Monthly archives: May 2004
Jackson's Latest Trial
With the news that Wilson Alvarez has requested to return to the bullpen (a reaction, if not an overreaction, to the latest wear and tear on his body), Edwin Jackson will pitch Wednesday in Los Angeles with every opportunity to join the Dodger rotation.
Reportedly, Jackson will return to AAA Las Vegas the next day no matter what, because the Dodgers have two approaching off days Thursday and Monday that eliminate the need for a fifth starter, and Hideo Nomo will return from the disabled list next week. But the Dodgers understand that Jose Lima's eight innings of shutout ball Satuday were probably a fluke, or at least reflective of the opponent (Arizona) - and that Brian Falkenborg is a direction no compass wants to point to.
Unlike the offseason, there is no coronation-in-advance for Jackson, which is a relief. He isn't being set up to fail - he's once again a young kid hoping to make the leap, like he was in September. My prediction, however, is that facing Milwaukee in Dodger Stadium will be kinder to his numbers than pitching in offense-heavy Las Vegas has been, even against minor league batters.
If you think the Dodger pitching is a jumble right now, consider what could happen in a couple of weeks with Jackson and a healthy Nomo, Alvarez and Paul Shuey. They'll have 13 legitimate candidates for the staff.
Starters (5): Perez, Weaver, Ishii, Nomo, Jackson
With options like these, the Dodgers really have no excuse for using Nomo before he is ready. If he returns from his fingernail injury still showing signs of fatigue, he should simply be given more time off. According to the Times, Nomo threw better in a bullpen session Sunday than he has all season, but what does that prove?
Update: Tony Jackson of the Daily News reports that Paul Shuey is overhauling his mechanics because his injured thumb continues to prevent him from throwing a curveball, a process that will delay his activation.
Jackson writes that Shuey is working on two pitches he has never used in his long major league career, a slider and a chanegup. Quite a dramatic change for Shuey; it appears his freak injury from Spring Training is even more serious than it appeared and will ruin most, if not all, of his 2004 season.
Eliminate Balks and Leadoffs?
His pitching is just this side of brilliant, but next to more run support, what Odalis Perez needs is a little balk therapy.
Perez was in a scoreless duel Memorial Day in the sixth inning when a balk call caused him to lose his temper, then his shutout. On his first pitch of the ensuing inning, Perez allowed a home run.
The funny or unfunny thing is that less than a year ago, on June 24 last season, Perez was also in a scoreless duel heading into the sixth inning. In the bottom of the sixth, Perez was also called for a balk with a runner on first. A homer also followed, and the Dodgers lost, 2-1.
The following morning, on Dodger Thoughts, I wrote:
For the first time in my life, I predicted a balk. Mind you, I can explain the infield fly rule in French, but I still can't for the life of me understand what is a balk and what isn't. My sense is that balks are like cartoons in The New Yorker as depicted on Seinfeld - people, including umpires and cartoon editors, just sort of guess at them. (Just to be clear, I think the cartoons in The New Yorker are very clever and comprehensible.)
In rereading that entry, I noticed a suggestion I made that I forgot about almost immediately. It elicited no reaction, but perhaps, with more readers now than I had then, it's worth revisiting.
I didn't spend any more of the inning questioning the call. Rather, I pondered whether baseball would be a better game with a no-leadoffs rule. A runner could only go once the pitch has been thrown. That would eliminate the balk rule and pickoff throws to first - neither of which represents the game at its best.
Sound and Fury
Let's face it. This downtown place where we say baseball played is not Disney Hall.
The acoustic foundation at Dodger Stadium is a totem pole of speakers behind the center-field fence. The sound level from these speakers has to pacify everyone from the bleachers to the top deck a thousand feet away, and survive the multitude of sound idiosyncrasies the stadium presents.
Me, I can't walk into the kitchen from the living room without the TV volume becoming problematic.
The Dodger Stadium speakers themselves are state of the art, I've been led to understand. That's not the problem. But unless the Dodgers can even out the sound that they generate, they are going to have many unhappy ears at the stadium.
Exacerbating the sound system dilemma is the decision, reported by T.J. Simers of the Times on Sunday, to play more and more CD music at the expense of the stadium organ.
I'm going to call it a digression to note that, as someone who owns his hundreds of rock CDs, who mocked the very need for a movie like Footloose the moment it came out, who dreams of hearing the opening riff of "Born to Run" whenever envisioning a walk from the on-deck circle to the plate, I consider organ music a character of the game. Silence the organ? You might as well bench the flute in "Peter and the Wolf."
However, the more pragmatic issue is that in Dodger Stadium, no disc jockey, whatever his talents, is better equipped to navigate the inefficiencies of the sound system than Nancy Bea is at her organ. Hers is a soothing sound, not jarring, that augments the game experience rather than interfering with it.
In contrast, the stadium music department seems in a perpetual wrestling match with the guitars and drumbeats that now dominate the airwaves within Dodger Stadium - a different volume for every piece, it seems. The experience is like someone's first driving lesson on a stick-shift, over and over again - too much gas here, not enough clutch there. There is just no smooth ride to be had.
The justification for rejecting the organ for this cacophony is no secret - the people in charge have concluded that soothing is a pretty word for sleep-inducing. For the unconverted fan, rock music does a better job of masking the so-called boring parts of the game, they believe.
It's certainly not helping my experience any. Even the volume when the play "Welcome to the Jungle" for Eric Gagne - a riveting moment to be sure - seems way too high for anyone to enjoy. And I truly question the sanity of the loud approach with regards to the youngest fans - the generation the Dodgers have so much reason to court. Are they under the impression that Moms and Dads across Los Angeles play their home stereos at 11?
There's no denying that a lot of people yawn at certain points of a baseball game, and that it's harder to yawn during AC/DC than Nancy/BeaC. So it comes down to this. Consider me signed on the petition to return the stadium organ to its former prominence. Beyond that, though, if the Dodgers are going to abandon tradition to court new fans through music, they need to do it with a lot more sensitivity. The stadium sound is more aggressive than fun. It's supposed to be a baseball game, not Battle of the Bands.
Open Chat: Dodgers-Brewers (Monday)
What were the Diamondbacks doing Sunday, bunting and attempting steals with perhaps the wildest pitcher in the game facing them - Kazuhisa Ishii?
Eric Gagne is getting plenty of rest in 2004. He hasn't pitched in more than two consecutive games since April 15-18.
Open Chat: Diamondbacks-Dodgers (Fri-Sat-Sun)
It's admirable to say that you do not intend to let the pain from an injury affect your performance. But if the pain from your injury in fact does affect your performance, as it does with Adrian Beltre, doesn't it become foolhardy at some point to not take the time to heal?
Solve it now.
Here Come the Giants
LA SD SF
While the Padres have matched the Dodgers for the past six games (and nine of the past 12), the Giants have made up 3 1/2 games in the past six.
Last year, the Dodgers rallied from a large deficit to tie the Giants for first place near the end of May. I wrote then that making up the deficit is only part of the work - you still have to continue to be better than the other team. In 2003, the Dodgers didn't do it. In 2004, the Giants might.
But after thinking about it, I'm going to predict that they won't. The Giants don't have the depth to get them through the long haul. They need too many things to go right - more than the Dodgers do.
The Padres may be another story.
Update: The Padres' Jake Peavy, the National League earned run average leader at 2.01, has been placed on the disabled list.
Update 2: Believe it or not, the Giants are in the middle of a 20-game stretch in which they play Montreal, Arizona, Colorado and Tampa Bay - three fifth-place teams and a fourth-place team.
Open Chat: Dodgers-Brewers (Thursday)
Early game today, folks.
Paul Lo Duca struck out twice Wednesday night to tie Adrian Beltre in the Lo Duca strikeouts/Beltre walks contest, 7-7.
Update: With today's defeat, the Dodgers have lost 12 of 14. Last year, from June 22 through July 8, the Dodgers lost 13 of 15. They were 83-64 in all other games.
First Mondesi - Then Gagne?
Something remarkable is happening in baseball.
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) — Former Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Raul Mondesi is close to signing a contract with a new U.S. Major League Baseball team that has a chance of advancing to the playoffs, he said Wednesday.
Mondesi said three clubs are interested in signing him: the Boston Red Sox, Anaheim Angels and the Baltimore Orioles.
"If I'm going to sign, it will happen before the end of the week," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "There are other clubs interested in me, but I want a team that has an opportunity to advance to the postseason."
