May 14

Kershaw takes over MLB ERA lead in 2-0 victory


Throwing a career-high 132 pitches, the magnificent Clayton Kershaw came within one strike of a shutout before settling for a 2-0 victory Tuesday over Washington.

Kershaw entered the ninth inning with 114 pitches under his belt (about 60 of those coming in the first three innings, then about 50 over the next five). He gave up two warning-track fly outs, then endured a 10-pitch battle with Adam La Roche that ended with a single to center.

The 25-year-old lefty, who crossed the 1,000-inning mark in his career, struck out 11 and allowed five hits and a walk. With the bases loaded and two out in the top of the first, Kershaw struck out the next batter … and the next five.

Brandon League, as you might have guessed amid his ongoing struggles, was not given the opportunity to close. Kenley Jansen and Paco Rodriguez warmed up in the bullpen behind Kershaw in the ninth, and it was Jansen who struck out Tyler Moore to end the game.

Kershaw lowered his ERA to 1.40, taking over the major-league lead. In his past four starts, he has allowed two earned runs in 30 2/3 innings for a 0.59 ERA with 32 strikeouts against 16 baserunners.

He also scored the Dodgers first run, starting the bottom of the third by getting hit by a pitch. One out later, Matt Kemp singled, and one out and a wild pitch later, Andre Ethier singled them both home.

Kershaw’s previous career high in pitches in a single game was 125, on July 26, 2011. He threw a 108-pitch complete game in his next start, allowed four runs in the one after that, and then had a 0.96 ERA the rest of the 2011 season.

One more thing to scare the rest of the baseball world: Kershaw currently has a 1.40 ERA, and every full season of his career, he has been a better second-half pitcher.

2009: 3.16 first half, 2.27 second half
2010: 2.96 first half, 2.84 second half
2011: 3.03 first half, 1.31 second half
2012: 2.91 first half, 2.10 second half

May 14

Yankees thrive while Dodgers dive

Yankees thrive while Dodgers diveThe New York Times has a fancy live graphic showing how much money the Dodgers are bleeding on the disabled list, through which you’ll find that only one team has more players on the DL: the New York Yankees.

So why are the Yankees (24-14) in first place in their division while the Dodgers (15-22) are in last?

You can find stats that differentiate the two teams, though you might be surprised how similar they are in some respects.

The Dodger offense has an adjusted OPS of 99, according to Baseball-Reference.com, while the Yankees’ is 98.

Los Angeles ranks 29th in OPS with runners in scoring position, but New York only ranks 27th. The Dodgers actually have a higher batting average in those situations.

The Dodgers have 20 quality starts in 37 games; the Yankees 22 in 38.

Opponents have a .711 OPS against Dodger starting pitching, better than the .724 allowed by the Yankees.

All that being said, you can also find spots where the Yankees have outshone the Dodgers, such as relief pitching. In general, the Yankees are sixth in the majors in ERA, while the Dodgers are 20th.

But I’m not sure you can actually explain why there is such a gap between the two teams, or be sure that it would continue.

• 2013 Dodger runs scored vs. runs allowed: -0.92
• 2013 Yankee runs scored vs. runs allowed: +0.66

You glance at the Dodgers, and they just awful. Awful. Since sweeping Pittsburgh in the first week of the season, Los Angeles is 3-13 against teams that currently have winning records.

Could it possibly be Joe Girardi, pushing all the right levers in such a way that the Yankees win despite their uneven statistical profile underneath the runs? Could it be that the Yankees have just been luckier? Is the best theory that of Michael Schur, passed along by Joe Posnanski: that the Yankees are “a magical species, not unlike house elves?”

Is the entire season going to resemble the first quarter? The answer to that, I believe, is no.

* * *

Nationals at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Kershaw CLVIII: Kershawo, Pioneers

May 11

A weekend fighting futility in 1981

Across Friday and today, St. Louis held Colorado hitless for 49 consecutive at-bats, the longest streak, according to STATS, since the Dodgers went hitless for 50 at-bats in a row from September 25-27, 1981.

