Sep 20

Lee’s surge complicates road to Cy Young for Kershaw


Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireClayton Kershaw is set to finish his season with starts tonight and then Sunday in San Diego.

How heated is the National League Cy Young competition? The top four candidates — Roy Halladay, Ian Kennedy, Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee (in alphabetical order) — have a combined September ERA of 1.46.

Kennedy continued his late bid for recognition by pitching eight innings of one-hit ball with 12 strikeouts in a 1-0 victory for Arizona, which built its lead to 5 1/2 games in the NL West, while Halladay gave up a sliver of ground by allowing four runs in a 4-3 Phillies loss to St. Louis.

Kershaw and Lee — both red-hot of late, both scheduled to start tonight — have the opportunity to affirm themselves as the two top finalists for the award. In particular, if Kershaw bests Tim Lincecum for a fourth time in 2011 tonight, that’s going to be memorable.

For the first time, I’m starting to think that Halladay and Lee being teammates could hurt the award chances of both. Up until very recently, I’ve felt that the award was Halladay’s to lose, given that he pitches for the best team in the NL and that he’s pitched so well — his numbers are virtually equal to Kershaw’s (see chart below), with a slightly lower strikeout rate but better control, and higher wins above replacement.

However, Lee’s amazing stretch run —a 0.56 ERA in 64 2/3 innings since August 1 — has helped him catch up to the leaders and throw more confusion into the race. If you’re a voter who wants to honor the Phillies in some way with this award (given that the MVP race doesn’t really offer that opportunity), whom do you pick?

Now, if you watched “Modern Family” win bunches of Emmys on Sunday despite multiple nominations in those categories, you learned that teammates don’t always bring each other down. Still, as much as Lee presents another rival to Kershaw, he could also aid the Dodger by stealing votes from Halladay.

Voters who treasure wins may lean toward Kennedy, who certainly has been no slouch. But if Kershaw ends up with 20 wins himself, I think you can remove that category as a path to Kennedy leapfrogging the Dodger lefty.

In fact, much has been made lately of Kershaw possibly winning the pitcher’s triple crown: wins, ERA and strikeouts. My guess is that if he does, he will collect the Cy Young (though for me, the win totals are essentially irrelevant).

But let’s put it this way: If Kershaw doesn’t finish first in the balloting, there will be no crime. Halladay and Lee have been every bit as fierce as Kershaw. It’s been a superb year for all of them.

Top National League Cy Young Award candidates
(bold text signifies leader among contenders)

IP W-L ERA Sept. ERA ERA+ WAR (B-R.com) WAR (Fangraphs) WHIP K/9 K/BB
Roy Halladay 227 2/3 18-6 2.41 2.03 160 7.1 8.0 1.045 8.58 6.38
Cole Hamels 206 14-9 2.80 4.18 138 5.1 5.0 0.981 8.13 4.54
Ian Kennedy 216 20-4 2.88 1.88 137 5.3 4.9 1.083 8.08 3.66
Clayton Kershaw 218 2/3 19-5 2.30 0.90 161 6.4 6.8 0.983 9.71 4.63
Cliff Lee 219 2/3 16-7 2.38 0.72 162 6.7 6.5 1.015 9.14 5.31

* * *

  • By the way, this caught me by surprise, but Kershaw is no longer leading the NL in strikeouts per nine innings. Zack Greinke of Milwaukee is on top.
  • Chad Moriyama has a mammoth analysis of James Loney that you need to read, in which Moriyama analyzes both Loney’s stats and his swing. Conclusions:

    … What fans want to hear is that Loney has simply flipped a switch and will now pull 35% of balls and put up an OPS near .900 going forward. While I wish my analysis could guarantee that, it’s simply not a feasible conclusion to reach.

    What is clear though is that Loney has changed his approach and swing over the last two months in a way that has drastically affected his hit distribution and production. As such, the possibility does exist that his numbers could improve significantly in 2012 if the changes he has made carry over on a consistent basis.

    That said, all of my findings are subject to the usual sample size critiques, which is precisely why nothing about this is a sure thing. However, I have shown that Loney’s change under Hansen has absolutely happened, and looking at the free agent list at first base for 2012, unless the Dodgers can get Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, or Lance Berkman, I’d rather give Loney another shot if he comes at a reasonable salary (4-6 million?) even though I had previously preferred signing Carlos Pena (probably more expensive).

    When talking about baseball players, hope is part of what makes the game so fun to follow, but it can also be a dangerous thing, especially when that hope is invested in a 27-year-old first baseman with a .749 OPS/103 OPS+ over four full seasons. Still though, as of now, I’m more willing to take a chance on Loney than ever before.

  • Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com has a really nice feature centering on A.J. Ellis that will only make you root for him more.
  • Dylan Hernandez of the Times looks at the increasingly favorable comparisons of Kershaw with Sandy Koufax.
  • Jonathan Broxton had his elbow surgery Monday, with “a bone spur and associated loose bodies” being removed.
  • Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com has an update on ailing catcher Gary Garter.
  • Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors compiles the $100 million free agent contracts in baseball history.
  • David Pinto of Baseball Musings reminds us that batting order is less about stats and more about egos.
  • Patrick Dubuque at Notgraphs has a fun essay on the impulse for a fielder to throw his glove at a ball.
Sep 19

NL MVP race down to two: Kemp and Braun


Reed Saxon/APWith nine games to play, the Bison is leading or in the top three in the NL in batting average, home runs, RBIs, total bases, steals, slugging percentage, OPS and Wins Above Replacement (WAR), according to FanGraphs.

The National League Most Valuable Player race, as far as I’m concerned, is down to two finalists: Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp.

Braun has seized the high ground among players from contending teams, pushing aside his Brewers teammate Prince Fielder and Arizona’s Justin Upton. Kemp is the preeminent player from the also-rans.

Kemp and Braun are in something close to a dead heat statistically — Kemp leads in some categories, Braun in others — which, of course, might not be good enough for Kemp, who will be battling the belief by some voters that the MVP has to come from a contender.

On the other hand, despite the Brewers’ run to a division title, I’m not sure Braun has had the nationwide publicity that Kemp has had — I do get the sense that some think Kemp has simply been the best player in the NL this year, and that might be good enough for them.

Kemp also retains an outside shot at the Triple Crown (he trails Braun by .016 in batting average, Albert Pujols by two in home runs and is tied with Ryan Howard for the NL lead in RBI), and if he can do something that hasn’t been done in the NL since 1937, then forget about it. A 40-40 season (he needs six homers in his last nine games) wouldn’t hurt, either.

But Kemp, who singled, doubled and hit his 34th home run in the Dodgers’ 15-1 pasting of Pittsburgh on Sunday, can’t relax until the finish line. He might be No. 1A at this point, but there’s no award unless you’re No. 1.

Top National League MVP candidates
(bold text signifies leader among contenders)

PA OPS OPS+ Sept. OPS HR RBI TAV (BP) WAR (B-R) WAR (Fangraphs)
Ryan Braun 595 .997 168 .974 31 103 .342 7.6 7.1
Prince Fielder 654 .960 160 1.064 34 112 .321 4.7 4.8
Matt Kemp 648 .963 166 .945 34 113 .343 9.1 7.6
Albert Pujols 604 .921 154 1.113 36 95 .317 5.3 5.2
Troy Tulowitzki 599 .924 134 .965 30 105 .305 5.9 6.6
Justin Upton 649 .911 145 .932 30 86 .308 5.0 6.8
Shane Victorino 543 .875 135 .617 17 60 .312 5.4 6.2
Joey Votto 675 .971 162 .855 28 98 .332 6.7 7.1
Sep 18

September 18 game chat

“How a line drive percentage boost has helped Matt Kemp,” from Mark A. Simon of ESPN Stats and Information:

Matt Kemp hit line drives on 16 percent of the balls he put in play in 2010. He’s upped that rate to 22 percent in 2011 (statistics through Wednesday’s games).

How much of a difference does a six percentage point jump make? Let’s explore:

In 2010, Matt Kemp had 50 hits on his 71 line drives (50-for-69, .725 BA, two sacrifice fly)

In 2011, through Wednesday, he has 72 hits on 91 line drives (72-for-90, .800 BA, 1 sacrifice fly)

Hypothetically, let’s say that Kemp was hitting line drives at a similar rate to last season and that he was getting hits on them at a similar rate to last season.

In our new situation, that would give him 48 hits on 66 line drives

That would give him 24 fewer hits than he has right now.

To account for those 25 balls he hit that we’re no longer considering line drives (91 minus 66), Let’s presume he still hit those balls- but hit flies and grounders.

Kemp has hit fly balls and ground balls this season at nearly the same rate. So let’s give him 13 fly balls and 12 ground balls. And his hit rates on those are such that it should add about 8 hits to his ledger.

In all, that would mean that the increased line drive rate and line drive performance has been worth about 16 hits to Kemp’s ledger.

If we took those 16 hits and turned them into outs, it would chop 30 points off Matt Kemp’s batting average.

He’d be hitting .286 instead of .316. Still pretty good, but would perception be any different, given that he’s still a 30 HR-30 SB player?

* * *

On Thursday night, I read a review in the New Yorker (abstracted here and also discussed here) of a new novel, “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach.

In Friday’s mail was a copy of the book, sent to me by my father. Nice.

Sep 18

September 18, 2006: Here comes the end of the world


Jeff Lewis/APThere’s home, Nomar. There’s home.

For the five years since it took place, I’ve had this vision of the 4+1 game.

September 18, 2006. I replay the game in my head, a game that, unfathomably, stood toe-to-toe with the R.J. Reynolds game in 1983 as the greatest game in Dodger Stadium history, and I hear The Who’s “Had Enough” as the soundtrack.

As the 2006 baseball season bore down on its finish, the Dodgers were in a vexing battle with the San Diego Padres for first place in the National League West. An 11-5 pasting by the Padres knocked Los Angeles into last place on May 5. The Dodgers staggered back and reached first barely a month later, but in a tight division, San Diego drove them back to last with a 7-6, 11-inning victory July 24.

It was that kind of year. When the first day of August dawned, the Dodgers were still on the bottom looking up. Just 10 days later, Kenny Lofton’s walkoff RBI single beat Colorado, and the Dodgers were atop the NL West looking down.

And there in first place they stayed, until September 17, when Padres pinch-hitter Termel Sledge’s RBI single in the ninth inning broke a 1-1 tie, leading to Jonathan Broxton’s first career loss in the majors. The Dodgers had handed first place back to San Diego again.

And so when I think of September 18, 2006, I hear Roger Daltrey singing, practically shouting …

I’ve had enough of bein’ nice
I’ve had enough of right and wrong
I’ve had enough of tryin’ to love my brother …

* * *

It was an unusual night – a Monday finale of a four-game series. “Here we go ahead for the final time,” Vin Scully said at the start of the local cable broadcast, “the Dodgers desperate for a win. … If it feels like a playoff or postseason game, that of course is the aim of each team.”

Three players who had begun Sunday’s game on the bench were in the Monday starting lineups. The fellow batting cleanup for San Diego was familiar – his name was Mike Piazza, slugging .500 in his first season in San Diego after 7 1/2 in New York and in his final season in the National League.

For the Dodgers, the two big changes were these: Rookie outfielder Andre Ethier was rested in favor of new acquisition Marlon Anderson, and returning to play after missing two games with a strained quad was Nomar Garciaparra, who had talked manager Grady Little into starting him. At the time, you had to know their numbers or their looks to know who these guys were – this was part of the brief era in which the Dodgers wore no names on the back of their jerseys.

On the mound, who knew what to expect? Brad Penny had earned a start in that summer’s All-Star game, striking out Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter and David Ortiz in the first inning, but had been inconsistent ever since, posting a 5.81 ERA. In his past two starts, he had lost 7-0 to the Mets and won 6-0 against the Cubs. On the other side, Jake Peavy had been dominating the Dodgers as usual (two runs allowed in 14 previous innings that year), but his overall season ERA was a modest 4.17.

Jeff Lewis/APRussell Martin tries to settle down Brad Penny in the midst of San Diego’s four-run first inning.

With fans still pouring in to the ballpark, Penny retired the first two hitters, Dave Roberts and Brian Giles, before Adrian Gonzalez lined a 3-1 pitch into center field, bringing Piazza to bat.

“In recent games against the Dodgers, Mike looked like he was pressing,” Scully said as Piazza worked the count full. “He was trying to pull pitches that were down and away.” Almost on cue, we saw vintage Piazza, hammering the 3-2 pitch, driving it five feet below the top of the center-field wall on the fly, for an RBI double. The game was on: 1-0 Padres.

Penny walked Russell Branyan, bringing a visit to the mound from Rick Honeycutt and a visit to the plate from Mike Cameron, whom Scully pointed out had hit five home runs against the Dodgers so far in 2006. On the first pitch after Honeycutt returned to the dugout, Cameron shot the ball off the short wall in right field for a standup triple, driving in two runs (Nos. 14 and 15 vs. Los Angeles that year) to make the score 3-0.

“The Dodgers in a huge hole,” Scully said. Down in the Dodger bullpen, Aaron Sele began to warm up – not for the first time this night. Not by a longshot.

Nor was the hole finished being dug. Geoff Blum hit an 0-2 pitch to right field to drive in Cameron for a 4-0 lead, before Josh Barfield flied out to finally end the inning.

But the Dodgers wasted no time trying to rally. Rafael Furcal bunted for a single, and Lofton’s hit sent him to second. Garciaparra hit into a 6-4-3 double play, but ever-irascible Jeff Kent doubled to deep center field, driving home Furcal to get Los Angeles on the scoreboard. Peavy limited the damage to one run, but as he walked off the mound, he and Dodger first-base coach Mariano Duncan began shouting at each other.

I’ve had enough of bein’ good
And doin’ everything like I’m told I should
If you need a lover, you’d better find another …

* * *

The Dodgers pulled closer. After Penny struck out three in the second inning, Anderson – the August 31 discard from the Washington Nationals who had made surprising contributions in Los Angeles – hit a one-out solo home run. And after Russell Martin threw out Cameron trying to steal to end a two-out Padre threat in the top of the third, Furcal hit a solo homer of his own to dead center field.

“A mighty man is he,” Scully said of Furcal, who hit 15 home runs that year. “And you want to talk about a team trying to bounce back.”

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesJeff Kent, shown here against the Padres in August, went 4 for 5 with three extra-base hits.

Before the inning was over, Kent hit his second double in as many at-bats, once more to center field, a ball at the wall that Cameron leaped for but came up empty. “Standing hands on hips, trying to figure out how he missed it,” Scully observed.

J.D. Drew entered the box next, and he sliced a breaking ball left up in the zone by Peavy for a ground-rule double to left field to tie the game, bringing the crowd to its feet. In fact, Martin then almost put the Dodgers ahead right there, but Peavy speared the first-pitch line drive off his bat.

The score was 4-4 after three innings. Not once over the next four innings was a team retired in order, but not once did a team score.

Each missed a tremendous opportunity. In the top of the fifth, after another Gonzalez single, Penny walked Piazza and Branyan to load the bases with two out, but Cameron flied to right. In the bottom of the sixth, Anderson singled, Wilson Betemit walked and pinch-hitter Oscar Robles loaded the sacks with none out when he sacrificed and reached first on a fielder’s choice. But Furcal hit into a forceout at home, and then Lofton grounded into a 1-2-3 double play.

By the eighth inning, the starting pitchers were long gone. And so was any remnant of sanity in this game. The attendance was announced. Five years ago tonight, the Dodgers drew a legitimate 55,831 fans. Five years ago tonight, the Dodgers registered their highest ticket sales for a Monday game ever, capping a record for a four-game series: 219,124.

Broxton entered the game in the eighth inning. Scully commented that after Sunday’s loss, Broxton had said wasn’t nervous, but he was worried he had been tipping his pitches. “Jon was just 22 in the middle of June when he made the jump from Jacksonville, and now he has the key role as the set-up man.” It was his fifth game in seven days; he had thrown 88 pitches since the previous Tuesday, and was about to throw 22 more.

Things soon turned grim. With one out, Blum walked, and Barfield drove one to right-center field that Drew couldn’t get. Lofton overran the carom, Martin dropped the throw home, the go-ahead run scored and Barfield ended up on third base. Pinch-hitter Todd Walker then hit a flare over the drawn-in infield to give San Diego a two-run lead.

Roberts struck out (a career-high fourth for the former Dodger outfielder), but Walker went to second on a steal and third on a wild pitch. Giles then sent Drew to the right-field wall, which he banged into while making the inning-ending catch.

Not once had the Dodgers led, but not once had they failed to score in an inning in which they trailed. Sure enough, off reliever Scott Linebrink, Anderson drove one down the right-field line, running through a stop sign to reach third base with a triple, and Betemit lined an 0-2 pitch up the middle. Just like that, the lead had been reduced to one.

“Boy is this a game, huh?” Scully marveled. “Wow. And this crowd loving every moment of it. It’s been a roller-coaster ride from depression to euphoria and all the stops in between.

“Boy, it’s not Monday night here. It is Mardi Gras night. It is New Year’s Eve night.”

With two out, Lofton doubled with two out to send pinch-runner Julio Lugo to third base. Tying run was 90 feet away, go-ahead run one base behind him.

But Garciaparra struck out. You could practically fit the goat’s horns for him.

Life is for the living
Takers never giving …

* * *

Takashi Saito, the 36-year-old first-year major-leaguer from Japan, was asked by the Dodgers to protect the one-run deficit. There was little reason to expect he wouldn’t: In 70 innings, emerging in the spring in the wake of Eric Gagne’s last gasp as a Dodger, Saito had a 1.93 ERA and 93 strikeouts against 63 baserunners in 70 innings.

The importance of keeping the Padres close was clear, as Scully noted. “They’ve won 26 games by one run,” he said, “and one of the big reasons is warming up in the bullpen. Yep, it’s Trevor time.”

But Gonzalez led off the ninth with his third single of the game, and Manny Alexander (Piazza had exited the game for a pinch-runner in the seventh) bunted him to scoring position. Up came Josh Bard, the Padres’ lesser-known catcher but one who had an .869 OPS, even better than Piazza at that moment.

On a night filled with long fly balls, Bard drove what appeared to be the capper of the night, to deep center. Lofton went back. He leaped. His glove went over the fence; the ball banged off his wrist and back onto the field, while an uncertain Gonzalez advanced only to third. “Goaltending,” remarked Scully as he watched the replay.

Saito walked Cameron intentionally in the hopes of forcing an inning-ending double play, but his next pitch to Blum went to the backstop, and the Padres doubled their lead. Then Blum hit a sacrifice fly, and San Diego led by three in the ninth. Scully practically threw the white flag.

“And the Dodgers will have to collect themselves and go after Pittsburgh,” he said. “It has been a Friday night and a Saturday night combined emotionally, but now it’s starting to feel like Monday.”

It’s not as if the Padres got greedy after that, but you could argue they suffered from an embarrassment of riches. After Barfield singled to drive in Cameron and give San Diego a 9-5 lead, Scully glanced back at the Padres bullpen, looking to see if Trevor Hoffman was still getting loose.

“We said it was Trevor time, but maybe not,” Scully reported. “Nope, it’s Jon Adkins now. That figured.”

Jack Cust made the third out of the top of the ninth. The Dodgers trailed by four runs in the bottom of the ninth.

Up to that point, Adkins had allowed one home run in 51 1/3 innings in 2006.

“The Dodgers are asked to do what they did (before), but they’ve run out of innings,” waxed Scully.

Here comes the end
Here comes the end of the world …

* * *

Francis Specker/APJ.D. Drew follows through, bringing the Dodgers within two.

And then, a symphony …

Kent conducts a 1-0 pitch to center field, over Cameron, and out of the park.

“So Adkins is rudely treated,” Scully says. “Two pitches, one run.”

Drew, strumming the strings on a 2-1 pitch …

“And another drive to deep right center, and that is gone! Whoa, was that hit!” exults Scully.

“What is that line? Do not go gentle into that good night. The Dodgers have decided they’re not going to go into that night without howling and kicking.”

Hoffman is quickly rushed into the game. “He has been absolutely magnificent against everybody, but especially against the Dodgers,” Scully says, adding that Hoffman’s last blown save against the Dodgers was in April 2001.

Francis Specker/APMartin hits it a ton, bringing the Dodgers within one.

Hofman throws his first pitch.

“And a drive to left center by Martin,” calls Scully. “That ball is carrying into the seats! Three straight home runs!”

Bedlam at Dodger Stadium, bedlam like it’s the ninth inning on September 11, 1983. But the Dodgers, as Scully reminds us, “are still a buck short.”

Francis Specker/APMarlon Anderson lets it fly, and the Dodgers are tied.

Anderson is the next batter. He has four hits and needs a double to hit for the cycle.

Hoffman throws his second pitch. Anderson swings. Immediately after his follow-through, he jolts out of the box …

“And another drive to right center …”

… two arms thrusting in the air …

“Believe it or not, four consecutive home runs! And the Dodgers have tied it up again!”

As Martin practically had to be restrained in the dugout from running onto the field, Anderson raced around the bases, leaping into his high five at home plate before sprinting to the dugout, where he disappeared under a white and blue volcano.

It was the first time since 1964 that a team had hit four consecutive home runs, and the first time it had ever been done in the ninth inning, let alone to erase a four-run deficit. (The six homers in nine innings were also the most by the Dodgers since they hit eight in the Shawn Green game in May 2002.)

“Can you believe this inning?” exclaimed Scully, still agog. “Can you believe this game? … It is an unbelievable game.”

Before the cheering had even begun to subside, Lugo swung at his first pitch – still only the third pitch Hoffman had thrown in the game – and hit it on a trajectory to right-center that, for an instant, made the fans double-take. But it landed in Cameron’s glove. Ethier, batting for Saito, blooped out.

In the Dodgers’ last chance to win in nine innings, Furcal, 2 for 5 with a home run already, tattooed one himself, taking Giles to the warning track to right field before it was caught.

“Well, wouldn’t you know this was gonna go extra innings?” Scully said. “No, I don’t think you did when it was 9-5 in the ninth.

“This crowd is beside itself with joy. You can come down the wall now.”

* * *

With their top relievers already used, the Dodgers turned the guy that had warmed up for the first time back in the first inning, Aaron Sele. One of general manager Ned Colletti’s ongoing reclamation projects on the mound, Sele had joined the Dodger starting rotation in May and had a 2.91 ERA in 65 innings before the All-Star break. After a couple of poor July starts, soon followed by the acquisition of Greg Maddux, Sele ended up spending most of his second half in the bullpen (the Dodgers’ No. 5 starter that September, you might be surprised to remember, was Hong-Chih Kuo). Sele’s ERA had risen to 4.35, and he had pitched three total innings in the past two weeks.

But with the score 9-9, the Dodgers went to Sele over the other available options in the September Dodger bullpen: Giovanni Carrara, Elmer Dessens, Tim Hamulack and Eric Stults.

Sele retired Roberts (0 for 6) on a fly to center, but Giles doubled on a sharp hit down the left-field line past Lugo. Gonzalez, who had been tormenting the Dodgers all night – then again, who hadn’t – was walked intentionally.

Paul McAnulty, pinch-hitting for Alexander, killed a Sele pitch that Lofton caught at the wall. “That ball had a chance to go out but just died at the last minute,” Scully said. “There is a light breeze, but barely a zephyr.”

Sele dodged that bullet, but couldn’t avoid the next. Bard singled to right field, and Giles came home from second to score and once again give the Padres the lead.

Threatening to once again put the Dodgers down by four, Sele walked Cameron, who became the 23rd Padre to reach base. With no room to put anyone else, Sele, on the Dodgers’ 200th pitch of the game, induced an inning-ending fly to right.

“Boy, you talk about the anguish of a fan,” Scully said. “There’s a lot of it, but they’ll remember this game for a while.”

Padres 10, Dodgers 9, heading into the bottom of the 10th.

Rudy Seanez, who had pitched for the Dodgers in 1994 and 1995 (and would do so again in 2007), was the Padres’ 23rd player of the game and seventh pitcher, chosen ahead of relievers Scott Cassidy, Brian Sweeney and Mike Thompson. Nearing his 38th birthday. Seanez had struck out 52 in 51 innings combined with Boston and San Diego, but he had walked 29 and allowed seven home runs.

His first pitch to Lofton was a called strike, but his next two missed the zone. Strike two came on a check swing, but the next pitch was high and the one after that was inside, “and the Dodgers have a rabbit as the tying run,” Scully said as Lofton dropped his bat and headed to first base.

To the plate came Garciaparra.

Low and outside for ball one. Fastball for a strike. Low and outside for ball two. Inside for ball three.

Francis Specker/APNomar, hero.

On the 376th pitch of the night of September 18, 2006 …

“And a high fly ball to left field – it is a-way out and gone! The Dodgers win it, 11-10! Ha ha ha – unbelievable!”

The end of the world.

“I forgot to tell you,” Scully said after watching the celebration at home plate. “The Dodgers are in first place.”

* * *

Jeff Lewis/APGarciaparra celebrates on behalf of Dodger fans around the ballpark – and televisions and computers.

To this point, I haven’t quoted from the Dodger Thoughts game thread from the night of September 18, 2006. But while any one of us would rather have been in the ballpark, the online experience is not one I’ll forget.

You can see some of the highlights here, or you can go back to the original thread and re-experience from start to finish. But there’s only one way to finish this remembrance, and that’s with this classic:

2006-09-18 22:40:43
604. Xeifrank
Gameday seems to be broke. It keeps on saying every Dodger hitter is hitting a home run. Major software bug or something.
vr, Xei

Sep 17

Loney living large with another homer in Dodgers’ 6-1 rout


Gus Ruelas/APJames Loney isn’t trying to make Aaron Miles feel small; he’s just feeling big after hitting another three-run homer.

Just to illustrate the kind of season it’s been for James Loney: On April 24, his on-base percentage and slugging percentage combined were .403.

Tonight, after hitting a three-run homer for the second consecutive at-bat (in the first inning) and then doubling in the third of the Dodgers’ 6-1 victory over Pittsburgh, Loney’s slugging percentage by itself was .402, rising above .400 for the first time since Opening Day.

There’s no changing that this has been a disappointing year for Loney, who is still down in the low .700s for OPS, but I’ll take this version of Loney over the guy who started the season.

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com suggested late Friday that Loney’s turnaround might be attributable to the July change in Dodger hitting coaches – his OPS is near .900 since Dave Hansen took over – but Loney’s been on the upswing since late April, posting a .357 on-base percentage and .432 slugging percentage in 443 plate appearances between April 25 and tonight’s game. Those figures are actually superior to the .341/.409 that encompasses Loney’s output from 2008-2010.

What does this mean for 2012? Well, you don’t have to fear that Loney is a player in decline at age 27. (At least not as much: until he hit the home run tonight, Loney’s career slugging marks had dipped every season since he reached the majors in 2006.) It still doesn’t assure you that he’s a proper major-league first baseman at the plate, but it certainly increases the possibility that the Dodgers will bet on the stability at the position for at least one more year, while taking the chance on the hope that he still might have a breakout season in him.

Taking away nothing from Jayson Stark, I don’t see Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder wearing a Dodger uniform next season. (Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness has a much longer look at this.) That doesn’t mean Loney is guaranteed to return, but he has elevated his status from guaranteed goner. For the nothing-if-not-likeable first baseman, progress.

* * *

  • Matt Kemp scored his 100th run and stole his 40th base tonight. According to The Associated Press, he is the first player in franchise history with at least 40 steals, 100 runs scored, 100 RBIs and 30 home runs.
  • Tim Federowicz drove in his first career run and has reached base in five of nine plate appearances so far.
  • Jerry Sands went 3 for 4 and has a .425 on-base percentage in September (40 plate appearances).
  • Ted Lilly pitched seven innings of one-run ball on 97 pitches, allowing six baserunners and striking out seven. The Pirates had neither a homer nor a steal against him.
  • Kenley Jansen struck out both batters he faced, improving his strikeouts per nine innings to 15.72 as he aims to catch Carlos Marmol’s single-season record of 15.99. Jansen has struck out 23 of the last 38 batters he has faced and has 23 strikeouts in his last 29 outs.
  • Juan Rivera hit the second of two homers that spoiled the homecoming of James McDonald (three innings, five runs).
  • The Dodgers improved to 75-76 in their first game since Atlanta ended Los Angeles’ 2011 postseason hopes for good.
Sep 17

Little Lilly really won’t go home

Ted Lilly, trying to stave off joining the 30-30 club, hasn’t allowed a home run in his past three starts, his longest stretch since April. This season, Lilly has allowed 28 home runs and 33 steals (in 35 attempts).

According to Baseball-Reference.com, there have been 18 pitcher 30-30 seasons since 1950, none since Gavin Floyd of the White Sox in 2008 and none in the National League since Randy Johnson of Arizona in 1999.

Sep 16

October looms large for Dodgers after all

The Dodgers beat the Pirates tonight, 7-2, to keep their playoff hopes alive for at least another night. But no matter what happens on the field between now and the end of the regular season September 28, there’s a big postseason showdown on tap for the Dodgers in October.

On October 12, Frank McCourt’s attorneys will formally ask the federal bankruptcy court that is overseeing the Dodgers to permit negotiations and possibly an auction for the franchise’s local television rights for 2014 and beyond. Should the court grant the request, it will pave the way for McCourt to retain ownership of the Dodgers – at least until Frank-Jamie II takes place in the courts sometime in the spring or summer of 2012.

Interested parties – Major League Baseball in particular – can and probably will file objections to the Dodgers’ request until September 30. The bankruptcy court’s first duty is to the creditors whom the Dodgers owe; what’s up in the air is whether MLB can make the case that there’s a better way to do this than by giving McCourt the chance to save his ownership – while further mortgaging the franchise’s future – through the future rights sale.

From The Associated Press:

… In a 37-page motion filed Friday with U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross, the Dodgers say “market conditions are optimal for licensing the telecast rights because the market for sports media rights in Los Angeles is vibrant at this time.”

The Dodgers say “there can be no assurance that these ideal market conditions will last” and they should be allowed to sell rights now “to avoid any risk of deterioration in value.” …

One argument against McCourt is that MLB commissioner Bud Selig is supposed to be able to approve any TV rights deal, and that McCourt shouldn’t be rewarded for steering the Dodgers into bankruptcy by being allowed to circumvent the sport’s chieftain. Whether that argument will hold any sway with Judge Gross, I don’t know.

Bill Shaikin has more in the Times, where he also passes along the news that the Dodgers are seeking to retain an expensive New York-based public relations firm.

… The two primary spokespersons (from the firm) charge $750 and $400 per hour, according to the filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

“Much of the media reporting on off-field issues has been inaccurate or misleading, and LAD requires a seasoned communications firm such as Kekst to better ensure that media coverage of LAD is more evenhanded and accurate going forward,” according to the filing, using the “LAD” abbreviation for the Dodgers.

The filing does not include any examples of inaccurate or misleading coverage. …

As far as I’m concerned, you can take this as another example of how deluded or desperate McCourt is – and no, the new PR firm won’t change my negative thinking on this. As Molly Knight of ESPN the Magazine tweeted:

What makes McCourt’s media blaming so laughable is the best stuff we got was straight from his mouth in public court filings. Amnesia maybe?

You can’t file mountains of court documents crying poverty to get out of paying spousal support and not expect fans to think you are broke.

* * *

In other inspiring news, Jonathan Broxton will have surgery Monday, 4 1/2 months after he last pitched for the Dodgers, to remove a bone spur and some chips, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

… Although Broxton’s bone bruise had improved dramatically, Dodgers medical director Stan Conte said the spur and loose bodies were the cause of repeated setbacks Broxton suffered in his effort to return, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly saying earlier this week that club officials no longer expected Broxton to pitch this season.

Broxton underwent what Conte said were “three or four” MRIs on the elbow during the season, but Conte said the chips were revealed only after Broxton underwent a CT scan, which was ordered when he experienced mild discomfort earlier this week during his first bullpen session in several weeks.

“CT scans normally aren’t done on elbows,” Conte said. “But we just wanted to make sure the bone bruise wasn’t turning into microfractures.”

The surgery will be performed by team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache, after which Broxton is expected to need four to eight weeks to recover before he can begin throwing again. However, with free agency pending, it is possible Broxton has pitched his final game for the Dodgers, who already have replaced him in the closer’s role with rookie Javy Guerra and might balk at re-signing Broxton this winter to a major league contract. …

The surgery will take place nearly 15 months after Broxton began to lose effectiveness.

Jackson adds that Tony Gwynn Jr. will miss at least the remainder of this weekend’s series with the Pirates because of a jammed shoulder, which first happened last week in Washington and was aggravated Wednesday against Arizona.

* * *

Back on the field, the Dodgers came back strong tonight after Hiroki Kuroda allowed an unearned second-inning run, scoring once in the bottom of the second, twice in the third and four times in the sixth, capped by James Loney’s first career pinch-hit home run, a three-run blast that enabled him to reach 10 on the season.

Dee Gordon made his ninth error in his 45th game of the season, but had two hits and stole his 20th and 21st bases. Kuroda gave up a sixth-inning home run to Alex Presley (whom Vin Scully’s wife thinks looks like Tom Cruise, Scully told us), but was otherwise unscored upon. He allowed five hits, walked two and struck out seven.

Scully also passed along a story that warmed my heart: Rod Barajas chose uniform No. 28 with the Dodgers because of how much his mother loved Pedro Guerrero in the 1980s.

Sep 16

Trayvon’s way

Former Dodger prospect Trayvon Robinson is the subject of a great feature and multimedia presentation by Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times that illustrates just how improbable and challenging the young outfielder’s journey to the majors was.

Sep 16

Kershaw expected to avoid suspension

Clayton Kershaw is not expected to draw a suspension for hitting Gerardo Parra with a pitch Wednesday, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Sep 15

Ohlendorfed

It’s only been six years, Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. found, since the Dodgers gave up at least four home runs in one season to opposing pitchers, which reduces some of the astonishment over Ross Ohlendorf hitting a three-run blast tonight to catapult the Pirates to a 6-2 victory over Los Angeles that eliminated the Dodgers from the 2011 National League West race.

Some of the astonishment, but not all. Ohlendorf was 7 for 100 in his career with no extra-base hits when he hit his blast off Dana Eveland in the second inning to break a 1-1 tie.