Raul Mondesi had a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He decided he didn't want to play with them anymore. He stated he was leaving the team for family reasons. He has essentially admitted, about a week later, that this explanation was a lie - that his real motivation for leaving was to create a better deal for himself with a better team (although it's not as if he is incapable of concern for his people). In the interim, however, the Pirates legally terminated his contract. Mondesi became a free agent.
Teams generally have the following choices when a player under contract withdraws himself from action.
What has happened this month with Mondesi and the Pirates is truly rare. A team and a player can essentially agree, or be duped into agreeing, that they are a bad match and initiate a no-fault divorce.
When you think about it, it seems harmless to both parties (although it might not be to the team that ends up paying Mondesi, a player of equal parts talent and flaw, too much money). But think how often this happens. Pretty much never.
And now, perhaps, a significant precedent has been set.
Consider if a talented but underpaid player decides he isn't satisfied with his contract. Say, I don't know, Eric Gagne. Free agency is a couple of years away. But Gagne announces that he's worried about a foreign invasion of Canada and heads home to protect his loved ones - though everyone knows this is a phony excuse.
Do the Dodgers suspend him - a suspension they might have to hold through the end of the 2006 season, when he becomes a free agent? Are they forced to renegotiate Gagne's deal then and there? Or do they decide that it just ain't worth fighting with a player that no longer wants to be here, and terminate his deal - allowing him to sign for big bucks with another team on the spot.
Gagne would be taking a risk, both to his reptuation and to his feel for the game - but the reward could be considerable.
Am I crazy, or is this scenario just fiendish enough for someone like Scott Boras to engineer?
Open Chat: Dodgers-Brewers (Wednesday)
Olmedo Saenz gets a start in today's game
Ranking the NL Middle Infields
2004 National League Middle Infield Combos
Players with the most plate appearances at the position for each team are flush-left; backups or injured starters are indented.
1. San Diego
2. Los Angeles
5. St. Louis
11. New York
16. San Francisco
Open Chat: Dodgers-Brewers (Tuesday)
Shawn Green is now your prototypical No. 2 hitter!
I kind of like the move. It makes sense to me, given Green's current hitting profile. Hopefully, he is man enough not to be insulted.
I also can't help noticing that the Dodgers were winning with Paul Lo Duca batting in the No. 5 slot, which is where we find him once again tonight. It was a somewhat unconventional strategy given Lo Duca's strength as a contact hitter, so I can understand why Dodger manager Jim Tracy didn't stick with it, especially when leadoff man Dave Roberts injured hmself, but no harm at this point in trying it again with Roberts soon to return.
Update: In his first at-bat, Green takes five pitches and draws a walk.
Update 2:In his second at-bat, a simple but effective RBI single.
I'll Trade You My Imaginary Player for Yours
I hate to give rumors the time of day, but some almost make time stop.
From the Toronto Star:
A few moments of uncertainty set in during [Toronto's] entertaining 10 inning, 6-5 win when ESPN Radio reported Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi had completed a trade in principle that would send superstar slugger Carlos Delgado to the Los Angeles Dodgers for outfielder Juan Encarnacion and left-handed pitching prospect Brian Morris.
"I don't know where it (report) came from," Ricciardi said about the report, which was flatly denied in Toronto and even surprised the Dodgers front office last night.
Green: .328 on-base percentage, .430 slugging percentage, .758 OPS, .269 EQA
Perhaps Delgado, five months older than Green but unburdened by labrum problems, has a brighter future - but he's hardly a player the Frank McCourt Dodgers would seemingly want to pursue at this point.
Teenage Players Scoring From First
Did you know that in the original rules of baseball, no bats were used? Rather, when two sides got together in a park, the first time a player from one team kissed a player from another team, he or she reached first base. And if he touched a breast, he got to second base. And so on.
The game having its gestation in Puritan times, there were very few home runs. This was noted, quite appropriately, as the Dead Ball Era.
Eventually, bat and glove entered the picture, and the game we know and love as baseball evolved. But vestiges of the other game remain, which we now know as sex. Terms like "getting to first base" linger as evidence of its true origins.
But seriously, folks ...
Though the presentation of baseball on television has sometimes been problematic, the presentation of sex on television has been even more so. "Whatever Happened to Second and Third Base?" is the title of a piece my brother, Greg Weisman, published today. And thanks to that title, it's quickly and easily discussed here.
The topic is one that my brother and I have discussed (in complete agreement) about as long as I've known what second and third base were - somewhere between five and 30 years. And we're both amazed that it's still an issue today. Here's what Greg wrote:
The following rant is somewhat adult. You've been warned.
There are two prime time television series that I'm fond of that I'm annoyed with for a very specific reason.
One is Gilmore Girls. The other is Joan of Arcadia.
Last week, on Joan of Arcadia, 16-year-old Joan nearly decided to lose her virginity with Adam.
Last week on on Gilmore Girls, 19-year-old Rory lost her virginity with Dean.
In both cases, it's not the losing or not losing that bothers me.
It's just that in both cases, we've more or less been witness to these girls' sexual awakening. And I've never gotten any indication that either girl has done anything beyond kissing, that neither guy has ever gotten past what we used to call first base.
One of my biggest pet peeves about television is that second and third base (including anything and everything in between kissing and sexual intercourse) do not exist. Oral sex? Doesn't exist. Touching and/or nudity without intercourse? Doesn't exist.
I don't need to see it. (Not that I'd object, but this isn't about me being a pervert for once.) But I would think that two shows as smartly-written as Gilmore and Joan should be able to find a way to suggest that such "intermediate steps" do exist. I mean if they can talk about full-on intercourse, why can't they talk about things that are safer, younger, more exploratory, with fewer consequences.
I feel it's terribly irresponsible to teach kids and teens that there's no way to express themselves sexually, once they've gotten past a kiss, except by going all the way. By hitting home runs, by scoring, so to speak.
Look, when I was a teen, there was a long, long gap between my first kiss and my first time engaging in sexual intercourse. There was a pretty substantial gap between my first kiss with the girl that I would end up losing my virginity to and the actual act of losing said virginity. In fact, in every relationship I ever had, up to and including my wife, kissing was a prelude to touching, etc., which was in turn a prelude to "making love"... assuming the relationship lasted that long.
The frustrating truth is that I really like both Gilmore Girls and Joan of Arcadia. I even really liked the episodes that are currently annoying me. But I'm still waiting for someone to brave the taboo and bring back second and third base.
Props to The Wonder Years for the only example of second base on a prime-time series that I recall. But what was that - 10 years ago? Has there been no progress since?
Even that breast-touching moment in The Wonder Years was excised for reruns, as far as I can tell. But you don't need to show something to depict it, obviously. As I reminded my brother (who figuratifvely slapped himself on the head for forgetting), in a 1983 episode of Hill Street Blues with Ally Sheedy playing a jailbait Catholic school girl that J.D. La Rue (Kiel Martin) pursued, she told him that while she vowed to remain a virgin for the man she married, there were other ways that they "could make each other happy."
That, in essence, is all we're asking for - just a nod to realism, a nod that most people have to hit some two- and three-baggers before they develop home run power.
J.D. walked away, by the way.
Personally, I'm not surprised that Gilmore Girls and Joan of Arcadia didn't get it right. I really, really tried to like both shows, but ultimately stuck with neither. Despite their many fans, I think they were overly clever in some places and overly simplistic in others.
But that's not the point, is it? The point is, some show - especially one dealing directly with teens - should acknowledge the option of scoring one base at a time.
"Kate Lee is a 27-year-old assistant at International Creative Management in Manhattan who pals around with some New York bloggers," Roderick writes. "The New Yorker's Ink column this week also credits her with pushing the new trend towards books by bloggers."
To clarify any misconceptions: To this point, I've been playing hard to get. But agents, publishers - I'm done being coy. I want you - I want you bad! Ask me for my outline, my number, my measurements - whatever you want to know.
Shawn Green's 'Annual' Slow Start
Is, like so many things, a myth. At least as far as May is concerned.
Since 1999, Shawn Green's OPS in April and May ... and Season Total
His Aprils from 2001-2003 have fallen below his season OPS, though not in 1999 or 2000 - nor was his April in 2001 anything to be ashamed of.
However, two of his past five May OPSes have been above his season total, with one virutually even.
From 1998-2002, Green did not have consecutive opening months with an OPS below .900.
Moreover, Green has no recent history of a month of May like he is currently having.
Shawn Green's Worst OPS Months Since 1997
Note that none of these months occurred from 2001-2002, which we can seemingly now define as the peak of Green's career. (In 2002, Gary Sheffield was in Atlanta, by the way.)
