Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bad relief, bad replay review, bad loss for the Dodgers

Monday night's game in Arizona was the definition of "an adventure."  One that didn't end well at all for the road team.

Despite having leads of 4-0 and 6-4, a combination of some horrific bullpen work and an even worse replay review gave the Diamondbacks a 10-6 win.

Let's take a look at all of it:

* Mike Bolsinger cruised through four innings, allowing three hits and striking out four.  Unfortunately for him, and for the Dodgers as a whole, he had to leave with flu-like symptoms.  It seemed like a struggle to even get any innings out of him.  He took a no-decision, but lowered his ERA to 2.76.

* That leads us to the work of the bullpen, which was absolutely, positively, ATROCIOUS.  Six straight relievers followed Bolsinger, none of which lasted more than an inning, and each allowed at least two runners to reach.  Joel Peralta, Yimi Garcia, and Juan Nicasio were each charged with two runs.  Pedro Baez was horrific with four runs.  Adam Liberatore and J.P. Howell, the only lefties in the 'pen, could not get any big outs.

* Total it all up, and the six relievers allowed 10 runs in six innings of work.  They also gave up 10 hits, walked five, and surrendered two home runs.  Oh, and two double steals as well, which was embarrassing.  I can't believe just a couple of days ago I was singing their praises.  They are who they are, and that's a terrible bullpen.  Bottom line.  It's once again their downfall this season.  What a shame.

* Despite all of that, the tone of the game I believe was at least somewhat set in the first.  Diamondbacks' starter Allen Webster literally could not find the strike zone, walking both Joc Pederson and Howie Kendrick before beaning Justin Turner.  Adrian Gonzalez went to 2-0, and for God knows what reason, swung away on the next pitch.  Horrible idea, as he grounded into a double play.  The guy is slower than a 3rd grader, so he's the last person who should do something like that.  Just terrible execution, and wasted what could have been a monster inning.

* Now let's talk replay review.  Before this game, I wasn't big on the complaints that the boys in New York were protecting their fellow umpires on the field, but I do now.  In the sixth, Yasmany Tomas hit a laser to left that a fan (a Dodger fan, actually) reached over the wall to interfere with.  The call on the field was home run, and Don Mattingly challenged it.  It was a clear, obvious call of interference, and the runners should have been sent back to the field.  So of course what is clear and obvious to someone with an IQ of at least 3 is not to the IDIOTS at MLB.  The home run stood, and I haven't stopped shaking my head since.

It was a crazy game, as you can see.  About the only thing that went well outside of Bolsinger's four innings were the three home runs hit by Andre Ethier, Yasmani Grandal, and Joc Pederson.  None of them came with runners on base, and the team ended up going 1-for-8 with RISP.  In other words, they once again could only do damage with the long ball.

Needless to say, the Dodgers came crashing back to Earth after taking two of three in Miami this past weekend, as their road record continues to suffer at 16-22.  The replay stuff they can't do anything about, only to hope that the system as a whole gets a complete overhaul.  The bullpen and hitting with runners on base they certainly can control.  If they have any dreams of leaving a dent in the postseason, that's stuff they absolutely have to get better at.

And considering that Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke both are not pitching in this series, get ready to see a whole lot more from the crappy bullpen.  Gee, I can't wait...

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Move Joc out, and move Puig into the leadoff spot

There's a lot to love about Joc Pederson.  From his mammoth home runs to tracking down fly balls all over the outfield, he's certainly an exciting guy to watch play.

I just happen to not like watching him strikeout to start every game.  I doubt I'm the only one.

As good as Joc is and will continue to be, hitting him in the leadoff spot needs to stop.  Now.

Let's check out the numbers.  He's started 46 games in the leadoff spot, and is putting together this line: .231 AVG, .357 OBP, 14 HR, 24 RBI, 30 BB, 60 K.  If you're someone who can live with the strikeouts in exchange for all of the longballs, then he's your guy.

But a deeper look into his stats leading off tells a different story.  When he's leading off an inning, as in only the at-bats when he's up first no matter what inning the game is in, here's how he looks: 14-for-83, .169 AVG, .296 OBP, 4 HR, 4 RBI, 13 BB, 38 K.

Not nearly as impressive.

The last three games in Miami (two wins), Joc has done the following leading off the game: struck out looking, struck out swinging, and struck out swinging.  The Dodgers scored seven runs on Friday, then put up two runs apiece the next two games.  I'm not at all saying that Joc is solely responsible for the offense flattening out over the weekend, but he's not helping it either.  When you're starting each game with the leadoff hitter walking back to the dugout after strike three, it's not exactly setting the right tone.

So what's my solution?  Well, it's definitely not putting Jimmy Rollins back in the leadoff spot, as he barely deserves to even be starting anymore.  I'm not that crazy.

However, I would suggest putting another "power" guy in that slot: Yasiel Puig.

Here's the thing with Puig - we're still waiting for more power from him.  (That's why I just referred to him as being a "power" guy in quotes.)  In 30 games this year, he has three homers.  After the All-Star break last year (and after he pulled an O'fer in the Home Run Derby), he hit four homers in 215 at-bats.

Maybe he'll be a big home run hitter someday, but that day isn't right now.

I would put Puig in the first spot, where he's not nearly as susceptible to striking out (20 in 29 games) as Joc is (89 in 75).  Plus, Puig is hitting .360 (9-for-25) when leading off an inning, so the Dodgers will gladly take that.

Joc can then slide down to hit somewhere in the heart of the order, which can be anywhere from 3-5.  Maybe he'll be more comfortable there, as he clearly hasn't looked good swinging and missing over and over leading off.

The offense as a whole is still not scoring much, as it seems like the second they have a good couple of games or so, they go right back to barely scoring a thing right after.  Tweaking the lineup a bit can only help, and this is where I would begin.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Dare I say the Dodgers' bullpen is putting it all together?

If the past week is any indication, then the answer is an emphatic "YES."

After Brett Anderson dazzled with 10 strikeouts in seven innings of one-run ball, Adam Liberatore and the returning Pedro Baez each struck out the side in the last two innings, and the Dodgers cruised to a 7-1 win in Miami.  It helped that the Marlins looked completely incompetent at times, and that their big superstar Giancarlo Stanton broke a bone in his left hand during the game.  But the Dodgers looked really good nonetheless.

