Jun 13

Yet another thing about Matt Kemp: He hits righties

Andre Ethier and James Loney are among the left-handed batters who have become notorious for their struggles against same-side pitching. Matt Kemp, though, has rarely been terrible against righties, and right now they’ve stopped being any kind of problem, to say the least.

OPS vs. lefties/OPS vs. righties
2006: .578/.808
2007: 1.002/.835
2008: .989/.725
2009: 1.045/.782
2010: .809/.743
2011: 1.111/1.032 (213 plate appearances against RHP this year)
Career: .943/.792

According to the Society for American Baseball Research (via the Dodger press notes), June 12 is the earliest date a Dodger has ever reached the 20-homer mark.

* * *

In case you missed it earlier, Molly Knight of ESPN the Magazine reported that a deferred payment owed to Manny Ramirez of more than $8 million comes due at the end of the month. We’ll see what happens with the McCourt saga between now and then.

Jun 10

It just doesn’t Matt-er … it just doesn’t Matt-er

As the ninth inning began, with the Dodgers outscored 6-0 and outhit 17-3, this was going to be my entire game summary.

And then Matt Kemp pinch-hit, worked Matt Belisle for 10 pitches, fouling one off his foot (ugh), and then drove the 11th pitch out of the time zone. Unreal. It went over the left-field seats, into the concourse and, according to Steve Lyons, bounced into a parking lot.  Is that possible?

And then four more Dodgers scored, each of them coming home on a two-strike hit, and the tying run was on base, and the go-ahead run was at the plate, and ….

Ohhhhhh ….

Rockies 6, Dodgers 5, final.

I will add this.  Dee Gordon (2 for 4, .412 batting average, .412 on-base percentage, .412 slugging percentage) not only has speed, he has hops. He leaped dunk-high to spear an eighth-inning live drive with two out, and it actually almost meant something.

Jun 10

Oh, and just for kicks … Matt Kemp, Triple Crown candidate

NL Batting Average
.336 Joey Votto, CIN
.335 Andre Ethier, LAD
.335 Jose Reyes, NYM
.331 Lance Berkman, STL
.329 Matt Kemp, LAD

NL Home Runs
18 Matt Kemp, LAD
17 Prince Fielder, MIL
17 Jay Bruce, CIN
15 Lance Berkman, STL
14 Albert Pujols, STL

NL Runs Batted In
55 Prince Fielder, MIL
53 Matt Kemp, LAD
48 Ryan Howard, PHI
47 Jay Bruce, CIN
45 Lance Berkman, STL

The odds are slim – he’s at his hottest and still only leading in one category. But still, pretty impressive.

* * *

  • The saga of Vin Scully’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame continues. As Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News reports, Southern California native Glenn Mingay is leading an effort to raise $2,500 needed to restore Scully’s star to proper condition at Save Vin Scully’s Star.
  • John Sickels of Minor League Ball reviewed the Dodger draft. Summary: “You can see the money limits here, but this isn’t a total disaster. Reed, Maynard, and O’Sullivan are all interesting, and there’s a mixture of solid college performers and high-upside, high-risk bets as well. It could have been a lot worse. But it wasn’t good, and the development staff has a lot of work to do with these raw guys.”
  • Hong-Chih Kuo and Kenley Jansen had encouraging rehab assignment debuts, writes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, but the forecast looks much more grim for Vicente Padilla and Jon Garland. “Padilla has a bulging disk in his neck, a recurrence of a condition that limited him to one start in six weeks last year,” reports Gurnick. “Garland has what has been described as shoulder inflammation, but sounds a lot more like a labrum or rotator cuff tear.”
  • Bill Plaschke of the Times talked to Kuo after his appearance and writes admiringly of the pitcher’s efforts, but says he still seems unsettled.
  • Juan Castro and Jay Gibbons have cleared waivers and been outrighted to Albuquerque, but they have the right to refuse the assignments and become free agents (or retire, which some have speculated Castro will do). This makes moot the confusion over why the Dodgers designated Gibbons for assignment three days before optioning Jerry Sands, but the fact remains that the Dodgers no longer believe in Gibbons. “Gibby wasn’t giving us enough to basically have a guy that’s pretty much one-dimensional,” Don Mattingly told Dylan Hernandez of the Times. “He’s not going to steal a bag for you. You have to defend for him.”
  • Dee Gordon’s speed is the real deal, but the little guy is still going to need to improve his ability to hit line drives to succeed, argues Bill Petti of Beyond the Box Score.
  • Tough realities: The Times is killing my favorite blog of theirs, historical chronicle Daily Mirror, because of low readership (criminally low readership, I’d say). That site was a pure treasure trove, with the latest treat being a series of reprints of Jim Murray columns in this, the 50th anniversary of his Times debut. Larry Harnisch and Keith Thursby put huge amounts of time and energy into the Daily Mirror, and I just want to thank them.
Jun 09

Dodgers give one back on Kemp’s glorious night

Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesMatt Kemp watches his fourth-inning home run leave Coors Field.

