Hells Bells in Los Angeles?

Not that this isn’t an idea that hasn’t already been kicked around for months, but Yahoo’s Tim Brown says that the Dodgers have actually acted upon it

The Los Angeles Dodgers have offered Trevor Hoffman a one-year contract with a club option for 2010, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.

Hoffman, the all-time saves leader, also has discussed a contract with the Milwaukee Brewers, and is likely to have received a formal offer from them, as well.

Discarded by the San Diego Padres, Hoffman is thought to prefer Southern California, having spent 15 ½ of his 16 big-league seasons in San Diego.

TrevorHoffman_2006_002.jpgNow, let me say this: I don’t believe the Dodgers need a closer, at least not in the sense that they need a starting pitcher or needed to get rid of Andruw Jones. Despite the likely losses of Joe Beimel & Takashi Saito and the already-gone Chan Ho Park, the Dodgers still return their top three relievers in terms of WXRL – Cory Wade, Hong-Chih Kuo, and Jonathan Broxton. Not only that, Ramon Troncoso (who was adequate in his time up last year) is tearing up winter ball (2.25 ERA, 11/1 K/BB in 16 innings) and youngsters Scott Elbert and James McDonald, who both showed flashes in their limited time in the bigs in 2008, are each likely to contribute. Yeah, losing Saito hurts, but no one knows if he’s healthy anyway, and the club was successful without him for most of last year as it was. The point is, the Dodgers pen is strong, and despite the unfounded worry over Broxton as the closer, doesn’t require a major upgrade.

That said, make no mistake – even though closer isn’t a huge need in my book, it’s never a bad idea to upgrade the bullpen if the price and situation is right. Trevor Hoffman might be 41 years old, and he might be coming off his highest ERA since 1995, but he’s still got it. In yet another example of why ERA isn’t always a foolproof method of evaluation, note that despite his ERA jumping nearly a full run between 2007-08 to 3.88, his WHIP decreased markedly (his 3rd lowest in the last 8 years, and actually lower than his career average) and his K rate jumped back up to one per inning. Even better, he got stronger as the season went on, which is always a worry for old players. After a lousy first half (5.08 ERA) he was dominant after the break, allowing just 10 hits in 17 innings for a 1.59 ERA. Oddly enough, unlike every other San Diego pitcher ever, he was much more successful away from PetCo Park.

As I said, I think the bullpen would be just fine without Hoffman, and I have confidence that Broxton can get the job done. But I’d be more than happy to add Hoffman and push everyone back. Then you’ve got Broxton being the best setup man in the league, and Wade & Kuo being a deadly 1-2 punch that you can insert whenever you need. How great does that top 4 sound, and we haven’t even gotten to Troncoso, Elbert & McDonald yet?

So let’s get this done. There’s no word on whether Milwaukee’s offer is superior, but unless they’re not even close, it shouldn’t matter. Hoffman’s a SoCal native, even before pitching for San Diego, and has stated he’d prefer to stay near home. Add in that his brother Glenn is a former Dodger player and coach, and that the Dodgers are much better positioned to compete in the weak NL West than the Brewers (sans Sabathia and Sheets) are against the Cubs in the Central, and there’s no downside here. Besides, throwing a few more dollars at Hoffman would save the club money in arbitration hearings with Broxton, because set-up men never get paid as much as closers with fancy save totals, regardless of how good they are. In addition, just like how we enjoyed having Greg Maddux around for our young starters, perhaps Hoffman could teach Broxton that devastating changeup, which would make him completely unstoppable.

Besides, how great would it be to kick Padre fans while they’re down by taking the second best player in team history away from them?  

***In other news, let’s thank the New York Yankees for taking out our trash. Not only did they sign Jason Johnson, who was unlikely to return anyway, they saved us from the looming spector of Angel Berroa 2: Electric Boogaloo by signing him too. Guys, why stop there? Mark Sweeney and Pablo Ozuna are still out there lurking, and I’d love to know they’re contractually barred from resigning with the Blue. 

Have to Win Tonight…

…and even then, it might be too late.

I’m sure you’re expecting MSTI to blame Jason Johnson for giving up the game-winning homer to Pedro Feliz, but I can’t really do that. First of all, at least Joe Torre put in Johnson in the role he really should be filling – that of “extra inning long man after all the good guys have been used”. Johnson is what he is, and that’s a mediocre pitcher. You let him pitch in a field like Citizens Bank Park against a lineup like the Phillies’, and he’s going to give up some homers. You can’t expect anything else.

But Johnson is hardly the fall guy for this latest debacle. Look, there’s plenty of blame to go around here. I could question Torre being too conservative in taking out both Park and Kuo after just one effective inning each, but that’s pretty low on the list. Mostly, I have no defense for Jonathan Broxton on this one. Yeah, he can blame bad mechanics, but that’s not good enough. The leadoff hit to Shane Victorino was a killer, and the lack of control – especially the four-pitch walk to Andy Tracy – was brutal. Actually, that brings up the worst performance of last night, that of ESPN’s Joe Morgan, who insisted that Broxton was pitching around Andy Tracy. Who hadn’t seen the big leagues since 2004. In order to get to Pedro Feliz, who may be a mediocre hitter but does have a good bit of pop in his bat (6 consecutive double-digit homer seasons). Of course that was the plan, Joe!

No, I’m not going to excuse Broxton on this one. How could you? He blew it. But the bigger problem right now is the offense. 12 runs over the last 6 games just isn’t going to cut it. And it’s not like you can just point the finger at one or two guys, because other than James Loney and Jeff Kent, everyone has been awful.

Last 7 days:
Manny: .250/.375/.250 .625 OPS
Blake: .200/.304/.300 .604 OPS
Kemp: .192/.222/.346 .568 OPS
Ethier: .143/.217/.286 .503 OPS
Martin: .136/.136/.318 .455 OPS
Nomar: .167/.167/.167 .333 OPS

That, friends, is just a cavalcade of awful. Special bonus points of suck awarded to Casey Blake for doing just about the worst possible thing you could do with a bases loaded, no outs situation in the top of the 10th: grounding into a 5-2 double play. It’s not even that he didn’t do anything positive, it’s that he did the worst kind of negative action he could have, short of a triple play. A sac fly gets a run home. A double play to short or second probably gets a run home. A strikeout or a popup doesn’t get a run home, but it doesn’t accrue two outs and lose the lead runner, too.

And yeah, that picture above is kind of old. But I can’t think of anything more appropriate than seeing a Dodger get kicked in the chest after last night.

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

All Your First Place Are Belong To Us

Well, half of it, anyway. Sometimes you sit down to write a blog post, and you stare at the blank page and wonder what you should write about. And then before you know it, you’re talking about 40 different topics – and right as you finish, the team finishes off an improbable comeback to snag a share of first place. Away we go…

* Thanks, beautiful!
Remember the other day when I wrote, regarding the debacle in San Francisco, that: 

This is going to be one of “those” games – the kind you look back upon with disdain when you miss the playoffs by one game on the last day of the season.

Yeah, well, tonight is one of “those” games too – the kind you look back on with glee when you make the playoffs by one game on the last day of the season. Really, is there any better feeling in baseball than a walkoff home run? By Certified Local Hero Nomar Garciaparra? That caps off the best comeback of the season after a terrible outing by Brad Penny? That puts you into a tie for first place? I think not.

* You think Jeff Kent likes hitting in front of Manny?
4-5 with a game-tying double. You may remember Kent, earlier this season, fighting to be the worst cleanup hitter of all time. Since he got bumped into the 3rd spot ahead of Manny? In 7 games, he’s hitting an even .500 (13-26). This is the ancillary brilliance of having a hitter like Manny Ramirez - sure, he’s great. But he has a ripple effect on your entire lineup. Now the guy hitting 3rd gets better pitches to hit than when Kent or Martin or anyone was the cleanup hitter. Now the guy hitting 5th gets to do so with men on more often because Manny gets on base so much, either through a hit or being walked. This is truly the dimension this team did not have before July 31st, and in just two weeks we’ve seen the offense transformed.

