With so many quality ball clubs in Major League baseball, the margin of error for a team is razor thin. Make a great play or shift into the proper position and you can steal a couple of extra runs and a couple of extra ballgames. Lose your focus for even just one second, and the game can treat you harshly, rewarding you with bitter losses that can come back to bite you in the ass by the end of the season. The Dodgers have suffered two of the such losses in consecutive days at the hands of the San Diego Padres, and because of a few mental lapses, LA now trails the Giants by a game and a half. Let’s break down the mistakes the Dodgers made, and take a look at how San Diego was literally able to steal a pair of wins.
On Saturday night, Los Angeles entered the 9th with a slight 6-5 advantage over San Diego, when Yonder Alonso stepped into lead-off the inning against Kenley Jansen. Jansen, the Dodger closer, has been mostly excellent this season, throwing 41.1 innings with a 2.18 ERA with 64 strikeouts to only 14 walks. Alonso singled sharply to left field, and pinch-runner Everth Cabrera was brought in. This should have been an immediate red flag for Los Angeles, because Jansen has never caught a runner attempting to steal (base stealers are 16 for 16 all time off of him) and Cabrera is an excellent base runner (16-16 in steals this season, 53-67 career).
Will Venable was the next Padre to hit, and he also singled to left, moving Cabrera over to 3rd base with no one out. Jansen easily took care of Cameron Maybin for the 1st out, and Mark Kotsay, couldn’t get the run in either, hitting a weak infield pop-up. The only good news was the during his at-bat, Venable was able to steal 2nd base, putting two Padres in scoring position. With light-hitting, unproven Alexi Amarista at the plate, with a 2-2 count, things looked dire for San Diego. That’s when Cabrera made some magic happen.
Jansen decided to turn his back and was kicking in the dirt on the mound, either deciding how to finish off Amarista or figuring out what his dinner plans were. Cabrera quickly and wisely noticed the lack of respect he was being shown and took off like a 747 down the runway toward home in an attempt to steal the plate. Jansen fired high, sailing the ball well over AJ Ellis’ head. Home plate umpire Greg Gibson was just as confused as the Dodgers, and decided that out was the proper call, before realizing the ball was at the backstop. Gibson quickly and properly adjusted his call to “SAFE”, giving Cabrera the steal of home and the Padres a 6-6 tie. But the play still wasn’t over.
Venable, who had been gifted 2nd base when Kotsay was busy popping out, also kept his mind alive on the play. The right fielder soared past 3rd base, never hesitating once the ball was thrown away, and raced home, easily beating the play at the plate. The scoreboard read Padres 7 – Dodgers 6 and Huston Street closed the door, giving San Diego the win.
The Dodgers compounded their mistakes on Sunday afternoon as well, letting a 2-1 lead in the 7th inning slip away and turn into a San Diego blowout at 7-2. The Dodgers made 5 errors total, including 2 by Jerry Hairston Jr., which led to 6 of the Padre runs. In the 4th inning Mark Ellis got too aggressive and attempted to turn a double play on a slow hit ball with a runner crashing into him at 2nd base. The result was an overthrow of 1st base which directly allowed Logan Forsythe to score the Padres’ 1st run.
Things wouldn’t get any better for the Dodgers in the 7th inning either. With 2 out and a 3-2 count, Yasmin Grandal smashed a hopping grounder toward Jerry Hairston Jr. at 3rd base. Hairston made a nifty pickup, but never set his feet to throw, and airmailed the ball over 1st base and into the stands, scoring the tying and go-ahead runs for San Diego. The Padres would add a couple more runs off of the sloppy Dodgers to win comfortably, pushing LA 1.5 games behind the NL West-leading Giants.
The Dodgers need to return to playing the brand of heads-up, take-the-extra-base baseball they were playing during the 1st two months of the season if they want a shot to make the playoffs. Los Angeles just doesn’t have the talent on their roster to get away with these kind of mental lapses. The rank 3rd to last in the National League in runs scored per game at just 3.82 and they rank 2nd to last in the NL in total bases. The return of a healthy Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier should lead to some improvement in those categories, but LA isn’t suddenly going to morph into the Texas Rangers or St. Louis Cardinals and start bashing their way to victories.
The pitching staff is still excellent (3rd fewest runs allowed in the NL) and the defense has also been very efficient, converting balls in play into outs at the 3rd best rate in the NL (70.3% of all balls in play are converted into outs). Los Angeles’ playoff hopes in 2012 hinge on their ability to pitch well, play smart, and field the ball cleanly. The Dodgers haven’t done any of those things well in the past month and its beginning to catch up to them. It will be interesting to see if LA can turn their play around or if the first two months of the season were a mirage and the team’s true talent level lies somewhere around .500. If that’s the case you have to feel good if your a San Francisco Giants fan.