We all know the book on beating the Dodgers: get their starter out of there early enough to attack their middle relief.  If you can't do that, then forget about it, because Kenley Jansen is as good as it gets at the end of the game.  For much of the season, the Dodgers looked helpless at times in getting the ball to Jansen.

Maybe that's finally turning around, as over the last seven days, the bullpen has been nearly flawless.  Yimi Garcia, J.P. Howell, Matt West, Juan Nicasio, and Jansen have all pitched at least a couple of innings without being scored on.  Baez made his return on Friday and was perfect, blowing away the three Marlins he faced.

Liberatore has bounced back from a rough start in June to lower his ERA to 2.82.  Joel Peralta is also back, and has two straight scoreless appearances.

Add it all up, and for the first time in quite awhile, the Dodgers have to be feeling good about their options in innings 6-8.  There's been so many moving parts this year that it's hard to pinpoint the exact roles for each, but here's what I would do if I'm Don Mattingly:

6th - 8th Innings: Garcia, Howell, Nicasio
8th Inning: Liberatore, Peralta, Baez
9th Inning: Jansen (duh)

I'll leave Liberatore in the late-inning role right now only for matchups.  Peralta was brought in to be that setup guy, but as long as Baez throws that hard and effectively as he showed Friday night, he deserves some chances as well. 

Nicasio was never meant to be playing such a big role, but much to his credit, he's been fantastic with a 1.78 ERA.  I think he'd be good as a bridge in the earlier innings to the setup and closer.  That can easily change if the other guys flop.

The bullpen has been maligned at various points this year, but if you're looking at the bottom line, it's that they're third in the NL in ERA (2.96) and K's (236), and second in BAA (.219).  That's pretty darn good. 

With healthier arms now, those numbers could get even better soon.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Dodgers getting everything they can out of Bolsinger

Let's give Mike Bolsinger lots of credit here: there were never any expectations for him in the 2015 season.  He was merely an additional arm brought in from the Diamondbacks to possibly make some spot starts.

Instead, season-ending injuries to Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy have thrust him right into the rotation, and through 10 games, he's responded very well: 4-2, 2.95 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 55 K's in 58 IP.

Wednesday night was his latest start, and he held the Cubs to two runs over 4 2/3 innings, just missing going the required five innings to pick up the win in the Dodgers' 5-2 victory.  He literally was a Kris Bryant walk away from getting through five.  But who the heck can blame him for walking that guy, right?

The obvious question is how long Bolsinger can keep up such a good pace, especially considering in nine starts last year with the D-Backs, he went 1-6 with a 5.50 ERA and 1.59 WHIP.  He's a much better pitcher now, but probably not THAT much better to have a sub-3.00 ERA and a 1.3 WAR.

Andrew Friedman has made no secret of the fact that he wants to upgrade the starting pitching, and rightfully so.  Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke anchor the top two spots, and even if Kershaw is having home run problems, you still feel great about rolling those two out in the first two games of any series.  Brett Anderson has held up so far (3-4, 3.29, 1.33), but we all know that it's a huge IF that he can continue to make his scheduled starts without breaking down.

That brings us to the back end of the rotation, where Carlos Frias and Bolsinger have combined to make 20 starts.  Frias hasn't been as good, going 4-5 with a 4.68 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, but his major problem is that he's either brilliant or completely horrible.  At least some of his starts have given the Dodgers a chance to win.

In watching the ESPN broadcast on Wednesday, they made a big deal about Bolsinger's inability to get hitters out after he gets through the order once.  His BAA actually skyrockets after two times through, and with that in mind, Don Mattingly had no choice but to yank him in the fifth inning at 87 pitches.  That's a pretty big concern going forward.

At 40-33, the Dodgers have played 45% of their games with basically 40% of their rotation being out (McCarthy only made four starts before being shelved).  Even though the offense has gone into a huge dry spell in June, when you look at this team in-depth, it's no wonder why they want to get more starting pitching in the fold.  Relying on Anderson, Bolsinger, and Frias over and over isn't the most realistic way of winning a division in the long run.

With all of that said, Bolsinger still deserves a ton of credit for positing the numbers he has, despite some flaws.  A regression in the future might, and probably will, happen, but that doesn't change the fact that he's stepped up big time when the Dodgers needed him to fill lots of inning.  Good for him.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dodgers continue to be a mess at the plate

Remember when the Dodgers busted out for 10 runs against Tim Lincecum and the Giants on Sunday?

Mirage.  It was all a giant mirage.

Things are right back to normal - that is, the Dodgers have scored two runs in two games since then, both big, fat L's.  Simply put, they are just not capable of putting up runs to support their pitching.

The result on Monday night was a 4-2 loss in which Clayton Kershaw gave up a couple of gopher balls to the Cubs.  And on Tuesday, it was an even more frustrating 1-0 loss in 10 innings, completely spoiling six innings of shutout ball from Zack Greinke.

Raise your hand if you're shocked that Greinke received zero run support.  That's right, no hands raised.  The guy hasn't won since May 5, and in nine starts since then, he's give up 12 runs (five in one start in Colorado).  The Dodgers have scored two runs or less in seven of those starts.

If that isn't a completely embarrassing stat for the offense to chew on, then I don't know what is.

As Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles points out, the Dodgers are pretty much stuck with who they have right now.  Hector Olivera, their heralded prospect, is on the seven-day DL with a left hamstring strain.  Nothing major, it would appear, but enough to delay his arrival to the big leagues.  Corey Seager is other big dog down on the farm, but he's hitting .282 at Triple-A, and the Dodgers understandably would like to see a little more from him before rushing him up.

So, there's not a lot of guys to turn to.  They're stuck with what they've got.

Here's the funniest stat about the month of June: the leading hitter for the Dodgers is Kershaw at .364.  In third is A.J. Ellis at .357.  In fifth is Scott Schebler (remember him?) at .333.  Obviously, we're talking really small sample sizes, as Kershaw has 11 at-bats, Ellis 14, and Schebler 3.  But it's very symbolic for just how lousy this team has been.

Adrian Gonzalez has fallen off a cliff at .241 in June.  He'll have the occasional game where he drives in a few runs, but is very easy to get him out in most of them.  Joc Pederson still connects on some taters, but when he's not, his .227 average this month reflects his struggles.  Jimmy Rollins is pathetic at .221 in June, and .207 overall.  He looks about as washed up at the plate as one can possibly look.

