30 June 2007

A Quick Hook for Kuo

I underestimated how motivated Ned Colletti would be to find an alternative to Kuo after his latest shaky start. I thought that he would now be more motivated to make a trade for a starter in the coming weeks; instead Kuo has been sent down and DJ Houlton called up in his place.

I assume that Houlton will take Kuo's spot in the rotation, though I don't expect this to last very long, meaning I still expect a trade. I'm not happy that Kuo has been given up on at the big league level for now, but I am happy to see Houlton get another chance. But will he get a fair chance? Don't count on it.

Penny v Peavy

Penny and Peavy have given up 3 home runs combined, in 32 starts. You know, I don't think Loney will be reaching a 1.000 slugging percentage tonight.

If you performed an arm meld on Penny and Peavy and made them into uber-pitcher Brake Penvy, then you would be an evil mad scientist. Brake Penvy would be 19-3 with an ERA of about 2.1, with a lot of strikeouts. Yeah, see, I'm not going to do any math except for adding their records. I used all my brain just coming up with the name Brake Penvy. The point is these guys are really good.

There's not much to choose from between the two as far as results this year. If you have to choose you take Peavy, since he has a higher strikeout rate as well as being the better pitcher in past years.

Using the same grading system from the yesterday's pitcher matchup, here is Penny and Peavy's grade distributions in starts this year.

Jacob Edward Peavy

ERA: 2.14
WHIP: 1.07
Record: 9-2

A -- 8 -- 50%
B -- 4 -- 25%
C -- 3 -- 19%
D -- 1 -- 6%
F -- 0 -- 0%

Peavy has never pitched more than 7 innings this season, but then again, he doesn't need to with the bullpen the Padres have. He has a lot of 7 innings starts where he gives up 1 or 0 runs. He just doesn't blow up at all, and is likely to be brilliant on any given day. His second to worst start was when the Dodgers scored 4 in 6.2 innings off him.

Bradley Wayne Penny

ERA: 2.04
WHIP: 1.13
Record: 10-1

A -- 11 -- 69%
B -- 1 -- 6%
C -- 2 -- 12%
D -- 1 -- 6%
F -- 1 -- 6%

Penny has only one start of more than 7 innings, his last one, when he went 8. He's even more likely than Peavy to pitch a brilliant game, but he did have a complete meltdown in one start this year, against the Angels.

There's not much to choose from between these two.

Looming Trade and Other Notes

by Joshua Worley

Duck! Incoming Veteran Starter

If I had to grade Kuo's start last night, I'd have to give it an F. He seemed to be doing okay until the fourth inning. He really needed to strike some of those guys out and he couldn't. They kept hitting the ball, and hitting it hard. I'm not too discouraged by it, though for the first time my faith that Kuo is on his way to becoming a very good starter is shaken. Some guys are never able to put it all together consistently. Maybe he's one of them. There's no doubt that he's capable of brilliant starts, but his pitch counts mount too quickly and he's really struggled lately.

I don't think Ned Colletti is going to be content to let Billingsley and Kuo fill out the Dodger rotation for the rest of this season. Both of them have struggled noticably often, and neither one is giving the team very many innings. I believe Colletti is going to aggressively pursue at least a mid-level veteran starter.

I'd like Kuo and Billingsley to get at least another month. And they may, as I doubt any move will happen very soon. The teams involved in the trade market seem to be waiting to see how things shake out with the races and the various offers. But I think that as soon as he can Colletti will replace one of the young pitchers in the rotation. Young players don't seem to get a long leash with the Dodgers. I have no idea who the Dodgers would target in a trade, or who they might be willing to give up. But I'm already bracing myself for the small possibility that Matt Kemp could be traded. I think Colletti will be loath to lose him, but I also think Colletti will not be happy with both Kuo and Billingsley in the rotation the rest of the year, unless both suddenly become consistently good starters in the next month.

I'm saying what I think will happen. I don't really want it to happen, though I believe a legitimate case could be made for trading for a starter. Being a young prospect shouldn't be a guarantee of playing time any more than possessing a big contract should. But neither Kuo nor Billingsley deserves to lose his starting spot yet.

Padre 'Pen

I'm happy the Dodgers could take a chunk out of the Padres bullpen, including Hoffman, even if the rally came up a bit short at the end. I've always felt that Trevor Hoffman was a little overrated. He's an elite closer, of course, but last year he got more votes than Saito in the Cy Young voting when Saito clearly had the superior year.

Looney Loney Line Watch

Right now James Loney is 22 for 46 on the year. He's batting 0.478 with a 0.848 slugging percentage.

To get back to batting 0.500, he needs to go 3 for 4 or better in tonight's game.

To maintain a batting average above 0.400, he needs to make sure he doesn't go 0 for 10 in an epic extra-inning game.

To reach a 1.000 slugging percentage, he needs 11 total bases in 4 at bats. For instance, two home runs, a double, and a single.

To reach a 0.900 slugging percentage, he needs 6 total bases in 4 at bats. I favor the Pierre-cycle to reach this number: a triple, a double, and a single.

To maintain a slugging above 0.800, he needs at least one hit of any kind in 4 at bats.

29 June 2007

Kuo v Young

by Joshua Worley

First, the Padre co-ace, Christopher Ryan Young. He has an ERA of 2.08, a WHIP of 1.07, and a record of 7-3. Cy Young stuff right there. But how likely is he to dominate in any one start?

I've gone through all of Young's starts and given him a grade for each one.

The scale:

A -- dominant, long start, at most one run allowed
B -- gives team really good chance to win game
C -- borderline quality start or near quality start
D -- ineffective
F -- bombed

Young's distribution:

A --- 8 --- 53%
B --- 3 --- 20%
C --- 1 --- 7%
D --- 1 --- 7%
F --- 1 --- 7%
Inc --- 1 --- 7%

Young gets an imcomplete for the game he was kicked out of against the Cubs. He was probably headed for another A or B level game though.

So yeah, he's really good. More than half the time he is dominant, and he gives his team a great chance of winning about 3 out of 4 starts. It's not surprising that even with their sometimes iffy offense the Padres have won 10 of his 15 starts, including three 1-0 decisions! ( One of these was the game Young was kicked out of. )

What about Hong-Chi Kuo? With him, the season stats of a 6.33 ERA, 1.48 WHIP and 1-3 record don't really tell the story. Any Padre fan who looks at his numbers and assumes his or her team is going to roll to an easy win tonight may be in for a nasty surprise. Or maybe not. How likely is it Kuo will pitch well?

It's harder to say, because Kuo has fewer starts to look at and he's still rounding into form. I'm going to throw in last year's starts as well just to get a better feel for the breakdown of his starts.

A --- 3 --- 27%
B --- 2 --- 18%
C --- 4 --- 36%
D --- 1 --- 9%
F --- 1 --- 9%

This includes his 5 starts this year, 1 in the postseason last year, and 5 in September of last year. Kuo is all over the place, as we'd expect. He's capable of being brilliant; he's often just average, and a few times he's bombed. It's about a 50% chance that he'll put his team into excellent position to win, though he rarely loses the game for his team either.

I was stingy and gave Kuo a B for his 6 inning, 1 run performance in Petco in the finale of the series the Padres swept. I figured you need to either allow no runs or go at least 7 innings to get an A in Petco. Nevertheless the Padres have already seen Kuo at nearly his best, the equal of Young. Young is certainly more likely to pitch a gem, but Kuo has a decent shot at matching him or even besting him.

Padres Preview

by Joshua Worley

The Big Question, Part 1

Are the Padres better than the Dodgers? A lot of people would point to the team's current run differential as proof that the Padres are better than the Dodgers, and that it's just a matter of time until they pull out ahead. The Padres have a +79 run differential; the Dodgers are at +30.

I'm not impressed by this argument, though.

First, run differential only tells us what the teams have done, not what they will do. If the Dodgers were going with the same lineup and pitching staff all year, then I would be more concerned about the run differential. But Loney is now in the lineup, Kemp is in about half the time, and Tomko and Hendrickson have been exiled to the rump of the bullpen.

Second, one can go deeper than run differential to really look at how well a team has played, and in this measure the Dodgers now come out ahead of the Padres!

That link goes to the Baseball Prospectus adjusted standings, which lists real wins as well as first, second, and third order wins, the idea being that these higher order wins will do a better job of capturing how well a team has actually played so far. Anyone who cares to make the run differential argument in favor of the Padres is looking at only the first order wins. They aren't looking deep enough. The Padres are slightly behind the Dodgers in third order winning percentage.

Based on third order wins the Snakes should actually be last in the NL West, which supports my feeling that they're not going to hang around near the lead for much longer. If they can't get some more out of the young players, and if they can't keep Randy's back healthy, then they're likely sunk.

The Bullpen

Let's imagine, for a moment, that the Padre team is a single pitcher. This pitcher has a great, awesome 97 MPH fastball. This fastball is the Padre bullpen. It's the best fastball around. But the problem is, this pitcher can't quite locate the fastball reliably. Oh, he can sometimes, maybe even often. But there are times, too many times, when this great fastball is left out over the plate and a good hitter can smack it for a home run. Kind of like the pitch Russ Martin crushed over the center field wall yesterday.

The Padre bullpen, as good as it is, has failed the team a lot. The Padres, as a team, just can't seem to leverage their great bullpen as effectively as they could. They've lost 15 games, to only 5 bullpen losses for the Dodgers. I made this point about all the Padre bullpen losses in my last preview of a Padre-Dodger series, and nothing has changed since then. A lot of the Padre 'pen losses can be written off as bad luck or bad late inning offense, of course. Now I also said last time that the Padre bullpen would be the better bet between the two teams moving forward. I'm not so sure of that anymore, and it has little to do with the win-loss records of each 'pen.

Team -- ERA -- ( W - L ) -- K/9 -- BB/9 -- HR/9
Dodgers -- 3.52 -- ( 13 - 5 ) -- 9.3 -- 2.8 -- 0.52
Padres -- 2.45 -- ( 12 - 15 ) -- 6.6 -- 2.8 -- 0.55

Sure, the Padre 'pen is a full run better than the Dodger 'pen in ERA. But in the three fielding independent measures of pitching, the Padre 'pen is not better. The teams are about equally brilliant in suppressing walks and home runs, while the Dodgers are far superior in striking out batters. And no, I haven't secretly removed Joe Beimel and his tiny strikeout rate from the Dodger 'pen stats.

So I'm saying it now: the Dodger 'pen is better than the Padre 'pen. They have been better, at least in terms of how much their brilliance has been "timely" and benefited the team, and they will be better, based on clearly superior fielding independent stats.

The Padre 'pen is still really good, though. Here they are, with full names, ERA, and throwing arm listed.

Roger Royce Ring -- 0.00 -- left

He's the new guy in the pen, just called up after Brocail went on the DL. He's only pitched 5 innings in the NL so far. Did very well in AAA. Think Tsao very early in his Dodger career.

Kevin John Cameron -- 0.36 -- right

Call him Mr. Lucky. He's only 20-16 in strikeouts to walks. Think a right-handed Beimel, an absurdly effective pitcher with a poor K to BB ratio.

Justin Michael Hampson -- 2.59 -- left

Beimel version 2, only he's also left handed. I should note that these two guys do have slightly better K rates than Beimel, and they haven't blown up like Beimel did in Tampa yet. But it's coming.

Olise Claiborne Meredith -- 3.38 -- right

Olise has piled up 5 losses. The 1.07 ERA wonderboy of last season has fallen back to earth this year. This is Tsao later in the year, right before he was injured, when he started getting hit more but was still decent.

Scott Cameron Linebrink -- 2.60 -- right

The Padres lead the league in Camerons. Here's another guy whose stats don't seem to quite add up. None of these relievers are making me think of Broxton, Saito, relief Billingsley, or even Seanez so far. Still, he has done well.

Heath Justin Bell -- 1.55 -- right

Ding ding ding! Ring the bell, we have a winner for Padres relief ace. Finally someone who can strike out batters at an elite rate. Think Broxton. Think a little better than Broxton, even.

Trevor William Hoffman -- 1.86 -- right

Think Takashi Saito with more walks and fewer strikeouts and more losses and blown saves and tons more hype. Look, the Dodgers don't want to ever see Hoffman pitch when the Padres have the lead, but right now Saito is clearly better.


The Padres infield defense is slightly above average, according to the hardballtimes.com team stats. Starters are listed with position along with AVG, OBP, and SLG.

Marcus William Giles -- 2B -- 0.257 -- 0.333 -- 0.358

This is what I fear Jeff Kent's batting line will look like next year if he plays.

Khalil Thabit Greene -- SS -- 0.242 -- 0.276 -- 0.477

He's like the Snakes's Chris Young, only without all the prospect-hype. Home runs and not much else.

Adrian Gonzalez -- 1B -- 0.282 -- 0.352 -- 0.506

He's cooled down a lot in June. He's still have a better June than poor Nomar. I'm really worried about Nomar now. What on earth is wrong with him? If I didn't know better, I'd think he'd been infected by an alien brain slug. He just seems to have no life.

Kevin Kouzmanoff -- 3B -- 0.217 -- 0.279 -- 0.374

He's the new Mr. May. After a great May with an OPS of 0.950, he's thudded back to earth with an Tony Abreu-level June. See, I was correct when I expressed some skepticism about Kouz back at the end of May:

Kouz is clearly no longer the automatic out he once was, though it's far too soon to say that he's going to go on to a successful year. But an important part of the Padres nice record of 18-9 in May was Kouzmanoff's surge.

An important part of the Padres going 13-11 so far in June was Kouz falling off.

Geoff Blum is the Padre utility infielder, with Branyan also seeing a little time at third base.


Another solid defensive unit, according to hardballtimes. But who is going to play here? It seems like it may well be Bradley in left, Cameron in center, and Giles in right.

Michael Terrance Cameron -- CF -- 0.264 -- 0.324 -- 0.444

He's hitting like Andre Ethier, more or less. Not that impressive, though Cameron is in center, not right, and plays half his games in a severe run-suppressing environment.

Brian Stephen Giles -- RF -- 0.276 -- 0.347 -- 0.347

It's not a good sign when the first thought that comes into one's mind when looking for a comparable is "Juan Pierre". Giles has one home run so far. Ouch. I love the matching SLG and OBP, though.

Milton Obelle Bradley -- LF -- 0.292 -- 0.373 -- 0.446

The deal still doesn't seem to be official yet. And I don't know if he's even healthy enough to play. But if he can play for the Padres, he immediately becomes their best outfielder.

Also, there is Sledge, Cruz, Branyan, and Bocachica in the outfield. They've all been mildly serviceable, except for Bocachica who will likely be the one to go when Bradley comes on board. Though Bocachica did kill the Dodgers in the last series.

Starting Pitching

It's the starting pitching matchups that will lead people to think the Dodgers are going to lose this series. I'm going to approach this game by game for this series. Coming up later today, a look at Kuo v Young.

The Big Question, Part 2

Are the Padres better than the Dodgers? No. But nor can we say with any confidence that the Dodgers are better than the Padres. These teams appear to be very evenly matched for the next three months. The Padres may take 2 of 3 in this series, but then they may go and lose the next two when old pitchers Maddux and Wells go. This series is going to be great, maybe epic, but it won't tell the story of the rest of the season.

28 June 2007

Padres Get Bradley

by Joshua Worley

It's not official as I write this, but it's going to happen according to this article. The Padres are going to acquire Milton Bradley from the A's for a minor league pitcher. I'm guessing it's not a top-level pitching prospect, since the A's seem to have very little leverage here. I assume Kevin Towers asked Paul DePodesta what he knew about Bradley from his time as Dodger GM, and that this influenced the decision to go ahead with the trade.

If Bradley can play up to his potential, he'd become the best hitting outfielder on the Padres. Brian Giles is coming back from injury this weekend, but he's been really mediocre this season, producing about what a gimpy Rafael Furcal has produced with the Dodgers. Center fielder Mike Cameron has hit a lot better since his awful start, but at this point in their careers I think Bradley at his best is better. With Giles out, the Padres were going with a combination of Branyan, Cruz, and Sledge at the corner spots with an occasional helping of Bocachica. The first three were doing better than I thought, all with OPS's above 0.700, but Bradley will be a definite upgrade over them. If Bradley stays healthy the Padre offense will be better than it is now.

This seems like a no-risk move for the Padres. All it costs them if it doesn't work out is likely Hiram Bocachica's roster spot and probably a low-level pitching prospect. If it works out, they get a significant upgrade in the outfield. This move seems like bad news for Dodger fans.

I don't know if Bradley is healthy enough at the moment to play in the series against the Dodgers this weekend. He apparently injured his oblique muscle in his last at bat with the A's, which is what scuttled the deal to send him to Kansas City. I doubt the Padres know for sure yet either if he can play! In my experience watching baseball, oblique injuries are hard to predict and temperamental, much like Bradley. It's a fascinating development coming into this big June series.

26 June 2007

James Loney, Major League Star

by Joshua Worley

The first post I remember reading at Dodger Thoughts is this one about James Loney. Or maybe it was this one, a few days earlier. I remember reading about this really young player I had never hear of who was supposed to go on to be a superstar.

The memory of Jon's confidence in Loney has always stuck with me for some reason. Well, Loney wasn't the rookie of the year in 2004, but he sure seems like a dark horse candidate for 2007.

It's gotten to the point where it seems like he's going to hit an extra-base hit every time up. I just don't understand it. How does a guy who was scuffling along, striking out 20% of the time in Las Vegas just go on a tear once he reaches the big leagues?

So often people reach for psychological explanations for strange events in baseball, or even mundane events in baseball, when the answer is that it's just luck or random variation. But here, I think the obvious psychological explanation is the correct explanation for Loney's disparity between his start with the Dodgers and his sputtering never-could-start with the 51's this year. He was really bummed to be back in Vegas at the start of 2007, after hitting for such a great average in 2006. He rebelled at the thought of going around again. I don't think it was a intentional or conscious rebellion. But he had done everything right in 2006 and in spring training of 2007, and he was still stuck there, so maybe he had to be even better, and do things differently. So he rebelled by not trusting his talent and hitter's discipline as he had before. He rebelled against the injustice by pressing, and he struck out far more than he had previously.

Once back in the big leagues, almost miraculously, for who could see it coming ... he no longer had to press, or rebel. Justice was restored. And he's been hitting ever since.

Nomar Garciaparra, Prince of Baseball

by Joshua Worley

There was never an option to bench Nomar. It's fame. It's fate. It's the name. The cheers. A prince of baseball on our team.

There's nothing to analyze. Performance doesn't matter. Nomar performs merely by inhabiting his own body, his own mannerisms, his own name. There is the excitement of a home run in hearing his name announced. All those rolling R's! He is ours. There is the anticipation of a runner from first rounding third on a double in seeing him flash his mannerisms and fidgets before every pitch. Tap touch, tap adjust. Fiddle, fiddle, fiddle.

It's a team game. We are his team. Our memories of what he was sustain the glory of Nomar. He is the beloved superstar of the Red Sox, the 0.350 hitter, the man linked with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. And he has chosen the Dodgers. He has returned to his roots. He has chosen us! Why wouldn't we love him?

Nomar needs us to remember his past glory. He needs his Dodger teammates to produce his current glory. He has just one RBI this year when he comes up without a runner in scoring position. But when his teammates can get themselves to second or third, he's batting 0.423, with 37 RBIs. Those are the only at bats that matter. They are the only ones we should remember. Nomar Garciaparra, 0.400 hitter.

In just 11 games James Loney already has 4 RBIs when he comes up without a runner in scoring position. In less than half the at bats of Nomar, Wilson Betemit has 8 home runs. Both players are driving in runs at a higher rate than Nomar. But Loney and Betemit aren't princes of baseball. They have to wait for their time, if it ever comes.

It is Loney's time now, and not Betemit's. This is the fate of the game for lesser players. Nomar is graciously moving to third base so that it may be Loney's time. But let us not forget, it is always Nomar's time. He is the face of the Dodgers, a master of clutch, a prince of baseball.

25 June 2007

Snakes Preview

by Joshua Worley

I'm going right into player summaries this time, with sections on the bullpen and prognoses for the series and the Snake season to come at the end.

Eric James Byrnes -- LF/RF

age: 31
bats: right

0.317 -- 0.366 -- 0.516

Byrnes has been the offensive MVP of the Snakes in the first three sevenths of the season. Tracy has slightly better numbers, but in far fewer games played. Byrnes is a fast, exciting player, with 5 triples and 14 stolen bases. He has dangerous power too, with 12 home runs.

Byrnes walks just enough to be an effective hitter, but he's not up there looking for free passes to first base. As he's heated up in May and June his walks have actually declined. I think Dodger pitchers should never look to just get a first pitch strike over to him. He's hitting 0.435 off first pitches he swings at with 5 of his 12 home runs. In general, he seems to hit worse the deeper he gets into a count, even if he's ahead in the count. In all at bats in which he sees a 2-1 count at some point, he's hitting just 0.236. If the Dodgers are really stingy with the strike zone when he bats they'll limit his hitting. The risk of walking him is there but not overwhelming. And he does strike out a lot, with 48 so far, on a pace for more than 100 on the year.

Orlando Thill Hudson -- 2B

age: 29
bats: switch

0.298 -- 0.383 -- 0.469

The last time these teams played, Hudson was the Snakes best offensive player on the strength of his 0.340 batting average. At the time I was skeptical that this average would last, and it hasn't. But since then he has increased his walks, so that he's still getting on base at a very high rate.

Hudson doesn't swing at the first pitch as often as Byrnes, and when he does swing he doesn't do anything particularly good. Since Hudson is a danger to walk and he does hit better when ahead in the count, it's really imperative to get the first pitch strike over on him. His on base percentage is 0.473 after a 1-0 count, and 0.302 after 0-1. In comparison, Byrnes only has a 31 point spread between his at bats after these counts.

Chad Austin Tracy -- 3B/1B

age: 27
bats: left

0.289 -- 0.380 -- 0.521

Location. Keep the ball down on Tracy, and you have a chance to limit him. Yeah, he's a lefty, but he still likes the ball up.

Tracy has been injured a lot this year, and his health the rest of the year may determine how well the Snakes do. Or it may not. I mean, the Snakes were 15-6 while he was out with his injury in late May and early June. I doubt that really means anything, but man it's weird. The reason that the Snakes really didn't miss Tracy much was Mark Reynolds played out of his skull.

But long term, the Snakes are better off with Tracy in the lineup. The rest of their hitters come with warnings. Hudson and Byrnes are over-performing a bit. The quartet of promising youngsters are, well, young, and three of them are struggling to show more than just flashes of their great promise. Tracy is, ultimately, the foundation of their offense.

Mark Andrew Reynolds -- 3B

age: 23
bats: right

0.282 -- 0.348 -- 0.513

How good a fill-in for Tracy was Reynolds? Good enough so that the Snakes are occasionally playing Tracy at first base to get Reynolds in at third base. This means that Reynolds is taking some playing time away from Conor Jackson, which is probably a mistake.

The league has adjusted to Reynolds. His May OPS was 1.299; his June OPS is 0.483. He has no home runs or multi-hit games in June. He's been striking out about a third of the time in June. I hope the Dodgers are aware of the league's adjustments and take advantage of them. I hope the Snakes put Reynolds in the lineup in place of Tracy or Jackson. I hope I don't go on to rue these words.

Conor Sevin Jackson -- 1B

age: 25
bats: right

0.274 -- 0.376 -- 0.428

This isn't a great line from your first baseman. Nevertheless it represents the one success the Snakes have so far from their quartet of big-time prospects.

This is another batter against whom you really want to get that first pitch strike. The difference between starting Jackson off 1-0 and 0-1 is an OBP of 0.485 and 0.265. He only has 5 home runs, so the Dodgers shouldn't be too afraid of him. Penny and Lowe should be fine against him. Wolf maybe not so much, with his wildness. Watch for how Billingsley pitches him. If he falls behind hitters like Jackson and Hudson, it's probably going to be the sign of a long day for Chad.

I couldn't find Conor's middle name last time I previewed the Snakes. I'm glad I could dig it up this time. I'm a fan of middle names that sound like numbers. It's just too bad Jackson's uniform number isn't 7.

Christopher Brandon Young -- CF

age: 23
bats: right

0.246 -- 0.286 -- 0.432

Young, Drew, and Quentin are all plagued by high strikeout totals and line drive rates around 16%. All three of these highly touted prospects are struggling in the two basic aspects of hitting: making contact, and making that contact solidly. All three are saved by complete disaster by a secondary skill, but all are genuinely struggling, and keeping the Snakes offense from really taking off.

In Young's case, his saving skill is hitting home runs. But he's making a lot of outs just to hit 10 home runs. I think that giving up a home run to Young should be considered morally equivalent to giving up a home run to a regular power hitter on a 0-2 count. He's just not a disciplined, fundamentally sound hitter. You don't want to just go after him, challenge him. Make him go after your stuff. Young actually has a higher OBP after 0-1 than after 1-0! He's only gone on to walk 3 of 11 times after seeing a 3-0 count. He's a mess of a hitter with some power.

Carlos Jose Quentin -- RF

age: 24
bats: right

0.213 -- 0.302 -- 0.365

Quentin's secondary skill that saves him from being a total rookie bust are his walks. He also hits a few doubles and the odd home run to keep his slugging percentage out of Juan Pierre-land.

But these middling numbers aren't going to do the Dodgers much good in this series, because Carlos has some Ervin Santana-esque home-road splits. At home, his OPS is 0.910. He's Chad Tracy at home. On the road, his OPS is 0.396. He's Norihiro Nakamura on the road.

These splits will surely admit that they come from small sample sizes, but still! He sure looks like a dangerous hitter at home. His splits are so extreme that the writers at Arizona's official website have taken notice of it. Here's a quote about it from the splitty man himself: "I can't concentrate if there isn't a swimming pool in the outfield." Okay, he didn't really say that, but all his real quotes about it were really boring variations of yes, I know about it, I don't know why it's happening, and I need to do better.

Manager Melvin takes the boring "small sample size" view: "It's just one of those things that getting to the halfway point may be more coincidental than anything else." Fie on that! I say it's because Quentin doesn't have the will of the warrior on the road. Or maybe it's really the swimming pool. I'd like to see how he plays in Tampa with that cow-ray tank.

Stephen Oris Drew -- SS

age: 24
bats: left

0.237 -- 0.301 -- 0.346

His brother isn't played much better than him, actually. How come JD's middle name was something normal like Jonathan and Stephen got stuck with Oris?

Like Quentin, Drew grabs enough walks and doubles and odd homers to keep from being a complete disaster. Unlike Quentin, Drew has no interesting splits to investigate. This summary is over!

Octavio Augie Ojeda -- SS

age: 32
bats: switch

0.429 -- 0.529 -- 0.643

He goes by Augie instead of Octavio. I think he made the right call.

His line comes in 17 PA in 6 games, so no need to get too worried about him. Before his call-up a week and a half ago to replace the demoted Callaspo, his last stint in the big leagues was in 2004. He's the new utility infielder for the Snakes.

Christopher Ryan Snyder -- C

age: 26
bats: right

0.218 -- 0.299 -- 0.367

Miguel Angel Montero -- C

age: 23
bats: left

0.226 -- 0.292 -- 0.368

The two catchers look pretty similar in offense, don't they? I sure hope Russ Martin can handily outperform this duo in the series. If he doesn't then it will be a bad sign for the Dodgers.

Anthony Christopher Clark -- 1B

age: 35
bats: switch

0.242 -- 0.295 -- 0.516

He's like Young, except a little better at hitting home runs right now. He doesn't hit much as a right-handed batter. He may get a start against Penny, Lowe, or Billingsley, but there is a logjam at first with Jackson and Tracy ( to make room for Reynolds to get some starts ).

Scott Alexanader Hairston -- LF

age: 27
bats: right

0.225 -- 0.315 -- 0.372

It's a testament to how disappointing Young and Quentin have been that that it makes sense that Hairston has played in 54 games. Hairston is the canary in the mine. As long as he's playing semi-regularly, it's a sign the Snake offense hasn't reached division-winning level yet.

Micah Burton Owings -- P

age: 24
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
4.06 -- 64.1 -- 45 -- 24 -- 5

He pitches better at home than on the road, and as he's a decent pitcher anyway the Dodgers can't count on Owings to be a push-over. Lefties do very well against him, so here's a thought: since Loney is a better hitter than Nomar anyway, and Loney is left-handed and Nomar is right-handed, why not start Loney tonight? Just a wacky idea, I know.

Owings is usually a 5 or 6 inning pitcher, though he did have a complete game gem against Houston at home. But more likely than not the bullpen will play a large role in his start tonight.

Edgar Gerardo Gonzalez -- P

age: 24
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
4.35 -- 51.2 -- 41 -- 12 -- 10

He earned a starting rotation spot after a good spring, then moved into the 'pen in May to make room for Randy Johnson. Since then he's made a few spot starts. His ERA as a starter is 3.79, so he's not necessarily as easy mark for the Dodgers. But at home his ERA is 6.16, so maybe he really should be an easy mark Tuesday night. He's allowed 8 home runs at home, and left-handed hitters are hitting well against him. Say, here's a thought: why not start Loney at first instead of Nomar against Gonzalez? I know, another wacky idea.

He's not likely to go more than five innings, so again the Snakes 'pen will play a large role in the game.

One note: Randy Johnson is eligible to come off the DL on Tuesday. Now it is official that the Big Unit won't be making a start Tuesday, so Gonzalez is almost certain to get the start here, though manager Melvin hasn't yet made that official.

Brandon Tyler Webb -- P

age: 28
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
3.24 -- 111.0 -- 97 -- 37 -- 8

By the time the Dodgers have played the first three games of the series, they will have faced three pitchers against whom it makes no sense to start Garciaparra ahead of Loney. I wonder how many times Loney will actually start in that stretch, though?

The Dodgers will need all the offense they can get against Webb. He's still a ground ball machine. Will Pierre still find a way to pop up three times against him?

The Dodgers counter Webb with Lowe. I'm really looking forward to this matchup. Webb has regularly pitched deep into games, usually going at least 7 innings, so the Snakes bullpen may get a much needed rest Wednesday night.

Eisler Livan Hernandez -- P

age: 32
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
4.68 -- 100.0 -- 50 -- 48 -- 12

Livan is beginning to pay for his low strikeout rate and his near parity in strikeouts to walks. He's given up 17 runs in his last 3 starts. The Dodgers were flummoxed by him in his six inning, one run outing against them on Mayday, though he did take the loss in that game.

Here is yet another starter against whom Loney should get the call. The only starter I would even consider playing Nomar over Loney against is Randy Johnson, who isn't scheduled to start at the moment. However, that could change. Bob Melvin has said that Johnson might get the start Thursday instead of Livan.

Randall David Johnson -- P

age: 43
throws: hard, left

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
3.52 -- 53.2 -- 70 -- 11 -- 6

I sure hope he doesn't pitch against the Dodgers on Thursday. Except that it would be cool to see him. Just not to see him dominate the Dodgers. Randy still has it, clearly, judging by the strike outs and walks. Though he might struggle in his first start off the DL, or be limited in how deep into the game he can pitch.

The Snakes need him healthy for the rest of the year if they hope to maintain first place. The rotation is too thin without him. Doug Davis and Livan Hernandez are coming back to earth after good starts, and Owings and Gonzalez are ideally the sorts of five-inning pitchers who fight for the last spot in the rotation. If Randy is hurt they are instead the three and four starters.


