Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

On Tanaka...

On a night where the Boston Red Sox are running away from St. Louis in pursuit of their third World Championship in the past ten years, I write about the foreign player that so many teams covet, Masahiro Tanaka.  Let me just forward my congratulations to the Red Sox though, who certainly were deserving of the World Series victory.  Here's hoping that it'll be the Dodgers turn next year.  Now Boston, please don't destroy your city tonight.
No matter what sabermetricians say about how meaningless a pitcher’s Won/Loss record is, A 24-0 record is indicative of an amazing season.  Scratch that, amazing isn’t the word to use, “historically spectacular” is what it is, and it doesn’t matter what league it happened in either.  You throw Koufax in his prime in the Japanese league (NPB) and he probably doesn’t go 24-0.  He might finish 21-3 or 22-2, but 24-0 is simply out of this world.
Masahiro Tanaka pitches during the 2013 World Baseball Classic. (photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)

There’s no arguing that 24-0 is a statistical anomally and certainly a lot of luck and decent run support is needed in order to achieve such a record, but there’s no hiding the career marks of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 24 year old pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.  His record is 99-35 with a lifetime 2.30 ERA including 53 complete games over 6 seasons.  Add to that 18 shutouts, an 8.5K/9 rating and less than 2 walks allowed per 9 innings.  He has a 1.108 lifetime WHIP and a 2013 season WHIP of a microscopic 0.943.
So when the word from the hot stove is that the Dodgers may consider trading a slew of prospects for David Price or opt to pay a bunch of cash for Tanaka, the decision to make is a no brainer.  You keep what you have of the farm system intact and get the young phenom from Japan. 
With the Dodgers recent history of delving into the bidding wars of foreign players, it looks as if the organization has figured out that this is the way to build the franchise on the major league level without decimating the farm system in the process.  Puig, Ryu and now Alexander Guerrero have joined the forty man roster without the cost of giving up one prospect.  It would be foolish for the Dodgers to change their tactics and start peddling off the likes of Zack Lee and Josh Pederson for an expensive player like Price.

For a team with gobs of money, this is the way to go as posting fees don’t factor into the luxury tax penalty equation either.  The Yankees are certainly going to bid high and attempt to lure Tanaka to the Bronx, so Colletti and his team have their work cut out for them in attempting to land this extraordinary talent.
One thing is certain though and that is a rotation made up of Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Tanaka and Beckett will be easily the most formidable in the major leagues.  Dodger management has to be extremely enthused about the prospect and eager to get this done.

Factor in that Tanaka has won two more post season games and that record of his is 26-0 on the season now.  There are those that say his stuff is inferior to Yu Darvish, and that may be true, but one thing that can’t be denied is his pinpoint control and footage of him shows that he can throw strikes in specific regions of the zone with Maddux-like precision.  His fastball is sitting at around 93 MPH with high velocity ranges of his four seamer at 95-96.  His splitter has been rated with a score ranging between 68-72 on the scouts 20-80 scale measuring stick.  It is extremely effective with late downward action that fools hitters into thinking it’s a fastball.  He also throws a slider and an effective curveball as well.  There is one report that lists a forkball in his arsenal that he’ll use against left handed hitters only.  His changeup is there too, but is seldom used.

Interestingly as Tanaka’s strikeout rate has reduced the past two years, his win totals have risen substantially.  As he has matured, he’s learning how to pitch more efficiently and get outs off of batted balls instead of relying on the strikeout.  Here is an interesting assessment from a month ago from an anonymous U.S. scout based in Japan:

 “He is better than Darvish because he’s a strike thrower.  Overall, Darvish’s stuff might be a little better, but this guy knows how to pitch.  He is like Kuroda, he has a lot of guts. He throws four pitches, but when it gets to (stone)-cutting time, it’s fastball and splitter.”  (Link to Scouting Report found HERE).

There are scouts that claim Tanaka throws that splitter with the exact same arm slot and arm speed of his fastball, but it comes in at 84-87 MPH vs. the 92-94 MPH that his two seamer is.  His mechanics are solid and generate maximum velocity.  Though he has a lot of innings on that arm through 6 seasons, it is suggested that his proper mechanics have paid dividends in keeping Tanaka injury-free. 
Tanaka celebrates his 21st consecutive win, an NPB record (photo by Kyoto News/AP)

Like many Japanese pitchers, he has that quirky delivery.  He starts slow, then almost comes to a stop before finishing quickly.  It’ll take time for major leaguers to adjust to that.

An excellent assessment on Tanaka’s skillset is found at THIS BLOG, that deals primarily with Asian talent and their MLB potential.  

If the Dodgers are able to pull off this acquisition over the Yankees, it may be as big as the Ryu and Puig acquisitions from last year of not bigger.  Steve Dilbeck of the LA Times reports that Tanaka prefers the Yankees or the Dodgers as his ultimate destination.  Perhaps the Dodgers and their recent success and roster primed to make a run for a championship will be the tipping point that brings Tanaka to Los Angeles.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Baseball Town Getting Prepared for a Massive Baseball Championship Celebration

(photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Boston is a baseball town, and arguably the greatest one in America.  Looking from a distance, it doesn’t make sense that it is.  The weather isn’t conducive to Baseball for much of the year.  It's not like kids can play baseball from October through May in New England as we do in Southern California. They have had only two or three homegrown talents in the sport that made it big.  How many California talents have they had over the decades?
Then there are the other sports where Boston has dominated, and they aren’t sports that are ignored by the national sports landscape.
The Celtics have been the premier organization in the NBA scene for much of its history with the most titles of any franchise.  They’re the Yankees of basketball.  Eight championships in a row and 11 out 13.  That’s domination on a massive scale.  And then even after their 1960s domination, they won titles in the 70s, 80s and 2000s. Granted, they have their following and rabid fans, but it’s nothing like the Red Sox.
Then you have the recent success in the past 13-14 years of the Patriots with three World Championship victories and two other Super Bowl appearances.  Quite the accomplishment.  The Patriots are a football franchise recognized as one of the top five in the NFL each year.  The Patriots have a loyal following too, but compared to the Red Sox, it's not even close.
For the Red Sox the words world champions wasn't even in their vocabulary.  For 86 years they fell short of winning the World Series, but still they were the city’s darling sport franchise.  This was the team that that broke their fans hearts year after year.  The elusive girlfriend that would break up with you every year and then entice you back into the relationship, only to dump you for another guy just when things were getting serious again.  That ballclub that would fall short in pennant chases after big leads or would uncork the wild pitch or see a ball squirt through a players legs in a World Series clinching game.
Red Sox celebrate AL pennant clinching win against Detroit. (photo by Charlie Reidel/AP)

The Red Sox were the franchise cursed by an ownership group that failed to integrate until they were so far behind other teams that it took them years to recover.  They had a player in Ted Williams that many consider the greatest hitter to play the game, and he couldn’t get a championship because the pieces around him weren't insufficient.  While their hated rivals in New York chalked up dozens of championships, the Red Sox were remembered as the franchise that always fell short to them and additionally the team that traded them Babe Ruth in exchange for money to fund a Musical comedy.
The comedy turned out to be the Sox flopping on the field for decades.  A loveable team that got good in some years but ALWAYS fell short.  That was until magic occurred in 2004 and a miraculous team came back from 3-0 deficit to defeat the Yankees in four straight to win the ALCS, and eventually win the World Series.  Now they are the premier franchise in the game.  A team always considered a favorite to win the while thing.
So tomorrow, October 30, 2014.  A full 96 years since they last won a World Series Championship at home against another team that would be known for even greater futility,  (the Cubs), Boston is on the verge of hosting what might be the greatest home field celebration in the history of the game.  How they'll keep their fans from storming onto the field and dancing away will be a feat requiring a lot of planning and massive law enforcement strength.  Then again, who can blame the Boston PD if they join in with the fans in the celebration.
For years, home field championship celebrations were massive on field events in which fans jumped on the field and partied, but security in all major cities have succeeded in keeping fans off fields for the past 30 plus years with a large police presence combined with mounted officers to deter the activity.  I’m not so sure that the Boston Police force is big enough to stop Bostonians from storming the field if the Red Sox win either game six or game seven.  They weren't successful in stopping tea partiers from dumping the tea in the harbor 230 years ago.  Good luck keeping fans from dancing on the pitchers mound.
A home field World Series championship in Boston will be quite the spectacle.  The Sox removed that 86 year old monkey off their backs in 2004, so the hex is long gone.  If they are able to win this thing at home tomorrow, even against Cardinal October star Michael Wacha, Boston will prove to the world that they are and will always be a premier baseball town in their hometown clinching.  Frankly those fans deserve it.  They suffered a long time and a home field celebration will be a just reward for their patience.  Hopefully the city is still standing when November rolls around.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Holy Ed Armbrister! Obstruction Call Decides Game Three of the Series

(AP Photo)

In one of the most bizarre World Series game finishes ever, the Red Sox found themselves on the wrong side of a base runner obstruction call, costing them game three of the World Series, putting them behind St. Louis 2 games to 1.
It was a gutsy call by the umpiring crew.  The call was correct.  There wasn’t intent to obstruct Allen Craig by Middlebrooks, but it was instruction nonetheless.  All would agree that it was a lousy way for a game to end, but sometimes that happens.   Kudos to Jim Joyce for calling the call that he probably didn’t want to make.
For a fan that can’t stand either team, maybe it was the ideal way for this game to end.  The Red Sox lost, and that’s a good thing AND the Cardinals won in the lamest fashion available.  I guess that’s about as good as we’ll get in this series.  Thirty-eight years after being on the wrong side of an obstruction no-call in the '75 World Series at Cincinnati, the Red Sox find themselves being hard luck losers on an obstruction call in St. Louis.
Recent news indicating that Tim Wallach is a finalist for the Detroit Tigers managerial vacancy has many wondering what his loss will mean to the Dodgers.  I see it as significant, as Wallach has been with the Dodger organization for the most part since 1993 with a year or two off.

That’s longevity that has endured through four ownerships, eight managerial changes, seven general managers and countless scouts and coaches.  All this time Wallach has been a Dodger, and a loyal one at that.  There’s no doubt he deserves a shot at taking the helm of a major league club, but it would have been nice to see him do it in Dodger blue.
The Tiger job is a good one though and being matched up again with Dave Dombrowski is a good fit for Tim.  Aside from the Dodger managerial position, could he have asked for a better ballclub with Shertzer and Verlander on the staff and Cabrera and Fielder swinging the bats?   With a tweak here or there, the Tigers could easily be the favorites to win the American League pennant next year.
Few remember Wallach’s contributions to the 2004 Dodger club where he served as the hitting coach.  That was Adrian Beltre’s breakout season.  The one where he hit like a fiend while hobbling with bone spurs in his ankle.  Wallach played a role in turning Beltre into the offensive hitter that he is today.  He also has groomed several current Dodgers when he was their Triple A manager in Albuquerque.
There are those that are quick to attack Wallach’s decisions as a third base coach, but those skeptics don’t know the game.  Wallach has had his share of runners thrown out at the plate as a third base coach, but when you factor in such things as the percentages of a runner scoring on a play with two outs vs. the probability of the next hitter batting him in, Wallach was an astute third base coach who seldom made a move that should have been questioned.
Wallach was a finalist for the Boston Red Sox vacancy last season.  If he lands this job, the Tigers will be in good hands for years to come.  What Dodger fans might wonder is if he'll be able to purge the organization of others that he'll select to work on his coaching staff.  That could have some substantial ramifications.

That June 11th Brawl with the Diamondbacks, the Aftereffects in Arizona

The June 11th beanball war and resulting brawl had a lot of old-timers grappling with each other (photo by Gary A. Vasquez/ USA Today Sports)

When the Dodgers and Diamondbacks brawled back on June 11th, the result of a beanball war that many consider to be the event that solidified the Dodger team together, the coaches and managers involved in the melee looked like a 1980s/early 90s who’s who of baseball stars.

