Aug 07

Yasiel Puig, Plate Disciplinarian

A Carl Crawford liner knocked St. Louis starter Shelby Miller out of the game after two pitches, a six-run second inning knocked around emergency reliever Jake Westbrook and the Dodgers more or less cruised thereafter to 25 baserunners (Crawford reached five times) in a 13-4 victory.

I rushed through that description so that I could get to what I wanted to talk about – the developing batting eye of Yasiel Puig.

After drawing skepticism and a bit of derision for his wild, swinging ways – seven walks in his first 42 games (against 43 strikeouts) – Puig has dramatically turned things around. With three walks tonight, Puig now has 12 walks in his past 13 games (against 14 strikeouts). That’s a 150-walk pace over a 162-game season.

Only one of the 12 walks has been intentional.

It’s not that Puig has been timid in the plate. Emerging for a slump that lowered his OPS to a season-worst .967 (yeah, season-worst) on July 22, Puig has gone exactly 20 for 50 with those 12 walks, two hit-by-pitches, four doubles and three home runs. That’s a .400 batting average, .531 on-base percentage, .660 slugging percentage and 1.191 OPS during that stretch.

Puig has drawn five walks in the four games that Hanley Ramirez has missed this week, but that alone doesn’t account for his improved showing. And it means that 240 plate appearances into his career, Puig still has an OPS well over 1.000.

His ups were followed by some downs, and his downs have now turned into some ups. The ride will continue, but it’s hard not to be excited by his ability to show power with restraint.

Aug 07

Starter Seeks Six in Sixth Start

Facing St. Louis pitcher Shelby Miller and his 2.89 ERA, the Dodgers could stand to get something extra tonight from Ricky Nolasco, who hasn’t made it through the sixth inning in the last four of his five Dodger starts.

Nolasco hasn’t been pounded — no more than three runs have scored against him in any of his Dodger appearances — and he has taken only one loss. It’s just that he could do mo’ better for the Blues.

Miller, for his part, has a 4.89 ERA in seven starts since June 22.

Dodgers at Cardinals, 5:15 p.m.

Aug 07

The summer of bliss

The joy in this Dodger summer is not just in the winning, or being in first place.

It’s that the Dodger summer is about the game.

Three years ago, two years ago, the Dodger universe was mired in L’Affaire McCourt. Even last year, in the months following the ownership change, there was still a detox period.

This year, good or bad, the conversation has been about the game. The worst it has gotten was the debate over the fate of Don Mattingly in the spring (here and here, for example) — a debate that clearly wasn’t a figment of our imagination. There’s been all the injuries, carping out this player’s performance or that one’s. But it’s all about the game.

Meanwhile, baseball at large is enveloped in a conversation about performance-enhancing drugs and punishments that Los Angeles is not really a principal part of. It’s not that Dodger fans don’t have a tangential interest in it, just as it wasn’t that baseball fans didn’t have a tangential interest in the McCourt trauma.

But mainly, we get to go our merry way, winning and losing, living and dying with our team, the way we were meant to, the way we were deprived of from the moment Frank and Jamie figured out they couldn’t make it work.

Of course, the more it remains about winning and not losing, the better.

Aug 06

The Lady Luck vanishes

I wasn’t able to see tonight’s 5-1 Dodger loss to St. Louis, but it was one of those games that obviously Los Angeles was long overdue for amid all the various hot streaks. Tonight it was the Dodgers who hit into the double plays, who couldn’t bail out their starting pitcher, who gave up the late-inning insurance runs out of the bullpen, who didn’t have the managerial magic.

It was as unpleasant as it was inevitable – and obviously vexing in that Clayton Kershaw is winless in his past two starts despite an ERA of 1.29 – but a good team puts it behind them and goes right back after it. Work on the nitty-gritty details but keep an eye on the big picture.

Aug 06

It’s been 85 starts since Clayton Kershaw was knocked out of a game


On April 16, 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals led 2-1 against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers heading into the fifth inning, then broke the game open with a two-out, three-run home run.

Kershaw, who had been dodging baserunners the entire outing — 11 in 4 2/3 innings — and had reached the 111-pitch mark, was pulled from the game.

He hasn’t been knocked out of a game before the five-inning mark since.

