Apr 08

You don’t have to duck and cover anymore: Dodgers win first in ’10


Keith Srakocic/AP
Already down an outfielder with Andre Ethier nursing a sore ankle, the Dodgers nearly lost two more when Matt Kemp and Reed Johnson tangled in the sixth inning of their 10-2 victory.

Tony Jackson’s game recap and notebook.

The Chad Billingsley that half of us love and the other half forgot about came out firing today, with a first-pitch out and seven strikeouts among 24 batters. The Chad Billingsley that half of us think is temporary and the other half hate also came out, walking four batters and failing to make it through the sixth inning.

So Billingsley’s 5 1/3-inning, one-run outing in the Dodgers’ 10-2 victory didn’t resolve the Billingsley debate one way or another – not that one game could. But it turned the page on the second half of 2009, allowing people to begin looking forward instead of back.

On the radio, Dodger announcers Charley Steiner and Rick Monday so persistently hammered home a point that Billingsley’s fate depended on where he planted his foot on his follow-through, that you could be excused for forgetting that Billingsley’s mental toughness had ever been questioned. This was a pure mechanics issue – if the brain was involved, it was only out of the need to provide consistency, not courage.  I don’t quite believe that the solution to Billingsley’s problems is that simple – I’m not saying that Steiner and Monday believe that either –  but it does remind you that there’s a lot more going on with Billingsley than what’s between the ears. (Steiner and Monday also commented that Billingsley reduced his pregame warmup time compared to last year.)

Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ misanthropic five-reserve lineup turned expectations upside down by just hammering the ball, with the top six hitters in the batting order – three of them reserves – each reaching base at least two times, and Ronnie Belliard coming within a single of hitting for the cycle 360 days after Orlando Hudson did. More monkeys were kicked off more backs today than in Curious George’s worst nightmare.

Footnote: Carlos Monasterios gave up the first run of his two-inning major-league career, while Jonathan Broxton’s first outing of the season came in garbage time.

* * *

  • Takuya Kimura, a 37-year-old former Hiroshima teammate of Hiroki Kuroda, collapsed and died last week, and Dylan Hernandez of the Times talked to Kuroda about it.
  • Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com has a feature on how Jared Weaver has coped with the death of friend and teammate Nick Adenhart over the past year.
  • James McDonald allowed one run on seven baserunners over five innings, striking out three, in Albuquerque’s season-opening 6-3, 13-inning victory. McDonald threw 83 pitches. Jamie Hoffmann, Russ Mitchell, Xavier Paul, John Lindsey, Prentice Redman, Michael Restovich, Ivan DeJesus, A.J. Ellis and Chin-Lung Hu were in the starting batting order.
  • Chris Withrow allowed two runs on four baserunners over six innings, striking out four, in AA Chattanooga’s 4-2 kickoff victory.
  • Carlos Santana homered twice in his 4-for-5 AAA International League debut tonight.
Apr 08

Dodgers enter series finale with much reserve-ation


Lili von Schtupp – “I’m Tired”

J. Rho | MySpace Video

Rest for the weary … or for the worry?

In case you’re wondering why Chad Billingsley’s first start of the season is being backed with five backups, Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. did a quick rundown: “Manny and Blake were a given, day game after a night game. Ethier has the foot thing; I can see them being cautious. DeWitt sitting against a LHP. Martin has still basically only played for two weeks, so I can see them easing him back.”

And so we come to this …

Apr 07

This game’ll make you feel a hundred years old


Gene J. Puskar/AP
Russell Martin is the glum in an emotional contrast sandwich.

I mean, my grandmother could have walked the pitcher twice.

I promised myself at the birthday dinner tonight that I wasn’t going to let anything Dodger-related interfere with my enjoyment of the night, but that came after Clayton Kershaw (who had already walked the leadoff man before giving up a three-run home run to Pirates outfielder Wilver Jones) free-passed Pittsburgh pitcher Russ Ohlendorf in two consecutive at-bats.

Just to give you some insight into my offline personality, I really let Kershaw have it when Ball 8 came to Ohlendorf as I pulled into my driveway to grab my family for dinner. I spare you folks the rage – just not my steering wheel, which bore the brunt of my shouts.

It was the 33rd time in 53 seasons since the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles that an opposing pitcher drew at least two walks. Kershaw was the culprit the last time it happened – July 1 against Jason Hammel of Colorado (in a 1-0 Dodger victory).

Hey, it’s an old gripe for me. My third post ever on Dodger Thoughts was frustration about a ridiculous walk. But throwing strikes just isn’t automatic yet for Kershaw. We’ll keep waiting, but all that talk about Kershaw being the completely together pitcher and Chad Billingsley being the mental dyspeptic seems a bit silly now, at least until Thursday morning.

Conversely, Joe Torre’s decision to leave his best reliever in the bullpen during a game that was tied from the fifth until the 10th inning – that’s also an old gripe for me, for which there are no excuses unless the guy is physically unavailable  – but it came after Grandma Sue’s dinner started, so I can’t comment about it. And I didn’t even see Blake DeWitt’s error in the 10th inning, which came around the time we were blowing out the candles on the 100 cake.

In fact, there was lots about this game that was just crappy, but I saw Russell Martin’s homer and I heard my grandmother say she was excited about her birthday, so that wins.  Some things are just more important. (New dad Ramon Troncoso understands. “I want to be with her every second,” Troncoso told Dylan Hernandez of the Times.)

So for now, you just get the photo of Martin above. And if you want more details about tonight’s game, Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has lots of them – really a thorough report. But I promise that if the Dodgers go down Thursday, I’ll hit you with something gripy. Not doomsdayish, but certainly enough to commemorate an opening three-game sweep by the Pirates.

Good thoughts, everyone …

* * *

  • Forbes values the Dodgers at $727 million, the fourth-highest figure in baseball – details in this story from The Associated Press.
  • Manny Ramirez told T.J. Simers of the Times that he likes Jamie McCourt more than Frank.
    Update: Man, I really, really zoned out while reading Simers late Thursday. Sheesh. Anyway, disregard the sentence above.
Apr 07

Kershaw LII: There’s no business like Kershaw business

In case you missed it, check out Tony Jackson’s feature on tonight’s starter, Clayton Kershaw, for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

After Chad Billingsley starts Thursday morning in Pittsburgh (with Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake likely on the bench, according to Dodger manager Joe Torre), the Dodgers will go with Hiroki Kuroda, Vicente Padilla and Charlie Haeger (in that order) over the weekend in Florida.

Torre also told reporters that Matt Kemp will generally bat second against right-handed pitchers, that Blake DeWitt would continue to start against some lefties (depending on their type), that Ronald Belisario will practice game pitching on back-to-back days next week, and that Hong-Chih Kuo is on track to go out on a rehab assignment “soon.”

Other notes …

  • Believe it or not, the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants have each notched final scores on three games since the final out of the Dodgers’ Opening Day loss. Colorado surrendered a lead today in Milwaukee to fall to 1-2 on the season, while the Giants countered a three-run, seventh-inning, game-tying rally by Houston with six runs in the final two innings to sweep the Astros. Later tonight, San Diego and Arizona will stage a battle for second place in the National League West.
  • Jason Repko has signed with the Twins organization and will start there with AAA Rochester, the team’s official blog confirms. According to the site, Repko is the Twins’ first true centerfielder on their depth chart behind Denard Span.
  • “Among the eight starting position players on Opening Day 2009, only third baseman Andy LaRoche went on to start at least 100 games for the Pirates,” writes Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Over the past eight years, stats guru Bill James has tracked the number of games started by each team’s Opening Day starters. The Pirates amassed 665 games last year — the lowest single-season total James has ever recorded.”
  • I’m always a sucker for a good Danny Goodman story. Here’s a find on the Dodgers’ original marketing maven, from Keith Thursby of the Daily Mirror. Goodman called Los Angeles “the greatest gimmick town in America.”

    And 1960′s hit-seller?
    “I expect it’ll be the transistor radio. Blame that on Vince Scully,” smiled Danny. “He started the vogue. Why? People wanted to hear him at the game, so they started carrying radios.
    “Score one for Scully!”

Apr 07

Happy 100th birthday, Grandma Sue!


Aaron and Sue Weisman

I’m in such awe that I don’t feel I can convey it sufficiently, so I’m left with starting this post with the basics.

Sue Weisman, my grandmother, born on April 7, 1910, is 100 years old today.

The last thing you expect is for someone to live to be 100, but if anyone were going to do it, it was Grandma Sue, a straight-shooting, take-life-as-it-comes woman. Her early childhood years – the sixth of eight children of Minsk immigrants – came during World War I: “I used to be scared that those horrible helmets would be walking down the street. During the night I used to think about that. … The spiked helmets scared the hell out of me.” Grandma heard about the end of the war from a phone call to the family business: Hers was the first family she knew to have a telephone. “There was a false Armistice, and we thought we’d get a day off from school. So, instead of us going to school — and of course, we were penalized, and we had to stay after school, so I never forgot that. And then about two weeks later, there was a real Armistice.

Her parents owned a restaurant. “They were originally in the saloon business until … Prohibition came. My father was a Beau Brummel, a gay blade, who wore something on his mustache when he went to bed and kept his hat in a leather case and loved all the nice things. My mother worked like a dog.”

My favorite story about her is from her New York/Lower East Side childhood, when in between ice skating and baseball and football with her friends of both genders, this little Jewish girl was dressed as if she were being driven to church, all so that he could be a decoy for liquor to be smuggled undetected during Prohibition. Married and moving to Chicago at age 20, her next decade brought her a husband, Aaron, who found work during the Depression working as an accountant for Ralph Capone, Al’s brother – years living in terror underscored by Aaron’s uncle Sol being “taken for a ride” and never returning. “Honey, the stuff I had to take in that crappy apartment, oh God. Every hoodlum in the world was up there.“  The first year they were married, Aaron met her outside their apartment one night and told her he was nearly tossed out the 10th floor window.

And then there was her live-in mother-in-law, Aaron’s mother Ida, who once held a butcher’s knife to her and was so remorselessly unpleasant that when she passed away in 1961, my father says he went down to the hospital “to make sure she was dead.”

