May 07

Misery loves misery

Anger and depression are their own kind of comfort food, aren’t they?

The best thing about the Dodgers’ performance Monday is that you could turn it off.

There’s no shortage of people to criticize. That doesn’t mean every target deserves every tomato being thrown, but the impulse is understandable.

I tend to spend a lot of time throwing tomatoes at myself, so the Dodgers’ example of great potential struggling is one I tend to sympathize with more than rage at.

But I’ll sure be happy when things get better for them.

Here are two videos to cheer you up. The first comes via Roberto Baly at Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.

The second is just an all-around cure-all.

Diamondbacks at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.

May 06

Adrian Gonzalez’s admission has meaning for Matt Kemp

The strange thing about the reaction to Adrian Gonzalez’s acknowledgment (to Bill Shaikin of the Times) that he won’t have the same power as he did before undergoing labrum surgery in the 2010-11 offseason is that no one has followed that with the obvious connection to Matt Kemp.

“I can still hit home runs. That is not going to be an issue. The full power is not the same,” said Gonzalez, who had surgery to repair his labrum before the 2011 season, in acknowledging he would be more of an average and doubles hitter going forward.

In October, Dylan Hernandez of the Times did link Gonzalez with Kemp — who had labrum surgery last winter — but nevertheless, people seem to remain surprised that Kemp is having power issues at the start of this season. In 2011, Gonzalez hit one home run in April — the same as Kemp this year.

Gonzalez finished 2011 with 27 home runs, before hitting 18 in 2012. He has three this season, though he is slugging .500 thanks to seven doubles.

The potential effect of labrum injuries on sluggers is nothing new. Ten years ago, I noted on Dodger Thoughts the effect that Shawn Green’s surgery would likely have on his career in this piece, “The Shawn Green of Old Will Not Return.” Green actually fared better than the title predicted, hitting 28 home runs in 2004, though 18 of those came after the All-Star Break. He hit 47 more home runs the rest of his career.

What the long-term effects of Kemp’s injury will be, I don’t know. Perhaps he’ll kick the home-run power into gear starting tonight. But we can’t be surprised if his four-bagger forays take time to resurrect.

May 05

Ground beef: Giants score 33% more runs than Dodgers, credited with 100% more grit

The Giants “play as a unit, as a team, grinding out victories,” ESPN announced Dan Shulman said at the top of tonight’s broadcast of the Giants and the Dodgers, confirming my suspicions that the narrative of the nationally televised game would be the story of the bloated, underachieving team from Los Angeles against those gritty, overachieving underdogs from San Francisco.

And so it went throughout the night, despite the fact that:

• With a $141 million payroll and the reigning National League Most Valuable Player, the Giants are anything but a low-paid team of nobodies.

• The Dodgers, despite a payroll over $200 million, started an infield this fine evening of Juan Uribe, Nick Punto, Dee Gordon and Luis Cruz.

I’m not looking to denigrate San Francisco. Quite the opposite. Whatever your emotions are, how can you not have respect for what the Giants have achieved in earning two World Series titles since 2010 and for their positive start to 2013?

But to say the Giants are willing their way to victory is not only the stuff of fantasy, it’s insulting to the quality of their players. They aren’t winning with smoke and mirrors. There’s actually talent there.

This is the trap everyone falls into: Only winners grind. It’s silly, and it’s obviously phony on the surface.

On Friday and Saturday, the Dodgers were tied with the Giants when the final batter of each game came up. Those last batters happened to play for San Francisco, and they each happened to hit home runs, and you have to tip your hat to them. The homers gave the Giants 100 percent of the nights’ victories. But did they give them 100 percent of the available grit? Did one swing of the bat not only vanquish the Dodgers’ chance of winning, but also eradicate everything positive one could say about their effort?

There’s no questioning the Giants’ perseverance right now, not after three straight one-run victories against their top rivals, two involving comebacks. But this was also a weekend in which the Dodgers put 18 runners on base Friday, not by accident or some drunken shenanigans, and made two significant comebacks the next two nights, even if they ultimately didn’t lead to triumph.

