Aug 15

Aftermath of the Cabrera calamity

Three thoughts about the Melky Cabrera suspension:

1) It’s good news for the Dodgers. However, it hardly ensures that they will make the playoffs – or that, as some have written, they should.  One player doesn’t decide a season – and that’s without even knowing what will happen to other players in the remaining 44 games.

2) I’ve seen it written where you could tell from Cabrera’s dramatic improvement compared with 2010 that something nefarious was up.  Yes, that looks as neat and tidy as a bow … until you consider him alongside Matt Kemp, who is six weeks younger than Cabrera. Look at these OPS stats:

Player 2006-10 2011-12 Change
Cabrera	.709	.849	19.7%
Kemp	.808	1.009	20.0%

My point, I hope it’s clear, is not to accuse Kemp of anything untoward (nor is it to imply at all that OPS is a definitive stat), but merely to illustrate that the revelation about Cabrera doesn’t justify making assumptions about every ballplayer who shows dramatic improvement.

3) Some people can’t understand how people can be dumb enough to violate the MLB drug policy when they know they’re going to be tested. The explanation is that laws are broken every day, sometimes by stupid people, sometimes by smart people, sometimes rationally, sometimes not.

Aug 15

Dodgers are the pick to click: 9-3

August in Pittsburgh is a lot like April vs. Pittsburgh, with the Dodgers once again making every Pirate irate with defeat.

Tonight, it was Los Angeles 9, Pittsburgh 3, giving the Dodgers 20 runs and two eight-inning performances from their starting pitchers in their past two games.

Clayton Kershaw allowed runs in 37.5 percent of his innings tonight but was 100 percent in the win column, allowing six hits and no walks while striking out eight. The Dodgers knocked out 15 hits, three each by Shane Victorino and Andre Ethier and two apiece more by Mark Ellis, Hanley Ramirez and Kershaw himself. Since August 6, Victorino is 15 for 40 (.300) with four walks, while Ramirez is 11 for 25 (.440) with two walks on the road trip.

Luck also continues to be on the Dodgers side this week. Three months after Ellis was injured in a second-base collision, it was Pirates second baseman Neil Walker who was injured by Ellis in a mashup. Walker is now sidelined with an injury to his right hand.

San Francisco and Arizona lost. It might have snuck up on you, but Los Angeles has won 17 of its past 26 and now has the fourth-best record in the National League and undisputed playoff position for the first time in more than a month.

Aug 15

Giants outfielder Cabrera suspended for 50 games

With the Dodgers and Giants tied for first place in the National League West, San Francisco outfielder Melky Cabrera, who has a .390 on-base percentage and .516 slugging percentage this season, has been handed a 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone in violation of the MLB drug policy. The suspension will end Cabrera’s regular season and potentially extend five games into the playoffs.

It’s the biggest suspension in the division since Manny Ramirez of the Dodgers was sidelined for the same number of games in the 2009 season. Los Angeles, of course, still managed to go to the National League Championship Series that year.

“My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used,” Cabrera said in a statement. “I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and will try to move on with my life. I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organization and to the fans for letting them down.”

Dodgers at Pirates, 4:05 p.m.
Kershaw CXLI: Kershaw Vie en Rose
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
Aug 14

Billingsley, Dodgers in the fast lane: 11-0

Chad Billingsley is pitching so well, the Internet took a moment of silence.

With eight shutout innings tonight, pacing the Dodgers’ 11-0 victory over Pittsburgh, Billingsley lowered his season ERA to 3.62 and his ERA in five starts since coming off the disabled list to 1.56. In his longest outing since his first start of 2012, Billingsley threw 107 pitches, 75 for strikes, and allowed five hits and walked one while striking out five. In those five post-DL starts, he has walked six and struck out 23. For the season, Billingsley’s career-best K/BB ratio improved to 3.1.

With two out in the bottom of the third inning and the Dodgers leading by one run, Pittsburgh rightfielder Travis Snider hit a double that sent pitcher Kevin Correia to third base. The Pirates’ MVP candidate, Andrew McCutchen, came to the plate.

Billingsley struck out McCutchen looking on a 2-2 pitch, and that was it for Pittsburgh, who had two baserunners over their remaining five innings. The Pirates, to say the least, looked like the Pirates of 1993-2011 tonight.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers had one of those innings you need to remember when things break bad for the team. Their first three baserunners in the top of the fourth, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez, reached base while hitting the ball a combined 37 inches. James Loney’s RBI groundout doubled the Dodgers’ lead, and then Luis Cruz (3 for 5) drove in the first two of his three RBI with a clean single to left.

