Saturday, May 31, 2014

The early results for Kemp in left? Uh, not good


If you're wondering what that means, it's Matt Kemp's numbers since taking over the starting role in left field three games ago.  Three games, no hits, four strikeouts.  Three straight loses by the Dodgers.

No, it's not all of Kemp's fault, but he certainly isn't doing anything to prove that he should be starting everyday.  It's been more of the same from him - a lot of swings, a lot of misses, and a lot of frustration.

Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports wrote a great article about the need for Kemp to earn his spot again.  The message is simple - stop pouting, go out there, earn your spot, and show your five-tool skills.

And if you're hurt, then say so.  But if not, then it's time to turn it on.

The numbers for him this season are ugly, to say the least.  He's played in 46 games, gathering 161 at-bats.  He's hitting .242 with a .303 OBP.  He has 13 doubles, no triples, 5 homers, and 13 RBIs.  Finally, he's walked 14 times and struck out 48 times.

There's no way of sugarcoating those numbers: they stink.  There's no power, there's a lot of K's, and there's no ability to find a way on base anyway.  Remember when he stole 40 bases in 2010?  In the three years since then, he's stolen 23.  Whoa.

Who knows, maybe Kemp is just getting comfortable on the field again and is about to turn back the clock.  Remember that Sunday night game on April 6 when he hit two home runs against the Giants?  It certainly looked like he was getting locked in then, but he followed that up with three straight hitless games.  So, it was back to square one all over again.

The Dodgers certainly have issues other than Kemp.  Their bullpen can't come through, the offense can't either in scoring position, and they find creative ways to lose in extra innings.  A productive Kemp can do a whole lot to turn some of this stuff around.

Because if he can't, it will continue to be millions and millions of dollars going to waste.

So, Matt, what's it going to be?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

With Crawford hurt, now is Kemp's time to step up

Matt Kemp was out of the starting lineup for the fifth straight game on Tuesday night.  He said he's healthy and wants his chance to play again.

Thanks to a badly rolled ankle from Carl Crawford, he's going to get his wish.

Those pregame fly balls that Kemp was tracking down in left were apparently a sign of things to come, as a few hours later Crawford was limping off the field after turning his ankle on a freak play in the Dodgers' 6-3 win over the Reds.  A trip to the DL is a mere formality at this point.

Now is the time for Kemp to step up, embrace left field as his own, and showcase his all-around game again.  To his credit, he has not popped off publicly about basically being told he's not good enough for center field anymore.  I'm sure he wasn't happy, but who would be?  I think he's handled it with class, and that's a big plus.

With Scott Van Slyke as virtually the only other option to play left, I would expect Kemp to get plenty of starts as long as he shows good instincts there.  If not, then Don Mattingly has shown that he's not afraid to rest his "stars" and go with the hot hand.  But, Kemp should be given a chance to show he's that guy.

The outfield should be an exciting thing to watch for Dodger fans, as Yasiel Puig is playing like an All-Star starter, Andre Ethier had four RBIs last night and is clearly settling into his everyday role in center, and now a spot opens for Kemp to get playing time again.  Of course, nobody wants to see an injury, but the only silver lining is that hopefully Kemp can relax and play better knowing he's going to be in the lineup when he shows up at the ballpark each day.

So, Mr. Kemp, now is your time to shine in left.  Take advantage of it!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Brian Wilson should not be the setup man

Can I possibly state that any clearer?

After watching the way he nearly handed away the Memorial Day game in Dodger Stadium, a mere minutes after Hyun-Jin Ryu flirted with a perfect game into the eighth inning, it's obvious that changes need to be made.

Yes, I know he's a former stud closer on a World Series championship team.

Yes, I know he's a three-time All-Star.

Yes, I know last season he was fantastic for the Dodgers in the home stretch, giving up one earned run in 24 games between the regular season and playoffs.

But no, I do not think that should CONSTANTLY earn him the right to pitch as the setup man in close games.  For whatever reason, he's just not the same player anymore.  Period.

Take a look at what happened Monday night.  The Dodgers were up 4-0 going into the eighth, and Todd Frazier broke up Ryu's bid for history with a leadoff double.  Soon the Reds put one on the board with two men on and one out.  In came Wilson.

It started off well, as Devin Mesoraco struck out.  All Wilson had to do was get another out and the Dodgers would still in comfortable control.  Instead, Skip Schumaker walked on a full count, and Billy Hamilton, perhaps the weakest player in all of baseball, hit a two-run double to make it 4-3.

And for the icing on the cake, Zack Cozart walked on four straight pitches to put the leading run on base.  Thankfully Kenley Jansen put out the fire by striking out Brandon Phillips, and soon getting through the ninth unscathed for his 15th save.

Quite frankly, Wilson was pathetic and embarrassing all at the same time.  If he wants the ball in these types of situations, he can't give up doubles to a tiny leadoff hitter, and walk a pair.  Somehow through all of that he wasn't even charged with a run, so his one out LOWERED his ERA to 7.56.  Oh joy.

I know the Dodgers aren't going to release him, because if they never did can Brandon League after all of the bad outings he's been through, then Wilson's going nowhere.  But please, please, PLEASE stop putting him in as the setup man.  That ship has sailed.  Donnie Baseball, just let it go!


Monday, May 26, 2014

Just when you think the Dodgers are healthy...

They get bitten by the injury bug... again.

This time it's A.J. Ellis, who is back on the 15-day DL with a right ankle sprain.  Tim Federowicz is back.  Look for Drew Butera, who caught Josh Becket's no-no on Sunday, to get the majority of starts behind the dish.

Currently not on the DL, but not in the lineup against on Monday is Hanley Ramirez, who continues to rest his sore right calf.  At least that's what he's saying it is, but it's also feared to be an Achilles' injury.  And if you're a sports fan in LA, then you know how dangerous that injury can be (see: Bryant, Kobe).  Maybe I'm fearing the worst, but that word makes me shake.

Juan Uribe is the only other Dodger on the 15-day DL right now, as he hurt his hamstring running the bases in New York, and is still about 10 days away from being eligible for activation.  I have no idea if that will happen right away, but we should soon find out.  Justin Turner and Chone Figgins will continue to man the hot corner.

At least the starting rotation is fully healthy, as Hyun-Jin Ryu makes his second start on Monday against the Reds after missing nearly a month with left shoulder inflammation.

Give Mattingly credit for taking a stance on Kemp

As the Dodgers get ready for a Memorial Day game against the Reds, one day after Josh Beckett's epic no-hitter, Don Mattingly has released his lineup with Carl Crawford in left, Andre Ethier in center, and Yasiel Puig in right.

And, for the fourth straight game, no Matt Kemp.

And, for the fourth straight game, Mattingly has made the right call.  Again.

Look, this is not going to be a "Matt Kemp Sucks" post where I completely bash everything about the guy.  There's a reason he's earning $21+ million this season, and that's because he's an All-Star caliber player who is capable of being as a complete a five-tool player as there is in baseball.

But, after being handed chance after chance, even Mattingly had to concede that center field might not be the thing for him anymore.  Thursday night's game in New York was the final straw.

Who knows what goes on behind closed doors, but so far at least, we have not heard anything negative from Kemp about being benched, and then being told that he'll start to work some in left field.  I can't imagine a competitor like Kemp likes hearing that he's basically not quick enough anymore to cover all the ground a center fielder requires.

If he's smart, though, then maybe deep down he knows there's some truth to what Mattingly is doing, and is trying to make the necessary adjustments to crack the lineup again.

Nonetheless, with the Dodgers taking two of three in Philadelphia this weekend with a more defensive minded approach to the lineup, it'll be more of the same as the Reds come to town.  Winning makes managers look pretty smart, so in this case, even the biggest Kemp fans can't complain about Ethier getting the nod in center again.

With that said, let's not forget that Ethier has plenty of work to do as well.  He's clearly the best center fielder on the roster right now, no doubt.  But, he absolutely has to start hitting left-handed pitchers better.  He's over 100 points lower against lefties (.182) than righties (.288), which has been an ongoing issue for him his whole career.  I'm not sure it'll ever change, but if he wants that everyday nod in center, he'll need better results than 4-for-22 against Southpaws.

