Dodgers Report: Cincinnati Reds

Ramirez out again with sore shoulder

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
8:35
AM PT
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.

Ramirez
"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.

Van Slyke keeps quietly building his case

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
9:37
PM PT
CINCINNATI -- Does this sound like the kind of stuff you’ve been reading from a Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder lately?

“I know what I’m here for, and I don’t mind it. I like it. I’m not going to complain.”

Those were the thoughts Monday night of Scott Van Slyke, who, after a two-home run performance in a 6-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds, leads all Dodgers outfielders with a 1.060 OPS. Yes -- all Dodgers outfielders. He even nudged ahead of Yasiel Puig, the leading vote-getter on the National League All-Star ballot.

[+] EnlargeScott Van Slyke
David Kohl/USA TODAY SportsScott Van Slyke was a major contributor in the Dodgers' win Monday, going 3-for-3 with four RBIs and two home runs, scoring twice and walking twice.


In what is shaping up as the Season of the Mildly Disgruntled Outfielder in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, Van Slyke has quietly produced in a limited role and at roughly one-fortieth the cost of the team’s other outfielders.

Granted, he has done so in large part because he’s being put in situations to succeed -- matched up against left-handed pitchers -- but that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? The Dodgers are trying to overcome a sluggish first two months, and they’d like to put their best lineup on the field in each situation, regardless of players’ feelings.

And it would appear they’re intent on doing just that.

It would be hard to argue that Van Slyke isn’t part of the solution, based on the best two-plus months of his major league life, if such samples can be counted on.

Of his 20 hits, 11 have gone for extra bases. In 40 games, he has been walked 18 times. Despite having fewer than one-third the at-bats of most regulars, he is fourth on the team with six home runs.

And oh, by the way, he is apparently the Dodgers’ second-best center fielder defensively, despite his gangly 6-foot-6 frame and a long, flowing beard that must offer some wind resistance.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly concedes he is considering a Van Slyke-Andre Ethier platoon in center, which could pair up nicely with a Matt Kemp-Carl Crawford platoon in left, presuming the latter two can function as selflessly as the center fielders seem to be doing.

That might be a big if. Just Monday, Crawford admitted to some frustration about his unsettled role now that Kemp has been shifted. Kemp called it “a little weird” when he was asked to move positions and seemed to pout on the days he was held out of the lineup during the transition.

Meanwhile, Van Slyke's hold on playing time is so precarious, he was worried he had to produce Monday after he had gone 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Colorado Rockies pitcher Jorge De La Rosa on Sunday.

Van Slyke might play the most fundamentally sound outfield of anyone in a Dodgers uniform, which isn’t entirely surprising given that he is the son of Andy Van Slyke, a five-time Gold Glove winner in the 1980s. He said his father helped him in making the return to center field -- the position of his childhood but not his professional life, until recently.

“It’s slowly coming back,” Van Slyke said. “I really concentrate on how guys are pitching, how their balls are moving, what it looks like on foul balls and try to position myself better.”

Of course, expectations are everything. The four other outfielders on the Dodgers’ roster were blue-chip prospects fast-tracked to the major leagues and wildly rich before they turned 28. Van Slyke was a 14th-round pick who was dropped from the team’s 40-man roster two winters ago and snubbed for a spring training invite in 2013. He is 27 and still making the major league minimum salary.

Mattingly went as far as to suggest Van Slyke could be a productive everyday player, an opportunity he’s almost certain never to get in L.A. Perhaps the Dodgers would ponder trading him -- if he weren’t so valuable to them.

“This guy’s been an RBI guy, driven in 100 runs a couple times in the minor leagues [when] he wasn’t platooning,” Mattingly said. “He’s a guy with a pretty good idea at the plate. If you match him up right, he has a pretty good chance of hitting a ball hard and giving you good at-bats.”

Van Slyke also has a way with animals, apparently. When two wild ducks flew down and waddled around center field in the third inning, Van Slyke got them to go away by throwing a pocketful of seeds at them.

“They ate them and left,” he said. “Then I slipped on the sunflower seeds later.”

Nobody said he was perfect.

Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 6, Reds 2

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
7:35
PM PT


CINCINNATI -- Just add water.

It seems as if every time the Los Angeles Dodgers go on the road, they get rained on and score runs, two things that never seem to happen at Dodger Stadium. Two days after having three innings rained out in Colorado, the Dodgers can expect thunderstorms in Cincinnati on Tuesday evening, according to forecasts.

But in between, they managed to beat the Cincinnati Reds 6-2 on Monday night to keep the road trip humming along. In their past 10-game home stand, the Dodgers scored four runs or more three times. In four games on this trip, they have scored six runs or more three times.

How it happened: Scott Van Slyke hit two home runs and Dan Haren pitched capably into the sixth inning before yielding to reliever J.P. Howell, who got inning-ending double plays in back-to-back innings.

Hits: It has been portrayed as a four-outfielder logjam, but really it’s five. Going into Monday, Van Slyke had a higher OPS (.924) -- by a lot -- than every Dodgers outfielder not named Yasiel Puig. Van Slyke continued padding his numbers with a solo home run in the second into the second deck and a three-run shot in the fifth. Van Slyke’s role is to pound left-handed pitching, and he has made a nice little niche for himself, even on a team in which outfielders are a dime a dozen.

Misses: The Dodgers are 2-0 in games Jamie Romak has started. That's a good thing. Otherwise, it hasn’t been the out-of-nowhere fairytale everyone was rooting for. A day after picking up his first major-league hit, Romak -- who broke into the majors at 28 last month -- was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts (and a walk), while making a spot start at first base for Adrian Gonzalez. Romak has one hit in 11 at-bats and might find it hard to keep a roster spot as some players on the disabled list look to return soon.

Stat of the game: Of Van Slyke’s 60 career hits, 31 have gone for extra bases.

Up next: The teams continue their four-game series here Tuesday, with Josh Beckett (3-3, 2.57 ERA) pitching for the Dodgers and Mike Leake (3-5, 3.29) going for Cincinnati. The game begins at 4:10 p.m. PT.

Series preview: Dodgers at Reds

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
4:53
AM PT
Once again, June feels like a fateful month for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Last year, the threat of manager Don Mattingly getting fired, a floundering team and a complaint from Mattingly that his team wasn't playing with enough fight put the spotlight on the month before the All-Star break.

This year, Mattingly has wondered how united the Dodgers are, and the team has kept shuffling along the .500 line. The common denominator is injuries: Entering a four-game series in Cincinnati starting Monday, the Dodgers could be without four starting position players for at least part of it: third baseman Juan Uribe, second baseman Dee Gordon, catcher A.J. Ellis and MVP candidate Yasiel Puig. It's hard to be united when half your main position players aren't on the field.

Not that the Reds -- another disappointing team -- will feel sorry for the Dodgers. They have been playing without MVP-caliber first baseman Joey Votto for 20 games. They've also been struggling to score runs. Even after scoring 10 in a couple of wins over the last-place Philadelphia Phillies, they are on pace to score 581 runs, their fewest since 1982.

Votto and Mat Latos figure to return from injury soon, and the Reds hope they can make a run to get back into contention.

Of course, the Dodgers do, too. The difference between 2013 and 2014 is a San Francisco Giants team showing no signs of letting up. The Dodgers are two games over .500 and 9½ games behind the Giants, who have easily the biggest division lead in baseball. Last year after 64 games, the Dodgers were eight games under .500 but just 7½ back.

Can the Dodgers finally take off, as they did starting June 22 of last season? It's starting to look like they'll need a serious charge to scare the Giants. Otherwise, they'll have to take their chances with the wild card, a truly perilous route now that it's been turned into a one-game playoff.

There were some good signs in Colorado, with the Dodgers taking two of three from the free-falling Rockies over the weekend, winning Sunday without Gordon or Puig but with Clayton Kershaw and some luck (the game was called due to rain in the sixth inning). In that game, Hanley Ramirez hit a 472-foot home run, the fourth-longest in the majors this season. The Dodgers have seen more of the 2011-12-era Ramirez (hitting around .250) than the 2013 version (the top hitter in the NL when he was healthy) so far this season, a big reason they've struggled to maintain consistency.

The Dodgers' rotation gives them their biggest reason to hope now that Kershaw is healthy and every other starter just keeps plugging along. Dan Haren, who opens the series Monday night, has maintained remarkable consistency so far, but he was hit harder in May (4.30 ERA) than he was in April (2.03 ERA).

Matt Kemp could learn from Andre Ethier

May, 28, 2014
May 28
12:33
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- "It’s always fluid."

That was the text message I got from Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti after Tuesday night’s 6-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds. I spent time before the game talking to Colletti about Matt Kemp’s five-game benching and what it meant for the dynamics of the team, both logistically and psychologically.

Within a couple of hours, Carl Crawford was limping around left field after badly spraining his left ankle. A little while later, he would say he’s going on the 15-day disabled list, and all the questions about Kemp being the odd man out were borderline moot. So, presuming the Dodgers don’t plan on using longtime minor leaguer Scott Van Slyke every day, the only question left concerns how Kemp responds to being asked to do something new.

[+] EnlargeAndre Ethier
AP Photo/Jae C. HongAndre Ethier kept the bench warm before Matt Kemp was told to sit. The Dodgers want Kemp to respond the way Ethier did.
The Dodgers know how they’d like him to respond. They’d like him to respond like Andre Ethier did.

See, before this ever became about Kemp, it was –- far more quietly -– about Ethier. The two longest-tenured Dodgers position players are, like Crawford and Yasiel Puig, locked in this uncomfortable four-outfielder jam-up, but for a big chunk of this season, Ethier was the guy on the outside of the lineup looking in.

From May 12 to May 22, Ethier started a grand total of two games.

“It’s uncomfortable, but guys just have to figure out a way to get it done,” Ethier said.

That’s about all Kemp can really do at this point, figure out how to play left field for the first time in eight years, figure out how to catch the ball more reliably than he did for the first two months, figure out how to cut down on his strikeouts, figure out how to get on base more frequently. It’s not about how the team is treating him. It’s about how he treats this opportunity.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he’s ready to play Kemp in left field the minute Kemp tells him he’s ready to play left field.

By the looks of it, Ethier stayed ready. He was batting .262 with a .361 slugging percentage when the Dodgers finally decided they had seen enough of Kemp’s sloppy play in center field and inserted him into the everyday lineup. On Tuesday, he mashed a home run and three-run triple in his first two at-bats and, since he got back on the field every day, he’s batting .368 with five extra-base hits.

Mattingly and hitting coach Mark McGwire chatted with Ethier in Washington early this month about his swing.

“We felt he was pushing the ball a little too much instead of dropping the head on it and getting the hammer going,” Mattingly said. “To me, he’s continued to work. Him and Carl both got after it pretty good, fighting for those at-bats. But Andre was playing the least. I just said, ‘Be patient. You never know what’s going to happen.’ He said, ‘It’s a long season.’ He knew the opportunity would come.”

For Kemp to do anything but hold his tongue and play his best, even if it’s awkward at first in a new position, would be a monumentally selfish act and everyone in baseball would view it as just that. The Dodgers, for nearly two months a disappointment, are just now beginning to get a head of steam, having won six of eight games behind absolutely dominant starting pitching.

This isn’t the time for complaints. Those can wait until there’s nothing left to play for.

Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 6, Reds 3

May, 27, 2014
May 27
10:08
PM PT

LOS ANGELES -- They have sensed it coming for a while, but until now, they couldn't see it or touch it. Are the Los Angeles Dodgers finally heating up?

Such things are hard to predict, but the Dodgers are on their steadiest roll of the season, with Tuesday’s 6-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds their sixth win in the past eight games. The starting rotation is on fire, the defense has been vastly improved and Hanley Ramirez is healthy again. There’s a lot to like about the direction things are heading.

Then again, there are no guarantees they'll stay healthy. Carl Crawford limped off the field in the eighth inning after badly turning his left ankle chasing down a double into the corner.

How it happened: The no-hitter was over by the second inning, which, by recent standards, was a dud of a performance. Zack Greinke’s only problem was that he followed Josh Beckett (no-hitter) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (perfect game through seven innings). He was absolutely in command, holding the Reds to one run while striking out 11 batters without a walk.

Andre Ethier, the player the Dodgers inserted into their everyday lineup for defensive reasons, is showing signs at the plate lately. He homered and tripled in his first two at-bats, staking Greinke to a five-run lead by the fourth inning. It’s hard to beat early runs and good pitching.

