Daily Distractions: When time zones matter.


You don’t realize how much travel can take a toll on a baseball team until a game like Thursday’s, when a Dodgers team that had scored 41 runs in its last four games scored only two against a pitcher who’d never won at Dodger Stadium in his life.

That’s what happened when Mat Latos beat Zack Greinke — who’d never lost at Dodger Stadium in his life.

Of course, there were also times that the Dodgers didn’t look sluggish or lifeless, and the fact that their inbound flight from Toronto touched down at 4 a.m. Thursday may have amounted to nothing more than a convenient excuse for a 5-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

After the game, I asked Greinke if the previous 24 hours were the worst travel he’d experienced in his brief time as a West Coast pitcher. They weren’t, he said, but he didn’t deny that the last year has been an adjustment.

“Travel in the west is definitely not good, but people do it. It’s the only way you can do it,” Greinke said. “Central travel is amazing. You don’t realize it until you’re somewhere else. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

Greinke had pitched his entire career in either Kansas City or Milwaukee before being traded to the Angels mid-season in 2012.

The impact of travel is something you might never notice by simply reading the box scores, but if you looked at the Dodgers’ schedule before the season, you would have been wise to circle the game in Toronto followed by the game in Los Angeles 24 hours later.

Looking ahead, there’s some good news: The Dodgers don’t play games three time zones apart on consecutive days after August 22.

Some bullet points to tide you through the weekend:
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Dodgers designate Ted Lilly for assignment and recall Elian Herrera.

Ted Lilly

Ted Lilly spent more time on the disabled list than the Dodgers’ active roster this season, going 0-2 in five starts. (Associated Press)

The Dodgers designated Ted Lilly for assignment Thursday, ending the 37-year-old pitcher’s tenure in Los Angeles — and maybe his career.

“More than anything this year, it’s been an injury thing,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “Nobody wanted to do this. We like Ted. We think he can pitch. He just wouldn’t stay healthy.”

Lilly spent more time on the disabled this season than the active roster.
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Daily Distractions: The Dodgers get a chance to show if their road trip was for real.

Adrian Gonzalez

The Dodgers have won 10 straight road games, a first since the team moved to Los Angeles. (Associated Press)

To put the Dodgers’ 6-0 road trip in perspective — a different kind of perspective — consider that the two teams they swept, the Washington Nationals and Toronto Blue Jays, had completely winless homestands too.

Before losing three straight to the Dodgers, the Blue Jays were swept by the Tampa Bay Rays.

After losing three straight to the Dodgers, the Washington Nationals lost three straight to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Take nothing away from the six-game winning streak and what it meant in the standings, but the Dodgers’ four-game weekend series against the Cincinnati Reds should provide a more accurate gauge of how well the team is playing.

It begins tonight against a pitcher, Mat Latos, who is 0-5 in his career at Dodger Stadium. Zack Greinke is 6-0 in his career at Dodger Stadium. So there’s a good omen.

Some bullet points for a Thursday morning:
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Dodgers place Matt Kemp on 15-day disabled list, activate Ted Lilly.

The Dodgers placed Matt Kemp on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained left ankle and activated Ted Lilly.

Kemp injured the ankle sliding at home plate in the ninth inning Sunday night against the Washington Nationals, his first game in the lineup after returning from a 15-day stay on the DL with inflammation in the AC joint of his left shoulder.

Lilly is expected to pitch out of the bullpen after missing approximately six weeks with a recurrence of pain in his neck. He last pitched June 4, pitching just four innings in a Dodgers win over the San Diego Padres.

Daily Distractions: Run differential is finally on the Dodgers’ side.

A funny thing happened to the Dodgers in Canada. Funny things tend to happen in Canada in general.

The Dodgers, having outscored the Toronto Blue Jays 24-14 the past two days, have now scored more runs than they have allowed this season. The margin is slight enough (399 runs scored, 397 runs allowed) that this could change overnight.

Run differential is an interesting topic, as evidenced by a recent debate on MLB Network. Former player and current analyst Harold Reynolds declared “I have no idea what run differential is.” We’re going to assume that you’re smarter than Harold Reynolds and explore what this means for the Dodgers.

For some, it will mean their success is no fluke. In the article linked above, Rob Neyer wrote back on May 28 that the National League West was an anomalous jumble of teams that were outscoring opponents despite their failures in the standings, and this was unlikely to continue:

The Colorado Rockies have the best run differential (+31) … but they’re in third place. Sure, they’re just 2½ games out of first place. But third place is third place, and the Rockies trail the Diamondbacks (+26) and (somewhat oddly) the Giants (+1). Still, everything might look normal in just a few days, or in a week.

That was almost two months ago. Today, the Dodgers (+2) lead the Diamondbacks (+12) by a half-game, the Rockies (+2) by five games, the Giants (-54) by 6 ½ games and the Padres (-57) by eight. It’s starting to look normal. Two months from now, when the season is nearly over, that probably won’t change.

If those run differentials (and prevailing wisdom) are any indication, the Giants and Padres are going to be sunk for a while barring a miraculous turnaround, while the Dodgers will need to string together a few more convincing victories to make their hold on first place last.

Onto some bullet points for a Wednesday morning:

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Daily Distractions: The Dodgers return to Canada.

Dave Roberts

Who can forget all those memorable Dodgers-Expos battles over the years? Certainly not Dave Roberts and Brian Schneider. (Associated Press)

The Dodgers play the Toronto Blue Jays today at the Rogers Centre. Here’s a brief history of Dodgers in Canada:

1. From 1939-60, the Montreal Royals are the primary minor league affiliate of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, churning out such notable talents as Jackie Robinson, Tommy Lasorda (then a pitcher) and Walter Alston (then a manager).