On September 25 at Houston, the Dodgers scored two runs in the eighth inning on their way to a 3-0 victory, but did not get a hit in five at-bats after Steve Garvey’s one-out single in the top of the eighth.

Nolan Ryan no-hit the Dodgers the next day, building the streak up to 32 outs without a hit.

Pitching against his former team on September 27, Don Sutton took a no-hitter into the top of the seventh before Kenny Landreaux singled, to end the streak at 50. Sutton finished with a two-hitter. Los Angeles had four walks in that period.

Colorado made 40 straight outs between a leadoff single in Friday’s game and a walk with one out in the fifth inning of today’s contest. The Rockies’ next hit came with one out in the top of the eighth.

* * *

Marlins at Dodgers, 6:10 p.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
Dee Gordon, SS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
A.J. Ellis, C
Skip Schumaker, 2B
Juan Uribe, 3B
Hyun-Jin Ryu, P

May 10

Down in the hole

I don’t actually expect this to happen. But if the Dodgers lose Saturday and Sunday, I’m not sure Don Mattingly will be managing the team Monday.

It’s worth remembering that the last time the Dodgers lost eight in a row, in 2008, they nearly went to the World Series that October.

Who will be this team’s Manny?

May 10

A new Don Mattingly brush fire

This excerpt from Barry M. Bloom’s interview of Dodger manager Don Mattingly for MLB.com could fan the flames of Mattingly’s detractors.

MLB.com: You’re a guy who constantly analyzes himself. How do you evaluate the job you’ve done this year?

Mattingly: Here’s how at look at it: Are we losing because I’m making mistakes? I look at the baseball side of it. Sure, I’ve made some mistakes, but I’m not sitting here crushing us every day, costing us games. Then I look at it from the standpoint of, am I not getting my message through to the guys? Are we not playing the game the way I want it to be played? Are we not playing with the energy and urgency? I don’t go about it asking myself how I’m doing. I know my club is not playing well. But I feel like I’m doing fine the way I’m handling it.

Mattingly isn’t single-handedly costing the Dodgers games, but he might be downplaying the impact of some of his decisions. But in Mattingly’s defense, no, he’s not crushing the Dodgers.

There’s no mistaking that the discussion around Mattingly’s future has turned into a firestorm.

Joe Sheehan voiced this thought in a podcast appearance with Will Leitch of Sports on Earth recently, and I’m not sure I disagree with it. Baseball managers are really middle management. They have a role, but the buck just doesn’t stop with them. There’s no dismissing the responsibility of the front office to deliver the right players and for the players to deliver the right results.

Sheehan suggested that the time has really come to divide the manager’s job where necessary, to ensure that you have someone who can inspire and teach players and someone who can effectively execute in-game strategy and tactics. It’s the same notion that finds the head coach leading the team on the field but the offensive and/or defensive coordinators calling plays. In baseball, the bench coach could evolve to be more than, as Sheehan put it, “a drinking buddy.”

Previously on Dodger Thoughts: Will Don Mattingly make it back to Yankee Stadium as Dodger manager?

* * *

Scott Van Slyke has been put on the Dodger roster, with Elian Herrera returning to Albuquerque and Chad Billingsley going to the 60-day disabled list.

* * *

Marlins at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.

May 10

Pedro Guerrero hired to manage in Vallejo

Longtime Dodger Thoughts hero Pedro Guerrero has taken a job managing the independent league Vallejo Admirals, reports Matt O’Donnell of the Vallejo Times-Herald (via Baseball Think Factory).

Two years ago, Mike Marshall worked in the Arizona Winter League in Yuma, Ariz., a destination designed for players looking to make some offseason noise.

The league brought along Pedro Guerrero, who was looking to get back into baseball as a manager or coach.

For a portion of seven seasons, Guerrero and Marshall were teammates on the Los Angeles Dodgers. The two provided a formidable middle of the order but the two hadn’t kept in contact much after that time. Marshall would often ask ex-teammate Mariano Duncan, “How is Pete?”

“To be honest, I didn’t expect much … or didn’t know what to expect,” Marshall said about the Arizona experience. “But I was very impressed with the way he handled the young players and how he’d throw batting practice every day.”

When Marshall became commissioner of the Pacific Association this season, he handed Vallejo Admirals president and general manager Joe Fontana a list of names. Guerrero was one of those.

Guerrero, 56, was introduced as field manager of the Vallejo independent baseball team on Wednesday morning at the Admirals’ office on Amador Street in Vallejo. He arrived in town on Sunday.

“When Joe called, I was excited; I am still excited,” said Guerrero, who spent 15 seasons in the big leagues with the Dodgers and Cardinals. “It’s an opportunity for me. I hope I can do a good job and make people happy around here.” …

Read the entire story here.

 

May 08

Clayton Kershaw and the waiting game

Two facts as I know them:

Matt Kemp: Guaranteed $128 million after 2013, no matter what happens.

Tim Lincecum: Guaranteed $0 after 2013.

Clayton Kershaw has every reason to expect his next contract to be the richest in baseball history for a pitcher, at a figure that has risen with each passing year.

I can understand why he might not want there to be negotiations during the season. Kershaw is young, and in top physical condition. Baseball is his oyster.

But there is a figure I would imagine Kershaw could sign for today that would be beyond his dreams of even 12 months ago, a figure that would provide unimaginable amounts for his family and for his charitable endeavors. At some point, isn’t the security of locking in that figure worth grabbing?

Just wondering …

Diamondbacks at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Kershaw CLVII: Kershawt in the Hat

Dee Gordon, SS
Nick Punto, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
A.J. Ellis, C
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Elian Herrera, LF
Clayton Kershaw, P

Carl Crawford’s hamstring is acting up, reports from the beat writers say. Meanwhile, Justin Sellers was optioned, and Tim Federowicz was recalled.

May 08

Will Don Mattingly make it back to Yankee Stadium as Dodger manager?

Seven thoughts about Don Mattingly, 13-19 this season, 181-174 in his career:

1) Setting up a homecoming for the longtime Yankee great, the Dodgers are scheduled to make their first regular-season visit ever to Yankee Stadium on June 18. However, if the Dodgers continue to flounder – this is the earliest they have had two six-game losing streaks since, of all things, the sinking of the Titanic, notes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com – you can expect to see a rising chorus calling for Mattingly to attend that game only as a fan.

2) At the outset, let’s stipulate that there are reasons to fire Mattingly and reasons not to – just as there are reasons one might expect the Dodgers to and reasons not to.

3) Mattingly has always made some confounding things decisions as manager, from bullpen management to strategic choices on offense. That distinguishes him from … practically no one. Few managers in history have ever been immune from fans thinking they could do better. That doesn’t mean you can’t do better, but until the Dodgers are ready to hire one of those fans, there’s probably not a huge potential for improvement here.

4) Mattingly deserves at least something of a mulligan for the state of his roster. For all the talk about how the Dodgers had more pitching than they could handle at the start of the season, the facts are these. He has only had 2 1/2 effective starting pitchers (Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and the four starts provided by Chad Billingsley and Zack Greinke). On top of that, he has had only 4 1/2 effective position players: Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, A.J. Ellis and Mark Ellis, with Nick Punto off the bench.

I suppose one could blame Mattingly for the underperformance of the other 18 of 25 slots on the squad – and it’s not like any manager gets great work from his entire team – but this seems like way too much to lay at Mattingly’s door. You can’t win with seven good players. You certainly can’t win with half a starting rotation.

Digression: At a minimum, Ned Colletti, who last year received the contract extension that has avoided Mattingly, holds some responsibility for the effectiveness of the Dodgers, good or bad.

5) From Day 1 … from before Day 1 … Mattingly’s relationship with his players has been considered one of his virtues. It’s neither clear how much true value there was to that relationship in previous seasons, nor clear now much there is now. The idea, of course, is that those intangibles are the thing that will make a bad team good and a good team great, and there’s no better time like the present to prove that. But looking at the Dodgers’ roster, you can argue that you should get more than a third of the season to find out.

6) Mattingly’s postgame comments this past weekend in San Francisco, in which he went out of his way to find the positive amid a sweep at the hands of the Giants, seemed like they might be a turning point in his fate, a “Remain calm, all is well” in the face of the Deathmobile. At the same time, Mattingly hasn’t been afraid to point out when his team has been truly playing badly, as was the case Monday against Arizona. Some losses are worse than others. Mattingly shouldn’t be punished for knowing the difference, even if the comments didn’t play well.

7) What will the Dodgers do? There are tea leaves for every vision. You have a squad for which expectations are high and for which, if you pay attention to Magic Johnson, failure is not an option. You have a team president, Stan Kasten, who has espoused a long-term vision for the future of the Dodgers. You have the mixed signals of the team not extending Mattingly’s contract but Kasten calling that fact meaningless. In general, you have a management team that has been unafraid to make bold – even radical – moves, while preaching the virtues of stability.

It’s hard to deny that the value of a manager is one of the most difficult things to judge in baseball. If it’s true the Dodgers can do better with their manager, it’s also true that it won’t matter, at all, if they don’t get better performances from virtually everyone else.

May 07

Misery loves misery

Anger and depression are their own kind of comfort food, aren’t they?

The best thing about the Dodgers’ performance Monday is that you could turn it off.

There’s no shortage of people to criticize. That doesn’t mean every target deserves every tomato being thrown, but the impulse is understandable.

I tend to spend a lot of time throwing tomatoes at myself, so the Dodgers’ example of great potential struggling is one I tend to sympathize with more than rage at.

But I’ll sure be happy when things get better for them.

Here are two videos to cheer you up. The first comes via Roberto Baly at Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.

The second is just an all-around cure-all.

Diamondbacks at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.

May 06

Adrian Gonzalez’s admission has meaning for Matt Kemp

The strange thing about the reaction to Adrian Gonzalez’s acknowledgment (to Bill Shaikin of the Times) that he won’t have the same power as he did before undergoing labrum surgery in the 2010-11 offseason is that no one has followed that with the obvious connection to Matt Kemp.

“I can still hit home runs. That is not going to be an issue. The full power is not the same,” said Gonzalez, who had surgery to repair his labrum before the 2011 season, in acknowledging he would be more of an average and doubles hitter going forward.

In October, Dylan Hernandez of the Times did link Gonzalez with Kemp — who had labrum surgery last winter — but nevertheless, people seem to remain surprised that Kemp is having power issues at the start of this season. In 2011, Gonzalez hit one home run in April — the same as Kemp this year.

Gonzalez finished 2011 with 27 home runs, before hitting 18 in 2012. He has three this season, though he is slugging .500 thanks to seven doubles.

The potential effect of labrum injuries on sluggers is nothing new. Ten years ago, I noted on Dodger Thoughts the effect that Shawn Green’s surgery would likely have on his career in this piece, “The Shawn Green of Old Will Not Return.” Green actually fared better than the title predicted, hitting 28 home runs in 2004, though 18 of those came after the All-Star Break. He hit 47 more home runs the rest of his career.

What the long-term effects of Kemp’s injury will be, I don’t know. Perhaps he’ll kick the home-run power into gear starting tonight. But we can’t be surprised if his four-bagger forays take time to resurrect.

May 05

Ground beef: Giants score 33% more runs than Dodgers, credited with 100% more grit

The Giants “play as a unit, as a team, grinding out victories,” ESPN announced Dan Shulman said at the top of tonight’s broadcast of the Giants and the Dodgers, confirming my suspicions that the narrative of the nationally televised game would be the story of the bloated, underachieving team from Los Angeles against those gritty, overachieving underdogs from San Francisco.

And so it went throughout the night, despite the fact that:

• With a $141 million payroll and the reigning National League Most Valuable Player, the Giants are anything but a low-paid team of nobodies.

• The Dodgers, despite a payroll over $200 million, started an infield this fine evening of Juan Uribe, Nick Punto, Dee Gordon and Luis Cruz.

I’m not looking to denigrate San Francisco. Quite the opposite. Whatever your emotions are, how can you not have respect for what the Giants have achieved in earning two World Series titles since 2010 and for their positive start to 2013?

But to say the Giants are willing their way to victory is not only the stuff of fantasy, it’s insulting to the quality of their players. They aren’t winning with smoke and mirrors. There’s actually talent there.

This is the trap everyone falls into: Only winners grind. It’s silly, and it’s obviously phony on the surface.

On Friday and Saturday, the Dodgers were tied with the Giants when the final batter of each game came up. Those last batters happened to play for San Francisco, and they each happened to hit home runs, and you have to tip your hat to them. The homers gave the Giants 100 percent of the nights’ victories. But did they give them 100 percent of the available grit? Did one swing of the bat not only vanquish the Dodgers’ chance of winning, but also eradicate everything positive one could say about their effort?

There’s no questioning the Giants’ perseverance right now, not after three straight one-run victories against their top rivals, two involving comebacks. But this was also a weekend in which the Dodgers put 18 runners on base Friday, not by accident or some drunken shenanigans, and made two significant comebacks the next two nights, even if they ultimately didn’t lead to triumph.

Saturday, the Dodgers rallied from five runs down to take the lead, then retook the lead again after they were tied. Tonight, down 4-0 in the eighth – and with the flight home practically taxiing on the runway – the Dodgers pushed three runs across, two of them driven in by the nearly immobile Adrian Gonzalez, before the tying and go-ahead runs were left on base when another gimpy player, Jerry Hairston Jr., grounded out.

San Francisco held on to win, 4-3, completing a three-game sweep and pushing the Dodgers farther behind in the NL West. No question, the Dodgers are in lousy shape right now (with their roster manipulation doing them few favors and managerial tactics drawing questions on a nightly basis). But turning that lousy shape into a team-wide personality flaw makes no sense.

Grit is not a zero-sum game.

Of course, why we’re talking about grit to this extent has me a bit confused – the stuff never got those of us without talent anywhere near the majors – but even if you believe wholeheartedly in the power of grit to win ballgames, there’s no reason to believe that grit is a winner-take-all characteristic. We all want to win, but failing is not the same as not trying.

I mean, we learn this in preschool, folks. It’s one of the building blocks of our society. Why do we forget it when the preschoolers turn pro?

May 05

Some of the Los Angeles Dodgers take on the San Francisco Giants

Dodgers at Giants, 5:05 p.m.

Let’s look at the Dodgers’ roster for tonight’s game:

Starting lineup
1) Carl Crawford, LF
2) Nick Punto, 2B
3) Matt Kemp, CF
4) Andre Ethier, RF
5) A.J. Ellis, C
6) Juan Uribear, 1B
7) Luis Cruz, 3B
8 ) Dee Gordon, SS
9) Hyun-Jin Ryu, P

Available off bench
10) Ramon Hernandez, C
11) Skip Schumaker, IF-OF
12) Justin Sellers, SS
13) Clayton Kershaw, PH

Rested in bullpen
14) Matt Guerrier, RHP
15) Kenley Jansen, RHP
16) Paco Rodriguez, LHP (15 pitches Saturday)

Not so rested in bullpen
17) Brandon League, RHP (26 pitches Saturday)
18) Ronald Belisario, RHP (25 pitches Saturday, six Friday)
19) Josh Beckett, RHP (Tuesday’s starter)

In the chorus?
20) Mark Ellis, 2B (quadricep)
21) Adrian Gonzalez, 1B (neck)
22) Jerry Hairston, IF-OF (groin)
23) J.P. Howell, LHP (38 pitches Saturday)
24) Javy Guerra, RHP (34 pitches Saturday)
25) Matt Magill, P (63 pitches Saturday)