Dodgers Report: Arizona Diamondbacks

Series preview: Diamondbacks at Dodgers

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
LOS ANGELES -- After this weekend’s series, the Dodgers will bid the Arizona Diamondbacks farewell (they don’t see them again until 2015) and good luck (six of Arizona’s next nine games are against the San Francisco Giants).

The fourth-place Diamondbacks have gone 5-8 against San Francisco and 4-12 against the Dodgers, but they could have a big impact on the NL West by playing spoiler for one of the teams.

Not that this should impact the race, but when asked about playing spoiler at the All-Star Game, plain-spoken Arizona catcher Miguel Montero, who has clashed with Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, told, “I don’t know. I really like the Giants a little better than the Dodgers.”

That comment aside, if the Dodgers don’t make the playoffs, they can’t blame the schedule. The Giants are the only potential playoff team left on their schedule and the Chicago Cubs are the only non-division opponent left to play.

It would be helpful if the Dodgers could continue their mastery of Arizona. The bad news is this is one of those series in which Cy Young near-lock Clayton Kershaw won’t pitch. The good news is Zack Greinke (13-8, 2.72 ERA) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-6, 3.18) will.
It took a while for Arizona to announce its rotation for this series, but it will go with youngsters Chase Anderson (8-6, 3.75) on Saturday and, on Friday, Vidal Nuno (2-9, 4.46), the pitcher they got from the New York Yankees in exchange for Brandon McCarthy.

On Sunday, the Dodgers will face Trevor Cahill (3-10, 5.06), who has pitched well lately as long as he’s not facing the Dodgers, who roughed him up for eight runs in 3 1/3 innings on Aug. 26 in L.A.

The Dodgers pushed back Dan Haren's start, meaning he wouldn’t face one of his former teams (the Washington Nationals) but will face another one of his former teams (Arizona). Haren has pitched well against both Washington and Arizona, so the motivation appears to be simply a matter of allowing Haren extra time to recover. The 33-year-old is coming off back-to-back quality starts against two of the weaker-hitting teams in the league, the San Diego Padres and New York Mets.

Haren is 24 innings shy of giving himself the option of returning to the Dodgers next season at a salary of $10 million, but he has said he hasn’t decided if he will play in 2015 and that the vesting option is not a motivating factor for him in these final weeks. What will motivate Haren is trying to help the Dodgers get to the playoffs. His previous two seasons were with Washington, which disappointed mightily in 2013 and the Angels, who were World Series favorites after adding Albert Pujols in 2012 and finished in a distant third place.

Clayton Kershaw's consistency is mind-numbing

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
PHOENIX – Interviewing Clayton Kershaw after one of his performances these days is a bit like those old “Chris Farley Show” skits from “Saturday Night Live.”

Fake Farley: “Remember that time when you threw a no-hitter and struck out 15 Colorado Rockies?”

Fake Kershaw: “Yeah, I remember.”

[+] EnlargeYasiel Puig
AP Photo/Alex GallardoYasiel Puig, in the discussion for NL MVP, led the majors in slugging in July but has only two extra-base hits in August.
Fake Farley: “That was awesome.”

There just really isn’t a lot to ask him, not when his start-to-start consistency is to the point that it numbs the senses. So after Kershaw’s latest brilliance -- 10 strikeouts over eight innings in the Dodgers’ 3-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks Wednesday night -- reporters dutifully ticked off the prevalent story lines.

Did his previous start at Chase Field, in which he got knocked out in the second inning, add any extra fire coming into Wednesday night? Not really.

“You don’t want to lose to anybody,” Kershaw said.

Is it satisfying to be the first pitcher in the major leagues to reach 16 wins despite spending six weeks on the disabled list? Nah.

“Wins are a team thing,” he said.

What about all this building talk of being the first pitcher to win the National League MVP in 46 years?

“I’ll let you know after the season. I’m not really thinking about it,” he said.

After the first four pitches Wednesday night, all balls to Ender Inciarte, it looked like Chase Field just wasn’t a place where Kershaw could thrive. In fact, the first four innings turned into a slow grind, with six of his eight baserunners coming in those innings. Maybe it’s the thin air or the cozy dimensions. Maybe it’s the short fences or maybe it’s the mound. Maybe he simply can’t hack the desert.

“He seemed like an angry, hungry grizzly bear early on,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “He was just grumpy out there. I thought he settled down.”

He did do that, continuing an almost unbelievable run of dominance in the process. Kershaw has pitched at least seven innings and held the opponent to three runs or fewer while striking out at least six batters with two walks or fewer in his last 13 starts. Forget about the quality start. Kershaw has nailed down the “high-quality start.” He’s had double-digit strikeout totals in six of those games and completed five of them.

That kind of consistency is certainly most valuable and it's probably Most Valuable. The Dodgers this year have been able to bank on the fact that, every five days, their bullpen will have an easy night and any losing streak stands virtually no chance of continuing. That can tend to bolster a team’s confidence. His value is bolstered by the fact that the team’s only other candidate who stands a remote chance of entering the MVP discussion, Yasiel Puig, has been so wildly inconsistent.

Puig batted .398 with 25 RBIs in May. He batted .248 with five RBIs in June. Puig led the majors in slugging (.688) in July. He has two extra-base hits through all of August, both doubles.

Before Wednesday’s game, Mattingly expressed some worries about Puig’s play in center field.

“I still think some of the things we worry about are him paying attention and losing interest and taking off in his defense and things like that,” Mattingly said. “Those are areas we have to kind of stay on him. There are trickles of things all the time that we look at.”

Puig got a bad jump on Jordan Pacheco’s bloop single in the fourth inning and Scott Van Slyke, racing in from left field to back up the play, turned his ankle while making an errant throw that led to Arizona’s only run, which was unearned.

It’s not as if Puig hasn’t been incredibly valuable to the Dodgers, especially since he allowed them to stabilize their outfield by moving to center field and has played virtually every day amid an assortment of minor injuries to the rest of the everyday players. Who knows? Maybe Puig will go crazy again in September and people will be trumpeting his candidacy.

But within the team there’s certainly a burgeoning belief that Kershaw is not only the team’s MVP, but an easy choice for league MVP. And it’s getting harder and harder to argue with them.

Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 3, D'backs 1

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27

PHOENIX -- Clayton Kershaw kept his MVP campaign marching along quite steadily.

Kershaw (16-3) became the majors’ first 16-game winner -- though he missed six weeks with an injury -- and the Dodgers won for the fifth time in their past six games by defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-1 on Wednesday night.

How it happened: Kershaw wasn’t at his most dominant in the early innings, but he stabilized and pitched eight strong innings in one of his least favorite stadiums. Kershaw hasn’t pitched fewer than seven innings since June 8, and that game was cut short by rain. He came into Wednesday with a 4.10 ERA at Chase Field and had allowed seven runs in 1 2/3 innings the most recent time he pitched here, in May. Wednesday he reversed that mojo by striking out 10 batters and holding Arizona to an unearned run on six hits. He lowered his ERA to 1.73.

The Dodgers rallied for all their runs off Wade Miley in the third inning. Scott Van Slyke homered the inning before spraining his right ankle while playing left field.

Hits: Matt Kemp is slugging .120 points higher since the All-Star break than he did before it. The Dodgers also feel like he’s running better and playing better defense. Whether the uptick is a simple matter of improving health or increasing confidence, the Dodgers aren’t asking too many questions. Kemp sliced a two-run double to right-center field and was thrown out trying to stretch it to a triple. He has eight doubles and eight of his 16 home runs since the break.

Misses: The Dodgers are sticking with the plan of inserting Miguel Rojas into games for the eighth and ninth innings in order to give themselves better shortstop defense. That will give Hanley Ramirez fewer at-bats in these final five weeks of the regular season. So far, he hasn’t exactly come off the disabled list on a roll. Ramirez has one hit and five strikeouts in 12 at-bats. The Dodgers will give him time to get his timing back, but it’s not an easy thing to do given the defensive sacrifice they’re making.

Stat of the game: For the second year in a row, the Dodgers are leading the majors in road winning percentage (.618). Before 2013, it had happened just four times (1962, 1963, 1974 and 1985) since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958.

Up next: The Dodgers have Thursday off before starting a three-game series in San Diego Friday night.

Dodgers win a war of replay

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
PHOENIX – When Don Mattingly jogged out to ask the umpires to take a second look at whether catcher Miguel Montero had improperly blocked the plate while attempting to apply a tag on Carl Crawford in the fourth inning Tuesday night, he had a hidden agenda.

Mattingly later admitted he had no idea whether Montero was in violation of Rule 7.13, the one put in place this season to protect catchers and baserunners from serious injuries during collisions. For that matter, does anyone understand that rule or its interpretations?

“We’ve seen the same play and one guy’s safe, one guy’s out,” Mattingly said.

[+] EnlargeDon Mattingly
Christian Petersen/Getty Images"We've seen the same play and one guy's safe, one guy's out," manager Don Mattingly said of testing replay in the fourth inning.
What Mattingly really intended was for the umpires examining the play in New York to notice what the Dodgers’ replay guy already had: Montero had the ball in his bare hand and applied the tag with his mitt. So, he asked the crew chief to review it knowing full well his initial argument was flimsy.

“We knew in spring training that, once they look at that, everything becomes open to being looked at,” Mattingly said.

New York saw what the Dodgers saw and awarded the Dodgers a run that helped spark their six-run outburst in the fourth inning en route to a 9-5 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field Tuesday night. Mattingly (and replay official John Pratt) were on a roll. They later got an out call on Roberto Hernandez’s bunt single overturned amid the same rally.

They nearly got a tick-tack call later, too. Had the umpires taken a longer look at David Peralta’s leg, they might have awarded the Dodgers a double play in the fifth. After reaching the bag safely, Peralta appeared to lift his foot off the bag while Dee Gordon was applying the tag after a throw from Adrian Gonzalez.

The Dodgers will take the 2-out-3 day in the replay department. They’ll gladly take another win against another hapless NL West opponent, too. The Diamondbacks are one of those teams this season whose right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing many times. Lucky for the Dodgers, the rest of their season could be largely about standing back and letting the other team beat itself.

The Dodgers are playing .707 baseball so far against the Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies. Sixteen of their final 29 games are against those teams, who are a combined 66 games under .500. Presuming the Dodgers can maintain a modicum of good health and don’t go into some bizarre tailspin, it’s hard to imagine them not reaching the playoffs at this point. They have a five-game lead on the San Francisco Giants, but a 6 -game lead on the team currently just out of the wild-card picture, the Atlanta Braves.

The Dodgers didn’t exactly play flawless baseball Tuesday. Starter Roberto Hernandez labored early, allowing five base runners and two runs in the first two innings. The late-inning relievers nearly took a blowout and made it a save situation – closer Kenley Jansen even had to start warming up though the Dodgers led 9-2 going into the eighth.

But the Dodgers and the rest of the NL West is a bit reminiscent of the AL East in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the New York Yankees reigned and the Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays were still all lousy. They won their division with 87 wins in 2000. That ended working out pretty well. They won their final World Series under Joe Torre.

For teams with expectations like the Dodgers’, it’s all about setting up the big finish. If they reach their ultimate goal, nobody’s going to nitpick a soft schedule. Nobody's going to remember why they called for a replay.

Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 9, D-backs 5

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26

PHOENIX – The Los Angeles Dodgers continued their demolition job on the bottom-feeding teams in the NL West -- a pretty good method for reaching the playoffs -- on Tuesday.

They defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks 9-5, which gives Los Angeles 11 wins in 15 games against the Diamondbacks this year. They are 9-4 against both the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies, which means they’re playing .707 baseball against the three worst teams in their division.

The San Francisco Giants also won, which means the Dodgers remain five games up in the NL West.

How it happened: Roberto Hernandez wasn’t particularly sharp, judging by the five baserunners he allowed in the first two innings and the constant trouble he dodged, but he trudged through six innings and managed to confine the damage to three runs. Arizona tied it 2-2 in the second inning on Ender Inciarte’s two-run single, but the Dodgers staged a long fourth inning, bunched five straight singles and knocked Trevor Cahill out of the game.

Hits: It might be difficult for Andre Ethier to take, given that he’s the odd man out virtually every game, but the Dodgers seem to have found the right alignment of outfielders. Yasiel Puig has settled in and played strong defense in center field, for the most part, and everybody is hitting to varying extents. Crawford stayed hot with two hits and ignited the Dodgers’ big fourth inning with an RBI single to left. Kemp hit a two-run home run in the first inning to get the team off to a fast start, and Puig walked twice. Scratch one item (at least for now) off manager Don Mattingly’s things-to-stress-about list.

