Friday, October 24, 2014

Another Rays departure could impact Mattingly

I wouldn't want to be around Don Mattingly right now.

Not even two weeks after Andrew Friedman left the Rays to join the Dodgers as president of baseball operations, Joe Maddon pulled a stunner by opting out of his deal today, ending his nine-year tenure in Tampa Bay.

And just like that, it looks as if another East Coast shakeup is directly impacting a West Coast club.

I'll give Friedman credit for immediately coming out and saying that Mattingly will still be the manager of the Dodgers in 2015.  Part of his statement alluded to the fact that he hopes Mattingly will be the manager next season and "for a long time to come."

But then again, Maddon said all of a week ago how much he loves being in Tampa.  So go figure.

I'm not saying that I think Maddon will be LA bound, because early speculation has him possibly going to the Cubs.  I am saying that if I'm Mattingly, I have to deal with yet another distraction in a short managerial career that has been one distraction after another.  And I'm not too happy about it.

And yet again, no matter what Friedman might claim, you can't help but think there's been some discussion in Friedman's inner circle about what it would take to get Maddon to the Dodgers.  It could all by hypothetical, it possibly wasn't even a serious discussion, but there's no denying that there has to have been at least SOME sort of talk.

Obviously, the three-year extension Mattingly inked after last season has turned out to be his saving grace.  Even in a money rich place like LA, I'm not sure they'd be willing to eat yet another contract.  You would think they have to draw the line somewhere.

Besides, Mattingly did lead the Dodgers to the playoffs the last couple of seasons, something that is much harder to do than people realize.  Winning back-to-back division titles in any sport is tough, but especially in baseball.

Yes, I realize his handling of the bullpen in the NLDS left something to be desired, and sitting Yasiel Puig in the finale against the Cardinals didn't turn out to be a smart move.  But nobody could've won with the bums in this 'pen, and Puig looked completely lost.  In other words, I'm fairly certainly plenty of other managers would've met the same fate.

We'll see how this plays out in the upcoming weeks.  Perhaps the lure of flashy Los Angeles will be too much to pass up for Maddon, and he'll quietly lobby for the job, leading to Mattingly's demise.  Perhaps nothing comes of it at all, and Mattingly is back.

Either way, I'm guessing we haven't heard the last of this.  These are the Dodgers, so that's a pretty safe bet.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How much blame should be on Colletti for the failed bullpen?

As Andrew Friedman gets settled into his position of the man pulling all the strings for the Dodgers, Ned Colletti is quietly getting adjusted to his new role as well.  A new role that will no longer allow him to be the trigger man in player movement.

Much of the focus since news broke this week of Friedman getting hired has been about the construction of the bullpen under Ned Colletti.  As the Royals have shown in the playoffs, a top-notch bullpen can carry a team a long, long way.

Something the Dodgers didn't come close to having.

So now, the question can be asked of how much blame Colletti should receive for the bullpen he put together this season.  There's definitely two ways of looking at it, so let's dive right in.

1) Bringing in ex-closers like Brandon League, Brian Wilson, and Chris Perez is an easy move to make.  They have experience pitching in big situations.

When looking at the bullpen on paper before the season started, the breakdown looked something like this: Perez for the 7th, Wilson for the 8th, Kenley Jansen to close things out.  That certainly looked like a good trio in the final innings, especially after the success of Wilson at the end of 2013.

With the great starting pitching the Dodgers have, it looked like they could turn games into six-inning affairs.  It's not a stretch to say that they felt like they were going to win lots of games when they had the lead going into the late innings.  Either they had a starting pitcher rolling along, or their bullpen full of former closers would close the door.

2) There's a reason League, Perez, and Wilson are ex-closers.  It's because they're washed up and clearly not what they used to be.

Unfortunately for Colletti, this turned out to be the case, especially in the NLDS when the middle relief time and time again failed to bridge the gap to Jansen.  It was an ugly way to end the season to say the least.

Everyone but Jansen was a disaster pretty much all season long.  Perez had a 4.27 ERA in 49 games, though it seemed like it was much worse.  Wilson lost all of the zip on his pitches, and ended up with a 4.66 ERA in 61 games.  League was improved at 2.57 in 63 games, but that was mostly in low-pressure situations.

My guess is Colletti went with the experience of guys who have been there, done that over guys who are more comfortable pitching in the middle innings.  It was a chance he was willing to take, and while the Dodgers did win the NL West, it was mostly in spite of the ex-closers.

One interesting little tidbit that has been whispered is about Colletti being handcuffed from making trades at the deadline, as management labeled the top prospects like Corey Seager, Julio Urias, and Joc Pederson as untouchable.  Remember how Colletti said he wanted to improve the 'pen, yet nothing came of it?  It seemed pretty strange at the time, especially considering this team's recent history of taking on all sorts of money to get more talent.

Well, it sure looks like we should cut Colletti some slack, as it appears as if he was willing to get more arms, yet was blocked.  Who knows what those deals may have been, so possibly in the long run, it's a good thing to hold onto the prospects instead of getting the short-term fix.

Bottom Line:

While I can understand Colletti's thought process in regards to the ex-closers, the end result is that it completely blew up in his face.  There's no way any of us thought these guys would be THIS bad, but the reality is they were.  So that makes Colletti's moves to be failures.

Much of the blame needs to be with the pitchers themselves, as they not only made Colletti look like a fool, but completely dropped their stocks as well.  This group was so lousy, even a little bit of improvement would have still made them bad.  That's how poorly they performed.

So let's just call it even down the middle: Colletti gets half the blame for signing the wrong guys, and the ex-closers get the other half for stinking up the joint over and over.  We'll settle at that.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Friedman's main goal: get younger, better

After nine years of serving as the general manager of the Dodgers, Ned Colletti has been told to step aside.  In his place will be one of the brightest and most buzz-worthy young names in baseball: Andrew Friedman of the Tampa Bay Rays.

What will the 37-year-old be focused on as he goes from the money-tight Rays to the free-spending Dodgers?  Simply put, get younger, and get better.

That's the goal for pretty much every team, but especially for a Dodger team that has a ridiculous amount of money tied up to veterans over the next handful of seasons ($190 million next year, $170 million the two after, and $130 million in 2018, according to Hardball Talk).  It's safe to say Friedman is not used to anything quite like that.

But it is reality, and that's the price the Dodgers have paid to be in the postseason the last two seasons.  It's really hard to make the playoffs in baseball, so to that point, all the money has worked to a certain degree.  The downside is that last year they lasted six games in the NLCS, and this year it was only four in the NLDS.  Not exactly what they thought was going to happen.

Now the Dodgers are looking to take that all-important next step, which is a big one.  They want to find guys who will get them over the hump, all while not throwing all sorts of cash to guys on the downsides of their careers.

In other words, don't expect to see anymore Red Sox/Dodgers trades like we did in 2012.

What are some things we might see?  Well, here's a few possibilities.

1) No more overpaying for ex-closers to strengthen the bullpen.  In fact, doing so has had quite the opposite effect.  Brian Wilson had a good end of 2013, and followed that up with an awful 2014.  Brandon League was signed to be a closer, and instead has been relegated to no-stress innings.  Chris Perez has been flat out atrocious, and should not be back.

You can't blame Colletti for trying, but the bottom line is that he gave out a whole lot of money for very little results.  Those guys proved over and over why they're EX-closers, and not current ones.  I doubt Friedman makes the same mistakes.

2) Figure out the outfield mess.  You know part of "get younger" has to include finding a spot for top prospect Joc Pederson.  While Pederson didn't exactly light it up in his brief stint in September, he has shown both the ability to get it done at the plate and in the field in the minors.

How will he crack the lineup?  It will only happen if someone like Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier is moved.  Crawford is still owed a little over $60 million over the next three years, and Ethier just over $50 during that same span.  Moving them won't be easy at all, but at the very least, you have to think one of them is going to be gone.

That would leave Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Pederson as the starting outfield.  That's a much younger, less expensive trio.  More importantly, it won't leave the manager needing to juggle the lineup card every single day.

3) Strengthen the bottom of the rotation.  This will especially be useful in the postseason, so the Dodgers don't feel pressured to use Clayton Kershaw on short rest for the third straight year.  Dan Haren was a roller coaster in 2014, and Josh Beckett was lost probably for good because of a bad hip.

Unless the Dodgers want to roll the dice on young Julio Urias, all 18 years of him, then the help will have to come from outside the organization.

4) Decide whether or not to bring back Hanley Ramirez.  The Dodgers could make a qualifying offer of one year and $15.3 million, which he probably wouldn't accept because he can find a better offer on the free agent market.  Or do they decide that a healthy Ramirez for parts of the season is better than nothing, and offer him a multi-year deal?

Friedman built his team in Tampa Bay by not overpaying for veterans like Ramirez, who can't stay in the lineup consistently.  I would think the odds of him coming back just got slimmer.

5) Finally, figure out how much he wants Don Mattingly.  Donny Baseball signed a three-year extension before this season, but after an early playoff exit, the heat has definitely been turned up once again.  Mishandling his entire pitching staff at the worst of times did him no favors.

And guess what?  Tampa's Joe Maddon just happens to be in the final year of his deal.  Bring on the speculation of Maddon coming to LA.  It's only natural to wonder, as Maddon is a former coach for the Angels of many years, and has turned himself into one of the top managers in baseball despite the low-budget team he works for.  This year didn't go so hot, but he's consistently turned the Rays into a playoff contender in a very tough AL East.

I just don't see Mattingly staying around long now that Colletti has been pushed aside.  Like I said before, there's so much heat on Mattingly now that it might do everyone good just to move on.  Maybe not in 2015, but after that.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

How the Dodgers can fix their bullpen mess

It's no secret - a huge reason why the Dodgers were sitting home on Saturday night while the Cardinals and Giants opened the NLCS is because of their bullpen.  More specifically, their middle relief, which constantly let them down in their short NLDS stay.

Ken Gurnick over at Dodgers.com penned a good article breaking down each position heading into the offseason.  For now, I'll take a look at the bullpen and offer possible solutions.

Closer
Let's start at the top with Kenley Jansen.  He's really good.  Next!

No seriously, there are plenty of teams out there with closer problems, but Jansen has the stuff and makeup of a solid closer for years to come.  While he's mostly a one-trick pony with a cutter, it's a devastating pitch when it's on.  He's also shown an ability to mix it up, as he started going to a slider a little more often to go with the hard stuff.  Overall, he finished the season with 44 saves and a 2.76 ERA, and was even better in the second half with a 1.69 ERA.

Simply put, he's turned himself into one of the best closers in the game.

Long Relief
The Dodges signed Jamey Wright for this role, though he was mostly used in middle relief.  He's a free agent, and considering how badly he wore down as the season progressed (3.50 ERA before the break, 5.74 after), I'm not sure the Dodgers can rely on a guy who will be 40 next season.

