NLCS Game 5: Billingsley Can’t Give Up More Than One Run Tonight

Cole Hamels vs. Dodgers, 2008
Aug. 12: 7 IP, 2 ER, 5 H
Aug. 23: 7 IP, 2 ER, 5 H
Oct. 9: 7 IP, 2 ER, 6 H

Well if that’s not a clearly defined pattern, I don’t know what is. So when Hamels leaves tonight’s game after seven innings having allowed two runs, the Dodgers had better be up 2-0 or 2-1. No pressure, Chad!

Surprisingly enough, it’s the Phillies fans who seem to be feeling the pressure to finish this off tonight. Check out the thoughts from some Philly blogs (nearly all of which I found, by the way, off of SportsBlogUpdate, which seems to be a pretty useful time saver):

Beerleaguer:

No thanks to finishing off the Dodgers at home. Make it Phils in five.

No thanks to Hiroki Kuroda vs. Brett Myers in Game 6. Myers is still suspect, even though he’s rocked at home, and the Phils haven’t solved Kuroda. No thanks to Derek Lowe on normal rest vs. TBA in Game 7. Jamie Moyer is still a big-game pitcher despite his struggles lately, but Lowe is still a better bet than Moyer or Joe Blanton, despite a third look against the Phils.

The Good Phight:

Big game tonight…

Billingsly is obviously their best pitcher here, but Hamels is better and we have the pitching advantage (though we are in their park).  Kuroda has somehow baffled our hitters repeatedly and Myers has had bad outings in 3 of his last 4 games.  I am not worried, but it is a dsconcerning trend.  Then game 7 is really slanted towards the Dodgers, ESPECIALLY if you believe in momentum (I am mixed on it) cause it means that they beat our two best pitchers and now how Lowe up against our 3/4.

I like to think that the pressure is more on the Dodgers because if they don’t win they, you’re know, done. But whatever. Look, you can make all the historical comparisions to other teams that have come back from being down 3-1 in a LCS (there’s been ten), and you can point to all the current Dodgers that have done it before (Maddux in 1996, Pierre in 2003, Manny/Lowe in 2004, Manny in 2007). That’s fine, and it makes for nice copy in the morning paper. But none of it matters. It’s definitely a cliche to say this, and that’s mostly because it’s so true: only tonight’s game matters. Can Chad Billingsley outduel Cole Hamels? Can the bullpen stop Shane Victorino? Can Joe Torre stay out of his own way? Get past those issues, and then you can worry about a Game 6 later.

Finally, I hate to be a complete downer here, and as I’ve said I refuse to look towards offseason roster moves until this season is over. But just keep tucked away in the small recess of your mind that’s not screaming itself hoarse for the Dodgers that tonight very well could be the last time you see Manny Ramirez (among others, of course) in Dodger blue. Just something to think about.

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

NLCS Game 4: No, Still Not Over It Yet

I’m still pretty bummed about last night’s game, so I’m going to cheer myself up by picking on someone weaker than me. And look, I really don’t mean to turn this into the “FireBillPlaschke” blog (hmm… there’s a thought), but if he’s going to continue publishing things as mind-blowingly stupid as articles titled “Pitching depth does in Dodgers“, then I’m going to have to continue to keep calling him out on it.

You want to give Manny Ramirez five more years and $100 million?

Then you better be able to explain why Frank McCourt should not use that same money to improve the sort of pitching depth that probably just cost them their season.

Bill, did you only start watching this team six days ago? I’m not even going to dig up the stats that show how fantastic the Dodgers pitching staff was all season, because if you’ve been reading this blog at all then you’ve seen me trot these numbers out a thousand times. Remember all those times I said “let’s not go after CC Sabathia, because the pitching is fine and the offense is subpar”? Anyone who’s actually watched the team all year knows that to be true. I don’t even want to waste my time explaining it to you yet again.

If you want to blame someone, blame the organization for having to start Lowe on short rest in the first place. The Dodgers have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, yet don’t have a fourth pitcher for a playoff rotation?

Derek Lowe went five innings and gave up two runs, and retired 12 of 15 after a rough first inning. If anything, people are getting on Joe Torre for taking him out too soon. How exactly was starting Lowe the problem here? Were you even watching the game, Bill? Hell, you know how I feel about your colleague T.J. Simers, and even he’s wondering why Lowe was lifted after five.

