Dodgers Report: Mark Ellis
Now, Ellis has gone from a team that might be the most flamboyant in baseball -- the Los Angeles Dodgers' latest trend is to carry around a bubble machine everywhere they go so they can celebrate big moments with a "foam party" in the dugout -- to a team, the St. Louis Cardinals, widely considered to espouse the heartland values of the city where it plays.
"It's not better or worse, just a different clubhouse," Ellis said. "They have some bigger personalities over there. That works on that team. This is what works, so far, on this team."
The Dodgers were intent on getting younger and more athletic and made scant effort to re-sign Ellis, 37, who then signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals. He has split time with young second baseman Kolten Wong, who is now on the disabled list because of an injured shoulder. Ellis is batting .197 in 143 plate appearances.
The Dodgers would have felt the loss of Ellis more, particularly in the field, if not for the emergence of Dee Gordon, a converted shortstop who was considered a longshot to win the second-base job when spring training began. Gordon leads the majors in stolen bases (40) and triples (nine) and is batting .286 with 44 runs scored while playing above-average defense.
"He works really hard and I'm happy for him," Ellis said. "I think second base is a good spot for him. It'll take a little pressure off in terms of defense and he can go out and be the dynamic guy he is on offense, steal bases and go out and score runs. That's a credit to him. He's so athletic. His speed is just unbelievable and he can change a game. He's one of the special guys we have in our league."
Ellis said he was treated well as a Dodger and he has no hard feelings about the way his two-year tenure with the team ended. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was particularly close with Ellis, calling him a "character guy," this week. Some people have wondered if the loss of Ellis, Skip Schumaker and Nick Punto -- hard workers who played with some edge -- might have a detrimental impact on the Dodgers' clubhouse. There has been less talk of that lately now that the Dodgers have won 14 of their last 20 games and trimmed 7 1/2 games from the San Francisco Giants' NL West lead.
"There are enough veterans over there. They should be able to police themselves," Ellis said.
Yasiel Puig, a free swinger built like a middle linebacker, will be the team’s leadoff hitter, at least to begin the season, manager Don Mattingly has said. On some levels, this comes across as a ludicrous notion. Puig, who entered camp at 251 pounds, batted .319 last year, but that was aided by a .383 batting average on balls in play, perhaps suggesting some regression. He only stole 11 bases in 432 plate appearances. He’s fast, but inexperienced on the bases.
But if not Puig, who? Eighty-three percent of Carl Crawford’s plate appearances came in the leadoff spot last season, but it’s never been his thing. Crawford has a career .743 OPS batting leadoff and an 800 OPS batting second. Alex Guerrero might one day hit near the top of the order, but that’s out of the question for now. He might not even be in the starting lineup on Opening Day.
The loss of Mark Ellis, who did everything a manager could ask of a No. 2 hitter (aside from getting a lot of hits), has created the conundrum. Puig doesn’t really profile ideally as a No. 2 hitter because he doesn’t take a lot of pitches to give Crawford a chance to try to steal a base, and it almost seems absurd to ask him to give up an at-bat to move a runner over. Forget about bunting.
Puig profiles as a No. 3, 4 or 5 hitter over the long run, of course, but Mattingly had some interesting comments about that. He said Puig hasn’t proven he can be an “RBI guy.” Puig had 42 RBIs in 104 games.
“He’s emotional still,” Mattingly said. “For me, he needs to learn to slow down, calm down up there with men in scoring position. You see in those situations, he gets a little excited. That’s part of learning to be that guy.”
So for now, the Dodgers will allow Puig to develop in the No. 1 spot in the lineup. Not a terrible idea, when you look at it broadly. It worked out OK for Mike Trout.
"No, different different," Alexander Guerrero said. "He plays a little bit, as we say in Cuba, aggressively. I’m more calm."
Having arrived in the United States for the first time just two weeks ago, Guerrero -- wearing a fresh, white No. 7 jersey, a thick gold chain and loafers with no socks -- certainly looked cool and composed on Friday while mingling with Dodgers fans at Homeboy Industries in Chinatown, a stop on the team’s yearly charity caravan.
But Guerrero admitted he’s still struggling with the jarring transition to a new culture and economic system.
"It’s a process," Guerrero said. "But it’s beautiful here."
The process the Dodgers will be monitoring most closely is Guerrero’s transition from his natural position, shortstop, to his position of the future, second base.
His efforts to accelerate the learning curve were hampered by two hamstring injuries in the Dominican Republic winter league.
The Dodgers signed Guerrero for four years and $28 million to take over second base from Mark Ellis, who later signed with the St. Louis Cardinals as a free agent.
Guerrero, 26, admits the process isn’t without its flaws. He called shortstop and second base "completely different." but he also expressed confidence he can be ready by spring training. He has been working out in Arizona with Dodgers coaches for the past two weeks.
The Dodgers -- not entirely convinced Guerrero is ready, based on scouting reports of his defense from the Dominican -- have said it’s possible he’ll begin the season in the minor leagues. Options to open the season at second base include reclamation project Chone Figgins, veteran minor leaguer Miguel Rojas and Dee Gordon. The Dodgers also continue to try to add one more infielder to their bench.
Guerrero called playing in the major leagues "his dream."
"I’m working hard for it," he said. "Ultimately, it’s up to the team."
Guerrero said he was able to defect from Cuba in his third attempt -- on a boat to Haiti -- along with his brother and two friends. He said his wife, 9-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter remain in Cuba but that he expects them to join him in two months.
He sat out the 2013 season after suspicions arose in Cuba that he was thinking of defecting. With all the scrutiny from Cuban officials, he said he decided to sit out and plan his exit strategy.
Guerrero, a three-time All-Star in Cuba’s highest league, had a .308 career average, 102 home runs and 392 RBIs in eight seasons. The Dodgers project him as a premium offensive player and hope he can be adequate with the glove.
Turnover is the order of the day now and the Dodgers' infield has proven highly changeable. You might have forgotten by now, but Justin Sellers and Luis Cruz both started on Opening Day last season. Dee Gordon started two Opening Days ago. Jamey Carroll and Rafael Furcal were still around three Opening Days ago and two Blakes -- DeWitt and Casey -- were in the starting lineup to kick off 2010.
And next season? While Adrian Gonzalez provides steady production and presence at first base and Hanley Ramirez and Juan Uribe both return, the Dodgers again will be dealing with uncertainty. They signed Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero to be the team’s everyday second baseman, but the team has enough doubts about his ability to field the position steadily that it now says that will be an open competition this spring.
Guerrero might even begin the season in the minor leagues. The Dodgers continue to try to convince Michael Young to put off retirement and return as a place-holder second baseman, bench contributor and veteran presence.
With just 10 days to go before pitchers and catchers report to Camelback Ranch, let’s explore five key questions:
Will fielding be a problem?
The Dodgers realize they don’t have the perfect formula. Ideally, your best fielders would be your shortstop and your second baseman and the guys on the corners, who see fewer chances, would provide power bats.
The Dodgers have to hope that thunder up the middle doesn’t lead to a deluge of ground balls sneaking into the outfield. They have a shortstop, Ramirez, with 30-home run power who is, to put it kindly, a below-average fielder. They have a second baseman who is a mystery, particularly with his glove. Meanwhile, Uribe and Gonzalez are among the best fielders at their positions, but neither is much of a home run threat these days.
“If you’re starting from a textbook and drawing up what you would want your team to be, you’d start with defense up the middle and want to have power on the corners , but that’s only one way to do it,” team president Stan Kasten said on 710 ESPNLA earlier this winter. “There are plenty of examples of teams who do it with a different model.”
Just because the model is different doesn’t mean it won’t work, but it’s risky. The Dodgers have the luxury of playing in a stadium that forgives pitchers who allow fly balls, one of the reasons they can sacrifice some infield defense. The Ramirez-Guerrero tandem likely would be untenable in the AL East, for example.
Is Guerrero ready?
Nobody had ever heard of Miguel Rojas until about a month ago, when the Dodgers started dropping his name as a legitimate alternative at second base. Considering Rojas is a career .234 hitter in the minor leagues, that’s a pretty good clue they’re having their doubts about Guerrero’s readiness for Opening Day.
Guerrero’s attempt at accelerating the learning curve transitioning from shortstop was derailed by hamstring injuries in the Dominican winter league.
Officially, the Dodgers say Guerrero is “leading the pack,” in the competition to start at second base, but Rojas -- who spent six years in the Cincinnati Reds’ system -- is a defensive wizard who is in the process of moving from shortstop as well. He impressed Dodgers veterans and coaches with his nimble infield skills last spring.
There is, however, good news. The Dodgers expect Guerrero to be an above-average offensive contributor when he’s ready and they have heard nothing but good things about the way he’s approaching the job.
“He’s very mature, an incredibly hard worker with great makeup,” Kasten said.
Are the Dodgers overly reliant on Uribe?
After two dismal seasons in Los Angeles, Uribe saved the Dodgers and redeemed his earning potential last year. After Luis Cruz simply stopped hitting, Uribe stepped in and batted .278 with 12 home runs, a huge post-season hit and spectacular defense (+15 Defensive Runs Saved), for an overall outstanding season of 4.1 WAR.
That earned Uribe a raise, a two-year, $15 million deal. The problem is he is 34, an age at which many players -- particularly third basemen -- begin a fairly spectacular decline. A bigger problem is how few fallback options the Dodgers have if Uribe doesn’t work out. Right now, Justin Sellers is listed as the backup third baseman.
The context, however, is key: Uribe was easily the most-appealing option in a field largely bereft of free-agent third basemen.
Look for the Dodgers to continue to try to woo Young. If that doesn’t work out, they’ll probably give Chone Figgins a long look this spring. They still badly need some coverage at three infield spots.
