Monday, September 30, 2013

5 reasons the Dodgers will win the World Series... and 5 reasons they won't

Here we go, postseason time!  The Dodgers open up in Atlanta in the best-of-five series for a trip to the NLCS.  And from there, in what would be their first trip back in 25 years since winning it all in 1988, the Fall Classic.

Let's take a look at five reasons the Dodgers can win it all, and five reasons they might not.

Think Positively!

1. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke as a 1-2 punch.  There are plenty of great arms on display in the postseason, but none quite as good as what the Dodgers can roll out to the mound the first two games of any series.  No matter who is in or out of the lineup, Don Mattingly knows the Dodgers have a great chance with Kershaw and Greinke toeing the rubber.

Based on the second half of the season, it's no stretch to say that these guys are also the top two pitchers in baseball right now.  We all know how fantastic Kershaw was in what will be his second Cy Young Award won (16-9, 1.83 ERA, 0.94 WHIP ), but Greinke's stats after the All-Star break have been phenomenal as well (7-2, 1.85 ERA, 0.98 WHIP).  If your numbers approach Kershaw's, even for half the season, then you've done something pretty special.  Despite playing at home for the first couple of games of the NLDS, the Braves can't feel that great about their chances.  The numbers back it up.

2. Hanley Ramirez is the best hitter around.  There's no doubt that 2013 has been the season that has put Ramirez back on the map, despite playing in only 86 games because of various injuries.  But by hitting .345 with 20 homers and 57 RBIs, he reminded everyone just how well-rounded a hitter he is.

Now is the time for Ramirez to put the offense on his back and get the big hits needed to win.  With Matt Kemp out for the playoffs, it's even more important that he hits well.  Yes, he's still banged up, but even at less than 100%, he's a great hitter.  After only gathering 11 at-bats in April and May combined, he ended July with a .365 average, 10 homers, and 34 RBIs.  I don't think at any point this season he's been fully healthy, so that stats show just how good he is anyway.  A big month of October will not only lead the Dodgers to a title, but a big fat contract extension as well!

3. Yasiel Puig on the big stage.  There's just something about Puig and his flair for dramatics that can get Dodger fans excited.  After making a big splash in Spring Training, he was called up on June 2 with the Dodgers at a pathetic 23-32. Puig lit a fire in this team that helped carry them to the NL West title.

His lack of big game experience shouldn't be a factor at all, because if anyone is ready and willing to go all out, all the time, it's Puig.  He's the type of player that can strikeout his first four at-bats, then hit the game-winning homer in his fifth.  He can also make the big diving catch to save a game.  I think he's chomping at the bit to get out there and prove what kind of a great player he is.

4. Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen closing out games.  It's taken only 18 games for Wilson to prove that not only is he back, he's just as dominant as ever.  Combine his arm with Kenley Jansen's, and the Dodgers have to feel very confident with a lead after seven innings.

Wilson carries an 0.66 ERA into the postseason along with three holds.  He's a more reliable option than Ronald Belisario, who continues to go from good to bad one game to the next.  Wilson also has the obvious postseason experience having won two rings with the Giants, including closing out the World Series over the Rangers in 2010.  Jansen was sensational in the closer's role with 28 saves, a 1.88 ERA, and 111 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings.  They're both ready to let it loose.

5. Road warriors.  The team with the best record away from home?  That would be the Dodgers, which tied the Rangers for tops in the Majors at a 45-36 clip.  Thanks in large part to their historic 15-game road winning streak around the All-Star break, the Dodgers appear just as comfortable away from home as they do at Chavez Ravine.

Of course any team would rather open up the postseason at home, but keep in mind that Kershaw and Greinke are going the first two games in Atlanta, so the Dodgers' confidence has to be high.  Basically they need to take one game on the road to regain home field advantage, which seems doable.  And based on their great road record, it can certainly happen.

Watch Out!

1. No Matt Kemp.  As Don Mattingly correctly pointed out as news of Kemp's shutdown hit on Sunday, the Dodgers went 42-8 at one point without him.  Kemp has only played in 179 games the last two seasons, so they're certainly used to not having him around.

But with all of that said, there's just no way the Dodgers won't miss him.  Opposing pitchers have to gameplan a whole heck of a lot more against Kemp than they do for his replacements like Skip Schumaker, or even Andre Ethier, who might also miss the NLDS.  Kemp has the type of impact bat that could give the Dodgers a big lead late in the game with a home run.  That's so hard to replace.  And since all signs were that he'd be back for the postseason, only to get the bad news after the last regular season game, there's no doubt it's a big blow for everyone.

2. Injury prone.  To go along with Kemp, it seems like there are so many guys who are only a play away from being done for the season as well.  Ethier is most likely either scratched from the NLDS or is only a pinch-hitter.  Ramirez has been banged up all season.  Puig has been battling through a few ailments lately as well.

Don Mattingly is used to mixing and matching his lineup on a daily basis, but still, it's tough not to be able to write in his big guns everyday and let them do their thing.  The fact that Schumaker is the probable starting centerfielder is a reminder just how things can change so quickly.  Can you imagine what would happen if Kershaw, Greinke, or Jansen got hurt as well?  Man, that would be awful.

3. Yasiel Puig on the big stage.  Yes, you read that right.  As much as Puig is about to embrace the bright lights of October, it could turn out to be a disaster if he gets out of control.

We've already seen Mattingly and his own teammates get on his case for throwing temper tantrums, and trying to throw guys out from about 800 feet away, allowing runners to move up.  Plus, there have been a whole lot of swings and misses of late, mostly because he looks like he's trying to kill everything.  Expect pitchers to make him expand the zone and challenge him to be patient.  What if he doesn't want to walk?  He'll be an easy out from the leadoff spot if he can't control himself, and the offense will suffer.

4. Streaky offense.  It's true that the final three-game series against the Rockies was meaningless in the big picture, but take a look at their run production: 11, 0, 1.  That's not exactly the most encouraging way to enter the postseason.

Their runs scored has dipped quite a bit in September.  In August they scored 128 runs (4.4 AVG), good for third in the NL.  This past month that fell to 102 (3.8 AVG), which was ninth.  Granted, some of those games were played with quirky lineups thanks to being the first team to clinch the division, but plenty of the regulars still got their swings in.  Maybe the offense is ready to roll again with a set lineup, but they'll have to prove that.  And with Kemp not in there, it'll be even tougher.

5. Ricky Nolasco fading.  After shutting down the Diamondbacks on September 9, Nolasco stood at 8-1 with a 1.82 ERA in 12 starts with the Dodgers.  It sure looked like the Dodgers had a huge advantage in the first three games of any series with Kershaw, Greinke, and Nolasco, not to mention Hyun-Jin Ryu after that.  Life was good.

And then life was bad.  His next three starts were an unbelievable disaster, as he got bombed by going 0-2 with a 12.75 ERA.  He seriously went from unhittable to batting practice.  There really was no in between.  I firmly believe he would've been the Game 3 starter, but not anymore.  Suppose the Dodgers are down 2-1 in the NLDS, how confident are they sending him to the mound?  It's hard to say they would feel that good about it right now.  That's how badly things have turned around for him.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Kemp done for the playoffs

Ouch... in more ways than one.

My how things can quickly turn around for the injury plagued Matt Kemp.  One day after being a late scratch from Saturday night's lineup, the Dodgers have announced the Kemp will not return at all this season.  He was on crutches during the team's postseason rally after Sunday afternoon's game, which he'll remain on for three weeks, and will also have minor shoulder surgery.

The news is hardly surprising, but nonetheless, still very disappointing.  The Dodgers were hoping that they'd have Kemp back in the lineup for that extra punch with Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, and Adrian Gonzalez.  Now they'll have to face the distinct possibility of opening up the Division Series in Atlanta on Thursday with Skip Schumaker in center.

I'm sure the Braves are shaking in their cleats.

If you're wondering why not Andre Ethier in center, that's because he's looking doubtful with a sore ankle as well.  He hasn't played since September 13, and can barely run the bases.  I'm guessing a guy with a bad ankle who can't run the bases probably can't run around center field as well.

At least Puig and Carl Crawford are playing, and while they're not exactly 100% either, they'll be relied on a whole lot more with Kemp definitely not coming back.

All the Dodgers can hope for is Kemp to get his surgery, get healed properly, and be ready to go for 2014.  It's pretty harsh to say, but after signing an eight-year, $160 million extension two years ago, they've pretty much gotten nothing out of him.  It's been one injury and letdown after another.  This is just the latest blow.

The Dodgers are certainly used to playing without him, however, so that will just have continue into the NLDS.

