Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Drew Butera acquired from Twins

Moments before the end of this year's non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Dodgers made a minor move in trading for backup catcher Drew Butera from the Twins.  He'll be exchanged for a player to be named later.

Butera has appeared at various times in the majors since 2010, making a career-high 93 appearances in 2011.  He's only played in two games this year and 27 games in Triple-A.  For his career, he's hitting .182 with 5 home runs and 41 RBIs in 186 games.  Not exactly stats that will knock your socks off.

He did start for Team Italy in this year's World Baseball Classic, where he was 3-for-16 with a homer and three RBIs in four games.

This move was made for catching depth in September, as I can't see any way Butera would unseat Tim Federowicz as the backup catcher.  Then again, Federowicz is only hitting .204, so I guess it's a wash.  Ned Colletti went on MLB Network in the past hour and made a point of having three MLB ready catchers in the system, so there you go.

Stars align in another Dodgers' walk-off

The stars were everywhere in Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night.  In the crowd there were the likes of Mel Brooks, Jack Nicholson, George Lopez, Magic Johnson, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Chris Paul.  On the field, Zack Greinke and Andy Pettitte dueled, and Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, Derek Jeter, and Alfonso Soriano took their hacks.

Leave it to the bland, no-thrills Mark Ellis to steal the show.

Ellis's walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth scored Andre Ethier, as the Dodgers beat the Yankees, 3-2.  Each game these incredible numbers get bumped up by one, so it's now 10-1 since the break, 19 wins in July (one short of a team record), and 27-6 in the last 33.

Most importantly, thanks for the Rays taking apart the Diamondbacks 5-2, it's a 3 1/2 game lead in the NL West.

Early on, it looked like both offenses would put up big nights, but that changed after the second inning when Greinke and Pettitte got locked in.  In the first, Puig came just short of homering to dead center, settling for a double off the wall.  He moved to third on a flyout and scored on Ramirez's RBI single up the middle.

The Yankees came right back in the second.  The theme of this Yankees' season has been finding old guys or unknowns to replace stars like Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, and Jeter.  Lyle Overbay is one of those replacements, and he hit a solo homer to right to start the inning, making it 1-1.

No worries, said Juan Uribe, who left his mark in the bottom of the frame.  With one out, he absolutely unloaded on a solo shot to left, traveling 426 feet for a rare upper deck shot, and the Dodgers were back up 2-1.

Overbay was again responsible for tying the game, as the Yanks made it 2-2 in the fourth.  It started on a leadoff double by Soriano, who then went to third on a wild pitch.  Overbay scored him on a groundout to deep short on a long throw by Ramirez.

That was the way the score would remain for much of the way, as neither offense could get anything going after the fourth.  Pettitte ended up tossing seven innings of two-run ball, striking out three and not walking anyone.  He hasn't been the same Pettitte as we're used to seeing in the past, but his change of speeds and location kept the Dodgers off-balance for the most part.

The game came down to a battle of the bullpens, as both Ronald Belisario and David Robertson were flawless in the eighth.  Kenley Jansen was summoned on the ninth, and once again, he was practically untouchable with two K's.  He continues to just blow through the competition.

At this point, the Dodgers hadn't put anything together since the third, and that's when Ichiro nailed Ramirez at home trying to score on A.J. Ellis's single to end the inning.  In fact, in innings 4-8, the Dodgers only had two hits as Pettitte and Robertson had their way.

So here we were in the ninth, as the Dodgers had yet another chance to send the fans home happy.  With Shawn Kelley in, Ethier singled to left with one out.  Uribe swung about as hard as he possibly could, but struck out for the second out.

Don Mattingly knew that with the bottom of the order up, he'd have to get a little creative to get that winning run.  So, he decided to let Ethier steal second, which is exactly what happened.  Well... I think it should be pointed out that if Yankees' catcher Chris Stewart made even a decent throw, Ethier would've been out by four miles.  But he didn't, so Ethier was in scoring position.

Next thing you know, Ellis gets the winning hit, and that was all she wrote.

This was just your latest example of how right things have been for the Dodgers since the end of June.  Simply put, they can barely do anything wrong.  Need a big start on the mound?  Check.  Need some innings from middle relief?  Check.  Need the bottom part of the order to get big hits?  Check.  Pretty much anything else that's been needed has been check, check, check.

Greinke was a bit off at first, but ended up putting together a solid night.  He lasted seven innings for five hits, two runs, no walks, and seven strikeouts.  Six starts ago he had a 4.30 ERA.  Now it's down to 3.43, and he definitely looks like the ace the Dodgers wanted to pair with Clayton Kershaw.

Speaking of Kershaw, the Cy Young front runner will get the ball on Wednesday.  It will be a great game as he faces his old mate, Hiroki Kuroda.  Usually when you see two studs starting on the mound you expect a low-scoring game, and then the opposite happens.  I'd be shocked if that occurred, as both guys are at the top of their games.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Brian Wilson strengthens the Dodgers' 'pen

With the trade deadline a day away, the Dodgers made a move that could be huge if all works out.

No, it wasn't like the big splash moves made last year by acquiring Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett.  It wasn't even a trade they made.

It's signing free agent Brian Wilson, the former closer with the Giants.  That is, the guy with World Series success and 171 career saves.

Wilson inked a minor league deal, with an obvious eye towards joining the big club in the stretch run.  He recently was clocked throwing around 93-94, according to the guys on MLB Network Radio.  Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports tweets that he had offers from three teams total.

I remember before the season how the Dodgers were interested in Wilson's services, but he wasn't healthy enough then, as he recently made it known that if he's not fully healthy, he's inches away from being there. 

I also remember discussing during the All-Star break how one of the two areas of need for the Dodgers was their middle relief, specifically right-handed relief (the other area is health, of course).  Well, when you have a chance to sign a guy who's been a three-time All-Star, led the league with 48 saves in 2010, won a ring, and finished seventh in Cy Young voting, it's a good thing.

Where exactly does Wilson fit in?  Perhaps he can close, but Kenley Jansen has been fantastic in that role, going a perfect 7-7 in July with a 1.46 ERA and .140 BAA.  I can see Wilson pitching in the eighth, as Ronald Belisario can still be too erratic at times to be completely trusted.  At the very least, if Wilson can prove he's truly healthy, you'll see him getting the ball late in games to get big outs.

Again, this is all assuming Wilson is recovered and still has the ability to get hitters out.  He hasn't pitched since April 12 of last season, going down for Tommy John surgery after only two appearances.  Maybe the best thing he did is take his time after surgery and not rush to sign at the start of this season.  He has the track record, so the best plan of attack was to make sure everything was right, then workout for teams.

Let's give credit to Ned Colletti for making this happen.  It can only be a good thing, because if it doesn't work out, it was only a minor league contract to begin with.  But if it does, it will be great to have someone with his numbers and experience on the postseason roster.

And yes, it is OK to root for an ex-Giant!  He's ours now!

Dodgers. Yankees. This should be fun

After the Dodgers disposed of the Reds in three straight to run their post-All-Star break record to 9-1, all of the attention shifts to their upcoming two-game tilt against the Yankees in Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers will send their big dogs of Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw to the mound.  The Yankees counter with Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda. 

Simply put, if you're a fan of baseball, this is going to be a lot of fun.

The day-night doubleheader back in June at Yankee Stadium was also fun, mostly because the Dodgers were the last National League team to play there since the advent of Interleague play.  Which, by the way, begs the question of who in the world allowed that to happen?  Anyway, Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez put on a show, allowing the Dodgers to get the split.

This time around, all of the big guns (save for C.C. Sabathia) will be on the mound.  The previous series saw the Dodgers start Hyun-Jin Ryu and Chris Capuano, while the Yankees had Kuroda and Phil Hughes.  I think it's safe to say we're all glad Greinke and Kershaw will be featured this time.  No disrespect to Ryu and Capuano, who have pitched very well recently, but the star power will be on display this time around.

We all know how awesome the Dodgers have been, and it really all started with that win in the night game in Yankee Stadium.  If you recall, Puig homered, stole a base, and scored three times; Ramirez had two hits and two RBIs.  The Dodgers dropped the next two in San Diego, but then ran off six straight wins and never looked back.  Overall, since that win over the Yankees, they've gone 27-8.  Wow.

The Yankees, on the other hand, are right in the thick of all sorts of drama involving the drama queen himself, Alex Rodriguez.  Can you imagine if ARod gets suspended during this series?  Actually, it could very well happen.  Then the media scrutiny will be cranked up that many more notches.

On the field, the Yankees are 55-50, good for fourth in the ultra-tough AL East.  Derek Jeter just returned, so it'll be good to see him on the field this time, as he missed the last series.  Plus they recently welcomed back Alfonso Soriano, and he responded with a walk-off single on Sunday.  So, despite the ARod nonsense, they appear to be on the upswing a bit, even if their record is still just so-so.

It's hard not to look at Wednesday's game as the main event.  Tuesday will be Greinke vs. Pettitte, and while that's a good matchup, Pettitte has been regressing as the season has progressed.  Wednesday will be Kershaw vs. old friend Kuroda, who certainly deserves a warm welcome in his return.  He still remains one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball, probably because he quietly goes about his business of posting one quality start after another.

The only downside to this series is what could have been on the injury front.  Matt Kemp, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, and yes, even ARod will be missed.  That's some serious power, so expect these games to be low-scoring with the great arms on the mound.

Even though the Yankees are no longer the mighty Yankees of years past, if the Dodgers sweep the two games, it will still be a great moment in a season that could see much greater moments in October.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Latos silences red hot Dodgers

Please excuse the Dodgers if they appeared a bit lifeless at the plate on Thursday night.  They played 10 innings in Toronto the night before, barely got the sleep they deserved, and cancelled BP before the game.

Oh ya, and that Mat Latos guy is pretty damn good.

Latos had his way, pitching strong into the eighth inning, and Carl Crawford lined out to left while representing the tying run to end the game, giving the Reds a 5-2 win.  It's the first loss since the Sunday before the All-Star break, as the Dodgers ran off six straight on the road to start the second half.

The Reds took the lead in the early going thanks to a couple of Dodger castoffs from years past.  The second batter of the game, Xavier Paul, took a fastball right over the middle out to right to make it 1-0.

The next inning, Todd Frazier lined a sharp double past a diving Jerry Hairston at third with one out.  A groundout got him to third, and Cesar Izturis hit a bloop single to left to make it 2-0.  Of all the ex-Dodgers that I thought would someday come back to haunt them, I'm doubting Paul and Izturis would be first on my mind.

The Dodgers got on the board in the fourth, all thanks to the speed of Yasiel Puig.  He singled to center leading off and took a big turn at second.  Apparently Shin-Soo Choo thought it would be a good idea to throw behind him... which resulted in the ball going into the stands, sending Puig all the way to third.  Adrian Gonzalez's RBI groundout cut it to 2-1.

Heading into the sixth, the game was still a tossup when a couple mistakes by Greinke proved costly.  Paul walked leading off, but was quickly erased on Joey Votto's double play ball.  On an 0-2 count to Brandon Phillips, Greinke beaned him on the leg, which was obviously a bad mistake.

The other mistake was hanging a changeup to Jay Bruce, who crushed it to center for a two-run shot, putting the Reds up 4-1.  And with Latos still dealing, it was a hard deficit to overcome.

In the sixth and seventh, the Dodgers put men on but couldn't capitalize.  Puig singled to start the sixth, but Gonzo grounded into a double play.  Two men reached in the seventh on a single by Skip Schumaker and walk to Jerry Hairston, but Nick Punto pinch-hit and struck out on three pitches.

The Dodgers did get one run back when Crawford doubled starting the eight, went to third on Puig's groundout, and scored on another RBI groundout from Gonzo.  The Reds got it right back, however, on an RBI single from Choo against the horrible Carlos Marmol, who already looks like a complete waste.  Boy is he bad.

Aroldis Chapman and his 100+ MPH fastball came in for the save, but made it a bit interesting.  Mark Ellis pinch-hit with one out and singled to right.  Hairston struck out, but Juan Uribe walked as Ellis took third on a wild pitch.

With the way the Dodgers have been providing the dramatics, you fully expected even a weary Crawford to come through.  He had a great swing as he lined one into left, but the positioning by Chris Heisey was perfect as he gloved it for the final out.

Greinke has been practically untouchable his last three starts, but couldn't really get things going in this one.  He lasted seven innings for six hits, four runs, one walk, and four strikeouts.  He seemed to get to two strikes quite often, but couldn't punctuate it.  Just one of those nights where he didn't feel at his best.

Of course, going 0-for-9 with RISP won't win you many games.  Combine that with the night before (2-for-17!), and that's 2-for-26.  Yikes!  I guess winning one of those game is an accomplishment.  Putting runners on is a good thing, if you're looking for a silver lining, but cashing them in is what plagued them for nearly three months to start the season.  That was a flashback to those days.

Clayton Kershaw gets the ball on Friday night, as the Dodgers look to rebound after a rare loss.  He'll oppose Homer Bailey, who threw a no-hitter against the Giants in early July and has a pretty good 3.84 ERA.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Winning baseball, by any means necessary

Is this fun or what?

After another thrilling, come-from-behind victory on Wednesday night, the Dodgers are now 1 1/2 games in front of the Diamondbacks for first in the NL West.  A month ago today?  Try dead last and seven games back.

Yes, life has been that good.

The streak is now at six straight after the All-Star break, which have all come on the road in Washington and Toronto.  How have they done it?  Let's take a look, game-by-game:

July 19, 3-2 over Nationals: Andre Ethier hit a game-winning solo homer in the ninth.
July 20, 3-1 (10 innings) over Nationals: Hanley Ramirez hit an RBI double and Ethier a sac-fly RBI in extra innings.
July 21, 9-2 over Nationals: Matt Kemp returned from the DL to collect three hits with a homer (then exited with a twisted ankle that eventually put him back on the DL), Ramirez hit a three-run shot, and Clayton Kershaw cruised.
July 22, 14-5 over Blue Jays: A.J. Ellis had five RBIs, Skip Schumaker three, and the Dodgers set a season-high with 14 runs.
July 23, 10-9 over Blue Jays: Down 8-3 going into the eighth, Adrian Gonzalez hit a three-run bomb, and Ethier added an insurance run with a solo shot.
July 24, 8-3 (10 innings) over Blue Jays: Down to their last strike, Ethier blooped a single into center, which was misplayed by Colby Rasmus to allow Yasiel Puig to score from first.  Five runs were scored in the 10th on a two-run shot by Mark Ellis, a solo shot by Puig, and a two-run double by Ethier.

As you can see, it's been a collection of one clutch play after another.  They've had games where the offense scores early and often, games where they needed to comeback to force extras, and games where they got a little bit of luck to win as well.  Like the title says, it's been by any means necessary.

Perhaps even more exciting is that they're still not fully healthy, as Kemp is back on the DL after playing in one whopping game.  Who knows how long he'll be gone, but the luxury is that they can afford to take their time with so many other guys contributing.

The other bright spot is that Puig really struggled through the Nationals' series, but is starting to get things going again against the Blue Jays.  For awhile it seemed like all the Dodgers had going for them on offense was Puig, but that has certainly changed.  They've won without him doing much at the plate, and now that he has five hits in the last two games, they're even more dangerous.

At some point they'll regress a bit, as it's only natural for the ball to bounce the other way.  But even with that in mind, what they'll still have going for them is four solid starters on the mound and an offense that can score in bunches. 

And that, along with a good bit of HEALTH (something that's never a guarantee), will carry the Dodgers forward in the stretch run.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Dodgers keep rolling along by sweeping Nationals

For the first time all season, Don Mattingly etched out a lineup that included the names of Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, and Matt Kemp.  They combined to go 8-for-13 with four runs, two doubles, two home runs, seven RBIs, and a stolen base.

Then Kemp limped off the field in the ninth with a sprained ankle, and despite the win, it put a damper on the afternoon.

Perhaps Kemp really will be OK, as Mattingly said he didn't anticipate him going back on the DL.  Of course, that's what was said last time... right before Kemp went back on the DL.

All of that aside, the Dodgers put it all together on Sunday, as a seven-run second inning was more than enough for Clayton Kershaw, as the Dodgers cruised, 9-2.  The Diamondbacks beat the Giants, so it wasn't all perfect, as the Dodgers are still a 1/2 game back.

Jordan Zimmerman made the start for the Nationals, and he was recently scratched from the All-Star Game with a sore neck.  Well, maybe he wasn't quite over it, because he was unmercifully hammered as a result of way too many hangers over the plate.  Basically, he lobbed it up there, and the Dodgers smashed it around.

After wasting a couple of men on in the first, the offense sent 11 men to the plate the next inning.  It all started on a solo shot by Kemp to make it 1-0.  The Ellis Bros. A.J. and Mark hit a single and double, respectively, and Kershaw's RBI groundout made it 2-0.  Crawford got in on the act with an RBI single, and it was starting to be a runaway.

Crawford stole second and Nick Punto took a walk, which led to a three-run shot from Ramirez, who continues to play like the best player in the league not named Miguel Cabrera.  Andre Ethier walked and scored from first on Kemp's double, his third RBI of the inning, and the Dodgers blew it open at 7-0.

Kershaw ended up tossing seven innings of two-hit ball, striking out nine and not walking a soul.  Those two hits were long bombs by Jayson Werth, who was about the only person to show up for the Nats.  The other two hits came off of Brandon League, who somehow pitched two scoreless innings in relief.  The guy seriously never pitches anymore, as that was only his fourth appearance this month.  Yikes.

The other two runs for the Dodgers came in the fourth.  Adrian Gonzalez and Ramirez each singled to put runners on the corners with one down.  Ethier scored one on a groundout, and Kemp the other with a single.

When you win 20 of 25 games, there obviously is no hotter team in the league than the Dodgers.  I can't imagine many teams, or heck, ANY team, wanting to play them right now.  A healthy lineup featuring Kemp, Ramirez, Crawford, Gonzalez, and Yasiel Puig is pretty scary.  I know I know... Kemp just hurt his ankle again and you would think might miss some time.  But when he is good to go, what a deep lineup that is.

Save for a defensive appearance in the ninth, Puig sat the game out, which was a good thing considering he's looking lost at the plate of late.  His numbers are still awesome, and a slump was expected at some point, so this really isn't surprising.  You can expect him to be right back in there with Kemp's ankle being tweaked.

Next up is a trip to Toronto for three.  Neither Kershaw or R.A. Dickey are scheduled to start in this series, which is a shame because it would have been fun to see those two face each other after finishing 1-2 in the NL Cy Young Award voting last year.  Hyun-Jin Ryu will start on Monday against Josh Johnson, who's been horrible this year.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Hanley's clutch hitting has Dodgers on brink of first

Where would the Dodgers be without Hanley Ramirez?  For starters, they wouldn't be a 1/2 game out of first in the NL West.

One night after hitting a two-run homer as part of a 3-2 win, Ramirez's RBI double in the 10th proved to be the game winner, as the Dodgers went on to win, 3-1.  The Diamondbacks fell to the Giants, so the Dodgers have a golden opportunity to put the heat on even more with Clayton Kershaw taking the mound on Sunday.

Friday night saw the Dodgers win a in a bit of rare way for them - with two homers.  They found themselves down 1-0 going into the third when Mark Ellis and Yasiel Puig each struck out to start.  Adrian Gonzalez hit what seemed like an innocent single to center, though that brought up the red hot Ramirez.  Sure enough, Ramirez hit a liner out to right that cleared the wall in what seemed like two seconds for the 2-1 lead.

The Nationals tied it up in the sixth on an Ian Desmond RBI single, and the 2-2 score stayed that way until the ninth.  Andre Ethier, Mr. Play Every Outfield Position Any Given Night, golfed a pitch at his feet over the wall in right off of Rafael Soriano for the 3-2 lead.  A perfect ninth by Kenley Jansen later, and it was a perfect post-All-Star break start for the Dodgers.

The Dodgers had to be feeling great about taking the road series after Friday's big win, considering they had Zack Greinke and Kershaw going on the weekend.  Greinke ran into trouble in the first, as the bases were loaded with one out.  Jayson Werth and Desmond each popped up, and nothing came of it.

