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.

Jul 25

Dodgers part ways with Ted Lilly

A day after activating him from the disabled list, the Dodgers designated Ted Lilly for assignment, calling up Elian Herrera in his place.

Lilly finished his Dodger career with a 3.83 ERA in 341 innings. The Dodgers drafted him in 1996.

Next week is the 15th anniversary of the Dodgers trading Lilly, Peter Bergeron, Wilton Guerrero and Jonathan Tucker to the Expos for Mark Grudzielanek, Hiram Bocachica and Carlos Perez.

Among other things, Lilly leaves with the lowest career batting average, .069, in Los Angeles Dodger history (min. 100 AB). He also has the lowest on-base percentage, .087 — the only one that’s below .100.

Reds at Dodgers 7:10 p.m.

Jul 24

Somehow, Dodgers find the way way forward

This is no joke: My wife and I went to see “The Way Way Back” tonight, and in the moments before the movie started, I was tracking the Dodgers and Blue Jays on my cellphone.

With two out in the ninth and two strikes on Andre Ethier, I stopped getting updates.

I checked Twitter, and this is the last tweet that was made available.

That was all I got. The movie started, and my phone went reluctantly back into my pocket.

But the picture was quite enjoyable. I actually lost myself in it right away. When it ended, I hesitated to go back to my cellphone to spoil my state of contentment.

But walking to the car, I checked again.

Oh my goodness.

Here’s the part that I think is the craziest (aside from scoring the tying run from first base on a single, or following that with five runs in the 10th inning off a pitcher with a 0.00 ERA, or Brandon “Never give up! Never surrender!” League pitching two shutout innings for his second win in two nights):

Seventeen runners in scoring position. I know Dodger fans, like me, were frustrated that the team wasn’t converting those runners into runs, that it was an unpleasant reminder of the first 2 1/2 months of the season. Honestly, during that Ethier at-bat, I was ready to tweet, “The Dodgers stole one Tuesday, then gave it back tonight.”

But 17 runners in scoring position. Do you realize what it takes to get that? And it was just another night for the Dodgers, who ended up with at least eight runs for the fourth night in a row for the first time since 1985 and the third time in Los Angeles history.

And as you no doubt have heard by now, the Dodgers won their 10th consecutive road game for the first time since 1954, and as Mike Petriello at Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness points out, they are on their first 23-5 run since 1955.

Can we just call this October and pop the champagne? I sure feel like it. Why let The Man decide when we declare ourselves World Champions? This is our moment.

Or can the Dodgers play like this in the fall? That’d be good, too.

Jul 23

Dodgers are so beautiful in 10-9 comeback

Winning after Chris Capu-oh-no.

Winning after Shaky Marmolade.

Winning after this.

Winning.

Despite being down five runs in the seventh inning, the Dodgers roundhoused Toronto, 10-9. Los Angeles is 22-5 since June 22 – WWWWWWLWWWWLWLWWWWWLWLWWWWW – and 5-0 after the All-Star break for the first time since 2004.

With 33 runs in their past three games, the Dodgers have their longest streak of scoring at least nine runs in a game since 2006. The franchise record (since 1916) is four games in a row.

Jul 23

Dodgers activate Marmol, but hold your shudders

Frightening many a fan, the Dodgers have put Carlos Marmol on their active roster, sending Jose Dominguez to the minor leagues.

Marmol was cast off by Chicago after allowing 50 baserunners and a 5.86 ERA in 27 2/3 innings for the Cubs this year. The Dodgers took a low-risk flyer on him as a reclamation project, and given how small the investment was, it’s worth a shot.

Comparisons to Brandon League have been made, but Marmol’s career strikeout rate is nearly double that of League. As bad as he has been, Marmol offers more reason for optimism.

Dominguez has excited many with his promise, but the reality of his pitching is that he was allowing baserunners at a higher rate than even League, while posting a lower strikeout rate. Since his perfect debut, Dominguez has allowed 15 baserunners against 22 outs, a .417 on-base percentage against him. Dominguez has struggled to complete innings, and his ERA has been kept low in part because other relievers have bailed him out. I’d be happy to wait out his on-the-job development, but that’s not a reason to assume he’s better for the Dodgers at this very minute than Marmol is.

If Marmol turns out to be a lost cause, the Dodgers can cut bait quickly (unlike with League, whose three-year contract requires them to have more patience). But if the Dodgers can catch Marmol on an upswing, there could be a net gain that also possibly prevents the Dodgers from making a worse bullpen decision (say, an Octavio Dotel-style trade) down the road.

Honestly, I don’t know. Sure, Marmol might make the Dodgers worse, but I just won’t immediately rule out that he can make them better.

Update: The Dodgers have issued a correction, saying that Dominguez has gone to the disabled list with a left quad strain. Dominguez was limping as he left Monday’s game.

