Monthly archives: October 2006
Eight times in the 17 seasons since the Dodgers won their most recent World Series title, MLB's champion was a team that had a worse regular-season record than the Dodgers the year before.
Gagne's Chances for Remaining a Dodger Increase
As this article about Barry Bonds by Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com indicates, there has been an important change in the new agreement between baseball owners and the players' union.
Under the new rules of the Basic Agreement, the Giants have until Dec. 1 to offer Bonds arbitration and he must accept or reject the offer by Dec. 7. Unlike the old rules, the Giants can continue to negotiate with Bonds up to and into the regular season even if they decline to offer Bonds arbitration.
I have written often in the past about how the previous arbitration deadlines made it harder for teams to retain their own players. This new rule changes that. Most notably, unless I'm missing something, the Dodgers will now have more time to learn about Eric Gagne's physical condition before making a yea-or-nay decision on a contract offer.
Ken Davidoff of Newsday has a nice rundown of the new agreement. Here's the section on the draft and free-agent compensation:
Teams that fail to sign a first- or second-round draft pick will get the same pick in the next draft as compensation. So if the Royals have next year's first pick and can't sign him, they'll get pick "1A" in 2008, which means, "the first pick after one."
The signing deadline for draft selections is now Aug. 15, except for college seniors.
The pool of players to generate draft-pick compensation gets shortened considerably. Starting next year, a Type A free agent will be in the top 20 percent at his position, rather than the top 30 percent, and a Type B player will be in the 21st through 40th percentile, rather than 31-50.
The compensation for a Type B player is now a sandwich pick, meaning the team that signs him no longer gives up a draft pick.
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The Dodgers hired Stan "I'M NOT RELATED TO VICTOR" Conte on Friday as director of medical services and head athletic trainer. Two quick points:
1) Steve Henson of the Times writes that Conte "wanted Barry Bonds' personal trainers banned from the clubhouse, but team executives refused to do it. Among Bonds' trainers was Greg Anderson, who in 2003 was indicted on charges he distributed steroids to players as part of the BALCO investigation."
Was Colletti one of the "team executives?" No idea.
2) There's no doubt the Dodgers have had trouble keeping their players on the field in recent years. I don't know if Conte is the solution, but it'll be interesting to see if things improve. Henson adds that "Giants players spent fewer days on the disabled list than any team except the Chicago White Sox from 1997 to 2004, but the number of injuries mounted the last two years, primarily because the Giants signed numerous players well into their 30s."
Well, If That Don't Beat All
Jeff Weaver and the Cardinals, given up for dead, now rule the universe.
I send my congrats to them. They weren't the best all year, but they were winners at the end. I don't have any trouble juggling the two concepts, any more than I do during March Madness. If it were my team, I'd be calling it magic.
St. Louis can celebrate into the night. For the rest of us, on to 2007.
(Five errors, Tiger pitchers? Five errors??!!)
I can't wait for baseball to be back.
Studio 60 on the Kauffman Stadium Mound
Some crossover blogging this morning: Check out the satire by ex-Cheers writer and baseball broadcaster Ken Levine, "If Aaron Sorkin Wrote a Show About Baseball", at Screen Jam. (Link courtesy of Baseball Think Factory):
After two years of major offseason upheaval, my sense is that there is a general desire, no matter how scouts- or stats-oriented one is, for the Dodgers to avoid a third. The team has enough jewels that people can agree on to avoid massive changes.
Yes, the goal is to add a power hitter and a starting pitcher (not counting re-signing Greg Maddux, possibly including a trade of Brad Penny). But people throughout Los Angeles and the Dodger organization loved the success of Russell Martin, Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton and at the very end, Hong-Chih Kuo, Chad Billingsley and James Loney. And Dodger general manager Ned Colletti, for his part, was a fan of Matt Kemp before a number of others were. If scouting director Logan White influenced that, so much the better.
I can't say that a kid won't be traded - too many Guzmans and Navarros down the hatch for that to be the case - but I don't think Colletti will tear up the core youth to improve the team. That doesn't mean Colletti won't make a mistake here and there, like he did in his Mark Hendrickson and Brett Tomko acquisitions, of overvaluing the wrong veteran, or that Colletti might not sell someone like Penny when his value is low.
But I think the core of the Dodgers' future is probably safe.
At the same time, I believe that the division, with the exception of San Francisco, is cycling back toward being strong - and that next year's Dodgers won't be able to get by with 85 wins or so. They'll have to step it up.
A's Court Hershiser Again
Just as he was in 2005, ex-Dodger Orel Hershiser is a candidate to become the next manager of the Oakland A's.
Given the opportunity to hire Hershiser in 2005, the A's went back to Ken Macha after letting his contract expire - then fired him at the end of the 2006 season. It's interesting how general manager Billy Beane retraces his steps.
A couple of things I wrote about Hershiser last year, when the Dodgers also talked with him about a job:
Apparently, the Dodgers' phone communication did not improve when Paul DePodesta left town. According to the Dallas Morning News, Orel Hershiser hasn't heard from the Dodgers in more than a week.
The most peculiar aspect of the Dodger offseason, aside from the DePodesta firing, is the treatment of Hershiser. He was practically going to be the savior of the franchise - DePodesta's absence, however involuntary, from the team's meeting with Hershiser was supposedly of great significance - and then suddenly, Hershiser was irrelevant. One wonders whether this transformation was born of substance or carelessness.
Anyway, Hershiser gives the aura of being both intelligent and flexible, as well as being a baseball lifer who proved it on the field. It's an attractive combination. The devil's advocate in me, however, notes that pitching coaches have often disappointed as managers, and wonders just how effective Hershiser would be.
I'd certainly interview him, though.
The Dodger Lineup, From A to M
Take a look at the Dodgers' current starting lineup and let me know if you're thinking what I'm thinking.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Prospectus. VORPr measures runs per game beyond what a replacement player (at that position) would produce.
That's right - no last names in the second half of the alphabet. The lineup is entirely top-heavy!
On the bright side, the Dodgers can field a lineup of players under contract for 2007 that has no one with a below-average 2006 EQA (.260). Every player is above replacement value. Nonetheless, I suspect few are completely satisfied with the lineup, raising questions about where can the Dodgers improve the most.
Jeff Kent, Rafael Furcal and J.D. Drew all played solidly for most of 2006. Furcal, as has been widely observed, basically mashed the ball after May 1, and ended up trailing only Florida's Hanley Ramirez (not Hedy or Hedley) among NL shortstops in VORPr. The strength of Kent's numbers is rather startling, considering that his home runs declined from 29 in 2005 to 14 in 2006, but unmistakable. And Drew, with little media credit, put together a 1.145 OPS September - when it counted, as they say - to help carry the team into the playoffs.
James Loney is a mild wild card. Our snapshot of him potentially provides him a perception advantage that Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp don't have, capturing Loney at the height of a season-ending hot streak and before the National League has an opportunity to adjust to him the way they might have adjusted to Ethier and Kemp. Despite his .380 batting average in the minors, leading all of professional baseball, and his September mini-heroics, experience teaches us that Loney might have a rough patch sometime in 2007.
But first base is not a position the Dodgers need to solve. Kent's defense at second base looked so weak at the end of 2006, at least subjectively, that a prolonged Loney slump would probably give the Dodgers an excuse to move Kent's bat to first base (assuming Kent doesn't go off an offensive cliff himself, which is always a possibility). Olmedo Saenz is also around for spot starts. Overall, with a great eye for contact and a deft glove, Loney is a likely starter at first base, and it's reasonable to simply ask that the Dodgers give him the same opportunity to ride out any slump that they gave veterans like Kent and Furcal.
