Sep 07

Dodgers waste a lot and end up wanting

This pinch-hit post is dedicated to Vic Davalillo.

Game 1 of the Series of Great Import between the Dodgers and Giants at AT&T Park ended with the gentlemen in the orange jerseys winning 5-2. The Dodgers offense acted like someone trying to grow a garden by buying a bag of seeds and then pouring them on the sidewalk and wondering why he doesn’t end up with 40 heads of lettuce.

The Dodgers had 13 men reach base, seven of them on walks by Giants starter Tim Lincecum. However, the Dodgers could only get two of them home. One run scored on a ground out by Matt Kemp and the other came on a home run by Adam Kennedy that scraped the top of the right field fence. The Dodgers didn’t ground into any double plays. They just couldn’t get a hit with a runner in scoring position

The Giants pinged out 10 hits, all singles, with few of them being hit hard. However, the Giants parlayed their scoring chances into runs with annoying and relentless effectiveness.

After the Dodgers took a 1-0 lead in the third, the Giants tied the game on a Brandon Crawford single, a Lincecum sacrifice, and an RBI single from Angel Pagan.

After Kennedy’s homer in the sixth, the Giants used a bunt single by Pagan, a stolen base, a ground out, and then an RBI infield hit by Hunter Pence to tie the game.

The seventh inning was one of those innings that tries manager’s souls. Mark Ellis led off with an infield hit. Shane Victorino was given the bunt sign. After failing to get the first attempt down, Victorino took a called strike, an event that Victorino seemed unable to fathom. Don Mattingly kept the bunt on and Victorino struck out bunting foul on an attempt that seemed quarter-hearted at best. After Adrian Gonzalez walked to end Lincecum’s night, Sergio Casilla got Kemp to ground out and then struck out Hanley Ramirez.

In the bottom of the seventh, Hector Sanchez singled. Pinch runner Gregor Blanco stole second. Crawford walked. Bruce Bochy then sent Manny Burriss up as a pinch-sacrificer. Burriss did his job. Angel Pagan was purposely passed to load the bases. The question now before the House was: should Josh Beckett stay in the game or should Brandon League come in to pitch to Marco Scutaro?

Beckett stayed in. Scutaro looped a single to right, two runs scored. The Giants would score another run in the eighth, aided by a pair of infield hits.

And now the Dodgers must wait to see how the Cardinals game against the Brewers turns out. It’s tied 4-4 in the 10th as I type this. (There was a lengthy rain delay at the outset.) The Pirates were demolished by the Cubs, 12-2.

Chris Capuano versus Matt Cain Saturday afternoon. Enjoy!

Update: The Brewers beat the Cardinals, 5-4 in 13 innings in a game that ended after 2 am St. Louis time. Ryan Braun’s 39th homer of the season was the decider. The Cardinals remain 1 1/2 games up on the Pirates and Dodgers for the second wild card spot.

Also, more surprisingly, the Cubs stay alive for another day!

Sep 28

A world of laughter, a world of tears

It’s a little funny to end a night at the Happiest Place on Earth and find you’ve been missing the Greatest Night in Baseball History.

Wow.

I will admit I saw .108-hitting Dan Johnson on MLB Gameday hit the game-tying homer in Tampa Bay on my phone just after the parade on Main Street ended, but otherwise, I’ll leave the coverage of the night’s events to those who saw them. I hope you were among them.

In the meantime, congrats to Matt Kemp on his 39/40, MVP season, congrats to Kenley Jansen on his MLB-record 16.1 strikeouts per nine innings, congrats to the Dodgers for finishing their season stunningly strong (and without a bad taste in our mouths from another final-inning collapse) with a 7-5 victory tonight in Arizona, congrats to Dee Gordon, Jerry Sands, James Loney and Ted Lilly for their rip-roaring Septembers, and a laurel and hearty handshake to Eugenio Velez, the new Sheriff of Rock Ridge.

Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting and being part of the Dodger Thoughts family this season, from near and from far — it was, as always, a pleasure — and get ready for the offseason. It all starts Thursday.

Sep 27

Season’s partings

The offseason was calling, and I needed to answer.

It was Back to School Night tonight at my eldest kids’ elementary school, so I missed the first part of tonight’s Dodger game. Then, when we got home, the place was a mess, the two big kids were hopped up on Wii, our youngest had a stomachache. And this was all before we found out he stuck a tiny bead up his nose.

Before I became a parent, I used to hate to see the baseball season end. I recall watching the Marlins-Indians World Series back in ’97 (I’m not looking the details up, but I think I’ve got ‘em right) in my bachelor apartment – Game 7, extra innings, a thrilling, exhausting night, long after the Dodgers had bid farewell to the year – and being in disbelief that there wasn’t more coming the next day, let alone the next year.

Now, the offseason comes as a relief. An exhale. It’s not that I have stopped enjoying the game, but it really takes the pressure off when the Dodgers pack it up. (It’s not that I don’t watch any postseason games, but I can watch as much or as little as I want, completely passively.) I’m pulled in so many different directions that it’s nice to have one of them release me.

Especially now. My kids haven’t been at their best lately. When you’re already questioning your parenting as much as I was today, you don’t feel good about parking yourself in front of the TV and the computer before their bedtime.

So don’t tell my bosses, but even though I knew I had plans Wednesday evening that would prevent me from seeing the Dodgers’ final game of the season, I didn’t turn tonight’s game on. Not until the last kid was asleep, not until my wife and I scarfed down a 9:15 p.m. meal of McDonald’s while watching “New Girl,” not until I had spent another halfhour talking to my wife about how out of control things seemed.

The game should have been over by the time I had lumbered upstairs, where I planned to put the finishing touches on a post I have planned for Thursday, the first day of Dodger winter, but according to MLB Gameday on my cellphone, it was the 10th inning. And even then, I wasn’t going to turn the game on – the only reason I did was that I realized after a few moments that this would be my last chance to hear Vin Scully for the rest of the year.

The first play I saw was a baseball that hit, in rapid succession, the swinging bat of A.J. Ellis, the right-field wall at Arizona’s Chase Field and the face of Diamondbacks rightfielder Justin Upton.

Upton slumped as the ball ricocheted away from him. He had suffered a concussion, I believe, thanks to a Tim Lincecum pitch Sunday, and what I gathered is that it was all he could do not to curl up into the fetal position. But Ellis was running, and the ball was rolling, and Upton realized after a palpable few seconds that the play hadn’t stopped. He had to get up and keep going.

Ellis made it to third base with a triple (a career first, I’d predict, or maybe his second – but again, I’m not looking it up), driving in two runs to give the Dodgers a 6-1 lead in the 10th inning. Upton was walked off the field to the Arizona clubhouse, where he’ll essentially remain, I suspect, until the National League Division Series begins.

I stuck with Vin for the remainder of the game, which went not completely unlike the 4+1 game from five years ago. Javy Guerra, who had been warming up before Ellis’ triple, sat down. Blake Hawksworth, in the role of Jon Adkins, entered in Guerra/Trevor Hoffman’s place, but got in trouble – starting with two out and the bases empty – when he was late covering first base on a grounder to James Loney. Guerra ended up coming into the game anyway, like Hoffman did, and it ended with a game-winning grand slam by Ryan Roberts.

Los Angeles had scored five runs in the 10th inning and lost. And also, this: Matt Kemp had entered the game with a three-homer lead on Prince Fielder for 2011, and had been tied.

The Dodgers have played too well of late and Kemp has played too well all season for me to have any ill feelings about tonight’s result. It’s just one of those things, and honestly, the timing could have been a lot worse. And also, I’ve just had too many other worries. It’s still strange for me to say, but I feel the Dodgers have given me more pleasure than I had a right to expect this summer. With Kemp and Kershaw in particular, it’s been a season with heights that I’m not sure I’ll experience again for a long time.

I need to get my parenting legs back, though, and I’m hopeful the changing of the seasons will help.

Sep 26

Kemp looks like Double Crown winner, Dodgers clinch winning season

And so, reluctantly, I shift gears away from the Triple Crown.

Matt Kemp hit a mammoth 38th home run in the first inning for the Dodgers in their 4-2 victory over Arizona tonight, putting him one up on Albert Pujols in homers and eight ahead of Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard in RBI with two games to play. But he made three subsequent outs, lowering his batting average to .324 while Jose Reyes (.33396) was going 3 for 4 and Ryan Braun (.33393) hit a pinch-hit double. (How’s that for a close race, by the way?)

It’s not impossible for Kemp to come back in the batting race, in the sense that he could go something like 10 for 10 in a 20-inning game Tuesday, while the other guys had big giant 0-fers, but it’s getting a bit dicey.

A 40/40 season of homers and steals, on the other hand, remains very much alive, as does of course the National League Most Valuable Player trophy.

And then there’s the chance of having the best non-Tommy Davis season for RBI in Los Angeles Dodger history. As of now:

153 Tommy Davis, 1962
125 Shawn Green, 2001
124 Mike Piazza, 1997
123 Matt Kemp, 2011
121 Adrian Beltre, 2004

* * *

Dana Eveland bounced back from two sub-par starts to shut out Arizona over 5 2/3 innings, with Josh Lindblom striking out Paul Goldschmidt for the final out in the sixth to strand three baserunners. And Justin Sellers took a break from a 7-for-63 slump (with six walks) by singling home a run in the seventh inning to give Los Angeles a 4-0 lead.

Then, kookiness kame.

