Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Wins Are Great, the Timing of Them is Torturous

It’s going to be a real shame that we probably won’t see this Dodger team in post season play.  The way they are playing now leads me to believe that they could actually do some damage in the playoffs.  The guys are hitting, the defense is sharp and the pitching (both starting and relief) is putting out great performances day in and day out.  

Winners of six of seven and five consecutive, the Dodgers are within a win of matching their longest winning streak of the season, and right when it was vital to do so.  Today’s 7-1 win over Colorado completed their first sweep of the Rockies since 2007.   The Rockies are definitely putting out a bunch of scrubs with much of their starting lineup out with injury, but how many times in past seasons had the Dodgers lost to similar teams in the pennant stretch?  Teams out of contention often play out of their minds, taking risks and playing aggressive baseball.  The Dodgers simply stopped that from happening by putting crooked numbers up on the scoreboard this past week, taking a lot of pressure off of the pitching staff.
Luis Cruz is greeted by Don Mattingly after hitting a two run homer to lead the Dodgers in their 7-1 win over the Rockies.  (photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

As the Dodgers start the season closing three game series against the Giants that many of us a few weeks ago thought would be a series for the ages, I can’t help but look back and think of the “what ifs” that would have changes the Dodgers fortunes.

There are the injuries:  Chad Billingsley, Scott Elbert and Ted Lilly who are gone for the season.  There are the injuries that set the Dodgers back for much of the year to Matt Kemp, Kenley Jansen, Andre Ethier and Mark Ellis.  I saw a graphic put up on one of the Dodger telecasts this week that showed the number of games Dodger players lost on the disabled list this year.  The number was second most in the majors.  I’m not making an excuse, because everyone has injuries, but they certainly had their unfair share of bad luck this season.

There were the inexplicable slumps.  What happened to this team in late August and early September when the mashers of the lineup were unable to score runs?   So many great pitching performances were wasted by that anemic offense that couldn’t score more than a run or two each game.  

There were the games that got away and some of the managerial decisions made by Mattingly that showed his reluctance to mix things up when his set lineup was failing day in and day out.

Josh Beckett went 6 innings, yielding only one run in the Dodger victory today.  (photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

This Dodger team has now won as many as the 2009 NL West Champion team did.  Eighty-four wins isn’t fantastic, but it’s a winning season, and considering how bad this team was playing in June, a team finishing with 86 or 87 wins is really quite respectable.

Ownership went out and spent the money and made a true effort to buy the club a championship.  Barring a miracle in the next three days which would include a colossal failure by St. Louis, it’s not going to happen.  Perhaps this ownership group might have learned a lesson.  That lesson is that championships aren’t won on paper, but on the field.  That massive roster turnovers 3/4 of the way through the season might be a bad idea.  

Don’t get me wrong.  When the trades went down, I was all for them.  We, the fans, were thrilled.  After years of thriftiness from the McCourt regime, we were so accustomed to ownership making deals that shed salary or produced long term contracts that were paid off over a large span of years.  The current ownership taking on big money contracts was a welcome sight.  We are the Los Angeles Dodgers for heaven’s sake.  We’re the second largest market in the majors and we should be spending big bucks. Perhaps though, they’ll be a bit more prudent in their 2/3 and 3/4 season acquisitions in the future.

So with three games to go, the Dodgers play out the season hoping that St. Louis loses at least two of the next three while the Dodgers sweep the Giants.  Not an impossible scenario, but certainly an unlikely one.  I have a lot more faith the the Dodgers accomplishing their end of the bargain before I do of the Cardinals losing a couple.  So break out the rabbit’s feet, hang a horse shoe over your Dodger pennant laden door, cross your fingers and toes, and break out every good luck charm that you have at your disposal.  The Dodgers are really going to need every one of them to continue playing beyond October 3rd.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

"Beast Mode" Moves the Dodgers Within Two

The Dodgers winning ways continued for another night as they closed within two games of St. Louis for the final playoff spot.  They closed out the week at 5-1 and have picked the most ideal time of the year to get a respectable winning streak going.  My son put things in perspective though.

"You know what this means don't you?" he asked.  "We're getting set up to have our hearts broken by the Giants in a few days."

Matt Kemp admires his towering 4th inning homer. (Photo by J. Terrell/AP)

He might have a point but even facing that potential scenario beats being out of contention right now.  I'll take my chances against the hated ones in the final three games.

With the Cardinals still in control of their own destiny, help is still needed from afar from Washington and Cincinnati, but this Dodger team is coming together and Matt Kemp is heating up just in time.  If this team does reach the playoffs, I predict a monster series or two from our center fielder.

Kemp hit two solo blasts, the first traveling 461 feet deep into the Left Field Pavilion.  Hanley Ramirez is putting things together, banging out three knocks and stealing two bags.  Adrian Gonzalez added two hits as well and the pitching of Joe Blanton and the threesome in the bullpen (Belisario, Jansen and League) tossed a shutout.

Yes, the Dodgers are finally gelling.  Whether it's too late or not is tough to say, but it is great to see the team continue to scrap and battle in meaningful games up until the end.  These guys can't overlook the finale against Colorado tomorrow though.  Josh Beckett faces Jorge De La Rosa who has struggled this year.  We're happy tonight though, and that's a great feeling to have as a fan so late in the season.