Martin, without necessarily being expected to play in the big leagues before September, emerged at age 23 as a top-10 catcher in VORPr in 2006. A sophomore slump is possible, but considering his role as catcher, it's one of the last things the Dodgers will worry about.
Ethier's late-season slump renewed questions about his game. Jokingly nicknamed "3.5" by midseason by Dodger Thoughts commenters because he rapidly proved himself better than a No. 4 outfielder, Ethier could have been called "1" the way he was performing through August. After September 1, he managed only seven hits in 53 at-bats, losing playing time to a red-hot Marlon Anderson, and he dropped back to "4" as far as manager Grady Little was concerned.
With Kemp next to him in the current outfield, Ethier stands as a "2." In all likelihood, however, Ethier will enter Spring Training as "3," with Anderson (presumably having lost his Superman cape) around as his backup. That's because Dodger general manager Ned Colletti won't be comfortable with Kemp as a starter, and will make it a top priority to have someone in his stead, at least when March comes around. Kemp will have to wrestle a starting job away from someone. He may well do that before 2007 is over, but as far as the current offseason goes, the team is an outfielder short, and this stands as the most logical place for the Dodgers to look to improve.
Should the Dodgers be worried about blocking Kemp? Not really. If somehow the Dodgers end up with four starting-quality outfielders, that just means that they can rest Drew at will and/or will have trade bait to boost their pitching. As for Kenny Lofton, I think Colletti was satisfied with his 2006 performance (offensively, not defensively) but will want a greater impact player, while I doubt Lofton feels ready to be a full-time reserve. I suspect Lofton will soon be filing his annual change-of-address forms.
For all the attention the Dodger outfield figures to get, however, the biggest mystery in the lineup might be Wilson Betemit. Betemit arrived in Los Angeles with a smash, belting home runs to help spark the Dodgers' 17-1 season-saving run. Unfortunately, Betemit tailed off in September, with a .636 OPS and five extra-base hits. Betemit doesn't walk much and, even more so than Ethier, depends on batting average and slugging percentage to make himself worthwhile, though there is the compensating factor that Betemit plays a more challenging defense position.
If the Dodgers find a bonafide outfielder to join Drew and Ethier, then they can table worries about Betemit (as well as minor league third baseman Andy LaRoche, who is coming off surgery and figures to begin 2007 in AAA Las Vegas) and bat their third baseman eighth if they like. (Any power-hitting acquisition will almost automatically give the Dodgers one of the best top-to-bottom lineups in the game.) However, third base does provide a secondary place for the Dodgers to look for help if they are outbid on outfield improvements.
In a Strat-o-Matic world, I'd be thrilled to re-sign Nomar Garciaparra as a super-utility player, moving around in support of Betemit and Loney and even to rest Kent or Furcal. If I had a chance to interview Garciaparra today, I'd ask him whether he is willing to play any position besides first base anymore, and whether any amount of money could convince him to be a super-utilitarian something at which he might really thrive. The reality, though, is that Garciaparra probably wants to be a full-time starter, and that another team besides the Dodgers will offer to make him one.
While it's possible that Colletti will do something that will utterly shock us, the difficulty of acquiring premium talent will limit what he can do to the lineup. One main thing I hope Colletti avoids is falling under the spell of a name, power-hitting veteran with hollow supporting stats the Jeromy Burnitz type.
The Dodger lineup has its question marks, but it's nice to know that for the most part, few major changes are required.
Will 2007 Be the Dodgers' Last Year on KFWB?
The Dodgers have been a poor fit on KFWB since they began airing their game broadcasts there. It never made sense to shoehorn the broadcasts into an all-news station, both for Dodger fans who want extensive pregame and postgame sports talk, not to mention live Spring Training broadvasts, and more importantly for news audiences who could never count on there being news at KFWB when they wanted it.
At his Farther Off the Wall blog, Daily News columnist Tom Hoffarth writes of a big sign that 2007 might be the final year for the Dodgers at KFWB. (Thanks to Dodger Thoughts commenter Bhsportsguy for the quick alert).
KFWB-AM (980), which has been losing millions each year on its radio rights deal to carry the Dodgers games as it enters the fifth and final season of its contract with the team, has sent the first nasty indication that the end is approaching after it informed executive producer and key department head Tom Boman that his job has been eliminated for budgetary reasons. ...
Boman said station boss David Hall told him at their meeting Tuesday that it had nothing to do with his performance, it was simply money. And if money's the issue, the Dodgers have to be looking elsewhere now to line up a radio home for beyond 2007.
De Jon's the One
The Dodgers officially hired De Jon Watson as director of player development, the team announced today. Watson, a graduate of Santa Monica High School, comes to Los Angeles after three years as director of professional scouting for the Cleveland Indians.
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Gyroballing Japanese free agent Daisuke Matsuzaka has hired agent Scott Boras to represent him, according to Jon Heyman of SI.com.
Matsuzaka. Expensive, and built to stay that way.
More Peaceful, Easy Feelings
Wasn't I just talking about the peaceful postseason? This week, Major League Baseball is expected to announce a new five-year contract between players and owners, extending the truce between the two parties from 1995 through at least the end of 2011.
Though there have been rumors flying that the new deal would end draft-pick compensation for teams that lose free agents of a certain predetermined value - i.e., the Julio Lugo Question (I did say predetermined) - Murray Chass of the New York Times writes that "draft-choice compensation for lost free agents will be reduced, not eliminated." He attributes an unnamed source, mind you, so we'll see if that holds up - not to mention whether guys like Lugo will be included in the "reduced" group.
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Steve Lyons gave an interview to Maury Brown at The Biz of Baseball. You can also hear the audio portion at Baseball Prospectus.
The Lyons' firing feels more and more like a missed opportunity to have a real discussion about elevating the quality of baseball broadcasting.
Every year, people always wonder about whether pitching staffs should return to a four-man rotation to compensate for the dearth of quality starting pitching. Along the same lines, I'm starting to wonder whether baseball teams should reduce their two- and three-person booths back down to one. Quality over quantity.
There are some people who think someone like Lyons adds enough to a broadcast to justify a six-figure salary and a captive audience. I'm not sure. Vin Scully is not the only person left on this earth who can thrive in a one-man booth. You find the people who can talk with life and talk intelligently, and if you don't find enough of them, you don't hire them.
Get rid of the back end of your broadcasting rotation. Derail the blathering ex-athlete to the booth gravy train.
If not, at least get your broadcasters to measure their words. You don't have to be a racist to need to speak with more precision and economy.
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At Screen Jam this morning, threads about some of the new releases in the movie theaters, the worlds of Scrubs and Arrested Development possibly colliding, and Peter O'Toole's struggle to find a decent role for once in his life.
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Update: I have a new column up at SI.com about the impact of baseball's TV ratings in the postseason.
Just as baseball's top brass continues to agonize over what to do about its shrinking TV audience, core fans have every reason to wonder how sagging ratings will affect the way their sport is broadcast.
Cardinals-Tigers, World Series Game 2 Chat
Cardinals-Tigers, World Series Game 1 Chat
It's not as if there's nothing to say about the Dodger offseason, but there just seems to be so much time to say it - whereas in recent Octobers, there was a team to buy or a Beltre to render judgment upon or a manager and general manager to hire.
I'm enjoying the relative peace, whatever battles the future may hold. And, I enjoyed Thursday's random stat thread. Today, for equal time purposes, how about we volunteer completely statless Dodger thoughts.
Here's one: The passed ball that Dioner Navarro allowed in Houston early this season had a greater impact than just about any other Dodger passed ball that I can think of, triggering transactions that impacted both the team's pitching and catching. Navarro's later injury enabled the callup of Russell Martin, but it was this passed ball that seemed to define his value to the Dodgers and their willingness to unload him.
By the way, why was the ball that got away from Mickey Owen in the '41 World Series ruled an error and not a passed ball?
