Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Two games gone bad: One of those days

The Dodgers and Angels both had pitching mismatches in their favor Tuesday night, and both clubs lost. For the Angels, it was one of those days. For the Dodgers, it has to count as a bad day.

By BILL PETERSON
Big Leagues in Los Angele
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In the movie, "A League of their Own," Tom Hanks said, and many have since repeated over and over, "There's no crying in baseball." There are no upsets, either. At least, not one-game upsets.

So, we checked out the pitching probables for Tuesday evening. At Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers sent 2011 Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw at the San Francisco Giants, who played infield the night before like the last-place team in Little League for a 9-1 loss to the blue ones. Pitching for the Giants was 34-year-old Ryan Vogelsong, who couldn't even find a spot in the big leagues from 2007 through 2010. He did make the National League All-Star team in 2011, reaching 13-7 with a 2.71 ERA for the Giants. So, he's made a nice comeback in his career, but he's no match for Clayton Kershaw.

In Minneapolis, the Angels sent Dan Haren, one of the most consistent pitchers of the last seven or eight years, at the Minnesota Twins, a last-place major league team who the Halos held to three hits in a two-game span last week. The Twins countered with Scott Diamond. Not even Thomas Diamond. Scott Diamond.

Looks like a win for the Dodgers and a win for the Angels. Open and shut case. You don't even have to play these games.

But, of course, you have to play these games. And you're going to win games that you shouldn't win, and you're going to lose games that you shouldn't lose. You know this before you start.

A terrible baseball team will win one-third of its games. The worst baseball team of the last four or five generations, the 1962 New York Mets, still won 25 percent of its games. In the NFL, you can count on three or four teams doing worse than that every year. In the NBA this year, we saw one team, the Charlotte Bobcats, win fewer than 11 percent of its games. Last season in the NBA, two teams won fewer than 25 percent of their games.

So, the losers don't lose as frequently in baseball, which means the winners don't win as frequently, either. There are no single-game upsets in baseball.

We saw what happened.

Take away his first two pitches of the fourth inning Tuesday night and Kershaw was every bit the Cy Young Award winner, and he was still pretty close to it. But Buster Posey knocked the first pitch of the inning for a single and Brett Pill knocked the second for a home run. The Dodgers had about a dozen ways to score in Kershaw's support, but they misfired into four double plays and lost, 2-1.

Kershaw entered the game with 12 straight wins at Dodger Stadium. Last year, he finished 5-0 against the Giants. The last time any pitcher beat the Giants five times in the same year was 1961, when two other lefthanders, Cincinnati's Jim O'Toole and Milwaukee's Warren Spahn, went 5-3 and 5-1, respectively.

The Giants entered the game as the third-worst team in baseball at hitting with runners in scoring position, going .207. Tuesday night, they were zero-for-one. The Giants entered the game having made 33 errors in 29 games, worst in the big leagues. Tuesday, the Giants made no errors and cranked out those four double plays.

So, Kershaw finished the game with eight innings, allowing five hits, walking one and striking out seven. And he lost.

Scott Diamond is a 25-year-old lefthander from Canada who the Twins picked up from Atlanta in the 2010 Rule 5 draft. Diamond rewarded the Twins' judgment in 2011 with a 5.56 ERA -- for Rochester. Tuesday night, though, Diamond painted the outside corner like Tom Glavine, allowing four hits in seven shutout innings.

Meanwhile, Haren didn't make it through the fourth inning and later said that lower back pains that usually work themselves out simply didn't go away, so he had trouble finishing pitches. Makes a little sense. Haren lives off his cut fastball. Tuesday night, right handed hitters for the Twins repeatedly reached across the plate and laced looping liners to right field. If Haren's cutter were a little sharper, the Twins probably missed a lot of those pitches. The Angels lost, 5-0.

Both LA clubs had to be disappointed, though the Dodgers had to be more disappointed.

Figuring that you’ll send your starter to the post, say, 33 times per year in these days of five-man rotations, you expect him to have his best game 11 times, a medium game 11 times, and then there will be another 11 times when he just doesn’t have it and he’ll have to fight through his start.

In the case of the Angels, Haren just didn’t have it. Chalk it up to one of those bad starts. And they faced a kid who obviously had his best game. It  happens. Turn the page.

In the case of the Dodgers, Kershaw turned in a very fine start, maybe even one of his Grade A games that he will pitch this season. We can credit Vogelsong for pitching at the top of his game, but we also can say, at the same time, that the Dodgers needed to hit just a little bit, and they didn’t. So, they wasted a good start. And that hurts.

But Wednesday is another day.

The Dodgers will send Chad Billingsley (2-2, 3.19), who is having a nice year, against San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum (2-2, 5.68), who is walking too many people and has lost about seven miles per hour from his top fastball. It’s going to be a very interesting night at Dodger Stadium.

The Angels are in Minnesota behind starting pitcher Ervin Santana (0-6, 5.59), who is having a very tough time. The Twins will counter with Carl Pavano (2-2, 4.62). See what happens. That’s what it’s all about.

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