The Dodgers padded their lead in the seventh on Cruz’s third single and A.J. Ellis’ sacrifice fly, and more in the ninth on Kemp’s bases-loaded single off the leg of Chad Qualls and two-run hits by Ethier and Ramirez, pushing Los Angeles to its biggest romp of the season, ahead of the 10-0 victory July 28 over San Francisco. Shawn Tolleson extended his scoreless streak to eight innings to finish off the Dodgers’ biggest shutout over Pittsburgh ever.

Ramirez had three hits, while Kemp and Loney each had two. In his first start since July 22, Juan Uribe could not live up to his .500 on-base percentage in 18 plate appearances against Correia entering the game, going 0 for 4 before drawing a ninth-inning walk.

Winning their fourth game out of five on the road trip so far, the Dodgers moved a half-game ahead of San Francisco, pending the result of the Giants’ game tonight at home against Washington, and 5 1/2 games ahead of Arizona, which lost 8-2 to St. Louis.

It was a great night as well for Hiroki Kuroda, who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in New York and ended up shutting out the Rangers on two hits.

Aug 14

Jonathan Livingston Baseball Fan

… The lopsided score and the chill coming off the San Francisco Bay forced many of the 43,050 in attendance to leave early. By the end of the night, seagulls circled the park, expecting the place to be theirs. …

— Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, reporting from AT&T Park on Monday (via Sam Sokol).

Aug 13

Homer drought in left field … not for the first time

Dodgers at Pirates, 4:05 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
Aaron Harang, P

To say the least, this has been a lean year of home runs from Dodger leftfielders. The full list: Juan Rivera on May 6, Bobby Abreu on June 2, Elian Herrera on July 5, Jerry Hairston Jr. on July 7. That’s it. Four.

To my surprise, however, this kind of year isn’t unprecedented. In fact, the Dodgers aren’t on pace to have their worst year in leftfielder home runs since moving to Los Angeles — and the low-offense 1960s have nothing to do with it.

Lowest single-season HR totals for Dodger LF

Year	G	HR	Players
2012	115	4	Abreu, Hairston, Herrera, Rivera
1958	154	6	Cimoli, Demeter, Fairly, Gilliam, Howard, Roseboro
1974	162	7	Buckner 7
1976	162	7	Buckner 7
1970	161	8	Crawford 4, Mota 3, Kosco
1981	110	8	Baker 8
1973	162	9	Buckner 3, Crawford 2, Joshua 2, Ferguson, Paciorek
1975	162	9	Buckner 6, Lacy 2, Crawford
2011	161	9	Rivera 4, Gwynn 2, Gibbons, Oeltjen, Sands
1992	162	10	Davis 5, Webster 3, Daniels 2
2005	162	10	Ledee 3, Grabowski 3, Repko 2, Werth 2

The lowest total of home runs by leftfielders for the Dodgers in the 1960s was 14, in 1965 and 1966.

Here are the top five seasons since 1958:

Year	G	HR	Players
2000	162	48	Sheffield 43, Aven 2, Donnels 2, Leyritz
2001	162	42	Sheffield 36, Grissom 5, Aven
1999	162	34	Sheffield 34
1990	162	32	Daniels 27, Gwynn 3, Gibson 2
1977	162	30	Baker 30

Dodger leftfielders hit more home runs in 2000 than Dodger leftfielders have hit since 2009 (45).

Sheffield hit his 43 homers in 2000 in only 139 games … but how ’bout that Bruce Aven, huh?

Coming soon — home run droughts at first base for the Dodgers.

* * *

Cuban prospect Yasiel Puig has been promoted to Single-A Rancho Cucamonga. Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness has more.

Update: Elian Herrera has been called up in place of Jerry Hairston Jr., who was placed on the disabled list with left hip inflammation.

Aug 11

Skip

OK, so it’s possible that I’m wishing that I could fast-forward through part of this season’s stretch run and go straight to the moment of “Did the Dodgers make the playoffs or didn’t they?”

Boy, were the Dodgers hot to start this season or what?  They had to be, because this period of mediocre play just seems interminable, and yet the pennant hopes haven’t gone anywhere.

Just as Clayton Kershaw cruised almost perfectly through the first half of Friday’s game, Joe Blanton was practically dominant tonight against the Marlins.  After pitching four innings of one-hit ball, the bottom of the fifth began, and Blanton allowed a blast by Giancarlo Stanton. (I can only hope that somewhere, it was seen by Susan Anton.)  The towering fly ball to the left-field concourse of the Marlins’ new stadium went foul, and one pitch later, it was Stanton standin’ as a called strike three whizzed by.

