Series Preview: Dodgers Head to Chicago to Battle Cubs

The past two seasons, the Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs have traded NL championships. Starting Monday in Chicago, they will face off for the first time since the Dodgers clinched the 2017 NLCS in commanding fashion, led by three home runs from Enrique Hernandez.

Since then, two members of that championship team have left for supposedly greener walls in Chicago. The Dodgers will not face Yu Darvish, the losing pitcher of Game 7 in the World Series, for he is currently on the disabled list with inflammation of his right triceps. They will, however, presumably face Brandon Morrow at more than one point out of the bullpen. Morrow has appeared in 26 games for the Cubs, with 22.2 innings pitched, 25 strikeouts, 16 saves, a 1.59 ERA and 1.147 WHIP. He has only surrendered one homer and four runs total.

In Sunday night’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs’ second baseman Javier Baez was hit on the elbow with a pitch. As of this writing, there will be an X-ray on the elbow and his status is unclear for the Dodgers series. So far this season, Baez is batting .255 with 14 homers.

The Dodgers are coming off their eighth-straight series win, taking two of three from the San Francisco Giants over the weekend. The Cubs also took two of three from the Cardinals during the weekend, but were held scoreless in Sunday night’s game. They have not scored in three of their last five games.

Offensively this season, the Cubs have been lead by Albert Amora Jr, currently batting .325 with 15 doubles. Baez leads the team in homers with 14, followed by Kyle Schwarber with 12, Anthony Rizzo with 11, and Kris Bryant with nine. They are 14-6 in their last 20 games, 40-28 overall and second in the NL Central, 0.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers.

Monday night’s game will see Kenta Maeda facing off against righty Tyler Chatwood. Madea is coming off a decent start against the Texas Rangers, his first in his return from the Dal with hip discomfort. Interestingly enough, none of the Cubs have ever faced him. Chatwood is 3-5 with a 4.12 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 13 games. He has only allowed three home runs all season, but he has walked 58.

Tuesday will be the return of Rich Hill from the disabled list, while the Cubs will send lefty Mike Montgomery to the mound. Hill has been on the DL since May 19, continuing to deal with his blister issues. He had a rehab start in Rancho Cucamonga last Thursday, where he struck out 10. Montgomery is 2-2 on the year, with a 3.31 ERA and four home runs allowed alongside 29 strikeouts. He had started the season in the pen, but has recently been charged with taking over for the injured Darvish, and has pitched very well in that time.

Wednesday the pitching matchup will be the aces facing off—Ross Stripling against southpaw Jon Lester. Stripling looks to stay on his All-Star Game worthy campaign, and currently sits at 6-1 with a 1.76 ERA. Lester, one of the two workhorses of the Cubs pitching staff, is 8-2 with a 2.28 ERA over 83.0 innings pitched. He has 69 strikeouts and has allowed 10 home runs.

After a weekend series in New York against the Mets, the Dodgers will finish up their season series with the Cubs next week back at Dodger Stadium.

 

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Matt Kemp & Ross Stripling: The Unlikeliest of 2018’s NL All-Stars

Even if neither Matt Kemp or Ross Stripling are not selected to the 2018 National League All-Star squad—and there’s still plenty of time for circumstances to dictate that—both players will be remembered for having breakout first-half seasons this year, helping lead the Dodgers out of one of their biggest holes in recent history.

Ask either player which they prefer—playing in the Midsummer Classic or competing in the playoffs—and both would surely tell you that a team playoff bid is much more important than any kind of individual recognition. After all, Kemp already has two All-Star selections on his résumé, and Stripling just seems like the type of humble person who would put the benefit of others before himself, although the righty admits that having the opportunity to be recognized among the best players in the game would be “pretty cool.”

“Those things are always fun, but it’s more for the family and friends and all that. Honestly, all I care about is us getting to the playoffs and winning a championship. My expectations, my plan every year, is to drive in runs and make things happen for the team. All the other things are icing on the cake,” Kemp said earlier in June.

“I’m just trying to go out there every five days and do my thing and not worry about that,” Stripling said recently. “Certainly, you never know if you’ll have another chance, so I want to go out there and do my best to get there because it would be pretty cool.”

Before the season began, many folks didn’t see Kemp even being on the Opening Day 25-man roster, as the primary purpose of his acquisition was financial, pushing the Dodgers back below the luxury tax threshold. The same people criticized Kemp for his attitude and clubhouse demeanor, which were the reasons rumored why a certain new front office regime traded him away in 2014 in the first place. In turn, all of the doubt surrounding his future as a Dodger could be the primary reason he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder, coupled with the theory that his future may be determined by his production in 2018.

And Stripling wasn’t much more than a middle-relieving workhorse, believed by many to have the propensity of running out of gas by the end of each season. He was groomed as a starting pitcher during his time on the farm, but when given the chance as a member of the Opening Day rotation back in 2016, he never did enough to separate himself from the big-named stars. Ultimately, he settled into a bullpen role. Some believed that his chances of making the Opening Day 25-man roster—like Kemp—were a bit grim. For a while, it appeared that he would remain stagnant as a middle-reliever, yet when the team was desperate for arms to fill a battered rotation again this year, Strip got the call once again. This time, however, there may be no getting bumped back to the bullpen.

As it stands now, despite all the hurdles and roadblocks in their careers, both players have a good chance of travelling to D.C. to represent the Dodgers in July. And if Dave Roberts has anything to say about it—after all, he is the skipper for the 2018 NL All-Star squad—both Kemp and Stripling will indeed make the trip.

Despite all the early-season doubt, Kemp has become the Dodgers’ most productive player offensively. Before Sunday’s season finale against the Giants, at 33 years of age, Kemp’s .340 average is second in the NL and fourth in all of baseball. He leads the Dodgers in average, OBP, RBI and is second on the club in long balls and OPS.

Over 20 appearances this season—nine of which were starts—Stripling has compiled a 6-1 record with a minuscule 1.76 ERA, 2.41 FIP and 1.01 WHIP over 66-1/3 innings pitched. The 28-year-old has won six consecutive starts, during which time he has posted a 1.43 ERA. And his 78 punchouts calculate to a 10.6 K/9—the first time in his career his strikeout rate has hovered in double-digits.

As far as being selected to the All-Star squad goes, while Roberts and his staff have some say on the pitchers selected, the majority of the pitching staff is determined by player votes. Those ballots were distributed throughout MLB clubhouses earlier in the week.

Kemp’s best shot of making the team may be by garnering enough popular votes cast by the fans. When the last update was revealed by MLB.com on June 12, he was third in the overall outfield voting. The next update in scheduled to be released on Monday, June 18.

Fans may vote for their favorite position players until midnight on Thursday, July 5.

 

Dodgers Injury Notes: Utley, Hill, Kershaw, Ryu & More

You wouldn’t know it by the way the team is playing, but with 11 players listed on the disabled list, the Dodgers now have more injured players than they’ve had all year. And with nine members currently on the shelf, the pitching staff is far and away the most victimized part of the roster.

Ken Gurnick of MLB.com reported yesterday that of the nine injured pitchers, seven are suffering ailments related to the shoulder or the biceps. Righty reliever Pedro Baez was the latest to fall victim to such an epidemic as he was placed on the 10-day disabled list before Friday’s opener against the Giants with a bout of biceps tendinitis.

Nevertheless, better health appears to be on the horizon. But whether or not the team can maintain a high level of wellness—and win games while doing it—remains to be seen. Starting on Monday against the Cubs, a surplus of players may start being reinstated from the disabled list.

Second baseman Chase Utley will likely be the first of those players. The veteran has been on the DL since May 30 with a left thumb sprain, but he appeared to be near 100% while taking batting practice on Wednesday before a contest against the Rangers. There’s no reason not to believe he’ll be activated before the opener in Chicago.

Southpaw starter Rich Hill, who is coming off an impressive rehab start with Rancho on Thursday, is set to return to the mound on Tuesday. He’s recovering from a blister that has sidelined him since May 20. In the outing against Lake Elsinore, he gave up two runs—both unearned—and four hits, striking out 10 and walking none in 4 2/3 innings.

