The Dodgers heard the footsteps and decided not to take any chances with possibly losing their grip on a National League West title that it had seemingly put a stranglehold on four months ago. Moving swiftly, general manager Ned Colletti decisively and stealthily bolstered his team’s chances of not only winning its second consecutive division title but its first NL pennant since 1988 as the clock wound down on the August 31 deadline for acquiring players who would be eligible for the post-season roster.

Colletti did so by picking up designated hitter Jim Thome from the White Sox and right-hander Jon Garland from the Diamondbacks in a pair of trades. That came two days after he made a lower-profile trade by acquiring infielder Ronnie Belliard from the Nationals. The Dodgers’ 5½-game lead over the Rockies in the NL West seems insurmountable, barely more than a week after Dodgers manager Joe Torre said of the Rockies, “We know they have a good ballclub and we hear them coming.”

However, the Dodgers then took two of three from the Rockies in Denver last week. While the acquisition of Thome and his 564 career home runs generated more headlines, the Dodgers beat the Rockies again by getting Garland; Colorado also tried to obtain Garland, but instead had to settle for White Sox right-hander Jose Contreras.

Garland isn’t the type of pitcher who is going to carry a team through October, as his 2.7 SNLVAR in 167 2/3 innings with the Diamondbacks this season attests. However, he does add an innings-eating starter to a Dodgers’ rotation that could use one. After all, the Dodgers who signed Vicente Padilla as a free agent after the Rangers threw him out with the trash last month despite being in the midst of a playoff push. The Dodgers also resurrected knuckleballer Charlie Haeger while monitoring the innings of youngsters Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley and waiting for Hiroki Kuroda, who made a rehab start with High-A Inland Empire on Tuesday night to try and come back from a concussion. Now, all but Haeger could join Garland in a six-man rotation for the stretch run. “Garland is here and he’ll get the ball every fifth day,” Torre said. “If we have six starters, so be it. I don’t think having too many starting pitchers is ever a problem.”

The Dodgers had not been expected to make any big moves while teams did last-minute shopping on Monday. However, general manager Ned Colletti said he had been trying to acquire a starting pitcher ever since Kuroda was skulled by a line drive off the bat of Diamondbacks rookie second baseman Rusty Ryal on August 15. The Rockies, who lead the wild-card standings by one game over the Giants, had resorted to digging up the remains of Josh Fogg‘s career to fill the hole in the rotation caused by Aaron Cook‘s deposit on the DL. Garland certainly would have been a better fit than Contreras, who contributed just 0.8 SNLVAR in 114 2/3 innings with the White Sox this season.

The Dodgers’ acquisition of Thome was pretty much a bolt out of the blue since their lineup is already set. Colletti says James Loney will remain the starter at first base despite his .266 EqA being 29 points lower than Thome’s this season. Instead, Thome will be counted on along with Belliard (.237) to bolster a light-hitting bench that includes catcher Brad Ausmus (.259), infielders Jose Castro (.254) and Mark Loretta (.211), and outfielder Juan Pierre (.283).

“Jim’s a great leader who gives us tremendous power coming off the bench,” Colletti said. “We’re not bringing him over here to play first base. We’re bringing him over here to come off the bench and be a great influence in the clubhouse.” Added Torre, “Jimmy is a 500-homer guy who knows how to play under pressure.”

That could certainly come in handy if the Dodgers reach the World Series, as Games One, Two, Six, and Seven will play in the home ballpark of the American League champion. The designated hitter would be in effect in those games, and Thome would be the logical fit.

The other Los Angeles team-OK, Orange County’s team-also bolstered its starting pitching when the Angels acquired left-hander Scott Kazmir from the Rays last weekend. He joins a rotation that has been shaky beyond Jered Weaver (4.6 SNLVAR) and John Lackey (3.1). The Angels have a 4½-game lead on the Rangers in the American League West, and figure to lean on Kazmir should they get to October. He started Game One of the World Series for the Rays last year against the Phillies and also had a 2.53 career ERA against the Yankees in 81 2/3 innings and a 3.59 mark against the Red Sox in 130 1/3 innings.

“You really get a lot of adrenaline,” Kazmir said of facing the league’s top teams. “I really feel comfortable on the big stage. Facing the Yankees, facing the Red Sox at Fenway, you really get that vibe. You get pumped. You really get ready for the game.” Kazmir also likes the atmosphere at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, though he has only started there once in his six-year career. “It kind of feels like a playoff atmosphere every time you’re here,” Kazmir said. “You have the rally monkey, the whole thing going on.”

