Oct 11

National League Championship Series Game 1 chat

The Dodgers were 12-1 when they scored at least four runs in Zack Greinke starts this year. The only loss was in Colorado in extra innings.

So they should try to score at least four runs.

Brace yourselves for launch … here we go.

Dodgers at Cardinals, 5:37 p.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Yasiel Puig, RF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Andre Ethier, CF
A.J. Ellis, C
Zack Greinke, P

Oct 11

Capuano, Rodriguez left off Dodgers NLCS roster

The Dodgers have halved their number of lefthanders on their playoff roster, leaving Paco Rodriguez and Chris Capuano out of the National League Championship Series.

Carlos Marmol and Edinson Volquez have joined the roster in their place.

J.P. Howell will be the only lefty in the Dodger bullpen unless Hyun-Jin Ryu gets removed from the starting rotation.

If it weren’t surprising enough, it’s particularly shocking because the Cardinals don’t hit lefties well.

My best guess — and this is entirely speculation — something’s wrong with Capuano physically, and maybe Rodriguez too. Or, the Dodgers just felt that Rodriguez was spent.

The Dodgers’ contingent of position players remains the same.

Starting pitchers for sure (2): Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke

Starting or relieving? (3): Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ricky Nolasco, Edinson Volquez

Relief pitchers (6): Kenley Jansen, Brian Wilson, J.P. Howell, Chris Withrow, Ronald Belisario, Carlos Marmol

Catchers (2): A.J. Ellis, Tim Federowicz

Infielders (7): Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Ellis, Hanley Ramirez, Juan Uribe, Nick Punto, Michael Young, Dee Gordon

Outfielders (5): Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Skip Schumaker, Scott Van Slyke

Oct 10

Andre Ethier vs. Adam Wainwright

Sure, you remember Matt Holliday from Game 2 of the 2009 National League Division Series, but do you remember this?

In his regular-season career, Ethier is 10 for 33 with three walks and three homers against the Cardinals ace, for a 1.028 OPS. It is hoped Ethier will be in the starting lineup for the Dodgers in the 2013 National League Championship Series — if he can play at all, you can count on him appearing in Monday’s Game 3 against Wainwright.

More highlights from Game 2 of the 2009 NLDS
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Oct 10

Joe Kelly intrigues as NLCS Game 1 starter against Dodgers

Earlier this year — for the only time this year — I live-blogged a Dodger game. Some of you might remember, not that you should, but one of the things that stuck out for me was the appearance of Joe Kelly.

When he entered that May 25 game, Kelly had an ERA of 7.36 and hadn’t pitched in a week, but he was called into service when Cardinals starting pitcher John Gast had to leave with an injury after having faced only six batters.

Facing the Dodgers with none out and one runner on base in the bottom of the second inning, Kelly then proceeded to …

— strike out the next three Dodgers.
— allow a double to Nick Punto, hit Mark Ellis with a pitch and surrender an RBI single to Adrian Gonzalez.
— retire the next four Dodgers.
— allow hits to Dee Gordon (ending an 0-for-25 slump) and Punto in the fourth inning before escaping that jam.
— give up a leadoff homer to Gonzalez and a walk to Matt Kemp to start the bottom of the fifth.
— head for the showers.

Kelly pitched three innings, allowed seven baserunners and struck out six. His wild ride lasted 62 pitches, and while he looked like a lit match in a gastank half the time, he looked unhittable the other half. (From my liveblog: “Kelly has an ERA over 7 but he throws fire. Nothing below 95 mph.”)

Of course, 50-50 effectiveness won’t get it done, but Kelly would improve in 2013. After a stretch in which he appeared in 10 consecutive Cardinal losses, Kelly moved into the starting rotation for good in July — and thrived. His ERA from July 1 on was 2.18, including a 5 1/3-inning winning outing against the Dodgers on August 6 in which he allowed one run. Most recently, Kelly went another 5 1/3 innings in the National League Division Series against the Pirates, allowing two earned runs and picking up a no-decision.