I'm sure we'll soon see Kemp in the starting lineup again, but hopefully in left, not center.  Maybe that will be just the thing to kickstart his career again.  We will see.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A look at possible All-Star candidates

The All-Star Game is less than two months away on July 14 in Minnesota.  Let's take a look at possible candidates that could be representing the Dodgers.  I'll break it down by Definitely and Possibly.


Yasiel Puig, OF.  He's second in the NL in the average (.349), slugging % (.623), OPS (1.061), and RBIs (38).  Toss in 12 doubles, 10 homers, and 5 steals, and you see just what kind of an impact he has at the plate.  Oh ya, he can throw, too.  He should easily be voted in as a starting outfielder.

Dee Gordon, 2B.  Who would've thought this before the season?  Not me, but I'm happy to say that he absolutely deserves to go.  He's leading the league in stolen bases with 30, 12 ahead of the guy who got all the hype coming into the season, Billy Hamilton.  He's also 10th in runs, but that's mostly because the guys behind him haven't hit well.  I'm not saying he should start over Chase Utley, but he should be picked over Daniel Murphy.

Zack Greinke, SP.  National League pitching is so deep, his 2.01 ERA is actually fifth best.  But, he does lead with seven wins, and is seventh with 65 K's.  He clearly took over as the team's ace when Clayton Kershaw was shelved for 1 1/2 months.  If he keeps doing what he's doing, he's a lock.


Josh Beckett, SP.  In case you didn't hear, he threw a no-hitter against the Phillies on Sunday.  Right now he is 10th in the NL in ERA (2.43) and 9th in WHIP (1.02).  What a turnaround he's had after nearly ending his career a year ago with a nerve issue.  The only reason I'm saying this isn't a definite is because the NL is so deep in pitching, as I said before.  But, let's also remember how many All-Stars end up being picked thanks to the off days around the time of the game.  I think he'll get in.

Clayton Kershaw, SP.  Normally this would be a no-brainer, but again, keep in mind he missed a big chunk of time.  He's only made five starts, and did have that clunker against the Diamondbacks recently.  Take that away, and he absolutely is the stud pitcher we're used to.  A handful of good starts should get him that extra push to get in.

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B.  The good news is that he leads all NL first basemen with 10 homers and 36 RBIs.  The bad news is that a horrible May in which he's hitting .209 has really caused his production to level off.  At the end of April he was hitting .317, and now it's .277.  If he keeps the power numbers up, he should get some love.  But, I get the feeling it won't be enough.

Kenley Jansen, RP.  A 4.15 ERA and 1.43 WHIP are way too high, but his 14 saves are tied for fourth.  What's working for him is that he's only three away from first, so if the Dodgers get hot and he can close out a bunch of games coming up, then he should get a strong push to get in.

Juan Uribe, 3B.  It's probably a stretch, especially since he's currently on the 15-day DL with a bad hamstring.  The only reason I'll throw him out as a possibility is because the third basemen in the NL are average at best.  David Wright is leading with a .311 average, but only three homers.  Nolan Arenado is very talented, but just broke a finger and could be out awhile.  Todd Frazier has good power numbers with 9 homers and 27 RBIs.  If Uribe can come back healthy, hit some more, and show his usual good glovework, then he's someone to keep an eye on.

Dodgers have a Southpaw problem

Yesterday I wrote about the Dodgers' continual problems with defense, as evidenced by their 5-3 loss to the Phillies on Saturday in which four of those runs could've easily been avoided with better D.

Then I remembered a comment made during the game by either Charlie Steiner or Orel Hershiser (forgive me, I forgot which one), and that's their inability to hit left-handed pitchers.  So I checked the stats.  Boy were they not kidding.

Coming into today's games, the Dodgers are dead last in all of baseball with a .217 average against lefties.  Ouch.

Here's a look at how some of the key left-handed hitters are doing against Southpaws:

Andre Ethier: 4-for-22, .182
Adrian Gonzalez: 11-for-59, .186
Dee Gordon: 8-for-41, .195
Carl Crawford: 5-for-24, .208
Totals: 28-for-146, .192

And now, here's a look a some of the key right-handed hitters:

Matt Kemp: 8-for-51, .157
Juan Uribe: 6-for-32, .188
Justin Turner: 8-for-37, .216
Hanley Ramirez: 9-for-39, .231
Scott Van Slyke: 11-for-35, .314
Yasiel Puig: 14-for-41, .341
Totals: 56-for-235, .238

Team Totals Overall: 99-for-457, .217

For some guys, this is surprising.  A-Gon is obviously better against righties, but also has a career .276 average against lefties.  Kemp has long pounded lefties for a .333 average.  Hanley is at .306.

For others, it's not a surprise.  Ethier has been saddled his whole career with the stigma of not hitting lefties (.234), and he's once again proving why he can't quite be considered an everyday player with numbers that pathetic.  Crawford (.258) and Gordon (.216) also are much worse against lefties.

The bottom line is everyone on here, with the exception of Puig and Van Slyke, has to perform more to their career averages against Southpaws.  Not only are most of these numbers down, but in some cases, not even on the same planet as to where they've been in the past.

There's really no excuse for guys like Kemp and Hanley to continue to look so lost against lefties.  They've both feasted on these types of pitchers in their careers, and now is the time to step up and perform to that level again.  If not, then expect the rest of the National League to load up on lefties whenever they play the Dodgers.  The numbers prove it works.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Awful defense continues to destroy the Dodgers

The Phillies beat the Dodgers on Saturday afternoon 5-3.  Dan Haren scuffled through a very shaky first couple of innings, Chase Utley hit a two-run homer, and the offense chipped away but never could get over the hump.

And one last thing: four of the Phillies' five runs should have never scored in the first place.  If the Dodgers had any clue defensively, then this would've been a victory.

Welcome to the 2014 version of the Dodgers, where defensive miscues dominate.

Let's go through each of the three scenarios:

Miscue #1 - 1st inning
With Ben Revere on second from a leadoff double, Chase Utley popped one up in foul territory with one out.  A.J. Ellis ranged to his right and back, but the ball skipped out of his glove right near the wall.  It wasn't an easy catch because of the wind, but certainly not a hard one either.  Sure enough, Utley creamed the next pitch into the right field stands, and it was 2-0.

Miscue #2 - 2nd inning
First comes the good, and that was a beautiful throw behind by Ellis to Erisbel Arruebarrena at second to nail a wandering Carlos Ruiz.  Soon Cesar Hernandez was sacrificed to second, and Revere singled into center.  Instead of hitting the cutoff man and holding Revere at first, Andre Ethier threw all the way home too late, allowing Revere to advance.  And wouldn't you know it, and RBI single by Jimmy Rollins came next to make it 4-0.  Utley popped up for the last out, so if Ethier made the correct throw, the score would've stayed at 3-0.

Miscue #3 - 5th inning
Again involving the speedy Revere, who hit a little dribbler to Haren.  Having just enough time to make the play, Haren instead fired the ball wide of Adrian Gonzalez at first, causing Revere to go all the way to third.  Don Mattingly argued that Revere was inside the running lane, and it certainly appeared so.  But, it wasn't called, so the play stood.  Regardless, Haren shouln't have thrown it away.  Rollins got the run in on a groundout to short.

Two errors and one mental mistake were enough for the Phillies to get the win.  And it was also enough for Mattingly to once again question just who the heck is capable of playing fundamental defense.  I'm not sure he's able to find nine players at once who can.  It's been that bad this season.

Today marked the 50th game for the Dodgers, and they are right near the bottom of the league with 42 errors.  Only the Nationals and White Sox are worse.  I'm stating the obvious here, but it's inexcusable.  This team has very little margin for error (no pun intended), so when they throw the ball all over the place, they're being their own worst enemy.

The funny thing is, I actually really liked the defensive alignment that Mattingly has used.  Two days in a row we've seen Arruebarrena at short (Hanley Ramirez was a late scratch with a sore calf), Ethier in center, and Carl Crawford in left.  Dee Gordon continues to look really good at second, Yasiel Puig is a stud in right, both Justin Turner and Chone Figgins have handled third well the last two games, and A-Gon and Ellis have long been considered good with the gloves.

