Aug 18

Dodgers win home run derby

If you’re crazy for the Dodgers, well tonight, they were crazy for you.

Los Angeles hit four home runs – including three in a row for the first time since 2007 – yet had no other hits while coming away with a 6-2 victory over Atlanta.

Within a quartet of pitches from Ben Sheets in the second inning, Hanley Ramirez, James Loney and Luis Cruz hit the Dodgers’ first back-to-back-to-back home runs since Hong-Chih Kuo bat-flip night, when he followed Wilson Betemit and Matt Kemp with dingers.

Then in the sixth inning, after walks to Kemp and Andre Ethier, Ramirez hit his second homer of the game on a 3-0 pitch, giving the Dodgers’ a 6-1 lead. On the roadtrip, Ramirez is 17 for 38 with a .463 on-base percentage, three home runs, 14 RBI in nine games and 28 total bases.

But before, during and after the four home runs, there were no other Dodger hits.

To my shock, two teams this year (Colorado and Baltimore) have had games with five home runs and no other hits, joining the 2004 New York Yankees as the only squads since at least 1918 to do so. The record-holders in this category are the Cleveland Indians, who hit six home runs (three by Joe Carter) with no other hits on June 24, 1989.

Nevertheless, the Dodgers tonight became only the third team in MLB history to hit four home runs and have no other hits. One of those teams was the 2002 Dodgers, who got two home runs by Shawn Green and solo shots from Eric Karros and Alex Cora off Ramon Ortiz – who still threw a complete-game victory on June 14 that year.

The Dodgers also came within one batter of winning a game without leaving any runners on base for the first time since June 1, 2002, as Bob Timmermann noted, but Loney drew a two-out, ninth-inning walk and was stranded there by Cruz.

And finally, the two teams completed the rare feat of combining for nine hits without any singles.

The effort made a winner of Aaron Harang, even though the righty began the game with a simply awful first inning. He started by walking leadoff hitter Michael Bourn on four pitches and then allowing an RBI double to Martin Prado two tosses later. Jason Heyward flew out on a 2-0 count for the first out, before bench coach and acting manager Trey Hillman decided to walk Chipper Jones intentionally. Freddie Freeman did a favor by fouling out on the first pitch he saw, but Dan Uggla walked on four straight balls to load the bases.

On a 3-2 count, David Ross struck out on a high and inside pitch to allow Harang to escape the first inning with only one run against him, despite facing seven batters and being credited with only eight strikes.

But Harang found his center of gravity after that. Though he only retired the side in order once all night, from the first inning on he held the Braves scoreless into the bottom of the seventh on two walks, two doubles, and a triple, striking out four of the last five batters he faced (capping a 115-pitch outing that featured 57 balls and 58 strikes). Randy Choate entered the game with two out, Bourn on third and Heyward at the plate. And just as people were hoping would happen Friday before the Dodgers’ that night lead was lost, Choate struck Heyward out.

The eighth inning was nearly a repeat of the first. Javy Guerra and Shawn Tolleson combined to walk the bases loaded despite the five-run lead, before the well-rested Kenley Jansen came in to strike out Friday’s hero, Juan Francisco, on three pitches.

Jansen did give up a ninth-inning home run to Prado, but retired Chipper Jones to wrap things up.

Aug 18

Mattingly suspended two games

Don Mattingly was suspended for two games and fined by Major League Baseball for “excessive arguing” during Thursday’s game at Pittsburgh.

No discipline has been announced for Matt Kemp, and apparently will get none. There had been speculation that MLB was holding off punishing Kemp until after this weekend’s Civil Rights Game festivities (see photos), at which Kemp was presenting Don Newcombe with an award. But it appears that the fact that Kemp was ejected while cheering for Andre Ethier has been considered a mitigating circumstance.

Dodgers at Braves, 4:10 p.m.
Shane Victorino, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
James Loney, 1B
Luis Cruz, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Aaron Harang, P
Aug 17

Braves break through in 11th, down Dodgers

Kenley Jansen had thrown six pitches since Friday, and there’s no report that he’s injured. That didn’t dissuade Don Mattingly from insisting on holding back Jansen for a save situation in extra innings that might never come.

And it didn’t.

One inning after Brandon League barely escaped a 10th-inning jam, the righty allowed two 11th-inning singles with two out. The fourth Dodger reliever not named Jansen, Jamey Wright (who threw 16 mostly ineffective pitches Thursday), entered the game and served up a single to Juan Francisco that gave Atlanta a 4-3 victory.

A postgame replay showed Mattingly cursing as the winning hit went into left field.

Dodger relievers tonight faced allowed seven of 17 batters to reach base. Braves relievers allowed four of 16 batters to do so.

With San Francisco scoring eight runs in the third inning at San Diego, the Dodgers figure to begin play Saturday half a game behind the Giants.