The Snake 'pen has a collective ERA of 3.66, and a record of 15-8. They aren't great, but they aren't pushovers, and they're good enough and the Snakes late-inning offense has been good enough so that it's best to try to win the game against the starter rather than think you can win it against the 'pen.

Tony Pena and Brandon Lyon have both been good set-up men, though neither is over-powering. Doug Slaten has done well in the LOOGY role. Jose Valverde has been great as the closer, striking out more than a batter per inning and blowing only 3 of 27 save opportunities.

Dustin Nippert and Jailen Pequero are the guys you'll see when the Snakes are down or otherwise out of pitchers.

Season Prognosis:

The Snakes are in first place, of course, but I just don't see them staying there. I feel pretty confident in saying at least that the Padres are better than them. The Snakes advantage over the Padres and Dodgers should be their offense, but it just hasn't been there. All three teams have scored in the range of 326-329 runs on the year, and given the home parks of the three teams, that makes the Snake offense the worst of the three. The young prospects just haven't delivered, and at this point there's no reason to think they'll dramatically improve. It's the pitching that's kept the Snakes afloat, and that's just not going to last. I think the Snakes will battle the Dodgers for the wild card but fade by September when the back-end starters can't pull the load.

Series Prognosis:

If the Dodgers start their best players, I don't see why they can't take 3 of 4. I'm sure that Snakes fans also feel their team is set up to take 3 of 4, though. But I really think the Dodgers have the better team going into the series. Time to play the games and see!

Play the game

The Griffster

The Dodgers are headed into Arizona, but before I say something about that I have a few words about last night's game.

It was the kind of game, I think, that players and fans alike should just put out of their minds. Some days things just will not break your way, and that is not a reflection on your abilities, but simply on the inherent streak of chaos and randomness that the universe exhibits. If Pierre wasn't "out" at second, Gonzo's double would have brought in a run and at least one more batter to the plate. And who knows what would have happened if Kemp wasn't "out" at second later on? I hope the second base umpire steps on a frog somewhere down the road and it is really gross, so that a sense of karma can be served. Of course, this means that the universe has to provide a frog that has a squishing coming. Somehow I don't think it will find it hard to do that.

Anyway, even if two or three more runs came the Dodgers' way, they would still have lost thanks to whatever Beimel did. I don't know because I wasn't watching anymore.

Loney hit a home run in the top of the ninth. Yet again, that draws a thick line under the "Why" of "Why are we still letting Nomar play first?" Right now, Loney provides better production at first. Also, isn't it fun to have Kemp in the lineup? He's progressed a lot from when we saw him last year. He is going to be fun to watch for years. He's ready for The Show, just as Loney is.

The tendency to leave men on have begun resurfacing a bit over the last series. Well, that is something Dodger fans have to live with. This team is constructed that way. You're more likely to see a single than you are to see extra bases, and extra bases are more likely to drive in runs or put them in scoring position than singles are. This is what the Dodgers are right now, and fans have to support them through the frustration of it, or bail out and come back later when fandom is easier.

Now, unto matters future. The Snakes are waiting. They just bopped the Orioles, who bopped San Diego in Petco Park just before this series. San Diego is the muscle of the NL West right now. Colletti and co better hope like all get out that Towers doesn't land a big bat from somewhere, because then we'll be staring at the "also ran" label again this year. Still, just because the Snakes beat a team that beat the Padres and the Padres last beat us doesn't mean that the Snakes will now beat us.

The Orioles are not a very strong team, and the fact that they just got beat by the Snakes doesn't mean that much. The most important thing is for the Dodgers to now play well against the Snakes. A 4-0 sweep would be great, of course, but I think it is realistic that the Dodgers aim for, and maybe expect, a 2-2 split. Just don't lose 1-3, please.

The matchups are:

Penny ( 2.12 ) against Owings ( 4.06 )
Bills ( 3.26 ) against Gonzalez ( 4.35 )
Lowe ( 3.14 ) against Webb ( 3.24 )
Probably one of Kuo or Wolf against Hernandez ( 4.68 )

Now, come on. The first three matchups are great. If Loney and Kemp can just be in the lineup and Nomar and Pierre not, surely we can just grab those three games right there. After this series we play the Padres, and wouldn't you know it, but we're in line to draw Young AND Peavy. Ouch. So it is important that the Dodgers dig in and start playing like they mean it. I want gritty at bats. There are no elegant power swings in this lineup ( unless Kemp and Loney plays and Betemit plays like he can, and Gonzo continues surprising ) so we need to play with grit and application. Don't give away the at bat with a weak slap to second. Work the counts, hang in there, make the pitcher get you out. The first pitch slapping and lack of walking exhibited by some in the lineup gets old in a hurry. Look at the Red Sox and what they did to Peavy. They made him throw eleventy-one pitches in five innings. They beat him, too. That's the kind of play the Dodgers should aim for. The Red Sox lineup is filled with a few hitters patient as a glacier - Youkilis and Drew, for example. Those guys really help the cause of the team as a whole, at least in my opinion. Wear down the starting pitcher and get into the bullpen early and often.

The upcoming stretch is important. I have a feeling the Dodgers will hit a hot stretch soon, and I hope it can be against Arizona and San Diego. There's an opportunity to land a heavy punch, and I hope the Dodgers will step up and grab the opportunity. If we don't, we're doomed to hang around in third place, between one and three games or so back. Not quite good enough.

And who wants to be not quite good enough?

23 June 2007

The Walk

by Joshua Worley

It's a special thing when one can see the brilliance of a long, legendary career captured in a single moment. It's even more special when one can see that moment very early in a career, when the greatness to come is mere potential, when no one really knows what shape it will take. And it's a joy worth recording when that moment of captured future brilliance comes in such an unexpected way, like a revelation.

To truly excel at almost anything requires discipline. Talent must be focused. Drive must be unleashed at the proper times. When Matt Kemp came up in the ninth inning, I wanted to see him hit the ball hard. ( Heck, I wanted to hit a ball hard, if that makes sense. ) I wanted a home run from him, like the ones we saw last year, like the one he hit earlier this year. I wanted that tie game so bad. How much must Kemp have wanted it? I can't even imagine.

After his very small mistake that had such horrible consequences earlier in the game, he must have wanted it so bad. When he was at the plate in the top of the seventh with a 2-0 count with one out and the bases loaded, ready to break the tie, he had a world of good possibilities in front of him. There were so many ways for him to unleash his talent and put the Dodgers ahead. Instead, he was just a tiniest bit too undisciplined. It's the sort of slip-up that wouldn't even be worth mentioning, were the consequences not so devastating. Kemp swung at a pitch that wasn't in a place he could really crush it. In that situation, with the pitcher nearly at your mercy, you just don't swing at that tough inside pitch. I think it had some good movement on it. It was almost certainly a strike. But it wasn't the pitch that Kemp should have swung at there, and he made two outs without a run scoring. Even his great speed or power couldn't save him. The ball was hit right where they wanted it hit. And Kemp was so distraught after, banging his helmet in frustration in the dugout. Such a small mistake, and that is the price?

So now Kemp was up in the ninth with two outs, with the Dodgers down by a run, about to lose a horribly frustrating game, and he is the last chance. His home run power is their last chance, and he must know it. He's got to want to make up for that awful, small mistake with a home run to tie the game.

And here is the glimpse of brilliance, the joy of an entire legendary career seen in one moment: he maintained his discipline. This is the moment that gives me great hope that he really can have a long, legendary career. He didn't say to himself, "I have to hit a home run." When the count got to 0-2, he didn't just swing for the fences at whatever was offered. He took pitches out of the zone. He took a pitch that couldn't have been more than an inch off the plate! And finally he walked. It wasn't just strike out or home run for Matt Kemp there. The pure ability of Matt Kemp is something to behold, but that walk, that discipline, is something really special, something that will separate him from many other talented players. I'm sure he has a lot of work yet to do, but I have no doubt now that it can all come together for him. This is a leap of faith, perhaps still an overreach, but I have no doubt now: Matt Kemp can focus the incredible talent he has. That walk, that amazingly disciplined walk, especially after the frustration that came before: that's what I will remember years from now about today's game. It is why I will remember today's game.

Milton Bradley

by Joshua Worley

What dooms him, finally, are not his emotional ailments, but his physical ailments. Milton Bradley is like an exciting board game with a tragic flaw. It's complete with exquisitely carved wooden tokens, an embossed game-board, and a rule-book that is almost frustratingly detailed. Given patience and persistence, the rules can be sorted out, but finally the game that seems like it will be so much fun is unplayable for a much more mundane and irrefutable reason. There are no dice.

It may be Bradley's emotional meltdowns that get the bigger headlines, that are more memorable, that make him seem like a bad risk, but it's really his persistent and unshakable injuries that have told the story of his career. If he could just stay healthy, he would be a star, one of the most exciting players in the game. Good and exciting are not synonymous. Adam Dunn is good, very good, but not exciting. Milton Bradley is good and exciting, a real joy to watch play baseball. He plays with such purpose. He is a good defender, a patient hitter with power, a fast, determined runner. He's more like Matt Kemp than Juan Pierre on the bases. Fast and scary.

Fast and scary. These words so well describe Bradley. His temper comes fast and scary. It was with the Dodgers that his worst meltdowns came. Bradley's most physically healthy year may have been his most mentally unhealthy year, at least publicly. Bradley's incidents from 2004 don't need but a few words to describe for anyone who watched that Dodger season. The bag of baseballs. The bottle and the fan. The "Uncle Tom" reporter. The "Arrest Me" incident on an Ohio highway.

Milton Obelle Bradley -- CF/DL

age: 29
bats: switch

Year -- games -- OPS

2002 -- 98 -- 0.723
2003 -- 101 -- 0.922
2004 -- 141 -- 0.786
2005 -- 75 -- 0.834
2006 -- 96 -- 0.817
2007 -- 19 -- 0.819

Bradley just seems to wear down so easily. It's as if he plays too hard, with such fire, that he just burns himself up. I wonder if it's not a coincidence that his healthiest year on 2004 was also his second worst year with the bat; his worst year leaving out his rookie year. Bradley is never fully healthy for long.

After Bradley called Jeff Kent a racist made pointed remarks about what he perceived ( perhaps correctly ) as Jeff Kent's insensitivity toward African-Americans in 2005 and then allegedly choked his wife that off-season, the Dodgers had seen enough of him and decided to ship him out. But given that he had only played 75 games in 2005, there were also plenty of on-field reasons to trade the troubled outfielder. New GM Ned Colletti eventually traded Milton Bradley to Oakland for Andre Ethier. Antonio Perez was also sent to Oakland in the deal.

