May 20

Dodgers 3, Brewers 1: Kershaw throws a Kershaw

How close was Clayton Kershaw to a perfect game tonight?

Kershaw retired the first six Milwaukee Brewers tonight on 16 pitches, then walked Rickie Weeks, who had a .554 OPS entering the game, on five.

His next pitch was a ball to Yuniesky Betancourt, who followed with a single. Two infield outs later, Weeks scored.

Ryan Braun singled in the fourth and sixth innings, and Norichika Aoki reached base on a Dee Gordon throwing error in the eighth.

That was it: 107 pitches, 32 batters, 22 first-pitch strikes, three hits, one walk, five strikeouts. On five days’ rest after throwing a career-high 132 pitches, Kershaw dusted the Brewers, 3-1.

It wasn’t a perfect game. It wasn’t a shutout. But there should be a noun for the ease and control that Kershaw (who also singled in three at-bats) dominated Milwaukee.

Kershaw walked Weeks for the same reason Vin Scully sometimes says the wrong name, for that one time that Mother Theresa asked for seconds, for that spot on the Sistine Chapel floor where MIchelangelo let a drop of paint drip.

Kershaw threw a Kershaw.

* * *

Nice to see you again, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp.

Ethier tripled and homered. Kemp walked and homered. For Kemp, it was home run No. 2 on the season and really the first one he blasted, because home run No. 1 was an inside-out job that barely cleared the right-field fence in New York’s Citi Field.

 

May 19

Dodgers in a race to the upside down

Sure, OK, we can start with the bullpen. It’s hardly the only thing going on with the Dodgers, but it’s something. Oh yes, it’s something.

You need good relief to win, but you can’t plan for good relief. 

This comes up every year, so it’s tedious to point out, but it doesn’t seem to go without saying.

I’m going to ask take my years-old research into this on faith; whether you choose to do so is up to you. But what you find is that there is virtually no consistency year-to-year among relief pitchers. The best might give you two or three consecutive good years. The very best.

The reasons for this should be clear. You don’t become a reliever unless you are flawed in some way that prevents you from being a starter. That obviously doesn’t mean you can’t be a fantastic reliever in a given year, but for the most part, relievers are pitchers who aren’t designed to be great over the long haul. They typically have a limited number of pitches, which leaves them vulnerable to being figured out over time. The good ones end up getting overworked, or maybe they were never that good in the first place, instead merely a triumph of small sample size. We could go on, but let’s sum it up this way: Mariano Rivera is not reality.

The 2003 Dodger bullpen was incredible. It was also, in many significant ways, an accident.

Staffing a bullpen has always, fascinatingly, been Ned Colletti’s simultaneous strength and weakness. Colletti has had a knack for finding capable non-roster talent (Takashi Saito, Ronald Belisario) over the same years that he has invested multiyear deals in such inconsistent arms as Matt Guerrier and Brandon League. There is no correlation in the Colletti tenure between salary and performance, yet the expensive signings continue.

The point is that you can never feel good about your bullpen entering a season – never. I really believe that. You can’t feel anything at all. The best thing you can do is assemble a number of arms before Spring Training, a combination of youth and experience and promise and reclamation, and then hope for the best.

The peril of having someone with a long-term contract is that you feel obligated to keep him past the point of effectiveness. That’s the boat the Dodgers are in with League and Guerrier, even with a new ownership that doesn’t much worry about player salaries these days.

The Dodger bullpen is leaky through and through. Almost nothing is working right now. Just as you were gaining supreme confidence in Paco Rodriguez and Kenley Jansen, they found growing pains that left them struggling like the more experienced J.P Howell, League, Guerrier and, if you will, Belisario and Javy Guerra.

Fans tend to have unreasonable expectations of bullpens – you see outrage anytime any relief pitcher gives up a run, let alone a lead. I’m not sure where fans get the idea that every reliever on their team should have a 0.00 ERA, but there it is. Every Dodger relief pitcher since the heyday of Eric Gagne and Saito has been attacked for his failings, however momentary, however good that pitcher has been overall.  So when a bullpen is collectively struggling as much as the Dodger bullpen is, it’s frogs and locusts time.

Don Mattingly’s instinct has been correct in general to try to play matchups with his relievers. You can debate the specifics of all his choices – I don’t agree with them all – but the bottom line is, there’s little he can do when no one is reliable.

Mattingly’s bullpen Sunday faced 18 batters and got nine outs. When Jansen entered Saturday’s game in relief of Chris Capuano, he had thrown only 21 pitches in his previous 72 hours. Capuano had pitched well that night, but he was past the 90-pitch mark and going on a balky calf.

But when things are bad, things are bad.

Tim Federowicz is not a martyr.

This morning brought the news that Tim Federowicz, and not Luis Cruz or Ramon Hernandez, had been displaced from the active roster to make room for the return of Mark Ellis from the disabled list. Federowicz is more valuable than Cruz or Hernandez, but the hysteria this caused was rather remarkable.

When I called out this freakout on Twitter, several people lectured me, as if I didn’t know, that it wasn’t just about Federowicz, but that it was symptomatic of the Colletti Dodgers’ larger mismanagement in general or obsession with experience over youth in particular. As if I needed to be told that Colletti values experience, sometimes to the franchise’s detriment.

I’ve spent a lot of time on how to phrase this next section, because I don’t want to give the impression that you shouldn’t try to maximize every advantage you can. Federowicz can’t help the Dodgers that much right now, but sure, I’d rather see him get five at-bats a week over Hernandez, because an on-base percentage over .500 in Albuquerque and above-average defense suggest a better skill set than Hernandez currently offers. Scott Van Slyke’s callup was overdue, not because he was guaranteed to hit two homers in a game, but because he was on a hot streak in the minors that made it clear there was no better time to try him out.

But just as there is with the bullpen, there’s a level of knee-jerk fan reaction with the bench that is out of proportion. When a player is a single game away from having better stats than his competition, as Hernandez is compared with Federowicz (3 for 17 with one walk and no extra-base hits as a major-leaguer in 2013), and neither is projected to be a starter, and the alternatives to Hernandez as backup if A.J. Ellis gets hurt are Jesus Flores, Matt Wallach and Gorman Erickson, the uproar should not be Defcon Anything.

Yeah, Cruz stinks right now, and no one in their right mind would keep him over Juan Uribe – just like no one in their right mind would have argued to keep Uribe over Cruz last summer.

See what I’m getting at?

If you’re not frustrated with the Dodgers right now, you’re either not a Dodger fan or very zen. You’re not wrong if you’re unhappy with Federowicz’s demotion. But if you’re angry over Federowicz being sent down, you’re overreacting. It’s not symptomatic of the Dodgers’ larger problems. You’re not going to plug in Federowicz, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Alex Castellanos into the Dodger bench and as a result see things turn around.

And May 19 is too soon to give up, if only because of one person.

Matt Kemp.

Until Kemp starts hitting, nothing is going to happen with this team. Nothing. The Dodgers cannot win without his bat. And again, it’s not something anger will solve. The effort is there – if anything, he’s trying too hard to get things going. But it is up to Kemp.

It would help if Andre Ethier hit more, but the difference between what Ethier is doing compared to what is expected of him is not what it is with Kemp.

I’m sure Kemp has had all the advice in the world, from Mattingly, Mark McGwire and any number of coaches or people he meets on the street. But no one else can synthesize the good from the bad and put it into action.

You can start firing managers or coaches or trainers. Kemp still needs to hit.

The bullpen can start putting out fires. Kemp still needs to hit.

The defense can stop making two errors a game. Kemp still needs to hit.

But what if he does?

Let me tell you one more thing.  I would love to give up on the 2013 Dodgers. It will be a relief if and when I can. I spent part of my Sunday writing this 1,500-word piece that probably isn’t worth a damn, especially for a team barely winning 40 percent of its games.

And the season might be over, except for this. For all their problems, Los Angeles is still somehow only seven games out of first place. The Giants, in case you haven’t noticed, have their own cauldron of concerns. And Arizona and Colorado … I just don’t know. I can’t see them not hitting their own skid. I can’t see it.

The National League West looks like an 85-win division. That’s still within the Dodgers’ abilities.

The team gets healthier. The bullpen stops being a disaster. Matt Kemp starts to hit. And then …

Honestly, that’s as far as I can go. The team does look awful right now. It looks nothing like a winning team. It’s creaky and crumbly. Race to the bottom or race to the top – I truly can’t decide.

May 19

Mark Ellis returns, Federowicz sent down

Tim Federowicz has been sent down to Albuquerque to make room for the return from the disabled list of Mark Ellis.

The Dodgers are 6-13 since Ellis’ last start for the team.

Ted Lilly is expected to come off the disabled list this week. He will either take the spot in the starting rotation of today’s starter, Matt Magill, or will go to the bullpen. Javy Guerra is probably heading back to Albuquerque soon, if not to make room for Lilly then for Scott Elbert, whose return is also fairly imminent.

Things look bleak again for the Dodgers after a short respite, but Chris Capuano’s appearance Saturday was briefly encouraging, even if there’s a hint of health concern again for the lefty, according to The Associated Press.

… Capuano said he told Mattingly after his last at-bat in the eighth inning to be prepared to pull him out of the game because he had lingering problems with a strained calf.

“It wasn’t affecting pitch execution out there,” Capuano said. “It just feels a little tired. I’ve got an extra day before the next start. With treatment and stuff we should be able to get that ready.” …

Dodgers at Braves, 10:30 a.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
A.J. Ellis, C
Scott Van Slyke, RF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Nick Punto, SS
Matt Magill, P


May 19

The 25 Dodger catchers of the 21st century

The angry reaction over Tim Federowicz’s demotion to Albuquerque this morning prompted me to want to see the proud line of Dodger catchers, starting and backup, of recent vintage.

Today’s question: Who’s your 16th favorite Dodger catcher of the century?

Rk Player G From To Age PA HR SB BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Russell Martin 667 2006 2010 23-27 2713 54 66 .272 .365 .396 .761
2 Paul Lo Duca 546 2000 2004 28-32 2237 54 7 .290 .344 .433 .777
3 A.J. Ellis 253 2008 2013 27-32 885 17 0 .270 .372 .391 .763
4 Chad Kreuter 194 2000 2002 35-37 613 14 2 .245 .378 .392 .770
5 Dioner Navarro 139 2005 2011 21-27 487 10 1 .241 .325 .356 .681
6 Rod Barajas 123 2010 2011 34-35 409 21 0 .241 .300 .455 .756
7 Jason Phillips 121 2005 2005 28-28 434 10 0 .238 .287 .363 .650
8 David Ross 118 2002 2004 25-27 343 16 0 .207 .292 .411 .703
9 Todd Hundley 111 2000 2003 31-34 394 26 0 .274 .372 .560 .932
10 Brad Ausmus 57 2009 2010 40-41 178 1 1 .266 .329 .323 .652
11 Brent Mayne 47 2004 2004 36-36 113 0 0 .188 .286 .188 .473
12 Mike Lieberthal 38 2007 2007 35-35 82 0 0 .234 .280 .260 .540
13 Matt Treanor 36 2012 2012 36-36 122 2 1 .175 .281 .282 .563
14 Sandy Alomar 27 2006 2006 40-40 62 0 0 .323 .323 .403 .726
15 Danny Ardoin 24 2008 2008 33-33 54 1 1 .235 .278 .314 .592
16 Angel Pena 22 2001 2001 26-26 58 1 0 .204 .214 .278 .492
17 Toby Hall 21 2006 2006 30-30 60 0 0 .368 .383 .439 .822
18 Tim Federowicz 20 2011 2013 23-25 38 0 0 .182 .289 .182 .471
19 Mike Rose 15 2005 2005 28-28 46 1 0 .209 .261 .326 .586
20 Paul Bako 13 2005 2005 33-33 47 0 0 .250 .362 .300 .662
21 Gary Bennett 10 2008 2008 36-36 23 1 0 .190 .261 .381 .642
22 Tom Wilson 9 2004 2004 33-33 8 0 0 .125 .125 .125 .250
23 Ramon Hernandez 8 2013 2013 37-37 24 0 0 .045 .125 .091 .216
24 Chad Moeller 7 2007 2007 32-32 9 0 0 .125 .222 .125 .347
25 Brian Johnson 3 2001 2001 33-33 4 0 0 .250 .250 .250 .500
Rk Player G From To Age PA HR SB BA OBP SLG OPS
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/19/2013.
May 18

May Ow-ers

The Dodgers, who are 4-11 in May, need to go at least 7-5 in the month’s remaining 12 games to avoid their worst May ever in Los Angeles, worse than the 11-17 Mays of 1958, 1995 and 2005.

The ’95 team rallied to win a division title.

May 15

Tuesday, Wednesday, Happy Days

As hard as it can be to prepare for disappointment, sometimes pleasure catches you off guard as well.

Trepidation sandwiched tonight’s Dodger effort against the Nationals, with Zack Greinke coming off the disabled list to start the game and Brandon League back in action to end it. And in between, there were several meaty layers of runners threatening to score against multiple Dodger relievers.

Each time, pleasure pummeled pain, leading to Los Angeles’ 3-1 victory over Washington, capping the best stretch of Dodger baseball at home since Opening Day.

Greinke danced like Astaire in the first three innings, not only stifling the Nationals on 38 pitches but also driving in the Dodgers’ second run with an unexpected RBI single (when it had been floated earlier this week that Greinke would be too sore to even take the bat off his shoulder). It was the Dodgers’ second two-out, RBI single in the first two innings, following Adrian Gonzalez’s delivery of Matt Kemp in the first.

Scott Van Slyke missed triplicating the feat in the third inning, scorching as hard a line drive I’ve seen from a Dodger this year, only for Ryan Zimmerman to spear it and bail the Nationals out of a bases-loaded jam.

Greinke ran into trouble in a 28-pitch fourth inning, but escaped with only one run’s worth of damage, thanks to Adam La Roche’s solo homer, and there was little of incident before the Dodger righty left the game with the bases empty and one out in the sixth, 83 heartwarming pitches into his first official start since colliding with Carlos Quentin.

Then came the saltiness of the Dodger bullpen.

Immediately after Greinke took a seat, J.P. Howell and Matt Guerrier combined to allow runners to reach first and third, but Danny Espinosa grounded out to end the sixth. Paco Rodriguez issued a two-out walk to Denard Span in the seventh, but Kenley Jansen came in, threw one pitch and watched Span get caught stealing by A.J. Ellis.

This day in baseball: May 15, 2013

Don Mattingly has received a tremendous amount of grief this year, but what he’s done over the past two nights deserves respect.

Mattingly used his best reliever when it counted, regardless of when it counted.

Tuesday, he didn’t fret over the questions he would receive about avoiding Brandon League when it came to preserving Clayton Kershaw’s shutout. He went straight to Kenley Jansen.

Tonight, when modern convention would have dictated saving Jansen for the ninth again, Mattingly struck early. Rather then holding Jansen back for a save situation that might never come, he put the powerful righty into the game in the seventh with the tying run on base, knowing that he could get more than an inning out of Jansen thanks to Thursday’s off day.

You could argue that Mattingly should have gotten two full innings out of Jansen, but this qualifies as a major breakthrough for a manager whose bullpen usage has often been all too thoughtless. I don’t know how long it will last, but for two games, the smokejumper lives.

And now, let’s get back to this one.

As it happened, Jansen ran into his own bit of trouble in the eighth, allowing back-to-back singles to start the inning – illustrating that not even he is perfect. But with the tying run on third and nobody out, Jansen rose to the challenge, retiring La Roche on a soft fly to left (with Van Slyke quickly returning the ball to the infield to thwart any possible attempt to tag up and score), striking out Ian Desmond and then, with the go-ahead run in scoring position, setting down Kurt Suzuki on a fly to right. Stirring.

