Dodgers Report: Carl Crawford

Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 8, Padres 6

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
10:32
PM PT
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LOS ANGELES -- With injuries beginning to tatter the Los Angeles Dodgers' pitching staff, the bats bought them a little breathing room with an 8-6 win over the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night.

How it happened: Normally, when the Dodgers and Padres play, somebody usually wins 1-0 or 2-1. Tuesday looked more like a game played at Wrigley Field or one of the other extreme hitter's parks. The teams kept going back and forth, with few pitchers capable of keeping a lead safe. In his second start for the Dodgers, Kevin Correia looked a lot more like the guy with the 4.94 ERA that he'd been in Minnesota than the guy who pitched six four-hit innings in his Dodgers debut. Correia lasted five innings, giving up four runs and nine hits.

But the Dodgers had little trouble with Ian Kennedy, brushing aside a 3-0 first-inning deficit and continuing to pile on runs throughout the game. It was an encouraging sign that the Dodgers have the offense to weather this steady stream of injuries to their pitchers. Carl Crawford had an RBI single, a two-run home run and scored three runs.

Hits: According to Baseball Reference, Justin Turner (2.7 WAR) is the Dodgers' second-most valuable position player after Yasiel Puig (4.1). That seems a bit extreme, but Turner probably gets nowhere near the credit he deserves this season. He has excelled in virtually every role the Dodgers have asked of him. He has played solid defense at three positions. As a pinch hitter, he is batting .409. With runners in scoring position, he is batting .383. Since May 11, he's hitting .361 with 11 doubles and 22 RBIs. Normally, you would argue that Juan Uribe is a significant loss, but Turner has made it a lot easier to forget about him now that Uribe is on the disabled list again. Turner ripped two RBI doubles off Kennedy.

Misses: In some ways, A.J. Ellis is more valuable than ever. The Dodgers need all the help they can get now that injuries are starting to ravage their pitching depth. Since his major league debut in 2008, Ellis has the lowest catcher's ERA (3.32) in the major leagues. On the other hand, Ellis has become close to an automatic out in the lineup. He had a sacrifice fly but is now 1-for-9 on the homestand. His batting average is .186 and he has only one home run and 12 RBIs.

Stat of the game: The Dodgers are 33-18 against teams in the NL West this season. Last year, they were 37-39.

Up next: The series continues Wednesday, with Roberto Hernandez (7-8, 3.72 ERA) making his third Dodgers start since a trade from the Philadelphia Phillies and the Padres going with lefty Eric Stults (5-13, 4.64). The game starts at 7:10 p.m. PT.

The case for Clayton Kershaw as NL MVP

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
11:12
AM PT
Clayton KershawJayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsClayton Kershaw's no-hitter and all-around stellar season have energized the Dodgers.
LOS ANGELES -- Don Mattingly won the American League MVP award in 1985. The following season, he batted .352 and led the league in hits, doubles, slugging, OPS and total bases. He won a Gold Glove at first base.

And he finished second to Roger Clemens in MVP balloting.

Clemens, who played in 20 percent of his team's games, got 19 first-place votes. Mattingly, who played in all of his team's games, got five.

"I had a better year than '85," Mattingly said. "At the time, I'm like, 'I'm out there 162 times. This guy's out there 35 times. What about all the other games?' "

It took a quarter of a century for Mattingly to begin to change his opinion about whether pitchers should be considered contenders for the MVP award. It took getting to see what an MVP performance from a starting pitcher looks like. It took managing Clayton Kershaw.

"The first year he won the Cy Young, we weren't very good, but the dude stopped every losing streak," Mattingly said. "You can't get guys like that. They're just so important."

Could this be the year?

After Clemens, it took 25 years for a pitcher to win another MVP. Justin Verlander took the trophy in 2011 after going 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts. He fairly handily defeated Jacoby Ellsbury, who hit 32 home runs and stole 39 bases while playing Gold Glove center field for the Boston Red Sox. It has been nearly 50 years since a pitcher won the MVP in the National League. St. Louis Cardinals great Bob Gibson did it in 1968, the year he had a 1.12 ERA and 268 strikeouts.

This might be the season the NL drought comes to an end, and Kershaw might be the pitcher who ends it.

Two of the other contenders for the award, Andrew McCutchen and Troy Tulowitzki, are hurt. McCutchen is on the 15-day disabled list, has a broken rib and has only recently resumed batting practice. Tulowitzki plays for an awful team and just had season-ending hip surgery.

Kershaw leads the NL in wins above replacement (WAR), according to Baseball Reference. Kershaw's WAR is 6.4. Slugger Giancarlo Stanton of the third-place Miami Marlins is next with a 6.2 WAR. Another pitcher, 15-game winner Johnny Cueto, is next at 5.7, followed by Tulowitzki (5.6) and Jason Heyward (5.5). Fangraphs has another measure of WAR and paints a slightly different picture, but Kershaw’s WAR (5.2) is still slightly better than Stanton’s (5.1), McCutchen’s (4.8) and teammate Yasiel Puig's (4.7).