More than once tonight, Vin Scully wondered why any team would pitch to Matt Kemp. He even wondered it when there were runners on first and second base.

We were wondering the same thing.

While the Dodgers struggle to find a No. 5 hitter who can swing the bat – they had a woeful .278 on-base percentage and .333 slugging percentage in that spot of the batting order entering the game, and slumping Juan Uribe batting there tonight – Kemp has just been unstoppable. Tonight, he homered, tripled in two runs and doubled as the Dodgers took a 7-3 into the seventh inning in Colorado.

But a not-so-funny thing happened as we mused about Kemp’s supremacy: In tit-for-tat fashion, the Dodgers gave back their rousing comeback victory in Cincinnati from five days ago, blowing the four-run lead and losing to the Rockies, 9-7. The defeat sent the Dodgers into last place in the National League West.

For his second start in a row, Clayton Kershaw was absolutely cruising through five innings, working on a shutout before getting knocked around in the sixth. And this time, the Dodgers couldn’t pick up the pieces.

It didn’t help that, with one out and one on in the sixth, Rockies infielder Chris Nelson hit a one-hop shot hard off Kershaw’s leg. Kershaw walked the next batter, Todd Nelson, before giving up a bases-loaded double to Troy Tulowitzki and then an RBI groundout to Ty Wigginton.

In the top of the seventh inning, Kershaw singled for the second time in the game, raising his season batting average to .276 as he competes with Chad Billingsley for Silver Slugger honors. (Billingsley is still tops.) Kershaw then scored all the way from first on a SpeeDee Gordonzalez bunt single that was thrown away by Rockies catcher Jose Morales. RBIs by Casey Blake and Andre Ethier (3 for 4) built the Dodger lead back to 7-3.

But Kershaw again couldn’t survive the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases with none out on two hits and a walk, leaving the game with six strikeouts against 10 baserunners – seven of which came in his final inning-plus. And the bullpen, which really has been so good lately (the current group of seven had an ERA of 2.00 in 49 1/3 innings over the past month), collapsed.  Ultimately, it took four pitchers (Kershaw, Scott Elbert, Mike MacDougal, Blake Hawksworth) and 48 pitches for the Dodgers to get three outs, and not before the Rockies scored five runs to go ahead, 8-7.

Elbert let three inherited runners score and was charged with his first two runs of the season. MacDougal was on the mound when Elbert’s runs scored – and as Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles pointed out, the veteran righty has allowed 11 of his past 24 inherited runners to score.

Some wanted to blame Dodger manager Don Mattingly for leaving Kershaw in too long, but even if that’s so, the bullpen should have been able to protect the lead.

Josh Lindblom gave up a single, double and sacrifice fly in the eighth to double the Dodger deficit, though the rookie did well to induce pop outs from Tulowitzki and Wiggington to minimize the damage.

Then came the ninth inning, with Blake, Ethier and Kemp representing the Dodgers’ shot at another comeback. After Tulowitzki made a great play on Blake’s grounder for the first out, Ethier doubled off the wall in right field, meaning that Kemp not only could hit for the cycle with a single, he could tie the game with a homer. And the question came again: Do you pitch to him?

Rockies manager Jim Tracy had Huston Street challenge Kemp, and this time, he struck out.

The final batter of the game was Rod Barajas, who pinch-hit for Uribe because Barajas was 6 for 9 with a double and a home run against Street in his career. But Barajas flied harmlessly to right.

To mask the bitter taste of defeat, Dodger fans were left with only the joy of Kemp, who took over the National League lead in home runs with 18. If that isn’t impressive enough, he has 23 home runs in his past 69 games – exactly one every three games, or for you mathletes out there, a pace for 54 homers per 162 games.

I said this in the Dodger Thoughts comments earlier this week, but I remember how impressed I was when Toronto’s Jose Bautista hit his 20th home run on May 28. At the time, Kemp had 12.  Now, the score is 20-18.

He is flat out on fire, and the only concern here is that he’ll remember how much he enjoys the better hitting environments outside of California when free agency eventually arrives for him. In the meantime, cheering for Kemp remains the consolation prize.

Jun 05

Sluggin’ Billingsley powers Dodgers, 9-6

David Kohl/APAaron Miles congratulates Chad Billingsley on hitting his second home run since Miles last hit one.

Chad Billingsley couldn’t bring it today on the mound, but he sure brought it at the plate.

Billingsley somehow managed to overshadow Matt Kemp’s third home run in two days by going deep himself in the second inning, walking with the bases loaded in the third and doubling in a run in the fifth inning, helping the Dodgers to a 9-6 victory.