Can Ramirez stay at shortstop?
The Dodgers toyed with moving Ramirez back to third base. It was one of the scenarios on the table if Uribe wanted more than a two-year deal.
The problem with moving him again is that he’s an even worse third baseman than he is a shortstop. In 860 innings as a third baseman in 2012, Ramirez had a Defensive Runs Saved of -11 and a UZR of -3.6. In 651 innings at shortstop last year, he had a DRS of 3 and a UZR of 0.2. He was an awful third baseman two seasons ago and roughly average at shortstop last year.
The Dodgers are hoping that wasn’t the result of a small sample size. The best position for Ramirez in the long term might be the outfield, but the Dodgers are a little crowded out there these days. The good news is he very well might be the best-hitting shortstop in the game. He certainly was last year. Among players with at least 225 plate appearances, only Miguel Cabrera had a better OPS than Ramirez’s 1.040.
Keeping Ramirez healthy might be the most important question of this Dodgers season. It was pretty obvious what he meant to the team in the NLCS last October.
Are they stretched thin?
Imagine a major injury to any of the Dodgers’ everyday infielders. Now, imagine the possibilities to replace him. Frightening, isn’t it? If the Dodgers learned one thing from last season, it’s the importance of depth, because they somehow survived an endless string of injuries.
Losing Gonzalez for an extended period would be almost as trying as having Ramirez in and out of the lineup.
They may not know for a while how badly they’ll miss Mark Ellis, Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker.
Even if they convince Young to come back, it’s not as if he is a wizard with this glove. Dee Gordon is short on experience as a bench player and hasn’t proven he’s anything more than a one-dimensional player, a pure speed threat. Scott Van Slyke has mostly played outfield in the major leagues and, like Gordon, is a bit uni-dimensional -- all power.
Sellers has never hit a lick in the major leagues. Figgins didn’t even play last year. See why Rojas has suddenly become such a popular player within the organization? He keeps popping up as a possible answer to a number of different questions.
The Dodgers have no third baseman, a second baseman who has never played a major-league game and a shortstop who some people think should be playing the outfield or designated hitter. It’s Adrian Gonzalez and three question marks.
Not exactly a settled situation, but that’s not necessarily a disastrous state of affairs for the Dodgers. Given the dearth of free agent talent and the unpredictability of trade talks, the Dodgers’ flexibility when it comes to rebuilding their infield could be a major advantage. And with their perfectly reasonable off-season imperative to get younger, openings in the infield give them the crucial soil to plant young talent.
They signed Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero to a four-year, $28 million deal. That’s the contract of a solid everyday player, so the Dodgers expect Guerrero to be on the field for them quickly rather than developing at Triple-A, but at what position? The likelihood is he will take over second base from Mark Ellis, but Guerrero has played shortstop most of his life, which usually means he could play any other infield position.
Not a single player who logged an inning at third base last season is still with the organization, except for Justin Sellers, who, according to the team, didn’t even merit a September call-up.
This would be a good class of free agent third basemen if it were 2005. Juan Uribe, who turns 35 before Opening Day, is the best of the bunch and the Dodgers would like to re-sign him, but would it be wise to give him another three-year deal after watching him produce in just one of the three seasons of the last contract they gave him?
Their safest route might be to sign Uribe to a two-year deal, if they can, hope his body holds up and that top prospect Corey Seager is ready by 2016. According to Fangraphs, Uribe had a 5.1 WAR last season, which was essentially identical to that of Adrian Beltre (5.2). On the other hand, only two third basemen in the last four years -- Alex Rodriguez and Scott Rolen -- have produced a WAR of 3.0 or better after turning 35. Third basemen tend to age fast.
Beyond Uribe, it’s impossible to find an everyday option among free agents. Eric Chavez is a 90-games-a-season guy these days. Placido Polanco will be 38.
The options are more interesting at shortstop and the Dodgers have been non-committal when asked where they plan to play Hanley Ramirez next season. For the first time since 2008, Ramirez rated out as an adequate shortstop last season, but that seemed largely due to the fact he only played 76 games there. Assuming he can stay healthy next season, he could be exposed as a major liability at shortstop, not an ideal situation for a team that relies on its pitching.
ESPNBoston’s Gordon Edes reported that the Red Sox are convinced Stephen Drew will be signing with another team, so why couldn’t that team be the Dodgers? Drew didn’t hit in the post-season, but he is a more-than-solid shortstop with a knack for getting on base and good pop. He’ll be 31 next season, so swapping him for Uribe would help the Dodgers get younger, but injuries have kept him off the field. He has averaged fewer than 100 games per season the last three years. He also declined the Red Sox’s qualifying offer, which means the Dodgers would have to surrender a draft pick to sign him.
Jhonny Peralta is a solid free-agent alternative to Drew, but he also carries the baggage of last season’s 50-game suspension for using a banned substance.
General manager Ned Colletti’s best option might be to keep Jon Daniels on speed dial. Everybody in baseball knows the Dodgers have an extra outfielder and the Texas Rangers have an extra infielder. According to reports, the two teams had some discussions at the general manager meetings, but they didn’t get all that far. It seems reasonable to assume that the names Matt Kemp and Elvis Andrus arose in those meetings.
Trading a power-hitting center fielder with borderline MVP talent for a light-hitting shortstop might seem folly, but Andrus is only 25, would improve the Dodgers’ infield defense immensely, is one of the fastest players in the game, a deft bunter with good on-base skills. He would be the Dodgers’ logical solution to the leadoff question.
The players have similar contracts, so finances wouldn’t impede a deal. Neither player has no-trade protection. It might be a longshot, but given how much uncertainty the Dodgers have in their infield this winter, a bold plan of action might not be a bad idea.
Herrera, 28, played 67 games for the Dodgers in 2012, batting .251 and playing six different positions. He spent virtually the entire 2013 season at Triple-A Albuquerque, going 2-for-8 in his at-bats with the Dodgers.
The Dodgers now have 32 players on their 40-man roster. Ten of their players filed for free agency last week and they declined options on second baseman Mark Ellis and pitcher Chris Capuano.
They likely will be in the market for some bench players this winter, as Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker were among the players filing for free agency.
Each of the Dodgers' free agents are, as they say, role players. The only two everyday players are Mark Ellis and Juan Uribe. Ellis has already been replaced by Cuban second baseman Alexander Guerrero, who signed earlier this week. The only core pitchers are a No. 4 starter, Ricky Nolasco, and an eighth-inning setup man, Brian Wilson, important but not irreplaceable players.
The Dodgers already have set the narrative for the remainder of their offseason. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and manager Don Mattingly (who looks as if he no longer will become a free agent) said it concisely. The Dodgers want to get younger and, as a result, more athletic and less injury-prone.
That should be the lens through which we see each of the following free-agent decisions. We'll rank the free agents in reverse order of relevance and predict whether they will be with the team next spring:
Jerry Hairston Jr.
He's one of the most likeable guys the Dodgers had last year and a good clubhouse guy, because he can roll with a joke and moves easily between various cultures. His versatility also proved important to the Dodgers at times in his two seasons in L.A. They could put him at any position besides pitcher and catcher and he could hold his own. There aren't many guys like that.
He'll be 38 next May, he has been bothered by serious injuries each of the past two seasons. He'll make a great broadcaster some day and he'll have to decide whether he's ready to embark on a new career now or try to latch on with a team on a minor league deal.
This was a nice zero-risk move by the front office, scooping him up from the San Diego Padres after they released him. He gave them five starts -- some awful, some decent, some pretty good -- allowing the Dodgers to rest their main starting pitchers for the playoffs.
A few years ago, the Dodgers might have taken a flyer on Volquez to help fill out their No. 4 and 5 rotation spots. Not under these owners. They have far grander designs. If they acquire a pitcher, it probably will be a star-caliber one, not a guy who's questionable to even make the rotation. If he comes back, it would have to be on a minor league deal with the agreement that he will pitch in Triple-A until the Dodgers need him.
He handled it with class when the Dodgers left him off their NLCS roster even though he had given them three scoreless innings in the previous round. But like some of the other pitchers on this list, he just doesn't seem to fit the Dodgers' current mandate: to win at whatever cost. He might turn out to be a nice bottom-of-the-market signing for a team on a budget looking for a left-hander who can either start or be a reliever. Hard to see that team being the Dodgers.
ST. LOUIS -- The Los Angeles Dodgers got into a battle of bullpens with the wrong team and wound up losing an excruciating Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.
The St. Louis Cardinals, who seem to trot out a hard-throwing reliever every inning, shut the Dodgers down after the third inning in a 3-2, 13-inning win at Busch Stadium Friday night. Carlos Beltran singled home the winner off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen.
It was a slow grind for the Dodgers all night, an evening of wasted opportunities. They got 10 runners into scoring position, but came up with just one hit in those situations.
Manager Don Mattingly's move to run Dee Gordon for Adrian Gonzalez with no outs in the eighth inning didn't pan out for the Dodgers.
Andre Ethier, playing the outfield for the first time since Sept. 13 and dealing with a sore left ankle, couldn’t reach a Beltran line drive in the third inning, leaping early and seeing the ball clang off the wall to score two runs and tie a game in which Zack Greinke was otherwise cruising.
The game became a battle of bullpens, and that’s a dangerous one to play in St. Louis. The Dodgers looked overmatched facing Trevor Rosenthal in a tie game in the ninth inning. Rosenthal, who has a high-90s fastball, struck out two of the three batters he faced.
One gambit that surely will be dissected by amateur managers after the game was Don Mattingly’s decision to pinch run Dee Gordon for Gonzalez with no outs in the eighth inning. Gordon didn’t attempt to steal off Carlos Martinez, and Yasiel Puig hit a sharp grounder to shortstop Pete Kozma, who likely would have been covering second had Gordon run, leaving a gaping hole on the left side.
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers bet on a pair of aces, but then went out and nearly wasted one of their bullets.
The man they call "Papi" made sure this postseason wasn't remembered for a debatable decision and some ill-timed mistakes. Juan Uribe couldn't get an eighth-inning sacrifice bunt down, but he more than made up for that by launching a two-run home run to send the Dodgers into the National League Championship Series with a stunning 4-3 win over the Atlanta Braves Monday night.
Just as they clinched a playoff berth at the end of September, the Dodgers are the first team in the major leagues to advance to the next round.
Much of the game was a frustrating grind for the Dodgers, but it ended with a sold-out crowd rocking Dodger Stadium, more than 54,000 people jumping up and down in unison for the final two innings. After Kenley Jansen struck out the side in the ninth inning to nail it down, Dodgers players from the dugout and bullpen swarmed the mound.
Blue and silver streamers poured down from the upper deck. Unlike their last celebration party, which started in an Arizona pool, the Dodgers were able to celebrate this one with their fans.
The Dodgers will wait for the conclusion of the St. Louis Cardinals-Pittsburgh Pirates series, and they'll have three days off to prepare for the NLCS.
In his first career start on three days’ rest, Clayton Kershaw did all the Dodgers could have asked, allowing only two unearned runs over six innings, striking out six on a manageable pitch count of 91.
But his infielders let him down. Kershaw looked a bit peeved after Adrian Gonzalez’s first-inning error, which foreshadowed his mood the rest of the evening while watching his infielders work. Gonzalez muffed Jason Heyward’s chopper near the first-base line. By the time he scrambled and threw the ball to Kershaw, Heyward was well down the line. Kershaw snatched the ball out of the air with his bare hand.
That was only the beginning of the adventures for the Dodgers’ infield and the beginning of the extra work Kershaw had to put in.
Gonzalez made a bad throw for his second error in the fourth to usher in two unearned runs. It was kind of a two-way error, because Hanley Ramirez was late covering second, which threw off the timing. OK, maybe a three-way error, because Gonzalez could have gotten an easy out and still had a chance at a double play if he had simply run 10 feet and stepped on first base before throwing.
The Dodgers could have gotten out of it with a 2-1 lead, but Mark Ellis made a bad throw trying to finish off a double play three batters later. Normally, Gonzalez and Ellis are among the steadiest defenders at their positions.
Veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia kept all Dodgers not named Carl Crawford off-balance for six innings. On the other hand, Crawford was perfectly balanced in launching a pair of solo home runs in the first and third innings, his second and third home runs of the series.
Garcia spent most of this season in the minor leagues, but he did his best to rescue the Braves’ season by pitching six strong innings. The Dodgers had eight hits off him, but they couldn’t come up with clutch hits, a stark contrast to Sunday night’s 13-6 win.
Going into their Tuesday game at AT&T Park, they trailed the Atlanta Braves by two games and the St. Louis Cardinals by one. The Dodgers went 2-4 from that point. They weren’t going to catch the Cardinals, who won all five of their remaining games. And they weren’t going to catch Atlanta, which went 3-2, but held the tiebreaker over the Dodgers.
So, the answer to that question is a fairly definitive, “no,” unless you think that by half-stepping in the final two series, the Dodgers lost their edge heading into the playoffs. That could well be true, but it didn't feel that way. We'll find out if the Dodgers can flip the switch again Thursday.
Overall, it was a pretty bad week and a continuation of the Dodgers’ lackluster September, but you could also argue, who cares?
Here’s where the worriers might have some justification. The Dodgers’ lineup didn’t look dangerous last week, scoring an average of 3.5 runs per game and batting .222. Yasiel Puig (.167, five strikeouts in six games) struggled badly. One of the few Dodgers swinging a hot bat in San Francisco, Matt Kemp, was shut down for the entire postseason with an inflamed ankle.
And it won’t get any easier Thursday, when the Dodgers face Braves right-hander Kris Medlen, who is 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA against the Dodgers.
Of course, the counterargument to the worriers is that manager Don Mattingly continued to give his frontline players revolving days off. Beginning Thursday, barring a setback, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Puig will all be in the lineup for every game.
While the loss of Kemp and, probably, Andre Ethier, will sap the lineup of some depth, the Dodgers have the names and resumes to do damage once again. If they can only find the spark they’ve been missing.
Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke finished up their regular seasons exactly as you would want them to, by dominating. Kershaw put a ribbon on his Cy Young-bound season Friday and Greinke pitched nearly as well the following day while, somehow, picking up the loss.
Hyun-Jin Ryu had another one of those starts where he gives up a bunch of hits, but generally pitches out of trouble. Ricky Nolasco’s slump is something of a concern, but if the Dodgers’ top three starters pitch to form, maybe they won’t have to worry about a Game 4, who knows?
