21 August 2008


If I am at once optimistic and realistic, I guess I think the Dodgers will finish the season 83-79. This is realistic because the Dodgers are a slightly better than average team, and those sorts of teams tend to end up with a slightly better than average record. This is optimistic because I assume the Dodgers won't just collapse down the stretch.

I think I will be happier if I just accept that the Dodgers are an 83 win team. Then events such as last night's 4-3 loss become bearable. Then watching gameday as Broxton gives up a lead-off double and threatens to give up a 3-1 lead feels like a natural part of things. That sweep of the Phllies was an aberration. An abomination, Phillies fans would say. The Phillies will have a chance to set things right when the Dodgers visit Philadephia. That 4 game series will start a 10 game road trip that, according to prophesy, is supposed to sink the Dodgers postseason hopes.

There is another side to this postseason thing, though. A loophole in the prophesy of doom. The Snakes also have to hold up their end of it. I'm through overestimating them. After a month of this season I thought they were a very good team and that was a lie. I'm also through underestimating them. They have a good rotation and Adam Dunn and a few other guys who can hit a home run. I guess I'm just through estimating them. I don't know what the Snakes will do. But let's not pretend that they are better than they are. They are still capable of losing a lot of games. My goal for them is 80 losses, since I want the Dodgers to make the playoffs. I think in a division as bad as the NL West this year it is appropriate to make this kind of goal. The winner of this division will be the worst playoff team in the majors by far, so let's not pretend the Dodgers can do anything but back into the playoffs anyway. The goal I set for them getting in should reflect that.

Broxton just struck out the side to win the game for the Dodgers. I've been a longtime defender of Broxton's, but two more blown saves and I'm going to retire from that vocation. If he blows two more saves then the next time someone says he just doesn't have what it takes to be a closer I'll just nod sympathetically. Maybe I'll throw in something like, "yeah, he's just an eighth inning guy."

So only one out of three from the Rockies. A really good team would take at least two of the three. The one that hurt was last night's loss. That was my new nominee for most depressing game of the season. Not most heartbreaking, mind. Just depressing. Billingsley struggled with his control, but he fought for six innings and only gave up two runs. Could have been just one. And they wasted it. His performance last night reminded me of his rookie season when he maintained a 3.8 ERA with a strikeout to walk ratio of 1:1 by pitching so much better with runners on base. He was so clutch last night. And they wasted it! Kicked it away with bad defense and bad at bats and shaky relief pitching. Juan Pierre even struck out twice. You know it's not your night when Peavy can't hold a 4-0 lead and Juan Pierre can't even make contact. That's your one skill at the plate, man! You have to come through with it.

The Snakes need to lose 20 more times to reach my goal for them. I'm worried they're not going to make it. Their hitters need to really step up and strike out even more than they already do. The pen needs to blow a few more saves. It's going to be tough with Webb and Haren in the rotation but I have faith that the Snakes can make it to 80 losses.

18 August 2008

How does that protection thing work again?

I didn't even know that about the Kent v Scully thing until I read Dodger Thoughts. Well, I knew Scully was saying things about how Kent was doing batting in front of Manny. But I didn't know Kent was complaining about it to TJ Simers. I wonder who started it? Did Simers smell blood and see if he could stir something up, or did Kent go to Simers on his own and complain about Scully?

After about the third time Vinny mentioned Kent's success batting ahead of Manny, my wife asked me why it would matter. She's been following baseball for four years, and she knows quite a lot about it now, but there are still traditional bits of baseball lore and knowledge that are unfamiliar to her.

"Well," I say, in answer to her protection question, "the pitcher doesn't want to walk Jeff Kent, because that would put someone on base for Manny Ramirez. Therefore Kent will see more strikes."

She considers this, then says, "But if he sees more strikes, won't he get more hits, and get on base more that way?"

"Um, well, the pitcher isn't thinking about that. He just doesn't want to walk him."

"That doesn't make sense."