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At Screen Jam: threads about trying to do something original on TV, as well as this week's episodes of Lost and The Office ... with open chat welcome.
I enjoyed it.
Baseball. Game of adjustments. Game of second winds. Game of life.
Two seasons on the line: That catch was positively thrilling.
Cardinals-Mets, NLCS Game 7 Chat
Pick a Random Dodger Stat Day
Here's mine: James Loney's .559 slugging percentage. Is that just a tease?
And just to illustrate the vagaries of sample size, Loney's home-away splits are greater than his lefty-right splits.
Anyway, what's your random (or not-so-random) Dodger Stat of the Day?
The Green Is Grassier on the Other Side
Before Game 6 of the National League Championship Series began tonight, Jacob Luft of SI.com pointed out what a poor defensive series ex-Dodger Shawn Green was having.
It's been a tough series for Shawn Green. He hasn't done much at the plate, producing only one extra-base hit and one RBI in five games. Last night, he failed to come through with a clutch hit with runners on second and third base in a 4-2 game in the eighth inning. In the field, he's been a horror story. In fact, his range in right field has proved so limiting that the only prediction I feel comfortable making about the rest of this topsy-turvy NLCS is that Green will play at least one more ball into a triple. Why not? He's done it in four consecutive games now.
I'm not posting to this to take a cheap shot at Green - it's only to point out to longtime readers that the deterioration of skills that has been evident since the beginning of the 2003 season has continued unabated.
As it happens, Green went 2 for 3 and got hit by a pitch in the Mets' victory tonight. And there were no extra-base hits against them.
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If anyone was a fan of In the News on Saturday mornings growing up, I have a post about the passing of Christopher Glenn over at Screen Jam.
Finding the High Road
You'd think I would have blogged about this since I was hearing about it at work as the story unfolded, but I guess my nose for news failed me. Anyway, Daily News columnist and blogger Tom Hoffarth has a roundup of the recent encounter between Variety researcher Dan Edelson, local legends Army Archerd and Tommy Lasorda and one angry Mets fan.
Take it from Dan Edelson: There are many more pleasant experiences in life than getting blindsided in the men's room at Dodger Stadium. But that's what the long-time Mets fan discovered first hand last week while wearing his New York jersey and cap to the third game of the N.L. Division Series game at Dodger Stadium and ended up getting roughed up by a so-called Dodgers fan while trying to take care business.
The version that ran in The New York Post's Page Six on Tuesday had it this way:
Edelson, a former L.A. Daily News librarian, relayed that story to a reporter friend at the Post. The North Hollywood resident tells us that while he was punched, he wasn't hurt physically, and was left bruised psychologically the most from the act of stupidity. And those "rowdy locals" turned out to be just one over-serviced patron. ...
Josh Rawitch, the Dodgers director of public relations, adds: "The first we heard of it was when Army contacted Tommy, who made the phone call to apologize and offer him tickets to a game next year. I know that we followed up with a letter and we will be taking care of him for a game next year."
Back to Dan: "I think the ballclub has been very forthright in its actions, and I appreciate they recognized that this was a situation that had to be corrected."
In case you're interested, there's more in between the dot dot dots. Follow the link to Hoffarth's Farther Off the Wall blog.
Cardinals-Mets, NLCS Game 6 Chat: Mind Shift
I think this season may be putting a permanent dent in the idea, at least in my head, that you build your team for anything but simply making the playoffs. While the Dodgers have not advanced beyond the first round in 18 years, and while the Cardinals might yet be vanquished in the NLCS, plenty of playoff underdogs have survived and conquered.
I'd rather be a favorite. I'd like to have the best team possible. That's simple enough to think about. But I'm not sure the goal from November through September has to be becoming the top team in baseball. I'm not sure you should feel bad if your team looks like a playoff contender but doesn't feel like a World Series contender. It may only need to be to be one of the final eight still playing. And then you roll the dice.
"General manager Billy Beane of the Oakland A's, innovator of the famously subversive 'moneyball' method of building a roster, lamented that his approach 'doesn't work in the playoffs,' " Will Leitch of Deadspin wrote in a New York Times op-ed today. (And good for Leitch!) "He was right, but not in the way most people understood him. It's not that his approach in particular didn't work; it's that nobody's does. It's almost entirely luck." (Link courtesy of Baseball Musings.)
I've been thinking the same thing. The odds still favor the favorites, but in five- and seven-game serieseses, the favorites can stumble in ways they can't recover from. Heck, you don't even need true aces to win. You just need pitchers who choose a given October not to stink.
This is a pretty big change for me. But combined with how much more satisfied I am that the Dodgers made the 2006 playoffs than if they had missed out (even though the Dodgers didn't win a single 2006 playoff game), combined with the success of wild-card teams in the postseason, the fact that the worst of the recent St. Louis division champions is five victories away from a World Series title has got me plum tumbled.
I'm going through a mind shift. Or down a mine shaft. One of those.
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I Once Was Lost, But Now I'm Found
Ladies and gentlemen: Jeff Weaver.
Yet another mediocre pitcher who is good sometimes and bad other times ... and who picked just the right Octobers to be both as far as the St. Louis Cardinals are concerned.
Next year's October savior: Odalis Perez?
Cardinals-Mets, NLCS Game 5 Chat/
Valenzuelas Are Teammates
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Fernando Valenzuela Sr. and Jr. are teammates this fall with the Mexicali Aguilas of the Mexican Pacific League, Crystal Fukumoto of the Dodgers PR department reports. It is Dad's third season with Mexicali and 14th in the league. He does not appear to have taken the mound yet this season.
Son split time with Class-A Kannapolis and AA Mobile in 2006 and had something of a soft bat, OPSing .713. After five games with Mexicali, the 24-year-old is 6 for 18 with a double.
Lyons' Failure to Communicate
The most telling aspect of the Steve Lyons "I'm still lookin' for my wallet" controversy was not that his words might have been racially offensive, but that hardly anyone could make sense of what he was saying at all. It's almost as if Dunder-Mifflin's Michael Scott were providing the color commentary.
That's what makes the Dodgers' decision to rehire Lyons for their local broadcasts (Animal House double-secret-probation style) so peculiar.
Over the weekend, after initially struggling to parse Lyons' remarks during the A's-Tigers game, I began to feel that all the accusations of racism in his comments were a dual smokescreen for a desire by Fox to fire Lyons 1) for general inanity (it was Lyons, for example, who infamously theorized that home runs are rally killers) and 2) to provide evidence that the network is tough on racism.
King Kaufman of Salon probably had the best wrapup of the tempest, pointing out among many salient observations that "anyone listening would have to twist themselves in knots to not hear Lyons' joke for what it was, a clumsy, unfunny attempt to needle Piniella, not an ethnic slur." Like Kaufman, I tend to be oversensitive, if anything, to these matters, and like Kaufman, I can't believe that even considering Lyons' previous ramblings, this was essentially the last word.
Lyons' line wasn't even the most questionable thing I heard on a baseball broadcast over the weekend. During the Cardinals-Mets game Sunday, radio commentator Dave Campbell observed, "(Anthony) Reyes is from Downey, California. I suspect with his Hispanic heritage, he is probably bilingual." I can only wish that everyone with a given heritage could speak a second language what communications skills we would have.
Perhaps, though no cultural organization jumped on Lyons' remark right away, it was inevitable that one would, and Fox was just deciding to be proactive in firing Lyons. Anyway, what's done is done. I don't think the racist tag will stick with Lyons, mostly because few people seem to be buying into the charge. At the same time, it doesn't appear Lyons, who at his best was merely inoffensive but rarely insightful, will be missed.
In fact, he really won't be missed in Los Angeles, because he'll still be around.