Greinke wasn't exactly at his sharpest, as he gave up seven hits and three walks in six innings.  But, thanks to an anemic 1-for-12 with RISP, the Nationals only scored one run.  Basically, they looked like the Dodgers circa-early 2013.  Only Roger Bernadina's RBI single in the sixth could get the Nats on the board.

The Dodgers couldn't do anything against Gio Gonzalez, who struck out 11 in only six innings.  Thankfully he was pulled when Bernadina pinch-hit for him in the sixth, and the Dodgers got on the board to start the seventh.  Skip Schumaker hit for Greinke with two outs and doubled, leading to a soft RBI single to left by Mark Ellis to tie the game.

Continuing the theme of the night, the Nationals had two runners apiece reach in the eighth and ninth and do nothing with it.  Chris Withrow struck out Bryce Harper looking on a nasty breaking ball to put the game into extra innings.

With Craig Stammen in to pitch the 10th, Gonzalez greeted him with a double.  That's when Ramirez came through again, smashing an RBI double off the wall in center for the 2-1 lead.  An out later, Ethier's sac-fly to left scored Ramirez, and it was 3-1.  Jansen had his second straight perfect save, his 11th overall.

Want another reason for why the Dodgers have turned the corner?  Puig is 0-for-9 with five strikeouts these last two games.  He's cleary overswinging at... well, pretty much any pitch thrown near the plate.  Yet, the Dodgers keep winning.  Remember when Puig was on fire when he was first called up, but the Dodgers still couldn't win?  It's so refreshing to see them getting contributions from other guys now.  Talk about night and day!

Ramirez is hitting .390 with 8 homers and 25 RBIs in only 41 games.  He still doesn't qualify for the batting title (don't ask me what that magic number of at-bats is, I have no idea), but the leader in the NL is Yadier Molina at .336.  Obviously, the more Ramirez plays, the closer he'll get to "officially" be a league leader, and he certainly has the ability to do so.

I mentioned before how Kershaw goes on Sunday, which always gives the Dodgers an edge against whatever team they are facing.  The Nationals, on the other hand, counter with their own All-Star, Jordan Zimmerman, who's 12-4 with a 2.58 ERA and 0.97 WHIP.  Nationals' fans were already booing their team off the field on Saturday, so I can imagine it will be worse if Kershaw outduels Zimmerman for the sweep.

Over in San Francisco, Madison Bumgarner and his 3.02 ERA goes up against Randall Delgado.  The stars are aligning for the Dodgers to be in first by the end of Sunday.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Health and middle relief will make or break the Dodgers in the 2nd half

As the Dodgers roll into Nationals Park to open the second half, they find themselves a mere 2 1/2 games in back of the Diamondbacks in the NL West.  They've certainly come a long way from the last place team they put on the field for much of the first half.  I suppose winning 17 of 22 games will help just about any team get to first place.

What are the keys to taking over first and staying there?  It's simple - health and middle relief.  Any letdown in either category could find the boys in blue on the outside looking in this postseason.

Pretty much any team can claim these two keys will make or break them, but for the Dodgers, it seems especially true.  Their offense can strike from so many different ways when everyone is on the field.  Their starting pitching can be fantastic, as is their closer, so those couple of innings or so where neither is used could turn the tide.

The Dodgers are an even 47-47 right now and don't have any players who have appeared in every game.  Andre Ethier and Adrian Gonzalez have each played in 91.  That might surprise people considering Ethier was ice cold to start the season and is at times looked at as the fourth outfielder.  Gonzalez has clearly sucked it up and played some games where he deserved a day off.

Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, and Hanley Ramirez have all gone through ups and downs of spending time on the DL.  Of the three, only Ramirez has really made a big impact.  Through 39 games, he's hitting .386 with 8 homers and 25 RBIs.  Crawford started off the season very well, but has cooled off to hit .273 in 59 games.

As for Kemp, it's been a struggle to say the least.  He simply cannot find a way to stay on the field for extended periods of time.  He's played in 61 games (which is more than I thought), but has very low numbers at .254, 4 homers, and 24 RBIs.  I can't imagine his shoulder will be healthy enough this season to the point where he'll make a major difference.  I hope I'm wrong, but I'm skeptical.

Even Yasiel Puig has been playing with a sore left hip.  Not being picked to go to New York for the All-Star Game was probably a blessing in disguise when it's all said and done.  He's been able to rest and present an award at the ESPY's with Gabby Douglas.  I'm guessing he still has no idea who she is.

The starting pitching has also been hit, as Zack Greinke, Stephen Fife, Chris Capuano, and Ted Lilly have all missed various amounts of time.  Greinke looks to be back at full strength judging by his dominating last two starts.  Can you imagine what the Dodgers would do if Clayton Kershaw got hurt?  I don't even want to think about that.

As for the other key, you can bet Ned Colletti will continue to pursue middle relief help.  More specifically, help from the right side in the 'pen.  On the left side, J.P. Howell and Paco Rodriguez have done a great job.  Howell owns a 2.27 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, while Rodriguez has a 2.45 ERA and 0.77 WHIP.  Their roles will be big in the stretch run.

The right-handed pitchers not named Kenley Jansen have been a disappointment.  Gone are names like Matt Guerrier, Peter Moylan, and Javy Guerra.  Brandon League was a colossal bust as the closer with a 6.25 ERA in 34 games, Ronald Belsario is so hot and cold it's hard to know what to expect, and Carlos Marmol is tough to trust as a legit answer.  Young guns Jose Dominguez and Chris Withrow could be good, but also could wilt under the pressure.  We'll see.

If the Dodgers can improve their bullpen and get some luck with their health, they can definitely win the NL West.  The Padres won't contend, so forget about them.  The Rockies have a great lineup... when healthy (sound familiar?).  I wouldn't count on them to be in the race, either.

That leaves the Giants and Diamondbacks to worry about.  I don't care how awful the Giants have looked before the break, they always find a way to win when it matters the most.  They're not going away at all.  The Diamondbacks can hit and pitch, but have a huge issue at closer.  It's 2013 and you're still using Heath Bell to finish off games?  That's not a good sign.

In the end, I expect to see another Dodgers-Giants battle for first.  Let's hope it's the Dodgers come out on top for a change.

Monday, July 15, 2013

2013 Mid-Season Report Card

The Major League Baseball season has reached the All-Star break, and with it comes four days of rest for each club.  The Dodgers were either awful or fantastic, with not much in between.  Here I will take a look at how each player has performed, report card style.  Let's go!


Clayton Kershaw - He's at the top of the National League (1.98 ERA, 0.91 WHIP), or in second (139 K's, 145 1/3 IP).  There's not much more you can say about just how awesome he is.  He's about to earn some serious dough in the near future.

Yasiel Puig - About the only thing that has even somewhat held him down is a sore left hip.  Electrified LA at the perfect time by hitting .391 with 8 2B, 8 HR, 19 RBI, and 5 SB.  Plus great defense, too.  Puigmania!

Hanley Ramirez - Has only played in 39 games, so probably deserves a "B" at the most, but has been so good of late, he gets bumped up.  He's hitting .386 with 11 2B, 8 HR, 25 RBI, and 4 SB.  The ball has been jumping of his bat.  His defense at short, something that has been an issue in the past, appears to be much-improved.

Adrian Gonzalez - Isn't the same power threat he once was, but is tied with Andre Ethier for most games played at 91, and by far leads the team with 14 homers and 59 RBIs.

Juan Uribe - Seriously!  He gets graded on a curve based on how absolutely horrific he was the last two seasons.  Right now he's hitting .270 with 10 2B, 5 HR, and 28 RBI.  What also cannot be ignored has been his fantastic play at the hot corner.  I never would have guessed he'd play even close to this, but he is.

Kenley Jansen - Is still a flamethrower with 12.63 K/9, and has taken over the closer's spot for nine saves, in addition to the 16 holds he collected before that.

J.P Howell - Has gotten the job done from the left side, holding left-handed batters to a mere .167 AVG.

Paco Rodriguez - Continues his rise only a year removed from college.  Neither right (.143) or left (.140) handed hitters are doing anything against him.

Hyun-Jin Ryu - Signed a huge deal, but was still a bit of a question mark adjusting to MLB batters.  Responded by going 7-3 with a 3.09 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and 93 K's in 116 2/3 IP.  Looks to only be getting better.


Zack Greinke - Has been as dominant as one can possibly be the last two starts, including a two-hit shutout of the Rockies.  But, has gone through some rough patches, with an ERA at 3.49.  Thankfully he's trending up, not down.

A.J. Ellis - Gives the Dodgers big hits when they need it, and has been very solid in controlling the running game.  Also, continues to get on base with a .349 OBP.

Carl Crawford - Started the year on time, which was a bit of a surprise, and responded as one of the best hitters in the early going.  Injuries have really slowed him, as his average has gone down to .273 with only nine steals.  His defense is nothing to brag about, either.

Mark Ellis - Age is definitely catching up to him, as he's only hitting .255.  But something needs to be said for the example he sets of playing hard, which he does each day.

Stephen Fife - Was nowhere near the Dodgers' rotation plans coming into the season, and has already made eight starts, good for a 2.76 ERA and 1.27 WHIP.  Has been on the DL twice, though, which has held him back a bit.

Andre Ethier - Couldn't have possibly started the season any worse, as he looked like he was trying to get traded.  But with all of the outfield injuries, has played all three positions with ease.  His batting average has gone up each month, topping out with a .362 thus far in July.

Nick Punto - At this point, is just a so-so player with a .251 AVG.  But, made a lot of starts at third, short, and second earlier in the with injuries to pretty much everyone else, and his versatility makes him a key utility man.


Skip Schumaker - Has actually pitched two scoreless innings in blowouts, and is very versatile by playing every outfield position and 2nd.  His hitting has just been OK at .260 with only nine extra-base hits.  Is a notch below Punto because he was brought in from the Cardinals to be a key pinch-hitter, but that hasn't really happened.

Scott Van Slyke - Was playing very well at first, but a horrible .188 in June brought a demotion.  Can be a good power hitter, but it's been awhile since he's made a difference with his bat.

