Aug 14

Jonathan Livingston Baseball Fan

… The lopsided score and the chill coming off the San Francisco Bay forced many of the 43,050 in attendance to leave early. By the end of the night, seagulls circled the park, expecting the place to be theirs. …

— Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, reporting from AT&T Park on Monday (via Sam Sokol).

Aug 11

Skip

OK, so it’s possible that I’m wishing that I could fast-forward through part of this season’s stretch run and go straight to the moment of “Did the Dodgers make the playoffs or didn’t they?”

Boy, were the Dodgers hot to start this season or what?  They had to be, because this period of mediocre play just seems interminable, and yet the pennant hopes haven’t gone anywhere.

Just as Clayton Kershaw cruised almost perfectly through the first half of Friday’s game, Joe Blanton was practically dominant tonight against the Marlins.  After pitching four innings of one-hit ball, the bottom of the fifth began, and Blanton allowed a blast by Giancarlo Stanton. (I can only hope that somewhere, it was seen by Susan Anton.)  The towering fly ball to the left-field concourse of the Marlins’ new stadium went foul, and one pitch later, it was Stanton standin’ as a called strike three whizzed by.

But the next batter doubled.  And the batter after that, .118-hitting obscure and barely memorable former Dodger backup infielder Nick Green, hit a sharp bounder off the wrist of third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr., and after that, things just began falling apart for the Dodgers. Miami took out Blanton with a four-run inning, then stuck it to utterly ineffective new acquisition Brandon League for three more in the seventh.

Losing 7-3, the Dodgers fell a game behind the Giants in the National League West. It matters, just like it matters that Matt Kemp had three hits and two steals, but struck out after going to a 3-0 count with the bases loaded in the second inning. Right?

I’m daring fate to intervene, but it almost seems like there’s no escape from contention this year. The Dodgers can keep stepping on cracks, but no backs are breaking. On to the next piece of sidewalk.

Hey, I like baseball, but I feel like I’m just being played with here.

My house is a mess, stuff everywhere, paint fading, but it’s home. That’s the Dodgers, right? They’re sparkly in parts, otherwise dilapidated.  They’re not without their entertaining moments, but all in all, I wouldn’t mind skipping ahead to the part where I find out if they’re cleaned up or a tear-down.  At least, take me into September, because right now, this thing with San Francisco feels like the least compelling neck-and-neck race I’ve seen in a long time.

Aug 10

Summer stories

Dodgers at Marlins, 4:10 p.m.
Kershaw CXL: Kershawn Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Shane Victorino, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Clayton Kershaw, P

In homage to Grant Brisbee’s terrific Baseball Nation piece today, “The Stories You’d Be Reading If The First Half Didn’t Exist,” I offer some Dodger headlines you might be seeing if the season had actually begun July 13. Go to Los Angeles Magazine’s City Think Blog.

Aug 09

Uribe is home free

Jerry Sands’ latest stay in Los Angeles has turned out to be ever-so-brief, as the Dodgers have sent him back to Albuquerque — where he will meet up with Tony Gwynn Jr., who cleared waivers and accepted a minor-league assignment — to make room on the Dodger roster for Adam Kennedy coming off the disabled list.

The moves mean that with 23 days to go until MLB active rosters can expand to 40, Juan Uribe is probably going to defy Damocles’ dagger and remain a Dodger though the end of next season and, presumably, on into 2013. This is the case even though Uribe has only three plate appearances in the past 17 days.

One position-player move that remains for the Dodgers to make is the potential activation of Dee Gordon from the disabled list if he’s ready before September 1, but at this point, I expect the Dodgers would send Gordon or Luis Cruz to the minors for a brief time and then recall the player when rosters widen (or just keep Gordon on the DL until then).  As far as I can tell, the breaking point with Uribe for 2012 has come and gone.

Cruz, by the way, is in a 3-for-22 slump with one walk, lowering his 2012 on-base percentage to .286 (nearly identical to Gordon’s .280) and his slugging percentage to .385. According to Baseball Prospectus’ True Average statistic, which factors in baserunning, Cruz is at .245 compared to Gordon’s .224. Cruz, four years older, might be a better player than Gordon right now, but I still am interested in seeing how Gordon can develop, even if the next opportunity doesn’t come until next year.

* * *

  • Bobby Abreu has also cleared waivers, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com. He can accept a minor-league assignment like Gwynn, or become a free agent.
  • Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. got a great shoutout from T.J. Simers of the Times.

    … MATTINGLY LIKES to joke that truebluela.com’s Eric Stephen knows more about the Dodgers than anyone else in the media.

