Monthly archives: April 2003
The Greatest Stories Ever Told
Tuesday night, I went out to a movie for the first time this year (in fact, for the first time since before my daughter was born in September). Thursday night, I'll be going to my brother's office to do rewrites on our own script, which takes Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and sets it in a Spring Training world based ever-so-loosely on Vero Beach.
There was a time when I was going to movies in the winter, during Oscar campaign season, the way I would go to ballgames in the summer. Like, just about every day. Marriage and parenthood have affected my free time, but not my feelings. Both in the watching and the writing, movies are a big part of my life. (Television too, but that's another story.)
I'm not unique. Movies are a big part of a lot of people's lives. In fact, I'd venture to say that just about everyone likes movies. They may not like bad movies, they may not like the lines at the movies, they may not like a movie made since 1974. But within the movie genre, it would be difficult to find anyone who isn't moved by something.
Whereas, some people just don't like baseball at all. Period.
The irony - and it's a useful one - is that baseball not only has much in common with the movies, in some ways it does movies better than movies do themselves. Baseball does character development like nothing else I know.
Don't get me wrong - I believe in the Shoeless Joe vision of baseball. And I believe that someday, an aging ballplayer, a natural if you will, could rewrite history (and the text version of his story) by hitting a home run that explodes the stadium lights into a shower of sparks.
I revel in the poetry of a double play, an inside-the-park grand slam, and a routine grounder to second base.
I go to the ballpark looking forward to my hot dog, and I go forward to it looking forward to being at a park.
But I'm pretty sure the main thing that keeps me coming back to baseball is that I care about the characters. I've cared about the characters for more than 25 years. They are part of my life, and I care about just about everyone that makes an impression. And so many of them do - both major and minor characters.
Just the ones named Pedro alone could keep me occupied. Pedro Martinez. Pedro Astacio. Pedro Guerrero. Pedro Borbon. Pedro Borbon, Jr. If these guys are doing anything, whether pitching a shutout or using the disturbing but effective low-IQ defense, I care.
It's all about backstories. The Pedros have backstories. Kevin Brown has a backstory. Hiram Bocachica has a backstory. Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth - all-time backstories. All the teams, from the Dodgers to the Devil Rays to the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, have backstories. The sport as a whole has its own collective backstory. And then, when these actors take the field - either at the ballpark in front of you, or on television, or in a book or newspaper clipping, you have all this set-up to appreciate the significance of everything they do.
Baseball is a stage, a movie set, a comic-book world in which all these characters enter and exit and live and die. As you begin to care about one character and watch his journey, it snowballs and you begin to care about others upon others. It is not waxing mystical or fantastical to say that it is a world filled with drama and comedy and exhilaration and heartbreak. It just is - in a deeper, more evolved sense than any movie honestly can ever offer.
What a movie offers ... for better or worse, is that it ends. Baseball doesn't.
Now, you can get into arguments about why baseball, as opposed to football or curling. That's not what this is about. You can take the above philosophy and apply it to any sport or to all sports.
I happen to pick baseball - not to the exclusion of all others, but certainly above all others - for the ballpark and the hot dog and the rhythm of the game and so many other things. But the game itself is the set dressing - perhaps the best set dressing in the world, but a backdrop nonetheless.
The addiction is to the characters. Nothing else assembles a more compelling cast than baseball does.
There is something for everyone to love about baseball. If you want to share that love with someone, and that person doesn't seem to care about double plays or hot dogs, then start telling stories about the people who play the game. Give them the opening minutes of the movie - the part before the plot thickens. Think of what just hearing the name Odalis Perez or Adrian Beltre or Jim Thome evokes. Each has a story. And the next big chapter in those stories will reveal itself at the ballpark tonight. With chapters upon chapters to follow.
No special effects. None needed. Give anyone the characters, and see if down the road, that routine grounder to second doesn't become poetry.
Here Ego Again
Two home runs Tuesday night - wow. I can't believe my column yesterday had such an effect. I must be some kind of shaman ...
Thanks to David Pinto at Baseball Musings for his kind highlight from Dodger Thoughts on Monday. It helped boost traffic to this site to an all-time high.
David had his own take on some key offensive differences between the Phillies and the Dodgers in this entry:
Both teams have played 25 games, but the Phillies have scored almost 50 more runs (that's 2 more per game) than the Dodgers. Why? Neither team has hit many HR. The Dodgers are last in the league with 15, but the Phillies have only 17. The Phillies have 16 more hits, but they have 34 more walks, and that gives them a 40 point advanatage in OBA. On top of that, the Dodgers have hit poorly with runners in scoring position (.238), while the Phillies have hit very well (.294).
Meanwhile, Robert at Priorities and Frivolities had a detailed look at strikeouts by Dodger batters with runners on base. Check it out.
The Cold Front
Okay, kids - time for Extreme Dodgers!
With Monday night's shutout loss to the Phillies, the Dodgers fell to last in the National League in scoring at 3.57 runs per game. Extreme!
At the same time, they held their position as No. 1 in fewest runs allowed: 3.19 runs per game. Doubly extreme!
So, where are we headed on this extreme course? Crash and burn, or ... the opposite of crash and burn?
In 1965 and 1966, the Dodgers won the National League pennant with offenses that were ranked eighth in a 10-team NL.
In 1995 and 1996, the Dodgers reached the postseason (falling short of winning a pennant) with offenses that were 10th and 12th in a 14-team NL.
More often than not, however, the Dodgers have not been able to overcome a poor offense, even with the best pitching in the league.
Here are the worst offenses in Los Angeles Dodger history (The league had 10 teams through 1968, 12 teams through 1992, 14 teams through 1997 and now has 16 teams.):
Year...Rank in Runs...Rank in Runs Allowed...W-L Record
The point being, even if the conditions at Dodger Stadium dampen offensive production, the Dodgers have historically needed to find a way to overcome them.
Now, there is some potential for the Dodger offense to move up in the National League rankings.
2003 Runs per game, through April 28
Here's an illustration of how big an offensive hole the Dodgers are in. In order to move into the top half of the league in scoring - if everyone else held their pace - the Dodgers would have to average 4.75 runs per game the rest of the season. That's an increase of more than one run per game above their current scoring rate.
The simplest way for the Dodgers to do make progress toward such a leap would be to start hitting home runs. Last year, the Dodgers averaged 0.96 home runs per game. This year, with a similar lineup to last year's team, the Dodgers are only hitting 0.58 home runs per game. That's a pretty noteworthy difference.
To reach last year's total of 155 home runs, the Dodgers will have to hit 140 more - or 1.03 per game. Even if all 140 home runs were solo shots, that would have a huge effect on getting the Dodger offense out of its hole.
As predictable as this season has been - good pitching, bad hitting - the Dodgers remain a mystery team. They are not doomed to failure. An improved offense is necessary - but it's not a pipe dream. The power potential is there.
The obvious fear is that even if the hitting improves, the pitching will falter. But in looking at the stats, while I honestly don't see how the hitting can get any worse, the pitching can still improve. The ERA of the Dodger starters is 3.83. And while the bullpen ERA is out-of-sight good, improvement by the starters should allow the relievers to remain effective, if not spectacular.
Monday, Shawn Green hit a long fly ball to the wall in right field. Vin Scully said that on a warmer night, that ball might have gone out. Shortly thereafter, Jim Thome blasted a ball through the cool air halfway up the left-field bleachers.
With all the other factors that are out there, I think the success of the Dodgers this season depends quite simply on reversing those two events.
Hope you like the new
Hope you like the new color changes and find the site easier to read. I still may tinker a little as I update the archive page, so if you have any comments, feel free to e-mail me at ShiftyJ@aol.com.
Where Dodgers Go To Die
The Arlington that the Texas Rangers play in isn't Arlington National Cemetery, but for ex-Dodgers, it might as well be.
Seemingly unable to help turn around the wayward Chan Ho Park, designated Park-catcher Chad Kreuter is being released by the Rangers. Kreuter had an OPS of .405 in 21 plate appearances with Texas.
Meanwhile, Park is 1-3 with a 7.16 ERA in six starts. He is averaging less than five innings per start, allowing 1.9 baserunners per inning and striking out only 2.5 batters per game.
Everyone questioned whether Park would thrive away from Dodger Stadium. My question is, would Park even have continued to thrive in Dodger Stadium. Based on his walk and strikeout totals, I'm really not sure. Is it possible that the largesse extended to Darren Dreifort saved the Dodgers an even worse fate? (Okay, so this isn't exactly a topic for Point-Counterpoint on 60 Minutes.)
Anyway, good ol' Orel Leonard Hershiser IV is the pitching coach squeezing the lemons at the Rangers rickety lemonade stand. So far in 2003, the Rangers' team ERA is 5.45 - behind the pace of last year's 5.15. The Rangers were 27th in ERA last year and are 27th today. And just think - Texas pitchers never have to face Alex Rodriguez.
Less than a week ago, I surmised that if the Dodgers went down to 11 pitchers, Larry Barnes would be the logical callup because the Dodgers need his potential punch with the bat more than they would need the versatility of Jason Romano.
Logical or not, the Dodgers went with Romano.
This move makes more sense with Dave Roberts hobbling about, but Roberts wasn't yet injured when the decision was made.
If Cora and Izturis stay healthy and above the lofty level of .200, will we see Joe Thurston before July, or even September? Probably not.
Congratulations to Kevin Millwood - who not only pitched a no-hitter, but had the good grace to pitch it against the Giants, and did it the day before a series against the Dodgers, which means he won't get to duplicate the feat in Dodger Stadium. That might have been a little too interesting.
Last season, Barry Bonds went 6-for-12 against the Phillies with three walks, two doubles, a home run and one strikeout. This weekend, thanks partially but not completely to Millwood, the Phillies held Bonds to a 1-for-11 performance, striking him out three times and not walking him once. Bonds doubled in the first game and was hit by a pitch in the second.
The odds aren't bad that the next time Bonds ventures to Veterans Stadium, it will be in the National League Championship Series.
Whiff it Good
I did some research this morning hoping to find a correlation between how often the Dodgers strike out at the plate and when they win. It didn't pan out the way I thought it would, but since I'm short on time this morning, I'm going to publish what I found anyway.
In their 12 victories, the Dodgers have averaged 6.22 strikeouts per nine innings.
In their 13 losses, the Dodgers have averaged 6.46 strikeouts per nine innings.
Not much of a difference.
While it's true that all three of the Dodgers' double-digit strikeout games have come in losses (including one in extra innings), the Dodgers have also had five losses in which they struck out five times or less.
Their best back-to-back performances in fewest strikeouts came April 4-5 (seven strikeouts total), April 10-11 (eight strikeouts total) and April 23-24 (eight strikeouts total). The Dodgers lost all six of those games.
If there's a lesson - and if there is, it's a surprising one - that lesson is not to get too frustrated when the Dodgers aren't making contact. It may not be all bad.
Some more strikeout trivia:
The Dodgers struck out eight times in each of their first two games of the season. Since then, they haven't had back-to-back games of more than six strikeouts.
Their season high in strikeouts is 16, against the Padres on April 3.
In their victories, the Dodgers have been struck out in a narrow range - never more than eight times or less than three, no matter the length of the game.
Paul Lo Duca has the longest streak this season of plate appearances by a Dodger without striking out: 34, from April 1-10. Alex Cora is closing in on Lo Duca - Cora is currently riding a streak of 28 plate appearances without whiffing. Every Dodger regular has a streak of at least 10.
Ah, Three Rivers
My favorite thing about the Dodgers' trips to Pittsburgh over the years has been to hear Vin say, "Three Rivers Stadium, at the confluence of the Ohio, the Allegheny and the Monongahela." I'm telling you, you haven't lived unless you've heard the word "Monongahela" roll off Vinny's lips.
The Pirates don't play at Three Rivers any more, but that doesn't mean the rivers are gone. Vin still mentioned them Saturday - although in the wrong order. He mentioned Monongahela second - which didn't produce the same resonance. I hope to hear the vintage version the next time.
At the outset of Saturday's telecast, Vinny said that when a team is struggling, "and the Dodgers, at 10-13, certainly fall into that category," they look for a sign that things are turning around.
The 16-4 victory over the Giants seemed like it might be a sign, Vinny said, although that was followed by the low-scoring performances in Cincinnati. Was Friday night's five-run ninth-inning rally a sign, Vinny wondered.
It seems to me that you've truly turned the corner when you're no longer looking for a sign that you've turned the corner. After all, are the Yankees or Giants looking for signs? No. The Royals are probably looking for signs that they're a fluke, although none have really come ... yet.
Two nice victories by the Dodgers, though. If nothing else, they really continue to dominate the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, as I discussed April 18. But Saturday night, they made some progress in the middle innings as well.
And ... Shawn Green's home run ended the drought by Dodger starters at two weeks and gives him three for April - his total in 2002.
On January 13, I wrote that the Dodgers have been luckier the past two seasons than not, based on two things:
1) their record in one-run games
(Brief recap of what Pythagorean record means: Bill James devised a formula in which he found he could predict what a teamÕs won-lost record was simply by using two numbers Š runs scored and runs allowed that season Š and plugging them into a formula. Presumably, a team that won more than the formula predicted was lucky and/or overachieved, and vice versa.)
This year, one could argue that the Dodgers have not been lucky. They are 3-6 in one-run games, way off their 33-15 pace of last season. Their Pythagorean record indicates they should be 12-10 in 2003, not 9-13 as they are.
On the other hand - remove one 16-4 victory over the Giants, and the Dodgers go from outscoring opponents this season, 78-73, to underscoring them, 62-69. Their Pythagorean record then drops to 10-12.
Mind you, it's not too late for this to turn around. A home run would help.
OPS by batting slot, 2003:
#1 - Dodgers .799, Opponents .669
Total - Dodgers .671, Opponents .653
You can draw many conclusions from this chart. Here's my vote for most interesting one: Opponents' No. 8 hitters are performing better than any batting slot in the Dodger lineup. That's a problem.
Touch 'Em None
Adrian Beltre - no home runs since April 11
Robert on Roberts
Want some more detail on Dave Roberts, who leads off for the Dodgers but has no followers, who is the sparkplug in an engineless car, who is setting the table with no busboys to clear it?
Check out the new blog from a Dodger Thoughts reader named Robert: Priorities and Frivolities. As Robert wrote to me, "Although it's not entirely devoted to Dodger issues, I plan to write quite frequently on the team, since it seems that I spend almost every waking hour following them."
I can relate. Anyway, Robert has a two-part look at his near-namesake up on Priorities and Frivolities right now.
Our First Wild Card Update
The Dodgers are tied for ninth, three games out.
We've Had it Too Good
Would you believe Dodger fans have been spoiled the past eight years?
The last time the Dodgers had a record of below .500 at the end of April was 1994. The Dodgers have had only four losing Aprils since the World Series title year of 1988.
Here's the list:
The Dodgers are 9-12 including a March 31 victory, with six games left in April. They only have to win one more game to surpass the winning percentage of the 1993 April. But even if they win all six games, this will have been the Dodgers' worst April since 1998.
On the bright side, all four losing Aprils since 1988 have been followed by winning Mays. (Winning Mays - Willie Mays' lesser-known twin brother.)
On the gloomy side, all four losing Aprils have lead to season records of .509 or worse.
But remember - this is a correlation, not a causation. Please - no wagering.
Elsewhere ... Indignation
Honestly, I meant today to be only about Gagne and good things. I'm really sorry to have gone negative again.
Anyway, here's an interesting counterpoint to the Mota situation. From The Associated Press:
Daytona Cubs player injured protected osprey with ball
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- A minor league pitcher might face animal cruelty charges for injuring a protected bird with a thrown baseball.
Jae-kuk Ryu, a 19-year-old South Korean pitcher for the Class-A Daytona Cubs, knocked an osprey from its perch during pregame practice Monday night.
The male bird sustained a serious eye injury. Ospreys are recognized by the state as a species of special concern, meaning their habitats are vulnerable. Anyone who wounds or kills an osprey can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500 and 60 days in jail.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating and plans to submit its findings to the state attorney's office next week, spokeswoman Joy Hill said.
``We've received a number of calls from an outraged public. I just talked to one woman; she wants him deported,'' Hill said. ``People have zero tolerance for this kind of thing.''
The Chicago Cubs, who signed Ryu two years ago, are conducting their own investigation to determine how the pitcher will be punished.
``I can assure you it would be more than the average citizen will receive,'' farm director Oneri Fleita said. ``The average citizen certainly wouldn't be demoted or docked pay or fined or whatever it might be. It was certainly something we don't condone, and we will make sure that the matter is rectified to the best of our ability.''
The Cone of Silence
Who watched SportsNight? There was an episode once in which show producer Dana's brother, an NFL player, tested positive for steroids. He faced discipline from the league, plus possible criminal charges. Dana was furious with her brother for being so stupid, but anchorman Casey counseled her that while everyone is coming down on her brother, he could use one person to be his ally, his confidant.
It was a nice episode. A touch naive, perhaps, but heartwarming - in the good sense of the word, not the sappy one.
With Guillermo Mota's DUI arrest, Jim Tracy is turning heartwarming into heart-frying.
If press reports are true, Tracy does not plan to talk to Mota about the incident until after legal procedings are completed.
It's not that Tracy won't discipline Mota now - even assuming he (or the Dodger organization) will discipline him down the road if Mota is found guilty. Tracy won't talk to Mota about it now.
In the Daily News:
In the Times:
"Eventually, we'll find out. When we get to that point, then I'll get involved. I'll talk to him when the appropriate time comes. That's what I always do with my players. But we're not there yet."
You know, if I'm off-base on this, let me know. But am I crazy to think that an opportune way to learn the circumstances - as well as offer some perspective and advice - would be to talk to Mota? Regardless of how many yards we've run on the legal course? Are you telling me that just because a baseball manager is not a policeman, he has no business talking to a player about a personal problem?
Is this for real?
Tracy is being idiotic. Honestly, I'm hoping this is just misguided, false posturing for the media. I can't believe this is really his attitude toward a player who makes an outside-the-lines mistake.
Where's an Afterschool Special when you need one?
As for Today's Top Story ...
Adrian Beltre is Big Story No. 3 for the 2003 Dodgers. No. 1 was Kevin Brown's arrival at Spring Training. No. 2 was Joe Thurston. Boy, No. 1 and No. 2 are getting a lot of play these days.
Everyone interested in Adrian Beltre - me, the fans, the media, Jim Tracy, Dan Evans, Beltre himself - needs to just take a deep breath.
That's what I'm going to do.
Eric Gagne Is So Good
When Eric Gagne comes into pitch at Dodger Stadium, "Welcome to the Jungle" is blasted out of the inadequate single set of speakers behind center field, and an onslaught of blue and white cartoon Gagne heads overruns the scoreboard, in a hallucinatory montage not unlike the visions of Lisa Simpson after drinking tainted water on the "It's a Duff World" ride at Duff Gardens.
The entrance is ridiculous, and would be an embarrassment - if it weren't so wonderful. It captures what worked so well in the Wild Thing scenes with Charlie Sheen from the movie, Major League. Those scenes mocked the hoopla over a relief pitcher's entrance into game while marking a crowd's unmistakably sincere desperation and appreciation for a hero they know will bring victory home.
A home run by Shawn Green will send Dodger fans to their feet, but Eric Gagne is the only Dodger on the field today that breaks Dodger fans out of their shells and allows them to be the rarest of adjectives at a Dodger game - goofy and giddy.
Eric Gagne is so good that even though his entrance into a game borders on parody, it is a grand homage. They shouldn't be playing music from Guns N' Roses - they should be playing music from Braveheart. Or Waiting for Guffman.
Eric Gagne is so good that he should play himself on The Simpsons - and not necessarily in a baseball-themed episode. I see Homer hiring Gagne to be his stunt double.
Eric Gagne is so good that he could put out a disco single and even jaded audiophiles at Tower Records would line up to buy it.
Eric Gagne is so good that he could lift up his shirt on the pitcher's mound, squeeze his bellyfat, practice ventriloquism through his bellybutton, and enthrall audiences from Ontario to Ontario.
It doesn't mean Gagne is perfect. Just last night, in the middle of a fiery Jackson Pollock splattering of pitches that sent a dazed and confused Cincinnati Reds team to bed, Gagne walked raw rookie shortstop Felipe Lopez. But even the salt of the earth needs a dash of pepper once in a while.
Okay, last metaphor for a while. Here is the Gagne story, straight and true. And in fact, he is damn near perfect.
Last season, batters batted .189 against Gagne with an OPS of .535. Remarkable numbers. Atomic numbers.
This season, Gagne has split the atom. Through Tuesday, batters are batting .079 against Gagne with an OPS of .242.
He has faced 43 hitters this season. Three have singles. Three have walked, two intentionally. One has been hit by a pitch. That's all Gagne has allowed.
Gagne has struck out 20 of the 43 - nearly half. And yet, he has thrown only 151 pitches, averaging only 3.51 pitchers per batter. That means that aside from the 60 strikes that specifically account for his 20 strikeouts, Gagne has thrown only 91 other pitches to the 43 batters - an average of 2.11 extra pitches per batter. That figure accounts for all his balls, extra foul balls and those few hits. Amazing.
Since the beginning of 2002, Gagne has allowed runs in consecutive appearances only once: May 27 and May 29 against Milwaukee. He allowed one run in both, but had bigger leads to work with in both games and got saves in both games. Two runs in two games. That is Gagne's biggest slump.
Since the beginning of 2002, Gagne has allowed more than one run in a game only once. He allowed a two-run home run to Aaron Boone in Cincinnati, then hit Adam Dunn with a pitch. Dunn also scored, after Gagne was ejected for the game as if the HBP was retaliatory - even though it put the tying run at the plate. It was a condemnable event - but the only lowpoint in a season spent atop Mount Everest. (Okay, the metaphors are back.)
Tuesday night, Gagne returned to the scene of that crime and made things right again.
Eric Gagne is not out there day after day like Green, the Dodgers' most brilliant hitter but one who bebops frustratingly between blazing and arctic.
But without a doubt, Eric Gagne is the most exciting player on the Dodgers - because greatness is truly exciting. Greatness is liberating. And Gagne is great, every time out. It won't always be this way, but right now, it just is. Eric Gagne is Zeus on the mound, flinging lighting bolts at an awed civilization. Forgive the gushing of praise, but I am too tardy in expressing my appreciation for him.
Deion got Sheffield to stay
From Terence Moore in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
I want to thank two sites that gave me a nice mention Monday: View from the 700 Level and The Futility Infielder. Both have been around longer than Dodger Thoughts and do a great job, and it's gratifying that they would even notice my efforts here.
Jay Jaffe, aka The Futility Infielder, questioned my color scheme on this site, which will not surprise those who know me - and my lifelong colorblindness. I will be consulting the proper authorities for advice on this matter. And to both Jay and Michael - I'm all too aware about the Dodgers' poor start when I attend games this year...