* Remember when Brad Penny started the All-Star Game twice in a row? Geez, Brad – what the hell was that? 3 homers and 6 earned runs in 3 crappy innings, pushing his ERA all the way up to 6.05. With Arizona losing and Joe Blanton no great shakes tonight for Philly either, Penny did his best to ensure that the Dodgers wouldn’t capitalize on a golden opportunity to reclaim a share of first in the NL West. Fortunately, the offense let him off the hook (and when was the last time we could say that?) He was moderately effective in his first start back against San Francisco, although he didn’t look that great – and the lousy Giants offense certainly helped out with that. While his velocity was up a bit from the last start, you just cannot leave meatballs out over the plate when you’re facing guys like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. The question here is: what now? How long of a rope do you give him to work back into shape when every game is so important? Is this going to push the “Greg Maddux to LA” rumors into reality? Do we see James McDonald getting bumped up any time soon? As good as the pitching has been, there’s some real questions about the rotation. Kershaw’s been great, but he’s rapidly approaching his innings limit, and if you can’t count on Penny, and when you never really know if you’re getting Cy Young Hiroki Kuroda or Brett Tomko Hiroki Kuroda, well, maybe you need another starter. My opinion? Go get Maddux. This late in the season, he’s only owed a little less than $2 million, which shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, and he’s worth his weight in gold if only to have Kershaw sitting next to him on the bench every single night.

* Yet another reason to ditch a stiff like Pablo Ozuna: We’ve made no secret around here about our distaste for guys like Pablo Ozuna (and Angel Berroa) who can’t really hit.. or field.. or contribute. Well, you can add “run the bases” for Ozuna. In the 8th inning of tonight’s game with two outs and the score tied, Ozuna was inserted as a pinch runner for Jeff Kent after Kent’s double. James Loney grounds to the hole, and Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins has no play anywhere except to go to third, where Ozuna beats the throw, which would put men on the corners for Casey Blake. Except that Ozuna overslid the bag and was tagged out by Phillies 3B Greg Dobbs, ending the inning. Someone please explain to me what value it is that Ozuna brings, and how it’s in any way more useful than Chin-Lung Hu?

* I love this bullpen. After Penny acted like he had money on the Phillies for 3 innings, the bullpen came in and did what they’ve been doing all year: shut down the opposition. Jason Johnson, Joe Beimel, Chan Ho Park, and Jonathan Broxton combined for 6 shutout innings, giving up only one hit to the last 21 batters, against one of the better offenses in the league. I can already hear the war cry – “but you hate Jason Johnson!” Not true. Putting Jason Johnson in as a long man when you’re down by 5 runs is exactly what he should be doing – not putting him in above Broxton and Kuo in a tie game two days after throwing 87 pitches. And to Johnson’s credit, he was excellent tonight. You can’t credit the ‘pen enough here – they’ve been coming through all season, and you do not win this game without them.

* Hey, how about Russell Martin hitting 8th? It’s amazing how many things about this year just could not have been predicted, or even believed, at the start of the year. “Manny Ramirez will be a Dodger.” “Chan Ho Park will be one of the best pitchers on the team.” “Nomar and Angel Berroa will be the two main shortstops.” Well add to that: “Russell Martin will hit 8th in a playoff race.” And here’s the thing: I can’t even argue with Torre on this one. Sure, part of it is a lineup that didn’t have any total black holes like Pierre or Berroa in it tonight; but mostly, Martin’s just been awful lately, just 6-38 on the month coming into tonight. Maybe it agrees with him – Martin went 3-3 with a walk tonight out of the 8 hole.

* I can’t help but wonder…
about Ethier starting over Pierre. Don’t get me wrong – I love it, as I’m sure you all know. And Ethier’s certainly been playing so well that he’s earned it, especially with a game-winning RBI on Tuesday and a homer tonight. My question is this, though: did Torre suddenly see the light and realize that Ethier is flat-out a better player? Or was he just upset by Pierre’s comments to the LA Daily News? Think about it. The comments were printed on August 3rd. Pierre has started just 3 times in the ensuing 10 games; in the previous 8 games after he came off the DL, he’d started 7 times. Torre of course denies that the comments had anything to do with playing time, and obviously the addition of Manny had added another outfielder to the mix (although Jones has been taken completely out of the rotation lately), but there’s at least a chance that rather than going by good baseball sense, Torre punished Pierre and then watched Ethier get so hot that he simply couldn’t bench him, right?

* “The worst season in the history of major league baseball.”
So says CBS Sportsline’s Gregg Doyel about Andruw Jones. The sad part? I can’t even pretend to argue with him. As Vin said yesterday, we all know that the DL stint isn’t about his knee. It’s about getting his fat useless ass off the team. One day, I hope we find out the real reason behind this. It’s simply incomprehensible that a certain Hall-of-Famer could drop off the cliff as hard as Jones. But kudos to the front office for biting the PR bullet and getting him the hell out of here during a pennant race.

* Manny being 4channy! A few months ago, I linked to a great strip from the criminally underrated The Dugout, in which they take famous athletes and and create what life might be like if they only conversed in internet chat rooms. Manny’s always been a popular figure there, for obvious reasons, and they focus on him again today. Some of the jokes won’t make sense if you’re not a regular reader of their site, but it’s still worth a look – and keep an eye out for a shout-out to a fan we’ve featured here before, who happens to greatly support a certain lefty Dodgers reliever.

Speaking of Manny… you can only gush about a man so much, right? But with another homer tonight, he’s now got 5 in just 12 games in Blue – and he’s still hitting nearly .500 (21-45). I’m really starting to run out of superlatives about him. No, I haven’t turned a blind eye to how badly he acted to get out of Boston, which might have destroyed the season of a lesser team. We’ll certainly take that into account in the offseason, when his contract is up. But right now? I have never seen a player energize a team like this. And it’s not unreasonable to say that the Dodgers have never had a hitter as productive as he’s been so far. Let the Diamondbacks have their Adam Dunn (for the record, I’m a Dunn fan and think that was a good move by Arizona) – as good as Dunn is, he’s never been the player that Manny is.

* Hooray! Brian Falkenborg claimed by the Padres. Nothing personal against Falkenborg; I’m sure he’s a wonderful person. We just never were able to warm up to him around here, partially because of the way Torre used him, and partially because he’s just not very good. Oddly enough, this is the second time in his career he’s been DFA’d by LA and subsequently claimed by San Diego. I suppose this means we’ll be seeing him again in 2012.

I’m no doctor but… at Dodgers.com, Ken Gurnick has an update on injured closer Takashi Saito:

Saito is with the club, trying to rehabilitate a torn right elbow ligament that usually requires Tommy John surgery to repair. He said he is playing catch from about 50 feet two days for every one day off.

“I feel no pain, and that’s really encouraging,” said Saito, but he offered no guess on a return date.

Granted, I was away for three weeks, so I may have missed this; but was it already known that Saito had a torn ligament? It’s the first I’ve heard of it, and if so, how he is throwing with no pain? I don’t think I can ever remember a pitcher bulling through an injury that usually requires Tommy John to repair.

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

Stop. Collaborate, and Listen.

The flurry of stories in today’s newspapers bring two major things I have to touch upon:

* Torre’s use of the bullpen yesterday. You may have noticed that I had, oh, a few issues with Torre’s moves yesterday. Mainly, I excoriated him for bringing in Falkenborg in the 6th and Johnson in the 11th. I stand by everything I said about Falkenborg; clearly, Wade, Beimel, and Park were all still available, and they all should have been used before Falkenborg.

As for Johnson, I strongly felt that it was ridiculous that he was used while Kuo and Broxton sat. Dylan Hernandez at the LA Times points out that:

Hong-Chih Kuo had pitched in three of the last four games and was ruled unavailable by Manager Joe Torre, and Jonathan Broxton was being saved for a save situation.

Now, that might very well be true. But don’t forget, “three of the last four games” came before an off-day. Considering that Johnson had thrown 87 pitches in Sunday’s game while Kuo had only thrown 17, you would think that Kuo would still be a better choice than Johnson. But okay, if Torre really wanted to avoid him, why not Broxton? I don’t understand the whole “saving him for a save” idea; because how likely is it you ever get to that situation if you bring in a mediocre pitcher who threw 87 pitches two days prior? Johnson admitted as much, saying:

Asked how much he had left in the tank, Johnson said, “You saw it. Obviously, it wasn’t great.”

