Dodgers Report: Dodgers Offday

Zack Greinke will be mindful of Cards

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
7:18
PM PT
ST. LOUIS -- The Los Angeles Dodgers don't just have two of the most skillful pitchers in baseball and two of the most athletically gifted pitchers in baseball, they also have two of the most studious pitchers in baseball.

[+] EnlargeZack Greinke
Harry How/Getty ImagesZack Greinke's analytical approach to pitching will be put to the test by the Cardinals, who have arguably the most disciplined lineup in baseball.
Combine those three factors -- skill, athletic ability and adaptive thinking -- and you can see why the Dodgers mowed down all those teams that had to face Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in the same series over the regular season. It also is the Dodgers' best hope for the National League Championship Series against the best-hitting team in the league, the St. Louis Cardinals.

Greinke, who pitches Game 1 on Friday night, had already dissected the Cardinals' lineup Thursday and had a pretty good idea how hard it was going to be. Unlike the strikeout-prone Atlanta Braves, whom Kershaw and Greinke generally dominated, the Cardinals find ways to make pitchers work and, sometimes, to get in a pitcher's head.

It might be this back-and-forth between the Cardinals' lineup and the Dodgers' two best pitchers that decides which team goes to the World Series. In a painfully ironic twist for the Dodgers, it is their hitting coach, Mark McGwire, who helped instill a patient, balanced approach in St. Louis' lineup. McGwire spent three seasons as the Cardinals' hitting coach before the allure of working closer to his Orange County home brought him west.

"They don't really give up any at-bats, so it's always a grind," Greinke said. "Even when they bring the young guys up, it's like they make adjustments faster than other teams. I talked to Skip [Schumaker] and McGwire about, 'How do they make adjustments so fast?'"

Greinke said he remembers thinking once how easy it was to get Jon Jay to make outs quickly in the count.

"Then, the next year, you couldn't really do it anymore," Greinke said. "It seems that their team does that better than any other team."

(Read full post)

Key questions: Dodgers-Cardinals

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
5:09
PM PT
Now this is a championship series. It features the two teams with the most pennants in the history of the National League, two division winners in 2013, two teams that at certain points this year were each the best team in the game. These are two teams with stars galore, young and old.

These two teams also have a playoff history: 2009, 2004 and 1985, the latter of which gave us the Jack Clark home run and the Ozzie Smith home run from the left side.

Dodgers and Cardinals. Go crazy folks, go crazy.

Here are five questions to consider before this series starts Friday:

READ THE FULL STORY »

Dodgers kept a close eye on the Cardinals

October, 9, 2013
10/09/13
8:07
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers are sparing no expense this postseason. In addition to a player payroll that set a National League record, they've beefed up their scouting efforts down to the most-minute detail.

They've had two scouts on every contending team in the National League since mid-September. Against the Atlanta Braves in the National League Division Series, those scouts -- Willie Fraser and John Sanders -- had daily meetings with the Dodgers coaches and, occasionally, with Dodgers players.

They continued to scout the Braves throughout the series, helping the Dodgers make game-by-game adjustments.

Typically, advance scouts file their reports and meet with coaches once before every series. The new approach will continue in the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals and, should that series go well, the World Series.

"As adaptations were needed, whether it was a hitter's positioning at the plate or a pitcher starting to lower his arm slot once in a while, it was duly noted," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said.

In many respects, the Pittsburgh Pirates would have been a better matchup for the Dodgers. Like the Braves, they hit home runs but also strike out frequently. The Cardinals have a deeper, more balanced lineup. They lead the league in runs and on-base percentage and had five players finish in the top 17 in the NL in OPS.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said that, when the Dodgers were in St. Louis in early August, they identified the Cardinals as the team to beat in the NL Central.

"They've got a good mix of everything," Mattingly said. "They've got a lot of good young players; they've got power arms in their bullpen; they've got power arms starting; they've got some veterans who hit the ball out of the ballpark."

(Read full post)

Kasten: World Series or bust

October, 9, 2013
10/09/13
6:00
PM PT
Los Angeles Dodgers part owner/president Stan Kasten joined the "Max & Marcellus Show" and said every year is World Series or bust for the Dodgers. What does Kasten like about manager Don Mattingly? How did the decision to start Clayton Kershaw on three days rest come about?

Listen to the full interview. Listen

Michael Young says he's always ready

October, 9, 2013
10/09/13
5:08
PM PT
Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Michael Young joined the "Max & Marcellus Show" to talk about his role on this roster and said he's ready whenever his name is called. Young says the team loves to play for manager Don Mattingly.

Listen to the full interview. Listen

A.J. Ellis joins The Herd

October, 9, 2013
10/09/13
5:01
PM PT
Los Angeles Dodgers Catcher A.J. Ellis dishes on what Yasiel Puig is like, Don Mattingly's demeanor, Clayton Kershaw's dominance, preparing for the NLCS and more.

Listen to the full interview. Listen

Hyun-Jin Ryu ready to go for Game 3

October, 5, 2013
10/05/13
5:08
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Both Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and Game 3 starter Hyun-Jin Ryu said the pitcher was healthy and ready to go for Sunday's start against the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS at Dodger Stadium.

