Sep 25

Kershaw wraps up Cy Young-worthy campaign


Kent C. Horner/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw allowed a walk, a single, a double, a triple and a home run in 7 1/3 innings.

Having provided joy to the world, the fishes and the deep blue sea all season long, Clayton Kershaw can expect a little joy for himself: the National League Cy Young Award.

If Jeremiah was a bullfrog and Orel was a bulldog, Clayton is the whole hog.

Kershaw put the final touches on his portfolio today, finishing his 2011 campaign with a 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts, both of which lead the league, while winning his 21st game in the Dodgers’ 6-2 victory over San Diego – all but ensuring himself the pitcher’s triple crown.

(It was the Dodgers’ 80th victory of the year, putting them one away from a winning season.)

Today for Philadelphia, Roy Halladay pitched six shutout innings, striking out three, to finish at 19-6, 2.35 with 220 strikeouts. Cliff Lee, scheduled to pitch Monday for the Phillies, has allowed 60 earned runs in 226 2/3 innings for a 2.38 ERA with 232 strikeouts. He needs 16 strikeouts to match Kershaw, and would need to pitch at least 10 2/3 shutout innings to beat him for the major-league ERA title.

So short of Ian Kennedy making a relief appearance against the Dodgers on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday and stealing a 22nd win, the triple crown belongs to Kershaw, who also leads the National League in park-adjusted ERA.

Meanwhile, though he didn’t reach 250 strikeouts and catch Justin Verlander for the major-league lead, Kershaw finished 2011 with the most strikeouts in Los Angeles Dodger history in a season since Sandy Koufax retired (per the Dodger press notes):

382 Sandy Koufax, 1965
317 Sandy Koufax, 1966
306 Sandy Koufax, 1963
269 Sandy Koufax, 1961
251 Don Drysdale, 1963
248 Clayton Kershaw, 2011

* * *

Kershaw retired the first eight batters he faced today on 29 pitches, striking out four of the eight, before an inexplicable walk to Padres pitcher Cory Luebke, but Kershaw struck out Cameron Maybin to end the third inning.

In the fourth, Kershaw allowed his first hit, a line single by Nick Hundley, but immediately picked him off – Kershaw’s 10th pickoff of the season, according to Vin Scully.

Chris Park/APKershaw is congratulated as he leaves the field for the last time in 2011.

The Padres finally scored against Kershaw in the fifth inning, when Aaron Cunningham hit a no-doubt homer with the bases empty and two out in the fifth. It was Cunningham’s third homer this season and sixth in his career.

Aaron Miles made two plays to take away San Diego hits, highlighted by a spectacular diving stop of a second-inning shot by Orlando Hudson that would have been a double. In the fifth, Miles charged less gracefully on a slow Alberto Gonzalez grounder and threw late to first, but the Dodgers’ got the generous call.

Retiring the side in order in the sixth and seventh innings on 25 tosses, Kershaw entered the final two innings having thrown only 82 pitches. But in the eighth, the two players robbed by Miles got their revenge. Hudson got his overdue double to lead off the inning, then scored the Padres’ second run on Gonzalez’s triple one out later to cut the Dodgers’ lead to 6-2.

Don Mattingly came to the mound, and we bid farewell to Kershaw for 2011.

Kenley Jansen relieved Kershaw, and just as he did against the Giants on Tuesday, he struck out both batters he faced. That put Jansen at 16.10 strikeouts per nine innings this season, making him at this point the all-time single-season record holder in that category with three games remaining in 2011. Jansen has struck out 31 of his past 49 batters, including 31 of his past 37 outs.

Javy Guerra pitched the ninth with a four-run lead, so he didn’t get a save, but he did preserve the victory for the magnificent Kershaw.

* * *

On the Triple Crown and Most Valuable Player scene, Ryan Braun continued to make it a challenge for Matt Kemp. Braun went 2 for 3, including his 33rd home run, in Milwaukee’s rout of Florida, boosting his batting average to .333 and giving anyone leaning toward him for MVP that much more ammunition.

Jeffrey Phelps/APRyan Braun went 5 for 10 with a walk and 14 total bases in three games against Florida.

Jose Reyes, meanwhile, went 2 for 4 to improve his batting average to .331.

Kemp got off to a good start, with a double to the left-center gap that raised his average to .326 and drove home Jamey Carroll with RBI No. 120.  But then fortune stopped smiling.

  • In the third inning, Kemp hit a sky-high ball to the warning track in right-center field that Scully said would have been a home run in Dodger Stadium.
  • In the fifth, Kemp reached first on a slow roller that went under the glove of Padres third baseman Alberto Gonzalez, a ball that the official scorer seemed to correctly call an error, though some tweets from the press box indicated that the decision would be reconsidered after the game.
  • In the seventh, Kemp struck out against reliever Luke Gregerson on three pitches, leaving him .008 behind Braun.
  • In the ninth, granted an extra at-bat when Rod Barajas hit an eighth-inning home run to give the Dodgers a 6-1 lead, Kemp struck out again.

Kemp did come away with the 18th season of at least 120 RBI in Dodger history.

It’s not over for Kemp, however, as far as the Triple Crown. An 0 for 4 from Braun would knock three points off his batting average in one day – if Kemp can rev up his bat in Arizona, he’s back in business.

Sep 25

Triple Crown and Cy Young watch

Jose Reyes (.32950)
Roy Halladay
Phillies at Mets, 11:10 a.m.

Ryan Braun (.33092)
Marlins at Brewers, 11:10 a.m.

Albert Pujols (37 homers)
Cubs at Cardinals, 11:15 a.m.

Matt Kemp (.32534, 37 homers)

Update: Ryan Braun is 2 for 3 so far today, including his 33rd homer, and is now hitting .333.

Sep 24

Padres shut out Dodgers, Kemp 1 for 4

Not that I’m watching every Ryan Braun or Jose Reyes at-bat to see how close their outs were to becoming hits, but Matt Kemp has missed some close ones this weekend in San Diego.

The latest came in the sixth inning tonight, when Kemp hit a 400-foot drive to center that was caught at the wall – a vintage Petco Park out.

Braun, 2 for 3 with Milwaukee, leapfrogged Jose Reyes in the batting title race and put a hair more distance tonight between himself and Kemp, who singled in the first inning but was hitless in his final three at-bats, the last one a 4-6-3 double play (hit to Orlando Hudson, positioned almost directly behind second base) against Padres closer Heath Bell, who finished off San Diego’s 3-0 victory over the Dodgers.

After no-hitting the Dodgers for six innings in July, Aaron Harang pitched shutout ball against Los Angeles for eight tonight. In his past 14 innings against the team, Harang has allowed no runs, three hits and three walks with 11 strikeouts.

James Loney, Jerry Sands and Dee Gordon had the Dodgers’ other hits. Sands, interestingly, had his 15th double – putting him fifth on the team for the entire season despite barely having 200 plate appearances.

* * *

In his final start of 2011, Chad Billingsley had a one-hit shutout for 4 2/3 innings, then with two runners on, threw a 66 mph curveball to Will Venable that shocked Vin Scully with its lollipopness. Venable delivered an RBI single, Hudson followed with another RBI single and then a Tim Federowicz throwing error brought home a third Padre run. Billingsley hit Cameron Maybin in the back with a 3-2 pitch before getting out of the inning on a Chase Headley groundout.

Something to remember before throwing Billingsley under a bus, besides the ongoing worry (at least on my end) that there’s a physical problem: A year ago at this time, Kemp was wrapping up a disappointing year. People do bounce back. Billingsley had a rough second half in 2009, and came back strong in 2010 with a 3.57 ERA.

That being said, the decline in Billingsley’s strikeout stuff remains distressing.

Sep 24

September 24 game chat

Once more unto the breach, dear friends …

  • Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com traces Clayton Kershaw’s development to superstar.

    … When Kershaw’s second pitch in the top of the sixth inning hit Parra on his front elbow, plate umpire Bill Welke ejected the pitcher immediately.

    The next day I asked the same veteran player who had told Kershaw it would be OK to back away from this fight whether or not Kershaw had proved something to him, whether he liked him more or less than he had the day before.

    “Neither,” the player said. “I already knew him.” …

  • Here’s an interview on YouTube with Vin Scully talking about Matt Kemp, Kershaw and more, courtesy of Marty Caswell.
  • Peter Gammons endorses Kemp for NL MVP in a long piece at MLB.com.
  • Joe Block of Dodger Talk speculates that, because of the theory of “progression to the mean,” injuries deprived Juan Uribe the opportunity to recover from his poor first half of the season.
  • Kevin Baxter of the Times runs a list of the top 10 free agents this offseason alongside the cautionary tale of the top 10 free-agent flops of last offseason.
  • John Sickels of Minor League Ball checks in on some minor-leaguers with major-league bloodlines, including one Matt Scioscia.
Sep 24

The myth and reality of ‘valuable’

Dear Voter:

There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.

The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:

1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.

2. Number of games played.

3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.

4. Former winners are eligible.

5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

Baseball Writers Association of America official site

* * *

The idea that an MVP must come from a contending team is completely invented. It is not part of the rules of the award nor its roots. Nor is it part of baseball history, unless you’d like to go back and take Ernie Banks’ MVP awards away from him.

Nevertheless, the idea persists among many that an MVP must come from a team that, at a minimum, is in the thick of a pennant race. It comes from people who believe, apparently, that if a tree falls in the woods, it does not make a sound.

Guess what.  It makes a sound.

* * *

If, instead of voting for the player with the best performance, you vote for only the player with the best performance on a potential champion, you’re arguing that anything that takes place outside the spotlight doesn’t matter.

Think of the implications of that.

I have three kids.  Sometimes I watch them play. Right now they’re playing downstairs while I type this. If one of my children does something nice for another, that is a good thing, whether I’m in the room or not.  The value is equal. To think otherwise is to send a message that your actions only matter when people are watching.

Baseball asks you to run out a ground ball even when you’re sure you’re going to be out.  It asks you to put your best effort even if you’re team is 50 games out of first place. The sport asks this, for one, because fans and TV networks have been promised this in exchange for their hard-earned money. And because it’s a belief that virtually all of us share. Do your best.

To then turn around and say that “Oh, by the way, we aren’t paying attention to you anymore, so your effort doesn’t matter,” is nonsensical.

And it’s not a matter of degree. Even though you have an adjusted OPS+ of xxx, playing on a contending team doesn’t mean you add three points, or 10 points or 24.6 points.  The value of the same performance is the same regardless of where it took place.

Sending my kids to college is so much more important to me than buying my kids the Webkinz stuffed animals they love.  Nevertheless, $10 I put away for my kids’ education is not more valuable than $20 I spend on the toy. No, $20 is more than $10.

* * *

All that being said, the idea that the Dodgers’ games have been meaningless this season is a complete fiction.

They were clearly meaningful in April and May, before anyone had broken free in the National League West.

They were also meaningful later in the season, even after the losing began. If not for Arizona’s remarkable breakthrough this season, something that no one could have guaranteed, the Dodgers’ second-half rally would have put them in the thick of the race. With five games to go in the season, the Dodgers have 79 victories, which means they still have the chance of matching their division-winning total of 2008 and surpassing the Padres’ division-winning total of 2005.

When, exactly, were the Dodgers supposed to stop trying?

But even if you concede that this team was not going to go to the playoffs, the indispensable point is this: The Dodgers have had meaning all season as an opponent.

From April through September, the Dodgers played games that mattered because winning or losing had a direct effect on the pennant races. In addition to their own postseason dreams, there were also postseason dreams for their opponents. On Tuesday, San Francisco came to Los Angeles, having won eight games in a row in making a late run for the playoffs. With two out in the first inning, Matt Kemp singled and then scored a run off Tim Lincecum in what became a 2-1 victory that severely damaged their hopes.

Then, a day after the Giants beat the Dodgers to keep their hopes alive and a day before San Francisco had a showdown series with Arizona, Kemp went 4 for 4 with three doubles and a home run in a Dodger victory that was crushing for the Giants.

You want to tell San Francisco’s fans that that didn’t count?

The Dodgers were not eliminated from postseason contention until September 17. Every game they played to that point counted for themselves. In their entire 2011 season, they will have played eight games – two against Pittsburgh, three in their current series against San Diego and three to finish the season against NL West champion Arizona – that had no bearing on the postseason (though keeping in mind they still mean something to the fans who watch).

Ryan Braun’s Milwaukee Brewers, who like the Diamondbacks clinched their division title Friday, will play five games this season that have no bearing on the postseason.

That’s a three-game difference out of 162. Three games in which Kemp’s performance mattered less to the playoff race than Braun’s.

* * *

Pressure of the pennant chase? I don’t even need to bother with this one, because Joe Posnanski already destroyed this argument:

… This line — that it’s easier to put up numbers without pennant pressure — is a lot like that. Nobody can possibly believe this. First of all, there’s the obvious flaw: If it were easier to put up numbers in non-pressure situations, then players would consistently and obviously have better years on lousy teams than they do on good ones. Does this ring even the slightest bell of truth? Does anyone believe that Derek Jeter would have put up better numbers had he played for Kansas City? Does anyone believe that Albert Pujols would be so much better if he had spent his career playing in the carefree world of the Pittsburgh Pirates? Roy Halladay was great for mediocre Blue Jays teams and is great for outstanding Phillies teams. Hank Aaron was the same great player with the same great numbers when Milwaukee won, when Milwaukee almost won, and when Milwaukee wasn’t very good at all. …

If you’ve read this blog at all you know: I’ve covered a lot of bad teams in my life. I’ve been around some good ones, too. And as far as “pressure” goes, well, from my observation, it’s not even close. There is infinitely more pressure on players on lousy teams than on good ones. Obviously, this depends on how you define pressure, but if the textbook definition of pressure is “the feeling of stressful urgency cause by the necessity of achieving something,” well, absolutely, there’s way more pressure on the lousy teams.

… Think about it: What pressure is there on players in pennant races? The pressure to win? Sure. But players come to the ballpark energized. Everyone on the team is into it. The crowd is alive and hopeful. The afternoon crackles. Anticipation. Excitement. There’s nothing in sports quite like the energy in a baseball clubhouse during a pennant race. Players arrive early to prepare. Teammates help each other. Everyone’s in a good mood. There’s a feeling swirling around: This is exactly the childhood dream. The added importance of the moment could, in theory I suppose, create extra stress. But the reality I’ve seen is precisely the opposite. The importance sharpens the senses, feeds the enthusiasm, makes the day brighter. Baseball is a long season. Anything to give a day a little gravity, to separate it from yesterday, to make it all more interesting — anything like that, I think, is much more likely to make it EASIER to play closer to one’s peak.

A losing clubhouse? Exactly the opposite. The downward pressure is enormous and overwhelming — after all, who cares? The town has moved on. A Hawaiian vacation awaits. Teammates are fighting to keep their jobs or fighting to impress someone on another team or just plain fighting. The manager might be worried about his job. The reporters are few, and they’re negative. Smaller crowds make it easier to hear the drunken critics. Support is much harder to come by, and there is constant, intense force demanding that you just stop trying so hard. After all: Why take that extra BP? You’ve got the swing down. Why study a few extra minutes of film? You’ve faced that hitter before. Why take that extra base? Why challenge him on that 3-1 pitch? Why? You’re down 9-3 anyway.

It’s absolutely AMAZING to me when a player puts up a fantastic year even when the team around him stinks. …

The Dodgers, frankly, deserve a special recognition in this category. If there were a Downward Pressure World Series, they surely would have won. With unsurpassed nightmares in the owners’ suite and a fan base in outward revolt, with numerous devotees boycotting games, with expectations for success absolutely disappearing, late summer in Los Angeles should have been the most soul-sapping time for a player in the franchise’s 54 seasons here, even more so than the 99-loss 1992 season played in the aftermath of the city’s riots.

Instead, Kemp, not to mention Clayton Kershaw and some others, bore down and did the only thing anyone can ask – be the best they can be. They were better than anyone had a right to expect.

It is, in terms of environment, easily as impressive an achievement as what the same performance would have been on a season-long contender.

* * *

I’m not saying it’s a stupid question to wonder if a player on a non-contender should get voted MVP? Even Vin Scully asked the question aloud during Friday’s Dodger broadcast.

The problem is not with the question. The problem has been with the answer.

If the answer is, “The goal is to win a championship, and any performance that does not come with a championship isn’t the most valuable,” you’re saying that Matt Kemp wasn’t valuable because Juan Uribe was terrible. Does that make any sense? “Because my next-door neighbor is a bad guy, it doesn’t matter how good I am.”

Value, clearly and cleanly, comes down to this. What would you rather have?  If you knew everything there was to know about the 2011 regular season in advance, which player would have been your first pick before Opening Day?

If you think Ryan Braun was a better player than Matt Kemp this year, vote for him.

If you think Braun was absolutely, indivisibly, incontrovertibly equal to Kemp this year, and you want to use the fact that Braun is going to the postseason as the only thing that can break the deadlock, vote for him.

But if you think Kemp was better than Braun, by a mile or a millimeter, and you vote for Braun, you’re making a mistake. You’re not upholding the values of this game or our society – you’re subverting them.

Sep 23

Kemp ties Pujols in homers, but loses ground to Braun in MVP race?


Lenny Ignelzi/APThe Bison roams free.

In St. Louis, Albert Pujols had a double, but no home runs.

In Milwaukee, Ryan Braun was 0 for 3, extending his recent slump to 1 for 16.

But then in the bottom of the eighth inning against the Marlins, with the score tied 1-1, Braun hit a three-run home run that, in no particular order, helped clinch the National League Central for the Brewers, raised his batting average back to .329 and seized the headlines in the NL Most Valuable Player race all at once.

Matt Kemp had struck out and flied out in his first two at-bats, and perhaps the momentum seemed to be shifting.

But then, on his 27th birthday, with his mom in the front row of Petco Park, Kemp unloaded on a 1-2 fastball from San Diego lefty Wade Le Blanc and tattooed it to right-center field, tying Pujols with his 37th home run of the season in the Dodgers’ 2-0 victory over the Padres.

This is as thrilling a finish to an after-they’ve-been-eliminated season for the Dodgers as I believe I’ve witnessed.

After missing a double by a foot on a hard liner that went foul, Kemp struck out in his final at-bat. We’re going down to the wire for sure.

* * *

After 6 1/3 scoreless innings by a resurgent Ted Lilly (six baserunners, seven strikeouts) and an adequate two outs from Mike MacDougal, Kenley Jansen came in for the eighth inning.

He struck out all three batters he faced, of course. That gives him 91 in 51 1/3 innings this season, or 15.96 per nine innings – just .03 off Carlos Marmol’s single-season record.

Jansen has struck out 29 of his past 47 batters, including 29 of his past 37 outs.

* * *

Eugenio Velez: 0 for 3, 0 for 36 in 2011 (a single-season record for non-pitchers), 0 for 45. He has tied the major-league record for consecutive hitless at-bats by non-pitchers.

Sep 23

MLB calls for court to order Dodger sale

Vowing to reject any TV deal that involves the Dodgers with Frank McCourt as owner, Major League Baseball filed a motion requesting the bankruptcy court to order a sale of the franchise.

… Attorneys for the league argued in a court filing that McCourt is using the team’s Chapter 11 case to try to resolve his own personal financial problems. They said he has methodically stripped the team of its revenue sources and is now seeking to auction off the team’s television rights without league approval, which could lead to its expulsion from the league and leave it in economic ruin. …

Bill Shaikin of the Times first reported the story, which included this haymaker of a passage:

… The current Fox Sports contract with the Dodgers expires in 2013, and Fox holds exclusive negotiating rights for another 14 months. A sale of TV rights now not only would subject the Dodgers to significant damages in a lawsuit from Fox, baseball argued, but could result in MLB discipline up to and including the team’s suspension from the league. …

Fancy. Still, before it comes to that, we’ll presumably just see this continued to be played out in court.

More from Shaikin, who spoke with Thomas Salerno, lead attorney for the Phoenix Coyotes during their bankruptcy:

… By announcing its rejection of any deal before a sale could take place, and by signaling its veto of a plan that McCourt could use to pay all the Dodgers’ creditors in full, Salerno said, the league could be seen as not acting in good faith.

“I think MLB runs a risk that the judge says that’s not reasonable,” Salerno said.

Since a settlement in the case is highly unlikely, Judge Kevin Gross could issue a ruling that stands as precedent for other disputes between owners and leagues.

“This case is clearly going to make law,” Salerno said. “The league is going all in.”

* * *

Since Carl Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown in 1967, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Matt Kemp “is the only player to date to be within five points of the league leader in batting average (or leading), within one HR of the league leader (or leading), and within one RBI of the league leader (or leading), in the last 15 days of the season, let alone the last week of the season,” reports ESPN Stats and Information.

* * *

With Eugenio Velez starting tonight, a reminder of where he stands:

  • 0 for 33 this season
  • 0 for 42 since his last major-league hit, May 18, 2010
  • Since a third-inning single on April 20, 2010: 1 for his last 62 in the majors.
Sep 23

Why did Kemp’s Triple Crown pursuit go unnoticed for so long?

I have spent the better part of the past two months tantalized by the possibility that Matt Kemp might win the National League Triple Crown, becoming the first player to do so since Joe Medwick in 1937 and the first in either league since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. My first post on the subject was on August 1:

No, we don’t value RBI much as a stat in these parts — not without context anyway — and we value batting average even less.

Unless they give us something fun to root for.

Here we are on August 1, and Matt Kemp still is plumb in the thick of Triple Crown contention.

The thing I like most in Kemp’s favor is that 33 of the Dodgers’ remaining 55 games are on the road, where Kemp is batting .335 with 15 homers and 45 RBI in 48 games.

Admittedly, some of those games will be in pitcher paradises like San Diego, where the Dodgers begin a three-game series tonight. But most of them are in ballparks where Kemp’s bat will feel much more footloose and fancy-free than it has in Dodger Stadium this year, where he is batting .301 with 11 homers and 42 RBI in 59 games.

The odds are against Kemp, but it’s not ridiculous to think he could do it. …

During most of that time, despite regular updates, I haven’t completely understood why most of the baseball world was so slow to get excited about what might be happening. (Is it possible that I don’t have that much influence in the baseball universe????)

I realize as much as anyone that batting average and RBI aren’t as universally valued as categories – in essence, they’re not part of the Triple Crown of stats themselves anymore. Nevertheless, the world stops every time someone is threatening to pitch a no-hitter, even if they’ve walked seven, and no-hitters happen almost every year.

The Triple Crown hasn’t happened in 44 years. In August, Kemp entered the seventh inning of his pursuit. Hardly anyone batted an eye. Somehow, 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases were more intriguing than a feat many of us haven’t seen in our lifetimes. Yaz finished his Triple Crown about two months before I was born. My Dad was two when Ducky had his.

Well, now he’s in the bottom of the ninth. He’s so close … and finally, people are taking note.

The tough part might be playing in spacious Petco Park in San Diego, where home runs and RBI could be hardest to come by, while home run leader Albert Pujols and the Cardinals are hosting the Cubs and batting average leader Ryan Braun and Milwaukee are hosting Florida. (Jose Reyes, also in the batting average race, will play for the Mets against the Reds.) Kemp will face starting pitchers Wade Le Blanc, Aaron Harang and Cory Luebke in San Diego.

Then for the final three games, Kemp travels to a better hitting environment, Arizona. He’s scheduled to face Daniel Hudson, Wade Miley and Joe Saunders, according to ESPN.com and pending any rejiggering by the Diamondbacks if and when they clinch the NL West. Pujols and the Cardinals go to Houston, Milwaukee hosts Pittsburgh and the Mets host the Reds.

I said it once and I’ll say it again. The odds are against Kemp, but it’s not ridiculous to think he could do it. …

Sep 22

‘Unreal’ Kemp hits three doubles and 36th homer

“That’s not a bat he uses – that’s a magic wand.”
– Vin Scully

NL batting average leaders
.330 Ryan Braun
.329 Jose Reyes
.326 Matt Kemp

NL home run leaders
37 Albert Pujols
36 Matt Kemp
35 Dan Uggla

NL runs batted in leaders
118 Matt Kemp
113 Ryan Howard
112 Prince Fielder

Hiroki Kuroda deserves his due, but I’m sorry – I can’t think of anything else right now.

Kemp homered to dead center in his final at-bat of the game. A Dee Gordon caught stealing in the sixth might have cost him the at-bat, but Gordon walked in the eighth to give Kemp that last chance.

This was the 14th time that a Dodger had at least four extra-base hits in a game.

Sep 22

Home finale game chat

Last chance to boycott the Dodgers in 2011 …

Sep 22

Thank you, Dodgers

Sometime in the summer – I’m not going to try to figure out the exact date, because it doesn’t matter exactly when – my despair for the Dodgers reached a new and perilous level.

It wasn’t anything new about ownership – those misgivings were long-established and steady. It wasn’t a sudden realization that they wouldn’t make the playoffs – without giving up hope entirely, I had settled in with that belief since May.

It was the fear that the remaining 50-or-whatever-it-was games would be just punishing, that the bright spots would be too few and far between, that watching the Dodgers would become tiresome and writing about them an absolute chore.

There would always be something to write about, but that was part of the problem. I wouldn’t be able to hibernate, to pull a summertime Groundhog Day and declare six more weeks of winter in August. I’d have to pay attention to a team from which I might want to take a long vacation.

Instead, just about the opposite occurred.

While the specter of McCourt, a lost season and an uncertain future still hang over the team, the final weeks of the Dodger season have been nothing short of fun.

We have been treated to …

  • the climactic finishes to brilliant seasons by Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp.
  • the Dee Gordon Experience.
  • the “Kenley Jansen Now You See the Ball, Now You Don’t” show.
  • the classy and brassy pitching of Hiroki Kuroda.
  • the resurgence of James Loney.
  • the surgence of Jerry Sands.
  • the relief of a semi-productive, beggars-can’t-be-choosers cleanup hitter in Juan Rivera.
  • the ahead-of-schedule brightness of “U-less” Nathan Eovaldi.
  • the productive determination of A.J. Ellis.
  • the steady reliability of Javy Guerra.
  • the quiet blossoming of Scott Elbert and Josh Lindblom.
  • the brief moments in sunlight of Dana Eveland.
  • the persistence of Hong-Chih Kuo.
  • and last, and yes, least – but not insincerely – the mystery and intrigue of Eugenio Velez.

That’s a lot to be thankful for — with more that I’m leaving out — when I’m not sure I could reasonably have expected very much at all.

Most of all, we have been treated to winners in sheepish clothing. We have gotten the salve for some deep wounds.

There are some long-term problems that need to be solved, but those would have been there anyway. In the meantime, I’ve gotten more pleasure than pain from the final weeks of the 2011 Dodger season. And I am grateful.

Sep 21

Despite loss, Triple Crown chase heats up for Kemp

Harry How/Getty ImagesMatt Kemp watches the ball head toward the outfield bleachers …
Mark J. Terrill/AP… after this home-run swing in the Dodgers’ 8-5 loss to the Giants tonight.

NL batting average leaders
.330 Jose Reyes
.330 Ryan Braun
.322 Matt Kemp

NL home run leaders
36 Albert Pujols
35 Matt Kemp
35 Dan Uggla

NL runs batted in leaders
116 Matt Kemp
113 Ryan Howard
112 Prince Fielder

Promise: When ballplayers vote for Most Valuable Sportswriter, they will give equal consideration to writers from average publications that aren’t contending for the title.

Sep 21

Don’t make Kenley Jansen the closer — he’s too good for the job


Kirby Lee/US PresswireKenley Jansen has allowed two runs since June, while stranding all nine runners he has inherited.

Keeping this as concise as possible in the interest of time:

  • Kenley Jansen has struck out 25 of his past 40 batters.
  • Kenley Jansen has gotten 25 of his past 31 outs via the strikeout.
  • Kenley Jansen is so overwhelming right now, a Giants blog, Bay City Ball, rhapsodized about him.
  • Kenley Jansen has a WHIP of 0.671 since coming off the disabled list in June, allowing eight singles, a double and 10 walks in 28 1/3 innings.
  • Kenley Jansen has allowed a .098 batting average, .192 on-base percentage and .109 slugging percentage in that time.
  • Kenley Jansen is the Dodgers’ most dominant reliever, the reliever you’d most trust to get an out when you need it.

It is for these reasons that I hope the Dodgers do not make Kenley Jansen a closer next season.

Tuesday’s victory illustrated why. If Jansen were the closer, Dodger manager Don Mattingly would have held him back until the ninth inning, rather than having him come put out the fire when Clayton Kershaw gave up a home run and two walks in the eighth inning.

It’s far better that Jansen be available at the game’s biggest crisis point, whatever inning that comes.

My hope is that if Mattingly feels he must have a regular closer in 2012, he is seduced by Guerra’s 19 saves in 20 opportunities and keeps him in that slot. Nothing against Guerra, who has been one of the season’s most pleasant surprises, but he is not a smokejumper like Jansen, who looks more capable of putting out the toughest fires than any other Dodger reliever.

* * *

  • With Colorado’s loss to San Diego today, the Dodgers’ clinched no worse than a third-place finish in the National League West.
  • Matt Kemp could be the first NL player to finish in the top two in home runs and steals since Hank Aaron in 1963, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.
  • From the Dodger press notes: “Since Aug. 1, James Loney leads the National League with a .359 batting average (51-for-142) and ranks among the league leaders in doubles (15, T-1st), on-base percentage (.425, 4th) and slugging percentage (.627, 2nd).”
  • Kenny Shulsen of Lasorda’s Lair predicted Jerry Sands’ home run off Tim Lincecum on Tuesday — a home run, I believe that will be remembered when debating Sands’ potential this offseason.
  • Tuesday was the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers’ final regular season game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, notes Keith Thursby at the Daily Mirror, which also features a Jim Murray column commemorating the event. Sandy Koufax struck out 15 in a 13-inning complete-game victory. If Baseball-Reference.com is accurate, Koufax threw 213 pitches in the game.
Sep 20

Hoop, there it is: Kershaw wins 20th

If you’re a fish, one place you never want to be is in a barrel, because folks with deadly aim, like Clayton Kershaw, are always shooting at you.

But tonight, I’m going to grant clemency to our underwater friends and describe Clayton Kershaw’s dominance in a different way.

Free throws.

Unlike basketball, baseball isn’t supposed to have free throws. Every action on the diamond that affects or prevents scoring is contested. Theoretically.

But in what is looking more like a Cy Young Award-winning season at age 23, punctuated by tonight’s 2-1 victory over Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants, Kershaw has become Calvin Murphy at the line. You can wave bats or banners in his face or jump up and down in a rainbow wig, and Kershaw just sets, shoots and swishes.

In fact, it has become so seemingly automatic for Kershaw, whose latest incredible feat is besting Lincecum an unfathomable four times out of four (with an 0.33 ERA) in this 20-win  season, the first by a Dodger since Ramon Martinez in 1990, that it wouldn’t surprise if Kershaw started tossing ball after ball through the home-plate hoop underhanded like Rick Barry. Or maybe you’re a fan of Harlem Globetrotter-style trickery, which Kershaw displayed by picking off two of the  runners that reached base against him.

You can foul him, you can freeze him, you can drive at him or away from him, but you can not faze this Clayton Kershaw. Sometime soon, he’s going to go to his mailbox and find a package from George Gervin containing the nickname “Ice.” 

“With my compliments,” the note will say. 

It’s understood, as if stipulated in court, that Kershaw brings no-hit stuff to every game. When San Francisco leadoff man Andres Torres reached base on a first-inning grounder that Miles backhanded but threw awry, the official scoring was an error, justified in part by the play and in part by an obvious desire not to preempt history. When, one batter after Torres was caught stealing, Carlos Beltran got the game’s first hit with a limp bird of a knock over shortstop, the “oh, please” sigh was perceptible throughout Dodger Stadium.