Saturday, the Dodgers rallied from five runs down to take the lead, then retook the lead again after they were tied. Tonight, down 4-0 in the eighth – and with the flight home practically taxiing on the runway – the Dodgers pushed three runs across, two of them driven in by the nearly immobile Adrian Gonzalez, before the tying and go-ahead runs were left on base when another gimpy player, Jerry Hairston Jr., grounded out.

San Francisco held on to win, 4-3, completing a three-game sweep and pushing the Dodgers farther behind in the NL West. No question, the Dodgers are in lousy shape right now (with their roster manipulation doing them few favors and managerial tactics drawing questions on a nightly basis). But turning that lousy shape into a team-wide personality flaw makes no sense.

Grit is not a zero-sum game.

Of course, why we’re talking about grit to this extent has me a bit confused – the stuff never got those of us without talent anywhere near the majors – but even if you believe wholeheartedly in the power of grit to win ballgames, there’s no reason to believe that grit is a winner-take-all characteristic. We all want to win, but failing is not the same as not trying.

I mean, we learn this in preschool, folks. It’s one of the building blocks of our society. Why do we forget it when the preschoolers turn pro?

May 05

Some of the Los Angeles Dodgers take on the San Francisco Giants

Dodgers at Giants, 5:05 p.m.

Let’s look at the Dodgers’ roster for tonight’s game:

Starting lineup
1) Carl Crawford, LF
2) Nick Punto, 2B
3) Matt Kemp, CF
4) Andre Ethier, RF
5) A.J. Ellis, C
6) Juan Uribear, 1B
7) Luis Cruz, 3B
8 ) Dee Gordon, SS
9) Hyun-Jin Ryu, P

Available off bench
10) Ramon Hernandez, C
11) Skip Schumaker, IF-OF
12) Justin Sellers, SS
13) Clayton Kershaw, PH

Rested in bullpen
14) Matt Guerrier, RHP
15) Kenley Jansen, RHP
16) Paco Rodriguez, LHP (15 pitches Saturday)

Not so rested in bullpen
17) Brandon League, RHP (26 pitches Saturday)
18) Ronald Belisario, RHP (25 pitches Saturday, six Friday)
19) Josh Beckett, RHP (Tuesday’s starter)

In the chorus?
20) Mark Ellis, 2B (quadricep)
21) Adrian Gonzalez, 1B (neck)
22) Jerry Hairston, IF-OF (groin)
23) J.P. Howell, LHP (38 pitches Saturday)
24) Javy Guerra, RHP (34 pitches Saturday)
25) Matt Magill, P (63 pitches Saturday)

May 05

Uribear!

It all began after Juan Uribe singled for the second time in Saturday’s game, driving in two runs in the Dodgers’ seven-run fifth inning and continuing his season-opening hot (it’s all relative) streak.

There was a setback in the sixth inning, which ended when Uribe struck out with two on and two out and the Dodgers clinging to an 8-7 lead.

Soon, I could sense I was on to something.

And then the lightbulb went off.

I wasn’t sure anything would happen after that, but then came these messages from Twitter user @_GrandPaD.

And then another choice option from @EephusBlue.

My heart is all a-flutter. I want one. I want them all. Here’s the pricing formula:

$(10 x current Uribe OBP)². Today’s suggested price is $16.00. Last year, a Uribear would have cost $6.66.

May 04

Giants walk off and walk over Dodgers’ hearts in 10

There are games that live in your memory forever. Huge ones like the 4+1 game and the Squeeze. And then less meaningful but still utterly crazy ones like 1996’s 16-15 loss at Colorado.

Tonight brought one of the crazies.

Wild from Matt Magill’s first batter, heave-inducing once the Dodgers fell behind 5-0 in the second inning, head-rushing once the Dodgers came back with seven runs in the top of the fifth and mind-blasting for nearly every moment there after, the tear-your-hair-out affair that lasted more than four hours before ending with a 10-9, 10-inning Giants victory.

Guillermo Quiroz, the last position player available to San Francisco, hit a one-out homer in the bottom of the 10th, giving the Giants a second walkoff victory in two nights.

Magill was a disaster in his second career start, allowing six hits, four walks and five runs while retiring four batters on 63 pitches. And yet somehow, he managed to allow fewer runs than Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong.

