I had written an entire post about how the “stars and scrubs” makeup of this team had really shone through tonight, as Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Jerry Sands nearly singlehandedly won the game without much help from the subpar rest of the roster.
That was going to be the idea…and then Kenley Jansen set fire to the 9th inning, leading to yet another crushing loss in what’s shaping up to be a long season of them. I want to get all torn up about this, but I just can’t. This isn’t a team that’s going anywhere good, so what’s another loss at this point? If anything, this just illustrates the long-held point that Jonathan Broxton isn’t the only one who can run into troubles in the 9th inning. You can say that Jansen got squeezed by the ump, and maybe he did, but it wasn’t the ump who allowed three hits in addition to a hit batter, and it wasn’t the ump who ignored the baserunners. I still have a very high opinion of Jansen’s future, but I guess we can’t forget that he’s still only a 23-year-old pitcher who’s less than two years off his position change.
Or maybe this season is just cursed. Whichever.
The original post remains below, because it was true for 8.2 innings.
We’ve long known that the current edition of the Dodgers were a team comprised of a small amount of top players and a larger amount of sub-replacement players, with much of the middle class being wiped out by injury. Never was that more evident than in tonight’s game, where the two big hits were delivered by Matt Kemp & Andre Ethier, and Clayton Kershaw delivered six one-run innings, numbers that could have even been better for him on both sides.
Kemp started off the fun with a no-doubter solo homer off of Houston starter Bud Norris in the second, the 100th of his career, which makes him the 25th Dodger to reach the century mark. He later added his 13th steal, against just three times being caught. That was all the Dodgers would get until a two-out rally the 7th inning, though Houston had tied it in the third largely due to a Bill Hall double which Jay Gibbons, subbing for Ethier in right field, really should have come down with.
Norris retired Gibbons and Jerry Sands to start the seventh, then allowed Dioner Navarro to hit a ground-rule double. Though allowing Navarro to hit an any-rule anything should have been a pretty clear sign that Norris needed to be removed immediately, he stayed in to intentionally walk Russ Mitchell to bring up Kershaw with two on and two out.
At this point, Kershaw had thrown just 84 pitches and had cruised through three clean innings after allowing the run in the third, and Don Mattingly had a decision to make. If this sounds familiar to you at all, it’s because he had a very similar decision to make in Kershaw’s last start out, choosing to remove him in the 5th inning with the bases loaded. That choice backfired immediately when Juan Castro couldn’t get the run home and later came back to haunt him when Lance Cormier was forced into a tie game in the 9th inning, and we all remember how that ended.
This situation was slightly different, as Kershaw had already gone six innings rather than five and it was a tie game rather than a deficit, but Mattingly made the same choice – removing Kershaw early in favor of the pinch-hitter. Here’s where the difference comes in: it’s one thing to lift Kershaw earlier than you’d like so you can hit the worst hitter in baseball… and entirely another thing to lift Kershaw earlier than you’d like so you can bring in Andre Ethier.
Ethier swung and missed at each of the first two pitches he saw before slapping a base hit to center field, scoring Navarro with the go-ahead run. (Mitchell also came in when center fielder Michael Bourn had difficulty picking up the ball, being charged with an error). That put the Dodgers up 3-1, a lead they would not relinquish until, well.. you know.
As you can see from the chart at right, courtesy FanGraphs, only three Dodger hitters contributed positive WPA (Win Percentage Added) scores tonight. (Yes, I see that James Loney is ever so slightly above the zero mark at .002. His one hit was a 40-foot swinging bunt up the third base line. It came in the midst of three groundouts in the sixth inning. I’m making an executive decision to ignore it.) Those three names? Obvious Star Andre Ethier, Obvious Star Matt Kemp… and Emerging Star Jerry Sands, who may not have had a hit tonight but walked three times, part of a streak in which he reached base nine times in ten plate appearances. Sands’ May line now stands at .289/.396/.467. That’s quality production on any team. On this one? It makes him a coming star.