Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Monday, September 30, 2013

Random Post-Season Stuff on Off Day # 1

The Braves haven’t faced Clayton Kershaw at all in over two years.  The last time it was on September 4, 2011, a game that the Braves won 4-3 at Turner Field.  Kershaw didn’t get a decision.  He went seven innings, allowed eight hits and three runs, (two earned).  He also struck out 10.  The bullpen coughed up the game in the bottom of the 9th.

Kershaw will be facing a completely different Braves team that now has Freeman, Simmons, Chris Johnson, the Upton brothers, Heyward and Gattis. All players that were not facing Kershaw in that game two years ago.  One player currently on the roster that factored heavily in the game was reserve outfielder Jose Costanza who went 2 for 4 with an RBI and 2 runs scored.  This was the only game that Clayton has ever pitched at Turner Field in his career.

The last time Kershaw pitched at Turner Field, the Dodger lineup was quite different (photo by Joe Murphy /Getty Images)

Note that the Dodger team has changed substantially since that game too.  Dodger starters in it included Gordon, Loney, Kemp, Juan Rivera, Miles, Ethier, Barajas and Sellers.  What a difference two years can make.  The Dodgers don’t have one returning starter unless Ethier is able to return from injury for Thursday’s game.

If you are still in the doldrums after the Dodgers finished off the season on a sour note, this piece (LINKED HERE) by Mike Petriello at MSTI will lift your spirits.  Petriello completes an analysis of all facets of the Braves, position by position and guess what?  They have a lot of problems.

If you are concerned about Yasiel Puig possibly playing some center field in this series, just wait until you see the gifs provided of Evan Gattis trying to play left field.  The Braves are nuts if they start him out there but they probably will because B.J. Upton is so awful offensively.


What a performance by David Price and Evan Longoria of the Rays tonight in their “play-in” 4-2 victory at Texas.  Those are two players that would really fit in well on the Dodger roster.

Price’s defense rivales that of Clayton Kershaw.  Two pick offs and that bunt fielded and fed with his glove hand?  Simply amazing, and clutch plays at that.  Longoria’s bat almost single-handedly advanced his team to the wild card game.  They’re both great players.  It’s completely understandable why Tampa locked up Longoria through 2023 (when he’ll be 37 years old).  Tampa owes him $136 million up until that time, a deal that might turn out to be a bargain with the prices contracts are going for these days.   Who knows?  Maybe one day they’ll want to rid themselves of that contract.

Price is arbitration eligible after this season and not a free agent until 2016.  Look for him to land near $15 million in the arbitration process this off-season if not more.  His representative has to be mighty happy with his performance today to keep his team alive.


On Braves fans...

I don’t get this bunch.  For years when their team dominated the National League, they took that success for granted so much that they couldn’t even sell out post-season games.  Then they sing this asinine chant and they flap foam tomahawks in a ridiculous exercise that would be offensive to about 99% of all native americans.  I get team spirit and all, but the exercise is childish and old.  Aside from old chief Nocahoma from years ago, I don’t think you’ll find a Native American within miles of Turner Field.  

Ah, might as well get used to it.


This Team Can Overcome This Setback

The news about Matt Kemp being out for the remainder of the season came as quite a shock and certainly was a disappointment, but what's done is done.  There is business at hand, and that's winning a championship.  It’s time to get over the Matt Kemp withdrawals and negativity.  The Dodgers are going to win the series against Atlanta because their starting pitching is superior and more experienced than that of  the Braves.  It’s also a reality that they have played better this year while Kemp is sitting than when he patrolled center field. 

Matt Kemp missed 88 games this season and the Dodgers went on that amazing run WITHOUT him, so there’s no reason to panic.  The Dodgers were a full 22 games over .500 in games that Kemp didn’t participate in.  If you really think about it, they might be a better team this year when Kemp sits.  Do you realize that Kemp didn’t hit one home run in Dodger Stadium this season?  Not one.

If the pitching performs as it should, and the Dodgers are able to scratch a few runs of support behind Kershaw and Greinke, I see them retuning to L.A. on Friday with a 2-0 series lead.  There are some intangibles that will be inserted in the lineup now and one of them is Skip Schumaker who has post season play experience in the past.  He knows the big stage and he has won in it.

There is Clayton Kershaw who is hungry to show the nation that he can dominate on the national stage in games for all the marbles.  The same can be said for Zack Greinke who has an immeasurable competitive drive.  Hyun-Jin Ryu will be starting at home where he is a much stronger pitcher than on the road.  Hanley Ramirez finally gets to show his stuff in post-season play and there is no player more eager to produce in the playoffs.  There are some that may have soured on Puig, who has slumped of late, but this is the type of player that loves the spotlight.   Look for Yasiel to make some spectacular highlight reel types of plays and make an impact.  Carl Crawford has shown signs this week that his stroke is back and he's healthy.  Adrian Gonzalez is consistent and he'll have his knocks.  

