All posts by mbaca

Financial reality: The competitive balance tax is now Dodger reality

The flirtation with Giancarlo Stanton was glorious. It reminded me of that delicious meal that is fattening, artery clogging and unhealthy. You know you shouldn’t, but you just want to anyway.

Stanton wanted the Dodgers, and the Dodgers wanted Stanton I will explain why it just wasn’t meant to be.

While Stanton would have looked amazing in a Dodgers uniform it was not good for the organization’s long-term health. The tax implications would have been prohibitive and in the end, if the Marlins were not going to take any salary back from the Dodgers it was unfeasible.

I get all of you who are lamenting the Dodgers not getting Stanton. I really do. But, that is your emotional center talking to you and not logic. If you were listening to your head and not your heart you would understand that the being over the salary cap in baseball is not a good thing. The longer you are over that cap and it’s REALLY not a good thing, and Stanton would have made improving the rotation and bullpen very difficult.

The baseball luxury tax is called a “competitive balance tax.”  The system states that the top-5 teams in terms of salary would have to pay a tax on their salaries starting at 17.5 percent, the higher your salaries went, and the more you stayed in the top-5 in salary, that teams tax rate would PROGRESSIVELY increase. This progressive tax is where the Dodgers are sitting which made a Stanton deal nearly impossible. Something to note, the tax re-sets if you fall below the threshold for one year.  For example, the Dodgers busted the salary tax threshold in 2013 and then again in 2014. They paid 17.5 percent tax on those salaries above threshold in 13′ and 22.5 percent in 14′. But, the Dodgers went below the threshold in 2015 so they weren’t taxed. They again hit the tax threshold in 2016, when new terms stated first offenders paid a 20 percent tax. Second time offenders pay a 30 percent tax. Well, the Dodgers are having to pay a percent tax on the 49 million dollars they went over the threshold. In 2018 if the Dodgers don’t go below a 197 million dollar payroll they will have to pay a 50 percent tax on player salaries.

The Dodgers committed payroll for 2018 is 185 million dollars

How did we get here you might be asking ? Well, remember Carl Crawford ? The Dodgers just finished paying Crawford 22 million dollars to sit at home and watch games on TV for the 2017 season. Dodger fans love Andre Ethier but he was costing the team 17.5 million dollars during the 2017 season. When you throw in Howie Kendrick’s 10 million, and Alex Guerrero’s 10 million dollars,  well, you see where this is going. The Dodgers 2017 payroll was mind-jarring 244 million 661 thousand dollars.

Moving forward the Dodgers have some commitments that will make it nearly impossible to NOT pay the 50 percent in tax next year. The key for the Dodgers is to not pay the tax in 2019 as they prepare big contracts for Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger in the years to come. The good news is the Dodgers have huge dollars coming off the books next summer which should make the fiscal plan stabilize.

We love Adrian Gonzalez but his 22.3 million dollars price tag for 2018 is a tough one to swallow. His contract expires in 18′

Brandon McCarthy has been well-intentioned and it’s not his fault the front office over-paid him. He is due 11.5 million dollars in the final year of his 4-year 48 million dollar contract.

Scott Kazmir signed a back-loaded three-year deal in the winter of 2015 and the Dodgers have paid the price. He has been injured for virtually the entire deal. The Dodgers owe him a guaranteed 17.6 million dollars in 2018.

Erisbel Arruebarrena is due 6.5 million dollars in the final year of a 5-year 25 million dollar deal. Sometimes you roll the dice and some times it doesn’t pay off.

Hyin-Jin Ryu is due to make 7.8 million in the final year of his deal.

Yasiel Puig will make 9.2 million and is arbitration eligible. This is good news from a couple of standpoints. First, Puig is playing for a monster raise through arbitration in the 2018 season. If he doesn’t perform the Dodgers don’t pay as much. If he does, well he will hit the open market in 2020 and will use the 2019 season to get his huge pay-day.

It’s possible the Dodgers could be shedding 74. 9 million dollars in salary for the 2019 !

I didn’t even mention the possibility that Clayton Kershaw opts out of his 35.6 million dollar contract in 2018. I don’t even want to think about Kershaw in another uniform and when you consider he is due to make 70.2 million dollars in 2019 and 2020, I don’t think he opts out unless he has a *wink wink* agreement with the Dodgers to extend the deal but make it more club friendly in the short-term, helping the Dodgers gain flexibility.

So, be sad if you want with the Dodgers not signing Giancarlo Stanton, but the fiscal realities regarding our beloved Dodgers dictated that spending 265 million dollars over the next 10 years on a guy like Stanton was not realistic.

I pose this question. Would you rather have paid Stanton or keep Seager and Bellinger in Dodger blue during their prime seasons ?

It would have been nice, but fiscally a time bomb

 

Tonight, all Dodger Family business gets settled

It’s the day Dodgers fans have been waiting 29 years to experience.

It’s a day we have dreamed about, thought about, hoped for, believed would happen only to be disappointed.

It’s the day we have longed for as we reminisced about past glory.

 

If watching our arch-rival Giants win three titles wasn’t bad enough, coming excruciating close to winning pennants and playoff series’ has been worse. But, tonight all past debts get paid. Tonight our Dodgers play in the game that can erase the 29 years of bitter disappointment.

Tonight is the night we engross ourselves in a team that has become a part of us, part of our family. A 104-win juggernaut that has taken us on a six-month wonder ride. Tonight we march in lock-step with this greatest of Dodger teams and capture championship number 7.

Tonight we leave the residue of the past behind.

 

 

Tonight all Dodger family business gets settled……

Devastating loss has Dodgers on brink

There is no way to gloss over Sunday night’s Game 5 loss by the Dodgers. It’s devastating. They now trail the Houston Astros 3-games-to-2 as the series shifts west to Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night.

First, if you are expecting me to rail on the umpiring and the balls & strikes calls in Game 5 you might as well stop reading here. The umpiring was less than stellar but it is not the reason why the Dodgers lost. Blaming umpires is the novices way of making excuses. If you blame umpires it shows that you never really played the game, and you don’t really understand it. Ok, now that I’m done with that, let’s move on.

13-12 losses in baseball are tough. They are excruciating when you look at all of the various ways the Dodgers could have won this game. Before I focus on what the Dodgers didn’t do, let me first credit the relentlessness of the Houston Astros. My God, what a display of grit and perseverance as they continually battled their way back. Their approach at the plate was incredible, especially as they tried to get base-runners when trailing early.

George Springer, the walk-off winner hero Alex Bregman and of course the incomparable Jose Altuve and young phenom Carlos Correa. The at-bats these top four hitters in the Astros line-up took were simply amazing. Altuve and Correa hit some pretty nasty pitches for base hits in the 4th inning to set up Yuli Gurriel’s three-run home run to tie it.

Then, after Cody Bellinger’s three-run blast gave the Dodgers the lead 7-4 headed to the bottom of the 5th, here came the Astros again. Two out walks to Springer and Bregman, where Springer saw 8 pitches and Bregman saw 10 were amazing. Then, it was Altuve who hit the three-run homer to tie it.

The Astros know how to apply pressure and they are very good at it in their home ballpark. Let’s see if they can ride that wave to Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers jumped on Dallas Keuchel early, cashing in two 1st-inning walks and a two out two-run single by Logan Forsythe to grab a 2-0 nothing lead. Then a botched run down play by the Astros netted the Dodgers another run making it 3-0. In the 4th the Dodgers would add another and led 4-0 going to the bottom of the 4th with Clayton Kershaw cruising.

But the demons of post-seasons past reared its ugly head again, and this time one couldn’t blame the sign-stealing of the St. Louis Cardinals for his demise. This time it was ill-timed walks, location mistakes and great at-bats by the Astros stars. It’s unfortunate for Kershaw. A true gem, a stud, a guy Dodger fans love and want to see do well. It was painful watching him fail, and for many of us that love and defend him it was simply horrifying on baseball’s biggest stage.

In many instances Dave Roberts gets a pass when managing this ball club. Remember, he is simply pushing the buttons and navigating the course set by the analytics crew in the front office. There is no way he would have the job if he wasn’t following their directives. But, on Sunday night he had some egregious mis-steps.

First, with the score tied at 7 Justin Turner led off of the top of the 7th with a ringing double off the wall in right. Kike Hernandez was the next hitter and he was asked to lay down a bunt. Yes, a bunt. The tenor and flow of the game dictated that one run was about as useful as a pay toilet in a diarrhea ward. One run was an aroma. For Roberts to think and actually believe that one run would hold up in the top of the 7th inning is fool-hardy. The Dodgers have spent the entire year bunting primarily in low-scoring games where the ball isn’t flying around the stadium like a beach-ball with a beleaguered bullpen. It was an awful decision. It turned out to be a dud as Hernandez bunted it back to the mound, and Turner on a bad leg, after taking a screamer off his calf on Saturday, was easily thrown out at 3rd. Luckily the Dodgers would grab the lead when Springer would mis-play a ball in center and Hernandez would score all the way from first giving the Dodgers a one-run lead.

Second, with the Dodgers leading 8-7 going to the bottom of the 7th inning the Dodgers went to Brandon Morrow for the third straight day and for the 12th time in 13 games this post-season. Now, while he is not pitching in consecutive days, that is a lot of work. And, considering he has never thrown three straight days before, Roberts told assembled media before the game that he did not want to use Morrow. He used him. And, it blew up in his face. Morrow threw six pitches in the game. He gave up a 447 foot home run to Springer, a laser single to left by Bregman, a rocket shot double to left by Altuve and a Crawford Box home run to Correa. When the dust had settled after 180 seconds of baseball, the Astros had turned an 8-7 deficit into an 11-8 lead. It was devastating.

Before the game Roberts had said he may have to lean on Ross Stripling and Tony Cingrani. Well, those two pitchers cleaned up the mess and pitched well. Roberts first instincts were right, yet he out-thought himself and in the end it burned him and the Dodgers. Morrow gave up the runs, but it wasn’t on him. He did what he could. It’s a manager’s job to read the room, Roberts did it horribly.

The Dodgers would miraculously rally in the top of the 9th showing the guts we’ve come to love about this team. Down 12-9 going to the 9th the Dodgers would get a two-run home run from Yasiel Puig, a one-handed flip of the wrists that settled into the Crawford Boxes in the left cutting the deficit to 12-11. Austin Barnes would then double to left and after Joc Pederson grounded out, Chris Taylor would line a two-out two-strike single to center tying the game at 12. Gritty !

The game would end with the fatigued Kenley Jansen on the hill. After a scoreless 9th, Jansen would hit Brian McCann with two outs. He then carefully pitched to Springer and walked him before Bregman won it with a liner to left.