Vagaries of Vegas
Got a good letter late last night:
Here's my response:
I basically agree with the writer's sentiment (he didn't give his or her name) of not getting excited about these players, but not so much the specific points. I don't think that I went overboard in saying that Barnes and Crosby are hitting well. Yes, stats are inflated in Las Vegas, but that doesn't account for a guy batting .489, as Crosby was (when I wrote about him - he's down to .481 now). That doesn't mean that Crosby is a major-league talent, but a 1.529 OPS is worth a note, I think.
Barnes' .921 OPS is more dubious in value. I've been skeptical about Barnes since the Dodgers signed him before Spring Training, but I still am not sure he wouldn't be called up before Romano. Romano does have versatility, but the Dodgers' problems have little to do with a lack of versatility. They need some punch, and I think they might just take a chance that Barnes could provide some of that.
You may have noticed that twice last week, Jim Tracy let pitchers bat for themselves in the late innings - for no apparent reason except to conserve pinch-hitters in case he needed them later in the game. I can't imagine Tracy wants to keep doing that. Adding Romano won't solve that problem as well as adding Barnes would - if the Dodgers drop down to 11 pitchers.
But again, I definitely agree with the writer's major point. There just isn't a whole lot of position help down in Las Vegas right now.
Just saw this in the middle of my posting process.
In the Times, we hear about the great progress Guillermo Mota is making. I myself made note of it the other day.
In the Daily News: Mota gets arrested for DUI
According to Brian Dohn's article, "Mota is not expected to be suspended or fined by the team. The offense is a misdemeanor and punishable by a maximum $1,200 fine and a suspended driver's license."
I'm sorry - am I reading that correctly? If Mota is guilty, the Dodgers don't have any team sanction at all against drunk driving? I'm not saying execute him, but nothing at all?
Drunk driving is an ongoing attempted assault with a deadly weapon. If for no other reason than bad citizenship, an employee of an organization who is guilty of drunk driving should be disciplined by the organization.
Mota will make approximately $300,000 this season from baseball. I'm not sure that a fine of 0.4 percent of his salary and a suspended license, with no additional punishment from the sport, will send Mota the proper message.
P.S. This morning, the headline on Dodgers.com is Dodgers start road trip on high note.
Meanwhile, over at Dodgers.com, Ken Gurnick interviews Tommy Lasorda about one of the most memorable comeback seasons in Dodger history - 1982.
Early readers of this site - Hi Greg, Hi Brax - will recall that I wrote about this season in two of my first entries (August 8 and August 12). The Dodgers wiped out a 10 1/2-game deficit to the Atlanta Braves in under two weeks.
However, Gurnick writes:
"That the Braves ultimately won the division on the last day of the 1982 season, when Joe Morgan's home run off Terry Forster at Candlestick Park eliminated the Dodgers, doesn't change the fact that the Dodgers have come back from way back before."
Maybe not in the literal sense. But the whole point of building a big lead is that it gives you a cushion. It allows you the luxury of a slump. No one enjoyed that the summer of '82 more than I did, but the fall of '82 brought a hard lesson. Even if you have time to come back, even if you can come back, you need to have enough to finish the job. You have to do more than outplay those teams
It's not even about taking things one game at a time. You have to take things one pitch at a time. You have to focus on simply doing your job better. Of course a comeback can happen - but you need to do tangible things to make it happen.
Lack of Due Process
In the Chicago Tribune today, Paul Sullivan calls the Cubs' acquisition of Mark Grudzielanek from the Dodgers "the early-season favorite for steal of the year."
He doesn't compare it straight-up to Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio, but he does use that all-time steal as a scene-setter for his story, which is saying something.
I think Sullivan knows that Grudzielanek won't necessarily finish the season batting .347 and tied for the league lead in runs scored, and he is correct in implying that the Cubs would have taken two brooms and a mop-to-be-named-later for Todd Hundley, much less someone who would spark the Cubs into first place at the start of the season. But even looking at the long term, Sullivan does very little to mitigate his enthusiasm for the trade that sent Grudzielanek and Eric Karros to the Dodgers for Hundley:
"Grudzielanek, who turns 33 on June 30, becomes a free agent after the season. If he continues to spark the lineup and Hill doesn't progress in Iowa, Hendry will have to make an important decision on the team's immediate future."
Isn't it a little soon to go into this kind of speculation, even for speculation's sake? The court of baseball requires a bit more than a three-week trial to determine whether a steal has been committed.
I will tip my cap to Grudzielanek, though. Though few expected anything of him, he has if nothing else come out strong in Chicago.
Now That's Progress
Sunday's outburst moved the Dodgers from 29th in baseball in scoring to 23rd.
I've added to the template a link to the Las Vegas 51s stats, courtesy of Baseball America.
Two guys who are hitting well are Larry Barnes (.980 OPS), who made a big impression in Spring Training, and Bubba Crosby (1.529 OPS), who did not. Crosby, who appears to be mainly DH-ing, is batting .489 and slugging 1.000 in 47 at-bats.
Not much to report from the other hitters. Joe Thurston is getting on base (.383 OBP) and playing errorless ball but has only two extra-base hits in 70 at-bats - not really enough to get him promoted, at least while Jolbert Cabrera is on his fluke power surge. Chin-Feng Chen's numbers are similar to Thurston's. No one else is really worth mentioning.
On the mound, the big news is that Wilson Alvarez threw six perfect innings in his first start. Steve Colyer is 1-0 with three saves and a 2.84 ERA in six games. Another castoff, Andrew Lorraine, a player I interviewed for the Daily News when he was at Hart High School, is 3-0 with a 1.62 ERA in three starts, but is averaging only 5 2/3 innings per game. Victor Alvarez and Bryan Corey have not allowed a run in a combined 17 2/3 innings.
Jason Romano, who made the Opening Day roster, has an OPS of .456. If the Dodgers go back to 11 pitchers, Barnes looks like the first callup, first baseman or not. But I guess we need to keep our eye on Crosby, a former first-round pick who has never done much in the minors to get excited about up to now.
I'm McGriff, Dammit
Fred McGriff, for all his other pluses and minuses, is proving to be an interesting quote. Disturbing, but interesting.
The Crime Dog is not the Humble Dog. He's been around too long for anyone to teach him any new tricks.
This weekend, Jim Tracy held a 20-plus minute meeting with the players to get them to refocus their hitting approach. Despite his four hits in Sunday's game, McGriff didn't profess to get much out of the discussion:
"It was the same thing that every manager says - we've got to play better," McGriff said. "We all know what we've got to do, you know what I'm saying? I know what I have to do. I have to play well and I have to hit. Other guys have to pitch well."
Fred also compared himself to Tiger Woods. He wasn't saying he was as good at ... well, anything, as Tiger Woods. But McGriff was saying that people need to be patient, because everyone has to make adjustments. Just like Tiger Woods.
Just like Zippy Chippy, too. No one really debates whether people have to make adjustments. The question is, can you make the adjustments?
By the way, if you ever hear McGriff interviewed on radio or television, tell me if he doesn't sound just like Eddie Murphy.
The Tommy Game
Oh how absurd it
- The Who, "You Didn't Hear It (1921)," from Tommy
I couldn't go to the game; it wasn't on TV; bad reception on radio was disturbing wife and baby; computer was in the other room.
I'm less excited about the unrealistic hitting outburst than the fact that, with all the doom and gloom, there were two big rallies last week.
I am excited that Dave Roberts has found a groove, working his way on base by hook or by crook or by nook or by the book.
I am concerned that no one but Jolbert Cabrera hits home runs.
I am excited that Hideo Nomo could survive an extra-base onslaught in the second inning to get a victory.
I am concerned that instead of improving, the Dodger starting pitching is regressing.
And what about this headline in the Times Sunday?
Brown Weakened by Mystery Illness
Just the kind of thing you want to read with SARS floating around. What's next?
San Francisco Giants Harvesting Plutonium?
Worth About $1.5 Million on the Open Market
How'd you like to have a player who, with 617 at-bats in a 162-game season, batted .233 with a .655 OPS, 144 hits, 12 home runs, 54 RBI, 58 runs, 30 doubles, two triples, 60 walks, 123 strikeouts, 13 stolen bases in 19 attempts?
That player is the Dodgers. Those are the stats they have so far this season.
Remarkably, the Dodger stats are just about identical to their opponents. The Dodgers are 144 for 617; opponents are 144 for 618. Both have batting averages of .233 and on-base percentages of .308. The Dodgers have 12 home runs; opponents have 13. The Dodgers have 214 total bases; opponents have 213. The Dodgers have an OPS of .655; opponents are at .652.
However, the Dodgers are 7-11; opponents are 11-7.
Get Busy Living, or Get Busy Dying
Jason Reid in the Times today questioned Jim Tracy's decision to pitch to Neifi Perez with runners on second and third and two out in the second inning, with the pitcher on deck.
Folks, if you can't get out Neifi Perez, one of the worst hitters in baseball, in a clutch situation, you're probably not going to win a ballgame. And if you're afraid you can't get him out, instead walking him and accelerating your progress through the order toward Barry Bonds, you might as well give up trying.
Tracy made the right decision in that situation. With Bonds on the other team, you can't afford to pitch around anyone else.
Reader Poll Results
The overwhelming winner of the past week's reader poll, asking for your favorite Dodger memory since November 1988, was October 3, 1993, when the Dodgers beat the San Francisco Giants, 12-1, to eliminate the Giants from playoff contention on the final day of the season.
As a "favorite memory," it is a bittersweet one of course, because the Dodgers themselves finished 81-81 that season, 23 games behind division champion Atlanta. As one respondent wrote, "I'd say it's pretty sad that my favorite Dodger moment since Gibby's home run has more to do with the Giants' failure than it does with the Dodgers' success. Sigh."
Still, besides knocking out the Giants, that game simply featured the Dodgers at their best. The Dodgers led, 3-1, going into the bottom of the fifth, then broke the game open when soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Mike Piazza hit the first of two home runs. Pre-rookie Raul Mondesi also homered. Ten different Dodgers in all had hits, none made errors, and Kevin Gross pitched a complete game. And after 162 games, the Dodgers left the field feeling great - and had every reason to be optimistic about the future.
Oh yeah, and Barry Bonds went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts and no walks.
As for my favorite moment, believe it or not, Dodger fortunes were at an even lower ebb. It came on July 3, 1992, with the team was thick in the middle of its worse season in eight decades, as a fly ball from the bat of Philadelphia shortstop Mariano Duncan rose through the air.
On the mound, Dodger pitcher Pedro Astacio, about to complete a three-hit, 10-strikeout, 2-0 shutout in his major league debut, began jumping up and down like he was about to win the World Series. As it was, he was winning a meaningless game for a last place team. To this day, however, it remains the purest piece of exuberance I have ever seen on a baseball field, and reminded me that even in down times, wonderful things can happen.
Something to keep in mind these days, to be sure.
Thanks to all who participated in the poll.
Observations Down at the 7-11
1) Andy Ashby certainly pitched the best first inning the Dodgers - if not the major leagues - have seen all season. In fact, after only eight pitches, Ashby had retired three batters and had Barry Bonds down 0-2 in the top of the second. And then, it just spiraled out.
2) Tried the new burrito being offered this year. It was transcendently bad. Fortunately, I got a dog to back it up.
3) Jolbert Cabrera blasted a home run in the second inning, but kept his modesty. He raced around those bases.