Sue has three children – Jerry, my father Wally (75 next month) and my aunt Elinor – eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. It’s both fact and appropriate metaphor that Sue did all the driving in the family. Aaron, who never got behind a steering wheel in my lifetime, retired relatively young from a liquor distribution business and led a sedentary life, but Sue was constantly out and about. Papa Aaron taught me poker; Grandma Sue played catch with me in my backyard well into her 60s.  A fanatic about books, art and culture, Grandma Sue was an original volunteer at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art when it opened in the 1960s and, long after my grandfather died in 1994 at age 86, continued there past age 95. No doubt, soon after we celebrate her birthday tonight and this weekend, she’ll be escorted to a play or the opera. Physically, she isn’t what once was, but her mental acuity has barely dimmed at all.

My sister Robyn – whose video interview with my grandmother from years back provided the quotes above – offers the following:

In 1928, Grandma Sue took the New York State Regents Exam in English. She scored 90 on the exam, with a perfect 50 on the essay portion. Not only was it the highest score in the five boroughs of New York City, it was so unheard of that 20 years later, Grandma’s younger sister Mickey, by then an English teacher herself, mentioned this to an older colleague, and he said, “Your sister was the one who scored that 50?” with the sort of awe that’s typically reserved for Hank Aaron’s 715th home run or Sandy Koufax’s perfect game.

“I don’t know what the hell I did! I wrote something very naturally, and I never had a grammatical error,” Grandma told me a few years ago. When I asked her what the topic was, she said she wrote about a young man who came from lowly surroundings and built himself into a well-dressed and well-educated boy who wore a suit and a real hat when other boys his age were still wearing caps or going bareheaded.

“So it was a creative essay?” I said.

“No, I couldn’t write about Tom, Dick and Harry. I couldn’t write a story,” she said. I didn’t argue with her because her hearing is so bad and shouting and enunciating is something I try to avoid unless it’s really necessary. If a (then) 96-year-old woman wants to claim she isn’t a storyteller, I guess I can nod with the condescension the middle-aged too often show the elderly and think, “Right, this coming from the woman who changed her name from Sarah to Sue around the time ‘The Great Gatsby’ had its first printing because it sounded more modern.”

But just know that Jon can’t help it that he writes about baseball with such depth, humor and lyricism. It’s in his genes. He descends from a woman who tells a story with such craft that it feels tossed off, which it may well be. It’s an intuitive sense that she has, like her perfect grammar.

I’d love to recount some of her recollections from the days when our grandfather worked for the Capone mob, among so many other stories. Instead I’ll tell one she told offhandedly to Jon, me and a few other relatives the day of Jon’s youngest son’s bris because it’s an example of her offhand approach to storytelling.

We were waiting in Jon’s living room while Jon’s wife and the baby were in a guest bedroom with the mohel, and everyone was nervous. Then Grandma piped up. “After Jerry was born, my father came to Chicago for the bris, and when he saw how the mohel was holding the knife, he grabbed it out of his hand — because from running the restaurant, he knew how to use one — and he said, ‘I didn’t come all the way from Manhattan to see you castrate my first-born grandchild!’ And he did it himself. It was a real worry back then, you know.”

She was 98 when she told that story. She’s 100 today. Happy birthday, Grandma. We wouldn’t be here without you (obviously), and you shaped us into who we are. And for my part, I’m grateful to you for it.

Yes, happy birthday Grandma. I have never been the greatest grandson, but I am so proud of you and to know you, and do love you.

Apr 06

Retreads in middle relief not a sign of the apocalypse


US Presswire
Jeff Weaver (left) is exactly the kind of pitcher major-league teams typically have in the back of their bullpen. James McDonald deserves to be on the Dodgers, but his front-line potential might explain why he’s in Albuquerque today.

There’s a difference between having junk in your front yard and having junk in your back.

By that I mean, it doesn’t bother me as much that the Dodgers have retreads in their bullpen, as long as they stay out of the starting rotation.

People lose sight of it because of the recent success the Dodgers have had in relief, but bullpens are largely made up of retreads.  We know for a fact that there isn’t enough quality starting pitching in baseball to come close to filling 30 major-league rotations, so why would the bullpens be bursting with star quality from top to bottom? It makes sense that they’d be comprised of pitchers who aren’t even good enough to be mediocre starters.

In the bullpen, you’re looking for guys who can put together for one or two innings what they can’t hack over five to seven. And so it’s not crazy to try your luck with a Jeff Weaver or Ramon Ortiz — or for that matter a newbie like Carlos Monasterios. Maybe with limited innings, they can excel. It might end up a failed experiment, but it’s not a senseless one — as Weaver showed us last year.

That Weaver, Monasterios and the law firm of Ortiz & Ortiz pitched for the Dodgers on Opening Day was, I’m sorry to say, not a reflection of a franchise in divorce-induced disarray. It was nothing more than a reflection of major-league standard operating procedure when you’re starting pitcher is knocked out early — especially when three of your top relievers — Hong-Chih Kuo, Ramon Troncoso and Ronald Belisario — were unavailable for circumstances beyond the Dodgers control.

