford came in to keep it at two runs down, but that's when Hosmer ripped hit three-run double with two outs, blowing the game wide open.

Just for fun, Joe Torre sent in a well-rested Craig Kimbrel to put the cherry on top, freezing Votto to end the game.

The final score doesn't do justice to just how close a game this was for 95% of it.  Give Canada lots of credit for going pitch-for-pitch and nearly pulling off the upset.  The US just had too much muscle for them, and it didn't come out until late.

It's hard to imagine just how much flak the US would have received if they didn't get those big swings late in the game, but thankfully for them they don't have to worry about it.  There's no doubt Torre would have been blamed for sitting Giancarlo Stanton and starting Zobrist and Victorino for the first time.  Heck, he's getting heat for that now even with the win.

Stanton didn't get a hit in the first two games, but he has such massive power, I was fully expecting to see him back in there on Sunday, maybe just a bit lower in the order.  Nothing against Zobrist, who did get three hits, but I would think Stanton will start in his home park on Tuesday and beyond.

Let's give the US their props for fighting from behind two games in a row, even if the talent on the other side of the field doesn't nearly match their roster.  They still had to get the job done facing the pressure of being a laughingstock, quite frankly, and they did.  So kudos to them.

Next up is Puerto Rico, with Italy taking on the Dominican Republic in the other half of the bracket.  Gio Gonzalez will go in the first game, and R.A. Dickey will look to redeem himself by going whenever the second game may be.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The battle for the fifth starter

While plenty of Dodgers contribute to their team's success in the World Baseball Classic, back in Arizona, the Dodgers are still trying to figure out who will round out the starting rotation.  Assuming that Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley, and Josh Beckett are the first four, let's take a look at the men in contention for the last slot.

Hyun-Jin Ryu
3 games (2 starts), 6 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 9 K, 6.00 ERA, 1.67 WHIP

I still contend that the Dodgers didn't sign Ryu just have him pitch out of the bullpen, but let's assume that nothing is etched in stone.  As you can see, it hasn't exactly been smooth sailing for him, as evidenced by his high ERA and WHIP.  What's definitely encouraging are his low walks and high strikeouts, a sign that the control is there.  You have to cut him some slack to get adjusted to US hitters, so I think he'll be fine and get a rotation spot.

Chris Capuano
2 games (1 start), 5 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 10.80 ERA, 1.60 WHIP

These numbers come with a giant asterisk, as he went four innings against the Reds on Friday before rain washed out all the numbers.  In that start, he gave up only one run on two hits, striking out three.  Add it all up, his ERA should be 7.00, which isn't great, but a heck of a lot better than 10.80.  He showed the Dodgers' brass last season how effective he can be at the start of the season with a fresh arm, so he still has a great chance of cracking the rotation.  If his fragile arm can handle it, perhaps he'd be used out the bullpen as insurance against an injury to start the season as well.

Aaron Harang
2 games (2 starts), 5 IP, 11 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 10.80 ERA, 2.80 WHIP

There's really no other way of saying this, but Harang has stunk so far.  Yes, it's only two starts, but he's really put himself in a hole with numbers like that.  Here's another eye-popping stat: teams are hitting .440 against him.  Yikes!  At this point he sure looks like the odd man out, as reports surfaced that the Orioles and Brewers scouted him recently.  I'd be surprised if he sticks around the Dodgers much longer, but as they well know, injuries can strike at any time, so maybe they'll keep him around a little while longer just in case.

Ted Lilly
1 game (no starts), 2 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 4.50 ERA, 0.50 WHIP

It's hard to really evaluate Lilly at this point, as his first official start was scratched earlier in the week because of the flu.  He's practically the forgotten man at this point, as he missed nearly all of last season with a shoulder injury, and would appear to have to do something special to get that fifth slot.  I don't like his chances at all, but because of his solid track record starting, maybe he can impress the rest of March.

Wright's granny leads USA's surge over Italy

In a must-win situation, the US turned to their team leader to get things going.

David Wright turned a 2-2 game into a four-run lead with a grand slam in the fifth, and the US never looked back in beating Italy, 6-2.  After being down 2-0, it sure looked as if the US would be two and out, but alas, that was not the case.

Ryan Vogelsong of the world champion Giants (that's tough for me to type as a Dodger fan, but hey, I'm trying to be objective here, so go with it!) got he start.  Like R.A. Dickey the night before, he immediately found himself in trouble.  Nick Punto (Dodger property!) singled leading off, and after advancing to third with two outs, scored on a wild pitch.

Unlike the US has done for much of this tournament, Italy was able to make some noise with two outs.  In the second, Tyler LaTorre singled and scored on Anthony Granato's RBI double over Adam Jones's head in center, making it 2-0.

That would be all the scoring Italy would do on this night, and it took until the fourth for the US to finally push a run across.  Ryan Braun singled leading off, and cleanup hitter Joe Mauer's RBI double cut the deficit to 2-1.

Vogelsong struck out the side to end the fourth, and that set up a big fifth for the US.  It all started on a walk, as Pac Man started the surge.  Jonathan Lucroy, the #9 hitter, singled to put two on, and chasing Italy starter Marco Grifantini in the process. 

