09 December 2008

Boras and Sabathia

My fear is that Sabathia ( or his agent ) makes a statement soon that no, he didn't actually say he wanted to be a Dodger, that while he would welcome an offer from the Dodgers Colletti misinterpreted what he said. Such a correction by Sabathia would make Colletti and the Dodgers look foolish and be a blow to Dodger fans who like the feeling that a player wants to come to the Dodgers. No matter what Sabathia were to say in the future, I think that he does want to play for the Dodgers, perhaps more than any other team, since they are the only team that hits all his reported desires ( National League, contenders, Southern California ) but that doesn't mean he wants that known in the middle of a free agency period. I wouldn't want that kind of thing known if I was his agent.

What does Colletti have to gain from announcing that Sabathia is interested in the Dodgers? It briefly makes the fans happy, but unless he can follow through and actually sign Sabathia it's just going to make us madder in the end. Don't tease us like that, man! If you don't get Sabathia now the only excuse you have now is that you had to sign Manny instead.

Ah yes, Manny. I will admit that compared to all the others out there he is the only free agent I've ever wanted this offseason. There are grim words of warning I should heed --- he's slow, he's old, he's a DH now, he's mercurial --- but whatever. He's also Manny, and we Dodger fans have only known happiness so far with him. I don't know if Colletti ( or McCourt ) wants Manny back too, but if he does, then I think Manny and Boras were the target audience for Colletti's boast about Sabathia's desire for the LA blue. Colletti's statement was a way to float the threat of the Dodgers signing Sabathia and leaving Manny without perhaps his most lucrative landing spot without having to actually make an offer to Sabathia.

According to Jayson Stark, Scott Boras has requested a meeting with the Dodgers. Boras may have reasons of his own unrelated to anything Colletti has said, but the timing is suggestive. If Boras really has found no other serious bidders for Manny then he may want to lock in the Dodgers before that option disappears. If there are other clubs interested at the right price then Boras will still want to maintain the appearance that the Dodger are heavily involved and must be bid against.

Scott Boras may be a snake but like any other agent he's very simple to deal with if you can deal from a position of strength. You just make your offer and ignore everything he says after you've made your offer except for the words "Yes" and "No". You ignore what he says about other teams bidding. You ignore what he says about how exceptionally valuable the player is. When Colletti meets with Boras this is all he has to say: "I have room in my budget for one big free agent. It's either Manny or Sabathia. This is our offer for Manny. You can either take it or we go to Sabathia instead. Let me know by noon tomorrow what your answer is."

16 October 2008

Roll Call of the Defeated, part 1

Chad Billingsley:

If Chad Billingsley is an ace, then we need another name for what Cole Hamels is. The best pitcher of the Dodgers is not in the same league as the best pitcher on the Phillies.

We know Billingsley can bring it in the postseason; he proved that against Chicago. And Chad had good stuff in both his starts against the Phillies, at least to my observation. He struck out some good hitters with some nasty pitches. But too often he was wild. He could have been luckier in the third inning when Howard's hard grounder galloped past the pack of infield defenders; if that ball is a little bit to the left or right the inning is over. But Chad set himself up to be burned by imperfect fortune with the two previous walks. He missed over the plate too many times. Hitting is about success in one moment. Pitching is about consistent success, repeated over and over. He never had that steady arm against the Phillies.

Blake DeWitt:

I liked his second at bat. Burned off his first pitch weak grounder double play his first time around, he practiced discretion the second time around. He got the count to 2-1 and then hit the ball somewhat hard, but unfortunately not all that hard and also on the ground. The result was the same but I saw improvement. It was never a fair fight, Hamels v. DeWitt. It was a promising AA guy against a polished major league star. He was in over his head all this season and he did okay, but he wasn't the kind of guy you want starting in a postseason game. Well, it happens. No team is ideal at every position. And I always liked seeing him play.

Rafael Furcal:

I like a player who can make me laugh with his play. When he bunted in the first inning of game four, I initially thought he had just popped up the bunt Pierre-style. From my seat behind the left field foul pole all I could see was that the ball went high into the air, which is a big no-no when bunting, and I was sure of the out. And then, when I saw the fielder look up, then back, helpless to catch the ball tumbling over him, I laughed. Furcal stole first with that play, a rare and brazen symbolic theft of first, and he nearly stole second at the same time, but they were able to chase down the ball before he could get all the way around.

He would have made me cry with his frequent debilitating errors if I wasn't hardened to that sort of thing. I don't want to be always worried that the throw will be bad when the ball is hit to shortstop. Maybe it's best that Furcal move on. But it would only be best emotionally, irrationally, because there is no way a new Dodger shortstop could replace what Furcal brings when healthy. If healthy. The errors are the headlines, but health is the real red flag here, isn't it?

Greg Maddux:

I never got over how old he looked this year. An old, veteran face. Someday I'll look at my own face and think the same thing.

Matt Kemp:

He did it, in game four. With two outs and runners at second and third he scorched a line drive to center field. I had a great view of the trajectory of that shot, a perfect low arc straight from the bat into Victorino's glove.

And then at the end of game five ... well, let me just say that the Dodgers showed that you can get to Lidge. They drew walks off of him and took him for some deep and hard outs. They never broke through against him, and he's obviously real good, but they took him to the edge of the cliff. The Brewers did too. I wouldn't be surprised if the Rays or Sox got to him in one of their games.

15 October 2008

We Cheered and Cheered

What is there to say about the game that is now two nights gone? The moment is gone, when the Dodgers had a shining chance, when the game felt won, when the series felt tied. Celebration was undone.

The line drives were like fireflies. From the moment they were hit they were metaphors for transient beauty and life and heartbreak. They were moments of pure joy, when we were already coming in to score. But they were caught and we felt the outs, deep and raw. And yet how generous, maybe, to give us those moments of illusion, the brief flashes of elation when the ball was cutting through the air with enough passion to score runs and ignite cheers, rather than just fail without promise. It is better to show your brilliance and fall than to show nothing at all.

Each man who emerged from the gates was treated as a hero. This reliever is the ONE! That most of them failed at some point did not shake our faith that the next one was also the one. Played backwards through time these are great tales of redemption and faith. First Broxton and then Wade emerged from the dugout to yield home runs, and then they returned to the bullpen to cheers because we knew that next time they would do better.

The summary of that game from one who was there is this: we cheered and cheered and then our hearts broke. I don't know what else to say.

13 October 2008


I understand Victorino's reaction after he grounded out. The only way to truly and really get revenge in baseball is to win, to do well on the field. So I think Victorino was thinking that his revenge for the pitch at the head would come with a home run or other solid hit in that at bat. If he had gotten on with a single he would have tried to steal for sure. He was going to show Kuroda who is boss with his bat, and not in the way Juan Maricial once tried it with Johnny Roseboro. But he grounded out meekly. His revenge was thwarted, and so, rendered impotent, he had to yap at Kuroda some more, whine some more, act like a little punk some more. And that brought Manny roaring in.

Manny knows he can't beat up on anyone. Hell, I'm not even sure what kind of fighter he is. He wanted to be held back. But that doesn't matter. Manny will be locked in now. He's going to get his revenge at the plate. We're talking about someone who can hit a pitch well below the strike zone well beyond the left-center fence. Manny could smack a bomb to dead center in the old Polo Grounds if he was locked in. The Phillies have awakened the dreadlocked beast. Victorino and his crybaby routine have roused Manny and the Dodgers. Manny didn't act like a punk when thuggish Myers threw at his head for absolutely no reason. I think Manny felt in game 2 that he'd get his revenge with the bat. And he did! But his three-run home run didn't help the Dodgers win game 2. In the end it's all about winning. The only way the Dodgers win the brushback war with the Punkadelphia Punkies is if they win the series. From now on the only purpose pitches the Dodgers should throw are the kind that strike guys out.

Martin was hit twice and nearly beaned another time. He's had to deal with his staff ace very nearly throwing him under the bus after the game two meltdown. If Martin isn't locked in now he'll never be. But maybe it's nonsense to talk about players being locked in, to talk about players suddenly getting better because they want revenge or something. Weren't they all trying as hard as they could already? What more motivation do you need than making the World Series?

But this Phillies initiated nonsense changes things for fans for sure. For me at least. Of course I've wanted the Dodgers to win the whole time. I've wanted it bad. But now, just as much, I want to see those Phillies lose. The Phillies are as hated as the Giants or the Snakes now. They've started a brushback war for no good reason. Then they cried when the Dodgers dared to fire back. Punks. I've doubled down on this series now. It wasn't like that with the Cubs. I didn't hate the Cubs. They just happened to be in the way of the Dodgers. If the Cubs had beat the Dodgers I would have been upset about the Dodgers losing, but not about the Cubs winning. But the Phillies must now lose. Time to draw even, Dodgers. I'll be there to see you do it.

10 October 2008

Failure of Vigilance

The bottom of the fifth inning ended with a single by catcher Ruiz, then a two-strike single by Hamels, then a fly out by Rollins. I turned to my wife and suggested that it was time to take Lowe out.

This isn't hindsight, because I saw it at the time. It's the experience of hindsight, of watching all those other Lowe games where the inning before he gave up a lot of runs he started giving up singles and fly balls. Derek Lowe is one of the easiest pitchers to read. When he's getting ground balls he's on. When he stops getting ground balls it's time to get him out of there, or at least to have someone up in the 'pen to relieve him at a moment's notice, for example after a game-tying home run.

I understand why Torre wouldn't lift Lowe after five shutout innings. He had only made around 80 pitches. But the warning signs should have been too dire to ignore. At the very least he should have had a quicker hook in that sixth inning. Maybe after the error, which would seem unfair since he did get the ground ball but the fact was you had three home run hitters coming up as the tying run. Or at least after the tying home run! This I think was the latest you could justify leaving Lowe in. And failing that he should have been lifted after the sharp ground out by Howard. That was no "Lowe is back on the horse ground out", that was an "oh bleep he just doesn't have it anymore that was hit so hard ground out". And yet Torre left him in just long enough to lose the lead, and the tie, and as it would turn out, the game.

