Jun 27

Heart of the lineup lines up with heart, and Dodgers win sixth straight

The Phillies hit Zack Greinke and the Dodgers from pillar to post. The Dodgers took the pillar and the post and ignored everything in between, quite happily.

Despite making 15 straight outs at one point, the Dodgers rode a big first inning and a two-out, 0-2 single by Yasiel Puig in the seventh to a 6-4 victory over the Phillies, giving Los Angeles their sixth straight victory.

Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier combined for five hits (of the Dodgers’ seven) – and made each one count.

Los Angeles absoutely hammered Phillies starter (and Placentia-born) Jonathan Pettibone in the first inning. After a leadoff walk to Skip Schumaker, Puig scorched one off Pettibone’s foot, the ball taking a fluke bounce to shortstop Jimmy Rollins for a force out. But Gonzalez knocked a single, and Kemp and Ethier followed with hard doubles to put the Dodgers ahead, 3-0. Pettibone might have been in jeopardy of completing the first inning had Puig’s ball gone through, or if A.J. Ellis’ long fly to right hadn’t been flagged down by Delmon Young’s running catch.

From the second inning through the sixth, however, Pettibone retired his final 15 batters, allowing time for the Phillies to come back and take the lead. Greinke picked off one batter, saw another caught stealing and induced two double plays in seven innings, but that only partially mitigated the 12 hits he allowed, the last a two-out, tiebreaking home run by Chase Utley in the seventh.

Puig smashed into the wall in a vain attempt to catch that drive, the latest scary moment for the Dodger daredevil. But he was not done shaking up the stadium.

In the bottom of the seventh, relief pitcher Justin De Fratus walked Ellis on a 3-2 pitch. With two sacrifices in the past four seasons, Juan Uribe was asked to bunt. He not only put it down, but he reached first base after Ryan Howard fell down trying to field it. Pinch-hitter Hanley Ramirez was walked intentionally, and then Schumaker struck out.

That set the stage for Puig.

He swung and missed badly at two not-so-pretty pitches, and the next was so far off the plate, it looked like a fan heading for the exits. But Puig reached indelicately and somehow pulled the ball sharply through the hole into left field for a two-run single, rallying the Dodgers to a one-run lead.

J.P. Howell and Ronald Belisario combined for a scoreless eighth, and the Dodgers manufactured an insurance run when, in his second full game back from the disabled list, Kemp and his hamstring singled, stole second and third, and scored on Ellis’ sacrifice fly.

Kenley Jansen pitched a scoreless ninth, and despite tallying half the Phillies’ 14 hits, the Dodgers had another sweet victory.

Jun 27

Note by notewest

Notes on each member of tonight’s Dodger starting lineup.

Skip Schumaker, 2B: Had a .440 OPS on May 7. Went 27 for 69 (.391) at the plate to raise OPS to .694 on June 9. Has gone 8 for 45 with four walks and no extra-base hits since.

Yasiel Puig, RF: With 37 hits in 85 at-bats, only needs to go 3 for 15 to be at least at .400 after 100 at-bats. David Pinto of Baseball Musings notes that the most at-bats for an entire season for a .400 hitter since Ted Williams is 134 by Bob Hazle in 1957.

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B: Three homers in six games vs. San Diego this month, zero homers in 18 games vs. everyone else.

Matt Kemp, CF: Seven for seven in stolen bases this season. In his rookie season, he was perfect in six attempts. Played in 71 career games before his first caught stealing.

Andre Ethier, LF: Making his first appearance in left field since 2008.

A.J. Ellis, C: Has .260 on-base percentage, .284 slugging in 79 plate appearances since May 13.

Juan Uribe, 3B: Per Fangraphs, has fourth-best WAR on Dodgers in 2013, behind Carl Crawford, Puig and A.J. Ellis.

Nick Punto, SS: Riding a three-game hitting streak, but has .516 OPS in 130 plate appearances since May 8. Luis Cruz has a .525 OPS in 51 plate appearances in that time period.

Zack Greinke, P: Opponents at Dodger Stadium have .270 OBP against him this year.

