Sep 04

The day and week ahead

Dodgers at Rockies, 5:40 p.m.

Starting Thursday, I will be largely away from Dodger Thoughts for approximately one week, finding myself at the Toronto International Film Festival for Variety for the second year in a row. Game chat threads are set up for each day of action, and the reliable and effervescent Bob Timmermann will be offering his insight as much as his schedule and inclinations allow.

With the magic number for clinching the National League West at 12, Timmermann’s fair reign potentially will include a celebration post.

I imagine there is some concern that the Dodgers are peaking and/or counting their chickens too early, what with their ferociously strong summertime run and tonight’s start of Edinson Volquez in Coors Field.

To that, I offer these soothing thoughts:

1) For those who think they’re peaking too early, well, the lineups of the past two days offer the antidote. I’m practically ready for Don Mattingly to be given a breather and Manny Mota to manage the team for a day.

2) Even if Volquez gets torched, cutting a break to the guys in the potential postseason starting rotation offers a greater good. And Volquez might not get torched.

3) Though there are famous stories of hot teams in the summer flaming out in the fall, there is no cause-effect relationship there. There are plenty of stories of teams that peaked at the last possible moment and still didn’t win the World Series.

4) These Dodgers are hungry. I don’t know if they’re hungry in the same way as the fans who have waited 25 years or their entire lives for a World Series title, but they did not come this far just to go through the motions in October. Don’t buy into the idea that losses are inherently a character flaw.

5) Ultimately, we have limited control over whether the Dodgers win or lose. So just treasure every moment you can.

Sep 03

The Days of Puig and Ramirez take a day off

Dodgers at Rockies, 5:40 p.m.

On June 12 in Arizona, the Dodgers put out a lineup with Nick Punto at shortstop and an outfield of Jerry Hairston Jr., Andre Ethier and Alex Castellanos (who went 2 for 3, by the way). That was the last time the Dodgers entered a game without starting Hanley Ramirez or Yasiel Puig — until today.

Off the bench, Puig singled and scored the Dodgers’ second run in the bottom of the 12th inning of that June 12 game, but Los Angeles still lost, 8-6.  Since that time, they are 54-18, including an unfathomable .800 stretch of 52-13.

Speaking of days off: J.P. Howell hasn’t pitched in a game since August 24 and has faced two batters, throwing 11 pitches, in the past two weeks.

Sep 01

NL playoff possibilities a jumble-aya

With the Dodgers sporting what I would call a muscular 11 1/2-game lead in the National League West (and a magic number of 16 with 26 games to play) after their second consecutive 2-1 victory over San Diego, I’m finding it nearly impossible not to speculate about potential postseason matchups.

Even if all three teams from the National League Central make the playoffs as a division champion and the two wild cards, there could be an extra playoff game that might delay Los Angeles, if it goes on to win the division, learning who its first postseason opponent is.

Based on MLB rules changes that came in with the creation of the second wild-card spot in each league, if two teams tie for first place in the NL Central, they would have a playoff game to determine the division champ and first wild card. Presumably, that game would take place Monday, September 30, the day after the regular season ends. (If it’s between Pittsburgh and St. Louis, the Pirates would host that game, based on having won the season series with the Cardinals.)

The loser of that divisional playoff game – or without such a game, the top wild-card finisher, would host the second wild-card team in the one-game showdown on Tuesday, October 1.

The winner of the wild-card game will then travel to the home of the team with the best record in the league for a best-of-five NL Division Series that would probably begin on Thursday, October 3. Unlike last year, the division series will be in a 2-2-1 format.

The NL Division Series between the division champs that don’t have the best record in the league would probably begin on Wednesday, October 2.

The Dodgers currently hold the No. 2 spot in the NL. Though they have closed within two games of Atlanta, they actually need to make up three games to pass them, because head-to-head records will serve as tiebreakers for playoff seeding. Here’s how the Dodgers have fared against their fellow playoff contenders this year:

Arizona: 5-7 with seven games to play
Atlanta: 2-5
Cincinnati: 3-1 with three games to play
Pittsburgh: 4-2
St. Louis: 4-3
Washington: 5-1

If all three contenders in the NL Central finish the regular season tied, with the division champion and two wild-card slots at their disposal, that’s when it gets really interesting. Head-to-head records would be used to determine placement of the three clubs, and then there would be two playoff games.