In 85 starts since that day, Kershaw has thrown fewer than five innings only one time, and that was his 2012 Opening Day outing at San Diego, when he pitched three shutout innings before leaving because of the flu (“Kershaw Hurls. Dodgers to victory”).

In fact, the reigning National League Pitcher of the Month has thrown at least six innings in 75 of those 85 starts, including his past 18 in a row. He has gone at least seven innings in 16 of those past 18.

And during that 85-game run? A 2.23 ERA with 609 strikeouts in 605 innings.

Kershaw, as you might have heard by now, is within range of the lowest ERA for a season by a Dodger pitcher since Sandy Koufax, which would be the lowest in Los Angeles Dodger history. What might be lost in that discussion is that because of the different eras, Kershaw is on pace for the best adjusted ERA in Dodger history, dating back to 1901.

He is 25 years old. I hope you are appreciating what you are seeing.

Rk Player ERA+ Year Age Tm IP ERA
1 Clayton Kershaw 191 2013 25 LAD 168.1 1.87
2 Sandy Koufax 190 1966 30 LAD 323.0 1.73
3 Dazzy Vance 190 1928 37 BRO 280.1 2.09
4 Dazzy Vance 189 1930 39 BRO 258.2 2.61
5 Sandy Koufax 186 1964 28 LAD 223.0 1.74
6 Dazzy Vance 174 1924 33 BRO 308.1 2.16
7 Rube Marquard 171 1916 29 BRO 205.0 1.58
8 Orel Hershiser 171 1985 26 LAD 239.2 2.03
9 Kevin Brown 169 2003 38 LAD 211.0 2.39
10 Kevin Brown 167 2000 35 LAD 230.0 2.58
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/6/2013.

Dodgers at Cardinals, 5:15 p.m.
Kershaw CLXXIII: Kershawd Couple

Aug 05

Jansen takes night off, but Paco keeps Dodgers rolling


Hanley Ramirez is on the sidelines – for days or weeks, we’re still not sure.

Kenley Jansen was on the sidelines – for a breather after an intense run of success.

But no one could sideline the Dodgers’ winning ways.

It was another close one, but thanks to just enough hitting and starting pitching and the right stuff from a young lefty in the bullpen, Los Angeles won its 15th consecutive road game, defeating St. Louis, 3-2.

The Dodgers are now 32-7 in their past 39 games, 15-2 since the All-Star break and are two away from the National League record for consecutive victories on the road, set 97 years ago by the New York Giants. They are a full six games ahead of idle Arizona in the NL West, and within three games of St. Louis, a team that on June 21 held a 16-game margin over them.

During their 32-7 run, the Dodgers are 10-0 in one-run games. They have won 10 of past 11 and were tied in the ninth inning of game they lost in that stretch, at home against the Yankees.

Though they led most of the way, it was a comeback victory for the Dodgers. Los Angeles fell behind in the first inning thanks in part to some spotty glovework by Yasiel Puig (who made a throwing error) and Nick Punto (whose throw home later that inning wasn’t good enough to prevent a run), but came back to take a 2-1 lead in the fourth on a walk to Adrian Gonzalez, a double by Puig, an RBI single by Andre Ethier and a run-scoring groundout by A.J. Ellis.

Then in the fifth, Puig, returning after a day off, and Punto, starting in place of Ramirez, reversed their fielding fortunes and teamed up to take a Cardinal run off the scoreboard. Puig barehanded David Freese’s double off the wall and rifled the ball to Punto, the shortstop who was in short right field to take the throw. Punto whipped the ball home to A.J. Ellis, who shorthopped it and tagged out Allen Craig trying to score from first.

Greinke, who earlier had a sacrifice bunt, hit an RBI single to right-center to push the Dodger lead to 3-1. That hit raised Greinke’s 2013 on-base percentage to .476, currently the highest of any pitcher in baseball history with at least 40 plate appearances.

The hit also provided an important insurance run. To start the bottom of the seventh, Greinke walked pinch-hitter Abron Chambers, who was batting .200 with no career homers. Matt Carpenter followed with a hit, putting runners at first and second as Greinke neared 100 pitches. Surprisingly, Carlos Beltran bunted, putting runners at second and third but giving up an out.

Chambers scored on an RBI groundout by Craig against Ronald Belisario, but the Dodgers escaped with their one-run lead heading into the eighth.

