May 31

Darkness and light

In the middle of Memorial Day, my wife and I punished my two oldest children. We love them more than life itself and have the highest hopes for them, but of course that doesn’t eliminate the paths to frustration with them.

In particular, they have developed some sort of simultaneous mental block to saying hello to people they know. They resist a friendly greeting like some sort of evil bacteria. I understand shyness – I was the shyest one in my family as a kid and it still crops up from time to time today. But these kids got to the point Monday where their grandparents, who have been very good to them, said hello and the kids didn’t so much as look up. It wasn’t shy – it was dismissive.

That ain’t right. It’s damn vexing, and it only seems to be getting worse. To be sure, my wife and I are wondering what we’ve done wrong to cause this and what we should or shouldn’t do to solve it. But in the meantime, taking away some of the kids’ Nintendo DS privileges seemed a logical stopover en route to the next parenting solution station.

Over the next couple of hours, the kids hardly snapped out of their funk.

At the end of the afternoon, we went to see my 101-year-old grandmother, who is deteriorating rapidly now in a manner that is difficult to take, especially for my father. It was not an easy place for any of us, including single-digit age children who, for the first time in their lives, are face to face with someone whose mind and body are failing.

But when we had all but given up hope on the kids salvaging the day, they came alive. They were not only friendly, but they went and put their piano lessons to tremendous use, playing an impromptu mini-concert for Grandma Sue and a few others at the assisted living home, something so wonderful that thinking about it now does something to my head that I can’t find the words to describe. They did something for this woman, who whom they essentially can no longer communicate with through words because of her hearing and speech decline, that I could never do.

I hope I’ll never forget that moment. I know I won’t forget, at least until my mind goes, the look on my grandmother’s face as we were leaving, a look of direct melancholy but also of one that had been engaged in the world at least one more time.

Anyway, I started writing this tonight after the Dodgers took a 5-1 lead against Colorado and reached this final paragraph with the scorer 8-2, on the way to what hopefully for them and their fans will be their third straight authoritative victory, with the plan of drawing a connection of how quickly simmering frustration can turn to elation. That seems a bit forced now that I’ve gotten to this point, so all I’ll say now is that I’ll never cease to be surprised by how often I can be surprised, much less blown away.

May 31

Don’t look in the mirror – you’ll break it

To make the Dodgers’ end-of-May payroll, Frank McCourt once again borrowed from Peter Future to pay Paul Present. From Molly Knight of ESPN The Magazine:

… McCourt was able to meet the team’s payroll Tuesday with cash advances drawn on the team’s corporate sponsorship deals, according to three people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Since McCourt has been unable to secure traditional loans to fund the cash-strapped Dodgers, front office executives in charge of revenue were charged with finding more creative ways to help float the troubled franchise for two more weeks.

Current team sponsors were contacted and offered discounts on their annual bills and luxury box stadium seats in exchange for cash up front, according to two sources. It is not known which sponsors took the offer, or the depth of discount they were given.

McCourt is still searching for the funding to make the team’s next payroll on June 15, according to two people with knowledge of the Dodgers finances who were not authorized to speak publicly. Should the beleaguered owner fail to make payroll, Major League Baseball would cover it for him and likely formally seize the team.

Based on an Opening Day payroll of $103.8 million, the Dodgers’ payroll for its major league roster in the second half of May was about $8.25 million. The figure includes 16 days’ salary, but not any signing bonus payments that happen to fall due.

The Times, citing anonymous sources, reported last week that McCourt needed roughly $9.8 million to meet Tuesday’s payroll. His financial woes will increase in June because the Dodgers owe Manny Ramirez more than $6 million in deferred compensation, the paper said. …

May 31

Junk mail saved my life


Here are some items for your mailbox:

  • Since the wild-card era began in 1996, only five of 126 teams that were, as the Dodgers are, at least five games under .500 and five games out of a playoff spot on May 31 have made the postseason, according to Tom Verducci of SI.com.
  • Amid all the bullpen injuries, Dodger manager Don Mattingly resisted naming one of his veteran relievers as a primary closer, preferring to keep them for middle-relief situations and showing a willingness to use youth at the end of the game, writes Dylan Hernandez of the Times.
  • My friend and former Variety colleague Laura Clark offers at L.A. Story a perspective on going to Dodger Stadium from a non-regular.
  • Make your All-Star picks here in this fun format at ESPN.com.
May 30

Good times find Dodgers, 7-1


Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesMatt Kemp’s throw to Rod Barajas nailed Carlos Gonzalez at home in the first inning.

The Dodgers were up by six when it happened, so it wasn’t the biggest moment in the game (see above for the answer). But …

Chad Billingsley had already thrown 99 pitches and scattered a career-high 11 hits, including allowing the leadoff man for Colorado to reach base in six consecutive innings, when he followed a visit to the mound from pitching coach Rick Honeycutt by walking Carlos Gonzalez to load the bases with one out in the top of the seventh. I’m one of Billingsley’s biggest fans, but with Troy Tulowitzki coming to bat, I was almost sure it was time to go to a Dodger bullpen that was rested from Clayton Kershaw’s complete game Sunday. Despite the loss of five relievers to the disabled list and a sixth to the restricted list, it seemed obvious that Don Mattingly should go for a fresh arm to protect the 7-1 lead and protect Billingsley’s eight-strikeout outing.

Billingsley stayed in, and four pitches later, Tulowitzki grounded into an easy Rafael Furcal-to-James Loney double play. I love when feeling wrong feels so right.

And despite my misgivings about this team – and keep in mind, even with this 7-1 Dodgers victory tonight, Los Angeles is only 8-10 since I voiced my big fear that this is the worst Dodger team since 1992 – this whiff of hope that has come from the past two games is a tasty amuse bouche of crow.

If nothing else, thank goodness for the respite from negativity that the last two games have provided. A day after Kershaw’s two-hit shutout, the Dodgers gave up 14 knocks – and still allowed only one run. Los Angeles went 4 for 4 with runners in scoring position; Colorado went 1 for 12. Rafael Furcal has entered the Rafael Furcal Zone, going 2 for 4 to reach 7 for 13 over his past three games. Andre Ethier is 9 for 15 with five walks (that’s a .700 on-base percentage, friends) since he banged into the wall in Chicago and got four days of rest from regular play.

And are you ready for a hot, or semi-hot, James Loney? Two homers in his past four games, including a two-run shot tonight, and 26 for 84 with seven walks and only four strikeouts since May 3 – a .370 on-base percentage and .440 slugging percentage. It’s not Gil Hodges, but a .810 OPS for this offense will cure some amount of ills.

Those who wanted to start the rebuild on Juneday, the National League West and the Dodgers’ recent show of extreme competence have conspired against them. Say hi to the hottest 25-30 team in baseball.

* * *

  • Tommy Lasorda, 83, is resting at home in recovery from a bacterial infection that sent him to the hospital for four days last week.
  • There was a second, smaller fire this morning in the same spot of Dodger Stadium as the bigger fire during Saturday’s game.
May 29

Here’s a little-known fact …

The Dodgers almost made it through their first two months without playing a first-place team in the National League West. They have played 20 games inside the division, but not counting Opening Day, only once was the team they were playing in first place at the time.

(Note – it’s very disappointing to me that I couldn’t say they hadn’t played a first-place team in the division at all.  That would have been a much more impressive little-known fact, and it would have carried nicely into the Colorado series.)

The Dodgers’ only remaining games inside the division before the All-Star break are against the Rockies and Padres. They next play the Diamondbacks on July 15 and the Giants on July 18.

NL West opponents to date:
March 31: vs. San Francisco
April 1: vs. fifth-place San Francisco
April 2: vs. fifth-place San Francisco
April 3: vs. fifth-place San Francisco

April 5: vs. third-place Colorado
April 6: vs. second-place Colorado

April 8: vs. second-place San Diego
April 9: vs. third-place San Diego
April 10: vs. fourth-place San Diego

April 11: vs. fifth-place San Francisco
April 12: vs. fifth-place San Francisco
April 13: vs. fourth-place San Francisco

April 29: vs. fifth-place San Diego
April 30: vs. fifth-place San Diego
May 1: vs. fifth-place San Diego

May 13: vs. fourth-place Arizona
May 14: vs. fourth-place Arizona
May 15: vs. fourth-place Arizona

May 18: vs. second-place San Francisco
May 19: vs. first-place San Francisco

May 29

Whooosh – there it is: Kershaw, Dodgers blow out Marlins


Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw

So that’s what a breeze feels like.

Sailing into a storm most of the season, the Dodgers enjoyed a day with the wind entirely at their backs, with Clayton Kershaw in near no-hit form and the offense practically an arcade, leading to an 8-0 breeze over the Marlins.

The Dodgers took two of three from Florida for their first series victory since April 22-24 in Chicago. If you’re any kind of believer – and praise be onto you if you are – this is where it starts, all the ifs and buts transforming into actual results.

Whether they can extend this one-game winning streak, matching their longest since May 13 (yes, that’s right), is of course up in the air, but if in fact it’s a blip on the losing radar, it was a blip to be savored.

Kershaw’s marquee game in my mind remains his showdown victory over Ubaldo Jimenez of Colorado 12 1/2 months ago, but as Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness points out, today was Kershaw’s finest statistical outing ever – a Kershawnal Best, if you will – allowing two hits and one walk while striking out 10 in his second career shutout. The second hit off Kershaw was a ball that Jay Gibbons lost in a battle with the sun and an unusually ferocious wind, which would have been exceedingly painful for fans had Omar Infante not singled softly to left in the third inning.

In any case, Kershaw, who lowered his ERA to 2.62 and now leads the major leagues with 87 strikeouts, was in complete control.

“He was hitting both sides of the plate and throwing inside on lefties, which you don’t see that much from a lefty,” Florida’s Wes Helms told The Associated Press. “Kershaw just commanded all of his pitches today, and he had above-average stuff. He knows how to bury his curveball and his slider. He’s not going to leave it over the middle of the plate. I mean, you get geared up for that heater, and his slider’s hard enough that you can’t hold up when it’s in the dirt.”

It was a Hershiseresque day all around for Kershaw, who had as many hits at the plate as he allowed. The 23-year-old, who was 10 for 132 entering this season, is 6 for 25 in 2011. His two hits were only 13 percent of the Dodgers’ 15 off Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco, who was forced to stick it out for five innings after Florida blew out its bullpen Saturday. The total tied a Los Angeles record for the most off a single starting pitcher (Mario Soto of Cincinnati was the last victim, in 1982).

Gibbons, Andre Ethier and Rafael Furcal each had three, including Furcal’s first homer of the year, a two-run shot to the right-field bullpen that gave the Dodgers their initial lead after Kershaw led off the bottom of the third with a single. Ethier reached base in all five plate appearances, while Dioner Navarro went 2 for 4 to complete a 7-for-18 week.

Dodger life is good today, for the second time in three days.

* * *

  • Bob Timmermann has a great essay at L.A. Observed’s Native Intelligence about a simpler time, a simpler time when all we had to do was be mad at Tom Niedenfuer and Jack Clark.
  • Zach Lee gave up six runs in one-third of an inning of his return to active duty with Great Lakes today. He allowed three hits, two walks and two hit batters, writes Hugh Bernreuter of the Saginaw News, who also had a nice piece on Ramon Martinez earlier this week.
  • Josh Lindblom officially arrived today, with Kenley Jansen going on the 15-day disabled list and Travis Schlichting being designated for assignment. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details. That makes five top relievers on the Dodger disabled list: Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Vicente Padilla, Blake Hawksworth and Jansen.
  • Gary Carter’s diagnosis is grim, but no one is giving up, writes Ian Begley for ESPNNewYork.com.
  • Stadium Journey reviews the Chattanooga Lookouts ballpark.
May 28

Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em


Mark J. Terrill/APRejected “Lost” scripts: Smoke-monster attacks Chavez Ravine.

We should all be relieved that no one appears to have been harmed by the storage-area fire in the vicinity of the Dodger Stadium right field reserved level, but all the jokes people were able to make – “Something’s on fire, but it isn’t Dodger bats,” “McCourt’s burning the place down for the insurance money,” “Sure won’t be a problem finding empty seats for the fans to move to” – just tended to depress me. There’s too much to make fun of. The feckless 6-1 loss to the Marlins didn’t help.

May 28

Spirits in the night: Dodgers 3, Marlins 2

Mark J. Terrill/APDioner Navarro doesn’t mind this collision at home.

At the end, it was less a victory than an exorcism.

The anti-homer curse against James Loney – gone. Andre Ethier’s near-month-long power outage – gone.

And the electrified way the Dodgers poured out of the dugout after Dioner Navarro’s game-winning pinch-hit single in the bottom of the ninth gave them a 3-2 victory over Florida, the way Matt Kemp came over not just to praise Navarro but to bury him in his arms as well, showed a group of players keen and desperate to get about a thousand monkeys off their backs.

The easy argument is that the Dodgers have stopped caring, in the wake of their obvious flaws, ceaseless injuries and exhausting off-the-field drama. None of those issues have gone away, but if they didn’t care about winning, they wouldn’t have been so over the moon about a victory that only raised their record to 23-29.

They have been fighting – other teams as well as themselves. There were the two rallies against San Francisco last week, followed by the shocking, Russ Mitchell-led comeback against the White Sox. They were one strike away from victory against Houston on Monday, then lost in the bottom of the ninth, then did so again Wednesday.

They haven’t won a game by more than two runs since May 17. They haven’t won a game by more than three runs since May 10. They’ve still only won nine games in a month that has been uphill since it started with a 7-0 loss to San Diego.

They can’t even claim the most exhilarating win in the National League West on Friday – finishing third behind Arizona rallying from a 6-0 deficit against the Astros and the Giants riding a grand slam from a player in his first major-league game to a comeback victory over Milwaukee.

They just suit up with the understanding that every game counts.

When Ethier’s pinch-hit single gave the Dodgers a short-lived lead in Houston on Monday, Clayton Kershaw roared in elation. When Ethier hit his home run in the sixth inning, Aaron Miles lifted Jamey Carroll so high, he nearly threw him over the dugout. When Navarro delivered what was only the seventh hit all year by the Dodgers with the bases loaded, you’d have thought they’d broken the bank in Vegas.

They care as much as you do, if not more. This is a team dying to make something happen, if only it can.

May 26

In a world where no one was hurting …

What would your all-healthy Dodger 25-man roster look like, using players currently in the organization? Here’s mine:

Starting pitchers (5): Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Ted Lilly, Rubby De La Rosa

Bullpen (7): Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Kenley Jansen,  Matt Guerrier,  Vicente Padilla, Javy Guerra, Scott Elbert

Starting lineup:
Jamey Carroll, 2B
Rafael Furcal, SS
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, LF
Jerry Sands, RF
James Loney, 1B
Casey Blake, 3B
Rod Barajas, C

Bench (5): A.J. Ellis, Juan Uribe, Aaron Miles, Marcus Thames, Jay Gibbons

This was actually harder to do than I thought it would be, particularly with the pitching, where I left off Jon Garland, Blake Hawksworth and Mike MacDougal. All three have been decent-to-good this year, but I decided to go with the potential of youth. (Again, this is a world where no one gets hurt.)

On the bench, I dropped Tony Gwynn, Jr., on the theory that the Dodgers couldn’t afford the luxury of a defensive replacement/pinch-runner who couldn’t even out-hit Miles. I went the on-base talents of Ellis, and (given mostly few alternatives) the power potential of Uribe, Thames and Gibbons.

It’s not such a bad team if it could stay healthy, and if Loney could ever start to hit like he’s capable of. Too bad both of those things aren’t likely to happen, especially with Colorado, San Francisco and San Diego reeling. (Arizona is the one team taking advantage.)

What would you do differently?

May 26

Dodger Cogs and Dogs 2011: Edition 4


Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesRamon Troncoso – rising.

So, by now you know that the Dodger Cogs and Dogs rankings have always been a mixture of subjectivity and objectivity. For today’s batch, there was an additional factor throw into the mix: exasperation.

