Jul 07

The trauma of potential

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Silly me – when I described the yin and yang of Clayton Kershaw in Arizona on Friday somehow I left off the third rail. (Or maybe I included the first and third rails but left off the second.) Read more about that – as well as Vin Scully’s latest moment of ethereal insight – in my latest piece for Los Angeles Magazine’s CityThink blog.


Jul 06

Kershaw CXXXIV: Kershawn Golden Pond

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 6:40 p.m.
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Bobby Abreu, LF
Juan Rivera, RF
Adam Kennedy, 3B
James Loney, 1B
Luis Cruz, SS
A.J. Ellis, C
Clayton Kershaw, P

Clayton Kershaw has had some dominant performances against Arizona, as Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. notes. But I still find myself a little nervous when he faces the Diamondbacks, for reasons that A.J. Cassavell of MLB.com describes.

… At Dodger Stadium last September, Kershaw was ejected for hitting Arizona outfielder Gerardo Parra on the elbow with a pitch. That came a day after Kershaw took exception to Parra admiring a home run off then-Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo.

When the two clubs met in Los Angeles on May 14 — the first time Kershaw had faced Arizona since the ejection — D-backs starter Ian Kennedy threw behind Kershaw, who responded by brushing back Kennedy. Both pitchers were warned and no fireworks ensued. …

I don’t want shenanigans. I just want to see Kershaw pitch.

Reports of the demise of Kershaw, by the way, continue to feel exaggerated to this intrepid analyst. In the past month, Kershaw has 43 strikeouts in 34 innings (11.4 per nine innings) with a 2.91 ERA. A year ago at this time, Kershaw had a 3.23 ERA and 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

Jul 06

Tommy Lasorda’s game for the ages

Tommy Lasorda recalls the time he struck out 25 while allowing 23 baserunners in a 15-inning game — with documentation! Lasorda also drove in the game-winning run (link from May via Baseball Think Factory).

The headline for the post is, “If you believe in pitch counts, read this.” I wonder, though, if Lasorda might have had a better major-league career if he hadn’t pitched a game like this.

Or not. In the minors, Lasorda walked 1,158 and struck out 864.

  • You think you had it rough? Hiroki Kuroda had it rough. This profile by David Waldstein of the New York Times is something.
  • Addressing increasing trade rumors about top Dodger pitching prospect Zach Lee, Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness brings the rationality.
  • Luke Scott of Baltimore is channeling Eugenio Velez with an 0-for-39 slump, notes David Brown of Big League Stew.
  • For an overseas perspective on the MLB All-Star Game, read Nat Coombs’ piece for ESPN America.
  • This piece by David Goldman for CNNMoney sums up all the reasons why wireless service is lacking at sporting events.
  • I wish teams would stop releasing Jamie Moyer.
Jul 06

The untold saga of the Milwaukee-Brooklyn rivalry

In a guest post, an old friend of Dodger Thoughts, John Klima, offers a galvanizing look at his new book, Bushville Wins!, which focuses on the old Milwaukee Braves but brings in the Dodgers as a key supporting player …

Jon Weisman and I go back a long way. Many moons ago, we were both stuck in the salt mines, toiling away on Spring Street taking prep agate (which means high school sports scores to the uninitiated) and generally wishing we were dead.

Well, anyhow, I was a kid back then, and now here I am, a full-fledged, not once, but twice author. I do what we call “narrative history,” which is to say, I take facts and turn them into a story you can’t put down. My agent, the damn bad-ass Rafe Sagalyn from Washington D.C., probably best known as David Maraniss’ agent, once told me, “Book authors have to rise above journalism,” and I very much took that to heart. Old hands who know me from the Los Angeles Times know just how competitive and determined I am to make good. So this is just a shout to all you survivors – you can take me out of newspapers, but you cannot shake me as a writer.

I wanted to introduce Jon’s readers to the greatest rivalry they don’t know about – that of the Dodgers and the Milwaukee Braves. And the book lets it be known that the Braves’ move from Boston to Milwaukee in 1953 paved the way for the Dodgers and those guys up North I am smart enough not to mention by name on a Dodger blog, to change cities. So without anymore fuss, here’s what you can count on.

You could always depend on the Milwaukee Braves and the Brooklyn Dodgers hating each other. The vitriol stewed on Sunday, July 31, 1954, at Ebbets Field. Braves first baseman Joe Adcock broke his favorite gamer bat in the ninth inning of the Friday night game. He borrowed a bat from a backup catcher named Charlie White and on Saturday hit four home runs and a double – 18 total bases, then the most prolific offensive day in major league history.

But on Sunday, there was hell to pay. In his first at-bat, Dodger pitcher Russ Meyer knocked Adcock down. That was to be expected. Joe got up and hit a double that nearly went out of the park. When Adcock faced Clem Labine in the fourth inning, Labine and the Dodgers had seen just about enough. The blood order probably came from Walter Alston himself, but you couldn’t put it past Roy Campanella to put down that fist for a sign, which was as good as saying, “Shove it up this guy’s ass by knocking him on it.”

Labine he did one better. He challenged Adcock with a first-pitch fastball, then nearly had a heart attack as Adcock hacked and missed. Then, Labine said the hell with this. Labine drilled Adcock on the left side of the head. The pitch was so violently hard that the thud against the paper-thin batting helmet Adcock wore could be heard in the old press box.

Adcock was knocked cold. “He laid flat on his back with his legs spread. He looked dead. All he needed was police tape and a chalk outline,” I wrote, and that’s the most I think I can quote from this book without asking my publisher for permission.

Tempers flared. It was Milwaukee’s “Asshole Buddies” against Brooklyn’s boys. And this fighting didn’t end. It carried all the way through 1957. There was the memorable fight at Ebbets that year when Don Drysdale threw at Johnny Logan. Logan charged Drysdale not from the box – but from first base, charging him and swinging him around so that Eddie Mathews could get a clear punch at Drysdale. You got it – all hell broke loose.

History has forgotten how violently competitive baseball used to be, especially in the National League of the 1950s, when virtually every team had a Hall of Famer or two in the lineup – Aaron, Mays, Clemente, Musial, Campanella, Banks, Frank Robinson, Jackie Robinson, Mathews, Ashburn, Kiner. The Yankees always won the damn thing in the American League, so in the National League, in the days of eight teams and no divisions, no wild cards, no playoffs – the entire thing was win or go home. The average ballplayer made $15,000 a year and a good World Series winner’s share could be $9,000. There were no multiyear contracts and no free agency. Competitiveness and downright fisticuffs were not out of order for ballplayers trying to survive.

The battles between the young Sandy Koufax and the young Henry Aaron were awesome to re-create. I wrote, “You could scout for a million years and never find two kids who could do this.” (Again, a direct quote, don’t tell the publishers.) So, too, were the early career Drysdale versus Aaron meetings. Epic stuff.

One thing about me as a baseball writer – in recreating this world, my ballplayers speak as ballplayers do. They drink. They smoke. They curse. They use words I love but my lovely wife says I should not use on Jon’s blog. They squabble among themselves. But instead of a dysfunctional group of guys who really genuinely didn’t give a —- about each other – say the way the Oakland A’s of the 1970s were – I’m convinced that the Braves were really unified by their town, team and time.

All you have to do is look at the camaraderie and kinship between Aaron and Mathews, at a time when white players were not only learning to play with black players, but both parties were learning to play alongside each other. The Braves also had some young Latin ballplayers — such as lefty Juan Pizarro, the Aroldis Chapman of his day, but unlike our somersaulting pal “Howoldis,” he stayed on his feet – and proved that diversity and depth was the blueprint for the future.

The rest, dear Dodger Thoughts readers, is up to you. I’ve made my pitch but I promise you all that if you give the story a crack and throw down some of your hard-earned bones that I will definitely not let you down. Thanks to my old pal Jon for this blog space – and I wish you all many happy returns on a healthy Matt Kemp, whose talent can one day take him all the way to Cooperstown.  And just let it be known, I say that as a baseball person, and not as a baseball fan.

Jul 05

Ever say never? Never again, ever

Never let anyone tell you that Scott Van Slyke and Elian Herrera can’t homer in the same game.

Never let anyone tell you that Nathan Eovaldi can’t leave a six-inning start with a lead.

Never let anyone – particularly Jerry Hairston Jr. – tell you Jerry Hairston Jr. can’t be comfortable at third base.

And never let anyone tell you the Giants are a lock with a 5-1 seventh-inning lead over the Nationals and Matt Cain pitching.

The Dodgers have won four of five games since their seven-game losing streak ended, thanks to scoring four of five runs tonight against Arizona. They lead San Francisco by 1 1/2 games in the National League West and the Diamondbacks by seven.

Never-to-play-again Mark Ellis doubled, singled and walked, while Luis Cruz singled twice, providing the offensive support alongside the Penn-and-Teller home-run hitters, Van Slyke and Herrera. Each pitching for the third night in a row, Ronald Belisario and Kenley Jansen closed it out again.

Jul 05

Thumbs down on Gordon’s health

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 6:40 p.m.
Elian Herrera, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
Juan Rivera, 1B
Luis Cruz, SS
A.J. Ellis, C
Scott Van Slyke, RF
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Nathan Eovaldi, P

Thumb surgery on a torn ligament in Dee Gordon’s thumb will sideline the Dodger shortstop for approximately six weeks, as Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. notes. Claiming the roster spot is reliever Javy Guerra, who has been activated from the disabled list.

On the night that Mark Ellis makes his first start at second base in nearly seven weeks, the Dodgers will move forward with Luis Cruz at short and joining the ranks of obscure but memorable No. 5 hitters.

Jerry Hairston Jr., who played so well at third base early in the season before declaring he wasn’t comfortable there (he could have fooled me), will make his first start at that position since May 29.

* * *

Below is an 11-minute Forbes interview with Irwin Raij, who advised the Guggenheim group on their Dodger purchase. The link comes from Eric Young, my one-time Stanford Daily colleague and not the former Dodger.

Jul 05

Snazzy Dazzy

Happy confusing post-holiday Thursday to you …

  • Bill Petti of Fangraphs takes note of the evolution of strikeouts over the years and finds that Dodger great Dazzy Vance might be the top strikeout pitcher of all-time.
  • Jim Eisenreich, who tormented the Dodgers for years before putting on a Dodger uniform (and tormenting them some more), is the subject of a must-read piece by Bradford Doolittle of Baseball Prospectus.
  • Here’s Chad Moriyama with a look at who’s worth pursuing among the latest in Dodger trade rumors.
  • Congrats to the Hardball Times and Fangraphs on their betrothal.
  • Belated farewell, Ben Davidson.
Jul 04

What so proudly we hailed

Pretty glorious night all around. The five Weismans didn’t get out the door until 6 p.m., but we were in our seats by the start of the second inning, saw a svelte, 144-minute 4-1 Dodger victory punctuated by five strikeouts of the final six Cincinnati batters, took in one of the best fireworks shows at Dodger Stadium in years (a perk of new ownership?) and were out of the stadium and back at home less than four hours after we had left. It’s 10:15 p.m. as I start typing this, and the kids are tucked away in their beds.

So sure, we only heard the Dodgers’ three-run first inning on the car radio, which started with four consecutive hits at the top of the order, meaning that we only witnessed two Dodger base knocks after we arrived. And sure, Dee Gordon let the air out of his 30th stolen base of the year by dislocating his thumb. But otherwise, like I said, glorious and svelte.

Assuming Gordon goes on the disabled list, as Ken Gurnick points out is likely in the above-linked story, your starting shortstop for the next two or three weeks is probably Luis Cruz, who went 2 for 3 with a walk to raise his three-game on-base percentage to .400. That will please those who had grown tired of Gordon, but the Roadrunner had upped his OBP in his past 12 games to .346 while stealing 10 bases in 11 attempts. Aside from the two errors against the Mets, you started to see improvement in Gordon if you were open to it, so it seems a shame to lose him now.

Certainly, this is nothing new for the Dodgers, and the epilogue to the Gordon saga is that when he went out with his injury in the eighth inning, it was Mark Ellis pinch-running for him in his first action since May 18. Ellis will ideally return quickly to his form of the season’s first six weeks, when he had a .373 OBP and flawless defense.

With the Giants losing again to Washington shortly after I finished my morning cereal, Los Angeles is back in first place, and five regular-season games from now, heading toward the July 31 trading deadline, could have a 2-3-4 in the lineup of Ellis, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Hard to worry about the situation at shortstop when you can fantasize about that. (And yes, you just saw me getting excited about Mark Ellis.)

Just to wrap up the night, Aaron Harang allowed only four baserunners and a run in seven innings, one of his best outings of the year, before Ronald Belisario struck out the side in the eighth  (lowering his ERA to 0.99) and Kenley Jansen fanned two in a perfect ninth to end it. After Reds star Joey Votto doubled in the first inning, he, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce combined to go 0 for 10 against Dodger pitching.

Jul 04

Mark Ellis activated as Andre Ethier heads to DL

Reds at Dodgers, 6:10 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Luis Cruz, 3B
Bobby Abreu, LF
James Loney, 1B
Adam Kennedy, 2B
Scott Van Slyke, RF
Elian Herrera, CF
Matt Treanor, C
Aaron Harang, P

Though he is not in today’s starting lineup, Mark Ellis has been activated, completing a rather remarkable recovery from the leg injury he suffered May 18. Andre Ethier went on the disabled list and will be eligible to return after next week’s All-Star Game.

Todd Coffey has probably pitched his last game as a Dodger – he has a damaged ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and will have Tommy John surgery that will sideline him for approximately a year. The Dodgers will no doubt pay $300,000 to buy out Coffey’s $2.5 million option for 2013.

Late Tuesday, the Dodgers signed second-round draft choice Steven Rodriguez, a left-handed reliever from Florida. Rodriguez has been pegged by Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com as one of two 2012 major-league draft picks closest to the majors, with speculation he could be in the bigs as soon as late this season.

Jul 03

Uribe’s pursuit of Andruwza Line continues

Reds at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
A.J. Ellis, C
Bobby Abreu, LF
Juan Rivera, RF
Adam Kennedy, 2B
James Loney, 1B
Luis Cruz, 3B
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Chris Capuano, P

Juan Uribe’s journey to ignominy looked like it might make another rest stop at the disabled list, with the infielder having sprained his right ankle while getting thrown out on the bases in Monday’s 8-2 Dodger loss to Cincinnati. However, Uribe is back in tonight’s Dodger starting lineup, thrilling legions of Dodger fans.

With Mark Ellis nearing a return from the DL at second base, the timing for a Uribe injury wouldn’t have been so bad (if it could ever be). His 2012 OPS has fallen to .539, below last year’s .557 and only 34 points above the Andruwza Line of .505, established by Andruw Jones in 2008.

In fact, Uribe is ahead of Jones’ pace — the latter came off the disabled list on Independence Day four years ago with a .543 OPS (unless you take into account the entirety of Uribe’s 119-game Dodger career, in which case his OPS skies to .551).

Update: Uribe was scratched from the Dodger lineup shortly before 4 p.m. and replaced at third base by Luis Cruz.

Update 2: Todd Coffey has gone on the disabled list, with Shawn Tolleson headed back to Los Angeles for the time being, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Times. Uribe is day-to-day.

Meanwhile, Andre Ethier is probably headed to the disabled list as soon as Wednesday, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.

* * *

  • Dodger prospect Raydel Sanchez threw seven innings of no-hit ball for Great Lakes on Monday.
  • The legend of the 21st-century Billy Hamilton grows. In his 78th game of the year Monday, the Reds minor-leaguer stole his 100th base.
  • Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post and Rob Neyer of Baseball Nation provides an update on the Rockies’ attempt to move to a short-outing four-man starting rotation. “Through the first 10 games of the grand experiment,” writes Renck, “the Rockies’ rotation, on a flexible 75-pitch limit that will grow if the starters become more effective and more durable, posted an 8.56 ERA, compared with a 6.28 ERA for the starters in the season’s first 65 games.”
Jul 02

Route 66

Get your kicks …

  • According to the Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN Stats & Information), 66 consecutive innings without a lead for the Dodgers tied a 107-year-old franchise record. As Bob Timmermann pointed out, that 1905 team went 48-104.
  • Also from Timmermann:
    1. Until Sunday, the Dodgers hadn’t played a game where they scored eight runs with only two of them earned since May 13, 1981.
    2. Vin Scully has not called a Dodgers victory since June 17.
    3. The Dodgers are averaging 11.5 runs when they hold Hello Kitty Day.
  • What was Dee Gordon thinking after his second error Sunday? “I can’t say it,” he told Jimmy Bramlett of LAist.
  • Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus finds a lot to write about the Carlos Lee deal that wasn’t.
  • Magic Johnson has been anything but an everyday figure in the Dodger world, writes Steve Dilbeck of Dodgers Now.
  • Clayton Kershaw’s Texas BBQ and Hoedown might be the best-named and most appetizing event I hear about all year. Tickets for the Aug. 2 benefit at Dodger Stadium start at a salivating $250.
Jul 01

Dodgers averaging 8.0 runs in undefeated July

The lowest moment of Death Valley Days might have been the consecutive errors by Dee Gordon in the third inning that dropped the Dodgers behind the Mets in the third inning tonight by a 3-1 score.

But lo.  And not only lo, but behold. The Mets made errors of their own, opening the door for the Dodgers to come back with seven unanswered runs that ended their seven-game losing streak, 8-3.

With eight runs tonight, the Dodgers matched their total from their previous eight games. Their four runs in the seventh inning were twice as many as the team had in their previous 57 innings entering tonight’s game.

Recovering from his miscues, Gordon ended up with two hits, three steals, an RBI and a run. A.J. Ellis had a double, a walk and a sacrifice fly. Juan Rivera had a double, walk and three RBI. Adam Kennedy had a single, double and sacrifice fly. Even James Loney had a two-run double and Juan Uribe two walks (after having none in June).

Clayton Kershaw survived a rough first inning, in which four Mets reached base but only one scored, and went seven innings, striking out nine. The one part of the Dodgers that has mostly been working the past 10 days, the bullpen, closed things out, with Ronald Belisario and Kenley Jansen each pitching a shutout inning.

If you can believe it, though, there appears to be another injury – or in this case, an injuree. Gordon pulled up as he ran to first base in the eighth inning and was replaced at short by Elian Herrera in the ninth.

The hottest team in baseball since sunset will also move on without Carlos Lee, after that proposed deal with Houston withered away.

Jul 01

How bad was June?

The Dodgers hit more home runs on September 18, 2006 (in the 4+1 game) than they hit in the entire month of June.

I’m guessing that it’s been a while since the Dodgers had as many triples as home runs in a month. Not to mention the same amount of hit batters.

Leaving aside the small-sample MVP performance at the plate by Chad Billingsley, this is what we have …

In his Dodger career, Juan Pierre had a .339 on-base percentage, .357 slugging percentage and .696 OPS.  Except for A.J. Ellis’ .380 OBP, every other Dodger in June was below the Pierre lines. (Pierre, by the way, OPSed .738 for the Phillies in June.)

As a team, the Dodgers OPSed .571.  The only pitchers last year to hold opponents to an OPS below .571 were Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander.

The Dodgers had 191 hits in 899 at-bats.  Steve Garvey had seven seasons in which he had more than 191 hits.

Juan Uribe went 5 for 42 with no walks.

Dee Gordon and Tony Gwynn Jr. managed to hit into seven double plays.

Gwynn’s .229 batting average was the second-best on the team. Every Dodger regular not named Juan hit between .200 and .230 in June.

With all that, the Dodgers were having a winning month until their current seven-game losing streak began.

Tonight could become the first night of 2012 that the Dodgers haven’t been in line for a postseason berth. They are currently tied with the Mets for the No. 2 wild-card position, .001 behind Pittsburgh.

Jun 30

Death Valley Days

Since Monday (compressed for the sake of space):

Dodgers		000 200 000– 2 30 6
Opponents	544 373 400–30 60 0

The Dodgers are scoreless in 56 of their past 57 innings and haven’t led in their past 61. Opponents have an ERA of 0.32 in that period.