“The Dodgers are on pace to lose 93 games… this might be the last chance for the Dodgers to get back in to the National League West race and Mattingly’s job might depend on a great leap forward in the standings. “
- June 23rd edition of LA Times sports page.
To be fair the Dodgers gave Bill Shaikin every reason to write this and many, especially on east coast broadcasts, agreed with him.
The Dodgers started 2013 with a 30-42 record. Which would be deemed a fantastic start if the front of the jersey said Houston or Miami but here in LA this had fans with one finger on the panic button and another on one that would trigger an ejector seat located at Don Mattingly’s desk. This is unacceptable in the 2nd biggest market in the country and with an Opening Day Payroll of $216 Million, comes a bullseye.
Fate is a funny thing, isn’t it?
The June 23rd Sunday times article was citing quotes given before the 6-1 victory over the San Diego Padres on, you guessed it…June 22nd. The date Dodger fans have heard over and over as being the day of this season’s resurrection. Who could have known that would be the first of 42 wins in the best 50 game stretch seen by any team since 1945. Now its October, where 11 wins makes you champion. Let’s take a look at the playoff match ups…
Dodgers vs Braves
For the last weeks of the season it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that the Dodgers were going to open the NLDS in St. Louis. Then the Cards wrapped up a 19-8 September on a 10-2 run while the Braves closed the book on a 13-14 final month going 7-7 in their last 14 games to give up the best record in the league to the Cards. (Braves: Own 2 of the biggest collapses in history over the last 3 years) On the final Saturday of the season MLB network showed Atlanta hitting coach Terry Pendleton (a man who in 1991, beat up on the Dodgers repeatedly en route to winning the NL batting title, MVP award, and helping the Braves get to the World Series that featured the best Game 7 ever) grabbing and practically picking up Chris Johnson after being hit by the helmet the third baseman threw into the dugout after making the last out of the game. A team in distress. This gang with its core largely made up of good ol’ boys who in September seemed more focused on how long other players watch home runs than winning, looked like the polar opposite of the eclectic fun-loving Dodgers that could probably hold a Gatorade splash party in front of a United Nations building and not only get away with it but have it broadcast to 7 different countries. (United States, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Cuba, South Korea, Curacao, and Italy)
“I want to play the Braves.” I said to the girl watching with me.
The Dodgers not only represent Los Angeles very well , but also field a healthy mix of both experience and youth. From veterans Mark Ellis (36), Michael Young (36), Juan Uribe (34 ), Chris Capuano & Nick Punto (both 35) to younger stars Adrian Gonzalez (30) Hanley Ramirez (29) Kenley Jansen (26) Clayton Kershaw (25) and Yasiel Puig (22) the Dodgers could be poised to build a dynasty. However age is one thing and experience in October is another. This is why the Dodgers were happy to include Punto (1 WS Ring) in the trade with Boston in August of last year. It’s this October factor that led the Dodgers to pursue Mark McGwire (1 WS Ring as a player, 1 as hitting coach) who led St. Louis to become the best hitting team in baseball and why they listened when he said they needed to sign the gritty and versatile 2B/CF Skip Schumaker (33, 1 WS Ring).
The boys in blue don’t have a 44 homer, 137 RBI guy like the Detroit Tigers or even a 20 game winner. (Although if Kershaw received any run support in the middle of the year he could have won 25 games.) Instead the numbers are spread out somewhat evenly (6 players with at least 10 home runs led by Adrian’s 22, Hanley’s 20, and Puig’s 19) across a team that was ravaged by injuries before the season even began. It was impressive to win 92 games despite not being able to field the Opening Day lineup they envisioned and only twice having Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, and Yasiel Puig dressed for a game they were (almost) healthy enough to play. In my opinion, the Dodgers 1 through 25, are the best team in baseball.
