Who Quit on Whom?

  • Monday, September 20, 2010 7:46 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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Call me a cynic, but Sunday’s comeback win over the Rockies doesn’t prove to me that the Dodgers aren’t quitters. It proves that baseball is a funny game where the better team doesn’t always win.

As for these Dodgers, it’s not so much the players who quit as the management team around them. Over the 2009-10 winter, the front office quit on the team by failing to sign players to replace the departing Orlando Hudson and Randy Wolf, both of whom left without even a draft pick in return. Hudson was the offensive sparkplug for the 2009 team, hitting for the cycle in his Dodger Stadium opener. He hit a surprising .283 and OPSed .774, better even than the $10 million man Rafael Furcal at short. Wolf led the team in starts and innings pitched, but the Dodgers thought it was a career year and let him go.

Jon Garland put up serviceable numbers in his short career with the Dodgers, but they let him go as well.

As the trading deadline loomed, management again quit on the Dodgers, failing to acquire the kind of players who would make the team better. Off went Cliff Lee. For the third time in two years, no less. Off went Roy Oswalt. Ted Lilly came west, but only at the price of weak-hitting Ryan theriot. Octavio Dotel was another drain on the farm system that didn’t seem to indicate any immediate upside.

By the time the non-waiver deadline approached, the Dodgers were barely in contention, but kept trying to have it both ways. They wanted to unload Manny Ramirez and his hefty contract. But instead of simply dealing him, they waited until the last minute to see if the team would magically re-enter the pennant race. Still, they refused to play Manny for fear that he might get hurt and ruin the deal worked out with the White Sox.

Finally, Joe Torre quit on the team, announcing last week that he would not return in 2011. He also revealed that he had made his successor, Don Mattingly, a contractual part of his deal with the team when Torre signed in 2008. There never was, and never would be any discussion about who would follow Torre, because it was even more in writing than the name of the McCourt who owned the team.

Torre clearly had to know his mind before September 15. The timing of his announcement, however, followed the remarks by former Dodger owner Peter O’Malley, who said the McCourts had disgraced the proud Dodger franchise. You know, the one the O’Malleys sold to those fine citizens, the Fox broadcasting company. Still, the PR hit left a mark, one that could only be erased by a new news cycle in which Grandpa Torre passes on the family farm to Little Don.

Does the Jackie Robinson signing automatically exempt the Dodgers from having to do anything on behalf of minorities ever again? The team had to scramble to find an African-American player to introduce Rachel Robinson in 2006 and 2007. The 25-man roster in 2010 has had no more than four black players at a time: Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Russell Martin, with Kenley Jansen, replacing Garret Anderson when the latter proved no better a hitter than the former.

The 2010 Dodger season was over before it even began. There were flashes of above-average play, but nothing inspired other than an early season stretch where the team averaged six runs a game. Their fielding was sloppy, the pitching was uneven, and players could not stay off the disabled list. They looked like an older, duller version of the 2009 team that started out so strong and merely hung on to win the division.

The 2011 team looks to be just as awful. There will be no budget for free agent signings, and no farm system to raid for dividends that pay sooner. Mattingly may wish he had taken the opportunity to learn in the minor leagues under Tim Wallach while the team struggles through the horrible McCourt divorce. It’s going to be a long run and the temptation to quit will be just as great.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

Dunn-Over?

  • Friday, June 18, 2010 4:53 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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I'll make this argument only because it's the same one I made before the Dodgers were thinking about re-signing Manny Ramirez after the 2008 season. They could have had Adam Dunn for half the price and spent the difference ($12.5 million per year) on pitching. Dunn's offensive numbers since the beginning of the 2009 season have been better than Manny's (.941 OPS compared to .934) and he has played in 73 more games than Manny has, meaning that there were fewer starts by players with much lower OPS like Reed Johnson or Juan Pierre.

It’s fair to say that Dodger pitching was pretty good in 2009, notwithstanding the team’s failure to sign anyone other than Randy Wolf. Even with Dunn instead of Manny, they probably didn’t have the scratch to match the Yankees’ offer to CC Sabathia. But $12.5 million would have bought Ryan Dempster. Or paired with the $5 million the Dodgers spent on Wolf, they could have landed A.J. Burnett.

