Aug 04

Phenomenal bullpen key to Dodgers’ revival

It’s hard to overstate the importance that Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig have had in the Dodgers’ turnaround from a 30-42 to a 30-7 team. They have had an enormous impact on an offense that otherwise has not performed much better in the second 54 games of 2013 than it did in the first 54.

A.J. Ellis, Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Ellis, Juan Uribe, Carl Crawford, Scott Van Slyke, Nick Punto and Jerry Hairston Jr. – five starters and three key bench players – all had lower OPSes in the middle third of the season, when the Dodgers went 36-18, than at the outset, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.

The starting pitching has been steady as she goes during the hot streak, with everyone – including, of late, Chris Capuano – keeping the Dodgers in games. In addition, the team has been better hitting with runners in scoring position, some recent events in Chicago notwithstanding.

But when you look at how the Dodgers have been playing .811 ball since June 22, winning games like they were free throws, much of it comes down to this – the bullpen simply just keeps getting guys out.

Perhaps no moment epitomized that more than when the Dodgers inserted Brandon League, simply horrible for much of this season, into the seventh inning of Saturday’s game with Cubs at the corners and the tying run at the plate.

Since entering the All-Star break with a 6.25 ERA, League hadn’t allowed an earned run or an inherited run in eight innings over six appearances, with opponents OPSing a scant .343. Don Mattingly had slowly moved League out of mop-up situations into higher-leverage moments, but this was the first time League had been used to protect a lead of three runs or less in nearly seven weeks since June 25.

League threw four pitches, induced the Dodgers’ fourth double play of the game, and strolled off the field.

In the next inning, Ronald Belisario gave up two singles to the four batters he raced – a relatively shocking development for a bullpen that has been so reliable – and then making matters worse, Paco Rodriguez came in and threw six straight pitches out of the strike zone, loading the bases with a 2-0 count to the go-ahead run, Chicago’s cleanup hitter, Welington Castillo (admittedly, not your prototypical cleanup hitter).

Rodriguez got the count back to 3-2, then struck Castillo out.

If teams don’t score against you, they’re not going to beat you. The Dodger bullpen has smothered nearly every single fire they have encountered since the fourth week of June.

Keep in mind the bottom four guys are not really relevant to the conversation, having mainly pitched in the rare garbage situations the Dodgers have been in since June 22. The four primary relievers (five if you count Withrow) have ERAs below 2.00, opponents’ OPS below .600 and have stranded 31 of 34 inherited runners. Thrown in a temporarily improved League as a bonus, and that’s a hellacious bullpen that could also find addition by subtraction if Carlos Marmol is jettisoned for someone more reliable, unless Marmol follows in League’s footsteps.

Can they keep this up? Well, no. Not bloody likely. Relievers don’t stay hot forever, particularly guys who are proven inconsistents like Belisario. The question is whether it will be a blown save here or there, or the more frequent meltdowns of the season’s first 72 games.

There’s also concern over how many games some of the relievers have been appearing in – especially Kenley Jansen. But the good news is that Jansen has been so efficient lately – he has retired 22 consecutive batters with 10 strikeouts – they’ve essentially been low-stress outings. Here are Jansen’s daily pitch counts since June 22 …

There was an eyebrow-raising stretch the week of June 23 and another following a 28-pitch outing July 23, but for the most part, Jansen has kept his pitch counts in check and had a nice checkerboard of days off.

Of course, the fastest way for the closer to get rest is for the Dodgers to start losing again. Otherwise, yeah, there will be a day when the Dodgers are in a tight one and they’ll want to try to get by without using their big ex-catcher.

The Dodgers’ surge has been too good to be true, but there’s no denying it has happened. Whether you should believe it can continue should depend in large part in your belief in this bullpen.

Dodgers at Cubs, 11:20 a.m.

Mar 30

Marching toward April

Feeling Opening Day excitement and the writing bug late on a Saturday …

• I’m reasonably excited about this year’s Dodger team, but part of that is a perverse excitement about just how bad on offense that left side of the infield might be, at least while Hanley Ramirez is out. That makes the decision to go with Justin Sellers fun for kicks, however dubious. Still, I have always liked the idea of emphasizing defense where offense isn’t an option.

• It only just now occurred to me that I was in the stands last year at the game in which Sellers was hurt and the one in which Dee Gordon was hurt.

• Do you realize this will no doubt be the fourth consecutive year that Kenley Jansen isn’t the Opening Day closer but eventually moves into that role?

• One thing I don’t miss about baseball season is the whining whenever a save gets blown, as if it should never happen. Heaven knows, though, it will happen.

• Carl Crawford has me excited. Truly didn’t think he’d be ready this fast, but this is the one case where I’m allowing myself to be swept away by past success and heady Spring Training numbers.

• I think lingering effects of his labrum injury will keep Matt Kemp below 25 home runs this year, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be productive.

• At first, I thought that with no true right-handed outfielder in reserve, the Dodgers would need to keep Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier spaced out in their lineup, or lefty relievers will just crush the team. But Gonzalez has had success against left-handers, so that helps. It’s still not necessarily a bad idea to insert a right-hander between them, though – as long as it’s a decent one.

• My initial plan for any free writing time that emerged this spring was that I would spend it offline on a long-term project. I did begin work on that project early this month, but with baseball season starting, I’m wavering. What might happen is a mix, where I post on Dodger Thoughts not infrequently, but not comprehensively. The risk is feeling like I’m doing both things halfway.

• Another intervening factor in my life is that Youngest Master Weisman, now 5, is six days away from his first T-ball season, and he is raring to go. (His team: the Tigers.) After playing with a pretend ball inside the house several times, we made it out to the park for the first time, and he was knocking balls through the infield and reaching the grass. Also in the past day, I’ve begun trying to teach him how to scoop balls on defense. It’s crazy.

• Older brother Young Master Weisman, now 8 1/2, took a few swings, but piano is his game. He’s composing his own material for his May recital performance. Young Miss Weisman, a whopping 10 1/2, is also wonderful on the keys.

Sep 04

More bullpen woes: Javy Guerra injures oblique

Padres at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Kershaw CXLV: Kershawncle Bill the Sailor
Mark Ellis, 2B
Shane Victorino, LF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, CF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Luis Cruz, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Clayton Kershaw, P

Javy Guerra, who has allowed 13 baserunners in 12 1/3 innings with a 0.00 ERA since July 28, has been placed on the disabled list with a left oblique strain.

That move, coming even with rosters expanded in September, hints that Guerra is not likely to see much action for the remainder of the regular season, if any.

Guerra pitched one game following his recall from Albuquerque, retiring three of four batters on Sunday. Josh Wall, the closer for playoff-bound Albuquerque, has been brought up to shore up the depleted Dodger bullpen.

* * *

Tonight, Clayton Kershaw faces old friend Eric Stults. The lefty, now 32, has a 2.43 ERA in 63 innings for San Diego, 1.86 since July.

* * *

Update: Steve Dilbeck of the Times tweets the following: “Kenley Jansen to stay on blood thinners 10 more days, hopes to return Sept. 17; plans offseason surgery to fix heart problem.”

 

Jul 15

Home, home on the strange

One time during my junior year in college, I failed to set the parking brake on my Scirocco, and it rolled into the middle of an alley. I got a knock at my door saying that a policeman was giving me a ticket.

Don Mattingly had that moment where he made two trips to the mound at once, costing the Dodgers a relief pitcher.

I’m sure we’ve all had such a brain cramp, more times than we’d care to admit, and now Kenley Jansen has had one as well – allowing a steal of home and topping that with a throwing error that left the Dodgers, one strike away from victory, with a 7-6 loss to the Padres.

The defeat came on a night in which the recently recovered trio of Mark Ellis, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier each reached base three times, with Ethier (four RBI) hitting a two-run home run that seemed to be a game-winner in the sixth inning.

Chad Moriyama looks at all the things that went wrong on that single play. Not to be forgotten is that the Dodgers also allowed a run-of-the-mill unearned point in the first inning.

* * *

Wanted to send along belated best wishes to Javy Guerra, who is in Mexico tending to his father, who suffered a heart attack. Guerra pitched Friday with the knowledge that his father was stricken. He has now taken literal and metaphorical line drives to the jaw this year, not to mention surgery on his knee, and it’s pretty impressive how he’s handled it.

And congrats to Josh Wall for his promotion to the big leagues. Wall’s Albuquerque stats aren’t impressive except for his 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings, so I’m not sure how much we’ll see him during this initial stint, but I will certainly look forward to it.

* * *

  • The Dodgers have had more games with extra-base hits than you might expect, notes David Pinto of Baseball Musings. Only five times this year have they gone extra-base-hitless, and that includes a no-hitter against them.
  • The Dodgers had their annual night for independent bloggers. Ron Cervenka of Think Blue L.A. offers a recap.
  • Rob Neyer of Baseball Nation passed along a 26-minute 1946 Pacific Coast League promotional film.
  • Minor-league basethief extraordinaire Billy Hamilton was the subject of a nice profile by Steve Dilbeck of the Times.
  • Newly released documentary “Ballplayer: Pelotero,” about two teenagers in the Dominican Republic with big-league aspirations, is getting largely positive reviews according to Metacritic.
  • One-time Baseball Toaster star Bob Timmermann has toed his way back into blogging with The Portable Griddle.
May 07

Upbeat news on Hairston (or wishful thinking)

Giants at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Bobby Abreu, LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Ted Lilly, P

Jerry Hairston, Jr. might be back in action within a couple of days, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. Of course, the Dodgers have a long history of underestimating the severity of injuries, but we’ll try to be optimistic.

In fact, already making it back into today’s lineup are Matt Kemp (hooray!) and Juan Uribe (hooray?).

In other news, Kenley Jansen has replaced Javy Guerra as the Dodgers’ closer. Presumably, Josh Lindblom is now the primary set-up man, though it wasn’t immediately spelled out whether Guerra would move into a set-up role or into middle relief while he works out his problems.

Apr 14

More notes from Friday’s frolic

A.J. Ellis shows the ball used for the ninth consecutive strikeout thrown by pitcher Aaron Harang. © Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Kenley Jansen was apparently the latest Dodger to play with the flu, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

… Jansen has been battling a mild case of flu in recent days, which could have accounted for the velocity drop.

“I’ve been battling the flu, but that’s not an excuse at all,” Jansen said. “You still have to make good pitches and keep us in the game and try to help the team win. That is what it’s all about.”

Both manager Don Mattingly and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt noticed the slight dropoff, but neither seemed alarmed by it. Honeycutt said it might have been due to the cold weather or illness. Mattingly said it might have been the difference in the eighth inning and the ninth, which almost anyone in baseball agrees is fairly huge except for the pitchers who actually pitch in those innings.

“It doesn’t feel any different,” Jansen said. “You have to treat the eighth inning just like it’s the ninth inning, just come in and get the job done.”

But catcher A.J. Ellis said Jansen did seem a bit out of sorts at the beginning of the inning, when he walked the first batter, Chris Denorfia.

“He was a little more tentative than I have seen him,” Ellis said. “But after that first batter, he was definitely locked back in. He came right back to strike out the next two batters on six straight pitches. Chase Headley is a good hitter, a three-hole hitter in the National League, and that pitch ended up over the middle of the plate.”

Jansen was trying to throw it in on Headley, but said it ran back over the middle. At any rate, the hope is that the velocity drop was a one-time thing — although he gave up a double to Yonder Alonso after Headley’s home run, Jansen still looked pretty unhittable in striking out the three batters he did. If it continues, though, it could become a source of alarm. …

Jackson also noted, as Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. did late Friday, the possibility of Todd Coffey going to the disabled list with a hobo knee. (That’s like a bum knee, only with a different word for bum.)

Also, bullpen coach Ken Howell is getting treatement for his diabetes, and will be replaced for the time being by organization pitching coordinator Jim Slaton.

* * *

Some more notes from Aaron Harang’s amazing night, from Elias Sports Bureau via ESPN Stats & Information:

… Three other pitchers had nine straight strikeouts in one game: Mickey Welch in 1884 (the first year in which overhand pitching was permissible), Jake Peavy in 2007 and Ricky Nolasco in 2009.

Harang tied the major-league record by recording nine strikeouts through the first three innings.

Two other players have done it, only one in the “Modern Era”:
Mickey Welch, NY Giants, August 28, 1884
Don Wilson, Houston, July 14, 1968 (G2)

Harang tied his career high with 13 strikeouts and is the first Dodgers pitcher in the last 90 seasons to have at least 13 strikeouts in a game and pitch fewer than seven innings. The last pitcher on any team to do it was Yovani Gallardo last year.

The last pitcher with exactly 13 strikeouts on Friday the 13th was Dwight Gooden on June 13, 1986 for the Mets against the Pirates.

* * *

Bryan Stow’s 13-year-old son Tyler threw out the first pitch before the Giants’ home opener, reports The Associated Press, while Bryan himself appeared on the stadium videoboard.

Giovanni Ramirez, who was mistakenly accused of beating Stow, attended his first Dodger game Tuesday, according to KCAL via the Huffington Post.

* * *

Despite what became a tumultuous hearing, federal bankruptcy court approved the sale of the Dodgers by Frank McCourt to the Guggenheim group. Bill Shaikin of the Times has all the details.

Here’s one excerpt:

… The settlement includes confidential provisions about how the league could treat revenue from a Dodgers-owned regional sports network, Bennett said. He declined to elaborate, but the provisions are believed to limit how much of the Dodgers’ television proceeds must be shared with other teams via revenue sharing.

Those conditions — and the ability of the mediator to enforce them regardless of what Selig might say — represented what Guggenheim attorney Michael Small called a “substantial component of the value proposition of the transaction.”

Guggenheim agreed to pay $2.15 billion — a record price for a sports franchise — to buy the Dodgers and half-ownership of the Dodger Stadium parking lots. McCourt, who did not have to sell the land under his settlement with MLB, gets to retain half-ownership.

“We really are concerned about the parking lot situation,” Lauria said.