For the Dodgers’Don Mattingly and Mark McGwire, Tim Wallach, Ken Howell and Davey Lopes.  The Diamondbacks countered with Kirk Gibson and Matt WIlliams, Charles Nagy, Steve Sax, Don Baylor and Alan Trammell.  In four short months, that D-Backs coaching staff is now completely dismantled.

Hitting coach Don Baylor has moved to Anaheim with the Angels where he won an MVP award in 1979.  Sax and Nagy were both fired.  Only Trammell along with Gibson remain, though it’s hard to believe that both Gibson and Trammell aren’t tempted to move back to their former team, a talent laden Tiger ballclub in Detroit.

Gibson has assured Arizona management that he will remain loyal and stay put, but the opportunity has got to be attractive to him.  Recently with Diamondbacks G.M. Kevin Towers questioning the fortitude and fight of his team in late season contests with the Dodgers, you’d think that Gibson would be highly offended.  Gibby is anything but “soft” as a player and a manager.

The reality is though that the D-Backs actions in games against the Dodgers did seem to be a tad “soft” following the fight in June that resulted in numerous ejections, fines and suspensions.  There is little doubt that the Diamondbacks probably reflected on the L.A. brawl and realized that they went over the line of decency with their head-hunting pitches on that June night.
(photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP)
The usually reserved Don Mattingly and Mark McGwire were mad enough to tear heads off after both Puig was hit in the face and Greinke near the head.  Baseball etiquette had been breached in the Dodger’s view as Greinke had retaliated earlier for the Puig beaning by hitting D-Back catcher Miguel Montero flush in the back.

The teams met in 11 games following the June 8th brawl.  There essentially weren’t any incidents until the final series in Phoenix when on September 18th and 19th, Dodger pitchers hit five D-Back hitters and the Arizona team failed to retaliate at all.  The culprits were Stephen Fife, Carlos Marmol and Ricky Nolasco, three players that weren’t even present when the June brawl took place, so the likelihood that they were acting in retaliation for the brawl months prior was low, but Kevin Towers felt that actions should have been taken to “right the ship.”

The Dodgers September 9th drubbing of the D-Backs at Dodger Stadium where six homers were hit and Dodger celebrations included the Uribe/Puig/Hanley banana eating  clowning in the dugout incensed the Arizona G.M. to the point that he called out his manager and pitching coach for not ordering  a “jack-knifing” of Dodger hitters with inside stuff to back them off the plate.  The brawl from a  few months previous was probably on their minds, as a repeat of that in the final weeks of a pennant chase would not be seen in a positive light by MLB brass.

“They panned down to the dugout, and they were jamming bananas in their mouths and really just making a mockery of us," Towers said. "I just said if I had a carton full of balls sitting next to me, I would have thrown it in their dugout. I was just tired of getting beat up," said Towers in a mlb.com interview weeks later.
Kirk Gibson and Kevin Towers (photo by Jake Roth/US Presswire)
There hasn’t been much mention of what was actually talked about by Gibson, Nagy and Towers in private following that game on September 9th , but certainly the effect of the earlier brawl had to have influenced them.  The dismissal of Nagy at season’s end appears to have been a direct result as the Dodgers 5 HBPs against Arizona in the final season series didn't result in one retaliatory pitch.  Then there was the division celebration and pool party on clinching night.  All a recipe for some 2014 antics to come.

What to expect from the D-Backs next year is anyone’s guess, but knowing Gibson’s history, he’ll want to send a message, and that isn’t that he’s got a “soft” side.

The Diamondbacks declined options on Gibson’s contract that would have extended him to through the 2015 and  2016 season.  He’s guaranteed a contract through the end of 2014, and it would seem that the timing of a move to Detroit would be appropriate, but Gibson’s a stubborn breed.  “I like where I am,” he told the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro.  “I’m motivated to finish what I started here.”

He’ll have to do it with a new coaching staff, and Brett Butler, the Triple A manager at Reno (Arizona’s affiliate), has left the organization as well.  Both Gibson and Kevin Towers have spent the past few days in Prescott, AZ, mulling over the changes that their franchise needs to make to put a division winner on the field next year.  You’d think with the public criticism from Towers of Gibson’s staff, that the two would be at odds with each other.   Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall claims it’s the opposite of that.

“They were out walking together this morning talking about their plans.”  He said earlier this week.  A restructuring of the coaching staff is probably the first order of business, which would include a fiery approach to the 2014 season.  It’s anyone’s guess who Gibson and Towers will select to fill out the staff, but it’s relatively certain that they’ll be hardcore baseball guys that won’t allow their team to be pushed around.  No Gibson team could ever be considered “soft.”  That’s a certainty. 

Watch for the D-Backs to attempt to make a statement early in the 2014 season, and that is that not only will they be a contender, but a team that will play with passion and fight.  A football mentality to the game is to be expected from any ballclub led by Kirk Gibson.  He knows no other way. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Quick Look at the Newest Player to Join the Dodger Organization, Jeremy Hazelbaker

The Dodgers dealt Alex Castellanos to Boston today for a AAA outfielder, Jeremy Hazelbaker.  When Alexander Guerrero was signed two days ago, the Dodgers freed up a position on the 40-man roster by designating Castellanos for assignment.  This trade isn’t surprising to me.  This is a swap of minor league outfielders and Hazelbaker brings some upside, which is speed.  He stole 37 bags at Pawtucket last season.

So the mid-season deal two years ago where the Dodgers traded Rafael Furcal to the Cardinals now results in Hazelbaker in the Dodger organization.  Since he’s not on the 40-man, he’ll need to impress the organization if he wishes to play some in Los Angeles next year.  Hazelbaker has 4 years of minor league seasoning and is 26 years old.  He’s a lifetime .258 hitter and he has played all three outfield positions.  Lately mostly in LF.

A native of Muncie, Indiana.  So there’s always that connection with Don Mattingly, though that’s a 230 mile jaunt from Don’s Evansville, IN home.  Hazelbaker is a tall lanky kid, at 6’3”, 200 lbs.  He’s a lefthanded batter that graduated from Ball State.  Scouts report that he haa a tendency to strike out a lot, but that beats banging into DPs.  It’ll be interesting to see what the Dodgers hitting gurus of Valentin and McGwire can do for him.

