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Good Enough to Be Good Enough

April 2, 2017 7 comments

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There are two sides to every story. Either the story being told by those either employed or indebted to the Dodgers propaganda machine as well as the notion “it’s their time” or the alternative.

I’ve witnessed the Dodgers’ front office fumble and bumble┬átheir way since coming into power, doing very little, or worse, making boneheaded gaffs. The results some cheer about, but to others, myself included, they are the same, no better, than the results from the past.

The Dodgers can’t help but being in the thick of things. They have Clayton Kershaw, after all, and had Zack Greinke and other arms. They have Kenley Jansen. They have Corey Seager. You add up the parts and no matter who is running the show on and off the field, the Dodgers assemblage of talent is enough to be at or near the top of their division. They have been finished first or second 10 times in the past fifteen years. They have won 0 championships during this time, and 0 championships in almost three decades.

I have tried to say, much to the dislike of many, that this is all well and good but the steps forward are not great. If being at or around the top of the National League West is the goal, things are going fine. I don’t see how the current front office or ownership should be given credit, however, as the end results are no greater than usual. You can even point to the win/loss record, which shows a nominal decline in victories the past three seasons.

Dodgers fans are rabid and that is a wonderful thing for the Guggenheim Group and current Dodgers front office. The team, in some ways, is in poor shape if you consider availability to the large marketplace. The only way to see Dodgers games is if you attend them – at great cost – or if you happen to be in a portion of the greater Los Angeles area who gets the new-ish TV channel. The historic organization’s games are not readily available to most of the populace.

In 2016, the Dodgers won the West and advanced to the NLCS vs. the Chicago Cubs, the team who ultimately won the World Series in a thrilling 7-game series vs. Cleveland. While the Dodgers record of futility neared three decades, it was nowhere near that of either the Cubs or Indians. Thus, the baseball gods determined it was destiny, and the Dodgers never had a chance.

Still, supporters of this front office and ownership group would argue, they “could have won”. Well, in some world I suppose they could have. Teams with little starting pitching and little relief pitching seldom win championships. The Dodgers, in my opinion, were very lucky in 2016. I would credit the front office for patching together an eyesore and getting a lot out of the pieces they had. It does not appear to me a sustainable plan, if winning championships is your end goal.

It was painful to watch Kershaw pretty much go it alone, and Jansen doing the same from the backend of the bullpen. The other starters were hurt or gassed and could barely muster three innings at a time. The bullpen, overworked all season due to the shortcomings of the starting five, did the best they could on heart and whatever talent they had. The better team won, as usually is the case.

Knowing how Moneyball general managers operate, I did not expect changes in the off-season. In fact, because their high school chemistry experiment “worked” – to some degree – it no doubt would validate their hypothesis that they were on the right track.

It was interesting how they and their disciples continued to point to the Cubs as a “similar” team, although the construction was not at all alike. Theo Epstein, who has Moneyball roots, after all has changed quite a bit since moving to the big stage, first in Boston, then in Chicago. With deep pockets backing him, Epstein loads his rosters full of great professionals, as well as farm bred talent. Pitching depth, position depth, stars, great role players… he does not leave things to chance. As a result, his Boston teams have won and now his Chicago team.

The winter shopping season is one the Dodgers front office usually ignores, as is the mid-season trade deadline. They seem to look at these peak times as pedestrian. “Anyone can shop during these times; we’ll show them.” They sit idly by while starting pitchers move from team to team, as well as proven relief pitchers. Speedsters are never a consideration since the only reason to have any speed at all on a Moneyball team is perhaps moving from first to third – interestingly, a skillset rarely to be found in Los Angeles baseball these days.

I was not surprised that the 2017 team went to spring training not altogether different from the 2016 team that ended the year, losing in Chicago. A few guys left, a few came in, but the same issues that cost the team in 2016 are still those weaknesses as the new season gets underway.