The Braves racked up 96 wins and won the NL East by 10 games. (2nd largest margin in MLB) The led the league in home runs and MLB in team in ERA. The Braves had 5 players hit at least 20 home runs which sounds good until you see the other side of the ledger. Their trio of Dan Uggla and the brothers Upton combined to strike out 483 times. Uggla was so bad (.179, 80 hits in 448 At Bats, 171 K, $13 Million salary) that he was left off the roster for the NLDS. Also no one DEPENDS on the home run more. (78-28 when the homer, 18-38 when they don’t) That is a huge advantage for the Dodgers who have the best 1-2 punch of any rotation in baseball right now. This gives them a good chance of getting a split in Atlanta which would take away home field advantage and most likely mean a win a game #4. Here’s how strongly I feel about this…
On Sunday June 29th, in the 9th inning of the last game of the season, I walked up to the ticket window behind home plate & bought one ticket to NLDS Game #4. I didn’t know what the refund policy nor could I get confirmation on that but I bought the ticket regardless. That was me giving the Atlanta Braves the respect that they will win one of the first 2 games in the series, and the Dodgers even more respect by saying they will win 2 of the first 3, making Game #4 the clincher. It is imperative that Mattingly use his bullpen well and use the notes his coaches will give him. He cannot forget how certain pitchers performed (or didn’t in September) he seems locked into this “dance with the one who got you there” mentality when it would be wiser to subscribe to the “what have you done for me lately” theory.
That means a little less Paco Rodriguez, (5.68 ERA in Sept) a little more J.P. Howell, (LH vs.164) a little less Ronald Belisario (10 R 12 H last 11 IP) a little more Beard Wilson (1 Run in 18 G), even a little less Ricky Nolasco (12.75 ERA in Sept) a little more Chris Capuano (15K 3 R Last 15.2 IP), also here’s an idea, what about letting Kershaw play the role of Orel “Bulldog” Hershiser (1988 Postseason: 6 games, (3-0) 1 SV 34.2 IP 32K 5 ER 1.31ERA) and maybe pitch on short rest if it means locking it down in Game #4. He went from good to great after spending time with Sandy Koufax who knows a thing or two about short rest. What better way to emulate him? He doesn’t have to start but he could be ready to bail out Nolasco if he were to get into trouble and pitch 4 or 5 key innings to bridge the gap to Wilson and Jansen. Just a thought. Hopefully they don’t need him and he could be ready for Games 1, 4, and 7 in the NLCS.
Ideal Outcome: Dodgers win in 4
Gut feeling: Dodgers win in 4
Pirates vs Cardinals
There is a thought I’ve had since the day I looked down at the ticker on MLB Network and saw Pittsburgh had acquired Marlon Byrd only to pick up Justin Monroe 3 days later; DONT SLEEP ON THE PIRATES!! Now it would be a dream scenario for the Pirates to beat up the Cards, make them exhaust their bullpen and even take them to a Game 5. Of course if they could beat them in the series and give us home field advantage in the NLCS, well I might just wear have to raise the Jolly Rancher. (I know it’s Jolly Roger but I did the math, and my idea is much cheaper)
Will the Cards beat the Pirates? Well that’s what the smart money says and back against the wall, I go back to why I don’t want to play them. I just have that much respect for the Cardinals and how well they turn it up a notch in October. That being said, after missing the playoffs heck, the win column for 20 years, no team will be hungrier then Pirates to prove they belong. If you’ve been waiting 20 years to be asked to the dance you’re not going to leave after 30 min are you? Expect the Bucs to play their hearts out. They have better than a punchers chance. The Pirates beat the Reds with the help of their crowd which will aid them in what will be a much be a closer series than people think.
Ket stat: This year The Cards batted .330 with a runners in scoring position BOTH at home AND on the road. You may hear that at least once a game. Think of having 8 different players turning into Adrian Gonzalez when it matters . #clutch
Ideal Outcome: Pirates beat up the Cardinals and win an emotionally exhausting Game 5. Dodgers would get home field (1/2/6/7) in NLCS.