They're Playing Great Now, Probably Too Late

The Dodger offense has emerged.  With 5 games left in this 162 game marathon they are putting runs up on the scoreboard at the rate all hoped for when the August trade with Boston went down.  Unfortunately, barring a miracle collapse by St. Louis, it looks like this surge is too late.

Sahne Victorino is congratulated by his manager Don Mattingly after homering in the second inning of last night's action )photo by Howard How/Getty Images)

For the third game in a row, the Dodgers scored 8 runs.  This time it was Shane Victorino that sparked a four run second inning rally with a 3-run shot into the Left Field Pavilion.  Victorino is playing his last five games as a Dodger now.  Look for him to attempt to latch on with a club that is willing to pay him for 3-4 years and is in search of a speedy leadoff man.  Shane wants a final contract in his career to make him comfortable for the rest of his life.

Clayton Kershaw showed the National League last night that he should be in the Cy Young Award race.  Leading the league in E.R.A., WHIP, and one strikeout behind in the strikeouts race, Kershaw, with some decent run support would be on the verge of a 20 win season.  His grit and determination have him pitching through hip pain and well at that.  Yes, the Rockies had a depleted lineup, but good pitchers take advantage of situation like that.   I contend that we might have seen Kershaw’s last start of the season.  By the time his turn comes around again, the Cardinals probably will have clinched the last playoff spot.

Clayton Kersahw hustles down the line showing no ill effects of his sore hip. (photo by Howard How/Getty Images)

You would think that the final 5 games that the Cardinals have against post season 
qualifiers (Washington and Cincinnati) would be competitive.  Those teams have home field advantage in play.  Unfortunately, MLB botched the playoff schedule and has the lower seed playing the first two playoff games at home.  Many believe that actually to be a disadvantage in a 3 out of 5 series.  As a result, the Nats and Reds, both in a flat-footed tie for the N.L. best record, really don’t have an urgency to gain the top spot.  Evidence of that thinking was seen yesterday when the Nationals pulled their regulars early in yesterdays blow out loss to the Cards.

So due to those factors, as great as the Dodgers have been playing, (winning four of their last five), it looks like they’ll be spectators come October 3rd.  Too bad, because the ball club is coming around.  Too little, too late.  They only have themselves to blame for being in this nearly impossible situation.  Joe Blanton goes to the mound tonight.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dodgers Head Home With Heads Held High

The Dodgers continued their winning ways in San Diego tonight, and runs were scored a-plenty as Chris Capuano was on the winning end of a decision for the first time in what seems like a long time.  The Dodger won their 81st game of the year, ensuring them of at worst, a .500 season.
Chris Capuano's 5 2/3 innings of work were good enough for the win. (photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

The offense got in gear again with an 8 run onslaught and 14 hit attack led by multi-hit efforts by Kemp, Gonzaelz, Cruz, Punto and A.J. Ellis.  But oddly, it wasn't the Dodgers ability to hit that broke the game open, it was consecutive batters that showed their ability to get hit that sparked the Dodgers 4-run 5th inning that put the game out of reach.    With two outs and two on, Padre starter  Casey Kelly hit Hanley Ramirez on the arm to load the bases.  He then plunked Shane Victorino on the back foot to force in the first run of the inning.  After that, the flood gates opened.  Luis Cruz lined a single up the middle to punch in two runs and A.J. Ellis grounded a roller up the middle to drive in the fourth run of the inning. 

Luis Cruz's 5th inning liner up the middle broke the game open as he drove in two runs with one swing.  (photo by Lenny Igneizi/AP)

Luis Cruz went 6 for 13 in this three game set in San Diego.  He continues his storybook run with his average now up to a season high .308.

Chris Capuano went an effective 5 2/3 innings for his 12th victory on the year, and the bullpen held the lead as the Dodgers gained a 1/2 game on idle St. Louis to move within three with six to play.  It was a 5-4 road trip, but the Dodgers won three of the last four which is quite the turnaround when considering that the offense a few days ago looked dead in the water as they watch Cincinnati celebrate their division title on Saturday night.
On Sunday, September 23rd, I said the Dodgers had put themselves in such a difficult position that they would need to run the table to win the final wild card spot.  I still contend that statement to be true.  Since then, the Dodgers are 3-1, but they are stuck at three games back with 6 to play.

So let’s say that the Dodgers continue their winning ways and win their final 6 games at Dodger Stadium.  That would mean they would win nine of their final ten contests on the season.  Something that many of us would say would be enough to get them into the post season.  Unfortunately, they had dug themselves in such a hole that playing .900 ball in the final week and a half of the season will not be enough.  The Cardinals have a challenge to face with two playoff teams to face at home, but the urgency that the Nationals and Reds will be playing with is not nearly what it was earlier when they were battling for a playoff spot.

Standings following today’s action for the final Wild Card spot:

St. Louis     84-72
Los Angeles 81-75 3.0
Milwaukee 80-76 4.0

Remaining games:
Cardinals : (home) Washington (3), Cincinnati (3)
Dodgers : (home) Colorado (3), San Francisco (3)
Brewers : (home) Houston (3), San Diego (3)

All you can do is win out and hope for the best.  

I can’t help thinking about this July 14th game though.  A picture paints a thousand words.  The Dodgers were up two games on the division at the time.  Sure would like this one back now.
This one hurt.  Kenley Jansen turned his back on home plate and didn't call time out.  Everth Cabrera stole home and Will Venable followed behind.  It was the "W" that got away. (photo capture: Fox Sports L.A./Prime Ticket)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

For September,Meat of Order is 7, 8 and Pinch Hitter

The body language tells it all.  Yes, they know it's over (photo by Dennis Poroy/Getty Images)

When the Dodgers entered the 9th inning with Luis Cruz leading things off, I had a pretty good feeling that a rally would ensue.  When that rally extended to the number 2 and 3 hitters, I also felt that it might fizzle and be over.  That's exactly what happened as Luis Cruz, and A.J. Ellis led off the ninth with hits and when the top tier hitters came up, failure was the result.  

There was a time when we all lived for Ethier and Kemp to come up with the game on the line.  Ethier was "Captain Walk-Off" and Kemp thrived in the late inning at bats.  But neither is hitting up to par in clutch situations and it certainly didn't help that home plate umpire Marty Foster was extending the strike zone horizontally several inches beyond the plate on each side.

There was also a time when Matt Kemp would drive that pitch that he flied out on over the right field wall, but Kemp, whose average dipped below .300 for the first time this season, is not right physically.  There are images of him whincing in pain and that shoulder is effecting his power game.  I'll say this much about Matt.  He makes no excuses.  He isn't telling the world that the injury is the cause of his subpar play.  He goes in day in and day out.  He's that threat in the middle of the lineup and frankly, a 60% Kemp is better than the options that there are on the bench.  Unfortunately for the Dodgers, a 50-60% Matt Kemp isn't enough to lead this team to post-season play.

Being 4 1/2 games out with 7 to play, the season is essentially over.   Last night's contest was very winnable.  Dee Gordon was standing on second base as the tying run with none out.   There's no excuse to leave him stranded.  Mattingly wasted an out by having Nick Punto bunt when as a left handed hitter chances are he would drive the ball to the right side and at the least advance the runner to third.  But that is Donnie's M.O., an American League player that manages like a National League "little ball" manager.

It was another night of frustrating Dodger baseball.  Stellar pitching, untimely hitting.  But this time, it's over.  The season is really over.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

One Down, Nine to Go

The Dodgers broke even in Washington and Cincinnati.  An acceptable road trip by most standards, but not when you're running out of season and 3 games back from a playoff spot.
Adrian Gonzalez is congratulated by teammate Hanley Ramirez following his solo homer in the second inning of tonight's action. (photo by Jamie Sebau/Getty Images)

Adrian Gonzalez did what so many of us hoped he would do when he was acquired, carry the team offensively.  Hitting his first round tripper since his initial at bat as a Dodger in the second inning, Gonzalez repeated the feat in the top of the seventh inning to put the blue crew ahead for good.  

It was a 4 run seventh inning as the Dodgers had a string of two out hits to plate an additional three runs.  Clutch hitting by Luis Cruz, Mark Ellis and Andre Ethier was just what the doctor ordered and it was a good thing as the Reds came back with two in the bottom of the eighth off of Ronald Belisario, thanks to a throwing error by Dee Gordon.

Brandon League slammed the door in the ninth and the Dodgers left town on a high note.

They take on the Padres at Petco Park for their final two road games of the year before closing out the season with six against the Rockies and Giants.  I said that they need to be within 2 games of the lead when they return home and I still hold to that belief.  The Dodgers are going to need some help from the likes of the Houston Astros, who take on the Cardinals at MinuteMaid Park the next three days.  The Milwaukee Brewers can't be forgotten from the mix either.  the standings for the final position are as follows:

St. Louis        82     71     --
Milwaukee    79     73    2.5
Los Angeles  79     74    3.0

Games remaining: 
St. Louis  (away): Houston (3)
                (home): Washington (3), Cincinnati (3)

Milwaukee (away): Washington (1), Cincinnati (3)
                   (home): Houston (3), San Diego (3)

Los Angeles (away): San Diego (2)
                     (home): Colorado (3), San Francisco (3)

I really want the final three games against the Giants to mean something.  Run the table boys.  A ten  game string is NOT impossible.  One down, nine to go.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Ho Hum...Same Old Story

It's run the table with 10 wins or the season is over.  Considering that the Dodgers don't have a winning streak of over 6 games this season (and that was in May), it'll take a miracle.

The offense can't hit and even the national pundits from Fox are perplexed as to why.  Mat Latos pitched a great game today, so give him his props.  Maybe it was just running into a top caliber pitcher today.  It just seems that this ball club is always turning mediocre pitchers into good ones and good ones into fantastic ones.  Today was the latter I think.
Stephen Fife, a hard luck loser again (photo by AL Behrman/AP)

While chatting with others during the game on an on-line thread, one of the comments I found to be profound.  We were all griping at the non-existent Dodger offense and a commenter stated that he was still enjoying the season and the fact that the Dodgers were still on the tube and in contention, even if their chances were slim.  He added that this beats the off-season where we sit back and count the days until spring training.  Words couldn't ring truer.  As bad as this September has been, we still entered the day 2 games out and with an interest in September baseball.  Wait until November/December when we're searching for off season moves announced on the news.

