I spent half of this game trying to figure out who was more impressive, Derek Lowe or Andre Ethier. In the end, I couldn’t really decide (nor could ESPN, as you can see to the right. That’s not “Top performers” of the Arizona/Los Angeles game, that’s from the top of their entire MLB page. Yeah, Brett Myers was included too. Screw Brett Myers. Thank you, Photoshop.)
Let’s start with Lowe. You want to talk about a guy who comes up big when it counts? I’d say the fact that in his two biggest starts of the season, back-to-back against the division leader, laying down fourteen scoreless innings (giving up just six hits) counts pretty well. That makes a 1.02 ERA over his last five starts, which is, as they say, pretty goddamn good. Tonight, on national television, with Chavez Ravine simply rocking, Derek Lowe came up huge. It took him only 101 pitches to allow just 4 batters to reach, and he almost certainly could have continued for the shutout, though Joe Torre chose not to stretch him that far. This has really been his deal for his entire career, though. Remember when Paul DePodesta got panned for signing Lowe to a 4-year, $36 million deal because in Derek’s last year in Boston, he was awful (5.42 ERA in 2004)? It’s easy to forget now, but Lowe was the winning pitcher in every single series of Boston’s historic run to the championship that year. It’s funny to say about a guy who’s got such a reputation for being a headcase, but when the pressure is on… he is nails. And say what you will about DePodesta, that contract was a flat-out steal. It’s going to be pretty interesting to see what happens in the offseason when Lowe is a free agent, because I would love to have him back – but he’ll be 36, and it’s likely Scott Boras is going to want to get him a huge deal to make up for the below-market one he signed last time. Anyway, there’s plenty of time to deal with that in November. For now? Buy that man a beer.
Moving on… hey, remember when this team needed power and wouldn’t let Andre Ethier play? Yeah, me neither. Let’s try to pretend that never happened, like Godfather III and Rocky V. (Sidenote: Rocky V was so bad that even the next Rocky movie [Rocky Balboa] pretended it never happened.) It’s hard to even come up with the right way to describe how good Ethier’s been lately except to say that Manny Ramirez is OPSing about 10 billion, and he’s not even the hottest hitter on this team right now. As Tony Jackson points out, he’s only hitting 13-18 (.722) over his last five games. I’m not kidding when I say that I can’t even do that in video games. So yeah, there’s the 5-5 performance, and there’s the second near-miss of a cycle in a week. But I think what I enjoyed the most was how hard he tried to turn that double into a triple. Sure, he probably was going to be out at third whether he slipped or not, but tell me that you didn’t jump up and scream at the television when you saw that ball drop in the outfield and Ethier rounding second? Of course you did. Also, don’t look now, but he’s reached 20 homers and is slugging .511. That, by the way, is good for 37th in MLB and is higher than well-paid famous people like Vladimir Guerrero, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Howard, Jason Giambi, and Carlos Beltran.
I don’t know if this can be overstated, so I’m going to say it again. Andre Ethier has a higher slugging percentage than Vladimir Guerrero, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Howard, Jason Giambi, and Carlos Beltran. His OPS of .843 is currently good for 26th in baseball among outfielders - that is to say, there’s more than one team that doesn’t even have one outfielder as good as Andre Ethier. How in the hell did the Dodgers let him get jerked around on the bench for so much of the season? (Update: since I wrote this earlier today, ESPN now has him ranked as 19th, rather than 26th. Good for Andre. Bad for me. Thanks, guys!)
Let’s take a look at Saturday’s game, which couldn’t possibly be bigger. Winner takes first place? Check. National television? Check. Pitching matchup that dreams are made of? You bet. One thing to keep an eye out for, however, is whether Casey Blake is in the starting lineup. He was hit by a pitch in the 7th inning on Friday, and was replaced by Chin-Lung Hu the following inning. Now, it’s likely that in a blowout game, the move was made for defensive purposes – but you could also (somewhat) see him point to his arm in the dugout. Hopefully, nothing serious.
Saturday: Brandon Webb vs. Chad Billingsley.
Advantage: Billingsley. Yeah, if you’re going to the game, you’re certainly not going to want for lack of star pitching. Billingsley actually has a little better ERA so far (3.13 vs 3.19) and strikes out more batters, but the reason that he doesn’t get mentioned in the Cy Young hype while Webb basically has it locked up is because the voters usually only care about wins, which as we know are the worst possible way to evaluate a pitcher – and while Webb is 19-5, Billingsley is only 13-10. To be fair, Webb does have a more impressive WHIP of 1.172 vs. Billingsley’s 1.315.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’m giving the edge to Billingsley here, and you’re saying it’s because I’m a homer. To that I say: yes, yes I am. But that’s not the reason here. Just like with Dan Haren coming into Friday’s game, Webb has been terrible lately. Over the last month, he’s got an ERA of 4.66 in 5 starts, which is decidedly un-Cy-like. (That may be the weirdest word I’ve ever typed/made up.) If you take a closer look at his gamelog, however, his troubles have only come recently. After ripping off a streak of 9 games in which he didn’t allow more than 3 earned runs, Webb has now allowed 12 earned runs in just 8 innings in his last two starts. Even better, his most recent debacle was against these very same Dodgers on August 31st, in which he gave up 8 runs in just 3.1 innings. And who caused the damage? That’s right! Red-hot Andre Ethier took him out of the yard, as did Casey Blake. I’m liking this matchup already.
As for Billingsley, let’s forget all the “going to be an ace someday” talk, and just get to “is currently an ace.” He’s given up 3 earned runs or less in 14 of his last 15 starts, and the only reason he’s got such a mediocre win/loss record with a stat like that is thanks to the often mediocre offense behind him. More importantly, his last start was against Arizona last weekend on August 30th, and unlike Webb, Billingsley was effective: allowing just two runs over seven innings.
I hate to get too confident here, because Webb could revert to his Cy Young form at any time, and because it was only a week ago that the Dodgers were coming off two brutal sweeps in Philadelphia and Washington. But it’s getting really, really difficult not to get excited over what we’re seeing out there.
- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness