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

Might Nomar Actually Be Flammable?

This is about a week old, but it just came to my attention so I’m posting it anyway. If you’ve never read “The Dugout” on AOL’s Fanhouse, you are sorely missing out. Basically, they run (highly fictional, obviously) chat room conversation between famous athletes. This time, they send up the Dodgers - here’s the link to the full article, but check out this quick taste: 

dodgersdugout.jpg
There’s still time!

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