Banged up outfielders plaguing the Dodgers heading into October

Remember when Yasiel Puig was called up from Double-A back in June, and the major question was how Don Mattingly would juggle four starting outfielders?

Mattingly has yet to answer that question because he hasn't needed to.  And with the playoffs less than a week away, that's a bit of a problem.

Matt Kemp was a late scratch from the lineup on Saturday, which turned out to be a 1-0 loss to the Rockies, and Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier sat out as well.  Oh, and Carl Crawford got the night off to not risk any injury to him, too.  Add that all up, and the starting outfield consisted of Scott Van Slyke in left, Skip Schumaker in center, and Chili Buss in right.

I'm guessing that's not exactly the lineup that's going to get it done in the NLDS.  Or in any game.

Look, Kemp actually deserves credit for sitting out on Saturday with his sore left ankle.  I'm not sure he would've used that same caution even a year ago, so not getting hurt worse in a meaningless game was the smart call.  But it's also giving the Dodgers more reasons to worry that one little thing will cause him to go down again.  That's the way it's been the last two years.

The Dodgers know they will open the NLDS on the road in either Atlanta or St. Louis.  Mattingly is doing all he can to give his guys rest, while not having them sit too long and get rusty.  It's a tough balance when you manage a team that gets hurt so much like this one.

At this point, it looks like Crawford, Kemp, and Puig will be the starting outfield in Game 1, with Andre Ethier either sitting out the first round, or available off the bench because of his ankle.  That could go either way.  Basically it's four guys all banged up at various levels, and that can't be very comforting for Mattingly.

Who this does benefit is guys like Schumaker, Nick Punto, and possibly Jerry Hairston to make the 25-man roster for the NLDS.  Those guys don't have nearly the impact bats that the other guys do, but the Dodgers need that insurance just in case something else happens.  And if we've learned anything from this season, it's that the next injury could be a foul ball off the leg away, ala Puig on Friday.

Maybe some rest until Thursday is exactly what the Dodgers need, as it's certainly a better scenario than playing in a do-or-die Wild Card game on Tuesday.  Don't be surprised, however, to see Mattingly using all sorts of different combinations in the NLDS because of one injury after another.

Hey, at least he's used to this.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

All that's left for Kershaw is to dominate October

Regular season, done.  Cy Young Award, done.  NL West division champs, done.

Now it's time for the best pitcher in baseball to shine on the biggest stage.

For Clayton Kershaw, when he takes the ball in Game 1 of the NLDS on the road in either Atlanta or St. Louis, he'll have the chance to show the whole world what he's all about.  Not just those late-night West Coast fans, but baseball fans everywhere.

So if you've ever wondered why Kershaw doesn't get all of the glowing praise he should get as the best pitcher in baseball, perhaps it's because not enough eyes are on him.  That's about to change.

Kershaw was simply sensational on Friday night, completely shutting down the Rockies as the bats went nuts in an 11-0 win.  Clearly on a limit since the Cardinals already won and the thought of securing home field in the playoffs went out the window, he lasted six innings and 82 pitches for four hits, no runs, no walks, and eight strikeouts.

His final tally for the season?  16-9, 1.83 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 232 K's in 236 innings.  Wow.  As good as pitchers like Adam Wainwright, Jose Fernandez, and Craig Kimbrel have been, there's no way Kershaw shouldn't be the unanimous Cy Young Award winner.  But you know some idiot voter will beg to differ just for the sake of standing out.

With a couple games left for each team in the regular season, here's where Kershaw stands in the National League: first in strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP; second in innings pitched; and third in wins and complete games.  And to think, as Don Mattingly pointed out after the game, he'd easily have well over 20 wins if he got a shred of run support early in the season.  He certainly did on Friday.

It's already set in stone that Kershaw will go in Game 1 on the road to open up the playoffs.  Is there any reason to worry that he'll toe the rubber away from home?  Um, no.  In 113 1/3 innings on the road this season covering 16 starts, he's 8-3 with a 2.14 ERA and 104 K's.  His BAA is actually better as it's a measly .187 compared to .203 at home.  That's a reason to be very encouraged as well.

From there, his next start (we hope) would either be Game 5 of the NLDS in a do-or-die situation, or Game 1 of the NLCS.  But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

For now, it's a very exciting time for Kershaw to prove his worth to all of the world, and not just the West Coast fans.  Give him the ball, watch him dissect his opponents, and the wins will pile up.

Hopefully all the way to a World Series championship.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Did Nolasco pitch his way out of an NLDS start?

Ricky Nolasco took one last start in the regular season on Wednesday night in San Francisco, looking to erase some bad vibes from his previous two starts.

The result?  Uh, not good.

The Giants had little trouble hitting him around in a 6-4 win, as he gave up six runs on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings.  The only good news was that he struck out seven and only walked one, but it hardly mattered.  He's been hit around really hard his last three trips to the mound, and now the question has to be if he'll even get a start in October.

It's a pretty big turnaround from his first 12 starts with the Dodgers after coming over from the Marlins.  In those he went 8-1 with a 1.82 ERA, and in 10 of those starts he surrendered two or less earned runs.  And let me tell you, he sure looked like he was going to overtake Hyun-Jin Ryu for that Game 3 start, because his stuff looked incredible.

And then came the start he made at home on Saturday, September 14 against the Giants in which he was absolutely shelled.  He only lasted four outs, giving up seven runs (five earned) on seven hits, walking three, and recorded no strikeouts.  Boy was he bad that night.

The hope was that that game would be an anomaly, but thus far, it sure hasn't looked like it.  The Diamondbacks got to him for six runs in five innings on September 19, and then last night's game against the Giants.  Add up those three starts, and he's 0-2 with a 12.75 ERA.  Talk about a big dropoff.

So, let's pose the question right now: Will Nolasco get a start in the NLDS?

One thing that we have to keep in mind is that the NLDS schedule plays a big factor in Don Mattingly's decision when to use his pitchers.  While the times will need to be worked out, the days the games occur has been set: October 3, 4, 6, 7, and 9.  In looking at this, Clayton Kershaw will make a Game 1 start, then go on Game 5 if necessary on five day's rest.  Zack Greinke will go in Game 2 and could also pitch in Game 5 since he'd be on four day's rest.  But, I can't imagine him getting the call over Kershaw.

With that in mind, it appears as if Mattingly will have to use four separate starters in the NLDS, as the schedule, barring a rainout, won't allow anything different.  So, Nolasco looks to be in good shape to at least be a candidate for a Game 4 start.  Being a candidate and actually getting the start are two different things, though.

I'm not sure anybody thought they'd see this happen, but Volquez's start tonight against the Giants could play a big part in who gets an NLDS start.  I would say Nolasco is still the clear favorite, but say Volquez pitches a gem, would Mattingly make the switch?  I'm not so sure, it's something to keep in mind.

Mattingly did say after Wednesday's game that he's not concerned about Nolasco, and perhaps he's being completely honest.  It's just a shame how bad Nolasco's timing is, as the last thing the Dodgers need is to be in a must-win game with a guy on the mound they lack confidence in. 

But then again, the Dodgers may not have any other choice than to take their chances.  We will see.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Looking at possible NLDS opponents

The playoff teams in the National League are officially locked in, so in addition to my beloved Dodgers, congrats goes out to the Braves, Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds.  It's safe to the NL Central is representing.

As of now, the Braves have a 1/2 game lead over the Cardinals for home field advantage, with the other three teams very close behind.  So, with the exception of the NL East champion Braves, the Dodgers still could face any of the three teams from the Central.

And with that in mind, let's take a look at how the Dodgers fared against each of them this season.


Season Series: 4-3 Dodgers (7-0 Cardinals, 5-3 Dodgers, 5-3 Cardinals, 3-2 Dodgers, 5-1 Cardinals, 13-4 Dodgers, 5-1 Dodgers)

Thoughts: The 5-1 loss to the Cardinals was the game that snapped the 15-game road winning streak back in the beginning of August.  And to think, that was a game started by Clayton Kershaw.  No worries, as Ricky Nolasco and Hyun-Jin Ryu took care of business the next two days.

It's probably no surprise that the Dodgers dropped two of three in May, then won three of four in August.  Like pretty much every other team they played, it all comes down to which half of the season it occurred.  Back in May, Brandon League picked up the save in the 5-3 win.  My how times have changed.


Season Series: 4-2 Dodgers (3-0 Dodgers, 1-0 Dodgers, 6-2 Dodgers, 3-0 Pirates, 5-3 Dodgers, 6-3 Pirates)

Thoughts: All of these games took place before July, and after the Dodgers lost the last game, their record stood at 29-39.  Considering how much of a mess they were at this time, it's actually pretty amazing they were even able to win four of six.

