Taken In by the Whirling Darvish

Despite a re-arranged lineup against lefty Dallas Keuchel, the only actual personnel change manager Dave Roberts has made for tonight’s game is to replace DH Joc Pederson with wounded third baseman Justin Turner, moving Logan Forsythe to third and inserting Charlie Culberson at second, replacing Forsythe. It’s tough for Pederson to be on the bench after his monster home run last night, but given Roberts’ career-long platooning, even if Turner were 100% and manning third, another righty hitter would be the DH against Keuchel.

Now that that’s out of the way, the importance of tonight’s game cannot be overemphasized. First is the fact that it’s Clayton Kershaw starting tonight, and the fact that he has to keep up his 2017 post season run and get the Dodgers to the seventh inning with a lead. But even more than the pressure issues directly on Kershaw are these pieces of

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reality: Game Six means Justin Verlander pitching against the Dodgers and Game Seven means the Whirling Darvish pitching for the Dodgers. Both are scary, ESPECIALLY the Whirling starting a potential Game Seven.

While the Dodgers did reasonably well in Game Two against Verlander, hitting two home runs and scoring three off of him despite getting only two hits, his overall late season and post season run has been spectacular, and with lower temperatures and cooler air expected Tuesday night at Dodgers’ Stadium, Continue reading

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Jeter’s Ego Too Big To Share Spotlight With Conine, Others

When Mark Walter and Guggenheim Baseball Management purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers, they embraced the long and storied history of the franchise, and of Los Angeles. They welcomed the continued presence in various capacities within the organization of team legends of the past, expanding and promoting the duties and exposure of people like Tommy Lasorda, Sandy Koufax, Don Newcombe, Fernando Valenzuela, and a host of others. Walter began his lead ownership position by taking a low profile for himself, letting others retain the spotlight, and in the intervening years, he has not changed that approach. The LA Dodgers remain immensely popular, with sell-out attendance and billion-dollar

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broadcasting deals, fueled by not just excellent management decisions but also by equally successful personnel moves, which now have them in a World Series that the two previous ownerships could never accomplish.

The key there, of course, is that Walter has no overpowering ego that demands attention. In fact, most Dodgers’ fans when asked would not even know his name. He lets Andrew Friedman, Magic Johnson, Dave Roberts, Clayton Kershaw and Justin Turner get the headlines, and he stays in the background.

Imagine if new Dodgers’ ownership came in and immediately fired Tommy Lasorda, Sandy Koufax, Don Newcombe and Fernando Valenzuela in order to focus the team spotlight on that new owner, someone who already has fame and fortune, but who apparently is unsatisfied that perhaps a lone fan living under a bride by the river doesn’t yet know just who is now the boss in charge?

Well, that is the situation now in Miami, where a fleet of giant moving trucks has been hired to transport the massive ego of Derek Jeter to the Marlin’s offices. Continue reading

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Spotlight on the Whirling Darvish

I’ve made no secret of my lack of faith, to put it mildly, in Yu “The Whirling” Darvish, who I never saw as the star number one starting pitcher that others have seen, nor have I failed to express my regret for the trade that the Dodgers made to acquire his short-lived rental services, in exchange for a future hitting star in Willie Calhoun. But, so far this post season, the Whirling has shown me up, pitching superbly, and getting the call tonight to right the slightly leaky ship that failed to survive a late inning hurricane on Wednesday night.

In Wednesday’s epic game, clearly a classic in World Series history, the Dodgers used a record nine pitchers, finally losing the game when the bottom of the barrel was scraped clean with the arm of Brandon McCarthy, who became the guy on the spot when everything counted, despite his 1) Spending most of the season’s second half on the

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disabled list; 2) Having been rightly left off the team’s roster for both the Division and Championship series, and 3) Having allowed 14 earned runs over his previous 14-2/3 innings pitched. But, when that barrels is empty, what else can you do? Who would have thought that the Dodgers, a team that saw its 2017 pitching staff rank first in the National League and second in all of baseball in ERA and first in both in lowest opponent batting average need to resort to the team’s number nine pitcher in the most important inning of the season? More correctly, McCarthy is the team’s number 12 pitcher, Continue reading

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Dodgers’, Kershaw’s Path to WS: Keeping Runners Off Base

Through seven playoff games so far this post season, the Dodgers’ pitching staff has done an amazing job keeping opposing batters off base. The Dodgers as a team have hit ten home runs and have scored 37 runs. Opposing teams have out homered the Dodgers with a total of 13, but they have scored a total of only 18 runs in the seven games, as when the Diamondbacks and Cubs have homered, there almost always are NO runners on base. As a team, the Dodgers’ pitching staff has compiled an unheard of WHIP of 0.79 through the seven games, allowing a total of only 38 hits and 11 walks over 62 innings pitched. Combine this with the outstanding offense led by Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig, and the Dodgers sit today one victory from their first World Series appearance since 1988.

One factor overlooked by many that has been a major reason for not just the great performances from one Dodgers’ pitcher after another, but also for the team’s overall success has been the great all-around play of the new but yet unofficial starting catcher,

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Austin Barnes. From the very first day that the Dodgers’ gave away far, far too much talent for an extremely overrated yasmani grandel, I have been saying what a horrifically bad trade that was. That clearly can be seen now. Tied for the major league lead in passed balls this season, the underachieving grandal is hitless throughout the post season, while the next Dodgers’ star, Barnes, is hitting a solid .278 and producing runs, while performing brilliantly behind the plate, not just in not committing passed balls, but in corralling potential wild pitches, in preventing stolen bases (the Dodgers have stolen five bases in the seven games, their opponents, one), doing the one thing that pundits agreed grandal was good at – framing pitches – and in his overall handling of the pitching staff. Do not underestimate Barnes’ significant contributions to the Dodgers’ current success. Continue reading

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The Vagaries of Managing in the Major Leagues

After another bad season for a struggling Detroit Tigers’ roster, manager Brad Ausmus was fired. Almost immediately his name was among the first mentioned for each major league managerial opening, first with the New York Mets, and then for the now open job in Boston.

In Boston, manager John Farrell, who led the Red Sox to back-to-back division titles, who is the franchise’s only manager to win three division titles, and who led the team to the World Championship four short seasons ago, is today looking for new employment.

Boston General Manger Dave Dombrowski, who took that job with Farrell already established as manager, can now try to find someone who can waive a magic wand and

turn the mistakes made by Dombrowski into wins, and ultimately, into a World Series berth.

Since taking over the reins of the BoSox, Dombrowski’s emphasis has clearly been to build a championship caliber starting staff, and he in effect mortgaged the team’s present and future with high-priced acquisitions David Price and Chris Sale.

Sale has been a dominant pitcher for parts of a few seasons now, but both last year and this, his success dropped off the edge of the flat earth late in the season. Last year Sale compiled an impressive sounding 17-10 record with a bad White Sox team. But looking closer, one sees that on July 2, he stood at 14-2 and after that point he lost eight of his last eleven decisions, as his ERA rose from 2.93 to a final 3.34. A few days ago, I wrote about how Sale went from a shoe-in for the American League Cy Young Award to little more than an also ran as his record plummeted over the last two months of the 2017 season with a 4-4 record and 4.09 ERA over that period. Then came the 2017 post season and Continue reading

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Big Dodgers’ Issues As the NLCS Begins

Over the years, so much has been made of the underwhelming performances turned in by Clayton Kershaw during the post season. Each year, as the Dodgers proceed to the playoffs with the hopes of a World Series berth, their fate is rested on the left arm of their ace. Each year, the hopes are that the past season will be forgotten, and this will be the year that he will pitch like the regular season, which he dominates as baseball’s best pitcher and lead the team to not just the World Series, but to a World Series Championship.

Last season as the Dodgers failed in the National League Championship Series, falling to the eventual champion Chicago Cubs, Kershaw had two poor outings against Washington, though the Dodgers won both of those games, and then pitched a masterful 1-0 game,

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throwing seven shutout innings against the Cub in game two of the series after the team lost the series opener. But, when it mattered in game six, down three games to two, he allowed five runs, four earned, in a 5-4 loss, ending the Dodgers’ post season.

In this post season, Keshaw and the Dodgers drove a truck through the overrated Arizona Diamondbacks, outscoring them 20-12 for a three-game sweep, and despite Kershaw again pitching sub-par, the Dodgers won his game, advancing to the NLCS. But today, Kershaw against faces the Cubs, and he must be the dominating pitcher he is through regular season season after regular season, the pitcher who over 1935 innings pitched allowed one home run over each 15 innings pitched, and not the pitcher through 95 playoff innings has allowed a home run ever 6.8 innings, including allowing a career worst four homers to Arizona in 6-1/3 innings on October 6.