Lauria said that Walter had pledged to MLB owners that he would not buy the Dodgers unless Guggenheim controlled 16,500 surface-level parking spaces — that is, no parking structures. Once the sale was announced, however, Lauria said Guggenheim refused to provide any details about how the joint venture to own the parking lots would work.

The Dodgers submitted some of those details under seal this week, and attorneys for the Los Angeles Times had asked Gross to compel the team to release the details publicly. The Dodgers instead withdrew the document and said they would release it at a later date, although Bennett said Friday the team’s lease for the lots would be extended from 25 years to 99 years. …

Apr 13

People, please act like you’ve seen baseball before

Is it asking so much?

Kenley Jansen’s pitching stats since June 1, going into tonight: 37 2/3 innings, 138 batters, 13 hits, four runs allowed, one home run, 12 walks, 69 strikeouts, four saves in four opportunities, 0 of 11 inherited runners scored, 0.96 ERA.

Some of the reaction on Twitter after Jansen struck out two batters, then gave up a game-tying home run tonight:

@culverfan he’s not a ninth inning guy. it’s upstairs

@DodgerBaseball2 Jansen is not a closer, not his fault Mattingly has got to stick with what works

@DRMustang22 Jansen proves again that he is not ready to be a closer. Mattingley blew it unless Javy is injured or something.

@TK0N Kenley Jansen about to be reassigned to AAA Albuquerque.

@JesRey7 Send Kenley Jansen to the minors #KeepJameyWright

@kingofbbqs Jansen blows it like the ol’ broxton days …take his ass out

Maybe Jansen didn’t have his best velocity tonight, but can people ever not overreact? Just to be clear, this was his first blown save in nearly one year.

And also to be clear, I’m not calling for Jansen to be the closer. I like that he’s not the closer. But not because I don’t think he “has it upstairs.”

Mar 09

Jansen to have heart checked

Dodgers at Rangers, 12:05 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
Matt Kemp, CF
Juan Rivera, DH
Andre Ethier, RF
Jerry Sands, 1B
Justin Sellers, 2B
A.J. Ellis, C
Scott Van Slyke, LF
(Clayton Kershaw, P)

Kenley Jansen experienced shortness of breath and an irregular heartbeat Thursday night, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Times, and is seeing a doctor today.

Jansen was on the disabled list in 2011 for an irregular heartbeat and began to take a blood-thinning medication. Ken Gurnick of MLB.com has more.

… “He had a little bit of flutters and shortness of breath like last year with the palpitations and his blood pressure was up,” said manager Don Mattingly. “He had trouble sleeping. Sue (Falsone, trainer) said it could be nothing, but she didn’t want to play around with it.”

Mattingly said he hadn’t heard of Jansen experiencing any problems since last year’s incident and added that Jansen is already on blood pressure medication and “not supposed to take any caffeine.”

“This is the first I’ve heard of it since the issue last year,” he said. …

Update: Jansen has been cleared to resume workouts, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Nov 30

Hey, what’s going on?


Some midweek news and notes …

  • Best friend of Dodger Thoughts and ESPN reporter Molly Knight and her friend and fellow ESPN contributing writer Anna Katherine Clemmons have had the story of their cross-country road trip (which began as fodder for a magazine article) optioned for a movie. My Variety colleague Jeff Sneider has the details.
  • Larry King is reportedly joining the Dennis Gilbert-headed group bidding to by the Dodgers, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.
  • Hank Aaron inquired whether Medallion Financial Corp., on which he serves on the board of directors, might make a bid to by the Dodgers, according to Bill Shaikin of the Times. The answer: No.
  • A bow-hunting trip (no, not the kind where you hunt Ken Rosenthal’s ties) with Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur and manager Ned Yost helped lure Jonathan Broxton to Kansas City, writes Kevin Kernan of the New York Post (via Hardball Talk).
  • Jim Breen of Fangraphs takes a closer look at Kenley Jansen’s dominant fastball, an interesting piece given what we’ve heard of Jansen’s eventual desire to emulate Mariano Rivera. “The 24-year-old not only threw approximately 87% fastballs in 2011, but he also filled up the strike zone,” writes Breen. “Only relievers Matt Belisle, Octavio Dotel, and Matt Capps threw more pitches inside the zone than Jansen. So opposing hitters knew which pitch he was going to throw and knew that it would more than likely be within the strike zone, but opposing hitters still struck out 44% of the time.”
  • Here are some childhood photos of Clayton Kershaw with longtime buddy Matthew Stafford, the Detroit Lions quarterback.
  • And, here’s a great prep school picture of birthday boy Vin Scully via Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News.
  • Some nifty portraits accompany this interview by Ernest Reyes of Blue Heaven with artist Tommervik.
  • Evan Bladh looks back at the 2003 Dodgers at Opinion of Kingman’s Performance.
  • Ken Arneson discusses the two systems of thought with regards to statistics, and how they relate to kids learning to read.
  • In a guest post for The Platoon Advantage, Dan Hennessy explains why “the less I hear my team’s name associated with free agency, the happier I am.”
  • Very, very cool skiing and outdoors footage in “Winter,” which will screen at the Village in Westwood on Sunday.
  • Finally, if you haven’t seen “Beginners” with Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent and Goran Visnjic, I really recommend it.
Nov 13

