Sun Is Shining In The Sky…

…there ain’t a cloud in sight.
It’s stopped raining,
Everybody’s out and playing

That’s right: Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness – the only Dodgers blog where you can get musical references as varied as the Sex Pistols to House of Pain and now to Electric Light Orchestra. If I may continue…

Hey there, Mr. Blue
you did it right
But soon comes Mr. Night
Creepin’ over
Now his hand is on your shoulder

Now, I look at Mr. Blue and I see a team that’s gone 15-3 over its last 18 games to put a complete stranglehold on the NL West, moving from 4.5 games out to 3.5 up with just 9 games to play. Mr. Blue, you did it right! But soon comes Mr. Night.

There’s a lot of things that can still go wrong for the Dodgers
They lead the National League West by 31/2 games, but like in 1982, nothing is secure.

Couldn’t help yourself, could you, Bill Plaschke? Is it that you just can’t stand the thought of success because it’s so much harder to write articles praising people than bashing them? Believe me – I know it is, but when the team is winning, I’m more than happy to write positive articles. Is it because you’ve so relentlessly bashed everything and anything Dodger-related that if they were to succeed in the face of your protests, it would sort of make it look like… you have no idea what you’re talking about?

No. It couldn’t be that.

Anyway, after quickly recapping how the 1982 Dodgers blew a 3 game lead with 10 to play to Joe Torre’s Atlanta Braves, Plaschke moves on to the meat, listing nine things that still could go wrong. I love articles in a list format, it makes things so easy on me.

Cory Wade’s arm: After retiring 24 consecutive hitters, he looked tired Thursday, allowing hits to three consecutive Pirates in nearly blowing the game.

Wade has become Joe Torre’s new Jeff Nelson, an important middle reliever who will be constantly used down the stretch, a kid who “wows” but also makes you wonder.

How many innings has he pitched this late in a season before?

Answer: None.

It’s nice to get a “fail” right off the bat. First of all, Wade didn’t retire 24 consecutive batters, because there were walks involved. He didn’t allow a hit to 24 consecutive batters, which is a small yet important difference. Secondly, Wade hadn’t allowed a hit to 24 consecutive batters! This kid has been absolutely a revelation this year, posting a 2.32 ERA in a season in which no one expected anything from him other than perhaps a September cup of coffee. We’re going to kill him over one lousy inning? The best part is, I know what you’re saying – “But MSTI, you’ve been railing for weeks about Kershaw going over his innings limit, why doesn’t that apply to Wade?” Part of that is because Cory Wade is 25 and nowhere near as valuable or inexperienced as 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw, but it’s mostly because Wade has pitched fewer innings this season (81.2 combined) than he has in any season since his first year of pro ball in 2004 (99, 133, 92.1, 47, going back from 2007). That’s a good reason too.

Answer: Wade still has plenty of innings left on his arm. Knock it off.

Chad Billingsley’s legs: He has now pitched 45 2/3 innings more than he has ever pitched in a season, every throw placing him on new ground, and how long can he stand?

In his last two starts, he has given up eight runs in 10 2/3 innings.

If that happens in his next two starts, it will be the Dodgers who stumble.

On its face, this is a fair point, because as we’ve already said both he and Kershaw are into new terrority – and I suggested earlier this month that Billingsley get to skip a start or two, which hasn’t happened. But it’s somewhat disingenous to say that “in his last two starts, he has given up eight runs in 10 2/3 innings”, like he’s falling apart. The first of those starts was in Colorado, in which he gave up only 2 runs over 6 innings while getting the victory. You have a problem with that? I sure don’t. Sure, he was lousy in Pittsburgh the other day. It was also the first time in over two months (since July 8th) that he’d given up more than 3 earned runs in a start. I hardly think it’s time to panic.

Derek Lowe’s mortality: As I understand it, that is the only thing keeping him from starting and pitching in each of the last nine games, right?

Darn.

Wait, what? On the list of “things that could still go wrong” Derek Lowe being human is one of them? Setting aside for the moment whether being human is wrong (though, this could explain so much about Plaschke) wasn’t that already settled about 36 years ago? I think this is supposed to be some sort of weird compliment meaning that he wishes Lowe could go every night… but what an odd way to put it.

Matt Kemp’s mind: He has had a terrific summer as a good clubhouse citizen and emerging player.

But he still blunders on the bases — his attempt to steal third with two out in the eighth inning and the score tied Thursday was a doozy.

And the more he struggles on the base paths, it seems the more he struggles at the plate. He has not hit a home run in nearly three weeks, with only two doubles and two runs batted in during that time.

It doesn’t help that he is only four strikeouts shy of the Los Angeles record of 149 set by Billy Grabarkewitz 28 years ago.

A strikeout record is considered so psychologically damaging, some front offices bench players who are close to breaking one.

Um, the Dodgers can’t afford to bench Matt Kemp.

Or putting it another way… Matt Kemp’s hitting .311/.380/.356 over the last two weeks, and even better than that over the last week. Sure looks like he’s heating up to me. So yes, you’ve hit the world’s largest nail on the head – the Dodgers can’t bench Matt Kemp. Congratulations.

Greg Maddux’s umpire: He has two more starts and, let’s face it, he survives only if the plate umpire allows him to survive.

He needs a generous strike zone. But, with the exception of the late Eric Gregg, umpires in big games generally have tight strike zones.

That is only one reason Maddux is a losing postseason pitcher, and an unreliable one in September.

I love how Maddux gets the tag “is a losing postseason pitcher” because his record is a ghastly… 10-11. As if we don’t know how absolutely meaningless wins and losses are for pitchers. It takes all of 10 seconds of research to see that two of those losses came in the 1997 NLCS, where Maddux was absolutely horrible in giving up 2 runs in 13 innings. Or in the 2003 NLDS, where he gave up 2 runs over 6 innings. He sucks!

Also, Greg Maddux career in September (and regular season October games)? 61-48, 3.38 ERA. How unreliable!

Manny Ramirez’s concentration: You never know. You just never know.

Ramirez’s focus can be surreal or spotty, sometimes during the same at-bat, and often during important times of the season.

This is a guy who once batted .412 in the World Series for the Boston Red Sox . . . and also hit .056 in a division series for the Cleveland Indians.

Last month he went nine games without a homer, and the Dodgers won only one of those games.

Currently, he hasn’t hit a homer in a week.

Bench Manny! He’s only hitting .367/.441/.467 over the last week! Boooo! Because somehow, Manny’s only value comes from hitting homers. Not from all the singles and doubles he gets, not from all the times he’s walked, and not from all the value the guys hitting in front of him get in terms of pitches to hit. Manny is Dave Kingman. If he doesn’t homer, he’s useless. Got it.

And not to completely discount his antics in Boston, but the man is playing for a new contract. You don’t think that he’s a little motivated to win a World Series in LA and totally maximize his value?

Russell Martin’s throws: Players are increasingly running on a catcher who seems increasingly arm weary.

Martin has caught more games than anyone in baseball — 143 — and it shows.

He has thrown out only 22% of potential base-stealers, ranking 11th among 14 major league catchers with at least 100 games. This is compounded by some of the slow deliveries of the pitchers, particularly Jonathan Broxton.

With nothing to lose, the San Diego Padres and Giants will be running.

Obviously, running Martin into the ground has been one of our long-running complaints about the season, so I can’t argue this one. Unfortunately, it’s getting to the point where it’s almost too late to do anything about it. But as even Plaschke notes, caught-stealing numbers are almost entirely based on the pitcher, rather than the catcher.

The bench’s splinters: Nobody in the National League is more harmless off the bench in the late innings than the Dodgers.

They are last in the league with only one pinch-hit homer and 16 pinch-hit RBIs.

And if they tell you that this defense-oriented group will be bolstered soon by the veteran bats of Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra, not so fast.

In the last four years in this unfamiliar situation, the two veterans have combined to go five for 26 as pinch-hitters with three RBIs and no extra-base hits.

This is almost entirely the fault of Mark Sweeney though, right? He’s sucked up 73 of those pinch-hitting at-bats. Take him out of the mix, and the batting average leaps 35 points. Besides, I’m not willing to say that having guys like Kent, Nomar, and Pierre off the bench can’t be useful. That’s a pretty good mix of power, defensive flexibility, and speed right there. Either way, if the race is coming down to the bench we’ve got bigger problems.

Those cheating Giants: They stole the signals that led to the 1951 Shot Heard ‘Round the World.

They drowned the base paths that rendered Maury Wills unable to run to a championship.

When they host the Dodgers on the season’s final weekend, if a championship is still at stake, strange things will happen.

Now batting, Barry Bonds.

There’s only one thing to be worried about regarding the Giants, and that’s Tim Lincecum, who the Dodgers might only catch once. You know what will make this point completely moot? Having the NL West clinched before the final series in San Francisco even goes off.

Thanks for being the poo in the fountain, Bill! Just can’t ever enjoy the ride, can you? Although if you see a slightly overweight gray-bearded man rushing the field to take out Manny’s knees with a bat, you’ll know who it is.

* As you’ve probably heard already, the Dodgers have announced that their triple-A affiliate will be moving from Las Vegas, NV to Albuquerque, NM starting in 2009 – restoring an affiliation that had run from 1972-2000.

We here at MSTI are probably more excited about this than just about anyone, because if you’re unaware, the team name “Isotopes” is taken directly from the Simpsons episode “Hungry Hungry Homer”. Clearly, anything that serves to further strengthen the Dodgers/Simpsons relationship is fine by us. Now we just need the official team mascot to be Dancin’ Homer, Ned Colletti to start scouring the American League, the National League and the Negro Leagues for good players – living players! – and for the stadium to start pouring Duff Beer. Duff Beer! Can’t get enough of that wonderful Duff.

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

It’s About Time

Looks like Joe’s finally wising up because believe it or not, Russell Martin’s getting a day off tonight. Not playing third, but a real live day off! We’ll see how late in the game Torre can hold off putting him in, but still, it’s a step in the right direction. Would you believe that Martin hasn’t had a full day off that wasn’t a scheduled team off day since August 7? That’s three weeks ago. I have to take issue with Tony Jackson’s comment on the day off, though:

Martin isn’t slumping, but he needs a day off, and the Dodgers don’t have any day games after night games coming up.

Not slumping? Martin’s put up a .577 OPS over the last week and a .660 mark over the last month. That’s not so much “good” as it is “lousy”, or as we like to put it, “in a slump because Torre’s trying to kill him!”

Oh, and there’s the whole thing about not getting swept by the worst team in baseball. Let’s get on that, too. Like the poster says, I want to believe this team can still overtake Arizona, who’s pretty lousy themselves. I want to. But if you go into Arizona coming off of two consecutive sweeps, including one by the hideously bad Nationals? They’re not making it easy on me.

Also, as of just five minutes ago, per Diamond:

Cory Wade was activated from the disabled list, and Tanyon Sturtze was designated for assignment. The 60-man roster spots Sturtze and Pablo Ozuna free up are earmarked for Scott Proctor and A.J. Ellis.

No surprise here, but I’m still not sure why this had to be put off another day, and why they told Sturtze and then changed their minds. It just put Sturtze in a really awkward position for another day, which sounds a little rotten. Oh well. Thanks for stopping by, Tanyon. Welcome back, Cory. 

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

I Can’t Wait Until Vin Confuses the Blake Third Basemen

Tony Jackson with the scoop:

Blake DeWitt recalled, Pablo Ozuna DFA’d

Didn’t see this one coming. Guess is has something to do with the team’s sagging offense. DeWitt was batting .500 (11 for 22) over a four-game stretch that ended on Saturday, but according to his day-by-day stats on milb.com, he hasn’t played since. Not sure why, but I’ll try to find out. … Ozuna had become nothing more than a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch runner, but I would imagine if he clears waivers, he’ll be back next week. … A few minutes ago, the club also announced that Cory Wade was coming off the DL and that Tanyon Sturtze had been DFA’d, but they quickly retracted that. Not sure why, unless they decided to wait a couple of days because Cory is still sore.

The first move is a win all around, even though I had wanted DeWitt replaced for quite some time before he actually was. Forget DeWitt’s recent hot streak in the minors, because Pablo Ozuna is completely useless, and even a slumping DeWitt has more value than Ozuna does. Also, DeWitt is a superior fielder to Casey Blake, which has the dual value of A) improving the Dodger defense in the late innings and especially B) giving Joe Torre a viable alternative other than Russell Martin at third base. Plus, DeWitt’s been playing a lot of second in the minors, so perhaps we’ll get a chance to see if he can handle the spot and toss his hat into consideration for replacing Jeff Kent next year.

As for the almost move? Well, I have to say I’m impressed that it actually was going to be Sturtze rather than Ramon Troncoso or Jason Johnson. But the fact that they changed their minds worries me. Is Wade still hurt? Everything we had heard pointed to his stay on the DL being the absolute minimum. And if so, why was it announced and then retracted? There’s obviously a lot more to this story, so we’ll have to see.

Bottom line, Blake DeWitt > Pablo Ozuna, and I can’t imagine any argument to the contrary. Good to see the kid back.

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

This Would Be Funny If It Weren’t So Excruciating

Man, it’s one thing to watch your offense struggle… and it’s another thing to watch it struggle like that. You figure you’ve got a perfect opportunity to break out of your offensive malaise, because you’re up against the worst team in baseball, and not only that, the 22-year-old opposing moundsman is something called “Collin Balester“, who I’m not afraid to admit I had never once heard of in my life before tonight. But what do we end up with? One run on seven hits, plus another wasted outstanding pitching performance (Derek Lowe the victim tonight, as it seems he so often is.)

Make no mistake, though. Regardless of what the scoreboard said, the Dodgers were shut out tonight. Their one run came after loading the bases on zero hits – back-to-back hit batters and a walk - and only came around when Nationals catcher Jesus Flores had a brainfart in not tagging Nomar at the plate on Matt Kemp’s fielder’s choice grounder to third.

Really, I can’t describe this any better than Dodgers.com reporter Michael Schwartz put it:

The Dodgers’ run of offensive futility has gotten so bad, they’re inventing new ways not to score runs.

And against the worst team in baseball no less.

Tuesday’s episode included four double plays, 10 runners left on base and a lineout double play with the bases loaded, as the Dodgers dropped their season-high-tying fifth straight game, 2-1, to the Nationals at Nationals Park.

It’s unbelievable. It’s not outright futility, the matching 0-5′s turned in by Kemp and Andre Ethier aside. It’s the complete lack of situational hitting that’s destroying this team right now. Four for thirty-nine with runners in scoring position over the last three games is completely unacceptable. Another opportunity lost, with Arizona on their way to defeat against San Diego. I’m still not ready to jump ship, not when you still have six more games left with the team you’re three games behind. But clearly, this needs to get fixed now. And yeah, I do feel like I’ve written the same post four days in a row.

So what now? Obviously, just hoping guys turn it around isn’t enough, although you can’t really replace the entire lineup, either. Look for some lineup changes for game two, although this quote from Torre seems to say that it’s more about rest than performance:

Torre still hopes to give Kent, catcher Russell Martin and possibly third baseman Casey Blake a breather in Los Angeles’ series against the last-place Nationals to keep them fresh in advance of this weekend’s showdown in Phoenix against the first-place D-backs, who entered Tuesday leading the Dodgers by three games in the National League West.

Kent could use a break, although he is 4-9 lifetime off of Nationals starter Tim Redding. If you’ve read this site at all lately, you know I want to see Martin get a break. Here’s what worries me, though: if Blake takes a seat, is Torre going to put Martin there again? Because we’ve been through this. That’s NOT a break for Martin. Put Nomar at third and Angel Berroa at short, or don’t rest Blake at all. I cannot stress this enough. I also have zero faith that it’s actually going to happen.

Finally, expect to see a roster move before the game, as Cory Wade is expected to be activated off of the disabled list. No word on who leaves town for him… but it has to be Tanyon Sturtze, right? The Dodgers are already carrying 12 pitchers on the roster, so it has to be an arm that goes down. I suppose it could be Ramon Troncoso too, optioned to Vegas until rosters expand, but Sturtze is barely…

Who am I kidding. Of course it won’t be Sturtze.

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

Now Serving Number 42…

I’m out at dinner tonight with some friends from MLB.com.

One checks his phone, and seeing the press release, says to me, “Brad Penny and Cory Wade to the DL.”

I reply, “no surprise on Penny. Too bad about Wade, he’s been really good. Who’d they call up?”

He says, “Eric Stults… and a former Yankee.”

Me, racking my brain for the AAA roster: “Scott Proctor? Mike Myers?”

Him: “Worse… Worcester’s own…”

Me: “Oh my god! Not Tanyon Sturtze! Really?!”

Sturtze is 37 years old, and he actually had to start his 2008 at Jacksonville this year, which is an experience I can’t even imagine for a non-rehabbing pitcher of that age. Look, we all know why he’s here; he’s another one of Joe Torre’s unexplained relief pitcher mancrushes, despite the fact that he was never even very good for the Yankees. In his 3 seasons in New York (2004-06), he was reliably below average, posting ERA’s of 5.47, 4.73, and finally 7.59 in 18 games in 2006 before being shown the door. Sturtze hasn’t been even league average since 2001, and suffered through a brutal 4-18 campaign for the 2002 Devil Rays. Last year, he didn’t even get to taste the majors. He somehow spent time at four different levels of the Atlanta system and put up a glowing 9.53 ERA. He’s at least been better than that this year with a 4.70 ERA at Jacksonville and a 4.13 at Las Vegas, but it’s like that’s very good either. Why him to be the 42nd Dodger we see this year rather than, say, Matt Riley, who’s outperforming him in AAA by a good margin? Why not Mike Myers, who had a 166 ERA+ in 55 games for the Yankees last year and is outperforming Sturtze in the minors this year? It’s not really that I think the last man in the bullpen is going to change the course of the season; it’s that, as we’ve seen with Scott Proctor and Brian Falkenborg, when Joe Torre gets one of his security blanket guys, he tends to put them into high-pressure situations no matter who else is available. And that does worry me.

Speaking of Falkenborg, former Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta - now working in the Padres front office - blogs about him today:

Fortunately for Brian, he has had stints in the big leagues in each of the past five seasons with the Dodgers, Padres, and Cardinals. Brian has always had a good fastball/curveball combination, but his stuff has really exploded in the past year. Typically armed with a 91-93 mph, Brian has been regularly touching 95, 96, and even 97 mph this season out of the bullpen.
Always showing solid command along with his stuff, this year he walked just 2.1 per nine innings and struck out 10.5 per nine innings before getting the call to the big leagues. So far he had pitched just 11.2 innings in the big leagues, giving up 11 hits, four walks, and striking out nine before being placed on outright waivers.

Our scouting reports from both Chris Gwynn and Randy Smith indicate that he has become an aggressive reliever whose fastball has been overpowering at times. We’re excited to have him back in San Diego and anticipate giving him a good look between now and the end of the season.

This blog wasn’t around during the DePodesta holy wars, but if we had been, we’d have been squarely on his side (how anyone can still say that the Penny/LoDuca trade was a bad one is beyond me). But in this case? Sorry Paul. If Falkenborg really had “solid command” and stuff that “has exploded”, he probably wouldn’t have, you know, sucked so much over his career. He’s all yours. But if you want to send us Greg Maddux, that’s fine by me.

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