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.

 

Jul 28

KKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKapow!

I’m not gonna pretend to have the words that can turn 20 strikeouts and a walkoff home run into something more spectacular than 20 strikeouts and a walkoff home run.

Twenty strikeouts. And a walkoff home run.

That was the story today for the Dodgers, who outlasted Cincinnati in 11 innings, 1-0, on Yasiel Puig’s blast to win their 26th game out of 32, matching their best stretch of that length in Los Angeles history.

Los Angeles has opened up a 2 1/2 game lead in the National League West, and without for a moment believing that the divisional race won’t still end up a fight, I have begun to open up room in my consciousness for the pursuit of the best record in the league.

Steadily, the Dodgers have been gaining ground here, too.

Cincinnati, I thought, was a very impressive opponent. Yet the Dodgers not only won three of four from the Reds, they held them to the following from Friday through Sunday: 29 innings, 11 hits, two runs, three walks, 24 strikeouts, 0.63 ERA.

Los Angeles wasn’t exactly lighting the scoreboard on fire, especially today. The 20 strikeouts were, by two, a franchise record dating back to Brooklyn for games of any length. When Brooklyn and Boston played to a 26-inning tie in 1920, the two teams combined for only 14 strikeouts. At one point, Cincinnati retired 11 Dodgers in a row with 10 strikeouts sandwiching a caught stealing.

That misbegotten baserunner was Puig, who went jazzhands on the basepaths all series. He was also one of four Dodgers to strikeout at least three times Sunday – another franchise record. Meanwhile, Puig went 5 for 15 with two walks and the no-doubt home run against the Reds – not so bad for a so-called struggling player.

A moment has to be devoted to a couple of pitchers who have had their ups and downs this season: Chris Capuano, who threw 6 2/3 shutout innings, and Brandon League, who pitched the final two for his third victory since Tuesday. Since the All-Star break, League has pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings.

Los Angeles is off Monday, then takes on the New York Yankees on Tuesday and Wednesday, capped by a heartdropping matchup between Hiroki Kuroda and Clayton Kershaw.

Jul 25

Breaks beat the boys, 5-2

A bases-empty, two-out, 0-2 hit batter by Zack Greinke, followed by a home run, and suddenly a 2-1 deficit was a 4-1 deficit.

It was the kind of ill-timed event the Dodgers corralled and conquered during their 23 victories out of 28 games since June 22, but the sequence was the key difference tonight in a 5-2 defeat at the hands of Cincinnati, ending the team’s six-game winning streak.

Unlike Wednesday, there was no happy bounce leading to a miracle comeback for Los Angeles. It was Cincinnati’s night. The Reds got their fifth run on a pinball single up the middle by Shin-Soo Choo, their second on an RBI blooper by .201-hitting ex-Dodger Cesar Izturis. (For good measure, their first run came on the 11th career home run by another ex-Dodger, Xavier Paul, in his 700th career plate appearance.)

Not even two errors by Choo – one throwing, one baserunning – could bail out Los Angeles. The Dodgers scraped two RBI groundouts by Adrian Gonzalez, but again waited all game for the big blow. Tonight – in a rarity for the past month – it didn’t come. A hard lineout to left field by Carl Crawford with two runners on ended the game.