The Dodgers Are The 2016 NL West Champions- But How?!

On June 26th in Pittsburgh, Clayton Kershaw had his worst game of the season.  That isn’t saying too much, given that he only had one bad inning- LITERALLY ONE BAD INNING– the entire season, up until that point.  Not only was he arguably having the greatest season for a starting pitcher ever, but outside of Corey Seager, was just about the only Dodger on the field worth the price of admission.  The Dodgers would end up losing that game.  Far more horrifically, they would lose Kershaw himself, to a back injury.  At 8 games back, it appeared to be an early nail in the coffin for the 2016 Dodgers, who looked absolutely hapless for the 4 out 5 games that the 3 time Cy Young award winner was reduced to dugout cheerleader.  Instead, it became a turning point.

Many baseball journalists had foolishly written the Dodgers off in 2014, after just witnessing a massive midseason turnaround in 2013 that saw the team running away with the NL West.  But in Dodger years, with so much turnover both on the field and off the field, 2014 felt like a lifetime ago.  Anyone who’d written the team off after Kershaw got hurt this season, after seeing such a lackluster performance from anyone BESIDES him and Corey Seager, couldn’t reasonably be expected to conclude otherwise.  And yet…

tribute_to_the_man

The 2016 Dodgers, tipping their caps to the man whose been with the team, since before their parents were born. (Source: Los Angeles Dodgers)

Here we are, in the same spot we’ve found ourselves since 2013- with the Dodgers celebrating a first place finish, by a surprisingly comfortable margin. Coincidence or not, the team really seemed to wake up with Kerhsaw’s injury, particularly the offense.  One of the main contributors, Justin Turner, had also anchored the 2014 comeback, when he came out of nowhere to become the Dodgers best hitter in the second half of that season.  (He didn’t quite reach those heights this season, but he wasn’t far off.)  In hindsight, ironically enough, that game in Pittsburgh seemed to be something of a turning point for his season, personally, providing the only offense in that loss.  Joc Pederson, Adrian Gonzalez and Yasmani Grandal also came to life shortly after.  Promising outfield rookie Andrew Toles picked up where Trayce Thompson left off early on,  while Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick turned out to be smart veteran re-signings.  Even Andre Ethier, as unlikely a Dean of The Dodgers as there ever was, made a cameo appearance in September, after recovering from an unfortunate fluke injury that took him out for nearly the entire season.

puig

In a somber moment before the game, Puig pays tribute to his friend Jose Fernandez. (Story here: http://wp.me/p1UqDw-9R)

 

And then there’s Yasiel Puig.  I don’t think the writers at Friends brought out the, “Will They Or Won’t They?” storyline for Ross and Rachel, as many times as we’ve seen Puig go from Hero-To-Zero and back again.  After a fantastic first few games this season, Puig spent the next few months largely in oblivion, losing not only his starting spot, but his spot on the Major League roster.  It’s a true shame, not just for the Dodgers, but for Major League Baseball, a sport that NEEDS Puig to be relevant, if not a star.  The good news is that after spending some time in purgatory (aka Oklahoma), Puig seems closer to being a hero again, helping the Dodgers with their final push towards the finish line by unhinging Madison Bumgarner, in a way that only Puig can.  Well…maybe not ONLY Puig can, but no one does it better!

But while the Dodgers offense coming to life somewhat explains their life after Kershaw, the pitching is much more baffling.  Kenta Maeda was good, but rarely got past the 6th inning.  Nobody else achieved a double digit number of quality starts.  The only one who came close- Scott Kazmir with nine- had a 4.56 ERA.  The bullpen, outside of Kenley Jansen, was made up of retreads and no names, yet they got the job done consistently, particularly Joe Blanton- and they were relied upon A LOT.  It sounds inconceivable, but the Dodgers second half steamroll came in an environment where more than half the games were bullpen by committee.  It was such a mess, Rich Hill became the first Major League pitcher ever to be pulled while throwing a perfect game (!) after 7 innings, because that’s just how fragile the Dodgers’ starting pitching situation was.

And how about Dave Roberts, the man in charge who made that controversial but understandable decision?  (It wasn’t even his first one this season.)  If anything, he deserves a bonus for the arrows he took for his tough decision making, and ultimately should be rewarded by being named NL Manager of the Year.  Everyone knows how great Joe Maddon is, but he had a far superior roster.  Giving the award to the Cubs skipper would simply be a recognition for the guy who helms the team with the best record, without any regard to the circumstances.  Dave Roberts managed to deal with one of the most injury-plagued teams in franchise history, and he did so in his first year with the team.  He had to make CONSTANT adjustments, and he met the challenge brilliantly.  We have a few extra weeks before the ink dries overall, but the fact that he even got the team THIS far is already something that he should be proud of.

As for the front office?  That’s a tough one.  Their methods are controversial and often maddening to those of us who appreciate a more traditional, simple approach to baseball.  The smug attitude of some of their defenders can be even MORE maddening.  But it can’t be denied that after two years of constant roster moves, their formula has been successful more than not, even when many of us were convinced that it would fail.  This season, in particular, has been a real triumph for them, not shelling out 9 digit contracts to Zack Greinke- or Johnny Cueto, for that matter- yet finishing with far better records than those teams who did.  Of course, that’s not to count out the Giants for the postseason- it IS an even year, after all.  But in a 162 game schedule, half of which was played without Kershaw, credit needs to be given where credit is due.  So well done, Andrew Friedman and Fahran Zaidi.  Two cheers for them each.  We’ll see what October brings.

scully

Does this really need a written description? (Source- Los Angeles Dodgers)

And finally, saving the best for last, we have the man who gets to leave Dodger Stadium on a high note.  It is impressive for anyone to be working full-time at 67 years, but to be working full-time for 67 years is unheard of.  Absolutely unheard of.  But for Vin Scully, the voice of the Dodgers since they played on the other side of the country, whose career has spanned well over half of the ENTIRE HISTORY of “modern” Major League Baseball (counting from about 1901 or so), it was truly a wonderful tribute to have him call one more final walk-off that will go down in Dodger history- courtesy of Charlie Culberson, a man who hadn’t hit a home run all season.  (Naturally.)  And, to top it all off, Mr. Scully managed to share with the world one last talent that he possesses- he can sing!  (There is far more to say, but this post is long enough, and Keith Olbermann can say it much better than I can, anyway.)

Three games remain in San Diego, then another three in San Francisco, in a series far more crucial to the Giants than the Dodgers, before the REAL fun begins…

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Dodger Stadium- Where Old Phillies Go To Die

The Dodger front office is at again, testing the outer limits of just how much Los Angeles baseball fans love their favorite team’s uniforms.  Now with more members of the 2008 Phillies on the roster than Dodgers from that same era, it’s forgivable to wonder whether Andrew Friedman is engaging in some sort of “revenge trading”- not for the Dodgers sake, but his Tampa Bay Rays, who were beaten by that same Phillies team in the World Series.   (And lest ye forget, Jimmy Rollins held the fort down last year, while Corey Seager searched for someone to sublet his apartment in Oklahoma.)  At the end of the previous century, George Steinbrenner employed a similar tactic with the crosstown rival Mets, allowing Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and others to wear the Yankee pinstripes during their championship run.  Heck, he even hired Tim McCarver for a while!  (It’s little known to most people outside of the New York area, but McCarver was a Met announcer in the 1980’s, prior to being poached by Big Stein.)

"Booooo- different shirt!  Booooo"

“Booooo- different shirt! Booooo!” (photo source: Charles LeClaire, USA Today)

Truth be told, though, this is unlikely to be an important motive, if any motive, for Friedman to make these moves.  Sure, even a “stats guy” like Friedman is bound to give in to human emotions once in a while, and it surely still hurts when he thinks about how close his team came to winning that year.  (Who knows?  Maybe Brad Pitt would have played him in the movies!)  Nevertheless, the fact is, this team has made tons of trade during his tenure, and a few of them were bound to be with the Phillies.  Each one has also proved to be somewhat justifiable- Jimmy Rollins was a defensive upgrade over Hanley Ramirez- not to mention one in the clubhouse- Joe Blanton has been a very good setup man in the bullpen, and Chase Utley has been the kind of player that you’ll someday get to say, “They don’t make guys like that anymore.”  So, maybe Carlos Ruiz can add something to this team as well.

