Bobbledread At Dodger Stadium

  • Wednesday, May 18, 2011 10:45 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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The Dodgers are featuring six bobblehead giveaways this season, and half of the figures (manager Don Mattingly, broadcaster Fernando Valenzuela and the late Hall of Famer Duke Snider) feature players whose careers ended more than a decade ago. A fourth, Hong-Chih Kuo, scheduled for 6/14, may never play baseball again after two Frank Jobe surgeries and a serious bout of the yips.

That leaves Clayton Kershaw (Tuesday night, above) and Andre Ethier (July 7), two of the only bright spots on the 2011 roster. Matt Kemp should be the third head on this triumvirate of Knights who say “Ni,” but he’s been featured on bobbleheads the past two years. No Dodger has been featured more than twice.

To that, I say, why not? How about an annual Matt Kemp bobblehead for as long as he’s a fixture in the Dodger lineup? Ditto for Ethier and the Claw, and Chad Billingsley too, who’s never been bobbleheaded. Joe Beimel, sure, but not Chad Billingsley!

It was less than a year ago that I thought the two bobbleheads I had so far collected might be the core of a strong Dodger lineup some day. Now, Russell Martin is a Yankee and Jonathan Broxton is a head case. Maybe I’ll see what that Beimel doll is fetching on eBay.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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Broxton Blues

  • Tuesday, April 19, 2011 10:27 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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I had to question Don Mattingly's decision to bring Jonathan Broxton into Monday night's game against the Braves. The Dodgers held a 4-0 lead in the ninth, so it wasn’t a save situation. And Broxton had been wobbly the day before, letting up the first run of the game against St. Louis (only Matt Kemp’s home run turned him from goat into the winning pitcher). Moreover, using Broxton in back-to-back nights would mean that the closer would be unavailable in Tuesday night’s game.

That’s all before Broxton threw a single pitch. The reasons for not using him only increased after he took the mound. He was even wobblier, not reaching 90 on the radar gun for the first two hitters, both of whom hit the ball hard for base hits. Broxton is 5-for-5 in save opportunities, but in non-save situations such as Sunday and Monday, he has looked more lie second half of 2010 Brox than first half of 2010 Brox.

To me, it seems Broxton's problem is the same as Billy Wagner's or Brad Lidge's: his fastball is straight. Even when he brings it at 95 or higher, hitters simply time it. His slider doesn't have that much movement, and it's so obviously different in speed from his heater that hitters know to lay off it.

I don’t know that it’s time to hold auditions for the closer’s job yet, but I have long felt that Broxton lacks the mentality to be a closer. That’s a fuzzy definition, to be sure, but something clearly changed in him after Matt Stairs hit that homer off him in 2008. And after Stairs’ mere presence in the on-deck circle scared him to death in 2009. And after that horrendous outing against the Yankees in 2010.

It’s still early in the season, and the knock against Brox is that he couldn’t get the big outs on the big stage. There are no big stages until after the All-Star break, so he has time to work things out. But 2011 is going to be a make or break season for him.

There's no point in comparing anybody to Mariano Rivera. Rivera was already the greatest closer ever to play the game by the end of the 2000 World Series. The fact that he continued to dominate hitters for 11 more years, pitching into his 40s, makes him a freak of nature. There will never be another like him.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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Who Quit on Whom?

  • Monday, September 20, 2010 11:46 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

Execution

  • Thursday, July 22, 2010 9:20 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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When players execute and produce proficiently, they make managers look like geniuses. Don Mattingly gets my props for leaving Chad Billingsley in to finish Wednesday night’s 2-0 shutout of the Giants. But there would be equal numbers of people jumping all over him had Billingsley not gotten the last three outs. Maybe not as many as there might have been three weeks ago, when Broxton was a little more reliable. But enough for there to be an argument.

Mattingly was also aided by the fact that it became a 2-0 game, rather than 1-0. In that situation, the textbook move is to call on your closer. From the sight of Hong-Chih Kuo warming up in the pen rather than Broxton, I have to assume that Big Jon was unavailable, which is odd, since he only threw 1/3 of an inning Tuesday, whereas Kuo threw 1.2 innings. Luckily, Billz got three easy outs and the entire pen got a night off in preparation for the series against the Mets.

We can only hope Joe Torre learned something from watching his protégé: Leave the guys in when they’re going great. With the way the bullpen looks right now, the best option is probably a slightly tired Kuroda, Kershaw, Padilla or Billingsley.

Big win for the Dodgers at a time when they really needed one. It was also good to see Casey Blake using a bat for something other than grounding out weakly. If the Dodgers are going to do anything this fall, they’ll need contributions from him and everyone else on the roster.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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Bottom?

  • Wednesday, July 21, 2010 9:32 AM
  • Written By: Dodgers Diaries

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There will be much hand-wringing about Tuesday night’s loss, much discussion about pride and standing up for your teammates, and losing a battle to win a war, and Don Mattingly’s missteps in his managerial debut for the Dodgers.

Lost in all that discussion is the fact that Broxton was deep into the process of blowing the game all by himself. Take away the beanball shenanigans and the picayune misinterpretation of the rules and what you have left is another failure by Broxton in a big spot.

The Dodgers may finally have hit bottom with Tuesday’s loss. George Sherrill proved he is unable to retire major league hitters in any circumstances. Broxton wilted again in a big spot. And with neither Ramon Troncoso nor Ronald Belisario around to pick up the slack, the only trusted relievers in the pen are Jeff Weaver and Hong-Chih Kuo.

The season is still long, and there’s plenty of opportunity to make up for this horrendous stretch. But the Dodgers are going to have to start beating good teams if they want to make the playoffs. Perhaps we will be able to look back at this game as the low point of the season. I’d hate to see what bottom looks like if this isn’t it.

-- JOHN ROSENTHAL

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