How is it that Lyons is not good enough to work for Fox but good enough to work for the same team that employs Vin Scully? I have two guesses. One is that the Dodger organization just likes the guy, personally, and didn't want to pile on. So the Dodgers protect themselves by putting Lyons through sensitivity training and on probation, and move on to other matters, the same way The Office would.
The other possibility is that the Dodgers consider the candidates to replace Lyons to be simply more of the same ex-players who consider their personal experiences and beliefs to be so compelling that they no longer really study the game, but simply regurgitate the gospel they have been taught. Strangely, it's what baseball teams seem to be looking for in a broadcaster. It's not as if some of that gospel isn't true, but at a certain point, we've heard it all before.
There isn't enough interest in finding someone with something new to say. Forget about wallets. The problem symbolized by Lyons is that better voices aren't being schooled or that they aren't being heard.
Cardinals-Mets, NLCS Game 4 Chat
This is the Game 4 I wanted the Dodgers to get - facing Oliver Perez.
Cardinals-Mets, NLCS Game 3 Chat
Auf Wiedersehen, Giovanni/
Cardinals-Mets, NLCS Game 2 Chat
The Dodger postseason roster moves have begun with ... (ta da!) the addition of Las Vegas shortstop Wilson Valdez and the yet-again subtraction of reliever Giovanni Carrara from the 40-man roster, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
Rafael Furcal won't be looking over his shoulder. Valdez had a nice enough on-base percentage (.366) for the 51s, but it was nearly as high as his slugging percentage (.381), and he was caught stealing on 40 percent of his 43 attempts. Valdez is 28.
In addition, Marlon Anderson had bone-chip removal surgery, right-elbow version. Recovery is expected in three weeks, Gurnick wrote.
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Free Agent Pitchers of 2004, Reconsidered
Following the 2004 season, I evaluated the top free agent pitchers. Looking back at it today doesn't bring much pleasure.
Dodger vice president of scouting and player development Roy Smith resigned today for jobs unknown, according to Ken Gurnick at MLB.com. Gurnick writes that "some of Smith's duties are expected to be assumed by Kim Ng, vice president and assistant general manager."
It's the second front office defection since the season ended, following farm director Terry Collins' acceptance of a mangerial job in Japan.
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Andrew Grant at True Blue L.A. asks and attempts to answer 10 provocative questions for the Dodgers this offseason, here and here. Definitely worth a look - give him your thoughts on his thoughts.
Cardinals-Mets, NLCS Game 1 Chat
You may find this hard to believe.
Derek Lowe ranked 16th in the major leagues in Value Over Replacement Pitcher, which qualifies him as an elite pitcher for 2006 - he'd have been the ace for about half of the teams in baseball.
Many of us have an idea in our head about what a No. 1 starter feels like, but I'm guessing that for the most part, that idea is too lofty. Do you think of Dan Haren as a No. 1? Clay Hensley? Jason Jennings? Aaron Cook? Not that VORP is the be all and end all (for one thing, it's cumulative, so aces who missed part of the season have a handicap), but by that measure, those pitchers were all among the 30 most valuable in baseball.
Starting pitching is a concern for the Dodgers, but don't get taken in by reputations alone. You don't have to average eight innings or have an ERA under 3.00 to be a top pitcher - that is not how it works in our era. Just about any pitcher who can average six effective innings for an entire season has something worth holding on to.
The problem for the Dodgers in 2006 wasn't having to relieve Lowe or Brad Penny or whomever after six innings - the problem was when these guys would get knocked out in the fourth or fifth (or, when a guy like Mark Hendrickson would last six innings but allow five runs in the process). Obviously, that's going to happen occasionally over 162 games, but that's what you need to minimize. The Dodgers got swept in the playoffs largely because they didn't get six innings from any starter.
On the current staff, Lowe is an established six-inning pitcher, except for that one slump a year that you just hope is only a few starts and not a dozen. Chad Billingsley and Hong-Chih Kuo were coming on as six-inning starters. Penny rarely goes beyond six innings, though he did have 14 quality starts in his first 22 before the injuries and whatever else wore him down. (Despite his second-half slump, Penny finished 47th in starting pitcher VORP this season, qualifying him, like it or not, as a No. 2 starter.) Greg Maddux is also someone who gives you his fair share of six-inning games.
Overall in 2006, the Dodgers never really did have five good starters on the beam at once. They don't need a superstar like Johan Santana in order to improve their starting pitching - but they do need to better than Hendrickson. They need more consistency. I'm more convinced than ever before that the difference between great, good, mediocre and lousy pitchers is their level of consistency. The worst major league pitcher could retire Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard and Joe Mauer in a given inning - some pitchers just display that ability more than others.
Lowe and Billingsley strike me as good bets to be satisfactory pitchers in 2006, and if Kuo is durable enough, him too. Penny, if his problems are solvable (and I have to feel they are - I'm struggling to believe his career is suddenly over) would be a fourth. Maddux could be the fifth, but if that's your five then you're placing a lot of oddsy bets. I think the Dodgers need more depth in the rotation, with our without Maddux - but again, there may be some hidden gems out there, more expensive than your Aaron Seles but a lot cheaper than your Barry Zitos, that could help out.
Munson and Lidle
In 1979, I was at sleepaway camp in Colorado when word filtered in (and of course in those days, it wasn't like any of us was hooked into the news the way you could be as an 11-year-old today) that Thurman Munson had died in a plane crash.
It wasn't the first time in my life a contemporary athlete had died, but it was still unfathomable. Munson, of course, had been a member of the Yankee teams that defeated the Dodgers two years in a row in the World Series (1977-78). So I was no fan of his, but I knew what a player he was. It was dusk when we heard, and I remember there was this kid from New York at camp, his name was something like Vinny Schicchi, and he was just beside himself.
Last month, I read Tyler Kepner's New York Times article that is now recirculating around the Internet about the fear surrounding Cory Lidle, the Yankee pitcher and precocious pilot, who we now know perished in a plane crash today. For the crash to be into a building, for the crash to involve a Yankee ... I'm not sure there are words to describe the feeling. I can only imagine the memories the tragedy pulls up.
My heart goes out to Lidle's family, and to everyone in the city and in baseball who felt the blow.
More at Bronx Banter. Update: Here too.
How To Avoid Getting Your Arm Chopped Off by the Rumor Mill
Or, How To Survive the Hot Stove League Without Getting Burned
1) Rumors are not facts.
2) Teams and agents often float rumors to generate attention or to misdirect rivals. The media will report these rumors without much concern over how viable they are. The rumor is the news - whether it comes to fruition or not is not the media's problem (or so the media has decided).
3) A report that agents, players or teams "were talking" is meaningless. People talk all the time. It doesn't mean anything will come of it.
4) Any rumor attributed to an anonymous source is particularly useless.
5) Making judgments about a general manager based on a rumor reflects poorly on the judge.
6) Many deals, if not most, are never rumored, but spring up out of the blue.
7) Many are eager to pass along rumors. If you are planning to post a rumor here, please check to see if it has been posted already. But whatever you do, don't take the rumors too seriously.
- Your Friendly Hot Stove Curmudgeon
Update: I'm not telling you not to have fun with the Hot Stove. Have fun! I'm just saying that from my experience here, people take the rumors way too seriously, discussion gets heated, and the fun goes away. And that's what I'd like to avoid.
Who Was the Most Influential Woman in Los Angeles Dodger History?
Aside from the mothers of Vin Scully or Sandy Koufax, some might argue that it's Roz Wyman, the Los Angeles city councilwoman who pushed for the Dodgers' move from Brooklyn. Brent Shyer has a feature on Wyman at Walteromalley.com.
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At Screen Jam: a brief but personal farewell to Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
Trimming the Monday Fat
No, I'm not talking about any Dodger announcers. It's just the name of a TV piece I wrote over at Screen Jam, which you can peruse if you like on this first fall Monday without Dodger baseball.
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If the 2007 Season Started Today ...
... it might look partially the following. Not completely, not at all. I would only use this as a starting point for discussion. (Salaries listed range from cautious estimates to wild guesses - as more realistic information comes in, I'll incorporate it on the sidebar payroll chart, which is newly updated.)
Starting Pitchers (5)
Starting Lineup (8)
Garicaparra at third base is probably not realistic, but it made my life easier to put him there for now. I left off Eric Gagne, however: Though he is a possibility to return, I don't feel it's in the cards. Negotiations with Saito factor into this.
I feel that the Dodgers will want to sign Maddux, but will be nervous that he won't average six innings, something they figure to be concerned about with all the work the bullpen put in this year.
Hendrickson and Tomko are starting pitchers in reserve, though they seem as good a candidates for middle relief as you typically find - just overpriced. I have a hunch that Brazoban will come back and perform well, though. Miller will compete with your typical non-roster invitees for a spot as a lefty.
If the Dodgers could count on someone in that starting lineup to hit at least 30 home runs, they could feel pretty good about it. But my sense is that the Dodgers will go after a power-hitting outfielder, let Kemp and Ethier battle for third and fourth outfielder duties, and jettison or stash Repko somewhere.
Betemit would start the season on the bench, but he'd be playing for an injured Kent or Garciaparra before long.
Diaz won't be there; he's just a placeholder. The changes ... they will come.
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Padres-Cardinals, NLDS Game 4 Chat
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Update: Ned Colletti is already rubbing two sticks together, ready to build the offseason fire, according to Steve Henson of the Times:
In addition to wanting to bring back Maddux and perhaps Lofton, Colletti hasn't ruled out re-signing fan favorites Garciaparra and Gagne.
"I don't know what those players will ultimately want to do," he said. "I know fans have a great affection for those two and a lot of other players. I sense there would be disappointment, but if the '07 Dodgers play hard and win games, they'll find someone else to fall in love with. That said, we'll try to bring them back."
This dovetails with my philosophy that fans are loyal to winners, not personalities. I've written about it extensively in the past.
Gauging how many of the Dodgers young players will be able to plug into full-time roles is tricky.
Colletti is reluctant to hand a rookie or second-year player a starting job, meaning James Loney still has something to prove at first base and Matt Kemp has something to prove in the outfield.
I think it's fair to say that Colletti likes to have a plan B. That doesn't mean a rookie can't get extensive playing time, as we've seen this year. But Colletti likes to have options and depth.
I wouldn't assume that a free agent signing means that someone like Loney will be blocked longterm. In a 162-game season, opportunities turn up all the time.
The Mets' Meow
I posted some reflections on the Dodgers-Mets series at SI.com, though be forewarned, this piece focuses mostly on the Mets.
In the cat-and-mouse National League Division Series between the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the mouse was actually tied or in the lead after the fifth inning in two of three games.I should have more here on the Dodgers later today.
The Final Swing
After James Loney singled and as Ramon Martinez worked Mets closer Billy Wagner in a tenacious at-bat, I couldn't keep myself from believing that a slow miracle might be brewing. Maybe it was that score, 9-5, that was so magical so recently, that was hypnotizing me.
When Martinez lifted the 10th pitch he saw from Wagner and the fly ball found Shawn Green's glove near the seats in foul territory, I was reassured that I was not alone. The crowd seemed stunned. A contingent of fans had headed for home or the farthest bar when the Mets went up by four in the eighth inning, but most people had stayed, and what was shocking was that in that moment, no one around me bolted for the exits. Some, no doubt, were deflated, or interested in seeing a series-clinching celebration, but I have to think many just couldn't believe that the season was over - which is saying something. It took a few seconds for it to sink in.
It was a great Dodger Stadium crowd tonight, one of the best I've ever been a part of. They cheered from the pregame introductions on, supporting the team universally, pushing aside the opportunity to boo easy targets like Brad Penny or Julio Lugo, realizing that there would be plenty of time for recriminations in the offseason. The Dodgers got down early and still the crowd didn't boo, unlike regular-season games when it seemed Dodger fans had the same tolerance for things not going their way as a 4-year-old.
And almost every inning - not every batter, but every inning - the crowd would get lively, get on its feet, not because the stadium scoreboard told them to, but just to do it, out of want, out of need. As the Dodgers rallied from their 4-0 deficit, it was electrical overload. It was a good ol' time, and a whole lot of fun. We saved our best for last.
Last, alas. It's over now, and 2007 begins for Los Angeles. There's no getting away from what the Dodgers' flaws were in 2006, but they sure gave us some moments to enjoy, and at least one to remember for the rest of our lives. (And one on Wednesday that we'll try to forget, but oh well.)
I want to thank all the readers of Dodger Thoughts for their support this season. I don't know if you're aware of this, but I've spent most of this year acutely conscious of the fact that I haven't been able to bring as much to the table as I have in the past. It has been a demanding year for me careerwise, and I've had to let some news pass without posting about it, couldn't live-blog any games, and found myself neglectful of the farm system for long stretches (it kills me that I wasn't able to do the system roundup I did last September). But when I was dropping the ball, you were graciously not pointing it out (to my face, anyway) and instead just picking it up. I know some people come here not because of me, but because of the information other readers provide in the comments - and that's great. I'm not fishing for sympathy or compliments here. I just mean to say that it's been more of a group effort at Dodger Thoughts than ever before, and I appreciate it. And I truly enjoy your company; I honestly don't know what I'd do without it.
So, on to the offseason. Guess I'd better update that sidebar and get us focused on 2007. Here's to this year, and here's to next year.
Dodgers-Mets, NLDS Game 3 Chat
From Inside the Dodgers:
Nomar will be available to pinch-hit, we hope, and he's won the Comeback Player of the Year Award in the National League. We'll present him with the award during pregame ceremonies today.
If you're coming to the game, make sure you get here early. Introductions on the field and Nomar's ceremony will start around 4:40 but as you can imagine, we're expecting a lot of people here today. That means parking will be crowded, will call lines will be longer than usual and you'll want to be here for all the festivities.
Also keep in mind that if you're coming up the 110, you're battling traffic for the Coliseum, Dodger Stadium and Rose Bowl, not to mention Staples Center for the Kings' opener tonight.
Padres-Cardinals, NLDS Game 3 Chat
Garciaparra Has Torn Quadriceps
Nomar Garciaparra gave it his all. Now, it's up to James Loney.
Garciaparra might be able to pinch-hit for the remainder of the National League Division Series; nothing more.
Only the Shadow Knows, But She's Not Talking
So, any guesses on how much offense there will be amid the shadows of Saturday's twilight Game 3 start?
Or how much traffic there will be?
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Or the ratio of time spent on the mound between efficient Greg Maddux of the Dodgers and deliberate Steve Trachsel of the Mets?
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Here's an analysis by Inside Edge Scouting Services of Hong-Chih Kuo's performance Thursday.
Sorry, Not Giving Up
Been through too much. The odds have gone downhill - so be it. I've lived through 1981, 1988. I lived through September 2006.
It's rough, but I like being in the playoffs too much to turn my back on the Dodgers.
Saturday's game has been set for 4:35 p.m. See you there.
Dodgers-Mets, NLDS Game 2 Chat
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Division Series Standings
San Diego has surprisingly fallen into a last-place tie. Tonight, the Dodgers can move into a tie for third ...
