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.

la-sp-dodgers-vs-nationals-20161013-pictures-012

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.

 

 

 

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.

stripling

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?

just_one_of_those_days

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!

Somehow Still a Dodger, Captain Clutch Plays The Hero Again…and Again!

Andre Ethier was not supposed to still be here. Constantly rumored to be part of deals that involved- among others- Mark Teixiera, Manny Ramirez, Miguel Montero, and most recently CJ Wilson, Ethier survived them all. It’s debatable whether he even WANTED to survive those deals, particularly in recent years. But after the Dodgers couldn’t unload his contract for anything close to fair value, they figured it was better to instead trade Matt Kemp. This enraged many fans (hello, everybody!) and surely even the front office would have conceded that of the two franchise cornerstones, Ethier is the one they’d rather part with.

Thank goodness they didn’t. Not only has Ethier had a better season offensively than Kemp, but he’s been a far better fit in the field, as well. Though notably moody at times, Andre Ethier is also willing to play all three outfield positions, something that Matt Kemp is not. With Yasiel Puig manning right field for the foreseeable and Joc Pederson in center, Kemp would have been inserted into left field, a place that he truly hates, for whatever reason. Had Ethier been traded and Kemp stayed put, it’s difficult to imagine how that would have played out this year- let alone the fact that Yasmani Grandal would not be here.

But all this is big picture stuff. On Sunday, the reason(s) for keeping Ethier was far more apparent. After newbie Jim Johnson wrecked other newbie Mat Latos’s chance for a victory by allowing a game-tying home run to the Angels, Ethier picked him up in the bottom of the 8th inning with a dramatic, go-ahead home run to centerfield. The Angels tied up the game in the 9th inning with 2 outs, giving Mike Scioscia’s free-falling club from Orange County a brief feeling of elation- emphasis on brief.

At Dodger Stadium, August 2nd, 2015  was Dre Day.  (Source: Jayne Kamin Oncea, USA Today)

At Dodger Stadium, August 2nd, 2015 was Dre Day. (Source: Jayne Kamin Oncea, USA Today)

In the bottom of the 10th, Ethier came to the plate with Adrian Gonzalez on, and crushed a line-drive, walkoff home run- and into the Angel bullpen, just for effect! It was a dramatic hit from a dramatic player, and reminded Dodger fans of something that they used to see on a regular basis. It was good to see it again.

Never able to figure out lefties, Ethier has not quite been the player that Dodger fans had once hoped for. Nevertheless, the good has far outweighed the bad. In one final twist for the afternoon, Molly Knight notes in her new book “The Best Team Money Can Buy” that Andre Ethier once complained about playing in day games, saying he was a better player at night. (The numbers back this up.) But he isn’t complaining today, nor are Dodger fans. As his teammates congratulated him with a Gatorade bath, the longtime Dodger outfielder never looked happier to still be playing in Los Angeles. For Dodger fans on this Sunday afternoon, the feeling is more than mutual.

The Return of DonnieBall- For Dodgers at Citi Field, Bunting Strategy Proves To Be The Wrong Strategy

I really had hoped that I wouldn’t have to write a post like this again.

It had been well over a year since I could recall Don Mattingly ordering a sacrifice bunt in a situation that absolutely didn’t call for it.  Specifically, the last one I could truly remember was Andre Ethier, ordered to move Dee Gordon (DEE GORDON!) over to second base- and in a game that the Dodgers were losing!  These days, sacrifice bunting is a controversial strategy in MOST baseball circles, to put it mildly, especially among the sabermetric community.  While I take issue with that group in many respects- wait until my upcoming Moneyball-related post- I’m pretty much with them on this one.  Even so, there are at least a few situations where I can tolerate a sacrifice bunt from someone with a batting average higher than .180.  For the Dodgers, Sunday’s extra inning heartbreaker in Queens, New York was not one of those times.

After mounting an inspired comeback in the 9th inning against the Mets to spare Zack Greinke another hard-luck loss, the Dodgers managed to make it to the 10th, where Mets killer Jimmy Rollins managed a leadoff walk.  The next batter, Scott Van Slyke, struck a pose that struck despair into the hearts of Dodger fans- he squared to bunt, as though he was a relief pitcher who hadn’t picked up a bat since Little League.  Almost as though to show Mattingly how bad a strategy sacrifice bunting was in this situation, Rollins was ambitious enough to steal second.  Didn’t matter.  The Mets’ actual relief pitcher had trouble finding the plate.  Didn’t matter.  With a count of 3-1, Mattingly had Van Slyke hand the Mets an out, on a silver platter, applauding from the dugout as though something good had just happened.  Others didn’t feel that way.  “Wow,” Mets’ announcer Keith Hernandez exclaimed in disbelief.  Sadly, Dodger fans did not, as we’ve seen this all too many times before to be surprised.  (Still, many of us managed to exclaim something.)

This wasn’t even the end of it, though.  The next batter up was Joc Pederson, a man who currently specializes in three things- walks, home runs, and especially and unfortunately, strikeouts.  None of these things are conducive to a “productive out”, the only type of outcome that even REMOTELY justifies sacrifice bunting.  Going for a one run inning on the road in extra innings is bad enough.  Doing so on a 3-1 count?  Even worse.  Doing so with a guy who, under the circumstances, is more likely to produce an at-bat which will produce anything BUT one run?  Inexcusable, particularly for a manager who has been given the occasional nickname “Buntingly”, and supposedly improved his strategic acumen (or at least, surrounded himself with better people).

I have defended “Donnie Baseball” many times, holding onto the belief that his skills in dealing with personnel are more important than his occasional head scratching in-game decisions.  He often gets too much of the blame when his star players come up short, or his front office does not give him the best players to work with.  But this is not one of those times.  Joc Pederson exploded onto the seen, showed a lot of promise, and already does some things very impressively.  But it has become increasingly that against good pitching, he is often overmatched.  In this at-bat, Pederson ultimately did what he does more than anything else- he struck out, and the Dodgers would ultimately strand Rollins on third base.  This is not to give the young Dodger centerfielder a lot of grief- just his manager.

Dodger fans would have hoped the presence of Uribe would remind Donnie of the fallacy of sacrifice bunting.  Dodgers fans would have been wrong.  (source: unknown)

Dodger fans would have hoped the presence of Uribe would remind Donnie of the fallacy of sacrifice bunting. Dodgers fans would have been wrong. (source: unknown)

As for the rest of the game, it was all too predictable from that point.  The Mets would win on a walk-off in the bottom of the inning.  Adding insult to injury, the winning hit was delivered by Juan Uribe, of all people.  Dodger fans will always remember Uribe fondly for hitting one of the greatest post-1988 home runs in team history, against the Atlanta Braves, in the 2013 NLDS.  How did it happen? Uribe failed to get the sacrifice bunt down- twice, no less- at which point Mattingly called off the bunt sign in the nick of time, setting the stage for Uribe to play hero.  It seemed that perhaps the Dodger skipper had seen the light, going so far as questioning why he had put the bunt on in the first place.  That self-doubt didn’t last a single game, as he employed it against the Cardinals in extra innings during the next round.  (The Dodgers didn’t score then, either, and ultimately lost the game.)  And here we are now, nearly two years later, having the same scenario play out right in front of us.  It’s all too predictable, and tiring to talk about.  And if Juan Uribe’s presence wasn’t enough to show Mattingly the fallacy of this, chances are that nothing will.  The Dodgers and their fans should just hope that they are not even presented with such a situation in mid-October, should they be so lucky to make it that far.

All is not lost, though, as the Dodgers have managed to hold onto first place, heading back to Los Angeles.  (Barely, but they have.)  The always streaky Giants have streaked the wrong way lately, from a “blue” point of view, thanks in part to the Oakland A’s, waving the green, yellow and white flag of surrender.  And now the Dodgers face that same pitiful team, hopefully with the same results as the archrivals.  The Moneyball post can’t come soon enough.  I’d better get started on it.

A Tribute to the Dodgers’ 6 (yes, SIX) All-Star Participants

While All Star game participation is not the best indication of a winning team, it’s pretty safe to say that when 1/5th of your team’s roster is heading there, they’re probably in good shape. It’s an even better indication when the manager is joining in on the festivities.

Here is a celebratory look at how these half-dozen Boys in Blue made their way to the hometown of the Reds-

Source: Gary Vasquez, USA Today

Source: Gary Vasquez, USA Today

Joc Pederson – In light of the Dodgers’ most common batting order this season, it seems appropriate to leadoff with Joc here. Normally, a rooking hitting .230 with 105 strikeouts would not be the starting centerfielder of the All Star game, if he’d be there at all. But Joc Pederson is not a normal rookie. Already one of the better defensive centerfielders in Los Angeles Dodger history, along with already being one of the best defensive centerfielders in baseball today, Pederson has anchored an outfield that has needed anchoring for YEARS. His game-saving plays have become regular features on sports highlight shows, as have his Mantle-esque, tape measure home runs. Pitchers have adjusted to him in recent weeks, and he will need to adjust back. For now, though, he has a tailor-made swing for the Home Run Derby, which should serve him far better than it did for his talented but miscast Dodger predecessors, Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig.

Yasmani Grandal– I’m not going to lie. Had you asked me on Opening Day who would be the least likely Dodger to end up in Cincinnati this week, I’d probably go with this guy. Originally drafted BY the Reds as one of the most promising catching prospects in baseball, Grandal was sent to San Diego as a centerpiece of the Mat Latos deal, where he had a very successful rookie campaign in 2012. Then, he got busted in the Biogenesis scandal, tore up his knee, and seemed destined for MLB’s scrap heap. Fortunately for the Dodgers, Andrew Friedman and company saw something there that a lot of us didn’t.After a slow start offensively, Grandal hasn’t looked back since early May, often being among one or two other guys doing ANYTHING in the Dodger lineup, through some rather lengthy team slumps. But as valuable as he’s been at the plate, his game calling behind the plate is what really sets him apart, drawing praise from none other than fellow All-Star Zack Greinke- not a guy who hands out compliments very easily. His pitch framing abilities have been widely praised amongst the sabermetrics community, and his rate of throwing out runners has improved dramatically from last season’s campaign. If “Yaz” can keep up this pace throughout the remainder of the season, he will not just be an All Star- he will be Comeback Player of the Year.

(Special tip of the cap to Rob Neyer for going out on a limb, contemplating that Grandal could be an All Star before the season even began.)

Adrian Gonzalez– As of right now, it’s a bit of a stretch to say that Gonzalez has had a Hall of Fame career. However, he has consistently put up numbers that quietly guarantee he will, at the very least, be on a Hall of Fame ballot. A blockbuster trade by the Dodgers that drew lukewarm praise at the time, also being criticized as too costly to be worth the price, Gonzalez is the only player on EITHER side of that trade, still making key contributions to his team. (No disrespect intended to Carl Crawford, who has been sidelined most of the season.) But not only has he been valuable, he been exactly the player whom the Dodgers envisioned since day one- a steady, middle of the order “gap power” threat, with steady, occasionally spectacular, defense at the corner. Moreover, though he is a mild-mannered guy, he turns up the intensity when necessary, such as when he nearly dove into the stands in the 9th inning of today’s win against the Brewers, narrowly missing a game ending catch. He leads by example, and neither apologizes, nor makes excuses, when things don’t go the Dodgers’ way- just calls it as he sees it. Though he has put on way more different uniforms than a player of his caliber ever should, even in the era of free agency, he will hopefully end his career one day, in the Dodger uniform that he wears now.

Source: J Pat Carter, AP

Source: J Pat Carter, AP

Zack Greinke– Okay, we’re done with the warmup act. Now, we can get to the headliners. Look, we all know how important the three Ohio-bound position players have been for the team, but ten years from now, no one will look back at any of their numbers and say, “Now THAT was a season to remember!” The same cannot be said of the Dodgers’ two phenominal aces, anchoring not just their own team, but the entire National League. When one thinks of the Los Angeles Dodgers historically, one thinks of starting pitching, and that has rarely been more true than this season. If Zack Greinke isn’t starting the game on Tuesday, Major League Baseball will need to open an investigation.

Incidentally, many of the same things said about Adrian Gonzalez can be said about Zack Greinke. Among them, he’s not Hall of Fame bound (yet), but is certainly Hall of Fame ballot bound. He was signed in a deal with measured praise at the time- an upgrade who supposedly wasn’t worth the price, when in actuality, it has been a bargain. Also similar to Gonzalez is his quiet determination- not a very animated guy, to say the least, but as fierce a competitor as one can imagine. (Note the way he takes his at-bats.) And finally, like the Dodger first baseman, Zack Greinke has changed teams far more than someone of his ability should.

On almost any other team, someone of this description would be an Opening Day starter. But not the Dodgers, because of the next guy.

Source: Chris Carlson, AP

Source: Chris Carlson, AP

Clayton Kershaw– Much as it was appropriate to start this player list with Joc Pederson, it’s appropriate to save the best for last, ending it was Clayton Kershaw, as he was the last person to be added to the National League squad, somehow. It’s an annual tradition for a successful fanbase’s team to seethe about their guy(s) getting snubbed, but Dodger fans were primed for once-in-a-generation, next level outrage. I’ll be honest- on some level, I was kind of looking forward to it! The very idea of the Giants’ skipper, so publicly snubbing the best pitcher in baseball (even if that wasn’t his intention), was going to make a fun narrative for years to come. Now, we have Kershaw, making another ho-hum mid-July appearance, something that he might not have even wanted to do! (We’ll never know.) But regardless, if you’re going to leave off someone who is both the reigning Cy Young AND MVP winner, you’d better have a really good reason to do so. Bruce Bochy did not. He is fortunate that circumstances bailed him out.

As for Kershaw himself, yes, he’s having an “off year” by HIS measures, mainly due to lack of run-support, and a few more home run balls than he’s accustomed to giving up. But by any other measure, he is still an Ace-of-Spaces, even on a team WITH Zack Greinke. If past seasons are any indication, he will only get stronger as the summer goes on.

ENCORE!

So that’s the player list, but we promised SIX Dodgers at the beginning of this, so here’s one more:

Don Mattingly– Making his first All Star appearance since 1989- then as a player, obviously- he is a rare controversial selection for many fans of his OWN team. Seeing how the Dodgers have been in first place all season, it’s been puzzling to listen to the fan reaction when Mattingly’s name is announced at Dodger Stadium, prior to the starting lineups. And yes, we all know about his shortcomings strategically, but that’s hardly a reason not to give a polite applause for your first place team’s skipper! (In small but clearly audible cases, there have actually been BOOS.)

The fact is, Mattingly will never be Joe Maddon. But he has always been a high character guy, demanding the best effort from his players while simulataneously supporting them when they give it. He has navigated through ownership scandals, players demanding more playing time, and various other personnel conflicts. We will see what the rest of the season brings, but so far, he has been the right man for this team, and his selection is well deserved.

And Finally..

After what happened in 2002, you never know WHO will be pitching in extra innings!  (source: Claudia Gestro - Baltimore Post Examiner)

After what happened in 2002, you never know WHO will be pitching in extra innings! (source: Claudia Gestro – Baltimore Post Examiner)

With Bud Selig now retired, we hope that we will be able to retire the “This-Time-It-Counts” silliness after this year, as well. But while it’s still with us, let’s also hope that at least this time around, the cause that Greinke, Kershaw and everyone else will be contributing to, will ultimately be their own this October.