Let’s Not Get Swept on National TV, Okay?

Since the less said about the Dodgers at the moment the better, there’s definitely a few things of note to mention from last night’s Las Vegas game (thanks to Torgy for pointing most of this out).

* Andruw Jones… played first base? Jones has played in 1835 games in the majors, 325 in the minors, and this is the first time he’s ever played the infield. Now, he had missed the previous four games with a sore knee, so this very well may have been a way to get him some at-bats without asking him to run in the outfield in a non-DH game. But who knows. Maybe with the outfield logjam, they might be interested in getting him some time as a right-handed option to James Loney at first base in September? That would be a sight to see. How weird does that picture to the right look, too?

* Why again did Tanyon Sturtze stick while Eric Stults went down? We questioned this at the time, and Stults was very good last night for Vegas in the high altitude of Colorado Springs, allowing just 2 hits and a single run over 6 innings, striking out 6. Stults is never going to be an All-Star, but he’s proven he belongs in the big leagues, especially with that complete game shutout of the White Sox. Besides, when you’ve got innings-limited guys like Kershaw and Maddux back-to-back in your rotation, wouldn’t you prefer having a guy who can go multiple innings like Stults rather than someone who’s basically useless in Sturtze – not to mention how annoying it is for poor bloggers to keep the names straight?

* It’s probably time to give up on Greg Miller, right? If you’re unfamiliar with Miller’s story, he was basically Clayton Kershaw before Clayton Kershaw was. He made it to AA in 2003 as an 18 year old, and was completely dominating in his 4 starts, putting up a 40/7 K/BB ratio. In Double A. At 18. He blew out his arm soon after that and hasn’t been the same since (a more indepth profile can be found over at FireNedCollettiNow from a few days ago). Anyway, after one of the weirdest lines you’ll ever see last night (in one inning, he didn’t give up a hit – yet allowed 4 runs thanks to 3 walks and some lousy defense), he’s now up to a 7.21 ERA and is walking more than a man per inning. I hate to give up on a guy who’s only 23, but with control like that, he’s barely an AAA pitcher right now, and he’s using up a valuable 40-man spot. This is definitely a situation that will need to be reviewed in the offseason.

Speaking of the 40 man roster, Tony Jackson discusses who might be called up when rosters expand on September 1st:

With apparently none of the Dodgers’ minor-league affiliates looking like they’ll be playoff bound, the team’s September callups should start arriving on Sept. 2, the second day of the upcoming homestand. It looks like A.J. Ellis will be coming up from Vegas to be the third catcher. He is hitting .309 this year, so he’ll edge out Lucas May, who is hitting .228 at Jacksonville, even though May is on the 40-man roster and Ellis isn’t. Although I have long been under the impression that James McDonald was a lock for a callup, that apparently is still being discussed and is far from assured. But it looks like Ellis will be the only guy not presently on the roster who will be called up. Dodgers don’t have a lot of flexibility. The 40-man is full, and there aren’t a lot of guys on it whom you can look at and say, “He’s expendable.”

When you’ve still got guys like Sturtze and Mark Sweeney on the roster, I don’t think it’s that hard to find guys to dump, but Jackson isn’t wrong about the tight roster situation, especially with all of the guys on the DL. But just to get Ellis on the 40-man, here’s an idea. You figure that Chin-Lung Hu or Blake DeWitt or both will likely be called up to add infield depth (DeWitt’s been playing mostly 2B in the minors lately), plus you hope to get back Rafael Furcal at some point. Once you get Hu and DeWitt up, there’s absolutely no need for both Angel Berroa and Pablo Ozuna, not that there’s really much of a need for either one right now. Hell, bring up both Hu and DeWitt, and DFA both Berroa and Ozuna. You keep the same amount of bodies in the middle infield, you immeasurably improve your infield defense, hopefully improve the offense too, and free up two roster spots on the 40-man. Makes sense, right?

Finally, I hate to get nit-picky and point out mistakes for the sake of it, but come on, Bill Shaikin:

Blake, who turned 35 Saturday, has stabilized third base for the Dodgers and said he had not ruled out returning to Los Angeles. When the Indians traded him, he said, they told him they hoped to offer him a contract this winter, to return to what was the only major league club he had known.

“The only major league club he had known”? I knew off the top of my head that Blake came up with Toronto and also saw some time in Minnesota; upon looking it up, I found that he played in Baltimore too. It may have been only 112 at-bats over 4 seasons, but still, you’re the Los Angeles Times. Do a little research, would you? He’d played for three other MLB clubs, so that makes you look pretty bad.

