Bills Back on the Bump
"I really didn't know what to expect," Billingsley said. "I had command of my fastball, and I threw that a lot…I mixed in some offspeed, and I was really pleased with how I threw the ball."
Bills threw just 77 pitches on the night, his fewest in an outing of six or more innings this season, and he has now gone six-plus innings in 20 of his 25 starts in ’09, proving to be the workhorse of the staff despite reoccurring qualms with his status as an “ace.”
Interestingly enough, he struck out just one hitter, after coming into the contest ranked seventh in the NL in strikeouts (143).
He also didn’t walk a batter on the night, breaking a habit this season of destroying a solid effort with erratic control, as he had entered the game ranked sixth in NL with 66 walks.
I think it’s safe to say that his performance infused a sigh of relief into those that reside in Dodgertown.
Red Bird Rules
The Cardinals have held a decided advantage over the Dodgers since 2004.
The Dodgers are just 11-27 over that stretch, including 2-4 this year against the Cards, and there are some extremely lopsided numbers to go along with the poor record (number through Monday’s game).
These staggering stats further stress the importance of the Dodgers hard-nosed win last night. If they want to beat the Cardinals in the postseason, they needed last night’s game (not to mention notching another win in tonight’s finale) to get back on track in the head-to-head matchup to gain some momentum.
"It was a big win," said All-Star second baseman Orlando Hudson, who went 3-for-4 with one run and one RBI in the game, and also made a few outstanding plays in the field to aid Billingsley in his return.
Interestingly enough, with the Dodgers win, they took a lead once again the all-time series between the teams; they now have a one-game edge on the Cards, at 994-993 (there have also been 16 ties).
Bringing Home the Ducks
In order to take care of the pesky visitors from St. Louis, the Dodgers executed well with runners in scoring position last night, going 7-for-14.
Considering the way they struggled to drive home runs in their series last month at Busch Stadium, it was a welcome sight for all Dodgers’ fans.
Most encouraging were the run-scoring singles from both Manny Ramirez and James Loney, who have struggled as of late to bring runners home.
It was Manny’s first RBI in six games and just his fourth in the past 11 games; the other three RBI all came in one game, on Aug. 11 at San Francisco.
As for Loney, well he will take just about anything right now. I documented his struggles yesterday but hopefully his 1-for-4 evening can prove to be the turning point.
One thing I noticed was that Loney’s hands seemed much faster in last night’s ball game, lacing his single into right field on a line.
Considering he has played in 117 of the club’s 119 games, I think it’s safe to assume that perhaps he is experiencing some tiredness in the second half of the season.
Joe Torre used Mark Loretta against left-handed pitches last week, and maybe it gave James the jolt he needed to realize that tired or not, he needs to produce runs for this team.
A Little Clayton Heals All
Since June 16, Clayton Kershaw has gone 5-2 with a 1.50 ERA and has struck out 80 batters in those 12 appearances, while walking only 37.
In his first 12 starts of ‘09, he worked just 64 innings (five and one-third innings/start), but in his past 12 outings, has tossed 72 innings (six innings/start).
That slight increase may not seem like a large number, but carrying the team into the seventh inning has helped an already taxed bullpen gain a little more rest on days he toes the rubber.
The newly found control of the 21-year old has increased the inability of the opposition to get base hits (.185 opponent average since June 16), and he hopes to continue the trend in tonight’s finale against the Cardinals.
Last time out against St. Louis Kershaw went eight innings of four-hit, shutout baseball, and the eight innings accounted for the longest outing of his short career thus far.
Putting together his best outing of the season, he was in-line for the victory until Jonathan Broxton blew a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth.
He threw 112 pitches in that game, 74 of which went for strikes, and he needs to maintain that level of control to remain effective against the potent Cards lineup.
Kershaw will have to pitch well tonight for Los Angeles to earn the win in the rubber-match of the three-game series.
The key will be to get Cardinals hitters to chase breaking balls out of the zone, since he demonstrated his control in the last outing against them. However, for him to do that, he will need to spot his fastball on the black of the plate to work ahead in the count and put hitters into tough situations.
The Revolving Door of Dodgers’ Starters
Jeff Weaver (2-1, 3.08 ERA in six starts) will take the hill for the Dodgers on Thursday against the Chicago Cubs.
He will be starting in place of the injured Hiroki Kuroda, who the team is still treating cautiously after the frightening head injury suffered last week.
"He still has a little bit of a headache now and again," trainer Stan Conte said. "He has about the same kind of symptoms as he had yesterday—definitely not any worse but not a whole lot better. This is really going to be a day-to-day thing."
Here’s to hoping Kuroda makes a swift recovery and can get back into the swing of things following (what seems more and more likely) a trip to the disabled list.
Torre has also indicated that Charlie Haeger is set to start on Saturday after tossing seven innings on Monday night.
The knuckleballer surrendered three runs on five hits, but the Cardinals did the damage on the two home runs to drop his record to 0-1.
PJ Ross is a Featured Columnist for the Los Angeles Dodgers