More to the point, five of the seven months on the Worst list came in June or later.
Today's Daily News brought the most pointed comments I've ever seen from Dodger manager Jim Tracy regarding Green.
Asked after the game, a 5-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves, if he had seen improvement from the slumping Green, Tracy didn't hesitate.
"Very little," he said. "That's not Shawn Green. (Despite) the fact he got a couple of base hits, that's not the Shawn Green I have been accustomed to seeing."
In other words, Green's problem is not the calendar.
[I feel I should put a disclaimer on any writings I post regarding Green. Just because I think something is wrong with him doesn't mean I think his career is over.]
Weaver vs. Weaver in September?
Could it happen? Two teams fighting for the National League Western Division title in the final month, and the pitching matchup is Jeff Weaver for the Dodgers vs. Jered Weaver of the Padres? After reading Rich Lederer's latest on Jeff's younger brother, the amazing Long Beach State pitcher and possible No. 1 overall draft pick, it sure seems possible. Unfortunately (perhaps), the Dodgers have 10 games after their final regular season meeting with the Padres this year.
Return of the Stooges
Remember The Stooge Division, the story of the 1994 American League West and the last sub-.500 division champion? Seems a propos now.
Views from the Laughing Stockade, where everything can go wrong and you can still be in first place:
1) With consecutive poor starts by Wilson Alvarez, the starting pitching has reached a crisis, becoming truly unreliable in four of five slots. Alvarez and Jeff Weaver qualify as inconsistent, Kazuhisa Ishii has a good outing once a month, and the Hideo Nomo/Jose Lima slot offers crepe-paper arms. Only Odalis Perez engenders any expectation of strength.
Do yourself a favor and refrain from the Darren Dreifort suggestions. These are usually accompanied by statements like, "Let him earn his money," or "He deserves the chance." Unfortunately, you can't just will someone to be a good starting pitcher - particularly a fragile pitcher who, averaging three innings per week, has an ERA of 4.12. Dreifort has allowed 16 hits and 14 walks in 19 2/3 innings - that's borderline poor.
It's a crisis. Nevertheless, the focus of the media coverage hasn't been on the pitching - it has been on ...
2) Shawn Green. This week, as his batting average fell below .220, the struggles of Green became the top Dodger story. And yet, everyone from Green to Dodger manager Jim Tracy have been denying that Green's labrum injury could be a cause, despite the preponderance of medical evidence. The denials have been so effective that most articles on Green don't even mention his shoulder.
Tracy and Green concealed the injury most of 2003 - why should we trust them in 2004? Advice to the Dodger beat writers: Ask someone outside the Dodger organization about Green's injury.
3) The messy Giants have closed within 4 1/2 games of the lead.
4) Haven't understood why the Dodgers have been talking about having Jason Grabowski share time with Dave Roberts (when he returns from the disabled list) and not Juan Encarnacion, who has an OPS of .656. Furthermore, other sites reported that on Saturday's national broadcast, Jeff Torborg indicated that Encarnacion has been putting off shoulder surgery since the Pleistocene.
Oddly, Encarnacion has two singles in 28 at-bats against left-handed pitching this season (plus three walks) - but that's a fluke. The bigger problem is that Encarnacion arrived in Los Angeles with no on-base credentials to begin with. He should not be an automatic in the lineup ahead of Grabowski when Roberts returns.
5) The Dodgers travel next to Milwaukee, a city that has often been Advil to the team's headaches. This year, however, the Brewers have been clipping along around the .500 level. San Diego, fighting off first place like they didn't want to have to pay the higher taxes, spends the mid-week in Colorado.
P.S.) Tangentially, may I express amazement that the Times and others have touted Raul Mondesi as an option for major league teams? It's not like he's some free agent who nobody noticed. He left an active contract to deal with personal problems. Why would anyone be discussing a signing of Mondesi, just a week later?
Open Chat: Dodgers-Braves/Doug Pappas
I met Doug Pappas at a Baseball Prospectus pizza feed one year ago. I am absolutely floored by the news of his passing. On an emotional day for me for other reasons, my thoughts go out to him and his mother.
Doug's home page is here. Lots of fun stuff - you can see how diverse his interests were. And he had one of the clearest minds of any baseball writer in any medium, period.
They Shoot Labrums, Don't They?
If pitchers with torn labrums were horses, they'd be destroyed. Of the 36 major-league hurlers diagnosed with labrum tears in the last five years, only midlevel reliever Rocky Biddle has returned to his previous level.
Carroll, of course, helped me write my article last October about Green's injury. The torn labrum is nearly impossible to prevent, difficult to detect, complex if not hopeless to repair.
Open Chat: Dodgers-Phillies (Thursday) and Fall TV Season
Batters who connect on the first pitch against Phillies starter Brett Myers this season are 17 for 25. Adrian Beltre is 10 for 19 in those situations.
Can I take this opportunity to celebrate the return this fall of Arrested Development? Yay.
The Manicure Cure
Sometimes, an injury can be the best thing to happen to a pitcher. Hideo Nomo's torn fingernail against the Phillies on Wednesday might not be one of those times, but then again, it might be.
The injury will reportedly force Nomo to miss at least his next start. This allows Jim Tracy to remove the struggling Nomo out of the rotation without stigmatizing him.
It also occured during an outing that, by Nomo's 2004 standards, was positive. Nomo was throwing strikes Wednesday - 17 out of 23 pitches. I couldn't see the game, so correct me if my suspicion was wrong, but it looked like the Phillies expected Nomo to be wild and had the take sign on at the outset. They took five called strikes in the first inning, including three in a row by Bobby Abreu. Nomo fairly well shocked them by zeroing in on the plate.
Of course, this doesn't mean that Nomo had his old velocity back. Two out of six batters got hits, this was no great turnaround - there's every reason to wonder whether the Phillies wouldn't have taken Nomo out in the second if his bloody finger didn't beat them to it. But the fact that he was finding the strike zone when the injury occured can console Nomo.
This leads me, however, to my next point, and the one that may be the most important. The injury forces Nomo to get a nice spring rest, and that has long been what many have suspected that he needs. Consider that in nine starts this season, Nomo has allowed a grand total of three runs in the first inning. His control has been relatively sharp - only two walks. He has not been a disaster coming out of the pregame warmup. It has been as the innings progressed that he has faltered.
Becoming a couch potato doesn't make you stronger, so ultimately, Nomo is going to have to build up strength through exertion. But isn't it possible that he needs more in reserve, that someone needs to hit the reset button with him? That he isn't fully healed from his surgery and needs more convalescence?
The door is open for the Dodgers to decide that Nomo should miss two starts and therefore go on the disabled list, followed by a minor-league rehabilitation assignment - without this indicating a setback to Nomo's pitching arm itself.
With Kevin Brown's departure, Nomo was counted on to be the Dodger ace this year - but that was bad math. It's time to start over. Sooner or later, Nomo will return to the starting rotation, and we may well find that this just isn't his year. But I like the idea that he'll get some rest before rejoining the battle.
Update: ESPN's newly posted defense-independent pitching statistics reveal that Nomo is the worst of major league baseball's 110 starting pitchers this season. Today's Dodger starter, Kazuhisa Ishii, is 100th.
Lots of great stats on this page - they deserve a separate entry. Until then, for more on DIPS, see my preseason entry here.
Open Chat: Dodgers-Phillies (Wednesday)
Showers are forecast in Philadelphia tonight. ...
Before Hideo Nomo takes the hill, there will be another starting pitcher in today's game, assuming it is played. That's Eric Milton, and not unlike Nomo, his win-loss record overstates how good he has been. Milton is 4-0, but with a 4.39 ERA overall and a 5.82 ERA in May. ...
Milton vs. Milton: Against Eric Milton, Milton Bradley is 0 for 5 in his career with two strikeouts. ...
Shawn Green is 4 for 27 with seven walks as a right fielder this season. ...
Tom at Shallow Center reminds us that the Phillies rallied and protected their late lead with their ace closer, Billy Wagner, sidelined due to injury. Tim Worrell, who coughed up a lead in Colorado on Monday, held on against the Dodgers on Tuesday.
Worrell was admirably candid on the postgame radio show about his failings Monday and his struggles last night. I'm a sucker for good guys; it's the main reason I can't join fully in the seasonlong effort by my fellow Phillies bloggers to slip a shiv between Doug Glanville's ribs. But I do acknowledge that honest self-assessment is no substitute for talent, especially on a contending team. Indeed, Worrell's impressive accountability aside, what he has shown thus far is clearly not closer material. His fastball was in the low-to-mid 80s last night, and his pitches were up in the zone. If it wasn't obvious before, it sure is now - Billy Wagner's return is imperative.
