19 October 2009

Maybe Not

Maybe they'll win game five, I don't know. It's not out of the question.

It's going to be hard with Joe Torre managing. His reflexes are shot. He reacts too late. He leaves pitchers in too long, such as Kershaw, or Wolf. From now on, no starting pitcher can falter. They just have to turn in six good innings. If they don't the Dodgers will almost certainly lose.

It's going to be hard with Broxton feeling the pressure. Four straight balls, then a hit batter, against so-so hitter. That was pressure getting to him. From now on, he has to forget about the pressure. The Dodgers have already blown the series and all but gone down. There's nothing left to worry about. Broxton is their best reliever and he has to start pitching like it.

Maybe they'll win game six after they win game five. It's not impossible.

It's going to be hard with the pitcher the Phillies can turn to the rest of the series. Martinez, Hamels, and Lee. I don't know what order they'd go in, but that's tough. Hamels the Dodgers got to, but he can be good. The other two dominated the Dodgers. What are the odds that none of them have another great start against the Dodgers? That might be the odds that the Dodgers can get back into the series. Then again, they did win in the game when Martinez dominated them. But will something like that happen again?

It's going to be hard with Howard destroying Dodger pitching. They can strike him out, sometimes. But so often they make a tiny mistake and up go a few more runs for the Phillies on the scoreboard. He's in there every game, making the Dodgers bleed. It's like waking up trailing 0-2, going into a game facing Howard. Is it possible to avoid the season ending loss if Howard keeps driving in runs?

Maybe they'll win the next three games. It's not going to happen.

Not all at once, anyway. It's too bad it had to come to this. It's too bad the Dodgers had to lay another egg against the Phillies. The only good thing I can say at this point is that rotten egg hasn't hatched just yet.

16 October 2009


I found game one on the radio just in time. I wasn't quite in the right frame of mind for a playoff game, an opening game against the rival Phillies. The question around the game was not what chance the Dodgers had to win, but if I would even be able to follow the game. I was out of my element, in a strange place, and then I found Vinny's voice.

That was something. I don't think I've ever been happier to hear Vinny. The first three innings were like a vacation. A vacation within a vacation. Not much happened in the game during his first shift. The Dodgers scored a run and Kershaw sailed along. I wish the whole game could have been like that --- something like a visit with an old friend, and when it's done --- the Dodgers have won! No stress, no real excitement, just a slow and steady progression to a win. I would have like that Thursday night. Look, usually I love exciting games, back and forth contests, comebacks, near comebacks, but sometimes comfort is better.

But it wasn't to be, Vinny left and shortly after things started to happen. Exciting things, mostly exciting for Phillie fans at first. Like everyone else I couldn't understand why Kershaw was left in after walking Hamels. By the time it was 5-1 I sort of relaxed again, and just accepted the loss. Not being able to see the game, it was just easier that way. I gave up.

And then I had to take it back because of Chase Utley and Manny Ramirez. I suppose if I had really had the guts to give up I would have just turned it off, and spared myself the theatrics to come. By the end of the Dodgers somewhat bizarre and frustrating 8-6 loss I was kind of exhausted and wondering if the pitching would get any better. The Phillies hit very well, but it is also undeniable that the Dodgers gave them plenty too. All those walks. No way to play in the playoffs.

I did get to see today's game, arriving home in time for the opening pitch with just a few minutes to spare. I wasn't really in a proper playoff baseball frame of mind for this one either. Around the seventh inning I started thinking about what it would be like to lose a series to the Phillies for a second consecutive year. I thought about how the Dodgers should have hit at least one of their many balls in the air against Pedro for a home run. I thought about --- I don't know, not much, really. What do you think about as you watch the season come to a slow and certain end? The win arrived like an unexpected gift. And it is a gift, because now I can watch game 3 with a clear mind, in proper playoff mode, not thinking of it as a must win or anything like that, just enjoying the tension and the randomness of playoff baseball. I think the Dodgers have a great chance, even against Cliff Lee. I mean, they just survived seven shutout innings from the pitcher who got away --- what could Lee possibly do to them that is worse?

10 October 2009

The Irrefutable Argument

Nine of ten ESPN writers picked the Cardinals to win the series. I don't find this appalling or shocking or stupid, even though they were wrong. The argument for the Cardinals was so smooth, so natural, so hard to fault. The Cardinals were names that carried weight, a team of four. One, the transcendent hitter, two, the essential sidekick, three and four, the aces, new and old.

Pujols. You can't argue with that. Speak Manny and you are laughed at. I would laugh at that. Anyone would. Speak Kemp and my heart would be moved but my mind cold, my head shaking. Not a chance. Ethier, no. Pujols is the force that has no equal. Whisper it, because it is too terrifying to say in normal voice: the Cardinals have Pujols. It's like saying they have Babe Ruth, almost. That's not true, but you have to reach for Ruth to really explain what it's like. Pujols. How can a team with him lose?

Holliday. He was the multiplier, the second leg of the fearsome Cardinal beast. Pujols is the ridiculously high score in the video game, and Holliday is the 2x multiplier that takes the score into a new order of magnitude. With Holliday there was no escape from Pujols. Walk Pujols and Holliday would crush you. He completed the lineup. The Cardinal lineup has Pujols AND Holliday. Wow, that's all you need to say. You don't even need to say the other names. Talk about the Dodgers, with Blake who has okay numbers and Loney and Martin with pretty good on base percentages and Furcal and Belliard who won't drag a lineup down too far and it feels like walking through frozen Minnesota after a holliday in Hawaii. There is no argument. Arguing for the Dodger lineup, the whole thing, takes too long. It fills up too much mental energy, presents too many moments to pause. Arguing for the Cardinal lineup takes all of two words. What weakness? We didn't even have to talk about those other players.

Carpenter, Wainwright. How large they loomed over the series. Cy Young A and Cy Young B. Two aces. How many times have you heard that you need aces to win in the postseason? The Dodgers need an ace, we were always told. They never got one. They had internal candidates try out but none made the cut. They tried to hire outside help and were rebuffed. They were left with none. And the Cardinals had two. Baseball Playoff Hold 'Em, the strongest hand to be dealt is a pair of aces. Of course the Cardinals had to be picked. But then the flop came, and the Dodgers ended up with three Jacks. That beats two Aces. Series over, just like that. 3-0.

The games are played, and all the players count, beyond just the front four. Padilla counts. Can you believe that? Belliard counts. What a country. Ethier counts. Well of course he does. Kemp counts. The golden boy! Manny counts! Kershaw counts! Even Loretta counts! I still can't believe that. What a moment.

I don't fault the predictions. But they were wrong. Why? Because the Dodgers won. A tautology, yes, but also the only wholly honest way to explain it. Explanations are like predictions: sure to be wrong, and miss the point too. The score is the only thing that matters. Winning is the irrefutable argument.

09 October 2009

Fan Interference

While I think about maybe changing the unfair loss share allocation from game 2 ( Holliday doesn't really deserve two ) I thought it would be fun to talk about the fan interference aspect of that infamous play where he couldn't catch Loney's fliner.

Now, I think this post by Jon Weisman pretty much debunks the notion that the waving of towels had anything to do with Holliday's misplay, so this is more of a hypothetical discussion, a meandering exploration, if you will.

My reaction was fascination when I first read Adam Wainwright's comment that "he lost the ball in the 50,000 white towels shaking in front of his face." That such a thing could happen never occurred to me. They have the batting eye in center field, of course, so something similar doesn't occur to hitters. Hitters get a black backdrop so they can pick up the ball out of the pitcher's hand and not lose it in bright colors or motion. This both helps the hitters hit and helps them get out of the way of balls thrown at them. But fielders get no fielding eye, else there would be no stands at all! They are at the mercy of fan motion and color, but since the initial flight of the ball usually starts much farther away than it does for batters, and since the path of the ball is usually above or below the plane of the stands, it usually isn't a problem. The lights or the sun are much more likely to be the problem, as was the case for Holliday in game 2.

Is there is a pitcher's eye, so hurlers can pick up the flight of the ball without fan interference, and duck out of the way of a ball hit right back at the head? I'm not really sure about that, but in a lot of cases the ball is hit back hard it wouldn't matter. I don't think anything could have saved Kuroda back when he gave up a ground rule double off his head.

Is there anything the fans could do to really interfere with the fielders, short of climbing onto the field? I don't really think so. I'm not sure I believe that there is a great risk of losing a ball in a sea of waving towels. The motion is too fast, too much like static. It reminds me of the wholly ineffective tactic of NBA fans trying to distract free throw shooters by shaking those snake things behind the basket. It's just random background static to the shooter. If they wanted to really distract the shooter they would have one fan hold up a long pole with a target or streamer at the end and move in a back-and-forth or circular pattern behind the basket. Give the basket some competition for a solid thing to aim at. You could try something similar in baseball against the road pitcher. Have a fan behind the plate wave around a target to compete with the catcher's glove. I think neither the NBA or MLB would allow these kinds of shenanigans, and rightly so.

In football the crowd can interfere by being really noisy and drowning out the snap count. They used to enforce a 5-yard penalty on the home crowd being too noisy and interfering with the game, but everyone hated that so they got rid of it. Well, almost everyone. Paul Zimmerman ( Dr. Z ) of Sports Illustrated hates the fact that the crowd would influence the game like that, and he advocated for the rule, had a bee in his bonnet about it, really. I kind of was swayed by his arguments, very logical and principled, but, well, it was a losing cause.

I remember back when baseball fans started doing the wave some players would complain about it being distracting, and coming at inappropriate times in the game. And that's the thing -- there was no sense of timing with the wave -- no real plan to use it to disrupt the opposing team. Who does it hurt more, anyway? The defense, pitcher, or hitters? I have noticed that a home team home run can kill a wave. On field events can interfere with fan games, it seems.

Ah, speaking of fan games, what about the dreaded beach ball? Now there is something that could interfere with the game. I'm still waiting to see one of these drop into the outfield just as a fielder is going back to make a catch. There could be a nasty injury if a player stumbled over one of those. Or it might just prevent an out. What would the umpires rule? Would the call be different depending on which team home or road was at the plate?

The fans can always interfere by reaching over the wall for a batted ball. Forgot about that earlier. Jeffrey Maier, and Bartman, though in his case he didn't reach over the wall, so it wasn't really interference except in a more poetic sense. Except for the famous postseason cases this kind of fan interference is routine and regrettable. Just kick the fan out and move on.

