Jun 13

Doors open and shut for Dodgers in defeat

Gus Ruelas/APDee Gordon slides home in the bottom of the eighth.

For the first time, I sat in the Dugout Club seats, which offered some interesting sights. I saw Joey Votto tell Steve Schirripa from the on-deck circle how much he liked “The Sopranos.” I held the men’s room door open for Joe Torre, whose arm was in a sling. (I would have asked why, but the extra brain exertion would have affected my door-holding performance.) I saw the special “Dugout Club Insider” magazine, with a story on Chad Billingsley test-driving a Mercedes. I saw tons of food everywhere, for free (notwithstanding the cost of the ticket that my hosts provided).

And I saw Dee Gordon, practically life-size. Oh wait – that was life-size.

Mini-Dee was central to the Dodgers’ game tonight, mostly for good but unfortunately for them, also for bad. He was diving here, throwing guys out there, flying around the bases everywhere, driving in a run with a triple and scoring one on a sacrifice fly that was hit about 27 feet. But almost literally at the moment that I was holding the door for ol’ Joe, Gordon was muffing a ground ball to open the seventh inning. Aaron Miles made another error soon after, and suddenly another door was open – this time for the Reds, who got a three-run home run from Votto off Matt Guerrier on their way to a 6-4 victory.

Gordon’s offensive efforts helped the Dodgers cut a 6-2 deficit down to two runs, in the eighth, and Matt Kemp walked to open the ninth, his third time on base in four trips. But James Loney, who had two hits earlier in the game behind Kemp, struck out, as did pinch-hitter Rod Barajas, as did catcher Dioner Navarro.

The Dodgers, who average 3.93 runs per game, scored exactly four runs for the first time in exactly one month – but lost.

It was a rough way to end what seemed like it might be another Dodger comeback – the team, for all its faults, does have a way of making you hope. But even while they’re losing, Mneep Mneep keeps it entertaining – at least from my vantage point.

* * *

Jun 13

Yet another thing about Matt Kemp: He hits righties

Andre Ethier and James Loney are among the left-handed batters who have become notorious for their struggles against same-side pitching. Matt Kemp, though, has rarely been terrible against righties, and right now they’ve stopped being any kind of problem, to say the least.

OPS vs. lefties/OPS vs. righties
2006: .578/.808
2007: 1.002/.835
2008: .989/.725
2009: 1.045/.782
2010: .809/.743
2011: 1.111/1.032 (213 plate appearances against RHP this year)
Career: .943/.792

According to the Society for American Baseball Research (via the Dodger press notes), June 12 is the earliest date a Dodger has ever reached the 20-homer mark.

* * *

In case you missed it earlier, Molly Knight of ESPN the Magazine reported that a deferred payment owed to Manny Ramirez of more than $8 million comes due at the end of the month. We’ll see what happens with the McCourt saga between now and then.

Jun 12

Dodgers, Rockies help fight prostate cancer with power display

The Prostate Cancer Foundation’s Home Run Challenge pledged $15,000 per home run at the Dodgers-Rockies game today.  Well, how does $105,000 grab you?

Seven homers flew out of Coors Field today, including Matt Kemp’s 20th of the season and James Loney’s gamechanging grand slam in the third inning off Ubaldo Jimenez, and by the time it was over, Los Angeles had hung on for a 10-8 victory.

The maligned Loney, Juan Uribe and Rod Barajas and the unmaligned Jamey Carroll each had three hits in support of Rubby De La Rosa, who allowed a tolerable three runs in five innings before leaving with a cramp. Loney snared a hard grounder to end the game with the tying run at the place, allowing Scott Elbert to get his first major-league save.

Kemp homered for the seventh time in nine games; Toronto’s Jose Bautista hit his 21st today to stay one ahead for the major-league lead in 2011.

Jun 12

Day-after observations: Defense! Defense!

Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesJamey Carroll had four hits at the plate Saturday – here was his fifth. He upended Troy Tulowitzki in the fifth inning to break up a potential double play and cause a throwing error.

1) I don’t even want to think about what would have happened if Tony Gwynn Jr. hadn’t been in left field at the end of Saturday’s 11-7 Dodger victory. For a look at the catch, head to Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.

2) Speaking of defense, now I understand what the scouts were saying about Dee Gordon’s. His ability to make spectacular plays is enough to convince you that he is the real deal at shortstop. And from what I’ve seen, he has been solid on the routine plays in his first week as well. Even more than the speed, Roadrunner’s defense has gotten me believing in him.

3) There’s still the matter of Gordon’s bat. In 23 at-bats, Gordon has seven hits and seven strikeouts, zero walks and zero extra-base hits. His batting line makes Aaron Miles, who got his sixth double and third walk of the season Saturday like Adam Dunn.

Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesAaron Miles throws out Eric Young Jr. in the third inning Saturday.

4) Speaking of Miles, I totally get Tony Jackson’s musings at ESPNLosAngeles.com about whether Miles and Jamey Carroll have earned more playing time. My quibble would be grouping Miles and Carroll together. Carroll (.378 on-base percentage, .381 slugging percentage) has absolutely earned a spot ahead of Juan Uribe – let Uribe try to prove himself as a hero off the bench. Miles (.319 on-base percentage, .350 slugging percentage), owner of the emptiest .300 batting average in Dodger history, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A., isn’t an upgrade over Casey Blake when Blake is healthy. Blake sat out Saturday’s game with a stiff neck.

5) Still, if the Dodgers started a lineup of Miles at third, Gordon at short, Carroll at second and platooned Blake and James Loney at first, how much would you object?

6) Scott Elbert and Colorado are not friends. Elbert in Denver the past two seasons: 12 batters faced, nine baserunners (.750 OBP). Elbert everywhere else the past two seasons: 30 plate appearances, seven baserunners (.233 OBP).

7) Carroll moved into eight place in the National League batting race, joining Matt Kemp (third) and Andre Ethier (fourth). The last time the Dodgers finished a year with three of the top 10 in batting average was 1955, with Roy Campanella, Carl Furillo and Duke Snider. The last time the Dodgers had three .300 hitters was 2006 with Rafael Furcal, Kenny Lofton and Nomar Garciaparra. (Here’s a full list of Dodger .300 hitters.)

8) Don’t miss this morning’s note about the Dodger Thoughts comments.

* * *

  • Don Newcombe was interviewed by Scott Bair of the North County Times.
  • We started talking about this in the Dodger Thoughts comments Saturday: MLB is mulling a realignment that would send an NL team (say, Houston or Florida) to the AL and possibly eliminate divisions altogether, with five playoff teams per league, reports Buster Olney of ESPN.com. Keith Olbermann takes down the idea at his baseball blog.
  • Kenley Jansen and Hong-Chih Kuo are doing well on their minor-league rehab assignements, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • The Hector Gimenez dream has been put in storage. Gimenez, who had been on the disabled list, cleared waivers and has been assigned to Double-A Chattanooga. Juan Castro has accepted his assignment to Triple-A Albuquerque.
  • Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness argues that it’s time to give A.J. Ellis a chance. Of course, that was true before the Dodgers signed Dioner Navarro to a $1 million contract in the offseason.
  • Randy Keisler, who won a contract with the Dodgers via their open tryout this spring, pitched seven innings of one-run ball to win his second straight game for Albuquerque on Saturday. Christopher Jackson of Albuquerque Baseball Examiner has the story.
Jun 12

A quick word about Rule 7

I’ve noticed some confusion in the Dodger Thoughts comments lately about this guideline: “Thank you for not using sarcasm in a way that can be misinterpreted negatively.”

I suppose this guideline could have been written more clearly, though it’s never been an issue until recently.

In any case, this is not a ban against sarcasm. Saying something like, “Gee, the Dodgers are awesome this year” is not forbidden. The idea of the guideline is to prevent people from mocking each other. I learned ago that making sarcastic remarks about another person’s comment is a really effective way to breed bad blood in the comments, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid.

While we’re on the subject of comments, a reminder to abide by No. 8: “Thank you for not making the same point over and over again.” That’s a very easy thing to have trouble with in a year like this one, but it’s worth trying to heed.

Every one of the 12 commenting guidelines is designed to keep the banter at Dodger Thoughts thoughtful and friendly, including the ninth one, which keeps me from getting unthoughtful and unfriendly. With the new commenting system starting to build the commenting totals back to Baseball Toaster levels (Saturday’s 700-plus was our biggest total at ESPNLosAngeles.com), it’s important that, even if we disagree with each other, we respect each other. Thanks!

Jun 11

A tale of two signings: Jamey Carroll and Juan Uribe

How does this happen? Is the lesson to bet on on-base percentage once players hit their 30s? Or is this just an anomaly?

