McCourt Going, LaRussa Gone

  • Tuesday, November 1, 2011 8:11 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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A 2012 baseball season with neither Frank McCourt nor Tony LaRussa is something to keep me warm all winter.

If I had known LaGenius would have retired, having nothing left to prove after winning the 2011 World Series, I would have rooted for the Cardinals. Now I feel cheap for cheering on the God-fearing Rangers.

There's no denying LaRussa's success. He's among the greatest managers of all time, one of only two to win the World Series in both leagues, and took a 2011 Cardinal team that had no business being in the playoffs past the vaunted Phillies, through the powerful Brewers and over the speedy Rangers. His mix-and-match bullpen philosophy works, and so does whatever it is he does to get the most out of players like Octavio Dotel, Arthur Rhodes, Kyle Lohse and Jeff Weaver. Those guys all have rings, while Roy Halladay does not.

But I won’t be sorry to see him go. Lefty-righty matchups are here to stay, and it seems every manager has embraced the three-pitcher inning. But at least we won't be hearing about what a genius the man is for batting the pitcher eighth, or for pretending he didn't know all along that Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco were sticking needles up their butts.

As for Mr. McCourt, the sooner he sells the Dodgers the better. The sooner the Fox TV network can back up a Brinks truck full of money to the new owners and allow them to sign Prince Fielder or some other hitter to protect Matt Kemp in the lineup. The sooner we can talk about Clayton Kershaw defending his Cy Young award. The sooner we can stop talking about injunctions and stays and oxidation of staples in legal agreements. The sooner Jamie McCourt can fade into Georgia Frontiere oblivion.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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World Series 2011: Motte, The Hoopla

  • Tuesday, October 25, 2011 5:25 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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Tony LaRussa spent the post-game press conference blaming the Cardinals 4-2 loss in Game 5 on poor communication with the bullpen. He said he wanted his "don't call him the closer" Jason Motte to be ready to pitch to Mike Napoli after lefty Mark Rzepczynski faced lefty David Murphy. But bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist supposedly didn't hear the request for Motte, so Rzepczynski pitched to the right-handed hitting Napoli.

I'm not buying it. La Russa goes to his bullpen more often than Ned Flanders goes to church; he believes one good pitching change deserves another. As soon as I see him walk out of the dugout, I get my DVR fast-forwarding muscles warmed up, because I know there's going to be parade of relievers coming into the game, each facing a single batter. If LaRussa wanted a righty in that situation, Liliquist would have known it without him even saying it. Plus, before the game, he told Tim McCarver, "Don’t be surprised if I use Rzepczynski against right-handed batters." And why not? Before Game 5, Rzepczynski had struck out all three of the Rangers righthanders he faced.

But after Murphy’s infield hit, LaRussa made no move to the mound. He didn't send Dave Duncan out for a visit, or even Yadier Molina to stall until he could get Motte ready. If he really wanted a righty to face Napoli, he could have used Lance Lynn, the pitcher who was warming up. But he didn't do any of those things. Instead, he started thinking of his excuses for why Napoli was able to deliver in run-scoring situations that had foiled the Cardinals all night.

The "poor communication" continued even after Napoli's two run double made subsequent pitching changes akin to moving deck chairs. This time, when LaRussa asked for Motte, Lynn came out of the pen. LaRussa said Lynn was unavailable because he had pitched 2.1 innings Saturday (Saturday!). If that's the case, why was he even in the bullpen? Why would Lilliquist assume LaRussa wanted him to warm up, rather than, Motte, or, oh, anyone else in the pen?

It wouldn’t be a LaGenius game without a four-pitcher inning, so the St. Louis manager had Lynn intentionally walk Ian Kinsler, then finally brought in Motte to get the last out. But by then, no amount of annoying pitching changes and three-minute commercial breaks could salvage the game for the Cardinals. Or for LaRussa's genius.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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2011 World Series: So Much for Good Pitching

  • Monday, October 17, 2011 6:23 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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The postseason is when good pitching is supposed to beat good hitting. Good luck with that. Aside from Octavio Dotel's mastery of Ryan Braun (Octavio Dotel!!), there wasn't a whole lot of good pitching in either LCS. Chris Carpenter was the only Cardinal starter with an ERA under 4.00 in the postseason; Jaime Garcia (5.74), Edwin Jackson (5.84) and Kyle Lohse (7.45) all put up terrible numbers while failing to throw more than 16 innings total.

Over in the A.L., Colby Lewis played the Carpenter role, with a 3.86 ERA, while Matt Harrison (4.22), Derek Holland (5.27) and CJ Wilson (8.04) all made for long nights for the bullpen. Luckily for Texas, its relief corps were lights out. The Rangers' pen allowed just 10 earned runs in 40.1 innings, and half of those were in 1.1 innings of work by Koji Uehara.

It has all made for some extremely boring baseball, with countless pitching changes (and three-minute commercial breaks to accommodate each one). I usually look forward to watching the World Series, no matter who's in it. But the prospect of more Tony LaRussa three-pitcher innings has me longing for the last two minutes of an NBA game.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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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

Sigh

  • Monday, August 2, 2010 5:23 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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Sigh.

Is this how it all ends, not with a flameout by Jonathan Broxton, but with a whimper by the offense? The Dodgers’ 2010 season may have come to a close Sunday with their 2-0 shutout by the hated Giants, completing a payback sweep from June. The Dodgers are 8 back in the division and 6 in the wild card and show no signs of pepping up.

Larry Bowa found lots of places to lay the blame and has used a well-known LA Times columnist as his megaphone. I won’t link to it for the same reason baseball games don’t show the morons who run on the field: I don’t want to encourage that kind of writing.

I believed this team was flawed at the beginning of the season, and I’ve seen nothing all year to dissuade me of that opinion. Bringing in Ted Lilly was a long overdue solution for the fourth starter role, but the time to do that was in April, when Charlie Haeger and James McDonald were costing the team games. Bringing in Lilly for just two months now may be too little too late.

If the cost of Lilly was Blake DeWitt for Ryan Theriot, I’m not sure the Dodgers improved themselves. Theriot is quick and a capable defender, but his OBP is terrible. As Orel Hershiser quickly deduced on the Sunday telecast, he seems afraid to take a 3-2 pitch. He’s also six years older than DeWitt and a whole lot more expensive.

Octavio Dotel for James McDonald and Andrew Lambo bothers me a little less. Dotel seems to be exactly the same kind of closer as Jonathan Broxton: Good in easy spots, but can’t get the big saves. McDonald showed in two straight seasons that he wasn’t capable of retiring major league hitters on a consistent basis. Lambo is much heralded in the Dodger organization, but his 50-game suspension for PEDs makes me wonder whether his talent was real or man-made.

Scott Podsednik added a left-handed bat to a team that needed a right-handed one. He’ll be the fourth outfielder if and when Manny returns. If the Dodgers are out of it and Manny is dealt to a team in contention, Pods will play out the string in left field.

In all, I see the Dodgers made a lot of moves that didn’t really make them all that much better. This team was built on Manny Ramirez providing pop in the middle of the order, and without him, it’s not capable of producing runs. Sunday’s lineup attempted to manufacture runs by placing speed in the top three spots. But speed alone doesn’t win games. You can’t steal first, as the 1-for-11 performance demonstrated. Theriot’s OBP is too low for that strategy to work, and Podsednik’s caught-stealing rate makes him as much of a liability as Matt Kemp on the bases.

It’s not over. The 2007 Rockies showed you can go .500 for the first five months of the season and then go on a winning streak that will take you through the playoffs. We’ll see if the Dodgers are capable of that kind of performance.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL