Hill shines and Dodgers keep applying pressure

I have covered a top-flight baseball program for the past 20 years. The Chico State Wildcats have won two D-II national titles and 9 regional championships. The axiom which is instilled when you don the Cardinal and White is…..

“IF YOU AREN’T APPLYING PRESSURE THAN YOU ARE FEELING PRESSURE.”

Right now the Los Angeles Dodgers are applying all kinds of pressure to the heavily favored Chicago Cubs. Pressure in execution. Pressure in style of play and pressure in aggressiveness.

The Dodgers are playing free and easy. They are playing the game the way child plays baseball. Playing a game, having fun and enjoying this whole October experience. As a fan who follows this team much closer than I actually should, I can see it. This is not the same group that participated in the playoffs in 2013-2015. Watching those teams in October was a chore. We constantly waited for the other shoe to drop. The Dodgers were favored, but I never felt they were playing a game. The game looked forced to those teams.

This group is different. They are playing as if they know they aren’t better than the Cubs. They are just coming after the 103-win Cubbies as if to say, “you may beat us, but you are going to have to fight us for it.” It’s a joy watching this team grind it out. I have spent so many October’s watching the San Francisco Giants play this way. Free and easy, no pressure, just play.

After the Dodgers tossed their second straight shut-out against the Cubs it’s as if Chicago is carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. I really thought that they had gotten past their tortured past. The Cubs look tight. This game is hard enough to play when your mind is clear. To play it and succeed when your mind is racing and you are hauling around the hopes of a city…..it’s almost impossible. The Dodgers are applying pressure, the Cubs are certainly feeling it.

If anyone can turn this thing around for Chicago it’s Joe Maddon. I also think the Cubs will be well served in not facing Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill or Kenley Jansen. The Dodgers will now send their young 20 year-old phenom Julio Urias to the hill to try and grab the series by the throat. Tomorrow’s result could determine whether the Dodgers go with Kershaw on three days rest or save him for regular rest and pitch him in Game 6 in Chicago. With a win tomorrow, I think the Dodgers save Kershaw. A loss and my gut tells me Dave Roberts brings him back on three days to pitch Game 5.

I have too much respect for the Cubs to start searching StubHub for World Series tickets. The Cubs won 103 games for a reason. They are good. They are tested and they are hungry. The Dodgers just have keep doing what they are doing. But, look out if the Cubs can get out of their own way. Game 4 could very well determine who wins the National League pennant……enjoy Dodger Fam

Bleeding Dodger Blue !!!

Kershaw and Jansen dazzle as Dodgers even NLCS

For the fourth time this post-season Clayton Kershaw appeared in a game and for the fourth time the Dodgers won.

The good news for Chicago is Kershaw will not appear in Games 3 & 4.  Behind the brilliance of Kershaw and closer Kenley Jansen the Dodgers evened the National League Championship Series at a game apiece.

Kershaw was fantastic. Primarily utilizing his fastball and slider he located perfectly, keeping Cubs hitters off-balance. Kershaw threw only 9 curveballs and will be able to lean on that pitch when he appears later in the series. Jansen came in to put the game away in the 8th and 9th innings striking out 4 of the 6 hitters he faced.

The only offense was provided by Adrian Gonzalez who took ERA leader Kyle Hendricks deep to left-center in the 2nd inning. Gonzalez was thinking opposite field against the change-up specialist and it paid dividends, hitting one into the basket just above the .368 marker at Wrigley.

The Cubs will certainly have the pitching advantage in Game 3 of the series as the scene shifts to Dodger Stadium for Games 3, 4 and 5. Reigning Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta gets the ball for the Cubs while the Dodgers counter with Rich Hill.

The biggest concern for the south-siders in the inexplicable slumps from Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell. The two have combined to go 2-for-42 in the post-season with Rizzo sitting on a 1-for-23. The Dodgers know it only takes a blooper, a bleeder, or a Texas-leaguer to get these guys going. Both the Giants and Dodgers pitching staffs are making perfect pitches on Rizzo, and to win the series and keep him in check, they will have to continue to hit their spots and get count leverage.

A big question mark for Joe Maddon is what to do with Jason Heyward. He scuffled all year and is now struggling in the post-season. Jorge Soler or Albert Almora might be a better option if Heyward continues to struggle.

The Dodgers felt real good even after their Game 1 loss to the Cubs. The Dodgers are taking some real good at-bats (aside from Yasiel Puig’s two-out bunt try on Sunday night) There is a grind-ability to the Dodgers offensive game right now that is fun to watch.

Been saying it all year, this team may not be as talented as the team’s from 2013-2015 but there is no doubt this Dodgers squad is tougher.

Game 3 is Tuesday at 5pm from Dodger Stadium

As Always Bleeding Dodger Blue !

Dodgers @ Cubs NLCS GAME 1 RECAP

A fantastic game that ended with a gut-punch as the Dodgers fall in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Cubs on Saturday night.

The Dodgers rallied from a 3-0 deficit with a stirring come-back highlighted by a two-run single from Adrian Gonzalez in the top of the 8th inning off of Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman.

After an Andrew Toles single, a walk to Chase Utley and a fielders choice to Justin Turner where Toles made a daring dive into third to beat Kris Bryant’s attempt at a force to load the bases…….enter Chapman who blew away Corey Seager and Yasiel Puig to set the stage for Gonzalez’s heroics.

But, the Cubs would wrestle the game from the Dodgers in the bottom of the 8th on a lead-off double by Ben Zobrist and intentional walks to Jason Heyward and Chris Coghlan, Miguel Montero sent Wrigley into delirium with a grand slam. It was a horrible 0-2 pitch from the usually reliable Joe Blanton who has been a main-stay out of the Dodgers bullpen all year. Blanton’s cement-mixer on 0-1 was repeated on 0-2 and this time Montero didn’t miss it.

The Dodgers will  turn to Clayton Kershaw to pull them out of the fire again. Kershaw gets the start against Cubs right-hander and ERA leader Kyle Hendricks. Game time 5:05pm with the Cubs up 1-0 in the series.

 

Dodgers @ Cubs Game 1 NLCS PREVIEW

I woke up this morning to the stark realization that the Dodgers reward for outlasting the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series was a date with the best team in baseball the Chicago Cubs.

The Dodgers grit, determination and grind-ability will be severely tested against the 103 win Cubbies who have the south-siders dreaming of their first pennant in 71 years and first World Series title in 108 years.

The Cubs are a machine. Their rotation is nasty with one of the best lefties in the game in Jon Lester (Game 1 starter), the ERA champion in Kyle Hendricks (Game 2) the reigning Cy Young award winner in Jake Arrieta in Game 3 and savvy experienced veteran in John Lackey in Game 4.

Their bullpen is loaded with Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon setting up left-handed flame-throw Aroldis Chapman. From the left-side they can bring Mike Montgomery and Travis Wood, giving them the ability to match-up with the Dodgers.

The scary thing about the Cubs is they really didn’t flex their muscles in the Giants series. Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell struggled offensively against San Francsico combining for only 2 hits. I expect those two to perform at a much higher level. I thought Giants pitchers navigated the Cubs line-up with aplomb.

Locate Locate Locate…..Dodger pitchers need to locate with movement. Game 1 starter Kenta Maeda needs to be much better than he was against the Nationals in his Game 3 start. He gets the ball today with the Dodger brass hoping he can give them AT LEAST 5-6 innings. Three innings today would be a disaster considering how spent the Dodger bullpen is.

The Dodgers were 7-for-33 with runners in scoring position against the Nationals. That number will get them swept. They were 0-for-8 with the bases loaded. That number will also get them swept. This squad can not waste their chances. Unlike the Nationals series where many in Dodger-land felt Los Angeles gave away Game 2 of the series. They can’t afford a give-away against the mighty Cubs.

This promises to be a delicious series with two teams and two cities hungry for a pennant. If the Dodgers can get a split in Chicago they would be ecstatic. For once, they need someone other than Kershaw and Kenley to pitch them to victory in October. Today begins a journey, many of us in late June will totally improbable…..gotta love baseball

Bleeding Dodger Blue…..ALWAYS

Dodgers need to take off the kid-gloves in handling of Urias

We have all seen it. We go to the home of that high-end society couple and as we walk through the door we almost don’t want to touch anything for fear we might break something. They have all these high-end vases and urns, furniture that must be dry-cleaned weekly and high-end art hanging from the walls.

This is the Dodgers and how they approach the game of baseball, look but don’t touch. When I see 20 year-old left-handed phenom Julio Urias, I see a player who is being showcased for no specific purpose. He is a piece of art that the fans and rest of baseball can look at, but can’t necessarily enjoy.

The Dodgers decision to pitch Clayton Kershaw on three days rest is another sign that the Dodgers aren’t ready to make that next jump. I doubt this decision belongs to Dave Roberts. This is a Friedman/Zaidi decision where they believe it’s in the best interests of the franchise to stunt the growth of a pitcher who has shown the tools to be a star of the future and instead lay the weight of the world on ole reliable Clayton who will try and bail this flawed team out again in a must-win game.