So as we continue on with the season, word is that the Dodgers will make a pre-game decision about starting Clayton Kershaw.  Not a good move in my opinion.  My concern is that he'll injure his arm in an effort to overcompensate for issues with the hip.  All it takes is an bad adjustment in his mechanics and the next thing we have is a major arm injury.  Clayton should be shut down the remainder of the season.  It's not like his contributions will put them over the hump and into the playoffs.  They're 3 games out for the final wild card spot with 10 to play.

The Giants Melky Cabrera
So the Giants clinched tonight.  I'd offer them congratulations, but they played 2/3 of the season helped by the MVP caliber season of a PED user in left field.  Some may call what I feel "sour grapes."  I don't see it that way.  I want to see the game played clean, and in my opinion, their division title is tainted, just like their late 90s and early 2000's titles.  And just as Eric Gagne's consecutive saves streak is.

With the Dodgers not participating in post season play, I can at least take the anti-Giant rooting stance, which I will to an extensive level.  I know it's pathetic, but what else do we have?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Nice Win Today, Hopes Continue to Hang By a Thread

It was nice to watch the Dodgers win today.   It was a refreshing change to say the least. They gained a game on St. Louis and pulled within 2 games of the Wild Card spot with 11 to play, but the frustration continues with the offense that can’t seem to hit a lick with runners in scoring position.  

Ronald Belisario had his best outing of the year as he picked up a well deserved "win." (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Positives in today’s Dodger win:

  • The heart of the Dodger lineup made up of Ethier, Kemp, Gonzalez and Ramirez went 6 for 19 tonight.  A substantial improvement over recent performances.  

  • Matt Kemp is waking up.  He had three hits and the game winner.

  • Andre Ethier belted a long drive that was kept in the park by a stiff wind that was blowing towards the infield.  Adrian Gonzalez flied out deep to the warning track twice on balls that usually are out of this park. 

  • In a game where 30,000 plus Reds faithful were anxious to celebrate a division championship, the blue crew crashed the party for an additional day with some stellar pitching by virtually everyone that took the mound.

  • Ronald Belisario went two innings and struck out the heart of the Reds lineup that included Votto, Rolen and Bruce.  He had a nasty sinker working for him that made him un-hittable.
  • Brandon League is turning out to be a "lights out" closer.  It would be real nice to lock him up next year and beyond.
 Kemp connects on an 0-2 pitch and slaps a 2-RBI single to right field. (John Grieshop/Getty Images)

It’s a longshot, but Dodgers faint playoff hopes are still out there.  It is my position that if they can return home within 1 game of the final playoff spot, they’ll be in a prime position to take it.    What will it take to do that?  Probably a sweep of the Reds and a 2 game sweep in San Diego.  In other words, the Dodgers need to run the table with victories the rest of the way.  There is no cushion any longer with 11 games remaining.

Stephen Fife (0-1) takes the mound tomorrow against Mat Latos (12-4).  Cross your fingers that the offense wakes up and Fife gives us some quality innings again.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Inspiration from John Lannon

So I was stuck at work today, which forced me to take an occasional peek at MLB Gameday to watch portions of the Dodger train wreck that we all saw.  For some reason, John Lennon’s song “Imagine” is stuck in my head.  Then I realize that it was probably because the Dodgers faced John Lannon in their twilight win yesterday.  Now as they bow to the Nationals in the series finale and their season fades away, I present to you this ode to the Dodgers season...to the tune of Lennon’s "Imagine," inspired by Nationals pitcher John Lannon  Ross Detwiler.

Dodger Blues "Imagine"

Imagine there’s no playoffs,
It’s easy if you try, 
Nothing to play the games for,
They’ve kissed the season goodbye,

Imagine all that offense,
Grounding out meekly to first,

Imagine there’s no Giants,
It isn’t hard to do,
Orange and black not among us,
There’d be no Melkmen too,

Imagine a team that scored runs,
Not flailing away at 0-2 pitches,

You may say we’re all dreamers,
But we’re not the only ones,
We know there’s alway Juan Uribe,
Who’s got the tools to get things done

Imagine a Matt Kemp homer,
I know it's hard to do,
They used to happen quite often,
Since AGon came he hasn't a clue,

Imagine Hanley Ramirez,
Diving for a grounder,
(it ain't gonna happen---replaces the oo's)

You may say that we're all masochists,
Putting up with all the pain.
This team in blue is our passion,
And they're driving us insane

You may say that we’re all dreamers,
Remembering 1988,
We hope someday to return there,
but deep down we know that’s not our fate.

My Thoughts on the Announcement from Mr. Dodger Thoughts...A Blow to the Dodger Blogging World

On my best day of literary eloquence I’m not half the writer that Jon Weisman is.  In the world of sports writing, Weisman paints the Sistine Chapel while I put together stick figure drawings.  He’s that good and I think there is something wrong with the world when he can’t earn a living writing about the Dodgers, but I learned a long time ago that things don’t always line up as they should.  Jon writes about movies and TV shows, or he writes screenplays, and that pays the bills.  Our loss is the entertainment industry’s gain.  

He inspired us all and many a blogger hasn’t been able to come close to touching his brilliance.  It’s got to bother him that a blogger like me can't come close to his standards, but he’s much too much of a gentleman to be overly critical of our substandard efforts.  He showed us that we, as fans, have a voice. That we have a place in the world that is to be respected and heard.  We don't have to be towing the neutral line as fans in order to paint an impartial and unbiased picture of things.  As bloggers, we do that, and he led the way.  Mr. Weisman planted the seeds of passion and impartiality in so many of us that now hold prominent places in so many fans daily reading habits.

Do you really think that the Dodgers would be taking bloggers seriously had Jon Weisman not paved the way?   We have a space in the press box for heaven’s sake.  We have a full time blogger (Eric Stephen) that is a permanent fixture in Dodger pressers now, and a highly respected one at that.

You see, Jon is a fan.  He showed us that there is a place for fans in the baseball writing world.  He was able to accurately and concisely explain the attributes of sabermetrics.  I must say that my old school ways of following the game with a look at traditional stats changed when I started reading Dodger Thoughts.  Yes, I know Bill James is the guru, but it was Jon Weisman and to some extent, the contributors on his blog that sold me on the sabermetric way to follow the game.

Dodger Thoughts has evolved and moved from numerous sites and formats but one thing was always certain, when Mr. Weisman wrote, it was a respected voice and had to be heard.  When Jon mentioned my blog on his site the first time, I was flattered beyond comprehension.  “Evan Bladh Sr. hit one out of the park with his post on Charlie Hough....” he said in January, 2011.  I was prouder of that comment than any recommendation I had ever received.  When Jon added my site to his blog role I knew I had made it.  When he posted a comment on my site, I was thrilled.  It didn’t matter that he was calling me out on something that he disagreed with,  I didn’t care, it was Mr. Dodger Thoughts himself on my blog.  That was thrilling in itself.  It was as if Jim Murray himself was commenting.  I hold Mr. Weisman in that high of esteem.

(By the way Jon, I was right, It was April and I said there was no way Kemp would steal 40 bases again this year and you disagreed.  I never said that injuries couldn’t play a factor in my prediction either, so I was right).

When he published his book, 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, I ordered it on day one.  When he moved from the Toaster to the L.A. Times, then to ESPN LA and to his present day spot, I followed him immediately with each move.  When he apologized and said that he felt he had neglected his site due to his real job and family duties, I didn’t care.  I was just happy that he still was around and he posted when he could.

Today though, I must admit, the announcement of his Dodger Thoughts hiatus was a bit of a punch to the gut.  This is THE DODGER BLOGGER, and his voice will not be heard too frequently.  This was the voice of reason that got us through the off-season doldrums.  This was the voice that always seemed to provide true logic to arguments.  The only solace I find in his announcement is that he isn't going away forever, and I have a feeling that when he posts, they will be real quality posts.  We can look at it this way.  Vin Scully only calls home, California and Arizona games and we are eternally grateful for them.  We know that when Vin calls a game, the genius and eloquence will be there.  We go back to our early childhood. We know it's summer.  We remember that transistor radio under the pillow at night, or that dreary looking image from Candlestick Park that he narrated during a tense pennant race.

I'm pretty sure that when the infrequent post from Jon appears, it'll be real good stuff.  The memories will flow back.  He'll remind us again why it's great to be a Dodger fan.  He'll get our minds thinking, our juices flowing.  We'll remember the good old days of the toaster when he was the only blog in town, or how his reporting was much more accurate than that of the mainstream papers beat writers.  We'll be reminded that he is the Dodger blogger.  the man that started it all, and he'll remind us that he's a humble fan, just like you and me.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Detailed Look at the Final 14

That’s final 14 games and not teams, though it may seem that there are 14 teams vying for the final wild card position.  The Standings for the final Wild Card spot are as follows:

St. Louis 77 70
Los Angeles 76 71 1.0
Milwaukee 74 72 2.5
Pittsburgh 74 72 2.5
Philadelphia 74 74 3.5

The favorite:

St. Louis
Remaining home games:  Houston (3), Washington (3), Atlanta (3)
Remaining away games: Chicago (3), Houston (3)

Chris Carpenter to return to the Cardinals rotation for the stretch run.

They are a team that is 14 games over .500 at home, second best in the National League.  They face Houston and Chicago nine more times and they are getting Chris Carpenter back.  Had the Cardinals lost Sunday’s game, I’d say they were in trouble, but the red Birds serve in Los Angeles and finished an awful road trip on a positive note.

As far as their remaining opponents, it should be noted that Houston and Chicago are playing good ball.  Houston at a .600 clip and Chicago having won 7 of 10.  It’s the nature of the beast, playing teams like the Astros and Cubs that have nothing to lose during the pennant stretch drive.  The additional games remaining for the Cardinals are against pennant contenders Washington and Atlanta.  By the time they play each, (Sept. 28-30 for Washington and Oct. 1-3 for Atlanta)  it is likely that they’ll have clinched playoff spots, so those contests most likely won’ be hotly contested by those teams that will be giving considerable portions of their lineup some pre-post season matchup rest.

The Runner Ups:
Los Angeles

Remaining away games: Washington (3), Cincinnati (3), San Diego (2)
Remaining home games: Colorado (3), San Francisco (3)

The Dodgers are in trouble.  It starts with pitching.  Clayton Kershaw is out, most likely requiring season ending hip surgery.  Their starting staff lacks an ace and is down to Beckett, Harang, Capuano, and Fife,  none of whom raises eyebrows.  The relief corps has lost Elbert and Jansen (who is scheduled to return, but will certainly need to work himself back into the mix without the advantage of a minor league rehab assignment).

Adrian Gonzalez needs to make an offensive impact for the Dodgers to advance.

Then there is the absent offense.  Matt Kemp isn’t right since crashing into the Colorado wall.  Off speed stuff has him off balance, he’s lunging at stuff out of the zone, popping up pitches he used to hit out, grounding other pitches to third that he was lacing line drives on earlier in the season.  Gonzalez, Ramirez, Victorino and to some extent, Ethier, are not performing up to par.  What many thought would be a feared row of hitters has been unable to score runs at all.  The offense has been dependent on the likes of Luis Cruz, Mark and A.J. Ellis.

As far as the remaining schedule.  Unlike St. Louis, for the Dodgers the games remaining with pennant contenders happen to occur as they attempt to wrap up and clinch post season spots.  Washington and Cincinnati are playing hard in an attempt to clinch, and that’s right now.  San Diego has been playing out of their minds in September.  The one thing the Dodgers have going for them is if they somehow survive this 8 game road trip and return home within a game of St. Louis, they should be in good shape because the final 6 at home most likely will be meaningless contests for their opponents.  I can counter that argument though with the fact that the final three against San Francisco could mean something to the Giants who would have the pleasure of eliminating their arch rivals from play off contention.


Remaining away games: Pittsburgh (3), Washington (3), Cincinnati (3)
Remaining home games: Houston (3), San Diego (3)

Playing .700 ball over their last ten games, the Brewers are still in it and with a good run, may be the sleeper team of those remaining in the race.  Sellers at the trade deadline, the Brew Crew has held their own and picked up four games on the Cardinals in a weeks time.  Continuing at that pace will put them ahead by season’s end.

Corey Hart provides the Brewers some offensive punch.

With offensive thumpers Ryan Braun (40 homers, .387 OBP) Corey Hart (27 homers), Aramis Ramirez (24 homers), they’re always a threat to score a ton of runs, something that they’ll need because beyond Yovani Gallardo (15-8, 3.72 ERA) the starting pitching is highly suspect. Randy Wolf and Zack Greinke are gone and Marcum, Estrada and Fiers don’t really strike fear in opposition.

They have a tough road ahead with the Pirates, Nationals and Reds to play on the road.  All most likely will be games with a lot of meaning as the Nats and Reds try to wrap up their division titles and jockey for home field advantage.  The home games against inferior competition shouldn’t be over looked as both the Astros and Padres are playing good ball now.


Remaining home games: Milwaukee (3), Cincinnati (3), Atlanta (3)
Remaining away games: Houston (3), New York (4)

Going 2-8 over their last ten contests, the Pirates have been in free fall for a while.  Their next three games will tell us a lot.  If the Pirates are able to sweep the Brewers at home, they’ll be right back in this thing as they’ll head to Houston where they can make up some ground on the pack.  By the time the Pirates play playoff teams like the Reds and Braves, those teams will have clinched, so it is crucial that the Bucs rebound and get back in this thing right now.
Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutcheon continues to be a NL MVP candidate.

The heat of the race has been tough on this team, that has very few players with pennant race experience.  Pittsburgh may have learned something this year that will serve valuably for them in years to come.  They have unraveled against the likes of the Cubs, Padres, Brewers and Astros.  Pittsburgh has lost 18 out of 24 games this month.


Remaining away games: New York (2), Miami (3), Washington (3)
Remaining home games: Atlanta (3), Washington (3)

The Phillies, a team that became sellers at the trade deadline and beyond had essentially thrown in the towel this year only to rebound and become the hottest team in the September pennant race run.  With a starting pitching threesome of Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Cole Hamels, this club has the potential to slip past everyone, but they’ll need to continue their hot streak against other playoff teams like the Nationals and Braves.  They also have the most ground to make up.

Still a catalyst, Jimmy Rollins wasn't traded at the deadline and he continues to lead the Phils during this stretch run.

Jimmy Rollins is heating up.  You can’t overlook the studs like Utley and Howard.  Losing Victorino and Pence didn’t help matters, but Carlos Ruiz is having a career year (.331 AVG, .399 OBP, .944 OPS, 14 homers, 60 RBI) and Juan Pierre (.312 AVG, .355 OBP) are contributing.

The Outlook:

This thing is wide open.  If I had to pick a winner, it would be the Cardinals, not because they are in the lead, but because of their home record and the return of Chris Carpenter.  The Dodgers will need to pull off a miracle in the final 14.  It’s possible for them, but not probable.  We haven’t seen the Dodger offense appear with the new additions and now with the loss of Kershaw, and injury to Kemp they are severely handicapped.  I think it’s too little, too late for the Phillies, Brewers and Pirates, but teams have recovered from larger deficits that those three clubs, so I may be wrong.

All of this clamoring for a final wild card spot, just to play in a one game playoff.  It makes the final two weeks extremely exciting.   I have a feeling that when all is said and done, it may be anti-climatic, because after one game with the Braves, it may be all over.  The second wild card winner may be completely spent by the time that they face the well rested Braves on October 5th.  In the end though, this is all we can really ask for, a chance to get it and meaningful games up to the end.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Miracle Finish Keeps Dodger Hopes Alive

Dodgers teammates mob Juan Rivera in celebration following his two-out single that scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning.  The Dodgers are tied with St. Louis in the standings for the second wild card spot.   (photo by Jae C. Hong/AP)

The Dodgers replayed a script from May of this year and miraculously pulled off a finish for the ages to tie the Cardinals in the Wild Card standings.  Tonight’s win assured the Dodgers the season series over St. Louis, which gives them home field advantage if they end the season tied with the Cardinals 16 games from now.  It’s a scenario nobody wants, since it would mean they’d play a one game playoff to get in the one game playoff, but it’s an advantage nonetheless.

With the Dodgers down 3-2 and on the cusp of another crushing 1-run defeat, Andre Ethier looked like a dead duck.  Cardinal closer Jason Motte had him on the ropes.  Hurling 97 MPH fastballs, he had Ethier 0-2 with two outs and nobody on.  Andre choked up and lined a single into right field.  It was a clutch hit that ruined a lot of writers nights as they were just wrapping up their end of game pieces to be submitted for publication.  I’m sure the stories were all similar with the theme remaining the same...the Dodger offense had failed again.  The ball club was predicitable again as 20 Dodger hitters in a row  had been retired before Ethier’s single. 

So Mattingly inserted Dee Gordon to pinch run and he swiped a bag off of Yadier Molina, not an easy feat after being gunned out by the Cardinal catcher twice previously in this series.  Gordon slid feet first under Descalso’s tag by the skin of his teeth and heroics were being set up.  

Luis Cruz worked the count to 3-2 and fouled off a few pitches before seeing that fastball on the outside corner that he has so often laced into right center field this year.  This time, Cruz was dialed in and launched a shot to the warning track that Cardinal centerfielder Jon Jay appeared to have a good jump on.  As Jay dove and just came up short, Gordon scampered home and a 5.5 Richter scale reading was felt in Dodger Stadium from the delirious fans jumping for joy. 

(photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Cruz broke out the imaginary pistols in celebration and Motte pounded his glove in frustration for having blown the save.  Juan Rivera stepped in the box as a pinch hitter.  Shortly thereafter Rivera lined a shot up the middle that seemed to certainly be an uncontested single over second base, but Cardinal second baseman Daniel Descalso who had made two errors earlier in the contest at shortstop had been moved over to second, and he leaped a good ten feet in the air to somehow knock down the liner, but he couldn’t catch it.  Pinch runner Elian Herrera who was running on contact hustled home from second and beat Descalso’s throw to the plate.  Pandemonium ensued.  It was celebration time in Chavez Ravine.

On the eve of  Mexican Independence Day, Luis Cruz,  a favorite son of Sonora, Mexico was the hero of the night.  Something that hasn’t been too uncommon lately.  It was an amazing ninth inning of heroic proportions.

What should not be overlooked was the performance of Matt Kemp.  He’s obviously hurt and playing probably on fumes.  In the top of the last frame, he crashed into the centerfield wall chasing a long fly ball hit by Yadier Molina.  In obvious pain after the collision with the fence, Kemp chased down the ball and gunned a throw to third base to nip Molina, who created the “Cardinal” sin of making the first out of the inning at third base, (pun intended).  Matt was spent and appeared dazed after the play, luckily, nothing else was hit his way the rest of the inning.  
Shane Victorino and Hanley Ramirez celebrate the victory, (photo by Jae C. Hong/AP)

Kemp’s appreciative teammates greeted him with a hero’s welcome at the dugout steps when he came in after the third out.  It is obvious that Matt is this team’s leader and his effort is inspiring to the guys.  It’s got to be killing him that his shoulder and knee and whatever else is ailing him is not allowing him to perform up to his full capabilities.   At the plate he is missing pitches low and away and those that he normally drives out of the park to right center field he is fouling back.

I hate to say it, but it may be in Matt’s and the team’s best interest for him to sit down and heal.  It was a night when story broke that Clayton Kershaw may be out for the season also, so the dreary news of the early evening was lifted, at least for a few moments.  The Dodgers are tied for the final post season spot and are riding a two game winning streak.  Let's enjoy it for a few hours at least.

Jackie, Duke and Oisk against the '72 Dodgers

Here's a brief respite from the race for the final wild card spot.

In the early days of this blog, the Sports Challenge Trivia Show was discussed in a post.    This morning I happened to come across on “youtube” a classic show that must have aired in 1972.  It was a trivia match between the Los Angeles Dodgers made up up of Wes Parker, Frank Robinson (a Dodger for only the ’72 season) and Maury Wills.  They went against the defending champion Brooklyn Dodgers team with Carl Erskine, Duke Snider and Jackie Robinson.   As always, Dick Enberg was the host.  Below is the twenty minute clip.   It is really worth watching.

A few things that make this video clip special.
  • This was filmed in the last year of Jackie Robinson’s life.  I’m not sure of the date, but perhaps it was when Jackie visited L.A. to be a part of Old Timer’s Day when he, Roy Campanella and Sandy Koufax had their Dodger jerseys retired.  I am venturing a guess that it was taped then. 
Sandy Koufax and Jackie Robinson, Old Timer's Day, on June 4,1972 at Dodger Stadium.  Four months later, Jackie died from complications of diabetes.
  • The Brooklyn guys knew their trivia.  Duke and Carl knew their stuff and Jackie answered an obscure question naming the second all time winning jockey at the Kentucky Derby.  Who would know that?
  • Frank Robinson had just been traded to the Dodgers that year after appearing in the 1971 World Series for the Orioles.  There is an interesting clip from that World Series against the Pirates where they show Frank’s hustle being responsible for the winning run that scored in game six of that Series.  I had forgotten all about that.   Notice that former Dodger pinch hitting specialist, Vic Davilillo as a Pirate, nearly threw him out from center field on the game winning sacrifice fly that ended the game.
  • Towards the end there is an interesting clip from the 1971 Dodger season.  It shows Bill Buckner facing the Giants Juan Marichal at Candlestick Park on September 13,1971.  Jerry Doggett narrates the action as Buckner gets beaned in 5th inning action.  What results is the start of a bench clearing brawl that amounted to nothing.
I Iooked up this game on baseball-reference.com LINKED HERE I found that Dodger pitcher Bill Singer had already hit Willie Mays and later Dave Kingman with pitches before Buckner was plunked by Marichal.  Who else can you identify in the brawl?  It’s easy to find Hall of Famers liker Mays, Marichal, Alston and Sutton, but I noticed on the Dodgers side Wes Parker, Jim Gilliam, Steve Garvey, Tom Haller, Maury Wills, and Willie Davis (carrying the bat, he was on deck), and Joe Ferguson.  You can see Mays tackling his own player, Jerry Johnson and keeping him from attacking the home plate umpire Shag Crawford.  You can also see Giant Manager Charlie Fox giving lip to Buckner,  (Fox was a crusty old 'cuss).  
Marichal beans Buckner, September 13, 1971.
It’s an short clip from an era in which we’d only get games from Candlestick Park televised back to us.   I honestly remember watching this game as a ten year old kid on a black and white 12 inch TV that my dad got me for Christmas because there was only one TV in the house before that and I was always fighting with my siblings to watch sports on TV.
  • Frank Robinson, a high school teammate of Bill Russell was able to guess him as the “mystery guest” because the hint spoke of Russell’s high school basketball career and they were teammates at Oakland’s McClymonds High School.
  • Check out the threads Russell was wearing in 1972.  Now those were some "hip" clothes.
Sports Challenge was a great trivia show.  I understand it has had episodes run on ESPN Classic in the past, but I haven't seen them on there for a while.  This episode may have been the best ever for Dodger fans.  It truly is a piece of Sports History that was filmed at a special time.  Not many knew how sick Jackie Robinson was at the time and that he only had a few months left on this earth.

Friday, September 14, 2012

It's Time to Get Mad

I had to work last night.  I was able to sneak peaks on MLB Game day periodically.  I guess it was a blessing in disguise to miss this one, though I did watch the pitch by pitch results of the bottom of the ninth.

It was the same old story.  No offense.  No clutch hitting. It's ground hog day. It's a broken record that skips over and over.

The season is probably over.  It shouldn't be.  There are 18 games to play and still three with St. Louis, but the body language is telling us, this team has given up.  What they need is someone to get mad.  A manager with fire and spirit.  Someone that will toss the clubhouse spread on the floor.  A guy that is out and out feared.

Someone like Leo Durocher.

Someone like Kirk Gibson.

Someone like Tommy Lasorda.

Instead we have a nice guy who assembles the reporters together and says over and over again every stupid cliche that there is in the book.  He's a "players" manager, which I guess means he gets along with them.  He's their friend.  He understands what they go through.  What he doesn't do is ever get in their face and call them out.

Donnie isn't in the batters box with a bat, but he's filling out the lineup card with the same names everyday.  He's not mixing things up other than an occasional tweak here and there.  Let's see him do something drastic.  Let's see him turn the lineup upside down.  Let's see him do some yelling.  Smack a water cooler.  Throw the clubhouse meal to the ceiling.  Close the doors to the clubhouse and yell so loud that the beat reporters won't need to ask him what it's all about.

When he has his postgame conference, he needs to go Hal McRae on them.  

Okay, I just watched the McRae thing again...maybe not to that extreme.  But he needs to get mad.
He needs to snap Lee Elia style.  He needs to give his opinion of his entire team's performance a la Tommy Lasorda.  
Anger is a requirement now.  This passivity stuff is doing nothing.