Jul 10

Take me out to the movie

If Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer had been differently inspired:

Take me out to the movie
Take me out with the crowd
Buy me some popcorn and Cracker Jack
I don’t care if I ever get back
Let me root, root, root for the protagonist
If he doesn’t complete the hero’s journey it’s a shame
For it’s lights, camera, action – and cut
At the ol’ movie.

Jul 09

So, it’s gonna be one of ‘those’ divisions?

For a good portion of this season, the Dodgers had the best record in the majors. But at the All-Star Break, they have the poorest winning percentage (.540) of the six division leaders, and they are atop a division that is collectively 26 games below .500, also the worst in baseball. The National League West has been outscored by 130 runs in 2012, with the Dodgers and Giants at +10 each.

That could change, but right now, it’s a winning ugly scenario.  Not that Dodger fans won’t take it.

At the Hardball Times, Steve Treder takes the pulse of the NL West.

* * *

  • In a guest post for Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness, Christopher Jackson checks in on the progress (or regression) of the Dodgers’ top minor-league pitchers.
  • Former Dodger Jay Gibbons has retired.
  • Matt Kemp homered 17 times in 69 games (40-homer pace) after last year’s Home Run Derby.
Jul 09

Will Matt Kemp go from 40 steals to four?

Matt Kemp has two stolen bases in five attempts this year, after 40 in 51 attempts last year.  Do you see him running much in the second half of 2012?

Also, have you picked out the hole you’re going to crawl into if Kemp hurts himself again this year?  You don’t want to get caught without a good crawling hole just when you need one.

* * *

A couple of quick notes:

  • Dodger blogger Greg Zakwin is a finalist to win a Sandy Koufax autograph — you can help him by voting for him here.
  • One out of every eight MLB regulars made the All-Star Game this year – and that’s defining “regular” generously, writes Aaron Gleeman of Hardball Talk.’
Jul 08

The end of the line for Juan Uribe … or not?

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 1:10 p.m.
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Bobby Abreu, LF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
Elian Herrera, RF
Luis Cruz, SS
Matt Treanor, C
Chris Capuano, P

I didn’t come up with the thought, but quickly I realized it made sense. Presuming that Matt Kemp comes off the disabled list before Friday’s post-All-Star opener against the Padres, Scott Van Slyke will return to Albuquerque. But when Andre Ethier comes off the disabled list, it might mean the end of Juan Uribe’s Dodger career.

Since a second-inning double June 20 at Oakland, Uribe is in the midst of an 0-for-27 slump, with three walks and nine strikeouts. That happens. The problem is that when he hasn’t been slumping … well, Uribe can hardly say he’s ever not been slumping as a Dodger.

If Uribe gets an at-bat today and makes an out, that will leave him with exactly 80 hits in 400 at-bats as a Dodger – a pristine .200 batting average. He has 25 walks and has been hit by more pitches (eight) than he has hit home runs (five). His OPS as a Dodger is .546.

That Uribe, who is still owed $8 million on his contract after this season ends, is still the Dodgers’ best defender at third base has been the lone remaining argument in his favor. However, that saving grace has been weakened by two emerging factors.  One is that Jerry Hairston Jr. has played capable defense at third while swinging a more reliable bat, and the other is that the injury to Dee Gordon has meant that Luis Cruz needs a spot on the Dodger roster.

Unless the Dodgers are willing to start giving Uribe time at shortstop – he played 21 2/3 innings there in 2011 after 103 games for the Giants at short in 2010 – Cruz is staying. That leaves a battle for the final roster spot between Uribe, Elian Herrera and Adam Kennedy.

