Friday, December 19, 2014

Both trades official: Kemp an ex-Dodger, Rollins a current one

After being in a holding pattern for a week, the trades announced at last week's Winter Meetings became official today.  Matt Kemp is now on his way to play for the Padres, and Jimmy Rollins will be the Dodgers' new starting shortstop.

Here's what went down in both deals:

The Dodgers send Kemp, $32 million of his remaining $107 million salary, and Tim Federowicz to the Padres for catcher Yasmani Grandal, pitcher Joe Wieland, and pitcher Zach Eflin.

In turn, the Dodgers then flipped Eflin and pitcher Tom Windle to the Phillies for Jimmy Rollins and cash.

The holdup for the past couple of days was the physical taken by Kemp on Tuesday.  Supposedly the Padres found that he has arthritic hips, and all sorts of reports were floated that it could be a deal breaker, or not an issue at all.  Then it was reported that the holdup had more to do with the Padres demanding more money.  The Dodgers said no.

So in the end, we're right back to square one, which was the original deal agreed upon by both clubs last week. 

It will be really, REALLY strange seeing Kemp show up Opening Day in Dodger Stadium wearing the opposing team's uniform.  That will be one of the highlights on baseball's grand opening for the 2015 season.  I fully expect, and certainly hope, Dodger fans give him a great ovation in his first at-bat.  And if he then hits a home run, boo him from there on out!

But seriously, let's hope Kemp and Rollins can contribute on the field so these trades work for both sides.  Kemp is the one who has more years left in him, while Rollins is looking for one last run at a second ring.  This will all be a lot of fun to watch.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Dodgers make the right call in dumping Wilson

It's about time.

That's the first thing that came to mind when I read the surprising move today that the Dodgers have designated Brian Wilson for assignment with the addition of Brandon McCarthy.  He picked up his player option after the season, so unless he's traded or claimed by another club in the next 10 days, the Dodgers will owe him his entire $10 million salary.

In other words, in 10 days from now, the Dodgers will then owe him $10 million. 

It's as simple as that, because as surprising as this move was, it would be a flat out shocker if some other team actually spends that kind of money on him.

I'm saying "surprising" only because the Dodgers sure as hell loved to use him over and over last season, despite the big warning signs that he was completely washed up.  But then again, there's a whole new management in town, and they clearly saw what the rest of us saw when it came to Wilson.

Just to review, Wilson ended last year with 22 holds, but four blown saves, a 4.66 ERA, and 1.61 WHIP, which is ridiculously high.  Time and time again Don Mattingly would run him out there in the eighth inning as the setup man, and time and time again he would look like crap.  It had to be a huge relief to the other teams that Donny kept going to him so much.  Granted, there weren't a lot of other options, but Wilson was still the worst.

What Wilson should be given credit for was his excellent 2013 season.  He was signed that year at the trade deadline, and went on to post an 0.66 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 18 games.  He formed a fantastic 1-2 punch with Kenley Jansen, so the expectation coming into 2014 was that they would lock down the final two innings all season.  Needless to say, it didn't happen.

Eating $10 million is never a fun thing to do, but I love the message being sent by Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zadi.  The Dodgers don't need to keep an awful player just because of his contract.  It's time to clean house, hold everyone responsible, and build a winner.

This is a great step in that direction.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The good and bad of trading Kemp

By now, we've all had some time to recover from the absolutely insane couple of days at the Winter Meetings for the Dodgers.  I don't think we've seen anything like it before, and probably won't see anything like it again.

Through all of the comings and goings, perhaps none hit closer to home for Dodger fans than moving Matt Kemp to the Padres for catcher Yasmani Grandal.  It's a move that wasn't exactly surprising considering the trade rumors involving Kemp for years, but still may have been hard to accept that it actually happened.

Technically the trade isn't official yet, as medical exams still need to be completed.  But let's just go ahead and call it a done deal for the sake of this post.

Now, let's take a look at the positives and negatives of trading away a guy who at one point was the clear franchise player:

Good
* Andrew Friedman clearly did not see him as being a franchise player anymore, so it was the perfect time to sell high (ala Dee Gordon).  There are countless amount of teams out there that are willing to ignore his weak first half (.269, 8 homers, 35 RBIs), and want a whole lot of his second half (.309, 17, 54).  Considering how much noise is being made about a lack of right-handed power hitters, now was the time to make a deal.

* Don Mattingly can now go to the ballpark each day only worrying about managing a baseball game, and not managing egos on top of that.  Make no mistake about it - Kemp had a massive ego at times.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, as he wanted to be the everyday center fielder for the Dodgers.  But reality is that injuries have cost him much of his athleticism, and it wasn't coming back.  Without him around anymore, that's one less headache to worry about.

* As I said above, Kemp had a great second half of 2014, and was probably the best hitter in the lineup.  But before that, he hadn't done much since the very beginning of 2012, and then it was a laundry list of injuries.  It's not like he was trying to get hurt, but he's on the wrong side of 30 now, and one would think that without the luxury of days spent in the DH spot, the risk of injury again is right around the corner.

* Those two Gold Gloves he won in 2009 and 2011?  Let's just say that it won't be happening again.  That guy is a thing of the past.

* Friedman and his friends clearly are looking for guys who can get on base.  Kemp averages nearly a strikeout per game over his career, and that's probably not going to change.

Bad
* Dodger fans have long waited to see the Kemp circa 2011 (when he was robbed of the MVP by Ryan Fraud), and they saw lots of glimpses of that guy at the end of '14.  That seemed like a great reason to keep a guy around, not trade him away to a division opponent.

