A Perfect Week (almost)

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Just as I predicted, the Dodgers came home from San Francisco after two devastating losses to the Giants, with the determination to turn things around…and turn things around they did.  The Dodgers swept a 4-game series from the Phillies (the first time they have done this at home since 1962) and won two out of three to the Brewers.  The Phillies and Brewers are very good teams and the Dodgers showed the baseball world that they are just as good as either of those two teams.

I had the opportunity to attend Friday night’s game and enjoyed every minute of it.  Me and my wife became parents three months ago and finally made it to a game.  Our 3-month old girl stayed with her Grandma while we (along with my parents and father-in-law) made it to our first game in a long time.  The Dodger Dog was wonderful. 

The one imperfection in this homestand came on Saturday night.  You’re thinking, “Of course, they lost”.  That is true and that was part of it.  But what I’m really talking about was the reception given to Milwaukee’s set-up man when he jogged in from the bullpen in the 8th inning.  The Dodger Stadium crowd greeted their former hero with nothing but boos.

Eric Gagne was the greatest closer in franchise history and the most popular pitcher since Orel Hershiser and Fernando Valenzuela.  He practically doubled the previous record of consecutive saves.  He went a whole season without blowing a save and won a Cy Young Award.  Eric Gagne carried the team on his shoulders while he was on the mound.  Without Gagne, Steve Finley’s dramatic grand slam in 2004 would likely have been meaningless, as any other closer would have had several more blown saves resulting in a few more losses. Dodger fans enjoyed the excitement of knowing the game was over when he jogged onto the field in the 9th inning.

I didn’t understand the reaction of the crowd on Saturday night.  If you aren’t going to cheer Eric Gagne when he makes his return to Dodger Stadium as a former Dodger, then exactly who are you going to cheer?  You can boo when he strikes out a Dodger, like Casey Blake.  After all, he is pitching for the opponent.  But you can’t acknowledge him and what he did for Los Angeles for even a minute?

Kirk Gibson, a coach for the rival D-Backs was cheered earlier this year.  Joe Torre got an ovation from a Mets crowd that hated him and had no obligation to give him any acknowledgment.  Heck, even Johnny Damon got some cheers from Boston fans upon his return to Fenway shortly after doing something unthinkable and traitorous – leaving the Red Sox for the hated Yankees.  Dodger fans couldn’t do the same for Gagne?

Was it the Mitchell report?  I doubt it.  Was it the fact that he left as a free agent despite saying during the season that he was willing to give the Dodgers “a hometown discount?”  Many Dodger fans shrugged their shoulders, thinking that his best days were behind him anyway, after the string of injuries that left him sidelined for two years. Honestly, how many of the 50,000 fans were actually thinking about those words when he entered the game on Saturday? 

No, Dodger fans booed him because they were in a bad mood. The Brewers had just taken a lead, leaving the Dodgers six outs away from falling into second place.  They didn’t enjoy having to watch their former closer enter the game to help ensure that the Brewers kept the lead. That, combined with the fact that Takashi Saito has done a fantastic job as closer for the Dodgers in Gagne’s absence, left Dodger fans with very little love for their former closer whom they enjoyed watching just a few years earlier. 

If Gagne had come into the game earlier or with the Dodgers leading, the reaction might have been a little different.  John Park Rule #1 is that teams are never as good as they are during a winning streak and never as bad as they are during a losing streak.  John Park Rule #2 is that the longer a game wears on, especially during a pennant race, the less likely for a former player to get an ovation upon an initial return to their former stadium and the more likely they are to get booed.  Much of the fan reaction can be explained with psychology.  It’s just too bad Dodger fans couldn’t rise above it.

 

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A Great Series

That was a great series!  I’m a mind-reader and I know what you’re thinking.  “What?!  What are you talking about?!  That series was awful!! The Dodgers lose two out of three to a really bad team – the hated Giants no less.  The Dodgers blow a golden opportunity to get into first place and you say this was a great series??  Maybe you should change the color scheme of this blog to black and orange.” 

Okay, okay, I hear you. But I stand behind my statement. This was a great series.  All three games go down to the wire.  The Dodger-hating fans in San Francisco are loud and passionate.  This is what the Dodger-Giant rivalry is all about.  This was a great series.  But Dodger fans are disappointed.  “We should have swept these guys or at least won two out of three.  We blew it.  This team has no heart.  If they can’t beat a team as bad as the Giants, how can they expect to come home and beat teams like the Phillies, Brewers, etc etc.”