It was that kind of week for Dodgers pitching, which lost four games while pitching to a 1.92 ERA.
Most of the key relievers seem to be sharp heading into the playoffs, Kenley Jansen has been unhittable, Brian Wilson continues to go strong and J.P. Howell has pitched well. Paco Rodriguez has been struggling, but Mattingly said he feels fine about his young lefty heading into the playoffs.
Mattingly needs to keep his day job, because he would make a terrible psychic. All season, he has been asked to assess the severity of Dodgers injuries and, all season long, he has started out being as optimistic and conservative in his estimates as he can be.
Pretty much every time, the injury proved to be more serious than first hoped.
Last weekend, Mattingly thought Ethier was healthy enough to pinch hit, so he gave him an at-bat in San Diego. Ethier hasn’t been seen since. Going into Sunday’s game, Mattingly thought Kemp would be ready to go by Thursday. Four hours later, the Dodgers team doctor shut down Kemp for the remainder of 2013.
So, we have to assume that some of the aches and pains the Dodgers hitters have been dealing with are a bit more severe than the team has indicated. In that case, Mattingly was perfectly justified in fielding some watered-down lineups after the Dodgers clinched.
Kershaw is a good example of how players’ attitudes can affect the team’s performance. The Dodgers have provided Kershaw with awful run support all season, which means that his charmed season -- becoming just the second L.A. Dodger to finish with a sub-2.00 ERA -- only netted him 16 wins.
Now, whenever anyone glances casually at Kershaw’s baseball card, they’ll skim right over 2013 rather than recognize his brilliance this season.
All season, Kershaw has held his tongue when he was given an opportunity to criticize Dodgers hitters. Many a pitcher has admitted to frustration under similar circumstances.
People tend to focus on the big personalities -- players like Puig, Brian Wilson and Juan Uribe -- when talking about team chemistry, but a player such as Kershaw or Mark Ellis can contribute just as much by staying quiet sometimes.
STATE OF CONTENTION
The Dodgers are in the playoffs and they don’t have to bother with a wild-card game.
That’s about as good as you can hope for right about now.
The gap between Ellis' defense and that of any other Dodgers second baseman is yawning, according to all the advanced statistical metrics.
"My agent tells me about them every once in a while, but honestly, I don't know what half of them mean. Nobody does," Ellis said. "I just go out there, try to put myself in the right spot and try to catch the ball."
That last comment encapsulates Ellis as a baseball player in 19 words. He just tries to put himself in the right spot and he tries to catch the ball.
Ellis is the least-flashy, least-obtrusive, lowest-maintenance everyday player on the Dodgers and, without many people knowing it, he's among the most valuable. On a team of brilliant athletes, $20 million-per-year salaries and puffed-out chests, Ellis falls under none of those categories. He's just a good player in all the ways most people don't bother to track.
Every other Dodger who has played second base this season combines for a minus-13 defensive runs saved, a chasm of 25 runs saved between those players and Ellis. The Dodgers are 68-35 when Ellis starts and 23-31 when he does not, entering Wednesday.
It all points to a player whose value is nowhere near suggested by his .264 batting average, his six home runs or his four stolen bases. It has become increasingly possible to isolate and study a player's value in every dimension of the game, but very few of those numbers show up in a box score on a daily basis.
Ellis routinely gives up at-bats to move runners over. He hangs on at second base in perilous situations and is among the best in the game at turning double plays.
"He’s just kind of day-in, day-out a solid player," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "You don't have to worry about Mark Ellis being ready to play or doing his work or anything at all."
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesHanley Ramirez has been an offensive catalyst throughout 2013.
The Los Angeles Dodgers were not in any sort of position to anticipate being the first major-league team to clinch a playoff spot just a few months ago.
But a remarkable turnaround propelled them to their first NL West title since 2009.
The Dodgers are now 58-23 after their 30-42 start.
They've played at a 116-win pace in their last 81 games.
The 116 is notable because 116 is the MLB record for wins in a season, shared by the 1906 Cubs (in the 154-game scheduled and 2001 Mariners (in the 162-game schedule).
Spotlight Performer: Hanley Ramirez
Yasiel Puig and Clayton Kershaw have gotten much of the attention this season, but it was appropriate that Hanley Ramirez had such a big game in the division clincher, with a pair of home runs.
The Dodgers are 49-24 in Ramirez’s 73 starts this season. Ramirez has the highest batting average (.351) and slugging percentage (.656) of anyone with at least 300 plate appearances this season. Our video-review data has him registering a “hard-hit ball” in 30 percent of his at-bats, also the best in the majors.
Ramirez is currently hitting .351 with 20 homers. If he can maintain a .350 batting average, he’d be the first shortstop to hit at least .350 with 20 homers in a season since current ESPN baseball analyst (and former Dodger) Nomar Garciaparra in 2000.