In case that point needs underscoring, the World Payroll Champion New York Yankees used Chan Ho Park to try to protect a 7-5 seventh-inning lead on Opening Night in Fenway Park.

The one thing you might say the Dodgers should have done Monday was use Jonathan Broxton in the pivotal moment of the game — when Vicente Padilla was nearing his end with two runners on base and one out in the fifth inning of a one-run contest. But I won’t hold my breath waiting for a Dodger manager to be that bold.

On the other hand, in the one Spring Training decision regarding the starting rotation that did require boldness, you can’t say Joe Torre didn’t deliver. Rather than go with a retread, Torre chose Charlie Haeger, whose major-league resume is shaky but comes with an upside that Weaver and the Ortizes no longer have.

Haeger, keep in mind, is only a year older than James McDonald and four years younger than Eric Stults. And what’s interesting is that Torre seemed to have this idea in mind regardless of Spring Training performance — Torre was signaling his inclination for Haeger even before the knuckleballer started to turn in some good exhibition innings. With several over-30 options available, Torre went, relatively speaking, with a kid.

If Haeger fails — and who knows how much rope he has before failure is declared — we’ll see if the choice to replace him is a retread or a younger player like McDonald or Scott Elbert. If I were in charge of the Dodgers, McDonald would be on the major-league roster today. He proved in 2009 that he could perform well as a major-league pitcher, with a 2.72 ERA as a reliever in 41 games as a reliever. Sending him down to the minors because he didn’t pitch well in mid-March made little sense — unless it was part of a broader plan to make him the No. 1 option to replace Haeger by giving him some fine-tuning in the Albuquerque rotation.

I don’t have much long-term confidence in Padilla, though he will have better days than he had Monday. I’m not going to sit here and say that the Dodger starting rotation couldn’t be better. But I know this much: You don’t judge a team by the back of its bullpen. And if you do, the Dodgers have little to apologize for in theirs.

Apr 05

Palate cleanser: Hit leaders who wore the Dodger uniform

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
Hall of Famer Eddie Murray had 483 hits as a Dodger, 184 in 1990 when he led the majors in batting average.

Most major-league hits by anyone who has ever played for the Dodgers in a major-league game:

3,255 Eddie Murray
3,152 Paul Waner
3,055 Rickey Henderson
2,943 Frank Robinson
2,884 Zack Wheat
2,715 Bill Buckner
2,689 Gary Sheffield
2,665 Max Carey
2,605 Rabbit Maranville
2,599 Steve Garvey
2,591 Luis Gonzalez
2,561 Willie Davis
2,524 Heine Manush
2,502 Garret Anderson
2,496 Manny Ramirez
2,490 Fred McGriff
2,471 Joe Medwick
2,461 Jeff Kent
2,428 Kenny Lofton
2,375 Brett Butler

Garret Anderson has sneaked ahead of Manny Ramirez, however briefly.

Apr 05

That’s a Padillaing: Dodgers fall in opener, 11-5


Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Vicente Padilla allowed 11 of 24 batters he faced to reach base Monday.

The last time the Dodgers played a game that counted, Vicente Padilla started for Los Angeles in Pennsylvania and got pounded before the Dodgers tried to rally from a six-run deficit in the seventh inning — and almost made you think they would succeed.

In Philadelphia for Game 5 of the 2009 National League Championship Series, the Dodgers were down, 9-3, but scored a run and loaded the bases in the eighth inning with none away before James Loney, Russell Martin and Casey Blake made outs. Today in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles halved their 8-2 deficit and had the tying run on deck in the seventh — and at the plate in the eighth — before faltering and ultimately tumbling, 11-5, in their 2010 season opener.

Fortunately for the Dodgers, Wednesday’s second game of the regular season should, if nothing else, break the Paddle Padilla Pattern.

The cup of Dodger offense was more than half-full today, pouring five runs on 14 baserunners but, unfortunately for them, stranding 10. Every Dodger starter reached base except Loney, who had an RBI groundout in the seventh on an 0-for-5 day. Rafael Furcal had a couple poor at-bats with runners on base before recovering with a single and walk late, and in general the Dodgers’ missed some golden opportunities to score more, but it’s not as if you could lay this loss on the hitters. Matt Kemp and Manny Ramirez each had a single and a double, Blakes Casey and DeWitt each had two hits, and Martin reached base three times.

Keith Srakocic/AP
Pirates outfielder Garrett Jones homered to right field and left field in his first two at-bats of the season.

But it was Padilla who from the beginning looked very much like the castoff that he had been when the Dodgers signed him, rather than the savior who earned playoff and Opening Day starts. Granted a 2-0 first-inning lead on Matt Kemp’s two-run single, Padilla walked the leadoff batter and then gave up a prodigious Allegheny River-splasher to Garrett Jones that tied the game. (I’ll try not to belabor this point beyond today, but if Chad Billingsley had performed similarly in the first inning with a lead, there would have been calls from the usual suspects to institutionalize him.)

Padilla allowed at least two baserunners in each of the first three innings — escaping a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the second with the aid of a 1-2-3 double play, before giving up another homer to Jones in the third. He then settled down, relatively speaking, to get out of the fourth with just a single.

