Hate to Say I Told You So…

I do believe I told you so…

Being down 2-0 in the NLCS isn’t a good situation, but you couldn’t ask for more fortuitous circumstances. You’ve got a starter who dominated the Phillies, and you’re going against a guy who’s never had any success against your boys – plus, it’s back at Dodger Stadium, which is huge in a series where the home team has won all ten games this year.

Starter who dominated the Phillies: check. Okay, five hits and two runs over six innings isn’t quite “domination”, but Hiroki Kuroda was more than effective tonight.

Going against a guy who’s never had any success against your boys: check. I was incredibly confident that the Dodgers would be able to hit Jamie Moyer, especially with the career numbers Manny and Nomar had against him coming in, combined with Moyer’s lousy past against LA. But even I never saw this coming. Moyer got four outs and gave up six runs, including a triple by Blake DeWitt that scored three and a solo homer by Rafael Furcal. If this series makes it to seven games, I honestly cannot fathom how you let Moyer back out there again if you’re Charlie Manuel.

The home team has won all ten games this year: Make it eleven! Seriously, this is getting a little out of control. If the Dodgers happen to win games 4 and 5 to go back to Philadelphia up 3-2, we’ll all be completely thrilled – and rightfully so. But in the same breath, how confident would you be that the Phillies are taking games 6 and 7? 100%? 120%?

You know, in reviewing this game, I was going to do a “good things/bad things” split. But then I realized, there’s almost nothing to criticize here. Kuroda, as I said above, did everything you could ask of him, and Cory Wade and Jonathan Broxton followed by allowing just two hits over three scoreless innings. It was nice to see DeWitt get that huge hit (his first of the series, although his 6 RBI are third behind Manny and Nomar), and seeing Furcal getting on base three times and parking that home run could be an incredible sign that his timing is coming back, and reminded me so much of how much we’d missed his bat at shortstop.

Finally, since it seems to be the topic du jour, I’ll quickly address the whole bench-clearing silliness. There was a whole lot made of Chad Billingsley not throwing at any Phillies after Brett Myers did so in Game 2, with Bill Plaschke going so far as to imply that it was the reason for the loss. Personally, I felt the whole thing was overblown – intimidation is a lot less important than getting the job done, and that’s not the reason that Billingsley was terrible. But with Russell Martin being used as a pincushion in Game 3, something had to be done, and I give Kuroda credit for throwing at Shane Victorino to protect his batterymate (sidenote: do they do that in Japan? I have no idea, and I can’t quite decide if the culture of honor in Japan would make that more likely or less likely. Let me know in the comments if you happen to know). That said, I do completely agree with Victorino – you don’t throw at a guy’s head. Pop him in the ribs if you have to, but keep it below the neck. Although Russell Martin on FOX just now said, “it wasn’t at his head. It was over his head.” That’s a tight line to tread! Either way, it was good to see some emotion from the team.

Be sure to check the morning’s LA Times for Plaschke saying that Kuroda throwing at Victorino was the reason for the win, even though the Dodgers had already put up 6 on the board at the time.

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

NLCS Game 3: Help Us Hiroki, You’re Our Only Hope

Well, except for the fact that the Dodgers have killed Phillies starter Jamie Moyer. That should help too. I’m talking about the players that make up the current Dodgers, by the way, which means that most of their at-bats against Moyer have come as members of the Red Sox (Manny, Nomar) Indians (Blake) or Royals (Berroa). Why is that such an important distinction to say “players on the Dodgers” rather than just “against the Dodgers”? Because while it’s true that Moyer is 3-5 with a 5.19 ERA in 11 career starts against LA, I hardly think that it’s useful for tonight’s game to know that Moyer lasted only 2/3 of an inning in giving up 5 runs in his first start against the Dodgers… on July 10, 1986.

Actually, wait, this could be fun. Check out the starting lineup for the Dodgers on that day against Jamie Moyer. I like to think I’m a pretty big Dodger fan, and even I’d never heard of two of these guys:

1. Bill Russell RF (RF?!)
2. Steve Sax 2B
3. Ken Landreaux LF
4. Enos Cabell 1B
5. Jeff Hamilton 3B
6. Reggie Williams CF
7. Mariano Duncan SS
8. Jack Fimple C
9. Orel Hershiser P

So you can probably understand why I don’t really consider his performance against those Dodgers relevant. And man, no wonder that team lost 89 games, rolling out lineups like that – though to be fair, it does seem that regular starters Mike Scioscia, Greg Brock, Bill Madlock, and Mike Marshall all had the day off that day. Among Moyer’s teammates in the Chicago starting lineup that day? Davey Lopes, Ryne Sandberg, and Gary Matthews. Senior. That team also included Ron Cey and 20-year-old Greg Maddux.

