Jul 25

Breaks beat the boys, 5-2

A bases-empty, two-out, 0-2 hit batter by Zack Greinke, followed by a home run, and suddenly a 2-1 deficit was a 4-1 deficit.

It was the kind of ill-timed event the Dodgers corralled and conquered during their 23 victories out of 28 games since June 22, but the sequence was the key difference tonight in a 5-2 defeat at the hands of Cincinnati, ending the team’s six-game winning streak.

Unlike Wednesday, there was no happy bounce leading to a miracle comeback for Los Angeles. It was Cincinnati’s night. The Reds got their fifth run on a pinball single up the middle by Shin-Soo Choo, their second on an RBI blooper by .201-hitting ex-Dodger Cesar Izturis. (For good measure, their first run came on the 11th career home run by another ex-Dodger, Xavier Paul, in his 700th career plate appearance.)

Not even two errors by Choo – one throwing, one baserunning – could bail out Los Angeles. The Dodgers scraped two RBI groundouts by Adrian Gonzalez, but again waited all game for the big blow. Tonight – in a rarity for the past month – it didn’t come. A hard lineout to left field by Carl Crawford with two runners on ended the game.

Jul 25

Dodgers part ways with Ted Lilly

A day after activating him from the disabled list, the Dodgers designated Ted Lilly for assignment, calling up Elian Herrera in his place.

Lilly finished his Dodger career with a 3.83 ERA in 341 innings. The Dodgers drafted him in 1996.

Next week is the 15th anniversary of the Dodgers trading Lilly, Peter Bergeron, Wilton Guerrero and Jonathan Tucker to the Expos for Mark Grudzielanek, Hiram Bocachica and Carlos Perez.

Among other things, Lilly leaves with the lowest career batting average, .069, in Los Angeles Dodger history (min. 100 AB). He also has the lowest on-base percentage, .087 — the only one that’s below .100.

Reds at Dodgers 7:10 p.m.

Jul 24

Somehow, Dodgers find the way way forward

This is no joke: My wife and I went to see “The Way Way Back” tonight, and in the moments before the movie started, I was tracking the Dodgers and Blue Jays on my cellphone.

With two out in the ninth and two strikes on Andre Ethier, I stopped getting updates.

I checked Twitter, and this is the last tweet that was made available.

That was all I got. The movie started, and my phone went reluctantly back into my pocket.

But the picture was quite enjoyable. I actually lost myself in it right away. When it ended, I hesitated to go back to my cellphone to spoil my state of contentment.

But walking to the car, I checked again.

Oh my goodness.

Here’s the part that I think is the craziest (aside from scoring the tying run from first base on a single, or following that with five runs in the 10th inning off a pitcher with a 0.00 ERA, or Brandon “Never give up! Never surrender!” League pitching two shutout innings for his second win in two nights):

Seventeen runners in scoring position. I know Dodger fans, like me, were frustrated that the team wasn’t converting those runners into runs, that it was an unpleasant reminder of the first 2 1/2 months of the season. Honestly, during that Ethier at-bat, I was ready to tweet, “The Dodgers stole one Tuesday, then gave it back tonight.”

But 17 runners in scoring position. Do you realize what it takes to get that? And it was just another night for the Dodgers, who ended up with at least eight runs for the fourth night in a row for the first time since 1985 and the third time in Los Angeles history.

And as you no doubt have heard by now, the Dodgers won their 10th consecutive road game for the first time since 1954, and as Mike Petriello at Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness points out, they are on their first 23-5 run since 1955.

Can we just call this October and pop the champagne? I sure feel like it. Why let The Man decide when we declare ourselves World Champions? This is our moment.

Or can the Dodgers play like this in the fall? That’d be good, too.

Jul 23

Dodgers are so beautiful in 10-9 comeback

Winning after Chris Capu-oh-no.

Winning after Shaky Marmolade.

Winning after this.

Winning.

Despite being down five runs in the seventh inning, the Dodgers roundhoused Toronto, 10-9. Los Angeles is 22-5 since June 22 – WWWWWWLWWWWLWLWWWWWLWLWWWWW – and 5-0 after the All-Star break for the first time since 2004.

With 33 runs in their past three games, the Dodgers have their longest streak of scoring at least nine runs in a game since 2006. The franchise record (since 1916) is four games in a row.

Jul 23

Dodgers activate Marmol, but hold your shudders

Frightening many a fan, the Dodgers have put Carlos Marmol on their active roster, sending Jose Dominguez to the minor leagues.

Marmol was cast off by Chicago after allowing 50 baserunners and a 5.86 ERA in 27 2/3 innings for the Cubs this year. The Dodgers took a low-risk flyer on him as a reclamation project, and given how small the investment was, it’s worth a shot.

Comparisons to Brandon League have been made, but Marmol’s career strikeout rate is nearly double that of League. As bad as he has been, Marmol offers more reason for optimism.

Dominguez has excited many with his promise, but the reality of his pitching is that he was allowing baserunners at a higher rate than even League, while posting a lower strikeout rate. Since his perfect debut, Dominguez has allowed 15 baserunners against 22 outs, a .417 on-base percentage against him. Dominguez has struggled to complete innings, and his ERA has been kept low in part because other relievers have bailed him out. I’d be happy to wait out his on-the-job development, but that’s not a reason to assume he’s better for the Dodgers at this very minute than Marmol is.

If Marmol turns out to be a lost cause, the Dodgers can cut bait quickly (unlike with League, whose three-year contract requires them to have more patience). But if the Dodgers can catch Marmol on an upswing, there could be a net gain that also possibly prevents the Dodgers from making a worse bullpen decision (say, an Octavio Dotel-style trade) down the road.

Honestly, I don’t know. Sure, Marmol might make the Dodgers worse, but I just won’t immediately rule out that he can make them better.

Update: The Dodgers have issued a correction, saying that Dominguez has gone to the disabled list with a left quad strain. Dominguez was limping as he left Monday’s game.

Dodgers at Blue Jays, 4:07 p.m.

Jul 23

When season was a disaster, these Dodgers held together

So when the Dodgers were losing game after game for two solid months, why didn’t the team blow up into 25 selfish fireballs like everyone said they would?

Before going 21-5 in their past 26 games, the Dodgers were 30-42. In reality, it was even worse than that. Los Angeles started its season 6-3, then went 24-39, a .381 winning percentage that placed them among the worst teams in baseball.

Through that entire stretch, there were only two off-field issues of any note at all, and each of the people involved handled them gracefully.

Don Mattingly became the subject of daily rumors of his impending firing. Mattingly didn’t lash out, but kept his focus on the task at hand.

Mattingly did say the following on May 22:

“We’re last place in the National League West. Last year, at this point, we’re playing a lineup that basically has nobody in it, that fights and competes and battles you every day for every inch of the field. We talk about it as an organization. We’ve got to find the club with talent that will fight and compete like the club that doesn’t have that talent. If there’s going to be a message sent, it’s going to be over a period of time.”

Though Mattingly was speaking about the entire squad, Andre Ethier was benched the day Mattingly made these statements, something few people thought was a coincidence — including Ethier, who was clearly hurt by the comments.

Whatever negative reaction Ethier might have had after that day, however, he kept in the clubhouse, without pouting or making a stink in the press. And in the past two months, Mattingly has singled Ethier out for praise for his efforts.

And that’s it. No tabloid stories have come out of the Dodger clubhouse. No tales of infighting or finger-pointing. Beset by injuries and slumping players, the losses kept piling up — June began with an 8-14 record — and everyone had every reason to be frustrated. But no one, not even the so-called troublemakers from outside (Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford or Josh Beckett) caused trouble. Yasiel Puig has ruffled feathers, but those angry birds are opponents, not teammates, unless you call statesman Juan Uribe’s reactive counseling a conflict.

Maybe the Dodgers have just become experts at running an airtight clubhouse, but I doubt they’re that competent. More likely, the minor stuff has been settled in-house, but the major conflicts just haven’t happened.

I’m not crediting chemistry for the turnaround. It seems clear that improved health, solid pitching and a red-hot Ramirez have been the keys.

But I do think it’s worth noting that the narrative of the Dodgers as a chemistry-challenged team was severely tested this spring. And like so many other invented tales, it was found false.

Previously on Dodger Thoughts:

March 31: The Giants’ 2012 title: Dealmaking trumps chemistry

May 28: Twenty examples of Dodger grit in five minutes

Jul 22

Cavalcade of crushing continues in 14-5 victory

Majestically merciless are these Dodgers of late.

Los Angeles knocked out an opposing starting pitcher after six outs for the second game in a row, delivering a trio of four-run innings in a 14-5 victory over Toronto.

A.J. Ellis had career highs of four hits and five RBI, two of the latter coming on a booming home run to dead center in the second inning that put the Dodgers ahead – to stay, to say the least.

Toronto had 13 hits of its own, but allowed 21 baserunners while also making five errors.

As was the case Sunday, the Dodgers ended tonight’s game tied for first place, pending the result of Arizona’s game later.

The Dodgers have won four consecutive games after the All-Star Break for the first time since 2007. That year, the streak put the Dodgers 13 games above .500, but the team finished 82-80.

Dodgers’ first four games after All-Star Break
2013: 4-0
2012: 1-3
2011: 1-3
2010: 0-4
2009: 2-2
2008: 1-3
2007: 4-0

Jul 22

July 22 game chat

Dodgers at Blue Jays, 4:07 p.m.

Dodger Thoughts, December 10, 2011:

Major League Baseball doesn’t rewrite history, so there’s no changing the fact that Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun is the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player and not Matt Kemp. However, Braun’s trophy might be getting a little less gleamy.

Braun is currently challenging a positive test for a performance-enhancing drug, report Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn of ESPN.com.

If the finding is upheld, Braun won’t have to give back his trophy, but he will have to give away 50 games of the 2012 baseball season to a suspension.

My opinion: A positive drug test doesn’t make Braun’s 2011 season less valuable.  He still did what he did. It does call into question how he achieved that value and open the door for you and me to judge him how we will. But my view of history is that it chronicles what happened, for better or worse. History isn’t what we’d like things to be – it’s what was, like it or not.