Attached are some articles from the PawSox minor league blog.  Linked HERE
This is an excellent site that includes a few video clips from last year, where Jeremy was interviewed.  He seems to be an enthusiastic and positive kid.  Hopefully his adjustment to the Dodger organization will go smoothly.  He spent last off-season  playing for Obregon in the Mexican League.  

Hazelbaker has that classic pretty left-handed swing follow through.(photo by Kelly O'Connor/PawSoxblog.mlblogs.com)

Below is the four year old scouting report on Hazelbaker when he was drafted in 2009.  I'm not sure if there is improvement in some of his weaker areas.  Interestingly, the ceiling that was predicted back then seems to be fairly accurate.:

Outfielder with a filled-out athletic frame and plus speed. Hazelbaker had a breakout year at Ball State in 2009, showing an excellent ability to make contact. Turns on the ball well, drops the head of the bat on the ball nicely and creates good lift. Swing can be on the long side. Struggles with fastballs on the inner third. Solid-average power potential. Hit tools plays down due to poor recognition of secondary pitches. Has a lot of trouble with breaking balls and struggles against left-handed pitching. Hazelbaker gets out of the box well and has excellent instincts on the base paths. Improving with his reads and jumps. Potential impact runner on the bases. Defensively, Hazelbaker has above-average range, but tends to freeze on contact and takes poor routes to the ball. Does not see the ball well off the bat. Fringe-average arm strength. Speed to play center field, but profiles as a left fielder. Ceiling of a decent fourth outfielder, but may end up as an up-and-down player due to pitch recognition.

It should be noted that for three consecutive season, Hazelbaker progressed nicely through the Red Sox organization, with OPSpver .800. This past season was his first regression, as his OPS decreased to .687 and he struggled against AAA pitching.  One thing in Hazelbaker's game that hasn't regressed is his speed, and 37 out of 44 SB attempts attests to that.  

The Boston Globe’s Craig Forde wrote, “He [Hazelbaker] needs to improve his patience and cut down on the first-pitch swings that seem to almost always result into outs for him and he needs to improve at recognizing pitches which should help tie everything together.”

Baseball America has this to say : “Hazelbaker can go from the left side of the plate to first base in less than 4.0 seconds on a bunt and his speed rates a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. In addition to sheer quickness, he also possesses the best baserunning instincts in the system. More than just a speedster, also has plus raw power to his pull side.”


Final World Series thought...

Carlos Beltran banged his ribs against the right field wall while making a home run saving catch in the second inning of Game 1 of the World Series tonight.  He couldn’t continue playing after returning to the dugout between innings.  The Cardinal training staff announced that he suffered a right rib contusion, which was the exact same thing the Dodgers diagnosed Hanley Ramirez with initially after he was hit with a pitch in game one of the NLCS.

Looks to me that he might have to play the remainder of the series with a possible cracked rib.  If the Cardinals are smart, they’ll get x-rays and an MRI immediately and not wait until tomorrow when Beltran wakes up and is unable to move.

After all the whining and crying from the Cardinals regarding the Dodgers celebrating some of their positive moments on the field during the NLCS,  which was as hypocritical as all get out, I really have a hard time feeling sorry for them.

Nobody wishes injuries on anybody, and I certainly don’t for Beltran.  But just once, I see some poetic justice in baseball this year, and immediately after St. Louis benefitted from the injury to Hanley Ramirez.   I believe that injury was the biggest factor in costing the Dodgers the series.


Monday, October 21, 2013

It Appears that the Dodger Managerial Position is Up in the Air

This photo from today's press conference really tells it all.  The Dodgers and Mattingly appear to not be close to an agreement. (photo by Nick Ut/AP)

Just when you think Dan Mattingly will be manager for he next few years, the Dodgers hold a press conference and the stability of the situation is shown to be anything but that.  In what some may consider to be a moment of career suicide, Don Mattingly let the world know that he isn't happy with the one-year contract that automatically vested for him for next season after the Dodgers defeated Atlanta in the NLDS.  Apparently Dodger ownership is reluctant to give him more than one year.

"This has been a frustrating, tough year, honestly," he said.  "You come in basically as a lame duck manager, and with the payroll and the guys you have, you make it tough in the clubhouse, put me in a spot where you're basically trying out, auditioning.  Can you manage or not manage?  To me we're three years in.  We're at the point where you know or you don't."

Mattingly's got a point.  After three years, you can fish or cut bait.  I like the man.  He's a wonderful interview and about as nice a guy as you'll find in the game, but we saw how he was seriously lacking as a manager with in-game strategy.  Don's rather predictable.  He doesn't manage according to sabermetric guidelines.  He loves the double switch.  He's quick to give up outs, often setting up situations where the bat is removed from his best hitter via intentional walk.  His handling of his bullpen is questionable.  We've seen what he is as a field manager and I'm ready for the team to go in another direction.  Jim Leyland is out there.  What a find he would be.

So that's where we are on this Monday after elimination Friday.  Though Colletti said that the situation would be resolved soon, ("It's going to be resolved rather quickly," he said),  it sure seemed strange that they went into this presser, knowing full well that questions about Mattingly's future would be asked and neither of them had a concrete answer on the subject.

The Dodgers will have organizational meetings the next five days.  Maybe we'll get some answers during that time with regard to the field manager and the coaches.  Several writers are speculating that Mattingly is as good as gone and that his comments will be found as offensive to the Dodgers ownership group.  With Managerial openings in Washington, Cincinnati and Detroit, all locations close to Mattingly Evansville, Indiana home, maybe he believes he can land a position somewhere closer to his roots and family.

"I don't want to be anywhere I'm not wanted," he said today.  Those words can't be well received by Stan Kasten and the Guggenheim Group.