Torre, when asked about using Johnson, said:

“We were looking for volunteers at that juncture,” Torre said of the end of the game. “It’s a tough loss, but I’m proud the way this ballclub played nine innings.”

I think I’ve made my feelings pretty clear that Kuo should have been available, and that if he really wasn’t, you absolutely use Broxton to give your offense another shot or two to score. But even then, if you insist on bringing back a starter, why not Hiroki Kuroda for an inning or two? I’ve always been a big proponent of letting starters get an inning out of the pen on their throw day, and Kuroda’s getting a solid week off between his Saturday starts. He’d already had an extra day off than Johnson had, and he’d still have three more days off until he goes this Saturday. Remember, this isn’t just about me not liking Jason Johnson – it’s that as much as I don’t think he’s all that great at full strength, I really don’t see how you expect to have any chance to win going with Jason Johnson two days after 87 pitches.

Moving on from that debacle to something even more frightening…

* I completely agree with TJ Simers. Or he agrees with us, since both Vin and myself wrote about it first. Either way, I generally despise Simers’ usually unfunny tactics, but this time, he’s dead on: even he can’t stand Juan Pierre’s sobbing anymore. Seriously, read some of these quotes and tell me that these aren’t something that could have been lifted precisely off this blog?

Boo-hoo, says Pierre, it’s great the Dodgers were able to land Ramirez, but what about me?

Andre Ethier is the only player in uniform with a legitimate gripe of not enough playing time, and he’s not saying anything to disrupt the 25-man effort to win it all. OK, so make that 24-man effort, not counting Pierre

I would argue the best position for Pierre is on the bench, waiting to pinch-run and swipe a base. Then grab a shower.

If Andruw Jones is earning his keep these days, Jones is playing center, flanked by Ramirez and Matt Kemp, while Pierre returns to getting mistaken for a bat boy.

“Write whatever you want to write,” Pierre says, and so OK, what a self-centered brat, Manny mania the best thing that’s happened to the Dodgers in years, and Pierre pouting.

Wow. I don’t even know how to respond to these, except that I’m just thrilled and floored that someone in the mainstream local media finally sees what we’ve been saying for over a year. I just never expected it would be TJ Simers, of all people. I hate to say it, but you’ve earned it: kudos, TJ.

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

Joe Got Some ‘Splainin to Do

When you look back on a season, there’s always a few games that really stand out in your mind. The game that really got the season on a roll; the game that really got the momentum going. A game that kicks off a road trip where you come back from a 4-0 deficit to tie with 4 runs in the 9th definitely falls into that category, and even moreso if you consider that one of the runs came on a pinch-hit homer from the corpse of Andruw Jones. If you can pull out a game like that, the momentum boost you’ve already received from adding Manny Ramirez is accentuated that much more, and in immediate short term gains, you keep pace with Arizona, who’d already won earlier in the night.

This is one of those games. And this is going to be one that might haunt the Dodgers for the rest of the season for not being able to take advantage of it.

In the vacuum of tonight’s game, there’s a few fingers to be pointed. You’ve got James Loney grounding into 2 double plays and leaving 5 men on base; you’ve got Russell Martin striking out (and looking bad doing it) with men on the corners in the top of the 10th. But that’s baseball, and these things happen. As much as you want to and as hard as you try, you’re simply not going to get that hit every single time out. Often, these things are out of your control. Which is why it’s so goddamn frustrating when the things that are in your control are executed poorly and come back to bite you in the ass. You should know by now what I’m talking about, and if you don’t, well, you must be Joe Torre. I don’t know how to put it any simpler than:

If you’ve got good pitchers available, don’t use the crummy ones.

Maybe they SHOULD administer sobriety tests in the dugout?

Makes sense, right? So please, someone, anyone, explain to me how both Brian Falkenborg and Jason Johnson got into a one-run and tied extra inning game, respectively, while neither Jonathan Broxton or Hong-Chih Kuo made an appearance. It’s not as though either Broxton or Kuo were unavailable; Kuo hadn’t pitched either of the previous two nights, and Broxton has had three nights off. (In fact, Broxton’s only thrown nine pitches since July 29th – I know he’s warmed up in the bullpen a lot of those days too, but what’s up with that?)