If there's any hope, it's that patient Dodger fans (and it's getting tougher and tougher to stay that way) will remember the start of the season and how red hot they were.  It was the same cast of characters playing then as they are now.  Carl Crawford is about the only guy who is not, but he's not much of an impact player nowadays anyway.

The Dodgers still have two games left in Chicago before moving onto the Marlins and Diamondbacks to wrap up the 10-game roadie.  About the only pitcher left whom they should be concerned about is Jon Lester, but even he's struggled some this year at 4-5 with a 3.80 ERA (not terrible numbers, but like Kershaw, not close to what he's capable of).  The rest are a bunch of names only die-hard baseball fans would be familiar with.

The schedule then gets very favorable with a 10-game homestand before the All-Star break against the Mets, Phillies, and Brewers.

At this point, though, the Dodgers simply aren't good enough to count on wins against anybody.  Their offense won't allow that to happen.  Until they do, we have to keep watching games where they have to grind out everything.  That's not going away.

Monday, June 22, 2015

If you're going to break out of a slump, then do it BIG

That's exactly what the Dodgers did on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, pounding Tim Lincecum into his earliest submission ever, and getting a rare win over the Giants 10-2.

So basically, the whole country got to see the Dodgers at their best.  Nevermind that they could barely scrap together more than a run or two for the better part of June; on Sunday night, they looked terrific.

Maybe the Dodgers are a very good "mistake" hitting team, meaning that they take full advantage of the opposing pitcher's flubs.  Such was the case on Sunday, as Lincecum spun one lousy curveball after another, and the Dodgers did not miss.

It all started in the first inning when Justin Turner scored on a wild pitch.  I'm talking a pitch that was so wild, catcher Andrew Susac stood absolutely no chance of snagging a ball thrown clear over his head.

The second was when the most damage occurred.  Yasmani Grandal did something a lot of other lefties should do - he bunted against the shift, and easily made it to first.  Jimmy Rollins followed with a single, and both men advanced on Brett Anderson's sacrifice bunt.

That's when the floodgates opened, as Yasiel Puig put together an excellent at-bat that ended with a two-run single up the middle.  After Joc Pederson scored one on a double and Turner gathered an RBI single, Lincecum exited for the shortest start in his career.

Up 5-0, it was time to have some fun, and the Dodgers followed with four solo homers: two by Grandal, and one apiece from Adrian Gonzalez and Turner.  They were feeling that good, and it showed.

I'm not much of a Curt Schilling fan (he's a glory hog for the most part), but one thing I completely agreed with was his analysis of getting a big win on getaway day.  The Dodgers are off to Wrigley Field for four starting Monday, so with a late-night flight after the Giants game, they had to be feeling really good.  Couple that with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke going the first two games, and they feel even better.

What does all of this mean?  Well, most importantly, they increased their lead over the Giants in the NL West to 1 1/2 games.  No matter how pitiful they've looked for much of June, the bottom line is that they're in first.

It also means that maybe they've gathered some momentum for a 10-game road trip, starting with a Cubs team that is seven games over .500, yet seven games in back of the Cardinals in the NL Central.  That is one tough division.

Finally, it hopefully means their bats have woken up again, and they're ready to improve on their lousy 12-18 road record.  I don't expect them to be 22-18 by the time they're done playing the Cubs, Marlins, and Diamondbacks.  I would hope they'd at least split them, if not picking up six wins.  Considering Kershaw and Greinke each go twice, I think that's a realistic goal to have.

The 10-game roadie is followed up by 10 straight at home to finish the break, and that's when the schedule gets very favorable.  They play the two worst teams in baseball in the Phillies and Brewers, and start with the Mets for three.  Not a bad way to enter the All-Star break, right?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

These are the days the Dodgers miss Hanley, Kemp, and Dee

Dee Gordon: .352 AVG, .373 OBP, 14 2B, 2 3B, 17 RBI, 23 SB
Hanley Ramirez: .273 AVG, .319 OBP, 5 2B, 14 HR, 36 RBI
Matt Kemp: .248 AVG, .287 OBP, 14 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 35 RBI, 7 SB

Those are the big guns the Dodgers gave up this past offseason, replaced in the batting order by guys like Howie Kendrick, Yasmani Grandal, and Jimmy Rollins.

How's it working out?  If these last three weeks are any indication, then the answer is "Not very well."

Before the season even started, I made mention of the Dodgers' new approach to offense in that they wanted to be "deeper" and not rely on a couple of names to do all of the damage.  On May 22, they stood at 22-10 after an 11-1 shellacking of the Marlins.  Things were looking good.

Now, they're still in first place in the NL West at 38-31, but are barely holding on.  Their offense, once so vaunted up and down the order, is practically on life support.

Yes, the Dodgers definitely miss the threesome they let walk in Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, and Dee Gordon.

That's not to say their departures will leave a negative impact at the end of the season, but the Dodgers sure wish they had Dee's speed, Hanley's power, and Kemp's ability to put it all together when he's feeling good.  That was the risk Andrew Friedman took when he got rid of them, and right now, they miss them.

Of the three, Gordon is the one enjoying the most success.  He's first in the NL with hits at 101, a whopping 14 more than Paul Goldschmidt.  He's second in both stolen bases (23) and batting average (.352).  All he heard when he was traded was that last year was probably his peak, but so far, he's shutting everyone up.

The Dodgers have tried Rollins, Joc Pederson, and Yasiel Puig as leadoff hitters this year.  Well, Rollins terrible no matter where he hits, so that obviously hasn't worked.  Pederson and Puig are certainly impact hitters, but not in the leadoff spot.  Simply put, the Dodgers have yet to find a true leadoff hitter.  They certainly could use Gordon there.

Ramirez has only been one part of a disappointing Red Sox team, but the Dodgers could certainly use his 14 homers and 36 RBIs, which would put him second on the team to Pederson and Adrian Gonzalez, respectively.  Even in a "down" year for him, he'd still be near the top of the leaderboard in LA.

The one who's struggled the most away from LA is Kemp, who's been healthy, but has yet to bust out in San Diego.  He's been basically a singles hitter for much of the season.  If you know anything about him, however, it's that he gets hot as the season wears on.  For proof, take a peak at his splits between the first and second half of last season.  He's hit two homers in his last five games, so there's signs he's waking up.