The Dodgers have also been a much better team when Mark Ellis has been next to Ramirez playing second base. They are 65-35 when Ellis plays. The key isn’t his offensive performance, but his defense.
Ellis has been credited with 11 Defensive Runs Saved in a little over 900 innings at the position. All of the others to play second base for the Dodgers this season have combined for -13 Defensive Runs Saved.
Circle These Wins
What were the most prominent wins of the 2013 season?
Opening Day would be one—when the Dodgers beat the Giants 4-0 behind both the arm and the bat of Clayton Kershaw, who pitched a shutout and hit the go-ahead home run in the eighth inning.
But the Dodgers didn’t really take off until the arrival of Puig. In Puig’s second game on June 4, he became the second player in major-league history with a two-homer, five-RBI game within the first two games of his career. The other was Dino Restelli for the 1949 Pirates.
The most dramatic among many dramatic comebacks during the 42-8 stretch that put the Dodgers in prime position was a 7-6 win over the Rays on August 9, a game won with four runs in the bottom of the ninth against Rays closer Fernando Rodney (who committed the game-ending error).
Another would come five days later against the Mets, when Andre Ethier hit a game-tying homer in the ninth inning and Adrian Gonzalez drove in Puig with a game-winning double in the 12th.
Elias Sports Bureau Stats of the Day
The Elias Sports Bureau noted that this is the earliest the Dodgers have clinched a postseason berth by calendar date since the Brooklyn Dodgers clinched the National League title on September 8, 1955. The Dodgers went on to defeat the Yankees 4-3 in the World Series.
The Dodgers are the fifth team in the Divisional Era (since 1969) to win a division in a season in which they were at least 12 games under .500 at one point.
The others are the 1974 Pirates (14 under), 1973 Mets (13), 1981 Royals (13), and the 1989 Blue Jays (12).
The Dodgers are the third team in major-league history to be in last place on July 1 and win their division, joining the 1973 Mets and 1995 Mariners.
The Dodgers were 47-47 at the All-Star Break, becoming just the sixth team in the Wild Card Era to win a division title after entering the break with a non-winning record. None of the previous five teams went on to make the World Series.
It seemed headed in that direction when the Dodgers won the first two games against the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks to start the homestand. Then things got a little squirrelly.
They couldn’t handle Patrick Corbin in the finale of that series, Arizona bought a little time and the Dodgers suddenly needed six of seven events to go their way in order to clinch Sunday.
It wasn’t even close. The Dodgers lost four of five games, Hunter Pence proudly delaying their clinching party with a monster five-home run weekend at Dodger Stadium.
But the real issue is injuries, exactly what made the first three months of this Dodgers series a blur of disappointment. First, Hanley Ramirez started feeling tightness in his hamstring and, after doctors took a look, they discovered a nerve is irritating his back. Then came Andre Ethier, limping off on a sprained ankle. Carl Crawford felt tightness in his back. Yasiel Puig has been dealing with some hip soreness.
In other words, the Dodgers will be trying to clinch with a rag-tag crew, most likely, this week.
Juan Uribe had a nice week on Monday.
He hit three home runs that day, four for the week and he nearly hit one out Sunday, but the ball clanged off the top of the wall (and had to be reviewed by the umpires), resulting in a triple.
Overall, Uribe batted .348 with a 1.332 OPS.
But an interesting thing happened in Sunday’s game, one that could hint at other managers’ strategy for playoff games. The San Francisco Giants intentionally walked Adrian Gonzalez to get to Uribe with first base open. Uribe struck out against Santiago Casilla. At this age -- and with how hard he swings -- Uribe often struggles against pitchers who throw 94 mph and up. That could mean Michael Young has a role on the post-season roster given his short swing and success against good fastball pitchers.
Hanley Ramirez was hot again before he had to take himself out of a game with a strained hamstring that later was determined to being caused by irritation in a nerve in his back. Adrian Gonzalez continues to be one of baseball’s great clutch hitters. He had eight RBIs, putting him at the precipice of 100 yet again.
And, still, it was a mediocre week for the hitters, who scored an average of 3.57 runs per game.
Even before Nolasco got knocked around by the Giants Saturday, this plan made no sense. For one thing, would you make the call based on Nolasco’s good two months or on Greinke’s outstanding career, including a Cy Young award, and the fact you agreed to pay him $147 million to be exactly that -- the No. 2 starter behind Kershaw.
You could make a case that Nolasco should move ahead of Hyun-Jin Ryu, but that determination will be made based on the opponent the Dodgers play. The Pittsburgh Pirates lead the National League with a .742 OPS against lefties. The St. Louis Cardinals are 13th with a .667.
Prediction: If the Dodgers face Pittsburgh, Nolasco will pitch Game 3. If they face St. Louis, Ryu will pitch.
Overall, it was a bad week for Dodgers pitchers, who allowed an average of 5.29 runs per game, but that was wildly skewed by the 19 runs San Francisco scored Saturday -- against several pitchers who won’t even be on the post-season roster.