This being early April, you could make an argument to be made that the Dodgers should have cut their losses and gone to the bullpen before the fifth inning rather than extend Padilla farther, given the off days yesterday and tomorrow, but instead Joe Torre went by the book and stuck with Padilla into the fifth. (I’m not saying Torre did anything controversial — just that it wasn’t likely that Padilla was going to do much better this day.)

In fact, Padilla was rousted in the fifth — HBP, walk, double — and with new reliever Ramon Ortiz unable to minimize the damage, the Dodgers fell behind, 8-2.

Carlos Monasterios had a 1-2-3 sixth in his major-league debut and Russ Ortiz struck out former Dodger Delwyn Young to end a Pirate threat in the seventh after the Dodgers scored three, but then after Andre Ethier’s bid to tie the game in the eighth with two on base went awry, George Sherrill came out and gave Dodger fans even more to worry about, allowing a double, walk and then a three-run homer to Ryan Doumit. (Remember, Sherrill only allowed one homer as a Dodger last year, before the playoffs.)

It’s just one game, and Dodger fans can calm themselves with the notion that by getting  Padilla out of the way, they should have matchup advantages on the mound for the rest of this series.  But Opening Day 2010 was certainly a reminder of Closing Day 2009 in all the wrong ways.

* * *

Ronald Belisario is making rapid progress in his efforts to rejoin the active roster, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Belisario is scheduled to throw to hitters for the first time this spring on Tuesday, a significant move in his effort to rejoin the big league club. Belisario arrived five weeks late to spring training because of lingering visa issues in his native Venezuela, but club officials don’t think he will need the full six-week equivalent of spring training in order to be ready. One Dodgers source said Monday that Belisario could be ready in as few as “15 or 20 days.”

Apr 05

Time to play ‘Win, Lose or Guffaw’: 2010 Dodgers Opening Day chat


Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Rafael Furcal singled to start the 2009 season.

It’s 181 days until the final day of the 2010 regular season October 3, and it never ceases to amaze me that the Dodgers’ fate on only 20 of those days – the difference between, say, a 95-win season and a 75-win season – will be the difference between happiness and desolation. And 20 days is a generous estimate – for all we know, it could come down to just one.

But you don’t get to find out in advance which 20 days it will be, and so we buckle up for another wild ride into the unknown. There is mystery, intrigue, thrills and not a small amount of comedy awaiting Dodger fans this season. Here’s hoping it’s once again a ride everyone can enjoy.

And of course, I look forward to spending the season with you all here. If you’re having trouble commenting, e-mail me.

* * *

  • What did those schedulers know that we didn’t? While it pours outside my window, weather today in Pittsburgh, according to The Associated Press, is supposed to be lovely with a chance of glorious.
  • Dodgers vice president of communications Josh Rawitch passed along these pregame thoughts from Joe Torre:
    –Manny Ramirez has been very consistent with his balance, and Torre thinks he’s going to be good offensively.
    –Russell Martin has been hitting up the middle and to right the past 10 days – that, combined with his 6-for-12 history against Pirates starter Zach Duke accounts for his batting second today, and then they’ll see where it goes from there.
    –Chad Billingsley needs to regain his confidence. Sigh.
  • Ramon Troncoso and his wife had a baby girl Sunday, so he won’t be with the Dodgers until Tuesday.
  • Baseball Analysts hosted a series of extended season preview interviews in a series called “Stakeholders.” Among the participants: Joe Posnanski, Aaron Gleeman, Cliff Corcoran, Dave Cameron, Jonah Keri, Bernie Miklasz and yours truly.
  • The average Opening Day player salary has dropped 17 percent in a year. USA Today has updated its salary database to include 2010 salaries; here’s their summary of the Dodger payroll. (Keep in mind that USA Today has its own way of factoring in deferred money.)
  • Some tidbits from the Dodger press notes: 1) The last time the Dodgers opened a season in Pittsburgh was the year of their first World Series title, 1955; 2) The Dodgers are 26-26 on Opening Day since moving to Los Angeles; 3) The five Dodger reserves have 60 years of major league experience; 4) Today marks the first time the Dodgers have had seven players from the previous year’s Opening Day lineup since 1986-87, and the first time they were at the same position since 1978-79. (In 1979, of course, the Dodgers followed two consecutive National League West titles with a sub-.500 season.)

Update: USA Today with a major correction: Rather than a 17% drop in salary, the paper is now reporting a 1% increase.

Apr 04

NL West race shapes up as Rockies-Dodgers dogfight


US Presswire
Ubaldo Jimenez, 26, is coming off a banner 2009 season for the Rockies, while Jeff Francis is back on the disabled list after a setback in his attempt to return to game action for the first time since September 12, 2008.

First, here are the 25-man Opening Day rosters (along with a few names of players lurking underneath) for the five National League West teams, followed by some thoughts on the division.