With the way the Dodgers have been playing, there's no doubt they'd love to etch in a lineup that has Kemp in left and Hanley at short.  Dee is the only tough call, as Kendrick has played very well for the most part.  The tough part is that this team desperately needs a solid leadoff hitter, and that's what Dee has provided.  Who knows how it'll shake out in the long run, but right now, Dee at the top of the lineup looks pretty good.

When you look at the batting averages in June, you start to miss those three guys even more: Gonzalez (.211), Pederson (.234), Grandal (.232), Rollins (.200), and Ethier (.210).  Chris Heisey hit .176, but he's already been sent down, thankfully.  He was terrible.  The other guys don't look a whole lot better.  It's a lot of swings, a lot of misses, and a lot of weak little outs.  It's been that painful to watch.

Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, and Dee Gordon won't be walking through that door, unless their teams visit Dodger Stadium.  It's time for the guys on the team to step up and play with much more aggressiveness at the plate.  It's also time to get rid of the dead weight and bring up Hector Olivera and Corey Seager.

Or, we can all continue to watch this team be outplayed night after night because their offense is pathetic.

Friday, June 19, 2015

In a perfect world, here's the perfect Dodgers' roster

Suppose I was given the power to ignore all of the contracts, all of the options (who still can be optioned and who's already run out of them), and was able to piece together the perfect 25-man roster for the Dodgers based on their current Major and Minor Leaguers.

Here's my best shot at it...

C - Yasmani Grandal
1B - Adrian Gonzalez
2B - Howie Kendrick
SS - Corey Seager
3B - Hector Olivera
LF - Alex Guerrero
CF - Joc Pederson
RF - Yasiel Puig

Bench - Austin Barnes (C), Scott Van Slyke (OF), Andre Ethier (OF), Justin Turner (3B), Jimmy Rollins (SS)

SP - Clayton Kershaw
SP - Zack Greinke
SP - Brett Anderson
SP - Mike Bolsinger
SP - Scott Baker

RP - Kenley Jansen (Closer)
RP - Carlos Frias (Long Relief)
RP - Joel Peralta
RP - Pedro Baez
RP - J.P. Howell
RP - Juan Nicasio
RP - Paco Rodriguez

Keep an eye on - Brandon Beachy (SP), Brandon League (RP), Zach Lee (SP), Darnell Sweeney (2B)

Rationale for Offense. I've mostly had it with watching the following list of people stink it up every game: Chris Heisey, Kike Hernandez, A.J. Ellis, and Alberto Callaspo.  OK, so Callaspo is actually hitting .282 with a .378 OBP, but the guy is a singles hitter and nothing more, so he's pretty easy to defend.  Heisey is hitting .154, Ellis .175, and Kike .257.  Enough of them, it's time to move on.

Yes, Rollins has been absolutely embarrassing at the plate this year hitting .200.  I would only keep him as a late-inning defensive replacement, as he still plays a very slick short.  That is the ONLY reason I'd keep him around.  He might have a great clubhouse presence (or so we all keep being told about...), but it's his glove that keep him around, nothing more.

At some point, the Dodgers have to stop hoping their offense turns around with the same group of guys, and instead do something about it.  Bringing up Olivera and Seager is a start, and putting Guerrero in left and Barnes as the backup catcher is smart as well.  Those guys have the numbers and need a chance.

Rationale for Pitching.  Injuries have played a big part in the constant switching of names this year.  Right now, Peralta, Baez, and Paco are working their way back to the active roster.  Beachy and League are as well, but they seem a little bit further away.

I would give Scott Baker a shot at being the fifth starter.  In 10 starts at Triple-A, he's 5-3 with a 3.88 ERA and an excellent 1.01 WHIP.  He's only allowed two longballs in 60 1/3 innings.  Yes, this is the same guy who's made 172 starts in his MLB career, mostly with the Twins.  He's worth a shot.  Frias has done a pretty good job filling in, but I'd feature him more as a long reliever since teams are hitting .305 against him.

Names I definitely DO NOT want to see around anymore are Chris Hatcher and Yimi Garcia.  They cannot getting hitters out consistently to say the least.  Josh Ravin needs more seasoning down on the farm.  Daniel Coulombe looks like he has some pretty horrendous stats no matter where he pitches - Majors, Minors, or even Little League if he had to do that.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Dodgers hardly look like a first place team right now

Another night, another loss to the Rangers.

And a whole lot of frustration.

Frustration from Clayton Kershaw, who slammed his glove in the dugout after giving up a 439-foot bomb to young Joey Gallo.  Frustration from the offense, which was abysmal in leaving 10 men on base.  Frustration from the bullpen, which saw Josh Ravin give up another homer in a close game.

Frustration, frustration, frustration.  That's about the only consistent thing with the Dodgers right now after a 5-3 loss to the Rangers.

They're 37-29, good for first place in the NL West.  That's the good news.  The bad news is that they've fallen apart this month, getting practically nothing from their offense, even less from their middle relief, and currently on a three-game slide.

Yesterday, I broke down the offense and middle relief, and nothing has changed after Wednesday's game.  Well, Clayton Kershaw got hit around in between striking out 10, but it was obvious he wasn't on top of his game.  I can't blame him too much, though - the pitching has to be nearly perfect just to pick up a win with this damn offense.

The Dodgers definitely rely on Kershaw way too much as it is.  It's probably no different than when King Felix pitches for the Mariners or Madison Bumgarner for the Giants.  The expectations are sky high, so when they mess up, it's like there's no recovering from it.

Kershaw has definitely been more human this year, as he's been much better lately, but you get the feeling he's still searching for his best stuff.  Even with a mediocre 5-4 record, he still has a 3.29 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 122 K's in 93 IP.  The nine homers allowed, though, already matches last season, and is two away from 2013.  There's his biggest problem.

With all of that said, it hardly matters what Kershaw did when the offense continues to be a giant letdown time and time again.  Take the first couple of innings on Wednesday.  Yasiel Puig doubles leading off the first, then Chris Heisey walks.  Nothing came of it.  Then the returning Scott Van Slyke doubled leading off the second, and A.J. Ellis walked with an out.  Again, nothing came of it.

