Dodgers Report: New York Yankees

Exploring the Australia Effect on 2014

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
11:08
AM PT
One of the great mysteries and nagging worries for the Dodgers all spring has been this: What will playing their first two games 7,500 miles from home do to the rest of their season?

It may not be a logistical nightmare, but it’s certainly a challenge: After playing their final Cactus League game Sunday, the Dodgers catch a midnight charter for Sydney, Australia.
They have a day to adjust to the time zone (16 hours ahead of PDT), a workout Wednesday, an exhibition game Thursday and real games against the Arizona Diamondbacks Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. In between, MLB has lots of sightseeing activities planned.

Following Sunday’s game, they bus to Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport and fly east for 13 hours. Oddly, they’ll land in Los Angeles Sunday about five hours before they took off in Australia. Then, they have four days off before any game, an exhibition against the Angels, and a week off before North American Opening Day in San Diego.

That layoff, of course, could do more damage than the trip itself. Jet lag is one thing. A stop-and-start season is equally worrisome.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was a coach on the 2004 New York Yankees, who opened the season against the Tampa Bay Rays in Japan, then came home and went 9-11 in early games before rallying and making it to the American League Championship Series.

“We came back with four spring training games and that was miserable and we started bad,” Mattingly said. “Those are the things I worry about. The bell rings, those two games count, then you come back and say, ‘Don’t matter.’ I worry about bad habits.”

The Dodgers’ players voted to go, so they have no one to blame but themselves (or their teammates) if it sends them into the season a bit sluggishly. Not everyone voted “yes,” of course, with the most public abstainer being pitcher Zack Greinke, who now won’t have to make the trek after injuring his calf.

History suggests that teams have been able to overcome the rigors of overseas openers, but there has been an early price to pay.

Major League Baseball has opened its season six times outside the continental U.S., but the first two were in Mexico and Puerto Rico, which offer only minimal travel and time-zone adjustments.

The last four were in Japan. One World Series team, the 2000 New York Mets, came out of such a series. Four of the eight teams reached the playoffs and two other teams, the 2004 Yankees and 2008 Boston Red Sox, went to league championship series. In other words, a lot of teams have started on the other side of the Pacific and gone on to great things, but it wasn’t easy.

Mattingly’s Yankees weren’t the only team to start a bit sluggishly after playing in Asia. Every playoff team that started in Japan got off to a losing start: The 2000 Mets started 5-8; the 2008 Red Sox went 5-6; the 2012 Oakland A’s started 4-7.

The only one of the eight teams to start with a winning record was the 2008 A’s, who lost 85 games that year. The 2004 Rays had the worst start: 9-23. There certainly seems to be some sort of lag effect.

A’s general manager Billy Beane doesn’t believe it’s a major concern, telling MLB.com, “We had no issues getting players ready.”

On the other hand, Beane said it did present some challenges. The A’s had to face Felix Hernandez twice in their first four games. The Dodgers could benefit from the weird schedule by using Clayton Kershaw three times in their first six games without asking him to pitch on short rest.

They haven’t decided whether they’ll take advantage of that option, though they did announce Kershaw will pitch the first game in Australia, so it’s open. There’s no reason he wouldn’t also pitch the opener in San Diego, considering he’d be working on seven days’ rest. If he pitches the Dodgers’ home opener, too, on April 4, he’d be working on the customary four days’ rest.

Kershaw told reporters earlier this spring he was preparing himself for the rigors of the off-kilter throwing schedule. He spoke with the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Brandon McCarthy, who pitched in Japan for Oakland.

“He said coming back is the hardest part, to get ready for the season,” Kershaw said. “It’s definitely not an ideal situation travel-wise, but I guess we’ve got to make it work.”

There’s always this to fall back on: If you think the Diamondbacks are the Dodgers’ biggest challenge in the division this year, they’ve got to try to make it work, too.

At long last, the Dodgers are out-bid

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
10:11
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Let’s not pretend that losing out on Masahiro Tanaka isn’t a legitimate blow to the Dodgers.

He was their No. 1 target among free agent pitchers all along. They had scouted him extensively. They visited with him when he was in Los Angeles. They would have boarded a plane if he wanted to do the meeting in Tokyo -- or Sri Lanka or Timbuktu. They would have likely figured a way to get to the International Space Station if that was his appointed locale.

The Dodgers liked Tanaka. A lot. They wanted him in their rotation. A lot.

What they lacked was the spur of necessity, which is why we shouldn’t be totally surprised to see Tanaka get past them, agreeing to a seven-year, $155 million deal with the New York Yankees, a record contract for an Asian-born player.

As Tuesday moved along, the Dodgers, according to a source, started to feel the salary numbers were moving beyond what they were willing to lay out. As far as we know, that is the first time under the new ownership group that the Dodgers had stepped aside on a player they had prioritized as a premium target because the bidding got too intense. They've let relievers and bench players go because the numbers swelled beyond their comfort level, but not elite-level talent.

But look at it this way: Isn’t $155 million a tad steep for a No. 3 starter? That is quite likely what Tanaka would have been in the Dodgers’ rotation, which is no knock on him. Zack Greinke, who signed a six-year $147 million deal not that long ago to be the Dodgers’ No. 2, is a former Cy Young winner coming off a season in which he led the majors in winning percentage and had a 2.63 ERA in his 28 starts. When he was healthy, he was as good as any No. 2 starter in baseball.

