Sep 07

Breakfast at the Queen City

Early start today!

Last night, while shopping with my wife at the market, I watched the final two innings of the Giants-DBacks game on my phone, which actually worked quite well. And I almost timed it so I’d still be in the market when the game ended. Then, when I didn’t want to hear it, I heard, “Sir, I’ll open this register for you!” Anyway, I saw Eric Chavez’s hit with two outs in the ninth in the parking lot as I put groceries into the car.

The Reds start today just two games out of first place, but in third, and they can’t change places because the first place Pirates and second place Cardinals play each other. The Pirates have a 1/2 game lead.

The White Sox became the third team to be mathematically eliminated from all playoff hopes. The only other teams that may not last the weekend are the Cubs and Brewers, but they play each other.

The Cubs, Brewers are eliminated from their divisional races, but could still win the wild card. (They won’t, but they could!) The Phillies will be eliminated from the NL East race if they lose to the Braves. The Mets will be out of the the NL East race with a loss to Cleveland and an Atlanta win. The Giants will be eliminated from the NL West race with a loss to Arizona and a Dodgers win.

The Dodgers are trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak since June 8-10 when they lost two games to Atlanta and one to Arizona. The June 10 game was one where the Dodgers led 3-1 going to the 9th and Brandon League gave up four runs. The Dodgers got a home run from Juan Uribe off of Heath Bell, and then put runners on first and third with no outs. Where they stayed for the next three batters. Kenley Jansen got the save in the Dodgers win the next day.

A note from Frank Vaccaro of SABR that I picked up on the organization’s listserv. The Dodgers were in last place at the start of play on July 2. They since have built up a lead of more than 10 games in the standings. The only team to build up a 10+ game lead in the standings after being in last place at a later date were the 1914 Boston Braves, who were in last place on July 19. However, this year’s Dodgers had played two more games (81 to 79) than the Miracle Braves at those points in the season.

Finally, the biggest duel of the season going on in this series is the one between Adrian Gonzalez and Zack Cosart for the NL lead in sacrifice flies. Both men have nine. Gonzalez has scored Carl Crawford six times on sacrifice flies, but Cosart has brought home nine different players. No Dodger has led the NL in sacrifice flies since 1978 when Reggie Smith had 13.  The MLB record for sacrifice flies in a year (a stat that dates back just to 1954 in its present form) is 19 by Gil Hodges back in 1954.

Dodgers at Reds, 10:05 a.m.

Sep 06

Dodgers start last series out of the West against a team that I grew up thinking was “West”

(Bob here. The software makes it looks like Jon is the author)

For those of us who are old, as in “over 30″, we still think of the Reds as an NL West team, which they were from 1969-1993, winning the NL West eight times (the most of any team in that time span), and having the best overall record in the division in 1981 to boot. So there used to be a lot of intradivisional games that started at weird times for those of us in L.A., but we liked it! Or maybe we didn’t like having to watch Bench, Morgan, Rose and company so much. And so much Ron Oester and Gary Redus too.

If the Dodgers win tonight, their winning percentage will be .6. No need for other digits. If they win they would be 84-56. 84 and 140 are both evenly divisible by 14, (14 X 6) / (14 X 10) = 6/10 = .6 (Do I get a better grade for showing my work?)

Tonight’s series marks the Dodgers last games against a team outside of the NL West. Which is somewhat remarkable with their being five teams in each division and 15 teams in each league. But, the Dodgers managed to get a travel-friendly schedule for the end of the year. After they return home, they travel to the distant lands of Phoenix, San Diego, and San Francisco.

The interleague series to take you home: Mets at Cleveland this weekend, Pittsburgh at Texas from 9/9-11, Seattle at St. Louis 9/13-15, Cincinnati at Houston 9/16-18 (an NL West reunion!), San Francisco at Yankees 9/20-22, Boston at Colorado 9/24-26, and, finally, Detroit at Miami, 9/27-29.

Hyun-Jin Ryu’s back is a little ouchy, so he’s being rested in favor of Chris Capuano.

In happier health news, Reds third base coach Mark Berry found out that his most recent scans showed no return of the throat cancer that sidelined him for parts of the year.

UPDATE: Tony Jackson reports that Matt Kemp’s rehab has been shut down for the time being because of recurring hamstring tightness.

Dodgers at Reds, 4:10 p.m.

Sep 06

The have nots of baseball running out of time

The Dodgers start today with a magic number of 12 to clinch the NL West. They would actually be able to clinch a divisional title before a wild card playoff spot since second place Arizona is seven games behind the Reds, the current second wild card holder.

Up in San Francisco, the Giants would be mathematically eliminated from the NL West race (although not the wild card), if they lose to Arizona tonight and the Dodgers win. The Brewers and Phillies are one loss away from being eliminated in the NL Central and NL East races.

Over in the American League, the White Sox will be mathematically from all postseason play with a loss to Baltimore or wins by the Rays and Yankees. The second wild race in the AL is turning out to be a bizarre five-way affair involving Tampa Bay, New York, Baltimore, Cleveland, and even Kansas City. The Royals next 12 games are against Detroit and Cleveland.

Atlanta, with a magic number of 10, could clinch the NL East as early as Tuesday. The Dodgers could not do so before Wednesday.

Regardless, the Dodgers clinching date should come sooner than later since they play Arizona seven times in the coming two weeks.

Sep 05

It’s time for the Rose Parade

According to a tweet from the Rose Bowl game (not yet on the parade’s feed), Vin Scully has been named grand marshal for the 125th Tournament of Roses to be held as always in Pasadena and, most of the time, on January 1. (It’s on January 2 if the 1st is a Sunday.)

Not counting Jackie Robinson’s posthumous selection as grand marshal in 1999, Vin Scully will be the first baseball-related grand marshal since Hank Aaron in 1975. Or you could argue for Danny Kaye, who once owned part of the Seattle Mariners, having the job in 1984.

Presumably, Vin will fare better than 2011 Grand Marshal Paula Deen.

From the press release from the Tournament of Roses:

PASADENA, Calif. (September 5, 2013) – Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully, an icon in American sports history and “the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers” for 64 years, was announced today as the Grand Marshal for the 2014 Tournament of Roses, themed “Dreams Come True.” Scully will ride in the 125th Rose Parade® presented by Honda and toss the coin at the start of the 100th Rose Bowl Game® presented by VIZIO on January 1, 2014, as well as participate in a number of Tournament-related events throughout the month of December 2013.

Tournament of Roses President R. Scott Jenkins made the announcement at a press conference and public event at Tournament House in Pasadena. In his remarks, Jenkins referred to Scully as being in a league of his own and literally the best in his field.

“Vin Scully is incredibly accomplished and yet still so down to earth,” said Jenkins. “His own life is one in which many dreams have come true and even more importantly, he has been at the microphone describing for listeners everywhere the dreams of others coming true. I couldn’t be happier that he accepted my invitation to be the Grand Marshal. I know his fans everywhere are cheering right now.”

“I am deeply humbled and greatly honored to be the Grand Marshal of the 125th Rose Parade,” said Scully. “I look forward to sharing this wonderful moment with my wife, Sandi, and the millions who will be watching.”

 

Other than that, it’s an off day. The Dodgers won’t have another one until September 23.

Sep 04

The day and week ahead

Dodgers at Rockies, 5:40 p.m.

Starting Thursday, I will be largely away from Dodger Thoughts for approximately one week, finding myself at the Toronto International Film Festival for Variety for the second year in a row. Game chat threads are set up for each day of action, and the reliable and effervescent Bob Timmermann will be offering his insight as much as his schedule and inclinations allow.

With the magic number for clinching the National League West at 12, Timmermann’s fair reign potentially will include a celebration post.

I imagine there is some concern that the Dodgers are peaking and/or counting their chickens too early, what with their ferociously strong summertime run and tonight’s start of Edinson Volquez in Coors Field.

To that, I offer these soothing thoughts:

1) For those who think they’re peaking too early, well, the lineups of the past two days offer the antidote. I’m practically ready for Don Mattingly to be given a breather and Manny Mota to manage the team for a day.

2) Even if Volquez gets torched, cutting a break to the guys in the potential postseason starting rotation offers a greater good. And Volquez might not get torched.

3) Though there are famous stories of hot teams in the summer flaming out in the fall, there is no cause-effect relationship there. There are plenty of stories of teams that peaked at the last possible moment and still didn’t win the World Series.

4) These Dodgers are hungry. I don’t know if they’re hungry in the same way as the fans who have waited 25 years or their entire lives for a World Series title, but they did not come this far just to go through the motions in October. Don’t buy into the idea that losses are inherently a character flaw.

5) Ultimately, we have limited control over whether the Dodgers win or lose. So just treasure every moment you can.

Sep 03

The Days of Puig and Ramirez take a day off

Dodgers at Rockies, 5:40 p.m.

On June 12 in Arizona, the Dodgers put out a lineup with Nick Punto at shortstop and an outfield of Jerry Hairston Jr., Andre Ethier and Alex Castellanos (who went 2 for 3, by the way). That was the last time the Dodgers entered a game without starting Hanley Ramirez or Yasiel Puig — until today.

Off the bench, Puig singled and scored the Dodgers’ second run in the bottom of the 12th inning of that June 12 game, but Los Angeles still lost, 8-6.  Since that time, they are 54-18, including an unfathomable .800 stretch of 52-13.