2. The Dodgers beat the Expos 5-3 in Montreal on May 27, 1969 in the Dodgers’ first regular-season game ever played in Canada.

3. Don Drysdale is found dead at his hotel room in Montreal on July 3, 1993, the same day he was scheduled to broadcast a Dodgers-Expos game.

4. Raul Mondesi is traded to Toronto for Shawn Green, Nov. 8, 1999.

5. June 8, 2007: The Dodgers beat the Blue Jays 4-3. The game features Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent and Luis Gonzalez for the Dodgers; Matt Stairs, Frank Thomas and Troy Glaus and Royce Clayton for the Blue Jays. Stunning that they were all still productive major-league hitters in 2007.

Today’s game will be just the 13th ever between the teams.

Some bullet points for a Monday morning:

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Dodgers hire Isao O’Jimi to head scouting staff in Japan.

The Dodgers announced the hiring of Isao O’Jimi as Head Scout, Japan.

O’Jimi previously worked for the New York Mets from 1997-2011, starting as a scout before he was promoted to Director of Pacific Rim Scouting in December 2003. With the Mets, O’Jimi was involved in the club’s signings of Masato Yoshii, Jae Seo, Jorge Toca, Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Satoru Komiyama, Kazuo Matsui, Dae-sung Koo, Timo Perez and Takashi Kashiwada.

O’Jimi started his career in baseball as a catcher in the Seibu Lions’ farm system from 1976-1979, but never made it to Nippon Pro Baseball. Following his playing career, he coached the USA Junior High School squad in USA-City, Oita from 1980-1984. He spent the next few years studying English and International Trade in London before returning to baseball in 1990 as an interpreter and bullpen catcher for the Daiei Hawks, a position he held until 1994. O’Jimi also served as an interpreter for the 1995 Chiba Lotte Marines, working with Bobby Valentine.

Daily Distractions: What to watch for in the second half.

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp leaves the field with athletic trainer Nancy Patterson on after straining his right hamstring in a 4-3 loss to the Angels. (Associated Press)

The “second half” of the season will consist of 68 games for the Dodgers. Here’s what to watch for:

1. For lack of an obvious turning point in the Dodgers’ schedule over the next month, check out the Diamondbacks’ road trip from July 30 to August 4: Two in Tampa, one in Texas (a makeup game), followed by three in Boston. The Dodgers play the Cubs four times in that stretch, making it a good time to make up ground in the division.

2. The fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. They belong to Ricky Nolasco and Stephen Fife, once healthy, until further notice. The Dodgers are expected to announce a decision on Ted Lilly today — one that doesn’t involve him going back into the rotation — and move Chris Capuano to the bullpen once Fife returns from the disabled list.

3. The bullpen. As I indicated in my midseason report card, the Dodgers need more than three reliable pitchers out of the bullpen. With two open spots on the 40-man roster, count on one going to a relief pitcher over the next six weeks. Maybe it’s Carlos Marmol. Maybe it’s someone outside the organization who can provide a better right-handed complement to Kenley Jansen than deposed closer Brandon League.

4. Matt Kemp‘s shoulder. How much will a week’s worth of rest and a few rehab games do for Kemp’s swing? His power was almost nonexistent in the first half, as reflected in a devilish .666 OPS. Kemp could easily find himself batting fifth or lower when he returns next week from his latest stint on the disabled list.

5. Outfield playing time. Only left fielder Carl Crawford seems assured of an everyday place in the lineup. For all their talent, the others each have something to prove: Kemp that he doesn’t need occasional rest to be a productive hitter; Yasiel Puig that he’s not a strikeout machine; Andre Ethier that he’s not a platoon player (his batting average against left-handers is down to .245 and at home it’s .226).

Some bullet points to tide you through the weekend:

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Daily Distractions: Someone likes the Dodgers’ odds of winning a World Series.

The online gambling website Bovada released its midseason list of World Series favorites, ranking the Dodgers – drumroll please – fifth, at 9-to-1.

Here are Bovada’s top 10:

Detroit Tigers                            13/2
St. Louis Cardinals                    7/1
Atlanta Braves                           8/1
Boston Red Sox                       9/1
Los Angeles Dodgers                9/1
Oakland Athletics                      10/1
Texas Rangers                          12/1
Cincinnati Reds                         15/1
Washington Nationals                15/1
Pittsburgh Pirates                      16/1

At a glance, this is a case of one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other. The Tigers, Cardinals, Braves and Red Sox are all in first place in their division, comfortably above .500. So are the A’s. The Rangers, Reds and Pirates are all in playoff position.

And then we have the Dodgers at 47-47, with plenty of flaws, 2 ½ games out of first place but only 6 games out of last place in the National League West. Bovada gives the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks a 20-to-1 chance of winning it all.

In spite of their slow start, in spite of the 25-year drought since they last won the World Series, don’t call the Dodgers underdogs. Apparently having a $230 million roster and a Best Breakthrough Athlete ESPY Award runner-up speaks volumes.

And who’s ready for that 2006 and 1968 Tigers-Cardinals World Series rematch?

Some bullet points for a Nelson Mandela Day:

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Report: Dodgers sign 16-year-old shortstop Alberto Estrella.

The Dodgers have signed Alberto Estrella, a 16-year-old shortstop out of the Dominican Republic, according to BaseballAmerica.com:

Estrella, a 16-year-old who has played in the International Prospect League, stands out for his size (6-foot-4, 195 pounds) and righthanded power potential. Estrella, who has spent time at shortstop, might be able to play third base but with his build he could end up at first base or an outfield corner spot. He trains with Arquimedes Guerrero, whose nickname is “Pla,” and was also represented by Rob Plummer.