Last season, the Dodgers played 10 post-season games and used their No. 3 starter, Hyun-Jin Ryu, in just two of them.

Had the Yankees lost out on Tanaka, they might not have been competitive in their division next season, let alone contenders for a World Series. Is there anyone who doesn't view the Dodgers as an elite team in their league because of Wednesday morning's news?

With Clayton Kershaw locked up now for the next five to seven years, the Dodgers didn’t need a long-term hedge against losing their ace. For at least the next two seasons, the Dodgers have Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu leading their rotation, with a good corps of young arms starting to push ahead in the minor leagues. Greinke can opt out of his contract after 2015, but by then there could be a bumper crop of free agent pitchers hitting the market, including Max Scherzer, James Shields, Jon Lester, Justin Masterson and Homer Bailey.

They’ve been engaged in contract extension talks with Hanley Ramirez, arguably the best offensive shortstop in the game, and getting him locked up figures to be more likely now that Tanaka is out of the equation.

If Tanaka seamlessly adjusts to the major leagues -- far from an easy task pitching in the AL East -- the Dodgers might find themselves regretting not extending their offer. Then again, if things aren’t so smooth for Tanaka and the Dodgers are able to land David Price or another elite arm in July and then, as they’ve done in recent seasons, extend that pitcher after the season, they could be glad they let this opportunity pass.

In the end, that’s what all these decisions come down to for teams: costs and opportunities and opportunities are relative to a team’s needs.
LOS ANGELES -- In his latest column, ESPN’s Buster Olney tells us that some rival executives expect the Dodgers and New York Yankees to be the final teams left bidding for Masahiro Tanaka, one of the greatest pitchers ever to come out of Japan. Reports out of Japan suggest the same.

“The Yankees have the greater need, and maybe a little more pressure to sign Tanaka after learning they won't have to pay A-Rod in 2014,” Olney writes. “The Dodgers are perceived by some rival officials to be more shameless in their bidding, untethered to market prices shaped by other teams, and more driven by what they want.”

In a way, if you are a Dodgers fan, this isn’t any big surprise. In the last year-and-a-half, they’ve seen their team’s new owners make a trade that took on more than $250 million in salary and sign two free agent pitchers for another $200 million-plus.

But, from another angle, it’s an absolutely stunning possibility. The Yankees need Tanaka. Badly. The Dodgers just want him. If the Dodgers do end up with the right-hander, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last year, it would tell us that the Yankees are no longer the Yankees. The Dodgers are now the Yankees. Their stadium just happens to have palm trees running along it instead of a subway line.

Everybody knows what this could mean, right? It used to be the Yankees out-bid teams on what amounted to a whim. In 2000, they claimed Jose Canseco (and $1 million left of his salary) off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays even though Joe Torre had no plans to play him, simply because they were trying to keep him away from every other team.

The Yankees clearly have built their off-season around acquiring Tanaka, who might not begin the season as their No. 1 starter but -- they hope -- would emerge as their ace. He’d likely begin by pitching behind CC Sabathia, who led the American League in earned runs allowed last season. The next guy in New York’s rotation, Hiroki Kuroda, will turn 39 before Opening Day.

One National League GM told ESPNNewYork’s Andrew Marchand the Yankees look more like an 80-win team right now than a 90-win team, largely because of their pitching. The GM also believed the Yankees’ desperation would lead them to land Tanaka.

And the Dodgers? The last thing they are is desperate, particularly in regard to starting pitching. Even if Tanaka is as good as advertised, he’s not the Dodgers’ ace. They already have Clayton Kershaw, who has led the majors in ERA the past three seasons. It’s just kind of hard to top that.

He’d have stiff competition from Zack Greinke to be considered the Dodgers’ second-best starting pitcher. Greinke is sitting on the best ERA (2.63) of his career since his 2009 Cy Young season. If it takes Tanaka a while to adjust to the major leagues, he might not even be their No. 3 starter. Hyun-Jin Ryu had a 3.00 ERA last year and recently told Korean reporters he’s reporting early to spring training to get in better shape and avoid a sophomore slump.

If the Dodgers do land Tanaka, they’d have some unhappy campers in Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley, who would effectively have no rotation spots waiting for them as they work their way back from injuries. It would make some of the team’s emerging pitching prospects, Zach Lee, Ross Stripling and Chris Reed, largely irrelevant other than as trade chips. Of course, those are individual players’ problems, not Dodgers problems. Tanaka would give the Dodgers the best rotation in the National League, if they don’t already have it.

It’s just hard to imagine “want” can win the day over “need,” particularly when the Yankees are the ones feeling desperate. If the Dodgers do win the bidding, it’d be hard to find a team around baseball who would feel sorry for the Bronx Bombers.
LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said the Dodgers continue to engage the agent for Japanese pitching sensation Masahiro Tanaka, whose major league future figures to be decided in the next couple of weeks.

Teams willing to pay the $20 million posting fee to Tanaka’s Japanese team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, have until Jan. 24 to reach a deal with the 25-year-old right-hander. Colletti said he doesn’t necessarily expect it to take that long before Tanaka makes his decision. Competition for Tanaka, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last year, figures to be intense, with the New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs and, perhaps, Seattle Mariners among the other interested clubs.

