Aug 13

Dodgers flicker, then flounder


Gregory Smith/APBraves shortstop Alex Gonzalez caught the Dodgers’ potential tying run, Scott Podsednik, trying to steal in the ninth inning of tonight’s 1-0 Dodger loss.

The Irony Committee approves the fact that fans are giving up on the Dodgers left and right, even as they expect the Dodgers not to give up on themselves.

I’m not telling anyone to act differently. If San Francisco defeats San Diego tonight, the Dodgers will be the furthest they have been out of a playoff spot since 2007.

But there is an interesting contradiction from those who have pulled out the white flag: “Believe in yourselves, even though we don’t believe in you.” I get why it is, but it’s a little funny.

Anyway, I’m not someone who declares the season over before it’s factually over. Each win increases your chances, each loss decreases it. It’s that simple. It’s all by degrees, until you run out of them. A season doesn’t end in one game. The Dodgers suffered a painful defeat Thursday, but that didn’t flip an “on” switch to “off,” it made their fragile candle grow even dimmer.

A win tonight would have allowed them to gain a game on somebody, and keep their wan flame steady for one more day. A win tonight would have put the Thursday agony further behind them. Thanks to Brooks Conrad’s cursed homer to center off an otherwise saintly Hiroki Kuroda, and the Dodgers’ 14th offensive shutout of the year, it didn’t happen.

And the light remains on but grows darker still.

If the Dodgers want to start making moves with 2011 in mind, I don’t mind – though their chances of trading Casey Blake to the Braves to fill the Chipper Jones gap didn’t get any better with Jones’ current understudy winning tonight’s game. If the Dodgers find they can play “Flip This Lilly,” then by all means go for it.

And if the Dodgers want to ride the 2010 wave as far as it will take them, even if it leaves them shy of the promised land, I will ride it with them until the last drop reaches its grainy end. There’s plenty of time to mourn the year – I don’t mind dreaming the improbable dream, even if I believe in it a lot less than 100 percent. What else have I got to do the next day of the baseball season except dream? Beats mopin’.

Aug 12

‘Leave it to the Dodgers’: Phillies stun Los Angeles with eight-run comeback


Matt Slocum/APRonald Belisario reacts after being pulled in the bottom of the eighth inning, a harbinger.

I don’t have anything I feel compelled to say, but I feel compelled to say something.  That’s usually a recipe for some pretty poor writing, but on a night like tonight, who will really notice?

For Jonathan Broxton, I refer you to this post. He’s not himself, and he hasn’t been himself for weeks now. That the latest catastrophe happened in Philadelphia adds a nasty spice to it all, but in his past trips there, the loss of control and blown saves were aberrations. The Broxton of the past two months has been someone else entirely. He’s been George Sherrill, and not the good kind.

Personally, it’s no fun seeing the perverse “I told you so” comments coming from Broxton’s peanut gallery, some of them coming with the glee of validation, I suspect. I’m not defending what Broxton is doing now, but again, this is well beyond what happened with Broxton before. Since the All-Star break, 21 baserunners allowed in eight innings with five strikeouts. That’s a different pitcher.

Meanwhile, those of us who have established tents in Broxton’s camp saw something familiar: a brutal defensive lapse behind him, this time from Casey Blake. Too much water had blown through the dam for it to be called a gamechanger, but it certainly added to the aura of horror.

Ronald Belisario, making his third comeback from personal and health issues in 13 months, actually picked the right night to be bad – doing so with a 9-2 lead, thanks to strong pitching by Clayton Kershaw and a 20-baserunner offense by the Dodgers. Matt Kemp, back in the starting lineup, went 3 for 5 with a home run and four RBI. Every position in the lineup, except for pitcher, reached base at least twice. There was a cushion and then some – no thin Ikea futon, but a real honest-to-goodness plush living room sofa. And then the Phillies tore the stuffing out of it.

For more reaction, I refer you to this post. Vin Scully wasn’t at tonight’s game, and yet I still think about how he’d react to it. He’d marvel at it. And not be as deflated by it as I am. “Leave it to the Dodgers …”

As far as I can tell, every Dodger made their best effort tonight, and for 7 1/2 innings, they put on quite a show. And then baseball threw its weight around, once again proving that it runs the circus. I’d rather be writing about a Dodger win, but I don’t get to decide.

