Monthly archives: October 2004
Gagne - The Splendid Sprinter
As Steve Finley comes up to bat with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth October 2 against San Francisco, the Dodgers just having tied the potential division-clinching game at 3, the Fox broadcast shows Eric Gagne speaking on and then hanging up the bullpen phone.
Two pitches later, Finley grand-slams a ball into the seats. He circles the bases and reaches a jubilant celebration at home plate.
Gagne is there. He reaches home at the same time Finley does.
He must have had skates on or something.
Quantrill - Next Year's Carrara?
I had a post here about Paul Quantrill having become a free agent by virtue of the Yankees buying out his option, but it was in error. New York bought out his 2006 option but still has him for 2005. Dodger Thoughts regrets the stupidity.
Schedule Highlights: 2005
From the recently posted Dodger preliminary schedule:
Passing the Baseball Bat(on) at the Times
I won't pretend not to be biased in Tim Brown's favor, but the bias is well-earned. We sat side-by-side at the Daily News for a good deal of my time there. He came to the paper with a reputation for dogged reporting, and that proved true. He also had a flair for language that I always looked forward to reading. (Arrogantly, I would say to myself, "Wait a minute, I'm supposed to be the good writer here.") Later, Brown got promoted to cover the Angels, and he mentored me a bit as I served as his backup in 1991.
You may have noticed Brown, who was on the Laker beat for several years, writing a column "On Baseball" for the Times during the recently completed playoffs. I took it as a sign that he might be taking over Ross Newhan's slot on the national baseball beat, and today Brown confirmed that for me. I think it's a fine thing.
Newhan's farewell column will be coming any day now, though he may continue to write for the Times on a sporadic basis. I wish Newhan the best.
Florida's Lowell off the Market
So much for Mike Lowell providing other teams an alternative to Adrian Beltre. Florida and Lowell have agreed to a revised contract guaranteeing him $25.5 million through 2007, The Associated Press reports.
We can call this the first important deal involving a third baseman this offseason. Lowell will earn an average of $8.5 million a year.
Internet Baseball Writers Vote on Awards
Check out the results on the home page of All-Baseball.com. I was one of the 37 voters, so if you don't like the results, take out 2.7 percent of your anger on me.
Here is my ballot, with official IBWA finish in parentheses.
2004 IBWA END-OF-YEAR AWARDS
NATIONAL LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Though not quite in exact order, my top 10 matched the final top 10. When in doubt, I tended to favor non-first basemen over first basemen.
AMERICAN LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
1. Vladimir Guerrero (1)
NATIONAL LEAGUE PITCHER OF THE YEAR
I think Sheets' strikeout-walk ratio had something to do with my elevating him over Clemens. It was a tough call, though.
AMERICAN LEAGUE PITCHER OF THE YEAR
NATIONAL LEAGUE DEBUT OF THE YEAR
More close calls. Otsuka was a great reliever who got no publicity this year.
AMERICAN LEAGUE DEBUT OF THE YEAR
Yes, I was one of those fools who didn't research the eligibility requirements. I deserve full criticism for not taking this aspect of the process seriously enough, and I apologize.
NATIONAL LEAGUE MANAGER OF THE YEAR
1. Bobby Cox (1)
October aside, Cox has proven he can win with whatever he's given.
AMERICAN LEAGUE MANAGER OF THE YEAR
1. Buck Showalter (1)
I'm not sure why I'm the only person who gave even a third-place vote to a manager whose team contended, despite a number of problems and limitations, to the final weekend. Do Ron Gardenhire, Joe Torre, Alan Trammell, Eric Wedge, and Lou Piniella really deserve more credit than Macha?
NATIONAL LEAGUE EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR
1. Walt Jocketty (1)
"I’m at a loss for how to interpret the Dan Evans vote — anyone want to help me out?" Christian Ruzich asks. Here's my answer, since I'm the guy: I'm a Paul DePodesta fan and think he will be great for the Dodger future, but when you talk about who did the most to create this year's division-winning Dodger team, it's Evans who laid the groundwork.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR
1. Billy Beane (7)
I really don't consider myself a Beane worshipper. At the same time, I think the backlash is getting overwrought. Once again, with a limited payroll, he has a 90+-win team under his belt. Yet Beane gets four votes, and the Detroit general manager gets 12? Seems strange to me.
Free to Be, Them and Them
Sing the names to yourself, to the tune of Billy Joel's verbless stream-of-consciousness opus, "We Didn't Start the Fire."
Today, for the first time since July 7, 1994 when he was 15 years old, Adrian Beltre is not a member of the Los Angeles Dodger organization.
Beltre Nets Third
Update: Also, this is a de facto thread for the Dodgers' decision to remove player names from the backs of uniforms.
Adrian Beltre finished third in the Internet Baseball Awards voting for National League Most Valuable Player, but in odd fashion.
Out of more than 1,500 ballots, Beltre had the second-most first-place votes, behind landslide winner Barry Bonds. Beltre had the most second-place votes. He had the second-most third-place votes, behind Albert Pujols. However, Beltre was entirely left off the top 10 on more than 150 ballots - approximately 10 percent - and that dropped him behind Pujols into third.
The balloting gets a little crazy toward the bottom - example, Hee Seop Choi's second-place vote.
Another Dodger third-place finisher besides Beltre was Jim Tracy, for NL Manager of the Year.
What I would have said if I were the announcer:
"On August 25, 1944 Free French forces liberated Paris from the Nazis, and in all of human history that was as happy as a city has ever been. Until tonight."
- Dodger Thoughts reader Robert Fiore
Congrats, Red Sox fans. I'm happy for you.
* * *
Took a walk to buy some bagels this morning at around 7:45 a.m.
Crisp, cool air, blue skies.
Great day for a ballgame.
Chasing Rainbows at Catcher
Top MLB Catchers, 2004
Two others earn low six-figure salaries because they haven't earned arbitration or free agency rights yet. Consider Cleveland and Atlanta blessed.
An 11th catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, made $3,500,000 despite an OPS lower than that of Royce Clayton or Tony Womack. Not exactly a bargain, though at age 27, his statistics should improve.
That leaves the Chicago Cubs' Michael Barrett, who hit 16 home runs and 32 doubles in 2004, as perhaps the best don't-break-the-bank catcher around. Barrett is due for a raise through arbitration but apparently is just shy of his free agent rights. A poorer team might consider trading him, but the contending Cubs figure to keep him.
Some other catchers? Here are the most noteworthy remaining free agents at the position, according to Peter Gammons.
Here's the current Dodger starter:
Dave Ross will earn close to the major-league minimum next season. His 2004 performance was abysmal, but you realize as you look at some of these catchers that even for Ross, the journey to average isn't far, the journey to bargainhood even less so.
Let me repeat. There are many catchers out there better than Ross, many not even mentioned above. But there might not be many better bargains out there than Ross. If retaining Ross as the starter and batting him eighth allows the Dodgers to solve their other problems, that may be a satisfactory resolution.
Teenage Suppan Paid Well
Ignore the fiction Fox and the media are spreading about Jeff Suppan earning a scant $10 a night working for the Daily News sports department as a youngster. We paid $10 an hour in Suppan's days, which was a plenty good wage for someone his age. I helped process enough pay slips to know.
Plans, Meet Wrench
Dodger outfielder Jayson Werth might not be ready for Spring Training and/or might need Tommy John surgery after partially tearing a ligament in his right elbow during the playoffs, Ken Gurnick reports today on Dodgers.com.
Los Angeles can insert Hee Seop Choi into the lineup to replace Steve Finley if he signs with another team or Werth if he is injured. But the Dodgers are not currently set up to replace both players. And that's before we even discuss the status of Adrian Beltre.
For his part, Werth had a positive prognosis. From Gurnick's story:
"I'm pretty sure I can rehab it for the next four to six weeks and it'll be OK," he said from his home in Illinois. "We're doing deep massage, all kinds of things. I know my body pretty well."
But Werth said that the elbow had been bothering him for a month and speculated that he might have adjusted his throwing motion to compensate for the discomfort he experienced playing with broken ribs, an injury sustained running into the fence in Colorado on July 29.
The elbow injury eliminates any possibility of moving Werth back behind the plate, where he began his career as a first-round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles. But neither management nor Werth has considered that an attractive possibility anyway.
The Hole Closes Up
I first became aware of the hole closing up in 1997, the year after an incident in which, for the second time in about 18 months, a friend of mine died unexpectedly and tragically.
This was someone I saw or talked to on an almost daily basis, someone who combined joy and thoughtfulness, someone who taught me when I was single, unemployed and depressed - taught me like I was learning to walk - that I was still young and that my life was very much ahead of me.
It wasn't that John Egan didn't have his own troubles, but he didn't let those troubles run his life. It is not trite, but rather simple fact, to say that Egan conveyed to me much of the means I needed to cope with his passing.
Egan's death, just before his 26th birthday, left a hole in my life painful enough that I could physically feel the wound open.
Though it was one of the deepest, this was not the first time in my life that I could feel such a wound. In fact, I'm fragile enough to have felt it after a breakup. Even the pang I feel in my stomach when I leave a place where I've built sentimental ties, I associate with that wound.
But something about the lessons Egan passed on to me made me experience his wound in a new way - and I say this with some regret. In helping me be positive about my life amid the gloom, he made me conscious of how the holes that open in your life almost always close. The wounds heal. There might be a scar, but faint.
And so it is today that when I think of John Egan, my very good friend, I don't feel pain, but disbelief. I don't feel physicality. I just wonder, wonder what his life would be like today, what he would share with his family, and his friends, and me.
I find it strange that I had not connected this awareness with the Dodgers until this month. The Dodgers won a division title, won a playoff game, celebrated more than they had in years. They did so without a player, Paul Lo Duca, who was part of the fabric of the team, whose departure ripped open wounds for many fans. Lo Duca is remembered and his contributions missed. But the outpouring of grief, which had people all but rending their garments on July 31, is gone. Nowhere to be found. The hole closed up.
And so it is today that I return from a weekend away at my college reunion, a weekend all about connections made and lost, to learn that Ross Porter has officially been told not to return to the Dodger broadcasting booth.
This is not a tragedy, not a death in the family. Some fans won't even miss Porter, though I think even most of those, as has been written elsewhere, cringe at how callously his departure was handled. (Among other insults, Dodgers.com did not even do a news story on the event, instead publishing only that feeble press release.)
But for me and many others, when we think of the Dodgers right now, there is that hole where Porter sat, where his friendly drawl floated through the air. There is that emptiness.
For selfish reasons, I feel this even more than a few others. Porter, as you might know, became a friend to me and this website this year, friendships that I consider among my highlights of 2004. Those won't end with his departure, but I will certainly regret the distance as he moves on to his next job.
We can cherish the fact that Vin Scully is still around, but the hole of Porter's absence remains.
From where I sit today, what saddens me the most about Porter leaving the Dodgers is not that it leaves a hole, but that the hole will eventually close up. And what we'll be left with are just the hair's-width memories of what it was like to listen to him talk about the Dodgers with some of the same passionate level-headedness that I try to bring to this site.
Today, people feel Porter's departure. Tomorrow, all they'll do is remember it. Because, as John Egan certainly would have shown me by his example, there's so much in this world to feel good about. When I think of Egan at this moment, it is sadness mixed with a smile. How could it not be?
But, even in deference to Egan, I say this. Time marches on, time grabs lives before they are lived and careers before they are completed, and I don't like it.
Long Weekend Open Chat
Turning the computer off for a little bit. Dodger Thoughts will return next week. Feel free to chat away about the Dodgers' offseason moves. Best to everyone ...
World Series Open Chat
In case you hadn't heard, it's Boston vs. St. Louis ...
Porter News Imminent?
Ross Porter begins hosting a talk show on a fill-in basis Friday on KSPN 710 AM at 4 p.m., according to Sports By Brooks.
Speculation about the significance of this for Porter's future as a broadcaster for the Dodgers is already considerable. I'm waiting to hear something definitive. If it's bad news, as I think a Porter departure would be, I'm not in a rush.
