Aug 21

‘And you get a benching! And you get a benching!”

My favorite part of Bill Plaschke’s latest column in the Times, which I’ve been rubbernecking since Tuesday night – I mean, there’s such a perverse pleasure in it; it’s like perspective fell down a well, and news trucks from all around the country have come to cover the dramatic rescue attempt – is this.

Plaschke is so gung-ho about his mission to bench Yasiel Puig that he thinks you need to make plans to do it over and over again.

… There is one easy way out of this problem. That would be Matt Kemp. The Dodgers desperately need the return of the injured Kemp — giving them four outfielders for three spots — so Puig can be benched more often down the stretch and be allowed to grow more slowly into the game. Kemp could be back as soon as Sept. 1, and for Puig’s development, it will not be soon enough. …

It’s as if one side of the reactionary sports world said, “They pull a Morosi? You pull a Plaschke.”

Plaschke somehow managed to top the magical illlogic earlier in the same column, “For every playoff game that Puig wins with his bold arm or crazy legs, he could cost them two,” a statement that shows that as much as Plaschke claims to see the big picture, he misses it entirely.

Man of character Nick Punto greets Yasiel Puig after his tiebreaking home run.

Look, even most of those who thought a punitive benching of Puig was an overreaction would concede that a day off to collect himself might not hurt. There are obviously aspects of Puig you’d like to see improve, and leaving him out of the starting lineup Tuesday was sensible timing.

But when you argue in print that a 22-year-old ballplayer, after 2 1/2 months in the major leagues, is so lacking in character that you “desperately” need a mechanism to keep him in line – weeks from now, over and over again, because the initial punishment or his natural development has so little chance of working  – you’ve revealed to the world your bias against him.

And it’s a nice touch to ignore the irony that the Dodger you name as your savior is the last one you pilloried in the press.

Even Plaschke’s seemingly rational request that Puig “be allowed to grow into the game” misses the mark, ignoring the fact that this player, who 14 months ago was in the midst of a long layoff from competitive baseball on any level, has shown preternatural ability to do just that. If Plaschke just took a breath and thought about all the things Puig does right, that no observer of the Dodgers had any right to expect in August 2013, he might not be so alarmed and devastated that yes, mistakes do happen, on and off the field.

Every parent, to use one analogy, wants to protect and instruct their children from making mistakes that could cause them harm. There’s plenty I’d like to see my kids do better. But ideally, I evaluate their weaknesses alongside their strengths, I don’t let their shortcomings blind me to their sheer wonder, and I certainly don’t plan for their continued ignorance.

And I understand that the best way to learn is to learn by doing.

But don’t give up hope. Perspective might yet make it out of the dark, cold pit. I give Don Mattingly a healthy chance of ensuring its rescue.

Aug 20

And, exhale

There’s little I can tell you that you can’t see for yourself. This will be the opposite of profound.

A good player who had a tense couple of days and hit a rough patch at the plate was held out of the starting lineup, then fined for being late to the ballpark. But the manager kept things in perspective and put the player into the game at a moment when he was needed, and the player hit a game-winning home run.

What did he gain by sitting? What did he lose by playing? I don’t know. I do have an instinct that the situation was handled well, and the favorable outcome to the game for the Dodgers was a bonus.

I like leadership that has a cool head. I think that’s what the Dodgers had today.

Los Angeles put 21 runners on base but used a third as many pitchers, needing Kenley Jansen to come in for the save in the ninth. It was a nailbiter most of the way against a last-place team in a crowd-challenged stadium. But the Dodgers can sleep tonight, then wake up to Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw for the next two games.

 

Aug 19

Yasiel Puig does not need to be benched

This notion that the Dodgers need to Watch out! because Yasiel Puig’s mental blunders could cost them a playoff game is the latest in a series of stories about the rookie phenom that mean well but miss the point.

If Los Angeles is lucky enough to be in position to watch Puig make a costly mistake in a playoff game, whom do you think everyone in the city will need to line up and thank?

The Dodgers don’t need to watch out for Puig’s mistakes any more than they need to watch out for Mark Ellis’ inconsistent bat, Carl Crawford’s throwing arm, Don Mattingly’s bullpen choices or any of the numerous weaknesses that every member of the team has.

Admittedly, it’s hard to find them in Clayton Kershaw, but even him.

Yasiel Puig makes mistakes in the field. His mistakes can be interpreted as character flaws, which can be infuriating.

Just because he makes a certain type of mistake doesn’t mean he is singularly capable of hurting the Dodgers in a way no other player is.

With every player, you evaluate the pros and cons in a total package, and then you put out the best possible lineup on a given day. Evaluating Puig’s weaknesses in a vacuum, independent of the immensely promising strengths, is a pointless exercise.

The tricky thing with Puig, one can concede, is that it’s not like he only makes mistakes against lefthanders or in day games. So you can’t hide them the way you might, say, hide Andre Ethier’s production against lefties (Sunday’s homer notwithstanding).

Until there are three other outfielders whose net production is better than Puig’s, you play Puig. And right now, no such outfielder on the Dodgers exists, unless Matt Kemp returns from the disabled list in his 2011 form. Let alone three of them.

Kemp, of course, illustrates the folly of getting caught up in a player’s mental mistakes. Before he became a Most Valuable Player candidate, people became obsessed with his baserunning errors, to the point of calling for him to be traded, when his talent was obvious and all that was needed was more patience for him to get the message.

It wasn’t the benching of Kemp that solved his issues. It was, all parties subsequently disclosed, a lengthy and frank conversation between Kemp and Ned Colletti that got everyone on the same page. Kemp reached a level of maturity that Puig will probably get to at some point, through patience and tutelage and conversation and several other tools. In other words, it might not arrive by by 4:05 p.m. today.

It will come when it comes. It will come as fast as the Dodgers can make it come. It will come soon enough.

This is not to say Puig shouldn’t get an occasional day off, like every other Dodger has gotten since Steve Garvey played first base. But a punitive benching isn’t likely to do much other than make the people watching the games feel superior.

Mistakes like throwing to the wrong base are easy pickins’ for mortals like fans and sportswriters, because it’s the kind of thing we mortals could actually get right. If I know to hit the cutoff man, Puig must be a human disaster area if he doesn’t, right?

At the end of the day, wouldn’t you rather have a ballplayer whose biggest problem is he throws or runs to the wrong base, rather than one whose biggest problem is he can’t hit or run at all? Puig is already learning patience at the plate faster than anyone way, way back in June dreamed he would. If Puig’s biggest remaining problem is learning to hit the cutoff man, that’s not something to denigrate, that’s something to celebrate.

And we’re not even discussing the the fact that the same approach that sometimes leads Puig astray might also lead him to triumph, many times over.

It’s entirely possible that a Puig mistake will cost the Dodgers a game. That makes him like nobody else — except everyone else that wears a Dodger uniform.

Dodgers at Marlins, 4:10 p.m.

Aug 18

Ninth-inning errors undo streaking Dodgers

Brandon League had a classic Jonathan Broxton-style loss today (and I realize that putting both those names in the same sentence could do to the Internet what Walter White does to dispose a body on Breaking Bad).

League took the mound trying to keep the Dodgers alive against the Phillies, a fielder made an error, Carlos Ruiz did something, and then a fielder made another error, and the game was over. The Dodgers, who hadn’t lost since August 6 and hadn’t surrendered a lead of any kind since August 8, wasted Andre Ethier’s home run off lefthander Cole Hamels, let a 2-0 midgame advantage slip away and fell to Philadelphia, 3-2.

So no, this loss shouldn’t get pinned on League, who isn’t nearly as good as the Internet-abused Broxton was in his heyday and couldn’t get a strikeout when he needed one, but nevertheless deserved to get out of the inning without a run. Hanley Ramirez, who went 0 for 4 before making both ninth-inning errors, will have to be the fall guy for this one. Given Ramirez’s track record in 2013, he can take it.

You can also fault Don Mattingly for feeling the need to put League into a tie game in the ninth in place of a sizzling Paco Rodriguez (who had retired four batters on 15 pitches) to face Casper Wells, 12 for 80 going into today’s game with his third major-league team of the year. Leaving Rodriguez in the game or going straight to Kenley Jansen, when you knew you needed to pitch shutout ball, were obvious options.

