Aug 23

Mas Barajas: Catcher crushes Cards in 13-2 Dodger rout

So, Rod Barajas has raised his all-time Dodger slugging percentage without Dioner Navarro as a teammate to .681.

Barajas had 10 total bases tonight, a season high for the Dodgers, hitting two home runs and a double and driving in four runs in Los Angeles’ second highest scoring output of the season, 13-2 over St. Louis.

Matt Kemp got the Dodgers going in the first inning with a three-run home run, the MVP candidate’s 29th of the season, and later added a double of his own. Justin Sellers contributed two doubles and a single.

And while there was an emergency pitcher on this Dodger road trip, it wasn’t James Loney but rather the Cardinals’ Skip Schumacher, who struck out Trent Oeltjen to start the ninth inning but later surrendered a home run to Aaron Miles (career ERA 3.60) before finishing off his inning.

Clayton Kershaw … well, shoot, he needed 108 sweaty pitches just to get through his six innings of shutout ball, so what good is he? Just good enough to lower his ERA to 2.51 (third in the majors) and reach 200 strikeouts for the second consecutive season, the first Dodger to do that since Chan Ho Park in 2000-01, notes Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. He’s also the first under-24 pitcher since Dwight Gooden to reach 200 two years in a row, wrote Steve Dilbeck of the Times.  Kershaw trails Justin Verlander for the major-league lead in strikeouts, 212-207.

After pitching two scoreless innings, Blake Hawsworth was given the chance to preserve the shutout with a three-inning save – trying to become the eighth Dodger with a save this season – but loaded the bases before allowing a run-scoring double play. Hong-Chih Kuo gave up an RBI single before notching the final out.

Aug 22

A pair to remember: Dodgers score two in ninth to edge Cards

Ah, 2009 National League Championship Series Game 2, I remember you well.

The stakes weren’t the same (I feel like I’ve made that point a lot lately), but given the alternative, it was a nice surprise to see the Dodgers rally after eight innings of tough pitching and score two in the ninth inning – just as they did in that wonderful twilight at  Dodger Stadium two years ago – for a 2-1 victory over St. Louis.

One out after Juan Rivera was hit by Chris Carpenter’s final pitch of the night and Justin Sellers pinch-ran, Aaron Miles absolutely ripped a Fernando Salas pitch to the gap in right-center field for a game-tying triple. The next batter, Rod Barajas, hit a grounder to Rafael Furcal, who had just come in the game at the top of the inning despite his injured thumb. With the infield in, Furcal tried to backhand the ball, dropped it, picked it up, then threw wide of home, allowing Miles to score the go-ahead run.

Javy Guerra, in his first game since blowing a save in Colorado, started out by inducing a pop out from Albert Pujols, before retiring Corey Patterson for the second out. Then, old friend Furcal hit a 60-foot chopper that was rough enough for an infield single, but John Jay popped to left field to end the game.

Nathan Eovaldi allowed only one run – on Lance Berkman’s second-inning home run – in his five innings, completing his outing by retiring David Freese with runners on second and third. (Rivera made a nice play right before that to keep Daniel Descalso from scoring on Skip Schumaker’s double.) Josh Lindblom, Scott Elbert, Matt Guerrier and Guerra each pitched an inning of relief, and Furcal was the only one of 13 batters in that stretch to reach base.

James Loney went 3 for 4, making him 7 for 8 in his past two games.

Aug 21

Dodgers throw three-hitter in Coors Field but lose

In its history, Colorado had only two home victories with three or fewer hits before today:

  • August 18, 1999: Rockies score four runs on three hits, beat Braves 4-1.
  • May 25, 2008: Rockies score four runs on three hits, beat Mets 4-1.

Say hi to the third:

Dodgers 3 8 1
Rockies 5 3 0

Chad Billingsley had two missions today: try to pitch deep into the game to avoid relying on a depleted Dodger bullpen, and keep the Rockies from scoring. He succeeded in the first mission and almost in the second.