Phillies at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.

 

Jun 26

Is the end nigh for Luis Cruz?

We’ve had these kind of thoughts before. Heck, we had them with Juan Uribe all the time last year, and not only did it never come about, we’re actually glad Uribear has stuck around.

But Scott Van Slyke is poised to be activated from the disabled list Friday, according to Austin Laymance of MLB.com, and – barring a new injury to the team, of course – there’s finally no one else to vacate a spot among the position players besides Cruz.

The Dodgers could keep Van Slyke in the minors, but they seem committed, and most rightly so, to taking advantage of Van Slyke’s power bat off the bench.

“With Scott, he allows us to go all right-handed (in the outfield) if we want to against a tough lefty,” Don Mattingly told Gurnick.

Who else could go off the roster? Not regulars or veritable regulars A.J. Ellis, Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Ellis, Hanley Ramirez, Juan Uribe, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier or Matt Kemp. Not fellow reserves Tim Federowicz, Jerry Hairston Jr., Nick Punto or Skip Schumaker. Not anyone from the bullpen, which is at the now-conventional number of seven relievers, unless Brandon League somehow gets stuffed on the disabled list with sprained talent.

No, the arrow is pointing directly at Cruz, who has a .175 on-base percentage and .164 slugging in 128 plate appearances this season, has five hits in the first 26 days of June and hasn’t played since June 19. And keep in mind the likelihood that after designating him for assignment, Cruz could easily clear waivers and end up back in Albuquerque, where everyone wants him.

There’s still a couple days for things to change, but you’ve been warned. Or teased.

Jun 26

I want my baby back, baby back, baby back wins

The Giants “play as a unit, as a team, grinding out victories,” ESPN announced Dan Shulman said.

– Dodger Thoughts, May 5, 2013

I never get tired of Dodger victories. Even my favorite foods can get old through repetition – I can’t eat baby back ribs five nights in a row. But Dodger victories always go down smooth, and frequency only makes them sweeter.

After tonight’s 4-2 victory over San Francisco, giving the Dodgers a series sweep and pulling them within six games of first place in the National League West, my appetite is only growing.

In a taut ninth inning, Kenley Jansen retired the final three batters with the tying runs on base, saving Clayton Kershaw’s victory. Kershaw completed eight innings, striking out seven while allowing five baserunners, including a two-run homer by Buster Posey that put the Dodgers behind in the fourth inning, 2-1.

The Dodgers rallied with three runs in the bottom of the sixth, threading a double with three singles and a wild pitch, and the victory was theirs for the taking. And they took it.

Jun 24

Easy Puigy: Dodgers 3, Giants 1

Things went right. Again.

Yasiel Puig hit an effortless homer in the first inning. Hyun-Jin Ryu allowed 11 baserunners to his first 24 batters, and gave up but a run. Buster Posey fall down. Puig hit an effortless go-ahead single in the eighth. The bullpen faced eight batters without a hit or walk.

The Dodgers won their third straight game for the first time in more than two months, ending a five-game losing streak to San Francisco with a 3-1 victory tonight. Funny when things are happy.

Despite his unreal start, Puig was the cause of some concern heading into this game, having gone 1 for 7 with three strikeouts in the final two games in San Diego. But quietly, he drew two walks, showing signs of willingness or ability to lay off bad pitches. What would that mean tonight?

In the first, Puig took a called strike, then a ball, then smoothly drove a Madison Bumgarner pitch on the corner down the right-field line and just inside the pole for a 1-0 Dodger lead.

In the third, Puig fouled off a strike, swung and missed, then lined to center.

In the sixth, it was ball, foul, miss and then a single to center.

And in the eighth, facing the same George Kontos who gave up Clayton Kershaw’s eighth-inning, tiebreaking Opening Day home run, Puig took ball one, then lined a hard single to left field to drive home Nick Punto, who had led off the inning with a double.

That meant for the game, Puig saw 12 pitches and had more hits (three) than missed swings (two). He now has a .476 on-base percentage and .753 slugging percentage.