At the same time, though, this is not just an ordinary trade of past-their-prime backup catchers.  AJ Ellis, a man who owes his entire existence to his great-grandmother literally missing the boat (and what a boat it was!), worked exceptionally hard to improbably become the longest tenured player in the Dodger organization.  By all accounts, he is one of the smartest men in baseball, and has been integral to the Dodgers success, since finally nailing down a permanent spot on the big league club’s roster in 2011.  Additionally, he is Clayton Kershaw’s best friend on the team, and well liked by all.  While Friedman’s previous trades of fan favorites worked out much better than most of us expected, this one carries the additional baggage that AJ Ellis was a team favorite.  If keeping an easily-identifiable core group together for fans isn’t important to the numbers-minded executives running the Dodgers’ front office- and clearly, it isn’t- how about the risk of rupturing team chemistry?

In fairness to Friedman, the Dodgers’ winning percentage has been good during his tenure so far, in spite of an almost unfathomable amount of injuries.  (Seriously, how has this team managed to get into first place, using bullpen-by-committee?!)  And given that a few of his most controversial moves have actually worked out- let’s face it, the Matt Kemp trade is increasingly looking like an outright victory for the Dodgers- there’s only so much outrage one can muster, before seeing the results of these transactions.  But none of this means that the criticism shouldn’t be taken seriously, either.  Also, while it’s dangerous to be sentimental in the age of free agency, so much roster turnover for the Dodgers really does make it feel like we’re rooting for a fantasy baseball team- someone else’s fantasy baseball team!  Either that, or a roster from a Phillies’ Old Timers game, in the not-too-distance future.

See? Jason Stark agrees with me!

See? Jason Stark agrees with me!

A couple of more Phillie-related notes- first, it’s incredible to think that for the second time in as many years, the trade of an iconic Phillie almost led to the Dodgers’ being no hit by the Giants.  Whether a curse, a coincidence, or just letdown from losing AJ Ellis is anyone’s guess.  Regardless, it’s something that you can expect to happen, about as much as you can expect to be struck by lightning twice.  (Also of karmic note is that Ross Stripling was on the losing end for the Dodgers.  You might recall that earlier this year against the Giants, Stripling almost made some very unlikely history of his own.)  And finally, Adrian Gonzalez can sleep well for the remainder of the season, knowing Ryan Howard’s arrival to Chavez Ravine will probably have to wait until 2017, out of respect to Vin Scully.  Sure, Friedman just defied Clayton Kershaw’s wishes, but good luck pulling that stunt on Mr. Scully, whom the Dodgers just renamed their MAILING ADDRESS to!

Opening Day 2016- The Andrew Friedman Project Is Now On Full Display

Once again, Opening Day is upon us.  Once again, two thirds of Los Angeles will not get to listen to Vin Scully and company broadcasting most of the games on television.  In a certain way, the ill-advised Time Warner cable deal has become a microcosm (or macrocosm?) of the Guggenheim-Era Dodgers so far as a whole- promising, expensive, yet ultimately misguided.  The channel as a whole is often terrific, but when the majority of fans can’t experience it for themselves, the quality of the channel takes a back seat to the quantity of people that can enjoy it.

On the field, the Dodgers have earned a similar reputation.  A team that has fielded such talent has such little to show for it.  That really was reflected by the mood in the stands in 2015, as Bill Plaschke correctly labeled it as “joyless”.  There are a few reasons to believe 2016 will be better, but more than a few to believe it will be worse.

The Good News

Justin Turner has quietly become one of the best hitters in baseball, and if not for injuries that dramatically slowed down his production at the end of 2015, he may have even gotten some MVP points in the voting.  (He did have a torrid NLDS, which was sadly forgotten after Daniel Murphy almost singlehandedly prevented the Dodgers from moving to the next round.)  It was a huge relief when the front office (finally!) realized that Turner was the 3rd baseman of future right now for the Dodgers.  Hopefully, that will continue to be the case for several years, so long as he stays healthy.

seager

The brightest non-Kershaw spotlight will be shined on this guy (Lenny Ignelzi/AP)

To the right of the Turner (as well as this paragraph) is one of the few pieces of great news for the team’s future- Corey Seager.  Too many times we’ve touted some hotshot kid as “The Next So-And-So”, but after watching Corey Seager for a month last season, one suspects that the phrase “The Next Corey Seager” might truly become part of the baseball lexicon one day.  Unlike Joc Pederson, Seager instantly showed the kind of maturity at the plate that indicates pitchers will not be able to adjust to him, as much as he will adjust to them.  His fielding could use some work, but he’s young enough that one can expect this to happen.