It's easy to dwell on the negativity of the past week, but the Dodgers will turn on the switch once Thursday's 5:07 PM first pitch is thrown.  Bet on it.  There is too much talent on this team.  There's a reason that neither the Cardinals or Braves wanted to face them.  Both teams know that the toughest road to the next road is facing the Dodgers.    The Braves took 5 of 7 from the Dodgers in the early part of the season, but they haven't yet faced the team they will compete against in these playoffs.  Two of those games were with Matt Magill taking the mound for heaven's sake.  They never even faced Kershaw and Greinke shut them out 5-0.

The Dodgers are the team to fear in this post-season and Matt Kemp's absence is definitely a loss, but not a back-breaking one.  Not with this team that was gritty enough to win consistently without him.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Before game No. 162, A Look Back at the Pre-Season Predictions...

It's time to take my lumps.  For the first time in close to six months, I looked back at my pre-season predictions for the Dodgers this year.  Like most seasons, I was a bit off, but with a few things spinning my way in post-season play, I still might have the two teams I predicted facing each other in the fall classic.  Here goes...

This is what I wrote on March 30th:

 "My past prognostications haven’t been too hot, so don’t go run out and bet the farm on what I’m predicting.  I came in this time being dead set that I’d not be biased and that I wouldn’t predict that the Dodgers would win the whole enchilada simply because I was a fan.  I wanted to show some objectivity and fairness,  At least that’s what I was thinking going in to this exercise.

In the end though, after examining the schedule, game by game and series by series, I can’t help it.  The Dodgers will win the division.  They are simply the best team in the NL West, if not baseball.  Even with the early season injuries, I still see them having a championship season.  And get this, my prediction is even rosier than most others.  I see them winning 95 games."

Not too bad.  I said 95 wins and it looks like they'll finish with 93.  Also my call that they could overcome injuries and that they may be seen as the best team in the league has played out.  It gets worse though when I started talking about individual breakdowns of each facet of the team.  It begins with the starting pitching.  Hold back the laughter if you can.

My quote on the starting pitching:

"The starting staff of the Dodgers just may be the best in the game.I see each starter with at least 10 wins."
I wasn't too far off base.  Kershaw (16 wins), Greinke (15 wins), Ryu (14), Nolasco (8 wins over 1/2 a season) , Fife/Beckett/Capuano (8 wins combined):

"I see two potential 20 game winners and with enough offensive support, possibly three if Beckett finds some magic.  That is unprecedented in today’s game, but  Kershaw, and Greinke have 20 game winning stuff.  Beckett should be much better in all the pitching friendly NL West parks."

Ouch! Beckett?  What was I thinking?

"Ryu will be a first half sensation and then he’ll  struggle a bit as the league starts to recognize his stuff and his tendencies, but I still see him finishing the year with 14-15 wins."

Well I was correct with the amount of Ryu's wins, but not so much on him running out of gas in the second half.  Ryu has been strong to the end.

"Billingsley, if healthy, will turn out to win at least 12 games.  If he goes down with injury, Capuano steps in and provides those wins."

Uh, yeah...let's move on to the bullpen predictions.

"The bullpen is stacked with talent that extends back to Albuquerque.  There is more depth in this bullpen than I can ever remember a Dodger pen having.  There are three guys that could be legitimate closers.   There are left handed stoppers, sinkerballers, fireball power pitchers, cutter throwers, and potential number five starters.  When the dog days of August hit, the bullpen depth will play a major role in helping the team weather through some inevitable rough patches.  Count on the guys in Albuquerque, such as Javy Guerra, Paco Rodriguez, Josh Wall and Shawn Tolleson to make some contributions when some of the original 25 man roster guys go down with injury."

Josh Wall?  Gone.  Tolleson? Out with injury.  Guerra? Didn't make an impact in the majors this year.  I never saw Chris Withrow entering into the mix, as he was a pleasant surprise.  Brian Wilson and Carlos Marmol weren't on the scene.  Belisario, Paco, and Jansen performed as expected.  League didn't.  On to the starting outfield,  these were my comments:

"The outfield is set.  With the Puig commotion this spring, fans were quick to speculate about trading Ethier and plugging the Cuban future sensation in right field, but it wasn’t to be.  The veteran threesome will put up respectable numbers that will be the envy of every team in the league.  Realistically I see Kemp with a stat line of 32 HR, 112 RBI, .302 BA, .371 OBP, .930 OPS.  He’s due for a fine comeback year and he’ll be a smarter player as well.  One of the things I believe he learned was to play defense a bit more conservatively in order to preserve his health.  As the year progresses and his shoulder gets stronger, we’ll see that right-centerfield power return. 
Between May 6th and September 28th Carl Crawford failed to hit a home run.  A power drought that few ever expected from the Dodger left fielder. (photo by Alex Gallardo/AP)

Carl Crawford is destined for a respectable comeback.  We saw signs of it this spring.  Wait until he’s really healthy.  Initially I believe we’ll see some teams taking extra bases on him while his arm heals up.  Watch for it as opponents singles to left will be attempted to be stretched into doubles.  Crawford’s offensive prowess will outweigh the weaknesses on defense caused by his healing throwing arm.  Look for 25 stolen bags from him and a respectable on base percentage in the .355 range.  We’ll see pop from the leadoff position that hasn’t been present since Davey Lopes.  Probably 16-18 homers.  100 runs scored from our leadoff guy sounds about right too.

