Dodgers are hotter than the Sahara Desert ... but is it a mirage?
Matt Kemp has led the Dodgers to a 9-1 start, their best since 1981. But it's all been against the feeble Padres and Pirates, and Manager Don Mattingly says, 'Things have kind of bounced our way.'
By Dylan Hernandez
April 16, 2012, 6:35 p.m.
Matt Kemp has been unstoppable. The Dodgers have been too.
Leading the major leagues in all three of the triple crown categories through Sunday, Kemp became the first player ever to win consecutive National League player-of-the-week awards in the first two weeks of a season. He also claimed the prize in the final week of 2011, making him the first player to win it three weeks running since its inception in 1974.
"He's the best player in baseball, and probably the world, right now," Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw said. "It's pretty ridiculous."
Kemp is for real. Everyone in baseball seems to agree on that.
But what about the Dodgers?
Their 9-1 record is the best in the majors. The last time they won nine of their first 10 games was in the strike-shortened 1981 season, when they went on to win the World Series.
A three-game series in Milwaukee, which starts Tuesday, could offer some perspective.
Six of the Dodgers' wins came against the San Diego Padres, who might be the worst team in baseball. The other three were over the Pittsburgh Pirates, who aren't much better than the Padres.
The Brewers reached the National League Championship Series last season. Though they lost Prince Fielder to the Detroit Tigers over the winter and ranked 26th in the majors in batting average through Sunday, they have the potential to do something the Padres and Pirates could not: hit.
With a lineup that includes reigning NL most valuable player Ryan Braun (.343) and the fast-starting Corey Hart (.321, four home runs, eight runs batted in), the Brewers could help answer a question that might determine how far the Dodgers go.
That is, was Chad Billingsley's spectacular form in his first two starts a result of the mechanical adjustments he made in spring? Or did he simply benefit from facing two of the league's worst offensive teams?
Billingsley, who has given up only one run in 141/3 innings this season, will start the series opener. He will be followed by veteran newcomers Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang, who also remain the subjects of uncertainty.
Capuano and Harang have combined to average five innings per start. Dodgers relievers have posted a respectable 3.21 earned-run average, but maintaining that would be difficult if they have to pitch four innings every time Capuano and Harang take the mound.
Manager Don Mattingly didn't sound fazed by the upcoming challenge.
"We're capable of beating anybody," he said. "We know what. It doesn't really matter what anybody else thinks."
However, Mattingly also conceded, "We've had close games that could have gone either way. Things have kind of bounced our way a little bit."
The Dodgers have won five one-run games.
If you listen to Mattingly and his players, that's a sign of their resolve and newfound ability to manufacture runs, which has been enhanced by the additions of speedy leadoff man Dee Gordon and cerebral No. 2 hitter Mark Ellis. Andre Ethier has returned to his pre-injury form and has provided a complementary threat to Kemp in the middle of the order.
"Right now, we're really confident in ourselves," Kemp said. "Everybody's doing a great job of doing little things to win games."
But a cynic would probably say they were handed some wins by suspect opposition and umpiring.
In one win during their season-opening series in San Diego, the Dodgers walked 10 batters, hit another, blew a five-run lead and still beat the Padres.
They blew another five-run lead against the Padres on Friday at Dodger Stadium and strolled off with a victory when San Diego relievers Andrew Cashner and Joe Thatcher combined to walk four consecutive batters, all with two out, in the bottom of the ninth.
Closer Javy Guerra was bailed out Sunday by a disputed ninth-inning triple play, when plate umpire Dale Scott raised his arms in a way that seemed to indicate he was ruling Jesus Guzman's bunt to be foul.
A two-out single by Gordon in the bottom of the inning lifted the Dodgers to their second walk-off victory in three days.
"It's a matter of getting one win or another," Mattingly said. "You're going to have to win X amount of games this year to get to the playoffs. And every one you can win now is one you don't necessarily have to win later."
The early schedule could help the Dodgers pad their win total.
The Brewers are one of only two teams the Dodgers face this month that finished with a record better than .500 last season. The other is the Atlanta Braves, who visit Dodger Stadium from April 23-25.