After sweeping the Pirates in their second home series of the season, it took until the 14th home series to get another one (late June against the Giants, which was when they began their incredible turnaround).  In the big picture, both teams probably can't put much stock into these matchups because they're both so much better now.  The Dodgers have gotten much healthier, and the Pirates made some big trades for Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd.


Season Series: 4-3 Reds (5-2 Reds, 2-1 Dodgers, 4-1 Dodgers, 1-0 Dodgers, 3-2 Reds, 4-3 Reds, 3-2 Reds)

Thoughts: As opposed to the Pirates' series, this is a better reflection of how each team might currently fare against each other.  All seven games took place from July 25 and on.  Toss out the first game, and the home team won every game thereafter.

Only two of these games were decided by more than one run, so getting the last at-bat appears to be very important.  Plus, each team has a dominant closer in Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman, so the margin of error is very slim.  I doubt either team would run away with any game if they locked horns in a five or seven-game series.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Kershaw takes one more step towards Cy Young #2

With extra rest and October in mind, Clayton Kershaw got back to doing what he does best - completely dominate the competition.

Kershaw went seven strong in holding the Padres scoreless to go along with 10 strikeouts, and two-run shots by A.J. Ellis and Yasiel Puig were more than enough for the Dodgers to win, 4-0.  Kershaw has one start left in the regular season, but has already all but wrapped up his second Cy Young Award in the last three seasons.

Since the NL West is already clinched, the only bit of drama left is home field advantage.  The Braves lost late to the Cubs, and have lost six of their last 10.  They still have a 1/2 game edge over the Cardinals, and 2 1/2 over the Dodgers and Pirates.  Next week should be interesting in that duel.

In this game, both teams put multiple runners on in the first.  The Dodgers loaded the bases on a walk to Puig (who was then forced at second on Carl Crawford's grounder), a walk to Matt Kemp, and a single by Juan Uribe.  Mark Ellis struck out to end it.  The Padres had Chris Denorfia single on the first pitch and Jedd Gyorko walk, but that was it.

The best chance for the Padres to score came in the third, when they foolishly ran into the last out.  The opposing pitcher Burch Smith singled leading off, Denorfia walked, and both advanced a base when Chase Headley struck out.  Gyorko then grounded out to Ellis at second, and Smith tried to sneak home and was gunned out by Adrian Gonzalez.

Sure enough, the Dodgers immediately took advantage of that gaffe.  In the fourth, Mark Ellis took a walk with one out, and his "brother" A.J. Ellis took a low and inside pitch out to left for a two-run homer.

Kershaw was in full control at this point, as Gyorko's double play led to eight straight retired before Headley doubled in the sixth (he was stranded).  Then Kershaw laid down a perfect bunt leading off the seventh.  Puig, who without a doubt goes for it all on every swing, definitely connected on a high fastball out to dead center for a 457 foot homer, making it 4-0.  It was an absolute mammoth shot.

The bullpen took over the final two innings, as Ronald Belisario and Brian Wilson each went 1-2-3 in ending the game.

One night after Don Mattingly ran out a Spring Training lineup, which was completely understandable considering the regulars were so exhausted from all of that swimming they did in Arizona, which raised the ire of perennial losers like John McCain, everyone was back in the lineup except for Hanley Ramirez.  And that's not a surprise, because Ramirez probably won't be seeing much action as the season winds down.

Anyway, it was good to see Kershaw get the support he needed in winning his 15th game.  He's been uncharacteristically erratic in September, so I'm sure it naturally had to feel good to him that the bats had his back, and not a bunch of guys better suited for Triple-A. 

Kershaw is expected to end the season at home against the Rockies next Friday.  At this point, it's all about padding the stats, though I don't think he even needs to do that to win the Cy Young.  There's a few other guys who will get some love like Craig Kimbrel, Adam Wainwright, Francisco Liriano, Cliff Lee, and Jose Fernandez.  Those guys are great... but they're not Kershaw.

Speaking of great pitchers, Zack Greinke hasn't lost since July 25 against the Reds.  At the time he was 8-3 with a 3.49 ERA, and now he's 15-3 with a 2.75 ERA.  He'll look to make that even better by going on Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Kemp and Puig won't see fastballs all postseason

Friday night belonged to the Dodgers' "B" team, as Edinson Volquez pitched well into the seventh, but the offense consisting of names like Tim Federowicz, Chili Buss, and Alex Castellanos did squat in losing 2-0.

All of the big names got the night off, as not one position featured a guy who will start in Game 1 of the Division Series.

Something that I did find interesting, though, was the last two outs of the game.  Skip Schumaker, who got his first and probably last start hitting third, doubled off of Huston Street leading off.  After Scott Van Slyke grounded out, Don Mattingly unleashed some of those big dogs to pinch-hit.  It started with Adrian Gonzalez, who singled for runners on the corners.

Then came Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, who no doubt were thinking one thing and one thing only: hit the thing clear out of the park.  Did it happen?

Uh, no.  Slider after slider after slider struck them both out swinging.  In fact, they didn't even do so much as make contact at any point.  As Street point out after the game, neither guy is used to pinch-hitting.  But still...

It got me thinking about the opposing pitchers' strategy against these two come October.  It's pretty obvious: feed them sliders, and don't put a fastball anywhere close to the plate.  Both guys might hang themselves if pitchers stick to that plan.

And with that, Puig and Kemp will have to show some patience and not try to crush the ball on every swing, ala Friday night in San Diego.  They might have to become the ultimate mistake pitch hitters, because pitchers would be crazy to challenge them with fastballs in the zone.  That wouldn't make any sense.

While I can't imagine Mattingly running out a lineup like this every game, I do think it'll feature a mixture of his regular guys, followed by plenty of pinch-hitting chances like they saw in this one.  So I'm sure Puig and Kemp will get more chances at redemption in the late innings.  They just better be prepared for pitch after pitch bending outside the zone.

And they also have to accept that a walk isn't such a bad thing either.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A.J.'s solo shot gives the Dodgers the NL West crown!

Jump for joy! First NL West crown since '09.

It took a big start, a huge meltdown, and a big solo homer for the Dodgers to seal the deal.  Add it all up, and a 7-6 win over the Diamondbacks gives the Dodgers their first NL West crown in four years!  They're also the first team to clinch a division championship, as they now set their sights on the postseason.

This was not a typical National League game featuring great pitching and low scoring.  No indeed.  Rather, Ricky Nolasco and Wade Miley were both very fortunate to not be hung with loses by the time this one was over.

Neither team scored through two, though both did put runners on in each frame.  If you thought that Nolasco and Miley were going to settle in and the game would fly right by, then you would've been badly mistaken.

Miley's downfall started in the third when he walked Nolasco leading off.  Yasiel Puig also walked.  Jerry Hairston blooped a hit into right, but then Puig remembered he was Puig, and somehow got thrown out at second to officially turn the hit into a fielder's choice.  Ugh. 

Then Hanley Ramirez turned the Dodgers' frown upside down with a three-run bomb to left, and it was 3-0.  That would not be the last we'd hear from him on this day.

Nolasco was coming off a very rough start at home against the Giants last Saturday, a game that the rivals ended up winning 19-3.  For as good as he's been since the trade, he looked every bit as bad as he was last start in the third.

Two straight singles by Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollack were only a sign of things to come.  Paul Goldschmidt hit a two-run ground rule double to make it 3-2, and then the game was tied on an RBI triple from Martin Prado.

Aaron Hill struck out for the first out, but an RBI single by Miguel Montero gave the DBacks a 4-3 lead.  Then Miley of all people rubbed salt in the wound with a two-run double with two outs, and the DBacks were in control up 6-3.

It was obvious at this point the Dodgers needed their offense to carry them, and their bullpen to at least keeps things manageable if they wanted to clinch.  That started to happen in the sixth.  Juan Uribe, who again had a great game at the hot corner, doubled leading off, and scored on Scott Van Slyke's RBI double.  Michael Young scored the other run on a sac-fly, and it was 6-5.

The Dodgers rank 24th in the majors in home runs, trailing lowly teams like the Padres and Twins.  So, banking on the long ball to get the lead back wasn't a sure thing.  However, Ramirez reminded everyone just how deadly he is when he's at the plate with a solo homer leading off the seventh, and just like that, the game was tied at 6-6.

Brandon League got through the seventh unharmed, and was able to start the seventh by getting Hill to ground out.  J.P. Howell then came in, and despite a walk to Didi Gregorius and a wild pitch, got the next two outs.

Just like the previous inning, the Dodgers started the eighth with a bang as Ellis hit his eighth homer.  Heck, he even appeared pumped up coming into the dugout, something you rarely see from him.

