Monthly archives: September 2004
Sweet, Sweet Smiles
Hold tight, love me just a little bit
Quite a team to be hung up on, isn't it.
Hee Seop Choi and Dave Ross. The Purge and the Scourge. Comin' through, like they were bound to do at some point. Believe it.
It's official: bonus baseball for the Dodgers. Minimum one game.
We'll talk nitty-gritty stuff soon. For now, get ready for prime time.
Stretch Run Open Chat (Thursday)
Lots of day baseball today outside of the National League West ... lots of despair in Chicago even though the Cubs remain within a half-game of a playoff spot ... lots of rallying cries coming out of Athletics Nation.
Wins by the Giants and Cubs today would create a three-way tie for the NL Wild Card with Houston with three games to play. (And don't count out the Padres just yet - if they survive today, they get their final three games against Arizona.)
Two victories in their final four games clinch at least a tie for the American League West title for the Angels. The A's need to win at least three of their final four.
And the Dodgers' magic number is two for winning the NL West and giving Eric Gagne, among others, all the rest he needs for the playoffs.
Even though history doesn't always repeat itself, if you're wondering why the Dodgers would like to clinch before San Francisco comes to town, here's why:
9/25/96: Dodgers lead NL West by 2 1/2 games
Yes, Los Angeles still won the wild card - a cushion that allowed the Dodgers to lose all those games. But there would be no such cushion this year. And the Dodgers continued by being swept in the playoffs and ending the year on a seven-game losing streak.
Colorado at Los Angeles, 7:10 p.m.
San Francisco at San Diego, 7:05 p.m.
Cincinnati at Chicago, 11:20 a.m.
Anaheim at Texas, 11:05 a.m.
Seattle at Oakland, 12:35 p.m.
... Anger ... Acceptance
Boy, isn't it startling when a major league baseball player doesn't appeal his suspension?
Regardless of what you think of the severity of the punishment, and regardless of the forces that may or may not have influenced his response, I think that by accepting his five-game suspension now and stating that he will seek anger management counseling, Milton Bradley is sending a much more powerful message than MLB is sending him.
People talk about the message that Shawn Green had the potential of sending through his deliberations about playing during Yom Kippur. Bradley's message is bigger. While many of us do not condone his actions Tuesday night, everyone can relate to his feelings of anger and injustice.
Bradley stepped up and essentially said that it doesn't matter that life isn't fair. The important thing, he is saying, is that he is going to try to be a better person.
He lost his temper Tuesday, but he found it today.
So debate all you want about whether the suspension was too long or too short or just right. For that matter, debate whether Bradley should have appealed or not, for personal reasons or for pennant race reasons.
In my opinion, Bradley has turned a negative into a positive.
Stretch Run Open Chat (Wednesday)
If the Giants sweep their next two games, or if the Dodgers lose their next two, or if the teams each split their next two, the National League West title will be won on the field in a head-to-head battle.
If the Dodgers sweep their next two games and the Giants lose one, or if the Dodgers win one and the Giants lose two, the division race will be over before the Giants come to Los Angeles.
Colorado at Los Angeles, 7:10 p.m.
San Francisco at San Diego, 7:05 p.m.
St. Louis at Houston, 5:05 p.m.
Cincinnati at Chicago, as of 12:30 p.m., 1-1 tie, fourth inning
Anaheim at Texas, 5:05 p.m.
Seattle at Oakland, 7:05 p.m.
This Bradley Story Rewrites Itself
Dodger Thoughts, June 1, 2004:
I’m capable of a level of anger that sometimes surprises myself, so I can relate to that feeling of injustice Bradley must have had. Even if he was provoked - and I say this dispassionately - he should find a way to handle it better.
There's anger. And there's anger management.
The fan who threw the bottle is the villain. The criminal.
The stadium security appeared inadequate.
But Milton Bradley needs to learn to let the authorities deliver punishment on his behalf. He has more to lose.
It frustrates me and breaks my heart all at once.
Dodgers, Angels in First on September 29
That should have been the lead story in Wednesday's papers.
The Latest Pictures From Vero Beach
Courtesy of Vero Beach Dodgers general manager Trevor Gooby:
Previous pictures are here.
Stretch Run Open Chat (Tuesday)
The world watches with baited breath as eight teams battle for three playoff spots ... and Kazuhisa Ishii takes the Dodger Stadium mound needing only a shutout to tie for the National League lead.
Venafro Replaces Martin but Good
You probably won't believe it, but Mike Venafro is getting the job done, if the job is retiring left-handed batters.
A somewhat ridiculed junkyard pickup by Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta, Venafro has faced 16 left-handed batters with the Dodgers and allowed only two walks and a single. By comparison, former Dodger lefty specialist Tom Martin allowed left-handed batters to on-base .417 and slug .534 against him this year before he was traded to Atlanta. Scott Stewart, another late acquisition who got written up in the Times today, has been even worse than Martin.
Venafro only made three appearances with the Dodgers in August, and they weren't good ones. But with the decline of the Dodger starting pitching in September, Venafro has been used in 10 games this month - and allowed five baserunners and zero runs in 5 1/3 innings. (I also believe, though I wasn't able to confirm, that the only inherited runner that Venafro has allowed to score this month came as a result of Alex Cora's error on Barry Bonds' grounder Sunday.)
When you consider that DePodesta eliminated about $2 million in salary commitments to Martin by replacing him, you have to say that the move to acquire Venafro has been a clear victory.
I don't know what this portends for the future, but for the present, you might not need to cringe when Venafro comes in and faces left-handed batters.
Brewercide: Life on the Street
If Paul Attanasio, creator of the masterful Homicide: Life on the Street, is looking for more dark stories to tell, perhaps his brother's new acquisition will provide the inspiration.
Given the Baltimore-centricity of Homicide, Paul would probably have preferred his brother come away with the Orioles - or at least the Washington Expos - but the Brewers do have a mysterious quality to them. Not seedy, necessarily - but maybe hoppy. And isn't it interesting that a businessman as successful as Mark wants to become one of the huddled masses that constitutes major league baseball ownership? We'll have to remember that during Bud Selig's next cryin' poor jag.
Or, perhaps Paul would like to craft a drama in which Mark tries to move the Brewers closer to his Los Angeles home? Anyone for a third local team? Anyone for 162 games a year downtown?
On the other hand, perhaps it will be Mark turning to Paul for inspiration. On one of Paul's later creations, Century City, a baseball player in the year 2030 fights a rule set by the Lords of Baseball that prevents ballplayers with a bionic eye.
Hmm ... it's all coming together.
Beltre Ties Major League HR Record for Third Basemen
LOS ANGELES - Adrian Beltre of the Dodgers has tied Mike Schmidt for the major league single-season record for most home runs by a third baseman with 48.
"One of the coolest records held by a Dodger hitter," Dodger Thoughts writer Jon Weisman said. "It's been fun to track. Looking forward to seeing if he can break it."
Dodger Thoughts Writer Interviewed on Dodger Thoughts
The publicity for this site just grows and grows.
Actually, daily traffic for the site has surged by about 50 percent or more in just the past three weeks, which is fantastic. I attribute it to pennant fever, of course, but am wondering how people are discovering the site. Is it through referrals by friends? Through Google searches? Is it all a big mistake?
The Dodgers won their 90th game. Weren't we told in March that 90 wins would be enough to win the National League West?
Not quite. But we're down to 12 shared games between the Dodgers and their rivals. The Giants need nine final scores out of 12 to go their way to force a playoff. The Padres need 11 out of 12.
Stretch Run Open Chat: Rockies-Dodgers (Monday)
From the Rockies' press notes, available to registered users of MLB.com:
In road games in which their starting pitcher hasn't made it past the sixth inning, the Rockies are 5-26 in 2004.
Despite going 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA in two starts at Dodger Stadium this season, Rockies starter Shawn Estes has a career 5.57 ERA here, averaging 5.7 innings per outing.
* * *
Edwin Jackson is making his eighth career start for the Dodgers, and I've been excited about all of them.
Magic numbers don't quite put the National League West race in perspective.
Between them, the Dodgers and Giants have 13 games remaining. Just to force a one-game playoff (which, admittedly, the Dodgers would want no part of), the Giants need nine of the 13 final scores to go their way. The Dodgers need four out of 13.
To win the division outright in the regular season, the Giants need 10 of the final 13 games to go their way. The Dodgers need five.
* * *
Uno, dos, tres ... Diaz! Who would have thought that the losing team in the Dodgers' acquisition of Jeromy Burnitz last year would be ... the Cubs?
Yes, that was indeed former Dodger prospect Victor Diaz hitting a two-out, two-strike, bottom-of-the-ninth, three-run home run for the Mets on Saturday, tying the game at the buzzer and setting the stage for the Cubs to lose it in the 11th.
It's true that the Dodgers could be the ultimate loser in the deal. Diaz, one of three farmhands to go to the Mets for Burnitz, has an OPS of 1.080 in his first 29 plate appearances, including two doubles and two home runs. You don't know how long he can sustain such a hot start (he batted .292 with 24 homers for Norfolk this year, but struck out 133 times against 31 walks), and his early defensive play - two errors in seven games in right field - validates those who think he has no major league position, but it's quite a first impression for someone who doesn't even turn 23 until December.
But for now, by going 5 for 10 over the weekend, Diaz is ringing in the ears of the Cubs, who missed a chance to take control of the National League wild card race by dropping two of three to New York.
Instead of leading the Giants by 2 1/2 games, the Cubs lead by half a game. The Astros are 1 1/2 games back and the Padres are 2 1/2 back.
The schedule still favors Chicago, with games against Cincinnati and an already-clinched Atlanta. But after the events of this past weekend, who knows? As Simon and Garfunkel would have sung had they been Cubs fans, "Hello doubt, my old friend ..."
* * *
Woe Duca: Atlanta eliminated Florida from postseason contention Sunday, once again leaving Paul Lo Duca on the outside looking in.
As happy as I am to see the Marlins out of it, I'm sad for Lo Duca. You know when you've been waiting in one line in the supermarket forever, and then another line opens up, and as much as you resist it, you have to go. And then that line stalls out, and your original line passes you by? Now imagine that you really didn't want to switch lines, but that Ralphs management forced you to. And now imagine that it really meant something. Poor Paulie.
Meanwhile, underneath the radar (that is to say, obscured by the failings of the Dodger catchers who replaced him), Lo Duca did have his late-season fade. After a hot start with his new team, Lo Duca has an on-base percentage of .225 and a slugging percentage of .320 in September.
Compare Lo Duca's overall Florida statistics with those of the disrespected Juan Encarnacion:
Which is not to say that Lo Duca would not have been superior than Brent Mayne and Dave Ross for the Dodgers' stretch run. But ... it continues to be painful at times to be on the side that wouldn't have traded Lo Duca. Though I felt the move was more risky than necessary, the justification for the trade couldn't be more obvious, and the narrow-minded criticism it has received has not ceased to aggravate.
The Dodgers clearly needed a starting pitcher and had reason to think Lo Duca would not produce on offense as the season wound up. If Ross, Mayne and Hee Seop Choi had fulfilled the reasonable expectation of hitting better than Jeff Weaver, the exchange of players for Lo Duca and Guillermo Mota would have been a success - even with Brad Penny on the disabled list. And the Dodgers are better positioned for 2005 than they otherwise would have been.
As long as they find a catcher.
* * *
Friday, they force Gagne into a four-pitch walk of Pedro Feliz.
Sunday, they force Alex Cora into an error on a floppy Bonds grounder.
Have the gods no shame? Who do they think they're foolin'?
I'm fairly confident that Gagne's walk of Feliz came because he was so jazzed by Cesar Izturis' spectacular fielding play on the previous batter. I think Gagne lost focus.
Cora had a terrific series, marred only by the error. With Izturis and the home run by Jose Hernandez, the middle infielders were the offensive and defensive heroes of the weekend.
* * *
Green Produces: That Dodger first baseman didn't do so badly either.
Sandwiching his mid-day of atonement, Shawn Green had a game-tying two run home run, five walks, and two outstanding defensive plays - a diving grab, and an Actor's Studio performance.
In the fifth, with Giants on first and second, Green's fakeout helped the Dodgers turn a 4-6-3 double play against a hit-and-run.
"(First baseman Shawn Green) did a good job," Cora told Tony Jackson of the Daily News. "He faked like there was going to be a pickoff play. Because of that, I don't think Deivi (Cruz) got a very good jump (off first)."
Meanwhile, Green has settled in the No. 5 slot behind Adrian Beltre and quietly had a second half that ... well, still isn't quite up to what he is getting paid, but it's at least in the ballpark. Since the All-Star Game, Green has hit 18 home runs and is 15th in the N.L. with a .938 OPS.
* * *
The Quiet Man: So, I was driving to work this morning, and over between First Street and Second, I saw Milton Bradley caught in the crosswalk.
Even before this past weekend, I could safely say I did not recall a player getting picked off more times in a single season than Bradley. But boy, did he elevated it to an artform against the Giants. And that's with no penalty points against him being caught stealing at home on a busted squeeze play.