Billingsley, who entered the game OPS-ing a career-high .638 (5 for 21 with two doubles), surged to .950, which is second in the major leagues among pitchers to J.A. Happ’s .959. (Today’s double wasn’t cheap, either – it landed on the warning track and one-hopped against the wall.) His efforts, combined with Kemp’s prodigious two-run home run in the first inning and a total of 13 hits and 10 walks from the Dodger offense, boosted the Dodgers to 20 runs over the past two days, 17 of them coming in a eight-inning span.

Kemp was 2 for 3 with three walks, Andre Ethier 2 for 4 with a walk, Jamey Carroll 1 for 4 with two walks, James Loney (batting eighth) 1 for 2 with three walks, Aaron Miles 2 for 6. Rod Barajas added a significant two-run double. Ethier and Kemp (who reached base five times for the third time in his career) each lifted their 2011 on-base percentages back over .400.

Sobering for the Dodgers was this: This wasn’t the first time Billingsley homered and doubled in the same game, and things went more than a little rough when it happened before. On July 5, 2009, Billingsley did the same in San Diego while holding the Padres to one run over the first eight innings, only to have the Dodgers blow a 6-1 in the ninth inning in a game that, following the 2008 playoffs, helped make Jonathan Broxton very unpopular among many Dodger fans. (The Dodgers ultimately won, 7-6.)

So what would happen today? Los Angeles ultimately removed Billingsley after five innings, four runs, 12 baserunners and 106 pitches. John Ely, called up to support the injury-depleted pitching staff, had an opportunity for a four-inning save. He started a little shaky, giving up four baserunners and a run in his first two innings, but had a nice eighth inning in which he retired Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce in order. It was the first time in the game either team had a 1-2-3 inning.

Ely came out for the ninth, but lost his save opportunity when he walked Ryan Hanigan and Don Mattingly replaced him with Josh Lindblom, who started out by walking Miguel “33 homers in 1,359 games” Cairo and, looking really wild, hitting Ramon Hernandez in the shoulder to load the bases. Tying run up at the plate, nobody out.

As Ramon Troncoso began warming up in the bullpen, Paul Janish, who was 3 for 3 at that point, fouled out to Barajas. Pinch-hitter Chris Heisey flied deep to right for a “we’ll take it” sacrifice fly.

Facing Drew Stubbs, who had a chance to follow his leadoff homer in the first inning with a game-tying homer in the ninth, Lindblom fell behind in the count, 2-1. But then it all came together for Lindblom. The next two pitches were nasty fastballs at the knees, and Stubbs whiffed at both … and the Dodgers had held on.

Weird note: The Dodgers average 3.7 runs per game, but haven’t finished a game with exactly four runs since May 13.

Jun 05

Where’s Kempo

Where Matt Kemp ranks among National Leaguers, according to Baseball-Reference.com:

1. – offensive wins above replacement (2.9)
1. – power-speed number (14.5)
1t – RBI (46)
1t – total bases (125)
2. – games played (59)
2. – home runs (15)
2. – slugging percentage (.576)
3. – runs created (49)
3. – win probability added (2.6)
4. – at-bats per home run (14.5)
4t – adjusted OPS (170)
4t – intentional walks (6)
4t – times on base (98)
4t – wins above replacement (2.9)
5. – offensive win percentage (.759)
5. – OPS (.971)
5t – stolen bases (14)
6t – strikeouts (55)
7t – hits (69)
8. – on-base percentage (.395)
8t – extra-base hits (26)
9. – batting average (.318)

Kemp is fifth in the NL in total average (.341), according to Baseball Prospectus. Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness has more on what Kemp could achieve this year.

* * *

  • Fasten your seat belts. Here are the scheduled pitching matchups for the upcoming Philadelphia series:

    Monday – Ted Lilly vs. Cliff Lee
    Tuesday – Rubby De La Rosa vs. Roy Oswalt
    Wednesday – Hiroki Kuroda vs. Cole Hamels

    The Phillies have lost four straight games, two each to Washington and Pittsburgh.

  • Via Baseball Think Factory comes this March 1957 Sports Illustrated piece that is said to be the first mention of “Chavez Ravine” in the magazine. It acknowledges that Walter O’Malley’s primary desire was to stay in Brooklyn, but here’s my favorite line: “It was even suggested that with the coming of the jet age, when the Atlantic and Pacific coasts will be only three or four hours apart, New Yorkers could get to a Dodger game in Chavez Ravine in less time than it now takes to reach Ebbets Field.”

    Conclusion: “The next chapter in the serial will now have to be written by the City of New York some time before next October. Should they fail to get busy, O’Malley and his Dodgers will almost surely head west like so many other overcrowded, ill-housed Easterners. In that event, major league baseball will be a coast-to-coast reality no later than 1960.”