Jamey Carroll

Signing date: December 18, 2009
Contract terms: Two years, $3.85 million ($1 million signing bonus, $1.05 million in 2010, $1.8 million in 2011), plus incentives for plate appearances
Age when signed: 35 years, eight months
Performance over previous two years: 206 games, 656 plate appearances, .355 on-base percentage, .343 slugging percentage, adjusted OPS of 89 (100 being average)
Performance as a Dodger: 195 games, 656 plate appearances, .374 on-base percentage, .348 slugging percentage, adjusted OPS of 103

Juan Uribe

Signing date: November 30, 2010
Contract terms: Three years, $21 million ($5 million in 2011, $8 million in 2012, $7 million in 2013, plus $1 million in 2014)
Age when signed: 31 years, four months
Performance over previous two years: 270 games, 1,007 plate appearances, .318 on-base percentage, .464 slugging percentage, adjusted OPS of 106
Performance as a Dodger: 46 games, 177 plate appearances, .282 on-base percentage, .319 slugging percentage, adjusted OPS of 70

Contract information source: Cot’s Baseball Contracts

Jun 10

It just doesn’t Matt-er … it just doesn’t Matt-er

As the ninth inning began, with the Dodgers outscored 6-0 and outhit 17-3, this was going to be my entire game summary.

And then Matt Kemp pinch-hit, worked Matt Belisle for 10 pitches, fouling one off his foot (ugh), and then drove the 11th pitch out of the time zone. Unreal. It went over the left-field seats, into the concourse and, according to Steve Lyons, bounced into a parking lot.  Is that possible?

And then four more Dodgers scored, each of them coming home on a two-strike hit, and the tying run was on base, and the go-ahead run was at the plate, and ….

Ohhhhhh ….

Rockies 6, Dodgers 5, final.

I will add this.  Dee Gordon (2 for 4, .412 batting average, .412 on-base percentage, .412 slugging percentage) not only has speed, he has hops. He leaped dunk-high to spear an eighth-inning live drive with two out, and it actually almost meant something.

Jun 10

Trayvon Robinson awaits chance to rush the Dodger fraternity

Harry How/Getty ImagesTrayvon Robinson

Any notion that the Dodgers were going to hold back on pushing young players to the big leagues this season was left sittin’ on the dock of the bay once Los Angeles promoted Jerry Sands, Rubby De La Rosa and Dee Gordon ahead of schedule.

So it’s natural to ask if outfielder Trayvon Robinson will also get an early wakeup call. We know the Dodgers originally intended for Robinson to spend the season in the minors, but that was then. What about now?

Playing center field for Albuquerque, Robinson has a .341 on-base percentage and .519 slugging percentage this season, with 12 homers and seven steals in nine attempts. Outside of the baserunning, those numbers are considerably better than what Gordon had to offer when he took over major-league shortstop duties (for the time being), but they sit pretty far below what recently promoted Trent Oeltjen (.429/.583) was producing.

Few will argue that Oeltjen has a brighter future than Robinson, but in terms of the present, there wouldn’t appear to be an imperative to rush Robinson to the majors. The 23-year-old Robinson also has had some pretty significant plate discipline issues this season, with 17 walks against 64 strikeouts for the Isotopes.

Still, there are questions. We’re told that Tony Gwynn Jr. and Marcus Thames will now platoon in left field, with Oeltjen mixing in as well, but it’s anything but clear that it’s a long-term arrangement. If none of them show anything with the bat, it’s going to be harder and harder to understand why Jamey Carroll (or even Aaron Miles, for all his weaknesses) should be sitting. That’s why I think you could ultimately see an infielder get some time in the outfield, whether it’s Casey Blake, Carroll or Miles.

And then again, maybe we’ll still see Robinson this summer. The Dodgers could have stuck with Carroll and Miles rather than turning to Gordon, whose abilities are still developing. There may be the sentiment that in the absence of thrilling alternatives, another kid will get his taste, even if it’s only for a few weeks.

Jun 10

Oh, and just for kicks … Matt Kemp, Triple Crown candidate

NL Batting Average
.336 Joey Votto, CIN
.335 Andre Ethier, LAD
.335 Jose Reyes, NYM
.331 Lance Berkman, STL
.329 Matt Kemp, LAD

NL Home Runs
18 Matt Kemp, LAD
17 Prince Fielder, MIL
17 Jay Bruce, CIN
15 Lance Berkman, STL
14 Albert Pujols, STL

NL Runs Batted In
55 Prince Fielder, MIL
53 Matt Kemp, LAD
48 Ryan Howard, PHI
47 Jay Bruce, CIN
45 Lance Berkman, STL

The odds are slim – he’s at his hottest and still only leading in one category. But still, pretty impressive.

* * *

  • The saga of Vin Scully’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame continues. As Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News reports, Southern California native Glenn Mingay is leading an effort to raise $2,500 needed to restore Scully’s star to proper condition at Save Vin Scully’s Star.
  • John Sickels of Minor League Ball reviewed the Dodger draft. Summary: “You can see the money limits here, but this isn’t a total disaster. Reed, Maynard, and O’Sullivan are all interesting, and there’s a mixture of solid college performers and high-upside, high-risk bets as well. It could have been a lot worse. But it wasn’t good, and the development staff has a lot of work to do with these raw guys.”
  • Hong-Chih Kuo and Kenley Jansen had encouraging rehab assignment debuts, writes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, but the forecast looks much more grim for Vicente Padilla and Jon Garland. “Padilla has a bulging disk in his neck, a recurrence of a condition that limited him to one start in six weeks last year,” reports Gurnick. “Garland has what has been described as shoulder inflammation, but sounds a lot more like a labrum or rotator cuff tear.”
  • Bill Plaschke of the Times talked to Kuo after his appearance and writes admiringly of the pitcher’s efforts, but says he still seems unsettled.
  • Juan Castro and Jay Gibbons have cleared waivers and been outrighted to Albuquerque, but they have the right to refuse the assignments and become free agents (or retire, which some have speculated Castro will do). This makes moot the confusion over why the Dodgers designated Gibbons for assignment three days before optioning Jerry Sands, but the fact remains that the Dodgers no longer believe in Gibbons. “Gibby wasn’t giving us enough to basically have a guy that’s pretty much one-dimensional,” Don Mattingly told Dylan Hernandez of the Times. “He’s not going to steal a bag for you. You have to defend for him.”
  • Dee Gordon’s speed is the real deal, but the little guy is still going to need to improve his ability to hit line drives to succeed, argues Bill Petti of Beyond the Box Score.
  • Tough realities: The Times is killing my favorite blog of theirs, historical chronicle Daily Mirror, because of low readership (criminally low readership, I’d say). That site was a pure treasure trove, with the latest treat being a series of reprints of Jim Murray columns in this, the 50th anniversary of his Times debut. Larry Harnisch and Keith Thursby put huge amounts of time and energy into the Daily Mirror, and I just want to thank them.
Jun 09

Dodgers give one back on Kemp’s glorious night

Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesMatt Kemp watches his fourth-inning home run leave Coors Field.

More than once tonight, Vin Scully wondered why any team would pitch to Matt Kemp. He even wondered it when there were runners on first and second base.

We were wondering the same thing.

While the Dodgers struggle to find a No. 5 hitter who can swing the bat – they had a woeful .278 on-base percentage and .333 slugging percentage in that spot of the batting order entering the game, and slumping Juan Uribe batting there tonight – Kemp has just been unstoppable. Tonight, he homered, tripled in two runs and doubled as the Dodgers took a 7-3 into the seventh inning in Colorado.

But a not-so-funny thing happened as we mused about Kemp’s supremacy: In tit-for-tat fashion, the Dodgers gave back their rousing comeback victory in Cincinnati from five days ago, blowing the four-run lead and losing to the Rockies, 9-7. The defeat sent the Dodgers into last place in the National League West.

For his second start in a row, Clayton Kershaw was absolutely cruising through five innings, working on a shutout before getting knocked around in the sixth. And this time, the Dodgers couldn’t pick up the pieces.

It didn’t help that, with one out and one on in the sixth, Rockies infielder Chris Nelson hit a one-hop shot hard off Kershaw’s leg. Kershaw walked the next batter, Todd Nelson, before giving up a bases-loaded double to Troy Tulowitzki and then an RBI groundout to Ty Wigginton.

In the top of the seventh inning, Kershaw singled for the second time in the game, raising his season batting average to .276 as he competes with Chad Billingsley for Silver Slugger honors. (Billingsley is still tops.) Kershaw then scored all the way from first on a SpeeDee Gordonzalez bunt single that was thrown away by Rockies catcher Jose Morales. RBIs by Casey Blake and Andre Ethier (3 for 4) built the Dodger lead back to 7-3.

