Dodgers Report: St. Louis Cardinals

Dodgers claim Padres infielder Ryan Jackson

November, 3, 2014
LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Dodgers claimed infielder Ryan Jackson from the San Diego Padres on Monday.

Jackson, 26, got a bit of playing time for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012 and 2013 and hit .083 in 24 at-bats. Over six minor league seasons, Jackson, primarily a shortstop, has hit .268 with 27 home runs and 203 RBIs. He was drafted by the Cardinals out of the University of Miami in the fifth round in 2009.

The Dodgers still have four spots left on their 40-man roster. One opened Monday when lefty reliever Scott Elbert elected to become a free agent rather than accept a minor league assignment.

Who pitches the eighth? Maybe Jansen

October, 3, 2014
LOS ANGELES – Postseason games so often are decided by bullpens, and that, more than anything else, has been an unsettling thought for the Los Angeles Dodgers going into this series. A year ago at this time, manager Don Mattingly could bank on Brian Wilson pitching the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen the ninth.

[+] EnlargeKenley Jansen
Harry How/Getty ImagesKenley Jansen could be his own setup man if the Dodgers need six outs.
Those days are gone. Jansen repeated his success of 2013, but the eighth inning became a revolving door after Wilson had some elbow issues and saw his velocity decline. Brandon League and J.P. Howell were asked to get outs in the eighth, as was youngster Pedro Baez. It became about matchups, but it was rarely stress-free.

The bullpen might be the St. Louis CardinalsSt. Louis Cardinals’ one clear edge in this series. The Dodgers scored nearly 100 more runs than St. Louis and their starters allowed fewer runs. But St. Louis’ bullpen has been rounding into form – with flamethrower Carlos Martinez often pitching the eighth inning – while the Dodgers’ bullpen was struggling at the end of September.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly indicated that Jansen could, at times, be his own setup man. He said he wouldn’t hesitate to ask Jansen to get four, five or even six outs at the end of games in the postseason.

“You’re going to do what you have to do to win games at this point,” Mattingly said. “These guys didn’t come this far and go, ‘Oh, I’m tired, I really don’t want to get five outs, Donnie.’ They’re going to go, ‘I want to win.’ So, that’s what we’re going to do.”

LOS ANGELES -- After two early questions about what it felt like to lose so badly to the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs last season, Clayton Kershaw leaned back from the microphone and wondered: “Why doesn’t anybody ask me what it feels like after a win in the postseason?”

Great players are often guilty until proven innocent in October, and the numbers tell us that Kershaw -- the most dominant pitcher of his generation -- is 1-3 with a 4.23 ERA in nine postseason games. The last time he pitched in the glare of October, the Cardinals pounded 10 hits off him in four innings and scored seven times to clinch a World Series berth in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium.

That was the taste Kershaw had in his mouth all offseason. He was asked about it even on the day he finalized his seven-year, $215 million contract extension with the Los Angeles Dodgers in January.

[+] EnlargeClayton Kershaw
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports"Different team over there, different team over here for us," Clayton Kershaw said of his second postseason in a row lining up against the Cards. "But it will feel good to get back out there in the postseason for sure."
“I had to wait a long time for that next one,” Kershaw said. “Thankfully, it came. It’s not like I thought about it every day in the offseason, but it’s not like one day you shake off things. It takes a while.”

Kershaw has nothing to prove in the postseason, aside from the fact that all players have to prove themselves, again and again, in the postseason -- and that’s if they’re lucky enough to get there that often. Kershaw was 1-0 with a 0.69 ERA in two starts against the Atlanta Braves in the division series; for one of those starts, he pitched on three days’ rest. He matched up with Michael Wacha in Game 2 in St. Louis and pitched six two-hit innings, allowing one run, which was unearned, in the 1-0 loss.

Take away Kershaw’s first two appearances in the playoffs -- when he was 20 and 21, had yet to develop his slider and had little idea where his ball was going -- and he has a respectable 3.13 playoff ERA, which includes the Game 6 blowup. Then again, his career ERA in non-postseason games is 2.48, the best for any pitcher with at least 1,000 innings in the modern era.

So, maybe he does have to prove he’s capable of repeatedly bringing that level of dominance to the highest-pressure venues.

“I guess you gain from the experience of it more than anything, knowing I had some successes in the postseason last year and then having the bad one at the end,” Kershaw said. “So, you can kind of use both of those, I guess.”