“It felt great. It felt normal,” Hill told reporters. “I would say my curve ball was probably the best it’s been in three years. My fastball is as good as it was in ’16 and last year. We made a few mechanical, small changes that made huge differences with the ball coming out of my hand the way that I want it to.”

With Hill, Kenta Maeda and Alex Wood seemingly in good health, the starting rotation of the Dodgers is starting to show a small semblance of the unit that began the season.

Furthermore, with both skipper Dave Roberts and boss Andrew Friedman in attendance, staff ace Clayton Kershaw completed a 55-pitch session on Friday that also included a simulated inning where he sat for a short period of time before he resumed throwing. One of the biggest concerns with Kersh’s back injury was his endurance across not just a high pitch count, but rather with the up-and-down nature of pitching multiple innings. The team seemed happy with his performance after his latest endeavor, and thinking conservatively, it’s not out of the question for fans to expect a return sometime in early July.

“A major league start is not the next step,” Roberts explained about Kershaw’s progress. “Making sure Kershaw is okay with next step being either a sim game or a rehab assignment.”

It’s still foggy as to when when rookie right-hander Walker Buehler, who was placed on the 10-day DL with a rib injury on June 9, will return to the big league rotation.

“Walker is feeling better with time,” Roberts added. “He’s playing catch. But as far as a timetable, when he’ll make a start again for us, I’m not certain.”

Hyun-Jin Ryu threw off a bullpen mound again on Tuesday and appears to be progressing nicely. This is an encouraging step for the lefty, who has been on the shelf since May 3 with a severe left groin injury. While he’s eligible to come off the 60-day DL on July 2, it’s certainly not an accurate timetable, as the club will undoubtedly proceed very slowly with the final stages of his recovery process.

While there have been some reports that lefty Julio Urias could conceivably return sometime after the All-Star break, there’s still a long way to go in his recovery. Even though he began throwing off a mound in late May, Urias will likely require a long rehab stint in the upper levels of the minors and will likely be optioned to Triple-A initially when he is activated from the 60-day disabled list. If there’s a need in the rotation, realistically, the lefty could be starting games in late August, if all parts of his recovery plan go perfectly.

Lefty reliever Tony Cingrani, who has been inactive since June 7 with a rotator cuff strain, may also be available for the beginning of next week’s road trip.

 

Dodgers Hope to Maintain Momentum Against Rival Giants

It’s unfair to compare teams from year to year, because, stating the obvious, they aren’t the same team. The 2018 Dodgers are not the 2017 Dodgers, even though most of the players are the same.

However, in the last few games, I have started to see that spark which earlier in the season I had said was lacking. That spirit that the games isn’t over even when the score says otherwise. That passion, fire and just plain having fun that they were lacking.

Of course, it’s easier to have fun when you’re winning. One could probably ask which came first, the winning or being loose. The Dodgers are definitely loose, and they are winning a lot more games than they were in April. I think a big part of the being loose is the lack of panic by anyone in management when things were not going the way they should have.

Matt Kemp brought some fire Wednesday night at the Ravine, running full steam through the Rangers’ catcher Robinson Chirinos. Kemp, who has been criticized for lack of hustle, and often injured, is giving everything for his team. Bringing the passion. Passion not brought on by angst about not winning, passion because he wants to give it all for the team. Kemp and Chirinos were both suspended for one game and fined for their little brawl after the hit at home. Kemp is appealing, Chirinos is not.

The Dodgers won that game in 11 innings on a a little bounce-back hit that the pitcher threw slightly errantly, allowing Kiké Hernandez to do a sweet avoidance move and touch the plate for the winning score. That is the kind of crazy, game-winning stuff that we saw last year. Who knew how it was going to happen, but you somehow knew it was going to break in the Dodgers’ favor.

They have another guy in Max Muncy who seemingly came out of nowhere to light the world on fire. I’ve seen tweets saying that Muncy should be Rookie of the Year, but Muncy is no rookie, having been in the bigs with the Oakland A’s before coming to LA. No, he’s just this year’s Chris Taylor, hitting bombs and playing wherever the Dodgers tell him to.

