It sure beats what they used to have

Back in 2003, when I was covering the Reds and they moved into the rather bland Great American Ball Park, people would ask me what I thought of the place, and that’s what I would always say, that it sure beats what they used to have. Well, that’s about the way I would sum up Nationals Park, as well. It’s not what I would call beautiful or spectacular, but anything — AND I DO MEAN ANYTHING — would have beaten RFK Stadium, otherwise known as America’s Toilet Bowl. In an era when almost every one of the National League’s parks is new, there isn’t much to set this place apart, other than the view of the capitol dome in the distance beyond left field. The back drop beyond the outfield consists almost entirely of mid-rise office and apartment buildings (for security reasons, you’re only allowed to build to a certain height in Washington). But then, it’s 4 p.m., right now. The real test will come when the sun sets, the place is lit up and filled with paying customers and there is a ballgame going on.

Please don’t feed the sportswriters

They’re bringing a stadium tour group through the press box right now. One of the things that really inspired me to want to become a baseball writer (I actually already wanted to become one when this happened, but this really cemented it) was when I was 16 years old, attending the National High School Press Association convention in St. Louis, and we took a tour of old Busch Stadium that took us into the press box. The tour wasn’t part of the convention, just something for the school newspaper and yearbook staffs from my school in Arkansas to do on an afternoon when nothing else was scheduled. The football Cardinals still played there at the time, and the place was configured for football (this was a Saturday in November). But they took us into the baseball press box, the first time I was ever in a major-league press box. Anyone who was ever in the press box at old Busch Stadium will tell you it was one of the most spartan, uncomfortable and in many ways non-functional boxes in the league, but I was enthralled that day, and I vowed that the next time I set foot in that box, it would be in a working capacity. I made good on that promise when I went to St. Louis with the Rockies in August 1999. Just another one of my boring stories about ME, but hey, I got nothing else to post right now.

Phillies 5, Dodgers 2

If you’re a Dodgers fan, or someone employed by the Dodgers in any way, this one stung. They could have held a 2-1 lead in the ninth, they could have scored after loading the bases with nobody out in the 10th, they could have gained a game in the standings, they could have gotten more than two runs out of their 13 hits, they could have done a lot of things, but they didn’t do any of them. And if this keeps up, in a few weeks, we’ll be saying they could have made the playoffs if they had done this, that or the other. … Joe Torre told the team after the game they don’t have to be at the park until 6 p.m. for a game that starts at 7:05. That means no batting practice. “I told them to just get dressed and play the game,” Torre said. “Hopefully, that will allow us to relax a little bit, because I think we might be putting too much pressure on ourselves.” … Failed to do my job properly tonight. In my haste to make deadline, I had to minimize the time I spent in the clubhouse, and I flat out forgot to ask Torre if he considered walking Pedro Feliz to get to Jimmy Rollins in the 11th inning. I left Joe’s office while several reporters were still in there, checked the clubhouse for available players, found none, then returned to Joe’s office. The question might have been asked while I was gone. But it never dawned on me to ask until after I got back to the press box. Anyway, Feliz had driven in the tying run with an RBI single in the ninth, and here he was at the plate with runners on second and two outs. It was a right-right matchup against Jason Johnson, and Rollins is a switch-hitter and the reigning N.L. MVP. But Rollins also has two hits in his past 25 at-bats. Anyway, Feliz homered, his 13th of the season. … Dodgers fall to 65-65. That is now the NINTH-best record in the bad National League, putting the Dodgers in the lower half of the 16-team loop even as they appear to be within striking distance in the West. They still trail the Snakes by three games. Decent chance to avoid the four-game sweep with Billingsley going tomorrow night against Brett Myers, but the Dodgers already have lost as many games on this 10-game road trip (three) as they lost on the 10-game homestand that preceded it.

Random stuff

Andruw Jones played 1B at Las Vegas last night. Not sure what that means, but I’m guessing it means he’ll be an option to back up there if Joe wants to give James Loney a day off here or there and doesn’t want to go back to that musical chairs thing he did last week with Martin at 3B and Blake at 1B. The 51s committed four errors last night, but none of them were by Andruw. That’s a good sign. … The Dodgers are still somewhat in contention in the N.L. West, but it’s worth noting that they began the day tied with Houston for the eighth-best record in the bad National League, a loop that only has 16 teams. The Astros, by the way, were 14 games out in the Central. … Greg Miller, once the Dodgers’ top left-handed pitching prospect, might be getting close to the end of the line. There was a time earlier this season when he seemed to be coming out of his longstanding control problems, but he seems to have relapsed since his promotion to Las Vegas. He gave up four runs last night after walking three batters (and allowing NO hits) in one inning pitched at Colorado Springs. Since his promotion to Vegas, he has walked 46 batters in 28 2/3 innings, all while allowing just 19 hits. In his past three appearances, he has walked eight batters in 3 2/3 innings.

Phillies 9, Dodgers 2 — and Frito makes a good chip!!!