Would any of this have made a difference in 2009, when the Dodgers easily won their division and made the NLCS for the second straight year? Who can say. Neither Ryan Dempster nor Adam Dunn was going to make Jonathan Broxton any less afraid to pitch to Matt Stairs. In all likelihood, a Dunn-Dempster trade for Manny would have yielded the exact same results.

Speaking of Johnson, the L.A. Times reported that he refused to shave his unfortunate Fu Manchu because of baseball superstition: The team was winning. Thursday's loss should be occasion for him to doff it. While he’s got the razors out, Russell Martin needs to get rid of that horrendous pornstache he’s been sporting lately. It’s the ghost of Jeff Kent.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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Dodgers Post Mortem: Part One

  • Thursday, October 22, 2009 2:57 PM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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It’s not as if the final result of the Dodgers’ 2009 season wasn’t predictable. For as much as Dodger fans hoped this team could win it all, the truth was there from the start. The same team that lost in five games to the Phils in 2008 never got any better in 2009.

Sure, the record was better. The 2009 version won 11 more games than the previous year. But the finish was the same, and the first-round playoff result was the same: A 3-0 sweep over the highly favored Central Division champs (Chicago in 2008, St. Louis in 2009). When we look back on 2008, however, we see a team that peaked in late August and continued an unlikely run through the NLDS before falling back to earth.

When we look back on 2009, we will see a team that peaked in late April, played .500 the rest of the way, and stole three from the Cardinals before reverting to the putrid form that defined them in the last month of the season, when they couldn’t beat the Nationals, Padres or Pirates to clinch the division. That team was the one that showed up against the Phils.

When the 2008 season ended, the decisions to let go of Derek Lowe, Takashi Saito, Chan Ho Park, Joe Beimel and Brad Penny meant the team was going to have to find a way to get another 500 innings of sub 4.00 pitching. Yet one free agent pitcher after the next signed — elsewhere. The Dodgers began the season without an ace, convinced that Chad Billingsley was ready to shoulder that responsibility even though he had been terrible in two starts against Philadelphia and broke his leg in the offseason. Hmm.

The lack of a No. 1 starter plagued this team all year. The Opening Day starter, Hiroki Kuroda, made three trips to the disabled list. Billingsley faltered so hard down the stretch that Joe Torre didn’t even name him a starter in either playoff series. Randy Wolf became the de facto No. 1 based on a strong September, then failed to get through five innings in his Game 1 start in the NLDS. Clayton Kershaw fared even worse in Game 1 of the NLCS.

Even as the season went along, they refused to bid on Pedro Martinez, a free agent. Failed to land Roy Halladay. Failed to trade for Cliff Lee. As they go into 2010, Billingsley has to be considered a question mark, and the Dodgers are fools if they want to slap the No. 1 tag on Kershaw as early in his career as they did with Bills. Now, as then, they have no No. 1. No guy who goes deep into ballgames and saves the bullpen. No guy who stops losing streaks every five days.

Bullpens are great, but for them to work, everybody has to be on his game. They’re only as strong as the weakest link. If Troncoso or Sherrill or Kuo is off his game, it can ruin a great night by everyone who preceded him. Or it can turn a game one out away from evening the NLCS into another Broxton nightmare.

--- JOHN ROSENTHAL

Questions Linger From Dodgers' Loss In Game One

  • Friday, October 16, 2009 3:35 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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I can understand the home runs that caused the Dodgers to lose Game 1 of the NLCS to the Phillies. Carlos Ruiz has been a thorn in their side for two seasons now, and Thursday night was no exception. Raul Ibañez is a good hitter and George Sherrill was desperate to throw a strike in that situation. The Phillies hit in clutch situations and the Dodgers did not. End of story.

