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An Even-Handed L.A. Sports Columnist on the Dodgers
2004-08-02 12:34
by Jon Weisman

Does any local newspaper reporter write higher-quality stuff about the Dodgers than Kevin Modesti of the Daily News?

From today's paper:

There was an edgy little debate among Jim Tracy and the sportswriters in his office Sunday morning about whether the Dodgers manager should have brought in Eric Gagne to rescue Darren Dreifort from the Padres' eighth-inning rally the night before, notwithstanding the team's wish to see the bullpen's post-shakeup set-up man pass his first test. That is, whether Tracy should have managed as desperately as if it was a pennant-race, stretch-run, must-win game. Silly, because everybody knows they don't play must-win games on July 31.

Aug. 1, now that's another story. ...

From Sunday's paper (apologies to the Daily News for the long excerpt, but he deserves the exposure):

... The minuses in all this are the potential dilution of the clubhouse chemistry with the loss of the popular Lo Duca, though for all of the talk about his heart-and-soul role in the clubhouse, it's hard to say the Dodgers can't win without a player they never won with; the weakening of the catcher position with Lo Duca replaced by David Ross and Mayne and the reworking of an effective bullpen pecking order with eighth-inning fixture Mota replaced with Darren Dreifort.

The last of those was on display Saturday when Dreifort let the Padres come from behind to win by scoring two runs in an eighth-inning rally that included a broken-bat single by Terrance Long and a 30-foot single by Phil Nevin but also a four-pitch walk to Sean Burroughs.

The pluses, the Dodgers hope, are a stronger top of the starting rotation with Penny, winner of two decisions in the World Series last fall; a potentially more powerful batting order with the young Choi and the veteran Finley; upgrades since spring training in center field (Finley over Roberts), left (Milton Bradley and Jayson Werth over Encarnacion) and first base (Choi over Robin Ventura); the deepest stable of left-handed hitters in the club's recent history; and the sort of mix-and-match versatility that Tracy seems to covet more than any other manager.

Most managers love the idea of a set, everyday lineup. Tracy has three-fifths of that. Finley in center, Adrian Beltre at third base and Cesar Izturis at shortstop will be at their posts every day. Remarkably, every other position is up for daily changes, subject mostly to the identity of the opposing pitcher.

Depending on whether it's a righty or a lefty, Tracy likely would use Mayne or Ross at catcher, Choi or Green at first, Cora or Jose Hernandez at second, Bradley or Werth in left, and Green or Bradley in right. Other variables could be at work from night to night, though. The manager also has Ventura, Jason Grabowski and Olmedo Saenz to blend in.

"I've not had a lineup that has that much offensive capability to it," Tracy said in extolling the trades.

It won't be enough for the Dodgers to make it to October for the first time since 1996. They have to make themselves heard in October for the first time since Kirk Gibson.

"Paul's (DePodesta) got plans to not only win the division but make some noise in the playoffs," Roberts said on his way out the door.

Tracy is in the final year of his contract. His Dodgers have been close before in August. In the past he could blame their failures on holes in the lineup or pitching staff or the cumulative effects of season-long injury problems.

The front office has handed him no such excuses this time.

He has a first-place team that just got better. He has a chance to show off his lineup-tinkering skills every day. For a good-guy manager with something to prove, the future is a simple matter of go-out-there-and-win.

In other words, Don't mess it up.

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