If Don Mattingly is about to be shown the door, he's making sure to make plenty of noise on the way out.
Before Wednesday's finale against the Brewers, won by the Dodgers convincingly 9-2, Mattingly benched Andre Ethier, questioned his team's toughness, and also questioned how it was put together in the first place.
Let's take a look at exactly what he said, with my thoughts to follow.
Mattingly - "We're in last place in the National League West. Last year at this point, we played a lineup with nobody in it, but they fought, they competed and battled every inch. I felt like we got more out of our ability. I don't know if that team was tougher. I don't know why and it was only for a short period of time."
My Thoughts - Right now the Dodgers are 19-26. Last year at this same point, they were 30-13. In fact, the 30th win came after being down 5-0 in Arizona with names like Tony Gwynn, Elian Herrera, and Bobby Abreu at the top of the order. Matt Kemp was on the DL. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford were still in Boston, and Hanley Ramirez was still in Miami.
So with that said, I completely understand Mattingly's point that last year's team fought more. And that's the problem with throwing all sorts of big names together - they each feel like they can get the big hit. The results are a bunch of strikeouts and wasted at-bats. The team last year had no choice but to focus on the little things like moving runners over and taking extra bases. That showed their grit.
It's not like the Dodgers aren't getting men on base, because they certainly are. But when men do reach, that's where we're seeing more "hero ball" of 2013 and not the "small ball" of 2012. How many times this year have we seen them put together horrible at-bats with multiple runners on? It's been embarrassing for the most part.
All in all, I believe Mattingly is dead on in saying his team needs to battle more. Questioning the toughness of players is always a tricky issue, but can you blame him for being frustrated? I certainly do not, and I'm actually happy he's not taking the laid-back approach to this. It's time the players compete more, bottom line.
Mattingly - "Part of it is the mixture of competitiveness. It's not just putting an All-Star team out there and the All-Star team wins. You try to find that balance of a team that's got a little grit and fight, and has enough talent to get there also. It's not all grit and not talent that gets there, and it's not all talent and no grit. It's a mixture of both."
My Thoughts - These comments are the most stinging, to me at least. That's clearly a shot against the new ownership and GM Ned Colletti. That's how the Dodgers have been assembled, with multiple stars from the past (Crawford, Beckett, Gonzalez, Ramirez) taking key roles. It didn't work last year, and boy has it failed this year. There's obviously lots of time left, but who would have thought they'd be this bad already?
What people need to remember is that Mattingly saw basically the same type of roster assembled during his time coaching with Joe Torre on the Yankees. The farm system was brushed aside for big names like Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Gary Sheffield. While they did win a World Series in 2009, there were plenty of rough times as well. I'm sure Mattingly is afraid of the same thing happening in LA, and he can't help but draw comparisons.
Still, it's odd to see him specifically point out the "All-Star" roster that's been put together. Maybe it came out differently than he intended, but it's a bit of a cheap shot against Colletti. While I'm glad to see him question how hard they're playing, I'm surprised he used those choice of words in describing them.
Mattingly - "There's a touch of a difference between saying you're giving your best effort and you're willing to fight for something. Some guys go to another level for that price, will do whatever it takes to win a game … that inside, you're not beating me today. There's something there you can't measure with SABR-metrics. You can't put a number on it."
My Thoughts - This is the quote that explains why Andre Ethier wasn't in the lineup on Wednesday. Clearly, he's ticked that Ethier appears to give less than full effort at times, at least in his eyes.
I have to say, I'm glad Mattingly was blunt here. While I thought his comment about how the roster is assembled was a bit too far, I don't think he was here at all. Ethier extended his contract last season for five years and $85 million. He then finished that season hitting .284 with 20 homers and 89 RBIs. Those aren't dominating numbers, but certainly very good ones.
This season? He's hitting .264 with 4 homers and 15 RBIs, which is pathetic. With the bases empty he's hitting .307. With runners on, it goes way down to .219. Even worse, with runners in scoring position, it's .195. That's horrible! And for a guy expected to drive in runs hitting after Kemp and Gonzalez, it's even worse.
I'm more than happy to see Scott Van Slyke get more playing time in left field. Van Slyke is a legit power threat and capable fielder who can also play right field and first base. Plus, he just looks more into it. Ethier doesn't. There's no statistic for measuring body language, but clearly Van Slyke is the guy to go with here. Ethier needs a serious wake up call, and if this does the trick, then fantastic. And if not, it's time to look for a trade partner so Yasiel Puig can also get called up.
My Overall Thoughts - Again, I cannot blame Mattingly for showing frustration. There's plenty of people who are questioning what the point is of going public with all of this. My response is that I'm sure he's done so privately plenty of times. Where has it gotten them? I'll tell you - last place in the NL West. Even with the injuries, that's clearly not going to cut it.
Maybe Mattingly knows he won't last much longer, so he wanted everyone to know why he's just as upset at his team as people are with him. I think it's time the players are called out for their spiritless play. It's about time! A manager can only be patient for so long.
We'll see if this talk works in the long run. Maybe it will, maybe it won't. But I applaud him for telling the truth. It's not like things can get much worse, so why not try to light a fire underneath these guys? I'm all for it.