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

A New High

  • Thursday, August 5, 2010 6:26 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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It’s time to add another entry to the best games of Vicente Padilla’s career .

Wednesday night’s shutout of the Padres may be the best of all. Like the others, he gave up two hits. Unlike the others, Joe Torre actually left him in the game to finish the job. When the Dodgers tallied five times in the bottom of the 8th to put the game out of reach, you could smell Torre wondering whether he should bring in Travis Schlichting or Elmer Dessens to close out the ninth. Instead, he let Nicaragua’s second-greatest pitcher finish his 105-pitch outing and saved the bullpen for Thursday’s finale.

It may all be too little too late for the Dodgers. But there are still 54 games to go. The Dodgers will have to win at least 35 of those games, and probably 40. But if the starting pitchers continue to put on performances like they’ve been doing since the All-Star Break, they have a chance.

Nice to see Andre Ethier wake up with a big game: Two doubles and a homer. With Matt Kemp taking a step back in his development, Furcal hurt, Martin possibly out for the season, Blake struggling, and Manny Ramirez returning who knows when, Ethier will have to carry the team offensively. James Loney will have to help.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

An F for Effort

  • Tuesday, August 3, 2010 5:43 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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Monday night’s game wasn’t lost in the first inning; no game that ends with 15 runs scored and 28 hits is decided that early on. But the Dodgers set the tone for losing by running themselves out of an opportunity to score first.

Matt Kemp and James Loney had singled successively with two outs, and Kemp apparently scored on a third straight hit by Casey Blake. But Loney was thrown out at third before Kemp crossed home plate, negating the run.

Given that Reed Johnson didn't score the tying run against the Angels in the June 23 game where Russell Martin got tagged out at second, you'd think Larry Bowa would have smithed a branding iron that reads "Run Hard All the Way Home" and used it to stamp the backside of every runner rounding third base.

Or maybe he did make such a branding iron, but it rusted from lack of use.

Or maybe Dodger runners keep failing to score on third-out plays because they have to stop and ask directions to home plate.

It looks to me like the players have given up on this season. I know I won’t be spending any money to visit the Stadium unless I see a dramatic turnaround in the next few weeks.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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Better Than A Trade

  • Sunday, July 25, 2010 1:55 PM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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Yeah, yeah, Clayton Kershaw went eight scoreless, threw a gem against the Mets, kept them from scoring for what amounts to almost two straight games. Yeah, yeah, Russell Martin drove in a run so the blogosphere can overlook the fact that the Dodgers haven’t exactly been mashing the ball. Yeah, yeah, Casey Blake made a nice defensive play.

All I want to talk about is Kenley Jansen. Kenly who? The guy who started the season in Single A. The guy who was converted from catcher less than a year ago. The guy who is so new he’s still wearing No. 74 on his uniform. And the guy who has retired the first six batters he’s faced, four by the K. We’re going to be seeing a lot of KKKKKenley signs at Dodger Stadium pretty soon.

It’s still too early to anoint Jansen the next setup man much less the closer who has more grit and manliness than Jonathan Broxton. It’s still too early to ink him to any postseason plans. But the addition of a stud pitcher to a bullpen that sorely needed some fresh arms would be a highlight on any day. On a day where the team won 1-0 and the kid gets his first big league save, it’s a day to remember.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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Blogger Night

  • Tuesday, July 6, 2010 5:07 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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Sunday was Blogger Night at Dodger Stadium, a now annual occasion on which the Dodgers thank their loyal followers (myself included) for writing so diligently about the team’s exploits. I and about a dozen other bloggers had the opportunity to see the game from the corporate level, and also to interview GM Ned Colletti.

Colletti said he doesn’t read any of the blogs or any of the newspaper coverage of the team. “If I have to learn about my team from media accounts, I’m not doing my job,” he said. But he spent close to an hour taking our questions on subjects ranging from future Dodgers to Matt Kemp’s recent woes to the pleasant surprise that has been John Ely. There were no earth-shaking revelations in his comments; perhaps the most revealing part of the evening was when he refused to answer a question about whether beleaguered George Sherrill might accept a minor league assignment to work on his mechanics.

Colletti said a starting pitcher is still the team’s top priority going into the trading deadline, though a reliever is probably more likely. He’s disappointed in the team’s play so far, especially the slow start. But he’s optimistic that the Dodgers can catch the Padres. He’s still concerned that Russell Martin has stagnated in his development: “He plays the toughest position, and if one part of his game is off, it affects the others,” Colletti said.

The GM is still high on Blake DeWitt. “He’s never going to win a gold glove or a silver slugger award,” said Colletti, but he likes DeWitt’s character and his approach to the game.

Colletti also said he was wary about Vicente Padilla, but was willing to give him a chance. One slip-up and he would cut the Nicaraguan without giving him a second look. Padilla promised not to be a bad egg, and so far has not been one. “He’s one of the hardest workers on the team,” said Colletti. After the 2009 campaign, he decided to re-sign Padilla. “After hunting season,” he said, to laughs.

The game itself was less memorable. John Ely got hit. Not hard, but often. The Marlins scored two runs on four successive singles in the third, and chased Ely when opposing pitcher Nate Robertson drove in another run with a hard single up the middle. The Dodgers rallied back, narrowing the gap to 6-4 on a Rafael Furcal homer, and then closing within a run when James Loney drove in Andre Ethier with a double. But they just couldn’t dig out of the hole Ely had created.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

Dunn-Over?

  • Friday, June 18, 2010 4:53 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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I'll make this argument only because it's the same one I made before the Dodgers were thinking about re-signing Manny Ramirez after the 2008 season. They could have had Adam Dunn for half the price and spent the difference ($12.5 million per year) on pitching. Dunn's offensive numbers since the beginning of the 2009 season have been better than Manny's (.941 OPS compared to .934) and he has played in 73 more games than Manny has, meaning that there were fewer starts by players with much lower OPS like Reed Johnson or Juan Pierre.

It’s fair to say that Dodger pitching was pretty good in 2009, notwithstanding the team’s failure to sign anyone other than Randy Wolf. Even with Dunn instead of Manny, they probably didn’t have the scratch to match the Yankees’ offer to CC Sabathia. But $12.5 million would have bought Ryan Dempster. Or paired with the $5 million the Dodgers spent on Wolf, they could have landed A.J. Burnett.

Would any of this have made a difference in 2009, when the Dodgers easily won their division and made the NLCS for the second straight year? Who can say. Neither Ryan Dempster nor Adam Dunn was going to make Jonathan Broxton any less afraid to pitch to Matt Stairs. In all likelihood, a Dunn-Dempster trade for Manny would have yielded the exact same results.

Speaking of Johnson, the L.A. Times reported that he refused to shave his unfortunate Fu Manchu because of baseball superstition: The team was winning. Thursday's loss should be occasion for him to doff it. While he’s got the razors out, Russell Martin needs to get rid of that horrendous pornstache he’s been sporting lately. It’s the ghost of Jeff Kent.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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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

And a Child Shall Lead Them

  • Saturday, April 24, 2010 11:06 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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Joe Torre’s over-managing in Saturday’s 13-inning, 4-3 win over the Nationals almost cost the Dodgers the game. Only Jim Riggleman’s failure to run for the lame and slow-footed Ivan Rodriguez prevented Washington from scoring the tying run in the bottom of the 13th.

But out of bad decisions on both sides came a shining light for the Dodgers: The performance of Rule 5 draftee Carlos Monasterios, who threw scoreless ball over the last 2.2 innings for his first big league win. Monasterios looked like the pitcher the Dodgers liked so much in spring training.

The game never should have gone this far, however. With the Dodgers clinging to a 3-2 lead in the 8th, Ramon Troncoso put a runner on base, and got a grounder that was a little too tough to get a double play on. But instead of letting Troncoso get the last out of the 8th, Torre went straight to Jonathan Broxton for a four-out save. Broxton and Russell Martin then compounded the situation. They held a conference on the mound during which the radio announcer speculated that Martin was telling Broxton not to worry about the runner on first, Adam Kennedy.

Here’s how Martin’s end of the conversation must have gone: “Don’t worry about the runner. I’ll make sure he steals second, and I’ll throw the ball into the outfield so he can take third.” Well, that’s what happened, even if they didn’t plan it that way. Nyjer Morgan’s single brought home the tie, and Torre was left with three relievers going into the 9th inning. One of whom was Ramon Ortiz, basically unavailable because of his lengthy outing the night before.

