Dodgers aim to end roadtrip the Wright way

Los Angeles Dodgers at Chicago Cubs

For more photos from Saturday, visit LA Photog Blog.

Dodgers at Cubs, 11:20 a.m.
Dee Gordon, 2B
Yasiel Puig, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Carl Crawford, LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Jamey Wright, P

By Jon Weisman

Since becoming a full-time relief pitcher, Jamey Wright has made one start, with the Rays on September 1, 2013. As Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. noted, the start came in part because of concern over Wright’s current Dodger teammate, Roberto Hernandez.

Today, Wright will start the Dodgers’ 2014 regular-season road finale at Wrigley Field, the capper of a week of extraordinary reliance on the bullpen.

Wright, who started 246 games from 1996-2007, has had three short outings this week of 16 pitches Monday, 10 pitches Tuesday and 12 pitches Friday. He has had two three-inning outings with the Dodgers this year, both in May and peaking when he won the second game of the Minnesota doubleheader that went extra innings on May 1. That game, which featured Red Patterson’s only big-league appearance, was about as close to a bullpen game as the Dodgers have come until this week’s non-stop reliever parade.

Dodger relievers, not unexpectedly, threw four more innings in Saturday’s bummer of an 8-7 loss to Chicago, giving them 29 2/3 in six days. Kenley Jansen and Yimi Garcia are the freshest heading into today’s game, though the only pitcher who might be unavailable after pitching two days in a row is J.P. Howell.

The home run that Howell allowed Saturday was his first in more than a year, since September 6, 2013, and third as a Dodger. Even after that blast, Howell has allowed only a .249 slugging percentage in his two years with Los Angeles.

Brian Wilson, who gave up the game-winning home run in the eighth inning, had pitched shutout ball without allowing an inherited runner to score in nine consecutive appearances dating back a month. Since the All-Star Break, Wilson hadn’t allowed a run or an inherited runner to score in 17 of 19 appearances, striking out 19 while allowing 16 baserunners in 15 1/3 innings.  I won’t pretend that Wilson has looked like a shutdown reliever in that stretch, but he hasn’t been a gascan either.

The difference Saturday, as Ken Gurnick of MLB.com noted, was that Dodger manager Don Mattingly hasn’t let Wilson face many lefties with power potential. Chris Coghlan had already homered once Saturday when he came up against Wilson.

(Mattingly) said he knows Wilson didn’t hit 90 mph with a pitch in this game, but Wilson indicated that he’s been a cutter pitcher all season after being unsuccessful early in the year when he occasionally amped up to the mid-90s. He said he didn’t locate the home run pitch, he’s not hurting and that velocity is not a correct barometer for his season.

“It’s what he’s been doing all year,” Mattingly said. “Nothing different than all year. Not trying to change anything, this is what we’ve been doing to get us here. Today it didn’t work out.”

Except that by the time Wilson had come in, Mattingly had used lefties Howell, Paco Rodriguez and Daniel Coulombe. Scott Elbert and his delicate arm were used Friday, so Wilson faced the left-handed-hitting Coghlan. Lefties are hitting 52 points higher than righties against Wilson, which is why Mattingly has been setting up with both when possible to avoid these kinds of vulnerable matchups.

Matt Kemp is deserving of NL Comeback Player of the Year

Dodgers at Cubs, 10:05 a.m.
Dee Gordon, 2B
Yasiel Puig, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Justin Turner, 3B
Scott Van Slyke, LF
Drew Butera, C
Roberto Hernandez, P

By Cary Osborne

Semantics.

That could determine the NL Comeback Player of the Year, which Matt Kemp figures to be a leading candidate for.

Major League Baseball has handed out the award since 2005 (different from Sporting News’ award, which has been given out since 1965). MLB’s award recognizes the players in each league who have re-emerged on the baseball field during a given season.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS V WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodgers

If one judges the award by the player who best restored his career after a season of injury, Matt Kemp is highly deserving of the award.

If one judges the award by the player whose numbers were once again at a high standard compared to the season before, Matt Kemp is highly deserving of the award.

Kemp might not just be a top candidate, he might be the top candidate based on both.

Kemp has been arguably one of baseball’s top 30 to 40 offensive players in 2014. Coming into Friday’s game in Chicago, his Major League rankings were as follows: slugging (20th), wOBA (31st), wRC+ (29th), batting average (54th), OBP (54th), home runs (tied for 31st). Those were before his first-inning three-run home run.

He certainly was nowhere near that last season during a nightmarish year in which he was on the disabled list three times with hamstring, shoulder and ankle injuries — the last of which put him on the disabled list to begin 2014. A slow start and defensive question marks led the questioning on whether the 2011 Hank Aaron Award winner would ever resemble the Matt Kemp of old.