Hasn't Bradley had an oddly quiet summer, though? The most news he has made was his agreement to move out of center field so that Finley could be there. And that was nearly two months ago.
Bradley's OPS before the All-Star break was .814; since then it has been .767. He's not doing enough to really excite you or hurt you. He strikes out twice in a row and you're aggravated - then he hits a game-tying home run like he did Saturday and you think, "Oh yeah - Milton Bradley."
It was typical of recent trends for Bradley's homer to come and be mostly forgotten in a losing effort. He just has not been in the thick of it for a while, it seems.
* * *
Rat on: Points to Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle for recognizing that the umpire calls went both ways Sunday, and for putting the whole thing in perspective:
The Giants' position was that (a) Izturis was thrown out at third by shortstop Deivi Cruz for what should have been the second out of the fifth inning but wrongly acquitted by third-base umpire Doug Eddings, (b) that the correct call would have changed the inning, taken about 20 pitches off Tomko's total, and altered the course of human history, at least as it relates to the playoff race.
In fact, like Bonds' limp, it is much ado about little.
Yes, Izturis was out, but then again, the Giants benefited from two other calls later in the game. In addition, there is no evidence that Tomko, who was what the pros call ineffectively wild, suddenly would have turned into Greg Maddux. And finally, the Giants didn't exactly serve themselves well even after the fifth inning passed.
My philosophy on blown calls is this: You should enter a game knowing you have to be enough better than the other team that you can withstand an umpire mistake. The mistakes couldn't be more frustrating, but they're as much a part of the game as the wind.
* * *
Chez Alou: Giants manager Felipe Alou is taking the long way from San Francisco to San Diego for the Giants' next game. He's going by way of Florida.
According to Nick Peters of the Sacramento Bee, Alou is going to check in on his West Palm Beach residence in the aftermath of the latest Florida hurricane.
Talk about a stressful week ...
* * *
Feel Neel: On ESPN.com today, Eric Neel gets the space and visibility I wouldn't mind having to talk about the Dodgers-Giants series And he runs with it...
The Dodgers have lost seven of 11 coming into this series. I'm reeling.
Gil Hodges has been narrating my dreams.
This morning, I looked in the mirror and I saw Brian Johnson's evil mug staring back at me.
Two nights ago, after Jake Peavy and the Padres put us in a headlock, I paced for hours in the garage, swinging a bat, throwing a ball against the wall, and hurling real epithets at a thousand imaginary Joe Morgans.
The lead is dwindling. The Giants are gaining. The divison lead, once 7˝ games just a few weeks ago, is down to 1˝ games. The Dodgers could be in second place by the end of the weekend.
I'm not well...
Stretch Run Open Chat: Dodger-Giants (Saturday-Sunday)
I agree with John Wiebe. I guess I'm just no fan at all of Giovanni Carrara pitching with runners in scoring position.
Don't Drop the Boy
My 7 1/2-week-old son, who has never known the Dodgers not to be in first place in his lifetime, was quite agitated between 9 and 10 p.m. tonight. My wife thinks it was constipation, but you and I know the real reason.
So there he was in my arms, for about a solid hour, as the countdown to win a game by avoiding Barry Bonds went down. (As Vinny said in the line of the night, "You know how the Dodgers try to get the ball to Gagne? The Giants are trying to get the bat to Barry.")
I held the boy steady when Cesar Izturis made the diving stop to retire Deivi Cruz. And I held the boy steady when Eric Gagne, one out away from victory without Bonds, threw his 12 consecutive balls to the next three batters.
I told myself that I had to take care of the boy, no matter what.
And I whispered to the boy with the bases loaded, "Bring it home."
And he did.
A tremendous victory instead of a devastating loss. Yeah, Dodger fans will take that trade.
Odalis Perez threw one of the biggest lollipops I've seen all year to allow a second-inning home run to Bonds, then seemed to be on the precipice when Yorvit Torrealba followed with his own round-tripper.
But Perez, as he has done many times despite the criticism he seems to draw, got on one of his rolls, the kind of roll that has seen him pitch two one-hitters in his career. Only one more hit and one walk allowed through eight innings, while inducing a double play and two Bonds strikeouts - the second on a curveball that was as delicious as that earlier one was distasteful.
Has Perez earned some credibility in this town yet?
When Perez started getting handshakes in the dugout in the top of the ninth inning, I was disappointed. Having thrown only 92 pitches, there were still scenarios where he should have gone back on the mound. For one, if the Dodgers hit a home run or two before his turn at-bat came, Perez belonged back out there to go after a complete game and give the bullpen a night off. Or, if the first two Dodgers in the ninth made out, there wasn't too much reason to give up on Perez in exchange for a pinch-hitter. Then, if he allowed a baserunner, the Dodgers could turn to Gagne.
As it happens, a third scenario to keep Perez in the game materialized - runners on first and second (thanks in part to a pinch single by noteworthy callup Antonio Perez), none out, bunt situation. I think you let Perez bunt in that situation, and retain the flexibility of keeping him in the game. If, for some reason, Perez ended up on first, you could even pinch-run for him.
Another option, suggested in the Stretch Run Open Chat by Matthew Conroy, was to use Alex Cora, who was destined to enter the game as a defensive replacement in the bottom of the inning, for a bunt. That hadn't occured to me, but that was probably the second-best option.
Instead, manager Jim Tracy went with Jose Flores - which, it should be clear, was not a bad option, just not the best. Flores, who I expect has proven he can bunt despite not having done so in the majors, didn't get it down. And so, Perez was gone for no reason, and the Dodgers needed Gagne for a full inning instead of perhaps just an out, or maybe not at all.
Of course, some breathing room prior to that point would have been nice, and the Dodgers had the baserunners to get it, but five double plays and a caught stealing crimped that to hell. The Dodgers rolled a 1-12 for a lo (p) max and a 2-12 for a lo (ss) max (Strat-o-Matic players know what I mean), grounded into three other twin-killings and nearly flew into a sixth double play.
But thanks to home runs by the righteous Shawn Green and Jose Hernandez, Los Angeles got enough. And as was suggested in the pregame discussion, even if runs didn't come pouring across, the Dodgers did accomplish something by forcing the Giants to run through their bullpen tonight - it could pay dividends Saturday. Meanwhile, everyone in the Dodger pen but Gagne got at least their second day off of the week Friday - nice for valuable young Yhency Brazoban, who had thrown 41 pitches in the previous two days. He'll be ready for Saturday.
Gagne has thrown 50 pitches in the past two nights, so you'd like to see him get a day off, but you know he'll be available for an inning should the Dodgers get a lead behind Jose Lima. The Dodgers' other relievers could be pieced together to pitch an inning or two, and Brazoban is good for two, so you really just need Lima to hold the Giants down for five. (Of course, coming back from a finger fracture, Lima will overcome his biggest hurdle Saturday just getting out of the first inning and/or getting past Bonds for the first time - he's probably as likely to go seven innings as 1 1/3.)
So what does it all mean? We know the Dodgers will return home Sunday night in first place. As Rob McMillin pointed out, this guarantees nothing, but considering the alternative, it was an important step.
Now, with a victory in one of the two remaining games in San Francisco, the Dodgers can do much more. They can knock their magic number for winning the National League West to five, and they can position themselves to clinch a tie for the division title before the October 1-3 home series against the Giants even begins. And it's become apparent that the Dodgers might not want to wait until the last minute to their dirty work.
Ken Gurnick reported tonight that Kazuhisa Ishii will start Tuesday against Colorado and that Wilson Alvarez will stay in the bullpen for the remainder of the regular season, hoping to nurse a helpful inning or two out of his ailing body. Edwin Jackson will start Monday's series opener against the Rockies. This means that if the rotation continues unchanged, Jackson and Ishii would be in line to take the starts for the final two games of the season against San Francisco.
I happen to have more confidence in these two pitchers than some people do, but not even I like them as my favorite options with the season on the line. Of course, I'm not too big a fan of seeing pitchers go on three days rest, either.
What would probably happen is that Jackson would go on Saturday, with a quick hook at the ready. If the season were still in doubt Sunday, the Dodgers would have the choice of starting Ishii ... or Perez on three days rest, knowing that if there were a 163rd game to decide the title, it would be back in San Francisco, where Perez thrived tonight.
It's a crazy time, isn't it? But for Dodger fans, it's still happy crazy. We didn't drop the boy.
(And I suppose it's hella-lousy up in San Francisco this evening...)
Stretch Run Open Chat: Dodgers-Giants (Friday)
Introduction: I was going to call this "Showdown for the National League West Open Chat," but I don't think that headline should apply unless the Dodgers and Giants are within a half-game of each other.
Question: Does six innings of two-run ball in Colorado in his last start indicate a comeback for Odalis Perez? He allowed 10 hits, but it was Coors Field, and he had good control, walking one.
Comments: The Dodgers should be hella-careful with Barry Bonds with runners on base, but they should go after him with the bases empty. When he isn't walked, Bonds has an extra-base hit this season in exactly one of every five plate appearances (73/365). That means that by pitching to him, you have an 80 percent chance of holding him to first base anyway. Even accounting for his superiority to his teammates, Bonds still has a better chance of scoring from first base than the batter's box. You just want to use intentional walks to try to limit the runs he can drive in, because he can drive them in in bunches.
Los Angeles should also do all that it can to make San Francisco starting pitcher Kirk Rueter throw a lot of pitches. Admittedly, Rueter likes to keep the ball around the plate, but he can still rack up the pitch counts: he threw 100 despite pitching seven shutout innings on September 19, and threw 112 in 5 1/3 innings at home against Colorado on September 1. Get Rueter out of the game, get into that shaky Giants bullpen, and start wearing that bullpen down, for the game as well as the entire weekend.
Statement: With a single victory this weekend, the Dodgers would come home in first place, with all their games at home and all of the Giants' games on the road. A single victory would be enormous.
Before We Continue: Record Watch
A little bit of fun before we get serious ...
With 47 home runs this season, Adrian Beltre is of course within range of the Dodger record for home runs - Shawn Green holds it at 49.
Beltre can also break the Los Angeles single-season record for slugging percentage, held by Gary Sheffield, who slugged .643 in 2000. Beltre is at .647.
Babe Herman (1930) holds the Brooklyn-Los Angeles Dodger slugging percentage record at .678. The race for the No. 2 slugging percentage in franchise history is close and then some:
.64726 Duke Snider, 1954
Similarly, with 365 total bases, Beltre has already risen to fifth on the Dodger all-time list in that category. He could pass Shawn Green (370, 2001) for the Los Angeles record as soon as this weekend, and could rise as high as No. 2 in franchise history if he passes Duke Snider's 1954 total of 378. Herman had 416 in 1930 to top the history books.
The Dodger OPS records are just out of reach for Beltre, despite his having risen to 1.039. Sheffield set the Los Angeles record in 2000 at 1.081, while Herman clocked in at 1.132. Beltre is currently eighth in franchise history and third in Los Angeles history, behind Sheffield and Mike Piazza (1.070 in 1997).
At age 25, Beltre has already climbed into ninth place on the Los Angeles career home run list, with 146:
270 Eric Karros
Beltre and Cesar Izturis could become the first Dodger teammates with 200 hits in 42 years, since Tommy Davis and Maury Wills in 1962. With 10 games to play, Beltre has 193 and Izturis has 185.
Alex Cora, we know, broke the Los Angeles record for hit-by-pitches this year with his 17th bruise. The overall franchise record is 20, set by Hughie Jennings in 19 ought ought. Teammates Jennings and Dan McGann also had 17 and 19, respectively, in 1899.
Oh, and Izturis, with 631 at bats, projects to finish the season at 673, which would be second in franchise history behind Maury Wills' 695 in 1962.
Sources: Los Angeles Dodgers media guide, Baseball-Reference.com
Green's Compromise Shows Honesty
Shawn Green has announced he will play Friday but skip Saturday's Dodger game in observance of Yom Kippur. Although some will criticize this decision as a cop-out or phony compromise, I actually believe it shows the most integrity, by reflecting how truly torn Green is.
He really is a man of two worlds, and who's to say it isn't fair for him to try to respect both of them?
"Playing one of the two is the most consistent with my beliefs as a Jewish person," Green said before the Dodgers played the San Diego Padres on Thursday night.
When asked to explain, Green said: "I'm not orthodox. I am Jewish and I respect the custom. I feel this is the most consistent way to celebrate the holiday. I feel real good about my decision."
Both Judaism and baseball hold a grip on Green, and it's his legitimate choice to make neither supreme. Both should be forgiving of him. The villains in this episode, if any, are those who moved a second game into the atonement period.
I will admit to being curious whether baseball matchups influenced Green's choice of which game to miss.
Stretch Run Open Chat (Thursday)
At 5 p.m., still no confirmation on whether Brian Lawrence will replace, on three days rest, ill David Wells for the Padres.
Jason Schmidt goes for the Giants.