In the eighth, Nathan Eovaldi walked the bases loaded with one out in his first action since September 17. Scott Elbert relieved, and a run scored on a passed ball by A.J. Ellis. After Elbert issued the fourth walk of the inning, Mike MacDougal relieved and got an eight-pitch strikeout of Goldschimdt, but then delivered walk No. 5 (“That’s called a low five,” Vin Scully said) to Geoff Blum for the second run. Finally, Dodger nemesis Gerardo Parra flied out to end the inning.

With Javy Guerra pitching in the ninth, Dee Gordon (2 for 4) threw away John McDonald’s grounder for an error, then juggled a potential double-play toss from Sellers and was lucky to a) get a force and b) not get hurt by the oncoming McDonald.

Ryan Roberts did something rather unexpected, trying to bunt for a base hit, and was thrown out easily for the second out. Aaron Hill popped to Kemp in center, and the Dodgers had their victory.

The 2011 Los Angeles Dodgers have done something few, if anyone, expected this summer. With two games to play and an 81-78 record, they have clinched a winning record.

Sep 25

Kershaw wraps up Cy Young-worthy campaign


Kent C. Horner/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw allowed a walk, a single, a double, a triple and a home run in 7 1/3 innings.

Having provided joy to the world, the fishes and the deep blue sea all season long, Clayton Kershaw can expect a little joy for himself: the National League Cy Young Award.

If Jeremiah was a bullfrog and Orel was a bulldog, Clayton is the whole hog.

Kershaw put the final touches on his portfolio today, finishing his 2011 campaign with a 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts, both of which lead the league, while winning his 21st game in the Dodgers’ 6-2 victory over San Diego – all but ensuring himself the pitcher’s triple crown.

(It was the Dodgers’ 80th victory of the year, putting them one away from a winning season.)

Today for Philadelphia, Roy Halladay pitched six shutout innings, striking out three, to finish at 19-6, 2.35 with 220 strikeouts. Cliff Lee, scheduled to pitch Monday for the Phillies, has allowed 60 earned runs in 226 2/3 innings for a 2.38 ERA with 232 strikeouts. He needs 16 strikeouts to match Kershaw, and would need to pitch at least 10 2/3 shutout innings to beat him for the major-league ERA title.

So short of Ian Kennedy making a relief appearance against the Dodgers on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday and stealing a 22nd win, the triple crown belongs to Kershaw, who also leads the National League in park-adjusted ERA.

Meanwhile, though he didn’t reach 250 strikeouts and catch Justin Verlander for the major-league lead, Kershaw finished 2011 with the most strikeouts in Los Angeles Dodger history in a season since Sandy Koufax retired (per the Dodger press notes):

382 Sandy Koufax, 1965
317 Sandy Koufax, 1966
306 Sandy Koufax, 1963
269 Sandy Koufax, 1961
251 Don Drysdale, 1963
248 Clayton Kershaw, 2011

* * *

Kershaw retired the first eight batters he faced today on 29 pitches, striking out four of the eight, before an inexplicable walk to Padres pitcher Cory Luebke, but Kershaw struck out Cameron Maybin to end the third inning.

In the fourth, Kershaw allowed his first hit, a line single by Nick Hundley, but immediately picked him off – Kershaw’s 10th pickoff of the season, according to Vin Scully.

Chris Park/APKershaw is congratulated as he leaves the field for the last time in 2011.

The Padres finally scored against Kershaw in the fifth inning, when Aaron Cunningham hit a no-doubt homer with the bases empty and two out in the fifth. It was Cunningham’s third homer this season and sixth in his career.

Aaron Miles made two plays to take away San Diego hits, highlighted by a spectacular diving stop of a second-inning shot by Orlando Hudson that would have been a double. In the fifth, Miles charged less gracefully on a slow Alberto Gonzalez grounder and threw late to first, but the Dodgers’ got the generous call.

Retiring the side in order in the sixth and seventh innings on 25 tosses, Kershaw entered the final two innings having thrown only 82 pitches. But in the eighth, the two players robbed by Miles got their revenge. Hudson got his overdue double to lead off the inning, then scored the Padres’ second run on Gonzalez’s triple one out later to cut the Dodgers’ lead to 6-2.

Don Mattingly came to the mound, and we bid farewell to Kershaw for 2011.

Kenley Jansen relieved Kershaw, and just as he did against the Giants on Tuesday, he struck out both batters he faced. That put Jansen at 16.10 strikeouts per nine innings this season, making him at this point the all-time single-season record holder in that category with three games remaining in 2011. Jansen has struck out 31 of his past 49 batters, including 31 of his past 37 outs.

Javy Guerra pitched the ninth with a four-run lead, so he didn’t get a save, but he did preserve the victory for the magnificent Kershaw.

* * *

On the Triple Crown and Most Valuable Player scene, Ryan Braun continued to make it a challenge for Matt Kemp. Braun went 2 for 3, including his 33rd home run, in Milwaukee’s rout of Florida, boosting his batting average to .333 and giving anyone leaning toward him for MVP that much more ammunition.