Misses: Hanley Ramirez is a big addition to the Dodgers’ lineup, but only if he hits. He snapped an 0-for-7 skid since his return from the disabled list when he hit a fly ball to left field that landed safely between the third baseman and left fielder, so maybe that will ignite him. He also had a nifty glove flip to nearly start a double play, but it’s well-documented that he’s not the Dodgers’ best defensive option at shortstop. How Ramirez performs these final weeks are crucial to his future and crucial to the Dodgers’ postseason fortunes.

Stat of the game: The most recent time Clayton Kershaw pitched at Chase Field, he -- amazingly -- allowed seven earned runs and was yanked in the second inning. That was back in mid-May and was just Kershaw's third start since coming off the disabled list.

Up next: If you remove that start from Kershaw’s season, he has a 1.42 ERA -- Bob Gibson-type stuff. He can’t remove it, of course, but he can make everybody forget about it with a good outing Wednesday night. Kershaw (15-3, 1.82 ERA) will be opposed by Arizona’s Wade Miley (7-9, 4.29) in a rematch of Opening Day. The game begins at 6:40 p.m. PT.

Series preview: Dodgers at D-backs

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
PHOENIX -- The Los Angeles Dodgers are in first place in the NL West in large part because they play in the NL West.

They have gone 33-19 against teams in their division and 27-12 against teams other than the San Francisco Giants in their division. The good news for Dodgers fans is that the team’s next five games and 23 of its last 30 are inside the West, starting with a strange, five-game trip (with two off days) to Arizona and San Diego.

The Dodgers are 10-4 against Arizona and 9-4 against San Diego.

Tuesday the Dodgers have to survive what might be an unfavorable pitching matchup, with Roberto Hernandez on the mound against Trevor Cahill, who has come back from the minor leagues on a bit of a roll, going 2-0 with a 2.33 ERA since the demotion. Hernandez had a slow, grinding start against the Padres in his last time on the mound, but has generally been a nice post-non-waiver trade deadline pickup for the Dodgers.

Wednesday will be a chance for Clayton Kershaw to exorcise whatever demons are left from one of the worst starts of his career at Chase Field earlier this season. It was an aberration in what looks like another Cy Young season for Kershaw, but he has never had much fun pitching in Arizona. He is 3-6 with a 4.10 ERA lifetime there.

Wednesday will be the same pitching matchup as Opening Day in Australia, with the Dodgers facing lefty Wade Miley, who has a 1.83 ERA in his last three starts though he walked six Washington Nationals batters in his last start.

Arizona is doing some late-season experimenting, with manager Kirk Gibson telling reporters recently he will try Aaron Hill at third base in coming games in order to get some of the team’s middle infielders onto the field at the same time.

When the Diamondbacks, playing without star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, took two of three from the Padres over the weekend, it was their first series win since taking two of three from the last-place Colorado Rockies Aug. 8-11. The Dodgers will get their first look at rookie third baseman Jake Lamb. The Diamondbacks called him up Aug. 7 and he hit his first major-league home run on Saturday.

Kershaw solves the Arizona puzzle

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
LOS ANGELES – The average baseball fan looks at the Arizona Diamondbacks and sees, frankly, a bad baseball team, one that has been huffing and puffing to get out of last place since it got back from Australia nearly three months ago.

Clayton Kershaw looks at the Diamondbacks and sees a riddle he couldn’t afford not to solve.

Before Kershaw got on the mound Friday night, he likely had an inkling that Gerardo Parra pretty much had his number, batting .333 against him with three doubles; that Aaron Hill seemed pretty comfortable, hitting .308 off him. He probably knew he had contained Arizona’s best player, Paul Goldschmidt, but Goldschmidt had done his damage, too, at times, with three extra-base hits.

[+] EnlargeLos Angeles Dodgers
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesA first-inning, two-run homer by Matt Kemp provided an early lead for Clayton Kershaw.
And there was, of course, May 17, the day the Diamondbacks hit Kershaw around at Chase Field, forcing him to stalk off the mound in the second inning, his Los Angeles Dodgers losing 7-0 already. Think he forgot that night?

It was the second-shortest outing of Kershaw’s career and, coming just 11 days after he’d returned from a long stay on the disabled list, it left an air of uncertainty around the best pitcher in the National League.

One of the traits that makes Kershaw special is his unwillingness to settle. A lot of major league players eventually accept that some matchups simply don’t work in their favor. Kershaw isn’t one of them. So he worked meticulously through Friday night’s 4-3 Dodgers victory over Arizona, like a surgeon who knows one twitch could kill the patient.