Puig also had an odd play in the top of the seventh, when Posey launched the 108th and last pitch from Ryu to the wall in right field. Puig camped under it, only to have the ball strike the wall above his head and miss his glove completely. It was the 12th baserunner to reach against Ryu, and the first since he got a 1-2-3 double play to get out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth (after Posey tripped hitting third base and had to stay there instead of trying to score.)

Ronald Belisario relieved and struck out Hunter Pence on a 3-2 pitch to end the inning, setting the stage for the Dodger bullpen to do what they needed to do – keep the Giants from scoring.

Things went right. Again.

Jun 24

Table for three, anyone?

On April 12, the Dodgers had a two-game winning streak and Clayton Kershaw on the mound in Arizona, but they lost.

On April 24, the Dodgers had a two-game winning streak and a ninth-inning lead in New York, but they lost.

On April 27, the Dodgers had a two-game winning streak and a seventh-inning lead against Milwaukee, but they lost.

On May 13, the Dodgers had a two-game winning streak and A.J. Ellis tripled, but they got plastered.

On May 17, the Dodgers had a two-game winning streak and a sixth-inning lead in Atlanta, but they lost.

On May 29, the Dodgers had a two-game winning streak and two homers in the ninth inning against the Angels’ closer, but they lost.

On June 5, the Dodgers had a two-game winning streak and Kershaw on the mound against San Diego, but they lost.

On June 8, the Dodgers had a two-game winning streak and … you get the idea.

Eight straight times the Dodgers have failed to win three in a row.  What happens tonight?

Giants at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.

Jun 23

Don’t demand the waffle

I’ve written in the past about my recurring dream, in which I’m trying get somewhere but never make it. It takes on many scenarios, but I’m good for having it at least once a week – and those are merely the ones that I can remember when I wake up.

Last night I had one, though with a bit of a twist in that at one point, I actually was moving fast toward my goal. The fact that my goal in this case was completing the buffet on a cruise ship is probably neither here nor there.

There were two lines, and in a fortuitous stroke, I picked the right one. While the buffet line on the left remained stagnant, the one on the right that I found myself in flew forward, and I was ready to get my food far sooner than the random person I had lined up with.

Unfortunately, things ran aground after that. I believe holding out for a waffle was a key factor, but in any case, I found myself stuck in the line as others flowed past me. When I finally sat down, it was in a bad spot with no friends or family and a sparsely filled plate.

The message is clearly this: If the Dodgers unexpectedly get on a win streak, just enjoy the meal. Asking for the waffle on top of it is probably too much.

Dodgers at Padres, 1:10 p.m.

Jun 22

The Pit of Despair


How low can they go?

The Dodgers’ current .417 winning percentage would be their worst over a full season since 1992, their second-worst since 1944.

Though it’s possible I’m just repressing it, I can’t recall ever expecting a Dodger team to be bad. There have been plenty of times when I wouldn’t have predicted them to win a title, and I was sufficiently skeptical this year, but a truly terrible record always takes me by surprise. That’s one difference I think Dodger fans – even cynical ones – have with fans in Pittsburgh or Kansas City. If you’re predicting horror in a given year, you’re probably in the minority.

The Dodgers won 86 games last year and didn’t hurt themselves in the offseason. Sure, there were weaknesses headed into 2013, but here are the 10 most prominent players the Dodgers shed from 2012: James Loney, Shane Victorino, Juan Rivera, Bobby Abreu, Matt Treanor, Adam Kennedy, Joe Blanton, Nathan Eovaldi, Jamey Wright and Josh Lindblom. Be honest: How could you have expected those departures would put the Dodgers on their current 68-win pace?

That’s right: 68-94.

Here’s one for you: Forget about the playoffs for a moment. Forget about .500. The Dodgers need to play .450 ball over their remaining 90 games to reach 70 wins. Will they do it?