The writers and announcers who cover the team and want access to the clubhouse are painting a rosy picture that this looks to be a world beater. Many have said the Dodgers will not only be in this season’s Fall Classic, but win it. I can only assume this is because they feel they are due, not because of big acquisitions made, unless you count Logan Forsythe as the difference maker.

Personally, I don’t see it. I do see a Dodgers team that will be around the top, as they always are, but not necessarily in first place. Last season, part of the Dodgers luck was the complete lack of fortune for the San Francisco Giants, whose second half was dismal. The Giants bullpen was a disaster and they acquired a closer this winter to rectify that. Still, being held to a budget the Dodgers are not, they still have some problems in their pen, though they have more reliable innings in the rotation. At any rate, however that comparison pans out, it seems unlikely the Dodgers can count on the Giants taking half of the year off again.

With the Giants therefore improved and the natural development, possibly, of the rest of the West – most particularly Colorado – the Dodgers must be a bit better in 2017 than in 2016. With 81 games against the West, just by virtue of the Giants adding a closer and the Rockies talented offense and young pitchers developing a bit more, that should be more of a challenge.

In a perfect world, the Dodgers get health they did not get in 2016. As I pointed out, it’s unrealistic to hope that all the many (often desperate) moves the front office employed is a repeatable formula. So, Kershaw being Kershaw for six months and Rich Hill, an older player who has no track record to illustrate he is a regular rotation piece, much less a #2 starter, is imperative. Kenta Maeda, who was wonderful for most 2016, needs to get stronger during his second season in the big leagues and be there at season’s end, which he was not at all last year.

The bottom of the rotation is the same collection of injured and suspect parts, mostly due to the front office wasting money on players such as Brandon McCarthy, who any honest person knew was a bad signing from day one, to Scott Kazmir – like Hill, a player who was out of MLB and toiling in the independent leagues. Both pitchers, like Hill, received $48M contracts. When you have so much money invested in players, you are hand tied to use them, thus additional arms were not added.

So, the Dodgers need Kershaw not to have a flare up of his back problems, Maeda to remain reliable (just stronger) and Hill to overcome the odds at age 37. Then between frequently injured Korean warrior Hyun-Jin Ryu, McCarthy, Kazmir and young Julio Urias, who has been pushed to develop quickly but is not ready for a full season workload, the front office hopes for two starter spots to be filled. It’s a lot to ask to go right, given reality and the health and circumstances of most of these pitchers.

There are also players such as Alex Wood, Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart who supporters point to as the remarkable depth the front office has acquired but the truth is most of the players to be counted on were here before they arrived. I’d also add that depth is an interesting word that is bandied about by Dodgers writers and announcers as if it’s unique to the team. Every team has minor league rosters to call upon and additional players set aside as contingency plans. Perhaps the Dodgers depth is more in the spotlight since the health of the regulars is so poor.

In closing I will say that the Dodgers should be near the top once again – with such a large payroll and the Kershaw, Jansen and Seager alone, they have a chance based on that alone. I think the Giants will be very much a factor and at some point, the front office should admit their faults and add quality innings from somewhere. Perhaps they do get good fortune with some of the walking wounded the past couple years, as well as unexpected success from journeymen like Hill, McCarthy and Kazmir.

Personally, I’d put young Urias in the pen since innings are innings, after all, and why waste his down in the minors? I’d put those innings to better use, shoring up an average bullpen and then when the innings count made sense, stretch him out for the rotation, if needed. At any rate, the bullpen would be that much better while the MASH unit of pitchers gave their all once again.

I’m not sure what to make of the outfield, which is Joc Pederson in center, forever to be platooned, and similar platoons everyplace else. Yasiel Puig seems to forever be tainted by being tantalized by Hollywood too soon, Andre Ethier continues to have health issues and Andrew Toles, a player with exceptional athletic ability, has defensive limitations and is told not to steal bases – perhaps one of his biggest plusses.