Pitch efficiency has become an underrated part of Kershaw’s game, but the Cardinals took it away from him in last year's NLCS and it appeared to frustrate him. Kershaw pitched a league-high six complete games this season, but in none of them did he throw as many as 120 pitches. He needed only 107 pitches to throw his 15-strikeout no-hitter on June 18, one of the most coldly efficient pitching performances of all time.

But where was that on Oct. 18 at Busch Stadium? Kershaw got through the first two innings unscathed and got the first out of the third, but everything changed with Matt Carpenter’s at-bat. Carpenter took a slider inside for ball one, then proceeded to foul off seven consecutive pitches. It was Kershaw’s entire repertoire, pitches that ranged in velocity from 75 mph to 95 mph. Three pitches later, Carpenter got an 86 mph slider up that he could handle and yanked it into right field for a double. That 11-pitch at-bat would lead to a 48-pitch inning; the Cardinals would score four times and add five more in the fifth.

“It’s just one of those tough at-bats. The crowd kind of got into it, I was able to foul off pitches and I felt more comfortable as the at-bat went on,” Carpenter recalled Thursday. “I was able to fight off some of his better pitches and hang around long enough to get something I could hit, and hit the double. That wound up being a big hit for us.”

No doubt the Cardinals will look to frustrate Kershaw again Friday afternoon, but as usual, things are dynamic. Kershaw is fresher. He’ll go into Friday’s start on four extra days of rest and having pitched 37 2/3 fewer innings in the regular season.

For another thing, the Cardinals scored 163 fewer runs than they did last season. Instead of hitting .330 with runners in scoring position as they did last year, they hit .254 with RISP.

The Dodgers also planned to change their signs going into Friday’s opener. A year ago, many of the Dodgers believed the Cardinals had gotten wind of catcher A.J. Ellis’ signs and were relaying the location of pitches to batters from second base. So, either the Cardinals have Kershaw’s number or it will just make him mad enough to dominate them as he has everyone else.

Stay tuned.

“That was last year,” Carpenter said. “I know I’ve been asked a lot about that, but this is a new season. He’s got a new game plan, I’m sure, and we’ll have to come ready to go.”

Kershaw struck out 13 Cardinals in seven scoreless innings the first time he faced them this year. Then, three weeks later, he gave up three runs in seven innings in a game the Dodgers won in St. Louis.

“Different team over there, different team over here for us,” Kershaw said. “But it will feel good to get back out there in the postseason for sure.”

Five Q's: How will Kershaw fare vs. Cards?

October, 2, 2014
Clayton KershawEd Zurga/Getty ImagesThe Cardinals tagged Clayton Kershaw for seven earned runs on 10 hits in four innings to beat the Dodgers ace in Game 6 of the NLCS last year.
The Los Angeles Dodgers renew their rivalry with one of their most-frequent October foils, the St. Louis Cardinals Friday afternoon (3:37 p.m. PT) at Dodger Stadium. To check up on the state of the Redbirds, we enlisted the help of St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer Derrick Goold. You can read his fine work, including an exploration of why the Cardinals have handled Clayton Kershaw relatively well, here.

Q: Derrick, give us a state of the Cardinals synopsis. Do you have the sense they are in better shape or worse shape than they were going into last season's NLCS?

A: This is not the brawny lineup with its RISP-infused swagger that the Dodgers faced a year ago. That club led the NL in runs scored and had the absurd .330 average with runners in scoring position. They didn't hit many homers, but they didn't need to because they could string doubles, baserunners, and timely strikes together to get all the crooked numbers they need. This team has been starved for runs, especially on the road. Going into the weekend at Arizona, only three teams in the NL had scored fewer runs on the road than the Cardinals. All three were in your NL West, and two of them changed GMs this season.

How and if the Cardinals are going to score runs is the biggest question following them into October. Even without Michael Wacha, however, the pitching may be deeper and the bullpen more versatile than last year's pennant winners. Lance Lynn is bona fide No. 2, and John Lackey adds a depth and October experience unusual for a No. 3. The relievers have clearly defined roles, and that will allow manager Mike Matheny to be aggressive when he has a lead, especially with righties Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez, and newcomer to the postseason with the Cardinals sidewinder Pat Neshek.

Q: Many Dodgers fans think last year's series pivoted on Hanley Ramirez getting knocked out in Game 1, but the Cardinals pitching obviously was formidable. The numbers suggest it may not be quite as stifling this season, kind of middle of the pack in ERA. Do you anticipate that changing now that depth won't be as big of an issue in the playoffs?

