Apr 18

Lakers, Dodgers and the meaning of a poor regular-season finish


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Phil Jackson and Joe Torre have dealt with doubt from outside and within.

What do the 2009 Dodgers and 2009-10 Lakers have in common? Both teams won their divisions and had the top record in their league/conference, but entered the playoffs having lost six of their final nine games.

Last year, there was much anxiety and a fair amount of hopelessness when the Dodgers hit the postseason with such a shaky final stretch. With the Lakers beginning the defense of the NBA title today, I asked current Laker blogger and former Dodger blogger Brian Kamenetzky of ESPNLosAngeles.com and KSPN 710 AM to compare and contrast the two teams.

It’s an interesting question, because looking back the Dodgers certainly didn’t close well. I remember the sense of doom in the air as it looked like they might somehow blow the NL West title to Colorado. Of course, they were already in the playoffs anyway, so it may not have mattered much, other than to give us media types something to talk about (and set up the Dodgers to see Philly a round earlier, costing guys in the locker room a better playoff share).

So what happened to the Lakers is similar, in the sense neither team went/will go into the postseason playing its best base/basketball. (There’s a movie in there somewhere). The difference, though, is expectations. The Lakers spent all season as the, if not prohibitive favorite to win a title, not far off, whereas the Dodgers weren’t perceived as the best Major League Baseball had to offer. A nice team, but World Series caliber?

There was similarity in the angst, but I wonder if the different feel despite similar situations reflects some of the more ingrained attitudes fans have towards the teams. Right now, people expect the Dodgers to come up short. They’re not pulling for it, but because it’s been over 20 years now since the last title, the faithful have less faith. The dark cloud forever hanging over this ownership (before the divorce, even) doesn’t help. Neither did the corporate feel of the Fox years.

The Lakers, meanwhile, are expected to succeed. Recent history gives people the strong belief they’ll be rewarded for their emotional investment. That’s the key difference, as far as I see it.

I also have to think that motivation was more of an issue for the Lakers, since winning a division title is such a non-event for them, relatively speaking. After Cleveland put the league’s best record out of reach – an event that only potentially impacts the Lakers in the seventh game of a seven-game championship series – the final week of their season became as much about getting healthy as anything else.

Certainly, poor regular-season finishes indicate at a minimum that a team is vulnerable, but is there a hangover effect? The Dodgers certainly put that theory to rest when they swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series (keeping in mind that the Cards themselves lost eight of their final 10 regular season games). And when you consider that the Dodgers were one out away from being even with the Phillies after four games in the NL Championship Series, it’s hard for me to see a convincing argument that the late-season losing made a difference – not to mention the fact that an on-fire finish to the regular season could leave a team open to accusations of being over-confident.

As recently as the second round of the 2009 NBA playoffs, when the Houston Rockets won the first, fourth and sixth games of their series with the Lakers, fans and the media were openly questioning the Lakers’ heart and ability to advance. Those doubts became a pretty distant memory within the next month, when the Lakers took out Orlando in five games to win the NBA title.

It really feels to me that the playoffs truly are a new season – and definitely not an easy one. I expect the Lakers to come out fully motivated. That doesn’t mean they might not fall short of repeating as champions, but if they do, it will be because of how well the other team played, not how poorly the Lakers did. As a footnote: Was the Kings’ thrilling overtime victory Saturday over Vancouver in Game 2 of their NHL first-round series a failure on the Canucks’ part, or more a triumph on the Kings’ part?

But I’ll give Kamenetzky the last word:

It started with … needing more motivation, but with about three or four weeks left in the regular season, I really felt the team was trying. It wasn’t an issue of complacency, they just weren’t playing well.

To me, their struggles are a sign of weakness. The alchemy going into playing the way they want to offensively is heavily influenced by continuity, and they’ve had none of it this season, thanks to their injury issues. Moreover, the Lakers have serious deficiencies shooting the ball from the outside, especially once Ron Artest fell off a cliff, accuracy wise. The Threepeat teams at the start of the decade weren’t good three-point shooting teams, either, but they compensated by using Shaq and a younger, more aggressive Kobe to live at the line. This Lakers team doesn’t do either, which historically is a bad recipe for success.

I think they’ll get through the early rounds of the playoffs, in part because most of the teams they’ll face have issues of their own (primarily health), but I don’t think it’s a matter of finally having something to play for. They’re still very good (or potentially very good, at least) and could win a title, but I wouldn’t use my money to lay a bet on it in Vegas.

Apr 17

Dodgers have a monster mash – but Tim Lincecum awaits


Mark J. Terrill/AP
Hello … is it me you’re looking for?

