Dodgers Serve Up Summer Bummer

  • Tuesday, July 19, 2011 10:32 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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I had a dream last night that baseball’s regular season had already come to an end. The Giants had made the playoffs and had Tim Lincecum on the mound in Game 1 of the NLDS. I don’t recall who his opponent was, but the Dodgers, mercifully, had long since put out of their misery.

I woke up with a start, not because I was so upset about the Dodgers' failure to reach postseason -- I came to grips with that in spring training when I saw Juan Uribe’s swing. My distress was provoked by the thought of another summer flying by without delivering on its eternal promise of endless barbecues, watermelon on the back porch, sunny days at the beach and lazy afternoons at Dodger Stadium.

When I woke, of course, it was still July, with plenty of warm summer days still to look forward to on the calendar. Today promises to be one of the finest, pleasant enough to do just about anything in shorts and flipflops. Compared to last year, when May Gray and June Gloom stretched on right through September and October, summer 2011 is already an improvement.

If only the Dodgers would cooperate even just a tiny bit. I dutifully watch the games, but only until they fall behind by two runs. At that point, it’s simply too infuriating to watch this team squander runners in scoring position. Even MVP candidate Matt Kemp seems to be plagued by the Dodgers’ malaise. After outrunning a fly ball off the bat of Andres Torres, he came up with runners on first and third and one out, hit the ball hard, but still managed to ground into an inning-ending double play.

The Dodgers are slated to play an afternoon game against the Giants on Wednesday, with Lincecum taking on Clayton Kershaw. The forecast is for another ho-hum gorgeous day here in Southern California. In more promising years, I’d be tempted to play hooky and go to the game in person. But I was almost relieved to remember that the game is in San Francisco.

If I play hooky, it won’t be to watch the game on TV, but because the summer of 2010 taught me not to take beautiful summer days for granted. No matter what I end up doing, I’ll bring a radio along, just for the joy of listening to Vin’s ebullience at the premier pitching matchup and baseball in sunshine at the best park in the country. And I’ll hope that in retrospect, the 2011 Dodgers will one day help me appreciate something as ordinary as a .500 season.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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Scrutiny: Lakers' Exit Will Put Dodgers In Spotlight

  • Monday, May 9, 2011 7:23 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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Because I don’t follow basketball with any care, I usually look forward to the day the Lakers are eliminated from the NBA playoffs. It’s not just that I find this particular group of Lakers distasteful, and can’t wait until the spotlight stops shining on them. It’s also because their exploits always tend to overshadow the interesting stories taking root in the spring at Chavez Ravine.

This year, however, I'm not so sure I'd like more media scrutiny of the Dodgers. This is a team that wasn't expected to go very far, and so far, they’ve barely lived up to that expectation. Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley have delivered some fine performances, but the bullpen has been one of the worst in baseball. Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp are both OPS-ing over .950, but it feels like they're the only Dodgers who can hit. Even Ethier's 30-game hitting streak came to an end before the Lakers’ ignominious exit. The team lead in home runs belongs to Rod Barajas, he of the .216 batting average.

More sportswriters focusing on the Dodgers will only expose how horrendous the past 11 months of James Loney’s career have been. More broadcasters following the team will only shine the spotlight even more brightly on Jonathan Broxton's inabilities as closer. More talk on sports radio will only amplify the swing-hard-three-times-in-case-you-hit-it tendencies of Juan Uribe and Marcus Thames. Worst of all, more media attention on this team will undoubtedly focus on the travails of their duplicitous owner, Frank McCourt, who has overstayed his welcome a lot longer than Ron Artest has.

For now, I will content myself with the fact that the Lakers’ classless exit with dominate headlines and highlight shows for at least another week. And the dismantling of this team after the 4-0 sweep by Dallas is sure to keep the purple and gold in the limelight at least until LeBron and D-Wade waltz to the championship they assigned to themselves nearly a year ago.

