Monday, June 30, 2014

How are the ex-Dodgers doing?

While the Dodgers are enjoying a 12 of 16 run that has surged them back into a tie for first place with the Giants, I thought I'd take some time to look at how some of the 2013 Dodgers are doing.  That is, those who have since moved onto different teams.  Here we go.

Ricky Nolasco, SP, Twins: 4-6, 5.74 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 69 K's in 95 2/3 IP
Wow, he's been a disaster.  He was very good for the most part with the Dodgers last season, giving them many quality starts over the second half.  Then he faded, and was barely heard from in the postseason.  Nonetheless, the Twins gave him four years and $49 to fix their awful rotation.  It hasn't worked.  Phil Hughes and Kyle Gibson have been pretty good, but Nolasco was brought in to lead that staff.  He looks like a huge waste of money right now.

Edinson Volquez, SP, Pirates: 6-6, 4.07 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 63 K's in 93 IP
I'm not sure what the Pirates expected out of him, but all things considered, he's been pretty decent.  Considering he has a career 4.69 ERA and 1.48 WHIP, his numbers this year look even better.  The Pirates lost A.J. Burnett to the Phillies after their great run last season, and the team as a whole is struggling to find their footing.  The thing with Volquez is that I'm not sure he can get any better than this.  A second half plunge wouldn't surprise me at all.

Chris Capuano, RP, (formerly of) Red Sox: 1-1, 1 HLD, 1 BLSV, 4.55 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 29 K's in 31 2/3 IP
The Red Sox tried to make Capuano their swingman, ala Paul Maholm with the Dodgers, but it didn't quite work.  He was designated for assignment on June 25 after getting shelled by the Mariners a couple days before.  He's certainly had his fair share of arm problems, and at 35, who knows if he has any chances left.

Ronald Belisario, RP, White Sox: 3-4, 8 SV, 6 HLD, 4 BLSV, 5.54 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 28 K's in 37 1/3 IP
Three days ago, Belisario was canned as White Sox closer after he was given a three-run cushion against the Blue Jays, but couldn't finish the job.  Maybe Robin Ventura has never walked to the other side of Camelback Ranch, because if he had, he'd have seen just how wild and unpredictable Belisario is.  There's no way he should've been a closer in the first place.  Ventura learned his lesson the hard way.

Javy Guerra, RP, White Sox: 0-0, 3 HLD, 1 BLSV, 2.40 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 16 K's in 15 IP
On the flip side, a pleasant surprise has been Guerra.  He spent the first couple of months in Triple-A and earned his way up in June.  Good for him, as his Dodgers' career ended with a thud, going from 21 saves and "closer of the future" in 2011 to barely existent thereafter.  Maybe he's found confidence again, who knows.  On a team like the White Sox full of horrible pitching, he's got a great chance in front of him, and so far, has made the most of it.

Carlos Marmol, RP, Reds: 0-3, 1 HLD, 1 BLSV, 8.10 ERA, 1.95 WHIP, 14 K's in 13 1/3 IP
It's been a tough road for Marmol this year, as the stats above all came with the Marlins before he was given his walking papers on May 19.  He was then signed to a minor league contract by the Reds about a week later, only to leave Triple-A without permission a couple weeks after that.  Weird stuff, but I think even he realizes he's at the end of the road.

Mark Ellis, 2B, Cardinals: .194 AVG, .276 OBP, 6 2B, 0 HR, 12 RBI, 4 SB
Ellis had a solid career with the Dodgers, but after the signing of Alex Guerrero, he was shown the door.  Guerrero hasn't emerged with the big club yet because he wasn't ready defensively, and has since had part of his ear bitten off by that nutcase Miguel Olivo.  Dee Gordon, however, has come on strong enough to be an All-Star candidate.  So, releasing Ellis was a smart move because Gordon is the everyday leadoff hitter, and Ellis is really struggling at the plate.  He'll never have big numbers, but the ones he has now are pretty bad.  It's hard not to like how hard the guy plays, but the bottom line is that he's just not producing.

Skip Schumaker, OF/2B, Reds: .242 AVG, .276 OBP, 6 2B, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 1 SB
Schumaker only played one season with the Dodgers, as he was a favorite of hitting coach Mark McGwire from their Cardinals days.  Like the Dodgers, the Reds have used him all over the outfield and at second base, making him the super utility guy.  His average continues to tumble, as this is the fourth straight year it's gone down.  But, like I said before, that's less of a concern because he's there to plug in holes when necessary.

Nick Punto, 2B/SS, A's: .235 AVG, .336 OBP, 5 2B, 0 HR, 10 RBI, 2 SB
Much like Schumaker, Punto is mostly there for his utility work, as he's appeared mostly at second and short, but also a little third and right field.  He's getting a pretty good amount of at-bats on a very good team, and thanks to 20 walks, has a decent OBP.  He appears to be well on his way to his fifth postseason in his career, and that experience is where he's truly most valuable, just like when he was a Dodger last year.

June was Kershaw's greatest month ever

It's hard to imagine Clayton Kershaw setting the bar even higher, but in the month of June, he did just that.

After his latest fantastic start, a 6-0 win over the Cardinals on Sunday, it's obvious that his six starts this month equated to his best one ever.  Here's a look at just how dominant he was:

6 GS, 6-0, 44 IP, 26 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 61 K, 0.82 ERA, .165 BAA, 28 straight scoreless IP

Filthy, just plain filthy.

I looked back at all of the other months in his career, and there's nothing quite like this.  The closest I could find was back in July of 2009.  Here's his numbers from that month:

6 GS, 3-0, 38 IP, 21 H, 3 ER, 18 BB, 34 K, 0.71 ERA, .167 BAA, 17 straight scoreless IP

That month was awesome, no doubt, but this June has actually topped it.  Two things stand out, and that's the K/BB ratio and consecutive scoreless innings.  And to think, his 28 scoreless is actually current, so it can still go way up.

Remember back on May 17 when the Diamondbacks absolutely lit him up?  He didn't even escape the second inning and gave up seven runs.  Since then, he's only given up seven runs in eight starts.  I'd say he made the proper adjustments.

How exactly has he done it?  It's been his breaking stuff.  In his no-hitter, 14 of his 15 strikeouts were on the benders.  Yesterday it was more of the same, as he featured mostly sliders with a few ridiculous curveballs mixed in just for fun.  And when in doubt, he still throws mid-90s gas when needed.

I pointed out a few posts ago how Kershaw has a great chance to start this year's All-Star Game.  He's got the numbers, the momentum, and the fact that he's never started one before despite two Cy Young Awards.  Plus, he'll be on his proper four days' rest, which is something National League manager Mike Matheny might like more than anything.

Kershaw's overall ERA is down to 2.04 with two starts left before the break.  Unfortunately, the next one comes in Coors Field, where the Rockies are hitting an insane .326 with 251 runs scored, both far and away tops in baseball.  I think they might be a bit fired up after getting humiliated by him, too.  Then it's home against the lowly Padres.

At the rate Kershaw's going, about the only thing that can slow him down is the mandatory days off during the break.  It gives the rest of the league a chance to breathe, at least.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Stellar D has the Dodgers thinking first place

There's a lot to like about the Dodgers right now.  Their starting pitching is second to none, the offense put up nine runs on Lance Lynn and the Cardinals on Saturday, and an 11-4 run has them one game in back of the Giants for tops in the NL West.