Update: Welcome back (I think), Juan Encarnacion. He joins Dave Ross and Jose Hernandez in the anti-lefty lineup.
The Mike Piazza Trade, Chapter Whatever
Andrew Brown was included with Odalis Perez when the Dodgers traded Gary Sheffield to Atlanta, making Brown one degree of separation from the Sheffield-Mike Piazza trade.
Can't say I'm thrilled about losing a good pitching prospect in the 23-year-old Brown, who has averaged more than a strikeout per inning in his career, including 58 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings with Jacksonville this season, to Cleveland in order to complete the Milton Bradley trade. Franklin Gutierrez, already sent to Cleveland's AA team in Akron, is having a fine season in the minors, while Bradley has been sparkling on an inconsistent basis in the majors.
I'm not arguing that the now-completed trade wasn't fair for both teams, but considering that the Indians are rebuilding, I think they did well for themselves in picking up two solid prospects for the future.
But because Gutierrez was the No. 2 hitting prospect in the Dodger organization behind James Loney, Dodger fans had reason to hope that the second player traded to Cleveland would be more on the fringe level.
Brown may well have been a compromise between the fringe and the Joel Hanrahan/Edwin Jackson/Greg Miller triumverate.
Update: In other news, former Dodger senior vice president of communications Derrick Hall has been named vice president of communications for KB Home, which coincidentally was co-founded in 1957 by recent Dodger ownership candidate Eli Broad. Broad is no longer directly involved with the company.
To All the No-Hitters I've Loved Before
Thanks to a phone call from my father as I came home from work Tuesday night, I heard and saw the final two innings of Randy Johnson's perfect game (the "heard" part refers to me turning the volume on the TV set in the other room up high while I gave my daughter a bath).
Thanks to Johnson, the perfect game I attended 13 years ago is no longer the last perfect game in the National League.
Still, I've seen four no-hitters in person, including that Dennis Martinez perfect game in 1991, a game which was a double perfect game through five innings. In all, 15 of the 18 half-innings of that day were 1-2-3.
That was the weekend I had the luck of covering the Saturday Dodgers-Expos game for the Daily News, while others covered the nine-inning no-hitter by Mark Gardner Friday and Martinez on a Sunday. Still, I attended all three games. (Gardner lost his game in the 10th; I know MLB has since changed its rules to disavow its no-hitterness, but it was called a no-hitter when I saw it.)
A Shoulder To Lean On Becomes A Shoulder To Cry On
Hideo Nomo started 2004 with two shutout innings.
His first three-ball count came in his third inning.
He entered Inning No. 5 trailing innocuously, 1-0, having allowed four hits.
He retired the first batter, and had still held the opposition to one run through 4 2/3 innings.
And then: five-pitch walk, grand slam, four-pitch walk, two-run home run.
It hasn't gotten much better for Nomo this season. His strikeouts have vanished like D.B. Cooper; home runs have sprouted like weeds. There have been games of endurance, but none of dominance.
If Tuesday night's five-homer performance by Philadelphia was any evidence, Nomo is hours away from facing a formidable offense in a formidable ballpark. The Joy of Cooking offers this recipe for disaster in both Japanese and American cuisines.
His vulnerability is a secret to no one.
Baseball being baseball, you can cringe at the thought of Nomo taking the mound and still retain the hope that somehow, the Strat-o-Matic dice will roll and land on outs enough times.
You'll root for him to survive, a batter at a time.
And you'll hope that they know when to throw in the towel, knowing that other battles lay ahead, next week, next month, next year.
You hope that something unpleasant doesn't become something nasty.
Open Chat: Dodgers-Phillies (Tuesday)
The Philadelphia and Los Angeles team ERAs are nearly half a run apart, but the teams actually have allowed virtually the same number of runs this season in the same number of games (36):
Phillies: 127 earned runs, 24 unearned runs, 151 total runs allowed
Los Angeles needs to sweep its six games with Philadelphia this season to go 600 games up on the Phillies in head-to-head competition. The Dodgers entered 2004 with a 1,402-808 all-time record against Philadelphia.
For a Pennsylvania perspective on the Dodgers-Phillies series, take a deep look at Shallow Center.
Before He Met Greg Brady ...
No time for an entry this morning ... so enjoy this piece by Rob Neyer examining what might have been a turning point in Don Drysdale's career.
I find it astonishing that I never learned about Drysdale's penchant for pitching inside when he guested on The Brady Bunch.
A four-game losing streak after a six-game winning streak hits you like an unwelcome shot of humidity on your vacation.
In the Dodgers' case, perhaps we should have expected some warm, thick air, considering their fragile starting pitching and that nearly half of their victories came by one run.
I've kept it pretty cool myself - didn't get too high over the Dodgers' hot start, won't get too low, now - especially when three of four National League West rivals got swept over the weekend as well. Los Angeles is still hanging on to the best record in the National League.
The team has an interesting week coming up, starting with a visit to Philadelphia, winners of 12 out of 18. Once again, the Dodgers are starting a road trip against a contender in the NL East - just as they did against Florida two weeks ago. The Dodgers were coming off a disappointing homestand against Montreal and New York, but came alive on the road, winning two out of three against the Marlins and five of six overall.
With a day of rest today, the Dodgers will reach the City of Brotherly Like before the hometown Phillies, who finish a four-game series at Colorado. The Odyssean Wilson Alvarez will kick off the Phillies series for Los Angeles on Tuesday in a pivotal game for the Dodger psyche - either he will continue to live the dream, or the Dodgers will have a five-game losing streak with Hideo Nomo set to be the stopper.
The Dodgers' two-game cushion in the NL West is relevant here. Should Alvarez and Nomo lose, potentially dropping the Dodgers into a tie with the Padres (who play Pittsburgh), all the stars would be aligned for Jim Tracy to cut bait on Nomo's spot in the starting rotation. Tracy clearly likes Nomo and has every reason to be grateful for the performance Nomo has shown during his tenure, so you can sympathize with Tracy's desire to keep in him the rotation. But the fact that neither Tracy nor Colborn can identify the cause of Nomo's problems (beyond what would seem to be the obvious - his lack of recovery from offseason surgery), could force Tracy to skip Nomo out, if for no other reason than to protect Nomo from himself.
Of course, there are nuances here. The Dodgers could win Tuesday despite Alvarez getting pounded; they could lose Wednesday despite seven shutout innings from Nomo. And then we'd just say, "Well, that's baseball," and regroup.
At the same time, another reckoning day may be approaching Adrian Beltre and his ankle - the latter seems to have made the former more desperate at the plate. Yes, I have noticed the pre-2004 Beltre creeping in, diving at outside pitches. I don't know that I've ever watched a player more carefully. Beltre's swings look positively violent, and the result is that on almost every hack, he loses balance as if recoiling from a shotgun blast. I am not retreating on my pledge that Beltre is transformed, but watching Beltre during the homestand was painful in every sense of the word, and if it continues, Beltre may have to swallow more than painkillers - he may have to swallow a month on the sidelines. The memory of Shawn Green's lost 2003 summer remains strong, and with Beltre's condition apparently curable through surgery, you have to wonder if it isn't time for him to sacrifice a month of play now.
As for Green, I've stayed far away from talking about him this year. Part of it is that he hasn't really been the story of 2004 so far, but also, because of the grim forecast that I generated during the offseason, I have wanted to give him plenty of time to prove me wrong. And in fact, Green is on pace to hit 32 home runs this season, with every mathematical chance of climbing higher, so you can't say that he won't. He is drawing walks at a better rate this season than last, so that even though his batting average (.231) is down 49 points from 2003, his on-base percentage (.345) is down only 10 and his OPS (.810) is down only five. Milton Bradley, hailed by many as the savior of the Dodger offense (and certainly a strong defensive player), has his own ankle-depressed OPS of .768 - well below Green's.
That being said, if we're talking about the Shawn Green of Old returning - the pre-2003 version - he's got a ways to go. Green's OPS is down 133 points from 2002 and 160 points from 2001. And it's hard to imagine he's going to go on the kind of tear that will get him to those levels - especially when his shoulder remains an issue.
It's important to retain perspective about Green. Right now, he's a good player. He's a good player. He's a good player.
But Green is not great.
Green has not been the story yet in 2004. And as long as an ailing Nomo or Beltre remain center stage, he probably won't be. But that day may soon come ...
* * *
A couple of links:
Paul Lo Duca, C, six win shares, tied for first.
By all means, let's be thrilled for Cora. But have you looked at the second basemen in the National League? It's like an American Idol audition out there.
Off a Cliff in the West
Putting aside the separate case of the Dodgers for the moment, the National League West went 0-5 Saturday. And Friday. The division is 2-14 since Thursday.
Open Chat: Reds-Dodgers (Friday-Saturday-Sunday)
Having a rough time of it in May:
Milton Bradley, .637 OPS
L.A. Just Wasn't His Town
Trade Bait and Switch
While the Dodgers ponder their own starting rotation problems, there may be a trade afoot to address those of the Yankees, involving AAA Las Vegas pitcher Tanyon Sturtze. But according to Matt Youmans of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, there has been some confusion.
No Las Vegas starting pitcher is averaging more than six innings per outing. Besides Sturtze, Joel Hanrahan has the best numbers with a 4.15 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings. Hanrahan also has a single and home run in four at-bats.
Not much to celebrate on the offensive end of the 51s. In AA Jacksonville, your best bet is outfielder Jason Repko, a 1999 top draft pick who has an OPS of .853 and an Major League Equivalent Average of .245. Wilkin Ruan, by comparison, is at .469 and .137.
Franklin Gutierrez, traded to Cleveland with a player to be named later for Milton Bradley, is OPSing .922 for AAA Akron. His MLEQA is .261.
Let's Go, Cora!
But I think about the events of that day again and again. And somehow I know that Winnie does too, whenever some blowhard starts talking about the anonymity of the suburbs or the mindlessness of the TV generation, because we know that inside every one of those identical boxes, with its Dodge parked out front and its white bread on the table and its TV set glowing blue in the falling dusk, there are people with stories, there were families bound together in the pain and the struggle of love. There where moments that made us cry with laughter, and there were moments, like that one, of sorrow and wonder."
- The Wonder Years, pilot episode
To watch Alex Cora in the seventh inning Wednesday night was to witness the crescendo of a perfect game in a single at-bat - an ferocious privilege. I can touch my face and still feel the heat from the excitement that built up in me and around me. It was an at-bat of sufficient length to be shown as a half-hour special on ESPN Classic.
It left me with a wish, a wish that all fans from other parts of the country could have seen it.
About halfway into the streak of consecutive foul balls Cora hit, the Dodger Stadium crowd started to take notice. As he reached double digits, a roar started to come with each swing. The scoreboard operator, not at all imprisoned from spontaneity, threw a running tally of the foul balls onto the big screen. Around foul ball No. 11, the crowd was rising to its feet. A cheer of "Let's go, Cora!" sprung from somewhere and immediately swept the entire stadium.
Something epic was happening and everyone knew it. Everybody got it. Everybody got that they were witnessing something special, something spectacular, in a series of liners and ground balls to the right of first base.
Foul ball - roar. Foul ball - roar. Foul ball - ROAR.
Cora was going 15 rounds, the underdog in a fight with an Apollo Creed in the polished Matt Clement. And the Dodger fans were in ecstasy. They weren't playing with beach balls. They weren't leaving early. They were there. They were in the game.
And then, after 14 foul balls, on the 18th pitch of the at-bat, Alex Cora swung and drove a long, high fly to right field. Back went Sammy Sosa, back. At the wall. Gone!
The crowd went berserk. And they earned every bit of their insanity.
Folks, I grew up in the suburbs and I grew up a Dodger fan, and neither has a nationwide reputation for generating crackle or passion or heat. But it is not because we have nothing better to do or nothing else to care about that we go to games, 3 million strong each year.
To anyone who might be reading this from the outside, who has bought into the stereotype of the Dodger fan, who has mocked us, please try to understand. Just try.
Dodger fans are real.
Open Chat: Cubs-Dodgers (Thursday)
Update: Just got back from my permission-granted hooky at the game. Nomo looked every bit as ill as his numbers indicate. Both from the stretch and the windup, he had no fastball at all. I think he might have hit 85 mph once. The ball left his arm like a medicine ball. While I can't claim to know if he needs to go on the disabled list, he simply is not pitching well enough to be in the rotation right now.
Lima came in and through 5 2/3 shutout innings, but he wasn't as good as those numbers. He let two inherited runs score, gave up seven hits, and was often in trouble. Sang a great "God Bless America" and national anthem, though ...
If Nomo missed a couple of weeks and a AAA pitcher got a spot start or two, I'm just gonna say that it might not be the worst thing.
Mario, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Ballplayers
Open Chat: Cubs-Dodgers (Wednesday)
First pitch is at 7:10 p.m. AST (Alvarez Savings Time). The change of starting pitchers from Kazuhisa Ishii to Wilson Alvarez may get us an extra hour's sleep tonight, don't you think?
Among other things, Adrian Beltre is showing some heart, isn't he? And Paul Lo Duca has rallied to put Dodgers in the top two spots in the NL batting race. (This is the only moment you'll see me care about batting average - when the Dodgers are on top of it.)
If I can write something original on these open chat introductions, even something short, I feel less guilty about running them.
Open Chat: Cubs-Dodgers (Tuesday)
The resplendent Kerry Wood, who pitches tonight for the Cubs, probably hasn't forgotten his last start against the Dodgers, in which he allowed five hits, four walks and five runs in 2 2/3 innings. Things will probably go better tonight - which would certainly help the Cubs, who have a bullpen ERA of 4.67.
Dodger starter Jeff Weaver hasn't allowed a home run to a right-handed hitter this season. Righties are OPSing .622 against him; lefties 1.031.
Weaver has pitched seven innings in his past three starts.
Alex Cora is OPSing 1.062 in May and has surpassed Cesar Izturis as the better-hitting Dodger middle infielder this season, .745-.694.
False Alarm on Beltre
Ross Newhan's article in the Times today, which warns that a great season by Adrian Beltre might price him out of the Dodger salary budget, implicitly casts the team playing in the nation's second-largest city as a small-market squad - if not the smallest.
It's an improper characterization, no matter what your opinion of the new Dodger ownership is.
Newhan writes that the "speculated intent" of Dodger owner Frank McCourt is to cap the player payroll at $80 million. However, Newhan fails to consider or acknowledge that the Dodgers have $46 million in salary committed for 2005 and $1.1 million for 2006, leaving us to wonder how it is possible for Beltre to already be beyond affordability - when, in fact, the Dodger payroll will still be higher than most teams in baseball.
Furthermore, despite the tenor of Newhan's article, you won't find a single person saying that Beltre won't be signable. There are quotes from Scott Boras indicating the prize property that Beltre may well have become, but Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta's response is fairly tame:
"We just hope [Beltre] continues to have the type season he's having," DePodesta told Newhan. "If his contract becomes an issue, it's a problem we'd love to have."
I'm not saying that Newhan invented his speculation out of thin air. The essential truth is that Beltre will command more than his current $5 million salary in coming years - perhaps much more. This, combined with the fiscally restrained ownership of McCourt, is reason enough for Newhan to ask whether the Dodgers can retain Beltre. And of course, if Boras asks for the moon and New York City (if you get my drift), the whole matter may be out of DePodesta's and McCourt's hands anyway.
However, Newhan's article fails to make the case that, even under McCourt, 2004 is so likely to be Beltre's last season in Los Angeles.
Those Small-Town Boys From Chicago
From Mike Spellman in the Arlington Heights Daily Herald:
Cubs manager Dusty Baker said he's hoping his team can keep its focus on baseball while among the always-tempting bright lights of Hollywood.
"Yeah, there's something to it," Baker said of the West Coast's allure. "We're on a business trip. That's the way you've got to keep it or else the glitz and glamour will get to you."
The Little Contest
Unbekownst to them, Paul Lo Duca and Adrian Beltre are in a little contest. Moving forward, you can track it on the Links sidebar along the right side of this page.
Paul Lo Duca strikeouts vs. Adrian Beltre walks
Mondesi Out for Season
Raul Tavares, the world's leading conveyor of Domincan baseball news, reports in an e-mail to me that Raul Mondesi is going to sit out the "the rest of the season to solve his legal problems and be with his family."
For previous stories on the ex-Dodger's legal dilemma, click here.
Update: Here's the Associated Press story.
Update 2: Mondesi's replacement on the Pirate roster is none other than Daryle Ward. Could Ward be on the rebound? He has five home runs in 17 games with AAA Nashville.
Manic Monday - Part 2
by Christian Ruzich
It's nice to see Jon talk about how the Cubs are his #2 team over on The Cub Reporter, but I can't return the favor. Living in the Bay Area for six years, and marrying a Giants fan, has made me a Dodger-disliker by proxy. Not a Dodger-hater, exactly, since it's hard to hate a team that's as inoffensive as this one (though trading for Milton Bradley certainly helps), but definitely a team I root against.
Dear Dodger Thoughts,
You've been hijacked. But just for a day, and just by a couple of harmless Cubs fans. Since Jon has steered his pen Cub-Reporter-ways for the day, I'm jotting down a couple Dodgerish thoughts during the brief breath before the Cubs and Dodgers face off Tuesday.
I've lived in Brooklyn for a shade over five years now, so I guess I'm supposed to have some sort of affinity for your boys in blue. But truth be told, I'm fairly indifferent; I was born a couple decades after the Dodgers moved west, and didn't arrive in Brooklyn for another 23 years, so any claims to have loyalty to the franchise would just be cloying attempts at pleasing my audience. Sure, I own a Brooklyn Dodgers hat, but that's all about borough pride and my distaste for the current New York teams. Hey, if I don't live in Chicago and I gotta root for a team in the city where I live, I might as well root for a team that no longer exists...
My earliest Dodger memories: Valenzuela's rookie card was the first valuable baseball card I ever owned. I'm sure I wishcast the card as being in "mint" condition, just because I knew that was the best condition possible, but it was as beat up as the rest of my collection -- a near worthless piece of cardboard, corners frayed and picture creased. I was a bit too young to really understand Fernandomania, but I knew he was one of the league's best pitchers, so his card was reserved for my "special sheet" of nine favorite baseball cards.
Steve Sax was another matter altogether. When he came up I rooted for him to do poorly, but my dislike was based entirely in an irrational fear that Sax might turn out to be a better player than Ryne Sandberg. Both second sackers were enormously popular, both were very good, and both were charismatic in their own distinct ways: Sandberg was quiet, stoic, and handsome -- Sax was fiesty, energetic, and a looker as well. Looking back, there was little cause for alarm -- why couldn't they both be good? -- but such are the delusions of youth. After forgetting about Sax altogether for several years, he's recently scored some points with me for being one of few ballplayers to openly take a stand against homophobia in sports.
The Dodgers haven't really created much heartbreak for the Cubs while I've been around. It's your division rivals, those cuddly Padres (#^&*$ you, Garvey) and fuzzy Giants (!@#$@% you, too, Clark) that have contributed more to our storied angst. I wish the Dodgers no ill will, and am in fact very intrigued by the direction the franchise will take under DePodesta. It'll be interesting to see how Mr. Paul morphs his college-heavy draft approach with the recent success of high-school maven Logan White in this summer's amateur draft.
The Dodgers and Cubs enter their series on winning notes, and L.A. boasts the best record in the N.L. While I think Green's Team is playing a bit over its collective head, L.A.'s hot start will likely be enough to keep them in the hunt all season -- and I expect at least one more big move to help out the offense. Why does everyone assume Vidro is a Yankee-in-waiting, when the Dodgers are a perfect fit?
Tuesday, 7:10 PT
Wednesday, 7:10 PT
Thursday, 12:10 PT
Thanks for letting me chime in on this crazy off-day.
XOXO, Cubs win two of three,
A Walk In and Out of the Woods
Hello from 20-10land - just a fork in the road over from 19-11ville, where the Dodger bullpen tried to have everyone walk this afternoon.
See, Eric Gagne's save Friday wasn't so cheap after all, was it?
Look, let's make sure we know who to blame first for the near collapse today. The Pirates wouldn't know how to take a walk if a Boy Scout was helping them cross the street, but the Dodger bullpen still found a way to free-pass four consecutive 'Burghers with the bases loaded. However great you've been all season, that's hard to excuse.
It was fine by me, if Odalis Perez really needed to come out, that Dodger manager Jim Tracy tried Jose Lima with a five-run lead, and fine still that his second choice was Darren Dreifort.
But when the tying and winning runs reach base, you go with Gagne to put out the fire.
Tracy's explanation - "I wasn't going to warm Eric Gagne up in the eighth inning on May 9," he told the Times, is hogwash - the kind of reasoning that, quite frankly, is what puts Tracy's job in jeopardy despite his overall success.
If Gagne was available at all, you use him at the most critical spot. If you think Tom Martin or Duaner Sanchez (who, to be fair, made a great pitch on Jason Kendall only to allow a fluke 40-foot game-tying single) can get out of a bases-loaded jam, then they should be fine to work a ninth inning with the bases empty.
If May 9 isn't important enough to put Gagne on turbo-thrust, then you don't use him for two innings in the 11th and 12th - you go straight to Brian Falkenborg.
I like Jim Tracy - and he made a big move giving Olmedo Saenz a chance to hit his game-winning home run in the 14th. But it's not as if he hasn't been using Gagne in the eighth inning already this season, and it's not as if the Dodgers didn't have an off day tomorrow. If he had said, "I want these other guys to be able to pitch under pressure," that would have been a satisfactory defense. It might be debatable, but it's defensible. The explanation Tracy did give was not defensible.
Tracy is so close to being not just a good manager but a great one - if only he could stop thinking himself into system crashes.
In any case, please enjoy your two-night stay in 20-10land.
* * *
Aaron Boone is fine to consider for second base in the stretch run, I suppose, but he is no replacement for the new Adrian Beltre. You don't wait this long for a star to emerge only to let it shoot itself into another galaxy.
* * *
Update: All day long, I've been trying to think of the game today's reminded me of. I knew the Dodgers had blown a big lead in the ninth inning in Pittsburgh one year, around this time of year, and that it was a turning point in a season that started with promise but ended in disappointment. In these situations, I turn to Bob Timmermann for help - and sure enough, he found the game for me. He also supplied me with Bill Plaschke's game story - a really good one, so I'm going to break the rules and reprint it at length, at least until I get a cease-and-desist order:
For most of a rainy Monday afternoon at Three Rivers Stadium, Tim Belcher had done it all.
The Pittsburgh Pirates had one hit and only four baserunners in eight innings. Belcher struck out eight. He retired 12 of the last 13 he faced.
And he supported his teammates by throwing an inside pitch that cleared both benches in a near brawl.
But citing a tired arm, he would not pitch the ninth.
In case Belcher forgot what sort of bullpen he was dealing with, Pat Perry and Jay Howell soon reminded him. They blew a 5-1 lead in the ninth, and the Pirates won, 6-5, before 26,171.
The Dodgers were within one out of extending their season-high five-game winning streak and still leading, 5-3, when Howell gave up a bases-loaded single by Jose Lind that skipped beyond the reach of a diving Eddie Murray and into right field.
Bobby Bonilla and Gary Redus scored, and a surprised Don Slaught raced home when Hubie Brooks' bouncing throw from right field eluded catcher Mike Scioscia and rolled to the backstop. Howell, in only his fourth appearance since 27 days of inactivity after knee surgery, was late in backing up home plate.
It was a vivid example of why the Pirates lead the National League East--and why the Dodgers will be exposed as pretenders in the West until they stop pretending everything is fine in their bullpen.
"A bad, bad loss," Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said. "We needed just one more out and couldn't get it. We had it won. We should have won. Bad loss."
And a bad game. Players were attempting to hit each other with baseballs, fists and threats. A feud resurfaced that dates to July 24, when Dodger Tim Crews hit Gary Redus in the face with a fastball. There were no punches thrown Monday, but many warnings were issued.
"There is bad blood here, period," said Jim Gott, the Dodger reliever who played for the Pirates last season. "And it will stay that way, no question."
The Dodger bullpen did nothing to ease the tension for Lasorda. Dodger relief pitchers have lost six games the team led in the sixth inning or later.
The Dodger bullpen is 4-6 with a 4.70 earned-run average. It is last in the National League with seven saves. So why would Belcher hand the bullpen the game by telling coaches in the seventh inning that he could pitch only one more inning?
"I had been scuffling with my arm strength all month, I was finally getting that strength back . . . and I didn't want to leave it out there," Belcher said. "I threw what, 120 pitches? OK, 110. The way my arm has felt, that's plenty.
"And we had a four-run lead, didn't we? I guess it was just one of those unfortunate days for the bullpen."
Said Lasorda: "He told us in the seventh that he could go one more inning. I have to believe what he tells me."
Belcher is considered one of the toughest players on the team. However, he was also the most outspoken Dodger after Orel Hershiser's reconstructive shoulder surgery earlier this spring.
Because Hershiser's problems were considered a result of too many innings pitched, Belcher said that he would begin using "better sense" when it came to his right arm.
