What A Relief…Pitcher! Kershaw (and Jansen) Carry The Dodgers Across The Finish Line

Oh, where to begin. What can be said about the longest 9 inning game in postseason history, a game with a box score that looked like something out of spring training, where the closer recorded almost as many outs as the starter, yet STILL managed to not even close the game himself?!  Actually, I think that last sentence says plenty- and they don’t pay me enough to recap everything that went into THAT game- whomever “they” may be, and however much “they” may be paying me…which is to say, absolutely nothing.

Forgive the bizarre opening paragraph, but it just seems appropriate for such a bizarre game.  The starting pitcher- who I think was Rich Hill, it’s hard to remember- didn’t last passed the 3rd inning.  And let’s face it, if anyone had told you that the road team’s starter had been knocked out in the 3rd inning of a winner-take-all game, while the home team had the likely Cy Young award winner pitching a shutout into the 7th inning, you’d be reasonably sure how the game would end up…unless, of course, the road team was the 2016 Los Angeles Dodgers.  Not to get ahead of ourselves, but this team’s success has been every bit as improbable as the 1988 squad to this point, perhaps even more so.  That team at least had a solid starting staff.  This team’s starting rotation was basically Clayton Kershaw and about a dozen question marks.  (Literally a dozen- look it up!  And who is Nick Tepesh?!)  Granted, a few of those “questions marks” were talented- most notably Kenta Maeda and Julio Urias- but none could be relied upon to go deep into games, that is when they were even healthy enough to pitch at all.  And yet, it was when Kershaw went down that the team really got rolling, mounting an incredible second half comeback, riding a bullpen-by-committee into a division title.  Now, they have ridden a bullpen-by-committee into the NLCS.

It wasn’t without some help from the other side, though.  Taking some misguided advice from his third base coach, Jayson Werth ran into an easy out at home in the 6th, killing his team’s momentum, not to mention the inning.  Joc Pederson wasted no time claiming that same momentum on the very next pitch in the very next inning, thereby ending the shutout, the tie, and Max Scherzer’s night.

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Onward! (source- Wally Skalij, Los Angeles Times)

As it turned out, though, the Dodgers were just getting started.  A seemingly endless stream of Washington pitching changes couldn’t stop the Dodgers’ momentum- nor could three straight failed sacrifice bunt attempts, courtesy of Charlie Culberson- with pinch hitter Carlos Ruiz ultimately giving the Dodgers the lead, and Justin Turner adding to it.  This game was far from over at that point, however.  After ex-Dodger Chris Heisey’s two run homer put the game within reach for the Nationals, Dave Roberts went to Kenley Jansen- in the SEVENTH INNING with no outs yet recorded.  Without reliving the mayhem all over again, the most notable play on the Nationals’ side was Dusty Baker, a manager good enough to consistently get hired but not good enough to stop needing to look for work, ordering a sacrifice bunt- with the bottom of the order coming up, no less- while his team only had 6 outs left in the season.  After a career high 51 pitches for Jansen, the game still had two outs left, while Jansen had NOTHING left.  Dave Roberts then went to Clayton Kershaw- again, naturally- who had just thrown 110 pitches on short rest just two days earlier.  The first batter up was relatively new Dodger nemesis Daniel Murphy, whose .438 batting average for the series was deceptively low.  (That is not a joke.)  Kershaw got him to pop up, then struck out the Nationals’ final position player remaining on the bench, to take the team to the NLCS, in a scene that was as exhilarating as it was exhausting.


WHAT WE’VE LEARNED SO FAR

Whatever happens from this point forward, it must be said that Andrew Friedman’s front office deserves some serious recognition for what’s already been accomplished.  They were panned for their duct tape approach to putting together a pitching staff, instead of spending money on Johnny Cueto, or re-signing Zack Greinke.  And yet, this duct tape continues to pitch deep into October, while Greinke and Cueto watch at home, or play fantasy football, or whatever keeps them occupied in the offseason.  I’m still not sold on the constant swirl of roster moves, both on the field and off the field, and I miss seeing a Post World War II running game on the bases.  But you can’t argue with results, and right now, they’re getting it done.   (Also, Dave Roberts was clearly the right manager for this team.)