A: Yes. The overall ERA of the team reflects a team that was trending toward trouble there late in July, right before the trade deadline. While they searched for runs, many of us in St. Louis were trying to stress how the team would look for starting pitching at the trade deadline because a) it was more readily available than a bat and b) they needed it. An innings crisis was approaching. They relied on a young group of starters that included Miller, Wacha, Gonzales, Kelly, Lyons, et. al., and as a result they got the inconsistencies of youth. The trades haven't been the direct booms imagined. Justin Masterson was never right physically and won't be seen in this series. Lackey did give the Cardinals seven quality starts (and one ugly one in Baltimore) in his 10 starts.

But both gave innings when they were needed and allowed the rotation to stabilize. Post-deadline Shelby Miller does not resemble the pre-deadline Miller the Dodgers saw at Dodger Stadium. He's sharper, more consistent, and he's outfitted his one-pitch trick with at least a couple others that he can count on. The rotation is more experienced and more effective entering October than their overall ERA suggests.

[+] EnlargeYadier Molina
Elsa/Getty ImagesCardinals catcher Yadier Molina has had success against Clayton Kershaw.
Q: How do the Cardinals feel about facing Clayton Kershaw? Do you think they are still angry about him hitting Matt Holliday? Very few teams have ever hit him like the Cardinals did in Game 6. How'd they pull that off?

A: The HBP has not come up, not outside of the context of the obvious animosity between these two teams. The Country Mouse vs. Mickey Mouse, or however we the media will end up positioning it this week. The Cardinals have had some success against Kershaw. I have these numbers at my fingertips because of a story I was just writing here today for the paper. At one point in his career, the Cardinals won seven of a nine-start stretch by Kershaw against them. That includes the two starts he lost in last year's NLCS. His ERA against the Cardinals is nearly a run higher than it is against the rest of the NL. Obviously, he righted that trend a bit earlier this year with that dominant turn at Dodger Stadium vs. the Cardinals. His seven scoreless with 13 strikeouts from 28 batters faced was one of the most impressive turns I saw for or against the Cardinals this season. They have individuals with some success against Kershaw -- Molina .300 average, Kozma 4-for-8 with three doubles, Matt Carpenter .458 slugging -- and they drew on that to have success in Game 6. The story I wrote sort of framed it around the 11-pitch at-bat that Carpenter had with one out in the third inning. Kershaw tested him with everything -- 95 mph this, 75 mph that, 88 mph there -- and Carpenter lashed a double that opened the four-run rush. Half of the 24 batters Kershaw faced reached base, including five consecutive with two outs in that inning. Needless to say they aren't banking on that happening again.

Q: Lackey's numbers don't jump out since the Cardinals landed him in that trade. How has it worked out in your opinion and how much of it was intended for how he could impact the postseason rotation?

A: This is a tricky answer to quantify. As mentioned above, Lackey gave the Cardinals what they so desperately needed -- consistency every fifth day. The value of his seven quality starts in 10 games cannot be overstated. General manager John Mozeliak told me just this week that the rotation was "putting too much of a burden on the young pitchers." The results were what you'd expect: some good, some bad, but mostly short. The bullpen was being asked to handle those leftover middle innings and with so many close games the mileage was going on the key relievers. Lackey's impact was of the trickle-down variety. He handled his six innings every fifth day. Miller improved. And come September, Adam Wainwright soared. He brought a needed glue to the rotation. And when he wasn't fighting through that "dead arm" funk that left his pitches feeling lifeless (or wasn't getting ejected before the 45th pitch of a start), he was exactly as advertised: a feisty cuss on the mound who was going to find a way to get through six innings no matter what with a chance to win. The Cardinals are counting on his edge and reliability to be a factor as the third starter in the NLDS -- what could be the pivot, right, of a best-of-five?

Q: The Cardinals broke the Dodgers' hearts in the 1980s. The Cardinals have had the upper hand lately. In that town, is this viewed as a secondary rivalry, not Cubs-Cardinals, but do the Dodgers' uniforms get Cardinal fans riled up?