Daaaaarrrrryyyyylllll Daaaarrrryyyyyyllllll --- old enough to remember how opposing fans would greet Darryl Strawberry? Did this distract him in the field? Surely not. Maybe only in that Simpson's episode. And it also seems to me that sometimes home fans would chant his name this way, so it seems unlikely this rather soothing chant could have been an issue. I think, overall, a chant wouldn't be distracting, again, too much like static. Maybe a randomly heard outburst from the crowd could distract, if it was sufficiently provactive --- either offensive, or funny, perhaps. Wouldn't it have been something to shout something really funny at Barry Bonds and make him laugh just as a ball was hit to him? But probably most fielders are too zoned in on the ball to really hear what is being said. That's what they say, anyway. Not sure if I believe it. I know that when I played outfield in little league my attention span was terrible out there. Once I didn't see a fly ball until the very last minute and it nearly quite literally caught me. I was so lucky. When I came in to the dugout after the inning someone asked me if I had fallen asleep out there and I denied it, saying I saw it the whole way. What a lie. I'm sure major leaguers don't have this happen to them, though. Right? They're being paid, after all.

Two Down, One to Go

My first thought is that the Cardinals outplayed the Dodgers in yesterday's game 2 thriller. Then I wonder if they really did, if they couldn't close out the game. I finally conclude that it doesn't matter.

The Cardinals won the on-base battle 11-9, which might be one indication that they outplayed the Dodgers. That 9 for the Dodgers doesn't include Loney reaching on Holliday's error. If Holliday catches that ball then the on-base battle would have been 11-5 in favor of the Cardinals. That's kind of incredible, that the Dodgers had 4 men reach base after Holliday's error.

Kershaw only walked one, and than intentionally given, to Pujols. He did everything you could want from a postseason starter except pitch very deep into the game. Torre tried to have him pitch deep into the game, electing to have him hit in the bottom of the sixth and pitch the top of the seventh when he was already close to 100 pitches, an odd decision that seemed likely to cost the Dodgers the game until all-the-bench broke loose with two outs in the ninth. I think Kershaw has earned the right to not have his pitching credentials questioned if he has a poor outing in his next start this postseason, if he gets one. If it was up to me, he would be making another start no matter what. I would choose Kershaw over Wolf for a potential game 5.

Kershaw was good but Wainwright was better. The only failing Wainwright had was that he couldn't pitch nine innings. The Dodgers could only scratch for one run against him, but they at least made him use enough pitches to make Franklin pitch the ninth. The Dodgers showed how you beat an ace who is on his game. You get a good pitching performance from your own guy, use as many pitches as you can, and hope luck turns your way.

NLDS Game 2 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Belliard -- 1
Loretta -- 1
Kershaw -- 1

Kershaw kept them close and Belliard and Loretta delivered the win. Ethier hit his early home run, Broxton and Sherrill pitched well, and Blake and Martin and even Loney were involved in the late rally, but nothing seems quite so impressive at game tying and game winning runs batted in.

I think of all the games this year when Kershaw pitched great for the Dodgers, only to see the team lose the game. Finally, this time, when it seemed it would happen again --- instead it happened to the other guy, and Kershaw's great effort is not wasted.

NLDS Game 2 Unfair Loss Shares ( Cardinals )

Holliday -- 2
Franklin -- 1

No extra credit for hitting that early home run, not when the game ending catch ends up bouncing away. Maybe Holliday's two unfair shares should go to the lights he lost the ball in, but the unfair shares only go to players. That's how it is.

08 October 2009

With Two Outs in the Ninth

Holliday --- a tough play --- a gut play --- and he dropped it. The ball, and the game, went rolling, bouncing away, uncaught. They tried to pick it up, but it kept bouncing away. The ball kept skittering around, just out of reach. Up the middle off Belliard's bat, then the other way, past the catcher, and then toward Holliday again, a little loop off the bat of Loretta, but as a taunt, because Holliday never had a chance at that one. He could only watch as it dropped, uncaught again, this time untouched, but still right to the gut. You win as a team, and you lose as a team. I'd imagine they all felt it, still feel it, that line drive to the gut of losing that way.

And the Dodgers? And their fans? What is it like for the players, and us, the fans? I can't describe it. That's for someone else to say.

Right now, I consider it from the other side, the losing side, not as a sobering thought, or as a gloomy reminder of what could have happened, or what even might yet happen in the greater scheme, but simply as an acknowledgment that in baseball there is crying, and there is joy, and you have to take both in the times they come, and that the joy of winning is a precious thing, impermanent in time, but not in memory.

First Check-mark Goes to the Dodgers

If I had done one of those check-mark previews before the series the Dodgers certainly would have gotten a check-mark for the bullpen. This may be where they have a clearest advantage over the Cardinals, and they rode it to victory in game one of the series. The Dodger pen was not always dominant, but they always got the job done. Every pitcher but Belisario had a shaky moment. Weaver especially looked out of place in the game ( and on the playoff roster ) but he got the job done after nearly giving up a three-run double that just went foul.

Did you see that ball land foul? I thought it was fair when it happened. Off the bat I never even thought it would go foul. There was the game, the series, the season, at least in the parts of the brain where one moment of adversity means it's all over. Even when Manny just casually picked up the ball in the corner and tossed it to the fans I wasn't sure. Let's face it, we all know Manny is capable of doing something like that on a fair ball that he thinks is foul. Or maybe he's not capable of that, but it seems like he would be. I think there is still some primitive part of my brain that still doesn't realize that ball went foul. I'm still having nightmares of Cardinals running around the bases and taking the lead.

The Dodgers would also get a check-mark in the lineup filler category. We all know that Pujols is the best hitter in the series, and the Dodgers probably can't match the one-two punch of Pujols and Holliday, but the Dodgers have a clear advantage in the rest of the lineup over the Cardinals, and that also showed in last night's game.

Every spot in the Dodgers lineup came to the plate exactly 5 times. Below is the number of times each player got on base. The ninth spot included two at bats from Wolf, and one each from Pierre, Thome, and Broxton.

Furcal -- 3
Kemp -- 1
Ethier -- 4
Manny -- 2
Loney -- 3
Blake -- 3
Belliard -- 3
Martin -- 3
Ninth Spot -- 0

Everyone but Manny, Kemp and the pitcher's was on base 3 times. That's kind of incredible, I think. Even weirder is that the arguable offensive hero of the game only got on base once.

The Dodgers beat the Cardinals 22-18 in runners reaching safely. More often than not the team that puts the most men on base will win the game, though obviously hitting with runners in scoring position and extra base hits can change things around. The Dodgers have made their season on reaching base more than the opposition, and their regular season games with the Cardinals were no exception. Though the Dodgers lost the season series 2-5, they put more men on base than the Cardinals in 4 of the 7 games, and overall they out-on-based the Cardinals in the season series 92-86.

Of the Dodgers 22 runners, 5 scored, one was lost to a double play, and 16 were left on base. I'm not worried about the men left on base because I just don't believe this is something that can ever be reliably called a trend.

I think I would have given a check-mark to the Cardinal starters before the series, and as bad as Carpenter was made to look yesterday he was still probably a little better than Wolf. But Wolf got the outs when he needed them, and the early hook when he was out of gas.

NLDS Game 1 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Kemp -- 1
Belisario -- 1
Broxton -- 1

This is a really weird game to figure out. Kemp gets an unfair win share even though he only got on base once, because his home run and the small cushion it provided was really what kept the Dodgers struggles with leaving men on base later from feeling like a disaster.

Belisario was the best reliever, and Broxton while giving up a run did get Pujols to end the eighth and Ankiel to end the ninth. Broxton's run was allowed when Kemp let a ball get past him in the outfield, and I would argue that Kemp's only mistake here was not going even more all out to catch that ball. With a three run lead and one on in the ninth inning there is no need to worry about keeping the hitter at first on a base hit, since the next batter will be the tying run either way. Now if Kemp had made that kind of play with the tying run at the plate it would have been awful. But as it was he was right to go for the catch.

NLDS Game 1 Unfair Loss Shares ( Cardinals )

Carpenter -- 1
Holliday -- 1
Ludwick -- 1

Ludwick came so close to being the hero, on that near-double down the line that was foul. But it was foul, and then he grounded out to Weaver. He had a gift single in the first inning to drive in a run, on a ball where Kemp should have firmly called off Belliard, or Belliard should have given way sooner. I'm not really sure whose fault that pop-fly single was, but I'm sure that Ludwick didn't do anything there that could help him escape an unfair loss share. The Cardinals needed more from their two hitters after Pujols and they just didn't get it.

03 October 2009


Family is in town, and blogging, like the Dodgers' clinching of the West, has been on hold. It is as it has to be. If the Dodgers came first, no matter what, then that would be a shame.

But the Dodgers are first, tonight. It does not matter that they took almost a week to clinch from the moment when it was first possible. It does not matter that they almost let the Rockies complete a historic comeback. It does not matter that they have not been playing well. All that matters is a number. Not character, not heart, not the will to win. Just a number, imagine that. 94. The Dodgers have 94 wins, and no one is going to beat that number of wins this year in the National League.

I can't offer a playoff preview, because I just don't have time. I can't offer a breakdown, because I don't have the expertise and knowledge for it. There are plenty of Dodgers sites who will do this. Plenty of non-partisan sites too. There is going to be some good stuff. And yet no one knows anything, and everyone knows that. My preview is that the playoffs are fun and tense and unexplored. Each game is a new shore. The flags of the heroes that will fill the horizon have yet to be imagined. Loney and his grand slam, that's my preview. Two men out at home, there is another preview, darker, a reminder that failure is the looming likelihood.

But at least right now failure need not blot the sky. This is a bright time. The Dodgers are first. Right now, that is all any fan could want.

30 September 2009

Catching Up

I think Billingsley has done enough to show he belongs in the postseason rotation, assuming the Dodgers aren't booted from the postseason for losing to bad teams and taking too long to clinch the division. What, they can't be booted for that? Then there is no reason to panic.

Anyway, Billingsley has given up just 1 run in 10 innings of pre-sixth work since he came back from his extended rest. There is the matter of 4 runs allowed in his two sixth innings since then, with only a great throw from Kemp perhaps saving him from more runs allowed. There is also the matter of the 5 walks he allowed last night. I suppose it's not too hard to construct the case against Billingsley. And yet I am still backing Billingsley because I don't see a better alternative. I do not believe Garland and Padilla are better pitchers than Billingsley. Garland especially is tempting, but he gives up more home runs and strikes out fewer batters than Billingsley. His walks to strikeouts ratio is worse than Billingsley's. He's not a better pitcher. Billingsley has proven he is healthy, and he has proven he can pitch 5 effective innings in a start. He's the fourth starter, with the deep 'pen backing him up closely.

Broxton blew a game some few days ago. I don't know, it seems like another world now. I've been very busy with visiting family lately, which explains why I haven't updated this blog lately, and also explains why my loathing for how the Dodgers are playing lately is muted. I think this is a good thing. I just hope everyone is healthy by the time the playoffs start. Look, I want the Dodgers to win the division and home field advantage. I really really do. But that feeling of triumph if they do it will disappear if they lose in the first round, and that feeling of disappointment if they don't will vanish if they make it to the World Series. Ultimately it just doesn't matter. Home field doesn't win you the series. And winning series is everything.

So, Broxton. The thing that he did wrong was not strike anyone out. Some of the hits he allowed were pretty lucky, and he had some bad defense behind him, but he also didn't do what he does when he's on, and that's to strike out batters. If you let them all put it into play bad things might happen. I don't think it means anything, though, that he had one poor outing. If he doesn't strike anyone out his next outing then maybe I'll reconsider.

And now, to catch up with the unfair shares. No commentary with them, sadly. But really, why would anyone want to relive any of these games, except the first of these, which I already talked about in my last post?

Game 155 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Manny -- 1
Belliard -- 1
Wolf -- 1

Game 155 Unfair Loss Shares ( Pirates )

Bautista -- 1
Milledge -- 1
Pierce -- 1

Game 156 Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Ethier -- 1
Broxton -- 2

Game 156 Unfair Win Shares ( Pirates )

Milledge -- 1
LaRoche -- 1
D McCutchen -- 1

Game 157 Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Kuroda -- 3

Game 157 Unfair Win Shares ( Pirates )

LaRoche -- 2
Duke -- 1

Game 158 Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Manny -- 1
Loney -- 1
Ethier -- 1

Game 158 Unfair Win Shares ( Padres )

Kouzmanoff -- 1
Adams -- 1
Bell -- 1

27 September 2009

In Again

Last night the Dodgers clinched a better record than the Atlanta Braves. That's great. The Dodgers could have used more of this in 1991.

Oh yeah, they also happened to clinch a playoff spot. Sure, that's worth celebrating, but it doesn't feel like a huge event because it's felt inevitable for at least a week now, and the real regular season goal for a team of their caliber has yet to be accomplished.

The Rockies lost, so the Dodgers now lead them by six with seven games left. The magic number for clinching a better record than the Rockies and a full share of the NL West Title is 2. It's only 1 if you count the division tie-breaker, but as far as I'm concerned the tie-breaker is for playoff seeding purposes only, not for official division title purposes. In 2006 the Dodger and Padres had identical records to lead the NL West, and as far as I'm concerned they were co-champions of the division, even though the Padres won the tie-breaker. This is baseball, where ties are broken by a game played on the field, or not at all. This isn't football where you break the tie by going down a list of arbitrary and arcane criteria. It's fine to determine playoff positioning by a tiebreaker, because no one wants to play an extra game if you don't need it to get in, but a tiebreaker doesn't magically make one team have a better record than the other. It doesn't give the 2006 Padres a better record than the 2006 Dodgers, or give them a full share of the division. This has always bugged me, when people say that the Padres won the division that year, and the Dodgers --- didn't. Can you tell? So, while it may be technically correct that the magic number for the division is just 1, to me it is 2. In any case, I will only celebrate when a tie with Jim Tracy's team is no longer possible.

The Braves are now just two games back of the Rockies for the wild card in the all-powerful loss column, and three games back in the all-knowing win column. Simply put, the Braves are 2.5 games back, with 8 games left to play, against 7 left to play for the Rockies. The Braves playoff odds are now up to near 20%, according to Baseball Prospectus and coolstandings.com. This is serious for the Rockies. They have some late-season competition suddenly, and it's not the Giants or Marlins.

The Braves have charged into contention by going 14-3 in their last 17 games. Before that they had lost 5 to put them hopelessly out of it. Nearly hopelessly, we can say in retrospect. If the Braves end up falling short, then they'll be kicking themselves, wondering how they could get swept by the Reds at home at the beginning of September. But maybe that embarrassment is what turned them around. The Braves have one game left in Washington today ( against batting practice pitcher Livan Hernandez ), then three at home against the Marlins ( who are on the fringe of contention and should be a tough oppoent, then four at home against the Happ-less Nats. ( The Nats could use some good young pitching like J. A. Happ, couldn't they? ) Though the Marlins are a tough opponent, 7 of 8 are at home, and 5 of 8 are against the Nats, so I could easily see the Braves finishing 6-2, which would put them at 90 wins. I think the Rockies have to assume that the Braves finish with 90 wins, which means they have to finish with 91, which means they have to win 4 of their last 7.

The Rockies host a winnable game against the Cardinals and Kyle Lohse, then finish up their home schedule with three against the Brewers, who are winning a lot lately, for what that may be worth. I think the Rockies would finish those four games 2-2, which would mean they needed to win 2 of 3 in their final series on the road against --- the Dodgers.

But will they be playing the Dodgers, or the D0d63r5? In other words, will the Dodgers have anything left to play for, or will they run a bunch of subs out there? The Dodgers could have clinched home field advantage by then. They lead both the Cardinals and the Phillis by 3 in the all-wise loss column. But I wouldn't count on it. I think the Dodgers will at least play hard for the first game of that series, and maybe even the first two. If the Dodgers have clinched everything by then, would they still try their hardest to win those games to try to avoid a first round match with the Cardinals or Phillies? As long as the Braves stay close to the Rockies, this final series of the year should be very interesting.

26 September 2009

Brave New World

Well, the Dodgers lost, but everyone else lost again, everyone that matters. Except the Rockies, who I suppose maybe still matter since they are 6 games back ( counting the tie-breaker ), with that series with the Dodgers at the end of the year. The Rockies would have to gain three games on the Dodgers while the Dodgers are playing five against the Pirates and the Padres, then sweep the final series. Doesn't seem to likely. I think the Rockies are more concerned about holding off the Braves at this point.

I rarely watch anything but sports on ESPN, but I did see Baseball Tonight or Sportscenter a week or so ago and witnessed Steve Phillips declare that the Braves were going to win the wild card. "There he goes again," I thought. But he may end up being right. That would be something! Probably not --- the Braves are still a longshot, but they are the only team left that looks like any kind of threat against the Rockies. The Marlins and Giants are both five back and mostly dead. The Braves, though, are three back in the loss column and, as they say, "hot" right now. I think most people realize that baseball heat can turn to cold in an instant, but there it is. They are hot, winning 8 of 10, coming from back of the pack to be the only alternative left to the Rockies. The Braves have a nearly 10% chance right now, according to the Baseball Prospectus postseason odds. That might be higher if you believe in "heat".

Should the Dodgers root for the Braves? The Braves winning last night prevented the Dodgers from clinching, but that's okay, since the Dodgers should be able to win one more game of the 8 remaining, right? The point is that if the Braves take the wild card and the Dodgers can hang on to best record in the league then they avoid either the Phillies or the Cardinals in the first round. Instead they would get --- the red hot Braves! Instead of Carpenter and Wainwright, or Hamels and Lee, the Dodgers would get Jurrjens and Vazquez! That's nearly as scary, though people don't usually talk about them that way. Also, even though the Braves have a much worse record than the Phillies or the Cardinals, I think they're almost as good as those teams ever since they filled up most of their offensive holes that dragged them down earlier in the year.

So root for the Braves to unseat the Rockies? Maybe, but there are no free passes in the postseason.

Game 154 Unfair Win Shares ( Pirates )

Veal -- 1
Chavez -- 1
Capps -- 1

It's all relievers getting the unfair win shares for the Pirates. I never thought I'd see that, and if I did, that it would be the Dodgers doing it. But the Pirate pitching was why they won that game. That, and some Dodger errors.

Game 154 Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Loney -- 1
Ethier -- 1
Ramirez -- 1

Garland wasn't that good either, though none of the runs he gave up were earned. He's the kind of pitcher who doesn't seem as likely to overcome an error in an inning, though I don't know the numbers on that for him, so I don't really know.

25 September 2009

Reversing the Nightmare

The nightmare began in 1997, with the rise of the Giants to the top of the NL West. The Dodgers had made the playoffs in 1995 and 1996, and the Dodgers contended again in 1997, but at the end they fell short, finishing 2 games back of a Giants team that was outscored on the season. The Dodgers were better in all ways but wins, but there would be no revenging justice the next year. 1997 was an omen for the years to come.

The Dodgers simply weren't very good in 1998. They didn't deserve to be, after trading away Mika Piazza early in the year. The Dodgers were outscored in 1998, but there would be no luck to save them as there was for the Giants a year before. They finished a distant third in the NL West, with the Giants in second, one game out of the wild card.

The Dodgers were a bad team in 1999, and finished well behind the Giants again. What had began with misfortune and continued with bad karma had now been established as habit. The Giants were better than the Dodgers. The Giants missed the playoffs again, this time finishing well behind the upstart Snakes in the division, who were winners of 100 in just their second year. Yet another indignity for the Dodgers in 1999, to be trounced in the standings by a fake team with hideous uniforms, and a garish stadium with a pool in the outfield stands and a pathway to the mound.

The Dodgers were better in 2000, but so were the Giants, led by Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds, who was in his first year of his late-career rejuvenation. The Dodgers just didn't have a chance against that team, and finished in a distant second place. Four years in a row, with no end in sight, as Barry was just getting started. The only positive for the Dodgers was that they finished one game ahead of the Snakes.

I think 2001 must have been the worst year of the Giants run over the Dodgers. It was bookend blows by Barry that delivered the pain. On April 17 of that year in Pac Bell Park the Dodgers were leading the Giants 2-1 in the bottom of eighth inning when Barry Bonds hit a two run home run to give the Giants a 3-2 lead. The classless Giants proceeded to halt the game right there and have a little ceremony on the field to commemorate the jerk's 500th career home run. They must have stopped the game for 10 minutes, a game that was not in any way decided. I've always wondered why the umpires allowed them to do that. I think that might be the angriest I have ever been watching a game. The ending blow came on October 5, when Barry hit his 71st home run of the year against known home run allower Chan Ho Park. The Giants finished that season with three against the Dodgers, and I so badly wanted the Dodgers to keep him homerless and deny him sole possession of the record. At least the Dodger won that game, and so doing knocked the Giants out of playoff contention. But again the Dodgers had finished behind the Giants in the standings.

In 2002 the Dodgers won 92 games, which is more than they've won in many of their playoff seasons, but it wasn't enough. The Giants won 95, and took the wild card, and eventually went on the World Series. Ouch. Where they lost to the Angels. Ha ha! Small comfort, though, because 2002 was six years in a row of Giants mastery over the Dodgers. It was getting hard to even imagine a time when the Dodgers were better than the Giants.

The Dodgers of 2003 had one of the all-time great pitching staffs. They paired it with an offense to make you cry. With any kind of hitting the Dodgers would have been a very good team that year, and as it was they still won 85 games. But the Giants won 100 games, and easily took first place in the NL West. Seven years in a row. The streak had become an institution.

Then, in 2004, the Giants came into Dodger Stadium for the final series of the year three games back of the Dodgers. First place was at stake, bragging rights between the two rivals were at stake, but the Giants would have to sweep. And it looked like they might do it. They won the first game, and led the second game 3-0 going in to the ninth inning, with a favorable pitching matchup of Schmidt vs. Ishii for the final game. ( This was back when Schmidt was good! ) A sweep felt inevitable. But then in the bottom of the ninth the Dodgers rallied, and the Giants started making errors, and the game was tied at 3, with Steve Finley at the plate, and he hit it, high and far, a sacrifice fly to win the game that just kept carrying and carrying to become a grand slam. The bases were cleared, the Dodger dugout was cleared, seven years of frustration were cleared. Swept away. The Dodgers were better than the Giants! The Dodgers were better than the Giants! The Dodgers were better than the Giants! The streak had ended at seven. The Giants would go on to finish one game out of the wild card. They haven't been back to the playoffs since.

In 2005 the NL West was terrible, as the Padres won the division with a 82-80 record. The Giants finished ahead of the Dodgers in the standings, but it was a booby prize. While the Dodgers would rebound into contention the next year, the Giants would not. Barry was winding down his career in disgrace, and the rest of the team was in shambles. The Giants finished well behind the Dodgers in the standings in 2006, 2007, and 2008. Three years in a row.

Yesterday made it four in a row. The Dodgers tried to give their game against the Nats away but won anyway, making them 92-61 on the year. Meanwhile the Giants led by one with two outs and two strikes on Jeff Baker in the ninth inning, but Brian Wilson could not get the last strike, and Baker hit a two-run home run to put the Giants behind. The Giants rallied in the bottom of the ninth but fell short, and lost the game, making them 82-71. 10 back with 9 to play --- that means the Dodgers have clinched a better record than the Giants. I'll pop some champagne to that.

Game 153 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Kemp -- 1
Furcal -- 1
Ethier -- 1

I hate not giving one to Broxton, but who do I take one away from? Furcal put the Dodgers ahead late, and was 4-5. Kemp hit for an almost cycle, only missing it by an official scorer's ruling. And Ethier made a great throw home to preserve the lead. Sorry Broxton, and apologies to Troncoso, who also got the job done in relief. Once again the 'pen is overlooked.

Game 153 Unfair Loss Shares ( Nats )

Martin -- 1
Villone -- 1
Dunn -- 1

Remember back when Dunn was threatening to hit more home runs than the Nats had wins? Well, he's 14 back now, 38 to 52. Maybe a late surge?

24 September 2009

The Billingsley Debate

The Case Against

Since August 18, when he returned from a strained hamstring, Chad Billingsley has pitched 40.2 innings. These have been bad innings. Crooked frames, full of crooked numbers. Twenty five runs allowed. All but one earned. That's an ERA of --- of what? Too much. Higher than 5. That's enough, no need to get more exact than that.

31 strikeouts, 15 walks, in those 40 and change innings. Hmm. That's okay, I guess. A little wild, and strikeouts at a lower rate than what we used to get from Billingsley, but not awful, you know. Maybe it's bad luck. No, it's not. I don't think so. His pitches get him into trouble.

12 doubles, 1 triple, 6 home runs. That's what Billingsley has allowed since coming back from injury. That's 19 extra base hits in 40.2 innings. That's not going to work. They hit the ball hard, in the air. A lot.

There was only one hit in Billingsley's last start. It was a home run. Even so, he certainly did pitch better. But is it enough? Which sample matters? His career? His season? His starts since the injury? His performance yesterday? Do the bad starts against Philadelphia in last year's playoffs matter?

I don't know. We tend to judge things based on the strongest memory we have of them. I wouldn't even consider what happened in last year's playoffs, but that is still a strong memory for a lot of people. But even if we ignore what happened last year, there is little hope for the defenders of Billingsley. His recent struggles overwhelm anything else. The home run he gave up last night overwhelms the five innings of brilliance that came before.

There's no time left. The momentum carrying Billingsley out of the Dodger playoff rotation is too great. He could be perfect against the Pirates in his next start and it probably wouldn't be enough. The decision has already been made.

The Case For

What about Torre, though? Has he made his decision? Torre is a smart guy. He usually knows who the better player really is. He didn't panic and abandon Broxton when he had his mini-slide. He may have played Pierre too much last year but he got it, he knew that Ethier and Kemp were better than Pierre. I think Torre also knows that Billingsley is a fundamentally a better pitcher than Garland and Padilla. But can Billingsley physically and mentally be that good pitcher they knew he can be right now? The answer, after last night, is yes. Even with one mistake. There is no reason to think that Billingsley is hurt or a mental wreck right now. None. One start such a small sample, but it is enough to answer those questions.

The one thing Billingsley may not be capable of doing right now is going deep into a ballgame. It's been months since he pitched into the seventh inning. He often runs into trouble by the sixth. So I think Billingsley should be a postseason starter, but only be allowed to pitch five innings. That's all the Dodgers need, with all the off-days and their deep and excellent 'pen.

Game 152 Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Manny -- 1
Kemp -- 1
Ethier -- 1

The outfield had a bad day. Hitless, luckless. They couldn't get it done in the field or at the plate. The bullpen wasn't too hot either, but I blame the outfield more. Just a weird, frustrating game. At least all the other teams that matter lost. Cardinals, Phillies, and Rockies. The Giants won, though. Do they matter? No, they're still 9 games back of the Dodgers. ( As are the Braves, with the Marlins 9.5 back. )

Game 152 Unfair Win Shares ( Nats )

Zimmerman -- 1
Orr -- 1
Rivera -- 1

23 September 2009

Playing for Comfort

As always, when the Dodgers score a ton of runs I like to run a list of who drove in and scored the most runs.

Furcal -- 6
Loney -- 4
Blake -- 4
Belliard -- 3
Kemp -- 3
Manny -- 2
Martin -- 2
Ethier -- 1
Kuroda -- 1
Repko -- 1
Castro -- 1

That's every member of the starting lineup with some contribution to the scoring, and also Repko and Castro. The infield did most of the damage, with 9 runs batted in and 8 runs scored.

The season has turned into a blowout. A playoff spot is all but wrapped up, and clinching could come as soon as tonight. There is plenty left to play for, but without postseason survival on the line there just isn't much of an emotional edge. I might feel different if the Rockies were closer than 5 games to the Dodgers, and the possibility of finishing second to manager Jim Tracy felt more real. Finishing ahead of the Cardinals and Phillies and getting home field advantage is important too, but it won't win a single game for you in the playoffs. The Dodgers aren't playing for survival right now. They are playing for comfort. Big difference.

So I have a hard time getting really interested in these games, especially with them starting early, and especially with a lot to do around the house. But tonight's game does feel vital, because Billingsley is starting. I want to see him do well. I want to see him starting in the postseason.

Game 151 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Furcal -- 1
Loney -- 1
Kuroda -- 1

Kuroda kept the Dodgers close until they figured out how to hit Livan's devious "batting practice ball" in the fourth inning.

Game 151 Unfair Loss Shares ( Nationals )

Hernandez -- 3

Why, Nationals? Why did you feel the need to pick up Livan for your rotation? Isn't there some young pitcher you could try instead? Whatever the reason, the Dodgers and their fans gratefully accept your gift of a blowout win.

21 September 2009

Nearing Greatness

The Dodgers are 90-60. I'm really impressed, and I'm reconsidering my lament that the Dodgers had lost their shot at greatness with a middling second half to the season. Objectively they are still falling somewhat short of being a great team, but what happens the last 12 games and more importantly the postseason could change that.

If nothing else winning the series from the Giants and most likely ending their hopes was pretty damn great.

Game 148 Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Padilla -- 1
Troncoso -- 1
Martin -- 1

Martin and Troncoso have shadows, players who could easily take their places in the unfair loss share column. For Martin it's Loney. Combined those two were 0-9, with no walks. This isn't anything new for these two. They are disappointments. We all expected better of them. And yet, for all we expected of them that they haven't delivered, they aren't dragging the offense down. They're a part of what makes the offense so good. Look at this:

0.422 -- 0.366 -- 0.364 -- 0.362 -- 0.359 -- 0.354 -- 0.351 -- 0.325

Those are the on base percentages of the Dodger regulars. This is a solid group, except for the last one. No easy outs here. 2-8 the Dodgers will wear you down, make you beg for the showers by the third inning, if they're really on. 9 is the pitcher, who sometimes is sneaky good with the bat, and 1 is Furcal, who has the 0.325. Furcal is the real drag on the offense. It's too bad Belliard can't play shortstop.

Troncoso's unfair loss share shadow in that game was Billingsley. Both gave up two runs in relief. Both were great in the first half of the season, and have fallen on hard times during the second half. Both are question marks headed into the postseason.

Maybe neither one will make the postseason roster. That's how bad it seems now. Though, really, it's almost impossible to imagine Billingsley not making it. Only if the Dodgers determined that he was hurt and had no hope of being effective, I think. Billingsley will get two starts to convince the Dodgers he is effective. As for Troncoso, he's sitting at about sixth or seventh on the bullpen depth chart right now. Is he even ahead of Elbert at this point? I just can't imagine the Dodgers needing Troncoso in a short series with days off and at least one starter in the 'pen. I don't think he's going to make it.