Basically, what I'm saying is that when it rains, it pours.  On paper, these guys should be good with the leather.  But, it just seems like when things go wrong, it really, really goes wrong.  It should also be noted that two games straight the pitchers have thrown balls away trying to make quick throws (Brandon League last night, Haren today).  That's not exactly the best way to help your own cause.

Right now the Dodgers are 4-4 on this road trip, splitting evenly with the Diamondbacks, Mets, and Phillies.  If they can't win tomorrow, then this trip has been a major disappointment.  5-4 looks much better than 4-5, though 6-3 would've been best considering the bad teams they've played.  Josh Beckett will take on A.J. Burnett.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Kershaw bounces back with six scoreless frames

Clayton Kershaw needed a jolt after a horrific performance his last outing in Arizona, one that saw him fail to get out of the second inning.  The Dodgers also needed a jolt after a sloppy game last night in New York.

Mission accomplished on both fronts.

Kershaw showed why he's the reigning Cy Young Award winner, tossing six scoreless innings and striking out nine.  He got all the support needed on an RBI single from Yasiel Puig in the first, and a solo home run from Carl Crawford in the second.

I don't think anybody expected Kershaw to get hammered again, but there was some concern that his Arizona debacle would linger into this start.  Instead, he used a wicked slider to keep the Phillies off balance, and was able to wiggle out of two out and none on in both the fourth and sixth.

I'm nitpicking here, but even with the great box score, that still wasn't the best he can offer.  He did walk three guys as he still appears to be searching for better fastball command.  He had it for the most part in this one, but was around the strike zone a bit too much with the hard stuff.  Still, when the heat was on, he rose up and pitched even better.

Not even a 43 minute rain delay could deny Kershaw on this night.  The fear when the rain started pounding the ground in the fourth was that he'd get an early exit again, and the overworked and unproductive bullpen would have to carry the load.  Thankfully the delay was short, and Kershaw went right back to work.

Now that he's gotten this start out of the way, he should be full speed ahead for his next start on Wednesday against the Reds at home.  They're a team that, like the Dodgers, are stuck in the middle of their division trying to play more consistent baseball.

Other thoughts from the game:

* The bullpen was in charge of protecting a three-run lead for three innings, and did just that.  Brandon League got a shot to start the seventh, and a single, walk, and bad throw by himself meant he got the hook before even getting an out.  J.P. Howell did an outstanding job in pitching out of it, as did Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen right after that with two flawless innings combined.

* Speaking of League, it probably wasn't the best timing by me to write about how I believe League should pitch in setup in the eighth.  Boy did he look bad, which is probably why he's only useful in non-pressure situations.

* The legend of Puig continues to grow, as he had another awesome night at the plate: 3-for-3, two walks, and an RBI single.  He's now up to .343 with 38 RBIs this season.  And if you haven't checked out his sensational catch in New York from last night, look it up.  He's having an amazing year so far, and only looks to be getting better.

* As Orel Hershiser talked about before and during the game, tonight's lineup was an obvious message by Don Mattingly at getting his best defenders on the field.  So, Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez rested, while Andre Ethier and the debuting Erisbel Arruebarruena started in center and at short, respectively.  It definitely worked, as they played a clean game, with the only error being charged to League in the seventh.

* Let's see more of Ethier in center from here on out.  I know Kemp will still get his starts, but he's proven to be a step behind anymore.  Ethier is much better at getting good jumps on fly balls, and even had two hits tonight.  Like I said earlier today, the days of Kemp being the everyday center fielder need to come to an end.  Enough is enough.

* Arruebarruena had a weird debut to say the least.  He struck out three times and never once had a ball hit to him at short.  That's almost hard to believe that nobody even accidentally grounded to short, but it's true.  He looks to have a long, long way to go at the plate, though.  He didn't stand a chance on the breaking stuff.

* As was also pointed out during the game, I don't remember ever seeing such a small Philly crowd, and that was even before the rain delay.  They look like they've already thrown in the towel on this season.

Dan Haren will look for his sixth win on Saturday.  His ERA has gone up in each of his last four starts, and was hit around in Arizona last Sunday.  Still, he has a 3.18 ERA in nine starts, something the Dodgers will gladly take.

League's role should continue to increase

Yes, I did just say that.

After earning his first hold of the season on Wednesday night, Brandon League lowered his ERA to 1.35.  Even more impressive is how his ERA has gone down in each of his last 14 appearances, going scoreless in 21 1/3 innings during that stretch.

So, here is something that I never, ever thought I'd say: It's time to give Brandon League a crack at being the setup man.

Hey, why not?  It's not as if anyone else is getting the job done.  Brian Wilson has done slightly better lately, but still sports an 8.22 ERA.  Chris Perez has been lit up in recently, increasing his ERA all the way to 5.68.  Chris Withrow and Paco Rodriguez are in Albuquerque trying to throw strikes more consistently.

J.P. Howell could be another candidate for the eighth inning, but he's more of a situational lefty, and lets a few too many men reach base.  Jamey Wright has a solid 3.16 ERA, but a 1.48 WHIP isn't good at all.  Paul Maholm has recently been a starter, and will fill the long relief role.

Which leaves us with the suddenly rejuvenated League, AKA Juan Uribe 2.0.  It's no secret that Ned Colletti completely overpaid for him a couple years back, as he was looked at as the closer while Kenley Jansen continued to be the setup man.  It flopped miserably.

Now League has found his sinker again, and appears like Don Mattingly's confidence as well.  If you want a funny look at how low on the totem pole League has been for most of this year, check out his game-by-game results.  In his 18 appearances, only five of them have occurred during a Dodgers' victory.  The other 13 have been in a loss, which shows the mop up duty he's been performing.

Thanks to a combination of League's effectiveness and the rest of the bullpen getting rocked, Mattingly should at least give this a try.  Even more encouraging is that he's thrown the most innings in relief at 26 2/3, but only has six walks.  Considering the Dodgers are second in baseball with 83 free bullpen passes, he stands out even more.

If it doesn't work, then oh well.  Like I said before, it's not as if anyone else has grabbed the setup role and run with it.  It's been a whole lot of negativity for one reason or another.  League has been a surprising success story thus far, so let's see if he can continue that in a bigger inning.

The old Matt Kemp's not walking through that door

Cue the infamous Rick Pitino quote from above.  Today felt like a great time to resurrect it after watching Matt Kemp's flailing attempt to play center field Thursday night.

And the "gray and old" part at the end of the clip?  Well, that certainly sounds like the direction Kemp is heading.

The Dodgers won the first couple over the Mets, but couldn't finish off the sweep as the Mets got the victory 5-3.  The game was highlighted by an absolutely amazing catch from Yasiel Puig in right field, robbing Wilmer Flores of extra bases.

What was not amazing?  The play of Kemp in center.  Time and time again he allowed the ball to get over his head, and also had a costly bobble to let Curtis Granderson go from second to third leading off the second.  It soon led to a run, tying the game at one.

In all, four balls got over Kemp's head, plays in which he appeared to get horrible jumps on.  Then there was a play late in the game in which he somewhat mistimed a jump at the wall, but failed to glove it.

Through all of these plays, the one thing that kept coming to my mind over and over was this: the old Kemp would've made those plays.  But my oh my, do those days appear to be far behind.  And you know what?  I'm doubting they ever come back.

I think the time has come for the Dodgers to seriously reconsider not only playing Kemp in center, but if they want to dangle him as trade bait.  Remember when he was younger and his name kept popping up in trade discussions?  Ned Colletti always resisted, and Kemp went on to post a good three-year stretch from 2008-2010, topping off at his monster (should've been) MVP season of 2011 in which he hit .324 with 39 homers, 126 RBIs, and 40 stolen bases.  He was an All-Star and won both the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards.

Little did we know at the time that that was probably the peak of his career.

Injury after injury after injury have just derailed his career, and now he looks about as average as can be.  In 41 games, he's hitting .265 with 5 homers, 13 RBIs, and 5 steals.  That's it.  All from a guy who declared himself an everyday center fielder coming into the season.  Not only is he completely botching fly balls, but he can't hit either.