Remembering 2011: Kenley Jansen


Andy Hayt/Getty ImagesKenley Jansen (37)

The setup: The convertee from catchering came to Spring Training with a cornucopia of confidence, following a stunning second-half 2010 debut in which he had a 0.67 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 27 innings against 28 baserunners. With allowances for how inexperienced he was, Dodger fans expected the 23-year-old Jansen to be a major part of the Dodger bullpen in 2011.

The closeup: Cold water was splashed on hopes for Jansen starting with his very first game, when he allowed four runs in his only inning of a 10-0 loss to San Francisco. Later that month, he faced six Atlanta Braves on April 19 and five of them came around to score, leaving Jansen with an 11.42 ERA despite 13 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings. He was sent to the minors May 1 to work on a secondary pitch, recalled less than a week later when Jonathan Broxton went to the disabled list, then went to the DL himself at the end of May after frustrating manager Don Mattingly by hiding right-shoulder inflammation. Jansen had 35 strikeouts in 21 innings, but he had also allowed 35 baserunners and 15 runs. The season that Hong-Chih Kuo ended up having looked in many ways like the season Jansen was going to have.

And then, insanity.

Jansen returned to active duty June 18. From that moment on – and if you aren’t aware of this already, you’d better be sitting down – he faced 120 batters, retired 97 of them and struck out 61. Yes, more than half of all batters Jansen faced after coming of the disabled list took a U-turn back to the dugout. Jansen allowed 12 walks, nine singles, a double and two runs for an opponents’ .094 batting average, .192 on-base percentage, .104 slugging percentage, .295 OPS and 0.55 ERA. He inherited 11 runners – none of them scored.

He struck out four batters in 1 2/3 innings against Detroit on June 22, struck out the side at Arizona on July 17 and struck out all four batters he faced against Washington July 22. He was just warming up.

From August 30 through September 27, Jansen faced 54 batters and got 42 of them out, and 34 of those 42 outs were strikeouts.  In that stretch, he struck out 63 percent of the batters he faced, and 81 percent of his outs were strikeouts.

The surge helped Jansen set a major-league record: 16.1 strikeouts per nine innings (96 in 53 2/3), to go with a 2.85 ERA while stranding 20 of 21 inherited runners.

These are man-against-boys Little League numbers.

For all of that, Jansen won’t win the National League Rookie of the Year Award, for which he is eligible, because of the presence of Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel, who himself averaged 14.8 strikeouts per nine innings and didn’t wait until June to become dominant. Jansen might not even appear anywhere in the vote, to be announced Monday, given the competition among rookie pitchers alone.

But man. What a season.

Coming attractions: Jansen, who turned 24 the final day of September, will enter 2012 with even higher expectations than he had this past season. He might not begin the year as the closer – and I very much hope he doesn’t, because he can be more valuable if not tied to a specific inning. But you can be sure that right now, he’s the most-feared reliever in the Dodger bullpen, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he became the most-feared reliever in the NL in 2012.

I mean, what happens if he masters that secondary pitch?

Sep 25

Kershaw wraps up Cy Young-worthy campaign


Kent C. Horner/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw allowed a walk, a single, a double, a triple and a home run in 7 1/3 innings.

Having provided joy to the world, the fishes and the deep blue sea all season long, Clayton Kershaw can expect a little joy for himself: the National League Cy Young Award.

If Jeremiah was a bullfrog and Orel was a bulldog, Clayton is the whole hog.

Kershaw put the final touches on his portfolio today, finishing his 2011 campaign with a 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts, both of which lead the league, while winning his 21st game in the Dodgers’ 6-2 victory over San Diego – all but ensuring himself the pitcher’s triple crown.

(It was the Dodgers’ 80th victory of the year, putting them one away from a winning season.)

Today for Philadelphia, Roy Halladay pitched six shutout innings, striking out three, to finish at 19-6, 2.35 with 220 strikeouts. Cliff Lee, scheduled to pitch Monday for the Phillies, has allowed 60 earned runs in 226 2/3 innings for a 2.38 ERA with 232 strikeouts. He needs 16 strikeouts to match Kershaw, and would need to pitch at least 10 2/3 shutout innings to beat him for the major-league ERA title.

So short of Ian Kennedy making a relief appearance against the Dodgers on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday and stealing a 22nd win, the triple crown belongs to Kershaw, who also leads the National League in park-adjusted ERA.