But then it’ll be all Dodgers all the time. And the only team that will be good for is the Angels.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

The Jerry Sands Era Has Officially Begun

  • Friday, April 22, 2011 4:10 PM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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Call it coincidence, but the Dodgers have won five of the six games since rookie Jerry Sands entered the lineup last Sunday. Sands, the guy the team didn’t want to block by acquiring a free-agent left fielder, has not exactly lit the world on fire; he went 0-4 in Friday’s 12-2 shellacking of the Cubs, lowering his average to .111. But he’s injected an enthusiasm that seemed lacking from the team in the first two weeks.

You could also give the credit to Chad Billingsley, who played the role of stopper after even ace Clayton Kershaw faltered against St. Louis, throwing 8.0 shutout innings Sunday. That started a turn through the order in which every Dodger starter threw at least seven innings and gave up no more than two earned runs. Billingsley wasn’t quite as good in Friday’s game, scattering 7 hits over 6.1 innings and allowing 2 runs. But he didn’t’ need to be; the game was a laugher after the third inning.

Or, of course, maybe it’s the stewardship of major league baseball. The Dodgers have posted their first three-game winning streak of the season since Frank McCourt got a babysitter. Whatever the reason, it’s encouraging to see this team score some runs and put up good pitching performances.

I’m not sure why Casey Coleman, the Cubs starter, is in the big leagues. His mechanics look terrible, as though he prefers to pitch out of the stretch. That’s something he did a lot of in this 2.2 innings of work.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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Patriotism Shouldn't Be A Stretch

  • Friday, July 3, 2009 8:42 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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On Monday April 13, the Dodgers walloped the San Francisco Giants, 11-1, in their 2009 home opener. Newly acquired second baseman Orlando Hudson became the first Dodger to hit for the cycle in 22 years, Chad Billingsley pitched seven innings and struck out 11 and Dodger fans were formally introduced to the team that would soon have the best record in baseball. But they were also introduced to a new “tradition” manufactured by the team’s ownership that has not ceased to confuse the fans or incense this faithful blogger since: singing “God Bless America” as a prelude to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch.

Moments after Billingsley threw his final pitch of the game that glorious April afternoon, Broadway singer N’Kenge Pacurar took the field and gave the tune 3 1/2 minutes of her own treatment, complimented by at least two ovations from the mildly confused but unexpectedly delighted crowd. If you were watching at home, you might have noticed that around the 2:30 mark of the performance, Fox Sports cameras panned across the lineup of Dodgers along the third base line and showed a number of them chuckling just as Pacurar lifted off into the chorus for the third time, unsure when exactly the song was to end.

Then, as she set down her microphone while the applause died down and the audience began to take their seats, organist Nancy Bea set off the familiar sounds of the song everyone expected to hear in the middle of the seventh inning, launching the crowd back to its feet.

So that was opening day and people were a little confused. Clearly the Dodgers wanted to add a little patriotism to the normal pomp and circumstance of another season’s commencement, which caught fans and players a bit off guard. They all knew to stand up during “God Bless America,” but did they have to take their hats off? Could they sing along? Was there a some sort of salute or solemn prayer position they should have known about? Most fans likely pondered these questions only for a few minutes, sure that such a predicament would not come their way again soon.

But it did, and it has, and it will for the rest of the season during each Dodger home game. Having been to six Dodger home games this season, I have expected to see some sort of general consensus on proper etiquette during the song, but none has emerged. After 41 games at Dodger Stadium, the crowd still hasn’t found an answer to those perplexing questions.

The song’s lyrics appear on the scoreboard while it is sung, but most people are hesitant to sing along given how inappropriate that is during the National Anthem. The hand-over-your-heart thing is a complete mystery and no one knows exactly what to do with their headwear. If fans are in agreement over anything, it seems to be that they continue to wonder simultaneously, “Why are they still doing this?”