Andre Ethier is just mashing the ball. And it’s not just Friday in the Dodgers 10-8 victory over the Giants. Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. notes that Ethier has hit 25 home runs in his past 81 home games. Sons of Steve Garvey has a photo essay showing just how incredible Ethier’s night was.

And Matt Kemp is just mashing the ball, too. He has homered in four consecutive games and five of his past six.

James Loney doesn’t have a home run yet, but he is mashing the ball in his own way. Loney is 12 for his last 25, raising his batting average from .167 to .327 and making him one of seven Dodger regulars hitting over .300.

And for a night, opponents stopped mashing the ball against Vicente Padilla. With the Dodger bullpen in a shambles, Padilla picked a good time to give the Dodgers his best outing of the season. But Vin Scully and KCAL noticed Padilla rubbing his pitching arm pretty vigorously just before the fifth inning – the inning in which he lost his no-hitter and was hit pretty hard. Though Padilla lasted seven innings, we’ll have to see if what Scully saw had any significance.

The Dodgers came within one run of matching their team record (since moving to Los Angeles) for most runs in the first 10 games of a season (68). At the same time, they also reached their third-highest total of runs allowed in the first 10 games of a season (60).

* * *

Manny Ramirez came out of the game after three innings because of calf tightness, but Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports that Joe Torre said Ramirez would have stayed in the game if the Dodgers hadn’t been up by seven.

Of course, there were no guarantees the Dodgers would hold such a lead. And the fact that Russ Ortiz again could not finish an easy assignment is the last straw. Ortiz needs to be released.

When you take a flyer on a pitcher who hasn’t pitched well in years, the sole (if questionable) purpose is to try to see if there’s a chance he has solved his problems or even has one hot streak left in him. When you can see that he’s just as bad as he’s always been, there is nothing to hold out for. There is no situation in which Ortiz is a reliable pitcher, and the Dodgers should not wait any longer on him.

If Hong-Chih Kuo is about to be activated, that’s a simple exchange. But if Kuo has a setback, the Dodgers still need to jettison Ortiz.

* * *

  • It’s a tall order, but the Dodgers will try to “outlast” Tim Lincecum in today’s game, writes Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. It’s similar to how they were able to get a late victory against Arizona on Thursday – if they can make the great starter throw a lot of pitches, they can at least give themselves a chance against the bullpen.
  • The fifth-inning Padilla pitch that hit Aaron Rowand left him with two small fractures in his cheekbone and a concussion, writes D.J. Short of Hardball Talk.
  • Joe Torre recalls that when he was managing the Mets in 1977, the team almost traded Tom Seaver to the Dodgers for a package of players that included minor-leaguer Pedro Guerrero, writes Vincent Bonsignore of the Daily News.
  • John Ely pitched six two-run innings for Albuquerque last night.
  • Dee Gordon went 3 for 6 for Chattanooga and now has a .448 on-base percentage. Trayvon Robinson had a single, double and homer.
  • Will Savage, the 25-year-old from West Hills, pitched six innings without allowing an earned run while striking out eight for Great Lakes. In 12 2/3 innings this year, Savage has allowed two earned runs and five unearned runs.
Apr 16

Russell Martin deserves a hand, if not a nap


Chris Williams/Icon SMI
Back in the home opener, Russell Martin had no idea of how rough the middle of his week would get.

Last May, I wrote about Orlando Hudson in the midst of his hot start to 2009:

I’m not going to attempt to tell you how long Hudson can perform at an All-Star caliber level. Rather, my point in these giddy times for Dodger fans is to remind us that there was serious doubt whether Hudson, coming off a traumatic 2008 wrist injury, could play this well at any point in the remainder of his career — for a month, for a week, for even a day. That we now know he can is a revelation.

Things will go up and down, but just setting the ups this high is juicy. Right now, this is looking like a magical signing.

That Hudson didn’t finish the season in the starting lineup shows how a hot start doesn’t guarantee anything, but I do feel it’s worth making a similar point about Russell Martin.

In a year where expectations for Martin couldn’t have been lower – particularly after he missed most of Spring Training – the Dodger catcher leads the major leagues in on-base percentage and is 19th overall in OPS. Martin always has had a good eye, but he’s even slugging .591, compared to .329 last season and .256 last April.

Again, there are no assurances he won’t slump, especially if the Dodger pitchers keep wearing him out, but it’s nice to know that he can get this hot even for a little while.

* * *

Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness makes explicit what I implied in my last post: The Dodgers really only have Russ Ortiz, Carlos Monasterios and Ramon Troncoso available in relief of Vicente Padilla tonight, unless they make a more dramatic move. (Petriello includes Jeff Weaver among the available — Joe Torre included both Weaver and George Sherrill in his pregame conversation with reporters — but I can’t imagine the Dodgers want to go there tonight.)

If the Dodgers fall behind big early, then you pretty much can burn Ortiz and Monasterios to get through the game. But in a competitive game, the Dodgers figure to be at a huge bullpen disadvantage if Padilla has to leave before the eighth inning.

I’ve never been all that high on Padilla, but I kind of feel he’s due for a good outing. Just a gut thing I’m having.

* * *

Torre said that the day-after reports on Hong-Chih Kuo’s rehab outing showed no problems, and that he’s due to pitch again in a minor-league game Sunday. Torre pointed out that Ronald Belisario isn’t eligible to make rehab appearances, so that he will come straight to the Dodgers when his command is present.

Torre also said that he doesn’t consider carrying 13 or 11 pitchers on the staff to be an option at this time. Twelve it is.

* * *

One pitching bright spot: As a team, the Dodgers have struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings. Four pitchers are over the 9.0 mark, led not by Jonathan Broxton (15.4) but Charlie Haeger (16.7).

Apr 16

Might be time for some fresh blood …

Dodger pitch counts this season:

                       
  4/5 4/6 4/7 4/8 4/9 4/10 4/11 4/12 4/13 4/14 4/15 Total
Padilla 93         96           189
Kershaw     109           110     219
Billingsley       107           116   223
Kuroda         100           106 206
Haeger             116     20   136
Ra. Ortiz 18   25     23     29 4 6 105
Monasterios 8     23           19   50
Ru. Ortiz 23   24   19         36   102
Sherrill 24   15     19       12 23 93
Weaver 4   1 13   8 22   16   14 78
Troncoso     15 10   13 16   15 5   74
Broxton       11 14       12 13 15 65
Loney                       0
Total 170 0 189 164 133 159 154 0 182 225 164 1540
Apr 15

Dodgers unlose! Dodgers unlose!


Mark J. Terrill/AP
Matt Kemp is wide-eyed after hitting a game-tying homer in the seventh inning.

The other team blew the leads. The Dodgers didn’t blow the leads. The other team did.

Oh, sure, the Dodgers blew two ties, at 0-0 and 3-3, but still – progress.

Bullpen (except for Jonathan Broxton) still shaky. Fielding still shaky. But still … progress.

So that I’m not up all night, just a little stream of consciousness to wrap things up …

Hiroki Kuroda gave up 10 hits but didn’t walk anyone over seven innings, while striking out seven. That’s practically a perfect game compared to what we’ve seen lately.

Matt Kemp had trouble with another fly ball defensively but homered for this third game in a row to tie the score in the seventh – he now has 13 RBI in nine games. He drove in pinch-hitter Ronnie Belliard, who is a crazy 8-for-14 to start the season.

Dan Haren mostly stymied the Dodgers, but needed 121 pitches to get 19 outs, and that extra work cost him by requiring Arizona to go its bullpen sooner. The third pitch by Aaron Heilman was Kemp’s two-run homer.

Justin Upton then hit his second tiebreaking homer in two nights, a monster blast halfway up the left-field pavilion off Jeff Weaver, to give Arizona a 4-3 lead. Upton also made a bigtime catch of a Garret Anderson drive to the top of the right-field wall in the bottom of the eighth to preserve the lead.

Arizona added a slop run in the ninth, but the Dodgers rallied with two in the bottom of the inning to tie, thanks at the end to a blooper-reel throw by Stephen Drew that allowed Manny Ramirez to score the tying run.

Broxton dominated in the top of the 10th, and then the Dodgers won it on a leadoff single by Blake DeWitt, an intentional walk to Kemp and then, ho hum, a walkoff hit by Andre Ethier.

Here’s a list, passed along by Mark A. Simon of ESPN.com from mikemav.com, of the Dodgers’ all-time walkoff hit leaders since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958:

14 Dusty Baker
12 Manny Mota
11 Ron Cey
11 Davey Lopes
10 Andre Ethier
10 Steve Garvey

The final tally for Russell Martin in the series: three games, 571 pitches caught.

* * *

Hong-Chih Kuo struck out two in a 1-2-3 rehab inning for Inland Empire, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. He completed his 20-pitch assignment in the bullpen.

Matt Magill of Great Lakes struck out seven, walked none and allowed two doubles and a single in a scoreless five innings tonight. This year, the 20-year-old from Simi Valley has struck out 12 in nine shutout innings.