Gut Feeling: Game 5 would be in St. Louis which means if they don’t win in 4 they win a close Game 5 at home in the 7th or 8th inning.
Red Sox vs Rays
The Boston Red Sox looked stacked this year leading the AL in wins (97) and beards. I expect the Red Sox to beat the Tampa Bay Rays & it shouldn’t go past 4 games. Reason? The Rays are human. Tampa Bay has turned in a gentleman’s job to get this far considering their last 5 series’ have taken them from Tampa Bay to New York, to Toronto, to Texas, to Cleveland, to Boston before they will go to back to Tampa Bay for games 3 & 4 where they will be able to unpack because there won’t be a game 5.
Ideal Outcome: The Rays continue to find some magic and push the full slate including at least one 4 hour marathon, tiring Boston. I can’t say it would be Ideal for the Rays to win for two reasons.
1) Their fans don’t deserve it even though their manager does. He runs the top-tier of a well coached organization but their fans only show up in October so they can only only have enough cash to pay Evan Longoria well. Which means David Price will be pitching for another team sooner than later. (Could it be Los Angeles? The Dodgers could take on his arbitration raise better than anyone. Hmm… Rays Team Payroll: $57.5 Million (28th out of 30)
2) The ALDS is one thing but this team draws horrible ratings, plays in a dome with rings that mess up play and every spot they advance hurts the sport. Get your city to build you a real ballpark. Get your fans to fill it. Then we’ll talk.
Gut Feeling: The Red Sox will follow the Dodgers in clinching early and get an extra 2 days of rest.
Oakland A’s vs Detroit Tigers:
Starting in pre-season publications, and through most of the year, the Tigers were the favorites to go & win the World Series this season but I think they’re sputtering much like we did (12-15) in September. Yup I just fact checked this and turns out the Tigers went 13-13 in the final month and 12 of those wins came against the Royals, White Sox, and Twins. I can’t include the Marlins because Detroit didn’t win a game in Miami. In fact not only did they get swept, they got no hit by Marlins SP Henderson Alvarez (9 Inn, 4K 1 BB) on the final day. See: Leaving with a bad taste in your mouth. Throw in the fact that their September woes coincide with all world 3B Miguel Cabrera nursing an abdominal/core strain. It is obvious he is hurting and a shell of his usual Triple Crown/MVP self and as we know with Matt Kemp you need everyone else to step up to have a chance to advance. The Tigers handled their business early before the wheels started to come off. The Cleveland Indians went 21-6 the last 29 days to finish just 1 game behind the Tigers for the division crown and forced their way into the wild card game before running into the wall known as Tampa Bay Starter David Price. The Tigers know Miguel will play but how well? His defense will be affected. His reach on swings are affected. He might only be playing to hit a mistake pitch which could be huge. I think someone else decides this series. That player might be Yoenis Cespedes or another player who wears green and yellow. The A’s are heading in the right direction. They drew 130,000 more fans, who saw them go from 94 wins to 96 & the O.Co Coliseum will get louder and rowdier with the top deck tarp coming off.
Ideal Outcome: The Oakland A’s upset the Tigers and get to ALCS for the first time since 2006, second since 1992.
Gut Feeling: If the series goes all the way, Game 5 is in Oakland and that could be the end for Detroit despite having more talent.
I will continue to write in-depth coverage on the playoffs as well as some looks at story lines that could develop for the Dodgers.
I hope you enjoyed my first entry in this new blog. Feel free to bookmark it and share it with your friends. There is plenty of ground to cover and this is October so everything means much more. I’ll be covering various Dodger and MLB story lines. You will be able to tell by my knowledge, original content and narration of experiences just how passionate I am about the Dodgers and if you are as big a fan or know someone who is, please feel free to share my blog with them. We’re all in this together. For those of us who don’t know what a bandwagon is because we were to busy following our team even when we were in last place, this is a forum for us, to hang out, chat, read, comment.
To know a little more about me you can check out the about section on Menu. Thank you for reading! #awholenewblue