Look, running Lowe out for the sixth inning could have worked. If Furcal doesn't make that error maybe it does work. I've seen Lowe come back with a strong ground-based inning after a shaky air-based one. So yes, you can gamble. But why would you? The heart of the Phillies lineup was coming up. It's a two run lead in a playoff game. You have an 8-man bullpen ( if Lowe goes again in game 4 ). It's a good bullpen, though I wouldn't have picked Park to be the guy backing up Lowe, not with those hitters in that park. ( I shudder just to think about it. ) It would have made so much sense to get Lowe early. It may be too quick a hook by traditional standards, but let's just win that damn game first and worry about the way things are usually done and players' feelings after the game.

The Dodgers almost hit a home run in the first inning, and they almost got to Lidge with two long drives in the last inning, and they almost gave Lowe that precious first out in a middle inning when he was on the ropes, but the bad break that most haunts me is the mental mistake by the manager.

Yesterday's game thread post on Dodger Thoughts was just one word: Vigilance. It was a prophetic warning for the game. I wish Torre had been more vigilant. I wish he had been more watchful of the danger of Lowe losing his effectiveness. But he was not, and it cost the Dodgers game 1 of the 2008 NLCS.

07 October 2008

Kick 'Em When They're Up

I was at Saturday's game when the Dodgers swept the Cubs. I was one of the people waving one of those stupid yet fun rally dishcloths. I was holding my breath when Loney launched his bullet down the line and cheering when it landed fair, standing all those times Kuroda had two strikes but couldn't quite close the deal with a K, and yelling and screaming when Broxton had two strikes on Soriano. I was astonished when Martin was almost thrown out at third, nervous when it seemed that Saito might pitch the ninth, and delirious when Broxton ended the ninth. I experienced that game, the tense moments, the highs, the roars, the swirling white, the love for LA.

Not once did I think about Ned Freaking Colletti.

Not once in the days since the game have I thought about Ned Colletti. The Dodgers are in the playoffs, have advanced to the LCS. Who is thinking or writing about the Dodgers GM at a time like this? It's about the players and the coaches now, the chances of the club, the dreams of fans and players, the matchup with the Phillies, the hope for one more series, then a really serious series win, then the trophy with all the flags on it.

I would have thought it would be about that for everyone associated with the Dodgers right now, but not for team beat writer Ken Gurnick. He goes and writes an article in which he uses the Dodgers' sweep of the Cubs as a bludgeon on critics of Ned Colletti. Seriously? That's a story that important to tell right now?

So why bother even responding to this crap? I guess it's because the story itself is so obnoxious, so wrong. Even the title gets it wrong.

Colletti silencing critics with success

No. The critics are silent because you don't worry about the GM while your team is in the playoffs. Does it really make sense that three games against the Cubs would change the reality of Colletti's tenure with the Dodgers up to this point? Colletti has brought good and bad to the Dodgers this year, but the single biggest factor which got the Dodgers to the postseason this year is playing in a weak division. That has nothing to do with Colletti.

The subtitle of the article is just as loose with the truth:

GM builds team to win now without sacrificing young talent

Wrong. Young talent has been sacrificed. Santana, Watt, and LaRoche are gone. Maybe it was worth it. Maybe some of the deals were worth it but others weren't. ( That would be my position. ) But it is incorrect to say that no young talent was sacrificed.

But the worst part of the article is the first sentence of it, as obnoxious characterization of one's foes as you will ever see in a puff piece written by a beat writer:

The deeper the Dodgers go into this postseason, the greater the angst for the critics of Ned Colletti.

I am a critic of Ned Colletti, and the advancement of the Dodgers into this postseason gives me zero angst. It takes away angst. No Dodger fan is upset at the team advancing. We've waited 20 years for this! But we critics of Colletti are so petty that we'd wish to see the team fail just so that he can be fired? No. Your lead sentence is a disgrace, Ken Gurnick.

Further down the article:

The former assistant general manager of the San Francisco Giants was hired to replace Paul DePodesta on Nov. 16, 2005, taking over a 91-loss club six weeks into the offseason. There was no manager and the small group of healthy stars he could count on for the following season consisted of Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew. Among the position players he inherited that finished in the top eight for team at-bats the previous year were catcher Jason Phillips, first baseman Hee-Seop Choi, injured shortstop Cesar Izturis, utilityman Olmedo Saenz, injured outfielder Jayson Werth and infielder Oscar Robles.

Interesting that Gurnick doesn't mention what else Colletti inherited: Martin, Kemp, Loney, Billingsley, Broxton, and Dewitt. As I've said I have little interest in criticizing Colletti right now, but I would prefer that the entire truth be told. Later in the article Gurnick mentions that Colletti got the Indians and Red Sox to pay the rest of Manny and Blake's salaries, but he doesn't mention what the Dodgers had to give up to make that happen, or how the team even got into a position where it couldn't take on more payroll.

It's the timing of this article that pissed me off at first, but I realize now that no matter when this article was written it would be poor. It's not that defending Colletti is wrong. But you've got to tell the truth, the entire truth, when you do so. ( This goes for critics of Colletti as well. ) No shading of the facts, no convenient omissions. But most important, no mischaracterizations or petty slams of your opponents.

03 October 2008

Layer Slayers

A curse is not a metaphysical barrier preventing a team from winning, but a psychological barrier that prevents fans from enjoying their team's playoff games. I realize this because up until James Loney's grand slam two days ago I was ready for the worst. I expected, deep down, for the Dodgers to be bundled out of the playoffs in three games again. And I wouldn't have admitted it, couldn't have. But there I was, sure the game and series were over after DeRosa's wind aided home run down the line. A sign, I thought. A wind-blown sign of the Dodgers' doom and Cubs' fortune. Man did that lousy lucky home run make me mad.

As curses go the Dodger curse of the last 20 years would be a very minor one. Call it the curse of Pedro Guerrero, for trading him in the middle of 1988 for John Tudor. It's nothing quite so epic as the Red Sox curse or the Cubs curse or the Giants curse ( a very underrated curse ). But 20 years is a long time in the life of a fan. All those experiences of futility and irrelevance lay heavy in the mind. Layers of frustration and lament.

The Dodgers were going to waste all the walks. Announcers will often say that walks always come back to haunt a pitcher but that's not true. Sometimes they are left harmlessly on the bases. Sometimes it's the team that draws the walks that is haunted by scoring position failures. The two hits the Dodgers had before Loney were soft nothings. There were a couple of hard line outs but that was not enough to make me think the Dodgers could hit him. I guess I was hoping Loney could get a single when he first came up. I remember him doing that lately, getting bases loaded singles. That would have been fine by me. Instead he went down 0-2, overmatched. And that was it. The only reason I kept watching was because I felt I was supposed to. As a fan I have to pretend there is hope, but all I was really doing was recording a new layer of failure, setting it down on top of the layer where two men got thrown out at the plate.

Then Loney launched a ball into the heavens that battled the wind and won. And I was in shock. My wife, who does not have 20 years of Dodger fan frustration layers built up in her mind, was simply ecstatic. That was great to see. That's what I want to get back to, that kind of reaction.

These games remind me of the two in Arizona after the 8 game losing streak, when the Dodgers won 6-2 and 8-1. They went into an opponent's stadium and just destroyed two very good pitchers. Look, even without those errors yesterday the Dodgers outplayed Chicago. Billingsley was the better pitcher. Martin has found his power again. The home runs and doubles are back! And so is Furcal, with his jaw-dropping bunt hit. That was just pure fun. The Dodgers haven't even needed Manny, and he's still delivered a couple of show-off shots.

The series isn't over yet. You could make the argument that the Cubs should be favored in every possible game remaining. I couldn't make it, though. I'm not saying that the Dodgers are certain to win the series, because they're not, but this is a good team playing even better than they are right now. The home fans are going to joyous on Saturday. Ready to cheer and never give up. I'll be there too. I can't wait.

01 October 2008

The Feeling of Victory

The feeling of defeat is an adjustment of expectation, the release of hope. There are brief moments of rage, but anger fades into the gray background of the droning, soothing mantra: it is only a game. It is only a game. It was, and always will only be, a game. This is the mantra of the defeated. It was only a game. It is also the truth. Those who are caught up in the feeling of victory are oblivious to the truth. To be an active fan of a sporting contest is to construct a great and fantastic lie: that the outcome of the contest matters, in a personal and emotional way.

So it is. We have all chosen this lie, or have become ensnared in it. The feeling of defeat is the price we pay. We pay it every season. The oscillating nature of the Dodger's ride through the NL West this season brought Dodger fans very close to the feeling of defeat several times. Many may have embraced it fully, when things looked their darkest. I did --- or came close --- or maybe I only experimented with it, without ever fully giving up. I did watch those two games in Arizona after the eight game losing streak with some dim hope for the season, for the chance of victory at the end.

What comes after the victory at the end? Always the goal is to keep playing, to never stop, through the regular season and the tiebreakers and the division round and the league round, until the World Series, when no matter who wins or loses there are no more games. Maybe we could play Japan! No, it has to end eventually. What if the Dodger beat the Cubs, and then the Phillies and then the Red Sox and then hoist the trophy with all the flags on it --- what feeling will that be? I guess it's a feeling of complete and utter delusion. The delusion that it was all important, that we have invested ourselves in greatness. This is not a criticism: for from a distant and impersonal enough perspective anything will appear unimportant.

We are deep in the delusion now, we Dodger fans, anticipating the games against the Cubs. I love the feeling of the playoffs. Especially before the first game, when anything seems possible. Later on we may shake our heads sadly and lament that the Cubs were just too good, but right now we wait for the moment when we can see the potential and hoped for 2008 Baseball Champions of the Universe Los Angeles Dodgers take the field, and to cheer them as if they were us, holding our fates in their gloves.

25 September 2008

80 delivers '08

Back on the 21st of August I set a goal for the Snakes of 80 losses, because I thought that the Dodgers would finish 83-79. At the time I didn't think the Snakes would make it to 80, but I thought it was possible, and I had faith that they would. Today, the Snakes of Phoenix lost their 80th game and justified my faith in their mediocrity. With that loss they clinched second place in the division, leaving the Dodgers as the last team standing in the NL West. Given the mediocrity of the NL West this year it was fitting for the Dodgers to win the division with a Snakes loss.

