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The Dodgers are Finally Winning State of the Union

July 10, 2013

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A little long form to stretch out the typing muscles and extrapolate on things I’ve been reading about lately on the tweeter…

First of all – hell yeah! Nice to see the Dodgers most imagined we’d be seeing in 2013 finally get their act together. I guess it had to do with the following things…

Yasiel Puig’s arrival – immediate production and enthusiasm, breathing life into a clubhouse that had grown accustom to losing and being miserable

Donnie and staff finally getting more of the team they imagined fielding back all at the same time – especially Hanley Ramirez and Zack Greinke

A bad stretch of baseball by the entire NL West, allowing for the Dodgers to at first scratch, then ultimately pound their way back into the mix (and more)

Kasten (and Ned, if you assume he’s making the decisions) finally realizing what I’ve been shouting about since winter shopping began – the bullpen is a mess and needed a facelift. And Chris Capuano is not a reliable, consistent starter on a contending ball club

Now the Dodgers have been moving in the right direction, taking 14 of the past 17, winning series, and are on the verge of sweeping the hated Diamondbacks and reaching .500 (which seemed impossible a month ago) and pulling within a game and a half of the division lead.

A few comments of note…

The Dodgers should and are making every other team in the West very nervous. While Colorado and San Diego have their moments, the realistic challenge in the division comes from Arizona and San Francisco. The Giants have proven unable – thus far – to put up a serious fight in this their paltry defense of their World Series crown.

Before I continue, let me say something I’ve mentioned in tweets – as observation, and to irritating Giants fans who boast about their team’s two recent titles…

I commend the Giants for getting it done, playing good team baseball and winning in an impressive fashion – i.e. the old-time Dodgers Way to play baseball. Pitching, defense, and timely hitting. That’s why I can respect it, but also why it’s annoying. They finally won because they used the blueprint created by our beloved blue.

That said, I would also caution any overly excited Giants fans they had an easier path to victory due to the previous ownership in LA. Frank McCourt didn’t really care about winning, and that became more and more evident as time progressed, of course. So, while the Giants achievement is noteworthy (being fair and honest here), it wouldn’t have happened – or at best been much harder – if anyone other than McCourt owned the team.

McCourt essentially took the Dodgers out of the game, much like Fox did after Kevin Malone messed things up and Fox stopped the money flow to GM Dan Evans, so the Dodgers could only go so far, unable to add pieces they needed, and worse, by starving the farm system, he cut off future help down the road.

That’s a big part of why Giants fans conceit bothers me. The other part is their reliance over the years on PED cheats. Of course this goes back to their heyday under Barry, but in particular recent cheats like Melky (Juicy) Cabrera and Guillermo Mota.

The Giants fans are delusional to think Juicy’s cheating didn’t affect their 2013 season. He carried the team on his back for the first half of the season (.353/8/44, .910 OPS and 10 stolen bases). He chipped in another 3 homers and 16 RBI before being suspended.

The baseball world (oh, baseball writers, a cowardly lot who tout unexpected performances without ever questioning how such things are possible) was ablaze with Juicy Cabrera and Giants talk. Juicy went on to represent the NL in the All Star Game, was awarded the MVP award for the game and handed the Giants home field advantage in the World Series. Also, the Giants were 11 games over .500 and in first place when Juicy was suspended for cheating.

I can understand Giants fans not wanting to focus on the negative and instead point to the performances of other players on the team, but how can you say Juicy’s contributions weren’t a large (the largest?) part of the Giants getting to the World Series?

A fan of the Giants would say Juicy wasn’t around when the Giants beat up the Tigers and won their second title in three years, and I agree – the team was playing very well and overwhelmed the slugging Tigers. But – without a PED cheater (Mota too), they may not have finished in first place at all, and certainly wouldn’t have had home field in the Series.

The Tigers had just blown through Oakland and New York and were very hot. There’s no telling how playing at home would have affected the outcome of the first two games.

That’s my analysis of Giants fans and their cockiness. If I were a Giants fan, I’d be very happy too my team won. I’d probably rub it in Dodgers fans faces. But deep down I’d know it was luck and illegal activities that helped make that second championship possible.

Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled broadcast…

So you have to think the teams the Dodgers should be most concerned about in the West are the Diamondbacks and Giants. The Giants, as mentioned, are reeling. Their heralded pitching has failed them. The team was built on a collection of parts that functioned well together, with a few star names mixed in (Dan Evans rosters, and later Ned’s, were like this). The pitching and defense was key – the former in particular. Without production from the starters and bullpen, the Giants are just an underpowered team. That leaves Arizona.

The Diamondbacks can’t even excite their own fan base. The first two games of this current series showcase a mostly empty Chase Field. The fans in attendance look disinterested and the ones who are animated are wearing Dodgers gear. Keep in mind, as bad as they’ve been playing, the Diamondbacks are the first place team in the West as the All Star game nears. Shouldn’t there be some interest in the hometown team?

So as a Dodgers fan you have to like where the Dodgers are on July 10th. The team is playing well, chemistry is high, the offense has been scoring, the starting pitching has been strong and the bullpen, due to the starting pitching being more consistent, is less of a factor. i.e. it enables Donnie to use his better relievers and not so much the crappy ones, of which a few are still present on the roster.

Now the twitterverse is abuzz with discussion of trades to improve the team. I read everything – from practical minded folks who want nothing, or little, done to fantasy minded individuals who insist on superstar names at every position.

Having added Ricky Nolasco to take Capuano’s rotation spot at the cost of three inconsequential minor league arms, a big part of the puzzle was addressed. Of course, this being the 2013 Dodgers, the very next day, Stephen Fife, who has been very consistent and good, joined Matt Kemp on the disabled list with shoulder tendonitis.

This essentially sends Kasten back to the drawing board as he now has about three weeks to see if another starting pitcher is needed. Hopefully Fife bounces back and we have some exceptional kids at AA as backup options (Ross Stripling, Zach Lee, Chris Reed and Rob Rasmussen). If Fife is more seriously hurt (I hate shoulder injuries!), we may have to deal for Matt Garza, Yovani Gallardo (not having a very consistent season) or Phil Hughes (blech!).

I think it all depends on Fife. There’s no indication this shoulder thing is that serious, so perhaps we’re out of the woods and won’t lose precious kids for something less than exceptional in return. I would think though that if Fife is not considered healthy, too much is invested in this win-now “Frankenteam” to trust a regular slot to someone like Zach Lee at this point.

Assuming the rotation is ok, that leaves the bullpen. I like that after months of inactivity, Kasten finally got tired of watching the Dodgers bullpen implode and take wins away from the club. Imagine how demoralizing it was for two plus months to go out there and try to compete, only to see human gas cans like Brandon League, Ronald Hellisario and Matt Guerrier give up wins?

Calling up Chris Withrow and Jose Dominguez was smart. I guess Kasten reads my tweets or blog entries – haha. I only complained about this situation, begging him to swap out some of the trash with live young arms from the system every single day!

Then he grabs Carlos Marmol for Guerrier, which in effect costs nothing. But if Marmol comes up to the Dodgers and does what he’s been doing in Chicago recently, it negates any improvement the bullpen may have experienced. Fortunately, it seems the Dodgers know they have a project and have sent Marmol down to A ball to work on things. Good luck on that, but mid-season fixes the Cubs couldn’t come up with sound like a Hail Mary to me.

That brings me to other possible areas of improvement people have been talking about. These notably are spoken of at third base and second base. Since Juan Uribe has shown to be an effective big league third baseman again, I think we can dismiss talk of trading for a third baseman, unless it’s a long-term solution – i.e. younger – that will help in 2014 and beyond. Second base is the area fans have been chirping about lately, while I maintain Mark Ellis is a serviceable big league infielder and a smart head’s up player.

I have stated several times that by and large the leaders of the Dodgers appear to be Mark and AJ Ellis. Both are blue collar grinders who seem to have high baseball IQ and would make fine coaches or managers someday. So as I think that, it would take a lot to convince me either should be replaced with a sexier star player.

The problem with the Dodgers – up until the recent run – has been there are few leaders and role players. The team was constructed to win now and parted together with expensive superstar talent, none of whom are known for leadership. So, the lesser paid guys who play hard and don’t appear to have egos, become de facto leaders.