Colletti said he has had a couple of conversations already with Tanaka’s agent, Casey Close, who also happens to represent Dodgers pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

“I talked to Casey as soon as they announced he was going to be posted and as soon as they announced Casey would represent him,” Colletti said. “Obviously, Casey and I go back quite a while. They’re in a feeling-out process. They’re trying to learn about different cities, different teams, different markets, how teams are constructed going forward. You know, it’s a big decision for the player, too, so we’ve had those types of conversations and we’ll continue to see where it goes.”

ESPNNewYork’s Ian O’Connor quoted one Yankee source saying that club would “be heavily involved with Tanaka, very aggressive and at the top of the market, but won't get reckless and stupid,” which might be a fair characterization of the Dodgers’ position as well. Tanaka is expected to command a contract in excess of $100 million, plus the posting fee.

Speaking of his off-season approach in general, Colletti gave a hint that, if the Dodgers don’t sign Tanaka, their major off-season moves could be behind them. Aside from the Tanaka discussions, Colletti’s other priority is to find a utility infielder.

“We like to strike early. We don’t cast a wide net and then hope to bring in two or three out of 40,” Colletti said.

Don Mattingly has a history of speaking up

October, 23, 2013
10/23/13
10:59
AM PT
LOS ANGELES – Don Mattingly has an easygoing disposition, the comfortable aura of a man who chooses to spend his free time mucking stables on his Indiana horse farm. You get the feeling he’s content living in his own skin. Amid turmoil, he wears a gentle smile.

But over the decades, his bosses have found that he can be dangerous when cornered.
Of all the ways to contextualize Mattingly’s pointed words about his contract situation at what started out as a routine end-of-season news conference Monday -- comments that blindsided the Dodgers’ front office -- thinking back to Mattingly’s playing days clears it up best. We don’t really have to make that link, because Mattingly did it for us.

“I played in New York and there was talk of trading me at one point and, even though I loved playing there, it’s like I always had that confidence in myself that, ‘I can play on any field, anywhere,’ so I don’t want to be anywhere people don’t think you’re capable of doing the job,” Mattingly said.

We don’t yet know whether the Dodgers’ owners think he’s capable of managing their team to its first World Series in 25 years. The team has yet to give a hint about whether it is going to extend Mattingly’s contract, fire him or somehow get him to walk away from the $1.4 million option for next season that has already vested.

Barring a leak, we might not know for a week or more. Teams are strongly discouraged by Major League Baseball from making major announcements while the World Series is underway and the Fall Classic begins tonight.

One thing we know is that Mattingly can be an outspoken critic of the people he works for if he feels he’s being treated poorly. He and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner used to keep the back-page headline writers at the tabloids on high alert.

-- It started in 1987, just Mattingly’s fifth full season. After he led the American League in hits, doubles, slugging and OPS the previous season, an arbitrator awarded him a record $1.975 million salary, prompting Steinbrenner to fume that Mattingly was the “most unproductive .300 hitter in baseball,” and that he now had to deliver a championship, as Reggie Jackson had.

“He’s like all the rest of 'em now,” Steinbrenner said. “He can’t play little Jack Armstrong of Evansville, Indiana any more.”

Mattingly’s response was to tell New York reporters how many unhappy players the team had under Steinbrenner, who asked for an apology and put him on the trading block. A rumored deal that had him going to the San Francisco Giants for Will Clark never happened and Mattingly and Steinbrenner made nice.

-- The most famous episode, thanks to "The Simpsons," came in 1991, when Steinbrenner ordered manager Stump Merrill to bench Mattingly unless he cut his hair. Mattingly questioned Merrill’s authority and, within two weeks, players were openly revolting. Merrill was fired at the end of the season, replaced by Buck Showalter.

In the Simpsons episode, Mr. Burns yells at Mattingly to “trim those sideburns!”

-- The bitterest dispute came toward the end of Mattingly’s playing career, in 1995, when a bad back had sapped much of his power. When Mattingly saw a certain reporter sitting in the owner’s box during a game, he had a good idea something was coming.

The next day, the back page of the New York Daily News carried the headline, “Done Don,” and it was filled with insinuations that Mattingly should retire. In an interview with Roy Firestone on ESPN not long thereafter, Mattingly said, “There is a time to move on, but I think there are ways to handle it, too. You just don’t kick a guy and spit on him and tell him to go on and get out the door.”

Nobody in the Dodgers’ ownership has done any of those things, but given his past experience, it's no surprise to see Mattingly sounding off.

Grading the week

August, 5, 2013
8/05/13
8:59
AM PT
The thing about a major-league season is it just keeps going.

That nearly inexhaustible stretch of games was good news when the Los Angeles Dodgers were languishing in last place, limping along with injuries and underachievement. It gave them time to straighten themselves out and scramble back into the race.

It’s not as good now that they’ve built a relatively comfy lead atop the NL West and are dealing with their biggest challenge since they dramatically changed course June 22.

They’re hurt again. When the Dodgers left Chicago, Hanley Ramirez’s right arm was in a sling, Matt Kemp was in a walking boot and Yasiel Puig still was dealing with a sore left wrist. That’s a lot of potential firepower nursing an assortment of injuries, large and small.

The Dodgers were able to get out of Wrigley Field with a four-game sweep despite an offense that wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders by the end. The Dodgers won Sunday despite managing two hits. That’s hard to do.