* After playing in 106 games in 2012 and 73 in 2013, Kemp was on the field in 150 games this past season.  It seemed like that would never happen again, but he finally found a way to stay on the field and not in the trainer's room.

* How many people realize he was third in the Majors in home runs in the second half of '14, and second in RBIs?  No, that's not just that National League, it's in all of baseball.  That's very impressive.

* While Clayton Kershaw has taken over the "franchise player" label, there was still a soft spot for Kemp, as he was as dynamic as they came in that magical 2011 season.  Fans will never forget .324 with 39 homers, 126 RBIs, and 40 stolen bases.  There may have been boos scattered in the few years since then, but the second he showed he was right, he was instantly a fan favorite all over again.

* Even if fans accepted Kemp being traded, did they really envision the return being a catcher from the Padres who was suspended 50 games for PEDs and has torn his ACL and MCL?  I'm guessing that's a no.

Add it all up, and there's no definitive answer to whether or not this was a smart trade.  Only time will tell on that.  Maybe Kemp goes to San Diego, is miserable on a bad team, gets the injury bug again, and kind of fades away.

Or, maybe he goes to San Diego, becomes the team leader that franchise has been looking for, and resurrects his All-Star career.

At the end of the day, whether he plays well with the Padres or not, I know that I will miss him, as it's going to be very, very weird seeing him in that ugly jersey.  I won't miss the drama that was associated with him at times, as it seemed that too often he was the last to realize how lousy he was performing on the field.  But I will miss the stud who showed up down the stretch for the Dodgers last season, and the guy who hit the game-winning home run in their only playoff win.

We won't have to waste much time in seeing Kemp again, as the Dodgers host the Padres on Opening Day April 6, 2015.  Just thinking about the first inning of Kershaw vs. Kemp gets me excited for the return of baseball already!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dodgers nab McCarthy to strengthen rotation

Through all of the wheeling and dealing with the Dodgers on Thursday, there was one signing that may have flown a bit under the radar.  But with Dan Haren on his way to Miami (or retirement, perhaps), the back end of the rotation needed to be addressed.

It certainly has been, as the Dodgers have signed right-handed Brandon McCarthy to a four-year, $48 million deal.  He'll slot in nicely right behind Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu as the team can flip-flop between lefties and righties at the top.

McCarthy has certainly had an interesting career to say the least.  If you recall, he's the guy who got beaned in the head off of a line drive from Erick Aybar of the Angles in 2012.  He was rushed into emergency surgery, and then a year later with the Diamondbacks, suffered a seizure that was probably related to that liner.

So, things were definitely not looking up for his career as he was traded to the Yankees last July.  At the time, it sure looked like another desperate move by the Yanks to find lightning in a bottle.  Sure enough, they did find lightning, as he went 7-5 with a 2.89 ERA, and looked like a completely different pitcher than the one who got creamed in Arizona time after time.

And now here we are, as McCarthy got his four-year deal he was seeking, and the Dodgers have four starters they can trust in the playoffs.  Yes, I know Kershaw got crushed once again by the Cardinals, but he's still the MVP and Cy Young winner.  So zip it.  McCarthy can match up against other team's fourth or fifth starters, which is to his advantage.

Obviously the Dodgers are hoping they find the guy who pitched with the Yankees at the end of last season, along with his excellent numbers for the A's in 2011 and 2012.  In '11, he put together a 3.32 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and career-high 2.9 WAR.  Then he suffered that horrifically scary injury, and it looks like it took him a couple of years to fully get over it.  That's more than understandable.

Now the Dodgers must turn to their shaky bullpen, as thus far only Joel Peralta has been added.  That's a pretty good start, but they must do more from there.  Also, look for another starting pitcher to be added to go behind McCarthy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Gordon and Haren traded to the Marlins

Day Three of the 2014 Winter Meetings will go down as a very big, and a very busy, one for the Dodgers.

First there was the acquisition of Jimmy Rollins from the Phillies.  That alone seemed like enough for the day.  Except it wasn't.

One day ago the Dodgers were both being linked to and denying a Dee Gordon trade to the Marlins.  Well, it's happened, and Dan Haren will go along for the ride.

The Dodgers have traded Gordon and Haren to the Marlins for top pitching prospect Andrew Heaney.  Also coming from Miami are second baseman Enrique Hernandez, right-handed pitcher Chris Hatcher, and catcher Austin Barnes.

First, let's take a look at Heaney.  MLB.com has him ranked as the #18 overall prospect, and the #2 overall left-handed pitcher.  He's stands 6'2" and will turn 24 next June.  His profile describes him as a guy who throws up to 95 mph with a "wipeout" slider.  Sounds like another lefty on the Dodgers right now.  He also has developed a changeup for his third pitch, which has really raised his stock.

By the way, who's the #1 ranked lefty?  Julio Urias... of the Dodgers.  Nice!

The other three players are more for depth.  Hernandez has one year of big league experience, appearing in 42 games with the Astros and Marlins, hitting .248.  Hatcher has appeared in 81 games for the Marlins, all out of the bullpen, with a 4.82 ERA.  Barnes has never played above the Double-A level after being drafted in 2011.

So, the big chip is obviously Heaney, who will join Urias as the next big guns ready to step in for the Dodgers.  This makes me think that the new management might not be afraid to trade Zack Greinke this upcoming year if they really do think he'll opt out of his contract.  At least they have some very good arms ready to step in, plus they can get more value in return via trade.  We shall see.