Aug 11

Why can’t Johnny score: Phillies 2, Dodgers 0

Scott Podsednik had three hits. So did the rest of the Dodgers.

The post-All Star struggles of the Dodgers’ offense returned. Los Angeles was shut out for the 13th time this season in a 2-0 Phillies victory.

Newly acquired Phillies pitcher Roy Oswalt bested Chad Billingsley. Billingsley allowed one baserunner in his first three innings, then minimized the damage of six baserunners in his next three innings, leaving the game having allowed just the two runs. Kenley Jansen and Hong-Chih Kuo each added shutout frames.

But from their first threat of the game (two on with none out in the second inning) to their last (Podsednik’s leadoff double in the eighth), the Dodgers could not score.

Andre Ethier and Jay Gibbons each went 0 for 4, and Matt Kemp struck out pinch-hitting in the seventh inning, ending his hitting streak at one.

Aug 10

Gibbons a new hero as Dodgers romp, 15-9


Barbara Johnston/US PresswireJay Gibbons hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning to give the Dodgers an 11-5 lead.

Newest Dodger (at least for one more day) Jay Gibbons became the Dodgers’ all-time leader in OPS – minimum five career plate appearances with the team – going 3 for 4 with a home run in the Dodgers’ unusually bloated 15-9 victory over Philadelphia tonight.

Gibbons’ OPS of 2.200 (three singles and a homer in five trips to the plate) breaks the record of 1.467 previously held by Pat Diesel of the 1902 Brooklyn squad and Orlando Mercado, who had two singles and a double in five at-bats at the end of the 1987 season, which I never knew about because I was traveling through Europe. Ah, those were the days.

Well, to quote Natalie Merchant, these are days, as well. Andre Ethier had three singles, a double, a walk and was hit by a pitch tonight, becoming the first Dodger to reach base six times in a game since Russell Martin on April 25, 2008. Before that, the last Dodger to do it was Shawn Green during his four-homer game in 2002. The feat has been achieved 22 times in Los Angeles Dodger history.

Casey Blake also homered as the Dodgers reached base 25 times in all, scoring a season-high in runs and giving them 23 in their past two games. Perhaps we can say they emerged from their slump: The Dodgers have broken the five-run barrier four times in their past eight games. On the other hand, tonight’s pitching …. we won’t get into that.

* * *

Rafael Furcal, already sidelined for eight days with back issues, finally submitted to spending at least the next week on the disabled list, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. Juan Castro is expected to be Wednesday’s newest Dodger – his third sojourn with the team.

Aug 08

It’s the most wonderful summertime post-All Star break Sunday of the year


Jae C. Hong/APJamey Carroll slides home with the Dodgers’ eighth run in the eighth inning on the eighth day of the eighth month.

Three hits and a walk for Jamey Carroll? Two hits and three runs for Ronnie Belliard? An RBI single from the newest Dodger, Jay Gibbons? Four runs in the first inning, on the way to a five-run, 8-3 victory?

It’s time to see how today’s Dodger victory measures up on … The Laugher Scale!

August Laughers: No. 2, behind Wednesday’s 9-0 win over San Diego!

Post All-Star Laughers: Also No. 2!

Summertime Laughers: No. 5! Behind Dodgers 14, Diamondbacks 1 (July 3), Dodgers 7, Cubs 0 (July 11), Dodgers 8, Giants 2 (June 30), but ahead of Dodgers 9, Yankees 4 (June 26, laughs chilled by use of Jonathan Broxton with a big lead).

Putting That 8-14 Start Behind Us Laughers:  A fine No. 9, behind Dodgers 12, Reds 0 (June 15), Dodgers 12, Cardinals 4 (June 7), Dodgers 13, Diamondbacks 3 (May 11), Dodgers 9, Pirates 3 (May 2).

2010: A Laugher Odyssey: Almost heaven at No. 11, behind Dodgers 14, Reds 6 (April 21), Dodgers 10, Pirates 2 (April 8)!

