Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dodgers set to acquire Volquez

It appears that Chris Capuano's time as fifth starter is about to end.

The Dodgers are set to give Edinson Volquez a major league deal, pending a physical.  Volquez was released from the Padres this past Sunday, and his former team will be responsible for nearly all of his $5.725 million deal.

The move seemed to come out of nowhere, but if you were really paying attention to Capuano, it shouldn't be too surprising.  He's simply been way too inconsistent, and now that we're entering the stretch run of September, the Dodgers are in a position to go for home field advantage in the NL.  If they don't feel that they can rely on their fifth starter, then it's the right thing to get someone else.

Considering the Padres are paying most of his deal this season, it appears to be a low-risk, high-reward move.  Then again, looking at Volquez's stats this season (9-10, 6.01 ERA, 1.67 WHIP), you have to wonder if this is the guy who will actually improve on Capuano's stats (4-7, 4.74 ERA, 1.44 WHIP).

I don't mind the move because I just don't see Capuano getting any better, especially when the games start to mean a little more and more.  He had a pretty good July with a 4.15 ERA in four starts, but tanked this month to a 5.26 ERA in five starts.  And that was with giving up no runs in 6 1/3 innings against the Cubs to start August.

Volquez is a former All-Star in 2008 with the Reds, going 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA and 1.33 WHIP.  But that was then, and this is now.  He hasn't had an ERA below 4.14 since, and that was last season.  Padres' pitching coach Darren Balsley was quoted as saying that Volquez runs into trouble because he actually tries too hard and starts to throw his mechanics out the window during games.  That would appear to be one of the key aspects of his game to focus on for Rick Honeycutt.

And speaking of Honeycutt, if he gets some good starts out of Volquez, then it'll be further proof that this guy might be the top pitching coach in the game.  Yes, I know it helps when you get to claim guys like Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke as yours.  But, take a look at the work of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Ricky Nolasco.  There's two great examples of how Honeycutt has left his mark this year.

This deal isn't final yet, but appears to be on the verge.  Stay tuned.

Lesson learned for Puig? We will soon see



As Ricky Nolasco was taking care of business in a 4-0 victory over the Cubs, which came a night after the Dodgers gave Clayton Kershaw no run support, the story of the day turned out to be young Yasiel Puig.

No, he was not putting together another multiple hit performance or gunning someone out from right field.  He was actually being yanked after five innings because Don Mattingly was so fed up with him.  In went Skip Schumaker, and suddenly we had a potential mess on our hands.

The reason Puig was pulled was never quite explained by Mattingly, other than to say that Schumaker "gave us a better chance (to win)."  That's an interesting comment considering Schumaker is basically a utility player at this point.  He's a pretty good utility player, but his talent level isn't anywhere close to Puig's.

Which is what makes Mattingly's comment so interesting, and quite frankly, spot on.  This is all about effort, as Puig was definitely in a funk all day on Wednesday.  He did take a walk in his first at-bat, but then promptly failed to slide into second on Carl Crawford's grounder, which led to a DP.  Sure enough, Hanley Ramirez hit a solo shot right after.  Puig looked like he would have been safe if he did slide, but made it an easy call when he didn't.

He then struck out in his next (and last) at-bat, slamming the dirt in disgust.  That turned out to be his swan song at the plate.

The hitting is one thing, but what stood out even more was his defense.  We've all seen Puig's style of catching the ball... well, with style.  It's one thing to catch fly balls on the side, but it's another when you have horrible body language when doing so.  That seemed like the final straw.

If there was a way to get Puig's attention, this is it.  Take away a man's playing time, and there is a certain level of embarrassment attached to that.  I flashed back to the time Bobby Cox pulled a young Andruw Jones during a game... in the middle of an inning!  That was 1998 and Jones was a star, and the message was simple - don't put forth the right effort, and you're expendable.  I loved it.

At this point, it's up to Puig to decide how he wants to write this next chapter.  Will he continue to do the little things that irk teammates, like overthrow cutoff men and take unnecessary risks on the bases?  Or, will he not take his talent for granted and be prepared in every situation?  His talent level is off the charts, but so is his recklessness at times.  That has to even out.

One thing that will definitely help is the impending return of Matt Kemp.  A healthy (we hope) Kemp brings another impact bat to the lineup and good glove in the outfield.  It will also create a logjam of four outfielders, something that Mattingly can hold over Puig's head if he's not playing the right way.  Mattingly can show a lot of patience when he doesn't have many replacement options, but when his team's at full strength, he can pull the trigger on a switch much easier.

Something that must be said is that Puig handled his postgame comments like a pro, as he admitted his mistake and will learn from it.  That's good to say, but now we need to see if he means it.  All indications are that he'll be in the lineup Friday in San Diego, so there's his first chance.

And let's be honest - the Dodgers are really good, but a focused Puig makes them so much deadlier in the playoffs.  They need him.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

No worries for LA as Greinke dominates

A two-game losing streak for the Dodgers?  Hey, no problem when you have Zack Greinke about to take the mound.

Greinke turned in another fantastic performance, literally coming within a strike of a complete game shutout.  Instead, he settled for a 6-2 victory over the Cubs behind homers from Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig, and his own RBI single to start the scoring.  The Diamondbacks also won, so the NL West lead stays at 9 1/2 games.

The Dodgers were just coming off their first series loss since mid-June, a span of 19 overall.  To say that going from playing the Red Sox to the Cubs was a bit of a letdown would be an understatement.  So, I can see why they seemed a bit sluggish at first.

It took until the fourth, but the Dodgers were first to strike.  A.J. Ellis and Nick Punto took walks with a couple down.  Greinke has turned into possibly the best hitting pitcher in baseball, and his RBI single to left made it 1-0.  He actually took a walk the previous inning, so he's earned the respect from pitchers to not simply groove a fastball over the middle to.

Still with two outs, Carl Crawford hit a ground rule double to left that was close to getting over the short fence, making it 2-0.

Mark Ellis started the next rally in the sixth, taking a walk and going to second on a wild pitch to start.  Punto hit an RBI double off the wall in right center, and it was 3-0.  Punto then went to third on Greinke's sacrifice, and scored on a sac-fly RBI from Crawford to go up 4-0.

The big bats of Ramirez and Puig were quiet on the weekend, as the Red Sox did a great job holding them down after Ramirez's two-run blast beat them on Friday.  In this one, they both exchanged monster solo shots, with Puig holding the edge in distance 430 feet to 427.

Greinke did everything he could to go the distance, but just didn't have enough left in the tank.  He actually got the first couple of outs with relative ease, but then Anthony Rizzo doubled and Nate Schierholtz was beaned.  On a full count, Brian Bogusevic lined a two-run double to left, and that was it for Greinke.  Brian Wilson struck out Donnie Murphy to end the game.

A complete game gem would have been nice, but Greinke was still awesome in giving the Dodgers a lift after being pounded by Boston on Sunday.  He lasted 8 2/3 innings for five hits, two runs, two walks, and nine strikeouts.  His numbers just keep getting better, as he's now 13-3 with a 2.86 ERA and 1.16 WHIP.  And he's the #2 starter!  There's 29 other teams that would gladly take those numbers as their ace.

Well, maybe 28, as the Angels passed on signing him to get Josh Hamilton instead.  Boy has that worked out... NOT.

Anyway, with the offense in a bit of a lull, there were some encouraging signs, even if it came against the lousy Cubs.  Of their nine hits, four were doubles and two were homers.  Puig had three hits and was a triple away from the cycle, Ramirez hit a laser home run, and Crawford had a double and a couple of RBIs.  About the only one who didn't have a good night was Adrian Gonzalez, who went 0-for-5.  But I doubt anyone is (or should be) worried about him.

The upcoming schedule is very favorable, as the next eight games come against the Cubs, Padres, and Rockies.  Their combined record is 176-219.  I'd say the Dodgers have a slight edge.  They already have a big lead in the division, and this is a time to stretch it out even a bit more.

After that, it's three games in Cincinnati and three at home against the Diamondbacks.  As of now, Greinke and Clayton Kershaw are lined up to pitch the final two games of the Reds' series, then be off against the Diamondbacks.  Then again, the Dodgers and DBacks play four more in mid-September, so the big two will eventually see them again.

Tuesday night is Kershaw time, as over his last three starts (all wins), he's given up one earned run in 24 innings.  Every start from here on out will be closely watched with all the MVP talk, so going against the light hitting Cubs should only further his case to win the award.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Bats stay silent as Red Sox take 2 of 3

It took over two months for it happen, but it finally did.  And Jake Peavy made sure of it.

Peavy pitched a complete game, the Dodgers' bullpen was uncharacteristically bad, and the Red Sox won easily on Sunday Night Baseball, 8-1.  And with that, the Dodgers broke their 18-series unbeaten streak by losing both weekend games.  Hey, it had to happen sometime.

At least the Diamondbacks lost as well, so the lead in the NL West remains 9 1/2 games.

Coming into this possible World Series preview, the Dodgers knew they'd have somewhat of an uphill climb for a couple of reasons.  One, they had to go without Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, who've been practically untouchable of late.  Two, even with them, the Red Sox are really good.

Chris Capuano got the call in this one, and like Hyun-Jin Ryu on Saturday, ran into some trouble right away.  Shane Victorino, who apparently can hit again now that he's no longer a Dodger, doubled with one away.  Dustin Pedroia legged out an infield "single," though replays showed it was clearly a bad call.  Mike Napoli smacked an RBI ground rule double to center, and it was 1-0.

On Saturday, Ryu gave up four runs to effectively end the game in the first, and Capuano found himself in a similar mess when he intentionally walked Jonny Gomes to load the bases.  However, Capuano made a big pitch when he needed to, and Will Middlebrooks grounded into a double play to end the threat.

The Red Sox would tack on single runs in the third and fourth.  Jacoby Ellsbury did it the small ball way in the third, as he hit an infield single, stole second, went to third on a sacrifice, and scored on a sac-fly to center by Pedroia.  The next inning, a two-out double by Xander Bogaerts scored Middlebrooks, and it was 3-0.

