Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Saturday, October 22, 2016

This is it

"There've been times in my life
I've been wondering why.
Still, somehow I believe, we'd always survive..."

I don't think there's been a season ever like this Dodger 2016 season has been.  A team that was down and out, 8 games in the standings, with their ace shelved for what looked to be the rest of the season.   A ball club with extreme weaknesses against left handed pitching and a lack of dependable starting pitchers that could go deep into games.  It looked like the season was doomed.

It was a time to soul search and dig deep inside, and these guys did it. The date was June 26th and the Dodgers had just been swept in Pittsburgh.  They had a 41-36 record while the Giants were playing phenominally, with the 2nd best record in baseball at 49-24, a mere 1/2 game less than the Cubs record.

"Are you gonna wait for a sign?  You're miracle,
Stand up and fight!"

There was no team meeting.  No panic.  The guys dug deep and started winning.  Winning a lot in fact, to the tune of 50-35 for the remainder of the season.

So with their backs to the wall facing elimination, and no place to go, the Dodgers send their ace to the mound again. Kershaw has yet to participate in a losing effort this post season.  In fact, with the exception of Rich Hill's win in game three of this NLCS, the ONLY Dodger wins in the post season have had Kershaw's signature in them.  That is a good sign for tonight's contest.  Clayton Kershaw on full rest.

"The waiting is over, no where to hide,
No time for wondering why.
It's here, the moment is know, about to decide.
Let 'em believe.
Leave 'em behind.
But keep me near in your heart,
Know whatever you do, I'm here by your side."

The Dodgers entire Wrigley where 40,000+ fans and an entire nation of Cubs bandwagoners rooting for a Dodger defeat.  But there is that almost tangible pressure that the Cubs will be facing.  It's called history.  It's called failure.  It has lingered with them for over a hundred years.  Sure, if they weren't facing the Dodgers, I'd root for them.  But they aren't.

I'm in the cafeteria in the U.S. Embassy in Argentina and the topic of conversation is the Cubs.  Here on the opposite side of the planet.  "The Cubs are finally going to do it," people say.  "They've never been this close."  Oh, how easy it is to forget.  1984, 1989, 2003, 2015.  I know there are other heartbreak sasons, those just come to mind.  So many times on the verge of a World Series birth, only to fall short and suffer more heart break.

With a Dodger lead, that crowd will be silenced.  Hands in faces.  Shock and disbelief.  We've seen it a number of times.  I can picture it tonight.  A Kershaw win, and game seven pressure that will be difficult to overcome.

"Make no mistake where you are,
(This is it)
Your back's to the corner
(This is it)
Until it's over and done
(This is it)
One way or another
(This is it)"

This is it.  Dodger take the series in seven games.

(Words and Music to "This Is It" by Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald, 1979)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Home Field Advantage - NLCS Notes and Opinions

  • It's now the best three out of five and we have the home field advantage.  It is also most likely going to be two Kershaw games, two Hill games and one Urias game.  I like our chances.
  • Javier Baez is a beast.  A baseball savvy, pesky, patient, intelligent, never makes mistakes playing, October peaking beast.  This is the Daniel Murphy of the Cubs and he should be dealt with very carefully.  The remainder of the Cub lineup seems to be controllable.  Bryant is a true MVP, but can be neutralized.  Rizzo is in a horrid slump from which we hope he doesn't emerge.  Dexter Fowler, a good leadoff man but not nearly as imposing of a threat as Trea Turner was.  Addison Russell has pop, but if you can keep him int he park, he's usually an out.  The rest of the guys seems to be manageable.   Zobrist can be clutch and should be pitched carefully, which they did a good job of doing.  What I'm trying to say is that the Washington lineup seemed to be much more imposing and the Dodger pitching staff should be able to contain the Cubs.
Adrian Gonzalez's homer accounted for the only run of game two of the NLCS. (photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
  • Now it's time for the Dodger bats to wake up, and Jake Arrieta will be a difficult number to face, but this is very doable.  Arrieta isn't as intimidating as last year and he has been beaten.  Lefties have been hitting him, and we know the Dodgers have plenty of those.  Fangraphs addressed his declining K/BB rate and hot hitting zones, (Linked here)
  • Watch for pretty much the same lineup to start against Arrieta as did the one against Hendricks.  They'll have to be swinging at the meat Arrieta throws middle-in and low and stay of the high heat.  
  • A lot will be determined by the strike zone that Gary Cederstrom has established tomorrow. Cederstrom has a reputation as a plate umpire that has a rather liberal strike zone in favor of pitchers, but we'll see.  He was behind the plate in that wild game six of the 2011 World Series, the 28 hit, 19 run affair between the Cards and Rangers when David Freese was the hero.  I only bring that up because that game was an offensive juggernaut and very little went the way of the pitchers.
  • Joe Maddon was asked about his young players that are in slumps and if he needs to change the lineup to shake things up.  He responded that "you've got to play through the bad lie...it is what it is, you stay with your guys."  So while their manager waits for Rizzo, Russell, Zobrist and Heyward to wake up, the Dodger pitching needs to keep doing what they are doing and shut those guys down.  Some are bound to wake up eventually, but it's on the Cubs to start playing well offensively, something they really haven't done this post season with the exception of Bryant and Baez. Slumps are contagious and have a tendency to stick around for a few days.
  • All the games are shadow games, and the Dodger pitching should be able to take advantage of them.  They've played a lot more of these games lately and it is an advantage they have over the Cubs that played all their games under the lights.
  • Aroldis Chapman can certainly be intimidating to some Dodger hitters, but the veterans such as Turner and Gonzalez are not intimidated by the man, unlike Pederson, Seager, Puig and Grandal.
  • The pitching rotation will be dependent on the results, but is it possible that Maeda is passed over in game 5 for Kershaw on short rest again?  I think so.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The True Test of a Champion

Andre Ethier's pinch homer in the 5th inning cut the Chicago lead to 3-1 (photo by Janathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Without going into the details of last night's crushing loss in Chicago, I will just make one point.

In 1988, when Kirk Gibson homered to shock the A's, many believe that the series was over and that the A's were defeated from that point on.  That turned out to be true as the Dodgers won three of the remaining four games and won the Series and Oakland never offered much of a challenge from that point on.

The question remains now if the Dodgers are shell-shocked by that  Miguel Montero blast, so much so that they won't recover.

All signs point to "no," because they actually rallied in the top of the ninth and continued tattooing pitches up until the last out was recorded on Utley's blistered liner that resulted in a double play.

We will see tonight how affected they are as Kershaw toes the rubber again on short rest, again.  A Dodger win tonight and game one is forgotten.  A second loss in a row and things could spiral downward.  For that reason, tonight's game can be viewed as the Dodgers true test of a champion.  They will need to dig deep inside and win the second contest of this series or risk being labeled going into next season as the team that was mentally defeated by the grand slam.

By the way, the Dodgers had a great comeback and proved that they could solve the Aroldis Chapman dilemma.  Let's see if all that labor last night was for naught.  L.A. hit the ball hard all evening and walked away with a defeat.  Luck wasn't on their side, but a series split after two games can completely change the outlook on the series.  Game two is crucial to their psyche.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Euphoria and Now Back to Business

(AP Photo)
Winning a post season series is complete elation.   It was a wonderful thing, but the excitement of that tense and pressure packed game five is now in the rear view mirror.  Now as things have settled, the team is in Chicago and the short two days comes to a close this evening.  The Dodgers are back to the business at hand of winning the pennant.

With a well rested Chicago Cubs team awaiting their opponent, Los Angeles starts the National League Championship Series a notable disadvantage.  They are a team that should be exhausted and spent with a pitching staff handicapped with a closer just having thrown 51 pitches a mere forty-four hours before game time. Their number one and two starting pitchers each have already pitched on short rest and they need time off, at least another 24 hours. The rest requirement probably can be argued for the beleaguered bullpen, that racked up a little over 28 innings of work out of a possible 45 during the series.

A rainout would seriously help this team out, but as much as the forecast is saying it is possible, don't count on MLB postponing the game anytime soon due to the prime time schedule broadcast and the logistical problems of rescheduling the rest of the series that a rainout would cause.  Nevertheless, the weather forecast is as follows at game time:

Cloudy this evening. Scattered thunderstorms developing after midnight. Low 63F. Winds ESE at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 50%.

Experts are starting to make the lineup comparisons and predictions.  As can be expected, the lovable Cubs, a team "destined" to win it all after so many years of despair in Chicago, is favored by nearly all to win this series going away.  They certainly could do that, but this Dodger team has somehow clawed and scratched its was through the season with a tenaciousness that few Dodger teams have possessed in the past.

They enter into the next phase with another formidable challenge in their hands.  Walking away from these first two games with a split should be the goal.