WHAT NEXT?

Thanks to their next opponent’s historical reputation of unprecedented futility in American sports, the Dodgers will likely not gain many fans outside of Southern California.  But make no mistake- if there’s a real-life “Bad News Bears” in this series, it’s unquestionably the Boys in Blue, particularly with Jansen and Kershaw compromised for at least the beginning of the series.   Sure, the media will play up the “Lovable Losers” angle for the Cubs, but this Cubs team happens to have the best record in baseball.  Besides, for fans under 30, there’s really no difference between whether their team last won it all in 1908, or 1988.

 

 

 

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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…

As MLB Mourns, Don Mattingly Delivers Touching Words on Jose Fernandez

In the world of Major League Baseball, beyond the usual late-season drama, September 25th, 2016 was supposed to be all about one man- Vin Scully.  The broadcast icon and legendary Dodger play-by-play man since 1950 was announcing his last game at Dodger Stadium, to much well-deserved fanfare.  A whole season of celebration, culminating in ceremonies and tributes over this final regular season weekend, emphasized the “sweet” part of Mr. Scully’s bittersweet departure.

Unfortunately, a tragic event has overshadowed all of that, as September 25th, 2016 will be remembered for the day Major League Baseball lost one of its best pitchers, as well as one of the most exciting players to watch.  There have been plenty of people in the public who have passed this year- many of them seemingly before their time- but none nearly as young as Fernandez, nor with as many good years seemingly ahead.  Death is tragic, and it’s as true as it is cliche that we spend more grief on famous people than the many, many more who we never even know exist.  But that doesn’t make it a bad thing to reflect on athletes or entertainers that we admire for their talent, nor does it make the pain any less real, particularly when those people manage to give us some measure of joy in our own lives, even if THEY have no idea that most of US exist.

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Talking about Jose Fernandez, Don Mattingly can’t keep it together.  (Source: Robert Meyer, USA Today)

This brings us to Don Mattingly, whose pain is VERY real, as he speaks of Fernandez, mere hours after learning of his death- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeNDmkBYAX8. I’ve often been skeptical of those aforementioned famous people, seemingly spending as much (if not more) time on crafting their “good guy (or girl)” images, as they do on whatever it is that made them famous in the first place.  Mattingly, in a similar way to Mr. Scully, has always seemed to transcend all of that, coming across as a genuine, kind-hearted person, in a way that’s rare among other humans, let alone superstars.  This video seems to be another example of that.  It also reflects on how much Jose Fernandez meant to him.

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Yasiel Puig pins a Jose Fernandez jersey to the Dodger dugout. (Source: ESPN)

Mattingly is far from the only one affected so profoundly by this tragedy.  As reported by Dan Arritt via ESPN, ” Yasiel Puig crumpled into his clubhouse chair and put both hands over his face after speaking with reporters about (their) close relationship.”  Puig had been close friends with his fellow Cuban defector since their rookie season in 2013, when Fernandez beat him out for NL Rookie Of The Year.  All over baseball, players such as David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez have expressed their grief over this shocking loss.  It’s inevitable on the day someone dies, we’ll hear all kinds of great things about that person, from those that knew them the best.  But for someone like Jose Fernandez, whose talent and passion was something evident even to those that didn’t know him, all those tributes become that much easier to accept as sincere.

Tying it all together, Vin Scully gave a very haunting anecdote about Fernandez, talking about how Fernandez once eerily wondered on Twitter that if someone gave the story of your life, whether or not to read the end.  No one, least of all a young guy like Fernandez himself, could ever imagine that his story would end so soon, even before Vin Scully’s career did.  In very different ways, the end of Mr. Scully’s incredibly long career, coinciding  with the tragic end of Jose Fernandez’s short life, remind us how important it is to cherish the people and things that we value, while we have them.

I’ll end this blog entry with an attempt at a lighter note- a humorous GIF that’s made its way around the Internet, courtesy of SBNation- Jose Fernandez catching a Troy Tulowitzki line drive, coupled with Tulo’s sitcom-quality reaction of disbelief.  Fernandez was as entertaining to watch as he was talented.  He will be missed.

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!

