Jul 06

Glancing at the Dodger starting rotation of 2014 and beyond (Hola, Julio)

Forgive me for getting ahead of myself here, but the Ricky Nolasco trade interests me as much for what it might mean for future seasons as it does for the current one.

I imagine the Dodgers will re-sign the newly acquired Southern California native, who is eligible to be a free agent after this season, if he does half-decently. Assuming Los Angeles parts ways with Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly by Veterans Day, the Dodgers would greet 2014 featuring Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Nolasco in the first four spots of the starting roation, with Josh Beckett and Stephen Fife among the contenders for the fifth slot. (Hint: Ned Colletti doesn’t figure to want to settle for those two.)

But it could get more fun as springtime progresses, if and when Chad Billingsley (a year removed from Tommy John surgery in April) and Zach Lee (2.79 ERA, 1.121 WHIP, 8.2 K/9 with Double-A Chattanooga) enter the mix. Heck, maybe even someone like a Ross Stripling (2.29 ERA, 1.039 WHIP, 8.6 K/9 with Chattanooga) or a Rob Rassmussen (2.42 ERA, 1.074 WHIP, 8.5 K/9) gets run up the flagpole.

All that aside, I’ll admit that my biggest future question about the Dodger starting rotation is whether Julio Urias will still be a teenager when he arrives in Los Angeles. Urias is so young, he was born August 12, 1996 – the second anniversary of the shutdown of the 1994 baseball season (I was supposed to take my then-girlfriend to the game that night) – giving him three years and change to become a teen team player. He is the youngest pitcher in the Midwest League in decades, and though he initially wasn’t meant to stay there, it’s been hard to kick him out.

The 16-year-old from Mexico has a 2.78 ERA, 1.268 WHIP and 10.6 K/9 with Single-A Great Lakes, for whom Lee – the Dodgers’ No. 1 pitching prospect entering this year – had a 3.47 ERA, 1.220 WHIP and 7.5 K at age 19 in 2011. If Lee is on track for a mid-2014 arrival in the majors (notwithstanding a potential cup of coffee this September), Urias could realistically hit Dodger Stadium before his 20th birthday in 2016.

Like I said, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Just having fun thinking about it.

For perspective, Clayton Kershaw had a 2.77 ERA, 1.253 WHIP and 12.4 K/9 with Great Lakes at age 19 in 2007. He was in the majors one year later, two months after turning 20. Urias is arguably the Dodgers’ best pitching prospect in the seven years since they drafted Kershaw, the gold standard.

Jul 06

Bums aim to garner another victory

As you can see at left, the Dodgers have momentum since June 21, particularly against the Giants, but they’ll be tested tonight.

They face Madison “Don’t Call Me James” Bumgarner, who has a 3.08 ERA this year and a 2.54 career ERA when facing Los Angeles. In two starts this year against the Dodgers, Bumgarner has pitched 15 innings and allowed two runs on seven hits and a walk, while striking out 11.

For his part, Bumgarner might well be looking forward to his rematch with Yasiel Puig who homered and singled in a 3-1 Dodger victory June 24.

Since June 21, the Dodgers and Giants have each allowed 53 runs. But Los Angeles has scored 72, while San Francisco has tallied 24.

In the Dodgers’ two losses, they have allowed a total of 25 runs. In their 11 wins, they have allowed 28 runs.

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Here’s an update on the Dodgers’ apparently nearly completed pursuit of Marlins pitcher Ricky Nolasco, from MLB Trade Rumors.

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Clayton Kershaw is an National League All-Star. Yasiel Puig was not named to the NL reserves, but we’ll see if he (or teammate Adrian Gonzalez) can make it in via the final fan vote. Personally, I’m perfectly happy to have Puig chill for the All-Star break.

Dodgers at Giants, 4:15 p.m.

Jul 05

The redemption of Juan Uribe reaches new levels

There have been Dodgers who have had their downs and ups, but I can’t remember such a purely bottom-to-top tale of redemption as the one of Juan Uribe.

Uribe’s season-long renaissance, in the third year of his three-year contract with the Dodgers, reached full flower tonight, with a double, triple, home run and seven RBI in the Dodgers’ 10-2 rout of San Francisco.

It was an astonishing performance but bearly out of the blue the way it would have been in 2011 or 2012, when Uribe hit a combined .199 with a .262 on-base percentage and .289 slugging percentage. Despite being on the roster all season last year, Uribe had one plate appearance after August 27.

But practically from day one in 2013, Uribe has brought plate discipline to his game, already surpassing his 2011 and 2012 totals in walks, and when he has swung, he has made an impact – to the point where Dodger fans have slowly learned not only not to fear his at-bats, but to embrace them. Last summer, Dodger fans were begging for his release; his 2013 OPS is now exactly .800. Combine that with the fielding that was always solid – in his latest exploit, he turned a bullet by Matt Cain tonight into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play – and the Dodgers have had, believe it or not, a productive third baseman.