The caveat for Kelly is that he succeeded in the second half of 2013 almost despite himself: 49 strikeouts against 117 baserunners in 86 1/3 innings. Only once did he pitch more than six innings, leaving matters for the St. Louis bullpen to wrap up.

Those six strikeouts in three innings of relief against the Dodgers? He still hasn’t had more strikeouts in a game in his career.

That’s the pitcher who will face Zack Greinke in Game 1 of the NLCS on Friday. Kelly might not be the better hurler on paper, but he could easily keep things interesting.

Oct 10

Get ready for day games: NLCS schedules two under the sun

The Dodgers will play Game 2 and if necessary Game 5 of the National League Championship series in the daytime, according to the schedule announced today.

Game 1: Friday at 5:37 p.m.
Game 2: Saturday at 1:07 p.m.
Game 3: Monday at 5:07 p.m.
Game 4: Tuesday at 5:07 p.m.
Game 5: Wednesday at 1:07 p.m.
Game 6: Friday at 5:37 p.m.
Game 7: Saturday at 5:37 p.m.

All times Pacific. Dodger home games in bold. “If necessary” games in italics. Games televised on TBS.

Oct 09

Great interviews in Earth history: A.J. Ellis

Thanks to Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness for catching this. We were talking about it on Twitter today and at the game Monday: A.J. Ellis can basically write his own ticket as a broadcaster after his playing career is over, assuming he doesn’t write his own ticket as a manager. For my part, I’m not sure I can wait that long. Wire him up and have him do commentary during Game 1 at St. Louis on Friday.

Oct 08

U-RI-BEAR! Dodgers swing into NLCS on redemption song


All the thrills and the joy and yet I must start with this.

In July, I wrote, that there really hadn’t been a story like Juan Uribe in Los Angeles Dodger history: “What Dodger endured two miserable years, while collecting a big paycheck, before putting it together in his third season?” In the post-1975 free agent era, no such player exists. There have been players who struggled coming up in the system, there have been acquisitions that got off to slow starts (Dusty Baker comes to mind). But none was such a disappointment, none was so marginalized, none was so close to being released … only to come back to become the subject of chants and cheers and curtain calls, as Juan Uribe.

As the Dodgers advance to the National League Championship Series with their 4-3 victory Monday over Atlanta, you can be sure it was a team triumph. Absolutely, there are stars – clearly, this is Clayton Kershaw’s world that we rent existence in – and absolutely there were nearly goats, but to get to this point has taken contributions from everyone on that roster.

But holy cow, for those of us who come to baseball for an escape, for answers or even suggestions, to feel something that we can’t often or otherwise find in everyday life, consciously or unconsciously, and see such a tale of redemption played out right at center stage, see one who was so mercilessly derided become the hero, and to know it’s real, brings an emotion to cherish above and beyond the revelry of victory.

Yes, I know Juan Uribe was well compensated as he stunk up the joint in 2011 and 2012 and he didn’t need my sympathy. And I never offered it. But strip everything else away, and you have the story of someone who found his way back from tar and feathering into sweet serenity. If you’ve ever felt like you’ve been failing, it is an inspiration. I’ll never be Clayton Kershaw, the best in the world. But I might be Juan Uribe. I might have my moment.

* * *

To say the least, this National League Division Series Game 4 tossed expectations of success and failure into a blender.

Clayton Kershaw, starting for the first time in his major-league career on three days’ rest, was absolutely on his game, burnishing his legend as this generation’s Sandy Koufax. (Fine, they’re two different people and one hasn’t locked up the Hall of Fame yet, but I’m tired of people trying to deny their equivalency.) Kershaw faced 24 batters and allowed only three singles and a walk while striking out six – meaning that he had struck out 18 in 13 NLDS innings.