Yes, there have been injuries – Chad Billingsley and Matt Kemp most prominently – but nearly every year has injuries. Team chemistry? The manager? People raise those red flags every time the Dodgers start losing, but are we to believe that this team really has the worst set of intangibles in two decades? You thought the Davey Johnson-Gary Sheffield-Kevin Brown teams were doing a revival of Hair? That Jim Tracy and Paul DePodesta were Romeo and Juliet?

Mediocrity comes with the territory in the post-1988 era. But true awfulness has been a rare thing.

With apologies to the 99-loss season in 1992, the worst stretch of Dodger baseball in my lifetime has probably been 1986-87. That’s the only time since the 1960s that the Dodgers have had back-to-back losing seasons – identical 73-89 campaigns. I know how it began: Pedro Guerrero’s gruesome Spring Training slide into third base – but my memories of 1987, beyond the implosion of Al Campanis, are almost non-existent. Guerrero came back with a vengeance (.416 on-base percentage, .539 slugging), and Orel Hershiser and Bob Welch was steady, but the rest of the team was essentially as incompetent as this year’s.

The core of that awful team won a division title in 1985 and a World Series in 1988. Tommy Lasorda managed every year.

I don’t know when the losing is going to end for this current brand of Big Blue Wrecked Crew. I do know that in Los Angeles, things tend to reverse course in a hurry, good to bad, bad to good. We’ve really seen it all in the past 25 years – all except for a World Series.

Perhaps it will come in a year when we least expect it.

Jun 21

Yasiel Puig has a bad three-quarters of a game

Amid everything that was so familiar about a 2013 Dodger defeat – fielding stumbles, poor situational hitting and a bullpen meltdown wasting a capable starting outing – there was something new about Thursday’s 6-3 loss to San Diego: fan frustration with Yasiel Puig.

What’s remarkable – and speaks volumes – is that it came in a game in which Puig hit yet another home run, his sixth (in 16 games) of the season, more than all but one other Dodger.

But after that first-inning, first-pitch blast, Puig struck out a career-high three times, chasing bad pitches like a young Raul Mondesi or Matt Kemp, and from then on you could hear the I told you sos.

Ken Gurnick of MLB.com provides the details of Puig’s second at-bat against Jason Marquis:

… with two on and no out in the third inning, he took a sinker he thought was too far inside and stared at the umpire.

“It seemed to irritate Yasiel and he started to swing at pitches out of the strike zone, and the rest of the night Marquis didn’t give in,” Mattingly said. “Yasiel has been fairly patient, tonight [he was] more aggressive out of the strike zone.”

He swung wildly at the next sinker and foul-tipped it. Marquis then came with a pair of down-and-away sliders Puig flailed at. Puig stared at Marquis as he headed toward the dugout and Marquis stared back. …

By the time Puig followed Skip Schumaker’s double-play grounder with a game-ending strikeout in the ninth – turning what for a brief moment looked like the potential for a stirring Dodger comeback into a deeper dive into last place – numerous Dodger fans on Twitter were not only chastising Puig but instructing him how he needs to change his stance.

Reminder: Puig has a 1.267 OPS at this moment.

Three points that should be obvious need to be stated:

• Baseball is a game of adjustments, and without a doubt, at some point Puig will need to make them. It’s understandable why alarm bells went off for fans with visions of a struggling Mondesi or Kemp. It was at a similar stage in his debut – after seven homers and a 1.287 OPS in his first 15 career games – that Kemp’s game first went south, pushing him back to the minors four weeks later.

• That being said, it’s one thing for fans to be frustrated, but after what he’s accomplished, Puig deserves more than three bad at-bats before the wolves come out, much less before people start tinkering with his stance in response to what simply might have been a night of frustration of his own. He is not going to spend his career flirting with a .500 batting average, so there needs to be some amount of pain tolerance.

• Puig is the least of the Dodgers’ worries right now.

The game was not without its highlights. Here’s one, courtesy of Adrian Gonzalez.

But the Padres outdid the Dodgers.

* * *

For you Manny Mota fans out there – and how could you not be one – here’s a detailed piece from Bruce Markusen at the Hardball Times on the famed Dodger pinch-hitter, who will be inducted into the Baseball Reliquary Shrine of the Eternals this summer.