First of all, you forget that this is a Dodger-Giant series.  There is no advantage in a Dodger-Giant series,  In a Dodger-Giant series, one team is as good as the other.  Regardless of talent level or position in the standings, the Dodgers and Giants are .500 teams when they play each other.  Why? Because that’s the way it is in a rivalry.  Both teams dig down deep and find a way to beat the team they hate.  Two weeks ago, the Dodgers won two out of three from the Giants at home.  This weekend they lose two out of three.  .500.  This is the way it has always been between these two teams.  Throw stats out the window!  The Dodgers had no advantage going into this series. 

This was a great series, not only for the reasons mentioned above, but for another reason.  This Dodger team needed a kick in the butt. The Dodgers are still riding the Manny high and are not playing good enough baseball.  A Dodger sweep of the Giants and a spot in first place could have been the worst thing for the Dodgers and their mental approach to a homestand against some tough opponents.  The Dodgers needed a wake-up call that things will not be easy the final two months – Manny or no Manny.  They are going to have to fight for this division.  The Dodgers are going to fly home angry and looking for blood – the exact attitude they need to beat Philadelphia and Milwaukee. 

If the Dodgers win the division, they may very well point back to the two bitter defeats in this weekend’s series with the Giants.

The Beginning Of Something Good

Right now I’m watching the 9th inning of yesterday’s game.  I taped it to watch the post-game show.  Anyway, I believe that this very game is the beginning of a big stretch for the Dodgers – a stretch that will land the Dodgers in first place and in a good position heading into October.  The Dodgers are due for a winning streak and I believe that streak will be happening soon and may have already started already.

The Dodgers now have an offense behind a pitching staff that has the best ERA in the National League.  Unlike the first half, a good stretch by the starting rotation is likely to give the Dodgers a lot of wins. 

Hold on to your seats.  The next few weeks are gonna be exciting.

Manny Ramirez Trade

How can I talk about the Casey Blake trade and not comment on the biggest mid-season trade the Dodgers have ever made? 

First, there was shock.  The Dodgers were never mentioned in the Manny trade rumors.  Even when they were first mentioned around noon today, it was only from The Boston Globe and SI.com.  It wasn’t until after the trade was finalized that it was finally mentioned on mlb.com, Yahoo, and other sites.  The Dodgers had been mentioned a few days ago as talking to the Red Sox about Manny but it didn’t sound like anything serious.

Well, what do I think about the trade, other than it being perhaps the biggest blockbuster trade the Dodgers have ever pulled off?  It was great. Simple as that. The Dodgers pick up Manny Ramirez without giving up Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier.  The Dodgers get Manny Ramirez without giving up any of the other young Dodger talent such as Russell Martin, Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, James Loney, or Clayton Kershaw.  The Dodgers address the needs of 2008 without mortgaging the future.  They give up Andy LaRoche and a minor leaguer.

I’m a big fan of the youth movement the Dodgers have going on. It has been a long time since the Dodgers have brought up so much talent through their minor league system.  This is the Dodger way.  However, there are those Dodger fans out there who not only love the youth movement but practically worship it.  These fans are lamenting the loss of Andy LaRoche.  It’s a reaction I don’t understand.  Do the Dodgers need to hold on to every single young prospect?  Isn’t the whole point to win a championship?  If we can put ourselves in a position to not only win the division, but to win playoff games and maybe a championship this year as well as others, isn’t it worth it?  Especially one that doesn’t involve losing the young talent that is currently producing? C’mon, people, give me a break.  If you can’t support a deal like this, then what exactly do you want?

Anyway, the acquisition of Manny Ramirez will give the Dodgers what Andruw Jones was unable to give them. The Dodgers now have the power bat they have been lacking all season.  Yes, they have a crowded outfield with five legitimate starters but that’s a dilemma that a number of teams would kill to have.

Good move.  It would have been nice to pick up Greg Maddux too, but I can’t be too greedy.

Casey Blake Trade

When I read about this morning’s trade on the Dodger blog, I posted this comment:

“My only reservation
is that Casey Blake has spent his entire career in the American League
and with a few exceptions such as Barry Zito, C.C. Sabathia, Dan Haren,
etc., is largely unfamiliar with National League pitching. When the
Dodgers acquired Steve Finley in 2004, he was able to hit the ground
running whereas Blake will have a learning curve to overcome without a
lot of time.

Overall though, I applaud Ned Colletti on acquiring a quality
veteran bat without sacrificing the future. If Blake is able to make a
smooth adjustment, he will be just what the Dodgers and their
struggling lineup needs.”

On another note, I agree with Joe Torre’s decision to sit Andre Ethier last night.  What else are you going to do? With Juan Pierre returning from the disabled list, the Dodgers were once again in a position of having four outfielders.  You can’t sit Pierre because you need his speed at the top of the lineup and you can’t sit Andruw Jones just yet. 

The Dodgers have just brought in Don Mattingly and also hitting coach Jeff Pentland to work with Jones. You need to give them a couple weeks to see what they can do. Like Torre commented, Jones is a big part of the Dodgers’ plan this year.  He has tremendous upside.  Jones is one of the few hitters in baseball who can carry a team when he’s playing well.  With the Dodgers only a game out of first, they still have the luxury of time to work with him and it will be well worth the time if he finally comes around.  Besides, the Dodgers – desperate for a bat in the lineup – brought him off the DL cold before he had a chance to get his swing together. They need to give Jones a little more time.  They can’t give him too much more time however, as the pennant race will soon be reaching a point where they have to play the guys who are playing the best and sit the guys who aren’t, regardless of who they are.

Until that time however, I feel you have no choice but to platoon Kemp and Ethier. The Dodgers need to keep their eyes not just on the division but on the playoffs as well.  If they can get Andruw swinging the bat well, then the Dodgers will be in a much better situation offensively during the playoffs. The Dodgers need to not only be good enough to win a weak division but to beat some good teams in the playoffs. That is why Jones and his bat were brought over.

Looking To The Second Half

We all know how the Dodgers played in the first half. We all know
the strengths and weaknesses and what needs to be improved upon in the
second half of the season. We all know what the players on the field
have been doing and what they need to do better.  The question for me
is what does management need to do to contribute to a successful and
winning 2008 season? This is the question that I will attempt to answer.

First
and foremost, Dodger management needs to decide how important the 2008
season is to the organization.  Is winning in 2008 worth sacrificing
2009, 2010, and beyond?  Are the Dodgers prepared to go for the gold in
2008 or continue to go with the youth movement in hopes of having many
good years in the near future?  Those are good questions and there are
great arguments to both sides.  Personally, I’m a win now kind of
person.  I’d rather make some sacrifices to get a championship now and
worry about the future after the season.  It’s a sort of carpe diem
attitude – “seize the season”. 

However, I must admit that the thought of holding on to our young
talent long enough to enjoy many years of winning and maybe even start
a dynasty is tempting. The Dodgers patiently went with a youth movement
in the early 1970’s and as a result, Dodger fans enjoyed many great
years, including the famous long-running infield of Garvey, Cey, Lopes,
and Russell along with other Dodger greats who contributed to four
pennants and a championship.  GM Ned Colletti has some tough choices to
make in the next few weeks and I don’t envy him.

If the Dodgers
decide to stay the course with the youth movement, then I have nothing
more to say about 2008. They will have a team of talented young
prospects that will mature over the next few years, hopefully making
the Dodgers one of the teams to beat in the National League for years
to come.  And they may even make the playoffs this year given the way
the NL West has collectively stumbled into the All-Star break. That
alone may be an argument for continuing to preserve the youth.

However,
if the Dodgers are serious about not only winning in 2008, but going
deep into the postseason, then they have a lot of work to do.  There is
not a lot of panic in the Dodger world due to the fact that they are
only one game out of first.  But the reality is that the Dodgers are
far from being a first-place team.  They are three games below .500 and
are lucky to be where they are.  The Dodger record would be good enough
for last place in the AL East.  And for a team that hopes to match up
well with teams like the Red Sox, Yankees, or Cubs in the playoffs,
then there is much work to be done.

First and foremost, they need a number one starter.  They need
a pitcher who can be the ace of the starting rotation – someone who is
their go-to guy when they need to win a big game.  They need a pitcher
who is almost a guarantee to give a quality start on any given night. 
This type of pitcher really earns his salary in the postseason when he
can potentially give you three starts in a seven-game series.  Jason
Schmidt was signed by Colletti to fill this role but shoulder problems
have sidelined him ever since he joined the Dodgers. Brad Penny is
currently the “ace” but has never been consistent enough to really earn
the title and is no more reliable in a must-win game than any of the
other starters.  Chad Billingsley will probably be this type of pitcher
in the future and often pitches like it but is still maturing as a
pitcher.  Hiroki Kuroda may be this type of pitcher once he fully
acclimates to pitching in the United States.  But those are all ifs and
somedays.  They need someone to step into this role now.  The problem
is that they have bigger holes to fill.

