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Dodger Thoughts


Saturday, August 23, 2003

Update: Dodger chances of making the postseason, from Baseball Prospectus
Today: 6.5 percent
Friday: 5.8 percent
Thursday: 4.2 percent
Wednesday: 2.3 percent

Friday, August 22, 2003



The top 15 offensive explosions in the career of Cesar Izturis, who won Thursday's game for the Dodgers with two RBI-doubles.

1) 7/8/01: 3 for 4 with a double and a triple vs. Montreal
2) 7/7/01: 3 for 5 with a home run vs. Montreal
3) 4/5/02: 3 for 5 with a double and a triple vs. Colorado
4) 5/29/03: 3 for 4 with a double and a walk at Colorado
5) 6/4/02: 2 for 2 with two doubles and two walks at Colorado
6) 6/15/02: 4 for 5 with a double vs. Anaheim
7) 4/2/03: 3 for 3 with a walk at Arizona
8) 7/13/03: 2 for 5 with a double and a triple at Colorado
9) 8/21/03: 2 for 4 with two doubles, two RBI in a 2-1 victory vs. Montreal
10) 5/11/02: 3 for 4 with a double at Florida
11) 6/30/01: 3 for 4 with a double vs. Boston
12) 5/11/03: 2 for 3 with a double and a walk at Montreal
13) 9/4/01: 3 for 5 with a double vs. New York Yankees
14) 9/1/02: 2 for 4 with a double, 2 RBI in a 2-1 victory over Houston
15) 5/17/02: 2 for 4 with a double vs. Montreal

How about the two best days of Izturis' career coming back-to-back? Of course, he was with Toronto then.

Montreal and Colorado were the opponents in nine of Izturis' top 15 offensive games.

Thursday marked the first time this season that Izturis had driven in all the Dodgers' runs in a game, which considering their offense, shouldn't be that hard to do. Izturis also did this on September 1, 2002.

The Dodgers are 34-13 (.723) in games in which Izturis has an RBI.

* * *

Update: Dodger chances of making the postseason, from Baseball Prospectus
Today: 5.8 percent
Thursday: 4.2 percent
Wednesday: 2.3 percent

On Baseball Musings, David Pinto shows the strength of schedule for the wild card contenders. It does look like the race could become even more compacted, with leaders Philadelphia and Florida facing the toughest schedule. Baseball Prospectus calculates SOS differently, but the rankings are the same.

Still, BP gives Philadelphia is given a 51 percent chance of making the playoffs, compared to 23 percent for Florida. That appears to be because, based on the runs they have scored and allowed this season, the Phillies still have more potential to do better.

Thursday, August 21, 2003


The AL-NL Central Division Race

Six teams. One game in the standings.

66-60 Houston
65-60 Chicago Cubs
65-60 Kansas City
66-61 Chicago White Sox
65-61 Minnesota
65-61 St. Louis


Sad Goodbyes

Two influential figures in my life died in the past week.

Roy Neal was a neighbor and a family friend. For the pivotal decades of the 1960s and 1970s, he was the lead NBC national correspondent on the space program. When I was almost 8 years old, Neal invited myself, my mother and my cousin to Houston to watch the end of the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission (the first-ever link between American and Soviet crafts in space) from the Johnson Space Center in Houston. This was one of the most memorable experiences of my childhood, and even then, I knew how incredible an opportunity it was for him to offer.

Roy's son, David, later worked for NBC in sports, eventually rising to become the head of NBC's Olympic coverage. David gave me my first job, working as a gopher for NBC Game of the Week broadcasts in Los Angeles (where I also worked with his brother, Mark), and got me the experience that enabled me to earn jobs working for NBC in Seoul in 1988 and Barcelona in 1992. I also worked for Roy's wife and David's mother, Pat, in a non-sports related job. Great people, great friends to our family.

Roy passed away last week at the age of 82. My sympathy and very best wishes - and thanks - all go out to the entire Neal family.

* * *

I never once heard Ken Coleman as a broadcaster, but he was a impressive figure in my childhood.

The former Red Sox broadcaster once wrote a book, So You Want to Be a Sportscaster. As someone who gave up hopes of being a pro athlete before junior high, I dreamed for many years of following in Vin Scully's footsteps. Ultimately, I fell in love with writing and acknowledged that I didn't exactly have the personality of, well, a personality. But in that era, Coleman's book was my bible - one I read over and over again.

Coleman died this week at the age of 78. I'm sorry I never got to hear him call a game, but I thank him all the same.

Win One for the Gagne

Back to reality, with some notes on Wednesday's game ...

It just seemed funny when the Dodger Stadium scoreboard showed a kid wearing an Eric Gagne replica jersey - from the National League All-Star team. It turned out to be an omen.

Gagne came into a scoreless game (we've already been through this) Wednesday throwing thunderbolts. His first five pitches were strikes, and once he got that hump strike, the thought had to cross the mind of everyone in the ballpark that he could strike out the side on nine pitches.

I was thinking the same thing, but it also occured to me that Vladimir Guerrero might be as well, and that Gagne should waste a pitch.

In fact, the next batter Gagne faced, Orlando Cabrera, fell behind 0-2 and then got a pitch over and behind his head. That would have been a good one to throw to Vlad.

Instead, Gagne grooved one and Guerrero smacked it well over the short fence in left field for a tie-breaking home run, the second Gagne had allowed - not the first, as I incorrectly wrote hours earlier - in more than a year.

Gagne finished the ninth inning having thrown 15 pitches, but only one ball. When the Dodgers miraculously tied the game in the bottom of the ninth on three ground balls totaling about 175 feet, Gagne was in position to pitch the 10th thanks to his rest, his strength and the double-switch that Jim Tracy had made.

Gagne got the first two men out in the 10th before giving up a 2-2 double to Expos reserve Jamey Carroll. Endy Chavez then fell behind 1-2, but fouled off three pitches and worked out a walk.

By this time, Gagne was up to 37 pitches, and the Dodgers needed to get someone up in the bullpen. One more batter reaching base, and Gagne might be heading toward a 50-pitch night and possibly a blowout loss to match his May meltdown against Atlanta.

However, facing the same batter twice in a game for the first time since October 3, 2001, Gagne got Jose Vidro to ground out to first, setting the stage for Adrian Beltre's heroics.

By the way, as long as everyone's pointing out conicidences like how hot Beltre is in August, or how hot Beltre is since Robin Ventura was acquired, can one point out how hot Beltre is since Jack Clark was fired? Beltre has a .956 slugging percentage in August, but since Clark was fired on August 3, Beltre's OPS is even higher: 1.006.

With the victory, the Dodgers chance of making the postseason, according to Baseball Prospectus, leapt overnight from 2.3 percent to 4.2 percent. Bandwagon jumpers, get your bandwagon jumping shoes on.

It helped that much of the wild-card competition got pummeled Tuesday. At 7:52 p.m., Colorado-Pittsburgh-Milwaukee-Cincinnati led Florida-St. Louis-Philadelphia-Arizona, 34-1. The Dodgers are now four games out, and following today's series finale with the Expos, will face the last-place if Mike Piazza-rejuvenated Mets while Florida travels to San Francisco, Chicago travels to Arizona and Philadelphia travels to St. Louis.

Wilson Alvarez may not win the Comeback Player of the Year award on his team - Kevin Brown has had a hold on that since May - but what a comeback Alvarez is having. In 53 1/3 innings, he now has an ERA of 2.36 and 54 strikeouts. His WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) is 0.99. He has enjoyed pitching at Dodger Stadium, where his ERA is 0.92, but even Alvarez's road ERA of 4.05 exceeds expectations.

Will Shawn Green be a candidate for Comeback honors in 2004? Perhaps not, but his difficult season took an uncertain turn for the worse when he left Wednesday's game in the fifth inning with a neck sprain. When we learned why Green left, our longtime family friend, Anita, said, "Neck sprain? What happened - is that noose tightening?"

No announcement of Green's departure was made until after Jeromy Burnitz, who moved over to right field when Green left, misplayed a sinking liner. It so resembled how Green might have played the ball that it was only when Burnitz turned around and revealed his jersey number that we realized Green was gone.

For every Comeback award, perhaps there should be a Go Away award. Last night's would have gone to the young lad in our aisle who tried - nay, insisted - that he get on the jumbo scoreboard. The boy took center stage with the sincerity and joy of Bobby Knight at a press conference, stuck his tongue out at the cameraman each inning that he was ignored, and after a few innings, had the happy look of a Vegas tourist who was running through his eighth bucket of quarters at the slots.

Perhaps rewarding the wrong behavior, but ending everyone's misery, the boy finally got his screen time. He ran back to his seat with the first sign of real glee that any of us had seen, and everyone could go back to enjoying the game.

An inning or so later, young Dr. Jekyll was back at it again, trying for his second seconds of fame.

As a parent, I fear any criticism I make will come back to kick me in the rear, but as a baseball fan, it's never to soon to teach or learn a little grace. Like driving, a chance to be on the fancam is a privilege, not a right.

Zeile Signs to Play in L.A.

LOS ANGELES - Major League Baseball, owner of the Montreal Expos, signed veteran third baseman Todd Zeile to a contract for the remainder of the season.

It was erroneously thought that Zeile, who went 1 for 3 with a walk in his debut with his new organization Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers, would spend the rest of 2003 with the Expos. However, baseball announced that the UCLA graduate had instead been signed to play for visiting teams at Dodger Stadium.

