Oct 22

If they can do this

then the Giants really are a team of destiny this year. Watch as Hunter Pence’s bat shatters and hits the ball not once, not twice, but three times.

Congratulations to the Giants. As Bob Timmermann reminded me on Facebook earlier today, this means that there actually will be a Giants – Tigers World Series. There’s never been one. The closest was in 1908, but Fred Merkle committed his “bonehead play” which cost the Giants the pennant. The Cubs won and beat the Tigers for the World Championship; it was the last time they won one.

Oct 03

Dodgers win season-ender

The Dodgers ended their season on a good note, defeating the Giants 5 – 1. Kershaw pitched 8 strong innings, striking out 8 and lowering his ERA to a league-leading 2.53, winning that title for the second year in a row.

The Dodgers got home runs from two unlikely sources, Alex Castellanos and Juan Rivera. Castellanos was a late-inning replacement for Andre Ethier in right field and Rivera replaced Adrian Gonzalez late in the game as well. I hesitate to say Rivera was a defensive replacement, as Gonzalez has won three Gold Gloves in his career and nobody would hire Rivera for his defensive skills at first base.

I’ll have a longer post-mortem later. In the meantime, go read Jon’s thoughts on the season just gone at the City Think blog at LA Magazine.

Oct 02

Alas!

The Dodgers’ six-game winning streak ended tonight at the worst possible time, after the Reds had defeated the Cardinals earlier to keep the Dodgers’ faint playoff hopes alive. With the loss the Cardinals win Wild Card #2 and the right to play the Braves in a one-game playoff Friday to determine who goes on to play the Nationals starting on Sunday, October 7.

This game might serve as a microcosm of the Dodgers’ season: down early to a couple of solo home runs from the Giants, they scratched back for one run, gave up two more, grimly fought back to within a run, and fell short at the end. There was a costly baserunning error by Mark Ellis, usually one of the steadiest players on the team; there was a short outing from the starter Chris Capuano; there were some hits from the new guys (Victorino, Gonzalez and Ramirez) and from the old (AJ Ellis and Ethier); and there was excellent relief pitching again from Belisario, Jansen and League.

Tomorrow’s game is for pride only (and Kershaw’s attempt to retake the NL strikeout lead from R.A. Dickey — he needs nine to tie and ten to go ahead), but pride might be enough. It’s the Giants, after all.

Oct 01

Walkoff win!

It’s not every day you see a manager pull a double switch which involves pulling the guy who hit a two-run home run earlier in the game and putting a relief pitcher in his spot. That’s what Don Mattingly did in this game, however, taking Andre Ethier out of the number-two spot and replacing him with closer Brandon League while putting little-used utility-man Elian Herrera in the number-nine spot. It paid off in spades when Herrera came up with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning and lined a single off the glove of the drawn-in Marco Scutaro at second base, scoring Hanley Ramirez to give the Dodgers a 3 – 2 win and keeping their slim playoff hopes alive.

This was a tight game all evening, with the Dodgers falling behind 1 – 0 on a double by Buster Posey in the very first inning, scoring Scutaro, who’d walked. Ethier got the run back and one more with a booming home run to center field after a Mark Ellis single. The Dodgers had a chance to score an insurance run in the sixth inning, but Adrian Gonzalez’s career-high 47th double of the year was wasted when he was out at the plate on an excellent throw by Dodger cast-off Xavier Nady after a single by Shane Victorino. Then in the eighth inning the Giants tied the game on a double by Angel Pagan and a single by Scutaro, who took second on Victorino’s ill-advised throw to the plate. Fortunately for the Dodgers, pitcher Kenley Jansen got the next two Giants out with no further damage. League got the Giants out in the ninth, allowing a single by Aubrey Huff but no further damage. That set the stage for Herrera’s heroics in the bottom of the inning.

St. Louis defeated Cincinnati 4 – 2 earlier in the evening, reducing its magic number to one. The Dodgers’ only hope is to win the final two games against the Giants while the Reds defeat the Cardinals in the final two games of the season. That would leave the Dodgers and Cardinals with identical 87 – 75 records and force a one-game playoff between the two teams to determine which goes on to another one game playoff against the Atlanta Braves, who won the National League’s Wild Card #1.

Oct 01

American League playoffs

In a manifestation of how interconnected baseball can be, by winning the nightcap of their doubleheader yesterday the Rangers assured not only themselves but also the Yankees and Orioles spots in the post-season playoffs. It’s still to be determined who plays whom and where and when.

ESPN’s “If the season ended today” feature shows it would be the As and Yankees in the AL Wild Card #2 game; the winner moves on to play the Rangers. The Tigers and Orioles would play in the other series. The opponents could change depending on the results of the next three days.

Tampa Bay has a faint hope, but if it loses once or the As win once, the Florida team is done. It could still have an impact, though, as it starts a three-game home series with the Os today. Today’s game between the two is free on MLB.tv at 4:10PM PDT.

The Yankees, meanwhile, start a three-game series with the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. I’m sure the schedulers thought “Ooh, man, this will be a meaningful series which will determine the winner of the AL East.” It still may, but the Red Sox won’t be in the mix. Little did the schedulers know how completely the Bosox would collapse this year. They lost their 90th game of the year yesterday, which ensures their worst record since 1966.

Update: I thought I had the situation covered, but David Schoenfield goes into further possibilities at ESPN’s Sweet Spot blog.

Sep 30

Bring on the Giants!

