Aug 20

Looking ahead to a wild finish

Giants at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Kershaw CXLII: Kershawleanna
Shane Victorino, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Luis Cruz, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Clayton Kershaw, P

Within the National League standings you’ll find the following four teams separated by only two games:

67-54 Pittsburgh
67-55 Los Angeles
66-55 San Francisco
65-56 St. Louis

What would happen if these four teams finished the regular season tied, with two playoff spots available to them — one for the NL West champion, one for the second NL wild card spot — under the new MLB playoff format for 2012?

Unless I’m mistaken …

1) The Dodgers and Giants would play for the NL West title on October 4.
2 & 3) The loser of that game would be involved in a three-team playoff for the second wild-card spot that would take two days. In theory, this could mean two of the teams (chosen by lottery) play each other Oct. 5, with the winner of that game hosting the third team October 6.
4) The survivor of that two-day set would play the No. 1 NL wild-card finisher October 7.
5) The wild-card champion would then host the NL team with the best record to start their NL Division Series on October 8.

Keep in mind that potentially, these five games against five different opponents could each require overnight travel from a different city. Wild!

* * *

  • Jim Peltz of the Times writes that Hanley Ramirez has been getting lots of off-field support for his transition to Dodger-hood from Manny Mota.
  • Triple-A outfielder Jerry Sands has set the Albuquerque franchise record with a 20-game hitting streak. According to the Dodger press notes, Sands is hitting .440 with two doubles, a triple, nine homers, 33 RBI and 20 runs scored during the streak.

 

Aug 20

A.J. Ellis waxes about changing teammates

Kent’s a ‘Survivor’

As had been previously rumored, former Dodger Jeff Kent has officially joined the cast of the upcoming season of CBS’ “Survivor” — along with former “The Facts of Life” star Lisa Whelchel.

Our pal A.J. Ellis has a first-person piece in place of a vacationing Buster Olney today for ESPN.com (behind the Insider wall), writing about what it was like to be on the Dodgers during the recent non-waiver trade deadline. An excerpt:

… On the morning of July 25, I woke up at our hotel in St. Louis and had a pair of new teammates; Hanley Ramirez, a three-time All-Star and former batting champ, and Randy Choate, a left-handed specialist who has dominated left-handed hitters for years, were now Dodgers. Here was our first move, and we get a middle-of-the order bat and added bullpen depth to strengthen our roster and, more importantly, let the rest of baseball know the Dodgers’ ownership meant business. Anything was possible.

Immediately, text messages and phone calls flowed between teammates. Clayton Kershaw texted me with only the word “Hanley,” followed by five exclamation points. Mark Ellis called me to break down what it meant and if we thought Hanley would stay at third or move back to his natural position of shortstop. The initial excitement of the trade and the fulfilled promise from our new ownership group sent energy throughout our team.

Even after we reloaded with Hanley and Choate, the rumor mill continued to swirl. The team returned home after a 7-3 road trip and took the field on July 30 with less than 24 hours to go before the trade deadline. That night, relief pitcher Josh Lindblom entered the game in the sixth and had a quick inning. He was scheduled to head back out for a second inning of work until the home dugout got a first-hand look at how the trade machine works.

Clubhouse manager Mitch Poole quickly paced across the dugout and tapped manager Don Mattingly on the shoulder, summoning him down to the tunnel below our dugout. Mattingly emerged and immediately went to pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, who hurried to the bullpen phone to have another pitcher warm-up. On the bench, we all knew this could mean only one thing: Josh had been traded. The game ended and we entered the clubhouse to learn about the trade, but it wasn’t the one we were anticipating. The Dodgers had acquired Seattle Mariners reliever Brandon League for a couple of minor leaguers at the lower levels. But what about Josh — was his removal a false alarm or was his trade still imminent? …

Read the entire piece here.

Aug 19

Root beer reviews: Rat Bastard

Rat Bastard Root Beer is a dull, lifeless brew that buzzes with the tasteless annoyance of a mosquito in a bug zapper. It needs to be gulped for the taste to have any sustain, but even that victory is short-lived. “Rat Bastard?” More like … well, no, it’s exactly like “rat bastard.”