Game 148 Unfair Win Shares ( Giants )

Velez -- 1
Sandoval -- 1
Romo -- 1

Maybe this was it. I think it was. This was the last time the Giants really had a good look at making the playoffs this season, right after this game. They gave it an amazing shot, really, given their offense. The eight they scored to win Friday was an anomaly, though. They scored all of three runs in the next two games, and their pitching was undressed by the Dodgers, and they fell hopelessly behind the Rockies.

Game 149 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Belliard -- 1
Loney -- 1
Garland -- 1

Garland gave up one run in eight innings, but he wasn't really dominant. He only struck out three. Garland just let the Giants be who they are, and that is a bad offensive team. I think that's what Garland does. He just lets an offense take what it can, but he doesn't give them anything. You can hit him if you're good, but you probably won't drive him to cover after a few innings. I don't really know if that's the kind of pitcher you want in the postseason, but you could do worse. I think I'd rather have Garland starting than Padilla. What about Billingsley? Oh, that's easy. I choose Billingsley, unless he really shows nothing at all in his last two starts.

Belliard may get some playing time at second in the playoffs, assuming the Dodgers make it. Which I am, since the magic number is 4 with 12 games to play. Sure, nothing is clinched yet, but let's be serious. Anyway, Belliard is playing great for the Dodgers, after not doing much for the Nats. And yet he doesn't really fit in with the Dodgers. Even as he's been blazing hot with his new club his on base percentage since coming over is a rather limp 0.339. For the entire year? Don't even ask. Let's just say he'd fit right in with the on-base challenged Giants. I guess I'm asking if he really deserves to start ahead of Hudson. What happens if the home runs dry up?

Game 149 Unfair Loss Shares ( Giants )

Penny -- 3

Metaphorically, the Dodgers pulled down Penny's pants, pointed, and laughed. That's about what happened in two and two thirds delightful innings on Saturday.

Here's another one: Penny was dropped into one of those souvenir coin machines, and the Dodgers smooshed him flat and stretched him out and stamped him with Belisario hitting a grand slam on one side and Larry Bowa smiling on the other side.

Game 150 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Ethier -- 1
Wolf -- 1
Belliard -- 1

There he is again, that Belliard. I can see why it's going to very tempting to put him in the lineup every day. And there again is Ethier as well. Around my house we call him Ethi-bomb, because Ethi-bombs are what he hits. I love Kemp's raw all-field power, but there is also something to be said for a guy who just pulls all of his home runs ( almost all ). Even if that pitch is outside he can still pull it into the right field seats.

Game 150 Unfair Loss Shares ( Giants )

Lincecum -- 2
Molina -- 1

Oh sure, they beat Lincecum, but he was having a bad day, so it doesn't count. And I would counter that it was the Dodger hitters who made him have a bad day. That pitch Ethier hit for a home run didn't look like an awful pitch to me.

17 September 2009

Now Entering the Game for Los Angeles, a Really Good Pitcher

Jon Broxton

Try your best to win them all
and one day time will tell
when you’re the one that’s standing there
you’ll reach the final bell!

You’re the best!
Nothing’s gonna ever keep you down

He is the best around, our K-rate kid. ( 13.6 per 9 innings ) Sure, he had that rough stretch when he was blowing saves and giving up runs as if opposing batters were a gang of teens wearing skeleton costumes and beating him up, but now it's all crane kicks.

Mercy is for the weak! No, wait, that was the bad guys who said that.

George Sherrill

What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything, divided by 100?

What is George Sherrill's ERA as a Dodger?

Both these questions have the same answer! Cosmic, eh?

Perhaps Sherrill's sub-1 ERA is a little lucky. He has 16 strikeouts, 9 walks and one home run given up in 21.1 innings as a Dodger. Good numbers, but not the kind of numbers that will sustain such a low ERA. Nevertheless, he's been a great addition to the Dodgers ( leaving aside the matter of who the Dodgers gave up to get him ) who along with Broxton effectively shortens games to 7 innings.

Hong-Chih Kuo

In a game where Broxton, Kuo and Sherrill are all available, and the Dodgers have a lead after six --- well, I like the Dodgers' chances.

Ronald Belisario

Belisario's ERA is less than 2. That's the good news. The bad news is that he was accused ( and charged ) with driving under the influence with a blood-alcohol level of 0.11. I don't know what else to say about him. I have a hard time cheering for him now, thinking back to how Angel pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed by drunk driver Andrew Gallo. Of course, Belisario hasn't been found guilty yet, and he wasn't in any accident. Could he have been? I don't know --- it's worth pointing out that Gallo's BAC was measured at 0.19, significantly higher than what Belisario is accused of. Does that difference matter? Gallo hasn't been found guilty yet either, and no one holds back from criticizing him because of that. Of course Gallo unquestionably blew through a red light and killed three people, which is a pretty big difference.

James McDonald

McDonald's relief ERA is 2.40. He's striking out a batter per inning. In other words, he's just another fabulous Dodger reliever.

Ramon Troncoso

The Troncuilizer has fallen on hard times lately. Or maybe hard luck? Though his post All-Star break ERA is above 4, his strikeouts rate has actually improved after the break. I think it's just a matter of more ground balls finding holes and going for hits lately. The Dodgers also don't call on Troncoso that much anymore, because of the addition of Kuo, Sherrill and McDonald to the bullpen elite. But he's still a good pitcher, a great fifth or sixth option out of the 'pen.

Mark Loretta

He is the ultimate utility player, a veritable multi-tool of a man who can tackle any baseball related job. Where would Joe Torre and the Dodgers be without Mark Loretta? Not only is Loretta second to team-MVP candidate Juan Pierre in pinch hits, but he leads the Dodgers in relief ERA, at 0.00. The zeros of that ERA go all the way out, forever. He's perfect as a pitcher. It's a pity Torre doesn't use him more often. One third of an inning doesn't seem like enough for the man from Santa Monica. But don't let his rare work out of the 'pen fool you. He's the best the Dodgers have in relief. Forget about Juan Pierre, and Ronnie Belliard, and Brad Ausmus. They don't pitch. Mark Loretta is the true MVP* of the Dodgers.

*-- MVP = Most Veterany Player

Game 147 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Kemp -- 1
Belliard -- 1
Kuroda -- 1

No love for the relievers. They deserve recognition for their three scoreless innings, but no one reliever had a bigger game than Kemp, Belliard, or Kuroda. That's just the way it is. If they do their job, they barely get noticed. If they don't do their job, then the blame goes right to them.

Game 147 Unfair Loss Shares ( Pirates )

Pearce -- 1
Cedeno -- 1
Vasquez -- 1

Quick --- are these real Pirate players, or did I just make up three names, figuring no one would know the difference?

16 September 2009

Caught Being Juan Pierre

I chose to bring it out because that's me, no matter what it is. If I had that choice, probably 100 times, I'd do it again.

--- Leodis McKelvin, after fumbling away a kickoff with two minutes left in last Monday's Bills-Pats game. The fumble led to the Patriots scoring the winning touchdown.

Right after Juan Pierre was caught stealing third base in the third inning of today's series finale against Pittsburgh, I thought of Leodis McKelvin, and the burning desire to some players to be themselves even when it costs their team. I can imagine Juan Pierre saying something very similar to the McKelvin quote if asked about his caught stealing of third base. I can also imagine him admitting that he made a mistake. I really don't know what he'll say, if asked about it.

Pierre's decision to steal third with no outs and several good hitters due up was so bad that even Vinny was having none of it, and Vinny is usually quite forgiving of stolen base attempts that go awry. I'm not really sure I can get behind even his decision to steal second, even though that one was successful. One one hand you can reasonably worry about the double play with Belliard up and Ethier on deck. You might also look at the count ( Pierre stole second on a 2-1 count ) and conclude that Belliard might walk and get you to second anyway ( Belliard did eventually walk ). But I can't help but thinking that none of this calculus of the situation ever entered Juan Pierre's mind. I believe he tried to steal those bases because that's his game. That's who he is. Fair enough. I just wish he'd be someone other than Juan Pierre on company time.

The supposed mistake Leodis McKelvin committed was taking the kickoff out of the endzone when he could have just knelt for a touchback and not risked a fumble on the return. But I think I agree with Gregg Easterbrook ( who wrote about this in his Tuesday Morning Quarterback column on ESPN ) that the return out of the endzone was okay, it was the extra effort for another meaningless yard at the end when the ball was stripped that was the real mistake. Just go down as soon as they're on you. Instead, wasted, counter-productive effort. That's what doomed McKelvin and the Bills. It's also what doomed Pierre when he tried to steal third. He's a hard worker, an all-out player. We know that. But going all-out just results in all outs. I've written about this before --- sometimes Pierre doesn't know when to hold back. At the plate, and on the basepaths. He was caught again.

Sixth Gear

OPS by situation for Andre Ethier:

bases empty: 0.920
runners on base: 0.868
scoring position: 0.862
2 out, score pos: 0.787

Are these the splits of someone who would normally be thought of as a clutch hitter? His stats get worse and worse as the situation become more and more clutch. Not a whole lot worse, of course. These splits are more consistent than anything else. I don't make anything of his splits, by the way. Small sample size and all that.

The lesson is that clutch is a story, not a formula. Clutch doesn't objectively mean much. People will sometimes try to prove something about a player by his clutch stats, but these stats are so ephemeral and random that in most cases their use proves more about the person using the stats. I think that usually when clutch stats are used it is to back up a pre-existing idea. Everyone knows Alex Rodriguez fails when it matters, and there exist carefully packaged samples of his work to prove that.

I don't expect that Ethier will ever again have multiple game-ending hits in the same year. That doesn't matter, though. He's made this season his own and nothing will change that. No one is going to care what his splits were twenty years from now, but the fans that watched this season will remember all the times he was mobbed at the plate for delivering a win.

Here is another split for Ethier that probably explains it as much as anything can:

home: 1.008
away: 0.783

All six of his game-ending hits have come at home, of course.

Game 146 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Ethier -- 2
McDonald -- 1

Pity Pierre, who would have had one if Hudson or Loney could have driven him in from third. Cry for Kemp, who did tie the game with his clutch, fifth-gear opposite field single to score Ethier. But Ethier was in sixth gear, and he steals the glory. Not only did he set up the first game saving run with his vicious double down the line, but he delivered the second game saving run and the winning run all in one sweet swing. And he hit what was a pretty good pitch by Dumatrait to do it.