Update: If a decision has been made about his status, the 28-year Dodger announcer has still not been informed. There's no official news yet, Porter told me in an e-mail late tonight.
"My manager continues to push hard for an answer as this has dragged on entirely too long, and we believe they will tell us what they are going to do very shortly," Porter said.
If nothing else, Porter has been able to appreciate the postseason amid all the uncertainty.
"The LCS games were tremendous for baseball," Porter said.
Now on Google News ...
With that comes this new option: Sign up to have a Google News Alert inform you any time a new posting is made to one of the All-Baseball sites. It's not quite as quick as hitting the refesh button every five seconds, but it might be more convenient.
Hope you enjoy this new feature.
LCS Open Chat (Wednesday)
You can find a chart breaking down the League Championship Series pitch counts for the Yankees and Red Sox on the All-Baseball.com home page.
While I was at it, I figured it was a good time to open the chat room back up to you loyal Dodger Thoughts readers. Enjoy - and no-bottle throwing!
NLCS Game 6: Houston at St. Louis
ALCS Game 7: Boston at New York
O, Glorious Postseason
What can I say that hasn't already been said, except ... I can't remember a postseason this exciting since ... 2003.
Is it me, or has the baseball postseason constantly exceeded expectations? It's a honeymoon, year after year.
2004: Thrillers in both League Championship Series, including an unprecedented comeback by Boston.
2003: Thrillers in both League Championship Series, including unprecendented dual collapses by star-crossed Boston and Chicago.
2002: Thriller in the World Series, including an unprecedented Game 6 comeback by Anaheim.
2001: Thriller in the World Series, including an unprecedented walkoff Series-winning base hit off baseball's premier closer.
This streak gets interrupted by the Yankees' sheer dominance from 1998-2000, in which they won 12 of 13 World Series games. That doesn't compare for sheer excitement, but even that, in a sense, was a marvel to watch.
Prior to that: Florida and Cleveland go extra innings in a World Series seventh game in 1997, the Yankees rally from down two games to beat Atlanta in 1996, and the Braves finally climb the mountain with a nailbiter over the Indians in 1995.
It's truly amazing what baseball can do when there isn't a strike or lockout.
Dodger Stadium Wish List
(By the way, check out Tommy Naccarato's new site, We Want Ross Porter Back!)
In stream-of-consciousness order ...
1. A better, more humane sound system
2. More Nancy Bea Hefley (Put her as one of the options in the mid-game video jukebox and see who wins.)
3. Fresher hot-dog buns
4. Sandwich options like there used to be on the Club level
5. Hot dogs sold in the aisles
6. Cleaner, brighter bathrooms
7. Improving the ambience of the diaper changing table at the right-field end of the Loge Level so that it doesn't resemble a dark alley
8. More healthy food alternatives in the side orders category
9. Fewer barricades in the parking lot loops - they're not helping
10. Pregame inspections of stadium seats for bird droppings
11. More frequent video highlights of out-of-town games
12. Display in-game lineups on the scoreboard in the form of a box score
Dodger Stadium Renovations Update
A new piece of news concerning the Dodger Stadium renovations has come out, courtesy of Ken Gurnick at Dodgers.com: the installation of a scoreboard running along the base of the Loge Level, from foul pole to foul pole.
The project, which will include the movement of the dugouts and expansion of seating approximately 20 feet closer to the foul lines, and the re-installation of a dirt warning track in place of rubber, is expected to be completed with less than a month to spare before the home opener, according to Gurnick's report.
Are the Dodgers going to sign Eric Gagne to a long-term deal, and do you agree that he will play out his contract in 2006 to then become a free agent if they don't?
(Gurnick:) The Dodgers have very little incentive to sign Gagne to a long-term contract now other than to avoid the potentially bitter salary arbitration process, through which they control him for two more seasons. A club would enter into a multiyear contract for an arbitration-eligible player only if the deal is for below-market value, in essence a discount to the club in exchange for the guaranteed security of the player. Previous Dodger administrations have learned that multiyear contracts -- especially to free agent pitchers like Kevin Brown, Darren Dreifort, Andy Ashby, etc. -- rarely make business sense because of the high risk of injury and the difficulty in obtaining disability insurance. Gagne might well leave after the 2006 season, but there are more urgent issues to address this winter.
You Won't Believe What You Didn't Just Saw
Eight innings of one-hit ball by Edwin Jackson. Or was it Jose Lima? No, wait - Elmer Dessens.
A shutout inning from Eric Gagne.
A leadoff single by Adrian Beltre, a walk to Shawn Green, and a three-run walkoff homer by ... Milton Bradley?
What a series. Those cardiac kids, the Los Angeles Dodgers, riding their home crowd to take a 3-2 lead over the St. Louis Cardinals, are just one game away from the World Series!
Too bad the Yankees-Red Sox game of King of the Mountain prevented most of the nation from seeing a sterling National League game. But for us in Los Angeles, what a moment!
(By the way, Yankees - 14 innings and no substitutions? Sure is rough being Joe Torre. Why the Yankee roster doesn't carry 15 pitchers and 10 players, I'm not exactly sure.)
A Football Article? Not Exactly
What does the Bowl Championship Series have to do with baseball?
The BCS uses a formula to determine who the country's top college football teams are, with the top two teams meeting in a national championship game.
Each year, it seems, a horde of people are unhappy with the results of this formula. So they change the formula.
Initial reaction to Monday's first release of the bowl championship series standings:
You call this progress?
... USC opened as undisputed first-week BCS king with No. 1 rankings in both polls and the system's computer component but there was confusion just below as Miami debuted ahead of Oklahoma in the important second position.
... Oklahoma's place was a surprise because it is No. 2 in both human polls, whereas Miami is fourth in the Associated Press poll and third in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.
So here's the controversy: The top two teams in college football's two polls are not the top two teams in the BCS standings. One of them, Oklahoma, is third.
Isn't this ridiculous? If this kind of deviation is enough to cause an uproar, then why even bother? Why not just use the polls?
In fact, college football is already moving in that direction. During the most recent adjustment to the BCS formula, they eliminated such criteria as a statistical analysis of quality wins and gave the human polls more weight. But apparently that still won't be enough for some people. There seems to be a real desire for college football's championship game to match up the polls' top two teams, no matter what.
Of course, unhappiness with the polls is what inspired the BCS in the first place.
So what does this have to do with baseball? It reflects that baseball is not the only sport where a cadre of people have a distrust for the computer, who feel that "if the computer doesn't agree with what I see, it must be wrong."
I have little patience for this point of view. Those of us who use statistics - certainly me - have no desire to see them take over. We like to see the games played on the field as much as anyone. That's the sport. If the 176th-best team beats the No. 1 team on the field, good enough. The No. 1 team may normally be better - but not on this day. And this day is what matters.
But if you're talking about how to rate and compare players and teams who haven't met, why is there such hostility toward statistics? Have an open mind. Maybe the computer isn't all bad.
All that being said, baseball sure has a better setup than college football. Its system isn't perfect, but every team can play its way to a title. Neither polls nor statistics are the deciding factors. How refreshing.
The Grinch Who Stole Sportsmanship
Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune checks in with curmudgeonly Bob Watson:
Major League Baseball isn't in the business of telling its players how to react after games, but officials are discouraging teams from shaking hands on the field after postseason series, as the Cardinals and Dodgers did last weekend in Los Angeles.
"I don't like it," MLB disciplinarian Bob Watson said. "We do it at the Olympic level, but we play 162 games and (players) are not going to shake hands. Go ask Nolan Ryan if he's going to shake their hands after they beat you. We play a different game. They do it in hockey (in the playoffs), but that's a tradition.
"More times than not, after big series, teams go behind the scenes. They come by your clubhouse and say `Way to go.' But not in front of 50,000 people."
Baseball has a rule against fraternization between opposing players on the field before and after games, but it's seldom if ever enforced.
Thanks to Dodger Thoughts reader I'm So Blue for the link.
Back to School
Fast and furious, Baseball-Reference.com has updated its site with 2004 statistics. The site has also added other features, including (courtesy of its friends at the Society of American Baseball Research) an index of colleges to which major league players went.
The Dodgers improved by eight victories from 2003 to 2004, 85 to 93.
They did so in fairly bizarre fashion, with added performance at 11 of the 14 position slots on the 25-man roster and a decline at 10 of 11 pitching slots.
I've illustrated this using Win Shares, a Bill James-created formula that allows you to compare all players by combining that statistics into a single number. Now, not everyone likes Win Shares, but there are few better ways of comparing how each member of a roster has contributed to the team's success.
The following chart allocates, as I did last year, Win Shares by roster slot on the 25-man roster. This explains why you see, for example, Juan Encanacion on the same line as Hee Seop Choi, a player he was traded for, rather than Jayson Werth, a reserve who took over Encarnacion's outfield spot.
This isn't an entirely clean process – because at certain times the Dodgers carried 12 pitchers, you'll see some overlap in the 11th pitching slot on this chart. But it basically tells you where the Dodgers were getting their production.
Dodger Win Shares by 25-Man Roster Slot: 2004 vs. 2003
Source: The Hardball Times
Even before the sharp decline of the starting pitching in September, position players carried the Dodgers in 2004. Adrian Beltre was nearly 50 percent more valuable than any other Dodger over the past two seasons, and Cesar Izturis was as valuable this year as Eric Gagne was during his Cy Young-winning 2003. Beltre, for that matter, provided more value than the Dodgers' entire starting rotation (save Wilson Alvarez). Los Angeles also got much better production from its bench in 2004.
I started to analyze what this means for 2005, but I cut that effort short. The same conclusions keep returning - Beltre is huge, catcher is vacant, pitching is needed, retaining Finley and replacing Cora could be overrated. Izturis' value might be the biggest revelation here.
Third-Base Market To Expand?
The potential availability of Lowell, Florida's All-Star third baseman, could affect Beltre's upcoming free agency negotiations by giving teams an alternative.
"Lowell's contract is tied to the Marlins' ability to secure financing for a new ballpark by Nov. 1, for which they currently are $30 million short," ESPN.com reports. "If Florida finds the financing, the final three years of Lowell's deal become guaranteed. If the Marlins don't, then the All-Star third baseman would hold a $7.5 million option to return to the club in 2005 or he can file for free agency anytime between Nov. 1 and Nov. 6."
ESPN added that even if Lowell decides not to become a free agent, the Marlins might consider trading him. The story says this would erase the final two years (2006-07) of Lowell's contract, each year at $8 million, although it is unclear whether the erasure would be automatic or at a team or player option.
A potential trade of Lowell is further complicated by the fact, that "as a player with a multiyear contract and at least five years of major league service time, he would have the right to demand [another] trade," according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which appears to have taken a closer look at the complicated Lowell situation than the Marlins have. "That request would have to be met by March 15 or Lowell would again have the right to opt for free agency. According to a source close to Lowell, the three-time All-Star would definitely exercise that right."
Lowell has been a solid third baseman for five years and well above-average for the past two, with 32 and 27 home runs and OPSes of .880 and .870. His numbers don't match Beltre's for 2004, but he has a longer, more consistent track record. Of course, that track record began at age 26 - the age that Beltre will finally turn next season.
So what you have is a third baseman who has less peak potential than Beltre, but is solid and cheaper. Beltre is rumored to be on his way toward a deal worth $12 million a year, maybe less, maybe more. Some might argue that Lowell plus a free-agent pitcher is a better deal for Los Angeles than Beltre alone.
I think the Dodgers should continue to make Beltre their top target, even at the risk of slightly overpaying him. I believe his transformation is for real, and that he might still even be a player on the rise as his plate discipline improves. Only a handful of teams should be in competition with them, and there might be even fewer if Lowell comes on the market.
Said Dave Roberts to the Associated Press about playing in Boston:
"When I first got out here I got a guy over to third base and I got a standing ovation, and I drove in a guy with a sacrifice fly and that was the biggest ovation I got all year," said Roberts.
That hurts, Dave. What about that ecstatic reception you got when you circled the bases against the Yankees in June?