I think the Dodgers will finish better than 83-79 now, though none of the remaining games will have any urgency. Whatever their final record it will not look impressive in the record books. But what will always be impressive in the memories of every Dodger fan is how the Dodgers followed up a crushing 8 game losing streak with an 8 game winning streak that included 5 straight wins against the Snakes, including 4 dominating wins over ace serpentine hurlers Haren and Webb. In September the Dodgers played like a 100-win team.

The division title doesn't need a first round win to be ratified. Even if the Dodgers lose 3-0 in the first round again it still counts. 2006 was better than both 2005 and 2007. The feeling of playoff games is something to savor and dread at losing should never interfere. And this is a strong team, stronger than their record. The Dodgers are more than an 80-something win team with Manny in the mix. Let the Cubs and Phillies and Mets be wary --- the Dodgers will bring to you a fierce fight. May the Southern California Blue prevail.

24 September 2008

Exhale Day

About the only hope Snakes fans have left to hang on to is the final two days of the regular season. That's when the Dodgers face Cain and Lincecum in San Francisco and the Snakes get to play the reeling Rockies at home. It is not unreasonable to think that all four of those games could go the Snakes way, which would knock two games off the standings deficit right there. They'd just have to knock another game off the deficit over the next three days to force a tie at the end of the season.

This is probably a false hope for Snakes fans, though. Neither Cain nor Lincecum are unbeatable, even at home, as last night showed. And the Snakes offense and bullpen are not good enough for any game to be considered an easy win for them. This is a 0.500 team in a mediocre division. I'm done being afraid of them. What I will still fear is the cruelly random nature of baseball: even if the Snakes really aren't good enough to run the table from here on out the baseball gods could still decree that it was so. But no matter what the Snakes luck into the Dodgers are golden if they can win 3 of the last 5. I sure hope they can do that. That's a fairly modest hope, if you think about their competition. It's also a very appropriate goal since the Dodgers will have to win 3 of 5 once in the first round of the playoffs against a much tougher team than either the Giants or the Padres.

If they make it, I guess I should qualify that pronouncement above about the Dodgers in the playoffs. I don't believe in jinxes, though. What I do believe is that a late season collapse will feel even worse if you spent a lot of time before the collapse thinking the playoff spot was in the bag. It's just good sense to limit speculation about the playoffs until doubt is removed. That's one of the reasons I haven't thought about who would be on the Dodger postseason roster. The other reason is I'm sure that in most cases Torre will pick the player who I wouldn't pick. Ozuna, Sweeney, Berroa, Park --- okay, the last two should probably be picked. Park has been mostly good and would seem to be in the top 7 of Dodger relievers, though I can just see the Phillies having a home run derby when he comes in. ( if the Dodgers make it and play the Phillies )

And then there is Berroa. Though I refuse to really admit it I guess a case can be made that he is now the Dodgers everyday shortstop. But I prefer to think of him as an emergency-backup-utility infielder who mysteriously starts every day. I think Berroa is terrible defensively. His throws always make me nervous and his range is nothing special. I think people assume he must be good defensively since he's such a bad hitter. And he is a terrible hitter, though not so awful that he can't have the occasional hot streak and fool announcers into thinking he's not so bad as a hitter. I think Berroa's acquisition is one of the most damning pieces of evidence against Colletti. This is the best the Dodgers could do? Maybe it is, but Colletti needs so many other excuses made for him with all his terrible free-agent signings and trades that I'm unwilling to give him the benefit of the doubt anymore.

It would be nice if Furcal could come back for the playoffs. ( if the Dodgers make it ) Actually it would be spectacular. Then Berroa would be on the bench and Ozuna wouldn't even need to be on the postseason ( if they make it ) roster. I guess this is the difference between Dodger fans and Snakes fans right now. Our unreasonable hopes involve the postseason ( if we make it ) roster, while their unreasonable hopes involve 9 different games breaking just right for them. This is a whole lot nicer.

22 September 2008

5 out of 14

By the end of games played on Wednesday, September 24 the Dodger may have clinched the NL West. Or the Snakes may have pulled into a tie with the Dodgers. Most likely something in between these extremes will occur. A lot can happen over the next three days.

The Snakes magic number is 10. This is a slight problem for them since they only have 7 games left, meaning that even if they win out ( unlikely ) they would still need plenty of help from the Dodgers to clinch or even to tie. But these facts mean very little to a panicky Dodger fan who is convinced the team has entered a death spiral after losing 2 of 3 to the Giants over the weekend. The nature of the loss Sunday just seems to confirm the doom, the dread, the gray shroud of mediocrity creeping over the team. They will never again get a hit with runners in scoring position. The bullpen can never again be trusted. Every excellent start will henceforth be wasted. These are the pseudo-facts that threaten to establish residence in my mind. But they are all lies! Yesterday has very little to do with today and tomorrow.

The Dodgers have 6 games left. The Snakes have 7 games left. If the teams were to finish tied they would play a single game to decide the division. So I will count this potential playoff game as a future game as well, with the obvious disclaimer that it probably won't be played. Therefore there are 14 games left that matter to deciding the NL West. If 10 of 14 go the Snakes' way, they are division champs. If just 5 of 14 go the Dodgers' way, they are division champs. If all of these games were coin flips the Dodgers would be in a strong position, though the Snakes would still have a chance of winning.

A Dodger fan's hope for the next four days should be that the magic number is reduced by 3, that is at least 3 of the next 7 contests that matter go the Dodgers' way. This goal has the advantage of being attainable no matter what the Snakes do. If the Dodgers can sweep a poor Padres team at Dodger Stadium then the goal is achieved. If the Dodgers can win 2 of 3 at home and the Snakes drop just 1 of 4 in St. Louis the goal is achieved. Nothing is certain yet but the future still is bright. If I had to predict each series I would pick the Snakes to split with St. Louis and the Dodgers to take 2 of 3 from the Padres. This would take the magic number down to 1.

It feels like a disaster to most Dodger fans when the team drops a game in the standings to the Snakes. But it will be a disaster for Snakes fans if the Snakes drop a full game to the Dodgers over any of the coming days. It's a lot better to be a Dodger fan right now. I'm trying not to forget that as I wonder how the Dodger failed to score in the first inning yesterday.

18 September 2008

We won!

I usually strongly disapprove of referring to one's favorite team as "we", as if the fan had anything to do with anything, but today I'm waiving that disapproval, given how agonizing it was to follow this game. There was to begin with a secret dread that it was all going to come apart, that yesterday's eight run bullpen fiasco was the beginning of a horrendous losing streak that would consume the Dodger's division lead within a week. Even now, with the Dodgers up 4 games ( pending the result of tonight's Snakes game ) it is troubling to think that it could all be gone in just four days. The action of the game just fed into the worry that we really were entering the beginning of the end, since the bullpen so often seemed on the verge of another meltdown from the sixth inning on.

My own journey with the Dodgers today began with GameDay, then turned to TV when I went home for lunch, then finished up with radio when I came back to work. So I got to see Martin's tag at the plate on the comebacker crisis play. Comebackers to the pitcher with a runner on first with less than two outs always make me nervous, because it seems like it should be such an easy double play and yet the throw away into center field is a very real danger with the pitcher having to make a full turn to make the throw to second. The comebacker in the ninth was plenty stressful enough already; I didn't need a crazy one an inning later that would fail in a way I had never anticipated only to then be saved miraculously. I am glad I got to see it, though. Those kinds of plays are part of what makes watching baseball so fun.

The game ended with Rick Monday describing the final batted ball as a line drive. Other accounts have it as a pop up. But no, Monday had to make me think the Pirates had just hit a game winning single before clarifying that Blake DeWitt had been able to range back and catch this "line drive" for the final out. I'm sure the ball wasn't a true pop up but I can't imagine it was anything like a line drive given where it was caught. Thank you Rick for making me lose the game on the inside before delivering the good news. The Dodgers may be 4 games up right now but my heart is about 2 games back of steady thanks to this game.

12 September 2008

The Fifth Element

One of these days Andre Ethier will go 0 for 5 with a couple of strikeouts and a double play. And then the next game he'll collect a single, but nothing else. And it will have become official: he's no longer hot. But nothing really will have changed. He will still be the same talent he's always been, a near total package of power, plate-discipline, and outfield play. He's even been flashing some speed lately, collecting a triple and some stolen bases, much to my delight after arguing with my wife that Ethier wasn't as slow as she thought. Ethier isn't really great at anything, except maybe outfield play, but he may yet prove to be the better overall baseball talent than even Matt Kemp, the golden boy. Right now if pressed on the matter I would call Ethier at least Kemp's equal in everything but speed.

How hot is Andre Ethier? His stats since he started hitting in front of Manny are above the stratosphere. Ethier's stats are up in the aether, the fifth element postulated by Aristotle that was thought to float above the element of air. Since the All-Star break Ethier has an OPS of 1.029, which is exactly the same OPS that Milton Bradley has during the entire year. So Ethier has, in the second half of 2008, equaled the man he was traded for. This, remember, is supposed to be one of the few trades that Colletti has ever made that he won, and one of the few trades that Beane has ever made that he lost. And Beane probably did lose it, no matter that Bradley is a better pure talent than Ethier. Bradley did not last in Oakland, because of injuries and temperament. Ethier is younger and more durable, and is also now becoming a fan favorite, a role that should have been Bradley's if talent were the only determiner of adulation.

Milton Bradley is hurt again. Texas manager Ron Washington is saying that Bradley will be back soon, but it's a lower back injury, so we'll see. Bradley is primarily a DH now, something I did not know until I looked it up just now. I find the idea of Bradley as a DH surprising and sad. He was so good in the outfield, in center field, even. It's not just me saying this: a few nights ago Vinny was talking about an amazing catch Bradley made in Petco Park. Yet Bradley has only played in the field 20 out of 115 games this year. Maybe that's a precaution given how easily he gets hurt. Maybe he's not aging well in the field. But man alive can he hit! We can only dream of Ethier even having a full year as good as the one Bradley is having right now.

The dream just might become reality sometime in the next few years. Through all his streaks and downs and up and benchings Ethier has posted an OPS above 0.800 every year. He's pushing against 0.900 this year. He's 26 and about to enter the prime of his career. And he's a Dodger, for now and the near future. Right now he's a hard charging surprise candidate to be best Dodger by 2010. The bar has been raised, Matt Kemp.