Home Laughers: No. 5!

Sunday Laughers: No. 3!

Sunday Summertime Laughers: No. 2!

Sunday Summertime Post-All-Star Laughters: No. 1! No. 1! No. 1! Celebrate good times, come on!

Aug 07

Loney wins JV game for Dodgers in 10 innings, 3-2

Given the lack of action throughout most of tonight’s Dodger game, my attention diverted to Albuquerque, where the Isotopes fell behind 10-0 in the third and 12-1 in the sixth before rallying to send the game into extra innings, tied at 12.

Nevertheless, it would be remiss of me to ignore Hiroki Kuroda retiring 17 in a row shortly after an early two-run homer, a Matt Kemp sacrifice fly (nearly a grand slam) that ended up plating two runs, a woolly three innings of shutout relief from Hong-Chih Kuo and Jonathan Broxton, and finally James Loney’s walkoff single to win it for the Dodgers in 10 innings, 3-2.

Tonight was the first time the Dodgers gained ground on San Diego, San Francisco and Colorado on the same night since June 24.

And now, back to Albuquerque

Aug 05

Nomentum: Padres 5, Dodgers 0

Bullets from a 5-0 loss:

  • The Dodgers now have 12 shutouts this season. The Los Angeles team record is 23 in 1968; next after that is 17 in 1966 and 1989.
  • The Dodgers have been held to two runs or fewer in 11 of their past 15 games.
  • James Loney batted with two runners on in the fourth, sixth and eighth innings, but the Dodgers’ RBI king came up empty each time. The killer was a towering blast to right field that went to the wall before being caught.
  • Chad Billingsley extended his scoreless inning streak to 24 2/3 innings before getting touched up for three runs in the fourth inning. Five of the 10 baserunners he allowed came in the fourth, the only inning in which the Padres scored. Billinglsey left for a pinch-hitter after six innings, three runs and 90 pitches.
  • With a ninth-inning double-switch, Andre Ethier made his first career appearance at first base.
  • Ethier and Ryan Theriot each reached based three times.
  • Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has precise details about Russell Martin’s season-ending injury.
  • James McDonald struck out a career-high eight (including six of his first seven batters) while pitching six shutout innings in his Pirates debut.
  • The man McDonald was traded for, Octavio Dotel, was victimized by an almost inexplicable inside-the-park homer in the ninth inning tonight by San Diego’s Chris Denofria.
  • Ronald Belisario threw off the mound this afternoon; Joe Torre said he would probably start a rehab assignment Saturday.
  • Don Hawkins, a church group leader, collapsed on the field at Dodger Stadium before tonight’s game and passed away. All my condolences to his family and friends.
Aug 04

Near no-no still a yes-yes for Vicente Padilla and Dodgers: 9-0


Jae C. Hong/APVicente Padilla

Vicente Padilla’s extraordinary run of starts since returning from the disabled list in June nearly peaked with a no-hitter tonight at Dodger Stadium.

Padilla came within eight outs of the gem before allowing a line shot off the glove of a diving James Loney by Ryan Ludwick. Padilla gave up one other hit over his 105 pitches, settling for the fourth shutout of his career and second of the two-hit variety, and the Dodgers defeated the Padres, 9-0.

With the Dodgers seemingly losing a player a day, Padilla let everyone take their minds off their troubles. After walking two batters (one intentionally) in the second inning, Padilla retired 14 in a row before the Ludwick single. Since June 19, Padilla has pitched 60 innings and allowed 12 earned runs for a 1.80 ERA. His nine strikeouts tonight give him 52 in that time. He has not allowed more than two runs in his past eight starts.

The Dodgers, who have won consecutive games following their six-game losing streak, scored three runs in the second inning, the crowning blow a two-RBI dunker by Scott Podsednik. Ronnie Belliard added an RBI double in the third, and then Padilla – left to bat for himself in the bottom of the eighth following much suspense – drove in a run with his second hit of the night.

That kicked off a five-run inning for the Dodgers – their biggest output since a six-run inning July 3 – capped by a two-run homer by Andre Ethier. Ethier also had two doubles, while Casey Blake and Jamey Carroll added two hits for the Dodgers.