Alexander Guerrero, the Cuban infielder who was rumored twice before to have signed with the Dodgers a few months back appears to officially now have inked a deal with Los Angeles.  It is reported to be a 4-year pact for $28 million that can actually earn him $32 million if incentives are reached.  Represented by Scott Boras, the superstar agent has ensured that Guerrero will be 31 years old when he reaches free-agency, and ideal situation for him if he excels as expected.

Guerrero is a power hitting infielder that had been blackballed from the Cuban national team since it was suspected that he wanted to defect.  Working out at the Campo Las Palmas facility the Dodgers have in the Dominican Republic, the Cuban refugee accepted the Dodger's offer over those from other suiters.

Scouts question his arm and whether it is strong enough for the shortstop position at the major league level, but few question if  he can handle second base.  Guerrero is slated to play winter ball this off-season, probably in the Dominican, as no hint has been made that he'd head over to Arizona for the Fall League.  Geuerrero turns 27 years old this December, so his baseball development is beyond the raw skills that we all experienced watching with Yasiel Puig this past year.

The signing of Guerrero does not completely doom Mark Ellis' future with the Dodgers.  Ellis' option is for $5.5 million this next season.  The Dodgers just may re-sign him and allow him to battle Guerrero for the position.  We all know the solid defense second baseman Ellis is.  Perhaps the Dodgers are keen on having both players in the roster next season.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Shoulda Been This Year

I had to work this Sunday morning and it was tough to go in.  Being the first work day since elimination day, I didn't look forward to it  Though I had made an effort to not boast and keep quiet regarding my Dodgers allegiance during post-season play, there are some that were simply waiting for the chance to talk smack about the Dodgers falling short.

You see, these are the dreary days of autumn having come fresh off a post-season disappointment knowing full well that it'll be months of Dodger-less news and no games to sit back and enjoy.   The wonderful thing about baseball is that there is almost always a tomorrow after a tough loss.  That isn't the case in October, and that's what makes post-season baseball so difficult.  The recovery takes weeks if not months.  Coincidently it's also the time of year where I know that my work ramps up to a crescendo of unpleasant tasks, making the fall and winter by far my least favorite times of the year.

So I got to work this morning and parked my car and there it was again, another vehicle with one of these license plate frames on it.  It was as if it was taunting me.  Poking fun at me.  A "neener-neerner-neener" moment.

They're all over the place and they aren't going away.  I wanted to witness another Dodger World Championship in the worst way, mainly just to shut up the Giant faithful that take a particularly macabre joy in watching the Dodgers fail to advance to the fall classic.  But mainly because I wanted to put one of the World Championship frames on my vehicle.

Next came their inevitable boasting.  The emails and social media taunts from "friends" had started up shortly after the loss of Friday, essentially twisting that knife in a fresh wound.  It was done simply because they could, and that's what they do best.  Kick people when they're down.  I'll never get it and I never will.  They call it "schadenfreude."  Getting a thrill out of someone else's misery.  Schadenfreude is the basis and the backbone of the mentality of San Francisco Giants fans.  So many years where they fell short, (fifty-six years to be exact without a World Series championship they went).  There wasn't a lot to celebrate so they sought out what the considered the next best thing: watching the Dodgers fail to win championships.  

They developed their schadenfreude mentality to an art form.   It advanced to the point that watching the Dodgers lose was more joyful than seeing their team succeed.  I witnessed it one night at chilly Candlestick Park in 1996.  The Giants were losing and completely out of the pennant race, but when the out of town scoreboard posted a Dodger loss, the 13,000 fans let out a cheer in jubilation.  You'd have thought they won the pennant.

So now that they've won a couple of titles you'd think that they would be above that schadenfreudism.  You'd think so, but it isn't the case.  What a bunch of losers.


Following this Dodger team with such passion is painful.  I didn't enjoy the playoffs.  That was torture from start to finish.  The Dodgers went 5-5 in this post-season, but it felt like it was 2-8.  Never in my life have I second-guessed a manager as I did this time around.  It probably had to do with the desperation to get that San Francisco monkey off my back.

It'll be another year, and I wonder how many of these I can take.  Twenty-six years now, and the Kirk Gibson footage looks grainier and grainier.  Isn't there some high definition footage of that home run somewhere?  Heck, Ronald Reagan was President and steroids hadn't even made a dent on the baseball records yet.  My daughter mentioned it when watching the footage once, "Why are the players so skinny dad?"

2014 seems so far away.  Another 162 games to go through against some western diviison opponents that really have an axe to grind.  They want to do us serious damage.  It's not easy to get within two games of a World Series.  It's only happened once to the Dodgers in the last 26 years.  They were never closer and now, they have to start from square one.

 So while others talk about what a fine season it was and how the team needs to be proud, I have a hard time accepting that.  This team was very close to that ultimate goal.  Yes, the injuries were a lot to overcome, but with Kershaw on the mound with plenty of rest, I simply expected much more than what happened in game six of the NLCS.  As Dodger fans, I believe that we should all be expecting more.  This fan base deserves a championship.  The time is now.  Colletti will get to work to rebuild the roster again and the hot stove debates will begin, but I'm not over the sting of this loss.  This should have been their year.  I HATE that "wait till next year" saying.  This should have been the year that we were making preparations to attend a downtown L.A. parade.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Giamatti's Wisdom

He wrote it in 1977, on the very day that his beloved Red Sox were eliminated from post-season play on the last day of the season.  Yes, it is centered around the Red Sox, but the poignant words apply to all baseball fans that mourn on the day their team is eliminated and reality sets in that the season is over and a long winter of baseball-less nights awaits.

From A Great and Glorious Game: Baseball Writings of A. Bartlett Giamatti
"The Green Fields of the Mind "

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone.

Somehow, the summer seemed to slip by faster this time. Maybe it wasn't this summer, but all the summers that, in this my fortieth summer, slipped by so fast. There comes a time when every summer will have something of autumn about it. Whatever the reason, it seemed to me that I was investing more and more in baseball, making the game do more of the work that keeps time fat and slow and lazy. I was counting on the game's deep patterns, three strikes, three outs, three times three innings, and its deepest impulse, to go out and back, to leave and to return home, to set the order of the day and to organize the daylight. I wrote a few things this last summer, this summer that did not last, nothing grand but some things, and yet that work was just camouflage. The real activity was done with the radio--not the all-seeing, all-falsifying television--and was the playing of the game in the only place it will last, the enclosed green field of the mind. There, in that warm, bright place, what the old poet called Mutability does not so quickly come.