But the next batter doubled.  And the batter after that, .118-hitting obscure and barely memorable former Dodger backup infielder Nick Green, hit a sharp bounder off the wrist of third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr., and after that, things just began falling apart for the Dodgers. Miami took out Blanton with a four-run inning, then stuck it to utterly ineffective new acquisition Brandon League for three more in the seventh.

Losing 7-3, the Dodgers fell a game behind the Giants in the National League West. It matters, just like it matters that Matt Kemp had three hits and two steals, but struck out after going to a 3-0 count with the bases loaded in the second inning. Right?

I’m daring fate to intervene, but it almost seems like there’s no escape from contention this year. The Dodgers can keep stepping on cracks, but no backs are breaking. On to the next piece of sidewalk.

Hey, I like baseball, but I feel like I’m just being played with here.

My house is a mess, stuff everywhere, paint fading, but it’s home. That’s the Dodgers, right? They’re sparkly in parts, otherwise dilapidated.  They’re not without their entertaining moments, but all in all, I wouldn’t mind skipping ahead to the part where I find out if they’re cleaned up or a tear-down.  At least, take me into September, because right now, this thing with San Francisco feels like the least compelling neck-and-neck race I’ve seen in a long time.

Aug 10

Summer stories

Dodgers at Marlins, 4:10 p.m.
Kershaw CXL: Kershawn Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Shane Victorino, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Clayton Kershaw, P

In homage to Grant Brisbee’s terrific Baseball Nation piece today, “The Stories You’d Be Reading If The First Half Didn’t Exist,” I offer some Dodger headlines you might be seeing if the season had actually begun July 13. Go to Los Angeles Magazine’s City Think Blog.

Aug 09

Uribe is home free

Jerry Sands’ latest stay in Los Angeles has turned out to be ever-so-brief, as the Dodgers have sent him back to Albuquerque — where he will meet up with Tony Gwynn Jr., who cleared waivers and accepted a minor-league assignment — to make room on the Dodger roster for Adam Kennedy coming off the disabled list.

The moves mean that with 23 days to go until MLB active rosters can expand to 40, Juan Uribe is probably going to defy Damocles’ dagger and remain a Dodger though the end of next season and, presumably, on into 2013. This is the case even though Uribe has only three plate appearances in the past 17 days.

One position-player move that remains for the Dodgers to make is the potential activation of Dee Gordon from the disabled list if he’s ready before September 1, but at this point, I expect the Dodgers would send Gordon or Luis Cruz to the minors for a brief time and then recall the player when rosters widen (or just keep Gordon on the DL until then).  As far as I can tell, the breaking point with Uribe for 2012 has come and gone.

Cruz, by the way, is in a 3-for-22 slump with one walk, lowering his 2012 on-base percentage to .286 (nearly identical to Gordon’s .280) and his slugging percentage to .385. According to Baseball Prospectus’ True Average statistic, which factors in baserunning, Cruz is at .245 compared to Gordon’s .224. Cruz, four years older, might be a better player than Gordon right now, but I still am interested in seeing how Gordon can develop, even if the next opportunity doesn’t come until next year.

* * *

  • Bobby Abreu has also cleared waivers, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com. He can accept a minor-league assignment like Gwynn, or become a free agent.
  • Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. got a great shoutout from T.J. Simers of the Times.

    … MATTINGLY LIKES to joke that truebluela.com’s Eric Stephen knows more about the Dodgers than anyone else in the media.

    “Go ahead, Eric,” I tell him after Mattingly speaks highly of Stephen again, “ask him about some minor leaguer.”

    “All right, I’ll ask about Juan Rivera,” says Stephen …

  • In his review of the Dodgers’ second 54 games of the 2012 season, Stephen highlights how severe the team’s offensive dropoff was, player by player.
  • James Loney should really, seriously, consider converting to pitching, argues Evan Bladh of Opinion of Kingman’s Performance.
  • Bluetopia, the 2009 movie about the Dodgers and their fans in which I had a brief appearance, will be screened August 16 at the Craft and Folk Art Museum, which has an ongoing baseball exhibition this summer. A Q&A with director Tim Marx follows.
  • One of my favorite baseball articles of the season comes from Russell A. Carleton of Baseball Prospectus, for which he dramatizes how much more difficult the job of baseball manager is than we typically comprehend.
Aug 08

When Mike Trout surpassed Matt Kemp

Rockies at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Shane Victorino, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
Matt Treanor, C
Chad Billingsley, P

At the start of the season, there’s no one in baseball I would have traded Matt Kemp for. But that’s not the case anymore, as you’ll see in my latest post at Los Angeles Magazine’s CityThink blog.