Oct 03

Andre Ethier should bat leadoff

Idea: In road games against right-handed pitchers, as the Dodgers have today in their National League Division Series opener at Atlanta against Kris Medlen, start Andre Ethier and bat him leadoff. If he gets on, pinch-run with Dee Gordon. In either case, substitute Skip Schumaker in center field in the bottom of the first.

It guarantees Ethier will get his at-bat against a righty and not a lefty, against which he’s at a much greater disadvantage. In fact, Ethier is the Dodgers’ top on-base percentage man against right-handed pitching – what better way to begin a game.

It guarantees Gordon’s spot on the roster is not wasted in this game. Yes, it’s at the cost of perhaps using him to pinch-run for Adrian Gonzalez in a crucial late-inning situation, but only if you know that you’ve already gotten the opportunity to use Gordon. And runs in the first are as crucial as runs in the ninth.

Starting Ethier also basically puts Schumaker 10th in the batting order, which is pretty nifty. That’s not a slam against Schumaker, who might well become one of those unsung postseason heroes you always need. But it’s a good place to begin.

Below is the Dodgers’ official NLDS roster, announced this morning. Chris Capuano made it as the 11th pitcher, while Gordon and Scott Van Slyke were chosen over Jerry Hairston Jr., as was to be expected.

Hairston becomes the rare player who spent the entire season on the active roster – no trips to the disabled list – without making the playoff roster. However, if any Dodger suffers a series-ending injury, the team is allowed to replace him.

Starting pitchers (4): Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ricky Nolasco

Relief pitchers (11): Kenley Jansen, Brian Wilson, Paco Rodriguez, Ronald Belisario, J.P. Howell, Chris Withrow, Chris Capuano

Catchers (2): A.J. Ellis, Tim Federowicz

Infielders (7): Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Ellis, Hanley Ramirez, Juan Uribe, Nick Punto, Michael Young, Dee Gordon

Outfielders (5): Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Skip Schumaker, Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke

Update: As J.T. Dutch points out on Twitter, the Dodgers could simply just use Schumaker to pinch-run for Ethier if he reached base in the first inning under my plan.

Oct 03

NLDS Game 1: Expect the unexpected, then roll with it

Sure, it might be the injuries. Sure, it might be a weakness exploited, or a mistake easily predicted.

But when I think about the ways that the Dodgers have fallen short of their postseason dreams, I think things that should never have happened but did anyway. I think of Old Reliables stumbling when it was least expected.

I think of Rafael Furcal making an error to start the bottom of the sixth inning in Game 1 of the 2008 National League Championship Series, with the Dodgers leading 2-0 behind Derek Lowe in their first game after sweeping the Chicago Cubs in the Division Series. Long before Chad Billingsley, Corey Wade or Jonathan Broxton got into a game, Furcal’s error gave the series an instant U-turn, opening the door for three runs and a series-opening loss.

I think of Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew earning instant infamy in Game 1 of the 2006 NLDS, thrown out at home on the same play. And that wasn’t all:

  • Derek Lowe gives up two home runs in the fourth inning.

And still, the Dodgers were in the game.

  • Lowe surrenders a two-run double in the sixth inning.

And still, the Dodgers were in the game, thanks to Mets manager Willie Randolph’s ill-chosen decision to let reliever Guillermo Mota bat with two on and two out in the bottom of the sixth.

  • Julio Lugo is chosen to pinch-hit with two runners on in the seventh inning – and strikes out.

And still, the Dodgers were in the game. In fact, they tied it later in the inning.

  • Struggling Brad Penny is brought in to relieve in the bottom of the seventh, instead of Jonathan Broxton (we saw this coming), walks two and allows two runs.

And still, the Dodgers were in the game. But hope was fading. Down 6-4, the Dodgers got the tying run to second base in the ninth, with Nomar Garciappara at the plate. But Garciaparra, who doubled in the tying runs in the seventh, couldn’t bring him home.

I also think of Game 1 of the 1988 NLCS, with their record-setting ace Orel Hershiser on the mound riding an historic scoreless innings streak, three outs away from a 2-0 victory. And then sudden as a car crash, three runs shoot across the plate.

Only the Dodgers came back and won the series. And heaven love ‘em, the next one.

Everyone’s looking for the edges in the matchup between the Dodgers and the Braves that begins tonight, but it’s all a waste of time. Both teams are completely capable of winning. But only one will execute their plays better than the other, only one will find that way to dig deep and overcome its mistakes. That’s the team that will win, and there’s no predicting. Vigilance and resilience will carry the day.

Oct 02

Vin Scully hints at retirement after 2014 season

In an interview with KPCC 89.3 FM, Vin Scully indicated that he is leaning toward retiring after the 2014 season.

