Apr 06

Billingsley hurls Dodgers to victory

Chad Billingsley gave the critics a rest in his first start of 2012, striking 11 in a dominant 8 1/3 innings while allowing only three hits and one walk in a 6-0 Dodger victory.

Billingsley was only in trouble in the second inning, when he gave up a leadoff double and a one-out walk. But Orlando Hudson grounded into a double play, the Dodgers boosted their lead to 4-0 in the third and Billingsley never looked back.

He struck out his first three batters, retired the side in order in six different innings and set down 16 batters in a row between Will Venable’s leadoff double in the fourth inning and Cameron Maybin’s one-out single in the ninth. That came on Billingsley’s 108th pitch, more than enough with the Dodgers up by half a dozen runs. Jamey Wright relieved Billingsley and used two ground balls to end the game.

Mark Ellis, Matt Kemp, Juan Rivera and Andre Ethier each had two hits, going 8 for 16 with a walk. Ellis had a double, while Ethier had a double and triple that each drove in two runs. Jerry Hairston Jr. also went 1 for 3 with a walk, starting in left field while Rivera played first base and James Loney sat against 27-year-old Padres lefty Cory Luebke, who allowed five earned runs and 10 baserunners (striking out six) in 4 2/3 innings of his first start since signing a four-year, $12 million contract extension in March.

Dee Gordon got his first hit of the season but was called out – incorrectly, according to replays – trying to steal. He is 1 for 10 so far in 2012. Juan Uribe went 0 for 4, while A.J. Ellis was 0 for 3 with a walk.

This was the fifth time Billingsley has struck out 11 in a game. He also has one game of 12 and two career-high games of 13. It was also the second time in less than a year he has thrown at least eight shutout innings against San Diego, including nine months ago in a 1-0 victory over the Padres. Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. notes that Billingsley achieved a career-high Game Score of 87.

* * *

Bill Shaikin of the Times notes the salient details available from the Dodger sale agreement filed in court today. The official price was $1.588 billion, with $412 million going to retire the Dodgers’ debt.

* * *

Haven’t really been publicizing these, but the fourth episode of Young Justice that I was the writer for is scheduled to air Saturday morning.

Apr 06

Game 2 chat

Dodgers at Padres, 7:05 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Andre Ethier, RF
Jerry Hairston Jr., LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Chad Billingsley, P

In theory, the live Win Probability Graph from Fangraphs should update from Thursday once tonight’s game starts. We shall see …

Source: FanGraphs

Apr 06

Looking ahead at 2012

Before Thursday’s Dodger opener, Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness and I reunited for a season-preview chat that you can see above.

* * *

“Major League Baseball officials have expressed concern that Guggenheim Baseball Management, the winning bidders for the Los Angeles Dodgers, has been slow to produce the details of the bid and the structure of its management team, according to several sources familiar with the sale process,” writes Tom Verducci of SI.com today.

Several individual owners have joined baseball officials in questioning why the Guggenheim group, led by Mark Walter, Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson, has not filed a more detailed Purchase and Sale Agreement more than a week after the group was selected from among three finalists by Frank McCourt, the outgoing owner who is selling the club through U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

The group was expected to file a Purchase and Sale Agreement with MLB earlier this week, but postponed the filing for two days before submitting a short form agreement that lacked what MLB regards as most of the necessary details. Of particular interest to MLB is a breakdown of where the money is coming from to cover the $2.15 billion sale price and what role McCourt has in the ownership, control and profit-sharing of the Dodger Stadium parking lots.

Until MLB knows and reviews those details, according to sources, concern mounts about how the deal is financed and especially if McCourt stands to continue to profit from Dodger-related operations under the new ownership.

Some answers may be forthcoming as soon as Friday, when terms of the sale are expected to be filed in bankruptcy court. The court is expected to approve the sale on April 13 in advance of a final closing April 30, when McCourt must pay his wife, Jamie, $131 million as a condition of their divorce settlement.

Said one owner after speaking with commissioner Bud Selig, “Not having a purchase and sale agreement is scary, but I personally think they will close [the deal].”

The sale, according to sources, has been complicated by the bitter relationship between McCourt and MLB, by the Guggenheim group being caught between trying to satisfy both warring parties, by a bankruptcy court, not MLB, controlling the speed of the sale, and by the lingering contentiousness of the bidding process, which one bidder said was characterized by “brutal fighting.” …

Elsewhere this morning …

  • Mike Ozanian of Forbes chronicles the tax breaks that will come to the new Dodger owners following their purchase of the team.
  • The Dodgers have no switch-hitters on their roster for the first time since 1986, notes Dustin Nosler of Feelin’ Kinda Blue.
  • Blake DeWitt, whom the Cubs designated for assignment this winter, ended up making their Opening Day roster after all and flied out as a pinch-hitter Thursday.
  • The Texas Rangers unveiled a statue depicting Shannon Stone, who died after falling trying to catch a ball last year, and his son Cooper. Kevin Kaduk of Big League Stew has details. Tears me up each time I look.

Jenny and Cooper Stone look at the 'Rangers Fans' statue on Thursday as Nolan Ryan looks on. (AP)

Apr 05

Kershaw hurls. Dodgers to victory

It’s not the best sign for Opening Day when Vin Scully starts the game talking about diarrhea.

The starting pitcher of the team Scully is broadcasting for the 63rd season, Clayton Kershaw, was putting on a private performance of the New Flu Revue. Even so, everything came out okay for the Dodgers, who launched their bid for an undefeated season with a 5-3 victory over San Diego.

Kershaw stomached three innings, surviving a bases-loaded scenario in the second, before his day ended. The Associated Press provided this summary:

… Mattingly said he saw Kershaw lying down in the tunnel behind the dugout after the third.

“It’s not a real good sign when your starting pitcher was laying down,” Mattingly said.

Mattingly said he and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt discussed holding out Kershaw.

“He wanted to go,” the manager said. “He wasn’t dizzy or didn’t have a fever or any of that kind of stuff, so it was one of those situations where he wanted to go. …

Kershaw struck out three, while also producing the Dodgers’ first hit of the season. It was a game effort. But it was up to his teammates to pick up the slack.

And so they did, with a little help from Padres starting pitcher Edinson Volquez. The offseason acquisition from Cincinnati struck out five batters in his first three innings, but gave up two singles and four walks in the fourth inning. Two of the walks came with the bases loaded, to James Loney and A.J. Ellis, allowing the Dodgers to take a 2-0 lead that would have been more had Andre Ethier not been incorrectly ruled out at home on an ostensible wild pitch. (Ellis also had a single in three at-bats on the day and saw 28 pitches in his four plate appearances.)

While Josh Lindblom was holding San Diego scoreless in the fourth and fifth innings, the Dodgers tacked on another run thanks to a three-base error by San Diego centerfielder Cameron Maybin, who was too shocked that Gordon hit one over his head to make the catch after he went back and reached it. One out later, Matt Kemp himself reached base on an infield error to bring Gordon home. Although Gordon went 0 for 5 with three strikeouts, he made his presence felt not only on the bases but with a spectacular dive and throw-out in the fourth.

Mike MacDougal gave up a run in the sixth, but Matt Guerrier pitched a shutout seventh and Kemp seemed to put the game away in the eighth with a home run that was straight out of the Mike Piazza repetoire, a towering shot to right-center field to make the score 5-1.

Kenley Jansen echoed his poor first outing in 2011 by allowing a two-run home run to Maybin in the bottom of the eighth. That meant Javy Guerra would get a save opportunity in his 2012  debut after all, and Guerra retired the side in order on 14 pitches.

Juan Rivera had two singles for the Dodgers, and perhaps most amazingly, Juan Uribe had a walk.

This Dodger win came on a day that Detroit wasted eight innings of two-hit ball by Justin Verlander before edging Boston, a day that Cleveland blew a 4-1 ninth-inning lead and then lost in 16 innings (the longest Opening Day ever) and a day that eight of the 12 other teams playing were held to two runs or less. It was a day that could have easily given the Dodgers and their fans the heaves, but instead, they’ll go to sleep tonight with a nice victory to digest.

