Apr 23

Happy Uribe to you, Dodgers win 7-2

Well, if you’ve been waiting for the rest of the Dodger offense to get involved, this was your night.

Not that Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier had bad games – each reached base three times (and each gave one back in a bizarre 7-6-2-3 double play). But it’s not every day that Juan Uribe goes 4 for 4 and drives in three runs, as he did in tonight’s 7-2 victory over Atlanta.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, it was the fifth four-hit game of Uribe’s career and first since 2007 with the White Sox. Uribe once had four hits in a 2002 5-4 victory by the Rockies over the Dodgers. That game took place during the famous Kevin Beirne era in the Dodger rotation.

James Loney added two hits, meaning that both corner infielders now have on-base percentages above .300 for the first time this season. A.J. Ellis and Dee Gordon gave the Dodgers’ six batters with multi-hit games.

Chris Capuano was on the wild side with four walks but still managed to hold the Braves to a run in a season-high seven innings. Josh Lindblom gave up his first run of the season, allowing a home run to Dan Uggla, but otherwise he and Scott Elbert wrapped up the Dodgers’ 13th win.

Four years and three days ago, Atlanta pitcher Jair Jurrjens stymied the Dodgers, striking out eight in seven innings of one-run ball, but 2012 is not treating him kindly. He has made four starts this season, and has a 9.37 ERA to show for them.

Apr 23

Castellanos hot, but Van Slyke might make better case for callup

Braves at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, LF
James Loney, 1B
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Chris Capuano, P

So, are you wondering about Alex Castellanos? If not, should you be?

The Dodgers’ hottest high-level minor-league hitter is Castellanos, who has a .483 on-base percentage and .757 slugging percentage for Albuquerque this year. His numbers have actually been better on the road, so while you have to take Pacific Coast League stats into account, it’s safe to say he’s been doing some of this on his own.

It’s hard to believe the lopsided Los Angeles lineup couldn’t use a guy like Castellanos, but the situation is a bit complicated. The 25-year-old has spent this year being converted to second base, which is not one of the Dodgers’ trouble spots right now. Mark Ellis has a .730 OPS (111 OPS+) and has been fielding well. You might make a case that Castellanos would provide an offensive boost, though I’m not so sure — but in any case, I’m not sure anyone would be ready for a double-play combo of Castellanos and Dee Gordon.

Castellanos hasn’t played a professional game at third base since 2009 — not even this year, when the Dodgers have had such uncertainty at the position. So I think you can dismiss the idea of him being called up to play there.

Left field, on the other hand, is a different story. Castellanos has spent most of his pro career in the outfield (albeit in right), while Juan Rivera is very quietly off to a start notably worse than the more publicized James Loney. Rivera has a .298 on-base percentage and .314 slugging percentage and provides none of Loney’s defensive value — indeed, Tony Gwynn Jr. comes off the bench at the earliest opportunity to replace Rivera.  In the heart of the order, whether batting between or after Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, the 33-year-old Rivera is problematic to say the least, and when he comes out, that leaves Gwynn (or, in case of a double switch, a relief pitcher) in the meat of the lineup.

That’s not to say Rivera might not kick it into gear offensively starting tonight, but essentially we saw last summer the best that he can provide, and we know it doesn’t last long. He’s broken a .750 OPS in a full season once since 2006.

Now, we wouldn’t even be having a Rivera conversation had Jerry Sands not had a miserable March, which happens to have been followed by a miserable April (.316 OBP, .318 slugging so far with the Isotopes). Sands reminds us how hit-and-miss the leap from Triple-A stardom to the majors can be.

So the question is, do you call up Castellanos for a role that would push Rivera to the bench, where the latter might be a decent No. 1 pinch-hitter against lefties (not surprisingly, he hits them better than righties)? I think that depends on how you view the Dodgers’ future at second base. If Castellanos truly can learn to hold down that position, that would ultimately make him more valuable to the franchise, which is fairly thin in middle-infield talent. But when would he get to play there? Ellis is signed through the end of 2013, but he turns 35 in June. If he wears down, the Dodgers might need to replace him this summer, but if he pulls a Jamey Carroll, the Dodgers might not need a new second baseman for two years.

Here’s what I might recommend:

Though he’s not quite at Castellanos levels this year, 25-year-old Scott Van Slyke with little fanfare has followed his outstanding 2011 by starting strong in 2012: .443 OBP, .600 slugging and more walks than strikeouts. Try Van Slyke in left field, Rivera on the bench and Adam Kennedy on an outbound train (with Justin Sellers and Jerry Hairston Jr. picking up the infield time taken by Kennedy, whose signing to a guaranteed contract this past winter never made sense). That gives Van Slyke a taste of the majors and the Dodgers hope for increased production in left field and off the bench, while buying time for Castellanos to continue to grow acquainted with second base and for Sands to figure out what’s gone wrong.

Calling up Van Slyke has a pretty good chance of making the Dodgers better in the short term and the long term. What’s not to like?

(Footnote: Castellanos came to the Dodgers in exchange for Rafael Furcal, who is for the time being hale and hearty. Furcal leads the National League with eight doubles and has a .423 OBP and .523 slugging in 72 healthy-for-now plate appearances in 2012.)

Apr 22

How much would you pay to watch the Dodgers on TV?

Below are four questions for an unscientific survey on how much you would pay to see the Dodgers on TV, if the games weren’t part of an overall TV package.

Note: If the Dodgers aren’t your favorite team, obviously feel free to take the poll by applying the questions to your favorite team.

Question 1:

Question 2:

Question 3:

Question 4:

Apr 22

Looks like close but no cigar for Kemp’s next Player of the Week award

Matt Kemp follows through Saturday on his ninth home run of the season. © Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers 2012

Dodgers at Astros, 11:05 a.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Andre Ethier, RF
Jerry Hairston Jr., LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Matt Treanor, C
Chad Billingsley, P

Major League Baseball will look everywhere for someone who can be the next National League Player of the Week instead of Matt Kemp, who has won the award the last three times it has been given out. But he hasn’t made it easy.

Kemp has a 1.524 OPS for the week going into the final eligible day today. That’s second among NL regulars, trailing only Freddie Freeman of Atlanta (1.621). And there’s no other batsman that’s really in the running unless someone goes nuts at the plate today.

Among pitchers, Cliff Lee stands an excellent shot at the award with his 10 innings of shutout work Wednesday (followed by a trip to the disabled list with an oblique injury), while Cory Luebke has gone 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA: seven innings of one-run ball in Colorado followed by eight shutout innings Saturday against the Phillies.

My guess is that Luebke gets the nod, but you just can’t say enough about what Kemp has done.

* * *

Congrats to James Loney for hitting his first home run of the season. “Loney began this season 0-for-16 and 1-for-20 but in his last eight games has hit .320/.433/.600, including four doubles and a home run in his last seven starts,” writes Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.

And congrats as well to Dee Gordon, who went 3 for 4 Saturday and celebrates his 24th birthday today.

* * *

  • New Dodger owner Mark Walter is profiled by Kim Christensen of the Times.
  • Under new management, the Dodgers can learn from the Phillies, writes Bill Baer at ESPN.com’s Sweet Spot.
  • High school coaches still ignore pitch counts at the risk of their young players, writes Chad Moriyama.
  • Roxanna Green, Christina-Taylor Green’s mother, will sign copies of her book at Dodger Stadium on Monday.
  • “You Haven’t Lived Until You’ve Seen Dee & Andre’s Pre-Game Boogie” – who can argue with the Sons of Steve Garvey?
Apr 21

Home run d’ohby

Dodgers at Astros, 4:05 p.m.
Kershaw CXX: Kershawrvin Gardens

Why is August 21, 2010 significant to this Dodger team?

On that date, four different Dodgers homered. That’s one more than has homered for the 2012 Dodgers in 14 games this season.

Aside from Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, the Dodgers have one home run in 350 at-bats this year. That was hit by A.J. Ellis on April 7. The Dodgers have played 11 consecutive games without someone besides Kemp or Ethier hitting one out.

Kemp’s slugging percentage is exactly 1.000 (first in the National League). Ethier is at .648 (sixth in the NL). The rest of the Dodgers are slugging .277.

* * *

Clayton Kershaw did not have a good start the last time out, facing 26 batters and allowing 11 baserunners with three strikeouts. Looking forward to seeing him bounce back today against the Astros.

If the Dodgers can build a lead against Houston starter Kyle Weiland (7.90 ERA in 35 1/3 career innings), perhaps we’ll see two Los Angeles relievers who have been absent lately. Mike MacDougal hasn’t pitched for the Dodgers since April 14, Scott Elbert since April 13. MacDougal has thrown 60 pitches this season, Elbert 50.

Apr 20

Matt Kemp bends but breaks through

My latest piece for ESPNLosAngeles.com is a reflection on Matt Kemp’s journey from 18-year-old draftee to 27-year-old baseball superhero, noting that overcoming setbacks has been part of his profile from the beginning.

The story of Matt Kemp ‘s evolution from the Los Angeles Dodgers doghouse in 2010 to his place in baseball’s penthouse today has been so well-chronicled, you might be excused for thinking that this was his only bend in the otherwise steady road to the top.

But looking back from what is now Kemp’s 10th professional season and seventh in the majors to the beginning, we can see that his struggle in 2010 was the latest zigzag in a career full of them. …

Read the entire piece here. Also, check out ESPN.com’s Stats & Info blog for some remarkable stats on Kemp’s incredible work on outside pitches this year.

Apr 20

Don’t panic over Dee Gordon

Dee Gordon’s hitting and fielding over the season’s first two weeks is no worse than anyone should have anticipated.

If there were no hope for him, it might be time to replace him. If there were someone obviously better, it might be time to replace him. If he were the sole problem in a lineup that would thrive in his absence, it might be time to replace him.

None of those things are the case. The plan, all along, has been for the Dodgers to enjoy what they can get from Gordon and let him develop. Two weeks into the season, there is no reason to change that plan.

Angel Berroa started 65 games for the 2008 Dodgers. I think we can live with Dee Gordon for now.

Apr 19

Happy Hairston, Jazzy Jamey save Dodgers

Matt Kemp hit his seventh home run, but he’s not stealing the spotlight today. That goes to Jamey Wright and Jerry Hairston Jr.

Wright entered a one-run game in the seventh inning and struck out the first five batters he faced, before essentially turning the game over to Hairston.

The utility infielder, who has made an early case to be this year’s Jamey Carroll, made sensational plays in both the eighth and ninth innings to help the Dodgers hang on to a 4-3 victory at Milwaukee today.

In the eighth, with the tying run at third base, Hairston made a diving stop and from his knees threw out Alex Gonzalez. If a Dodger third baseman makes a better play this year, I’ll be surprised.

The next Brewers batter, Travis Ishikawa, led off the ninth with a bunt that Hairston barehanded to throw Ishikawa out.

Javy Guerra put the demons of Tuesday behind him, striking out the next two batters — giving Dodger relievers seven strikeouts in three innings — for the victory.

Kemp had a single to go with his home run, while Andre Ethier singled and doubled. Both players now sit at 18 RBI.

Juan Rivera had the Dodgers’ other RBI hit, while Matt Treanor had a sacrifice fly to go with a triple.

In his first game since striking out 13, including nine in a row, Aaron Harang went six innings and allowed three runs on nine baserunners with four strikeouts.

Wright has now faced 16 batters this season. They are 0 for 12 with four walks and six strikeouts.

Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun had the game-winning sacrifice fly Wednesday but otherwise went 0 for 11 against Los Angeles in the series.

Apr 19

Leg the sweep

Dodgers at Brewers, 10:10 a.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Juan Rivera, LF
Andre Ethier, RF
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
James Loney, 1B
Matt Treanor, C
Aaron Harang, P

So the quest today for the Dodgers is not only to take the last of the three games with Milwaukee, but win the series on run differential!

  • Juan Uribe is day to day with a sore wrist, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, which in my view gives the Jerry Hairston Jr. a chance to make a case for even more playing time at third. Hairston has an .812 OPS in 20 plate appearances this season and made a diving catch Wednesday.
  • Bartolo Colon – now with Oakland, in case you haven’t been keeping up – had a stretch Wednesday in which he threw 38 consecutive pitches for strikes between the fifth and eighth innings against the Angels. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle has details. It’s the longest such streak dating back to at least 1988.
  • Cliff Lee pitched 10 innings for Philadelphia against San Francisco, needing only 102 pitches to do so, before going out for a pinch-hitter in the 11th. Naturally, the pinch-hitter (Jim Thome) struck out, and the Giants won in the bottom of the 11th.
  • Matt Cain of the Giants, coming off a one-hitter in his last start, allowed only two hits in his nine innings, throwing 91 pitches. That’s right – the two combined for 19 innings on 193 pitches. The 11-inning game itself only took 2:27 to play.
  • In the second half of this Baseball Prospectus column, Bradley Ankrom writes about former Dodger James McDonald’s rare feat – being a pitcher who had the only hit of the game against his opponent.
  • Josh Lindblom leads major-league relievers with 8 2/3 scoreless innings, according to the Dodger press notes. Lindblom has allowed two of four inherited runners to score (those crossed the plate in Clayton Kershaw’s last start).
  • Frank Jackson of the Hardball Times writes about the final days of Dodger baseball at the Coliseum.
Apr 18

Dodgers lose by another eyelash in 10

© Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

We’ll start by going straight to the finish line, which saw what appeared to be the rarest of things: a tailor-made double-play fly ball.

The Dodgers and Brewers were tied in the 10th inning, 2-2, but Milwaukee loaded the bases with one out and defending National League MVP Ryan Braun at the plate. With the Dodgers turning to a five-man infield, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier were left to patrol the outfield by themselves.

But Braun lifted a short fly ball to center field that Kemp had plenty of time not only to catch, but to set up a big throw home that would nail Nyjer Morgan should he try to score from third base.

Kemp originally seemed to have it in mind to have forward momentum as he caught the ball, but he got to the spot too soon, and ended up being flat-footed as he threw a two-bouncer home toward Dodger catcher A.J. Ellis (whose throwing error moments earlier contributed to the Dodgers’ 10th-inning woes). Ellis actually appeared on replay to make the tag on Morgan a hair before he tumbled across home plate, but the Brewer was ruled safe, giving Milwaukee its second consecutive eyelash victory over Los Angeles.

Kemp drove in the Dodgers’ first run with a single (after Mark Ellis tripled) in the first inning, but struck out with two on and two out in the eighth and the score tied. The other Dodger involved in the final play, A.J. Ellis, had the team’s other RBI.

Chris Capuano pitched six innings, allowing two runs on eight baserunners with four strikeouts.

Apr 18

The overshadowed Andre Ethier

© Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Dodgers at Brewers, 5:10 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
James Loney, 1B
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
Tony Gwynn Jr., LF
A.J. Ellis, C
Chris Capuano, P

If it weren’t enough that Andre Ethier’s super April has been overshadowed by Matt Kemp, then how frustrating was it that his latest feat — a two-out, two-run homer off Francisco Rodriguez to give the Dodgers their 4-3 lead Tuesday — fell by the wayside when Javy Guerra couldn’t hold the lead in the bottom of the ninth?

So let us take a moment to celebrate, as Kemp is doing in the photo above, Ethier’s super start. He has a .383 on-base percentage and .738 slugging percentage. He is seventh in the National League in adjusted OPS. Yeah, we’ll take that.

Against left-handed pitchers — the big concern going into 2012 — Ethier is 4 for 13 with a double, triple, two walks and two strikeouts. He has eight RBI in 15 plate appearances. Last year, he had 13 RBI with seven walks and 41 strikeouts in 151 plate appearances against lefties.

Ethier and Kemp, by the way, have the most RBI of any duo in their first 11 games since Bob Meusel and Lou Gehrig of the 1927 Yankees, according to STATS LLC.

Apr 17

Two rallies, but in the end, a second loss

Aside from the fundamental desire for the Dodgers to win and not lose, I had two hopes for tonight’s game:

  1. The offense not get shut out.
  2. Chad Billingsley not get hammered

In the bottom of the second inning, it looked like each might take place. In the bottom of the ninth, it looked like neither would.

Instead, Dodger fans were left with a third outcome – a grim-faced, walkoff loss. George Kotteras’ pinch-hit, two-run double off Javy Guerra gave the Milwaukee Brewers a 5-4 victory, the Dodgers’ second loss of the season.

One game after a triple play helped save Guerra’s bacon in the ninth inning against San Diego, no such rescue arrived. He gave up a leadoff single to Corey Hart and stolen base to pinch-runner Carlos Gomez, then walked Mat Gamel. Jonathan Lucroy struck out after failing to bunt, but Brewers manager Ron Roenicke made a fearless move, sending up Kotteras to pinch-hit for Cesar Izturis even though no other shortstop remained on his bench in the event of extra innings.

Guerra got the count to 2-2, but Kotteras launched one to right-center. Andre Ethier chased it down, but the relay home was just a half-second late to nail Gamel with the winning run.

The result spoiled the celebration that was all but set for Andre Ethier, who doubled and scored to tie the game 2-2 in the seventh inning, then hit a dramatic, opposite-field, two-out, two-run homer in the eighth off Francisco Rodriguez to rally Los Angeles from a 3-2 deficit and give the team its only lead.

For Dodger fans, riding that 9-1 season-opening wave, it was the latest in a month of exhilarations.

Kenley Jansen then retired the side in order on two strikeouts in the bottom of the eighth, before Guerra blew the third save of his career in 29 opportunities.

Still, I’ll have to call this a better alternative to the way the game unfolded at the outset. After the Dodgers had wasted a scoring opportunity in the first inning (because of Dee Gordon getting picked off by Brewers starter Yovanni Gallardo), Milwaukee hit for the cycle off Billingsley with its first eight platesmen, good for two quick runs.

However, Billingsley settled down, retiring his last 11 batters and finishing his third straight quality start to begin 2012, allowing five hits and no walks in six innings and 83 pitches. For the year, his ERA is 1.33, and he has allowed 13 hits, one walk and one hit batter in 20 1/3 innings.

It’s the absence of walks in the plural that is perhaps most exciting for Billingsley. Even when he gets in trouble, he has hardly backed down. His weakest moment tonight was throwing two balls to Izturis with a 1-2 count and a runner on third. Izturis then singled on a 3-2 pitch, driving in the Brewers’ second run. But that was the exception. Billingsley had the bad inning that he is (unfairly) notorious for, but he didn’t let it ruin him.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers withstood their own hitless streak – 10 in a row retired after Matt Kemp (1 for 4) doubled in the first to raise his batting average at that moment to .500 – and tied the game. In the fifth, Juan Rivera doubled, went to third on a James Loney single and scored when Rickie Weeks caught Juan Uribe’s pop-up but then dropped the ball before throwing home. In the seventh, Ethier and Loney hit the Dodgers’ fourth and fifth doubles to even the score, 2-2. (Loney, by the way, was thrown out on the basepaths in both innings.)

With two out and Uribe on second via fielder’s choice and wild pitch, A.J. Ellis was walked intentionally to get to Billingsley’s spot in the order. I basically agreed with Don Mattingly’s decision to hit for Billingsley, even though he was on a roll, although I’d feel a lot better about it if the Dodgers’ first hitter off the bench weren’t Adam Kennedy, who popped out.

But after Milwaukee squeezed home a go-ahead run off Matt Guerrier in the bottom of the seventh, the Dodgers came back in the eighth, with Ethier (slugging .738 this year and now the National League RBI leader with 17) once again proving to Kemp that he doesn’t have to carry the offense by himself.

Unfortunately for the Dodgers, the bullpen didn’t deliver tonight, with the Guerr boys, Guerrier and Guerra, retiring only four batters as they allowed three runs.

 

Apr 17

The Dodgers-Brewers series: What they’ll say

Having grabbed some rays from baseball’s national spotlight thanks to their 9-1 start, the Dodgers can now expect the following treatment after what’s supposed to be their first test, a three-game series in Milwaukee beginning tonight:

Dodgers at Brewers, 5:10 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, LF
James Loney, 1B
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Chad Billingsley, P