Short memories, I guess. Or, anything for the hype ...
H. Seop's Fables
What can I say? The guy's a headline writer's dream ...
Comparison of Dodger EQAs to the Major League averages, 2004
For multi-team players, EQAs include non-Dodger statistics. Source: Baseball Prospectus. EQA is "a measure of total offensive value per out, with corrections for league offensive level, home park, and team pitching. EQA considers batting as well as baserunning, but not the value of a position player's defense. "
Another revelation might be that shooting for improvement at second base - outside the organization, anyway - should not be a high priority. Even if both Hernandez and Cora were to decline in 2005, they might still be average – which is exactly where the Dodgers are at center, right, first base and shortstop. (Werth would appear to be above average, given how Bonds skews that position's average.)
Of course, catcher remains the greatest offensive emergency. Though this chart by no means ends the debate, I would focus on resigning a superior offensive player in Beltre, rectifying the catcher problem and improving the starting pitching, all before worrying about Finley. Make no mistake, the guy hit some huge home runs and is one of the Dodgers' all-time best midseason pickups. But he may not merit a further expensive commitment.
In the end, chemistry had nothing to do with it.
Those who today criticize the Dodgers' trade of Paul Lo Duca, with the season in rear view, point to the stretch-drive failings of Hee Seop Choi, Brent Mayne, Dave Ross and/or Brad Penny.
Perhaps I missed a corner of the Internet, but I didn't find anyone this week who was attributing the Dodgers' first-round playoff exit to a loss of chemistry, heart or soul.
Part of this is because the Dodgers displayed what many would interpret as chemistry, heart and soul - not to mention blood and guts - in surviving something of a September performance collapse to win 94 games, a division title and one more postseason victory than it had achieved in any year since "Don't Worry, Be Happy" was Billboard's No. 1.
But the lesson here is that even for July's chemistry diehards, results were what mattered.
If some combination of Choi, Mayne, Ross and Penny had performed to expectations - and make no mistake, none of them did - even critics would have viewed the trade more favorably by degrees.
If Lo Duca had excelled in September, people would have pointed first to his numbers, not his personality, in noting what the Dodgers had lost.
If the Dodgers had fallen out of first place and/or missed the playoffs, those clawing at the carcass would have hit on chemistry only if there were no bones to pick over the on-field performance of the aforementioned principals.
I say this as someone who loved watching Lo Duca, who loved the way he played the game. But I think the past two months have shown the limits that one person's chemistry has on a 25-man roster.
Lo Duca's heart and soul certainly infuse his own play, and perhaps they serve as a limited influence on others. But it's not significant.
If there's any more doubt, consider Jose Lima, who picked up the Dodger heart, soul and fire banner where Lo Duca left it. Lima enlivens and inspires. But he didn't inspire the other starting pitchers to pitch better, he didn't inspire the hitters to give the Dodgers early inning leads, and it's unconvincing to say that he had any meaningful role in the late-inning comebacks.
There are reasons to feel support the Dodgers' trade of Lo Duca and reasons to critique it. For example, on the one hand, the Dodgers needed starting pitching and cheaper offense for the future. On the other hand, was it worth acquiring both a first baseman (Choi) and an outfielder (Steve Finley) in a pennant race when only one position was available for them, while at the same time diminishing the catcher slot?
Frankly, my desire to continue this debate is as over as the Dodger season. Many of you might feel the same way. But if this debate continues - or if a new one begins, say over Lima - I am hopeful that, it will be about the real issues, not invented ones like chemistry. As much as I love seeing players play with heart and soul, this would save me a lot of heartache and soulache.
The 2004-05 Offseason: A Preview
Here is the status of the Dodger 40-man roster (which is actually 43 men because of those on the 60-day disabled list) as the team's offseason begins. The contract information is the best I could find via the Daily News, ESPN and Dugout Dollars, but please, please e-mail me if I have any errors:
Looking to 2005, I've divided the players into four categories – definitely back, likely to return, maybe/maybe not, and unlikely to return. Keep in mind, though, that even the "definitely back" players could be traded.
Although starting pitching is the Dodgers' most pressing concern, the outfield/first base situation is their most confusing.
Definitely back (barring trade)
Joel Hanrahan, RHP (minor leagues in 2004, team option): Will have a chance to win a job. Probably will start 2005 back in Las Vegas, but could be in the rotation midseason.
Darren Dreifort, RHP ($11,000,000 in 2004, $13,000,000 in 2005): Dreifort will start the season on the disabled list in the final year of his contract, then perhaps assume a short relief role down the stretch. His heart will be praised, especially because it’s his only working body part.
Eric Gagne, RHP ($5,000,000 in 2004, eligible for arbitration): Gagne suffered a decline in performance in 2004 … to truly fantastic. The past season revealed the limits of his ability, however far out to the edge of the solar system they are. There’s a lot of angst over the long-term contract status of a player not eligible for free agency until November 2006. Perhaps he won’t retire a Dodger, but there is plenty of time for a solution to come. Though Gagne is more important to the Dodgers than vice-versa, both on the field and off, there will be few teams better positioned than the Dodgers to pay him what he wants with Shawn Green and Dreifort’s contracts off the books in 2006.
Kazuhisa Ishii, LHP ($2,800,000 in 2004, $3,230,000 in 2005): General manager Paul DePodesta could look to trade Ishii to a team that values his won-loss record and believes they can heal his mental approach - say, Atlanta. Barring that, Ishii figures to start the season in Los Angeles in the back end of the rotation and try to work his magic.
Edwin Jackson, RHP (pro-rated $300,000 in 2004, team option): Growing pains for Jackson in 2004 render a little more doubt about his future, but he’s still a 21-year-old babe in the woods with potential. He has a place in the 2005 starting rotation as the offseason begins.
Brad Penny, RHP ($3,725,000 in 2004, eligible for arbitration): Hoping for the best ...
Orlando Rodriguez, LHP (minor leagues in 2004, team option):: Listed on the 40-man roster but appears not to have pitched last season.
Duaner Sanchez, RHP ($305,000 in 2004, team option): Pretty straightforward case of an inexpensive, durable and efficient young reliever coming back.
Jeff Weaver, RHP ($4,750,000 in 2004, $7,750,000 in 2005): Weaver’s salary figures factor in the $1,500,000 that the New York Yankees are chipping in each season. His built-in raise probably moves him into the overpriced category, but at least he provides innings and perhaps is still learning. Turns 29 next August.
Hee-Seop Choi, 1B ($310,000 in 2004, team option): He’ll get some stories written about him in March. Choi has a key role in the Dodgers’ offseason confusion. Anything the Dodgers do with Milton Bradley and Steve Finley will reflect the confidence they have in Choi, because Choi’s presence in the lineup would move Shawn Green back to the outfield. Choi has begun the past two seasons as a starter and worked his way to the bench. Perhaps the opposite will occur in 2005.
Cesar Izturis ($360,000 in 2004, eligible for arbitration): Turning just 25 just before Spring Training, his improvement offensively to adequacy and his prowess defensively ensures him a job. The only change will be whether the Dodgers can find a leadoff hitter that allows them to drop Izturis down the lineup.
Antonio Perez (pro-rated $300,000 in 2004, team option): With better on-base and slugging credentials than Joe Thurston ever had, Perez may be the Dodgers' second baseman of the (near) future. Las Vegas' first 20 homer-20 steal man is 15 days younger than Izturis.
Shawn Green, 1B-OF ($16,000,000 in 2004, $16,000,000 in 2005): Kevin Brown taught us that as the end of a rich contract looms, a trade becomes more of a possibility. The Yankees, for one, might want a first baseman, though they could be loath to deal with the Dodgers in the aftermath of the disappointing Brown-Brazoban-Jeff Weaver trade. Of course, in all likelihood, Green will play out his contract in Los Angeles. There still have to be concerns about his health, since the shoulder problems that hampered him at least part of this season could recur.
Cody Ross, OF (minor leaguer in 2004, team option): Injuries marred his 2004 season, but still hit 14 homers in 238 at-bats with Las Vegas. Factor in that hitter-happy environment and his mediocre walk totals (18), and you realize you can't count to heavily on Ross at this point, but he'll have at least a chance to be next year's Jayson Werth.
Likely to return
Adrian Beltre, 3B ($5,000,000 in 2004, free agent): Carlos Beltran will be the No. 1 free agent on the market. Certainly, the Dodgers will take at least a token run at the outstanding Houston outfielder, but it’s more likely that they’ll let him be the subject of the offseason’s top bidding war (led by the Yankees) and try to retain the infielder that they raised. As intimidating as agent Scott Boras is, he will not get Beltre the salary that Green currently makes. Certainly, the skeptics are entitled to their worries about Beltre being a one-year wonder, but that’s a risk the Dodgers should and will try to take.
Brian Falkenborg, RHP (pro-rated $300,000 in 2004, team option): Though he had a disappointing tryout with the Dodgers, Falkenborg only turns 27 in January. Unless he has minor-league free agent status that I’m unaware of, he should get a second shot at a long relief role.
Giovanni Carrara, RHP (contract status not avaliable): Like the situation with Alvarez, this seems to be a match for both parties. Similarly to 2003, he is not a lock to make the team out of Spring Training despite his contributions in the past season.
David Ross, C ($310,000, team option): The site of Ross bunting for base hits at the expense of his power potential was one of the saddest of 2004 for the Dodgers. Like German Rivera, Jeff Hamilton, Dave Hansen, Angel Pena and so many others before him - and unlike Paul Lo Duca – Ross was given the chance to cement a starting job but proved to need retrofitting. Now, he’ll try to figure out what went wrong and try to stick around for another year. If the Dodgers sign a right-handed starter, they could bring back Brent Mayne as a backup and send Ross back to the minors. (He first reached the majors in 2002, but doesn’t appear to have accrued the service time for arbitration.)
Tom Wilson, C (pro-rated $300,000 in 2004, free agent): Will compete for a backup job. At worst, Las Vegas will probably need a catcher. Turns 34 in December.
Willy Aybar, 2B (minor leagues in 2004, team option): Transitioned somewhat successfully from third base to second base in 2004 with Jacksonville. Will probably start 2005 in Las Vegas, pending what happens with Jose Flores and Antonio Perez. Question: Is his career at third base over?
Jose Flores, IF (pro-rated $300,000 in 2004, team option): Could start the season in the minors or fill a backup infield slot on the Los Angeles roster.
Olmedo Saenz, IF ($300,000 in 2004, free agent): Saenz was clawing for a job seven months ago; it's unlikely he wouldn't re-up for a small raise in 2005.
Jason Grabowski, OF ($301,000 in 2004, team option): Tailed off dramatically in the second half and turns 29 in May. But swinging from the left side, at his salary, with Robin Ventura gone, he will probably earn another shot.
Henri Stanley, OF (minor leaguer in 2004, team option): Acquired in the Dave Roberts trade, the soon-to-be 27-year-old Stanley will return to the minors in 2005 barring some sort of miracle.
Jayson Werth, OF ($303,000 in 2004, team option): Will continue to be the starting lineup's biggest bargain in 2005, unless Hee Seop Choi takes off. Might train at catcher some, but still figures at this point to be a third option there at best. Of course, it was only 2 1/2 months ago that Werth was rumored to be headed to Arizona.
Maybe, maybe not
Hideo Nomo, RHP ($6,500,000 in 2004, free agent): Jim Tracy still loves his warrior. Taking a flyer on Nomo with a contract with a low base salary and incentives is not out of the question. He could be the 2003 Wilson Alvarez of the 2005 Dodgers.
Mike Venafro, LHP (contract status not available): Doesn’t figure to command much in salary, so he’s on track to return for Spring Training unless/until the Dodgers find better options.
Brent Mayne, C ($800,000 in 2004, free agent): Might have gone into the likely category as a backup catcher until he floated hints about following Robin Ventura into retirement. Even if he doesn’t retire, the Dodgers may elect to keep Dave Ross in the backup spot.
Alex Cora, 2B ($1,300,000 in 2004, eligible for arbitration): Despite flowering in many respects as a second baseman in 2004, I'm putting Cora in the maybe category because if the Dodger payroll is limited, his inconsistent offense may not justify the raise he will get through arbitration. When he's on his game, he becomes one of the top second basemen in the league, particularly when you factor in the successful platoon with Jose Hernandez. But Cora goes through long slumps as well, and DePodesta can't find the starting pitching to solve the team's rotation problems, he may look to find more offense here. Additionally, though the Dodgers probably aren't quite ready to hand the second-base job to Antonio Perez, they will allow him to compete.
Jose Hernandez, IF-OF ($850,000 in 2004, free agent): After hitting 13 home runs and slugging .540 in 211 at-bats, could you blame the guy for exploring whether a team might pay him to play every day, or at least pay him more? On the other hand, perhaps the 35-year-old Hernandez recognizes his own limitations, and will return to a place where Tracy used him so successfully. In any case, he'll want a raise.
Milton Bradley, OF ($1,730,000 in 2004, eligible for arbitration): Well, won't this be an interesting arbitration case if it comes? The Dodgers would be perfectly within their rights to bring up Bradley's suspensions in a salary-lowering effort. I believe the Dodgers want Bradley to succeed in Los Angeles, but as was discussed in the Choi comment, the Dodgers could commit to the Korean first baseman and move Green back to right field.
Steve Finley, OF (Dodgers' share of $6,750,000 in 2004, free agent): Is he the Brett Butler of the '00s? Is he the Karl Malone of Chavez Ravine? Came to the Dodgers late in his career but in tremendous physical condition (he played in 162 games this year) and made a series of memorable contributions. Again, the Dodgers have many options to consider, but he'll get a long look.
Unlikely to return
Odalis Perez, LHP ($5,000,000 in 2004, free agent): A pitcher with talent, whose record is better than his ERA, but whose ERA is better than his strikeout rate. Despite the lack of starting pitching on the team, Dodger dollars may go elsewhere. This has been an uneasy relationship, and although it was only two games, Perez’s playoff performance is likely to represent the moment where Dear Abby tells her faithful reader, “You can’t marry this guy.”
Paul Shuey, RHP ($3,800,000 in 2004, free agent) More likely to retire than pitch in 2005. And buddy Tom Martin is in Georgia.
Scott Stewart, LHP ($850,000 with Indians at start of 2004, free agent): Not sure what the Dodgers ended up paying Stewart to use him as a band-aid. DePodesta will surely find better options for the coming year.
Todd Hundley, C ($6,500,000 in 2004, free agent): His retirement should be funded. Again, you never know when a player will sign a base-level contract with incentives for the chance to go out with some good memories, but we won’t hold our breath.
Joe Thurston, 2B (pro-rated $300,000 in 2004, team option): I believe Thurston is out of minor-league options. While the Dodger bench is in flux, Thurston would have to have a monster spring to earn a spot – and he might not get the playing time to do it.
Robin Ventura, IF ($1,200,000 in 2004, free agent): Announced his retirement Sunday, and doesn't seem likely to go back the decision. But you never know.
Chin-Feng Chen, OF (pro-rated $300,000 in 2004, team option): I need to confirm that Chen is out of options as well. Unlike Thurston, showed a little improvement in Las Vegas this year with a .943 OPS, and would have a better shot of sneaking onto the 25th spot of the roster than Joey Ballgame. But that isn't saying much. Chen turns 27 this month.
Bullpen (6): Gagne, Brazoban, Sanchez, Carrara, Alvarez, one vacancy. Approximate 2005 salary cost, not including vacancies: $9 million.
Starting lineup (8): Choi 1B, Cora 2B, Izturis SS, Beltre 3B, Werth LF, Bradley CF, Green RF, vacancy at catcher. (Whither Finley?) Approximate 2005 salary cost, not including vacancies: $34 million
Bench (6): Hernandez, A. Perez, Saenz, Grabowski, Ross, vacancy. Approximate 2005 salary cost, not including vacancies: $2.5 million.
Disabled list (1): Dreifort. Approximate 2005 salary cost: $13 million.
Las Vegas (among others): Hanrahan, Rodriguez, C. Ross, Falkenborg, Wilson, Aybar, Flores, Stanley, Venafro, Stewart.
Rough estimate of current and expected salary commitments, not including vacancies: $74.5 million
Yep, it's in owner Frank McCourt's hands now.
Top priorities, if Beltre signs
2) Find a starting catcher.
3) Improve offense wherever possible and trade whomever is replaced.
There's Always Carlos
But for those of you wishing to keep tabs on Carlos Perez, the fiery former Dodger, Raul Tavares has a quick update over at Dominican Players.
"Carlos Perez, who's still enjoying Dodgers money in his town, fishing and having a blast in the Caribbean is looking to make a comeback this year to the Dominican Winter League with Licey," Tavares writes. "I don't want to see that man near the stadium, he's one of the many reasons the Dodgers are attached to those stupid contracts. I know (it) is not his fault Kevin Malone gave him a big contract, but he does not belong in Baseball anymore."
The Dodgers Take the East
Jay Jaffe, East Coast Keeper of the Dodger Flame, wrote a fine piece about the end of the Dodger season at The Futility Infielder. An excerpt:
For years I had begun each Fox-era season with hope but not faith. From 3000 miles away, I would follow their offseason moves intently, slowly losing interest as the team stumbled out of the gate or wilted in the summer heat, only to make a day-late, dollar-short run at the Wild Card that would have me scrambling to keep up. The decision to hire DePodesta -- and retain Tracy -- began to restore my faith.
Taking the reins from Dan Evans, a man who deserved better after restocking the farm system, DePodesta spent the year improvising masterfully in concert with Tracy, most notably with a bullpen almost completely rebuilt with rookies and castoffs after a flurry of deals at the trading deadline. The team upgraded its offense over last year thanks to the additions of Bradley, Werth, and Jose Hernandez. They watched Adrian Beltre finally live up to his star potential. They turned their defense into the league's best (a .715 Defensive Efficiency Rating, tops in all of baseball) as Cora and Cesar Izturis emerged as the game's top double-play combo. They overcame a shaky rotation that nearly dropped an axle down the stretch and a trade that more or less blew up in their face. And they kicked the Giants squarely in the groin on the season's final weekend, capping a seven-run ninth with a Steve Finley grand slam that will live in the annals of Dodger lore forever. NL West champs, for the first time in nine years.
For all of that and so much more -- Eric Gagne's 84 consecutive saves, Alex Cora's 18-pitch at-bat, Lima Time, night after night of pinch-grand slams, 53 come-from-behind victories including 26 in their final at-bat, their first postseason victory in 16 years as Lima shut down the league's most feared offense and got L.A. fans to stay right to the end -- the Dodgers showed their hearts every single day and won mine all over again. If I'm a bit misty-eyed, whatever tears I've shed over the end of their season have been tears of gratitude and joy. Thank you, Dodgers, for bringing me home.
Now, three time zones away, I might finally get some sleep.
Jaffe also adds a look at the retiring Robin Ventura, who "now joins a class of third basemen who won't make the Hall of Fame but who are better than most of the ones who are in there."
The Best Wrapup Line
Dodger Blues wins:
In a year that has been so improbable, the inevitable has happened.
You Can't Even Leave on Time
In 2003, Dodger fans were trained not to leave the game before the top of the ninth, because Eric Gagne might pitch.
In 2004, Dodger fans were trained not to leave the game before the bottom of the ninth, because the team might come back to win.
Saturday and Sunday, Dodger fans were trained not to leave the game even after it was over, because there might be a classy display of fan appreciation and team sportsmanship.
I've learned my lesson. Saturday, we stayed to cheer the Dodgers and Jose Lima a little after the game. Each minute we stayed perhaps cost us 10 minutes in traffic on the way home, but it was worth it.
Sunday, though we weren't leaving early, we walked from our seats to be near the exit so that if the final out came, we could race with the boy in his car seat to our car and get out of the parking lot as quickly as possible.
As a result, we missed the postgame handshakes that took place between the Dodgers and Cardinals, and the gratitude the Dodgers showed their fans. And I'm sorry to have missed that - but how glad I am to hear about it.
I don't know about you - I'm a sentimental guy - but when I read a quote like this in the paper ...
"A class act on the part of the Dodgers," pitching coach Dave Duncan said. "Tracy led the way and his players saw him come out to congratulate Tony. Whatever feeling they had, they came out. It was a touch of class."
... for an instant, it threatens to open up a tear duct.
* * *
A word to you Dodger Thoughts commenters:
Yeah, I was a little nervous giving you an open forum back in February. Would it quickly degenerate into talk-radio nonsense? Would it dilute the site?
Far from it.
First of all, you commenters are great because given the slightest opening, no matter how tangential, you offer all these compliments. Really - you're just doing a fabulous job. I now consider this a vital element of the site.
Beyond that, the discussion of all things Dodger has been as mature and intelligent as I've ever seen. Doesn't matter that we don't always agree - how could we? The point is, we have real conversations. People feel welcome. Misunderstandings are resolved. Friendships are made.
It's our own little slice of the postgame handshake, and I'm proud of it. And instead of praising me, you should praise yourselves.
Tip 'o the Hat
Sad but satisfied, I bid adieu to the 2004 Dodgers. I enjoyed them tremendously.
Dodger Thoughts will continue in the offseason. I might take a few days off after the World Series, as I did last year, but otherwise I hope all of you who have found this place during the season will stick around. We'll start looking ahead almost immediately, but for now, it's with a great deal of fondness that I tip my hat to 2004.
Congratulations to the Cardinals. That's a fine team.
Division Series Open Chat - Game 4
"Enjoy yourself" - The Jackson 5
"Don't fight the feeling, baby, just feel it" - Sam Cooke
Prima Lima - He's a Dreama
Prior to tonight, the two most exciting Dodger pitching performances I've witnessed in person:
1) Fernando Valenzuela's no-hitter in 1990.
2) Pedro Astacio's three-hit, 10-strikeout shutout in his major-league debut.
Jose Lima's shutout against the best offense in baseball, in the playoffs, in an elimination game, easily makes this a top three.
I was forced to be at home for the Dodgers' amazing division-clinching comeback against San Francisco two weeks ago. I saw the entire game on television (Dodgers, I'm hopelessly TiVoted to you) and was thrilled.
But the difference in being able to attend the game is the glory of being able to genuflect, to offer your praise and feel it being received. And it was just a magnificent experience. I mean, I was waving and yelling to Lima from the Loge level - and I'm pretty sure he knew it.
Leaping to your feet in front of the television set just isn't the same.
Lima's roughest inning tonight was the first, when Tony Womack became what turned out to be the only Cardinal to reach third base. When Lima escaped that dilemma, he earned a standing ovation - who knew if we would able to give another?
As it turns out, we gave him about a dozen.
While I was in the food line, the Dodgers got a break when Lima was ruled safe on a hinky bunt to load the bases with none out in the third inning. Not apologizing for that one, considering how rough it's been for Los Angeles this week. The play came just after Alex Cora was deked by Scott Rolen into not sliding into third on Brent Mayne's single and almost got himself tagged out. Razor-thin margin for error, these Dodgers have.
Cesar Izturis popped out to short left, and Jayson Werth struck out. Just as it looked like the Dodgers would miss their latest, and perhaps last, golden opportunity, Steve Finley delivered a broken-bat two-run double to put the Dodgers ahead.
Shawn Green then hit two solo home runs in the fourth and sixth innings - bigtime plays that help make up for Adrian Beltre's sudden power shortage - to give Los Angeles and Lima a 4-0 lead.
When Lima came up with the bases loaded in bottom of the sixth, one can understand the tempation to pinch-hit for him. Would four runs be enough against St. Louis? Did Lima have more than one good inning left in him?
While I was against Jim Tracy's decisions in recent weeks not to pinch-hit for Wilson Alvarez against the Giants on September 25 and not to relieve Jeff Weaver in Thursday's Game 2, I supported his choice to let Lima bat for himself. Lima's pitch count was in the sixties (he needed only 65 pitches to pitch the second through seventh innings) and he was so integral to this game - to remove his energy from the mound with three entire innings to go seemed premature.