Sampling date: August 13, 2012

Ingredients: Carbonated water, cane sugar, molasses, citric acid, caramel color, caffeine, natural and artificial flavors, herbal blend (American, Siberian and Korean ginseng, jasmine , clove, dong quai – angelica, skullcap (Mud Dog weed); African Capsicum, ginko bilboa; gotu kola; goldenseal, echinacea, reishi and shitake and cordyceps), sodium benzoate

Nutritional information: 12-ounce serving, 190 calories, 0 grams fat, 40 grams sugar, 65 milligrams sodium, 0 grams protein

Headquarters: Gardena, California

Rankings to date:
1) Route 66 Root Beer
2) Bulldog Root Beer
3) Capt’n Eli’s Root Beer
4) River City Root Beer
5) Cool Mountain Root Beer
6) Rat Bastard Root Beer 

Aug 19

Billingsley, Cruz and sunshine energize Dodgers, 5-0

Chad Billingsley is cruising, and Luis Cruz is, well, chadding.

The Dodger starting pitcher and infielder each continued their hot ways, pushing the Dodgers to a 5-0 victory at Atlanta today, completing a 7-3 East Coast roadtrip.

Allowing three hits over seven innings underneath the summer Georgia sun, Billingsley improved to 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA since coming off the disabled list. Billingsley gave up only three hits and walked two while striking out four, throwing 101 pitches.

Billingsley’s only trouble inning was the fourth, when the Braves fouled off 13 of his pitches before Jason Heyward hit a two-out triple. Freddie Freeman then walked on five pitches, but Billingsley got Dan Uggla to pop out on the 30th pitch of the inning.

Impressively, Billingsley also blew Heyward away on a swinging strike three measured at 93 miles per hour with Michael Bourn on third base with two out in the sixth.

According to the Dodger press notes, Billingsley is the first Dodger to win six consecutive starts since Kevin Brown won seven in a row from May 14-June 17, 2003.

Meanwhile, Cruz homered for the second consecutive game while going 2 for 4, giving him a .484 on-base percentage and .852 slugging percentage in 31 plate appearances on this roadtrip. He also pushed his 2012 major-league OPS over .800 for the first time since his first week in a Dodger uniform.

It appeared that the Dodgers might have to rely on Cruz’s fifth-inning home run for their entire offense, but Los Angeles tacked on a run in the eighth and three more in the ninth, all of the scoring flowing directly from Heyward losing fly balls in the sun in each inning. Mark Ellis, who earlier in the game stranded five runners on base in two at-bats, took advantage to collect all four RBI, the last three on a bases-clearing double.

Ronald Belisario pitched a perfect eighth while the score was still 2-0, and Scott Elbert returned from the disabled list to finish things off with a spotless ninth.

Heart-of-the-orderers Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier combined went 0 for 13 with a walk. Kemp is hitless in his past 15 at-bats (with two walks).

Aug 19

Dodgers activate Elbert, De La Rosa making progress

Dodgers at Braves, 10:35 a.m.
Shane Victorino, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Luis Cruz, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Chad Billingsley, P

In the end, it might just be a confidence booster for 2013, but for the first time, I get the feeling the Dodgers are thinking about trying to get some starts out of Rubby De La Rosa in September.

While it’s still a ways from taking a major-league mound in September, De La Rosa pitched a season-high four innings Saturday for Rancho Cucamonga, allowing no runs on two hits and a walk with two strikeouts.

In four minor-league outings since his comeback from Tommy John surgery began, De La Rosa has thrown 12 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts, allowing five hits and three walks. At a minimum, De La Rosa might soon to be primed to help the bullpen in September.

Last year in the majors, De La Rosa had a 3.88 ERA with 55 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings as a starter, while allowing a run in five innings with five strikeouts as a reliever.

* * *

In shorter-term relief news, Scott Elbert – who struck out all six batters he faced in his two minor-league rehab outings – was activated from the disabled list in the next day or so. The Dodgers sent Elian Herrera, who was 1 for 3 while mostly idling on the bench behind Hanley Ramirez and Luis Cruz since his recall, to the minors. Herrera would have played even less had Matt Kemp not been ejected Thursday.

That move lengthens the Dodger bullpen and shrinks the bench (at least for now), and kept the team from having to choose between sending Javy Guerra or Shawn Tolleson to the minors. Each was wild last night, each has allowed two inherited runners to score this month, but neither has been scored upon since late July.

For my part, I think Ronald Belisario would benefit from a two-week “elbow soreness” vacation. Matt Guerrier also pitched a shutout inning in the Rancho Cucamonga game, by the way.

* * *

We were trying to figure out how unusual Saturday’s no-singles game was, and Diane Firstman of Value Over Replacement Grit came up with the answer – and it’s a doozy.

The Dodgers and Braves combined for nine hits without any singles. The previous major-league record was four.

It was the sixth game in MLB history with no singles, including the Sandy Koufax perfect game against Bob Hendley’s one-hitter in 1965.