About the only signs of life came in the sixth when Van Slyke hit a two-run homer, and Alex Guerrero hit for Kershaw and came through with an RBI single.  But, more men were left on, which God forbid one inning comes and goes without that happening.  Joc Pederson pinch-hit with two on and one out and struck out for the millionth time.  Adrian Gonzalez grounded out to end it.

Then Ravin gave up a solo homer to Prince Fielder in the ninth.  Granted, it was a "Dodger Stadium" homer that barely got over the small left field fence, but still.  Two nights in a row with another middle reliever failing miserably.

Don Mattingly rolled out a lineup that included Chris Heisey, Kike Hernandez, and Ellis.  Not included were Andre Ethier, Jimmy Rollins, and Pederson.  Once again, the rationale was to matchup righties vs. lefties.  Once again, it made no difference whatsoever.  I don't have a big problem resting guys, but enough of Kike and Ellis getting starts.  They should be late inning options if anything, not guys in a starting lineup with Kershaw on the mound.  It's just ridiculous.

Then again, if Rollins could hit anything and Pederson could stop striking out so damn much, changes wouldn't need to be made.

The bottom line is that the Dodgers absolutely cannot drop ANOTHER game to the Rangers tonight before playing the Giants at home this weekend.  That would be so embarrassing.  If they want to be a first place team for long, they need to step up, show more fire, and play like a contending team.

Anything less would mean more of the same.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Dodgers burned again by lousy offense, zero middle relief

I'm glad the NBA Finals was on last night, because with the way the Dodgers have been playing, I would have either fallen asleep or cursed out the TV over and over.  Maybe both.

For a second straight night, the Dodgers got good starting pitching, this time from Brett Anderson tossing two-run ball over eight innings.  But, their offense largely did nothing again, and Robinson Chirinos walked-off on young Josh Ravin to give the Rangers a 3-2 victory.

It was the same old, same old for the Dodgers: the offense can't put up any runs, and the middle relief has practically zero reliable options.  Last night both were on display, and not surprisingly at all, it was another loss.

Let's take a look at both of those topics:

Lack of offense.  The Dodgers got one big hit, albeit a very big one.  With one out in the ninth, Howie Kendrick took a walk from tiring starter Chi Chi Gonzalez.  Rather than yanking him for the closer Shawn Tolleson, Rangers manager Jeff Banister rolled the dice by keeping him in.  Big mistake, as Justin Turner took the very next pitch out to left, and it was 2-2.

The Dodgers followed that up with two-out singles by Yasmani Grandal and Alex Guerrero.  Would they then tack on the all-important go-ahead run?  Of course not!  Jimmy Rollins and his atrocious .198 AVG flew out to left.

Take away the ninth inning, and my goodness was this team asleep at the wheel.  It's honestly like a chore to watch this team hit lately.  Before the last inning they had four hits, all singles (two by Joc Pederson, one apiece by Adrian Gonzalez and Grandal).  And it's not like they were facing Nolan Ryan, they were facing some guy named Chi Chi Freakin' Gonzalez.  Nothing against him, but give me a break - they made him look like Cy Young and Greg Maddux all rolled into one.  The Dodgers really should be pretty embarrassed by that.

Terrible middle relief.  Just like last year, the book on the Dodgers is this: get the starter out early, and attack the bullpen so they can't hand Kenley Jansen the ball with the lead.  Last night it was Ravin getting lit up, and the night before it was Adam Liberatore not getting a big out in the sixth.  Different guys, same result.

I know Don Mattingly will get criticized for even using Ravin in such a big spot, but honestly, who else can he turn to?  It's a road game, so you can't burn Jansen in a non-save situation.  Juan Nicasio has been letting too many guys reach base lately.  J.P. Howell isn't bad, but is more of a situational lefty.  Chris Hatcher and Yimi Garcia are an embarrassment.  Liberatore just pitched the night before and is only getting worse.  Who else is even left?

That's the dilemma Donnie faced, and hindsight being what it is, should've handed the ball to someone else.  There's just no solid options to turn to, and that's why Anderson was stretched out for a season-high 114 pitches.  The bottom line is that, as I stated before, the bullpen has a major issue getting the ball to Jansen, and it's not getting any better.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Double Play Dodgers spells doom in Texas

Carlos Frias competed his butt off for five innings.

Then the sixth inning came, and with zero runs from his offense for support, he finally ran out of wiggle room.

The Rangers put up four runs on three hits and a couple of walks, and with the Dodgers' offense doing a big pile of nothing, there was no drama in dropping one in Texas 4-1.

I can't blame Frias too much, other than the two straight walks to open the sixth were obviously a killer.  At that point, he had made all the big pitches when he needed to, working around a few hits here and there.  Then the walks came, and the floodgates opened.

But that's beside the point.  The biggest culprit in this loss was once again the maddeningly inconsistent offense.  Actually, they have been pretty consistent the last couple of weeks - they can't score any damn runs.

Any threat the Dodgers put together was met by a giant thud.  Here's some of the "high"lights:

* Justin Turner doubled with one out in the second.  He was stranded at third after two groundouts.
* Jimmy Rollins singled (yes, really) to open the third.  He was gunned out stealing as Alberto Callaspo struck out.
* Turner singled to start the fifth, but was erased on Andre Ethier's double play ball.
* Callaspo and Joc Pederson walked to open the sixth inning of a scoreless game.  Yasiel Puig flew out, and Adrian Gonzalez grounded into the dreaded DP.
* Howie Kendrick hit an infield single to start the seventh, but another Ethier DP ended that threat.
* Yasmani Grandal hit a solo homer to begin the eighth, cutting the deficit to 4-1.  Callaspo walked and Pederson singled with one out, but Puig and A-Gon did nothing with it.
* Kendrick singled leading off the ninth, but again, nothing happened.

In case you're scoring at home, the Dodgers started six of the nine innings with a runner on, including Grandal's homer.  Take away that homer, and they did a whole lot of nothing with those runners.  They were 0-for-7 with RISP, and left six men on.

That's the most frustrating thing about this game - they had practically their A lineup in, and they couldn't do squat.  Andrew Friedman made such a big deal before the season about having a deeper lineup.  Well, that "deeper" lineup didn't bring it at all.