Indeed. It was a lame answer, in explanation of a lame theory. I don't much believe in protection myself, so I wasn't trying to defend it as much as explain it. If in fact pitchers have changed their approach to limit Kent getting on base in front of Manny then it has been a miserable failure. He's getting on base a lot more than before. Another thing: I've seen Kent chase after bad stuff before. He's not always the most patient guy up there. Why would any pitcher worry primarily about walking Kent, about making sure he threw strikes? That's just asking for trouble with Manny coming up next. If anything I would expect Kent to hit worse with Manny on deck, because pitchers were so zeroed in on getting him out. I would expect Kent to see fewer strikes.

Maybe the protection theory is that pitchers will throw mostly balls to Kent, until the count gets to something like 3-1, whereupon suddenly they have to worry about the walk and they groove a fastball that Kent can crush. But how many of Kent's recent hits have come with three balls?

It did appear that Martin was messed up batting in front of Manny. But I don't know that one thing had anything to do with the other. Hitters get messed up from time to time during the season. They start pressing, chasing bad stuff, watching hittable fastballs go by and swinging at outside curveballs. ( Or is the theory of the pressing hitter just another myth? ) In any case, Martin seems to be fine now. Kent seems to be fine after injury woes and a streak of bad luck. Manny's doing great. Kemp is on fire. Ethier is so hot he's undergoing solar fusion as we speak. These guys don't need protection. They got talent.

7-5 vs. 5-1

I was dozing off when the ninth inning started yesterday. The Dodgers were up 5-1 and I was comfortable and lazy. When I did think about something it was not about who would pitch in the ninth inning for the Dodgers but about where I might have a short nap while I waited for the last load of clothes to dry.

Loney's error woke me up. But what really woke me up was my fear of Chan Ho Park. There was about a week where I fully trusted him. Those days of foolish innocence are gone. My conclusion early in the season was correct. He's a home run yielding menace. I about felt the same as Park when he hurled his glove to the ground after Braun's home run, except that I had nothing to throw. Also I liked the Dodgers chances to score in the ninth, as long as the Brewers didn't hit another home run to take the lead. Fortunately Prince Fielder capped his terrible series with a ground out and the stage was set for Golden Boy Matt Kemp and Silver Bullet Andre Ethier.

I wonder now if it was better that the Dodger game ended up 7-5 and not 5-1. That's kind of crazy talk, but it all depends on your standards I think. For Kershaw it wasn't better because he didn't get the win. For Torre it wasn't better because he had to be pensive and tense for longer than otherwise. For Park is was awful because he was further exposed as an actually terrible pitcher.

And yet that game ended up being terrifically entertaining. Horrifically entertaining there, for awhile. I was twice as happy after the 7-5 victory than I would have been after they hypothetical 5-1 victory. Game winning home runs are delightful. I want more of them. Does that mean I want more ninth inning bullpen meltdowns, though? No, no! What am I saying?

About a half minute after the home run I said to my wife, "Take that, Pierre!" This shows how petty I've become about Pierre stealing playing time from Ethier. How sad that one of my first thoughts after Ethier won the game was how it showed again how superior he is to the slap-tacular Pierre. The only advantage Pierre has over Ethier at this point is that he's faster and that Torre feels sorry for him occasionally and feels compelled to start him. I hope Pierre keeps bitching about his playing time to the press. That should dry up Torre's last bit of sympathy for Juan.

If Pierre was the Dodgers third-best outfielder then I would gladly see him start, though I would also be upset that the Dodgers third-best outfielder had no throwing arm and no power and also had an annoying batting tick where he jerked in his back elbow like a chicken just before the pitch came. But he's only fourth best, clearly inferior to Andre Ethier, which is why I've nicknamed Ethier the silver bullet because his home runs have felled the were-Pierre who used to start every game.