By talent alone, the deal was a clear win for Oakland. But talent alone has never defined Bradley, unfortunately. Given Bradley's injury troubles, and that Oakland just designated him for assignment, did the Dodgers in fact win this deal?

Andre Ethier had a great 2006 and helped the Dodgers make the playoffs. By no means a cinch to play on the big club in 2006, Ethier was promoted to the Dodgers in May of 2006 when Ricky Ledee was injured. He played occasionally for a month or so, and then really started to hit for a sky high batting average in the middle months of the season, before falling into a September slump and losing most of his playing time to Marlon Anderson. Nevertheless, Ethier was a blue bolt through the Dodgers season, and unexpected charge that helped power the Dodgers into the playoffs. Surely just based on 2006 the Dodgers won the Bradley trade?

But Milton Bradley also had a good 2006, when he played. He also helped his team make the playoffs. Of course it's important to remember that Ethier didn't log a full 2006 either, though for different reasons than Bradley. Here are the three principles of the trade and their win shares in 2006, according to hardballtimes.com.

player -- WS -- WSAB

Ethier -- 12 -- (+4)
Bradley -- 13 -- (+6)
Perez -- 0 -- (-3)

WSAB is win shares above bench, and roughly says how better or worse a player would be than a typical bench player. When he played in 2006, Bradley was actually a bit better than Ethier, though Perez's apocalyptically awful year drags down the Oakland half of the ledger and probably gives the Dodgers a slight edge on the trade in 2006.

Given the the A's have now designated Bradley for assignment, there may be some reactionary writers who take the angle that these Moneyball GM's have learned the hard way the value of team chemistry. Both DePodesta and Beane traded for Bradley, and their teams were later forced to part with him. It's not all on base percentage and VORP; chemistry and character matter! But more to the point, durability matters. I don't necessarily think it's a mistake to acquire a player like Bradley, who is so injury-prone, but he may not end up being worth as much as you'd think, or hope. Ned Colletti has gone to the other extreme, of course, and acquired the anti-Bradley in Juan Pierre. Pierre is fast and not scary at all. He's durable and mediocre. I think overpaying for Bradley is less objectionable to over-paying for Pierre, though this may be a gambler's philosophy. edit: on second thought, I'm not sure it's fair to say either DePodesta or Beane overpaid for Bradley.

I don't think one can rationally say that given what the principles knew at the time of the trade that the A's or the Dodgers made a bad trade. Bradley had worn out his welcome in LA off the field, and the incident with his wife was truly awful and disturbing. There was no reason to think it was a sure thing that Bradley would play a entire injury-free season. There was also no reason to think Ethier would ever become a good big leaguer, much less in 2006. In fact, it's not certain even now that Ethier will ever be much more than a fourth outfielder. He's not yet recaptured any of his July 2006 magic in 2007.

The A's were set to get a small bit of remaining value out of Bradley in their trade with the Royals, but they were burned by a Bradley injury one last time. The trade has been scuttled because Bradley injured his oblique muscle in his very last at bat with the A's! It's so absurd and fitting, and sad, too. The Dodgers will get some value out of Ethier in the future, maybe a lot if he ever rebounds to his 2006 level. So based only on results, I do think the trade has turned into a small win for the Dodgers. This doesn't mean Oakland did the wrong thing in trading for Bradley, just as I don't think it was wrong for the Dodgers to obtain Bradley in 2004. Bradley is a high-stakes player. You've got to know that when you roll the dice on him. He may pay off spectacularly for awhile and help you go on to greater things. Just know that eventually he'll come up snake-eyes.

22 June 2007

The 400 Club

by Joshua Worley

Both Loney and Kemp are batting over 0.400 on the season. They are putting a fierce purpose behind their talent and spraying the ball hard everywhere, and right now the singles are falling in, the doubles are scorching over, and even a few home runs are booming. Just two home runs, so far, but they will hit more.

I was hoping one of them might hit a home run tonight, especially off this young fly ball pitcher Sonnanstine. The Dodgers took full advantage of his fly ball tendencies in the second inning, as I hoped they would, scoring two off of a home run, a pair of doubles, and a fly out flown amok on a shaky throw. It's funny --- while Ethier's double didn't result in a run, it did make the second run Sonnanstine allowed in the inning become earned instead of unearned.

Lowe faltered again toward the end of his outing, as he sometimes does. It's easy to see when it's happening, though always impossible to predict the damage that might occur. He'll start to allow more balls hit in the air, and the grounders will start to be harder, but that doesn't mean a home run is coming. But tonight one did. Grady did the right thing in pulling him right after the bomb by Delmon Young, clearly, and I would say that even if Seanez had gone on to cough up the lead there. Delmon Young played like a future version of himself in this game, going 3 for 4 with the home run.

The young guys on the Dodgers are just so fun to watch, though the very best highlight of the game for me was seeing two slow wily veterans hit consecutive stand up triples. But the youth is just so much more consistently fun to watch. I don't want to wane pessimistic about Loney and Kemp's chances of playing tomorrow even with their combined 5 for 9 this past game, so I won't. I just hope to see them batting one after the other many more times this season. The thing is, they shouldn't be batting 0.400. If they were playing as much as they should, they wouldn't be batting so high. Such a thing can't last for any hitter. So please, Grady, boot them out of the 400 club as soon as possible!

Tampa Bay Preview: Gack, What's in This Juice?

by Joshua Worley

Tampa Bay just can't pitch. Well, they can pitch, but when they do their opponents score lots of runs. They've allowed the most runs in baseball. The starting staff is bad; the relievers are bad. This is the team that gave the Dodgers Dannys Baez, Lance Carter and Mark Hendrickson, after all. From the waters of the bay of Tampa flow many bad pitchers.

Their lineup is pretty good, better than the Dodgers, by my reckoning. But it's just not enough to overcome that bad pitching. How depressing it must be to be a fan of Tampa Bay! There aren't even any salad days to remember. It's been all gruel for fans of the Rays since they came into the American League, and is there any realistic hope that they can ever compete with New York or Boston? Back when Major League Baseball was talking about contracting teams, how come they never talked about contracting this one? At least let that abortion of a stadium be sucked into a black hole. I am not looking forward to seeing baseball played in what might as well be an Ikea warehouse with some turf slapped down. Does Tropicana actually pay to have their name associated with this horrible stadium? I guess it's truth in advertising, since their juices taste like unfiltered swill.

The Rays record is 31-39, with 345 runs scored and 429 allowed. The pitching match-ups will be Lowe v Sonnanstine, Wolf v Kazmir, and Kuo v Jackson, unless Jackson is skipped.

Elijah David Dukes -- future DFA

age: 22
bats: right

0.190 -- 0.318 -- 0.391

I don't think he's going to play in this series. He hasn't started since June 12. In the eight games since then he's had 3 pinch hitting appearances. In June he's 2-36, with both hits singles. He threatened to kill his wife and has been subjected to a restraining order. He called into a sports talk radio show Tuesday morning and ranted about his lack of playing time.

Dukes clearly has talent. He has plate discipline ( 33 walks ) and power ( 10 home runs ). But he strikes out too much to be a consistently dangerous hitter, and while he might yet develop into a very good hitter, he'll likely destroy his career with his off field problems first. I don't believe any team will give Tampa Bay anything in trade for Dukes, though some team will surely take a chance on him if he's released.

Akinori Iwamura -- 3B

age: 28
bats: left

0.323 -- 0.426 -- 0.476

His nickname is "Japanese Lightning". These stats, while very good, come in only about a month of play. He's missed time due to an oblique strain and an eye injury.

This is his first year in the Major Leagues, after 9 years in the Japanese Central League. He won 6 gold gloves at third base in Japan, so he's apparently a good defensive third baseman. He showed power in Japan, hitting 44 home runs three years ago and 32 last year, but this year he only has 2 so far. He's batting leadoff for the Devil Rays, and he gets on base plenty. He's a modest 5 for 8 in stolen bases.

Given the dissatisfaction the Dodgers seem to have with their third base candidates, I wonder why they didn't make more of an effort to grab Iwamura when he was posted. The winning bid was a mere 4.5 million. I'd rather see what Betemit and LaRoche can do at third, of course, but I don't think Ned feels the same way.

Brendan Michael Harris -- SS

age: 26
bats: right

0.311 -- 0.365 -- 0.484

Born in Albany, NY, his nickname is "Albanese Lightning". Okay, it's not, but that would be cool.

The Rays got him by trading either a player to be named or cash considerations to the Reds. He's been quite good, with some power and a line drive rate of 26% fueling his high average. The top of the Rays lineup is not to be taken lightly.

Carl Demonte Crawford -- LF

age: 25
bats: left

0.297 -- 0.354 -- 0.473

Often the subject of trade rumors involving the Dodgers, Crawford has been the Rays highest profile player for a few years now. One can see why Crawford would be highly sought after, and be expensive to obtain in trade. He's a 0.800 OPS players who regularly steals 50 bases, and he's only 25. It's easy to imagine him making a leap in performance over the next few years and turning into version 2 of pre-steroids Barry Bonds. That's a very optimistic projection, of course, and he's never showed the patience of Barry, which is perhaps his greatest weakness right now. His career OBP is only 0.329.

Gregory Blakemoor Norton -- DH/1B

age: 34
bats: switch

0.212 -- 0.369 -- 0.288

He's been pressed into service as a regular starter because of the injuries to Rocco Baldelli and BJ Upton. He's mostly played as the DH lately and batted fourth, which seems odd to me when you have Carlos Pena available to bat fourth.

This is the kind of player Dodger pitchers will love to see after struggling against the top of the Rays lineup. I can see it now: in the first inning Randy Wolf has allowed two on with one out after the fearsome top three of the batting order, and up to the plate steps Greg Norton, cleanup hitter. Wolf would have to have visions of a double play to end the inning, right? Of course, Wolf is more of a fly ball pitcher, and Norton hasn't grounded into any double plays this year, so maybe he can strike out instead. He does that a lot. He also walks a lot, and that leads me to my minor goal for the Dodger pitchers this series: don't walk Greg Norton.

Carlos Felipe Pena -- 1B

age: 29
bats: left

0.307 -- 0.401 -- 0.665

Where did this come from? He showed some promise with the Tigers back in 2003 and 2004, but he just couldn't hit for a high enough average to keep his job as starting first baseman. After bouncing around the minor leagues of Detroit and New York ( AL ) the last few years, and playing in only 18 games last year with the Red Sox, he's put it all together this year. He has a good batting average, he's getting on base, and he's hit more home runs than ever, with 17 so far this year. Wolf, you better be out of the first inning before Pena comes up.