Hits: When the Dodgers committed to Ethier as their everyday center fielder last Thursday, he was batting .262 with two home runs. They were willing to sacrifice some offense for a steadier hand in the outfield. But Ethier’s bat has responded to the extra playing time, going 7-for-19 with four extra-base hits in the five games.

Misses: Dee Gordon continues to play strong second base and to ignite action when he gets on base, but the Dodgers are seeing his hitting come back down to earth. After sprinting out to a .336 batting average on May 10, Gordon has gone 9-for-59 (.153) since. It’s going to be hard for him to become baseball’s first 100-base stealer in 27 years if he doesn’t start getting on base more.

Stat of the game: Greinke has struck out 75 batters this season and walked just 13 unintentionally.

Up next: Two of the game’s best pitchers meet Wednesday night when Clayton Kershaw (3-1, 3.49 ERA) works for the Dodgers against Homer Bailey (4-3, 5.34 ERA), but Bailey is off to a rough first two months. He has been better in May (4.65 ERA) than April (6.15 ERA). Kershaw bounced back from arguably his worst career outing in Arizona with six strong innings in Philadelphia. The game begins at 7:10 p.m.

Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 4, Reds 3

May, 26, 2014
May 26
8:30
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- If you were at Monday night’s Dodgers game -- and millions of you would have said you were -- you nearly saw something that had never been done.

Hyun-Jin Ryu carried a perfect game into the eighth inning before Todd Frazier yanked a changeup into the left-field corner for a leadoff double, foiling a bid at history.

Had Ryu been able to get six more outs in what wound up a 4-3 Dodgers win over the Cincinnati Reds, he would have combined with Josh Beckett to give the Dodgers the first back-to-back no-hitters in baseball history. Beckett, who no-hit the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday, was among the first people to greet Ryu with a high-five when he came into the dugout after being removed by Don Mattingly in the eighth.

One team, the 1917 St. Louis Browns, pulled off no-hitters on consecutive days, but the second came on the back end of a doubleheader.

How it happened: Ryu was mesmerizing, changing speeds as usual and summoning unusual zip when he got in jams. He got Brandon Phillips to ground out on a 95 mph fastball in the seventh inning.

The Dodgers didn’t exactly rack up the baserunners off the Reds’ Johnny Cueto, one of the National League’s toughest pitchers this season. L.A. got a run in the third inning but also left the bases loaded that inning.

Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, a utility player thrust into the starting lineup by an injury to Juan Uribe, made two diving stops behind Ryu. Turner also drove up Cueto's pitch count with a 16-pitch at-bat that led to a walk in the seventh inning and started a three-run rally.

The long Dodgers' rally in the seventh, during which Ryu had to run the bases, seemed to throw off his rhythm. The Reds bunched two more hits. Then reliever Brian Wilson continued to struggle, with closer Kenley Jansen having to be summoned to get the final four outs. Jansen struck out Phillips to get out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth.

Hits: For a guy who has started only 170 major league games, Drew Butera has done some extraordinary things. He has caught two no-hitters, Beckett’s and Francisco Liriano’s for the Minnesota Twins in 2011. Much of it, of course, is luck. But Butera is an excellent defensive catcher and, apparently, calls a pretty fair game behind the plate.

Misses: The Dodgers are trying their best to fix their defensive shortcomings. They replaced Matt Kemp in center field with Andre Ethier. They’re using acrobatic shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena at shortstop in place of injured Hanley Ramirez. But it has come with some cost in the lineup. The Dodgers have scored four runs or fewer in five of their past six games. As usual, all personnel decisions have trade-offs. The Dodgers apparently are going all in on pitching and defense, at least for now.

Stat of the game: Yasiel Puig reached base safely for the 27th consecutive game with his third-inning walk.

Up next: The Dodgers’ strong pitching has a good chance to continue for a while. The next two games are pitched by Zack Greinke (7-1, 2.01 ERA) and Clayton Kershaw (3-1, 3.49). The Dodgers will face Alfredo Simon (6-2, 2.31 ERA) Tuesday at 7:10 p.m. PT.

Series preview: Reds at Dodgers

May, 26, 2014
May 26
9:01
AM PT
The Dodgers have overcome losing ace Clayton Kershaw for more than a month, shaky fielding all season and scant production from a handsomely paid outfield during April. Monday presents another challenge: trying to score off the most dominant pitcher in the National League.