The only offense the Dodgers could muster on the night was a solo bomb from Adrian Gonzalez with one out in the fourth.  He seriously creamed it at an estimated 433 feet.

Capuano was done after five, and then the Red Sox home run parade started.  First it was Jarrod Saltalamacchia with a two-out homer in the sixth off of Chris Withrow to make it 5-1.  Then Withrow gave up a solo shot to Victorino the next inning, and it was 6-1.

If you thought Gonzalez's homer was long earlier, then Napoli actually topped it with a 437-foot, two-run tater to left off of the awful Brandon League in the ninth.  I don't know which was worse - watching League suck up the joint again, or the $22.5 million that the Dodgers are completely wasting on him.  I guess both things go hand in hand.  Boy is he pathetic.

Fittingly, Peavy struck out his last batter to get the complete game, as Hanley Ramirez was the victim.

I think we should all thank Ricky Nolasco for his awesome performance on Friday, because without that, there's a great chance the Dodgers would have gotten swept.  All in all, they only managed five runs in three games, as their offense just never got going.

Don Mattingly tried to spark the bats by putting Yasiel Puig in the five-hole, putting Nick Punto behind Carl Crawford at the top, and benching Andre Ethier because of his poor stats against Peavy.  It didn't matter.  They had three hits and one walk the whole night.

This wasn't a bad performance by Capuano, but not a very good one either.  He lasted five innings for six hits, three runs, one walk, and three strikeouts.  Again, not bad, but could've been better.  But then again, that's about what to expect from him, as he truly is a #5 starter.

If these two teams meet again, which obviously would only happen in the World Series, then the Dodgers have to feel much better about their chances.  Not only will they get to use Kershaw and Greinke, but with Matt Kemp soon starting his rehab assignment, they'll get to add his power to the lineup.  Games like these last three are a great reminder that as good as the Dodgers have been, having an instant home run threat in the lineup makes them so much more dangerous.

The Dodgers will now welcome the Cubs for three starting on Monday.  The last time they met earlier in August, the Cubs did just about everything possible to beat themselves.  Greinke will take the hill in the first game.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Hanley's blast is all Nolasco needs

In a sparkling pitching duel between Ricky Nolasco and John Lackey, the game was decided on one swing from a Red Sox' original.

Hanley Ramirez's two-run homer to center proved to be the game-winning hit, as the Dodgers beat the Red Sox, 2-0.  It was the first meeting between the teams responsible for one of the biggest trades in baseball history about a year ago.  The win puts the Dodgers a whopping 10 1/2 games up in the NL West.

Yes, it was a good night.

The Dodgers had to wish they were able to run Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke out to the mound against their mighty American League counterparts.  But after those two combined to throw 16 innings of one-run ball against the Marlins, they'll have to wait until next week against the Cubs to pitch again.

Instead, Nolasco, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Chris Capuano all the got the calls to start instead.  Nolasco has certainly pitched well since coming over from the Marlins in early July, but I'm not sure people expected him to be as dominant as he was on Friday.

Good for the Dodgers, he was.  Led by a great fastball and a sharp breaking ball, he went eight innings for two hits, no runs, no walks, and six strikeouts, making him 5-1 with a 2.53 ERA and 1.14 WHIP with the Dodgers.  And that's just awesome.

Lackey was every bit as good, save for the big blow by Ramirez in the fourth.  Carl Crawford, who definitely has not hid his bitter feelings about his old team, singled leading off after Lackey retired the first nine in order.  Yasiel Puig popped up and Adrian Gonzalez flew out for two down.

Ramirez got the day off on Thursday, as Don Mattingly made a slick call in resting his star while Kershaw was on the mound.  It turned out to be the right thing to do, as Ramirez cranked a two-run shot just out of the reach of Shane Victorino in center, and it was 2-0.

The best chance for the Red Sox to score was in the fifth.  It started with one out as Daniel Nava was beaned on the foot.  Stephen Drew followed with a single.  Will Middlebrooks hit a hard grounder to third, but Juan Uribe fielded it cleanly, threw to second from his knee for one out, and Mark Ellis completed the double play.

Nolasco was flawless the next three innings, as he ended up retiring the final 10 batters faced.  In the ninth, Kenley Jansen got Mike Carp and Jacoby Ellsbury swinging, and Victorino popped to Ramirez at short for the last out, as Dodger Stadium was rocking.  It was Jansen's 22nd save.

I mentioned after Thursday's win how much fun it is to describe this recent run.  And guess what?  I'm about to do it again!  With the win, the Dodgers are now on a 46-10 run, 29-5 since the All-Star break, and 19-3 in August.  The team ERA this month is a ridiculous 1.86.  It's hard to imagine doing any better than that.

And now with the lead of 10 1/2 games in the NL West, the Dodgers have their first double-digit lead in the division since 1977 over the Reds.  Wow!

At some point (maybe now), the Dodgers can shift their attention away from the division and focus on home-field advantage.  In taking a look at that, the Braves hold a slim one-game lead over the Dodgers and Pirates for tops in the NL.  The Dodgers would get home field over the Pirates if the playoffs started today thanks to a 4-2 season series advantage.

There's still plenty of games to go, and the Dodgers will look to take another series with a win on Saturday.  Ryu will get the call against Jon Lester.  It's a FOX game, which means I have to suffer through the Mets and Tigers.  Ugh!  Vin Scully and Charlie Steiner on XM Radio, here I come.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Kershaw faced the Marlins... bet you know what happened

Yup, he won.

Clayton Kershaw put in another Clayton Kershaw-like day on the mound, tossing eight innings of shutout ball as the Dodgers pounded the Marlins, 6-0.  After dropping Monday's opener to Jose Fernandez, the Dodgers won the next three by a combined score of 16-5.

The Diamondbacks dropped an afternoon tilt at the same time the Dodgers were in action, so the NL West lead increased to 9 1/2 games.

While the final line was fantastic, Kershaw was actually very shaky for himself in the first couple of innings.  He walked leadoff hitter Christian Yelch in the first, but got the next three in order.

In the second, Kershaw had to really fight through his control issues, as his fastball was just all over the place.  Ed Lucas singled to center leading off, then went to second on a wild pitch.  Justin Ruggiano walked, and the Marlins were in business.

Then again, the Marlins are the Marlins, and Kershaw is Kershaw, so you knew that somehow there'd be no runs scored.  And that's exactly what happened, as the next three went down meekly, and the game remained scoreless.

Yasiel Puig led off the fourth with an absolute monster shot that somehow went an estimated 436 feet and DIDN'T leave the ballpark.  Alas, he settled for a double off the very top of the centerfield wall.  After going to third on a groundout, he tried to score on what he thought was a wild pitch to Skip Schumaker, but the ball actually hit his foot, so it was all for naught.

Juan Uribe took a walk to load the bases with two outs, and Kershaw got another big hit with an RBI single, making it 1-0.  Carl Crawford hit a sinking liner just in from of Giancarlo Stanton in right for the two-run double, and it was 3-0.

Spotted a three-run lead, Kershaw shook off any wildness and started mowing down The Fist left and right.  He was helped out by three double play balls, as the rare times the Marlins would get on base, they'd shoot themselves in the foot.  Overall, he ended up allowing five hits, three walks, and six strikeouts over eight frames.

Two more runs were scored for the Dodgers in the fifth, as they really started hitting Henderson Alvarez hard.  Andre Ethier doubled with two outs, and A.J. Ellis hit one of his own to go up 4-0.  Schumaker added an RBI single to score Ellis.

The final run came in the seventh when Adrian Gonzalez doubled leading off, went to third on a passed ball, and scored on Puig's sac-fly RBI.

Once Kershaw was done for the day, the long-awaited debut of Brian Wilson came in the ninth.  He struck out Stanton looking, then got Logan Morrison to ground to second.  Greg Dobbs pinch-hit and lined a double down the right field line, but Wilson bounced back to strikeout Ruggiano to end the game.

And let me tell you, seeing Wilson perform his signature arm cross while pointing at the sky was very weird.  But I'll be happy to keep feeling that way over and over this year.

The Kershaw MVP talk will only continue to intensify with another sensational performance.  He's now up to 13-7 with a 1.76 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 188 K's in 198 1/3 innings.  What more can I say?  The guy is simply out-of-this-world good.

The Dodgers are now unbeaten in their last 18 series, going 14-0-4 in the process.  They're on a 44-10 run, and 28-5 since the All-Star break.  It seems like after every game I'm adding to these numbers... but hey, since they keep winning, why not?  That's the fun of it!  I hope I get to keep doing it.

If there's a downside to the last two games, it's that Zack Greinke and Kershaw now won't be available for the upcoming series against the Red Sox.  One year ago right around this time was when the Sox dumped Gonzalez, Crawford, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto, and all of their salaries for various other guys.  Now these two teams finally meet.

Much like playing the Rays a couple weeks ago, this is another possible World Series preview.  With the bottom three in the rotation going, the Dodgers should be thrilled if they take two.  It won't be easy, even if the studs were going.  But who knows, maybe not giving the Sox a look at the aces will pay off in October.

On Friday night, it'll be Ricky Nolasco taking on John Lackey.

Greinke's message: Don't forget about me!


If there's one thing that Zack Greinke would like everyone to know, it's that the Dodgers have two aces, and not just one.

Greinke tossed another brilliant game on Wednesday, going eight innings for six hits, one run, no walks, and seven strikeouts, as the Dodgers beat the Marlins, 4-1.  That lone run was a solo laser by Giancarlo Stanton, who pretty much hits everybody.  In only one inning did he allow more than one baserunner.

In other words, he continued his amazing run of effectiveness.  Over his last nine starts, he's 6-1 with a sparkling 1.41 ERA.  During that span, he's averaged a little over seven innings a start along with about 5 1/2 strikeouts a game.

Back in the beginning of July, I wrote about how Greinke needed to step up and start delivering results that were more aligned to the monster contract he inked in the offseason (six years, $147 million).  At that time, he just got smacked around by the Rockies, and while his record was 6-2, his ERA was 4.30.

There have been many factors contributing to the Dodgers' unbelievable run, and Greinke is right at the top of that list.  It was after that start in Colorado where he really turned his season around, and has most definitely showed everyone how good he is when he's at 100%.