After all, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa walked perhaps the worst-hitting catcher in baseball, Brent Mayne, with a runner on first base. Do you think he expected the Dodgers to take Lima out?
Lima cruised through the seventh and was one strike away from a perfect eighth before Womack singled. Lima suddenly looked a little wobbly - a couple of pitches went in the dirt. Eric Gagne was warm in the bullpen. With Larry Walker up and Albert Pujols on deck, this figured to be the end.
Instead, Lima retired Walker. Eight innings in the books.
And indeed, that seemed enough. You didn't want to see Lima's outstanding outing marred by a collapse - and you had a rested Gagne ready. But then again, with a four-run lead, wasn't it worth a shot to see if Lima could ride this horse all the way back to the stables? The Dodgers certainly planned to remove him if one batter reached base in the ninth.
Facing the three All-Stars, Pujols, Rolen and Jim Edmonds, Lima retired them in order on 10 pitches - 10 pitches! - Beltre flairing a basket catch of a popup to end it.
Lima kneeled down and genuflected. As did we all.
What an incredible night in Los Angeles baseball history.
Division Series Open Chat - Game 3
So, Spring Training is over.
The first two games of this playoff series for the Dodgers had an October intensity but a March quality. It dovetails with how I was recently reminded how badly the Dodgers performed in exhibition play this season. Of course, those games didn't count. In any event, somewhere in the mud of that Spring Training was hidden the roots of a playoff team.
On Wednesday, I suggested that the Dodgers focus. Today, my only advice is for them to play with confidence - not to play afraid. Play.
It's the playoffs in your home stadium. Enjoy yourselves.
In a series where we knew the Dodgers would be in big trouble if their pitching and offense were missing, who could be prepared for the pitching, offense and defense to disappear.
Cesar Izturis double-clutches on a grounder and allows an infield single.
A double-play grounder scoots past Alex Cora for a single.
Given my dreams of the ballet the Dodgers might put on in the playoffs, even in a losing effort, it's almost devastating that the most reliable middle infield there is could allow these two plays in the same game.
Those plays, along with questionable defense by Jeff Weaver, Shawn Green and Milton Bradley, put the Dodgers in a precarious situation.
Timidity about going to the bullpen put Los Angeles over the cliff.
It's not that Weaver couldn't have gotten out of the bases-loaded, two-out jam in the fifth inning Thursday.
It's that in a must-win situation, already down by a run, if you have a fresher, better option than Weaver - particularly with his spot due up in the top of the sixth inning - you have to take it.
I don't like to second-guess Jim Tracy, but this one seemed obvious to me. He potentially needed only 13 outs to close out the game, most of which could be taken by rested Eric Gagne and Yhency Brazoban. That left Duaner Sanchez, Wilson Alvarez and Giovanni Carrara, all fresh, to go after St. Louis catcher Mike Matheny.
Heck, why not bring in Gagne right then. Did you need a bigger moment?
With the last off day of the series coming Friday, the Dodgers needed to take advantage of their last chance to be fully aggressive with the best of their bullpen. And they missed it.
Division Series Open Chat - Game 2
In addition to ballet, I'm requesting some line drives as well from the Dodgers.
Prediction: Eric Gagne will pitch.
Update: On the All-Baseball.com home page, I've posted a quick discussion concerning the extended use of three closers in this first week of the playoffs: Atlanta's John Smoltz, Houston's Brad Lidge and Minnesota's Joe Nathan.
Weekend Game Time Mystery Thread
This is a thread for information on what time the Dodger games Saturday and Sunday (if necessary) will start. Those of us who need babysitters, among others, are depending on getting accurate information. Pass along whatever you have. If anyone from the broadcast or Dodger organizations reading this feels like giving us the straight scoop, it'd be appreciated.
Update: Fox advertises the start of their Saturday Dodger-Cardinal telecast for 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time.
Some little treats to tide you over:
There's been too little baseball and too much analysis. We've been using so many cliches, I've made plans to voluntarily check into sportswriter rehab. With the Dodgers in town all week, team senior vice president Tom Lasorda has spent so many hours eating pasta at Charlie Gitto's downtown Italian restaurant, he's officially a gnocchi.
This season when they've lost the first game of a series, the Dodgers are 16-7 in the next game. And while winning the first match in a best-of-five playoff set is a major plus, it hasn't provided the victor with an overwhelming advantage. Last season three of the four teams that advanced to the league championship series did so after losing the first game of the division series. And since the best-of- five LDS began in 1995, 14 of 36 teams have rallied to win the first round.
The previous five 39-year-olds to set a career-high in home runs: Jim O'Rorque (1890) with 9, Fred Jacklitsch (1915) with 2, Harry Wright (1974) with 2, Red Faber (1928) with 1, Randy Johnson (2003) with 1.
"That's it," Silver writes. "Johnson and Faber, of course, are pitchers. Rico Carty, who hit 31 homers in 1978 to best his personal mark of 25, comes reasonably close if you expand the boundary to allow 38-year-olds in the mix."
Fans Campaign for Porter
The September 30 report in the Press-Telegram that the Dodgers have already decided not to offer broadcaster Ross Porter a contract for 2005 has been deemed "inaccurate" by Dodger executive vice president and chief marketing officer Lon Rosen, according to Jim Alexander of the Press-Enterprise.
Whether Rosen is delaying the confirmation of an inevitability, or Porter's future with the Dodgers is truly alive, remains to be seen.
Not everyone is invested in Porter remaining with the Dodgers, but for those who are, two people by the name of Dean Wilson and Joe Nagy have established a campaign to urge the Dodgers to retain Porter.
Please join us in the CAMPAIGN FOR DODGER LOYALTY AND TRADITION. Call the Dodgers at (323) 224-1500 or (323) 224-1435 and ask for the executive offices of Lon Rosen or Frank McCourt. Leave a message or voice mail saying that Ross Porter must be retained. (Editor's condescending note: Be mature about it.)
I called [Monday] morning and Lon Rosen called me back. We chatted for a few minutes and I shared with him these thoughts and he really appreciated it. He was non-committal about what would happen - and so we decided to spend the next three weeks campaigning. I also left a voice mail for Frank McCourt (the owner). Now ... I hope thousands of fans follow my lead.
Wilson also suggests writing the executives at Dodger Stadium, 1000 Elysian Park, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Wilson's e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to contact him about this.
Beyond this, Alexander added in his article Saturday that "Rosen did confirm strong interest in adding an ex-player as a color analyst on radio and creating a two-man broadcast, as opposed to having one man at the mike as the Dodgers have done." Meanwhile, Jerry Lindquist of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Dodger Hall of Famer Don Sutton has apparently not committed to returning to Atlanta Brave broadcasts on TBS, making him a candidate to come to Los Angeles.
The T-Shirt Knows ...
... why Adrian Beltre's transformation this year was legit.
Well, Isn't This Grand
From the Why Does This Crap Have to Happen Department ...
Dodgers star Milton Bradley allegedly called a reporter an "Uncle Tom" after the outfielder was asked how he was treated by St. Louis fans following his season-ending suspension for throwing a bottle into the stands.
There are probably some people who are going to side against Milton Bradley because they don't trust that he is sincere about dealing with his anger problems.
There are probably some people who are going to side against Jason Reid because they don't trust the Times when it comes to the Dodgers.
I may be overstepping here, but all I suggest is that everyone not rush to judgment.
The Times and the Dodgers each released statements in the aftermath of today's events, according to Ken Gurnick of Dodgers.com.
"Ultimately, this is an issue that needs to be settled between the two individuals and we will work with them toward that end," said Dodgers executive vice president Lou Rosen in statement released Wednesday night.
The Times also issued a statement from sports editor Bill Dwyre: "We are terribly unhappy with how and why this happened. We back our reporter from every angle of this. We also agree with the Dodgers in the sense that this is something that can be and will be worked out between these two people."
From what I can tell, that's a healthy response to an unhealthy situation. I hope I'm not being naive.
I don't believe there is any policy that would cause Bradley to miss playing time based on this incident. Correct me if I'm wrong. Perhaps, as more information about today's events comes out, there will be those who suggest that he should.
But for now, I'm willing to wait and see.
Update: Local coverage of the story begins ... in the Times and the Register. I think based on the latter article, Bradley needs a better idea of how poorly communications that he thinks are humorous and "keep it real" might be perceived. And Reid perhaps needs to know that sometimes, when a person is walking away, it's best to let him walk away. Easy for me to say though, huh?
The Off Day
Does it feel to you a bit like being stuck on a long layover at the airport?
The first leg of the trip was nothing but turbulent. Overwhelmed by queasiness, we staggered off the plane. Now, slumped in our seats, bags at our feet and under our eyes, we mull over our rocky journey as we watch other baseball roll across the screens. It's good that first flight is over, but already here it's getting stale.
The next flight might be just as turbulent. But I'm staring out the window at the tarmac, waiting, waiting, for that boarding call.
Three Million Eggs, One Basket
You could feel the yolk of every Dodger fan hit the ground with a gelatinous slap Tuesday when St. Louis started knocking the wicker out of Odalis Perez.
If it were summer, the heat would have fried us and been done with us. But fall has arrived, and so we just sat there, laid out on the pavement, defenseless against being stepped on, run over or washed away.
The best defense in baseball, or at least outside of St. Louis, never had a chance. Baseballs flew over Dodger heads, one after another. Milton Bradley probably would have loved a chance to field anything - even a bottle. The Dodgers didn't mean to put all their eggs in one basket, but in Perez's basket is where they all ended up, and they were smashed.
No mystery about what this means for Game 2. If Jeff Weaver is more solid, and if he gives his defense a chance to help him out, there's no reason the Dodgers can't beat even mighty St. Louis, despite the widespread declarations of the Cardinals by the end of the third inning Tuesday as the runaway winner of this playoff series.
Rob McMillin will come in and tell me I'm wasting my time looking at these possibilities - that it's over. It's not that he's wrong from a prediction standpoint, it's just that the prediction, while relevant I suppose from a pre-event betting standpoint, is pointless once the players take the field.
It's hard enough to predict performance over 162 games. When you're talking about five games, or a single game, you absolutely never know what will happen. And the unpredicted alteration of behavior in the smallest areas can make a world of difference. The Dodger offense, for example, is as moribund as it has been since Ron Coomer graced us with his presence, but with something as simple as a good day at the plate by Shawn Green, that all changes.
And think how one victory would alter the perspective of the series: the Dodgers return to Los Angeles 1-1 in the best-of-five, the playoff losing streak off their backs, with proof they can beat the Cardinals in October, and suddenly with a chance to clinch at home behind a Dodger Stadium-loving Jose Lima and an atoning Perez.
That being said, I won't sugarcoat things - the Dodgers need to improve dramatically on offense and on the mound. They have to find a way to get the big hit - and don't you love when writers say things like this, as if the big hit was just another egg hidden in the yard on Easter Sunday - and they have to pitch with relentless focus.
In publishing, some errors are forgivable, but a certain mistake by one person can undermine an entire project. You have to be perfect to be safe. You need a cushion. Perhaps something similar is true in your field of endeavor; it's certainly true in baseball. There can never be a moment for the Dodgers, at the plate, on the mound or in the field, where they lose sight of the fact that the moment counts.
Pressure? You bet. But to win, you deal with it. Your basket needs to be strong. You need some wicked wicker.
The Hatcher Connection
Everyone's been comparing the 1988 Dodgers to the 2004 Dodgers, but Rich Lederer finds more interesting parallels between the '88ers and the 2004 Angels on a special weekday edition of Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT.
Darin Erstad (.295/.346/.400) at 1B, Alfredo Amezaga (.161/.212/.247) at 2B, David Eckstein (.276/.339/.332) at SS, and Chone Figgins (.296/.350/.419) at 3B must be one of the worst infields ever to start in a postseason game. Let’s face it, when Figgins has the highest slugging percentage among your infielders, you’re in a world of hurt.