A: Back when Tony La Russa was manager, I would have suggested the Dodgers have to get in line. Lance Berkman once stood in the Miller Park clubhouse and recounted the best rivalries in the National League Central. "Cardinals-Cubs, Cardinals-Astros," he said, "and now you're telling me Cardinals-Brewers, and what about the Cardinals-Reds brawl? What's the common theme here? Maybe it's us." Some of the cayenne has been taking out of those rivalries. The Cubs weren't competitive until the final month of the season. The Reds acrimony has faded. The Brewers and Cardinals looked like they might have something going this season, but it peaked with Lucroy's political attack-style ad for the All-Star Game that took aim at Yadier Molina. He said he didn't approve that ad and the friction fizzled.

It seems that the NL Central has a monopoly on producing tinder for rivalries, but come October ... well, that's for the Dodgers. Gone are the Astros teams that the Cardinals dueled with a decade ago, replaced with the big-payroll Dodgers, their style, and their abundance of aces. With so many meetings in the postseason (three now in the NLDS) and so many memorable moments -- Lima Time! Towel Time! Mickey Mouse Ears! Wachamania! -- and feisty exchanges 'tis the season that the Dodgers do grab the attention of the Cardinals fans. I sense they mostly admire the Dodgers from afar during the season, but, like the temperature, come fall the fanbase's view of the Dodgers starts to chill. I imagine the same is true out west.

Van Slykes have Cards-Dodgers rivalry covered

October, 1, 2014
LOS ANGELES -- For nearly 30 years, some Los Angeles Dodgers fans have been bitter that Tommy Lasorda let Tom Niedenfuer pitch to Jack Clark with first base open. The man on deck saw it differently.

Andy Van Slyke was only 24 years old then and he remembers that postseason as if it were “vapor, here one minute, then gone,” but he had enough mindfulness to surmise that particularly situation clearly. It was the ninth inning in Game 6 of the 1985 National League Championship Series and, even if Lasorda walked Clark, Van Slyke knew he wouldn’t have gotten to hit. Van Slyke had mashed a three-run home run off Neidenfuer the season before and left-handed reliever Jerry Reuss was getting warm in the bullpen.

[+] EnlargeScott Van Slyke
Cameron Spencer/Getty ImagesScott Van Slyke will be ready if his number is called against his hometown Cardinals.
“I was dejected, because I knew if Reuss came in the game, I would not have had an opportunity to hit there. Tito Landrum would have pinch hit,” Van Slyke said. “In one sense, you could say I’m the reason Jack Clark hit that home run. Ha ha.”

The St. Louis Cardinals have always had the Chicago Cubs. That rivalry, which divides the state of Illinois and a large swath of the adjoining states, dates back about 139 years, when the teams were known as the Brown Stockings and the White Stockings. The Los Angeles Dodgers have always had the San Francisco Giants. Their rivalry goes back about 125 years, when they were the only two professional teams in New York.

But just below those regional rivalries, the Cardinals and Dodgers, two of the strongest organizations in the National League, have tended to get in each other's way just as they have in recent seasons. In 2009, the Dodgers swept the Cardinals out of the National League Division Series; in 2012, the Cardinals outlasted the Dodgers for the wild card; Last season, the Cardinals beat the Dodgers in six games to capture the National League Championship Series.

“That makes the rivalry -- two quality organizations with great baseball fan bases, historically and in the present day,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.

Dodgers outfielder Scott Van Slyke was born a little less than a year after Clark’s fateful home run. Before his first birthday, his dad had been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a deal that brought All-Star catcher Tony Pena to St. Louis, but Andy Van Slyke kept his offseason home in suburban St. Louis and Scott attended John Burroughs High in West St. Louis County. The Dodgers drafted him from there in the 14th round of the 2005 draft.

For the second year in a row, he’ll have the opportunity to sleep in his own bed during the postseason.

“The only thing I didn’t like was figuring out tickets,” Scott Van Slyke said. “I think we finally decided we’re only going to give them to immediate family.”

A year ago, Van Slyke barely played in the postseason. He pinch ran in one game and played a few innings in the outfield as a replacement for Andre Ethier, who was hobbled by an ankle injury. Van Slyke never got an at-bat. His role expanded considerably this season despite the Dodgers’ glut of well-paid outfielders. Mattingly used Van Slyke virtually every time the Dodgers faced a left-handed starting pitcher, and Van Slyke thrived. He hit .297, smashed 11 home runs and had a .910 OPS. Not bad for a guy who had been taken off the team’s 40-man roster and not invited to spring training two seasons ago. Andy Van Slyke, who was the sixth overall pick the year he was drafted by St. Louis, watched his son’s climb back to the organization’s good graces with pride. Andy Van Slyke is now the Seattle Mariners' first-base coach.

“When a player, even if it’s not your son, goes through what Scott went through, you have immense respect for it. Having been personally attached to it, it’s more meaningful to me,” Andy said. “Not every player could do that. It takes a special kind of will.”

If Scott Van Slyke is to impact this series and punish his hometown team, it’s probably not going to happen until the latter innings. The Cardinals don’t have a left-handed starting pitcher. They do have three left-handed relievers, if Kevin Siegrist makes the postseason roster, so Van Slyke’s role figures to be reduced to pinch-hitting duties.

“I’ll just hit in the cage, watch video and be ready, same as all year,” Scott Van Slyke said.

It’s October. Players have to stay ready. Whether the opportunity ever arises is sometimes beyond their control. Van Slyke’s dad could testify to that.

Will Dee Gordon run on Yadier Molina?

September, 30, 2014
LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Dodgers first-base coach Davey Lopes was not at Tuesday’s workout at Dodger Stadium as he had some personal business to take care of, but at this point of his career, Dee Gordon probably doesn’t need any final tips on base stealing.

“As the year went on, I got better as a base stealer,” Gordon said.

That much is evident by Gordon’s 64 stolen bases, most in the major leagues. But the threat of Gordon’s speed, which could be an important factor in a series with two dominant pitching staffs, is a question considering the St. Louis Cardinals have the best-throwing catcher in baseball, Yadier Molina. He threw out 48 percent of the runners who tried to steal, leading the majors for the fourth time.

Gordon’s challenges in this series go beyond Molina’s powerful right arm. Gordon has been dealing with tightness in his hip and Cardinals pitchers are adept at holding runners and delivering Molina the ball quickly to give him a chance to throw out runners.

“There are some catchers who don’t throw at all and you can run on them,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “But the Cardinals have a lot of guys who get the ball to home plate. They’re pretty well-schooled on being quick, using slide steps, all those types of things. Usually, a pitching staff will neutralize the running game more than the catcher himself.”

Regardless of how many bases he steals, Gordon’s presence in the lineup will be important to the Dodgers. He played 148 games at second base, batted .289 and led the league with 12 triples. He makes their lineup more versatile and takes pressure off the middle-of-the-order hitters if he’s able to take extra bases and score on singles rather than putting pressure on them to produce extra-base hits.

A year ago, after spending most of the season at Triple-A, Gordon made the Dodgers’ postseason roster as a pinch runner, but was a non-factor. He was thrown out by Atlanta Braves catcher Gerald Laird in his only stolen base attempt of the NLDS. He never attempted to steal on Molina after pinch running for Adrian Gonzalez in Game 1 of the NLCS.

Gordon said he won’t let Molina’s reputation take away his aggressiveness on the bases.

“No, man, got to play my game the way I play my game,” Gordon said.

Looks like Kershaw would pitch on short rest

September, 30, 2014
LOS ANGELES -- It appears quite likely that the Los Angeles Dodgers would bring Clayton Kershaw back on three days’ rest if their National League Division Series with the St. Louis Cardinals lasts four games.

For one thing, there’s a precedent. Kershaw did just that with the Dodgers leading 2-1 over the Atlanta Braves last season, going six strong innings in their 4-3 win that sent them to the NLCS. For another, Kershaw threw a simulated game Sunday, four days after his final start of the regular season, a move seemingly intended to get his body used to short rest.

So, if the Dodgers would go to Kershaw while leading a five-game series, they surely would go to him in an elimination game, right? It seems to make sense, but Dodgers manager Don Mattingly wasn’t giving any hints Tuesday after the team’s short workout at Dodger Stadium.

“We wouldn’t even think about it until we see what would happen in Game 1 or what kind of situation we’ll be in, so that’s not even a question that we even consider,” Mattingly said.

Hyun-Jin Ryu is scheduled to throw 45 pitches in a three-inning simulated game Wednesday in anticipation of pitching Game 3 Monday in St. Louis. The Dodgers closed Wednesday’s workout to the media, likely in an effort to keep the Cardinals in the dark as to their plans for the rotation. If Ryu pitches Game 3 and Kershaw goes in Game 4, the Dodgers likely would use No. 4 starter Dan Haren as their long reliever, which could free an extra bench spot for defensive specialist Darwin Barney or Joc Pederson.

Dodgers not holding grudge over hit batters

September, 30, 2014
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers have said they didn’t view it as intentional when St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Joe Kelly hit Hanley Ramirez in the ribs in the first inning of the teams’ playoff series last season.

“When Joe Kelly throws the ball, it goes everywhere all the time,” was how Dodgers manager Don Mattingly put it Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeRamirez
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesHanley Ramirez has been hit by Cardinals pitchers a couple of times recently.
But some Dodgers did view it as the pivotal moment of that series, because Ramirez was their hottest hitter and had largely carried them beginning in June all the way through their first-round playoff win over the Atlanta Braves. He played with a cracked rib in five of the six games against the Cardinals, but was ineffective, singling twice in 15 at-bats.

So, they took exception when Carlos Martinez hit Ramirez with a 98-mph fastball July 20 of this season in St. Louis, the last time the teams have seen each other heading into their National League Division Series that starts Friday. The next inning in that game, Clayton Kershaw drilled Matt Holliday in the lower back. He didn’t do much to hide the fact that it was a retaliatory measure.

“It's tough when you see Hanley get hit like that so many times. It's one thing to miss in, but when you're missing up and in at a guy's face like that, that's really scary,” Kershaw told reporters that night. “When you throw that hard, you need to have a better idea where the ball's going.”

Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal hit Ramirez again in the ninth inning of that game, raising the question of whether the teams have some unfinished business heading into Friday’s opener of the series, with aces Kershaw and Adam Wainwright on the mound. Kelly was traded in July to the Boston Red Sox in the deal that brought John Lackey to St. Louis. According to Mattingly and at least one player, the bad blood of that series is a non-factor in this one.

“We’ve had all year long if we wanted revenge or anything like that,” Mattingly said. “We’re trying to win games. It’s really not a concern if somebody gets hit. You can’t go to the plate worrying about getting hit. You can’t go to the mound thinking, ‘I’ve got to hit somebody and establish.’ We all come to play.”

Said Dodgers outfielder Scott Van Slyke, “That’s just part of the game. You hit one of our guys, we’ll protect them. Just let them know you understand what’s going on. But I think the playoffs are the playoffs. Nobody wants to give up free bases.”

Start times announced for Games 1 and 2

September, 29, 2014
LOS ANGELES -- Shadows creep across the Dodger Stadium infield by the end of day games, which means they will be a factor for the first several innings of the National League Division series that gets underway Friday at 3:37 p.m. PT.

The start time, announced Monday, could make it hard for hitters to pick up the spin on pitches, and the two pitchers scheduled to start, Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals, happen to throw some of the best breaking balls in baseball.

Saturday’s game will begin at 6:37 p.m. PT, which is a merciful start time considering highs are forecasted to be in the upper 90s in Los Angeles. Friday’s game will be broadcast nationally -- and available in Los Angeles -- on Fox Sports 1. Saturday’s game is being carried by the MLB Network.

Zack Greinke will pitch Game 2 for the Dodgers. The Cardinals have not yet announced their Saturday starter.

Dodgers embark on postseason riding high

September, 28, 2014

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers held a postseason rally following their 10-5 win over the Colorado Rockies on Sunday afternoon, with about half of the 48,278 fans in attendance sticking around to get whipped into a frenzy for the upcoming playoffs. The final speaker, fittingly, was Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda, who recently celebrated his 87th birthday.

"I think we're going to get to the Fall Classic," Lasorda bellowed, "and then the Big Dodger in the sky can take me away!"

[+] EnlargeMatt Kemp
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsKemp's 16 second-half homers suggest the enigmatic star is healthy and focused to anchor a deep October run for the Dodgers.
The Dodgers are hopeful one of those things comes true, but there are a few preliminary steps before they reach their first World Series since Lasorda stepped down. Step 1 is beating the St. Louis Cardinals, the team they'll play in the National League Division Series starting Friday and a team that beat them out for a wild-card berth two seasons ago, then knocked them out of the playoffs last October.

"It's kind of turned into a pretty good rivalry," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "They've got a good organization, they play good baseball, they have good pitching. They're a tough team to play."

But the Cardinals, too, will be dealing with a different, seemingly more formidable team this time around. For one thing, Matt Kemp won't be on crutches this time. For another thing, Hanley Ramirez won’t be trying to play with a cracked rib, as he did in every inning he played in that series but one, and Andre Ethier, if he plays, won't be hobbling around on a bad ankle.