The best news of all for the Dodgers is that Clayton Kershaw will be starting one out of every five games, meaning that they will be favored to win, at least one out of every five games.  It’s the other four out of five games that we need to worry about.  And with that, we bring you…

The Bad News

Every day that Clayton Kershaw doesn’t pitch will be a question mark, though in fairness, Kenta Maeda pitched far better than many expected in spring training.  If he can continue that into the regular season while staying healthy, this could be one  of the few moves by Andrew Friedman that can be applauded by people outside of Friedman’s unofficial fan club.  But even if that is the case, spots 3, 4 and 5 look very troubling.  Scott Kazmir and Alex Wood, who have had success at times in their careers, had disastrous spring trainings.  It’s tough to even contemplate the #5 spot, when the #3 and #4 are such question marks, at best.

Meanwhile in the bullpen, the situation is the same as it ever was, only now with a possibly disgruntled Kenley Jansen.  After the Dodger front office was shamed into revoking what looked like an outstanding trade for Aroldis Chapman, the team never found a backup plan.  (The Yankees ultimately acquired Chapman with little backlash, while the public outrage almost completely dissipated.)

The Los Angeles Dodgers have traditionally been built on pitching, while this year there isn’t much of a foundation.  With so many unanswered questions on Opening Day, the team will likely not get very far, until they have more answers.

Beyond the team’s troubling pitching situation, there are some other questions marks that have a little bit more hope.

The Unknown

The right side of the infield to start the season is Adrian Gonzalez and Chase Utley.  In 2009, this would have arguably been the best right side in baseball.  In 2016?  It really depends on how much of their “old selves” they still have in there.  Gonzalez, while being more streaky than most analysts realize (or own up to), is still young enough to put up good numbers, perhaps even enough for another All Star appearance.  He has been great at the start of each season for the Dodgers, and with torrid hitting this spring, 2016 shouldn’t be an exception.

Chase Utley might be a different story, as he hasn’t looked good in several years, although he did have a very good spring- by contrast to Enrique Hernandez, a surprising star of 2015, who had an atrocious spring.  Howie Kendrick should be the starting second baseman once healthy, but the vastly underrated former Angel has been less dependable in recent years.  Jose Peraza looked pretty good, but he was shipped off to another team for other moving parts, as is done with regularity these days on the Dodgers.

Catching is going to be a problem.  AJ Ellis got a late start to his Major League career, and unfortunately, it looks like he’s close to the end of it now.  Yasmani Grandal was misused last year, when it was clear to all with eyes that he was hurt.  The man who proved so many naysayers wrong (myself included) now looks like damaged goods.  Until he can come back and look like the guy we saw from May through July, the book has NOT been closed on the Matt Kemp trade just yet- particularly the way Kemp has been hitting this spring.  While you’re at it, and while we’re on the subject of catchers, check out Tim Federowicz’s spring training numbers sometime.

Last but not least, we have the outfield, now in it’s fourth full season of flux.  Truth be told, it SHOULDN’T be as much of a question as it’s been in the past, although it probably is at the moment.  With Andre Ethier’s unfortunate fluke injury, Scott Van Slyke has stepped up, and shown that he DESERVES the starting spot in left field.  Unfortunately, the Dodgers appear to be moored to the “platoon” philosophy, even though Carl Crawford has mostly been awful for some time.  Seeing how the majority of pitchers are right-handed, Crawford will also likely get the lion’s shares of at-bats.  Perhaps Van Slyke’s performance- assuming he can continue to show what we’ve seen this past March- will force the Dodgers’ hand, much like Justin Turner did at third base.

In centerfield we have Joc Pederson, who shows great instincts for running down fly balls, but so far, very little else.  Yes, he hit some mammoth home runs, and drew a fair share of walks.  But even with his gaudy numbers early on, it was apparent he had holes in his swing, that were eventually exploited.  Has he fixed them?  Early indications are that he has not.  (His baserunning game needn’t be discussed, until he develops one.)