  • Orel Hershiser has joined Steve Garvey’s group that’s interested in purchasing the Dodgers, reports Jill Painter of the Daily News. It’s still not clear what kind of financing the Garvey-Hershiser group would have, because initial reports linking it to billionaire Ron Burkle have been disputed.
  • Red-hot Dodger minor-league reliever Shawn Tolleson (0.63 ERA, 52 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings this year) and Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw were groomsmen at each other’s weddings this offseason, notes Inside the Dodgers, which passes on a link to an upcoming Dodgers Magazine feature on the pair.
  • Dennys Reyes, who made his major-league debut with the Dodgers in 1997, is one of 21 players to steal a base in his first game and then never do so again in his career, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Reyes has by far the most appearances of anyone on the list. On July 13, 1997, Reyes walked, went to second on a single, stole third and scored on an error. He pitched six innings that game and got the win, one of 10 in his career as a starting pitcher.
  • Oakland has designated former Dodger Andy LaRoche (.654 OPS) for assignment.
  • Not a Dodger note, but I thought it was cool: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Jose Reyes is only the second player since 1926 to have 10 triples by June 4. Willie Wilson in 1985 was the other.
Jun 04

Majestic Bison and the Bisonettes rescue Dodgers, 11-8

Al Behrman/APFly away, ball. Fly away.

Al Behrman/APClayton Kershaw struck out nine of the first 15 batters he faced, but then the game got crazy.

Clayton Kershaw worked the Reds over for the first five innings today like Ali worked the ring. The fifth inning in particular was just athletic poetry, Kershaw striking out the side, and I was in thrall.

Leading 1-0, Kershaw had faced the minimum number of batters in taking a one-hitter heading into the sixth inning, and then things just went haywire. Ramon Hernandez singled, and two outs later, Drew Stubbs walked. Brandon Phillips then fisted a 1-1 pitch to right field, just over the head of second baseman Aaron Miles, a them’s-the-breaks hit to tie the game.

And then Joey Votto blasted a three-run home run.

And before he was out of the game in the seventh, Kershaw had given up six runs, and Mike MacDougal had allowed another, and I was bereft.

So of course, you know what happened next. No, not that. No, not that either. No, keep going down the list.

First, Matt Kemp went bananas. Bananas, I say! A solo homer and a grand slam in back-to-back innings to tie the game at 7.

The slam followed an out-of-the-blue rally started with one out in the top of the eighth on a pinch-hit single by Tony Gwynn, Jr., his first hit to the outfield in a full month. Jamey Carroll and Aaron Miles followed with singles to make the score 7-3, and then Andre Ethier (who threw a runner out at home minutes before) drew a walk off Reds lefty reliever Bill Bray. The Bison came up, and on a 1-0 pitch from Logan Ondrusek, who had allowed two homers in 32 innings this season, sent one over the left-center-field fence to tie the game.

The home runs, Kemp’s 14th and 15th of the season, gave him more home runs than steals for the first time this year and put him on a pace for 41 homers and 38 steals this season. According to the Dodgers, he is the team’s first player to hit 15 homers in his first 59 games since Shawn Green in 2001. Green finished that season with a club-record 49.

That put the Dodgers in position for quite an event. According to Fox, the Dodgers’ last win after trailing by 5+ in the eighth inning was May 9, 1994, and Los Angeles has won only three such games since 1958. (Of course, Reds manager Dusty Baker has seen a five-run lead disappear painfully in the past.)

But there was still the matter of pushing across the winning run. Scott Elbert held off the Reds with a 1-2-3 eighth, and Matt Guerrier pitched a shutout ninth. Javy Guerra retired Scott Rolen and Jay Bruce with two on to survive the 10th.

Finally, in the 11th, the Dodgers busted through with Scrub-ball, scoring two runs on singles by … Juan Castro … Gwynn … Carroll (4 for 5) … and Miles (3 for 5, 3 RBI). Reds pitcher Carlos Fisher, the losing pitcher in Cincinnati’s 19-inning epic against the Phillies on May 25, then threw away an Ethier double-play grounder, opening the door for the Dodgers to score two more runs, Kemp getting his sixth RBI of the game on a fielder’s choice.

In only 27 of their previous 58 games had the Dodgers scored more runs than they scored in today’s 11th inning.

Guerra, who last pitched two innings May 4 in Chattanooga, was left to start the bottom of the 11th despite his hard-working 23 pitches in the 10th. (He actually walked in his first major-league plate appearance.) He gave up a leadoff single to Ryan Hanigan and one out later was replaced by Ramon Troncoso. A groundout by Paul Janish drove in a run charged to Guerra (his first since May 22), but the Dodgers were one out away.

Then, Chris Heisey singled. Then, Stubbs singled. That meant that the Reds would in fact get the tying run to the plate in Phillips, with Votto on deck and Rolen in the hole.

Strike. Ball. Strike. Ball.

Just as he did to drive in the first run against Kershaw hours before, Phillips went to right field. It looked very much like a potential hit off his bat. But this one went a little deeper, and Ethier was able to come in and catch it.

Dodgers 11, Reds 8. Wow, and whew.

Apr 22

The thin line between ebb and flow: Dodgers 5, Braves 3

I was prepared to write a pretty quick take on Thursday’s game, along the lines of how weird it is that Juan Uribe only seems to hit well when Matt Kemp doesn’t.