The choice might seem obvious, but you can’t rule out the possibility of Herrera, who has minor-league options, going back to the Isotopes. He’s been 100 times more fun to watch than Uribe and his versatility is an asset, but once Kemp and Ethier are back in their starting roles, Mark Ellis is re-entrenched at second base and Bobby Abreu, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Juan Rivera are holding down left field, there’s going to be less call for Herrera to roam around the diamond. That’s not to say that he’s without a purpose, but with his own slump to a .326 on-base percentage and .335 slugging, the difference between him, Uribe and Kennedy (.315 OBP, .309 slugging) isn’t overwhelming.

Who will bat leadoff for the Dodgers when Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier return?

Dee Gordon is injured, and Tony Gwynn Jr. won’t start often. That leaves Luis Cruz, Bobby Abreu, Jerry Hairston Jr., Mark Ellis and A.J. Ellis.

Assuming Dodger manager Don Mattingly still can’t stomach the idea of his catcher leading off a game, I would say Abreu, Hairston and Mark Ellis all have a case. Something tells me, though, that we might see Cruz there as much as anyone.

By optioning Herrera, the Dodgers can put off making a final decision on Uribe or Kennedy, neither of whom can be sent down. The question is whether those decisions need any more putting off. Do the Dodgers see any hope left in Uribe? Before you answer, note that Andruw Jones has an .820 OPS in more than 1,000 plate appearances since the Dodgers got rid of him.

My instinct is to cut Uribe, but I wouldn’t call it an automatic decision. The defense is there, and once Ethier and Kemp are back, you don’t lose much by sending Herrera down and keeping Uribe as a defensive specialist who bats eighth, nor by just getting rid of Kennedy, who doesn’t give you defense or a bat (.617 OPS against right-handed pitching).

The best news is that the Dodgers might finally be healthy enough that they can even make the decision.

* * *

Jul 07

Lineup of the Gods chat

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 7:10 p.m.
Elian Herrera, CF
Luis Cruz, SS
Jerry Hairston Jr., LF
James Loney, 1B
Adam Kennedy, 2B
A.J. Ellis, C
Scott Van Slyke, RF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Chad Billingsley, P

From the Dodger press notes:

Los Angeles Dodgers All-Time Strikeout Leaders

1. Don Sutton 2,696
2. Don Drysdale 2,283
3. Sandy Koufax 2,214
4. Fernando Valenzuela 1,759
5. Orel Hershiser 1,456
6. Ramon Martinez 1,314
7. Bob Welch 1,292
8. Hideo Nomo 1,200
9. Chan Ho Park 1,177
10. Claude Osteen 1,162
11. Burt Hooton 1,042
12. Chad Billingsley 998

Jul 07

The trauma of potential

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Silly me – when I described the yin and yang of Clayton Kershaw in Arizona on Friday somehow I left off the third rail. (Or maybe I included the first and third rails but left off the second.) Read more about that – as well as Vin Scully’s latest moment of ethereal insight – in my latest piece for Los Angeles Magazine’s CityThink blog.


Jul 06

Kershaw CXXXIV: Kershawn Golden Pond

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 6:40 p.m.
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Bobby Abreu, LF
Juan Rivera, RF
Adam Kennedy, 3B
James Loney, 1B
Luis Cruz, SS
A.J. Ellis, C
Clayton Kershaw, P

Clayton Kershaw has had some dominant performances against Arizona, as Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. notes. But I still find myself a little nervous when he faces the Diamondbacks, for reasons that A.J. Cassavell of MLB.com describes.

… At Dodger Stadium last September, Kershaw was ejected for hitting Arizona outfielder Gerardo Parra on the elbow with a pitch. That came a day after Kershaw took exception to Parra admiring a home run off then-Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo.

When the two clubs met in Los Angeles on May 14 — the first time Kershaw had faced Arizona since the ejection — D-backs starter Ian Kennedy threw behind Kershaw, who responded by brushing back Kennedy. Both pitchers were warned and no fireworks ensued. …

I don’t want shenanigans. I just want to see Kershaw pitch.

