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Los Angeles’ Lights Out Pitching Propels Dodgers Past Padres

Chad Billingsley happily handed his three-hit shutout in the sixth inning to reliable setup man Hong-Chih Kuo, whose lights out relief pitching allowed Jonathon Broxton to close the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2-0 victory against the San Diego Padres last night at Petco Park.

The Dodgers’ pitching looked unstoppable, unflappable, and simply unbeatable Tuesday night, which has been a rarity for this ailing pitching staff.

Throughout the first half of the season, while outfielder Andre Eithier and shortstop Rafael Furcal constantly hit for power, the Dodgers pitching staff was plagued with instability, proving time and again to be unreliable. Far too often the Dodgers watched their lead crumble or hopes plummet due to poor pitching. 

Only Jonathon Broxton (ERA 2.93) and Hong-Chih Kuo (ERA .79) have proven dependable with the game on the line. Broxton has shown solid command over his menacing fastball and Kuo appears to have found his groove as an overpowering setup man.

However, there has been a palpable change over the last week as the Dodgers pitching has hurled 25 consecutive scoreless innings, which include shutouts of the New York Mets on Sunday and Padres last night.

At the forefront of this surge has been the young, left-hander Clayton Kershaw and red-hot Chad Billingsley. Kershaw dealt eight shut-out innings en route to a win against the Mets last Sunday, improving his record to 10-5.

Billingsley has been on a tear. Between his start last night and his bout last week against the San Francisco Giants, Billingsley has thrown 15 scoreless innings.

After last night’s win, the Dodgers improved to 54-46, now just five games behind the NL West’s division leader, San Diego Padres.

The series opener began as a pitchers duel between the Padres’ Jon Garland (9-7, 3.56) and the Dodgers’ Chad Billingsley (9-5, 4.00), but was broken open in the seventh inning when Andre Ethier belted a two-run, clutch single up the middle.

Tonight’s game features Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda (8-8, 3.48), who has given up just one run in 14 innings since the All-Star break, and Padres pitcher Clayton Richard (7-5, 3.57), who has noticeably struggled throughout the month of July giving up 19 earned runs in 24 innings (7.13 ERA). 

If the Dodgers can maintain their dominant pitching, crafty defense and clutch hitting they will inch one step closer to winning this crucial series.

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Crucial Series Ahead As Los Angeles Dodgers Face Rival San Diego Padres

Crucial. Pivotal. Momentous.

Call it what you will, but this Dodgers vs. Padres series holds as much importance as any other this season for the Los Angeles Dodgers who are looking to oust the Padres from solidifying the top spot in the NL West while proving that they are genuine playoff contenders.

Who legitimately has the momentum heading into this series?

When the Dodgers step onto the field at PETCO Park tomorrow night, they may feel as though the momentum is on their side, considering they have gone 4-1 against the Padres and handed them their only sweep of the season.

Then again, the Padres are currently leading the National League West, while the Dodgers lurk six games away in the smoggy distance.

The most substantial, dangerous weapon in the Padres’ arsenal continues to be their explosive, lights out pitching. Behind stellar pitchers like Jon Garland, Mat Latos, Wade LeBlanc and Clayton Richard the Padres dominate the MLB with the lowest ERA (3.28).

That stat does not bode well for the inconsistent run production of the Dodgers, who have generated just 25 runs in their last 11 games. Aside from shortstop Rafael Furcal, who has provided a consistently powerful bat, the Dodgers have struggled to produce offensively.

Between Manny Ramirez on the DL, Andre Ethier under-performing since the All-Star break, and the overall ebb and flow of players like James Loney and Matt Kemp, there’s been a tangible lack of reliability of the Dodgers’ bats.

“We know they pitch well,” said Dodger Manager Joe Torre. “It’s all going to come down to how well we pitch and do other things. We haven’t scored a lot of runs.”

When Chad Billingsley (8-5, 4.22 ERA) takes the mound tomorrow night, he will need to have a specifically crafted gameplan with catcher Russell Martin and Joe Torre.

They need to keep the ball out of first-basemen Adrian Gonzalez’s wheel-house, whose already belted 21 homers this season, and keep the ball low on outfielder Chris Denorfia so he hits ground balls, effectively ending his seven-game hit streak.

Coming off a shutout against the Giants last Wednesday, hopefully Billingsley can follow in line with the suddenly strong Dodgers pitching. If the Dodgers can maintain their on guard, alert defense, and work together to produce on offense when the Padres are most vulnerable, they will be able take this series and rise in their division.



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What Will Save the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Second Half?

It’s been depressing, disheartening, and discomforting to watch the Los Angeles Dodgers (49-45), who have not won a game since the All-Star break (0-6).

Last night the Dodgers suffered a gut-wrenching loss to their rival San Francisco Giants when Andrew Torres hit a go-ahead, two-run double off the wall in the ninth inning off reliever George Sherill. 

Don Mattingly then replaced Sherrill with Travis Schlichting, who gave up an RBI single later in the inning to the Giants’ red-hot catcher Buster Posey. 

Then in the bottom of the ninth, after the Giants had taken a 7-5 lead, the Dodgers last chance at recovery—Andre Ethier—stepped up to the plate with a man on second. After hitting a two-run home run earlier in the game, and notorious for producing in clutch moments throughout the season, Ethier had momentum on his side.

But what began as a hopeful 2-0 count evaporated into a demoralizing strikeout for the All-Star outfielder, sealing the Dodgers’ sixth straight loss.

After manager Joe Torre was ejected earlier in the game, Don Mattingly took over, but made a potentially game-changing, managerial mistake in the top of the ninth. Mattingly approached closer Jonathan Broxton, who appeared just moments away from blowing his second save in three days, but then made the fatal error of stepping off the mound only to retreat a few steps back after hearing first basemen James Loney utter a question in the distance.

Rule 8.06(d) in the Major League Baseball rulebook states that only one visit can be made to the mound per inning by a manager or coach without removing the pitcher. Two visits to the same pitcher in the same inning means that pitcher automatically has to be taken out. The rule declares that “a manager or coach is considered to have concluded his visit when he leaves the 18-foot circle surrounding the pitcher’s rubber.”

Consequently, when Mattingly approached Jonathon Broxton on the mound two separate times, it forced the Dodgers’ intimidating and experienced closer to leave the game and be replaced by Sherill. 

The Dodgers handed the Giants a second victory in a row, but that was just the bitter topping on the cake for the slew of games the Dodgers have thrown away since returning from the All-Star break.

Being swept by the St. Louis Cardinals was a tough blow, but realistically they faced the stellar pitching of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, which completely shut them down. 

But on the other hand, where was the Dodgers pitching? 

Well, it’s where it has been all season, mediocre and inconsistent.

While no team is flawless, the Los Angeles Dodgers most visible and detrimental issue has been their pitching staff. Other than Vicente Padilla, who has proven truly reliable on the mound, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, and Hiroki Kuroda continue to struggle and remain in a desperate search of their rhythm.

Even Broxton, a two-time All-Star, continues to underperform. After the Cardinals took two games from the Dodgers last week, Broxton let the third slip away last Sunday in a grueling 5-4 loss.

Neither Dodger All-Star has shined since the break. Other than last night’s two-run home run, the powerful bat of Andre Ethier has been non-existent.

Aside from the burden of a capricious pitching staff, the Dodgers are without a leader. Ethier is too young, Loney too erratic, and Matt Kemp is too unpredictable. Though players like Rafael Furcal and Manny Ramirez have the experience, they have been plagued by injury.

In fact, in the midst of the Dodgers’ despair, Ramirez was just put on the disabled list with a strained calf.

Los Angeles is lagging behind a surprising San Diego Padres juggernaut, a resurgent Colorado Rockies team and the streaky San Francisco Giants.

The Dodgers’ bats need to be reawakened and rescue them from this bundle of losses.

A more consistent, dependable pitcher like Hong-Chih Kuo should replace the turbulent Broxton.

Finally, Joe Torre needs to come to the team’s aid and revive it from this losing streak.

There is still a lot of baseball to be played and with an upcoming schedule that looks to be in their favor, hopefully the Dodgers can take advantage and regain their confidence and control.

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How the Los Angeles Dodgers Can Dominate the Second Half

Whether it was Rafael Furcal’s sizzling bat, Jonathon Broxton’s overpowering pitching, or Andre Ethier’s clutch hitting, the boys in blue performed exceptionally throughout the first half of their season.

However, numerous injuries and continual struggles within the pitching staff have obstructed their consistency.

It’s difficult to determine whether the buzz generated about their chances to contend in the NL are too hasty or totally warranted.

A multitude of factors will contribute to the Dodgers’ goals ultimately coming to fruition.

Rafael Furcal

Batting .333 with six home runs and 35 RBI, Rafael Furcal is the ideal lead-off man, captain of the infield, and intimidating presence for the Dodgers.

If Rafael Furcal can maintain his health, the Dodgers will have a powerful advantage.

It’s not his agility, his speed, his range, his bat, or his field vision that distinguishes him from his peers, but instead the fusion of all of his talents that makes him such a threat.

Just today, Furcal was chosen to replace the Mets’ shortstop, Jose Reyes, for the All-Star game; a recognition he undoubtedly earned, but must live up to in the second half of the season.

All-Stars need to continue to perform at the highest level

Outfielder Andre Ethier and pitcher Jonathon Broxton have been on a tear in the 2010 season and deservedly will play in the All-Star game Tuesday, July 13, 2010, in Anaheim, CA.

Ethier was at or near the top of the NL leader lists for all three Triple Crown categories—batting average, home runs, and RBI—for the first six weeks of the season. However, an accident in batting practice landed him on the 15-day disabled list. 

But Ethier has gradually returned, recovered, and been revitalized, batting .324 with 14 home runs, and 54 RBI.

In Jonathon Broxton’s 38 innings pitched, he has struck out 55 batters, recorded 19 saves, and has a 2.11 ERA.

Though he started slowly this season—carding just one save in the Dodgers’ first 28 games—Broxton has revealed his overpowering speed, control, and stamina as the Dodgers go-to closer.

It is absolutely essential that both Ethier and Broxton sustain their stellar play and act as leaders for the rest of the team.

Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Russell Martin need to step it up

Loney: Sure, when you think about first baseman, it’s nearly impossible not to think Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, and Joey Votto.

But James Loney has the potential to become one of the elite first basemen in professional baseball.

His .305 BA and five home runs are decent, but his 59 RBI illuminate Loney’s capacity to swing the bat with force and at the right time. Loney’s consistency is crucial to the Dodgers success.

Kemp: Though Matt Kemp has 16 home-runs and 50 RBI, he has struck out 97 times so far this season. Kemp is obviously aggressive at the plate, but if he can train his eye to select the right pitches to be aggressive with, he will become a threat each time he steps up to the plate.

Martin: Russell Martin is another example of a Dodger who has struggled over the course of this season due to injuries and, consequently, inconsistency.

Though Martin has brute force at the plate, he has only produced five home runs and 22 RBI, which is mediocre for a player of his capacity. Defensively, Martin has the potential to be one of the best catchers in the league, but his injuries have made him appear “sluggish,” as manager Joe Torre recently commented.

Hopefully the All-Star break will benefit his recovery and he will return in the second half as one of the Dodgers offensive and defensive leaders.

Manny Ramirez needs to find his swing

Does anyone else cringe when the ball is hit to Manny in right field?

Defensively, he’s not much of a star or model for emulation.

But, there’s no doubting that his swing is unrivaled in power and precision. Ramirez has unbelievably quick hands, incredible pitch recognition, and when he fully turns his lower-half into the ball, he strikes it with an almost violent force.

However, Dodger fans have suffered unceasing frustration as Ramirez has been struck by injury (allowing him to play only 59 games thus season) and only hit eight home runs, with 39 RBI this season.

There used to be a palpable, roaring presence that permeated the stadium when Manny approached the plate. The pitcher would tense up, outfielders would take steps back toward the warning track, and young kids in the bleachers would slide their gloves on in anticipation of a bomb.

Ramirez needs to be smart about getting healthy and gradually return to his old self because he is far too talented to not shine among the league’s best.

Pitching: The Dodgers Achilles Heel that must subside

It’s as simple as this: Either the Dodgers organization needs to lure in new, effective pitchers, or the current pitching staff needs to come through.

The Dodgers pitching has been wrought with inconsistency and critics have been quick to blame their inadequacy for the Dodgers No.3 ranking in the NL West; one game behind the Colorado Rockies and two games behind the San Diego Padres.

While some pitchers have been plagued by health issues, like Chad Billingsley (7-4), and others by lack of experience, like John Ely (4-7), the pitching staff has been neither effective nor reliable this season.

But this is not just about starters.

Only Hong-Chih Kuo has pitched well this season (recently chosen to replace Jason Heyward of the Atlanta Braves in the All-Star game), while relievers like Carlos Monasterios, George Sherill, and Jeff Weaver have underachieved and ruined far too many possible Dodger victories.

Whether it’s an attitude adjustment or mechanics reconstruction, the pitchers of the Los Angeles Dodgers have the capacity to make or break the second half of their team’s season.

It’s about winning series and gaining momentum

The Dodgers will lose games—that’s an undeniable part of the sport.

But, if the Dodgers can learn to cultivate their strengths and use the momentum of winning series to their advantage, there will an overall surge in the team’s attitude and presence among the league.


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MLB All Star Rosters: Who From The NL West Earned Their Vote?

The MLB All-Star Lineup has garnered a variety of reactions, ranging from cheers and sighs of relief to whimpers and shrieks of disbelief.

When the 2010 MLB All-Star lineups were released, there were undoubtedly as many elated fans as there were bitter fans.

No matter where the stadium is located, fans maintain an unceasing allegiance to their favorite teams and players.

Being chosen to play in the All-Star game represents the ultimate recognition that fans, coaches, and players alike have observed, reveled in, and appreciated every moment of a player’s season thus far.

However, examining the all-stars chosen from the NL West has generated a surge of controversy over just who earned their position.

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Stephen Strasburg Is Not the Only Rookie Making His Debut in 2010

With the addition of up-and-comer Bryce Harper to the Nationals organization, Steven Strasburg’s epic 14-strikeout debut tasted that much sweeter.

But don’t be quick to assume Strasburg is the only rookie making noise in the MLB.

A myriad of rookies have displayed star potential. Whether on the mound, at the plate, diving for catches, or on the base paths, young guns like Desmond Jennings (OF, Devil Rays), Carlos Santana, (C, Indians), and Jason Heyward (OF, Braves), are having outstanding rookie seasons.

What generates real, electrifying buzz from a rookie player is not simply how they produce, but their potential to produce in the future.

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