A few positives to note:

  • John Lester is the only Cub lefty in their rotation
  • The Cubs bullpen is not as strong as the Nationals, (with the exception of their closer-Chapman). This means that pitch counts should be worked and getting the Cub starters out of games will be extremely important
  • Some Dodger hitters seem to be heating up.  Most notably Pedersen and Reddick
  • Dave Roberts has proved that he's willing to manage unconventionally, so expect the unexpected
  • It's the Cubs, and they haven't been to a World Series in 76 years, so there's an pressure factor that they must overcome
  • Kershaw says that his appearance on Thursday night was his "side session" and that he feels good.  Translation:  Expect him to pitch game 2, game 6 and be available to relieve in game 7
  • Hill should be rested for a game 3 start at Dodger Stadium, followed by game 7
  • The Dodgers were not overwhelmed by the Cubs in the regular season, and know they can compete
Strap on your seat belts.  This is going to be an exciting week of Dodger baseball.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

As Dodger Fans...This is What We Live For

We can't argue about the suffering and excruciating tense pressure that this series has brought us.  It has been full of tense moments and controversial calls and hit batsmen, pitching changes, and hit batsmen and pitching changes and hit batsmen.  Then there's the occasional clutch hit from a Dodger and the inevitable one from Daniel Murphy or Jayson Werth.

(While I mention Werth, I just want to remind everyone that when Ned Colletti let him walk after an injury plagued season due to a broken wrist that never healed, I knew it was going to come back to bite us.  Werth is that rare type of hitter that seldom strikes out, works counts, and isn't afraid to go with a pitch and lace it to right field.  Our front office let him walk in favor of signing Luis Gonzalez ten tears ago, and he was making the major league minimum at the time).

Anyway, back to the series...

We live for this.  Or should I say "die" for it?  It's time to be honest.  Do we really enjoy post season baseball?  I know I don't.  These games are about as enjoyable as a root canal.  During the regular season, your team loses a game and the mentality is, "we'll get 'em tomorrow," because there's almost always a tomorrow in a 162 game season.  In the playoffs?  There rarely is a tomorrow and there definitely are consequences to losses.  Every pitch is magnified, every call from the umpires crucial, each mistake made by a manager augmented.  You can multiply the enormity of it all ten-fold and it doesn't do justice to the importance of it all. 

So here we are, ready to watch our "one game season," vs. the Nationals.  Odds don't look great.  We have about 10 different arms available to take on Scherzer.  Based on how things have gone so far, we'll need everyone of those arms, (except those that belong to Maeda and Baez).  The Nats have a solid lineup.  Trea Turner - practically an automatic run each time he gets on.  Harper - a former MVP and threat to put a pitch in the bleachers every at bat.  Werth - absolutely clutch.  Murphy - possibly the greatest post season hitter I have seen.  Rendon - a constant danger with tremendous power.  Zimmerman-having a down year but a player that can't be taken lightly.  There are two holes:  Espinosa and the catcher spot.  Not a lot of room for error and the Nats have made the Dodgers pay.

Washington is a good ball club that is where they are for justified reasons.  95 wins happened for a reason.

The Dodgers certainly haven't been world beaters of late, but we know the talent is there.  Here we are, tied at two games a piece in a series that statistics will tell you the Nationals have dominated. That domination can easily be tossed aside with a good day at the office tomorrow.  The only stats that really matter have to do with the amount of runs crossing the plate at the end of the day.

The Dodgers backs are against the wall, but if they break out to a lead, we'll see a Washington team forced into a corner.  Will Dodger pitching finally solve the Daniel Murphy puzzle?  Can they keep Trea Turner off the base paths?  Will Jayson Werth be contained?  All the above needs to occur for the Dodgers to have a chance.

Enjoy...err....survive the night folks.  Break out the rolaids.  It's going be about 4 hours of tense, tense baseball.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Game 2 NLDS Recap=LOB City II

The bad news:
In post season play, when you load the bases three times over the first five innings, you have to cash in some runs.  The Dodgers continued to hit poorly in key situational spots going 0-5 with the bases loaded and 1-9 with runners in scoring position.  A total of 12 men were left on base, 11 of them over the first six innings.

Despite their first place finish, the Dodgers have been extremely weak offensively with runners on base hitting a putrid .206 with runners in scoring position and two outs, and .208 with the bases loaded.  In both scenarios, finishing 26th and 27th in MLB in those categories.