Jerry Hairston - Much like Schumaker and Punto, is versatile, and does little at the plate at .258 with 12 RBIs.  His numbers across the board have taken a step back from last year.

Ronald Belisario - Had a good April and May, an atrocious July (8.31 ERA), and hasn't given up a run in July.  It's the typical roller coaster ride with him, but has at least turned it around to appear in the late innings again.

Chris Capuano - Quite often pitches like a "D," but every now and then throws a gem.  He's hard to figure out, but is capable of pitching in either role, making him a little more valuable.


Matt Kemp - The last two seasons have not been kind to him.  Injuries have limited him to 61 games, and is only hitting .254 with four homers.  Just when you think he's back, he gets hurt again.

Josh Beckett - It's almost unfair to put him here considering he's already out for the season, but was pretty bad when he did pitch (0-5, 5.19 ERA, 1.50 WHIP).

Ramon Hernandez - Traded to the Dodgers for Aaron Harang, and proceeded to do next to nothing by hitting .208 with three homers and six RBIs.  And with that, he's already gone.

Matt Guerrier - Never was able to be the key setup man the Dodgers signed him for.  Traded to the Cubs after posting a 4.80 ERA and 1.47 WHIP.  Good bye, good riddance!

Ted Lilly - Wasn't happy to start the season in the bullpen, then made five winless starts with a 5.09 ERA and 1.61 WHIP.  Injuries have happened way too much as well.

Tim Federowicz - Doesn't get much playing time with only 84 at-bats, but hasn't done much with it regardless with a .190 AVG, 3 HR, and 12 RBI.  To his defense, Hernandez should have never been brought in, so that took away lots of playing time from him.


Luis Cruz - Took Uribe's role as the worst starting position player in the majors for much of the first part of the season.  Was mercifully designated after hitting .1 freakin' 27 with three extra-base hits in 118 at-bats.  Horrible!

Brandon League - Given a three-year contract to be the closer... and didn't even last the first half in that role.  Has the worst 14 saves you'll ever see with four blown ones, along with a 6.25 ERA and 1.58 WHIP.  Awful, just awful.

Justin Sellers and Dee Gordon - Both were supposed to fill in at short for the injured Ramirez, and both were terrible.  Sellers hit .188 and Gordon .175.  Good Lord, that's abysmal.

Matt Magill - Simply cannot put the ball over the plate, walking 28 in 27 2/3 innings.  A 6.51 ERA and 1.99 WHIP?  Yup, he sucks.

Peter Moylan - Was given 10 appearances to show what he had.  Well, he did alright with a 6.34 ERA and 1.94 WHIP.  Like so many others, he's gone.

Javy Guerra - It's hard to believe he was once the closer.  Only appeared in nine games, and the numbers aren't much different than the ones above (6.75 and 1.97).  His career has fallen apart, and fast.

Josh Wall - Six games, 18.00 ERA, 3.29 WHIP.  That's hard to do!  Traded to the Marlins in the Ricky Nolasco deal.  What a shame!

(Note: I will hold off on ranking Nolasco, Jose Dominguez, and Chris Withrow since they don't have a big enough sample size at this time.)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Greinke is all $$$ in 2-hit shutout

Zack Greinke, welcome to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It may have taken a little longer than expected, but after throwing a complete game, 2-hit shutout over the Rockies on Saturday, Greinke showed everybody why the Dodgers threw $147 million at him this past offseason.  That 1-2 punch with Clayton Kershaw at the top?  Now it looks even better.

The Dodgers scored in the first and never looked back.  Skip Schumaker got the start in right for an injured Yasiel Puig, and he doubled leading off.  Mark Ellis took a walk, and immediately the Dodgers were in business.  Adrian Gonzalez's slow grounder advanced both men up a base, and Hanley Ramirez scored one on a groundout, making it 1-0.

From there, the Greinke Show took over.  The first 13 hitters for the Rockies were all retired on 10 groundouts, 2 popups, and a strikeout.  On a 2-2 count to Todd Helton in the fifth, he lined a clean single to left, ending any thought of a no-hitter.

Even with Greinke dealing, this was still anybody's game because of Tyler Chatwood, who was fantastic as well.  Chatwood gets credited with a complete game, tossing eight innings and giving up one run on four hits, one walk, and four strikeouts.  He quitely has a very good 2.56 ERA.

With his pitch count manageable, Greinke was given the chance for the shutout by taking the hill in the ninth.  Chase Blackmon pinch-hit in the pitcher's spot and grounded out.  Greinke got the next two on strikeouts, with Dexter Fowler swinging, and DJ LeMahieu looking on... um, a generous outside corner.

Two starts ago Greinke gave up five runs in five innings against the Rockies, with a whopping seven walks, and his ERA stood at 4.30.  Yet, because of a suddenly hot offense, he got the win.  That start came right after giving up 12 hits and four runs in seven innings against the Phillies, but again, he got the win.

Even though the wins were coming, he still wasn't pitching anything close to what he was capable of.  To his defense, he had a quirky start to the season with a slight elbow issue, then the brawl in San Diego which broke his collarbone.  Did that affect him longer than people realize?  Probably.

As the Dodgers have heated up, so has Greinke.  In his last two starts against the Diamondbacks and Rockies, he's combined to toss 16 scoreless innings, giving up only four hits, three walks, and 16 strikeouts.  It's hard to top that, even for someone like Kershaw.  He's locating and mixing speeds extremely well, just as the old Greinke used to do.

Even more good news is that Greinke is traditionally a better pitcher after the All-Star break, so he'll look to improve upon his 3.49 ERA and 1.26 WHIP, which certainly seems possible.  The start against the DBacks came on the road, and we all know how rough life has been away from home in his career.  If he can build on that start, then who knows what kinds of numbers he can post.  Should be fun to watch.

As for the Dodgers, that's now 14 of 17, and it came with a starting outfield of Jerry Hairston, Andre Ethier, and Schumaker (Carl Crawford sat out with a bad back).  Their offense has cooled off the last couple of nights, so I suppose it's a good sign that you can still win a game after scoring one run in two games.  Dominant pitching and defense will give you some wins you probably don't deserve.

The first half ends on Sunday, as Ricky Nolasco gets his second start with the Dodgers, and first one in LA.  The Dodgers have guaranteed at least a .500 record, as they are 47-46 right now.  One month ago at this time they were 28-38.  Wow, what a difference a month can make in the Major League season.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Puig won't be an All-Star, hurts his hip... and still has 2 hits in a win

Thursday was quite the interesting day for young Yasiel Puig.  It started with an interview on SportsCenter, where he pretty much mentioned "playing for the fans" in some sort of form over and over.  Good interview, though.

Then he got word that, despite the huge push from the Dodgers' PR machine, he still wasn't able to grab the Final Vote in the National League, losing out to Freddie Freeman.  The whole thing seemed suspicious to me from the beginning, as I'll still hold firm that I have a hard time believing Freeman could get more votes than Puig.  But hey, congrats go Freeman, I guess.

Then came the actual game, in which the Dodgers beat the Rockies 6-1 behind a fantastic start from Chris Capuano.  Yes, you did read that right.  Capuano is about as inconsistent as it gets, but the good news is that being inconsistent means you occasionally are good, too.  And he certainly was in this one, tossing 6 1/3 scoreless innings with eight strikeouts.  Good for him.

Puig has settled into a routine of hitting singles in between striking out.  Thursday night?  Pretty much as scripted.  Here's how each at-bat looked:

1st AB (1st inning, runner on first): Grounded into a double play
2nd AB (3rd inning, runner on first): Infield single
3rd AB (4th inning, runner on first): Infield single
4th AB (7th inning, leading off): Struck out swinging

After the last AB, he was replaced by Andre Ethier because of a sore left hip.  It was mentioned that he was possibly replaced for throwing a fit in the locker room after striking out, so who knows.  My guess is that it's a combination of the Dodgers winning, Puig was sore, he threw a fit, and he needed a rest.  Plus putting Ethier in as a sub isn't a bad option at all.

It looks like Friday could be a day off of Puig, and I think that's a good thing.  He's been going full throttle since being called up on June 3, and while his average is still excellent at .394, his slugging % is only .444 in July after hitting a whopping .713 in June.  Yes, I'm nitpicking, but it's a sign that he's fatigued at least a little bit, and that pitchers are adjusting to him with the breaking stuff on the outside.

If Puig does not appear at all on Friday, then I look for him to put on a show this weekend.  You know he'll want to show the world why he should've been an All-Star, so I look for him to swing for power on pretty much any pitch even remotely close to the plate.  And knowing him, he may just have four homers this weekend.  Wouldn't surprise me.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Somehow, someway, Dodgers could go worst to first by the break

It took 14 innings on Wednesday night, but once again the Dodgers found a way to win, downing the Diamondbacks, 7-5.  It took a blown save by Heath Bell in the ninth, followed by back-to-back jacks from Hanley Ramirez and A.J. Ellis in the 14th to seal the deal.

And with that, the Dodgers are a mere 1 1/2 games in back of the DBacks for first in the NL West.  Which means, after playing some horrible baseball for the first 2 1/2 months of the season, the Dodgers could actually be in first place by the time the All-Star break comes after Sunday.

It's hard to believe, but with a red hot team that's won 15 of 18, it certainly can happen.

Both the Dodgers and DBacks have four games left at home, with the Dodgers playing the Rockies, and the DBacks hosting the Brewers.  Neither team is over .500 (Rockies 44-48, Brewers 37-53), so the advantage shifts to the home teams.

What will it take for the Dodgers to be in sole possession of first?  For starters, take a look at the starters on the mound.  They unfortunately have to suffer through Chris Capuano on Thursday, who's been horrible lately.  If they can somehow get a win regardless, then Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Ricky Nolasco are lined up to go next, and the Rockies could be in trouble.  We all know what Kershaw can do, but Greinke and Nolasco combined to go 14 innings for one run against the DBacks, so they're on a roll.

The Rockies counter with a couple of awful starters in Drew Pomeranz and Juan Nicasio in the first couple of games.  Tyler Chatwood and Jhoulys Chacin follow, and they're actually pretty good and probably love pitching away from Coors Field.  So it won't be easy against them.