The biggest reason to be happy, especially for Don Mattingly, has been the much improved defense.  Simply put, it's been fantastic in June.

How good?  Try three errors in their 16 wins.  That's right, only three.  Of course, the most infamous one was Hanley Ramirez's wide throw of first, denying Clayton Kershaw a perfect game, but I digress.

Towards the end of May, Mattingly made a big point about improving the porous defense.  He sent Matt Kemp to left field after an absolutely horrendous performance against the Mets on May 22.  The next day, Kemp was on the bench, Andre Ethier was in center, and Kemp hasn't played anywhere but left field since. 

Three infielders deserve a lot of credit for the turnaround, and they're all bench players.  Justin Turner has played a little second and short, but mostly has filled in for Juan Uribe at third with only three errors in 35 games.  Miguel Rojas made a terrific play to keep Kershaw's no-hitter intact, and has one error in 52 total chances between second, short, and third.  Erisbel Arruebarrena hasn't played much, but was flawless in six games and showed off his gun of an arm.

That's not to mention the strong play Adrian Gonzalez (two errors) and Uribe (three errors), who have been very good at their positions for years.  Dee Gordon has seven errors, but has never played second until this year, and looks more comfortable there every game.  Hanley stinks at short, so he gets no love.

A pair of outfielders have been error-free all season in Yasiel Puig and Ethier.  Puig still have five assists from right field, despite teams not running on him nearly as much as last year.  Ethier continues to justify playing in center with no errors, as he has a great knack for taking the right path to the ball.  It's just natural to him.

Let's give Kemp credit, too.  Since he's gone to left, he has not committed an error.  His defensive WAR is pretty bad at -2.0, but like Gordon, gets a bit of a mulligan since it's a new position for him.  Just the fact that he's out there contributing and staying healthy is a great sign.

The bottom line is that better defense is only one piece of the puzzle in playing winning baseball, but it's a big one.  The pitching can be dominant, the offense can hit like crazy, but if the gloves can't pick it, then they wouldn't win as many games as they could.  The Dodgers are showing that doing their part on defense gives them plenty of more opportunities to win games.

That's why you might see the Dodgers tied for first at the end of Sunday, as Clayton Kershaw takes the hill.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Mistakes galore crush the Dodgers

One night after making every play possible to eek out a 1-0 win, the Dodgers went completely the other way on Friday night in a 3-1 loss to the Cardinals.  They ran into outs on the bases, messed up a deep fly ball to center, and got very frustrated with the home plate umpire.

The Cardinals, on the other hand, used some great defense to capitalize on the Dodgers' mistakes.  John Jay made a magnificent diving catch in dead center, taking away a sure RBI from Juan Uribe in the sixth.

I tweeted this during the game, but I really believe the Dodgers were lucky to be down just two after the gaffes they made.  Here's a look at what went wrong:

1) After the Dodgers took a 1-0 lead in the second, Miguel Rojas got thrown out at home trying to score on a passed ball.  There were runners on second and third with one out, and Carlos Martinez's pitch skipped away from Yadier Molina.  Rojas waited a second, and that's all the terrific Molina needed to flip the ball to Martinez covering the plate for the out.  That play was big, because instead of Yasiel Puig getting an RBI groundout right after, it was the final out of the inning.

2) A.J. Ellis lined a single to right in the fourth in which Allen Craig slid near the wall to cut off.  Ellis, not exactly the fasted guy in the stadium, tried to stretch it to second anyway.  He was nailed.

3) The biggest blow came in the fifth, as two runners were on for the Cardinals with one out.  To back up a second, Andre Ethier was given a night off after he kept fouling pitches off his right leg the night before.  That meant Scott Van Slyke started in center.  Sure enough, Jhonny Peralta hit a fly ball to right center that should've been caught.  For whatever reason, Van Slyke pulled up short, looked at Puig, then looked at the ball landing for a two-run double.  No doubt, it should've been caught, and that was the hit that the Cardinals needed to win.

4) Matt Kemp was nailed trying to swipe second to end the sixth.  Apparently he's never heard of Molina's record for throwing out pretty much everyone and their mothers.

I'm not even mentioning the two double plays they grounded into, as Adrian Gonzalez killed a rally to end the fifth, and Ellis finished the game with another.  Plus, Uribe flew out with the bases loaded to end the first.

I think you get the point that the Dodgers had any number of chances to get this win, but didn't.  You simply cannot make that many mistakes against a good ball club like the Cardinals and expect to win.  They made all the big plays on Thursday, but not Friday.  I guess it's no surprise they've split the first couple.

Other thoughts from the game:

* One guy who played very well was Dee Gordon, going 3-for-4 with an RBI single.  He would've had a stolen base off the great Molina in the fifth, but it was also ball four to Puig.  I was thinking during the game just how little Gordon was used in last year's postseason, but he's a legit main guy now.  Good for him.

* A-Gon had a good night with the glove, as he made a slick play getting a forceout at second off of a bunt.  But, his bat continues to let him down.  He's down to .251, as he's only hitting .198 in June.  Maybe we'll start to see Van Slyke and even Clint Robinson get some starts?  I wouldn't be opposed to it.

* Ryu deserved better fate, but that miscommunication by Van Slyke and Puig made his numbers look a little worse.  He finished with seven innings, nine hits, three runs, one walk, and seven strikeouts.  The good news was that I didn't think he had his best stuff at times, but still went deep.  This was the first time he's lasted at least seven innings in six starts, so that's a good sign.

* I think we all still don't appreciate just how good Uribe is at third.  He's got a quick glove and gun from the hot corner, and does it with ease.  I felt like he got robbed from a Gold Glove last year, and now he's trying to show everyone why.

* Van Slyke would like to forget this night.  He messed up the fly ball from Peralta, then got tossed later in the game arguing a called strike three between innings.  Not his finest night.

Even with the loss, the Dodgers have to feel good about their chances to grab both weekend games, as they have Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw all lined up.  The Cardinals send Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller to the bump, and they're no slouches themselves.  Add it all up, and it'll be two close games again.

Friday, June 27, 2014

NLCS preview? Sure looked that way Thursday night

The Dodgers and Cardinals put on quite the show Thursday night in Dodger Stadium, and only needed one run to do so.  A pinch-hit RBI single by Justin Turner in the eighth was the difference in the Dodgers' 1-0 victory.

As I watched Josh Beckett and Adam Wainwright battle, there's one thought that kept going through my mind: both teams are primed for an NLCS rematch.

Neither team is leading their division right now, as the Dodgers are two back of the Giants, and the Cardinals 5 1/2 of the Brewers.  But that doesn't stop me from picking both of them to eventually take over the NL West and Central, respectively.  The old saying of "The cream always rises to the top" definitely applies here.

There's a lot to like about both teams.  I'll start with the Dodgers since they're obviously my favorite, as I've written about them on this blog for the past seven seasons.  They have four legit aces in their rotation.  Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are #1's anywhere, and Beckett and Hyun-Jin Ryu could be on many other teams.

They have a superstar in Yasiel Puig, who's the definition of a five-tool player.  They have a closer in Kenley Jansen who is as nasty as there is in the game, at least when his mechanics are on.  They also have tons of cash to go get who they want, when they want.