While the Angels bolstered their pitching staff, the Rangers were quiet at the August 31 deadline. However, Rangers manager Ron Washington did not complain since he knows owner Tom Hicks is having financial difficulties. “The Angels have money, and when you have money you can pull off stuff like that,” Washington said.

The Royals are 51-81 and thus owners of the worst record in the AL, not to mention 19½ games off the Tigers‘ plodding division-leading pace in the AL Central. Yet, GM Dayton Moore had his contract extended four years through the 2014 season on Tuesday. Royals owner David Glass said he and his son Dan, the club president, looked more at the long-term picture when evaluating Moore, who took over midway through the 2006 season. The Royals have greatly bolstered their player development system under Moore by adding a farm club, opening an academy in the Dominican Republic and spending in record amounts on draft picks.

“If you change general managers, then you have to start over,” David Glass said. “This is not the time to do that. Continuity is very important and I agree with Dan that this is the right time to extend Dayton’s contract. I remain convinced that Dayton is the man to get us turned around.”

Moore admitted he was caught by surprise when the Glasses first approached him about the extension. He also admits that this season has been a tremendous disappointment. The Royals, who have not been to the postseason since 1985, were the trendy dark horse pick to win the AL Central this season, and raised hopes by getting out of the gate with an 18-11 record before collapsing.

“This year’s an example of anything that could go wrong did go wrong,” Moore said. “We were very aggressive in knowing that we had, in our minds, a window of opportunity to compete in our division. We went very aggressively this past offseason doing that.”

Moore also said that Trey Hillman will return in 2010 for his third season as manager despite his 126-168 career record. “I feel that as we sit here today that Trey is the absolute right person to continue to lead our baseball team in the dugout at the major-league level,” Moore said. “With all the injuries and setbacks and disappointments we’ve had this year, Trey has managed it very well, kept it positive. The work being done is very good.”

It is becoming more likely with each passing week that pitching coach Dave Duncan might not return to the Cardinals for a 15th season in 2010. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Joe Strauss that he will make a decision at the end of the season. The reason why is that Duncan is angry at the media in St. Louis for what he felt was unfair criticism of his son Chris, an outfielder who was traded to the Red Sox on July 21 for infielder Julio Lugo, who had been designated for assignment; Chris has since been released. Dave Duncan is also disgruntled that the Cardinals created a minor league pitching philosophy without consulting him or major league bullpen coach Marty Mason.

The younger Duncan had a .311 EqA and hit 22 home runs in 314 plate appearances as a rookie in helping the Cardinals win the World Series in 2006. However, he then suffered through two major injuries in a double hernia and a herniated cervical disc that led to him to become the first American professional athlete to have surgery in which it was replaced by a prosthetic. Dave Duncan believes the Cardinals did not look out for his son’s well-being and that the media made him a scapegoat when he was injured. In fairness, Chris Duncan never admitted to being in pain when asked by the media. “At some point the club should protect those who don’t protect themselves,” Dave Duncan told Strauss. “Chris didn’t protect himself and no one else protected him, either.”

As far as the pitching philosophy being implemented without his input or being consulted by GM John Mozeliak on personnel moves involving the pitching staff, Duncan said, “It’s probably not going to change. It’s part of the job. You adjust. It’s the way things are done now. You deal with it.”

Tony La Russa has never had to deal with another pitching coach since teaming up with Duncan with the White Sox in 1983. However, he has told his trusted lieutenant not to let friendship get in the way of professional decisions. “I’ve told him that before,” La Russa said. “Nothing has changed and nothing will change.”

Scouts’ takes on various major league players.