Game 146 Unfair Loss Shares ( Pirates )

Capps -- 1
Dumatrait -- 1
Jones -- 1

It was a good pitch by Dumatrait, by my own judgement, and by Dumatrait's judgement, if his post-game comment is anything to go by. But if you give up a game-winning home run, you get an unfair loss share. That's the rules.

There was also a game Monday that I need to take care of:

Game 145 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Hudson -- 1
Ethier -- 1
Garland -- 1

Garland got it done, somehow. And Ethier hit just a regular middle-of-the-game home run. How boring.

Game 145 Unfair Loss Shares ( Pirates )

Milledge -- 1
Moss -- 1
D. McCutchen -- 1

Don't confuse D. McCutchen with A. McCutchen. A. McCutchen is a rookie center fielder who is having a pretty good year. D McCutchen is a mediocre pitcher who lost to the Dodgers on Monday. I remember coming across both names when I did the positional rankings a few weeks ago and wondering who the heck these guys were and how they ended up on the same team.

14 September 2009

A Gross of Games

I'm very happy with a series win in San Francisco.

Game 142 Unfair Loss Shares ( Giants )

Cain -- 1
Valdez -- 1
Sandoval -- 1

Cain is having a great year, even with his struggles against the Dodgers. And Billingsley is struggling, as we all know. But I'd still rather have Billingsley than Cain for next year and beyond.

I've always associated Billingsley with Cain, the same way I associate Kershaw with Lincecum. Billingsley and Cain came up around the same time, those who wrote about prospects often compared the two. Both pitchers were first round picks, Cain 25th in 2002, Billingsley 24th a year later. The Dodgers could have picked Cain with the 19th pick in 2002, but instead chose another pitcher, James Loney.

Game 142 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Loney -- 1
Blake -- 1
Kuroda -- 1

The Dodgers chose to make Loney a first baseman instead of a pitcher, of course, thinking he would make a better future hitter than pitcher. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Loney had continued as a pitcher instead, but certainly this weekend Loney the hitter was very valuable. Loney was one of the hitting heroes Friday night. The final score was 10-3, so a two-run rally in the first inning might not seem crucial, but I think it was. Loney's two-out double to drive in two made sure the Dodgers wouldn't end up frustrated and empty-handed even as they were hitting Cain pretty hard.

Cain went on to show some filthy stuff in the third inning, when he made Kemp and Ethier look silly on strikeouts. But he couldn't sustain his success. The Dodgers kept punishing every little mistake he made, and Blake finished him off with a two-run home run that combined with Kuroda's dominance put the game away.

Game 143 Unfair Loss Shares ( Giants )

Velez -- 1
Renteria -- 1
Sanchez -- 1

The Giants only won once they got Abe Lincoln look-a-like Eugenio Velez out of the lineup on Sunday. Velez was 0-4 on Friday, and then on Saturday he was also 0-4, with 4 men left on base. And he also had an error. One score and seven years ago, a mediocre hitter was born. Between Velez and Pierre I think I'd rather have Pierre, unless you want to bring up contracts.

Game 143 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Padilla -- 1
Loney -- 1
Martin -- 1

Two of these names I thought I'd be seeing under the unfair win shares a lot more this season. The other one I thought the Dodgers were crazy to acquire.

Game 144 Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Belliard -- 1
Blake -- 1
Billingsley -- 1

Neither Belliard nor Blake could get the big hit against Penny with men on base, and Billingsley couldn't stop from giving up the big hit often enough. Billingsley struck out 6 and walked none in 4 innings, which is pretty good. Everything else was not good.

Game 144 Unfair Win Shares ( Giants )

Penny -- 1
Uribe -- 1
Sanchez -- 1

Penny struck out two, walked two, and gave up a home run in seven innings. That's not really very good, but it was good enough Sunday for Penny to get his revenge on the Dodgers.

12 September 2009

Partial Series Score, Nineteen to Four

Without saying anything about the chances of the Giants catching the Dodgers in the standings this year, I will say the following:

I don't think the Giants are good enough to overtake the Rockies.

Even if the Giants somehow swept the Rockies in their series next week, I still don't think the Giants could catch the Rockies by the end of the year.

The Giants are still being out on-based by their opponents, even with their great pitching staff. 0.307 for the Giants, 0.314 for their opponents. That's why they haven't kept up with the surging Rockies.

The Dodgers probably have more to fear from the Marlins than the Giants at this point.

The Giants figure to have a better offense next year. Don't they? If the offense does improve, then are they at least co-favorites for the division in 2010? But then I wonder, will they ever get this kind of performance from Matt Cain again? He's good, but probably not really this good. The problem for the Giants is that both the pitching and hitting are likely to shape more toward average.

With the Giants 8.5 games back of the Dodgers the matchup against Penny has lost some of its zing.

The Dodgers are 3 up on the Rockies, 1 up on the Cardinals. The playoff cushion is 8.5. Matt Kemp no longer bats eighth. There's nothing to complain about!

11 September 2009

A Two Game Lead

If I had been told on opening day that the Dodgers would be in first place, two games ahead of the second place team, I would have answered with a rant about how much I hated the "if I had been told" hypothetical. The journey matters. The things I've experienced between now and then make a difference. I've always figured the point of that hypothetical was to say the opposite, that the journey doesn't matter, that only the destination matters.

Maybe there is another way of looking at the "if I had been told" hypothetical. Maybe it's a reminder of how much our goals have changed between now and then, and maybe how much has already been accomplished. Back then a two game lead was a worthy goal. Now it feels narrow and almost a failure, because of the heights previously reached. But it is still an accomplishment. It is still a good position to be in. From two games up a team can easily launch itself into the postseason.

And of course the lead for the purposes of making the postseason is not 2, it's 6.5. I say this even knowing how disappointed I will be if the Dodgers don't finish in first place in the NL West, even if they make it as the wild card. The wild card is okay if you surge into it, but not if you tumble down into it. Except that none of this is true once the playoff series begin. All that matters then in winning the series. And all the really matters now is getting to that series. All that matters is the 6.5 game lead.

But the two game lead is still the one I care about more.

Game 141 Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Troncoso -- 2
Belliard -- 1

It was a tale of ground outs with these two. All Belliard did all night was ground out. ( At least Martin, who was the other hitless Dodger starter, lined out once. ) And Troncoso's job was to get the ground out, and he did, a nice comebacker from the first batter he faced, only, well, you probably remember what happened next, since it was only two days ago, and if you don't remember it maybe that's for the best. Let's just say Troncoso picked up his first unfair loss share on the play.

In the aftermath, with a runner on third and one out, Torre elected to walk the next two batters. He might have walked only Drew, and gone for the double play with Upton, but Upton is so fast that it might be hard to get one, unless he hit a really hard ground ball. But Upton had grounded into 10 double plays, so it wasn't impossible. But Torre didn't believe, so he walked Upton to load the bases and pitched to strikeout prone Reynolds instead. I would have done the same, even though it's probably the wrong call if you look at the likely outcomes. It was when Troncoso walked Reynolds and forced in the winning run that he picked up his second unfair loss share.

Game 141 Unfair Win Shares ( Snakes )

Haren -- 1
Gutierrez -- 1
Reynolds -- 1

What, no Montero? He was squeezed out by Reynolds' clutch walk and Gutierrez's excellent relief in the eighth inning.

09 September 2009

The Sixth Double Play

Do you know what the six stages of double plays are? Strange things happen when a team hits into too many double plays.

First DP: Annoyance. "Not again, Martin."

Second DP: Frustration. "This pitcher sucks, and you just keep giving away baserunners! Aaarrrgggghhh!"


Fourth DP: Acceptance. "Cool, another DP. Maybe they can break the record. If you're going to lose, do it in style."

Fifth DP: Hallucinations. "Wait, did I just hear Vinny say something about droopy drawers?"

Sixth DP: Time stops. "I am the master over time and space. Reality bends to my will."

Here is the true play-by-play of the top of the eighth inning from last night's game.

Hudson grounds out to first.

Martin singles to center.

Pierre grounds into double play, Martin out at second, Pierre out at first. Sixth double play of the night. Time stops. Joe Torre becomes master of time and space. Joe Torre enters the mystic spreadsheet underlying all reality and adjusts reality. Pierre's ground ball is made a little softer, so he can beat the throw.

Pierre grounds into fielder's choice, Furcal out at second.

Furcal grounds out to second. Torre adjusts reality. Furcal singles to center, Pierre to third.

Kemp lines out to right. Torre adjusts reality. Kemp singles to right, Pierre scores, Furcal to third on error by Upton.

Ethier grounds out to short. Torre adjusts reality. Ethier singles to center, Furcal scores, Kemp to third.

Manny strikes out looking. Torre adjusts reality. Manny walks, Ethier to second.

Loney flies out to left. Torre adjusts reality. Loney singles to left.

Belliard grounds out to shortstop. Torre adjusts reality. Belliard gets weak little infield single. Kemp scores. Dodgers lead 5-4.

And it was all thanks to Juan Pierre grounding into the sixth double play of the night, even though in the end it never happened! Pennant races are very strange.

Game 140 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Broxton -- 1
Ethier -- 1
Furcal -- 1

McDonald and Kuo also deserve some praise among the relievers.

Game 140 Unfair Loss Shares ( Snakes )

Upton -- 1
Boyer -- 1
Schlereth -- 1

08 September 2009

Greatness Lost

I've been a Dodger fan since 1983. I've seen just about everything from the Dodgers in 26 years. But I've never seen a truly great Dodger team.

The 1988 team that won the World Series was very good, and more importantly they were legendary. They had great performances, dramatic performances. But that wasn't a great team, not if you look at them coldly and rationally. They didn't win 100 games. They had a fine pitching staff but a rather average offense.

I thought the Dodgers might be great this year. I thought they might win 100 games. They won't, unless they finish 18-5 or better. Maybe if that happened I would feel like I had seen a great team this year.

I know I was watching a great team the first few months of the season. They haven't ended that way, but the ending has not ended yet. They can still be a great team in October. That wouldn't make them a great team overall, any more than it made the 2006 Cardinals a great team, but I would take it.

And now, a whole lot of catching up in the unfair share department. Four games worth!

Game 136 Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Loney -- 1
Ausmus -- 1
Martin -- 1

There are some games where the Dodgers win despite the struggles of Loney and Martin. There are some games where either Loney or Martin does well. And then there are games like the one last Friday, when the Dodgers lost 2-0 to the Padres. Loney was terrible, going hitless and leaving 6 runners. Martin was terrible in limited duty, hitting into a double play in the ninth inning that prevented the Dodgers from getting any of their best hitters to the plate in the ninth inning.