Over in Arizona, the DBacks will get a start out of All-Star Patrick Corbin on Friday, but none of their other starters of Wade Miley, Randall Delgado, and Ian Kennedy have winning records or are anything special.  The Brewers are terrible this year, and their supposed "ace" in Yovani Gallardo has been a big part of that.  Kyle Lohse has pretty good numbers, but that's it.  In other words, the hitters should have their way.

Momentum is clearly on the Dodgers' side, as they're getting contributions from just about everybody.  On the flip side, the Rockies are only 3-6 in July, and are nine games under .500 on the road, which shouldn't be too surprising.  They've really hit the skids since starting the season 13-4.

One key factor to keep in mind is that Troy Tulowitzki is expected to be activated for this series, and he's been awesome this season by hitting .347 with 16 homers and 51 RBIs.  He must be salivating at the thought of hitting against Capuano.

Overall, the Dodgers need to win at least three of four to have a chance at sole possession of first.  The DBacks need to win at least three to ensure first regardless of what the Dodgers do.  Since the DBacks have played one more game, the Dodgers need to match them in the win column to ensure first place.

Thursday's game will be tough from a pitching standpoint, since Capuano is on the mound and the bullpen is so tired from going nine innings the night before.  If the Dodgers still find a way to win, then look out.  This recent run isn't ending anytime soon.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

One start in, the Nolasco trade looks golden

If Tuesday night is any indication, the front four of the Dodgers' rotation is ready to take on anybody.

Ricky Nolasco was simply awesome in his Dodger debut, giving up only one run on four hits in seven innings, walking none and striking out five.  He also added an RBI single, as the Dodgers took an early lead and never looked back in downing the Diamondbacks for the second straight night, 6-1.

Much like the previous game, it was all Dodgers, and their starting pitcher had so much to do with it.  Zack Greinke tossed seven scoreless inning on Monday, giving these two only one run surrendered in 14 innings with 12 strikeouts.  It's hard to get much more out of your starting pitchers than that.  And to think, those numbers are without Clayton Kershaw, who won't start until Friday.

Nolasco's RBI single in the second scored A.J. Ellis for the early 1-0 lead.  In the fourth, Andre Ethier singled, stole second, and went to third on a throwing error from Miguel Montero.  An RBI groundout by Skip Schumaker made it 2-0.

The Dodgers added a couple more in the fifth, though they got a gift in order to do so.  It was Nolasco who started things with a double to right center.  Carl Crawford laid down a perfect bunt for runners on first and third.  Yasiel Puig walked, and the bases were loaded.

Up came Adrian Gonzalez, who lifted a long fly ball to dead center.  Adam Eaton, a hot young prospect who finally made his season debut after missing time with an elbow injury, appeared to stumble a bit setting up to make the catch, and did, in fact, not catch it.  Officially it was scored as a sac-fly RBI with an error, and both Nolasco and Crawford came in for the 4-0 advantage.

The last runs for the Dodgers were scored in the sixth.  The bases were loaded once again, and this time Gonzalez left no doubt with an opposite field two-run double, putting his team up 6-0.

The only blemish on the evening for Nolasco came in the seventh.  Aaron Hill doubled with one out, and then Martin Prado hit an RBI single with two outs to finally get the DBacks on the board after 15 scoreless innings.

J.P. Howell and Ronald Belisario handled the eighth and ninth, respectively, to close out the game.

There was a bit of drama in the ninth, though nothing more than that.  On a two-strike count, Belisario beaned Montero in the foot, causing a warning to be issued to both teams.  After the game, Belisario was quoted as saying that the issue is NOT over, yet he DIDN'T throw at Montero on purpose.  Um, OK.

That came well after Ian Kennedy, who plunked Puig and Greinke at or near their heads back in June to ignite a brawl, beaned Hanley Ramirez on a changeup in the first.  Nothing came of it, and even Don Mattingly admitted that it wasn't on purpose.  What was on purpose was when Puig tried to run over Montero on the same play where Eaton dropped the ball in center, and was tagged out by a mile.  It sure looked like Puig just wanted to get his licks in, and somewhat did.  Again, nothing came of it.

There's still one more game for something to possibly happen, but for now, the focus will go towards the Dodgers' attempt at a sweep.  Speaking of great starting pitching, Hyun-Jin Ryu takes the hill.  He's been fantastic this year at 7-3 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 90 K's in 111 2/3 IP.  He was a bit of an unknown when he was signed this past offseason, even though his success in Japan could not be denied.  He certainly has handled pitching in America with ease.

If the Dodgers do get the sweep, then they'll only be 1 1/2 games in back of the DBacks for tops in the NL West.  And then, almost improbably, they have a chance at gaining the top spot if they finish the first half strong against the Rockies.  Wouldn't that be something?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Greinke unstoppable as Dodgers roll in Arizona

With extra motivation, Zack Greinke made sure to leave it all on the field.  Seven shutout innings and three hits at the plate later, he did just that.

The Dodgers collected 17 hits in easily beating the first-place Diamondbacks on Monday, 6-1.  The lead for Arizona is now down to 3 1/2 games in the NL West, with two games left in this series.

While the Dodgers had no problems gathering hits, it took until the fourth for them to score against Randall Delgado.  With Hanley Ramirez on second and Andre Ethier on first from singles, Juan Uribe's RBI single made it 1-0.

In the fifth, Greinke's leadoff single led to a couple more runs.  Yasiel Puig singled with one out, and Adrian Gonzalez brought one in with an RBI single.  Ramirez followed with one of his own, and it was now 3-0.

Greinke wouldn't budge at all, and the Dodgers started to really separate themselves in the seventh.  Gonzalez took a walk with one down, but Ramirez fouled out to first.  Ethier doubled to the wall in right center to score one, and A.J. Ellis's RBI single gave them a comfortable 5-0 lead.

Paco Rodriguez took over for Greinke in the eighth and pitched perfect inning with a couple of K's.  An RBI fielder's choice by Ellis in the ninth scored another.  Jose Dominguez pitched the ninth and gave up a run on a double by Eric Chavez.  Martin Prado flew out to end the game.

Greinke came into this game sporting a healthy 6-2 record, but with a 4.30 ERA.  Considering the bad blood between these two teams, and that the Dodgers had to place both Matt Kemp and Stephen Fife on the DL before the game, it was a big start for him.  Seven innings, two hits, no runs, two walks, and seven strikeouts later, he more than carried his team.

It's a good thing, too, because the Dodgers needed him to pitch better.  He said he's been working on his mechanics, and it showed.  I don't think everyone should expect Clayton Kershaw-like numbers, but when you're getting paid $147 million, you're expected to be an ace.  Monday night, he showed everyone why a Kershaw-Greinke 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation can be so good.

Perhaps lost in all of the Puig hoopla is the hitting streak of Ramirez, which just reached 19 games.  After pinch-hitting and striking out against the Pirates on June 16, he hasn't looked back since.  At the time he was hitting .258 and looking somewhat lost; now he's hitting .419 and looking incredible.  It's a shame he missed so much time earlier in the season, or he'd be an easy All-Star selection.  Oh well.

Next up is Ricky Nolasco, who makes his Dodger debut on Tuesday.  He's made five career starts at Chase Field with a solid 3-1 record, but with a sky-high 5.32 ERA.  Perhaps he's been a bit unlucky, as his WHIP is low at 1.16 with a .242 BAA.  Five homers surrendered have probably been his downfall.

Nolasco will be opposed by Ian Kennedy, who's a complete prick and apparently sees nothing wrong with throwing at not one, but two batters' heads.  You know the Dodgers can't wait to step in there against him tonight.  I can't wait to watch.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Keep calm and watch A.J. swing

Bases loaded, two outs, ninth inning.  Which Dodger would you like to see at the plate?

If you said A.J. Ellis, then go ahead and pat yourself on the back.

After Hanley Ramirez and Juan Uribe failed to drive in runs earlier in the inning, Ellis took a slider from Sergio Romo and cleared the bases with a double, lifting the Dodgers over the Giants, 4-1.  The win gives the Dodgers sole possession of second in the NL West, 4 1/2 behind the Diamondbacks.  Guess where the Dodgers go next for three?  That's right, Arizona.  It should be fun.

Whenever the Giants see Clayton Kershaw's name etched in as the starter, they know they're in for a long day, and this was no different.  Kershaw is awesome, but it's hard to believe that a team that's won two of the last three World Series would literally have no clue against the same pitcher over and over.  But then again, Kershaw is no ordinary pitcher.

Ramirez got things going in the second, as he lined a leadoff triple into "triple's alley" in right center.  Andre Ethier found just enough room in shallow center for a bloop RBI single, making it 1-0.

The Giants tied it up in the third.  Guillermo Quiroz, the #8 hitter, doubled leading off.  A wild pitch soon sent him to third, where he scored on Andres Torres's sac-fly RBI, making it 1-1.

That score would hold up for quite some time, as neither Kershaw or the returning Chad Gaudin gave an inch.  Kershaw ended up going eight innings for three hits, one run, one walk, and three strikeouts.  To his credit, Gaudin was just as good, giving up a run in seven innings, striking out nine.  The Dodgers didn't have many answers for him.

Thankfully he was pulled after seven, and the always way-too-cocky Romo pitched the ninth.  Hey, the guy is good, but celebrates as if he's winning the World Series every game.  Relax!  His arrogance burned him in this one.

Yasiel Puig led off with a single, flipping the bat in the process and staring bullets through Romo.  I love it!  Adrian Gonzalez lined a sharp one to Buster Posey at first, who booted it, then threw it into left, allowing the always hustling Puig to get to third.  Ramirez had a big chance to end the game here, but very questionably swung at a 3-0 count and only bounced back to the mound.  Not a good decision.

Ethier was given the intentional pass to load the bases and pitch to Uribe.  He was great on Friday, but not so much here with a strikeout.  That left it all up to Ellis, who smashed a high fly ball that bounced to the wall in center for the three-run double.  I don't think Ellis ever smiled about it, but he should.  It was an awesome swing.

Kenley Jansen picked up his ninth save, only allowing a single to Posey, who pretty much can get a hit off of anybody.  In other words, it was a job well done.