Jeffrey Phelps/APRyan Braun went 5 for 10 with a walk and 14 total bases in three games against Florida.

Jose Reyes, meanwhile, went 2 for 4 to improve his batting average to .331.

Kemp got off to a good start, with a double to the left-center gap that raised his average to .326 and drove home Jamey Carroll with RBI No. 120.  But then fortune stopped smiling.

  • In the third inning, Kemp hit a sky-high ball to the warning track in right-center field that Scully said would have been a home run in Dodger Stadium.
  • In the fifth, Kemp reached first on a slow roller that went under the glove of Padres third baseman Alberto Gonzalez, a ball that the official scorer seemed to correctly call an error, though some tweets from the press box indicated that the decision would be reconsidered after the game.
  • In the seventh, Kemp struck out against reliever Luke Gregerson on three pitches, leaving him .008 behind Braun.
  • In the ninth, granted an extra at-bat when Rod Barajas hit an eighth-inning home run to give the Dodgers a 6-1 lead, Kemp struck out again.

Kemp did come away with the 18th season of at least 120 RBI in Dodger history.

It’s not over for Kemp, however, as far as the Triple Crown. An 0 for 4 from Braun would knock three points off his batting average in one day – if Kemp can rev up his bat in Arizona, he’s back in business.

Sep 24

Padres shut out Dodgers, Kemp 1 for 4

Not that I’m watching every Ryan Braun or Jose Reyes at-bat to see how close their outs were to becoming hits, but Matt Kemp has missed some close ones this weekend in San Diego.

The latest came in the sixth inning tonight, when Kemp hit a 400-foot drive to center that was caught at the wall – a vintage Petco Park out.

Braun, 2 for 3 with Milwaukee, leapfrogged Jose Reyes in the batting title race and put a hair more distance tonight between himself and Kemp, who singled in the first inning but was hitless in his final three at-bats, the last one a 4-6-3 double play (hit to Orlando Hudson, positioned almost directly behind second base) against Padres closer Heath Bell, who finished off San Diego’s 3-0 victory over the Dodgers.

After no-hitting the Dodgers for six innings in July, Aaron Harang pitched shutout ball against Los Angeles for eight tonight. In his past 14 innings against the team, Harang has allowed no runs, three hits and three walks with 11 strikeouts.

James Loney, Jerry Sands and Dee Gordon had the Dodgers’ other hits. Sands, interestingly, had his 15th double – putting him fifth on the team for the entire season despite barely having 200 plate appearances.

* * *

In his final start of 2011, Chad Billingsley had a one-hit shutout for 4 2/3 innings, then with two runners on, threw a 66 mph curveball to Will Venable that shocked Vin Scully with its lollipopness. Venable delivered an RBI single, Hudson followed with another RBI single and then a Tim Federowicz throwing error brought home a third Padre run. Billingsley hit Cameron Maybin in the back with a 3-2 pitch before getting out of the inning on a Chase Headley groundout.

Something to remember before throwing Billingsley under a bus, besides the ongoing worry (at least on my end) that there’s a physical problem: A year ago at this time, Kemp was wrapping up a disappointing year. People do bounce back. Billingsley had a rough second half in 2009, and came back strong in 2010 with a 3.57 ERA.

That being said, the decline in Billingsley’s strikeout stuff remains distressing.

Sep 23

Kemp ties Pujols in homers, but loses ground to Braun in MVP race?


Lenny Ignelzi/APThe Bison roams free.

In St. Louis, Albert Pujols had a double, but no home runs.

In Milwaukee, Ryan Braun was 0 for 3, extending his recent slump to 1 for 16.

But then in the bottom of the eighth inning against the Marlins, with the score tied 1-1, Braun hit a three-run home run that, in no particular order, helped clinch the National League Central for the Brewers, raised his batting average back to .329 and seized the headlines in the NL Most Valuable Player race all at once.

Matt Kemp had struck out and flied out in his first two at-bats, and perhaps the momentum seemed to be shifting.

But then, on his 27th birthday, with his mom in the front row of Petco Park, Kemp unloaded on a 1-2 fastball from San Diego lefty Wade Le Blanc and tattooed it to right-center field, tying Pujols with his 37th home run of the season in the Dodgers’ 2-0 victory over the Padres.

This is as thrilling a finish to an after-they’ve-been-eliminated season for the Dodgers as I believe I’ve witnessed.

After missing a double by a foot on a hard liner that went foul, Kemp struck out in his final at-bat. We’re going down to the wire for sure.

* * *

After 6 1/3 scoreless innings by a resurgent Ted Lilly (six baserunners, seven strikeouts) and an adequate two outs from Mike MacDougal, Kenley Jansen came in for the eighth inning.

He struck out all three batters he faced, of course. That gives him 91 in 51 1/3 innings this season, or 15.96 per nine innings – just .03 off Carlos Marmol’s single-season record.

