MLB is running this “face of [team]” promotion, which is mildly interesting, I guess. Fans can vote by using hashtags for the “face” of their team, and so far the results have been expected — Joey Votto, Felix Hernandez, Joe Mauer, etc… with the obvious exception of the fact that Oakland fans trolled the game and voted Eric Sogard.
So I got to thinking, and well, people aren’t taking this seriously enough. Giants fans, you’re really voting for Buster Posey when this face exists? Come on now. People are making this a popularity contest, but it’s supposed to be about faces.
And the Dodgers, well… they have some faces. Who is the true face?
Dee Gordon, out at second:
Gordon, looking at his stat line:
Super mega happy A.J. Ellis:
Evil Zack Greinke:
2014 status: Still under contract for the rest of time.
With all that happened in Zack Greinke‘s debut season as a Dodger, it seems that absolutely no one remembers just how terrified we were when it began. No, not the huge contract, which we loved, or the opt-out, which I really had no problem with at all, and certainly not three days into camp, when we learned about how engaged he was in scouting Corey Seager when he was with Milwaukee.
No, it was early in March, when we started hearing that Greinke’s right elbow was giving him trouble. He was scratched from a March 11 start, then when he returned two weeks later, he didn’t exactly give everyone a lot of confidence by looking terrible.
Miraculously, he was declared ready for the season, and he threw 6.1 perfect innings in his debut against the Pirates. Okay, he didn’t, but…
But most of all, there was Zack Greinke, throwing six and a third perfect innings in his Dodger debut before allowing a hit to McCutchen. Lest you be eager to point out a potential mistake and note that Garrett Jones actually had a single in the second inning, let me remind you how that play actually went down…
…and so I stand by my statement. Greinke went 92 pitches, striking out six, in what was known to be an outing where he’d have a bit of a leash on him after his abbreviated spring.
So with Greinke and Clayton Kershaw leading the way, everything was puppies and roses, especially when he looked good over five innings against San Diego his next time out and… oh… oh no. Damn you, Carlos Quentin.
You know what happened, and so I’m not going to regurgitate it here. Greinke had surgery, but was back on a mound for a rehab stint in less than a month, on May 10. Needless to say, we were terrified:
Considering that the original diagnosis for Greinke was around eight weeks, or mid-to-late June, this would be a phenomenally quick recovery. Is it too soon? I don’t know, and neither do you; we aren’t doctors and don’t know the specifics of his health. We’ve heard that he’s already thrown two bullpen sessions of 60 pitches where he’s reached 90 MPH, and that all sounds great.
My hope, however, is that he’s nearly ready to come back because he’s nearly ready, and not because the team has lost seven games in a row. We’ve seen that be attempted and fail far too many times — looking at you, Matt Kemp from last year — and it’s the last thing this club needs.
Greinke returned on May 15, and… it wasn’t good. In his first four starts, he allowed at least four runs four times. His velocity was down. There were quiet reports indicating that he had absolutely come back so quickly mostly because the team was in such sad shape. There were flashes, like when he threw six scoreless on June 6 against the Braves, but it was mostly about inconsistency. In four starts from June 16 to July 3 — remember, this is when things started going wonderfully for the team — he allowed four or more earned runs three times. And, of course, he was a primary participant in the June 12 brawl with Arizona.
But on July 8, he went into Arizona and shut out the Diamondbacks over seven innings. His next time out, he shut out the Rockies on two hits… and then shut down the Nationals on one run over six innings… and he’d kicked off a run where over his final 16 starts of the season, he allowed more than two earned runs once.
Why? Well, it helped that the velocity came back:
…but I found it fascinating that he was seemingly doing it without his best pitch, though that ended up changing as the season went on. Over the second half of the season, his K/BB was 80/19; only Kershaw and Ubaldo Jimenez topped his 1.85 ERA. Oh, and he merely hit .328/.409/.379 in 72 plate appearances, contributing 1.2 WAR on offense alone. Yeah, he was that good.