As for the fact that the Dodgers lost without using Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford or A.J. Ellis, well, either you believe in resting position players or you don’t. If you do, well, you assume that the long-term benefit of the full day off outweighs the short-term impact they could have had on this particular game. (Plus, the subs for Gonzalez and Crawford went a combined 4 for 8, though perhaps Gonzalez would have fielded the bouncing throw from Ramirez that Jerry Hairston Jr. missed).

If you don’t believe in player rest, well, there’s always tomorrow.

Aug 18

Pair of pitchers will test Dodgers’ winning ways

Having achieved so many feats over the past two months, the Dodgers can add another in the next 36 hours. With two more wins, today in Philadelphia and Monday in Miami, the Dodgers would improve their post-All Star break record to 27-3 – a .900 winning percentage.

Standings since the end of play June 21

But those two games should also be the toughest of their current road trip. This morning, Los Angeles sends Ricky Nolasco against Cole Hamels, who has pitched better than his 5-13 record. Since July 1, Hamels has a 1.98 ERA with 47 strikeouts against 63 baserunners in 59 innings. He has been averaging 7.4 innings per start, and most recently had a complete game 5-1 victory with nine strikeouts over the one team in the majors with a better record than the Dodgers, Atlanta.

Hamels did throw a season-high 123 pitches in that game, but he has had five days off between then and today’s start.

Monday might pose an even greater challenge. The Dodgers will have wonderful rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu open things against the Marlins, but are scheduled to face their own wonderful rookie in Jose Fernandez, who has a 2.45 ERA and 149 strikeouts in 139 2/3 innings with 136 baserunners allowed.

The one advantage the Dodgers figure to have in both games is in their starting lineup, although against lefty Hamels, Los Angeles will begin with Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez on the bench. A.J. Ellis and Juan Uribe are also resting, meaning that Scott Van Slyke will be in left field, Jerry Hairston Jr. at first base, Tim Federowicz at catcher and Nick Punto at third base.

Among other things, the Dodgers have also become the first team to win 19 road games out of 20 since the 1916 New York Giants, according to STATS (via The Associated Press).

And here’s one more for you. Since June 22, the Dodgers are 34 games over .500. The other teams with winning records in the National League are a combined 29 games over .500.

Dodgers at Phillies, 10:35 a.m.

Caption this photo!

Aug 17

Now, the Dodgers don’t even allow any runs

My mind is going kljadhfklajhkkjacl.

Not only have 10 games have gone by since the Dodgers last lost, 27 innings have passed since they last gave up a run.

Despite more running errors than Larry, Moe and Curly in a five-legged race, Los Angeles made it to the historic 42-8 mark in their past 50 games with tonight’s 5-0 victory over Philadelphia.

The feats are so indescribable that I’m going to try to keep trying to make up words to describe them.

Alajhlakjtasl.

Lasfueblutasat.

Kershawmanic.

The team’s resident ace, Clayton Kershaw, again appeared to have no-hit stuff, throwing four perfect innings before he himself hit an RBI double to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead. A worst-case scenario followed, with Kershaw spending the rest of the top of the fifth inning on the basepaths until the inning ended with one of the Dodgers’ four double plays.

Kershaw allowed a hit to the first batter he faced after that, but still had an easy time of it until the eighth, the only inning that two Phillies reached base against him. Frequent Dodger nemesis Carlos Ruiz came up as the go-ahead run, but in the latest illustration of how things have changed in 2013, he went down swinging on Kershaw’s 100th and final pitch of the game.

Kershaw’s ERA is now 1.797.

Juan Uribe, who earlier singled, doubled and walked and made multiple fine plays on defense, hit a three-run homer in the top of the ninth to ice the game.  Uribeatific.

They are 25-3 since the All-Star break. They have won 19 of their past 20 road games. They are jsihlknasd, quijlhbabal, blayscarfic. They are your Los Angeles Dodgers.