Apr 05

Welcome to Opening Day 2012

© Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers 2012

Dodgers at Padres, 4:05 p.m.
Kershaw CXVII: Kerhsawrfegnugen
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
Clayton Kershaw, P

On an Opening Day for many teams that has had runs at a distinct premium, it will take some swift work by the Irony Committee for a dusky game at Petco Park to generate any offensive fireworks. But the folk on that Committee are known for their around-the-clock efforts, so we’ll see …

I’m enjoying these last few moments before we enter the blender. But I’m also ready to suffer with every pitch and be reborn with the next. To shake my head at the disappointments and revel in the celebrations. To accept my lot in life, which is to be a follower of the confounding team that is the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Source: FanGraphs

Apr 04

Spring Training Closing Day

Angels at Dodgers, 12:10 p.m.
Tony Gwynn Jr., LF
Justin Sellers, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Adam Kennedy, 3B
Tim Federowicz, C
Luis Cruz, 2B
Matt Angle, CF
Nathan Eovaldi, P

Good comments in Tuesday’s thread taking the pulse of your feelings toward the Dodgers this year. Even if you don’t normally venture into the comments, I recommend you make an exception for these.

Some early pregame tidbits for the final day of Spring Training.

  • Jill Painter of the Daily News has a feature on lefthanded pitcher Scott Rice, whose dream of a major-league debut has been delayed once again.
  • Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus puts the dilution of baseball’s traditional Opening Day in perspective.
  • Friend of Dodger Thoughts Neal Pollack has a new book, Jewball. Here’s the description:

    1937. The gears of world war have begun to grind, but Inky Lautman, star point guard for the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association, America’s greatest basketball team, is dealing with his own problems.

    His coach has unwittingly incurred a massive gambling debt to the Bund, a group of American Nazis. His main basketball rival is self-righteously leading public protests against homegrown American fascism. And his girlfriend wants him to join a Jewish student organization that’s all talk and no action. It’s more than Inky can deliver. He just wants to play ball and occasionally beat people up for money.

    When the Bund comes calling for what it’s owed, Inky has to make a stand for his ragtag bunch of teammates and the coach that got them into this mess. With the Bund closing in, Inky’s game isn’t just basketball anymore. It becomes a battle that pits Jewish pride against Nazi fascism.

    The tides of history are flowing against a guy like Inky. Can he make his free throws and still make it through the season alive? Get ready. This…is Jewball.

Apr 03

Will you be happier in ’12 even if the Dodgers are worse?

Dodger fans, by and large, spent 2011 in the kind of pre-apocalyptic nightmare depicted in the fine 2011 film Take Shelter, starring Michael Shannon.

The deepest, darkest hours of the McCourt ownership bled into the Bryan Stow tragedy. The Dodgers’ shaky start bled into nearly their worst first-half performance ever in Los Angeles. The sky over Chavez Ravine ripped apart.

Fans ran and hid, dragging in-game attendance and team goodwill down to its lowest level in decades.

And then the Dodgers ended up playing .600 ball over the final two months of the season.

It’s a new April. The McCourt fog is mostly clearing. But the team’s near-term future on the field is mixed, the stadium security and renovation issues awaiting further action, and there are even lingering questions about whether the new ownership will be good for the franchise.

Last season was painful in so many ways. Has that better prepared you to handle any challenges during the 2012 season? Will you be happier this year, even if the Dodgers lose more games than last year, if the team’s problems are confined to what’s happening on the field? As you emerge from your storm shelter, what color is your sky?

Apr 03

Car Talk’s baseball-themed puzzler

An episode of NPR’s Car Talk never fails to bring smiles to my face, not because I have any interest in or understanding of cars, but because the hosts (“Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers”) are just so much fun. The first time I ever listened to it was the hot August 1993 morning I drove away from Washington D.C. for good to move back to Los Angeles, in a sad state of mind over the girl I was leaving behind. Those guys were just the right medicine for the road.

Anyway, each week they have a puzzler for listeners to solve, and just in time for Opening Day, they have a baseball-themed riddle. I imagine you baseball experts out there can figure out the answer.

Apr 02

Cain, Votto to stay where they are

The big news of the day for Dodger fans involves two non-Dodgers, Matt Cain and Joey Votto, who each signed contract extensions that remove them as acquisition targets for Los Angeles. Bob Nightengale of USA Today has details.

On the bright side, at least the Dodgers locked up Matt Kemp for what might be a relative bargain compared to the 28-year-old Votto’s 10-year, $225 million deal. More money to invest in the farm system!