This was one of those games where you couldn't help but believe the Dodgers would not have won earlier in the season.  So much is going their way right now, and they've earned it.  Winning 12 of the last 15 is a run I never thought would happen even a month ago.

Puig had a very rough Saturday with the "Golden Sombrero," striking out four times.  We saw the best and worst of him on Sunday.  He had two singles, including the one that started the rally in the ninth.  He stole second, which is good.  But, he got nailed trying to swipe third with Ramirez at-bat in the same inning, which is not good.  His speed can lead to bad judgment at times, as you saw there.

But, Puig also had an awesome diving catch in the eighth.  The guy just continues to make his mark in one way or another, whether it's on offense or defense.  Of course, it helps that he's already had multi-hit games in 16 of 32.  That's just crazy.

The big swing was obviously from Ellis, who ended up being the perfect guy for the tense situation.  He continues to do his thing, as his average is a modest .267, but his OBP is a nice .360.  He also has 12 doubles and 23 RBIs, so he's getting the hits when he needs them.  Tim Federowicz homered on Saturday, so hopefully this means Ned Colletti won't need to make silly trades for scrubs like Ramon Hernandez anymore.  Enough of that.

No matter what happens in this three-game set in Arizona starting Monday, the DBacks will still be in first.  All the Dodgers can do is put some pressure on them heading to the All-Star break.  Zack Greinke and his misleading 6-2 record gets the call in the first one.  It's another big start for him, who simply needs to pitch better.  Hopefully this is the game he starts to do so.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Dodgers add rotation depth with Nolasco

The Dodgers made the first "splash" in the trade deadline season by acquiring Ricky Nolasco from the Marlins on Saturday.  The Dodgers have agreed to take on the remaining $5.5 million of his contract, which surely was a huge breaking point of the deal.  In exchange, the Marlins get three minor league pitchers in Josh Wall, Steven Adams, and Angel Sanchez.

In addition, the Dodgers continue to add to their international signing bonus with another $197,000.  They did a similar move when they swapped Matt Guerrier for Carlos Marmol a few days ago.  For a team that claims it's serious about rebuilding the international market, this is a good and logical step.

Over the past week or two, the Dodgers have been linked to Nolasco, along with possibly Matt Garza.  I imagine the price to get Nolasco was cheaper, as getting someone like Garza perhaps meant parting with guys like Stephen Fife and Matt Magill.  That's not a big price either, but giving away three minor leaguers who don't figure into the Dodgers' long-term plans makes more sense.

This season, Nolasco is 5-8 with a 3.85 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 90 K's in 112 1/3 innings.  You can practically throw the record out the window when you pitch for a team like the Marlins, who would be a decent Triple-A team at best.  How anyone in the world can root for those guys and not go crazy, I have no idea.

The MO for Nolasco his whole career has been "potential," but doesn't seem to live up to it.  He has an overall winning record at 81-72, but with an ERA of 4.44 and WHIP of 1.29.  The positive is that even on a really bad team this season, his numbers (ignore the record) are better.  And that's what made him tradeable.

I like the move, as the Dodgers needed to do something with their 4-5 starters.  Fife has done his part with a 2.76 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in eight starts, so he deserves to keep going.  Chris Capuano, on the other hand, has been bombed his last two outings, and should be moved back to the bullpen as the long reliever.  He's just way too inconsistent, and only getting worse.

I would think the Dodgers can now roll with their rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Nolasco, and Fife.  The focus will mostly turn to improving their bullpen, as adding Marmol is OK, but hardly the only answer.  With the offense much-improved thanks to some rare good health, pitching in the late innings should now be the key issue.

Kershaw is an All-Star, Puig and Gonzalez on Final Vote

For the third straight year, Clayton Kershaw will be representing the Dodgers in the Midsummer Classic with the National League.  The last Dodger pitcher to be selected three straight years was closer Eric Gagne from 2002-2004, and the last starting pitcher was the great Orel Hershiser from 1987-1989.  Some great company, indeed.

Kershaw will start today in San Francisco, which lines up his final start before the break on Friday, July 12.  You can bet Bruce Bochy will get an inning or two out of him on four-day's rest as the NL looks to win their fourth consecutive ASG.

What's interesting about the pitchers for the NL is how inexperienced they are in the ASG.  The only other starters with multiple selections are Cliff Lee (four) and Adam Wainwright (two).  Craig Kimbrel (three) and Aroldis Chapman (two) are the only closers with more than one.  I can imagine young studs like Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez will be leaning on the "grizzled veterans" of Kershaw and Lee on how to prepare for such a game like this one.

Perhaps the biggest news to come out of the selections is on the Final Vote, where both Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez have a chance to be voted in by the fans.  I bet Gonzalez had a good laugh about this one, as he probably feels like he has no chance to get in over Puig.  And who can blame him?  Nothing against Gonzo, but it would be shocking if Puig lost.

I wonder if the ASG was on Puig's mind as he struck out four times in a loss to the Giants on Saturday.  Everyone is due a stinker, and after 31 games, he finally had his.  Even so, other than Gonzo, the remaining competition is Ian Desmond, Hunter Pence, and Freddie Freeman.  They're all great players, but again, this seems like Puig's vote to lose.

Something everyone needs to remember is that injury replacements are always needed, especially with starting pitchers being ineligible to pitch in the ASG if they start the Sunday before the break.  In that case, I bet Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenley Jansen have decent shots of being added.  Heck, even Gonzo could make it if not voted in, as I can recall that happening to Andre Ethier a couple of years back.  In other words, stay tuned.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Uribe (yes, really!) leads Dodgers romp over Giants

The Giants have looked anything but like a defending World Series champion entering Friday night's home game, so when they got up 1-0 after one, the home crowd was excited.

And then the Dodgers started tagging Matt Cain, and they never looked back.

Led by the best night in an otherwise horrible three-year career in LA of Juan Uribe, the Dodgers continued to roll their competition with a 10-2 victory.  While the Giants have lost 9 of their last 10, the Dodgers have climbed into a second place tie thanks to winning 11 of their last 13.

Hyun-Jin Ryu ended up throwing a solid game, but it didn't start that way in the first.  Andres Torres led off with a single and Marco Scutaro took a walk.  After Pablo Sandoval popped up, Buster Posey also walked to load the bases.  Hunter Pence got a run home on a fielder's choice, but that was all the damage.

The Uribe Show started in the second, giving the Dodgers a lead they would never relinquish in what turned out to be a laugher.  The bases became loaded right away on a walk to Hanley Ramirez, a double by Andre Ethier, and another walk to Matt Kemp, who ended up leaving the game shortly after when he felt a twinge in his left shoulder.  He's listed as day-to-day, thankfully.  Uribe then lined a two-run double, putting the Dodgers up 2-1.

The third is when the Dodgers chased Cain, who looked about as bad as I've ever seen him.  Between the Dodgers lacing the ball and pitch after pitch in the dirt, it was a horrific performance for him.  It all started when Yasiel Puig hit a leadoff double, then Adrian Gonzalez walked.  Ramirez singled up the middle, and it was 3-1.

The returning Carl Crawford soon hit for Kemp and walked to again load the bases.  A.J. Ellis hit an RBI single to go up 4-1.  The big blow then came when Uribe hit a sinking liner to left that was just out of the reach of a diving Cole Gillespie, going all the way to the wall for a three-run triple.  Even Ryu added an RBI single.  Add it all up, and the Dodgers held an 8-1 advantage.

The game was obviously over from there, but Uribe wasn't done.  He added to his personal highlight reel with a two-run shot in the seventh, running his RBI total up to seven.  He actually had a chance for the cycle in the ninth, but struck out needing a single.

It's safe to say that this game was BY FAR the best game Uribe has played in his 2 1/2 year career in Dodger blue.  The ball was jumping off his bat, and even if the triple was caught in the third, he still would've had a big night.  Plus, let's not ignore the sharp grounders he gloved at third all night long.  He definitely put it all together.

In looking at his stats, Uribe is having a quietly effective season.  He's now hitting .280 with a .355 OBP, to go along with 10 doubles, a triple, 5 home runs, and 27 RBIs.  Those numbers won't "wow" you, but he's definitely contributing during this recent Dodgers' run of success.  Lord know he's taken enough flak the last three years (myself, and just about everyone else included).  So you know what?  Good for him for shutting everyone up with a game like this.  Let's hope he keeps doing that.

Ryu settled down after a shaky first to go 6 2/3 innings for four hits, two runs, three walks, and three strikeouts.  He's now 7-3 with a 2.82 ERA and 1.23 WHIP.  You don't hear his name being brought up for the All-Star Game, but why not?  He would more than deserve a slot.

The Dodgers have to feel good about the two weekend games.  First they hand the ball to Stephen Fife on Saturday, who's been pitching very well of late.  Then it's Clayton Kershaw time on Sunday.  This could be two straight sweeps of the rivals.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Crawford returns, so the outfield logjam is upon us

Carl Crawford has been activated from the 15-day DL, where he spent just over a month with a strained left hamstring.  He takes the spot of Scott Van Slyke, who will go back to Triple-A Albuquerque as a victim of the numbers game.

Crawford started off the year as a big spark in the leadoff spot, hitting .308 with four homers and four steals in April.  Injuries here and there slowed him down some since then, as he only appeared in one game in June before hitting the DL.  Still, he's at .301 with 32 runs scored, so he'll look to pick things back up in his old spot.

Of course, getting his old spot back everyday is not a given, as Don Mattingly now has his hands full with Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier all healthy in the outfield.  It's a good problem to have, but no matter what, someone with big talent (and a bigger contract) will have to sit at the start of each game.  As a matter of fact, it's Crawford who will sit out Friday night's game in San Francisco.

There's no way Puig will sit at all with the way he's set the world on fire, so that leaves three guys for two spots.  Kemp is slowly getting his power back with two homers in his last two games, so it's hard to yank him.  And as much as Ethier has struggled at the plate this year, he did pick it up some in June at .261, his most productive month.  Plus, he deserves a lot of credit for playing all three outfield positions very, very well.

With the way Crawford and Kemp have been banged up this year, and dating back into last as well, I don't expect them to be locks to play everyday.  Ethier probably will get the least amount of starts, but if there's one thing the Dodgers know, it's that injuries happen at any moment.  Even Puig is nursing a sore left leg from crashing into the wall in Colorado, so maybe he'll soon need some rest.