The Dodgers won their fifth in a row Sunday afternoon, defeating the Rockies 7 – 1. Josh Beckett got his second win as a Dodger, scattering six hits over six innings and giving up just one run, a home run by Andrew Brown. Matt Kemp, AJ Ellis, and Luis Cruz each hit two-run home runs for the Dodgers.

Fun fact: “Five of Ellis’ 12 home runs and 18 of his 50 RBIs have come against the Rockies.”

The Cardinals, by winning today, keep their two-game advantage for Wild Card #2. They see Cincinnati come in to St. Louis to play three games, and the Reds are trying to secure home-field advantage, so they’re probably not going to roll over. If they manage to beat the Cards two out of three and the Dodgers sweep the Giants there’d be a single-game playoff to break a tie for the Wild Card spot. If the Reds sweep and the Dodgers sweep, the Dodgers, almost unbelievably after the last month of inept play, would get to play the winner of Wild Card #1 in a single game for the right to go on to the NLDS. The winner of that wild card appears in all likelihood to be the Braves, who remain three games in back of the Nationals for the NL East title with three games to go. Their opponent for those last three games will be the collapsing Pirates, so a sweep isn’t out of the question. The Nationals play three against the Phillies. With a magic number of one, all they have to do is beat the Philadelphians once.

It should be an exciting next three days. And I haven’t even written anything about the American League playoff situation, which is still as muddled as it can be!

Sep 29

Still a breath of life

The Dodgers’ 3 – 0 victory this evening coupled with St. Louis’s 6 – 4 loss to Washington at home in extra innings has pushed the Dodgers one step closer to Wild Card #2. Matt Kemp hit two home runs and the bullpen was stellar following Blanton’s strong six innings. They’re still 2 games behind the Cardinals, but the Cards’ magic number remains 3. That means at least the first game with the Giants on Monday will be meaningful.

That ought to be interesting. Which team will come out on top in this ancient rivalry this time? The Giants, as they did in 1951 and 1982 (curses be upon you, Bobby Thomson and Joe Morgan!), or the Dodgers, as happened in 1959, 1993 and 2004?

Sep 28

Eight is enough?

For the third game in a row the Dodgers scored 8 runs and won a game they had to win. This time they went a few steps better than the previous night, with Kershaw and Josh Wall denying the Rockies even a single run. Kershaw is now 13 -9 on the season with an ERA of 2.58 and 221 strikeouts. More importantly, as reported at the ESPN LA Dodger blog, Kershaw “told Mattingly he felt ‘nothing’ in his injured right hip entering Friday night’s start at Dodger Stadium.”

Fans can be forgiven if they wonder “where was this offense for the first three weeks of the month?” As commenter scooplew noted in the game thread, the Dodgers scored 57 runs in their first 21 games this month for an average of 2.71 runs per game. In the last three games they’ve scored 24 runs.

Unfortunately for the Dodgers, the Cardinals whomped the Nationals today, 12 – 2. That reduces their magic number for wild card #2 to 3; any combination of Dodger losses and Cardinals wins totaling 3 means the Cardinals are in and the Dodgers are toast.

Sep 27

Dodgers defeat Pads 8-4

Mark Saxon leads his ESPN LA game story for the Dodgers’ 8 – 4 win over the Padres tonight this way: “Maybe the Dodgers have finally snapped out of the maddening, month-long hitting slump that virtually swallowed up their season. Now, they have one last homestand to prove it matters.”

Hard to argue with that. When I went back into the kitchen with our dinner plates and switched the TV in there to ESPN for the scores I saw the Dodgers had 8 runs for the second night in a row and said to myself “why couldn’t they have been doing that for the last month?”

I note that Luis Cruz had more hits (3) than either Matt Kemp or Adrian Gonzalez (2 apiece) and Cruz and A.J. Ellis each had two RBI. Where would the Dodgers have been without Cruz? Do you realize he’s got a higher batting average than Kemp (.308 to .305) and Kemp’s OBP is only .035 higher (.370 to .335). ‘Course, the OPS numbers are significantly different (Cruz: .777; Kemp: .900). Capuano gave the Dodgers a good 5 1/3 innings, giving up just one run. He and Harang have been a lot better than most Dodger fans expected at the start of the year, I think.

I suspect it’s too little too late; a three-game deficit to the Cardinals with only six games to go will be awfully hard to make up unless the Redbirds completely collapse, which seems unlikely. It’s not entirely impossible, though, since their opponents for their last two series are the playoff-bound Nationals and the also-playoff-bound Reds. The Dodgers need to win all six of their games against the Rockies and the Giants to give themselves a real chance. If they keep hitting the way they have the last two nights, it’s not out of the question. Is it?

Sep 26

Seven to play

With Matt Kemp leading the way, the Dodgers won a laugher 8 – 2 this afternoon in San Diego. Kemp was 4 for 5 with a home run and a double (his 20th of each on the season) good for four RBI, Nick Punto had three singles, and Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Juan Rivera all chipped in with two hits apiece. Even Aaron Harang, who had a no-hitter until two outs in the fifth in this game, also doubled.

That means the Dodgers are four back in the 2nd wild card chase, awaiting the results from the Houston – St. Louis game. Houston was leading 2 – 0 going to the bottom of the sixth in Houston as the Dodgers finished up their win. If Houston hangs on the Dodgers are 3 1/2 games behind the Cards with seven games to play. The Cards have six to play after tonight, and they’ll be off tomorrow while the Dodgers play the rubber game of the series with the Padres.