4) I could see on the left-field fence scoreboard that the Angels were down early, 6-1. I never doubted that the Angels could come back. Meanwhile, as the Dodgers fell behind in front of me ... different story.
5) There are holes in the roof above us in the Loge Level - that roof actually being the bottom of the Club Level. I've looked up at them for years; never known why they were there. Anyway, inside those holes are birds' nests. During the game, birds come and go in and out of them as they please. Paging Hitchcock.
6) I was prepared to research whether runners had trouble stealing on Damian Moss, because Dave Roberts twice led off innings and didn't run on him. But then, finally, Roberts went and stole second.
7) The pitch tracker beneath the left-field scoreboard spells fastball as "FAST BALL." With a space. Guys - it's not 1895.
8) In a sixth-inning double-switch, the Dodgers removed Brian Jordan and left in Fred McGriff, indicating that they were giving up on the game right then.
9) My wife thinks the Dodgers should add fresh hot cookies and candy bars to the menu. I have no objections.
10) Okay, I admit it - still having issues. Ron Coomer hit a long fly ball to right field in his second at-bat, and I rooted for it to stay in the park. Not to worry - it did.
11) With no fresh hot cookies or candy bars to purchase, my wife went up and got some cotton candy. Now, some people are nauseated by cotton candy. I don't happen to be one of them. But this cotton candy was nothing less than defective. It tasted like burnt Diet Coke. Something seriously went wrong with it. I actually told my wife she had to return it - and I never do things like that. It was, unbelievably, worse than the burrito.
12) Guillermo Mota looks great on the mound. Clearly, the Piazza incident has done little to stunt his development. But when he almost hit Andres Gallaraga with a pitch, I wondered how the opposition is going to react the first time Mota hits a batter - however unintentional. I hope people cut him some slack.
13) A guy and a gal stood in aisle 112 for the better part of an inning, hitting on each other like this was a pickup scene - but no one complained about them blocking the view. Guess they were more interesting. The girl looked sort of hot, and sort of drunk. Fair enough.
14) Moss didn't even look that good on the mound, but the Dodgers barely touched him. They just don't hit very many line drives. Everyone needs glasses.
15) Is this Adrian Beltre's future? Raul Mondesi has found himself - with the Yankees. He's got 20 hits, five home runs, six doubles and seven walks in 16 games. His OPS is 1.088. The Yankees, by the way, have outhomered their opponents, 33-4!
16) Dodger starters went the entire week without hitting a home run. Reserves Cabrera and Todd Hundley were the only ones to do it.
17) Beltre was double-switched out of the game in the middle of the fifth inning, and frankly, the situation and his downcast look led me to believe for the first time that the Dodgers may be ready to, at a minimum, send him to Las Vegas.
18) Arizona is breathing down our necks for fourth place now. However, Curt Schilling had an appendectomy, of all things. I remember a few years ago, Brady Anderson was diagnosed with appendecitis. He declined to have surgery, which stunned me - because I thought that at the time that appendecitis was fatally toxic if not treated. Frankly, what happened with Beltre didn't dissuade me of that. But I never heard of Anderson having anything done, or running into any problems about it.
19) A 7-11 record isn't the end of the world - but the Dodgers really just looked like an inferior team all the way around Saturday night. My thoughts did turn to 2004, and the thought of unloading some of our few marketable players for the future. I guess I have to keep in mind that right now, almost everyone but our spectacular bullpen is performing so below their capabilities, that the Dodgers aren't dead yet. But they looked like my C-league softball team from a few years back. We were bad.
20) Angels win, 7-6. There you go. L.A. needs a rally animal.
If you are seeing any garble in the text on this site, please e-mail ShiftyJ@aol.com.
Todd Hundley, Hero
What can you say? Boy, did we need that one.
For whatever reason, Hundley has been to the plate 19 times this year and only been retired nine of those times.
Thursday night's game was the first the Dodgers really stole this year. It's their third come-from-behind victory of the season, but in their previous two, their biggest deficit had been one run.
Down three with two out in the eighth inning - that's a real deal steal.
What's interesting is that the Dodgers have been a dominant team in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings of a ballgame this season.
Here is the year-to-date score-by-innings:
Opponents ..... 463 988 320 203 0 - 48
Thanks mainly to the bullpen (against Eric Gagne, batters are hitting .065 with an OPS of .207!), and despite their pinch-hitting woes, the Dodgers have outscored opponents in the seventh, eighth and ninth, 23-5.
The Dodgers' problem has been in the middle innings - innings usually pitched by the Dodger starters. The Dodgers have been outscored, 25-11, which means they are allowing more than 0.5 runs per inning in the middle of the game. Out of 48 possible middle innings, opponents have pushed across runs on 16 different occaisons - twice as often as the Dodgers.
I actually had told myself last night that I wasn't going to talk about the starting pitching again today, much less make any complaints when by and large, it has been very good. So this is not a complaint - just a point of emphasis.
If I'm a pitching coach with the Dodgers, I want to pay special attention to my pitchers as they pass into the middle innings. You don't want to strain the bullpen, but you don't want to get in the habit of leaving the starters in for one hitter too long.
See, you can complain all you want about the poor offense, but it's a reality. The Dodgers haven't won a game this season when they've allowed more than three runs. So just because allowing three runs in six innings may be considered a quality start by the rest of baseball, that standard simply doesn't apply to the Dodgers. They need to hold the opposition to less. They need to hold the opposition to three runs over nine innings - and you can't expect the bullpen to pitch shutout ball the entire season.
The Dodgers have made a point of stockpiling pitching - both in quality and in quantity (12 on the roster as we speak). The pitchers must carry the load. Just like in the 1960s, if need be.
Maybe it's just the contrarian in me, that has to talk about pitching when all the sane people are talking about hitting. But at the risk of hammering this point ad nauseum, all I'm saying is, set a high standard. Just because we are need to squeeze out a lot more offense doesn't necessarily mean that our pitching is as good as it can be.
I tend to doubt that we can continue relying on Todd Hundley to save the day.
It sure would be nice if the Dodgers could get some hitting, though. Hundley's home run was the Dodgers' first in 39 innings.
The Dodgers let Ishii bat in the bottom of the seventh, then did not send him out to the mound for the top of the eighth. No explanation has been given. ...
Until the ninth inning, the intrepid Dodger Stadium scoreboard operators had the seventh and eighth spots in the Padre lineup flip-flopped. ...
Bonds to Rest
From The Associated Press:
Barry Bonds will get two days off before playing on Friday in Los Angeles. "He's sore,'' Giants manager Felipe Alou said. "I think he needs the days off. A couple times last night, I noticed that he was limping around in the dugout. He's been on the bases a lot and all that running that will really take it out of you.''
Other Giants news:
Alou's biggest concern during the Giants 13-1 start has been overworking the bullpen. Only Kurt Ainsworth has pitched eight innings since the beginning of the season. (JW note - guess who that was against.) "I'm worried that I may be using the bullpen too much. I want my starters to go much longer than they're averaging. ... RHP Jason Schmidt is still back in Washington visiting with his ailing mother. He'll rejoin the team in Los Angeles in time to make his scheduled start on Friday. ... Ray Durham returned to the starting lineup (Wednesday) for the first time since straining his groin on Sunday.
Reader Poll Deadline
I'm going to close submissions to the first Dodger Thoughts Reader Poll on Friday night, with plans to announce the results over the weekend. Once more, that question is:
What is your favorite Dodger memory since November 1988?
E-mail your replies to DodThoughtsPoll@aol.com.
The Good Humor People
I've been planning on making this entry for a few days now, but worried all the while that once I do, you will all abandon me.
But in the spirit of "the more, the merrier" ...
Sometimes I try to be funny or clever on this site. While this is going on, there are other sites that actually are funny and clever.
(And by the way, if you like the Score Bard, then you absolutely must purchase O Holy Cow!: The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto.)
3) DodgerBlues.com (http://www.dodgerblues.com). Though I consider myself plenty cynical, every once in a while I think they're too cynical over there. But I quibble - and more often, I'm jealous of what they do. Very often, they are dead on, not to mention dead-on hilarious, such as the picture they put up after Tuesday's loss to the Padres - priceless. (It's still up there as I write this, along with their latest poll in which you can vote for the crappiest Chad ever to play for the Dodgers: Kreuter, Fonville, Curtis or Hermansen. You also shouldn't miss "The Crappy Brother.")
Okay, hope you enjoy these sites. And you all come back now, y'hear?
Call the Department of Transportation ...
... because there's a missing stop sign at Elysian Park and Stadium Way.
Glenn Hoffman - Glenn, Glenny - you know I've defended you before. And yes, the Dodgers are struggling to score runs. But part of the reason they are struggling to score runs is we keep having runners thrown out on the bases. Do you even notice that there are people in the outfield who can throw the ball with speed and accuracy?
In the sixth inning of Wednesday's then-scoreless game, Dave Roberts was on second base with one out. Shawn Green hit a line drive to right field. For better or worse, Roberts hesitated to see if the ball would drop. But as he approached third, Hoffman waved Roberts in. The throw beat Roberts to the plate. But catcher Gary Bennett couldn't hang on, and Roberts scored.
Do you wave someone in hoping that the catcher will drop a near-perfect throw?
Two batters later - still only one out - with Green and Brian Jordan on base, Fred McGriff doubled. Jordan came around third. Hoffman waved him in. The throw beat Jordan to the plate. Jordan knocks Bennett into Chinatown.
Do you wave someone in hoping that the collision at the plate will score him?
I'm not going to argue with results. (And yes, Jordan's hit had every bit of the cathartic effect he said it did.) But I am going to ask whether we can start to see just a little more restraint from Coach Hoffman.
Psychological Dilemma P.S.
When backup third baseman Ron Coomer came up each of the past two nights, I had twinges of not wanting him to do well and create a third-base controversy. But ultimately, by the time the pitch came, I was rooting for him, on the theory that good things will come from good things. And on the additional theory that there was no need to worry that he would do well.
Coomer did have the Dodgers' hardest-hit ball of the first five innings Wednesday, but grounded out with one out, the infield in and a runner on third in the sixth, on his way to an 0-for-4 night and a .100 season average.
Well, he tried. So did I.
Ishii Success Plays Head Games on Writer
I worry about losing my credibility.
When a pitcher throws seven shutout innings, allowing three hits and three walks, I should be able to praise him, shouldn't I?
How can I defend .204-hitting Adrian Beltre one day, and in the same week, still raise questions about Kazuhisa Ishii after Wednesday night's winning performance?
Ishii only had to face 24 batters in his seven innings (thanks to three double plays). Ishii was even ahead of most of the hitters he faced, getting first-pitch strikes on 15.
Yet from my seat at the stadium, Ishii just didn't look that good to me. He doesn't have exceptional speed on his fastball, and I don't detect any remarkable movement on most of his pitches, either. But even if that's true, and not merely guesswork from an observer who is by no stretch a pitching expert, however bad Ishii may have looked, Beltre has looked just as bad.
And yet Beltre's the one I defend. Why?
Perhaps it's that by comparison, I see other Dodger pitchers doing so well, whereas I see so few hitters doing much of anything, so I don't see how you can't be more hopeful for Beltre.
Perhaps it's because I feel Ishii has gotten lots of slack during his 1 1/6 seasons with the Dodgers. No one seemed to notice that his ERA was high despite a winning record last season, and everyone seems to think that placement in the bullpen is out of the question for him. Whereas Beltre seems to have been on the hot seat ever since sympathy for his near-death appendecitis faded into the Chavez Ravine gloaming.