In Need of a Time Out?
As you probably recall, the Dodgers' worst stretch of 2004 came in May, when the team lost eight games in a row and 12 out of 14 from May 13-28. In two weeks, their record went from 22-10 to 24-22. Six of the losses came against legitimate contenders; six came against also-rans-to-be Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Arizona.
The losing began the very day after what perhaps was the most magical at-bat of the season - Alex Cora's 18-pitch home run on May 12. Although the pitching staff got knocked around a bit, the problem for Los Angeles was more on offense. In 10 of the 12 losses, the Dodgers were held to three runs or less and were shut out three times. Adrian Beltre, who had led the Dodgers to their hot start with a 1.054 OPS and 10 home runs through the first 32 games, went 9 for 55 with one home run during the team's tailspin. Obviously ailing with ankle bone spurs, Beltre - and in turn, the Dodgers - seemed in need of something just short of a mercy killing.
The Dodgers subsequently recovered. They beat up on some sub-.500 teams to stop the severe losing and borrow time, then went on a hot streak in July in which they beat all comers.
The question for the Dodgers now is not whether they ever could turn their season around, because given the right amount of time, we know they can. The question is how quickly. Will the turnaround come right away, or is the season, in what could be interpreted as a stroke of bad luck, ending at just precisely the wrong time for Los Angeles?
Through 171 days of this baseball season, the Dodgers have been in first place all but 23.
St. Louis: In First but Aching
The St. Louis Cardinals' best starting position player, Scott Rolen, and best starting pitcher, Chris Carpenter, are nursing injuries. So while the Dodgers' most reasonable goal at this point would be to win the National League West, one should at least keep in mind, whatever your belief of the Dodgers' chances of winning the division, that their potential first-round opponent is showing its own vulnerabilities.
The Cardinals would still be a heavy favorite, but a little less automatic to be sure, if Rolen and Carpenter are hobbled.
Meanwhile, let me remind you that the Cubs will win the wild card. It's been clear from the moment the simplicity of their season-closing schedule became apparent. The Giants or the Dodgers will take each other out, with the Padres' help. Only one team from the NL West will be in the postseason. Like I said before, it's division title or bust for Los Angeles.
Four Innings From Brazoban and Gagne
When you consider that the Dodgers can essentially lock up any game that they lead after five innings by going to Yhency Brazoban and Eric Gagne to get the final 12 outs, the Dodgers' current condition is both frustrating and tantalizing.
From this point of the season on, Los Angeles should not hesitate to turn to its two most reliable relievers as early as the sixth inning - particularly against San Francisco.
Because the Dodger starting pitching has become so particularly unsteady, because my dream of two good starts each from five pitchers might remain, however realistic, just a dream, there is even less reason than ever to think that Los Angeles will need Brazoban and Gagne in a hold or save situation on consecutive days. The Dodgers simply can no longer afford the risk of their best weapons remaining on the sideline when there is a lead at hand.
Of course, who knows if Los Angeles will get an early lead? For whatever reason, the starting rotation of the Giants has suddenly become a strength. Their bullpen, while better than it has been, remains a weakness. So the Dodgers might have to consider rolling the Brazoban-Gagne dice even in a game in which they are tied or trail after five innings.
In any case, by going 4-2 against the Giants, the Dodgers would take care of eight of the 11 games needed for their magic number to win the National League West. The Dodgers don't need sweeps. A concentrated effort on just two of three games in each Giants series would do it. That means bypassing the Dodgers' uncertain middle relief - not hopeless, just uncertain - and going straight to the firemen.
The notion that has been floated of starting Gagne and hoping to get five innings out of him is more radical than it is necessary or even useful. Blowing out Gagne in one game a week won't solve the Dodger problems, and there is no reason to give up on the idea that Los Angeles can put together a streak of good performances from their starting pitchers, any more than there is to assume that Brett Tomko will never have another bad start again.
But the Dodgers need to plan for the possibility that quality starts from their starters will remain rare. So they need to make sure Gagne and Brazoban get in the remaining 11 games early and often.
Oh, and yeah, it wouldn't hurt the Dodgers for their offense to KO a pitcher a few times, either.
In the third inning Wednesday, with the bases empty, Dodger shortstop Cesar Izturis dove to his left, completely outstretched, and snared a ground ball by Mark Loretta. Reflexively, Izturis shoveled the ball to second baseman Alex Cora, who relayed the ball to first baseman Shawn Green in time to nip Loretta.
For months now, I've dreamed of seeing this ballet performed in front of a national television audience on an October stage.
There has been the hunger to win a playoff game for the first time since 1988. There has been the hunger to attend a playoff game the Dodgers have won - I am 0-5, I believe, in my life. There is the hunger to be a champion.
But this year, unlike any other year, has been one when I've dreamed mostly of not wins and losses, but the art.
I want people to see this defense. I want this defense to knock the country's socks off. Yes, the Dodgers need to exorcise their winless postseason streak, but the fact that they haven't been favored to win the World Series hasn't bothered me. Even in an exit, they'd be a success, because O'Connor and Kelly and the gang would be Singin' in the Rain on some beautiful October diamond.
So here we are. A half-game lead. I've maintained all along I was a realist, not an optimist, in predicting the Dodgers would hang on to their lead. What has happened in the past 11 days, I will maintain, was not realistic. But no matter. With 11 days remaining, the cushion is down to one. The Dodgers defied the odds, and fell back into a dead heat. Not long ago, it was 90-10 the Dodgers would win the National League West. Now, it's heading toward 50-50, with the Dodgers in as big a pitching crisis as you could have ever imagined.
To think how this year began, with rage and pessimism toward the team after the clumsiest of offseasons. ... To think how Adrian Beltre and that glorious defense helped erase all that. ... To think that all the rage and pessimism could return ...
"Rise up," Bruce Springsteen exhorts, and I know it's blasphemy to quote from that song in this context, but that's my feeling for the Dodgers tonight, the feeling on my skin like heat. This town is desperate for heroes. This town is desperate for pitchers who will just throw strikes without giving up home runs. This town is desperate for hitters who will not make Beltre do it alone.
This town is desperate for goodness celebrated, not flaws exposed.
Win at-bats. Win innings. Win games. Win a division. Win the hearts of a public by earning the right to show off that defense.
You can win innings by making the pitcher work. By doing your work efficiently.
C'mon, rise up.
Two good starts each from five pitchers - I don't care who they are. That's not too much to ask. Two good starts each.
And just a little sign of humility from the Giants.
Two good starts each. Euphoria is still out there for the taking.
Stretch Run Open Chat (Wednesday)
Pittsburgh's Oliver Perez has a no-no against Chicago through four innings of a scoreless game.
If Roy Oswalt doesn't win tonight, I'm really going to be annoyed.
The Last Time ...
... the Dodgers held an opponent to two runs? September 7 vs. Arizona.
... the Dodgers held a non-Arizona opponent to two runs? August 29 vs. New York.
... the Dodgers held an opponent to one run? August 31 vs. Arizona.
... the Dodgers held a non-Arizona opponent to one run? August 17 vs. Florida.
... the Dodgers held an opponent to zero runs? July 7 vs. Arizona.
... the Dodgers held a non-Arizona opponent to zero runs? May 12 vs. Chicago.
In Case You Were Wondering ...
No. They can't keep pitching this poorly and win a division.
Yes. I'm sort of stunned that it keeps happening.
No. It's not over. Any game now, the pitchers can return to being their adequate selves.
Yes. They're going to have to beat the Giants on the field to win the division.
* * *
Wilson Alvarez has been scratched from his Thursday start. Kazuhisa Ishii looks likely to get the chance to be the hero.
Adrian Beltre - you are a true pleasure.
Stretch Run Open Chat (Tuesday)
Remember when we thought this week might bring the Jered Weaver-Jeff Weaver duel.
In any event, tonight it's up to big boy Jeff. He can be an ace, if he can be the ace.
Meanwhile, with all the recent talk about how often the Dodgers fall behind, you know they're going to be pressing to get some runs on the board early. Hitting coach Tim Wallach has been a success story this season - if he can somehow revive the early inning offense, he may have a job in Los Angeles for a while.
A Thank You Note
In response to last week's discussion of Ross Porter's present and future as a Dodger broadcaster, the man himself sends this message:
Noticing Antonio Perez
The 5-foot-11, 170-pound infielder has singled, doubled and been hit by a pitch in eight plate appearances this month. Perhaps what's most notable is that in this pennant race, Perez has been sent to the plate more times than fellow callups Jose Flores, Joe Thurston, Tom Wilson and Chin Feng-Chen combined.
At age 24, Perez already has been traded three times, which would be a red flag until you examine the circumstances of those deals. Originally signed out of his native Dominican Republic by Cincinnati in 1998, he was one of four players the Reds sent to Seattle two years later for Ken Griffey Jr. Two and a half years after that, the Mariners traded Perez to Tampa Bay for Randy Winn in a deal that also involved sending manager Lou Piniella from the Mariners to the Devil Rays.
Finally, two days before opening day this year, Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta acquired Perez from the Devil Rays for Jason Romano. Although he appeared in 48 big-league games last season, batting .248, it wasn't until this year, at Triple-A Las Vegas, that Perez truly blossomed. He hit .296 for the 51s, with 22 homers, 88 RBI and 22 steals. ...
The problem for Perez is a glass ceiling. Management isn't likely to break up baseball's best double play combination of Cesar Izturis and Alex Cora. But with at least a half-dozen major-league scouts attending every game, Perez also is auditioning for the other 29 clubs. And his production will enhance trade value this winter.
Everything that Jackson writes in the last paragraph is true. Cora's defensive skills are particularly important behind a starting rotation that doesn't seem to strike anyone out anymore - fewer than six per nine innings this year (although who knows how the rotation will look next year). Cora has made seven errors at the major-league level this year; Perez made 20 errors in Las Vegas.
Nevertheless, I can't help thinking that this coming March, DePodesta will want to take a long look at Perez, who also walked 61 times against 87 strikeouts in 125 games this season. Since the All-Star break, Cora's offensive production has fallen to a .325 on-base percentage and a .290 slugging percentage. He has seven extra-base hits in that time. In September, Cora has a .255 OBP and is slugging .188, with one extra-base hit.
The only areas where Cora has been consistent are walks and getting hit by pitches. After recieving eight stitch imprints before the break, Cora has been plunked nine times since.
In May and June, when Cora hit .468/.538 and .450/.400, he was perhaps the best overall second baseman in the National League - something not to be ignored. He will only be 29 years old next season, and though he will be due a raise on his $1.3 million 2004 salary, it shouldn't be an overwhelming one.
Also working in Cora's favor is how well he platooned with right-handed Jose Hernandez, who despite turning 35 this year, figures to return - also with a raise - after a 12-homer, .912 OPS season to date on an $850,000 contract. So if Perez can be flipped to another team in exchange for help at another position, DePodesta will no doubt go for it.
But despite The Ghost of Joe Thurston hovering about, it would be interesting to see what Perez can do in a Dodger uniform. And to think, all this for Jason Romano.
Upcoming Pitching Matchups
Pitching matchups for the upcoming key National League West series, with 2004 ERA followed by September 2004 ERA:
It's not hard to imagine San Francisco winning two of three games against Houston.
Tentatively, this is what we might see over the weekend when the Dodgers fly to San Francisco (updated September 21):
Worry, Be Happy
Are you enjoying the drama? I get the feeling you're not enjoying the drama.
I get the feeling you think the Dodgers are more lucky than good, and that luck doesn't count for anything.
I get the feeling that you're impatient, even though even the best, most authoritative Dodger teams rarely clinch their divisions before the final week of the season. (The earliest clinch in Los Angeles history was 17 years ago today.)
We all want to know that everything's going to be okay, so we look for predictive signs everywhere. And the Dodgers falling behind, game after game, that's not a good sign. Starting pitchers that can't make it into the sixth inning, that's not a good sign. Runners left on base, that's not a good sign. The Giants winning games, that's not a good sign.
People have called me an optimist this month, which has surprised me. I don't consider myself an optimist. Like everyone else, I see the negative signs. But for some reason, with this first-place team, very few people seem to see the positive ones too.
It does seem like I'm doing a lot of counseling on this site, lately - it's sort of weird. But there does seem to be such negativity surrounding the team, I guess I keep feeling a counterpoint is necessary.
Perhaps you're preparing yourself for the potential disappointment of losing the division. Or perhaps you're already looking ahead to the first round of the playoffs and preparing to be swept, again. You're so hungry for Dodger success that the possibility that it will be plucked away makes you scared. Or angry.
I hear all that. I feel all that.
My only advice is to keep an open mind and try to enjoy the journey as well. Because as you know, it's not every year that the Dodgers are in first place when the air cools and the leaves begin to change color.
* * *
Someone is going to pin this article from the North County Times on the proverbial bulletin board. And someone else is going to talk about this firing up the Dodgers.
And I'll continue to be amazed that professional athletes need bulletin board quotes to inspire them.
"Not to take anything away from them, but I definitely don't feel like they're the best team in the division," Padres pitcher Brian Lawrence said. "But that's why you play the game - the best team doesn't always win. If that was the case, they'd give the trophy to the Yankees every year and call the season."
"They've been getting lucky," teammate David Wells said of the Dodgers, adding that Jeff Weaver is their only "legitimate" starter. "They're the comeback kids. You have to give credit to their offense. ... We know we have a better team than the Dodgers. They've just been winning at the right time. That's why they're where they're at. It's frustrating to all of us that we are where we are."
But the thing is, the best team does win. Every time. In the end, in a game of rules, the winning team is the best team. It'll be true if the Giants or Padres rally to win a title, and it'll even be true if the Dodgers hang on.
Open Chat: Dodgers-Rockies (Saturday-Sunday)
The Dodgers have 161 games on television this season, and one not. This is not.
The Dodgers are winless when not televised. Good thing for them they're back on the air.
The Quaking Rotation Shifts Again
The news that Brad Penny is ready to return to the starting rotation, and that Hideo Nomo's 8.25 ERA will be replaced with one that is more than five runs lower (although rusty) should have a revitalizing effect for those worried about Dodgers' chances.
Nothing's perfect in Dodgerland, though, so with Penny's return comes the news that Jose Lima's next start will be postponed because of a small fracture. However, Edwin Jackson seems ready to take the mound Sunday and give the Dodgers a chance to win.
Here (and on the sidebar) you can see how the Dodger rotation may look over the next 10 days:
9/18 at Colorado (Perez)
The next goal for the Dodgers is for the starting pitchers to start pitching into the seventh inning more consistently, so that Los Angeles won't have to rely on the relative miracle of shutout performances by Elmer Dessens, Scott Stewart and Mike Venafro in middle relief. Given the pace of Penny and Jackson's recoveries, it could be a week before this happens. Nomo might be shelved for the rest of the year, but the Dodgers will probably need Kazuhisa Ishii in relief before the season's done - which could be bad or just fine. Unless Ishii has been placed in the Hee Seop Choi penalty box.
Nomo has allowed 77 runs in 84 innings. Last year, in 82 1/3 innings, Gagne allowed 12.
Open Chat: Dodgers-Rockies (Friday)
A High Five to the High Five
In the next moment, I got to thinking about the high five's remarkable staying power. Nearing its 30th birthday, the high five has seen disco come and go, and come and go. It has seen Charlie's Angels both as television series and movie.
In the history of the western world, what hand greetings, outside of the handshake, have stood the test of time better than the high five?
Dodger Thoughts Goes to the Emmys
Don't know if I've set intelligent baseball conversation back a few decades in this E! Online interview, but I suppose the Emmys can't be done any harm.
By the way, my picks for best series from the nominees would be Arrested Development and The Sopranos Most cheated of a best series nomination: Scrubs.
Dodgers Aren't Pret-a-Porter
Dodger executive Lon Rosen told Larry Stewart of the Times that the team has not had discussions with potential new play-by-play announcers for the team, so we may well see Ross Porter and Rick Monday return next season even though their current contracts are near expiration. (There is already a commitment for Vin Scully to return.)
But I agree with Porter's own statement that he has earned the right to know now whether the Dodgers intend to replace him. Even though I understand a hypothetical desire for the Dodgers not to make a rash decision - ask Jim Tracy how much the team likes to dangle - and even though I understand that there are potential replacements with whom the Dodgers might not have yet had the opportunity to meet, Porter simply deserves better. He deserves an answer. (For what it's worth, I think that answer should be that he's returning.)
Imagine if this is Porter's farewell season after nearly three decades, and he isn't given the privilege of at least knowing it and being able to prepare a proper, meaningful farewell to his listeners.
"I feel that after 28 years, I'm entitled to know before the season is over," Porter told Stewart.
You may be a fan of Porter, Monday, both or neither. But clearly, there is a window here for you to make your own opinion known. And important people in the Dodger organization, I have found, do read this site. Certainly Porter does.
Previously: Next Stop Porterville
In case you didn't notice, Thursday's sedative factored in the strong possibility of San Francisco winning and even the Dodgers losing. It was designed to work on a 2 1/2-game lead as well as the more mild strain of a 3 1/2-game lead.
As I've written several times in the past, the point of a cushy lead is not to scare you once it shrinks - it's to allow for shrinkage. You don't buy pants with an extra inch in the waist because you want them to flop down your hips. (Okay, some people do that these days, but it's all relative.)
This week isn't the first time the Giants or Padres have cut into a Dodger National League West lead. The fact that the Dodgers still have the lead - and a healthy percentage of it at that - should say something.
Of course, Thursday was a difficult day for Dodger fans, perhaps the most difficult since the losing streak that dropped Los Angeles temporarily out of first place in June. To lose two in a row and four out of five heading into a Hideo Nomo start, knowing that Jeff Weaver's Thursday performance would have easily been good enough for a victory Wednesday, is disheartening.
All I can say is, take Thursday's sedative again. Take two if you must. It doesn't require that the Dodgers be perfect - in Colorado or anywhere else. It doesn't require that the Giants lose all their games - although it expects that now, against the very team that hobbled the Dodgers this week, it will lose some. (Jake Peavy and his 2.26 ERA take on San Francisco tonight.)
You'd like the stress test to end. But just remember that it only needs to end with you alive. Hang in there.
Open Chat: Padres-Dodgers (Thursday)
It's Not Loney at the Top
One rationale lost in the Dodgers' pursuit of first baseman Hee Seop Choi has been the 2004 season of Jacksonville prospect James Loney.
Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus today labeled Loney the most disappointing minor league prospect in baseball in 2004. To be sure, this designation partly reflects the high expectations held for Loney - it's not as if Silver is calling Loney the worst prospect in baseball by any stretch. Someone, I believe, even suggested Loney could be this year's National League Rookie of the Year - in a flight of fancy, I assure you.
Nevertheless, Silver writes that with an on-base percentage of .312 and a slugging percentage of .327 in Jacksonville yielding a major league equivalent EQA of .185, Loney falls into the "level at which a player's performance has deteriorated enough that it almost certainly reflects a fundamental overestimation of their ability level rather than some sort of unlucky season."
One can hope that Loney is a) still suffering from lingering effects of his 2002 wrist injury that will eventually go away (like the Adrian Beltre appendectomy theory) or that b) it is just growing pains for a player still only 20 years old.
But you can understand why the Dodgers, who in April 2004 could have expected Loney to replace Shawn Green at first no later than 2006, wanted to have other young options like Choi at their disposal.
Update: Silver writes that in 2004, the power of former Dodger farmhand Franklin Gutierrez, who was sent away in the Milton Bradley trade, "all but disappeared, a troubling occurrence considering that his strikeout rate increased."
Your Morning Sedative
If the Dodgers trailed in their division and their final 15 games were against teams with a combined .551 winning percentage, wouldn't you feel pretty poorly about their chances?
That's the dilemma - that's right, the dilemma - facing the San Francisco Giants beginning Friday:
Even after you add in their one remaining game with Milwaukee today, even after you acknowledge that they are playing well, the Giants (81-65, .555) remain unlikely to do much better than 9-7 (.563) to close out the season.
If the Giants go 9-7, the Dodgers can clinch the division by going 7-10 (.412).
And the Dodgers have seven games alone remaining with Colorado (63-82, .434), including four in Los Angeles.
Brad Penny is looking better. Edwin Jackson is looking better. Get Adrian Beltre back in the lineup, and you have a Dodger team that has won six of its last 10 and is getting healthier.
I'm not big on calling out double-digit magic numbers, but the Dodgers can knock out the 14 they need to clinch the National League West this simply: going 4-3 against Colorado, 3-3 against San Francisco and 2-2 against San Diego, even if the Giants lose as few as two games out of nine to Houston and the Padres.
Put another way:
And of course, many other combinations work just as well - many more combinations than the Giants have.
Nobody's work in this division is done. The Dodgers can't feel secure. They still have Mt. Whitney to climb to get to the top. But the Giants have Kilimanjaro.
Open Chat: Padres-Dodgers (Wednesday)
Dave Mayne and Brent Ross
"Strike that. Reverse it."
What follows violates my principles regarding the irrelevance of small sample sizes.
But I can't help but notice that Brent Mayne, the left-handed-hitting catcher the Dodgers use against right-handed pitchers, has the following platoon splits in 2004:
Mayne OPS vs. righties: .502 (141 at-bats)
And I can't help but notice that Dave Ross, the right-handed-hitting catcher the Dodgers use against left-handed pitchers, has the following platoon splits in 2004:
Ross OPS vs. righties: .662 (87 at-bats)
I'm writing this expecting a lot of dismissive comments about how hopeless these two are, no matter what side of the plate you put them on. But the fact is, neither Mayne nor Ross is really as bad as they have been since August 1. So I'm wondering if Jim Tracy should mix up the pattern, yes, just for the sake of mixing it up.
And yeah, it probably wouldn't destroy Los Angeles to give Tom Wilson a start, either.
Willie Crawford's Melancholy Career
Here's some more interesting background on the late Willie Crawford, courtesy of Bruce Markusen:
In 1964, the 17-year-old Willie Crawford drew the interest of almost every one of the 20 major league teams in existence. With his combination of power, speed, and throwing arm, clubs like the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, and Kansas City A’s envisioned him as a centerpiece in their outfield futures. Dodgers executive Al Campanis filed a scouting report that said Crawford “hits with the power of Roberto Clemente and Tommy Davis at a similar age.” Kansas City A’s owner Charlie Finley lifted the level of praise even further, calling Crawford “a Willie Mays with the speed of Willie Davis.”
Finley liked Crawford so much that he gave the youngster a large, framed, signed portrait of himself, which eventually hung in the Crawford living room. Even more pertinently, Finley offered Crawford a bonus of $200,000 to play center field for his A’s — more than any previous bonus given to an African-American player. Crawford seemed genuinely intrigued by the advances of Finley, referring to him as “one of the nicest millionaires I know.”
Yet, Crawford turned down the millionaire’s offer, instead signing a $100,000 bonus contract with the Dodgers. As a native and resident of the Watts section of Los Angeles, Crawford simply didn’t feel comfortable about moving away from the California coast. He also found himself swayed by Dodgers scout (and future Hall of Fame manager) Tom Lasorda, who had taken the time to attend the funeral of Crawford’s grandfather.
The Dodgers, like the A’s and Yankees, expected Crawford to become a superstar. It didn’t happen. Crawford’s outfield play, crude and untrained, left much to be desired. Crawford also struggled to hit left-handed pitching, so much so that the Dodgers cast him in the role of a platoon player. Frustrated by a lack of consistent playing time, Crawford struggled with his weight—and with alcohol. Allowing his problems to fester, Crawford didn’t tackle the latter obstacle until 1981, when he received treatment at The Meadows, an acclaimed center for alcoholic rehabilitation.
By the mid-1970s, Crawford had firmly established his status as a major league journeyman. He bounced from the Dodgers to the St. Louis Cardinals to the Houston Astros. Then, in the middle of the 1977 season, Crawford found himself traded again. This time he landed with the Oakland A’s, who had since moved from Kansas City but were still owned by Charlie Finley. ...
The move to the A’s left both the owner and the player dissatisfied. The most memorable moment of Crawford’s tenure in Oakland was probably his decision to wear No. 99 on the back of his jersey. Other than that, not much of note happened. Nearing the end of his career, Crawford hit a measly .184 in a half-season, looking little like the talent that Finley had once compared to Willie Mays. Crawford didn’t like playing for the A’s, either. “It was depressing,” Crawford told The Sporting News. “They went with the kids. I was just a spectator up there.” As for his relationship with Finley, the man he had once called the “friendliest millionaire” he ever met, Crawford was able to offer little insight. “I didn’t have any communication with the man,” Crawford said bluntly—and perhaps with a bit of sadness. Perhaps Finley would have talked to him more if only Crawford had started his career with Kansas City in his prime, rather than end it in Oakland as an obscurity.
Remarks on Crawford are being collected at my original post on his passing. If you haven't read some of the appreciations recently, they're quite something.
Smarter Than Gerbils Are We
And then some.
And that's a good thing.
From Rob Neyer at ESPN.com:
If you get the chance tonight (or tomorrow night), flip over to the Padres-Dodgers game, and really watch and listen. In these days of garish, mismatched uniform tops, you won't see a better-looking set of unis than the Dodgers' home whites and the Padres' new "sand"-colored road togs. Livery-wise, it just doesn't get any better than this in the National League.
And then there's Vin Scully. Now in his 55th season with the Dodgers, Scully remains one of the best in the business. And young baseball fans are incredibly lucky that Scully's still in fine fettle. The other thing I appreciate about Dodger broadcasts is the singularity of Scully's soothing voice. Every other broadcast, of course, features two guys in the booth. That's not so bad. Shoot, it's what I grew up with. But do we really need a third cook stirring the pot? These days, many (most?) broadcasts feature the two guys in the booth and a reporter roving the stands, trying to drum up interesting stories where, more often than not, they don't exist.