That’s what one of the TV production guys just yelled down the hall from the press box as he packed up the TV production equipment for the day. Not sure what elicited that exclamation, but I’m assuming the guy must have just eaten a bag of them. Anyway, the Dodgers with Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake are starting to look a lot like the Dodgers before Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake. Ramirez and Blake are struggling for the first time since they got here, and the rest of the lineup is struggling, too, a fact that might suggest this team is way too reliant on the two newcomers. Torre said it has more to do with a lack of production at the top, where Kemp and Ethier were a combined 0 for 8 today, are a combined 1 for 16 in this series and are a combined 3 for 24 over the past three games. Jeff Kent is 0 for 8 in this series, too, meaning the top three batters in the Dodgers’ lineup are a combined 1 for 24 in the first two games here. That doesn’t completely explain why Manny has now gone five games without an RBI, his last three coming on that first-inning home run against the Brewers on Sunday. But it explains it to a point. … Kemp had little to say on the matter of why that fly ball fell 30 feet behind him, other than to say, “I guess,” in acknowledgement of a suggestion he lost the ball in the sun. When asked how long he saw it before losing it, he said, “That’s a great question. I would have caught it if I had seen it.” … Kemp’s gaffe notwithstanding, Clayton Kershaw wasn’t good today. It is worth noting that before Kemp’s miscue, Kershaw had walked Chase Utley, ;putting runners on second and third with none out in what became a three-run inning. The lefty wound up getting rocked for six runs on seven hits over four-plus. … Dodgers fall to 65-64. Snakes play later, but this team has bigger problems than the standings right now. Twelve runs in the past five games. three of them in the first two games of this series. All three of them scored on two swings, a solo homer by Ethier and a two-run shot by Russell Martin.

Reinforcements due on next homestand

With apparently none of the Dodgers’ minor-league affiliates looking like they’ll be playoff bound, the team’s September callups should start arriving on Sept. 2, the second day of the upcoming homestand. It looks like A.J. Ellis will be coming up from Vegas to be the third catcher. He is hitting .309 this year, so he’ll edge out Lucas May, who is hitting .228 at Jacksonville, even though May is on the 40-man roster and Ellis isn’t. Although I have long been under the impression that James McDonald was a lock for a callup, that apparently is still being discussed and is far from assured. But it looks like Ellis will be the only guy not presently on the roster who will be called up. Dodgers don’t have a lot of flexibility. The 40-man is full, and there aren’t a lot of guys on it whom you can look at and say, “He’s expendable.” … I love these late-Saturday games for Fox, just a beautiful time of day. It’s a perfect, sunny day here in Philly, and the shadows had started to creep across the field before the game even started. Kershaw had a rough first inning, but he appears to have settled in now, and Russell Martin just got the boys back into the game with a two-run homer, a possible slump buster. 3-2 Phils, bottom 3. … Went for 1 a.m. cheesesteaks at Jim’s last night (this morning) with Diamond Leung from the RIVERSIDE Press-Enterprise and Takashi Yamakawa from the Kyodo News. Even at that hour, there was still a long line. But those sandwiches were well worth the wait. … Kershaw just walked the leadoff man in the third. Perhaps I spoke too soon.

Phillies 8, Dodgers 1

Offensively, this team is beginning to bear a strange resemblance to its former self. I’m talking before Blake and Manny arrived. Dodgers have lost three out of four and scored a total of 10 runs in those four games. Tonight, in one of the most ridiculous hitter’s parks in baseball, the Dodgers managed one run on five hits and went hitless in four at-bats with RISP. Greg Maddux’s debut was hardly worth waiting for. He was great for three innings and good for 3 2/3. But then he walked Pat Burrell with two outs in the fourth, fell behind Ryan Howard 2-0 and gave up a bomb. Phillies never looked back. Dodgers fall to 65-63. Snakes already up 1-0 on the Fish. If the Dodgers slip to three games behind, it will be their largest deficit since Aug. 1. The last time they were MORE than three games back was on June 30.

Next year’s schedule

Although the Dodgers’ 2009 regular-season schedule remains tentative and isn’t close to being released, the Daily News learned this week that the club will play an 18-game interleague schedule that will consist mostly of American League West opponents.
In addition to their usual, home-and-home with the Angels — the two clubs will play three-game series at Dodger Stadium May 22-24 and at Angel Stadium June 19-21 — the Dodgers will host three-game series against the Oakland A’s June 16-18 and the Seattle Mariners June 26-28.
The Dodgers also will play at Texas June 12-14. There will be an additional interleague series at Chicago June 26-28, which the White Sox almost certainly will use as an opportunity to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the two clubs meeting in the 1959 World Series.
The Dodgers won that series in six games.
The Dodgers are slated to begin the season by playing 14 consecutive games without a day off. They open on the road, with a four-game series at San Diego starting on April 6 followed by a three-game series at Arizona starting on April 10.
For the second consecutive season, San Francisco is the opponent for the home opener, scheduled for April 13. That begins a three-game series, with Colorado then coming in for a four-game set beginning on April 16. The season also will conclude at home against the Rockies, a three-game series Oct. 2-4.
The Dodgers will finish the first half in Milwaukee, meaning an easy flight to St. Louis for any Dodgers players selected to the National League All-Star team. The second half will begin back in Los Angeles with a four-game series against Houston, marking the first time in three years that the Dodgers will get a break of only three days instead of four.

Some injury updates

Andruw Jones is taking another day with his knee and is expected to play for Las Vegas at Colorado Springs tomorrow. Jason Schmidt is expected to start a rehab early next week, although that has been previously reported. Scott Proctor will resume his rehab on Monday at Las Vegas, NOT back at Inland Empire, where he started it a few weeks ago before shutting it down. Brad Penny is expected to start playing catch in the next day or two. Rafael Furcal is doing weight-bearing running and hitting off a tee, but there is no timetable for getting him on the field. Cory Wade will throw a second bullpen tomorrow, make a one- or two-inning rehab appearance probably at Great Lakes next week, then probably be activated. And Takashi Saito is throwing off flat ground, but still no plans for getting him on a mound.