Van Slyke is an easy player to like, as he's a power threat.  But in 13 games in June, he's hitting only .185 with a couple homers.  I like his future, and you know he'll be back in an instant if there's another injury, or when rosters are expanded in September.  Keep an eye out for him.

Capuano, League, and Belisario all pitched...

So take a wild guess what happened?

The four-game winning streak came to a halt 9-5, as the Rockies got all the big hits with runners on, while the Dodgers did not.  And oh yeah, anytime you see the three pitchers listed above as appearing in the same game, you know it's a loss.

The game started off well for the Dodgers, as Matt Kemp hit a two-run bomb to left center in the second to go up 2-1.  With Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez playing as well as they are, if Kemp can keep going (two homers in two games), then look out.  This team can do some serious damage.

Of course, the age old problem of driving runners in came back to haunt them in the early inning.  After Kemp homered, Tim Federowicz and Nick Punto each singled.  Capuano failed to advance Federowicz to third when he was tagged out, and Mark Ellis and Puig both struck out.

In the third, the bases became loaded with one out when Adrian Gonzalez singled, Ramirez walked, and Kemp singled.  Federowicz had a horrible at-bat by popping up and Punto struck out, tossing his helmet and bat in frustration.

That was a huge momentum changer, as the Rockies pounded Capuano in the third.  Three straight singles started the inning, as pitcher Jhoulys Chacin had the first one.  The red hot Michael Cuddyer had the big blow with a two-run double, and Wilin Rosario's sac-fly RBI made it 5-2.

Capuano was chased with one out in the fifth as Josh Rutledge was on second with a leadoff double.  In came Brandon League, and if you recall, Don Mattingly said he'd only be used if it was a non-pressure situation.  Well, pressure or not, it didn't make one bit of difference.  He was absolutely horrendous once again, as three of the four batters he faced reached base, with Rosario and Todd Helton picking up RBI singles.  J.P. Howell had to get the last out, but by then it was 8-2.

The Dodgers tried to chip away here and there, but never seriously threatened the rest of the way.  Puig picked up his only hit of the night in the sixth, an RBI single to center.  A day after leaving the game because of crashing into the wall, it was good just to see him in the lineup.  Gonzalez had an RBI double, then added a solo homer in the ninth, but the game was long decided by then.

The bats definitely blew huge opportunities in the early stages, as the runners left on base in the second and third was something they never recovered from.  I guess they could've used a couple of those 10 extra-base hits from the night before.  It didn't happen, and as a result, 11 men were left on compared to the Rockies' five.

Despite the number of men left on, this game was barely winnable in the first place with Capuano on the mound.  Boy has he crashed and burned of late.  After a horrific start last Friday in getting pounded by the Phillies 16-1, he only lasted 4 1/3 innings in this one for seven hits, six runs (five earned), one walk, and three strikeouts.  I know it's Coors Field, but he still stunk.

Capuano actually had two straight great starts against the Yankees and Padres before getting crushed in these last two.  His ERA has shot up over a run from 4.09 to 5.19.  For a guy with a history of slowing down in the second half (3.82 before, 4.94 after), you can bet the trade rumors for guys like Ricky Nolasco and Matt Garza will only heat up more.  And rightfully so because Capuano should not be starting games anymore.  He's terrible.

Then there's League, who's somehow worse.  Can you imagine that?  He's gotten so bad, you can't help but possibly feel bad for him.  Then you remember he's getting paid $5.5 million this season, and your sympathy probably goes away.  His ERA and WHIP have gone all the way up to 6.37 and 1.62.  Wow is he just awful.

Belisario had a scoreless inning.  Yes, you really did just read that.  Then again, there was no lead to blow as the Dodgers were down 9-4 at the time.  He lowered his WHIP all the way to 1.68.  That's awesome!

Even with the loss, the Dodgers took two of three on the road, which is something they've struggled with big time.  They now head to San Francisco for three.  I don't care how much the Giants are struggling right now, these games are always tough.  Hyun-Jin Ryu gets the call against Matt Cain.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Puig gets the pub, but Hanley is a star again

All of the praise heaped upon Yasiel Puig has been completely justified and well-deserved.  After all, anyone who wins both the Rookie of the Month and Player of the Month is a stud.  Throw in the fact that it's his first month in the big leagues, and it's amazing to reflect at all he's already accomplished.

But let's not overlook the reason the Dodgers are winning again.  It's because of Hanley Ramirez.

That's of no fault of Puig, who has been awesome since day one.  But, for the first three weeks of his debut, the Dodgers only had a 7-10 record.  It seemed like the story of each game would be "Puig shines, but the Dodgers still lose."  He couldn't overcome the lack of production from the bums around him.

Enter Ramirez.  His season never really got started until June 4 thanks to a torn thumb ligament in the World Baseball Classic and a strained hamstring running the bases against the Giants.  Even when he returned, he was relegated to pinch-hitting duties and missed three straight games because of precaution.  It sure looked like the Dodgers wouldn't get much out of him this season.

That all changed on June 19 in Yankee Stadium.  As the Dodgers split a day-night doubleheader, Ramirez went 6-for-8 with three runs, a homer, a double, and four RBIs.  He never looked back.  Since then, he's been on a 14-game hitting streak with five homers and 15 RBIs along the way.  Simply put, he's been awesome and just crushing the ball on seemingly every swing.

He's also been extremely valuable, because his return to MVP form has brought the Dodgers win after win.  Currently they've taken 10 of 11 and are sitting 2 1/2 games in back of the Diamondbacks in the NL West.  Where were they a month ago today?  Try dead last and 7 1/2 back.  It was ugly.

There are many other things that have gone well for the Dodgers, too.  Kenley Jansen has been great as the closer.  Clayton Kershaw has been... well, Clayton Kershaw.  Juan Uribe has actually hit this year.  Andre Ethier has played great defense and has picked it up some at the dish.  Plus, getting rid of underachievers Luis Cruz and Matt Guerrier has been addition by subtraction (I wish I could say the same about Brandon League, but I digress).

It's been a team effort to get this winning streak going, but make no mistake about it, Ramirez's impact has pushed this team over the top.  Puig set the tone, now Ramirez has turned that tone into wins.  So while we all marvel over the greatness of Puig, don't forget what Ramirez offers as well. 

Now please, just stay healthy!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

It's time for Greinke to join the fun

The Dodgers demolished the Rockies on Tuesday night 8-0 behind another awesome night by Yasiel Puig, and a complete game shutout by Clayton Kershaw.  Kershaw also ended Michael Cuddyer's hitting streak at 27 games, who flied out to end the game.  It was their ninth win in the last 10, moving them to 2 1/2 games in back of first place in the NL West.

The big stars brought in by management to shine did just that.  In addition to Puig and Kershaw, Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-run homer, Hanley Ramirez upped his hitting streak to 13 games and scored a couple runs, and Andre Ethier had two hits and a stolen base.  Matt Kemp was hitless, but did collect an RBI at least.

After the game I took a peak at the starting pitchers for Wednesday night and saw Zack Greinke's name.  The first thing I said to myself was, "Now it's his turn."

Yes, with the Dodgers the hottest team in baseball, it's time for the "other" ace to lead the way.

So far I'd put Greinke's season at the decent to pretty good range.  Nothing awful, but certainly nothing special either.  He's just kind of been there.  He currently stands at 5-2 with a 3.94 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 48 K's in 64 IP.  Again, nothing bad, but nothing spectacular either.

Whether he likes it or not, his massive contract he inked this past offseason (six years, $147 million) gives him higher expectations.  He wasn't signed to be pretty good.  He was signed to take the ball the day after Kershaw and put up dominant numbers as well.  So far, that hasn't been the case.

We should remember that Greinke was supposed to miss up to two months after that idiot Carlos Quentin charged the mound in April and broke his collarbone, but he ended up returning about a month early.  I've always wondered if he was still feeling some effects of that, as his ERA in May was 6.75.  Maybe he was but didn't want to sit again, feeling pressure to perform.  Who knows.

What I do know is that he seems to have fallen into a pattern of one good start, one not-so-good start.  Take a look at his last four trips to the mound:

6/11 vs. Arizona: 7 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K (no-decision)
6/16 at Pittsburgh: 5 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 3 K (loss)
6/22 at San Diego: 8 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K (win)
6/27 vs. Philadelphia: 7 IP, 12 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K (win)

Again, it's not like he's getting shelled, but he certainly hasn't been the consistent top-tier starter the Dodgers signed him to be.  Even though he won his last start agains the Phillies, he was hardly sharp, and for once got a win because of his offense.

After tonight's start in Colorado, he's lined up for two more starts before the All-Star break: in Arizona and home against the Rockies.  Obviously, that's three starts against division opponents, so the wins count for that much more.

If there's a reason for optimism that Greinke is about to put up better numbers, then it's his career splits between before and after the break.  Since he debuted with the Royals in 2004, he has a 3.93 ERA before, and 3.60 after.  Then you take into account the tremendous difference in ERA between home and away (3.39 vs. 4.20), and you start to like seeing him down the stretch on the mound in Dodger Stadium even more.

While the 12th start of the season shouldn't be the most important, it could be for Greinke as he looks to continue the Dodgers' hot run.  If the Dodgers gave him all of this money with starts like this in mind, then it's time to step up and deliver the goods.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The stomach ache (Guerrier) gets traded for the headache (Marmol)

If there was ever a definition of trading one bad player for another for a "change of scenery," this is it.

Both the Dodgers and Cubs can only hope that's true, as Carlos Marmol has been shipped to the Dodgers for Matt Guerrier.  Both have healthy contracts, and both have struggled mightily this year.  In addition, the Dodgers will receive extra cash along with $209,000 in international signing considerations.

And if you don't think the Dodgers value the international market, I ask you to take a peek at the stats of some guy named Yasiel Puig.  So this was a good add-on to the trade.

Marmol has had quite the up and down career, but 2013 has been pretty much rock bottom.  He's only 2-5 in save opportunities, to go along with a whopping 5.83 ERA and 1.70 WHIP.  Yikes.  Much like Dodger fans felt each time Brandon League took the ball with a lead in the ninth, Cub fans knew to expect the worst.  And neither did anything to change that.

