Aug 17

Dodgers, Braves tied 3-3 in 10th

If at third you don’t succeed, hit a home run.

Andre Ethier was thrown out trying to score from first base on a Hanley Ramirez double in the fourth inning. But with the Dodgers still trailing 1-0 in the sixth, Ethier towered a no-doubt shot into the right-field stands to put the Dodgers on the path toward a 3-1 victory at Atlanta.

Unfortunately, the Braves weren’t entirely sold on that outcome, coming back to tie the game 3-3 and send it into the 10th inning, which is when I greet you with this post.

In the fourth, Ethier was thrown out by a good 10 feet at home plate following textbook fielding and throwing work by leftfielder Martin Prado and shortstop Paul Janish. Though frustrating, the decision to send Ethier by third-base coach Tim Wallach was somewhat excusable, coming with two outs and James Loney on deck. Wallach, by my estimation has been more reliable with Dodger baserunners than his recent predecessors such as Rich Donnelly.

But it didn’t look good for the Dodgers then, and looked even worse when Loney and Luis Cruz singled to start the next inning, before being stranded. That meant four consecutive Dodgers had reached base without a run scoring.

Finally, in the sixth inning of Braves starting pitcher Tommy Hanson’s longest outing since July 7, the Dodgers broke through on a groundball double off the glove of Chipper Jones (who had homered in the first to give Atlanta its early lead) followed by Ethier’s homer, his first since July 14.

That, plus a seventh-inning insurance run that came on doubles by Cruz and Shane Victorino, ideally would have been all Dodger starter Chris Capuano would need. The lefty entered the eighth inning with eight strikeouts against three baserunners on 84 pitches, but he gave up leadoff singles to Janish and pinch-hitter Reed Johnson and a sacrifice to put the tying runs in scoring position.

Don Mattingly then turned to the up-and-down Ronald Belisario, who surrendered an RBI groundout to Prado that cut the lead to one run. Jason Heyward then lined a clean single the opposite way into left-center, tying the game.

Belisario, who allowed 11 runs of his own along with three inherited runs in 11 innings from July 8-31, had come back with five scoreless innings to start August – before giving up two more runs in Pittsburgh in his last outing on Monday.

Ace Atlanta reliever Craig Kimbrel blistered the Dodgers with two strikeouts in a perfect ninth, leading to the bottom of the inning, which began, surprisingly, with Belisario back on the mound. And go figure – Belisario struck out the side, taking us to the 10th.

Aug 17

While on Matt Kemp Suspension Watch …

However justified his anger might have been, Matt Kemp sowed the seeds of his own suspension by making physical contact with umpires, writes Chad Moriyama at his blog. So as we wait for that unpleasant news to wend its way, here are some other happenings around town:

  • Don Newcombe, who is being honored at the annual Civil Rights Game on Saturday (between the Dodgers and Braves), is the subject of a nice piece by Spencer Fordin of MLB.com.
  • Good gravy — Brett Tomko is still out there plying his trade. Arizona signed the 39-year-old to a minor-league deal, reports Matt Eddy of Baseball America.
  • Will Rubby De La Rosa be in the same innings quandry next year as Stephen Strasburg is this year? Evan Bladh of Opinion of Kingman’s Performance is curious.
  • Former Dodger prospect Ethan Martin was interviewed at length by Jay Floyd of Phillies Nation.
  • “Major League Baseball owners have agreed to test two different advanced replay systems live during games starting next week, and if they prove accurate they could precede an overhaul of the system for the 2013 season,” reports Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports.
  • Sandy Koufax biographer Jane Leavy has a piece at Grantland on neuropathologist Ann McKee, who is doing extensive research on head trauma that could have an impact on the NFL.
  • Some fun history of Los Angeles roadways prior to the Arroyo Seco Parkway comes via Kevin Roderick of L.A. Observed.
Aug 16

Angry Dodgers drop finale in Pittsburgh

Vin Scully would have had a bleep of a time lip-reading had he been in Pittsburgh today.

In what might have been the wildest Dodger game of the season and what was certainly the angriest, the Dodgers lost to the Pirates, 10-6, with Matt Kemp, Don Mattingly and Joe Blanton ejected along the way.

The Dodgers were unhappy with home-plate umpire Angel Campos’ ball-and-strike calls from the first inning on, but according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A., the trouble really started in the second inning, in bizarre fashion:

… What made Kemp and manager Don Mattingly so irate, as both heartily argued their points while needing to be restrained, especially Kemp, was that the center fielder was kicked out for cheering his teammate.

“Guys were barking about pitches. Angel looked over and said, ‘I don’t want to hear anymore.’ Just a little bit later, Matt said, ‘Let’s go Dre’ and got thrown out,” Mattingly said after the game. “We’re in a pennant race. I got the guy that was second in the MVP last year. You can’t get thrown out for cheering for your teammate. That’s unacceptable behavior.” …

Those ejections — and the ferocious reactions, which can be seen here — came after Blanton allowed a three-run home run in the first inning to leading Dodger-killer Garrett Jones. The Dodgers then rallied to take a 4-3 lead, thanks in part to James Loney’s first home run since May 21 and a two-run shot by Hanley Ramirez — but the Pirates tied it in the bottom of the fourth and then went ahead in the fifth on a second three-run homer by Jones, who entered the game with a career .946 OPS against Los Angeles.

One batter later, Blanton allowed his third home run of the game and league-leading 26th of the season, to Pedro Alvarez — at which point he was removed from the game by the Dodgers before having words with Campos, leading to that ejection.

Blanton has now allowed 14 runs, 18 hits (including four homers) and seven walks in 15 1/3 innings since Los Angeles acquired him from Philadelphia. He had not walked more than two in a game all year, but now has done so twice in three starts.

Amazingly, despite their starter allowing eight runs in 4 1/3 innings, the Dodgers remained in the contest, cutting the deficit to two runs in the seventh (thanks in part to two batters being hit by pitches and putting Andre Ethier up with the bases loaded. But lefty Pirates reliever Tony Watson came in for starter A.J. Burnett and got Ethier to ground out, and then Jamey Wright surrendered two of his own in the bottom of the inning. Shawn Tolleson extended his scoreless streak to nine innings with a perfect bottom of the eighth, but the Dodgers drew no closer.

Loney, Ramirez and Mark Ellis each had two hits for the Dodgers, who are a half-game ahead of idle San Francisco.

Aug 16

In praise of Rick Rhoden

Dodgers at Pirates, 1:05 p.m.
Shane Victorino, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
James Loney, 1B
Adam Kennedy, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Joe Blanton, P

Some morning notes before a mid-day game …

  • Vin Scully gave an interview this week to the SI.com Hot Clicks podcast.
  • Ryan O’Sullivan, a righty with a 3.05 ERA and 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings for two Single-A teams this year, has gone to Philadelphia to complete the Joe Blanton trade. O’Sullivan will turn 22 next month.
  • Boston Globe sportswriter Bob Ryan wrote a lovely farewell piece for the publication that he is (mostly) retiring from after 44 years.
  • Rubby De La Rosa has resumed his rehab, throwing three innings of shutout ball in an Arizona League game Monday.
  • Expressed Written Consent is a program that “brings non-traditional broadcasters into the booth to have a go at the pastime that’s evolved alongside the pastime: calling the game,” writes Jeremy Brisel for MLB.com.
  • Former Dodger pitcher Rick Rhoden — the subject of one of the two calls I made to sportstalk radio in the 1970s as a child — is the inspiration for Josh Wilker’s latest piece at Cardboard Gods. The last two paragraphs explain why …

Aug 15

Aftermath of the Cabrera calamity

Three thoughts about the Melky Cabrera suspension:

1) It’s good news for the Dodgers. However, it hardly ensures that they will make the playoffs – or that, as some have written, they should.  One player doesn’t decide a season – and that’s without even knowing what will happen to other players in the remaining 44 games.

2) I’ve seen it written where you could tell from Cabrera’s dramatic improvement compared with 2010 that something nefarious was up.  Yes, that looks as neat and tidy as a bow … until you consider him alongside Matt Kemp, who is six weeks younger than Cabrera. Look at these OPS stats:

Player 2006-10 2011-12 Change
Cabrera	.709	.849	19.7%
Kemp	.808	1.009	20.0%

My point, I hope it’s clear, is not to accuse Kemp of anything untoward (nor is it to imply at all that OPS is a definitive stat), but merely to illustrate that the revelation about Cabrera doesn’t justify making assumptions about every ballplayer who shows dramatic improvement.

3) Some people can’t understand how people can be dumb enough to violate the MLB drug policy when they know they’re going to be tested. The explanation is that laws are broken every day, sometimes by stupid people, sometimes by smart people, sometimes rationally, sometimes not.

Aug 15

Dodgers are the pick to click: 9-3

August in Pittsburgh is a lot like April vs. Pittsburgh, with the Dodgers once again making every Pirate irate with defeat.

Tonight, it was Los Angeles 9, Pittsburgh 3, giving the Dodgers 20 runs and two eight-inning performances from their starting pitchers in their past two games.

Clayton Kershaw allowed runs in 37.5 percent of his innings tonight but was 100 percent in the win column, allowing six hits and no walks while striking out eight. The Dodgers knocked out 15 hits, three each by Shane Victorino and Andre Ethier and two apiece more by Mark Ellis, Hanley Ramirez and Kershaw himself. Since August 6, Victorino is 15 for 40 (.300) with four walks, while Ramirez is 11 for 25 (.440) with two walks on the road trip.

Luck also continues to be on the Dodgers side this week. Three months after Ellis was injured in a second-base collision, it was Pirates second baseman Neil Walker who was injured by Ellis in a mashup. Walker is now sidelined with an injury to his right hand.

San Francisco and Arizona lost. It might have snuck up on you, but Los Angeles has won 17 of its past 26 and now has the fourth-best record in the National League and undisputed playoff position for the first time in more than a month.

Aug 15

Giants outfielder Cabrera suspended for 50 games

With the Dodgers and Giants tied for first place in the National League West, San Francisco outfielder Melky Cabrera, who has a .390 on-base percentage and .516 slugging percentage this season, has been handed a 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone in violation of the MLB drug policy. The suspension will end Cabrera’s regular season and potentially extend five games into the playoffs.

It’s the biggest suspension in the division since Manny Ramirez of the Dodgers was sidelined for the same number of games in the 2009 season. Los Angeles, of course, still managed to go to the National League Championship Series that year.

“My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used,” Cabrera said in a statement. “I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and will try to move on with my life. I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organization and to the fans for letting them down.”

Dodgers at Pirates, 4:05 p.m.
Kershaw CXLI: Kershaw Vie en Rose
Shane Victorino, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Luis Cruz, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Clayton Kershaw, P
Aug 14

Billingsley, Dodgers in the fast lane: 11-0

Chad Billingsley is pitching so well, the Internet took a moment of silence.

With eight shutout innings tonight, pacing the Dodgers’ 11-0 victory over Pittsburgh, Billingsley lowered his season ERA to 3.62 and his ERA in five starts since coming off the disabled list to 1.56. In his longest outing since his first start of 2012, Billingsley threw 107 pitches, 75 for strikes, and allowed five hits and walked one while striking out five. In those five post-DL starts, he has walked six and struck out 23. For the season, Billingsley’s career-best K/BB ratio improved to 3.1.

With two out in the bottom of the third inning and the Dodgers leading by one run, Pittsburgh rightfielder Travis Snider hit a double that sent pitcher Kevin Correia to third base. The Pirates’ MVP candidate, Andrew McCutchen, came to the plate.

Billingsley struck out McCutchen looking on a 2-2 pitch, and that was it for Pittsburgh, who had two baserunners over their remaining five innings. The Pirates, to say the least, looked like the Pirates of 1993-2011 tonight.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers had one of those innings you need to remember when things break bad for the team. Their first three baserunners in the top of the fourth, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez, reached base while hitting the ball a combined 37 inches. James Loney’s RBI groundout doubled the Dodgers’ lead, and then Luis Cruz (3 for 5) drove in the first two of his three RBI with a clean single to left.

The Dodgers padded their lead in the seventh on Cruz’s third single and A.J. Ellis’ sacrifice fly, and more in the ninth on Kemp’s bases-loaded single off the leg of Chad Qualls and two-run hits by Ethier and Ramirez, pushing Los Angeles to its biggest romp of the season, ahead of the 10-0 victory July 28 over San Francisco. Shawn Tolleson extended his scoreless streak to eight innings to finish off the Dodgers’ biggest shutout over Pittsburgh ever.

Ramirez had three hits, while Kemp and Loney each had two. In his first start since July 22, Juan Uribe could not live up to his .500 on-base percentage in 18 plate appearances against Correia entering the game, going 0 for 4 before drawing a ninth-inning walk.

Winning their fourth game out of five on the road trip so far, the Dodgers moved a half-game ahead of San Francisco, pending the result of the Giants’ game tonight at home against Washington, and 5 1/2 games ahead of Arizona, which lost 8-2 to St. Louis.

It was a great night as well for Hiroki Kuroda, who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in New York and ended up shutting out the Rangers on two hits.

Aug 14

Jonathan Livingston Baseball Fan

… The lopsided score and the chill coming off the San Francisco Bay forced many of the 43,050 in attendance to leave early. By the end of the night, seagulls circled the park, expecting the place to be theirs. …

— Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, reporting from AT&T Park on Monday (via Sam Sokol).

Aug 11

Skip

OK, so it’s possible that I’m wishing that I could fast-forward through part of this season’s stretch run and go straight to the moment of “Did the Dodgers make the playoffs or didn’t they?”

Boy, were the Dodgers hot to start this season or what?  They had to be, because this period of mediocre play just seems interminable, and yet the pennant hopes haven’t gone anywhere.

Just as Clayton Kershaw cruised almost perfectly through the first half of Friday’s game, Joe Blanton was practically dominant tonight against the Marlins.  After pitching four innings of one-hit ball, the bottom of the fifth began, and Blanton allowed a blast by Giancarlo Stanton. (I can only hope that somewhere, it was seen by Susan Anton.)  The towering fly ball to the left-field concourse of the Marlins’ new stadium went foul, and one pitch later, it was Stanton standin’ as a called strike three whizzed by.

But the next batter doubled.  And the batter after that, .118-hitting obscure and barely memorable former Dodger backup infielder Nick Green, hit a sharp bounder off the wrist of third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr., and after that, things just began falling apart for the Dodgers. Miami took out Blanton with a four-run inning, then stuck it to utterly ineffective new acquisition Brandon League for three more in the seventh.

Losing 7-3, the Dodgers fell a game behind the Giants in the National League West. It matters, just like it matters that Matt Kemp had three hits and two steals, but struck out after going to a 3-0 count with the bases loaded in the second inning. Right?

I’m daring fate to intervene, but it almost seems like there’s no escape from contention this year. The Dodgers can keep stepping on cracks, but no backs are breaking. On to the next piece of sidewalk.

Hey, I like baseball, but I feel like I’m just being played with here.

My house is a mess, stuff everywhere, paint fading, but it’s home. That’s the Dodgers, right? They’re sparkly in parts, otherwise dilapidated.  They’re not without their entertaining moments, but all in all, I wouldn’t mind skipping ahead to the part where I find out if they’re cleaned up or a tear-down.  At least, take me into September, because right now, this thing with San Francisco feels like the least compelling neck-and-neck race I’ve seen in a long time.