I discussed Gordon more in-depth yesterday, so check out my post about him here.  I will say that I very much enjoyed watching him emerge as an everyday player this past season, as there is simply no match for his speed.  His defense at second was much-improved throughout the season, so I hope the Marlins leave him there.  If he can cut down on his strikeouts and not be tempted to crush the ball too often, he'll be an All-Star again for sure.

Haren certainly had an up-and-down year in LA, as he looked like steal of the free agency class to start the season, fell into a horrible slump around July, then settled back down for some good starts down the stretch.  He finished at 13-11 with a 4.02 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 32 starts.  All things considered, he did his job for the most part at the back end of the rotation.  I just wish he was more consistent, as when he was bad, he was REALLY bad.

With Rollins in the fold and Gordon and Haren shipped out, the next big name on the list is Matt Kemp.  There's still plenty of talk about him going to the Padres, so don't fall asleep on that yet.  Considering how rapid fire the moves on this day have gone, it could only be a matter of "when" and not "if" this will happen.

Jimmy Rollins: Dodgers shortstop


With Hanley Ramirez gone, the Dodgers had a big hole to fill at shortstop.  Sure, they have in-house replacements like Alex Guerrero, Erisbel Arruebarrena, and Justin Turner.  Then there's the 20-year-old top prospect Corey Seager, who is indeed the future, but not necessarily the current.

What did the Dodgers decide to do?  Trade for a three-time All-Star, MVP, and World Series champion.

That man is Jimmy Rollins, who has been acquired from the Phillies.  He's entering the final year of his contract paying him $11 million, which is practically chump change to the rich Dodgers.  What is not yet known is whom the Dodgers gave in return, but stay tuned for that.

Right away, a few things come to mind when seeing this trade.  There's no disputing that the Rollins of 2007 is not walking through that door, as that guy hit .296 with 30 homers, 94 RBIs, and 41 stolen bases on his way to an MVP, Silver Slugger, and Gold Glove awards.  Not a bad season, to say the least.

This version of Rollins is past his prime, no doubt.  But even with that, I think there's plenty of things to like about this deal.  Last season he hit .243 with 17 homers, 55 RBIs, and 28 steals in 126 games.  Hanley hit .283 with 13 homers, 71 RBIs, and 14 steals in 128 games.  Those are surprisingly even numbers, with Rollins getting the edge in the speed department.  That will come in handy for a team that doesn't rely on the long ball to score the majority of their runs.

The other major difference is on defense.  Simply put, Rollins is good, and Hanley is not.  Last season Rollins had a .988 fielding %, seven errors, and a 1.1 Defensive WAR.  Hanley had a .961/16/-0.6 line.  It's not hard to figure out that Rollins is clearly the better choice at short.

When this deal went down, one of the first things the baseball reporters were saying is that Rollins still has something left in the tank, and is still a very good defensive player to boot.  He brings instant credibility to a team that is on the verge of taking the next step, and getting a second ring while leading a new team has to mean a lot to him.

Of course, if Rollins starts off the year slowly and isn't getting any big hits, then I'm sure plenty of fans won't be afraid to express their displeasure at not re-signing Hanley.  I can understand that.  But everyone needs to remember that Hanley made a very smart decision for his career as well, as going to the American League and getting his big money contract is exactly what he wanted to happen.  Good for him.

In the meantime, let's enjoy the top shortstop in Phillies' history coming to the Dodgers for a year (or more, who knows), while Seager continues his climb to the Majors.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Gordon could go from All-Star to traded

While the Matt Kemp to San Diego rumors continue to dominate talk about the Dodgers at the Winter Meetings, here's another tidbit that could be interesting - Dee Gordon is being made available by the new management.

Who knows what the level of "available" is, as this doesn't initially strike me as something the Dodgers are hotly pursuing.  I get the feeling it's more of an "If you like him, let's talk" type of thing.

One team that perhaps would like to talk is the Marlins, who might already be showing some interest.

There are a couple of reasons to believe that Gordon really could be on his way out.  For starters, the Gordon we saw in the second half of last season did not come close to matching the All-Star reserve at second base we saw in the first.  His average was around the same (.292 before, .284 after), but his OBP went way down (.344/.300).  He also started striking out a bunch more, and while he led all of baseball in stolen bases at 64, he started getting caught more in the second half despite playing in much less games.

The other reason is that the Dodgers have Alex Guerrero and Erisbel Arruebarrena waiting in the wings, and they're not cheap.  They're pretty much opposites of each other right now, as Guerrero has the bat, and Arruebarrena has the glove.

A major factor that could keep Gordon right where he is is that Hanley Ramirez is now in Boston.  Perhaps the Dodgers would be satisfied with Arruebarrena at short and Guerrero at second, but that's a lot of inexperience up the middle on a "win now" club.

I'm not ready to give up on Gordon for slowing down in the second half, as his 148 games far outpaced his next highest career total of 87 in 2012.  I think a smaller, speedy guy like him just naturally started feeling the wear and tear of a long Major League season.  If you recall, he bulked up some before last season started, and helped the Dodgers solve their leadoff issues.

Right now the Dodgers are waiting to see if Jon Lester comes aboard, and maybe finalizing the Kemp trade to the Padres.  After that, then possibly this talk of moving Gordon begins to take on more importance.  Stay tuned.

Kemp to the Padres is heating up

For the first time in his career, Matt Kemp could be on his way out of LA.

I know, I know... we've certainly been through this before.  Kemp has battled trade rumors his whole career, save for a couple of years in which he turned himself into an MVP candidate.  But after coming off a season in which he hit .287 with 25 homers and 89 RBIs, perhaps the Dodgers feel the time is right to move him while he's healthy and his stock is high.