13-12 Astros win.

It’s crushing. The Dodgers had their best pitcher on the mound with leads of 4-0 and 7-4 and couldn’t hold a pivotal Game 5. They now have to beat Justin Verlander at home him Game 6 to force a Game 7. Verlander has been dominant this post-season. Sure, the Dodgers got to him in Game 2, but that was where the master bullpen plan started to crack for the Dodgers and now the pieces are in shambles.

To beat Verlander they will have to have a masterful approach, his pitch count won’t matter since the Astros bullpen is in tatters. With a game in tow, AJ Hinch is going to let Verlander go all the way. He won’t worry about the bullpen. Verlander’s stuff is so good he can throw 130 pitches and still be hitting 97 on the gun. The Dodgers are in the deep waters now.

They will turn to Rich Hill, hoping he can give them more than the 4 innings he was asked to give in Game 2. In fact the Dodgers will need 6 to 7 innings from Hill. The Dodgers bullpen is fried. On Tuesday they just can’t afford a short outing by Hill, plus he has no margin for error considering who he is facing.

On its face it seems the Dodgers aren’t in bad shape, they are going home down 3-2 with a chance to win two home games and win the World Series. But, that is not the case. Their manager has the yips, their strength, which is the bullpen is a mess and they are facing the best pitcher left in the series right now and he is fully rested and ready to bring Houston a championship.

There are only so many times the game of baseball will give you the opportunity to win a series.

The Dodgers were three outs away from a 2-0 series lead at home with the best closer in the game on the mound and lost. They had a 4-0 lead and then a 7-4 lead with this generation’s best pitcher on the hill and lost.

At some point the game of baseball says, “your time is up.”

Game for the ages ends in a gut punch for the Dodgers

It was a classic, even though it doesn’t feel that way for Dodger loyalists this morning. In what will go down as one of the great World Series games ever, the Dodgers lost an 11-inning thriller to the Houston Astros in Game 2 of the series and missed a golden chance to take a commanding 2-0 series lead.

The many twists and turns of this 4-hour and 19 minute game is a second guesser’s dream and certainly there are plenty of moves made by Dave Roberts that can be called into question.

Roberts antagonists are out in full force after a bullpen implosion that feels like the outlier and not the norm. After throwing 28 straight scoreless innings during this post-season, the Dodger pen went from other-worldly to pedestrian. From 8th to the 11th innings the Dodger bullpen gave up 9 hits 6 runs and 4 home runs in collapse we haven’t seen around these parts since the 2013-16 post-season

Zing-Pow !

The criticism coming Roberts way is from those that weren’t happy with Doc pulling Rich Hill after 4 innings. The argument is that by pulling your starter so quickly you depleted your bullpen earlier than you should have and ultimately it led to having use Josh Fields and Brandon McCarthy in leveraged situations.

While I agree that I don’t want to see Fields and McCarthy in these spots, I felt Doc was correct in pulling Hill after four innings. While the lefty had struck out seven, his command was not very good. He had walked three (one intentional), had allowed the lead-off man to reach in three of the first four innings. He was missing BADLY with his fastball and his curveball was as inconsistent as we’ve seen all post-season. With a day off in the series, and only trailing Justin Verlander 1-0 in the 5th, I had no problem with going to the pen early.

Roberts got 4 outs from Kenta Maeda who has suddenly turned into money in the pen. Tony Watson induced an inning ending double play in the 6th. The only move I question from Roberts is starting the 7th inning with Ross Stripling. I believe he was caught off guard when Corey Seager hit a 2-run bomb with two outs in the bottom of the 6th giving the Dodgers a 3-1 lead. If the score was tied, he would have gone Stripling, but when the Dodgers took the lead, now its time to go to your big guns for those final nine outs. Brandon Morrow would have been the better choice with a lead to start the inning. The problem was that they grabbed the lead so fast,  Morrow didn’t have time to get loose. Stripling walked the lead-off man and then Morrow came in. If Stripling does his job, the point is moot, but he didn’t.

And, while the Dodgers didn’t cough up any runs in that 7th inning it changed how the rest of the game would have to be managed. Morrow went back out for the 8th, gave up a lead-off double to Alex Bregman, a ball that was just out of the reach of Yasiel Puig, and that necessitated the move to bring in Kenley Jansen for a 6-out save. Again, I don’t have a problem with this move either, and think how the game might be different if Puig makes the incredible diving catch ? Oh, what might have been. Why does Jansen come in then ? Well, at this point you have to bring in Jansen for the final six outs. You don’t want to lose the game with your second best reliever when you have Kenley looming. It just didn’t work out.

As much blame as Roberts is garnering, how about that 0-2 pitch from Jansen to Marwin Gonzalez in the 9th. The cutter didn’t cut, the ball didn’t move and with an 0-2 count it was a HUGE mistake. I know we all love Kenley. There is no one I want out there more than him and I feel supremely confident with him on the bump. But, that 0-2 miss was awful. Bury it in, run it away, bounce it. But, for the love of everything holy don’t miss on a hitter’s plane where it can be barreled.

It’s my contention you don’t change the philosophical way you manage your ball club when you play in October. June and October are different, but the philosophy of using your pen a certain way doesn’t really change and the opponent dictates a lot of the moves you make. This management group, Friedman, Zaidi and Roberts believe in a certain way and they don’t deviate. We may not love it or even like it, but it’s gotten us to this point. And, it’s been highly effective.

You may not like how Roberts used his pitchers, you probably don’t like the result, but it’s how the Dodgers operated all year. They aren’t going to change now. As much as you and Rich Hill think he should have gone longer, he shouldn’t have. He didn’t have it and the Dodgers had a near perfect bullpen waiting in the wings. Quite simply, they just had a rough night against the best offensive team in baseball. You make mistakes and they will eat you alive. The Dodgers pen made mistakes and in some cases didn’t, but the Astros just kept hitting and hitting and hitting.

Two things became crystal clear on Wednesday night. The Dodgers bullpen is not invincible and must locate, locate and locate to be effective. Second, the Astros bullpen is exactly what we thought they were coming into the series. Ken Giles is suspect and the rest of that pen has been beaten and battered to the point where their best reliever is a starter coming out of the pen on short rest. Still advantage Dodgers, despite last night.

The pain of the game will sear into our souls until about 5:08pm on Friday, then it’s time to suck it up buttercup, strap it on and get after the Stros’ at the ole Juice Box Park

Bleeding Dodger Blue Always

Dodgers head to San Francisco with a crisis in confidence

An anemic offense, an ineffective rotation, a leaky bullpen.  All season long problems for the 2017 San Francisco Giants, and now all  clear problems for the current Los Angeles Dodgers.

For 127 games the Dodgers surely looked like one of the great teams in the history of baseball. A stretch of 53 wins and only 9 losses in a ten week stretch had the fans of the Dem Bums dreaming of November parade. Now each sojourn to the ballpark is a nightmare with no end in sight.

A week ago I wrote the faithful were over-reacting to the recent downturn and this Dodger team was too good to let this thing linger for too much longer. I was bamboozled. Blinded by the 10-week joy ride. The weaknesses that were masked by heroics night-in and night-out are now glaring issues.

The starting rotation is in shambles. Clayton Kershaw is coming off his worst start of the year when the team desperately needed him (stop me if you heard that one before) Ouch ! Yu Darvish’s struggles in Texas were clearly not a result of environment, he can’t pitch in LA either. Rich Hill is pitching like an infant sleeps, one hour up/one hour down. Alex Wood was magical in May and June but clearly looks fatigued. And, does anyone trust Kenta Maeda in an October start. Suddenly what was such a strength appears to be an albatross.

The bullpen…..Oh Dear God this bullpen. The subject of such consternation for the past four post-seasons appears to be well on its way to be that pillar of inconsistency we have become accustomed to. Other than Kenley Jansen and a healthy Brandon Morrow I don’t trust anyone down there.

What’s with the allegiance and deference to everything Pedro Baez from Dodger management. A guy who has given up big hit after big hit in October’s past continues to get the call in highly leveraged situations and while he was lights out for much of the year, recently he has been a gas can. Not kindling on a smoldering mess of wet soot. No, dry wood, lighter fluid, extra gas, light match…..BOOM ! Unbelievably Dave Roberts reiterated this weekend that Baez will be the guy he calls on in big spots. Gotcha Dave.

The offense which was cause for much celebration and rejoicing all season long has been a mess. It seems too simplistic to cite the slight tweaks the trading deadline brought in changing chemistry, but there is something to it. The flow, the rhythm of the offense had a synergy that was off the charts.

Curtis Granderson has been awful. Love the guy but he has been as automatic an out as there is in baseball during his tenure with the Dodgers. Ever since is Grand Slam in Pittsburgh three weeks ago, how many hits does he have ? Two ? The beginning of the end came when Cody Bellinger turned his ankle. He had to sit for a week-plus, then Corey Seager started experiencing elbow issues, then Justin Turner slumped, then…….then…….then………it became a cyclical mess of misfortune.

I do not understand this commitment to Yasmani Grandal. A 240 hitter who is a terrible defender. Especially when you have a young talented and productive Austin Barnes who is just waiting. The Dodgers will tell you Barnes is productive because he DOESN’T play everyday, keeping him fresh to be a force when he is in there. You mean the kid can’t play everyday ? Or do you not want to disappoint a veteran Grandal in changing his role even when it’s warranted.

I could understand it if Grandal was a superior back-stop in the mold of Robert Perez of Cleveland. Perez can’t hit a lick, but Cleveland pitchers love throwing to him. He knows the hitters and blocks everything. Who cares if he hits .190. Grandal isn’t Perez.

I really don’t know what the Dodgers do with Joc Pederson or Adrian Gonzalez. Pederson just seems lost. After a long lengthy career it seems Gonzalez’s body is finally breaking down on him. At this point they just shouldn’t see the field.

Justin Turner told the media yesterday the Dodgers are the “worst team in baseball.” Right now I believe him. But, what we’ve seen from the Dodgers over the past two-and-a-half-weeks is also the reason why we love the game so much. Your fortunes can turn on a dime. At the moment,  I don’t see light at the end of the tunnel, but three weeks ago I didn’t see one of the worst stretches in Dodger history either.

Tonight they take on a team that is downright pitiful. The San Francisco Giants are a shell of their championship selves, ironically despite being  the worst team in baseball, they might be a playing a tad bit better than our boys in blue right now.

Can the Dodgers be this bad ? We will learn during their next 10 days as they travel to three cities, taking on both San Francisco and Philadelphia, two truly dreadful baseball teams.

Dodger Nation in full panic mode……

Rarely am I the great outlier when it comes to analyzing my beloved Dodgers, but over the last week there aren’t many voices of calm, except for my own.