Here's one solution for Don Mattingly: PLAY ALEX GUERRERO!!!  I can understand wanting to get A-Gon some rest by putting him at DH.  And I know Donnie likes Callaspo for defense at third.  And I know Donnie likes Guerrero pinch-hitting.

But come on now, the guy needs to play!  Especially after the Dodgers once again laid an egg on offense, you can't ignore a guy who has 10 homers and 28 RBIs in about half the at-bats as some of the regulars.  There's no excuse not to play him now.  This team needs a spark, and if one of your sparks never gets off the bench, that's just ridiculous.

We'll see what lineup Donnie runs out there tonight, but if Guerrero isn't a part of it, then I'm about to go over to the "Fire Mattingly" side of things.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Lack of offensive consistency continues to burn Greinke

One bad pitch, one long Justin Upton homer... and one more night without a win for Zack Greinke.

With two outs and a 3-2 count in the eighth inning, Greinke went to the well once too often, spinning a slider right over the plate that was deposited 410 feet into center.  Granted, that only made the score 2-1 Padres, but with the way the Dodgers are swinging the bats... well, you might as well have just called it 12-1.

So ya, the Padres beat the Dodgers 2-1.

Even more frustrating is the fact that Greinke has gone seven straight starts without a win.  Back on May 5, the Dodgers beat the Brewers 8-2, putting his record at 5-0 with a 1.56 ERA.  Well, he's gone 0-2 since then, but his ERA is still excellent at 1.95.

What's the problem, you may ask?  It's simple - the offense has largely done jack squat in those starts.  And as Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles points out, they're not exactly doing much to entice Greinke to stay in LA beyond this year.

Check out the run support in his last seven starts - 5, 1, 2, 2, 9 (Coors Field), 2, 1.  As you can see, five of those starts featured two runs of support or less.  For a team that is talking like they are true World Series contenders, that's pretty embarrassing to say the least.

In the month of June, the Dodgers are actually third in the National League with 59 runs scored.  The catch, however, is that four of those games were in Colorado, where they scored 29 runs in four games, or 7.3 per.  Since then, they've put up 30 runs in nine games against the Cardinals, Diamondbacks, and Padres, good for 3.3 per.  It's not hard to see that the Coors Field effect inflated the overall numbers.

The excuses about too many injuries have recently gone away as well.  Yasiel Puig, Howie Kendrick, and Yasmani Grandal are all back in the everyday lineup.  Puig has certainly hit well with a homer and four RBIs to go along with a .522 average in his six games back.  Kendrick and Grandal have each gotten big hits.

Who's not hitting well?  Adrian Gonzalez is truly a "peaks and valleys" type of hitter, and it's a valley right now.  He's hit .261 in June, but with only one homer and five RBIs.  Joc Pederson's production has plummeted to .209 with a homer, four RBIs, and 16 strikeouts, by far the most on the team.  Jimmy Rollins is at .175, which is unbelievably bad.  Andre Ethier has received a lot of praise for his great play this year, but in June, he's hitting .225 with two homers and seven RBIs.

Add all of that up, and it's pretty much an all or nothing type of team.  Sure, they'll hit the ball out of the yard, but when they don't, it's a whole lot of swings, and a whole lot of nothing to show for it.  That's the frustration of being a Dodger fan right now, and I'm sure Greinke feels it more than anyone.

We've all known since before the season even started that Greinke will probably opt out of his contract at the season's end, so that should not be a surprise if he does.  But it's nights like Saturday in San Diego - where he pitched excellently yet still lost - that make that decision just a little bit easier.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

All of this "Trade Puig because Ethier is better" talk can go away now

If you were of the belief that Yasiel Puig was suddenly expendable because Andre Ethier is looking good again, well... just stop.  Now.

Ethier has played well this year, but if the last two games have shown anything, it's that Puig is a superstar that can be all of the difference between winning and losing.

The Dodgers just finished off a sweep of the Diamondbacks, winning the last game 7-6 on a walk-off single by Howie Kendrick to score Puig.  That puts them back up to 10 games over .500, and helps eliminate some of the stink from this past weekend when the Cardinals slapped them around.

More importantly, the Dodgers are getting healthier, and showing what they can do when they have their big guns back.  Yasmani Grandal and Kendrick had big hits this series, as they did to start the season.  And so did Puig, who looked darn near unstoppable at times.

In the three-game sweep of the Diamondbacks, Puig sat out the first game, then laced 'em up in the final two.  On Tuesday he went 2-for-4 with a double and run scored in the 3-1 victory.  Last night he was perfect, going 4-for-4 with a walk, two runs, a double, and a three-run homer.  The Dodgers needed every one of those hits as Kenley Jansen had his first blown save of the season, giving up a run in the ninth.

When Puig first got hurt on April 24, the Dodgers continued to play good baseball, and Ethier was right in the thick of that.  After looking completely lost last season, and being benched for much of the stretch run, Ethier is hitting .287 with eight homers and 26 RBIs in 56 games.  He deserves all of the praise he's gotten.

This is nothing against Ethier, but when I'm turning on ESPN's Baseball Tonight or Fox Sports' MLB Whiparound and seeing stories about how the Dodgers might be willing to move Puig with Ethier's emergence, I couldn't help but question what in the hell these "experts" were thinking.  There is just no way the Dodgers would trade a guy as exciting and young as Puig for a guy who's playing well now in Ethier, but is also 33.

I think what happened is that the Dodgers were clicking on all cylinders during Puig's injury, so people needed a story about how they don't need the "clubhouse cancer" that is Puig.  Never mind the fact that Puig started the All-Star Game last year, and is the definition of a five-tool player; Ethier was the man of the moment, so the trade talk popped up.

I'm hoping that goes away now, as Puig is the right fielder, end of discussion.  With Joc Pederson locking down center, Ethier will still see plenty of action in left against right-handed pitchers.  Against lefties, maybe not so much, as he's only received 23 at-bats against them this year (.261).

Puig will still have his moments of immaturity, and will still take too many strikeouts.  But when he's on, look out.  He's right up there with the best in the game.  That's what he brings to the ballpark each night, and why the Dodgers can go very far if he does.

Trade Puig?  Give me a break.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Despite trying virtually everything, middle relief is still a huge problem

Picture this scenario: Eighth inning, Dodgers beating the Cardinals 2-1, Adam Liberatore staying in the game after getting the last out of the seventh.