Other than Matt Kemp’s first-inning home run, the Dodgers weren’t scoring for him and Arizona was getting on base plenty -- eight hits off Kershaw, plus a walk. If he was going to force his way back on top of an opponent that had embarrassed him last time out, he was going to have to use everything at his disposal.

“It was very stressful. There were guys on base the whole night," Kershaw said. "That’s a good team. I’ve said it earlier. Their offense is tough to go through."

But he did so, striking out seven batters in seven innings. Since the bad start in Arizona, Kershaw is 3-1 with a 1.85 ERA, holding opposing batters to a .189 average. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he made himself nervous by listening to Vin Scully’s pregame scene-setter on the left-field scoreboard.

“It talked about what Kersh’s record was against the Diamondbacks and things like that, knowing what happened in Arizona,” Mattingly said. “But also knowing Kersh, we know he’s going to come out and battle and, it seemed like as the game went on, he got even better.”

It’s not entirely possible that won’t prove an apt description of Kershaw’s 2014 season. Mattingly spent a lot of time this spring talking about ways he would limit Kershaw’s innings, but that might have been taken care of for him when Kershaw missed five weeks resting a strained muscle in his upper back.

He’s 6-2 with a 2.93 ERA and has pitched just 55⅓ innings, about 60 percent of the workload he would normally be carrying at this time of year. It’s possible Kershaw could be at his strongest in August, September and October. Does he still have time to salvage another Cy Young season? Could he be primed for the best deep run of his pitching career?

The best answer to the first question is, “Probably,” and, to the second, it’s, “If he keeps solving problems as he did Friday, why not?”

Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 4, D-backs 3

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers snapped a two-game losing streak behind their ace, Clayton Kershaw, who pitched without much of a safety net in a 4-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday night.

How it happened: For most of the game, the Dodgers offense continued its sluggish ways at home, which meant Kershaw (6-2) had to concentrate hard on every pitch. In fact, when Paul Goldschmidt lined a shot to center field with a runner on base in the seventh inning, it looked like all his hard work might have been for naught, but Andre Ethier was standing right there to catch it. Kershaw has never fared particularly well against Arizona and he got hit around in his previous start against the Diamondbacks, but he doesn’t take failure lightly and found a way to bounce back.

Brian Wilson had a rough eighth inning and nearly blew a two-run lead, but J.P. Howell, one of the game's underrated relievers, came in and bailed the Dodgers out of a two-on, one-out jam. Arizona also had action in the ninth, scoring a run, butKenley Jansen got out of it.

Hits: Moving Matt Kemp to left field created a more negative storyline in part because Kemp happened to be slumping at the time. Overall, he has not been productive at a position at which you expect one of your premium offensive players. Kemp’s .658 OPS as a left fielder ranked 34th in the National League entering Friday’s game, but Kemp did the kind of thing he used to do with frequency -- sent a soaring home run to center field -- in the second inning. He also had a sharp single and a bad-luck groundout. More of that from Kemp, or from any of the other slumping middle-of-the-order bats, could go a long way to moving the Dodgers along, at last.

Misses: Quietly, Yasiel Puig has cooled off considerably, which was probably to be expected considering he hit .398 in May. Puig is four for his past 26 (.154) with one extra-base hit, a double, in his past seven games. He nearly hit a slicing home run to right Friday, but it hooked foul. He struck out twice. Puig is entitled to cool off. The hitters around him, such as Kemp, need to make sure the Dodgers score enough runs now that Puig has become human again.

Stat of the game: Kemp’s home run snapped the second-longest home run drought of his career (101 plate appearances). The longest was in 2006-07 (139).

Up next: The teams continue the series Saturday night at 7:10, with Dan Haren (6-4, 3.49 ERA) going for the Dodgers and Josh Collmenter (4-3, 3.65) for Arizona.

Series preview: D-backs at Dodgers

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
LOS ANGELES – The Dodgers played a couple of frustrating games to end their trip to Cincinnati. They bickered with an umpire while getting dominated by pitcher Johnny Cueto one day, then watched their injury-depleted lineup blow a chance to win against Alfredo Simon.

So, now, what do they have to look forward to, the comforts of home? Maybe, but their home has been as inviting as a patch of poison oak so far this season. The Dodgers, 13-19 in Chavez Ravine, have the second-worst home record in the National League and the only team with a worse record -- the Arizona Diamondbacks -- is away from home to play them.