Maybe it's nothing more than rooting for the underdog.
Ultimately, I believe that both Ishii and Beltre can be assets for the Dodgers. But in this head of mine, I have much more patience for Beltre. Ishii falls behind a hitter, and I slump in my seat, cringing. Beltre falls behind a pitcher, and I lean forward in my seat, hoping.
Like it says on the upper-right-hand corner of this page, some of these issues may be psychological. I'm always trying to see my way clear in writing objectively about the Dodgers, but it's an ongoing process.
Anyway, it was a fun game last night and I'm glad that Ishii did well.
More Great Pitching?
Hideo Nomo is again largely being portrayed as the victim of poor run support. But after the second inning, he did not pitch well.
In the third, Nomo allowed two hits and a walk but was saved when Jake Peavy bunted into a double play.
In the fourth, Nomo allowed a home run and a double, forcing Jim Tracy to have him intentionally walk the No. 8 hitter on the Padres, Gary Bennett, to get out of the inning.
In the fifth, Nomo allowed three consecutive singles for a run, and would have allowed more if not for his unbelievable catch of a scorching line drive by Rondell White. To be fair, Nomo should get credit for that catch, but still, it's hard to praise the pitching.
In the sixth, Nomo allowed a walk and single. He had Ramon Vasquez down 0-2, nearly struck him out at 2-2, but ended up walking him and then Mark Loretta to force in the Padres' third run.
Totals for the game: 29 batters faced by Nomo, 15 baserunners allowed.
I'll make the same point today that I made Saturday. No, the offense isn't good, but the pitching isn't so flawless either. Everyone has room for improvement (except, so far, most of the bullpen) and it won't help the Dodgers if all the pressure comes down on the batters.
Doing worse than any Dodger batter: Mike Piazza.
Piazza is 5 for 34 this season with three walks, no extra-base hits and no RBI. His OPS is .363. And that's with a 2-for-7 hot streak in his past two games. Following his season-opening suspension, Piazza was Motavated to start the season 2 for 27.
The New York Times has an informative feature today on Piazza's struggles, and Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News writes about him as well, asking the Mets the same question that Dodger fans with good memories may recall from early 1998: "Can they still expect to ever build a championship team around Piazza?"
Carded at the Concession Stand
Last night at the game, I got popcorn to go with my hot dog. On the bag were the words, "Free Baseball Card Inside."
What I expected to find was the baseball card equivialent of a Cracker Jack toy surprise, like a washable butterfly tattoo.
Instead, I found a Fleer 1985 Jesse Orosco, and a Topps 1987 Randy Niemann.
I mean, isn't this pretty random?
For a moment, I thought that the value of the cards might exceed the price I paid for the popcorn. Of course, food is so expensive at Dodger Stadium that I'd probably have to find a Mickey Mantle for that to happen. Still, as surprises go, this perhaps was the most pleasant one of the night.
Randy Niemann, by the way, I have no recollection of. But on this card, he was coming off a 1986 World Championshp season with the Mets in which he went 2-3 with a 3.79 ERA. He only played one more season, appearing in six games with Minnesota, finishing his career 16 years ago.
Niemann is 17 months and six days older than Orosco.
Section H. Foul Shoe
Apparently, this is the rulebook the Dodgers have been using this season.
Better headlines for this item would probably be:
- but somehow, Foul Shoe struck me just the right way.
I could go on and on, but I'll try to stop with this: Check out Rule 11, Section B. Did you know that heckling can get you a year's suspension from the National Horseshoes Pitchers Association? None of that "We want a pitcher, not a belly-itcher" on the horseshoe court.
Adrian Beltre Isn't the Problem
Teeth bared, eyes flaring, nostrils quivering, claws pincing, elbows doing that funky chicken thing, the wolves are out for Adrian Beltre.
Two weeks into the season, Beltre is batting .204 with a team-high four errors. In this lousy economy, you could call him a walking Nasdaq, except Beltre's stopped walking. With only two free passes in 13 games, his on-base percentage is .245.
You don't need any more of the backstory from me. Everyone knows he's still only 24. Everyone is tired of waiting for him to improve. Everyone looks at him and sees regression. You don't need stats for that latter observation - almost every time I've seen him at the plate this year, he's looked out of his element - unless that element is Flailium.
Beltre calls to mind a weaker Raul Mondesi, a gifted but flawed player who seemed to give up on mitigating those flaws - the difference being that Mondesi's plateau was much higher than Beltre's. Admittedly, we're not talking Everest here in either case.
I understand the frustration with Beltre. But I don't see the point of fans or the media knocking him without offering proposals - reasonable, considered proposals - about what to do about him.
The first option is - swallow hard - continue waiting.
As I illustrated on February 25, it is not unusual for a player on Beltre's career path to regress after a promising start, and still turn things around in time to have a lengthy All-Star career.
Also, as difficult as it is to keep in mind, we are only two weeks into the season. People need to chill out. This is too soon to give up on a player, even one you're most impatient with. One year ago today, Shawn Green was batting .229 with two home runs, two doubles and four walks. At the plate, he looked like Mr. Magoo. (What's eerie is, he talked like him, too...)
You want to bench Beltre for a couple of days and try to get him settled, focused, scared, energized, lobotomized? Fine.
However, if you're going to give up on him, you had better have either:
-a better replacement in mind and, and, and the means to get him.
A better replacement, as if I need to say it, does not mean Ron Coomer - and it didn't mean Tyler Houston in 2002. To replace Beltre with a better player would almost certainly require the Dodgers to trade one of their good starting pitchers. No, not Andy Ashby. You have to be willing to give up Hideo Nomo or Odalis Perez along with Beltre to get that new third baseman. I might give up Nomo, just because he's further along in his career, for an exceptional player. In which case, Ashby becomes your fifth starter, and you move on. That's risky business.
The other alternative is to trade Beltre for good prospects, move Alex Cora to share third base with Coomer and bring up Joe Thurston to play second base. Sacrifice this season to build for the future. I'm willing to do this too, but somehow, I don't suspect those who have been unable to endure the needlepricks of the first two weeks will endorse this kind of open-heart surgery.
Look, the Dodgers don't have a good offense. They just don't. They didn't have one in March when guys like Coomer and Terry Shumpert and Calvin Murray batted .350, and they probably won't have one in September. Beltre and Fred McGriff will certainly improve over the course of the season, but at the same time, Paul Lo Duca ain't gonna hit .364 all year. Everyone will find their level, more or less. And that level, collectively, is somewhere around Death Valley. Badwater Basin.
These are the Los Angeles Dodgers. We can cry all we want about not increasing the payroll to sign Jim Thome, but the fact is, it's not unreasonable for a team that has allocated $117 million on a year's worth of salaries, for good or for ill, to want to draw the line somewhere.
I still believe in Adrian Beltre. I don't see how you can't. He might never become Mike Schmidt, but I look at him and I still see a 24-year-old with potential, and who even now is, at worst, the fourth-best hitter on this entire team.
Beltre isn't the problem. Beltre is a symptom of the 2 Million Leagues Under the Sea that the Dodgers sunk as an organization and how protracted the surfacing process is. If the Dodgers could do better than Beltre, they would. But they mortgaged their future several years ago with ill-fated trades and salary commitments - Kevin Malone and others driving the team off a cliff like James Dean - and this is the picture of a team paying that debt.
Any winning that comes during this period will be an unexpected dividend. It could happen - you can't name four other teams that are guaranteed to take all four National League playoff spots. But it's just not going to be that easy, or likely.
Sure, be upset when Beltre dives like Mondesi at a 3-2 pitch a foot off the plate with the tying runs on base. But don't let it take you off the cliff - and hope that it doesn't take Dan Evans off the cliff either.
Too Good to be True?
A hot start over the first two weeks of the season is no more a guarantee for the big prize than winning the New Hampshire primary, but you have to admit, these are pretty heady times to be a Dodger fan.
Honestly, even though some people thought that this would be the year the Dodgers finally put it all together, how many thought that Los Angeles would start the season with an 11-2 record?
HereÕs a quick look back at how it all happened:
3/31 Dodgers 8, Diamondbacks 0
The opening series against Arizona was stunning. A solid rout of Randy Johnson in the opener, then a shocking eighth-inning comeback from a 4-0 deficit against Curt Schilling in the second game (thank goodness coach Glenn Hoffman held baserunner Shawn Green at third base on Fred McGriffÕs double, allowing Brian JordanÕs sacrifice fly to bring home the winning run). The Dodgers capped their season-opening sweep with the best of omens: a strong season debut by Kevin Brown.
4/03 Dodgers 1, Padres 0
A bit of a reality check came in the series against San Diego. Kazuhisa Ishii struggled in his first start but managed to wriggle out of a rough fourth inning unscathed, and the bullpen held up the rest of the way. Two lackluster losses followed that game, followed by the evaporation of a three-run lead in the series finale. But the weary Dodgers pushed a run across in the fourth extra frame, and went back to Los Angeles with a 5-2 record. Still, at 1Z games behind the 6-0 Giants, you couldnÕt get too excited.
4/07 Dodgers 3, Diamondbacks 2
Taking advantage of not having to face Johnson or Schilling a second time, the Dodgers swept the reeling Diamondbacks for a second time. They nearly blew a three-run lead for the second game in a row (at the home opener), but held on, before timely hitting and solid pitching gave them two more victories. Meanwhile, the Giants finally lost. Now, it was off to San Francisco: the 8-2 Dodgers against the 8-1 Giants.
4/10 Dodgers 2, Giants 1
Three exciting, energizing one-run victories Š amazing! Marquis Grissom makes a bid to hurt his former teammates in the series opener, but his long fly ball is hauled in by Dave Roberts. Meanwhile, Adrian Beltre finally showed signs of disciplined hitting. His second-inning RBI single with two on gave the Dodgers an early lead in the first game Š and though the Giants tied it in the bottom of the inning, Paul Lo DucaÕs run on a Tim Worrell wild pitch won it. In the second game, after Odalis Perez left in the top of the sixth with an ankle injury, BeltreÕs ninth-inning home run won it. And Sunday night, of course Š following SaturdayÕs rainout - in the 12th inning, Todd Hundley raced from first to third on a LoDuca single and scored when Marvin BenardÕs wild heave from right field went into the Dodger dugout. Eric Gagne stayed in to pitch his third inning of relief and seal the victory that put the Dodgers 2Z up on San Francisco, and if you can believe it, eight games up on the Diamondbacks.
Indeed, thereÕs much to celebrate with the Dodgers. The team ERA is 3.02, fourth in the major leagues. The starting rotation, PerezÕ ankle injury aside, looks healthy, and the bullpen has been almost sensational. At the plate, the hitting has been timely.
But we shouldnÕt let the fast start mask some real concerns with this team. The team still has trouble getting on base Š only after SundayÕs game did the Dodger on-base percentage cross the .300 mark. Hundley, of all people, is second on the team in walks with seven, despite playing only five games. Power is sporadic, and there is a real lack of team speed. In short, the DodgersÕ margin for error has been razor-thin. A few inches here or there, and that sterling 11-2 record could just as easily be, say, 5-8.
Bottom line: the Dodgers should not get caught up in their record. Today is April 14. Kansas City is 9-1; Arizona is 2-10. Luck is gonna change. There are definite strengths to this team - you don't win seven games in a row by simple twists of fate - but yes indeed, there are weaknesses as well. As the Dodgers return home to face the Padres and Giants again this week, they just need to focus on trying to do better.
Hey readers -
What is your favorite Dodger memory since November 1988?
E-mail your replies to DodThoughtsPoll@aol.com.
(Don't worry - this isn't an attempt to accumulate your e-mail addresses and sell them. They're safe with me.)
Those of you who read this site but aren't Dodger fans, at least try to keep your sarcastic remarks clever. In fact, maybe that guidance should go for everyone. :)
I'll publish the results soon...
Quality Quality Starts
Okay, I do have to add this:
As Jim Tracy and the media keep pointing out, the Dodgers have had only two games in which they did not have a quality start.
However, if the Dodgers keeping focusing on how many quality starts they've been getting, they're not going to go anywhere.
Somehow, someone years ago defined a "quality start" as allowing three runs or less while pitching six innings or more.
A quality start happens to be exactly what Odalis Perez did Friday night against the Giants: six innings, three runs.
That's a 4.50 ERA. That's not good enough against the Giants in their home stadium, a pitcher's paradise.
Perez is a fine pitcher, but allowing three runs in six innings is no better than a 1-for-4 at the plate. And when Perez gave up a two-run single to fortysomething Andres Gallaraga with the score tied, 1-1, in the bottom of the sixth, that's just like a hitter striking out with runners in scoring position.
The Dodgers spent time in first place last season because Perez, and Hideo Nomo, and even Omar Daal, stepped up and gave more than a quality start. They gave what you might call a quality quality start - they would go out there, pitch seven or more innings and allow one run or fewer.
This year, Perez, Kazuhisa Ishii and Darren Dreifort have been mediocre starting pitchers. They have been better than most of the Dodger hitters, but their losses can be attributed to their own pitching as well as the lack of run support.
Twice this week, the Dodger pitching staff was given three-run leads by its hitters. That's enough for a win. Both times, the staff blew the leads.
Pitching is clearly the Dodger strength. But let's not allow some phony measuring device like quality starts to give the pitchers more credit than they deserve or excuse them from trying to do better.
Look Down on Thy Neighbor
Time to feel better, everyone. Let's talk about the Arizona Diamondbacks and Detroit Tigers.
ESPN has a strange feature on its site which takes the RPI used to rate college basketball teams and applies it to baseball. By this measure, the Dodgers are 28th out of 30 teams - ahead, only, of the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks.
So let's talk about them.
The Diamondbacks are 2-7, 7 1/2 games behind San Francisco. Randy Johnson of the 2-7 Diamondbacks is 0-3 with an 8.31 ERA. (Fact is, he still is striking out many and walking few, so he's mostly he's probably been unlucky, but ain't that about time.) Curt Schilling is 0-1 with a 6.57 ERA.
The Tigers are 0-9, 8 1/2 games behind Kansas City. They are batting .140 this season with an OPS of .399. In nine games, they have 14 runs. In nine games, they have two home runs, complemented nicely by their one stolen base. In nine games, they have had two leads all season.
Oh - and against lefthander Kirk Reuter, Mike Kinkade should have started Friday night instead of Fred McGriff.
Subj: Fans can't Wait Till Next Year. Take it to 'em NOW!
Got this e-mail - quite an e-mail, I'd say - on the eve of the Giants series:
Jon, I just clicked to your thoughts from BB Primer. As I read your posts It game me in a clear image, the difference between a Giant fan and a Dodger fan these days.
I wrote back. I'm worried that I sounded defensive. Maybe I was. Anyway, I just disagreed with some - not all - of what Thomcat wrote. Here's my reply:
Thanks for your wild and interesting - Kerouacesque, maybe? - e-mail - a lot to ponder. I don't think there's as big a difference between a Giant fan and a Dodger fan these days, as there is between the Giants and the Dodgers. One team is playing very well, the other a little less so. That matters. I've mainly lived in Los Angeles, but spent four years in the Bay Area and, not insignificantly, also have a father who grew up in Chicago and is a lifelong baseball fan. Los Angeles has known more good times in baseball than San Francisco or Chicago over the past 45 years, but the last several years have been frustrating. I don't think any city has cornered the market on being suspicious of success, or being susceptible to depression when things go bad.
I don't know if I'm a typical Dodger fan, but I can tell you that I don't spend all my time complaining and whining - either as I walk down the street or on Dodger Thoughts. (And I sure as hell hope you don't think of me as a poor man's T.J. Simers.) I've found plenty to be excited about - past, present and future. What I do try is not to get too excited by false highs or too crushed by false lows. I get emotional about the Dodgers, but I also am trying to find the truth about them, understand them, have perspective. I might wish the Dodgers were more fun today, but that doesn't mean I don't think they won't be fun tomorrow. I think it's less black-and-white than your letter intimates to me. I think there can be such a thing as a cynical optimist.
The thing you write that I agree with the most is this: I do think that it can only help the Dodgers if the support of their fans were less reactive and more proactive. I'd like to see more cheers before the run crosses the plate, and fewer boos when it doesn't. I'd like to see more patience and understanding. Again, I don't think that means you give up the right to wish for something better, but it does mean that you recognize the bigger picture - that vocalizing your disapproval isn't as valuable as vocalizing your encouragement. I tell you one thing - if it were me, the support would only help and the booing would only hurt.
Bottom line: traffic aside, you bet I feel lucky to get to go with my family to a Dodger game.
What do you think?
"It's amazing. I can't remember a game where there have been so many first-pitch strikes. The Dodgers have been behind all night."
The Dodgers sent 32 batters to the plate in Thursday's 2-1 loss to the Giants. Six batters got first-pitch balls. Six swung at the first pitch. Twenty fell behind in the count, 0-1.
Well, as we learned, Game 2 of a series is when the Dodgers are supposed to shine.
In Other Debates ...
Everything I'd like to say about The Great Bullpen Controversy of 2003, and much more, can be found in the latest edition of Steven Goldman's clever Pinstriped Bible.
The Hall of Fame vs. Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins
I have gone out of my way to keep references to the war from this site - and not because I don't care about what is happening over there. I think you can understand.
I do invite you to read the many responses on Baseball Primer to the decision by Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey to cancel a celebration of Bull Durham.
I will limit the print version of my many thoughts to this. Displaying tolerance of different opinions - displaying our humanity - can only encourage the positive treatment of the United States of America and its citizens.
Last year, the Dodgers were:
24-28 in the first game of a series
37-15 in the second game of a series
After losing their season opener in 2002, the Dodgers won the first game of a series seven consecutive times. However, the Dodgers ultimately lost more first games than they won.
Win or lose, however, the Dodgers were awesome in the second game of a series, playing .712 ball.
IÕve read in some places that the Dodgers werenÕt very good at going for the kill Š i.e., a sweep. Considering the law of averages, though, I donÕt think a 7-9 record in third games after winning the first two games of a series is all that bad. And though they were 0-2 when going for four-game sweeps, obviously, they were one win away from being respectable in that category.
HereÕs the Dodger record for 2001:
23-30 in the first game of a series
32-20 in the second game of a series
Hmm É 2001 is pretty damn similar to 2002. Still losing more of their first games; still playing over .600 ball in second games. And look at the resemblance in third games. Eerie...
Is there any value to be taken from this other than the trivial kind? Maybe not. I do think that the improvement in results from Game 1 of a series to Game 2 is interesting, and so I would like to know whatÕs happening in Game 2 that isnÕt happening in Game 1. But thatÕs assuming thereÕs anything to be found.
Look Who Else Says TheyÕre Tired
The 8-1 Giants are happy but their bullpen is weary. The San Francisco Chronicle reports, "Last year, the starters went seven innings seven times in the first nine games. This year, it's happened once."
San Francisco pitching has given up 20 runs in its past two games, to San Diego, in baseballÕs toughest park in which to hit. In WednesdayÕs 15-11 victory over the Padres, relievers were needed for seven innings.
At the same time, only Joe Nathan has pitched on consecutive days heading into the four-game series beginning tonight with the Dodgers, and only Jim Brower went more than two innings Wednesday. So it doesnÕt look like the Giants have that much to worry about from down here.
I do think the Dodgers have reason to be optimistic about the pitching matchups for the series (although they had the same reason to be optimistic last weekend in San Diego).
Thursday, 7:15 p.m. Š Hideo Nomo (1-1, 1.69 ERA) vs. Kurt Ainsworth (1-0, 4.50 ERA).
Where'd I Put That Warranty?
It only took until Day 2 for both new Dodger Stadium scoreboards in right field to malfunction - not quite like the video boards at NORAD in the climactic moments of War Games, but still not too great. They had streaks of lights flickering on and off, sort of like those sound meters my old tape deck.
The Antelope Becomes the Gazelle
Daryle Ward - or as my wife called him after seeing his name and stats on the scoreboard for the first time, "Who's that new triple-zero guy?" - has not done much to impress in his Dodger debut. But moments after grounding into an inning-ending double play with two on in the fifth and the score tied, 2-2, the 230-pound Ward made as graceful a catch in left field as you could imagine - we're talking Greg Louganis style points for the dive.
Everyone's Tired ... of Mediocrity
Having decided that it's perhaps best that Tom Martin not blow out his arm until at least May, the Dodgers brought up a seventh relief pitcher Tuesday, Troy Brohawn.
They're saying this is because the Dodger bullpen is tired from back-to-back extra inning games, but are you telling me Andy Ashby is exhausted from pitching two innings Monday on three days rest?
It's more because of how little confidence the Dodgers have that Ishii and Ashby can pitch effectively for any decent stretch.
Is This What You Want Company to See?
Kazuhisa Ishii pitches like my childhood bedroom looked.
All was forgiven for Ishii amid Tuesday night's Dodger victory over Arizona, even though he pitched almost identically to his dreary first start April 3.
Once again, Ishii threw three shutout innings and struggled mightily in the fourth. The two differences were that 1) in his second start, he avoided the knockout blow that came in the form of a bases-loaded triple in his first start, making it through six innings, and 2) instead of pitching for a 2-1, red-hot Dodger team, he was pitching for a 3-5, ice-cold Dodger team. It's all about perspective.
Nevertheless, Ishii remains a slopfest on the mound - pitches strewn about everywhere like clothes and toys all over the floor.
Because L.A. Must Know Where Roy Williams Will Coach
Stories on the front page of the Los Angeles Times sports section today:
Lakers beat the Mavericks
The freaking, streaking Giants have won 15 regular-season games in a row. No one else seems to notice this. Anyway, the Dodgers are 4 1/2 games back after eight days.
In attending to our daughter and our stomachs, my wife and I didnÕt pay attention to every pitch much better than we paid attention to the first one. But we were fortunate to see what was almost the play of the year for the Dodgers - a backhanded stab of a grounder up the middle by second baseman Alex Cora, who made a backhand flip in the same motion to shortstop Cesar Izturis, who wheeled and fired to first baseman Fred McGriff for ... a near out.
And so went the game.
Two key decisions in this game, as far as IÕm concerned - one by each manager. Kevin Brown pitched well but was losing his edge in the sixth inning, and barely got out of the inning unscored upon. No doubt tempted by the fact that BrownÕs spot was due up third in the bottom of the seventh, Jim Tracy sent Brown out to pitch the top of the seventh. Brown gave up a home run to Chad Moeller, and then was replaced anyway. This isnÕt a hindsight criticism - even though he was facing the bottom of the Arizona order, it was hard to imagine that Brown wouldnÕt get into trouble in the seventh inning, necessitating a call to the bullpen anyway.
The second move came moments later, when Bob Brenly had Matt Williams pinch-hit for Tony Womack. IÕm no big Matt Williams fan - and even less of a Bob Brenly fan, but I am someone who believes that Womack doesnÕt belong in the starting lineup, and Brenly picked as good a time as any to realize it, even for a moment. Williams singled and scored the second Arizona run.