Do you have confidence that the Dodgers will hold on to win?

I certainly didn't, and guess what?  They sure as hell couldn't do it.

Alas, it's another frustrating end of the game, as the Cardinals scored three times, and the Dodgers had zero answers in dropping the finale of the four-game set 4-2.  Good thing Clayton Kershaw was masterful on Saturday, because the Dodgers lost all three of the other games.

We all know how lousy the offense has been, as they scored a grand total of six runs in the four games, and that was without facing the great Adam Wainwright, who's done for the season.  Hell, the Cardinals scored seven runs on Thursday, which has been practically unheard of for this damn team.

Rather, let's focus on the middle relief.  That is, the horrendous arms that are trying to bridge the gap to Kenley Jansen, and failing miserably.

Sunday night it was up to Liberatore and Juan Nicasio.  That's how desperate the Dodgers are - relying on a guy who wasn't with the club to begin the year, and another who was supposed to be there for long relief.  Liberatore did get Kolten Wong swinging to end the seventh, and should've been pulled right after.

Instead, Don Mattingly stuck with him to pitch to Matt Carpenter to start the eighth.  It didn't work, as a walk later, Nicasio came in.  To his credit, he did have a 1.48 ERA coming into this appearance.  But don't be fooled - those weren't against the Cardinals in the eighth inning of a one-run game.  This was a whole different animal in which he failed miserably.

To sum it up quickly, Matt Holliday ripped an RBI triple to tie it, Jhonny Peralta an RBI single to take the lead, and Mark Reynolds a deep RBI double to get some cushion.  Yimi Garcia got a double play to end the inning, but was lucky since it was a liner to short that Jimmy Rollins caught and doubled Reynolds off of second.

By the way, Nicasio's ERA shot up to 2.19 based off that one appearance alone.

I, along with many others, am kind of at a loss on what exactly the Dodgers can do.  They've tried everything under the sun the last couple of years.  The former closers (Brian Wilson, Brandon League, Chris Perez) and young arms (Garcia, Liberatore, Chris Hatcher) and it's just not working.  I'll give them this, at least they've tried a bunch of different options.

Right now, the Dodgers will probably just have to accept the fact that this is truly a trial-and-error process until somebody, ANYBODY, steps up and can pair himself with Jansen.  With Joel Peralta and Pedro Baez still out, then I wouldn't be opposed to giving flame throwing Josh Ravin a chance for holds.  He's only pitched 2 1/3 innings, but with two strikeouts and no walks.  Better than watching Hatcher screw things up, right?

From what I can tell, Baez could be back soon.  That would great news, and I'd immediately give him the ball in the eighth as well and see what happens.

As for J.P. Howell, who has an 0.63 ERA in 21 appearances, I wouldn't consider him as a major option in the eighth.  Perhaps sometimes he could, but he throws so soft, and with a 1.40 WHIP, I wouldn't totally trust him to be the guy.  He's better off earlier in the game for hitters here and there.

Maybe Andrew Friedman has a move or two up his sleeve, and we're about to find out.  Then again, maybe not, and the Dodgers are stuck with who they've got.  Which, um... isn't much.  But until this thing gets figured out, the awful middle relief will continue to hold them back from becoming a serious threat to come out of the National League.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Kershaw, Puig, Jansen, all getting back on track

The stars aligned Saturday night in Dodger Stadium, and not a moment too soon.

With the Dodgers struggling to beat the NL's elite this season, it was time for the best players on the team to step up and lead the way.  Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig, and Kenley Jansen did just that.  Kershaw pitched eight brilliant innings, Puig broke open a scoreless tie with an RBI double, and Jansen slammed the door shut in the Dodgers' 2-0 win over the Cardinals.

Let's take a look at all three of their performances:

* Kershaw (8 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 11 K).  If you were looking for a "vintage Kershaw" start, then you got just that.  With a sharp breaking ball and perfectly located fastball, the Cardinals were left off-balance all night.  He's now won his last three starts, lowering his ERA nearly a full run to 3.36. 

The key has been that he hasn't beaten himself.  Earlier in the year, he could barely throw a fastball without it sailing over the fat part of the plate.  Last night he was spotting it perfectly, mostly on the outside corner vs. right-handed hitters.  He was just what the team needed on a night where the offense was mostly MIA... again.

* Puig (1-for-3, RBI double, run, 2 K's).  The first couple of at-bats were ugly, as he struck out on barely any pitches.  That all changed in the eighth.  After Chris Heisey shockingly (and I do mean SHOCKINGLY) led off with a double, Puig hit a laser into right center for an RBI double, and the 1-0 lead.  He soon scored on a single from Justin Turner for the game's only runs.

When Don Mattingly released his lineup for the night, it basically consisted of Joc Pederson, Puig, and a bunch of other names that did not include Adrian Gonzalez, Alex Guerrero, Andre Ethier, or Yasmani Grandal.  It was definitely a head scratcher.  Well, the offense only managed two runs on seven hits, but at least it was Puig showing his value already with the big blow.  Who knows where he'll end up hitting with the way Donnie switches the batting order, but #3 looks good for now.

* Jansen (1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K).  After going through a bit of controversy when he was unavailable during the collapse in Colorado on Wednesday, Jansen was at his best in the ninth for his sixth save in as many chances.  He got two straight pop-ups to start the inning, then struck out Matt Holliday looking to end it.  He hasn't given up a run yet this year.  I'm pretty sure that means his ERA is 0.00.  Yup, it does.

While Jansen is not a worry, the biggest issue for the Dodgers will be bridging the gap to him.  Last night, it was Kershaw doing it himself, as he got through eight innings with a pitch count over 100.  Do we start to see Jansen extending himself for more four-out, possibly even five-out saves?  I wouldn't be against it as long as he's on the proper rest.  Beats the heck out of watching some of these other clowns blow the lead.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

If Puig's return doesn't wake up this offense, then changes need to be made

Here are some June stats for you:

Andre Ethier: 4-for-22 (.182), two extra-base hits
Yasmani Grandal: 5-for-18 (.278), all singles
Jimmy Rollins: 5-for-18 (.278), one solo homer
Justin Turner: 6-for-21 (.287), one extra-base hit
Alex Guerrero: 3-for-12 (.250), one massive grand slam
Kike Hernandez: 7-for-20 (.350), one extra-base hit
Joc Pederson: 7-for-24 (.292), lots of big hits
Adrian Gonzalez: 10-for-22 (.455), quite a few big hits

What does this all mean?