The aforementioned quartet hit 16 home runs all season. Yes, you read that right. SIXTEEN. In other words, the Angels starting infield in Game One of the ALDS went yard fewer times than Mark Bellhorn over the course of the 2004 regular season despite approximately 1,250 more plate appearances than the Red Sox second baseman.
I think one would need to go back to the 1988 Dodgers to find such an inept-hitting infield that started during the postseason. The Dodgers that year featured Franklin Stubbs (.223/.288/.376) and Mickey Hatcher (.293/.322/.351) at 1B, Steve Sax (.277/.325/.343) at 2B, Alfredo Griffin (.199/.259/.236) at SS, and Jeff Hamilton (.236/.268/.353) at 3B. Including Stubbs at first, this infield hit 20 homers. With Hatcher, they hit just 13.
Brief note: Hatcher, now the Angels' hitting coach, actually only played 25 games at first base for the Dodgers during the 1988 regular season, but found himself there in six games in the National League Championship Series before moving to the outfield in the World Series.
The Final 25 - In Review
For posterity ...
The Final 25 (Record: 14-10, .583)
Most Home Runs, Season, By a Third Baseman
# HR Player, Year
Paul Lo Duca Strikeouts vs. Adrian Beltre Walks
Remember when ...
Paul Lo Duca strikeouts vs. Adrian Beltre walks (Contest closed July 30)
After the trade ended the official contest, Beltre took over, ending up with 53 walks while Lo Duca struck out 47 times - which is the result you'd want - more good than bad.
Division Series Open Chat - Game 1
Here we go ... let's see some ballet.
Those who have pointed out the twist in this series are correct - unlike in recent weeks, there is no huge dropoff between the St. Louis starting pitching and the bullpen, reducing the odds of the Dodgers' rallying from a big deficit.
So the Dodger offense is just going to have to figure out a way to score some runs. More to the point, Los Angeles cannot win if it does not hit home runs.
No, you shouldn't give up on the Dodgers. There's no reason to, and I don't even understand the incentive to. What's the rush? Are there points for being the first to point out that the Dodgers are done? If they end up losing this series, you'll have as long as you like to mope about it. But for now, go go ahead and hope. We all saw The Shawshank Redemption, didn't we?
For me, it's more about the present - the individual moment where you feel the frustration of knowing they are capable of doing better than they've shown through five innings today - but they aren't.
Boston at Anaheim, Game 1: For those who would like to talk on through the afternoon, feel free to continue the thread during the American League playoff opener:
Other Views: Playoff Edition
From: Jon Weisman
With the playoffs about to start ... for the second time this year (for most of you, anyway) - and on just as much ridiculous short notice - I invite your participation in a project:
Write something about the 2004 Dodgers.
As before, it can be one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one page, whatever. It can be analytical, funny, effusive, hateful (to an extent), sarcastic, or of course, the ever-popular lucid.
Anything goes, as you can see from the first "Outside Views" Project:
Thanks in advance.
Tyler Bleszinski, Athletics Nation: From the Godfather: "Fredo, you're my older brother and I love you, but don't ever take sides with anyone against the family again. Ever."
Since the A's have been eliminated from postseason contention, and DePo is still family to the Oakland A's front office I have but one sentiment for the 2004 postseason. Go Dodger Blue!!!
TwinsFanDan, Will Carroll Weblog: I really don't like the Trolley Dodgers here. Unfortunately I just don't see how they keep the Cardinals from scoring hella-type runs; well, unless Walker, Rolen, and Pujols pull a Biggio/Bagwell 0-43 type playoff series.
The magic seems to be with your team this year - who will ever forget Finley's grand salami - but logic dictates that the Cards will get the best of it.
And really, if you think about it, anti-logic says the Cards as well. ...
Cubbies tank due to broadcasters and their arch-rivals throw them farther down the rat hole as they go onto win the World Series! Poetic justice that even The Bard could appreciate.
Rich Lederer, Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT: Looking at the Dodgers and Cardinals teams position-by-position, is there one player on the Dodgers that you would take hands down over his peer on the Cardinals?
Let's take a look:
1B: Green or Pujols - Need we discuss further?
I didn't think so.
However, if relief pitchers are everyday players as Peter Gammons claims, then the Dodgers undoubtedly have one edge. Gagne is so good, he could be the difference maker in a short series.
Steve Treder, The Hardball Times: As a lifelong Giants' fan, there can be no doubt about my feelings toward the 2004 Dodgers: I despise them, of course.
That said, if this particular crew of players and manager wore any other uni than Dodger blue - okay, any other uni than Dodger blue or (shudder) Yankee pinstripes - I'd be less than honest if I didn't admit that I'd love 'em. This is a tough, gritty ball club, can beat you several different ways, fun to watch, well-managed, play fundamentally well, don't seem to have any comprehension of when they've been beaten - what's not to love about this ball club? Other than the vile franchise they represent, I mean.
I found it especially amusing that all the sturm-und-drang in the media about how "The Trade" of LoDuca would ruin the '04 Dodgers' clubhouse chemistry seems to have been rather silent since. "The Trade" hasn't (yet) worked out well, because of Penny's injury, but if these Dodgers, who down the stretch seemed to pull off miraculous late-inning comebacks on a daily basis, did so with depleted fire and spirit, it's frightening to imagine what they'd have done with LoDuca and his .694 post-trade OPS still around. Never lost a game at all, apparently.
A tip of the black-and-orange cap to these Dodgers. The best team won the NL West in 2004. Now may they be obliterated in the post-season.
Geoff Young, Ducksnorts: I kept hoping my Padres would catch you guys but it never happened. I think the acquisition of Bradley just before the season was huge. I also think moving LoDuca was the right thing to do. DePodesta seems like a pretty shrewd guy who has more money at his disposal than I'm comfortable with as a Padre fan.
Guess that's about it. Oh yeah, and thanks for helping to keep the Giants out of the playoffs.
David Pinto, Baseball Musings: I've been looking at the Dodgers and Cardinals tonight, trying to say something interesting about the series. The thing that struck me when looking at the L.A. batters was the number of stolen bases. The Dodgers stole 102 bases, fifth in the NL during the regular season. I think that shows how little influence DePodesta has had on the strategy so far. Their success rate, 71%, is just above break-even. With the Cardinals throwing out 35% of basestealers, this could be a very bad strategy for the Dodgers to follow in the postseason.
Studes, The Hardball Times: I don't follow the Dodgers as closely as I should, but my brother Woody does. He's a hardcore Dodger fan, and he's also a lifelong APBA fan. I wrote about him this spring at the Hardball Times.
Here's what he says:
"My guess is that right now people are underestimating the Dodger starting pitching. Perez and Weaver, in particular, have been pitching at BZ levels for a couple of months, and that's better than the Cardinals. When you throw in the fact that we've got the best fielding and the best bullpen in baseball, itmakes us a threat to win a game or two. St. Louis is the best hitting team I've seen in a long time, but they can be upset in a five-game series.
And Adrian Beltre's APBA card should be something like:
1,1,5,6,10,7,7,7 (or 1,1,0,0,0,7,7,7) with 3-14s and 2-24s"
Jim McClennan, But It's a DRY Heat: For a lot of Arizona fans, the ninth innings of Saturday's LA-SF game might well have provided the biggest reason to cheer all season.
The D'backs had a wretched 2004, racking up 111 losses, with players dropping like flies almost after every game. But at least the Giants didn't make the playoffs either, and who hit the division-winning walk-off grand-slam? None other than longtime AZ fan favorite, Steve Finley, sent to the Dodgers in a deadline deal that perhaps saved L.A.'s season. Of course, the main player we got, catcher Koyie Hill, had his his ankle broken in a collision at the plate before reaching 40 AB's. It's been that kind of year.
I thought the Dodgers would be much the same way as 2003: mediocre offense, stellar pitching. Instead, their starters' ERA went from 3.49 to 4.53, but the offense scored 187 runs more. Homers were up 64%, 124 to 203; Adrian Beltre was the most obvious cause, more than doubling his 2003 total, but pickups Bradley, Werth and Finley (the last hit 13 homers in 58 games) all contributed. Net result: eight more wins, enough to make all the difference between staying home and playing on in October.
How far can the Dodgers go? Being honest, they're likely to be underdogs all the way. Their starters' ERA is easily the highest of the NL playoff teams, which might spell trouble against the likes of Rolen, Pujols and Edmonds, even if St. Louis' arms are showing signs of fatigue too. I think they'll lose that series 3-1. But I'll be rooting for Finley, Mayne and Dessens all the way...
Bryan Smith, Wait Til Next Year: I don't want to say 2004 is the last hurrah for the Dodgers, but big changes will be hitting Los Angeles next year. I think it's safe to say that Hideo Nomo and Odalis Perez won't be back, as the club will likely make an all-out attempt for Adrian Beltre. Hee Seop will push Shawn Green back to the outfield, where he will likely join Jayson Werth and Milton Bradley. Signing a catcher under 36 should be a priority as well.
But with Paul DePodesta at the helm, I would feel comfortable if I was a Dodgers fan. This is a general manager very receptive to change, and even if L.A. loses Beltre, will put a very competitive team on the field next year. Another important development to watch will be the team's handling of Eric Gagne, as his days to free agency get closer and closer.
Jay Jaffe, The Futility Infielder: For the Dodgers to win the west during the first year of new ownership, an ownership many of us doubted and with most experts saying that they didn't have a chance in hell, is sweet. No matter what happened this past weekend or what happens this coming month, they've been playing with house money all year long. Give Paul DePodesta an offseason to revamp the team and apply some of Moneyball's principles while taking advantage of the Dodgers' deep farm system and considerably stronger financial state, and this could be a team hunting much bigger game for years to come.
For the Dodgers to win by kicking the Giants squarely in the cojones on the season's final weekend is even sweeter. 1951, 1962, 1982, the fact that under Jim Tracy they had never won a September series against the Giants until last weekend ... all of that matters little right now. To paraphrase South Park's Eric Cartman, "Oh, the tears of unfathomable sadness. Yummy, yummy tears of Giants fans!"
I've been convinced for the past few years that Tracy is a hell of a manager, especially when it comes to getting more out of less by putting players with limitations in positions at which they can succeed. It's a pleasure to see his hard work and perseverance rewarded, especially in the face of so many detractors and so much misfortune. The Dodger starting pitching damn near dropped an axle down the stretch, and a trade made for all of the right reasons blew up in DePodesta's face due to injuries (of course, another trade worked out quite well, thank you, Mr. Finley!). Yet the team found innumerable ways to keep winning, managing to eke out good pitching performances from the likes of Jeff Weaver, Jose Lima, and even Kaz Ishii, not to mention a great one from Odalis Perez. The relievers, most of them in-season pickups or recalls, kept picking each other up, and the hitters kept fighting until the final out through the rocky stretches of the past few weeks. Even if they repeat the postseason futility they have shown since winning the '88 Series, they are deserving of their division championship and of their place in the hearts of Dodger fans everywhere.
Jonah Keri, Baseball Prospectus: Fin's HR was nuts.
(Keri's preview of the Dodger-Cardinal series is here.)
Sixteen Years of 0-6
Believe it or not, I've been waiting for the opportunity to address the ugly post-1988 playoff history of the Dodgers. Because it means they have a chance to do something about it.
And something must be done.
In their first playoff inning following their 1988 World Series triumph, the Dodgers allowed four runs. A decade later, they're still trying to recover.
The Dodgers had a 78-66 record in 1995 compared to Cincinnati's 85-59, but hosted the first two games before traveling to Cincinnati for the remaining three, however many would be necessary.
It turned out to be a short trip.
Ramon Martinez, who was 17-7 with a 3.66 ERA in 1995, allowed a two-out, two-run double to Hal Morris, followed by a home run by Benito Santiago, putting the Dodgers in a 4-0 hole in the first inning.