Elsewhere …

  • Magic Johnson will be a guest on Tavis Smiley’s PBS talk show tonight. In Los Angeles, that’s scheduled for 11:30 p.m. on KOCE 50.
  • Dee Gordon is the subject of a lengthy profile by Jon Heyman at CBSSports.com.
  • Jim Gullo’s new book “Trading Manny: How a Father & Son Learned to Love Baseball Again,” reviewed by Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News, looks like a potentially interesting read in addressing how a father and son try to defuse the effect of baseball’s substance-abuse saga.

* * *

Dodgers at Angels, 7:05 p.m.

Apr 01

The 1-2 pitch

Chad Billingsley gave up a single to the first batter he faced today, Arizona infielder Ryan Roberts. It came on a 1-2 pitch. You never want to see that happen, though it’s easily forgiven if it comes on your pitch. Billingsley, instead, left a fastball over the plate and chest-high. Roberts grounded it to the left of shortstop Dee Gordon into center field. With a little luck, Roberts would have hit it a few feet over, into Gordon’s range. But there was as much luck for Billingsley as there was execution.

“Normally,” said Dodger commentator Rick Monday, “in your last outing in Arizona for Spring Training, you would say, ‘Well, it’s just a final tuneup.’ I really believe that for Chad Billingsley, this is more than just a final tuneup, because he has not been fine-tuned so far. And since this is his last outing, I think it’s imperative to get some batters behind in the count, as he had right here the leadoff hitter Roberts, (and) finish them off.”

“Imperative” would be an exaggeration – nothing’s imperative until at least the regular season starts. But shy of that, Monday’s overall point wasn’t lost. You want to see it done right.

Billingsley did do some things right – after walking Justin Upton with one out, he struck out Jason Kubel to start an inning-ending double play that found Aaron Hill (who had hit into a 9-6 bloop forceout) caught stealing by A.J. Ellis. Billingsley then struck out his first batter of inning two, Chris Young. But mostly, it was a rough outing – insufficiently sharp. The 27-year-old righty gave up four runs and six hits on 70 pitches in three innings, including two arguably wind-aided home runs to left field. He finished his 2012 exhibition season with a 5.91 ERA.

Monday was fairly relentless in his criticism of Billingsley throughout the three innings, and again, I was of two minds. The critique seemed a bit over the top for a practice game, even with the regular season coming later this week. At the same time, unless Billingsley was deliberately trying to hide his good stuff from his division, it was a hard outing to watch, both from individual and team standpoints.

I’m still wondering if the poor performance by Billingsley in the second half of 2011, following a solid first two months, was injury-related. I might never get the answer. But one scenario that certainly is possible is that Billingsley’s 2012 effectively becomes a repeat of Jonathan Broxton’s 2011. Problems from the second half of the previous season are never really solved, and the ensuing campaign becomes a lost one.

Without minimizing what this might mean for Billingsley’s career, it points to the cliff’s edge the Dodgers will be driving along in 2012. They’re counting on improvement from players like Billingsley, Andre Ethier (having the best kind of Spring Training) and James Loney. If those players instead take additional steps back, you’re basically left with asking the farm system (Nathan Eovaldi, Jerry Sands, etc.) to come to the rescue. They might succeed, just as Javy Guerra did for Broxton in 2011, but it’s a risky business.

That Clayton Kershaw had an uneven performance 24 hours before Billingsley, allowing three runs on six hits and a walk in 3 2/3 innings, offers a half-empty, half-full counterpoint. From Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

… Kershaw said he was missing his spots and that his slider, which he had struggled with in his previous start six days earlier, still wasn’t quite right. But when asked if the slider was a concern now that the regular season is upon him, Kershaw said it isn’t.

“It can’t be,” he said. “April 5 is coming up pretty fast. You have to be ready to go.”

Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt says he continues to see good sliders from Kershaw intermittently, but that the inconsistency could be the result of Kershaw trying to force the pitch, especially in light desert air where breaking balls tend not to break as much and where simply getting a proper grip on the ball can be tough.

“But he isn’t going to make that excuse, and I’m not going to make it for him,” Honeycutt said. “As long as he is healthy, that is the main thing. [The slider] isn’t something I’m worried about. He is going to continue to work on it until he feels comfortable with it.” …

Whatever the results of March 2012, hoping that Matt Kemp, Kershaw, Billingsley, Ethier and Loney perform to their previous peaks isn’t exactly the longshot of picking a MegaMillions jackpot. It could happen, and if it does, I wouldn’t call it a fluke – just good timing. That, plus new ownership itching to make a first impression, plus my perhaps irrational belief that Gordon is going to excite all expectations (“I’m a Deeliever,” I’ve started singing to myself), plus an awareness that other teams in the NL aren’t blessed with unlimited good fortune, is why I enter this season with the hope that the Dodgers can win at least 90 games and a spot in postseason roulette.