Or should he? Well, yes, he should, but Pena isn't the same hitter against lefties as he is against righties. He only has one home run in 29 at bats against left-handed pitchers. So maybe it's a good thing that Kuo has been moved up to Sunday. Pena might even sit out one of the two final games.

Ty Allen Wigginton -- 2B

age: 29
bats: right

0.279 -- 0.325 -- 0.474

Like a lot of other Devil Ray hitters, he strikes out a lot. That seems like a good sign for both Wolf and Kuo. The bad news is that Wigginton is mashing lefties so far this year, with an OPS above 1.000. So against Kuo and Wolf the Rays lose Pena as a force but gain Wigginton. Great.

Delmon Demarcus Young -- RF

age: 21
bats: right

0.270 -- 0.303 -- 0.410

He's not ready for the big leagues yet. Dodger pitchers, get him out while he's still a relatively easy out early in his career. It's only going to get harder in the future. He does do a bit better against lefty pitchers.

Dioner Fabian Navarro -- C

age: 23
bats: switch

0.170 -- 0.241 -- 0.240

Any day Navarro catches instead of backup Raul Casanova will be an advantage for the Dodgers. Even though the Rays will be playing with the DH they'll still have a hitter who hits like a pitcher in the lineup.

This line for Navarro makes me sad. I really liked him when he was with the Dodgers. I don't know, exactly, but something seemed to happen to him between 2005 and 2006. He just didn't seem to be the same player. He just wasn't playing well for the Dodgers offensively or defensively, at least not to my observation, and then Martin burst on to the scene after Dioner was hurt and there was no looking back for the Dodgers at that point.

But there was a time when I really thought Navarro was the catcher of the future for the Dodgers. I hope he starts playing better, though only after the Dodgers leave Tampa.

Jonny Johnson Gomes -- RF/DH

age: 26
bats: right

0.273 -- 0.364 -- 0.532

There are some good names on the Rays, but Gomes wins the title for best name. I can only wonder what could have been, though. If he had been named Jonny Jones Gomes that would be the best baseball name of all time. I'm not sure, though, is Gomes pronounced with two syllables or just one?

The reason that the Rays are trying to sell for Dukes' benching is that they're making room in the lineup for the resurgent Gomes. And truly Gomes is playing better than Dukes, though that's not all there is to it, of course. The Rays have played 6 straight games without the DH coming into this series, but previously they had Gomes batting ninth. I'm not sure why they wouldn't put the catcher there.

Andrew Michael Sonnanstine -- P

age: 24
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
7.11 -- 19.0 -- 20 -- 2 -- 6

That 7.11 ERA looks mighty inviting, but can the Dodgers take advantage of him if they don't hit home runs against him? I sure hope tonight's game isn't the one where Sonnanstine figures it out and stops giving up home runs and pitches a gem.

He's pitched well in one of his three starts since being called up, actually. Against Florida he gave up just two runs in 7 innings, both on solo home runs, and struck out 10. But home runs figure to continue to plague him, because he's given up 28 fly balls to 16 ground balls so far.

Matt Kemp and Wilson Betemit better start tonight, not only because they should anyway, but to take advantage of this pitcher's home run habits. And Loney ought to start as well.

Scott Edward Kazmir -- P

age: 23
throws: left

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
4.10 -- 90.0 -- 91 -- 44 -- 10

Since the Dodgers miss seeing Shields, this is the only good pitcher they'll face this series. But he's not been as good as he was last year, because his walks and home runs allowed are slightly up. He seems a lot like a Wolf-type pitcher to me, so it's appropriate that they face each other Saturday. If it really is the battle of two similar pitchers, then doesn't the advantage go to the Rays because they have the better lineup?

Edwin Jackson Jr. -- P

age: 23
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
7.85 -- 57.1 -- 52 -- 37 -- 9

Jackson was one out away from qualifying for his first win of the season against the Snakes, but he had to come out of the game with finger cramps. The Devil Rays might skip his start, but for now he appears to be the scheduled starter for Sunday.

Jackson is still only 23, so I guess it's too soon to just give up on him. The strikeouts are there; he just allows way too many walks in the process of getting those strikeouts. I'm looking back at this 2003 season, when he dazzled in 3 starts with an ERA of 2.46, and even then he was walking a batter every two innings. Of course, Billingsley was rather wild last year, and he seems to have settled down this year. I think it would be rash for a team like the Devil Rays who aren't going anywhere this year to give up on Jackson. The Dodgers clearly had no place for him, though. They couldn't carry him on the big club, and he wasn't progressing at all in AAA.

If Jackson doesn't pitch, then it's likely Jason Hammel to get the start. Hammel has only pitched 9 innings with the Rays this year. I'd really rather see Jackson, in spite of the Lima-potential for him to suddenly pitch well against his old team.


My television shatters trying to render the monstrous stadium of the Rays. Lowe give up one run in eight innings but gets a no-decision after the Dodgers disappear against Sonnanstine. Wolf gives up 4 early but settles down and the Dodgers win late against the awful Rays pen. Just for the heck of it Grady puts Kuo in as the pitcher and DH against Jackson and the Dodgers become the first team ever to hit 9 home runs in a row.

21 June 2007

Injury Makes the Choices Around Here

by Joshua Worley

Kemp and Loney get zero starts combined in the series in Toronto. To quote from the global warming commercial the state of California just paid to be aired, that's not just a fact, it's a choice. And that makes it almost worse than any sweep. When the Dodgers get swept, it's not just that they played poorly: the opponent also played well. There was a contest on the field and though the Dodgers tried to win, they failed. That's not necessarily disheartening, though it's usually disappointing. But when Loney and Kemp are shut out of a series, never allowed to start, that is something the Dodgers did all by themselves, and that is disheartening and depressing.

I don't know, maybe Grady could forsee that the evil Toronto turf would injure either of those young players if they played. Loney did have that collision with the wall on Suday, but you know, I have a feeling he wouldn't have started in this series even if that didn't happen. It's hard to imagine that either of these players are going to get the playing time at the big league level they need when neither starts once during an entire series. That doesn't mean it won't ever happen. The better part of me still hopes for it. But I have to wonder what conditions will have to prevail for it to happen. I suspect that only an injury will get Loney or Kemp the playing time they need. Does that mean I should hope for an injury?

No! And yet ... I think about the rubber game of the Toronto series going on as I type this, in which Billingsley got the start, and I realize that I'm very happy to finally see Billingsley start, after two and a half months of bullpen exile, and then I remember that to get my wish for him to start another pitcher had to be injured. I certainly didn't want to see Schmidt injured, and yet that's what it took. Injury made the choice to start Billingsley. ( That, and some very basic sense that Tomko and Hendrickson weren't good choices. )

I think it was a good idea to start the year with Billingsley in the bullpen, to limit the number of pitches he would make this season, though I don't think I would have done it. I want to see the promising young players right away. Yes, they need to first show they belong by excelling in the minor leagues. But once they've climbed the ladder, it's time to play them. Unless there is someone obviously better blocking them, it's time to play them. That doesn't seem to be the Dodger philosophy, though.

Matt Kemp is batting now. To give Grady the credit he deserves, at least Kemp has had at bats in every game even if he hasn't started. Kemp is just so talented, such raw power and speed ... and here he grounds out to second, except the second baseman can't field it cleanly as he goes to his left, and once a fielder bobbles a Kemp grounder he can forget about throwing, so fast is Kemp. Kemp safe at first.

I want to see more of that. I just don't want to have to hope for an injury to see it happen.

update: And then Kemp displayed his incredible power in his second at bat, hitting a ball I was sure would just be a fly out to center field that carried, and carried until it was a booming double. What a player! So fun to watch! Please, Grady. Play him. Free the Bison.

19 June 2007

One and Twenty, Unrelenty

by Joshua Worley

As everyone who follows the team likely knows, the Dodgers are 1-20 in their last 21 games in AL parks. To this unrelenting fact, I say: So what?

Record by year in AL parks:

2005: 0-9
2006: 1-8
2007: 0-3

About half of this awful 1-20 mark comes from the 2005 Dodgers. That's two years ago, which in the case of the Dodgers is a very very long time ago, almost an entire roster ago. That 2005 team has almost nothing to do with this year's team. Here's some rather scary proof in the form of a list of Dodger starters with games started in the nine 2005 losses:

Kent - 8
Saenz - 8
Werth - 8
Phillips - 8
Perez - 8
Choi - 8
Edwards - 7
Drew - 6
Grabowski - 6
Izturis - 5
Repko - 3
Ross - 3
Rose - 2
Robles - 1

Half the names in this list fill me with a sort of horrified despair, a protest that surely there wasn't a time when I honestly hoped that a team playing Jason Grabowski and Mike Edwards regularly would ever win anything. Only Kent and Saenz remain on the 2007 Dodgers from this despressing list of starters.

The starting pitchers from the 2005 losses show slightly more overlap:

Weaver - 3
Penny - 2
Lowe - 2
Houlton - 1
Dessens - 1

The whipping boy of this group, Weaver, is gone. Penny and Lowe weren't having the kind of years in 2005 they're having in 2007. I'm thinking their success this year is a much better indicator of how they'll do in Toronto and Tampa than a few starts in different AL parks back in 2005.

The 2006 Dodger lineup that went 1-8 was about 2/3 consistent with this year's, with a few players such as Lofton, Cruz and Izturis moving on. The starting pitchers of the 2006 team were a varied lot:

Billingsley - 2
Tomko - 1
Hendrickson - 1
Seo - 1
Sele - 1
Lowe - 1
Perez - 1
Penny - 1

Five of the 9 starts are by pitchers who are gone or no longer in the starting rotation. Penny picked up the lone win of the 9 last year. Billingsley seems likely to pitch sometime in the upcoming 6 games, and he did have two losses in AL parks last year. But Billingsley has come a long way in a year, judging by his much improved K/BB ratio from this year to last.

I'm not going to do another Blue Jays preview since I just did one a few weeks ago, and I won't have anything new to say about them. The Dodgers get to see the same three pitchers as last series. McGowan, Halladay, and Marcum. They're all good, but none of them are unhittable, and all are capable of mixing in a bad game as well. The Dodgers will counter with Penny, Kuo, and a third starter to be announced. I'm not sure why Lowe isn't starting in Toronto; maybe it has something to do with the turf in Toronto vs the turf in Tampa. Whenever Lowe does start, the Dodgers will also need to slide someone new into the rotation and I have to believe that will be Billingsley, since Tomko and Hendrickson have already earned their demotions.