Carlos Frias made the cut for the playoffs, but was a non-factor.  There's too small a sample size to really judge him right now, as he's been both really good and really bad in the little we've seen him.  A younger arm, though, so he'll be in the mix.

Another option who has been long forgotten about is Paul Maholm.  He was signed pretty much last minute in Spring Training with question marks surrounding other arms.  He tore his ACL in the beginning of August, and was pretty lousy with a 4.84 ERA.  I'd say his time in Dodger blue is over.

(Note: I also realize that Roberto Hernandez and Kevin Correia were in the fold at the end of the season, but I would think they'd look to sign elsewhere as starters.  I don't expect either of them to be back.)

Middle Relief
Here's where things get interesting.  There's a lot of arms... and a lot of mediocrity.

Let's start off with three guys who have guaranteed contracts: Brian Wilson (exercised his player option... unfortunately), J.P. Howell, and Brandon League.  All three will be back for the final year of their deals.  We all saw how awful Wilson and Howell were at the end of the season.  Wilson was pretty much bad from day #1, but Howell had a very good first few months until taking a nosedive in September.  League had a good ERA at 2.57, but was given all sorts of money to be a closer, not a guy who pitches meaningless innings.  But that's his role right now.

Don't forget about Paco Rodriguez, too.  He was left off the playoff roster, but has already experienced plenty of success last season, and is a young arm the Dodgers covet.  If he's completely healthy, he'll be in the mix for 2015.

Other young arms to remember are Pedro Baez, Daniel Coulombe, Yimi Garcia, and Onelki Garcia.  Chris Withrow is a power-throwing righty, but also is on the shelf with Tommy John surgery.  We'll see if the Dodgers bring him back.

Thankfully, Chris Perez is also a free agent.  Considering he packed up and skipped town when he found out he wasn't on the playoff roster, and because he was flat out atrocious, he's as good as gone.

Free Agents to Target
Thanks to MLBTradeRumors.com, there's plenty of good arms out there.  Here's a sampling of the best.

Closers - Casey Janssen, David Robertson, Francisco Rodriguez, Koji Uehara.

Right-handed middle relief - Joba Chamberlain, Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek, Joakim Soria.

Left-handed middle relief - Andrew Miller

There's more names than just these, but those are the ones who stood out to me the most.  Considering the Dodgers' willingness to dole out big cash to guys in the 'pen (Matt Guerrier, League, Wright, Howell, Wilson, for example), don't be surprised to see the same thing happen again.  But I wouldn't blame them, as they need to get new blood.

Bottom Line
Typically during a season, a bullpen will carry about 7-8 players.  We already know Jansen, Wilson, Howell, and League will be back, so the number is cut in half.  In a perfect world, the Dodgers would cut ties with at least Wilson, but since they're looking to trim payroll a bit, I would be surprised if that happens since that would be nearly $10 in dead money.  I just don't see that happening.

Hopefully Paco makes a good comeback, and maybe someone like Elbert can finally stay healthy and show his stuff.  That's a big IF, though.  Baez is an intriguing option because he has powerful stuff and is just getting started.

With all of that said, Ned Colletti (or whoever the GM is...) needs to look outside the organization for help.  They can't come back with the same cast of characters who completely let them down in the postseason.  That would send a horrible message.  The names I listed above are a start.  Even if just one of them is signed, it would be great.

Then again, maybe someone in the Wilson, Howell, and League trio completely stinks it up in Spring Training and the Dodgers send them packing despite their price tags.  That would send a positive message of not keeping dead weight around, no matter what they're paid.  That would only happen if they trim their payroll to under $200 like they say they want to do.  Then they might be able to justify keeping some dead money around.

The only thing I fear is that the Dodgers won't be willing to bring in more closers to fill the setup role, as they've been burned by Wilson, League, and Perez.  I guess I wouldn't blame them, but the flipside is that they HAVE to get new blood in the fold.  I would much rather see someone (or two) completely new pitch in innings 7-8.  Having the same old, same old won't solve their problems.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

2014 Postseason Report Card

It didn't last long, as the Dodgers were bounced by the Cardinals in four games in the NLDS.  But nonetheless, here's how I graded everyone based on their short stay.

A

A.J. Ellis - It looked like Ellis jumped out of his own body and straight into Mike Piazza's for the playoffs.  He hit .538, smacked a homer, drove in two, and took four walks for a .647 OBP.  Not bad for a guy who couldn't even break .200 in the regular season.

Zack Greinke - Did all he could in Game 2, which ended up being a victory despite him getting robbed of a win.  Pitched seven scoreless innings, striking out seven.  Also went 2-for-3 at the plate with a run scored.

Hyun-Jin Ryu - Nobody really knew what to expect from him in Game 3, as he hadn't pitched in almost a month because of a bad shoulder.  But when he took the mound, he was really good, giving up one run in six innings.  Like the other loses, a blown lead in the late innings cost him a win.

Hanley Ramirez - Had an impressive showing by hitting .429 with a couple of RBIs, and some slick plays with his glove.  Probably could've caught a liner that was just over his head in the seventh inning of Game 4, which soon led to Matt Adams' game-winning three-run shot, but it wasn't an easy play.  I'd say he left a pretty good impression in his quest for a big contract.

Matt Kemp - Did all of his damage in the first two games, and his solo homer in the eighth inning of Game 2 led to the their only win.  Still hit .353 despite going 1-for-8 over the final two games.

Brandon League - The only middle reliever worth a damn, as he had an 0.00 ERA in four appearances, and allowed none of his inherited runners to score.

Kenley Jansen - Only got one chance for a save, and closed the door in Game 2 with two strikeouts.  The middle relief was so bad, that's the only time we saw him in four games.

B

Andre Ethier - Didn't have much of a chance to make an impact, but made the start in center for Yasiel Puig in Game 4 and took a couple of walks.  Hit a big pinch-hit double in the ninth inning of Game 1 to get the Dodgers that close to tying it up.

C

Carl Crawford - Collected five hits, but took too many strikeouts with seven, one short of Puig for the team lead.  His groundout to second to end Game 4 ended up being the final nail in the coffin.

Brian Wilson - Only made one appearance, giving up a double, intentional walk, and strikeout.  Neither runner ended up scoring, so he got a little lucky.  Still, his stuff was so bad by the end of the year, was barely even worth giving the ball to.

D

Clayton Kershaw - I never thought I'd put him this low, but it's reality.  In both Game 1 and Game 4, took a lead into the seventh inning and just fell apart.  Game 1 was totally on him, but Game 4 he at least kept things manageable.  Still, I'm doubting the Dodgers were counting on a 7.82 ERA from him.  If he could've made a few more big pitches, they could very well still be playing.

Adrian Gonzalez - Hit a two-run shot to try to begin the comeback in Game 1, but that was it for highlights.  Went 3-for-16 and consistently failed to drive in runs from third in key situations.  A big letdown for baseball's leading RBI man in the regular season.

Yasiel Puig - Had two hits and three runs in Game 1, then tripled and scored in Game 3.  In between all of that, looked completely lost and helpless at the plate, striking out a whopping eight times.  Finally got benched for Ethier in Game 4, which was a total slap in the face to him.  But a deserved one.

Dee Gordon - Looked worn out at the plate, and only reached base five times with one steal.  Pretty shocking that the leadoff man never scored one run in all four games.

Pedro Baez - Recovered a bit in Game 4 with 1 2/3 innings of shutout ball.  But his three-run gopher ball he surrendered to Matt Holliday in relief of Kershaw in Game 1 proved to be the difference.

Juan Uribe - Played his typical good defense at third, but a 2-for-17 showing at the plate with six strikeouts was very disappointing.

F

J.P. Howell - His nosedive from September carried over into the playoffs, as he consistently got pounded in three games to the tune of a 13.50 ERA.  Made a very lucky play on a grounder between his legs to turn a double play in Game 4, or his numbers would actually be worse.

Scott Elbert - Relieved Ryu in Game 3 with the game tied 1-1.  Three batters later, the score was 3-1 thanks to a Kolten Wong two-run homer.  Another middle reliever, another bad outing.

Justin Turner - It's not very fair to him, as he only had two at-bats after being the superstar utility guy in the regular season.  Fair or not, failed both times to drive in runs in Games 1 and 4.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cardinals own the late innings again, Dodgers fall in the NLDS

In the end, it all came down to this: the Cardinals stepped up and delivered the most in the late innings, and the Dodgers were scrambling from the very beginning.

Once again the seventh inning was the difference, as the Cardinals used a three-run homer from Matt Adams to go up 3-2, and they held on to end the Dodgers' season in Game 4 of the NLDS.  The best road team in baseball (record wise) was unable to muster a win in St. Louis.

Say what you want about Clayton Kershaw failing to hold another lead in the seventh, but this game was much different than Game 1.  Kershaw was the only one at fault for blowing it last Friday, but I don't feel the same about this one.  After watching the bullpen bumble away one lead after another, Don Mattingly rode Kershaw's tiring left arm to the 100-pitch mark.

And just like the rest of this series, it was a decision towards the end of the game that didn't work.

Kershaw had used his breaking stuff very effectively all game, but a big, fat, hanging curveball was all Adams needed to see, who then whacked a 383-foot shot just over the wall in right.  Game.  Set.  Match.

Kershaw will get plenty of flak for giving up 11 earned runs in 12 2/3 innings this series, and it's understandable to a point considering he's the top dog.  But a couple of other things also did the Dodgers in as the series progressed.  The major one was middle relief, and the other one was the fading offense.

Like I've said pretty much all season long, the arms before Kenley Jansen were just brutal.  Everyone from J.P. Howell to Scott Elbert to Brian Wilson were terrible in this series.  There simply were not any good options to turn to, and that's why Mattingly rolled the dice with Kershaw.  It obviously didn't work, but I'm not sure it would've been much different if the 'pen was summoned earlier.  Pedro Baez and Brandon League did combine for two shutout innings, but that was in much less pressure with the Cardinals now in the lead.

The offense was the other culprit.  They put up a nine-spot in Game 1, then had a huge game-winning two-run shot by Matt Kemp to win Game 2.  But in Games 2-4, they only scored six runs, which is a couple a game.  It's hard to beat any playoff team with outputs like that.

And so it ends for the 2014 Dodgers, as the regular season closed with so much promise by beating the Giants to take the NL West, only to take a big step back in the NLDS.  That's what a good team like the Cardinals can do to you - pounce on a weakness (bullpen) of the other team to win.

This offseason will undoubtedly bring changes to that beleaguered bullpen, if only for fresh arms and a fresh look after it ended so poorly.  Then there's the question of re-signing Hanley Ramirez.  It will be interesting to see how that goes.

***

On a personal note, this wraps up my seventh year blogging about the Dodgers.  My readership went way up this year, and I thank everyone out there for making that happen.  As I said before, this offseason will be a fun one to watch, and I'll be on here covering all the moves every step of the way.