Reports of the demise of Kershaw, by the way, continue to feel exaggerated to this intrepid analyst. In the past month, Kershaw has 43 strikeouts in 34 innings (11.4 per nine innings) with a 2.91 ERA. A year ago at this time, Kershaw had a 3.23 ERA and 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

Jul 06

Tommy Lasorda’s game for the ages

Tommy Lasorda recalls the time he struck out 25 while allowing 23 baserunners in a 15-inning game — with documentation! Lasorda also drove in the game-winning run (link from May via Baseball Think Factory).

The headline for the post is, “If you believe in pitch counts, read this.” I wonder, though, if Lasorda might have had a better major-league career if he hadn’t pitched a game like this.

Or not. In the minors, Lasorda walked 1,158 and struck out 864.

  • You think you had it rough? Hiroki Kuroda had it rough. This profile by David Waldstein of the New York Times is something.
  • Addressing increasing trade rumors about top Dodger pitching prospect Zach Lee, Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness brings the rationality.
  • Luke Scott of Baltimore is channeling Eugenio Velez with an 0-for-39 slump, notes David Brown of Big League Stew.
  • For an overseas perspective on the MLB All-Star Game, read Nat Coombs’ piece for ESPN America.
  • This piece by David Goldman for CNNMoney sums up all the reasons why wireless service is lacking at sporting events.
  • I wish teams would stop releasing Jamie Moyer.
Jul 06

The untold saga of the Milwaukee-Brooklyn rivalry

In a guest post, an old friend of Dodger Thoughts, John Klima, offers a galvanizing look at his new book, Bushville Wins!, which focuses on the old Milwaukee Braves but brings in the Dodgers as a key supporting player …

Jon Weisman and I go back a long way. Many moons ago, we were both stuck in the salt mines, toiling away on Spring Street taking prep agate (which means high school sports scores to the uninitiated) and generally wishing we were dead.

Well, anyhow, I was a kid back then, and now here I am, a full-fledged, not once, but twice author. I do what we call “narrative history,” which is to say, I take facts and turn them into a story you can’t put down. My agent, the damn bad-ass Rafe Sagalyn from Washington D.C., probably best known as David Maraniss’ agent, once told me, “Book authors have to rise above journalism,” and I very much took that to heart. Old hands who know me from the Los Angeles Times know just how competitive and determined I am to make good. So this is just a shout to all you survivors – you can take me out of newspapers, but you cannot shake me as a writer.

I wanted to introduce Jon’s readers to the greatest rivalry they don’t know about – that of the Dodgers and the Milwaukee Braves. And the book lets it be known that the Braves’ move from Boston to Milwaukee in 1953 paved the way for the Dodgers and those guys up North I am smart enough not to mention by name on a Dodger blog, to change cities. So without anymore fuss, here’s what you can count on.

You could always depend on the Milwaukee Braves and the Brooklyn Dodgers hating each other. The vitriol stewed on Sunday, July 31, 1954, at Ebbets Field. Braves first baseman Joe Adcock broke his favorite gamer bat in the ninth inning of the Friday night game. He borrowed a bat from a backup catcher named Charlie White and on Saturday hit four home runs and a double – 18 total bases, then the most prolific offensive day in major league history.

But on Sunday, there was hell to pay. In his first at-bat, Dodger pitcher Russ Meyer knocked Adcock down. That was to be expected. Joe got up and hit a double that nearly went out of the park. When Adcock faced Clem Labine in the fourth inning, Labine and the Dodgers had seen just about enough. The blood order probably came from Walter Alston himself, but you couldn’t put it past Roy Campanella to put down that fist for a sign, which was as good as saying, “Shove it up this guy’s ass by knocking him on it.”

Labine he did one better. He challenged Adcock with a first-pitch fastball, then nearly had a heart attack as Adcock hacked and missed. Then, Labine said the hell with this. Labine drilled Adcock on the left side of the head. The pitch was so violently hard that the thud against the paper-thin batting helmet Adcock wore could be heard in the old press box.

Adcock was knocked cold. “He laid flat on his back with his legs spread. He looked dead. All he needed was police tape and a chalk outline,” I wrote, and that’s the most I think I can quote from this book without asking my publisher for permission.

Tempers flared. It was Milwaukee’s “Asshole Buddies” against Brooklyn’s boys. And this fighting didn’t end. It carried all the way through 1957. There was the memorable fight at Ebbets that year when Don Drysdale threw at Johnny Logan. Logan charged Drysdale not from the box – but from first base, charging him and swinging him around so that Eddie Mathews could get a clear punch at Drysdale. You got it – all hell broke loose.

History has forgotten how violently competitive baseball used to be, especially in the National League of the 1950s, when virtually every team had a Hall of Famer or two in the lineup – Aaron, Mays, Clemente, Musial, Campanella, Banks, Frank Robinson, Jackie Robinson, Mathews, Ashburn, Kiner. The Yankees always won the damn thing in the American League, so in the National League, in the days of eight teams and no divisions, no wild cards, no playoffs – the entire thing was win or go home. The average ballplayer made $15,000 a year and a good World Series winner’s share could be $9,000. There were no multiyear contracts and no free agency. Competitiveness and downright fisticuffs were not out of order for ballplayers trying to survive.

The battles between the young Sandy Koufax and the young Henry Aaron were awesome to re-create. I wrote, “You could scout for a million years and never find two kids who could do this.” (Again, a direct quote, don’t tell the publishers.) So, too, were the early career Drysdale versus Aaron meetings. Epic stuff.

One thing about me as a baseball writer – in recreating this world, my ballplayers speak as ballplayers do. They drink. They smoke. They curse. They use words I love but my lovely wife says I should not use on Jon’s blog. They squabble among themselves. But instead of a dysfunctional group of guys who really genuinely didn’t give a —- about each other – say the way the Oakland A’s of the 1970s were – I’m convinced that the Braves were really unified by their town, team and time.

All you have to do is look at the camaraderie and kinship between Aaron and Mathews, at a time when white players were not only learning to play with black players, but both parties were learning to play alongside each other. The Braves also had some young Latin ballplayers — such as lefty Juan Pizarro, the Aroldis Chapman of his day, but unlike our somersaulting pal “Howoldis,” he stayed on his feet – and proved that diversity and depth was the blueprint for the future.

The rest, dear Dodger Thoughts readers, is up to you. I’ve made my pitch but I promise you all that if you give the story a crack and throw down some of your hard-earned bones that I will definitely not let you down. Thanks to my old pal Jon for this blog space – and I wish you all many happy returns on a healthy Matt Kemp, whose talent can one day take him all the way to Cooperstown.  And just let it be known, I say that as a baseball person, and not as a baseball fan.

Jul 05

Ever say never? Never again, ever

Never let anyone tell you that Scott Van Slyke and Elian Herrera can’t homer in the same game.

Never let anyone tell you that Nathan Eovaldi can’t leave a six-inning start with a lead.

Never let anyone – particularly Jerry Hairston Jr. – tell you Jerry Hairston Jr. can’t be comfortable at third base.

And never let anyone tell you the Giants are a lock with a 5-1 seventh-inning lead over the Nationals and Matt Cain pitching.

The Dodgers have won four of five games since their seven-game losing streak ended, thanks to scoring four of five runs tonight against Arizona. They lead San Francisco by 1 1/2 games in the National League West and the Diamondbacks by seven.

Never-to-play-again Mark Ellis doubled, singled and walked, while Luis Cruz singled twice, providing the offensive support alongside the Penn-and-Teller home-run hitters, Van Slyke and Herrera. Each pitching for the third night in a row, Ronald Belisario and Kenley Jansen closed it out again.

