First Place… Really?!?

The idea that this team is in first place despite being a game under .500 is as crazy as saying “Nomar played shortstop and not only didn’t kill himself, but hit a homer, and a rookie Japanese pitcher who didn’t make it out of the third inning in two of his last four starts nearly pitched a perfect game.”

Wait, what?

I mean, what can you say about Hiroki Kuroda? He was absolutely fantastic last night, and perfect game or not, I’ll take a one-hit shutout every single time. Of course, some excellent defense definitely helped – particularly Blake DeWitt’s amazing bare-handed play on Gregor Blanco’s bunt, and as much as I hate to admit it, even Angel Berroa chipped in with some great defense after replacing Nomar at shortstop.

But about Kuroda… how manic is this guy? Look at his last five starts, interrupted by a DL stint:

7/7 vs. ATL: 9 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 6 K, 0 BB, 91 pitches – 3-0 win
7/2 @ HOU: 7 IP, 0 R, 5 H, 1 K, 1 BB, 83 pitches – 4-1 win
6/12 @ SD: 2.1 IP, 6 R, 5 H, 2 K, 4 BB, 63 pitches – 6-3 loss
6/6 vs. CHC: 9 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 11 K, 0 BB, 112 pitches – 3-0 win
6/1 @ NYM: 2.2 IP, 6 R, 7 H, 0 K, 2 BB, 66 pitches – 6-1 loss

There’s not much gray area, is there? Obviously, it’s an encouraging sign that he’s been unscored upon since returning from the DL, but it’s also hard to point to a tired arm as a cause for those two lousy games since his gem against the Cubs was sandwiched in between them. Anyway, a solid round of applause for our man Hiroki for the effort he put forth last night. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Clap, clap, clap.

But even more importantly, first place! Sure, it’s mostly because the Diamondbacks have been so lousy as to keep the Dodgers in the race. But do you think the 2006 Cardinals kept their World Series parade subdued because they snuck into the playoffs with a 83-78 record? I doubt it. First place is first place, so let’s go with that. Interestingly enough, Baseball Prospectus has a “playoff odds report” updated daily, where they simulate out the rest of the season one million times to see what happens, using some fancy math algorithms I won’t even pretend to explain here. The Dodgers win the NL West 48.6% of the time, which may be less than half, but it’s still leading the division – Arizona wins only 41.5% of the time. They also have likelihoods for the wild card, but let’s not kid ourselves, it’s going to be the division title or bust here. (Oddly enough, the Nationals, who are on pace for a 61-101 record, win the NL East .0006% of the one million simulations. What happened in those simulations? Did they poison the water supply of the Mets and Phillies? Did the Confederacy secede from the Union and take the Marlins and Braves?)

On to some trade rumor updates. Despite all the fur that’s been flying around here and elsewhere about Jack Wilson, Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says “not so fast“:

The Pirates expect to keep shortstop Jack Wilson beyond Major League Baseball’s July 31 trading deadline, despite overtures from several teams in the past week.

And he might stay a lot longer than that.

The front office’s thinking, as outlined by internal sources yesterday, is that Wilson is valuable to the Pirates not only because of his fine performance in the past year-plus but also because his departure would leave a gaping hole, as was painfully evident when he missed two months to injury this season. Top shortstop prospect Brian Bixler has recovered nicely with Class AAA Indianapolis after a rough debut in Pittsburgh this spring, but he is not of Wilson’s pedigree. And no one else is on the horizon.

Management also values that it can retain Wilson for two more seasons, with a guaranteed $7.25 million next season and a club option of $8.4 million for 2010. That is well within market range for a shortstop of Wilson’s experience, and management has repeatedly stated that it is under no financial constraints to move any current contract.

Put that together, and the general view is this: Why give up Wilson when a comparable replacement must be acquired by next spring, at the latest?

That’s a little disappointing, but not crushing, I suppose. I thought Wilson was a good stop-gap solution, but hardly someone I’ve been drooling over. Really, I’d love for Nomar to nail down the job, and even if he hits as poorly as last year that’s still an improvement over Berroa and Maza, but there’s absolutely no one who thinks he’ll stay healthy all year, is there? Kovacevic also offers one other nugget:

Los Angeles initiated the inquiry about Wilson last week and was the first team to do so this year. Those talks, which never involved any player on the Dodgers’ major league roster, never got very far and seemed dormant, if not dead, late yesterday afternoon.

That’s a relief, if true. Hopefully all the hand-wringing over Matt Kemp getting dealt was just overblown media speculation. On the other hand, Tony Jackson has some very intriguing news about the Dodgers’ involvement in getting C.C. Sabathia:

Shortly after the Milwaukee Brewers finalized a trade for reigning American League Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia on Monday, the Daily News learned that sometime in the days leading up to that deal, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt nixed a trade that would have brought Sabathia to Los Angeles, along with Indians third baseman Casey Blake and utility man Jamey Carroll.

McCourt’s reason was financial, according to multiple industry sources. But that is a charge McCourt flatly denied.

I’m not sure I’m buying the financial part, because all three Indians are free agents at the end of the season. As the Daily News story says, they’re owed somewhere between $8-9 million for the remainder of 2008, and for a trade that would bring a Cy Young Award winner, are we really that hard up against the cap? Especially when you consider that obviously, some amount of salary would have to have gone back to Cleveland.

Of course, I shudder to think what the Dodgers would have had to give up for Sabathia, Blake, and Carroll. It’s well-known that the Indians’ #1 priority was to get a young power hitter, which they did in Matt LaPorta, so Matt Kemp is almost a certainty to be included. I can’t even imagine who else; assuming that Martin, Billingsley, and Kershaw are completely untouchable, and that it’s unlikely that both Kemp and Ethier would be moved in the same deal, I’m guessing.. James McDonald, Chin-Lung Hu, and Andy LaRoche? At the very least? Probably Delwyn Young too, since he really ought to be a DH in the American League? That’s a pretty steep price, and I’m just completely speculating here.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

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