With the way runs have been scored in bunches this series, everyone knew this one wasn't nearly over yet.  Brian Wilson came in for Howell in the eighth and was fantastic, getting the DBacks in order.

The last bit of drama was in the ninth, as Kenley Jansen was given the ball for the save, and the powerful Goldschmidt stepped to the plate.  Jansen made quick work of him with a three-pitch strikeout, then got Prado swinging, and ended things when Hill flew out to Skip Schumaker in left.

Game over.  NL West title won.  Playoff ticket punched.

Three months into the season at the start of July, the Dodgers were in dead last place in the NL West, five games under .500.  Since then it's been a combination of much better health, great starting pitching, much-improved relief work, and one clutch hit after another that has been the winning recipe for the boys in blue.  Has this been fun to watch or what?

With nine game left in the regular season, the Dodgers have two obvious goals.  The first is to get as healthy as can be, all while giving their pitchers just enough work to stay fresh.  The second is to go after home field, as they're still within striking distance of that.  They're bunched up with the Braves, Pirates, Reds, and Cardinals for the top spot, with about three games separating everyone.

For now the Dodgers will enjoy the riches of already clinching the division.  They'll also have to get dry after invading that ridiculous pool the DBacks have in center.  How great was it to watch some of those guys jump in?  I love it!  Arizona is Dodger Country tonight.

Then it'll be off to San Diego for three, with Edinson Volquez going Friday, followed by Clayton Kerhsaw and Zack Greinke.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The big dogs are back, and the Dodgers are ready to clinch

What a night it was for the Dodgers on Tuesday.  Limping into the game having lost four straight and 9 of their previous 12, Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez were back in the lineup.

The result?  An 8-1 lead after four, and many reasons to get excited again.

Simply put, everything went right for the Dodgers, who now have a magic number of two to clinch the NL West.  That number may as well be one, because if they defeat the Diamondbacks today or tomorrow, then it's all settled.

Everything went according to script, save for Yasiel Puig's 0-for-5 night.  In the first, Mark Ellis and Ramirez singled with one out.  Adrian Gonzalez popped up, but a wild pitch soon put two runners in scoring position.  Kemp then began his big night with a two-run double, and it was 2-0.

Another guy who's had an incredible season, and truly out of nowhere at that, is Juan Uribe.  That continued in this one with a monstrous two-run homer to left, and All-Star Patrick Corbin was reeling down 4-0.

Two more runs were added in the third.  Ramirez walked on a full count leading off, Gonzalez launched a two-run shot to right, and it was 6-0.  After Kemp again doubled, this time an absolute bomb to dead center that somehow stayed in the yard, that was it for Corbin's night.  Matt Langwell got out of the jam after that.

The lead was ballooned even more in the fourth, and it all started on a walk to Zack Greinke.  He then went to second on Puig's groundout, and Ellis's RBI single to center made it 7-0.  Ramirez again took a walk, Gonzo popped up, and Kemp plated another on an RBI single to make it 8-0 as Ramirez was tagged out going to third.

That was more than enough for Greinke, who only gave up an RBI fielder's choice to Martin Prado and a solo homer to Aaron Hill.  He ended up going six innings for six hits, two runs, one walk, and five strikeouts, and his record is now at 15-3 with a 2.75 ERA and 1.15 WHIP.  And to think, he's only a #2 starter!  Wow.

Both teams traded runs in the eighth.  Michael Young hit an RBI triple to score Ramirez and make it 9-2.  The DBacks got the last run of the night on an RBI groundout by Willie Bloomquist.

Kenley Jansen came on and closed out the non-save situation, walking a couple, but getting Adam Eaton to ground into the game ending double play.

When the Braves, Pirates, Cardinals, and Reds (and possibly the Nationals with the way they're playing) looked at the box score of this game and saw Kemp go 4-for-4 with two doubles and three RBIs, they have to at least be somewhat worried.  It was his first start in nearly two months, yet swung the bat like it was 2011 all over again.

Then if they were to look and see Ramirez taking three walks and getting one hit, and Gonzalez and Uribe with two-run homers, you're probably wondering where the weak spot in the order is.  Heck, maybe it wasn't such a bad thing that Puig went hitless, as it shows how deep the Dodgers are when they have their full lineup.

No matter how you look at things, this was a great night.  And it can only get better with a big win to take back the NL West on Wednesday.  It won't be Clayton Kershaw getting the call, but rather Stephen Fife.  Wouldn't that be a kick in the pants to the DBacks if they still lose?  I'd love it!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Kemp gets the start, Kershaw gets pushed back

A couple of notes on the two biggest Dodgers' stars, a day after they dropped their fourth straight in a 2-1 setback to the Diamondbacks.

Matt Kemp will be back in the starting lineup and playing center for the first time since July 21 in Washington.  He was activated on Monday and actually did find himself pinch-hitting in a huge spot.  With the Dodgers down by one in the ninth, he got the call with two outs and runners on second and third... and promptly struck out.

Supposedly he's been hitting well, but his baserunning has been a question mark.  I can't say that starting him makes me feel anymore comfortable about his chances of staying healthy the rest of this year.  But, maybe the Dodgers are at the point where they feel he is what he is right now, and if he gets hurt again, it's not a surprise.  Regardless, for a team scuffling big time on offense, it's a good thing to see his name in the lineup.

Hanley Ramirez is also back in the lineup, so that's obviously a big boost as well.

The other bit of news concerns Clayton Kershaw, who will get three more days of rest, as he gets pushed back from Wednesday in Arizona to Saturday in San Diego.  He hasn't started since pitching seven innings and giving up two earned runs (three total) against the Giants at home last Friday.

This move makes sense on a couple different levels.  For one, even though the magic number to clinch the NL West seems to be stuck at four, with a little under two weeks left in the regular season, it's only a matter of time before the division is clinched.  The Dodgers can afford to sneak in extra rest.

The second reason is that even though Kershaw still has an incredible 1.94 ERA, he has thrown a league high 223 innings, and hasn't been his normal sharp self the last few starts.  Yes, it's nitpicking, but his location seems to be somewhat out of whack.  So, if giving him a little extra time off helps relax him, then I'm all for it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Kemp activated, and could be the ultimate wild card

Here's a bit of news we're used to hearing: Matt Kemp has been activated from the 15-day DL.  This time it was from an ankle injury he suffered while taking an awkward slide into home plate in Washington on July 21.  Then came his strained hamstring while rehabbing it, which kept him out even longer.

And let's not forget his offseason shoulder surgery, which flared up on him during the season and caused him to miss even more time.

And let's also not forget the hamstring injury from late-May, which caused him to miss even more time.

All in all, you get the point that Kemp is somewhat injury prone.  And that's putting it nicely.  After inking an eight-year, $160 contract following his awesome 2011 season in which he was robbed of the MVP award by Ryan Fraud... I mean Braun, it's mostly been downhill since.

But maybe that's all in the past, as Kemp is now back with the big club.  While he's not in the starting lineup on Monday, at least he's there and possibly looking to pinch-hit.

It was around the beginning of September that I wrote about the chance Kemp had in giving the Dodgers the ultimate lift in October.  Then Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, and Carl Crawford all got banged up, and the offense started to sputter.  Now I believe in my original statement even more.

Look, I think it would be foolish of anyone to expect Kemp to play at an MVP-like level the rest of the season.  It's just not fair to him, either.  But, I do believe he can still be a guy who steps up and hits a big home run when his team needs it.  That's why I think he can be such a huge lift to this team in the playoffs, even at well less than 100%.  He still puts some level of fear in opposing pitchers.

Let's see if Kemp is even able run around in the outfield and go first to third on a single.  If he can, then the Dodgers have to be thrilled.  If not, then maybe he's a big threat off the bench.  Or, maybe it's just not going to happen this year.

I sure hope it does, though, as Kemp in a Dodgers' uniform this postseason can only be considered a good thing.  But please, just stay healthy!

With injuries mounting, Dodgers lean on rotation even more

As the regular season winds down with only 13 games left before the Dodgers take on the Diamondbacks in Arizona on Monday, the dreaded injury bug has once again struck.  This past weekend, as the Giants took three of four in Dodger Stadium, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, and Yasiel Puig all missed various amounts of time with injuries.

That's not to mention Matt Kemp, who looks to finally be activated following his ankle injury.  But who knows how healthy he is.

Only Puig is ready to return to for Monday's game, as the Dodgers will again throw together a makeshift lineup that includes Nick Punto leading off at short, Skip Schumaker in center, and Chili Buss in left.

What does all of this mean?  If the starting rotation wasn't already important enough, they're even more so now.

I can't even imagine what would happen if Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke go down.  Ditto for Hyun-Jin Ryu and Ricky Nolasco, who are a notch below the big dogs, but still pretty damn good when they're on.