Greinke’s bottom-of-the-seventh struggle essentially eliminated any hope that the Dodgers wouldn’t agonize about getting through tonight’s game without Kenley Jansen, who entered the action with 25 consecutive batters retired (13 by strikeout) but with appearances in nine of his past 13 games, including 13 pitches Saturday and 15 Sunday. After Paco Rodriguez threw only six to get his three outs in the eighth, he remained in the game to start the ninth against the 8-9-1 spots in the St. Louis lineup, while Jansen sat in the bullpen with his coverup on. Brandon League warmed up in support of Rodriguez.

• Left-handed hitting Daniel Descalso struck out on three pitches.

• Left-handed pinch-hitter Matt Adams, with an .836 OPS and eight home runs in 174 at-bats, grounded out to Gonzalez on the second pitch from Rodriguez.

• Left-handed hitting Carpenter went ahead in the count 2-0, swung and missed, then hit a fly ball to center field that Ethier flagged down.

Rodriguez had his second career save (the first by a Dodger of at least two innings since Ramon Troncoso in 2009), Jansen had his night off, Greinke had his 100th career victory and the Dodgers had yet another win. Incredible, ain’t it? Simply incredible.

Previously on Dodger Thoughts: Phenomenal bullpen key to Dodgers’ revival

Aug 04

Some like it hot

Atlanta: 10-0 in past 10 games, 13-4 since All-Star break
Cleveland: 9-1 in past 10 games, 11-5 since All-Star break
Detroit: 9-1 in past 10 games, 12-3 since All-Star break
Kansas City: 9-1 in past 10 games, 13-3 since All-Star break
Los Angeles: 8-2 in past 10 games, 14-2 since All-Star break
Tampa Bay: 7-3 in past 10 games, 11-4 since All-Star break

Aug 04

No, no no no

No losses for the Dodgers in their past 14 games on the road.

No runs for the Cubs in their past 24 innings against the Dodgers.

No baserunners against Kenley Jansen in his past 25 batters (with 13 strikeouts).

But no relief from the injuries for Los Angeles.

The Dodgers lost yet another top hitter today when Hanley Ramirez toppled into the stands at Wrigley Field at the end of a long run to catch a foul ball. Ramirez left the Dodgers’ 1-0 victory with his arm in a sling and an MRI scheduled for his shoulder Monday.

No matter what consoling or optimistic messages come from the Dodger clubhouse, Ramirez is a prime candidate to join Matt Kemp in making a third trip to the disabled list this season. Hopefully, Yasiel Puig will be back to cushion the blow after his day off today, but the Dodgers are far less equipped to deal with Ramirez’ absence at shortstop.

At least the Dodgers made hay while the sun shined. Winning their 31st game in their past 38, the Dodgers moved 5 1/2 games ahead of Arizona in the National League West, a gain of 15 games against their top rivals in the division in six weeks. Eight weeks and 52 games remain.

Aug 04

Phenomenal bullpen key to Dodgers’ revival

It’s hard to overstate the importance that Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig have had in the Dodgers’ turnaround from a 30-42 to a 30-7 team. They have had an enormous impact on an offense that otherwise has not performed much better in the second 54 games of 2013 than it did in the first 54.

A.J. Ellis, Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Ellis, Juan Uribe, Carl Crawford, Scott Van Slyke, Nick Punto and Jerry Hairston Jr. – five starters and three key bench players – all had lower OPSes in the middle third of the season, when the Dodgers went 36-18, than at the outset, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.

The starting pitching has been steady as she goes during the hot streak, with everyone – including, of late, Chris Capuano – keeping the Dodgers in games. In addition, the team has been better hitting with runners in scoring position, some recent events in Chicago notwithstanding.

But when you look at how the Dodgers have been playing .811 ball since June 22, winning games like they were free throws, much of it comes down to this – the bullpen simply just keeps getting guys out.

Perhaps no moment epitomized that more than when the Dodgers inserted Brandon League, simply horrible for much of this season, into the seventh inning of Saturday’s game with Cubs at the corners and the tying run at the plate.

Since entering the All-Star break with a 6.25 ERA, League hadn’t allowed an earned run or an inherited run in eight innings over six appearances, with opponents OPSing a scant .343. Don Mattingly had slowly moved League out of mop-up situations into higher-leverage moments, but this was the first time League had been used to protect a lead of three runs or less in nearly seven weeks since June 25.