The Dodgers won't have consecutive series against teams that had winning records in 2011 until the middle of May, when they host the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals from May 18-20 and visit the defending NL West champion Arizona Diamondbacks from May 21-23.
Developing Chavez Ravine is likely in play for new Dodgers owner
Real estate experts say the rich price Guggenheim Baseball Management paid for the team probably means it is looking to do more with the land surrounding Dodger Stadium than simply park cars.
By Roger Vincent and Ken Bensinger, Los Angeles Times
April 16, 2012, 10:02 p.m.
It's a developer's dream — nearly 300 empty acres above downtown Los Angeles, close to three major freeways and visited by millions each year.
Could Chavez Ravine be the next big real estate play in town?
The new owner of the Dodgers, Guggenheim Baseball Management, is keeping tight-lipped about its plans for the parking lots and hillsides surrounding Dodger Stadium, which it will own jointly with departing team owner Frank McCourt if the sale closes as expected April 30.
The Dodgers disclosed some details of the McCourt-Guggenheim land partnership in the team's bankruptcy case, but those documents were under seal — and the team quickly withdrew them after The Times asked the bankruptcy judge to release them publicly.
Real estate experts, however, say it's likely the new owner is looking to do more with the land than simply park cars. They point out that the rich price paid by Guggenheim — at $2.15 billion, a record for a sports franchise — suggests it will need to add new revenue streams in addition to what is expected to be a lucrative television contract.
"There is probably a media or a real estate play," said Stan Ross, chairman of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate, who was quick to add that any development would likely take years to realize.
One doesn't have to scout far for a glimpse of potential development plans. Four years ago, McCourt proposed a $500-million plan to ring the stadium with restaurants, shops and a Dodgers museum. The surface parking spaces lost to new buildings would be replaced by twin nine-story garages.
The plans never went anywhere amid the economic downturn and the team's precarious finances, but it's clear that McCourt wasn't the only one to see new development possibilities.
Among those in the bidding for the Dodgers were real estate entrepreneurs Rick Caruso, Jared Kushner and Tom Barrack. And Magic Johnson, one of the nation's most prominent urban developers, has a minority stake in the Guggenheim partnership.
Developer Ken Lombard, a former business partner of Johnson, said the Dodgers property is ideally situated for an urban development.
"You could create a community up there," said Lombard, who runs the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza shopping center. "You have the chance to do something very interesting, probably a mixture of residential and retail."
There would be even more potential if the baseball stadium were to be relocated downtown, as many have suggested. AEG Entertainment President Tim Leiweke, who is leading plans to build an NFL football stadium downtown, said a downtown baseball stadium would be among other possible options if the football stadium were derailed.
Beverly Hills apartment developer Alan Casden, another unsuccessful bidder for the Dodgers, had made relocating the stadium a cornerstone of an earlier proposal to buy the team in 2003.
At that time, Casden criticized Dodger Stadium for convoluted parking lots, a poor seating plan and a location inconvenient for both fans and nearby residents who bear the brunt of traffic, noise and litter in their neighborhood.
Tearing down Dodger Stadium, the third-oldest major league ballpark, would likely draw opposition from preservationists. The Los Angeles Conservancy has not taken a position on the issue, but its executive director, Linda Dishman, has a soft spot for the 50-year-old stadium.
At 50, Dodger Stadium is now eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. If it achieved such a designation, the owner would find it more difficult to get city approval to destroy it, make substantial changes or sell naming rights.
In 2004, Chicago's Wrigley Field was landmarked, a move the Cubs' ownership opposed. The team was sold in 2009 and the new owners have asserted that the status costs the Cubs $30 million a year in lost sponsorship opportunities.
Even if the stadium doesn't get official landmark designation, earning the backing to raze it or build additions on the parking lots such as condos or a shopping center would not be an easy feat, said Gail Goldberg, former city planning director.
Owners can be expected to look for "higher and better" uses for their property that will produce more financial rewards, she said. Their challenge is to convince local officials that their plans are good for economic development and to convince local stakeholders such as neighbors that the plan will improve their quality of life.
That the publicly unpopular McCourt is still involved is an added hurdle to building support for real estate development, she said.
"I think nobody wants to help him make more money," Goldberg said. "As long as his name is out there, the public benefit [of development] would have to be extraordinary."