At this point, the offense basically has nearly three weeks to get things figured out.  The magic number remains at four, so if the Dodgers split with the DBacks this series, then it's all over in the NL West.  I wouldn't say there's pressure on those guys to play through the injuries, but the closer they get to sealing the division, the more they want to just get it over with

Even if those guys are able to rest and get back into the lineup, if this season has taught us anything, it's that the next injury could be right around the corner.  I think the Dodgers just have to hope that the playoffs happen to be during a time of good health, as these guys seem to get a big hit one moment, then are limping off the field the next.

So that takes us back to the starting rotation, and the huge role they will play in October.  In a perfect scenario, the starters would pitch into the sixth or seventh, and the lineup featuring the likes of Puig, Kemp, Ramirez, Ethier, Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez would give plenty of support.  Now, I'm not so sure the offense can be counted on.  That means the starters have to bring their ultimate "A" game night in and night out.

In other words, with the offense in flux, I'm not so sure it'll be good enough to give up 3-4 runs per start.  It may have to be more like 1-2, and hope the offense does just enough to win.

I think that's the beauty of this rotation, though.  They are absolutely capable of doing just that.  They can go four deep and have the advantage against any rotation.  Plus, they have a dominant closer in Kenley Jansen to hand the lead to.  The score might only be 1-0 or 2-1, but that's way it goes.

Let's hope the Dodgers take care of the division soon, the big guns get their proper rest and are ready to go, and the postseason features the Dodgers at their best. 

If not, it's up to the rotation to see how long they last in the bright lights of October.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Bad late inning execution dooms the Dodgers

With Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner on the hill, you knew that runs would be hard to come by.  So when Juan Uribe hit a two-run homer in the sixth for the game's first runs, the Dodgers were looking good.

And then Kershaw coughed up the lead, the injuries piled up a little more, and the bats left way too many men on base.  Add it all up, and it was a Giants' victory in Dodger Stadium, 4-2.

The only good news was that the Diamondbacks lost again, so the magic number shrunk to four.  At least it wasn't all bad.

Still, the Dodgers really did waste a great opportunity to get a win on a night Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez were sitting out, though the latter two did appear late in the game.  And the news on Ramirez is a mixture of good and bad, as he's been diagnosed with an irritated nerve in his back and won't return until sometime next week.  We hope.

As for this game, neither offense could put much together through five.  There were some hits here and there, and both teams stranded a pair in the second, but that's it.  The only extra-base hit was by Angel Pagan in the third, but that's because the ball landed in between three guys who didn't take charge, and it bounced away from Andre Ethier in center.  But, he was stranded anyway.

On the Dodgers' broadcast, the great Vin Scully was discussing the resurgence of Uribe, and how he has a very realistic shot at winning a Gold Glove at third.  After recording all three outs in the fourth, he showed how hot his bat has been of late.  Michael Young reached on little dribbler along third, and Uribe cranked a two-run shot to left center, his 11th of the season.

Just when you thought the Dodgers behind Kershaw would cruise from there, it all fell apart in a very frustrating manner.  Pretty much everything went wrong, as Kershaw went from looking like he might throw a complete game shutout to leaving after seven.

Hunter Pence led off the seventh with a single just past Kershaw's glove, then Pablo Sandoval singled as well.  Joaquin Arias hit an RBI single to score Pence, and Scott Van Slyke's bobble in left put both runners in scoring position.  Sure enough, a two-run by Brandon Pill gave the Giants a 3-2 lead seemingly out of nowhere.

The rest of the game saw the Dodgers threaten, only to not deliver with runners on.  In the seventh, Mark Ellis walked, and Skip Schumaker struck out on three pitches as he pinch-hit for Kershaw.  Yasiel Puig singled, but Nick Punto grounded into a forceout.  Gonzalez pinch-hit in a big spot, but struck out.

A two-out solo shot by Pence in the eighth off of Chris Withrow pushed the Giants' lead to 4-2.  The Dodgers again put two on, but did nothing with it.  Uribe's single leading off went nowhere when Crawford pinch-hit and grounded into a double play.  It was pathetic.

Ethier kept the inning going with a double, then had to leave the game with a sprained ankle.  A.J. Ellis grounded out to end the inning.

Two straight singled greeted Sergio Romo in the ninth, who stayed on after getting the final out in the eighth.  With Mark Ellis on second and Jerry Hairston on first, Puig flew out, Punto grounded into a forceout, and Gonzalez struck out again to call it a night.

Maybe I'm overreacting some, but I have to say that Kershaw's lack of control is a bit concerning to me.  Yes, he still had a great line of seven innings, eight hits, three runs (two earned), no walks, and six strikeouts.  But, he seems to be having trouble putting people away with two strikes.  His breaking ball is very sharp, but it was almost too sharp as A.J. Ellis had to block it in the dirt countless amount of times.

Look, when it's Game 1 of the Division Series, I obviously want to see Kershaw on the mound.  I'm just saying that even with a 1.94 ERA, a 4.26 ERA in three September starts has given the opposition a glimmer of hope.  Maybe that's all it is, a glimmer, but it's something more than they had through August.

Of course, when you fail to deliver at all with runners in scoring position (0-for-9 overall), it really doesn't matter.  How important is Ramirez's injury after a game like this?  Thankfully Don Mattingly can afford to rest him anyway with the NL West title almost sealed.  Make no mistake about it, though, the Dodgers need their big gun at shortstop.

The red hot Ricky Nolasco, who's 8-1 with a 2.07 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 12 starts with the Dodgers, will give it a go on Saturday.  He'll go up against Tim Lincecum, who very well could be playing out his Giants' career.

(By the way, this is post #1500 for me.  Not too shabby!  Thanks for reading!)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Scioscia, Cano, and Lincecum - all Dodgers in 2014?

AJ Mass of ESPN Rumor Central has a blog post up today looking at who the Dodgers might look to acquire for next season (Insider only).  More specifically, who might create the "big splash" buzz the Dodgers could look to unveil in their home opener on April 4 against the Giants.

Here are the three names he discussed:

Mike Scioscia.  This one makes sense for many reasons.  While Don Mattingly is definitely not on thin ice anymore like he was back in May, he still is without a contract past this season.  The Dodgers were not willing to extend it before this season, so say the Dodgers get bounced easily in the first round, perhaps he's still sent packing.  Scioscia may or may not be clashing with Angels' management, and with the disaster that was this year's campaign, could be looking for a fresh start in his old stomping grounds.

My Take.  I'm split on this, but if both sides can reach a happy medium, then it could go down.  Scioscia is signed through 2018, but Mass mentions the possibility of trading someone like Andre Ethier to get it done.  While that would be unusual, it's not out of the question either.  Let's see how far the Dodgers play in the month of October first.

Robinson Cano.  He's the big dog in this year's free agent class.  With Alex Rodriguez facing suspension in 2014, Derek Jeter's ankle a huge question, and Mariano Rivera calling it quits, Cano could quickly become the face of the franchise if he stays.  But if he goes, and assuming Mattingly stays, there's a great reason to switch coasts and play on a team with a brighter future on paper.

My Take.  I just can't see this happening.  Living in New York, I see just how valuable Cano is to the Yankees.  I think they'll do whatever it takes to retain him.  Hey, I'd love to see his power and glove at second, but I'm not betting on it.

Tim Lincecum.  Yes, really.  This would hardly be considered a "big" signing anymore, but the argument Mass makes is that he's a younger upgrade over Chris Capuano, which is certainly true.  Now imagine if the Dodgers sign Big Time Timmy Jim and resign Brian Wilson.  That would be really weird!

My Take.  Sure, why not?  I think Rick Honeycutt would love to work with someone like Lincecum, just for the challenge of getting him back on track.  I think it's safe to say he won't win Cy Young awards anymore, but he would also benefit from working with guys like Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke as well.  Plus, if Chad Billingsley and/or Josh Beckett aren't ready to go when the season starts, then maybe Lincecum is given a long look to see what he can do.

Could Gordon squeeze his way onto the postseason roster?

Interesting news coming from LA in the hours before Scott Van Slyke's walk-off two-run blast to beat the Diamondbacks 5-3 on Tuesday.  Dee Gordon, who seemingly has become the forgotten man, may indeed to be on the Dodgers' radar after all.

Gordon took grounders at second and shagged fly balls in center during batting practice.  The hope is that during the final three weeks of the regular season, Gordon might see some time here and there in those spots.  That's assuming the Dodgers hold onto their 13-game division lead over the DBacks.  So in other words, yes, it will happen.

With the renewed interest in Gordon, I have to wonder if management is giving serious thought of adding him to the postseason 25-man roster.