And then Kemp, who had struck out three times earlier in the game, went and hit … very, very well. 

Kemp’s two-run home run in the bottom of the 12th inning was his second walkoff shot in five days, beating the Braves, 5-3, and helping the Dodgers reach a split of their first 20 games this season despite being outscored 94-68 in the process.

Los Angeles will try for the fifth time this year for its first three-game winning streak of the year today in Chicago.

Kemp’s blast was his fourth of 2011, putting him on pace for 30-plus homers this season (along with 60-odd steals). It also helped him stay ahead in the team OPS lead ahead of Andre Ethier, who extended his hitting streak to 18 games with two hits, including a double ahead of Kemp’s home run.

Few could understand why the Braves didn’t walk Kemp intentionally in the 12th to face Uribe. Considering that Kemp’s run was meaningless, the only possible explanation was a flimsy one – that based on the previous 3 1/2 days, Atlanta thought Uribe was the most dangerous hitter. After starting the season 8 for 52, Uribe was 7 for 16 against the Braves, including his first home run of the season to tie Thursday’s game 1-1 in the sixth inning.

To each manager his own …

Casey Blake’s solo shot in the next inning put the Dodgers ahead and seemed to give Clayton Kershaw all he needed for the victory. Kershaw, who retired his first 10 batters and took a three-hitter into the ninth (in addition to a career-high two hits at the plate), came within one out of breezing to the finish line before he loaded the bases on two singles and a walk. 

Don Mattingly went to the mound to talk to Kershaw, who had now thrown 119 pitches. Instead of going to Jonathan Broxton, Mattingly stayed with Kershaw. Given how Broxton has pitched lately, I know there was lots of support for this decision. I’m not sure I would have done differently while standing face-to-face with the pitcher, but from afar, the walk to load the bases might have been as far as I would have let Kershaw go. Mattingly had already tried letting Kershaw bail himself out of his own jam with a high pitch count in his last start, and Kershaw gave up a deep fly by David Freese and a three-run homer by Mr. Allen Craig of St. Louis.

My other concern is that Kershaw has now set a career high in pitches in two of his past three starts, throwing 340 pitches in 11 days.  

Kershaw got ahead in the count 0-2, then gave up a two-run single to former Dodger David Ross, but Jamey Carroll and Blake (3 for 6) bailed the pitcher out in the bottom of the ninth. Carroll walked, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Blake’s single.

Broxton, who relieved Kershaw after Ross’ hit, retired four of five batters he faced, and then Matt Guerrier pitched two shutout innings, surviving two two-out singles in the 11th before a 1-2-3 12th.

At which point, the game flowed back to Kemp …

* * *

Cubs at Dodgers, 11:20 a.m.

Apr 17


Sixteen Dodger games into the torrid start that made him an early season Most Valuable Player candidate in 2010, Andre Ethier had a .377 batting average, .441 on-base percentage and .679 slugging percentage. 

This season, after 16 Dodger games, Matt Kemp has a .474 batting average, .545 on-base percentage and .719 slugging percentage. 

Kemp has reached base at least three times in half of his 16 games. He could go hitless in his next 53 at-bats and still be ahead of his 2010 batting average.

“They pitched to the one guy who could beat them,” said Vin Scully of the Cardinals in the bottom of the ninth, “and he does.”

Apr 11

Dodgers 6, Giants 1: Matt Kemp is the center of the universe

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesMatt Kemp and his helmet exult after stealing second base despite a pickoff.

Matt Kemp steals second base despite picking picked off first.

Matt Kemp scores from second on a James Loney line drive off the glove of the second baseman.

Matt Kemp walks for a second time after being down in the count 0-2.

Matt Kemp lines an RBI single that turns left fielder Pat Burrell into a jumping bean, with the ball skipping past him.

Matt Kemp is thrown out at third.

That last one was just to remind us that as long as you’re pushing for Kemp to be aggressive, you’re going to pay the price now and then. Nonetheless, 2011 has returned that Matt Kemp that everyone loves, and his role in the Dodgers’ 6-1 victory Monday over San Francisco was the latest example.

You’ve heard of the eye in the middle of the hurricane? Matt Kemp is the hurricane that surrounds the eye.

Kemp, who went 1 for 2 with two walks, is boasting a .537 on-base percentage and .647 slugging percentage, not to mention a 1.000 stealing percentage on seven tries.

The stolen base was remarkable because the Giants did so much right and so little wrong. San Francisco pitcher Madison Bumgarner threw to first base as Kemp broke for second. First baseman Brandon Belt immediately turned and threw down to short. Miguel Tejada got the ball and put down the tag. And Kemp was just plain ol’ safe.

So Kemp is back to outrunning his occasional mistake rather than eliminating them entirely, but I think we’ll take that trade, especially with the way he looks at the plate. His seventh-inning strikeout was only his fourth in 41 plate appearances this season.