Some questions linger, however. For one, how does Joe Torre let Clayton Kershaw pitch to Ryan Howard in the fifth inning? The lefty had already given up the three-run bomb to Ruiz and had that look he always has when he starts to falter. I know Torre wanted to rebuild the youngster’s confidence after he got Jimmy Rollins to ground out and Shane Victorino to strike out. But after his third wild pitch of the inning, what the @#$^# are you waiting for? After he walks Chase Utley, what are you waiting for?

The pitcher’s spot was due up second in the bottom half of the inning. So burn Scott Elbert. What’s the big deal? Instead, Howard doubled home two more runs, which proved to be the decisive runs in the game.

Another question: How do you not have your Jim Thome runner pre-selected at the beginning of the game? It’s not like it’s a surprise that Thome can’t run the bases. Thome looked like the fat guy in my softball league who doesn’t even want to walk all the way to first base before taking a runner. Frankly, I’m surprised teams don’t just let him hit it and throw him out from the outfield on a single. So what were the Dodgers doing while he was working out a walk? Being surprised that he didn’t hit a homer? Realizing they shouldn’t have pitched to Howard? Telling Randy Wolf to get ready to run? No, they were caught flat-footed while Wolf had to go change his shoes. It didn’t matter to the outcome, but it showed the Dodgers’ lack of preparation.

Finally, how does TBS get away with interjecting a Game Break when there are no other games being played? The new LCS playoff format practically forbids gamesfrom being played on the same day. The only times there will assuredly be an NLCS and ALCS game on the same day are Friday and Sunday.

Nice snood, Manny.

--- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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Breaking Down The NLCS

  • Thursday, October 15, 2009 7:40 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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Joe Torre made an unexpected move by naming Clayton Kershaw his Game 1 starter. But if you factor in a desire to have Vicente Padilla start at home, the choice isn’t that surprising after all. Given the choice of moving one of his lefties to the road, Torre opted for the more seasoned Wolf, who spent the first eight years of his career in the city of brotherly love and is almost assuredly itching to show the Philly faithful what he has left in the tank.

The rest of the roster filled out almost in lockstep, with the same 11 pitchers as in the NLDS except for Kuroda replacing Garland. The hitters include the usual starting eight, plus Belliard (or Hudson if you consider Belliard the new starting 2B), Castro, Ausmus, Pierre, Loretta and Thome. Sorry Jon, but you didn’t see any action in the NLDS, and you definitely won’t in this series. Then again, neither did Chad Billingsley, who started the season as the Dodgers’ ace. Baseball is a funny game.

With the Phillies’ abundance of left-handed pitching, it would have been nice to add a right-handed bat to the bench, especially one that could play the outfield as a defensive replacement for Manny Ramirez in the late innings. Problem is the Dodgers don’t have a player like that in their system. Xavier Paul is probably their best outfielder not in the starting lineup, but he too is a lefty. The only right-handed bat in the system is Jason Repko, known more for his glove. And after Mark Loretta’s heroics against St. Louis, there’s no way the Dodgers were going to bump him from the roster.

With Jim Thome taking up two roster spots (one for himself and one for somebody to run for him should he reach base), the Dodgers’ bench is going to be short again. After Thome and Pierre pinch-hit, there isn’t much pop on the pine. Unlike the pitching staff, where the strength is in the late innings, the Dodgers' offensive attack is going to have to come from the front lines.

--- JOHN ROSENTHAL

Long Night Ends With Dodger Win

  • Thursday, October 8, 2009 8:08 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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First, let me say it was a big Dodger win Wednesday night against the Cardinals. And it was a team effort. Joe “I never met a pitching change I didn’t like” Torre used six pitchers to capture a 5-3 victory. The Dodgers came out swinging at Chris Carpenter, a guy who had mastered them in all of his previous starts. After Randy Wolf loaded the bases and allowed a run to score on a bloop before his infield bailed him out with a sweet double play, Rafael Furcal and Matt Kemp gave the team a lead they’d hold all night. Kemp’s homer was classic Kemp, hard and deep to center field.

Now for the griping.

The game was interminable. Three hours and 54 minutes, and it felt longer. Maybe it was the half-hour of waiting to get from Sunset into the parking lot. Or the hour I spent in the parking lot after the game creeping up to the exit. All in all, I left my house at 5 p.m. and didn’t get home until midnight.