Perhaps watching Billy Hamilton run wild against them this past weekend in Cincinnati was inspiration that they, too, have a speedster to deploy in the late innings.  In parts of playing the last three seasons in the majors, he's 63-82 in steals, so the track record is definitely there.

Think about it.  His normal position is shortstop, but there's no way Hanley Ramirez is going to miss any time playing that in October.  The other two positions he's working on - second and center - feature guys who can be yanked late in the game.  Mark Ellis and Andre Ethier both play great defense, but can be lifted to let Gordon run if the situation dictates.

Who knows, maybe this isn't at all on their minds, and this is simply something to keep in mind for next season and beyond.  But I think plenty of things add up in this case as I just pointed out.  And if Gordon can hold his own defensively, even for short amounts of time, then I think it's worth trying.  A stolen base by him could make all the difference.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Uribe reminds us why "the other guys" are so important

Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, and Adrian Gonzalez all did their part in an 8-1 victory over the Diamondbacks on Monday night.  Puig reached base twice; Ramirez homered, doubled, and scored three runs; and Gonzo also doubled and homered.

But the story of the night was one Juan Uribe, who put on an absolute show.  Three solo home runs, then an RBI infield single just for fun.  And even though he committed only his fifth error of the season on a bad throw, he also had a dazzling barehanded pickup and throw to nail Adam Eaton in the third.

And with that, it's a reminder just how much the Dodgers need someone other than the "Big 3" mentioned above to step up when it matters most.  Since the Dodgers were on a four-game skid and playing the second place Diamondbacks, Uribe did just that.

I still won't change my belief just how much a healthy Matt Kemp would boost this club, but I also have to assume it won't happen.  Or, we all should just accept the "believe it when we see it" slogan.  If he comes back, that's great.  But until then, guys like Uribe need to chip in in order to win big games.

For further proof that the rest of the order has to contribute, take a look at the previous series against the Reds.  Observe the stats of the Big 3, then compare them to all "the other guys":

Game 1 (3-2 loss) - Big 3: 3 hits, Ramirez solo homer; Others: 2 singles
Game 2 (4-3 loss) - Big 3: 6 hits, Puig two-run homer; Others: 4 singles
Game 3 (3-2 loss) - Big 3: 3 hits, Ramirez solo homer; Others: 3 singles

Just to emphasize the point even more, none of "the other guys" had an RBI all weekend.  With the exception of A.J. Ellis going 4-for-7 in two starts, nobody else did a lick.  The result was a one-run loss in each game, and that big hit just wouldn't come.

With Uribe finding his swing in a big way, it's time to see even more of "the other guys" to get things going as well.  Carl Crawford is one who comes to mind right away.  In his last four starts, he's gone 2-for-17 with a double and six strikeouts.  He's still hitting .286, which is pretty good, but we've seen him do more.  Even Don Mattingly may be losing some patience, as he was hitting in the #2 hole on Monday, rather than his customary leadoff spot.

Another couple of guys who get regular playing time and could step up at the plate more are Andre Ethier and Mark Ellis.  Ethier, to his credit, started the scoring barrage last night with a solo homer in the second.  Still, he's hitting a dismal .192 in eight games this month, and even though it's not a large sample size, could be much better.

Ellis is hitting .174 this month and .269 overall.  While I would never question his desire and hard work, I can definitely see him losing more playing time to guys Mattingly is looking to get some swings like Michael Young, Skip Schumaker, and Nick Punto.  Seeing that Ellis only has 10 doubles, six homers, and two triples in 110 games, he might have to get a little more used to watching from the bench.

The Dodgers' magic number is down to eight, so the division title in well within their sights.  The next step is getting home field for as long as they can, so hopefully that will push them to stay focused through September so they're sharp for the Division Series.  Getting more of "the other guys" to chip in a little more at the plate will help them do just that.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Reds again walk-off on the Dodgers

On a night where Clayton Kershaw battled tooth and nail to give the Dodgers seven innings and two runs, the offense again failed to get that big hit they so desperately needed.

The result?  Another Reds' walk-off and a sweep.

This time it was an RBI double by Ryan Hanigan in the ninth that scored Zack Cozart from first, and the Reds took another close one, 3-2.  The Dodgers won three of four in Dodger Stadium back in late July, so home field means a heck of a lot to these two teams.

Kershaw was coming off a couple of un-Kershaw-like performances, especially in his last game in Colorado on Labor Day in which he gave up five runs but still managed to get the win.  Sure enough, his location was again an issue in the early going as he walked Shin-Soo Choo leading off.  Choo was then picked off, and that was that.  Foolish boy.

There's lots of amazing stats that accompany every Kershaw start, and one of them was not allowing a home run to a left-handed hitter this year.  Well, that all changed thanks to Jay Bruce.  In his first couple of at-bats, he absolutely crushed solo shots to right on pitches that found too much of the plate.

In between both of those homers was the first hit of the game by the Dodgers in the fourth.  Homer Bailey was hitless and struck out six straight before Adrian Gonzalez's two-out single.  Hanley Ramirez then gapped one to left center that scored Gonzo, as Ramirez was tagged out in a rundown.

With the Reds up 2-1, the Dodgers really blew a big opportunity in the sixth.  Carl Crawford doubled with one out, and Yasiel Puig was hit on the foot.  Gonzalez had a perfect 2-0 count to do some damage, but instead grounded into the 4-6-3 double play.  Ouch.

Ramirez tied the game with a solo blast leading off the seventh, his 17th of the season.  Then Don Mattingly made an interesting decision that I believe was the wrong one.  Juan Uribe reached on an error and A.J. Ellis singled.  With two outs, Mattingly allowed Kershaw to hit, rather than sending in someone like Michael Young for the RBI chance.  Kershaw struck out, and the Dodgers wouldn't reach base the rest of the way.

Kershaw did get through the seventh to finish with four hits, three walks, and seven strikeouts, as his ERA went up just a tick to 1.92.  Chris Withrow fanned two in the eighth in some solid work.

Ronald Belsario ended up taking his seventh loss, as after he retired Todd Frazier on a popup, Cozart singled and Hanigan's double ended things.

Back to the decision not to pinch-hit for Kershaw in the seventh.  I can understand Mattingly wanting to reward his workhorse for all he's done.  Plus, Kershaw does have 10 RBIs this season, tops for all pitchers.  But, I really would've liked to have seen Young or even someone like Nick Punto hit in that spot.  The Dodgers' offense obviously struggled to string together runs all weekend, and I thought that was a great chance to give them some momentum.  Not a big deal, but not the right call in the long run either.

As I stated before, what really has stood out to me about these two teams was how much they need home field advantage against each other.  Right now the Dodgers have a three-game advantage in the loss column, so if they do lock horns in October, it would start in LA.  Since it's football season, it's just like saying the last team to get the ball will probably win.  Whichever team gets to hit in the bottom of the ninth will get the edge.

It has to be somewhat disappointing that the Dodgers didn't win either of Zack Greinke's or Kershaw's starts.  You'd like to think you can pencil in at least one win from them, and usually two.  But, the Dodgers also lost by three runs combined in three games, so little things here and there made a big difference.

If the Diamondbacks have any thoughts at all of getting back into the NL West race, they have a great opportunity in front of them.  They get to take on the bottom three of the Dodgers' rotation on the road, starting with Ricky Nolasco on Monday night.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A rare 3-game skid as offense goes cold

The blueprint was the same as Friday night: score early to grab a lead, cling to that lead all game, then lose it at the end.  And with that, the Dodgers have their first three-game losing streak since early June.

Yasiel Puig's two-run shot in the second gave the Dodgers a lead they would hold onto until late, but the Reds made all the big plays again in winning in 10 innings, 4-3.  The win means a lot more to the Reds than the loss does to the Dodgers, as the home team is trying to win the NL Central, or at least get a home Wild Card game.  The Dodgers still have an 11 game lead in the NL West.

The headline coming into this game was a pitcher's duel between Zack Greinke and Mat Latos, who each had 14 wins and ERAs under three.  But, as is the case many other times, each had a bit of a rough time in the beginning.

The Dodgers got to Latos first, though they could've done much more damage, which hurt them in the long run.  Puig was beaned with one out, then Adrian Gonzalez hit one of his four singles next.  Hanley Ramirez, who hit a two-run homer the previous day, hit an RBI single for the 1-0 lead.

The downside is that after Andre Ethier took a walk to load the bases with one out, the Dodgers failed to do anything with it.  Michael Young grounded back to the mound for what should've been a double play, but Latos bobbled it and only got the out at home.  Skip Schumaker flew out to right, and the bats wasted a big chance to at least get one more run in.  It would cost them in the end.