You can concoct a cruder measure of "wins above replacement" that seems equally relevant to the discussion. The Dodgers have gone 16-4 in the 20 games Kershaw has pitched. In his most dominant stretch, from June 2 to Aug. 10, they won all 13 games Kershaw pitched. They went from 7½ games behind the San Francisco Giants to 4½ games up.

What if the Dodgers really had needed a replacement for Kershaw for his 19 starts since Opening Day in Australia, stringing his spot in the rotation together with the likes of Paul Maholm or any of their minor league pitchers, most of whom have ERAs in the 5.00s?

To say the team would have gone 9-10 in those games is probably generous, but even if it had, that still gives Kershaw a "crude-WAR" of 6.0. Put another way, the Dodgers would be 2½ games behind the Giants -- and out of a postseason spot for the moment -- not 3½ games up and comfortably in position for an October run.

Kershaw also has an intangible edge: narrative. He pitched one of the greatest games in baseball history on June 18, a 15-strikeout, no-walk no-hitter, helping to ignite the Dodgers' confidence. The team learned it could win without expecting another MVP-caliber season from injury-plagued Hanley Ramirez or reliable power from Puig, who ranks 41st in the NL in home runs.

Puig's candidacy shouldn't be discounted, but Heyward, Jonathan Lucroy, McCutchen and Jhonny Peralta all have better WAR values, according to Baseball Reference, and all play for bona fide contenders. Puig has one narrative that could help boost his candidacy, presuming voters are paying close enough attention: His move to center field, where he has played sometimes-spectacular defense, helped stabilize the Dodgers' defense and gave Mattingly a set lineup.

What Kershaw has that none of the hitters who play for contending teams has is the "wow" factor. His numbers are simply more impressive than those of any hitter you can build an argument for. So even hitters who are normally staunch critics of giving the award to a pitcher have begun to change their opinion to a degree.

"Sometimes, when you're dominant like that, you deserve it," Dodgers left fielder Carl Crawford said. "It's got to be an extreme case, though, not like a normal, regular good season. It's got to be an overwhelming case. I think it feels like that this year with Kershaw."

Kershaw's biggest obstacle to snapping the pitchers' NL MVP losing streak is the fact he missed six weeks with a strained muscle in his upper back. In a way, even that is an argument in Kershaw's favor. The Dodgers were two games over .500 while Kershaw was out. They're 12 games over when he has been healthy. Plus, he has managed to put himself in position for his third Cy Young Award in four seasons with six fewer starts than some pitchers. He's just that much better than everybody else. That's kind of what an MVP is supposed to be, right -- extraordinary?

"I wouldn't be against it. I wouldn’t be like, 'Oh, it's Clayton. I can't believe it,' " Dodgers outfielder Scott Van Slyke said. "If he keeps going, I might be of the opinion that he got snubbed."

When the voting is done, somebody always feels that way.

Stock watch: Crawford finds his groove

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
11:26
AM PT

RISING

Streaking

Carl Crawford, LF: Some Dodgers fans were tweeting their displeasure with Don Mattingly for starting Crawford over Andre Ethier in left field. There aren’t as many of those tweets lately. Crawford has been the Dodgers’ hottest hitter, going 13-for-29 on the road trip to Anaheim, Milwaukee and Atlanta. He’s streaky as a rule and this season the swings have been exaggerated, but mostly the Dodgers need to keep him healthy because they’ve had a good thing going in the outfield lately.

Kenley Jansen, RHP: The big Curacaoan is helping restore order to the late part of games once again. A.J. Ellis called Jansen’s fastball “invisible,” because of its late movement, and hitters certainly don’t appear to be seeing it well lately. Jansen’s 33 saves are fourth most in the NL and he has blown just 10.8 percent of his save chances. In his last 19 games, he has allowed just one run and held opponents to a .136 average while striking out 28.

Dan Haren, RHP: Give the crafty veteran some credit for working hard to find the right adjustments. Previous to last Wednesday’s start in Anaheim, Haren had gone 0-4 with a 10.03 ERA in the previous five starts. After the Dodgers landed two veteran pitchers, Roberto Hernandez and Kevin Correia, his spot in the rotation seemed in jeopardy. Mattingly said removing him from the rotation was never discussed, but Haren admits he felt the pressure. Now, there’s far less talk of that as he built on a dominant outing in Anaheim with a good one in Atlanta. He looks more confident and the team feels more confident in him. His goal is six more good starts and a deep run in the playoffs.

FALLING

Slumping

Yasiel Puig, RF: It’s looking more and more like the Dodgers -- who have the best record in the National League -- have no clear-cut MVP candidate. Clayton Kershaw deserves some support, but it’s rare for a starting pitcher to win the honor -- Bob Gibson was the last to do it in the NL, in 1968. And Puig has tailed off. He struck out four times in Atlanta Wednesday night and has gone 4-for-29 on this road trip. A good final month-and-a-half could put Puig squarely back in the MVP discussion, as Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen is on the disabled list.

Zack Greinke, RHP: It’s not as if he has been awful, and the Dodgers insist he is healthy, but he is 0-2 with a 4.85 ERA in his last two starts with three home runs allowed. Greinke spent some time in Atlanta working with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt on his slider grip, which could explain his recent struggles. The Dodgers look a lot more formidable when Greinke and Kershaw are in top form, so how they manage these final weeks with those two -- and how they perform -- could determine how far they go in the playoffs.

Rapid Reaction: Braves 3, Dodgers 2

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
7:14
PM PT


ATLANTA -- The Los Angeles Dodgers lost a game, but they're hoping they didn't lose one of their best starting pitchers for an extended period.

Hyun-Jin Ryu left Wednesday night's 3-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves in the sixth inning because of a strained right gluteus muscle. The extent of the injury was not immediately known, but the Dodgers have been heavily reliant on Ryu, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke as they climbed to their perch in the NL West.

Their division lead shrank for the first time in 10 days, now reduced to five games.

How it happened: Ryu injured himself while making a 3-and-2 pitch to B.J. Upton, Ryu's 97th pitch of the night. He gestured toward the dugout and, after meeting with the trainer, limped off the field. Up to then, he had pitched a fairly solid game, striking out seven Braves and giving up six hits and three runs. The Dodgers seemed to have a lot of beefs with plate umpire Mark Ripperger, and Braves pitcher Ervin Santana took advantage of a big strike zone to pile up nine strikeouts. The Dodgers could have knocked Santana out as early as the second inning, when they managed five hits off him. They got some bad luck when A.J. Ellis' sharply hit grounder went right to third baseman Chris Johnson, who turned a double play.

The Dodgers loaded the bases off Craig Kimbrel in the ninth inning, but Matt Kemp hit into a game-ending double play.

Hits: Carl Crawford is among the Dodgers' streakiest hitters, but he has generally been productive when he's healthy. He has been on a tear throughout this trip. Crawford was in the midst of what little offense the Dodgers could muster, driving home Kemp with a single and later scoring on Miguel Rojas' hit up the middle. Crawford is 13-for-29 (.448) in the six games on this trip. Eight of those hits came in the past three games.

Misses: Many of the Dodgers players had some familiarity with Santana, either from having played in the American League (eg., Crawford) or from having played the Angels in interleague play. Yasiel Puig had never faced him before, and he looked pretty lost. Puig struck out in all three at-bats against Santana and four for the game. He flailed at a couple of sliders in the dirt to strike out in the fifth. Overall, Puig has been in a small slump -- 2-for-21 without an extra base hit.

Stat of the game: Dodgers starting pitchers have been a surprising part of the offense lately. They have reached base safely in six straight games since Aug. 8, going 6-for-12. Ryu singled in the second inning.

Up next: The Dodgers try to win the series Thursday at 9:10 a.m. PT behind Roberto Hernandez (6-8, 3.83 ERA). The Braves will start former Dodger Aaron Harang (9-6, 3.31).

So far, August trade winds fan L.A.'s hopes

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
9:01
PM PT
ATLANTA – The trade deadline is not what it used to be.

In years past, players could settle in after July 31 came and went, confident they wouldn’t be scrambling to pack up their homes in the midst of the season. Conversely, players stuck in bad situations or on miserable teams were stranded for another few months.

[+] EnlargeKevin Correia
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsThe acquisition of Correia lends credibility to the notion that a team can improve after the trade deadline, something GM Ned Colletti has a knack for doing.
After Kevin Correia made two of his worst starts of the season for the Minnesota Twins on July 20 and 25 in front of a host of other teams' scouts, he figured his chances of escaping the last-place team weren’t great.

"I kind of figured at that point, it [a trade] probably wouldn't happen," Correia said. "But I knew you can clear waivers. It wasn’t something I was thinking about every day, but in the back of your mind, you know it’s a possibility."

Now, August has become nearly as active for trades as July is, with bad teams looking to offload contracts and other teams willing to scoop up the overpaid or underperforming castoffs – once they've cleared waivers -- to fill specific needs. Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti has made a niche for himself in August, which is why he didn’t seem to be sweating it too much when he couldn't do anything to shore up the back of the Dodgers' rotation by the deadline.

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 6, Braves 2

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
7:25
PM PT


ATLANTA – The Dodgers continued to pad what has become the biggest division lead in the National League by beating a team they've come to master.

They beat the Atlanta Braves 6-2 Monday night at Turner Field to extend their lead over the San Francisco Giants to five games. The Dodgers struggled against the Braves last season, going 2-5, but starting with October's National League Division Series, they are 8-2 against Atlanta.

How it happened: Kevin Correia joined the Dodgers here Monday after a trade from the Minnesota Twins, who were playing in Oakland at the time. He said hello to a former teammate, Brian Wilson, and then went out and ingratiated himself with his new teammates by pitching six strong innings. The Braves could manage only one run against Correia, on Justin Upton's RBI single in the fourth inning. Correia allowed four hits and a walk while striking out five Braves. A career .115 hitter coming straight from the American League, he also had two hits.

The Dodgers were facing one of the better pitchers in the National League, Julio Teheran, and they didn't make any headway until the sixth, when they bunched four consecutive singles to score a run. Carl Crawford had an infield single to bring in another, and Ramiro Pena bobbled a perfect double-play ball to allow the third run to score.

Hits: Someone asked manager Don Mattingly before the game why he starts Crawford over Andre Ethier in left field. Crawford, after all, entered Monday batting .239. That brought out the former hitting coach in Mattingly, who said Crawford was swinging the bat as well as any Dodgers hitter before he missed six weeks with a sprained ankle and that he has hit balls harder than his recent numbers suggest. Crawford also brings more speed to the table. Mattingly’s explanation made more sense five hours later. Crawford went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored. Ethier probably wouldn't have beaten out the infield hit that led to another run.

Misses: The Braves' middle infield is getting a bit stretched. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons was out with an ankle injury and Tommy La Stella left the game in the second inning with a cramp in his right hamstring. The replacements, Emilio Bonifacio and Pena, did not have good nights. Bonifacio threw the ball away on a double-play ball, disrupted by a Justin Turner slide, and Pena dropped Turner's easy double-play ball in the sixth.

Stat of the game: Including last October's playoffs, Yasiel Puig is batting .510 with four doubles, a triple, three home runs and eight RBIs in 49 career at-bats against the Braves.

Up next: The series continues Tuesday, with Dan Haren (9-9, 4.57 ERA) going for the Dodgers and lefty Mike Minor (4-7, 5.42) pitching for the Braves. The game starts at 4:10 p.m. PT.

Crawford Little League support pays off

August, 9, 2014
Aug 9
5:02
PM PT
MILWAUKEE -- Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford took the field Saturday night already feeling like a winner.

For the past year, Crawford has lent financial support to the Jackie Robinson West Little League team from the South Side of Chicago, even though Crawford has no ties to the area. When the team advanced to next week's Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., with a Saturday afternoon victory over Indiana in the Great Lakes Regional final, Crawford was beaming like a proud father.

The victory made up for Jackie Robinson West Little League's regional final defeat one year ago.

"Yeah, I just saw them on TV last year," Crawford said. "I just called to see if they needed anything, and I come to find out they needed a little help, so I just tried to help where I could. I've been rooting for them all year."

Crawford said he hasn't yet met any of the players but did talk to the team's coach Friday and wished everybody well.

"It feels good," Crawford said. "I didn't want to talk about it really until they won because last year they got to this point and they lost right at the end. We're hoping they can go all the way."

Crawford said his Dodgers teammates didn't even know about his support of the team until Saturday. He felt a kinship with the squad upon seeing it last year. It reminded him of his own all African-American youth team while growing up in Houston.

"It's very rare that you have this type of situation," Crawford said of the Jackie Robinson West team.

Since the Southern California team was eliminated from the West Regional, the Dodgers appear to have an adopted club to lay claim to now.

Crawford says he hopes he can meet some of the players when the Dodgers travel to Chicago for a Sept. 18-21 series at Wrigley Field.

Sum of little mistakes Dodgers' new plague

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
11:55
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- The last time the Los Angeles Dodgers were in a series with a lot at stake in a stadium filled with revved-up fans stoked by a rivalry, they played their best baseball of the season, outscoring the San Francisco Giants 17-4 over a three-game sweep at AT&T Park two weekends ago.

Where did that team go?

A sloppy weekend against the last-place Chicago Cubs seemed pretty easy to explain, as the back of the Dodgers’ rotation continued to sputter in two of those games.

But the lights were bright again Monday night, the steamrolling Los Angeles Angels were in town and it felt as if it would once again bring out the Dodgers’ best. Their second-best starting pitcher, Zack Greinke, was on the mound.

[+] EnlargeCarl Crawford
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsCarl Crawford misjudged a ball off Mike Trout's bat that led to an RBI double in the first inning. It was one of several miscues for the Dodgers on Monday.
Instead, it brought out their bad habits. They fumbled the ball around at times, paid scant attention at times and made, according to the man who threw it, “one of the worst pitches ever thrown.”

Of course, there’s always tomorrow. The Dodgers are still in first place -- by a dwindling 1½ games -- and they have three more cracks to capture Southern California bragging rights for their fans over the next three nights, one of them behind Clayton Kershaw.

