Recap of NLCS at Dodger Stadium – 1 out of 3 Ain’t Good (…plus, In Defense Of Steve Bartman)

Well, a three game sweep by either team seemed pretty unlikely from the start.  However, with the Dodgers in full control for Game 3 and Adrian Gonzalez coming across the plate for what almost certainly looked like the first run of Game 4, Dodger fans couldn’t help but to wonder.  But alas, their hopes, much like Adrian Gonzalez’s would-be run, were not to be.  That probably-blown call, followed by some poor Dodger defense, combined with a few lucky hits for the Cubs against Julio Urias, seemed to be a turning point in the series so far.  Rather than actually run on Jon Lester, the Dodgers opted merely to try distracting him.  (It didn’t work.)  Joe Blanton could only be the “good” Joe Blanton for so long, particularly given how many times the Dodgers have called upon him this season.  He really looks like he has nothing left in the tank now.  The rest of the middle relief, so incredibly effective for the greatest two-and-a-half month stretch in the history of a bullpen-by-committee, has also fallen apart this series.  At the moment, things are looking sort of bleak.

kershaw

Caption not required. (source: trippingbaseballs.mlblogs.com)

Far from being over, though, there is plenty of reason to think the Dodgers have a reasonable chance of winning two games straight, even going into what is certain to be a rabid scene in the Windy City.  Having a fully rested Clayton Kershaw is a scenario that any team would want, regardless of where they were in the series.  While it’s understandable from an emotional standpoint why fans would be upset that he didn’t pitch in Game 5, this would have been a mistake on several levels.  For one thing, although the box score says otherwise, an already overused Kershaw had nothing left in the 7th inning of Game 2.  Only good fortune saved Dave Roberts from a Mattingly-esque fate, for leaving him in the game, for a batter (or two) too long.  For another, having him on short rest AGAIN would have gotten him into the sixth inning, maybe the seventh.  Then what?  Put Kenley Jansen in for another multi-out save?  And, even if THAT plan works, what happens in Game 6 and 7?

Oh, and by the way, though it’s been a while since Dodger fans experienced it (maybe not as long as Cubs fans, but still), there is a whole other round of playoffs after this.  What happens then, have Kershaw pitch in three games, and hope his arm stays intact?!  The 28 year old Ace-of-Spades has already been used more frequently than Orel Hershiser was in 1988, and while Dodger fans old enough to have fond memories of that October, Hershiser’s career was never the same after that.  (He did manage one more great year in ’89, but his arm gave out after that.)  We haven’t even mentioned that Kershaw missed about two months because of a bad back, and for those not close enough to 30 to understand this, those never go away.  (Kershaw himself will be 29 at the beginning of next season.)  The Dodgers will need pitchers besides Clayton Kershaw to contribute if they are going to win it all, and the massive usage that some are suggesting- to go along with the massive usage he’s already taken on- will not be worth it, if the team “only” goes on to win the National League pennant.

bill_murrayAs for the rest of the team, much like Game One against Jon Lester, the offense looked better than the Game 5 box score suggested.  This time, it wasn’t so much against Lester himself, but against the relievers, Pedro Strop and Aroldis Chapman.   Hopefully for the Dodgers, that’s a sign of things to come, as opposed to two bored relievers in a blowout.  Game 6 on the way Saturday night.  Bill Murray and much of the rest of the country will be watching.

As For Bartman…

bartmanWith the Cubs up 3 games to 2 and headed back to Chicago, the Steve Bartman references were inevitable- and let’s face it, it would be silly not to at least mention him in passing.  However, after 13 years of retrospect, as well as an excellent 30-for-30, with an in-depth look at the vicious scapegoating that he endured (with some stuff about Bill Buckner thrown in for good measure), it would seem that it was well passed time to put the incident in perspective.   Unfortunately, that’s just not how things are done around here, particularly in the media.  It’s a lazy, ready-for-made TV narrative- of COURSE it had to be a poor, clueless schlep, sitting in the front row of “The Friendly Confines” Wrigley Field , extending this “curse”.  Like Ken Bone in recent times (albeit different circumstances), the media were all too willing to make this anonymous man into a household name.

The problem is that it wasn’t true- well, for the most part.  Yes, Bartman reached over and deflected the ball from Moises Alou, but he didn’t do anything different than most of the fans surrounding him, as announcer Steve Lyons pointed out during the broadcast in the very next game.  (As a sidenote, why do fans still do this?!  If there’s one thing the “Bartman incident” should have taught ALL of us, it’s that fans in the first row of foul territory should make a conscious decision, BEFORE the game, to allow their team’s fielders every chance possible to catch a ball.  But I digress.)  Even more damning, the Cubs still had a comfortable three run lead and just two outs to go in the inning, but completely fell apart on their own.  Most notably, Alex Gonzalez’s error- undoubtedly enough to get the runner at second, and possibly even an inning-ending double play- would almost certainly been enough to stop the bleeding.  No one would have remembered Bartman, any more than they remember Yasmani Grandal missing an easy popup in Game 2 of this NLCS.

But none of the surrounding circumstances stopped some very public officials, fanning the flames against the unsuspecting lifelong Cubs fan, although karma would deal some pretty hefty blows to some of most high profile ones.  Then-Governor Rod Blagojevich said that he’d never pardon Steve Bartman, if ever given the chance- a statement that turned out as ironic as it was cruel, in light of where he ended up.  Then-Manager Dusty Baker had no problem assigning much of the blame to Bartman, when prompted to do so by the media.  The journeyman manager has not won a deciding game since.  (Most recently, his ordering of a sacrifice bunt, with the bottom of the order coming up, is about as much of a reason as any why he’s not getting another shot at a pennant at Wrigley, albeit this time in the visiting dugout.  He should take responsibilities for OWN decisions, before assigning blame to fans for his team’s woes.  But again, I digress.)  Even Jeb Bush got into the trolling act a bit, offering Bartman “sanctuary” in the state of Florida.  And, while we’re on the subject of trolling and Jeb Bush…..well, never mind.  This is the wrong site for that sort of thing.

Most of all, though, the media couldn’t wait to run with the story, and the game tonight gives them all the opportunity to rehash the narrative all over again.  It seems to provide them with some sort of weird nostalgia, to think back to one of the most undeserving character assassinations in recent American history.  MLB Network reran a clever-but-cruel (and okay, pretty funny) Bob Costas-narrated mockumentary, reimagining Steve Bartman as the hero, culminating in a *spoiler alert* victory over Barack Obama for a seat in the United States Senate.  I wouldn’t feel so guilty about laughing, or so compelled to be a Debbie Downer about it, if the man didn’t literally have to go into hiding for his “sin”.  (On the flip side, enjoying Will Ferrell’s fictional rendition of the late Harey Carey calling the play can be done guilt-free.)  Bottom line- whatever bit of responsibility Steve Bartman holds for the 2003 Chicago Cubs, pales in comparison to the responsibility held by the 2003 Cubs, as well as all the blame that he took for it.

Ending this post on a more positive note, particularly since I have almost NEVER said anything nice about Bud Selig, he deserves credit for being one of the few public figures to defend Steve Bartman, essentially telling Cub fans to stick to blaming goats, not fans, for their misfortune.  Even more noteworthy, former Cub great (and drafted Dodger) Rick Sutcliffe considered bringing Bartman out for the opening pitch of the 2003 World Series.  It turned out to be a moot point, of course.  The 2016 Dodgers are hoping, seemingly against all odds, that will continue to be the case.

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NLCS Game 2 Recap- Kershaw and Jansen Pass Their In-Game Physicals, Dave Roberts Finds His Rabbit’s Foot

The Dodgers needed that.  The fans needed that.  The ANNOUNCERS needed that.  After playing so many ~4:00 hour games that it started to feel like standard practice, the Dodgers played a relatively tidy but nevertheless drama-filled 1 run game- that’s “1 run game,” as in 1 TOTAL run for the entire game.  Adrian Gonzalez’s home run provided the Dodgers with the only one they’d need, against starting pitcher Kyle Kendricks.

The reason why this paltry offense was adequate for the entire game was largely due to the pitching heroics of Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen.  In Game One’s recap, this blog said the following

It’s impossible- not nearly impossible, but completely impossible- to imagine the Dodgers advancing, without at least decent performances from Kershaw and Jansen, throughout the rest of the series.”

kershawAsk, and ye shall receive.  Far from being decent, Kershaw and Jansen were downright dominant, hitting their spots, and for the most part, keeping the Cubs off balance.  To be sure, there were a few good swings against Kershaw in the later innings, but in some respects, it seemed part of his game plan- he’d been used so much recently, he needed to keep his pitch count down, meaning that he had to pitch to contact more than usual.  Trusting his defense, combined with a little bit of luck- and a LOT of luck, on that final warning track shot from Javy Baez- Kershaw was masterful, and gave the Dodgers a much needed win, with a huge assist from Kenley Jansen.

And how about that Jansen?  Not even three full days after he’d thrown the last of a career high 51 pitches to the Washington Nationals in Game Five of the NLDS, Jansen looked as dominant as he had all year for TWO full innings of work, and had done so against one of the best offenses in all of Major League Baseball.  Even more incredibly, he was getting ready to throw in the seventh inning, before Kershaw talked Dave Roberts out of taking him out of the game- which brings us to where the rabbit’s foot comes into play.

roberts_maniacal

                Why so serious?!

Jerry Hairston Jr. mentioned on Twitter how Kershaw would always “win” arguments with Don Mattingly to remain in the game.  It’s completely understandable why the best pitcher in baseball would have the right to stay in, if he felt he could get the job done.  And of course he always believes that he can, because if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be the best pitcher in baseball.  On the other hand, it puts the manager in a really difficult position.  If the job gets done, we sing Kershaw’s praises.  If it does not, it’s the manager’s fault for not doing his job, in seeing how “obvious” it was (after the fact) that Kershaw had nothing left in the tank.  Game 2 of the NLCS initially looked no different than a few other recent postseason shockers, only this time, Javy Baez’s rocket launch towards the outfield did not land in the gap, or over the wall, but safely in Joc Pederson’s glove.  The baseball gods were in Dave Roberts’ favor, and with the maniacal laugh that he let out at the end of the inning, it was clear that he knew it.

Back to LA

To the extent that there is such a thing as a “must win” Game Two in a Best-of Seven series, this was it for the Dodgers.  The Dodgers going back to L.A. down 2-0, knowing that Clayton Kershaw wouldn’t be pitching for at least two games (even with short rest), would have been a next-to-impossible task, with a starting rotation that has not been particularly effective so far.  But now that the series is tied and they’re going back to their home turf, there is a real chance this turns into an all-time classic, poised to eventually head back to Chicago.  But at Dodger Stadium, the Boys in Blue better get more out of their starting pitching, as it’s unlikely they can win more than one bullpen-by-committee game against the team with the most wins in Major League Baseball.  They’ll also need some middle relief to step, as Kenley Jansen will not be able to go for six out saves every night.  Then again, with all the improbable outcomes we’ve seen over the past few months since Kershaw initially went down, it’s foolish to dismiss anything at this point.  I’m half-expecting Mickey Hatcher to circle the bases at some point.

’til Tuesday…