The loser of the first game would be a wild-card team. The winner of the first game would play the remaining contender from the division in the second game. The winner of the second game would be the division champion, while the loser of the second game would be the other wild card.

For more insight, you can look at last year’s MLB postseason tiebreaker guide.


Sep 01

Puig missed the cutoff man … and saved the Dodgers

An element to the too-great debate over Yasiel Puig is this idea that his flaws – such as missing the cutoff man – will cost the Dodgers a victory.

Putting aside the phony idea that occasional on-field mistakes should negate all the positive Puig brings to Los Angeles, there’s also this:

Hitting or missing the cutoff man is usually presented as a black-and-white tale of good vs. evil, ignoring the fact that sometimes, to throw out a baserunner at home, you are absolutely going to miss the cutoff man.

Saturday, the Dodgers won by one run, a margin arguably carved out by nothing less than Puig missing the cutoff man to nail Rene Rivera trying to score on Andrew Cashner’s two-out, fourth-inning single.

Puig could have easily hit the cutoff man on this play – and the Padres would just as easily taken a two-run lead with their leadoff hitter coming up to bat. Which outcome would you prefer?

Vin Scully sure didn’t seem to mind: “Puig does it again,” he exclaimed. “He just airmails it, a hopper, just to Federowicz, who just plants and makes the tag. Oh, to be 22 and a Dodger – wow!”

The key, obviously, is to know when to go for the play at home and to know when to focus on the trailing baserunner. Guess what: three months into his major-league career, it’s okay that Puig is still learning about how to make this choice with major-league baserunners. It really is.

If his decision-making on throws home is the worst thing you can say about his game between the lines, that is really extraordinary.

On Saturday, Puig went hitless (three times with runners on base) and was caught stealing with a 2-1 count on Adrian Gonzalez, yet made one of the biggest plays of the game. Something to remember the next time he knocks three hits and all anyone wants to talk about is hitting the cutoff man.

* * *

Padres at Dodgers, 1:10 p.m.

With rosters expanding today, the Dodgers have kicked things off by officially recalling Drew Butera, Stephen Fife, Dee Gordon, Peter Moylan and Scott Van Slyke.

The Dodgers’ 2.07 ERA in August was their lowest in a month since April 1981. The top five:

1.59 September 1965
1.93 April 1981
1.93 September 1976
2.03 September 1966
2.07 August 2013

Los Angeles also had its second-best month by winning percentage.

.850 April 1977
.793 August 2013
.792 July 2013

Aug 31

If the Dodgers make the playoffs …

The more I look at this, the more I realize that the Michael Young acquisition pushes Scott Van Slyke off the Dodgers’ potential postseason 25-man roster.

Obviously, things can change on the fringes, and we’re going to knock on wood all month. But for the time being, here’s how it shapes up.

Starters (4)
Clayton Kershaw
Zack Greinke
Hyun-Jin Ryu
Ricky Nolasco

Relievers (7)
Kenley Jansen
Paco Rodriguez
Brian Wilson
Ronald Belisario
J.P. Howell
Chris Withrow
Brandon League or Carlos Marmol

Starting lineup (8)
A.J. Ellis
Adrian Gonzalez
Mark Ellis
Hanley Ramirez
Juan Uribe
Carl Crawford
Andre Ethier
Yasiel Puig

Bench (6)
Matt Kemp (not saying Kemp won’t start – but one of the big four outfielders must go here.)
Tim Federowicz
Michael Young
Nick Punto
Skip Schumaker
Jerry Hairston Jr. or Scott Van Slyke

Aug 31

That’s 50! Dodgers 50-13 since June 22 with 2-1 victory

Scoreless through six innings against hard-throwing righty Andrew Cashner, the Dodgers got RBI singles from Adrian Gonzalez in the seventh inning and Mark Ellis (off the bench) in the eighth to rally for a 2-1 victory, making them 50-13 since June 22.

Los Angeles set a record for wins in a calendar month with 23.

Presumably pitching for his spot in the rotation, Chris Capuano went seven innings, scattering seven hits besides a solo fourth-inning homer by Ronny Cedeno and walking only one while striking out seven. (It helped that Yasiel Puig threw out a runner at the plate.) Brian Wilson survived a threat in the eighth inning to get his first Dodger win, while Kenley Jansen struck out the side for his 23rd save.

Five spots in the Dodger batting order had two hits: Gonzalez, Andre Ethier, Skip Schumacker, Juan Uribe and the pinch-hitting combo of Jerry Hairston Jr. and Mark Ellis. Hairston and Schumaker scored the Dodger runs.

After playing .794 ball since June 22, the Dodgers’ magic number to clinch the National League West is 18, and they need to go 20-7 (.741) to reach 100 wins.

Aug 31

Report: Dodgers acquire Michael Young

On the seventh anniversary of Jhonny Nunez-for-Marlon Anderson, the Dodgers have acquired 36-year-old third baseman and Covina native Michael Young from the Phillies, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.

What the Dodgers are giving up was not immediately announced.

A free agent after this season, Young has name value, thanks in no small part to 2,356 career hits, but check out this comparison to Juan Uribe this season:

Uribe 2013: .722 OPS., 103 OPS+, 25.8 UZR/150, 2.8 WAR
Young 2013: .722 OPS, 99 OPS+, -16.2 UZR/150, 0.0 WAR

If Young is here to provide a bat off the bench, that’s fine. For example, Jerry Hairston has a .595 OPS this season. But the Dodgers don’t need to be weakening their starting defense now.

Update: Jayson Stark of reports that the Dodgers will send a minor-league pitcher to Philadelphia, but no word yet on who it is.

Update 2: It’s official – the Dodgers get Young and cash considerations ($1.7 million to cover his salary, according to Mark Saxon of for 24-year-old minor-leaguer Rob Rasmussen, who has had a 2.55 ERA with 76 strikeouts against 91 baserunners in 81 1/3 innings for Double-A Chattanooga this year. He had a 6.46 ERA with 37 strikeouts against 99 baserunners in 54 1/3 innings for Triple-A Albuquerque.

Aug 30

So near, so far

Tonight, I’m going to my first Dodger game since Memorial Day. That’s right: I have yet to see Yasiel Puig in person, yet to enjoy the Summer of Gorge anywhere but on my TV, radio or cellphone.

This will be my fifth game of the year. When I got the tickets for my wife and me last week — and I’m not likely to go to more than one more regular-season game this year after this one — it occurred to me that this will be the fewest games I’ve attended in a Dodger season since … 1988.

Read into that what you will. I’m reading in a lot of hope.

That ’88 season began with me as a college junior, continuing through my trip to cover Stanford at the College World Series in Omaha, my summer internship at the Half Moon Bay Review & Pescadero Pebble and my late-summer job as a gofer for NBC’s Summer Olympics boxing coverage in Seoul. I saw not an inning of Orel Hershiser’s scoreless streak, and returned to the States a couple of days after my senior year began, stopping at LAX without venturing out of it.

I had been at Dodger Stadium for Tim Leary’s pinch-hitting heroics, but otherwise my Dodger attendance that year was forcibly rare. I saw all the playoffs on TV in the vicinity of Palo Alto. I saw Mike Scioscia’s home run from the Stanford Daily newsroom, Kirk Gibson’s diving daytime catch and Jay Howell’s pine tar while ditching classes, Gibson’s homer off Eckersley with friends who were mainly rooting for Oakland, and the final out on my own little TV in my senior suite.

It wasn’t a lifetime ago, but it kind of feels that way. By the same token, my last Dodger game in May — itself a bright spot countering a dreary start, in case you’ve forgotten — feels about half a lifetime ago. The team’s winning percentage when I’ve gone this year (3-1, .750) is still higher than it’s been in my absence (37-27, .578). Still, though my absence didn’t quite coincide with the surge, the Dodgers have gone 57-27 (.679) since I last attended. More than half the season has gone by.

If the Dodgers make the playoffs, this will be the first postseason for which my family doesn’t have tickets since 1981 (though I did attend an NLCS loss that year). So I might be watching those games on TV as well, even sneaking views from the newsroom where I work. If that’s what it takes …

Padres at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.


Aug 29

Dodgers’ former Spring Training home renamed ‘Historic Dodgertown’

Peter O’Malley today said he has signed a licensing agreement enabling the Dodgers’ former Spring Training home, in recent years called the Vero Beach Sports Village, to be known as Historic Dodgertown – Vero Beach, Florida.