“Right, I’m pretty well sure – and I don’t want to go back and forth with it – but I’m looking to next year and figuring that should be about it,” Scully said.

It’s not a definitive statement, but always remember to cherish him while we still can.

Sep 30

My reign in Pittsburgh nears an end

For 21 years, I’ve been able to say I covered the last major-league playoff game in Pittsburgh (which also happened to be Barry Bonds’ last home game there). Tuesday night, that claim becomes a thing of the past.

I was in graduate school at Georgetown at the time, about half a year after I had left my full-time job at the Los Angeles Daily News, but drove up to Pittsburgh to freelance the stories. It was exciting for me to come to the place I can still hear Vin Scully describe in his inimitable way: “the confluence of the Allegheny, the Ohio and the Monongahela.”

My lasting memories from October 11, 1992 are mainly these: 1) how uncomfortable the artificial turf was to stand on for such a long time before the game, 2) serious discussion of whether the San Francisco Giants would actually move to Florida and 3) Bob Walk, who won Pittsburgh’s last game of the season with a complete-game five-walker, being rather snippish because I missed the initial round of interviews.

Here’s my sidebar on the game, followed by one (a little blurry, unfortunately) from two games earlier.

 

 

Sep 30

Bryan Stow struggles to remember what happened

From today’s entry at the website created in support of beating victim Bryan Stow:

… He seems to be having more issues with his memory and it understandably frustrates him. The other day we asked him if he remembered why he had memory problems he said “because I’m dumb”. It broke our hearts and we just had to remind him that is not true and it’s not his fault! So then we go through what happened to him and that he has suffered a TBI. He usually is pretty quiet after that, trying to process it all. All we can do is hug him and tell him he has us and we will never leave his side. …

* * *

Below is a video I found via Deadspin showing the return of Columbus, Ohio sports anchor Dom Tiberi after his 21-year-old daughter Maria died in a car accident. It’s every bit as heartbreaking as you imagine, but I also have great respect for Tiberi using his platform to remind drivers to be more careful.

Sep 29

State of the Dodgers entering the playoffs, 1983-2013


For the first time in exactly 30 years, the Dodgers will enter the playoffs with a losing record after September 1. However, winning the final month of the season hasn’t been much help. Going into 2013, Los Angeles had winning records after September 1 in eight straight playoff appearances, but only one led to a World Series.

1983
National League West champions by three games, 91-71, 14-16 in September/October. Clinched division in third-to-last game of season with 4-3 win over San Francisco, then lost final two games.
Playoffs: Lost National League Championship Series to Phillies. Game 1 was a 1-0 defeat at home (Steve Carlton over Jerry Reuss). Dodgers won Game 2, but dropped next two on road by 7-2 scores.

1985
NL West champions by 5 1/2 games, 95-67, 21-15 in September/October. Clinched division with nearly a week remaining. Lost three of final four games.
Playoffs: Won first two games of NLCS at home against Cardinals, then lost next four, the final two on home runs by Ozzie Smith and Jack Clark.

1988
NL West champions by seven games, 94-67, 17-12 in September/October. Clinched division with more than a week remaining. Lost four of final seven games.
Playoffs: Good.

1995
NL West champions by one game, 78-66, 17-10 in September/October. Won seven of final nine games, took division lead with four games to go and hung on, finishing with two straight victories.
Playoffs: Swept in three games by Cincinnati (first two at home) in NL Division Series.

1996
NL wild card team, finishing one game behind San Diego, 90-72, 16-11 in September despite losing final four games. Swept in final three-game series by Padres, the last two games after a playoff spot was clinched, losing finale in 11 innings, 2-0.
Playoffs: Swept in three games by Atlanta (first two at home, each decided by one run) in NLDS, thereby finishing the year with a seven-game losing streak.

2004
NL West champions by two games, 93-69, 15-13 in September. Clinched division in second-to-last game of season with seven-run ninth inning against Giants, capped by Steve Finley grand slam. Lost season finale, 10-0.
Playoffs: Lost first two NLDS games on road at St. Louis, each by 8-3 scores. Won first playoff game in 16 years behind Jose Lima’s shutout, 4-0. Eliminated at home with 6-2 defeat.

2006
NL wild card, 88-74, 16-12 in September finishing tied with San Diego but losing division based on head-to-head record. Won final seven games of regular season, including 19-11 victory in Colorado and two one-run victories in final three. Clinched playoff berth over Philadelphia on second-to-last day of season, but San Diego victory over Arizona on final day decided NL West title.
Playoffs: Swept in three NLDS games by New York Mets, losing first two on road, with two players thrown out at home on same pay in second inning of first game.