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

This Quote Makes My Brain Want to Eat Itself

Ah, Joe. I was actually just about to write a post saying how much your decision-making has improved lately. You’ve benched Juan Pierre for Andre Ethier; you’ve let Matt Kemp continue to be your leadoff man. Sure, I suppose any manager will look good when you replace Pierre, DeWitt, and Berroa with Manny, Blake, and Nomar, but even so, other than some questionable bullpen choices, things have been looking up lately. And then you have to go and say this to Diamond Leung of the Riverside P-E:

In order to load the lineup with more right-handed hitters while preserving Nomar Garciaparra, Joe Torre said he would look to get Garciaparra some playing time at first base in place of James Loney. Torre said he nearly did it last night with left-handed Manny Parra on the mound before deciding against it. “I tried to reason who was going to give me the better at-bat – Berroa or Loney,” Torre said. Loney could get some days off against tough lefties in the future. “Loney’s so unpredictable,” said Torre, who could choose to sit Loney against either Jeff Francis or Glendon Rusch when the Rockies come to town next week.

There’s something unbelievable in there, so in case you glossed over it, I’ll present it again.

“I tried to reason who was going to give me the better at-bat – Berroa or Loney,” Torre said.

This. This, friends, is what will drive a man to insanity. I didn’t see Torre say this, of course, but I wish there was video of it. Was he able to say this with a straight face? Isn’t a quote like that grounds for immediate firing? Let’s see what Joe would say if he had some other professions:
Joe on shooting the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition:

“I tried to reason who was going to give me the hotter photo – Jessica Alba or Jessica Tandy,” Torre said.

Joe on choosing a movie:

“I tried to reason what was going to be the better film - Godfather or Godfather III,” Torre said.

Joe on going to a concert:

“I tried to reason who was going to give me a greater show - Led Zeppelin or Hannah Montana,” Torre said.

Really, James Loney vs. Angel Berroa, and this is something you have to reason? Do I really even need to explain this? One is a solid young major league regular who’s likely to only improve. The other is Angel Berroa.
I shouldn’t even have to go through this, but entering last night:
James Loney: (2008) .799 OPS, 106 OPS+ (career) .857 OPS, 118 OPS+
Angel Berroa: (2008) .528 OPS, 38 OPS+ (career) .681 OPS, 76 OPS+
How can you even consider having to “reason” who’s better? Even when you just look their stats against lefties (which is when Torre is considering putting Berroa in), it doesn’t change anything. Loney’s stats certainly fall, but it doesn’t matter because Berroa can’t hit anyone! Berroa’s got a great .573 OPS against southpaws this year, which Loney is beating by over 100 points at .687.
This is such a ludicrous statement that I’m having a really hard time believing it’s not just some twisted joke. Right? Anyone?
* Then you’ve got tonight’s game. What’s with the simply bizarre usage of the bench? In the 8th inning, Torre lifted Derek Lowe after Ryan Braun was announced as the pinch-hitter. With Nomar having made the last out in the 7th and Lowe up second in the bottom of the 8th, Torre chooses to double-switch in Hong-Chih Kuo to pitch and Berroa at shortstop, meaning Berroa – now in the 9th spot – will be up second in the bottom half. This is fine. Except that when Berroa comes up, Torre pinch hits for him with Juan Pierre. Where’s the sense in that? You’ve now wasted Berroa for one inning of his defense – and since you took out Nomar for him, you’re now down to your third shortstop, the endlessly mediocre Pablo Ozuna. Torre then takes out Kuo for Chan Ho Park in the 9th, which means that the double-switch was completely useless in the first place; Pierre could have just hit for Kuo and been replaced by Park, if that’s what Torre was going to do – and still had Nomar’s bat in the lineup and both Berroa and Ozuna on the bench, rather than Nomar and Berroa out and Ozuna at shortstop.
Ozuna, of course, ends up leading off the top of the 10th inning and does the one thing you cannot do when leading off in extra innings: he strikes out looking. Fantastic.
* Finally, two guys I’ve been backing forever that just did not come through tonight: Kuo and Matt Kemp. On Kuo, the double to Braun is one thing; it wasn’t really hit all that hard as much as it was well-placed. But in a tight game like that, you cannot give up a homer like that to Hardy. You just can’t. He’s been phenomenal all year, and I realize no one’s perfect, but… that was a killer, right there.
As for Kemp… well, this isn’t going to make things easier on him. How many completely overblown articles have we had to read on baserunning mistakes that he’s made, many of which weren’t even that big a deal? Well, with this most recent debacle, we’re really going to hear it. After Kemp singled in the 10th inning with one out, Ethier hit a shot to dead center that looked like it might go out, but also looked like Mike Cameron might track it down. With less than two outs, there’s no question what the runner does there – he stands on second base, because there’s no downside. If the ball is caught, you can easily make it back to first. If the ball drops, you can easily score from second, and if the ball leaves the park, well, who cares where you are. Except that Matt Kemp did none of these things; thinking that Cameron would catch the ball, he went back to first base. As you may have seen, Cameron got a glove on the ball but couldn’t quite haul it in, meaning that Ethier ended up with a 399-foot single when Kemp was only able to advance to second. That hit right there should have tied the game. Neither Kent or Manny could get a hit after that, and that was that. Absolutely terrible display by Kemp – I hope Larry Bowa is letting him hear about it right now. No matter when it is you read this, I still hope Bowa’s yelling at him.