After winning 91 of 127 games and going an insane 53-9 over a 10-week stretch the Dodgers have hit the pavement like a hell-bent anvil.

It’s not just the losses, its how they are losing. Ugly.

The usual criticisms are being rained down upon the Boys in Blue.

  1. Not enough depth in the starting rotation
  2. Bullpen shortfalls
  3. No reliable lefty in the pen

I can’t argue any of these points. All of these facets have been downright dreadful, but there are a few elements you need to evaluate before you jump off the ship without a life preserver.

First, the Dodgers slide coincided with the Cody Bellinger going on the shelf for a bum ankle. Second, as Bellinger came back Corey Seager went on the shelf with a problematic shoulder and elbow. These two were two of the pulsing pistons driving the Dodgers in June and July. They are banged up and the team is in a scuffle, not a surprise.

Justin Turner has also cooled off considerably. Like the Dodgers playing at an .800 clip it was unrealistic to expect “Red Turn” to hit .360 all year. These three are the teeth of the Dodgers offense, with a disruption in this triumvirate there was going to be some slippage.

And how about this for analysis ? They were due for a slide.  I know the reasoning is medieval and isn’t sexy but it’s fact. Over a 162-game schedule a team will always revert to their mean. You are what you are over 162 games. Right now the Dodgers are talented, spirited team that has put themselves in a great position, that is it. Nothing more, nothing less.

I will say that there is some concern with the complete meltdown on the mound. The starting pitching needs to be better, the bullpen needs to be better. They know this, it’s not a surprise. But, I think this team is closer to the team that blistered baseball for 127 games instead of the duds we’ve seen over the last ten games.

Last point, this thing does need to get turned around in the next few weeks. The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals won a World Series losing 8 of their final 9 games and limping into the post-season. They were exception and not the rule. You can’t expect to play like a trash bin and think you can flip the switch on September 27th.

For now, I sit back and let my Dodger brethren fret. I will take a deep breath, knowing that baseball is a fickle mistress, and watch as the Boys in Blue eventually find their footing.

I hope.

 

DubNation: Here Comes Revenge

I return this nightmare I will find you.

Sleepless, cloaked in despair, I’m behind you

Far too late for frail amends, now its time for Sweet Revenge

Sweet Revenge I’m Dreaming….I will end you

The snickers, the derisive tones, the 3-1 jokes will come to an end when these NBA Finals are over in a few weeks.

That is because the Golden State Warriors 2017 Seek and Destroy mission is only missing one thing……the decimation of Cleveland.

How does that happen and why I believe this thing will be over sooner rather than later ?

  1. Revenge Factor……these aren’t the Washington Generals that want a piece of LeBron and the Cavaliers. This is a team that has gone 207-39 over the last three years. And, despite what the talking heads want you to believe this team is driven by one sole purpose, BEATING CLEVELAND….PERIOD. The fire burns hot in the guts of these Warriors who were shocked, stunned and frankly embarrassed by their 2016 Finals meltdown. This entire season has built to this point. Don’t under-estimate the fire that burns below.
  2. Warriors are just better…….When healthy and at full strength (which they are) the Golden State Warriors are simply better than Cleveland. Their multi-faceted star-studded attack. Their trio of deadly three-point shooters and more importantly their ability to defend. The most-underrated aspect of the Dubs is their ability to defend as a team. Their help-side is some of the best in the league and Cleveland isn’t in their same league. WHEN Cleveland wants to, they can defend at an elite level in spurts. But, consistently you can get good to great shots against the Cavaliers. This will ultimately be their downfall.
  3. TRUST…..The only player I trust on Cleveland to play well in each and every game is LeBron James. To be fair the player the Warriors should most fear is Kyrie Irving. His clutch gene was on full display in the Cavaliers Finals comeback last season. Trust is one of the biggest reasons why the Warriors are so great. They trust each other. They believe in each other. They recommitted themselves to this organizational doctrine after last year’s Game 7 last 5-minute debacle when they went off script and quit trusting and quit sharing. I don’t see that this time around. The Warriors have learned from the ills of last year and the weaponry is different. Their ability to play off of one another and not solely focus on going for “theirs” is what separates this team from 2016. If I’m Cleveland do I trust Kevin Love to make big shots down six with three minutes to go ? I wouldn’t…..
  4. Lest we forget…….Something strange happened on the way to the Warriors blowing that 3-1 lead and Cleveland capturing “The Land” their first basketball title. We forgot how God-awful Kevin Love was the entire series. We also forgot how terrible Kyrie Irving played in Game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena to give the Dubs a 3-1 series lead. Watch the game. I have, he was dismal. Now, Irving responded with three amazing and clutch games over the final three, but the margin for error for this Cleveland team is much smaller than Golden State’s. Irving needs to be great ALL THE TIME. Love needs to be great ALL THE TIME. If they aren’t, this thing won’t be competitive.
  5. IT’S TIME…….If Kevin Durant wants to cement his greatness he will perform and excel in this series. It’s pretty damn simple. He left OKC because he didn’t want to play with a ball-hogging selfish stat accumulator in Russell Westbrook and he wanted to win in a free-flowing selfless brand and style of basketball. He has helped bring the Warriors to the precipice of a championship and it is his time to shine. No, not by scoring 40 points a game but by helping Steph lead this group with the same selfless style that had them win 67 regular season and 12 straight playoff games. It’s Durant’s time to shine. If he tries to do it by himself, then that is when trouble could creep in. He must remember why he came here and trust that the guys he is in the fox-hole with will help him bring it home.
  6. NO KLAY….NO RING…….As confident as I am that the Warriors are going to win this thing, the only thing that would bring me trepidation is if the Warriors don’t feed Klay Thompson and try to get him going. You notice that I don’t think the Warriors MUST get Klay going, but they need to make the effort like they did in the San Antonio series. I saw Curry, Draymond and Durant all pass up numerous open shots and opportunities to try and get Klay going. He never did. That’s OK. I believe if the Warriors get Klay on track then it opens EVERYTHING up for the squad and it will be “all she wrote.”  Klay needs to find his shot. If its not there, then take the ball aggressively to the hole, back-cut get a lay-up, get to the line. He is too good a player to not be a threat. The Warriors know this.
  7. I LOVE CURRY……..Yes, I love yellow curry, green curry, and red curry. I also love that Steph Curry is being discounted in these Finals. The story-lines are all about LeBron chasing Michael and Durant’s legacy. I think Steph needs a great Finals to cement his. Cleveland is going to attack him at every turn, running him off of screens and making him work for all his looks. The problem for the Cavaliers is they will not be seeing the hampered Steph of 2016 or the deferring and dis-engaged Steph of December and January. This current Steph is engaged, in-sync, and playing spry and ruthlessly. I think Cleveland will have a very difficult time defending him with the Warriors dizzying ball movement. LeBron may need this, as does KD, but Steph needs this as well.

