Dodgers come alive in seventh, clinch division


On Saturday night, it took three things for the Dodgers to beat the Rockies and finally clinch the NL West. 1) A spectacular pitching performance from the 21 year-old Clayton Kershaw, who threw six scoreless innings on 10 strikeouts and three hits. 2) Rockies starter Jorge De La Rosa’s groin injury in the fourth. De La Rosa pitched three hitless innings before the Rockies middle relief came in and struggled. 3) The seventh-inning rally from the Dodgers. After hits from Casey Blake, Ronnie Belliard, Mark Loretta, Juan Pierre, and Manny Ramirez, the Dodgers had scored five, breaking the game wide open.

The Dodgers unleashed their pent-up frustration in a five-run seventh inning that matched their entire offensive output from the previous five days, the five-hit, two-walk outburst lifting them to a 5-0 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night that secured their second title in a row.

For the last six days, the magic number for the Dodgers to win the division was at one.

The Dodgers lost five consecutive games over that span. The Rockies won six.

Ending the game was closer Jonathan Broxton, who had a chance to seal the division title in Pittsburgh six days ago, only to blow a three-run lead.

“In Pittsburgh, it didn’t go the way I wanted,” Broxton said. “It felt like a while to get here. The champagne traveled a lot. It probably has more miles on it than any other champagne.”

Obviously, the Dodgers hardly “clinched” anything. That word implies an interim of relaxation. The Yankees “clinched” their division and secured home field advantage some time ago. It took 161 games for the Dodgers to solidify their role in the playoffs. While they finish the season with the National League’s best record, the Dodgers are by no means its hottest team. Until last night, they had lost five straight. Fortunately for them, the Cardinals (their NLDS opponents) and the Phillies are both in similar skids. The Rockies, however, are tearing it up, winning six of their last seven.

Hats off to Rockies manager Jim Tracy, who took over midseason and completely turned this team around. The Rockies are thriving off the same type of momentum that took them from the wild card spot to the World Series in 2007.

Despite the Dodgers recent struggles, they did have to overcome a fair amount of obstacles, including Manny Ramirez’s 50-game suspension, Rafael Furcal and Russell Martin’s hitting woes, Hiroki Kuroda’s various injuries, and Chad Billingsley’s second-half meltdown. Really, it came down to Ned Colletti’s preseason and midseason acquisitions. Orlando Hudson, Randy Wolf, George Sherrill, Ronnie Belliard, Vicente Padilla, and Jon Garland turned it on when it mattered most. Notice how I didn’t mention the Twenty Million Dollar Man. Devotion transcends past drug use out here in L.A. and Manny Ramirez has received a season-long pass. Who knows if his bat will come alive in the playoffs. Nevertheless, it won’t matter. The best teams are going to advance, and that’s the end of it.

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It’s all about the pitching

Jonathan Papelbon“Momentum is always as strong as your starting pitcher is the next day.”
– Joe Maddon

Leave it to the well-read Rays manger to come up with such a profound statement. Chances are this saying is nailed up in his teams’ clubhouse alongside others from the likes of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Maddon’s right, and he’s used this pitching-first philosophy to propel his team into the ALCS.

If there’s one quality that ties each of the remaining four teams together, it’s that each of them can hit. They each have at least two big bats, lead-off men that can hit for average, and a bottom of the order that can consistently do some damage. When teams are this evenly matched at the plate, it’s often a single blunder on the part of a pitcher that can decide a game. As we’ve seen in the Division Series between the Angels and Red Sox, it comes down to the pitching. Both teams boasted fabulous rotations and excellent hitting, but it was the Red Sox middle relief and closer that really won the games.

Read the rest after the jump...

Is this Phillies team one of destiny?

Not since the 1993 World Series team has the Philadelphia Phillies gone this far. With their 6-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 4 of the NLDS, the Phillies are heading to the NLCS to face the Los Angeles Dodgers. And as Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes, this Phillies team might be one of destiny.

Philadelphia PhilliesFor the homegrown nucleus of this team – Utley and Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell, Cole Hamels and Brett Myers – reaching the NLCS marks a major milestone. Having grown up in this organization together through mostly futile years, they have lived in the shadow of the 1980 world champions and the beloved 1993 World Series club.

Now it is their time. Now they can write their own chapters in the book of Schmidt and Carlton, of Dykstra and Schilling.

“This team has a lot of heart,” Myers said. “To be the first team to go this far since ’93, it’s huge. We’re going to try to put ’93 in the past where it should be. We’re going to try to take it a little further and actually win this whole thing.”

Rollins, who led off the game with a towering home run to right field, has been this team’s oracle. He predicted 100 wins for these Phillies, a number he realized was still attainable. After all, he never said “in the regular season.”

“We can get to 103,” Rollins said. “That’s the number.”

It would take eight more wins, of course, to get to 103: four against the Dodgers and four more in the World Series.

The Phillies’ 95th victory was a perfect example of what they will have to do to beat a Dodgers team that exploded offensively to sweep the Chicago Cubs in the division series. They will have to continue pitching well, but they will also have to hit the ball. They did just that today, blasting four home runs – two by Burrell, one by Rollins, and one by Jayson Werth. It was the kind of game this lineup hadn’t produced in its six previous playoff games, going back to last year.

I think Philly was fortunate to get a weary Milwaukee team, but that’s not to take anything away from them. They’ll get a great test in the Dodgers and I think it’s a great matchup all the way around.

Cole Hamels vs. Manny Ramirez? Sign me up.

Top 5 Hitters and Top 5 Pitchers in Division Series Play

It’s Division Series time in baseball, and for me it’s one of the most exciting times of the sports calendar, especially if the games go 4-5 games and into the weekend. And though division series play only began in 1995, there have been some great performances in history. Here is a list of the Top 5 in batting average and starting pitching ERA over the course of ALDS and NLDS games since 1995:

Batting Average

1. Cal Ripken (.441)—Ripken’s Orioles played in two ALDS, 1996 against Cleveland and 1997 against Seattle. He had zero homers and three RBI, but was a combined 15 for 34 in those series with five doubles. He’s known for being an iron man, but this dude could sure hit the ball.

2. Mark DeRosa—His 4 for 8 performance so far in the NLDS with the Cubs has let DeRosa creep up into this spot. But before this year and last year’s Cubbies, he was also hitting well for the Braves in two NLDS—in 2001, 2002 and 2003.

3. Fernando Vina (.404)—Fernando Vina hit .404 over the course of three NLDS with the Cardinals—2000 through 2002. He went 19 for 47 with 2 home runs and 6 runs batted in, but then had a .261 average in NLCS games.

4. Mike Stanley (.400)—Mike Stanley was a journeyman who hit .270 during his regular season career and .356 in the postseason with the Yankees and Red Sox. In four ALDS, Stanley hit .400 with three doubles, a triple, a homer and six RBI.

5. A.J. Pierzynski (.390)—He went 2 for 3 yesterday for the White Sox, lifting Pierzynski into the number 5 position on this list. He has also played in two ALDS with the Twins, as well as with the Sox team that won it all in 2005.

Starting Pitching ERA

1. Curt Schilling (0.93)—Schilling has started five division series games in his career, three with Arizona and two with Boston. Bloody sock or not, Schilling is a gamer who cranks it up a notch when it matters most. In addition to the ERA, Schilling is 4-0 with 33 strikeouts and just 6 walks in division series play.

2. Kevin Brown (0.98)—Kevin Brown was always a great pitcher, but he’s another guy who had a second gear in the playoffs. Brown pitched in three division series for three different teams—Florida (1997), San Diego (1998) and the Yankees (2004). He has a 2-0 record with 27 strikeouts in four starts.

3. Todd Stottlemyre (1.69)—Stottlemyre also pitched in three division series with three different teams—St. Louis in 1996, Texas in 1998 and Arizona in 1999. He went 2-1 in three starts with 21 strikeouts in 21 innings.

4. Orlando Hernandez (1.78)—“El Duque” pitched in five ALDS, four with the Yankees and one with the White Sox. Another pitcher who is money in the playoffs, El Duque has gone 3-1 with 25 strikeouts in division series play.

5. Kerry Wood (1.85)—Though he is a closer now and pitched only in relief in last year’s NLDS, Kerry Wood was a starter in his two other NLDS with the Cubs—1998 and 2003. And overall, he is 2-1 with a 1.85 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 24 innings of work.

Source: Baseball Reference

MLB Playoffs Quick Reads

– Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times writes that the Cubs are a tragedy of errors right now.

– Chris DeLuca of the Times notes that the Cubs aren’t the only ones in a slump – manager Lou Piniella is, too.

– Joey Johnston of the Tampa Tribune gushes over Rays’ rookie Evan Longoria’s cool after the third basemen hit two home runs in Game 1 of ALDS against the White Sox.

– Todd Zolecki of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes that Phils manager Charlie Manuel has succeeded with juggling the club’s lineup so far against the Brewers in the NLDS.

– John Romano of the St. Petersburg Times likes the fire that Rays’ RP Grant Balfour shows, but also writes how the young pitcher invites trouble along with his success.

– Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer waxes poetically about Shane Victorino, the “little Philly” who came up with a huge grand slam against Brewers’ ace CC Sabathia in Game 2 of the NLDS.

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