- 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

I Almost Miss Cesar Izturis

Let’s look at the deciding innings (10th on Saturday, 9th on Sunday) of the Lost Weekend in San Francisco.

12 batters
2 solid outfield hits (Roberts, Winn)
2 ground ball singles (Rowand x2)
2 non-advancing outs (Molina K, Vizquel bunt popout)
1 outfield single that a better LF may have caught (Winn to Manny)
1 poorly-hit RBI fielder’s choice (Burriss to Broxton)
1 hit by pitch (Ochoa by Broxton)
1 error which could have been a game-ending DP (Blake on Castillo)
1 RBI fielder’s choice which a better 2B may have made a game-ending DP (Castillo thanks to Ozuna)
1 RBI infield single which a better SS would have at least had a shot at (Velez thanks to Berroa)

There’s been a lot written all around the baseball world over the last two days about how Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo “blew” back-to-back saves, and in the strictest sense of the word that’s true. It’s hard to argue that they got the job done when the team lost so clearly, they didn’t.

I just think it’s hard to lay all the blame at the feet of these two guys when it’s pretty clear that neither of them performed all that poorly. There were zero walks, zero homers, and one hard-hit ball apiece. It was the defense which completely blew it behind them, especially on Sunday. If Blake makes that play, you’re guaranteed one out with the possibility of a game-ending DP. If Ozuna doesn’t break the wrong way, there’s a much better chance of getting two outs rather than one. And on the last play, while it would have been a highlight if the out had been made, Berroa being unable to even pick the ball up guaranteed that there’s not even a chance to make the play to first. It’s hard for any pitcher to succeed under those circumstances.

But what’s to be expected when your middle infield in the late innings of a close game consists of two guys no one wants? Especially when you’ve got a middle infielder like Chin-Lung Hu in the minors who’s well-known to be one of the slickest fielders around and is pretty likely to be a superior hitter as well? Before this whole debacle went down, I’d already argued that Hu should be up to replace Berroa (or Ozuna) – and FireNedCollettiNow agrees.

I’m not insensitive to the injury issues that have left us barren at shortstop. But the continued presence of players like Angel Berroa and Pablo Ozuna continues to blow my mind. Neither can hit a lick – that’s no surprise. Berroa and Ozuna share nearly identical 76 and 75 career OPS+ marks, making them a full quarter worse than the average hitter. When you figure that you’re down somewhere around your 6th and 7th options on the middle infield depth chart, you don’t expect a whole lot of offense, so you can live with that. You just expect that for what you give up in offense, you’re going to get some contributions on defense.

Except that neither of them can field, either. Ozuna is 4 runs below average for his career as a second baseman, according to Baseball Prospectus, and Berroa is an almost unfathomable 45 runs below average as a shortstop over his career. It’s not like we didn’t all know this going in – just read some of the quotes included in our original report on Berroa.

As for Casey Blake, he’s not off the hook either; that error was crushing. But unlike Berroa and Ozuna, he’s at least provided some value with the bat, and his defense has actually been pretty good up until that boot.

I don’t know how this could be any clearer: shoddy defense had a direct impact in one and perhaps both of the previous two late-inning collapses. The two men you currently employ at crucial up-the-middle positions when defense is needed are both decidedly below-average at that task (nor can they hit). You have a far superior option in the minor leagues. What’s the hold-up here?

————

On another topic, fair’s fair. We’ve been really critical of Joe Torre around here lately, and I think it’s all been justified. So now when he does something that shows he might finally Get It, it wouldn’t be right to not applaud him for it.

Torre also indicated that Andre Ethier will remain in the starting outfield along with Matt Kemp in center and Manny Ramirez in left. Torre said Andruw Jones’ surgically repaired right knee is tender again and his availability even as a defensive replacement is day-to-day.

Meanwhile, Juan Pierre is really the odd man out. Although Torre initially indicated after the acquistion of Ramirez that Pierre would get the bulk of playing time ahead of Ethier, it hasn’t worked out that way. Ethier came into Sunday’s game 11-for-19 lifetime against Matt Cain, then went 2-for-3 against him with a triple, RBI and two runs scored.

“He’s seeing the ball really well right now and he has a little more pop [than Pierre],” Torre said. “As long as he looks comfortable, it’s easy to watch right now.”

The lineup for tonight’s game against Philly just came out and once again, Ethier in, Pierre out. Excellent work, Joe. Keep it up!

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