Meanwhile, though he didn’t reach 250 strikeouts and catch Justin Verlander for the major-league lead, Kershaw finished 2011 with the most strikeouts in Los Angeles Dodger history in a season since Sandy Koufax retired (per the Dodger press notes):

382 Sandy Koufax, 1965
317 Sandy Koufax, 1966
306 Sandy Koufax, 1963
269 Sandy Koufax, 1961
251 Don Drysdale, 1963
248 Clayton Kershaw, 2011

* * *

Kershaw retired the first eight batters he faced today on 29 pitches, striking out four of the eight, before an inexplicable walk to Padres pitcher Cory Luebke, but Kershaw struck out Cameron Maybin to end the third inning.

In the fourth, Kershaw allowed his first hit, a line single by Nick Hundley, but immediately picked him off – Kershaw’s 10th pickoff of the season, according to Vin Scully.

Chris Park/APKershaw is congratulated as he leaves the field for the last time in 2011.

The Padres finally scored against Kershaw in the fifth inning, when Aaron Cunningham hit a no-doubt homer with the bases empty and two out in the fifth. It was Cunningham’s third homer this season and sixth in his career.

Aaron Miles made two plays to take away San Diego hits, highlighted by a spectacular diving stop of a second-inning shot by Orlando Hudson that would have been a double. In the fifth, Miles charged less gracefully on a slow Alberto Gonzalez grounder and threw late to first, but the Dodgers’ got the generous call.

Retiring the side in order in the sixth and seventh innings on 25 tosses, Kershaw entered the final two innings having thrown only 82 pitches. But in the eighth, the two players robbed by Miles got their revenge. Hudson got his overdue double to lead off the inning, then scored the Padres’ second run on Gonzalez’s triple one out later to cut the Dodgers’ lead to 6-2.

Don Mattingly came to the mound, and we bid farewell to Kershaw for 2011.

Kenley Jansen relieved Kershaw, and just as he did against the Giants on Tuesday, he struck out both batters he faced. That put Jansen at 16.10 strikeouts per nine innings this season, making him at this point the all-time single-season record holder in that category with three games remaining in 2011. Jansen has struck out 31 of his past 49 batters, including 31 of his past 37 outs.

Javy Guerra pitched the ninth with a four-run lead, so he didn’t get a save, but he did preserve the victory for the magnificent Kershaw.

* * *

On the Triple Crown and Most Valuable Player scene, Ryan Braun continued to make it a challenge for Matt Kemp. Braun went 2 for 3, including his 33rd home run, in Milwaukee’s rout of Florida, boosting his batting average to .333 and giving anyone leaning toward him for MVP that much more ammunition.

Jeffrey Phelps/APRyan Braun went 5 for 10 with a walk and 14 total bases in three games against Florida.

Jose Reyes, meanwhile, went 2 for 4 to improve his batting average to .331.

Kemp got off to a good start, with a double to the left-center gap that raised his average to .326 and drove home Jamey Carroll with RBI No. 120.  But then fortune stopped smiling.

  • In the third inning, Kemp hit a sky-high ball to the warning track in right-center field that Scully said would have been a home run in Dodger Stadium.
  • In the fifth, Kemp reached first on a slow roller that went under the glove of Padres third baseman Alberto Gonzalez, a ball that the official scorer seemed to correctly call an error, though some tweets from the press box indicated that the decision would be reconsidered after the game.
  • In the seventh, Kemp struck out against reliever Luke Gregerson on three pitches, leaving him .008 behind Braun.
  • In the ninth, granted an extra at-bat when Rod Barajas hit an eighth-inning home run to give the Dodgers a 6-1 lead, Kemp struck out again.

Kemp did come away with the 18th season of at least 120 RBI in Dodger history.

It’s not over for Kemp, however, as far as the Triple Crown. An 0 for 4 from Braun would knock three points off his batting average in one day – if Kemp can rev up his bat in Arizona, he’s back in business.

Sep 23

Kemp ties Pujols in homers, but loses ground to Braun in MVP race?


Lenny Ignelzi/APThe Bison roams free.

In St. Louis, Albert Pujols had a double, but no home runs.

In Milwaukee, Ryan Braun was 0 for 3, extending his recent slump to 1 for 16.

But then in the bottom of the eighth inning against the Marlins, with the score tied 1-1, Braun hit a three-run home run that, in no particular order, helped clinch the National League Central for the Brewers, raised his batting average back to .329 and seized the headlines in the NL Most Valuable Player race all at once.

Matt Kemp had struck out and flied out in his first two at-bats, and perhaps the momentum seemed to be shifting.

But then, on his 27th birthday, with his mom in the front row of Petco Park, Kemp unloaded on a 1-2 fastball from San Diego lefty Wade Le Blanc and tattooed it to right-center field, tying Pujols with his 37th home run of the season in the Dodgers’ 2-0 victory over the Padres.