Questions had emerged about Ryu's status Friday when he took the unusual step of throwing a extra bullpen session in the presence of Mattingly and team doctor Neal El Attrache.

"No, not at all," Ryu said through an interpreter, when asked if the bullpen session was cause for concern. "Typically, when I rest longer than six days, I always squeeze in a bullpen session to make sure that my body is responding the way I want it to."

Said Mattingly: "We have no concerns about him. He's starting tomorrow."

Ethier still not ready for the outfield: Mattingly said Andre Ethier (ankle) was not ready to even try to play the outfield yet.

"It would be a great surprise if we get him to be in the outfield this series," Mattingly said. "But he's swung the bat well off the bench for us, and he's kind of doing what we intended him to be able to do this series. If we get anymore that, I think it would be just a nice surprise."

Rolling with Ricky: Mattingly said he still planned to start right-hander Ricky Nolasco in Monday's Game 4 and hadn't thought yet about potentially moving up Game 1 starter Clayton Kershaw, but added that "you're always going to have to think about everything. But right now we're scheduled with Ricky, and that's the way we're going to go."

Reasons to like LA's chances vs. ATL

October, 1, 2013
10/01/13
1:07
PM PT
Hanley RamirezChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesIf healthy, Hanley Ramirez could give the Dodgers a significant boost against Atlanta.


ATLANTA -- The Dodgers are riding a rising blue tide into their first playoff series in four years and we’re not just talking about their fans. The experts are wholeheartedly on board, too, and remained so with full knowledge the Dodgers will be without Matt Kemp for the postseason and are not yet sure what they may get out of Andre Ethier against the Atlanta Braves.

ESPN asked its panel of experts to predict each of the playoff series and the Dodgers come out looking like heavy road favorites. You had to scroll down a few screens to get to the first voter who picked Atlanta, ESPN TV reporter Pedro Gomez. In all, 26 of ESPN’s crew took the Dodgers and six took the Braves.

Seems a bit strange at first glance, considering Atlanta went 5-2 against the Dodgers this year and pretty much dominated its division all season. The Dodgers were in last place going into July, took off like a bottle rocket in July and August and then settled into a blah September.

It’s pretty easy to see what makes them tick: feeling good. Before June 22, the Day the Season Changed, the Dodgers used the disabled list 20 times. After that, they used it five times. Toward the end of September, the injuries started cropping up again, like weeds you thought you’d pulled.

When they were unhealthy, they were bad. When they were healthy, they were great. When they were moderately healthy, they were mediocre.

By the way, the Braves -- who also had the luxury of a massive division lead -- didn’t exactly sail through September either, losing 13 of 24. So, momentum seems to be a wash.

We could get a good read on the Dodgers’ health in Game 2. If Hanley Ramirez, who has been on the on-again, off-again playing regime for weeks because of an irritated nerve in his back, plays Friday, that is good news for the Dodgers. It might mean they’ll have their frontline guys all series.

Ramirez had a strained hamstring when the Braves and Dodgers met in May.

“I feel good,” Ramirez said Sunday. “I think what we’ve been doing -- one game, one off -- it’s been helping me a lot. Now it’s about to get real.”

(Read full post)

Catching up with Don Mattingly, a Q&A

July, 29, 2013
7/29/13
3:03
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- When did Don Mattingly get so much smarter?

On May 22, there were national baseball writers either calling for the Los Angeles Dodgers manager to be fired or predicting his imminent downfall. The Dodgers scrambled to squash those rumors, but a month later, the Dodgers’ season had settled into a more humdrum rut, and it seemed like Mattingly might make it until the final game of the season, but not much beyond that.

And now? Mattingly’s club is as hot as it has ever been in the 55 years the Dodgers have been in Los Angeles and, funny, nobody is raising the issue of his job security. If anything, his name is now being bandied about in early discussions for Manager of the Year.

With the New York Yankees coming to Dodger Stadium for interleague play for the third time ever, it seemed like a good time to catch up with Mattingly. He was a six-time All-Star for the Yankees between 1982 and 1995.

Q. When you guys were in New York earlier this year (the Dodgers’ first trip there in 32 years), the Yankees played a tribute to you on the video board, and you got a standing ovation. How did that feel?

A. It was nice. I’m downplaying it, but it was nice.

I always like going back there. It’s hard to explain that. I played my whole career there, you know, and they were always good to me. The fans appreciated the way I played. It’s where I grew up. I learned how you were supposed to play the game from their perspective. It’s like, you play your whole career there, so …

[+] EnlargeDon Mattingly
Linda Cataffo/NY Daily News Archive/Getty ImagesDon Mattingly on former student Derek Jeter: "Father Time's going to get you at some point, but one thing I've seen with Derek is you don't ever underestimate him."
Q. You coached Derek Jeter, who came back Sunday (and homered on the first pitch he saw). What do you expect from him the rest of his career?

A. I’m not sure. I don’t know how serious everything is. Obviously, Father Time’s going to get you at some point, but one thing I’ve seen with Derek is you don’t ever underestimate him because he finds a way to get it done. Two years ago, they were saying he can’t do this and he can’t do that, and he gets 200 hits and had a tremendous year. It’s hard to sell him short.