Squandering these offensive opportunities proved to be the Dodgers undoing as Jose Lobaton lofted a Rich Hill hanging curve into the left field stands to put Washington ahead for good 3-2 in the fourth inning.  It was the second time this year Hill has given up a homer on  a curve, the first being a Jose Altuve homer back in May when Hill was pitching for Oakland.

Now the good news:
Returning home tied at 1-1 is something the ball club should feel good about, as they have secured home field advantage for what now is a best two out of three series.  On top of that, Kenta Maeda makes the start with 8 days of rest, and that is a good sign for a pitcher that did have difficulties adjusting to pitching every 5th day.  Maeda with over six days rest has a .210 batting average and .247 OBP against him.  Compare that to when he had four days rest, .247 BA, .320 OBP.  Those numbers are significant.

What to watch for:
Let's watch Maeda's pitch count.  He has proved to be effective in the early innings, but once he gets past 75 pitches and through the batting order twice, teams tend to start hitting him.  Maeda should be on a short leash, with the hope that he gives six strong innings and that the Dodgers have spotted him a lead by then so that the bullpen can take over.

Expect Kenley Jansen to be inserted for a 2 inning save, and be very concerned if Trea Turner reaches base while he's on the mound.  Jansen has been awful at keeping base runners from running on him.

Again Facing left hand pitchers:
Gio Gonzalez takes the mound against the Dodgers after a sub par year.  He has only worked 4 innings this year with Pedro Severino behind the plate, and he got lit up for 6 runs that one time. Working with Lobaton, Gio has a respectable 3.81 ERA over 81 innings of work.  Gonzalez beat the Dodgers earlier this year with 6 innings of 1 run ball, on July 20th in Washington.   In three lifetime starts at Dodger Stadium, he is 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA with 20 innings pitched.

It should be noted that this will be the first time that Kenta Maeda has ever faced the Nationals.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Dave Roberts - Managing Like a Seasoned Veteran

If there is any doubt about Dave Roberts as a strategic manager after leading the Dodgers to the divisional title, I will point to game 1 of the 2016 as proof that this man knows how to make the right moves under pressure.  There were some critical decisions made that many of us questioned during the game, but Roberts stuck to his game plan and as a result, the Dodgers took a 1-0 series lead.

Clayton Kershaw had nothing working.  The radar gun is the witness.  Kershaw's fastball was as hard as he's thrown it all year, but it was missing spots.  His sinker was off kilter,  His curve was inconsistent.  Then he has the 3/4 side arm thing that wasn't doing much.  Even after striking out the side in the first inning, it could be see that Kershaw was struggling as he went deep in counts and exposed his entire arsenal of pitches in the first inning.  Kershaw's pitch count was up and they were high stress pitches from the get go.

With a 4-3 lead in the top of the fifth and his pitcher's place in that batting order come up, I was all for pulling Kershaw after four innings of work, but Roberts had a plan and a 4-inning Kershaw start wasn't it.  He stuck with his ace, and even though inning number five provided another tightrope walk for the 3 time CY Young award winner, Roberts allowed him to continue and work his way out of it. This was classic Kershaw striking out Danny Espinosa with the tying run on third with his best curveball of the night as he closed out the 5th on his 101st and final pitch.

There are those that can argue that Toles is needed for defense over Kendrick at the end, and the same with Utley over Culberson.  Well, neither of these switches came back to bite Roberts in the behind and the Culberson move might have saved the game as he made an amazing snatch and tag on the Daniel Murphy steal attempt in the bottom of the seventh.  It might be the most under-rated play of the game because a lot of time that catch and tag from the errant throw is simply not made.

Bullpen Usage
Roberts has had plenty of practice this year, as starters going 5 innings was often times the norm.  In any event,  the usage of Blanton, Dayton, Baez and Jansen for the 5 out save was masterful.  There are those that will argue that by going with Jansen for the long save, Roberts put himself in a position that he might be forced to bat him in a crucial situation, (which turned out to be true).  I will argue that Jansen was 7 hitters away from being used as a hitter when he was brought in, and sometimes those are the risks you take.  In the end, Roberts had his ace closer in the game facing the dangerous top of the order.  That's exactly what you want and it turned out to be the difference.  Kenley had his grade A stuff for game one.

Mental Preparation
Dave Roberts reached out to former Laker coach Pat Riley earlier this week and a few minutes before the game.  How can that not hurt?  He is treating this post season as a championship manager, seeking guidance from winners and applying philosophies and strategy that has worked for him.

On to game two...