Dodger pitchers have held San Diego to a single run on five hits over the past two games combined. Since the All-Star Game, Dodger starting pitchers have allowed 35 earned runs in 123 innings for a 2.56 ERA.

If not a turnaround, tonight might amount to a false positive for a crumbling Dodger team, but temporary relief is better than none.

Aug 03

Lilly really lifts chilly Dodgers, 2-1


Danny Moloshok/APTed Lilly gave up a solo homer to Miguel Tejada in the first inning, a single to Adrian Gonzalez, and nothing else.

New Dodger starting pitcher Ted Lilly retired the final 20 of the 23 batters he faced in his debut with Los Angeles tonight, and Russell Martin’s two-run, second-inning double made the outstanding performance count for a 2-1 victory over San Diego, ending the team’s third six-game losing streak in six weeks.

The only mystery with Lilly’s performance was why he was removed from the game after throwing 87 pitches over seven innings, 65 for strikes. But Hong-Chih Kuo and Jonathan Broxton closed things out, Broxton inducing a game-ending double-play grounder from new Padres outfielder Ryan Ludwick after first giving up a soft single to Jerry Hairston Jr. and, one out later, an intentional walk to Adrian Gonzalez.

Lilly’s two-hit performance in his first Dodgers start came on the sixth anniversary of Brad Penny’s two-hit performance in his first Dodger start (a game that ended with Eric Gagne nearly blowing a three-run lead in the ninth). Let’s hope things go considerably better for Lilly than they did for Penny the next time out.

Aug 02

My thoughts turn to Vin


US PresswireVin Scully, during last year’s offseason.

I have no insight into whether Vin Scully will retire after this season. My hunch is that he won’t walk away easily. He still sounds filled with so much spirit – more than any of us have, I’m guessing – that I think with whatever schedule adjustments continue to be necessary, he will press on.

But there is always the possibility that these are the final two months of our time with him on the air. And however the Dodgers are playing, I have to find a way to appreciate that time. Even if they are not his final two months, I so want to savor them.

Thirty-six regular-season games remain at home and on the road against National League West opponents.

* * *

“Leave it to the Dodgers, going back all the way to the borough of Brooklyn, to get three hits in the inning and not score a run,” Scully said at the end of the first inning tonight.

Scully doesn’t get upset when the Dodgers play badly, and fans don’t mind. In fact, they appreciate it.

There are things that bother Scully – from people who fail to acknowledge the heroes of D-Day, to the way the post-O’Malley organization discarded Mike Scioscia – but even then, he measures his words carefully and civilly.

The result on the field never bothers him. And fans don’t mind.

I do get upset when the Dodgers play badly, but sometimes I’m told I’m not upset enough, not angry enough. I’ve certainly been told that I’m not angry enough about the ownership situation, even though I’ve expressed my displeasure with it more often than I can count.

No one ever complains that Scully isn’t angry enough. I mean, it sounds silly that someone ever would, right? Maybe it’s because he doesn’t identify himself as a fan. Maybe because I get excited when the Dodgers do well, it’s considered my duty to get angrier when the Dodgers lose.

But Scully was and is an enormous influence on me. He sees every game as part of something bigger. He sees the team as part of a larger team, going all the way back to the borough of Brooklyn. He sees the grand timeline of the Los Angeles Dodgers and baseball, and knows that one bad inning, one bad game, one bad month, one bad season and more, are just part of the journey. He’s able to see all that even as he nears the end of his own journey, however far away that hopefully remains.

* * *

Matt Kemp went 5 for 5 with a double and home run in the Dodgers’ 10-5 loss to San Diego tonight, but his night was marred when he failed to score on that first-inning play Scully described above. James Loney was thrown out trying to reach third base on Casey Blake’s single, the tag coming before Kemp crossed home plate.

When Kemp came up in the eighth inning, Scully discussed the play, not shying away from dealing with it objectively, but also without venom.

Scully certainly wouldn’t say that fans aren’t entitled to be upset about the fortunes of the Dodgers this year, but I do wonder why more fans don’t follow the tone he sets. They worship him, but they don’t emulate him. I don’t judge those fans for it; I just find it interesting.