He’ll play the same. Jete plays hard, but he’s under control. He’s not doing dumb stuff. He steals bags when you need them. That’s kind of the way he plays. When he wants an out, he’s going to go make a play, even if he has to go in the stands.

Q. Earlier this year, you said you were prepared for all the rumors about your job because of your experience playing under George Steinbrenner during that time of volatility at Yankee Stadium. When you went through it, though, was it any different than you’d expected?

A. It’s a little different, because you can’t really do a whole lot about it. I’ve been through a lot, obviously, just as a player. It was a good situation, but still you go through stuff. You struggle in your career, they get on you. It’s just the way it is.

You’re prepared for that. You just know how to deal with stuff, but as a manager, you don’t really have any control. So, you’ve just got to keep making good decisions, that’s the main thing. You can’t start listening to outside influences. I don’t want them in my head. I don’t want to see Twitter, I don’t want to see comments. I want to go off facts to make baseball decisions, not based on what’s trending or what talk radio is saying about what you should be doing. You want to just keep making good decisions and then trust your guys. But it was hard, though.

Q. When you read that stuff …

A. I didn’t read it. I heard the questions, so I know what they’re saying. I read MLB.com, the Dodger news, because I want to hear my guys’ comments, because it tells me what they’re thinking and how they’re thinking. Just a little thing they may say, a word in there, tells me something. If something’s going on with the guys, I’ll kind of read a little bit. But that's all.

[+] EnlargeYasiel Puig, Don Mattingly
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesOn Yasiel Puig: "This kid's exciting. The way he plays is infectious."
Q. The event that led to the flare-up in firing talk was your comments in Milwaukee about wanting to see more fight from your team? It seems like guys have played a little harder since then, but then again, maybe it’s because you’re just playing better. Do you see any cause-effect going on there?

A. There’s more energy, but I think we have to give Yasiel [Puig] a lot of credit, because he brought a lot of energy. It’s always good to have a mixture of young and old. You get too many old guys, guys who are settled, they’re in the big leagues, nothing makes them excited. This kid’s exciting. The way he plays is infectious and, if you don’t like the way he plays and the reaction from people … man, that’s the way you’re supposed to play. You’re supposed to play like a little kid.

Everything he’s going through is right there to see. There’s no hiding it. It’s like, if he’s mad, he’s mad, if he’s happy, he’s happy. It’s great. Then, we started winning, and that’s where the true energy comes from.

A couple things happened. We got healthy in there. Hanley [Ramirez] came the same time as Puig. He was quietly just banging away, getting no attention until lately. Adrian [Gonzalez] continued to do his thing and, during that period, Andre [Ethier] started to swing the bat. All of a sudden, you’ve got four guys.

We kind of got beyond that period of having to nurse Hanley back. It was like, we’d win a series, and then it was like, 'Well, Hanley’s going to be down today.’ Finally, after Pittsburgh, I was like, this is crazy. You’ve got to play your guys, and Hanley wanted to play that day. ... I told the medical people, ‘We can’t keep doing this.’ That New York series was the first time we started just playing these guys, and that’s when we started playing better. Right there. We crushed the ball in both games. We only won one, but we swung the bats in both games.

Q. Hanley said the other day that, since he’s been a Dodger, he thinks differently. What do you make of that? Has his baggage been less cumbersome than you expected, given his reputation from Miami?

A. I didn’t really hear, because I don’t go and read about guys. I saw the big stuff, the clashes with management and some of the stuff on ESPN. I know how those things go, though. You see something, it could get blown out of proportion. You get six guys on this side and six guys on that side. That’s how those shows work. This guy says ‘bad’ and this guy says ‘good.’ It’s a fight and they argue.

I try to look at the whole picture. Here’s a young guy, had success, got paid. Nobody really around him. Organization-wise it can go in and go out. They go for it, then they kind of sell out. It’s just up and down. And I just knew how good he was. It’s like, 'This guy is so talented,' and you put him in the right situation and give him a chance. He’s just taken over, taken off with that opportunity. It’s like a new day.

I take this from my own childhood. I was a pain in the butt in grade school. Oh my God, I was in trouble all the time. I didn’t want to go to the school my mom and dad wanted to send me. They sent me across town a little bit, to a school my brother went to. I said, ‘You know what, I’m tired of being in trouble.’ ... The baseball coach there was great, he was tough, and it changed everything for me. I look at changes of scenery as a chance to say, ‘You know what, I’m done with the past. I don’t want that crap.’

Q. Tell me more about your high school coach, Quentin Merkel [from Memorial High in Evansville, Ind.]. Biggest influence on you as a manager?

A. He was tough. He was like, 'If you don't get your grades, if you get in trouble, you don’t play.' If you got caught smoking, you’re off the team. If you got detention and missed practice, you’re off. The first meeting we had is like a 3 o’clock meeting. School’s over at 2:50. He locks the door. If you come late, he’s like, ‘I’ll see you next year.’ That’s the way it was.

There were two or three of them that were late. Two of them just left. The one that stays, he gives him a chance. He wanted to see. You’ve got to fight for what you want.