All these broadcasters, all those alternate uniforms, they're designed to hold the attention of an inattentive public. And what's refreshing about watching the Dodgers and Padres tonight is that the proceedings seem as if they're supposed to appeal to creatures with brains larger than a gerbil's.
Dodgers Aren't Alone in Pitching a Fit
At least five runs in eight consecutive games.
That's not what the Dodger pitching staff has allowed. That's what the Dodger offense has scored.
Although only one Dodger starter has an ERA below 4.50 in September, although it's near-torture watching the likes of Scott Stewart or Mike Venafro pitch in a Dodger uniform, calm is in order.
Forget about St. Louis. Forget about Atlanta. Forget about Chicago or Houston or Florida or Philadelphia. For the remaining 19 games, the Dodgers need to outpitch only three other teams: San Diego, Colorado and San Francisco.
Here are the ERAs for these four teams - for all of 2004 and for September.
The Padres, whose pitching the Dodgers should most fear, are having their own problems. Jake Peavy is the only Padre starter in September with an ERA below 4.50.
Has San Francisco found pitching after a season-long search? Well, the Giants' bullpen has improved, but like the Padres, San Francisco has only one starter below 4.50 in ERA this month - the mythical being that is Brett Tomko.
It's probably not a concidence that the Dodger offense has taken off while their teammates on the mound have stumbled. It appears the National League West, not just Los Angeles, is running low on pitching.
So as we evaluate the Dodger pitching, let's avoid doing so in a vacuum. An ERA in the neighborhood of 5.00 is nothing to shout about, but it isn't as bad as it usually sounds. It might well be good enough to get Los Angeles into the playoffs (a battle for another day). And there's also the possibility that Dodger arms will get healthier.
Dodger fans can reasonably hope so, anyway.
Open Chat: Padres-Dodgers (Tuesday)
For the Dodgers, Division Title or Bust?
The Chicago Cubs can really take charge of the National League wild card race over the next 2 1/2 weeks. In fact, even with a six-game lead over the Cubs, the Dodgers are no lock to finish with a better record than Chicago.
A September 20 doubleheader at Florida marks the Cubs' only two games against a playoff contender out of their next 19. The Wrigleyites do wrap up their season with three against Atlanta - but what better time to play the Braves than the final weekend, when Atlanta has its division clinched and is making sure its best pitchers have plenty of rest?
Should the Dodgers stumble and fall into second place in the NL West, they can't count on the wild card consolation prize being there for them.
As for the other playoff contenders:
San Francisco is idle today, then plays three games in Milwaukee - the Giants' final three games against sub-.500 competition.
Florida has a similarly rough finish: after this week's Montreal series, the Marlins have six games with Atlanta, seven with Philadelphia and two with the Cubs among their final 18.
Houston has six games against St. Louis and three with the Giants.
Though Philadelphia probably has too much ground to make up, the Phillies have won nine of their last 10 and are positioned to continue their run with 12 games against sub-.500 teams to go with seven against Florida.
And then there's the current Dodger opponent, the Padres. San Diego has six games left with Arizona, an advantage over all other contenders. Every other remaining Padre game is against the Giants or Dodgers. The Padres also have two off days to mitigate their own No. 5 starter problems. A 13-6 finish is achievable for San Diego, which could be enough to get Southern California another playoff team.
Like every other player in the wild card game, however, they need the Cubs to fall down in the open field.
Open Chat: Padres-Dodgers (Monday)
Ishii? Nomo? Jackson? Does It Matter?
Despite that feeling you might have in your churning gut, the crisis of the No. 5 Dodger starter is about as serious as a parking ticket.
Neither Kazuhisa Ishii or Hideo Nomo inspires much confidence in Dodger manager Jim Tracy, with Tracy already casting Ishii out of the starting rotation (again). All things being equal, at this stage of the season, I would still take the up-and-down Ishii, whose ups have been scintillating, over Nomo. But all things are not equal. For one, Ishii is having a precuationary MRI on his back today.
So we turn unsteadily to Nomo, whose next scheduled start is Friday in Colorado. It's the place where someone named Nomo once pitched a no-hitter, but that was a different Nomo. This Nomo in Colorado might not be pretty.
On the bright side - and this is important - it could be the last beating we have to worry about Nomo taking this season.
On Monday, September 20, following the Colorado series, the Dodgers get their final off day of the regular season. If they want, they can use that day to skip the No. 5 slot in the rotation and rely on Odalis Perez, Jose Lima, Wilson Alvarez and Jeff Weaver for eight consecutive games from September 18-26, all the way through their final road series at San Diego and San Francisco.
Depending on how things look, the Dodgers could spot-start Nomo or Ishii in one of those two pitcher-friendly parks. In any case, only one of the Dodgers' next 13 games requires Nomo or Ishii. If the Dodgers play solid ball during that period, especially against their top division rivals, by the time it ends they might have enough of a Playoff Seat Cushion where they could turn look at Nomo, Ishii, Brad Penny and Edwin Jackson in a starting role without any grief.
Of course, in a hypothetical playoff appearance, the Dodgers can completely abandon their fifth starter. They would still have some pitching staff composition issues to solve, though. Eight spots are locked up in Weaver, Perez, Alvarez, Lima, Eric Gagne, Yhency Brazoban, Giovanni Carrara and Duaner Sanchez. Candidates for the remaining two or three slots would be Nomo, Ishii, Penny, Jackson, Elmer Dessens, Scott Stewart and Mike Venafro.
The Dodgers have maintained that they only plan to use Penny as a starter, but if he heals enough to even be a start-of-the-inning middle reliever, he would seem a much better option than other choices. Even better would be for him to return as a starter, allowing Alvarez to help out the bullpen, but that might be too much to hope for.
I suppose anyone who completely gives up on Nomo does so at his own risk. But in a relief role, might Jackson not be the best 10th or 11th man?
Times Sports Section Undergoing Surgery
The Times sports section is shrinking, but its baseball coverage is largely being preserved, according to a memo from Times Sports Editor Bill Dwyre published by Kevin Roderick of L.A. Observed. As part of a plan to reduce the section's size by 14 pages per week, daily team notebooks for USC, UCLA, the Kings and Ducks (if they play) and the Clippers and Lakers are being eliminated. However, daily baseball note packages will remain.
Notebooks for the other sports will appear, just not every day.
Viewing this from the outside, that any daily team notebooks have been in jeopardy is startling to me. Although, as a paper of record, the Times has something of an obligation to publish game reports, they are the least valuable asset in a newspaper's team coverage. Game reports are the element most easily found on television and on the internet via wire service accounts. On the other hand, local team notebooks offer the extra information often not found anywhere else. It has long been my theory that some of the rising popularity of this website has been because the Dodger notebooks in the Times (and other papers) aren't deep enough.
Dwyre states that as far as the notebooks go, "rather than having guaranteed space every day, you will have to report your way into the paper." That's a fine sentiment, but it's still hard for me to imagine many days where there isn't information or analysis worth notebooking on any team worth following. Notebooks are often the place where good beat reporters can most outshine their competition.
As for the other changes to the Sports Section, though many are dramatic and worth lamenting, others eliminate fat and not muscle. But even Times editorial clearly knows that the cuts to the sports section being commissioned by its Tribune Company ownership are major - the paper has already set up a multi-pronged system to take in complaints just on these issues.
Ironically, if the Dodgers instituted these kinds of cuts, the Times would be all over them.
Open Chat: Cardinals-Dodgers (Weekend)
A Happier 9/11
Orignally published September 11, 2003
Twenty years ago today, Dodger Stadium hosted its greatest game.
It began swathed in bright blue skies and triple-digit temperatures. When it ended, 228 crazy brilliant minutes later, shadows palmed most of the playing field, and every Dodger fan who witnessed the spectacle found themselves near joyous collapse.
The game was between the Dodgers of Steve Sax and Pedro Guerrero, of Greg Brock and Mike Marshall ... and the Braves of Dale Murphy, of Bruce Benedict, of Brad Komminsk.
In the end, however, it came down to one man. A rookie named R.J. Reynolds.
A Brave Battle
On September 11, 1983, coming off an extra-inning loss to Atlanta the night before, Los Angeles took the field behind starting pitcher Rick Honeycutt, making his fifth start for the team since being acquired from Texas in exchange for Dave Stewart, a player to be named later and $200,000. (Supplementary information in this article courtesy of Retrosheet.
After a scoreless first inning, the Dodgers tallied two runs in the second off Braves starter Len Barker. With two out, catcher Jack Fimple, near the height of his brief but shining heyday as a fan favorite, doubled home Brock and Marshall.
Murphy brickwalled the Dodger momentum in the next inning, displaying the form that left his contemporaries certain he would become a Hall of Famer. In the top of the inning, Murphy hit a three-run home run, his 32nd of the season. In the bottom of the inning, he crashed into the center-field wall, glove extended above and beyond it, to rob Guerrero of a two-run homer.
Stunned at the end of the third, the crowd had no idea that the frenzy was only beginning.
Four on the Floor
Honeycutt got the first two batters out in the top of the fourth, but then gave up back-to-back singles to Jerry Royster and Rafael Ramirez. Having seen his starting pitcher allow seven hits, two walks and a hit batsman in 3 2/3 innings, and with Murphy again at the plate, Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda brought in Pat Zachry.
Ramirez stole second base, and then Zachry walked Murphy.
With the bases loaded, Lasorda made another move, bringing lefthander Rich Rodas - in his second major league game - to face Chris Chambliss with the bases loaded.
Rodas walked Chambliss to force in the Braves' fourth run, then allowed a two-run single to Komminsk that made the score 6-2 Braves.
The fourth Dodger pitcher of the inning came in ... a young, young-looking guy by the name of Orel Hershiser. Compared to Rodas, Hershiser was a veteran. This was the Bulldog-to-be's third major-league game. To the naked eye, Lasorda was trying to win the way Buttermaker relied on Ogilvie and Miguel in The Bad News Bears.
Hershiser loaded the bases again with a walk to Benedict. The ninth batter of the inning, third baseman (no-not-that) Randy Johnson, came up with a chance to bury the Dodgers, but popped out to his hot corner counterpart Guerrero to end the top of the fourth.
The score stayed at 6-2 for two more innings. Marshall and Brock, who combined to reach base seven times in this game, led off the bottom of the fourth with singles. Reynolds, however, grounded into a double play. Fimple followed with a walk off Barker, but future Braves hero Sid Bream grounded out batting for Hershiser.
Burt Hooton, a longtime Dodger starter who went to the bullpen shortly after the acquisition of Honeycutt, became the team's fifth pitcher in the fifth. The teams gave the fans a breather with an uneventful inning, and Hooton retired the Braves in order in the top of the sixth.
Then the surreal moment arrived.
No, You're Not Even Warm
Rick Monday, his heroic days behind him, batted for Fimple and was called out on strikes for the second out. But Ken Landreaux, the Dodgers' regular center fielder, pinch-hit for Hooton and walked to load the bases.
Torre went to the mound and signaled for a pitcher to replace Boggs. None other than Terry Forster - the fall guy of 1982 - emerged from the right-field bullpen.
But then a strange thing happened. Torre signaled again - for a right-handed pitcher.
The strange thing was not that Torre wanted a righty to face Sax. It was that he wanted a righty when none had been warming up.
On the telecast, Vin Scully reported that Tony Brizzolara had warmed up earlier in the game, but in this inning, it had clearly been Forster who was backing up Boggs. Brizzolara had been cooling off for some time.
As a puzzled Forster stood on the edge of the warning track and the outfield grass, looking back and forth between the mound and the bullpen, Torre insisted that Brizzolara come in to face Sax.
In Brizzolara came. He threw four pitches to Sax - in the dirt, low, low and high. In the Dodgers' third run came, and out went Torre to replace Brizzolara with Forster.
Atlanta was rattled, a thespian who had forgotten his lines on Broadway, but Los Angeles got the minimum out of the comedy, as shortstop Bill Russell struck out against Forster and left the bases loaded.
Joe Beckwith, the losing pitcher in the previous night's game, laid anchor for the Dodger bullpen, throwing three innings and scattering two singles and a walk. Meanwhile, the mythic Donnie Moore provided a dose of calm for the Braves, retiring the Dodger side in order in the seventh and the eighth.
And then came the bottom of the ninth.
With a Flick of the Wrists, It Begins
He just kind of felt for the ball.
Dave Anderson entered the game to run for Morales. As Sax batted (with S. Sax on the back of his uniform, to distinguish himself from his brother Dave for the easily confused), the television camera found a much-in-need-of-SlimFast Lasorda, sitting near Dodger coach Monty Basgall.
Lasorda, Basgall dying a little bit in the Dodger dugout. Tommy's not feeling well anyway. He's got a cold for about a month.
Gene Garber, sporting the kind of beard you just don't see ballplayers wear anymore, was warming up in the bullpen as Moore went 3-1 to Sax. One inside pitch later, Torre was out of the dugout with a hook for Moore. As Moore, the victim of a devastating playoff home run in October 1986, left the game, Tom Niedenfuer, his October 1983 counterpart, began warming up for in the Dodger bullpen for the 10th inning.
Russell, sporting the kind of physique you just don't see ballplayers compete with anymore, then struck out in his second consecutive critical at-bat.
Dusty Baker, in his last season with the Dodgers before his acrimonious departure, was the batter with one out and two on. Even Baker, with more than 200 career home runs, was thin back then.
Baker swung and missed at Garber's sidearm delivery, then took one low and outside. On the 1-1 pitch, Baker hit a pop fly that fell between second baseman Royster and right-fielder Claudell Washington, a defensive replacement for Komminsk. The bases were loaded with the tying runs.
This crowd is on its feet and pleading. They're all getting up. It is that time of day. Never mind the seventh-inning stretch. This is the wire.
Cecil Espy came in to run for Baker, and Guerrero came up to the plate. His at-bat took more than six minutes.
'This Is Hanging Time'
Boy, what an exhausting finish to a long afternoon at the ballpark. Well, it figured the Dodgers and the Braves are gonna put you through the ringer, right down to the last day. So naturally, they do it right down to the last minute.
Guerrero took one low, evening the count, 2-2. Then he grounded one by third base, just foul.
The table is set and the big man is in the chair.
Pitch No. 6 of the at-bat was six inches off the ground, outside - and still fouled off by Guerrero.
Boy, he was late. He just did get a piece of that. After you get that palmball trickery of Garber ... it was almost in Benedict's mitt.
No. 7: another grounder, just foul.
And the tension remains ...
With Garber about to throw the eighth pitch, Guerrero stepped out at the last moment and called time. Vinny, laughing:
Oh yeah, these are tough to take, I tell you what. Guerrero just had to back out. I mean, this is hanging time. Woo!
Garber bounced the resin bag back and forth on the front and back of his right hand. Guerrero stepped back in, and Garber threw. Low - ball three.
It is almost too much to take ...
Guerrero went back in for the ninth pitch of the at-bat, then called time again.
You can just imagine the pressure - you'd have to be a block of wood not to feel it.
Here came the pitch. Two feet outside. Guerrero flung the bat away backhanded and strutted to first base.
Anderson scored the first run of the inning, cutting the Braves' lead to 6-4. The ballpark shadows have just reached Garber. Third-base coach Joe Amalfitano counseled the next batter, Marshall.
Garber slipped on his right foot in delivering the first pitch outside for ball one. The next pitch was outside as well.
Marshall then hit a long drive to right. Washington, with his glove on his right hand, went toward the wall with his back to the right-field stands. But the ball was slicing behind him, and Washington turned his body 180 degrees to try to find and catch the ball in the late-afternoon sun.
It didn't take. The drive landed right at the base of the wall. Murphy, coming over to back up the play, nearly collided with Washington as the latter threw the ball back. Two runs scored on Marshall's double - tying the game at 6 - but Guerrero was held at third. On-deck hitter Brock stood near home plate, raising his hands behind his head like he thought Guerrero could have scored, but the replay showed that Amalfitano probably was wise to hold Guerrero.
With the winning run on third and first base open, Brock was walked intentionally - the first wide one barely snagged by a staggering Benedict.
The batter will be the kid, R.J. Reynolds, with a chance to win it.
Holding Back to the Last Second
And now, with the bases loaded, the infield is up, the outfield looks like a softball game, and the batter is R.J. Reynolds.
The first pitch is outside. Reynolds looked at Amalfitano again.
Gene Garber is battling to stay afloat.
If this was a game of Bad News Bears moments, this was Ahmad's.
Reynolds didn't give it away. In slow motion, the bat doesn't even start to come off Reynolds' shoulder until Garber's pitching arm is all the way back.
But then ... Reynolds' left hand finds the barrel of the bat. He lays the bat forward, relaxedly, at a slight downward diagonal pointing below his waist, then corrects it to a straight horizontal line to meet the ball.
Reynolds pauses a millisecond to watch. Garber's follow-through carries him toward the third-base side of the mound, but the bunt rolls toward the first base side.
The SQUEEZE! And here comes the run!!
By the time Garber reverses field and lunges for the ball, Guerrero is 15 feet away from home plate. Before Garber is even upright, Guerrero touches home, banging his hands together in exultation.
He squeezed it in!
Backs of jerseys from our past - Yeager, Thomas, Maldonado, Landestoy, Rivera - come out to rain congratulations on Guerrero. Lasorda risks smothering Reynolds in a headlock.
By the way, if you are keeping score in this madhouse, not only did R.J. squeeze, he got a base hit and an RBI. And Guerrero brought the winning run home. BEDLAM at Dodger Stadium.
Replays and images of celebrations pass in front of us for several seconds, without comentary - you know this is Vinny's way, to let the moment be the moment. We catch Ross Porter, in short-sleeved shirt and tie, is in the dugout to prepare to interview Reynolds.
Finally, Vin is ready to speak again.
The pictures told it all. There isn't any way I could improve on the picture. What a story. The squeeze in the ninth. The Dodgers score four times and pull it out and beat the Braves, 7 to 6. They show the squeeze on Diamond Vision and the crowd, EUPHORIC in its joy, roars again.
R.J. Reynolds has put the Dodgers in the right direction.
And so he had. The victory put the Dodgers three games up in the NL West, and three games up in the NL West is how the Dodgers finished the 1983 season.
Reynolds was a hero. A baseball hero, at least.
And a game for the ages, a game worth remembering, I hope, even on the saddest of anniversaries, was over.
Enough with the Barometric Pressure
When the leading team in the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals, visits Dodger Stadium this weekend, here's what's at stake:
Here's what's not at stake:
The Dodgers' ability to defeat the Cardinals in the postseason is what it is - already. We just don't know it yet. It exists; it just hasn't been fully revealed.
A second Cardinal sweep of the Dodgers will lower the chances of Los Angeles winning the World Series because - and only because - three Los Angeles losses will make it that much easier for other teams to catch the Dodgers and knock them out of the playoffs.
But if the Dodgers make the playoffs, they can lose to the Cardinals as many times as possible and still beat them in a postseason series, and/or win it all.
To which you say, "Yes, but six losses to the Cardinals would indicate that we don't have a chance of winning a postseason series from them."
To which I say: "Six games are a small sample size. And besides, who doesn't love an upset?"
See, last week's Los Angeles-St. Louis series came with all this barometric pressure - i.e., the Dodgers using the Cardinals as a barometer for how good they are. That was a mistake.
Jim Baker of Baseball Prospectus has been studying the performance of teams in the postseason during the wild-card era, and found that, for example, teams that win their divisions by 10 or more games have won fewer playoff games and fewer World Series than wild-card teams have.
Billy Beane is right. The postseason is a crapshoot. A crapshoot with odds, but still a crapshoot.
Baseball seasons have rules, just like baseball games have rules. And one of those rules is, it doesn't matter how you acquire four victories in the World Series, just that you get them.
Dodger fans would obviously feel more encouraged about their team if Los Angeles hadn't been swept in St. Louis. But what else is new? Dodger fans would feel better at any given moment when things go well. You feel bad when a Dodger strikes out against Randy Johnson; you'd feel bad if a Dodger struck out against Van Johnson.
But even if Randy Johnson strikes out the Dodgers 15 times in seven innings, it doesn't mean the Dodgers won't win the game.
If anything, as far as barometric pressure goes, losses to the Cardinals are more positive than negative. They provide insight into your weaknesses, and give you the opportunity to address them. As long as you make the playoffs, failure in an individual game can be a useful tool.
The nuance that I'm trying very hard to convey (and will no doubt fail at) is that right now, the Dodgers are in a race only to make the playoffs. The World Series competition does not begin until October. An 0-6 regular season record against St. Louis would not be an encouraging thing to take into a postseason series with the Cardinals, but we have known for weeks and weeks now that the Dodgers would be an underdog against St. Louis. So what's the big deal?
For now, this weekend, the Dodgers need to focus not on the Cardinals as a barometer, but as a roadblock. They need to play like an NL West leader trying to draw closer to a division title, not like a team trying to prove itself to the world.
Right now, it's all about just getting into October Madness. After that, as Dick Vitale would say, "Survive and advance, baby!"
Dodger Thoughts does not endorse the quoting of Dick Vitale.
Update: Go Cardinals takes this discussion and looks at it from the St. Louis perspective. "It would be fun to ridicule this statement as a Cubieesque rationalization of losing, but it would be a cheap out of context type of thing to do," the author, Josh, writes (much to my relief). "Instead Jon's point is salient on the filp side as well."
Open Chat: Tonight's Game
Pictures From Vero Beach
Vero Beach Dodgers general manager Trevor Gooby had a nice, simple first week of September planned:
1) Host Vero Beach Dodger playoff games
As you can imagine, a bit of inclement weather down in Florida has disrupted Gooby's schedule. But he's staying positive.
"We are doing okay," Gooby wrote in an e-mail today. "Dodgertown took a beating, but we will be ready for Spring Training (70,000 homes are still without power in Indian River County). Our playoff games were moved to Clearwater, and due to the long layoff (seven days without a game), we couldn't shake the rust and lost two games to the Cubs. Instructional League is still on and begins on September 20."
Gooby passed along the following photos of Holman Stadium.
"We need to get a new scoreboard, replace the lights and do lots of work on the trees," he said. "Hopefully, Ivan is a Dodger fan and will stay out in the Gulf."
"To make matters worse, I was supposed to get hitched on the 4th," Gooby added. "Some luck I have. Now it's for tomorrow and then we are still scheduled to go on a cruise ... guess where?? Jamaica! Looks like we may be re-charting our course."
Hang in there, Trevor. We send you, and all of the Vero Beach Dodgers, our best thoughts.
As a P.S., Gooby said he enjoyed this season's Paul Lo Duca strikeouts vs. Adrian Beltre walks competition on Dodger Thoughts, and volunteered that he was in a contest of his own.
"My buddy and I have a contest going, which I proposed in Spring Training. Who would hit more home runs? Izzy or the Dodgers pitching staff. So far, I'm losing. It's 3-2 and I need a little bit more Lima time."
Although I've made my peace with the indefinite benching of Hee Seop Choi, I feel that something more needs to be written in support of him.
I made my peace because the Dodgers have an alternative to Choi in Jayson Werth. Though Werth has cooled since July, he is still a solid threat to get on base. His coldest stretch of the season was an 0-for-13 slump in mid-August; he snapped out of it to go 7 for 28 with a few walks for the remainder of the month.
Additionally, though little should be expected of him as an everyday player, Robin Ventura has done well in spot appearances. Ventura is 11 for 34 with three home runs and four walks since August 1.
Choi's OPS with the Dodgers of .530 is worse than that of Dave Ross (.561) and almost as bad as Brent Mayne's (.428). Mayne and Ross play because the Dodgers don't have other options. But because there are alternatives to Choi, Choi sits.
And I guess that's okay.
In some ways, the Dodgers treated the month of August as a second March. Players auditioned for roles. Choi at first base. Darren Dreifort, Giovanni Carrara and Yhency Brazoban as set-up relievers. Who could do the job? Make no mistake, if Steve Finley had started his Dodger career 9 for 55 with no home runs instead of Choi, Finley would be on the fast track to becoming an understudy.
But August is not March. August is not the month before April, it's the month before September. It's the month where you don't want to wait for a turnaround from a player. It's not a month to sow, it's a month to reap.
And Choi didn't reap. He reeked.
Now, no one on the Dodger offense, outside of Adrian Beltre, is doing wonders with the bat. Shawn Green, homerless with one double in his past 15 games (ever since I commented on his brief surge), has lost power again. Milton Bradley has not homered since August 18. And so on ...
But Choi was worse than all of them. So Choi hit the pine.
With that decision made, the Dodgers, if nothing else, do look more comfortable. Their batting order has a comet at cleanup, a black hole in the No. 8 slot, and stars of middling brightness everywhere else. It won't make anyone in St. Louis lose sleep, but it's enough to keep them competitive. And it's stable.
Still, it's a shame about Choi's benching, because Choi remains perhaps the best candidate to help the Dodger lineup.
Consider that Paul Lo Duca, whose departure created the current black hole in the lineup, has an on-base percentage of .369, slugging percentage of .444 and OPS of .813 with Florida. Now consider that all of those numbers are worse than Choi's Florida numbers with Florida. Choi, in 340 plate appearances, was .388/.495/.882.
Do you know how many Dodger regulars have an OPS as high as .882? One - Beltre.
Most of Los Angeles looks at Choi as this colossal flop, at least as far as 2004 is concerned, if not for good. They either think he was never that good, or that he's in this interminable funk.
Me, I just don't know. I can't tell if something is really wrong with Choi beyond the kind of slump that most every hitter goes through - that most every Dodger hitter is currently going through. My fear, before I made peace with Choi's benching, was that Dodger manager Jim Tracy never made peace with Choi's acquisition in the first place. It seemed at times that Tracy was reluctant to commit to Choi, even before his numbers really start to sank.