Then there was the extra minute of commercials that TBS requires for national television every inning. At the stadium, you could feel the boredom of the crowd and the players as they waited for the broadcast to return so they could start the game again. Second, there were the 12 pitchers used by Torre and Tony LaRussa, the Fischer and Spassky of baseball. Those guys must get frequent flyer miles for their trips to the mound. Sure, some of the moves were dictated by the situation, but LaRussa couldn’t resist a three-pitcher sixth inning.

And there were the baserunners: 23 hits, 13 walks, four hit batsmen adds up to 40 men on base. That’s in contrast to 51 outs recorded (the Dodgers didn’t bat in the ninth). There was only a single 1-2-3 inning, Ronald Belisario’s perfect sixth. The Cardinals left 14 men on base, the Dodgers left 16.

It felt like offense was being squeezed out of a clogged toothpaste tube, a drib here, a drab there. The only crooked number on the board came in the first inning off Kemp’s homer. The rest of the night it was fence posts and knot holes. The box score reads like Kilroy was there.

Ronnie Belliard was almost the goat. He ranged far out into the outfield on Ryan Ludwick’s bloop, distracting Matt Kemp from catching it. He then looked or swung at six straight strikes to kill rallies in the first and third innings. But he turned that game-saving twin killing, and, curiously, walked twice on eight straight balls late in the game. I still don’t understand what Orlando Hudson did to play himself out of a job. The guy brought nothing but energy and outstanding defense to a position where it was sorely needed. He also hit for a higher average and on-base percentage than Belliard. Hudson came into the game as a pinch-runner in the eighth.

Finally, there was an odd moment I have to consider a coincidence. As soon as Manny Ramirez grounded into a double play to end the seventh inning, the Dodger Stadium scoreboard played the Partnership for a Drug Free America’s public service announcement warning kids that steroids don’t produce great athletes. A message to Manny? I don’t think so. But it was delightful irony.

--- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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Dodgers Get Defensive To Clinch Spot

  • Sunday, September 27, 2009 5:21 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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I can’t recall a game with so many defensive gems, from slick double plays on both sides of the ball to Andrew McCutchen running down deep flies to the capper: Randy Wolf’s no-look throw on Lastings Milledge’s swinging bunt and Mark Loretta’s “done it like I play here all the time” scoop of said throw at first base.

Too bad the Dodgers couldn’t get their act together with the bats until Wolf, their sudden star, left the game. The Dodgers led 3-1 when Wolf gave way to Hong-Chih Kuo in the seventh, only to see Kuo and George Sherrill throw gasoline on the fire. By the time the smoke cleared, the Pirates had come back to take a 4-3 lead.

The Dodgers, who ended up rallying for the 8-4, could only blame themselves for failing to score more earlier. They led off the game with three straight sharp hits but managed only one run. Rafael Furcal got thrown out stretching a single -- his speed has completely evaporated, don’t you think -- and Manny Ramirez was stranded at second when Matt Kemp’s fly ball landed in McCutchen’s glove and Ronnie Belliard flied out.

Does Russell Martin feel dissed after Joe Torre pinch-hit for him in the top of the eighth? Maybe, but you could feel Torre’s urgency to win the game right there and then, and he clearly wasn’t going to worry about bruised feelings. A loss would have started a whole lot of harder questions than “what’s wrong with Russell Martin.” Martin has been pretty consistent at .254. The Dodgers have shown they can win with those kinds of contributions from their backstop.

In fact, with last night’s win, they’ve guaranteed themselves a playoff spot. With another win today, they’ll clinch the division. Not bad for a bunch of guys who have trouble beating the Pirates.

--- JOHN ROSENTHAL.

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Just Slightly Ahead of The Schedule

  • Sunday, September 20, 2009 11:32 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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So this was the game I was predicting last week.

The game where The Dodgers finally had their revenge on Brad Penny, the man who disappointed them so many times down the stretch of a season. The game where the Dodgers exploded for 12 runs. The game where the Dodgers once and for all buried the Giants’ playoff hopes.