Speaking of days off: J.P. Howell hasn’t pitched in a game since August 24 and has faced two batters, throwing 11 pitches, in the past two weeks.

Sep 01

NL playoff possibilities a jumble-aya

With the Dodgers sporting what I would call a muscular 11 1/2-game lead in the National League West (and a magic number of 16 with 26 games to play) after their second consecutive 2-1 victory over San Diego, I’m finding it nearly impossible not to speculate about potential postseason matchups.

Even if all three teams from the National League Central make the playoffs as a division champion and the two wild cards, there could be an extra playoff game that might delay Los Angeles, if it goes on to win the division, learning who its first postseason opponent is.

Based on MLB rules changes that came in with the creation of the second wild-card spot in each league, if two teams tie for first place in the NL Central, they would have a playoff game to determine the division champ and first wild card. Presumably, that game would take place Monday, September 30, the day after the regular season ends. (If it’s between Pittsburgh and St. Louis, the Pirates would host that game, based on having won the season series with the Cardinals.)

The loser of that divisional playoff game – or without such a game, the top wild-card finisher, would host the second wild-card team in the one-game showdown on Tuesday, October 1.

The winner of the wild-card game will then travel to the home of the team with the best record in the league for a best-of-five NL Division Series that would probably begin on Thursday, October 3. Unlike last year, the division series will be in a 2-2-1 format.

The NL Division Series between the division champs that don’t have the best record in the league would probably begin on Wednesday, October 2.

The Dodgers currently hold the No. 2 spot in the NL. Though they have closed within two games of Atlanta, they actually need to make up three games to pass them, because head-to-head records will serve as tiebreakers for playoff seeding. Here’s how the Dodgers have fared against their fellow playoff contenders this year:

Arizona: 5-7 with seven games to play
Atlanta: 2-5
Cincinnati: 3-1 with three games to play
Pittsburgh: 4-2
St. Louis: 4-3
Washington: 5-1

If all three contenders in the NL Central finish the regular season tied, with the division champion and two wild-card slots at their disposal, that’s when it gets really interesting. Head-to-head records would be used to determine placement of the three clubs, and then there would be two playoff games.

The loser of the first game would be a wild-card team. The winner of the first game would play the remaining contender from the division in the second game. The winner of the second game would be the division champion, while the loser of the second game would be the other wild card.

For more insight, you can look at last year’s MLB postseason tiebreaker guide.

 

Sep 01

Puig missed the cutoff man … and saved the Dodgers

An element to the too-great debate over Yasiel Puig is this idea that his flaws – such as missing the cutoff man – will cost the Dodgers a victory.

Putting aside the phony idea that occasional on-field mistakes should negate all the positive Puig brings to Los Angeles, there’s also this:

Hitting or missing the cutoff man is usually presented as a black-and-white tale of good vs. evil, ignoring the fact that sometimes, to throw out a baserunner at home, you are absolutely going to miss the cutoff man.

Saturday, the Dodgers won by one run, a margin arguably carved out by nothing less than Puig missing the cutoff man to nail Rene Rivera trying to score on Andrew Cashner’s two-out, fourth-inning single.

Puig could have easily hit the cutoff man on this play – and the Padres would just as easily taken a two-run lead with their leadoff hitter coming up to bat. Which outcome would you prefer?

Vin Scully sure didn’t seem to mind: “Puig does it again,” he exclaimed. “He just airmails it, a hopper, just to Federowicz, who just plants and makes the tag. Oh, to be 22 and a Dodger – wow!”

The key, obviously, is to know when to go for the play at home and to know when to focus on the trailing baserunner. Guess what: three months into his major-league career, it’s okay that Puig is still learning about how to make this choice with major-league baserunners. It really is.

If his decision-making on throws home is the worst thing you can say about his game between the lines, that is really extraordinary.

On Saturday, Puig went hitless (three times with runners on base) and was caught stealing with a 2-1 count on Adrian Gonzalez, yet made one of the biggest plays of the game. Something to remember the next time he knocks three hits and all anyone wants to talk about is hitting the cutoff man.

* * *

Padres at Dodgers, 1:10 p.m.

With rosters expanding today, the Dodgers have kicked things off by officially recalling Drew Butera, Stephen Fife, Dee Gordon, Peter Moylan and Scott Van Slyke.

The Dodgers’ 2.07 ERA in August was their lowest in a month since April 1981. The top five:

1.59 September 1965
1.93 April 1981
1.93 September 1976
2.03 September 1966
2.07 August 2013

Los Angeles also had its second-best month by winning percentage.

.850 April 1977
.793 August 2013
.792 July 2013