11 September 2008


Even in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001 I couldn't really make myself root for the Yankees. I don't suppose there is any reason why I should have rooted for the Yankees, but back then the often reviled city of New York had suddenly become a America's city, and I think rightly so. There was talk of having a Super Bowl in New York back then, though sadly nothing ever came of that. People started wearing NYFD and NYPD hats, in solidarity I guess. And the three-time defending champion Yankees seemed a little less objectionable. A possible fourth title in a row didn't seem quite as obnoxious in the aftermath of that dreadful September morning and the weeks of rubble and mourning that followed.

When Yankee fans talk about their recent dynasty the year 2001 is always included. They speak of the 1996-2001 years. There may be some who include 2003 in a desperate attempt to spin out the dynasty a little longer, and other might just go on playoff appearances and maintain that it has never ended ( until this year ) but I don't think they ever leave 2001 out of the dynasty years. I think those comeback wins in New York off of Byung-Hyun Kim mean too much for 2001 to be excluded. I can't put myself in that place, though. Of being a person directly and personally affected by the attacks, and returning to baseball as a kind of refuge of normalcy and hope, and seeing my heros Captain Jeter and Brosius and Tino hitting all those clutch home runs and winning those dramtic games in New York --- I don't know what those November nights were really like. It's a strange combination, really, of real life tragedy and heroism mixed in with pretend baseball heroism and tragedy. It all happened so close together. Sometimes we make sports mean too much, but maybe this was a time when sports meant more precisely because we had seen so vividly how insignificant it could be. A sobering perspective should, in time, magnify the small joys of life.

The Yankees are finished for this year. Torre escaped just in time, maybe. Even though he has a worse record with his new team than his replacement has in New York, Torre is going to come out of this looking pretty good as long as the Dodgers hang on in their awful division. I would say he's been pretty lucky. As for the team he left behind they have been unlucky, with injuries and un-clutch hitting and failing prospects and living in the toughest division and league in baseball being the main culprits. But it was also probably time for the Yankees to miss the playoffs. New York fans will be able to savor again how truly special it is to make the playoffs next year when they make it, as I expect they will.

Right now Dodger fans seem to be hooked into the "every-other-year" playoffs plan. This is not as swanky as the "every-year-dammit" plan Yankee fans had until now but it's a hell of a lot better than the plan Pirates fans have right now. I just hope Torre and Manny can upgrade the experience of the playoffs if the Dodgers make it.

10 September 2008

3.5 Games Up

The next time I feel like complaining about some shaky performance by Broxton I ought to ask a Snakes fan what they feel about their closer. They have cause to complain. I think we Dodger fans sometimes don't realize how good we have it when it comes to relievers.

Eugenio Velez beat the Snakes today in the bottom of the ninth. My wife and I call him Honest Abe because we think he bears a mild resemblance to Abe Lincoln. His face is kind of the right shape, and his little beard thing with no mustache also adds to the effect. I just hope Honest Abe is honest about his limited hitting skills when he plays the Dodgers and refrains from any late-game heroics. I wouldn't want to have my defense of Broxton put to the test by a late Giants rally led by a fringe hitter, after all.

Though Broxton may not be the closer by the time the Dodgers are playing the Giants again. Saito seems ready to come off the DL soon. I look forward to Saito's first save back, when he breaks into his great grin and then Manny runs in from the outfield and gives him a bear hug. I just hope Saito is all the way ready when he returns.

There is still time for the Snakes to ride a hot-streak past the Dodgers, but it's going to be tough for them since they don't play the Dodgers at all again. The only thing I worry about is the Dodgers collapsing on the road. They've taken two of three in San Diego but Colorado is something else again Pittsburgh is in an evil non-Vinny time zone. Not that having someone other than Vinny announce games should influence how the Dodgers play, but it makes the losses even harder to bear when they come in an early game narrated by Steiner and Lyons.

I like Steiner's enthusiasm but I also feel like he has yet to really grow fully into the job. That's a problem since he's already pretty old and unlikely to get any better. Steiner is like Casey Blake, in that he's solid but his game has also has some holes and he's never going to suddenly become a revelation of excellence like Ethier. And Vinny is like Manny without all the strange baggage. It would be nice if we had a young announcer backing up Vinny who could be compared to Ethier or Kemp in potential but what I really want is Ross Porter back.

21 August 2008


If I am at once optimistic and realistic, I guess I think the Dodgers will finish the season 83-79. This is realistic because the Dodgers are a slightly better than average team, and those sorts of teams tend to end up with a slightly better than average record. This is optimistic because I assume the Dodgers won't just collapse down the stretch.

I think I will be happier if I just accept that the Dodgers are an 83 win team. Then events such as last night's 4-3 loss become bearable. Then watching gameday as Broxton gives up a lead-off double and threatens to give up a 3-1 lead feels like a natural part of things. That sweep of the Phllies was an aberration. An abomination, Phillies fans would say. The Phillies will have a chance to set things right when the Dodgers visit Philadephia. That 4 game series will start a 10 game road trip that, according to prophesy, is supposed to sink the Dodgers postseason hopes.

There is another side to this postseason thing, though. A loophole in the prophesy of doom. The Snakes also have to hold up their end of it. I'm through overestimating them. After a month of this season I thought they were a very good team and that was a lie. I'm also through underestimating them. They have a good rotation and Adam Dunn and a few other guys who can hit a home run. I guess I'm just through estimating them. I don't know what the Snakes will do. But let's not pretend that they are better than they are. They are still capable of losing a lot of games. My goal for them is 80 losses, since I want the Dodgers to make the playoffs. I think in a division as bad as the NL West this year it is appropriate to make this kind of goal. The winner of this division will be the worst playoff team in the majors by far, so let's not pretend the Dodgers can do anything but back into the playoffs anyway. The goal I set for them getting in should reflect that.

Broxton just struck out the side to win the game for the Dodgers. I've been a longtime defender of Broxton's, but two more blown saves and I'm going to retire from that vocation. If he blows two more saves then the next time someone says he just doesn't have what it takes to be a closer I'll just nod sympathetically. Maybe I'll throw in something like, "yeah, he's just an eighth inning guy."

So only one out of three from the Rockies. A really good team would take at least two of the three. The one that hurt was last night's loss. That was my new nominee for most depressing game of the season. Not most heartbreaking, mind. Just depressing. Billingsley struggled with his control, but he fought for six innings and only gave up two runs. Could have been just one. And they wasted it. His performance last night reminded me of his rookie season when he maintained a 3.8 ERA with a strikeout to walk ratio of 1:1 by pitching so much better with runners on base. He was so clutch last night. And they wasted it! Kicked it away with bad defense and bad at bats and shaky relief pitching. Juan Pierre even struck out twice. You know it's not your night when Peavy can't hold a 4-0 lead and Juan Pierre can't even make contact. That's your one skill at the plate, man! You have to come through with it.

The Snakes need to lose 20 more times to reach my goal for them. I'm worried they're not going to make it. Their hitters need to really step up and strike out even more than they already do. The pen needs to blow a few more saves. It's going to be tough with Webb and Haren in the rotation but I have faith that the Snakes can make it to 80 losses.

18 August 2008

How does that protection thing work again?

I didn't even know that about the Kent v Scully thing until I read Dodger Thoughts. Well, I knew Scully was saying things about how Kent was doing batting in front of Manny. But I didn't know Kent was complaining about it to TJ Simers. I wonder who started it? Did Simers smell blood and see if he could stir something up, or did Kent go to Simers on his own and complain about Scully?

After about the third time Vinny mentioned Kent's success batting ahead of Manny, my wife asked me why it would matter. She's been following baseball for four years, and she knows quite a lot about it now, but there are still traditional bits of baseball lore and knowledge that are unfamiliar to her.

"Well," I say, in answer to her protection question, "the pitcher doesn't want to walk Jeff Kent, because that would put someone on base for Manny Ramirez. Therefore Kent will see more strikes."

She considers this, then says, "But if he sees more strikes, won't he get more hits, and get on base more that way?"

"Um, well, the pitcher isn't thinking about that. He just doesn't want to walk him."

"That doesn't make sense."

Indeed. It was a lame answer, in explanation of a lame theory. I don't much believe in protection myself, so I wasn't trying to defend it as much as explain it. If in fact pitchers have changed their approach to limit Kent getting on base in front of Manny then it has been a miserable failure. He's getting on base a lot more than before. Another thing: I've seen Kent chase after bad stuff before. He's not always the most patient guy up there. Why would any pitcher worry primarily about walking Kent, about making sure he threw strikes? That's just asking for trouble with Manny coming up next. If anything I would expect Kent to hit worse with Manny on deck, because pitchers were so zeroed in on getting him out. I would expect Kent to see fewer strikes.

Maybe the protection theory is that pitchers will throw mostly balls to Kent, until the count gets to something like 3-1, whereupon suddenly they have to worry about the walk and they groove a fastball that Kent can crush. But how many of Kent's recent hits have come with three balls?

It did appear that Martin was messed up batting in front of Manny. But I don't know that one thing had anything to do with the other. Hitters get messed up from time to time during the season. They start pressing, chasing bad stuff, watching hittable fastballs go by and swinging at outside curveballs. ( Or is the theory of the pressing hitter just another myth? ) In any case, Martin seems to be fine now. Kent seems to be fine after injury woes and a streak of bad luck. Manny's doing great. Kemp is on fire. Ethier is so hot he's undergoing solar fusion as we speak. These guys don't need protection. They got talent.

7-5 vs. 5-1

I was dozing off when the ninth inning started yesterday. The Dodgers were up 5-1 and I was comfortable and lazy. When I did think about something it was not about who would pitch in the ninth inning for the Dodgers but about where I might have a short nap while I waited for the last load of clothes to dry.

Loney's error woke me up. But what really woke me up was my fear of Chan Ho Park. There was about a week where I fully trusted him. Those days of foolish innocence are gone. My conclusion early in the season was correct. He's a home run yielding menace. I about felt the same as Park when he hurled his glove to the ground after Braun's home run, except that I had nothing to throw. Also I liked the Dodgers chances to score in the ninth, as long as the Brewers didn't hit another home run to take the lead. Fortunately Prince Fielder capped his terrible series with a ground out and the stage was set for Golden Boy Matt Kemp and Silver Bullet Andre Ethier.