Monday marked the second time in four starts since Hershiser's surgery that Belcher has removed himself from a game. In an eventual rainout May 13 in New York, he would not return to the mound after an interruption of more than two hours.
"After a game like this, I wonder if he'll still feel the same way," one Dodger said.
Perry, who gave up three singles, a walk and a wild pitch to his six batters, was making his fourth appearance since returning from last winter's shoulder surgery.
Howell, who walked Slaught and then gave up the winning single to Lind, said he is not ready for pressure situations. He has lost two of his four post-surgery appearances and refused to finish another game because of shoulder stiffness.
"It (arm strength) wasn't very good, I don't think," he said. "I'm not where I should be, physically. And it is disturbing. You've seen it. What have I done out there?
"There will have to be discussions, because I don't know if I can continue pitching my way into shape under conditions like this."
Said Lasorda: "I didn't get word of that before the game, but if he tells us that, then we'll have to do something about it. He's the guy who knows about his arm."
The Pirate ninth overshadowed the bitterness of the series. In addition to Crews hitting Redus last season, the Pirates cite a Belcher pitch that nearly hit Bonilla in the head in Los Angeles May 1. The Dodgers believe Randy Kramer retaliated by hitting Belcher in the left hip in that game.
Monday's trouble began in the fifth inning, when Hubie Brooks was hit in the left elbow by a Bob Walk fastball. Belcher's first pitch to the Pirates' first hitter in the fifth, Slaught, sailed behind Slaught's back. Slaught righted himself, threw up his arms, and began shouting at Belcher as benches cleared.
With the exception of Gott grabbing Bonilla and then engaging in a shoving match with Andy Van Slyke, there was more shouting than pushing.
In the Dodger sixth, Kramer spun Belcher around with an inside pitch that barely missed hitting him, and the Dodger bench nearly cleared again. Only Lasorda's exhortations stopped an angry Kal Daniels and Mickey Hatcher from charging Kramer, who was ejected from the game along with Pirate Manager Jim Leyland.
"Everybody in the ballpark knew Belcher was throwing at Slaught. I don't think we started anything," Leyland said.
Said Lasorda: "If he gives us that medicine, we have to give it back. And we don't want to give it back. We hold no animosity for them at all."
Open Chat: Dodgers-Pirates (Saturday)
Joe Thurston, called up in time for tonight's game to replace injured Dave Roberts, may best aspire to be the next Lenny Harris.
Sunday's game: We can keep it on this thread, I think.
Open Chat: Dodgers-Pirates (Friday)
How do you feel about the Open Chats? I admit, I'm sort of ambivalent about them. They aren't part of the original mission of the site, but they do yield both interesting observations and welcome camaraderie. Do you see any negatives?
The starting lineup for tonight's game is the same as Thursday's: Paul Lo Duca in left for Dave Roberts, Adrian Beltre batting fifth, Jose Hernandez seventh, Dave Ross eighth. Ross apparently had a 430-foot out Thursday night - no luck for him this year.
Still a Nightmare
A man was shot and killed during a fight outside Wrigley Field after a game Thursday.
I have exchanged a couple of e-mails with the sister of Marc Antenorcruz, who was killed in the Dodger Stadium parking lot September 19. Suffice it to say, the tragedy has not left the family - they are living with it every day, acutely.
This is a portion of what Antneorcruz's sister wrote me most recently.
Dealing with that night has been a nightmare for all of us. We have not been the same since that evening and I know now that our lives will always have this disruption of sadness. Attending court and listening to how my family is referred to as “The 187 of Dodger Stadium” kills me even more. We are strong though and I know the love for my brother will keep us living life as if he were here today. ...
While dealing with the concern of my family’s well-being after the funeral, I wanted to speak with the Commissioner of Baseball to express my concern on the Stadium’s safety, but I was focused on capturing my brother’s killer. Three weeks after my brother’s death, the Red Sox and Yankees had a huge falling out. Watching the game and seeing Don Zimmer attack Pedro Martinez, I then realized that this is one of the reasons why fans are so aggressive. I then took the time to submit a letter to Bud Selig, the owners of the Dodgers, S.F. Giants, N.Y. Yankees, Red Sox, their managers, and Diana Roemer (San Gabriel Valley Tribune). All of them responded except the Yankees. I wanted to express to them that, in a child’s eyes, these players are role models - "heroes" - and children learn from them. My brother was a die hard fan of Barry Bonds. In his words, "Barry is a legend." And my brother was right. Barry Bonds just broke a home run record … which one? I don’t remember…….. I’m a Dodger fan. I just laugh inside and tell my brother again, your legend hit another home run.
Now that we have clarified our emotions, I pray that this incident will not repeat itself at any sporting event. We have a long road ahead of us with court. When court finally comes to an end, my family and I will be able to remember the happy moments about my brother and put that night behind us. I miss my brother, Mr. Weisman. He was a wonderful person.
She wrote this on Wednesday.
There's nothing with these two incidents at or around baseball games that doesn't hold anywhere in the world. Life is too precious for this to happen.
Pricier Than It Looked
Everyone is calling Eric Gagne's save Thursday night a cheapie, but it was just as pricey as many others.
Sure, Gagne entered the game with a five-run lead, but with the bases loaded. If Gagne had allowed Jeff Conine to reach base - a single, a walk, an error, anything - and the next batter had hit a home run, that's a tie ballgame right there.
Gagne's save was no different than coming in with a two-run lead and the bases empty. He had a one-batter margin for error - that's it.
It wasn't like pitching out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam with a one-run lead in the eighth and closing it out in the ninth, but let's not take Gagne too much for granted. The situation Thursday was way more precarious than the score indicated.
Give Your Slightly Brittle Manager a Hug
He gives interviews like Defense Department briefings. He dresses his lineups with fashions from the '70s and '80s - the slap-hitting shortstop high, the young third baseman low. He can be too passive with removing his starting pitchers, too aggressive with removing his relievers. And he hasn't reached the playoffs ... yet.
But isn't it about time someone said something nice about Jim Tracy?
There isn't a Dodger fan who would say that Tracy has had championship-caliber talent since he became manager for the 2001 season. But in three years and a month, Tracy is 280-233 - a .546 winning percentage, which translates to 88 wins per 162 games.
It's easy to pick out his mistakes, but like an umpire, the good calls just fade into the background. On more occasions than I can count, he has gotten the right guy in the lineup and made the right move in a dicey situation. He gives players a chance to succeed, but doesn't give them forever. He has won games.
The Dodgers have never been out of the playoff hunt under Jim Tracy. Given the players he has had - a stud here and there, but no team of All-Stars - I wouldn't exactly call Tracy an underachiever.
This year, it's the same story. In some areas, there is talent - in others, it's just a ragtag bunch. The Dodgers may make the playoffs or they may not, and it's very possible that the final verdict on Tracy will depend on the result.
So for now, with the team leading the National League, with the team providing some excitement, let's throw some credit Jim Tracy's way. There are worse epitaphs than, "He must be doing something right."
Open Chat: Dodgers-Marlins (Thursday)
Thought I'd give you a bigger head start for today's game.
Lefty on the mound for Florida (Dontrelle Willis). Adrian Beltre is 16 for his last 38. Here's the batting order I'd try with Dave Roberts injured:
Someone suggested batting Bradley leadoff with Roberts out - the idea grew on me.
A Base Path
This morning's goal was a lucid and level-headed response to the news that Major League Baseball will promote Spider-Man 2 with ads on its bases. At first, I was just going to write one and only one paragraph:
If I go to see that movie, and the big screen cuts away from Tobey Maguire to give me live updates on the Dodger game going on that night, then I guess that's fair enough.
That sounded good to me for a while. Unfortunately, two wrongs don't make a right, do they?
I want to avoid being sanctimonious on this issue, from either end. Of course, you'd prefer that advertising did not encroach on baseball. And of course, baseball has a right to let it.
Baseball is an easy target because it retains a dream of purity, but the world is a sloppy place, getting sloppier by the day. It's little more than the principle of entropy at work. In the comic, Zits, this week, Mom is arranging his clothes drawer "by season, style and color" while the contents of her son's backpack explode into a trash pile all over his bedroom. There are two forces at work, and the cleansing force is up against it.
That dream of purity in baseball - professional baseball, anyway - has always been a myth, both on the narrow level of advertising at the ballpark, which has existed for more than a century, as well as the more unseemly ugliness - racism, etc. - that permeated the game at its roots. I love that myth, and fool myself that it's gospel whenever I can, but a myth is what it is.