LA Times blogger and Dodger aficionado Jon Weisman questioned the song’s addition to the seventh-inning stretch three days after its inauguration, calling it “overkill” and “redundant” after the National Anthem at the beginning of each game. Not only do I agree with his sentiments, but I think they draw on a much more prevalent national trend: unnecessarily emphasizing your patriotism.

Nobody has ever questioned baseball’s American-ness, and for teams such as the Yankees and Dodgers to halt every home game for an additional Red, White and Blue tune reminds me a bit of a scene from the movie Quiz Show, where Ralph Fiennes’ main character, Charles van Doren, is forced to apologize for a crime for which he has not even been publicly accused. Politicians wear American flag lapel pins and motorists fasten their cars with USA logos as if to say, “That’s right, I’m AMERICAN, not some damn terrorist!”

Of course, this is all a reality of the post-9/11 world in which we live, a hyper-reaction to some subtle form of neo-McCarthyism. But for baseball, this seems like a subversive attempt to regain its prestige after a decade of steroid controversy and misguided trust. And what better way to restore its image than to remind the paying customers that baseball is America’s pastime. Not terrorism’s pastime.

Last year I spent the Fourth of July on my couch watching a marathon of the John Adams HBO series days after having foot surgery. This weekend I plan on barbequing with some friends, throwing a football on the beach, enjoying more than one Budweiser and sincerely admiring the fireworks overhead that signify our nation’s independence from the God-forsaken Redcoats.

Is my patriotism diminished in any way because “God Bless America” puts a wet blanket on my seventh-innings stretch? I think not, and I hope that you can enjoy this weekend without feeling the need to prove your love of country by serving hot dogs on America flag paper plates and fruit punch in bald eagle plastic cups. --- Sumner Widdoes.

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Steeling The Title?

  • Monday, June 22, 2009 11:26 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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Pittsburgh is enjoying the designation of Title Town these days after the Steelers and the Penguins won it all. But Los Angeles can take it from the Steel City this fall, if the Dodgers follow the Lakers' lead.

If it happens, this would be the second time that Los Angeles will have unseated Pittsburgh as the most recent city with more than one championship in the same year.

The Pirates won the 1979 World Series, and that title was sandwiched by two Super Bowl wins for the Steelers. The next dual-champ city was L.A. in 1988. The Lakers beat the Celtics for the NBA title. The Dodgers beat the A's to win the World Series.

Since then, the most notable other instance was 2004 with Boston. The Red Sox won the World Series, and that historic victory was book-ended by the Patriots' two Super Bowl titles.

Some choose to acknowledge 2002 for the greater L.A. area with the Lakers and Angels, but we find that to be dubious. The Angels didn't add the Los Angeles to their name until 2003.

This is all a very long-winded way of saying we were happy to see the Dodgers take two of three in Anaheim over the weekend. It was even better to see Clayton Kershaw work seven scoreless innings. --- Murray The Cop.

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2009 Draft

  • Wednesday, June 10, 2009 12:25 PM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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The Dodgers’ first pick in the 2009 draft was Baylor junior Aaron Miller, a left-handed pitcher and right fielder who the Dodgers believe can become a solid pitching prospect once he turns his attention full time to the mound.

Assistant GM Logan White admitted his propensity to picking great overall athletes in the draft and compared Miller to first baseman James Loney “in reverse.” Loney was also a stellar fielding and pitching prospect.

"He hasn’t been able to focus on pitching all the time,” White told the LA Times on Tuesday, “and in our professional judgment we certainly think he’s got the best future to be a left-handed pitcher.” Once given the chance to concentrate exclusively on throwing, White believes Miller is "going to shoot to the top of the charts."

During his junior season at Baylor, Miller made six starts and 13 total appearances, going 3-3 with a 5.12 ERA, striking out 65 batters in 51 innings, according to the Waco Tribune. Miller ranked No. 100 in ESPN.com’s Keith Law’s Top 100 prospects, and according to Baseball Prospectus, throws a 91-94 mph fastball with a “nasty” 82-83 mph slider.

