Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Saturday, March 30, 2013

As Opening Day Roster is Closer to Being Announced, It's Time for Predictions

Each year I scan the Dodger Schedule from start to finish.  The purpose of doing that is to usually plot out my schedule.  There are the days off from work that I coordinate with it.  There is the occasional vacation to a city on the road in which I’ll travel to, (as this year I plan to travel to Miami to watch a three game series there in August).  Also, there are the yearly early season predictions as well.  Something that this post addresses.

My detailed look at the schedule got me to calculating how the ball club will do.  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.  

The starting staff of the Dodgers just may be the best in the game.  I see each starter with at least 10 wins.  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.  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.  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.

(photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images)

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.

Starting Lineup
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.  

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.

(photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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’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 annnounced, 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 bug time.

(photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

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.

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.

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.

The Pressure
With a record $220 million plus infused into the Dodger roster, the expectations are sky high with this Dodger team.  Pundits across the nation are predicting that they overtake the Giants and win the division.  Many have the Dodgers slated to reach the Fall Classic.  We as fans are expecting it.  Ownership is too.  The coaching staff’s future is on the line.  These guys have to win and win now.

Two San Francisco Giant World Series Championships in three years is unacceptable to this ownership group.  The Dodgers must succeed or some ugly consequences will result.  Whether this pressure will affect the team is tough to tell, but at some point in the season, they’ll feel it.    That’ll be the true “gut check” time for these players.  There are enough veterans on the club to overcome that and win out in the end. 

(photo by Don Pensinger/Getty Images)

The Dodger broke out to a 30-13 record out of the gate last year and then fell flat in June in a miserable slump.  Injuries could not be overcome.  For injuries to destroy this season, a lot of dominoes would need to fall at once, but it has happened before.

Health will be a key factor.  There appears to be plenty of depth in the pitching ranks if injuries hit the staff hard.  I can’t say the same about the infield if another player falls to injury.  Hanley Ramirez will probably not be himself until close to the all star break as he’ll need a few weeks of rehab to get back to his normal self.  The reserves will need to step up for a few months.

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.

My MLB Predictions for 2013 are as follows:

NL West
Dodgers 95-67
San Francisco 93-69 (Wildcard)
Arizona 84-78
San Diego 78-84
Colorado 67-95

NL Central
Cincinnati 89-73
St. Louis 87-75
Milwaukee 83-79
Pittsburgh 80-82
Chicago 64-97

NL East
Washington 92-70
Atlanta 90-72 (Wildcard)
Philadelphia 80-82
New York 77-85
Florida 63-98

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
Anaheim 95-67
Texas 92-70 (Wild Card)
Oakland 86-76
Seattle 74-88
Houston 60-102

AL Central
Detroit 90-72
Chicago 89-73 (Wild Card)
Kansas City 83-79
Cleveland 77-85
Minnesota 75-87

AL East
Toronto 89-73
Tampa Bay 88-74
Baltimore 86-76
New York 86-76
Boston 77-85

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.

Will the Dodgers be celebrating the final out of the World Series as they were 50 years ago?

Friday, March 29, 2013

What to Expect from Ryu

Hyun-Jin Ryu had his best outing of the Spring in Anaheim last night.  Throwing four innings of perfect baseball, setting down 12 batters in a row, including Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton.  Ryu kept the the Angels off balance and actually motored up his velocity to 92 MPH.  That speed of his fastball was a what scouting reports from Korea advertised tthat he had.
photo by Christine Cotter/Associated Press

With all the attention that Puig got this spring, perhaps we missed out on the Dodger that will make the team and could win the Rookie of the Year Award, Hyun-Jin Ryu.

He reported into spring training camp out of shape and struggling to keep up with the pitchers during wind sprints.  He let it be known that the pitchers were running “too fast” for his pace.   Teammates joked with him and Ryu laughed it off too.  Some diehard fans though weren’t amused, labeling him as “lazy,” and "unconcerned." 

I protested on a popular Dodger message board and stated that the guy hadn’t yet thrown one inning of regular season ball and he was already being crucified.  There were those that criticized him for not catching on to the deep seated curveball grip that Sandy Koufax suggested that he try.  It was definitely different for Ryu.  He tried it in bullpen sessions.  He worked on it.  He didn’t master it, but who was he to second guess the greatest left handed pitcher in history.  He then tried it in a game.  Twice.  Results: a triple and a home run off of him.

