Tag Archives: Clayton Kershaw

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.”

Dodgers: Just when I was out they pull me back in

From the outset I haven’t really thought much of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ever since their despicable December in which the front office thought the status quo for the bullpen was acceptable I have not had much faith in the 2016 version of our beloved Boys in Blue.

With a keen eye toward the future I have enjoyed the season knowing the Dodgers were not in the same class as the San Francisco Giants and that AT BEST the Dodgers might garner a wild card berth.

But here I sit on July 22nd and something peculiar is happening. The Dodgers are playing much better than the sum of their parts and the Giants are going through a July Swoon, delaying the inevitable by one month.

With no Kershaw and a line-up that mirrors the days of Danny Heep and Tracy Woodson, the Dodgers are 11 games above .500 and sit at 53-42 playing fantastic baseball at The Ravine. Even without Kershaw the Dodgers starting rotation has been serviceable over the last few weeks. Justin Turner is on a roll and my man Corey Seager is showing why the Dodger faithful may have found their version of a Posey in San Francisco or a Jeter in New York. No, I am not talking about MVP’s and Championships yet, I am talking about a true “face of the franchise.”

The bullpen, which has been the bane of the Dodgers organization since 2013 has performed exceptionally well since the beginning of May. I can’t believe how well they have pitched. I am shocked, stunned, flummoxed etc…..I still don’t believe they can keep this up but so far so good.

The Giants appeared to be on the verge of running away with the division and were going to give the Cubs a run for the best record in the National League. But, suddenly the Giants rotation looks a little thin. Jeff Samardjiza has morphed into the guy that flirted with a near 6.00 ERA in Chicago last year. Peavy is old and inconsistent and Matt Cain’s best days are behind him. That leaves Madison Bumgarner who is a stud and the mercurial Johnny Cueto who started the season 13-1 but I can feel a second-half meltdown on the horizon. If this sounds delicious if you are a Dodger fan, wait until we go over their bullpen. The middle relief has been inconsistent over the last six weeks, showing a penchant for giving up the crooked number and with Santiago Casilla seemingly wanting to give the closer job away, the Giants have some real issues at the back-end of their pen.

The Giants every day starting line-up has been problematic as well. Their spiritual leader Hunter Pence has been out nearly two months with a torn hamstring and is a few weeks away from being back in a major league uniform. Free-agent signee Denard Span has not had a good year and perennial super-star Buster Posey is having a down year for him, take it from someone who has him on their fantasy baseball squad. The concussion symptoms of Joe Panik have kept him out for several weeks. If not for the Brandon’s, Belt and Crawford, the Giants would be in serious trouble.

I type this with the Dodgers have just beaten the Nationals 6-3 and having taken two-of-three from the Nats on the road to wrap up a rare successful road-trip. The Giants have lost 5-in-a-row and look like they are taking on water. The Dodgers sit only 4 games out of first in the National League West. Three weeks ago they were 8 back and I thought the Giants could have started counting down their magic number by August, not so fast.

The injury to Kershaw throws a wrench into the Dodgers division title hopes, but could this be the year where I expect NOTHING from my beloved Boys in Blue and they muster the guts and guile to give us something to remember ? Hmmmm, can’t wait to find out.

Dodgers wasting Kershaw’s best years….

We are witnessing one of the great pitchers of our time. One of the great pitchers in the history of the game. Yet, here we sit with a team that can’t hit, has no starting pitching depth, a sieve for middle relief and a 250 million dollar payroll. Whoopeee !

I have stated numerous times that we, the fans deserve better. How about Clayton Kershaw ? He deserves better. I respect the Dodger fan who can watch the game, and accept the fate regardless of how deep the knife turns when Pedro Baez or Chris Hatcher enters the contest. Sorry, I am not wired that way.

Andrew Friedman, Farhan Zaidi and Josh Brynes have done a few things well. They have kept the kids and developed them and they didn’t over-pay Zack Greinke. Other than that I am finding it hard to see the redeeming value in their approach.

Let me play devil’s advocate here. What if Mark Walter was interviewing Friedman and mandated that the payroll be cut closer to 200 million dollars ? What if Walter told Friedman that he wouldn’t mind a few steps backward if it set up the Dodgers for decades of success by re-stocking and replenishing a decrepit minor league system under Frank McCourt ? What if Walter told Friedman, “I am paying you to rebuild the foundation of our franchise, while cutting payroll. If we win, great, if we don’t, that’s ok, as long as the foundation is built.”

Do I believe this is what transpired in his job interview ? Well, maybe. How else can you explain these moves or lack thereof ? The Dodgers have one of the most anemic offenses in baseball while banking on players that shouldn’t be banked on (Puig, Grandal,) They went on the cheap for the bullpen, turning converted catchers an infielders into relief pitchers and then act shocked and surprised when they don’t get results. They signed often-injured starting pitchers hoping to catch lightning in the ole bottle, instead they got more injuries. You “experiment” with infielders as relievers when you are rebuilding. You don’t do it when you are a piece or two from winning the pennant. I am not that smart but I called this. I wrote about it. I felt it and could see it. Why couldn’t Dodgers ownership ? I am starting to believe this was the plan. Break this team down to the sum of its parts and hope. How else can such fool-hardy decisions be rationalized ?

The saddest part of this hypothesis is the Dodgers are wasting the talents of one of the most dominant pitchers in the history of the game. Clayton Kershaw is special, but his greatness has a shelf life and that shelf life probably has three or four more years. I will concede Kershaw hasn’t helped himself in the post-season, especially in 2013 and 2014. But, if you come after Kershaw you must also be critical of a front office that devalues pitchers that get outs in the 7th and 8th innings.

Kershaw and the loyalists who Bleed Blue deserve better. I have racked my brain to rationalize the Friedman/Zaidi and Byrnes approach. The only think I can come up with is this IS the plan. Break it down to build it back up into a juggernaut. So far, not so good. The proverbial jury is still out. In the meantime I will look longingly at the Chicago Cubs and salivate.

Trusting Friedman is not the easiest thing to do

There is a lot of uneasiness in Dodger-land these days as the Boys in Blue await the decision of free agent pitcher Zack Greinke. The two teams vying for his services are rivals; the Dodgers and Giants. The longer this thing drags on you have to think the worse it could be for the Dodgers.

Greinke is being courted hard by San Francisco. Ken Rosenthal reported on the MLB Network today that Buster Posey and Bruce Bochy met for the 3.5 hours with Greinke last week. No one is talking about the offers Greinke has fielded but several reports have the Giants offer as “aggressive.”

All while this takes place the Dodgers have been announcing the hiring of new manager Dave Roberts and hopefully negotiating hard to keep Greinke in Dodger Blue. But, none of us know since there is radio silence.

Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has not had the easiest or most successful first year as the leader of the franchise. On one hand he did what almost every Dodger fan wanted him to do and that was keep the superb young talent in the Dodger system. Those of us who are not members or our lunatic fringe fan base did not want to see the kids traded for a quick fix.

While he was getting skewered nationally for not entering the Cole Hamels or David Price sweepstakes at the trade deadline, I was actually encouraged by his reticence not to trade the kids for  a rotation addition that wasn’t a pressing need at the time. It turned out Mat Latos was a disaster and Alex Wood was average and the lack of depth in the rotation certainly hurt, but wasn’t the primary reason the Dodgers were sent packing in the first round of the playoffs. Make no mistake, the Dodgers lost in the playoffs because they couldn’t generate runs. They couldn’t play small ball and that should change with their new field manager.

Now as we approach the Winter Meetings in Nashville the task of strengthening this Dodger team is more difficult and a lot more treacherous than many might think for Friedman. First, if he loses Greinke to the Giants. God help him. In my opinion it would completely shift the balance of power in the National League West. Greinke is the lynch pin for the Dodgers, which should scare the hell out of everyone right now because with the Dodgers resources, if he hasn’t signed already with Los Angeles then the deeply analytical and thoughtful Greinke could possibly be thinking this isn’t the place for him (pure nervous conjecture on my part.) If Los Angeles isn’t the place for him than San Francisco most assuredly will be……..disaster.

When Friedman was brought in to run the organization and Farham Zaidi was brought in as the General Manager it was believed these young statistical geniuses would finally have some dollars to play with as they built a dynasty with their unique vision for Los Angeles. This may be true, but I also believe owner Mark Walter and the Guggenheim Group also told them to get the finances in order. Guggenheim needed to bring credibility back to the franchise while they negotiated their record TV deal in 2012. They did that. Now it’s time to quit paying people NOT to play for the team. So, who better to do it then two small market guys in Friedman and Zaidi who were use to pinching pennies.

The problem is the Dodgers have been too busy saying “no” to their peers in other front offices around the league and eventually they will have to start saying “yes.” It may be time to start trading some prospects to bring back some proven talent that can get this team over the hump. It may be time to make De Leon or Holmes available in an Aroldis Chapman trade. It may be time to look at trading the mercurial Yasiel Puig if he can net a Shelby Miller or Carlos Carrasco. It may be time to completely eat the salaries of Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier as they are both horribly overpaid and are clogging up the outfield. Certainly a line can be drawn of players the Dodgers will not and should not trade. But, the Dodgers need to start exploring ways of getting better that doesn’t involve the Jim Johnson patch-work deals we saw this year.

As you see it’s a difficult proposition for Friedman. He was handed the keys and he had a C-minus type of season. His two worst mistakes were the Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy signings, after Anderson accepted his option, those two deals will cost the Dodgers 76 million dollars. 76 million dollars for 4th and 5th starters AT BEST. Awful deals. The Dodgers were an imperfect assemblage of talent and its Friedman’s job to make the pieces fit, all while trimming long-term dead money but also investing in players that can serve the franchise into the future, but not too far into the future where they hamstring the team. Not easy.

It is unfair to bury Friedman after one year of questionable decisions. He didn’t adequately address the bullpen last year and it was a weakness once again. This year he can right-the-wrong by wrestling Chapman away from the Reds for prospects and signing the flavor of the month Darren O’Day as a free agent. If the Dodgers lose Greinke, they may HAVE to make those moves, shortening the game and giving them a lights out 7th, 8th and 9th inning option.

Lastly, if the Dodgers keep Greinke it will be in the neighborhood of 6 years and 210 million dollars with another OUT-clause. That is roughly 65-70 million dollars for two pitchers (Kershaw and Greinke) that couldn’t get you out of the first round the past two years. That is exactly why the Dodgers will need to get another quality starter, not knowing the health of Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy for next season. Whether it is Jeff Samardjzia, Mike Leake, John Lackey or a trade for a Carrasco, Shelby Miller or Chris Sale. The Dodgers will need to add to the back-end of their rotation.

When I look at the Dodgers I see way too many question marks. Do they sign Greinke ? If they don’t who do they sign ? If they do, who do they sign ? How do they rectify the log-jam in the outfield ? Is the real Joc Pederson the guy we saw before the All-Star break or after ? What do they do at second base ? What arms and how many arms do they bring in to solidify and finally strengthen a bullpen that has been an albatross for years ? Does their philosophy change under Dave Roberts ?

Three straight division titles, yet we all feel so unfulfilled.

Sleep well Andrew Friedman, you are going to need it

 

Dodgers and Kershaw have much to prove…..

Other than the New York Yankees, no other professional baseball franchise has been in the post-season more than the Dodgers. Whether in Brooklyn or in Los Angeles the Bums have made October their rite of passage. What the Dodgers have not done is always flourish in the month of October like their New York brethren.

Despite winning the National League West for the third straight time the Dodgers recent inability to solve the St. Louis Cardinals has been their albatross. For the sanity of themselves and  their voracious fan base, this is something that needs to be rectified.

Entering this 2015 post-season the Dodgers have numerous question marks. I believe they have more SIGNIFICANT holes than they have that past few seasons. With that said, this might also be their best chance in recent memory to win the pennant. Odd, I know, but let me spell it out.

First lets start with the strengths. The strengths are always more fun to talk about for Dodgers fans. The Dodgers have pop. They can hit the long ball. Up and down the line-up the Dodgers can put runs on the board with one swing of the bat. For much of the season they led the National League in round trippers. The Dodgers also have the best one-two punch in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in the post-season. Kershaw in the three-time Cy Young award winner who will finish in the top-5 once again, while Greinke could garner his second Cy Young award with an amazing 2015 campaign registering a 1.66 ERA. The Dodgers also have great depth. Despite injuries that would have crippled most teams, the Boys in Blue have built a bench that allows them to withstand injuries to key players and not lose a ton in production .

The concerns with this team begins and ends with their porous bullpen. As much as the front office tries to sell the fan base on this group, they have been colossal disappointment. The group is much too streaky for my tastes. Great start, bad middle, solid late-July to early August only to see them stumble again late. For a franchise to have the deepest pockets in all of sport and not make a run at Andrew Miller and some of the other serviceable arms on the market was fool-hardy as I made so abundantly clear ad nauseam. The pen is what it is……a mind-numbing group that will have me grab my Pope Francis blessed rosary beads every time they enter the game.

My second biggest concern regarding this ball-club is their inability to manufacture runs. So many in the lunatic fringe of this fan base do not believe in the hit-and-run, the bunt, the productive out. Many fail to see its the easiest and most productive way to victory. Productive outs lead to runs which lead to wins. I would much rather have Joc Pederson lay a bunt down the third base line with a runner at second and no one out then swing from his britches and swing and miss once again. A bunt allows the runner to get to third which means a ground ball, fly ball, wild pitch, passed ball, balk or even a hit would net a run. But, never mind me, just keep expecting Joc to hit the ball 450 feet. The Dodgers were one of the worst teams in the National League at the fine art of manufacturing runs despite have the best on-base percentage in the National League. This statistical imbalance makes no sense and shows how disconnected this offense can be.

My third concern, and this one breaks my heart. It’s Clayton Kershaw. I know, saying this is sac-religious but the numbers don’t lie. In his last four post-season appearances he is 0-4 with a 7.15 ERA. I love the guy, I really do. But, the great ones perform in October. As great as Greg Maddux was, in my mind all I can remember is him continually scuffling with those mid-90’s Braves teams in October. Kershaw is so much better than his numbers indicate. I won’t even get into his Cardinal-failings. It’s well documented that the Cardinals have pounced on every one of his mistakes over the past two post-seasons. I would love for the Dodgers and Kershaw to get another shot at the Red Birds. He NEEDS success against them as much for him as for the organization. Kershaw’s post-season yips is a huge blip on his resume. Lunatic fringe members will try to argue it’s anomaly, it’s not. Kershaw pitches like the King of All in the regular season but turns into the court jester in the post-season. It’s the one dangling participle that he needs to fix. Admittedly I am not confident of Kershaw in October. I have seen too many meltdowns, too many inexplicable craters in performance to have that MadBum-esque feeling that he is going to overcome.

So there you have it. The post-season is here. this is a very exciting time. The one saving grace as I type this is that the Giants and Yankees are both done for the year. Out of the original New York three, only the Dodgers remain. This team could very well win the pennant and hoist their 7th World Series trophy. But it wouldn’t surprise me if their season is done by next Monday either. So it is with the Dodgers, so unpredictable, so entertaining and never boring.

 

 

Utley Deal is Dodgers Version of Wag the Dog

 

Can Chase Utley help the Dodgers ? Sure he can. Hell, he may even help the Dodgers win the division and maybe even a playoff series. But on the day the Dodgers were just swept in the mini two-game set against the worst team in the American League the acquisition feels like merely a distraction device.

The Dodgers were completely and emphatically exposed in a 20 hour period against the Oakland Athletics. This is not meant to denigrate the A’s and their tremendous fan base but there is no way the 307 million dollar Dodgers should lose both games to the Athletics. The A’s GM tanked the season when he traded this year’s most likely AL MVP in Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays, but I digress.

Today the Dodgers traded a couple of mid-level minor leaguers for Chase Utley. While Utley was once one of the best players in the game, now he is purely a rental. A rental for the sole purpose of keeping him away from the San Francisco Giants. While the Dodgers second base position is in flux with the hamstring injury to Howie Kendrick the Giants are also facing a second sack dilemma. Second year stand-out Joe Panik is dealing with some back issues and his availability for the rest of the season is highly in doubt. The Giants and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were lusting after Utley to give them a jolt down the stretch. But, the Dodgers deep farm system won out and the Phillies took the Dodgers offer.

On the surface the name of Utley gives Dodger fans visions of grandeur but let’s be brutally honest. What Utley brings is not a remedy for what ails this team. The Dodgers “dumpster-fire” bullpen is an embarrassment. Since mid-May the Dodgers pen has an ERA over 5. Since August 1st the bullpen ERA is over 7.

In the spirit of full transparency I liked the moves two weeks ago in bringing in Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan. There is no way around the unmitigated disaster those moves have been. They have made a bad bullpen even worse. But this all could have been avoided if Friedman wasn’t so dead set on doing a bullpen on the cheap back in December. While having unlimited funds, he decided to not offer contracts to Pat Neshek, Luke Gregerson, Sergio Romo as complimentary pieces and Andrew Miller as the lynch pin bridging middle relief to Kenley Jansen…….dumbfounding. While many in the lunatic fringe of the Dodger fan base are calling for Don Mattingly’s head, they fail to place blame where it truly belongs. Andrew Friedman’s finger prints are all over this team, including the bullpen. He is not even a full season into his tenure as President of Baseball Operations, but if Friedman were a character on Game of Thrones he would have been sent over the wall of Castle Black by now so the White Walkers could have at him. For all of Friedman’s positives and there have been good moves. His negligence when it comes to the bullpen is inexcusable.

Friedman fleeced the Padres in the Kemp for Grandal deal. Friedman  parlayed Dee Gordon and Andrew Heaney into Howie Kendrick, Kiki Hernandez and the Dodgers catcher of the future in Austin Barnes. But his handling of the pitching staff is what will hang around his neck if and when the Dodgers flame out.

Friedman has littered the Dodgers pen with washed up infielders who were converted to pitchers (Pedro Baez, Chris Hatcher) or thumbers (JP Howell) who must put a piece of straw through the eye of a needle to get hitters out. When you throw in Yimi (I have one decent pitch) Garcia and the signings of the Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy, it’s just one big dumpster fire when looking at the bullpen and the back-end of the rotation.

No wonder Clayton Kershaw is chucking baseball’s into his own dugout. He is hoping one of the errant pieces of raw-hide clips a mate and forces Friedman to bring up Jennie Finch to man the bullpen. The bullpen is a dumpster fire but it is only one of the many things that ails this club. They only score when they hit home runs. While the novice baseball fan will say, “gee, that’s great, I love home runs.” Well, uh yeah., that’s not how championships are won. You win titles by playing flawless situational baseball. When there is runner at second and no one out, move him to third. When there is runner at third and one out, get that runner home. I don’t care how you do it, but do it. This team is woefully deficient in these essentials to winning baseball. The frustrating thing is this team gets on base ! They lead the National League in on base percentage and walks. They know how to get on base. They don’t know how to generate runs. Is this a Mark McGwire issue ? Well, he didn’t seem to have a problem communicating situational baseball to the Cardinals a few years ago when they were impeccable at run generation.

I believe this an entitled mentality that permeates this Dodger team. They are all getting paid and they want theirs. I have only seen a handful of guys on this club consistently play the game the right way and take a good approach to the plate with runners on base. Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins are two of them. Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig sometimes appear they have never been told they need to shorten their swing or have an approach with two-strikes. It’s mind numbingly frustrating watching the waste that is the 2015 Dodgers.

So, as the lunatic fringe celebrates a player in Chase Utley that will be riding the pine in 10 days when Kendrick returns, never mind what’s behind the curtain. Don’t worry about it either, Andrew Friedman doesn’t want you looking back there any way. Just keep focusing on the glitz of the Dodgers, Hollywood and the deep pockets, all while San Francisco sticks it to us again circa 1997. You remember 1997 don’t you ? Brian Johnson walk-off. Bases loaded and no one out against Rod Beck and Eddie Murray hitting into a 4-2-3 double play ? The Barry Bonds pirouette. Never mind the lack of a bullpen and fundamental play. Who needs it !

I have waited 27 years. What’s another 365 days to drink the champagne

Dodgers hit Home Run with Deadline Deals….

 

Sure, some problems still remain but the Los Angeles Dodgers front office did what they could to right some of the wrongs with their deadline deals, all while not sacrificing the franchises’ glorious looking future.

The two most pressing needs this team faced going into the deadline was acquiring some quality arms at the back-end of the Dodger rotation and adding solid arms to a fledgling bullpen. Andrew Friedman, Farhan Zaidi and Josh Byrnes hit a home run at the deadline and they didn’t even acquire Cole Hamels, David Price or one of the other big names moved this week.

The cost of getting a Hamels or Price would have dented the Dodgers future and thankfully Friedman and company wasn’t willing to do that. The organization has considered shortstop Corey Seager and left-handed 18 year-old pitcher Julio Urias as untouchable. This has been the stance with Ned Colleti and has also been the stance of Friedman. The Dodgers know what they have in those two cornerstones and weren’t willing to trade for pitchers that would only enhance a strength. Now, there is no denying Hamels or Price would have emboldened the Dodgers rotation, but it would have only solidified a strength. By opting for Mat Latos and Alex Wood the Dodgers added length to their rotation and gives them two superstar starters and two very good third-and-fourth starters.

What some may overlook were the acquisitions of Luis Avilan and Jim Johnson from Atlanta’s bullpen. The names aren’t sexy but they were vital in the Dodgers post-season hopes. Avilan is a 26 year-old lefty that sports a career ERA of 2.77 with a WHIP of 1.16. Avilan struggled last year (4.57 ERA; 1.57 WHIP) but has righted the ship this season with a 3.58 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. Avilan will be a reliable situational lefty that will compliment JP Howell. Howell has been fantastic this year, but does the southpaw doesn’t throw with the velocity that Avilan brings. Avilan is a nice addition.

Jim Johnson had back-to-back 50 save seasons for the Baltimore Orioles in 2012 and 2013. Since then he just hasn’t been the same pitcher. He struggled to get anyone out in 2014 and was almost out of baseball. But Johnson has regained his form this year with the Braves and will serve as a solid right-handed arm setting up Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. Johnson was serving as the Braves closer for the last month after Jason Grilli was lost for the season with a knee  injury. Johnson registered 9 saves and an ERA of 2.25. The Dodgers are not asking Johnson to close, but they will ask him to get some big outs in the 7th and 8th innings. He is experienced and has been tested. This was exactly the type of acquisition the Dodgers needed. Friedman had littered the Dodgers bullpen with former wash-out infielders who were converting to power arms out of the bullpen. Friedman and the Dodgers brass had come into this season believing  this would be the “answer” to the Dodgers bullpen woes. But, since May 1st the Dodgers pen had the second worst bullpen ERA in the National League. Friedman saw the writing and the wall and fixed it.

One of the deadline moves that didn’t address immediate need but may prove one day to be biggest of moves was the inclusion of Jose Peraza. The 21 year-old speedster was in the middle of a conversion from second base to center field. The Dodgers see Peraza as a second baseman and he may be the man they peg for the job sooner rather than later depending on their free agent dealings with current second-sacker  Howie Kendrick. By all accounts Peraza is not ready for the big leagues now, but his time should come. Last year Peraza hit .339 with 60 stolen bases between High-A and Double-A for the Braves. This year he is hitting .294 with 26 stolen bases in 96 games for Triple-A Gwinnett. His offensive game may need some refinement but many analysts say he is already the Dodgers 4th or 5th best prospect. And, at 21 years-old he has some time for growth.

The moves weren’t without some pain, most it financial which Guggenheim seems willing to eat and toss into the sea. It sure is nice to have an ownership group that doesn’t mind taking on salary while acquiring pieces that bring the team closer to a championship. The Dodgers did have to part with highly touted Cuban infielders Hector Olivera. The Dodgers gave Olivera a 28 million dollar signing bonus and had planned on paying him 34 million more dollars over the next six years. That responsibility now lies with Atlanta. Braves GM John Hart says they are ecstatic to get a player of Olivera’s talents. Hart told media members if Olivera hit the open market he would command a much bigger contract so Atlanta sees bargain in Olivera.

The Dodgers had high hopes for Olivera but with Justin Turner’s emergence at third and reports indicating Olivera was not playing second base as well as they thought, Olivera was a chip the Dodgers could dangle.

Do the deals make the Dodgers World Series favorites ? Probably not, but despite some of the team’s inadequacies they did become a much more formidable team on the bump.

 

Deadline Drama: Dodgers Brass is on the Spot

 

Here we sit at the Major League Baseball trading deadline and wouldn’t you know the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are within a half-game of one another.  Oh what a wonderful world.

As the deadline approaches many amateur General Managers are vociferously stating what the Dodgers need to do before Friday to improve their team. Like most teams the Dodgers have short-comings. I believe these “holes” are like numerous breaks in the dam and to fill them all at once is nearly impossible. Unlike many calling for reinforcements, I see a structural problem in the dam that makes any move merely a stop-gap measure that will ultimately lead to a massive breach and an ensuing flood.

Speculation reigns that the Dodgers must find a way to get a front-line starting pitcher to go along with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Cole Hamels and David Price are the big names while Jeff Samardjzia and Yovanni Gallardo are on the second-tier. I am not opposed to getting any of these pitchers to help shore up the Dodgers rotation, but it better not come at the expense of prospects Corey Seager, Julio Urias and Grant Holmes. I do not want to see any of these names in a deal to bring an arm to Chavez Ravine.

While starting pitching is a problem, it is primarily a self-inflicted wound. It was a huge mistake to spend 61 million dollars on often injured and currently injured pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson. I am not just pontificating about this now, I have been on this train since the signings. Injuries have crippled the Dodgers rotation and it was predictable, even from the most novice of baseball fans.

The one thing the Dodgers need to address at the deadline that they didn’t address adequately in the off-season is their porous bullpen. Even if the Dodgers acquire Hamels or Price, what does it matter when the bullpen gives the game away in the 7th or 8th inning ? The Dodgers best chance to flourish in October came and went last December when Yankees closer Andrew Miller was a free agent. Many of us in Dodger-land begged and pleaded with the front office to over-pay for the talented and versatile lefty. Instead the Dodgers shunned him in favor of multiple washed-up infielders who were converting into pitchers (i.e. Chris Hatcher and Pedro Baez.) This massive faux pas by the newly installed brain-trust has left the Dodger bullpen woefully inefficient. This has been a problem for the last three years and continues to be a problem.

The structural problems the Dodgers have can not be fixed with a few trades. The Dodgers score most of their runs by hitting the long-ball. Teams that can’t run, hit-and-run, move runners with productive outs, bunt and play small ball rarely win in October. This team is structurally flawed in how they approach the game.

Throw in some of their trouble spots defensively with Justin Turner at third and Yasmani Grandal’s inability to consistently block balls in the dirt giving away the game 90 feet at a time. It is all topped off with Don Mattingly who continues to either over-manage or remain oblivious the need to situationally manage a spot and the Dodgers are a lot of bluster and with not a lot of bang.

Deadline deals will be made, fans will cheer, fans will jeer but when it’s all said and done the Dodgers foibles will have us wondering “what happened” by mid-October.

 

Dodgers Watch Giants Win ANOTHER Pennant and it wasn’t Luck

 

I blame News Corp. I blame Kevin Malone. I blame Rupert Murdoch. I blame Frank McCourt. I blame Jamie McCourt. I blame Jamie’s hair-dresser. I blame her limo driver. Hell, I blame anyone and everyone.

For the third time in five years the San Francisco Giants have won the National League pennant. And, for the third time in five years I find it easy to blame the Dodgers for not being good enough to stop them. All I have wanted for the last few years is for the Dodgers to re-establish order with their rival. Winning the division for the second straight year was a nice first step, but in the grand scheme it doesn’t really mean anything. You need to perform in October, something the Dodgers can’t do right now. The Giants perform in October. They have done it with a core group of hard-nosed stars and sprinkling of role players that relish being part of an organization that wins and has fun doing it.

Many people pointed to Giants luck or fortuitous bounces as the reason for the Giants success again in October. Stop it.  That would be short-changing a team that truly is a team. The Giants are winning because of a disciplined front office approach to building their organization.  They haven’t deviated from that approach. Brian Sabean runs it, and Bruce Bochy runs with it. Bochy is the master technician. His gruff presentation belies a baseball genius who takes advantage of situations with match-ups and pushes the right buttons because he knows what his guys can and can not do. Bochy should be the envy of every major league team. This may sound like a knock on the Giants, but it’s not. Bochy and his staff gets more out of that ball-club than any other manager in the game today and he has been doing it for a long time.

If this doesn’t hurt the Dodgers organization and their fans then they aren’t worth being called, Dodgers. When you see your less talented rival continually win pennants, while you languish on the sidelines and come up short in the biggest October moments then you aren’t doing things right. I heard many people say the Dodgers were probably the only team that could have beaten the Giants this October. Stop it AGAIN. There is no way THIS Dodgers team with THIS Dodgers bullpen was going to beat the Giants. Bochy would have made sure of that. The Giants have toughness coursing through their veins, “Champions Blood” as Hunter Pence likes to say,  while the Dodgers melt when they are faced with the biggest moments. This isn’t opinion, it is fact. Until the Dodgers, as a group,  rise to the occasion in October, they will be considered “soft.”

Despite the malfeasance of the Frank McCourt ownership, the Dodgers did manage to advance to National League Championship Series in 2008 and 2009 losing both times to the Philadelphia Phillies in five games. They lost primarily because their best players lacked the stones to come up big when it counted and of course a deficient bullpen headlined by Jonathan Broxton. Fast forward to 2013 where once again the Dodgers pushed on to the NLCS where they were once again beaten by a “tougher” Cardinals team that rose to the occasion when it counted. This year was a complete debacle. The Cardinals knocked off the Dodgers in the division series in four games. The Dodgers won 94 regular season games but were thin on the mound, had no bullpen and had a sub-par defensive team. The Giants would have beaten the Dodgers in 5 or 6 games in this NLCS. Not because they are more talented than the Dodgers, they win because they are tougher.

What does tougher mean in baseball terms ? Tougher means refusing to lose. Refusing to strike out with a runner at third and less than two outs. Being mentally aware of all situations, including getting good secondary leads, so you can take an extra base on a ball in the dirt. Knowing what base to throw to when the ball is hit to you. Knowing you need to hit the cut-off man. Toughness is hitting a ball to second base to move a runner to third with less than two outs because even when it hurts your batting average it will still help the team get a run. Toughness is putting team over self. Toughness is forsaking personal glory for the good of the group. The Giants organization and their insanely annoying fans preach this all the time. “The Dodgers don’t win because they have too many “I” guys.” Reluctantly I have to agree. The self-centeredness on the Dodgers is evident and does not lead to winning. Late in the season Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig almost came to blows over Puig’s selfishness in the dugout.  Kemp was tired of watching Puig pout and take his hitting woes to the field. After the game Kemp posted a picture of celebrating Dodgers minus Puig. There was a quote from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar extolling the virtues of self-sacrifice for team. The point was clear. “Puig, this isn’t about you. It’s about us.”

The taste is bitter and sour for us Dodgers fans. If the taste isn’t bitter then I have to seriously question your Dodger allegiance.  Seeing the Dodgers rival continue to win pennants stings. It is a pain that the Dodger fan base must live with during what will be a cold cold winter. Grasping a division title holds little solace when your rival is winning pennants and playing in World Series. That is now FOUR pennants for the Giants since 2002. The Dodgers haven’t won a pennant since the magical run in 1988. The Giants could win their 3rd World Series title in the last five years. Embarrassing I say, embarrassing.

I am happy the Guggenheim Group has high aspirations and World Championship goals. That is what you should try to do when you have resources at your disposal and a competitive fire burning in your belly. I also understand that it doesn’t happen overnight. When you are as low and down-trodden as the Dodgers were under McCourt, the culture and mode of operation will not change quickly, regardless of how much money you pump into the organization.

With that said, until the Dodgers get as tough or tougher than their rivals to the north, they will always be second fiddle. The Dodgers should learn from San Francisco, they should try an emulate the culture surrounding an organization that relies on the gathering of a few stars and spare parts that all pull in the same direction and compete and play for one common goal…..each other. Until the Dodgers do that, we will be forced to watch our hated rivals celebrate pennants and championships while we talk about what went wrong in another October year after year after year.

From Mark Walter to Stan Kasten to Andrew Friedman to Don Mattingly to Clayton Kershaw; If you aren’t disgusted, then you aren’t paying attention.  Now, Lets Go Royals !

A Dodgers Post-Mortem: The Real Reason St. Louis Beat the Dodgers

 

The Cardinals can deny they were doing it, and the Dodgers can deny it was being done. But when you look deep inside the Dodgers four game loss to the St. Louis, the Boys in Blue were beaten by their stubbornness.

The Cardinals were the worst home run hitting team in the majors this season. They hit a total of 99 round-trippers on the year. So, how would you explain the Cardinals hitting 7 home runs in four games against one of the elite pitching staffs in baseball ?

Left-handed Red Birds batters hit five home runs. All five of those home runs were hit off of left-handed pitchers, not an easy task, four of those home runs came with a runner at second base, including Matt Adams’ crowning three-run blast against Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday afternoon.

After the series both the Cardinals and Dodgers refused to say sign-stealing was taking place. Cardinals hitters sheepishly said they were “lucky” to get some good pitches to hit and put “good swings” on some pitches that were in bad spots. All true. For their part the Dodgers denied their signs were being picked, but there are rumblings that the Dodgers were not mixing up their signs ENOUGH while Cardinal base-runners danced off of second base.  I don’t care what both sides say, the evidence is over-whelming.

THE DODGERS WERE HAVING THEIR SIGNS STOLEN AND DIDN’T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT.

The numbers and the circumstances don’t make any sense. And, let me be clear. I have no problem with what I am alleging the Cardinals did. Sign-stealing is part of the game. If you aren’t trying to get that edge on your opponent then you aren’t doing enough to try and win. I love teams that do it. The college team I have covered for nearly two decades have becomes experts at the art. The pilfering of signs has been part of baseball since this grand ole game became America’s past-time. In Joshua Prager’s book “The Echoing Green” he details how the 1951 New York Giants used a sophisticated set of signals to read signs from opposing managers and catchers and relay what was coming to the hitters while they stood in the batter’s box. Many of those 51′ Giants say they don’t make up 13.5 games on the Dodgers in six weeks if not for the binoculars and signals they employed in August and September of 51′.

Clayton Kershaw was virtually automatic against left-handed hitters this season. Not to denigrate the Cardinals hitters, but they aren’t exactly the Tony Gwynn’s and Stan Musial’s of the world. But, with runners on base and while Kershaw was in the stretch the Cardinals became Ted Williams re-incarnated. Watch their at-bats. They are on everything. They not only didn’t get fooled on his assortment of pitches, they were ON every pitch. So, you have a pitcher who is having one of the greatest seasons in the history of the game, but suddenly when runners get on base he can’t get anyone out and the hitters are completely dialed in ? With someone as good as Kershaw that isn’t possible.

The Cardinals were 7-for-13 against Kershaw when he was pitching out of the stretch. And, they were an amazing 5-fo-8 with runners at second base including a home run and a triple. I don’t care what the Cardinals and Dodgers are trying to sell. My eyes didn’t lie to me. Kershaw got beat with his fast-ball, slider and curve. The Cardinals had his pitches. Why the Dodgers couldn’t figure this out for the second year in a row, is beyond me………