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If you were a manager who just played the hot hand, you wouldn't have Kenny Lofton or Julio Lugo in your starting lineup tonight. Lofton went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts in Game 1 on Wednesday, and is 0-for-11 lifetime against Mets starter Tom Glavine. Lugo has revived memories (in my mind, anyway) of the legend that was Daryle Ward in a Dodger uniform (2003 OPS+: 10) while Ramon Martinez has returned from the milk carton and reminded people of his unexpected contributions to the Dodgers in the first half of the season.
Yet Dodger manager Grady Little is sticking with the two, and on one level it makes sense. The sample sizes cited above don't mean much as far as Lofton's overall value goes, and despite what's happened since August, few scouts or stathounds would suggest that Martinez is a better player than Lugo, based on their careers.
If there is a contradiction, it's that Little has been willing to bench Andre Ethier for Marlon Anderson, but unwilling to bench Lugo for Martinez or Olmedo Saenz. In one instance, he's going for the veteran with the hot bat and passable defense; in the other, he's sticking with the struggling, younger player (admittedly, Lugo is 30).
My lineup tonight would have Saenz in it, especially with strikeout artist Hong-Chih Kuo pitching on the Dodgers' behalf. As for the outfield, I might give Ethier or Jason Repko a shot, but I don't feel as strongly about that.
At the same time, it would be just like baseball to allow Lugo to hit his first home run in a Dodger uniform in the postseason. Go baseball!
Further Musings on The Play
Dodger third base coach Rich Donnelly has the baserunners and the entire field right in front of him. With no outs, Donnelly has to have it in his head that he is not going to send a runner home unless he will score standing up.
Given Jeff Kent's lack of speed, Donnelly should have immediately put up a stop sign once Kent hesitated on the fly ball, in my opinion. If Kent was essentially tagging up, Donnelly needed to treat the situation as such - one base and hold. Remember, perhaps the Dodgers' hottest hitter was on deck (Marlon Anderson).
My suspicion is that had Donnelly put up that stop sign, Drew would have seen it and, however surprised by it, would have stopped at second base. Martin might have had to scramble back to first.
Now, it's possible that in all the confusion, one out on the bases would have been recorded - either two guys at third base or two guys at second. So I'm willing to absolve Donnelly of blame for one of the outs. But I have been going over this play in my head again and again, and I can't come up with a scenario where Donnelly isn't responsible for the second out.
Now, that's just one or two outs in the second inning of a 27-out ballgame, and I think it's possible to overstate the relevance of it. Ultimately, the Dodgers scored five runs, and that should have been enough to win. As I wrote Wednesday, this was a game that had many things go right for the Dodgers as well as wrong. For all the bad decisions, the Dodgers hit a Mets starting pitcher who had a good year, and hit the relievers pretty hard as well.
Tonight, it's the Dodgers' turn to send the young, untested pitcher against the veteran. (Mike Carminati of Mike's Baseball Rants, after offering his own views of The Play, notes that Hong-Chih Kuo is the first pitcher to start a postseason game with one career victory or fewer in the modern era - since 1886, actually.) Maybe we're on the precipice of a blowout, but just as the Mets came away with a victory Wednesday in surprising fashion, the Dodgers could do the same this evening. And if that happens, the Dodgers head home with home-field advantage and Greg Maddux and Derek Lowe starting two of the next three games.
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Dodger manager Grady Little insists Brad Penny is primed for a scheduled Game 4 start, which is perplexing to say the least. Little, no doubt, is putting his stamp on this series.
As always, I'd like to see Little be less conservative in his use of his top relievers when they are fresh. Jonathan Broxton entered Wednesday's game with three days' rest and only 16 pitches thrown since September 27. There's no doubt he was capable of sharing nine outs with Takashi Saito Wednesday. Had he faltered, then Little could have turned to Penny and there would have been little reason for complaint.
I accept that Little thinks Penny is throwing well - but is Penny throwing better than Broxton? And although some have offered that Little's use of Penny was an attempt to boost Penny by showing confidence in him, where does that leave Brett Tomko's psyche?
Anyway, tonight, Saito enters tonight with four days of rest and an off day coming tomorrow. Since September 27, he has thrown 32 pitches. In anything less than a blowout, Saito has to be the Dodgers' go-to guy, before the ninth inning.
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Padres-Cardinals, NLDS Game 2 Chat
St. Louis at San Diego, 1 p.m.
Go to thread above for chat.
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And Then, The Game Ended - Not the Series
And still, the Dodgers were in the game.
And still, the Dodgers were in the game.
And still, the Dodgers were in the game, thanks to Mets manager Willie Randolph's ill-chosen decision to let reliever Guillermo Mota bat with two on and two out in the bottom of the sixth.
And still, the Dodgers were in the game. In fact, they tied it later in the inning.
And still, the Dodgers were in the game. But hope was fading. Down 6-4, the Dodgers got the tying run to second base in the ninth, with Nomar Garciappara at the plate. But Garciaparra, who doubled in the tying runs in the seventh, couldn't bring him home.
To a large extent, the story of today's National League Division Series opener was the Mets' good hitters beating a good Dodger pitcher. But mistakes were made - too many mistakes, unfortunately. And it's painful.
It doesn't mean that the Dodgers can't come back. Today was a setback, not the end. Even when so many things went wrong, it almost came out all right.
Dodgers-Mets, NLDS Game 1 Chat
Quick note: I did a pre-series phone interview with Matthew Cerrone at Metsblog.
Update: Who replaces Joe Beimel as the Dodgers' No. 3 reliever? My hunch is that it could be Brad Penny - though with a slim lead, I'd be tempted to go right with Jonathan Broxton first and let him go two innings if he's pitching well, and worry about Game 2 when it comes.
Ideally for the Dodgers, Derek Lowe will pitch at least seven innings, followed as needed by Broxton and Takashi Saito, but against the Mets' lineup, you can't count on that.
With a slim lead and a rested bullpen, Brett Tomko should not be used before Broxton. However, at some point in the series, maybe as soon as today, we'll have to grit our teeth and hope for the best from the up-and-down Tomko and Mark Hendrickson. (Chad Billingsley fits in there somewhere, too, but I'm still wavering on exactly where.)
Dodgers Announce Official NLDS Roster; Mr. El Duque Out for Mets
They'll go without injured Joe Beimel. Making it off the bubble: Chad Billingsley, Mark Hendrickson and Aaron Sele.
Pitchers (10): Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, Mark Hendrickson, Hong-Chih Kuo, Derek Lowe, Greg Maddux, Brad Penny, Takashi Saito, Aaron Sele, Brett Tomko
Catchers (2): Toby Hall, Russell Martin
Infielders (8): Wilson Betemit, Rafael Furcal, Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent, James Loney, Julio Lugo, Ramon Martinez, Olmedo Saenz
Outfielders (5): Marlon Anderson, J.D. Drew, Andre Ethier, Kenny Lofton, Jason Repko
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Funny anecdote about questionable but moderately hopeful Game 1 Mets starter Orlando Hernandez in Newsday this morning, passed along by David Pinto of Baseball Musings:
Earlier, in a waiting room at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, Hernandez sat with Ramirez, waiting for the MRI. "It's not good," he said, holding his outstretched right leg. "It's tightening up."
"Mr. El Duque, Mr. El Duque, please write you name for us on this piece of paper," said a hospital worker who entered the room.
"Mr. Hernandez," El Duque corrected her. He signed his name. "That doesn't say El Duque," she said. ...
El Duque was told that the woman in the hospital lobby was overheard saying she was leaving because an injured Yankee was being treated at the hospital. "I'll never be seen," she said in a huff.
Hernandez laughed. "A Yankee would have had his MRI already," he joked.
Update: ESPN.com reports that Hernandez's calf muscle is torn and that he isn't on the Mets roster. John Maine (3.60 ERA, 71 strikeouts in 90 innings) will start Game 1. (Thanks to Dodger Thoughts reader Steve in Rochester for the alert.)