Dee Gordon went 2 for 4 for Chattanooga and has a 1.006 OPS on the season.

Apr 15

Dodger uniforms display ’42′ tonight in honor of Jackie Robinson, not team’s ERA


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The Dodgers will lead Major League Baseball’s celebration of Jackie Robinson — otherwise known as Chapter 1 — tonight at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers have not made any personnel moves to address their struggling bullpen, Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles said in his live chat today. But that doesn’t mean Dodger manager Joe Torre isn’t concerned.

“I think he is very worried,” Jackson said, “and you can read between the lines of what he says after every game. Joe isn’t the type to rip on his players or his team, but he has a way of expressing when he’s not happy about something that leaves little doubt as to how he feels. Keep in mind that (Ronald) Belisario and (Hong-Chih) Kuo will be back soon, possibly by sometime next week. Once that happens, everybody can kind of settle into their usual roles. Until then, they have to try to stay afloat with these guys.

Joe Torre later told reporters that the pitching staff can’t continue to not get the job done, but the Dodgers feel they’re better than what they’ve done so far or else they wouldn’t have left Spring Training with this group.

In this blogger’s opinion, however, the Dodgers need to replace at least one of the white flags in their bullpen. They are being given more rope than the younger, more promising alternatives were, and it isn’t deserved.

* * *

More Torre tidbits:

1) He hopes to avoid using Jonathan Broxton tonight, with Broxton having pitched in two consecutive games, and also hopes to continue resting Jeff Weaver.

2) I thought Jamey Carroll was starting for defensive reasons to support Hiroki Kuroda, whom the Dodgers need to really stay in the game for a long time tonight. But Torre said that Blake DeWitt was being given a day off to regroup for offensive reasons – saying that his swing is getting long and he is fouling balls off that he should put in play.

3) Torre expects Ronnie Belliard to get two starts this weekend, one of them at first base in place of James Loney against Barry Zito .

4) Andre Ethier’s ankle is still bothering him, but he is ready to go tonight.

* * *

Arizona pitcher Dan Haren is making his third start of the season tonight. After allowing three baserunners and a run in seven innings against San Diego on Opening Day, Haren allowed five earned runs on 11 baserunners in 6 2/3 innings against Pittsburgh.

* * *

The Dodgers are last in the National League in first-pitch strikes, notes Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.

* * *

Dodgerama has an interesting chart showing how long it took each Dodger to reach the majors.

* * *

John Lindsey Watch: A homer and three doubles in Albuquerque’s 13-5 victory today. Lindsey is now on-basing .611 and slugging .969. Lindsey, Jay Gibbons and Prentice Redman, batting fourth, fifth and sixth, each had four hits. Gibbons had his second consecutive four-hit game.

Josh Lindblom struck out five but allowed four earned runs in five innings of his second start of the year, lowering his ERA to 7.88. Brent Leach pitched two shutout innings.

Apr 15

IF: The If Factor


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If Ronald Belisario has really turned into a pumpkin, does that mean the Dodger season will too?

You know I know it’s early, but if certain things don’t go the Dodgers’ way, it’s true that this could be a downer of a year. I’ve rated the probability of these ifs on a scale of 1-10, 10 being most iffy, on a scale I call “The If Factor” (IF for short). Here are some examples:

If … IF
Vicente Padilla doesn’t become Cy Young. 1
A major injury hits a productive player. 2
Hong-Chih Kuo can’t stay healthy. 3
The offense’s scoring average drops from 6.5 runs per game to 4.5. 4
Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw both can’t get their act together. 5
Ronald Belisario turns into a pumpkin (figuratively). 6
No one from the minor leagues steps up. 7
One or more Ortizes aren’t released by the end of the month. 8
Ronald Belisario turns into a pumpkin (literally). 9
The whole team is made up of pumpkins. 9.9

Other candidates for either end of the table: Russell Martin stops hitting like Tony Gwynn, and James Loney has to move to the bullpen. From Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Torre — who used every position player, every reliever except Jeff Weaver (who wasn’t available because he had pitched in six of the previous seven games) and even starter Charlie Haeger in Wednesday night’s game — when asked who would have pitched if the Dogders had tied the score in the 11th and sent it to the 12th: “It would have been one of those guys out on the field. If it had stayed tied [in the 11th], Russ would have hit for himself and gone back out there. But if we had tied it, I’m sure we would have found a volunteer in there somewhere.”

Apr 14

Goodness gracious, forsaken alive: Billingsley, Dodgers drag fans into 7-7 marathon

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Chad Billingsley retired nine of his first 10 batters, but only got eight more outs from his next 18.