After the Giants’ loss and the Rockies’ victory over Arizona, San Francisco is now 3.5 games out of the wild card chase with just 14 left to play. They’re not mathematically eliminated yet, but a game where all the starters are gone by the seventh inning can’t help their chances.

The Giants are looking for ways to maximize ace Tim Lincecum’s starts the rest of the year while the Dodgers are looking to set up their rotation in preparation for the playoffs.

Jon Garland cemented his chances to pitch in the postseason with an eight-inning perfmance. The Dodgers get a look at Randy Wolf in playoff-game type situation Sunday as he squares off against Lincecum. It’s a good day to be a Dodger fan. --- John Rosenthal.

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Letdown Back at Home

  • Saturday, August 29, 2009 3:54 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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You have to get the feeling that the Dodgers semi-clinched a playoff spot, if not the NL West, by taking two out of three on the road in Colorado against baseball’s hottest team. Sure, the Rockies didn’t throw their best pitchers in the series, but neither did the Dodgers.

Or did they? Randy Wolf continued his second-half brilliance, while Clayton Kershaw was the good cop version of himself, rather than the guy who walks too many and leaves early. And Vicente Padilla did a great Eric Milton imitation, climbing up off the scrap heap to win a pitcher’s duel.

Chad Billingsley, the Dodger’s purported ace, meanwhile, continued to struggle Friday against the Cincinnati Reds. So did the offense, which couldn’t mount a single run against Homer Bailey (they scored twice in the ninth off the Cincinnati bullpen). And yet with two outs in the ninth, they somehow loaded the bases -- can you believe it: Mark Loretta AND Rafael Furcal both got hits and Matt Kemp actually walked! -- to bring Andre Ethier to the plate. Oh, the tension!

The Dodgers’ most clutch hitter all year, Ethier struck out, but reached first on a wild pitch. That brought in the second run and brought up Manny Ramirez, who would do him one better. He struck out looking to end the game.

Chalk this one up to the inevitable letdown after blowing away your nearest competitor. --- John Rosenthal.

Done With The Cubs, Let's Rock

  • Monday, August 24, 2009 5:27 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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Just when I thought that all the Dodgers had to do was throw their gloves out on the field to beat the Cubs, Chicago came to life and salvaged the final game of the four-game series, avoiding a sweep for the first time since 1965.

Prior to Sunday’s victory, the Cubs were in freefall mode, losing 12 of their past 16, despite playing five games against San Diego and Pittsburgh (to be fair, they’ve also faced Colorado, Philadelphia and the Dodgers in that span). They definitely don’t look like a playoff team at the moment, even though they were tied for first place in the NL Central as recently as August 5. As of Monday, they’re eight games out.

The Dodgers looked like a playoff team against the Cubs, though not a dominant one. Chad Billingsley scattered nine hits over six mostly good innings, though he retired the side in order just twice. He’s looking better than he has in previous losses, but not like a Game 1 starter yet.

The Dodgers take their temperature beginning Tuesday in Colorado for a three-game series. We’ll see Clayton Kershaw, Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla take on the back of Colorado’s order, so two out of three isn’t too high an expectation. Why no Charlie Haeger? It must be the thin air, which can’t be good for a knuckleballer. I suspect he’ll get the start Friday in Cincinnati.

Ah, Vicente Padilla! I’m not sure why the Dodgers thought he would be a good addition, since he’s regarded as a clubhouse cancer. But Joe Torre always thinks he can tame douchebags -- he persuaded Yankee management that he could handle Albert Belle -- and so the Dodgers will give him a look-see as long as Hiroki Kuroda is on the disabled list. If he pitches well, that’s great. If not, they’re out only $100,000. --- John Rosenthal.

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Dodgers CAN Beat Cubs

  • Saturday, August 22, 2009 7:27 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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Just as it seems the Cardinals have the Dodgers’ number, the Dodgers can do no wrong against the Cubs. Thursday night it was Russell Martin hitting just his fourth homer of the year. (What is it about unlikely heroes hitting grand salamis against the Cubs? Last year, it was James Loney effectively puncturing the Cubbies chances in the playoffs.)