Overall, the Dodgers went 5-1 and extended their franchise-record road winning streak to 14 games; they’re 31-7 in their last 38 games and tacked three games onto their division lead. How bad can things be?

GradeSCORING

It wasn’t an awful week for the Dodgers’ offense, more like slightly sub-mediocre, but it could have been worse if Puig hadn’t returned to his June form. He was the only Dodgers batter creating significant noise. He even did it in novel ways, introducing the base on balls to his game.

Puig batted .412 with a home run, a couple of doubles and four walks to carry the lion’s share of the run production. Overall, the Dodgers scored 19 runs in six games while running into a fairly ordinary slate of opposing pitchers.

In May, this would have been the norm. The way the Dodgers had been scalding the ball in July, though, it felt like a letdown.

They probably won’t be able to get by at 60 percent scoring capacity in St. Louis, their next destination. The Cardinals can hit. Then again, the Dodgers can pitch and the Cardinals will have to get past their best arms.

If Puig and Ramirez aren’t on the field, it’s hard to imagine the Dodgers scoring enough to take the series. Then again, you could go broke betting against them lately.

Grade: A-

GradeDEFENSE

In a way, every time a team is tested, it’s an opportunity for somebody. The Dodgers learned something valuable during this week of close games. They found out their young closer might be ready for the trials of September and October, provided they don’t blow out his arm before then.

Kenley Jansen was dominant this week, prompting Dodgers manager Don Mattingly to compare the action on Jansen’s pitches -- and his ability to dominate without bothering to use secondary pitches -- to Mariano Rivera.

Jansen breezed, retiring all 12 batters he faced, 10 of them by strikeout. It’s not as if Jansen is the hardest-throwing reliever in baseball. He was blowing away Cubs batters with 91- and 92-mph fastballs. His fastball has a natural cutting action that makes it difficult for hitters to track, so it plays up.

Overall, it was the week the Dodgers’ pitching asserted its primacy. Dodgers pitchers allowed an average of 1.8 runs per game. The Cubs were simply overmatched. Clayton Kershaw, once again, was dominant, but somehow he started the only game the Dodgers lost. That’s kind of his season, so far, in a nutshell.

Grade: A

GradeDECISION-MAKING

The Brian Wilson signing is risky in exactly the way the Dodgers can afford to be risky. They out-bid other teams to land Wilson, the former San Francisco Giants closer who had Tommy John surgery 16 months ago, by agreeing to pay him $1 million for a couple of months.

If it doesn’t work out, the only thing it will cost them is dollars. The Dodgers decided to lay off an overheated market for relievers, preserving the few high-level prospects they still have in their system.

The only trade the Dodgers made was for light-hitting catcher Drew Butera. Hard to get too worked up about a guy who was immediately optioned to Triple-A, but you never know. Maybe he’ll come in handy in September and he’ll give Tim Federowicz a little competition for the backup spot.

It seemed like a lot of Dodgers fans wanted to see more fire out of manager Don Mattingly earlier this season. This week, at the height of the Dodgers’ season, they finally saw it. Mattingly was ejected from games Wednesday and Friday for arguing with umpires.

Otherwise, there wasn’t a lot to scrutinize about his moves. Because of all the save situations, he relied heavily on Jansen. You just hope that doesn’t lead to repercussions down the road. Jansen pitched in four of the six games.

Grade: B

GradeGRIT-METER

When the Dodgers got to Chicago, they seemed to almost kick their game into neutral and it didn’t matter. They didn’t play particularly well, but they still managed to sweep.

That might be the best sign yet of how far they’ve come. They’re playing so well now that they can stand back while teams like the Cubs beat themselves. The New York Yankees used to pile up regular-season wins that way, rolling through the soft spots in their schedule.

You also wonder if the Dodgers are beginning to intimidate other teams. Teams know how hot they’ve been and they’re having a hard time finishing games. It’s probably fair to put aside questions about the Dodgers’ grit and fight by now.

Grade: B+

GradeSTATE OF CONTENTION

You can’t take anything for granted. Pennant races can turn on a dime.

But things are certainly setting up well for the Dodgers, who have watched the rest of their division fall apart just as they’ve hit their stride. Soon, their schedule will lighten up. They built their lead from 2 1/2 games to 5 1/2 games over the Arizona Diamondbacks and the rest of the teams in the NL West look like non-factors.

Other goals -– like homefield advantage throughout the playoffs –- are starting to come into focus. And, even if Arizona gets red hot somehow, the Dodgers are now in the middle of the wild-card picture, too.

There are a lot of things to like about where this team has put itself.

Grade: A-

Little things loom large, Kershaw takes the hit

July, 31, 2013
7/31/13
11:11
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw had an ominous tone in his voice when he talked about the raucous crowds that urged the Los Angeles Dodgers on during this six-game homestand. More than 300,000 people showed up and, for the most part, they were treated to a good time.

"If we start to lose, it's not going to be like that," Kershaw said. "We need to remember that."

[+] EnlargeYasiel Puig, Mark Ellis
Harry How/Getty ImagesMark Ellis, right, drops a ninth-inning pop-up as he nearly collides with the onrushing Yasiel Puig.
Those are the kinds of thoughts that start to creep into your head on a night like Wednesday. Kershaw pitched brilliantly, again, but a couple of shaky moments -- one by the manager, one by the second baseman and right fielder -- cost the Dodgers in a 3-0 loss to the New York Yankees.