Over at, Kemp is currently ranked 20th in advanced statistical center fielder rankings.  If that isn't bad enough, then the fact that there's only 21 total players on the list should be even worse.  His "Ultimate Zone Rating," which measures how many runs a player saves or gives up, is a -7.5, only slightly ahead of Dexter Fowler and his -7.7.  That puts him in the range somewhere between below average and poor.  I'll keep it simple for all of you - he's been poor.

In a way, I can understand why Don Mattingly has been giving him so many chances.  He's three years into his massive eight-year, $160 million deal, and will be making $21 or $21.5 million through 2019.  We've all seen just how dominating he can be.  So, Donnie almost had to choice but to let Kemp try and earn his everyday spot back.

Well guess what?  He hasn't.  And it's time to make a change.

There's no team on Earth that would take on all of that money for a guy clearly declining.  Well, the Dodgers would, but they can't trade for a guy they already have.  Unless the Dodgers want to eat a whole chunk of his money, it's hard to imagine him going anywhere anytime soon.

What the Dodgers can do is simple: don't put him in the lineup so freakin' much!  Puig is fully entrenched in right.  Then there's Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, and Scott Van Slyke looking for more time.  There's even Joc Pederson, the guy in Triple-A who's hitting .343 with 14 homers and 29 RBIs through 41 games.  He's also the 34th ranked prospect in baseball, and just happens to be pretty darn good.

I don't get the feeling the Dodgers want to call Pederson up quite yet just to split playing time, so what they should do is get Van Slyke's bat and his .970 OPS into the lineup more often (Kemp's OPS is .785).  Ethier can play all over the outfield and sports a -1.1 UZR, which is certainly better than Kemp's.  He seems to be the forgotten man these days, but in 25 less at-bats than Kemp, has eight more RBIs than him (21 to 13).

No matter how you slice it, Kemp is being treated with kid gloves right now, and it needs to stop.  Until he proves that he has his legs completely back and is capable of being a great outfielder again, and can prove he can start hitting for more power, it's time to ride the pine more.  It's for the good of everybody.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The difference of winning and losing is a double clutch

Attention all Dodger fans: if you think you have it tough, try rooting for the Mets.

That became glaringly obvious after watching Wednesday night's game in Citi Field.  In the eighth inning and the Dodgers up 3-2, Hanley Ramirez grounded a hard one back to the mound with runners on the corners and one down.  It should've been an easy double play, but Mets pitcher Jeurys Familia had to double clutch with two men racing to cover second.  The result was Chone Figgins scoring from third, and the Dodgers eventually won 4-3.

So, when Kenley Jansen gave up a one-out triple to Juan Lagares in the ninth, the run he soon scored would've tied it.  But the Mets being the Mets, they blew it.

What a difference one play can make in winning or losing.  The good teams never have to worry about silly little things like who's covering second base on a double play ball.  That's really pretty pathetic how the Mets completely botched such an obvious DP.  It wasn't an error in the stats, but sometimes a mental error that doesn't appear in the box score is just as bad, if not worse.

The Dodgers will take wins in any way, shape, or form, so beating the Mets two straight on the road counts for something.

As for the Mets, they just continue to sink further and further into a hole.  Their offseason signing of Curtis Granderson has done nothing, David Wright looks like a singles hitter, Matt Harvey is out for the season, their closer Bobby Parnell is out for the season, and their cleanup hitter Chris Young is hitting .206.  There's no excitement or energy to this team.  They're just kind of... there.

And that's a reminder that as bad as things can get for LA, they at least have talent and hope of turning things around, as they showed last season.  The Mets?  They've got nothing.

Other thoughts from the game:

* It was great to see Hyun-Jin Ryu back from the DL, as he picked up the win with two runs in six innings, striking out nine.  The Dodgers' starting staff is now at full health, and assuming Clayton Kershaw is capable of pitching more than two innings, they should give the bullpen much more rest.

* Three solo home runs did the trick for the Dodgers, as Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, and Adrian Gonzalez went deep.  They were outhit 13-5, but obviously made the most of what they did hit.  The Mets stranded nine.  Sad.

* Brian Wilson pitched the eighth, only giving up a little single.  That's three straight scoreless appearances for him.  You have to start somewhere, and perhaps he's slightly turning the corner.  His ERA has gone down from 10.22 to 8.22.  Don Mattingly looks determined to use him as the setup man no matter what, so at least he's getting people out for once.

* Overall, I just like the Dodgers so much more on the road than at home right now.  The records back it up (16-9 away, 9-13 home).  Granted, playing teams like the Mets help, but the Dodgers just seem so much more focused away from home.  I'm sure those numbers will even up a bit over time, but if they do make the playoffs, it's a good sign if they have to begin a series on the road.

Zack Greinke will take the bump on Thursday evening, as he looks to give the Dodgers a sweep.  Then it will be off to Philadelphia for three, where they get to avoid Cliff Lee, who just landed on the DL with an elbow strain.  Oh boy, another elbow injury to an elite pitcher.  Paging Tommy John...

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Early life for Dodgers quickly fizzles out

After Adrian Gonzalez hit a monster two-run shot in the third to take a 3-1 over the Diamondbacks, I was thinking maybe this was a sign that the Dodgers were ready to put Saturday's beatdown behind them and win the series.


Instead, Dan Haren coughed it up thanks to a couple of DBacks' homers, and the Dodgers dropped Sunday's finale 5-3.  Oh, and let's not forget the first run scored on a throwing error by Hanley Ramirez, his team-leading seventh already.  Basically, he evened himself out after a long solo shot in the first.

I'm not saying the Dodgers didn't try, because it's not like they just loafed around out there.  But I am saying that the two weekend games looked like they meant a heck of a lot more to the home team than the visiting one.  The Diamondbacks played like a team trying to get back into the race; the Dodgers played like a team that thinks they can flip the switch at any point.

Here's some proof.  Haren was spotted a 3-1 lead in the third, but couldn't avoid the longball.  Right away to start the bottom of the third, Gerardo Parra singled, went to second on a wild pitch, and scored on Chris Owings's RBI single. 

The next inning, Cody Ross homered leading off to tie the game.  Then in the fifth, a two-run shot by the pinch-hitting Eric Chavez (remember him?) gave the DBacks a lead they would not relinquish.  Haren has been very good in the early going, but this would've been a great day to pitch the Dodgers to a victory with a small lead.  It didn't happen.

Then there's the defense.  Ugh.  They couldn't go one whole game without committing an error now could they?  This time it was on a botched double play attempt in which Hanley rushed his throw to a covering Haren at first way wide of the mark, bringing home the DBacks' first run in the second.  Finish that play, and the inning would've been over.  Once again, it didn't happen.

The offense had two great chances to at least tie the game after being down, but like I've already said twice, it didn't happen.  In the sixth, A-Gon singled and Andre Ethier walked, which brought up Matt Kemp to pinch-hit.  One double play ball later, that was it.

Then in the eighth, the bases were loaded when Hanley reached on a fielder's choice, and A-Gon and Ethier singled.  This time Kemp hit a liner, but sure enough, right at Cliff Pennington at second to end the threat.

So like I said before, it's not as if the Dodgers weren't trying.  They just aren't executing nearly as well as they are capable of.  The hitting left too many people on, the pitching blew an early lead, and the defense was suspect again.  Those are all signs of a mediocre team, quite frankly.  That's exactly what the Dodgers are right now at 23-22.

And until they clean up these mistakes, they'll continue to be a win one, lose one type of club.

Other thoughts from the game:

* How about Brandon League?  Two scoreless innings to run his streak to 20 1/3 without an earned run.  Considering how awful Brian Wilson has been, and how Chris Perez and Chris Withrow were pathetic yesterday, League should start seeing bigger innings.  His sinker is going all over the place now in a good way.  Good for him.

* It's also good for him that his contract is so large, because if it wasn't, there's no way he'd still be pitching for the Dodgers right now.  Not to put a damper on his resurgence, but that's the truth.

* It was a tough day at the plate for Dee Gordon, who was 0-for-5.  He's still having a great season with a .304 average and 25 steals, but he is in a 5-for-31 rut the last seven games, lowering his average from .336.  He did look good at second with some nice plays, though, and looks to be getting more comfortable there.

