Dodgers Report: ESPN Stats & Info

Top 10 facts on Kershaw's no-hitter

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
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AP Photo/Chris CarlsonClayton Kershaw no-hit the Rockies and logged a career-high 15 strikeouts on Wednesday.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw threw the 284th no-hitter in Major League Baseball history on Wednesday. Stats & Info gives you the top 10 facts on his remarkable effort.

1. Kershaw recorded a career-high 15 strikeouts, 14 of which came on breaking balls. The 14 strikeouts on breaking balls are the most in a single start since pitch types were begun to be tracked, in 2009.

2. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, Kershaw’s 15 strikeouts are tied for the third-most strikeouts in a no-hitter in MLB history. The only pitcher in MLB history with more strikeouts in a no-hitter is Nolan Ryan, who did it twice (17 in 1973 with the Angels and 16 in 1991 with the Rangers). Kershaw tied Warren Spahn for most strikeouts in a no-hitter by a left-handed pitcher. Spahn did it in 1960.

3. Kershaw is the third reigning Cy Young Award winner to throw a no-hitter, and the second to do so in a Dodgers uniform. Sandy Koufax did it for the Dodgers in 1964 and Bob Gibson did so for the Cardinals in 1971.

4. Kershaw’s teammate Josh Beckett threw a no-hitter on May 25. The last time a team threw the first two no-hitters of a season was when Cubs pitchers Burt Hooton and Milt Pappas did it in 1972. Before Kershaw and Beckett, the last Dodgers to throw no-hitters in the same season were Carl Erskine and Sal Maglie in 1956.

5. Kershaw's no-hitter came 24 days after Beckett’s no-hitter. Per Elias research, that is the shortest span between no hitters by a team since Johnny Vander Meer of the Reds did it in consecutive starts in 1938, on June 11 and June 15.

6. The Dodgers now have 22 no-hitters in their history, most of any MLB team. No other team has more than 18.

7. The most recent Dodgers left-handed pitcher to throw a no-hitter was Fernando Valenzuela in 1990. Kershaw is the fifth Dodgers lefty to toss a no-hitter.

8. As for the Colorado Rockies, they were no-hit for the third time in their franchise's history. The most recent was by a Dodger (Hideo Nomo in 1998) and the other was by a lefty (Al Leiter for the Marlins in 1996).

9. Kershaw’s only blemish came from a Hanley Ramirez error in the seventh inning. Elias tells us that the last pitcher to throw a non-perfect no-hitter without any walks was Jonathan Sanchez in 2009. An eighth-inning error did in Sanchez during his perfect-game bid.

10. A legitimate case could be made for Kershaw’s pitching performance on Wednesday as the best individual pitching performance all-time. Kershaw’s Game Score was 102. Over the past 100 years, that’s the second-highest Game Score in a nine-inning game. Only Kerry Wood’s 20 strikeout game in 1998 was higher (105), but Wood allowed a hit in that game.

Furthermore, Elias research confirms that Kershaw is the first player ever in the history of MLB with 15 strikeouts without allowing either a hit or walk.

Brian Wilson comfortable with a hybrid role

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Dodgers will be doing their part to fuel one of the hotter trends in baseball, blurring the lines in their bullpen.

Kenley Jansen retains the title of closer, but Brian Wilson will get opportunities to close, his traditional role. There might even come a day when Chris Perez or, gulp, even Brandon League pitches in a save situation. Both have done it dozens of times in their careers. Stockpiling closers wasn’t by accident.

“We would like to be able to spread the love a little bit, trying to keep the workload down,” manager Don Mattingly said.

No matter what Mattingly does, the Dodgers’ front office made the bigger statement about the changing dynamics of bullpens in the off-season. It signed Wilson to a $10 million, one-year deal with a player option for the next season. That kind of salary had previously been reserved for closers. The Dodgers had to pay him as a ninth-inning pitcher, because Wilson had an offer to be one with the Detroit Tigers.

The Dodgers may have set a precedent that the best bullpen arms will be paid the most, regardless of their title.

“There are a few guys in the seventh and eighth inning who are starting to get a good deal of money,” Wilson said. “Teams are starting to realize that maybe some of the most important outs are as soon as the starter comes out. That could be the difference in the game.”

The trend, if anything, has to see salaries for closers shrink. Many statistical analysts think the traditional use of a closer -- constrained by the save rule -- creates one of the bigger market inefficiencies. Many analytically driven teams have a new closer virtually every year.

It reflects the volatility of the profession. Of the 19 relievers to record a WAR of at least 2.0 in 2012, only three, Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Darren O’Day reached that level the following season.

“You’ll see guys going one year and just lighting it up,” Mattingly said. “The next year, it seems like that took a toll on him.”

The Dodgers hope that isn’t the case with Jansen, who was -- aside from Kimbrel -- perhaps the most dominant reliever in baseball last season. For his career, he has a 14 strikeout-per-nine-inning ratio. Opponents have a .494 OPS against him in his career.
Wilson said there isn’t a whole lot of mentoring he needs to do with Jansen, who is going into his third year on the job. Wilson, whose beard has grown a few inches since last October, is a three-time All-Star who led the league in saves in 2010.

“He’s been gifted with a ball that makes a left-hand turn for about a foot-and-a-half, so he’s always going to have the strength,” Wilson said. “We haven’t really talked situations because what’s the point? If you’re going to dominate, just keep doing it.”