 

Aug 16

Blue Is the Warmest Color: Dodgers 4, Phillies 0

Can it be any accident that at the exact moment the Dodgers closed out their latest victory, my screening of the Cannes Film Festival winner was beginning. The film was terrific, a worthy (and platonic) companion to my warm feeling toward the Big Blue Wrecking Crew.

Nine wins in a row
, 8 1/2 game lead in the National League West, 24-3 after the All-Star Break, 41-8 since June 22.

Wow, redux.

Aug 14

From 0-8 to 39-8: Dodgers have every reason to appreciate success

Those were some sad times in May ...

Having captured the attention of the entire baseball world with their 39-8 run, it remains hard to believe that the 2013 Dodgers had another memorable “something-and-8″ this year — beginning the month of May with an 0-8 start.

It’s a trip down Bad Memory Lane that should make you feel fantastic about the journey back. Here’s how it happened — how this team was once that team …

Rockies 7, Dodgers 3 (May 1)
Main event: Josh Beckett was still a part of the Dodger rotation. He allowed three runs in the first inning, and was replaced after the fourth inning, having given up five runs (four earned) and eight baserunners on 83 pitches.
Sidelights: The Dodgers were only down 5-3 when Kenley Jansen faced two batters in the seventh inning, retired neither and was charged with two runs. Los Angeles also wasted a three-hit game from Hanley Ramirez, only his second complete game of his injury-riddled year.
Takeaway: Ineffective starting pitching and ineffective relief pitching is an unfortunate combo that the summertime Dodgers obviously haven’t often seen. But buckle up — we’re just getting started with these Dodgers of early May.

Giants 2, Dodgers 1 (May 3)
Main event:
Overtly, it was Buster Posey’s walkoff home run leading off the bottom of the ninth against Ronald Belisario. But arguably, the key aspect of the loss was the Dodgers’ parlaying 11 hits and seven walks into one single run. The team left 13 runners on base and hit into three double plays.
Sidelights: As part of a trend that hasn’t entirely abated, Clayton Kershaw was not rewarded for pitching well: seven innings, six baserunners, one run, no decision. He allowed his run in the sixth inning, the same inning that Ramirez pulled up lame running from first to third, his last game action for more than a month.
Takeaway: The Dodgers still haven’t gotten completely away from stranding runners, but they certainly have done better recently. Those with backbone saw the Dodgers’ ability to get runners on base in the first place, even if they didn’t score, as a good sign.

Giants 10, Dodgers 9 (May 4)
Main event:
In one of the wildest games of the season, Los Angeles had a seven-run fifth inning and still lost, once again on a walkoff homer, by none other than Guillermo Quiroz off Brandon League.
Sidelights: After a mostly encouraging first start April 27, Matt Magill’s problems surfaced boldly in this one: 14 batters, 10 baserunners, four outs, five runs. Nick Punto walked to start the seven-run inning and an RBI double to cap it, all for naught.
Takeaway: Four different Dodger relievers allowed runs, and three of them remain on the roster: J.P. Howell, Belisario and losing pitcher Brandon League. Over recent weeks: same guys, different results.

Giants 4, Dodgers 3 (May 5)
Main event:
Down 4-0 in the eighth, the Dodgers rallied for three runs, thanks in part to a pinch-hit, two-run single by Adrian Gonzalez, but Jerry Hairston, Jr. stranded the tying run at second base.
Sidelights: Hyun-Jin Ryu allowed four runs in six innings.
Takeaway: This was the three-game sweep that prompted Don Mattingly to comment, in fashion that raised the eyebrows of T.J. Simers and a number of others, “I feel better about our club walking out of here than I did walking in.” Simers called Mattingly ridiculous, but it turns out that focusing on the subtext, rather than the text, was the right call. Of course, this wasn’t the last time that comments by Mattingly would be scrutinized.

Diamondbacks 9, Dodgers 2 (May 6)
Main event: Chris Capuano got blasted in his first start after 20 days on the sidelines, allowing three runs in the second and three runs in the fifth.
Sidelights: The Dodgers trailed by one heading into the fifth before being blown away. Javy Guerra capped things by allowing three runs in the ninth.
Takeaway: In their past 48 games, the Dodgers have lost by more than four runs once. The timing of a loss of this nature, which dropped Los Angeles into last place for the first time in 2013, just as Mattingly’s comments were generating controversy, could hardly have been much worse.