So, yeah, the Dodgers would like to figure out why they’ve been so listless at Dodger Stadium, and they’d like to figure it out fast.

“We were talking about it here in batting practice the other day,” pitcher Zack Greinke said. “I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense. Usually, teams play better at home, and obviously we haven’t. I don’t know why, I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but it shouldn’t because it doesn’t make sense.”

What has kept this Dodgers season from being a total loss has been a 22-14 road record, second only to the Oakland A’s for best in the major leagues.

The team up first in this homestand is Arizona, which has been diligently trying to dig its way out of the massive hole it dug at the beginning of the season. The Diamondbacks have been slowly doing just that, winning 11 of their past 19 games heading into Thursday night’s game in Houston.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has a theory – and he doesn’t pretend it’s more than that – about why his team has performed better away from its fans than in front of them. Two renovations ago, the Dodgers poured $100 million into sprucing up Dodger Stadium. Part of the work involved gutting the old clubhouse, expanding it and building all sorts of enclaves where the players could find refuge. There is a trainer’s room, a meal room, a video room, a weight room and even a quiet room with big-screen TVs and massage tables, to just unwind.

Most days, when the media are allowed into the clubhouse, there are few, if any, players in sight. It’s hard to blame them. Mattingly thinks that, when the players get on the road and are forced into closer quarters, they talk more. They might even talk about baseball sometimes.

“You just don’t get that banter you get on the road,” Mattingly said.

So, if the Dodgers don’t reach the playoffs despite a $239 million payroll, maybe we can blame the lack of banter.

Ramirez out again with sore shoulder

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
CINCINNATI -- Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said Hanley Ramirez is available to pinch-hit in Thursday's series finale against the Cincinnati Reds, but he won't be able to play the field for at least one more day. Ramirez is dealing with irritation in the A.C. joint in his right shoulder.

"The fact he walked in today feeling a little bit better with a little more movement is encouraging to us," Mattingly said.

Miguel Rojas got a second straight start at shortstop.

The team contemplated activating catcher A.J. Ellis before Thursday's game, but decided to give him one more day on the disabled list. Ellis likely will be activated before Friday night's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Ellis sprained his right ankle landing on Drew Butera's catcher's mask while celebrating Josh Beckett's no-hitter on May 25.

Dodgers certainly not playing with urgency

May, 18, 2014
May 18
PHOENIX -- The Los Angeles Dodgers got their only remaining injured hitter, Juan Uribe, back at the beginning of this series. By Wednesday, they figure to have an intact pitching staff when Hyun-Jin Ryu returns to pitch against the New York Mets.

To put it another way, welcome to the no-excuses portion of the schedule.

[+] EnlargeDan Haren
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsDan Haren was part of a Washington Nationals team that made its move too late in the NL East last season. Are the Dodgers doing the same thing?
So, why is a healthy team with the highest payroll in baseball having difficulty finding the right gear, slipping into neutral or a slow reverse every time it fumbles for drive? After Sunday's 5-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks -- capping Arizona's first winning home series of 2014 -- there were some hints from the clubhouse that the Dodgers might not be playing with the urgency that defines championship teams.

It's not as if they're just plain awful. At times, they pitch as well as anybody. They're beginning to get production from what was once viewed as a dysfunctional outfield. They've just been mildly bad for the past two weeks, going 5-9 since May 3.

"Until we can grind out wins, we're in trouble, from that standpoint," manager Don Mattingly said. "I think you've got to be ready to play every day, to play with some sense of urgency that every game's going to matter, every game's going to count, that you don't have time to wait. I don't think we can sit around and wait for a run."

About 11 months ago, the Dodgers started their ridiculous 42-8 run that launched them past Arizona and into the playoffs. This team might be more talented than that one and -- so far -- it has played better than the 2013 version. But is it a healthy approach to just sort of shuffle through the early part of the schedule waiting for your superior talent to take over?

Dodgers pitcher Dan Haren played on a team last year, the Washington Nationals, that didn't start its move until it was too late. Washington was widely picked to win the NL East and make a serious run at the World Series. It's one thing to trust your talent, it's another to think that talent alone is going to win games.

The Dodgers managed only seven hits against Arizona pitcher Josh Collmenter and some undistinguished relievers Sunday. So, when Haren made a bad pitch to former teammate Eric Chavez, it wound up costing the Dodgers the game when Chavez jacked it into the stands in the fifth inning.

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: D-backs 5, Dodgers 3

May, 18, 2014
May 18

PHOENIX -- The Los Angeles Dodgers look like they're days away from full health, but the hot streak they've been waiting on for weeks is showing no signs of arriving. They remain stuck in a slow, frustrating reverse. Sunday's 5-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks was their ninth loss in the past 14 games.

It also gave the Diamondbacks their first series win over the Dodgers and their first series win at home this season.

How it happened: Dan Haren was facing a suddenly hot lineup, one that had chased Clayton Kershaw in the second inning the night before en route to scoring 18 runs. He held up for a while, but Arizona wore him down with 10 hits over six innings. Eric Chavez, a former teammate in Oakland, had a pinch-hit, two-run home run in the fifth inning that proved the winner for the Diamondbacks. The Dodgers scored all of their runs on home runs and had only six hits.

Hits: Adrian Gonzalez was the muscle of the Dodgers’ lineup in April, but he seemed to slump in tandem with Yasiel Puig’s hot streak in May. The April version of Gonzalez paid a little return visit, hammering a two-run home run into the Diamondbacks’ center-field pool for his first homer since May 1. Gonzalez hit eight home runs in April. He also flared a single to left and dribbled one up the middle. He had a strong 5-for-11 road trip, so perhaps he’s getting going in the cleanup spot.

Misses: The longest hitting streak of Puig’s career ended at 16. He was 0-for-3 with a fly ball and two groundouts, then got hit in the left leg by a pitch from sidearmer Brad Ziegler. Puig’s RBI streak also ended at eight, one short of the franchise record.

Stat of the game: Matt Kemp has made a habit of punishing left-handed pitchers, but not this season. He is batting .170 against them in 2014. He came up as a pinch hitter with two runners on and ended the inning with a routine double play off lefty Oliver Perez in the sixth inning.

Up next: The Dodgers have an open date in New York on Monday before beginning a three-game series with the Mets Tuesday night.

Series preview: Dodgers at Diamondbacks

May, 15, 2014
May 15
PHOENIX -- The Los Angeles Dodgers are coming off another losing homestand in which they got beaten in the final game by 10 runs, so why was manager Don Mattingly feeling so good about his team late Wednesday night? He said he liked the energy level better over the past seven games than he had while the Dodgers were finishing off a winning, and exhausting, road trip to three cities beforehand.

“The last five or six days, it felt like our club,” Mattingly said.

It will be even more their club Friday, when Juan Uribe is expected to return to the starting lineup, giving the Dodgers their healthiest roster of the season or, for that matter, several seasons. Aside from Hyun-Jin Ryu, who could return in a matter of days, and Chad Billingsley, who was never firmly in the team’s first-half plans coming off Tommy John surgery, they will be at full strength.

If ever there was a time when excuses count for nothing, it’s now, going into this weekend’s series at Chase Field. The Dodgers are 7-1 against the last-place Arizona Diamondbacks and they’ll be playing behind Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw in the first two games.

If the real Dodgers don’t show up soon, when will they?

“We’re healthy, and... we’ll see,” Mattingly said.

The Dodgers have outscored Arizona 46-28, but they might find the resistance a bit stiffer this weekend. Arizona is playing better even if the results haven’t been dramatically better. The Diamondbacks, who had the worst rotation in baseball for a month, have seen their starters go 6-2 with a 2.70 ERA in May.

For manager Kirk Gibson and general manager Kevin Towers, the hope is that this season is simply playing out in reverse from 2013. Last year, the Diamondbacks roared out to a 35-26 start by early June and had built a 4 -game division lead by July 7, but they struggled thereafter and finished with a .500 record, 11 games behind the Dodgers. The Dodgers, of course, started slowly before rattling off an historic 42-8 run starting June 21.

In the past few series, including one in Arizona, there has been little evidence of the bad blood the teams shared in 2013, perhaps in part because both teams felt they were underachieving and had little energy left for such hostilities. Six weeks into the season, the Diamondbacks still haven't won a series at home. They are 4-17 at Chase Field.

Friday the Dodgers face lefty Wade Miley, who -- amazingly -- will be making his fourth start this season against them. He was the opposing pitcher on Opening Day in Australia, getting soundly outpitched by Kershaw. He has generally fared fine against the Dodgers, going 3-3 with a 3.96 ERA.

One reason the Dodgers have handled the Diamondbacks so much more easily this season is they have figured out a way to limit the damage Paul Goldschmidt does to their pitching. In 38 plate appearances against the Dodgers this year, Goldschmidt is batting .229 with nine strikeouts and just two exta-base hits. Last year, he batted .388 with five doubles and six home runs against the Dodgers, good for a 1.105 OPS.

Series preview: D-backs at Dodgers

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
The Los Angeles Dodgers went through a week in which one of their best players, Yasiel Puig, got dragged into controversy about his wild escape from Cuba, they lost a series at their rival's stadium and nearly saw their best player, Hanley Ramirez, put on the disabled list by an errant fastball.

They're not going to be in a merciful mood when the struggling Arizona Diamondbacks come to town for three games this weekend.

"I know they've been scuffling, but hopefully we can keep them down for a few more games," manager Don Mattingly said.

To describe the Diamondbacks as "scuffling" is generous. Their starting pitchers have a 7.63 ERA and manager Kirk Gibson, who is beginning to slide into hot-seat territory himself, has been increasingly critical of his team's overall play. Hard to blame him. The Diamondbacks are 4-14 and already seven games behind the Dodgers and Giants in the NL West.

Oddly, this will be the third series meeting already between the teams, who feuded relentlessly in 2013. The Dodgers swept the D-backs in Australia and Arizona and will look to finish off the triangle at Dodger Stadium.

There's more bad news for Arizona. Ramirez, who was hit by a Ryan Vogelsong fastball and had to leave Wednesday's game, has vowed to play Friday night. Zack Greinke, the Dodgers' de facto ace with Clayton Kershaw down, starts the series off Friday night. The Diamondbacks have announced only one starter for the series and it's lefty Wade Miley, who has a 5.04 ERA.

From the Dodgers' perspective, this is no time for pity.

Series preview: Dodgers at D-backs

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
The Los Angeles Dodgers return to the scene of the crime -- or at least some people seemed to view it as a crime when they playfully took a dip in the Chase Field swimming pool while celebrating their NL West title last September.

Several Arizona Diamondbacks players ripped the Dodgers to reporters or through their Twitter accounts, and Arizona Sen. John McCain joined in, via Twitter, calling the Dodgers “overpaid, immature, arrogant spoiled brats.”

[+] EnlargeMark McGwire, Matt Williams
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsThe Dodgers and Diamondbacks haven't exactly gotten along recently.
And now?

You get the impression neither team is particularly concerned with any lingering hostility from last year, whether it’s left from their June brawl or the late-season swim. Both teams have been hit fairly hard by injuries already -- perhaps in part because of their long, season-opening trip to Australia -- and the Diamondbacks are dealing with a messy pitching situation and a 4-8 record after their 10-inning win Thursday night against the San Francisco Giants.

The first question the Dodgers need to answer is which Hyun-Jin Ryu will show up? Will it be the guy who dazzled in his first two starts, pitching 12 scoreless innings, or the guy who got hit around by the Giants in the home opener, working his shortest start in the major leagues? Ryu had to wait two extra days to get that one out of his system as the Dodgers played only four games since that April 4 day game. They played a two-game series with the Detroit Tigers surrounded by off days.

Arizona will use Brandon McCarthy to oppose Ryu on Friday. McCarthy has shown revived stuff in his early starts, but has been hurt by blow-up innings.

The Dodgers have their best healthy pitcher, Zack Greinke, going in the second game of the series against Wade Miley, whom the Dodgers faced on Opening Day in Australia. Miley was a last-minute replacement for Arizona’s young lefty ace, Patrick Corbin, who underwent Tommy John surgery.

It’s likely Yasiel Puig will return at some point in the series, probably Friday, after missing three games because of an injured left thumb from sliding headfirst into first base on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers will have to try to cool off slugger Mark Trumbo, who went deep off closer Kenley Jansen in Australia and has five home runs and 13 RBIs through the first 12 games.



Yasiel Puig
.296 16 69 92
HRA. Gonzalez 27
RBIA. Gonzalez 116
RY. Puig 92
OPSY. Puig .863
WC. Kershaw 21
ERAC. Kershaw 1.77
SOC. Kershaw 239