But the first sign that not even Kershaw can control the earth’s rotation and the winds of the fates came with the very first batter, when a simple groundball eluded the glove of Adrian Gonzalez at first base. The short-term ramifications were that Kershaw had to throw seven extra pitches to get out of the first inning – and it took a backhand play on the line behind third base by Uribe to do it – but immediately you feared the domino effect on a night he would be on a shorter leash than normal.

If that had been the only deviation from the ideal script, it wouldn’t have mattered. The rest of the night called for the Dodgers to pound multi-organization moundsman Freddy Garcia early and often, and it looked like that would happen. Carl Crawford, 24 hours after his huge three-run Game 3 homer Sunday, jumped on a 1-2 offering from Garcia and drilled it over the right-field wall for a leadoff blast, the first of his career since hitting one off Garcia eight seasons ago. One out later, Hanley Ramirez singled and stole second, and one more out later, Yasiel Puig absolutely smashed a ball to right field that looked as much like a homer as anything I saw from my seat on the Reserved Level all night. But Justin Upton caught it at the fence, and the Dodger lead remained 1-0.

Kershaw cruised fairly easily through innings two and three, allowing only a single to the consistently bothersome Chris Johnson, before Crawford came up again with one out in the bottom of the third. Unbelievably, Crawford hit a second homer, this one high down the right-field line, to double the Dodgers’ lead. When Mark Ellis followed with a bloop double, placing Ramirez and Gonzalez at the plate with one out, you wondered whether the bell was tolling for Garcia.

But the 37-year-old showed us. Through the end of the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth Garcia would go, and no more runs would he allow. And by the time someone else was pitching for the Braves, they would be winning.

Freddie Freeman singled off Kershaw to start the fourth inning. Gattis, who always seemed to be involved in interesting plays this series, hit a sharp grounder to Gonzalez, who turned to throw to Ramirez. On the Dodgers’ postgame show, Gonzalez said he forgot how deep Ramirez had been playing and that although he threw the ball on a line, it arrived too early. Ramirez couldn’t catch it. The Braves had two on with none out, and for those keeping Kershaw watch, Gonzalez had blown three potential outs out of the first 13 batters.

It gets worse. Kershaw didn’t get three consecutive strikeouts like the situation basically demanded. Instead, he threw a wild pitch and gave up a single to That Darn Johnson (who had RBI in every NLDS game), and Atlanta was on the board. The next batter, Andrelton Simmons, hit the second potential double-play grounder of the inning, but while Uribe fielded it smoothly and threw to Ellis, the second baseman’s relay to Gonzalez at first was wide, and Gattis scored. Two runs and four outs given away by the Dodger defense, and the game was tied, 2-2.

The sixth inning ended with Kershaw at 91 pitches, but he did not come out for the seventh, in what purely had to be a nod to protecting his arm. I’m not questioning that, because I’m all for protecting his arm, but I’m just curious how that was determined to me the limit. In any case, it became at that moment the Dodgers’ bullpen against the Braves’ bullpen in a tie game, a turning point that was supposed to go Atlanta’s way.

And so it did, immediately. Ronald Belisario got the first out but gave up a triple to Elliot Johnson, previously hitless in the series. With the infield in, pinch-hitter Jose Constanza – the guy the Dodgers were afraid to have Chris Withrow face in Game 2 – hit a legit single up the middle. In that moment, Garcia and Constanza were positioned to be the Brave heroes sending the series back to Atlanta for Game 5.

More and more, Game 4 was taking on the shape of Game 2, a game that the Dodgers came close to breaking through time and time again, only to be foiled. In the bottom of the seventh, for the second time in the evening, Ellis doubled ahead of Ramirez and Gonzalez. But after Ramirez was walked intentionally, Gonzalez flied deep but not deep enough to right field.

Brian Wilson entered in the eighth inning and struck out the first two men he faced, then gave up singles to Chris Johnson (his third) and Simmons. An insurance run was a solid hit away from scoring. But Elliot Johnson flied to center field, and I’ll just say this – seeing Atlanta waste one of its few scoring opportunities (only their second runner stranded in scoring position all night) – felt different.

