Archive: July 19th, 2007

10 Questions for the Los Angeles Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers baseball logoThe Mets will be facing a very different Dodger team than the one they faced in June, so we’re counting on our “Dodger Insider” Aaron Jay Sapiro of Rockin’ the Ravine to provide us with the details on the first-place Dodgers.

1.The Dodgers are holding on to first place, but the pitching staff has been decimated by injuries. The latest to go down is Randy Wolf. When will Wolf be back, and who has stepped up to pick up the slack?

Well, They told us that Wolfe was supposed to be back today. Actually, he is eligible to come off the DL today. Unfortunately he has done nothing but play a light catch and he’s far from game time ready. He’s probably going to spend one more set on the DL, then make a rehab start, then finally be back with the team. Who has stepped up? Well, Brad Penny and Derek Lowe are pitching like they’re two of the best pitchers in baseball right now. Chad Billingsley is getting
it done, he’s still undefeated, but he stepped into the role when Jason Schmidt went down. Right now we’re starting Mark Hendrickson and Brett Tomko because Hong-Chih “The Met Killer” Kuo is on the DL too. Hendrickson got shelled the other day, and Tomko is Tomko, we could probably use some pitching help.

2. Are the Dodgers going to make an impact deal at the deadline, and if so, for
what? And who is the bait?

I don’t really see us making a monster deal, but I do see some sort of deal happening soon, probably for some sort of a pitcher. Initially, we all thought we needed a power bat, but after the DL Debacle that is our pitching staff, that’s where we’re going to need the most help. Hendrickson and Tomko aren’t exactly you’re ideal starters, and aren’t getting themselves too far into games, because of that, our bullpen is getting used and abused pretty bad as well. Whether the help comes in the form of a starter or a reliever, I see us making some sort of a deal. As far as bait goes, our farm system is as deep as any team’s, and a lot of players are getting close to MLB ready. Delwyn Young is ripping Triple A pitching to shreds, but there really is no spot for him with the Big Club, Andy LaRoche could still be moved. Scott Elbert, probably our top pitching prospect, is looking a little bit more expendable (if necessary), with the
emergence of Clayton Kershaw. Also, Tony Abreu, Hong-Chih Kuo, D.J. Houlton, and Eric Hull, who have all seen time in the majors this year could be high on other team’s lists.

3. Russell Martin has played in 90 games this year — starting 86 — and he’s stolen 17 bases. Is there concern that he’s going to be out of gas come mid-September, and why isn’t Mike Lieberthal playing more often to spell him?

Mike Lieberthal isn’t playing because Russell refuses to sit. I have never in my life seen a player play with as much tenacity and love for the game as Russell Martin does. Paul LoDuca used to be like this when he was a Dodger, he cried when the Dodgers traded him, then got way too hot headed, and now he’s kind of a punk. Russell Martin won’t slow down this year, maybe it will take a toll on him later in his career, but the dude just refuses to sit.

4. How is Nomar doing at third base? With Andy LaRoche tearing up AAA, could Nomar be moving again?

Ehh, LaRoche is hitting .300 in Triple A, he’s shown decent power, and he was given his chance in the Big Leagues already. I could see him getting a call up when September 1st and the 40-Man hit, but that’s about it. Nomar has been basically platooning with Betemit over at third, I don’t really see that changing.

5. We know we’ll see Broxton in the 8th and Saito in the 9th. But, with all the juggling with the pitching staff, who will we see in the seventh?

Hopefully our starting pitcher if we’re lucky. But right now, it’s Joe Beimel. Before our bullpen completely went to hell, Beimel was supposed to be the “situational lefty.” As pitcher after pitcher went down, Beimel has emerged as our third best reliever. If the starter can’t go more than 6, I’d expect to see Beimel. But who knows, we just signed and called up 42-year old Roberto Hernandez from the Indians, he’s got 326 career saves, good for 11th all-time, we’ll see how that goes.

6. Getting James Loney and Matt Kemp into the lineup seems to have been a boon for the offense. It also seems to have sparked Juan Pierre. Does Pierre smell the possibility of losing his starting job, and would the Dodgers bench him?

Having these guys in the lineup has been great. If anything, I think Matt Kemp’s presence has lit a fire under Andre Ethier, who is hitting .469 in the month of July. All four outfielders that we have are going to play every single game. Juan Pierre is our centerfielder, he isn’t going anywhere. He’s been stellar this past month as well, and is in the middle of an 11-game hitting streak. Sometimes he doesn’t play as well as we all hope, but he works his butt off, and he won’t get benched.

7. With Loney in the lineup and Nomar at third, Wilson Betemit’s playing time has dwindled. Does he have a future in LA, or is he trade bait?

Wilson Betemit, who started this month with a batting average under the Mendoza Line, has been the story of the month for us so far. He’s hitting .471 in July to go with a SLG of 1.000. At this point he’s getting two to three starts a week and he’s pinch-hitting nearly every game he doesn’t start. He’s a switch-hitting young slugger, making less than half a million per year, and he can play every position in the infield. I don’t ever see him being a star for us, but management likes having him around.

8. We know Chad Billingsley is a great talent. However, he had to make a quick switch from the bullpen to the rotation. How was this transition managed and how is his endurance? Is he on a pitch count?

Billingsley has been nothing but great for us. He is such a tremendous talent that it’s upsetting when he doesn’t fully get the job done. He’s been asked to fill nearly every role for us this year except closer. That’s what people don’t realize is the mental capacity that this kid must have to be able to just turn on the starter’s switch out of nowhere. He threw 113 pitches yesterday, which was a career high. I don’t think Grady will let him do that again, but we’re trying to save an already exhausted bullpen. Billingsley is a superstar in the making, he just needs to get out of his own head and start consistently throwing strikes.

9. If the Dodgers don’t make a deal, is there anyone left on the farm — besides LaRoche — who can come up and make an impact down the stretch?

Well, seeing the way that our pitching staff is depleted right now, there are guys that should be on the farm contributing right now. D.J. Houlton and Eric Stults (whom you should remember) are coming out of the bullpen right now, and we’re playing a whole lot of young guys every day. When the roster gets expanded, it will be a whole different story, but until then, I don’t really see anything other than a Tony Abreu recall making that big of a difference.

10. The Mets just added Marlon Anderson to their roster. What was his role with the Dodgers, and do you think he can help the Mets?

Of course the Mets picked up Marlon Anderson, sometimes I don’t understand how they have so many roster spots, I honestly feel like they pick up all the Dodgers scraps all the time and make success stories out of them, but how’s that Aaron Sele treating you? Anyway, Marlon was awesome last year, Vin called him Merlon because he was pure magic for us down the playoff stretch. He took the Left Field job right out of Andre Ethier’s hands, and was probably the best
hitter we had while trying to make the playoffs. This year, he was nothing but a left-handed bat that we couldn’t find many AB’s for. He’s a solid player, and he really loves the game of baseball and winning, he’ll be enjoyable to watch. If he succeeds, well, that’s another story.

Thanks again to Aaron, and be sure to visit his Los Angeles Dodgers blog, Rockin’ the Ravine.


Series Preview: Mets vs. Dodgers Redux

Los Angeles Dodgers baseball logoTough week for the Mets, having to face the two best teams in the National League back to back. However, they’re finally showing some “Mettle”, and based on the comments from the players themselves, understand that they need to play their best to beat the Dodgers. That’s good, because the Mets did not play their best for about two and a half months of the season. Willie Randolph has turned off cruise control, and will be putting the pedal to the metal from this point forward.

Game One: Tom Glavine vs. Derek Lowe

Glavine goes for career win #299 in a pitcher’s park that is suited to his style. Strangely, his career ERA in Dodger Stadium is 4.09, with opponents hitting .294 against him. History shouldn’t make a difference, however, as Glavine has been in a groove lately and should continue his vintage pitching in Los Angeles.

Despite his 8-8 record, Derek Lowe is having an excellent year, sporting a 3.05 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. He’s been pitching in tough luck this season — for example, he pitched a complete game and gave up only one run and four hits against the Blue Jays but lost 1-0. Though unspectacular, Lowe has been a consistent and effective innings-eater — he’s pitched less than six innings only twice since April 24th. He relies on a hard sinker and getting ahead of hitters, pitching to contact. He won his only regular-season start against the Mets, in 2006, but did walk four batters in six innings. That’s really the only way to get to him — to combine a few walks with ground balls that find holes — as he’s allowed only eight homeruns in 133 innings so far this year. However, he doesn’t walk too many batters, so it will take extreme discipline and small-ball execution to push runs home

Game Two: Oliver Perez vs. Brett Tomko

The Mets are getting a gimme here, and had better take advantage. Perez is coming off a fairly good start against Cincinnati, but looked a little rusty — which was to be expected, in his first game off the DL and first since June 26th. I’d like to see him with more consistent mechanics in this start, which should lead to better command at the bottom half of the strike zone.

Brett Tomko has had a rough year for the Dodgers, going 2-7 with an ERA near six. Normally, I’d be concerned, as the Mets have been making mediocre pitchers look great this year. However, I think they really turned a corner in the San Diego series, and feel good about them teeing off on Tomko. He’s been pitching in relief for most of the season, and only pressed into starting duty because of injuries to Hong Chih-Kuo, Randy Wolf, and Jason Schmidt. He pitched well in his last start, a win against the Giants, but only went 5 innings and threw 77 pitches because he doesn’t yet have the endurance to go further. Tomko is a guy with potentially good stuff — very similar, in fact to Lowe’s: hard sinker, good fastball, average changeup. However, he can easily lose his command, and is lacking in mental toughness. That said, it makes sense to wait him out, because if he loses the strike zone he’ll also lose his competitive edge. The Mets MUST play their newfound game of patience and deep counts, force him to throw strikes, and get him out of the game by the fifth — or sooner.

Game Three: Jorge Sosa vs. Brad Penny

Sosa pitched well enough to win in his outing against the Padres — his first since June 30th. However, he was pasted by the Dodgers on June 13, giving up eight hits and six runs in five and two-thirds innings. Strangely, he gave up 13 ground balls and only 4 flyballs in that game, when he’s usually more of a fly ball pitcher. That game also preceded a similarly poor performance against Minnesota six days later, so perhaps Sosa was simply in a funk at the time. He’ll need to be at his best facing Penny.

Brad Penny has been the most dominating starter in the NL thus far — more dominating than NL All-Star starter Jake Peavy, even — going 11-1 with a 2.33 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and allowing only three homeruns in 124 innings. He allowed only one run in seven innings against the Mets in his last start, though he did give up seven hits. Despite his dominance, he still is a head case, and could lose his focus at the drop of a hat. The Mets will need to find a way to get him out of his game, mentally, in order to beat him. He did have a meltdown as recently as July 5th, against the Braves, giving up 4 walks, 9 hits, and 6 runs in 4 innings. Another thing to note: last year, Penny was having a similarly strong season, posting a 2.92 ERA and 10-2 record at the All-Star break. After the break, however, he went 6-7 with a 6.25 ERA. So far, he has a 5.73 ERA in July. Maybe his second-half breakdown is about to begin.

Game Four: Orlando Hernandez vs. Mark Hendrickson

El Duque could not have pitched a better game in his last start — he was absolutely stellar, shutting out the Padres on only two hits and two walks in seven innings. Hopefully, he won’t need to be that good to beat the Dodgers — but we won’t mind if he is.

Mark Hendrickson, like Tomko, has been pressed into the rotation because of injuries to other starters. He’s also having endurance problems, and was walloped by the Phillies in his last start to the tune of 11 hits and 7 runs in 3 innings — and this was in Los Angeles, not in Citizens Bank Park. This is another gimme that the Mets MUST take from the Dodgers.

Mets Bats

For a period in June, it took the Mets a week to collect 8 walks — but they reached that figure in one game against the best pitching team in MLB on Tuesday night. Willie Randolph will never admit it, but that feat might never had happened without the recent shakeup involving the departure of Rick Down. Maybe it wasn’t Down’s fault that the Mets were so inept, but they clearly got the message: it’s time to approach at-bats intelligently, with a plan.

However, the Mets still aren’t hitting the way they can. Carlos Beltran is starting to show signs of coming out of his slump, but nowhere near where he was a year ago. Similarly, Carlos Delgado is out of his slump — batting .375 in July — and has hit 8 homeruns in his last 160 at-bats, or once every 20 ABs. That would project to about 30 HRs in 600 ABs — about what you’d expect from him at this stage in his career. Jose Reyes, on the other hand, has cooled considerably, and needs to get back into the groove after going 0-for-9 in the last two games.

Jose Valentin has taken the patient hitting approach to heart, and is getting a number of deep counts. He swinging at some questionable 3-1 pitches, but at least he has the right idea. On the other hand, Shawn Green needs to start hitting — immediately — if he wants to maintain his role as a starting player. Marlon Anderson should be an enormous improvement over the recently departed Julio Franco in a pinch-hitting role, and we can only hope that Willie plays Ramon Castro at least once in this series.

Dodger Bats

The Dodgers made a significant change to their starting lineup, moving Nomar Garciaparra to third base and inserting James Loney as the regular first baseman. They’ve also added Matt Kemp to the outfield rotation. Kemp is batting .526 in his last seven games and Loney .363, so suffice to say, the change has been for the good. In addition, Juan Pierre suddenly remembered how to hit — he’s at .367 over the same span. Russell Martin is also on fire — batting .458 over the last week — and has 17 stolen bases. Rafael Furcal, Andre Ethier, Jeff Kent, and Nomar are all red-hot as well … heck, the entire Dodger lineup is hitting lately. As a result of the injuries to key starting pitchers, they’ve re-made their team from one depending on pitching to one that hits like hell and hopes the bullpen can keep the game close long enough to get Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito in to finish out a victory.

Bottom Line

This is a different Dodger team from the one the Mets faced in June, but due to the pitching injuries, may be more vulnerable. Though their hitting has been hot, the Mets’ starters have pitched very well, and good pitching usually beats good hitting. To come out of LA with at least a split, the Mets will have to continue what they started to build in San Diego — good, patient at-bats, focused play, and 100% effort from start to finish. This series will be a good barometer of how the Mets play out the remainder of the season.


Mets are Stalkers?

It’s been pointed out by The Trolley Dodger that the Mets have been stalking the Los Angeles Dodgers for some time now.

Taking a look at the Mets 40-man roster, you’ll see nine former Dodgers: Guillermo Mota, Aaron Sele, Sandy Alomar Jr., Paul LoDuca, Jose Valentin, Shawn Green, Pedro Martinez, Duaner Sanchez, and the recently added Marlon Anderson — who’d been released by the Dodgers a few weeks ago.

But it doesn’t end there. Willie Randolph played for the Dodgers, as did Rickey Henderson, and Guy Conti was previously on the coaching staff of the Dodgers.

And of course, there is the matter of the Brooklyn Cyclones playing in the Dodgers’ original hometown, and CitiField’s design based on Ebbets Field.