Dodgers Swept as Rare Display of Offense Fails to Overcome Shoddy Pitching and Worse Defense

On a day where the Dodgers put up five runs off Philadelphia rookie sensation Vance Worley before fans even got to their seats – uh no, really – the wheels fell off in a hurry, as a lead that was once 6-0 quickly became a 9-8 loss, completing a sweep at the hands of the Phillies. Once again, the Phils proved why they’re the best team in baseball, while the Dodgers proved that they are a mid-range team in the Pacific Coast League.

First, the brief good news: Matt Kemp and Juan Rivera combined for seven hits, including a three-run homer for Rivera in the first, as the Dodgers tied their season high for extra base hits with six. Hong-Chih Kuo retired three of the four batters he faced, entering in a tough situation with two men on in the fifth, and Matt Guerrier, Mike MacDougal, and Javy Guerra combined for 3.1 innings of scoreless relief to finish it off.

On Rivera, and he’ll need his own post shortly, there’s going to be plenty of time for jokes about how he’s playing himself into a starting job for the 2012 Dodgers, and how he’s carving a place alongside recent Dodgers of questionable skill who turned hot debuts into misplaced commitments like Rod Barajas, Jay Gibbons, Marlon Anderson, and Ronnie Belliard. Those are valid concerns which we’ll have to deal with this winter. For now, we need to praise Rivera for his performance since arriving in Los Angeles; I was cautiously optimistic when he was picked up after being DFA’d by Toronto, saying that “this deal probably makes the team better than they were this morning,” if not by much, and all Rivera has done is hit .338/.380/.507 while taking playing time away from the cratering Tony Gwynn and the disappointing James Loney. He’s not this good – he can’t possibly be – and we should know that his BABIP (.357 even before this game) is completely unsustainable. None of that should diminish what he’s done on the field, however, because he’s been excellent. For however long it lasts, upgrading from Marcus Thames to Rivera has been a nice under-the-radar move by Ned Colletti.

As for the bad news, let’s start at the top: Chad Billingsley never had it today. You’ll almost certainly read stories about how Billingsley “can’t pitch with a lead”, but that’s BS: he threw 30 pitches while struggling through the first inning, before the Dodgers even came to the plate. This is the fourth time in Billingsley’s career that he’s failed to strike out a single batter, and the first time this year, but it continues a disturbing trend: he’s struck out just six over his last three starts, after whiffing 10 Nationals on July 24.

While seven runs should always, always be enough for a starting pitcher, it’s also not like Billingsley got a whole lot of support from his defense. In the top of the fourth, he had two outs and Michael Martinez up; Martinez grounded to first, where it went off of Loney’s glove and putting Martinez on second. Worley, the next batter, singled home Martinez for the third Philly run. Should Billingsley have been able to retire the opposing pitcher? Absolutely he should have, but he’s also out of the inning if Loney fields the ball.

The same situation happened in the fifth, as with one out and two on, Billingsley got Hunter Pence to hit a soft grounder to Casey Blake at third – the kind of ball that turns into an inning-ending double play 99 times out of 100. The ball kicked off of Blake’s glove into the outfield, and rather than getting out of the inning without any damage, Billingsley saw a run score on the error and then another when Kuo got Ryan Howard to ground out. None of this absolves Billingsley; nor should it be forgotten.

Still, at the end of the fifth, the Dodgers were ahead 7-5, and that lasted until Blake Hawksworth relieved Kuo with one on in the sixth. Two singles and a Howard moonshot later, the Dodgers were down 9-6, and that was pretty much that, though they briefly threatened in the 9th with a Barajas warning track shot about 10 feet away from a walkoff win. Thanks, Blake!

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Update: okay, the part below may not be, what’s the word, “true”. The b-ref query I’m using searches by entire seasons, and there’s at least one example where that isn’t true, as helpfully pointed out in the comments – Jose Gonzalez in 1990, who went hitless in 30 Dodger PA before being traded to Pittsburgh where he collected a few. So while he didn’t get any hits as a Dodger, he didn’t go hitless for the entire season. I’ll leave the section below intact, because it doesn’t make Eugenio Velez not suck.

In the continuing exploits of “Eugenio Velez, awful baseball player”… after another 0-2 (on three pitches, no less), Velez is still searching for his first hit in 23 plate appearances as a Dodger. That’s the most hitless PA by a non-pitcher in the entire history of the club. How about when you expand that across all teams?