Friday night was a pitcher’s duel, with Randy Wolf not only throwing seven standout innings, but also driving in both runs with a double in the second inning. He held the Cubs to a hit and two walks, and the bullpen was spotless. The “two closers for the price of one” tandem of George Sherrill and Jonathan Broxton gave up nothing more than a walk to Alfonso Soriano in two innings of work.

Wolf’s performance causes me to look at some of the big name free agent signings of 2009, and at this point, it’s not crazy to say that Wolf was the steal of the year. His 8-6 win-loss record belies the fact that he has outperformed not only Brad Penny and Derek Lowe, two pitchers the Dodgers might have re-signed, but also CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the two big-money prizes of the off-season. And at $5 million, he’s a bargain at twice the price (or even at Juan Pierre rates).

I’m the first to admit that I thought the Wolf signing was Ned Colletti being too cheap to sign a more expensive player. So I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong, dead wrong, on Wolf. He still gives up too many homers, but he’s averaging 6.3 innings per start, making it rather shocking how few decisions he has. He has been the Dodgers’ most consistent pitcher all year, and says he feels like he’s only getting stronger.

The last time Wolf failed to go six innings or more was June 24, in Chicago against the Cubs’ cross-town rivals. The White Sox lit him up with three homers in three-plus innings. Aside from that game, he went 5.0 against Texas in a 3-1 win June 13, 5.1 against the Padres in a 2-1 game and 5.1 in San Diego the first week of the season.

Wolf pitched the night after Hiroki Kuroda got hit in the head and was a triple short of the cycle at the plate. He has responded like a man who knows how to put a team on his shoulders. I know it’s still August and it’s still the Cubs, but his hunger to play in October (he’s never played in the postseason) makes him my choice to start one of the first two games. --- John Rosenthal.

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Feeling Better

  • Monday, August 17, 2009 6:14 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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You could almost see the Dodgers breathe a sigh of relief Sunday as they got the news that Hiroki Kuroda was feeling fine and would be discharged from a Phoenix hospital in time to return home with the team. The first three hitters in the lineup exploded with hard hits off Arizona starter Yusmeiro Petit, notching three runs on Andre Ethier’s homer before the seats were warm at Chase Field.

That was all Randy Wolf needed. He too pitched with a sense of purpose, as if he could shoulder any load Kuroda was unable to carry. The king of the no-decision pitched into the eighth inning before finally giving up his second hit and his first run. He also pitched in with the bat, delivering a single, double and home run in his own cause.

The Dodgers fired on all cylinders Sunday. Which is what they should do against a Diamondbacks team that is out of the race and playing a bunch of kids and Australian career minor leaguers like Trent Oltjean.

Kuroda’s health is a positive sign for the Dodgers, though he almost assuredly will miss at least one start. More puzzling is what the hell is wrong with Jonathan Broxton. He swears it’s not his big toe that’s causing him to stink up the joint off late. So what is it that’s causing him to bleed runs? Joe Torre says it’s his location and the hole dug on the mound by previous pitchers. Seriously?

On the positive side, Torre finally batted Matt Kemp in the top third of the order. All Kemp did was lead off the game with a double to deepest center field that would have been a home run in any other park and go 2 for 5. Sure, Kemp still strikes out too much (106 and counting), but his on-base percentage is 40 points higher than Rafael Furcal, the supposed prototypical leadoff guy. Among the regular players, only Manny Ramirez has a higher OBP.

As long as we’re looking at Fookie’s leadoff qualifications, he’s been hitting .260 for over a month. Furcal has all of six steals this year, and has been caught five times, a thoroughly awful ratio. Even James Loney is more successful than that (six SB, two CS). Kemp, meanwhile, has stolen 25 bases and been caught only five times. He’s clearly a better leadoff hitter than Furcal because he doesn’t have to be bunted over to second. He can steal second and either be bunted to third or score on an Orlando Hudson or Andre Ethier single. Joe, make the switch now. --- John Rosenthal.

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