Miller was the first player that the Dodgers selected Tuesday but wasn't technically a first-round pick. The team lost its first-rounder in the off-season when it signed Orlando Hudson, a Type A free agent. But the Dodgers received a compensatory pick for losing Derek Lowe to the Braves as a free agent. That pick ended up being Miller at 36th overall.

In the second round at 56th overall, the Dodgers picked Blake Smith, an outfielder from Cal. Law ranked Smith at No. 79, and Baseball Prospectus considers his right field arm well above average, with powerful hitting potential from the left side of the plate. Smith also pitched in college and threw very well with Team USA last summer, but after an impressive workout at Dodger Stadium on Monday, the team will develop him as a corner outfielder.

The Dodgers’ third pick, 65th overall, was Garret Gould, a right-handed pitcher from Maize High School in Kansas. Gould was ranked No. 39 overall by Law. He possesses a 91-94 mph fastball and “one of the best curves among this draft’s high schoolers,” according to Baseball Prospectus. He likely would have gone in the first round if not for a commitment to play at Wichita State this fall. This means he will expect first-round money after dominating in high school, going 6-1 with a 0.78 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 45 innings, according to Ken Gurnick at MLB.com.

The Dodgers’ final pick of the first day was Brett Wallach, son of Triple-A manager Tim Wallach and brother of Dodgers’ prospect Matt. Brett, a right-handed pitcher from Orange Coast Junior College in California, has a high-80s fastball with a strong slurve and a devastating change-up, according to Baseball Prospectus. --- Sumner Widdoes.

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Sizing Up The Schedule

  • Wednesday, May 20, 2009 3:09 PM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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The Dodgers have won three consecutive series. Two were on the road. All have come against the NL East: Philadelphia, Florida and the Mets. Perhaps this will help muzzle some of the talk that the Dodgers' fast start has simply been a case of fattening up on the sad-sack NL West.

It will be interesting to see how the Dodgers fare once they start facing teams in the NL Central. At least on paper, the Central is the toughest division with four teams over .500. The Dodgers have faced just one Central club so far and dropped two of three in Houston last month.

But the schedule has an interesting twist. Between now and the All-Star break, the Dodgers have will more games against the AL West (15) than NL Central (seven). Four of those seven come at the end of this month against the Cubs in the first meeting between the teams since the playoffs. Given the circumstances, this will be as big as a series in May can be.

Not that we want to be looking too far ahead but it's smart to keep an eye on the big picture. --- Murray The Cop.

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Hanging Tough

  • Sunday, May 17, 2009 7:23 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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The train continues to roll despite some bumps in the track. Yes, I am writing this after a loss but I saw some interesting things from the Dodger Blue this week. They went 3-3, but I think the series win over the Phillies was more of a confidence booster than anything else. The rubber match of the current series with Florida is today and that is a big game. Well, it’s as big as any game before Memorial Day can be.

I have always believed that in baseball, you should not even analyze the standings until Memorial Day. The season is long and filled with so many ups and downs. But this Dodger team has done a good job of navigating through the media frenzy that has surrounded the team recently. More is still to come and it may even intensify with the new steroid allegations surrounding Manny. This week the team proved to themselves that they can hang with the best in the National League and the confidence should and will carry over onto the field and into interleague play. The three wins plus the Giants' struggles bumped their N.L. West lead back up to six games.

Watch for some balance in the lineup in the coming weeks as players begin to step in and step up. I don’t see this team crumbling in the face of adversity, I see them gelling and galvanizing together and becoming even more dangerous with more confidence. Then, when and if Manny comes back to the club we will be just that much better. --- Nick Barone.

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Some fine moments

  • Sunday, May 10, 2009 10:43 PM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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It looked like a day of highlights for the Dodgers, despite losing in 13 innings to the Giants. Casey Blake had a fine solo homer in the 12th to keep the Dodgers alive, though Los Angeles gave up two in the 13th. And newcomer Xavier Paul got his first Major League hit, a single up the middle in the eighth.

But you also have to note how the team celebrated Mother's Day -- it was very, pink. Juan Pierre was one of six players to use a pink bat as part of the league's fight against breast cancer. As we were watching the game, my friends said it wasn't exactly what they were expecting from MLB, but it was something to laugh about and appreciate nevertheless. --- Ben Brown.

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Enjoy The Roll

  • Tuesday, May 5, 2009 9:05 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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How to interpret the Dodgers’ perfect 11-0 home start. Are they the team to beat in the National League? Are the kids finally coming together the way so many of us thought they were, now that underperforming veterans like Luis Gonzalez, Jeff Kent and Juan Pierre have been pushed to the periphery?

Or are they beating up on the soft underbelly of the National League, feasting on San Diegos and Colorados, with sides of Arizona and San Francisco for dessert? Will they get a rude awakening once they start playing games out of the weak NL West?

In my opinion, it’s still too early to tell. The Dodgers have been getting good pitching performances from unlikely candidates like Eric Stults, Ramon Troncoso, and Ronald Belisario. They’ve yet to have a horrendous outing from Randy Wolf, a guy they assumed would be a serviceable No. 3 or No. 4 starter, but not the reliable pitcher he has been so far. They’ve compiled a record 11 games over .500 without their slotted No. 2 starter, Hiroki Kuroda, who has been on the DL since opening day.

It’s tempting to slot the Dodgers into the playoffs already given their fast start. But let’s hold the champagne for a moment. The last team to start the season 11-0 at home were the 2003 Kansas City Royals. I don’t need to do any research to recall whether the Royals made the playoffs that year.

This Dodger team has little in common with that Kansas City team other than and the color of their uniforms (I admit it that sometimes I see highlights from a Kansas City game and think they’re the Dodgers before doing a double-take). These Dodgers feature six regulars in their prime production years: Martin, Loney, Hudson, Furcal, Kemp, and Ethier, and a bonafide Hall of Famer in Manny Ramirez.

Still, they will go as far as their pitching takes them. Even if the Dodgers complete this current homestand 17-0, we won’t know what they’re made of until a swing through Philadelphia and Florida in mid-May. Then again, we won’t know what Philadelphia and Florida are made of until then either.

It’s not too early to enjoy the heady atmosphere at the Ravine, however. On Cinco de Mayo, the party will have started long before game time. --- John Rosenthal.

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Dodgers did it without Manny

  • Monday, May 4, 2009 4:55 PM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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A response to Sundays game: The Dodgers blasted the San Diego Padres 7-3, and they did it without slugger Manny Ramirez. Manny called Joe Torre before the game to say he had tightness in his hamstring. Torre said he noticed Manny moving a little slow in the outfield in earlier games, but wanted to wait to give him the day off, as Russell Martin, Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake all sat Sunday as well. But it didn't stop LA from walking over San Diego, who couldn't catch a break in the game. You know it's not going your way when you are down by two and have the bases loaded and two outs...and you strike out in three pitches. Just one of eight strikeouts by Chad Billingsley. So Dodger fans are reminded: the team can still do it without their newly acquired slugger. --- Ben Brown

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Very De-Pressing

  • Sunday, May 3, 2009 6:50 PM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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The latest bit of newspaper bloodletting hits home here with the Dodgers. The LA Daily News laid off Tony Jackson, its Dodgers beat writer, last week. Tony was the second Dodgers beat writer laid off in as many months. The first was Diamond Leung, who blogged a nice tribute to Tony.

The state of your newspaper's sports section, from somewhere on the inside. (Tom Hoffarth, LA Daily News)

Thank you, Tony. (Inside the Dodgers, LA Daily News)

Jackson had ability to decipher what the real stories were. (Walkoff Walk)

"News that you wouldn't get somewhere else" (Vin Scully Is My Homeboy)

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