League threw four pitches, induced the Dodgers’ fourth double play of the game, and strolled off the field.

In the next inning, Ronald Belisario gave up two singles to the four batters he raced – a relatively shocking development for a bullpen that has been so reliable – and then making matters worse, Paco Rodriguez came in and threw six straight pitches out of the strike zone, loading the bases with a 2-0 count to the go-ahead run, Chicago’s cleanup hitter, Welington Castillo (admittedly, not your prototypical cleanup hitter).

Rodriguez got the count back to 3-2, then struck Castillo out.

If teams don’t score against you, they’re not going to beat you. The Dodger bullpen has smothered nearly every single fire they have encountered since the fourth week of June.

Keep in mind the bottom four guys are not really relevant to the conversation, having mainly pitched in the rare garbage situations the Dodgers have been in since June 22. The four primary relievers (five if you count Withrow) have ERAs below 2.00, opponents’ OPS below .600 and have stranded 31 of 34 inherited runners. Thrown in a temporarily improved League as a bonus, and that’s a hellacious bullpen that could also find addition by subtraction if Carlos Marmol is jettisoned for someone more reliable, unless Marmol follows in League’s footsteps.

Can they keep this up? Well, no. Not bloody likely. Relievers don’t stay hot forever, particularly guys who are proven inconsistents like Belisario. The question is whether it will be a blown save here or there, or the more frequent meltdowns of the season’s first 72 games.

There’s also concern over how many games some of the relievers have been appearing in – especially Kenley Jansen. But the good news is that Jansen has been so efficient lately – he has retired 22 consecutive batters with 10 strikeouts – they’ve essentially been low-stress outings. Here are Jansen’s daily pitch counts since June 22 …

There was an eyebrow-raising stretch the week of June 23 and another following a 28-pitch outing July 23, but for the most part, Jansen has kept his pitch counts in check and had a nice checkerboard of days off.

Of course, the fastest way for the closer to get rest is for the Dodgers to start losing again. Otherwise, yeah, there will be a day when the Dodgers are in a tight one and they’ll want to try to get by without using their big ex-catcher.

The Dodgers’ surge has been too good to be true, but there’s no denying it has happened. Whether you should believe it can continue should depend in large part in your belief in this bullpen.

Dodgers at Cubs, 11:20 a.m.

Jul 30

Dodgers do it again … again

“Just do it. Just do it here. Don’t want to wait. Don’t want to see Rivera. Can we just get it here?”

Amazingly, yes.

Somehow, the Dodgers turned the combo of Andre Ethier on first base and Mark Ellis at the plate with two out in the bottom of the ninth into yet another victory, 3-2 over the New York Yankees.

Ethier, a 24-for-47 basestealer in his career, pilfered second base on an 0-1 ball to Ellis. Then, with a full count, Ellis looped a Shawn Kelley offering into short left field, just in the right spot to score Ethier with the winning run.

With that, the Dodgers were 10-1 after the All-Star break for the first time in their history and 27-6 over a 33-game stretch for the first time in 60 years. They lead Arizona by 3 1/2 games in the National League West and trail Pittsburgh by 6 1/2 games for the best record in the NL.

Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect, 15-pitch ninth against Robinson Cano, Alfonso Soriano and Lyle Overbay to qualify for the win. Jansen has pitched six times in the past eight games, but fortunately, hasn’t used more than 15 pitches in a game since July 16.

Since May 25, Jansen has pitched 32 innings with 43 strikeouts, 26 baserunners, a 1.13 ERA, 14.3 strikeouts per walk and five of six inherited runners stranded.

Andy Petttitte and Zack Greinke pitched to a draw, each allowing two runs over seven innings with no walks. Pettitte allowed eight hits and struck out three, while Greinke allowed five hits and struck out seven.

Pettitte twice fell behind, in the first inning on a booming double off the top of the center-field wall by Yasiel Puig, followed by a Hanley Ramirez RBI single, then again in the second inning when Juan Uribe hit a 441-foot home run to the Loge Level in left field, the 22nd Loge blast in Dodger Stadium history and the ninth 0-2 homer ever off Pettitte in his long career.

Each time, the Yankees came back. Greinke gave up a homer to Overbay in the top of the second and threw a costly wild pitch that contributed to a run in the fourth.

That was it until the ninth, when the Dodgers did it again. They did it again. They did it again.