What Kemp has given the voters is a pretty intriguing narrative of a guy who has returned from injury and poor performance.

Voters will strongly consider Justin Morneau, a four-time All-Star who played a full season last year, but batted .259/.323/.411/.734 with 17 home runs and with 77 RBI with a 102 OPS+. Morneau is battling for the NL batting title and has a line of .317/.360/.492/.852 with 16 home runs and 79 RBI and a 123 OPS+ in 2014. The spirit of this award is that it rewards guys who have returned to form after the adversity the season before. In that case, voters will have to remove Morneau’s lingering concussion issues that plagued him from 2010 to 2012.

They will also look at Johnny Cueto, who was an elite pitcher in 2013 in his abbreviated season. A strained lat muscle sent him to the disabled list three different times. In 11 starts last season, he had a 2.82 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 60 2/3 innings. This season, Cueto is a Cy Young Award candidate with a 2.33 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 228 strikeouts in a league-leading 227 2/3 innings. So he will be judged based off injury.

Others will get consideration. Like Nationals reliever Drew Storen (performance), Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro (performance), Russell Martin (performance) and Tim Hudson (injury).

But if one examines the award in a broad sense, Kemp is the choice.

Bullpen weekend: Who’s ready?

Wrigley rain

Saturday’s Chicago weather forecast

By Jon Weisman

If Roberto Hernandez goes out and throws a nifty five or six innings Saturday in Chicago, the Dodgers appear ready to turn Sunday’s game over to their bullpen and save Dan Haren for Monday against the Giants.

If Hernandez has an early exit, the relief corps — which has thrown a whopping 25 2/3 innings in the past five days — might once again be thrust into early action Saturday.

And if Mother Nature follows through on her threat of rain, who knows what the result will be?

No matter how you slice it, it looks like a big weekend for the guys in the pen. However, like farewell ceremonies for Derek Jeter, there are lots and lots of them.

This chart shows how many pitches each reliever has thrown in the past five games:

Bullpen game

Noteworthy:

  • The Dodgers’ top two go-to relievers this season, Kenley Jansen and J.P. Howell, have worked the least over the past five games.
  • No one has pitched two days in a row since Wednesday, meaning that everyone is available to pitch in on Saturday, except whoever might be Sunday’s starting pitcher if it’s not Haren.
  • Not that it’s likely to break this cleanly, but if Hernandez pitched five innings Saturday, there are exactly 13 pitchers to cover the 13 regulation innings remaining in Chicago.

 

Tommy Lasorda, Bruce Froemming latest to join November’s Dodger Adult Baseball Camp

Lasorda Playbill cover

Tommy Lasorda on the cover of the final Dodger Playbill of 2014, which will be handed out at Dodger Stadium beginning Monday, Lasorda’s birthday.

By Jon Weisman

Hall of Fame Manager Tommy Lasorda and former National League umpire Bruce Froemming have been added to the overflowing group of Dodger legends and guests who will serve as instructors for the 53rd Los Angeles Dodgers Adult Baseball Camp at Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida from November 9-15.

“I’m looking forward to returning to Historic Dodgertown,” said Lasorda, who has a street there named after him. “It is such a special place in my heart, and I have so many great memories from my time there. We’ll have fun with the campers, sharing stories from our enjoyable days there.”

Previously, the Dodgers announced that Ron Cey, Tommy Davis, Steve Garvey, Mickey Hatcher, Rick Monday, Steve Sax, Don Sutton, Maury Wills and Steve Yeager would be in attendance as instructors.

“We are delighted to add legends Tommy and Bruce to our growing roster of guest instructors for the camp,” said Historic Dodgertown chairman and former Dodger owner Peter O’Malley. “Our campers will have a memorable experience spending time every day alongside some of the greatest names in Dodger history. For any baseball fan who has ever thought about a fantasy camp, this is the perfect one to attend.”

(more…)

Bask in your glory, A.J. Ellis

Dodgers extend their season
With today’s 14-5 victory at Chicago, the Dodgers assured themselves no worse than a tie for the second wild-card position in the National League playoffs. If Milwaukee loses tonight at Pittsbrugh, the Dodgers clinch a playoff spot outright.The Dodgers’ magic number for clinching the National League West is seven. San Francisco plays at San Diego this evening.

Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig each hit three-run home runs today, in addition to Ellis’ pair of tater trots. That trio, along with Hanley Ramirez and Dee Gordon, each had two hits. Gordon had his club-high seventh consecutive multi-hit game.

After knocking out Edwin Jackson in a six-run first and later adding a six-run sixth, the Dodgers have 60 runs in their past seven games, an average of 8.6 per game. As a team, the Dodgers are batting .300 in September.