What can Marmol do for LA?  As I mentioned above, it's all about the infamous "change of scenery" for struggling players.  From 2010-2012, he saved 38, 34, 20 games, respectively.  So the history of pitching effectively late in games is there.  The Dodgers tweeted out an interesting fact: since 2007, Marmol leads all relievers with 644 K's, and is fourth with a .174 BAA.

That's all well and good, but obviously Marmol is a different pitcher now.  The Dodgers recently promoted Jose Dominguez and Chris Withrow to pitch in middle relief.  They certainly have good stuff, but are still rookies.  Ronald Belisario and League are awful.  Paco Rodriguez and J.P. Howell are reliable lefties.

So this certainly gives Marmol a chance to get some holds, bridging the gap to Kenley Jansen.  In a perfect world, League would get DFA'd, but not with that contract.  Maybe Belisario?  I'd be fine with that.  I have a feeling it will be Withrow, since Dominguez throws near 100 MPH and wowed everybody in his one inning on Sunday.

The biggest hurdle Marmol will have is lowering his walks, as 21 in 27 2/3 innings is way too many.  He has 32 strikeouts, so he still shows the ability to get hitters to swing and miss.  Rick Honeycutt doesn't have much to lose by working with him, so let's see where this goes.

As for Guerrier, he leaves as a major disappointment.  He signed a three-year, $12 million deal before 2011 to be the primary setup guy.  It never worked out.  He appeared in 70 games in '11 with a 4.07 ERA, and injuries limited him to only 16 games last year.  In 34 appearances this year, he had a 4.80 ERA and 1.47 WHIP.  He was DFA'd a few days ago, so he was on his way out regardless.

Utley could be on the Dodgers' radar

The Dodgers appear to be on the verge of adding Carlos Marmol, who's had an absolutely atrocious season with the Cubs.  They also could be interested in another Cub, Matt Garza.

Now word is coming from Jon Heyman of that the Dodgers could be in pursuit of Chase Utley.

Utley is a California native, having attended high school in Long Beach before taking his talents to UCLA.  The Dodgers have a need at second base as Mark Ellis has struggled to stay healthy, and utility players like Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker are decent, but certainly not in the class of Utley.

I'm sure that interest was ramped up a few notches after Utley's four-game stay in Dodger Stadium this past week.  He stroked three homers to go along with eight hits, and looked like a young star again.  The Dodgers took three of four, but certainly not because they shut him down.

If Utley does express interest in being a Dodger (the organization originally drafted him back in 1997 before he opted for UCLA instead), then I have to imagine Ned Colletti would jump all over it.  Injuries and age have taken their toll on Utley, as there's no way he'll return to his 30 homer, 100 RBI days.  But, he's still a big name, and has shown this season, especially against the Dodgers, that he's swinging a healthy bat.  He's already at 11 homers, which is the same amount he hit in each of the previous two seasons.

There are hurdles to this deal, however.  Phillies GM Ruben Amaro is obviously a big fan of Utley, as he's still a link to their championship team from 2008.  He's playing much better this season and is someone people will pay their money to see.  Plus, there's the $15 million he's owed this season.  That doesn't just magically go away...

... unless you're the Dodgers, and you've shown a willingness to take on large contracts.  With that said, Utley would have to waive his no-trade clause, and the Dodgers would have to send some good prospects to make this happen. 

I wouldn't say a deal sounds likely at this point, but it's worth keeping an eye on as the month of July progresses.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Dodgers in the mix for Matt Garza

The calendar hit July 1 today, and with that, trade rumors will start to swirl more and more each day.  We all know that's just the way the Dodgers like it as the deadline approaches on July 31.

Now that they've won eight of nine and are only four games in back of first in the NL West, you can bet Ned Colletti will be as motivated as ever to get this team back over the hump.

The biggest areas of need are third base, middle relief, and back end of the rotation.  Today, Jim Bowden of wrote about five possible destinations for Cubs' starter Matt Garza (Insider only).  The Cubs are facing yet another rebuilding season, so let's take a look at the proposed deal (which isn't real keep in mind, just what Bowden suggests) and if I would pull the trigger on it.

Garza to the Dodgers for RHPs Stephen Fife and Matt Magill

Garza:  He got a late start to the season thanks to a strained lat muscle, and as the Reds' Johnny Cueto can attest to, that's not an easy injury to get rid of.  But, Garza has pitched well in his eight starts, posting a 3-1 record with a 3.83 ERA and 1.16 WHIP.  His strikeouts have been growing with each start, as he has 18 in his last couple. 

He's a very consistent pitcher, as the only time he's topped a 3.95 ERA was when he was a young rookie with Minnesota in 2006.  He posted a very low .236 BAA last season, and .230 so far this season.  In other words, he doesn't allow many baserunners, and can be relied on for it.

Fife: After tossing seven scoreless innings on Sunday against the Phillies, who came in scorching the ball against Dodgers' pitching, you know his value just went up.  This season he's 3-2 with a 2.83 ERA and 1.21 WHIP.  He's only made 12 starts in his career spanning two seasons, but with a very good line of a 2.78 ERA and 1.28 WHIP.

Magill: The transition to the majors has not gone nearly as smooth for him, as he's been roughed up in his six starts to the tune of a 6.51 ERA and 1.99 WHIP.  He's walked 28 in 27 2/3 innings, which is obviously way too many.  To his defense, he's had to make some starts on pretty short notice thanks to the never ending injury situation in LA, but even with that, he's been pretty horrendous.

Bottom Line: As much as I like Fife, I would pull the trigger on this deal.  Garza is only 29 and has pitched in big games before.  He won the 2008 ALCS MVP thanks to two wins over the Red Sox, giving up two runs in 13 innings.  Yes, that was five years ago, but in five career postseason starts (including one more in 2010), he's 2-1 with a 3.48 ERA and 1.29 WHIP.

Garza strikes me as a guy who would thrive in the spotlight of LA, where he would get to make big starts down the stretch.  He made many big starts with the Rays from 2008-2010, and was one of their top pitchers.  Plus a rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Garza is pretty nasty.  That would be hard for any team to matchup with.

I would miss Fife because he is getting better at mixing his pitches and seems to step up to the challenge.  But, it's the old saying of in order to get something, you have to give up something.  Fife would be that guy.  I'd be perfectly happy if he does stay a Dodger though, don't get me wrong.

I don't have much confidence in Magill, who just doesn't strike me as anything special.  I know he won't always walk so many in future, but he just has "OK" written all over him.  No big deal if he goes.

Youth is served as Dodgers dismantle Phillies

It was a perfect and fitting end to the month of June, which saw the Dodgers go from pushover to a team on the rise.

Youth has been served, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

With big games from Yasiel Puig and Stephen Fife, and contributions along the way from Jose Dominguez, Paco Rodriguez, and Scott Van Slyke, the Dodgers won an easy one over the Phillies on Sunday, 6-1.  The win gave them three of four, and eight of their last nine.

It took until the fourth before either team scored, where the Dodgers certainly got to Kyle Kendrick.  Puig hit his second infield single and soon stole second.  An out later, Hanley Ramirez stroked an RBI single to go up 1-0.  Ramirez got in on the running with a steal of second, and Matt Kemp's RBI single to left made it 2-0.

A balk by Kendrick put Kemp at second, and A.J. Ellis hit an infield single for runners on the corners.  An RBI single by Jerry Hairston later, the Dodgers were in control at 3-0.

The heart of the order of Puig and Adrian Gonzalez teamed up to create another run in the fifth.  Puig lifted a popup to right that landed and scooted away from Delmon Young in right, allowing Puig to get a triple out of it.  Gonzalez lined an RBI double to right, and it was 4-0.

For as much as Dodger fans complain about their bullpen (and rightfully so), the Phillies are just as bad, if not worse.  The Dodgers scored a couple more runs off of them in the eighth.  With Jacob Diekman in, Kemp singled and scored all the way from first on an RBI double by Ellis, who had three hits on the day.  Van Slyke pinch-hit and hit an RBI single to score Ellis, making it 6-0.

Dominguez made his Major League debut in the top of the eighth, and boy did he leave his mark.  Throwing gas around 100 MPH, he immediately struck out Young, then got Ben Revere to ground to short.  On a full count to Carlos Ruiz, he hurled a change-up at about 83 MPH, popping him up to second.  Not only was it great to see that, but the fact he's replacing the recently designated Matt Guerrier makes it even sweeter!

Chris Withrow started the ninth and got a couple of outs right away before allowing consecutive singles to Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, allowing Utley to score.  Rodriguez came in and got Ryan Howard swinging to end the game.

There was so much about this game that should leave the home fans feeling good as they left Dodger Stadium.  As I mentioned before, the youth strutted their stuff the whole day.  Puig continues to just marvel.  A 4-for-5 day at the plate gives him a .436 average, which is simply insane.  That's the highest average for a player in a calendar month making his Major League debut in the modern era.  Only Joe DiMaggio had more hits at 46 (to Puig's 44), and he had 25 more plate appearances.  Wow!

We all know how good Puig is, but let's give credit to Fife for stepping up and delivering a fantastic game on the mound.  In seven start this year, he's gone 3-2 with a 2.83 ERA and 1.21 WHIP.  Only one of his starts has he given up more than three runs, and that was the first one.  His name was nowhere on the list of potential rotation candidates to start the season, but due to injuries, he's more than justified his spot.

Watching Dominguez and Withrow was refreshing, mostly because we didn't have to suffer through watching clowns like Brandon League, Ronald Belisuckio, and Guerrier.  Paco is turning into a quality reliever against any hitter, as lefties are hitting .143, and righties .163.  Maybe the Dodgers are finally ready for quality middle relief to get the ball to Kenley Jansen in the ninth.  We can only hope.

Going 6-1 on the homestand was sweet, but now it's time to improve on that 13-22 road record, which is nearly the worst in all of baseball.  They'll get plenty of chances to do so coming up, as they start with three in Colorado on Tuesday, followed by three in San Francisco, and concluding with three in Arizona.  Clayton Kershaw gets the call on Tuesday.