Dodgers at Blue Jays, 4:07 p.m.

Jul 23

When season was a disaster, these Dodgers held together

So when the Dodgers were losing game after game for two solid months, why didn’t the team blow up into 25 selfish fireballs like everyone said they would?

Before going 21-5 in their past 26 games, the Dodgers were 30-42. In reality, it was even worse than that. Los Angeles started its season 6-3, then went 24-39, a .381 winning percentage that placed them among the worst teams in baseball.

Through that entire stretch, there were only two off-field issues of any note at all, and each of the people involved handled them gracefully.

Don Mattingly became the subject of daily rumors of his impending firing. Mattingly didn’t lash out, but kept his focus on the task at hand.

Mattingly did say the following on May 22:

“We’re last place in the National League West. Last year, at this point, we’re playing a lineup that basically has nobody in it, that fights and competes and battles you every day for every inch of the field. We talk about it as an organization. We’ve got to find the club with talent that will fight and compete like the club that doesn’t have that talent. If there’s going to be a message sent, it’s going to be over a period of time.”

Though Mattingly was speaking about the entire squad, Andre Ethier was benched the day Mattingly made these statements, something few people thought was a coincidence — including Ethier, who was clearly hurt by the comments.

Whatever negative reaction Ethier might have had after that day, however, he kept in the clubhouse, without pouting or making a stink in the press. And in the past two months, Mattingly has singled Ethier out for praise for his efforts.

And that’s it. No tabloid stories have come out of the Dodger clubhouse. No tales of infighting or finger-pointing. Beset by injuries and slumping players, the losses kept piling up — June began with an 8-14 record — and everyone had every reason to be frustrated. But no one, not even the so-called troublemakers from outside (Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford or Josh Beckett) caused trouble. Yasiel Puig has ruffled feathers, but those angry birds are opponents, not teammates, unless you call statesman Juan Uribe’s reactive counseling a conflict.

Maybe the Dodgers have just become experts at running an airtight clubhouse, but I doubt they’re that competent. More likely, the minor stuff has been settled in-house, but the major conflicts just haven’t happened.

I’m not crediting chemistry for the turnaround. It seems clear that improved health, solid pitching and a red-hot Ramirez have been the keys.

But I do think it’s worth noting that the narrative of the Dodgers as a chemistry-challenged team was severely tested this spring. And like so many other invented tales, it was found false.

Previously on Dodger Thoughts:

March 31: The Giants’ 2012 title: Dealmaking trumps chemistry

May 28: Twenty examples of Dodger grit in five minutes

Jul 22

Cavalcade of crushing continues in 14-5 victory

Majestically merciless are these Dodgers of late.

Los Angeles knocked out an opposing starting pitcher after six outs for the second game in a row, delivering a trio of four-run innings in a 14-5 victory over Toronto.

A.J. Ellis had career highs of four hits and five RBI, two of the latter coming on a booming home run to dead center in the second inning that put the Dodgers ahead – to stay, to say the least.

Toronto had 13 hits of its own, but allowed 21 baserunners while also making five errors.

As was the case Sunday, the Dodgers ended tonight’s game tied for first place, pending the result of Arizona’s game later.

The Dodgers have won four consecutive games after the All-Star Break for the first time since 2007. That year, the streak put the Dodgers 13 games above .500, but the team finished 82-80.

Dodgers’ first four games after All-Star Break
2013: 4-0
2012: 1-3
2011: 1-3
2010: 0-4
2009: 2-2
2008: 1-3
2007: 4-0

Jul 22

July 22 game chat

Dodgers at Blue Jays, 4:07 p.m.

Dodger Thoughts, December 10, 2011:

Major League Baseball doesn’t rewrite history, so there’s no changing the fact that Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun is the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player and not Matt Kemp. However, Braun’s trophy might be getting a little less gleamy.

Braun is currently challenging a positive test for a performance-enhancing drug, report Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn of ESPN.com.

If the finding is upheld, Braun won’t have to give back his trophy, but he will have to give away 50 games of the 2012 baseball season to a suspension.

My opinion: A positive drug test doesn’t make Braun’s 2011 season less valuable.  He still did what he did. It does call into question how he achieved that value and open the door for you and me to judge him how we will. But my view of history is that it chronicles what happened, for better or worse. History isn’t what we’d like things to be – it’s what was, like it or not.

Whenever I consider baseball’s long, plentiful history of misbehavior, I’ve never been in favor of bringing an eraser to the record books, and I’m not going to start now. If Braun is guilty, his punishment will be his suspension and his tainted reputation. I’m not excusing his behavior. I’m just not pretending that he didn’t deliver on the field, illicitly or not.

The fact that my MVP vote would have been for Kemp regardless is a separate issue.