He just retired. He had over 900 wins, playing 30 games a year. That’s a lot of baseball. He’s coming out for this series. They asked me if I could get him tickets, so he’s coming out. He’s awesome. Great guy. All the stuff he said stays with you. It was pretty simple, fundamental, solid. He pushed me to get better. That stuck with me to this day. He was a worker.

Grading the week

July, 29, 2013
7/29/13
1:54
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Is it throwing a wet blanket on this thing to point out that the Dodgers would be in fourth place if they played in the American League East?

Or, that they would be seven games out if they played in the NL Central? Or that they wouldn't be leading any other division aside from the one they're lucky enough to be playing in?

Might be, but the way they're going, none of those things may be true in a week or two. The Dodgers, along with the Tampa Bay Rays, can't seem to lose.

Never was that more true than Sunday, when they were tied in knots by the Cincinnati Reds' young lefty, Tony Cingrani, and struck out a team-record 20 times, then, somehow, pulled it out in the 11th inning.

Five weeks ago, it seemed like the Dodgers sat around waiting to lose. Now, it seems like they sit around thinking up new ways to win. The baseball schedule tends to move in those big, sweeping cycles, but the trajectory of the Dodgers' season seems entirely novel.

GradeSCORING

Yasiel Puig is an interesting baseball player.

We'll leave aside the matters of his head-long, go-for-broke running style, his on-field swagger or how he comports himself in the clubhouse and confine this discussion to the numbers.

He is a wildly streaky player. The staff at ESPN Stats and Info passed this one along this morning: From his promotion June 3 to July 2, Puig batted .443 with a 1.218 OPS. For the next 19 days, he batted .220 with no home runs and .520 OPS. He went from striking out 20 percent of the time to striking out 32 percent of the time.

And now? The sample size is smaller than either of the first two, but it kind of looks like he's back. Puig batted .435 this past week with two home runs (including the walk-off blast Sunday) and he "only" struck out 25 percent of the time.

Puig's hot week made up for a slight softening from Hanley Ramirez, who at times expanded his strike zone as pitchers give him fewer and fewer pitches to hit, suddenly aware he's been the hottest hitter on the planet. Andre Ethier cooled off at home after a torrid road trip.

The Dodgers pounded the ball in Toronto, as many teams do, and then adapted to more pitching-friendly games in Los Angeles. Hard to fault them. The Reds have some very good pitchers.

Grade: A-

GradeDEFENSE

All eyes should be on the bullpen for several reasons. For one thing, general manager Ned Colletti has said that's his primary focus heading into Wednesday's non-waiver trade deadline. For another, the bullpen has been the point of weakness when the Dodgers have looked their most vulnerable this season.

July has seen a dramatic uptick in the fortunes of Dodgers relievers, particularly the most-maligned one. Brandon League, though working in some lower-stress settings, pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings and picked up three wins in relief. Kenley Jansen pitched five out of six days and saved three games.

It was a mixed bag from Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Greinke and Chris Capuano, but pretty definitive from Clayton Kershaw. He held the Reds to one run and struck out eight in eight innings.

Grade: B+

GradeDECISION-MAKING

One scout who has seen Carlos Marmol frequently was asked why, even as he has struggled, he doesn't give up many hits.

"Because he walks you before you have a chance," the scout said.

It will be interesting to see how long an audition the Dodgers give Marmol, who allowed six hits and two walks in just 2 2/3 innings last week. Perhaps his window of opportunity is about as long as young flame thrower Jose Dominguez is on the the disabled list. The Dodgers have also said they'll consider using Capuano or Stephen Fife out of the bullpen, so maybe it's not even that long.

Manager Don Mattingly's oddest game was Sunday, when he made a mid-inning defensive replacement in left field and lifted Capuano after 7 2/3 shutout innings after just 83 pitches. He later called the Capuano move a "tough call," and sounded sorry for potentially embarrassing veteran Jerry Hairston Jr.

But this is how well the Dodgers are going: neither move had any negative fallout.

Grade: B

GradeGRIT-METER

When the Dodgers fell behind 8-3 in the seventh inning of Tuesday's game, they had about a 2 percent chance of winning, according to truebluela.com stat wiz Eric Stephen. Didn't matter. They came back and won anyway. They won the next night, too, despite trailing when they were down to their last strike.

And then, Sunday, they were in the midst of, arguably, the worst offensive game in Los Angeles baseball history, and they somehow pulled it out.

They aren't just the It Team. They're the Grit Team!

Grade: A

GradeSTATE OF CONTENTION

Monday, the Dodgers slipped into sole possession of first place for the first time all year. They started the week half-a-game behind the Arizona Diamondbacks and finished it 2 1/2 games up. Yeah, it's going well, but until they have a comfortable lead, we're sticking with ...

Grade: A-

Why the Dodgers will win the West

July, 17, 2013
7/17/13
10:08
AM PT
One good month and everyone seems to be back on the blue bandwagon.

Practically forgotten less than a month ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers went on a tear right before the All-Star break, going 17-5, and, suddenly, everybody seems to believe in them again. In fact, they might be more popular now – with a .500 record and 2 games out of first place -- than they were when they left spring training.