Apart from the Kershaw conundrum, there are two tough issues facing the teams tonight and throughout the series, one bad situation for each team. Continue reading

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The Dodgers’ Spark is BACK!

Anyone watching the Dodgers during the National League Division Series against the previously high-flying and dreaded Arizona Diamondbacks saw something that had been missing from the Dodgers for several weeks, that amorphous, ineffable, ethereal, indescribable something that after weeks and weeks of magic, appeared to have been lost. Well, thanks primarily to Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger and Kenley Jansen, it is back!

Turner got the Dodgers off to an amazing start in the NLDS with his first inning three-run home run in game one, followed by his compiling hit after hit during the rest of the series, finishing with an amazing .464 batting average for the entire series. Other Dodgers hit incredibly well over the three games, especially including Austin Barnes and Yasiel Puig, but Bellinger’s overall play, despite his .214 average and “meager” three hits, was spectacular and was the real catalyst that seemed to ignite the spark. In game three he hit a key home run, but what really made the difference was his risking life and limb to first

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make a spectacular catch as he tumbled head first over a railing into the far end of the dugout, and they making a great throw to start a double play. While Bellinger has made headlines for his amazing hitting stats throughout his rookie year, not everyone has realized his amazing all-around abilities, and how is is on the verge of being a five-tool star. Already he may well be the best defensive first baseman in the National League, and I expect to seem him win the Gold Glove year in and year out over the next decade. And, remember that with little experience he became a star outfielder as soon as he took his position first in left field and then in center. He could well be a Gold Glover in either of those positions as well. Finally don’t forget that he is an excellent baserunner and that the prevailing throught is that he is the fastest player on the team. Continue reading

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Those Pesky American League Awards

Since I gave my ideas about the 2017 MVP, Cy Young, Rookie and Manager of the Year Awards for the National League yesterday, I guess it’s only fair to do the same for that other league:

After pitching seven three-hit shutout innings, striking out 11 while defeating Seattle to make his record 13-4 with a 2.37 ERA on July 26, with two full month of the season to go it seemed pretty sure that Red Sox ace Christ Sale would:

1) Lead the American League in strikeouts;
2) Lead the American League in ERA;
3) Win 20 games; and
4) Win the American League Cy Young Award.

But then strange things, well, strange for Sale, began to happen. He started 11 games through the final two months, winning four, losing four, and compiling an ERA of 4.09, as the Red Sox struggled to the final weekend to put away the yankees to win the East Division title, a title that back in July looked like a shoo-in. In those final weeks of the

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season, Sale also was 0-2 in three starts against the yankees, giving up an undistinguished eight earned runs in 18-1/3 innings pitched. For the season, Sale finished with 17 wins, and second place, by a wide margin, in the ERA race.

On July 26, the Indians’ Corey Kluber was 8-3 with a 2.74 ERA, and he had been battling injury issues. Over the final two months of the season, Kluber went 10-1, finishing the season on a six-game winning streak, and leading the majors in ERA at 2.25, finishing second to Sale in strikeouts, and tying for the major league lead in wins, with 18. As to WHIP, it was Kluber over Sale, 0.87 to 0.97, and in WAR, again Kluber 8.0 to 6.0. Sale’s strikeout title was his one superior stat. Continue reading

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End of MLB PreSeason and Start of the Real Thing, and Awards

When I was growing up, there were 16 major league baseball teams, eight in each league, with no divisions. The eight in each league played for first place, as that team that finished first was the ONLY team that went on beyond the regular season, with the National League first place team playing the American League first place team in the World Series. No play-in, no Division Series, no Championship Series, no second place team in the post season, no wild card, just the winners meeting in the World Series, and it really meant something. But then the world of professional sports changed and things have never been the same. What ultimately became billions of dollars began to flow from television, and suddenly there as a demand from cities across North America for baseball, football, basketball and

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hockey teams, and leagues expanded and expanded over and over again, and suddenly we have NBA post seasons the make the regular season totally meaningless, weeks of NFL post season games leading the the world’s biggest event ever, that is replayed once every year, and we have a weeks long baseball post season that makes October meaningless, as the important, meaningful games are now put off until November, when nowhere in the country (and certainly not in Canada) outside of California should people be playing baseball.

But I digress.

So, while division winners Cleveland and Los Angeles patiently wait to see if they will be traveling to New York or Minnesota or to Phoenix or Denver, respectively, and while the Cubs prepare to play Washington and the Red Sox get ready for Houston, managers are planning their post season rosters, Continue reading

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