The little things are hard to see when a team is as hot as the Dodgers have been. When things start to slow down -- and, though the Dodgers have been pulling out some wins, their bats have gone soft lately -- you can't miss the little things.

The trouble began when manager Don Mattingly lifted Kershaw in a scoreless tie after he had just laid down a sacrifice bunt the previous inning -- and after a manageable 97 pitches -- going into the ninth inning.

There was no video evidence of it, but the Yankees must have been dancing for joy inside. Up to that point, Kershaw had limited New York's activity to five baserunners, widely scattered. Mattingly said he made the decision after talking to Kershaw between innings.

He said he has learned to gauge Kershaw's energy level by reading between the lines of his comments.

"It's either, 'I'm good. I've got this,' or he gives you a different answer," Mattingly said. "He won't ever tell you that he won't go back out, but I could tell that he was out of gas."

Kershaw was in no mood to expand on Mattingly's comment or decision.

"That's fine. We'll leave it at that," he said ... twice.

The Dodgers might have been in position for one of their dramatic rallies -- though this time it would have come against the man they honored before the game, Mariano Rivera -- if not for a miscommunication between Puig and Ellis. They converged on a shallow popup and, just as they brushed into each other, Ellis dropped the ball. That gave New York a three-run lead with Rivera warming up. For a man with 642 lifetime saves, that's like a 4-inch tap-in putt.

(Read full post)

Soft bats and a big mistake prove costly

July, 31, 2013
7/31/13
10:12
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- Games had been so exciting around here the past few days, it was easy to overlook an intruder sneaking up on the Los Angeles Dodgers' party, step by stealthy step.

The bats stayed in Canada. There was the 20-strikeout game Sunday, the feeble effort against aging and inconsistent Andy Pettitte on Tuesday. And Wednesday, it finally caught up to them in a 3-0 loss to the New York Yankees at Dodger Stadium.

The Yankees' ninth-inning rally started like so many have over the past couple of decades: with Derek Jeter getting on base. The captain walked and his pinch runner, Eduardo Nunez, scored the winning run on pinch hitter Lyle Overbay's single off Paco Rodriguez.

Then, the Dodgers got sloppy, with Yasiel Puig colliding with Mark Ellis, who dropped a fly ball to allow two more Yankees runs to score. In spring training, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said Puig still hadn't mastered the ability to call for a fly ball.

That put the Dodgers in a bad spot: between Mariano Rivera and his 642nd career save, which he earned in fairly crisp fashion.

It was another dominant outing by Clayton Kershaw and another one not rewarded with a win. Kershaw lowered his ERA to 1.87 with eight dominant innings but remained stuck on 10 wins. In nine of Kershaw's 23 starts, he has left the game with the Dodgers having scored no runs or one run. In five others, they scored two.

Most of that lack of support came before the All-Star break. The Dodgers' offense ignited in July, but it has stalled since coming back from Toronto. The Dodgers have scored four runs in their past 29 innings.

The Yankees made the mistake of missing an opportunity early and that's a bad idea against Kershaw. New York had runners at first and third in the second inning after Brent Lillibridge's single up the middle.

The rally started when Puig made an ill-advised dive for Vernon Wells' sinking liner near the right-field line, but somehow caught it on a bounce any way, got to his knees and made a strong throw to Hanley Ramirez to hold Wells to a single. In fact, had Ramirez not bobbled it, he might have thrown Wells out scrambling to get back to first.

Kershaw got Jayson Nix to line weakly to Ramirez and Chris Stewart to ground out to third and cruised for the next six innings.

The Dodgers' problem was trying to figure out a former teammate, Hiroki Kuroda, a pitcher they made an offer to in the free agency period last fall. Kuroda, as he has been all year, was hard to handle. The Dodgers were lurching at his split-finger pitch all night.

The Dodgers got just one runner to second base in the game's first six innings. They might have had a bigger rally in the seventh, but Adrian Gonzalez was thrown out -- by a lot -- trying to stretch his hit down the right-field line into a double. Andre Ethier and A.J. Ellis had back-to-back hits with two outs, but Skip Schumaker struck out to end the threat.

Matt Kemp's recovery going slowly

July, 31, 2013
7/31/13
5:38
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Matt Kemp was walking around the clubhouse with a visible limp Wednesday afternoon, nine days after he sprained his left ankle sliding into home plate in Washington.

His return from the injury has gone more slowly than the Dodgers had anticipated. Swelling remains considerable and Kemp has yet to resume running. He is eligible to return from the disabled list on Aug. 6 in St. Louis, but the team made that sound highly unlikely. It could be weeks before he returns.

"It sounds like it's going to be a little longer," manager Don Mattingly said. "It's not going quite as fast as we'd hoped."

Kemp's slow recovery has alleviated one hassle -- what to do with four highly paid, veteran outfielders -- but it's yet another blow to Kemp's reputation for durability. He had appeared in a major league-high 399 consecutive games before sitting out a May 14, 2012, game because of a sore hamstring. He missed 51 games last season because of hamstring injuries, and he has already missed 43 games this year with three different injuries.

"By the time we have the four [outfielders] you're referring to, we'll be a few weeks from the end," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "And then we'll have two left-handed hitters and two right-handed hitters. Guys are going to need a break here and there.

"It's like the eight starting pitchers [the Dodgers began the season with]. What are you going to do with all these pitchers? How you going to find time for them? Then on the 21st of April we're on No. 9."