I wonder now if it was better that the Dodger game ended up 7-5 and not 5-1. That's kind of crazy talk, but it all depends on your standards I think. For Kershaw it wasn't better because he didn't get the win. For Torre it wasn't better because he had to be pensive and tense for longer than otherwise. For Park is was awful because he was further exposed as an actually terrible pitcher.

And yet that game ended up being terrifically entertaining. Horrifically entertaining there, for awhile. I was twice as happy after the 7-5 victory than I would have been after they hypothetical 5-1 victory. Game winning home runs are delightful. I want more of them. Does that mean I want more ninth inning bullpen meltdowns, though? No, no! What am I saying?

About a half minute after the home run I said to my wife, "Take that, Pierre!" This shows how petty I've become about Pierre stealing playing time from Ethier. How sad that one of my first thoughts after Ethier won the game was how it showed again how superior he is to the slap-tacular Pierre. The only advantage Pierre has over Ethier at this point is that he's faster and that Torre feels sorry for him occasionally and feels compelled to start him. I hope Pierre keeps bitching about his playing time to the press. That should dry up Torre's last bit of sympathy for Juan.

If Pierre was the Dodgers third-best outfielder then I would gladly see him start, though I would also be upset that the Dodgers third-best outfielder had no throwing arm and no power and also had an annoying batting tick where he jerked in his back elbow like a chicken just before the pitch came. But he's only fourth best, clearly inferior to Andre Ethier, which is why I've nicknamed Ethier the silver bullet because his home runs have felled the were-Pierre who used to start every game.

I've become really accustomed to the Dodgers playing well. I can't even remember the last time it felt like the team wasn't in the game. The last three losses were all tough ones that got away late. The key here is the lineup is solid from 1 to 8 most nights now, except when you-know-who starts ahead of the silver bullet. Oh yeah, and Nomar can't always start, and who knows how long he can keep up his good hitting or his health, but it's still a good lineup. Eighty-eight wins looks like a real possibility now. With the Snakes also playing well they may need that many.

12 August 2008

Overmatched yet unbowed

By the end of the third inning it was clear that the Dodgers would not win. Cole Hamels was overpowering the Dodger lineup while Clayton Kershaw had bent under the pressure of the potent Phillie lineup. It was only good fortune that Werth had not hit a three run home run in the third inning: just a little less elevation on his deep fly out to a sprinting Kemp and the Phillies would have led 6-1 with their ace pitching and could have cruised to an easy win.

I drew up a mental plan of action for the Dodgers at the outset of the fourth inning. I had mostly given up hope that they would win, but not wishing to prematurely bury them I tried to imagine what could realistically happen to give the Dodgers a chance to pull even. It was a hard thing to imagine, given how overmatched both the offense and the pitching looked. To be sure Kershaw had struck out the side in the first inning, so even though his curveballs had yet to make more than a few cameo appearances in the strike zone there was hope here. So I thought, well, maybe he can hold the Phillies down for three scoreless innings, then turn things over to the bullpen. Kershaw is a talented pitcher; he just had to start finding the strike zone more often.

On the offensive side things were more difficult. Hamels just looked unhittable. Only a really terrific at bat by Blake had allowed the Dodgers to score at all: I was stunned and impressed when he muscled that low, tough 1-2 fastball into left center for the RBI. Hamels' one weakness is that he gives up a lot of home runs, about 1.3 per nine innings, but aside from Manny the Dodgers just don't have true home run hitters. It was harder for me to mentally write a reasonable offensive script to get the Dodgers into position for the win, so I just hoped that somehow they could score a run and bounce Hamels from the game by the eighth inning. Somehow being a failure of imagination, or a grim recongnition of how good Hamels was.

Indeed Hamels was terrific through the fifth, but Kershaw also turned his night around with a flurry of strikeouts and the rout was postponed. That is talent, but it is also character, if such a thing exists in a baseball game performance. After tonight I would like to think it does. If I am going to harbor dark thoughts about Dodger players' will to win after assorted defensive and pitcher malfunctions last weekend to drop two heart-breakers to the Giants, then I must at least allow for the opposite qualities, and celebrate them to the fullest. Kershaw gave the offense a fighting chance, a target they could reasonably aim for.

They might have got it all back against Hamels in the sixth. The entire team seemed to rise up offensively in that inning. That was the offense's moment of character. But Kent's ball was caught at the wall, and Martin's ball was snared, and only one run was scored. Nevertheless the damage was done. Hamels was mortally wounded, his arm nearly spent, and he could not remain much longer on the battlefield. He left after seven, up only one and the outcome very much in doubt. My desperately imagined plan had come to pass, and the Dodgers no longer seemed like inevitable losers. The Dodgers would go on to win 4-3, off of runs scored in the eighth and ninth innings, but it is not for those innings that I will remember this game as a great victory in 2008. It was the middle three innings, when the overmatched Dodgers turned the game around and made the comeback possible. When they played like a team full of character and the will to win and every other cliche that may not make rational sense but regardless passes through the minds of most fans. Being a fan is not a rational thing after all. What a victory, what a game to savor.

09 August 2008

The Levels of Irrationality

If I am irrational enough to panic when the Dodgers are only 2.5 games back, then I am certainly irrational enough to think that my panic helped them turn around and get back to nearly even with the Snakes. Next time the Dodgers fall to 2 or more games back I'm sure I'll be back at it, lamenting the end of the season and calling for Torre to be fired. And I will secretly hope that the Dodgers will respond to an obscure blogger's tirade, as well as hoping that the Snakes will at the same time be intimidated into losing a few games by my ranting. Fear my run-on sentences, Orlando Hudson!

That's pretty irrational. But it's not as irrational as I could be. It's not as irrational as the Dodgers can be either. There are levels of irrationality, which I will demonstrate below, along with some enlightening commentary. The further down the list we go the more irrational things are, until the very last item when Pierre is brought in to pitch.

1. Let's bench Loney so that Danny Ardoin can play!

Ardoin's home run yesterday was the most stirring Dodger backup catcher home run since Tom Prince hit one off Brian Bohanon in 1997.

2. Let's give up on Andy LaRoche and trade for an old guy who looks like Mark Hendrickson!

Blake has hit a lot better then Hendrickson ever did, and he hasn't fallen down while playing third base yet.

3. Let's use Brian Falkenbourg in a close game and then release him a few days later!

We had to make sure releasing Falkenburg was the right thing to do.

4. Let's spell Falkenborg's name three different ways because it's too much work to look up the proper spelling!

Hey, he's no longer on the roster. Cut me some slack!

5. Let's make Manny cut his hair!

Yes, because it's always a good policy to potentially piss off your mercurial superstar over a trivial matter. It's not like he'd ever quit on a team or fake an injury or anything.

6. Let's attribute some of Manny's success to his long hair!

Damon never played as well after his caveman days.

7. Let's bench Ethier in favor of Juan Pierre!

Pierre should play because he wants it more, which he demonstrates by bitching to the press. That's called leadership!

8. Let's bench Ethier in favor of Andruw Jones!

Young players need to build character by having their spirits crushed under overwhelming unfairness. Ethier hasn't built enough character yet.

9. Let's sign Juan Pierre to a 5 year deal!


10. Let's give Pierre an extension!

If he's got the hubris to complain about losing playing time when Manny, Kemp and Ethier are on the team, then he's got the hubris to ask for an extension with three years left on his deal while having the worst year of his career.

11. Let's give Jones an extension!

The more years we sign him for the more likely it is he'll hit 10 home runs for the Dodgers. Eventually.

12. Let's bring in Juan Pierre to pitch in a road extra inning game when only Broxton is left in the pen because Broxton has to be saved for the potential save situation.

I hear Pierre throws a mean riseball.

13. Let's do the same as above, except in a home extra inning game.

Imagine the cheers of the crowd when Pierre was announced as the pitcher.

07 August 2008

One Manny can only do so much

These last two games are a vivid demonstration that Manny by himself isn't going to turn the Dodgers into a good team, now matter how well he plays. I guess I knew that all along, but I was willing to pretend otherwise after the split with the Snakes last weekend. In the wake of Manny-mania I was eager to ignore the sober math that he is only likely to improve the Dodger win total by a modest one or two in his two months with the team. I put my faith in momentum and psychology. He will make everyone better, I thought. No, I felt it. There was no thinking. I might as well have put my faith in magic.

Manny doesn't make the weaknesses of this 0.500 team go away. He got on base four times Tuesday, but was only driven in once. The lineup has too many holes in it, still. That could change, if Furcal came back at full health, and Kent started hitting again, and Pierre and Jones were both permanently exiled to the bench. I don't think it's an awful offense now, and Manny truly does make it better, but he can't do it all. He can't hit a home run every game.

Manny did hit a home run Wednesday, and drove in another run with a two-out single, and for the brief time when the Dodgers led 3-1 I thought that Manny hitting a home run was a sign that the Dodgers would win. But the starting pitching is still awful on the road. Lowe quickly turned the 3-1 lead into a 3-7 deficit. Billingsley is the only functional starter the Dodgers have away from home, and he ran into his own personal kryptonite, the rain delay, in his shortened start Tuesday. The Dodgers have a lot of road games left, against some very tough teams. If they don't start getting more solid starting performances they aren't going to catch the Snakes.

Maybe the Dodgers just have to take their usual lumps in St. Louis and move on. They're still only 2.5 games out. Nevertheless I feel the season slipping away. The Dodgers margin for error is narrowing. If the Dodgers keep struggling on the road then their only hope will be to sweep the Snakes when they play again.

03 August 2008

No, not again.

The split feels more like a series victory because the Dodgers lost the first two games and rallied for the last two. It feels like a victory because of the grim possible future they were facing before Saturday night's game. A sweep would have been near devastating for the Dodgers chances this year, even with Manny the rest of the way. Though my first year as a Dodger fan in 1983 conditioned me to think 5 games back isn't that much, it really is, even with two full months to go.