Although the Boston native is giving up half his interest in the parking lots, Bankruptcy Court filings show that McCourt will retain complete control of five parcels comprising nearly 20 acres of land immediately adjoining them.
McCourt also owns an entire city block between College Street and Figueroa Terrace, just down the hill from the stadium. Purchased in 2008 for $9.1 million, the block holds a small house and a commercial building with the offices of the L.A. Marathon, which McCourt also owns.
The price McCourt paid is more than triple what the land sold for in 2004 and 2005; the block borders the 110 Freeway and its Sunset Boulevard exit, which could be an attractive feature should the city ever expand road access to Dodger Stadium.
Major roadwork and other large-scale improvements to ease ingress and egress to the ravine would probably be necessary for meaningful development to take place, architect and real estate advisor Ann Gray said.
"It's not an easy site to get in and out of," Gray said. "The paradox is that the only way to relieve traffic is to build more. It will alleviate the bottleneck at the start and end of games. Even great mass transit will not do that."
With the exception of the Figueroa Terrace properties, almost all of McCourt's holdings are zoned as agricultural or open space, as are the parking lots. To build on them, a potentially difficult rezoning would be required.
City Councilman Ed Reyes, whose district includes Chavez Ravine, is taking a wait-and-see approach to development around the stadium, though he did voice support for McCourt's plan in 2008.
"There is a critical path that we have to cross that speaks to our ability to create jobs while making it better for everybody, not just the people who come for three hours and then go," he said.
Dodgers' fast start even has the media in a tizzy
By Steve Dilbeck
April 16, 2012, 4:44 p.m.
All aboard, this bandwagon is heading out like a love train.
Don't you know that it's time to get on board,
And let this train keep on riding, riding on through …
Anyone in their path. There’s no stopping the Dodgers now! They are 9-1 and taking names. Hannibal at the Battle of Cannae. Patton storming Bastogne.
OK, maybe not exactly. The Dodgers do own the best record in baseball and all kudos for that. They have met two of the worst teams in the National League three times and played with them like a puppy with a chew toy.
But there remains just a slight possibility that people are reading way too much into this start. And I don’t just mean the Dodgers faithful, either.
I’m not a big proponent of team rankings but guess they’re fun. Accurate? Maybe not so much.
Because the Dodgers are skyrocketing in these things. Sports Illustrated has the Dodgers ranked as the fifth best team in all of baseball, ESPN now has them fourth and the Sporting News has them second –- trailing only the Rangers.
In a video, Fox Sports columnist and Baseball Writers President of the Temperance Society Jon Paul Morosi claims flatly: “I’m a believer. This is a good team, it is not a great team … (but) good enough to make the playoffs.”
I’m thinking everybody needs to come down from mountain. I’m not sure who’s leading this sermon, but the air must be awfully thin up there.
Exactly what do we know about these Dodgers now that we did not know two weeks ago? Not that much. Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier were expected to carry the offense and have (times two). The rest of the lineup looked like a lot of role players and have been. Juan Uribe and James Loney still aren’t hitting. Dee Gordon is young player — hot and cold. Neither Mark Ellis nor A.J. Ellis are hitting, though A.J. has a .419 on-base percentage and has been terrific behind the plate.
“It’s not like we’re blowing teams away,” said Manager Don Mattingly. “We’ve caught a few breaks. It’s not always going to be that way.”
And he said that before Sunday’s bizarro triple play.
This is not intended to distract from what the Dodgers have accomplished. They’ve done exactly what they’ve needed to do: beat up on lesser teams, if hardly rolling through them. Five of their nine victories have been by a single run.
“The main thing is to start out fast,” said Matt Kemp. “It doesn’t matter who you play. We need to take care of ourselves and win as many games as we can.”
Which is correct, of course. The wins in April count just as much as the ones in September. Still, it is, as they say, an almost stupidly long season. Every team — even the Padres and Pirates — will have their winning streaks.
Just some caution to everyone eager to read so much into a fast start. Last year the Rockies started 11-2 and were never heard from again. The '55 Dodgers started 22-2 and never looked back. It can go either way.