 

Peaking Wildcats making a run at a National Championship……

*THOUGHTS ON THE CHICO STATE WILDCATS FROM 35 THOUSAND FEET*

It’s not that we didn’t think they could do it, but to expect it was totally unfair.

The Chico State men’s basketball is in Sioux Falls, South Dakota getting ready to take on Lincoln Memorial at the Elite Eight for Division II basketball. The Wildcats magic carpet ride was punctuated last weekend with three splendid performances against the three respective regular season champions in the West Region.

First, Chico knocked off high-scoring Western Washington 96-83. Despite giving up 83 points the Wildcats were more than happy getting in a shootout with the Vikings. For the first time in a long time the Wildcats found room to move on the floor. Passing lanes that were clogged and impediments that were common place during CCAA play all of sudden turned into wide gulfs of space with which they could run their offense unimpeded against a Western team that gave up nearly 80 points a game. It must have felt like a jail-break for Chico State.

The free-flowing offense where movement and motion was rewarded. It had been a while since Chico had been that wide open for drives and shots. The game was truly a testament to how good the CCAA is. To win the CCAA you MUST play defense, if not you will get carved to pieces.

On day two the Wildcats encountered a frisky bulldog-tough type of team in Hawaii-Pacific. If the Sharks were a baseball team I would affectionately call them a bunch of “dirt-bags.” Fluidity of play and dogged aggressiveness characterized the Pacific West Conference Champions. We saw them systematically take care of the best defensive team in the country, CCAA-rival Sonoma State. I was thoroughly impressed with their defensive doggedness and anticipated Chico State would have their hands full.

Chico’s 15-point lead with 9:30 to go eventually turned into a one-point deficit with 1:55 to go. A furious 25-9 rally by the Sharks had the Wildcats on their heels, before Chico State righted the ship. The Wildcats ability to rescue the game after coughing up a 15 lead showed Chico State had come a long way in a year. After Isaiah Ellis took a charge with the Cats down and with 4 fouls, Robert Duncan made a driving lay-up. After Corey Silverstrom registered a steal and driving bucket the Cats had the whip-hand and outlasted HPU 77-74. The win showed many of us Chico State lifers a toughness that at times had been missing over the last few years. It’s hard to be critical of a team that has had as much success as the Wildcats for the last several years. But, sometimes and on rare occasions, when things went south, the Cats had a hard time pulling themselves out of the abyss, especially in the middle of a game. Not this time, though.

This Chico State team made winning plays to beat Hawaii-Pacific. Sealed the game with defense and disciplined offense and moved on to the regional championship game against UC San Diego.

The championship tilt against the rival Tritons will simply go down as one of the great basketball games in Chico State Wildcats history. 10 days before this title match-up UCSD had come out in the CCAA semi-final game and as All-American guard Robert Duncan said, “punched Chico in the mouth.” With 4 minutes left in the 1st half UCSD had jumped out to a 27-11 lead. The Wildcat offense was stagnant. There was not movement, no aggressiveness, a passivity to their flow that was not conducive to winning basketball. When the final horn sounded it was San Diego 65-53 over Chico State. The final score only told a portion of the story. The Tritons had taken the fight to Chico State, and for this team to accomplish the things they wanted to accomplish, that had to change.

Right from the out-set you could tell the Wildcats wouldn’t lose this game for a lack of fight. On their first possession they would grab two offensive rebounds. They would attack on the offensive end. The ball moved, the players moved, there was cutting and motion, it was a thing of beauty. It was nothing like the three games the Wildcats had played against UCSD this year. There was a precision and rhythm to the Cats’ offensively that showed this team at their peak. To quote Norman Dale in the movie Hoosiers, “all pistons firing operating as one.”