Some knowledgeable fans I know of started to panic.  They read a Keith Law piece at  ESPN in which he questioned Ryu’s ability to pitch in the big leagues effectively due to low velocity.  They were critical of Ryu’s demeanor, body language and what they perceived to be a careless attitude.  They questioned his pitch selection, as it was known that he shook off his catcher in order to throw those pitches he was working on that were belted for run scoring hits.

I saw things a bit differently.  I saw a pitcher that wasn’t afraid to experiment with pitches he was learning in real game situations.  If there ever was a time to do that, it was early in the exhibition season.  Ryu threw an experimental 3-2 pitch to Josh Hamilton a few weeks ago that was tattooed into the Tempe sky for a long home run.  Last night, facing the same hitter and under circumstances more intense in the first Southern California action of the year, Ryu retired Hamilton with a crafty assortment of pitches that kept him off balance. 

He retired Albert Pujols with an array of breaking stuff, change ups and fastballs.  Striking out the Angels slugger and getting him to meekly ground out.  After putting up unfavorable numbers early in Spring, Ryu finishes it with a 3.29 ERA and two consecutive outings in which he has held the opposition scoreless over his last 11 innings on the mound.

Ryu has high expectations of what he’ll achieve this season.  His lofty goals include keeping an ERA in the 2’s and in winning the Rookie of the Year award.  If he simply has a record a little over break-even and has an ERA in the high 3’s, that’s good enough for most of us.  This is our back of the end starter and those numbers would be fantastic from a number 5 guy.
Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images

The Korean Baseball Organization has been compared to AA minors in the USA, so it’ll be quite a chore for the new lefty to mow down the National League in his debut season in America.  But there is one thing that I have noted from Ryu in his few Spring Training outings:  the man knows how to pitch.  He knows his stuff and he is confident in mixing his repertoire  to keep opposing hitters off balance.  He also has the advantage of facing guys that don’t know him yet, which usually favors a pitcher the first time around the league.  It wouldn’t surprise me his Ryu is an all star caliber starter during the first half of the season.

As the opening bell gets nearer and nearer, Ryu has gotten better.  The game number 2 ball will be handed to Ryu against the defending champion Giants on April 2nd, and they won’t know what hit them.  A little bit of David Wells, Al Leiter and Jerry Reuss all mixed up in one.  Pin point control, confidence and savvy.  That’s the Ryu that I’m seeing.  Oh, yeah...and he still can’t run very fast too.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

On Spring Training Losses...

It’s common knowledge that the win-loss record is relatively meaningless during Spring Training, but should there be concern about a Dodger team that leaves Arizona after today’s game that currently has a 11-18 record?  This is a ball club team with so much promise and high aspirations that really hasn’t done well this exhibition season.

That shouldn’t be too much of a concern but lately it seems that the losses are blowouts as teams such as Kansas City, Colorado, Oakland and Cincinnati.  They’ve knocked the club around for a few innings and then we walk away happy because Puig went 4 for 4.

There comes a time when the W’s are important and the veterans need to turn on the light switch.  April 1st is 5 days away.

Teams that are tearing up the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues are Spring Training are Kansas City, Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit, and Colorado.  Some are teams with promise, others aren’t expected to go anywhere this year.  

Then there are the ball clubs that have poor Spring Training records, such as the Dodgers.  They include the Yankees, Angels, Brewers and Reds.

I guess there shouldn’t be cause for much worry but key Dodger components as Kemp, and Gonzalez really haven’t done well.  The pitching staff has had more wrinkles than impressive performances.  We’ll see how adjustments are made once the season starts and the starting flag drops.  For now, just color me as a concerned spectator.


Chad Billingsley will not make a start this weekend as the team has decided to place him on the disabled list, retroactive to March 22nd.  This will allow his fingernail a few more weeks to heal, and he can start after the first three series of the season are over.  Reports are that he has difficulty throwing the curve with the nail problem, but that in minor league games he has been able to throw it.  According to fangraphs, Bills throws that curve just 4% of the time, so it isn’t a key component in his arsenal.

As of now, the Opening series against the Giants will have Kershaw, Ryu and Beckett starting.  Then against Pittsburgh, Zack Greinke will make his debut as a Dodger followed again by Kershaw and Ryu again.  When the Dodgers make their first trip on the road to San Diego, since there is another off day mixed in, the Dodgers could actually wait until April 13th before the fifth spot in the rotation will be needed, and that would be at Arizona.  Then the five man rotation should begin for the remainder of the year.

This will buy time for the Dodgers with an additional starting pitcher who will remain with the staff, at least for an additional 12-13 days.  Either Harang or Capuano will most likely make the big club is my guess.  Ted Lilly seems to be a D.L. candidate.  Whether this is enough time for Colletti to attempt to work a deal for one of the excess starters, that is the big question. 

Scouts were in attendance last night at CBR to watch Harang implode in the first inning as the first four hitters faced were plated before the seats were warm.  Unfortunately, Aaron hasn’t really helped his cause this Spring having been hit hard in each of his starts.  That may have been Harang's last game in a Dodger uniform.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

That was Anti-climatic

Back in 1980, about a year out of high school, I was chatting it up with one of my high school buddies on the baseball diamond.  We were out shagging flies and making small talk.  Out of nowhere and without warning he said to me, “Hey, did you know Luke Skywalker’s father is Darth Vadar?”  

“What?” I said,  “Thanks a lot, man.  I was going to see The Empire Strikes Back tonight.”  Needless to say, the movie was ruined for me.  To this day he still remembers that event.  At our high school reunion 30 years later he spotted me from a distance and yelled, “Hey Ev, did you know Luke Sky...”  

“Yeah, I know, I know Tim.  Thanks for the heads up.”

I somewhat felt that same type of information gut punch today when the news hit the web that Puig is being sent down to AA Chattanooga.  Maybe the term “gut punch” is too dramatic, but I was somewhat surprised as I thought he may have just played himself on to the Major League Roster.  

I guess the Dodgers saw fit to end the suspense before he got to L.A. for the freeway series.  They bursted the bubble of suspense before fans could build up the excitement some more.  After all, the way he’s hitting, going 7 for 7 against the Angels this weekend could make the entire atmosphere regarding his roster spot speculation a near circus act.

The last thing the Dodgers need is a distraction and controversy as they open up against the Giants on Monday.  Putting the Puig decision behind them before departing Glendale was probably the smart thing to do.

I say “probably” because now that we know he’ll start the season as a “Lookout” and not a “Dodger,”  does that make anything less crazy this weekend when he hits a game winning walk off homer or he guns out Mike Trout at third on a missile launched throw from right field? 

I guess it’s appropriate that he’ll be a “Lookout” because everyone should be looking out over their shoulder at what the Cuban Missile is doing on the Tennessee turf.  This kid is the real deal and it’s nice to have a can’t miss prospect donning the blue for a change.  Chattanooga is the wise choice for him too and not in the rarified air in Albuquerque where he'll most likely continue to mash.

Deep down, this decision was probably a wise one.  First because the free agency clock won’t start ticking for Puig in 2013, making him Dodger property through 2019.  This also allows him to hone some skills that need work.  Those are mainly base running issues.  He has a propensity to over run bases, which are mental mistakes of enthusiasm, hardly a problem in my view.  

Now that the games count, he’ll be walked and pitched around more, and it’ll be interesting to see how he deals with that.  Will he chase pitches out of the zone?  No signs of that so far.

Lastly, when the inevitable occurs and his torrid hitting comes to an end, Puig will for the first time be facing the rigors of a baseball season and the self searching for answers due to the failures that accompany the baseball season’s marathon.  He needs to work his way through them and dig down deep.  Doing that on a national stage with the Dodgers will be more difficult for the youngster.

I’m sorry to see Puig sent down, but it’s understandable.  We’ll see him again, and I would bet that it’s soon.  Injury always rears its ugly head during the season.  Someone in the outfield will go down and Puig will be called up.  I wouldn't be surprised if Puig sees Major League action this year before Hanley Ramirez does.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Puig...and the hits just keep on coming!

photo by Marcia Jose Sanchez/AP

“Faster than a locomotive.  Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.  Look!  Up in the sky!  It’s a bird, no, it’s a plane, it’s...Yasiel Puig.”  I know, here I go again but what Puig is doing is almost super human.