Puig was the leadoff batter for the bottom of the eighth against David Carpenter. He would need to get on base to get a rally going, and he would surely need an extra-base hit to avoid putting the Dodgers in what Don Mattingly would surely turn into a bunting situation. And Puig delivered, a beautiful, go-with-it, opposite-field shot down the right-field line for two bases. (He looked dangerously close to coming off second base in his exultation, but all was well.) There it was, the tying run on second base and three shots to get him home with a single single.

And still, Uribe showed bunt! The headline of this paragraph should be “Grrr! Mattingly!” The sheer frustration watching someone make a decision based entirely on the premise that Skip Schumaker will hit a sacrifice fly or that a ball will get away from the catcher is rarely replicated in civilized society, but there it was.

Uribe twice fouled off bunts, leaving him simply with the task of batting with an 0-2 count against a pitcher whose regular season stats included a 1.78 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings and fewer than a home run every 13 innings.

And then …

Redemption.

Said Vin Scully after calling the home run: “Isn’t it amazing what someone will do when he can’t bunt?”

Joked A.J. Ellis on the postgame show: “And Uribe, wisely, decided not to get the bunt down.”

Even the Dodgers’ radio team seemed to feel the Dodgers dodged one simply when Uribe fouled the bunts off, with Kevin Kennedy pointing out that handing the Braves an out might bring uber-closer Craig Kimbrel into the game that much sooner.

And so Mattingly gets derided for his performance in this moment. But what does Uribe remind us if not the potential for redemption?

* * *

Kenley Jansen for the ninth. Earlier in the evening, Tampa Bay had scored a go-ahead run in their bottom of the eighth against Boston, only to surrender that lead in the top of the ninth. The Rays still won, but who wanted any part of that kind of drama?

Not Kenley Jansen.

Strikeout.

Strikeout.

Striiiiiiiiiiikeout!

Five years after clinching an NLDS series at home against Chicago, four years after a two-run rally in their last at-bat to win their final NLDS home game against St. Louis, the Dodgers had done it again.

They will next play Friday, either at home against Pittsburgh or on the road against St. Louis. They will be able to start Zack Greinke and Kershaw in the first two games of the NLCS, as well as two other games if necessary.

They will perhaps have the exact same roster, with the only changes potentially Andre Ethier starting in center field, and maybe a tinker for the ever chancy bullpen.

For all that has happened, they will be trying to win a seven-game series for the first time in 25 years.

They will continue on their path, their path to turn past disappointments into pure happiness.

Oct 07

Boldly and not without risk, Dodgers push Clayton Kershaw into Game 4 start

My reactions to the official news that Clayton Kershaw will start Game 4 of the National League Division Series tonight are complicated.

It’s not that I don’t see the obvious, that Kershaw, even on short rest, seems preferable to Ricky Nolasco when it comes down to one game.

It’s not that I don’t see that Zack Greinke is still available to pitch Game 5 on Wednesday, if necessary.

But you’re also trading one unknown (how Nolasco will do after his long layoff) for another (how Kershaw will do on his first short-rest start ever). And the latter unknown includes a heightened wear-and-tear risk.

And there’s the problematic issue that even if the Dodgers win tonight, they are kicking a pretty big can down the road: a seeming lack of confidence in anyone beyond their top two starters.

What will Kershaw’s pitch limit be, after throwing 124 pitches on Thursday? You know that Atlanta is going to try to make him work. You know that in all likelihood, you’ll need the bullpen to close this game out.

Kershaw is going to need to throw strikes. He’s going to need to have his best control, and he’s going to need that despite not having his regular time off.

For all the attention this is getting, the Dodgers’ fate might rest as much as anything on whether they can turn Freddy Garcia’s Game 4 start into child’s play.  If the Dodgers score, it won’t matter much who started for them.

I think this boils down to a belief that Kershaw won’t be negatively affected by the shortened rest. If you believe in that, there’s little reason not to support using him. But if you have fears about short-rest starts, it’s going to be an uneasy time.

My belief in Clayton Kershaw is pretty close to limitless, but that’s why I was fine to let Nolasco wade into Game 4. Because with Kershaw on the mound in a close-out game on full rest — that’s as good an scenario as you can paint. Whereas I see the potential tonight for Kershaw to have to leave inside of six innings, the Dodgers losing and a lot of pressure on Greinke to win somewhere he lost five days earlier.

But it’s a tough call. Whatever happens, I will not second-guess the Dodgers’ choice unless I find out that there was the slightest physical concern about Kershaw.

 

Oct 06

Braves rocked, Dodgers roll, fans jazzed, team’s got soul

That was like Sisyphus getting ready for another long, hard push up the mountain – and then Zeus changing his mind and just handing him a beach chair and a Mai Tai instead.

Too wacky? Maybe so, but wacky suits what happened tonight for the Dodgers. who shrugged off Hyun-Jin Ryu’s uphill outing and bam-smashed the Atlanta Braves in Game 3 of the National League Division Series, 13-6.

The Dodgers tied their all-time postseason high in runs, set in Game 2 of the 1956 World Series (breaking their Los Angeles record of 12 in Game 4 of the 1974 National League Championship Series) and can eliminate the Braves with one win in their next two games. The game also set a record for most combined runs ever at Dodger Stadium in the postseason.

After allowing two runs in the first inning, the Dodgers came back in the second inning on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Ryu and Carl Crawford’s marvelous three-run homer, their biggest hit of the playoffs so far. And then, after Ryu gave up two more runs in what would prove to be his final inning, Los Angeles struck for two more runs in the bottom of the third and four more in the fourth to all but put the game out of reach.

The Dodgers tacked on three runs in the eighth, building their lead to nine before Jason Heyward hit a two-run homer off in the ninth off Paco Rodriguez, who couldn’t finish the inning in what might be a sign that his usefulness this season is over. Kenley Jansen came in to get the final out, four hours and a minute after the game began.

Nearly every Dodger starter had a say in the game, but none more than Crawford (2 for 5 with three runs), Hanley Ramirez (walk, single, double and triple), Yasiel Puig (three singles) and Juan Uribe (single and two-run home run). Oh, and Chris Capuano, who had one of the oddest relief outings you’ll ever see, walking the leadoff batter in three consecutive innings but allowing no other baserunners, on his way to earning the win.

The game deserves more ink than this, but some of us are going to rest up for the week ahead.

Ricky Nolasco will now probably take the ball in Game 4 of the playoffs Monday against Freddy Garcia, with Clayton Kershaw prepared to start Game 5 on Wednesday or, if not necessary, Game 1 of the NLCS on Friday.

Oct 06

National League Division Series Oh Boy Game 3 chat

Seems like most of the National League Division Series material I read today isn’t about today’s Game 3, but rather Monday’s Game 4 and whether Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers on three days’ rest.

For what it’s worth, I’m not as gung-ho about using Kershaw on Monday if the Dodgers lose tonight. I mean, I realize you pretty much have to use him, but the downside is you really don’t know how pitching four days after a 124-pitch outing will affect him, both in terms of overall effectiveness and duration.

But for now, the focus should be on tonight’s Game 3, which offers a pretty great matchup between Hyun-Jin Ryu (amid some mystery of his overall health) and Julio Teheran, with the stakes the highest we’ve seen all year. After dominating Game 1 and coming within several different eyelashes of stealing Game 2, the Dodgers would seem to be well-positioned to take the upper hand of the series at home. But of course, I’ll be sitting on the edge of my fingernails like the rest of you.

Braves at Dodgers, 5:07 p.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Yasiel Puig, RF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Skip Schumaker, CF
A.J. Ellis, C
Hyun-Jin Ryu, P