Ellis was simply other-worldly. The Wildcat junior scored 19 of his game high 34 in the first half. The Tritons having watched Chico hit 25-of-50 from three-point range in the first two games of the regional were reluctant to double Ellis, out of fear of leaving the triumvirate of Wildcat shooters open, they paid the price.

Even after an 11-0 run by the Tritons sent their faithful into a frenzy, giving UCSD a 57-51 lead, Chico would counter with a 14-7 run of their own and this time it was more than Ellis. Corey Silverstrom would get hot taking top of the key and wing three’s to set it off. All the other pieces for the Cats played well including the other duo on the “core-fore” Jalen McFerren and Duncan. The beauty of Duncan’s play is he facilitated much of the Wildcat success. In past year’s Chico had to have Duncan score, but this year Duncan and Wildcats thrive when he facilitates ball movement and action. His talents necessitates constant attention. That attention opens things up for his mates and in the regional Duncan has never been better. McFerren took the slings and arrows from all teams to run the offense with continuity and flow. His 37-minute 1 turnover performance may be one of the more over-looked great games of the season for the Cats, but not by those of us that saw him play.

Everyone in uniform for Chico State played well against San Diego. In retrospect there just wasn’t a player who didn’t play well, that how championship teams are crowned.

With as well as the Wildcats played they still had to withstand an incredible shooting display by the Tritons. UCSD shot 14-of-26 from three-point range, making Chico State pay for their double-teams against sophomore post Chris Hansen. The complimentary pieces were tremendous for San Diego, but as CCAA-MVP Adam Klie said after the game, “we just couldn’t get stops. They (Chico) just played really well.”

Knocking off three conference champions in four days is not an easy task. When you do it, deep down you have to think all things are possible and that is the attitude the Chico State Wildcats bring to Sioux Falls. The Cats finished in a tie for third in the CCAA, got knocked out in the semis of the CCAA Conference Tournament but their championship pedigree is undeniable.

This Chico State core pushed themselves to heightened levels of exhaustion just to win a CCAA regular season title in 2016. They would never win another game the night after they clinched. They expended so much energy to win that regular season title, they had nothing left.

There was a conscious effort as many Wildcats professed to me in October to perform and win in the NCAA Tournament. The conference accolades and rewards were nice, but the NCAA Tournament riches are better. This team knew this, and their experience in losing in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years lit a flame that, at times dimmed slightly, but never extinguished.

They are peaking. They are hungry. And, they don’t feel like they are anywhere near finished.

 

Reason for optimism with Chico State baseball at 35 thousand feet

(pictured is Cody Snider after his solo blast at Minute Maid Park that gave Chico State a short-lived 2-1 lead on Sunday against Central Missouri)

Call me an eternal optimist but I am not discouraged even as the Chico State Wildcat baseball suffered a gut-wrenching loss on get-away day against 3rd-ranked Central Missouri at Houston’s Minute Maid Park on Sunday morning.

Chico was two outs away from victory before the game slid through their fingers in frustrating fashion resulting in a wild walk-off celebration for the tournament’s hosts.

Cody Snider’s laser down the right field line snuck inside the Chick-Fil-A foul pole, lighting up the Wildcat dugout and bringing the Cats to the brink of two-win weekend. But, the Baseball Gods disagreed.

You see when you don’t play the game the right way Mr. Baseball God doesn’t believe that should be rewarded. While Chico’s starting pitching and defense was absolutely stupendous all weekend, their pedestrian approach at the plate left a lot to be desired. Chico managed only two hits in a series opening loss to Texas A&M Kingsville on Friday afternoon, despite Hunter Haworth and the bullpen pitching very well.

On Saturday, the Wildcats were the beneficiaries of three St. Mary’s of Texas errors in the 3rd inning resulting in four runs. They also received two walks and those walks would come around and score in the 8th inning on wild pitches as the Cats would add to their lead, beating the Rattlers 6-3.

On Sunday, Chico State had numerous opportunities to put runs on the board and just couldn’t take advantage. Head Coach Dave Taylor was lamenting his team’s approach to situational baseball before the game and has more ammunition for mid-week teaching moment heading into CCAA play on Friday.

Chico was 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position on Sunday and 1-for-22 on the weekend. Yes, the Baseball Gods don’t like long swings in hitters counts with runners in scoring position and the Cats would pay the price as the Mules of Central Missouri would walk them off with a 3-2 win.

FIRST THE GOOD NEWS

Here is the good news. Front line starters Hunter Haworth, Casey Costello and Cam Greenough were lights out all weekend. Haworth pitched six shut-out innings on Friday, and even though he surrendered four earned runs in the 7th inning. His line was not indicative of how dominant he was 6.1 innings 6 hits 4 earned runs with 10 strikeouts.

Casey Costello tied up a good hitting team in St. Mary’s on Saturday pitching six shut-out innings, giving up only 5 hits and not allowing a run.

On Sunday Junior right-hander Cam Greenough was lights out. He pitched 7 shut-out innings giving up 6 hits and striking out seven. Taylor couldn’t have asked for more from a group that is expected to be the backbone of the Wildcats 2017 pitching staff.

The defense was tremendous all weekend. Whether it was acrobatic catches by Sonny Cortez in the spacious Minute Maid Park on Friday or diving and sliding catches by Cody Snider in right or Casey Henderson ranging deep in the holes at short the Cats flashed the leather only committing one error all weekend and now have only had three miscues through their first 11 games. Defense will win a lot of games for the Wildcats this year.

Staring pitching and defense, the elements which are the back-bone of the Wildcat program, and they appear to be in fine shape again this year.