  • Reds outfielder Wladimir Balentien: “I’m glad the Reds are taking a look at this kid. He definitely has some tools, some ability. He’s raw but I think there’s something there.”
  • Phillies right-hander Joe Blanton: “He is the forgotten man in that rotation this year because of Lee, Hamels, Pedro, and Happ, but he’s a good pitcher who gives you innings and a better than average chance to win every time out. He’s the Phillies’ unsung hero.”
  • Blue Jays left-hander Brett Cecil: “I like this kid, and I think he has a chance to be a good one, but he’s just gassed right now, physically and mentally. They need to shut him down for the year and let him come back to spring training refreshed in 2010.”
  • Yankees right-hander Joba Chamberlain: “I’ve never seen more fuss made over how a pitcher is used than this guy. If the Yankees are so obsessed about him possibly breaking down then they should just stick him in the bullpen and leave him there.”
  • Twins third baseman Joe Crede: “I’ve always loved the guy because he gives you everything he has, but he’s looking like an old man now. His back is so beat up that I really wonder how many years he has left.”
  • Tigers right fielder Magglio Ordonez: “It’s taken him all summer, but he’s looking like the old Maggs again at the plate. If he keeps hitting the way he is now, the Tigers might be dangerous come October.”

Three series to watch this weekend, with probable pitching matchups (all times Eastern):

Tigers at Rays, Friday-Sunday (September 4-6)
Justin Verlander vs. Jeff Niemann, 7:38 p.m.; Jarrod Washburn vs. James Shields, 7:08 p.m. (MLB Network); Edwin Jackson vs. Andy Sonnanstine, 1:38 p.m.

Giants at Brewers, Friday-Sunday (September 4-6)
Barry Zito vs. Jeff Suppan, 8:05 p.m.; Matt Cain vs. Yovani Gallardo, 4:05 p.m. (Fox); Jonathan Sanchez vs. Braden Looper, 2:05 p.m.

Red Sox at White Sox, Friday-Monday (September 4-7)
Paul Byrd vs. Freddy Garcia, 8:11 p.m.; Junichi Tazawa vs. Gavin Floyd, 4:05 p.m. (Fox); Jon Lester vs. John Danks, 2:05 p.m. (TBS); Josh Beckett vs. Mark Buehrle, 2:05 p.m. (MLB Network)

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Can Thome play 1B?
He told the Dodgers before they traded for him that he cannot, except in an emergency situation. With Loretta already on the bench for those emergency situations and the possible return of Doug Mientkiewicz, I don't see Thome ever picking up a glove.
Which means that if the Dodgers make the World Series and place Thome in the DH position he will not have had more than one at bat per game in two months. Thome as pinch hitter for his carred .215/.366/.415 I'm more than a little skeptical about this move.
Those arent bad numbers for a pinch hitter...
Maybe not, but my fantasy team now hates you, Kenny Williams.
What is the stated reason that Thome "can't" play first base?
He's got a bad back and literally cannot stand through an entire inning.
The "fuss" about Joba is largely a product of NY and its nutty media. It's a simple issue of an innings limit and how best to keep him under it. If a small market team was doing the same thing, you wouldn't have the NY Post, Times, Daily News, etc. all freaking out about it.
I think it would be hilarious if the Yankees and Dodgers met in the World Series and Sabathia and Petitte pitched at home in Games 1,2,6 and 7 and the Dodgers were forced to DH Ronnie Belliard or Mark Loretta since Thome is absolutely brutal against LHP's. Maybe Frank Thomas is still available.
Why would they go with that lineup? Even if you were keeping Thome out, wouldn't it make more sense to start Juan Pierre (who actually hits lefties better than he does righties to the tune of (.349/.438/.422)in left and make Manny the DH? This team has WAY too many hitters to start Belliard of Loretta in a World Series game.
I imagine The Torre Effect will get Loney benched for at least one game.
in addition to Mags, don't look now but the Carlos Guillen of a few years ago has suddenly emerged as well.
This is almost bad news for the Tigers. Now Maggs has a good shot at activating his 18 million '10 option. He needs 1080 PA or 270 starts over the '08/'09 span. The PA seem out of reach, but he needs as few as 19 starts to reach 270. I can't seem to find a list of how many of Ordonez' 251 games over the period in question were starts. He probably needs to start say 24 out of 30 remaining games? That's just guessing that there's around 5 non-starts in his games played. In any event, they're going to catch a lot of grief if he ends up one game short.
Whoops, read the wrong column (AB's)...Games played are irrelevant because he sits just 42 PA away from activating that option with 30 games remaining.
I'd love to hear a "Scout's Take" on Felix Pie's resurgence lately after being terrible earlier in the season.
So does Thome getting traded to see less plate appearances depress anyone else? Hopefully he'll find himeself back in the AL again next year.
My guess is he'll find himself back in Chicago next year.