Wilson has been hesitant to talk about his feelings for his former team, the San Francisco Giants. He said he considers them just another opponent on the Dodgers’ schedule.

“There are 29 opponents, all equal. It’s a win or a loss and I don’t like losing, ever,” Wilson said. “I didn’t really care who the opponent is. I don’t put much thought into that. I know a lot of the guys on every team. “

The Search for Answers: Fifth starter

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
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Josh Beckett arrived at the Dodgers’ spring training facility on Monday and told reporters he has little doubt he’ll be ready for the start of the season.

That’s sort of interesting all by itself, considering Beckett had a rib removed near his right shoulder to relieve nerve pressure just seven months ago, but it’s far from the whole story. If Beckett is, in fact, ready, will the Dodgers even need him?

Saturday, they finalized a $1.5 million major-league deal for one final piece of their pitching puzzle just before camp, adding veteran lefty Paul Maholm. Considering Maholm has pitched to a 3.89 ERA the past three seasons and Beckett, 33, hasn’t been that effective since 2011, the job might be Mahom’s to lose.

And, as usual, it’s not that simple.

Beckett is making 10 times Maholm’s salary and hasn’t pitched in relief since 2003, when he was 23 years old, making it hard to stash him if he isn’t in the rotation. It’s hard to imagine him adding much value to the bullpen, which already has seven veterans on guaranteed contracts. If anything, thrust into an unfamiliar role, he might hurt the bullpen by taking a roster spot away from hard thrower Chris Withrow, a pleasant surprise late last summer.

Maholm was told he could be used either as a starter or long reliever. He has barely pitched in relief either (one career appearance, the day before the All-Star break), but the Dodgers had decent luck stashing Chris Capuano there last season, using him as a spot starter.

The beauty of spring training is that these things typically sort themselves out. You just have to wait. Beckett threw his first bullpen session in front of the Dodgers' pitching coaches Monday. Before that, the Dodgers hadn’t seen Beckett throw off a mound since May 13. Once he builds up his stamina, he’ll begin facing live hitters. The Dodgers will get a gauge on his stuff starting today and they’ll get a better read once they see how hitters are reacting to it.

As of now, they have limited data, since surgery to relieve thoracic outlet syndrome is far less common than elbow or shoulder procedures. There are examples of pitches who have bounced back from it, like Kenny Rogers and Matt Harrison, and examples of those who have not, like Chris Carpenter.

“Josh is doing really well, but he’s coming off tough surgery and there’s not a lot of history with that surgery, so we’ll see where things go,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick.

The competition to be the Dodgers’ fifth starter will be one of the more intriguing ones this spring, but it’s not as if the suspense is coming to a head any time soon. One of the few advantages to starting the season 7,500 miles from home in Sydney, Australia, is the Dodgers won’t even need a fourth starter until their sixth game of the season and won’t need a fifth starter until mid-April.

By then, there are so many possibilities. What if one of the Dodgers’ young pitchers forces his way onto the field? The team would love to have the veterans excel this spring so it can keep Zach Lee, Ross Stripling, Matt Magill and Chris Reed stashed away in the minor leagues as insurance, but one of those guys could easily scramble those plans with an eye-opening performance this spring. The Dodgers are intent on avoiding another slow start, so they’ll take their most capable team into the season.

What if Beckett is good? What if he feels good and gets his old 94-mph fastball back? He hasn’t pitched as many as 200 innings since 2009, but then again, Maholm hasn’t done so since 2008.

Looking at it from the perspective of early February, it seems as if the Dodgers have nothing but questions about the back of their rotation, but you’d rather have them now than later.

Mixed messages on Matt Kemp's health

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
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LOS ANGELES -- Matt Kemp paused to speak with reporters Saturday at FanFest, offering a few generalities about the state of his body and saying he wouldn’t risk returning too soon from his injuries, a mistake he now admits he made in 2013.

[+] EnlargeMatt Kemp
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesMatt Kemp says he hasn't begun to run, three months after surgery on his left ankle.
He saved his most heartfelt comments on the matter for the thousands of fans milling about the main stage.

“I’m not made of glass,” Kemp told them. “I’m a beast still.”

If that’s the case, the Dodgers could have a ferocious lineup, but there are a lot of hurdles to clear in the meantime. Foremost is this: Kemp said he hasn’t begun to run yet despite the fact he is more than three months removed from left ankle surgery.

He has kept his conditioning up by working out on an antigravity treadmill, but hasn’t tested it by running the bases or shagging fly balls. Given that the Dodgers’ first game is six and a half weeks off, Opening Day in Australia appears an unlikely target for Kemp’s return. Perhaps their U.S. opener, March 30, is a possibility?

“I’m going to be on my own program for the moment. I’m not rushing back,” Kemp said. “I want to be 100 percent. When I’m 100 percent, that’s when I’ll start playing.”

That sounded a bit ominous, but there was good news. Kemp said his shoulder feels significantly better than it did at this time last year, which is an encouraging sign that his power could be on the mend. Kemp led the league with 39 home runs in 2011, but had just one home run through the first month and a half last season coming off his first round of shoulder surgery.

Kemp had another, smaller-scale procedure this winter. Unlike one year ago, Kemp’s batting practice and weightlifting have begun well ahead of spring training. He’s expected to report along with pitchers, catchers and other injured players to Camelback Ranch on Saturday, the first day of the Dodgers’ spring training.

It’s anybody’s guess what the Dodgers will get out of Kemp. Reviving his near-Triple Crown form of 2011 seems a bit much to ask given the punishment his body has taken the past two seasons. But it also seems likely that greater strength in his shoulder should boost his power sufficiently to improve on last season’s .723 OPS, the lowest of his career.

One projection system, ZiPS, pegs Kemp to hit .274 with 21 doubles, 20 home runs and 75 RBIs, to steal 15 bags and to make 475 plate appearances. The Dodgers would probably take those numbers. Of course, like their fans, they’re always hoping for more.
LOS ANGELES -- In his latest column, ESPN’s Buster Olney tells us that some rival executives expect the Dodgers and New York Yankees to be the final teams left bidding for Masahiro Tanaka, one of the greatest pitchers ever to come out of Japan. Reports out of Japan suggest the same.

“The Yankees have the greater need, and maybe a little more pressure to sign Tanaka after learning they won't have to pay A-Rod in 2014,” Olney writes. “The Dodgers are perceived by some rival officials to be more shameless in their bidding, untethered to market prices shaped by other teams, and more driven by what they want.”

In a way, if you are a Dodgers fan, this isn’t any big surprise. In the last year-and-a-half, they’ve seen their team’s new owners make a trade that took on more than $250 million in salary and sign two free agent pitchers for another $200 million-plus.

But, from another angle, it’s an absolutely stunning possibility. The Yankees need Tanaka. Badly. The Dodgers just want him. If the Dodgers do end up with the right-hander, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last year, it would tell us that the Yankees are no longer the Yankees. The Dodgers are now the Yankees. Their stadium just happens to have palm trees running along it instead of a subway line.

Everybody knows what this could mean, right? It used to be the Yankees out-bid teams on what amounted to a whim. In 2000, they claimed Jose Canseco (and $1 million left of his salary) off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays even though Joe Torre had no plans to play him, simply because they were trying to keep him away from every other team.

The Yankees clearly have built their off-season around acquiring Tanaka, who might not begin the season as their No. 1 starter but -- they hope -- would emerge as their ace. He’d likely begin by pitching behind CC Sabathia, who led the American League in earned runs allowed last season. The next guy in New York’s rotation, Hiroki Kuroda, will turn 39 before Opening Day.

One National League GM told ESPNNewYork’s Andrew Marchand the Yankees look more like an 80-win team right now than a 90-win team, largely because of their pitching. The GM also believed the Yankees’ desperation would lead them to land Tanaka.

And the Dodgers? The last thing they are is desperate, particularly in regard to starting pitching. Even if Tanaka is as good as advertised, he’s not the Dodgers’ ace. They already have Clayton Kershaw, who has led the majors in ERA the past three seasons. It’s just kind of hard to top that.

He’d have stiff competition from Zack Greinke to be considered the Dodgers’ second-best starting pitcher. Greinke is sitting on the best ERA (2.63) of his career since his 2009 Cy Young season. If it takes Tanaka a while to adjust to the major leagues, he might not even be their No. 3 starter. Hyun-Jin Ryu had a 3.00 ERA last year and recently told Korean reporters he’s reporting early to spring training to get in better shape and avoid a sophomore slump.

If the Dodgers do land Tanaka, they’d have some unhappy campers in Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley, who would effectively have no rotation spots waiting for them as they work their way back from injuries. It would make some of the team’s emerging pitching prospects, Zach Lee, Ross Stripling and Chris Reed, largely irrelevant other than as trade chips. Of course, those are individual players’ problems, not Dodgers problems. Tanaka would give the Dodgers the best rotation in the National League, if they don’t already have it.

It’s just hard to imagine “want” can win the day over “need,” particularly when the Yankees are the ones feeling desperate. If the Dodgers do win the bidding, it’d be hard to find a team around baseball who would feel sorry for the Bronx Bombers.

Examining ex-Dodgers' chances on the HOF ballot

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
10:54
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The Baseball Writers Association of America released its 2014 Hall of Fame ballot on Tuesday and it was full of players with Dodgers ties. That’s the good news.

The bad news is some of those players carry the suspicion -- or the admission -- of performance-enhancing drug use. Others, with more robust chances of election, played only slivers of their great careers in a Dodger uniform. And, hurting everybody’s chances is the fact that, with the backlog of great players tainted by PED use, it’s a crowded ballot and voters can only write in 10 names.

So, let’s examine the chances of some former (or current) Dodgers:

Eric Gagne

Let’s not forget that not every player who used performance-enhancing drugs set records. Gagne set an extraordinary one, nailing down 84 consecutive saves over two seasons and winning the 2003 Cy Young award. Unfortunately for him, he squandered his early years as a mediocre starter and didn’t have great longevity, piling up just 187 career saves. The real nail in his Hall of Fame chances was his admission, in a French-language book last year, that he took PEDs (and the allegation that most of his Dodgers teammates did, too). In this era, that kind of smoking gun is enough to go lights out on your Hall chances.

Probability: nil

Luis Gonzalez

His All-Star days were behind him when, at 39, he signed as a free agent with the Dodgers in 2007. Still, he played well, batting .278 with a .359 on-base percentage and slugging 15 home runs. His glory years were in Houston and Arizona, of course, where he was the hero of the 2001 World Series. He’s not going to make it on the first ballot and his chances wouldn’t appear great long-term either. He finished 401 hits shy of 3,000 and 46 home runs short of 400, plus never won a Gold Glove.

Chances: slim

Jeff Kent

Many Dodger fans must feel conflicted about Kent’s candidacy. He played for the Dodgers from 2005 to 2008, when he was 40, and played remarkably well for his age, batting .291 and averaging 19 home runs and 78 RBIs. He also had well-publicized spats with some of his younger teammates and, above all, made his greatest mark with the rival San Francisco Giants. If he played anywhere other than the middle of the infield, his chances would be slim, but he is the all-time leader among second basemen in home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage and doubles. He had limited range, but was a solid second baseman. In other words, he looks like a semi-lock, at least eventually.

Chances: excellent

Paul LoDuca

If he could have come close to replicating his 2001 season, when he hit .320 with 25 home runs and 90 RBIs, he might have been worth considering. He didn’t. The catcher was a four-time All-Star, but otherwise, has virtually no claim on a legitimate Hall candidacy.

Chances: nil

Mark McGwire

A Rookie of the Year award, 12 All-Star appearances and 583 lifetime home runs seem like pretty shiny credentials, but like Gagne, he doomed his chances by admitting to using PED’s. If voters’ attitudes undergo a radical change, the Dodgers hitting coach might make it one day for his slugging prowess. But it’s not looking good. He’s been on the ballot for seven years and only got 17 percent of the vote last year, so his chances are looking far from robust.

Chances: slim

Don Mattingly

He’s pretty much given up on it at this point, the Dodgers manager said in an interview with ESPNLosAngeles about a year ago. Perhaps if his back had held up and he had played beyond 14 seasons, he would have accumulated the necessary credentials. The best thing that could happen for Dodgers fans is that Mattingly one day follows predecessors Walter Alston, Tommy Lasorda and (eventually) Joe Torre into the Hall as a Dodgers manager, because that would likely mean multiple World Series titles.

Chances: slim

Hideo Nomo

He won a Rookie of the Year and pitched two no-hitters. He was a pioneer for the later wave of top-flight Japanese players. If he could have continued the trajectory of those early Dodgers years, he might have had a chance, but a 123-109 record and 4.24 ERA aren’t going to get you to Cooperstown.

Chances: nil

Greg Maddux

Ned Colletti acquired him from the Chicago Cubs in August of 2006 and he completed his career at the age of 42 after signing with the Dodgers in 2008. But something tells me he won’t be wearing a Dodgers cap in Cooperstown. He won four straight Cy Youngs, 18 Gold Glove awards, won 355 games, struck out 3,371 hitters and had a lifetime 3.16 ERA. The only question is whether he will be unanimous in his first season. Shocking if he’s not.

Chances: excellent

Mike Piazza

The only real justification for leaving him off a Hall of Fame ballot -- as 44 percent of voters did last season, in his first season of eligibility -- was the shadow of PED use. He may have been the best-hitting catcher of all-time. He won a Rookie of the Year, made 12 All-Star teams, hit 427 lifetime home runs and was a career .308 hitter. He continues to insist he’s innocent, nothing tangible has linked him to drug use, so maybe voters’ cynicism will relent in his second season on the ballot? His status will be a good indicator of voters' attitudes.

Chances: good

How do you pitch to Yasiel Puig?

October, 2, 2013
10/02/13
11:47
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For each of the eight remaining postseason teams, the Stats & Information team will offer a look at a key hitter and use Next-Level data to analyze how he might best be approached by opposing pitchers.

When the Los Angeles Dodgers called up Yasiel Puig on June 3, they were 23-32 (.418) and 8.5 games back in the NL West. From that point forward, they went 69-38 (.645) and won the division by 11 games.

While Puig certainly wasn’t the only reason for the turnaround – a healthy Zack Greinke and Hanley Ramirez were among the others – Puig developed into an impact player and helped carry the Dodgers to the postseason.

But how do you pitch to him? Let’s take a look at three keys.

Be careful early in the count
Puig’s first career HR came on the first pitch of his seventh at-bat, setting the tone for what would be one of the game’s most aggressive – and successful – hitters early in the count.

When Puig sees a first-pitch strike, he swings 68 percent of the time; only two hitters (Freddie Freeman and Carlos Gomez) swung at such pitches more often since Puig debuted.

Puig hit .551 with a 1.642 OPS on the first pitch, the third-highest OPS in the last 25 seasons behind Jim Edmonds in 2004 and Gary Sheffield in 2000. Puig’s nine first-pitch home runs ranked fourth in baseball, even though he didn't debut until June.

With so much success on the first pitch, it’s no surprise that the deeper the pitcher is able to get in the count against Puig, the more the advantage swings his way. This is the case for most hitters, but the difference is even more pronounced with Puig, as seen in the chart to the right.

(Read full post)

It's down to one last stand in the desert

September, 18, 2013
9/18/13
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PHOENIX -- You could sense the Los Angeles Dodgers' determination as they desperately tried to crawl that final inch, but their search for the National League West title remains exactly that -- a crawl.

They fought back from a 4-0 deficit to get to within one run, but after some bad breaks, they lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks, 9-4, at Chase Field on Wednesday night. Their magic number remained stuck on two. They only have one more chance, Thursday afternoon, to finish it off in the tidiest manner, against the team they're trying to eliminate.

For now, the champagne stayed neatly tucked away in the visiting clubhouse, the plastic sheeting stored nearby.

The Dodgers, hot as lava from late June through early September, have lost 10 of their past 14 games with the prize so close.