The Dodgers were hoping the return of Kemp's bat could add fuel to the fire sparked by the arrivals of Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez. In the first two months of this season, the Dodgers averaged 3.5 runs per game. Since Ramirez's return (the day after Puig's arrival), the Dodgers are averaging a full run per game more.

Here are lineups for Wednesday's game with the New York Yankees:

New York
1. Brett Gardner CF
2. Derek Jeter SS
3. Robinson Cano 2B
4. Alfonso Soriano LF
5. Vernon Wells RF
6. Brent Lillibridge 1B
7. Jayson Nix 3B
8. Chris Stewart C
9. Hiroki Kuroda 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. Skip Schumaker 2B
8. Juan Uribe 3B
9. Clayton Kershaw LHP

Dodger Stadium is a fashionable address again

July, 30, 2013
7/30/13
11:14
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Jay Z was in the building.

In fact, he was seated in the first row behind home plate, about 20 feet from Scott Boras, the fellow agent from whom he recently stole Robinson Cano and then insulted in one of his songs. That had to be a little awkward.

[+] EnlargeMark Ellis
Harry How/Getty ImagesMark Ellis, center, celebrates his walk-off hit as the Dodger Stadium crowd erupts around him after the Dodgers beat the Yankees.
But it was hardly the only locus of A-list activity at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night, judging by the faces the Dodgers kept putting up on the big videoboards. Half the NBA seemed to be here, including Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and James Harden.

The Screen Actors Guild, as usual, was well-represented, with Jack Nicholson, George Lopez and others. Brooklyn native Mel Brooks, who just turned 87, was here, for crying out loud.

And the show went on. The Dodgers got their second walk-off win in as many games when Mark Ellis hit a sinking liner over Derek Jeter's head to beat the New York Yankees 3-2.

The place went mad, with the fans in the top deck bobbing up and down, shaking the 51-year-old stadium. It was the loudest this place had been since ... well, the last time the Dodgers played here. Sunday, Yasiel Puig ignited things with his home run to snap a scoreless tie in the 11th inning.

In other words, things are again as they probably should be in a place that has hosted its share of big events over the years. Dodgers fans endured the drudgery of the tail end of the Frank McCourt years for these kinds of nights.

"We're playing like we should play and this is what you hear about when you're playing on other teams," Ellis said.

The Dodgers drew more than 200,000 fans for their four-game series with the Cincinnati Reds over the weekend. They followed that up with a crowd of 52,447 on a Tuesday night, and while the term "playoff atmosphere," might be a bit of a stretch, the crowd's mood Tuesday seemed to match the team's: joyful.

(Read full post)

Playoff atmosphere comes early

July, 30, 2013
7/30/13
10:01
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- The stadium was shaking Tuesday night.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have been hot for a long time, but it wasn't until this homestand that Dodger Stadium has felt electric. It erupted in a roaring, throbbing mass Tuesday night after Mark Ellis' single over a leaping Derek Jeter drove in Andre Ethier in the bottom of the ninth inning to give them a 3-2 win over the New York Yankees.

That gave the Dodgers their second consecutive walk-off win. In their past five games, the Dodgers have drawn more than 250,000 fans. The Dodgers have won 27 of their last 33 games and their NL West lead is now 3½ games over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Dodgers had a rollicking July, but their bats hit a bit of a cold spell the past two games. They struck out 20 times and couldn't score until the 11th inning Sunday against Cincinnati, and veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte -- who came into the game with a 4.39 ERA -- navigated his way through seven innings pitching to them Tuesday.

Yasiel Puig, though, who was 4 years old when Pettitte made his major league debut in Kansas City on April 29, 1995, did not show much deference to his elder. Puig cranked the first pitch he saw from Pettitte off the top of the center-field wall for a double in the first inning. Puig scored on Hanley Ramirez's line-drive single up the middle.

Lyle Overbay homered off Zack Greinke an inning later, but Juan Uribe hit a towering shot just inside the left-field foul pole into the loge level to give the Dodgers another lead in the second.

Greinke had a so-so outing Thursday against Cincinnati and had his six-game winning streak snapped. He didn't get the win Tuesday, but it was a return to the borderline dominance the Dodgers had seen from Greinke most of July. He gave up only five hits and two runs with seven strikeouts in seven innings.

The Yankees are making their third interleague trip to Dodger Stadium, their first since 2010. The teams split a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium earlier this season.
LOS ANGELES -- Ned Colletti is among the most active general managers in baseball around the trade deadline -- and, often, after it -- so it's entirely possible he'll make another move before Wednesday afternoon's non-waiver trade deadline.

Colletti said he's not counting on it.

The team traded for starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco last month and, on Tuesday, signed former San Francisco Giants' closer Brian Wilson as a free agent. Wilson will work his way back in the minor leagues and they're expecting him on their roster in 2-3 weeks.

Colletti said other teams repeatedly asked for the Dodgers' top prospects when he discussed available relievers. The Dodgers are intent on restocking their minor-league system, so they were hesitant to move them, and Colletti said he viewed the market for relievers as both slow and overpriced.

"At this point, we're really in the listening stage," Colletti said. "If we think there's a deal that can improve us, we'll consider it."

One area the Dodgers might still look to upgrade is the back of their rotation. Chris Capuano has been unreliable and Stephen Fife remains on the 15-day disabled list with bursitis in his right shoulder.

