Sep 06

Dodgers throw down and run gauntlet

This pinch-hit Dodger Thoughts post is dedicated to Chuck Essegian.

Friday will be game one of the Dodgers intradivisional duel with the archrival Giants. It is a time when honor can be reclaimed. Or possibly lost. It’s also the beginning of a brutal stretch of games that may leave the team badly bruised and possibly out of playoff contention.

The word “gauntlet” when used in the sense of “throw down the gauntlet” refers to the medieval practice of knights throwing their gauntlet, a protective glove, on the ground to challenge some other knight to a duel of some kind. It comes from a French word gantelet which means “glove” and it’s related to the Spanish word for glove, guante. The Oxford English Dictionary ultimately believes it comes from Germanic languages.

The word “gauntlet” in “to run the gauntlet”, meaning “to run through a narrow passage of people who are ready to beat you up with ropes and clubs” comes from a Scandinavian word gantlope, which sort of means “lane course.” It is believed that the English saw Swedish sailors imposing the punishment of making people “run the gantlope” during the Thirty Years War and then corrupted the pronunciation.

Sometimes, people have tried to differentiate the two words by spelling one as “gantlet” and the other as “gauntlet,” but when you’re talking about words that describe objects or events that rarely happen in real life now, the proper spelling of a word is hard to find or defend.

The Giants begin the series Friday night with, to borrow a “Seinfeld” term, “hand.” The Giants are 4 1/2 games ahead of the Dodgers, they are playing at home, and there isn’t a lot of season left. (24 games for the Dodgers, 25 for the Giants.)

However, for all the stumbling around the Dodgers have done, the Giants have been trying to match them misstep for misstep. The Giants burned through 24 pitchers in their three games at home with Arizona, including a record-tying 11 on Tuesday night. The DBacks scored 22 runs against the Giants. During the Dodgers last trip to the Bay Area, they dominated the Giants sweeping them by a combined score of 19-3. However, in the first series in San Francisco, the Giants swept by a combined score of 13-0.

On Friday, Josh Beckett will face Tim Lincecum in a pitching matchup that only a year or two ago would have been the subject of a 3000 word Bill Simmons ramble, but now it’s just a game between two guys who used to be big. (And the pictures have gotten larger, despite what you’ve been told.) The game will be shown nationally on the MLB Network for those outside of Los Angeles, but it should be with the Prime Ticket feed allowing everyone to enjoy Vin Scully calling a Dodgers-Giants game in a pennant race. This will be a 7:15 pm game.

Saturday’s game will be a daytime affair, starting at 1:05 pm. It will be on Fox, which means that if you are in the fortunate areas that get the game aired to them, you can enjoy the stylings of Matt Vasgersian and Tim McCarver, or you can … not see the game. Chris Capuano will start for the Dodgers, who has been the Dodgers shakiest starter recently.

Since Capuano overwhelmed the Marlins on August 12 (8 IP, 0 R, 10 K), he’s given up 18 runs in 23 1/3 IP in four starts. On the bright side, he’s only walked one batter in that stretch.

Matt Cain will start for the Giants. Cain beat the Dodgers in his last start against them on August 22 at Dodger Stadium. Since then, he’s made two more starts, both on the road, and both were no decisions against Houston and Chicago. In Cain’s only start against the Dodgers at AT&T Park, he had a no decision in a game on July 27 that the Dodgers ultimately won in 10 innings 5-3 on a Hanley Ramirez home run.

Sunday’s game will be a 5:10 pm start and it will be the ESPN Sunday Night game with Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser, and Terry Francona. Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers against Barry Zito.

The Dodgers will come out of San Francisco trailing the Giants by 1 1/2, 3 1/2, 5 1/2, or 7 1/2 games. If the final two figures are the ones that we see, then it’s time to start paying very close attention to how the St. Louis Cardinals are doing because the Dodgers will likely have no path to the playoffs other than the second wild card spot.

After this coming series, the Dodgers will be off Monday. In fact, the Dodgers are going to be off the next three Mondays. The only Monday game left on the schedule is Game 159 160 against the Giants on October 1 at Dodger Stadium.

On Tuesday, the Dodgers will start a two-game series at Arizona.  The DBacks have beaten the Dodgers 10 of 16 times. (Bonus note: The 1977 Clint Eastwood film, “The Gauntlet,” is set mostly in Phoenix.) Then, they come home for four games against the Cardinals, a series that may make or break the Dodgers season. Or maybe it won’t. Because on Tuesday,  September 18, the Dodgers start a 9-game, 10-day road trip that will see them starting off with three games against the current best team in baseball, Washington, followed by three games agains the second best team in baseball, Cincinnati. Then, a day off, and three games in San Diego, the team that has been playing about as well as anyone else in the NL West since the All-Star Break.

From September 7 through September 27, the Dodgers will be running a gauntlet against a group of opponents all of whom will be ready to thrown down the gauntlet at the same time. Someone is going to get hurt.


Sep 06

Resting up for the trip Up North

This pinch-hit Dodger Thoughts post is in honor of Elmer Valo.

While pinch hitting for Jon, I’ll try to keep up with the news as best I can, but I think most of you will probably know it before I do.

Wednesday’s night game against the Padres was quite typical of the Dodgers in the past two weeks. There was disappointment (down 3-0 early), hope (tied 3-3), some more disappointment (down 4-3), hope (Kemp almost hit it out, Victorino got an HBP!), and then disappointment more bitter than yogurt left in the refrigerator two weeks too long. (Gonzalez grounds out to end the game as the Padres bullpen retires 12 of the 14 batters it faces.) On the other hand, I did get to come home with TWO Hello Kitty Dodger tote bags.

There is a small slate of games in baseball on Thursday, just five, and only one of them will have any bearing on the Dodgers. Colorado will be playing at Atlanta at 9:10 am. The Dodgers are presently 4 1/2 games behind the Braves for wild card spot #1, which is the same distance they trail the Giants in the NL West. The Cardinals lead the Dodgers for wild card spot #2, but now the Dodgers are behind Pittsburgh by .0005. (Or you can just look at it as the Pirates having two games in hand.)

Later tonight, I’ll be back, I hope with a preview of the upcoming series the Dodgers will be playing in California’s fourth largest city.

Sep 04

More bullpen woes: Javy Guerra injures oblique

Padres at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Kershaw CXLV: Kershawncle Bill the Sailor
Mark Ellis, 2B
Shane Victorino, LF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, CF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Luis Cruz, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Clayton Kershaw, P

Javy Guerra, who has allowed 13 baserunners in 12 1/3 innings with a 0.00 ERA since July 28, has been placed on the disabled list with a left oblique strain.

That move, coming even with rosters expanded in September, hints that Guerra is not likely to see much action for the remainder of the regular season, if any.

Guerra pitched one game following his recall from Albuquerque, retiring three of four batters on Sunday. Josh Wall, the closer for playoff-bound Albuquerque, has been brought up to shore up the depleted Dodger bullpen.

* * *

Tonight, Clayton Kershaw faces old friend Eric Stults. The lefty, now 32, has a 2.43 ERA in 63 innings for San Diego, 1.86 since July.

* * *

Update: Steve Dilbeck of the Times tweets the following: “Kenley Jansen to stay on blood thinners 10 more days, hopes to return Sept. 17; plans offseason surgery to fix heart problem.”


Sep 03

Labor Day game chat

Padres at Dodgers, 5:10 p.m.
Mark Ellis, 2B
Shane Victorino, LF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, CF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Luis Cruz, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Joe Blanton, P

For Labor Day, Robert J. Baumann of Fangraphs looks at which ballplayers are working the hardest this year.

Pretty amazing that Baltimore has pulled within a game of the Yankees in the American League East, isn’t it? This could really be a year for some fresh cities in the postseason.

What would they call a Baltimore-Washington World Series?  The 295 Series? The Inside-Outside-the-Beltway Classic?

Sep 02

Dodgers bring back Abreu

Diamondbacks at Dodgers, 1:10 p.m.
Mark Ellis, 2B
Shane Victorino, LF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, CF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Luis Cruz, 3B
Matt Treanor, C
Chris Capuano, P

Bobby Abreu has joined the Dodgers’ active roster. To make room for him on the 40-man, the Dodgers technically called up pitcher Chris Withrow, then placed him on the 60-day disabled list … for undisclosed reasons. (Update: It’s listed as a “right lat strain.”)

Withrow last pitched for Double-A Chattanooga on August 17 and has only thrown 19 innings since June 1, all in relief.

Abreu has a .705 OPS against right-handed pitching as a Dodger this year. Shane Victorino as a Dodger against righties is at .629.

Sep 01

September 1 game chat: Ely promoted

Diamondbacks at Dodgers, 6:10 p.m.
Mark Ellis, 2B
Shane Victorino, LF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, CF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Luis Cruz, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Josh Beckett, P

In addition to Tim Federowicz and Javy Guerra, John Ely has joined the big-league roster. Alfredo Silverio was transferred to the 60-day disabled list to make room for Ely.

If the Dodgers lose tonight, they will be 35-32 at home and on the road.

Sep 01

At least there is some good news …

Atlanta, St. Louis and Pittsburgh are sure doing what they can to keep alive the Dodgers’ hopes of playing past Oct. 3, even if only for one day. But it sure has been an ugly week.

On the bright side, Jaime Jarrin has signed a three-year deal with the Dodgers that will keep him in the broadcast booth for his 55th, 56th and 57th seasons.

Elsewhere …

  • I talked Dodgers in this interview with Will Carroll at the Nickel.
  • Javy Guerra and Tim Federowicz are expected to be the Dodgers’ first roster-expansion callups today.
  • John Ely might not get a callup because of 40-man roster issues, but he was named Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year. He led the league in ERA, WHIP and innings, writes Christopher Jackson of Albuquerque Baseball Examiner.
  • Dodger pitching prospect Zach Lee has a 2.27 ERA with eight walks and 29 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings since July 27 for Double-A Chattanooga.
  • Yasiel Puig, Eric Eadington, Red Patterson, Steven Rodriguez, Gorman Erickson, Rafael Ynoa and Joc Pederson will be on the Dodgers’ Arizona Fall League team.
  • The life and career of John Roseboro is the subject of Bruce Markusen’s piece at the Hardball Times.
  • Former Dodger shortstop Rafael Furcal has a damaged elbow ligament and will miss the rest of 2012. Tommy John surgery is a possibility. Furcal had a .325 on-base percentage and .346 slugging percentage in 531 plate appearances for St. Louis, .276/.278 from May 17 on. He played in 121 of the Cardinals’ first 131 games.
  • No one plays third base like Adrian Beltre, writes Tyler Kepner of the New York Times (via Rob Neyer at Baseball Nation).
  • San Diego, which began its season 28-50, is 34-21 since – best in the National League West. Jeff Sullivan writes about their resurgence at Fangraphs, while The Associated Press writes about their new O’Malley-led ownership.
Aug 31

Do better, but how?

“We’ve got to do better.”

— Don Mattingly

“I did my best, but I guess my best wasn’t good enough.”

— James Ingram

* * *

I tell myself to do better all the time. I do it so often that for the most part, other people don’t have to. Not that it does a whole lot of good.

Thursday, just as the rainbow was receding from Dodger Stadium, I was leaving a film screening that, as happens from time to time, left me really inspired to do exactly that with my life. Do better.

Basically, there are three ways to “do better.”

  1. Try harder.
  2. Be smarter.
  3. Have better luck.

I don’t see any indication that Dodger players are doing any less than the best they can on the first two points. The third, of course, is out of their control.

In the Dodgers’ latest loss, 2-0 to Arizona on Thursday, Clayton Kershaw had a good but not great game. He allowed only two runs, but it could have been worse, given that he served up 12 baserunners in six innings. You want him to do better, but do you really think he could have consciously, proactively done anything more to make himself do better?

The Dodger offense had a poor game, against a great 2011 pitcher having a not-so-great 2012 season. In nine innings, the Dodgers had five singles, two walks and no hits with runners in scoring position. Their best chance to score was thwarted by Arizona second baseman Aaron Hill, whose full-body diving stop of a Juan Rivera grounder up the middle turned what would have been a one-out RBI single into an inning-ending double play.

Was the Dodgers’ effort not there? The first thing many people do when a theoretically talented team is losing is conclude that the team is playing with no heart, no fire, no guts. But not succeeding doesn’t mean you’re not trying.

These guys know what’s at stake, individually and collectively. They know they’re behind.  Show me where there was a lack of effort. Show me where they made a mental mistake that made the difference. Show me something meaningful that you’re not just imagining out of frustration.

Now maybe Don Mattingly sees something that I can’t see, and that’s what prompted his closed-door clubhouse exhortation after Thursday’s game. Perhaps he saw something we didn’t in the shadows of pregame preparation, rather than in the gametime spotlight.

More likely is that he is telling his players to “do better” because there’s nothing else really to say. And it’s a little ironic, because, although I’m generally supportive of Mattingly’s efforts as a manager, probably the easiest way for a Dodger to do better might be Mattingly in some of his batting order choices and strategic decisions. But even that’s pretty small potatoes.

Last night, I arrived home hoping to do better. By the time I went to sleep, I was exactly who I was. The Dodgers will do as well as they can, and then they’ll see if that’s good enough.  Because everyone can try to do better, but only one can be the best.

Aug 29

You’re never too low to rise again

The past two nights have provided as big a gap between expectations and fulfillment as we’ve seen in a while, a combination of poor execution and poor luck, punctuated each time by Matt Kemp turning himself into a self-made pinata. The good news is that as soon as today, that gap can be bridged, even with Kemp spending the game on the bench. Save yourself talk of chemistry and curses – it’s heartily premature.

The more real concern is that a team that finally boasts a lineup equipped for the postseason has a gap to overcome to get there first. Los Angeles has fallen a season-high 3 1/2 games behind San Francisco with 32 remaining. That’s a reversal that will require a bit more patience.

It’s not that the ground can’t be made up – it can be, and with weeks to spare. A month from today, the Dodgers can be 3 1/2 games out of first place and still win the World Series. But I think most Dodger fans would rather feel more secure. That means having a cushion heading into the final three games of the regular season against San Francisco and a pitching staff that would test any lineup. That means going from 3 1/2 out to 3 1/2 up.

It’s far too soon to panic, but it’s not too soon to hope the Dodgers can pick their crumpled bodies off the ground right away. It has only taken three days for bravado to turn back into humility. Let the shell-shocking Rockies be the inspiration, and let the Dodgers now be the humble assassins.

Hit the ball, pitch the ball, catch the ball. If Colorado can do it, so can Los Angeles.