If the Dodgers don’t salvage the 2010 season, you’re going to see me continue to channel my inner Vinny, as best as I can. I hope to be insightful; I hope to be entertaining. I hope to comment without anger, to find joy amid the sorrow, to see the forest for the trees (and avoid cliches when I can). It’s something I don’t do enough of in my non-Dodger life, but here, in the one place I seem to be able to pull it off most of the time, I mean to sustain it.

In a life replete with doubt and disappointment, go with Vin.

Jul 31

Trade deadline blues


Ben Margot/APJoe Torre walks to the mound to replace Hong-Chih Kuo with Jonathan Broxton in the bottom of the eighth inning today.

Why am I unhappy about today’s deadline deals?

After all, to reiterate a point I made this afternoon, the Dodgers now have a pitching staff that you can quite reasonably hope will shut down the opposition on a daily basis. The Dodgers have five starting pitchers with ERAs below 4.00, and that’s not without significance. There’s a formula in place for winning if the team can start hitting at all — something they might do, if these guys can get their act together and Manny Ramirez has one last spurt left.

Just when you think you know what will happen, you’re caught off guard. Anyone from Clayton Kershaw to Ted Lilly can have a bad game, and pitchers can fall into ruts like the one Jonathan Broxton, who allowed a crushing, game-losing home run to the Giants today after falling behind in the count 3-0, currently finds himself in.

Today was a day Broxton gave more ammunition to his critics. Today was also a day Chad Billingsley left his naysayers mute. (I’m assuming there’s some intersection between those two groups.) Stepping up to pitch on three days’ rest, Billingsley extended his scoreless inning string to 21 2/3 innings. Heck, he even hit two batters — so there. And he would have gone even further in the game if not for a seventh-inning error by Rafael Furcal that, though it did not lead to a run, accelerated Billingsley’s exit and might have been the first domino of today’s loss.

In any case, the acquisition of Lilly helps the rotation, and the addition of Octavio Dotel, if nothing else, gives Joe Torre an arm he’ll trust at the outset, which might spare us the destruction of other, more valuable arms.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that within 48 hours, the Dodgers traded Blake DeWitt, James McDonald, Lucas May, Elisaul Pimentel, Brett Wallach, Kyle Smit and Andrew Lambo for two months of Lilly, Dotel and Scott Podsednik and potentially a couple of more years of (grumble) Ryan Theriot. Two months of one decent starting pitcher and three marginal contributors.

It is impossible for me to believe those seven players, assembled together, would not have been enough to bring Cliff Lee to Los Angeles. It is impossible for me to believe these assets could not have been better used in some fashion.

And so whether Lee would have been the difference-maker for the Dodgers, whether or not the seven players traded away were going to be of much value going forward, it is impossible for me to feel good about what has happened.

Maybe Lilly, Dotel, Podsednik and Theriot go hog-wild and carry the Dodgers to a title. I have no way of saying that won’t happen. But I’m not happy the Dodgers gambled what they gambled to make the bet that they made.

The Dodgers don’t look particularly good entering the 2010-11 offseason. Three-fifths of the current starting rotation will be free agents, as will their left fielder, and the team will face serious offensive problems at no fewer than three other positions. This week brought an opportunity to begin addressing those problems, or make a bold move toward winning in the last year before those problems manifest. Instead, the Dodgers added, and subtracted and got a little better, but not a lot.

(I do find myself curious about the inquiries other teams made about Manny Ramirez. If the Dodgers don’t rebound in the next couple of weeks, we might see Ramirez, who would have no trouble clearing waivers, unloaded — and see the rebuilding begin after all.)

Look, the Dodger are in a serious funk, and I’m not immune. If the team weren’t on this latest four-game losing streak, we’d all feel better about things. So keep that in mind when I say that this week’s trades feel more symbolic of the Dodgers’ weaknesses, in ownership, front office and clubhouse, than like solutions to them. They are trades that seem destined to keep us wandering rather than reaching Shangri-La.