Greinke allowed one run in six innings against the Giants Thursday and Kershaw was fine, though he blamed himself for giving up a lead in the seventh inning.
Don Mattingly is beginning to treat questions about injuries as an NFL or major-college football coach would. He provides the fewest possible details and the vaguest possible timetables.
Regardless of his public stance, how he handles this rash of injuries could have a major impact on the Dodgers’ chances next month. By all indications, he’s going to give Ramirez, Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier all the time they need. Bravo. Why chase homefield advantage when there’s no evidence it makes any difference where these games are played? Since the current playoff formats were instituted, the ALDS and ALCS both are exactly 50-50 between home and road teams.
The man who said the Dodgers “can’t buy chemistry,” before spring training -- first baseman Brandon Belt -- went 6-for-13 with a home run and six RBIs in the series at Dodger Stadium over the weekend. So, he’s got that going for him. Living well might be the best revenge, so the Dodgers can just leave that one alone.
There are a lot of different personalities in the Dodgers clubhouse. Last week, Mattingly called Michael Young the “anti-Brian Wilson,” because of his quiet, attention-shy demeanor. Who would the “anti-Yasiel Puig,” be?
Probably Mark Ellis, who said this in an interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com two months ago: "Nobody would watch baseball if everybody was like me. You need guys like [Puig] that are entertaining."
Either way, the key is tolerance. And, so far, little evidence has emerged that personality conflicts are disrupting the team’s ability to function at a high level.
STATE OF CONTENTION
This week couldn’t be simpler. The Dodgers will be NL West champs for the first time in four years if they win two games in these next four in Arizona.
If they do, we can just wait to find out who they play and where they’ll play in the playoffs. No use getting too worked up.
If they lose three of four or worse, they’ll have to take the party to San Diego or San Francisco, but the champagne won’t taste any less bubbly in the cooler climate.
LOS ANGELES -- Five-tool players are a hot commodity in the major leagues. Zack Greinke is forming his own category. Call it a four-tool pitcher.
Greinke continued his masterful pitching this season with seven solid innings Sunday against the visiting San Diego Padres, leading the Los Angeles Dodgers to a 2-1 victory and a series sweep.
Greinke also continues to see the ball well at the plate and was one of the few Dodgers to hit San Diego starter Tyson Ross. He collected a solid single up the middle and flew out to deep left-center, boosting his batting average to .347.
And if that wasn’t enough, Greinke also stole second with a head-first slide in the fifth inning, becoming the first L.A. pitcher to steal two bases in a season since Orel Hershiser in 1987.
The fourth tool? Greinke hasn't committed a fielding error in more than three years.
Greinke, who has won his past six starts to improve to 14-3, certainly didn’t lead the Dodgers by himself Sunday.
Yasiel Puig blasted his 14th homer of the season to break a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the sixth and Mark Ellis delivered a clutch two-out single in the third to tie the score.
Paco Rodriguez came out of the bullpen with the tying run on third and one out in the eighth and struck out leadoff hitter Will Venable before getting pinch hitter Chris Denorfia to ground out to the mound.
Juan Uribe and Hanley Ramirez burst out in laughter as Wilson strutted across the room, dropping a few barbs along the way. Wilson didn’t let those remarks sink in long before shooting back at Uribe, reminding him of the purple slacks he wore to Saturday’s game.
The Los Angeles Dodgers seem to sport a new look on a daily basis, and lately, that’s included a few new faces. Wilson made his Dodgers debut last week, giving the bullpen another veteran arm with World Series experience, as well as some personality to an already quirky locker room.
On Saturday night it was Michael Young who joined the fold. The veteran infielder was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for a minor league pitcher, giving the Dodgers another player with World Series experience, a batting title, a Gold Glove and seven All-Star appearances -- one of which led to the MVP award in the 2006 game.
There were a few furrowed brows when Young’s trade was announced, however.
After all, the Dodgers went 23-6 in August and have been satisfied with the play of Uribe at third base, the position Young has mainly played the past few seasons. The same can be said for second base, where Mark Ellis has been solid when healthy. Nick Punto has also done a stellar job occupying a utility role among the infielders.
The person responsible for integrating another new player into the mix, manager Don Mattingly, didn’t seem too concerned with that task prior to Sunday’s series finale against the visiting San Diego Padres.
“We’re not trying to bring Michael in here to knock Adrian [Gonzalez] off first base,” Mattingly said. “Michael’s here to add to our club, to give us added depth, give us a guy that can do a lot of things.”
Mattingly said he spoke with Young after the trade and “just wanted to make sure this wasn’t something that turned him upside down.”
“We’re not getting a young kid in the prime of his career, and I say that with all due respect,” Mattingly said. “This guy has had a career that he has done a lot of things, but he’s at a point also in his career where you understand where you’re at. We’re going to treat him with respect, make sure I’m honest with him about everything and just see where it goes.”