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What Do You Bitch About When the Team is On Fire?

July 3, 2013

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A little pre-4th holiday long form to hopefully entertain and get you thinking…

I have to be honest – it’s not as fun to write about how well the team is playing. I have been accused many times in the past of being a pessimist, which is only true for the sheer volume of my rants, as well as humor. It’s the same way the TV news doesn’t talk about heartwarming tales of puppies rolling over to have their bellies scratched, or ladybugs flying in from god knows where. Trouble and mayhem make for more tantalizing news… or as it turns out, baseball tweets and blog posts!

Anyway, it’s nice nonetheless to say the Dodgers are finally playing well and living up to some of the expectations put on them by experts and novices alike this spring. A few really nice takeaways from this recent stretch…

The team is firing on almost all cylinders (maybe even the bullpen!) without any real contribution from key players such as Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and in some ways, Zack Greinke. Think for a moment what the team would look like if Kemp were Kemp, Ethier were Ethier and well… Greinke seems to be Greinke, a guy in the right place, at the right time, not quite an ace, sort of a number 2, and a guy whose potential legend outweighs all but perhaps 1-2 of his big league seasons. Anyway, my point is, the team could be even better. That must be very frightening to other NL West teams.

After a winter of my whining, as well as spring and the first three months of 2013, Stan Kasten, the well documented genius who guided the Braves and Nationals to greatness (I can debate that, but not now), finally realized Luis Cruz is not a big leaguer and unnecessary to the current roster, and more important, that the bullpen needed a facelift.

In a whirlwind of activity last week, Kasten booted Cruz and several other slackers out and called up better options from down on the farm. I’m very happy he did, even though I would have before the season started, or for certain before the end of June with the Dodgers sulking in the cellar.

The most exciting part has been the arrival of Chris Withrow and Jose Dominguez to the pen. Young guys who throw heat to replace withered and battered veterans. I’m hoping Kasten realizes there are a few other gas cans languishing out there, including Ronald Hellisario and Brandon League, but we may be stuck with them as Kasten essentially swapped out the released Matt Guerrier with seriously damaged former closer Carlos Marmol. I guess Kasten wants to keep me in material for the rest of the summer.

The plan, per rocket scientist Donnie, is to transform Marmol back into the beast he was – on the big league roster, in the middle of the summer just like they did League last year, after getting him from Seattle. The cynic in me would argue – a) why? The pen is finally shedding some of its dead weight, do we really need more? b) League may have been “fixed” last year, but he’s very broken this year and c) Marmol’s mechanics and issues are more complicated than League’s, so is this an experiment we need to have at the big league level, when we’re finally coming out of our deep hole?

I think Marmol for Guerrier and some money is ok, if you want to send him to Arizona to work out his issues or even down in AA. But potentially (probably) costing the Dodgers games here and now is a bad idea. I hope it works out – people keep reminding me what a mastermind Kasten is – but I’m a bit skeptical. Not convinced anyone can “fix” Marmol, and pretty sure it’s not a good idea on the big league dime. Can you say momentum killer?

I want to commend Kasten on realizing his mistakes and correcting the bullpen woes that have cost the Dodgers no fewer than 17 wins. I hesitate though when I see a few steps forward and then another back. Why not trade or cut Hellisario and his worse-than-Guerrier numbers and call up AA Chattanooga closer Yimi Garcia, or some other live arm on that roster? We know – all too well – what Hellisario can do. Let’s try something different.

If our kid relievers could hold the fort into July, we could always go after Matt Thornton, Steve Cishek or someone else. And who knows – perhaps our kiddie pitchers are up to the challenge and we fix the bullpen issues from within.

Anyway, I’ll end this short edition with the following…

The team is playing amazing ball right now and showing no signs of slowing down. The offense, led by Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig in particular, is lights out. Lots of contributions all around.

The starting pitching has been fantastic, especially Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Stephen Fife, who to me has solidified a rotation spot. There’s talk Ricky Nolasco will be in blue. Not sure how I feel about that. I guess if he replaces Chris Capuano, that could be seen as an upgrade. If he replaces Fife, it’s a wash or we lose in the process.

I like what I’m seeing though – the rotation clicking, seeming to want to keep the winning going, like any good rotation does in a fun competitive sense. Now if only that bullpen can get ironed out.

I honestly think, as I’ve said many times, that the pen is the only real issue with the Dodgers. Earlier it was playing a AAAA batting .100 or less at third, or suddenly thin and frail Kemp in the heart of the order, but now far and away the only question with the Dodgers is that bullpen.

I hope Kasten is as bright as people give him credit for, and if Marmol sucks, as he will (can’t fix a guy in a few outings who’s been this bad for this long with everyone and their mother trying to straighten him out), Kasten wisely cuts bait or send him to the minors to get on track.

The schedule is in our favor. The Rockies, Giants and reeling Snakes all in front of us. Is it unrealistic to think we could be in first place before the road trip is over? I don’t think so. In fact, I’ll say if we don’t keep winning and end this stretch with a losing record on the trip, it will be a big disappointment to this Dodgers fan.

I want the Dodgers to get into first, get over .500 and then go games in the black over .500. I want the idiot baseball writers to bitch and moan and point to the Dodgers payroll, even though it was always fine when the NY teams, Boston, Philly and Halos all spent. I want the Giants fans miserable. And I want to see the Dodger bury their West foes, have a winning record at home, on the road and vs. the division.

I would love to see Puig in the All-Star game – not because I like the All-Star game (I don’t), but because it would piss people off and it would give a national stage for the Cuban bombshell to level top AL pitchers. Also, it could mean an NL win, which would directly help the blue if they got to the World Series in October.

So, as you can see, I’m not always negative. I’m very positive, in fact. You don’t spend most of your life following a team if you don’t like them. I just have been lied to, kicked around and hurt time and time again and look at things with more interest perhaps than casual beach ball whacking fans do.

All this said, let’s bury the Rockies, then the Giants (let Bruce Bochy cry when Puig singlehandedly destroys his terrible pitching staff), and finally old friends Gibby and Sax in Arizona. Gibby has to be ready to kill someone after watching his two closers flip flop and fail. It looks like it’s Heath Bell’s turn again. Mr. Bell, meet Mr. Puig. Boom!

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