Rk Player PA H Year Age Tm G AB R BB SO
1 Hal Finney 35 0 1936 30 PIT 21 35 3 0 8
2 Larry Littleton 27 0 1981 27 CLE 26 23 2 3 6
3 David Ortiz 25 0 1999 23 MIN 10 20 1 5 12
4 Kevin Elster 22 0 1994 29 NYY 7 20 0 1 6
5 Ron Hansen 22 0 1958 20 BAL 12 19 1 0 7
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/10/2011.

Well, hmm. I have to say I did not expect to see David Ortiz on that list. Anyway, since our dream of “most left fielders in a season” appears to have died, we still have a statistical oddity to root for: 12 more hitless plate appearances until we can say, that by one measure at least, Eugenio Velez has had the worst season in big league history.

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No surprise here, but after the game it was announced that Dee Gordon was placed on the 15-day disabled list due to his right shoulder injury. There’s no word yet on a replacement, though the only two infielders on the 40-man roster are Russ Mitchell and Ivan DeJesus. That said, there’s an empty spot on the 40-man and several injured pitchers who could be moved to the 60-day DL (Jon Garland, Jonathan Broxton, Rubby De La Rosa, Vicente Padilla), so if they want to promote someone not on the roster, it won’t be an issue.

Be Sure to Enjoy Hiroki Kuroda While You Can

Hiroki Kuroda starts tonight for the Dodgers against Ian Kennedy in Arizona, as Los Angeles attempts to extend their season-high winning streak to six. I think it’s less than a 50/50 shot Kuroda actually gets traded before the deadline, particularly if the Dodgers keep up their recent winning streak, but if he does we could be looking at one of his final two or three starts in blue. That’s kind of a sad thought, no?

Unrelated and far, far less poignant: Juan Rivera‘s fine debut last night gives him the highest OPS in Dodger history, with a minimum 4 PA. (What small sample size?)

Also! Another installment of talking Dodger baseball with Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts, complete with “just played a softball doubleheader hair” from me.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/u8s-ywr1HqQ]

Dodgers DFA Marcus Thames, Trade for Juan Rivera

So here’s a thing:

The Dodgers acquired outfielder Juan Rivera from the Blue Jays for a player to be named later or cash considerations and designated Marcus Thames for assignment, announced the team.

First off, let’s not worry too much about the player to be named – Rivera was DFA’d himself on July 3 and would have cleared waivers in another day or so, so it’s not like the Jays had a whole lot of leverage there. On the field, this seems like a tiny upgrade; Rivera wasn’t doing a whole lot for Toronto at .243/.305/.360, but it’s still better than Thames for the Dodgers at .197/.243/.333 – when Thames was even healthy enough to play. Against LHP, Rivera was doing what Thames was supposed to do, hitting .327/.400/.509 in 65 PA. And while Thames is an atrocious fielder, Rivera has been a plus defender at times in the past, even playing 40 games in center field throughout his career (though he hasn’t started there since 2006). That’s probably no longer the case at 33, but at least there’s some positive history there. He’s also got some experience at first base, which is more valuable than you think, because with Casey Blake on the shelf, the Dodgers don’t have a viable righty option to pair with James Loney. Rivera should be expected to now play 1B against most lefties.

So on the field, this seems like an upgrade, if a barely visible one. The question I have is what this means in the larger scheme of things. On the financial front, Rivera was due $5.25m this year and has something like $2.4m remaining. The issue of whether the Dodgers actually have $2.4m to spend on anything aside, Rivera is almost certainly not a big enough upgrade on Thames to warrant spending that kind of additional money on. (Besides, since Rivera was about to clear waivers, thus sticking the Jays with the remainder minus the minimum salary if he signed elsewhere, you’d have to think the Jays agreed to eat some of the money – otherwise it makes no sense to trade for him rather than wait until he’s a free agent.) Dylan Hernandez reports the Dodgers will receive cash, but we don’t know how much yet.

The second concern is, does this mean the Dodgers still fancy themselves “buyers”? It’s a thought that’s always terrified me. I’m not ready to raise the red flags just yet, because this is a relatively small acquisition that probably won’t cost the team too much. Still, that’s a conversation we’re going to be having a lot between now and July 31.

In the short term, this deal probably makes the team better than they were this morning. Not by much, perhaps, but that’s good enough.

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If I had known this was coming, I’d have held off for a bit on the previous post, but don’t miss the pitching and management midseason grades from earlier.