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.