“We appreciate the extraordinary cooperation of Dodger president Stan Kasten and the Dodger organization in recognizing the significance of this unique site,” O’Malley, the former Dodger owner and president said in a statement. “We also are grateful to Major League Baseball for working with us, perpetuating the history and tradition of Historic Dodgertown and what it has meant to the game for decades.”

In 2001, Indian River County purchased the land and buildings from the Dodgers, but since 2009, after the Dodgers moved their Spring Training to Arizona, the facility has been used for tournaments, camps and the like. A partnership including O’Malley, Hideo Nomo and Chan Ho Park saved the facility from extinction in 2012, even expanding facilities there. Their lease agreement with Indian River County runs through April 2019.

“We have plans for more ways to utilize this amazing facility year-round,”said Craig Callan, who arrived at Dodgertown in August 1978 to manage the sports and conference center, and now directs the day-to-day activities as Historic Dodgertown vice president.


Aug 28

Edwin Jackson, 10 years later

Edwin Jackson takes the mound at Dodger Stadium today, 9.97 years after his unforgettable Dodger debut on his 20th birthday against Randy Johnson in Arizona.

Time is crazy, and our journeys even crazier. From Dodger Thoughts, September 10, 2003:

‘You Just Hope He Never Changes’

So said Vin Scully about Edwin Jackson last night, and I couldn’t agree more. Especially because Vin was talking not only about Jackson’s pitching, but his smile.

Call me a sentimental fool, but there is nothing like seeing a young baseball player thrilled. And to see that ballplayer balance his excitement with poise – that’s pretty much the pinnacle of enjoyment for me as a fan.

If it weren’t for the television coverage and the 36,000 people in attendance, it would have been the same as watching a second-grader excel in the lead role of Tomato in the school play, Les Vegetables.

Anyway, it was a night the most casual observer could appreciate. As I wrote in April, a large part of appreciating baseball is just understanding the characters in the movie.

As for Jackson’s moundsmanship …

In his six innings against Arizona, Jackson allowed four hits, struck out four – and in a particularly amazing feat for a pitcher who walked or hit nearly four batters per nine innings in AA ball, he walked no one.

The righthander threw 80 pitches, 49 for strikes. He did not throw many first-pitch strikes: 11 out of 22 batters faced. But on only three occasions did he reach a 2-0 count, and only once did he go to 3-0. In fact, he went to three balls on only three batters.

He threw with heat – reports said he reached the high 90s – and movement. He had the requisite pitch tailing down and away that always foils batters like Raul Mondesi (who struck out twice against Jackson and once against Eric Gagne). Jackson also had a pitch that moved outside to inside on righthanded batters, almost like a screwball.

With Andy Ashby following Brian Jordan on the disabled highway out of Los Angeles, speculation has arisen that the Dodgers would add Jackson to a potential postseason roster in the same manner that the Angels added Francisco Rodriquez last season. Don’t count on this happening.

For one thing, the Dodgers seem very conscious of nurturing Jackson, and aware of the risks of stressing Jackson’s arm at age 20. Additionally, the Dodger staff is deeper than the Angel staff was in 2002 – a guy like Steve Colyer, who throws hard and from the left side, seems like a more likely addition. And that’s assuming that the Dodgers even went with 11 pitchers in a postseason that has more off days than the regular season does.

But with Hideo Nomo’s return date uncertain, and Kazuhisa Ishii’s September performance unsteady, there is every possibility that we haven’t seen the last of Edwin Jackson and his young man smile this season.

Cubs at Dodgers, 12:10 p.m.

Aug 27

Why I’m excited at the prospect of Matt Kemp’s return

Because he’s Matt Freakin’ Kemp.

Because even struggling through an injury-plagued season, even at his absolute worst, his 2013 OPS (.700) is almost as high as the Dodgers’ healthy outfielders in left (.755) and center (.762).

Because in the 11 games he managed to play after his first stint on the disabled list in 2013, Kemp had a .390 on-base percentage and .622 slugging, with three home runs in his most recent 14 at-bats.

Because even if he is never going to hit 39 homers in a season again, he’s still 13 months shy of his 30th birthday with the potential to hit as well as virtually any Dodger.

Because he’s a guy who can do harm in the playoffs. Because he wants to prove himself. Because he wants to win.

Because he’s the Bison.

He’s Matt Freakin’ Kemp.


Cubs at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Kershaw CLXXVII: Kershawd on Entebbe