But out here, on Sunday, October 2, where it rains all day, Dame Mutability never loses. She was in the crowd at Fenway yesterday, a gray day full of bluster and contradiction, when the Red Sox came up in the last of the ninth trailing Baltimore 8-5, while the Yankees, rain-delayed against Detroit, only needing to win one or have Boston lose one to win it all, sat in New York washing down cold cuts with beer and watching the Boston game. Boston had won two, the Yankees had lost two, and suddenly it seemed as if the whole season might go to the last day, or beyond, except here was Boston losing 8-5, while New York sat in its family room and put its feet up. Lynn, both ankles hurting now as they had in July, hits a single down the right-field line. The crowd stirs. It is on its feet. Hobson, third baseman, former Bear Bryant quarterback, strong, quiet, over 100 RBIs, goes for three breaking balls and is out. The goddess smiles and encourages her agent, a canny journeyman named Nelson Briles.
Now comes a pinch hitter, Bernie Carbo, onetime Rookie of the Year, erratic, quick, a shade too handsome, so laid-back he is always, in his soul, stretched out in the tall grass, one arm under his head, watching the clouds and laughing; now he looks over some low stuff unworthy of him and then, uncoiling, sends one out, straight on a rising line, over the center-field wall, no cheap Fenway shot, but all of it, the physics as elegant as the arc the ball describes.

New England is on its feet, roaring. The summer will not pass. Roaring, they recall the evening, late and cold, in 1975, the sixth game of the World Series, perhaps the greatest baseball game played in the last fifty years, when Carbo, loose and easy, had uncoiled to tie the game that Fisk would win. It is 8-7, one out, and school will never start, rain will never come, sun will warm the back of your neck forever. Now Bailey, picked up from the National League recently, big arms, heavy gut, experienced, new to the league and the club; he fouls off two and then, checking, tentative, a big man off balance, he pops a soft liner to the first baseman. It is suddenly darker and later, and the announcer doing the game coast to coast, a New Yorker who works for a New York television station, sounds relieved. His little world, well-lit, hot-combed, split-second-timed, had no capacity to absorb this much gritty, grainy, contrary reality.

Cox swings a bat, stretches his long arms, bends his back, the rookie from Pawtucket who broke in two weeks earlier with a record six straight hits, the kid drafted ahead of Fred Lynn, rangy, smooth, cool. The count runs two and two, Briles is cagey, nothing too good, and Cox swings, the ball beginning toward the mound and then, in a jaunty, wayward dance, skipping past Briles, feinting to the right, skimming the last of the grass, finding the dirt, moving now like some small, purposeful marine creature negotiating the green deep, easily avoiding the jagged rock of second base, traveling steady and straight now out into the dark, silent recesses of center field.

The aisles are jammed, the place is on its feet, the wrappers, the programs, the Coke cups and peanut shells, the doctrines of an afternoon; the anxieties, the things that have to be done tomorrow, the regrets about yesterday, the accumulation of a summer: all forgotten, while hope, the anchor, bites and takes hold where a moment before it seemed we would be swept out with the tide. Rice is up. Rice whom Aaron had said was the only one he'd seen with the ability to break his records. Rice the best clutch hitter on the club, with the best slugging percentage in the league. Rice, so quick and strong he once checked his swing halfway through and snapped the bat in two. Rice the Hammer of God sent to scourge the Yankees, the sound was overwhelming, fathers pounded their sons on the back, cars pulled off the road, households froze, New England exulted in its blessedness, and roared its thanks for all good things, for Rice and for a summer stretching halfway through October. Briles threw, Rice swung, and it was over. One pitch, a fly to center, and it stopped. Summer died in New England and like rain sliding off a roof, the crowd slipped out of Fenway, quickly, with only a steady murmur of concern for the drive ahead remaining of the roar. Mutability had turned the seasons and translated hope to memory once again. And, once again, she had used baseball, our best invention to stay change, to bring change on.

That is why it breaks my heart, that game--not because in New York they could win because Boston lost; in that, there is a rough justice, and a reminder to the Yankees of how slight and fragile are the circumstances that exalt one group of human beings over another. It breaks my heart because it was meant to, because it was meant to foster in me again the illusion that there was something abiding, some pattern and some impulse that could come together to make a reality that would resist the corrosion; and because, after it had fostered again that most hungered-for illusion, the game was meant to stop, and betray precisely what it promised.

Of course, there are those who learn after the first few times. They grow out of sports. And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Dodgers Fall Two Games Short in Embarrassing Finale in St. Louis

So I'm sitting in my living room, watching the Dodger season fade away as the boys in blue trail 9-0 in an embarrassment of epic proportions.  The TBS announcers have been making things worse with their constant reminders of the Dodger foibles.  I guess you can't blame them, they are simply calling the action.  Perhaps I'm overly sensitive having lived and died with this team since the first pitch at Spring training by Hyun-Jin Ryu, (that I personally witnessed at Camelback Ranch).

Kershaw's worst start of the year couldn't coincided with his most important start of his career. (photo by Jeff Curry.USA Today Sports)

Clayton Kershaw will without a doubt have to live with having pitched the worst game in his career on the night when everyone recognized that it was the most important start of his career.  That, my friends, is going to be hard to live with.  It'll also be something that will haunt him until he does win the big one.  I hate for a great player like Kershaw to be the kind of guy that is constantly reminded of that failure, but such is the world of sports.

The Yasiel Puig bashers are having a field day.  Both on TBS and on twitter.  There is little doubt that Puig has had better days, and the two errors attest to that.  But the joy they get in his failures is something that irks to no end.  Puig is an amazing talent and he'll recover, but he'll also continue to make mistakes.  That tends to happen with players that play with reckless abandon and have little seasoning.  I just hope that fans will be patient with him and not expect that next season he'll magically turn into that mature major leaguer that never makes mistakes. Remember, the kid has been learning the major league ropes on the fly while making his way through the majors in his first go-around.  It has been quite an exciting run for the kid.