Our heralded 25th man, Ron Coomer, came up for his first at-bat of the season with a chance to win the game for the Dodgers in the 11th inning. I couldnÕt help wondering who would win in this high-profile moment - my instincts about CoomerÕs lack of value, or my tendency to have to eat crow.
Turns out, just hot dog, pretzel, peanuts and Krispy Kreme on Monday - but no crow.
WouldnÕt it be funny - even as a joke - if they had crow on the concession stand menu?
The Pomp. And ... the Circumstance too.
The pregame was entertaining. The white doves of baseball were back - I always like them. Fly, doves of baseball, fly...
Ron Cey, Steve Garvey and Bill Russell were honored in the first-pitch ceremony. (Davey Lopes participated via videotape.) I found this sort of melancholy - I feel somehow that all of these members of That 70s Infield are somehow estranged from the team. RussellÕs firing, GarveyÕs number being reissued after it had been held back for so long ... I donÕt know. I guess when it comes down to it, my favorite player from that era is still Reggie Smith. So maybe itÕs just me.
The parachutists were very cool. They come in super-fast - it absolutely looks like their legs will snap seconds before they land. However, they were all able to maneuver themselves into a glide of a landing, and only one of the bunch even stumbled.
The flyover wasnÕt the best - our intrepid armed forces aircraft kept an unusually safe altitude over the stadium. But later, the plane that originally ferreted the parachutists came out of nowhere and emerged inches above the right-field stadium lights like Jaws.
For a home opener, as opposed to a true season opener, it was a good show.
The Dodgers made their first significant change to the right-field scoreboard at Dodger Stadium in my lifetime of going to games. Underneath the clock, the old board had lineups across the top half - player numbers and positions for both teams, but no names. Across the bottom half, above the numbers of the umpires, ran the score by innings. A column on the right side provided Ball/Strike/Out counts, announced whom an error was on, and in recent years, for some reason counted what number stolen base a player had.
The new board serves the same functions but is a much more flexible version of what existed previously. Instead of numbered lineups for both teams, you are given names with the numbers and positions - alternating for whichever team is up. In addition, a batterÕs updated season totals are provided, protecting you from the whims of the left-field scoreboard department, which always seemed more interested in telling us where a player went to junior high school than what he had done in the current game or season.
The new board also offers some low-level animation, such as player signatures appearing with each different batter, which I find unpretentiously enjoyable.
The biggest change with the new right-field scoreboard ... well, I hate to make a big deal out of this, but the lights are orange. Which for me, makes me think immediately of the scoreboard at an old place a certain rival played ... Candlestick Park. Am I wrong about this? Did anyone else go to the game Monday and have the same feeling?
As you may already have heard, the Dodgers have also added two scoreboards along the outfield fences for out-of-town scores. They also feature the orange tint, but otherwise blend in rather nicely. I do wonder how both player and scoreboard are going to react when one goes crashing into the other in pursuit of a fly ball. IÕd like to think theyÕve taken safety precautions on both ends, but given the complaints about the rubberized warning track that was installed a few years ago, I canÕt be so sure.
TheyÕre not monkeying around with security anymore. Approaching the ticket-takers offers everything you see at the airport except the x-ray machines and Geiger-counter-like devices.
If you have no carry-ons (maybe someday weÕll be able to check our luggage before we leave for the ballpark), you can zip through an express lane. Otherwise, there are inspection stations you have to pass through. Every bag is inspected, and the security people even have ... rulers. Not Napoleon and King Tut, but actual rulers, 24 inches long. This is to make sure that no edge of your bag is longer than 14 inches. I donÕt know why this is the number, but it is.
Our diaper bag, as it happens, was exactly 14 inches at its longest edge. The kind security person then took the time to measure the shorter edge. Imagine our relief when we found that this, too, did not exceed the 14-inch limit.
My father, however, was sent back to his car with his backpack.
In a better day, when there are overhead compartments in the Loge level, perhaps DadÕs backpack will make it back into the game.
As a native of Los Angeles and someone who has always lived there except for school, and as someone who has been driving to himself Dodger games for nearly 20 years, youÕll understand that it pains me on multiple levels to confront the rising difficulty of getting to Dodger Stadium.
The best news about Los Angeles in my lifetime is the improvement in air quality. No, itÕs still no great shakes, but compared to the 1970s, when on any given day recess might be canceled because of a smog alert, weÕre in much better shape.
This improvement has someone come despite what seems to be an exponential rise in traffic. As a child, I lived in Woodland Hills, about 25 miles from Dodger Stadium, and it would take about 45 minutes to get to the game if there were traffic. Now, I live closer - and it takes longer. In fact, even if I leave from where I work - less than 10 miles away from the park - I canÕt guarantee that IÕll make it to the Stadium in under half an hour. From home, 18 miles away, I now budget an hour and hope.
This is the case despite the development over two decades of principal routes, alternate routes, backup routes, soft underbelly routes, every possible path to the stadium you can imagine. Believe me, we are not neophytes when it comes to the trip to Dodger Stadium. But it almost never ceases to challenge.
Two Sunday mornings ago, in the spirit of never giving up the hunt, I left my house at 7 a.m. and drove to Chavez Ravine to see if I could uncover any more secret routes. (This was inspired by the fact that last season, stuck in traffic near Sunset and Elysian Park, we passed Kobe Bryant in his Ferrari - us going 5 mph, him going 4 mph - and yet when we parked, KobeÕs Ferrari was safely parked and he was safely inside the stadium . To this day, I still wonder if there is a Holy Grail pathway into the park.)
There are just so many damn cars. ItÕs incredible.
There is no reasonable public transportation alternative to Dodger Stadium. Yes, there are buses and now shuttles, but those buses and shuttles donÕt get to bypass the traffic. I can barely imagine IÕd be home from one game by bus before I had to be at work the next morning.
I mean to write a column sometime about the tired criticism of Dodger fans who arrive late and leave early. IÕll get into the topic more deeply, but let me just say this about the late arrivals. WeÕre trying to get there. We really are.
Monday, leaving at 11:30 a.m. for the game, it took us 10 minutes to go the first nine miles, and 35 minutes to go the last nine.
I was most frustrated by the fact that, after taking 15 minutes to cover 8,000 feet of the Santa Monica/Harbor Freeway interchange, I was able to make my way on the 110 northbound to the Academy Road entrance. This is officially the least accessed Dodger Stadium entryway.
Unfortunately, gridlock in the roadways inside Dodger Stadium backed up the right two lanes of the inbound Academy Road traffic. By the time I could get up the hill and into our parking lot, another 15 minutes had passed.
Leaving the game, I found that bollards and barricades had been set up that block the path out of the stadium we have been using for nearly 20 years. These are set up in a manner that would seem to ensure that traffic flow not out of the stadium parking lots, but back into them. I absolutely canÕt understand it. I wound around the barricades this time to go the way I wanted to go, but I donÕt know how much longer IÕll be able to get away with that.
I like to drive. I like being in my car. But I will tell you, nothing - not steroids, not Bud Selig - can ruin my experience with baseball more than how hard it is to get to a game. To have Dodger Stadium be so close and yet so far away - itÕs almost too real a metaphor for me to handle.
A Real Opening Day
As Kevin Brown threw his first pitch Monday, my 6 1/2-month-old daughter was sitting on my lap for her first baseball game.
I donÕt remember what the pitch was - and yet, itÕs a pitch IÕll never forget. I have the image of my daughter bouncing on my lap, facing the field, each of her arms in my arms. A blurred image of Brown is in the background, but the focus is on the moment, not the result. I donÕt think I even followed the ball to home plate - not for any conscious reasons, but just because I was so caught up in the fact that I, who was fortunate enough to get season tickets to the Dodgers just after my 13th birthday, could be taking a child to a baseball game. My own child.
In fact, I almost didnÕt do it. I was going to have her debut be at a game with less circumstance and pomp, less of a crowd, easier negotiations of the traffic and the lines. It was my wife who convinced me to take a vacation day from work and make this our daughterÕs first game. IÕm really glad we did. My wife on one side of me, my father on the other side, and my daughter in my lap (and my brother and his relatives behind us). And a beautiful ballfield in front of us on a beautiful day.
The Leadoff Nit
With nitpicking opportunities galore from the Padres series, I'm gonna go with Dave Roberts.
Roberts has one walk through six games, to go with his five hits. Batting slumps will always come, for individuals as well as teams, but you can mitigate them with the ability to draw a free pass.
As the leadoff hitter, it is more important for Roberts than for anyone else to maintain that skill.
The home run and triple Roberts hit against Arizona should have only helped him do this. Instead, Roberts staggered through San Diego, rarely making good contact, nor giving the Padre pitchers any reason to be scared of him. And to those pitchers' credit, they executed. They did not walk a slumping hitter.
HereÕs RobertsÕ first at-bat Sunday:
Pitch 1: ball 1
The good news is that Roberts took three pitches, so I suppose that itÕs no sin that he swung. But with the count and selectivity in his favor, Roberts has to do better than hit a comebacker. And frankly, when both he and the team are slumping, Roberts should consider taking even more pitches.
Coming off the successful series against Arizona, Roberts saw seven pitches in each of his first two at-bats against the Padres, walking in the second plate appearance. After that, the Padres took the lead off Kazuhisa Ishii, and Roberts immediately became less patient.
In his next three plate appearances, Roberts saw five, five and four pitches. Then, in each game in the rest of the series, he had exactly one plate appearance of more than four pitches.
In basketball, they say that the best way to revive a slumping offense is to play good defense that will generate opportunities. The same approach might help Roberts and the Dodgers.
The hope here is not that Roberts does not become a defensive hitter. But he needs to continue to work proactively on drawing walks, rather than depending on an opposing pitcherÕs wildness. Walks need to be a fundamental part of his game, not a byproduct of his game.
McGriff Tiptoes into the Bizarro World
I keep waiting for Jim Tracy to start platooning Fred McGriff, who hit horribly against left-handers this year.
Problem is, McGriff has a double, home run (both clutch) and walk in eight appearances against lefthanders this year, but has only a single and three walks in 14 plate appearances against righties.
This unlikely success means it's going to take that much longer for the truth about McGriff to emerge.
It's not like I don't want McGriff to hit lefties. I just don't see why he'd be able to continue doing so.
Can We Get Tommy John Surgery on the Offense - Stat?
IÕve read more than once that Darren Dreifort had a wicked pitching motion that made him vulnerable to the kinds of injuries that heÕs had.
Last night, his motion looked smooth to me. So either thatÕs progress, or I just donÕt know what to look for.
His game was similar to the Tommy John game I wrote about Friday, wasnÕt it? A little shaky, but mostly effective until finally giving up a three-run inning.
You probably came away from FridayÕs loss more worried about the Dodger offense than the Dodger pitching. Me too.
DoesnÕt it seem like every year, we hear the Dodgers are going to manufacture runs by playing little ball? And doesnÕt it seem like every year, weÕre watching the opposition do it?
The Dodgers struggle to get within a run of the Padres, and then in the bottom of the eighth inning, San Diego uses a double and two bunts - one by ex-Dodger minor leaguer Shane Victorino - to get a run in. Easily.
Frankly, IÕve been wondering what makes mediocre offensive teams like the Dodgers think they would be any better at manufacturing runs than they are at buying them retail. If theyÕre not good enough build an above-average OPS, what makes them think that they can execute a fairly difficult play, the hit-and-run?