A bases-loaded Carl Crawford sacrifice fly (pinch-hitting for Van Slyke, rather than for Jansen one batter later, abbreviating the Mattingly honeymoon) gave the Dodgers – and about as importantly, their fans – an extra run of breathing room heading into the ninth and the return of League to the spotlight.

League gave up a leadoff single to Espinosa, one that aroused much more concern than anything Jansen surrendered. After Roger Bernadina grounded out, the batter was none other than pinch-hitter Bryce Harper, in his first appearance since he Wile E. Coyoted the Dodger Stadium right-field wall Monday.

In yet another moment of drama, Harper grounded out, and soon Span did the same, and the Dodgers had won their fourth game out of their past five, pulling within 5 1/2 games of San Francisco.

Enjoy Thursday’s day of rest – you’ve earned it.

May 14

Kershaw takes over MLB ERA lead in 2-0 victory


Throwing a career-high 132 pitches, the magnificent Clayton Kershaw came within one strike of a shutout before settling for a 2-0 victory Tuesday over Washington.

Kershaw entered the ninth inning with 114 pitches under his belt (about 60 of those coming in the first three innings, then about 50 over the next five). He gave up two warning-track fly outs, then endured a 10-pitch battle with Adam La Roche that ended with a single to center.

The 25-year-old lefty, who crossed the 1,000-inning mark in his career, struck out 11 and allowed five hits and a walk. With the bases loaded and two out in the top of the first, Kershaw struck out the next batter … and the next five.

Brandon League, as you might have guessed amid his ongoing struggles, was not given the opportunity to close. Kenley Jansen and Paco Rodriguez warmed up in the bullpen behind Kershaw in the ninth, and it was Jansen who struck out Tyler Moore to end the game.

Kershaw lowered his ERA to 1.40, taking over the major-league lead. In his past four starts, he has allowed two earned runs in 30 2/3 innings for a 0.59 ERA with 32 strikeouts against 16 baserunners.

He also scored the Dodgers first run, starting the bottom of the third by getting hit by a pitch. One out later, Matt Kemp singled, and one out and a wild pitch later, Andre Ethier singled them both home.

Kershaw’s previous career high in pitches in a single game was 125, on July 26, 2011. He threw a 108-pitch complete game in his next start, allowed four runs in the one after that, and then had a 0.96 ERA the rest of the 2011 season.

One more thing to scare the rest of the baseball world: Kershaw currently has a 1.40 ERA, and every full season of his career, he has been a better second-half pitcher.

2009: 3.16 first half, 2.27 second half
2010: 2.96 first half, 2.84 second half
2011: 3.03 first half, 1.31 second half
2012: 2.91 first half, 2.10 second half

May 14

Yankees thrive while Dodgers dive

Yankees thrive while Dodgers diveThe New York Times has a fancy live graphic showing how much money the Dodgers are bleeding on the disabled list, through which you’ll find that only one team has more players on the DL: the New York Yankees.

So why are the Yankees (24-14) in first place in their division while the Dodgers (15-22) are in last?

You can find stats that differentiate the two teams, though you might be surprised how similar they are in some respects.

The Dodger offense has an adjusted OPS of 99, according to Baseball-Reference.com, while the Yankees’ is 98.

Los Angeles ranks 29th in OPS with runners in scoring position, but New York only ranks 27th. The Dodgers actually have a higher batting average in those situations.

The Dodgers have 20 quality starts in 37 games; the Yankees 22 in 38.

Opponents have a .711 OPS against Dodger starting pitching, better than the .724 allowed by the Yankees.

All that being said, you can also find spots where the Yankees have outshone the Dodgers, such as relief pitching. In general, the Yankees are sixth in the majors in ERA, while the Dodgers are 20th.

But I’m not sure you can actually explain why there is such a gap between the two teams, or be sure that it would continue.

• 2013 Dodger runs scored vs. runs allowed: -0.92
• 2013 Yankee runs scored vs. runs allowed: +0.66

You glance at the Dodgers, and they just awful. Awful. Since sweeping Pittsburgh in the first week of the season, Los Angeles is 3-13 against teams that currently have winning records.

Could it possibly be Joe Girardi, pushing all the right levers in such a way that the Yankees win despite their uneven statistical profile underneath the runs? Could it be that the Yankees have just been luckier? Is the best theory that of Michael Schur, passed along by Joe Posnanski: that the Yankees are “a magical species, not unlike house elves?”

Is the entire season going to resemble the first quarter? The answer to that, I believe, is no.

* * *

Nationals at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Kershaw CLVIII: Kershawo, Pioneers

May 11

A weekend fighting futility in 1981

Across Friday and today, St. Louis held Colorado hitless for 49 consecutive at-bats, the longest streak, according to STATS, since the Dodgers went hitless for 50 at-bats in a row from September 25-27, 1981.

On September 25 at Houston, the Dodgers scored two runs in the eighth inning on their way to a 3-0 victory, but did not get a hit in five at-bats after Steve Garvey’s one-out single in the top of the eighth.

Nolan Ryan no-hit the Dodgers the next day, building the streak up to 32 outs without a hit.

Pitching against his former team on September 27, Don Sutton took a no-hitter into the top of the seventh before Kenny Landreaux singled, to end the streak at 50. Sutton finished with a two-hitter. Los Angeles had four walks in that period.

Colorado made 40 straight outs between a leadoff single in Friday’s game and a walk with one out in the fifth inning of today’s contest. The Rockies’ next hit came with one out in the top of the eighth.

* * *

Marlins at Dodgers, 6:10 p.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
Dee Gordon, SS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
A.J. Ellis, C
Skip Schumaker, 2B
Juan Uribe, 3B
Hyun-Jin Ryu, P

May 10

Down in the hole

I don’t actually expect this to happen. But if the Dodgers lose Saturday and Sunday, I’m not sure Don Mattingly will be managing the team Monday.

It’s worth remembering that the last time the Dodgers lost eight in a row, in 2008, they nearly went to the World Series that October.

Who will be this team’s Manny?

May 10

A new Don Mattingly brush fire

This excerpt from Barry M. Bloom’s interview of Dodger manager Don Mattingly for MLB.com could fan the flames of Mattingly’s detractors.

MLB.com: You’re a guy who constantly analyzes himself. How do you evaluate the job you’ve done this year?

Mattingly: Here’s how at look at it: Are we losing because I’m making mistakes? I look at the baseball side of it. Sure, I’ve made some mistakes, but I’m not sitting here crushing us every day, costing us games. Then I look at it from the standpoint of, am I not getting my message through to the guys? Are we not playing the game the way I want it to be played? Are we not playing with the energy and urgency? I don’t go about it asking myself how I’m doing. I know my club is not playing well. But I feel like I’m doing fine the way I’m handling it.

Mattingly isn’t single-handedly costing the Dodgers games, but he might be downplaying the impact of some of his decisions. But in Mattingly’s defense, no, he’s not crushing the Dodgers.

There’s no mistaking that the discussion around Mattingly’s future has turned into a firestorm.

Joe Sheehan voiced this thought in a podcast appearance with Will Leitch of Sports on Earth recently, and I’m not sure I disagree with it. Baseball managers are really middle management. They have a role, but the buck just doesn’t stop with them. There’s no dismissing the responsibility of the front office to deliver the right players and for the players to deliver the right results.

Sheehan suggested that the time has really come to divide the manager’s job where necessary, to ensure that you have someone who can inspire and teach players and someone who can effectively execute in-game strategy and tactics. It’s the same notion that finds the head coach leading the team on the field but the offensive and/or defensive coordinators calling plays. In baseball, the bench coach could evolve to be more than, as Sheehan put it, “a drinking buddy.”

Previously on Dodger Thoughts: Will Don Mattingly make it back to Yankee Stadium as Dodger manager?

* * *

Scott Van Slyke has been put on the Dodger roster, with Elian Herrera returning to Albuquerque and Chad Billingsley going to the 60-day disabled list.

* * *

Marlins at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.