Players that probably won't be back:
 1) Mark Ellis, even though he has one year and $5.75 million remaining on his contract, I see Ellis being moved or released.  He'll be age 37 next season.  The rumors of Alexander Guerrero seem to attest to the fact that the Dodgers are looking in another direction.  
2) Juan Uribe, because his contract is up and I highly doubt he accepts a one year deal, which is the only contract the Dodgers should offer him.  His production in contract years seems to be a recurring situation.  It was a great comeback year for him, but Uribe will be 34 years old next season. 
3) Nick Punto, is a free agent and at age 36, it's time to let the little Pony ride off to another team, if there are takers.  
4) Jerry Hairston Jr., also he needs to retire.  It was a nice career.  He played one year too many. 
5) Michael Young, at 37 he's another retirement candidate.  It was a good career for the versatile infielder, but his bat isn't as quick as it once was and he's a DP machine now.  
6) Ricky Nolasco will seek a multi-year deal (probably 4 years) in the $45 million range.  He'll probably not accept a home town discount if there's a team out there willing to guarantee him a number 3 slot with big money.   That team shouldn't be the Dodgers. 
7) Brian Wilson, what a great acquisition.  He's still a closer and unless the Dodgers agree to hand that role over to him, he'll get a multi-year deal with a team that agrees to hand him the ball in the 9th inning.  I wish they could work something out, but his success pretty much guarantees that he'll seek a closer job elsewhere.   I hope he doesn't come back to haunt us.
8) One of the three outfielders should be dealt, with the Dodgers paying a ton of his salary, Ethier, Crawford or Kemp.  I just get the feeling that they don't want to go into the season next year with the turmoil that could be created by four guys vying for three spots.  Of course, injuries may resolve this dilemma once again, so maybe they'll stay.  One thing for sure though, they'll need better production from all three.  It's fair to say that all three disappointed.
9) Skip Schumaker, also a free agent in 2014.  He isn't anything other than an above average utility-man with little power.  A nice team guy and team player, so maybe he re-signs, but Schumaker will be 34 next season also.  

That's nine players off the roster, and some important ones as well.  In the months that come, we'll be debating the areas of weakness and the things the Dodgers must do to advance at least two games further and into the World Series.  It is painful to come so close.  A little better luck In the injury department and this team could have gone all the way.  Hopefully 2014 provides better fortune on that front. 

A thank you to the readers this season.  All the tweets, comments and support were really appreciated.  At 200,000 strong, it is amazing the growth over the years as I try to provide my personal analysis of this team we all love.  it's not always easy.  I wish I was in a position to do this full time, and one day in the not too distant future, I hope that will be the case.  (Retirement is on the horizon...but still a few years away).   Here's to a great off-season and just think,  it's less than 120 days until pitchers and catchers report to Camelback Ranch.

We'll be warming up the hot stove shortly after the World Series.  

Congratulations the the St. Louis Cardinals for their pennant winning season.

All For the Marbles, Part I

On “Do or Die Friday” the Dodgers put their ace on the mound before the whining St. Louis Cardinals and their fans who seem to be obsessed with the fact that it is somehow unprofessional for a team to celebrate when they do something well on the field.  That is unless they themselves are doing the celebrating, of course.

Never have I lost so much respect for an organization in such a short period of time as with the Cardinals organization that has essentially self-annointed themselves as the “class of baseball.”  All to which I say, “phooey!”  Their fans and players have been whining since day one of this series.  They have shown a complete misunderstanding of the modern game and they could really use an education in cultural differences as well when you consider their comments on Puig.  There is also a serious hypocritical slant to their words and actions as well.

St. Louis has had a lot more to celebrate this series than the Dodgers, and they haven’t backed off from dancing, fist pumping, elevating arms and hip gyrations from game one on.  Yet, not a word of complaint has been uttered from the Dodger dugout because they understand that is part of the game.  All you need to do is look at the highlight clips and such Cardinal players as Molina, Carpenter, Kelly, Wacha, Rosenthal, Freese and others that have engaged in celebratory activity that isn’t any less boisterous than that of the Dodgers.

I really wanted to avoid this topic altogether, due to the silliness of it, but it hasn’t gone away and Bob Nightengale's USA Today columnn today really took the cake.   Where do the Cardinals get off at crowning themselves as the authors of the un-written rules of baseball?  They come off as whiners and cry-babies.  Perhaps they can use those white towels they waive to wipe away their tears tonight.


The Dodgers present a starting lineup void of shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who probably can’t loosen up enough to play in this cold weather which is said to dip into the fifties and perhaps upper fourties tonight.   This broken rib condition is something that will probably shut down Ramirez for the remainder of post season play.   Additionally there is a 30% chance of showers.  So it’ll be Clayton Kershaw trying to keep the Cardinals off the scoreboard, with hopes that the Dodgers can put up two or three runs.  That should be enough to hold them off, but you never know how this crazy game will play out.

So grab your rabbit’s foot, rosary beads, or anything thing that you deem worthy of providing good fortune to the L.A. nine tonight.  This one promises to be a real nail-biter.  Wouldn’t have it any other way.

UPDATE:  Hanley Ramirez has been inserted into the Dodger lineup.  Apparently he has loosened up and been swinging the bat in the batting cages underneath the stadium.  A very interesting development.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Well Needed Day Off From Post-Season Baseball

There’s nothing like a day off and day of rest following a post-season play victory.  It allows the emotional batteries to be recharged.  It’s good for the soul.  I can’t deny that my ticker could use a break for a day as well.

Juan Uribe watches his game winning NLDS homer as delirious fans in the background explode in euphoric excitement.

Post-season play is what we aspire to each year, but when it arrives, I’m seldom ready for it.  It’s just that there is so much on the line and after 162 contests, it’s hard to find solace in the fact that a simple break of two could render those previous 162 as meaningless.  For that reason baseball is far and away the most heartbreaking sport in the world.  Nobody plays so many games in a season.  No fans invest more time in following the sport as well.

