Dodgers Report: Giants

Tough road between here and postseason spot

September, 7, 2012
9/07/12
8:27
AM PT
Having gone 5-7 since the acquisition of Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez, the Dodgers have been a season-high 4.5 games back of the Giants all week; the two teams had the same result each of the last six nights they played. Both teams lost last Friday before winning three in a row and then losing their next two. That string will end starting tonight, as the Dodgers visit San Francisco for the final time this season.

This weekend’s series begins a challenging 24-game close to the season for the Dodgers. L.A. has the NL’s toughest schedule from now until the end of the regular season, and that doesn’t even account for the fact that many of their difficult games are away from Chavez Ravine. Somewhat unbelievably, the Dodgers still have road series left against each of the three current division leaders in the National League, the Nationals, Reds, and Giants.

Worse for the Dodgers are the remaining schedules of the teams they’re chasing and competing against. The top three teams in the Wild Card standings other than the Dodgers all have a below-.500 strength-of-schedule the rest of the way, as do the Giants, while Dodgers' opponents have a .534 winning percentage.

The Pirates, tied with the Dodgers at a game and a half out of the second Wild Card spot, have 10 of their remaining 26 games left against the Astros and Cubs and don’t play a team currently above .500 until Sept. 28. They don’t have a road series left against a .500 team. Meanwhile the Cardinals, currently occupying that second Wild Card spot, have nine games against the Cubs and Astros, and their only road series left against a .500 team is a critical four-game series at Dodger Stadium next week.

Looking at the NL West, the Giants don’t have any games left outside of the division, meaning their only remaining games against a .500 team are against the Dodgers. The good news for the Dodgers is Clayton Kershaw, scheduled to pitch Sunday against the Giants, would also pitch in the second series with the Giants if kept on regular rest.

Kershaw’s starts might be wasted if Giants starters continue their success against the Dodgers from earlier in the season. Over 12 games and 78 1/3 innings, Giants starters have a 2.07 ERA and have surrendered only one home run to the Dodgers this year. Given that, and also that the Dodgers need to make up 4.5 games in a 24-game span, winning the division seems unlikely. The Dodgers haven’t been more than four games better than the Giants in a stretch of any length since San Francisco took over the division lead for the first time at the end of June.

With that in mind, the Wild Card appears now to be the Dodgers’ most likely path into the playoffs. However, with a remaining schedule significantly tougher than those of other contenders, winning one of those Wild Card spots would be an impressive achievement.
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Dodgers

Hanley Ramirez makes Dodgers .5 better

August, 24, 2012
8/24/12
10:59
AM PT
Since acquiring Hanley Ramirez in the final week of July, the Dodgers have averaged half a run more per game than they did before the trade, despite scoring just six runs in three games against the Giants. Ramirez has been a key factor in the Dodgers’ improved offense, as his 29 RBI with the Dodgers lead all of baseball since his Dodger debut on July 25.

Given his RBI total, it’s no surprise that Ramirez has been at his best with men on base and even better with at least one runner in scoring position. He already has 14 hits with runners in scoring position in 27 games with the Dodgers; he had just 19 such hits in 93 games this season as a Marlin. One difference seems to be that he’s not swinging at as many bad pitches in those situations. The percentage of pitches he’s chased out of the strike zone with men in scoring position has dropped from about 30 percent to about 25 percent.

One area at the plate where Ramirez has shown improvement is how he’s handled pitches on the inner third of the plate or further inside. In 2009 and 2010, Ramirez was among the best in baseball at getting hits on inside pitches, as he hit .346 in at-bats ending with a pitch on the inner third. In 2011 and 2012 with the Marlins, Ramirez’s average against those pitches dropped to .208. Since being traded to LA, however, his average on inside pitches is up to .353, right around where it was during his most productive years as a Marlin.

Of Ramirez’s 29 RBI as Dodger, 10 have scored Matt Kemp, a number that’s even more impressive considering that Andre Ethier has driven in Kemp only 12 times this season. Ramirez and the red-hot Luis Cruz have turned the Dodgers’ left side of the infield from a weakness offensively into a strength, as the pair has combined to hit .319 with 43 RBI since the Ramirez trade. The offensive boost they’ve provided, most importantly from Ramirez, will clearly be critical as the Dodgers look to overcome what is now a three-game deficit in the NL West.

With help from Baseball-Reference, ESPN Stats & Information, and the Elias Sports Bureau, here are a few other notes from the past week in Dodgers baseball.

POWER IN ATLANTA

The Dodgers needed only four hits to put up six runs in Saturday’s win in Atlanta, as all four hits went for home runs. It was the first time this season the Dodgers had hit four home runs in a game and only the second time they’d done it in the last two seasons. Only once before Saturday since the team moved to LA had the Dodgers had at least four hits with every hit being a home run. They also did it in a loss to the Angels on June 14, 2002.

In Saturday’s game, Hanley Ramirez, James Loney, and Luis Cruz hit consecutive home runs in the third inning. Forget about hitting three in a row, the Dodgers had hit just back-to-back home runs only once all season, when Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier did it on April 14 against the Padres. The last time the Dodgers hit three straight home runs was on June 12, 2007, against the Mets. The third of the home runs that day was Hong-Chih Kuo’s only career home run.

KERSHAW AND BUMGARNER DUEL

Monday night, Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw each pitched eight innings, striking out 10 and walking none. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only twice before had opposing starters each struck out at least 10 and walked none. In 1997, Roger Clemens and Aaron Sele did it, and in 2003, it was Javier Vazquez and Mark Prior.

UNBEATABLE BILLINGSLEY

Chad Billingsley pitched seven scoreless innings Sunday afternoon to improve to 6-0 in his last six starts, all since his return from the disabled list after the All-Star break. No Dodger had won six straight starts since Kevin Brown won seven in a row in 2003, and it’s the first time in his career that Billingsley has won six straight starts. He’s also gone eight straight starts without walking more than two hitters; his previous career high was five straight.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Clayton Kershaw
WINS ERA SO IP
21 1.77 239 198
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .296
HRA. Gonzalez 27
RBIA. Gonzalez 116
RY. Puig 92
OPSY. Puig .863
ERAC. Kershaw 1.77
SOC. Kershaw 239