The Cardinals apply "The Cardinal Way" to win every year.  They have an ace in Wainwright to go along with young stud arms in Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, and Shelby Miller.  They have a flamethrowing closer with 23 saves in Trevor Rosenthal.  They have the best catcher in baseball, Yadier Molina.  They also have three good Matts in Holliday, Carpenter, and Adams.  Allen Craig is also pretty darn good.

So ya, both teams can play.  That's why I was extra thrilled to see the Dodgers make the big plays to beat them on Thursday.

The night before, the Dodgers were in Kansas City, winning a 5-4 nailbiter in which Scott Van Slyke's snared a liner and flipped to second for the game ending DP.  It would have been easy to come home and lay an egg against an excellent pitcher like Wainwright the next night.

Well, they were getting no-hit entering the sixth, so it's not like the offense did all sorts of damage.  It took until the eighth for them to score, as Juan Uribe's leadoff single eventually scored the winning run.

What the offense can do is thank Beckett for being so good yet again.  They can also thank their own defense for keeping the Cardinals off the board.

First, let's look at Beckett.  He was simply sensational in tossing seven shutout innings, giving up four hits, walking two, and striking out four.  His ERA is down to 2.11, tied with Masahiro Tanaka for third in baseball.  He's a shoe-in for the All-Star Game now, and is officially all the way back from last year's arm problems.  What a job he has done.

The defense did the job as well.  Miguel Rojas turned a double play in the first, erasing Carpenter's leadoff single.  Then Matt Kemp flashed back to a few years ago by gunning down Allen Craig at the plate for the third out in the seventh.  Not even a challenge by Mike Matheny could change the call, as Kemp and Drew Butera did a great job in keeping the game scoreless.

If the Dodgers keep making big plays like that, then they should feel very good about the next three games.  Let's not forget that even with Ryu, Greinke, and Kershaw all lined up to go, the Cardinals won't give anything away and will be tough to beat no matter what.

Whether you're a Dodger or Cardinal fan, or just a baseball fan in general, these next three games will be great to watch.  Sit back and enjoy, because they'll probably do it all over again in October.  Hopefully with LA getting the home field advantage this time, of course.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Kershaw lined up perfectly for All-Star start

After Clayton Kershaw's latest gem on Tuesday, a 2-0 win over the Royals in which he hurled eight shutout innings, the talk of getting him his first All-Star Game start has only been intensified.

In keeping with recent All-Star tradition, I immediately took a look at how much rest he would be on if he was asked to start.  What I found is very encouraging to Dodger fans: if everything lines up over the next three weeks, Kershaw will make his final start before the break on Thursday, July 10 against the Padres.

That means the All-Star Game in Minnesota the following Tuesday will be on his normal four days' rest.  Perfect!

Kershaw is still a few innings away from all of his stats becoming official.  Right now, his 2.42 ERA would put him third in the National League, right ahead of teammate Josh Beckett.  His 94 strikeouts rank him 10th, and that's with roughly 30 innings less than the top pitchers like Stephen Strasburg and Johnny Cueto.

For comparison's sake, here's a look at other contenders to start the ASG, and what their rest would be the day of the game:

Johnny Cueto: 2 days
Adam Wainwright: 2 days
Julio Teheran: 1 days
Jeff Samardzija: 5 days
Tim Hudson: 4 days
Josh Beckett: 2 days

Keep in mind that rotations can easily be tweaked, so nothing is set in stone.  This is simply a look at how it would all play out according to the current layout of each team's rotation.

There have already been many great accomplishments in Kershaw's career, but one thing he has not achieved is ASG starter.  That's looking more and more like a possibility based on his recent run (21 straight scoreless innings, no-hitter), and because it would be a nod to his overall success so early in his career.

It will ultimately be Mike Matheny's decision, as the Cardinals skipper will be managing the NL.  But let's make it easy - start Kershaw, watch him throw two shutout innings, unleash the other strong arms on the AL, and get the home field advantage back to the NL for the World Series!  Make it happen!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Updated look at possible All-Stars

About a month ago I blogged about potential All-Star selections for the Dodgers.  With a little over three weeks to go until the game, here's my updated look at who I think has a chance to represent the Dodgers:


Yasiel Puig, OF.  He's currently leading the National League in outfield voting, and rightfully so.  A rough stretch in June has dipped his average to .317, but there's no denying he's the complete package this season and deserves to start.  I just hope he doesn't tear some arm ligaments trying to make some crazy throw.

Clayton Kershaw, SP.  The last time I discussed this subject, he was just coming back from his shoulder injury.  Then he reminded everyone just how good he is with a no-hitter against the Rockies in one of the most dominating pitching performances ever.  Currently at 7-2 with a 2.52 ERA and 0.92 WHIP, he's earned his way back in.

Dee Gordon, 2B.  While he's slipped to third in NL voting, he should be a backup to Chase Utley at second.  He's still tops in baseball with 39 steals, besting Billy Hamilton by 8.  And if you're beating Hamilton in that category, you must be doing something right.  His defense has been much-improved of late as well, so he'll be fine.

Josh Beckett, SP.  As if throwing a no-hitter against the Phillies wasn't convincing enough, then the fact that he's only getting better as the season wears on should be.  His 5-4 record doesn't come close to telling an accurate story of how good he's been.  Being third in the NL with a 2.28 ERA does, and his 1.02 WHIP is fourth.


Zack Greinke, SP.  I bumped him down a notch from last time for a couple of reasons.  One, he's been a little bit off in June with a 3.60 ERA in four starts.  Two, he's more victimized by Kershaw and Beckett, who've been better.  There's nothing against the rules of having three starting pitchers from the same team, and it can definitely happen here.  I think he will get in, as he's 9-3 with a 2.57 ERA and 1.16 WHIP.  Those are All-Star numbers when it's all said and done.

Kenley Jansen, RP.  The good news is that he's tied for second in the NL with 22 saves, three behind Francisco Rodriguez for the lead.  The bad news is that he's done that with a 4.26 ERA and 1.39 WHIP, hardly All-Star numbers.  And as you saw on Friday night against the lowly Padres, he gets hit around too much.  What could convince those making the choices are his saves and his NL-leading 53 strikeouts among relievers.  This one could go either way.

J.P. Howell, RP.  Since the All-Star "counts" now, I'll throw his name out there as a situational lefty.  He's tied for third in the NL with 17 holds, and owns a 1.61 ERA and 1.07 WHIP.  It's not uncommon anymore for middle relievers to get some All-Star love, just like Hong-Chih Kuo did back in 2010.  The only roadblock is Tony Watson of the Pirates has better numbers and is also a lefty, so we'll see what happens.

Hyun-Jin Ryu, SP.  A pure darkhorse candidate at this point since the NL is loaded with quality starting pitching.  He is 9-3 with a 3.06 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, so if some pitchers are hurt or ineligible because of not enough rest, Ryu's name could be floated out there as a replacement.

Names Added: Howell, Ryu
Names Bumped: Adrian Gonzalez, Juan Uribe

Sunday, June 22, 2014

It all could come down to the bullpen for the Dodgers

One night after Kenley Jansen's horrific blown save against the Padres, the Dodgers bounced right back behind seven shutout innings from Josh Beckett.  Saturday was a solid night, as Dee Gordon scored twice and stole his 39th base, Hanley Ramirez drove in two, and Justin Turner had two hits.  Jansen even got the save, regaining some momentum from the night before.

The Dodgers have been better in June with an 11-8 record, but one issue remains that could hold them back: the bullpen has got to get better.

The last two games in San Diego are the perfect example.  Friday night was just brutal to watch.  Dan Haren was pretty good, giving the Dodgers 5 2/3 innings for three runs.  J.P. Howell and Brandon League both got a couple of outs to get into the eighth up 5-3.

Before the season, if you were to be told that the Dodgers have a two-run lead heading into the eighth, you would've been happy since Brian Wilson and Jansen were coming in.  But reality has been much different than on paper, and both have underachieved.

Wilson was very fortunate to escape the eighth unharmed, as Scott Van Slyke, subbing for an injured Yasiel Puig, made a great running catch in right to prevent a run from being scored.

Then Jansen blew the save in the ninth, getting knocked all over the place, and raising his ERA from 3.72 to 4.55 in the process.

On Saturday night, the Dodgers found themselves up 4-0 heading into the bottom of the eighth.  Don Mattingly rightfully didn't put Wilson back in there, but Paul Maholm gave up a leadoff triple to Cameron Maybin, and a two-out walk to Seth Smith.  League came in and immediately let both runs score on two singles.  Thankfully Jansen was much better in closing it out the next inning.

Right now, the bullpen is clearly sticking out as the weak link.  The offense looks better with guys like Gordon, Hanley, and Matt Kemp swinging the bats better.  The defense has settled in, save for Hanley's error during Clayton Kershaw's (almost) perfect game.  The starting rotation has been superb all along.

Then there's the bullpen, which still can't seem to figure things out.  Ideally, Wilson should've been one of the top setup men in baseball, but that certainly hasn't been the case.  His ERA has actually gone way down to 5.33, but an enormous 1.89 WHIP shows that way too many men reach base against him.  He looks like he's ready to implode at any point again.

The guys behind him have been a mixed bag as well.  The best has been Howell with a 1.89 ERA and 16 holds.  League had a good stretch to lower his ERA to 2.21, but still doesn't look comfortable in tight situations late in games.  Chris Perez has been awful with a 5.61 ERA, and doesn't deserve any big innings at all.

Jamey Wright has been good with a 2.43 ERA, although his role is hard to figure out since he was supposed to be a long reliever.  Does Donny strictly keep him for that role, or use him as a setup man occasionally?  It's a tough call.  The other long reliever, Maholm, looks lost with a 5.04 ERA.  I wonder if he'll be sent packing.

Two guys relied upon for most of last year were Chris Withrow and Paco Rodriguez.  Well, Withrow is done for the year with Tommy John surgery, and Paco is in Triple-A.

Jansen is going through some tough times for the first time in his career.  He used to just show up, blow everyone away, then leave.  Now, it looks as if hitters are more comfortable against him, and know what to expect.  Supposedly there was a mechanical flaw that was being worked on after Friday's meltdown, so maybe that will work.  I still think he needs to mix his pitches up more as I've said for awhile now.  Mariano Rivera he is not, so throwing the same cutter over and over won't work all the time.  It's time to accept some change.

I definitely expect Ned Colletti to be active over the next month-and-a-half in acquiring relief help.  I can't imagine they can continue to watch games like these last two nights where the offense and starting pitching gets a lead, and they have to scratch and claw to hold on.  That's pretty frustrating.

For in-house replacements, there's guys down at Triple-A like Paco, Jose Dominguez, and Pedro Baez who could get another shot in LA.  Don't forget about those names.

The bottom line is that the Dodgers need to try something new with the 'pen.  Most guys haven't pulled their weight, so some fresh arms will only do them good.  We all know Colletti isn't afraid to pull the trigger on trades and roster moves, so keep an eye out for what happens.  It should be interesting.

Friday, June 20, 2014

At only 4 games back, Dodgers need to dominate the Padres

As the Dodgers wrap up their two-day celebration of Clayton Kershaw's historic no-hitter on Wednesday, they find themselves down a mere four games to the Giants in the NL West.  While the boys in blue have taken 8 of 11, the Giants have gone the opposite way, dropping five straight, and 8 of 9.

Simply put, now is the time to take care of business this weekend, and put more pressure on the Giants.  It all starts with taking apart the 31-42 Padres the next three games.

I don't care that both Kershaw and Zack Greinke aren't on the mound all weekend.  The Dodgers still have the clear pitching advantage in all three games with Dan Haren, Josh Beckett, and Hyun-Jin Ryu.  I don't think the names Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross, and Eric Stults should be enough to sway the advantage San Diego's way.

After being the ultimate one-win, one-loss team for the first two-and-a-half months of the season, the Dodgers finally have plenty of reasons to be excited about their recent play.  Kershaw and Beckett have thrown no-hitters.  Yasiel Puig is lined up to start the All-Star Game.  Dee Gordon leads baseball with 37 steals.  Matt Kemp is hitting .350 in June.

And through it all, the Dodgers have 22 wins on the road, better than all but the A's and Brewers.

Basically, the Dodgers seem to prefer their time away from home (except for Kershaw, who must like that Dodger Stadium mound).  I've said all season how they appear to play looser, and, quite frankly, better on the road.  Now that some of their guys are starting to figure things out, I wouldn't expect that to change at all against the lowly Pads.

Nobody will ever forget the Dodgers' history making run of 2013 in which they won 42 of 50 games.  That's not going to happen again, but they can still have a successful summer run and get back on top of the NL West.  It started last year around this time, and one year later, it's time to make their move again.

Plowing through a bad team like the Padres is a necessary step to get to where they want to be come October.  Get it done, boys.  First place is awaiting.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Indeed, Kershaw's no-no may have been the best pitched game EVER

Let me throw some stats out at you.  After Clayton Kershaw's historic no-hitter last night against the Rockies, the talk then turned to just how dominating his start really was.

Turns out, very dominating.  Very, VERY dominating.

Here's a look at how Kershaw's start ranks among the best pitched games ever according to Game Score, with all credit going to ESPN:

Kerry Wood, Cubs, 1998: 105 (1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 20 SO)
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers, 2014: 102 (0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 15 SO)
Matt Cain, Giants: 2012: 101 (0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 14 SO)
Nolan Ryan, Rangers, 1991: 101 (0 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 16 SO)
Sandy Koufax, Dodgers, 1965: 101 (0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 14 SO)
Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays, 2010: 100 (1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 17 SO)
Randy Johnson, D-backs, 2004: 100 (0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 13 SO)
Curt Schilling, D-backs, 2002: 100 (1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 17 SO)
Nolan Ryan, Angels, 1973: 100 (0 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 17 SO)
Nolan Ryan, Angels, 1972: 100 (1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 16 SO)
Warren Spahn, Braves, 1960: 100 (0 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 15 SO)


That was my first reaction after seeing those numbers.  I knew Kershaw was good, but I had no idea just how good this start really was until I saw that.

I remember I was in high school when Kerry Wood absolutely went off on the Astros in 1998 for his 20-K game.  And that Astros team was loaded, too, with Craig Biggio, Derek Bell, Jeff Bagwell, and Moises Alou.  Only an infield hit by little known Ricky Gutierrez prevented the perfect game.

So that leads us to Kershaw on Wednesday night.  While Wood's Game Score was higher at 105, which happens to be the highest of all-time, the thing Kershaw has going for him is that he didn't allow a hit.  In fact, take away a seventh inning error by Hanley Ramirez on a badly thrown ball to first, it would've been a perfect game.  For all intents and purposes, it was a perfect game.

Obviously, even I would have to admit that what Wood did was harder, simply because he had more strikeouts against a much tougher lineup.  About the only guy Kershaw had to really worry about was Troy Tulowitzki, who went 0-for-3 and is still hitting .356, best in baseball.  Plus, for as good as the Rockies hit at home (.330, far and away the best in baseball), they are a lowly .237 away from home.

The bottom line?  Again, Wood gave up a hit, and Kershaw did not.  And THAT is why Kershaw can lay claim to not just the best no-hitter ever, but tossing the BEST game anyone has ever seen.

Ultimately, even advanced stats such as Game Score will never give a definitive answer on who was better than whom.  Baseball fans can weigh all of the factors and judge for themselves.  That's what makes a good old fashion debate on "best ever" fun.

All that matters is that no hits, no walks, and 15 strikeouts has catapulted the two-time Cy Young Award winner into the history books... again. 

At 26 years old, the best might still be yet to come.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

I think we've seen the last of Billingsley with the Dodgers

Tough news, again, for Chad Billingsley on Monday, as he learned that he'll have to undergo season-ending surgery on his right elbow.  He tore the flexor tendon, so he'll be on the shelf for three months, start throwing in December, then should be good to go for Spring Training.

The team he'll be with in Spring Training most likely will not be the Dodgers.

Right now he's finishing out the final year of a three-year, $35 million deal he signed prior to the 2012 season.  Next year the Dodgers will either exercise a club option to pay him $14 million, or buy him out for $3 million.

Considering how the last three years have gone, I would be shocked to see the Dodgers bring him back for that kind of money, even with billionaires running the club.  Here's his numbers over the duration of his three-year deal:

2012: 25 starts, 10-9, 3.55 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 128 K's in 149 2/3 innings
2013: 2 starts, 1-0, 3.00 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 6 K's in 12 innings
2014: Nothing

I remember when both Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw were young, powerful pitchers coming through the Dodgers' organization back around 2006 or so, and at the time, it was Billingsley who looked like the ace of the staff.  He had an electric arm, and the knock on Kershaw at the time was that he was a bit too erratic.

Well, two Cy Young Awards later, it's certainly Kershaw who's done the better of the two.  Then again, Kershaw has outperformed pretty much everybody, so that's a tough comparison.  Still, Billingsley was often his own worst enemy, as he would look fantastic for five innings, then hit a wall and get drilled in the sixth.  He usually found ways to get the job done with a career 3.55 ERA, but a 1.36 WHIP is a bit high and shows how many runners reached base off of him.

You can never have enough starting pitching, something the Dodgers know more than any other team with the way they cycle through injuries.  With that said, about the only way I can see Billingsley coming back is if the club buys him out, they reach a new deal for a lot less money, and he's given a chance to show how healthy his arm is in Spring Training of 2015.

Do I think that will happen?  Nope.  I think the Dodgers are at a point where they see a combination of a pitcher who was slowly starting to slip, plus a now long list of injuries.  They can certainly afford to sign other pitchers who are healthier, and that's the route I believe they will take.

I wish nothing but the best to Billingsley in his surgery next Tuesday and recovery as he fights his way back into the Majors.  I just don't think it will be with the Dodgers.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dodgers in no rush to extend Hanley... if at all

Before this season started, it seemed like an absolute certainty that Hanley Ramirez would get a monster contract extension to stay with the Dodgers.  When he would ink it was the question.

Now, the question isn't so much if he'll ink it, it's if he'll even sign one at all.

Ten days ago Hanley told FOX Sports' John Morosi that there are no current discussions about extending his contract.  On that day, he went 0-for-3 to lower his average to .257 in 4-1 loss to the White Sox.

And there's the problem - Hanley's not hitting, and the Dodgers aren't winning.  Not exactly a recipe for rushing out and handing over millions of dollars to someone.

On the season, he's hitting .255 with a .345 OBP, 10 homers, 38 RBIs, and 8 stolen bases.  Among his fellow National League shortstops, here's how he ranks in each of those categories, respectfully: 5th (tied), 3rd, 3rd (tied), 3rd, and 4th.

Not bad, but here's how he ranked in those same numbers last season: tied for 2nd in homers, 5th in RBIs, and 6th in steals.  He did not receive enough at-bats to qualify for the batting race, but taking that away, his .345 AVG and .402 OBP would've ranked him first in both categories by a long shot.

In other words, he was really good.  He only played in roughly half of the games, and wasn't much of a running threat like in the past, but boy could he hit the ball.

Now we're in 2014, and this guy clearly isn't the same.  His power numbers aren't too bad, but the ball just isn't leaving his bat with the same amount of force and drive as in the past.  That's evident by his 5.4 WAR last season, and 1.2 this year.

And then there's the issue of his defense.  Let's just say that he's never been known as the slickest guy with the glove, but he did have a 0.3 Defensive WAR last season, so at least it was in the positive after three straight years in the negative.  This year?  Back to the negative with a -0.8.

Look, Hanley is no dummy.  He looks around his club and sees the bloated contracts from guys like Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez, and Matt Kemp, and he knows he should be right up there with them based on his past numbers.  The Dodgers lead baseball with a nearly $239 million payroll, about $30 million more than the second place Yankees.  Hanley knows he should get his.

However, I have to give the Dodgers credit for taking the cautious route with this.  The guy they see on the field right now is too banged up, too weak with the glove, and too inconsistent at the plate to warrant a lot more years and a lot more money tied up in future payrolls.  At some point, enough is enough, and it appears as if the Dodgers are at least looking out for tomorrow instead of just today for a change.

For Hanley, the biggest step isn't so much just being on the field, but being PRODUCTIVE on the field.  And that comes with playing at full health.  We all saw how much time he missed last season, but when he was healthy and playing, he was at an MVP level.  This year he's played in 63 of the team's 68 games, but looks to be about 50% of his normal health.  And it shows.

I'm sure he's trying to gut it out and show everyone that he's not just an injury prone player who can't be counted on.  But, I think it would do him a lot of good to spend some time on the DL just to make sure his nagging injuries (shoulder, ribs, hamstring) have time to heal.  Then he can come back at full strength, or at least close to it, and be the great player that he's capable of being.

I think it's safe to say that there won't be any contract extension during the season.  That's the right call to make, as Hanley needs to show he's the superstar he claims to be before the Dodgers really commit to him.  I can see this back-and-forth going well into the offseason as well.

With the All-Star break a month away and less than 100 games left in the season, the success of Hanley will be a much talked about news item the rest of the way.  I just hope it's for the positive, not the negative.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Dodgers may have a tough decision with A-Gon

Adrian Gonzalez is currently the starting first baseman for the National League in the All-Star Game.  The latest voting results have him ahead of Paul Goldschmidt.

Yet, after another 0-for-4 day dropped his average to .246, he is heading towards one of his worst seasons ever. 

And with that, despite all of the talk about the outfield and a possible extension of Hanley Ramirez, the Dodgers might just have to move on from A-Gon sooner than they think.

Right now, Gonzalez is signed through the 2018 season, earning around $21 million each year until then.  He's already been to the All-Star Game four times, with this year possibly being a fifth if he holds on (though I fully expect Goldschmidt to overtake him).  He's also won three Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger in 2011.

The year couldn't have started off any better, as I even wrote about how he was looking like a Padre again after a red hot April in which he hit .337 with 8 doubles, 8 homers, and 23 RBIs.  He was flat out raking and a constant in the heart of the order.

Boy oh boy have things changed since then.  In May hit .231 with 3 doubles, 4 homers, and 13 RBIs.  Currently in June, he's at a pathetic .114 with 3 doubles, no homers, and 2 RBIs.  Add it all up, and his good vibes from early in the season have disappeared to a .246 average.  He's even gotten some at-bats in the #5 spot, a surprising sight considering how often he's been the cleanup hitter.

His biggest issue has been strikeouts.  He had 20 in April, but made up for it with all of the big hits.  He then had 14 in May, and in less than half the month of June gone, has 14 already.  Believe it or not, he's actually not the worst on the team at this, as he can thank Matt Kemp and his 60 K's for making his 53 look pretty small.

So those are his hitting issues.  The other issue is his defense.  I mentioned before how he's won three Gold Gloves in his career, which were all more than deserved.  If you're a big believer in Defensive WAR, then his -0.3 this season puts him in the red for the first time since 2010.  His Ultimate Zone Rating was a whopping 18.3 in 2012, then dropped to 5.7 last year, and is now a 1.0. 

Even though he only has two errors this season, that's a pretty steep decline.  And while nobody should call him a "bad" defensive player by any means, he's not what he once was.

And that's where the Dodgers will have a decision to make in the near future.  He's a slugger who is more likely to do a slow walk back to the dugout than trot around the bases anymore.  He's not consistent enough to be the cleanup hitter at this point.  And now, even his defense has taken a step back.  At 32 with a history of shoulder problems, it's easy to be concerned.

I'm starting to seriously wonder if the Dodgers will have any confidence in him in the future.  At what point do they not simply think he's in a slump, and is instead a guy on the downside of his career?  Do they think he will cut down on his strikeouts and at least be respectable against lefties (.162 AVG)?  Do they think his defense will get a little worse and worse, making him somewhat of a liability at first?  Or, do they feel like they have to stick with him because he's still owed over $100 million?

All of those questions are fair and realistic to ask at this point.  Gonzalez has had a great career, and a subpar season doesn't take away from that.  But, the numbers across the board are alarming enough to at least warrant the conversation about his future with the Dodgers.  Stick with him because of the money, and hope he can turn it around?  Or, eat a bunch of that cash, and move on?

If the last month-and-a-half is any indication, it's starting to look more and more like the latter.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hanley embracing the 2-hole

The Dodgers took care of the Reds on Monday night 6-2, the same night the Kings took a commanding 3-0 lead over the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final.  Scott Van Slyke was awesome with two homers, and Jonathan Quick was even better with one spectacular save after another.  Not a bad night!

The win makes three of four for the Dodgers, who desperately are trying to find any sort of consistency to make a run at the Giants.  One move that's been made by Don Mattingly to do just that was moving Hanley Ramirez to the #2 spot in the lineup four games ago.  So far, it's been working.  Let's take a look at the numbers:

Dodgers 7, Rockies 2: 2-for-4, BB, 2 RBI, 2 SB
Rockies 5, Dodgers 4 (10 inn.): 0-for-3, 2 BB, SB
Dodgers 6, Rockies 1 (6 inn.): 1-for-2, HR, BB, 2 R, RBI
Dodgers 6, Reds 2: 1-for-4
Totals: 4-for-13, HR, 4 BB, 2 R, 3 RBI, 3 SB

It's not like those numbers are going to wow you, as he still is hitting only .192 in June.  But, his OBP has gone up to .385, as evidenced by his four walks of late.  He's keeping it simple - swing at strikes, don't swing at balls, and let the guys behind him hit him in.

I never thought I'd be writing about Hanley hitting #2, as he's best suited at #3 or #4 if he's on.  But, that's the problem right there - he hasn't been on.  In fact, he's looked anything but "on" this season.  Give him credit for accepting another spot in the order that's less likely to drive in runs.

Combined with Dee Gordon hitting leadoff and Yasiel Puig in the #3 spot, I think the lineup at the top is finally starting to settle in.  Maybe the guys behind him are as well.  Matt Kemp is hitting much better in June, and Van Slyke showed how good he can be if given the chance like Monday.  The only guy who still stinks is Adrian Gonzalez, who looks as lost as ever.  There's a guy who needs to slide down in the lineup, not stay at cleanup.

Even though Hanley has played much better in the #2 spot, I would think if he really does find his swing, then he'll be back in the cleanup spot over time, with Puig staying at #3.  For now, it's fun to watch Hanley show his complete game of hitting and running at the top of the lineup.  I'm not sure how much longer it'll last, but it's fun while it does.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Another Dodger clunker, and the beat goes on

Two injuries.  A late blown lead.  10 men left on base.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014 Los Angeles Dodgers.

Despite a huge three-run homer from Tim Federowicz of all people, the Dodgers let one slip away in 10 innings by falling to the Rockies 5-4.  There were a bunch of things that went wrong, which seems to be the trademark of this team.  Let's take a look:

1) Dee Gordon and Yasiel Puig both left the game with hip injuries.  Gordon left in the fourth after saying that he woke up Saturday feeling sore, and it just never went away.  Puig slid hard into second base on an Adrian Gonzalez double play ball (shocker, I know), and was clearly in discomfort.  Chone Figgins and Scott Van Slyke were the replacements.

The only good news is that neither player seemed to think it was serious, and they both were in the dugout watching the rest of the game after receiving treatment.  Don Mattingly said he doesn't think either will miss much time.  Then again, he said the same thing about 50 times last year for Matt Kemp, and that guy went on the DL over and over.  So take what Donny says with a grain of salt.

2) A one-run lead in the seventh went POOF.  Federowicz, who's toggled back and forth between LA and Albuquerque, and who hasn't hit a home run since last September 18 in Arizona, needed all of one pitch to give the Dodgers a 4-3 lead in the seventh.  It was the type of hit that a struggling team looking to turn things around desperately needs.

But in the end, it didn't matter.

Zack Greinke wasn't his sharpest, and as his pitch count was piling up and Daniel Stubbs was on second from an infield hit and throwing error by Justin Turner, Mattingly left him in to face Chris Dickerson.  It didn't work, as Dickerson's RBI single to center erased the lead.

Three innings later, Brandon Barnes' RBI triple off the top of the wall in center finished off the Dodgers.  Chris Perez, the former closer who was given $2.3 million to put up a zero in this type of situation, failed to get the job done.  Again.

3) 10 men were left on base, including 2-for-9 with RISP.  It's the same old story with the bats.  They might show some signs of life, but end up on the short end when it's all said and done.  They had 10 hits, but Hanley Ramirez went 0-for-3 with two walks, and Gonzalez had a horrible 0-for-5.

The low point came in the eighth, right after the Rockies tied the game at four.  Kemp had a good game, and he tripled leading off, showing some great fire in the process.  What did the Dodgers do with it?  A groundout by Andre Ethier, a groundout by Turner, and a groundout by Federowicz.  That's right - zero balls even left the infield.  At that point, I'm not sure the Dodgers even deserved to win if they can't execute in that spot.  It was pathetic.