The biggest play of Saturday’s game was A.J. Ellis catching a foul tip, writes Ron Cervenka of Think Blue L.A.

Aug 18

Dodgers win home run derby

If you’re crazy for the Dodgers, well tonight, they were crazy for you.

Los Angeles hit four home runs – including three in a row for the first time since 2007 – yet had no other hits while coming away with a 6-2 victory over Atlanta.

Within a quartet of pitches from Ben Sheets in the second inning, Hanley Ramirez, James Loney and Luis Cruz hit the Dodgers’ first back-to-back-to-back home runs since Hong-Chih Kuo bat-flip night, when he followed Wilson Betemit and Matt Kemp with dingers.

Then in the sixth inning, after walks to Kemp and Andre Ethier, Ramirez hit his second homer of the game on a 3-0 pitch, giving the Dodgers’ a 6-1 lead. On the roadtrip, Ramirez is 17 for 38 with a .463 on-base percentage, three home runs, 14 RBI in nine games and 28 total bases.

But before, during and after the four home runs, there were no other Dodger hits.

To my shock, two teams this year (Colorado and Baltimore) have had games with five home runs and no other hits, joining the 2004 New York Yankees as the only squads since at least 1918 to do so. The record-holders in this category are the Cleveland Indians, who hit six home runs (three by Joe Carter) with no other hits on June 24, 1989.

Nevertheless, the Dodgers tonight became only the third team in MLB history to hit four home runs and have no other hits. One of those teams was the 2002 Dodgers, who got two home runs by Shawn Green and solo shots from Eric Karros and Alex Cora off Ramon Ortiz – who still threw a complete-game victory on June 14 that year.

The Dodgers also came within one batter of winning a game without leaving any runners on base for the first time since June 1, 2002, as Bob Timmermann noted, but Loney drew a two-out, ninth-inning walk and was stranded there by Cruz.

And finally, the two teams completed the rare feat of combining for nine hits without any singles.

The effort made a winner of Aaron Harang, even though the righty began the game with a simply awful first inning. He started by walking leadoff hitter Michael Bourn on four pitches and then allowing an RBI double to Martin Prado two tosses later. Jason Heyward flew out on a 2-0 count for the first out, before bench coach and acting manager Trey Hillman decided to walk Chipper Jones intentionally. Freddie Freeman did a favor by fouling out on the first pitch he saw, but Dan Uggla walked on four straight balls to load the bases.

On a 3-2 count, David Ross struck out on a high and inside pitch to allow Harang to escape the first inning with only one run against him, despite facing seven batters and being credited with only eight strikes.

But Harang found his center of gravity after that. Though he only retired the side in order once all night, from the first inning on he held the Braves scoreless into the bottom of the seventh on two walks, two doubles, and a triple, striking out four of the last five batters he faced (capping a 115-pitch outing that featured 57 balls and 58 strikes). Randy Choate entered the game with two out, Bourn on third and Heyward at the plate. And just as people were hoping would happen Friday before the Dodgers’ that night lead was lost, Choate struck Heyward out.

The eighth inning was nearly a repeat of the first. Javy Guerra and Shawn Tolleson combined to walk the bases loaded despite the five-run lead, before the well-rested Kenley Jansen came in to strike out Friday’s hero, Juan Francisco, on three pitches.

Jansen did give up a ninth-inning home run to Prado, but retired Chipper Jones to wrap things up.

Aug 18

Mattingly suspended two games

Don Mattingly was suspended for two games and fined by Major League Baseball for “excessive arguing” during Thursday’s game at Pittsburgh.

No discipline has been announced for Matt Kemp, and apparently will get none. There had been speculation that MLB was holding off punishing Kemp until after this weekend’s Civil Rights Game festivities (see photos), at which Kemp was presenting Don Newcombe with an award. But it appears that the fact that Kemp was ejected while cheering for Andre Ethier has been considered a mitigating circumstance.

Dodgers at Braves, 4:10 p.m.
Shane Victorino, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
James Loney, 1B
Luis Cruz, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Aaron Harang, P
Aug 17

Braves break through in 11th, down Dodgers

Kenley Jansen had thrown six pitches since Friday, and there’s no report that he’s injured. That didn’t dissuade Don Mattingly from insisting on holding back Jansen for a save situation in extra innings that might never come.

And it didn’t.

One inning after Brandon League barely escaped a 10th-inning jam, the righty allowed two 11th-inning singles with two out. The fourth Dodger reliever not named Jansen, Jamey Wright (who threw 16 mostly ineffective pitches Thursday), entered the game and served up a single to Juan Francisco that gave Atlanta a 4-3 victory.