Mark Ellis is a guy who fans get on for everything from inability to hit like a superstar to his fielding. I honestly have no problem with Mark Ellis being the Dodgers second baseman. That said, given his age, it’s obviously a position the team will need to address this off-season.

I hear a lot of rumors and hopes that the Dodgers get Chase Utley from Philadelphia. Now Utley is a UCLA guy, so he’s always had a sentimental place in my heart, and has had a good season, when healthy, but I wouldn’t really want to see him in Dodger blue.

I think fans don’t understand Utley beyond the few homers they’ve seen him hit, and his reputation, well earned, as an elite second baseman. The fact of the matter is Utley is a physical wreck and many speculated might retire last year due to his injuries.

Utley has chronic knee problems that not only lead to frequent DL visits but daily therapy. He’s old, and while an immediate offensive upgrade over Mark Ellis, his fielding is actually worse, due likely to his knees.

Several questions…

Do the Dodgers need an offensive upgrade at second base given a roster of superstars already?

Would dealing for Utley be worth the blue chip prospects Ruben Amaro would ask for in exchange?

If the Dodgers acquired Utley, would they then resign him? Or would they need to go in another direction anyway?

For fun, I looked at other possible second base options out there – mostly teams where prying their second baseman away might be doable. With the wildcard, most teams are contenders. Here are a handful of guys the Dodgers could get, along with their basic fielding percentage, errors, double plays turned and batting numbers. I am also putting Mark Ellis’ in there as a point of comparison.

Mark Ellis (.984 FPCT, 4 errors, 38 double plays – .251/4/22) Age 36

Brian Dozier – Twins (.995 FPCT, 2 errors, 66 double plays – .235/8/34) Age 26

Darwin Barney – Cubs (.994 FPCT, 2 errors, 41 double plays – .215/5/22) Age 28

Chase Utley – Phillies (.977 FPCT, 7 errors, 35 double plays – .276/11/30) Age 35

Rickie Weeks – Brewers (.975 FPCT, 8 errors, 43 double plays – .230/9/21) Age 31

Daniel Murphy – Mets (.975 FPCT, 9 errors, 52 double plays – .267/6/36) Age 28

Looking at these numbers, none really stand out as big upgrades over Mark Ellis. Brian Dozier is interesting due to his fielding and pop, but fans would be complaining about that low batting average.

I wouldn’t want any of the others over Mark Ellis, to be quite honest.

I think it’s a case of the grass always being greener. Mark Ellis is a decent big league second baseman. I think unless we went with a big offensive upgrade (not sure if Utley, given his health, is that) or went young with a pure fielding second baseman, what’s the point?

I think Dodgers fans need to keep themselves grounded in reality a bit more. A winning team does not need a superstar at every position. If you look at most championship teams – including the hated Giants – you’d notice that.

I think ultimately, as noted, the team will need to figure out what the plan is for 2014 and beyond. Is it an all-out assault on Robinson Cano? A winter trade with a now-contender? A promotion of a kid who is likely overmatched at the plate right now but can field well? (I like that idea myself – up the middle should be about defense first, in my opinion) An international signing?

All in all I’m pleased with the way things have been going. The kids are developing at a quick pace, we’ve had two consecutive solid drafts (with a good mix of college players, who could quickly push their way into the fold), resources being focused on international markets (please sign Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez already and add him to the staff this season), and the big league club is primed for not only first place, but possibly becoming one of the dominant teams in both leagues (wouldn’t that be nice?).

Tis the season to talk trades, so I don’t fault anyone from mentioning possibilities and even dreaming a bit, but I think as it stands, the team only needs very minor tweaks. The bullpen remains the area I’d concern myself with if I was Kasten, and rotation (only if Fife is more hurt than first indicated).

Who knows what will happen between now and the end of July? There could be widespread changes similar to what happened last season, with big name players brought in at the expense of many of our favorite prospects or current big leaguers. I hope not; I envision this “Frankenteam” doing what they were designed to do with a steady trickle of kids filtering in as the months and years progress.

Here’s to a sweep tonight of the villainous Diamondbacks and then a return home to a beat down of the Rockies. I want to look up soon and see the Dodgers in first place in the West and adding games on the positive side of .500.

Thank you for letting me pontificate. Now please, return to reading Amanda Bynes’ tweets and other important matters of the day.

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