"You talk about a limited number of people who are available," Colletti said.

Here are the lineups for Tuesday night, the New York Yankees first visit to Dodger Stadium since 2010:

New York
1. Brett Gardner CF
2. Derek Jeter SS
3. Robinson Cano 2B
4. Alfonso Soriano LF
5. Lyle Overbay 1B
6. Ichiro Suzuki RF
7. Jayson Nix 3B
8. Chris Stewart C
9. Andy Pettitte LHP

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

Grading the week

June, 24, 2013
6/24/13
11:54
AM PT
On Sunday, April 7, the Dodgers completed a three-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Nothing about it seemed particularly extraordinary at the time. The Dodgers were 4-2, off to the the kind of start they expected after a winter of prolific spending and a productive spring. Things, as they say, started going downhill from there.

Now, the Dodgers have a chance to do something tonight against the San Francisco Giants they haven't done since that day way back in April: win a third game in a row. Going into their 13th week, the Dodgers are still searching for their first three-game winning streak.

All in all, last week wasn't a bad one given the circumstances. The Dodgers got torrential rain in New York, then had to play a dreaded day-night doubleheader.

They went 3-3. For a team digging to get out of last place, that's not great, but winning the last two games in San Diego put them in position to hit their second trifecta. Maybe that will be a start. Have we heard that before?

GradeSCORING

For a while, Hanley Ramirez was hitting into a lot of bad luck, scalding line drives right to where opposing fielders were standing. Not any more.

Ramirez had a Puig-like trip. In the New York and San Diego series, he went 11-for-22 with three home runs and two doubles. His hot streak has given the Dodgers' lineup a different look, an extra power bat to go with that of Adrian Gonzalez, who showed some signs of emerging from his cold streak in his hometown of San Diego.

With Ramirez getting hot and Gonzalez starting to produce, the Dodgers didn't have to rely utterly on Yasiel Puig. It's not that Puig cooled off particularly, he just stepped out of the oven. Puig batted .320 last week with two home runs.

Matt Kemp will be back this week. Carl Crawford probably isn't more than a couple of weeks away. The Dodgers could soon have the lineup they thought they had.

Grade: C+

GradeDEFENSE

When a team is down as long as the Dodgers have been down this season, sometimes it takes extraordinary individual efforts to start things moving again.

Chris Capuano is one of the least-likely Dodgers to make such a contribution, but the veteran lefty gave the team a huge lift by pitching well on three-days' rest Sunday. In his last two starts, Capuano has pitched 11 scoreless innings, allowing just seven hits.

Zack Greinke is showing signs of settling into the kind of groove that can help a team finally gain some momentum. Three of his last four starts have been strong. Clayton Kershaw is pitching well, but as usual, the Dodgers aren't taking advantage of it.

It's hard to know what to make of the Dodgers' sloppy fielding, but you have to assume some of it is caused by injuries and a constant rotation of players at various positions.

Grade: B-

GradeDECISION-MAKING

As the Dodgers grow healthier, the scrutiny on manager Don Mattingly should abate. Either that, or they'll continue to struggle and the alibis will be thinner.

It's a lot easier to manage when you can just write the same lineup every day, assured you're getting production on a consistent basis.

The Dodgers had far-from-appealing options to make Sunday's start at Triple-A Albuquerque, so deciding to use Capuano on short rest seems like a good idea, particularly in hindsight.

The bullpen continues to struggle, but the Dodgers are seeing a little more stability at the back end with Kenley Jansen (and Branon League setting up), so that move appears to be settling in. All in all, a fairly uneventful week for decision-makers. That's probably exactly as they like it.

Grade: B-

GradeGRIT-METER

Mattingly, obviously, has had a lot of things to worry about this season, so it seemed a bit odd when one of them was fretting about keeping Nick Punto healthy. Pressed into everyday service, Punto, 35, would wear down, Mattingly said.

He just may have been right. Punto, the Dodgers' grittiest player, is struggling, going 1-for-11 last week, but the good news is with Ramirez back and Skip Schumaker starting to produce, Punto doesn't have to play every day.

Does Andre Ethier look like he's playing harder, or is he just playing better?

Grade: C+

GradeSTATE OF CONTENTION

The Dodgers lost a game in the standings, slipping to 8 1/2 games out with no wild-card net. Given their situation, those kinds of weeks are borderline fatal.

Grade: D

Yasiel Puig takes his show to center stage

June, 19, 2013
6/19/13
7:11
PM PT
You really haven't left your mark on Major League Baseball until you've done it in New York.

Big Apple, meet Yasiel Puig.

[+] EnlargeYasiel Puig, Tim Wallach
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIYasiel Puig performed well in his first appearance on the New York stage, including this home run in Wednesday's nightcap.
The Los Angeles Dodgers' budding superstar gave the East Coast a taste of his prodigious talents during Wednesday evening's 6-0 Dodgers win over the New York Yankees in the second game of a day-night doubleheader. Puig, who conducted a news conference before Tuesday's rainout because there were so many requests for interviews, went 2-for-4, including another impressive opposite-field home run.

He scored three of the Dodgers' runs and, through his first 15 major-league games, is batting .474 with five home runs.