Tonight, with the Dodgers trailing 1-0 in the second inning, Uribe worked the count to 2-1 in his favor, then delivered a two-run double to left field. Then, with the bases loaded and one out in the third, Uribe worked the count full before sending a hard, sinking liner into left field that Carlos Gonzalez of Colorado might have caught, but he was yesterday’s opponent. Cole Gillespie dove for the ball and missed, and Uribe had his first triple since July 28, 2010.

Uribe’s two-run homer in the seventh not only helped him match his career high in RBI in a game, it put him a single away from hitting for the cycle. Alas, Uribe went down in the ninth on a check-swing strike three.

But back to the original point. What Dodger endured two miserable years, while collecting a big paycheck, before putting it together in his third season? Looking at this list of Dodgers in the post-1975 free-agent era, no one with the profile of Uribe leaps to mind. It’s not like Dave Goltz, Don Stanhouse, Mike Davis or Eric Davis turned it on in Los Angeles after stinking for two years. But Uribe has.

It’s remarkable.

This week, in five different games, Dodgers have been within single hits of hitting for the cycle. Yasiel Puig needed a home run one game and a triple the next, Hanley Ramirez needed a triple Wednesday, Adrian Gonzalez needed a triple Thursday, and now Uribe’s missing single.

The Uribextravaganza and the final score would indicate a night of complete celebration for the Dodgers, but that’s not the case. Two innings into the first game in which the Dodgers had Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp on their active roster, Kemp irritated the AC joint in his left shoulder with a swing. He is day to day.

Jul 05

July 5 game chat

Dodgers at Giants, 7:15 p.m.

Make sure to follow me on Twitter for more frequent Dodger and baseball tidbits. Some samples:

Jul 04

The Hanley Ramirez trade: How does it look so far?

Hanley Ramirez as a Dodger: .354 on-base percentage, .527 slugging in 364 plate appearances. Ramirez, who will turn 30 in December, can become a free agent after the 2014 season, during which he will earn $16 million.

Randy Choate as a Dodger: 4.05 ERA, 24 baserunners against 11 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings, before becoming a free agent. (With St. Louis this year, Choate has a 2.00 ERA with 19 baserunners against 11 strikeouts in 18 innings, in the first year of a three-year, $7.5 million contract).

Nathan Eovaldi as a Marlin: 3.89 ERA, 117 baserunners against 54 strikeouts in 81 innings (5.4 innings per start). Eovaldi has the second-worst winning percentage (6-15, .286) of any major-leaguer since 1980 with a career ERA below 4.00, ahead of former Mets pitcher Anthony Young. Since making his first major-league appearance of 2013 on June 18, following a bout with right shoulder inflammation, he has three starts with a 2.00 ERA with 17 baserunners against 10 strikeouts in 18 innings and a reportedly improved fastball. Eovaldi is under Marlins control through 2017 and becomes arbitration-eligible after the 2014 season.

Scott McCough as a Marlin: The 23-year-old righty reliever has a 2.22 ERA with 47 baserunners against 41 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings with Double-A Jacksonville this season.

In short: Everyone seems to be prospering right now, but thanks to Ramirez’s supreme resurgence, Dodger fans have every reason to be pleased with the trade.

Happy Independence Day!

Dodgers at Rockies, 5:10 p.m.

Jul 03

After first week back, Kemp’s timing problems linger

In his ill-remembered farewell season with the Mets, a 42-year-old Willie Mays had a .303 on-base percentage, .344 slugging percentage and adjusted OPS of 81 in 239 plate appearances with the New York Mets.

Recovering from one injury after another over the past year, 28-year-old Matt Kemp has been worse. This season with the Dodgers, Kemp has a .302 OBP, .327 slugging and 78 OPS+ in 214 plate appearances.

After returning from the disabled list last week, Kemp had a single, a double and no strikeouts in his first five trips to the plate — four of them June 25, plus one on June 27. Since then, he has gone 3 for 18 with two walks and nine strikeouts.

Dylan Hernandez wrote in the Times on June 27 about Kemp working with former hitting coach Jeff Pentland over an eight-day span. That period, according to the article, ended June 29.

“The biggest thing I noticed he was dropping his hands,” Pentland told Hernandez. “He was to a point where he was pushing and scooping the ball. Off of that comes everything else. Sometimes one thing can create five or six problems and I think that’s where he was at.”

Pentland spoke in the past tense, but with or without him, Kemp remains a work in progress.

Kemp ended a 1-for-10, six-strikeout slump with two singles June 30. Then, after Monday’s off day, he struck out in three of his first four at-bats in Coors Field on Tuesday before hitting a 400-foot out in his final appearance.

The strikeouts show how Kemp is still searching for a rhythm. He has started six games since coming off the DL, and he’s been good in two, average in two and awful in two. But the timing and mechanics issues still seem solvable.

