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.