This was a rare game where both Dodgers catcher picked up unfair loss shares. Before Martin was in the game hitting into a double play Ausmus left 4 runners on by striking out twice.

Game 136 Unfair Win Shares ( Padres )

LeBlanc -- 2
Bell -- 1

It was like the spirit of Jake Peavy returned to the Padres.

Game 137 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Furcal -- 1
Ethier -- 1
Wolf -- 1

The hardest part was telling James Loney that his Dueces Wild performance wasn't good enough for a share. 2-2 with two walks and two driven in. But the listed three did a little more.

Game 137 Unfair Loss Shares ( Padres )

Gwynn -- 1
Latos -- 1
Mujica -- 1

Is it painful for Padre fans to watch Tony Gwynn's son hit rather poorly for their team?

Game 138 Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Kuroda -- 1
Pierre -- 1
Hudson -- 1

This one made me really frustrated. So close.

Kuroda walked three in five innings. That is a lot for him. Maybe his control will be better next time around, or the time after that. If not, he probably wouldn't make the top four Dodgers starters for potential postseason duty.

Game 138 Unfair Loss Shares ( Padres )

Gregerson -- 1
Bell -- 1
Kouzmanoff -- 1

The Dodgers were beat by the Padre bullpen. Bell was great and Gregerson was even better.

Game 139 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Belliard -- 1
Loney -- 1
Padilla -- 1

Belliard? Padilla? Who are these guys? To fit in Loney will have to spell his last name "Lloney".

So far I have been completely wrong about Padilla. As for Belliard, who know how long his good hitting can last, but I'm sure that with Blake hurt I'd much rather have Belliard in the lineup than Loretta.

Game 139 Unfair Loss Shares ( Snakes )

Upton -- 1
Drew -- 1
Scherzer -- 1

Drew was 2-3 with a walk yesterday, so his inclusion is a little strange. Well, if you saw the first inning you will probably understand, if not necessarily agree. Drew doubled with one out in the first inning, then thought he might go to third on a ground ball hit to Furcal. Three throws later and the Snakes had run into a soul-crushing double play.

Up until that point the game had felt like a Snakes win. Though it was very early Scherzer looked clearly better than Padilla. Then that play happened, and the game just seemed to turn. It did turn the next inning. Coincidence, most likely. But I wonder if Scherzer's confidence was shaken in some unquantifiable way after seeing his teammates run out of a scoring chance. Probably not. This is really irrational territory here, but I know that as a fan watching the game seemed to turn with that play. Players are irrational too, many even more so, and so is it so crazy to think some of them saw the game turning too, and that it might in some small way affect their play?

04 September 2009

Broxton the Starter

In a parallel universe, Jon Broxton is a starter.

Start 1 ( Apr 6 - 23 )

IP -- H -- R -- BB -- SO -- HR -- Pitches
8.1 -- 2 -- 1 -- 0 -- 13 -- 0 -- 108

Time moves faster in that other universe. That's why Broxton the Starter's starts stretch over several days. Broxton the Starter's first start is fabulous, a near complete game masterpiece that features a baker's dozen of strikeouts and no walks.

Start 2 ( Apr 24 - May 5 )

IP -- H -- R -- BB -- SO -- HR -- Pitches
5.2 -- 0 -- 0 -- 4 -- 12 -- 0 -- 107

It is an amazing coincidence that Broxton's the Starters stats are exactly the same as Broxton the Relievers stats. They match up, like, perfectly. Dude. It's cosmic. Actually, it's not. There is no link between the two universes. It's just a coincidence! Broxton the Starter was dominant in his second start, but used too many pitches walking batters and was lifted in the sixth even though he had a no-hitter going. In frustration he proceeds to destroy a cooler full of the sports drink Crocade.

Start 3 ( May 10 - 20 )

IP -- H -- R -- BB -- SO -- HR -- Pitches
7.0 -- 4 -- 2 -- 3 -- 7 -- 0 -- 118

Broxton the Starter takes a break from his amazing strikeout binge, but he still turns in a fine performance.

Start 4 ( May 23 - June 3 )

IP -- H -- R -- BB -- SO -- HR -- Pitches
6.0 -- 2 -- 1 -- 3 -- 10 -- 0 -- 107

Another fine start for Broxton the Starter. There is talk he may win the Cy Old Award for best pitcher in a parallel universe.

Start 5 ( June 5 - 20 )

IP -- H -- R -- BB -- SO -- HR -- Pitches
7.0 -- 5 -- 3 -- 2 -- 12 -- 1 -- 111

Broxton the Starter gives up his first home run of the year and ends up with a good but not great start.

Start 6 ( June 21 - July 5 )

IP -- H -- R -- BB -- SO -- HR -- Pitches
5.2 -- 5 -- 5 -- 4 -- 11 -- 0 -- 105

Broxton the Starter has his first bad start. Though he's still striking out batters at a fearsome clip, the walks doom him.

Start 7 ( July 10 - 29 )

IP -- H -- R -- BB -- SO -- HR -- Pitches
7.0 -- 6 -- 3 -- 3 -- 9 -- 0 -- 110

Broxton the Starter rebounds with a decent start, but he has yet to recapture his early season magic.

Start 8 ( July 30 - Aug 15 )

IP -- H -- R -- BB -- SO -- HR -- Pitches
6.0 -- 6 -- 4 -- 3 -- 4 -- 3 -- 102

Another poor start, in which Broxton the Starter shockingly gives up three home runs. Even more ominous perhaps is that his strikeout total is so low by his standards. This is his fourth straight start allowing three runs or more. No one is panicking, because two of those four starts were still pretty good and even the best starter may go through a rough patch, but there is some concern.

Start 9 ( Aug 17 - Aug 27 )

IP -- H -- R -- BB -- SO -- HR -- Pitches
7.2 -- 5 -- 1 -- 2 -- 11 -- 0 -- 108

Broxton the Starter silences all talk of a lingering injury or slump with a dominant performance in which the only run he allows is unearned.

Start 10 ( Aug 30 - ??? )

IP -- H -- R -- BB -- SO -- HR -- Pitches
4.0 -- 2 -- 0 -- 2 -- 8 -- 0 -- 71

Though still underway, it appears Broxton the Starter's latest start will be another gem. Of his nine completed starts, Broxton the Starter has had 5 excellent games, 2 good, and 2 poor, with none being more-runs-than-innings-pitched disastrous. The only thing keeping Broxton the Starter from being hailed as the best pitcher on the Dodgers is Kershaw the Closer, who has struck out every batter he has faced.

Game 135 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Garland -- 1
Manny -- 1
Belliard -- 1

From a cynical perspective Garland had the perfect first game for a new team. He pitched well and made a good first impression, but not so well that expectations will be too high for him in subsequent starts. He got enough run support to win, but not so much that it felt like his efforts didn't really matter.

Belliard somehow ended up with 3 runs batted in. Is the plan to play him every day? Every other day? I guess I can't complain too much about that, since the players he would play in place of aren't doing too well lately.

Game 135 Unfair Loss Shares ( Snakes )

Allen -- 1
Buckner -- 1
Young -- 1

You could argue that by trading for Garland the Dodgers also traded for their win today. I think it's a pretty tenuous argument but I find it amusing, so I'm backing it up.

03 September 2009

The Seed of Failure

At what point do you give up on a player? This should be a rational process but I think most often it isn't. Ideally it should only be when a player's performance falls below a certain statistical threshold, with sample size being a huge component of this. But it doesn't work that way for most people. Maybe it comes in a moment, a flash of lightning that illuminates everything, all the past failures. Maybe one day you just wake up and know that a player isn't going to make it. I'm not sure, but most of us watch these games with emotion ( else why watch them? ) and we react with emotion, so it is very likely that the act of giving up on a player will have a large emotional component.

I am certain that if I was a Snakes fan I would have given up on Chris Young by now. I am not a person overflowing with sympathy and kindness, especially for Snakes players, but still I can only find what has happened with Chris Young depressing and sad. I guess they really thought they had a good player there. Power, speed --- he had it all, everything but the ability to consistently get on base. I was always skeptical of Young's future prospects for that reason, even when he hit the 30 home runs. So many strikeouts. But Matt Kemp strikes out a lot, and he's not doing too poorly. It's crazy to think of now but there was a time when you could make a passable argument that Young was just as good as Kemp. Now they're at opposite ends of the center field rankings. And if we're talking about striking out too much what about Mark Reynolds? He strikes out more than anyone and he's become an elite hitter. I would have gone broke with both my knees broken by a loan shark if I had bet on what kind of player Mark Reynolds would turn out to be. It's not just the strikeouts. I don't know what it is.

At what point to we give up on Chad Billingsley? My answer is 2011 at the earliest. Late 2011. Funny thing about that question is that a lot of people won't understand asking it for entirely opposing reasons. For some even asking the question is an emotional overreaction to a few bad starts, a rough stretch in which Billingsley has pitched a little hurt, a little unlucky. I find this perspective utterly convincing, in a top-brain way, but not in a hind-brain way. Fair or not, the seed has been planted now, but more on that later. For other people, the question is unnecessary because they have already given up on Chad Billingsley. I have to admit that I don't find this persuasive at all, not even in an emotional way. Perhaps I overestimate the number of people who have given up on him. But it's out there. His performances against the Phillies in the playoffs last year is proof. His latter-half slide this year is proof. His demeanor is proof. So much proof, all of it poof. Air and heat and impatience. I'm guilty of talking about Billingsley in terms of whether he is an ace or not, but I don't use it as a bludgeon against him the way other do. He's not an ace! Justification: he's not clutch like Hamels. Implication: he's a failure. What a lot of nonsense.

But the seed has been planted. The seed of failure. I'm asking the question now. I wonder if Billingsley will indeed turn out as good as we thought he would be. He's not as far as Loney is down that path, but it's started. I feel like we're past the point where you can say it's just the typical struggles of a young player. It's more like the typical struggles of a starting pitcher now. And if he ends this year well and then pitches well next year that's all it will be. But if he keeps struggling, now and in the future, then this will be the beginning of his transformation into Brett Tomko. Now there's a despressing thought. Good thing it probably won't happen.