“Kemp’s swing does currently does have significant flaws, but I highly doubt it’s anything permanent,” wrote Dodger analyst Chad Moriyama at the end of a lengthy examination in May. “This rings especially true since he made a similar adjustment a couple years ago, and I expect him and the Dodgers to eventually work through this as well.”

After that, we can get back to wondering whether Kemp’s power will return. Let Hanley Ramirez be your inspiration, and your reminder of patience.

Dodgers at Rockies, 5:10 p.m.

Jul 03

How will it end?

Will it be a short stumble or a big tumble?

Will it be the bullpen, the fielding, the injuries, the sluggers’ return to earth – or all of the above?

It takes nothing away from the Dodgers’ hot streak to say that it won’t last. The end could come tonight, or the next day, or next week. But they’ll return to earth.

It’s the nature of the fall that I wonder about, whether it will feel temporary or permanent, shallow or deep.

In 1982, the Dodgers advanced 12 1/2 games in the standings in 13 days, moving from 10 games out to 2 1/2 games up in the National League West, then fell back out of first place, then regained first place, then fell back out again, before Joe Morgan finished their season.

In 2006, Los Angeles went from fifth place to first in 10 days, during an astonishing 17-out-of-18 streak (immediately after losing 13 out of 14), played leapfrog with the Padres day by day and, in the 4+1 game, inning by inning, and finished on top in the division.

In 2008, the Dodgers were five games under .500 on August 29, won eight straight and 12 out of 13, and didn’t look back until the National League Championship Series.

The 2013 season has already put Dodger fans through the ringer. But in a way, it has only just begun.

The reconstruction of the bullpen looks helpful, but there’s an inherent chaos that makes it impossible to trust. The fielding isn’t really any more reliable. You know the injuries will find themselves again. You know Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez will have their slumps. So, for that matter, will Stephen Fife.

The good and the bad of the Dodgers are in an ongoing battle for supremacy. The difference right now, compared to two weeks ago, is that it finally looks like the good can put up a fight.

Jul 02

Dodgers livin’ the dream, 8-0

There was no life I’d known to compare with pure imagination.

And then Yasiel Puig came along, joining Clayton Kershaw on what had been a lonesome, uphill journey.

And the rest of the Dodgers followed.

They were so bad, and now they’re so good. With their 8-0 shutout in Colorado tonight, the Dodgers have won nine games out of 10, moving into fourth place, .00058 behind the San Diego Padres, and 2 1/2 games out of first.

It’s remarkable to think that without the injuries and the losing and frankly, the depression, Puig would have come from the seas of the Atlantic only as far as the woods of Tennessee. But the road west opened for Puig, and tonight, he did to Coors Field exactly what you’d expect Puig to do to Coors Field – given that fact that Puig himself is pure imagination.

Matt Kemp is the living reality check on the Puig phenomenon, the former All-Everything going 0 for 5 with three strikeouts and, almost tenderly, the most encouraging out of the night, a 400-plus blast to the fence in deepest Coors.

But otherwise, reality, or what used to serve as reality, seemed far away. Hanley Ramirez had another two hits, including a double. Adrian Gonzalez had two hits, including a homer.  Juan Uribe had two RBI singles. A.J. Ellis anted up and drew two pair, walks and doubles.

And Ace was Rocky Mountain High.

Five years and change into his major-league career, Clayton Kershaw remains as sweet as a river of chocolate. He threw his second shutout of the season, dominating the Rockies with eight strikeouts, no walks and but one runner getting as far as second base. He ended the 27-game hitting streak of Michael Cuddyer in the process.

The pitcher whose ERA in the second half of the season has been lower than the first half every year of his career dropped his 2013 mark to 1.93, with two starts to go before this year’s All-Star Game, a game he will certainly be a part of.

Lately, there’s been much debate about whether Puig will join him, to which I say, whatever happens, happens. If we’re meant to keep Puig for ourselves for a little while longer, I am content, come what may.

In other words, if you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it.

Jul 02

One a day

This week, the Dodgers could be in a different place in the National League West standings for five consecutive days.

They went to bed last night in fifth place and could conceivably pass San Francisco tonight, San Diego on Wednesday, Colorado on Thursday and Arizona on Friday.

We’ll see. In the meantime, Mike Petriello runs down the Carlos Marmol acquisition at Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.

Dodgers at Rockies, 5:40 p.m.
Kershaw CLXVII: Kershawnder the Dome

Jul 02

Yasiel Puig at sea

The beauty of this Jeff Passan story at Yahoo! Sports on Yasiel Puig’s intersection with the U.S. Coast Guard in April 2012 takes many forms — the drama, the intrigue, the introspection, and perhaps most of all, the open acknowledgement of conflicting moral values.

Humanity is a complicated, fascinating thing.