Most numbers indicate that’s what Johnny Cueto has been for the Cincinnati Reds, who visit Dodger Stadium for a three-game series Monday through Wednesday.

Cueto leads the majors in WHIP (0.74) and the National League in strikeouts (82). He’s fourth in the league with a 1.86 ERA, but carries just a 4-3 record. Then again, the one starter who has, arguably, pitched better than Cueto, the Chicago Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija, is 0-4.

Cueto is coming off his only so-so outing of the season, in which he gave up six earned runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings against the Washington Nationals and, afterward, told reporters, “I’m human.” It was his only non-quality start of 2014. He also is 1-3 with a 4.09 ERA at Dodger Stadium.

Dodgers starters haven’t been too shabby themselves. After Josh Beckett's first career no-hitter Sunday in Philadelphia, they are third in the National League with a 3.14 ERA. One area they’d like to improve on is pitching deeper into games. Dodgers starters have worked 298 1/3 innings, good for 12th in the majors.

The Dodgers were impressed with Hyun-Jin Ryu's command after he spent nearly three weeks on the disabled list with some discomfort in his left shoulder and they were even more impressed after he struck out nine New York Mets and gave up two runs in six innings in his last start. The only time Ryu faced the Reds, he was amped up for a showdown with fellow Korean Shin-Soo Choo, who signed last winter as a free agent with the Texas Rangers.

Ryu allowed only two hits and struck out nine in seven innings against the Reds at Dodger Stadium last year.

The Reds might be a little sluggish after traveling through the night after playing the Sunday night game.

The Reds have made the fewest errors in the National League while the Dodgers have made the second-most. On the other hand, the Dodgers have taken some steps to try to improve their defense in recent games, replacing Matt Kemp with Andre Ethier in center field and using light-hitting defensive whiz Erisbel Arruebarrena at shortstop. Kemp, who has begun working out in left field, figures to get a start against Cueto since he’s 6-for-12 against him lifetime.

The Dodgers have not announced whether Hanley Ramirez will be put on the 15-day disabled list with a calf injury, but it appeared to be heading that way.

Grading the week: hitting a bump in Cincy

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
11:21
AM PT
After the Dodgers got swept in Cincinnati, ace Clayton Kershaw took the long view.

“Overall, it’s probably a good time to lose some games, if we’re going to end up losing,” Kershaw said.

That may not go down easily for Dodgers fans, who got used to seeing their team take two of three games in a bad series for the previous 2 months and sweep when they played well. But unless we see this team’s struggles bleed into another week or two, he’s got a perfectly valid point.

You don’t want to peak too soon. Get it out of the way now.

Besides, they were playing a Cincinnati team with a little more to play for, coming off a series in Colorado which manager Don Mattingly used as a relief station, resting players in shifts.

With a good week, the Dodgers can still clinch the NL West and then decide whether they want to fight for home field advantage or use the remaining couple of weeks to freshen up.
So, yeah, a 2-4 week is a major dud the way these guys have been going, but with the state of the standings, it still comes across as no biggie.

SCORING

It’s no mystery why the Dodgers hit the skids. They couldn’t score enough runs. It was as if they played the same game in Cincinnati three straight days, got a little burst of offense, put up a bunch of zeroes and waited for something bad to happen at the end.

And it did. The “bad” in this case was having to face Aroldis Chapman.

Even though the Dodgers played half their games last week at a hitting heaven, Coors Field, they batted a ho-hum .274, hit just four home runs and had a disappointing .685 OPS. They struck out more than four times as often as they walked.

They did run into some good pitchers, though, including Jhoulys Chacin, who they beat, and Homer Bailey and Mat Latos, who they did not. If there is anything to worry about from last week, it’s that Reds pitchers pretty much had their way with Dodgers hitters and that could bode ill should the teams meet again in the playoffs.

Then again, regular-season trends tend to go away in October.

Grade: C-

DEFENSE

Unless things start to go seriously sideways in the next few weeks, Edinson Volquez will not start a playoff game for the Dodgers. So, take a deep breath.

In his first chance at showing them what he could do, he showed them exactly what he had been doing for San Diego, giving up a bunch of hits and runs. What messed up the Dodgers pitching was that, after Volquez made his poor start in Colorado, Chris Capuano -- already filling in for injured Hyun-Jin Ryu -- had to leave his start with a strained groin in the second inning.

