Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Player Worth Staying Awake For

As an East Coast resident now, the 2014 season has been a challenge for me, and I've mentioned it before.  Those 10:05 pm start times are tough.  I make the regular practice of setting my mini I-Pad to have the Dodger game on via MLB.com set up on my nightstand.

If I'm lucky, I'll make it into the 4th or 5th inning before nodding off, as I have a 5:30 am bus to catch that takes me into my workplace in the nation's capital.  If a slow worker like Beckett is pitching, I usually won't see more than 3 innings.  With Clayton Kershaw though, now that's another story.

(AP Photo)
I've found myself yawning a lot in work meetings on days following a Kershaw outing on several occasions.  Sorry, but there's history in the making whenever he takes the mound, and who wants to miss that?  We are watching a once in a lifetime type pitcher in Clayton.  A guy like this comes around, well for some teams, they never do.  

As Dodger fans we've been fortunate.  There's a vast history of pitching greatness throughout the Los Angeles years of the franchise, but Kershaw is teetering on being their best in history.  I think a valid argument could be made that he has reached that point already.  

For the many of you that don't have the opportunity to watch the team in action, (another topic altogether that is disgustingly becoming the most disturbing story of this season), tonight Vin Scully put Kershaw's current run of success is historic proportion.  In his last 61 starts, Kershaw is sporting a 1.76 ERA.  That equals Koufax's  best run in his career, one in which Sandy had a 1.78 ERA over a 61 start stretch during his amazing prime years.

Under no circumstances do I want to dwell on the negative, but as a follower of the game for 45 years or so, I've seen pitchers come and go, and I realize the fragile commodity that they can be.  We've seen some amazing pitchers go down with injury.  You've got to enjoy his mastery of the art of pitching while it's there.  Cliff Lee's injury tonight reminds us of that.

Now I see no sign of there being anything physically wrong with Clayton, and we all pray that continues.  But throwing that 5 .oz. sphere 93-95 MPH over and over again with the occasional curveball and slider is not something that is natural, and even the great ones only have so many pitches in their arm. We saw it with Sandy, Don, Orel, and Fernando.  Everyone has their time.  So consider it a true blessing that we get to watch the greatest left hander in this era go out there every five days, and he paints a Rembrandt-esque masterpiece on the field nearly each time.

Do you want proof?  Look up Kershaw on baseball-reference.com.  Take a look at what he has accomplished so far.  You'll see that in his seven seasons in the game he has dominated in such vital statistics as strikeouts, ERA, WAR, fielding %, decisions, K's per 9IP, adjusted ERA, and more.  You'll find that his comparable stats with hall of famers put him on pace to be enshrined with the immortals of the game.   The "Similarity Score" section of the page ranks Kershaw with such hall of famers as Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, and future ones: Pedro Martinez, and Roger Clemens.

Kershaw about to deliver final pitch of his no-hit outing in June, 2014 vs. Colorado (photo by Chris Carlson/AP)

So now, in his 6th full season with L.A., Kershaw completes his 90th victory of his short career.  A career that only lacks longevity, and at age 26, there are no signs that Clayton won't accomplish that as well.  His fitness is top notch.  He works on his craft year round.  He is humble and teachable.  He respects the game and reveres his time listening to such greats as Koufax and Newcombe.  Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt says there is no greater student of the game.  He comes prepared and his in game focus is bend compare.

There are no signs of physical deterioration of Kershaw's skills.  He's a smart pitcher that isn't dependent on blowing away hitters as he did in his first years in the league.  Even in recent interviews he has mentioned that he'll need to add an effective change-up to his repertoire, because Clayton understands that as he ages, his physical tools will deteriorate.  Always learning, always finding a way to improve.  This is a player that is a perfectionist and one that is never satisfied, even when he is by far and away the best there is in the game.

And here's another thing about Kershaw that many of us will notice when the post season arrives.  He was embarrassed by that post season loss in the NLCS last year.  I guarantee you that Clayton will not allow that to happen again.  This is a man on a mission that will come into post season play with a focus that we'll never have seen before.  For that reason, 2014 I predict will be unforgettable for many of us Dodger fans, because Kershaw will put on a performance that we will not forget.