Diamondbacks 5, Dodgers 3 (May 7)
Main event:
A two-run home run by Paul Goldschmidt off Brandon League in the top of the ninth decided this one. At the time, this was just a cruel mismatch.
Sidelights: Beckett held together to allow three runs over six innings, and the Dodgers tied the game in the bottom of the seventh on a Skip Schmaker walk and Punto double. Jansen threw 18 pitches in the eighth inning, so there was little chance he would pitch the ninth even if Mattingly were inclined to use him then.
Takeaway: This was the third bullpen loss of the past week. Dodger relievers have had one loss charged to them in their past 49 games.

Diamondbacks 3, Dodgers 2 (May 8 )
Main event:
Goldschmidt again, but this time his tiebreaking home run came in the eighth off Jansen.
Sidelights: Leading 2-0 in the sixth, Kershaw allowed his own homer to Goldschmidt after Didi Gregorius (love that name) reached on a Dee Gordon error. Gordon was the only Dodger with two hits in the game.
Takeaway: Home runs off Kershaw and Jansen? When things were going badly, they were going very badly.

Marlins 5, Dodgers 4 (May 10)
Main event: Adrian Gonzalez hit a three-run home run in the first inning, propeling the Dodgers to the end of their seven-game losing streak. Except, not.
Sidelights: Belisario took another loss, thanks to a two-run Marlins seventh that broke a 3-3 tie. The Dodgers’ scored once in the eighth on A.J. Ellis’ third hit of the game, but after a one-out wild pitch, he was stranded. Magill allowed three runs in five innings.
Takeaway: Not enough offense, not enough pitching. Again.

When I look at the Dodger team that has chosen to spread its eight losses over eight weeks rather than compressing them into one week, I have trouble quite believing they could be that good — just like I had trouble believing they could be quite that bad.

But with a bullpen taking five losses in eight games, you had to hope for some kind of change. Thankfully, that change did arrive, and it’s just surreal.

Mets at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.

Aug 13

Dowdgers make Harvey invisible, 4-2

Matt Harvey is the biggest legitimate rival to Clayton Kershaw’s Cy Young candidacy and the toughest pitcher Los Angeles has faced in its race from the bottom to the top of the baseball world. Only seven times in 23 outings had he allowed more than two runs all year; only three times had he allowed more than three runs.

But after toying with Harvey and being toyed with right back – three times in the first four innings the Dodgers hit into double plays – Los Angeles treated Harvey like almost every other pitcher in this historic run. They bashed him.

With a two-run double from Nick Punto in the fifth inning and a two-run single by A.J. Ellis in the sixth, the Dodger backed the standout pitching from Hyun-Jin Ryu and beat the Mets tonight, 4-2.

Let’s run the numbers, like we do almost every night now.

• It was the Dodgers’ seventh-straight win, a season high.

• They are 22-3 (.880) since the All-Star Break.

• They are 39-8 in their past 47 games, the best mark over such a period since the 1951 New York Giants.

• As Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. notes, they have a chance to become the first team to go 42-8 in a 50-game stretch since the 1942 St. Louis Cardinals.

• Arizona’s comeback win against Baltimore prevented the Dodgers from increasing their 7 1/2-game lead in the National League West, but Los Angeles did leapfrog another team, Texas, in the quest for the best record in baseball. The Dodgers remain 3 1/2 games behind Atlanta.

Despite allowing a home run to the second batter of the game, Ryu was fairly magnificent, scattering four singles and a walk over seven innings without another run scoring. Ronald Belisario and Kenley Jansen finished the game, the latter allowing his first run in 11 innings since July 23 while being aided by a diving catch in the gap by Carl Crawford.

Amid reports that Hanley Ramirez might start as soon as Wednesday, Punto continues to have a torrid August, with a 1.283 OPS in 30 plate appearances. Ellis, meanwhile, moved past Andre Ethier (sidelined with left calf tightness) into second place on the Dodgers in RBI in 2013.