Here’s how Torre again overplayed his hand in the 11th, after Matt Kemp made the last out trying to steal second base. He brought in Reed Johnson as part of a double switch, removing Kemp from the game. What? WTF? The pitcher wasn’t dues to bat until the fifth man up in the 12th, yet he removed his best player from the game? Makes no sense.

Now here’s how Riggleman made the even bigger mistake, as Eric Collins outlined on the broadcast: With the pitcher batting in Kemp’s spot, and no real pitchers left in Torre’s bullpen, Riggleman should have walked Martin and Andre Ethier in the top of the 13th to bring Monasterios to the plate. Instead, he pitched to Martin, who drove home Rafael Furcal with the go-ahead run. Riggleman compounded his mistake by not having a pitcher of his own (say, last night’s starter) run for Rodriguez. A healthy runner, even a pitcher, would have scored easily on Morgan’s double. Instead, the tying run never came in, despite Pudge’s best attempt to score on a ground ball to third.

The Dodgers will count this one as a win, since any win has to feel good right now. And I’ll give them a pass because it’s still April. But I still don’t like what I see.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

Let's Try That Again

  • Tuesday, April 6, 2010 11:07 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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In what Dodger fans hope isn’t a harbinger of a long summer, the team looked awful in its road opener against the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates. The offense couldn’t have dialed up a better first inning, scoring two quick runs on a Russell Martin walk, an Andre Ethier double and a Matt Kemp run-scoring single.

But the lead didn’t last long — the Pirates tied it in the bottom half on the first of Garrett Jones’s two home runs. Starter Vicente Padilla calmed down after Jones’s second homer, but lost it completely in the fifth. The bullpen wasn’t much better, as Ramon Ortiz gave up a bases-loaded double, and George Sherrill let the air out of the game after the Dodgers clawed back to 8-5.

As disconcerting as the pitching were some of the mistakes. Russell Martin double-clutched a simple sacrifice bunt and failed to get anybody out (the woeful Pirates did Los Angeles a favor by failing to score with the bases loaded and nobody out); Casey Blake made an unaccustomed error, and Martin made a baserunning mistake by getting doubled off second base on a grounder. None of these boners cost the team any runs, but they indicated a squad that didn’t look ready for the real games to start.

I’m not ready to throw in the towel after one awful game, but I hope it’s not a sign of things to come.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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Love of Baseball

  • Thursday, February 25, 2010 5:30 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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Doug Glanville’s column in today’s NY Times reminds me of a piece I did from a fan’s perspective about Spring Training. My wedding anniversary falls during spring training every year, but because my wife is a baseball fan, we get to spend the weekend revisiting the game we love almost as much as each other.

View the spring training piece here.

Russell Martin says the 25 pounds he put on over the winter includes no love handles. It’s all muscle. Sorry, Russ, but count me as dubious, especially after the part about working out with Eric Gagne over the winter. Even if you’re not taking anything to bulk up that quickly, you probably shouldn’t mention that you’ve been associating with guys implicated in the Mitchell Report.

The Dodgers are holding “Viva Los Dodgers” days every Sunday there’s a home game in 2010. But when I called to find out exactly what the days will encompass, the PR dept. couldn’t tell me. All they knew was that the celebration will be held inside the stadium, it will be a tribute to Latinos in some way, and will include live music and presumably concessions.

You gotta hand it to the McCourts. They find ever more ways to part people from their money. No tailgating, but come on inside and enjoy our $8 beers and equally overpriced lousy food before the game even starts.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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Dodgers Enjoy Walk In The Park

  • Saturday, October 17, 2009 7:19 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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When managers have been fired for leaving Pedro Martinez in the game for too long (See Little, Grady or Gump, Forrest), it’s hard to second guess Charlie Manuel, a guy with a World Series ring to show for his baseball acumen, for removing the crafty righthander after seven dominating innings in Friday afternoon’s game. Martinez had thrown just 87 pitches, hadn’t walked a batter and hadn’t really given up a hard-hit ball. Neither of the two base hits he permitted were blistered and even the outs were quiet, especially Manny Ramirez’s two infield popups and a strikeout.