None of this is surprising at all.  The Dodgers haven't had a winning streak or losing streak of more than three games all season.  So one night after Hyun-Jin Ryu's great start led the way to a 7-2 victory, the Dodgers take a step back again on Saturday.

And now, not only do the Dodgers still have to search for ways to play more consistently, now they have to worry about possibly DL'ing Puig and Gordon.  It doesn't look like they'll have to, but as Charlie, Orel, and Nomar pointed out during the broadcast, you almost have to consider putting one of them on for roster purposes.  Hopefully it won't come to that.

The good news for Sunday is that Clayton Kershaw is on the mound, and you know the competitiveness in him will want to get the win for his club.  The bad news is that it's still Coors Field, and in 13 career starts there, he has a 5.24 ERA.  Plus, let's not sleep on Jorge De La Rosa, who put up a 1.93 ERA in five May starts.  He's a lot better than people realize.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Taking a look at the starting 5

As Zack Greinke gets ready to take on the evils of Coors Field looking for his NL-leading ninth win, a place where Hyun-Jin Ryu conquered last night in a 6-2 victory, let's take a look at how the rotation as a whole has been performing.  It's not often I get to say everyone's healthy, so let's hope it lasts longer than like a week or two.

Clayton Kershaw: 4-2, 43 1/3 IP, 3.32 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 55 K, 7 BB
Keep in mind the reigning Cy Young Award winner was on the shelf for six weeks with a back injury, so his innings will obviously be down.  Also keep in mind that he's built such a high standard for himself, anytime he gets even somewhat touched up, it's a surprise.

With all of that said, he's still trying to find his groove after making only seven starts.  Last year through seven starts he had a 1.66 ERA, and in 2012 it was 2.56.  The major difference is that an injury this year completely disrupted his rhythm.  He did pitch eight innings of two-run ball his last start, and if his curveball can be thrown with more snap, and he locates his fastball better, he'll be back to dominant.  If there's anyone you can trust to figure things out, it's Clayton Kershaw.

Zack Greinke: 8-2, 72 IP, 2.50 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 83 K, 16 BB
The guy who stepped up in Kershaw's absence was undoubtedly Greinke, although that's no surprise at all.  He's a #1 on just about every other staff in baseball.  He recently snapped his 20+ straight start streak of two or less earned runs, and has actually given up seven runs in his last two starts.

Still, if that's the worst thing that's happened, then it's hard to be picky about his results.  To go that many starts in a row without giving up even three runs is just amazing.  It was also very quietly done, as the Dodgers get headlines for all sorts of other reasons, good and bad.  If there's one area he can make a slight improvement in, it's that his K/BB ratio in his last six starts (37/10) has been a little worse than his first six starts (46/6).  Yes, it's hardly worth mentioning, but when this guy's control is on, 99% of the time he gets a win.

Hyun-Jin Ryu: 7-2, 64 1/3 IP, 3.08 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 53 K, 14 BB
Another guy who spent some time on the DL was Ryu, as he was gone for nearly a month with shoulder inflammation.  He actually has some pretty crazy splits, as he has a 6.15 ERA at home, but a minuscule 0.95 ERA on the road.  If the Dodgers get back into the postseason, you can bet Don Mattingly won't be afraid to have him pitch on the road.

His numbers are nearly identical to last year's, with slightly better K/BB ration, but a few more hits allowed as well.  However, you know his home ERA will only get better, so it's hard to find a better #3 starter in baseball.  Last year his home ERA was 2.32, so get ready to see more great starts out of him in the middle of the rotation.

Josh Beckett: 3-3, 66 2/3 IP, 2.57 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 63 K, 23 BB
You already know how great of a season Beckett's been having based on his no-hitter on the Sunday before Memorial Day in Philly.  Who in the world would've ever guessed he'd be the one to throw the season's first (and so far, only) no-hitter?  I doubt he even would've thought that.

There's no denying just how big of a season he's been having.  He's eighth in the NL in ERA.  Of his 11 starts, only three times has he given up more than two runs.  Oh ya, did I mention he no-hit the Phillies?  All of this has resulted in a more crafty, intelligent pitcher who's using his changing speeds and control to get the job done.  I would expect his ERA to be somewhere in the 3s when it's all said and done, but even if it does, that means he's still having a great season.

Dan Haren: 5-4, 74 2/3 IP, 3.50 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 52 K, 12 BB
On the surface, the #5 starter with a 3.50 ERA is something any manager would gladly take.    He came out of five April starts at 3-0 with a 2.03 ERA.  Plus, he only got better down the stretch in Washington last year, so things were definitely looking up.

Well, life hasn't been so good since then.  He certainly hasn't been getting bombed, as the most runs he's given up has been four on two different occasions.  The biggest problem has been the long ball, as he's surrendered seven in his last four starts.  I don't think anyone expected him to pitch like a Cy Young contender, but with his ERA going up in six of his last seven starts, there's definite concern about how he'll hold up over the summer.  Chad Billingsley could be right around the corner ready to take his spot.  We shall see.

Overall Impressions:
I don't care how poorly the offense has performed, anytime you see the names Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu at the top of the rotation, you like your chances to win.  The encouraging thing is that Kershaw and Ryu are only getting stronger the more starts they get after injuries, and Greinke looks like an ace 9 times out of 10. 

As I mentioned before, I think it will be real interesting to see where Billingsley fits into all of this once he's declared good to go.  He has stated his desire to be a starter, and who can blame him?  Save for a few bullpen appearances when he was younger, he's been starting games his whole big league career.  Right now it looks like Haren is the one would should be most nervous since his numbers have gotten a little worse and worse.  Do the Dodgers put both Haren and Paul Maholm in the bullpen as long relievers and see what they have in Billingsley starting games?  It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to have three long relievers (Jamey Wright is the other one), so something has to give.

We'll wait and see how that all plays out.  In the meantime, if the Dodgers can ever get guys like Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp on track, then this rotation will rack up more wins as the summer months heat up.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Maybe Crawford is more valuable than we thought

When I Googled the phrase "Absence makes the heart grow fonder," here is what came up:

"The lack of something increases the desire for it."

When it comes to the Dodgers these days, that can mean a whole lot of things.  Shaky bullpen.  Stars who aren't producing.  An overall lack of run support.

So, who's the one absent that we're missing?  Indeed, it's Carl Crawford.

Crawford went on the DL a week ago after badly turning his ankle chasing down a ball in the left field corner.  In his place as the new left fielder has been Matt Kemp.

Has it worked?  Nope, not at all.  Kemp's 4-for-28 (.143) with 10 strikeouts since then.  He looks absolutely lost at the plate, and just in general for that matter.  That's one reason the Dodgers miss Crawford.

The other reason has been the guy at the leadoff spot, Dee Gordon.  While Gordon is far and away the league leader in stolen bases at 34, 12 ahead of Billy Hamilton, he has been on a free fall at the plate for quite awhile now.

After going 5-for-6 in a win over the Marlins on May 3, his average stood at .357 with a .387 OBP, both fantastic numbers.  Since then... yuck.  After last night's 0-for-4 game, his numbers dropped to .275 and .324.  I'm stating the obvious here, but those are hardly numbers worthy for the leadoff spot.