Whenever I consider baseball’s long, plentiful history of misbehavior, I’ve never been in favor of bringing an eraser to the record books, and I’m not going to start now. If Braun is guilty, his punishment will be his suspension and his tainted reputation. I’m not excusing his behavior. I’m just not pretending that he didn’t deliver on the field, illicitly or not.

The fact that my MVP vote would have been for Kemp regardless is a separate issue.

Jul 21

Kemp stars – then stumbles – as Dodgers win again

So instead of talking about the spectacular return of Matt Kemp from the disabled list, with a homer and double in the second inning alone and four times on base in the Dodgers’ 9-2 victory over Washington – a game that puts Los Angeles in a tie for first place in the National League West, pending the result of Arizona’s game at San Francisco today – we’re going to be talking about another injury.

Long after Hanley Ramirez blew the game open with a three-run homer in the Dodgers’ seven-run second inning, after Clayton Kershaw had completed a seven-inning outing with nine strikeouts and only two hits allowed (both home runs by Jayson Werth), the Dodgers loaded the bases with two out in the top of the ninth. Carl Crawford beat out a grounder to the right side, and then mayhem struck.

Kemp, who had been on third base, was slowly jogging home on Crawford’s grounder when he realized that a throw would be coming home. He then suddenly accelerated and stepped awkwardly into the plate, appearing to hurt his ankle in the process.

As quick as that, happy days turned into the blame game. Why was Kemp still in the game? Why was he running so slow on the play? Why did he suddenly try to score and risk injury?

Why was Kemp still in the game? Because as much as you don’t want him to overdo it on his first game back, Kemp didn’t need any rest, and the chances of him hurting himself were remote.

Why was he running so slow on the play? For the same reason people asked why he was still in the game – he didn’t want to overdo it. Except he underdid it.

Why did he suddenly rush into home at the end? Because he realized he had been going too slow, and his baseball instincts kicked in.

It was an extremely unfortunate play, particularly if it sends Kemp, who has homered in three of the last four games he has been able to play in, back to the disabled list for the third time this season.

I don’t think it’s reasonable to blame Don Mattingly for leaving Kemp in the game. And frankly, as much as Kemp might be at fault for running too slow at the start and too recklessly at the finish, for misreading the situation, what good does it do to be critical? We should be far past the point of questioning Kemp’s effort in a baseball game, and no one is going to feel worse about the outcome than he will.

Jul 20

Moving right along … something to see here: Dodgers outlast Nationals in 10

The story through nine innings:

Runners to first base: Nationals 14, Dodgers 11

Runners to second base: Nationals 8, Dodgers 7

Runners to third base: Nationals 5, Dodgers 3

Runners home: Nationals 1, Dodgers 1

Needless to say, it was a night of just trying to survive.

Then, after 239 minutes and 23 runners stranded between them, Washington and Los Angeles moved into extra innings. And Hanley Ramirez was heroic again, following Adrian Gonzalez’s 10th-inning double with his third hit of the night, a booming two-bagger of his own, providing the winning run in the Dodgers’ 3-1 victory, their 19th in 24 games.

Andre Ethier’s sacrifice fly added an insurance run, and then Kenley Jansen for the second night in a row struck out two in a perfect inning for the save.

Jansen followed Chris Withrow, who had pitched a perfect ninth with a With-wow strikeout of Bryce Harper to end the inning. Withrow came away with his first major-league win.

Earlier, in the eighth inning, Harper was struck out by Paco Rodriguez, who entered the game with two on and one out. Rodriguez was then pulled in favor of Ronald Belisario, who retired Jayson Werth on a grounder. Werth stranded seven runners on an 0-for-5 night.

Yasiel Puig went 0 for 5. His timing is off: He wasn’t swinging desperately at pitches that were out of reach, but rather missing hittable pitches that he was lashing only a couple of weeks ago. As nervewracking as that might be – we’re past the point, for example, that Matt Kemp was sent to the minors following his hot start as a rookie in 2006 – Puig deserves some time to see if he can counter-adjust. And he can still contribute on defense even when he is slumping.

Zack Greinke was bobbing and weaving in his six innings, but he allowed only one run and also went 2 for 2, raising his season on-base percentage to .486, currently the highest mark in major-league history for a pitcher with at least 39 plate appearances. Greinke had a 21-inning scoreless streak snapped.

Tim Federowicz was 1 for 5 and has a season OPS of .561, but we saw why the Dodgers finally decided to rely on him as the backup catcher instead of Ramon Hernandez. Federowicz made multiple big stops of tough pitches to help keep the Dodgers in the game.

The Dodgers also stayed alive with some big plays in the infield, close plays that the umpires could have called either way.

Los Angeles is one game behind Arizona in the National League West, with the Diamondbacks trailing San Francisco in the seventh inning and Clayton Kershaw on the mound for the Dodgers Sunday. Matt Kemp could be activated from the disabled list for the game, though the Dodgers could also wait until Monday, when they go to Toronto and can use a designated hitter for three games.