Greinke had a solid day on the mound with his only blemish in the first.  Cesar Izturis (yes, he still plays) singled with one out.  Joey Votto followed with another, which led to two straight RBI singles from Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick to go up 2-1.

The Dodgers got the lead right back in the second, and this game sure had the makeup of an offensive battle.  A.J. Ellis led off with a single, and Puig's homer with two outs gave them a 3-2 lead.

Both Greinke and Latos settled down from there, as even the small threats were quickly extinguished.  The Dodgers really screwed up in the fourth by running into the last out.  With Greinke on second and Carl Crawford on first, Gonzalez singled to right.  Crawford must have though Greinke would try to score, but he held up at third, causing Crawford to be caught in a rundown between second and third.  Greinke ended up getting tagged out, and it was another opportunity blown.

Greinke stepped up big in the fifth by striking out Bruce and Ludwick with the bases loaded to end the inning.  After getting through the sixth in order, he retired for the night with a final line of eight hits, two runs, one walk, and nine strikeouts.  Latos lasted seven innings and gave up three runs, striking out three.

Paco Rodriguez must not like pitching in Cincinnati for some reason, because one night after loading the bases without getting an out, he again ran into trouble in the seventh.  Shin-Soo Choo singled with one out.  Izturis, who I swear didn't know was even in the majors anymore, lined an RBI double to left to tie the game at three.

The offense for LA couldn't get much going in innings 8-10, and the Reds took advantage of that in the 10th.  Brian Wilson made a huge mistake of walking Ludwick leading off, which meant it was time for Billy Hamilton.  Well, the umpires may as well have called time and just told Hamilton to go to second, because he easily stole it anyway.  Todd Frazier's walk-off single to right ended it, as even Puig's strong arm couldn't beat Usain Bolt... I mean Hamilton at home.

There's a couple of ways to look at this game from the Dodgers' perspective.  On one hand, it's disappointing to drop a second straight game after getting an early lead.  The offense lacked the proper punch as the game wore on, which is something I discussed in my previous post about missing Matt Kemp.  The Reds have a very good pitching staff, but leaving nine men on, one day after only getting five hits, is a concern against any team.

The flip side is that even with the offensive lull, they still only lost by one run in both games on the road against a good team.  A hit here, a play there, and it's a different story.  During their incredible summer run, those were they plays they made night after night.  It wasn't realistic to always be the team making those plays, so this is nothing to freak out about.

There's no other guy the Dodgers would rather see on the mound than Clayton Kershaw, as he's in the strange spot of trying to avoid a sweep.  He goes up against Homer Bailey, who has another no-hitter this year and a very good 3.42 ERA, so expect another close game on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Kemp being shut down is a big blow for October

The news wasn't good at all for the Dodgers on Friday night.  A first inning two-run homer by Hanley Ramirez was all the offense could muster, as they lost to the Reds in a possible playoff preview, 3-2.  Chris Capuano had to leave in the second inning because of a groin strain, making Don Mattingly scramble to use six relievers the rest of the way.

The worst news, however, came before the game.  That's when it was announced that Matt Kemp has been shut down indefinitely because of a groin injury suffered in rehab.  Again.

Make no mistake about it, if this is it for Kemp this season, it's a huge punch to the stomach for the Dodgers.  They will miss him when the postseason hits, bottom line.

I'm in no way taking anything away from the boys who are on the field, as they've obviously won a lot of games without Kemp.  In the 62 games he has played, he's hitting only .263 with five home runs and 27 RBIs.  Hardly the numbers of a guy who's a perennial MVP-type player when he is healthy.

The biggest reason this is a bad break for the Dodgers is because of the mere threat he brings to the plate every time he steps into the box.  In the postseason, that's a big advantage for any team with a player like that.  If Kemp was ready to go, imagine what the opposing team is thinking: "Oh great, the Dodgers won a ton of games without him, and now he's back at full strength?  This isn't good."

Friday night's game in Cincinnati was a perfect example of what I mean.  The Dodgers got up quickly thanks to Ramirez's two-run shot in the first.  The rest of the way?  Three singles, no extra-base hits, and no runs.  Simply put, they had no punch.  A healthy Kemp is someone who could've stepped up and hit a big home run when they needed it the most.

Let's flashback to the 2008 season.  That's when the Dodgers made the infamous trade for Manny Ramirez on July 31 when they were an even 54-54.  They ended up 84-78 and made the NLCS.  Forgotten during this timespan was the late-September return of Rafael Furcal, who also added an impact bat in the leadoff role.

I'm not saying that Kemp would put up Manny-like numbers, because nobody would do that.  But I am saying that having that big bat in the lineup can completely change everyone's perception.  Kemp can be that type of guy who hits a late homer in a close game to get the Dodgers going again. 

Alas, it looks like the Dodgers will have to role with the team they have right now, which is certainly not a bad thing.  At 83-57 and 12 games up in the NL West, it's a good thing.  But if Kemp came back, it would have been a GREAT thing.

While there's still a small chance Kemp does comeback, I think it's safe to say that Mattingly won't have to worry about juggling four outfielders this postseason.  And that's a shame.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

If the playoffs started today...

The Dodgers dropped the final game in Colorado 7-5, fighting back from a five-run deficit but coming up short.  The start by Edinson Volquez was pretty bad, and Carlos Marmol was even worse in his one inning of work. 

Still, the lead in the NL West is 12 1/2 thanks to winning the first two, so the Dodgers can clearly focus on the big picture, and that's shaping the roster for the postseason.

With that said, here's the 25-man roster I would pencil in if the Dodgers had to submit it today.

A.J. Ellis
Tim Federowicz

Adrian Gonazalez
Mark Ellis
Hanley Ramirez
Juan Uribe
Michael Young

Yasiel Puig
Carl Crawford
Andre Ethier
Matt Kemp

Nick Punto
Skip Schumaker

Starting Rotation
Clayton Kershaw
Zack Greinke
Ricky Nolasco
Hyun-Jin Ryu

Kenley Jansen
Brian Wilson
Ronald Belisario
Paco Rodriguez
J.P. Howell
Carlos Marmol
Chris Withrow
Chris Capuano

With these 25, that means Jerry Hairston, Edinson Volquez, and Brandon League are on the outside looking in.  In Hairston's case, the acquisition of Young definitely hurts him.  There's no way the Dodgers will trade for a guy like Young, praise his postseason experience, then leave him off the NLDS roster.  Punto and Schumaker are just better options than him as well.

Kemp will have to prove he's fully healthy, but he still has about four full weeks left to get both his ankle and his timing right.  Imagine if he does come back healthy?  That would be a HUGE bonus.

The glory of the starting rotation is that they're all capable of pitching deep into games, especially the big dogs of Kershaw and Greinke.  So, I think the Dodgers can afford to keep an extra bat over another arm, such as Withrow over Hairston.  Right now I'd list Capuano as the long reliever over Volquez.  Being a lefty helps Capuano as well, as they only have two other lefties, so perhaps he would be asked to get a big lefty out late in a game if Rodriquez or Howell are unavailable.

As of now, I have Marmol getting the edge over League and Volquez for the final spot.  Marmol got roughed up in Colorado on Wednesday, but you can't ignore his perfect month of August.  Putting up more blanks in September will be more great steps forward for him. 

I have a funny feeling, however, that League will still find his way onto the roster, but he doesn't deserve it.  A 5.33 ERA puts him in the company of guys like Peter Moylan and Matt Magill.  I don't care how much he's making this year, he shouldn't pitch in the spotlight of October.  No way.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Volquez gets a second life, but will it last?

As the Dodgers get ready for another game in Coors Field, one day after overcoming a rare clunker from Clayton Kershaw for the 10-8 win, Dodgers beat writer Ken Gurnick confirmed that newcomer Edinson Volquez will get the start on Wednesday.

After being castoff by the lowly Padres with a 6.01 ERA in 27 starts, there's really no better way for him to make a great impression than by pitching well in Colorado.

And if you're Volquez, you know that time is ticking.  He can't afford to have many, or ANY, more bad starts.

With just under a month left in the regular season before the do-or-die postseason of October hits, Volquez is in direct competition with Chris Capuano for the #5 spot.  Capuano has been about as hit or miss as one can possibly get, but he is coming off a hit by tossing seven innings of one-run ball against the Padres on Saturday.  Before that was four straight misses in which he wasn't scorched, but didn't pitch past the fifth in any of them.

Even with that positive start, it's a telling sign that Don Mattingly is giving Volquez a chance to see what he can do.  Capuano's own inconsistency is what caused this to happen, as it's not like anyone is claiming that Volquez is so much better.  In fact, his numbers are much worse.

