This Week in Dodger Baseball: 8/3-8/9

Results: 2-4 (Won 2 of 3 in Philadelphia, Got swept in Pittsburgh)

Star of the Week: 2B Howie Kendrick: .407 (11 for 27), 7 Runs, 4 RBI, 5 straight multi-hit games

Goat of the Week: RP Jim Johnson: 0-2, Blown Save with a 29.45 ERA allowing 12 runs, 11 hits, and 3 walks in just 3 2/3 innings

Weekly Recap: This past week started with a lot of excitement for the Dodgers as they were coming off a three-game home sweep of the Angels. Monday was an off day as they set off on a six game road trip.

First stop: Philadelphia.  This would be shortstop Jimmy Rollins first trip back to Philly since being traded to the Dodgers in the offseason.  There was a lot of anticipation for how the ground would react when Rollins came to the plate to lead off the 1st inning on Tuesday night.  Remember these are fans that once infamously booed Santa Claus.  However, there was no such treatment for Rollins.  He received a very long and loud ovation, well deserved for a man who spent 14+ years playing virtually everyday at shortstop, went to three All-Star games, won an MVP, four Gold Gloves and a World Series for the Phillies.  He left as the teams all-time leader in hits, doubles, and at-bats; 2nd in extra-base hits, games played, total bases, and steals; 3rd in runs scored and triples, 6th in walks, 8th in RBIs, and 9th in homeruns.  He would receive similar, albeit shorter, ovations at the start of games two and three, as well.  In the series, Rollins was 3 for 13, with 2 runs scored, 2 doubles, and 2 walks, reaching base in all three games.

Tuesday’s series opener also marked the Dodgers debut of starting pitcher Alex Wood.  Wood was acquired at the trade deadline in the three team deal that also brought the Dodgers pitcher Mat Latos, Jim Johnson, and Luis Avilan.  After being rather rudely greeted when Cesar Hernandez whacked his first pitch of the game to right field for a double, Wood pitched effectively for six innings allowing just one run on seven hits while striking out eight.  However, he would get a little wild in the seventh walking two and committing a balk before manager Don Mattingly pulled him with one out, the bases loaded and the game tied 1-1.  Unfortunately, it would turn out to be a fateful decision as Joel Peralta would give up a tie-breaking grand slam to Maikel Franco.  Disappointment from the bullpen would be a recurring theme throughout the week.

Wednesday brought a relatively routine 4-3 victory as Yasiel Puig gave the Dodgers an early 3-0 lead with a 3-run homer in the 1st inning.  Adrian Gonzalez would add an RBI groundout in the fifth to make it 4-1 and Brett Anderson would pitch six innings allowing one run, four hits, two walks and striking out five for his sixth win of the year.  The Phillies would make it close when Jeff Francoeur hit a two-run shot off Jim Johnson in the eighth, but Kenley Jensen would shut the door with a dominant ninth striking out the side on just 13 pitches for his 20th save of the season.

Thursday afternoon’s rubber game of the series was a wild and wacky affair despite Dodgers starter Zack Greinke entering the game with a 1.41 ERA.  The Dodgers got off to another quick start with another 3-run 1st inning getting an RBI double from Andre Ethier and a 2-run single from Carl Crawford.  It would be the first of three 3-run innings for the Dodgers on the day.  It seemed like it might be an easy day for the Dodgers with Greinke starting, but it was anything but a typical day for him.  It started with the first batter of the game.  Cesar Hernandez put down a bunt that Greinke, who won a Gold Glove last season, fielded but threw over Adrian Gonzalez head and down the right field line.  It was just the 7th error of Greinke’s 12-year career. Odubel Herrera followed with a single, Maikel Franco walked, Ryan Howard hit a 2-run single and Dominic Brown hit a 3-run homer and five batters into the game that 3-0 lead was now a 5-3 deficit.  But, Greinke would settle down after that and retired 18 of the last 22 batters he faced including 8 strikeouts.  Gonzalez 3-run homer in the top of the 2nd put the Dodgers back in from 6-5 and Greinke’s own homer in the 3rd made it 7-5.  Three more runs in the 6th made it 10-6 when Greinke was pulled for a pinch hitter in the 7th.  Don Mattingly might have been tempted to let Greinke hit for himself as he went 3 for 3 at the plate with the homer and scored three times.  As bad as his start was on the mound, his day at the plate might have made up for it.  Peralta would again give up two runs in the 9th inning, prompting Jansen to come in to get the last two outs for his 21st save and a wild 10-8 Dodgers victory.

Next stop: Pittsburgh.  Friday night was expected to be a much lower scoring affair as Clayton Kershaw and his 37 inning scoreless streak squared off with Pirates ace Gerrit Cole, who entered the with a league-leading 14 wins and a 2.29 ERA.  After Cole had an 8-pitch first inning, Gregor Polanco put a quick end to Kershaw’s scoreless streak hitting his first pitch over the right-center field wall for a homerun.  What followed was two pitchers battling through six innings, fighting their own control issues as well as an inconsistent strike zone from home plate umpire Mark Carlson in what was a seesaw affair.  The Dodgers would get a two-run single from Howie Kendrick in the 3rd to give them a 2-1 lead but, Chris Stewart’s bases loaded walk would tie it in the 4th.  The Dodgers would immediately untie it on Rollins RBI single in the 5th.  The Pirates came right back with an Andrew McCutchen RBI double and Aramis Ramirez RBI single in the bottom of the inning for a 4-3 Pittsburgh lead.  Kershaw and Cole each went six innings with Kershaw allowing four runs on nine hits, walking two and striking five.  Cole for his part allowed three runs and four hits, walked three while also striking out five.  The game would go to extra innings after Rollins 3rd hit of the game, a double, tied the game at 4-4 in the 7th.  Pedro Alvarez would win the game for Pittsburgh in the bottom of the 10th with a bases loaded single to right off JP Howell, after Jim Johnson struggled again with a walk and two singles before being pulled in favor of Howell.

Saturday’s game again was a back and forth affair, at least at the outset as neither starter, Mat Latos for the Dodgers and Francisco Liriano for Pittsburgh, could get through an inning unscathed.  Scott Van Slyke’s RBI single gave the Dodgers a 1-0 lead in the top of the 1st.  In the bottom of the inning a McCutchen single tied the game at 1-1.  The Dodgers jumped back in front in the 2nd on Adrian Gonzalez RBI single.  Pittsburgh went ahead 4-2 when Liriano, with a .075 batting average, hit a 3-run homer in the bottom of the inning.  An Enrique Hernandez 2-run shot tied it at 4 in the top of the 3rd only to have an RBI groundout and a Neil Walker homer give Pittsburgh a 6-4 lead after 3.  Pittsburgh would lift Liriano at this point and Latos would be gone after a 1-2-3 fourth inning.  Both teams bullpens would settle the game down and keep it 6-4 until the Doders got a run off Pirates closer Mark Melancon in the 9th, but he would strike out Yasmani Grandal to end the game and give the Pirates a 6-5 victory.

The game featured four plays that were challenged with all four going in favor of Pittsburgh.  The first challenge came in the very first inning.  After Rollins led off with a single, he was going on a 1-0 pitch to Howie Kendrick.  Kendrick swung and hit the ball back to Liriano, who hesitated for a moment before throwing to 2nd where Rollins was called safe.  Second basemen Neil Walker then threw to first and Kendrick was called safe as well.  Both plays were very close.  After a Pittsburgh challenge Rollins was ruled out and Kendrick safe.  Watching the TV replays it appeared to be the correct call.  However, had both runners been safe, when Adrian Gonzalez is hit by a pitch and Scott Van Slyke singles they might have had two runs in the inning instead of just one, huge a game they lost by just a run.  The second challenge was pretty clear in the third when the Dodgers challenged a force play on Latos bunt attempt thinking Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang wasn’t on the base but, replays show clearly was.  The next challenge came in the 5th when Pittsburgh challenged a safe call at on first on a potential double play hit by Alex Guerrero.  Guerrero was originally ruled safe but the replay showed he was barely out.  Had the call stood and placed runners on the corners with only one out, Andre Ethier’s subsequent ground ball to first, while potentially a double play itself, might have scored a run.  The last challenge came in the 9th inning after the Dodgers had already made it 6-5.  With Scott Van Slyke on 2nd, Puig hit a grounder to short, Kang double clutched before throwing to 1st.  Puig was ruled safe (and after looking at the replay I still think he was), but the call was reversed with Puig being called out for the 2nd out of the inning.  Joc Pederson then walked (which would have loaded the bases) before Grandal’s strikeout.  While there’s no guarantee they would have scored another run if Puig had been safe at the very least they would have had two shots to tie or take the lead with the bases loaded.  Needless to say the game might have been different if the calls had gone differently.

In Sunday’s finale the Dodgers got off to another quick start leading 5-1 following Alberto Callaspo’s RBI double in the top of the 5th.  After Alex Wood gave up a 2-run homer to McCutchen in the bottom of the 5th, the game just fell apart in the bottom of the seventh as Pittsburgh scored 9 times and finish off the sweep with a 13-6 victory.  In the fateful seventh inning Jim Johnson was brought in to start the inning and actually struck out the first batter, Aramis Ramirez. A hit batter, two singles and sacrifice fly tied the game.  The next five consecutive batters would reach base on four singles and walk before Mattingly finally pulled Johnson with Pittsburgh up 9-5.  Peralta would come in and have his first pitch hit for a 3-run homer by Jung Ho Kang and that was the finally nail in the Dodgers coffin.  To add injury to insult, not only were they swept but Kendrick left the game with a left hamstring strain.

Weekly Analysis: One common thread for the week was pitching struggles.  The biggest culprit was Jim Johnson, who has not been the effective to say the least since the Dodgers acquired him at the trade deadline.  He’s pitched four times for the Dodgers, allowing runs in all four outings.  In those four games he’s 0-2 with a 29.45 ERA allowing 12 runs, 11 hits, and 3 walks in just 3 2/3 innings.  Of course, the argument could be made that those numbers might not have been quite so bad if manager Don Mattingly hadn’t inexplicably left him to get battered by the Pirates on Sunday.  The only explanation Mattingly gave was that Latos only going four the day before had used up some of the arms in the ‘pen.  While that may be true, then why when he finally took Johnson out did he go to Joel Peralta, who had pitched Saturday rather than JP Howell or Juan Nicasio that hadn’t.

Of course, Johnson was not alone in his struggles out of the pen.  Peralta pitched four times this week, allowing runs in three of those appearances, giving up 5 runs, 7 hits, and 3 homers in just 3 1/3 innings for a 13.50 ERA.  The question is what do the Dodgers do going forward.  Adding lefty Luis Avilan, has given Mattingly the option to matchup against lefties earlier in the game and still possibly use J.P. Howell as the eighth inning setup man for closer Kenley Jansen.  Johnson could then be used in the 6th one 7th innings to try and get his form back.  But, for a team with high expectations, whose front office views anything less than a World Series championship as a failure, as a fan it’s disconcerting that roles in the bullpen are still undefined.  They have seven and a half weeks to figure it out.

On the positive side, the offense picked things up this week averaging over five runs and 11 hits a game with a combined .312 team average for the week as four regular players hit over .300 for the week lead by Kendrick’s .407. (Rollins just missed making it five at .296)  Despite the struggles of the pitching staff, a major plus to come out of this week was the resiliency of the offense to come back.   Seven times this week they answered their opponents runs with runs of their own in the very next inning.  Five times after falling behind they came back to either tie the game or take the lead.  These are all positive things, hopefully they continue going forward.

One head scratcher in the Pirates series was why the Dodgers kept pitching to Andrew McCutchen, a former MVP, and basically let him beat them.  McCutchen went 7 for 12, scored five runs, had two doubles, a homer and six RBIs.  One of the oldest rules in baseball is if at all possible you don’t let the other team’s best player beat you.  I know you can’t just completely avoid pitching to someone for an entire three game series but with Aramis Ramirez batting behind him and hitting just .216 since coming to Pittsburgh from Milwaukee, you might wanted to be a little more carefully with McCutchen.  Even though Ramirez was 5 for 13 in the series, I’d still rather take my chances with 37-year old on his way out of the game, than a 28-year old superstar in the prime of his career.  Pitching around McCutchen potentially could have saved the Dodgers four runs in the series, but you can play woulda, coulda, shoulda all day.

Upcoming: This coming week the Dodgers return home looking to get things back on track with a three game set against the Washington Nationals followed by four with the Cincinnati Reds.

This Weeks Stats:

Outscored 41-31

Offense: 5.2 RPG, .312 Avg, 5 HR

Grandal: .250 (5 for 20), 3 RBI

Gonzalez: .370 (10 for 27), 4 Runs, HR, 7 RBI

Kendrick: .407 (11 for 27), 7 Runs, 4 RBI

Rollins: .296 (8 for 27), 4 Runs, 4 Doubles, 2 RBI

Guerrero: .222 (2 for 9), 5 Strikeouts

Callaspo: .353 (6 for 17), RBI

Ethier: .318 (7 for 22), 2 Runs, 2 RBI

Pederson: .214 (3 for 14), 2 Runs, 9 BB

Puig: .211 (4 for 19), 3 Runs, HR, 3 RBI

Ellis: 0 for 5, 2 BB

Crawford: .333 (3 for 9), Run, Double, 3 RBI

Van Slyke: .333 (2 for 6), Double, 2 RBI

Hernandez: .750 (3 for 4), 3 Runs, 2 HR, 3 RBI

Pitching: Overall – 2 Wins, 4 Losses, 7.24 ERA, Starters – 2 Wins, 2 Losses, 6.48 ERA, Bullpen – 0 Wins, 2 Losses, 8.66 ERA, 2 Saves, 1 Blown Save

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