I guess the one argument that the Dodgers are doomed in the next six games that makes a small amount of sense concerns the artificial turf they will have to play on. It's not something you ever see anymore in the National League, which is a reversal from the 80's when I started watching baseball. Back then 5 of 12 NL teams had it, so the Dodgers would play about a fifth of their games on turf and they could get used to it. Now the only time the Dodgers ever see it is in the occasional AL park visit, so it's alien to them. I suppose the turf could give Tampa Bay and Toronto some small fielding advantages in the series. We'll see.

18 June 2007

The Battle for the LA Fan

by Joshua Worley

Having just endured the end of a 5-1 season series victory by the Angels over the Dodgers, I decided to tackle another battle of these LA rivals. This time, it's a question of which of these teams a baseball fan living in the LA metropolitan area should choose as his or her favorite team. Twenty years ago, ten years ago, even five years ago, the answer to this question would have been obviously the Dodgers. But the Angels have clearly closed the gap, to the point that the outcome of this battle is in doubt. I believe that overall both franchises are top-rate, so really the prospective fan can't lose, whichever choice is made. Still, which is the better choice? Is the unthinkable possible, another Angel victory over the Dodgers?

I've broken the battle between the teams down into several categories, not all of equal importance. I've tried to give out fair grades to each team in each category, though of course I am a Dodger fan.


Dodgers -- A-
Angels -- B

I haven't been to Angel stadium, which makes it hard for me to give it a grade. By most accounts it's a nice place to watch a ballgame, and how can I really know until I've been there? Nevertheless, it's a no-brainer to give the Dodgers the advantage here. There are three important factors to keep in mind. 1) Since it was built Dodger Stadium has been the gold standard of ballparks, especially of non-retro ballparks. 2) Angel stadium has those stupid rocks in the outfield. 3) Angel Stadium is in the middle of Anaheim, while Dodger Stadium is in Chavez Ravine, with mountains visible beyond the outfield walls.

Dodger stadium gets dinged slightly because of all the extra advertising now, as well as difficulties in parking and navigating the food lines.


Dodgers -- A
Angels -- C-

I have to wonder why anyone would watch the Angel version of the telecast when the Angels and Dodgers play, when they could be listening to Vin Scully instead. It's not as if Vinny is a homer, either. He calls the action simply and directly, and never makes anything about himself. He tells wonderful stories, and also knows when to be quiet and let the game and the crowd noise tell the story itself.

I can deal with Physioc and Hudler, I guess. I'll occasionally watch the end of a close Angel game and not feel an irresistible urge to mute them. They're like most announcing teams these days: the loud annoying homer and the stupid, goofy analyst.

Announcing is easily the Dodgers biggest advantage. But ... how long will this advantage last? This is a tough thing to even write, but realistically, will Vinny be calling Dodger games 10 years from now? I wouldn't put it past him, but still, it would be misleading to not mention that at some point we may be talking about Charlie Steiner and Steve Lyons as the primary Dodger announcers, and then this category becomes more or less a toss-up, more about personal taste than anything else.


Dodgers -- A
Angels -- C

Maybe I've underestimated Angel tradition, but it would be pretty goofy to claim they have the Dodgers beat in this category. It's only starting in mid to late 70's that the Angels could begin to lay claim to any sort of tradition that would resonate for any but the most hardcore fans, and the Dodgers of the 70's and 80's clearly beat the Angels in the same timeframe. Prior to the 70's it's all Dodgers.

Another factor in tradition is that the Dodgers have a great, long-term rivalry with the Giants of San Francisco that doesn't depend on both teams being successful. The Angels are building a good rivalry with Oakland, based mostly on their parallel runs near the top of the AL west. But if one of these teams isn't playing well, will Angels vs A's still have much juice? I doubt it.

Recent Success

Dodgers -- B-
Angels -- A-

The Angels clearly have the Dodgers beat here, with the 2002 World Series Title being exhibit A, though I will say that it's pushing it a bit to call that recent history. The Dodgers have usually been a winning team in their last six years, including playoff appearances two of the last three years. Unlike the Angels, they haven't done anything in the playoffs. Both teams are doing well so far this season.

Future Success

Dodgers -- B+
Angels -- B+

Both clubs have a lot of good young players in the pipeline. Which team has the better prospects depends on who you ask in my experience, so I'm calling this a draw. I think the Angels have more hitting and the Dodgers more pitching on the way, but one really never knows how prospects will work out before-hand. Both teams have fairly large payrolls as well, and are willing to go after free-agents. Both LA teams should be competitive in the near future.


I'm not going to give grades here, but merely point out the obvious: some people like the DH, and some people can't stand it. I hate it, so there you go. I've found in talking to people that fans of National League teams nearly always prefer not to have the DH, while fans of American League teams more often than not support the DH but are more likely to disapprove of it than NL fans are to approve of it.


Dodgers -- C
Angels -- A

Right here is the heart and soul of the argument in favor of the Angels. By acclamation Arte Moreno is the best owner in baseball, or tied for the best, anyway. The fans love him, and he seems to understand that serving the fans is the best way to build and maintain a great franchise. Ownership is really the only area in which I'm jealous of Angel fans. The only mark against Moreno is his ridiculous name change to the Angels, though I will admit there are solid economic reasons to re-emphasize the Angels presence in the greater LA area market.

I think McCourt is improving, and to damn him with faint praise he could have been a lot worse. The Dodgers still play at Dodger Stadium, Vinny is still announcing, payroll has not been slashed, and the on-field team seems to have a bright future. On the other hand, two General Managers have been unfairly fired, Ross Porter was fired, ticket prices and parking prices have been raised by obscene amounts and the transition to the new parking system was handled atrociously.

The thing is so many of the other categories can be influenced by what kind of owner you have. If you can't trust the owner, then as a fan you're in deep trouble. Angel fans never have to worry. Dodger fans do, though. Nevertheless, I didn't give McCourt an F. He hasn't committed an unforgivable sin like leaving Dodger Stadium. He'll keep getting his chances. What other choice do Dodger fans have?


Dodgers -- A
Angels -- B-

I think the lettering the Angels use is ugly, but I know some people like it so I won't hold it against them. But there's no competing with the classic, elegant look of the Dodgers with the script blue lettering and the small red number on the front of the uniform. I like both teams' cap logos: both are simple, yet immediately recognizable.

One problem with the Angels is that they've changed their uniforms a lot over the years, which hurts the tradition of a team, the connection to the past. Look at old pictures of Dodgers, even from Brooklyn, and it's basically the same uniform. Not so with the Angels. The worst Angels uniforms ever were likely the pre-Moreno versions that had the Angel wing on the A in Angels, and the powder blue home plate in the logo. Just awful. If they were still in these unis they'd get an F in this category.

I know some might scoff at this category being important, but the uniform is sometimes the only constant of a team from year to year with player movement. The uniform is how the team presents itself to the world, and the fan will likely be wearing small bits of the team uniform. It matters.

General Manager

Dodgers -- C
Angels -- C+

Both GMs gave out inadvisable long term deals to centerfielders, but right now Colletti's seems much worse. Stoneman has often been criticized for being unable to make the big trade, while Colletti has usually been praised for not trading away the promising kids. Both seem to adhere to the high batting average philosophy of offense, though this doesn't mean that they don't want power hitters or high OBP hitters either. Neither is as bad as Bowden or as good as Beane. I give Stoneman the slight edge here just based on Pierre vs Matthews, and because of Colletti's pattern of buying high and selling low.


By my grades, the Dodgers win 4 categories, while the Angels win 3, with one draw and one undecided. But this raw tally is meaningless. It really comes down to what is important to the fan making the decision. Neither team has any real deal-breakers in any category: for instance, neither team plays its games in a dump like Tropicana, or has Jim Bowden as its GM. The Dodgers are more likely to appeal to a fan with a real appreciation for the history of the game, while the Angels are more likely to appeal to the fan who doesn't think beyond the current decade. The trump card for the Dodgers is that they offer the better experience over the airwaves and probably* at the stadium. The trump card for the Angels is their owner, and the trickle-down effect from the owner. I know that some would now say that the fan experience has become better at Angel Stadium, and this is because of Moreno and McCourt. *( the owner effect is why I said probably )

I'm not willing to say that McCourt has failed yet, that he can't turn things around and on balance become a good owner. He's so far avoided the worst pitfalls. So based on a future about as bright as the Angels future, and their clearly superior history, the Dodgers still come out ahead.

But not by much, and not at all for some people, and that's okay. LA is big enough and diverse enough for two great franchises to co-exist.

17 June 2007

Outfield Disaster, Again

I'm about as angry as I've ever been, and it has nothing to do with the score. I'm not sure who to blame, and frankly that's not the point. But for the love of God Dodger management, do two things. Put padding in the entire outfield wall before another young Dodger player gets hurt, and stop playing young players out of position because you don't have the courage to bench an over-rated under-producing vet.

There were so many ways to avoid this injury to James Loney. Maybe the best thing for Loney would be for the Dodgers to just trade him to save him from their own incompetence.

16 June 2007

Half the Battle

by Joshua Worley

To paraphrase the cartoon show G.I. Joe, being called up is half the battle. But it's not the whole battle. Being called up doesn't help without playing time.

I don't doubt that Loney will get at least one or two starts a week. But he needs more playing time than that, a lot more. When Loney was called up, he got two starts right away. That was the easy part, though. Nomar hadn't had a day off in ages, so it was easy to give him a few days off in a row and for no trouble to come of it. But now ... will Grady have the guts to give Nomar several days off a week to give Loney the playing time he needs? Since his two starts, Loney has been on the bench for three straight games, getting two pinch hitting opportunities. He has 10 plate appearances in 6 days since his callup. He's getting the start today, and will likely see 4 plate appearances today, putting him at 14 in 7 days. That's barely acceptable for a young player.

Pinch hitting is fine, as far as it goes. Each plate appearance counts. But it doesn't substitute for a start. If Loney gets three starts and three pinch hitting opportunities per week I think he would be near the bare minimum of playing time needed for a young player. But I fear he'll be very lucky to even get that much playing time. One of the big questions concerning the Dodgers over the next few months is how much playing time Loney will really get. I'm going to keep track of this closely, and come up with a short-hand rating to keep track of how well or poorly they do.

If a prospect gets 8 or fewer plate appearances in a week then he's being treated as a bench player and certainly isn't getting the in-game batting practice he needs to develop. So 8 or fewer a week is an F. 9-12 PA in a week for a prospect is a D. It's not enough, but not complete neglect. 13-16 is barely acceptable, so it's a C. 17-20 PA in a week for a young player is good, regular playing time, so it's a B. More than 20 PA is excellent, for an A.

So I'll be grading Dodger management in the weeks to come on how much playing time each young player gets, treating a week as Friday to Thursday. I'll knock off on PA from the grading scale for each team off day in a week. The point of this is to have a simple way of seeing how well managment has treated each prospect weeks or months from now.