Obviously, if Choi had smashed the ball right away, Tracy would have warmed up to him like a campfire in the Sierras. But Choi didn't smash. And almost from the start, you were never sure whether you would see Choi given another chance to play. For a hitter with his potential - and for that matter, his existing track record, it bothered me that Choi was on a choke chain.
But I remembered that I like Jayson Werth. So I've decided to live with it.
Prediction: Dave Ross or Brent Mayne, if not both, will have more than one key hit to help the Dodgers down the stretch. They're not great hitters, but they're better than they have shown. And they will have the chance to prove it.
Speculation: The same would go for Hee Seop Choi, if he were given the chance to play. But even if he isn't, the Dodgers may still be okay.
Update: Jedikaos.net wants to poach Choi for the Mets.
Open Chat: Diamondbacks-Dodgers (Thursday)
As of 5:10 p.m.:
Because 8,675 Would Have Been Overkill
Tom Meagher of The Fourth Outfielder summarizes the Adrian Beltre free agency situation - in 8,674 words. Hardly meager, Meagher.
"Gleeman-length" is officially no longer the gold standard.
The message of Meagher's report? All signs point to yes. Beltre is signable and worth signing.
Open Chat: Diamondbacks-Dodgers (Wednesday)
Dodger Thoughts Gathering at Dodger Stadium
Reminder: Dodger Thoughts reader Suffering Bruin is organizing a gathering for readers of this site at a Dodger game before season's end. For details, e-mail him at email@example.com.
Great Mind at Work
Sunday, Jeff Weaver tripled to lead off the top of the third inning. In the bottom of that inning, he gave up two doubles, a walk and a run.
"This seems to happen all the time," I thought to myself. "Weaver's ERA in the inning after he gets a hit must be huge."
So I spent a half an hour doing research, and here's what I found.
Weaver has 14 hits this season. In the 14 innings immediately following those hits, Weaver has allowed nine hits (three doubles and six singles), three walks, a hit Baerga and three runs, for an ERA of 1.93.
In my defense, Weaver did allow a two-run home run in Montreal on August 26 in the inning after he reached base on an error.
The Final 25
Added to the ever-lengthening Dodger Thoughts sidebar is The Final 25, which will track the Dodgers' stretch run over the regular season's remaining 25 games, beginning tonight.
The Dodgers enter The Final 25 begin with a Playoff Seat Cushion of 4 1/2 games, meaning that's how much room Los Angeles has to spare in order to make the postseason as a division winner or wild card. One goal for the team might be to extend that cushion to six games by September 21, when the team begins six away games against division rivals San Diego and San Francisco - the Dodgers' final road trip of the regular season.
Between now and then:
FSW2 'Game Reset' Guy or Gal, I Notice You
Greetings, Fox Sports West 2 "Game Reset" Guy or Gal:
I come today to talk to you of your art. Of how you stretch the bounds of convention.
Your task - such an odious word - is to produce a package of highlights to air in the late innings of Dodger telecasts on Fox Sports West 2. A recap of innings gone by.
Within this simple project, you have found complexity - and through complexity, pure essence.
You used to sculpt your "Game Reset" by the book. Hmmph - remember that. Snippets of home runs and strikeouts. Narration to explain when they happened, why they were significant. How funny is to look back at those days. How lightheartedly we scoff at such an approach.
You became bored. And why wouldn't you? Sixteen recaps and what do you get? Another game older and deeper in debt.
So you embarked upon a quest. A quest for something greater. For something profound.
You began to test the parameters of the form. You eschewed narration. You showed the home run and the strikeout, the diving catch, but without explanation. You put your work on the television wall, naked - challenging the audience to put the pieces together for themselves. Think, people! you shouted. Use your minds! Breathe!
You found acceptance - a blessing and a curse.
So you dared go further.
Tuesday night, you reached a new plateau. You sat back in your chair, nervous with excitement, as the control-room button of no return was pushed.
Picasso found his Blue Period. Pollock found his paint splatters.
You found ... The Collage of (In)Significant Images.
Your latest "Game Reset" offered a close-up of Adrian Beltre. A shot of a father and his daughter eating dessert in the stands. A few more frames of human existence, completely outside the diamond lines.
And then, just when your audience might fear (hallelujah, you've inspired fear!) you had gone too far, you showed Cesar Izturis running between second and third. An actual play - an insouciant reminder of the conventional.
And yet, even then, you play with our minds. Again, you offer no understanding of what the running Izturis means. You leave it for us to decide. We participate in your work.
You have more than escaped the box. You have transcended it. You eliminated context. You turned your editing machine away from result, focusing solely on feeling. Tell us what happened in tonight's game? Ha ha - here's what happened. Sweat. Speed. Ice cream.
Fox Sports West 2 "Game Reset" Guy or Gal, I notice you. You are an artist. Some might think you have gone too far, that you have strayed beyond your mission. But don't stop now. You can't stop now.
I wouldn't dream of telling you what to do next - but my appetite is whetter than steak at Maestro's. I have my suspicions of what's on your mind, your next voyage of video, your next feat of frame. But I don't want to spoil the surprise. The joy of amazement.
(Arrgh, I can't help myself. I can't hold back my speculation! Might you ... lose the color? Might you ... lose the video altogether? Perhaps a highlights package made up entirely of ... smells???)
Go, Fox Sports West 2 "Game Reset" Guy or Gal. Go, Fox Sports West 2 "Game Reset" Guy or Gal. Go, Fox Sports West 2 "Game Reset" Guy or Gal, go!
As you'd expect with a strong bullpen and a strong bench, the Dodgers do better than their opponents late in the game. But the team's real dominance seems to come in the middle innings.
2004 Dodgers Linescore
Dodgers 65 58 75 86 84 83 62 61 50 12 - 636 Opponents 82 68 72 63 57 57 41 60 40 06 - 546
The Dodgers are 33-43 when their opponent scores first. This strikes me, without doing any research, as a pretty good record. The only question I'd have is whether Dodgers opponents are scoring first too often - 76 times in 136 games.
Source: MLB.com Press Pass
Honestly, I've got as many ash-colored glasses as rose-colored, but I'm really having trouble looking back at the recent Dodger road trip with as much doom and gloom as so many are.
Of the six victories, four were by four runs or more - solid. A fifth was a three-run extra-inning victory in a game Randy Johnson started. The closest margin was two runs - a vintage win by the Dodger bullpen over the Met bullpen.
Bookending the road trip, two losses came after stirring comebacks - from down six to the Expos, from down three in the ninth to the Cardinals. No points for moral victories, I suppose - but you also don't get more points for scoring early than for scoring late. They were two razor-thin losses.
There was a close defeat in Hideo Nomo's return from the disabled list.
In sum, the Dodgers went 5-4 in games decided by three runs or more, 1-3 in games decided by two runs or less. They lost only one series - to the top team in baseball. All this on the road.
A discouraging road trip would have been one where the Dodgers were beaten soundly - where they eked out victories and got crushed in their losses. This was the opposite. The Dodgers truly earned their victories and caught few breaks in the close ones.
In closing, let me pass along a simple hunch. When the Dodgers got to St. Louis, not only did they run into a great team, they also ran out of gas. Hot weather at the end of a 13-game road trip is not the setting for a great offensive show. I mean, have you been to St. Louis in the summer?
The team has a .542 OPS through five games in September. Seems reasonable to expect that figure to improve.
So once again, I decline to ascribe dire warnings to the recent Dodger performance. They didn't excel - they struggled, even. They bent. But they didn't break.
Whether or not they will snap out of it tonight, with the shaky Nomo going against Arizona's Brandon Webb, I don't know. But as the homestand progresses, if this team can go 6-7 on its longest road trip of the season, I'm willing to be sanguine about how it will do at home.
Back to Work
Hope you had a nice weekend and your air conditioning worked. My best wishes to the people of Florida, for whom air conditioning is the least of their worries.
Dodger Thoughts reader Paul Haddad feels that KFWB is guilty of overindulgence in ads - at least in its programming surrounding the Dodger games - and has done the work to back it up:
All season long, I have been so annoyed by the onslaught of ads during Covering the Bases and Dodger Dugout. It is virtually unlistenable. I decided to do a little documentation, counting the ad time on a stopwatch.
Herewith are the results. It's pretty shocking. This was split up over two days - August 31 and September 1. On the first day, I timed from 6 pm to 6:15 pm. On the second day, I timed it from 6:15 to 6:35. So this is how the show breaks down from 6 pm to 6:35 pm. (The Dodgers/Diamondbacks game started at 6:35 both days.)
"Copy" refers, obviously, to actual programming, like The Dodger Mail Bag, the Players Corner, etc. Times are roughly accurate, give or take a couple seconds.
Some of the "copy" includes even more ads in the theme music, like "The Dodger Injury Report is brought to you by Centinela Hospital ... and by your local Dodge dealer..." So in actuality, there is even more ad time sold than I listed above.
- TOTAL AD TIME: 19:10
- Fifty-eight percent of the 35-minute time was devoted to ads. Again, it's more like 60 percent when you add in the ads that are incorporated into the copy.
- In the final 20 minutes leading into the game, 11:50 went toward ads, 6:05 was copy. That's an astonishing 66-percent ad time. Who would ever sit through all this? Doesn't this start to become counterproductive toward the idea of drawing more viewers after a while?
The amount of ads do affect my willingness to listen - though this problem in my mind is not limited to KFWB. I am reluctant to listen to any ads on the radio - and when I know a station is going to town with them, it's time to run away.
Disappointed, Not Devastated
That's how I recommend you feel.
If you're going to lose three games in a row, why not do it to the hottest, best team in baseball?
The three-run, ninth-inning comeback was meaningful, even if a victory did not follow. A little snap from the funk.
Bob Timmermann has it right in his comments today. Bad things happen to good teams in a pennant race. Even the Cardinals - their trials will come.
You don't take encouragement home from St. Louis. You do take home impatience with Dave Ross and Brent Mayne.
But this was the toughest road trip of the season for the Dodgers. They're still in good position. They only lost a game from their lead. It's still very much a race, but don't forget who remains in the inside lane.
Arizona is next.
How Much Better Is St. Louis?
Are you wondering if the Dodgers can beat the high-flying St. Louis Cardinals? Me too. Of course, anybody can beat anybody - but you know what I mean.
Look out below, because I'm put my grubby hands on VORP to try to answer the question. Even worse, I'm going to use VORPr as well.
For those who don't want to be bothered with these New Age stats, please enjoy this comic interlude from The Kids in the Hall, then skip down below to the three *** stars.
VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) is the Baseball Prospectus statistic that takes a player's raw numbers and determines the runs that player contributes above what the average minimum-wage replacement would produce.
VORPr (Value Over Replacement Player rate) takes the above stat and divides it by the number of games played. It makes it more like a batting average or on-base percentage statistic - what you can expect from a player within a given game, as opposed to a season.
Using VORPr, I've compared the batting orders of the Dodgers and their opponents this weekend, the Cardinals. The findings? Even with Milton Bradley, Jayson Werth and Dave Ross in the lineup, as opposed to players like Hee Seop Choi or Brent Mayne that might well play in their place, the difference between the two offenses is like that between moose and squirrel.
No. 1 Player: Jim Edmonds, CF .669 vs. Adrian Beltre, 3B .611. St. Louis leads by .058.
Not to go into this much detail with the reserves, but the Dodgers make up a tiny bit of ground with their bench, led by Jose Hernandez and Olmedo Saenz. But still, the Cardinal offense ... sheesh. I'm sure I'm oversimplifying here, but it's as if the Cardinal offense takes the field with a 1-0 lead over the Dodgers in every game.
As for pitchers, Baseball Prospectus doesn't offer VORPr, but it does offer VORP. So in the following comparison, I'm going to take the VORP for the pitchers in this weekend's series and divide it per nine innings pitched.
Saturday: Jason Marquis 2.100 VORP/9 IP vs. Kazuhisa Ishii 1.026 VORP/9 IP
Despite reports of the great surge in Cardinal pitching, the Dodgers look stronger on the mound in two of the three games, thanks in part to No. 5 starter Morris appearing tonight. Without going into detail about the bullpens, the Dodgers appear to come out ahead there as well.
*** (Here are the three stars.)
But maybe the Dodgers will get a taste.
More Great Dodger History at Walteromalley.com
There's much, much more. Indulge yourself.
Open Chat: Dodgers-Diamondbacks (Thursday)
Will Steve Finley get to 10 home runs as a Dodger this season. He's halfway there after the first of his two months.
How about Alex Cora? He's got eight.
Are You Aghast? Color Men in the Dodger Booth
An experiment or omen, disguised as nostalgia?
The Los Angeles Dodgers will spotlight former stars Ron Cey, Eric Davis, Tommy Davis, Al Downing, Steve Garvey and Eric Karros as guest analysts alongside play-by-play broadcasters Ross Porter and Rick Monday on six of the team's remaining home game broadcasts over Dodgers flagship station KFWB 980 AM, it was announced today by Dodgers Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Lon Rosen.
"This group of guest analysts will complement the solid play-by-play of Ross Porter and Rick Monday in a cohesive, entertaining manner that will offer new insights for Dodger fans," Rosen said. "We believe fans will benefit by the vast baseball knowledge and on-field experience these former Dodger greats bring to the microphone."
Eric Davis will be the initial guest analyst for the Dodgers' game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sept. 7, followed by Eric Karros (Sept. 8) and Tommy Davis (Sept. 9). When the Dodgers return to host the Colorado Rockies on Sept. 27, Steve Garvey will join the booth - followed on consecutive days by Ron Cey (Sept. 28) and Al Downing (Sept. 29).
No. 1, I admit, change scares me to an extent just because it's change. I know that's wrong, but it does.
No. 2, I'm skeptical about the reality of this occuring in a "cohesive, entertaining manner."
No. 3, Are these auditions?
No. 4, Will they look at Rick Monday and ask themselves, "There but for the lack of grace of God go I?"
No. 5, Where's Mike Ramsey? Either of them?
No. 6, Won't it be awkward to have the man who thought he should have been the Dodger first baseman in 2004 commenting on Hee Seop Choi?
No. 7, The Davises are the most unexpected choices on this list and the ones I most look forward to hearing, relatively speaking.
Update: Ken Gurnick of Dodgers.com adds to the speculation that these are auditions. He also reports that Ross Porter's and Monday's contracts expire at the end of this season.
A Thought for the Offense
With expanded rosters, the Dodgers are gaining pinch-hitters to spare.
They also have two slots in their batting order that are not producing - eighth and ninth, catcher and pitcher.
Why not, during road games, start the following lineup:
Then of course, in the bottom of the inning, you substitute your intended starting catcher and pitcher.
Sure, it's gamesmanship. And you sacrifice a little in talent and experience at the top of the lineup. But you delay the appearance of David Ross or Brent Mayne and the pitcher's spot - and have a decent chance of eliminating one of their at-bats.
Look, Ross and Mayne can hit better than they have, and heck, Jeff Weaver knows how to swing a bat. I don't know if this maneuver would preemptively turn a loss into a win. But it's hard for me to believe that a team's chances wouldn't improve by starting the game with 10 hitters before the pitcher, instead of eight.
Fun to ponder, I think...
Odds Almost as Pure as Ivory Soap
Wednesday, Clay Davenport and Baseball Prospectus unveiled their new Postseason Odds Report, announcing that they had run a simulation of the remainder of the 2004 season - one million times.
In those million simulations, the Dodgers made the playoffs about 970,795 times, which is a less fancy way for me to report that according to the study, the Dodgers had a 97.1 percent chance of making the playoffs. Moreover, the site computes that Los Angeles has a 93.9 percent chance of winning the National League West.
Go to the site to see who BP likes for the other races. Last year, this page was updated almost daily, and Davenport promises daily updates from here on out. (Early readers of this site will recall me tracking the Dodgers' slim chances of making the playoffs a year ago.)
My in-laws started arriving in town Wednesday - father-in-law, stepmother-in-law, sister-in-law, niece, niece - and let me tell you, it doesn't lend oneself a close look at a pitcher attempting a comeback from, well, disintegration. Let me put it this way: my best look at Hideo Nomo came when I had to make two diaper changes for Nipper 2, five minutes apart.
As it happens, though, that look came during the third inning. The first or second pitch I saw from Nomo was a crisp 88-mile-per-hour fastball, easily the snappiest pitch I've seen Nomo throw all year. Soon, when Arizona pitcher Brandon Webb came to the plate with two out, I gleaned that Nomo had retired the first eight batters of the game. Incredible, I thought. But early, still.
Just then, pitching to Webb, Nomo absolutely derailed, as if someone had stopped time, just like they did in that memorable 1980 made-for-TV movie starring Robert Hays and Pam Dawber, The Girl, The Gold Watch and Everything, snuck onto the field and drugged him. Four balls staggered to the plate, drunk, and Webb was aboard.
I was velcroing N2's diaper by that time, and only caught a few more split-second glances at the screen afterward. Runners on first and second. One run in. Three runs in.
For the game, Nomo lasted six innings, matching his second-longest outings of the year, threw 110 pitches, and outside of the third inning, allowed no runs, two hits and two walks in five. Even allowing for the somnolence of the opponent, I don't know how one wouldn't come away from this performance happy - happy that we didn't witness a further disintegration.
Fortunately, Jim Tracy carefully placed Nomo so he won't land his next start in the St. Louis terror chamber. (Honestly, the Cardinals are playing so well that I'm not sure the National League shouldn't dispense with the playoffs this year.) San Diego, Nomo's next scheduled opponent Monday, will still be tougher than Arizona, but against probable Padres starter Adam Eaton, I think Nomo showed enough Wednesday night that the Dodgers don't need to concede defeat. [Correction: I mixed up my days. Nomo's next scheduled appearance is Tuesday, again against Arizona. Even better.]
As for the more immediate future, the Dodger offense should wake up tonight against Casey Fossum, perhaps the worst National League starting pitcher in 2004 outside of Nomo. A victory would be nice, because terror indeed awaits in Missourah.
(I know, I know - the Cardinals pick up their bats one Silver Slugger at a time, just like ... never mind.)
Riverside Takes Notice
Rob McMillin of 6-4-2 is a featured player in this column on local baseball blogs by Jim Alexander of the Riverside Press-Enterprise. Great lead (or as the pros like to spell it, "lede") to the column, by the way.
Dodger Thoughts gets some lines as well, with me happily balancing sappiness ("It's been a really free exchange of support and information.") and self-centeredness ("I found I had something to say and had an ego to want people to read it." )
McMillin is doing great work with twice as much subject matter as this site, in case you haven't noticed.
Open Chat: Dodgers-Diamondbacks (Wednesday)
Arizona's team ERA, minus Randy Johnson, is 5.55.
Diamondbacks righthander Brandon Webb is making his 29th start of the season tonight - the same number he made in 2003. While his innings are about the same as last year, he has allowed 21 more hits and 30 more walks while striking out 43 fewer batters. Still, his ERA is not too bad - 3.67.
After posting a 2.40 ERA in 15 innings against the Dodgers in 2003, Webb has a 7.56 ERA in 16 2/3 innings against the team this season.
Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the UCLA basketball media guide used to refer to Oregon as the Webfoots instead of the Ducks. I always thought that was interesting.
Miss You, Masao
The Dodger Expand-o-Bullpen Shuttle Bus got hijacked. Seattle claimed Masao Kida via waivers, reports SportsTicker.
"An appeals court has upheld a three-day jail sentence Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Milton Bradley was ordered to serve for driving away while being issued a speeding ticket," The Associated Press reports today.
"Bradley has 45 days to appeal the appeals court ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court," the story continues.
Hmm, 45 days ... October 15. If the Dodgers make the postseason, can we expect 200 reporters to do stories about Bradley's crime - and his temper - for their playoff notebooks?
* * *
Well I went out and I jumped in my car and I hit the lights
Well I chased him through them county roads
More Willie Crawford Remembrances
As word of the passing of Willie Crawford has spread, more people are leaving very fond and personal appreciations in the comments of my Friday posting. I invite you to revisit them.
Funeral services for Crawford are scheduled for Tuesday at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.
No, I'm not seriously making this comparison. This is just for fun.
IP ... H ... BB ... K ... R ... ER ... ERA ... Player, Year
The July Trades: Despite a Hazy Outcome, A Clear Rationale
On April 16-17, Eric Gagne allowed runs in consecutive appearances.
They came a day after he had thrown all of 12 pitches on April 15, following four days of rest from April 11-14.
They came with Guillermo Mota on the roster.
They came without an uproar of any kind.
* * *
On August 18-20, Eric Gagne allowed runs in three consecutive appearances.
They came following rest on August 16 and 17. They came following a stretch in which Gagne made one appearance, totaling 23 pitches, in seven days (August 11-17). They came 15 days after Gagne had allowed his last earned run.
They came without Guillermo Mota on the roster.
And the reaction was as if someone had taken an axe to the Statue of Liberty.
The Dodgers have destroyed their bullpen. They've ruined Eric Gagne!
* * *
A few years ago, I wrote and edited for an Internet news service focusing on technology coverage. The publisher was a savvy businessman, who found the capital to build the company and who kept it alive even during the dot-com plunge. He knew as much about journalism, however, as a camel knows about an igloo.
Early on - but after I had taken the job, unfortunately - the publisher articulated his philosophy about how you write a news article. He felt quite strongly about it, in fact. He believed that first, you write the story with the point of view you want to convey, and then, you call to get quotes from sources that will fit what you have already written.
I can't begin to describe how appalled I was. It was the journalistic equivalent of "I'm gonna fit in this size-2 dress even if it kills me." (The more cliched version of this is, "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.")
Such has been the case with much of the discussion of the Dodgers since July 30. Many pundits believed that the Dodgers had made a mistake in trading Mota and Paul Lo Duca - and so they were going to find a way to back up that opinion if at all humanly possible.
The fact is, the Dodgers did weaken their bullpen when they traded Mota. No one can deny that. However effective Yhency Brazoban and Giovanni Carrara have been since Mota's departure, having them in combination with Mota would be glorious.
The other fact is, the Dodgers surely weakened their catching in parting with Lo Duca, the key element of the trade for the Florida Marlins.
But those facts needs to be put in perspective. Today is September 1. The first day of a new month. Let's use this occasion, shall we, to put to rest the notion that the trade was unjustified.
Tonight, in the heat of a pennant race, the Dodgers will start a pitcher with an 8.06 ERA, Hideo Nomo. The Dodgers traded Lo Duca and Mota precisely so that this tightrope act would not occur. Instead, they designed that spot to go to a pitcher with a 3.02 ERA, Brad Penny.
In other August moments, the Dodgers started a pitcher whom they wanted to demote to the bullpen, Kazuhisa Ishii, and a pitcher who himself wanted to be demoted to the bullpen, Wilson Alvarez. They regularly started a journeyman in Jose Lima.
I like Nomo's chances to lower his ERA tonight, especially against the Arizona Diamondback lineup. Ishii has had consecutive solid starts. Lima has been respectable. Alvarez had half of a good month.
But truly, with a starting rotation ERA (4.27) that is eighth in the National League - worse than possible playoff opponents St. Louis, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and San Diego, despite the nurturing environs of Dodger Stadium - how can anyone fault the Dodgers for wanting Penny?
In case it has gotten lost in the shuffle, I determined August 1 that I wouldn't have made the Lo Duca-Mota trade. "Overall," I wrote, "the Dodgers have won the trades on paper. They have acquired more talent than they have given up. But I'm not sure I'm going to argue in favor of the trades any more, because I'm not sure that they've won the trades by enough."
In other words, I felt that the Dodgers risked too much for the potential reward. I felt very much that the Dodgers might come out ahead, but that it was definitely a wait-and-see, and that they almost as easily could come out behind (especially in 2004, as opposed to 2005, 2006, etc.).
However, the fervor with which any Dodger ill gets blamed on the Lo Duca-Mota trade has made my summer in the "Keep Lo Duca" camp truly uncomfortable.
News flash: Even with Mota, Gagne has and would have been vulnerable to a stretch where he would give up - gasp - runs.
Even with Lo Duca, the Dodgers would have been vulnerable to nights of no production from their catching.
And if had Penny not been acquired, and any existing Dodger starting pitcher had gone down with injury, how stretched out would the pitching staff be then?
Beyond that, I've noticed that the July trades tend to be thought of as separate entities: 1) Penny/Hee Seop Choi, 2) Steve Finley. But shouldn't they be evaluated as one, since they were clearly done in concert with each other?
As far as their 2004 roster is concerned, the Dodgers gave up a decent hitter, especially for a catcher, and a superlative reliever. In return, they got two hitters and a pitcher.
Choi and Penny haven't produced much for the Dodgers. But Finley, on the other hand, has been in center field what Mota was for the bullpen. Finley has been the ace setup man for Adrian Beltre.
The Dodgers are currently on the losing ends of the combined trades because Penny, after pitching eight shutout innings in his first apperance with his new team, got hurt, and Lo Duca, after homering in his first appearance with his new team, did not. Had the reverse occurred, the Dodgers would be clear winners. Had neither player gotten hurt, the Dodgers would be just fine.
So is there any way at all people can stop asking, "How could the Dodgers have traded Lo Duca and Mota?" Because the explanation is clear, and has been clear from the get-go. They wanted a starting pitcher and more left-handed power. They paid a lot, but they got a lot. Brad Penny, Steve Finley and Hee Seop Choi constitutes a big haul.
The only notable event is that we simply haven't seen all of this haul in action for the past three weeks.
As someone who was at best ambivalent about losing Lo Duca, I hardly expect everyone to like the trade. But those who judge should at least bring in all the facts.
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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