Jul 05

Thumbs down on Gordon’s health

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 6:40 p.m.
Elian Herrera, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
Juan Rivera, 1B
Luis Cruz, SS
A.J. Ellis, C
Scott Van Slyke, RF
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Nathan Eovaldi, P

Thumb surgery on a torn ligament in Dee Gordon’s thumb will sideline the Dodger shortstop for approximately six weeks, as Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. notes. Claiming the roster spot is reliever Javy Guerra, who has been activated from the disabled list.

On the night that Mark Ellis makes his first start at second base in nearly seven weeks, the Dodgers will move forward with Luis Cruz at short and joining the ranks of obscure but memorable No. 5 hitters.

Jerry Hairston Jr., who played so well at third base early in the season before declaring he wasn’t comfortable there (he could have fooled me), will make his first start at that position since May 29.

* * *

Below is an 11-minute Forbes interview with Irwin Raij, who advised the Guggenheim group on their Dodger purchase. The link comes from Eric Young, my one-time Stanford Daily colleague and not the former Dodger.

Jul 05

Snazzy Dazzy

Happy confusing post-holiday Thursday to you …

  • Bill Petti of Fangraphs takes note of the evolution of strikeouts over the years and finds that Dodger great Dazzy Vance might be the top strikeout pitcher of all-time.
  • Jim Eisenreich, who tormented the Dodgers for years before putting on a Dodger uniform (and tormenting them some more), is the subject of a must-read piece by Bradford Doolittle of Baseball Prospectus.
  • Here’s Chad Moriyama with a look at who’s worth pursuing among the latest in Dodger trade rumors.
  • Congrats to the Hardball Times and Fangraphs on their betrothal.
  • Belated farewell, Ben Davidson.
Jul 04

What so proudly we hailed

Pretty glorious night all around. The five Weismans didn’t get out the door until 6 p.m., but we were in our seats by the start of the second inning, saw a svelte, 144-minute 4-1 Dodger victory punctuated by five strikeouts of the final six Cincinnati batters, took in one of the best fireworks shows at Dodger Stadium in years (a perk of new ownership?) and were out of the stadium and back at home less than four hours after we had left. It’s 10:15 p.m. as I start typing this, and the kids are tucked away in their beds.

So sure, we only heard the Dodgers’ three-run first inning on the car radio, which started with four consecutive hits at the top of the order, meaning that we only witnessed two Dodger base knocks after we arrived. And sure, Dee Gordon let the air out of his 30th stolen base of the year by dislocating his thumb. But otherwise, like I said, glorious and svelte.

Assuming Gordon goes on the disabled list, as Ken Gurnick points out is likely in the above-linked story, your starting shortstop for the next two or three weeks is probably Luis Cruz, who went 2 for 3 with a walk to raise his three-game on-base percentage to .400. That will please those who had grown tired of Gordon, but the Roadrunner had upped his OBP in his past 12 games to .346 while stealing 10 bases in 11 attempts. Aside from the two errors against the Mets, you started to see improvement in Gordon if you were open to it, so it seems a shame to lose him now.

Certainly, this is nothing new for the Dodgers, and the epilogue to the Gordon saga is that when he went out with his injury in the eighth inning, it was Mark Ellis pinch-running for him in his first action since May 18. Ellis will ideally return quickly to his form of the season’s first six weeks, when he had a .373 OBP and flawless defense.

With the Giants losing again to Washington shortly after I finished my morning cereal, Los Angeles is back in first place, and five regular-season games from now, heading toward the July 31 trading deadline, could have a 2-3-4 in the lineup of Ellis, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Hard to worry about the situation at shortstop when you can fantasize about that. (And yes, you just saw me getting excited about Mark Ellis.)

Just to wrap up the night, Aaron Harang allowed only four baserunners and a run in seven innings, one of his best outings of the year, before Ronald Belisario struck out the side in the eighth  (lowering his ERA to 0.99) and Kenley Jansen fanned two in a perfect ninth to end it. After Reds star Joey Votto doubled in the first inning, he, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce combined to go 0 for 10 against Dodger pitching.