Aug 31

Do better, but how?

“We’ve got to do better.”

— Don Mattingly

“I did my best, but I guess my best wasn’t good enough.”

— James Ingram

* * *

I tell myself to do better all the time. I do it so often that for the most part, other people don’t have to. Not that it does a whole lot of good.

Thursday, just as the rainbow was receding from Dodger Stadium, I was leaving a film screening that, as happens from time to time, left me really inspired to do exactly that with my life. Do better.

Basically, there are three ways to “do better.”

  1. Try harder.
  2. Be smarter.
  3. Have better luck.

I don’t see any indication that Dodger players are doing any less than the best they can on the first two points. The third, of course, is out of their control.

In the Dodgers’ latest loss, 2-0 to Arizona on Thursday, Clayton Kershaw had a good but not great game. He allowed only two runs, but it could have been worse, given that he served up 12 baserunners in six innings. You want him to do better, but do you really think he could have consciously, proactively done anything more to make himself do better?

The Dodger offense had a poor game, against a great 2011 pitcher having a not-so-great 2012 season. In nine innings, the Dodgers had five singles, two walks and no hits with runners in scoring position. Their best chance to score was thwarted by Arizona second baseman Aaron Hill, whose full-body diving stop of a Juan Rivera grounder up the middle turned what would have been a one-out RBI single into an inning-ending double play.

Was the Dodgers’ effort not there? The first thing many people do when a theoretically talented team is losing is conclude that the team is playing with no heart, no fire, no guts. But not succeeding doesn’t mean you’re not trying.

These guys know what’s at stake, individually and collectively. They know they’re behind.  Show me where there was a lack of effort. Show me where they made a mental mistake that made the difference. Show me something meaningful that you’re not just imagining out of frustration.

Now maybe Don Mattingly sees something that I can’t see, and that’s what prompted his closed-door clubhouse exhortation after Thursday’s game. Perhaps he saw something we didn’t in the shadows of pregame preparation, rather than in the gametime spotlight.

More likely is that he is telling his players to “do better” because there’s nothing else really to say. And it’s a little ironic, because, although I’m generally supportive of Mattingly’s efforts as a manager, probably the easiest way for a Dodger to do better might be Mattingly in some of his batting order choices and strategic decisions. But even that’s pretty small potatoes.

Last night, I arrived home hoping to do better. By the time I went to sleep, I was exactly who I was. The Dodgers will do as well as they can, and then they’ll see if that’s good enough.  Because everyone can try to do better, but only one can be the best.

Aug 29

You’re never too low to rise again

The past two nights have provided as big a gap between expectations and fulfillment as we’ve seen in a while, a combination of poor execution and poor luck, punctuated each time by Matt Kemp turning himself into a self-made pinata. The good news is that as soon as today, that gap can be bridged, even with Kemp spending the game on the bench. Save yourself talk of chemistry and curses – it’s heartily premature.

The more real concern is that a team that finally boasts a lineup equipped for the postseason has a gap to overcome to get there first. Los Angeles has fallen a season-high 3 1/2 games behind San Francisco with 32 remaining. That’s a reversal that will require a bit more patience.

It’s not that the ground can’t be made up – it can be, and with weeks to spare. A month from today, the Dodgers can be 3 1/2 games out of first place and still win the World Series. But I think most Dodger fans would rather feel more secure. That means having a cushion heading into the final three games of the regular season against San Francisco and a pitching staff that would test any lineup. That means going from 3 1/2 out to 3 1/2 up.

It’s far too soon to panic, but it’s not too soon to hope the Dodgers can pick their crumpled bodies off the ground right away. It has only taken three days for bravado to turn back into humility. Let the shell-shocking Rockies be the inspiration, and let the Dodgers now be the humble assassins.

Hit the ball, pitch the ball, catch the ball. If Colorado can do it, so can Los Angeles.

Aug 28

Dodger blog end-of-season tournament is September 29

Dodgers at Rockies, 5:40 p.m.
Mark Ellis, 2B
Shane Victorino, LF
Matt Kemp, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Adam Kennedy, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Chris Capuano, P

There’s another Dodger blogger softball tournament coming September 29, and Dodger Thoughts once again will have a spot. Details on joining the Dodger Thoughts team can be found here.

Unfortunately, I won’t be attending the tournament this time around, but I can promise you it will be great fun with a bunch of great people (who share a common interest, to say the least). So sign up today!

Aug 27

Dodgers recall Wall

Dodgers at Rockies, 5:40 p.m.
Shane Victorino, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Luis Cruz, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Josh Beckett, P

Josh Wall has replaced Shawn Tolleson in the Dodger bullpen, but according to Dylan Hernandez of the Times, Tolleson is not about to become someone else’s player to be named later.

Rather, after using every reliever not named Kenley Jansen this weekend, the Dodgers were trying to shore up their bullpen for this week’s games in Colorado. So, expect to see Tolleson again in a Dodger uniform soon after rosters expand.

There are rumors that the Dodgers are concerned enough about Chad Billingsley’s health and Joe Blanton’s performance that they might still try to acquire another starting pitcher, believe it or not.

* * *

Keith Law of on Josh Beckett:

… Beckett’s lost season comes down to three main problems: some lost velocity, poor pitch selection and horrific pitching from the stretch. He has lost a mile and a half off his average fastball this year versus 2011, a year that was already down from his peak fastball a few years earlier, which is likely the effect of age and regular usage over the years but doesn’t in and of itself have to be fatal. (It does show he’s not a good candidate for a multiyear extension.)

He gives up way too many hits on his cutter, which has proved less effective than the straight changeup that was previously his worst pitch (because it looked like a BP fastball compared with his four-seamer). He’s been nearly 300 points of opponents’ OPS worse with men on base this year, and, although that’s often just bad luck or randomness, in Beckett’s case it’s more because his fastball is softer from the stretch and because he relies too much on that flat cutter in those situations. …

From April 13 through June 30 this year, Beckett had a 3.50 ERA in 79 2/3 innings over 12 starts. In his other 2012 starts, he has allowed 43 earned runs in 47 2/3 innings.

In 2011 through August 27, Beckett had a 2.43 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 163 innings.

Aug 26

Can they get to 50?

My annual quest to see if the Dodgers can use 50 players in a season took a big leap forward with this weekend’s Boston trade, which brought Adrian Gonzalez (No. 45), Nick Punto (No. 46) and  Josh Beckett (soon to be No. 47).

With the 40-man roster full, it could be tough to add many more players after September 1, but candidates to boost this year’s total to 50 include minor-leaguers Tim Federowicz, Chris Withrow (a longshot, presumably) and, if they’re feeling funky, Yasiel Puig.

The Dodgers have reached 50 players in three seasons: 2006 (50), 1998 (53) and 1944 (53). Delwyn Young was their 50th player in 2006, while the end-of-the-line crew in 1998 included Angel Pena, Jeff Kubenka and Mike Metcalfe. The year of the Mike Piazza trade, the Dodgers reached 50 players before rosters expanded in September.

Aug 26

Scully to bring another year of heaven on earth

Vin Scully will return to the Dodger broadcast booth for the 2013 season, according to a report by Bill Shaikin of the Times. An official announcement is due today, said Shaikin, who added that the Dodgers’ first regular-season visit to Yankee Stadium will come next year, with Scully potentially heading to New York to do the games. (The only problem with that plan is the likelihood that at least two games would end up on Fox and ESPN).

He’s coming back. It’s the best of news, it’s the best of news. Thanks, Vin.

Update: Scully’s return is official.

“The new ownership of the Dodgers has revitalized the city, the team, the fans and myself,” Scully said in a statement. “I am so convinced of their great purpose and leadership that I eagerly look forward to joining them in pursuit of the next Dodgers championship.”

Update 2: More from Scully’s meeting with the media from J.P Hoornstra of the Daily News and Jim Peltz of the Times.

Marlins at Dodgers, 1:10 p.m.
Shane Victorino, LF
Nick Punto, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Luis Cruz, 3B
Matt Treanor, C
Aaron Harang, P
Aug 25

Ethier tinkers successfully, Gonaflon Gonzalez leaves ever so little to chance in triumphant Dodger debut

Billingsley back to DL

For the second time this season, Chad Billingsley has gone to the disabled list with right elbow issues. Josh Beckett will enter the rotation and start Monday. Also, Alex Castellanos was optioned to Albuquerque, with Nick Punto taking his roster spot.

A pure “Wow!” moment.

Adrian Gonzalez, piled to the sky with expectations as big as the Louisiana Purchase, set up for glory when the Dodgers started their first inning Saturday with three consecutive hits, pulverized a Josh Johnson fastball down the right-field line at Dodger Stadium for an era-opening three-run home run.

The blast gave the Dodgers a lead and a headline they would never relinquish on their way to an 8-2 victory that cut their deficit in the National League West to two games, though Andre Ethier has done his best to steal the show.

Going 4 for 4 for the second night in a row (with two singles, a double and a homer), Ethier has broken the 35-year-old Los Angeles Dodger record held by Ron Cey and tied the 93-year-old franchise mark of Ed Konetchy with hits in 10 consecutive at-bats. Ethier, left in the on-deck circle when the Dodgers made their final out of the night, had a bloop single to center for the milestone hit – and his home run, it should be noted, came off Marlins lefty Wade LeBlanc. Ethier, who is within two of the major-league record, has credited his streak with choking up on the bat slightly and shortening his swing, in response to the blister he has on his palm.

Johnson withered under the Dodgers’ revamped offense (even without Shane Victorino, who was a late scratch with back pain). He threw 46 pitches in the first inning, only escaping further damage when a borderline 3-2 pitch to Clayton Kershaw was called for strike three, and exited the game after a mammoth 89 pitches in only three innings.

The Dodgers had 10 hits off Johnson, 16 in all, including three by Mark Ellis and Matt Kemp and two apiece for Luis Cruz and A.J. Ellis. Ethier and Mark Ellis each came within a triple of the cycle. Gonzalez ended up 1 for 5.

In the records kept by, Johnson is only the third starting pitcher to have thrown at least 89 pitches against Los Angeles in a start of three innings or less. Over the past two nights, Johnson and Nathan Eovaldi have combined to throw 165 pitches in only six innings, while allowing 12 runs (including five homers) on 20 baserunners.

Amid all this, Kershaw quietly shut down the Marlins over eight innings. After allowing a leadoff double that came around to score on two groundouts in the first inning, and a Giancarlo Stanton special for another run in the second inning, Kershaw held Miami hitless save for an infield single that replays (and my naked eye, for that matter) concluded should have been an out. Kershaw struck out eight, walked two and threw only five more pitches than Johnson.

The Dodgers have as many homers in the past 26 hours, six, as they had in all of June. The atmosphere at Dodger Stadium … jovial, to say the least.