Wednesday they had a turn of misfortune at a bad time. Michael Young appeared to get his hand on home plate ahead of Miguel Montero's tag in the sixth inning, but umpire Jim Joyce, running toward the plate from his first-base position, called him out.

Adrian Gonzalez, who had hit the double that sent Young home, was so upset, he was ejected by second-base umpire Andy Fletcher. Gonzalez is a laid-back sort and it was only the third ejection of his career. It proved costly because, after that, the Dodgers' only power bats were Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig.

Arizona scored five eighth-inning runs off Ronald Belisario and Peter Moylan to keep the Dodgers stuck an inch from the finish line.

The game was televised by ESPN and the first four innings gave viewers in other cities a pretty good summation of everything Puig. He was as exciting as ever, both when he got picked off second base following his leadoff double and when his powerful arm intimidated Montero from trying to score in the third inning.

The Dodgers' biggest worry with Puig is that he'll get angry or upset and lose focus at a critical moment. After he had been picked off, he seemed in a bit of a fog when Adam Eaton grounded a hit to right field. Puig took his time and Eaton hustled his way to second for a double. It wouldn't have mattered where he was in the end, because Paul Goldschmidt -- who else? -- homered to give Arizona a 2-0 lead.

Puig hit a 442-foot home run to spark the Dodgers' offense to life in the fourth inning. It always seems to be the good and the bad with Puig, in this case in roughly equal measure.

The Dodgers had to fight to get out of the hole the Diamondbacks dug them against spot starter Stephen Fife, who was lifted in the third inning having given up four runs and six hits. The Dodgers gave Fife the start to afford ace Clayton Kershaw extra rest in anticipation of a deep run in the playoffs.

Top things to know: Dodgers at D'Backs

September, 18, 2013
9/18/13
3:53
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Jake Roth/USA TODAY SportsDon Mattingly has the Dodgers on the verge of a 3rd division title in the last 6 years.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks play the third game of a four-game series in Phoenix tonight (10 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN). Arizona needs only one win in the next two days to win the season series for the third straight year.

Here are a few storylines you might hear about during the broadcast.

1. The Dodgers magic number to clinch first place in the NL West is two, meaning they can clinch with a win tonight.

This would be LA’s third division title in the last six years. However, in each of the last two instances (2008, 2009) the Dodgers were eliminated in the NLCS by the Philadelphia Phillies.

2. The Dodgers have overcome a number of injuries this season. In fact, they’ve used the DL 25 times, more than any other team in the Senior Circuit.

Matt Kemp made his first start off the DL Tuesday night and posted his first four-hit, three-RBI game since Sept. 26, 2012. This was also the fifth such game of his career (four have come against NL West opponents).

3. Paul Goldschmidt has belted five home runs and 18 RBIs off Dodgers pitching this season. His RBIs are tied with Colorado's Michael Cuddyer and San Francisco's Hunter Pence for the most among all players against Los Angeles this season.

In addition, Goldschmidt is riding a seven-game hitting streak that has seen him hit .566 (15-for-27) with nine RBIs.

4. The Diamondbacks have won their share of dramatic games this season. Arizona has 16 extra-inning wins, most by an NL team since the 1999 Atlanta Braves (17) and their 13 walk-off wins are a club record.

Misc. Notes
• Yasiel Puig is hitting .554 on the first pitch of an at-bat this season, the highest average in the majors (minimum 50 plate appearances).

• Arizona’s Didi Gregorius has had a solid rookie season. Among NL rookies, only Yasiel Puig (.401 to .328) has posted a higher OBP (minimum 300 at-bats).

• Opponents are hitting .071 (4-for-56) with runners in scoring position this season against Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen.

Should L.A. go for home field? Probably not

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
6:22
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LOS ANGELES -- He won't say it publicly, but one of manager Don Mattingly's biggest challenges the next three weeks is balancing how much he rests his aching players with pushing for home-field advantage in the playoffs.

The issue arose Sunday when Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw told reporters in Cincinnati he still has his sights on securing the best record in the National League. With 20 games left, the Dodgers trail the Atlanta Braves by two games for that distinction.

Does it matter? Apparently not a great deal to Mattingly, who has already inserted highly unpredictable starter Edinson Volquez in his rotation for at least two turns and rested most of his starters last week in a series in Colorado. Mattingly said it "would be nice" to secure home field -- hardly a resounding rallying cry.

"Basically, you've got to win games everywhere," Mattingly said.

And, if you look at the numbers, you really can't argue. ESPN Stats & Info's Mark Simon dug into the numbers:

• Since the 2-2-1 format was adopted in the division series in 1998, teams with home-field advantage have won 30 of the 60 series.

• Since the current format was adopted in the championship series in 1996, teams with home-field advantage have won 17 of the 34 series.

Not a math whiz here, but it looks like teams have got about a 50-50 shot of winning no matter where they play.

There are exceptions, though. If the Dodgers should play the Braves in the second round and it were to go seven games, they would be better off playing four of those at home.

Atlanta, with its powerful, but strikeout-prone, lineup, has played at a .718 rate at home and a .479 rate on the road. Dodger Stadium is one of the best pitchers' parks in baseball. Turner Field has much friendlier home run fences.