A postgame replay showed Mattingly cursing as the winning hit went into left field.

Dodger relievers tonight faced allowed seven of 17 batters to reach base. Braves relievers allowed four of 16 batters to do so.

With San Francisco scoring eight runs in the third inning at San Diego, the Dodgers figure to begin play Saturday half a game behind the Giants.

Previously tonight:

Dodgers, Braves tied 3-3 in 10th

Dodgers survive 10th-inning scare, head into 11th

Aug 17

Dodgers survive 10th-inning scare, head into 11th

With the Dodgers and Braves tied heading into the bottom of the 10th inning, Randy Choate entered the game for the Dodgers (a little late for those who would have liked to have seen him face Jason Heyward in the eighth with the tying run on base). Choate struck out his first batter but allowed a single to Michael Bourn.

As the Dodgers’ top reliever, Kenley Jansen, idled away, Don Mattingly turned to struggling July acquisition Brandon League.

Then came a critical error. Matt Treanor threw down to second base trying to catch Bourn stealing, and the ball skidded past both Hanley Ramirez and Mark Ellis into center field, allowing Bourn to take the winning run to third base with still only one out.

League went 3-0 to Martin Prado, but came back to strike him out (on a low 3-2 pitch). Then, after walking Heyward, League induced a harmless fly to center from Chipper Jones.

And we moved on to the 11th …

Aug 17

Dodgers, Braves tied 3-3 in 10th

If at third you don’t succeed, hit a home run.

Andre Ethier was thrown out trying to score from first base on a Hanley Ramirez double in the fourth inning. But with the Dodgers still trailing 1-0 in the sixth, Ethier towered a no-doubt shot into the right-field stands to put the Dodgers on the path toward a 3-1 victory at Atlanta.

Unfortunately, the Braves weren’t entirely sold on that outcome, coming back to tie the game 3-3 and send it into the 10th inning, which is when I greet you with this post.

In the fourth, Ethier was thrown out by a good 10 feet at home plate following textbook fielding and throwing work by leftfielder Martin Prado and shortstop Paul Janish. Though frustrating, the decision to send Ethier by third-base coach Tim Wallach was somewhat excusable, coming with two outs and James Loney on deck. Wallach, by my estimation has been more reliable with Dodger baserunners than his recent predecessors such as Rich Donnelly.

But it didn’t look good for the Dodgers then, and looked even worse when Loney and Luis Cruz singled to start the next inning, before being stranded. That meant four consecutive Dodgers had reached base without a run scoring.

Finally, in the sixth inning of Braves starting pitcher Tommy Hanson’s longest outing since July 7, the Dodgers broke through on a groundball double off the glove of Chipper Jones (who had homered in the first to give Atlanta its early lead) followed by Ethier’s homer, his first since July 14.

That, plus a seventh-inning insurance run that came on doubles by Cruz and Shane Victorino, ideally would have been all Dodger starter Chris Capuano would need. The lefty entered the eighth inning with eight strikeouts against three baserunners on 84 pitches, but he gave up leadoff singles to Janish and pinch-hitter Reed Johnson and a sacrifice to put the tying runs in scoring position.

Don Mattingly then turned to the up-and-down Ronald Belisario, who surrendered an RBI groundout to Prado that cut the lead to one run. Jason Heyward then lined a clean single the opposite way into left-center, tying the game.

Belisario, who allowed 11 runs of his own along with three inherited runs in 11 innings from July 8-31, had come back with five scoreless innings to start August – before giving up two more runs in Pittsburgh in his last outing on Monday.

Ace Atlanta reliever Craig Kimbrel blistered the Dodgers with two strikeouts in a perfect ninth, leading to the bottom of the inning, which began, surprisingly, with Belisario back on the mound. And go figure – Belisario struck out the side, taking us to the 10th.