Kemp and Clayton Kershaw fought for the spotlight on Opening Day: Kershaw shone brightest then, and he just as easily could have tonight. He wasn’t untouchable, allowing six hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings, but he always had the right pitch when he needed it. Only one San Francisco baserunner made it past second base – Aubrey Huff with two out in the bottom of the fourth inning – at which point Kershaw annihilated Belt with three fastballs for strikes, the last two swinging.

Kershaw, whose seven strikeouts gave him 24 in 19 2/3 innings this season, faced 11 batters with runners on base tonight. Three of them hit the ball out of the infield: two singles, one flyout. He lowered his 2011 ERA to 1.37 and has now pitched 23 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings against the Giants. (His 117 pitches tonight were one shy of his career high.)

A third hero tonight was second baseman Jamey Carroll, who figures to play more shortstop soon with Rafael Furcal injuring his thumb while stealing third base in the Dodgers’ four-run fifth inning and leaving the game an inning later. Carroll went 3 for 5, raising his on-base percentage for the season to .452. Andre Ethier’s two hits put him at .442, while Rod Barajas hit what at the start of the fifth inning seemed a huge home run, giving the Dodgers a 2-0 lead.

And the slumping Uribe even contributed, going 1 for 4 but also making two nice defensive plays to support Dodger reliever Matt Guerrier in the eighth inning. Mike MacDougal gave up a homer to Burrell in the ninth – Burrell’s third blast in five games against the Dodgers this year.

Colorado rallied for a 7-6 victory against the Mets, so the Dodgers remain in second place, 1 1/2 games back.

* * *

One might say it’s a bit nervy, but then again, what hasn’t been nervy in the McCourt divorce saga? The law firm that drafted the disputed agreement at the center of the court battle between Frank and Jamie McCourt is suing Frank, “asking a Massachusetts court to declare that the firm met its obligations and caused him no loss when it drafted a marital property agreement with his ex-wife.”

As Josh Fisher of Dodger Divorce and Bill Shaikin of the Times note, there’s more to it than that. Shaikin:

… Bingham McCutchen, the Boston-based firm responsible for the since-invalidated agreement that would have granted McCourt sole ownership of the Dodgers, essentially asked a Massachusetts court to deprive McCourt of the chance to sue the firm for malpractice should he lose control of the team.

“Any injury, loss or expense he has sustained or will sustain were caused not by Bingham’s conduct, but by his own widely publicized financial problems, huge withdrawals of cash from the Dodgers, and strained relations with Major League Baseball,” the suit alleges. “None of this is attributable to Bingham’s work.”

The suit also claims McCourt owes Bingham “hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid legal fees.” …

… In a statement, McCourt spokesman Steve Sugerman blamed Bingham for preparing an agreement that did not stand up in court.

“Mr. McCourt is disappointed that the Bingham firm is unwilling to accept responsibility for its actions and is instead now trying to defend conduct that is indefensible,” the statement read. …

Apr 01

Kemp, Dodgers race home with another victory, 4-3

Mark J. Terrill/APRafael Furcal delivers his game-winning hit.

Two games into the season, the Dodgers have kindly requested that their fans not despair.

If your pitcher gives up a bunt single and hits a batter to start the game, he can still order up a double-play grounder.

If that same pitcher gives up a three-run homer in the fourth inning, that doesn’t mean he won’t complete six solid innings.

And if you find yourself down by two runs against San Francisco’s No. 2 starting pitcher, don’t give up on the idea of a comeback.

On a night that you could not get the uncertain fate of assaulted Giants fan Bryan Stow out of your mind, the Dodgers, energized for the second night in a row on offense by Matt Kemp, rallied for three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning and once again hung on for a 4-3 victory.

After hitting an RBI double to give the Dodgers a short-lived 1-0 lead in the fourth inning, Kemp singled to start the bottom of the sixth and then went from first to third on a hit-and-run groundout by Marcus Thames. James Loney inside-outed a fly ball to left field to cut the Dodgers’ deficit to one, with a tip of the cap to new baserunning coach Davey Lopes.

The Giants then proceeded to tie their season high for sixth-inning errors: two. Following Rod Barajas’ single, Aaron Miles hit a slow roller to third that Pablo Sandoval gloved but threw away, The single-plus-error put runners on second and third base.

In his first major-league at-bat since September 27, 2006 and third overall, Hector Gimenez (batting for Billingsley, who allowed seven baserunners in six innings, striking out four)  hit a slow bouncer between the mound and third base, which Giants starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez whiffed, allowing tying run Barajas to score. Rafael Furcal’s solid single off reliever Guillermo Mota completed the rally by driving home Miles.

Mark J. Terrill/APBuster Posey’s lightning-bolt whiff.

Of course, that hardly meant the game – or the worry – was over. The fifth of six players of the night making his Dodger debut, Blake Hawksworth, allowed a bunt single, another single and a walk to load the bases with two out and San Francisco cleanup hitter Buster Posey on deck.  An 0-2 count went to 3-2.