If Ethier can provide 20 homers and 85 runs batted in with his normal near .300 average, that’ll be enough for this team.  As a late inning clutch hitter with the game on the line, Ethier can be magical.  Look for a few more of those magical moments again this year.  I still think he shouldn’t be in the lineup against left handed pitching, but that’s another post altogether."

I never said a word about Puig.  I should have seen that he'd be called up at some time, but I didn't.  The injuries to all the outfielders wasn't addressed.  Those predictions on their numbers were far too optemistic.  The three performers didn't even come close to them.  It turns out that that type of production wasn't needed.  If the Dodgers had received some of that production, they would have had a season that would have been record setting.  In retrospect, I see that my predictions for those three were very lofty.

Found below are comments I made about the infield:

"I’m a believer in searching for the silver lining when bad news occurs and as devastating as Hanley Ramirez’s injury is to the Dodger offense, the infield defense will be much improved without the Dominican star playing at shortstop.  Cruz has mediocre to poor range, but the balls he gets to are fielded steadily.  Uribe flashes nearly flawless leather at third and Mark Ellis and Adrian Gonzalez  simply don’t make mistakes on the field.  That quartet will save the pitching staff some runs.

With the final roster decisions not yet announced, suddenly Justin Sellers’ name has surfaced into the mix.  I found that surprising, but as a defensive specialist at short, his insertion into the lineup will not be a major game changer.  Sellers has a lot more range than Cruz, and Mattingly must be seeing that and weighing the variables of stronger infield defense versus his weaker bat batting 8th in the lineup.

There are concerns about Uribe’s offensive ineptitude, but Mark McGwire seems to have helped his approach this Spring.  He’s going to the opposite field more often.  He’s more patient at the plate.  Maybe Uribe will contribute this year.  He still has that 'swing from the heels' approach at the plate, but not as much as before and he’s not stepping in the bucket as he was last year.

Cruz is what he is, a player that is a fairly free swinger who won’t take a lot of walks.  But he’s an enthusiastic spark plug at times and was arguably the most surprising Dodger player last year.  He has occasional pop and a penchant for clutch hitting, and that is a valuable commodity these days.  I know the sabermetric minds don’t like him, but Cruz’s intangibles make him valuable to me.

Mark Ellis is your model of consistency.  A team player.  A guy that moves the runner over.  He’ll take pitches when needed.  A .260 hitter that makes few mistakes, even though that base running error against the Giants in game number 161 was a biggie last year.  Guys like Mark Ellis are often overlooked until they are missing from the lineup for an extended time.  Losing Ellis last season hurt the Dodgers big time.

Adrian Gonzalez, even in a poor season, gives the Dodgers twice the player that they had in James Loney, and that should be good for a few wins next season.  Look for AGon to hit at least 23 homers and drive in a hundred plus wile playing great defense.  He's a quiet leader and his fit on this team is perfect, as he won't be expected to be the key ingredient to success.  He's another important cog in the wheel, and that is the perfect role for him."

Where do I start?  Luis Cruz I knew wasn't too good and had some flaws, but who could have predicted a .135 BA?  Uribe's improvement I could see in the exhibition season as the new plate approach taught by McGwire was paying dividends.  I never saw a .280 average though and good plate discipline (he has a .330 OBP) combined with a possible gold glove winning season.  That was quite the shock this season.   On Adrian Gonzlez, I said 23 HR with 100+ RBI.  What did he finish with? 22 and 100.  You know the saying about the blind squirrel?  Well that was me on AGon.  My call that Mark Ellis would be consistent at .260 with good defense was on the mark.  Ellis finishes at around .270 and flawless "d" again.

What I didn't discuss was the monster season Hanley has had.  Essentially Ramirez picked up the slack and provided the offensive production that was expected from the outfielders that went down with injury.  I'm actually surprised that Hanley has returned to the form of his superstar years at Miami.  Very pleasantly surprised.    I also thought he'd be a defensive liability at shortstop when actually he has done quite well there with the glove.

On to the catchers:

"Behind the plate, A.J. Ellis is about as underrated a catcher in the game.  The man is a walk machine and he works counts like no other.  I see that continuing as he’ll have a .375 OBP and .280 BA.  Spelling Ellis once or twice per week will be rookie Tim Federowicz who will far outperform last year’s Treanor and hit in the .240 range while providing occasional pop and steady defense."
(photo by Christine Cotter/AP)

Ellis' offensive production dropped significantly, but his defense was solid, especially his caught stealing ratio.  But 10 homers and 52 RBI isn't bad production from the guy behind the dish.  Plus he still works those counts like a fiend.  Fedex has hit .234, which is about what I expected and adequate for a backup.  Plus he does hit the occasional homer.

Next came the bench:

"The candidates are Hairston, Punto, Schumacher, Castellanos, Sellers, Amezaga, Fedex.  Nobody that’ll scare you to death, but steady bench players, all who can be plugged into the starting lineup at anytime.  What I like about these guys is that many can play multiple positions.  They’re total utility guys. There isn’t a power threat bat on the bench, but watch for a trade deadline move to fill that role."

I failed to recognize that Van Slyke could emerge, but at the time of the prediction, he wasn't even on the 40 man roster.  That power bat that came at the deadline ended up being Michael Young, who is a nice addition to the bench.  Amezaga, Sellers and Castellanos-all non-factors.

Here were my final comments:

"Will this be an exciting year for the ages?  It’s possible.  Dodger championships were won 25 and 50 years ago, so the symmetry lines up.  2013 should be as 1963 and 1988 were.  Many times we look at a Dodger roster at the beginning of the season and say 'if everything falls into place, they can win this thing.'  This year there are so many pieces in place that everything doesn’t have to fall into place, simply some or most of the pieces must do so.  There is simply more depth on this team.   That’s what a record payroll does for you.  Everyone doesn’t need to have career years in order for the Dodgers to be 2013 World Series Champions."

I stand by that statement and think that the team has what it takes to be World Champions.  

Below is how I predicted that the standings would be at the close of the season.  To the right in "red" font are what that teams actual records are after 161 games.  I'm way off on some, and rather close on others.  Of the 10 teams I predicted to make post season play, only 4 are already in.  What was I thinking about Boston in the AL East?  Not very good.  I still feel good about my World Series prediction, and I think there is a good chance that could actually occur. 
My picks for the World Series

NL West                                                    Record after 161 games
Dodgers 95-67                                          92-69 (First place)   
San Francisco 93-69 (Wildcard)                75-86 (Fourth)
Arizona 84-78                                           80-81 (Second)
San Diego 78-84                                      76-85 (Third)
Colorado 67-95                                        73-88 (Fifth)

NL Central
Cincinnati 89-73                                      90-71 (Third - WC)
St. Louis 87-75                                        96-65 (First)
Milwaukee 83-79                                     74-87 (Fourth)
Pittsburgh 80-82                                      93-68 (Second -WC)
Chicago 64-97                                         66-95 (Fifth)

NL East
Washington 92-70                                   86-75 (Second)
Atlanta 90-72 (Wildcard)                         95-66 (First)
Philadelphia 80-82                                 73-88 (Third -tied)
New York 77-85                                      73-88 (Third -tied)
Florida 63-98                                           61-100 (Fifth)

San Francisco wins the one game playoff over Altanta
Dodgers defeat Cincinnati in 6 games
San Francisco defeat Washington in 7 games

Dodgers defeat San Francisco in 7 games

AL West                                                   Record after 161 games
Anaheim 95-67                                        78-83 (Third)
Texas 92-70 (Wild Card)                           90-71 (Second - possible WC)
Oakland 86-76                                         95-66 (First)
Seattle 74-88                                           70-91 (Fourth)
Houston 60-102                                      51-110 (Fifth) 

AL Central
Detroit 90-72                                            93-68 (First)
Chicago 89-73 (Wild Card)                     63-98 (Fifth)
Kansas City 83-79                                  85-76 (Third)
Cleveland 77-85                                     91-70 (Second - possible WC)
Minnesota 75-87                                     66-95 (Fourth)

AL East
Toronto 89-73                                        74-87 (Fifth)
Tampa Bay 88-74                                  90-71 (Second - possible WC)
Baltimore 86-76                                     84-77 (Third -tied)
New York 86-76                                    84-77 (Third -tied)
Boston 77-85                                         97-64 (First)

Texas defeats Chicago in one game playoff
Anaheim defeats Toronto in 6 games
Detroit defeats Texas in 7 games
Detroit defeats Anaheim in 7 games

World Series
Dodgers defeat Tigers in 5 games.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Nolasco May Have Pitched His Last Game as a Dodger

That high pitched scream you heard during Ricky Nolasco’s outing last night probably came from his Bay Area based agent, Matt Sosnick, as the price tag for his client goes down further and further.  Nolasco, a free agent at the conclusion of this season, may have just made himself much more affordable for next season.  

After three consecutive sub-par outings, Ricky Nolasco's future in post-season play is in serious doubt. (photo by Jeff Chiu)

We all knew Nolasco wasn’t as good as his first dozen games as a Dodger where he dominated with a 8-1 record and twelve quality starts.  We also know he isn’t as bad as his last three outings where his ERA exceeds 12 runs per game.  Ricky is somewhere in the middle.  An above .500 pitcher that will eat up about 200 innings and post an ERA in the high threes to low fours.  That’s worthy of number four starter money in Los Angeles and equates to a contract in the neighborhood of three years at $28 million.  Perhaps Nolasco will give the club a home town discount with a number of incentive clauses that could make the deal worth more.  

Nolasco is going to be 31 years old next year.  Expect him to go elsewhere if the Dodgers low-ball him with the type of deal described above.  Negotiations for his services may not be in the pitcher's favor now as his price tag has got to be dropping at comet like speed.   Further complicating matters now are questions as to whether he'll even get a start in post-season play.

Let’s look at the possible scenarios for the number four guy in the playoffs.

1) If the Dodgers start out in Atlanta or St. Louis and after three games are down in the series 2-1, Nolasco probably won’t even get a start.  Kershaw would go on three days rest to save the season and extend it another day and then Greinke would start game five in the opponent's park.

2) If the Dodgers are ahead 2-1 at that point, Kershaw will probably get the start in order to close out the series and avoid a final game at the opponent's ball park.  Since the NLCS wouldn't start until five days later, Kershaw could actually start game two of the next series if the Dodgers are able to close out the NLDS in four.

3) If the Dodgers sweep the NLDS series, Nolasco probably won’t see action until deep into the NLCS, if he is needed.  And by then there will be concerns about his lengthy lay off and whether he should even pitch at all.

The number four starter is a lonely guy in post-season play.  He just might not be necessary at all unless a starter gets shelled and an emergency scenario surfaces. Ricky's last three outings have sealed his post-season fate.  We’ll see how it all plays out, but there is a strong possibility that Nolasco just made his last start for the Dodgers, perhaps forever.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

One Last Swan Song in Orange and Black

“I’d say this is the most important signing we’ve had since we first signed Barry Bonds back in late 1992.” 

former San Francisco Giants owner, Peter MaGowen, December 20, 2006

(photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The day Barry Zito became a San Francisco Giant there were was overall a positive feeling about it in San Francisco.  Sure there were some critical of the deal, but this was a guy that had a track record that showed he would give a team 200 innings of quality starting pitching and keep his team in games.  The Giants outbid the Rangers, Mets, Mariners and other suitors for the crafty lefty who had made his mark with Oakland.   

It’s easy to sit back and criticize the Barry Zito contract negotiated by Scott Boras which was $126 million over 7 years.   Kick in a buyout option after the 7th year, (which turns out to be 2013), the the total price tag to the Giants was $133 million.  Yeah, it was pretty bad.  For every victory that Zito provided over the seven years of that deal, the Giants paid $2.15 million.

There have been worse deals.  The Dodgers, for example, signed Jason Schmidt and paid $46 million for three wins over three years of injury plagued seasons.  Let’s not even go there with the Andruw Jones and Manny Ramirez deals that Ned Colletti crafted for Los Angeles.  The thing is with the Giants, this Zito deal stung them hard as the franchise couldn’t afford many financial blunders without there being some sort of long term affect.

San Francisco isn’t considered a small market team by any means as the revenue streams coming in to the Giants from their sell outs night after night have to be healthy, but their TV contract dwarfs anything coming out of New York or Los Angeles.  The bottom line is that the team can’t afford to sign marquee players to deals that go south without the ramifications being felt on the field.  In a place like L.A., the Dodgers can overcome bad deals, because money is just that, money.

(photo  by Harry How/Getty Images)
Zito sported a 62-80 record with a 4.75 ERA over seven seasons in the best pitcher’s park in MLB.  Certainly it was nothing to be impressed with.  Zito’s contract was criticized by some from the get go, as his career had been trending downward for about four years after his amazing 2002 Cy Young worthy season.   He appeared to be suffering from a case of “rabbit ears” as he obviously read the press clippings and heard the talk-radio criticism.  He vowed to start his career with the Giants on a high note and in the best shape of his career.  

He got concerned about the radar gun.  Zito's off season workout in 2007 centered around how he could change his mechanics to increase his velocity.  It wasn’t the pitcher he was, but if you watched his starts that year, glances over at the scoreboard to check out the speed of his pitches was a constant occurrence.  

Finesse was Zito’s game and when he concerned himself with location, change of speed and breaking stuff, he could be effective.  That was the case for a period of time last season and during a special two games in the 2012 post-season when he shut down both St. Louis in an elimination NLCS game and later the Tigers in the World Series.  There are those that will say that Zito earned his $133 million right there.  Perhaps there is some merit to that argument, but one thing is certain, 2013 has been an absolute nightmare for him, which probably signals the end of his baseball career.

Zito was removed from the Giants rotation in early August after six consecutive “non-quality” starts.  His fastball is now hitting the low 80s.  The curveball he used to throw with so much success makes up only 17% of his arsenal.  He is dependent on his slider now, a pitch he throws 33% of the time.  When Zito won the Cy Young Award in 2002, he didn’t even have a slider to throw.  With very little differentiation in velocity from his fastball to his breaking pitches, hitters are able to adjust to his stuff much easier.  The result hasn’t been pretty.

The consummate team player, Zito is no stranger to being passed over and sitting on the bench.  The Giants kept him off the 2010 playoff and World Series rosters and he took the demotion with dignity.  He recovered enough from that setback to be a World Series hero last year, so there is some love in the city by the Bay for Zito.  Tonight looks to be his last performance as a Giant.

For Barry Zito tonight may actually be his goodbye to baseball as well.  He’s bound to be fired up.  He hasn’t seen in game action in 23 days, a spot start at San Diego on September 2nd, where he gave up four runs in 4 innings.  Zito hasn’t started at home since August 21st when the Red Sox tore him up for six runs in just over three innings of work.

Look for a fired up Zito to give everything he’s got in the final start of his career tonight.  He hasn’t had a quality start since June 22nd, a familiar date to Dodger fans this season.  Perhaps that’s an omen.  Tonight might be an interesting performance on the mound for us to watch.  Zito might get shelled and it’ll be no surprise to anyone.  Or he could close out his career in a positive way, digging deep down and reaching for something that is within him.  Just one last time.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Giants With Something to Play For

Back in March, I felt rather fortunate that through the season ticket draw I participate in, I landed the final two Dodger-Giant games at AT&T Park.   I’m happy to say they are rather meaningless games for the Dodgers, who are playing out the string until post-season play resumes.  Up here in Giant-Land, there isn’t much talk at all about their Giants as their season comes to a close.
Yes, there was a little bit of gloating last weekend when they spoiled the Dodgers home field celebration of the division championship, but for the most part, sports talk around these parts has moved on to football.  With the recent failures of the 49ers, the sports scene is rather gloomy at the moment.
The Giants, however, do have something to play for.  Or perhaps, it is better said that they have something to not play for: A top ten pick in next year’s first year player draft.
With the standings as they are, the defending champs are on the bubble and could pick as low as 7th but with a strong finish they could end up with a selection as high as 14th.
The draft order based on today's standings are as follows:
1 - Houston                         51-106
2 - Miami                             58-99
3 - ChiSox                            62-94
4 - ChiCubs                          65-92
5 - Minnesota                    66-90
6 - Seattle                            68-89
7 - Milwaukee                   70-86
8 - Colorado                        71-86
Tie 9 - Philadelphia          71-85
Tie 9 - NY Mets                  71-85
Tie 9 -Toronto                    71-85
(Note:  the 11th selection in the draft goes to Toronto due to their failure to sign last year’s 1stround pick)
13 - San Francisco             72-84
14 - San Diego                    73-83

So the Giants can determine their own destiny in next year’s draft without hardly anyone noticing.  Essentially they should play a bunch of minor leaguers and see how they fair in the majors.  They have no obligation to play their front line guys because the division is already settled.  Judging from the starting lineup produced tonight and the starting pitchers lined up to pitch in this series, there appears to be no intention for San Francisco to go through the motions.  It would probably be in their best interest to not do well.  A number 7 pick would be quite a prize for the defending champions.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

My Manny Mota Bat Story Reaches an End

“Hey I know that bat, let me see it,” said Manny Mota as we approached him at the Frank and Son event yesterday in City of Industry.  My wife was carrying it while I fumbled for some pages of a written hard copy of a blog piece that I wrote three years back.  I wanted to give it to one of my favorite Dodgers, who I never had the opportunity to speak to before.

Manny Mota and his 0143 model Lousiville Slugger  with the cone handled knob has a lot of history with my family.  First chronicled in THIS link  from 2010 and later here in THIS link  from  April of this year on this blog.  I purchased the stick on eBay.  It was advertised as a game used Manny Mota bat.  Manny was able to personally confirm it was authentic too.

It took me 36 years to replace that original broken bat and present it to my brother.  When I told him that Manny would be signing items a mere 15 miles from his home, he was disappointed as a work commitment wouldn’t allow him to attend, but I would be traveling down to the southland from my Bay Area home that day, so I agreed to take it to Manny for signature.  I’m glad I did.

I tried to briefly explain the significance that bat had to my brother and I, but distractions at such an event didn't allow me to adequately explain things.  i gave him that copy of article #1, (Seen on the table below us in the above photograph).   “Yo lo voy a leer, (I will read it)” he said as our conversation was all in Spanish.  I was able to introduce him to my wife and two of my grandchilden, he shook their hand and addressed them by name.  We took photos and he made sure that they came out right too.  All class.  It was a great moment, and it isn’t as if I’ve not met with players before at events.  This one was special.

Earlier the day before, as we drove down from San Francisco, the grandkids were watching movie after movie on the  DVR.  One of the 7 or 8 flicks watched was the 1979 comedy classic, Airplane with that line oh so familiar to Dodger fans...”Now batting for Pedro Borbon...Manny Mota.”   I know they didn't get it, and there was no point of even explaining it to them as the line in the movie wouldn't even be remembered.

I was thinking about that movie and that line from it on the 6 hour drive back home.   I just chuckled under my breath as we were driving back.   Not that they didn't get the joke and the irony of meeting the man.  Not that.  It was of the ridiculousness that anyone would believe that Manny Mota would ever pinch hit for Borbon.  Are you kidding me? Bat against him?  Yes, but never for him.  The Zucker brothers really messed that one up.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Best Day of the Year (so far)...

I was thinking back to three months ago, trying to get my mindset at the time about the Dodger season.  There was no giving up, and it was fun seeing Puig getting some playing time, but a division title seemed to be an absolutely unrealistic expectation.  We were just hoping they could string three consecutive wins together.  The thought of the Dodgers being the first team to win the division in the majors?  Well that would have been a pipe dream.  Not a chance that would ever happen. 

Dodgers celebrate after Jansen records that final out to clinch the division title. (photo by Matt York/AP)

What a difference three months make.

This Dodger season has been like no other.  This winning run they went on starting on June 22nd was not only unexpected, but historic.  We were thinking that they’d get a top ten draft pick for next year at the time.  Now there’s a possibility that they’ll get the last selection in next year’s first year player draft.  We would have done cartwheels had they reached the post-season with a wildcard birth.  Now we have aspirations of advancing far and some prognosticators have actually placed the Dodgers as favorites to win the World Series.

There are individual awards coming their way too.  Kershaw is a favorite to win the Cy Young and a possible winner of the MVP award.  Puig and Ryu are in the running for Rookie of the Year.  Mattingly is a candidate for Manager of the Year.  

2013 looked like it was going to be an unlucky ’13.  Instead, it may prove to be the L.A. Dodgers most memorable season on record with the earliest clinching (by calendar day) to date.  That 42-8 run over a fifty game stretch surpassed winning stretches by teams dating back to World War II.  Nobody wins at that clip these days.  At least that’s what we thought anyway.

Then there were the unlikely contributors.  I’ll mention a few.

Hanley Ramirez looks back to the dugout after hitting a 3-run homer in the 3rd inning today.  (photo by Matt York/AP)

Hanley Ramirez, who started the year on the D.L., would be an MVP candidate had he been able to play more games and be healthier.  Still, with all his absenteeism from the lineup, he still carried this club.  A true major league hitter that pounds the ball harder than anyone in the game, Ramirez has recovered his hitting stroke that had been absent for a few years due to shoulder surgery.  He has played with renewed vigor this year and most of all, he’s simply a happy player.  Is he a possible Comback Player of the Year Award winner?  He certainly should be considered.

Kenley Jansen has proved that last year was no fluke.  He’s a true closer and amongst the best in the game.  Off season heart surgery has increased his stamina and strength.  This guy is a lights out closer who will make an impact in the post-season.  He’s not an easy pitcher to hit off of, and the league is respecting him more and more.

(photo by Matt York/AP)

Yasiel Puig is the most polarizing player in the majors.  He is so raw.  He makes mistakes of enthusiasm in one moment and then a mistake out of inattention to detail the next.  Then he’ll do something “highlight reel” worthy and his bonehead mistake is momentarily forgotten.  When Puig gains “baseball smarts” he’ll be the best in the game.  Now, while making common errors made at the lowest levels of the minors, he’s still a dominant player.  Let’s be fair to the kid.  He had less than two and a half months of minor league seasoning.  One thing is certain though.  You want to put off heading to the fridge for a snack when this guy is coming up.  Admit it, you have caught yourself counting how many batters have to get through the lineup before he bats again.  You know you have.

Chris Withrow was that guy we drafted years ago that never panned out.  A wasted choice by Logan White we thought.  Then he reinvents himself as a reliever and motors up 97 MPH fastballs time and time again.  Remember that game where he pitched 4 or 5 innings in extras?  Yes, it’s guys like Withrow that emerged out of nowhere to provide the bullpen another stabilizing force.

And speaking of stability in the bullpen, Paco Rodriguez, who was attending the University of Florida a year and a half ago, is now a vital cog in the bullpen.   The perfect lefty that sets the table for Jansen.    It would be foolish to not recognize Brian Wilson too.  Heck, he’s only pitched 10+ innings this season, but already he is recognized as another important table setter.  We’d be fine if he was called on to close too, though “lights out” Jansen hasn’t faltered, so the opportunity hasn’t emerged.

There are so many others that could be mentioned, but I pointed out some of the unexpected ones because on this clinching celebration day, they seem to stand out in my memory bank.

Pool party for the Dodgers in Arizona (photo by Ross D. Franklin /AP)
So anyway, that's my division clinching day post.  It has been a long exhaustive run, and an extremely satisfying one at that.  So pop a cork.  Scream out loud in jubilation.  Dance around the living room.  Give your wife or girlfriend a passionate kiss.  Heck, go make a celebratory dive into a pool, (even if it's the neighbors pool with a Diamondback logo in it).  This is a day to cherish.  After all, it isn't everyday that the Dodgers clinch a playoff spot and expectations are so high.  It's time to take a moment of reflection and enjoy it.  Everything is looking up on this day, September 19, 2013.  Life is good.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Puig's Role In Post-Season Play...Some Controversial Opinions

What will Yasiel’s Puig’s role be when the Dodgers begin post-season play?  Well if the Dodger manager was Former Diamondback skipper Bob Brenly, he’d be sitting on the bench.  Brenly, currently Arizona’s television commentator has some strong opinions on Puig and a lot of it is criticism. 

“I think he’s gonna make mistakes defensively and on the bases that could conceivably cost the Dodgers a post-season game,” Brenly told his partner Steve Berthiaume during the 7th inning of last night’s action.  He continued piling on.  “He chases fastballs that aren’t strikes, he’ll chase breaking balls in the dirt that bounce out in front of home plate.  You just don’t have to throw him a strike to get him out.  And occasionally you can kind of listen between the words and hear the frustration on the part of the Dodgers coaching staff, on Don Mattingly, even the veteran players on this Dodger team.  They’ve all tried to reach out and point Puig in the right direction, gently and then maybe a little more forcefully.  And so far it just hasn’t seemed to have taken.”

(photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Not one of his criticisms of Puig is completely off the mark, but what did he expect?  The kid wasn’t going to hit .400 all season.  Puig is still hitting .331 so he's obviously taking some direction.  Add to that his on base percentage of .401.,  .939 OPS, 7 outfield assists and a WAR over three months in the big leagues at an astounding 4.7.  All I can say is that Brenly has failed to look at the big picture.  Perhaps the mistakes of Puig have been magnified, because he’s that type of player that is highly scrutinized since everyone is watching this exciting talent.  Puig may cost the Dodgers a post season game but in the process he'll probably win them two or three.

For guys that don’t follow the team on a day to day basis, the D-Backs broadcasting team had some real negative things to say about Puig, further showcasing their failures at understanding this complicated player.  I’ve got to believe that Roberto Clemente was just as misunderstood early in his career.

You be the judge. Here is some more of Berthiaume and Brenly’s comments.

Bob Brenly: “We were talking about the logjam that the Dodgers are going to have in the outfield when everybody is healthy.  It would not surprise me in the least if Puig was the guy to find his way to the bench in the post-season.”

Steve Berthiaume:  “Juan Uribe has been the point man on (reaching out to Puig).  He’s the veteran.  He’s got two World Series rings...he’s obviously helpful with the language situation as well.  Uribe’s kind of taken a leadership role there out of necessity.  Sometimes it seems like it’s working, other times not.  He (Puig) has looked a little more disciplined at the plate.  He’s a little better.  (To Brenly) Aren’t you then opening yourself up to a ginormous(sic) second guess if you get through this, you get to the post-season and Puig doesn’t start?”

Brenly: “I would think you would have to answer a lot of questions if you weren’t replacing him with a guy that’s making $20 million a year.  It’s not like you’re sending some double A outfielder out there to fill in for Puig in the post-season.  It’s gonna be one of the high paid veteran players that was brought to this roster to get them to the post season.  Puig in my eyes was just a nice surprise.  I think everybody knew he was gonna be an impactful player at the major league level, it was just a question of when.  Well, because of the injuries, it was June of this year.  They decided to pull the trigger on Yasiel Puig and he was a phenomenon.  But as time has gone on, the weaknesses have been exposed, and like I said, in the post season, you’re going to face nothing but the best pitching in the game, and those guys know how to exploit your weaknesses.”

I can’t express how asinine it is to have the opinion that you can justify sitting Puig because someone like Carl Crawford is making close to $20 million.  I mean, if the Dodgers still had Andruw Jones on the roster, should he be playing over Puig.  That’s probably the stupidest justification I’ve ever heard for playing someone.

With regard to Berthiaume’s statement that Puig is “a little more disciplined at the plate.”  It’s almost comical to discuss that.  Puig has walked 21 times since August 1st.  Compare that to his first thirty games in the big leagues, where he walked just four times. Or in Spring Training when he failed to walk even once.  We’ve all seen him take a disciplined approach and listen to his hitting coach.  It would be ridiculous to expect him to keep hitting in the .430s for the remainder of the year.  The thing is, he hit at such a high level for so long, it was almost expected that he would continue to do so.

(photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP)
I'll admit it.  I'm a biased admirer of Puig and I believe he is on the path to a Hall of Fame career.  I have seen his mistakes, and repeated ones at that, such as his airmailed throw in the first inning to try to throw out a runner at third.  Those are dumb rookie mistakes.  Mistakes that he hasn't had the luxury of making at the lower level minors before "no-show" crowds.  It's unfair to scrutinize this phenomenal player so much, but it is what it is.

It is my view that Puig is the type of player that loves the spotlight and will have his share of superstar moments before national audiences, such as he did when the Dodgers played two days at Yankee Stadium.  I think we'll see something spectacular from his during post-season play.  It could be highlight reel stuff that we're watching 40 years from now.  That's the impact a player like Puig will have.  He's undisciplined and an untamed horse, but that's what makes him an exciting player right now.  Well, that and his five tools.