What were some reasons Greinke started the season slowly?  Well, you have to consider injuries.  He had a bit of trouble in Spring Training with an elbow issue, and we all can't forget about Carlos Quentin charging the mound and breaking his collarbone.  He was supposed to miss up to two months, but ended up pitching a month later.

Perhaps he rushed back too soon, as all of June was a mixed bag one one good start, then one so-so start.  Then you have to consider the new surrounding he was in, as he has a history of anxiety issues that really affected him in his Kansas City days.  I remember reading a story about how he wanted to get dropped off in Dodger Stadium by helicopter to avoid traffic!  That's pretty crazy.

What I like most about Grienke's turnaround is that it hasn't just been at home.  Check out his last five road starts:

7/8 @ Diamondbacks: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K
7/20 @ Nationals: 6 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K
8/5 @ Cardinals: 6 1/3 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K
8/16 @ Phillies: 7 1/3 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 3 K
8/21 @ Marlins: 8 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 K

So much for not being able to get it done on the road.

Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt made mention of how Greinke and Clayton Kershaw are competitive with one another, as neither wants to get one-upped by the other.  It certainly shows, as both are at the tops of their games, and I can't imagine any team wanting to face these two at the start of a playoff series.  They'd be lucky to win one of those games.

At this point, Greinke has about seven starts left, so the focus is merely on staying healthy and being ready to go in October, assuming the Dodgers keep their lead in the NL West, which is currently a massive 8 1/2 games over the Diamondbacks.  Then it will be time to shine in October, and who knows how many starts he'll make there.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Maybe Puig should be late to every game

Apparently, there is no off button in the world of Yasiel Puig.

After getting to the ballpark all of 35 minutes before stretching started, Puig found himself not only riding the pine (he was scheduled to have the day off anyway), but fined by Don Mattingly as well.  Sure enough, with the score tied at four, whom did the Mattingly call on?

That's right, Puig.  His solo homer in the eighth broke the tie, and Kenley Jansen nailed down his 20th save as the Dodgers got back on the winning side, 6-4.  The Diamondbacks beat the Reds, so the lead in the NL West remains 7 1/2.

The Dodgers came into this one having dropped two straight against Cole Hamels and Jose Fernandez, something that would happen to quite a few teams I would imagine.  Still, it was their first two-game setback since June 20-21 in San Diego.  The last three-game losing streak?  June 8-10 against the Braves and Diamondbacks.  Amazing.

Chris Capuano got the start, and he again struggled to get things going.  In the first, Christian Yelich led off with a double, went to third on a grounder, then scored on an RBI groundout from Giancarlo Stanton to make it 1-0.

The score would stay that way until the Dodgers broke out in the fourth.  Jacob Turner gave up consecutive singles to Andre Ethier and Juan Uribe, but Skip Schumaker grounded into a double play.  Tim Federowicz was intentionally walked to pitch to Capuano, but he, too, walked to load the bases.

Carl Crawford certainly still has speed, and he beat out an infield single to score one and make it 1-1.  Mark Ellis started in the #2 spot instead of Puig, and he also hit an RBI infield single, and another run came across on a bad throw by Adeiny Hechavarria.  An RBI single by Adrian Gonzalez put the Dodgers up 4-1.

That lead would appear to be comfortable against a lowly team like the Marlins, but Capuano again failed to deliver.  The Marlins got two back in the bottom of the frame as Stanton and Logan Morrison singled, and Ed Lucas walked to load the bases with nobody out.  An RBI fielder's choice by Justin Ruggiano and RBI single from Hechavarria made it 4-3.

Capuano was out of there after five, and in his place came former closer Brandon League.  Notice I said "former," because he does just about anything to show why he doesn't get anywhere near the ninth inning anymore.  He faced four hitters and only got one of them out, as an RBI single by Jeff Mathis tied the game.  J.P. Howell got one more out, and Chris Withrow struck out Donovan Solano with the bases loaded to end the inning.

The eighth is when Mattingly called upon Puig to hit in the pitcher's spot, and one pitch later, the Dodgers were up 5-4.  Memo to opposing pitchers: you might not want to throw a first pitch strike to Puig, who will hack at just about anything.  I'm just sayin'.

The Dodgers tacked on the all-important insurance run in the ninth on an infield single by Federowicz.  Of course, the Marlins again shot themselves in the foot on another throwing error by Hechavarria, which eventually led to the run.

Then again, the extra run didn't matter, as Jansen tossed a perfect ninth, inducing a popup from Stanton to end it.

It's always good to get back on the winning side, but the Dodgers still have to wish they'd get more from Capuano.  He went five innings for six hits, three runs, one walk, and one strikeout.  Not horrible numbers, but four starts ago his ERA stood at 4.16, and now it's 4.70.  You have to wonder if it'll be Stephen Fife time (again) at some point, moving Capuano into the long relief role.  Wouldn't surprise me.

With the exception of Leauge, the bullpen did a fine job of keeping the score close.  Howell, Withrow, Ronald Belisario, Paco Rodriguez, and Jansen all pitched the final 3 2/3 of scoreless ball.  I think it's fair to say that Mattingly knew he'd have Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw going the next two days, so everyone in the 'pen was available.

One thing the Dodgers have done way too much of lately is ground into double plays.  They added three more in this game, and are fourth in all of baseball with 110.  The league average is 96, so that's obviously way above the norm.  They have the seventh most hits with 1,141, and for a team without much pop, it's natural to hit into more DP's.  Still, fourth most in baseball isn't where they want to be at.

As I stated before, Greinke and Kershaw are lined up to go the final two games of this series.  I'm sure the Dodgers would rather save Kershaw for the next series against the Red Sox, but that's the way it goes.  Who knows, maybe it'll pay off in October if the Sox face Kershaw in the World Series, and don't have any previous looks against him.  Greinke will look for his 12th win.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Beard activated by LA

As expected, the Dodgers have activated Brian Wilson before Monday's game in Miami.  For the fourth time this season, Scott Van Slyke has been sent down to make room.

The Beard did everything correctly in his rehab assignments, making four scoreless appearances.  Don Mattingly has already said he expects Wilson to be one of the key setup men behind Kenley Jansen.

I guess the obvious question is if Wilson is ready to take on the setup role.  The Dodgers must feel like he is, seeing that he's about 16 months removed from Tommy John surgery, which usually takes about a year before one can really commit to pitching again.  Plus, as previously mentioned, he looked flawless in rehab.

Mattingly has to love his options out of the bullpen.  Jansen is as shutdown a closer as there is, but behind him there's plenty of big arms in Paco Rodriguez and J.P. Howell on the left side, and Ronald Belisario and Chris Withrow on the right.  There's also Brandon League and Carlos Marmol, two former All-Star closers who have performed much better of late.

It will still be very strange watching Wilson pitch in Dodger blue, but hopefully it won't take long to get used to.  A few scoreless innings will take care of any lingering hatred from his Giants' days.

One too many Hanley errors ends the 10-game streak

Well, make that TWO too many errors.

A couple of errors in the ninth inning from Hanley Ramirez at short led to the winning run off of Brandon League, as the Phillies gave Ryne Sandberg his first big league win as a manager, 3-2.  The loss also ends the 10-game winning streak the Dodgers have been on, as their advantage in the NL West went down a tick to 7 1/2 games.

After watching Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw completely overwhelm the porous Phillies' offense for two games, Ricky Nolasco was given the task of winning without Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and A.J. Ellis all getting the day off.  Oh ya, Cole Hamels started on the other side.

Nolasco, however, was spotted a 2-0 lead as he was looking good in the early going.  Andre Ethier led off the second and did something that goes against his career stats: homer off of a left-handed pitcher.  His solo shot off Hamels made it 1-0.

In the fourth, Ethier was again the thick of things.  He singled with one out, then scampered to third on a wild pitch.  Scott Van Slyke struck out, but Jerry Hairston came through with a two-out RBI single, and the Dodgers were up 2-0.

The Phillies were desperate for a run of any sort, and mercifully they got one in the fourth.  With two outs, Darin Ruf hit solo bomb to left, cutting into their deficit at 2-1.

That score would hold up until the sixth when the Phillies tied it.  Nolasco beaned Chase Utley on the foot with one out.  Dominic Brown singled out to Yasiel Puig in right, who then fired all the way to third late, allowing Brown to advance to second.  Once again, you live by Puig's arm, and you sometimes die by it.

Ruf took a walk to load the bases with one out.  Cody Asche grounded a slow one to Mark Ellis at second, but they could only get the out at second, allowing Utley to tie the game at 2-2.

The bats for the Dodgers largely went silent after scoring in the fourth, as they only gathered two hits the rest of the way.  Nick Punto walked to start the eighth, but was immediately erased on a double play ball from Ramirez.

League took over for Paco Rodriguez, who struck out three of his four hitters faced, with one out in the ninth.  Right away, Casper Wells reached when Ramirez's throw could not be handled on a bounce by Hairston.  Carlos Ruiz singled to put runners on the corners, and when Jimmy Rollins was announced as the pinch-hitter, he was given the intentional pass to load the bases.

That strategy appeared to work when Michael Young grounded an easy one to Ramirez, who had the option of either getting the out at home, or turning two.  Then again, he chose Option C: bobble the ball, everyone's safe, and the game's over.

This was definitely not a game Ramirez would like to remember, as he went 0-for-4 with a strikeout, a GIDP, and two errors.  Hey, even someone as red hot as him has off days.  Puig was also 0-for-4 with a strikeout, so it's safe to say that perhaps they were trying to carry the offense a little too much.

A question can be asked about Ramirez's first error in the ninth: Would Gonzalez have handled the hop?  A couple things to consider is that the ball appeared to hit the edge of the grass and dirt, so it wasn't a normal hop.  Plus, Hairston was making only his fifth career start at first, all this season.  If Hairston makes that play, then there would've been two outs, and who knows if the Phillies get that run.  It wasn't an easy one to handle, so even Gonzo may not have gloved it.