Don't underestimate Maine. The Dodgers might not feel the benefit of Hernandez's injury until later in the series, when the Mets' pitching depth is tested. Oliver Perez (6.55 ERA, despite 102 strikeouts in 112 2/3 innings - he walked 68 and allowed 129 hits and 20 home runs) replaced Hernandez on the New York roster.
Dodgers Get Their Own Bad News
From Ken Gurnick at MLB.com:
Reliever Joe Beimel suffered a bloody gash to his pitching hand in a freak hotel accident Tuesday morning, leaving him in stitches and the Dodgers bullpen roster spots in limbo for Wednesday's opener of the National League Division Series with the Mets.
Beimel said he cut his left hand on broken glass in his hotel room after waking up to get a drink of water.
"I got up, went to the faucet in the bathroom, got the drink, was going to set down the glass, and it slipped out of my hand and I tried to catch it and wound up just spiking it into the sink," said Beimel.
"I thought it was just a cut, but when I looked at it, it was really deep. I wish I had a better story, like I was trying to save a baby or something. This is just crazy how it happened."
Who knew we'd fret over Joe Beimel in October?
Mets' Hernandez Might Miss Game 1 Start
Already without Pedro Martinez, the New York Mets now face the prospect that their alternate choice for Wednesday's Game 1 against the Dodgers - Orlando Hernandez - might have to miss the start because of a calf injury suffered during morning jogging. The Associated Press has the story.
Tom Glavine, slated to start Game 2, pitched Saturday in Washington. So if the Mets want to bump him up, he would be working on only three days' rest.
Randolph said he hadn't yet spoken to the 40-year-old lefty about that possibility.
Steve Trachsel, who went 15-8 with a 4.97 ERA this year, skipped his scheduled outing last weekend to attend to a family matter on the West Coast. He was due back in New York on Tuesday evening, but Randolph said the right-hander probably wasn't an option to pitch Game 1 on Wednesday afternoon.
That leaves rookie right-hander John Maine as perhaps the best option. Maine was 6-5 with a 3.60 ERA in 16 games this season, including 15 starts.
It doesn't appear that Hernandez has been officially ruled out of Game 1 - and he certainly remains likely to pitch sometime in the series.
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Padres-Cardinals game chat continues in the thread below.
Padres-Cardinals, NLDS Game 1 Chat
A's-Twins Game 1 Chat (10 a.m. gametime) can be found at Catfish Stew.
And later this evening, head on over to Bronx Banter for the Yankees and Tigers.
But we've got the National League right here: St. Louis at San Diego, 1 p.m.
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Some more information about Dodgers-Mets coverage, from Larry Stewart of the Times.
Vin Scully can be heard on KFWB 980 and the Dodgers'radio network during the entire series, handling the first three and final three innings of each game. Charley Steiner and Rick Monday will work together on the middle three.
KSPN 710, ESPN Radio's L.A. affiliate, will broadcast a full schedule of postseason games, including the Dodgers-Mets series. XM Satellite Radio is also broadcasting the postseason.
There will be postgame coverage after each Dodgers game on either FSN Prime Ticket or FSN West.
Game 3 of the Dodgers-Mets series will tentatively be Saturday at 1 p.m. and televised by Fox. If there is a Game 4 in the A's-Twins series, it will be played Saturday at 1 p.m. and televised by FX.
If there is a Game 4 in the Dodgers-Mets series, it will tentatively be played Sunday at 1 p.m. and televised by ESPN. Game 5 would be a 5:15 PDT Monday night game in New York and televised by Fox.
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Update: Rich Lederer has collected blogger playoff predictions at Baseball Analysts.
The Dodger Thoughts 2006 Postseason Guide
Despite ending the season with a seven-game winning streak and a 41-19 run, I don't imagine the Dodgers are highly regarded as an NL playoff contender. And maybe that's appropriate. But they should qualify at least as a sleeper, thanks to an offense that's consistent across almost all positions (only at third base do the Dodgers have below-average hitting) and a pitching staff, rebuilt throughout the season, that is stingy with home runs.
Here's a review of all 50 men who played for the 2006 Dodgers, with those likely to play in the postseason marked by an asterisk. There are no defensive statistics listed, primarly because I don't feel there's a reliable in-season measurement.
Remarkably, Martin started every game down the stretch for the Dodgers, and although his OPS in September was a slightly diminished .748, he held things together admirably. The postseason schedule should feel like a vacation to him. Navarro went to Tampa Bay at midseason and Hall came in exchange: The Dodgers didn't enjoy the sight of either behind the plate, but the contributions of both were probably underestimated. (Note the EQAs.) Alomar batted .323 with no walks or home runs before going to Chicago. Diaz was insurance for an injury that has yet to come.
Garciaparra slipped noticeably in the second half, OPSing .694, but teams will still fear him at the plate thanks to his two dramatic September walkoff home runs. Loney, on the other hand, seems to give the impression of an easy mark, but stroked the ball well after leading the minor leagues in batting average. Saenz is a nice piece of goods off the bench, particularly against lefthanded pitchers.
Kent recovered from a horrific April to post decent numbers. He didn't hit many home runs, but his on-base percentage was .385 and slugging was .477. He finished fourth among NL second basemen in VORP, first among those in the NL playoffs. Aches and pains, unfortunately, have made him look practically immobile on defense. Martinez started at fast before reverting to his journeyman self, but at least he's not an automatic out. After becoming a starter for the second half of 2005, Robles lost his roster spot to Martinez, and never hit well enough to reclaim it.
Like Kent, Furcal started horribly, but truly got better as the season went on, and ended up being the Dodgers' most valuable position player.
The Dodgers still haven't solved their problems here. Betemit pops the occasional home run, but doesn't do much else - his on-base percentage has been particularly unimpressive as a Dodger (.306, though his career mark is .332). Lugo, his platoon partner, has been excruciating to watch, slugging .270 as a Dodger. Dodger manager Grady Little like Lugo's defense and has relentless faith that Lugo's offense will bounce back to the level of his Tampa Bay days (12 home runs, .302 EQA in 2006). Outside of how he handles the pitching staff, the use of Lugo and his ensuing output in the postseason could play a large role in how Little's own performance is evaulated.
But it's been rough all year at third base for the Dodgers. Mueller had a nice couple of opening weeks, then his knee gave out on him and his career. Aybar had a fast start as Mueller's replacement, then slumped and was never given another steady shot before going to Atlanta in the Betemit trade. Though Betemit sparked the Dodgers during the 17-1 run following his arrival, Aybar mostly outplayed him since. Izturis returned from Tommy John surgery and had a good few games, then proved utterly feeble at the plate. The Dodgers' traded him to the Cubs for Maddux, something no one figures to ever regret. Of course, Guzman is the former top prospect who fell out of favor, then got shipped to Tampa Bay for Lugo at the same moment. Guzman didn't hit in the Devil Ray minors, but if he does anything at all in his career, that will have been a steal in the opposite direction barring a Lugo postseason awakening.
Third base is the only position in the Dodger lineup (besides pitcher) at which the team didn't regularly play someone with an EQA of .275 or higher.
As the season headed into the final month, Ethier was a potential Rookie of the Year. But his batting average was driven by a high percentage of his balls hit in play going for hits (.400 or more at times) and could not be sustained. He had one extra-base hit in September and batted .143, though he walked enough to jack his on-base percentage to .311. Ethier might have a second wind in him, but we won't necessarily find out, because, Anderson, 32-year-old career .710-OPS man, went absolutely haywire at the plate after being acquired on the eve of September. There's no doubt that Anderson seems more locked in right now, though this remains a potentially vulnerable spot in the lineup. Cruz could draw a walk now and then but not much else, and Ledee was never right after surgery.
