Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dodgers Address the Symptom but not the Cause - a follow up

Over the past 30 days the Dodgers have been doing their best Yankees impression by spending endless amounts of money on whatever was available in the marketplace to get them the season and hopefully the postseason, with the optimal result being a World Series. If they fall short then they’ll do their best to unload any dead weight and try to squeeze as many runs at the ***le as they can with this group and hope they don’t end up in the same BK court as Frank Mc. That reciprocal to “Money Ball” philosophy has worked in NYC even though they haven’t been fitted for rings lately but because of the lucrative cable and merchandising and the ‘Mother Ship of ESPN” televising more hours of Yankee games than all the political commercials combined they seem to make up any cost expenditures and keep the machine going. It’s a game they’ve been playing for quite some time but you have to be in a marketplace conducive to the requirements but LA is one of them. Unfortunately, for the Dodgers they had plenty of star power before, with a Triple Crown treat in Matt Kemp and Cy Young award winner in Clayton Kershaw and that wasn’t enough to even make the post season let alone the big show. So what’s the problem? Well, all the stick in the world doesn’t do you any good if you don’t get the hits when there’s ducks on the pond and with runners in scoring position the Dodger bats were dormant before which was their achilles heel, and the problem persist today even with threats throughout the lineup. With two chances to pull within a ½ game of the lead in the NL West the Dodgers left 16 men on base against the sub-.500 marlins including 2-17 with runners in scoring position. Then followed that up by getting shut out by the Rockies the next night and now find themselves 3 games out with 33 games to play and the most difficult schedule of the top three teams in the West. At the end of the day the Dodgers don’t need a Yankeeish lineup of future Hall of Famers, what they need are “moneyballers” that can get a timely hit when necessary. That seems to be a commodity that is trading for a premium this time of year, and one that the new management should have looked for as they were droppin’ 400 million plus.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The New Dodgers: Will the Desire Keep Pace with the Deep Pockets?

When Magic Johnson, Stan Kasten and the Guggenheim Group purchased the Dodgers from the empty pockets of Frank McCourt they made a commitment to the lost City of Angels fans, that they would do whatever it takes to put a winner on the field. After all, the Dodgers did make back to back NLCS appearances in 2008 and 2009 only to come up short against the Philadelphia Phillies, a more talented team. But under McCourt’s financial mismanagement, his team, only two or three players away from possibly winning the franchise’s first World Series Title since 1988, did not spend money to attain the necessary additions and the team fell into mediocrity. Los Angeles fans then were forced to watch the 2010 version of the San Francisco Giants, arch-enemy number one, catch fire and somehow win the franchise’s first title ever while in the city of San Francisco, with very few big name players. Talk about an extra salty Dodger Dog to digest! Fed up Angelinos then took to the only form of action to get their frustrations across, boycotting their beloved team and stadium. The low attendance not only got the attention of the owner and media but also Major League Baseball. Eventually Commissioner Bud Selig stepped in and that brings us up to date. Not only did the new owners keep their promises at the trade deadline picking up what has been a very well behaved and productive Hanley Ramirez and his 46.5 million dollar salary over the next three years but they also traded for outfielder Shane Victorino and pitchers Joe Blanton, Randy Choate and Brandon League. When the Dodgers continued to appear to be coming up a little short with just over 35 games left in the season, the win at all cost now mindset was taken to another level! The new owners blew the minds of the entire baseball world by picking up first baseman Adrian Gonzalez off waivers from the Boston Red Sox along with embattled pitcher Josh Beckett. Then via trade, brought both players along with injured and unhappy outfielder Carl Crawford and utility player Nick Punto to the Dodgers, in a move unheard of in the new age of billion dollar franchises with multimillion dollar contracts. In return the Dodgers sent away struggling first baseman James Loney along with infielder Ivan DeJesus Jr., outfielder Jerry Sands and pitching prospects Rubby DeLaRosa and Allen Webster. On the field the Dodgers clearly got the better end of the deal on the field right away. What they proved to not only their fans but the rest of the 29 teams competing for the Commissioner’s Trophy though, not only are the serious about winning now but they were also willing to take any chance to reach that goal! What Dodgers ownership really took from Boston was the first baseman they needed to win