But the burden of proof on Pederson’s shoulders pales in comparison to the other young gun in the outfield, former phenom Yasiel Puig.  Another offseason marred in controversy, followed by another pedestrian spring training, has the few people still paying attention to him wondering what’s to come next.  It wasn’t that long ago whether pundits openly questions whether he was the next Roberto Clemente, or the next Raul Mondesi.  At this point, Mondesi would be a considerable upgrade. As Mike Trout and Bryce Harper run laps around Puig, the “he’s still young” excuse won’t last much longer.

And Off The Field…

With all the controversial moves Andrew Friedman and his lieutenant Fahran Zaidi made last offseason, it seemed fair to expect that results for 2015 would fall on his/their shoulders.  That didn’t happen.  Don Mattingly was blamed for nearly everything that went wrong, and was even criticized at times for moves that worked out!  (Anyone remember all the questions about Kershaw being taken out too early in game 4 of the NLDS, after the Dodgers WON THE GAME?!)  Mattingly made his fair share of mistakes, but he also led 3 first place finishes in a row, gaining little credit while taking in nearly all of the blame.

Now, Donnie Baseball is gone.  Dave Roberts is brand new, and very well-liked.  (One prediction I can nearly guarantee- this season, we will be reminded by Charlie Steiner of The Stolen Base on multiple occasions.)  The results of this year TRULY will fall on Friedman’s shoulders, and there will be plenty to question.  One question already worth asking is what would the mainstream Dodger bloggers be saying if Ned Colletti had let Zack Greinke go to a team within the division, while spending tens of millions of dollars on Brett Anderson, Scott Kazmir, and Joe Blanton.  (The favorable parsing of Blanton’s small sample size by the blogging community has been particularly amusing.)  If this plan doesn’t work, no amount of sabermetric wizardry will be able to save Friedman from the media and fans.

Ending On A High Note

There is still a lot to like about this team, even with the many issues it faces.  They have some young arms in the minors, who might be able to help down the road.  At least half their lineup looks like a real threat, and teams have gotten by with much less offensive firepower than that.  And hey- if Alex Wood and Scott Kazmir can find their better selves within, and Chris Hatcher can keep his confidence up, while Kenley Jansen puts his bitterness aside, there just might be hope yet.

And of course, we can all still appreciate Vin Scully one more season- not having Time Warner is no excuse, as the airwaves are free (for now).  And with that…

It’s Time For Dodger Baseball!

NLDS Game 1 Recap Recap- Whoops!

radnerThis is the kind of thing that can give those who blog from their mothers’ basements a bad name. Watching the game on television, all I saw was a manager taking out one of the best pitchers in baseball, at the most critical point in the game, without so much as a consultation. It turns out there was a reason for that- this particular pitcher was done. Finished. He had nothing left in the tank, so there was nothing left to discuss. If anything, a prolonged conversation might make things worse. Either the pitcher would have to act tough, and talk his way into a game that he had no business continuing in, or the manager would have been forced to look like he was not respecting his pitcher’s input. Either way, Don Mattingly did the right thing, in spite of popular opinion, which is completely consistent with the way he has led his team from day one.

Make no mistake, though- his job is still very much on the line, and he will be judged by some very difficult standards, particularly with his team losing the first game of yet another playoff series.

As The Dodgers Clinch A Third Straight NL West Title, It’s Nothing But Positivity* In This Post!

Whatever else happens for the Dodgers in 2015, one thing is for sure- the 2015 clincher against the archrival Giants will be looked at far more fondly than the one in 2014. Other than an amazing behind-the-back maneuver by Clayton Kershaw and the neat-o fireworks at the end of the game, the videos have largely disappeared from public consciousness. But unlike the 2014 Giants, the 2015 Giants will not live to see another day past the regular season. (It IS an odd year, after all!) The Dodgers can celebrate, knowing that this time, the Dodgers and ONLY the Dodgers, survived the NL West past game #162.

There’s a lot to say about this incredibly unconventional season, some good, some bad. But at the end of it all, this IS a team that finished in first place, for the third year in a row, for the first time in franchise history. (Got all that?) So for today, we will focus on the positive and ONLY the positive*.