That leads us to his likely destination, the San Diego Padres.  The latest talk is that Kemp would move to the Padres for catcher Yasmani Grandal and a prospect.  The holdup appears to be just who that other prospect would be, along with how much of Kemp's contract the Dodgers would have to eat.

Those two things certainly aren't minor, so keep in mind that no matter what is reported, nothing is a guarantee until both sides make it official.

To take a quick look at Grandal, he's mostly a catcher who can sprinkle in some first base as well.  He's an emerging power threat from the right side of the plate, and is only 27.  Last season he hit 15 homers, 19 doubles, and 49 RBIs in 128 games.  So you can see why the Dodgers would like to add him, especially with the virtually non-existent numbers from A.J. Ellis last year.

The downside is that Grandal has already been busted for 50 games in 2012 for PEDs, and tore his ACL and MCL in July of 2013.  For his case, you hope he's already been through the worst of things.

One other guy who has been whispered to come along with Grandal is pitching prospect Matt Wisler, who is the Padres' #2 ranked prospect according to MLB.com.  He's a righty with both good movement and good control, so you can see why he'd be coveted.

Stay tuned to see if the Dodgers and Padres indeed do pull the trigger on this.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Seven years ago Saturday...

An anniversary of two sorts took place on Saturday, and they both had to do with the same thing.  One I like, and the other still sends shudders down the spines of Dodger fans everywhere.

For starters, it's the anniversary of me starting this site seven years ago.  I grew up a Dodger fan, I love to write, so I figured, What the heck?  Combine them both.  Seven years later, here I am, and I still love doing this.

The flip side?  It's also the anniversary of the Dodgers' infamous free agent deal with Andruw Jones.  It's a marriage that was supposed to last for two years, but thanks to one of the worst seasons anyone has ever seen, he was mercifully sent packing after the 2008 season.  No worries, as he still pocketed $36.2 million in a deal that was deferred through last season.

Yes, that's right - the Dodgers were STILL paying off Jones's contract through this past season.  At least that finally ran out.

Oh by the way, the Jones signing was my very first post on this site.  Looking back now, it's just laughable at some of reasons why I was excited:

* "the big bat to fill the middle of the order has hopped on the train"
* "Hopefully Jones can right some of his hitting holes and get back to his old self. It's a chance definitely worth taking."
* "it's nice to see the Dodgers sign someone in his prime"

OK, so like Jones in the '08 season, that commentary was a giant swing-and-a-miss.  If you recall at the time, the Dodgers had young players like Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Russell Martin looking to take the next step.  They also still had Jeff Kent, Juan Pierre, and Rafael Furcal.  So there was reason to be excited with Jones coming in to add more pop.

Instead, he hit .158 with three homers, 14 RBIs, and 76 strikeouts in 75 games.  He was just so, so, so, so, so, SO bad.

Which leads me to this point: signing Jones was a great move by the Dodgers.  Why?  Because that led to a trade later in the season for some guy named Manny Ramirez, who went on to have one of the best end of season runs in baseball history by hitting .396 with 17 homers and 53 RBIs and in 53 games.

Granted, he may have had a little help in getting those numbers... but it was sure fun to watch while it lasted.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Lester coming in, Greinke going out?

If you thought the Dodgers would be content just signing guys like Chris Heisey and Darwin Barney this offseason, think again.

Now reports are surfacing that one of the crown jewels of the free agent market could be coming to LA.  Jon Lester is being wooed by the Dodgers, who seem to be competing with the Cubs, Red Sox, and Giants for the ace left-hander.  This is the first we've heard about the Dodgers having a horse in the race, as it was widely believed that those other teams had the best shot.

Who could blame the Dodgers for wanting to sign the guy?  His numbers split between the Red Sox and A's last year were fantastic, compiling a 16-11 record with a 2.46 ERA and 220 strikeouts in 219 2/3 innings.  He gave the A's everything they could've hoped for when they made the big acquisition for him at the deadline, though losing Yoenis Cespedes in the process may have been a bigger blow than anyone imagined.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it would take to sign Lester, but one guess is anywhere north of $120 million.  Even for the Dodgers, that's some serious cash.

So, what might the Dodgers do if they really do want to keep payroll manageable (for them, at least)?  They actually could look to shop Zack Greinke, who has an opt-out clause in his contract following the 2015 season.

Greinke is in the midst of a six-year, $147 million deal, which includes the clause of bolting when it's halfway over.  That halfway point will come after 2015, and considering his skill and the demand for top-tier pitching, he could actually roll the dice of getting more money.  When he signed with the Dodgers originally, he made no secret of the fact that money played a big role.  Hey, at least he admitted the obvious, unlike many others.

I'm not sure I can see that happening, at least not this offseason.  In the first link above, ESPN's Jerry Crasnick basically shot any rumor of Greinke being dealt down.  Simply put, the Dodgers want to win now, and don't want to subtract stars from their roster.

We'll see where this all goes, but don't be surprised to see Lester in Dodger blue soon.  A rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Greinke, Lester, and Hyun-Jin Ryu?  Ohh.... that sounds too good to be true!  Let's hope it isn't!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Dodgers trade for Heisey, sign Barney

A couple of moves from the Dodgers in recent days.

The first is trading for outfielder Chris Heisey, who played for the Reds in 2013.  On his way out will be Matt "Ball 4" Magill, who liked to pitch the ball anywhere except over the plate in his brief Dodgers' tenure.

The Heisey move raised some eyebrows at first, as it appears that the last thing the Dodgers need is yet another outfielder.  But, it was then assumed that this move makes guys like Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, and possibly Matt Kemp even more likely to be traded.  The Winter Meetings start this upcoming Monday in San Diego, so perhaps the trigger on a trade is finally pulled.

Heisey won't light the world on fire, as he hit .222 with eight homers and 22 RBIs last season, but he's there for his versatility in the outfield.  He mostly appeared in left field in 2014, but played the other two positions many times as well.  He'll give Don Mattingly some options for later in the game.

Magill won't be missed, as he's had his chances to prove his worth in the past, but flat out stunk.  He spent all of last season in Triple-A, mostly because he had a 6.51 ERA in six starts with the Dodgers in 2013.  Good bye, good riddance!

The other piece of news is the signing of Darwin Barney, who was brought over from the Cubs last season on July 28.  He'll be in the mix off the bench, as it's hard to imagine he'll be a serious contender to take over Hanley Ramirez's spot at short.  I would like to think the Dodgers can do much better than that.

Barney's deal is for one year and $2.525 million.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Hanley bolts for Beantown

The Hanley Ramirez era in Los Angeles is officially over.

Wanting a big money contract that the Dodgers were not willing to offer, Hanley has signed a four-year, $88 million deal with the Red Sox, going back to the original team he made his professional debut with in 2005.

For the Dodgers, it's an obvious blow to the offense, as it will be hard to replace the damage he can cause at the plate.

As for his defense and health?  Well, his departure equals an immediate upgrade, quite frankly.

This is no knock on Hanley, who came over to the Dodgers in 2012, then put together a fantastic 2013 campaign by hitting .345 with 20 homers and 57 RBIs.  Had he not been beaned in the ribs by the Cardinals' Joe Kelly in Game 1 of that season's NLCS, then it may have been the Dodgers who advanced to play the Red Sox in the World Series.

The problem?  He got those numbers in only 86 games, as the injury bug just never seemed to leave him.  This past season he played in 128 games, but his numbers dipped to .287/13/71.  His Defensive Wins Above Replacement (DWAR) also went down from 0.7 to -0.6.

Simply put, he's a much better fit for the American League at this point.  The Red Sox can keep his bat in the lineup at DH when he's banged up.  Well, that may be tough with David Ortiz there, but perhaps they would be more comfortable giving Big Papi more rest with a lefty on the mound.  Already, Hanley has been introduced as the team's new left fielder, which makes sense.

Ken Gurnick over at Dodgers.com takes a look at potential replacements for Hanley, albeit short-term ones.  Right now on the roster there's Justin Turner, Miguel Rojas, and Erisbel Arruebarrena, who are hardly considered the future.  The guy who gets that distinction is Corey Seager, who might not be quite ready for the everyday role yet.

There's also free agents such as Asdrubal Cabrera and Stephen Drew, and trade possibilities like Jimmy Rollins and Alexei Ramierz.  We shall see.

In the meantime, I truly believe Dodger fans should be grateful towards Hanley and all he brought to the table for a little over two seasons.  Yes, I know it was frustrating watching him miss so much time to injuries, and his defense left something to be desired of late.  But, when everything was clicking and he felt right, he was a lot of fun to watch.  The ball would jump off of his bat, which was a beautiful sight.

And THAT'S what I'll remember most about him.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Maybe Kemp is the one who gets dealt

Interesting story from baseball insider Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com this week, as he's hearing from sources within the industry that Matt Kemp is drawing strong trade interest from other teams.  So while the Dodgers would prefer to move guys like Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford, Kemp could be the more realistic deal.

The bottom line?  Andrew Friedman and the Dodgers are serious about moving an outfielder, and making Don Mattingly's life a lot easier in 2015.  Good for them.

There are seven reasons listed by Heyman as to why Kemp could be moved.  To view them, click on the link above.

Here's a few highlights from his article.  If the Dodgers are serious about dumping cash, then Heyman thinks teams would be willing to take on the entire $107 million left on Kemp's remaining five years.  The reason?  Kemp finished with 25 homers and 89 RBIs, and that was mostly from just one good half of the season after the All-Star break.  With power at such a premium, especially from the right side, Kemp could be coveted that much more.

Joc Pederson's presence in center could muddle things up a bit as well.  There's no doubt he's the guy to roam center for years to come.  That would bump Yasiel Puig back to right, which is his best position.  And Kemp?  Back to left, where he was clearly unhappy after being yanked from center early last season.  Kemp seemed to embrace going to right, but for whatever reason, wants nothing to do with left.

The final highlight is about "chemistry issues" in the clubhouse, and how Kemp might not exactly be helping things.  Who knows how true that is, as only the guys who are actually in the clubhouse day in and day out truly know what's going on.  But there's no secret that when things aren't going well, Kemp might not be the happiest guy to be around.

I'm sure the Dodgers would love to enter 2015 with a starting outfield of Kemp, Puig, and Pederson.  The reality is that if they want to lower their payroll and straighten out the crowded outfield, then Kemp could be the guy to go.  I've already accepted that, and at this point, I'm waiting for it to happen.

And if it does, whom will the Dodgers bring in?  More bullpen help?  A replacement for Hanley Ramirez at short?  Help for the end of the rotation?  Stay tuned and we will see.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bullpen makeover begins with Peralta

Where did Andrew Friedman turn to in his first big move with the Dodgers?  Why his old club in Tampa, of course.