* A few games in Arizona is just what A-Gon needed to wake up his bat, as he gathered five hits over the weekend.  His two-run homer was the first since May 1 in Minnesota.  He's the everyday cleanup hitter, so the offense needs his bat to come alive like that.

The Dodgers will take off Monday to travel to New York before playing three against the Mets.  Like the Dodgers, the Mets are around .500 at 20-23 and also seem to play better on the road than at home.  Josh Beckett goes the first game, then Hyun-Jin Ryu will take the ball on Wednesday in his first game back from the DL.

Not even Kershaw can shake the Dodgers out of mediocrity

Apparently, Clayton Kershaw and pitching in Arizona are two things that do not go together.  The Diamondbacks felt the need to remind us of that over and over on Saturday night.

Kershaw had an inning he'll never forget for all the wrong reasons, as he was absolutely rocked by the NL West rivals, and the bullpen didn't do any better in an 18-7 beatdown to the Diamondbacks.  So, one night after Zack Greinke shutout the DBacks, which followed an ugly loss to the Marlins, the Dodgers are right back to where they started.

For whatever reason, Kershaw just isn't his normal self pitching in Arizona.  I tweeted out during the game how every pitcher seems to have that one place they aren't as successful as normal, and Kershaw's Achilles' heel is Arizona.  He's now lost five straight starts there and raised his ERA to 4.10.  That certainly isn't a bad ERA, but not Kershaw-like.

OK, so he also has a 5.24 ERA in 13 starts at Coors Field, but everybody sucks there.  Besides, he's 5-3 there.

Is there reason to worry about Kershaw?  Well, his normally nasty curveball was very hittable.  I remember listening to Orel Hershiser talk about Dan Haren before the season started, and he noted that once Haren got out of Arizona for Spring Training and into LA, his breaking stuff will have more bite.  I certainly think that applies to Kershaw as well.

Heck, even Kershaw's Spring Training stats the last two seasons aren't anything to brag about: 4.18 and 9.20.  Looks like The Bulldog is onto something.

Kershaw has set such a high standard for himself, which is why he's earning around $30 million a year now.  So when your ERA goes up nearly three full runs from 1.74 to 4.43 after one start, it's a reason to get worried.  But this is the two-time Cy Young Award winner, so let's give him the benefit of the doubt that this was just a blip on the radar.  We hope.

Other thoughts from the game:

* Like the headline says, the Dodgers just continue to be stuck in mediocrity.  They win two against the Marlins to start the week, then get drilled on Wednesday.  After a day off, Greinke takes care of the Diamondbacks Friday, then Saturday's shellacking happens.  It's no surprise they're 23-21 and just kinda treading water.

* The good news from this game is that the offense battled back from deficits of 7-0 and 9-2 to make it 9-7 in the fifth.  Yasiel Puig bombed a two-run shot and Carl Crawford hit a three-run homer.  Matt Kemp collected two more hits to raise his average in May to .323.

* But, any reason you had to feel good about a comeback was flushed down the toilet by the crappy bullpen (yes, pun was definitely intended).  Jamey Wright pitched was earlier than he ever expected, and while he did eat up 2 1/3 innings, he still gave up a two-run shot to Paul Goldschmidt.  Chris Withrow and Chris Perez combined for just as long and gave up seven runs.  They were absolutely pathetic.

* Who pitched the best out of the 'pen?  That would be Brandon League, who pitched a scoreless fifth.  Give him credit, as his ERA was lowered to 1.52.  The Dodgers can only hope he's Juan Uribe 2.0.

* One last note about the bullpen: Drew Butera had to pitch the ninth, giving up another two-run tater to Goldschmidt.  That makes two appearances in three game in blowout loses.  That's pretty embarrassing.

* Puig struck out three times, as you could tell he clearly was thinking about the long ball after tattooing a 444-foot shot in the third.  You can't question his effort in right, though, as he narrowly missed a diving catch and a long foul ball over the wall later in the game.  Plus, he nearly beat out an infield single on great hustle.

Even with the humiliating loss, the Dodgers will look to take the series on Sunday afternoon as Haren takes the mound.  He'll take on Bronson Arroyo, who flirted with joining the Dodgers in the offseason before settling with the DBacks.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Zack Greinke is really, REALLY good

A little side note to start: Yesterday I was watching MLB Now, a good show in the afternoon on MLB Network.  They went over their top 10 pitchers in baseball right now, which seemed to be based on this season's results.  They revealed #10-6, with Zack Greinke nowhere to be found.  Surely, I thought, he would be in the top five.

Well guess what?  He wasn't.  Somehow the guy who came into Friday night's game in Arizona with a 6-1 record and 2.38 ERA didn't qualify as being one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball.

So what happened on Friday night?  Another gem: eight innings, five hits, no runs, two walks, and six strikeouts.  The Dodgers crushed the Diamondbacks 7-0, he got another win to go 7-1, and lowered his ERA to 2.03.

Hey, MLB Now, is he still not Top 10 worthy?

Without question, Greinke is a true ace and one of the best pitchers in baseball.  Want further proof?  He now has run off 21 straight starts of two runs or less, a streak that goes all the way back to 1914.  Actually, it might go back even further, but no one seems to know for sure.

Here's what I know for sure, and that is the Dodgers are reaping the rewards of a healthy, confident, hungry pitcher.  After he signed a six-year, $147 million contract before the 2013 season, the word on him was that perhaps he was not the same pitcher who won the 2009 AL Cy Young with the Royals.  He's suffered from anxiety issues in the past, which goes back to before his dominating '09 season.  Going to a big pond like Los Angeles might not mesh well with him at all.

Well, not only has he settled in, but he's right up there as an early favorite for this year's NL Cy Young.  Johnny Cueto has the edge on everyone right now (1.25 ERA, 0.75 WHIP), but Greinke is right behind with guys like Jeff Samardzija and Adam Wainwright, among a few others. 

The best part is that there's no reason to think Greinke will slow down, as his ERA on the road (1.65) is better than at home (2.42).  Considering he has a 2.15 career ERA at Dodger Stadium, I'd say things are looking up.

All things considered, what's most likely helping Greinke the most is the presence of Clayton Kershaw, who is currently slotted right after him in the rotation.  Talk about a dominating 1-2 punch!  When Kershaw signed his astronomical deal this past offseason, I'll bet the third happiest person right behind Clayton and Mrs. Kershaw was Greinke, who knows he will not get the most attention on the staff.  That's a role Kershaw accepts and embraces, and that confidence has to trickle down to Greinke.

The key now will be keeping Greinke healthy, as you see how quickly things can turn around for star pitchers (see: Fernandez, Jose).  I'm certainly no doctor, but I have watched a lot of baseball, and it seems like Greinke is at less of a risk for injury because he's not one to throw it by you every pitch anymore.  In fact, Yahoo's Tim Brown recently wrote about Greinke gradually easing up on throwing so many sliders, putting his elbow at much less risk of injury.

The pitch Fernandez likes to throw so much?  The slider.  You get the point.

So, it's easy to feel confident that not only will Greinke win each time he takes the mound, but he'll also be healthy enough to do it again in five days.  And not only will he do it again, but probably better and build up his Cy Young resume even more.

Hyun-Jin Ryu is due back soon, Yasiel Puig is red hot, Dee Gordon is running all over the place, and even Hanley Ramirez showed some signs of life with an RBI double in last night's game.  Oh ya, and Greinke and Kershaw pitch back-to-back.  Are the Dodgers ready to take all of this and go on another run?  They very well could be.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Josh Beckett is off the schneid!

Congratulations goes out to Josh Beckett, who finally, MERCIFULLY got a win on Tuesday night by beating the Marlins 7-1.  Just how long has it been since he has done the unthinkable?  September 30, 2012.  That's 14 starts ago.

But don't worry, it's hardly been his fault.  Not this season at least.

The 2014 version of Beckett is a heck of a lot better than 2013.  In eight starts last year, he was 0-5 with a 5.19 ERA and 1.50 WHIP.  Quite simply, he was horrible, and was shelved in July for the rest of the season to rest his right arm, which had a tingling sensation in his fingers.

And guess what?  It worked.  This year he's 1-1 with a 2.36 ERA and 1.06 WHIP.  He came into this year with zero expectations, and was probably looking to be the odd man out when Chad Billingsley returned from his injury.  Well, these are the Dodgers, so inevitably there were more injuries to the starting rotation.  But not to Beckett, who's been fantastic in his seven starts.

So what's the reason for his effectiveness?  The curveball.  That's according to Beckett himself, who gave full credit to an injured A.J. Ellis:
"I've always had a good curveball, but never a good feel for it, never for strike one. But I threw it tonight [eight times on first pitch]. Guys don't hit it, maybe because it's dying anyway, nobody throws it, and hitters don't see them often. And A.J. said a 70-mph curve makes that 90-93-mph fastball look faster."

Even though it's only the difference of throwing one pitch more (curveball) and one pitch less (fastball), it's a pretty big change for Beckett.  It's almost like he had to stubbornly admit that he can't just blow it by everyone anymore.  He has to pick his spots and rely on the art of pitching.  Maybe he should pull Kenley Jansen aside and explain the same thing.

Even with the resurgence this season, it's hard to expect his ERA to remain in the low-mid 2's.  That's just very hard to do for anyone.  Still, his ERA can shoot up a full run and he'd still be having a great season.  That's how great he's been so far.

With Clayton Kershaw back and looking like his normal self, and with Hyun-Jin Ryu throwing bullpen sessions and on the verge of being back, the Dodgers may finally be able to ride a deep starting five with Zack Greinke, Dan Haren, and Beckett.  They already are third in baseball in starter's ERA at 2.94, and that's with a bunch of injuries.  It's not out of the question at all to see that number get even better when Ryu is back.

The Dodgers certainly can use a run or two of big wins, as they've been stuck in .500 mode for too long.  Two straight wins and 13 runs, even against the lowly Marlins, have put them in position for a sweep on Wednesday night.  It's the little things that add up, and this would be a good spot to start.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

More extra inning Dodger blues

If you thought Hanley Ramirez's two-out, two-run homer off of Sergio Romo would propel the Dodgers to a series split, well... you thought wrong.

Once again, when the Dodgers found themselves in extra innings, the bullpen fell apart, and the offense couldn't pick them up in a 7-4 loss to the Giants.  The Giants are in first place for a reason, as they made the big plays more often than the Dodgers, and that's all there is to that.

It wasn't too long ago I wrote about the Dodgers' struggles when there's free baseball after nine innings.  The biggest culprit was the team's 5.40 ERA in extras.  Well, that number shot up even more today, as Kenley Jansen was charged for three runs while only getting one out in the 10th.  J.P. Howell did a good job in getting the final two outs, but also uncorked a wild pitch that led to the third run.  It was just ugly all around.

Don Mattingly followed the book of relief pitching by inserting his closer in the 10th.  Obviously he wasn't in a save situation anymore, so Donny was trying to put up a zero and let his team maintain their momentum from Hanley's homer to win it in 10.  It didn't work.  In fact, it blew up in everyone's face.

I can certainly understand Donny wanting Jansen in that spot, but the numbers suggest it's not at all the right call.  Coming into this game, his ERA in extras was 10.80.  If that wasn't bad enough, it shot all the way up to an astronomical 22.50 (or five runs in two innings) with a 5.50 WHIP.  That's just hard to believe.  But believe it or not, that's the reality.

The other reality is that right now, the Dodgers can't find ways to win, and it shows.  So, the Giants came to Dodger Stadium and took three of four, increasing their lead over the Dodgers to 4 1/2 games.

Other thoughts from the game:

* I can't wait for Juan Uribe to come back.  I've seen all I need to see of Justin Turner and Chone Figgins at third.  Turner started today and is hitting .180.  Figgins pinch-hit and, shock of shocks, struck out to lower his average to .125.  I hope Ned Colletti gets rid of them.  Good riddance!

* Take away the first and last innings that Clayton Kershaw pitched, and he was fantastic.  The problem was that on a team that can barely score, any runs given up is magnified even more.  Pablo Sandoval's RBI double in the first made it 1-0, and after grabbing a 2-1 lead, a two-run shot by Brandon Hicks made it 3-2.  All in all, though, it was a good start with seven innings, three runs, no walks, and nine strikeouts.

* Even more surprising was a note brought up by Vin Scully during the game.  The home run by Hicks was off a Kershaw curveball, which makes that only the second time in Kershaw's CAREER that someone hit that pitch out of the park (Matt Holliday in the 2009 NLCS).  That's amazing.

* Every starter had a hit for the Dodgers, including Kershaw.  The problem?  An anemic 3-for-14 with RISP.  Turner was the worst one, as all four of his AB's were in this situation, and he only had one hit.  That's pathetic.

* On a positive note, Matt Kemp looked really good in center.  I counted two really good catches on a dive and over his shoulder, plus another sharp one on the run.  That's a great sign.  Of course, going 1-for-5 really is not.

* Yasiel Puig hit a home run and nobody got mad at him.  That might be a first.

The Dodgers and their 7-12 record at home welcome the Miami Marlins for three starting on Monday.  Unfortunately, that also means the magnificent Jose Fernandez on Wednesday, while Kershaw and Zack Greinke do not go.  They will this weekend in Arizona, so maybe that's for the better.

A tale of two games ends in a positive way

Let's sum up the Dodgers' offense on Saturday afternoon in Dodger Stadium:

Innings 1-5: Horrible

Innings 6-9: Fantastic

And, thankfully, the "Fantastic" won out over the "Horrible" as the Dodgers beat the Giants 6-2.  It's a good win, especially since Zack Greinke was on the mound following two straight 3-1 loses.  And with Clayton Kershaw taking the hill on Sunday, perhaps the Dodgers can get a split at home.  Perhaps.

The Dodgers played 24 innings on two-run ball entering the sixth inning on Saturday (Thursday's game lasted 10 innings, keep in mind).  All the offense could put together against Matt Cain in the first half of the game were singles by Dee Gordon and Adrian Gonzalez, walks by Chone Figgins and Grienke, and Hanley Ramirez getting plunked.  All of that added up to zero runs and more frustration.

Then the sixth inning came, and mercifully the Dodgers got some big hits.  No surprise, it all started when leadoff hitter Gordon walked and stole second.  Yasiel Puig got lucky when a pop up landed in between a couple of fielders for a hit, thought I'm sure it would've been an error in Texas (HA).  Ramirez still can't hit, so Cain gave him a bad walk to load 'em up.

The nasty Jeremy Affeldt came in and got A-Gon to bounce into a double play, but at least a run scored.  Matt Kemp is another player struggling mightily, but he found some room for an RBI single to tie the game.

Coming into this game, the Giants had a 1.75 ERA from the bullpen, clearly the best in baseball.  So, it was pretty surprising to see the lifeless Dodger offense get to them.  Hey, it had to happen sometime, right?  Two more runs in the seventh came on RBI doubles from Gordon and Puig, then two more in the eighth on a Kemp solo shot and sac-fly from Drew Butera.

After just two hits through five innings, the Dodgers got seven in the final three at-bats.  They're a streaky team, alright.  Maybe this means they can start back up a good streak.

Other thoughts from the game:

* I watched the pregame show on Fox Sports 1, and some of the focus was on Hanley's struggles, and if that means he won't get the extension he wants.  He only had one official AB in this one thanks to two walks and a HBP, but his average is just .252.  Right now opposing pitchers have no reason not to challenge him, as his bat has little pop in it. 

* Boy has A-Gon's average tumbled of late.  Back on May 1, he went 2-for-6 with a solo homer in the nightcap of a doubleheader in Minnesota, putting his average at .321.  Eight games later, it's now at .264.  Holy crap. 

* The two games I just mentioned above are the 3-4 hitters in the order.  Maybe it's a good sign that the they won despite their big guns not doing much.

* Hey, there was a Matt Kemp sighting!  He had two hits, including an RBI single and solo home run.  That's four hits in the last two games, so any little sign of life like that is a good thing.

* The true star was Gordon leading off, as he had two hits, a walk, two runs, and three more stolen bases.  His 24 swipes are far and away the best in the majors, with Jose Altuve's 13 coming in second.  Flash is playing like an All-Star right now.  Who would've guessed?