The first hole they need
to plug up is shortstop, or more specifically, Rafael Furcal’s bat.  If
that bat is found at a position other than shortstop then so be it.  I
don’t need to expand on this too much as everybody knows that
management is actively pursuing a shortstop even as we speak. 

The
next hole they need to fill is Andruw Jones’s spot in the lineup.  I
believe Andruw Jones will get it together and find his swing.  What I’m
not so sure of is whether it’s going to happen this season.  If the
Dodgers were 8 games up, I would say to give Andruw all the time he
needs.  But the Dodgers are fighting for the division and can’t afford
to have a .160 hitter in the lineup for much longer. I say you give him
a little more time (a couple more weeks) and if he does not show
significant progress, I think you have to write him off in 2008  If you
can’t bring in somebody from the outside, then an outfield of Pierre,
Kemp, and Ethier is the way to go.

The loss of Takashi Saito
is obviously another hole to fill but I think the Dodgers have the arms
in the pen to replace him while he is out.  They won’t be Saito but
they won’t be Brett Tomko either.  If nobody works out, then you have
to make a move.

The last problem they need to deal with is
players who aren’t fully on board with Joe Torre’s game plan. Like
owner Frank McCourt said recently, they have a wealth of coaching
experience in that dugout. The coaching staff is about as good as
you’re gonna get.  If players aren’t going to listen to these coaches,
then they won’t listen to anybody. This isn’t a team that is going to
blow people out and score a lot of runs. This is a team that needs to
work hard to manufacture runs and it takes a game plan and smart
hitting to accomplish this.  Any hitter who isn’t willing to do their
part and be a team player has to be shown the door no matter how
talented he may be. 

I realize this is partially a wish
list as it will be near impossible to do all the above.  At the very
least, the Dodgers need to pick up a good solid bat from outside the
organization, bench Jones if necessary, and make sure they have a team
of players who are all on the same page and who are committed to
winning. That may be enough to get them where they need to be.

I
will leave you with this….(best read with the music for John Lennon’s
Imagine playing in your head). Imagine the return of Rafael Furcal in
early September.  It’s possible.  Imagine Andruw Jones finally getting
his swing together. I wonder if you can. Imagine Takashi Saito not
needing surgery.  He’s going to give it a shot.  Imagine Nomar stays
healthy.  All we need is three months. Imagine Brad Penny comes back
from arm soreness to pitch like he did last year.  It isn’t
hard to do.  Imagine Jason Schmidt returning to the Dodger starting
rotation.  You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one. I’m
watching the game right now and the count is 2 and 1.  Okay, I had to find a
rhyme.

It is still possible.  Nobody is officially out for the
season. Some of these dreams may be a stretch but it is still possible
that the Dodgers can be at full strength going down the stretch drive
with the team that Ned Colletti put together at the beginning of this
season.  What I am trying to say is that the Dodgers have upside.
Serious upside. Do not count this team out for the season or for being
a factor in October.  

June 6th – Just Another Day

Not to take anything away from Hiroki Kuroda’s masterpiece
last night, but what stuck in my mind from last night’s game was not
the best pitching performance of the year by a Dodger pitcher and one
of the best in recent years, but it was the words of announcer Vin
Scully on last night’s television broadcast just before the 7th inning:

“Normally on the telecast we talk about “This Day in
Baseball.” I don’t mean to sound grumpy or grouchy, but I can’t believe
what I didn’t hear. I listened to the news on the radio for
about an hour and fifteen minutes today–did not hear one word about
what this day really means. June the 6th, 1944. Do the names Omaha, or
Utah, Gold, Juno, Sword, do they mean anything? They’re the beaches at
Normandy. Sure, today was D-Day, the invasion of Europe, when thousands
of soldiers gave their lives so that we could be free. I’ll be darned
if I saw any real publicity about it at all. Please don’t let that
happen again next year. Please? Yeah, this day.”

I didn’t know it was the anniversary of D-Day and it bothers me that I
didn’t know.  Our civilization will not last long if we neglect to
remember the heavy sacrifices that were made to secure the freedom and
protection we have – freedom and protection that allow us to enjoy
pleasant diversions such as a baseball game.  Many people around the
world live in fear for their lives.  We do not and there are a
number of people who made that possible.

(The transcription above was copied from http://www.sonsofstevegarvey.com)