Yankees reliever Adam Warren hung a slider on the outer half of the strike zone with his first pitch of the seventh inning, and Puig pummeled it high and 10 rows deep into the right-field bleachers. Puig appears to have backed off the plate after pitchers in previous games had pounded him inside and limited his damage to singles.

A half-dozen years ago, Hanley Ramirez was making the kind of impact on the National League that Puig is making now. The shortstop's talent is beginning to force its way through again after a couple of down years. Ramirez had seven hits in the two games of the doubleheader.

Chris Capuano, like Ramirez, has spent much of this season on the DL.

Until Wednesday, the Dodgers hadn't played at Yankee Stadium since the 1981 World Series, but the veteran left-hander was making his second career start there. This one went a lot better than his first time there. Capuano gave the Dodgers six scoreless innings, holding the Yankees to three hits, in his first start since coming off the 15-day disabled list for a strained lat muscle.

The win will make for a happier traveling party. The Dodgers were scheduled to fly overnight from New York and reach their San Diego hotel by around 5 a.m. They have a 7 p.m. game at Petco Park on Thursday.

The Price of Contention: Long-term concerns

January, 31, 2013
1/31/13
11:59
AM PT
At some point, when the laughing and clinking of glasses ends, somebody's going to bring a bill to the table.

Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus tweeted this: The Dodgers have $80 million in payroll committed for the 2018 season. The other 14 teams in the National League have commitments that total $118 million.

It won't be long before a bunch of Dodgers players will be earning their best salaries for some of their worst seasons. Should Dodgers fans be worried about this?

Dan Szymborski, who works for ESPN.com and Baseball Think Factory, thinks Dodgers fans should be afraid, very afraid. You have to be an Insider to read Szymborski's piece, but if you're not, you get the gist based on the far-from-ambiguous headline of, "Disaster Looms for Dodgers."

During the 2018 season, Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier both will turn 36. Matt Kemp will turn 34. Zack Greinke will turn 35 that October. If the Dodgers pick up Ethier's 2018 option, he'll make $17.5 million. Together, those four aging players will earn $84.5 million.

Will it drag the Dodgers down or will the TV deal -- which will mean about $280 million in media rights every year -- be a capable buffer against the double whammy: aging players and ballooning contracts? Even if it's not, should Dodgers fans just enjoy it now and let the Dodgers' payroll manager figure it out? Like John Maynard Keynes said: In the long run, we are all dead.

Here's what Symborski thinks:
As modern free-agent dynasties have showed us, once you commit a team into full-scale win-now mode, it's very hard to get cheaper as you go along. The Phillies are a good example of this phenomenon. They got a tremendous bang for the buck from pre-free-agency salaries paid to Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth and Cole Hamels. This allowed them some financial flexibility to pay top dollar for stars such as Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. With some of those previous bargains no longer paying dividends, either because they're expensive (oh, that Howard deal!) or they're playing for other teams, the Phillies now have less room to make major free-agent signings.

Even the Yankees have far less flexibility than they used to as a result of this tendency of dynasties to get prohibitively more expensive as their players age. The fun parts of the A-Rod and Mark Teixeira contracts are likely in the rearview mirror, and with the team's stated desire not to pay luxury tax, it has spent money mostly on retaining the players it could rather than play in the Greinke or Josh Hamilton sweepstakes, as past Yankees teams might have done.

You could even take it a step beyond that depressing thought. Both the Yankees and Phillies won a bunch of playoff and World Series games after flooding the market with dollars -- thus the dynasty tag -- while the Dodgers haven't done anything yet on the field. There's no Winter World Series trophy.

Two factors could determine whether this Dodgers' strategy works in the long run. First, will the ownership group stay committed to spending as the years go by and the cost of doing business rises further? It's fairly common for a new owner, excited to be in the club, to throw a bunch of money around. Remember Tom Hicks' record-setting A-Rod contract? Remember Arte Moreno's first winter, when he signed four of the top free agents on the market?

As time moves along, are the Dodgers owners going to look to streamline their business to make it more profitable? The principal owners, Guggenheim Partners, state on their Web site that their "singular mission" is to "serve as superior stewards of capital and trusted advisors to our partners and clients." They have more than $170 billion under their supervision.

The obligation of Mark Walter and his partners is to maximize the wealth of their investors, not to maximize the happiness of Dodgers fans. To keep the money flowing out of fans' bank accounts and into their business, the Dodgers at some point are going to have to win -- that word again.

At some point, they're also going to have to do the bulk of their building from the ground floor. The Dodgers aren't going to swing a $260 million trade and sign $200 million worth of pitching every year (we think). Quietly, they've also begun pumping more modest dollars into international signings, scouting and player development. Think about the great Dodgers teams from the 1960s through 1980s. The players came up, step by step, through an organization that schooled them in the team's philosophies.

Not only does developing your own players give you a coherent, controllable message, it builds the foundation, with free agency and trades the finishing touches. If you've got three promising rookies every winter, you don't need to be in the middle of every free-agent rumor.

The stakes, then, are high for 2013. They're high for 2014, etc. As each of the next few seasons comes and goes, the Dodgers will hear a ticking sound coming from a very expensive clock.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Dan Haren
WINS ERA SO IP
3 2.16 20 25
OTHER LEADERS
BAD. Gordon .367
HRA. Gonzalez 5
RBIA. Gonzalez 17
RA. Gonzalez 14
OPSA. Gonzalez .969
ERAH. Ryu 1.93
SOZ. Greinke 29