Despair? Maybe. Defeat? Not this time. Posey swung hard and missed hard, his bat flying like an errant missile into the stands to his left.

A quick eighth inning – featuring a diving catch by Kemp – set the stage for Jonathan Broxton, who this night would not have a two-run cushion to play with, but just one. Let’s play it again, Sam.

  • vs. Mark DeRosa: called strike, called strike, called strike. Bat never left the man’s shoulder.
  • vs. Andres Torres: ball, fly out to right-center field.
  • vs. Freddy Sanchez: ball, called strike, slider just low, fastball fisted to Loney.

That ninth inning looked easy. Despair may yet come, but tonight, it was no match for hope.

“This is just the beginning,” Kemp told Prime Ticket after the game.

Let’s pass some of that hope Bryan Stow’s way, as well as toward a belief that someday, everyone will realize that you don’t get to use a baseball rivalry as an excuse to commit mayhem.

Apr 01

Matt Kemp re-emerges like he never un-emerged

Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesMatt Kemp steals second base in the eighth inning with the Dodgers leading, 1-0.

Mostly lost in my Opening Day appreciation of Clayton Kershaw was the praise that Matt Kemp deserved for his single, three walks, stolen base and two runs. Fortunately, Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com came through with a postgame feature.

I want to discuss the walks for just a quick moment. There’s no doubt that they were a sign of discipline, but in my mind, they also reflected the fact that however maligned Kemp was for his 2010 backslide, the Giants clearly considered him the Dodgers’ most dangerous hitter. Kemp himself said after the game that he wasn’t given much to hit. I definitely got the sense that San Francisco was happy to face James Loney, even with Kemp on base, than take their chances on Kemp himself.

That of course could change, especially if we see more of what happened in Thursday’s eighth inning: Kemp stealing second base easily, and Loney (after going 0 for 3 with Kemp on base ahead of him in the first, third and sixth innings) lashing a double to the short wall down the right-field line. It will be very interesting to see how this develops.

Mar 11

Dream-weaving the Dodgers offense

My thoughts remain with the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireRafael Furcal, shaky sparkplug

It says something about how concerned people are with the Dodgers offense that even as pitchers Vicente Padilla, Jon Garland and Ronald Belisario have dropped off the probable Opening Day roster, the hitting is still the Dodgers’ primary concern. And not without good reason.

But there are a number of ways, not even high-apple-pie-in-the-sky ways, that the Dodgers offense could exceed the lowest expectations and prove adequate, if not above average. Here are some potential upsides for the batsmen:

250 total bases from Rafael Furcal
The Dodgers want Furcal to be reasonably healthy and reasonably productive. Reaching this milestone would indicate that Furcal was successful on both fronts. (Throw in about 50 walks and double-digit steals to top it off.)

The challenge: The 33-year-old hasn’t reached 250 total bases since his first year as a Dodger in 2006, when he had 291. In 2009, Furcal played in 150 games but struggled badly at the plate (probably playing at less than 100 percent); the following year he was on pace for a great season but couldn’t make it into more than 97 games. The problem with Furcal seems to be that he is simply not a quick healer these days.

The hope: Furcal could miss 30 games and still reach the plateau if his bat doesn’t take a holiday. Knowing the Dodgers have Jamey Carroll as a backup in the majors and Dee Gordon or Ivan De Jesus in the minors, the team can afford to give him days off or even a quick run on the disabled list to recover from lighter ailments in order to preserve him for the long haul.

2009 calls, and Matt Kemp answers
A year ago, we were wondering how Kemp might improve on his banner 2009 season. Today, everyone would be happy if he merely matched it. Lest we forget, that was a season, at age 24, when Kemp had a .352 on-base percentage, .490 slugging percentage, 34 steals in 42 attempts and defense that made you gasp, but not in horror.

The challenge: Finding out if Kemp still has a 2009 in him. Can he adjust, both to the pitchers who fooled him in 2010 and to the level of mental approach required of him over a full season?

The hope: It’s not unusual for players to take a step back before they take their next step forward. The Dodgers hope the presence of Davey Lopes will help provide the spring in Kemp’s step. Want a statistical beacon to look toward? Kemp’s batting average on balls in play last year was .295, after averaging .364 the previous three seasons. A little luck could go a long way.

Kyle Terada/US PresswireDioner Navarro

Dioner Navarro proves his signing wasn’t a clerical error

“I’ve made a huge mistake,” Gob Bluth of “Arrested Development” might have said had he woken up one morning and realized he had signed the once-and-future Dodger catcher to a $1 million contract after Navarro slogged out a .528 OPS in 2010.

The challenge: It wasn’t only 2010. Over the past two seasons, Navarro has a .263 on-base percentage and .306 slugging percentage in 163 games. Yes, offensive expectations are lower for a catcher, but that’s just useless. The Dodgers need their backup catcher to succeed because Rod Barajas can’t play every day (nor would you want him to), but investing too much patience in Navarro could be an investment in a black hole.