Pete Schourek held the Dodgers to two singles over the first four innings. Then in the fifth, Martinez gave up a single and two doubles and got the hook. John Cummings, sort of the Mike Venafro of his day (only he pitched more innings), came in and gave up the Reds' fifth double, making the score 7-0.
The Dodgers put single runs on the board in the bottom of the fifth and sixth, the latter on a homer by Mike Piazza. But the game was no contest.
Worth noting is the crowd for the first Dodger playoff game in seven years: 44,199 - far below Dodger Stadium capacity.
This one was closer. Los Angeles took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Eric Karros doubled in Brett Butler, fell behind when a costly Chad Fonville error led to two unearned runs on a Reggie Sanders home run off Ismael Valdes, then tied the game at 2-2 on a Karros home run.
Valdes was brilliant, allowing three hits, a walk and no earned runs over seven innings. Antonio Osuna replaced him to start the eighth inning (as part of a double switch that came following Raul Mondesi's ejection for arguing with umpire Bob Davidson) and gave up a go-ahead RBI single by Barry Larkin.
In the ninth, the Reds scored two insurance runs on one hit, three walks and three stolen bases. It was an Allstate moment, because the Dodgers rallied for two with one out in the bottom of the ninth on Karros' second homer. However, Tim Wallach popped out and Delino DeShields flied out to end the game.
It was a game the Dodgers had to have, should have had, and didn't get.
A grim task - winning three games in a row in Cincinnati - turned out to be even more hopeless than imagined.
Fonville was thrown out at home trying to score on a Piazza double in the top of the third. In the bottom of that inning, Ron Gant hit a two-run home run.
The Dodgers got an unearned run in the fourth, but Bret Boone negated it with a home run.
Then in the sixth, Mark Lewis, who had three home runs in 1995 and 48 in his career, hit a grand slam off Mark Guthrie, who had relieved Hideo Nomo. Even more improbably, in the seventh, Reds reliever Mike Jackson got the sixth and last hit of his major-league career with a three-run double off Cummings.
The Dodgers were annihilated.
By losing their final four games of the season and falling from the NL West lead into the wild card, the 90-72 Dodgers lost a date with 88-74 St. Louis and fell into a contest with 96-66 Atlanta, which had John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine all with ERAs below 3.00.
As in 1995, Martinez started Game 1 at home for the Dodgers - but did much better, allowing only one run on three hits and three walks over eight innings. Predictably, however, Smoltz allowed only one run over nine innings, a game-tying RBI-double by Greg Gagne in the fifth.
Antonio Osuna, a decent reliever building up something of an awful playoff history, allowed a leadoff home run by Javier Lopez in the top of the 10th inning. Mark Wohlers closed the door on the Dodgers, and Atlanta had the series opener.
By this time, suspicion that the Dodgers could not win a playoff game to save their lives was flowering.
As in 1995, the Dodgers pushed across a first-inning run (unearned) in the second game of the series, on an RBI-groundout by Piazza. Ryan Klesko homered off Valdes in the next inning to tie the score, but a second error allowed Mondesi to double home Piazza in the fourth inning to put Los Angeles ahead, 2-1.
The next Dodger heartbreak came in the seventh. Valdes, who by this time had pitched 13 innings in his playoff career and allowed only one earned run, gave up one-out, back-to-back homers to Fred McGriff and Jermaine Dye. Meanwhile, Maddux, Greg McMichael and Wohlers pitched perfect ball over the final five innings.
In two days, the Dodgers had allowed five runs - and trailed in the series, 2-0.
Relatively speaking, a rout. Once again in a Game 3, a Dodger (Todd Hollandsworth) was thrown out at home trying to score on a Piazza hit. Once again in a Game 3, Nomo needed to be perfect, and was anything but.
After allowing McGriff to double home a run in the first inning, Nomo gave up a two-run double to Mark Lemke and a two-run homer to Chipper Jones in the fourth.
Single runs in the seventh and eighth innings made the score more respectable, but once more, the Dodgers endured a humiliating series sweep.
That was eight years ago. Eight years since the last playoff game, 16 since the last playoff victory. The Dodgers have lost big and lost small. It's an ugly record, and Dodger fans are desperate to see it change.
A Professional Scouting Report
The oft-criticized ESPN Insider does get it right once in a while. If you have access to the pay-for-play part of ESPN.com, this piece is worth your time. Skip the boiler-plate intro and go straight into the most detailed scouting report on the 2004 Dodgers you've probably seen.
Not only is it mostly on the mark with the things you know about - and isn't it a relief when neutral observers actually get it right - it also offers tidbits about the Dodgers that may have escaped you, no matter how closely you've watched the team.
Jeff Weaver: Fastball, slider, cutter, change. ... Great moving fastball with late sinking action. ... When he pitches in low 90s, gets great movement on his fastball and can have quick innings. When he reaches back for more fastball, sinker straightens out. ... Left-handed hitters have always given him problems since his fastball works down to the outside, and they have a good look at him with his ¾ delivery. Would be more effective if he could get the cutter and slider to the inside corner against them. The change up could also help keep the LHers off his fastball. ... Quick to the plate with runners on; does a decent job of controlling the running game. ... Never intimidated on the mound and will pitch in aggressively.
Update: Here's the Cardinal scouting report.
The Dodger Thoughts Postseason Guide
Are the Dodgers the least respected of baseball's 2004 playoff teams? Sound familiar?
The odds are against them, but if the Dodgers surivive and advance, it won't be because of miracles – it will be because the good things that they can legitimately do some of the time, they do enough of the time.
And okay, maybe one miracle.
EQA courtesy of Baseball Prospectus: .260 is average.
The offense has been in a serious slump – and with few exceptions, it's not because they've been hitting line drives and getting robbed. On the other hand, the offense carried the team in the Dodgers' 21-7 July and when the pitching faltered in early September. When they’re patient, they’re productive. Most of the lineup is capable of working a walk, but they have to give it a chance. Defensively, they are solid at all eight positions and exceptional at at least three. Statistics don't capture the impact of the defense except when you see how the starting pitching survives without striking batters out. ...The hyped flowering on offense of Izturis only brings him to adequacy, but his defense is breathtaking. ... Werth strikes out once every 3.4 at-bats, but hits often and hard enough to be dangerous. ... In 57 games, Finley finished fifth on the Dodgers with 13 homers. Goes through serious on-base droughts, but always a threat. ...Beltre finished the season in an 0-for-15 slump but was named National League Player of the Month for September. ... Green improved his OPS from .734 before the All-Star Game to .933 after, with 18 homers. ... Bradley tied Green for the team lead in walks, but softening bat dropped him from the No. 3 spot in the order. ...Cora, of all players, finished with more home runs (10) than doubles (9), but floats on defensive air as well. ... Mayne managed to go without a single extra-base hit in 47 games with the Dodgers.
*Might not be on postseason roster
Although this group is a dramatic improvement over the 2003 bench, production has come mainly from three players. … With mediocre numbers but great moments in 2004, Ventura gave the theory of clutch a good name. ... Saenz (1.057 OPS) and Hernandez (1.010 OPS) crushed left-handed pitching, hitting 17 home runs in a combined 191 at-bats. The defense suffers some when they play, however. ...Grabowski had five hits and six walks after August 1. ...The season of Ross fell apart because he OPSed .420 against lefties. His game-winning home run last week against Colorado, like four of his five this season, was against a righty. ...Perez followed a 20-20 season in the minors with some key September at-bats. ... Choi hit nine home runs in April, okay? Nine! The guy is not garbage. ... Wilson is worth the price of admission just for his batting stance.
*Might not be on postseason roster
The starters rarely shut anyone out and rely on the defense to get them out of jams. But they tend to keep the ball over the plate and work efficiently. ...The strikeout rate for Perez dropped this year, but rallied in September to 6.8 per nine innings. ...Despite almost identical statistics in every other major category, Weaver had an ERA almost a run higher on the road in 2004. ...Lima allowed 16 home runs at Dodger Stadium, but only 19 other runs there. …Ishii, if he is on the postseason roster, will only pitch in an emergency. He walks 5.1 batters per nine innings, but he usually escapes except when he's allowing home runs too.
When rested, the bullpen is capable of taking over a game from the fifth inning on. ... As illustrated Friday, Gagne is every bit as good as he was in 2002. Opponents OPSed .503 off him. ... Brazoban allowed four of his nine runs this season in one inning at San Francisco on September 25. ... After striking out four batters per nine innings with Seattle, Carrara has doubled that figure during his return to the Dodgers. ... Sanchez had a strong September, with a 1.69 ERA and 19 baserunners in allowed in 16 innings. … Left-handed batters (.912 OPS) actually hit Alvarez harder than righties (.603). Like many Dodger pitchers, Alvarez keeps the ball near the plate, but will give up home runs as a result … The brief period that Venafro was effective against left-handed batters has ended. Carrara has done the best against lefties of the Dodger relievers. … Dessens doesn't shut teams down, but can offer you some innings and give you time for a comeback.
Game 1: 10 a.m. Tuesday
ESPN has posted the first smatterings of a postseason schedule. Here is the Dodger portion:
Tuesday: Los Angeles (Perez 7-6) at St. Louis (W.Williams 11-8), 10:09 a.m. (ESPN)
Thursday: Los Angeles (Weaver 13-13) at St. Louis (Marquis 15-7), 5:19 p.m. (FOX)
Saturday: St. Louis (Morris 15-10) at Los Angeles (Lima 13-5)
Sunday: St. Louis (Suppan 16-9) at Los Angeles, if necessary
Monday, Oct. 11: Los Angeles at St. Louis, if necessary
Ken Gurnick of Dodgers.com reports that Odalis Perez would come back to pitch Game 4 on four days' rest, with Jeff Weaver pitching a Game 5 on three days' rest.
Gurnick adds that the extra rest at the start of the series could encourage the Dodgers to go with a 10-man pitching staff, and that third-string catcher Tom Wilson could grab the 25th spot on the roster in place of Kazuhisa Ishii.
Dodger Stadium Changes for 2005
Key changes are coming to Dodger Stadium for the 2005 season, Tony Jackson of the Daily News reports:
And on the 162nd Day, They Relaxed - Open Chat
"WAAAAHOOOOOOOOOO!" screameth the Dodger fan. "WAAHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"
* * *
Chemistry. Lo and behold, the Dodgers have it.
We all loved Paul Lo Duca, but even without him, they're ionized.
Because chemistry is not an ingredient, it's a product. In the Dodgers' case, it's certainly not a product of hitters putting the team ahead early, or starting pitchers going the distance. It's a product of being ready to seize the moment, no matter how late nor how improbable.
Jump up, Dodger fans. Jump up!
* * *
And for those who insist that chemistry matters, what about the chemistry discussed after the game? What about the idea that the acquisition of Steve Finley mixed a playoff veteran into a broth of playoff virgins? What about the team meeting that Finley and Robin Ventura held three weeks ago to guide the Dodgers over the pressure cooker stretch run?
The Dodgers went 15-10 in their final 25 games up to the clinch. That's .600 ball, and they were maligned and questioned almost every step of the way.
September 11, 1983 is still the greatest regular season game in Los Angeles Dodger history. Start to finish, it had everything, while today's game was 8 1/2 innings of prelude to a half-inning of incredulity. But for a new generation, October 2, 2004 will never be forgotten. Some new baseball fans were born today.
Others were born two months ago. Remember "Don't Drop the Boy"? I was tested again, through a 31-minute bottom of the ninth.
This time, my wife offered to take my son from my hands. But something told me I shouldn't let go. I stood, pacing with him, from Shawn Green's single just in front of a should-have-been-defensively-replaced Barry Bonds all the way through Finley's walkoff grand slam.
Then I put the boy down and jumped up.
* * *
The Dodger bullpen pitched nine innings today and allowed three runs. That ought to have been plenty, as was suggested in the morning.
But the Dodger offense went the entire game without hitting a line drive, and didn't really put solid wood on the nose of the baseball until the final at-bat of the game today. It was the team's worst showing at the plate this season.
Last week, the hitting was there but the pitching was gone. This week, the reverse.