Greinke kept up his run in the playoffs, striking out 17 against just two walks in three starts, and I know I can’t wait to see what a full season from him might bring. There’s so much risk in these nine figure deals, especially for pitchers, and when you can look back one year in and say “yep, I’d do that deal again 10 times out of 10,” that’s a nice place to be.
Next! Chris Capuano‘s weird year!
When Zack Greinke loaded the bases with none out in the first, missing badly a few times, you could be forgiven for thinking the worst. After last night’s loss, with elimination staring them in the face and the knowledge that an injured Hanley Ramirez wasn’t likely to be the savior this time around (hitless again today, he left after six), it wasn’t at all hard to see the fifth game of the NLCS — and the 2013 season with it — falling apart before it even got started.
But he managed to escape that first inning without damage, thanks to a crucial Matt Adams whiff and a nice Juan Uribe double play, and after getting Yadier Molina into a double play to end that third, he cruised through seven, retiring 13 consecutive Cardinals. Greinke wasn’t really at his best today, striking out only four, but clearly he managed to make it work. If that doesn’t say enough about how fantastic of a pitcher Greinke is, I don’t know what does; it’s the 15th consecutive time he’s allowed two or fewer runs.
Greinke also knocked in the second run of the game with a single in the second, but that’s really just a gateway into the other main story of this game: Offense, sweet, sweet offense! A third-inning ball crushed by Adrian Gonzalez! A fifth-inning ball absolutely crushed by Carl Crawford! A seventh-inning blast from A.J. Ellis, pushing the lead to 5-2! Gonzalez hitting yet another in the eighth! In the first four games of the NLCS, the Dodgers had scored only seven runs; they nearly matched that today.
Brian Wilson threw a quick eighth behind Greinke, while Kenley Jansen ran into trouble (thanks partially to Yasiel Puig losing a ball in the sun), allowing two runs to score and the go-ahead run to come to the plate. But he survived — technically, he struck out the side, while inciting thousands of heart attacks while doing so.
With the win, the Dodgers finish off the Los Angeles portion of the NLCS by doing all you reasonably could have asked — they took two of three, and they send the series back to St. Louis. So after a day off tomorrow, we get something truly fun on Friday night: Clayton Kershaw against Michael Wacha in St. Louis, with the Cards trying to earn a trip to the World Series in front of their home fans, and the Dodgers trying to push it to Game 7. I can’t say this has always been fun, but… lord, this is fun.
As things currently stand, the Dodgers are planning to send out Hyun-jin Ryu against Adam Wainwright in tomorrow’s Game 3, and Ricky Nolasco in Tuesday’s Game 4 against Lance Lynn. If the series goes beyond that, the Dodger rotation is lined up for Clayton Kershaw in Game 5, Zack Greinke in Game 6, and Ryu again in Game 7.
You may remember that this was the plan in the NLDS, too — Ryu in Game 3, Nolasco in Game 4, Kershaw ready for a possible Game 5. That didn’t happen, of course, because Kershaw came back on short rest to start Game 4 instead. And I’m telling you right now, there’s no way that Nolasco starts Game 4 this time around either.
Yes, that’s despite Don Mattingly saying that “we haven’t talked not even once on using Zack on short rest” and then immediately changing the subject to trying to “regroup”. I assume I don’t need to remind you not to ever, ever trust the statements of baseball officials in public — it was only a few days ago that Rick Honeycutt was flat-out insisting that Kershaw wouldn’t start Game 4 of the NLDS, don’t forget, and Mattingly all but admitted to the press earlier this year that he wasn’t always truthful to them.
That’s especially the case when you look at how Greinke himself replied to Dayn Perry when asked about it:
“I mean, I could probably respond to it [the question], but I might give information out that we might want to keep a secret, so I just won’t respond to that question for that reason.”
Greinke’s not known to be a man who plays games with the media, so you tell me if that sounds like a guy who hasn’t had a talk “not even once” about starting on three days rest.