* Greinke had to throw a lot of pitches early, but like he always does, he settled down for another terrific start.  He pitched seven innings of two-run ball, striking out eight.  He's now at 6-1 with a 2.38 ERA and 1.15 WHIP.  Speaking of potential All-Stars, he's another one.

* This game could've gotten away in the eighth when Brian Wilson came in and loaded the bases on two singles and a walk.  Thank God Hunter Pence popped out to Butera behind the plate to get out of it.  Even with a four-run lead, Wilson should not be pitching in the eighth, as he was one hit away from turning this into a close game again.

As I mentioned before, it's Kershaw time on Sunday as he gets the Mother's Day start.  The resurgent Tim Hudson goes for the Giants, so it will be a great one to watch.

Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Puig's fire not enough in another dull night

At least Yasiel Puig is trying.

He's about the only guy on the entire team who tried to light any sort of fire into the Dodgers on Friday night.  He hit a solo homer, barked a bit with Madison Bumgarner, and made a couple of nice running catches near the line in right.

As for the rest of the team?  Not so much.

The Dodgers' offense again failed to get any sort of momentum going, as another left-handed starter completely overwhelmed them in a 3-1 loss to the Giants.  The Giants are now 10 games over .500 at 23-13, and are leading the third place Dodgers by 4 1/2 games in the NL West.

So, just how poor are the Dodgers against lefties?  Try dead last in all of baseball with a .211 average.  Yikes.  They also have the third most strikeouts at 98, which is another problem they've had all season versus any type of pitcher.  Slice it any way you want, the Dodgers are completely handcuffed by the southpaws.

Back to Puig, and it's nice to see SOMEONE trying to fire this team up.  That sure as hell didn't happen from Dee Gordon (0-for-4), Hanley Ramirez (0-for-4), and Adrian Gonzalez (0-for-4).  Add that all up, and I'm pretty sure that's 0-for-12.  Matt Kemp had a couple hits, both singles.  Scott Van Slyke got the start in left, but was also hitless.

I'm not sure what else to say other than this - the offense HAS to be much more productive and not be so damn boring.  It seems like they have to scratch and claw just to get one run pushed across the board.  They've dropped five of their last six, and have scored eight runs total in the losses.

In the one win?  Eight runs total. 

Other thoughts from the game:

* Paul Maholm wasn't so bad, and was one out away from his fourth straight quality start.  He's made six starts with a 4.76 ERA, but that's a bit skewed because his first start against the Giants didn't go so well (4 1/3 IP, 5 ER).  I don't think I've seen him hit 90 mph on the radar gun yet, but all things considered, I think the Dodgers should be pleased with his fill-in starts.

* And then there's Brandon League, who worked his way out of a bases loaded jam in the seventh by getting Hunter Pence to GIDP, and Buster Posey to fly to right.  League's ERA was lowered to 1.73 with two scoreless innings, best on the team behind Chris Withrow's 0.53.  Could League start pitching bigger innings again late in games?  Don't be surprised, and darn it all, he may have earned it.

* I still like Puig hitting in the #2 spot, but I wouldn't be against him hitting in the heart of the order if guys like Hanely and Kemp continue not to hit for any sort of power.  Hanley just looks like he has no idea right now, as he's down to .254 and only has three extra-base hits in 10 games in May.  Don Mattingly is still rolling with him at #3, but man, he needs to wake up.

* A-Gon is another guy struggling, as he's now in a 1-for-29 slump since hitting a solo homer in the seventh inning at Minnesota on May 1.  Ouch.  To show how well he started the season, he's still third in the NL in homers (9) and fourth in RBIs (26).  I haven't read anything about an injury, so let's hope it's just one of those tough stretches every player goes through.

* I have no idea why Chone Figgins is still on the team, as he's basically useless.  He pinch-hit and struck out.  Get rid of him!

After two straight 3-1 loses, the Dodgers will look to get one back on Saturday afternoon, as Zack Greinke takes on Matt Cain.  That lines up Clayton Kershaw for the Mother's Day start, so if the Dodgers are looking to get two wins, they have the guys on the mound to do it.

Now only if their offense can produce...

Friday, May 9, 2014

Extra innings have been unkind, but why?

After another extra-innings loss on Thursday night to the Giants 3-1, the Dodgers dropped to 3-6 in such games.  It's actually pretty amazing that of the 36 games played so far, nine have gone into "overtime."

So the simple question is, Why? 

Here's why: the bullpen ERA is 3.92 overall, but shoots up to 5.40 after the ninth inning.  The breakdown goes something like this:

Brandon League - 4 1/3 IP, 2.08 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, .333 AVG
Jamey Wright - 6 IP, 3.00 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, .286 AVG
Chris Perez - 2 IP, 9.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .333 AVG
J.P. Howell - 2 2/3 IP, 10.12 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, .231 AVG
Kenley Jansen - 1 2/3 IP, 10.80 ERA, 3.60 WHIP, .500 AVG

Simply put, those numbers range from a little taste of good to a whole lot of bad.

Even more surprising is the order in which this list appears.  I would think if you had these five guys as your choices before the season started, you would've had it flipped completely, as there's no way anyone would think League would have a better ERA than Jansen when the pressure is on.  But, that's certainly been the reality.

Look, the Dodgers just have to play better on both sides of the field if they want to breakout and stop treading water.  Better pitching in extra innings is just one part of it.  It's not like the offense lights it up either, as their .266 AVG is about in the middle of the pack.  That's not that great, but it's better than the poor pitching at least.

Then again, the Dodgers just need to go on a 42-8 run again.  That would solve plenty of problems.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Crawford makes us forget about the bullpen... sort of

* Carl Crawford hit a game-winning two-run homer in the 11th to beat the Marlins 9-7.

* Yasiel Puig hit an enormous three-run bomb measured at 452 feet, his longest as a pro.

* Dee Gordon went 5-for-6 to raise his average to .357, stole three bases, and made a great diving stop to boot.

* Matt Kemp had three hits with a double.

* Juan Uribe and Miguel Olivo each had two hits and two runs.

* Brandon League (yes, Brandon League) pitched two scoreless innings in relief to pick up the win.

(What I just did was list the positives in Saturday night's game.  Because the reality is the bullpen turned a 7-2 laugher into an extra-innings battle thanks to another frustrating night.)

The bottom line is that the Dodgers got the win, but on a night where Kenley Jansen was resting due to a heavy workload, the other guys who appeared at the end did absolutely nothing to give Don Mattingly confidence in resting Jansen again.  Talk about nearly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, or something like that.

It started with Brian Wilson, who took over in the seventh after Paul Maholm gave up three runs in six innings.  Wilson, quite frankly, sucked.  Any good vibes he had from three straight scoreless appearances was thrown out the window in this one, as Marcell Ozuna hit a three-run homer to cut the lead to 7-6.  J.P. Howell had to get out of the inning with the last out.

Chris Withrow wasn't a whole lot better, loading the bases in the eighth on two walks and a double.  He set himself up for some huge failure with Giancarlo Stanton at the plate, but two fastballs and a sharp breaking ball later, Stanton struck out.

OK, so at least the Dodgers were up 7-6 going into the bottom of the ninth, and even with Jansen unavailable, Chris Perez and his 1.35 ERA was.  You know, the former All-Star closer for the Indians.  All was good, right?  Wrong.

Perez coughed up the lead, and was lucky he didn't blow the game in the process.  He had to get two outs with the bases loaded just to send the game into extras.  Two hits and two walks were his undoing.

The final tally for the bullpen from innings 7-9: four runs, four hits, five walks.

And nearly an embarrassing loss.

The bullpen's 3.80 ERA puts them 10th in the National League.  That's not terrible, but certainly not very good either.  All things considered, it's a little below average.  And definitely not worth the millions upon millions of dollars that Ned Colletti threw at them to shutdown the final few innings.

I'll chalk up Wilson's and Perez's performances to rough nights, as they both still have sparkling ERAs.  Wilson, on the other hand, not so much.  As loyal as Mattingly is to him, and understandably so after how good he was last season, it's time to slide him down in the pecking order even more than he has been.  If he has trouble holding onto a five-run lead in the seventh, I'm not sure what he can do.

The Dodgers have to be exhausted after playing two long games in Minnesota on Thursday, flying right to Miami for a Friday game, and then 11 innings on Saturday.  Well, the offense has done the job for the most part, now the bullpen needs to step up and do theirs.  It seems like two steps forward, two steps back on a day-to-day basis.

With Hyun-Jin Ryu on the shelf, old friend Stephen Fife gets the call on Sunday afternoon in Miami.  His opponent?  Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez, who has not given up an earned run in three starts covering 23 innings.  Yikes.

Friday, May 2, 2014

If Kemp and Hanley don't hit, then forget it

The road weary Dodgers dropped the first game in Miami on Friday night 6-3.  It was only a 2-0 game heading into the bottom of the seventh when the Marlins scored four.  The Dodgers somewhat woke up with a few late runs, but it wasn't enough.

I'm not surprised about this result, as you can understand the Dodgers being tired from their long day in Minnesota on Thursday.  At least that resulted in two wins.

Regardless, even with the lack of sleep, one thing became more than obvious to me in watching this: the Dodgers are heading nowhere if Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez don't hit.  They can still win games, but you can forget about a World Series run.  That's how valuable they are.

Last season the Dodgers came withing two games of playing for a championship, and that was with Kemp on crutches and Ramirez practically useless from being beaned in the ribs during Game 1 of the NLCS.  So, the talent is obviously there from the guys around them to at least compete.

But, "compete" and "contend" are two different things.  In order to contend, these two guys should be right in the heart of the order doing damage.  Tonight Ramirez went 0-for-4, lowering his average 10 points to .261.  He's actually hit safely in 8 of his last 10 games, but is in a 3-for-18 slide after peaking at .280.

Kemp didn't start, but did pinch-hit against the left-handed Mike Dunn, who entered this game with a 6.17 ERA.  The result?  Kemp struck out with a runner on to end the eighth.  He now has 28 strikeouts in 24 games and is hitting .205.

Nearly a month ago, both of these guys hit two home runs in the same game on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball to beat the Giants.  It sure looked like at the time they were ready to go on a run.  That just hasn't happened.

So why hasn't it happened?  There could be a couple of reasons in particular.  You always have to start with the injury factor with these two.  Ramirez was beaned in the hand two weeks ago, and clearly hasn't been the same since then.  Kemp has an injured... everything, at least at some point or another.  I don't think either one will ever by 100% again, but maybe they're hurt worse than they're letting on right now.

The second issue, fair or not, is the contract situations.  Kemp has his, but ever since he extended a couple years back, it's been more time sitting and watching than playing MVP-type baseball.  Ramirez wants his, but the early lack of pop in his bat combined with mediocre defense at short leaves even the cash happy Dodgers a little leery of giving a huge extension.  Any player in his contract year feels the pressure, and Ramirez maybe even more so.

Perhaps the Dodgers only need one of these two to get hot, as they showed last season that winning the division and in the playoffs can be done that way.  However, just the mere thought of having two big bats in the lineup makes this team so much deadlier.  They've done it before, now we need to see if they can do it again.

Dodgers go from LOB City to HR City in doubleheader sweep

Normally, when a team leaves 16 men on base, it's not exactly a recipe for winning.

Then again, when that team is playing the Twins, maybe it can be.  And it was considering Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek weren't walking through that door.

By the time the long, long day was over, the Dodgers swept the Twins by scores of 9-4 and 4-3.  Basically, there were a whole lot of hits to win the first game, a whole bunch of guys left on base (LOB City, a nod to the Clippers) in the second game, but two big solo shots by Scott Van Slyke and Drew Butera to bail them out.

So, when it was all said and done, it was mission accomplished.

I said after the latest homestand that I was actually looking forward to the Dodgers hitting the road, as their play at home was lethargic to say the least.  Considering that they're now 11-3 away from Chavez Ravine, I guess I was right.  So I'll go ahead and pat myself on the back for being a baseball genius.

But seriously, no matter how sloppy it looked at times, especially in the nightcap, these wins are just what the Dodgers needed before heading off to warmer Miami this weekend.  And with the impending return of Clayton Kershaw, potentially on Monday, things are looking up again for the boys in blue.

Thoughts from both games:

* Yasiel Puig carried the load offensively in the first game, going 4-for-4 with a walk.  He was again hitting in the #2 hole, which is taking a page from the Tony LaRussa book of "power in the #2 spot."  I like it.

* Quietly, Juan Uribe is having a really good season at the plate.  He, too, had four hits in the first game, and followed that up with one more in the night game with three walks.  That put his numbers at a .327 AVG with a .353 OBP.  And let's not overlook his stellar play at third.

* OK, dare I say that Uribe is an All-Star this year?  That was absolute scariest thought a couple years back, but if he keeps hitting, I don't see why not.

* There were nine guys left on base in the first game, but it wasn't nearly as big of a deal since they went 5-for-12 with RISP.  There weren't any home runs, so it was a collection of one good hit after another to take control.

* Congrats to young Red Patterson for his solid Major League debut in the night game.  He went 4 2/3 innings for one run on two hits.  He had to throw a lot of pitches at 87, but that's not too surprising since I'm sure he was nervous.  It was great to see his parents and wife right next to the dugout, too.  Who knows if he'll get another start this year, but if this is it, it's a good one to hang his hat on, and something to build upon.

* The bullpen?  Mostly good, with a little bad at the end.  J.P. Howell and Chris Perez were very good in the first game, picking up a so-so start from Dan Haren.  Brian Wilson got an inning in the night game, and has now gone three scoreless innings in a row.  Kenley Jansen got the save, but it was certainly interesting.  Jamey Wright was very good in pitching three scoreless innings.

A tired Dodgers team will now take on the Marlins for three starting Friday.  At least they're weary with three straight wins, which is a lot better than the flip side.  Josh Beckett gets the ball.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Win #10,000 showcases the good and bad of the Dodgers

The Dodgers would have loved to have done this at home, but alas, it took until Wednesday night in Minnesota for a franchise landmark to be set.  Behind Zack Greinke's powerful pitching, the Dodgers beat the Twins 6-4, giving them win #10,000.  Which is pretty sweet, of course.

Coming off a flat 4-6 homestand, an off day on Monday, and a rainout on Tuesday, you can bet they were ready to go after sitting around so much.  And since Minnesota is really, really cold compared to comfy LA.

By the time this one was in the books, a little over three-and-a-half hours later, it was a microcosm for how this young season has gone so far.  Let's take a look:

The Good:
* Excellent starting pitching, this time by Greinke.  He tossed six innings, giving up only one unearned run and gathering seven strikeouts.  He actually wasn't as sharp as he normally is, but the Twins couldn't cash in on him.

* Runs scored in bunches.  The third inning brought back-to-back RBI singles by Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez.  Clinging to a 2-1 lead in the seventh, Andre Ethier delivered a two-out RBI double, and Juan Uribe scored two on a single to make it 5-1.

* Kenley Jansen closed the door for his 10th save, and sixth straight.  Six appearances ago, his ERA stood at 5.00, and now it's down to 3.14. 

The Bad:
* Shaky relief pitching.  After Greinke left in the seventh with 110 pitches thrown, J.P. Howell came in and let a couple runners reach.  Chris Withrow and Brian Wilson did very well after that, but the returning Paco Rodriguez got hit around for three runs in the ninth before Jansen had to put out the fire.  Jansen, by the way, has needed to do that way too much already this season.

* Not cashing in with runners on.  It happened more tonight, but early in the game, there were chances for more.  They left 11 on base, but thankfully scored five of their six runs with two outs to prevent it from looking worse.

* Bad defense.  There weren't any errors this game, but Greinke's unearned run was because of a passed ball from Drew Butera in the second.  The Dodgers have the second most errors in baseball at 28.

I will say that maybe you can't blame the Dodgers too much for being a little off since they were really cold and haven't played since Sunday.  But I did think it was interesting how the little things that went on in this game reflected their overall season pretty well.

On Thursday, the Dodgers and Twins will play two as part of a day-night doubleheader.  Dan Haren gets the ball in the first game.  Red Patterson will get called up as the "26th man" to start the night game.