If both get on or off next week, we're looking at a playoff series sweep, one way or another. If they alternate - more nailbiters.
* * *
Eric Karros was the color commentator on Fox for today's game, which added an interesting touch. First of all, he wasn't bad.
He tended to shout a little - he got a little too revved up. And more than once, he stated the obvious - or even the proto-obvious, like when he pointed out that A.J. Pierzynski, who was 8 for 8 in his career against Elmer Dessens, was either due to get out or likely to get a couple more hits.
But you have to give Karros credit. He was dignified in his opening conversation about Jim Tracy, who in 2002 was the man removing an underpeforming Karros out of the lineup. If Karros was a little too enthusiastic in questioning Tracy's decision not to pinch-hit for Wilson Alvarez with two on and one out in the fifth inning, perhaps he can be excused - it was the key moment of the game until the bottom of the ninth.
Even more surprisingly, well before the remarkable comeback, Karros came out in favor of Paul DePodesta's July trades. Karros hit all the points - that the struggles of the Dodger pitching validated the need to acquire another starter, that Hee Seop Choi - significantly, Karros' competitor for playing time in Chicago in 2003 - had strong potential, and that chemistry and Lo Duca weren't the be-all and end-all. At the end of the game, Karros said emphatically that Finley was the best deadline acquisition by any ballclub this year, and who could argue?
There's an edginess to the on-air Karros that I always sensed about him on the field. He has a sense of humor, and is articulate, but there seems to be a level of intensity - if not anger - just below the surface. If he can find the right, um, chemistry of all these elements, I can see him succeeding in this new career.
I just hope it doesn't come at the expense of a broadcaster that I like.
* * *
Choi, with two heroic at-bats this week - the walk today and the double in the 10th inning against Colorado Tuesday - may have played himself onto the Dodger playoff roster.
Here are the 23 locks:
The candidates for roster spots 24 and 25 are Choi, Antonio Perez, Tom Wilson, Elmer Dessens, Scott Stewart and Edwin Jackson.
Six relievers, frankly, ought to be enough - but the fragility of the Dodger pitching, plus Dessens' solid outing today, puts him on the postseason squad. Jackson, whose health has been an ongoing question mark, and Stewart, whose ongoing mediocrity hasn't, figure to get left off.
In a World Series in which there would be a designated hitter, Wilson would be a candidate for the roster as a third catcher, since the focal point of the Dodger pinch-hitting would be Mayne and Ross. Until then, though, he'll hit off a tee and wait and see.
While Choi was buried on the back of the bench under a pile of spat-out sunflower seed shells, Perez emerged as the 25th man - a pinch-runner and middle infielder who can swing the bat a little. With Bradley returning from his suspension and moving Green back to first base, giving the Dodgers a half-dozen first basemen, Perez remains a valid possibility.
However, when a right-handed pitcher starts, the Dodger bench has only two left-handed hitters: Grabowski, who is in a terrible slump, and Ventura. I'm not sure that even T.J. Simers or Bill Plaschke today would argue that Grabowski should be the choice over Choi in a pinch-hitting situation.
It's a tough choice - the Dodgers could really use both Perez and Choi. Frankly, the more I look at it, the more questionable Grabowski becomes. If Grabowski makes the playoffs, it will probably have to do with his being on the team the entire season. Kind of a chemistry thing.
* * *
Sunday's Colorado-Houston game starts 125 minutes before the Giants-Dodgers finale, meaning that the Giants might be eliminated from the postseason before the Dodgers have made it through their batting order the first time.
The relief of not having to play one or even two tiebreaker games might provide all the rest the Dodgers need for the playoffs, but count me among those who would like to see Perez, Wilson, Jose Flores, Joe Thurston and Chin Feng-Chen get the bulk of the playing time Sunday. Grabowski and Choi too - let them have a showdown for that postseason roster spot.
Should the Astros lose, the Dodgers will probably keep the first team out there to try to deliver the knockout blow to rival San Francisco. There actually could be an incentive to lose to the Giants, forcing them into a one-game playoff and further tiring the pitching of one of three National League postseason rivals. But that's a little cute, isn't it?
For the Dodger regulars, the big stories will be whether Ishii can pitch consecutive good games, and whether Beltre can hit one home run to break the major league single-season record for third basemen, if not two to break the Dodger single-season record and reach 50.
And perhaps with a token inning on the mound, Hideo Nomo will bid Los Angeles a poignant farewell.
* * *
The Dodgers won the NL West this weekend without needing Gagne - and the supposedly overworked reliever could have as many as five days off before pitching in the playoffs. If the Dodgers hold off from giving Gagne a tuneup inning Sunday, the trifecta miracle will have happened - Gagne will finish his third consecutive season with exactly 82 1/3 innings pitched.
* * *
And how about the Angels. I know many of you who read this site don't root for them, either out of longtime antipathy or apathy, or recent disgust over their marketing campaign. But I'm all for regional pride. Let's bring the World Series to Southern California, I say.
Clinch Me If You Can - Open Chat (Saturday)
The Fates rarely overplay their hands, rarely bluff. Skeptics have good reason to grow feverish over Elmer Dessens.
Yet if you're a Dodger fan, there is so much pessimism over today's emergency start by the Arizona castoff, Dessens, that perhaps you're wondering if this time, the Fates have set up an unlikely hero - someone whose only lifetime start for the Dodgers just might win them a division title.
Maybe not. In any event, too much focus is in the wrong place. It's the Dodger offense, which has averaged about a run over the first eight innings of the past four games, which has practically been in a state of emergency.
Though it'd be nice, Dessens and his followers shouldn't have to pitch a shutout. The Dodger offense needs to score.
Pass Around the Microphone
This morning in the Times Calendar section, in an article on the Milton Bradley and Jose Guillen suspensions, Martin Miller quoted from Dodger Thoughts - bypassing your intrepid host, however, and going straight to the comments.
Icaros and Sam (DC) - enter, stage left.
"Through counseling, a more focused and healthy-minded player is likely to emerge," wrote one fan on www.all-baseball.com. "We know he has the talent and ability to be a star player; might this be the key to unlocking his potential?"
Indeed, from Dodger owner Frank McCourt down to the average fan, many thought Bradley's punishment swiftly enacted by major league baseball was too "harsh." A two- or three-game suspension for the outfielder, who has already been ejected from four games this season and known for angrily breaking bats over his knee, would have seemed more reasonable. Wrote another Dodger fan in the www.all-baseball.com chat room: "I too hope he gets a big welcome cheer when (and there will be a when) he next plays at the Ravine."
Clinch Me If You Can - Open Chat
NL West Champion To Open Playoffs on Road
We're close to setting some playoff dates.
Atlanta clinched the No. 2 seed in the National League playoffs with its hang-on victory over Chicago today.
If the Astros or Cubs win the wild card, or if the Dodgers end up as the wild card, the Dodgers will travel to St. Louis to begin the first round.
If the Giants are the wild card, the Dodgers will travel to Atlanta to begin the first round.
In any case, if they make the playoffs, the Dodgers will host Game 3 and if necessary, Game 4, of a first-round playoff series, most likely on Saturday, October 9 and Sunday, October 10.
In an e-mail, John Wiebe of John's Dodger Blog writes:
The online TV listings for ESPN and Fox are on their respective websites. The timeslots they have reserved for playoff games over the weekend are:
We can forget about the 10 a.m. slots; those will be East Coast games. The 7 p.m. slot on Saturday is a last resort for the networks, considering at least one AL series should be over before then.
So I'm betting on start times (for the Dodgers) between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. both days. No surprises.
Thinking Through the Nightmare Scenario
If the Dodgers lose Friday and Saturday, they will have to beat the Giants on Sunday in Los Angeles or Monday in San Francisco to win the National League West title.
If the Dodgers start Perez on Sunday and lose, they could start Jose Lima on three days rest in the tiebreaker, or Ishii on five days rest.
If the Dodgers start Ishii on Sunday and lose, they would start Perez in the tiebreaker on four days rest.
Plus, if Ishii wins on Sunday, Perez can start in Game 1 or Game 2 of the first playoff series.
Because Ishii is capable of pitching great, and because Perez is a safer choice on four days rest than the other Monday options, the Dodgers should lock Ishii in for Sunday's game right now.
Of course, legitimate questions remain concerning Saturday's starter. I suppose you could start Ishii-Perez-Lima on Saturday-Sunday-Monday if necessary, all on three days rest, but again, the risk doesn't seem worth it. I'd give Edwin Jackson or Elmer Dessens first crack - or even start Wilson Alvarez and take him out after he's faced Barry Bonds the second time, then go to a committee of relievers after that.
No Proof That Mota Trade Hurt Gagne
Not yet, at least.
First, let's get some raw numbers regarding Eric Gagne up on the board:
If the Dodgers had a bullpen with Guillermo Mota, Yhency Brazoban, Giovanni Carrara, Duaner Sanchez and Wilson Alvarez, all at full strength, Eric Gagne would have been used less down the stretch in 2004 than he has been. How wonderful it would have been.
However, I have news for you. Such a bullpen never really had a chance of existing.
If Mota had not been traded, Brazoban would not have been called up July 31. He would have remained in the minors at least until the Dodgers needed another pitcher – presumably when Darren Dreifort was injured – although with Mota still on the team, Dreifort might not have gone down as quickly.
Now, take a look at Mota's statistics with Florida this month: 14 innings. 10 hits, eight runs, two blown saves, 5.14 ERA. Mota, it appears, is worn out dimensionally more than Gagne is reported to be.
Since the trade, Gagne has had six outings of 30 pitches or more, five in September, with the maximum being 38. On half of those occasions, he has come back to pitch the next day. Relatively speaking, this is a lot of work for Gagne, but the notion that it has hurt his performance in any significant way lacks much evidence at all.
His performance is not at his 2003 level, fair enough. But is it fair to Gagne or the Dodgers to make the 2003 level the baseline to evaluate Gagne?
One more chart:
Gagne has allowed more hits since the All-Star Game than he was before, but significantly fewer home runs. I look at these statistics and my reaction is that, except for the walks, Gagne has probably just been a bit unluckier on some balls that have been hit finding holes.
Thursday night, Gagne gave up a 50-foot single, an intentional walk, a sacrifice, a hard-hit fly out and a legitimate single for a run. He started well, but finished a little shaky. He might not have had the endurance to do a vintage Gagne-like inning, two days after his medical treatment.
Though I hardly minded seeing him in Thursday's game, given that he had been cleared to play and that no one wanted to enter the Giants series on a two-game losing streak, given the concern about him, I could understand the sobriety of turning to Brazoban, and even Carrara and Sanchez, before Gagne. Though I suspect Gagne will be fine for the upcoming games, I can't testify to it.
But I can say this. The trade of Mota has little, if anything, to do with whatever worries, phantom or otherwise, people have about Gagne. He has been as good as he was before the trade this season, as good as he was in 2002 and as good as anyone would have a right to expect him to be.
Meanwhile, in a season in which there was so little margin to spare, he has helped the Dodgers clinch a tie for their first division title in nearly a decade. You have to look really hard to find the negatives with Gagne and the Dodgers' use of him – assuming, that is, that you take the time for an objective look at all.
Report: Porter Won't Be Back
Put those smiles on hold.
From Bob Keisser of the Long Beach Press-Telegram:
One would think that 28 years of faithful, dependable service that includes long nights in a one-man booth, untold hours of statistical research long before new-age baseball stats became vogue, and taking hundreds of calls from acerbic and/or clueless fans on postgame shows would be worth something.
But apparently not to the new cost-conscious, I'll-do-it-my-way fleet of management executives among the Los Angeles Dodgers. Reliable sources within the organization confirmed this week that Ross Porter will not be offered a new contract after the 2004 season.
The front office wants a less-expensive replacement for Porter, who makes in the $750,000 range per year, and take the radio broadcasts heard on KFWB (980) to a two-man booth, most likely pairing returning play-by-play man Rick Monday with a former player.
What a way to celebrate a fine season.
Thanks to gvette for the link.
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