In three starts this season in Colorado, Volquez has been flat out awful.  He's 0-2 with a 14.92 ERA in 12 2/3 innings, and the Rockies are hitting .439 against him.  Ouch.  I think it's safe to say the Rockies are much happier to see him on the mound than Hyun-Jin Ryu, who will be pushed to Friday in Cincinnati.

I think it's also safe to say that Mattingly knows there might not be much of a difference between Volquez and Capuano making the start, so why not see if Volquez can step up?  Maybe it's not entirely fair to Volquez, but then again, when you have a 5.97 ERA, it's hard to be picky about where you get a chance to start.  Hopefully he looks at this as the ultimate opportunity to show he has something left.

If he falls victim to Coors Field as so many others have, then who knows if he'll get another chance to start.  I can possibly see him getting one more, but that's it.

Or maybe if he does stink, he should just walk down to the bullpen before the start of each game, and get ready for the long relief role.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Dodgers and Braves, and the race for tops in the NL

Zack Greinke took care of business on Sunday afternoon in a 2-1 win over the Padres, tossing seven innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts, improving to 14-3 with a 2.78 ERA.  Yasiel Puig's solo shot in the sixth proved to be the difference, as he's responded very well since his embarrassing benching last Wednesday.

With the win, the race in the NL West has to be declared all but dead, as the Dodgers have a whopping 11 1/2 game lead over the Diamondbacks, who dropped a home game to the Giants.

Speaking of division races that are all but over, the Braves have a 14-game lead over the Nationals in the NL East.  They also hold a two-game advantage over the Dodgers for the top spot in the National League.

With that in mind, it's time to take a look at what lies ahead for each team in September in the race for home field advantage.

Dodgers (81-55)
Home Games: 10 (Diamondbacks 3, Giants 4, Rockies 3)
Away Games: 16 (Rockies 3, Reds 3, Diamondbacks 4, Padres 3, Giants 3)
Opposing Teams Winning %: .485

Braves (83-53)
Home Games: 13 (Mets 3, Padres 3, Brewers 3, Phillies 4)
Away Games: 13 (Phillies 3, Marlins 4, Nationals 3, Cubs 3)
Opposing Teams Winning %: .444

Right off the bat, the Braves have an advantage in both home games and ease of schedule.  Both teams play the majority of their games in the division the rest of the way.  But, the Dodgers have to go to Cincinnati as their only non-NL West opponent, and the Braves get the Brewers at home and Cubs on the road in their only games outside the NL East.  Plus, the Braves play their final seven games at home, where they're a Major Leauge best 49-19.  Another big advantage.

What the Dodgers do have going for them is their health, which is something that has plagued them for most of the season.  While they can expect the return of Matt Kemp to the lineup at some point this month, the Braves will be without Jayson Heyward most likely until the playoffs.  Plus, you can forget about Brandon Beachy and Tim Hudson for this season.

With all of this in mind, the Braves still have to feel good about wrapping up the top spot.  Both teams have soft schedules, but the Braves have a super fluffy pillow soft one.  Of their 13 remaining games at home, it's not out of the question to think they can win every one of them, or 10 at the least.  The Dodgers are a very good road team, but will still face a tough matchup with a hungry Reds team looking to either win the NL Central or get a home Wild Card game.

Keep in mind that crazy things can happen in September (Red Sox in 2011, anyone?), as the Pirates and Cardinals are only four games behind the Braves.  While the playoff teams are pretty set, the positioning should be tight all the way through the end of the month.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

With minutes to spare, Dodgers get Young for playoff run

Once again, Ned Colletti made a deal during the waiver period in August for the playoff run.  In the past there's been names like Greg Maddux and Jim Thome, last season was the trade with the Red Sox, and now it's a trade for Michael Young.

The Dodgers were able to acquire Young from the Phillies with about 15 minutes left before playoff rosters were locked.  In other words, the Dodgers got a veteran bat and versatile infielder with World Series experience just in time to strengthen their team for October.  And they only gave up a minor league pitcher to do it.

Young made waves during the original trade deadline at the end of July when he was reluctant to wave his no-trade clause.  He then agreed to go to either the Red Sox or Yankees, though that obviously never happened.  But, being a So Cal native, and realizing that he could join a team that will play in October, he smartly agreed to the move.

Don Mattingly said that Young will be a key bat off the bench, and will spell both Juan Uribe at third and Adrian Gonzalez at first.  It was probably tough news for Uribe to hear initially, but it seems like Mattingly assured him that he's still the primary option at the hot corner, especially with the fantastic defense he's played this year.

I've said all season that Gonzalez needs a true backup at first, even though he's continued to play very well.  With the Dodgers easily ahead in the NL West (10 1/2 games over the Diamondbacks), then Mattingly can comfortably give Gonzo days off here and there and play Young.  I really like that option.

When rosters need to be set for the playoffs, I would think someone like Jerry Hairston may end up on the outside looking in.  We'll have to see if Young can adjust to the Dodgers, but playing in the National League all season, it's not like he's unfamiliar with the pitchers.  I think he'll do just fine.

As of now the Dodgers will be locking horns with the Pirates in the Division Series, and they've acquired Justin Morneau, John Buck, and Marlon Byrd in recent days.  Perhaps the move for Young was inspired by the Bucs' moves.  Maybe Young would've been shipped to LA regardless, but it doesn't hurt to show that the Dodgers will also strengthen their team down the stretch, too.

Dodgers' rally caps a 23-8 August

Perhaps Chris Capuano was hearing footsteps, and knew he needed a big performance to remain the #5 starter.

He did just that, giving up one run in seven marvelous innings.  The offense got a couple of late runs, and the Dodgers rallied for a 2-1 victory over the Padres.  I don't think anybody wants to see August end as they went 23-8, good for a 10 1/2 game lead in the NL West.

Yes, it's been a month to remember.  Now it's time to make sure September and October are the same.  Acquiring Michael Young just minutes before playoff rosters became official will help them do just that.

As for this game, Andrew Cashner was throwing smoke and consistently made the big pitches when needed, as the Dodgers left 12 men on base.  He's quietly had a good season in another lost one for the Padres with a 3.45 ERA in 28 starts.

Through three innings, both teams managed to put runners on and proceed to do nothing with them.  In the fourth, the Padres were first to crack the scoreboard, and it came from an unlikely source.  Ronny Cedeno hit one out to right that just made it over the wall for the 1-0 lead.  It was only his second homer of the season.

That wasn't the only highlight of the inning.  After Rene Rivera doubled with two outs, Cashner (who had two hits) singled to Yasiel Puig in right.  Rather than holding Rivera at third for the leadoff hitter, he was sent home, only to be gunned out on a perfect one-hop throw from Puig.  A great throw, but a bad decision from the Padres.  Don't run on the guy!

The Dodgers continued to collect hits, as they got at least one in five of the first six innings, but came up with blank after blank.  That changed in the seventh, finally.  Jerry Hairston hit for Capuano and got an infield single.  Carl Crawford followed with a single, and the Dodgers were in business.

Puig made the big play in right earlier in the game, but had a tough night at the plate when he struck out, part of an 0-for-4 night.  No need to fret, as the reliable Adrian Gonzalez hit an RBI single up the middle, and it was 1-1.

With the score tied late, the game turned into a battle of the bullpens.  Brian Wilson came in and gave up a couple of singles, but induced a huge double play from Logan Forsythe to squash the rally.  Wilson ended up getting his first win as a Dodger by the end of the night.

Nick Vincent entered for the Padres, and Skip Schumaker doubled right away off of him.  Tim Federowicz laid down a great sacrifice bunt, and Schumaker went to third with one out.  Mark Ellis, another old reliable, collected the game winning RBI with a single to center, and it was 2-1.

The ninth inning was Kenley Jansen time, and as usual, he was awesome.  In fact, he struck out the side for his 23rd save in 25 chances.  Without a doubt, he's at the top of his game right now.

With September now here, any win is a big one, even against a lowly opponent like the Padres, who are 15 games under .500.  But, Cashner pitched very well, so it certainly wasn't an easy win.  Nonetheless, when the heat was on, the Dodgers responded with more big plays, which is what they've been doing since the end of June.  You could just feel the momentum going their way, as fans expect them to step up when needed at this point.  They didn't disappoint.

As I brought up before, it's very possible Capuano knew he was on borrowed time, and needed to make a good impression if he wants to keep starting.  In seven innings, he gave up one run on eight hits, one walk, and seven strikeouts.  Edinson Volquez is lurking, though his stats are even worse, so it was great timing for Capuano to have his best start since shutting down the Cubs on August 3.

The Dodgers will start September by looking for a sweep of the Padres on Sunday afternoon.  Zack Greinke will look for his 14th win.