Jansen has struck out 29 of his past 47 batters, including 29 of his past 37 outs.

* * *

Eugenio Velez: 0 for 3, 0 for 36 in 2011 (a single-season record for non-pitchers), 0 for 45. He has tied the major-league record for consecutive hitless at-bats by non-pitchers.

Sep 22

‘Unreal’ Kemp hits three doubles and 36th homer

“That’s not a bat he uses – that’s a magic wand.”
– Vin Scully

NL batting average leaders
.330 Ryan Braun
.329 Jose Reyes
.326 Matt Kemp

NL home run leaders
37 Albert Pujols
36 Matt Kemp
35 Dan Uggla

NL runs batted in leaders
118 Matt Kemp
113 Ryan Howard
112 Prince Fielder

Hiroki Kuroda deserves his due, but I’m sorry – I can’t think of anything else right now.

Kemp homered to dead center in his final at-bat of the game. A Dee Gordon caught stealing in the sixth might have cost him the at-bat, but Gordon walked in the eighth to give Kemp that last chance.

This was the 14th time that a Dodger had at least four extra-base hits in a game.

Sep 21

Despite loss, Triple Crown chase heats up for Kemp

Harry How/Getty ImagesMatt Kemp watches the ball head toward the outfield bleachers …
Mark J. Terrill/AP… after this home-run swing in the Dodgers’ 8-5 loss to the Giants tonight.

NL batting average leaders
.330 Jose Reyes
.330 Ryan Braun
.322 Matt Kemp

NL home run leaders
36 Albert Pujols
35 Matt Kemp
35 Dan Uggla

NL runs batted in leaders
116 Matt Kemp
113 Ryan Howard
112 Prince Fielder

Promise: When ballplayers vote for Most Valuable Sportswriter, they will give equal consideration to writers from average publications that aren’t contending for the title.

Sep 20

Hoop, there it is: Kershaw wins 20th

If you’re a fish, one place you never want to be is in a barrel, because folks with deadly aim, like Clayton Kershaw, are always shooting at you.

But tonight, I’m going to grant clemency to our underwater friends and describe Clayton Kershaw’s dominance in a different way.

Free throws.

Unlike basketball, baseball isn’t supposed to have free throws. Every action on the diamond that affects or prevents scoring is contested. Theoretically.

But in what is looking more like a Cy Young Award-winning season at age 23, punctuated by tonight’s 2-1 victory over Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants, Kershaw has become Calvin Murphy at the line. You can wave bats or banners in his face or jump up and down in a rainbow wig, and Kershaw just sets, shoots and swishes.

In fact, it has become so seemingly automatic for Kershaw, whose latest incredible feat is besting Lincecum an unfathomable four times out of four (with an 0.33 ERA) in this 20-win  season, the first by a Dodger since Ramon Martinez in 1990, that it wouldn’t surprise if Kershaw started tossing ball after ball through the home-plate hoop underhanded like Rick Barry. Or maybe you’re a fan of Harlem Globetrotter-style trickery, which Kershaw displayed by picking off two of the  runners that reached base against him.

You can foul him, you can freeze him, you can drive at him or away from him, but you can not faze this Clayton Kershaw. Sometime soon, he’s going to go to his mailbox and find a package from George Gervin containing the nickname “Ice.” 

“With my compliments,” the note will say. 

It’s understood, as if stipulated in court, that Kershaw brings no-hit stuff to every game. When San Francisco leadoff man Andres Torres reached base on a first-inning grounder that Miles backhanded but threw awry, the official scoring was an error, justified in part by the play and in part by an obvious desire not to preempt history. When, one batter after Torres was caught stealing, Carlos Beltran got the game’s first hit with a limp bird of a knock over shortstop, the “oh, please” sigh was perceptible throughout Dodger Stadium.

Kershaw only allowed one runner to reach third base in his first seven innings, mostly dominating Giants hitters while occasionally turning them into tourist patsies called on stage by a Vegas hypnotist. The slow, 74 mph curveball, more a part of Kershaw lore (his Rat Pack days) than his fastball-slider headlining present, was reprised like Sinatra calling back “My Way,” swooning Torres to end the third inning and Brett Pill in the midst of a perfect seventh.

So what happened in the eighth inning? Murphy missed 419 free throws in his 13-year NBA career, so occasionally one inning does go clank. After Kershaw retired Justin Christian, Giants catcher Chris Stewart homered just over the wall in left-center to spoil the lefty’s shutout. The next two batters, pinch-hitter Pat Burrell and Torres, walked, and suddenly seemingly everything was in jeopardy, and you remembered that Kershaw had turned baseball into a free-throw exhibition because he kind of had to. The margin for error with this Dodger team has been that small.