But the sloppiness that plagued the Dodgers in April and May has crept back into their play over the past four games. And it has begun to get on some peoples’ nerves. Some people who matter.

“You look at this game as a playoff-type game from the standpoint of the type of team you’re playing, and you make mistakes, you pay,” said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. “It’s as simple as that.”

Hanley Ramirez, who had a -1.0 defensive WAR entering the game, according to Baseball Reference, made two throwing errors, one of which led to an unearned run in the first inning. The end of the half-inning saw the Dodgers in a quick 4-0 hole. Carl Crawford made two failed attempts at sliding catches, one of which was hit by Mike Trout -- one of the fastest players in baseball -- and it got by Crawford and went to the wall for an RBI double.

Yasiel Puig put his head down and allowed Albert Pujols -- far from one of the fastest players in the game -- to tag up and take second base.

It was the kind of effort that would get you beaten by a team like the Cubs. Against a team like the Angels, who play strong defense and are 23 games over .500 in the powerhouse AL West, it’s a good way to get embarrassed.

It was not the way the Dodgers wanted to start off this interleague series, especially in front of more than 53,000 fans.

“We’ve had three games [in the past four] where we basically lost in the first inning,” Mattingly said.

That trend is beginning to bother Greinke, too. Like fellow starter Dan Haren, many of his worst starts have seen him labor early. He has a 5.87 ERA in the first inning.

“It seems to be the problem too often,” Greinke said. “I was not even close to hitting the spot to Trout and Pujols, and they did what they should have.”

His sixth-inning changeup to Josh Hamilton was thrown too hard and right down the middle, and Hamilton pummeled it over the right-field wall.

“That was probably up there with the worst pitches ever thrown,” Greinke said. “I just couldn’t believe I could throw that bad a pitch at that important a time.”

The Dodgers described Angels starter Garrett Richards as “electric,” and he certainly was that, touching 96 mph in the ninth inning and striking out nine batters to get the shutout. But he mostly just piled up ground balls, 12 in all. The Dodgers got only four balls airborne off Richards.

There are games when the opposing pitcher is simply going to be better than you. It hurts more when you make it that much easier for him.

Rapid Reaction: Angels 5, Dodgers 0

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
9:59
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- There were more than 53,000 fans at Dodger Stadium Monday and many of them booed Mike Trout’s every move. Fans in Anaheim likely will give it to Yasiel Puig pretty good on Wednesday.

In other words, Southern California’s baseball rivalry is doing pretty well, with contending teams and young stars to energize and/or irritate the two fan bases.

Trout’s Los Angeles Angels got off to a better start in this year's regular-season Freeway Series with a 5-0 win at Dodger Stadium on Monday night.

There was just the right hint of tension, too, with Puig and Albert Pujols appearing to exchange some words after the top of the eighth inning. Puig apparently took exception to Pujols tagging up and advancing to second on a fly ball while he looked the other way.

How it happened: The Angels jumped all over Zack Greinke’s pitching and the Dodgers’ shaky defense in the first inning, grabbing a quick 4-0 lead. Angels starter Garrett Richards pretty much took it from there.

The game never felt particularly competitive. The Dodgers managed just five hits, all singles, off Richards, the game’s hardest-throwing starting pitcher, according to Fangraphs data. Greinke was good after the first inning, with the only appreciable mistake a too-hard changeup that Josh Hamilton clobbered over the right-field wall.

Hits: For the Angels, it was Richards (12-4), their best starting pitcher this year, bouncing back from two rough outings with a shutout. He struck out nine batters, but mainly the Dodgers hit ground ball after ground ball. For the Dodgers, the highlight was the major league debut of pitcher Carlos Frias, who pitched two scoreless innings, allowing just Pujols' single and striking out a batter. Frias is in contention to join the Dodgers' rotation if Josh Beckett or Dan Haren continues to struggle or goes down with an injury.

Misses: The Angels, with Erick Aybar at shortstop and Trout in center, have one of the stronger defensive teams. Fielding sometimes is an adventure for the Dodgers. When it is, Hanley Ramirez often is involved. On Monday, he made two errors, one of which was a costly throw that led to an unearned run in the first inning. Meanwhile, Carl Crawford made two unsuccessful attempts at sliding catches in the first inning. The second one, hit by Trout, got past Crawford and rolled all the way to the wall. Trout would have had a triple, but he had to retreat after missing first base. In the eighth, Puig stood there after catching a high fly ball and Pujols was paying attention, sprinting to second.

Stat of the game: The Angels have the best interleague record (92-48) in the majors since 2007, and part of that is their domination of their regional rivals. The Angels are 57-40 against the Dodgers.

Up next: The four-game series continues with the last of two contests starting at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday at Dodgers Stadium. Clayton Kershaw (13-2, 1.71 ERA) goes for the Dodgers, while lefty Hector Santiago (3-7, 3.76) pitches for the Angels.

Top stats to know: Dodgers at Cardinals

July, 19, 2014
Jul 19
9:27
PM PT
Clayton Kershaw might not have a scoreless streak going any more, but he figures to be tough to beat when the Los Angeles Dodgers visit the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday Night Baseball.

Here are some of the stories our broadcast crew will be focusing on tonight.

The greatness of Kershaw
Since the start of June, Kershaw is 8–0 with 80 strikeouts and an 0.74 ERA in eight starts. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Kershaw is the only pitcher in major league history to win eight consecutive starts within a single season with at least 80 strikeouts and an ERA under 1.00 over that span.

Kershaw pitched against the Cardinals on June 29 and struck out 13 in seven scoreless innings. He had a particularly wicked slider that night and whiffed eight hitters with it.

That pitch ranks among the best in the sport and nets misses on 54 percent of swings. Opponents have made 90 outs while getting 13 hits and two walks against that pitch this season.

Over the four-start stretch from June 18 to July 4, Kershaw got 38 outs with the pitch and yielded only one hit and one walk with it.

It was a slider on which Kershaw’s scoreless streak ended, however, with Chase Headley hitting a home run against a rare hanger in his latest start.

Carlos Martinez Stat to Watch
St. Louis Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez has the highest average fastball velocity of any pitcher to throw at least 50 innings this season (96.8 mph). He’s a smidge ahead of Kansas City Royals starter Yordano Ventura (96.7). An optimal maneuver for the Dodgers would be to start Carl Crawford somewhere in their outfield. Crawford is 11-for-18 with a double and a home run against pitches of 95 mph or faster this season.

Dee Gordon has also fared well against those pitches. He’s 10-for-31 with eight walks in at-bats ending with pitches that speed. Seven of the 10 hits have come from either hitting the ball up the middle or hitting it to the left side.

Some notable Dodgers have been beaten by the heat a bit this season. Matt Kemp (.182), Yasiel Puig (.167) and Adrian Gonzalez (.154) all have hit sub-.200 against pitches of that speed in 2014.

The Cardinals secret weapon
Pat Neshek showed that which made him an All-Star in Saturday’s win, as he struck out Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez to preserve a two-run lead with the tying run at the plate in the eighth inning.

Neshek has arguably been tougher to hit than Kershaw this season (take a look at Neshek's heat map below). He's faced 145 batters and held them to a .132/.179/.162 slash line, with only two extra-base hits. Lefties and righties have nearly identical numbers against him, with lefties hitting .130 and righties hitting .133.

Neshek lost the All-Star Game, but that appears to have been a minor blip. Opponents have only one hit in 30 at-bats against him in his past 16 appearances.

Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 1, Padres 0

July, 13, 2014
Jul 13
5:22
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- We've seen the Los Angeles Dodgers battle bouts of listless scoring all season, and this four-game series against the San Diego Padres was no exception. They scored a grand total of seven runs, three of which came in one game. Perhaps with 97 games in the books and the July temperatures steadily rising, this team is collectively tired. Or maybe Carl Crawford's return has inadvertently disrupted the lineup's rhythm. Or maybe it could just be one of those inexplicable ruts.

Whatever the case, the All-Star break timing is probably for the best. Now seems as good a time as for a spell away from the diamond. And however unimpressive they've looked in the process, the Dodgers still took the series after another 1-0 win Sunday. Remember, a team rises the same amount in the standings whether winning by one or 100 runs.

How it happened: "It" would be a fair way to describe the Dodgers' offensive production. With one out, Dee Gordon reached base on a single, then swiped second to put himself in scoring position. Crawford drew a walk, and Yasiel Puig sliced a ball into center, then clapped his hands all the way to first base as Gordon sped his way home. It didn't take a genius to recognize how critical that run was.

That lone score, coupled with a shutdown performance by Hyun-Jin Ryu and solid (enough) relief in tandem, was enough to get 'er done, even by the skin of their teeth.

Hits: The worst pain Ryu experienced came in the first inning as the result of a sharp comebacker from Chase Headley. The ball was eventually barehanded by Gordon for an out, but not before striking Ryu on his throwing arm. Clearly, the lefty was no worse for the wear. He carried a perfect game for 3⅔ innings, and no Padre reached second with Ryu minding the store as he gave up only two hits and struck out 10. It's insane to think Ryu is the Dodgers' third starter. What a luxury.

Crawford swiped his first base since his return from the disabled list. Small picture, he was left stranded. Bigger picture, it was perhaps a sign that his legs could justify transitioning to center field, an idea that has been recently floated. Crawford later supported this theory by covering a decent amount of ground to track down a seventh-inning fly to left-center.

Puig (who also had two hits) made a nice backpedaling catch at the wall to rob Carlos Quentin of extra bases in the seventh, then ran down a ninth-inning ball in right-field foul territory, but defensively, it was entertaining how he closed the top of the sixth. Puig casually moved one step to his right, then hauled in a Headley pop fly with a basket catch as his glove napped on his shoulder. A sequence so hilariously drenched in equal parts nonchalance and swag is impossible to imagine.

Misses: In the second inning, a silver platter scoring opportunity went wasted. After a double from Andre Ethier and Juan Uribe's broken-bat single, the Dodgers had runners at first and third with no outs. Alas, A.J. Ellis struck out, and Miguel Rojas lined straight to Headley at third, who stepped on the bag to double up Ethier. The Dodgers failed to put another runner on base until Gordon's one-out single in the sixth. That same inning saw the Dodgers strand men at the corners with just one out, but at least Puig had already driven in a run. Two men were also left standing on first and second in the seventh.

Stat of the game: 1. As in the number of pitches that passed between someone in the press box (who shall remain anonymous) remarking "he's perfect" of Ryu, and Quentin breaking up the perfect game on the very next pitch.

Up next: Rest. With the exception of All-Stars Gordon, Zach Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Puig, the Dodgers have nothing on the calendar over the next four days. Friday, they'll do battle in St. Louis for a three-game set against the Cardinals, now forced to make due without franchise cornerstone Yadier Molina.

Crawford next on 'Who plays center field?'

July, 12, 2014
Jul 12
5:48
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- The center-field auditions continue. Next up is Carl Crawford, who hasn't played the position on a consistent basis since he was 22 years old in 2004, but has begun taking fly balls there.

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said it could give the Dodgers one more option. They have already tried Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke at the position and none has played at a high enough level defensively to hold down the spot permanently. The team apparently isn’t ready to promote one of its top prospects, Joc Pederson, a Triple-A All-Star center fielder.

"[Crawford] played it in the minor leagues," Mattingly said. "In our situation, there’s nothing wrong with him going out and taking fly balls. You never know what could happen."

Crawford started 25 games in center for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2004. Since then, he has started a grand total of 10 games there. Crawford is the fastest of the Dodgers' center-field candidates but has the weakest arm.

Ethier started in center Saturday, but Mattingly said that doesn't necessarily mean he has returned to playing consistently against right-handed pitchers. It probably has more to do with Ethier's .313 batting average and four extra-base hits in 32 at-bats against San Diego right-hander Ian Kennedy.

Rotation alignment: Mattingly also announced the Dodgers' rotation coming out of the All-Star break: Dan Haren, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and, if he's healthy, Josh Beckett. Mattingly wouldn't say so, but the reason for that order is so that Greinke, Kershaw and Ryu would be lined up for the Dodgers' series in San Francisco July 25-27.

ASG request: Mattingly said he exchanged a few text messages with National League manager Mike Matheny, but isn't sure yet whether Kershaw will start the All-Star Game. He said he expressed some preferences to Matheny about how Kershaw is used in the game. The Dodgers would prefer he pitch two innings only if he starts the game.

Joc Pederson's hour fast approaching?

July, 12, 2014
Jul 12
12:02
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Scott Van Slyke is not the reason the Los Angeles Dodgers lost 6-3 to the San Diego Padres on Friday night. He might not even be in the top five most culpable Dodgers.

The ball Chase Headley hit that glanced off the webbing of Van Slyke's glove as he leaped to attempt a catch near the center-field wall might have wound up as an RBI double with half of the center fielders in baseball trying to catch it. Van Slyke turned his head to find the wall, but that's pretty basic self-preservation.

[+] EnlargeJoc Pederson
Gregg Forwerck/Getty ImagesJoc Pederson is hitting well at Triple-A Albuquerque, but the Dodgers need the stability he could bring on defense more than anything.
"That's a tough play," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "That ball's crushed. I thought it would have been an incredible play."

Said pitcher Dan Haren: "I'm not going to make excuses. I've got to be better. Scott made a great effort on that ball."

Fair enough, but it's indicative of the Dodgers' current plight that the man who didn't catch it is a 6-foot-5 former first baseman who might be -- in fact, is, according to Mattingly's most recent lineups -- the team's best option in center field at the moment.

The Dodgers decided nearly two months ago that Matt Kemp, running on a surgically repaired ankle, is no longer a center fielder. They apparently decided not long ago that 32-year-old Andre Ethier, with practically no power left in his bat and average speed in his legs, isn't good enough to play center every day. So, what, they're going to keep running Van Slyke out there every day until he really does get exposed? Look around the major leagues. Do you see a lot of guys built like Van Slyke playing center field?

The storyline is so old, it's more a punch line than an observation: The last thing the Dodgers need is another outfielder. They have one, Carl Crawford, who is being paid more than $20 million to come off the bench and pinch hit or play a couple of innings of defense these days.