Jul 30

A glimmer, and nothing more: Giants 6, Dodgers 5

Daring escape their midnight dreary, the Dodgers scored as many runs in the ninth inning tonight than they had scored in any of their past eight games. Rafael Furcal broke out of his recent slump with a single, double, solo homer and two walks.

But still, the Dodgers lost, in maddening fashion. A three-run rally in the ninth inning fell one run short, and Los Angeles fell 4 1/2 games back in the National League wild-card race with a 6-5 defeat.

Merely this, and nothing more.

After being held to two runs yet again over the first eight innings tonight, the Dodgers’ comeback felt as much like their luck turning as anything else. Jamey Carroll’s force-out grounder avoided being a double play by a hair. Scott Podsednik’s long fly ball was run down by center fielder Andres Torres but clipped off his glove for a triple.

But on the other hand, Furcal had a legit perfect night at the plate (though not so perfect on the basepaths, as he was thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple earlier in the night). And after James Loney was hit by a pitch (Giants pitchers hit three more Dodger batters tonight), Matt Kemp worked his way from a 1-2 count to go with a 3-2 slider, like the grownup everyone wants him to be, and single to center field, driving in Furcal and putting Loney on third as the tying run with two out, tapping at our chamber door.

Just as your eyes started to widen with hope, Casey Blake grounded into a force play at short.

Darkness here, and nothing more.

Giants ace Tim Lincecum once again looked surprisingly beatable, allowing eight baserunners in the first three innings, but the Dodgers let him off the hook in the top of the third, failing to score after Furcal’s leadoff homer despite a single, a double and a hit batter. (Andre Ethier was easily thrown out at home on a fielder’s choice.) Carlos Monasterios mostly kept San Francisco at bay tonight, leaving in the sixth inning with the Dodgers trailing, 3-2, but you picked a fine time to leave me, Jeff Weaver. For the second Friday in a row, Weaver came in with the Dodgers down a run and let things get out of hand, allowing an inherited run and two others to score.

The deficit turned out to be not quite as insurmountable as we thought, but it was insurmountable enough. The Dodgers fell to 5-10 since the All-Star Break.

These things pass, they do pass, but then again, so do kidney stones. It’s a painful, painful process. One of the last things the Dodgers have been able to cling to, their dominance of the National League West, has been chipped away with three consecutive defeats. Essentially, they have to start over.

Maybe the ninth-inning rally took some of the sting out by at least giving the impression the Dodgers hadn’t surrendered, maybe the five runs will prove helpful in reminding the offense it’s capable of producing runs, but these are not pleasant times. And the 1 p.m. Saturday trade deadline brings little encouragement. Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness had the line of the night: “Most fans of ‘buyers’ are excited to see who their team picks up at the deadline. We’re just terrified. Its like anti-Christmas.”

Someday we’ll say, “Nevermore.”

Jul 29

Know-doze puts Dodgers to sleep, 3-2


Dennis Poroy/APScott Hairston slides home with the winning run for San Diego.

Not trying to shirk my duties, but for the second game in a row, there’s really nothing for me to tell you that you don’t know already know.

You know the Dodgers can’t expect to win many games with three hits. You know that the Dodgers can’t expect to win many games when their starting pitcher comes out after four innings. You know that the Dodgers aren’t better off pitching George Sherrill in a tie game than Jonathan Broxton, that it’s better to risk Sherrill giving up a run later than earlier. (Can’t there be an Afterschool Special about saving your closer for an extra-innings save situation that might not come?)

You know that the Dodgers’ 3-2 loss in the bottom of the ninth at San Diego was a winnable game. But no.

It’s as if the Dodgers are trying to play me out of a job.

Update: From Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Although Torre rarely uses Broxton in potential extra-inning situations on the road unless it is a save situation, Torre said after the game he would have gone to Broxton if Sherrill had gotten a second out. That raises the question of why he didn’t bring in the right-handed-hitting Broxton to face the right-handed-hitting Salazar, or why he didn’t simply order the left-handed Sherrill to intentionally walk Salazar to set up a double-play situation for Aaron Cunningham, who was on deck to hit for Padres reliever Heath Bell. …