Arizona Colorado Los Angeles San Diego San Francisco
SP Dan Haren Ubaldo Jimenez Clayton Kershaw Chris Young Tim Lincecum
SP Edwin Jackson Aaron Cook Chad Billingsley Jon Garland Matt Cain
SP Ian Kennedy Jorge De La Rosa Hiroki Kuroda Kevin Correia Barry Zito
SP Rodrigo Lopez Jason Hammel Vicente Padilla Clayton Richard Jonathan Sanchez
SP/RP Jordan Norberto Greg Smith Charlie Haeger Mat Latos Todd Wellemeyer
RP Chad Qualls Franklin Morales Jonathan Broxton Heath Bell Brian Wilson
RP Juan Gutierrez Rafael Betancourt George Sherrill Mike Adams Jeremy Affeldt
RP Bob Howry Manuel Corpas Ramon Troncoso Luke Gregerson Sergio Romo
RP Aaron Heilman Matt Daley Jeff Weaver Edward Mujica Guillermo Mota
RP Esmerling Vasquez Matt Belisle Carlos Monasterios Tim Stauffer Dan Runzler
RP Leo Rosales Randy Flores Ramon Ortiz Sean Gallagher Brandon Medders
RP Blaine Boyer Esmil Rogers Russ Ortiz Cesar Ramos Waldis Joaquin
Bench Chris Snyder Miguel Olivo Brad Ausmus Yorvit Torrealba Eli Whiteside
Bench Gerardo Parra Melvin Mora Jamey Carroll Jerry Hairston, Jr. Nate Schierholtz
Bench Rusty Ryal Ryan Spilborghs Ronnie Belliard Scott Hairston Andres Torres
Bench Tony Abreu Jason Giambi Garret Anderson Matt Stairs Travis Ishikawa
Bench Augie Ojeda Seth Smith Reed Johnson Oscar Salazar Eugenio Velez
C Miguel Montero Chris Iannetta Russell Martin Nick Hundley Bengie Molina
1B Adam LaRoche Todd Helton James Loney Adrian Gonzalez Aubrey Huff
2B Kelly Johnson Clint Barmes Blake DeWitt David Eckstein Juan Uribe
SS Stephen Drew Troy Tulowitzki Rafael Furcal Everth Cabrera Edgar Renteria
3B Mark Reynolds Ian Stewart Casey Blake Chase Headley Pablo Sandoval
LF Conor Jackson Carlos Gonzalez Manny Ramirez Kyle Blanks Mark DeRosa
CF Chris Young Dexter Fowler Matt Kemp Tony Gwynn, Jr. Aaron Rowand
RF Justin Upton Brad Hawpe Andre Ethier Will Venable John Bowker
DL/Minors Brandon Webb Huston Street Hong-Chih Kuo Joe Thatcher Freddy Sanchez
DL/Minors Clay Zavada Jeff Francis Ronald Belisario* Adam Russell Fred Lewis
DL/Minors Billy Buckner Greg Reynolds James McDonald Chris Stewart Emmanuel Burriss
DL/Minors Ryan Roberts Taylor Buchholz Xavier Paul Wade LeBlanc Madison Bumgarner
DL/Minors Zach Kroenke Eric Young, Jr. Scott Elbert Chris Denorfia Buster Posey

When compelled to do so by ESPN.com, I picked the Dodgers to win the NL West, but not with any conviction. I definitely respect the talent in Colorado – shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, for one, has become an MVP candidate at age 25 – and feel that, at a minimum, the difference between the two teams is small enough at this point that either team makes sense as a favorite.

In my darker moments, I can envision an everything-goes-wrong scenario for the Dodgers that condemns them to a repeat of the 2005 nightmare. (Yes, I can get that dark.) But you could dream up doomsday scenarios for any team.

The return of Colorado pitcher Jeff Francis to the disabled list this weekend was yet another reminder that McCourts or not, just because the Dodgers have problems doesn’t mean other teams won’t have them too. Colorado begins the coming season without its top reliever (Huston Street) and someone who was formerly their top starter. The Rockies obviously aren’t dependent on Francis, whose last good year was 2007 and who sat out in 2009 when Colorado won 92 games. But his absence is another sign that the Rockies won’t be immune to depth issues. Both the Dodgers and Rockies have the talent to win the NL West, but both need things to go right.

By comparison, however, Arizona, San Diego and San Francisco need many more things to go right.

A year ago at this time, it was easy to find predictions that the Giants would finish in last place because of their poor hitting, but I didn’t see such a dire result happening with the strong pitching they had. Now, San Francisco is, for those who don’t believe in Colorado, a trendy pick to win the division. Considering the Giants have hardly improved their offense in the past 12 months, I’m not seeing this happening either. The Giants surely have the ability to stay in almost any game they play – although the strength of a rotation that has the once-great Barry Zito and the inconsistent Jonathan Sanchez has probably been overrated by those who judge entire pitching staffs by their aces – but San Francisco still lacks a lineup that makes me think they can score sufficiently. I might even rather suffer through the indignity of Vicente Padilla as an Opening Day starter than get worked up over the John Bowker vs. Nate Schierholz Spring Training battle to start in right field for San Francisco. You have to love Pablo Sandoval and pay a healthy respect to some of the others (including minor-league catcher Buster Posey), but this still looks like a third-place team on paper.

Ed Andrieski/AP
Edwin Jackson had a 5.45 ERA in the final two months of 2009.

The Diamondbacks are led by the one player who might make Matt Kemp fans jealous – 22-year-old rightfielder Justin Upton – but the state of Arizona’s starting pitching should make Dodger supporters feel more secure about theirs. After Dan Haren, Arizona has Edwin Jackson (a sentimental favorite of mine whose 2009 second-half resembled Chad Billingsley’s), Ian Kennedy (6.03 career ERA in 59 2/3 career innings) and Rodrigo Lopez (5.49 ERA in 298 1/3 innings since 2006) – before they even get to figuring out who will fill out their rotation. A first-rate second-half comeback from Brandon Webb could turbo-boost the Diamondbacks, but it’s hardly anything to feel certain about. Though there are some great players in Arizona, I see a team as likely to return to last place as it is to ascend to first.

San Diego is a fairly universal choice for last place, and though it’s not set in stone, I don’t see enough in the organization right now to be the one to make the case otherwise. I’ll just expect that no matter where they are in the standings, they’ll give the Dodgers problems.

Anything can happen in 2010, but if Fate doesn’t get crazy, there’s a two-team race in the NL West between the Dodgers and Rockies. Neither team should feel insecure or overconfident; both should gear up for a wall-to-wall battle.

Apr 04

Dodger Opening Day lineups, 2003-2010

2010
S Rafael Furcal, SS
R Russell Martin, C
L Andre Ethier, RF
R Manny Ramirez, LF
R Matt Kemp, CF
L James Loney, 1B
R Casey Blake, 3B
L Blake DeWitt, 2B
R Vicente Padilla, P

2009 (W, 4-1)
S Rafael Furcal, SS
S Orlando Hudson, 2B
R Manny Ramirez, LF
L Andre Ethier, RF
R Russell Martin, C
L James Loney, 1B
R Matt Kemp, CF
R Casey Blake, 3B
R Hiroki Kuroda, P

2008 (W, 5-0)
S Rafael Furcal, SS
L Andre Ethier, LF
R Matt Kemp, RF
R Jeff Kent, 2B
R Andruw Jones, CF
R Russell Martin, C
L James Loney, 1B
L Blake DeWitt, 3B
R Brad Penny, P

2007 (L, 7-1)
Juan Pierre, CF
Russell Martin, C
Nomar Garciaparra, 1B
Jeff Kent, 2B
Luis Gonzalez, LF
Wilson Betemit, 3B
Andre Ethier, RF
Ramon Martinez, SS
Derek Lowe, P

2006 (L, 11-10)
Rafael Furcal, SS
Jose Cruz, Jr., LF
J.D. Drew, RF
Jeff Kent, 2B
Olmedo Saenz, 1B
Bill Mueller, 3B
Sandy Alomar, Jr., C
Jason Repko, CF
Derek Lowe, P

2005 (L, 4-2)
Cesar Izturis, SS
Hee Seop Choi, 1B
J.D. Drew, RF
Jeff Kent, 2B
Milton Bradley, CF
Jose Valentin, 3B
Ricky Ledee, LF
Jason Phillips, C
Derek Lowe, P

2004 (L, 8-2)
Dave Roberts, LF
Cesar Izturis, SS
Milton Bradley, CF
Shawn Green, 1B
Paul LoDuca, C
Juan Encarnacion, RF
Adrian Beltre, 3B
Alex Cora, 2B
Hideo Nomo, P

2003 (W, 8-0)
Dave Roberts, CF
Paul LoDuca, C
Shawn Green, RF
Brian Jordan, LF
Fred McGriff, 1B
Adrian Beltre, 3B
Jolbert Cabrera, 2B
Cesar Izturis, SS
Hideo Nomo, P

Apr 03

Don’t be jonesing for failure

Danny Moloshok/AP
At age 25, Chad Billingsley has a career ERA of 3.55. His adjusted ERA of 119 is fifth in Los Angeles Dodger history among starting pitchers with 500 or more innings.

When the Dodgers gave Juan Pierre millions of dollars over my proverbial dead body, I didn’t actively seek out immediate justification for my ill feelings. You never once caught me using any Pierre at-bat or game or even any month as proof that the signing was a mistake.

Good players have bad games; bad players have good games. Everyone knows this – no matter how often some people ignore it. Using a moment or series of moments as evidence that the Dodgers blew it with Pierre would have been wrong. Pierre’s signing was a mistake because over the life of his contract, he wasn’t going to be worth the cost. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t have hot streaks that made him look like the biggest bargain on earth. But the big picture is what matters.

Without a doubt, there have always been some Dodgers for whom fans seem to lie in wait for them to stumble, just so they can point out how awful they are. Pierre, for some, was certainly one. So was Hee Seop Choi and J.D. Drew. On the current Dodger team, the choice villains are Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton.

The people who have it in for Billingsley and Broxton have an unfailing ability to dismiss all the good they do and make mountains of the bad. Broxton was by many criteria the best closer in the National League last year, but each blown save he had wasn’t merely disappointing, it was unforgivable. No matter how good he was, he was worthless.

Billingsley is an even tougher sell these days because his struggles extended for about three months last year. Never mind that that period still constitutes a sliver of his career, never mind that the previous time Billingsley struggled, in the 2008 National League Championship Series, he came back to become an All-Star pitcher in the first half of 2009, building on the considerably excellent performance he has given since he broke into the big leagues. There are people out there who only see the negative. And there are people out there who, once they form that negative opinion about a player, only want to see the negative – just so they can be proven right.

Case in point: Entering the third inning of today’s game, Billingsley had a 1.84 ERA this exhibition season. It didn’t mean much to me, because no Spring Training stats mean much to me. You can bet that it also didn’t mean much to those who have complained about Billingsley since last fall. But when Billingsley ran into trouble and gave up six runs in the third inning, suddenly across the Internet and Twitter you could find people shouting out about the latest proof of how awful he is.

I’m not happy when Billingsley gives up runs. I was crushed each time in both the 2008 and 2009 NLCS when Broxton gave up the big hits to the Phillies. But perfection is not an achievable standard, and one’s state of mind in the heat of the moment is not a basis for evaluating a player.

If you’re skeptical about Billingsley or Broxton or anyone else, you obviously don’t need me to tell you you’re entitled to your opinion. But don’t get caught up in that game of  “Gotcha!” Don’t take one moment and try to tell me that’s all I need to know about a player – especially if that moment is in the minority of events. Just ask yourself how you’d feel if you were only judged at your extreme worst.

On a similar note, if you want to make an argument that the Dodger starting rotation lacks depth, please, please take a moment to compare the Dodgers’ rotation with other rotations. Don’t point out all the potential problems with the Dodgers while ignoring how threadbare things are in Arizona with Brandon Webb out, or the fact that just because Barry Zito was once an All-Star doesn’t mean he’s still one. The Dodgers might not have the best starting rotation in the NL West, but the distance from No. 1 is slim at best if you actually look at the entire rotations, rather than just making a judgment based on the most famous pitchers from each team.

Guaranteed, there will be some good players who get off to bad starts in 2010. There’s nothing like the beginning of a new season to skew one’s perception. But it’s a loooong season.  Try to keep a cool head.

* * *

Carlos Monatsterios’ place on the 25-man roster was made public today, while all signs pointed to Russ Ortiz getting the final spot on the team, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, who also reported that left-handed hitting second baseman Blake DeWitt would get the Opening Day start Monday at Pittsburgh even with the Pirates starting southpaw Zach Duke.

Also, A.J. Ellis was optioned to Albuquerque, confirming that Russell Martin and Brad Ausmus would be starting the season as the team’s active catchers.

Apr 03

Dodgers’ Opening Day roster almost set

With Jeff Weaver, Ramon Ortiz and Garret Anderson added to the Opening Day roster Friday, the Dodgers have 23 of their 25.

Starting pitchers (5): Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda, Vicente Padilla, Charlie Haeger

Relief pitchers (5): Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Ramon Troncoso, Jeff Weaver, Ramon Ortiz

Starting lineup (8): Russell Martin, James Loney, Blake DeWitt, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake, Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier

Bench (5): Jamey Carroll, Ronnie Belliard, Brad Ausmus, Reed Johnson, Garret Anderson

Carlos Monasterios is all but a lock for a sixth bullpen spot, bringing the team to 24.

A.J. Ellis would sub in for either Martin or Ausmus should a last-minute health issue flare up, but otherwise is headed to Albuquerque, where Chin-Lung Hu (who made an ugly error to allow the winning run to score in Friday’s 4-3 loss to the Angels) and Xavier Paul will be among his teammates.

Luis Ayala and Justin Miller were sent to the minors Friday.

Barring a last-minute recovery by Hong-Chih Kuo, that leaves pitcher Russ Ortiz and infielder-turned-utility man Nick Green contending for the title of Mr. Irrevelant – the 25th man that no one actually wants to see in a game. (I’d be pretty happy to see Kuo on the roster, even if he’s only pitching once every week to 10 days, over Ortiz or Green.)

Normally, you’d expect a Joe Torre-managed Dodger team to go with at least 12 pitchers. But Torre seems curious about the possibility of knuckleballer Haeger serving as the seventh reliever in between starts, so it’s plausible that Ortiz would start the season in the minors. The Dodgers would then go with 11 pitchers until Ronald Belisario or Kuo were ready to be activated.

On the other hand, today’s start of Carroll at shortstop indicates that Torre is still entertaining the possibility of him being Rafael Furcal’s backup at that position.

In any case, I think we have to face up to the fact that Ortiz will be in a Dodger uniform at some point this season. I had predicted that he would be this year’s Shawn Estes, but he’s looking more like this year’s Weaver or Eric Milton.

For comparison, here are the changes (that we can be reasonably sure of) from the 2009 Opening Day roster:

Starting pitchers: Padilla and Haeger replace Randy Wolf and James McDonald.

Relief pitchers: Sherrill, Weaver, Ramon Ortiz and Monasterios replace Kuo, Guillermo Mota, Will Ohman and Cory Wade.

Starting lineup: DeWitt replaces Orlando Hudson.

Bench: Johnson, Anderson, Carroll and Belliard replace Juan Pierre, Mark Loretta, Doug Mientkiewicz and DeWitt.

Two members of the 2009 Opening Day bullpen, Wade and Ohman, ended up being non-factors for 2010 before April was done.