    “Go ahead, Eric,” I tell him after Mattingly speaks highly of Stephen again, “ask him about some minor leaguer.”

    “All right, I’ll ask about Juan Rivera,” says Stephen …

  • In his review of the Dodgers’ second 54 games of the 2012 season, Stephen highlights how severe the team’s offensive dropoff was, player by player.
  • James Loney should really, seriously, consider converting to pitching, argues Evan Bladh of Opinion of Kingman’s Performance.
  • Bluetopia, the 2009 movie about the Dodgers and their fans in which I had a brief appearance, will be screened August 16 at the Craft and Folk Art Museum, which has an ongoing baseball exhibition this summer. A Q&A with director Tim Marx follows.
  • One of my favorite baseball articles of the season comes from Russell A. Carleton of Baseball Prospectus, for which he dramatizes how much more difficult the job of baseball manager is than we typically comprehend.
Aug 08

When Mike Trout surpassed Matt Kemp

Rockies at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Shane Victorino, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
Matt Treanor, C
Chad Billingsley, P

At the start of the season, there’s no one in baseball I would have traded Matt Kemp for. But that’s not the case anymore, as you’ll see in my latest post at Los Angeles Magazine’s CityThink blog.

 

Aug 07

The anti-‘Moneyball’: ‘Trouble With the Curve’

“Trouble with the Curve,” starring Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake, comes to theaters September 21. “Trouble with the Curve” looks like “Revenge on ‘Moneyball,'” though both have father-daughter stuff going on.

Rockies at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Shane Victorino, LF
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
James Loney, 1B
Luis Cruz, 2B
A.J. Ellis, C
Aaron Harang, P
Aug 04

August 4 game chat

Cubs at Dodgers, 6:10 p.m.
Kershaw CXXXIX: Kershawtime at the Apollo
Shane Victorino, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
James Loney, 1B
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Clayton Kershaw, P

There’s a real possibility that A.J. Ellis (10 so far) will finish the year with more home runs than Andre Ethier (11 so far). In his past 50 games, Ethier has a .332 on-base percentage and .364 slugging percentage with two homers.

Aug 03

Tweet Yo Self: Scully beguiled by Ellis’ big night

Even after ESPN the Magazine writer Molly Knight explained Twitter to Vin Scully earlier this year, the beloved Dodger broadcaster still hadn’t quite mastered it as of earlier this week, when he was charmingly saying such things as “The twit read …” Tonight, however, after Scully received a Twitter refresher course, the social media outlet became the spine of his broadcast tonight.

A.J. Ellis was a major part of tonight’s Twitter talk by Scully, and darned if Ellis didn’t have the most productive game of his career, hitting two solo home runs and singling for a third RBI in the Dodgers’ 6-1 victory over the Cubs.

“They are trending, twittering, tweeting, you name it, about ‘A.J. Ellis’ all over the United States,” Scully said mid-game, before signing deeply, almost exhaustedly, adding, “Ahhhh – he’s a nice boy.”

The way Scully got Twitter talking about Ellis was reminiscent of the way he would get the transistor radio crowd at Dodger Stadium in the 1960s to follow his lead.

Ellis and Hanley Ramirez, who had two hits and two RBI, weren’t the only Dodgers to give fans something to flap their fingers over.  Chad Billingsley went seven breezy innings, allowing six baserunners on 105 pitches while striking out seven. In three starts since coming off the disabled list, Billingsley has pitched 20 1/3 innings and allowed only 15 hits and three walks while striking out 13. His ERA in that time is 0.89, and he continues to maintain his season-long progress in attacking the strike zone.

Aug 03

Mark Walter: Not an absentee owner

Cubs at Dodgers, 7:10 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
Chad Billingsley, P

The Dodgers have put a waiver claim in on Cliff Lee, reports Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com, though it’s still unlikely that they’ll end up with the Phillies lefty.

That makes this piece by Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com on Dodger ownership leader Mark Walter that much more timely.

… After missing out on Ryan Dempster at the deadline, the Dodgers’ brass was insistent it wasn’t done dealing. In fact, when I caught up with him on the field Tuesday afternoon, new controlling owner Mark Walter was openly hinting at that idea.

“Do you really ever want to say we did enough?” Walter said. “That’s not an attitude I really want a lot of around here. I guess if the entire All-Star team is on your team, you could feel like you had enough. But I don’t want to think that way. That’s now how you want to look at it. …

… Walter actually has been at the stadium quite a bit, and when he’s there, he’s often down on the field or in the clubhouse before games. He’s not shy, either.

When I joked with him about how much money he had spent in the last few weeks, he laughed and said, “Yeah, I guess I have.”