Suddenly, the bullpen was drained and the wear and tear eventually showed, as the Reds won games decided by the bullpens.

Last week, the Dodgers collectively had a 4.91 ERA. Not good by any team’s standards. Awful by the Dodgers’. Zack Greinke, Ricky Nolasco and Clayton Kershaw were fine, but not dominant, and the rest of the rotation and, even more acutely, the bullpen showed some signs of fray. They still have time to get things ship shape again.

Grade: C-

DECISION-MAKING

Michael Young (.353) had a nice week, his first with the Dodgers. Two of the other recent acquistions, Volquez (7.20 ERA) and Carlos Marmol (5.27 ERA) did not. Brian Wilson had three perfect appearances and one bad one at a crucial time.

The Dodgers have plenty of time to evaluate players’ performances and line things up for the playoff roster, but you can see the makings of one now. Volquez probably needs to pitch brilliantly against Arizona Tuesday night to have any prayer of staying with the Dodgers beyond September and he probably needs to pitch well just to merit another start.

The other three guys seem like pretty good bets to stay with the Dodgers longer.

Manager Don Mattingly took a chance resting so many players in Colorado. For one thing, it sort of stalled the Dodgers’ collective motor, setting them up to look lackluster in Cincinnati.

But it’s pretty clear what was happening. The Dodgers took advantage of the luxury of a major lead to take a step back, hopeful they can take a leap forward between now and clinching day. After that, they’ll probably rest a few more players and then try to rev up for a deep playoff run. Seems like a reasonable strategy.

Grade: B

CHEMISTRY TEST

Here’s what Mattingly told reporters after the sweep in Cincinnati: "I wasn't that excited about our focus during the first two games.”

It might be a good time for leadership from within the clubhouse, snapping everyone back to attention, because things don’t figure to get any easier. The Dodgers didn’t get back to Los Angeles until Monday morning, probably about 14 hours before their three-game series with the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks begins. We’ve already mentioned the taxed bullpen.

For two months and a week, nobody had to worry about chemistry because the Dodgers were winning 80 percent of their games. Now we get a look at the Dodgers’ grinding skills. Do they still remember how?

Grade: C

STATE OF CONTENTION

The Diamondbacks had every opportunity to finally apply a little pressure, but they didn’t. They just kind of sat there, going 3-4 against Toronto and San Francisco, hardly unbeatable opponents. So, Arizona only gained a half-game in the standings and they lost an entire week.

The Dodgers player Arizona in seven of their next 10 games. Those games haven’t felt like they would be make-or-break for a while now, but Arizona could have at least made them interesting if they had played better.

The Dodgers' magic number to clinch the West is 10 games, meaning the earliest it could happen is Friday.

Now, it seems like it’s just a matter of time before the Dodgers close this out. For them, of course, sooner is better than later. If they don't play well this week, they will undoubtedly be clinching on the road, because after Sunday, they embark on a 10-game road trip.

Grade: A-

Two more injuries and one more loss

September, 6, 2013
9/06/13
7:53
PM PT


The way the Los Angeles Dodgers have been playing, it has seemed at times as if only injuries could keep them from a deep run in the playoffs.

Injuries it is?

The Dodgers got some bad news before the game when the team announced Matt Kemp's rehabilitation has been shut down because of another hamstring strain, and then more bad news two innings into a 3-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

Left-hander Chris Capuano was filling in for Hyun-Jin Ryu, who was scratched from Friday's start because of a stiff back. In an echo of the Dodgers' early-season injury luck, Capuano, too, got hurt. He only lasted 1 2/3 innings before leaving the game because of a mildly strained left groin.

There were some raised eyebrows when the Dodgers signed Edinson Volquez after he had been released by the San Diego Padres last week, but now it is looking like stockpiling depth was a good idea. If Ryu can't pitch next week, Volquez figures to become part of the Dodgers' rotation.

Capuano beckoned Dodgers trainers after he had retired five of the first six batters he faced. He was replaced by reliever Peter Moylan. Capuano was on the disabled list twice this season because of a strain to his calf and a back muscle.

Moylan got through the third and Stephen Fife, who has been effective in limited opportunities for the Dodgers this season, took over and pitched well from there, but aside from Hanley Ramirez's two-run home run in the first inning, the Dodgers' offense made little headway.