"We're pretty healthy right now, I guess," Zack Greinke said. "That’s good."

(Read full post)

Series preview: Dodgers at Cardinals

July, 18, 2014
The Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals both have designs on dominating the National League and, once again, they’re in each others’ way.

The Dodgers are in St. Louis to open what is traditionally called the second half, though just 65 of the team’s games remain after the All-Star break. It is the Dodgers’ first visit to St. Louis since Game 6 of last year’s NLCS, which ended the Dodgers’ season.

Both teams have been making strong moves in their divisions. The Dodgers wiped out a 9 1/2-game deficit to the San Francisco Giants over a three-week stretch of June and now lead the division by a game. The Cardinals gained 6 games on the Milwaukee Brewers in the first 12 days of July and are a game out.

This series is the first of three straight on the road for the Dodgers, who don’t return to Dodger Stadium until July 29 and, by then, their roster could have a different look. General manager Ned Colletti is looking to add at least one reliever and one starting pitcher before the July 31 trade deadline, and it’s possible the Dodgers could move one of their three highly-paid outfielders to open up a roster spot for highly-regarded center-field prospect Joc Pederson, who homered in Wednesday night’s Triple-A All-Star game.

According to reports from Albuquerque, the Dodgers’ roster might even have a different look by tonight. Reliever Paco Rodriguez, who was a left-handed stalwart for the Dodgers last year, was not available to pitch for the Isotopes Thursday night and he is expected to join the Dodgers before tonight’s game. The team opened a roster spot by optioning Pedro Baez earlier this week.

The Dodgers are already anticipating the final stop of this three-city trip, in San Francisco. The reason No. 5 starter Dan Haren, a former Cardinal, is opening the second half is that the Dodgers want Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw to start in that San Francisco series. Greinke and Kershaw, who each pitched a perfect inning at Tuesday’s All-Star game, are scheduled to pitch Saturday and Sunday.

The Dodgers won’t face Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, who started and gave up three first-inning runs in the American League’s 5-3 win at Tuesday night’s All-Star game. Instead, they’ll face Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez.

With two open dates coming out of the break, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny has said he is contemplating a four-man rotation in the short term.

Dodgers-Cardinals rivalry going strong

June, 27, 2014
LOS ANGELES -- There's always chaos theory, a powerful force in baseball, but it's difficult to imagine these two teams not meeting again in October.

If you were a child of the 1980s you probably have memories, mostly painful ones for Dodgers fans, of two confident teams and franchises that always seemed to be in each other's way. The Los Angeles Dodgers will always have the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals will always have the Chicago Cubs. Together, they've formed one of the better intersectional rivalries in the game.

[+] EnlargeHyun-Jin Ryu
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonHyun-Jin Ryu reacts after giving up a home run to the Cardinals in what turned into a tough loss for the Dodgers on Friday.
The Dodgers are two games out of first place in their division. The Cardinals are 5½ games out in their division. If the season ended today, they would play each other in the wild-card game for the right to advance. Seems fitting.

And there's enough history to give it texture. The teams battled for the wild card into the final few games of the 2012 season, with the Cardinals then crashing all the way to the World Series. The Cardinals knocked the Dodgers out of the National League Championship Series last year after knocking Hanley Ramirez effectively out of the series with a broken rib, and the teams took some verbal shots at each other throughout.

Some Cardinals players didn't like the way Yasiel Puig comported himself. When Adam Wainwright described some of the Dodgers' gestures as "Mickey Mouse," Adrian Gonzalez made Mickey Mouse ears every time he had a big hit. Later, some Dodgers wondered whether the Cardinals had gotten a hold of their signs and were relaying the location of upcoming pitches from second base.

"Just different cultures," said second baseman Mark Ellis, a Dodger last year, a Cardinal this year.

The past two nights, it was hard to miss a playoff-like tension because one bad pitch or one well-placed hit was going to decide the outcome. The Dodgers were on the losing end Friday, 3-1, because the Cardinals' most meaningful hit was placed perfectly and the Dodgers' best-struck balls were gobbled up by Cardinals gloves.

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Mark Ellis is happy for Dee Gordon

June, 27, 2014
LOS ANGELES -- A year ago, Mark Ellis defended teammate Yasiel Puig by saying, "Nobody would watch baseball if everybody was like me. You need guys like him that are entertaining."

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.

[+] EnlargeMark Ellis
AP Photo/Morry GashFormer Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis, now with the Cardinals, says the differences between the two clubhouses are clear.
That storyline got a lot of play in the National League Championship Series last October. Ellis, a native of South Dakota, said the teams' cultural differences are real.

"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.

Series preview: Cardinals at Dodgers

June, 26, 2014
LOS ANGELES -- The St. Louis Cardinals make their first visit to Dodger Stadium since last October's National League Championship Series.

The Cardinals, of course, won that series four games to two, but some of the Dodgers have wondered whether things might have gone differently had Joe Kelly not cracked one of Hanley Ramirez's ribs in Game 1. The Dodgers also had their suspicions about whether Cardinals baserunners were aware of their signs and were relaying the location of pitches from second base.

There's nothing the Dodgers can do about any of that now other than try to win some games this weekend, and they may be catching the Cardinals at a good time, with all sorts of injuries to their young and vastly talented pitching staff.

Shelby Miller had back spasms during Tuesday's start and is questionable for this series. The Cardinals are already without Joe Kelly, Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia. They've been forced to move reliever Carlos Martinez into the rotation (he'll pitch Friday) and to promote Marco Gonzalez from Double-A.

"It wasn't exactly how we lined it up," manager Mike Matheny told reporters this week.

The Cardinals do, however, have one practically sure thing, one of the few aces who can rival the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright (10-3, 2.08 ERA), who will pitch Thursday night against the Dodgers' Josh Beckett (5-4, 2.28).

Kershaw, who gave up 10 hits in four innings the last time he faced St. Louis, in the Dodgers' 9-0 Game 6 loss at Busch Stadium, will pitch Sunday, no doubt intent on proving that night was a fluke. The Cardinals have yet to announce starting pitchers for Saturday or Sunday. The Dodgers will use Hyun-Jin Ryu against Martinez on Friday. Zack Greinke, who is in the midst of a mild four-start slump, will pitch Saturday's game.

The Cardinals don't score a lot of runs, but that was the case last season, too. They rank 12th in the National League in runs scored and 10th in OPS. The Cardinals are hard to rally against. Closer Trevor Rosenthal has 48 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings to go with 23 saves.

The story behind the Van Slyke-Joe Kelly staredown

February, 27, 2014
GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Dodgers lost Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, but they did salvage one small victory.

One very, very small victory.

[+] EnlargeScott Van Slyke
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesThe Dodgers' Scott Van Slyke is adamant he won the stare down with the Cardinals' Joe Kelly during last season's NLCS.
Scott Van Slyke prevailed over St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Joe Kelly in the pregame national anthem staredown, you might recall. It was a strange start to a big game, Van Slyke and Kelly holding firm and standing in front of their dugouts for 12 solid minutes, delaying the game. Neither player would budge until umpire Greg Gibson threatened to eject them, Kelly taking a step toward the dugout first and Van Slyke, wearing a batting helmet, thrusting his hands in the air in triumph.

What the heck was that all about?

“I noticed him standing out there late and I was like, ‘I don’t want him being the last guy out there and showing us up a little bit,’ “ Van Slyke said. “It just went on from there.”

After the game, Kelly confessed to a superstition about being the last player on the field after the anthem. He thought the Dodgers got wind of it, but Van Slyke said he didn’t know anything about that until Game 5. He stuck it out after several Dodgers players, notably Adrian Gonzalez, urged him to hold firm.

“When the umpire started yelling at us, that’s when it was getting awkward,” Van Slyke said. “But then Gonzo and some other guys from the dugout were like, ‘We’ll pay your fines. Just stay out there.’ So, it was fun.”

There remains some disagreement about who actually won. Kelly maintained that his initial step toward the Cardinals dugout was simply a deke to get Van Slyke to break.

“His feet moved first. I got him,” Van Slyke said. “You can’t deke in a staredown. It’s like blinking in a no-blink contest.”

The playoffs were a whirlwind time for Van Slyke though he barely played. His dad, Andy, was a star outfielder for the Cardinals and both father and son make their homes in suburban St. Louis.

"Besides the Dodgers, the Cardinals have the best fans in baseball," Van Slyke said.



Clayton Kershaw
21 1.77 239 198
BAY. Puig .296
HRA. Gonzalez 27
RBIA. Gonzalez 116
RY. Puig 92
OPSY. Puig .863
ERAC. Kershaw 1.77
SOC. Kershaw 239