Oct 06

Division Series Openers, Part One

Today’s first game starts at 6:00PM Eastern with the no-name Oakland As playing the star-laden Detroit Tigers. Wait a minute, you say. Isn’t that unfair to the As? Well, the only nationally-recognized player in their starting lineup is Coco Crisp, and I’d argue that while he’s an excellent player a lot of casual fans might know him more for his cereal-like name than for his talent. The Tigers, on the other hand, have the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years in Miguel (not Melky!) Cabrera; they have baseball’s answer to The Round Mound of Rebound Prince Fielder, and they have today’s starting pitcher and former Cy Young/MVP winner Justin Verlander. People are trying to label the As the Cinderella team in this postseason, but that devalues what they did. They were 13 games back and five games under .500 the last week in June and fought back to a series sweep of the Rangers last weekend.

The second game today starts at 9:30PM Eastern with the Giants playing the Reds. Nobody reading a Dodgers blog needs much background info on these teams. Here’s something I didn’t know, though:

Through the regular season, Baker stands No. 2 and Bochy No. 3 among active managers in career victories. Baker has 1,581 in 19 seasons and Bochy has 1,454 in 18, both short of Detroit manager Jim Leyland’s total of 1,676 in 21 seasons. This marks the sixth postseason appearance as a manager for both Baker and Bochy.

Pitching today: the Reds’ Cueto v. the Giants’ Cain in San Francisco.

Oct 06

Kemp’s surgery

I guess it’s too early to know the extent or for privacy reasons nobody’s saying, but we’ve gotten a terse Kemp had surgery story and no more. The team says he’ll be ready for Opening Day, but no bat swinging for three months. I’m now wondering how much swinging a bat a player does in the offseason when no surgery has been done.

The 60-minute procedure at the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic in Los Angeles was performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache. Kemp will begin physical therapy in seven to 10 days.

The Dodgers were hoping the surgery would be little more than a cleanup and Kemp would be ready to return in a matter of a few weeks. He injured his shoulder colliding with an outfield wall against the Rockies in Colorado on Aug. 28.

Let us hope.

Update: See new post above for further details on the results of the surgery.

Oct 05

Wild Card Knockout Night

None of the four starters in these two games with everything on the line — Lohse, Medlen, Saunders and Yu Darvish — have1 ever won a postseason game. Medlen and Darvish will be making their first such appearances. Saunders is 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA in four postseason games. Lohse is 0-4 with a 5.54 ERA in nine postseason games.

So writes Tom Verducci in this morning’s electronic Sports Illustrated. There are other analyses of these two games around, but Verducci’s is a good big picture view. Here’s Jay Jaffe of SI on the Atlanta – St. Louis matchup, and here’s Rany Jazayerli of Grantland on the Baltimore – Texas game.

Me? In the NL game I’m rooting for the Braves. I’d like to see Chipper Jones get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2005, and Furcal’s out for the year for the Cardinals; I have no other sentimental attachment to them.

In the AL game I’m rooting for the Orioles because they’ve been a forgotten team (and deservedly so) for the past 15 years or so. Besides, I’d like to see a Nationals – Orioles World Series. The Rangers aren’t playing well and blew a five-game lead with ten to play.

Both games are on TBS. Brian Anderson, Ron Darling and Joe Simpson will do the St. Louis at Atlanta game at 4 p.m. (Eastern). Ernie Johnson, John Smoltz and Cal Ripken will call the Baltimore at Texas game at 7:30 p.m. (Eastern).

If you want to comment as the games go along, this will be the game thread.

1 “None . . . has,” Tom.

Update: And the Cardinals win 6 – 3 in a game that is under protest by the Braves due to a bizarre infield fly call on a ball 50 feet deep into left field.

Update #2: The Orioles continue their winning ways and the Rangers continue to slump. The Os beat them 5 – 1, and it really wasn’t much of a game.

Oct 04

Season standings

I’m imagining some jaded neighbor of a player like Mark Ellis after he goes home for the winter:

JN: “So, how’d your season go?”

ME: “Got a week? It will take that long to explain it.”

JN: “Oh, man, no, not now. Wait till we’re snowed in. Then you come over and we’ll drink a bucket of coffee while you tell me all about it.”

I feel that way about the Dodgers’ 2012 season. It started out much better than even the most hopeful of fans could have imagined, I think. Here’s the standings at the end of each month:

April:
LA Dodgers 16 7 .696 –
San Francisco 12 10 .545 3.5

May:
LA Dodgers 32 18 .640 –
San Francisco 27 24 .529 5.5

June:
San Francisco 44 35 .557 –
LA Dodgers 43 36 .544 1

July:
San Francisco 55 47 .539 –
LA Dodgers 56 48 .538 –

August:
San Francisco 74 58 .561 –
LA Dodgers 70 63 .526 4.5

September:
x-San Francisco 93 66 .585 –
LA Dodgers 84 75 .528 9

I find that interesting. If asked, I suspect most casual fans would say the Dodgers’ sudden collapse happened in September; up until then they had been playing well. The standings show that’s not quite accurate. They had two really good months, then three of mediocrity and one of near-calamity. As Vin Scully pointed out during yesterday’s final broadcast, their highwater mark was June 17 when their record was 42 – 25, seventeen games over .500. After that there was a fairly steady decline until they bottomed out on September 20 at 77 – 73, only four games over .500 and at some risk (at least in my mind) of suddenly dropping below break-even on the year.

As it turned out they ended up a respectable 86 – 76, 10 games over .500. What frustrated many fans, I’m sure, is that “L10” column in the standings: the Dodgers were 8 – 2 over their last ten games and playing very well indeed. Had they started that streak about two weeks earlier it wasn’t out of the question that they could have finished in the hunt for Wild Card #1. I don’t think they could have caught the Giants for first place in the division, since the Giants played well for all of September.

Now they head off into the off-season with as set a lineup as they may have had since the 1970s, when fans could just pencil in the same infield for 8 years. Who’d have thought that was a possibility at this year’s All Star break? And, that lineup performed pretty well for the last two weeks of the season. We’ll have to see whether they can continue to do so once they’ve been playing together for several months.

When do pitchers and catchers report?

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 03

Statistics-padding day

Okay, that title is probably harsh. Still, when you’ve been eliminated from the playoffs the night before, I imagine it’s a little tough to get up for one more game before the season ends. Nonetheless, it’s here to be played so it must be done.

Kershaw’s trying for his 14th win, for the NL strikeout lead, and he’s trying to keep his NL ERA lead as well.

Lineup:

Ellis, M, 2B
Ethier, A, RF
Kemp, M, CF
Gonzalez, A, 1B
Ramirez, H, SS
Victorino, S, LF
Cruz, L, 3B
Federowicz, T, C
Kershaw, C, P

I find it interesting that FedEx is playing rather than AJ Ellis. I wonder what that’s all about.

The game is on Prime Ticket at 1:15PM HST, so I get to see it.

Oct 03

Playoff scenarios

Before the Dodgers’ game even starts this evening the American League playoffs may be a lot clearer than they are now. Here’s a sample for just one of many teams still in the hunt:

Baltimore Orioles (93-68, second in AL East by one game)

* Have already clinched no worse than a wild-card berth

* Can not clinch AL East today. Can be eliminated from AL East race with a loss to Rays or a Yankees win vs. Boston

* Can force AL East tiebreaker on Thursday in Baltimore with a win vs. Rays and a Yankees loss vs. Boston

* If lose to Rays today, will play at the loser of today’s Rangers-A’s game in wild-card playoff

* If beat Rays today and Yankees beat Red Sox, will play in wild-card game in Baltimore on Friday against loser of A’s vs. Rangers Game 162

* If beat Rays today, Yankees lose to Red Sox, and Orioles win AL East tiebreaker, Baltimore will be the No. 2 seed in the AL

The National League situation is much more straightforward: all the players are known, it’s just the seeding that could vary with today’s results. Like this, for example: If the Nats lose and the Reds win today, the Nats go to AT&T Park. Otherwise the Reds fly to San Francisco.

If you’re a baseball fan as much as you’re a Dodgers fan, this will be an exciting day.

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 02

Sword of Damocles hangs over Dodger Stadium

Reds – Cardinals Gameday

It’s Chris Carpenter for the Redbirds and Mat Latos for the Redlegs. Game time 5:15PM PDT.

If the Cards win the Dodgers are done. If the Cards lose and the Dodgers win, the Cards’ magic number remains at one. If both the Cards and the Dodgers lose, the Dodgers are done. Not that there’s any pressure on the Dodgers or anything.

The home team sends Chris Capuano (12-11, 3.69 ERA) out to face Barry Zito (14-8, 4.19 ERA). Capuano has been pretty steady all season long for the Dodgers, while Zito has mounted somewhat of a comeback from the disappointment he’s been since coming over to the Giants. In fact, this is year 6 of a 7- year, $126M deal he signed in 2007, and it’s the first year he’s had more wins than losses in any season.

Lineup:

Ellis, M, 2B
Victorino, S, LF
Kemp, M, CF
Gonzalez, A, 1B
Ramirez, H, SS
Cruz, L, 3B
Ethier, A, RF
Ellis, A, C
Capuano, C, P

Giants – Dodgers Gameday

Annoyingly, the game is only being televised by KCAL and not on Prime Ticket, so I’m out of luck. If I were the MLB.TV people I’d have made this game the free one today, since it’s the only one with any playoff implications, but no. The free one is the Mets – Marlins game for unfathomable reasons.

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.