10 for 11 now and counting.  He went another 3 for 3, and completely took over the game, sparking the Dodgers to three offensive rallies in their 10-4 win over the Chicago White Sox before a Cactus League record attendance.

Not only is Puig setting the desert on fire with his torrid hitting, but he’s capturing a swell of fan support that I predict will surface as another “Mania” in Los Angeles.  Last night’s crowd was lighting up with excitement as he entered the game.  Can you imagine 50,000 at Dodger Stadium when this kid puts up numbers at Dodger Stadium?

He rips a single into left field and he’s immediately thinking double.   He challenges outfielder’s arms.  He challenges pitchers while on base and distracts them on the mound, forcing physical and mental errors.  He puts pressure on catchers who are constantly dealing with his base stealing threat.  I’m not old enough to have experienced seeing what Jackie Robinson did on the base paths, but I've seen footage.  Is it possible that Puig raises the same havoc as Jackie did?  I'd be interested in knowing what Old Brooklyn fans think of that.

He’s somewhat of a pioneer.  A player like Puig emerging from Cuba certainly must have MLB organizations wondering if there are others like him stuck on that island nation.  Popular Dodger blogs are already giving him the moniker “”The Cuban Missile.”  Here he is, less than 100 minor league at bats to his credit and we are seriously discussing him supplanting one of the three Dodger All Star outfielders for a starting spot.

(photo by Jon SooHoo/L.A. Dodgers)
How can we not?  It has gotten to the point that if Puig has a 2 for 4 day, his batting average will descend 10 points.  Those are insane numbers.  Meaningless Spring Training numbers, but respectable nonetheless.  10 for his last 11 is inhuman.  Just when I resign myself to Puig going down to the minors, I can’t help but get excited about him mashing against the Giants in the opening series.

This kid has to make the club and get playing time.  Spelling Crawford twice a week in LF.  Platooning for Ethier against lefties.  Giving Kemp an additional day off.  There's room on this team.

Hyun-Jin Ryu was stretched out to seven innings last night.  He yielded two runs and one hit on the night, settling down after a rough start.  Ryu, who has been questioned by many followers due to his failure to report in tip-top shape to camp, is looking to be a quality number 4 or 5 starter.

It's time to get excited about the start of the season.  Last night's win seemed to showcase some key ingredients tot he 2013 Dodgers.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Fife's Progress, Hardly Even Noticed

(photo by Jon SooHoo, L.A. Dodgers)

I know there is a lot of talk about the Dodgers setting up their starting rotation.  Whether it's Billingsley, Beckett or Ryu pitching the second game of the year and which starter will be the odd man out for the first two weeks of the season.  With all the fuss going on there, caused by Geinke's elbow pain and Billingsley's fingernail, few have noticed what might be one of the biggest developments in the organization's pitching front.  

Don Mattingly was quoted in Ken Gurnick's mlb.com piece yesterday on Stephen Fife that caught my attention.  I’m surprised others aren’t commenting on it because it is a significant development with a player that can make a difference for years to come with the Dodgers. 

“This guy has come so far last Spring to this Spring.  Huge strides.  And his stuff has taken a jump.  He gives credit to the developmental staff.  He does his thing a little differently and they let him be.  Last time he hit 96, 95 (mph).  We’re seeing velocity we didn’t see before.”

I wasn’t aware that Stephen Fife is throwing 96.   Last year during his August and September call ups, Fife was hitting 91 tops on the radar gun.  This increased velocity makes Fife a different pitcher.  

Unlike another Fife from TV fame,(“Barney,” who carried one bullet in his pocket at the instructions of Sheriff Andy), this Fife has a whole arsenal of ammunition to use.  He came to the Dodgers as an afterthought mostly.  Everyone was looking at Federowicz and overlooking the pitching prospect that came along in the deal.  Fife was advertised as a pitcher that threw an 89 MPH two seam fastball who would locate that pitch well on the inside portions of the plate.  His curve has served well as a secondary pitch and he mixed in a change up as well.   He was never viewed as over-powering.

Here is the scouting report of Stephen Fife from 2011, as posted in the Red Sox site, soxprospects.com:

Throwing from a high ¾ arm slot, his 88-90 MPH two-seam fastball is his bread and butter offering to right-handed hitters, and shows good run in on their hands. When Fife can keep this pitch moving down through the strike zone and pound the lower portion of it, hitters have a tough time elevating the offering. He also works in a 90-93 MPH four-seam fastball during sequences to raise the eye level of hitters or spot across the plate, usually showing strong command of the pitch and good feel for when to mix the pitch in. Fife is at his best when he is pounding the zone with his fastball and then using his secondary offerings to keep hitters off-balance. Over the last couple of seasons, he’s sharpened his 76-79 MPH curveball to become a viable out-pitch for him, improving his command and the depth of the offering. Fife also can throw a low 80’s change-up, but uses this pitch with less frequency and more as a look pitch before going back to his fastball. With an understanding on how to pitch, he’s become adept at mixing all of his pitches into counts and become less dependent on throwing his fastball when needing outs.”

Look out, but this kid might be in for a monster year, and it’ll probably be in the altitude at Albuquerque, which might make his improvement something that is barely noticed.

It’s time for Aaron Harang to take his super soaker squirt gun to another team.  Despite the fact that Ted Lilly shut down minor leaguers today for five innings, he needs to seriously consider retiring from the game.  Chris Capuano should resign himself to the fact that he will be a long reliever.  

Fife, who has always been an afterthought to most writers when discussing the starting pitcher options for the Dodgers, has had his share of spring training starts and outperformed virtually everyone on the staff that is not named Kershaw or Beckett.  There is always a period of time when a player develops from “boyhood to man” status.  It looks like Fife has arrived to full maturity as a pitcher.
Fife in action last season at AT&T Park, San Francisco (photo by Jon SooHoo/L.A. Dodgers)

He was called up last year to spot start in crucial games and he held his own.  Debuting against Philadelphia and Roy Halladay to boot.  Fife shined against the Phillies and later  San Francisco.  Offensive ineptitude by the Dodgers failed him as he didn’t get a “W” in either contest, but he kept the opposition at bay.  During the September callup phase, Stepen pitched well against St. Louis and Cincinnati.  Altogether, he had 5 starts.  Four against playoff teams where his accumulative ERA was 2.70 over 26 innings.  

Now this Spring he adds a 96 mph fastball to his arsenal.

Fife’s late development may be because he didn’t even start pitching until he was 17 years old.  We know that few starting staffs last an entire season without digging into the minors for help.  As deep as the Dodgers are, I still have the sneaking feeling that we'll see some of Fife this year.  Meanwhile, it'll be interesting to check out his progress at Albuquerque this year.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

8 Years from Now, Some Optimistic Predictions

Ticket to the final Dodger-Giant game of 2013, the 158th game of the year on September 26.  Will it have meaning?

Tonight was ticket draw night with the group of co-workers that have Giants season tickets.  I didn't do too too bad.  I drew the Dodgers three times and then I was able to get a few bobble head give away nights, meaning I can sell those seats and purchase more tickets for when the Dodgers come to town.

Bottom line, I'll see the Dodgers at least six times in San Francisco this year.

This is my 17th consecutive year in which my employer has banished me to the land of orange and black and I take part in their season ticket plan.  I'm fairly certain that I'll spend the rest of my days here due to the familial roots that are now entrenched in this place.  Retirement looms on the horizon, but it's probably 8 years away.  It's a year in the distant future (2021) that is constantly in the back of my mind, as I plan on spending much of the baseball season enjoying it in the shadows of Dodger Stadium after that date has arrived.  

Eight years doesn't seem like a long time in the grand scheme of things, but in the life of baseball, it can seem like an eternity.  Where will the Dodgers be in 8 years? Will any current Dodgers be on the roster?  If I were a betting man, this is how I would predict things to follow.  Please note, my predictions are on the optimistic side.

In 2021, eight years from now:

36 year-old Matt Kemp, now two years removed from the conclusion of his multi-year deal currently in place decides to finish his career as a Dodger.  He is breaking out the first baseman's glove in Spring Training and hoping to have another productive year.  He has a few career milestones he'd like to achieve.  22 homers short of 400, Kemp is attempting to pass Duke Snider as the all-time Dodger home run hitter.  He's zeroing in on 2,500 lifetime hits as well.  If Kemp can prolong his career in the Dodger infield, he's hoping to approach the 500 homer/3,000 hit plateau before the age of 40.  It'll be a stretch to make it, but Kemp continues to be a workhorse in the gym and is staying in shape.

Clayton Kershaw has just won his 210th career victory to close out the 2020 season.  He too, has remained a Dodger after signing a long term 7 year deal after the 2013 season for upwards of $180 million.  Though his contract concluded following the 2020 season, the Dodgers inked the 32 year old left-handed to another 3 year deal at $100 million because he won 18 games and finished second in the Cy Young voting to Greg Maddux Jr., of the Cubs.  Kershaw has taken home the Cy Young Award in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2018 having escaped arm injury throughout his 13 year career, all with the Dodgers.

Zack Greinke retired following the 2020 season at age 36.  He currently is working in the Dodger front office as an assistant to Dodger General Manager Logan White.  Greinke had a fine career with the Dodgers, having won 93 games in Dodger blue before going down with injury in the final year of his six year $148 million contract.  The Dodgers signed him to an incentive laden deal in 2019, but he never could recover from the elbow problems.

Yasiel Puig is a baseball superstar and was the leading vote getter on the American League All Star team.  After spending seven years in the Dodger organization in a steal of a deal $42 million contract, the two time National League MVP filed for free agency after the 2018 season at age 30.  The New York Yankees signed him to a seven year $300 million contract and he patrols center field for the Bronx Bombers.  Puig, a fan favorite in Los Angeles, broke into the Dodger outfield in 2014 and won the National League MVP in 2016 and 2017.  In his six years as a Dodger, Puig hit 194 homers and stole 222 bases.  In his 2017 MVP season, he hit 47 homers and drove in 123 runs.  The catalyst of four Dodger pennant winners and two World Championship teams, the tandem of Puig and Kemp terrorized National League pitching for a four year period.  Dodger fans remain miffed that Puig turned down a lucrative offer to stay in L.A.

Corey Seager, June 2012 at Dodger Stadium, after 2012 first year player draft (photo by Ben Platt/MLB.com)

Corey Seager, the 27 year old Dodger third baseman, is coming into his own.  After breaking in with the big club in 2016 as a 22 year old rookie, he took the Rookie of the Year hardware home and hasn't looked back. In 2020, Seager was an offensive force, batting .312, hitting 32 homers and OPSing at .978.  A three time all star, Corey is a fan favorite and having signed a 7 year deal, he may turn out to be the greatest Dodger third baseman in history.

Kenley Jansen also remains with the Dodgers.  His cutter has developed substantially and after seven years as the Dodger closer, he has 250 lifetime saves.  Known as a clutch reliever with a lot of post season experience, Jansen is arguably the greatest Dodger relief pitcher in history.  Now 32 years old, Jansen has lost a few ticks on his fastball, but still can throw heat when necessary and oh, that cutter is nasty.

Care to make any other predictions?  Dee Gordon, Matt Magill, Chris Reed, Javy Guerra, Shawn Tolleson, Zack Lee, Chad Billingsley, Don Mattingly.  Where will they be and what will they have accomplished?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ho Hum, Another 4 for 4 Day for Puig

Puig homers again (photo:USA Today)

It’s getting ridiculous, this Yasiel Puig.  Forcing me to write another piece on him.  You’d think that a guy breaking into the U.S. baseball scene would want to keep a lower profile.  He can’t though.  Each game he one ups the other with more incredible accomplishment.  Today he raised his average this Spring to .500.  That’s 23 for 46,  Three homers, 13 runs scored, 10 batted in.   He has an unreal 1.294 OPS.  His on base % is less than his batting average at .489.  I’m not sure how that is done, but if someone can do it, it’s Puig, and I’ll trust MLB.com’s stats that are posted.

He was a double short of the cycle, and he just missed that had he hustled out of the box on his third hit of the day.  Yes, the youngster does make mistakes.

So they’re going to send him to AA or AAA ball.  The guy comes in to Spring Training and outplays every player in the game, by far, and it’s not enough.  I understand the thinking.  They don’t want him up in the majors to sit and watch.  His development needs to continue with a number of at bats.

Then again, has he not done enough to supplant a starter?  What if he put up high school phenomenon numbers and hit  something like .700?  Would that be enough?  Was it a foregone conclusion that no matter what Puig did this spring, he would not make the opening day roster?  I almost have to believe that to be the case and the Dodgers simply have no room for him in the starting lineup.

Here we have a player with a rock hard physique.  A perfect physical specimen.  A flashy and exciting player.  A player that hustles and displays his 5 tools repeatedly.  He reports to Spring Training and does all that is asked of him.  He even spends time with the fans and signs for everyone.  Unfortunately, it isn’t enough.  Someone will have to go down with an injury for Puig to take his spot.

This is a great problem to have.

For a complete rundown of Puig and some very interesting quotes on him from Don Mattingly an Ned Colletti, read Eric Stephen’s True Blue LA piece LINKED HERE  with their thoughts following today’s 7-1 Dodger victory over the A’s today.

It was nice to see Chris Capuano with his first decent outing of the year.  For a man that should be pitching for his life, it looks like he's grasped an understanding of that fact.  Capuano may be the one starter from last year that would best fit in the long reliever mode.  Perhaps used as a spot starter as well, as Jeff Weaver was used in his second stint with the Dodgers a few years back.

So the Dominican's wouldn't play Hanley at shortstop in WBC competition.  We weren't happy, because we wanted to see him get some work at the position he'll be playing this year.  OK, we can live with him DHing.  At  least he won't get hurt, right?

Thank you Tony Pena for putting him at third base today.  Ramirez jams his thumb diving for a grounder and now who knows how serious this is?  It is reported that his thumb has been placed in a splint for "precautionary measures."

Say, Yasiel?  Have you ever played short?


Video images from last night above.  Congratulations to the undefeated Dominican Republic for a well deserved WBC Championship!  ¡Santo Domingo!   ¡Hay que lindo!

Una Fiesta Dominicana

A close Dominican friend of mine has told me for several years that I need to take a vacation to Santo Domingo with him during the Winter League Baseball season there.  He claims that he'll show me around and that we can turn it into a baseball vacation and that there is nothing like a Dominican crowd at a baseball game.

Hanley works a walk
The son of former NL batting champ Matty Alou.
Well, last night I got a preview of that vacation in San Francisco, as we watched Team Dominican Republic defeat the Netherlands 4-1 in the heart of the Dominican section.  I think I lost about 40% of my hearing as we sat next to the drummer on one side and the air horn guy right behind us.

I've seen a lot of sports spectacles in my life.  I've sat amongst the "Barra Brava" in Argentina as Boca Juniors faced San Lorenzo in a heated soccer match at Buenos Aires' Bombanera Stadium in the 80's.  I've been in NBA games with the laser and fog shows.  I've seen the Mets in New York and the Red Sox in Boston at the height of their success.  I've witnessed heated Dodger Giant battles at both San Francisco and Los Angeles.  But I have to say, the energy and relentless excitement of the Dominican fans was right up there with any excitement I've ever seen at a sports spectacle.  The photos don't do it justice.  Videos up next post.

Reynolds and Costas - MLB pregame show

WBC bunting

Kenley Jansen intro

Dominican team.

Fans in a "calm period"

Monday, March 18, 2013

Por un Día, Soy Dominicano

One of those pleasant surprises arrived at my desk this morning when a co-worker friend of mine dropped two tickets to the World Baseball Classic Semi-final game on my desk. 

Hector has the hook ups.  He's Dominican AND he happens to have a brother-in-law who played Major League Baseball for the Indians and Yankees, (he was utility infielder, Enrique Wilson).  So instead of cozying up to my 55 inch plasma and taking in the action from my living room, 'll be knee deep in the Dominican section next to the drums, cow bells, whistles, and trumpets.  Who cool is that?

My wife thinks it'll be a chance to dance to some "merengue" music.  I don't know, but if the DR breaks out to an early lead, there is definitely going to be some dancing in the stands.

I'll post photos from the event after it's over.  The big question.  Do I dare wear my Dodger hat with the Dominican Jersey in Giantland?  I think it's gonna happen.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

No Help from Gibby

Photo by David Kadlubowski/ Arizona Republic
One thing you know you’ll always have with Kirk Gibson, it’s competitiveness.  Now that he’s with a rival, it should be expected.  He’ll do anything he can to beat your butt.  Additionally, he let’s you know.  He’s about as dedicated to his team and to winning as anybody in the game.  There's no doubt about it.  He's not a Dodger anymore.  

As the Dodgers attempt to get Carl Crawford in playing shape by DHing him in as many games as possible, don’t expect any help from Gibson.   JP Hoornstra of the L.A. Daily News wrote about it this morning, (LINKED HERE).   The home manager at Spring Training games determines if the DH will be used.  The Dodgers have a road game at the D-Back venue today.  There’s no point of even asking Gibson if he wants to use the DH.  His answer will be a gigantic “(expletive) NO!” in capital letters.     He wouldn't help Dusty Baker's Reds a few days ago (when they wanted to use the DH), Gibby isn't about to help a division rival.  Prepping Crawford for the season is aiding him in getting at bats against major league pitching, and he won’t have any part of that.

Gibson isn’t ever thrilled when the Dodgers replay his historic game one '88 series homer on the big screen at Dodger home games.  He hated the fact that the Dodgers issued a bobblehead in his likeness celebrating the homer last year telling Steve Dilbeck of the L.A. Times, “I think it’s totally ridiculous.”  There was a slight cap tip when fans insisted on cheering him with a thunderous ovation that night, giving the hint that he appreciates the fans remembering his contribution, but he’ll never admit he appreciates it.

Gamesmanship is Gibson’s game nowadays.  Anything to give his club the slightest edge, he’ll do it.  It goes all the way down to his appearance.  Is there ever a time that Gibson doesn't have the stubble on his face of a guy that hasn't shaved for two days?  (By the way, how do you do that anyway?  He must strategically shave only on off days).  If getting an edge in mental toughness means disrespecting the Dodgers and failing to acknowledge his past history with the team, so be it.  He’s a Diamondback and he doesn’t want anyone to forget it.

“I’m not a Dodger anymore!”  He tells a fan that tries to hand him one of his old Dodger baseball cards for signature.  He ignores it and moves on to paraphernalia that is either neutral or D-Back in nature.  It has happened more than once.  Gibby isn't the kind of person you want to get angry.  He wears that game face of his 24/7/365.

There was no doubt he wasn’t a Dodger anymore when he screamed at Clayton Kershaw two years ago when a dust up occurred over Gerardo Parra’s gesture and slow home run trot.  Telling the Dodger ace to “shut the (bleep) up,” was intimidating for me to watch it on TV hundreds of miles from the stadium.  I could only imagine being across the diamond from him.   Kershaw didn't back down and the next day he brushed back D-Back hitters, only to be ejected early. Gibson had done his job, putting his team in a better position through those intimidation tactics.
Umpire Bill Welke ejects Clayton Kershaw and Don Mattingly in September, 2011.  It was a moment when Kirk Gibson's gamesmanship won out.  (photo capture, Fox Sports Net)
Gibson's barbs were directed at Kershaw, during a heated brushback exchange in which Hong Chi Kuo was throwing inside to Gerardo Parra.
Kershaw responds (photo captures September 14, 2011 via Fox Sports Net)

Gibson’s former Dodger teammate, Mike Marshall had this to say last year when talking about Gibson:  “When you talk to Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Lance Parrish, all the greats from those Tiger teams, they all say the greatest player, not maybe by talent, but the greatest player they ever played with was Kirk Gibson.  I just wish I could have played with Gibby more than just two years because I could hit behind Gibson.  Gibby was a son of a gun.  He told you what he thought.  Every game was a football game.  Every game was a war.  I’ll never forget, Gibby would call out teammates.  I wish I would have had that a little more in my career...when Gibby came over it was quite a load off of me because, heck, you watch video of him.  You talk about intensity!  Watch a Diamondback game now.  Look in the dugout.  There’s not a whole lot of fun going on in there.  Gibby, he’s not smiling very often in there.  There’s only one thing on his mind and that is ‘how am I gonna beat that other team.’  Now he’s doing it with his head.  Before he was doing it with his legs and his bat.”

(Source: Interview with Marshall, April 11, 2012, San Rafael, CA)

As 2013 begins, there is a lot of talk about the defending champion Giants and their successful run, but don't turn your back on Gibson and the D-Backs.  They are exactly where they want to be...an after thought on the pundits radar.  Before you know it, their fiery manager just might have his club in the division lead.  He'll be in that dugout sneering at the opposition and giving that intimidating "stank eye" stare in an effort to get an edge.  It makes you really despise the guy.  It also makes you wish he was on your side.