April 8th, 2016- We’re Not In San Diego Anymore

What a difference two days makes.  What a difference two PITCHES makes!  After dominating the Padres in historical fashion, the ’27 Yankees 2016 Dodgers took their roadshow up north. Initially, it seemed to be more of the same, as the Dodgers took a 4-0 lead into the 5th inning at AT&T Park, a mere one inning away from the MAJOR LEAGUE RECORD for pitching the most innings of shutout ball to start a season. Ultimately, the team missed its mark. Boy, did it ever.

Dave Roberts got his first taste of what it truly means to be a Dodger manager, in the post-Gagne era. With the team looking comfortably ahead against the Giants, Alex Wood suddenly became hittable, as we often saw in 2015. Rather than give him the early hook, Roberts stuck with his starter, only to watch the once comfortable lead become a deficit in the 6th inning. The somewhat debatable move of leaving Wood in too long was made moot by an all too familiar site- the Dodger middle relief, throwing gasoline on the fire, leading to the Dodgers’ first loss of the season.

But those managerial decisions and pitching performances pale in comparison to what happened the next game, the fifth of the season for the Dodgers overall. Ross Stripling had an impressive minor league career halted by injuries, leading to Tommy John surgery. With the Dodgers’ rotation in dire straits, Stripling won out the #5 spot, albeit with little expected from him. That changed Friday night, in a game that will no doubt go down in Dodger infamy.

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He’s earned another start.

It all started ordinarily enough, with the rookie battling command issues, rookies often do. When he DID get the ball over the plate early on, the results didn’t seem anything special. Sure, he hadn’t allowed a hit, but that was largely thanks to spectacular plays by Joc Pederson and a newly revived Yasiel Puig.  But as the game continued and Stripling settled down, his performance got stronger, to the point where Stripling did something that hadn’t been done since a previous century.  That’s a previous century, not THE previous century, as in the 19TH century- in front of friends and family, including his fiancee, Ross Stripling had taken a no hitter into the 8th inning.  The whole thing seemed surreal, as Dodger fans wondered if the 26 year old could really do it.  We’ll never know.

The Fire, Or The Frying Pan?

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Just one of those days.

One of the great ironies of the night, for an organization that seems to specialize in irony these days, is that the move to take Ross Stripling out of the game wasn’t as controversial as it initially seemed.  He was at 100 pitches on a cold, rainy night, still recovering off of a potentially career threatening surgery.  Had he been at 100 pitches in the 9th inning, it would have been a different story.  But given that there were 5 outs left, new manager Dave Roberts was in an extremely tough spot- imagine if Stripling had gotten another 2 or 3 outs, but needed 20 pitches to do it.  At that point, he’s in the 9th inning at 120 pitches, at a point where Dave Roberts REALLY has to make a brutal decision- take him out, to preserve Stripling’s career while denying a chance at Major League history, or leave him, and risk another Johan Santana situation, minus Santana’s financial security.  Roberts’ deserves credit for making a difficult decision, and not being phased by public pressure in doing so.

You Don’t Have Don Mattingly To Kick Around Anymore

The initial reaction of Twitter was actually fairly supportive of Roberts, given the circumstances, along with the fact that Roberts is a new manager, with a certain Doc Rivers-style gravitas that his predecessor seemed to lack.  However, the result of the decision seemed all too Mattinglyesque- on the second pitch from reliever Chris Hatcher, the Giants did something they hadn’t done in the previous hundred against Stripling- they not only got a hit, they got a hit over the fences, tying the game at two.  After working so hard to get out of the doghouse last season, Hatcher managed to get right back in it, on one lousy pitch- and we do mean lousy!

hatcherHatcher seemed to realize it, too.  After being squeezed by the home plate umpire on the next pitch, he lashed out in a way that probably had little to do with the pitch.  Dave Roberts came rushing out of the dugout, protecting his pitcher, getting himself ejected from the game in the process.  It’s just as well, because he probably didn’t want to be in the dugout at that point, anyway.

At that point, the  baseball gods turned against the Dodgers quite viciously.  A couple of well struck fly balls in the top of the 9th died at the warning track.  Against Joe Blanton in the 10th, Dodger nemesis Brandon Crawford’s did not.  Game over.