Something that was positive was Nolasco's start, as he lasted six innings for five hits, two runs, one walk, and five strikeouts.  He was in a rut for awhile of not going at least six innings, so this was good to see.  For a #4 starter, I'll take this line every time.  With the Dodgers in eight starts, he's 4-1 with a 2.98 ERA and 1.30 WHIP.

The Dodgers immediately move on to Miami for four with the Marlins starting Monday.  The Marlins are absolutely horrific at 47-75, second worst only to the Astros.  What do The Fish have going for them?  Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez.  The Dodgers will get to see both of them right away, as Hyun-Jin Ryu will look for his 14th win.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Is Uribe playing himself into a new contract?


Here's a statement I never, EVER thought I'd make: Juan Uribe could be earning himself a new contract with the Dodgers.

Yes, that's how much he's turned around his career this season with the Dodgers.  After spending two years looking like one of the worst free agent signings in franchise history, his three-run shot on Saturday night against the Phillies was another reminder of how good he's been this year.

In 98 games this season, Uribe is hitting .275 with 15 doubles, 7 homers, and 35 RBIs.  Heck, he's even thrown in three stolen bases.

I can't even begin to accurately describe to you just how much better he is this year compared to the last two.  In 2010, he hit .204.  Last season, it dipped even worse to .191.  He had a combined six homers and 45 RBIs.  He was lost, awful, and pretty much a complete waste of space on a lineup card.

For one reason or another, the Dodgers and Ned Colletti have stuck with him, and his numbers have reflected their confidence (which was foolishness for a long time, by the way).  What makes him even more valuable to the team?  His fielding % is .985, which is second in the National League to Placido Polanco.  He's only committed three errors in 183 total chances.  Time and time again, he's made tough plays at the hot corner look routine.

And for all of those reasons above, the Dodgers may have to do something they probably considered unthinkable for the past two years: sign Uribe to a new contract.

Something else that is very much on Uribe's side is the list of free agent third baseman after this season.  Simply put, it's nothing special at all.  According to MLBTradeRumors.com, the only names that I would consider somewhat appealing are Michael Young, Kevin Youkalis, Mark Reynolds, and Polanco.  Even those names are either old, injured, or just not very good anymore.

You can tell that Uribe is a favorite among the boys on the team.  Plus, he's taken over a mentor-type role for Yasiel Puig, something that can't be easy to do.  I'm sure his teammates have seen how hard he's worked to get back to the level he's at this season, and it's appreciated and respected.  Considering the Dodgers are in the thick of a historic 42-8 run, the hard work is rubbing off on everybody.

So yes, Dodger fans, if Uribe finishes the season strong, and is his usual solid self in the postseason (which is how he got a three-year, $21 million contract in the first place), then get ready to see him sign a new contract for next season.  And you know what?  He'll finally have earned it.

Forget the Cy Young, Kershaw could be the NL MVP


With the way Clayton Kershaw has been dealing, get ready to hear some serious talk of winning multiple National League awards, including the big one at the top.

After another dominating performance on Saturday, throwing eight innings of shutout ball with eight strikeouts as the Dodgers beat the Phillies, 5-0, Buster Olney of ESPN sent out this tweet:

"Clayton Kershaw has a 1.40 ERA in his last 10 starts. Right now -- and there's a long way to go -- I'd put him as NL MVP frontrunner."

I couldn't agree more.

We all know there's going to be a big debate anytime a starting pitcher is involved in the MVP talk.  Fair or not, it's worth wondering if one can win the top award when only playing once every five days.  But with the way Kershaw has completely taken over that fifth day, and with no clear frontrunner emerging with the bat, he may well be in the lead at this point.

First, let's take a look at Kershaw's phenomenal stats.  Through 26 starts, he's 12-7 with a 1.80 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, .182 BAA, and 182 K's in 190 1/3 IP.  He's been even better in his last 10, as evidenced by Olney's line above. 

In the National League, he leads in innings pitched, ERA, strikeouts, and WHIP.  He's now fifth in wins (something surprising considering his lack of run support for much of the season), and second in complete games with three.  If you're a believer in WAR, he's tops at 6.7 compared to Andrew McCuthen's and Carlos Gomez's 6.5.  Example after example continues to show how unbelievable he's been this year.

Then there's the other side in that nobody else has clearly stepped up in the MVP lead, ala Miguel Cabrera in the American League.  That's not to say there aren't some great candidates, because there certainly are.  At this point, I'd list McCuthen and Paul Goldschmidt at the top.  I've heard talk of Freddy Freeman and Yadier Molina as well.  If Hanley Ramirez hadn't missed so much time, he'd clearly be in this list.

Are any of those guys better than Kershaw?  It's still too early to tell, but I will tell you this - if Kershaw ends up with an ERA under two, and the Dodgers have a top two record in the NL, then he has a great chance of winning the MVP.  That's how dominant he is, and with all due respect to everyone else, he has the ability to own a game like no other whenever he's on the mound.

The Dodgers are down to 40 games left, so Kershaw figures to have about 7-8 starts left.  As amazing as his numbers are now, he has the ability to make them even better with the groove he's in.  That's just plain scary.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Andre the Giant, Gonzo, Puigmania... and the Dodgers win again

Just when the Mets thought they finally held the Dodgers down, think again.

A single that turned into a double from Yasiel Puig in the 12th led to a walk-off double from Adrian Gonzalez, and the Dodgers once again came out of nowhere to win their eighth straight, 5-4.  None of this would have been possible had Andre Ethier not pinch-hit in the ninth and homered off of LaTroy Hawkins.

If you're surprised by any of this, don't be.  When you're in the middle of a 40-8 run, every game is full of big moments, and this was just the latest example.

The Dodgers swept the three-game series, but what's interesting is that the Mets actually had the early lead every game.  In the second, Marlon Byrd and Justin Turner opened the inning with single.  With one out, Andrew Brown hit an RBI double, and it was 1-0.

The inning could have been worse, but Puig added to his personal highlight reel with an absolute laser to nail Byrd trying to get to third on Turner's single.  Just watch the replay if you haven't seen it, because it was incredible even for Puig.

The third inning wasn't any better for Chris Capuano, who could not get into a groove all night.  Singles by Daniel Murphy and Josh Satin led the way for a big three-run shot from Byrd on a 3-0 count, and the Mets were in full control at 4-0.

Well, maybe "full" control isn't the right way of putting it, because with the way the Dodgers are playing, the other team is never really in that much control.  The Dodgers didn't do themselves any favors, however, when they managed to hit four singles in the fourth, yet didn't score.  Carl Crawford was picked off of first on a bad call, and Mark Ellis flew out with the bases loaded for the last out.

Thankfully Capuano was out of there after five innings, and the bullpen put the clamps on the rest of the way.  In the sixth, the bases became loaded again on a single by Gonzalez, a double by the returning Hanley Ramirez, and Skip Schumaker getting beaned.  Ellis just beat out a double play to score one on a fielder's choice.  An RBI single by Jerry Hairston made it 4-2.

That's the way the score would remain until the ninth, when the Dodgers created some more magic.  Hawkins had been flawless in his three save opportunities since taking over for the injured Bobby Parnell, but Ellis greeted him with a single.  Hairston then hit a hard grounder off of Hawkins's "midsection" (you figure it out) as he made the play to first.

Perhaps Hawkins never really got his wind back, because the very next batter was when Ethier pinch-hit for Tim Federowicz and hit a two-run homer to left center.  Coming into the game, Ethier again had to sit out with a sore left calf and only had seven homers.  No matter, as he flashed back to his "Andre the Giant" walk-off days.  It was awesome.

Still tied in the 12th, Puig got his first hit of the night by grounding one up the middle that turned into a double.  Gonzo's opposite field double down the left field line ended it.

Wow, that was just the latest chapter in what's turning out to be an amazing year for the Dodgers.  They didn't get a good start from Capuano, didn't score until the sixth, yet still managed to win.  I would by lying if I didn't point out how the Mets helped make this possible, as they obviously have a long way to go before they start competing for the playoffs again.  Blowing early leads in all three games has got to make them sick to their stomachs.

Who are the unsung heroes of this game?  Chris Withrow, Brandon League, J.P. Howell, Carlos Marmol, and Paco Rodriguez.  All five of these guys teamed up to pitch the final seven innings without allowing a run.  Withrow and Marmol both went two innings and allowed only one runner, while striking out three.  It was especially great timing by Marmol, who's gone scoreless his last six trips to the mound, as Brian Wilson is lurking.

Here are some more stats coming out of this game: 40 of the last 48, 23-3 since the All-Star break, and a franchise record 12 straight one-run wins.  Amazing.  There's just no stopping this team.

The homestand is over with a perfect 6-0 mark, and now the Dodgers hit the road for the Phillies starting on Friday.  What made the Mets sweep even sweeter was that they didn't have to use Zack Greinke or Clayton Kershaw to get it done.  Both men will start, respectively, in this next three-game set.  Friday's game will be great as the Phillies counter with Cliff Lee.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ryu bests Harvey as Dodgers' streak reaches 7

Three leading candidates for NL Rookie of the Year were in action at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, as Hyun-Jin Ryu battled Matt Harvey on the mound, and Yasiel Puig hit cleanup.

About the only reason to follow the Mets this season (save for a currently injured David Wright) has been Harvey, who's dominated pretty much everybody.

Except the Dodgers.

Harvey gave up four runs in six innings, Ryu pitched one-run ball through seven, Puig went 2-for-4, and the Dodgers won again, 4-2.  That's seven straight wins for the boys in blue, extending their unbelievable run to 39-8.  The Diamondbacks got another walk-off from Paul Goldschmidt, so the NL West remains at 7 1/2 games.

Much like the night before, it was all Mets in the early going, as a solo homer by Juan Lagares in the first gave them a quick 1-0 lead.  David Murphy followed with a single, but was erased on a double play by Marlon Byrd.

Speaking of double plays, it sure looked like the Dodgers were actually trying to end each inning by hitting into one, as they hit into one in innings two through four to keep the score at 1-0.

It's becoming increasingly obvious that if teams want to beat the Dodgers, they have to keep the scoring up throughout the game, because the Dodgers figure things out eventually.  That was exactly the case here, as they got to Harvey to take the lead in the fifth.