THINGS TO FINE-TUNE 

I am encouraged about the 2017 Chico State Wildcats because I saw this team “rake” all season last year. I saw them devour mediocre pitching and even find a great bit of success against some of the CCAA’s best. This 2017 has returnees up and down their line-up and I simply don’t think their struggles at Minute Maid will continue. There are too many good, veteran hitters who have experience and know what it takes to win.

Talking about it and executing are two distinct things but I feel very confident that we will not see a Wildcat team go three days and manage only 1 hit with a runner in scoring position the rest of the year. Ironically the hit was a bunt, that was meant as a sacrifice by Andru Cardenas on Saturday, but the St. Mary’s second baseman forgot to cover first base. Cardenas was given a hit. The only knock with the runner in scoring position all weekend.

I really like the “stuff” coming out of the Wildcat bullpen. This weekend they did scuffle a bit. Both Andrew Schantz and Jae Wagner walked lead-off men in the 8th and 9th innings to allow Central Missouri to get lead-off men on. Those walks directly led to Mules runs. This Cats group is expected to be strike-throwers and that was lacking at critical times this weekend. That will get better and in turn Chico will be able to nail down these tight games late.

While I sit on this team flight home with a bunch of ball players who reveled in the experience of playing at Minute Maid Park, they also know they left a win or two in Houston. They fell to a couple of really good teams in tight contests. They lost games where the little things mattered and Chico State didn’t do them. The early season problems are fixable. The starting pitching and defense is fantastic, overwhelmingly dominant at times. Chico isn’t hitting now. They will figure it out. And, when they do, look out.

*Photo courtesy of Skip Reager with Chico State Athletics http://www.chicowildcats.com

Thoughts on the Chico State Wildcat Men from 35 thousand feet

*Here are some thoughts on the plight of the Chico State Wildcat men’s basketball team from 35 thousand feet as I fly to Houston with the Chico State baseball team to Houston*

The news emerging from the Division West Region NCAA Men’s Basketball committee on Wednesday afternoon had to send a jolt of energy to the Chico State men’s basketball team.

The first regional ranking has the Wildcats sitting at number five in the West Region with the top eight teams going to the NCAA Tournament in three weeks.

The news had to be thrilling for a Wildcats team that has dropped three in a row and four of their last six. With losses over the last 11 days to Sonoma, San Francisco State and Cal State San Marcos the Wildcats were left to wonder whether their early season success would be over-looked, but as we like to emphasize, your post-season fate rests on your body of work and not entirely on “what have you done lately?”

For a team that was averaging nearly 78 points a game, the Wildcat offense has come to a stand-still during their skid. During the recent downturn it’s not as if the Cats are playing a bunch of also-rans. Sonoma State has the best Division II defense in the country and their match-up zone that put the clamps on Chico is “hell on wheels.” The Seawolves held Chico to a season-low 50 points in a 16-point win.

San Francisco State has interior size, perimeter athleticism and followed their game-plan perfectly in holding Chico to 51 points 10 days ago. The biggest surprise in the down-turn was Chico’s sub-par performance against the Cougars of San Marcos. At Acker Gym and after a great week of practice the Wildcats were held to 58 points in a heart-breaking loss against a team they put 80 points on in early December. It was Chico’s first loss at home in 13 games this year.

It is no surprise what is giving Chico State trouble right now. The match-up zone. The offense was cruising until Greg Kamanksy’s Cal Poly Pomona Broncos put the clamps on Chico’s offense in late January at Kellogg Gym. After the game Kamansky told me, “that’s best our zone has been all year.” Well, the rest of the CCAA has taken notice and employed their different versions of a defense that has suddenly put the skids on the free-flowing, ball is a blur Chico State offense.

The Wildcats have been known to carve up the zone, but inexplicably their flow has come to a stand-still against the zone over the last several weeks. Chico State head coach detests when the ball “sticks” in a players hands. By “sticking” he means when the ball is held by the offensive player, player just holds it as movement and cohesive play stops. There has been too much sticking. Too many times yours truly says, (Chico State player) is “surveying the scene.” When Chico attacks the teeth of the zone, they are either driving right into the heart of a double or triple team, make an ill-advised pass or take a bad shot. The synchronicity of the Wildcat offense is dis-jointed and has frustrated them as a group.

Clink was at wit’s end after last Saturday’s loss calling his teams’ offense “putrid.”

There is a silver lining to this slide. Last year the Wildcats lost steam after a 22-3 start and capturing their second straight CCAA title and could not recapture the magic dropping their final three games of the season including their NCAA Tournament opener against UC San Diego. Almost the entire squad that saw their season end so unceremoniously last year is on this squad and they will do whatever they need to do to prevent a repeat of last year.

Coming into the season the professed goal of many of the Wildcats I spoke with was not winning a 3rd straight CCAA title, but it was to go into the post-season playing their best basketball. With two weeks left in the regular season the regular season CCAA title may have come and gone, but the hopes of playing their best basketball still sits there like the ultimate carrot on a rope.

This team is too good and too veteran to let this little down-turn define their season. It will take more than talking about how good they are though. This team has to come together, maybe have some tough internal conversations, look themselves in the mirror and figure out what kind of team they want to be. I know they can do it, their rabid supporters know they can do it. Now we wait for them to figure it out.

Photo courtesy of Chico State Wildcats at http://www.chicowildcats.com