This is as thrilling a finish to an after-they’ve-been-eliminated season for the Dodgers as I believe I’ve witnessed.

After missing a double by a foot on a hard liner that went foul, Kemp struck out in his final at-bat. We’re going down to the wire for sure.

* * *

After 6 1/3 scoreless innings by a resurgent Ted Lilly (six baserunners, seven strikeouts) and an adequate two outs from Mike MacDougal, Kenley Jansen came in for the eighth inning.

He struck out all three batters he faced, of course. That gives him 91 in 51 1/3 innings this season, or 15.96 per nine innings – just .03 off Carlos Marmol’s single-season record.

Jansen has struck out 29 of his past 47 batters, including 29 of his past 37 outs.

* * *

Eugenio Velez: 0 for 3, 0 for 36 in 2011 (a single-season record for non-pitchers), 0 for 45. He has tied the major-league record for consecutive hitless at-bats by non-pitchers.

Sep 21

Don’t make Kenley Jansen the closer — he’s too good for the job


Kirby Lee/US PresswireKenley Jansen has allowed two runs since June, while stranding all nine runners he has inherited.

Keeping this as concise as possible in the interest of time:

  • Kenley Jansen has struck out 25 of his past 40 batters.
  • Kenley Jansen has gotten 25 of his past 31 outs via the strikeout.
  • Kenley Jansen is so overwhelming right now, a Giants blog, Bay City Ball, rhapsodized about him.
  • Kenley Jansen has a WHIP of 0.671 since coming off the disabled list in June, allowing eight singles, a double and 10 walks in 28 1/3 innings.
  • Kenley Jansen has allowed a .098 batting average, .192 on-base percentage and .109 slugging percentage in that time.
  • Kenley Jansen is the Dodgers’ most dominant reliever, the reliever you’d most trust to get an out when you need it.

It is for these reasons that I hope the Dodgers do not make Kenley Jansen a closer next season.

Tuesday’s victory illustrated why. If Jansen were the closer, Dodger manager Don Mattingly would have held him back until the ninth inning, rather than having him come put out the fire when Clayton Kershaw gave up a home run and two walks in the eighth inning.

It’s far better that Jansen be available at the game’s biggest crisis point, whatever inning that comes.

My hope is that if Mattingly feels he must have a regular closer in 2012, he is seduced by Guerra’s 19 saves in 20 opportunities and keeps him in that slot. Nothing against Guerra, who has been one of the season’s most pleasant surprises, but he is not a smokejumper like Jansen, who looks more capable of putting out the toughest fires than any other Dodger reliever.

* * *

  • With Colorado’s loss to San Diego today, the Dodgers’ clinched no worse than a third-place finish in the National League West.
  • Matt Kemp could be the first NL player to finish in the top two in home runs and steals since Hank Aaron in 1963, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.
  • From the Dodger press notes: “Since Aug. 1, James Loney leads the National League with a .359 batting average (51-for-142) and ranks among the league leaders in doubles (15, T-1st), on-base percentage (.425, 4th) and slugging percentage (.627, 2nd).”
  • Kenny Shulsen of Lasorda’s Lair predicted Jerry Sands’ home run off Tim Lincecum on Tuesday — a home run, I believe that will be remembered when debating Sands’ potential this offseason.
  • Tuesday was the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers’ final regular season game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, notes Keith Thursby at the Daily Mirror, which also features a Jim Murray column commemorating the event. Sandy Koufax struck out 15 in a 13-inning complete-game victory. If Baseball-Reference.com is accurate, Koufax threw 213 pitches in the game.
Sep 08

Dodgers, Nationals say ‘Let’s play two (innings?)’


Bureau of Engraving and PrintingNot everyone went to Best Buy on Wednesday. Ted Lilly (middle left) and Clayton Kershaw (middle right) of the Dodgers saw a demonstration on the currency production process at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C. More about the visit from U.S. treasurer and diehard Oakland A’s fan Rosie Rios.

Prime Ticket for Game 1 of today’s scheduled doubleheader; KCAL Channel 9 for Game 2.

It’s time to participate in Tangotiger’s annual Fans Scouting Report. Head on over before today’s game.

All-time single-season leaders in strikeouts per nine innings, minimum 40 innings pitched: Kenley Jansen is now No. 2 with 15.04.