Why even have Urias on the roster if he isn’t going to be utilized ? Front office defenders will tell you that Urias has been average and they are trying to protect him and keep his pitch count down and yada yada yada. Think how different the 1981 season would have been if the Dodgers kept Fernando Valenzuela’s pitch count down ? Whatever happened to winning NOW. You mean to tell me that if the Dodgers threw Urias today and he is shoving and putting up zeros in an elimination game that they would pull him at 65 pitches ? They would pull him after four innings because we need to protect him ? Protect him from what ? Winning ? Pitching while fatigued in a big spot and learning how to win ? What is the point of having such a great piece of art, if you are just going to look at it but not enjoy it.

The Dodgers might very well win today. What does that mean for Game 5 ? Well, it means Urias would most likely get the start in Game 5 and will be on a pitch count that limits how long he can go. If the Dodgers don’t win today then the kid was simply here as a threat that we might use. I thought the point of having pitchers, and young talented ones’ was to use them to win a pennant and a World Series. I didn’t know that a season of protecting Urias’ arm meant he would simply take a roster spot and wouldn’t be utilized.

The Dodgers are needlessly taxing and pushing their best player in Kershaw so they won’t have to make a decision on Urias throwing 80 pitches in a game where he might be effective.

I expect Kershaw to shove and give the Dodgers a chance. I just don’t know what it means moving forward for the Dodgers and for Urias if they do win and get to a Game 5. The time for baby-ing the youngster is over. Pitchers, pitch, they aren’t works of art.

Dodgers miss golden chances in Game 2 loss

It would be foolish to expect to win a game where you go 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position (RISP) and 0-for-5 with the bases loaded. Winning teams don’t waste so many opportunities. With Sunday’s 5-2 loss the Dodgers missed a great chance to take a strangle-hold on their first round NLDS series against the Nationals.

After Corey Seager’s first inning solo home run the opportunities were a-plenty for the Dodgers. The Dodgers would load the bases in the second inning and come up empty as Rich Hill would strike out and Chase Utley would ground out.

Josh Reddick would single home a run in the third giving the Dodgers a 2-0 lead. With the bases loaded and one out Yasmani Grandal would ground into a double-play.

In the 5th the Dodgers would load the bases again only to see Grandal strike out and Howie Kendrick line out to left. The Dodgers had another great chance in the 6th with runners at first and second and two outs only to have Adrian Gonzalez fly out to left.

Mistakes are magnified in the post-season. One mistake, one bad approach at the plate could end your season. For the Dodgers, these at-bats in run-scoring situations need to get better. I do give the Nationals a ton of credit for making quality pitches in big spots, but if you want to advance the approach needs to be better.

Today’s Game 3 has high stakes for both clubs. The Dodgers need to solve a left-handed pitcher in Gio Gonzalez. It’s no surprise lefties are the Dodgers kryptonite, hitting a league worst against south-paws with the lowest on base and slugging percentages as well.

The Nationals know a win today puts them a win away from advancing to the League Championship Series for the first time since they were playing in Montreal.

As I said before the series, the team who hits better with runners on base and gets better work out of the bullpen will win this series. So far it has proven to be true.

Bleeding Dodger Blue….enjoy the game !

 

Every athlete should be offended by Donald Trump

As a professional sports broadcaster covering professional, collegiate and high school sports for more than 25 years I take a great exception to Donald Trump’s characterization that his repulsive comments about women are simply “locker room” banter.

I have been in locker rooms where athletes knew who I was and may have been careful about what they were saying. I have been in locker rooms where the athletes didn’t know who I was and discussed all matters unfiltered. Without a doubt the language can get salty but I have NEVER in thousands of instances  ever heard an athlete brag about sexually assaulting a woman. In fact, if such a discussion ever took place I do not doubt that athlete would be confronted by his teammates and either turned in or ostracized by his mates.

Unlike Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for President, 99.9 percent of society doesn’t find sexual assault as something that should be glamorized and “bragged about.” I am not sure what kind of alternate reality Trump and his minions operate in but locker-rooms are not filled with a den of vipers looking to denigrate and assault women. Every athlete should take great exception to a man who professes to know what takes place in a locker-room and act as if it is common-place where assaulting and marginalizing women is tolerated and accepted behavior.

When he said, “locker-room” banter I seethed. What the hell are you talking about ? What kind of locker rooms are you going to ? Certainly not where any “real” athletes hang out.

I want to make it clear. Locker-room language can get salty. It can get pretty damn male. But, bragging about sexually assaulting women and athletes forcing themselves on women?…..that does not happen.