One Las Vegas oddsmaking service, Bovada, rates them 9-to-1 shots to win the World Series. The only teams with shorter odds are all in first place: The St. Louis Cardinals, Detroit Tigers and Atlanta Braves. The same service puts the Arizona Diamondbacks at 20-to-1 and the defending champs, the San Francisco Giants, at 33-to-1.

And it’s not just outsiders. One scout polled picked the Dodgers in the NL West in a walkover. Why?

“Top-end starters, emotion, streaky players who could put together a couple big months,” the scout said.

The Dodgers certainly seem like a smart-money pick based on trends. Not only do they plan to get 2011 MVP runner-up Matt Kemp back on Sunday, but history suggests many of their players might just be getting comfortable.

Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Mark Ellis and Juan Uribe all have higher career batting averages after the All-Star break. In Ellis’ case, the splits are extreme, .251 to .278. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke have lower ERAs after the break. Closer Kenley Jansen’s ERA goes from 2.79 to 1.43.

Just as key, in one steady surge, the Dodgers wiped out the perception they can’t beat teams in their own division. Of those 17 wins, all but three came against NL West teams, the Dodgers’ hot play perfectly timed. They had gone 58-64 against their division since the start of 2012 before getting hot against the San Diego Padres on June 22.

So, they went into the break feeling pretty good about themselves. It probably won’t hurt that Yasiel Puig, Crawford and Ellis all got four days of rest this week as they nurse minor injuries.

“We can see the front of the pack. It’s in our own hands, because we know we play these guys,” manager Don Mattingly said. “If we play well, we’ve got a good shot.”

Said utility man Skip Schumaker, “As long as we can keep our lineup on the field from top to bottom, we’re going to be fine.”

Not that any of this really tells us much. Carrying their momentum forward becomes a lot harder after the break, as the Dodgers hit their toughest stretch of schedule all season. Seventeen of their next 23 games are against teams with winning records.

One of the teams in that stretch that doesn’t have a winning record, the Toronto Blue Jays, was the Dodgers' shining exemplar last month. Another team with high expectations, Toronto won 11 in a row from June 11 to 23 before -- cautionary tale -- going 7-13 before the break to sink back to last place.

Another scout said the NL West race could hinge on whether the Diamondbacks can land a reliable closer before the trade deadline. It’s a big "if," but if the Diamondbacks land one, the scout said, they’re his pick. He figures the Dodgers are sure to cool off as advance scouts get a better idea how to pitch to Puig, who is batting .391 in his first five weeks in the major leagues.

Of course, the Dodgers aren’t necessarily done dealing either, even after adding No. 4 starter Ricky Nolasco from the Miami Marlins. They are still looking for a reliever and they might even add another starter to further solidify the back of the rotation.

There are a lot of contingencies left in this race, as always, but if you don’t think the Dodgers have an excellent chance, you probably haven’t been watching them lately. Besides, they didn’t build all those buildings in Las Vegas by making up silly odds.

Clayton Kershaw sounds a bit miffed at ASG

July, 15, 2013
7/15/13
1:16
PM PT
Via Adam Rubin, ESPNNY.com

A week after saying he was fine with Matt Harvey starting the All-Star Game for the National League, especially if it is being played in New York, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw did not sound as pleased on the day of the official announcement.

Kershaw did not seem to care for NL manager Bruce Bochy saying Monday afternoon that Harvey would have been the starting pitcher and "it really wouldn’t have mattered what city we were playing in" because of Harvey's first-half production.

Said Kershaw: "That's his opinion."

Would Kershaw have been more understanding if the tipping factor was the game being at Citi Field?

"I get it," Kershaw tersely said.

Kershaw added that he would enjoy starting an All-Star Game.

"It's not a goal. I don't really set goals. I don't have any goals," Kershaw said. "It would be cool. I would like to do it. It would be fun."

Asked Sunday whether Kershaw should be considered to make the start, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said, "I don't know why not. he's definitely pitching good enough to be the guy. I read what he said the other day and that says a lot about Clayton's character."

Grading the first half

July, 15, 2013
7/15/13
10:54
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers reached the All-Star break straddling mediocrity -- 47 wins, 47 losses -- but they didn’t arrive here by just muddling along. Far from it.

For 72 games, they were -- considering the expectations -- awful. They seemed to pick up a key injury every week, most of their big hitters were failing in the clutch and their manager, Don Mattingly -- according to many -- wasn’t pulling the right strings. And, Mattingly now admits he was worried some elements of the team were in danger of mentally abandoning ship.

But they kept it together long enough for help to arrive.

“We survived,” Mattingly said.

On June 2, the Dodgers lost 7-2 in Colorado fielding a lineup that included Nick Punto, Juan Uribe, Scott Van Slyke, Tim Federowicz, Luis Cruz, Skip Schumaker and Matt Magill. The next day, Yasiel Puig arrived from Double-A Chattanooga. The day after that, Hanley Ramirez returned from the 15-day disabled list, where he had spent all but four games.

June 22 was the day the Dodgers’ season swerved dramatically upward, when they started coming back from 12 games under .500, lopping off seven games in the standings. But those early June moves fueled it. By winning 17 of their last 22 games, just when the other NL West teams began to sputter, the Dodgers resurrected their playoff hopes and re-energized their fan base.

Now, they hope to live up to their World Series expectations.

GradeScoring

Who was the Dodgers’ first-half MVP?

Clayton Kershaw was their best performer, but because of atrocious run support and shaky relief, he only won eight games, the same number as Zack Greinke -- who was on the disabled list for five weeks -- and just one more than Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Adrian Gonzalez was easily the steadiest hitter, the rock around which everybody in the lineup rotated. His 59 RBIs were more than double the next-closest Dodgers hitters, Andre Ethier and Juan Uribe. His 14 home runs were six more than the next-closest Dodgers hitters, Puig and Ramirez.

But while Kershaw and Gonzalez were steadily producing through April, May and early June, the Dodgers were losing. Things didn’t change until the arrival of Puig and Ramirez, who ignited the Dodgers’ offense like twin rocket launchers.

Puig captivated Dodgers fans and alternately irritated and fascinated fans around baseball. Everything he did was exciting, from his breakneck, sometimes boneheaded, baserunning to his majestic home runs. But Ramirez was better.

In 19 fewer plate appearances, he had four more extra-base hits. His 1.137 OPS eclipsed Puig’s 1.038. In Mattingly’s mind, everything changed on the day -- in New York -- when he and the coaches decided Ramirez was healthy enough to play every day and finally used pen, rather than pencil, to write his name in the lineup.

If only Puig and Ramirez had been there from the start. The Dodgers rank just 12th in the National League in runs scored, though a respectable seventh in OPS. The gross numbers aren’t particularly impressive, but the trend (and Matt Kemp should be back next weekend) certainly is promising.

Grade: C+

GradeDefense

Chad Billingsley succumbed after just two games, his rehabilitated elbow ligament finally torn. Josh Beckett pitched through a puzzling nerve injury (and not very well) for eight starts before he, too, had to bow out to season-ending surgery. Greinke stood in the path of a 250-pound outfielder, Carlos Quentin, and wound up breaking his collarbone and missing more than a month. Ted Lilly has been bothered by various ailments for all but five starts.

Though the injuries to hitters may have been more costly, the Dodgers’ rotation endured the most turmoil.

Brandon League entered the season as the closer, but has pitched to a 6.25 ERA and now gets booed even when he pitches in mop-up work. Ronald Belisario has had a wild first 3 months, alternately dominating and melting down depending on the state of his sinker.

Despite all that, the Dodgers have the sixth-best ERA in the National League, thanks largely to Kershaw, Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenley Jansen. Lefties Paco Rodriguez and J.P. Howell have added some stability in the bullpen, and Stephen Fife did some nice things for the rotation when he was healthy.

It’s all the more impressive when you consider how poorly Dodgers fielders have supported the pitching. The Dodgers’ 67 errors are the most in the league. Only the New York Mets and Colorado Rockies have converted a lower percentage of balls in play into outs.

The Dodgers have some steady fielders in the infield, but they have little range. They have athletic outfielders, but no defensive standouts.

Grade: C+

GradeDecision-making

The two key moves of the first half were the promotion of Puig and the demotion of League.

It’s easy now to say that Puig should have been with the team on Opening Day and he probably should have, but consider a few facts. Before this April, Puig had had all of 95 minor league plate appearances. After he got sent down, he showed the Dodgers that many of their concerns were valid. He was benched at one point for violating team rules. He was arrested and charged with speeding, reckless driving and driving without proof of insurance.

He missed some time with a thumb injury and, when he did play, he wasn’t exactly tearing up the Southern League, batting .313 with a .383 OBP.

Granted, Puig had made a pretty convincing argument, batting .517 this spring, but the Dodgers had their reasons for sending him out for a little seasoning. Some of those reasons probably haven’t become public, at least not yet.

The League decision was a bit more puzzling when you consider that he had only been a closer for a season-and-a-half in an eight-year career and that Jansen had handled it well last year. Plus, there's the little fact that practically all of Jansen's career numbers are more impressive than League's. He is, in fact, one of the toughest pitchers in baseball to hit.

Still, that decision was made when the Dodgers agreed to pay League $22.5 million for three years. Most teams would have made the guy they were paying to be their closer their closer.

People thought Mattingly was an idiot when the team was losing. Now, he looks like a genius. You can't deny that at this point, his overall leadership and decision-making seem perfectly capable.

General manager Ned Colletti has atoned for what looks like a bad contract in League by trading some unheralded prospects to get Ricky Nolasco from the Miami Marlins. He’ll win over more Dodgers fans once he extends Kershaw’s contract.

Grade: B-

GradeGrit-meter

It looked like it might have been Mattingly’s last stand when, on May 22, he made what appeared to be explosive comments to reporters before a Sunday afternoon game in Milwaukee. He benched Ethier and said he wanted to field the lineup that would fight hardest.

Already there had been rampant speculation about Mattingly’s job, and it built to a crescendo the next day, an open date. The Dodgers went into crisis-control mode on Tuesday and, guess what, Mattingly is still employed.

His team also has appeared to play with more fire since then, but that’s probably more attributable to the addition of Puig, who plays with as much energy as any player in the game.

If Mattingly wanted more fight, he got it -- probably more than he bargained for. The Dodgers have already had wild brawls with two teams in their division, Arizona and San Diego, and have admitted to bad blood with the San Francisco Giants, which is probably as it should be.

Grade: B-

GradeState of contention

The Dodgers' biggest ally has been a division filled with mediocre teams. While they were piling up wins, three of the teams in their division were sinking like stones and the division leader, the Arizona Diamondbacks, was going 9-12. The Dodgers essentially turned the standings upside down.

It doesn’t take much analysis to see the Dodgers are trending toward first place. But, as Mattingly pointed out, they really haven’t accomplished anything yet.

Grade: B+

Is an Andre Ethier trade inevitable?

June, 18, 2013
6/18/13
10:06
AM PT
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told reporters in Pittsburgh Sunday that there will be “enough at-bats to go around,” for four outfielders when Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford have healthy hamstrings and come off the disabled list in a week or so.

Really? It’s kind of hard to imagine.

Maybe for a week or two, maybe three. But can they really keep Yasiel Puig in the everyday mix while finding enough playing time to keep the three extremely well-paid veterans happy and productive? Seems unlikely.

So, let’s examine some possibilities for how the Dodgers' outfield will look by the end of this month, presuming no further injuries (admittedly, a dicey proposition so far). Let’s start with the least-likely and work our way through them:

Puig gets sent down

Mattingly said it’s not going to happen and, obviously, it shouldn’t, at least not when the veterans first return. Puig is the 11th player since 1900 to have at least 23 hits in his first 13 career games. The only players with more are Bo Hart and Terry Pendleton, who had 24 each.

Let's not forget, though. Things change. In his next 13 at-bats for the 2003 St. Louis Cardinals, Hart batted a merely human .283 and, by the end of the year, he was hitting .277. His final year in the majors was 2004. Pendleton also maintained pretty well, batting .294 in his next 13 games and hitting .324 for the Cardinals in 1984. The only reason he finished seventh in Rookie of the Year balloting is because he didn’t come up until July.

This will be the last time we ever hear Puig’s name linked with Hart’s and, by all appearances, he is a more-talented player than Pendleton, though Pendleton was a Gold Glove third baseman who won an MVP award.

The point is, careers take odd twists and turns. While Puig hasn’t given any indications he might not stick, he could get cold enough that the Dodgers will be concerned about his confidence and send him down to Triple-A. It might make sense to keep their veteran guys in case of such an emergency.

Ethier becomes the fourth outfielder

Mattingly wouldn’t put it in those terms, but that has to be where this thing is headed barring a personnel change.

Puig is going to play every day. Kemp is going to play every day once he’s back and fully healthy, unless there is some physical limitation we haven’t learned about yet. Carl Crawford was the catalyst of the Dodgers’ offense before he got hurt. Remarkably, he still leads them with 32 runs scored.

Ethier is batting .221 against left-handers this year and .236 against them in his career. Crawford is hitting .311 off lefties this year and .264 for his career.

Which raises the question: Exactly when would it be the Dodgers’ best lineup for Ethier to play? Perhaps against a pitcher who has owned Kemp or Crawford, or on the rare nights Kemp or Puig needs a day of rest.

It just doesn’t seem tenable to have a player earning $13.5 million coming off the bench once or twice a week, pinch-hitting here or there or playing an inning or two of defense. It also might not make for the healthiest clubhouse.

Someone other than Ethier gets traded

Just spitballing here, but there is a 0 percent chance Puig gets traded. He’s too good, no one is even sure yet what his ceiling is and he is relatively inexpensive. That’s kind of the trifecta of untouchability.

There is a 2.5 percent chance Kemp gets traded. It’s not that it’s impossible. His contract doesn’t include a no-trade clause. There are probably a dozen or so teams who would be happy to take on the rest of his contract. But considering Kemp was the best player in the game just 13 months ago and the Dodgers are trying to win, they would be foolish to give up on him in the midst of a difficult time physically. It’s reasonable to assume it’s just a matter of time until Kemp is back to his old self, and the Dodgers still are committed to building around him.

There is a 4.5 percent chance Crawford gets traded. He has no-trade protection and the $95 million or so left on his deal will make most teams hang up the phone if Ned Colletti calls to talk about such a thing. If he were a power hitter, it might be different, but judging by Michael Bourn’s shorter-than-expected contract, teams aren’t paying premium dollars for 30-something leadoff guys any more.

Ethier gets traded

Assuming we reach this option without triggering one of the surprising possibilities above, there is a 75 percent chance Ethier gets traded in the next nine months. It's not as hard as it might seem.

At the end of this season, Ethier will have four years and $71.5 million left on his contract. Nick Swisher signed a four-year deal with the Cleveland Indians for $56 million, plus a fifth, vesting year that could bring the total value of his deal up to around $70 million. They’re not identical players, but they’re certainly similar players.

So, while people have speculated the Dodgers could have to swallow as much as half of Ethier’s contract to move him, that seems like an overshot. If they paid him this season and sent $15 million or so somebody’s way, there would be teams lining up. The Dodgers might even be able to get a decent prospect or two or a serviceable reliever in return.

The New York Mets seem to get the most mentions as a possible destination. Texas, Seattle, Kansas City and Baltimore have all been brought up.