The hope: Navarro is still only 27, still only two seasons removed from a .349 OBP and .407 slugging. Totals like that would more than do the trick. Why the Dodgers think Navarro can recover, I cannot tell you, but this isn’t the stereotypical Ned Colletti signing of a veteran on the downslope of his career. This was a belief signing, a buy-low on a player who could still be entering his prime. Perhaps Navarro’s 2011 will show us why at the end of every hard-earned day people find some reason to believe.

James Loney stops hitting like Joe Shlabotnik
Kemp gets all the grief in the mainstream press, but for New School fans, it’s Loney who’s the bigger target. His RBI totals (especially relative to his opportunities) and his defense don’t make up for the overall production the Dodgers could really use from their first baseman.

The challenge: Among other things, proving that not one but two seasons of sub-.400 slugging percentage were just a pause that refreshes. And then there’s overcoming a walk-to-strikeout ratio that went from 1.03 in 2009 to 0.55 last year. And then … well, you get the idea.

The hope: Loney had an .803 OPS heading into the All-Star break last season, which isn’t exactly Albert Pujols, but it’s something to cling to. Folks still love his stroke, a stroke that delivered 19 homers, a .372 on-base percentage and .543 slugging percentage in his first 144 career games. Are we really to believe that Loney peaked at age 23?

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireAndre Ethier

Andre Ethier is no platoon player

Ethier had an .846 OPS in 72 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers as a rookie in 2006. That production has declined each and every year since, down to .625 in 178 PA last season.

The challenge: Actually, protecting that pivotal pinkie might be Ethier’s biggest 2011 worry, but presuming he can, the decline against lefties is more than a bit worrying. Four years of decline is tough to stomach even for a player of Ethier’s overall ability.

The hope: Ethier, who will be 29 in April, was on an MVP pace for the first several weeks of last season, so with loads of room to improve against lefties, his best year might still be ahead of him. The alternative is that the Dodgers softly begin resting him against lefties if a fellow by the name of Jerry Sands keeps knocking at the door.

Jerry Sands knocks at the door
The power-hitting 23-year-old minor-leaguer with all of 68 games above Class A has been perhaps the top story in the early days of spring training, as Dodgers fans unhappy with the current third-outfielder conglomerate look longingly for a savior.

The challenge: Handling temptation. Sands’ massive inexperience at the higher levels of the game makes the script all too easy to write — an early taste of success followed by a faceplant against major-league breaking pitches.

The hope: In 2006, Ethier and Kemp came up as rookies and, while they didn’t win permanent starting jobs right away, made unmistakable contributions toward that year’s division title. The Dodgers can’t expect Sands to become rookie of the year, but it’s not crazy to dream he (or Trayvon Robinson) could provide some lift to the sagging outfield picture.

A midseason trade gives offense a new gear
For all the talk of how the McCourt ownership has hamstrung player acquisitions, the Dodgers have not been silent at the trade deadline. Ted Lilly was no Manny Ramirez 2008, but he was a major splurge for a team barely hanging on in more ways than one. It’s sensible to assume that unless the Dodgers fall completely out of the race, Colletti will have the BlackBerry working.

The challenge: Making the trade worthwhile, both in terms of what comes in (spare us Scott Podsednik, please) and what goes out. If Rubby De La Rosa continues his rapid progress, and anyone from the group including Ethan Martin, Aaron Miller and Chris Withrow bounces back, the Dodgers will have no shortage of trade chips in pitching alone. But you don’t want to use them unwisely, not at all.

The hope: Right player at the right time, ideally without giving up the primo minor-league talent. They’ve done it before; could they do it again?

Mar 01

Matty being Matty

Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com has a long piece on the complicated individual that is Matt Kemp.

* * *

“Of the 23 Dodgers you could reasonably expect to make their final roster, only two are younger than 26,” writes Steve Dilbeck of the Times, adding that the average age of the team figures to be over 30.

* * *

In his morning press session with reporters in Arizona, Don Mattingly again discussed Casey Blake’s bunting ability as a reason to bat him No. 2 in the order. I’ve liked most of what I’ve seen and heard from Mattingly this year, but this apparent plan to use the bunt as an option from the No. 2 spot — perhaps as early as the first inning — does not appeal.

Mattingly also mentions Blake’s ability to handle the bat — I would point out that next to the oft-criticized Kemp, no Dodger struck out more than Blake in 2010. Blake’s 138 strikeouts were the sixth-most in Dodgers history.

* * *

Dodgers at Indians, 12:05 p.m.
Rafael Furcal, SS
Casey Blake, 3B
Andre Ethier, RF
Matt Kemp, CF
James Loney, 1B
Juan Uribe, 2B
Marcus Thames, DH
Rod Barajas, C
Tony Gwynn Jr., LF
(Chad Billingsley, P)