Thanks again, and let's go Dodgers... in 2015!

Mattingly benches Puig for Game 4

With their backs against the wall, Don Mattingly is doing everything he can do ensure the Dodgers live to fight another day.

That includes sending an ice cold Yasiel Puig to the bench.

Andre Ethier will get the call to start in center for Game 4 in St. Louis, as Puig's strikeouts have finally caught up to him.  In Mattingly's own words, this moves give them "the best chance to win today."  Ouch.

Following a solid Game 1 in which he had two hits, scored three runs, and only struck out once, Puig has been just atrocious at the plate in the next two games: 1-for-8, one run, seven strikeouts.  While it's certainly not all of his fault, the Dodgers have only scored four runs combined in those two games, and Puig's bad play in the #2 hole is a big reason why.

If anything, this sends a message that while Puig was an All-Star and a big piece of the future, Mattingly owes it to those players in the locker room to start the best team possible.  If that means giving the long forgotten Ethier a start, then so be it.  You gotta do what you gotta do.

I expect Puig to make an appearance today, and he's a pretty deadly bat to use off the bench with runners on late in the game.  Of course, the Cardinals might not mind that considering all he does is strikeout now.  We shall see.

Same old story: Dodgers' bullpen crumbles once again

Game 3 was more of the same for the Dodgers.  A close game in the late innings.  A starting pitcher yanked.  And a bullpen than simply cannot get the big outs when needed.

Add it all up, and it's the Cardinals who are feeling good after a 3-1 victory in Game 3 of the NLDS.  Game 4 is Tuesday afternoon, as the Dodgers turn to Clayton Kershaw on three days' rest to salvage the series.

The story for the start of Game 3 was the return of Hyun-Jin Ryu, and with a strikeout of Matt Carpenter to start the game, he showed that his shoulder was ready to go.  He ended up lasting six innings, giving up one run on five hits, striking out four.  He really gave the Dodgers everything they could've hoped for.

Who didn't give the Dodgers what they hoped for?  That's right - the damn bullpen.  More specifically, the middle relief, because they're so bad at this point, Kenley Jansen stands virtually no chance of being handed the ball in the ninth with a lead.  It's gotten downright embarrassing watching the middle relief in action.

In the previous two games, we've seen Pedro Baez and J.P. Howell fall apart.  In Game 3, it was Scott Elbert's turn.  With the rain coming down hard from a passing shower, Yadier Molina took a first-pitch fastball to left for a double to start the seventh.

After a Jon Jay sacrifice bunt, Kolten Wong deposited a 405-foot home run to right, KO'ing any chance the Dodgers had in this one.  Elbert gave up a double to Carpenter for good measure before mercifully getting the hook.

I know a lot of people blame Don Mattingly for putting Elbert in, as it clearly was the wrong move.  But think about it - who the hell else is there to turn to?  Brian Wilson?  Give me a break.  He faced three batters, giving up a double and intentional walk.  After getting an out, he had the nerve to act surprised that he was getting pulled.  That's right, the guy who's stunk it up all season long is mad he's getting pulled.  Whatever.

Brandon League is another option, but not much of one.  Howell was very fortunate to turn a double play on a ball hit back to him to end the eighth.  Of course, he gave up another single right before that to load the bases.  He's about as easy a reliever to hit as there is in baseball right now. 

At this point, the Dodgers are going to have to win in spite of the crap that sits in the bullpen all game, then comes in and gives up hard hit after hard hit.  I guess they can only hope Kershaw and Zack Greinke keep their pitch counts low, keep the score lower, and bridge the gap themselves to Jansen.

Two guys we haven't seen appear yet are Jamey Wright and Carlos Frias, so don't be surprised if they're next in line to give this thing a shot.  You can also include Dan Haren on that list since he's been bumped from his Game 4 start.  Hell, he's better than watching some of these other clowns.

Despite all of this, the Dodgers only need to win two straight games to advance.  One in St. Louis with Kershaw looking for redemption, and back in LA with Greinke.  That's certainly doable.  Maybe someone like Adrian Gonzalez or Hanley Ramirez hits a couple homers and leads the way.

It will also help to not have the incredibly inconsistent Dale Scott calling balls and strikes.  He should be an NBA referee with all the home town calls he gave.  I don't blame Kemp at all for going off about the strike zone.  It was a joke all night long.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Kershaw gets a second wind, will start Game 4

Clayton Kershaw is one happy guy right now.

Not only did the Dodgers tie the series up one game apiece thanks to a late home run by Matt Kemp, but on Monday afternoon, Don Mattingly announced the Kershaw will get the ball in Game 4 on Tuesday, no matter Monday's outcome.

All of those bad memories he could have potentially carried over into the offseason?  They could be erased, as he gets another chance to right a wrong.

Last season the same situation came up, as Kershaw made a start in Game 4 on three days' rest against the Braves, tossing six innings, and giving up two unearned runs while striking out six.  That game was best remembered for Juan Uribe's dramatic go-ahead homer in the eighth, clinching the series.

The obvious difference between then and now is then, Kershaw was coming off a great Game 1 start in which he gave up one run in seven innings, striking out 12.  The decision to have him pitch was made nearly last minute, as a fading Ricky Nolasco got the boot (and rightfully so).

Now, Kershaw has a lot to prove after getting crushed in Game 1, blowing a 6-1 lead in the seventh inning.  I'd say he's looking to bounce back from giving up eight earned runs.

You know he'll be ready to pitch.  He's always ready to pitch.  Now he just needs to take it an inning at a time, focus on his spots, and there's no reason why he can't get a big win.

This move makes sense for a couple other reasons as well.  Dan Haren, the original Game 4 starter, is now available to relieve Hyun-Jin Ryu tonight if necessary.  Considering Ryu hasn't pitched since September 12, he might be needed.

Also, pushing Kershaw up a game leaves a potential do-or-die Game 5 back in LA to Zack Greinke, who was fantastic in Game 2.  That's a good thing.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Through two games, middle relief is still a big problem

The Dodgers are fortunate to be even at 1-1 in the NLDS, as they can thank Zack Greinke and Matt Kemp for stepping up big in Game 2.

Who has not stepped up big?  Middle relief, as they have once again been exposed as the true weakness of the Dodgers.

Even when guys like Brian Wilson and J.P. Howell aren't in the game, they're still impacting it in a big way.  Take Game 1, for example.  With a tiring and suddenly ineffective Clayton Kershaw hobbling in the seventh, Don Mattingly left him in to try and get through it.  Well, it clearly didn't work, and the Dodgers ended up blowing a big lead and losing.

Why was Kershaw left in?  Mostly because he's Clayton Freakin' Kershaw, but that's not the only reason.  The other one was because there's basically no one to turn to in that spot.  Kenley Jansen is the closer, so you can take him out of the equation.  The rest are either young, unproven arms, or veterans whose best days are clearly behind them.

When one of those middle relievers did get into the game, the result was horrible.  Pedro Baez got the call in the seventh with two outs and the Cardinals up 7-6.  He immediately walked Randal Grichuk, then watched Matt Holliday wallop a three-run shot into left measured at 410 feet.  That proved to be the fatal blow.

On Sunday night in Game 2, it was Howell's turn to flounder.  The lefty faced three straight lefties, and here were the results: single by Oscar Taveras, two-run homer by Matt Carpenter, single by Jon Jay.  And that was it.

The Dodgers have at least gotten a few outs from Brandon League (4) and Scott Elbert (2) without giving up runs, but the rest has been terrible.  Baez and Howell each have ERAs of 27.00, while guys like Jamey Wright, Carlos Frias, and Wilson haven't gotten in yet.  But it's not like they've given anyone much of a reason to put them in.

Fair or not, Mattingly has made the wrong decision with his bullpen in both games, as it's allowed the Cardinals to climb back into each one.  Baez tried to overpower Holliday, and it didn't work.  Howell has clearly regressed from earlier in the year and can no longer get big outs.  Opposing hitters just sit back and tee off of him.

What can be done?  For starters, Howell should not be in there in situations like Sunday.  Elbert has barely pitched this year, but so what?  He's on the roster for a reason, has better stuff, and should be given the chance in those spots.

For Game 3, I would make sure Wright, Frias, and Dan Haren are all ready to go when needed.  Hyun-Jin Ryu is making his first start since September 12, and even that lasted only one inning.  Mattingly shouldn't hesitate to give the ball to one of these three to start an inning where they'd probably be most comfortable, especially for a starter like Haren.

And no, I would not under any circumstances advocate using Wilson as a late-inning answer.  He's been the wrong answer all season long.

If the Dodgers survive this round and Howell still can't get anyone out, then I would yank him for Paco Rodriguez in the NLCS.  But that's down the line, so let's take care of the Cardinals first.

Kemp's redemption hits new heights in Game 2


After blowing another lead in the NLDS, the Dodgers needed a hero to emerge to avoid the dreaded 0-2 hole heading to St. Louis.

Enter Matt Kemp.

Kemp delivered the big blow when a demoralized Dodgers team needed it the most, as his eighth inning solo shot proved to be the game-winner, lifting the Dodgers to a 1-1 series tie with a 3-2 victory in Game 2.

For all of the injuries, trade talk, and generally poor performance on the field since that magnificent 2011 season, Game 2 of the NLDS showed just how much of an impact Kemp can still make when he's feeling right.  And guess what?  It looks like he's FINALLY feeling right.

People tend to forgot just how good he was to start the 2012 season, fresh off of being robbed of the MVP award by Ryan Fraud... I mean Braun.  In that April, he hit a ridiculous .417 with 12 homers and 25 RBIs, and far and away looked like the best player on the planet.

Then the injuries hit.  And with that came more injuries, frustration, and little results on the field.

It's certainly been a long journey for the guy nicknamed "Beast Mode," as through May of this season he was only hitting .248 with five homers and 15 RBIs.  He got booted from center field in favor of Andre Ethier, who was just as bad a hitter at the time, if not worse.

After a stint in left field, Don Mattingly settled on Yasiel Puig in center, a returning Carl Crawford in left, and Kemp over to right.  Simply put, it worked.  All three men looked comfortable, and Kemp seemed to finally find a spot where he looked natural at this point in his career.

His play in the field carried over to the plate, where he hit .309 with 17 homers and 54 RBIs after the All-Star break.  He quietly went about his business in the second half, regaining his power stroke as the Dodgers held off the Giants in the NL West.

I think it was perfectly fitting that Kemp was the guy to make be the difference in Game 2.  Just when J.P. Howell gave up a two-run shot to Matt Carpenter (who completely owns the Dodgers for whatever reason), Kemp led off the bottom of the eighth by depositing a 2-1 pitch deep into left off of All-Star reliever Pat Neshek.  A deflated Dodger Stadium came back to life.  A 1-2-3 ninth from Kenley Jansen kept them happy.