Zeile will suit up for Montreal in today's afternoon game against the Dodgers. Then, while the Expos head down to San Diego, Zeile will stay in his hometown and put on the uniform of the New York Mets for a three-game weekend series at Chavez Ravine.

"It's nice not to have to travel at this point in my career," said Zeile, who will turn 38 on Sept. 9. "And I think that with my veteran presence, I can really make a difference with this team. And that one. And the one after that."

The itinerant Zeile, who has homered for a record 10 major-league teams, added that most of the teams he plays for will have his uniform measurements already, easing the series-to-series transition.

MLB commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig likened the arrangement to that of a university inviting a visting professor to its campus for a pre-determined period. Selig noted that Zeile, who is batting .212 with six home runs this season, could serve as a goodwill ambassador for the game.

"In fact, Zeile has already picked up 'Goodwill' as his new nickname," Selig said.

Selig added that he had tried to sign Zeile last week, in time to have him play guitar with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at their Dodger Stadium concert Sunday, but that Zeile did not arrange to have his physical in time.

Zeile is familiar with Dodger Stadium, having first come home to Los Angeles in 1997 before leaving a year later in the Mike Piazza-Gary Sheffield trade, and will have more time to reacquaint with the ballpark next week. While the Dodgers make an unusually brief three-game road trip to Houston, Zeile will say in Los Angeles for informal workouts. His next game after the Mets series will be with Colorado beginning Aug. 29.

Dodger manager Jim Tracy acknowledged the challenge of facing the same player over and over again.

"Yeah, Todd Zeile," Tracy said. "How about that?"

Dodger executives have already planned seven Todd Zeile bobblehead nights - one for each opposing uniform he will wear.

Zeile's wife, Julianne McNamara (the 1984 Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics) is happy to have her hubby home.

"It had gotten to the point where he had played in so many different cities, I never knew what channel to put on to find his games," McNamara said. "Now, I'll know not to bother watching unless I hear Vin Scully's voice."

Ain't that the truth.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003


Governor Garvey?

In The Pinstriped Bible this week, Steven Goldman writes:

There is some kind of cosmic irony at work when Upton Sinclair couldn't get elected governor of California, but Arnold Schwarzenegger will. Many of you have probably had this thought, but as I peruse the list of multifarious types who have registered for the recall ballot, I keep thinking, "Where is Steve Garvey?"
Actually, I hadn't had the thought at all - but I feel like I should have. In any case, my answer is, I think Garvey is at home, mulling over the realization that he might finish with fewer gubernatorial votes than Gary Coleman.

It does occur to me that Peanuts Lowery could have won the goobernatorial race.

Homer Follies

Shawn Green's disputed home run Tuesday, No. 12 on the season, moved him five ahead of Jeromy Burnitz for home runs as a Dodger this season. Burnitz, who joined the team six weeks ago, is tied for fourth with Paul Lo Duca at seven homers - with an injured Fred McGriff well within reach at 10. ...

Rickey Henderson has fallen to 99th on the all-time home run list with 297 (Tino Martinez passed him last night), and won't stick in the top 100 for long. Edgar Martinez and Carlos Delgado, each with 295 homers, will probably pass Rickey by season's end. ...

Of major-leaguers 24 and under, Adrian Beltre ranks seventh in home runs. ...

Two years ago, Paul Lo Duca nearly had more home runs (25) than strikeouts (30). Last year, he slipped to 10 and 31. This season, Lo Duca is at 7 and 46. ...

Daryle Ward finally homered, for Las Vegas. He now has one home run in 191 professional at-bats this season. ...

More than a year has passed since the last regular-season home run allowed by Eric Gagne, on August 13, 2002. Correction: Gagne allowed a home run to Colorado on May 29 this year. ...

Only 29 home runs (out of 98) hit against the Dodgers this season have been with men on base. That's 1.4 per week. ...

Jane Leavy Interview on Bronx Banter

Alex Belth has a terrific conversation with the author of the recent Sandy Koufax biography.

Nothing Profound Here

At about 10 p.m. Wednesday, the Dodgers were poised to pull within four games of the Phillies and - okay, I'm bringing it up - eight games of the Giants.

Thinking about the half hour that followed makes me feel ...


Worse things that could have happened:

1) The Dodgers could have traded for Tony Womack.

2) Oh, you know, I'm sure there are things.

Baseball Prospectus' new Postseason Odds Report gives the Dodgers a 2.3 percent chance of making the 2003 playoffs at this point. One chance in 50.

I'll be out there tonight, rooting for the Dodgers to crack the 3 percent barrier.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003


He Came, He Saw, He Conquered

As you know, I can barely bring myself to talk about missing the Springsteen concert at Dodger Stadium on Sunday. Robert Hilburn's surprisingly (for him) ambivalent review of the show did little to comfort me, and this stirring recap from The Back Page just twists the knife.