The infield is solid, though not spectacular. It does have the chance to be very good however if Adrian Gonzalez can somehow turn back Father Time and Forsythe continues to develop. The latter is in the right place as the mandate for a Dodgers offense is to swing for the fences and his 20-homerun power seems to be ideal for the Moneyball Dodgers. Justin Turner’s knees must hold up once more at third base. Seager is remarkable but had a spring with back issues, who like Kershaw, you have to wonder about. All in all, the offense of the Dodgers runs through the infield.

I am not a fan of Yasmani Grandal, though I know many are. Grandal, a former PED user, is also tailor made for this front office as his strength is trying to hit home runs. I prefer catchers who field first primarily and make contact. Maybe this player is Austin Barnes, who won a roster spot as all Andrew Friedman Miami acquisitions do. It will be interesting to see what happens at catcher if Grandal gets hurt, as he does. He’s being asked to play more than ever in 2017.

The Dodgers have enough talent on the roster and coming up through the minors to be near the top once again. It would be nice if they started to take real steps forward and understand they have the financial wherewithal, not to mention the prospects, to acquire players more guaranteed than what they tend to count on. The trademark of the front office seems to be trying to make it to the top by taking the harder route. Reliable innings in the starting rotation, strong setup men at the back of the bullpen, shortening games, is for chumps. Complex trades, working the disabled list like a traffic cop and platooning across the diamond seems immensely more satisfying to these smarties.

The method may be madness, but it has its fan club. Certainly, those on the Dodgers payroll, or who like access to the players and free pre-game meals. World Series winners in 2017? I don’t see it but anything is possible. It has been about thirty years and the payroll is the largest in organized sports. Maybe they are right, maybe they are due.

I told you

October 8, 2014 4 comments

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Well, sometimes it hurts to always be right…

As I predicted from the off-season, through spring training, and every step leading to the playoffs, the 2014 Dodgers were not built for Oct baseball. As a wise friend said, it’s like Billy Beane admitting his team is good enough to get there, but once in the post-season, anything can happen and he has no control over it. The $235M payroll Dodgers turned out to be an expensive Moneyball collection of individuals, not a “team.” The pieces were cobbled together by Stan Kasten to win over Angelenos who had grown weary of McCourt’s antics and parking lot mayhem. Stars – pretty stars – guys who could be counted on X amount of home runs, RBI, wins, etc., etc. were assembled without thought of old baseball truisms like timely hitting, defense and leadership. A bullpen? Who needs a bullpen? Certainly Kasten didn’t think so, and he did nothing to alter the path as the season progressed. Suddenly it became a surprise to pundits and fans that lo and behold, the Dodgers didn’t have one.

Well, it didn’t matter, since the Dodgers did have starting pitching. Forget Ryu was coming off a month long break due to a shoulder surgery and all world Cy Young/MVP candidate Kershaw came off a beat down in Game 6 last year vs. the same St. Louis Cardinals. Surely this year would be different. Just hope and pray the starters all went 8, to get the ball to mostly reliable closer Kenley Jansen. Expensive starters pitch late into games, right?

Fans too easily point to Don Mattingly, who is a simpleton to be sure. He’s not a good manager, too safe, too unimaginative and not cut out for playoff action when the managerial guide book is thrown out the window. As bad as Donnie is, it’s not his fault – or not all of it. There is plenty of blame to go around for why the Dodgers again have been eliminated and will have to watch the Fall Classic on TV, and here are some of the goats and reasons why they are…

Clayton Kershaw – as good as Kershaw is in the regular season, he’s as bad in the playoffs. Blame Mattingly if you wish, but Kershaw is paid a ton of money to get the ball and win important ballgames. Kershaw had to win Game 6 last year and got crushed. He had to win the other night at Chavez Ravine and sailed along nicely until he got pulverized. He had to win today and gave up the huge homer that buried the Dodgers. Donnie makes mistakes, as Donnie isn’t a good manager, but when you make as much as Kershaw does and are called not only the ace, but the best pitcher in baseball, you have to deliver. Like them or not, but Curt Schilling wouldn’t have lost these games. He wouldn’t have made that costly pitch today. Roger Clemens. Greg Maddux. Tom Glavine. Randy Johnson. And the list goes on. When you accept a lot of money, you accept responsibility. Donnie is a moron for continuing to bat Puig in the 2 hole when he’s striking out as much as you or I would, but Kershaw was given leads and all he had to do was be Kershaw – and he couldn’t. I said it in the winter and again during the season – everyone loves him, and for good reason, but Kershaw is NOT a big game pitcher. He’s young, he may be at some point (if his confidence isn’t shattered much like another talented farm product – Ismael Valdes – was), but last year and this, he hasn’t manned up when it mattered most. Donnie is a dunce, can’t think outside the box, but Kershaw lost 2 of the 3 games the team dropped and only has himself to blame. Disagree if you want, but its fact. Let’s hope it’s a Cardinals thing and not a post-season thing. Let’s hope the young man learns from this and wins a ring or two down the road. He’s young enough that it would make a great story – remember how he couldn’t win the big games, and now he can? He’d be the John Elway of baseball. Right now, he’s an MVP candidate who should feel sick holding the award (should he get it).

Donnie Baseball – he’s the popular patsy for the pedestrian Dodger fan and he is as bad as all that. His skill is being Joe Torre, and keeping the clubhouse content. I see it that he lets the inmates run the asylum and is an enabler. Donnie is either too stubborn or too dumb to make obvious changes. For quite some time he penciled Kemp and Ethier into the heart of the lineup while they were dead in the water. This post-season he batted Puig second when he couldn’t make contact. When he had to make a pitching change, he goes to Scott Elbert, a guy Kasten never should have included on the playoff roster. He pinch hit Van Slyke for Ryu when Ryu was sailing along. His lineups are thoughtless and he has no game calling skills. Al Campanis meant him when he said something about “lacking the necessities to manage.” When Kershaw was imploding the other night, he didn’t believe his eyes – he listened to Kershaw say he was fine. After he actually got up to investigate. A smarter manager would know the team was bleeding out and perhaps you throw convention out the window and do something radical like bring in your closer – have Jansen pitch two innings, stop the bleeding and restore order. Also, Kershaw could have left without being humiliated, which would have been a plus. But what if you used Jansen, you say, and then he wasn’t around for the ninth? Who gives a shit? There would be no call for Jansen if you were to bleed out. If the situation came up, you let Howell, Wilson, Haren, anybody throw the ninth. The playoffs are unlike the regular season. You don’t have to put together the same lineup you would vs. San Diego in July. Every man is available, anytime, because every out is important. Each game is a must-win game. If you have guys cold as ice, bench them. Move them around. With AJ and Crawford hitting the ball, why is Puig batting second? AJ bat second? Sure, Scioscia did it. A contact hitter – more, a smart hitter – can do damage up there, as opposed to the bottom of the lineup. The point is, Donnie can’t manage and enables his players to goof off as he prefers a happy clubhouse to a gritty, smart, focused one. I hope to god he’s not allowed to manage the “real Dodgers” – the team coming after this selfie taking, bubble dancing monstrosity. I don’t want him turning Joc and Seager into pretty boys who dance to pre-game concerts and pose for clothing store catalogs. I don’t want him to manage the Dodgers period. Getting a real baseball manager in there who smashes the bubble machine and tells these party boys it’s time to play baseball, and isn’t afraid to be creative with his lineup and thinking, would do wonders for the Dodgers. One wonders if Farty Arte will fire Scioscia. I would say he’s probably safe due to winning the most games in baseball’s regular season, but Donnie, while finishing first, didn’t do so in as impressive fashion as the Anaheim skipper. Donnie should go. Kasten would be sacrificing him and no one in LA would balk. Fans don’t care about Donnie, and they don’t think he’s a good manager. Nice guy, former star, but not a good or tactical manager. The Dodgers can do better. Then can some coaches. Donnie’s a dunce, but he’s not the only one responsible for this. He played the hand dealt to him by Kasten.

Stan “Baldy” Kasten – he may have been the genius behind the Braves teams or perhaps he was a bit lucky with good scouts and amazing fortune. He may have a grand scheme and showed smarts not dealing the main prospects mid-season… but… his inability or unwillingness to make adjustments, especially in the pen, crippled the Dodgers. Giving a dull tool like Donnie the option to use Elbert in a must-win playoff game makes him every bit as responsible as his manager. Insisting Elbert, Wilson, Perez, etc. were good during the regular season and after and not considering Paco Rodriguez, Yimi Garcia and other kids was foolish. Believing his $235M team could get by with a bad pen was idiotic. Thinking defense wasn’t important was ridiculous. I argued with people on Twitter until I finally decided it wasn’t worth it and stopped posting – they too said I was wrong to assume defense and relief pitching didn’t matter in Oct. It’s pretty much everything, not a luxury. Look at Kansas City. Why are the Royals so good? Defense, pitching, relief pitching, timely hitting, chemistry, leadership, and enough power to get the job done. The Royals also have a dumb manager, but that team is so well constructed it’s hard for Yost to screw it up. With the Dodgers, a team missing a lot of those components, mistakes are magnified. The Dodgers never would have survived the one game play-in with Oakland. Kasten may have tricks up his sleeve, but I fully believe today’s loss is a good thing ultimately for the Dodgers and their fans. It stings, but it will force Kasten to address the bullpen, perhaps Donnie and the coaches, and maybe even move some celebrity millionaires. Would it be so bad to turn some hot shot into a gamer in the Royals mode? If the Dodgers won and advanced deeper into Oct, fans, and Kasten himself, likely would feel all was well and not want any changes. The rude awakening for the second year in a row shows changes need to be made – if only a real bullpen acquired. Kasten has annoyed me all season because he’s had a lot of the pieces, but ignores them, banishes them and insists on guys he brought in who proved they weren’t up to the task. Try as I might, I can’t understand why Paco spent the entire season in AAA and more, why he was left off the post-season roster after showing he was performing well in Sept. I hope Kasten gets busy and improves the team. Bullpen, defense, leadership, toughness. Trade away a few celebrities. The female fans will moan but they’ll get over it. The blueprint should be the current Royals team – a group that resembles something former Dodgers GM Dan Evans put together. There’s a reason that team feels magical, why they make crazy defensive plays, come back from behind, mow down opponents in late innings, etc. They’re a good team, a well-constructed team – the 2014 Dodgers are not a team, but a collection of parts. It bought some time, but when Kasten had other options on hand, he dismissed them. Is it some scheme we’re not aware of, arrogance, stubbornness, or a mix of the three? Kasten is the guy who created the current Dodgers, and re-signed Donnie, so he’s very much to blame for this season. $235M should buy more. Oh, and if you’re also working under the assumption Donnie is the problem for everything, you must also believe Ned is the problem. I don’t mind if you blame Ned, but he’s just a figurehead – Kasten runs the team. Getting rid of Ned would be like dealing with your Obama hatred by removing Biden. In the case of who makes actual decisions for the Dodgers, follow the shine off the bald head.

I won’t go into individual players any more than I have because it’s unnecessary. The players are what they are, and were never going to be much more than that. I choose to look at the ace/best pitcher in all of baseball, the manager and architect of the team. I think the buck stops there. Frankly I’m annoyed the National League representative in the World Series will be some team that makes me ill. I’m going for Kansas City, and if they lose in the ALCS or big dance, it will still have been an impressive season for them. It’s easy to like the Royals because they play baseball the right way. They’re a cohesive unit and a fun team that plays fundamentally sound and with a ton of energy. The Dodgers need to get some of that back. The 1988 team had it, Dan Evans’ teams had it, but it’s not been around since perhaps the back to back NLCS teams McCourt underfunded. It’s time for change. It’s time to get back to playing baseball smartly, and not worrying about bubbles, dancing, walk up music and who has more groupies. Old fashioned? You bet! But it’s the way you win in Oct – and as I said, the current Dodgers’ brand of baseball was never going to fare well in the post-season. And look where they are now.