A.J. Ellis started it all by taking a walk with one down.  Juan Uribe singled next to put runners on the corners.  Nick Punto, who once again got the start at short in place of Hanley Ramirez, lined a two-run double down the left field line, and just like that it was 2-1.

Ryu was as locked in as can be at this point, and the Dodgers backed him up even more with a couple more runs in the sixth.  Mark Ellis led off with a single, and Puig got another one an out later.  Skip Schumaker's groundout put both runners in scoring position with two outs, and once again A.J. Ellis came through with a two-run single for the 4-1 lead.

After Ryu was done for the night following the seventh, Ronald Belisario pitched the eighth.  He has not given up a run in five August appearances at this point, and then made it six by only allowing a single to Mike Baxter.

It was then Kenley Jansen time in the ninth, and for a change, he actually looked a little shaky.  Perhaps it was more fatigue, as he had to get four outs the night before for the save, so when Josh Satin walked, went to second on fielder's indifference, then scored on John Buck's RBI single, there was a little reason to worry.  Ike Davis grounded out to end the game, and that worry was tossed out the window.  That's save #19.

I guess if you're a Mets' fan, about the only reason you have to be excited for baseball these days is when Harvey takes the mound.  So when he's not his usual terrific self, you can't help but wonder if there's any hope on this team.  He only had five swings and misses on the night, so that shows he just didn't have his best stuff.  And to think he actually struck out for the first two hitters he faced.  Go figure.

As for Ryu, who's gone from quietly being a ROY candidate to forcing his way into the conversation.  He went seven innings for five hits, one run, one walk, and three strikeouts.  This start brings his numbers to 12-3 with a 2.91 ERA and 1.23 WHIP.  He's easily one of the best third starters in the league, if not the best.  That's pretty awesome.

I'll be honest, I was a bit concerned coming into this series that there would be a natural letdown for the Dodgers after beating the Cardinals and Rays in six of seven this past week.  Not that I thought they'd dog it, but at some point you would think they'd hit a bit of a cold streak.  I know the Mets are pretty bad, but that's exactly what worried me.  Sure enough, despite falling behind in both games, the Dodgers haven't missed a beat.

What's even better?  Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke haven't even pitched this series, yet the Dodgers are about to go for another sweep.  It will be left up to Chris Capuano to get it on Wednesday night.  Reports show that HanRam is due back as well, so that will be fantastic if it's true.  I know Capuano will appreciate it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Close games (and close calls) go the Dodgers' way

After sweeping the Rays in a big three-game series this past weekend, it was only natural for the Dodgers to face somewhat of a letdown when the Mets came to town.  The Mets played very well against the Diamondbacks and had a young stud on the mound in Jenrry Mejia, so this would be the definition of a "trap game."

Through five innings, it certainly looked like it would not be the Dodgers' night, as the Mets had a 2-0 lead and Ricky Nolasco had been playing with fire the whole night.

And then the Dodgers remembered they were the Dodgers, and the Mets remembered they were the Mets, and things quickly turned around.  It also helped that maybe some questionable calls went the home team's way in the seventh, but still...

After posting a three-run seventh, the Dodgers held on to get the 4-2 win, making it six in a row.  Just as Kenley Jansen was striking out Juan Lagares for a four-out save, Adam Eaton hit a walk-off solo shot in Arizona to keep the NL West at 7 1/2 games.

Right away, the Mets made it known that they were ready to play, as Eric Young began the game with a single up the middle.  Lagares grounded into a double play, which was the Dodgers' best friend (along with the umps...) in this one.  Daniel Murphy reached on a bad throw from Mark Ellis, stole second, but was stranded right there.

The Mets came through in the second for a couple runs.  Ike Davis and Wilmer Flores hit singles to start the inning, and John Buck continued it with an RBI single.  Omar Quintanilla did just the same, as Nolasco sure wasn't fooling anyone in being down 2-0.  Once again, the Mets grounded into a double play to really prevent them from doing more damage.

Nolasco let two more reach in the third, but after Flores grounded back to the mound for the last out, he settled down to retire the next 10 in a row.  He was pretty lucky not to have been KO'd in the early stages, and at least took advantage of a second wind.

The offense got things going in the sixth, and the Mets' gloves helped them along the way.  Carl Crawford reached on an infield single to Murphy at second.  It was probably the correct call, though a clean play by Murphy might have gotten him.  Ellis singled to right, and the Dodgers had something going.

Adrian Gonzalez then lined a single to left, and as Crawford was hustling around to score, the throw to third skipped away and into the dugout, allowing Ellis to score as well and make it 2-2.  Gonzalez moved up to third on the play, and a sac-fly RBI by Yasiel Puig made it 3-2.

The seventh was a long and frustrating one for the Mets, who definitely felt like they were robbed of at least tying the game.  Nolasco was chased after Quintanilla singled and Mike Baxter walked with an out.  Ronald Belisario entered, and Young greeted him with a little dribbler that he was able to beat out, loading the bases.

With Lagares up in a big spot, he took a questionable strike one call on a check swing with the count 2-0.  Soon the count was full, and Belisario appeared to fire one wide of the strike zone... only it was a called strike three for two outs, not a walk to tie the game.  Murphy lined out to Puig in deep right, and the Mets came up empty.

If there's one thing the Dodgers still don't do much of, it's hit home runs.  It's actually pretty amazing that they still manage to win game after game when they have to work so hard to score.  Nick Punto, of all people, hit a solo shot to right to make it 4-2.  It was only his second of the season.

The Mets kept playing hard, to their credit, probably frustrated by the lack of calls in the seventh.  They put two on in the eighth on singles by Marlon Byrd and Buck off of Paco Rodriguez.  Jansen came on with two outs and struck out Justin Turner looking.

The ninth was much less dramatic, as only Josh Satin made contact on a lineout to right before Jansen struck out the final two for his 18th save.

Whenever a team goes through an unbelievably hot stretch like the Dodgers are in (38-8), they have to feel like they can win in any situation.  Last Friday it was after being down 6-1 in the eighth, and on Monday it was sleepwalking through the opening few innings.  Once again, it all came down to making the big plays when needed, and turning two double plays helped.

What also helped?  The umps in the seventh.  Hey, who knows what would have happened if Lagares walked to tie the game, but obviously the Mets would have had a much better chance of winning.

Nolasco scuffled through three innings, but ended up with a good line of 6 1/3 innings, seven hits, two runs, two walks, and two strikeouts.  In seven starts with the Dodgers, he's 4-1 with a 2.97 ERA and 1.35 WHIP.  He's only gone seven innings once, so he can definitely improve on that, but it's hard to argue with his overall numbers.  It's been a good trade by Ned Colletti.

Maybe it's a good thing the Dodgers won on Monday, because on Tuesday it's Matt Harvey time.  As much fun as it was watching Clayton Kershaw dominate the big stage on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, part of me wishes he was matched up with Harvey instead.  Hyun-Jin Ryu will get the call, and at 11-3 with a 2.99 ERA, seems more than ready for the challenge.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Dodgers by the numbers

I haven't done this in awhile, but it's always fun to look at exactly where the boys in blue rank in certain categories.  Today I'll focus on the bullpen, which has been a huge part of turning things around.

ERA: 3.57 (15th best)
Saves: 34 (7th)
Save %: 68 (19th - still feeling the effects of Brandon League)
Walks: 122 (22nd)
BAA: .244 (15th)
OPS: .669 (7th)
Total Bases: 451 (25th)
K/9: 8.29 (12th)

Trust me, these numbers listed above were not pretty back in April, May, and June.  The League experiment as closer was a colossal flop, which mercifully ended after four blown saves and a 6.00 ERA in early June.  Then Kenley Jansen was inserted as closer, and after blowing his first save in Pittsburgh, has gone 14-15 since.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the numbers for the boys in the 'pen right now:

Kenley Jansen: 58 1/3 IP, 4-3, 17 SV, 16 HLD, 2.01 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 84 K
J.P. Howell: 48 1/3 IP, 2-0, 10 HLD, 2.05 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 42 K
Paco Rodriguez: 42 IP, 2-2, 2 SV, 14 HLD, 2.14 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 45 K
Chris Withrow: 18 1/3 IP, 1-0, 3 HLD, 2.45 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 21 K
Ronald Belisario: 51 1/3 IP, 5-6, 1 SV, 13 HLD, 3.33 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 41 K
Carlos Marmol: 7 IP, 0-0, 5.14 ERA, 2.14 WHIP, 4 K
Brandon League: 42 2/3, 6-3, 14 SV, 1 HLD, 5.27 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 22 K

The top four in that list are as good as it gets.  Jansen's success in the closer's role has made everything else fall into place.  Howell and Rodriguez are fantastic from the left side, and Withrow has forced the Dodgers to keep him with the big club.  They get big outs whenever necessary.

Belisario is his typical streaky self, but he's been on a hot one the last couple of months.  He had an 8.31 ERA in June, lowered it all the way to 1.42 in July, and hasn't surrendered a run in August.  When he's on, he's tough to catch up to.  The Dodgers will ride this hot streak as long as they can.

The numbers for Marmol and League obviously aren't pretty, but there is a silver lining for both.  League has put up blanks in nine of last 12 appearances since the beginning of July, lowering his ERA by over a run.  Marmol doesn't have a large sample size, but is scoreless in his last five trips to the mound.

Keep in mind that Brian Wilson will soon be coming, as his rehab is just about done.  Don't be surprised to see him move right into a setup role.  He's been scoreless in three innings of work, and if reports are true that he's more than recovered from Tommy John surgery last year, then look out.  He's another big chip to be added to this great team in the postseason push.

Sizzlin' Dodgers sweep away the Rays

The possible World Series preview was a completely one-sided affair, as Clayton Kershaw led the Dodgers to an 8-2 win and a three-game sweep of the Rays.  The win, coupled with another loss by the Diamondbacks to the Mets, increased the lead in the NL West to 7 1/2 games.

We all know how fantastic Kershaw is, but coming into this game with a 10-7 record, it was obvious that his offense doesn't always back him up.  The Dodgers made sure to change that tune on Sunday Night Baseball.