But it's becoming more evident by the day: The first thing the Dodgers need is an outfielder. They need a true center fielder and that center fielder is Joc Pederson. They need Pederson not because he is batting .324 and has a 1.016 OPS for Triple-A Albuquerque. You can discount those numbers at whatever rate you want because of the thin air of New Mexico, or you can throw them out entirely if you like.

(Read full post)

Has Andre Ethier now lost his starting spot?

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
6:21
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Despite having three of the highest-paid outfielders in baseball, the Dodgers apparently haven't been able to find a solution they're comfortable with in center field.

For the second straight game Friday night, the Dodgers were facing a right-handed pitcher and Andre Ethier was not in the starting lineup. In addition to batting only .250 with four home runs in 279 plate appearances, Ethier grades out as a below-average center fielder in advanced defensive metrics.

The Dodgers moved Matt Kemp out of center field in late May for defensive reasons and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has said he wasn't interested in moving Kemp back to center.

Mattingly said Friday the benching of Ethier is in part due to an assortment of physical ailments Ethier is dealing with, but performance also has clearly played a part.

"He's had some leg issues and other issues. We want to make sure we get him well," Mattingly said.

Some decision-makers within the Dodgers began to wonder during the last trip to Denver and Detroit -- two big outfields -- whether Ethier, 32, has the speed to play center field every day any longer.

Mattingly started Scott Van Slyke in center field the past two games, but Van Slyke, 27, has never been an everyday player and, at 6 feet 5 and 220 pounds, doesn't exactly profile as a typical center fielder either. The apparent loss of confidence in Ethier raises the possibility the Dodgers will eventually promote Joc Pederson from Triple-A Albuquerque. Pederson, who missed time after separating his shoulder, is playing again and is batting .325 with a 1.023 OPS for Albuquerque.

If the plan is to promote Pederson, general manager Ned Colletti might feel compelled to trade one of his veteran outfielders before the July 31 trade deadline, presuming he can find a taker. Carl Crawford was activated from the 15-day disabled list Thursday, but Mattingly said Crawford is to remain in a reserve role, at least for now. Crawford, who has good speed, hasn't played center field regularly since 2004, when he was 22. He has a well below-average throwing arm, the reason he plays left field exclusively.

Between Crawford and Ethier, the Dodgers have more than $35 million in salary being paid to reserve outfielders.

Series preview: Padres at Dodgers

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
10:29
AM PT
LOS ANGELES – The Dodgers could use some wins after a rough two-game series in Detroit and with the looming All-Star break lulling them into some bad habits lately. Carl Crawford is back, possibly tonight, but apparently with nowhere to play.

There are plenty of storylines, but the start of this four-game series with the San Diego Padres is really all about one thing: Clayton Kershaw’s scoreless streak. He is 23 innings short of Orel Hershier’s major league-record streak of 59 consecutive scoreless innings and he is facing a lineup that has been shut out 11 times already this season.

Kershaw hasn’t yielded a run since the third inning of his June 13 start against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Mixed in between, Kershaw threw one of the greatest no-hitters in baseball history and has struck out 45 batters while walking only five. So, yeah, he’s pitching pretty well lately.

“If you were to ask, ‘If you had one guy to start a game, who would it be?’ it would probably be him,” Padres manager Bud Black told reporters this week. “It’s just a dominating package of pitches.”

That, of course, begs the question of whether National League manager Mike Matheny will name Kershaw to start Tuesday’s All-Star game. But the Dodgers – who were outscored 18-6 in Detroit – would rather see the focus on tonight’s start.

They’ll be facing rookie Odrisamer Despaigne, who has started his career off on solid footing with three straight starts allowing no more than one run over at least six innings. Despaigne gave up just two hits to the San Francisco Giants last week.

After Kershaw’s start, the Dodgers will face plenty of uncertainty. On Friday, Dan Haren makes his final start before the break, and he has been uneven of late, having pitched to a 4.87 ERA and given up 16 home runs since the end of April. The last time he faced San Diego, he gave up two home runs to Seth Smith.

Then, on Saturday, the Dodgers have to pick a starter to fill in for Josh Beckett, who is on the disabled list with an impingement in his left hip. Manager Don Mattingly has said the choices are lefty Paul Maholm and Triple-A right-hander Red Patterson.

And Crawford’s return could create a bit of drama in the clubhouse, as Mattingly told reporters this week he is happy with his starting outfield of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig and doesn’t anticipate making any changes. The Dodgers are paying Crawford $20.25 million this season and they owe him another $62.25 million beyond this season, making him a rather expensive fourth outfielder.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Yasiel Puig
BA HR RBI R
.312 13 59 68
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Gonzalez 17
RBIA. Gonzalez 83
RD. Gordon 69
OPSY. Puig .909
WC. Kershaw 14
ERAC. Kershaw 1.86
SOC. Kershaw 174