Who Quit on Whom?

  • Monday, September 20, 2010 7:46 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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Call me a cynic, but Sunday’s comeback win over the Rockies doesn’t prove to me that the Dodgers aren’t quitters. It proves that baseball is a funny game where the better team doesn’t always win.

As for these Dodgers, it’s not so much the players who quit as the management team around them. Over the 2009-10 winter, the front office quit on the team by failing to sign players to replace the departing Orlando Hudson and Randy Wolf, both of whom left without even a draft pick in return. Hudson was the offensive sparkplug for the 2009 team, hitting for the cycle in his Dodger Stadium opener. He hit a surprising .283 and OPSed .774, better even than the $10 million man Rafael Furcal at short. Wolf led the team in starts and innings pitched, but the Dodgers thought it was a career year and let him go.

Jon Garland put up serviceable numbers in his short career with the Dodgers, but they let him go as well.

As the trading deadline loomed, management again quit on the Dodgers, failing to acquire the kind of players who would make the team better. Off went Cliff Lee. For the third time in two years, no less. Off went Roy Oswalt. Ted Lilly came west, but only at the price of weak-hitting Ryan theriot. Octavio Dotel was another drain on the farm system that didn’t seem to indicate any immediate upside.

By the time the non-waiver deadline approached, the Dodgers were barely in contention, but kept trying to have it both ways. They wanted to unload Manny Ramirez and his hefty contract. But instead of simply dealing him, they waited until the last minute to see if the team would magically re-enter the pennant race. Still, they refused to play Manny for fear that he might get hurt and ruin the deal worked out with the White Sox.

Finally, Joe Torre quit on the team, announcing last week that he would not return in 2011. He also revealed that he had made his successor, Don Mattingly, a contractual part of his deal with the team when Torre signed in 2008. There never was, and never would be any discussion about who would follow Torre, because it was even more in writing than the name of the McCourt who owned the team.

Torre clearly had to know his mind before September 15. The timing of his announcement, however, followed the remarks by former Dodger owner Peter O’Malley, who said the McCourts had disgraced the proud Dodger franchise. You know, the one the O’Malleys sold to those fine citizens, the Fox broadcasting company. Still, the PR hit left a mark, one that could only be erased by a new news cycle in which Grandpa Torre passes on the family farm to Little Don.

Does the Jackie Robinson signing automatically exempt the Dodgers from having to do anything on behalf of minorities ever again? The team had to scramble to find an African-American player to introduce Rachel Robinson in 2006 and 2007. The 25-man roster in 2010 has had no more than four black players at a time: Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Russell Martin, with Kenley Jansen, replacing Garret Anderson when the latter proved no better a hitter than the former.

The 2010 Dodger season was over before it even began. There were flashes of above-average play, but nothing inspired other than an early season stretch where the team averaged six runs a game. Their fielding was sloppy, the pitching was uneven, and players could not stay off the disabled list. They looked like an older, duller version of the 2009 team that started out so strong and merely hung on to win the division.

The 2011 team looks to be just as awful. There will be no budget for free agent signings, and no farm system to raid for dividends that pay sooner. Mattingly may wish he had taken the opportunity to learn in the minor leagues under Tim Wallach while the team struggles through the horrible McCourt divorce. It’s going to be a long run and the temptation to quit will be just as great.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

Oh For Two

  • Monday, May 24, 2010 6:42 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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I’ve been to two Dodger games this year, and the team has lost both of them. But Sunday’s was so much more satisfying than the April 17 9-0 loss to Lincecum and the dreaded Giants. In that game, Charlie Haeger pitched in and out of trouble all afternoon, surrendering 7 runs in 3 innings, and was emblematic of all that plagued the Dodgers’ pitching staff. The defense was lousy, and the Furcal-less, Manny-less, Blake-less offense was inept, mustering just seven singles and a double, and not getting a runner to third base until the ninth inning.

Sunday’s game, but contrast, was more of a near miss. The Tigers jumped out to a 3-0 lead, courtesy of a Miguel Cabrera rocket off starter Hiroki Kuroda. But the Tigers scored in the first inning of the two previous games, only to go silent for the next five or six innings thereafter. And Sunday was no exception. Kuroda shut down the potent Detroit offense through the sixth, and would have pitched into the seventh had his spot not come up with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the sixth.

Manny Ramirez, hitting for Kuroda, grounded out weakly, though in his defense, his meager grounder was in the direction of Mannywood, even if it didn’t get out of the infield. In the tall tale of Manny being Manny, they’ll probably omit this deflating moment. That episode too was symbolic of this game. The Dodgers had many chances to win it, but kept coming up short. Mostly, they lost because they kept hitting the ball right at Tigers’ starter Rick Porcello, who will take his black and blue marks as long as they gave him the victory.

Porcello snared a Matt Kemp line drive in the first and turned it into a double play. An inch to the left or right and the ball goes through the middle for a run-scoring single. In the 4th, James Loney hit Porcello with another grounder, but the pitcher fielded it in time to get Kemp at second, and almost turned another double play. If that ball gets by Porcello, a run scores and there’s one out with men on firs and second instead of two gone and runners on the corners.

In the 8th, Ronnie Belliard hit into a double play subbing for Blake DeWitt, who made a nifty play in short right field, and Russell Martin hit into a tough ground out double play to end he game in the ninth. If the team had been scuffling all week, we’d point to this as another example of its ineptitude. But because they’ve been playing so well, I’m happy to chalk it up to the way the ball bounces over a long season.

The other constant in both games has been Garret Anderson starts in left field. Correlation with losing? You be the judge.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

Offensive

  • Saturday, April 17, 2010 4:51 PM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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No amount of Andre Ethier offense was going to make up for the Dodger pitching staff’s woes on Saturday. If Ethier had come to the plate 8 times, he probably couldn’t have hit enough homers to mask this ugly loss.

Charlie Haeger couldn’t throw his knuckleball for a strike, and the Giants waited on him to make a mistake, which he did plenty of. He was gone after three innings, trailing 7-0.

The Giants trailed 7-0 after two innings Friday, but managed to rally to come within 10-8 by the time it was all said and done. The Dodgers on Saturday mailed in the rest of the game.

Of course, Tim Lincecum was pitching, and he makes it easy to look like you’re not trying. But lazy and poor defense also came before, during and after the Giants’ offensive outburst. Even Joe Torre seemed to concede this one before it had even started. He rested not only Russell Martin for a day game after a night game, but also Casey Blake, Manny Ramirez and Rafael Furcal. I can’t blame him. Their replacements didn’t do much: Rafael Belliard missed an easy grounder in the first inning and Jamey Carroll, despite getting two hits, made an error in the fourth that opened the door to a big inning. Garret Anderson was involved in one of the weirder fielder’s choice plays I’ve ever seen (as a left fielder, no less), but whiffed twice in an 0-4 night.

Troubling signs the Dodgers have not held an opponent under 4 runs in over a week (Friday’s 7-3 win over Florida). They’ve gone 3-4 in that skein, thanks largely to timely hitting. I don’t hear any more talk about the Dodgers’ average with RISP. For them to win consistently, they’re going to have to pitch better, not hit better.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL