Sep 14

Dodgers open 2012 play April 5

Ready to put 2011 behind you? The Dodgers have released their preliminary 2012 schedule. After beginning this season on March 31, Opening Day 2012 comes on April 5 (a Thursday) at San Diego. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more:

The Los Angeles Dodgers will begin the 2012 regular season with a four-game series against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park April 5-8. Following an off-day, the team then will begin the home half of its schedule on April 10 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, kicking off a six-game homestand that also will include three more games against the Padres.

Major League Baseball released the 2012 regular-season schedule on Wednesday.

The interleague portion of the Dodgers’ schedule includes the usual six-game, home-and-home series with the Los Angeles Angels, who will visit Dodger Stadium June 11-13. The Dodgers then will play at Angel Stadium in Anaheim June 22-24.

Additionally, the Dodgers will host the Chicago White Sox June 15-17 and visit the Seattle Mariners June 8-10 and the Oakland A’s June 19-21.

The Dodgers will finish the first half with a four-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field July 5-8, then return home immediately after the All-Star break to begin the second half against the Padres on July 13.

The Dodgers finish the season at home with a six-game stand against the Colorado Rockies Sept. 28-30 and San Francisco Giants Oct. 1-3.

The schedule remains subject to change, and certain specifics such as starting times and day games/night games have yet to be finalized.

* * *

  • Former Dodgers executive and current Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall is profiled by Vincent Bonsignore of the Daily News in a story that is well worth your time.
  • The McCourt ownership saga, which has been in a quiet period of late, resurfaces today in a hearing in which attorneys for Frank and Jamie fight over bill payments and spousal support, reports Bill Shaikin of the Times. Shaikin notes that the all-important issue of whether McCourt will be allowed to auction the Dodgers’ future TV rights has been delayed indefinitely.
  • ESPN.com baseball analyst and former Blue Jays exec Keith Law reviewed “Moneyball” at his personal blog – and hated the film, both as cinema and as a depiction of the book.

    There’s no doubt the film takes liberties on the baseball front and has some legitimate flaws, but I disagree with Law on a number of points – such as the idea that the secondary characters, from Art Howe to the scouts, are one-dimensional buffoons. I think it’s very clear that these guys are real people, men to be respected, and that there’s a real conflict going on, not a steamrolling of ne’er-do-wells.

    At one point, Law criticizes the movie for staging a scene in which Beane crosses the country to discuss a trade in person with Cleveland’s general manager, because that wouldn’t happen, then later criticizes the movie for a scene in which Beane talks on the phone with the same GM, because it’s boring to watch him talk on the phone. Hard to win.

    I definitely expect some will be so put off by the film’s inaccuracies that they won’t be able to enjoy it, but I still think it stands up overall.

  • Here’s an excerpt of what Jackson wrote late Tuesday for ESPNLosAngeles.com on Chad Billingsley.

    … Billingsley’s pitch count was high again in this one, but that was mostly due to those first three innings. From the fourth on, we saw the dominating pitcher we know Billingsley can be, which makes it all the more maddening that we don’t see that guy more often.

    Those previous three starts lent themselves to all sorts of speculation, such as whether Billingsley was feeling OK physically. I went so far as to ask pitching coach Rick Honeycutt that question during last weekend’s series in San Francisco, whereupon Honeycutt said if Billingsley was hurting, he wasn’t admitting it. That appears to be a moot point now.

    What Honeycutt did say was that Billingsley had lost command of his fastball — the pitch that sets up the effectiveness of all his others — and it probably was a mechanical issue having to do with his release point. Whatever it was, it wasn’t much of a problem against the Diamondbacks. …

  • Update: Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com has a glowing portrait of Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.
Sep 13

Dodgers, Kershaw ornery in 5-4 loss

Don Mattingly did the right thing by having Javy Guerra pitch the ninth inning with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks tied, 4-4, in the ninth inning Tuesday.

But after following his perfect ninth by coming back out for the 10th inning, Guerra ran out of gas. With two out and two on, Guerra walked Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Young on eight total pitches, forcing in the winning run for the Diamondbacks in a 5-4 victory.

Guerra ended up throwing 38 pitches in taking the first loss of his career, one in which Arizona rallied from a 4-2 first-inning deficit.

Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesDon Newcombe hugs Matt Kemp after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday.

Dodger starting pitcher Chad Billingsley had a mixed outing. He gave up a two-run home run to cleanup-hitting catcher Miguel Montero with two out in the first inning and another run on three baserunners in the third inning. He then retired 11 of his final 12 batters, leaving the game with the bases empty with one out in the seventh inning.

So it was a pretty nice salvage job for Billingsley, but there still has to be concern. He struck out only two batters, meaning that over his past nine starts, he’s averaging 3.33 strikeouts per game, with almost exactly that many walks. Something still isn’t right.

Nevertheless, the Dodgers put Billingsley in position for the win – while also perhaps putting a nail in the coffin of Ian Kennedy’s Cy Young Award chances – by scoring four runs in the bottom of the first inning off the Arizona starter. Dee Gordon doubled to lead off the game, and Justin Sellers blooped him to third. Matt Kemp hit a sacrifice fly, before James Loney, Aaron Miles and Jerry Sands (2 for 2 with two walks, on base in seven of his past eight plate appearances) each followed with RBI hits.

But the Dodger offense had no runs on four hits and three walks over the final nine innings of the game, which was rather lackadaisical while Billingsley and Kennedy were in there –  and rather heated right after they left.

After striking out pinch-hitter Collin Cowgill, reliever Hong-Chih Kuo threw a first pitch to Gerardo Parra high and inside, forcing the Arizona leadoff hitter to duck out of the way. Parra acted as if he thought Kuo (who has not exactly been masterful with his location this season) was headhunting with the tying run at the plate.

Parra soon took a 3-1 pitch over the fence in right-center field to deadlock the game, and in doing so did that stand-and-watch thing that’s become so popular with the kids nowadays. This infuriated folks in the Dodger dugout, perhaps no one more than Clayton Kershaw, who will be starting Wednesday’s game.

If you’ll recall, Kershaw was ejected and suspended last summer for a retaliatory shot at the Giants’ Aaron Rowand, and all I want to say to the Dodgers’ young Cy Young candidate is that my friend, Gerardo Parra is not worth your time. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone – not now.

Sep 13

September 13 game chat

To the extent that Ian Kennedy is a contender, the Dodgers can help Clayton Kershaw’s Cy Young Award hopes by doing a number on the Diamondback righty tonight – and preventing him from reaching the number 20, as in wins.

* * *

Dee Gordon surpassed Rafael Furcal on Tuesday in innings played at shortstop for the Dodgers this season.

  • Gordon: 310 2/3 innings, 162 chances, 54 putouts, 100 assists, eight errors
  • Furcal: 304 2/3 innings, 156 chances, 57 putouts, 95 assists, four errors

* * *

Dodger position player complete game leaders, via Baseball-Reference.com:

134 Matt Kemp
124 Andre Ethier
113 James Loney
91 Jamey Carroll
83 Aaron Miles
69 Rod Barajas
55 Tony Gwynn Jr.
54 Juan Uribe
45 Dioner Navarro
39 Casey Blake
32 Rafael Furcal
31 Dee Gordon

* * *

  • Kershaw is the Dodgers’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, given to the major leaguer “who best represents the game of baseball through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement.”
  • At True Blue L.A., Chad Moriyama writes about how low-cost relievers carried the day for the Dodger bullpen.
Sep 13

‘Moneyball’ hits with power


There’s a level of sincere humility to the film version of “Moneyball” that might shock those expecting to see it cloaked in arrogance.

Next to the question about whether the material in Michael Lewis’ book was viable for a movie in the first place, the most common shot I’ve seen taken at the idea of the film, which I saw a screening of Monday, is “what’s the point?” Because Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s have never reached the World Series, much less won it, why would they worthy of the big screen?

Putting aside the fact that this criteria would eliminate about a thousand works of art – “Rocky,” “The Bad News Bears,” “Major League,” the entire history of “Peanuts” – note this well: The Billy Beane of “Moneyball” would share the same question. No one is more acutely aware of the A’s shortcomings than he.

But “Moneyball” does have a story to tell, a worthwhile and engrossing one.  It is not a sermon. “Moneyball” is about faith in a calculated belief, and all the torment that comes when that faith is tested, and the unexpected kind of reward you can get for taking that test, no matter how it comes out. It’s a movie about a pursuit, not a coronation. It’s anything but a coronation.

It’s my belief that, while no movie is universally beloved, this approach opens the door for “Moneyball” to be accepted and enjoyed by those who took the book as a mockery of the game they love, by those who were entertained and embrace what was articulated in Lewis’ book, and by those who have no vested interest in the debate, or even the sport. It’s such a human movie – with Brad Pitt’s Beane a nuanced, multidimensional character, one with many faces  – that it’s not easily dismissed.

You won’t like everything Beane does in this movie – but that’s cool, because the character doesn’t even like himself completely. Yet you will clearly understand where he is coming from, and I find it hard to believe that most filmgoers won’t get on board with his journey. He cares so passionately, and the way he places his faith in a new system doesn’t, contrary to what some might think, mean he has no appreciation for what personalities and romance mean in the game.

Sharing credit with Steven Zallian (“Schindler’s List”), screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing,” “The Social Network”) famously worked on the long-percolating script, but the film doesn’t have what would be considered the classic Sorkin touches – monologues with overflowing words and hyper-articulate speech. Characters in “Moneyball” – most notably Beane himself, who is in nearly every scene – tend to get to the point quickly, often bluntly. Except for some moments, particularly early in the film, when there are talking points disguised as dialogue (“It’s an unfair game,” a paraphrase of the subtitle of Lewis’ book, is spoken), the dialogue is naturalistic.

And yet, as the movie goes on, increasingly electric. There are numerous scenes with very sharp, pointed exchanges – make no mistake, there is a fierce tug o’ war going on in Oakland and in the game – and in particular, the depiction of the July 31 trading deadline maneuverings is really cracking good fun.

The storytelling is formulaic in the strictest sense of what the sports film formula is, but the scenes themselves don’t really feel that way. This is buoyed by the fact that the film, despite whatever liberties it takes here and there, is grounded in what did happen. But there isn’t a dead or cloying scene in the film – there’s a purpose to each and every one.  “Moneyball” isn’t a short movie, coming in at 133 minutes, but its pacing, under the direction of Bennett Miller (“Capote”) is excellent. (I’d add that Mychael Danna’s music, at times minimalist, at times evoking the loveliness of television’s “Friday Night Lights” and at times appropriately grand, is a real boon to the film.)

The film also isn’t a comedy, but there’s plenty of humor, most of it almost catching you almost by surprise. That being said, the thing that might amuse baseball fans the most is the idea of how much life-and-death importance is placed on names like Jeremy Giambi and Ricardo Rincon. (And pity poor Mike Magnante.)

There are brief sidelights into Beane’s personal life – which some might interpret as mere lip service to entice female viewers. I would argue instead that in the best sense, they’re economical (given the film’s existing length, almost necessarily so). They inform the lead character of the movie, leaving for you to infer what you don’t see, while playing a wonderfully unexpected role in the film’s climax.

Evan Agostini/APChris Pratt, Jonah Hill, Brad Pitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman and director Bennett Miller at a panel for “Moneyball” during the Toronto International Film Festival last week.

While Pitt anchors the film, Jonah Hill’s performance as Peter Brand – the character that takes the place of former A’s (and Dodger) executive Paul DePodesta, is the film’s second-most pleasant surprise.

Hill’s casting was the red flare for fans of DePodesta and/or the book, a vexing warning that the advanced analysis underscored in the book would be played for laughs the same way as, say, Hill’s quest for booze and sex in “Superbad.” Instead, Hill plays Brand in reserved, endearing fashion. He’s the twigs and branches for Beane’s fire.

I do think that fans in the know have to let go of the idea that Brand is DePodesta – despite whatever similarities there are, the differences are too obvious to ignore. But whether you think of Brand as Brand or as DePodesta, I think the character works much better than you’d expect, and in ways different than you’d expect. While Philip Seymour Hoffman, as Oakland manager Art Howe, offers an even starker example of what I would call dynamic restraint, it’s Hill who carries the most secondary weight to Pitt.

Where are the movie’s flaws? There are certainly moments where the conversation feels forced, with thinly disguised talking points. But probably for me, the baseball scenes, which were praised for their authenticity by panelists at the Variety Sports Entertainment Summit in July, don’t measure up to that standard. Miller mixes real-life footage with the newly filmed scenes, and it’s not so much that the mix doesn’t work, but that it really highlights how different the re-creations look. In fact, there’s a stylistic approach to some of the baseball scenes that all but removes any pretense of reality. It’s probably the one part of the movie that doesn’t seem to have been executed with authority.

Elsewhere, the script shortcuts some explanations of Beane’s rationale. In general, although the “Moneyball” philosophy is about broader ideas about value in the marketplace – and this is definitely alluded to – some viewers might be left with the impression that it’s only about on-base percentage. In particular, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Beane at one point comes down hard against bunting and the stolen base, and Old School fans might think this is where he’s gone mad.  The fights that Beane has with Howe over the Oakland starting lineup struck me as more black-and-white than they probably were in real life. There are other small details that rang a bit false, and some fussing with the real-life timeline, but I would venture to call these quibbles.

In the end, I think “Moneyball” is an important film for baseball fans. Whether you bought into the book or ignored it, “Moneyball” was (next to angst over performance-enhancing drugs) the central conflict of baseball in the past decade. The film puts forth this debate in a richly entertaining way, making it clear why it was such a big deal without falsely overstating its legacy.

I honestly don’t expect I’ll see many better movies than “Moneyball” in 2011, and I think it will get serious consideration for an Oscar nomination – though, appropriate to the team it depicts, it will probably fall short of winning. But the thing is, I’ve been comparing it to “The Social Network” for a long time now, but I’m not sure “Moneyball” is not a better film. I think most will view “Social Network” as having told a more important, more timely story. But the character at the heart of “Moneyball” and his personal story are more compelling, possibly more universal. I told you that Hill was the second-most pleasant surprise in the film – the most pleasant surprise is how much “Moneyball” rang true to me even after you strip all the baseball away.

Sep 12

Dodgers lose game and valued executive

The Arizona Diamondbacks took a big one from the Dodgers tonight, and I’m not talking about their 7-2 victory on the field.

Dodger communications vice president Josh Rawitch is leaving the Dodgers after this season to become senior VP of communications for the Diamondbacks, whose organization and fans are sure to benefit from his presence.

It may seem strange to praise someone entrusted with helping craft public relations for Dodger fans’ Public Enemy No. 1 (with apologies to Clayton Kershaw’s curveball). But despite working at the behest of Frank McCourt (whose merits would often be touted to my skeptical eyes), Rawitch was a major asset for the franchise. He worked tirelessly not only to put the Dodgers’ best foot forward but to make the fans’ experience the best he possibly could, often going well beyond the call of duty.

Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall certainly knows this well – he was a Dodger predecessor of Rawitch as head of communications.

There is no shortage of bias toward Rawitch on my end, but it was well-earned. To this site, Rawitch was an early friend, one of the first in all of professional sports to accept that a place outside the mainstream media might still be worthy of being treated with respect. Professionally and personally, he treated me as well as anyone ever has.

I’m going to miss him, but despite how he might spin it in his final days on the job, I couldn’t be happier for him to get a fresh start – with the 2011 National League West champions, no less.

* * *

  • Matt Kemp (2 for 4) hit his 33rd homer in the first inning tonight and Ted Lilly took a no-hitter into the fifth, but things fell apart for the Dodgers in the sixth with Arizona tallying five runs. Lilly failed to complete six innings for the 14th time in 30 starts this season.
  • Unfortunately for Kemp’s pursuit of the NL Triple Crown, Albert Pujols hit his league-leading 35th homer tonight.
  • Jerry Sands went 3 for 4 with an RBI in his best major-league performance since going 4 for 4 on May 22.
  • Nathan Eovaldi, making his first career relief appearance, retired the side in order in the ninth inning.
  • Kirk Gibson used three relievers in the ninth inning to protect Arizona’s five-run lead from the Dodgers, who loaded the bases but didn’t score. Dee Gordon, in a 1-for-18 slump, made the final out.
  • San Francisco beat San Diego, meaning that the Giants are 4 1/2 games ahead of the 72-74 Dodgers.
  • Manny Ramirez “was arrested and charged with battery Monday after a domestic dispute at his South Florida home, police said.”
  • Jonathan Broxton has officially been ruled out from returning this season, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com, meaning that he has most likely pitched his last game for the Dodgers.  Nothing but best wishes, Jonathan.
Sep 12

The Dodgers’ VORP corps

Some of the order of how the Dodgers are ranked this season in Value Over Replacement Player by Baseball Prospectus might surprise you …

1) Matt Kemp (70.4)
2) Clayton Kershaw (65.1)
3) Chad Billingsley (25.1)
4) Hiroki Kuroda (24.2)
5) Andre Ethier (22.7)
6) Jamey Carroll (18.6)
7) Ted Lilly (16.0)
8) Rod Barajas (10.9)
9) Tony Gwynn Jr. (8.5)
10) Juan Rivera (7.7)
11) Javy Guerra (7.5)
12) Scott Elbert (5.7)
13) A.J. Ellis (5.1)
14) James Loney (4.9)
15) Matt Guerrier (4.9)
16) Casey Blake (4.8)
17) Aaron Miles (4.7)
18) Trent Oeltjen (4.1)
19) Nathan Eovaldi (3.5)
20) Dana Eveland (2.8)
21) Rubby De La Rosa (2.7)
22) Dee Gordon (2.7)
23) Josh Lindblom (2.4)
24) Justin Sellers (2.0)
25) Jon Garland (2.0)

Sep 12

Dee Gordon’s ‘ball three’ problem

Sometimes it’s really curious what happens after you say something out loud.

Sunday, after Dee Gordon struck out in his first at-bat of the Dodgers’ 8-1 loss to San Francisco, I mentioned the fact that (in addition to having only two career walks), Gordon had only seen ball three a total of 10 times in 156 career plate appearances.

Lo and behold, in his final times at bat Sunday, Gordon walked on a 3-2 pitch in the fifth inning and grounded out on a 3-2 pitch in the seventh.

As bad as Gordon’s walk totals are – and make no mistake, even though they increased 50 percent in his last game, they’re just awful – I’m not ready to pronounce them a career-killer. Gordon’s still only 23, he’s in the big leagues before he was supposed to be and his ungodly speed has definite value that helps compensate. If he can hold down the shortstop position, and if he can continue to develop as a hitter, he might be a Dodger regular for years to come.

It sure would be nice if he showed some walking ability, though – and his lack of power doesn’t excuse him completely. For example, Brett Butler in his first two seasons in the majors (1981-82) had seven extra-base hits and no home runs in 413 plate appearances, but still managed to walk 44 times while striking out 52. Gordon, in 159 plate appearances, is at three walks, 24 strikeouts.

Except for the walks, Butler’s rookie season was not that unlike Gordon’s – 145 plate appearances, .254 batting average, .317 slugging percentage, nine steals in 10 attempts. Butler then had a huge learning curve in his second year, hitting .217 and slugging .225 in 268 plate appearances while stealing 21 bases in 29 attempts, in a year that included a midseason demotion to Triple-A for six weeks. Be prepared …

Butler was considered one of the fastest young players in baseball in his day and went on to steal 558 bases in his career. It shows you the kind of skills that Gordon will have in his bid to overcome his walk issues that he already has twice as many steals as Butler, while also offering the (admittedly error-prone) ability to play a more important defense position.

The Dodgers and their fans might need as much patience with Gordon as the kid himself needs to show at the plate. Hopefully, the sheer excitement he brings to the game will help with that.

* * *

One more remembrance from a forgettable game: If you missed Juan Rivera’s circus play Sunday, here’s your chance to rectify that.

Sep 11

A Happier 9/11

It has been eight years since this piece was first published: September 11, 2003. A lot has happened since then – including a very happy September 18, 2006 that some would say surpassed what happened on this day in 1983. But this game will always remain special, and I hope you don’t mind me continuing to remember it on this date.

* * *

Twenty years ago today, Dodger Stadium hosted its greatest game.

It began swathed in bright blue skies and triple-digit temperatures. When it ended, 228 crazy brilliant minutes later, shadows palmed most of the playing field, and every Dodger fan who witnessed the spectacle found themselves near joyous collapse.

The game was between the Dodgers of Steve Sax and Pedro Guerrero, of Greg Brock and Mike Marshall … and the Braves of Dale Murphy, of Bruce Benedict, of Brad Komminsk.

In the end, however, it came down to one man. A rookie named R.J. Reynolds.

Continue reading

Sep 11

Dodgers done with minor-league promotions in 2011

The Dodgers are not planning any more callups, despite Chattanooga’s elimination from the Double-A playoffs, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. “This is it,” Dodger manager Don Mattingly told Jackson. “This is our club.”

  • Andre Ethier’s knee surgery is set for Wednesday, reports Jackson.
  • Javy Guerra has been getting saves despite a cracked fingernail, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • Matt Kemp gets a New York Times profile from Tyler Kepner.
  • Steve Dilbeck of the Times on the Dodger offseason outlook:

    … Colletti acknowledged that McCourt had yet to let him know how much he can spend in the offseason, and good luck with that. He has attorneys to pay, you know.

    Both Manager Don Mattingly and Colletti said it’s the offense that needs upgrading, a statement’s shock value that resonates right up there with “desert needs more water.”

    The only troubling thing to this is that it seems immediately reactive to this year’s team and not part of an overall plan. I suppose some of that is always inherent with the job, but a year ago it was the rotation that was a problem –- as anyone paying attention knew it would be going into the season. …

    The good part to this .500 season is that having a crummy team, and battling constant injuries, enabled to Dodgers to get a good and encouraging look at a lot of young players.

    Still, it’s not like the next wave will be reminiscent of the Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Russell Martin and James Loney invasion. Most of the promise comes from young pitchers and a couple of light-hitting infielders. …

    To the team’s great credit, they have continued to play hard, though as Mattingly has recognized, it is always dangerous to place too much credence in the performance of late call-ups, either good or bad.

    There is plenty that needs to be added next season. And there are 10 current Dodgers who have contracts ending within the next three weeks. Plenty of bodies will come and go, yet the team figures to look very familiar.

  • Wally Moon, who has published a memoir, “Moon Shots: Reflections on a Baseball Life,” is interviewed by Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News.
Sep 11

A day in the life

This morning, I’m taking my youngest son to his first organized sports activity: soccer for 3-year-olds. Later, we’re stopping by a friend’s house, and then I’m taking my older son to a miniature golf birthday party, and somewhere in there hitting the back-to-school picnic at my kids’ elementary school if we can squeeze it in.

It’s a day full of plans, something that’s taken me aback a bit. Before all this happened, we had planned a family event for this weekend, and when my wife suggested this particular date, I said, “No way.” No one’s going to want to go to anything on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

So we moved our thing to September 10, which was lucky only because it turned out seemingly everyone had something they wanted to do on September 11, and I’m not talking about sitting around and watching anniversary specials. Lives are being lived, not irreverently, necessarily, but without reverence as a priority.

And I’m glad. I know why I pictured spending the day laying low, watching coverage of the anniversary when I wasn’t wrangling three kids who weren’t alive when the tragedy happened, but that picture didn’t make sense on a couple of levels. There would have been value to it, but there will be more value to what we do instead: trying to make more memories.

Anniversaries serve a purpose. Certainly 9/11 does. I don’t constantly stop and think about that day, but I do need to from time to time. To understand why, you can read this piece I wrote for Dodger Thoughts in mid-2006.

… Sometimes the hole closes up. Sometimes, I learned this week, you need to reopen it. …

I’m glad we don’t feel trapped by that anniversary. I just don’t want to forget what happened, for the sake of those directly affected.

Sep 10

Dead cat bounce: Dodgers at .500 after another victory over Giants


Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesDana Eveland

In a year that has been so impossible, the improbable has happened.

The 2011 Dodgers, which threatened for most of the year to be the worst Dodger team since 1992 and one of the worst in the franchise’s Los Angeles history, have fought their way back to a .500 record, capping the comeback by defeating the Giants tonight, 3-0.

With 17 games left in the season, the Dodgers have 72 wins and 72 losses, going 35-21 (.625) since July 7. The Dodgers have been the fifth-best team in the majors since that time.

39-15 .722 Phillies
39-20 .661 Brewers
38-20 .655 Diamondbacks
37-20 .649 Tigers
35-21 .625 Dodgers
36-23 .610 Yankees
34-23 .596 Angels

It’s a pretty incredible turnaround, and it shows just how big a hole they dug that except for maybe the Angels, they’re the only one of those teams above that won’t be going to the playoffs – in fact, they won’t even be close. They will possibly finish as high as second place, having pulled within 2 1/2 games of San Francisco (75-70) – but they’re only a half-game closer to first place than they were July 7, thanks to the similarly ridiculous run of Arizona.

The Dodgers won tonight with their “trips right” offense – James Loney and Matt Kemp scoring the first two runs after each hit triples to right off Ryan Vogelsong and his sub-3.00 ERA in the second and fourth innings – and with the remarkable pitching of Dana Eveland.

Eveland might be doing it with mirrors, but they’re efficient mirrors. He has struck out only six batters in 15 innings over two starts with the Dodgers, but he’s been practically untouchable.

Tonight, he shut out San Francisco over seven innings, allowing two singles, a double and a walk before the eighth inning, when he walked the leadoff batter and was replaced by Kenley Jansen. Jansen gave up a single but retired the next three batters (all of them tying runs) to keep the shutout alive, and Javy Guerra put the Giants out in the ninth (after allowing two baserunners) to close it.

Two big plays helped the Dodger pitchers: a leaping catch by Justin Sellers, in his first MLB start at third base, of a Brandon Belt liner after two of the Giants’ hits of Eveland had put runners on second and third, and a running catch at the wall in center with one out and one on in the ninth by MVP candidate Kemp, with Belt again the victim.

Juan Rivera went 3 for 4 and drove in a run, while Loney had two hits and a walk.

Joe Block of KABC AM 790 tweeted that Eveland had never before pitched consecutive games totaling 15 innings and 193 pitches. Has the 27-year-old, who was injured in Spring Training and spent all season in the minors before September 1, resurrected his career and become a contender for the 2012 roster? It’s interesting to read what I wrote about him seven months ago in the 2011 Dodger Thoughts Spring Training Primer.

The 28-year-old (oops – not until October) has slung a 6.96 ERA the past two seasons with 204 baserunners allowed in 98 1/3 innings against 46 strikeouts. Last year, he sucked Toronto in by allowing four earned runs in his first three starts, only to finish the year back in the high sixes. In short, like many professionals, he’s capable of a solid outing every now and then, but it’s a roulette wheel you don’t want to spin.

It sounds harsh, even wrong, to be dismissive of Eveland. You should keep your guard up long-term, but feel free to celebrate him – and the turnaround Dodgers – tonight.

Sep 10

Close calls for Kemp, Kershaw in MVP, Cy Young races

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

IP ERA ERA+ WAR (B-R.com) WAR (Fangraphs) WHIP K/9
Roy Halladay 210 2/3 2.44 159 6.5 7.7 1.049 8.7
Cole Hamels 194 2.60 149 5.4 5.0 0.954 7.9
Ian Kennedy 202 2.90 135 4.8 4.2 1.109 7.9
Clayton Kershaw 213 2/3 2.36 156 6.0 6.6 1.002 9.7
Cliff Lee 203 2/3 2.47 157 6.0 5.9 1.031 9.0

How I might rank them today:
1) Halladay
2) Kershaw
3) Lee
4) Hamels
5) Kennedy

While you can certainly make a top-flight argument for Kershaw, it’s hard to make a top-flight one against Halladay – which I think is significant since because seems like it has been Halladay’s award to lose for a while now.

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

PA OPS OPS+ HR RBI SB TAV (BP) WAR (B-R) WAR (Fangraphs)
Ryan Braun 564 .981 163 27 95 31 .339 6.7 6.3
Prince Fielder 624 .940 153 31 108 0 .316 3.9 4.2
Matt Kemp 609 .962 166 32 107 38 .341 8.7 6.9
Albert Pujols 569 .919 153 34 87 7 .317 5.1 5.1
Troy Tulowitzki 591 .930 135 30 103 9 .306 5.8 6.6
Justin Upton 615 .933 151 30 85 20 .315 4.6 6.9
Shane Victorino 506 .893 141 15 56 18 .319 5.1 6.3
Joey Votto 636 .967 161 26 91 7 .331 6.2 6.5

How I might rank them today:
1) Kemp
2) Upton
3) Braun
4) Tulowitzki
5) Victorino

Among other subjective observations, I would argue that 1) Kemp has had the worst lineup of the contenders surrounding him and had to carry more of the burden of his team, 2) none of the other top contenders are in any kind of pressure-filled pennant race.

Kershaw and Kemp still have work to do, but there’s still a good chance that they could win the awards. They would be the 19th teammates to do so but the first to win the awards simultaneously for a losing team (if the Dodgers don’t win 81 games, or 10 of their last 18.)

Kemp and Kershaw also remain contenders for the batting and pitching triple crowns. Kershaw leads the NL in ERA and strikeouts and trails Kennedy in victories by one. Since the Cy Young Award was established, no pitcher who has led his league in wins, ERA and strikeouts has failed to win the Cy Young Award, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

2007 Jake Peavy
2006 Johan Santana
2002 Randy Johnson
1999 Pedro Martinez
1998 Roger Clemens
1997 Roger Clemens
1985 Dwight Gooden
1972 Steve Carlton
1966 Sandy Koufax
1965 Sandy Koufax
1963 Sandy Koufax

For the batting triple crown, Kemp trails Jose Reyes in batting average by .016, Pujols in homers by two and Ryan Howard in RBI by four. Can he pass them by in a 161-game season?

Sep 09

Kershaw near perfect in 2-1 victory


Marcio Jose Sanchez/APClayton Kershaw

On the 46th anniversary of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game, Clayton Kershaw was nearly so.

The emphatic brilliance of Kershaw’s pitching renders any play-by-play account of tonight’s game too mundane. But I’ll give it a try.

The transcendent lefty allowed three hits in eight innings – two of them infield hits that, if fielded cleanly, would have been outs – while walking one and striking out nine in the Dodgers’ 2-1 victory over Tim Lincecum and the Giants.

San Francisco’s only run was unearned, thanks to a Dee Gordon error on the Giants’ leadoff hitter, Justin Christian. Admittedly, after Carlos Beltran drew San Francisco’s only walk and Pablo Sandoval drove in the run with the Giants’ only hit to the outfield, Gordon then saved Kershaw further damage with a highlight-reel catch of a soft looper to left field. Nevertheless, Kershaw had perfect-game quality stuff.

It looked for quite some time that it would all be for naught, that Kershaw would be the Bob Hendley in this replica of the Koufax perfect game. But the Dodgers twice scratched across runs.

In the eighth inning, with two out, Matt Kemp (2 for 4) hit a full-swing 40-foot grounder that stayed fair. Kemp stole second, thanks in part to a high throw from catcher Chris Stewart, then came around to score on a Juan Rivera single that came on Lincecum’s 122nd pitch of the game.

In the ninth inning, Rod Barajas led off with a single. Pinch-runner Eugenio Velez – or as I dared call him, “Vele on wheels” – went to second on Justin Sellers’ easy sacrifice and third on a wild pitch by Santiago Casilla.

And then, Jamey Carroll, batting for Kershaw, hit a grounder to second base. Jeff Keppinger fired home, but not in time to get Velez with the go-ahead run.

Javy Guerra retired the Giants in a perfect bottom of the ninth on 10 pitches, and the Dodgers had won the game. Los Angeles improved to 71-72 and closed to within 3 1/2 games of the Giants for second place in the National League West.

But probably more importantly to Dodger fans, Kershaw lowered his ERA to an NL-leading 2.36 while improving his own record to 18-5. Since June 15, his ERA is 1.55. Since July 7, his ERA is 1.19.

According to Jeff Fletcher of AOL Sports, Kershaw’s ERA in four head-to-head meetings with Lincecum is 0.62 (his rival is 2.03). Kershaw’s career ERA at AT&T Park is 0.45.

His WHIP in 2001 is 1.001.

Simply tremendous. For all the tribulations of 2011, it has been a privilege to watch Clayton Kershaw.

Sep 09

‘A pretty good line’

Vin Scully gave an interview to Daniel Riley of GQ in which he comments and reflects upon his greatest calls. There are audio recordings of the interview excerpts if you click the link; here’s GQ’s roughly transcribed version of how Scully’s comments on Kirk Gibson end:

… So when he hits the home run, the whole building… from the empty dugout to the walk, to him suddenly using the bat as a cane… it was just the most theatrical home run. And the place went crazy. I don’t know where it came from, but out came a line that later on I thought only could’ve come from The Boss. That line, ‘In a year of the improbable, the impossible has happened’ — which, I must admit, is a pretty good line — it just totally came out of nowhere. My heart, that’s where it came from, and God helped me out.”