Chad Billingsley, who was looking ever-so-close like that guy who could always be counted on to get the job done, is now the guy getting the Job done.

Close to scintillating in the first three innings Wednesday against Arizona – he threw 45 pitches and faced one over the minimum while striking out four, lowering his season ERA at that point to 1.08 – the be-plagued Billingsley staggered through 61 pitches over the next 2 2/3 innings, allowing six runs on eight hits in all while walking three. And what looked like a breeze for Los Angeles became an even longer endurance test than Tuesday’s 3:42 game, with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks headed into extra innings, 7-7, exactly four hours after the game’s 7:10 p.m. start time.

It took some doing for Billingsley to not outpitch Arizona’s Rodrigo Lopez, who allowed five runs and 11 hits to the first 22 Dodgers he faced, but Billingsley did it, and he is now facing his latest calamity.

In the fourth, trailing 3-0, Arizona surrounded a Justin Upton infield hit with four big fly balls off Billingsley – a homer by Stephen Drew, a double by Adam LaRoche and sacrifice flies by Mark Reynolds and Chris Young. Billingsley then issued a walk before he got out of the inning, after which Matt Kemp put the Dodgers back in front with a two-run homer.

In the fifth, Billingsley came very close to making his previous inning look like an aberration, retiring the first two hitters before making a great 1-1 pitch to Drew that was called a ball. Drew eventually drew a 3-2 walk, and then Upton doubled and LaRoche singled to tie the game again.

And in the sixth, Billingsley again came within one strike of making it through, but Conor Jackson doubled right down the third-base line on an 0-2 pitch to give Arizona a 6-5 lead and cast Billingsley adrift. He finished the night with 116 pitches to get 17 outs, and his ERA leaped to 5.73.

Mark J. Terrill/AP
Rodrigo Lopez looked like a sure-fire losing pitcher in the early going, but it didn’t turn out that way.

Starting in the top of the fourth, of the nine baserunners Billingsley allowed (leaving out an intentional walk), six did their damage with two strikes. Last year, opponents had a .245 on-base percentage against Billingsley with two strikes, though it’s safe to assume that figure was higher in the second half of the season. Tonight, Billingsley couldn’t shut the door, on the Diamondbacks or his doubters.

The Dodgers tied the game in the bottom of the sixth inning on a Kemp sacrifice fly but didn’t get any more runs despite loading the bases with one out. Then, Carlos Monasterios was called upon for the first time in his career in a close situation and gave up a dead-center leadoff homer to Upton in the seventh. Ramon Ortiz bailed Monasterios out of a two-walk, one-out jam that pushed the game past the 3:00 mark with nearly three innings to go by inducing a double play. George Sherrill, trying to recover from his bad start to 2010, also got a double play and then a strikeout to handle the eighth, while Charlie Haeger made himself useful in relief with a shutout ninth. (For the record, yes, that’s a Jonathan Broxton situation too if he’s available.)

Manny Ramirez doubled to lead off the bottom of the ninth with the Dodgers’ 18th baserunner, but after James Loney struck out, Casey Blake doubled home pinch-runner Jamey Carroll to tie the game at 11:06 p.m. A Blake DeWitt grounder moved Blake to third. Russell Martin was intentionally walked, but pinch-hitter Reed Johnson grounded out to send the game into the 10th.

Despite my stating the obvious, the offense and the pitching stayed at their weird extremes. Kemp, Ramirez, Martin and Andre Ethier each reached base at least three times. But regardless of what was to come in extra innings, Los Angeles will be practically desperate for Hiroki Kuroda to deliver another sharp performance Thursday against Dan Haren.

* * *

Hong-Chih Kuo is scheduled to make a 20-pitch rehab appearance in the first inning Thursday for Inland Empire. Elsewhere in the minors for the Dodgers:

  • Scott Elbert struggled in the unfriendly confines of Albuquerque, allowing five runs on five hits and three walks while striking out four in four innings. Jay Gibbons (4 for 5) won the game for the Isotopes with an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth after reliever Jon Link (8.10 ERA) blew his second save in as many nights.
  • Great Lakes righty Brett Wallach, who pitched five no-hit innings with eight strikeouts in his first start of the season, came back with another five innings tonight and allowed one unearned run while striking out six. Opponents are 5 for 34 (.147) against him this season. Brian Cavalos-Galvez went 3 for 4 with two doubles and has a .394 on-base percentage on the season.
  • Chris Withrow of Chattanooga got hammered tonight: six runs (five earned) in 2 2/3 innings with one strikeout. The Lookouts made five errors and lost, 15-2.
  • Aaron Miller went six innings for Inland Empire tonight and allowed six baserunners and one run (on a sixth-inning squeeze). That was a 1-0 game until Pedro Baez singled in the tying run with two out in the bottom of the ninth, and then the 66ers won in the 10th.
Apr 14

Stating the obvious, but …


Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Casey Blake (shown homering Tuesday) has a .476 on-base percentage and .667 slugging percentage so far this season.