After Jimmy Rollins popped up on a bad swing, Brandon Phillips lined an RBI single to tie the game at 2.  With two outs, a walk to Mauer loaded 'em up for Wright, who deposited a 410 foot shot into left center to make it 6-2.

From there, Joe Torre turned the ball over to his bullpen, as the combination of Jeremy Affeldt (scoreless inning) and Ross Detwiler (four scoreless innings) allowed only two baserunners the rest of the way, striking out four.  Detwiler picked up the save.

Needless to say, Wright's mighty swing relaxed everybody associated with the US, and allowed them to finally exhale as well.  It's hard to accurately point out who the clear star on this team is (ala Joey Votto and Justin Morneau of Canada), but Wright seems to embrace that role.  It's no surprise he does, as he's the clear leader of a Mets roster full of questionable talent to say the least.

This is the type of win that allowed the US to show how dominant they can be, from getting the big home run to shutting the game down in the final innings.  Detwiler is a starter with the Nationals, so to be able to turn the ball over to him for multiple innings of relief is huge.  Plus, only three pitchers were used, giving Torre plenty of arms for the finale against Canada on Sunday.

Speaking of Canada, they have to consider themselves very lucky that nobody is suspended for today's winner-take-all game.  That was a pretty ugly brawl against Italy, with about the only positive that nobody got hurt (that we know of anyway).  Hey, I love Luis Cruz, but that was just plain wrong of him to tell his pitcher to bean somebody.  He's got to be smarter than that.

Anyway, Derek Holland will get the ball for the US today.  He'll be opposed by young Jamison Taillon of the Pirates' organization, aka the guy drafted after Bryce Harper.  With high stakes for both teams, it should be a fun one to watch.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

For USA, the heat is on

If you're a big follower of the World Baseball Classic, you can't help but have that "Here we go again" feeling after Friday night's game.

Even without big names like Justin Verlander and Matt Kemp, the US is still considered one of the strong favorites to take home the WBC title.  And just like the previous couple of tournaments, they find themselves searching for answers after another disappointing performance.

This time it was to Mexico, as the Dodgers' duo of Adrian Gonzalez and Luis Cruz drove in all five runs, and R.A. Dickey never was able to get on track in the 5-2 loss.  Mexico evens up their record at 1-1 after suffering their own letdown against Italy the day before.  As for the US, they find themselves in a must-win situation against Italy on Saturday with an 0-1 mark.

Manager Joe Torre had to like his chances coming into Friday's game, as the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Dickey took the mound.  Mexico countered with the Brewers' Yovanni Gallardo, who came into this one with a sore groin.  Even at full health, it would still be an advantage for the US.

On the very first pitch of the game, Eduardo Arredondo singled into center as a sign of things to come.  Romiro Pena followed with a double, and runners were in scoring position.  Cruz and Gonzalez had productive outs by getting both runners in, and the US was already in a hole at 2-0.

Things didn't get much better from there, as the US went down in order in the first, and then David Wright grounded into a double play the next inning.  After Arredondo against singled leading off the third, Gonzalez cranked a two-run shot to dead center that held up on replay to make it 4-0.

It's not that the US didn't have chances to score, they just did jack squat with them.  They managed to get one back in the fourth, as Jimmy Rollins singled leading off, and Wright hit a two-out RBI single to make it 4-1.  Mexico got that right back in the fifth on another sac-fly RBI from Cruz.

In both the fifth and sixth, the US wasted more opportunities to score by putting two runners on with less than two outs.  They did cut the deficit to 5-2 in the eighth, as Ryan Braun's bloop double leading off led to a bloop RBI single by Eric Hosmer.

The question of the night seemed to be whether the Giants' Sergio Romo would be used after blowing a save on 26 pitches against Italy the night before.  It looked doubtful, but with their backs against the wall, there he was in the ninth.  There was no drama, as Adam Jones, Jonathan Lucroy, and Rollins went down quietly.

As was pointed out in the game by announcers Matt Vasgersian and Jim Kaat, the US is in a bit of no-win situation.  If they win, they're supposed to.  If they lose, it's a big disappointment.  After watching them leave eight on base, six of them with two outs in scoring position, and have their ace get roughed up in only four innings of work, it's definitely a disappointment no matter how you slice it.

So now the pressure is on.  If the US can beat a hot Italy team and take care of an inferior Canadian team on Sunday, then this game is forgotten.  If they fail to even advance to the second round, that would not be pretty.  It's hard to say how ugly it would get considering how this tournament isn't held in the same regard as the Olympics, but since there is no Olympic baseball anymore, maybe it is a big deal.  Who knows.

All the US can do is relax and play.  I can't imagine a lineup featuring studs like Braun, Wright, Joe Mauer, Brandon Phillips, and Jones will be shut down like this again.  Italy and Canada don't have nearly the pitching to throw at them like Mexico can.  As long as these guys don't try to hit a home run every at-bat and do the little things, they'll be fine.

If they do fold under the pressure of a must-win game, it's another bad chapter in the WBC history for the United States.