Things are continuing to look good for the Dodgers. Cody Bellinger seems to finally be turning things around. Joc Pederson has been red hot, slashing .409/.409/1.273 in his last seven games with five home runs, and is now second on the team to Kemp in batting average.

But the most important thing is that the starting pitchers are getting close to returning from the disabled list. Kenta Maeda came back Wednesday and had a solid outing. Rich Hill had a rehab start in Rancho Cucamonga, throwing 75 pitches, over 4-2/3 innings with 10 strikeouts. He allowed four hits, two to a fellow rehab player Austin Hedges, and two unearned runs. Hill talked after the game, saying he was happy with his spin rate. He is slated to be the starter on Tuesday against the Chicago Cubs.

Tonight the Dodgers open up a three game series against the rival San Francisco Giants, who are two games behind the second place Dodgers in the division. They are sending their best pitcher to the mound in Ross Stripling and will face Derek Holland, who is not having the best year. Saturday’s game will see Alex Wood and Madison Bumgarner, who will be making his second start since returning from the disabled list. He struggled facing the Miami Marlins, and was ejected as he left the mound after having words with home plate umpire Jeremie Rehak. Sunday the Giants will send righty Chris Stratton to the mound, and the Dodgers will start rookie Caleb Ferguson.

A notable loss in the lineup for the Giants is Evan Longoria, who fractured his fifth metacarpal, which, interestingly enough was the same injury Bumgarner has been on the DL with. The Dodgers could be without Kemp for one of the three games. With the Dodgers hot, and the Giants exhausted from extra innings and a long flight from Miami, it could be a very good weekend at The Ravine.

Dodgers Rumors: Five Potential 2018 Trade Deadline Targets

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With the non-waiver trade deadline now circling around the six-week mark, it’s probably not too early to talk about some potential deals in which the Dodgers could be interested. Several weeks back, Manny Machado was certainly atop the wish-list of many fans, but while the asking price for Machado will likely be a bit too salty for the Los Angeles front office crew, there are definitely several more under-the-radar type players who could be a better fit.

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Dodgers’ Offense Continues to Flex Muscles Against Rangers

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Say the words “Houston Astros” in L.A., and you’ll get a variety of responses but, more often than not, you’ll hear tales of the 2017 World Series. The cities of Houston and Los Angeles are forever connected and, until the Dodgers get a second chance, Houston will be the hero of that tale. Travel 258 miles North up I-45, however, and you’ll hear a different story.

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Dodgers Prospect Watch: A Closer Look at Rancho’s Marshall Kasowski

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With all the attention that’s been placed upon the Dodgers‘ big league pitching staff during the first-half of the season, the conversations surrounding both the bullpen and starting rotation have been endless. Many folks familiar with the team sometimes scan the rosters of the minor league affiliates daily in search of an emerging arm which could potentially contribute at the major league level.

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A Look at How the Dodgers Have Weathered the First-Half Injury Storm

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A few weeks ago, when the Dodgers looked like they were at rock bottom, I went through and looked at the upcoming schedule, and what the Dodgers would have to do to climb back to .500 and back to the top of the division. An off day today was a good time to take stock of what has transpired over the first two and a half months of the season.

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Dodgers 25-Man Roster: The Time Could Be Now for Joe Broussard

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(Mandatory Credit: Jerry Espinoza)

Tossing around a few ideas for Sunday’s column, my initial plan was to take a crack at optimizing the Dodgers‘ current bullpen crew, at least from a standpoint of which pitchers are the most capable. However, the way the club’s 25-man roster personnel is being handled these days, it sometimes boils down to whomever has the freshest of arms, especially with regard to who’s on the current 40-man roster.

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Dodgers Injury Notes: Buehler, Turner, Kershaw, Maeda & More

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(Mandatory Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press)

As the players on the 25-man roster seemingly continue to drop like flies, the Dodgers are still finding ways to win baseball games. Thanks mainly to a red-hot offense, the team has won 16 of its last 21 games and are now one game above the .500 mark for the first time since April 23.

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