The Ownership

New owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers, from left, Robert Patton, Stan Kasten, Mark Walter, Earvin "Magic' Johnson," Peter Guber, and Todd Boehly pose for a photo at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Wednesday, May 2, 2012. The $2 billion sale of the team to Guggenheim Baseball Management was finalized Tuesday. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Taking over a franchise from a rogue who had drained the once-proud franchise nearly dry, the Guggenheim Baseball Management restored the team, the farm system, and the stadium to levels of health not seen in years. Starting by locking up surprising franchise cornerstone Andre Ethier, then locking up unsurprising franchise cornerstone Clayton Kershaw, ownership showed a clear commitment to keeping the core of the team intact, while moving forward where necessary. In Molly Knight’s excellent book, “The Best Team Money Can Buy,” detailing many of the behind-the-scenes inner workings of the Dodger organization, she talks about Stan Kasten’s brilliant maneuvering in Colorado, landing Adrian Gonzalez (and others) in a caper story worthy of Ocean’s Eleven. They have spent a lot- and I mean A LOT of money- but we know that in sports, that guarantees nothing. The Dodgers winning ways over the past three seasons seems to indicate that at least on some level, they have spent pretty wisely. Best of all, they have spent on the farm system, as the results on the field are starting to show.

The Front Office…Now AND Then

friedmanThere will be plenty to discuss later, I have certainly not always been their biggest backer. But look- this is a team that underwent a lot of changes, SOME of them were necessary, and the large, revolving door of players brought in did pretty nicely overall. That has to be credited to Andrew Friedman, Fahran Zaidi, and their constant state-of-motion. While the departure of Dee Gordon remains a sore spot for many, they received four players who contributed to this season’s success, to varying degrees, and one sleeper in Kiké Hernandez, who may actually still salvage this trade beyond 2015.

They also signed a lot of veterans- the kind which Ned Colletti used to get ridiculed for mercilessly, incidentally- but it must be said that they all brought something to the table- Jimmy Rollins with his professionalism, good humor and lack of panic, Howie Kendrick with his always-consistent, under-appreciated smart and steady play, Chase Utley with a few timely hits and some sorely needed, savvy baserunning, and Justin Ruggiano, who not only exists, but hits left handed pitching really, really well. It only lasted a few weeks, but while he wore #27, he wore it well, as he wore out southpaws.

Also to Friedman’s credit, he did not surrender to the masses, demanding that the Dodgers sell the farm for a Hamels, or a Price, or a Cueto. We may have to visit this one again in a few weeks, but the bottom line is, no matter what happens, I’d rather have Corey Seager here for years, then have any of those other guys for months.

And speaking of Seager, for all the ridicule Ned Colletti DID take in, he drafted pretty well over the years, and can claim victory for Seager, Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, and a few others. With an enormous assist from Stan Kasten, he also signed Zack Greinke, for what was seen as a ridiculous amount of money at the time. In hindsight, it was an absolute bargain.

The Coaching Staff, Led By You-Know-Who

A coaching staff will get too much of the blame for the bad times, and not enough credit for the good times. Rick Honeycutt has drawn the praise of Dodger pitchers and catchers for a full decade now. The staff ERA and his longevity, particularly with changing faces all around him, show that this isn’t just lip service.

The biggest major weakness of 2015 for much of the season- do I really have to type out WHAT that weakness was- was addressed by the addition of Ron Roenicke as third base coach. Along with Chase Utley’s arrival, this was instrumental in turning this critical aspect of the game around.

Tim Wallach very well might be a manager now, but has been a loyal bench coach for two years now, and seems to have really taken to his job. It is probably only a matter of time before he gets his first shot as a Major League skipper, perhaps even with the Dodgers.

mattinglyBut as for the CURRENT Dodger manager? While I have seen fanbases turn on a manager (or coach) more strongly than Dodger fans turned on Don Mattingly in 2015, I have NOT seen is a fanbase turn so brutally on a guy who had led his team to first place finish, let alone THREE YEARS IN A ROW.  As we’re focusing on the positive today, I’d rather talk about HIS reaction to that pressure. In a previous baseball life with his previous franchise, Don Mattingly showed he could not be cowered easily, often going toe-to-toe with George Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner was quite a bully, but he showed respect when someone earned it from him. Decades later, Don Mattingly has shown this fortitude again and again, with fans, with media, and even with some of the best players in the game. Unlike a certain soon-to-be FORMER manager in Washington DC, Donnie Baseball would not let his ace intimidate him into making a decision he might not be comfortable with, during a hot day game against Arizona last week. Fans howled (what else is new?) but Clayton Kershaw’s arm was preserved for a much more important game, that being the one-hit shutout clincher in San Francisco, as well as a 13 pitch at-bat which shortly led to the early exit of his mound rival, the incomparable but irritating Madison Bumgarner, who will (THANKFULLY) not be able to add to his October lore this year.