Here are lineups for Monday's game with the Arizona Diamondbacks, as the Dodgers look to trim their magic number for clinching to eight:

Arizona

1. Adam Eaton CF
2. Aaron Hill 2B
3. Paul Goldschmidt 1B
4. Eric Chavez 3B
5. Martin Prado LF
6. Miguel Montero C
7. Gerardo Parra RF
8. Didi Gregorius SS
9. Randall Delgado RHP

Dodgers

1. Yasiel Puig RF
2. Carl Crawford LF
3. Hanley Ramirez SS
4. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
5. Andre Ethier CF
6. Juan Uribe 3B
7. Mark Ellis 2B
8. Tim Federowicz C
9. Ricky Nolasco RHP

Top stats to know: Dodgers at Reds

September, 8, 2013
9/08/13
3:19
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AP Photo/Jeff RobersonClayton Kershaw has many different ways to get hitters out.

The Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers meet with the Reds trying for a series sweep on "Sunday Night Baseball" at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN). Here’s a look at five statistical storylines our broadcast crew will surely be talking about.

1. Despite a three-game losing streak, the Dodgers are 36-11 since the All-Star break. If they can maintain that pace, it would be the fourth-best second-half winning percentage by a team since the All-Star Game began in 1933. After a 30-42 start, the Dodgers are 53-16 in their past 69 games. Their starting pitchers entered Sunday with a 3.09 ERA, best in the majors. The Reds rank second with a 3.37 ERA.

2. Clayton Kershaw enters Sunday night with a 1.89 ERA, which would be the lowest by an NL lefty since Sandy Koufax’s 1.73 in 1966.

Kershaw could be only the fifth pitcher to lead his league in ERA in three straight seasons (the first since Greg Maddux from 1993 to 1995) and only the third to lead the majors in three straight seasons (joining Maddux and Hall of Famer Lefty Grove, 1929 to 1931).

Kershaw is the only pitcher in the majors with at least 60 strikeouts on three different pitch types (69 slider, 68 curveball, 63 fastball).

Kershaw is coming off his worst start of the season. In his first start of September, he allowed more earned runs (five) than he did in five starts in August combined (four).

3. Reds starter Homer Bailey is 5-0 with a 2.42 ERA in his past seven starts. Bailey enters this start with back-to-back outings of seven innings pitched and no earned runs allowed. The last Reds pitcher with three straight such outings was Jim Maloney in 1968.

4. The Kershaw-Joey Votto matchup should be a good one. Lefties are hitting an NL-low .159 against Kershaw this season. Votto is 5-for-20 against Kershaw with 11 strikeouts, his most against any pitcher. He’s also one of four left-handed hitters to hit a pair of homers against Kershsaw. (The others are Adam Dunn, Carlos Gonzalez and Brad Hawpe.)

5. Each team has a rookie doing something notable from a historical perspective. Yasiel Puig is currently hitting .347. Over the past 80 years, the only players 22 or younger to finish a season with a batting average higher than that (minimum 300 plate appearances) are Ted Williams, Alex Rodriguez and Stan Musial.

Meanwhile, the Reds now have a unique offensive weapon in Billy Hamilton, who stole 75 bases in the minor leagues this season. The Elias Sports Bureau reports that Hamilton, who has not yet come to the plate in a major league game, is the first player in the modern era (since 1900) to record a stolen base in each of his first four major league games.

Dodgers catchers enjoying rare synergy

September, 6, 2013
9/06/13
11:04
AM PT
Ron Karkovice was a first-round draft pick and a highly touted defensive catcher, but for much of his career he was stuck behind Carlton Fisk. It wasn’t until Karkovice was 28 years old (and Fisk was 44) that he finally got an opportunity to be the Chicago White Sox starting catcher.

Fisk, it has been said, was none too eager to foster Karkovice’s improvement. Such a dynamic is common in major-league clubhouses, with veterans typically wary of losing their jobs to younger talent.

The Dodgers have tried to pre-empt such an issue on their team by asking A.J. Ellis to help Tim Federowicz along.

“That’s one thing we’ve been talking about, that his job partially is to bring Fed up,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “Really, we’re asking him, ‘Train Fed to take your job and then fight him off.’"

Ellis, 32, has been the Dodgers’ primary catcher for the past two seasons. Federowicz, 25, is in his first full season.

Ellis’ catcher’s ERA of 3.10 is the best in the majors, tied with his former teammate Russell Martin of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Federowicz, without the luxury of catching Clayton Kershaw when Ellis is healthy, isn’t far behind with a CERA of 3.49. He has become the personal catcher for Ricky Nolasco, who has been one of the hottest starters in the league.

Ellis said he is just returning a favor.

“I wouldn’t be the major-league catcher I am without the help of Brad Ausmus,” Ellis said. “I latched onto him and he mentored me on how to become a major-league catcher, how you need to handle yourself and how you need to prepare and what your main priority is.”

Eleven of Federowicz’s 35 starts have come since Aug. 1 and his emergence (he’s also batting .333 in his last 16 games) has allowed Ellis to get more rest than he did a year ago, when he fell into a major batting slump in September. Ellis admitted in 2012 that he had begun to wear down mentally. That should be less of a problem down the stretch this season.

Grading the week: The train rolls on

September, 2, 2013
9/02/13
7:59
AM PT
DENVER – The Dodgers were essentially overpowered by the pitcher they were facing, a towering right-hander named Andrew Cashner, who was pumping 98, 99 and even 100-mph fastballs past their hitters as late as the seventh inning.

Not a lot you can do in a situation like that, just hold on and hope you’re in striking distance when he gets tired.

Thanks to Chris Capuano, the Dodgers were. And thanks to Zack Greinke, they were the next day, too, winning essentially the same game -- by the same 2-1 score.

If anyone doubted the Dodgers' pitching was taking over a few weeks ago, nobody doubts it now. The Dodgers had the best pitching in the majors in August. In fact, three of their starters, Clayton Kershaw, Greinke and Ricky Nolasco, had ERAs in the top five in the National League.

The last Dodger team to pitch that well in a month did so in April of 1981, a World Series year.

Things are trending up, in other words. To have suggested the Dodgers would win 100 games in April, May, June or even July would have been moronic. To suggest it now seems like a pretty good reading of the winds. The Dodgers need to go 19-7 to win 100. Amazing.

SCORING

Yasiel Puig continues to be impossible to ignore.

Bench him and it only seems to stoke his desire. After his first disciplinary benching, he hit the decisive home run. After his second, last Wednesday, he came back to go 4-for-5 with two stolen bases in the next game.

Puig was cold, but now he’s not any more. Because he’s such a free swinger and has such great strength and hand-eye coordination, his streaks don’t follow normal trends. It reminds me of former AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero. An advance scout said he never put Guerrero in the “cold” category, because the minute he did, Guerrero would hit two home runs and go 3-for-5 and the scout looked bad.

Puig has multi-hit games in five of his last eight games. He is batting .596, best in the majors, when he swings at the first pitch. That raises the question: So why not bounce a slider or throw a fastball above the neck on every first pitch? Because he’s adjusting. Remember when he never walked? Now he has a .409 on-base percentage.

Other than Puig’s contributions, one big night from Adrian Gonzalez and some clutch hits from Mark Ellis, it was a ho-hum week for the Dodgers' offense. The Dodgers averaged 4.1 runs per game, but nine of those came in one game against San Diego, much of it at the expense of one reliever, Anthony Bass.

But give the Dodgers credit. They score according to the game, somehow finding ways to scrape runs across to support their pitchers, at least pitchers not named Clayton Kershaw.

Grade: B-

DEFENSE

Kenley Jansen isn’t getting enough publicity. If he keeps this trend up for another 17 or 18 years, other teams are going to give him a farewell tour like they did for Mariano Rivera. Rivera is the only comparison for Jansen that is apt at the moment, even if it is essentially absurd.

Confining the discussion to 2013, is there a more unhittable closer in baseball? Jansen gives teams no hope of late-inning heroics. He has nailed his last 17 save chances and, over that time, had a 1.03 ERA with 41 strikeouts (in 17 games). For his career, batters are hitting .155 against him.

It’s only Sept. 2, but Greinke’s first season has exceeded even the expectations raised by his then-record, $147 million contract. He is pitching at his 2009 level, though through slightly different means. Greinke’s ERA has gone done in three consecutive seasons, so the Dodgers can feel good about getting him in the middle of his prime.

Once again, Kershaw was the only Dodgers pitcher to take a loss and he’s not just a virtual lock to win the Cy Young, but he’s getting talked up for the league MVP trophy. Go figure. The Dodgers need to start making life a little easier on their ace, so he doesn’t have to throw a shutout to get a win.

Hanley Ramirez is showing signs of reverting to the way he played shortstop last year, reacting slowly to ground balls and getting his footwork tied up, sometimes sailing his throws. The Dodgers should, and probably will, make Ramirez's defense a point of emphasis in the final month.

Grade: A-

DECISION-MAKING

Should we just trust Ned Colletti and Don Mattingly and assume that Michael Young’s leadership skills and still-useable bat will make up for the fact he is going to take playing time away from another player who puts up at least comparable offensive numbers and plays better defense?

How is Young an upgrade, particularly since he costs the Dodgers $1 million and a young pitcher who might one day be a useful big-league arm?

It seems the Dodgers’ early-season trauma -- a seemingly endless string of injuries -- has pushed them into a cautious footing as they begin to eye a post-season run. They’ve begun to hoard depth. Young, like Carlos Marmol, Brian Wilson and Edinson Volquez, is viewed as a more-capable injury replacement than any of the players the Dodgers have at Triple-A.

So there’s that.

It will be interesting to see how the veterans blend into the fabric of the team over the next month, as the Dodgers make evaluations for their 25-man playoff roster.

Grade: B-

CHEMISTRY TEST

The Dodgers clubhouse has become a frat house. Wilson and Juan Uribe, longtime teammates, yell at each other across the room, usually on the topic of each others’ wardrobes. There’s no telling what dugout shenanigans Uribe, Puig and Ramirez will get into.

They seem to have the ability to snap into business mode at about 7 p.m., so nobody’s really too worried about the joking around. It has been interesting to see how quickly Wilson has gotten comfortable, considering all the years he pitched for the team the Dodgers like least.

Young, like Uribe, Wilson, Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker, is another World Series veteran, one more reason the Dodgers thought he would be a useful addition. That’s their desired destination, after all, so why not invite in players who know what it's like to get there?

Grade: A-

STATE OF CONTENTION

It’s getting close.

In fact, the Dodgers have put themselves in position where, even if something goes terribly wrong in this final month, they should back into the playoffs.

Their magic number is 16 with 26 games left. There is a very good chance the Dodgers will clinch some time during a four-game series at Arizona that starts Sept. 16. To have the division in hand so early would allow the Dodgers to align their pitching perfectly for October.