In the second, Andre Ethier and A.J. Ellis each led off with singles.  Juan Uribe tried to bunt his way on and narrowly missed, but both runners did advance.  After a strikeout by Dee Gordon (who was abysmal this game - more on that in a bit), Kershaw stroked a two-run single to right to make it 2-0.

Carl Crawford kept the inning going with a single, and Mark Ellis started his big night with an RBI double for the 3-0 advantage.

Another run was added in the fourth, and it all started on a leadoff double from Yasiel Puig.  Two sacrifice flies by Ethier and Ellis later, it was 4-0.

After Kershaw struck out a couple in the fourth, the Dodgers again scored in the bottom half.  Jeremy Hellickson was already in the showers as Alex Torres took the mound, and Gordon had his only good play of the night with a bunt single leading off.  An out later, Crawford took a walk, and then with two outs, Adrian Gonzalez smashed a two-run double to center to make it 6-0.

When the fifth started, Kershaw had yet to allow a hit, but Yunel Escobar changed that with a leadoff single, and then advanced to second when Crawford misplayed the ball in left.  Kershaw got the next two hitters grounding out, but Sam Fuld's RBI triple into right just eluded a diving Puig, and it was 6-1.

The last big blow of the game came from Mark Ellis, who crushed a two-run homer to left in the sixth to make it 8-1.  This game continued his impressive hitting since the All-Star break, as his average has risen from .255 to .280.  That, in addition to his always stellar defensive, shows just how valuable he is to this team.

The only real trouble Kershaw had on the night came when the Rays loaded the bases with nobody out in the eighth.  Jose Lobaton walked, James Loney pinch-hit and singled, and Jason Bourgeois reached on ANOTHER error from Gordan.  Kershaw then struck out Sean Rodriguez looking, got Wil Myers to hit a sac-fly RBI to deep left, and induced a grounder by Evan Longoria to force Loney at third.

Carlos Marmol got the Rays in order to finish off the sweep.

One day after Zack Greinke shut down the Rays' offense, Kershaw picked up right where he left off.  Despite some absolutely atrocious defense from Gordon, he went eight innings for three hits, two runs (one earned), two walks, and eight strikeouts.  He was so dominant he actually lowered his ERA to 1.88, by far the best in baseball.

Then there was the offense, which got production all up and down the lineup as every starter got a hit.  In addition to the big day by Ellis, Crawford had two more hits, raising his average over the last 10 games from .278 to .296, safely hitting in eight of those.  Puig took another walk and hit a double.  A.J. Ellis had two hits and a sac-fly.  All in all, it was another hugely successful day from the big bats and role players.

Then there's the story of Gordon, who had two hits.  That was about all he did, as he looked awful in the field with three errors on two bad throws and a bobble.  Heck, he was downright embarrassing at times.  He has the speed, and looks like he has a pretty strong arm, but unfortunately looks to be nothing more than a good Triple-A player.  Hanley Ramirez says he'll be back as early as Monday night, so Gordon's time at short may already be up.  Good riddance.

The dominating win on Sunday ended the recent seven-game stretch over the Cardinals and Rays at 6-1.  Those are two legit playoff teams, so it's a fantastic record.  Even better?  The next several series during August are against the Mets, Phillies, Marlins, Red Sox, Cubs, and Padres.  With the exception of the Red Sox (who do have to come to Dodger Stadium for three), this schedule looks more than favorable.

So, while this run is extremely hard to keep up (20-3 since the break, 37-8 in the last 45), it's not against thinking that they'll at least continue to win a lot and keep up the lead in the NL West, if not increase it.  The month of September is all division play, save for a three-game series against the Reds, so getting a comfortable lead in the division is important.

Next up is three games against the Mets, who are missing David Wright, yet played very well against the DBacks and have Matt Harvey going on Tuesday.  On Monday, it will be Ricky Nolasco looking to give the Dodgers six straight wins.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Not even the hidden ball trick can slow the Dodgers

Zack Greinke pitched strongly into the seventh inning, Adrian Gonzalez smacked a two-run homer in the first, and the Dodgers cruised over the Rays, 5-0.  The Mets beat the Diamondbacks, so the lead in the NL West continues to climb at 6 1/2 games.

Despite all of that, perhaps the most memorable moment from this game will be Juan Uribe falling for the hidden ball trick.  Hey, when you're winning like the Dodgers, you can afford to have a gaffe like that and come out laughing.

Greinke worked around a double by Matt Joyce in the first to strikeout Wil Myers and Evan Longoria.  In the bottom half, Nick Punto beat out an infield single to second.  Gonzalez has been great for the Dodgers this year, but the days of 30-40 homers are long gone.  He turned back the clock on this swing, as his two-run shot just got over the wall in right, making it 2-0.

Punto was responsible for another run in the third.  Greinke already has the reputation of a good hitting pitcher, and he drew a walk leading off as Roberto Hernandez careful dealt to him.  A double by Carl Crawford put runners in scoring position, and Punto's two-run single made it 4-0.

The following inning is when the Dodgers scored again, but the Rays had the last laugh.  The bases became loaded on singles by Andre Ethier, Uribe, and Skip Schumaker.  A.J. Ellis hit a sac-fly RBI to center to make it 5-0.

This is where the Rays pulled a fast one on Uribe.  With Uribe tagging and going to third, James Loney took the cutoff on the mound and threw to Yunel Escobar at short, who tossed to Longoria at third.  Uribe actually was on the bag but took one brief step off, allowing Longoria to make the tag from behind.  Thankfully that play didn't matter in the end, but it's not something you see everyday, that's for sure.

Greinke got through the sixth with a couple strikeouts of Loney and Escobar, though he got a little help on those calls.  He was chased in the seventh when Jose Molina singled with an out, and his pitch count over 100.  J.P. Howell got his old mates out for the second straight night.

Gonzalez continued his big day by actually stealing second in the eighth.  That's his first stolen base since September 19 of last season in Washington.  Chris Withrow threw the final two innings perfectly to lower his ERA to 2.45.

One night after the comeback of the year, the Dodgers wasted little time in putting away the Rays.  Coming into this series, the clear pitching advantage was to the Dodgers in both weekend games.  Greinke didn't disappoint, lasting 6 1/3 innings for six hits, no runs, one walk, and seven strikeouts.  He's now 10-3 with a 3.21 ERA and 1.23 WHIP.  Most importantly, he looks like he's getting better and better each start.

The big blow for the Dodgers came early with Gonzo's 16th homer, but let's not ignore some of the other role players.  Schumaker was perfect on the day by going 4-for-4.  His average is now up to .276 after being at .241 through June.  Punto had two hits and two RBIs. 

Uribe added two hits as well... and still fell for the hidden ball trick.  Ouch.

Coming into this week, I said the Dodgers should be satisfied if they went 4-3 against the Cardinals and Rays.  Here we are entering the final game, and they're at 5-1.  I was trying to be somewhat realistic that the Dodgers might not be as fortunate against better competition, but it hasn't slowed them at all.

Now Clayton Kershaw is taking the mound on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, and he'll give the Dodgers a chance for a sweep of the Rays.  Not only is Kershaw the clear front runner for the Cy Young, but there's been some whispers of being in the MVP race as well.  It's really hard for a pitcher to win that award, but a dominating performance on the big stage will only help.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

More Dodger magic in stunning the Rays

If you're a Los Angeles Dodger right now, you have to feel practically invincible.  A dramatic comeback win when the deck was more than stacked against you on Friday night only adds to that feeling.

Despite being down by six runs much of the game, and needing to make up three runs in the ninth off of Fernando Rodney, the Dodgers got one big hit after another, and an error by Rodney brought home the winning run in an absolutely incredible win over the Rays, 7-6.  The Diamondbacks had their own walk-off against the Mets, so the lead in the NL West remains 5 1/2 games.

Wow.  I can't say that enough.  The Dodgers really had no business winning this, and if you just saw the score and knew that David Price was pitching, you probably thought he wasn't any good.  Boy would you be wrong.

Price handcuffed the Dodgers for seven innings, not allowing any earned runs on seven hits and walk, striking out four.  I think it was an accomplishment that they only struck out four times, because Price's stuff is just electric.  It's obvious how he won a Cy Young Award.

Pretty much forgotten in all of this was the horrendous defensive display in the second inning by the Dodgers, who looked like they mentally were still in St. Louis.  Wil Myers singled to left center to start, though it should've been an easy flyout.  Instead, Jerry Hairston and Yasiel Puig looked at each other and neither made a break for the ball.  Nick Punto bobbled a grounder by Ben Zobrist for another error.

Next came two straight run-scoring singles by Yunel Escobar and old friend James Loney, and both times Puig needlessly threw to home despite not having a chance to get anyone, allowing the runner to get to second.  There's a lot of good with Puig, but here's an example of the bad that you have to live with.  All in all, it was 3-0 Rays.

The first real scoring chance for the Dodgers came in the fourth, but they ran into the final out.  With Hairston on first from a fielder's choice, Juan Uribe doubled down the right field line.  Tim Wallach gave Hairston the green light, and he was thrown out by about 13 miles.

Naturally, that led to three more runs from the Rays in the fifth.  The bases were loaded with one out, and Zobrist hit an RBI single to make it 4-0.  Chris Capuano was then chased on a two-run single from Escobar to go up 6-0, and the Rays were in full control.

The best thing the Dodgers could do was get Price out of there after the seventh.  They finally scored a run that inning, with a little help from Evan Longoria's throwing error at third.  That allowed Hairston to stay on second and Uribe at first.  Tim Federowicz grounded into a double play, but an RBI double from Skip Schumaker made it 6-1.

The eighth is when the fun really began, as the Dodgers cut it to 6-3.  Mark Ellis walked leading off, but Jake McGee got the next two outs.  Josh Lueke came in to face Puig, who hit a ground rule double to right to score Ellis.  After a walk to Hairston, Joel Peralta came in to face Uribe, who scored another on a single to right.

There have been many big wins since June, but the ninth inning is one that might stand out the most when the season is all said and done.  Rodney came in looking for his 28th save, and instead left after getting smacked around and committing an embarrassing error.  But hey, the Dodgers will take it.

Schumaker started it all with a single leading off, but Dee Gordon, the final position player left on the bench, struck out.  Ellis lifted a fly ball to left just out of the reach of a diving Zobrist for an RBI triple, making it 6-4.  Punto lined an RBI double to left, and things were looking serious at 6-5.

Adrian Gonzalez hadn't had a hit all night, but he changed that with a game-tying RBI double to right.  Joe Madden wasn't going to mess around with Puig, so he was walked to put men on first and second with one.  The strategy appeared to work as Hairston bounced one back to the mound for a would-be double play.

But then Rodney made what might be one of the worst throws to second in the history of professional baseball.  The ball sailed into center, and even the snail slow Gonzalez easily scored for the win.  It's safe to say Rodney will want to burn the tape of this game.

Again, wow.  The Dodgers made all of the big plays when they needed to, which is something we've all gotten used to seeing, but is so hard to do.  Yes, they got plenty of help on Rodney's errant throw to score that winning run, but at the very least, the game would've gone in extra-innings, so who knows what would have happened.

Capuano ended up being charged with five earned runs in 4 1/3 innings, but he was hardly at fault for that.  He got practically no help from the gloves behind him.  The bullpen was fantastic, and I'm not sure anyone noticed.  J.P. Howell (2/3 inning), Brandon League (two innings), Carlos Marmol (one inning - though he sucked), and Ronald Belisario (one inning) combined to pitch the final 4 2/3 innings without allowing a run.  They gave the Dodgers hope, and it paid off in the end.

With the first win under their belts, the Dodgers can't help but feel good about getting a sweep with Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw on the mound this weekend.  The Rays are still really good, so old cliche of "one game at a time" will definitely need to be applied here.  But man, with the way the Dodgers are going, it's hard not to think they can win every game.

Friday, August 9, 2013

World Series preview? Dodgers vs. Rays could be just that

The next three days in Dodger Stadium could very well be a sign of things to come this October.

It's not out of the question to think that the Dodgers and Rays will be locking horns in the World Series.  Their recent runs have been incredible: Dodgers 34-8, Rays 25-8.

They each have dominant starting pitchers (Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu; Rays: David Price, Chris Archer, Matt Moore - though he's currently injured).  They each have veteran stars at the plate (Hanley Ramirez - hopefully returns this series; Evan Longoria).  They also each have bright young stars (Yasiel Puig; Wil Myers).

Most importantly, they keep winning and winning.  And in the end, that's all that matters.

Let's take a look at each game in this three-game set:

Friday - Chris Capuano (4-6, 4.16) vs. David Price (6-5, 3.36)
With the Dodgers traveling back from a night game in St. Louis on Thursday, and with the Rays already in town after an off-day, the advantage gets shifted towards the visitors.  Then you couple the fact that the Rays are using their #1 against the Dodgers' #5, the advantage is swung even further.

Both Capuano and Price have looked good lately.  Capuano hasn't given up a run his last two starts, covering 13 innings.  He's taken full advantage of another chance to be in the rotation.  Price was shockingly bad the first couple of months with a 5.24 ERA, but a six-week stint on the DL has definitely turned him around.  In his last seven starts, four of them have gone the distance, and they all have lasted at least seven innings.  Advantage: Rays

Saturday - Zack Greinke (9-3, 3.40) vs. Roberto Hernandez (6-11, 4.75)
Greinke continues to get better every month, looking like he's finally over the elbow problems from Spring Training, and the broken collarbone when that idiot Carlos Quentin charged the mound in April.  One big key has been limiting his walks.  On July 7 he walked seven against the Rockies, and in six starts since then he's only walked eight.  Lo and behold, his ERA has gone down from 4.30 to 3.40.

Carmona... er, I mean Hernandez had a solid July after looking pretty bad before that.  Still, he didn't even make it out of the fifth against the Giants last start, so it's hard to know what to expect from him.  Advantage: Dodgers

Sunday - Clayton Kershaw (10-7, 1.91) vs. Jeremy Hellickson  (10-5, 4.77)
Anyone matched up against Kershaw is already at a disadvantage, so Hellickson is in a tough spot.  Kershaw is obviously the leading candidate for the NL Cy Young Award, so he'll be looking to build on that.  However, the Dodgers have a hard time scoring for him, as he's given up two runs in 14 innings his last couple of starts, and is 0-1.

Hellickson wasn't looking too good though May with a 5.61 ERA, but he's figured things out since then.  The Rays are 9-3 in his last 12 starts.  He's on a personal two-game slide, though, as the Diamondbacks have knocked him out in the fifth both times.  Advantage: Dodgers

The pitching matchups indicate a weekend edge for the Dodgers.  So you know what that means - the Dodgers will win on Friday and drop both weekend games.  That would be very much like the Dodgers taking three of four from the Cardinals with Kershaw getting the lone loss.

There's plenty of national TV exposure for this as well.  Saturday afternoon's game will be one of the three games on FOX, and Sunday night is on ESPN.  Sit back, relax, and enjoy some great baseball this weekend.

Ryu goes 7 strong, Dodgers take 3 of 4 in St. Louis

The Dodgers once again were without the services of Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp.  And once again, it didn't matter.

Behind seven strong innings from Hyun-Jin Ryu and a three-run shot by A.J. Ellis, the Dodgers won again in St. Louis, 5-1.  That's three of four in this big road series, and the Dodgers extended their lead in the NL West to 5 1/2 games.

The Cardinals' rotation was thrown out of whack two pitches into Wednesday night's game when Carl Crawford lined one off of Shelby Miller's elbow.  That moved Jake Westbrook up a day and caused the Cards to call up Carlos Martinez to start this one.

Martinez gave up a couple of hits in each of the first two innings, but escaped unharmed.  In the third, the Dodgers were first on the board.  Crawford and Mark Ellis led off with singles to put runners on the corners.  A sacrifice fly by Adrian Gonzalez later, it was 1-0.

Ryu struck out the side in the third, but the Cardinals tied it in the fourth on a freak play.  Matt Holliday hit a two-out single, followed by single from David Freese that was bobbled by Andre Ethier in center, moving Holliday up to third.  Ethier's throw back into the infield sailed over Mark Ellis's head, off the second base bag, and away from everyone, easily allowing Holliday to score.

In the fifth, the Dodgers made another one of those big plays.  With one out, Gonzalez took a walk, and Yasiel Puig followed with a single.  A fielder's choice by Ethier forced Puig at second and set up runners on the corners with two outs.

The wins have certainly been coming, but if there's one thing the Dodgers still don't do much is hit home runs.  Well, A.J. Ellis picked the perfect spot to deliver on one, as his three-run shot to left center put the Dodgers ahead at 4-1.

An insurance run was added in the eighth, not that the Dodgers needed it with the way they pitched on this night.  A.J singled with one out, and then with two outs, Dee Gordon took a walk.  An RBI single up the middle by Jerry Hairston closed the scoring at 5-1.

Kenley Jansen hadn't pitched since Sunday, so he got some work in with a scoreless ninth, striking out a pair.

Ryu once again continues to dazzle on the mound, as he has to be one of the front runners for NL Rookie of the Year along with Puig.  He lasted seven innings for five hits, one run (unearned), no walks, and seven strikeouts.  He got his ERA down to 2.99.  He's now sixth in the NL with 11 wins, second in winning % at .786, and also owns the highest winning % for a rookie in Dodgers' history.  Needless to say, he's not looking anything like a rookie.  Not bad for a guy who's only expected to be the third or fourth starter in the rotation.

While it's all bright and sunny on the Dodgers' side, if you're on the Cardinals, you can't help but be very disappointed with this series.  Not only are they trying to fend off a Pirates team that seems to only be getting better, but you dropped three of four to a team without Ramirez and Kemp.  The irony in all of this is that they beat Clayton Kershaw for their only win.  Go figure.  If Miller doesn't get hit be a liner, who knows what would've happened.  But he did, and they fell apart after that.

Next up is a possible World Series preview when the Rays come to Dodger Stadium for three.  That's going to be great to watch.  Chris Capuano gets the task of trying to beat David Price on Friday.  Possibly Ramirez will be back?  We will see.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Dodgers dismantle Cardinals with a 13-spot

One day after the Dodgers saw their road winning streak end at 15, they made sure to get right back on track.  Boy did they ever.

Shelby Miller was knocked out of the game after being hit by a liner on the second pitch of the game, the Dodgers put up six runs in the second, and 18 hits later collected a 13-4 victory over the Cardinals.  The Diamondbacks won a back-and-forth battle over the Rays, so the lead in the NL West remains at five.

The Cardinals had a great chance to win a second straight game with Miller on the mound, but unfortunately for them, he was hit on the right elbow on a hard liner by Carl Crawford to start the game.  That was it for him, as X-rays later revealed an elbow contusion and nothing worse.  That's the only positive they got from this game.

After leaving the bases loaded in the first, the Dodgers broke loose in the second.  With Jake Westbrook moved up a day to pitch in long relief rather than starting on Thursday, the Dodgers got six runs on five hits.  It all started on an infield single by Tim Federowicz, followed by a single from Dee Gordon, and a sacrifice bunt from Ricky Nolasco.

Crawford was intentionally walked to load the bases, but Jerry Hairston made them pay with a two-run single to left.  Adrian Gonzalez hit an RBI single next to make it 3-0.  Yasiel Puig walked (yes, really), and Andre Ethier's liner back to Westbrook was dropped, allowing Hairston to score for the 4-0 lead.

The final blow was a two-run single from Skip Schumaker, and the Dodgers were in full control at 6-0.

Nolasco ended up getting the win, but he had to labor just to get through five.  He ran into trouble in the fifth when he threw away an easy dribbler back to the mound to allow David Descalso to go all the way to third.  Four straight singles came next to make it 7-3 before Nolasco got David Freese swinging to end the inning.

That was the only blemish of the night, as the bats picked right back up in the sixth.  It all started on a two-out triple by Ethier, who had four RBIs on the night.  Schumaker's RBI single made it 8-3, and Gordon's RBI single added to the fun.

Ethier continued his big night by clearing the bases with a double in the ninth, and Schumaker again hit an RBI single, giving the Dodgers 13 runs.  Carlos Marmol finished out the game with two strikeouts and a walk.

Every Dodger starting position player had at least one hit, and even Nolasco contributed with sacrifice bunts.  Crawford had four hits; Ethier, Schumaker, and Federowicz had three; and Gordon two.  Once again they did it without the longball, and they only had three extra-base hits.  It was practically a conga line of one single after another.  Throw in seven walks, and that's 25 men reaching base.  Wow.

As I stated before, Nolasco got the win to improve to 8-9, but he really wasn't that sharp.  He lasted five innings for seven hits, three hits (none earned), one walk, and five strikeouts.  That line looks good, but remember it was his own error that made those runs unearned.  Why in the world the pitcher doesn't get charged for runs because of his own error is completely beyond me.  Anyway, four straight singles with two outs made getting qualified for the win quite the task, but he finally got that last out to end his night.

There's one more game left in this series on Thursday night, and the Dodgers have a great chance to take three of four.  Hyun-Jin Ryu will get the call, and his team has won his last seven starts, improving his record from 6-3 to 10-3 during that time.  The Cardinals have called up young Carlos Martinez to make the spot start in his Major League debut.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Good news on Hanley, who's hopeful of returning soon

The amazing road winning streak of the Dodgers ended at 15 on Tuesday night, as another solid start by Clayton Kershaw wasn't enough to overcome grounding into four double plays in losing to the Cardinals, 5-1.  The Diamondbacks easily defeated the Rays, so the Dodgers' lead in the NL West is back down to five.

Despite the loss, there was somewhat of a silver lining.  Hanley Ramirez's jammed shoulder continues to feel better each day, so there is no MRI scheduled as of yet.  Because of his improvement, he's considered day-to-day.

That has to be music to Don Mattingly's ears.  Heck, it's music to all of our ears.  There simply is no way of replacing a guy like Ramirez.  Couple the fact that Matt Kemp remains out with a bad ankle, and that's a lot of offensive production sitting on the bench eating sunflower seeds during the games.

What would be ideal is if Ramirez can return for the three-game set at home against the Rays this weekend.  There's still a couple of games left against the Cardinals as well, but reading between the lines, I'm not sure if he'll be available for those.  But I'll be happy to be wrong.

Mattingly also gave a brief update on Kemp, only saying that's he's progressing well and hopes to be back soon.  About a week ago it was reported that we shouldn't expect to see Kemp back until September, so take this new news for what it's worth.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The multi-talented Greinke earns win #100

The winning streak away from home reached 15 on Monday night, and Zack Greinke made sure to leave his mark on both ends of the field.

Greinke's RBI single in the seventh proved to be the game-winning run, as the Dodgers downed the Cardinals, 3-2.  They did so while Hanley Ramirez sat with a sore shoulder, and with Kenley Jansen getting the night off for rest.

All in all, it was another complete team effort that put the Dodgers in the win column, and now they find themselves up by six games in the NL West.  Incredible.

The Cardinals just came off of putting up a 15-spot against the Reds on Sunday, so Greinke knew he'd have his hands full.  He gave up a run in the first, as Matt Carpenter doubled leading off, then went to third when Yasiel Puig couldn't get the ball cleanly.  A groundout by Carlos Beltran scored him for the 1-0 lead.

Despite getting the run home there, the Cardinals often looked like the Cubs in failing to cash in with runners on.  They were only 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, and left the bases loaded in the third when David Freese grounded into a forceout to Mark Ellis in the second.

The Dodgers took the lead in the fourth.  Adrian Gonzalez took a walk leading off against the Cardinals' ace, Adam Wainwright.  Puig doubled to deep right center to put runners in scoring position.  Andre Ethier stepped up with an RBI single to right, and A.J. Ellis hustled to beat out a double play, allowing Puig to score for the 2-1 advantage.

The Cardinals failed to score in the fourth and fifth, though they had plenty of chances.  They left two runners in scoring position in the fourth when Carpenter struck out.  The following inning, Freese doubled past Puig in right.  Allen Craig tried scoring from first, but Puig made the relay throw to Mark Ellis at second, who fired home on a perfect bounce to the other Ellis for the tag.  It was a picture perfect defensive play.

A two-out double by Nick Punto in the seventh left Don Mattingly with a decision to make.  Should he pinch-hit for Greinke, or let it ride?  Considering Greinke knows how to handle the bat, and they had the lead anyway, Mattingly let his pitcher hit.  It paid off, as an RBI single to right made it 3-1.

The bottom half didn't go so hot for Greinke, as a walk to Adron Chambers, a single by Carpenter, and a sacrifice bunt by Beltran put runners on second and third.  That was it for Greinke, as Ronald Belisario entered and held the Cardinals to only a run on a groundout by Craig.

Spotted a mere one-run lead and with their dominant closer unavailable, the Dodgers knew the last six outs would be tough.  It was made even tougher when Belisario beaned Freese leading off the eighth.

That was all she wrote for Belisario, as Paco Rodriguez came on proceeded to pitch two flawless innings for his second save.  Carpenter flew out to Ethier in center to end the game.

The Dodgers knew they'd be in for a hard week, as they have the Cardinals for four, followed by the Rays for three.  With Ramirez out for an unknown amount of time, about the only way they'd stand a chance to win this one is if Greinke took over.  He sure did, tossing 6 1/3 innings for eight hits, two runs, one walk, and four strikeouts.  The win gets him up to 9-3 with a 3.40 ERA.

What's even better?  He's now hitting .406!  Much like his fellow ace Clayton Kershaw, he's no slouch at the plate, and has shown an ability to get hits to back himself up.  I suppose this means he's a much better athlete than he's given credit for.

Speaking of Kershaw, he'll look to extend this incredible road winning streak by taking the hill on Tuesday.  The Dodgers will look to move into a tie with the 1912 Senators for third all-time with another win.  Joe Kelly goes for the Cardinals.

Monday, August 5, 2013

That was fun, but the competition is about to heat up

The Dodgers have had a whole lot of fun since the All-Star break, beating up on the Nationals, Blue Jays, Reds, Yankees, and Cubs to go 14-2.  The result is a 5 1/2 game lead over the Diamondbacks in the NL West.

That's all well and good, but business is about to pick up.  Enter the Cardinals and Rays.

The next seven days will be spent playing two teams with a combined record of 131-90 for a winning percentage of .593.  The combined record and winning percentage of those other four teams?  272-283, .490.  Those numbers speak for themselves.

First up is the Cardinals for four in St. Louis.  Don Mattingly made a slick move on Sunday by starting Stephen Fife (who responded with 5 1/3 innings of shutout ball), and pushing back everyone else a day.  The result is the two studs at the top, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, starting the first couple of games in St. Louis, and should be lined up for starts against the Rays as well.  So, the big guns are rested and ready to go.

These games were already going to be hard enough to win, but now with the shoulder injury to Hanley Ramirez, it could be that much tougher.  And I only say COULD because as of this writing, we have no idea how long he's going to be out.  That's as big a question mark as can be right now.

Despite all of that, the Cardinals are hard to beat no matter who's in and who's out.  Right now they're 20 games over .500 at 65-45 and are 1 1/2 games in back of the Pirates in the NL Central.  They'll run out Adam Wainwright, Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller, and Jake Westbrook in the four-game set.  After Greinke and Kershaw come Ricky Nolasco and Chris Capuano.  All four range from good to terrific.

Plus, the Cardinals are a dominant 32-17 at home, and only the Braves have less losses at home (15).  The Cards have also played many road games, so the second half schedule has lots more home cooking for them, putting them in a great spot for the postseason run.

After finishing up with the Cardinals on Thursday comes three game back in LA against the red hot Rays, who continue to defy all logic with a tiny payroll and huge results.  They're at 66-45 right now, and are neck-and-neck with the Red Sox for first in the AL East, currently only a game back.  And you know what?  They still don't get the respect they deserve.

Right now the Rays have David Price, Roberto "Don't Call Me Fuasto Carmona" Hernandez, and Jeremy Hellickson lined up for this series.  Price and Hellickson are very good, so Hernandez is the only one that could be considered an "easier" game.

Mattingly could once again decide to start Fife after Capuano goes on Thursday, so that would bump Kershaw back to the next series against the Mets.  I certainly hope not, as a big week like this, especially if Ramirez will be out, requires the best pitchers on the mound.  So, no disrespect to Fife, but he shouldn't be starting this week.

Of course we all want the Dodgers to win every game.  Heck, they practically have been!  But to be honest, if they go 4-3 this week, I'll be very happy.  That's more of a nod to how great the Cardinals and Rays are, as even a team at 100% health would have a handful against them.

But uh... having Ramirez available to play would be nice.  I'm just sayin'!

Dodgers await word on Hanley's jammed shoulder

Winning came with a price on Sunday, as towards the end of the Dodgers' 1-0 win for a four-game sweep of the Cubs, Hanley Ramirez had to leave the game after jamming his right shoulder.  The injury occurred on a great play where he caught a foul ball just before he tumbled into the stands.

Then he came out of the stands clutching his shoulder, and suddenly, the joy of a 14-game road winning streak began to waver.

What would an absence of Ramirez mean?  Quite simply, a whole lot.  In 54 games this season, he's hitting .361 with 17 doubles, 2 triples, 11 home runs, 37 RBIs, and 7 stolen bases.  He's emerged as the primary cleanup hitter and has simply raked the ball since he came off the DL for the second time in mid-June.

What is known about the shoulder is that it's not dislocated.  However, that doesn't mean the Dodgers aren't very concerned about it, as they can't help but prepare themselves for the worst.  Will it be an extended DL trip?  Will he need surgery?  Or will he simply need a few days off?  An MRI on Monday will help clear all of this up.

In the meantime, if Ramirez does need a DL trip, then Dee Gordon could be on his way back from Triple-A Albuquerque.  Obviously, there is no comparison between these two players, but that wouldn't be fair to expect Gordon to do what Ramirez does.  Gordon's game is small ball and running.  If he can do that, he's pretty electric.

I'll keep you updated when the Dodgers release news concerning their star.  Hope for the best!