That game last night was more dramatic at the end than it needed to be. Where was Broxton? We know now --- just a tired arm, nothing to be worried about. ( I hope. ) But last night it was a mystery, and fed into the late game worries. Is Broxton okay? Can the other relievers get the job done? I was terrified when Park came in with the tying run at the plate. I was thinking about the home run he gave up Friday, and all the home runs he gave up when he was with the Rangers, back when they called him "out of the Park", and I was thinking isn't he really, honestly, the same home run prone pitcher he was last year and the year before and the year before? And facing Chris Young, who hit 30 home runs last year? But in this series Chris Young has hit more like his name-mate in San Diego and less like the promising young hitter everyone thought he was and he merely grounded out to third and the cloud lifted and it was safe to be a Dodger fan again.

By rights the game last night should have been over when Manny hit his home run in the first inning. It was the emotional peak of the game, when despair was unwound and Manny truly welcomed to the Blue. Of course they will play all nine innings even after a dramatic fear-destroying curtain-call home run in the first inning. The Dodgers needed good Kuroda to show up, and he did, keeping the ball down in the strike zone and avoiding walks. That's good advice for any pitcher, isn't it? Except softball pitchers, perhaps. They seem to thrive on throwing the riseball.

Not only does Manny hit more home runs than any Dodger but he hits them farther than any Dodger. I think that's my favorite part of watching him hit. He's ferocious. The Dodgers haven't approached having a hitter this good since Sheffield left. But Sheff was never loved the way Manny is already loved. It's almost like having Piazza back.

For today's game the Dodgers didn't really need Manny to win, so rotten was Doug Davis' pitching. So much for that great ERA against the Dodgers. But Manny made the game more fun, going 4-5 and eliciting cheers even when he struck out in his one batting blemish. Vinny made the game more fun as well, as he does every game. But today, especially, he was in fine voice. There are some days when he really turns his inner scamp loose. That accent he pulled when he was talking about the Trolley Dodgers in Brooklyn was a delight.

Time to take the Manny show on the road. This is a new team, a better team. Even if Torre insists on sitting Ethier it's a better team. That 1-8 record in St. Louis doesn't mean anything. Let's see what they've got.

02 August 2008

Not Again

It's happening again. Just like last year, the Snakes come into Dodger Stadium right at the end of July and destroy the Dodger season. The sweep seems inevitable. It's not about which team is better, not in the theoretical season-long sense of being the better team. The Snakes may well be better than the Dodgers, but that's not why the nightmare sweep is halfway to being reality. The truth is there is no reason. The games are played, with very narrow margins, and the Snakes come out ahead by one run. The reason for it is any fuzzy concept you choose as your favorite, any narrative angle you care to take. Those Snakes have character-filled young players; the Dodger have coddled young players. No, that worked better last year. I'm sure the writers will come up with something new this year, unless they are bigger hacks than I thought.

The two games we've had so far were identical in line scores, in frustrations, if not in drama. I knew by instinct that the games were twins, even before Friday's top of the seventh happened. At least on Friday the starter was already out of the game by the top of the seventh. No tired starter last night. Instead one of the Dodgers great relievers would come in and put a stop to the parallel madness. This I desperately hoped. But it was Park who came in. I had finally become a Park believer after four months of him proving me wrong, and he went and proved me right, retroactively. If only for one game. But it was the most important game of the year. Park showed who he really was for just one game. That's all it takes.

After Beimel gave up the hit I retreated to a position far from the television. The game was over. The season was over. There was pain left to dish out, more innings and more games of the Dodgers spinning their wheels, showing occasional flashes of promise but always coming up short, but the ending was set last night when the hit off Beimel landed on the line. At that moment I knew that the Dodgers would go on to lose the game, and get swept in the series, and finish out of the playoffs. Logic, of course, has nothing to do with it, because logically it's nonsense. But emotional investments carry risks. I invest in the season, in the possiblity, and the risk is that I give up hope, that I declare permanent misery.

I emerged from my bitter retreat in time to see Wade get the last out of the top of the seventh. I can give up all hope for a moment, a minute, a half inning, but never forever. It's a war in my mind, a struggle between despair and foolishness. So I watched the rest of the game. I mean, I don't know everything. Maybe I'm wrong about the game, the season, being over. So it went, the outs passing by, the Dodgers never scoring another run, my hope for the game and the series and the season fading with each out. Someone just hit a damn home run. Tony Clark did. The Snakes' acquisition came through. The Dodgers' acquisition didn't. Now there is an appalling, bitter thought.

By the bottom of the ninth I was sullen and bitter, mentally a petulant, crabby child. When Martin took the first two pitches I was so disgusted. Those were fine pitches to hit. Instead he took them, with some stupid idea of getting deep into the count. I thought he was being cute. Then, how quickly I came around, when the next three pitches were balls. Suddenly I was Martin's best friend again. Way to work the count, I might have said to him, with an insincere grin. I believed in him again, but like any fickle-minded traitor I was ready to turn on him again if he made an out from that position. I was saved from that by his hit up the middle. But that hit delivered me to an altogether worse fate. I believed again. I believed in the Dodger's chance of winning the game, the series, the season again. Once wasn't enough. Those bastards had to make me feel the defeat twice, rip out my hopes twice.

Before the first pitch to Manny I was floating on the possibilities. Home run, sure. But a double or single might also happen. He might make an out as well, maybe strike out or something, but I didn't think too much about that. After the first strike to Manny I began to worry. I swayed from hope to despair with the count. After ball one I was confident again. 1-1, which is basically even ground, except the batter has the advantage of having seen a few pitches. And that's when it happened.

The crowd was chanting. I can't even remember the exact words now. Something like "Let's Go Dodgers", something suitably generic and cheerleaderly. But the energy and passion and hope of the chant was incredible. For the first time I wished I was there, at the game, in that moment, pouring my heart into the hope that Manny would hit a home run. Even if they lost it would be worth it just to be a part of that moment. That's what I thought. And I guess I still think that. Even through the TV I could feel that it was comparable to the aftermath of the Lima game, or the last great moment of the Tomato when he beat the Jays with a game-ending home run. I was there for both of those, and I wished that I had been there for that first moment of anticipating the greatness of Manny.

The next pitch came, ball two. 2-1. But the moment had passed. The crowd was still excited, and cheering, but it wasn't the same. No matter. Such a thing can't be sustained. The important thing was that Manny now controlled the at bat. The tide had turned. I wonder, at that moment, how afraid Snakes fans were? They can look back now and laugh about it, those jerks.

When strike two came I had the cold realization that this might not all end well. I was really worried about the strikeout at that point. I didn't think Kent and Loney could get Martin all the way around to score by themselves. Maybe one of them could single, but --- I just didn't believe. All my hope was tied up in Manny. The crazy thing of it is I never saw the double play coming. Even with all my despair and giving up on the game and the season I never contemplated Manny's at bat ending that way.

I'm really wishing and hoping I can just stay away from tonight's game. Not watch it, not think about it. Maybe find out tomorrow morning the Dodgers won. Wouldn't that be a nice surprise. But I know I'll think about it. That's the problem. Thinking about it will draw me to it, even though I think I know what's going to happen. Because I also know, deep down, that I don't know what will happen. I don't know anything.

31 July 2008

My Reaction is Giddiness

I loved the potential of Andy LaRoche. I thought he was going to be special, and I wanted him to be a Dodger for the productive years of his career. But I resigned myself to losing him weeks ago. For whatever reason the Dodgers picked Blake DeWitt over LaRoche as the third baseman of the future, and they trusted neither for down the stretch, instead acquiring Casey Blake. So my reaction at the Dodgers trading away LaRoche is merely a muted sadness, a passing sorrow. Andy, I mourned for thee already. Best of luck with your new organization.

I am aware of all the negatives Manny brings. The bad defense, the bad attitude, the filthy filthy helmet. But it's MANNY. The Dodgers have Manny Ramirez. I can only feel stunned and mostly happy and about that. I'm crazy curious to see how the likely brief Manny era treats the Dodgers. I can't wait to see him in Dodger Blue. I can't wait to hear his first crazy quotes as a Dodger. Surely the inevitable "era of good feelings" that will begin between Manny and his new non-Sox team can last for three months? Yes, three full months, all the way to the end of October? Yes?

And, may I say, well done Ned Colletti. I don't approve of the decision to give up on LaRoche, but once that decision is made, well, this is the best possible return imaginable for LaRoche, isn't it? All this time I thought LaRoche would be traded for some reliever, or at best a middling shortstop. Instead they only get a superstar hitter!

Srooc Field

Below is a modest presentation of average runs the Dodgers have scored and allowed this season home and away, along with the pythagorean winning percentages based on the home and away run differentials.

------ Dodgers -- Opp -- PythWP
Home -- 3.9 -- 3.1 -- 0.605
Away -- 4.5 -- 4.9 -- 0.457

The Dodgers have been a far better team at home, and most of that is due to a huge home/road disparity in the Dodger pitching. Last night's win was the tenth shutout for the Dodger pitching staff. All ten have come at home.

The Dodger relievers do well on the road. Park, Kuo, Broxton, Saito, Wade and Beimel all have sub-4 ERAs on the road. The starters are the ones who fall down when pitching in strange ballparks. Kershaw, Penny, Lowe and Kuroda all have ERAs above 5 on the road. Only ace Billingsley does well away from Dodger Stadium, with a sparkling 2.84 ERA that's even better than his home ERA.

At home, nearly every Dodger pitcher does well, except for two pitchers who have battled injuries this year, Penny and Proctor. Billingsley, Kershaw and Kuroda are all in the 3-3.6 ERA range, and everyone else has an ERA below 3.

What is going on here? Why is the Dodger pitching so much better at home? Is it park factors? The Dodger offense also benefits from being on the road, though the disparity is not as severe as it is for the pitching. There was a time when Dodger Stadium was the most extreme pitchers' park in the major leagues. But that was before all the new dugout seats were put in and the foul territory was cut almost in half. Lately Dodger stadium has played neutral, or even as a slight hitters park! But just based on this year's numbers Dodger Stadium is looking like the most extreme pitchers' park around. What could have changed this year?

I don't know. I can't even come up with any half-baked theories. Are they microwaving the baseballs to deaden them? Is the mound a little too high? Is the air heavier this year? Is the grass different this year? Maybe it's just --- random.

29 July 2008

This loss belongs to K

There are two plays that eat me up about the fourth inning of last night's 7-6 Dodger loss, and neither one is the ill fated fielder's choice off the come-backer. That play, when Kuroda didn't hear Martin's directive to throw to first, resulted in the bases being loaded with one out. It was a breakdown in communication, but not an exposure of weakness. I'm not worried about a play like that happening again this season. It's a freak play; the communication is usually there.

I am worried about Jeff Kent's range. His failure to snare a ball hit up the middle last night was not surprising and did not reveal anything new about Kent's defense. That ball can only be described as being hit up the middle because it got through, more properly it would be described as being hit to Kent's right, a likely double play ball. I suppose I should be fair: to get to that ball and start the double play, or at least get one out somewhere, would require a good play. But most major league second basemen will make the good plays consistently.

Kent's defensive failure was a reminder of just how damaging bad defense can be. I tend to think of bad defense by the Dodgers as a minor flaw in an otherwise harmless inning, or as a minor irritant that let in an extra run. In other words, I expect the pitcher to always compensate for bad defense. When the error is made, or an expected out is botched into a gift hit, just get the next guy. If one hitter could be induced into hitting a ball that should have been an out, then surely the next batter can be similarly induced, with the expectation that this time the defenders will record the out.

But hitters can't always be induced. They can't always be made to hit the ball poorly. Sometimes they are induced to hit it poorly and it's still a hit. Sometimes everyone is safe because the pitcher didn't hear the catcher yelling to throw to first. Balls batted into fair territory always carry a risk for the defensive team. The lesson: strike them out if you can. Especially when there are already runners on base.

I am worried about Kuroda's failure to strike out the pitcher in the fourth inning last night. Kuroda has had three bad starts in a row. He's a guy who seems to either be great or awful. But his numbers point to mediocrity.

Here is a modest chart showing batters faced per strikeout for selected Dodger pitchers, as well as the major league average. A lower number is preferred, clearly.

3.3 -- Kuo
3.5 -- Broxton
4.1 -- Billingsley
5.2 -- Park
5.4 -- Kershaw
5.5 -- Wade
5.7 -- Lowe
5.8 -- Major League Average
7.3 -- Kuroda
7.5 -- Beimel
8.1 -- Penny

Relievers tend to have a strikeout advantage over starters because they don't have to worry about sticking around too long, but still, this is an impressive group of relievers the Dodgers have. Even my favorite early season whipping boy Park has an impressive strikeout ratio. Billingsley is a stud, Kershaw is solid and likely to get better, and Lowe's slightly better than average ratio works for him because of all the ground balls he induces. Penny has been hurt and ineffective and it shows in his strikeout numbers. I've given up trying to understand how Beimel can be such an elite reliever with his strikeout totals, but he does it year after year. And then there's Kuroda, holder of a sub 4 ERA for most of the year, and also holder of a pretty awful strikeout ratio.

There's more to being a pitcher than strikeouts. Still, making hitters miss, or mostly miss ( for a pop up or weak grounder ) is the most important part of it. The 1-2 pitch Kuroda gave to Correia last night was not a pitch to make a batter miss. It was up, about waist high, on the outer half of the plate. Exactly the sort of pitch that can be easily hit for a line drive the other way, even by a poor batter. That hit was the most frustrating moment of the inning for me. There's no use crying over a freak play earlier when you had a chance to escape the inning with the pitcher batting and didn't take it.

Kent and Kuroda aren't going to get any better. Kent is old and stiff and a poor defender and nothing will change that. Kuroda is old and unlikely to suddenly start striking out a lot more batters than he is right now. The Dodgers just have to live with them, and hope Kent has a few more home runs and doubles in him, and Kuroda has a few more complete game gems in him. And hope, also, that the weaknesses of Kent and Kuroda don't conspire again with some freak plays to lose any more games for the Dodgers.

25 July 2008

I wanna write

Now that I've let drift away what few readers I may have had, I return, ready to again add my small portion to the great mass of internet babble. Often called the tubes or the interwebs in joking fashion, I think rather to call the internet the babbles. There is no threshold of competence or lucidness required to make your own popping noises in the babbles. Sometimes, if you strain hard enough, you can hear a symphony amidst the cacophony of opinions and profiles and gossip and vitriol and McCain and Obama and porn. But it's mostly babbles, and I'm back to add to the noise.

I have occasionally received some words of encouragement about this nearly defunct blog, and they do mean a lot of me. Today my wife suggested I make another post here, and I opined that it was likely too late for that, and she said, "But I wanna read!" I can't argue with that. I was even moved to create the inartful title of this post from her concise demand.

We took a trip to the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains recently. It was a four day vacation only, barely long enough for the body to get used to clear air and unstressed silence before being plugged back into the working city. Er, or maybe town instead of city: that is a question of definition. I don't live in LA --- where? --- that will come later. Our own trip coincided with the Dodgers' trip to Florida. We had a lot more fun than the Dodgers did. There were no TVs or telephones or wireless babbles to distract, but I did bring a transistor --- windup! --- radio. The radio will take batteries, but I find it amusing to crank the dynamo every once in a while instead to keep it powered. This is perhaps the same kind of thinking that leads Joe Torre to start Blake DeWitt ahead of Andrew LaRoche most of the time. I get a vague feeling of grit, of doing things the right way when I crank that radio, which is what I imagine Joe Torre feels when he writes down DeWitt on the lineup card. I think in the cases of both the radio and the lineup a little more juice would be in order.

On this radio I could pick up Dodger games if I tilted the antenna and rotated the dial exactly right. The station we picked up was our hometown Dodger station, something I found astonishing given how far away it was. Our home station is 1560 KNZR Bakersfield, and we were in the mountains north of Mammoth Lakes. Sometimes the game would just drift away, replaced by mariachi music. It required an active effort to listen to the games, both in cranking the dynamo and tending to the antenna and amplitude. I'm surprised I went to the effort, given how weary I have grown of this season. I was relieved to not have to see the Dodgers on TV for more than a week, with the long four day All-Star break following our vacation. Between that break and the Dodgers recent flirtations with decent play and first place, I feel ready to commit again to the season. And to Dodgerama, I guess.

I guess the Dodgers are looking hard at trading LaRoche. That's what the babbles say, anyway. I keep thinking about that trade of Paul Konerko for Jeff Shaw during Lasorda's brief tenure as general manager. Don't give up on a stud young prospect too quickly, or Shaw enough you will get burned. Maybe twice: first for having given up too soon, and second because you have to live with the ineptitude of the player you got back in return. Jeff Shaw, I suppose, wasn't too awful, but my primary memory of him, besides Vinny always saying "Shaw enough" when he came in to pitch was that he always made me nervous, almost as nervous as "Hot Toddy" Worrell made me feel.

I think Colletti must know that LaRoche is a better choice at third than DeWitt moving forward. I figure he has to know this since LaRoche clearly has more trade value than DeWitt. Maybe I figure on too much. I can't imagine the Dodgers trading Andy for a relief pitcher, since what the team really needs is offense on the left side of the infield, and again I figure Colletti knows this. I say just plug Andy in at third the rest of the year and see what he's got.

I'm going to do the same, in a manner of speaking. I'm going to plug back into the Dodger season and see what they've got. And see what I've got, see what I can do with this decrepit, nearly defunct blog. The babbles is my oyster!

10 June 2008

The Intersection at Pedro Guerrero

I always feel a moment of panic when I type his last name. Did I spell it correctly? How many r's are there in that name, and where do they go? Does the u come before the e, or is it the other way around? If the last syllable in Guerrero's surname had been spelled similarly to the last syllable in the surname of another Dodger of the early 80's, then I don't think I would ever have the courage to type it out. Guerrereaux. Actually, that would have been a fabulous name. All those e's and r's in a row, the u's near the front and back --- can you imagine seeing that on the back of a uniform, stretching like a rainbow from shoulder to shoulder?

The concept is that three roads intersect at any particular mental idea. In this case the particular mental idea is a former Dodger, an underrated pure hitting talent of the 1980's. This may all seem very strange right now. It should. It will probably seem strange at the end, too.

Find the intersection: What are the three things I think of, remember, contemplate, when I think of Pedro Guerrero? Follow the roads: what do those things I remember about Pedro Guerrero lead to?

June 1985

Pedro Guerrero hit 15 home runs in June of 1985, capping probably the greatest offensive month by a player in Los Angeles Dodger history. The crazy thing is that it wasn't even his best month that year, going by OPS. He had an OPS of 1.297 in June, but an OPS of 1.356 in July. However, since he only hit 4 home runs in July, no one remembers it as anything special.

Pedro hit only 18 home runs in the other five months of 1985. Where did that June come from? How did it happen? Pedro was a terrific hitter, and certainly a power threat, but he wasn't what you would call a reknowned home run hitter. I've always thought the greatest sustained performance by a Dodger I've ever seen was Hershiser's scoreless inning streak, but maybe, maybe --- I don't know. It's not as if Pedro was loading up on road games to hit his home runs, either. Dodger stadium was a tough place to hit home runs in back then, but he still hit 7 of the 15 at home. Yet that's not the really impressive part. He hit four of the home runs in a three game series in the Astrodome. That would be like hitting four home runs in a three game series in Petco Park now!

Sometimes greatness defies explanation or understanding. Pedro Guerrero was a great hitter, better than most people realize. He was underrated for most of his career, playing his home games in hitter's parks and distracting people with his lousy defensive reputation. But for a month, at least, people knew how good Guerrero really was, even if he was doing something rather out of character relative to the rest of his career.

The Slide

When I played in little league I hated sliding. I couldn't slide. I can't remember now what I even did when a situation called for me to slide. Bring my body close to the ground and hope for the best. Pedro Guerrero had trouble sliding too. He tore up his leg in spring training of 1986 trying to slide. He was out for most of the year. The Dodgers went into their own slide, from first place in 1985 to a losing record in 1986, in large part because they didn't have Pedro. During a little league practice that year, right after Pedro's misadventure on the base paths, one of the coaches admonished us to slide properly or risk being hurt the way Pedro had been. Probably he had us go through sliding drills. Jerk.

Happy Birthday

1983, my first year as a Dodger fan. I'm seven years old, except then one day late in the season, I'm eight. It's my birthday. And what do I want to most do on my birthday? Go to a Dodger game. Of course. Go to the stadium, see the team in their home whites, cheer them, see them win. I remember my present that year, probably because I associate it with that game. A lego spaceship, a white fighter with twin cockpits. I always wondered which of the pilots steered the thing. And the game, too, that was the best present of all.

My father took me to the stadium. The opponent was the Astros. They were a good team, in third place, but the Dodgers were better, in first place, on their way to the playoffs. It should have been a great game at the ballpark. Instead, the Dodgers received that game one of the most brutal beatdowns they've ever experienced. The Astros scored 4 in the first, then 5 more in the second, then 3 in the third. They led 12-1 after three innings, and would end up winning 15-2. The Dodgers never had a chance.

When Pedro Guerrero led off the second with a home run, he made the score 9-1. My father turned to me and said Pedro had hit a home run for me on my birthday. But, I protested, the Astros scored all those runs. Why did that happen on my birthday? They got mixed up, he said. They thought you were an Astros fan. Oh.

But at least I got to see the Dodgers' best hitter hit a home run on my birthday. Pedro kept my birthday game from being a total downer. Thanks, Pedro.

02 June 2008

Goodnight, Everybody

Sometimes it's nice just to hear Vinny's voice. We've just now turned on the TV to watch the Dodger game, in the eighth inning, with the Dodgers up 8-1. I can't see the TV from where I'm sitting but that's okay. It's like radio this way. When I was a kid almost all the games were just radio. On the whole TV is better but sometimes it's fun to be irrationally nostalgic.

I didn't think about the Dodgers at all today. I was dimly aware that there was a game because I know they are in the middle of a long stretch without off-days, but I never looked up any of the particulars, or went to any Dodger sites. Today was my mother's birthday and we went out to dinner tonight so I knew I wouldn't be watching most of the game anyway. My mother is the reason I'm a Dodger fan. When I was 7 years old in the summer of 1983 I finally decided to take an interest in the thing on the radio she was always listening to every night. I don't know at what age I really started to appreciate the brilliance of Vin Scully. I'm not even sure I really truly appreciate it even now as much as I should. I guess that comes with growing up listening to him.

I did briefly think about the Dodgers today when I thought that I really need to write a new entry on the blog. I have nothing right now though. I think I'm in the middle of a transition from thinking the Dodgers have a chance to be a good team to just enjoying the season for what it offers, the weird beauty of baseball. I just can't imagine where this team is going. It's a 0.500 team, I guess. Unless Furcal comes back and plays like he did in April, and Penny finds what he had last year, and the young players start hitting a little more --- well, these are variants on what every fans hopes for --- that the players can just be a little better, a little healthier. I've been hoping for that very thing for 25 summers now. Just play a little better. The winning streak is always ahead of you.

Vinny just had a ball calling a strikeout on a curveball from Proctor. There's some of the weird beauty of baseball. The game is almost over now. In a few minutes Vinny will wrap up the game and say, "Goodnight everybody", and my wife will answer back, "Goodnight, Vinny". On those rare occasions when he doesn't say this at the end of his duties in a night game it's a great disappointment.

As it turned out he didn't say it tonight. Maybe next time.

29 May 2008

Give Me Character in the Gap and Over the Fence

When Saito walks multiple batters in an inning it's certain trouble. He was so wild and had so many 3 ball counts that it seems like he walked the tying and winning runs in, even though he didn't. Maybe we should remember it that way. It's more poetic that way, more cruel, more vengefully satisfying. Goodness knows I feel like being cruel after watching the Dodgers get swept. Just as Bill Buckner allowed four runs to score and simultaneously lost games 6 and 7 of the 1986 World Series when he let the ball get through his legs, so can we heap greater shame upon Saito in retrospect. Or perhaps the mountain of shame belongs to Kemp striking out with the bases loaded in the top of the eighth. Someone is going to get it. Where is the character on this team? These young players don't have the will of a warrior. They have the will of a Care Bear.

Now, character and the will of a warrior are tricky concepts. What do they really mean? Aren't these just lazy excuses to rip on young players in a patch of slump or ill luck? No, I will tell you exactly what character is. Character is hitting home runs. Character is pulling a ball into the stands. The Dodgers are last in the National League in home runs, with just 33. Even the Giants are 4 ahead of them. That's LA for you, first in beach balls, last in character. Grit is whacking a ball into the gap and steaming into second. The Dodgers are last in the league in doubles, with 80, 8 behind the woeful Padres. Determination is going the other way deep down the foul line for a shoes-on-fire triple. The Dodgers are not last in triples, the freaky, frisky cousin of the double, but their modest total of 12 isn't enough to pull them out of last in extra-base hits in the National League. Congratulations, Dodgers. The team mascot should be "Losing-with-grace" Bear, the gentlest and softest Care Bear of them all, so soft he has no teeth or claws.

See, it's hard to score runs when all you do is dink singles and draw walks. You've got to have 3 of those events in one inning just to score a run, or even 4 if the walk comes third, as it so often does. It's not a lack of character keeping the Dodgers from scoring and getting clutch hits, it's the difficulty of piling up 4 positive offensive events in one inning. If three out of five ( or four of six ) Dodgers can't avoid making outs in an inning, then they won't score. Is it any wonder that the Dodgers appear to lack character? The degree of difficulty in scoring runs is extreme when you can't skip ahead to second or third or even home on your base hits.

What's the solution? I don't know, something boring and unsatisfying like patience? Maybe some of these young players aren't that good. Maybe they are still a year or two away. Maybe they should close their eyes and swing as hard as they can. I don't know. Do something. The season is still not lost. The Snakes are a mere 3.5 games ahead. If the Dodgers can just start to hit for a little more character they'll be right back in it.

25 May 2008

Kershaw Day

Last Tuesday I bought tickets to yesterday's Saturday Dodger game. At the time I knew the starter would be Penny, and that gave me pause, because I feared another poor start from him, but I went ahead with it anyway, since the game time worked well for the rest of the persons coming along. There was a time when I would have targeted a Penny start to attend a game, of course. The last two years he has been the ace, or near enough, except for some late season troubles. But now? He appears to be another once good Dodger pitcher becoming mortal very quickly. I fear we are seeing a repeat of Jeff Weaver or Odalis Perez in him. In my less fearful moments I think he's just regressing to the mean after some seasons when his results were a little above his abilities. And he's had that arm stiffness. That worries me more than anything about Penny. It's both a fear and a rational concern. Pitchers are so fragile. All it takes is one body part out of alignment for a pitcher to start turning in bum performances. And all that is needed for a bum performance is just one inning when the pitches just aren't quite right.

It was so last night in the third inning. All of Penny's great work in the other 6 innings of one-hit ball was rendered moot by his 10 ball, 2 walk extravaganza with two outs in the third. That was made even more frustrating by the generous strike zone the umpire appeared to have. From where I sat he appeared to be calling a lot of outside balls strikes, but Penny couldn't take advantage of even that in the third inning. You could say he got unlucky with some of the hits in the third inning, but it's his own damn fault for putting himself into a position for bad luck to sting with those two walks. After those walks he needed a strikeout to end the inning and he didn't get it. The clutch strikeout is what separates the true ace from the false ace.

When the rumors of Kershaw coming up started Thursday, one of the early theories was that he would pitch on Saturday because of Penny's arm stiffness. I eagerly seized upon this theory as potential truth, because then I would get to see Kershaw's debut in person. I already had the tickets! It seemed like fate.

Now why should I be so excited at the possibility of seeing Kershaw's debut? The truth is given his inning limit and youth he's not likely to help the Dodgers that much this year. He might give them an extra win or two over the innings he pitches that would have gone to some other pitcher instead. Or he might give the Dodgers no extra wins. He's only 20! Well, it's about seeing the start of a great career. But he might not have a great career. It's more likely than not that he won't. He could get injured in the next few years. Just look at what happened to Liriano of the Twins. There is something deeply foolish about my desire to witness in person Kershaw pitch in his first major league game.

It is inconvenient that in baseball any observation made of a team over a single game can be dismissed as meaningless since it was just one game. There are so many, after all. I acknowledge that, but I will still draw significant conclusions from the game I saw in person last night. The Dodgers are a barely-above-0.500 team. Maybe an 84 win team. And it's the offense that's the problem. It disappears in way too many games. It goes away for entire series. Look at Kyle Lohse's stats, his ERA and strikeout rate, and ask if this is a pitcher who should be able to shut down the Dodgers with no runs. I don't want to hear about the Dodgers being unlucky against him or something. Unlucky is losing 4-2 to Kyle Lohse. Bad is losing to him 4-0. Yeah, the offense will come back and look great in some future series. But then the starting pitching may disappear. This isn't a great team, and it doesn't seem like a particularly good team either. The Dodgers seem to be a year away. A year to get rid of more of the old deadwood players, a year for the young players to get even better.

So, if I think I'm watching a barely-above-0.500 team, it's even more important to find joys other than those associated with winning lots of games during the baseball season. It can't always be about winning lots and lots of games, not even if you're a Yankees fan. There have to be victory-neutral joys as well. One of those, for me, is watching the young players blossom. My favorite is Matt Kemp, though that didn't work out too well last night, when he struck out about 6 times and just missed a great diving catch in the ill-fated third inning. My wife teases me about my enthusiasm for Kemp, calling him the golden boy. Even the golden boy will have some leaden days, I guess. And then there's Clayton Kershaw. He's the next big thing, they say. I like to say it too. And it's not just words --- we saw the possibilities in Spring Training.

I was disappointed when it came out that Kershaw would be the Sunday starter rather than the Saturday starter. If I had known that I would have bought tickets to the Sunday game instead. Going to a Dodger game at the stadium isn't a trivial thing for me, since it's a two hour drive to get there. Going to a night game means getting home at midnight or later, usually. So if I was already going to the Saturday game, I couldn't go to the Sunday game, right? I said as much to my wife, who replied that I should just go ahead and buy tickets for the Sunday game. And I did. We're going. We get to see Kershaw make his debut, unless my secret fear comes true and he's scratched at the last minute. I had to slightly reschedule a barbecue we were supposed to have with my mother and sister today because of this. When I called my mother to explain why I changing already set plans and driving back Sunday for a game after we had driven down to see the Saturday game, the best way I could explain it was with something that is probably not true but is also honestly how I feel about today. Seeing Kershaw's debut is like seeing Koufax make his first ever major league start.