– Jon Weisman

By Cary Osborne

Finally, A.J. Ellis gets his opportunity to talk about himself after a Clayton Kershaw start.

Ellis’ two home runs in the Dodgers’ 14-5 win against the Cubs marked the second time in his career he has hit a pair in a game. He also did it against the Cubs at Dodger Stadium on August 3, 2012.

It was about time Ellis gets to shine during a Kershaw start because of the work he puts into a Kershaw outing, and for that matter every pitcher’s outing. Ellis told Dodger Insider for an October magazine piece that he spends about 90 percent of his video study before games gathering data for pitchers, leaving him 10 percent to work on his hitting.

Yes, Ellis’ offensive numbers are down this season, but he owns the fourth-best catchers’ ERA in the NL this season (3.26) and second-best in the big leagues since he took over as the Dodgers’ everyday catcher in 2012 (3.21).

Kershaw’s career ERA with Ellis behind the plate is 1.95.

Ellis has performed better at the plate with Kershaw on the mound this season as well, batting .288/.413./.455 (19 for 66) with 14 walks, three doubles and all three of his home runs.

So on a day with sun and swirling conditions that made Kershaw appear practically mortal (seven hits, three walks and three runs on 106 pitches in five innings, but with nine strikeouts), even as he was becoming a 20-game winner, revel in your glorious day, A.J.

Update: Here’s Kershaw speaking about Ellis to Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com

“A.J. does so much work for me,” Kershaw said. “It’s a selfless job, catching. It’s his fault when I pitch bad and I’ll take the credit when we win. He comes every day and prepares, gets ready for me and my mood swings, getting mad at him and he puts up with all of it, calms me down, calls the right pitches. There’s just a confidence back there that I try not to take for granted, but probably do.”

No, seriously — the Dodgers have a good offense

Los Angeles Dodgers at Chicago Cubs

For more photo highlights from Thursday, visit the LA Photog Blog.

Dodgers at Cubs, 11:20 a.m.
Kershaw CCVIII: Kershawsm Buddies
Dee Gordon, 2B
Yasiel Puig, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Carl Crawford, LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Clayton Kershaw, P

By Jon Weisman

I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of jinxing the Dodgers by what I’m write, but I’m certainly aware what I write can look shaky a few hours later. Zack Greinke certainly did me no favors Thursday, struggling through five innings before the Dodgers came back for their 8-4 victory.

The victory shocked those fixated on what was the Dodgers’ 1-54 record when trailing after six innings, as well as those who view the Dodgers as constantly scuffling and struggling to score runs.

My sense is that most people perceive the Dodger offense as a massive underachiever, the George Costanza of platesmen, characterized by singular bumbling and a laughable parade of opportunities wasted.

But at the risk of Edwin Jackson shutting them out over seven innings this afternoon at Wrigley, let me just point out again: The Dodgers just about have the best offense in the National League.

Here’s where the Dodgers rank, according to Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.com:

  • WAR: first
  • Offense: second, behind Pittsburgh
  • Weighted runs created plus (wRC+): tied for first with Pittsburgh
  • Runs per game: fourth, behind Colorado, Pittsburgh and Washington
  • Adjusted OPS: tied for first with Pittsburgh
  • OBP and OPS with runners in scoring position: first

Take a moment to digest that. They are near the top in almost every major category. In runs per game, where they rank fourth, they are 0.04 runs per game (six runs in 153 games, or about one run per month) out of second place, behind only Coors Field-enhanced Colorado.

How is this possible, you ask? Well, the Dodgers are getting above-average production at nearly every position, as Fangraphs’ Offense stat shows: (Note: the list below was updated from earlier this morning to correct an error.)

  • First base: sixth in the NL
  • Second base: first
  • Shortstop: third
  • Third base: second
  • Outfield: second
  • Catcher: 15th
  • Pitcher: first

One thing you might notice is that for all the drama that surrounded it, much of it media-generated, the Dodger outfield has been an enormous success offensively.

Matt Kemp has a .926 OPS since the All-Star Break, and Carl Crawford and Scott Van Slyke are both above .800. You might downgrade Yasiel Puig, who had a big second-half slump after a superb first half, but now Puig is heating up again, going 12 for 30 (.400) with two walks, two doubles and a home run in his past seven games.

You also have an infield that is strong across the board offensively. Dee Gordon’s baserunning provides value even when his bat is suffering — which isn’t the case right now, given that he is hitting .366/.377/.442/.819 in his past 10 games (53 plate appearances). And while people keep wondering when Hanley Ramirez is going to get hot (staying healthy is another issue), he just happens to be hitting .439/.489/.537/1.086 in his past 12 games (45 plate appearances).