But the lack of Plan Bs makes the Dodgers’ 2012 season a perilous one, with 90 losses anything but a remote possibility. If Billingsley struggles, if Ted Lilly can’t stay healthy, if Juan Uribe is toast, if Kemp and Kershaw take perfectly reasonable steps back from their insane greatness of last year, and so on into the night, the Dodgers quickly run out of escape routes.

At the end, it all comes back to the beginning. You’re on the mound. You have a 1-2 count on the batter. You have talent, experience and an edge.

Can you make your pitch?

Can your defense save you when you don’t?

Can your offense save you when your defense doesn’t?

Can your management save you when your offense and defense can’t?

Mar 30

Ted Lilly will start season on DL

Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun at Camelback Ranch today. © Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers 2012

Ted Lilly will start the season on the disabled list thanks to a stiff neck, while Chris Capuano will start the Dodgers’ third and seventh games of 2012. J.P. Hoornstra of the Daily News, Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com and Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. have details.

Lilly might make his first start as soon as the Dodgers’ ninth game, April 14. Needing only four starters in their first week, Los Angeles will carry an extra reliever, possibly Josh Lindblom.

Meanwhile, Ramon Troncoso cleared waivers and is headed to Triple-A Albuquerque, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.

* * *

In their 9-4 split-squad loss to the Brewers, Capuano struck out seven in six innings while allowing one run on three baserunners. But Jared Wright allowed three unearned runs in the eighth and Todd Coffey four unearned runs in the ninth.

Andre Ethier continued his insane spring, doubling and homering for four RBI and raising his OPS to 1.373. Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness has a piece at Fangraphs today in which he explains why he expects Ethier to go on to have a great regular season.

Dylan Hernandez of the Times adds that contract extension talks for Ethier could take place during the season.

There were brushback pitches in today’s game; Jackson gives you the breakdown.

In their other split-squad game, the Dodgers beat the Cubs, 6-3. Dee Gordon tripled in two runs, while Luis Cruz had a pair of hits and RBI.

* * *

Jamie Moyer will start 2012 in the Colorado Rockies rotation. Rob Neyer comments at Baseball Nation:

So this is really going to happen. Barring a terribly disappointing injury in the next few days, Jamie Moyer will soon become the second-oldest man to start a game in Major League Baseball’s long history, and the oldest to start more than once.

In 1965, Satchel Paige started one game for the Kansas City Athletics. He was 58 years old, and pitched three scoreless innings against the Boston Red Sox. But that was obviously a stunt; it was Paige’s first appearance in the majors since 1953, and would be his last.

Aside from Paige, the oldest major-league starter was Phil Niekro, 48 when he made 26 starts in 1987.

Satchel Paige was a performer; Phil Niekro was a knuckleballer. Meanwhile, Jamie Moyer is just another (relatively) conventional pitcher, except that he’s 49 years old and has officially earned a spot in the Colorado Rockies‘ pitching rotation. …

Fun as that is, I continue to be amazed by projections that find the Rockies will be dramatically better than the Dodgers in 2012.

* * *

  • San Francisco placed two starting pitchers on the disabled list today, Ryan Vogelsong and Eric Surkamp, according to The Associated Press.
  • Bill Bene, the Dodgers’ No. 1 draft pick the year that Clayton Kershaw was born and the team won its last World Series, “agreed to plead guilty on federal charges he operated a counterfeit karaoke business and didn’t pay taxes on sales,” according to Lindsay William-Ross of LAist.
  • Sam Miller has not one, but two good pieces at Baseball Prospectus today. Check ’em out.
  • Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick gets a nice review from Mike Downey in the Times, as Alex Belth of Bronx Banter notes.
  • Allow me to recommend the second-season soundtrack of Treme as a great listen.
  • If your favorite Dodgers were Burt Hooton, Eric Karros, Eric Gagne, Duke Snider and Tommy Lasorda – and you really liked Karros –  you might be able to buy into the team now.