Baseball BeatJuly 31, 2006
All Things Dodgers (and Almost a Dodger)
By Rich Lederer

I went to the Nationals-Dodgers game on Sunday. Los Angeles won 4-3 to sweep the three-game series with the Nats.

The attendance was reported at 43,346 even though it appeared as if there were somewhere between 23,000 and 33,000 fans on this sunny day. The 56,000-seat stadium looked about half full to me, which would suggest the middle point of my range. The freeways, parking lot, and concession stands were as light as I can recall in a long, long time.

The matchup of cellar-dwelling teams may have offered an excuse to stay home but perhaps the real reason was a Dodger lineup that featured an "Unknown" player batting fifth when the game started. The name on the right-field scoreboard was changed to "Betemit" before the newly acquired third baseman batted in the second inning.

Those fans in attendance are now quite familiar with Wilson Betemit. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound switch-hitter doubled twice and singled in his Dodger debut. He went 3-for-4 but didn't score or drive in a run.

The Dodgers scored their first three runs on solo homers by JD Drew, Andre Ethier, and Jose Cruz Jr. Drew and Ethier hit theirs back-to-back in the third and Cruz went yard as a pinch hitter in the seventh to tie the game. The fourth and decisive run was scored when James Loney and Cesar Izturis ripped consecutive doubles in the bottom of the eighth. Jonathan Broxton (2-0) picked up the win and Takashi Saito recorded his ninth save.

Broxton and Saito have combined to strike out 124 batters in 97 2/3 innings. The balance of the pitching staff has whiffed only 533 in 842 1/3 innings. Including their current setup man and closer, the Dodgers are 11th in the NL in Ks. Worse yet, LA is 15th in punchouts on the road and the starters are within 10 strikeouts of being in the cellar.

General Managers Jim Bowden and Ned Colletti apparently sat together during the game and discussed an Alfonso Soriano trade. Trading prized prospects for Soriano without locking him up to a longer-term deal at a reasonable price seems short-sighted to me, especially when the Dodgers are in greater need of a power pitcher who can take some pressure off the defense.

By the way, is it just me or has anyone else noticed that Frank McCourt and Jim Tracy are in last place while Paul DePodesta's new employer is in first place?

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Congratulations to Chase Utley, who extended his hitting streak to 31 games on Sunday. The Phillies second baseman has now hit in more consecutive games than any other player this year.

I have a special affinity toward Utley. Chase and my son Joe played youth baseball for Long Beach Little League. Joe played on the Dodgers. Chase played for the Pirates. One of Chase's teammates was Sean Burroughs, who just may be the best Little League player ever. Joe and Chase are two years older than Sean and neither played on the LBLL All-Star teams that Burroughs spearheaded to World Championships in 1992 and 1993.

My son's team was coached by a real estate agent and me. The Pirates were coached by an attorney and Sean's dad, Jeff, the 1974 AL MVP. Needless to say, the Dodgers never beat the Pirates in those years. Jeff was a terrific coach and the Pirates had more talent than the rest of the league combined.

I can remember Utley's tryout like it was yesterday. You could tell that he was special. Everything Chase did stood out. He roped a handful of line drives from the right side, then crossed over the plate and repeated the same feat from the left side. The kid had star written all over him.

Utley prepped at Long Beach Poly High School (hitting .525 with 12 home runs his senior year in one of the toughest leagues in the country) and was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second round (76th overall) of the 1997 amateur draft. He turned down a large signing bonus from his hometown team, played three seasons at UCLA (earning All-American honors his junior year), and was taken by the Philadelphia Phillies in the first round (15th overall) in the 2000 draft. He signed that summer, hit over .300 in low-A, advanced to high-A in 2001 and triple-A in 2002. Utley tore up the International League the second time through in 2003 and got called up to the majors that summer.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder was one of the best-hitting middle infielders in 2005 and has become one of the best hitters period this year. A fan favorite, Utley's makeup is off the charts. He plays hard all the time, running out groundballs and hustling in the field and on the basepaths. Chase is well-liked and respected by his teammates, as well as those of us who were fortunate to witness his beginnings.


I'm going to open up the can of worms you touched on - Paul DePodesta got a horrible rap in LA. Whenever I mentioned to Dodgers fans that 75% of that team was hurt and the bench was still one of the best in baseball in 2005, they said "No excuses!" Now this year they're making every excuse for Coletti under the sun, and unlike DePodesta, he appears more liberal with the trading of prospects.

Yes, that has been my contention all along. Colletti also got to pick his own manager, something DePodesta never really had the option of doing.

With Garciaparra slumping and on the DL for the second time, I think it is fair to say that trading for Andre Ethier is the only positive move Colletti has made to date. In the meantime, the payroll has been boosted and the farm system has been weakened. Not a good combo, especially when one considers the fact that the team is in last place and not necessarily looking like a serious threat to win the NL pennant next year.