What Next?

As this move has historic consequences, Dave Roberts is going to have to answer it, and he should.  The case for what he did was strong, but that hardly makes it a “no-brainer”, as some of the new-age baseball folks appear to believe.  (Many of these are the same people who have no problem with THIS play ending a game, but that’s for a whole other discussion.)

kenleyMany fans are also seething about Kenley Jansen not ever being brought into the game.  The argument about bringing closers into tie games on the road has gained serious traction in recent years, which is the height of second guessing.  Making this move at the “right” point is totally arbitrary, because it guarantees that either the manager will be bringing in middle relievers later in the game, or will be wearing out the closer’s arm.  If this philosophy had been embraced for this game, Jansen would have been brought into the 9th inning, meaning those middle relievers that have everyone fuming would have been seen in extra innings, anyway.  It is a no win situation.  Literally.

Less second guessing goes into the argument about Joe Blanton.  He should not be on the roster, let alone in this game.  Watching sabermetric bloggers convince themselves that the Blanton signing was a good one, supposedly based purely on analytics instead of loyalty towards Andrew Friedman, was either amusing or infuriating, depending on one’s point of view.  (I’d highly recommend seeing it as amusing- it’s much healthier that way.)  Keep in mind this conclusion was based on two admittedly outstanding months from Blanton with the Pirates at the end of the 2014 season.  Also keep in mind that this is from the same group that dismissed- to the point they even acknolwedged- two outstanding months from Matt Kemp in 2014, with a much larger sample size than Blanton’s…not to mention an overall career far more distinguished, as well.  Some of Friedman’s moves might be vindicated at the end of the season.  This one almost certainly won’t be, and if the Dodgers need to go to Blanton in other critical, non-Kenley situations, they’re in trouble.

Mr. Brightside

In spite of two losses in San Francisco, every bit as dispiriting as the three wins in San Diego were dominant, there are a lot of good signs for the Dodgers so far.  Stripling and Kenta Maeda are the obvious ones.  The “good” Scott Kazmir showed up for his Dodger debut, and Alex Wood at least looked decent through most of his start.  Nearly everyone is hitting, and quietly, Yasiel Puig has returned to from- an amazing feat, considering Yasiel Puig doesn’t usually do ANYTHING quietly.  Oh, and Clayton Kershaw will be pitching the next game for the Dodgers.  So, there’s that.

We’ll need to see the rotation a full 3 or 4 more times before we can reasonably conclude what this team is capable of, but the earliest indications seem to be that the 2016 Dodgers will be a force to be reckoned with.  Just don’t get too comfortable, until you hear this song playing in the 9th inning!

Dodgers Opening Series Recap- I Can’t Even…

maedaI’m not a millennial, but I don’t really know what else to say.  The level of dominance shown by the Dodgers, along with the futility of their “opponents” to the south, is something that is difficult to comprehend.  Such a historically lopsided display renders any talk about the Matt Kemp trade moot for the time being, other than to say I feel kind of sorry for him.  (I’m sure he’ll get over it.)

We’re used to Adrian Gonzalez tormenting his former team.  But watching Yasiel Puig becoming Yasiel Puig again, Clayton Kershaw CONTINUING to be Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda doing this IN HIS MAJOR LEAGUE DEBUT, and pretty much everything else go right for these guys was something really special.  I’d say something facetious at this point about wishing the Dodgers could start the season against the Padres EVERY year, but that already seems to be the case, doesn’t it?  Usually, it seems to go pretty well for the Boys in Blue, if not quite THIS well.

Just to be clear, it’s still very, VERY early.  We still have spots #4 and #5 in the rotation to look at.  And roughly 90% of the remaining 159 games will NOT be played against the San Diego Padres.  Nevertheless…WOW.

As for the Padres, should anyone from that organization be reading this post, here’s a helpful tip from a few exits up the 5- find out which of the fans in attendance are from San Diego county, and offer them a discount to the next series with the Dodgers.  Or a coupon.  Or SOMETHING.  Because if you think there were too many Dodger fans at THIS series, wait ’til you see what happens if this kind of play continues…YIKES.

 

 

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!