Sep 10

The NL Wild Card race continues its reverse stampede

This pinch-hit Dodger Thoughts post is dedicated to Robin Ventura.

The Dodgers found perhaps the best way to gain ground in the NL Wild Card and NL West races: they didn’t play. While the Dodgers spent a day off in Phoenix, the two teams the Dodgers are pursuing, the Giants and Cardinals, both lost.

The Giants started a three-game series in Denver Monday against a Rockies team that had lost five straight and had been swept in a split doubleheader the day/night before in Philadelphia. The Giants were coming off a 4-0 shutout win over the Dodgers. So, the vagaries of baseball made the Rockies a 6-5 winner. Ryan Vogelsong took the loss for the Giants. In his last six starts, Vogelsong has a put up a 9.57 ERA. And he’s still managed to win two of those games. But it does appear that Vogelsong is pitching himself into a long relief role for the Giants in the playoffs. (Yes, I’m assuming that the Giants will make the playoffs.)

** Checking back in history, the 1951 Giants, with 21 games left in the season were trailing the Dodgers by six games. They went 16-5 before the tiebreaker. In 1962, with 21 games left, the Giants trailed the Dodgers by 1/2 game, although that would increase to four games with seven left to play.

Down south (as Vin likes to refer to San Diego), the Cardinals started a seven-game road trip to Southern California with an 11-3 pounding by the Padres. Old Friend Eric Stults improved to 6-2 on the season. NL RBI leader Chase Headley drove in … none.

So, as the Dodgers get ready to play Arizona Tuesday night, they will be trailing the Giants by five games in the NL West and trailing the Cardinals by one game for the NL’s second wild card.

The Pirates lost to the Reds, 4-3 in 14 innings to remain 2 1/2 games behind the Cardinals. Making very late runs are Milwaukee and Philadelphia, both of whom are now 70-71. The Brewers have won 16 of their last 21 and the Phillies have won 13 of their last 17. So, if you’re looking for a 2007 Rockies-like run to the wild card, keep an eye on these two teams.

However, all the losing by teams in front of them won’t help the Dodgers until they actually win games. The Dodgers last trip to Arizona was at the beginning of July before the All-Star Break and they lost three of four games. The Dodgers lineup on the day before the break:

Tony Gwynn, CF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Bobby Abreu, LF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Jerry Hairston, 3B
Elian Herrera, RF
Luis Cruz, SS
Matt Treanor, C
Chris Capuano, P

The Dodgers lost the game 7-1, with the only run scoring on a pinch hit sacrifice fly by Juan Uribe in the ninth inning.

Tuesday should bring the return of Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp to the lineup. And Dodgers fans can only hope in the healing power of cortisone. And rest. (Or else we can read more about the relative levels of manhood shown by people in 1965 as opposed to today. Or maybe not.) The Diamondbacks will be countering with Ian Kennedy.

In other games of note Tuesday, the Giants will be at Coors Field in a 5:40 pm game matching up Madison Bumgarner and Jhoulys Chacin. The Cardinals and Padres start at 7:10 pm with Adam Wainwright pitching against Edinson Volquez.

There will likely be news during the day regarding injured players and maybe some minor league call ups, but I may not be able to get to them unless they are all announced while I’m on my lunch hour. And that never seems to happen.

Sep 06

Dodgers throw down and run gauntlet

This pinch-hit Dodger Thoughts post is dedicated to Chuck Essegian.

Friday will be game one of the Dodgers intradivisional duel with the archrival Giants. It is a time when honor can be reclaimed. Or possibly lost. It’s also the beginning of a brutal stretch of games that may leave the team badly bruised and possibly out of playoff contention.

The word “gauntlet” when used in the sense of “throw down the gauntlet” refers to the medieval practice of knights throwing their gauntlet, a protective glove, on the ground to challenge some other knight to a duel of some kind. It comes from a French word gantelet which means “glove” and it’s related to the Spanish word for glove, guante. The Oxford English Dictionary ultimately believes it comes from Germanic languages.

The word “gauntlet” in “to run the gauntlet”, meaning “to run through a narrow passage of people who are ready to beat you up with ropes and clubs” comes from a Scandinavian word gantlope, which sort of means “lane course.” It is believed that the English saw Swedish sailors imposing the punishment of making people “run the gantlope” during the Thirty Years War and then corrupted the pronunciation.

Sometimes, people have tried to differentiate the two words by spelling one as “gantlet” and the other as “gauntlet,” but when you’re talking about words that describe objects or events that rarely happen in real life now, the proper spelling of a word is hard to find or defend.

The Giants begin the series Friday night with, to borrow a “Seinfeld” term, “hand.” The Giants are 4 1/2 games ahead of the Dodgers, they are playing at home, and there isn’t a lot of season left. (24 games for the Dodgers, 25 for the Giants.)

However, for all the stumbling around the Dodgers have done, the Giants have been trying to match them misstep for misstep. The Giants burned through 24 pitchers in their three games at home with Arizona, including a record-tying 11 on Tuesday night. The DBacks scored 22 runs against the Giants. During the Dodgers last trip to the Bay Area, they dominated the Giants sweeping them by a combined score of 19-3. However, in the first series in San Francisco, the Giants swept by a combined score of 13-0.

On Friday, Josh Beckett will face Tim Lincecum in a pitching matchup that only a year or two ago would have been the subject of a 3000 word Bill Simmons ramble, but now it’s just a game between two guys who used to be big. (And the pictures have gotten larger, despite what you’ve been told.) The game will be shown nationally on the MLB Network for those outside of Los Angeles, but it should be with the Prime Ticket feed allowing everyone to enjoy Vin Scully calling a Dodgers-Giants game in a pennant race. This will be a 7:15 pm game.

Saturday’s game will be a daytime affair, starting at 1:05 pm. It will be on Fox, which means that if you are in the fortunate areas that get the game aired to them, you can enjoy the stylings of Matt Vasgersian and Tim McCarver, or you can … not see the game. Chris Capuano will start for the Dodgers, who has been the Dodgers shakiest starter recently.

Since Capuano overwhelmed the Marlins on August 12 (8 IP, 0 R, 10 K), he’s given up 18 runs in 23 1/3 IP in four starts. On the bright side, he’s only walked one batter in that stretch.

Matt Cain will start for the Giants. Cain beat the Dodgers in his last start against them on August 22 at Dodger Stadium. Since then, he’s made two more starts, both on the road, and both were no decisions against Houston and Chicago. In Cain’s only start against the Dodgers at AT&T Park, he had a no decision in a game on July 27 that the Dodgers ultimately won in 10 innings 5-3 on a Hanley Ramirez home run.

Sunday’s game will be a 5:10 pm start and it will be the ESPN Sunday Night game with Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser, and Terry Francona. Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers against Barry Zito.

The Dodgers will come out of San Francisco trailing the Giants by 1 1/2, 3 1/2, 5 1/2, or 7 1/2 games. If the final two figures are the ones that we see, then it’s time to start paying very close attention to how the St. Louis Cardinals are doing because the Dodgers will likely have no path to the playoffs other than the second wild card spot.

After this coming series, the Dodgers will be off Monday. In fact, the Dodgers are going to be off the next three Mondays. The only Monday game left on the schedule is Game 159 160 against the Giants on October 1 at Dodger Stadium.

On Tuesday, the Dodgers will start a two-game series at Arizona.  The DBacks have beaten the Dodgers 10 of 16 times. (Bonus note: The 1977 Clint Eastwood film, “The Gauntlet,” is set mostly in Phoenix.) Then, they come home for four games against the Cardinals, a series that may make or break the Dodgers season. Or maybe it won’t. Because on Tuesday,  September 18, the Dodgers start a 9-game, 10-day road trip that will see them starting off with three games against the current best team in baseball, Washington, followed by three games agains the second best team in baseball, Cincinnati. Then, a day off, and three games in San Diego, the team that has been playing about as well as anyone else in the NL West since the All-Star Break.

From September 7 through September 27, the Dodgers will be running a gauntlet against a group of opponents all of whom will be ready to thrown down the gauntlet at the same time. Someone is going to get hurt.