But Kershaw again couldn’t survive the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases with none out on two hits and a walk, leaving the game with six strikeouts against 10 baserunners – seven of which came in his final inning-plus. And the bullpen, which really has been so good lately (the current group of seven had an ERA of 2.00 in 49 1/3 innings over the past month), collapsed.  Ultimately, it took four pitchers (Kershaw, Scott Elbert, Mike MacDougal, Blake Hawksworth) and 48 pitches for the Dodgers to get three outs, and not before the Rockies scored five runs to go ahead, 8-7.

Elbert let three inherited runners score and was charged with his first two runs of the season. MacDougal was on the mound when Elbert’s runs scored – and as Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles pointed out, the veteran righty has allowed 11 of his past 24 inherited runners to score.

Some wanted to blame Dodger manager Don Mattingly for leaving Kershaw in too long, but even if that’s so, the bullpen should have been able to protect the lead.

Josh Lindblom gave up a single, double and sacrifice fly in the eighth to double the Dodger deficit, though the rookie did well to induce pop outs from Tulowitzki and Wiggington to minimize the damage.

Then came the ninth inning, with Blake, Ethier and Kemp representing the Dodgers’ shot at another comeback. After Tulowitzki made a great play on Blake’s grounder for the first out, Ethier doubled off the wall in right field, meaning that Kemp not only could hit for the cycle with a single, he could tie the game with a homer. And the question came again: Do you pitch to him?

Rockies manager Jim Tracy had Huston Street challenge Kemp, and this time, he struck out.

The final batter of the game was Rod Barajas, who pinch-hit for Uribe because Barajas was 6 for 9 with a double and a home run against Street in his career. But Barajas flied harmlessly to right.

To mask the bitter taste of defeat, Dodger fans were left with only the joy of Kemp, who took over the National League lead in home runs with 18. If that isn’t impressive enough, he has 23 home runs in his past 69 games – exactly one every three games, or for you mathletes out there, a pace for 54 homers per 162 games.

I said this in the Dodger Thoughts comments earlier this week, but I remember how impressed I was when Toronto’s Jose Bautista hit his 20th home run on May 28. At the time, Kemp had 12.  Now, the score is 20-18.

He is flat out on fire, and the only concern here is that he’ll remember how much he enjoys the better hitting environments outside of California when free agency eventually arrives for him. In the meantime, cheering for Kemp remains the consolation prize.

Jun 09

Dodgers demote Jerry Sands, bring up Trent Oeltjen

Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw

The Dodgers are going to give Jerry Sands a breather from the major leagues, replacing him on the active roster with lefty-hitting outfielder Trent Oeltjen, who had a .429 on-base percentage and .583 slugging percentage at Albuquerque. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details.

In addition, the Dodgers outrighted minor-leaguer Luis Vasquez from the 40-man roster to Single-A Rancho Cucamonga.

Have no fear about Sands — despite his recent slump, his initial foray into the bigs should be viewed in a positive light, providing some great moments as well as some knowledge of how he has to improve.

As for the major-league roster, I wonder if this move sets the stage for Casey Blake to play some left field, as was discussed months ago.

* * *

It’s Clayton Kershaw Day on the Internet, with several pieces on the Dodger lefty:

  • Tim Kurkjian of ESPN.com is exceedingly complimentary, noting that no 23-year-old major-league pitcher (according to the Elias Sports Bureau) had ever had as many career victories and as low a career ERA while striking out more than a batter per inning before Kershaw.  Kershaw says he benefited from his fast start.

    “The Dodgers did me a huge favor calling me up as early as they did,” Kershaw told Kurkjian. “I took my lumps, but I’m better off for it. What I’ve learned to this point has been huge for me.”

    The biggest adjustment came this year when he added a slider in part because, “I couldn’t control my curveball.” Manager Don Mattingly agreed, but added, “No one [umpires] calls the curveball [for strikes] anymore. No one swings at it. So, you can’t throw it. But his slider and changeup have become very good. When I first saw him, he could throw a fastball for a strike on the inside part of the plate to right-handed hitters. Now he can throw the ball to both sides of the plate, against right-handed and left-handed hitters. His bullpens are now art. He throws five pitches in, five away. He moves the ball around. It’s boom, boom, boom.” …

  • Dave Cameron of Fangraphs names Kershaw as a finalist for best southpaw in the National League, before going with a Phillie.
  • David Schoenfield of ESPN.com also makes the case for Kershaw as a top young lefty in MLB, before giving Tampa Bay’s David Price a slight edge.
  • According to the Dodger press notes, since making his major-league debut in May 2008, no pitcher with at least 400 innings has a lower opponents’ batting average than Kershaw (.221 batting average, 7.3 hits per nine innings).