After allowing a first-inning, two-run home run to Carlos Gonzalez, Billingsley retired 11 batters in a row at one point and took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning. The Rockies had not had a hit since Gonzalez’s homer. But fighting his control late in the game, Billingsley walked Jason Giambi with one out and then gave up a second, two-run home run, this to Seth Smith.

Colorado then got its fifth run in the eighth inning without any hits at all, thanks to another Bilingsley walk, a throwing error by Dioner Navarro, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly.

Billingsley ended up being charged with five runs on three hits and five walks in 7 2/3 innings, striking out seven.

The Dodgers got the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning after would-be reliever James Loney’s fourth hit of the game (he needed a triple for the cycle). But Navarro struck out for the third time, Rod Barajas lined out as a pinch-hitter and Tony Gwynn Jr. fouled out.

Colorado ended its bizarre streak in which it had lost on 17 consecutive Sundays.

Aug 18

Guerra preserves Dodgers’ 5-1 victory – whew


Morry Gash/APThe Dodgers could see right through Marco Estrada of Milwaukee today.

At the risk of taking Clayton Kershaw for granted, let’s bypass his latest sterling effort — eight shutout innings in the Dodgers’ 5-1 victory over Milwaukee today — and make our periodic foray into a Bullpen Usage 101. Or maybe it should just be Bullpen Usage 1.

Of course, you know the drill by now, the age-old vexation, the pure folly that is refusing to use your top relievers in a tie game in order to preserve them for a save opportunity that might never come. That’s what happened Tuesday, when the Dodgers used the 2011 version of Hong-Chih Kuo and the 21st-century version of Mike MacDougal in a 1-1 ballgame in the bottom of the ninth rather than the Javy Guerra and his scoreless streak of 11 1/3 innings.

[Aside: Kuo was taken out immediately after walking the only batter he faced, Prince Fielder, with Don Mattingly being quoted as saying that he was monitoring Kuo’s usage in an attempt to build his confidence. Now, read that sentence and tell me if you see the logic flaw there.]

Anyway, the Dodgers gave up the run they couldn’t afford to give up Tuesday and lost. Then, when they could afford to give up four runs and still win today, they brought in Guerra and his 1.57 ERA.

For weeks, Mattingly refused to identify Guerra as his closer, but now he’s become so rigid with Guerra that he doesn’t see fit to use him any differently than Jim Tracy used Eric Gagne in his Dodger heyday. And that rigidity itself is ironic, because it was Mattingly’s flexibility in using Guerra as his ninth-inning stopper — ahead of a veteran with saves and All-Star credit like MacDougal — that gave birth to Guerrarama.

That Guerra allowed a run today doesn’t change what the best odds were for the Dodgers.

Someday, managers will stop trying to explain why they think a lead in the 10th is more pressure-filled than a tie game in the ninth, and actually just do the right thing. Mattingly should seize the opportunity to be that man. To paraphrase “Say Anything”: “The world is full of guys. Be a manager.”

* * *

OK, I can’t ignore Kershaw completely.

Kershaw threw only 104 pitches in his eight innings. In the sixth, he was nursing the 1-0 lead that Rod Barajas’ 11th home run of the year provided when the Brewers put runners on first and third with one out, and MVP candidates Ryan Braun and Fielder due up.

The 23-year-old retired each batter on the first pitch to get out of the inning. To do so that economically was something of a fluke, but it sure wasn’t surprising, and it’s that kind of confidence that Kershaw is inspiring that is only adding to his legend.

Kershaw is now at a league-leading 199 strikeouts for the season and five wins away from 20, the latter as cool as it is meaningless. Twenty-three years old.

Aug 17

Eovaldi is u-less but hardly useless

Even though Nathan Eovaldi surrendered the 0-0 tie with his final pitch in the sixth inning of tonight’s 3-1 Dodger loss to Milwaukee, he still has a space among this season’s much-needed pleasant surprises.

Eovaldi gets himself in trouble, walking nine in 17 innings so far, but his 2.12 ERA has been fun nonetheless. As has Josh Lindblom (despite his three bases worth of wild pitches tonight, thanks in no small part to the sloppy catching of Dioner Navarro). As have Scott Elbert and Javy Guerra, and Rubby De La Rosa and Dee Gordon before they got hurt, and Jerry Sands before he was sent back to Albuquerque. Not to mention a small dose of Aaron Miles and Juan Rivera, the strikeout tear of Kenley Jansen, the stately poise of Hiroki Kuroda and, of course, the explosions of Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.

Heck, let’s even throw Tony Gwynn Jr.’s highly unexpected and possibly unauthorized home run tonight into the mix.

What’s your favorite happy surprise of the 2011 Dodger season? If you prefer, pick two, to match the number of runs the Dodgers scored in their three games against the Brewers.

Aug 15

Triple, double, toil and trouble: Dodgers burned, 3-0


Jeffrey Phelps/APMatt Kemp pleads for mercy.

There’s probably no correlation between being on the wrong side of a triple play and being on the wrong side of the pennant race. But poetry doesn’t fret over correlations.

And so you had the Dodgers reentering the world of competitive baseball after that three-day break against Houston, and before the sun set finding themselves poetically on the wrong side of a triple play. On top of that – and this is what lifts tonight’s reading above mere doggerel – you had the Dodgers knocking out a full stanza of double plays, four in all, coda-ized by a game-ending line-drive twin-killing off the bat of Juan Rivera, closing the book on a 3-0 Dodger loss to Milwaukee.

Consider the night Matt Kemp had – ruled out at home to complete the triple play in the second inning, lining into a double play to end the fourth inning and finally helpless when Rivera’s drive went right to Prince Fielder’s glove to end the ninth. Consider that the man who started tonight’s triple play, Josh Wilson, started the last triple play against the Dodgers two years ago. Consider that when baseball witnessed its first 4-6-3-2 triple play since 1973 (see here), the on-deck hitter was Dioner Navarro, who five years ago started and finished baseball’s first 2-6-2 triple play ever.

And seriously, I hazard that if Vin Scully were broadcasting tonight, he would have said he had not seen anything like he had seen tonight, when the Dodgers’ first five innings went like this: double play, triple play, runner (Dioner Navarro) thrown out at home, double play, double play. Overall, Los Angeles had 12 baserunners tonight, and seven of them were eliminated on the basepaths.

But honestly, it wouldn’t have been a 2011 Dodger game if they hadn’t teased the possibility of winning despite it all. The Dodgers trailed only 1-0, thanks to the requisite home run allowed by an otherwise slammin’ Ted Lilly (his 26th), when they avoided the double play and loaded the bases in the top of the seventh inning. But Navarro flied out, and an inning later, the bullpen suffered a lapse that has been relatively rare of late, with Scott Elbert and Mike MacDougal each allowing another solo homer.

You can’t say it wasn’t entertaining. Let’s face it: This game was like a Far Side cartoon.

Aug 14

Just another day in paradise: Dodgers sweep Astros


Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesThe crowd encouraged Justin Sellers to take a curtain call today after his first career home run.

Those involved in the study of contrasts got their Ph. Ds this week if they were following the Dodgers, who followed being swept by the team with the best record in baseball (Philadelphia) with an easy stomping of the team with the worst, Houston.

Today’s 7-0 victory meant the Dodgers held the Astros scoreless in 27 of 28 innings, outscoring them 14-1 and almost matching the three consecutive shutouts Los Angeles threw July 7-9.

Hiroki Kuroda pitched seven shutout innings, striking out six against seven baserunners, three of whom were eliminated by double plays. The highlight was James Loney’s leaping catch of a Carlos Lee line drive, which Loney turned into an unassisted twin-killing. The third double-play came on Kuroda’s 106th pitch of the game and lowered his ERA to 2.88.