Manuel also had hoped that pinch-hitting for Martinez in the top of the eighth would give his bullpen something more than a 1-0 lead to protect. Alas, Ben Francisco hit into an inning-ending double play that made that strategy moot.

But I can’t blame Manuel for pulling Pedro in that situation. Chan Ho Park had shut down the Dodgers a night earlier, and the bottom of the order was coming up. Casey Blake’s hit to lead off the eighth could easily have been called an error, as could Ronnie Belliard’s bunt past the mound. If Chase Utley turns the double play on Russell Martin’s groundout, one run might have scored, but not two; they might still be playing now but for that miscue.

What I can blame Manuel for is the path he wore down between the mound and the first base visitors’ dugout that inning, bringing in five pitchers — FIVE —to get three outs. Having two situational lefties in the pen is a manager’s dream, but a fan’s nightmare. Five times the game was interrupted for endless commercial breaks while another Phillie pitcher spurted a tiny bit more gasoline on the smoldering situation.

Multi-pitcher innings are killing the rhythm of the game in my opinion. How about a rule limiting the total number of trips to the mound in any one inning to two? The first six innings of the game were played crisply and beautifully; the last inning took over an hour, most of it spent watching men in red uniforms take a walk from the bullpen to the mound.

Then again, the best part of the day was watching another man, Andre Ethier, walk 90 feet from home to first, driving in the game-winning run. Ethier battled J.A. Happ back from 1-2 to work out a bases-loaded walk that forced in Martin. It wasn’t much, but it was enough. The less said about Manny’s feeble first-pitch pop-up on the ensuing at-bat the better.

The Dodgers go to Philadelphia just like they headed to St. Louis, confident after stealing a game from the jaws of defeat. It’s not a 2-0 lead, and it wasn’t a completely humbling loss like the one the Cardinals suffered a week ago. But it’s a whole lot better than the alternative.

And Vicente Padilla! What a gem. You could see the physical pain it caused him to come out of that game with no chance for a victory. But after yet another seven-inning performance, allowing just the solo homer to Ryan Howard, he’s the Dodgers’ top playoff pitcher.

--- JOHN ROSENTHAL.

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Merkle. Buckner. Holliday.

  • Friday, October 9, 2009 11:25 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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If you made a movie about Thursday’s events, nobody would believe it. Down to their last strike in the bottom of the ninth, the comeback kid Dodgers get new life when Matt Holliday, a pretty good outfielder, can’t corral the third out. It lands for an error, James Loney runs hard all the way to second and the Dodgers are alive.

You know the rest: The walk by Casey Blake that put the winning run on base, and according to all in the Dodger clubhouse, gave the team hope that not only could they tie the game, but win it. The huge hit by the Jekyll and Hyde Ronnie Belliard. I’ve never seen a guy look so bad in some at-bats and so solid in others. Like Thursday’s game-tying single.

Holliday will get all the blame for this game, because his error would have been the final out. But Yadier Molina’s passed ball put the winning run 90 feet away. I have no doubt that Mark Loretta’s bloop would not have scored Blake from second base. But from third, it was a piece of cake. Then again, Loretta might not have batted, since Russell Martin was semi-intentionally walked.

Also deserving of goatee horns is Ryan Franklin, the closer who should've been out of the inning, but never got another out. Two walks and two singles later, he was the recipient of a blown save and a loss.

Only the diehards will remember the stellar pitching performances in this game, by both Adam Wainwright, who was robbed of a win, and Clayton Kershaw, who pitched well enough to merit one. Both youngsters kept piling up zeroes on the scoreboard. Andre Ethier is quietly putting up Manny-esque numbers. It’s only two games, to be sure, but he’s got a single, a double and a homer in seven at-bats, with a sick 1.556 OPS. He’s also making people forget that Manny has done quite little so far. Everybody goes into slumps, but when you hit like Ramirez did last year, fans come to expect it every year.

Put another way, when you’re as antic a player as Manny is, you had better put up Manny-esque numbers. Fans will only let Manny be Manny as long as he delivers. If he continues to hit .125, he might even become Juan Pierre’s backup. Naah; it’ll never happen.

--- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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