They say when you pull a pitcher from a game, as Kershaw was by Don Mattingly at that point after 115 pitches, “his night is done.” But as Kershaw sat in the dugout watching intently while Kenley Jansen replaced him, his night was not done. Not in his mind, not in the Dodgers’ minds, not in the minds of the Dodger Stadium announced crowd of 32,526 — an essentially legit account for once not of empty seats but of people, making as much noise as has been heard at this ballpark all season — and not in the minds of the legions of Dodger fans following the game from near and far, desperately willing Kershaw closer to victory and his postseason prize.

Fortunately, Jansen is the one guy right now who can make Kershaw look like Shaquille O’Neal at the charity stripe. On seven total pitches, the big burly righty struck out Pablo Sandoval and Beltran, giving Jansen a billionty Ks per inning since the All-Star break.

Javy Guerra then overcame his own throwing error to start the ninth by getting Pill to fly out and Aubrey Huff to hit into a 3-6-3 double play, and it was over. 

Cut down the nets and drape them around Kershaw’s neck. The Dodgers are not champions, but he is. There are so many ways to compliment Clayton Kershaw that, well … fish, be on your guard.

Sep 17

Loney living large with another homer in Dodgers’ 6-1 rout


Gus Ruelas/APJames Loney isn’t trying to make Aaron Miles feel small; he’s just feeling big after hitting another three-run homer.

Just to illustrate the kind of season it’s been for James Loney: On April 24, his on-base percentage and slugging percentage combined were .403.

Tonight, after hitting a three-run homer for the second consecutive at-bat (in the first inning) and then doubling in the third of the Dodgers’ 6-1 victory over Pittsburgh, Loney’s slugging percentage by itself was .402, rising above .400 for the first time since Opening Day.

There’s no changing that this has been a disappointing year for Loney, who is still down in the low .700s for OPS, but I’ll take this version of Loney over the guy who started the season.

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com suggested late Friday that Loney’s turnaround might be attributable to the July change in Dodger hitting coaches – his OPS is near .900 since Dave Hansen took over – but Loney’s been on the upswing since late April, posting a .357 on-base percentage and .432 slugging percentage in 443 plate appearances between April 25 and tonight’s game. Those figures are actually superior to the .341/.409 that encompasses Loney’s output from 2008-2010.

What does this mean for 2012? Well, you don’t have to fear that Loney is a player in decline at age 27. (At least not as much: until he hit the home run tonight, Loney’s career slugging marks had dipped every season since he reached the majors in 2006.) It still doesn’t assure you that he’s a proper major-league first baseman at the plate, but it certainly increases the possibility that the Dodgers will bet on the stability at the position for at least one more year, while taking the chance on the hope that he still might have a breakout season in him.

Taking away nothing from Jayson Stark, I don’t see Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder wearing a Dodger uniform next season. (Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness has a much longer look at this.) That doesn’t mean Loney is guaranteed to return, but he has elevated his status from guaranteed goner. For the nothing-if-not-likeable first baseman, progress.

* * *

  • Matt Kemp scored his 100th run and stole his 40th base tonight. According to The Associated Press, he is the first player in franchise history with at least 40 steals, 100 runs scored, 100 RBIs and 30 home runs.
  • Tim Federowicz drove in his first career run and has reached base in five of nine plate appearances so far.
  • Jerry Sands went 3 for 4 and has a .425 on-base percentage in September (40 plate appearances).
  • Ted Lilly pitched seven innings of one-run ball on 97 pitches, allowing six baserunners and striking out seven. The Pirates had neither a homer nor a steal against him.
  • Kenley Jansen struck out both batters he faced, improving his strikeouts per nine innings to 15.72 as he aims to catch Carlos Marmol’s single-season record of 15.99. Jansen has struck out 23 of the last 38 batters he has faced and has 23 strikeouts in his last 29 outs.
  • Juan Rivera hit the second of two homers that spoiled the homecoming of James McDonald (three innings, five runs).
  • The Dodgers improved to 75-76 in their first game since Atlanta ended Los Angeles’ 2011 postseason hopes for good.
Sep 16

October looms large for Dodgers after all

The Dodgers beat the Pirates tonight, 7-2, to keep their playoff hopes alive for at least another night. But no matter what happens on the field between now and the end of the regular season September 28, there’s a big postseason showdown on tap for the Dodgers in October.

On October 12, Frank McCourt’s attorneys will formally ask the federal bankruptcy court that is overseeing the Dodgers to permit negotiations and possibly an auction for the franchise’s local television rights for 2014 and beyond. Should the court grant the request, it will pave the way for McCourt to retain ownership of the Dodgers – at least until Frank-Jamie II takes place in the courts sometime in the spring or summer of 2012.

Interested parties – Major League Baseball in particular – can and probably will file objections to the Dodgers’ request until September 30. The bankruptcy court’s first duty is to the creditors whom the Dodgers owe; what’s up in the air is whether MLB can make the case that there’s a better way to do this than by giving McCourt the chance to save his ownership – while further mortgaging the franchise’s future – through the future rights sale.

From The Associated Press:

… In a 37-page motion filed Friday with U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross, the Dodgers say “market conditions are optimal for licensing the telecast rights because the market for sports media rights in Los Angeles is vibrant at this time.”

The Dodgers say “there can be no assurance that these ideal market conditions will last” and they should be allowed to sell rights now “to avoid any risk of deterioration in value.” …

One argument against McCourt is that MLB commissioner Bud Selig is supposed to be able to approve any TV rights deal, and that McCourt shouldn’t be rewarded for steering the Dodgers into bankruptcy by being allowed to circumvent the sport’s chieftain. Whether that argument will hold any sway with Judge Gross, I don’t know.

Bill Shaikin has more in the Times, where he also passes along the news that the Dodgers are seeking to retain an expensive New York-based public relations firm.

… The two primary spokespersons (from the firm) charge $750 and $400 per hour, according to the filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

“Much of the media reporting on off-field issues has been inaccurate or misleading, and LAD requires a seasoned communications firm such as Kekst to better ensure that media coverage of LAD is more evenhanded and accurate going forward,” according to the filing, using the “LAD” abbreviation for the Dodgers.

The filing does not include any examples of inaccurate or misleading coverage. …

As far as I’m concerned, you can take this as another example of how deluded or desperate McCourt is – and no, the new PR firm won’t change my negative thinking on this. As Molly Knight of ESPN the Magazine tweeted:

What makes McCourt’s media blaming so laughable is the best stuff we got was straight from his mouth in public court filings. Amnesia maybe?

You can’t file mountains of court documents crying poverty to get out of paying spousal support and not expect fans to think you are broke.

* * *

In other inspiring news, Jonathan Broxton will have surgery Monday, 4 1/2 months after he last pitched for the Dodgers, to remove a bone spur and some chips, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

… Although Broxton’s bone bruise had improved dramatically, Dodgers medical director Stan Conte said the spur and loose bodies were the cause of repeated setbacks Broxton suffered in his effort to return, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly saying earlier this week that club officials no longer expected Broxton to pitch this season.

Broxton underwent what Conte said were “three or four” MRIs on the elbow during the season, but Conte said the chips were revealed only after Broxton underwent a CT scan, which was ordered when he experienced mild discomfort earlier this week during his first bullpen session in several weeks.

“CT scans normally aren’t done on elbows,” Conte said. “But we just wanted to make sure the bone bruise wasn’t turning into microfractures.”

The surgery will be performed by team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache, after which Broxton is expected to need four to eight weeks to recover before he can begin throwing again. However, with free agency pending, it is possible Broxton has pitched his final game for the Dodgers, who already have replaced him in the closer’s role with rookie Javy Guerra and might balk at re-signing Broxton this winter to a major league contract. …

The surgery will take place nearly 15 months after Broxton began to lose effectiveness.

Jackson adds that Tony Gwynn Jr. will miss at least the remainder of this weekend’s series with the Pirates because of a jammed shoulder, which first happened last week in Washington and was aggravated Wednesday against Arizona.

* * *

Back on the field, the Dodgers came back strong tonight after Hiroki Kuroda allowed an unearned second-inning run, scoring once in the bottom of the second, twice in the third and four times in the sixth, capped by James Loney’s first career pinch-hit home run, a three-run blast that enabled him to reach 10 on the season.

Dee Gordon made his ninth error in his 45th game of the season, but had two hits and stole his 20th and 21st bases. Kuroda gave up a sixth-inning home run to Alex Presley (whom Vin Scully’s wife thinks looks like Tom Cruise, Scully told us), but was otherwise unscored upon. He allowed five hits, walked two and struck out seven.

Scully also passed along a story that warmed my heart: Rod Barajas chose uniform No. 28 with the Dodgers because of how much his mother loved Pedro Guerrero in the 1980s.

Sep 15

Ohlendorfed

It’s only been six years, Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. found, since the Dodgers gave up at least four home runs in one season to opposing pitchers, which reduces some of the astonishment over Ross Ohlendorf hitting a three-run blast tonight to catapult the Pirates to a 6-2 victory over Los Angeles that eliminated the Dodgers from the 2011 National League West race.

Some of the astonishment, but not all. Ohlendorf was 7 for 100 in his career with no extra-base hits when he hit his blast off Dana Eveland in the second inning to break a 1-1 tie.

It was a come-back-to-Earth game for Eveland, although he pitched shutout ball in four of his five innings. But even though the Dodgers scored a run off Ohlendorf in the first inning after only two batters (Dee Gordon single and steal, Justin Sellers double), the home team was no match for the pitcher who entered the game with 22 earned runs allowed in 24 2/3 innings this season.

After falling behind by four, the Dodgers did get the tying run to the plate in the ninth after a single by Jerry Sands and walks by Russ Mitchell (who hit his second home run of the year and fourth out of 12 career hits) and Tim Federowicz (who got his first major-league hit earlier in the game and reached base three times). But pinch-hitter Aaron Miles flied out to end it.

The Dodgers are 1-4 since reaching the .500 mark Saturday. Ohlendorf won his first game since July 2010, noted Kenny Shulsen of Lasorda’s Lair. He was 1-13 with a 4.80 ERA over the 2010-11 seasons entering tonight’s game.

* * *

  • Jonathan Broxton’s agent, BB Abbott, to Dylan Hernandez of the Times, “The days of Jonathan Broxton throwing 99 and 100 (mph) might be over. But I think he can reinvent himself. He’s still going to be 93-97. … He’s relied on one thing and that’s power. … He’s going to have to be a chameleon. It might be a power slider or a power cutter. He’s going to have to transition.”
  • An MRI on Hiroki Kuroda’s neck was negative, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com, and the righty will start Friday’s game.
  • Congrats to Shawn Tolleson and Scott Van Slyke, who were named the Dodgers’ minor-league pitcher and player of the year.
Sep 14

Lindblom steps up in Kershaw’s absence, Dodgers win

Coming in from the cold after Clayton Kershaw’s ejection, Dodger reliever Josh Lindblom struck out the side in the sixth inning and added two more Ks in the seventh, pushing the Dodgers toward their 3-2 victory over Arizona tonight.

With Javy Guerra getting a night of rest, the Dodgers turned to Nathan Eovaldi for the eighth inning and Kenley Jansen to close. Eovaldi surrendered a run in an inning that saw Jerry Sands failing to make one diving catch on Ryan Roberts’ double, but then going to the wall to haul in a long fly by bete noire Gerardo Parra. Importantly, the Dodgers got the run back in the bottom of the eighth on an RBI single by Aaron Miles, driving in Matt Kemp (who stole his 39th base).

Jansen then gave up a leadoff single to Aaron Hill but struck out the next two batters. Hill took second on defensive indifference (no comment), then scored on Miguel Montero’s single to left. It was only the second run that Jansen had allowed in 27 innings since the end of May.

Jansen put things to bed, however, by striking out Chris Young, giving him 83 in 48 innings this season (15.56 per nine innings).

Sep 13

Dodgers, Kershaw ornery in 5-4 loss

Don Mattingly did the right thing by having Javy Guerra pitch the ninth inning with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks tied, 4-4, in the ninth inning Tuesday.

But after following his perfect ninth by coming back out for the 10th inning, Guerra ran out of gas. With two out and two on, Guerra walked Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Young on eight total pitches, forcing in the winning run for the Diamondbacks in a 5-4 victory.

Guerra ended up throwing 38 pitches in taking the first loss of his career, one in which Arizona rallied from a 4-2 first-inning deficit.

Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesDon Newcombe hugs Matt Kemp after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday.

Dodger starting pitcher Chad Billingsley had a mixed outing. He gave up a two-run home run to cleanup-hitting catcher Miguel Montero with two out in the first inning and another run on three baserunners in the third inning. He then retired 11 of his final 12 batters, leaving the game with the bases empty with one out in the seventh inning.

So it was a pretty nice salvage job for Billingsley, but there still has to be concern. He struck out only two batters, meaning that over his past nine starts, he’s averaging 3.33 strikeouts per game, with almost exactly that many walks. Something still isn’t right.

Nevertheless, the Dodgers put Billingsley in position for the win – while also perhaps putting a nail in the coffin of Ian Kennedy’s Cy Young Award chances – by scoring four runs in the bottom of the first inning off the Arizona starter. Dee Gordon doubled to lead off the game, and Justin Sellers blooped him to third. Matt Kemp hit a sacrifice fly, before James Loney, Aaron Miles and Jerry Sands (2 for 2 with two walks, on base in seven of his past eight plate appearances) each followed with RBI hits.

But the Dodger offense had no runs on four hits and three walks over the final nine innings of the game, which was rather lackadaisical while Billingsley and Kennedy were in there –  and rather heated right after they left.

After striking out pinch-hitter Collin Cowgill, reliever Hong-Chih Kuo threw a first pitch to Gerardo Parra high and inside, forcing the Arizona leadoff hitter to duck out of the way. Parra acted as if he thought Kuo (who has not exactly been masterful with his location this season) was headhunting with the tying run at the plate.

Parra soon took a 3-1 pitch over the fence in right-center field to deadlock the game, and in doing so did that stand-and-watch thing that’s become so popular with the kids nowadays. This infuriated folks in the Dodger dugout, perhaps no one more than Clayton Kershaw, who will be starting Wednesday’s game.

If you’ll recall, Kershaw was ejected and suspended last summer for a retaliatory shot at the Giants’ Aaron Rowand, and all I want to say to the Dodgers’ young Cy Young candidate is that my friend, Gerardo Parra is not worth your time. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone – not now.