The problem is that Don Mattingly really doesn't have any other options to hit first.  Chone Figgins when he starts at third?  Maybe, but it's not that appealing.  Andre Ethier?  Seems like a bit of a stretch, and he's not that type of player.  Yasiel Puig can hit anywhere, but considering he's the only one driving in runs these days, he has to hit #3 or #4.

That brings me back to Crawford.  If he's healthy, there's no doubt in my mind he's hitting leadoff again, while Gordon gets dropped to #2 or towards the bottom.  Crawford isn't the same type of player as he was in his Tampa Bay days, but he's more than capable of handling the leadoff role, if even just temporarily.  But we'll have to wait another week or so to see if it happens.

There's no doubt that Crawford is way overpaid at this point in his career, as $21 million a year is nowhere near what his true skills are anymore.  But, after an absolutely brutal month of April that saw him hit .191, he was hitting .333 in May before getting hurt, and showed some great defense in left when Ethier moved to center.  He's turned things around when it was looking pretty bleak.

And with that, Dodger fan should welcome Crawford back with open arms.  They really do miss his bat and glove, and haven't been able to compensate for it in a week.  Let's hope the fact that he took batting practice a couple days ago is a positive sign that he won't be out much longer.

The Dodgers can certainly use him.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Dodgers still searching for offensive consistency

What's the best way to follow up a season high, 12-run explosion?

Apparently by not coming anywhere close to doing it again the next night.

That was the story of the Dodgers on Sunday night, as they were held to a three runs in a 5-3 loss to the Pirates.  That handed the Bucs three of four in Dodger Stadium, a place where the Dodgers don't seem to like playing at a whole lot with a 12-17 record.

Zack Greinke was not his normal self, scuffling through six innings of four-run ball.  Andrew McCutchen just owned him with a long double and an even longer 435-foot solo homer.

Despite all of that, the biggest culprit, once again, was the sorry offense.  Not even the sight of washed up Edinson Volquez could make them put more runs on the board.

Let's take a look at this four-game set.  First we'll toss away Saturday's outburst.  The other three games (all loses), saw them score 3, 1, and 3 runs.  That's about 2.3 runs a game, which makes it hard to beat anyone, even with the great starting pitching.

If you're looking for positive signs from the offense, it's that they somehow scored 139 runs in May, good for third in baseball.  The problem is that their runs have come at a pretty uneven rate.  Take a look at the last week in May (25-31).  They scored 6, 4, 6, 3, 3, 1, and 12 runs.  And then yesterday it was back down to 3 runs.  It seems like the second they start showing consistency, they then trend the opposite way.

Obviously, it will be hard to win if some of the big guns don't contribute.  I've covered this ad nauseam, but here I go again.  One day after Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, and Matt Kemp combined to go 9-for-12 with 8 RBIs, they go 1-for-10 with no RBIs.  Lo and behold, one day is an easy win, the next day a close loss.

Right now the Dodgers' offense looks like Yasiel Puig and a bunch of other guys not pulling their weight.  Here's my evidence to back that up, looking at Puig and the three others I just mentioned in the month of May:

Puig: .398, 8 HR, 25 RBI
Kemp: .266, 1 HR, 7 RBI
Ramirez: .255, 6 HR, 21 RBI
Gonzalez: .231, 4 HR, 13 RBI

About the only positives, other than Puig, are the high power totals from Hanley, and some decent pop from A-Gon.  Kemp... well he hasn't done a damn thing, other than bury a hole for himself deeper and deeper each plate appearance.

One other guy who's cooled off, maybe a bit under the radar, has been Dee Gordon.  He was awesome in April by hitting .333, but that went way down in May to .244.  In fact, he's only had one multi-hit game in his last 19.  That's not exactly getting it done from the leadoff spot.

What Don Mattingly has to hope will happen is a couple of things.  One, that Puig will continue to lead the way with his bat and not cool down drastically.  Even if he slows down a little, he's still having a great year.  Two, that the other four guys I mentioned just plain get more hits.  Turning it on and off one game to the next gets them to right about where they are, hovering around .500.

With the starting rotation finally healthy, it's time the offense backs them up some.  Getting more guys on base will only help.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The NLDS Hanley makes a return

The Dodgers scored early and often against the Pirates on Saturday night, got strong appearances from Hyun-Jin Ryu and Jamey Wright, and MAYBE got the benefit of a few calls (maybe).  It all resulted in a 12-2 win, snapping a three-game skid.

But, the biggest story of the night was the guy hitting in the cleanup spot.  That was Hanley Ramirez, and a 4-for-4 night with two home runs put him back on the map for the time being.

It's no secret - the Dodgers are a heck of a lot better when HanRam is swinging the bat and mashing the ball.  Two games ago he was hitting .245 and looked to be about as lifeless as one could be.  In only two games that average has shot up to .265.  Of his six hits, two were homers, one was a double, and he's gathered six RBIs (five last night).

All I kept thinking about while watching this game was that this is the version of Hanley we haven't seen since last year's NLDS against the Braves.  In those four games, he hit .500 with four doubles, a triple, a homer, four runs, and six RBIs.  Quite simply, he was unstoppable.  Of course, it would've been nice if he wasn't drilled in the ribs in Game 1 of the NLCS, as he only had two hits that whole series and clearly wasn't the same player.

Fast forward to 2014, and it hasn't been a fun ride to say the least.  His defense at short has been so poor that it's been suggested he slide back over to third while Juan Uribe is healing his hamstring injury.  The Dodgers could probably live with his mediocrity at short if his bat was doing damage, but up until last night, it hasn't.  Sure, he's had a couple of three hit games, including one where he hit two homers against the Giants on April 6.  But this season has mostly been a disappointment of one little groundout after another.

What got him going on Saturday night were a couple of hard hit grounder that found room for RBI singles.  It was a little lucky, but he'll take it.  After that, it was a couple of 412-foot bombs (strangely measured the same exact distance, which seems a little hard to do...) that showed everyone just how good he can be.

If you're Don Mattingly, you keep hitting him at cleanup and hope for the best.  It was in June of last year when the Dodgers started to get healthy and play a little bit better before taking off in July.  A healthy, confident Hanley can be that guy to lead the way again.

Other thoughts from the game:

* If you're wondering how in the world Jamey Wright can pick up a save in a game where his team jumped up 11-1 after four innings, it's because he went the final three innings in relief.  Even I'm not positive what the exact rule is, but I guess no matter what the score, three innings out of the bullpen to finish out a win is a save.  So hey, he'll take it.

* The other guy who DESPERATELY needed to get going was Matt Kemp, and he did by going 2-for-4 with two RBIs.  He also found some luck like Hanley with hard hit grounders that found spots.  He came into this game in a pathetic 0-for-20 slump, so any hit will be a welcome sight.

* Ryu picked up the win with six innings of two-run ball.  He gave up 10 hits, which is high, but didn't walk anybody.  It's probably a little weird pitching in a game where he's up by so much, because let's face it, it rarely happens.  He pitches with leads, but not that big.  He improved to 6-2 with a 3.09 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.

* All in all, it was a season high in runs scored.  Considering they dropped the first couple of games against the Pirates with four runs total, they have to be very happy about this.

Zack Greinke leads the National League with eight wins, so he'll look to increase that by one on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball.  He'll be taking on old friend Edinson Volquez, who made a few starts with the Dodgers last year to so-so results.