Take away guys like Pederson, A-Gon, and for the most part Guerrero, the Dodgers have a whole bunch of single's hitters, and not much else.  That is, if they even bother to get a hit in the first place.

Yes, the offense has been letting the Dodgers down tremendously of late.  Take away the four games in Colorado to start June, and the Dodgers have scored 2, 0, 5, 1, 1, and 1 runs going back to the end of May.  From May 16-24, they scored 1, 1, 0, 0, 0, 2, 2, and 3 runs.  Let's see here... 19 runs in 14 games means they've scored 1.4 runs/game in that span.  That's really, really bad.

I don't know how much longer they can just shrug their shoulders and say "We're injured and we're tired."  Yes, they are injured.  Yes, they are tired, though so are countless other teams as well.  And yes, we hope Yasiel Puig is healthy enough to return this weekend like he says.

But let's be realistic - if Puig can't even wake up this deadbeat offense, then it's time to make some changes.

Corey Seager and Hector Olivera, I hope you two are ready.  You could (and should) be with the big club soon.

The baseball season is full of peaks and valleys.  While it wasn't fair to expect the Dodgers to keep up their torrid pace to start the season, there's no way we should have expected them to go into complete hibernation either.  There are way too many games this team just drags to the finish line.

Friday night was the perfect example.  Brett Anderson was sensational, taking a shutout into the eighth inning.  The problem?  His team spotted him a mere 1-0 lead, and a couple of runs given up later, the Dodgers lost another one to the Cardinals 2-1.  Call it pessimistic, but this was something I could see coming from a mile away - there was no way Anderson was going to pitch a complete game shutout.  The Dodgers could not score more runs to save their lives, and it cost them.  Again.

How many times are we going to watch guys like Rollins and Ethier groundout or strikeout?  How many times are we going to watch a couple of guys reach base, then nothing come of it?  If this team isn't hitting the long ball, then what?  They're just stuck in place time and time again.

Which brings me back to the two young guns ready to be called up.  Seager has played 32 games at Triple-A Oklahoma City, and is hitting .300 with seven doubles, a triple, four homers, and 17 RBIs.  Before that, he tore apart Double-A Tulsa, prompting the promotion.  How badly to the Dodgers need a jolt of life from him in their lineup?  Beats the heck out of watching Rollins day in and day out.

Olivera is getting started at Tulsa, but by all accounts, his bat is THIS close to being Major League ready.  He's playing third base, which just got a little less cluttered after the Juan Uribe trade.  After he works the rust off, then he can get time at third with Turner, putting Guerrero to play more in left.  Sounds good to me.

Before any of that happens, let's first see how the Dodgers look with Puig back at the top of the lineup.  It's laughable when people talk about how he's suddenly tradeable with Ethier's play this season.  It's true, Ethier has played well, but give me a break.  There's no way anyone can expect Ethier to put up better numbers than Puig.  That's just crazy.  And a bit delusional, too.

Over the next couple of weeks, the Dodgers have series against the Diamondbacks, Padres, and Rangers before seeing the Giants again.  And thankfully not the Cardinals.  If Puig in the lineup is making little difference, then it's time to bring the kids up to LA and let them do their thing.  If not, then the offense will continue spinning their wheels, and the Dodgers will continue to look average at best.

Yasiel, I hope you can go on a tear.  This team should does need it.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Let's hope Kenley is OK. As for the rest of the bullpen...

Boy, do they flat out stink lately.

And that's being nice.

The latest example of a reliever melting down is Adam Liberatore.  Actually, it's Yimi Garcia.  No wait, it's J.P. Howell.  On second thought, it's Chris Hatcher.

What do they all have in common?  They all had a hand in blowing a 6-4, ninth inning lead to the Rockies on Wednesday, which soon lead to a painful 7-6 defeat in Colorado.

Painful, embarrassing... call it what you want.  I'll call it pathetic, too.

One night after a thrilling comeback victory, highlighted by Alex Guerrero's go-ahead grand slam in the ninth, the Dodgers took one step back thanks to their shaky 'pen.  Liberatore was perfect in the eighth, so with Kenley Jansen mysteriously unavailable, he started the ninth.  A single and a ground rule double later, he was out of there.

Garcia wasn't any better, issuing two straight walks, one of which brought in a run to make it 6-5.  Out he went, and in came Howell, who threw a low pitch that wasn't handled well by Yasmani Grandal for the passed ball, tying the game.

After an intentional walk to load the bases again, Hatcher gave up the walk-off sacrifice fly to Nolan Arenado, and that was that.

Simply put, the Dodgers just don't have a whole lot of options to rely on late in the game, save for Jansen of course.  Liberatore has given up runs in two straight games.  Garcia has fallen apart, allowing multiple baserunners in three straight appearances.  If Hatcher even records an out it's considered an accomplishment.

Paco Rodriguez, Pedro Baez, and Joel Peralta are all hurt.  About the only worthwhile guys are Howell and Juan Nicasio.  Josh Ravin has looked really good in both of his appearances, but it's still way too early to tell if he's an answer.

It's hard to know where the Dodgers go from here.  They've signed veterans with good track records to big contracts, and it's blown up in their faces (Matt Guerrier, Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, Brandon League).  Now they're trying youth and power, and it's starting to come apart.

Right now, the Dodgers have the fourth best bullpen ERA in the National League at 3.09, but don't be fooled.  That's mostly from the start of the season when they didn't even need Jansen to look untouchable.  Now Jansen is back, looking fantastic, and they either can't get the ball to him, or he's suddenly unavailable for unknown reasons.

The Dodgers won the NL West last year with a struggling 'pen, and they were exposed by the Cardinals in the NLDS.  This year, they shouldn't even count on getting that far, as you know the Giants won't be going anywhere, and if the Padres start playing up to their potential, they'll be there as well.

So like the title says, we can only hope Jansen's disappearing act was only for a night or two, and nothing more.  But Jansen or not, the rest of the bullpen has got to step up and deliver.  All of those innings in middle relief has got to be pitched by someone.  And hopefully pitched well.