Dodgers Call it Quits With Excruciating Loss

Choose the more appropriate caption for Shane Victorino being shocked:

1) “What do you mean none of us could hit Barry F’ing Zito?
2) “Chris Capuano really made it only three lousy innings in his biggest game of the year because he hurt himself with a donut??
3) “Matt Kemp had two on and two outs in the fifth and couldn’t get runs home?”
4) “Matt Kemp had two on and two outs in the seventh and still couldn’t get runs home?!”
5) “Don Mattingly really intentionally walked Angel Pagan to get to Marco Scutaro with men on, even though Scutaro has been blazingly hot and the exact same maneuver didn’t work a few weeks ago?”
6) “Mark Ellis did WHAT?!?! Get the hell out.”
7) “Please tell me that Don Mattingly didn’t force A.J. Ellis to bunt in the bottom of the ninth in a misguided attempt to have Elian Herrera or Bobby Abreu swinging away instead of one of your better hitters, right? Right?! AND that Dee Gordon wasn’t brought in to run for Andre Ethier yet? RIGHT?!”

Frankly, I’m exhausted from watching that game. Just drained. It was alternately thrilling and excruciating, and I’m not sure if I actually even enjoyed the experience or not. The Reds did their job, including a good inning from old friend Jonathan Broxton, to put the Dodgers in a position to head into the final day of the season still alive. And for a minute there in the seventh, you couldn’t help but believe.

After Zito hit Andre Ethier with a pitch to lead off the frame and was relieved by Guillermo Mota, A.J. Ellis followed with one of the most impressive at-bats of the season, a nine-pitch affair that ended with a blast over the wall that fell just out of the reach of center fielder Pagan to bring the Dodgers within one. Dodger Stadium wasn’t full, but it sure sounded like it at that point. Just when you think the legend of A.J. Ellis can’t get any larger… well, there you go.

They weren’t done. Mark Ellis doubled to deep right and… we won’t talk about that. It was a hard-hit ball for extra bases. Victorino followed with a similar hit, this time making it to third, and with three extra-base hits in the inning and Kemp coming up down one, everything was in place for magic. But it wasn’t to be. Kemp went fishing for a low-and-away slider, the kind that we saw him go after constantly back in the 2006-08 era, and the threat was over.

After a quiet eighth, there was hope in the ninth… briefly. Ethier, somewhat miraculously, singled up the middle against lefty Jeremy Affeldt. A runner! The move seemed clear: bring Gordon off the bench, let A.J. Ellis try to repeat his magic or possibly hit one into the gap that Gordon might be able to score on. If Ellis failed, then let Gordon try to steal ahead of Herrera (or his pinch-hitter, Abreu.)

No. Of course not. Mattingly sent in the bunt signal without sending in Gordon, and while it’d have been nice if Ellis could have made it work, it almost didn’t matter. What was the end game there? Twice-DFA’d Bobby Abreu with your season on the line? Elian Herrera? You’re taking the bat out of the hands of one of your best hitters for… what, exactly? Moving Ethier up 90 feet that Gordon probably could have (and eventually did) steal anyway? It’s stunning. Ellis struck out after failing to bunt twice, Abreu flew out, and Mark Ellis failed to redeem himself.

And with that… it’s over. The Reds did their part. We could have had an absolutely rocking Dodger Stadium for a late afternoon game tomorrow with Clayton Kershaw on the hill, especially since the game is to start earlier than the Cardinals game.

But it wasn’t to be, and there’s no shortage of reasons why.

And I’m spent.

Powerful Middle Infield Duo of Luis Cruz & Mark Ellis Back Chad Billingsley

Luis Cruz, leading the way with a three run homer. Just the way we drew it up, right? “Luis Cruz being awesome” has become something of a running joke on this site for reasons you’re probably all aware of, and while I’m not going to go too overboard about a guy who still only has a .297 OBP, the fact is that more than half of his hits have been for extra bases, and he’s been solid in the field.

Of course, the best part of Cruz’ dinger may not even have been the runs it put on the board, but the fact that it came back on the field and bopped Matt Holliday on the head, as you can see at right. (GIF from EephusBlue’s “Paint the Corners” blog, which I have borrowed for here because it’s just so fantastic. I have watched this approximately 1,000,000 times.)

Cruz’ blast, along with Mark Ellis‘ two-run double in the seventh, staked Chad Billingsley to a win in his first start since returning from the disabled list. On a brutally hot 104 degree night in a ballpark he hasn’t always had success in, Billingsley shook off concerns over his elbow to make it through six innings allowing just one run, though I’ll admit it was far from a work of art. With the trading deadline just a week away and rumors about the Dodgers acquiring another starter swirling, it was vital that Billingsley show he can be counted upon going forward, and he did a good job in a tough situation.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Ronald Belisario, who came in for Jamey Wright in the eighth inning and allowed a Carlos Beltran homer. Earlier this summer, I dared to suggest that while Belisario’s comeback was remarkable, it was hard to look at his low BABIP and his mediocre K/BB and think that this was going to keep up. Belisario has now allowed nine hits and eight runs over his last seven innings, and whether he just needs a rest or it’s something else, his performance is clearly becoming a problem. Kenley Jansen blew away the Cardinals to close it out in the ninth, and looked great doing it.

On the other hand, Belisario’s poor outing did allow for some A+ idiocy from Steve Lyons, who trotted out his old chestnut that Beltran’s home run was actually a good thing because it killed the rally, or some such foolishness. He then went on to mumble that he’d actually rather have seven doubles in a row than homers, because “it would keep the pressure on the pitcher,” before attempting to make sound effects with his mouth.

This man is employed by a major league team. Is this our punishment for having been so lucky with Vin for so long?

Dodgers Sneak By Padres Behind Mark Ellis’ Big Blast

Oh, right: even with Matt Kemp & Andre Ethier, this was a team that was still expected to struggle offensively. I think in our rush to celebrate their return, we may have overlooked that small fact. That’s a problem which manifested itself once against tonight against San Diego starter Clayton Richard and reliever Dale Thayer, as the Dodgers managed just five hits and not a single walk the entire night. (Yes, five. That’s not a typo. I know the scorecard says that Juan Uribe doubled. I also know that it was a grounder up the middle that probably should have been an out. Man, I hate Juan Uribe.)

Yet while the lack of offense may have been enough to doom this club to certain defeat over the last six weeks or so, it really felt like the magic was starting to come back tonight. Mark Ellis, making his fourth start since returning from injury, smashed a two-run homer in the sixth inning for the only two runs the Dodgers would need. Kemp doubled and singled in his four plate appearances. Ethier… well, he didn’t hurt himself. Clayton Kershaw forced his way through six innings that weren’t always pretty – not at all helped by a tight strike zone – but were more than effective, holding the Padres to just the one run. And the meat of the Dodger bullpen – Javy Guerra, Ronald Belisario, & Kenley Jansen – continued their excellent work by backing Kershaw with three clean, nearly perfect innings. Hell, even the much maligned Juan Rivera made a nice play to end the game on a ball down the line that could potentially have tied it had it gone past him.

They don’t all have to be masterpieces, because in the standings they all count the same. With San Francisco winning, the Dodgers maintain their half-game lead. No one got hurt, and they’re still in first place; can’t ask for a better way to kick off the second half.

Returning Dodgers Means Roster Decisions

Thoughts from a train while trying to not think about a national television audience watching this team tonight…

In a period where absolutely nothing is going right on the field for the Dodgers, one area where they’re actually getting some good news is on the injury front. Andre Ethier somehow might avoid the disabled list, Mark Ellis is far ahead of schedule, and Matt Kemp isn’t much behind him. If all goes well, it’s possible we could see all three in the lineup together in two weeks, right after the All-Star Game.

As the roster returns to health, that could present the Dodgers with some interesting roster choices. For Ellis, the calculus seems simple; if Ethier is healthy, Scott Van Slyke goes down. If he’s not, his move to the DL creates your roster spot.

It gets immediately more complicated for Kemp’s return. You could argue that Elian Herrera goes down, since he’s struggled terribly since his hot start and his ability to play center would no longer be as relevant. That’s possible, but I find his ability to play solid defense all over the field valuable. With Ellis likely back and holding down second base by then, and Herrera & Jerry Hairston on the bench, it does tempt me to dream about the unthinkable: might this be when we finally see the end of the utterly useless Adam Kennedy?

There’s also the case of Carlos Lee to consider, should he decide to accept a trade which most of us won’t like. (And we’ll like it even less if reports of the Dodgers eating most of the money and sending a decent prospect in Garrett Gould are true; that would be absurd.)

Assuming any Lee deal wouldn’t require a member of the active roster – and no, just because James Loney happens to be from Houston doesn’t mean it makes sense for the Astros to take on an overpaid, underperforming first baseman who will be a free agent after the year – a spot would need to be made for him as well. It’s fun to think about DFAing Loney, but it also doesn’t make sense, since Lee is a poor defender who has already missed time this year. Loney would be needed.

If not Loney… could we dare to dream about the end of the Juan Uribe era? Even on a team full of struggling bats, he stands out as among the most embarrassing, with little hope of improvement; at this point, barring more injuries, I don’t believe he’s making it to the end of the season anyhow. While they’d still need an upgrade at third, Hairston & Herrera could hold the position down until a trade was made.

It’s wishful thinking, for sure, and perhaps fueled more than a little by a lack of sleep while traveling. Yet as I like the proposed Lee deal less the more I think about it, we can at least hope that possible move plus healthy returns by others leads to a silver lining at the bottom of the roster.

Dodger Infield Injury Woes Continue After Mark Ellis Surgery

Not that I really expected Mark Ellis back any time soon considering how lengthy his injury history is and how bad the slide that took him out on Friday looked, but I also didn’t expect to hear the words “urgent procedure”, either:

Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis underwent an “urgent” procedure on his left leg Saturday and will be sidelined at least six weeks, trainer Sue Falsone said after the club’s win over the Cardinals. Ellis exited Friday’s game when he was upended on a hard slide by St. Louis second baseman Tyler Greene.

On Saturday, Ellis underwent a fasciotomy, which team doctors said drained blood and fluid from a contusion in his lower left leg, relieving tension and pressure in the leg. Ellis will remain hospitalized until Tuesday.

Ellis had been surprisingly effective so far this year, combining excellent defense with solid on-base skills, so this presents another hit to a Dodger lineup that’s already been torn apart by injuries. With Jerry Hairston sidelined at least through Wednesday, Juan Uribe scheduled to see a wrist specialist with no return date planned, and Dee Gordon benched due to ineffectiveness, the Dodgers now have a 2B/SS/3B rotation of Elian Herrera, Justin Sellers, Ivan De Jesus, & Adam Kennedy. Considering that first baseman James Loney is hardly Joey Votto – though it should be noted that Loney has been better of late, hitting .368 over his last 11 games – it’s potentially the the weakest infield rotation in baseball, yet the Dodgers continue to get the right contributions at the right time and win. I love it, yet I absolutely cannot explain it.

The injury situation is so severe that if you look at the depth chart, you’ll see that they have just two remaining healthy position players on the 40-man roster, catcher Tim Federowicz & outfielder Matt Angle, which only serves to remind me that Alex Castellanos is really, really missing his chance by having been out for nearly a month now with a hamstring injury. (Aaron Miles may soon be an option as well, given that he made his debut with the Isotopes last night.)

For now, I expect that second base will be a combination of Herrera & De Jesus, who may be looking at his absolute last chance to make an impression with the Dodgers. Shortstop has to be Sellers, at least until Gordon is deemed ready to play – or is farmed out, which is another discussion entirely – and third would be manned by Kennedy & Herrera. When Hairston returns, I imagine he might be the everyday third baseman, though he could also see time at second or simply push Kennedy back to the keystone.

Still, the rash of injuries has suddenly made it clear that adding power to first base or left field may not be the highest priority anymore. Ellis, Hairston, & Uribe all came to the Dodgers with lengthy injuries, and it’s hard to think that they can be relied upon with certainty even upon their returns; Gordon has yet to prove he’s a big league shortstop. If the Dodgers envision themselves contenders – and I think they should, considering that they need only go .500 to end up at 88-74 and in the thick of the race – upgrading their infield depth once the trading season gets going may need to be at the top of their list.