I've become really accustomed to the Dodgers playing well. I can't even remember the last time it felt like the team wasn't in the game. The last three losses were all tough ones that got away late. The key here is the lineup is solid from 1 to 8 most nights now, except when you-know-who starts ahead of the silver bullet. Oh yeah, and Nomar can't always start, and who knows how long he can keep up his good hitting or his health, but it's still a good lineup. Eighty-eight wins looks like a real possibility now. With the Snakes also playing well they may need that many.

12 August 2008

Overmatched yet unbowed

By the end of the third inning it was clear that the Dodgers would not win. Cole Hamels was overpowering the Dodger lineup while Clayton Kershaw had bent under the pressure of the potent Phillie lineup. It was only good fortune that Werth had not hit a three run home run in the third inning: just a little less elevation on his deep fly out to a sprinting Kemp and the Phillies would have led 6-1 with their ace pitching and could have cruised to an easy win.

I drew up a mental plan of action for the Dodgers at the outset of the fourth inning. I had mostly given up hope that they would win, but not wishing to prematurely bury them I tried to imagine what could realistically happen to give the Dodgers a chance to pull even. It was a hard thing to imagine, given how overmatched both the offense and the pitching looked. To be sure Kershaw had struck out the side in the first inning, so even though his curveballs had yet to make more than a few cameo appearances in the strike zone there was hope here. So I thought, well, maybe he can hold the Phillies down for three scoreless innings, then turn things over to the bullpen. Kershaw is a talented pitcher; he just had to start finding the strike zone more often.

On the offensive side things were more difficult. Hamels just looked unhittable. Only a really terrific at bat by Blake had allowed the Dodgers to score at all: I was stunned and impressed when he muscled that low, tough 1-2 fastball into left center for the RBI. Hamels' one weakness is that he gives up a lot of home runs, about 1.3 per nine innings, but aside from Manny the Dodgers just don't have true home run hitters. It was harder for me to mentally write a reasonable offensive script to get the Dodgers into position for the win, so I just hoped that somehow they could score a run and bounce Hamels from the game by the eighth inning. Somehow being a failure of imagination, or a grim recongnition of how good Hamels was.

Indeed Hamels was terrific through the fifth, but Kershaw also turned his night around with a flurry of strikeouts and the rout was postponed. That is talent, but it is also character, if such a thing exists in a baseball game performance. After tonight I would like to think it does. If I am going to harbor dark thoughts about Dodger players' will to win after assorted defensive and pitcher malfunctions last weekend to drop two heart-breakers to the Giants, then I must at least allow for the opposite qualities, and celebrate them to the fullest. Kershaw gave the offense a fighting chance, a target they could reasonably aim for.

They might have got it all back against Hamels in the sixth. The entire team seemed to rise up offensively in that inning. That was the offense's moment of character. But Kent's ball was caught at the wall, and Martin's ball was snared, and only one run was scored. Nevertheless the damage was done. Hamels was mortally wounded, his arm nearly spent, and he could not remain much longer on the battlefield. He left after seven, up only one and the outcome very much in doubt. My desperately imagined plan had come to pass, and the Dodgers no longer seemed like inevitable losers. The Dodgers would go on to win 4-3, off of runs scored in the eighth and ninth innings, but it is not for those innings that I will remember this game as a great victory in 2008. It was the middle three innings, when the overmatched Dodgers turned the game around and made the comeback possible. When they played like a team full of character and the will to win and every other cliche that may not make rational sense but regardless passes through the minds of most fans. Being a fan is not a rational thing after all. What a victory, what a game to savor.

09 August 2008

The Levels of Irrationality

If I am irrational enough to panic when the Dodgers are only 2.5 games back, then I am certainly irrational enough to think that my panic helped them turn around and get back to nearly even with the Snakes. Next time the Dodgers fall to 2 or more games back I'm sure I'll be back at it, lamenting the end of the season and calling for Torre to be fired. And I will secretly hope that the Dodgers will respond to an obscure blogger's tirade, as well as hoping that the Snakes will at the same time be intimidated into losing a few games by my ranting. Fear my run-on sentences, Orlando Hudson!

That's pretty irrational. But it's not as irrational as I could be. It's not as irrational as the Dodgers can be either. There are levels of irrationality, which I will demonstrate below, along with some enlightening commentary. The further down the list we go the more irrational things are, until the very last item when Pierre is brought in to pitch.

1. Let's bench Loney so that Danny Ardoin can play!

Ardoin's home run yesterday was the most stirring Dodger backup catcher home run since Tom Prince hit one off Brian Bohanon in 1997.

2. Let's give up on Andy LaRoche and trade for an old guy who looks like Mark Hendrickson!

Blake has hit a lot better then Hendrickson ever did, and he hasn't fallen down while playing third base yet.

3. Let's use Brian Falkenbourg in a close game and then release him a few days later!

We had to make sure releasing Falkenburg was the right thing to do.

4. Let's spell Falkenborg's name three different ways because it's too much work to look up the proper spelling!

Hey, he's no longer on the roster. Cut me some slack!

5. Let's make Manny cut his hair!

Yes, because it's always a good policy to potentially piss off your mercurial superstar over a trivial matter. It's not like he'd ever quit on a team or fake an injury or anything.

6. Let's attribute some of Manny's success to his long hair!

Damon never played as well after his caveman days.

7. Let's bench Ethier in favor of Juan Pierre!

Pierre should play because he wants it more, which he demonstrates by bitching to the press. That's called leadership!

8. Let's bench Ethier in favor of Andruw Jones!

Young players need to build character by having their spirits crushed under overwhelming unfairness. Ethier hasn't built enough character yet.

9. Let's sign Juan Pierre to a 5 year deal!


10. Let's give Pierre an extension!

If he's got the hubris to complain about losing playing time when Manny, Kemp and Ethier are on the team, then he's got the hubris to ask for an extension with three years left on his deal while having the worst year of his career.

11. Let's give Jones an extension!

The more years we sign him for the more likely it is he'll hit 10 home runs for the Dodgers. Eventually.

12. Let's bring in Juan Pierre to pitch in a road extra inning game when only Broxton is left in the pen because Broxton has to be saved for the potential save situation.

I hear Pierre throws a mean riseball.

13. Let's do the same as above, except in a home extra inning game.

Imagine the cheers of the crowd when Pierre was announced as the pitcher.

07 August 2008

One Manny can only do so much

These last two games are a vivid demonstration that Manny by himself isn't going to turn the Dodgers into a good team, now matter how well he plays. I guess I knew that all along, but I was willing to pretend otherwise after the split with the Snakes last weekend. In the wake of Manny-mania I was eager to ignore the sober math that he is only likely to improve the Dodger win total by a modest one or two in his two months with the team. I put my faith in momentum and psychology. He will make everyone better, I thought. No, I felt it. There was no thinking. I might as well have put my faith in magic.

Manny doesn't make the weaknesses of this 0.500 team go away. He got on base four times Tuesday, but was only driven in once. The lineup has too many holes in it, still. That could change, if Furcal came back at full health, and Kent started hitting again, and Pierre and Jones were both permanently exiled to the bench. I don't think it's an awful offense now, and Manny truly does make it better, but he can't do it all. He can't hit a home run every game.

Manny did hit a home run Wednesday, and drove in another run with a two-out single, and for the brief time when the Dodgers led 3-1 I thought that Manny hitting a home run was a sign that the Dodgers would win. But the starting pitching is still awful on the road. Lowe quickly turned the 3-1 lead into a 3-7 deficit. Billingsley is the only functional starter the Dodgers have away from home, and he ran into his own personal kryptonite, the rain delay, in his shortened start Tuesday. The Dodgers have a lot of road games left, against some very tough teams. If they don't start getting more solid starting performances they aren't going to catch the Snakes.

Maybe the Dodgers just have to take their usual lumps in St. Louis and move on. They're still only 2.5 games out. Nevertheless I feel the season slipping away. The Dodgers margin for error is narrowing. If the Dodgers keep struggling on the road then their only hope will be to sweep the Snakes when they play again.

03 August 2008

No, not again.

The split feels more like a series victory because the Dodgers lost the first two games and rallied for the last two. It feels like a victory because of the grim possible future they were facing before Saturday night's game. A sweep would have been near devastating for the Dodgers chances this year, even with Manny the rest of the way. Though my first year as a Dodger fan in 1983 conditioned me to think 5 games back isn't that much, it really is, even with two full months to go.

That game last night was more dramatic at the end than it needed to be. Where was Broxton? We know now --- just a tired arm, nothing to be worried about. ( I hope. ) But last night it was a mystery, and fed into the late game worries. Is Broxton okay? Can the other relievers get the job done? I was terrified when Park came in with the tying run at the plate. I was thinking about the home run he gave up Friday, and all the home runs he gave up when he was with the Rangers, back when they called him "out of the Park", and I was thinking isn't he really, honestly, the same home run prone pitcher he was last year and the year before and the year before? And facing Chris Young, who hit 30 home runs last year? But in this series Chris Young has hit more like his name-mate in San Diego and less like the promising young hitter everyone thought he was and he merely grounded out to third and the cloud lifted and it was safe to be a Dodger fan again.

By rights the game last night should have been over when Manny hit his home run in the first inning. It was the emotional peak of the game, when despair was unwound and Manny truly welcomed to the Blue. Of course they will play all nine innings even after a dramatic fear-destroying curtain-call home run in the first inning. The Dodgers needed good Kuroda to show up, and he did, keeping the ball down in the strike zone and avoiding walks. That's good advice for any pitcher, isn't it? Except softball pitchers, perhaps. They seem to thrive on throwing the riseball.

Not only does Manny hit more home runs than any Dodger but he hits them farther than any Dodger. I think that's my favorite part of watching him hit. He's ferocious. The Dodgers haven't approached having a hitter this good since Sheffield left. But Sheff was never loved the way Manny is already loved. It's almost like having Piazza back.

For today's game the Dodgers didn't really need Manny to win, so rotten was Doug Davis' pitching. So much for that great ERA against the Dodgers. But Manny made the game more fun, going 4-5 and eliciting cheers even when he struck out in his one batting blemish. Vinny made the game more fun as well, as he does every game. But today, especially, he was in fine voice. There are some days when he really turns his inner scamp loose. That accent he pulled when he was talking about the Trolley Dodgers in Brooklyn was a delight.

Time to take the Manny show on the road. This is a new team, a better team. Even if Torre insists on sitting Ethier it's a better team. That 1-8 record in St. Louis doesn't mean anything. Let's see what they've got.

02 August 2008

Not Again

It's happening again. Just like last year, the Snakes come into Dodger Stadium right at the end of July and destroy the Dodger season. The sweep seems inevitable. It's not about which team is better, not in the theoretical season-long sense of being the better team. The Snakes may well be better than the Dodgers, but that's not why the nightmare sweep is halfway to being reality. The truth is there is no reason. The games are played, with very narrow margins, and the Snakes come out ahead by one run. The reason for it is any fuzzy concept you choose as your favorite, any narrative angle you care to take. Those Snakes have character-filled young players; the Dodger have coddled young players. No, that worked better last year. I'm sure the writers will come up with something new this year, unless they are bigger hacks than I thought.

The two games we've had so far were identical in line scores, in frustrations, if not in drama. I knew by instinct that the games were twins, even before Friday's top of the seventh happened. At least on Friday the starter was already out of the game by the top of the seventh. No tired starter last night. Instead one of the Dodgers great relievers would come in and put a stop to the parallel madness. This I desperately hoped. But it was Park who came in. I had finally become a Park believer after four months of him proving me wrong, and he went and proved me right, retroactively. If only for one game. But it was the most important game of the year. Park showed who he really was for just one game. That's all it takes.