… everyone knows that the pitching will improve and the offense will cool down, right?

No matter what happens, “Follow the Dodgers!” (Thanks, Blue Heaven.)

Apr 14

Brad Ausmus to have back surgery

Brad Ausmus’ 41st birthday today comes with some bad news. The Dodgers have announced that Ausmus will have surgery Thursday to address a herniated disc, keeping him on the disabled list until at least “late this summer,” the team said. Ausmus is expected to retire after this season.

* * *

Regrettably, a couple of corrections to my Tuesday work: Blake DeWitt only has eight walks this season, not 11, and the outfield trio of Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier have homered in the same game as starters thrice, not twice.

Apr 13

One take, baby – one take

So after today’s game, Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com and I got together at the Dodger Stadium Downtown Overlook to talk shop.  Welcome to Low Expectations Video Theater, where it’s all unscripted, there are no reshoots and anything can happen. Is there an explosion? Well, there isn’t not not an explosion.

Job 1: Work on my squinting.

  • A statue of Chick Hearn is headed for the front of Staples Center, writes Steve Springer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. This is sure to get people talking about a Vin Scully statue at Dodger Stadium.
  • Quote of the Day comes from Dodger starter Clayton Kershaw, via Jackson: “I would rather we win because of me than in spite of me.” Arash Markazi of the site has more.
  • Jackson reports that George Sherrill’s next appearance might be moved earlier in the game as he works through his troubles.
  • Andre Ethier talks about his ankle to Dylan Hernandez of the Times the way Jack Walsh talked about his popularity with the Chicago police department.
  • Brad Ausmus is very worried that his latest back problems might end his career six months early, writes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • The Dodgers’ four home runs today were a Los Angeles home opener record.
  • The starting outfield of Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Ethier homered in the same game for the second time since they’ve been a unit.
  • One other scoreboard oddity I forgot to mention today: A new feature (as new as a ripoff of ’80s David Letterman can be) in which Tommy Lasorda throws things off a Dodger Stadium ledge and the audience votes on whether those things will break. Believe it or not, if you throw a TV from a great height, it won’t bounce.
  • Carlos Monasterios should have pitched today, argue Chad Moriyama of Memories of Kevin Malone and Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness, which has added an “Ortiz DFA-O-Meter” to its upper-right corner.
  • James McDonald tonight: six innings, 11 baserunners, three runs, eight strikeouts.
  • John Lindsey Watch: 2 for 2 off the bench to raise his on-base percentage to .654 and slugging to .864.
  • Nick Staskin of Phillies Nation isn’t happy that fans there have begun to boo Cole Hamels. I can relate.
Apr 13

Winning 9 to 5 – what a way to make a living



Manny Ramirez hit his first homer of 2010.

I didn’t have the league bylaws with me to see when the pitchers’ mercy rule would kick in and they would bring out the tees, but I know the Dodger and Diamondback parents must have felt it was close.

There was an offensive display at Dodger Stadium Opening Day — particularly offensive if you were a fan of good pitching. Arizona and Los Angeles combined to walk 14 and needed 362 pitches to get through nine innings, but ultimately it was the Dodgers who enjoyed their postgame snacks and juiceboxes most with a 9-5 victory.

Manny Ramirez added to the pregame fireworks with his first homer of 2010 to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning, and Casey Blake, Andre Ethier (back from his injury) and Matt Kemp followed with more round-trippers in a game that the Dodgers seemed to own basically the entire way — only their pitchers seemed practically determined to lease it back to the Diamondbacks.

Clayton Kershaw threw only four pitches out of the strike zone in the first inning, but once again increasingly battled his control as the game progressed and couldn’t make it through the sixth inning despite a comfortable lead. He walked No. 8 hitter Chris Snyder and Arizona pitcher Ian Kennedy to lead off the top of the fifth and later hit a batter before escaping a bases-loaded jam. Then in the sixth, he again walked the first two batters and was clearly laboring to find himself. Kershaw left after 5 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts and only two earned runs, but five walks and another four days to come of pitchers’ soul-searching.

But Kennedy, whom Arizona is counting on to hold down a spot in its starting rotation, was certainly little better after a 1-2-3 first inning for the Diamondbacks, allowing six runs and nine baserunners while using 100 pitches to get 13 outs.

No reliever really impressed for either team until the ninth, when Jonathan Broxton — who received a warm reception from a good-mooded crowd that held nothing from the end of 2009 against him – struck out two in a perfect final frame. Dodger fans worried about rising ticket prices at least got 222 minutes of game action today for their trouble, and a happy ending as they hit the postgame traffic.

The Dodger offense now has 45 runs in seven games (6.4 per game), though it is a slow-starting group. Russell Martin’s sacrifice fly provided the Dodgers’ first second-inning run of the season, and all but eight runs in 2010 have been scored from the fourth inning on. Kemp and Ethier each went 2 for 5, James Loney had two doubles and Blake DeWitt walked three times (once with the bases loaded) to give him 11 on the season against one strikeout. Yes, folks, your National League 2010 walk leader is none other than Mr. DeWitt.

As indicated above with Broxton, the atmosphere at Opening Day was positive, though perhaps not as euphoric as a year ago when Ramirez was making grand entrances from the left-field bleachers and Vin Scully was saying “It’s time for Dodger baseball” instead of Larry King. In particular, the staff working the scoreboards seemed a little disengaged from the festivities, rarely showing fans in the stands and being sluggish with stat updates. In addition, they’ve made a peculiar choice to air random trivia (not baseball trivia, but things like the temperature of lightning) in paid spots for Mega Millions, and even the bloopers segment had nothing to do with baseball.  They seemed to be marching to their own, odd drummer.

As for me, I’ll be marching home with a Russell Martin foul ball that I caught after it caromed off the hands of a fan behind me. It’s the fifth of my career – one for my fortunately not sore thumb.

Apr 13

Kershaw LIII: Kershawme Opener


John Cordes/Icon SMI
Andre Ethier blasted two homers and drove in four runs in the Dodgers’ home opener a year ago today.

They were overshadowed by Orlando Hudson producing the first Dodger cycle in 39 years, but there were plenty of heroes that made last year’s Dodger opener a laugher in the best kind of way for the fans. Every Dodger starter had at least one hit, Andre Ethier homered twice, Chad Billingsley scattered four singles and a double over seven innings while striking out 11 – heck, even Will Ohman pitched a shutout inning. All against the Giants. The good times rolled on through April’s record streak of consecutive home victories to start a season.

Things are a bit cloudier a year later, with the Dodgers 3 1/2 games behind the Giants in the National League West before the home crowd has even seen a regular-season pitch. But Monday’s gray skies have cleared up, just as Albert Peterson predicted. Let’s go have some fun!

* * *

  • Joe Torre-managed teams have won 12 consecutive home openers, notes Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. Stephen has more Dodger home opener details here.
  • In the comments of that thread, BHSportsGuy lists the 15 Dodger pitchers credited with a win since Clayton Kershaw’s last on July 18.
  • Via Twitter, Stephen points to a nice feature by Tom Krasovic on Dick Enberg, reborn as a Padres play-by-play announcer. Related: Rob Neyer of ESPN.com heard Enberg say that he tried to write a screenplay about legendary spy/catcher Moe Berg.
  • Memories of Kevin Malone took a close look at the Dodger defense.
  • Padres pitcher Chris Young went on the disabled list, where he’ll find Arizona catcher Miguel Montero and might soon be joined by Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Juan Castro is the Phillies’ current replacement for Rollins.
  • Josh Wilker of Cardboard Gods gets some nice Huffington Post exposure in writing about the anniversary of Mark Fidrych’s death and the connection with his childhood.
  • Blue Heaven passes along a March 6, 1948 letter from Branch Rickey to Walter O’Malley (written from Spring Training at Ciudad Trujillo, Dominican Republic) calling for a trade of Eddie Stanky “even if we were getting nothing for him at all,” to create  an opening in the Brooklyn infield. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Stanky was traded within 24 hours with a player to be named later to the Boston Braves for a player to be named later, Bama Rowell, Ray Sanders and $40,000. (A month later, the Dodgers completed the trade by selling Sanders back to Boston for $60,000.)
  • Four-hit nights for Dodger minor leaguers on Monday: Xavier Paul had three singles and a homer for Albuquerque, Dee Gordon had three doubles, a single and an error for Chattanooga and Jerry Sands had two doubles and two singles for Great Lakes. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus writes that after an 0-for-6 start in AA, Gordon has six hits (including four doubles) in his past seven at-bats.
  • Isotopes reliever Brent Leach is having a Sherrill of a time in his first two games of the year.
  • Matt Hiserman, son of Times assistant sports editor Mike Hiserman and a college pitcher for the University of San Francisco, has come back inside of two months from a liner to the head that landed him in intensive care for four days, writes Eric Sondheimer of the Times.
  • The crackdown on Dodger Stadium pregame tailgating was scheduled to begin at dawn in Elysian Park, according to Zach Behrens of LAist (via L.A. Observed, which also points to a David Kipen piece talking about the origins of the Dodgers’ “LA” logo.).
  • How much of a difference does payroll make in baseball? Tom Tango writes at TMI: “If you spend at the league average (Payroll Index = 100 percent), your chance of making the playoffs is 27 percent. If you spend at double the league average (Payroll Index = 200 percent), your chances are 77 percent. And if you spend at half the league average, your chances dwindle to almost 0.”
  • Bob Timmermann wrote movingly about his grandmother, Ella Kimberling, for L.A. Observed’s Native Intelligence.
  • Quick entertainment notes from my day job: 1) Definitive details on Conan O’Brien’s move to TBS, 2) DirecTV will broadcast all five seasons of “The Wire” commercial-free, 3) Three major new hits (“The Good Wife,” “Modern Family” and “NCIS: Los Angeles” premiered within 25 hours of each other.
  • Leaving you with this: Brian Akin of Dear (Tommy) John Letters is thinking of hanging up his blog if he has to hang up his spikes. While I certainly hope he signs with another team, reading his latest post will serve as a reminder that no matter what, he should keep writing.
Apr 12