I'll keep track of Loney, Kemp, Ethier, Abreu, and Betemit. Ethier and Betemit aren't really "prospects" anymore, but they do need playing time to develop as hitters. Abreu really isn't ready for the majors yet, I think, but he needs playing time where ever he is. It wouldn't be possible for managment to get an A for all of these players, unless Pierre, Nomar and Kent were all rested a great deal, which isn't going to happen. These five players are basically fighting over 2.5 slots, and right now Kemp and I think Betemit have the upper hand.

These are the ranges I expect management to come in at regarding each prospect's playing time:

Kemp: B or A
Loney: D or C
Ethier: F or D
Betemit: C or B
Abreu: ??

I really hope they treat Loney better than my prediction for him. If Loney gets the start tomorrow as well I'll be more encouraged.

15 June 2007

Angels Preview: Now Better Than the Dodgers

by Joshua Worley

In my preview of the last series between these two teams, I said that the Angels and the Dodgers were just like each other, except that the Dodgers had a better announcer. And this was true, at the time. Both teams were winning with mostly great pitching and an offense that struggled to be average. Well, a month later the same description still applies to the Dodgers, though I think the pitching is better now and the offense may be on its way to getting better with the infusion of Bison and other freed prospects. But the Angels have already seen an improvement in the offense since that series. Maybe it even began with that series where the Angels scored 19 runs and swept the hapless Dodgers.

The improvement to the Angel offense has been led by hot hitting from Figgins, Cabrera, and Kotchman, with Guerrero brilliant as always. They are 42-25, first in the AL west, just percentage points behind Boston for best record in the majors. They've scored 337 runs and allowed 278 runs, which is very good, though not quite as good as their record.

The Dodgers see the same three Angel pitchers they saw in the sweep, while the Angels will see only one repeat pitcher ( Lowe ). Will seeing a pitcher the second time around give the offense an advantage? I doubt it, but it might be a small factor. The pitching matchups are Santana v Lowe, Weaver v Schmidt, and Escobar v Wolf. I'd say the Dodgers are big favorites in the first game, and the Angels are slight favorites in the next two.

Vladamir Alvino Guerrero -- RF

age: 31
bats: right

0.335 -- 0.435 -- 0.574

Vlad is still walking at a rate higher than any previous season, making him an even more productive hitter than he already was. Last year he had 25 non-intentional walks in 156 games; this year he has 22 non-intentional walks in just 64 games. Last time the Dodgers faced the Angels, Vlad had an OPS of 1.125, so he's cooled off a bit, but he's still a top five MVP candidate in the AL. The Dodgers don't have any hitter close to his production. The Dodgers as a team have received 14 intentional walks ( all by Andy LaRoche to hear some tell it ) while Vlad by himself has received 18 intentional passes.

Vlad went 3-11 with a walk and a double in his previous series against the Dodgers, and yet even with that rather modest production the Angels scored 19 runs on their way to a lopsided sweep. Even when facing a team with a hitter as good as Vlad, it's never about stopping or containing just one guy.

Casey John Kotchman -- 1B

age: 24
bats: left

0.330 -- 0.408 -- 0.555

In the last Angel series, when Kotchman had an OPS of 0.731, I wrote: He has Snakes' prospect disease! An aged 24 can't miss prospect struggling to start the 2007 campaign, just like the big four of Arizona.

Wow, he's improved. I hope the Snakes prospects don't all turn it around like Kotchman has, or they might leave the Dodgers and San Diego in the dust. No wonder the Angels suddenly have the most wins in baseball!

It would be nice if the Angels rested Kotchman and played Hillenbrand at first base instead, as they did in a recent game in St. Louis. There is a small chance that this might happen against Randy Wolf, because Kotchman has some awful platoon splits. No longer regular DH Shea Hillenbrand actually has a higher OPS against lefties than Kotchman does. ( 0.648 to 0.643 )

I think Lowe and Wolf will hold him to one or two singles, maybe a walk, while Schmidt could well be lit up by Kotchman.

Orlando Luis Cabrera -- SS

age: 32
bats: right

0.337 -- 0.381 -- 0.452

Cabrera has never hit more than 0.300 in his career, and yet two and a half months into the season, here he is well above that mark. He doesn't walk much or hit many home runs, but he does churn out the doubles and singles, just like the Angels as a team. And just like the Angels as a team, he's been really hot for the last month. So far it's working for them.

Gary Nathaniel Matthews Jr. -- CF

age: 32
bats: switch

0.282 -- 0.340 -- 0.452

Matthews seems to be settling in toward the 0.750 OPS level, which is still better than what the Dodgers get from their expensive free agent center fielder. Cabrera and Matthews flank Guerrero in the Angel lineup, and I think they're the two players the Dodgers really need to keep quiet. Vlad is too talented and too able to hit a pitch thrown anywhere around the plate for the plan to be to stop him. Better to isolate him in the lineup by always getting the guys flanking him out. Easier said than done.

But I don't think Wolf or Lowe should have that much trouble with him if they're on their games. It's Schmidt, again, who seems the most vulnerable to me.

Desmond DeChone Figgins -- 3B

age: 29
bats: switch

0.264 -- 0.314 -- 0.338

Not very good numbers, but infinitely better than the last time the Dodgers saw him when his OPS was 0.349. He's done so well that he's been moved back into the leadoff spot of the lineup.

In June Figgins isn't walking or striking out much at all. He's just hitting the ball hard, for a 0.444 average. I don't see any reason for this hot streak to continue against the Dodgers. Then again, there isn't any reason why it won't, either.

Once he does get on base, Figgins is a threat to steal, with 13 and only 2 caught. I guess the nightmare way for the Dodgers to open these games is for Figgins to single, following by a stolen base on which Martin throws into center field, sending Figgins to third. I don't want to see that happen once in this series.

Howard Joseph Kendrick III -- 2B

age: 23
bats: right

0.270 -- 0.310 -- 0.410

Last time these teams played Kendrick was still injured and Erick Aybar was the second baseman, but Kendrick has taken over. He just had an off day on Wednesday, so he may play the entire series.

Kendrick is on an 8 games hitting streak, which has brought his line up to a semi-decent level. He had a great April before getting injured, then had an awful May after coming back from the injury, and now seems to be getting back to being a decent hitter in June.

Reggie Gene Willits -- LF

age: 26
bats: switch

0.323 -- 0.419 -- 0.377

Willits has started to revert to his likely true level of ablity in June. He was dropped to the eight spot in the lineup when Figgins was moved to lead-off. Without the DH the Angels have a lineup crunch, with either Willits or Garret Anderson being the odd man out. In the Angels previous six NL stadium games, Anderson and Willits have each started three.

I will be really annoyed if the Dodgers let him on base a bunch of times, because I don't think he's that good, and because he's 15 of 17 in stolen bases.

Garret Joseph Anderson -- LF

age: 34
bats: left

0.272 -- 0.273 -- 0.424

Anderson has been battling a strained hip flexor the last week, which may have been a factor in him splitting time with Willits. I don't know, though. Comparing their stats I'd rather go with Willits more often, injury to Anderson or no. I know I just got done saying that I don't think Willits is really that good, but he has hit well and does know how to take a walk at least. Anderson has a mere one walk this season!

Michael Anthony Napoli -- C

age: 25
bats: right

0.253 -- 0.347 -- 0.473

Napoli is the anti-Angel, with a low batting average but a lot of walks and home runs to make up for it. Backup Jose Molina has a higher batting average by a few points, but doesn't walk or hit home runs. Any game that Molina starts is good news for the Dodgers.

Ervin Ramon Santana -- P

age: 24
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
5.26 -- 77.0 -- 61 -- 29 -- 16

The million dollar question with Santana: does pitching at Dodger Stadium count as pitching on the road?

Technically, the answer is yes, of course. But will whatever road factor that screws with Ervin's head or mechanics or whatever that produces such insane home/road splits be present when he pitches at Dodger Stadium?

The answer to this question appears to be yes. The "road factor" is present at Dodger stadium for Santana, if his previous start there when he gave up 5 runs in 4 innings is anything to go on.

Santana is such a fascinating player. Has there been anyone as extreme in their home/road splits in the history of baseball, for really no good reason? I mean, Mel Ott hit a ton of his homers at home, but that was explicable, since the Polo grounds had really short fences down the lines. It's not as if Angel stadium is a pitchers park of renown, is it? Santana has made a quality start in all six of his home starts this year. He has just two quality starts in his seven road starts, both of the bare minimum kind with 6 innings pitched and 3 runs given up. His more usual road start is to give up more runs than innings pitched. 13 of his 16 home runs allowed have been on the road. 18 of his 29 walks have been on the road. Only his strikeout rate seems to stay the same no matter where he pitches, oddly.

Santana's last road start was one of the quality ones, against the Cardinals. We'll see if he can string two together at Dodger Stadium tonight. With Lowe pitching, this is a game the Dodgers really ought to win.

Jered David Weaver -- P

age: 24
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
4.14 -- 58.2 -- 48 -- 23 -- 7

Last time I wrote about Weaver, I mentioned he was a fly ball pitcher and hoped that Saenz and Betemit would start at DH and third. This time I hope that Betemit and Kemp get the starts. Throw in Kuo as a pinch hitter maybe, too!

Weaver left his last start in the third inning with lower back tightness. Now when they say lower back, do they mean lower back or is that a euphemism for tightness in the buttocks, or reverse-groin, if you will? The little blurb I read on espn.com also mentions that he needs to keep his hammies stretched out to avoid re-aggravating the injury. Pierre and Furcal ought to try bunting on him, see if they can mess with his hammies. Baseball is a vicious game.

Last time Weaver pitched against the Dodgers he was coming into the game with a great last four starts. This time, only one of his past four starts has been good. The Dodgers will need to score on him a lot if Schimdt falters, though.

Kelvim Jose Escobar -- P

age: 30
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
2.89 -- 81.0 -- 66 -- 23 -- 3

You know, Escobar's home/road splits aren't so hot either, though he's not the road disaster that Santana is. Actually, he's not much of anything on the road, since he's only had three starts away from Anaheim! Gosh, would it have been that hard for the Angels to figure this out before the season and swap Escobar and Santana in the rotation? I know it's hard to plan out rotations that far in advance, and I know players shouldn't really be coddled, but still it's a sensible maximization of resources given what they know about Santana.

I don't think anything should be read into Escobar's home/road splits, since he pitched great in two of the starts and had his worst outing of the year in the other. Against the Dodgers he had second best start of the year, an eight inning, three hit, no run masterpiece. But this is a different Dodger team then the one he faced. I hope that means a different result.