After Beimel gave up the hit I retreated to a position far from the television. The game was over. The season was over. There was pain left to dish out, more innings and more games of the Dodgers spinning their wheels, showing occasional flashes of promise but always coming up short, but the ending was set last night when the hit off Beimel landed on the line. At that moment I knew that the Dodgers would go on to lose the game, and get swept in the series, and finish out of the playoffs. Logic, of course, has nothing to do with it, because logically it's nonsense. But emotional investments carry risks. I invest in the season, in the possiblity, and the risk is that I give up hope, that I declare permanent misery.

I emerged from my bitter retreat in time to see Wade get the last out of the top of the seventh. I can give up all hope for a moment, a minute, a half inning, but never forever. It's a war in my mind, a struggle between despair and foolishness. So I watched the rest of the game. I mean, I don't know everything. Maybe I'm wrong about the game, the season, being over. So it went, the outs passing by, the Dodgers never scoring another run, my hope for the game and the series and the season fading with each out. Someone just hit a damn home run. Tony Clark did. The Snakes' acquisition came through. The Dodgers' acquisition didn't. Now there is an appalling, bitter thought.

By the bottom of the ninth I was sullen and bitter, mentally a petulant, crabby child. When Martin took the first two pitches I was so disgusted. Those were fine pitches to hit. Instead he took them, with some stupid idea of getting deep into the count. I thought he was being cute. Then, how quickly I came around, when the next three pitches were balls. Suddenly I was Martin's best friend again. Way to work the count, I might have said to him, with an insincere grin. I believed in him again, but like any fickle-minded traitor I was ready to turn on him again if he made an out from that position. I was saved from that by his hit up the middle. But that hit delivered me to an altogether worse fate. I believed again. I believed in the Dodger's chance of winning the game, the series, the season again. Once wasn't enough. Those bastards had to make me feel the defeat twice, rip out my hopes twice.

Before the first pitch to Manny I was floating on the possibilities. Home run, sure. But a double or single might also happen. He might make an out as well, maybe strike out or something, but I didn't think too much about that. After the first strike to Manny I began to worry. I swayed from hope to despair with the count. After ball one I was confident again. 1-1, which is basically even ground, except the batter has the advantage of having seen a few pitches. And that's when it happened.

The crowd was chanting. I can't even remember the exact words now. Something like "Let's Go Dodgers", something suitably generic and cheerleaderly. But the energy and passion and hope of the chant was incredible. For the first time I wished I was there, at the game, in that moment, pouring my heart into the hope that Manny would hit a home run. Even if they lost it would be worth it just to be a part of that moment. That's what I thought. And I guess I still think that. Even through the TV I could feel that it was comparable to the aftermath of the Lima game, or the last great moment of the Tomato when he beat the Jays with a game-ending home run. I was there for both of those, and I wished that I had been there for that first moment of anticipating the greatness of Manny.

The next pitch came, ball two. 2-1. But the moment had passed. The crowd was still excited, and cheering, but it wasn't the same. No matter. Such a thing can't be sustained. The important thing was that Manny now controlled the at bat. The tide had turned. I wonder, at that moment, how afraid Snakes fans were? They can look back now and laugh about it, those jerks.

When strike two came I had the cold realization that this might not all end well. I was really worried about the strikeout at that point. I didn't think Kent and Loney could get Martin all the way around to score by themselves. Maybe one of them could single, but --- I just didn't believe. All my hope was tied up in Manny. The crazy thing of it is I never saw the double play coming. Even with all my despair and giving up on the game and the season I never contemplated Manny's at bat ending that way.

I'm really wishing and hoping I can just stay away from tonight's game. Not watch it, not think about it. Maybe find out tomorrow morning the Dodgers won. Wouldn't that be a nice surprise. But I know I'll think about it. That's the problem. Thinking about it will draw me to it, even though I think I know what's going to happen. Because I also know, deep down, that I don't know what will happen. I don't know anything.