Los Angeles Dodgers at Chicago CubsThen there’s the Dodgers increasingly not-so-secret weapon, Justin Turner, who with Van Slyke and Andre Ethier — who has quietly put together a .420 on-base percentage as a reserve — has given the Dodgers one of their best benches in recent memory.

Catcher has been a season-long disappointment offensively, and no one on the team will win a Silver Slugger award. But overall offensively, they simply excel.

I get accused of being too positive about the Dodgers. But I find myself astounded sometimes by the negativity online toward a first-place team, a team that is one game away from the best record in the NL. With the stakes so high for a team that hasn’t been to the World Series in 25 years and 11 months, I know how vexing it is when the Dodger offense doesn’t come through. The fact remains that nearly without exception, this offense comes through more often than any other offense in the NL.

The Dodgers’ weaknesses aren’t lost on me at all, but I refuse to let them define a team that has so many strengths to consider. I know this won’t matter to anyone the next time the Dodgers strike out with the bases loaded, but this team wouldn’t be where it is today, with a magic number of two for a postseason berth and eight for a division title, if it were only a Clayton Kershaw solo act.

J.P. Howell nears single-season Dodger reliever ERA record

LOS ANGELES DODGERS V ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Jill Weisleder/Los Angeles Dodgers

By Cary Osborne

If J.P. Howell finishes off the regular season the way he has pitched up to this point, he will set a benchmark for Los Angeles Dodger relief pitchers.

Already the Dodgers’ all-time leader in ERA with a minimum of 100 innings, Howell’s 1.17 ERA is the best for a Los Angeles Dodger reliever in a single season with a minimum of 45 innings pitched. It would best Hong-Chih Kuo’s mark of 1.20 in 2010. Kuo pitched 60 innings that season.

Wheezer Dell holds the franchise’s all-time best ERA for a reliever at 0.71 in 1915, when he pitched 51 innings.

One could argue that Howell is having the best season for a Los Angeles Dodger lefty specialist ever and certainly one of the best ever for a Dodger middle reliever. He has allowed 5.7 percent of inherited runners to score (2 of 35). Left-hander Tom Martin owns the all-time L.A. record at 11.9 percent (5 of 42) in 2003.

Howell, who is sixth in baseball with 27 holds, has not surrendered a home run this year (only 13 Dodger pitchers all time have pitched at least 40 innings having not surrendered a home run) and opposing batters are hitting .151 against him (fourth best in Dodger history).

Kuo’s 2010 was pretty special. He also saved 12 of 13 games that season had 21 holds, but eight of 28 inherited runners scored (28.6 percent).

It’s hero time

dressup

Dodgers at Cubs, 5:05 p.m.
Dee Gordon, 2B
Yasiel Puig, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Scott Van Slyke, LF
Carl Crawford, LF
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Zack Greinke, P

By Jon Weisman

Yes, the Dodgers proceeded with their annual rookie dress-up day Thursday after losing 16-2 to Colorado, and no, it doesn’t mean the Dodgers don’t take their pennant chase seriously.

Here’s a link to some pics, and honestly, I think the kids look rather sharp.

As for more conventional baseball costumes, Hanley Ramirez is in his and slated to return to the starting lineup tonight, at the site of his August 4, 2013 tumble into the stands in pursuit of a foul ball.

Playing for home-field advantage

Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp are the only Dodgers on the active roster who played in the 2008 postseason.

Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp are the only Dodgers on the active roster who played in the 2008 postseason. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

By Cary Osborne

As we stand, the Dodgers not only hold a slight edge on the San Francisco Giants for the lead in the West (two games), they hold the same edge on the Cardinals for the second-best overall record in National League and trail Washington by a game and a half for best record in the National League. Finishing in the top two would ensure them home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Since Major League Baseball added a wild card in 1995, teams with home-field advantage in the Division Series are 41-35 (.539). In that time, the Dodgers have played a Division Series five times as the team without home-field advantage (1995, 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2013). They beat the Cubs in 2008 and the Braves last season.

The Dodgers have had home-field advantage in the Division Series just once in the Wild-Card Era. That was 2009 when they swept the Cardinals.

Also, having the best record in your league is worth an extra playoff win, the Washington Post’s James O’Hara wrote on Wednesday.

The team with the best record going into the postseason (Wild-Card Era) averages 5.2 playoff wins, compared to 3.7 for second best, 3.4 for third best, 3.9 for fourth best and 4.0 for fifth best.

Remember, though, at 46-31 the Dodgers are the best road team in baseball this season.

The 4+1 Game turns eight

4+1Today is the eighth anniversary of the Dodgers’ remarkable 4+1 game, which Sports Illustrated and Tom Verducci called the game of the year.  SportsNet LA has produced a remembrance of the incredible night through the eyes of Vin Scully. You can also read my own essay about the game here.

— Jon Weisman

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