Am I against the Spiderman 2 ads on the bases? Damn straight I am. They take us further down the slippery, sloppy slope. But they don't grab me in the gut. Man, I've just seen a lot worse. Stadium music at 200 decibels is worse. The designated hitter is worse.
The decision to allow advertising on the bases is a turn of the odometer on baseball's entropic road trip. It's a dubiously chosen fashion statement designed to get attention - a tattoo on pretty, freckled skin. I hate tattoos - but too many people like them.
I wish baseball wouldn't run ads on its bases. Not because I think this puts us on the path away from beauty, but because it reflects that we're already on the path away from beauty.
I wish baseball wouldn't run ads on its bases. But I wish a lot of things.
Update, 5 p.m.: Wishes come true. Some protests work. The bases have been freed.
Open Chat: Dodgers-Marlins (Wednesday)
Leadoff hitter Jason Grabowski starts it off with a single ...
Happy Loving Dodgers
For no good reason, I'm taking nominations for the all-time Dodger Spirit Squad - the guys who keep it loose and fun. Nominees must have been on the Dodger active roster while showing their spirit.
Here are my initial candidates:
How Lucky Can One Team Be: They Scored Not One Unearned Run But Three
Every year, just for fun, I've always meant to keep track of stolen wins - the games in which the Dodgers snag a W they had no right to grab.
Maybe next year. But you could certainly see an example of what I'm talking about in Tuesday night's 4-3, 11-inning Dodger victory over Florida: three unearned runs out of four, including a tying run scoring on a ninth-inning throwing error by the pitcher and a two-out, two-strike single, and a winning run scoring in the 11th on an inning-ending double-play ball choosing to scurry through an infielder's legs.
It's silly now: the Dodgers have the best record in baseball, seven games over .500 at 16-9, despite outscoring their opponents by a total of 10 runs. The 2003 Kansas City Royals, which started surprisingly strong before fading to an 83-79 season in which opponents outscored them by 31, haunt as the model for false hope.
Can the Dodgers keep it real?
The biggest curiosity is the pitching. Dodger opponents have put the Los Angeles starting pitchers on the ropes for most of 2004, but haven't KOed them. The Dodger starters may only have pitched past the seventh inning two times all season - but only three times have they left before completing five. Solid mediocrity is better than nothing (that is to say, better than the Dodger hitting of 2003) and has kept the Dodgers within shouting distance so that it can thievecize some close ballgames. There isn't much home for improvement in the low-K totals of Hideo Nomo and Jose Lima, but on the other hand, Wilson Alvarez may be riding to the rescue, and we can dream of Edwin Jackson coming later this summer.
Injuries are starting to provide another challenge, however, with outfielder and leadoff hitter Dave Roberts' tender hamstring providing the latest test. We can grit our teeth contemplating more on-the-job training for Jason Grabowski, hoping general manager Paul DePodesta's early acquisition deserves this chance, or wait to see whether manager Jim Tracy will move Shawn Green or Paul Lo Duca to the outfield to make room for Robin Ventura or David Ross.
Even less enticing options remain for replacing Roberts at the top of the lineup. Tracy, who was rigid enough, as it turned out, to drop Adrian Beltre back to No. 7 upon Milton Bradley's return, may well think it's a great idea to put Cesar Izturis or Alex Cora (he of the three hits Tuesday night) on top. Hmm ... don't all get excited at once.
A lot of you might be thinking Paul Lo Duca should get bumped to No. 1, and I'm not agin' it. But if Ventura plays, he's not a bad choice either. No one else on the team is better suited than Ventura for generating a leadoff walk or a single.
Except perhaps Shawn Green - but that'll be the day.
Still, 16-9. Stealing is good for a team's health.
My Child Is an A Student at National League Elementary
Having as much trouble as I am believing that this Dodger team has the best record in the National League?
Yeah, the resurgent offense has made a huge difference, the bullpen has been spotty but farily effective - but that starting pitching! The rotation's ERA remains way too high, at 5.24.
What mitigates that ERA, for better or worse, is that the starting pitching is averaging fewer than six innings per start. That means the starters are allowing an average of 3.5 runs per game. The bullpen, with an ERA of 3.04, is allowing one run per game. The Dodgers have needed to score five runs per game to win - and they're averaging 4.9.
This week, for the first time this year, the Dodgers face a top opponent from outside the division. Or do they? The NL East-leading Florida Marlins flew into San Francisco over the weekend and got swept. They held a 9-2 lead over the Giants after 1 1/2 innings Friday night, then got outscored, 25-11, the rest of the series.
The Dodgers will send their three (relatively) best starting pitchers of the season against Florida: Odalis Perez, Jeff Weaver and Kazuhisa Ishii against three celebrated Marlins: Josh Beckett, Brad Penny and Dontrelle Willis. Hee Seop Choi (1.097 OPS), Mike Lowell (.993) and Miguel Cabrera (.954) lead the Florida offense.
Los Angeles has some noteworthy series this month, among them Chicago May 11-13, at Philadelphia May 18-20. A winning record in the aggregate would make the Dodgers' early success seem worthy of more than a rooty tooty bumper sticker.
Lo Duca Normalizes
With his batting average falling from .490 to .400, I was under the impression that Paul Lo Duca was really slumping. But the decline has been a soft slide more than a collapse; his batting/on-base/slugging/OPS numbers in that time are .241/.313/.448/.751. Nothing heroic there, but not an abomination either.
Meanwhile, will Dave Ross (.491 OPS) turn out to be this year's Mike Kinkade, without the hit-by-pitches? Too soon to tell, but I thought he'd start better.
Beltre Closes for Business
On ESPN's Baseball Tonight Sunday, Harold Reynolds used video footage to highlight that Adrian Beltre is using a more closed stance at the plate this year compared to last year, and this is enabling him to have more plate coverage. Previously, Beltre stood at the plate with his front leg wide, his front foot pointed more toward the mound. He would then close up as the pitch came, but would remain off-balance throughout the swing, particularly on outside pitches.
John Kruk credited George Hendrick for the coaching. I don't know whether Kruk thinks, correctly or incorrectly, that Beltre's stance was changed by Hendrick late last year when Hendrick was interim batting coach, or whether Kruk momentarily forgot that Tim Wallach is now the Dodger batting coach. Either way, I do think the notion that a batting coach can't make a difference, as so many people that I respect seem to believe, remains dubious.
I noticed a few bad swings by Beltre during the Montreal series, but never enough to form a pattern. With Beltre posting a good overall weekend in the No. 3 slot, you have to wonder where will he land when erstwhile No. 3 outfielder Milton Bradley returns to the lineup.
Dodger manager Jim Tracy may well be willing to coronate the emerging Beltre as the team's best hitter and keep him at No. 3, but only if he's willing to drop Bradley or Shawn Green to No. 5. This shouldn't be a problem on paper, but here's hoping those two are mature enough to handle it.
Tracy could also consider placing Green, whose biggest strength with his shoulder problems is his .394 on-base percentage, at No. 3 and Beltre at No. 4.
Beltre is fifth in the NL in EQA (.348), according to Baseball Prospectus.
Update: His stats since August 1, 2003: 317 plate appearances, 90 hits, 11 doubles, two triples, 23 home runs, 15 walks + HBP, .298 batting average, .331 on-base percentage, .576 on-base percentage, .907 OPS.
Good for Gary, Good for the Dodgers
Though it was hard to miss the widespread lament when Derrick Hall and the Dodger front office parted ways, it pleases me to be able to say that Frank McCourt and the Dodgers have hired a good guy and talented individual as Hall's replacement, new vice president of communications Gary Miereanu.
In the midst of a diverse journalism career, Miereanu (pronounced "Mih-ree-AH-noo"), freelanced in a major way for the Daily News during my tenure there, before turning fulltime to public relations (where we crossed paths again at Disney). He is both completely personable and articulate, and will be sensitive to the needs both of the Dodgers and the media.
My strongest memory of Miereanu was covering the Long Beach Grand Prix with him a couple times in the early 1990s. He knew everyone - drivers, pit crew, sponsors, race fans. That guy over there by the thing - you know, the one doing the stuff - Miereanu knew him. He's just very at ease with people.
This hire, of course, comes less than a week after I profiled another former colleague of mine now in the Dodger hierarchy, Mark Langill. You can imagine that the combination has given me one of those "What have I done with my career?" moments. But, you know, I am enjoying this website.
Gary (pronounced "GARE-ee") - wish you the best.
Jon Weisman's outlet
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About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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