Unlike Kershaw, Greinke has started on short rest before… sort of. Last year, he actually started three straight games for Milwaukee, but that was more than a little bit of a fluke. Greinke made only 4 pitches on July 7 before being ejected, so the Brewers brought him back the next day; since that was the final game before the All-Star break, he also started their first game back on July 13. In 2007, he spent most of the year in the bullpen, and moved into the rotation in late August, three days after a relief appearance.
The only two times that Greinke made real starts on short rest came in the midst of another playoff run, in 2011. He started the season finale on three days rest as the Brewers tried to secure home field advantage (six innings, two earned runs) and then again in Game 2 over Shaun Marcum against Arizona. That was one of the weirder starts of his career, because he struck out seven and walked none, but also allowed three homers. Part of the decision-making at the time? That Greinke had a low season innings count after missing time due to a broken bone suffered in a freak accident (he’d broken a rib in a basketball game). That doesn’t sound familiar, does it?
It’s fair to remember that Greinke missed much of the spring with right elbow soreness, though that hasn’t been an issue so far as we know this season. Over his last four starts, dating back nearly a month, he’s thrown only 345 pitches, an average of about 86 per. Over the same time frame, Nolasco has thrown 186, but that’s because he hasn’t started in well over two weeks, an entirely separate concern. You really think that Mattingly, still without a contract for 2014, is going to down with Nolasco, if the series is 3-0? Or risk going down 3-1, if they win tomorrow? Not a chance.
Ryu will start tomorrow, of course; he has to. But then starting Greinke in Game 4 allows you to start Kershaw in Game 5, also on short rest. That’s not ideal, of course, but remember that he only threw 72 pitches in Game 2, which is why I didn’t hate the move to lift him nearly as much as everyone else did.
That does, of course, leave you in a bit of a spot for Game 6. Ryu on short rest? Nolasco then? Edinson Volquez? But without ignoring the issue, that’s a problem for later. If you don’t even survive long enough to see Game 6, then it’s not a problem, because right now, it’s far from a guarantee. We’ve already seen Nolasco get pushed aside once. With the season on the line, it’s going to happen again. Believe it.
If you’re wondering if Zack Greinke is ready for the playoffs… yes. Yes he is. Greinke allowed just three baserunners in five scoreless innings against the Padres, leaving after 72 pitches only because this game was utterly without meaning, as these days increasingly take on an “are we there yet?!” feel. It’s only been a few days since the Dodgers clinched, but they’ve been the obvious division champions for weeks now, and September feels like an endless slog at this point. (He says, fully aware that he’s complaining because his favorite team did so well that they laugh at the very idea of a pennant race.)
Andrew Cashner actually managed to match Greinke, until he allowed a Michael Young double in the seventh to score the game’s only run; in the only actual news of note, Andre Ethier made a pinch-hit appearance in the ninth, his first game action since September 13, but struck out — one of six consecutive Dodgers to whiff to end the game. J.P. Howell got the win, because wins, and I bring that up only because of the “Greinke in the Cy Young race?” conversation we had earlier.
I think it might be safe to say that Zack Greinke has hit his stride. Other than a first-inning blast allowed to Giancarlo Stanton — and absolutely no shame in that — Greinke was once again stellar tonight in allowing just a single run over eight innings to Miami, and the numbers here sort of speak for themselves.
Over his last three starts (21.2 innings), he’s allowed just the one earned run, tonight’s homer.
Over his last eight starts (64 innings), he’s allowed just nine earned runs. Nine!
I’m the first to tell you that the earned run (and ERA) is hardly the the most important stat out there for pitchers. Yet even I am not so jaded as to not be incredibly impressed by that, and Greinke’s 2.91 ERA now puts him 15th in the bigs, tied with Derek Holland and just ahead of Stephen Strasburg.
The Dodgers really didn’t get a whole lot done on offense against old friend Nathan Eovaldi, who was effective and occasionally dominant in seven good innings of his own, but thanks to Greinke, they didn’t really need to. Three of their four runs came in the fourth inning when Adrian Gonzalez (walk), Hanley Ramirez (double), and Andre Ethier (single) got on in between errors by Ed Lucas and Eovaldi himself, and that was basically it, though notice must be given to Ethier for running down a long Adeiny Hechavarria when men on to end the game.
After all of the usual noise around Puig today, he went 0-5, though he did score the first run after reaching via the Lucas error. As Bill Plunkett noted, he’s still only 1 for his last 18, and 7 for his last 42 — and more than one beat writer noted that he didn’t look right running to first, as though something was sore. On the other hand, no major f-ups in the field or on the bases, so that’s something, I guess.
Don’t forget, it’s an early (9:40am Pacific) start tomorrow. That’s right, the Marlins — amongst the youngest teams in the bigs — get to face Greinke and Clayton Kershaw within a span of 17 hours. That’s just not right.
Zack Greinke tossed shutout baseball at the Phillies over 7.1 innings last night, dropping his ERA to 3.02 and pushing his record to 11-3. I mention those otherwise not-too-useful surface stats because that’s what so many tend to look at, and at this rate, he’s going to have what some will consider “one of the best years of his career”. Over his last eight starts, he’s allowed more than two earned runs just once, allowing nine earned runs in 56 innings. It’s not at all difficult to think that he’ll get that ERA into the twos for only the second time in his career, and that’s damn impressive.
But I find it interesting that he’s going about it a little differently this year, because his FIP is 3.57, higher than he’s had since 2007. Now, I’ve said more than a few times that judging just about anything of his full season this year is difficult, because thanks to the right elbow pain that ruined his spring and the Carlos Quentin-inflicted broken collarbone that destroyed his April, it’s been a more than unusual first season in Los Angeles for Greinke, and I’m inclined to give him a pass on just about anything.
Still, it’s not exactly the same Greinke you’d have expected. He struck out only three Phillies, and his 6.91 K/9 would be his lowest mark since 2005, when he was putting up a 5.80 ERA as a 21-year-old for Kansas City. Pair that with a BB/9 rate that’s higher than any he’s had since 2007 (though only slightly, and still good), and his K/BB is only 2.59. That’s not exactly great news, but he’s obviously making it work, despite a BABIP that’s a bit under average but not absurdly so.
The good news, anyway, is that after the total mess that was March through May for him — including almost certainly returning too soon from the collarbone injury as the Dodger season was circling the drain — he’s clearly managed to get his arm into top shape, as you can see in this velocity chart from Brooks Baseball:
That’s 91.42 MPH on the heater in April, as compared to 93.94 now — and you’ll notice the gray on top of the black there, and that’s a sinker that’s touching 94.
But you’ll also notice the red line that just sort of stops in May, and that’s his slider. In past years, he’d thrown it between 15-20% of the time; this year, it’s just 2.9%, and that will keep dropping as the season goes on. Instead, he’s replaced it with more cut fastballs and changes. (The red dot shows that he may have used it briefly yesterday, but until we see more of a trend there I’m considering it a potential classification error in the data.)
Why? Over his career, the slider has been an incredibly effective pitch for him. It’s one of five pitches he’s thrown at least 1,500 times (via FanGraphs), and the results are stunning:
As you can see, his slider is nearly unhittable. Over the years, he’s allowed just a .199 wOBA on it, far better than any of his other pitches. Despite throwing it just 15% of the time over his career, 35.4% of his career strikeouts have come off it. It’s his put-away pitch, and he’s not throwing it. That’s supported somewhat by the fact that Greinke is still missing bats, with a 9.9% swinging-strike percentage that’s above his career average, he’s just not putting them away with strike three.
There’s more than a few recent studies that point to slider usage being a concern for elbow health, and as we know Greinke dealt with exactly that problem this spring. My guess here — and that’s all it is — is not that he’s still feeling pain and therefore can’t throw it, but that he’s attempting to head off any future issues by avoiding it. (Again, total speculation there.)
But without his slider, he’s not getting lit up — far from it. Really, the takeaway from this for me is that Greinke is even more impressive than I thought he was. How many pitchers can you think of who could simply stop using their most effective pitch and still keep runs off the board in the way he has? He may not pile up the strikeouts in the way that we’d hope, but he’s more than making up for it. Incredible.
Admit it: for about the first ten minutes of this game, you were nervous, right? Really nervous? You knew that Hanley Ramirez wasn’t going to be available, and that Yasiel Puig may not be at full strength after sitting out yesterday, and that Adam Wainwright is one of the toughest pitchers in the league. And then Zack Greinke had to go and allow a leadoff triple to Matt Carpenter — a double, really, and then Puig was charged with a throwing error — and, after allowing Carpenter to score on a fielder’s choice, long flyouts by Allen Craig & Matt Holliday.
You were worried then, and you were worried in the third inning when Greinke loaded the bases on a double, hit by pitch, and infield single after quickly retiring the first two.
As it turns out, “being worried” is for other teams, because all this team does is win. Constantly. Greinke wiggled his way out of that third-inning jam, and pitched into the seventh without allowing another run — and even then, you realize that the second run came in with Ronald Belisario on the mound and that Greinke’s seventh-inning single drove in the go-ahead run on his own. Greinke’s now hitting .405/.476/.459 on the season, which, yes please.
Greinke was helped along by some pretty nice defense, notably a Puig-to-Nick Punto-to-A.J. Ellis relay to stop a run at the plate, and fortunately the Dodger dugout managed not to erupt in flames after Puig was seen barking at Adrian Gonzalez in the fourth inning. (Gonzalez was on first and made it only to third on a Puig double, which Puig had hoped to stretch into a triple but couldn’t since Gonzalez had stopped.) The pair was later seen playfully hugging in the dugout, though I can’t imagine a rookie showing up a team leader like that is going to go over all that well off-camera.
We should also probably note that not only did Don Mattingly (wisely) avoid using the overworked Kenley Jansen in a one-run game, Paco Rodriguez pitched two scoreless innings for the save. Rodriguez gets overshadowed by all the firepower on this club, but he’s been one of the absolutely unsung heroes in this bullpen, really.
Anyway, the Dodgers win again because that is almost literally all they ever do. That’s 15 straight road victories, second only to the 1916 New York Giants; their streak come all in one stretch on a 20 game trip. When they take the field tomorrow, the last Dodger road loss will have been literally a month ago now, on July 6. Six games up on Arizona!
For a time, we worried about Zack Greinke. We worried that the sore elbow in March and the broken collarbone in April that he probably returned too quickly from had irreparably damaged his season, and while those provided incredibly valid reasons for inconsistent performance and decreased velocity, it still meant we weren’t seeing the pitcher the Dodgers invested so much money in last winter.
Tonight, we saw that pitcher and then some. Greinke was absolutely phenomenal in shutting out the Rockies, 1-0, the fourth shutout of his career and the first since he tossed three in his Cy Young season of 2009 for Kansas City. Greinke was dominant in holding the Rockies to two hits, and managed to get through the first two innings on just 14 pitches. (For the day, 80 of his 110 pitches were strikes.) With his velocity up in the mid 90s — touching 95.85 MPH with movement, according to BrooksBaseball — and finally with control to match, Greinke took a no-hitter into the fifth before Todd Helton broke it up with a single.
Somewhat incredibly, Greinke didn’t strike out anyone until whiffing Michael Cuddyer in the fifth; he then struck out 6 in the next three innings and had nine on the afternoon. By Game Score, this was the best outing of Greinke’s career. Oh — and he even got a hit and stole a base that didn’t even merit a throw. Just outstanding.
Greinke’s performance was not only fun to watch — the game lasted just 2:17 — but absolutely necessary, because tough-luck Colorado starter Tyler Chatwood matched him nearly every step of the way in pitching a complete game of his own (of only eight innings, of course). A Dodger offense that was without Carl Crawford & Yasiel Puig managed only four hits off Chatwood, and they needed help to get even the lone run across the board when Colorado center fielder Dexter Fowler dove and missed badly at Skip Schumaker‘s drive to center in the first. Schumaker came around on productive groundouts from Adrian Gonzalez & Hanley Ramirez, and that’s all the Dodgers would get or need for their 17th win in 21 games.
I hate Coors Field. I hate absolutely everything about it. “From hell’s heart I stab at thee,” and all that. Sure, there’s the stunning views of majestic vistas, and a fanbase that generally supports their team very well, but none of it matters. None of it. Even last year, I was titling posts “See You in Hell, Coors Field“. I hate their giant stupid dinosaur mascot, and I hate the four-and-a-half hour games that never seem to end. Just tear the place down already. If not that, then I’m fine with the Dodgers just forfeiting every single game there form now on, because we’ve already seen what the walls in Denver can do to ruin Matt Kemp‘s career… and tonight, it very nearly did the same to Yasiel Puig.
In the bottom of the fifth, Nolan Arenado hit a ball deep to right field. Puig slammed into the wall — view this GIF via Chad Moriyama if you absolutely must — and though he made the catch, he stayed down on the field for several minutes. I have a picture of him on the ground in pain holding his leg, and I won’t post it here, because I don’t care to inflict such pain upon you. Puig stayed in to hit a sacrifice fly in the sixth, then was replaced by Skip Schumaker. The Dodgers later reported that he “bruised his left hip and the muscles of his thigh,” and is day-to-day.
That all being said, I’m now in the third paragraph and I haven’t even pointed out that the Dodgers actually won the damn game, 10-8, thanks to a blistering offense that was able to overcome another very shaky Zack Greinke start. Greinke was actually pretty brutal, tying a career high with seven walks (one intentionally) and allowing five runs in five innings to push his ERA to 4.30, though it should at least be noted that he at least managed to hold it together after a terrible start and get through his final three innings with just one more run on the board. He got the win, because… well, you know.
Most nights over the last few years on this team, a poor starting effort equals a quick loss. But not with this lineup, and not in this godforsaken park. For the first time this season, the Dodgers put up 10 runs, and they did it with style, adding 10 extra-base hits. (The last time they did that? The famous 4+1 game of 2006, notes Eric Stephen.)
After two runs were on the board, Juan Uribe kicked off the fun with his third homer of the season — and when Uribe homers, you can be all but guaranteed that he’s getting the marquee image no matter what else happens — followed by Adrian Gonzalez putting number 12 out in the fifth, an absolute no-doubter blast into the right field seats. In the ninth, Hanley Ramirez hit yet another dinger — his seventh, one of his four hits, and you just can’t overstate just how phenomenal he’s been — and perhaps best of all, Matt Kemp hit his first since May 20.
Believe it or not, this was the first game all season that the Dodgers had Greinke, Kemp, & Ramirez all out there at the same time. Tonight was the 83rd game of the season. And we wonder why this team struggled so badly for months? Fortunately, the trio of J.P. Howell, Paco Rodriguez, and Kenley Jansen worked around Grienke and an uneven appearance from Jose Dominguez, with Jansen entering in the eighth for a four-out save.
With that, the Dodgers have won 10 of 11 and are now virtually tied with Colorado for second place, just two games behind Arizona for first. (Though the Diamonbacks are currently leading the Mets 5-2 in the eighth.) Two days ago, this team was in last. Tonight, it’s second. By the weekend, it could be first. What a wild ride.
And with that, I bid you a safe and enjoyable holiday. I’ll be traveling through Sunday, though game threads will still get posted, and you all know that means that trades are coming. Enjoy.