The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw contractually locked up through the 2020 season, when he'll be 32 years old. It's fun to predict where he'll be statistically by then, and I'll take that bait.  Barring injury. I believe it's safe to say that Kershaw could have upwards of 200 victories by then and a few more Cy Young Awards on his shelf.  As Dodger fans, we're all hoping that multiple World Series rings will be placed on his fingers as well.  Meanwhile, it's best to simply sit back and enjoy this ride, because a pitcher like Kershaw is about as rare a find as there is in baseball, and he's ours.  A Dodger.  The greatest one in this generation.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

What a Difference Two Games Make

A few random bullet points with regard to the current Dodger-Giant series:

  • While Puig was in his fifth at-bat during his historic "Triple-Triple" performance on Friday night, Giants fans could be audibly heard chanting "Home Run Derby" during his at-bat.  I have no doubt that they would still have been chanting that if he had a four homer game.
  • It's only two games, but the Dodger dominance in them so far has really shown that with Kershaw and Greinke on the mound, given a small lead, this team can absolutely thrash a ball club in a short series.  If Mattingly is able to line up his pitching for the playoffs, the Dodgers could really go far.
  • An aggregate score of 13-1 in these two games has got to have Giant fans worried.  Did they just waken a sleeping giant?  (Absolutely no pun intended).
  • After watching the Dodgers personally in Pittsburgh on Wednesday and then these two games, there is no question that the insertion of Puig and Hanley in the lineup has made a mountain of difference.  On Wednesday it was get-away day and players like Rojas and  Butera were in the lineup.  These past two games, the guys have brought their playoff swagger into San Francisco.  The chemistry difference is almost palpable.
  • San Francisco's recent acquisitions of a .160 hitter (Uggla) and a 1-9, 4.72 pitcher (Peavy) to bolster their pennant race run, doesn't strike me as being improvements.  We all know Peavy brings his "A" game against the Dodgers, (and he did last season for Boston at Dodger Stadium), but for some reason, I don't see this move as something that will change the Giants fortunes.
  • Kershaw now has a lifetime record of 12-6, with a 1.41 ERA against San Francisco.  How in the world did he lose six games?
    (photo by Beck Diefenbach/AP)
  • Speaking of Kershaw, he's on a run that will match up with any great pitcher historically.  He's bringing no-hit stuff to the game for every turn in the rotation.  Now his record is 12-2, 1.76 ERA.   In his last 10 starts Kershaw is 9-0 and he's surrounded 8 earned runs in those 10 games, spanning 77 innings.  In those 77 innings he has struck out 105 batters.  His ERA has lowered a full run and three quarters.  He is league leader in winning %, strikeouts per nine innings, ERA, fewest walks per nine innings, WAR for pitchers, complete games,  and shutouts.  Clayton Kershaw is the greatest pitcher on the planet.
  • The seagull problem at AT&T Park has reached almost uncontrollable proportions.  And they are getting bolder and bolder as time passes.  
  • What a difference two games make.  As good as things are going, if the Dodgers fail to sweep tonight, how many would be happy with 2 out of 3 in San Francisco?  At the start of this series, many doom and gloom fans were simply hoping for one victory in the series to avoid getting buried.  Now it's go for the jugular or bust.

Friday, July 25, 2014

It's a Beautiful Day for a Home Run, Or Even 5 TRIPLES are OK

They call that right field wasteland at AT&T "triples alley."  There's so much acreage out there that you could graze cattle in right center and there'd hardly be anyone that notices.   If there ever was a ballpark in the league that required a rover, San Francisco is it.

(AP Photo, July 25, 2014)

The Giants designed the park for Barry Bonds, we all knew that.  The thinking was that he'd hit a ton of dingers down the right field line, where there's a short porch at about 303 feet at the foul pole.  To make up for the porch, the designers of the place made the right centerfield fence a full 421 feet from home plate.

That right-center field acreage became the place were lofty homers went to die.  As so often happens when plans are put in place to keep a ballpark honest, there was an unexpected result.  First, it was that Bonds lost a lot of homers to right centerfield.  The other unanticipated consequence of the right field abundance was that liners or fast grounders hit there would become easy triples.

Dubbed triples alley by Giant broadcasters early in its inaugural 2000 season.  We've now seen the ballpark in action a lot over the years.  There's the occasional inside the parker too because of all the crazy angles that create caroms off those weird angles out there.  Tonight's episode might be a game remembered by Dodger fans for years.  Five triples.  Three by Puig.  Three triples in one inning alone.

You saw something tonight that you'll probably never see again and that was the Puig Triple-Triple.  You'll see a perfect game more often than that.  I'm pretty sure that hitting 3 triples in a game is more rare than a cycle.  The last time four triples was accomplished by a player in one game was back in the day when 5 pitches outside the strike zone constituted a walk and balls bouncing over the fence counted as homers.  It was back in 1885 and the first World Series wouldn't be played for another 15 years.

So treasure this one folks.  That was a gem of a performance.  One of those games that we'll be talking about years from now.  Will it also be considered the game that turned the Dodger season around?  I hope so.

I guess it's safe to say that Puig has recovered from the hand injury, and he couldn't have picked a better time for it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A PNC Park Perspective

By my count, Pittsburgh's PNC Park is the 14th major league ball park I have visited.  Some are no longer in use.  Others have changed names more than once.  So I list those ball parks that I I have visited over the years, and some of the names have changed...and frankly, I don't care what the correct name is today.  They include: Dodger Stadium, Angel Stadium, San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium, San Diego Petco Park, Oakland Alameda Coliseum, San Francisco's Candlestink Park and AT&T Park, Denver's Coors Field, Phoenix's Chase Field, Houston's Minute Maid Park, Miami's Marlins Park, New York's Shea Stadium and Boston's Fenway Park.

Nestled on the banks of the Aleghany River, The Roberto Clemente Bridge serves as a walkway for thousands of Pirate fans to arrive at PNC Park from downtown Pittsburgh.

Now living in DC, a trip to Nationals Park and Baltimore's Camden Yards will happen shortly.  There's also Philly and New York nearby, so another five years should be knocked off my bucket list within the next year.

Dan Haren didn't have good stuff from the get-go as Pittsburgh plated 4 runs in the first inning.

No need to discuss the misery of tonight's loss and the Dodger's dropping two games back in the standings.  The ball club is having its problems.  Though all can be quickly remedied with a sweep in San Francisco.  Dan Haren looked lost out there for three innings and there went tonight's game.

PNC Park is quite stunning.  Picturesque and perched on the Aleghany River.  It combines amazing scenery with a quaint and cozy park that is close to the action, providing a lot of great seats.  

Part of the charm of the Stargell and Clemente statues were the families that were stopping and posing with them.

Of course, the statues of Stargell and Clemente add to the mystique of this magical place.

So here are a bunch more photos I took tonight.   There isn't much to write, so here's hoping that these shots provide a better perspective of the place.

Kershaw signing pre-game

Jon SooHoo and Laz Diaz exchange pleasantries.
Amazing sky as batting cage goes down.
Was that building on the right the skyscraper from the original Ghostbusters movie?
Yasiel back in action.  He drew a walk in the 8th and finished up in Centerfield.

Pirate fans in celebratory mood as they cross the bridge after Pirates 6-1 win.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

With Sixty Percent of Season Gone, Some Predictions on How the It Will End

With MLB play about to resume after the All Star break, the Dodgers have played ninety-seven games, which comes out to be 60% of the season.  They have the best record in the National League, by the skin of their teeth.  Yet they’re also a mere 2.5 games from not making the playoffs as well.  The post season picture is that close, with no true dominant team in the National League.
Photo by Jon SooHoo, LA Dodgers, (courtesy of Dodgersphotoblog.mlblogs.com)

One bad week and they can be out of the playoff picture.  One 7 game winning streak and they could take a commanding lead.  The volatility of the league is quite fluid.  As of now there are nineteen teams still in playoff contention in MLB, meaning that trade partners should be limited when the deadline hits in about two weeks.

So there are two ways to look at the Dodger season so far, and I’ll pick the glass half full option.  The ball club hasn’t hit it’s stride yet.  Not even reaching a 4 game winning streak all season.  Guys like Kemp, Ethier, Gonzalez, Ramirez, Ellis, and Wilson are underperforming, and they’re still in first place.   At least some of those guys are bound to improve.  

Then there is the pithing, it’s too good.  They have the best starting staff in the league.  Whether it is Kershaw, Grinke, Beckett or Ryu, those guys are putting up quality start after quality start.  Everyone but Haren is hitting their stride and even he has had his positive moments this year.  The bullpen has improved and is holding its own.  Jansen is coming back. Howell has been spectacular.  League is back to where he was two years ago.