He described the trade deadline as something of a roller-coaster ride, said he was hanging on every phone call from Kasten or GM Ned Colletti and wasn’t doing much to conceal some disappointment he felt at not being able to do even more.

In other words, Walter’s invested — and not just financially. …

Ted Lilly, meanwhile, has suffered a setback in his rehabilitation, tweets Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.

Aug 03

Are the Dodgers looking for Lee-way?

The thought of Cliff Lee becoming a Dodger came alive Thursday when Philadelphia placed the lefthander on revocable waivers.

The Dodgers theoretically have the capacity to take on a contract that would pay Lee, who turns 34 this month, at least $94 million through 2016, if no National League team with a poorer record claims him. The Phillies then could work out a deal with the Dodgers (or simply hand Lee over), or Philadelphia could just “Thanks, but just teasing.”

One question I have is why Lee would have value to the Dodgers but not the Phillies, who don’t figure to be rebuilding for long. If we think Lee still has talent, than Philadelphia should keep him. If we think that talent is fading fast, the Dodgers shouldn’t want him.

As for whether they should go for Lee — well, if money is no object for the Dodgers, then money is no object. But if there is a limit, however high, I can understand why they might balk at the price. Not wanting to pay a mid-30s pitcher about $25 million a year isn’t a case of being cheap.

Still, it’s something to think about. Here’s an excerpt from Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.

… Based on the contracts currently on the books, the Dodgers have $135 million already allocated to players under team control for 2013, while A.J. Ellis is their only significant arbitration eligible player. So, if their payroll target was $175 million (which, keep in mind, is a number I pulled out of thin air, and may not actually represent their budget), that would leave them about $35 million to spend to fill out the roster, meaning they could take Cliff Lee’s contract and still have enough left to buy a new first baseman. While Lee’s contract would be a budget buster for most organizations, it might not prevent the Dodgers from making further upgrades in other areas as well.

And, to be honest, there’s probably not a better use of that money available in free agency this winter. Before the season started, the assumption was that the Dodgers would make a huge push for either Cole Hamels or Joey Votto — or both — but they have since re-signed with their clubs, eliminating them from possible consideration. That leaves the big name targets this winter as Josh Hamilton, Melky Cabrera, B.J. Upton, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Nick Swisher, Anibal Sanchez, Edwin Jackson, and potentially Zack Greinke, if he doesn’t re-sign with the Angels first. There’s certainly some nice players in there, but besides Greinke and Hamilton, no one in that group has the potential impact that Lee would have, and both of those guys come with their own set of risks as well.

And, of course, there’s also the fact that signing a free agent this winter does nothing to help you win in 2012. Yes, if you think you could get Greinke for something close to that same $110 million you’d be committing to Lee, then you might prefer the younger pitcher, but present value has to be a factor as well, and the contending Dodgers are in the sweet spot where every marginal upgrade represents a significant return.

The upgrade would over Stephen Fife — who has racked up a whopping seven strikeouts in three starts since being recalled from Triple-A — would likely add about +1.5 wins to the Dodgers regular season total, and Lee would represent a substantial upgrade to their potential playoff rotation as well. Going from second place finisher to NL West champions could return as much as $30 to $40 million in additional revenues if the Dodgers made a World Series run. Even a first round playoff victory probably nets the team an additional $5 to $10 million in revenue from future ticket sales and the attendance boost that goes with generating excitement in the fan base. …

Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. and Dylan Hernandez of the Times have more, as does Buster Olney of ESPN.com: “Before the deadline, the Phillies made it clear to any team interested in Lee that not only would they not pick up any of the $97 million owed to the left-hander, they also would want top prospects in return. So it’d be a shocker if the Phillies moved Lee in a waiver deal.”

* * *

  • Yasiel Puig has played his first two games as a Dodger minor-leaguer, going 0 for 4 in his first but hitting a single and triple in his second. ESPN’s Keith Law tweeted after the triple that Puig “didn’t even square it up but still sent it about 400 feet to LCF track.” Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness passed along video of Puig’s debut from Jason Cole of Lone Star Dugout.
  • Whose spots on the Dodger 40-man roster might be expiring? Petriello takes a look.
  • Brandon Lennox of True Blue L.A. is examining the Dodger farm system, position by position. Here’s catcher and first base.
  • James Gentile of Beyond the Box Score writes about “Hanley Ramirez and Disappointing Primes.”
  • A Martinez is going public, with a 9 a.m. weekdays sports radio show on NPR’s KPCC 89.3 FM, reports Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News.
  • Framework has a photo showing Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour raising money for the 1952 U.S. Olympic team at a telethon.