Sep 18

The Dodgers and the stretch run

This piece on the Dodgers I penned for Sports on Earth was composed Monday evening, so it’s not 100 percent up to date, but I think it’s still on point for the stretch run. Excerpt:

No, it’s not easy recapturing the magic of Gibson, Orel Hershiser and 1988. The good news for Dodger fans is that the magic of Ramirez, Kershaw and 2013 is still very much in play, if they can just get the timing right. 

As you revel in Matt Kemp’s 4-for-4 night, read the entire piece here. 

Sep 17

Today’s top tweets

From @jonweisman:

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 6:40 p.m.

Sep 16

Kemp was hot when he got hurt

Matt Kemp’s status was the story of the Dodgers’ afternoon, as conflicting — or rather, evolving — reports appeared on whether he would be activated for tonight’s game. At best, it appears, he would be used as a pinch-hitter.

During that time, I tweeted the following:

No, Kemp might not contribute at all to the Dodgers for the remainder of this season, playoffs or otherwise. But I’m bothered by the cynicism that assumes he can’t or won’t be a factor, not only because he so recently was the best player in the National League, but because he was looking better in the games before his freak sliding injury in July.

In his most recent 12 starts, Kemp had a .383 on-base percentage and .595 slugging, with a home run every 14 at-bats. Admittedly, those came at least two months ago, but they at least put the lie to the notion that he was fatally lost at the plate. For some reason, some people refuse to believe that he had shown signs of regaining his form.

Also keep in mind that when the season began, the Coors Field injury to his labrum and subsequent surgery were much more recent than they are now.

It’s anyone’s guess what (if anything) will happen next, but let’s start with an open mind. This is not a guy off the street.

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 6:40 p.m.

Sep 15

A lineup the ’88 Dodgers could love

Come on, wouldn’t it be cool if this were the Dodgers’ starting lineup in Game 1 of the World Series? You can imagine Bob Costas’ reaction …

Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Juan Uribe, 3B
Skip Schumaker, CF
Jerry Hairston Jr., LF
A.J. Ellis, C
Chili Buss, RF
Edinson Volquez, P

And for good measure, let’s just that Yasiel Puig is unavailable to pinch-hit. That’s right — there’s no way you’ll see him in the bottom of the ninth as the go-ahead run.

With Puig, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier all nursing ailments, it’s starting to look like Matt Kemp is now the healthiest of the Dodgers’ four primary outfielders.

One other note: The only Dodger team ever to win three rounds of playoffs including the World Series, the 1981 squad, went 9-15 to finish the regular season. On this date in 1981, the Dodgers lost 8-2 to the worst team in the National League West, the San Diego Padres, behind Dave Goltz and in front of a crowd of 9,937.

Giants at Dodgers, 1:10 p.m.

Sep 14

Piquing too soon: Dodger injuries raise concerns

1) The Dodgers did not start a throwaway lineup Friday. Behind the best pitcher in baseball, they started five regulars.

• Hanley Ramirez sat because of an injury.

• Carl Crawford sat for any or all of three reasons: He had a .569 OPS this season against lefties and a .596 OPS in September, along with a season-long need for rest.

• Adrian Gonzalez is the only name that seemed out of place on the bench, but given that he is also left-handed and Madison Bumgarner was on the mound, you could understand.

2) Before the game Friday, I described the scenario of “a game that was essentially a tossup deciding whether or not Dodger fans would be elated or deflated.” That’s what Friday’s game was.

After Juan Uribe’s two-run homer broke a scoreless tie and Andre Ethier was hit by a pitch with two out, Giants leftfielder Juan Perez made one of the best catches I’ve seen all year (against A.J. Ellis) to rob the Dodgers of a third run and the chance for more.

Moments later, in the following inning, San Francisco scored three runs on four hits against Clayton Kershaw, the last two runs coming on a dink single by Brett Pill. An error by backup leftfielder Scott Van Slyke, fielding the previous hit, didn’t help matters.

Carl Crawford might have made the play that Van Slyke didn’t, and as a result, maybe the Dodgers wouldn’t have lost Friday’s game. On the other hand, Crawford also grounded into a double play as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth inning, right before Ethier doubled.

Most nights since June 22, the Dodgers have cashed in more opportunities than their opponents. On this night, the opposite happened. This is the tightrope we walk.