Previously tonight:

Dodgers, Braves tied 3-3 in 10th

Dodgers survive 10th-inning scare, head into 11th

Aug 17

Dodgers survive 10th-inning scare, head into 11th

With the Dodgers and Braves tied heading into the bottom of the 10th inning, Randy Choate entered the game for the Dodgers (a little late for those who would have liked to have seen him face Jason Heyward in the eighth with the tying run on base). Choate struck out his first batter but allowed a single to Michael Bourn.

As the Dodgers’ top reliever, Kenley Jansen, idled away, Don Mattingly turned to struggling July acquisition Brandon League.

Then came a critical error. Matt Treanor threw down to second base trying to catch Bourn stealing, and the ball skidded past both Hanley Ramirez and Mark Ellis into center field, allowing Bourn to take the winning run to third base with still only one out.

League went 3-0 to Martin Prado, but came back to strike him out (on a low 3-2 pitch). Then, after walking Heyward, League induced a harmless fly to center from Chipper Jones.

And we moved on to the 11th …

Aug 17

Dodgers, Braves tied 3-3 in 10th

If at third you don’t succeed, hit a home run.

Andre Ethier was thrown out trying to score from first base on a Hanley Ramirez double in the fourth inning. But with the Dodgers still trailing 1-0 in the sixth, Ethier towered a no-doubt shot into the right-field stands to put the Dodgers on the path toward a 3-1 victory at Atlanta.

Unfortunately, the Braves weren’t entirely sold on that outcome, coming back to tie the game 3-3 and send it into the 10th inning, which is when I greet you with this post.

In the fourth, Ethier was thrown out by a good 10 feet at home plate following textbook fielding and throwing work by leftfielder Martin Prado and shortstop Paul Janish. Though frustrating, the decision to send Ethier by third-base coach Tim Wallach was somewhat excusable, coming with two outs and James Loney on deck. Wallach, by my estimation has been more reliable with Dodger baserunners than his recent predecessors such as Rich Donnelly.

But it didn’t look good for the Dodgers then, and looked even worse when Loney and Luis Cruz singled to start the next inning, before being stranded. That meant four consecutive Dodgers had reached base without a run scoring.

Finally, in the sixth inning of Braves starting pitcher Tommy Hanson’s longest outing since July 7, the Dodgers broke through on a groundball double off the glove of Chipper Jones (who had homered in the first to give Atlanta its early lead) followed by Ethier’s homer, his first since July 14.

That, plus a seventh-inning insurance run that came on doubles by Cruz and Shane Victorino, ideally would have been all Dodger starter Chris Capuano would need. The lefty entered the eighth inning with eight strikeouts against three baserunners on 84 pitches, but he gave up leadoff singles to Janish and pinch-hitter Reed Johnson and a sacrifice to put the tying runs in scoring position.

Don Mattingly then turned to the up-and-down Ronald Belisario, who surrendered an RBI groundout to Prado that cut the lead to one run. Jason Heyward then lined a clean single the opposite way into left-center, tying the game.

Belisario, who allowed 11 runs of his own along with three inherited runs in 11 innings from July 8-31, had come back with five scoreless innings to start August – before giving up two more runs in Pittsburgh in his last outing on Monday.

Ace Atlanta reliever Craig Kimbrel blistered the Dodgers with two strikeouts in a perfect ninth, leading to the bottom of the inning, which began, surprisingly, with Belisario back on the mound. And go figure – Belisario struck out the side, taking us to the 10th.

Aug 17

While on Matt Kemp Suspension Watch …

However justified his anger might have been, Matt Kemp sowed the seeds of his own suspension by making physical contact with umpires, writes Chad Moriyama at his blog. So as we wait for that unpleasant news to wend its way, here are some other happenings around town:

  • Don Newcombe, who is being honored at the annual Civil Rights Game on Saturday (between the Dodgers and Braves), is the subject of a nice piece by Spencer Fordin of MLB.com.
  • Good gravy — Brett Tomko is still out there plying his trade. Arizona signed the 39-year-old to a minor-league deal, reports Matt Eddy of Baseball America.
  • Will Rubby De La Rosa be in the same innings quandry next year as Stephen Strasburg is this year? Evan Bladh of Opinion of Kingman’s Performance is curious.
  • Former Dodger prospect Ethan Martin was interviewed at length by Jay Floyd of Phillies Nation.
  • “Major League Baseball owners have agreed to test two different advanced replay systems live during games starting next week, and if they prove accurate they could precede an overhaul of the system for the 2013 season,” reports Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports.
  • Sandy Koufax biographer Jane Leavy has a piece at Grantland on neuropathologist Ann McKee, who is doing extensive research on head trauma that could have an impact on the NFL.
  • Some fun history of Los Angeles roadways prior to the Arroyo Seco Parkway comes via Kevin Roderick of L.A. Observed.
Aug 16

Angry Dodgers drop finale in Pittsburgh

Vin Scully would have had a bleep of a time lip-reading had he been in Pittsburgh today.

In what might have been the wildest Dodger game of the season and what was certainly the angriest, the Dodgers lost to the Pirates, 10-6, with Matt Kemp, Don Mattingly and Joe Blanton ejected along the way.

The Dodgers were unhappy with home-plate umpire Angel Campos’ ball-and-strike calls from the first inning on, but according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A., the trouble really started in the second inning, in bizarre fashion:

… What made Kemp and manager Don Mattingly so irate, as both heartily argued their points while needing to be restrained, especially Kemp, was that the center fielder was kicked out for cheering his teammate.

“Guys were barking about pitches. Angel looked over and said, ‘I don’t want to hear anymore.’ Just a little bit later, Matt said, ‘Let’s go Dre’ and got thrown out,” Mattingly said after the game. “We’re in a pennant race. I got the guy that was second in the MVP last year. You can’t get thrown out for cheering for your teammate. That’s unacceptable behavior.” …

Those ejections — and the ferocious reactions, which can be seen here — came after Blanton allowed a three-run home run in the first inning to leading Dodger-killer Garrett Jones. The Dodgers then rallied to take a 4-3 lead, thanks in part to James Loney’s first home run since May 21 and a two-run shot by Hanley Ramirez — but the Pirates tied it in the bottom of the fourth and then went ahead in the fifth on a second three-run homer by Jones, who entered the game with a career .946 OPS against Los Angeles.

One batter later, Blanton allowed his third home run of the game and league-leading 26th of the season, to Pedro Alvarez — at which point he was removed from the game by the Dodgers before having words with Campos, leading to that ejection.

Blanton has now allowed 14 runs, 18 hits (including four homers) and seven walks in 15 1/3 innings since Los Angeles acquired him from Philadelphia. He had not walked more than two in a game all year, but now has done so twice in three starts.

Amazingly, despite their starter allowing eight runs in 4 1/3 innings, the Dodgers remained in the contest, cutting the deficit to two runs in the seventh (thanks in part to two batters being hit by pitches and putting Andre Ethier up with the bases loaded. But lefty Pirates reliever Tony Watson came in for starter A.J. Burnett and got Ethier to ground out, and then Jamey Wright surrendered two of his own in the bottom of the inning. Shawn Tolleson extended his scoreless streak to nine innings with a perfect bottom of the eighth, but the Dodgers drew no closer.

Loney, Ramirez and Mark Ellis each had two hits for the Dodgers, who are a half-game ahead of idle San Francisco.

Aug 16

In praise of Rick Rhoden

Dodgers at Pirates, 1:05 p.m.
Shane Victorino, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
James Loney, 1B
Adam Kennedy, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Joe Blanton, P

Some morning notes before a mid-day game …

  • Vin Scully gave an interview this week to the SI.com Hot Clicks podcast.
  • Ryan O’Sullivan, a righty with a 3.05 ERA and 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings for two Single-A teams this year, has gone to Philadelphia to complete the Joe Blanton trade. O’Sullivan will turn 22 next month.
  • Boston Globe sportswriter Bob Ryan wrote a lovely farewell piece for the publication that he is (mostly) retiring from after 44 years.
  • Rubby De La Rosa has resumed his rehab, throwing three innings of shutout ball in an Arizona League game Monday.
  • Expressed Written Consent is a program that “brings non-traditional broadcasters into the booth to have a go at the pastime that’s evolved alongside the pastime: calling the game,” writes Jeremy Brisel for MLB.com.
  • Former Dodger pitcher Rick Rhoden — the subject of one of the two calls I made to sportstalk radio in the 1970s as a child — is the inspiration for Josh Wilker’s latest piece at Cardboard Gods. The last two paragraphs explain why …

Aug 15

Aftermath of the Cabrera calamity

Three thoughts about the Melky Cabrera suspension:

1) It’s good news for the Dodgers. However, it hardly ensures that they will make the playoffs – or that, as some have written, they should.  One player doesn’t decide a season – and that’s without even knowing what will happen to other players in the remaining 44 games.

2) I’ve seen it written where you could tell from Cabrera’s dramatic improvement compared with 2010 that something nefarious was up.  Yes, that looks as neat and tidy as a bow … until you consider him alongside Matt Kemp, who is six weeks younger than Cabrera. Look at these OPS stats:

Player 2006-10 2011-12 Change
Cabrera	.709	.849	19.7%
Kemp	.808	1.009	20.0%

My point, I hope it’s clear, is not to accuse Kemp of anything untoward (nor is it to imply at all that OPS is a definitive stat), but merely to illustrate that the revelation about Cabrera doesn’t justify making assumptions about every ballplayer who shows dramatic improvement.