The Dodgers acquired veteran righty Joel Peralta from the Rays on Tuesday in exchange for Jose Dominguez and Greg Harris.  Lefty Adam Liberatore was also obtained in the 2-for-2 deal.

There's obviously a lot of familiarity for Friedman in this move, as Peralta has spent the last four seasons as one of the Rays' top setup men.  That included excellent season in 2011 and 2012 in which he posted an American League best 37 and 41 holds, respectively.

Last season, those numbers dipped some to the tune of 18 holds with a 4.41 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.  Still, he's made the most appearances in the Majors since 2011 at 296, and is second to Tyler Clippard with 115 holds.  He's only been on the DL once in 10 years, and that was last July when he missed time because of a mosquito bite.  Seriously.

I like this move for a couple of reasons.  One, Peralta is a proven commodity in the 'pen, as he's been able to overpower the mighty AL East for a few seasons.  Two, Dominguez is a guy who can regularly throw 100+ mph, but can't locate and was still hit around last season to the tune of a 6.14 ERA.  He's had his moments, but is not a reliable, consistent arm to build around.  He won't be missed.

Immediately, Peralta should be propelled into the setup role, as the Dodgers are DESPERATELY trying to find any sort of solution to getting the ball to Kenley Jansen late in games.  The regular season was bad enough, but the NLDS against the Cardinals magnified this even more.

This is a good start for Friedman with more work to do.  Peralta may not reach the level of leading the league in holds anymore, but with an ability to still get strikeouts (74 in 63 1/3 innings last year), he can definitely be a needed boost to the 'pen.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cy Young. MVP. No-hitter. There's just ONE last hurdle for Kershaw...


And he conquered it on Friday by signing an endorsement deal with Subway!

All kidding aside (though he really is a new Subway spokesman), Clayton Kershaw has done it all in the regular season by the young age of 26.  He claimed his third Cy Young Award in four years this past week.  A day later, he became the first NL pitcher to sweep the Cy Young and MVP awards since Bob Gibson in 1968.

He threw a no-hitter back in June with 15 strikeouts, and was a Hanley Ramirez throwing error away from it being a perfect game.  So yes, it was practically a perfect game.

There's also that cool little seven-year, $215 contract extension he inked after last season.

Now that the soon-to-be father has accomplished all of that already, we all know what his next goal will be.  The elephant in the room during all of this is the memories of a couple horrific seventh innings against the Cardinals in the NLDS, as the Dodgers fell in four games.

Simply put, here's his pitching splits between the regular season and playoffs:

Regular Season: 211 G, 98-49, 2.48 ERA, 1.06 WHIP
Postseason: 11 G, 1-5, 5.12 ERA, 1.24 WHIP

I think it's fair to point out that while Kershaw certainly wasn't at his best in his two playoff starts this year, and three dating back to his final start in the NLCS last season, it's not like he's gotten shelled in every single postseason start.  Last season, he had three very good starts before getting shelled in the final game against the Cardinals.  In 2009, he helped put the Dodgers up 2-0 on those same Cardinals in the NLDS with nearly seven innings of two-run ball.

The problem?  When he's lost, he's REALLY lost.  There's no hiding the fact that he's been absolutely shelled when he's been off.  We've seen what the Cardinals have done against him, and the also struggled against the Phillies in the NLCS back in 2009.

I remember hearing Jim Kelly saying that if the Bills had won their first Super Bowl against the Giants, then they might not have been as motivated to go to four straight.  They may have gotten complacent, and who knows what kind of run they would've had.

If you're looking for a silver lining, perhaps this is it: Kershaw needs something to strive for after having so much come so easy to him already.  He's certainly not the only reason the Dodgers haven't gotten as far as they thought they would the last couple of season, but he knows as the team leader, a lot rests on his strong left arm.  That's what he's aiming to correct each day this offseason.

No one will work harder or wants a championship more than Kershaw, as the last thing he wants to be known as is the guy who pitches well in the regular season, but wilts under the intense pressures of the postseason.  He has his huge contract and plays on a team willing to dish out all sorts of cash to ensure more trips to October.  You know he'll be get more cracks at this thing.

Hopefully 2015 it will all come together for him, as he lands a shiny, new piece of jewelry to go with all the hardware.  If there's anyone you can count on for it to happen, it's Kershaw.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Kershaw mows 'em down to win 3rd Cy Young

There was never any doubt Clayton Kershaw would win his third Cy Young Award.  The question was, By how much?

A lot.  As in 30 first place votes for him, and none for the rest.

The Baseball Writers' Association of America left no doubt, as Kershaw received every first place vote en route to an incredible third Cy Young Award in four years.  And to think, he actually could've made it 4-for-4 had R.A. Dickey not had the season of his life in 2012.  But one second place finish ain't bad, either.

The 2014 season was certainly an interesting one for Kershaw.  He started the year Down Under pitching 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball against the Diamondbacks in Australia, then found himself on the DL with a sore back muscle.  After overcoming that, he returned in May and looked better than ever, soon pitching a no-hitter on June 18 over the Rockies, striking out 15 in what is considered one of the best pitched games of all time.

He ended the season 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 239 K's.  Those were far and away the best in baseball, and with all due respect to guys like Johnny Cueto and Adam Wainwright, he was clearly the top dog in the NL.

Of course, the voting for the award took place after the regular season ended, as his NLDS was a disaster, dropping two games to the Cardinals to the tune of a 7.82 ERA.  Take away two bad seventh innings, and who knows how far the Dodgers could've gone.  But alas, it wasn't meant to be.

Postseason aside, let's not forget just how unbelievably awesome Kershaw was during 2014.  He's as must-see a pitcher as there is in baseball right now, as the Dodgers can count on such a great show every fifth day.  Right now he's the best there is, and two bad starts in October doesn't change that.

In the immediate future, Kershaw has a possible MVP award to be looking forward to, as he will find out if he did the impossible on Thursday night.  He'll have to hold off studs like Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen, but thing are looking good for the rare MVP going to a pitcher.

In the long term, it's obviously all about finding success in October and getting the Dodgers a World Series title they haven't seen since 1988.  He's won awards, pitched a no-hitter (which was an error away from a perfect game), and now wants a ring.

Hopefully it'll all come together for him in 2015.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The outfield logjam could soon be cleared

Reports are surfacing in recent days that the Dodgers are finally serious about clearing up their crowded outfield.  According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the main goal of president Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi at the General Managers' meetings is to move an outfielder.

Or two, maybe.

Right now, the Dodgers have four main guys (Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford) and one rising prospect (Joc Pederson).

With that said, let's take a look at each one.  In addition to their 2014 stats and remaining money owed, I'll discuss the pros and cons of each player, along with the possibility of each being moved.

Yasiel Puig
2014: 148 G, .296 AVG, .382 OBP, 37 2B, 9 3B, 16 HR, 69 RBI, 11 SB, 5.3 OWAR
Remaining Contract: Four years, $24 million

Pros: Simply put, when Puig puts his total game together, it's hard to find many who are better.  He can hit, run, and throw all at a very high level, which only guys like Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen can claim to do.  His power was down this year, but he's shown in the past that he can certainly straighten that out.  He can hit anywhere in the order thanks to his speed.  And on defense, opposing runners are largely learned not to test his arm.  At 24 next season, the sky is still the limit.

Cons: There's always going to be questions about his maturity, as he showed way back in the first home game of the season that he can be hard to be relied upon when he was late to the park and scratched from the lineup.  A big swing shows his reluctance to get adjusted at the plate, as he was completely lost for nearly all of the NLDS.  Is he too stubborn to make changes?  That's still a question that lingers.

Trade Him?  Nope, I just can't see it happening.  There's way too much talent in that body, and for a team that desires to get younger, it's hard to imagine them getting rid of a chip like him.

Matt Kemp
2014: 150 G, .287 AVG, .346 OBP, 38 2B, 3 3B, 25 HR, 89 RBI, 8 SB, 3.8 OWAR
Remaining Contract: Five years, $107 million

Pros: It looked like it took awhile, but he finally reached a point in his recovery from all sorts of injuries where he put it all together in the second half of 2014.  He turned himself back into an MVP-type player, as the ball was jumping off of his bat.  He also found a home in right field after being so reluctant to switch from center.  It worked, as he was a huge reason why the Dodgers claimed the NL West.

Cons: With his recent success is also a reminder not to get too excited, as we've seen this before.  Fair or not, he's an injury-prone player, and when he's hurt, he's very easy to pitch to.  It's unknown if he'll ever be ready to be an effective center fielder again, as he's made it crystal clear that that's where he sees himself playing again.

Trade Him?  After watching him come back to life this past season, it's hard to see it happening.  Then again, maybe this is the time to get something good back for him if the Dodgers think he's already peaked.  I'm sure they would rather keep him, but if the offer is there, I bet they pull the trigger.

Carl Crawford
2014: 105 G, .300 AVG, .339 OBP, 14 2B, 3 3B, 8 HR, 46 RBI, 23 SB, 2.3 OWAR
Remaining Contract: Three years, $62.25 million

Pros: After battling his way back from injuries, he showed that he still has some magic back in that bat.  It's not as much, but much like Kemp, when he's locked in and feeling good, he can be an effective piece in the lineup.  He can still steal a base as well, albeit not at the humongous rate like he once did.

Cons: He'll turn 34 next August, but seems like he's much older.  His career has gone downhill since signing that mega-contract with the Red Sox back in 2011, which is the same contract the Dodgers must now deal with.  At this point he's a decent outfielder and a pretty good bad when healthy, but has not played in more than 116 games the last three seasons.

Trade Him?  Absolutely.  The Dodgers would love to make it happen, but it will come at a price.  Nonetheless, I would think they'd be OK with that, as he's obviously on the wrong side of his career, but can maybe still get something decent in return.

Andre Ethier
2014: 130 G, .249 AVG, .322 OBP, 17 2B, 6 3B, 4 HR, 42 RBI, 2 SB, 0.8 OWAR
Remaining Contract: Three years, $56 million

Pros: Ethier got squeezed out by the logjam more than anyone, but has won both a Gold Glove (2011) and Silver Slugger (2009) in the past, which could earn him a starting job somewhere.  He can play any outfield position pretty well, as he originally took over for Kemp in center back in May.  Is much more effective against right-handed hurlers.

Cons: Another guy who's past the magic age of 30 (will be 33 next April), and isn't looked at as "Andre the Giant" like he once was.  What hurts him even more is his atrocious numbers against left-handed pitchers, as he's all but useless against them.  His power numbers are practically a thing of the past.

Trade Him?  Just like Crawford, absolutely.  In Ethier's case, it would appear to be an easier move, as he's a little younger, healthier, and has a slightly more manageable contract.  He's given LA many good moments, but it's time to move on, which is something I bet he wants more than anyone.

Joc Pederson
2014: 18 G, .143 AVG, .351 OBP, 0 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB, -0.1 OWAR
Remaining Contract: ? (No information found)

Pros: Right now, we're judging him solely on his work in the minors.  Luckily for him, he did some very impressive things down on the farm, including 33 homers and 30 steals in Triple-A last season.  He also plays some great defense, as he's already been viewed as the next center fielder for years to come.  All in all, he has largely been considered the next big thing for the Dodgers.

Cons: The funny thing about potential is that you haven't actually done anything yet.  He still will get plenty of time to, but in his brief stint in LA during September, the game looked to be a little too big for him.  Granted, it's a very small sample size with only 28 at-bats, but no extra-base hits shows he has plenty of work left to do.

Trade Him?  No way.  There's too much untapped talent to move him now.  The management team before Friedman took over did not want to move him, and I can't imagine that changing now.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A-Gon and Greinke come up Golden

Congratulations goes out to a pair of Dodgers on Tuesday, as Adrian Gonzalez and Zack Greinke won Gold Glove Awards for first base and pitcher.

For A-Gon, it's his fourth overall award, as he won twice with the Padres (2008, 2009), and once with the Red Sox (2011).  This season, he had a magnificent .996 fielding %, with only six errors in 1,442 total chances.  That's amazing, and an improvement on his 11 errors in 2013.

Greinke is a first-time winner, but a very well-deserved one.  The funny thing is that he actually had his first error since 2010 with the Royals, but even Andrelton Simmons messes up every once in a blue moon.  This season, Greinke had 30 assists and a career-high eight double plays turned, which I'm sure played a huge role in winning this award.

One man who got close but narrowly missed out for the second straight year is Juan Uribe at third base.  Nolan Arenado had his number once again, though it seems a bit odd.  Uribe had a .979 fielding %, six errors, and a 2.0 Defensive WAR; Arenado had a .959/11/1.9 line.  But for whatever reason, Arenado is still considered better, so it is what it is.

Despite another Uribe snub, the Dodgers have to be very proud of landing two defensive stars for 2014, along with Uribe and Clayton Kershaw as nominees.

Wilson exercises his option as Elbert walks

A could news of note on the bullpen from Monday.

As expected, Brian Wilson exercised his massive $10 million option for 2015.  There was no way in the world any team would pay anything even close to that, or even half of that.  So ya, there was zero suspense in this decision.

Last season was just an absolute disaster for Wilson, who wasn't anywhere close to the pitcher who signed with the Dodgers at the trade deadline in 2013.  In 61 games, he went 2-4 with a 4.66 ERA and 1.61 WHIP.  It was stunning to see just how ineffective he was.  I thought he would be even stronger following Tommy John surgery a couple years ago.  Boy was I wrong.

Like it or not, he'll be back.  That doesn't mean he won't be released at some point, but that's a big chunk of change to eat.  Let's just hope he mercifully doesn't pitch in the setup role again.  That would be embarrassing.

Someone who will not be back is Scott Elbert, who rejected a minor league assignment and chose free agency.  He was nowhere to be found for two years with one elbow injury after another.  Then he resurfaced at the end of this season and made the playoff roster, but gave up a huge two-run homer to Kolten Wong in Game 3 of the NLDS, putting the Dodgers in a hole they would not recover from.

In a perfect world both of these guys would be gone, but one out of two ain't bad.

Don't expect to see Hanley back in 2015

The days of Hanley Ramirez in Dodger blue appear to be over.

On Monday, the Dodgers extended a qualifying offer to their shortstop, which is for one year and $15.3 million.  The reason the Dodgers did this was so they could be awarded a supplemental draft pick in case he rejects the deal and walks.

And guess what?  It looks as if Hanley will walk.

Accepting this deal would not only represent a pay cut from $16 million, but would obviously be less than the multi-year deal he is seeking.  The Dodgers have made it clear that while they would welcome him back next season, his history of injuries and defensive liabilities is simply too much to ignore anymore.

Never say never, but consider this: in the last two off-seasons, 22 big league players have been given qualifying offers.  All 22 of them rejected it.

I wouldn't expect Hanley to be any different.  He still has plenty of talent at the plate when he's healthy, and can at least slide over to third if a club wants, a position he's played in the past with the Marlins.

We will have to wait and see what Hanley ultimately decides to do, as he has seven days to decide whether or not to accept the one-year deal.  What should also be noted is that he's still eligible to sign with the Dodgers even if he rejects the deal.

The chances of that happening?  Slim and none.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Billingsley bought out and probably gone

In an unsurprising move, the Dodgers have elected to buy out Chad Billingsley for $3 million on Friday, declining to pick up his $14 million option.  He is now officially a free agent.

Considering Bills missed all of 2014 with Tommy John surgery and started two games in 2013, this was a mere formality.  He's looking to bounce back from a partially torn flexor tendon.

Now the question turns to whether or not the Dodgers may look to bring him back anyway, albeit for a much cheaper price.  It would have to be something along the lines of a low guarantee with performance incentives.

My initial though is no way.  Despite once being thought of as on a higher caliber than Clayton Kershaw, he just never found the consistency on the mound that would make him a staff ace.  In 219 career games (190 starts), he's 81-61 with a 3.65 ERA and 1.36 WHIP.  The WHIP is on the high end, which shows the difficulties he's had keeping runners off base.

I can't see him coming back as a starter, but when you take into consideration the porous bullpen performance during the much of the season and especially the playoffs, maybe he can pull a Wade Davis and reinvent himself as a dominant setup man.  He has 1,037 career strikeouts, so the power has always been there.

My guess it that he'll be looking to sign somewhere as a starter, so I don't see him in Dodger blue next year.  But if that fizzles out, then maybe he can be talked into a relief role.  We shall see.

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.