It couldn’t be simpler. When your entire bullpen is rested, as it should be after an off-day, you use your five effective relievers (Beimel, Park, Kuo, Broxton, and Wade) – if you even need that many, which most days you won’t – and if the game goes into extra innings and you just need some arms, only then do you get the hammer and smash the “break only in case of emergency” glass to retrieve Falkenborg, Johnson, and Troncoso. Yeah, I know – the season’s a long grind, and you’ve got to use your entire pen, not just the best guys, so you don’t overwork them. But again, there was a day off prior, and two of your best (Kuo and Broxton) hadn’t even pitched in the game (or two) before that. They’re rested. You don’t let them sit while lesser men blow the game.

Let’s start with the first one, Brian Falkenborg coming in down 1-0 to start the 6th after Chad Billingsley is pulled from the game after just 74 pitches due to a second rain delay. You’ve got plenty of options with a fully rested pen. Since you’re being forced to dip into your bullpen so early, you probably want a guy who can go more than one inning. Someone like, say, Hong-Chih Kuo, who’s been simply dominating all year (1.85 ERA, 76K in 64 IP), or Chan Ho Park, leading candidate for Comeback Player of the Year with his 2.65 ERA, or even Cory Wade, who’s gone multiple innings several times and has been impressive with a 2.54 ERA.

What you don’t do is bring in veteran retread Brian Falkenborg ahead of all of these guys. Can we finally give up on the ”Falkenborg is a good pitcher” train that some people seem to be on? We’ve been pretty unhappy with him since day one (see here and here) and we’ve actually gotten some grief over it, and I just can’t understand why. Is it his 4.91 ERA coming into the game (that’s now 5.56 after it, by the way)? Is it his history of being unable to stick at the major league level? Even if you can justify him being on the team ahead of some guys we have in the minors (that’s a tough sell for me), I don’t see how anyone can say he’s any better than the last man out of the pen. Look, if we get to the 14th inning and it’s him or letting Russell Martin take the mound, that’s fine – if he gets hammered, what else could you have done? But there’s just no reason you let him pitch before every single other one of your rested and effective pitchers.

To no one’s surprise but Joe Torre’s, Falkenborg let the team down by allowing three of the four men he faced to reach base. Yeah, Joe Beimel hit Rick Ankiel to force the run in, and that was a pretty terrible job by Beimel (although he did rebound to get the next two outs with no further damage). But it’s a situation that never should have happened in the first place.

Epic Fail

Now we’re onto the eleventh inning. After Cory Wade came through yet again with two scoreless innings (plus drawing a walk!), Torre’s got three men left in the pen: Jonathan Broxton, his closer. Hong-Chih Kuo, who as discussed above, has been lights-out all year. And Jason Johnson, who after three surprisingly good outings to begin his Dodgers career, was pretty mediocre his last time out, giving up 3 runs and 5 hits in 4 1/3 innings vs. Arizona. How is there even a discussion here? You’ve got two excellent well-rested pitchers, and a mediocre veteran journeyman with less rest than either of them.

I can’t stress that last point enough. Two good rested pitchers, one demonstrably lousy pitcher on shorter rest. Even if you make the case that since it’s a road game, you want to save Broxton to close in case you get a lead, you still bring in Kuo over Johnson. And of course, what happens? Single, pop-out, walkoff dinger. While Broxton and Kuo look on helplessly, since Torre never saw fit to bring them in.

And now the Blue are 2.5 games back of Arizona and deflated from the loss, where they could have been 1.5 games back and on a roll. Is it possible that Kuo or Broxton give up that homer too? Sure, it’s absolutely possible. But as a manager, your #1 priority is putting your team in the best position to win, and I don’t think you can say Joe Torre did that tonight. You live and die by your best players, whenever they’re available. I hate to think that the Dodgers lose out on the playoffs by one game due to the failures of two players who ostensibly are somewhere around 15th and 16th on the organizational pitching chart.

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