Kershaw only allowed one runner to reach third base in his first seven innings, mostly dominating Giants hitters while occasionally turning them into tourist patsies called on stage by a Vegas hypnotist. The slow, 74 mph curveball, more a part of Kershaw lore (his Rat Pack days) than his fastball-slider headlining present, was reprised like Sinatra calling back “My Way,” swooning Torres to end the third inning and Brett Pill in the midst of a perfect seventh.

So what happened in the eighth inning? Murphy missed 419 free throws in his 13-year NBA career, so occasionally one inning does go clank. After Kershaw retired Justin Christian, Giants catcher Chris Stewart homered just over the wall in left-center to spoil the lefty’s shutout. The next two batters, pinch-hitter Pat Burrell and Torres, walked, and suddenly seemingly everything was in jeopardy, and you remembered that Kershaw had turned baseball into a free-throw exhibition because he kind of had to. The margin for error with this Dodger team has been that small.

They say when you pull a pitcher from a game, as Kershaw was by Don Mattingly at that point after 115 pitches, “his night is done.” But as Kershaw sat in the dugout watching intently while Kenley Jansen replaced him, his night was not done. Not in his mind, not in the Dodgers’ minds, not in the minds of the Dodger Stadium announced crowd of 32,526 — an essentially legit account for once not of empty seats but of people, making as much noise as has been heard at this ballpark all season — and not in the minds of the legions of Dodger fans following the game from near and far, desperately willing Kershaw closer to victory and his postseason prize.

Fortunately, Jansen is the one guy right now who can make Kershaw look like Shaquille O’Neal at the charity stripe. On seven total pitches, the big burly righty struck out Pablo Sandoval and Beltran, giving Jansen a billionty Ks per inning since the All-Star break.

Javy Guerra then overcame his own throwing error to start the ninth by getting Pill to fly out and Aubrey Huff to hit into a 3-6-3 double play, and it was over. 

Cut down the nets and drape them around Kershaw’s neck. The Dodgers are not champions, but he is. There are so many ways to compliment Clayton Kershaw that, well … fish, be on your guard.

Sep 20

Best wishes to Derrick Hall

Tough news out of Arizona: Diamodbacks CEO and former Dodger executive Derrick Hall has prostate cancer. More from the Diamondbacks’ official site:

… A date for surgery to remove the tumors has not yet been scheduled. Hall underwent a series of tests recently and had a prostate biopsy performed on Sept. 14.

“I was informed by my doctor while in San Diego with the team Saturday,” Hall said. “I am fortunate the disease was caught in the early stages and expect a full recovery. I will use this news as an opportunity to educate and drive awareness, while hopefully saving more lives in the future. I am in great hands, and my family and I are confident we will get through this successfully. I notified all of my staff immediately and am eternally grateful for the overwhelming support, love and prayers.”

Hall underwent a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test, which resulted in elevated numbers and then underwent the prostate biopsy. That test was diagnosed as positive and revealed cancerous tumors.

D-backs managing general partner Ken Kendrick is a prostate cancer survivor. …

* * *

    Congrats to Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illnesshe’s engaged! To his girlfriend! She finally bagged her a Homer.
  • Matt Kemp won the Dodgers’ Roy Campanella Award, “given to the Dodger player who best exemplifies the spirit and leadership of the late Hall of Fame catcher.” Rafael Furcal, Russell Martin, James Loney, Juan Pierre and Jamey Carroll are previous winners of the six-year-old trophy.
  • Frank McCourt winning his hearing on TV rights, Tony Gwynn Jr.’s close friendship and James Loney’s willingness to move to left field — all reasons to speculate about Prince Fielder coming to Los Angeles, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • Manny Ramirez plans to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic this year, reports The Associated Press.
  • Tommy Lasorda will be in uniform as an honorary coach for the Dodgers’ home finale September 22, which happens to be the birthday of Lasorda, my daughter and Molly Knight.
  • From the Dodger press notes: Dee Gordon “is tied the for NL lead along with Florida’s Emilio Bonifacio with 28 September hits and ranks fifth on the circuit with a .373 batting average this month (28-for-75). The 23-year-old also leads the Majors with nine stolen bases in 17 September games and overall ranks second among NL rookies with 21 steals in 27 attempts (77.8%). Gordon went 3-for-4 on Sunday to extend his career-long hitting streak to six games and is batting .423 (11-for-26) since the run began on Sept. 13. He is batting .337 (35-for-104) in the season’s second half, which ranks sixth among NL qualifiers.”
  • Tonight’s matchup between Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum reunites two pitchers who, as of now, are in the top 20 in major-league history in adjusted ERA for starting pitchers (minimum 700 innings), according to Baseball-Reference.com.