Rough Times at the Playground

Of all the warped scenarios one can envision for a kid at recess, imagine the horror of playing leapfrog, being leapfrogged by the other kids and not being able to get your flailing body to leapfrog in return.

Yep, we're pickin' at scabs today, folks. We're going to show just how frustrating it has been to be a Dodger fan in the past six years. While some teams have dominated the playgfound for years, and others have learned how to play leapfrog, no team has come closer to making the playoffs without succeeding than the bullied boys in blue.

Games Out of a Playoff Spot, 1997-2002
N.Y. Yankees00000006
San Francisco0110.502013.53
N.Y. Mets41.50062031.52
St. Louis116.52100038.53
Los Angeles26.519.5863.545.50
Chicago White Sox6918.50813.5551
San Diego14022.5181329.5971
Chicago Cubs16029.529518.5981
Kansas City1916.529.5142632.5137.50
Tampa BayN/A2925183443.5149.50
*Seasons in the playoffs

From 1998 to 2002, nine teams made the playoffs after having been farther away than the Dodgers the season before:

1998: San Diego, Chicago Cubs, Boston, Texas
1999: Arizona
2000: St. Louis
2001: Houston, Arizona
2002: Anaheim

There will be more this year, because the Dodgers came closest to making the playoffs of any team that didn't make them in 2002. As many as five teams could leapfrog the Dodgers in 2003.

Of the teams that made the Dodgers look silly, while some were flukes, others were establishing themselves as perennial contenders. Overall, of the 40 playoff spots passed out since 1998, 10 of the teams were 10 or more games out of the playoffs the year before. That means that 25 percent of the playoff teams came out of anything resembling nowhere. Take comfort or consternation from that figure, as you wish.

More bullet points flying at you, like it was your worst dodgeball nightmare:

  • The Dodgers have missed the playoffs by an average of 7 1/2 games per season.

  • They have been within 10 games of a playoff spot in five of the past six seasons. No other non-playoff team has been that close in more than three seasons.

  • To look at it another way, the Dodgers have been more consistently competitive for a playoff spot than nine teams that have made the playoffs.

  • Unlike the Dodgers, 19 out of 30 teams have made the playoffs since 1997. Philadelphia and Kansas City could bring the total to 21.

  • The Angels made the biggest leap out of nowhere, winning the World Series a season after finishing 27 games out of a playoff spot. The Dodgers haven't been that far back since 1992.

  • Florida has not finished within 12 games of a playoff spot since 1997, yet could make its second playoff appearance at the Dodgers' expense this year.

  • The next-most frustrated team after the Dodgers, Cincinnati, actually forced a one-game playoff in 1999.
Barring a significant rally in the season's final 40 games, the Dodgers will solidify their standing as the playground's top recess reject.

The question for Dodger fans is this: Would you trade your recurring near-misses for the highs and lows of a Florida or Texas?

Another question for Dodger fans would be: How long will the above question have to be asked?

Monday, August 18, 2003


International Man of Mystery

It's the hot topic of the dog days. The perplexing, confounding, astounding Adrian Beltre is at it again, raking it in August like New Englanders rake it in November.

Beltre leads the National League and is tied for the major league lead in RBI for August. He has taken over the Dodger team lead in RBI and home runs and, with Shawn Green, has keyed a relatively resurgent Dodger offense. (Think of a swimming pool heating from 60 to 63 degrees.)

Beltre has an OPS of .931 in August, to go with an .890 in August 2002 - his best months of the year in both instances. His OPS in August 2001 of .724 was his third-best that season (the appendectomy year), but in August 2000, he knocked out a 1.032 OPS - his best month of the century.

Everyone's been wondering what causes this explosion each year as Leo transitions to Virgo, but I find myself wondering about the effect of a bloomin' Beltre.

By the end of this month, the Dodgers will have played 114 games in the past four Augusts. Of that total, nine - just nine - will have been against NL West opponents. How miniscule is that? Think of something similar to Jason Romano's batting average: .078.

Beltre's best month has as little impact on the Dodgers' divisional hopes as one could imagine. It's like a broken coin machine - it doesn't change anything.

Maybe the Beltre August is not completely meaningless, because every little bit helps - and there is the NL wild card to compete for. However, although the Dodgers trail two NL East teams in the wild-card race this season, it is Arizona and San Francisco that have been the Dodgers' principal playoff competition for almost all of Beltre's major-league career - division or wild card. And against those teams, Beltre has an OPS barely above .500 this season and at just about .700 dating back to 2000.

What's to come? Beltre's OPS has dropped from .880 in August to .762 in September over the past three seasons. If that happens again, it may be less about the turning of the calendar than the returning of opponents like the Diamondbacks and the Giants.

On the other hand, if Beltre can finally keep it going this September, then maybe our man of mystery has finally solved himself.

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers and baseball. To respond or contribute -- or if you are having technical problems with this site -- please e-mail

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