The Reds, still fighting for playoff positioning, needed Friday's game more badly than the Dodgers did. Their closer, Aroldis Chapman, closed out the win by striking out Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez and Ramirez, throwing several pitches that topped 100 mph.

Before Friday's game began, the Dodgers announced Kemp has been shut down indefinitely in his rehabilitation from a sprained left ankle. Kemp has spent time on the disabled list in each of the past two seasons because of hamstring injuries.

It seems unlikely Kemp will return before the end of the season, but the Dodgers are well-protected with Puig and Andre Ethier playing well in Kemp's stead. Then again, as the injuries to starting pitchers have demonstrated, you can never have too much depth.

Dodgers look to pick up tempo in Cincy

September, 4, 2013
9/04/13
10:06
PM PT
DENVER -- Remember the last time the Los Angeles Dodgers played a series against a playoff contender? They had the Boston Red Sox in town and, even though it came in the middle of one of the greatest runs in franchise history, manager Don Mattingly was a little miffed after they lost two of three.

[+] EnlargeClayton Kershaw
Jeff Curry/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw will be on the mound this weekend in Cincinnati as the Dodgers ramp up their focus in what figures to be a big series.
"If we're going to get where we want to go, those are the kinds of teams we're going to have to beat," Mattingly said. "It gives you a little barometer of what kind of baseball you need to play to win."

Fans in L.A. might not want to hear about barometers right now given the heat, but the Dodgers will get to check another one this weekend in Cincinnati. They'll be playing against a team they might well meet again in the playoffs, a team desperately trying to scramble for better postseason position.

It could feel a little more intense than these last few series -- against the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies.

"We're definitely playing against one of the best teams in the National League and one of the most potent lineups out there, so we have to come to play, in their ballpark especially," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "It will be a tough weekend for us, so we have to be ready to go from the first pitch on Friday."

So, all these little experiments and days of rest in Colorado are over for a while. The Dodgers are scheduled to fly from Denver, where they played three listless games against the Rockies with spring training-caliber lineups, and arrive in Cincinnati on Thursday for a three-game weekend series.

The fun and games will be over for a while.

(Read full post)

Grading the week

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

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

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

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

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

GradeSCORING

Yasiel Puig is an interesting baseball player.

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: A-

GradeDEFENSE

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

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

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

Grade: B+

GradeDECISION-MAKING

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B

GradeGRIT-METER

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

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

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

Grade: A

GradeSTATE OF CONTENTION

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

Grade: A-

Winning this way might mean you're good

July, 28, 2013
7/28/13
7:07
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- This Los Angeles Dodgers surge is starting to feel a little more permanent than that word would imply.

When you can win a game in which your No. 5 starting pitcher takes the mound and your Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters together go 0-for-10 with nine strikeouts in the first nine innings, you might be pretty hot.

When you can win a game in which you strike out 20 times -- a first for a Dodgers team in the modern era (since 1900) -- you might be pretty hot.

[+] EnlargeYasiel Puig
AP Photo/Reed SaxonYasiel Puig celebrates his no-doubt, walk-off homer in the 11th inning of a 1-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday.
You might even be pretty good.

Sunday's 1-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds ended with more Yasiel Puig razzle-dazzle, though it had been a while since Dodgers fans had seen it. He hit the second pitch he saw in the 11th inning about 15 rows into the left-field bleachers to end one of the most exasperating offensive games in Los Angeles history. It gave the Dodgers their biggest NL West division lead of the season over the Arizona Diamondbacks at 2 1/2 games.

As usual, with Puig taking center stage, it was brilliant, flashy and strange all at once. Puig not only flipped the bat and threw his hands in the air, he slid into home plate after circling the bases.

"Just when you think you've seen it all in this game, you see something new," Dodgers pitcher Chris Capuano said.

It might have been a hot-dog move, but it was probably no more dangerous than the now-accepted practice of leaping onto home plate after a walk-off shot. Just ask Kendrys Morales, who fractured an ankle trying that move.

There were actually a few novelties from Sunday's game.

On the same day the Dodgers set a Los Angeles strikeout record (the wrong side of it), they also tied a Los Angeles record for the team's best 32-game stretch (26-6), equaling the 1977 World Series team.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was unaware his team had struck out so many times until he walked into the interview room after the game and was asked about it.