Aug 17

While on Matt Kemp Suspension Watch …

However justified his anger might have been, Matt Kemp sowed the seeds of his own suspension by making physical contact with umpires, writes Chad Moriyama at his blog. So as we wait for that unpleasant news to wend its way, here are some other happenings around town:

  • Don Newcombe, who is being honored at the annual Civil Rights Game on Saturday (between the Dodgers and Braves), is the subject of a nice piece by Spencer Fordin of MLB.com.
  • Good gravy — Brett Tomko is still out there plying his trade. Arizona signed the 39-year-old to a minor-league deal, reports Matt Eddy of Baseball America.
  • Will Rubby De La Rosa be in the same innings quandry next year as Stephen Strasburg is this year? Evan Bladh of Opinion of Kingman’s Performance is curious.
  • Former Dodger prospect Ethan Martin was interviewed at length by Jay Floyd of Phillies Nation.
  • “Major League Baseball owners have agreed to test two different advanced replay systems live during games starting next week, and if they prove accurate they could precede an overhaul of the system for the 2013 season,” reports Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports.
  • Sandy Koufax biographer Jane Leavy has a piece at Grantland on neuropathologist Ann McKee, who is doing extensive research on head trauma that could have an impact on the NFL.
  • Some fun history of Los Angeles roadways prior to the Arroyo Seco Parkway comes via Kevin Roderick of L.A. Observed.
Aug 16

Angry Dodgers drop finale in Pittsburgh

Vin Scully would have had a bleep of a time lip-reading had he been in Pittsburgh today.

In what might have been the wildest Dodger game of the season and what was certainly the angriest, the Dodgers lost to the Pirates, 10-6, with Matt Kemp, Don Mattingly and Joe Blanton ejected along the way.

The Dodgers were unhappy with home-plate umpire Angel Campos’ ball-and-strike calls from the first inning on, but according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A., the trouble really started in the second inning, in bizarre fashion:

… What made Kemp and manager Don Mattingly so irate, as both heartily argued their points while needing to be restrained, especially Kemp, was that the center fielder was kicked out for cheering his teammate.

“Guys were barking about pitches. Angel looked over and said, ‘I don’t want to hear anymore.’ Just a little bit later, Matt said, ‘Let’s go Dre’ and got thrown out,” Mattingly said after the game. “We’re in a pennant race. I got the guy that was second in the MVP last year. You can’t get thrown out for cheering for your teammate. That’s unacceptable behavior.” …

Those ejections — and the ferocious reactions, which can be seen here — came after Blanton allowed a three-run home run in the first inning to leading Dodger-killer Garrett Jones. The Dodgers then rallied to take a 4-3 lead, thanks in part to James Loney’s first home run since May 21 and a two-run shot by Hanley Ramirez — but the Pirates tied it in the bottom of the fourth and then went ahead in the fifth on a second three-run homer by Jones, who entered the game with a career .946 OPS against Los Angeles.

One batter later, Blanton allowed his third home run of the game and league-leading 26th of the season, to Pedro Alvarez — at which point he was removed from the game by the Dodgers before having words with Campos, leading to that ejection.

Blanton has now allowed 14 runs, 18 hits (including four homers) and seven walks in 15 1/3 innings since Los Angeles acquired him from Philadelphia. He had not walked more than two in a game all year, but now has done so twice in three starts.

Amazingly, despite their starter allowing eight runs in 4 1/3 innings, the Dodgers remained in the contest, cutting the deficit to two runs in the seventh (thanks in part to two batters being hit by pitches and putting Andre Ethier up with the bases loaded. But lefty Pirates reliever Tony Watson came in for starter A.J. Burnett and got Ethier to ground out, and then Jamey Wright surrendered two of his own in the bottom of the inning. Shawn Tolleson extended his scoreless streak to nine innings with a perfect bottom of the eighth, but the Dodgers drew no closer.

Loney, Ramirez and Mark Ellis each had two hits for the Dodgers, who are a half-game ahead of idle San Francisco.

Aug 16

In praise of Rick Rhoden

Dodgers at Pirates, 1:05 p.m.
Shane Victorino, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
James Loney, 1B
Adam Kennedy, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Joe Blanton, P

Some morning notes before a mid-day game …

  • Vin Scully gave an interview this week to the SI.com Hot Clicks podcast.
  • Ryan O’Sullivan, a righty with a 3.05 ERA and 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings for two Single-A teams this year, has gone to Philadelphia to complete the Joe Blanton trade. O’Sullivan will turn 22 next month.
  • Boston Globe sportswriter Bob Ryan wrote a lovely farewell piece for the publication that he is (mostly) retiring from after 44 years.
  • Rubby De La Rosa has resumed his rehab, throwing three innings of shutout ball in an Arizona League game Monday.
  • Expressed Written Consent is a program that “brings non-traditional broadcasters into the booth to have a go at the pastime that’s evolved alongside the pastime: calling the game,” writes Jeremy Brisel for MLB.com.
  • Former Dodger pitcher Rick Rhoden — the subject of one of the two calls I made to sportstalk radio in the 1970s as a child — is the inspiration for Josh Wilker’s latest piece at Cardboard Gods. The last two paragraphs explain why …