Their play on the road - stellar.  Which means that their home field play is bound to get better (as it has for the past month).  Their play within the NL West is markedly improved from last year (28-18) and there is a lot of inter-division play left.  Though they start play against competition that is pretty tough for the remainder of July, take a look at their September schedule.  The only ball club over .500 they will be playing will be the Giants.  It’ll be the rest of the NL West and the lowly Cubs in September during that 30 game stretch run at the end.

Photo by Jon SooHoo, LA Dodgers, (courtesy of Dodgersphotoblog.mlblogs.com)

Even if the Dodgers find themselves a few games back going into September, they’ll still be in good position to win the division with that cupcake schedule at the end.  So I say 2014 is looking good for the Dodgers.  There's room for improvement.  There are players that will pick up the pace.  The late season schedule is favorable and they are bound to play better baseball at home.

Here are a few of my mid-season predictions addressing how the season will end.

  1. The Dodgers end the season at 95-67, leaving the Giants a full 6 games behind to take the NL West.  I still think the Giants are a wildcard team though.
  2. Clayton Kershaw ends the season with a 20-5 record and an ERA of 2.02 as he wins his third Cy Young Award.  He’ll strikeout less than 200 for the first time in a while, but that's good as he'll be stronger in post season play because of it. 
  3. Yasiel Puig finishes right at .300 with 24 homers and .945 OPS.  He is awarded a gold glove award.
  4. Zack Greinke finishes at 20-12, making the Dodgers the first team in a while to sport two 20 game winners.  His ERA of 2.94 will end up being the third lowest of the starting staff though because Josh Beckett’s 2.64 ERA will come up in second behind Kershaw.  Beckett will finish with 14 wins and will be a solid third option pitching in the post-season.
  5. Dee Gordon completes 2014 leading the league in stolen bases with 79, while being caught 19 times.  He keeps his on-base % up around .345 and he’ll score close to 100 runs on the year.
  6. AJ Ellis lifts his batting average 40 points to finish the year at .254.  We’ll find that his time sitting earlier in the season was a blessing in disguise as he is well rested and he proves to be a significant surprise contributor in the final month of the season.
  7. Matt Kemp continues to improve and finds additional pop in his bat, hitting 13 homers in the final 65 games, finishing with 21 dingers.  His bat heats up for a stretch and he carries the club for several games, giving us all glimpses of the Matt Kemp pre-shoulder surgery.
  8. Adrian Gonzalez struggles through his toughest season in years, failing to adequately adjust to those defensive shifts against him.  He still drives in runs and hits 25 homers on the year, but that usual BA in the .300 range settles for .260 this year.
  9. With the 95 win season, the Dodgers clinch home field advantage in post season play.  They take wild card winner San Francisco in the first round, and then face nemesis St. Louis in the NLCS, but this time they dominate and take the series in five games.  The World Series will be against Oakland.  Dodgers win it in 6 games.
Feel free to jump in and comment with your predictions.  It's going to be a fun two and a half months.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

It's a Cruel, Cruel Game

Today's announcement that Carl Crawford has been reinstated to the Dodger major league roster and as a result, Clint Robinson has been designated for assignment is proof again that baseball is right up there as one of the cruelest sports.

Robinson has done everything asked of him.  A remarkable spring training.  A game winning RBI in his forth  Dodger at bat, providing the lone run in the Dodgers 1-0 win over Cleveland on June 30th. Five days later he had another key pinch hit RBI against Colorado.  He was hitting .333 over 9 at bats.  Clint is caught up in a numbers game, and as a result, he finds himself sitting for ten days, perhaps claimed by another club, or remaining unclaimed and returning to Albuquerque by the Dodgers.
Clint Robinson singles in the game winning run against Cleveland on June 30th, in the Dodgers 1-0 win. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

This 29-year old rookie has paid his minor league dues with 3,670 plate appearances over eight  seasons, and he's certainly is deserving of a roster spot.  He has always hit, as his .302 career minor league average and .380 OBP attest to.  He hits the ball out of the park, with 137 minor league homers to his credit.  Certainly there should be a place for this young man in the organization.