The Dodgers have yet to play a strong team – they open a three-game series against the Brewers Tuesday – and really have a pretty soft schedule throughout April. They deserve applause, but also a decent amount of skepticism.
Matt Kemp's tear with Dodgers is now breaking records
By Steve Dilbeck
April 16, 2012, 1:21 p.m.
Get off to a ridiculous start like Matt Kemp, and historic things tend to happen.
History met up with Kemp on Monday when he was named the National League Player of the Week for the second time in as many weeks.
Kemp became the first NL player to win the back-to-back honor to start a season and the first to win three consecutive awards (dating back to the last week of 2011) since the award’s inception in 1974.
Otherwise, he just cannot get on track.
Kemp’s current numbers are a tad otherworldly. After 10 games, Kemp not only leads the triple-crown categories in the NL, but for the entire major leagues.
He leads the majors in home runs (six), RBI (16) and batting average (.487). Also in slugging percentage (1.026), hits (19) and runs (13). Alas, this slacker is going to have to pick it up if he wants to steal 50 bases, since he’s stuck at one.
Kemp, last year’s NL MVP runner-up, currently has more home runs than four entire teams (Cubs, Nationals, Phillies and Pirates).
The only other player to capture consecutive Player of the Week awards to open a season was Tony Armas, who managed it in the American League in 1981 with the Oakland A’s.
Kemp earned this week’s honors by leading the majors with these numbers: a .545 (12-for-22) batting average, four home runs, a 1.182 slugging percentage, .615 on-base percentage and 26 total bases.
Kemp first 50-50 player? It could happen
Center fielder in his prime, motivated by NL MVP Award snub
By Anthony Castrovince | MLB.com Columnist | Archive 04/17/12 10:00 AM ET
Sure, it could very well be a mirage, this 9-1 start for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The .900 winning percentage has, of course, come at the expense of the Padres and the Pirates, and so these are April results that deserve asterisks, even by April standards.
For the time being, and for the sake of everybody's sanity, we'll reserve all judgment on the club at large (though it's nonetheless worth noting that the Dodgers have already won nine games before Clayton Kershaw has even gotten around to winning his first).
But we're not stretching the limits of sanity to point out that, even in the midst of a potential mirage, what Matt Kemp is doing is absolutely legit.
How can such a thing be asserted with only 6.2 percent of the season in the books?
Well, because Kemp had the courtesy to warn us beforehand, that's how.
"I'm telling you," he told us via conference call last fall, "y'all created a monster."
This was the conference call in which Kemp discussed being shortchanged in the National League MVP Award balloting (hey, Matt, some of us were on your side), the conference call in which he made that bold first proclamation that he's going to hit 50 home runs and steal 50 bases this season.
Now, it would be pretty silly to assume Kemp will be the first member of the 50-50 club. History tells us he's due to be derailed on that quest, particularly if he keeps up a pace that would result in 97 home runs. (Hey, how's a guy supposed to swipe 50 bags if the majority of his action on the bases involves trotting around them?)
And no, Kemp won't continue to hit .487 with a 1.548 OPS. He won't have a .538 ISO (isolated power, or the percentage of his at-bats that have resulted in extra bases). He won't win NL Player of the Week honors every single week of the season. And come to think of it, he probably won't sustain that 97-homer pace, either.
But something was awoken inside of Kemp last year -- a year in which he finally had the energy and enthusiasm to match his potential, with the results to show for it -- and his hunger to drive himself and his team to greatness was only made all the more strong by that MVP snub.
So, yeah, a monster was born, and the 10-game terror he's unleashed upon opposing pitchers in this season's opening stretch is likely to continue, in some measure.
"Is there a better player in the game right now?" Padres manager Bud Black asked over the weekend.
Kemp is 27, and so he's right in the thick of what will prove to be his statistical prime. He's embraced a leadership role on a club that simply would not have finished above .500 without him last year. Kemp has become one of the game's most complete players, and the Dodgers hope he'll have better lineup protection now that Don Mattingly is batting him in the third spot, ahead of Andre Ethier, instead of the fourth spot, where, last year, he batted ahead of the likes of James Loney, Juan Uribe, Rod Barajas, Casey Blake and Jerry Sands.