The Phillies, starting Joe Blanton, didn’t have this problem. The Dodgers shouldn’t have this problem. This is the night when the absence of Jason Schmidt and Brad Penny finally came back to haunt them. They need an ace starting pitcher more than they need a Manny Ramirez.

Really? You’re bringing out the absence of Jason Schmidt? Who threw exactly zero pitches this season? You really think that if Jason Schmidt was starting this game rather than Derek Lowe – who as we just discussed, was not the problem here – the Dodgers would have won? I almost feel bad taking this article apart because no rational human being wanted to see Schmidt last night. I’d go so far as to venture that even Jason Schmidt didn’t want to see Jason Schmidt.

Also: “They need an ace starting pitching more than they need a Manny Ramirez.” BILL. BILL!! I cannot guarantee strongly enough that if the Dodgers had gone out and gotten Sabathia rather than Manny, they’re not in the NLCS. No question. The pitching was never the problem! They needed offense! I… ah, hell. I’m not going to keep repeating myself.

Lowe’s departure then highlighted another Dodgers issue — veteran bullpen depth.

First up, rookie Clayton Kershaw, making only his third relief appearance of the season. In a one-run NLCS game? A kid who has never pitched in a real game past September?

Kershaw walked the struggling Ryan Howard, gave up a single and bunt and was gone.

Only to be replaced by another guy who wasn’t ready for this role, Chan-Ho Park.

Kershaw went 1.2 scoreless innings in Game 2 – the same game, by the way, in which you yourself praised James McDonald, who has even less experience than Kershaw. He gave up a walk and a single, which obviously isn’t good, but it’s hardly like he came in and allowed four homers.

But what I particularly like here is Bill saying that an issue for the Dodgers is “veteran bullpen depth”, yet then turning around and bashing Chan Ho Park, who’s only 35 years old. How was Park “not ready for this role”? He only made 49 relief appearances this season.

But in the eighth, even after an out by Joe Beimel and a sizzling three outs by lefty Hong-Chih Kuo, the game was given to Cory Wade.

Great kid, great story, dead tired arm. Wade had thrown 33 pitches Sunday night and clearly wasn’t ready for the eighth inning Monday.

Plaschke at his best, glossing over the real story to make up his own point. Take three minutes to go around the Dodgers blogosphere, and you’ll see that the number one complaint everyone has is why Torre took out Kuo after letting him bat for himself in the previous inning. Besides, it’s a bit of a stretch to say that Wade “wasn’t ready” – the homer Victorino hit cleared the wall by about three inches. Hardly a meatball that was crushed.

Anyway, I’m not even sure what Plaschke’s point is here, although that’s a pretty daily occurrence. He’s complaining about the “lack of pitching depth”, but it’s not like the Blue were running Jason Johnson and Tanyon Sturtze out there last night – Kershaw, Kuo, Wade, Broxton, and Park have all been huge parts of one of the best pitching staffs in baseball this year. They didn’t get the job done last night, and that’s painful. Let’s not pretend they’re all worthless stiffs.

Jason Schmidt. Really?!

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

I Can’t Even Talk About This Right Now

There’s been bigger leads blown, and there’s been more jaw-dropping moments. But none, at least not in the last two decades, have been in a game this big, this important. The Dodgers merely had to protect a two run lead over the last five outs, and we’re looking at a brand new series. Not only would it be all knotted up, it would be a tie that –  as much as ties can tilt to one side or another – would be in the Dodgers’ favor, with the momentum at their backs.

Now? Now this club is down three games to one facing a Phillies club that’s got all the momentum and has finally broken the road curse between these two teams. Now the Dodgers have to win three in a row – two in Philly – or pack it up and go home.

Blame Cory Wade if you must. Blame Jonathan Broxton, fine. Ask Russell Martin when he plans to start hitting this series. I know I’d sure like to know why in the hell Joe Torre took out Hong-Chih Kuo in the 8th inning despite letting Kuo bat for himself in the bottom of the 7th, and after Kuo completely dominated the Phillies in the top of the 7th. Because Ryan Howard got a groundball single, that hit just about anywhere else in the infield, is an out? Please.

I need to take a deep breath and step away from this one until tomorrow.

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

NLCS Game 4: Derek Lowe, It’s Time to Shine

I don’t want to linger on this beanball war thing for too long, because I still think far too much of it has been made. That said, I still have to touch on Bill Plaschke’s utterly predictable piece in the LA Times today. I was half kidding yesterday when I said that his article was almost certainly going to be about nothing but how Kuroda picked up the team, but I suppose in retrospect I shouldn’t have been surprised. Plaschke articles are like Mad Libs – simply focus on one topic of debatable importance while ignoring the real story, and make sure that every paragraph is one sentence at most. Anyway, I’m not going to go through the whole thing, because it’s not worth anyone’s time to do so, but a few notes:

So do the Dodgers, who, on a fall evening chilled by the threat of extinction, gathered around his passion and climbed aboard his nerve.

“Gathered around his passion and climbed aboard his nerve”? Bill, are you a sportswriter or a movie producer? This sounds like the tagline to the next awful “generic uplifting story of hope” movie. Seriously, read that sentence again, but use the voice of the “In a world…” guy.

Not shown: Dodgers having put up six runs and basically putting the game out of reach before anything “heroic” Kuroda did.

Restraining hitters while finally retaliating for the pitch that nearly decapitated Manny Ramirez in Game 2,

Shown at right: the pitch that “nearly decapitated Manny Ramirez”, which is obviously so close to his head that he didn’t even have to duck. Or as Joe Buck and Tim McCarver put it on the broadcast, where I clearly just grabbed this screencap from, “That wasn’t even close!” (Buck) and “That was two feet behind him!” (McCarver).

But to make sure Victorino understood him, moments later Kuroda ran over to first base while Victorino was grounding out to first baseman Ryan Howard.

Hey, Ryan Howard got traded to the Dodgers! I know, this is a typo, and not really a huge deal. But come on, Bill. Do I ever make mistakes? Sure. Am I a paid professional with an editor? I am not. How embarrassing.

Afterward, the usually gregarious Victorino refused comment on the incident, while the homecoming Lopes also refused to talk.

Sounds like Victorino’s smarter than we think and just refused to talk to you, Bill, because I certainly saw him on FOX about ten seconds after the final out saying “don’t throw at my head” about fourteen times.

Anyway, enough of discussing the worst writer in Los Angeles sports (I don’t count TJ Simers, since everyone should know by now that nothing he says is to be taken seriously). Game 4! The big story is of course that Derek Lowe is being brought back on three days rest, which would set up the remaining three games to be Chad Billingsley (Game 5), Kuroda (Game 6), and Lowe (Game 7). Due to offdays on Tuesday and Thursday, none of those starts would be on short rest if the series were to make it that far.

Everyone seems to enjoy saying that “sinkerball pitchers are fine to go on short rest, they’re better when they’re tired”, but I don’t know that there’s a whole lot of statistical evidence to back that up. In Lowe’s case, he’s only done it four times in his career, and the numbers are inconclusive, giving up 17 ER in 23 IP. In each of the first three, he went six innings, allowing three, one, and two earned runs respectively – which is fine. But as pointed out by Sons of Steve Garvey today, when he tried it this year against the Angels it didn’t go so well – 10 hits and 7 ER in 5 innings. So we’ll have to see. I think it’s the right move by Torre, because Lowe was without a doubt the best pitcher for LA down the stretch, and he’s been around long enough to not get rattled by the playoffs.

Don’t forget, Lowe wasn’t as bad as you think in Game 1. He was dominant for five innings, had Rafael Furcal throw a ball away in the 6th, and then gave up two homers that A) came off the big-time bats of Chase Utley and Pat Burrell and B) might not have made it out of any other park in the league. So I’m not too worried about him. On the other side, the Phillies throw Joe Blanton. At first glance, his stats aren’t too impressive (4.69 ERA between Oakland and Philadelphia, with a 4.20 Philly-only mark), but he was very good against a dangerous Milwaukee team in the NLDS, striking out 7 and allowing just 1 run in 6 innings. Blanton went twice against the Dodgers in 2008, and just like everyone else on both sides, was good at home (1 ER in 6 IP) and lousy on the road (4 ER in 5 IP). Good thing this one’s in Dodger Stadium!

Also, I really love getting to say this in every game preview: Manny Ramirez owns this pitcher. It’s not quite Moyer-levels of domination, but Manny’s seen Blanton 25 times and put up a line up of .560/.600/.720. Is there anyone he can’t hit? Things I don’t enjoy having to say in every game preview include “Casey Blake cannot hit this guy”, and I really mean it this time. One single in 21 career at-bats? That’s more than “this guy has your number.” That’s “this guy has your number, your car, and your wife.”

Should be a fun one tonight. How many times do you think FOX will show the beanball replays? 25? 80? Buck and McCarver should be plenty pleased with themselves, I’d think.

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