the National League West and two really bad contracts that might not pan out in Dodger Blue. All together Los Angeles picked up 260 million dollars in salary! An unheard of amount of money taken over in a trade! Now, Gonzalez’s 127 million over the next six seasons is what the Dodgers really needed and were more than willing to take on. Crawford, who is a former all-star but coming off a wrist surgery and Tommy John surgery is due 102.5 million over the next five years. Beckett, who has struggled during his discontent in Boston, will earn 31 million over the next two seasons while Punto is still due 1.5 million. Besides just the sheer numbers of the money now taken on by the fat pockets of the new ownership group there is also the risk of ruining what has been great chemistry in the Chavez Ravine home locker room this season. Despite Loney’s struggles he was a favorite among teammates. Beckett has been called a cancer in the Red Sox clubhouse along with an earned run average that has skyrocketed to 5.23 with a record of just 5-11 this season. However, he is just a season removed from an ERA of under 3.00 and of course has one huge post-season games during his career. Crawford won’t even be on the field until next season and the Dodgers believe he’ll be able to regain his all-star form with the change of scenery. One thing you know Dodgers management is banking on however with Beckett and Crawford is their past performance and reputation. If either player doesn’t act like a team guy and earn his money as a Dodger, all of the bad press they’ve received will come across as just due and the grief they’ve endured will not be about the things simply not working out at 4 Yawkey Way. In other words, neither player has any choice other than to revert back to their earlier days of positive attitudes and production. The two usually come hand in hand especially for high profile pitchers when they switch leagues like Beckett is about to do with his first start against the Colorado Rockies next week. Full recovery from Tommy John surgery is now the norm in baseball and the bounce back time frame for position players is shorter than that of pitchers. Crawford is expected to be ready for opening day of 2013. If both of these players return to the form that made them forces in the American League, than the Dodgers Ownership Group has pulled off the trade of the century in baseball! As for Gonzalez, all he did was crush a three-run homer in his very first at bat on Sunday in an 8-2 Los Angeles win over the Florida Marlins on Sunday. His immediate impact on the National League West race is already being felt. There are no guarantees when making trades in professional baseball. Just hunches, stats and gut feelings to go by. There is also the task of taking chances, spending money to make money in an attempt to win. After what Dodgers fans went thru in The McCourt era, The Guggenheim Group has already hit a home run!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Destination May Surpass the Journey this Year

As they make the final turn into the home stretch the annual MLB marathon is finally coming to a close and much like last season the focus has been taken off most of the division races which have long since been decided and now the Wild Card races take center stage. If they can deliver anything close to the drama of last year it will be well worth the wait. Obviously the purist have never been in favor of Wild Card for a number of reasons but you can’t argue that in recent history the Wild Cards have been playing some of the best ball at the end of the season, with 2 of the last 6 making it to the World Series and the Cardinals winning the whole thing last year. Now it would be an impossible act to follow as who can forget final two weeks of the season as the Red Sox and Braves collapsed with the Sox dropping 7 of their last ten second only to the ATL who could only muster two wins in the final ten games.

This season is shaping up to rival that of 2011 as although four division races are pretty much on ice as the Yankees, Rangers, Nats, and Reds will need to battle complacency more than a divisional foe for the next 50 games, but the AL Central and NL West will come down to that same final two week stretch as last year. The cards will also be wild as there’s nothing like a good ol’ interstate family feud to keep the heat long after the summer has past and with no love lost between the Giants and Dodgers who have continued their street fight across country ever since they left New York, and now are separated by less than a game and haven’t been further apart than six games at any time during the season. Milky out of the lineup should prove to be the difference maker but we’ve counted them out before but with a shortage of beards in the Bay Area this should be the year the wind blows up from So. Cal. The loser finds themselves in third place of a mire that is the NL Wild card, surrounded by the Braves, Pirates, and defending champs St. Louis all within a game and a half where the club with the kindest schedule may be the last one standing. Rest assured it will take much more than 3 out of 10 to win this one.

The AL is even worse as there will be five teams going down to the wire but no teams in the mix via default. The Yankees had the East won with the opening day first pitch but the Rays are coming on strong, winners of 8 of 10. The Orioles are the ‘feel good’ story of the year but with the worst run differential (-47) of any team in contention you have to wonder if their arms will run out of steam as the http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.giftemperature cools down. The AL Central comes in a little short the year and although just 2 games back right now the Tigers would need to make up an additional two games on the Rays if they wanted to make it to the post season. Lastly, how bout’ that AL West? Most of the country will be cheering for the A’s to pull it out thinking that Brad Pitt is going to come out of the dugout but the Money Ballers always come up a buck short and they may have peaked a bit too soon this year as well. Despite getting phat Albert the pitching hasn’t been there for the Angles who score a ton but give up even more and that will kill them down the stretch. But with this cast of characters you can bet that it will be another wild ride that releases the nostalgia hormone in all of us and makes us forget the long weeks of June and July where it seemed no games really mattered and all we’ll remember is another great stretch run that may make the Fall classic seem anticlimactic. Just the same I’m in!
View the Complete Wild Card Standings Here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Milkman Makes a Sour Delivery

In the living spirit of Barry Bonds, another San Francisco Giant has been using steroids, but only this player got caught. Outfielder Melky Cabrera, the San Francisco hits leader and baseball’s All-Star Game MVP, now out for the remainder of the regular season, suspended for 50 games after testing positive for testosterone. Unlike Bonds, who never missed game action because of his steroid use, which took place before Major League Baseball implemented its policy against performance enhancing drugs, Cabrera’s omission is a killer for the Giants. With just 45 games left in the regular season, the Giants will try to have to now win the National League West or a wildcard spot without him, tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers heading into Wednesday’s play. Unlike Bonds, Cabrera owned up to his sins right away, saying in a statement released by the players union. “My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used.” “I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and I will try to move on with my life. I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organization and to the fans for letting them down”. “The Milkman”, as he has been affectionately known in the Bay Area, was hitting .346 with 11 home runs and 60 runs batted in, during his first season with the Giants. The 28-year-old has basically been known as baseball’s best hitter in the majors this season with a 51-hit month in May. During that month he crushed pitchers to a tune of .429 with three homers, five triples, seven doubles and 17 RBIs. He also hit safely in 25 of 29 games. His 51 hits in May set a new San Francisco Giants record breaking the old mark of 49 by the great Willie Mays. But we now know there was something else behind those amazing numbers. Ironically another San Francisco Giant breaking the record of another of baseball’s legends with the help of performance enhancing drugs. Bonds was never suspended for using PED’s or convicted of a crime for using performance enhancers. But his record as baseball’s home run king with 762 overall breaking Henry Aaron’s mark and 73 in a single season are widely regarded as tainted records. So what should be made of Cabrera’s All-Star Most Valuable Player Award? Should he simply give the honor back or should baseball take it? There is no previous case to look back on but you better believe this is going to be something for commissioner Bud Selig to think about. There are several years of separation between Bonds play with the Giants and Cabrera’s sudden suspension. But does baseball need to start penalizing clubs for the indiscretions of their playershttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif concerning its substance abuse policy towards PED’S? If so, is the penalty monetary for the club or a forfeiture of games, something like what takes place in the NCAA when a player has been used to win contest, then has been ruled ineligible? All these are questions that must eventually be addressed. If the Giants were to win the division or capture a wild-card spot this season, you’d have to believe there will be a lot of fans and team executives very unhappy that a player who helped win the majority of the Giants victories earlier in the season, played the most of the year with the help of steroids. While much on the subject remains to be discussed and settled by baseball, one thing is still evident. Despite the game’s efforts to push it back to its pre-steroid age, players are fully aware of the advantages of PED’s and are still trying to “spike their milk”, to enhance their play on the field.
Get the complete MLB standings including the Wild Card Race here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Wild Wild West(s)

Does anyone really think the Orioles are going to catch the Yankees in the American League East? I didn’t think so. What about those doubts the red-hot Detroit Tigers, winners of six in a row and seven of their last ten; aren’t going to overtake the Chicago White Sox in the A.L. Central. Not many are there? In the National League the Washington Nationals have owned the east for months now. Unless they suffer severe injuries in crunch time, the experience of the Atlanta Braves will not matter down the stretch for the division title. In the N.L. Central no one expected Pittsburgh to maintain the top spot for the entire season. Cincinnati despite dropping three straight, rolled off eleven wins in a row before hand, taking control and most likely will not look back. So that leaves us with two races to talk about and although they are not the wild-cards, which undoubtedly will come down to the final days of the regular season, they are indeed wild!

Surprisingly in the American League West, we are looking at a three team race and not a two-team battle. The Oakland A’s were the talk of the post all-star break after rattling off a July to remember. To start the 2nd half of the season Oakland pounded out a record of 13-4 heading into August, not to mention winning 12 of 14 at one point. But these are the A’s and we’ve been to this party before. Starts out strong then all the hot babes leave early for the next spot! That could be happening again to Oakland. Five and a half games out of first place behind Texas is certainly in the mix but it doesn’t appear to be lasting long. Heading into Tuesday, the A’s found themselves losers of three straight and six of their last ten before a much needed win over the third place Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Over the last 30 days, Cuban superstar Yoenis Cespedes has been the only player able to keep a post-season deserving, type of performance going. In his last 23 games he’s hitting .412 with five homers and 19 runs batted in. His counterpart Josh Reddick who had basically carried Oakland in the first half has cooled off tremendously. He crushed the ball to a tune of .268 with 20 homers and 43 rbis early. He also added 84 hits while scoring 52 runs. He was basically Oakland’s most valuable player up to that point. Since the break his averaged has dropped to .226. In the last 23 games and 93 at bats he has managed just 21 hits with 13 rbis. The pitching has declined as well. Only A.J. Griffin has three wins over the last month while ace Bartolo Colon is just 2-1 in his last five starts. Both Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker are posting ERAs of over five in the last 30 days and closer Ryan Cook has only converted three of his last seven save opportunities. While the A’s and their money saving ways have produced an exciting product on a severe budget, their lack of experience appears to be catching up. Youth can only get you so far and Oakland has probably peeked out a little early in terms of winning the division. However the wild-card is without a doubt a possibility. The team they’re chasing in the division, Texas and the one closing in, the Angels are rich in experience and talent. L.A. Ace Jered Weaver just keeps on getting better as the season progresses. To open up the latest series between the Angels and A’s the right-hander rolled to a four hit shutout of Oakland for his league leading 15th victory. We can’t forget it was also the Angels who made maybe the biggest move of the trade deadline grabbing Zack Grienke from Milwaukee to solidify their starting rotation. Between Weaver, Grienke and lefty C.J. Wilson, (9-8 with an ERA of 3.34) it’s the Angels not the Texas Rangers or A’s with the top three pitchers in their rotation. This usually tends to pay off in September. Slugger Albert Pujols after arguably the worst start to a season in his career is now back in superstar form. Pujols was just named as the American League’s Player of the Week. He batted .424 with five doubles, six home runs, 13 rbis and nine runs scored in seven games played. That week helped boost his overall stats to 24 homers, 76 rbis with a batting average of .285. Here is the thing about the Angels though. Those numbers aren’t even the best in their line-up! Outfielder Mark Trumbo has crushed 28 dingers with 76 rbis and is hitting .289. Centerfielder Mike Trout has become the unanimous American League choice for rookie of the year. He’s roped 20 homers and driven home 60 runs. The speedster has also stolen 36 bases. Although Los Angeles dropped the final two games of a four game split at Texas at the end of July, it’s the Angels that have the more dangerous overall line-up with five players belting double-digit homers. Expect a big push from this squad to close in on the two-time defending American League Champions despite the fact they sit six games out in the division, as of this writing. The Rangers are the team to beat but their thrown is on shaky ground. The biggest news surrounding the Rangers as of late is not what they’ve done on the field but what they did off of it. At the very end of the trade deadline, Texas was able to pick up right-handed pitcher Ryan Dempster in a deal with the Chicago Cubs. That move paid dividends on Tuesday night as Dempster tossed 6 and 2/3rds innings, allowing six hits and just one walk in a 6-3 win over the Boston Red Sox. The three runs he gave up were all unearned as he improved his Rangers record to 1-1. The win stopped the bleeding of a two game losing streak for Texas. As they close out their series in Boston, things then get real tough as the Rangers travel home to face red-hot Detroit for three and then head to the Bronx to deal with the New York Yankees. Offense is not the problem with the Rangers nor has it been during their reign atop the American League. They still have six players with double-digit home runs and eight posting impressive RBI totals. But their pitching is not nearly as solid as the previous two seasons. With Colby Lewis now done for the year with a torn flexor tendon, Texas is lacking a true ace. Matt Harrison leads the staff with 13 wins against six losses but after that it gets thin quick. Newcomer Yu Darvish has been effective in his first season putting up an 11 and 8 record, as of August 8th. But he’s dropped four of his last six starts and seen his ERA rise from 3.59 to 4.57. Walks continue to be a major issue as he given up 74 free passes in 134 innings this season. After that, Derek Holland’s 9-7 mark is the best they got as Roy Oswalt’s struggles have landed him in the bull-pin. The Rangers offense is capable of winning games on its own, as they proved in the final two victories of their last series versus the Angles, both comebacks of 11-10 and 15-9. But in the upcoming dog days of August, without consistent arms to control the opposition, their six game lead is the west is going to disappear before we even get to September. Not to mention you can’t forget, they still have seven head to head battles to play against the Angels.

On the National League side you can flip a coin, pick a number or even draw straws! The three team race between the Giants, Dodgers and Diamondbacks appears to have no rhyme or reason to it what so ever. The last two weeks watched the Dodgers sweep the Giants in impressive fashion at AT&T Park, only to have Arizona come to Dodger Stadium and do the same to Los Angeles. The D-backs then hit the road for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, dropping three of four before picking up a win on Tuesday night. The Giants lead the division by just a game and a half over Los Angeles with Arizona trailing by four and appear to have the easiest schedule over the last two months with more home games than either the Dodgers or Diamondbacks. But these three teams still play each other a combined 28 times so no lead will most likely be safe heading into the final week of the regular season. Without a doubt it was the Dodgers and General Manager Ned Colletti who put in the most work and got the most done by the trade-deadline. Los Angeles’ biggest move was the deal for infielder Hanley Ramirez. The three-time all-star has already paid dividends with a game winning two-run homer at San Francisco to open that series, along with two other game winning hits in his two weeks of wearing Dodger Blue. Colletti also added relievers Brandon League and Randy Choate to the bull-pin to strengthen what has been one of the best pins in baseball overall. The final piece to the puzzle the Dodgers are hoping was the edition of outfielder Shane Victorino to the line-up just hours before the deadline hit. He brings a legitimate lead-off hitter and defensive player to left which is what Los Angeles had been lacking. However even with those moves the Dodgers have watched their offense sputter and remain inconsistent. After the beating they gave the Giants at spacious AT&T Park, scoring five, ten and four runs to win the series, they went cold at home versus the Diamondbacks plating just four runs in three nights. They then rallied to sweep the Chicago Cubs at Chavez Ravine scoring 16 total runs in the series, only to drop the first two games of their current home series against the terrible Colorado Rockies, getting just one run across in two games against the worst starting rotation in all of baseball. The pitching continues to improve for the Dodgers with Chad Billingsly winning his last three starts and Clayton Kershaw rounding into CY Young form again. They also added strike thrower Joe Blanton into the mix getting him off waivers from Philadelphia. He pitched well but received a no-decision in his first start during the Chicago series. For Los Angeles consistency will be the key. If they can find it over the last month and a half of the season they should win the division. They have the most talent on paper and still face the Giants nine times with six coming at Chavez Ravine; along with six more against Arizona with four of those at home. It’s the other series against sub-500 teams the Dodgers must worry about. That’s when their focus seems to drift. While San Francisco holds a small lead they too have proven to be an up and down squad. Matt Cain (10-5), Madison Bumgarner (12-6) and Ryan Vogelsong (9-5) continue to put quality starts to together giving the Giants a chance to win usually when either of the three takes the hill. But the decline of Tim Lincecum has come at a big price. The two-time CY Young winner’s 6-11 record has brought the pitching staff back to earth as he and Barry Zito seem to take turns struggling with every other start. Maybe the biggest obstacle San Francisco has had to overcome is the loss of closer Brian Wilson who went down early in the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Neither Santiago Casilla nor Sergio Romo has been a consistent answer to Wilson’s closing ability. What San Francisco does have going for it is the season-long hitting of Melky Cabrera. The milk-man leads the majors with 152 hits while putting up an average of .353. That offense has also received a boost from Buster Posey. The all-star catcher who ended his 2011 season early due to an ankle injury appears to now be all the way back. His 18 homers and 73 rbis lead the Giants offense. But it’s beyond those two where the problems of inconsistency lie for San Francisco. They too like the Dodgers can go through offensive droughts not scoring enough runs to support their pitching. It hasn’t helped that Pablo Sandoval suffered another injury, this one to his hamstring and is back on the disabled list. After those three players the Giants become very mediocre offensively and definitely have a smaller margin for error than Los Angeles does. The wild-card for the Giants is will the other five position players be able to produce once Sandoval returns? If they don’t, San Francisco will find itself relaying on winning one of the wild-card spots to make the post-season. Arizona is definitely the dark horse is the N.L. West. At one point the D-backs appeared to be fading from the race, falling as far back as nine games in June. But that was June and Arizona has hung in there. The reason they’re only four back is because their offense in that hitter’s park has started to find its bite! Paul Goldschmidt suddenly has 16 home runs with 56 rbis and is hitting .308. Aaron Hill has caught fire lacing 13 long balls with 47 runs batted in. Miguel Montero also has gotten hot driving home 66 runners while Jason Kubel has set the pace. 23 homers with 73 runs batted in and an average of .280 has given Arizona a dominant force in the line-up to fear. At the trade deadline the Diamondbacks picked up Chris Johnson in a trade from the Astros and it has been arguably the quietest and most productive acquisition among the big three teams in the west. Johnson has pounded five homers in just eight games since his arrival. The D-backs have won five of those eight games. Where the Diamondbacks will come up short, at least as far as the division is concerned is pitching. Wade Miley has been superb at 12-7 overall with an ERA of just 2.85, almost as good as anyone in the N.L. this year. But after that Ian Kennedy’s 10-8 mark is as good as it gets. Trevor Cahill continues to be spotty at best, rotating wins and losses over his last eight starts. In a division where both the Giants and Dodgers have superior starting pitching overall, the D-backs might have the most consistent offense at least in early August, as shown by their run differential of plus 44. Far better than the San Francisco’s plus 15 ratio; or the Dodgers plus 11. But on paper both of their line-ups have a better chance of combining great pitching with powerful and timely offense and that’s why Arizona will be the odd man out with Los Angeles winning the division followed by the Giants who will land one of the wild card spots in the National League. But in the Wild West about the only thing known for sure is the race will come down to the final week!
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