Anyway, back to the present. Moyer didn’t face the 2008 Dodgers, but he sure did get destroyed in one start against them last year, giving up 10 runs in 5.1 innings on July 16. Furcal, Pierre, and Nomar each collected two hits, and Kemp and Kent each took one to the seats. The current Dodgers have had some pretty decent success against the soft-tossing senior citizen, led as always by Manny being Manny, who’s brutalized Moyer with 10 homers in 53 at-bats and a line of .340/.417/.962. No, that SLG % is not a typo. Nomar, who’s going to get the start at 1B tonight, has also done well with a .417/.432/.722 over 36 at-bats, while Kent has an .846 OPS and Kemp has the 2007 homer among his three at-bats.

The problem, however, is Casey Blake. Blake’s running into the lethal combination of “can’t hit this pitcher” (.118 BA in 17 at-bats) and “can’t hit any pitcher” (4 hits in the playoffs, hitting just .200 over the last month). Personally, I might rather have Nomar at 3B rather than 1B tonight, although that sounds incredibly unlikely to happen. I can’t express enough how much I don’t want to see Casey Blake resigned next year.

On the other side, Hiroki Kuroda has been excellent lately and outstanding against the Phillies. He made two starts against them in August and allowed just four hits in 13 innings, striking out 12. Keep an eye out for Chase Utley, who got two of the hits, but Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Pat Burrell went a combined 0-16 against our man Hiroki.

Being down 2-0 in the NLCS isn’t a good situation, but you couldn’t ask for more fortuitous circumstances. You’ve got a starter who dominated the Phillies, and you’re going against a guy who’s never had any success against your boys – plus, it’s back at Dodger Stadium, which is huge in a series where the home team has won all ten games this year. Must win? Hell yeah, it is, not just because of the repercussions if you don’t, but because if you can’t win with the deck stacked so heavily in your favor, you don’t deserve to advance at this level anyway.

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

Brett Myers Just Beat Chad Billingsley Like…

…well, you know. No, Myers didn’t come up with all eight Phillies hits that Billingsley allowed, although it may have seemed that way. Oh sure, there’s plenty of other blame to be passed around for today’s debacle. Matt Kemp’s error in the second inning didn’t help any, although two runs were already in by that point. Plus as we saw in the first game, the Dodger situational hitting was awful (see: scoring only one run after having 2nd and 3rd with no outs in the 2nd; Blake DeWitt striking out with the bases loaded in the 3rd).
And my god, the bottom of the third inning. After Billingsley allowed four of five to reach, he was pulled for Chan Ho Park, who promptly threw gas on the fire, allowing a two RBI triple that only made Chad’s final line look even worse. Joe Beimel (finally making his playoff debut) walked each of the two men he saw, and James McDonald – he of all of 4 MLB games – mercifully struck out Pat Burrell to end the 27 minute debacle.
Back to the point, though. While everyone except for Manny Ramirez and James Loney (two hits and a walk with a nice play to get Burrell at the plate) has to shoulder some of the blame, Billingsley clearly did not give this team a chance to win. Really, allowing two hits and three RBI to a pitcher who’d had six hits in the last three years sums up the game pretty well. Billingsley allowed only two hits to the big guns of Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley – yet let the pitcher and .219-hitting catcher, Carlos Ruiz, collect three hits and four RBI. Hell, Myers didn’t even pitch all that well, but the inability to get him out is really what ruined Billingsley on this night.
Oddly enough, it’s not like Billingsley didn’t have his stuff. Believe it or not, of the seven outs he got, five came via strikeout. It just seemed to me – and I make no pretenses that I’m some sort of pitching coach who can pick these things up on TV, because I’m not – that his location was off by a touch. By that I don’t mean he was wild, because he only walked two unintentionally, but that he was getting too much of the plate. His raw stuff is good enough that he was still able to strike out five guys, but not so good that a lineup like the Phillies isn’t going to start hitting him around if he’s over the plate too much. You just never thought it’d be the opposing pitcher to do it.
Yeah, the Dodgers showed signs of life after Manny’s three-run homer in the fourth halved the lead, and damned if I haven’t completely run out of things to say about that guy. Casey Blake came up as the tying run in the top of the 7th, as did Kemp and Nomar in the 9th, but you never really felt as though the Dodgers were actually going to make it back.
One amazingly huge bright point, if not so much for this postseason as for next year and beyond: James McDonald. The kid – he’s still only 23, although Clayton Kershaw has skewed our perception of “kid” a little – was a last-minute addition to the playoff roster after getting all of five September innings in four games. Almost exclusively a starter in the minors, even his relief appearances for the Dodgers came with him entering the game at the start of an inning. But tonight, having not pitched in two weeks, he comes in as the fourth pitcher of the third inning of NLCS Game 2… with the bases loaded, Phillies fans going nuts, and slugger Burrell at the plate in Philly’s bandbox park. Recipe for disaster, right? But no! McDonald strikes out Burrell, and proceeds to go three more scoreless innings, striking out four others and giving up just two hits. What an absolutely phenomenal effort by this kid, and he’s really thrown his hat into the ring for a starting rotation gig next year – he’s unscored upon in 8.1 MLB innings.
Look, it’s not over yet. Being down 2-0 is rough, but with three straight games at home after tomorrow’s off day, there’s still hope. You’ve still got Hiroki Kuroda against Jamie Moyer on Sunday, and Manny absolutely owns Moyer. I said that today’s game wasn’t decisively a “must win”, and I meant it. Game 3, down 2-0? Uh, yeah. That’s an asbo-freaking-lutely must win. One thing in our favor? The home team has now won all ten games between the two this year. By that logic the Dodgers will win the next three straight! Whoooo! And then lose Games 6 and 7 back in Philadelphia. Damn it.
No pressure, Hiroki!