Good for Kemp, as he took flak from just every baseball writer in America for already looking washed up.  His bat has forced his way back into the lineup everyday, as Mattingly doesn't have to worry about playing the numbers game and possibly putting in Ethier or Scott Van Slyke over him.  He's the cleanup hitter, and hopefully it stays that way.

Now the Dodgers need him to carry that hot bat into St. Louis and at least earn a split.  With the way he's raking, that's looking like a pretty good bet.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Like it or not, Kershaw still has plenty to prove in the postseason


Michael Jordon had the Pistons.

And now, after yet another dominant season, which led to another poor outing in October, it appears as if Clayton Kershaw has the Cardinals.

Like the magnificent Jordon had to prove, sometimes you have to go through that one team before you achieve greatness when it counts the most.  Jordon got his six rings, but only after finally conquering the Bad Boys.

Kershaw can only hope he gets another chance to overcome the Cards.

He'll need the rest of his rotation to pick things up, his bullpen to pitch better, and his offense to continue to stay hot if he wants another crack at the Cardinals.  For now, he'll have to settle for yet another shellacking at the hands of St. Louis, as the Dodgers dropped a heartbreaker in Game 1 of the NLDS at home 10-9.  Yasiel Puig struck out with a runner on third to end the game.

It was one of the strangest games you'll see, as Kershaw toggled between getting pounded all over the park from straight fastballs down the middle, to absolutely baffling the Cardinals to the tune of 16 straight retired and 10 strikeouts.  Very little about the game made any sense, and Kershaw is right at the top of that list.

We've seen plenty of times in the past where Kershaw was robbed of wins because his offense only scored a run or two.  Heck, he only won 16 starts last year and 14 the year before, yet made 33 starts in each of those seasons compared to 27 this year.  So when he was spotted a 6-1 lead in the sixth, it looked like the focus of the baseball world should turn to Anaheim where the Angles were hosting the Royals.

Not so.  Kershaw simply ran into a wall.  And boy did he hit that wall hard.

As I tweeted out during the game, it's hard to ever question Kershaw over anything.  You don't get to be 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA by accident, it takes a lot of hard work.

With that said, it sure looked like we saw another side of Kershaw - stubbornness.  Most of the time, that's called "competitiveness," but not on Friday.

The seventh inning showed that negative side of him, as he simply refused to rely on his secondary pitches.  It was one fastball after another after another after another.  It was a pattern even the most casual of baseball fan could pick up on.

Want further proof?  According to the MLB.com pitch tracker, Kershaw threw 29 pitches in that fateful seventh: 20 fastballs, 8 sliders, and 1 curveball.  He pretty much abandoned his curveball after Randal Grichuk homered off of it in the first.  His slider has been his most effective pitch all season, but he also seemed to lose faith in that, despite striking out Oscar Taveras with it for the second out.

Nope.  Instead, with his arch nemesis Matt Carpenter up, Kershaw tried to blow it by him for the third strike one too many times.  Carpenter responded by missing a grand slam by a few feet.  That was ultimate KO punch.  Carpenter sat on the fastball, and whether pitches were being tipped or not, he had no reason not to think the hard stuff was coming.  He ended up with two hits - a solo shot and a bases clearing double.

Now it's back to the drawing board for Kershaw, and as I stated before, he can only hope and pray that his teammates pick him up and give him the ball back in the series at some point.  For the next few days, he'll have to stew on the fact that his postseason numbers aren't anything close to his regular season numbers: 10 games (7 starts), 1-4, 5.20 ERA, 1.27 WHIP.  It's not like he's been awful every start, but his two clunkers against the Cardinals and a poor outing in 2009 against the Phillies have ballooned his ERA.

The next few days will be huge for the Dodgers, as they obviously have a smaller window in a five-game series to come out on top.  It's also huge for Kershaw, as the last thing he wants to do is face an offseason with more questions about his playoff shortcomings.

He also doesn't want to face those questions as he's picking up his Cy Young and MVP awards.  That will be an awkward press conference to say the least.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Lots of arms highlight Dodgers' NLDS roster

As the Dodgers get set for Game 1 of the NLDS, they have announced their roster for the five-game series on Friday afternoon.  With the middle relief a huge question mark, Don Mattingly has opted to go with more arms than usual.  Here it is:

Catchers (2)
A.J. Ellis
Drew Butera

Infielders (6)
Adrian Gonzalez
Dee Gordon
Hanley Ramirez
Juan Uribe
Justin Turner
Miguel Rojas

Outfielders (5)
Carl Crawford
Yasiel Puig
Matt Kemp
Scott Van Slyke
Andre Ethier

Starting Rotation (4)
Clayton Kershaw
Zack Greinke
Hyun-Jin Ryu
Dan Haren

Bullpen (8)
Kenley Jansen
J.P. Howell
Brian Wilson
Pedro Baez
Brandon League
Scott Elbert
Jamey Wright
Carlos Frias

Who's Left Out?
Chris Perez
Kevin Correia
Paco Rodriguez
Roberto Hernandez
Darwin Barney
Joc Pederson
Tim Federowicz

Analysis:
In my post where I guessed what the roster would be, I went with Barney and Paco over Elbert and Frias.  Like I said before, Mattingly opted to go for the extra arm, mostly because everyone but Jansen is such a question mark.  I can't argue with that.

I'm still a little surprised Barney didn't make the cut, but he gets victimized more by the shaky relief core than anything he did.  Had Wilson and Howell not stunk things up so much in September, then I doubt someone like Frias would've made the roster.  But the Dodgers are what they are, and that's a strong team with a mediocre bullpen at best.

And by the way, I read that Perez and Correia chose to go home instead of staying with the team.  I guess I can understand Correia splitting since he was a late addition to the team on a trade, but Perez has been there all along.  He sucked so bad, he can't possibly be surprised that he's not on the roster.

So in closing, to Perez I say good bye and good riddance!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

How the Dodgers can beat the Cardinals

As the Dodgers and Cardinals get ready to tangle in the NLDS starting Friday, let's take a look at five keys for the boys in blue.

1) Kershaw and Greinke need to be the aces.  If you tuned into the AL Wild Card game, then you probably were expecting a nice low-scoring game with Jon Lester and James Shield on the mound.  Instead you got a wild, 12-inning, 9-8 slugfest that saw the Royals continually fight back to stay on top.

That just goes to show that anything can happen in one game.  As good as Clayton Kershaw is, let's not forget that even he and his 1.77 ERA are prone to hiccups.  The Diamondbacks unmercifully pounded on him back in May, and even the lowly Cubs put up three in the first inning off of him recently.  Greinke has not given up more than four runs in any start this year, but has struggled a bit with high pitch counts of late.

The bottom line is that the Dodgers doled out a ton of cash to these two for games like this.  Especially in the short five-game series, they need them to be on top of their games.  If they are, then the Dodgers should be fine.

2) Keep on poundin' it at the plate.  The Dodgers ended the season hitting the ball about as well as any point of the season.  They're currently on a five-game winning streak where they've averaged 7.2 runs/game.  They beat the Cubs 14-5, the Rockies 11-3, and pounded on the Giants 17-0 within the last three weeks.

Carl Crawford was red hot in September, hitting an insane .448.  Juan Uribe hit .377 and drove in 17.  Hanley Ramirez hit .352.  Matt Kemp was awesome at .322 with nine homers and 25 RBIs, earning him NL Player of the Month.  Super subs Justin Turner and Scott Van Slyke .422 and .432, respectively.

Obviously the level of completion goes way up in October, but after a season where the offense was a roller coaster, it's good to see them on such a high at the most important part of the season.

3) Middle relief has to deliver.  If there's one thing that really scared me watching the A's and Royals on Tuesday, it was the shaky relief work.  Both teams had their moments of not getting the big outs from the bullpen when needed, with the A's ultimately paying the biggest price.

As I watched both teams tee off against the 'pen, I immediately thought about the Dodgers.  Their biggest weakness is by far middle relief, where guys like Brian Wilson has failed to deliver time and time again, and the once reliable J.P. Howell has an 11.68 ERA in September.

Simply put, the Dodgers will need guys to outperform themselves if they want to win close games.  As good as Kershaw, Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu are, they can't always be counted on to pitch at least eight innings before giving the ball to Kenley Jansen.  Don Mattingly will need to call upon his middle relief at some point.  How they perform when they do get the ball could be the difference between an early exit and a ring.

4) Continue the road dominance.  The Dodgers had the best road record in baseball at 49-32.  That's actually better than their home record of 46-35.  Go figure.  But in the postseason, that's actually a good thing, as they should have the confidence to steal a game or two on the road.

Back in July, the Cardinals took two of three at home over the Dodgers, all very close games.  The Dodgers salvaged the series on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball on an Adrian Gonzalez ninth inning RBI.  That came after Kershaw gave up a couple runs in the sixth to tie the game.  He still went seven innings for three runs, partially erasing his horrible memories from his start in Game 6 of last year's NLCS in that same park.

Considering the Cardinals won all three game in St. Louis in the NLCS, the Dodgers need to get over that hump if they want to advance.

5) Realize that home or away, the Dodgers are the better team.  So play like it.  It's really that simple.  The Cardinals are still a very good team, as evidenced by their NL Central title.  But they are without two of their studs from last season in Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig.  Beltran was especially troublesome, as he drove him a team-high six runs in the NLCS.

This time around, the Dodgers have the same cast of characters back, plus a peaking Kemp, who sat out last postseason with an ankle injury.  The Dodgers hit better in the regular season (.265 vs. .253), pitched better (3.40 vs. 3.50), and have more wins (94 vs. 90).  Those numbers don't lie.

At the end of the day, the Dodgers have the home field advantage for a reason.  They have their aces rested and ready to go.  Their offense has been putting plenty of runs on the board.  They have all of the reasons in the world to feel good about themselves.  Now it's time to get it done.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dee's feeling good for Game 1

After the Dodgers clinched the NL West last Wednesday, one of the biggest issues for Don Mattingly was how much playing time he should give to the regulars in the last few games.  After all, the last thing anyone wants to see is an injury.

And then Dee Gordon left the second-to-last game of the season with a hip injury.  Ugh.

What was unknown at the time was just how serious it was, as the Dodgers obviously erred on the side of caution, and rightfully so.  An MRI didn't reveal any damage, which was good news.

Even better news came today, as Gordon made it through a workout at Dodger Stadium, and has declared himself good to go for Game 1 of the NLDS.

Despite his numbers dipping in the second half of the season, his presence in the lineup is huge.  He can completely turn a game around with his legs.  A league-leading 64 RBIs and 12 triples show just how much his speed impacts the game.

What will be fun to watch is Gordon vs. Yadier Molina, one of the greatest caught stealing catchers of all time.  Even at 100% strength, swiping any base on Molina is darn near impossible.  However, I still think Gordon will step up to the challenge and test his luck.

Keep an eye out for the first time Gordon reaches first.  You know that one way or another, he'll be looking to steal second and set the tone for the rest of the series.