There is one other thing in all this, probably the most important. What about Chad himself? Has the question occurred to him? I hope not. Probably not. Most ballplayers are pretty delusional about their own abilities, if their quotes are anything to go by. The Tomkos and Hendricksons of the world are always one mechanical adjustment away from suddenly being the good pitchers they really are. But still, the failure has to eat at you eventually. Billingsley has to deal with start after start running into trouble in the fifth or sixth inning. A fast start in a game doesn't mean anything later on, and he has to know that. He has a really tough job, and most of it is mental.

Game 134 Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Billingsley -- 1
Kemp -- 1
Loney -- 1

Game 134 Unfair Win Shares ( Snakes )

Scherzer -- 2
Allen -- 1

02 September 2009

Rotation Rankings

For the starting pitching rankings in the National League I used ERA+ from baseball reference, FIP from hardballtimes.com, and inning pitched. Only 2009 performance is considered. Starters on each team were assigned to first, second, third, fourth and fifth starter slots depending on how good their performances relative to each other, and then all first starters were ranked against each other, all second starters ranked against each other, and so on.

First Starter

1. SFG -- Lincecum
2. STL -- Carpenter
3. PHI -- Lee
4. ARI -- Haren
5. FLA -- Johnson
6. COL -- Jimenez
7. LAD -- Kershaw
8. ATL -- Jurrjens
9. HOU -- Rodriguez
10. NYM -- Santana
11. CHC -- Wells
12. MIL -- Gallardo
13. PIT -- Duke
14. CIN -- Harang
15. WSN -- Lannan
16. SDP -- Correia

The ranking of aces is fun, but I wonder if it's really that important. If you're anywhere in the top ten you're doing fine. There are of course a few pitchers who should be called "aces" who have to wait until the second or even third list to be mentioned because they aren't their team's best pitcher.

Kershaw would be a little higher if he had more innings pitched. As it is you could argue for him being bumped down to 9 or 10 because he has a higher chance than any of these other guys of not making it through 5 innings. The Dodgers are a strange case because I think you could argue for any of Wolf, Billingsley or Kershaw to be their top pitcher. In the end I went with the guy with all the strikeouts.

Santana will not pitch again this season, but since he's been the Mets ace for most of the season I kept him in. It is strange to see Santana so low on this list.

Second Starter

1. STL -- Wainwright
2. SFG -- Cain
3. ATL -- Vazquez
4. PHI -- Happ
5. LAD -- Wolf
6. COL -- Marquis
7. CHC -- Lilly
8. HOU -- Oswalt
9. ARI -- Scherzer
10. CIN -- Arroyo
11. FLA -- Nolasco
12. PIT -- Maholm
13. NYM -- Pelfrey
14. WSN -- Stammen
15. MIL -- Looper
16. SDP -- Latos

Wainwright and Cain are Cy Young candidates, but they can't even make the first starter list because of Carpenter and Lincecum. Surprise 2009 successes Happ, Wolf and Marquis have boosted their teams into excellent playoff positions.

Third Starter

1. STL -- Pineiro
2. LAD -- Billingsley
3. CHC -- Zambrano
4. SFG -- Zito
5. ARI -- Davis
6. ATL -- Lowe
7. COL -- de la Rosa
8. PHI -- Hamels
9. CIN -- Cueto
10. PIT -- Ohlendorf
11. HOU -- Moehler
12. WSN -- Mock
13. SDP -- Stauffer
14. FLA -- Sanchez
15. MIL -- Suppan
16. NYM -- Redding

Pineiro would be the first starter on many teams. The Cardinals go three deep with shut down pitchers, and for that reason I have to think they should be favored to win the NL Pennant. Their bullpen is sometimes shaky, but how often will that be a factor with Carpenter, Wainwright and Pineiro starting? Their fourth starter isn't that great, but by that time they may already be up 3-0 in the series. Then you think about Pujols and Holliday and the Cardinals seem unbeatable.

Fortunately great pitchers lose all the time in the playoffs. I guess that has something to do with the great pitchers and great hitters on the teams they face. So the Cardinals may be favorites but they aren't locks.

Billingsley comes in second to Pineiro, giving the Dodgers a very good top three in the rotation. Billingsley's ERA has risen since his great start to the season but his underlying FIP numbers ( homers, Ks and walks ) are still very good. Another reputed ace who has slid into the third starter slot is Hamels, and he doesn't fare as well as Billingsley, though I didn't take into account Hamels' two hitter yesterday in this ranking. If Hamels can pitch as well in the playoffs this year as he did last year then the Phillie pitching will look a lot better and might even challenge the Cardinals for overall scariness. But even if he doesn't regain that form the Phillies still have a very good rotation.

Fourth Starter

1. COL -- Hammel
2. PHI -- Blanton
3. CHC -- Dempster
4. LAD -- Garland
5. SFG -- Sanchez
6. ATL -- Kawakami
7. FLA -- West
8. STL -- Lohse
9. PIT -- Morton
10. ARI -- Petit
11. NYM -- Parnell
12. CIN -- Bailey
13. MIL -- Parra
14. WSN -- Martin
15. SDP -- Richard
16. HOU -- Norris

This is the last ranking that matters for playoff matchups. I was surprised to see the Rockies come out on top here, though not that surprised, since it's really been their solid starting pitching that has fueled their turnaround since the first two months. I listed Garland as the fourth Dodgers starter, though maybe Kuroda will end up in that role. At this point I'm just not sure if Kuroda can come back at full strength. Is giving up a ground rule double off your head something you can recover from in a month?

If Kuroda was in the fourth slot for the Dodgers he'd probably rank about the same on this list. The Dodgers may not have the most impressive playoff pitching staff but they do have a staff you can win with.

Fifth Starter

1. ATL -- Hanson
2. CHC -- Harden
3. LAD -- Kuroda
4. COL -- Contreras
5. PHI -- Martinez
6. PIT -- Hart
7. SFG -- Penny
8. STL -- Smoltz
9. WSN -- Hernandez
10. FLA -- Volstad
11. NYM -- Figueroa
12. CIN -- Owings
13. MIL -- Bush


Very few teams have five decent starters. Even fewer have five good starters. The Braves, Cubs, and maybe Dodgers ( if Kuroda can come back ) have five arguably good starters. The Rockies, Giants and Cardinals are making a go of it with some pitchers who struggled in the American League. The Phillies are seeing if Pedro has any magic left. But it's very meager pickings out there. You mostly get guys like Livan Hernandez and Micah Owings, not to mention all the fifth starters who didn't make it to this point in the year due to poor performances. Heck, I didn't even list a fifth starter for three teams, that's how bad it is. The good news for teams headed to the playoffs is that the fifth starter doesn't matter --- unless one of the top four get hurt.

Team Rankings

1. STL -- 02 -- 01 -- 01 -- 08 -- 08
2. SFG -- 01 -- 02 -- 04 -- 05 -- 07
3. PHI -- 03 -- 04 -- 08 -- 02 -- 05
4. LAD -- 07 -- 05 -- 02 -- 04 -- 03
5. COL -- 06 -- 06 -- 07 -- 01 -- 04
6. CHC -- 11 -- 07 -- 03 -- 03 -- 02
7. ATL -- 08 -- 03 -- 06 -- 06 -- 01
8. ARI -- 04 -- 09 -- 05 -- 10 -- XX
9. FLA -- 05 -- 11 -- 14 -- 07 -- 10
10. HOU -- 09 -- 08 -- 11 -- 16 -- XX
11. CIN -- 14 -- 10 -- 09 -- 12 -- 12
12. PIT -- 13 -- 12 -- 10 -- 09 -- 06
13. NYM -- 10 -- 13 -- 16 -- 11 -- 11
14. MIL -- 12 -- 15 -- 15 -- 13 -- 13
15. WSN -- 15 -- 14 -- 12 -- 14 -- 09
16. SDP -- 16 -- 16 -- 13 -- 15 -- XX

Man, the Padres have had terrible pitching this year. Even when Peavy was pitching for them he didn't do that well. Just a lost year for the Padres. Everyone else in the NL West had pretty good starting pitching, even the Snakes.

I suppose it's no accident the top five playoff contenders make the top five of the list, though I don't think it would always work out that way. I should note that my team rankings ( like all the other rankings I have done here and in the position player post yesterday ) are subjective and may have been subtly influenced by how well I know the teams are doing. It's interesting though that the two teams that have the most solid rotations top to bottom ( Cubs and Braves ) are on the outside looking in right now.

The Dodgers only have a starting pitching advantage against one likely playoff opponent, the Rockies, and that one is pretty close. Nevertheless I like where the Dodgers stand at this point, mostly because of the bullpen. How well the Dodgers play in October ( and if they even get there ) will be up to how well the offense performs, I think.

Ordinary Offense

The Dodger offense is bad. They managed only 3 runs against Petit, who is not a good pitcher. His ERA is the opposite of his name. The Dodgers have beat him easily twice before. Not last night. The Dodgers scored one run off a bloop hit, then another off of a bunt single, steal and throwing error, then another off a home run. Only one really legitimate run.

At least the Dodgers can win this way. When the offense is flat like this they're really only a 0.500 team, but you know most teams can't even play 0.500 ball when the offense is struggling. The starters and bullpen have kept the Dodgers out front of the NL West. Maybe the offense will come back. Maybe it was never really meant to be the kind of scoring machine we saw the first two months of the season.

Game 133 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Kemp -- 1
Ethier -- 1
Broxton -- 1

Broxton is back. His toe is miraculously healed! He got into trouble that ninth inning, but it wasn't his fault, and he successfully got out of trouble.

Ethier gets a rare hitless non-pitcher unfair win share. I don't think his catch saved a home run, but I can't rule it out. These catches are always deceptive because the glove usually ends up over the wall by the time the leap is completed, but at the moment when the ball hits the glove it was usually not above the wall. For Ethier's catch it's hard to tell. Doesn't matter, it's a great catch no matter what.

Every morning Kemp wakes up, looks in the mirror, and says, "I am not a singles hitter." And then every night he goes out and proves it.

Game 133 Unfair Loss Shares ( Snakes )

Reynolds -- 1
Young -- 1
Zavada -- 1

Zavada snipped off the curls of his fabulous villain mustache. Now he's just a regular mustachioed pitcher. That's why he walked Ethier with the bases loaded. It's mustache Karma. Meanwhile, Young and Reynolds went 0-9 with 5 strikeouts. I am brimming with gladness at all those strikeouts.