3) Some people can’t understand how people can be dumb enough to violate the MLB drug policy when they know they’re going to be tested. The explanation is that laws are broken every day, sometimes by stupid people, sometimes by smart people, sometimes rationally, sometimes not.

Aug 15

Dodgers are the pick to click: 9-3

August in Pittsburgh is a lot like April vs. Pittsburgh, with the Dodgers once again making every Pirate irate with defeat.

Tonight, it was Los Angeles 9, Pittsburgh 3, giving the Dodgers 20 runs and two eight-inning performances from their starting pitchers in their past two games.

Clayton Kershaw allowed runs in 37.5 percent of his innings tonight but was 100 percent in the win column, allowing six hits and no walks while striking out eight. The Dodgers knocked out 15 hits, three each by Shane Victorino and Andre Ethier and two apiece more by Mark Ellis, Hanley Ramirez and Kershaw himself. Since August 6, Victorino is 15 for 40 (.300) with four walks, while Ramirez is 11 for 25 (.440) with two walks on the road trip.

Luck also continues to be on the Dodgers side this week. Three months after Ellis was injured in a second-base collision, it was Pirates second baseman Neil Walker who was injured by Ellis in a mashup. Walker is now sidelined with an injury to his right hand.

San Francisco and Arizona lost. It might have snuck up on you, but Los Angeles has won 17 of its past 26 and now has the fourth-best record in the National League and undisputed playoff position for the first time in more than a month.

Aug 15

Giants outfielder Cabrera suspended for 50 games

With the Dodgers and Giants tied for first place in the National League West, San Francisco outfielder Melky Cabrera, who has a .390 on-base percentage and .516 slugging percentage this season, has been handed a 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone in violation of the MLB drug policy. The suspension will end Cabrera’s regular season and potentially extend five games into the playoffs.

It’s the biggest suspension in the division since Manny Ramirez of the Dodgers was sidelined for the same number of games in the 2009 season. Los Angeles, of course, still managed to go to the National League Championship Series that year.

“My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used,” Cabrera said in a statement. “I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and will try to move on with my life. I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organization and to the fans for letting them down.”

Dodgers at Pirates, 4:05 p.m.
Kershaw CXLI: Kershaw Vie en Rose
Shane Victorino, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Luis Cruz, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Clayton Kershaw, P
Aug 14

Billingsley, Dodgers in the fast lane: 11-0

Chad Billingsley is pitching so well, the Internet took a moment of silence.

With eight shutout innings tonight, pacing the Dodgers’ 11-0 victory over Pittsburgh, Billingsley lowered his season ERA to 3.62 and his ERA in five starts since coming off the disabled list to 1.56. In his longest outing since his first start of 2012, Billingsley threw 107 pitches, 75 for strikes, and allowed five hits and walked one while striking out five. In those five post-DL starts, he has walked six and struck out 23. For the season, Billingsley’s career-best K/BB ratio improved to 3.1.

With two out in the bottom of the third inning and the Dodgers leading by one run, Pittsburgh rightfielder Travis Snider hit a double that sent pitcher Kevin Correia to third base. The Pirates’ MVP candidate, Andrew McCutchen, came to the plate.

Billingsley struck out McCutchen looking on a 2-2 pitch, and that was it for Pittsburgh, who had two baserunners over their remaining five innings. The Pirates, to say the least, looked like the Pirates of 1993-2011 tonight.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers had one of those innings you need to remember when things break bad for the team. Their first three baserunners in the top of the fourth, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez, reached base while hitting the ball a combined 37 inches. James Loney’s RBI groundout doubled the Dodgers’ lead, and then Luis Cruz (3 for 5) drove in the first two of his three RBI with a clean single to left.

The Dodgers padded their lead in the seventh on Cruz’s third single and A.J. Ellis’ sacrifice fly, and more in the ninth on Kemp’s bases-loaded single off the leg of Chad Qualls and two-run hits by Ethier and Ramirez, pushing Los Angeles to its biggest romp of the season, ahead of the 10-0 victory July 28 over San Francisco. Shawn Tolleson extended his scoreless streak to eight innings to finish off the Dodgers’ biggest shutout over Pittsburgh ever.

Ramirez had three hits, while Kemp and Loney each had two. In his first start since July 22, Juan Uribe could not live up to his .500 on-base percentage in 18 plate appearances against Correia entering the game, going 0 for 4 before drawing a ninth-inning walk.

Winning their fourth game out of five on the road trip so far, the Dodgers moved a half-game ahead of San Francisco, pending the result of the Giants’ game tonight at home against Washington, and 5 1/2 games ahead of Arizona, which lost 8-2 to St. Louis.

It was a great night as well for Hiroki Kuroda, who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in New York and ended up shutting out the Rangers on two hits.