"You're kind of inning to inning trying to win a game. You're not really paying attention to how they're getting their outs, just that they're getting them," Mattingly said. "It's a good game for us from the standpoint of it's a close game, it's a tough game, it's a tough club.

"It's a game we hung in there and stole a series."

For perfectly justifiable reasons, Mattingly gets antsy when Capuano is still on the mound late in games. He pulled the veteran left-hander after Capuano had given up only three hits, and thrown 83 pitches, with two outs in the seventh inning. Joey Votto was at second base and right-handed hitter Todd Frazier was coming up.

(Read full post)

Puig's baserunning becoming an issue

July, 28, 2013
7/28/13
12:54
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Thus far, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been hesitant to crack down too much on what has, at times, been reckless base running by Yasiel Puig. After all, it was his exuberance and energy that first shook the team out of its June doldrums.

But they are monitoring the situation as the season moves along, cognizant that one poorly timed blunder can cost a team a crucial game. Saturday night, Puig made two poor decisions, though only one of them had negative consequences.

He took a wide turn around first base in the fifth inning and the Cincinnati Reds clearly had the right scouting report. Catcher Devin Mesoraco was aggressively trailing the play and was there when Jay Bruce threw behind Puig for an easy out.

In the first inning, Puig stole third base with two outs. He made it, but it's not considered a smart play because of the steep risk-reward equation. According to a scout sitting near the field, Dodgers cleanup hitter Hanley Ramirez was "visibly upset." Ramirez doubled to drive Puig in, but he would have scored just as easily from second.

"We're trying to corral it a little bit, but without putting too many restrictions on him," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "As you get into big games, any game can be the game it costs you, so we just want him to understand situations."

Here are lineups for Sunday's game:

Cincinnati
1. Derrick Robinson CF
2. Chris Heisey LF
3. Joey Votto 1B
4. Brandon Phillips 2B
5. Jay Bruce RF
6. Todd Frazier 3B
7. Zack Cozart SS
8. Devin Mesoraco C
9. Tony Cingrani LHP

Dodgers
1. Mark Ellis 2B
2. Yasiel Puig RF
3. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
4. Hanley Ramirez SS
5. Jerry Hairston Jr. LF
6. Andre Ethier CF
7. Juan Uribe 3B
8. Tim Federowicz C
9. Chris Capuano LHP

More on the hunt for relief

July, 26, 2013
7/26/13
6:30
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- With Kenley Jansen stabilizing the ninth inning and Ronald Belisario regaining his good sinker, the Los Angeles Dodgers' need for a reliever is a far less-pressing matter than it was a few weeks ago.

Still, aside from those two, manager Don Mattingly's right-handed options have been shaky. Brandon League has yet to get things figured out, Carlos Marmol looks a lot like the the guy the Chicago Cubs cast aside and Chris Withrow has never been through a major-league pennant race.

On the other hand, the Dodgers' lefties, Paco Rodriguez and J.P. Howell, have been the two most consistent relievers. And the trends are positive. In the past two weeks, the Dodgers' bullpen is 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA and opponents are hitting .248 against it.

Mattingly has discussed some names with general manager Ned Colletti as the team approaches the trade deadline and said, "You'd always like to get better," but also said he'd be comfortable if he had to finish the season with the relievers he has now.

"I like our guys," Mattingly said. "I wouldn't be afraid to go forward with it."

Here are lineups for Friday night:

Cincinnati
1. Shin-Soo Choo CF
2. Chris Heisey LF
3. Joey Votto 1B
4. Brandon Phillips 2B
5. Jay Bruce RF
6. Todd Frazier 3B
7. Zack Cozart SS
8. Corky Miller C
9. Homer Bailey RHP

Dodgers
1. Carl Crawford LF
2. Yasiel Puig RF
3. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
4. Hanley Ramirez SS
5. Andre Ethier CF
6. A.J. Ellis C
7. Juan Uribe 3B
8. Mark Ellis 2B
9. Clayton Kershaw LHP

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Zack Greinke
WINS ERA SO IP
11 2.90 130 124
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .308
HRA. Gonzalez 14
RBIA. Gonzalez 62
RD. Gordon 54
OPSY. Puig .915
ERAC. Kershaw 1.92
SOC. Kershaw 134