Remember when the 2005 Chicago White Sox were able to rest their starting pitchers and they all came out throwing 95 mph and up, just strong-armed their way to the World Series title? Well, the Dodgers could set up a similar scenario, only with much more accomplished pitchers.

Grade: A-

Breaking down Yasiel Puig's season

August, 16, 2013
8/16/13
4:41
PM PT
Yasiel Puig
Puig
Yasiel Puig has been the epitome of a five-tool player in his brief two-and-a-half months in the big leagues, displaying home run power, a rocket arm and speed to force the issue on the basepaths.

The most impressive part of his game, though, may be a tool that isn't physical, but mental -- his ability to adjust. Let's take a look at his season so far in segments.

The Explosive Start: June 3–July 2 (.443 BA, .473 OBP in 27 games)


ESPN Stats & Information
From the day he made his debut, Puig seemingly set some sort of record every night. In his first 27 games he had 15 multihit games, including eight in which he had at least three hits. Both of those marks were the best in baseball during that stretch.

A big reason for his success was that he crushed anything that was in the strike zone, with the exception of anything on the low outside corner, hitting .515 on would-be strikes.

Puig's one weak spot came in his desire to swing at nearly everything, as he chased 38 percent of pitches that were out of the strike zone. He did manage to hit an impressive .316 on those pitches because of his ability to spin on inside pitches. However, opposing pitching coaches definitely took note of the fact that he was willing to fish and that he missed on 44 percent of those swings.

The Slump: July 3–July 22 (.220 BA, .266 OBP in 15 games)


ESPN Stats & Information
Puig got even more aggressive in his next 15 games, chasing 40 percent of pitches outside of the zone and missing on 60 percent of those swings as he went into a three-week funk.

His problem wasn't just this lack of plate discipline, it was that he went ice cold against pitches in the strike zone, hitting .206. That is more than 300 points lower than what he hit against pitches in the zone in his first month in the majors. One of the low points came when he struck out in all four of his at-bats in a game against the San Francisco Giants.

Part of the drop-off during this stretch was merely standard regression as the BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) Puig had in his first month of .513 was unsustainable. But he also tried to do too much against opposing fastballs.

In Puig's first 27 games, his swing was more compact, allowing him to hit line drives on 15 percent of swings against fastballs in the zone while swinging and missing 15 percent of the time. During his slump, his line-drive rate went down to 5 percent while his miss rate went up to 53 percent.

The Adjustments: Since July 23 (.377 BA, .490 OBP in 21 games)


ESPN Stats & Information
The past three weeks for Puig have been arguably his most impressive. He might not have numbers as high as he put up in his first month, but that came when there wasn't a book on him yet.

Puig is back to smoking pitches in the strike zone, hitting .458 in his past 21 games. He has also become much more patient at the plate, racking up 16 walks in his past 96 plate appearances after having only seven in the first 176 plate appearances of his career.

His .500 OBP since the start of August is the sixth-highest in baseball. Dodgers fans have plenty to smile about as they have to like their chances to watch their team play well into October.

No doubting their fight these days

July, 23, 2013
7/23/13
8:30
PM PT


When Don Mattingly made all those now-famous comments about mental toughness and what it takes to compete in the major leagues, he was probably envisioning a Los Angeles Dodgers team a lot like this one.

Remember that day, May 22, when Mattingly said things like, "some guys are willing to go another level for that prize. They'll do whatever it takes to beat you"?

Adrian Gonzalez
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesAdrian Gonzalez's three-run homer in the eighth inning Tuesday is an example of the grit the Dodgers have been showing lately.
The Dodgers went to multiple levels to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 10-9 Tuesday night at Rogers Centre. They overcame a five-run deficit, rallying furiously throughout the game, and won for the fifth straight time and 22nd time in their past 27 games.

Just as they played like a last-place team for all those weeks, the Dodgers looked every bit a first-place squad Tuesday, cementing their position at the top of the NL West.

Adrian Gonzalez, the forgotten man in this Dodgers resurgence -- as well as the only consistent and healthy hitter all season -- hit a three-run home run off Darren Oliver in the eighth inning to give the Dodgers the lead for good. It wasn't just timely, it was impressive. ESPN Stats & Information calculated the distance of Gonzalez's home run at 430 feet.

Andre Ethier followed with a solo shot and the Dodgers withstood a ninth-inning Toronto charge off closer Kenley Jansen.

If there's one final piece the Dodgers would like to add before the July 31 trade deadline, it's another reliever. Their newest bullpen arm, Carlos Marmol -- the ex-Chicago Cubs closer summoned Tuesday from Double-A Chattanooga -- didn't give them any reason to change their mindset after he gave up three runs and four hits, including a home run to Jose Reyes.

Chris Capuano continues to make a pretty decent argument that the Dodgers could use another starter, too, lasting only 4⅓ innings and giving up five runs. Capuano has started 12 times this season and given up five runs or more in five of them.

No matter what flaws are cropping up, the Dodgers are burying them in a flurry of runs. They have scored 33 runs in their past three games. It's coming from all over the place now. Mark Ellis drove in three runs Tuesday and Jerry Hairston Jr. homered.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Yasiel Puig
BA HR RBI R
.312 13 59 69
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Gonzalez 17
RBIA. Gonzalez 83
RY. Puig 69
OPSY. Puig .905
WC. Kershaw 14
ERAC. Kershaw 1.86
SOC. Kershaw 174