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

Well, That Didn’t Go So Well

Despite the picture, I can’t pin this one on Derek Lowe entirely. He was humming along through five scoreless innings, and got another easy groundout to start the 6th. Of course, Rafael Furcal threw that ball away, and the next batter, Chase Utley, deposits a ball in the seats. After a Ryan Howard groundout, Pat Burrell puts another one out, and that was the end of Lowe and the Phillies’ scoring. You could make the point that neither ball gets out of a more legitimate ballpark, but that’s neither here nor there since the Dodgers are hitting in the same stadium. You can’t completely give Lowe a pass, but Dodgers pitching shut down one of the best offenses in the game for 8 innings, allowed just 3 runs, and kept Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Ryan Howard, and Jayson Werth all without hits. Coming into the game, most of us would have taken that.

No, the problem tonight was the offense, or depending on how you look at it, Cole Hamels was outstanding. After back-to-back doubles in the first inning by Andre Ethier and Manny, the Dodgers never once could put together more than one hit in an inning, and never came close to putting a rally together. Much of that, of course, is due to Hamels, who might possibly be the most talented starter remaining in the playoffs.

If there is a bright side to this, it’s knowing that the Dodgers pitching can hang with the Phillies offense, and that it took the Philly ace to eke out a one run victory. But that sure does put a lot of pressure on Chad Billingsley tomorrow.

And don’t forget! It’s a 1pm PST start! I don’t want to hear about work or school – it’s the NLCS. If you miss this, you’d better be dead, or in jail. And if you’re in jail… break out!

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

NLCS Game 1: Might Want to Mute Your TV

Hey, remember yesterday when I talked about how awful out-of-touch broadcaster Tim McCarver slammed Manny as being “despicable”, which bothered me less because of what Manny did and more because of how bad Tim McCarver is at his job? Right. Well, I love it when people who are better at this than I am step up to completely eviscerate ol’ Timmy. Will Carroll Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus comes through in the clutch to write one of the best responses I’ve ever read, and while it’s too long to post the whole thing here, believe me when I say that this taste is just the tip of the iceburg of truth. 

When he played, Ramirez killed the league. He hit .347/.473/.587 in July. His OBP led the team, and his SLG led all Red Sox with at least 25 AB. The Sox, somewhat famously, went 11-13 in July. Lots of people want you to believe that was because Manny Ramirez is a bad guy. I’ll throw out the wildly implausible idea that the Sox went 11-13 because Ortiz played in six games and because veterans Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek has sub-600 OPSs for the month.