It's just a shame that he's now gone.  He was one of the feel good stories of the season in my opinion.  A tireless worker and a man that we would hope would get a chance to prove himself, even in the tough role as a pinch hitter and backup to Adrian Gonzalez.  He accepted his plight and he performed in the few opportunities in which he appeared

There's no easy answer to his situation.  But it's unfair.  He got that taste of the show.  A few nights in the 5 star hotels.  An experience of the per diem and the major-league spreads.  There was the taste of a major league pennant race and then an experience of the camaraderie with the stars of the era and then "poof," it's over.

I got a kick out of reading the story that Robinson was invited out to dinner with Kemp and a few other players and he was sweating out the steak dinner bill that would possibly come his way, because his wife would be upset if he had to shell out the cash for such a meal.  To his relief, Matt picked up the tab.  

It's a sad plight for the border-line guys, trying with all their might to make it to the show.  As a prospect with a top tier team like Los Angeles, the chances of landing a 25 man roster spot are even more difficult.  If Clint gets snatched up by another major league club, I say "good for him."  He deserves that opportunity to earn a living and make the big money to support his family.  If he isn't picked up and the Dodgers are able to keep him in the organization, then "good for us," because Clint Robinson is a quality player and by all appearances I have seen...a good man too.

Good luck Clint.  You deserved a much better hand than what you were dealt.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Iron Horse...His Farewell Speech, 75 Years Ago

If you haven't read it already, today marks the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig's "luckiest man on the face of the earth," speech.  It was truly an iconic moment in the history of sport and one that thankfully was recorded, registering every stirring word of that amazing speech.

As a kid, I think I saw the movie "Pride of the Yankees" at least ten times.  I remember it being the KTLA movie of the week a few times, which meant they replayed it about five times a week.  So I watched it every night.  It was a wonderful movie, but MGM stretched the truth in some cases and changed the order of Lou's speech for dramatic effect, having Gary Cooper finish with the famous words that we all know echoed through Yankee Stadium.

Today, while watching Dick Enberg announce the Padres-Giants game, he reported that every 90 seconds, someone succumbs to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), known most commonly as Lou Gehrig's disease.  Honestly I had no idea how prevalent ALS is.  That's a lot of people suffering from the disease.  Sadly, there hasn't been much headway in curing the disease.  What has progressed is determinations of the causes of it and ways to extend the life of sufferers of the illness.

A few years ago, HBO's Real Sports showed a compelling segment on ALS and the frequency of it's diagnosis with athletes that have suffered numerous head injuries.  Most notably there were a number of NFL players, that were dying from ALS, and evidence from brain scans led researchers to believe that their diagnosis was directly linked to the numerous concussions they suffered during their playing careers.

It was also discovered that Gehrig, in the course of setting his consecutive games streak, played through numerous concussions, probably directly attributing to the disease that took his life.    HBO Sports in their research determined that Gehrig suffered at least six head injuries, one of which was probably a fractured skull, but he played through it all.

ALS is the cruelest of diseases, as virtually every part of the body deteriorates except for the mind.  So in the final stages, the sufferer does so in complete silence and has no control over it.  With most dying from respiratory failure, unable to speak and their mind functioning completely.  The saddest part of ALS is that it often debilitates the strongest of athletes into shells of their former selves.

So the words of the great Lou Gehrig, ring of amazing courage, especially considering what he was going through at the time.  He was losing the ability to control his muscles.  His speech was slowing. The feeling in his hands and feet was disappearing.  Eventually he was confined to bed and a respirator.  Did he fully know what he was about to have to endure prior to his death?  That fact is known to very few, but recent stories addressing his final years seems to tell us that his deterioration wasn't as rapid as some thought.  Gehrig continued functioning in society for a few years after his 1939 retirement from baseball.

He faced his fate with undue courage and honor, continuing to live a post baseball life.  He accepted a job offered by New York Mayor LaGuardia as commissioner of the city parole board.  He got up and drove to work each day.  He made $5,700 a year in salary.  He even sent boxing great, Rocky Graziano, to reform school as he was a juvenile committing crimes in Gehrig's jurisdiction.

The closing words of Gehrig's 1939 speech were not that he was the "luckiest man on the face of the earth."  He actually started his speech saying that.  The conclusion of he stadium speech hinted that he planned on being with us for a while as he said "I may have been given a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for."  Sadly the disease cut his life out from under him two years later.