Don’t let this Trump lie become ingrained in your consciousness as truth.

The Dodger Bullpen: Renewed Faith

Did my eyes deceive me ? Did I really watch the Dodgers bullpen pitch four innings of scoreless baseball in October ? For the love of humanity, what in the world is going on here ?

My eyes didn’t play tricks. In fact the Dodger bullpen did on Friday what they have been doing all year…….getting outs.

I personally don’t know anyone who has been more critical of the Dodgers bullpen over the last few years than yours truly. It’s a pet peeve of mine. Go out, watch your starter bust his tail for 6 or 7 innings only to see some slinger out of pen cough it up. The losses over the years, especially in big post-season games have been crippling.

During the 2014 and 2015 winter meetings I watched from afar as the Dodger front office didn’t appear to make the adequate moves to strengthen what I perceived as a significant weakness. I gotta give it to Friedman and company, their gambles on the Joe Blanton”s and Grant Dayton’s of the world have paid off.

Those critical of my evaluation can rightly point out that the Dodgers have made attempts at strengthening the pen over the years only be continually re-buffed. In 2014 it was the winter meetings of Andrew Miller. The Dodgers never made a serious offer ( still a mistake in my opinion) But, Friedman had just taken over and was evaluating the farm and roster and may have not been as prepared to jump into the deep end of the pool. The Dodgers also apparently made the largest offer to Luke Gregerson who turned them down to go to the Astros.

During the 2015 winter meetings they made overtures toward Baltimore’s Darren O’Day. Reports indicate they offered him more money than the Orioles, yet O’Day stayed with the Birds. Then the Dodgers had a deal in place for Aroldis Chapman before his domestic violence charge hit the streets, and rightfully so the Dodgers backed out.

In Game 1 on Friday the Dodgers got two-thirds of an inning scoreless from the re-born Joe Blanton. They got two-thirds scoreless from Grant Dayton. They got one full inning of scoreless baseball from Pedro Baez. This might be the most surprising of them all after Baez had given up back-breaking game-winning hits to the Cardinals and the Mets in Game 1 of both the 2014 and 2015 National League Divisional Series. I literally couldn’t watch when Baez came into the game yesterday….

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My television set turned off during Game 1 of the National League Division Series when the Dodgers brought in Pedro Baez

The Dodgers then got an inning and two-thirds from closer extraordinaire Kenley Jansen. That is four innings of shut-out baseball.

This is a strength now that was a complete and total weakness in year’s past. One of the primary reasons the Dodgers are in this position today is because of the productivity of that bullpen. Dodger faithful will tell you without this bullpen eating up innings as starter-after-starter went down with injury, then the Boys in Blue are not in this position. During the Giants second-half meltdown as their pen was coughing up 8th and 9th inning leads, the Dodgers were taking games over in the 5th and 6th innings and pitching the club to victory. So many arms and so much production. The Dodger pen has been the back-bone of this team. Give the Giants the Dodgers bullpen, they don’t cough up an 8.5 game lead……#Truth

They could struggle from this point forward, that is entirely possible, but based on what they have done this year, I can’t blame them as I have in the past for not getting the job done. The Dodgers bullpen has been a pleasant surprise. It’s a surprise that Dodger fans are more than willing to embrace.

As Always Bleeding Dodger Blue

“Devil Magic” may have met its match

The San Francisco Giants carpet ride of glory may have met its match in an October even year with this year’s 103-win Chicago Cubs.

There has been something magical about the Cubs this year. Joe Maddon and his fun-loving bunch believe this is their time. They have the group young and wild enough to give the finger to 108 years of no banners. They are the best team in baseball and they carry themselves like they know it.

It was only one game but the Cubs and Jon Lester tamed the beast that roars in last night’s 1-0 win. The “Devil” also saw some moments of trepidation when calls that usually go their way in October’s past, inexplicably didn’t.

Early on it seemed the Giant mo-jo was intact. A sliding acrobatic catch in left center by Gorkys Hernandez kept the Cubs at bay early, and a tremendous sliding snag of a hard hit grounder late by Kelby Tomlinson had Satan and minions delighted. But, that all turned in the 9th when Hernandez was called out on a check-swing, that replays clearly showed was a bad call and he should have been awarded first base. The call was even more painful for the Giants when Buster Posey rattled a ball off the ivy in left-center that would have easily scored the speedy Hernandez with two outs in the 9th.

You will say this a little thing, but I say its big. These are the types of plays, the types of breaks that always go the Giants way in October. Last night they didn’t.

Devil Magic is on full alert. It only takes one of those quirky plays to not go your way allowing even-year doubt to start seeping in.