3) Ramirez is hurt, and it might not be a simple injury – it’s an irritated nerve in his back. Matt Kemp has played 8 1/2 innings since July 5. Though a .210 batting average on balls in play isn’t helping, starting catcher Ellis, with a .281 on-base percentage and .263 slugging since July 24, might be worn down. And now Andre Ethier has a shaky ankle.

Talk all you want about lineups and momentum, but this is the only issue for Dodger fans to worry about as they head toward the playoffs. Will they be at full strength?

* * *

Some fans will look at late-season losses by a playoff-bound team like a leaky gas tank, the idea being that the losses themselves weaken the team. They are not discrete events, but rather events that have impact on the future. Momentum is something that needs to be actively protected, or it will dissipate into the universe like helium from a balloon.

Either that, or the losses reflect a team that has stopped caring about winning, and that apathy is a disease that will carry into the postseason, when you can’t afford it to.

Do either of those scenarios really make sense? Or does it make more sense that the next game is a new game, and the same hunger and talent that fueled a historic midseason run won’t have evaporated just when you need it the most?

It is plausible that the Dodgers are tired. It is evident they are not 100 percent healthy. The best way to deal for Don Mattingly to deal with both those issues is not to overplay his hand. Yes, losing doesn’t feel good, and having a higher playoff seeding could be great. I’m still hoping the team wins 100 games, though they now need to go 14-1 to do it. But we should all agree that it’s not worth wearing down the active roster further if it will weaken the team in the playoffs.

A manager in this situation finds the best possible balance between giving players the rest they need and keeping the fires burning. Some days, it’s debatable how best to find that balance, and if things go wrong for Los Angeles next month, countless among us will look to September for the seeds of self-destruction.

But can you really identify a better strategy right now than:

• Giving injured players time to heal.

• Giving healthy players an occasional rest, and giving bench players an occasional start to keep them fresh.

• Continuing to push those on the field to make the best effort on the field to win.

Any student of 1988 knows that the Dodgers needed their bench to win that World Series. The same was true in 1981. If a championship is the goal in 2013, there are three things you need to do – amass your talent, avoid injuries as much as possible, and be as prepared as you can be to overcome them when they arrive. This is the Dodgers’ challenge, and it’s not an easy one.

Giants at Dodgers, 6:10 p.m.

Sep 13

The wheel keeps spinning

Let’s begin by thanking Bob Timmermann for his usual impeccable savoir-faire in guiding Dodger Thoughts over the past week. He’s the best.

It was around this time last year that I truly began to feel pulled in so many directions, leading me to put this site on my backburner for more than six months. With the team inches away from the playoffs, that won’t be happening this September, though I can’t say that I feel any more adept in managing my work efforts. Single-minded focus on one aspect of my career over the winter had twists that I didn’t anticipate – what else is new?

But at least the Dodgers have gotten their act together. And it’s just kind of crazy. In 25 years, playing in the World Series, hasn’t seemed so near-fetched.

Game 7 of the World Series, if there is one, is scheduled for Halloween. Don’t tell my kids.

But that’s so far away. Playoff baseball is when dreams go on a terror ride, a mystery train that might never reach its destination. In recent times, the Dodgers have won playoff series that surprised many (2008 against the Cubs, 2009 against the Cardinals) and lost just when some thought they would win (Philadelphia, Philadelphia), the exult and the bitter in an extreme.

Imagine Friday’s relatively meaningless September game against San Francisco happened to be the finale of the National League Championship Series in October, a game that was essentially a tossup deciding whether or not Dodger fans would be elated or deflated. It almost doesn’t seem right. It’s almost too powerful to wrap your head around.

You plan and prepare and maybe even pray. You have some control over your fate, but you never really know how much. Amid all the chaos, you just hope that it’s your turn.

Dodgers at Giants, 7:10 p.m.
Kershaw CLXXX: Kershawn Jon

Sep 12

Dodgers win long game full of dubious decisions

“The Giants have nothing to lose here, except the game.”

— Vin Scully in the 10th inning

In the 10th inning of a 2-2 game, the Dodgers had Carl Crawford on second with one out. The Giants had lefty reliever Jeremy Affeldt pitching to Adrian Gonzalez. On deck was Andre Ethier, who hits lefties only in times of national emergency.

But Affeldt went after Gonzalez, who lined a single to center to score Crawford with the winning run. The Dodgers 3-2 win dropped their magic number to 5 over the idle Diamondbacks. Brian Wilson picked up the win in relief against his former team after Kenley Jansen failed to hold a ninth inning lead.

Dodgers starter Zack Greinke gave up a 2nd inning home run to Hunter Pence and the Dodgers parlayed a Matt Cain error into a run in the bottom half.

The Dodgers took a 2-1 lead in the 7th on a Yasiel Puig double and that looked like it would be enough, especially after a puzzling 8th inning by the Giants.

Angel Pagan led off the 8th with a single off of Chris Withrow. Pagan stole second and Marco Scutaro walked. That put two on and none out for the Giants #3 hitter, Brandon Belt.

Enter Paco Rodriguez (or re-enter, as he mistakenly entered the game in the 7th inning when Don Mattingly called for the wrong lefty to enter the game. He tabbed it a “Freudian slip” in his postgame press conference. This leads me to believe that Don Mattingly has not studied the work of Sigmund Freud very closely. A Freudian slip would mean that Mattingly would have asked for the pitcher he subconsciously wanted [Rodriguez] instead of the one he actually asked for [Howell]. But he did the opposite. Don’t believe me. Read all about it here!) to face Belt. Belt sacrificed the runners over. Buster Posey received an expected intentional walk. This loaded the bases for Pence.

Enter Ronald Belisario, who threw one pitch to Pence, who hit a two-hopper to Juan Uribe that was converted into a 5-3 double play to get out of the inning.

The Giants tied the game in the ninth when they got three singles (along with a stolen base and a bad passed ball from Ted Federowicz) to score a run.

Hanley Ramirez left the game early with a tight left hamstring, which Mattingly downplayed the severity of after the game, but don’t be surprised to see some high quality Nick Punto action the next few days.

The Dodgers lead Arizona by 12 1/2 games with 16 left to play. Which is considered good by most people. Kerhsaw vs Bumgarner on Friday night. Arizona hosts Colorado Friday.

The Braves beat the Marlins a long time ago to keep a 2-game lead over the Dodgers for best record. The Dodgers lead the two NL Central leaders, St. Louis and Pittsburgh, by one game now.


Sep 12

The California Derby Series

(Bob here, I just wanted to drop in a soccer reference before Jon gets back.)

Be sure to pronounce “derby” with an “a” sound.

Mike Petriello wrote about whom the Dodgers TV announcers should be when the team switches networks. Will Eric Collins and Steve Lyons be back? Someone needs to work road games in states that are not California and Arizona. Also, there needs to be a plan for the time when Vin Scully isn’t the Dodgers announcer anymore.

And then there will be the even bigger problem about whether or not companies like DirecTV will pick up the new channel owned by Time-Warner. Because there is nothing more rewarding than watching carriers and content providers carry on public contract squabbles while the people watching just don’t really care about why they can’t see what they want. They just want to see it.

Dodgers at Giants, 7:10 p.m.

Sep 12

Revolution 98

According to the Baseball-Reference uniform number database, Onelki Garcia was the first player to appear in a major league game wearing #98.

If Garcia were a Yankee, they’d retire the number just to be on the safe side.

The Baseball-Reference Play Index says Garcia is the 21st pitcher in their database whose career started by walking the first batter he faced and then being pulled.

Darren Oliver made his major league debut on September 1, 1993 and issued an intentional walk, and then got pulled. Not all four of Oliver’s pitches were intentional walks. Billy Hatcher was on first, stole second and opened up a base, so Rangers manager Kevin Kennedy (did you know he used to manage in the big leagues) had Oliver walk Mike Greenwell and then brought in Mike Schooler to retire Luis Ortiz to get out of the inning.

Two pitchers, Tom Baker of the 1963 Giants and Art Reinhart of the 1919 Cardinals, started their careers by hitting the first batter they faced. In Reinhart’s case, he hit the first batter he faced with his first pitch and then didn’t appear in the majors again until 1925. (I had looked up this info earlier on some microfilm for someone else. I just didn’t know it.)

Four pitchers started their career by giving up a home run to their first batter in relief and then got pulled. Actually, Andy Messersmith wasn’t pulled. He came into relief in a game for the Angels back in 1968 against Boston in a bases loaded, no out situation in a 1-1 tie and gave up a grand slam to Ken Harrelson. You can put it on the board….

Sep 11

Diamondbacks put damper on Dodgers plan to clinch at home

Patrick Corbin was pretty good and Hyun-Jin Ryu was not particularly good and Arizona won 4-1 to halt the Dodgers’ march to the NL West title for a day. The Dodgers magic number stays at 6 and the Dodgers won’t be able to clinch at home unless they sweep all four games from the Giants with Arizona losing two of three at home to Colorado or the Dodgers winning three games from the Giants and Colorado sweeping Arizona.

So…. it looks more likely that the Dodgers will be having their celebration in Phoenix where they travel to on Monday. This is probably good news for the people who have to clean up the Dodgers clubhouse. But bad news for people who have to clean up the visiting clubhouse at Chase Field. Or maybe it’s good news for whomever has the carpet cleaning contract for Chase Field.

These are good problems to have if you’re a Dodgers fan.

Are there bad problems?

The Cardinals have caught the Dodgers for second best record in the National League, two games behind Atlanta. However, the Dodgers own the tiebreaker edge over the Cardinals, so it’s effectively a one-game lead. Then again, the Braves own the tiebreaker edge over the Dodgers, so that’s effectively a three-game lead. And if the Dodgers, Cardinals, and Atlanta all finish with the same record? It’s still Atlanta on top with the Dodgers second and the Cardinals third.

Not far behind the Cardinals though are the resilient Pirates, who finished off a three-game sweep in Texas today. The Pirates are one game behind the Cardinals. If the Cardinals and Pirates tie for first in the NL Central, the tie would be broken on the field with the Pirates being the host. A three-way tie among the NL Central leaders (which Jon described earlier) would take a while to develop, especially because the Reds and Pirates play each other six times in the final two weeks.

But if you want real do or die fun, it looks the AL Wild Cards are the place to be. Texas has the first wild card spot by 2 1/2 games over Tampa Bay. The Yankees are one game back, but two in the mostly important loss column. Cleveland and the Orioles are 1 1/2 games back and Kansas City is 2 games back.

How would MLB break a five-way tie? (Which is somewhat unlikely because there are a lot of games left between the contenders) It’s not in MLB’s list of contingencies. If it’s like the tiebreaker set up for the 1973 NL East, which could have ended in a five-way tie, there would be some method to seed the teams 1-5 (best to worst). Team 1 gets a bye while 3 plays at 2 and 5 plays at 4. The winner of the game between 5 and 4 would host team 1. Then the winner of that game would play at the home stadium of the winner of the game between 2 and 3. It would take three days and it would be a mess. A big glorious mess. (If the five teams were playing for TWO wild card spots, then it would just take two days because you wouldn’t need the last tiebreaker game.)

And there are fewer teams left in contention now for playoff spots. The Giants, Rockies, and Mets all were put out to pasture. The only team that can be mathematically eliminated on Thursday is Minnesota, who plays an early game against Oakland. Whom they lost to by an 18-3 margin on Wednesday.




Sep 11

Welcome to Los Angeles, Onelki

The Dodgers selected the contract of Onelki Garcia from Albuquerque and placed Shawn Tolleson on the 60-day DL. This means that the Dodgers bullpen will now need stadium-style seating for all the players to see. Interestingly, the one place in Dodger Stadium without stadium-style seating is on the floor on the stadium.

Some players are holding out for cup holders in their seats.

The Dodgers bullpen has 12 members now. Although the status of Chris Capuano is hard to determine. It’s baffling to figure out just what it is and I’ve termed this problem “Schroedinger’s Cappy.”

If the Dodgers win tonight, the only teams in the NL with winning records will be the five teams in playoff positions and Washington.

Diamondbacks at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.

Sep 11

A Happier 9/11

It is the 30th anniversary of this event, and 10 years since I first wrote about it. My best to you all …

* * *

Twenty years ago today, Dodger Stadium hosted its greatest game.

It began swathed in bright blue skies and triple-digit temperatures. When it ended, 228 crazy brilliant minutes later, shadows palmed most of the playing field, and every Dodger fan who witnessed the spectacle found themselves near joyous collapse.

The game was between the Dodgers of Steve Sax and Pedro Guerrero, of Greg Brock and Mike Marshall … and the Braves of Dale Murphy, of Bruce Benedict, of Brad Komminsk.

In the end, however, it came down to one man. A rookie named R.J. Reynolds.

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