Are the Angels able to manufacture runs because they are really committed to it and not just paying lip service to the idea, or because theyÕre just better hitters?
Either way, it seems safe to continue saying that itÕs going to be another inconsistent year at the plate for the Dodgers.
(It could be worse. After five games, the Detroit Tigers have four runs and 19 hits, an average of 0.8 runs and 4.8 hits per game.)
The Comeback That Started It All
Tonight, as Darren Dreifort attempts to become the first major league pitcher to successfully come back from two elbow reconstructions, why donÕt we take a look at how the pioneer of reconstruction recovery, Tommy John, did in his return.
First, a little background. You might know intuitively that John brought much better credentials to the operating table than Dreifort, but you might not know how much better. Some people only remember the post-surgery Tommy John, but he was quite a pitcher beforehand.
When JohnÕs elbow gave out on him in July 1974 (shortly before his 31st birthday), John was 13-3 with a 2.59 ERA in a league where the average ERA was 3.41. Despite going 2-11 in his first two seasons, John had a career record of 124-106.
Dreifort, as we all know, has won just a smattering of games in his career, going 43-52 with a 4.38 ERA that is worse than the 4.14 league average in that time. Dreifort was 27 when the injury occurred Š he turns 29 on Monday.
Anyway, John and Dreifort had this in common: They each missed the remainder of the season in which they were hurt, plus all the following season.
Also, Dreifort will take the mound today against a San Diego Padres team that went 66-96 in 2002 and figures to be about as bad this year. On April 16, 1976, John faced an Atlanta Braves team that went 67-94 in 1975 and would only improve by 2 Z games in 1976, to 70-92.
Atlanta was the home team. In the bottom of the first, John was almost too wobbly or too careful. He got two groundouts, then walked Darrell Evans and ex-Dodger teammate Jimmy Wynn before Ken Henderson made the third out on a tapper to Steve Yeager.
In the second inning, John induced two more groundouts, allowed a single to Darrel Chaney, and then got his sixth groundout out of six outs.
The third inning brought JohnÕs second jam. John delivered his first strikeout (Rowland Office Š always liked that name), but then walked another ex-Dodger, Jerry Royster, gave up a single to Evans and walked Wynn for the second time. Henderson was the escape route again, grounding into a double play.
By the way, the Dodgers hadnÕt gotten any hits off Braves starter Dick Ruthven to this point. They did get a Ted Sizemore walk and Steve Garvey single in the top of the fourth, but Ron Cey hit into a force play to end the inning.
John sailed through the bottom of the fourth, drawing two more groundouts before the first Braves flyout of the game, by Chaney to Dusty Baker.
The score was still 0-0 with one out in the bottom of the fifth, when Office and Royster singled. Evans came up É and hit a three-run home run. John got through the rest of the inning, but came out of the game after that.
His totals: 5 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 1 K. Twelve of his 15 outs came on the ground.
That was it for the Braves. The Dodgers remained shut out until the ninth, when they scored one run and put the tying runs on second and third with one out. However, Bill Buckner struck out, and Ted Sizemore flied out to end the game.
On the bright side, the home run by Evans was one of only seven homers John would allow in 1976, a season in which he would make 31 starts, throw 207 innings (6 2/3 innings per start), and finish 10-10 despite a nice 3.09 ERA. The following year, at age 34, John would go 20-7 with a 2.78 ERA, the first of three 20-plus win seasons he would deliver following the surgery that established his place in history.
Dreifort is likely to get more strikeouts tonight then John did in that game 27 years ago, but if he can match anything else that John did that day or for the remaining 14! years of JohnÕs career (he pitched until he was 46 years old, remember), that will really be something.
I donÕt know if Tommy John was a better pitcher than he was a story, but he was excellent in both respects.
The tortoise became the hare Š but the race didnÕt go much better.
Last year, Kazuhisa Ishii had a pattern of slow starts and stronger finishes for the Dodgers. Thursday against the Padres, he reversed it.
Through three innings, he faced 11 batters, allowed two hits and no walks, struck out two, and used 43 total pitches.
In the fourth, he got only one batter out while allowing four hits and three walks, using 35 pitches.
As far as IÕm concerned, IÕm pleased to know that last yearÕs leader in walks was able to come out and just throw strikes under any circumstances. But of course, it was still discouraging how he fell apart.
Here are two explanations for what went wrong. From Brian Dohn in the Los Angeles Daily News:
Before the shadows on a shivery Thursday afternoon stretched from the stands behind home plate and covered the batter's box in the fourth inning, Dodgers left-hander Kazuhisa Ishii was in command. Then the shadows overtook the San Diego Padres hitters and things changed abruptly.
From Jason Reid in the Los Angeles Times:
Catcher Todd Hundley said the Padres finally figured out Ishii in their four-hit fourth.
"They just basically started sitting on curveballs," he said. "We were getting it over for strikes, and they made adjustments.
"Early in the game, they were taking curveballs and hacking at any close fastballs. In the fourth, they were taking fastballs and hacking at curveballs that were anywhere close."
The first explanation doesnÕt inspire much hope; it says that Ishii is a smoke-and-mirrors pitcher with a limited supply of both. The second explanation shows the possibility of Thursday being a learning experience.
IshiiÕs next start, for what itÕs worth, is a night game Tuesday against Arizona. I plan to attend, and in between hot dogs, will try to look for some pattern of what kind of pitches Ishii is successful with.
IÕm not retreating from the notion I posited on March 24 that despite popular opinion, Ishii might actually be more of an asset in the bullpen. But even though IÕve never been that enamored of him as a starter, IÕm willing to give him more time.
Did You Know...
... that the Giants have won 11 consecutive regular-season games? They finished the 2002 season with an eight-game winning streak.
...that Dodger castoff Terry Shumpert not only started for Tampa Bay on Thursday, he batted cleanup? (Thanks to Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus.)
...that Dodger Stadium will charge more for beer than any other major league ballpark - but that overall, the cost of a family going to a Dodger game is below the major league average. (See the Team Marketing Report Fan Cost Index for baseball.)
Doesn't Get Any Better Than This (For Grudz, Anyway)
Mark Grudzielanek has reached base in his first six plate appearances of 2003.
One Side Fits All
Existential challenge: Can you name a truly one-sided object?
I'll give you some time to think about it.
The closest I can come on short notice is the Giants' season-opening three-game sweep of the Dodgers in 2002, in which they outscored Los Angeles, 24-2.
But as far as two-wins-out-of-three in a season-opening series goes, 2003 was pretty one-sided in favor of the Dodgers.
The Dodgers outscored Arizona 17-5. Their OPS was .902; Arizona's was .459. They had more than twice as many hits and extra-base hits. They had a team ERA of 1.65 and allowed only 21 hits and walks combined in 27 1/3 innings. And that doesn't account for how well they ran the bases and fielded the ball (Daryle Ward being a notable exception). Six out of eight regulars had outstanding series at the plate and in the field - only Adrian Beltre and Fred McGriff started slowly.
Now it's on to play four games with an 0-3 San Diego team. The Dodgers may not gain much ground in the standings, with Arizona playing Colorado this weekend and San Francisco playing Milwaukee. But more momentum is waiting to be built.
Bad Trade Update
Seems wrong to bring this up when the Dodgers have pitched so well for three games.
Seems wrong to bring this up considering the game was against Baltimore.
But lest we forget too quickly about Ricardo Rodriguez, one of the pitchers the Dodgers sent to Cleveland in exchange for Paul Shuey ... Rodriguez threw seven innings of one-run, four-hit ball to beat the Orioles (and another ex-Dodger, Omar Daal). Rodriguez only struck out two batters, but still, not bad, not bad.
What Was That Last Paragraph?
Honestly, I couldn't tell you.
Sending Out an SbS
Kevin Brown's first six innings Wednesday, pitch-by-pitch:
Inning 1: SbS bSSbS SSS
As the game went on, Brown stopped getting the first-pitch strikes that he was racking up earlier. But what a fine performance nonetheless. He faced one batter over the minimum over six innings, and used three pitches or fewer on 13 out of 19 batters.
Meanwhile, Eric Gagne comes in for his first appearance and retires the side on nine pitches - all strikes.
The Dodgers needed only 342 pitches to get through the 28 1/3 innings of this series. That's 12.1 pitches per inning. Phenomenal.
Of course, as any oldtimer will tell you, 342 pitches is nothing. In the old days, a pitcher would throw 342 pitches in a game by himself. In the blazing sun. Nursing a hangover from nightcrawling past 3 a.m. at the downtown speakeasy. With wolves biting at their ankles. And don't forget - they traveled by train back then. Long hours through mudflap towns. In fact, sometimes those roadtrips were so long, they played the games on the trains. You ever tried to hit a curveball from Lefty Grove while a speeding locomotive shot you through a tunnel in Appalachia? I didn't think so. So don't go bragging to me about no 342 pitches.
Green's Light Goes Red
As Tuesday's game went into the eighth inning with Curt Schilling working on his two-hit shutout and a 4-0 lead, I envisioned writing about Odalis Perez.
Yes, you could tell this game was going to be a different story from Monday's by the time Perez walked the leadoff batter, the ineffectual Tony Womack. Perez went on to allow four runs in the first three innings.
But Perez didn't cave. Part of that was thanks to Arizona's atrocious baserunning decisions, but mostly, he found the plate, spared the Dodgers a demoralizing trip through the nether regions of their bullpen - and lo and behold, kept them in the game.
The comeback off Schilling in the eighth was meaningful. The Dodgers may not be a nine-inning team every day of the year - what team is - but they showed everything you would want to see in that rally. Even though they were smothered for seven innings, the Dodgers pounced on their opening - Schilling tiring - and worked their way back in.
That they lost the game is, I'm gonna say, almost a footnote. They almost stole a win - just like that 2002 game I mentioned Monday, when they rallied to take the lead over Randy Johnson only to lose in extra innings. But the way they took the lead will resonate longer than the way they lost.
The biggest twist of the game was not the almost indomitable Schilling losing that lead, however. It was finding that Shawn Green has become a 33 1/3 runner in a 45 RPM world.
On first base with one out, Green should have scored the go-ahead run on Fred McGriff's surprising double down the right-field line (off a left-handed pitcher, no less). But Green looked gassed by the time he rounded second. I had as much trouble believing it as third-base coach Glenn Hoffman must have as he waved the almost unambulatory Green in.
Meanwhile, straining around the turn at third, Green hesitated, looking like he couldn't believe he was being sent.
In retrospect, you'd like to see Brian Jordan coming up with runners on second and third, one out, and the Arizona bullpen reeling. But I won't blame Hoffman. I really wouldn't be surprised if that was the slowest Shawn Green has ever run in a major-league baseball game.
Speed has never been the biggest part of Shawn Green's game, of course, but it was an asset. It's not insignificant. Speed in getting to the ball helps him play right field. He has 128 career stolen bases. Outside of Dave Roberts, Green was arguably supposed to be the best baserunner in the starting lineup.
Last year, when Green's stolen base total dipped to eight after four consecutive years of 20 or more, it might have been attributable to a fluke or circumstance. Maybe the same goes for him tying a National League record for left-handed batters by grounding into 26 double plays. Maybe even looking at what happened tonight, maybe Green just needs to amp up the pregame windsprints.
But maybe not. No one else is going to write about this amid all the other activity of Tuesday's game, but maybe our five-tool player has lost a tool. Not to diminish the value of the victory that got away, but that's the biggest bummer of the night.
Jon Weisman's outlet
for dealing psychologically
with the Los Angeles Dodgers
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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