In more cheerful news, Single-A Rancho Cucamonga scored 25 runs Wednesday, with Angelo Songco hitting for the cycle.

         
Today 5/5 4/28 4/7 Player Comment
1 1 1 2 Matt Kemp According to Fangraphs, the best CF in the NL in 2011.
2 4 4 1 Clayton Kershaw Will contend for NL strikeout title, but I’m guessing not wins.
3 3 3 4 Hiroki Kuroda Rough outing Sunday lifted his ERA above 3.00 and slowed his All-Star bid.
4 2 2 3 Andre Ethier Enters the final days of May with one homer, no doubles in the month.
5 9 6 5 Jamey Carroll Leads MLB shortstops in OBP.
6 6 7 18 Chad Billingsley His 0.64 HR/9 is best by a Dodger since Hershiser (minimum 800 IP).
7 16 14 Jerry Sands Fourth on the team in RBI, and closing in on Uribe.
8 11 11 13 Mike MacDougal Pitched three consecutive days for first time since September ’09.
9 13 9 6 Rod Barajas Kemp and Barajas have combined for 19 of Dodgers’ 36 HR.
10 17 18 14 Ted Lilly Despite allowing 10th homer in 11th start, moved ahead of Garland in ERA.
11 5 8 Jon Garland ERA rose from 3.55 to 4.75 in last start.
12 8 10 25 Juan Uribe From May 13-18, went from five to 11 walks.
13 20 21 20 Aaron Miles Last Dodger to bat at least .280 with OBP below .300: Wilton Guerrero.
14 12 12 8 Matt Guerrier Gave up first extra-base hit of 2011 to a lefty in ninth inning Weds.
15 10 15 22 Blake Hawksworth Struck out two in shutout inning Wednesday for Rancho Cucamonga.
16 7 5 10 Casey Blake Reached base 29 times in his 14 games.
17 18 20 24 Kenley Jansen Ferocious strikeout rate should help him avoid pulling a Yhency.
18 30 Jay Gibbons Second-most total bases (51) in Dodger history for player with below 30 career hits. (Marlon Anderson)
19 Javy Guerra Unscored upon in five of six appearances.
20 21 22 15 A.J. Ellis .443 OBP in Albuquerque, 12 walks, four strikeouts.
21 Scott Elbert Opponents are 1 for 11 with one walk this year.
22 Rubby De La Rosa Pedro Martinez shut out Reds in eighth and ninth inning of MLB debut.
23 32 23 17 James Loney 0-for-4 Wednesday ended 10-game hitting streak.
24 15 19 Vicente Padilla June will come with only 8 2/3 innings under his belt.
25 19 16 9 Jonathan Broxton For a guy who claimed not to be hurt for so long, sure out a long time.
26 22 13 19 Marcus Thames Gibbons has surged ahead with eight hits to Thames’ six.
27 27 29 Dioner Navarro Went 4 for 12 subbing for Barajas in Houston.
28 14 17 12 Tony Gwynn Jr. This month: 1 for 24 with two walks, one steal.
29 25 27 11 Xavier Paul In 3-for-25 slump for Pittsburgh.
30 29 Russ Mitchell Most total bases (19) in Dodger history for player with below 10 career hits.
31 Juan Castro In 17th MLB season, got 600th career hit Saturday.
32 26 26 John Ely Has 3.78 ERA, compared to 6.19 for spring rival Redding.
33 35 33 Ramon Troncoso The impossible dream – out of last place.
34 28 30 21 Hector Gimenez Has same birthday as my brother, and one more career hit.
35 31 31 Jamie Hoffmann Isotopes’ HR leader with nine this year.
36 23 24 7 Rafael Furcal They say he was rushed back, but he was 5 for 13 with three walks in Alb.
37 33 27 26 Ivan De Jesus Jr. Has one double, no HR in 51 AB for Albuquerque.
38 24 25 16 Hong-Chih Kuo Last May, pitched 10 2/3 innings, six baserunners, no runs, 15 K.
39 34 32 23 Lance Cormier Lefties were 5 for 28 against him.