Dodger Cogs and Dogs: Edition 1 of ?


Doug Benc/Getty Images
Hiroki Kuroda was one of eight qualifying National League pitchers with a 0.00 ERA after the first week of the season.

This is an experiment, but I’m hoping it takes hold. It’s my ranking of the most valuable Dodgers of the year, top to bottom, mixing subjectivity and objectivity but completely looking at what’s already happened, not what’s likely to happen.

If I can keep this going, expect it on Dodger off days (though no more often than once a week). We’ll see … in the meantime, discuss, debate and enjoy!

Rank Player Comment
1 Hiroki Kuroda Dodger Thoughts’ pick for Opening Day starter comes through huge with no earned runs in eight innings.
2 Russell Martin Great start (4 for 11, one HR, six BB, .611 OBP) for a player so many had given up on.
3 Charlie Haeger Watching knuckleballs land for called strikes is a unique pleasure.
4 Rafael Furcal Red-hot start ended with Sunday’s 0 for 5.
5 Matt Kemp Don’t worry about the nine strikeouts – he’s hittin’.
6 Casey Blake Quietly leading Dodger regulars in batting average (.375); Dodger third basemen have combined for 1.300 OPS.
7 Ronnie Belliard Slugging 1.000 in 12 plate appearances and even more shocking, dazzled on defense Sunday.
8 Reed Johnson If you guessed he’d be tied for second among Dodger OF in total bases, congrats on picking Butler for NCAA title game.
9 Manny Ramirez Batting average is there (.316), but no homers or unintentional walks in 20 opportunities.
10 Chad Billingsley Control remains an issue, but for an early April start, results were encouraging.
11 Andre Ethier .417 OBP in limited action (12 plate appearances) for the normally durable RF.
12 Ramon Troncoso Has retired 12 of 14 batters faced with no strikeouts: 10 outs on the ground.
13 Jonathan Broxton Little impact this year – through little fault of his own.
14 Blake DeWitt No extra-base hits, but five walks compared with one strikeout lead to .450 OBP.
15 Jeff Weaver If Jorge Cantu’s liner goes six inches to the left, Weaver (five appearances in six games) might have been a first-week god.
16 Garret Anderson A soft 4 for 16 (one walk, one double), mostly subbing for Andre Ethier.
17 Ramon Ortiz Still need to be wary, but probably will survive the return of Hong-Chih Kuo.
18 Jamey Carroll Looking more and more like defensive replacement for DeWitt will be major part of role.
19 A.J. Ellis Did everything asked of him Sunday except block Haeger’s three wild pitches.
20 Clayton Kershaw Just a really sloppy first outing — he’ll try to avoid Padillaing on Tuesday.
21 Carlos Monasterios Being brought along gingerly: two appearances this season, both in runaway games.
22 Russ Ortiz For want of three outs in garbage time Friday, the Dodgers’ entire Florida weekend went south.
23 Brad Ausmus Over-under on games played this year drops from 40 to 20.
24 James Loney Two steals but only one walk and one extra-base hit lead to a .475 OPS.
25 Vicente Padilla In a Dodger uniform, has four quality starts in 12 tries, including postseason.
26 George Sherrill Why couldn’t he have had visa problems?