It was a come-back-to-Earth game for Eveland, although he pitched shutout ball in four of his five innings. But even though the Dodgers scored a run off Ohlendorf in the first inning after only two batters (Dee Gordon single and steal, Justin Sellers double), the home team was no match for the pitcher who entered the game with 22 earned runs allowed in 24 2/3 innings this season.

After falling behind by four, the Dodgers did get the tying run to the plate in the ninth after a single by Jerry Sands and walks by Russ Mitchell (who hit his second home run of the year and fourth out of 12 career hits) and Tim Federowicz (who got his first major-league hit earlier in the game and reached base three times). But pinch-hitter Aaron Miles flied out to end it.

The Dodgers are 1-4 since reaching the .500 mark Saturday. Ohlendorf won his first game since July 2010, noted Kenny Shulsen of Lasorda’s Lair. He was 1-13 with a 4.80 ERA over the 2010-11 seasons entering tonight’s game.

* * *

  • Jonathan Broxton’s agent, BB Abbott, to Dylan Hernandez of the Times, “The days of Jonathan Broxton throwing 99 and 100 (mph) might be over. But I think he can reinvent himself. He’s still going to be 93-97. … He’s relied on one thing and that’s power. … He’s going to have to be a chameleon. It might be a power slider or a power cutter. He’s going to have to transition.”
  • An MRI on Hiroki Kuroda’s neck was negative, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com, and the righty will start Friday’s game.
  • Congrats to Shawn Tolleson and Scott Van Slyke, who were named the Dodgers’ minor-league pitcher and player of the year.
Sep 15

The 2012 McCourt trial: Where’s the sense of urgency?

The more I think about the slow pace of the McCourt proceedings, the more bothered I get.  I’m sure there are reasons, but man, we really need to wait another 6-to-12 months before this thing is going to go to trial?  How hard are they even trying?

Anyway, since we have the time and then some, take a listen to this interview that outgoing Dodger exec Josh Rawitch gave Wednesday to Mason & Ireland on ESPN AM 710. Should give you some insight into the thoughtful approach Rawitch brought to his job, difficult as it was.

Sep 14

Lindblom steps up in Kershaw’s absence, Dodgers win

Coming in from the cold after Clayton Kershaw’s ejection, Dodger reliever Josh Lindblom struck out the side in the sixth inning and added two more Ks in the seventh, pushing the Dodgers toward their 3-2 victory over Arizona tonight.

With Javy Guerra getting a night of rest, the Dodgers turned to Nathan Eovaldi for the eighth inning and Kenley Jansen to close. Eovaldi surrendered a run in an inning that saw Jerry Sands failing to make one diving catch on Ryan Roberts’ double, but then going to the wall to haul in a long fly by bete noire Gerardo Parra. Importantly, the Dodgers got the run back in the bottom of the eighth on an RBI single by Aaron Miles, driving in Matt Kemp (who stole his 39th base).

Jansen then gave up a leadoff single to Aaron Hill but struck out the next two batters. Hill took second on defensive indifference (no comment), then scored on Miguel Montero’s single to left. It was only the second run that Jansen had allowed in 27 innings since the end of May.

Jansen put things to bed, however, by striking out Chris Young, giving him 83 in 48 innings this season (15.56 per nine innings).

Sep 14

Kershaw ejected after Parra plunked in elbow


Harry How/Getty ImagesShiny unhappy people

Clayton Kershaw, who was working on a one-hit shutout with none out in the sixth inning, was ejected after hitting Gerardo Parra above the right elbow with a pitch.

Kershaw had put umpires on guard with his angry reaction to Parra’s showmanship after a home run off Hong-Chih Kuo on Tuesday, so there was really no wiggle room for him, regardless of what his intent in the moment was.

In the third inning, Kershaw had Parra down 0-2 when the outfielder hit a line-drive double to left-center just out of the reach of leaping shortstop Dee Gordon. That was the only baserunner off Kershaw until he came up again in the sixth.

The 0-1 pitch to Parra rode in and clipped him above the front elbow, and Kershaw was immediately ejected by home-plate umpire Bill Welke.  Kershaw protested vehemently, as did manager Don Mattingly, who was then ejected himself.

Kershaw left the game with five strikeouts, having reduced his ERA to 2.30, which put him back in the league lead ahead of Johnny Cueto by 0.01 and Roy Halladay by 0.06. If the Dodgers can hold their 2-0 lead over the remaining four innings, Kershaw’s record would improve to 19-5.

Sep 14

McCourts meander toward ownership showdown

Better late than never …

  • The McCourt hearing today was mostly a tablesetter, according to The Associated Press. Bill Shaikin of the Times adds that a trial in 2012 will settle the question of McCourt ownership between Frank and Jamie. The date for that trial is to be decided in November. While the team is in bankruptcy, it will not be sold, Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon said.
  • Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic supplies some background to the Hong-Chih Kuo-Gerardo Parra spat.
  • Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw’s top rival for the Cy Young Award, shut out the Astros today.
  • Dodger postgame radio host Joe Block speculates that Kershaw might win 300 games.
  • An Arizona victory tonight would eliminate the Dodgers from the National League West race. And the NL wild card could be out of reach as soon as Thursday.