Entering the game with a 6.23 ERA, Vogelsong cruised through his first four innings, hurt only a solo home run by A.J. Ellis. Vogelsong began the fifth inning with a 6-1 lead against a team whose season-high in runs was seven.

But Vogelsong walked pinch-hitter Nick Punto to start the fifth, and things spun out of control for him thereafter. Jerry Hairston Jr. doubled, Matt Kemp singled in two, Skip Schumaker followed an Ellis walk with an RBI single, and then Juan Uribe singled home Ellis to bring the Dodgers to within 6-5.

Vogelsong exited with Uribe on first and Schumaker on second, to be replaced by Jean Machi. Dee Gordon, 0 for 2 in his first major-league game of the season, was up. Gordon 3-ironed a ball to the gap that rightfielder Hunter Pence had trouble seeing in the lights, for a go-ahead triple. Punto, still technically listed as a pinch-hitter, followed with a double that scored Gordon for a two-run lead.

The Dodgers being the Dodgers, they still managed to leave two runners on in the inning, when Carl Crawford singled but Hairston struck out. And with half the game remaining, you had to know it would matter.

Javy Guerra came in to relieve, and was almost wholly ineffective. He gave up a solo homer to Andres Torres in the bottom of the fifth, then loaded the bases with none out in the sixth on a walk, a single and a hit batter (the latter, Joaquin Arias, had been trying to sacrifice). Paco Rodriguez entered the game – in a double-switch that left the Dodgers with Luis Cruz, of all people, playing first base for the first time in his career – and was brilliant. He struck out the first two batters on seven total pitches, only to have a low 1-0 strike to Torres elude Ellis for a wild pitch that tied the game at 8. Rodriguez still finished off the inning, stranding Giants on second and third.

The Dodgers took the lead back in the seventh when Gordon drew a four-pitch leadoff walk from Javier Lopez, went to second on a sacrifice, stole third and scored on a nifty slide home thanks to Crawford’s fielder’s choice grounder. But as quickly as that lead came, it vanished in the bottom of the seventh when Ronald Belisario allowed a double, single and sacrifice fly to the first three batters he faced.

At that point, the Giants had scored in six of the seven innings played. But the teams went dry in an eighth inning that included the Dodgers having Ellis (2 for 4 with a walk) bunt into a double play. Belisario survived in his second inning of work to keep things tied.

Gordon reached base for the third time with a one-out, ninth-inning single and stole second, but he was stranded, putting Los Angeles in position of trying to maintain a tie in the bottom of the ninth for the second evening in a row. Brandon League, not one to induce calm, walked leadoff batter Torres on five pitches. Francisco Peguero forced Torres at second.

With Marco Scutaro up, Peguero broke for second. He beat Ellis’ throw but overslid the bag – but Schumaker didn’t keep his glove on Peguero long enough to record what otherwise would have been a gift out. League then went 3-2 to Scutaro before walking him, bringing up Pablo Sandoval with one out and Buster Posey on deck.

Sandoval hit, of all things, a 50-foot dribbler that Punto charged at from third base but couldn’t barehand, leaving the bases loaded for Posey, Friday’s walkoff home run hero.

Unbelievably – and never have I used an adverb with greater emphasis – the Dodgers lived to play another inning. Unbelievably, Posey swung at the first pitch from the erratic League. And unbelievably, Posey hit it a foot to the right of second base, directly at Schumaker, who stepped on second and threw to first to give the Dodgers their escape and send the game into the 10th inning, about 10 minutes shy of four hours.

In the bottom of the 10th, League struck out Pence and then threw two strikes before giving up the game-winning blast to Quiroz. And just like that, it was over.

May 04

Today’s the day: Booksigning for 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die


Hope to see as many of you as possible as I sign copies of “100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die” at Barnes & Noble on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, beginning at 2 p.m. The revised version of is on sale now.

The new edition of “100 Things Dodgers” features several new chapters (including Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw) and other tidbits, as well as new information for some existing chapters. I’m looking forward to meeting readers, taking questions and talking Dodgers.

Oh yes, the Dodgers. To describe the state of things, let’s just say that I put out this tweet mid-game Friday, before Hanley Ramirez took himself out of action with the team’s latest injury.


 

The score was 0-0, and Kershaw was working on a perfect game at the time. And yet, the sport was feeling like such a struggle for this team, part of a quarter-century of constantly battling uphill while other teams flit from last to first like it was nothing, that I allowed the fatigued pessimist in me a bit of breathing room.

And then Ramirez flamed out running from second to third. I didn’t see the play until after the game, but from the tweets I saw beforehand, it sounded as if Ramirez had no business trying to go from first to third. Then I saw the replay, and these things were clear: Even after slowing down to a near jog haflway between second and third because of the injury, the throw from right field didn’t arrive at third base until Ramirez was beginning his slide. He clearly would have made it if he hadn’t gotten hurt – I watched the replay a dozen times and saw each time that his choice to go for the extra base even with none out was sound.

It was small consolation, that Ramirez’s injury came in an effort valiant, not dubious. Kershaw lost the perfect game, the no-hitter, the shutout and the one-run lead that he mainly provided with his bat. The Dodgers lost the game, painfully if un-unexpectedly, in the bottom of the ninth. Ramirez will be out again, likely for weeks, and even after Adrian Gonzalez’s neck self-corrects and Mark Ellis works his way back from his quad injury, the left side of the Dodger infield will still be Scrappy Central, emphasis on Scrap.

The injuries are exhausting. There’s no use feeling sorry for yourself in this world, but you sort of feel that, after watching 20-odd teams make the World Series in the past 24 years and enduring the Fox and McCourt ownerships, we’d catch a break from the suffering. But this season has been Sisyphusian.

If you aren’t packing up your boulder and going home, all you can do is keep pushing. Let’s rally in Pasadena today!

 

May 01

Gratitude for a .500 team on May 1

I’m really not trying to be a wide-eyed Kenneth when I say that I’m happy the Dodgers are a .500 team at the end of April.

For one thing, I look down the interstate and see a truly dyspeptic team, the 9-17 Angels, and say “There but for the grace of Vin …”

But really, for the Dodgers to spend most of the month without Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley and Hanley Ramirez among their many other injuries, for Luis Cruz to morph from folk hero to Eugenio Velez II (more rapidly than even the most sour pessimists predicted) and for the offense and bullpen in general to sputter, it’s hard to be too disappointed that the team is only 2 1/2 games out of first place and 1 1/2 games behind the defending World Series champions.

You can argue about opportunities lost – a relatively tame early season schedule with one East Coast road trip, a chance to put some distance between themselves and the Giants while Matt Cain (6.49 ERA) and Ryan Vogelsong (6.23) struggle, three home games against the last-place Padres turned into three defeats – but the Dodgers displayed a certain level of resiliency in the face of injuries, slumps and a six-game losing streak. The Dodgers are 6-3 since that terrible stretch, despite a patchwork lineup and rotation.

As bad as players and events have looked at times, there has been plenty of compensatory comfort food.

• Carl Crawford, unlikely when he was acquired last summer to even play in April, has sparked the offense with a .905 OPS and 20 runs in 23 games.

• Fellow former Red Sox Adrian Gonzalez (.871 OPS at first base) and Nick Punto (.916 OPS in reserve) have contributed most generously as well.

• A.J. Ellis is third among major-league catchers in on-base percentage (we won’t talk about who’s No. 1), while Mark Ellis shined on offense and defense at second base before running into a right quadricep issue.

• Juan Uribe, for the time being, has resurrected his career as a reserve, posting an .825 OPS and the best walk rate in the majors.

• Hyun-Jin Ryu (3.35 ERA, 46 strikeouts against 43 baserunners in 37 2/3 innings) has pitched – and hit – beyond expectations.

• Kenley Jansen is his reliable self with a 1.29 ERA and 15 strikeouts against 14 baseunners in 14 innings.

• Clayton Edward Kershaw.

Perhaps no one typifies the Dodgers’ mixed status than Matt Kemp. Because of his labrum surgery, Kemp’s power is going to be the last part of his game to return – and to be sure, it’s unlikely to ever be 39-homer power again – but he is making gains with timing and contact. He should continue to improve … if he can avoid further injury. So goes Los Angeles.

It remains as hard to predict the future of the 2013 Dodgers on May 1 as it was on April 1. Their strengths and vulnerabilities walk hand in hand. They are alive and kicking. Whether they’ll be kicking doors down or at the air like an upside-down beetle, no one can say. It’s not a matter of dreaming small or settling for mediocrity, but right now, I’m just grateful they’re kicking at all.

Remember — the “100 Things Dodgers” booksigning is Saturday in Pasadena.

Apr 30

Deuces wild

Sorry for the unexcused absence over the past two days. Monday night was spent celebrating my 13th anniversary with the missus.

But I will say I like the moxie of that Schumaker kid on the mound …

Friend of Dodger Thoughts Erin Scot of Robots Took My Medicine tells us what she’s been up to since taking a hiatus from blogging — and also offers for sale this great, Vin Scully-inspired “Deuces are wild” T-shirt. Check it out.

And remember — the “100 Things Dodgers” booksigning is Saturday in Pasadena.

Rockies at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.

Jerry Hairston Jr., LF
Nick Punto, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
A.J. Ellis, C
Juan Uribe, 3B
Hyun-Jin Ryu, P

Carl Crawford was a late scratch with tightness in his right hamstring.

Apr 27

You can’t have too much anything


The yanking of my brain from good to bad on a daily basis is mimicked in the fortunes of the Dodgers, who are as inconsistent in their fortune as their 11-11 record implies.

Friday’s pockmarked but resilient 7-5 victory over Milwaukee came with the latest injury, a right quad strain for sizzling second baseman Mark Ellis. Tonight’s game has served up its latest malady as a pregame appetizer: the news that Stephen Fife is going on the disabled list with bursitis. Matt Magill will make his major-league debut tonight for the Dodgers, becoming their ninth starting pitcher in the team’s 23rd game of the season. Exciting but enervating is this Los Angeles team.

The injuries to the pitchers have validated the maxim that you can’t have too much pitching (though Aaron Harang, with an 11.37 ERA and 25 baserunners allowed in 12 2/3 innings over three starts with Seattle, so far remains evidence of the opposite). But the larger point is, you can’t have too much of anything – the Dodger infield will now remain more strapped than the pitching staff even as Hanley Ramirez nears a return, assuming Ramirez himself can stay healthy.

All lamentations and pointless accusations of healthcare inadequacy aside, the Dodgers remind us that every moment of good fortune is precious, and every moment of ill fate is a challenge to be overcome. No one will feel sorry for you for long. It’s worth learning, of you can, to do well with less.

Brewers at Dodgers, 6:10 p.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
A.J. Ellis, C
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Skip Schumaker, 2B
Luis Cruz, SS
Juan Uribe, 3B
Matt Magill, P

Apr 25

The glory that is Juan Uribe

The Juan Uribe statline after today’s 3-2 Dodger victory in New York: 29 plate appearances, two singles, two home runs, eight walks. He has an .890 OPS despite a .190 batting average.

Juan Uribe has the top walk rate on the Dodgers: one every 3.6 plate appearances.

Juan Uribe.

After walking in his first three trips to the plate today, Uribe drove in the Dodgers’ second run of the ninth and third run of the game with an infield single. That proved critical because Brandon League allowed an Ike Davis home run in the bottom of the inning.

League retired the next three batters to avoid blowing his second save in less than 24 hours.

Staked to a 1-0 lead in the first inning, Hyun-Jin Ryu went seven innings and allowed only a run on three hits with three walks, striking out eight. Matt Kemp went 2 for 3 with a walk, an RBI and a run and is hitting a season-high .266.

Los Angeles split six games on its initial East Coast road trip.

Apr 25

Inches from victory

Well, I called it, didn’t I? Joy and sadness, though admittedly, there was more joy from the starting-pitching matchup than you might have expected, when Ted Lilly was pitching one-run ball in his first start in nearly a year and Matt Kemp was hitting his first homer of the season against Mets phenom Matt Harvey.

A foreboding moment began when J.P. Howell walked his first two batters after Kemp had given the Dodgers a 3-1 lead in the sixth inning, but the real crisis came when Carl Crawford couldn’t prevent a leadoff double by Mike Baxter in the bottom of the ninth against Brandon League – the ball went off the heel of Crawford’s glove as he was sliding. Los Angeles got a measure of yang to this yin with Jerry Hairston’s great catch of a foul pop-up by Daniel Murphy with one out and a runner on third, but it all went south from there, capped by Jordany Valdespin’s grand slam in the 10th for a 7-3 Mets victory.

More bad tidings came overnight with the news that Shawn Tolleson will have back surgery later today to repair a herniated disc in his low back, putting him out of action for three to five months.

Dodgers at Mets, 10:10 a.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
Nick Punto, 2B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Ramon Hernandez, C
Justin Sellers, SS
Hyun-Jin Ryu, P

 

Apr 24

Mark Ellis powers Dodgers, 7-2, after Kershaw struggles

What can baseball do?

Baseball can give you joy when you can imagine only sadness.

It can also give you the reverse, but enough about last week with the Dodgers. This is this week.

For two consecutive games, the Dodgers have won when you would have thought they would lose. They won when Chad Billingsley was unable to start Sunday, and they won in New York, 7-2, after an uncharacteristic disintegration by Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday.

Kershaw, to be fair, only allowed two runs, but it was shocking how it happened. Twelve pitches in into the third inning, 39 pitches into the game, Kershaw had retired all eight batters he had faced and had a 1-2 count on an emergency relief pitcher making his first career plate appearance. Moments later, he was trailing 2-1 and barely escaping a bases-loaded jam with a Marlon Byrd groundout, and after two more innings and 111 total pitches – matching the most he has ever thrown in the majors without reaching the sixth inning – his night was over. It was the second consecutive outing in which an opposing pitcher ended a perfect start by Kershaw.

Photos by Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Fortunately for the Dodgers, Mark Ellis has shown up like a combination of Florence Nightengale and the Tooth Fairy. Ellis, who Sunday drove in the Dodgers’ first three runs and also made a critical defensive play, all but singlehandedly put the Dodgers on his back Tuesday, with a game-tying home run in the fifth inning – the 100th of his career – and then a leap-from-your-seat three-run blast with two out in the seventh to put Los Angeles ahead to stay. (Not for nothing, Ellis also knocked out Mets starter Jonathon Niese in the third inning with a hard shot up the middle.)

Ellis’ second home run, as Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. noted, made him only the third Dodger second baseman in a century and first in 39 years with four hits and two homers in a game. The 35-year-old (how can such a veteran’s veteran be 10 years younger than me) himself has now thrice homered twice in a game. I also dare say that you won’t find another night in history when Dodger and Angel second basemen each hit two home runs, including tiebreaking homers for both, but I leave you the research challenge.

Not to be lost amid Ellis’ glory is the day Justin Sellers had – three hits, including an RBI single in the second and another coming ahead of Ellis’ second homer. (Juan Uribe drew a walk to keep that inning alive.) After starting the season 0 for 13, Sellers is 11 for 37 with a homer and five walks in his past 12 games (.409 on-base percentage, .378 slugging) and hasn’t made an error since his unfortunate second game of 2013. As hot as Dee Gordon has been at the plate in Albuquerque, Sellers has allowed the Dodgers to remove the yellow caution tape around shortstop.

A.J. Ellis doubled in two insurance runs in the eighth and now leads all major-league catchers with a .446 on-base percentage and NL catchers with a 159 adjusted OPS, and not because the pitcher is batting behind him – he has batted no lower than seventh except for in the third game of the season. Matt Kemp had two more hits and is now 17 for his past 55 (.309) with four doubles, as MLB.com noted, while Andre Ethier doubled ahead of A.J. to slow a 2-for-25 slump.

In addition, the topsy-turvy Dodger bullpen of 2013 has gone back to topsy, pitching at least four innings of shutout ball for the second consecutive game, sparked by a comeback performance by struggling Ronald Belisario (three batters, three outs on 15 pitches, 12 for strikes).

Los Angeles is now 9-4 when it isn’t losing six games in a row. Joy and sadness, that’s our game. With Ted Lilly against Matt Harvey tonight, it figures to be more of the same.