But enough about what went on BEHIND the scenes. The guys who actually executed the plan, and it did it quite well, were

The Players

Dodgers clinch their 3rd straight NL West title on Clayton Kershaw's 1 hit shutout. (Source: Scott Tucker, SFBay)

Dodgers clinch their 3rd straight NL West title on Clayton Kershaw’s 1 hit shutout. (Source: Scott Tucker, SFBay)

It wasn’t always pretty, with 3 or 4 (I lost count) fairly lengthy losing streaks in the second half, an often slumping bullpen and/or lineup. And we STILL don’t quite know who the #3, #4 and #5 starters were in the rotation. But…umm, where was I  Oh yes- this is a team that had 2 of the best 3 starting pitchers in the National League, one of the best closers in baseball, and a lineup that, from top to bottom- sometimes even INCLUDING the pitcher’s spot- was a threat to hit the ball out at any time. How that happened without Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez is beyond me, but it happened!

Speaking of Kemp, there was a very divided feeling amongst Dodger faithful about his departure, particularly to a team IN THE SAME DIVISION. However, almost nobody- including the front office who ultimately did trade Kemp- would have picked Andre Ethier as the one of the two to stay. However, that is exactly what happened. THANK GOODNESS that is what happened, because not only did Ethier have his best season in years, he was a FAR BETTER fit than Kemp would have been. Though Yasiel Puig did unfortunately miss half the year, having Kemp and Puig in the same outfield AGAIN would have been a nearly impossible situation. Ethier was a much better fit, playing left AND right field without complaining, and if he was irritated by how many times he sat against left handed pitching, he did not show it publicly. The same cannot be said of Matt Kemp, who was often visibly annoyed sitting on the bench. So at least for 2015, it all worked out.

And let’s not forget the guys who came to L.A. as Kemp took the bus (train?) to San Diego. Jimmy Rollins was a nice stopgap prior to the arrival of Corey Seager, and his mere presence should put a knot in the stomach of Met fans, if not Met players. Yasmani Grandal was great during May, June and July. At the time that Grandal faded, probably due to injuries, AJ Ellis recaptured some of his old glory, which hopefully continue into his surprisingly stellar postseason record so far.

And of course, there’s Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Who will be Cy Young winner this year? Hard to say. Perhaps it will be Jake Arrieta. But these two amazing Co-Ace-of-Spades are nearly as valuable as all the other players combined, which is really saying something, considering how good all those other players are. (Also incredible, because there were SO MANY of them this year!  Seriously, can you even remember half of them?!  But I digress.)  Kershaw will be here for years, and hopefully we can say the same for Greinke. But one thing is for sure- Los Angeles has not seen a lefty-right punch like this since Koufax-Drysdale.

Just One Thing To Take Issue With

mlb_scully_01*Okay, I lied. Even as the champagne is still cold and everyone’s feeling pretty good at the moment, it’s at least worth mentioning that more than half the Los Angeles greater area could not see most of the games. Much of the goodwill the new ownership bought- literally and figuratively- has been squandered by the disgraceful blackout of The Blue, about to conclude its second season. Some fans have even lost interest in the team- out of sight, out of mind. Hopefully, they can get it back with a strong, memorable (for the RIGHT reasons) postseason run. But if they do, the Dodgers better figure out a way to capitalize and get Time Warner to concede on their disastrous contract. Heaven help this organization if Vin Scully’s final season cannot be witnessed by all.

Ending On A High Note

Bring On The Mets!

Bring On The Mets!

At least we know that the team WILL be seen by all starting October 9th, hopefully with a better marketing plan from MLB than last year’s channel surfing extravaganza. NY-LA postseason matchup ALWAYS create buzz, and there will be lots of intriguing storylines to cover. So while it’s onto New York for next week, it’ll be all about tuning up and trying to get home field advantage for this one. For now, though, just enjoy the fact that the Dodgers will be playing past this upcoming Sunday. Not a lot of teams will be able to say that.