It may not be imminent, but it certainly seems as if this is the direction things are lining up. In other words, the Dodgers might love for Ethier to get hot for the next month or so, for more reasons than one.

Grading the week

June, 17, 2013
6/17/13
11:34
AM PT
It will be remembered as the week their feud with the Arizona Diamondbacks devolved into violence, but in many regards, it was just more of the same.

The Dodgers haven't won more than two games in a row since the first week of the season. They had an emotional win over Arizona the night the benches emptied twice and the teams traded punches and shoves. The next night they competed into the 12th inning, but relievers Ronald Belisario and Brandon League blew the game.

The Dodgers had a good all-around effort behind Clayton Kershaw in Pittsburgh on Saturday night and felt good about their chances of going on a little run, but Zack Greinke made some key mistakes and they lost Sunday.

The minute you start to think they have a little traction, a wheel spins in the mud.

Scoring

In the long run, it will help to have Hanley Ramirez back. It will help to have A.J. Ellis back. Those guys returned from the disabled list over the weekend and the Dodgers now are short only Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford, each of whom could be back in about a week.

You would expect this lineup to get out of the three-runs-per-game rut it's been stuck in all year. Last week, there were some positive moments. They got to young lefty Patrick Corbin, who had been on a special run. They averaged 3.8 runs per game last week, a slight tick above their average offensive output.

The driving force for the offense in the past two weeks, of course, has been rookie Yasiel Puig. Pitchers seem to have found a formula they're more comfortable with. They are pounding him inside, hopeful that he won't be able to extend his long arms and drive the ball to right field.

The strategy has had mixed results. Puig batted .500, but all 10 of his hits were singles and he hasn't driven in a run since June 7.

Grade: C-

Defense (pitching and fielding)

Clayton Kershaw reacted angrily when reporters in Pittsburgh asked him about a report that his agent and the team were making progress on a seven-year contract extension worth greater than $180 million. Kershaw wants to keep such matters private.

Perhaps the people he should be upset with are the hitters and relievers who have unwittingly kept him stuck on 5-4.

The last time Kershaw got a win, on May 20, he had to pitch a complete game. In his five starts since, he is 0-2 despite having a 2.91 ERA, a 1.000 WHIP and holding opponents to a .240 batting average. The most wasteful aspect of it, though, is that the Dodgers aren't even winning when Kershaw pitches. They've gone 2-3 in those starts.

Stephen Fife seems to pitch well virtually every time the Dodgers call on him, though they rarely win when he starts. Greinke seems like he just can't quite get his season resumed since breaking his collarbone in mid-April. Hyun-Jin Ryu continued to be the Dodgers' most-consistent starter, though he fell victim to low run support in that 12-inning loss.

The relief pitching was better after League was demoted from the closer spot in favor of Kenley Jansen. The defense figures to suffer now that Hanley Ramirez is back at shortstop, but so far there have been no major meltdowns.

Grade: C+

Decision-making

You would hope, at some point, teams will find other ways to, in their words, "protect" their hitters after plunkings. But, in the current climate, it's tough to fault Greinke or manager Don Mattingly for throwing at Arizona catcher Miguel Montero after Puig had been hit in the nose by a 92-mph Ian Kennedy fastball.

The idea is that, if the Dodgers don't stand up to Arizona, its pitchers will continue to brush their hitters off the plate routinely.

After League couldn't protect a 3-1 lead Monday, Mattingly did what some Dodgers fans had been calling out for since Opening Day. He took League out of the closer role and gave it to Jansen.

I thought Jansen was a better choice going into the season, because his resume -- though not as long as League's -- suggested he was a better pitcher. Righties hit .143 off him. Lefties hit .183 off him. So, it seems fair to levy some criticism at the Dodgers for making this move more than one-third of the way through what has been a disappointing season.

We just don't know whom to pin it on, since their contracts (League is making nearly nine times more than Jansen) likely played a role.

Grade: C

Grit-meter

It must have been hard for middle-aged and older Dodgers fans to watch Kirk Gibson mix it up against their team last week. The Diamondbacks manager was the epitome of grit when he played for the Dodgers near the end of his career, famously challenging teammates to fight in spring training and instilling intensity to what was viewed as a laidback team in 1988.

The truth is, his Arizona team is probably winning on talent (a good young pitching staff) rather than any intangible factors. The Dodgers have shown more fight lately, scoring two 12th-inning runs off Heath Bell to nearly make that Wednesday loss interesting and backing up their teammates in the scuffles, but that hasn't translated to wins.

Grade: B+

State of Contention

The Dodgers were 7 1/2 games back when the week began. They are 7 1/2 games back today. Because the NL Central has had three hot teams, the wild card looks like it could be out of the Dodgers' reach.

At 10 games under, the odds of the Dodgers getting back to .500 by the All-Star break are virtually nil. If they don't at least move a bit closer by then, though, it's becoming pretty apparent this is a lost season. More than anything, the Dodgers need to somehow gain some momentum or, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, it will get late early out here.

Grade: D

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Zack Greinke
WINS ERA SO IP
12 2.74 140 131
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .317
HRA. Gonzalez 15
RBIA. Gonzalez 70
RY. Puig 59
OPSY. Puig .946
ERAC. Kershaw 1.76
SOC. Kershaw 141