Aug 26

Minutia, Minushka

Catching up on some news …

  • Kenley Jansen has been activated from the disabled list. Josh Lindblom was sent to Double-A Chattanooga, where he will bide his time until he can return, in 10 days when rosters expand or sooner if there’s another Dodger injury.
  • Dee Gordon was scheduled to begin a minor-league rehabilitation assignment, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, but Gordon did not play Thursday. It does not appear that the Dodgers will wait until when rosters expand September 1 to activate Gordon, which would mean that Eugenio Velez might not remain on the 25-man roster for long (though would no doubt clear waivers).
  • Ted Lilly is responding well to acupuncture treatment, he told Gurnick.
  • Don Drysdale’s daughter Drew is scheduled to sing National Anthem and God Bless America at Dodger Stadium on Monday.
  • While much talk about the Cubs’ general manager vacancy has centered on Ned Colletti, it’s former Dodger general manager Dan Evans who might be a more likely choice, according to Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Dodger prospect Jerry Sands is breaking some eggs – that is, making some significant adjustments with the hopes of deriving long-term benefit. From Christopher Jackson at Albuquerque Baseball Examiner:

    … “It’s been real tough, cause I came back down and I knew I needed to change some things, but it’s tough to totally overhaul in the middle of the season and be productive,” Sands said. “I want to get back up there, but I want to look like I learned something.

    “It was tough having to change things I’d done for years and then change them right over. The hot and the cold stretches have been a part of me learning, just a process of what I have to do to be more consistent.” …

  • Clayton Kershaw “stands to become just the fourth Dodger in the 128-year history of the franchise to post three straight seasons with an ERA+ of 130 or higher,” writes Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. Jeff Pfeffer, Sandy Koufax and Orel Hershiser are the others.
  • Stephen also passes along the news that outfielder Kyle Russell has gotten a late-season promotion from Chattanooga to Albuquerque.
  • Sons of Steve Garvey caps its visit to St. Louis with a long, thoughtful piece about sportswriting.
  • The man himself, Bob Eubanks, talked to Dodger historian Mark Langill about the Beatles, setting up this weekend’s commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the Beatles playing Dodger Stadium (via Blue Heaven).
  • The friendly folks at Bronx Banter passed along “10 Things John Sterling would say in a hurricane” from IT IS HIGH! IT IS FAR! IT IS… caught.
  • On target as always, Joe Posnanski about “the myth of pressure.”

    … This line — that it’s easier to put up numbers without pennant pressure — is a lot like that. Nobody can possibly believe this. First of all, there’s the obvious flaw: If it were easier to put up numbers in non-pressure situations, then players would consistently and obviously have better years on lousy teams than they do on good ones. Does this ring even the slightest bell of truth? Does anyone believe that Derek Jeter would have put up better numbers had he played for Kansas City? Does anyone believe that Albert Pujols would be so much better if he had spent his career playing in the carefree world of the Pittsburgh Pirates? Roy Halladay was great for mediocre Blue Jays teams and is great for outstanding Phillies teams. Hank Aaron was the same great player with the same great numbers when Milwaukee won, when Milwaukee almost won, and when Milwaukee wasn’t very good at all. …

    If you’ve read this blog at all you know: I’ve covered a lot of bad teams in my life. I’ve been around some good ones, too. And as far as “pressure” goes, well, from my observation, it’s not even close. There is infinitely more pressure on players on lousy teams than on good ones. Obviously, this depends on how you define pressure, but if the textbook definition of pressure is “the feeling of stressful urgency cause by the necessity of achieving something,” well, absolutely, there’s way more pressure on the lousy teams.

    … Think about it: What pressure is there on players in pennant races? The pressure to win? Sure. But players come to the ballpark energized. Everyone on the team is into it. The crowd is alive and hopeful. The afternoon crackles. Anticipation. Excitement. There’s nothing in sports quite like the energy in a baseball clubhouse during a pennant race. Players arrive early to prepare. Teammates help each other. Everyone’s in a good mood. There’s a feeling swirling around: This is exactly the childhood dream. The added importance of the moment could, in theory I suppose, create extra stress. But the reality I’ve seen is precisely the opposite. The importance sharpens the senses, feeds the enthusiasm, makes the day brighter. Baseball is a long season. Anything to give a day a little gravity, to separate it from yesterday, to make it all more interesting — anything like that, I think, is much more likely to make it EASIER to play closer to one’s peak.

    A losing clubhouse? Exactly the opposite. The downward pressure is enormous and overwhelming — after all, who cares? The town has moved on. A Hawaiian vacation awaits. Teammates are fighting to keep their jobs or fighting to impress someone on another team or just plain fighting. The manager might be worried about his job. The reporters are few, and they’re negative. Smaller crowds make it easier to hear the drunken critics. Support is much harder to come by, and there is constant, intense force demanding that you just stop trying so hard. After all: Why take that extra BP? You’ve got the swing down. Why study a few extra minutes of film? You’ve faced that hitter before. Why take that extra base? Why challenge him on that 3-1 pitch? Why? You’re down 9-3 anyway.

    It’s absolutely AMAZING to me when a player puts up a fantastic year even when the team around him stinks. …