Matt Kemp homered for the second game in a row to tie his career high of 28, while Justin Sellers hit his first major-league homer in his third game, a three-run shot in the sixth. Dioner Navarro also homered, as the Dodgers hit a season-high three home runs for the fifth time this season.

Loney singled twice and walked, while Kemp, Navarro and Aaron Miles each reached base twice. Sellers had a nice moment on the Prime Ticket postgame show, taking a shaving-cream pie with grace, then holding his 2-year-old daughter as he completed his interview.

Aug 13

Gwynnin’ and winnin’


Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireTony Gwynn Jr., gettin’ dirty.

Paging Mr. Bubble …

This wrapup of tonight’s 6-1 Dodger victory over Houston will be a brief ode to Tony Gwynn Jr, who by the time you read this should be having a good time getting nice and purty, almost as much fun as he did gettin’ dirty.

Gwynn dove into third base with a triple in the second inning, did a wraparound-the-catcher slide on his belly to score on Kershaw’s fifth-inning squeeze bunt, and stole third in the sixth before coming home on Carlos Corporan’s throwing error. If you could forget about the Dodgers’ record and the fact that it was only the 54th win of the season, this was just a whole lot of fun.

Gwynn all but stole the spotlight from one guy who isn’t used to having it (Justin Sellers, who got his first major-league hit) and two guys who are. Kershaw struck out nine in eight innings and didn’t allow a run until J.D. Martinez’s RBI double in the eighth. The lefty, who allowed six hits and a walk and lowered his ERA to 2.72 while raising his 2011 strikeout total to 193, got the run support he needed with Matt Kemp’s two-run home run in the first inning, Kemp’s 27th of the year.

Both first-inning runs were unearned, thanks to the first of several mistakes Houston made on the field and basepaths that made the Dodgers’ night that much easier. But nothing the Astros did tonight could make things easier for the Dodger clubhouse washing machines.

Aug 12

Dodgers score infinitely more runs than Astros


Danny Moloshok/APLogan White welcomes newest Dodger Chris Reed to Los Angeles before tonight’s game.

Uh-oh or 0-0, it was the Dodgers and the Astros.

Not shockingly, two of the weaker lineups in baseball went into extra innings before they scored a run. Fortunately for the home team, it was Los Angeles that finally scored for a 1-0, 10th-inning victory over Houston.

Dodger rookie Nathan Eovaldi lowered his ERA after two starts to 1.64 with six shutout innings, meaning that 10 of the 11 innings he has pitched in the majors have been scoreless. Tonight, he walked four but allowed only two hits, striking out three.

Eovaldi’s biggest jam was in the fourth inning, when he walked Carlos Lee with first base open to load the bases with one out, but the youngster retired J.D. Martinez and Jimmy Paredes.

But there was similarly little offense behind Evoaldi and one-inning relievers Matt Guerrier (who struck out the side), Mike MacDougal and Javy Guerra. The Dodgers did not get a runner to third base until Rivera’s fourth career triple, just beyond the reach of diving Astros center-fielder Jason Bourgeois, leading off the ninth. Remarkably, even for this offense, the Dodgers didn’t score. After Houston walked James Loney and Dioner Navarro intentionally, Tony Gwynn Jr. struck out, Jamey Carroll weakly grounded into a force at home and Aaron Miles grounded to second.

After another shutout inning by Josh Lindblom to start the 10th, Casey Blake tried to get things going again with a leadoff double sliced down the right-field line. Reliever David Carpenter went 3-1 to Andre Ethier before throwing an intentional ball four, preferring to face the right-handed bat, however dangerous, of Matt Kemp.

(An intentional walk to Kemp to load the bases was an option, even with first base occupied, given that Eugenio Velez was on deck. You know Velez and the fates wanted that opportunity.)

Kemp didn’t hit it hard, but he pushed an 0-2 pitch over first base and down the right-field line as well, and that was it. The Dodgers had completed their rout.

Aug 10

‘Another day older and deeper in debt’


Almost a year to the day after the Dodgers blew a seven-run lead to the Phillies and lose, 10-9, they blow a six-run lead to the Phillies and lose, 9-8.

Last year, the loss was bitter. This year, it feels just like another day among hobos and drifters.

It was more surprising to see the Dodgers build their 5-0 first-inning lead than lose it. Matt Kemp drove in Casey Blake with the first of four hits, moving Andre Ethier to second base and setting up Juan Rivera’s three-run home run, only the Dodgers’ fifth three-run homer of 2011.

And the team wasn’t done, with Dioner Navarro doubling in James Loney. Navarro was thrown out at third base, however, robbing the team of an additional run when Jamey Carroll then tripled.

And go figure, it mattered.

Chad Billingsley’s day got off to an unusual start thanks to a 15-pitch duel with Jimmy Rollins — if a leadoff hitter for either team in a Dodger game has had a longer at-bat, I don’t remember it. Billingsley escaped that and the next two innings unscathed, but the fourth brought a leadoff walk to Ryan Howard, a two-run homer from Hunter Pence and an unearned run thanks to a Loney error.

In the fifth, a Casey Blake error contributed to two more unearned runs, Billingsley exiting after 99 pitches and zero strikeouts (for the fourth time in his career) with the lead reduced to 6-5. The struggling Hong-Chih Kuo got the Dodgers out of that inning, and the Dodgers even extended their lead to two runs on an RBI double from Loney.

But then the invisible roof that has hovered over the Dodgers all season long did its very visible cave-in, with a Howard homer capping a four-run top of the sixth.

The outcome of today’s game ties into what I wrote Tuesday night: It’s not the margin of defeat for the Dodgers so much as the general reliability of it.

Silver linings are harder and harder to come by: Ethier can no longer even claim the longest hitting streak in the majors this year, now that Dan Uggla has reached 31. We did have Kemp’s 30th stolen base and a day at the plate that moved him within .016 of the National League lead.

And perhaps Dee Gordon’s move to the disabled list should be considered a silver lining of sorts, given that the alternative would be him continuing to aggravate his right-shoulder injury with his all-out style of play.

Aug 09

The beat generation

In football, the good teams beat the bad teams 49-0 or 62-21.

In baseball, the good teams might only beat the bad teams 5-3 or 2-1. The difference over nine innings might not actually be that much.  But the real difference is that the good teams just find the way to have that edge again and again and again.

The Dodgers are 23 1/2 games worse than the Phillies this season, but in five games, Los Angeles has yet to lose by more than two runs. Philadelphia is beatable when it plays the Dodgers.

But beatable doesn’t mean deficient. We’re all beatable. In the end, the question is just whether or not you’re beaten. And this is one beaten Dodger team.

Oh, and Dee Gordon re-injured his shoulder.

Aug 08

Nine innings, 16 baserunners, three runs, one more loss


Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesMatt Kemp, who went 2 for 5 but stranded five runners, reacts to his inning-ending double play in the first inning.

Anatomy of a loss:

  • First inning: Two on, one out, Matt Kemp grounds into double play. (0/2)
  • Second inning: James Loney stranded after singling with one out. (0/3)
  • Third inning: Two on, two out, Kemp pops out. (0/5)
  • Fourth inning: no baserunners. (0/5)
  • Fifth inning: Second and third with one out, Dodgers get one run on an RBI grounder by Casey Blake. (1/7)
  • Sixth inning: Leadoff singles by Kemp and Aaron Miles, wasted. (1/9)
  • Seventh inning: Two on, one out, Andre Ethier fouls away a 3-0 pitch, hits into double play on 3-1 pitch. (1/11)
  • Eighth inning: Leadoff singles again by Kemp and Miles, who singles in Kemp from second. After Rod Barajas walk, Miles scores on Juan Rivera single. Two runners stranded. (3/15)
  • Ninth inning: Leadoff single by Blake, Ethier pops out, Kemp strikes out, Miles grounds out. (3/16)

Thirteen hits, three walks, no extra-base hits, no victory. Believe it or not, the Dodgers haven’t had a game quite like this all year: getting at least 16 baserunnners while scoring less than four runs. According to Baseball-Reference.com, it was also only the fourth time this century that the Dodgers had at least 16 baserunners without an extra-base hit.

It was a new kind of run non-support for losing pitcher Hiroki Kuroda.

Aug 07

Kershaw suffers first late-inning loss of 2011

Everything was falling into place for the Dodgers’ first road sweep of the season. Clayton Kershaw, after allowing a walk and home run to his first two batters, was on a roll, retiring 18 of his next 21 batters, while the Dodgers pushed across one run in the fifth inning (on a rare James Loney home run) and two more in the sixth to take a 3-2 lead.

But after Collin Cowgill singled with one out in the bottom of the seventh, Cody Ransom came to bat. Ransom had 26 home runs this year, but all of them were in the minors, where he had spent the 2011 season until two weeks ago.

The ball went out of the park, and so did the Dodgers’ sweep. Kershaw and Los Angeles had lost, 4-3.

Kershaw took a lead into the seventh inning or later for the 16th time in 24 starts this season, and this was only the third time that he had let a slip away.  More than that, it was the first time all year that Kershaw was charged with a loss after having led a game in the seventh inning or later.

  • April 21 vs. Atlanta: One strike away from a complete-game, 2-1 victory, Kershaw allows a two-run single to David Ross. But the Dodgers tie the game in the bottom of the ninth and win in the 12th on a Matt Kemp walkoff home run.
  • June 9 at Colorado: Leading 4-0 in the sixth and 7-3 in the seventh, Kershaw allows seven of nine baserunners to reach base over the course of those two innings. Six of them score in what becomes a 9-7 Dodger defeat.

Suffice it to say, what happened to Kershaw today was pretty shocking.  And yet, given the Dodgers decidedly uneven fortunes this season, not too shocking.

Aug 06

Eovaldi shoulders the load in 5-3 win

Ross D. Franklin/APDee Gordon dives to tag Kelly Johnson, but ends up not sticking the landing.
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesNathan Eovaldi followed through on his first big-league start.

Hey #dodgerfans I’m gonna be ok, just tweaked my shoulder alittle bit…I’ll be back really soon!!!
Dee Gordon on Twitter

So, yeah, to lose Rubby De La Rosa and Dee Gordon in one week? That would have been unreal.

Instead, despite Gordon’s awkward tag on a rundown play in the third inning tonight that forced him out of the game following his thud on his right shoulder, the report is that he did not suffer a sprain or dislocation, and should be back in a few days (allowing for the math of Dodger medical reports).

And so a good first start for Nathan Eovaldi was not spoiled. The 21-year-old allowed two runs in five innings and was the winning pitcher in the Dodgers’ 5-3 victory over Arizona.

Eovaldi struck out two batters in a perfect first inning and was a strike away from re-feating in the second when Ryan Roberts worked out a walk. Eovaldi then allowed a single, another walk, and then a two-run single to opposing pitcher Joe Saunders that seemed like it had removed all the pixie dust from the youngster’s debut.

Instead, Eovaldi only faced one batter over the minimum (thanks in part to Gordon) for the remainder of his outing, striking out seven in all, and even got his own first major-league hit and run.

Eovaldi was said to be on a 90-pitch limit for the day, but came out after 77 when the Dodgers put together a two-run top of the sixth to take a 4-2 lead. The bullpen allowed one run over four innings, with Scott Elbert giving Javy Guerra a rest and picking up his second save of the season.

Sunday, Clayton Kershaw pitches to try to give the Dodgers their first road sweep of 2011.