2008
NL West champions by two games, 84-78, 17-8 in September. Three games under .500 when September began. Clinched division when Arizona lost fourth-to-last game of season. Lost two of three games after division was clinched.
Playoffs: As significant underdog, upset Cubs in NLDS with three-game sweep, outscoring Chicago, 20-6. Lost NL Championship Series in five games to Philadelphia. Key error by Rafael Furcal contributed to Game 1 defeat. Game 2 was the game that made Chad Billingsley famous. Hiroki Kuroda pitched Los Angeles to Game 3 victory at home, but in Game 4 came Shane Victorino and Matt Stairs.

2009
NL West champions by three games, 95-67, 15-12 in September. Up six games over Colorado with seven to play, Dodgers gave up four runs in the bottom of the ninth at Pittsburgh to launch a five-game losing streak, before a 5-0 victory over the Rockies in second-to-last game of season clinched division and league’s best record. Dodgers won meaningless finale, 5-3.
Playoffs: Swept Cardinals in three-game series, including improbable ninth-inning comeback in Game 2. Lost to Phillies in NLCS in five games. After 11-0 defeat in Game 3, Dodgers had chance to even series before Jonathan Broxton allowed two runs in bottom of the ninth of Game 4.

2013
NL West Champions by 11 games, 92-70, 12-15 in September. Began the final month 3-0, capping 53-13 (.803) run, then went 4-10 before clinching division September 19 with nine games remaining. Lost four of last five games.
Playoffs: Open five-game NLDS on road at Atlanta on Thursday.

Sep 28

Highway 161 game chat

Number of MLB teams with at least 90 wins since 2002
2002: 11
2003: 8
2004: 10
2005: 7
2006: 6
2007: 6
2008: 6
2009: 7
2010: 9
2011: 9
2012: 9
2013: 11

Rockies at Dodgers, 6:10 p.m.

If Zack Greinke avoids four hitless at-bats in his final start of the season, he’ll finish with an on-base percentage of more than .400. And if he avoids an 0-for-8, he’ll finish with a batting average above .300.

Sep 27

MLB’s NIT: A look ahead

Though we’re all excited about the Dodgers in the playoffs, don’t forget that Major League Baseball has another thrilling postseason tournament coming fast toward us (in my imagination).

Barring any changes over the final three days of the regular season, the top seeds for the MLB National Invitational Tournament will be the Texas Rangers in the American League and the Washington Nationals in the National League. But before those best-of-11, neutral-site series begin, we have two cross-country play-in showdowns shaping up between the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels in the AL and the San Francisco Giants and the New York Mets in the NL.(The play-ins, of course, are one inning each, taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil no more than 18 hours after the regular season ends and televised by the FXXXXX network.)

So print your brackets and make your picks!

Coming soon: the MLB Invitational, where the Houston Astros and Miami Marlins eye their one shining moment.

 

Sep 26

Victim was son of Dodger security guard

An official statement from the Dodgers:

“The Dodgers are shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Jonathan Denver, who is the son of one of our security guards.

“There is no rational explanation for this senseless act which resulted in Jonathan’s death.  The pain that this has caused his family and friends is unimaginable.  Words are not enough to describe our sadness.  Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family during this extremely difficult time.”

More details from the Times, whose Lee Romney calls it “more complicated than the 2011 brutal beating outside Dodger Stadium that left Giants fan Bryan Stow with severe brain damage.”

Sep 26

‘Jonathan Denver was not even much of a baseball fan’

From the San Francisco Chronicle website:

Jonathan Denver was not even much of a baseball fan.

On Monday, the 24-year-old plumber’s apprentice who was known as JD, asked for two days off from work in the North Coast town of Fort Bragg to come to San Francisco to meet up with his father – who was the big Dodgers fan – and attend Wednesday night’s game against the Giants at AT&T Park.

“He just wanted to spend the day with his father,” said his boss, Cas Smith, owner of North Coast Plumbing, Heating and Sheet Metal Inc. “I should have said ‘no.’ “

Denver was wearing Dodgers gear, police say, when he was stabbed at Third and Harrison streets after the game. Police have arrested two men, ages 21 and 18, but have not released their names. …

… Smith said the only serious brush with the law that he knew of involving Denver was a drunken driving arrest in July. He said Denver had some problems in that area but had been getting on with his life.

 

Sep 25

The Bison’s back in town

Matt Kemp’s game-winning homer (and just let that phrase marinate for a moment) Tuesday was the latest sign that he will be a key factor in the Dodger postseason.

Kemp has a .385 on-base percentage. .542 slugging percentage and .927 OPS in 26 plate appearances since returning from the disabled list September 16, .384 OBP, .576 slugging and .959 OPS in 73 plate appearances since May 28. Concerns remain about his durability this year, but he’s quickly knocking down the arguments that he’s not capable of helping this Dodger team.

Dodgers at Giants, 7:15 p.m.