What's most impressive about the way Kemp has started this season is that he's produced this power in two notoriously difficult ballparks for hitters -- Dodger Stadium and Petco Park. Of his six homers, two have gone to dead center and the other four have all gone to the opposite field. The guy is not pull-happy, and his is the kind of production you can't fake.
Surely, the opposition will adjust, and the grind of the season will take its toll on the gaudy numbers. But in the here and now, baseball doesn't have many players more motivated than Matt Kemp, and, because Kemp is so naturally talented, motivation is half the battle.
He's also motivated to make this Dodgers team turn the corner.
"I feel like this year we need to turn things around and get back on track," Kemp told the Los Angeles Times this spring.
The 9-1 start certainly has the Dodgers on the right track. And as easy as it is to discount the opposition (or to point out that they won't be turning any more 2-5-6-3 triple plays), the Dodgers finished last season strong, they play in a particularly unpredictable division, they have a dangerous one-two punch atop their rotation in the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Kershaw and Chad Billingsley and they have a deep bullpen.
Perhaps most importantly, they have a monster in the middle of their lineup.
And what Kemp is doing here in 2012 is no mirage.
Back-end duo making Dodgers' relief dynamic
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com | 04/16/12 4:30 PM ET
LOS ANGELES -- At the back end of the Dodgers' bullpen, one of the club's many strengths in its blazing 9-1 start, you find a team within a team.
Closer Javy Guerra and setup man Kenley Jansen are a dominant duo. The only blips have been a pair of homers surrendered by Jansen to Cameron Maybin and Chase Headley of the Padres, Headley's blast costing Jansen a save that became one of his two wins.
Guerra has been close to perfect in his six outings, making good on all five of his save attempts by limiting opponents to only two hits and two walks in six scoreless innings.
Guerra, 26, and Jansen, 24, are relatively new to their jobs and resist being singled out. They will quickly point out that the bullpen is a unit, each member committed to his role. But these two guys have a history that is fairly unique, creating a tight bond.
"I used to pitch to Kenley in the Minors," Guerra said, recalling Jansen's early days as one of the biggest catchers in professional baseball. "Me and Kenley have always had a special relationship. I love the guy.
"He was good back there, defensively. And he had an arm. I think he had the ability to catch up here [in the Majors]."
Jansen, born and raised in Curacao of the former Netherlands Antilles, showcased his powerful, accurate arm catching for Team Netherlands in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. But his offensive performance showed why he was about to be transformed into a pitcher.
A .229 hitter in five Minor League seasons with 15 homers in 953 at-bats, he was 1-for-13 in the Classic, his lone hit coming off Roy Oswalt of Team USA.
"He was a switch-hitter," Guerra said, when asked about Jansen's bat. "That wasn't the best part of his game."
At 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, Jansen was introduced to the mound in 2009 at Inland Empire of the California League. He could throw the ball through a wall, but the problem was locating the wall.
In 11 2/3 innings of high-Class A work, he walked 11 hitters while striking out 19. He was raw, to be sure, but the Dodgers saw enough potential in him to continue with the experiment.
In 2010, at 22, he exploded. Throwing strikes with natural movement on his four-seam fastball, Jansen moved from Inland Empire to Double-A Chattanooga to Dodger Stadium, making his Major League debut on July 24 against the Mets. He struck out Angel Pagan and David Wright and retired Carlos Beltran on an infield out.
Clearly, the Curacao kid was not intimidated by the big stage -- or two of the game's most dangerous hitters in Wright and Beltran.
To his surprise, Jansen beat his old buddy, Guerra, to Los Angeles. There was nothing meteoric about Javy's rise. The man from Denton, Texas, a fourth-round pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, labored for seven seasons in the Minors, the first four as a starter.
"He's been through a lot," Jansen said. "Javy had Tommy John surgery. He's had his ups and downs. A lot of players in his situation might not have made it. But he's so strong mentally. He doesn't let anything get to him."
Guerra's long-awaited Major League debut arrived on May 15, 2011. He held the D-backs scoreless, yielding one hit with a strikeout.
By midseason, Guerra had emerged as manager Don Mattingly's closer.
Using his deep repertoire -- fastball, curve, slider, changeup -- Guerra nailed down his first 10 saves and finished 21-for-23, his 91.3 success rate the sixth best in the Majors. It was also the sixth-best all-time for a rookie.
Jansen, meanwhile, was tossing up some crazy numbers setting up for Guerra. Going almost exclusively with his cutter, bearing in on left-handed hitters' hands and breaking away with late movement from righties, Jansen was leaving hitters dazed.
He rang up 96 strikeouts in 53 2/3 innings, his 16.1 K's per nine innings the highest rate ever recorded. Opposing hitters batted .157 against him, third best in the Majors.
"We've got different styles," Jansen said. "I think it's good to have different looks in the bullpen. Javy throws hard [averaging 94 mph with his fastball, compared to 93.3 by Jansen]. I try to throw the four-seamer, but the ball naturally cuts at the last moment.
"I'm still figuring things out. It's great having Javy around -- especially when I feel down a little. I talk to him, and he always has a way of making me feel good."
Members of baseball's new math community evaluated the numbers of Guerra and Jansen over the winter and wondered why their roles aren't reversed.
Acknowledging that Guerra has done a solid job, they pointed to Jansen's strikeout percentage, bordering on the astonishing, and saw a closer.
The early 2012 returns suggest Mattingly knows what he's doing. Guerra has been lights out. Jansen's cutter, when it's on, is virtually unhittable. But when it drifts into a hitter's wheelhouse, it can travel a long way. Maybin and Headley are prime examples.
Certainly you'll hear no complaints from Jansen about his role. He knows he's an unfinished product, that Guerra is far more advanced.
"We both have respect for each other and are good friends," Jansen said. "I'm just getting started. He knows what he's doing. We're trying to be the best we can be. You've got to have a strong bullpen, and we have a lot of guys who can get the job done. Our bullpen is so deep.
"We've just got to keep working and get the job done. When it gets to the eighth or ninth inning, up by one, we've got to try to shut it down."
Matt Kemp and the National League Player of the Week Award are quickly becoming old friends.
On Monday, the Dodgers center fielder was named the recipient of the award for the second consecutive week to begin the 2012 regular season, and combined with his winning of the honor in the last week of the 2011 season, he's earned three in a row, becoming the first player to accomplish the three-peat since the award's inception in 1974.
The only other player to capture consecutive Player of the Week awards to begin a season was Tony Armas, who accomplished the feat in the American League in 1981 while with the Oakland Athletics.
In six games from April 9-15, the right-handed-hitting slugger led all Major Leaguers with a .545 (12-for-22) batting average, four home runs, a 1.182 slugging percentage, .615 on-base percentage and 26 total bases. His seven runs scored tied for first in the NL, and his 12 hits and eight RBIs both tied for second. His torrid start has helped the Dodgers to a Major League-best 9-1 record, marking the club's best start through 10 games since 1981.
Kemp dominated in the Dodgers' weekend series sweep over the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium, going 7-for-10 with four homers and seven RBIs in the three-game set. Kemp went 3-for-4 with a home run on Sunday as the Dodgers edged the Padres, 5-4. On Saturday, last year's runner-up for league MVP hit two homers and drove in four en route to a 6-1 Dodgers victory.
Kemp also notched multihit efforts on Wednesday and Thursday, leading the Dodgers to a three-game sweep of the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates. Kemp, 27, already has seven multihit games this season and entered Monday's play leading the Majors in hitting (.487), home runs (6) and RBIs (16).
This is his fourth career weekly award, having won previously for the weeks of May 4, 2008; Sept. 25, 2011; and April 8, 2012.
Matt Kemp named NL POW, again
April, 16, 2012
The hits keep coming for Matt Kemp, who was named the National League's player of the week for a second consecutive week.
Kemp hit .545 with four home runs over six games last week. He also had a 1.182 slugging percentage, .615 on-base percentage and 26 bases, making him the first NL player to win back-to-back player of the week nods to start a season since the award was created in 1974. Kemp also won the award the final week of last season.
He is hitting .487 with six homers, a 1.026 slugging percentage and .523 OPB overall this season, helping the Dodgers to a 9-1 start, their best through 10 games since 1981.