Four days before he was traded, Manny Ramirez just about single-handedly saved the Red Sox from getting swept by the Yankees, with doubles in the first and third innings that helped the Sox get out to a 5-0 lead in a game they had to win to stay ahead of the Yankees in the wild-card race.

If all of the above is “refusing to play,” I would sincerely like to see what “trying” looks like. It would be entertaining to see a player post a .600 OBP or .800 SLG.

Sheehan goes on to refute McCarver’s claim that Manny is now “doing things that even Manny doesn’t do, like scoring on a double to right field from first base.” Thanks to the wonderment of stats, we’ve reached the point in human achievement where we can know these things for sure! And as Sheehan points out… Manny was on first when a double was hit to right field twice as a Dodger this year. He scored once. With the Red Sox? The identical two opportunities, with one run scored. So not only is McCarver factually wrong…

Of course, Tim McCarver doesn’t care, and that’s why this is important. See, come Thursday night, Tim McCarver is going to look into a camera and tell tens of millions of people what he thinks about Manny Ramirez. He’s probably going to revisit this theme any number of times over the following couple of weeks, especially if the Dodgers reach the World Series. When he does, there isn’t going to be a graphic showing Ramirez’s stats during the timeframe when he was supposedly being such a detriment to his team. There won’t be a cutaway to Joe Sheehan in the studio pointing out that Ramirez outplayed most of his teammates and carried two or three of their carcasses while not getting the three-day paid vacation they got. We won’t hear Joe Buck come over the top of McCarver and point out that Ramirez played nearly every day in July.

It will just be McCarver making fact-free assertions, and America listening. That’s wrong.

I apologize to BP for copying and pasting more of that than I really should have, but I couldn’t help myself. The combination of “Tim McCarver is awful” + “actual facts proving McCarver is awful” = MSTI being giddy.

* On to actual news! To no one’s surprise, Hong-Chih Kuo has replaced Takashi Saito on the playoff roster. Losing Saito is a bummer, to be sure, but if he’s not going to be any more effective than he was in the NLDS it makes sense. I hate to think about it right now, with the NLCS looming… but there has to be a good chance that his appearance against the Cubs was the last time we’ll ever see him, isn’t it? We’ll get to that in the offseason. As for Kuo, we’ve been over how important he is numerous times here so I won’t rehash it again. Glad to see he’s back – he’s going to be a huge part of this series.

* Bitter Angels fan Randy Youngman of the OC Register wonders if the Dodgers would be the worst team to ever win a World Series, thanks to their lousy record. Randy, I don’t deny that the mediocre NL West played a large part in getting here – I’ve said that many times. But come on, have you been watching this team at all? You really think that the team you’re watching in the playoffs – the team with Manny, Furcal, Blake, etc – is in any way similar to the team that was giving so much playing time to Pierre, Jones, Berroa, a fading DeWitt and an injured Penny in May? I like to think that if this team hadn’t lost its Opening Day pitcher, All-Star closer, All-Star shortstop, and two third basemen in the same spring training game, things might have been a little different. The 2008 Dodgers won fewer regular season games than, say, the 1988 Dodgers. But I don’t think I even need to go into the stats to say that the postseason 2008 Dodgers would destroy the ’88 crew, who rightly could have been called one of the worst teams ever to win.

* Quick and dirty NLCS Game 1 preview: both pitchers come in on a helluva roll. We all know that Lowe’s last 9 regular season starts involved only an 0.84 ERA, but Cole Hamels was good too with a 2.37. They each won their only NLDS start, and Hamels was phenomenal: 2 hits over 8 scoreless innings. Career, both have been tough on the opposition (Lowe vs. Phillies batters, just a .598 OPS against in 151 at-bats; Hamels vs. Dodgers hitters, just a .497 OPS in 61 at-bats). In the Phillies’ favor is this: Lowe gave up 3 runs in 6.1 innings in his only start against Philly this season, while Hamels allowed just 4 runs in 14 innings against LA. Also, for all of the talk about the bandbox of Citizens Bank Park, Hamels has almost no appreciable home/road split – his stats are nearly identical. Oddly for a lefty, fellow southpaws hit him harder than righties do, to the tune of 163 points of OPS. I suppose that’d explain why Loney and DeWitt are each getting the start, rather than giving righties Nomar and Kent a shot.

* Hey, got an extra $25,000 lying around? Buy Manny’s 1967 Lincoln Continental! Only 73 miles, and it looks like Dodger Blue to me.

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