Baseball fans are an interesting lot.  They’re far more cerebral than those following football, basketball or hockey.  The baseball fan invests time and brain capacity into their fandom.  We’re the stat mongers and the ones always looking for that minute little edge that would push our team past others in the standings.  We debate the small stuff until our throats are hoarse.  Can you imagine a football fan discussing the decision to punt on 4th and one plays on their opponents 39 year line, or to risk it all and go for it in such scenarios.  Football fans go by emotion.  They don’t think, they just react.  Good baseball fans are analysts who methodically think things through.  We're so much different.

There's no way a football fan discusses the nuances and acute strategies of the game like we do.  I could start a thread on the sacrifice bunt on a popular baseball message board and get hundreds of responses from stat analysts discussing with passion whether players should hit behind the runner, bunt or swing away.  We are the nerds of sport.  We’re the smart ones and the most passionate ones.  We’re the fans that live and die with our sport.  Baseball fans are those that need to get an anti-depressant prescription each October when our team is eliminated.

I’d hate to add up all the hours that I have spent on the game because I’m fairly certain that years of my life have engaged in watching the sport.  Okay, I lied.  I like statistics and I have no problem crunching the numbers.  Being that statistical analyst that I am, I just did a conservative calculation and I figured that I have spent AT LEAST 2.31 years watching baseball games in my life.  That figure surpasses my hours attending school and getting an education (and I have an advanced degree).  It also exceeds  the hours I have spent eating, driving, gardening, talking on the phone, shopping. reading, and cooking, (most things that  I enjoy doing).

Steve Finley's 2004 division clinching grand slam.

We are baseball geeks, savants, nerds,  and gurus.  There will be some that will state that we’ve wasted a good portion of our life away.  There’s probably some truth to that.  We were groomed by over-the-line, wiffle ball, baseball cards, Strat-o-matic, Vin Scully and Bill James  Reality is that the joys experienced when baseball goes our way are treasured throughout our lives and discussed for decades.  We Dodger fans all know where we were when Gibson’s shot was hit, Big D and Orel's broke the scoreless streak record, Sandy's perfecto was thrown and Finley's slam was lofted into the RF Pavilion.  The low points make us better persons in the long run and are growth opportunities.  And guess what?  There’s always next year too.


Conversation with my wife yesterday:

Her: “I want to see “Captain Phillips” (new motion picture with Tom Hanks) this Saturday, you want to go?”

Me:  “  Um…uh,…”

Her: “Oh that’s right, the Dodgers.  That’s more important than going to the movie with me, right?”

Me: “Let me see if I understand you correctly.  I watch 162 games a year and that’s not counting spring training.  On top of that there’s hours writing on the blog, more hours participating in Dodger related discussion boards, watching pre-and post-game shows, listening to sports talk radio, reading  days and days worth of material on the team.   You rarely ever complain about the time I put in to all that.  All of this leading up to the playoffs and World Series that the Dodgers haven’t qualified for lately.  So on Saturday, when the Dodgers are probably playing their most important game in a quarter of a decade, a game determining if they make it to the World Series for the first time in 25 years, you want me to go to a movie that I’ve never heard of.”

Her: "Only if you love me… (after a long pause)…the game's at night, right?  Maybe we can go to the 11:00 AM showing.”

Me: "Absolutely."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Momentum Swinging to Dodgers Side as Cardinals Fail to Close Out Series

The St. Louis Cardinals have a problem.  It’s a bit of a crisis really.  I'd classify it as a crisis of confidence and if Friday goes according to pattern, by then they might be in absolute panic mode.   

For four consecutive games in two consecutive years, they have failed to close out the National League Championship Series and make it to the World Series while on the verge winning the pennant.  Ahead three games to one against the San Francisco Giants last season, the Cardinals couldn’t manage to win one more and advance to the fall classic.  In three opportunities, they failed.  In three opportunities they got schellacked by scores of 5-0, 6-1 and 9-0.  
Joe Kelly started for St. Louis in game 5 today.  He went 5 innings and allowed four runs, taking the loss.  (photo by Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports)

So today, again in a potential close out game and ahead three games to one, the Dodgers jumped ahead of the Cardinals 6-2 (eventually winning 6-4),  and St. Louis must have had that sinking feeling that the pennant might be slipping away from them again.  How could they not?  This puts the Dodgers in a position that they probably weren’t aware of, that being in a superior mental state heading in to the final two games in St. Louis.

The Cardinals have to be aware that they have to beat the best starting pitcher in the game, who will be of the mindset that he’ll be pitching the most important game in his life.  That can’t be a feeling of confidence for them.  They’re 0-4 in these pennant clinching games now, and a loss to Kershaw would make them 0-5.  I don’t know about you, but if I was sitting in their position, my confidence would be quite shaken by the time game seven rolls around.

The Dodgers, decimated by injury after injury, still may find themselves in an advantageous position on Friday.  That is quite amazing to consider as Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier are playing at about 20%.  Matt Kemp is out for the season.  That’s over 50% of the thumpers in the lineup, but guys like Adrian Gonzalez, A.J. Ellis, Juan Uribe, Yasiel Puig  and Carl Crawford are picking up the slack.  Even with the absenteeism in the offensive end (caused by injury), the team is within two games of the World Series.

Adrian Gonzalez hit two homers in today's 6-4 Dodger win over the Cardinals in game five of the NLCS.  (Photo by Richard Mackson.USA Today Sports)

Meanwhile, you’ve got a Cardinals team that has not hit well in this series and after Kershaw, they face the prospect of going against a dreaded left hander, and one that has had their number in the two games he has faced them so far.  

So the numbers are stacked against the Dodgers, as historical data shows that teams up 3 to 1 are winners of a seven game series well over 90% of the time, but this deficit may not be as deep as many think.  Baseball is a game of trends and the momentum has shifted towards the Dodgers here.  They need to go into St. Louis in the mindset that they’ll put a few runs up on the board and then they can allow their ace to do his magic.  If they are able to give moderate run support to both their starters, the World Series may be waiting for them.