Lofton is a heart attack defensively now, but his .360 on-base percentage, 12 triples and 32-for-37 basestealing did end up coming in handy. No home run threat, Lofton still drew the walk that preceded Garciaparra's 10th-inning home run to complete the Monday Night Miracle against the Padres. For a while, it looked like Kemp had earned a starting job by hitting seven home runs in about two weeks or so, but the league adjusted and Kemp hasn't yet adjusted back. Maybe next year. Repko OPSed .988 in April, then drove his ankle into the outfield wall and never recovered his season.
Ever-ridiculed for a contract that really isn't that outlandish, Drew OPSed 1.145 in September and finished at .891, playing a career high 146 games. Maybe he doesn't earn all the money, but he earns enough of it. Cody Ross will no doubt remain the only player to be traded immediately after a seven-RBI game, the result of a roster crunch. Delwyn Young's first taste of the majors is memorable mostly for his pinch-running exploits barreling through players to try to keep rallies alive (and it worked Friday night to help the Dodgers edge closer to the playoffs).
A big reason for the success of the Dodger pitching is that while it gives up plenty of hits and doesn't boast many strikeout pitchers, the team doesn't allow many home runs. It led the NL in fewest home runs allowed and remember, though it is challenging offensively in other areas, Dodger Stadium does not suppress the long ball.
In July, Lowe allowed 25 earned runs in 31 2/3 innings. In August and September, he allowed 20 earned runs in 75 1/3 innings. He abandoned a pitching style that had stopped working for him, and except for a meltdown in Chicago in which he surrendered most of a seven-run lead, he was untouchable for the final two months. The main concern for his Game 1 start in the playoffs is whether his six-day layoff will leave him too rusty. It was revealed that Penny, who slumped in the second half, is suffering from disc problems, and he may have to pitch out of the bullpen in the playoffs. Maddux has been occasionally hittable but mostly a godsend for the Dodger rotation. He does tire well before 100 pitches, but he can still give you six or more innings on his rations. Kuo has the potential to be a K-Rod for Los Angeles a late-season bloomer who shines in October. There's no doubt that he is a transformed pitcher since his callup from the minors (it might have been an exile if he hadn't been moved to the starting rotation in Las Vegas and found a groove). He is throwing strikes like no other Dodger starter. He handcuffed the Mets in his first career regular-season start - will the second time around do him in? Seo was acquired for Duaner Sanchez, then replaced after a disappointing run by Mark Hendrickson.
O Gagne, my Gagne. It wasn't meant to be. But amazingly, 36-year-old rookie Saito, a signee following an undistinguished 2005 in Japan, was recalled from the minors and showed precision form, first as a setup man, then as a closer. He strikes out almost twice as many as he allows to reach base. He hits spots, throws a devastating slider that hitters can't track, and has been unfazed by any pressure. He is expressionless on the mound until the final out, at which time a fist pump reveals the excited child within. Broxton has been almost as much of a horse, a durable setup man who has been consistent all year. Beimel was another huge surprise. He's mainly there to get lefties out, but fills the setup role when Broxton needs rest. If the Dodger starter goes six innings and leaves with the lead, these three can probably bring the team home though it should be noted that Beimel's mediocre peripheral statistics don't justify his appealing ERA.
Billingsley has gotten the worst of his wildness behind him, but his performance in Colorado last week showed some vulnerability remains. Basically, he's talented and has great potential for the future, but to date, he's inconsistent. Baez was far too inconsistent to hold a valuable relief role the contrast between him and Saito/Broxton is strong. Sele buoyed the Dodger rotation when they really need him to in May, then expired as the contents on his warning label indicated. Hendrickson, whom the Dodgers hoped would continue to defy reality, couldn't hold the spot in the rotation that they created for him, but he has done better in the bullpen. But note the fate of Tomko, who moved from the rotation to the bullpen and seemed to blossom, then remembered he was Tomko - he can get outs but you can't count on it.
Carrara and Dessens had their moments but showed why they were so easy to acquire. Brazoban, who underwent surgery in April, could be an important piece of the 2007 bullpen. Stults had a key victory against the Mets, but is probably just too hittable at this point. Hamulack continues to get strikeouts, but has otherwise been unreliable. Perez just couldn't get his act together at all this year. Osoria was a disappointment after a promising 2005 debut. Carter will try to forget 2006 altogether.
Yep, that's all I got.
The Padres hang on in Arizona, ever so barely, so despite ending the season with a seven-game winning streak, the Dodgers will be the National League wild card team and play the New York Mets in the first round of the playoffs.
Game times for the first two days in New York, are 1 p.m. (PST) Wednesday and 5 p.m. Thursday, according to MLB.com. ESPN has Game 1, and Fox has Game 2. Times have not been set for Games 3 and (if necessary) 4 in Los Angeles, on Saturday and next Sunday.
The thought occurs to me that Derek Lowe will have too much rest for his Game 1 start - going from Wednesday to Wednesday between games. From what I can tell, he depends a great deal on feel, and he may start out rusty.
Here are some more notes, from Ken Gurnick at MLB.com:
(Dodger manager Grady) Little seems to be leaning toward starting Greg Maddux at home regardless, so Maddux would be the Game 2 starter in a series that opens at Dodger Stadium, or the Game 3 starter against the Mets.
Little was relatively satisfied that Brad Penny's back will allow him to pitch, but revealed that Penny could be a reliever instead of a starter. ...
The Dodgers are thinking of carrying a 10-man pitching staff in the postseason, which means pitchers like Aaron Sele, Chad Billingsley and Elmer Dessens are on the bubble. Little indicated he was somewhat comfortable with Billingsley as a reliever, even though he's made only one such appearance in his short career. Stults had an outside chance of being one of the 10 if the opponent was the Mets because of his success in his first start in New York last month.
Garciaparra's shaky health could mean that James Loney makes the postseason roster. Garciaparra said he will be ready for the start of the playoffs, but he is nursing injuries to an oblique, quad and knee. Although only 25 players can be active, Little said the club would probably travel with 28 or 29. Once rosters are submitted before a series starts, they cannot be changed during that series.
If Eric Stults pitches poorly today, the Dodgers will probably end up facing the New York Mets (who don't hit lefthanders well) in the first round of the playoffs and could use him even if he pitches poorly today. If Stults pitches well today, the Dodgers will probably end up facing the NL Central Division champion in the first round of the playoffs and not need him even if he does pitch well today.
Or maybe it's a real audition. I don't know.
Here's how the 25-man postseason roster is shaping up:
Starting pitchers (4): Derek Lowe, Greg Maddux, Brad Penny, Hong-Chih Kuo
Bullpen (7): Takashi Saito, Jonathan Broxton, Joe Beimel, Chad Billingsley, Mark Hendrickson, Brett Tomko, Aaron Sele
Catchers (2): Russell Martin, Toby Hall
Infielders (7): Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent, Rafael Furcal, Wilson Betemit, Olmedo Saenz, Julio Lugo, James Loney
Outfielders (5): J.D. Drew, Kenny Lofton, Marlon Anderson, Andre Ethier, Jason Repko
The 25th man is basically a choice between Loney, Martinez and Repko, depending largely on whom the Dodgers want to play if Garciaparra needs rest, and whether they are confident in Loney or Martinez as fifth outfielders.
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Look, Trevor Hoffman has had a nice season and all, but why are people picking him for the Cy Young Award when Brandon Webb is likely to lead the National League in ERA, innings pitched and for those who care, wins, if he pitches halfway decently today?
* * *
The Battle for First in the NL West
Padres at Diamondbacks, 1:40 p.m.
The Battle for First in the NL Central
Brewers at Cardinals, 11:15 a.m.
The Battle for Third in the NL West
76-84 San Francisco
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