At times this week, the Dodgers resembled a competitive ballclub. The return of Zack Greinke provided a shot in the arm of a deflated fanbase, as new hope appeared on the horizon. No sooner had we begun to believe again, to relax a little from the overbearing stress of last-place misery, than another rampaging juggernaut stuck a pin in the balloon of optimism. The Atlanta Braves made life quite unbearable this weekend, feasting on the Dodger bullpen with insufferable regularity, and painting this as another dire week for Los Angeles.
Saturday’s heart-breaking 3-1 defeat in Atlanta was but a microcosm of the Dodger week: encouraging start, grim end. A rare quality start from a guy not named Clayton, Zack, or Hyun-Jin was entirely wasted when the horrific bullpen wilted once again. Chris Capuano built a winning chance for the club with seven-and-a-third gutsy innings, thus earning the dubious pleasure of a front-row seat, from which he saw a reliever promptly blow it all up. On this day, the Wheel of Misfortune landed upon Kenley Jansen, substantial evidence that Mattingly has now dispensed with his own strategy and is managing merely in accordance with public whim. After Jansen had traumatically surrendered back-to-back home runs, the Braves had salvaged another victory, and the Dodgers trudged off another field in defeat, Mattingly confirmed what we’ve all come to suspect: he has ran out of original ideas. The manager, citing the public “clamor for one guy and then another,” argued that “you’d just like to set the [bullpen] the way you want it to work and keep guys in roles so you don’t get disarray.” When a manager tries to appease the public more than he tries to win games, his time is really running short.
If the bullpen was terrible Saturday, it was truly gruesome Friday. Now, the opening quarter of this season has saw quite a collection of Dodger bullpen meltdowns, but the implosion of Paco Rodriguez was particularly choking. In the game after Matt Guerrier fell victim to two horrible defensive plays from Luis Cruz and Carl Crawford, Paco’s sixth inning was adequately macabre. The lefty-specialist duly walked the lefty batter, loading the bases for Justin Upton, a guy who eats lefty pitching alive. Don Mattingly left him in. Of course he did.
BOOM! Upton crushed a Rodriguez fastball into orbit for a monumental Grand Slam. A 4-2 lead turned into a 6-4 deficit with one managerial blunder, one awful pitch, and one awe-inspiring swing. The Dodgers never recovered.
It’s difficult to comprehend the optimism with which the Dodgers traveled East. In direct juxtaposition to Atlanta, the home series with Washington was as close to ideal as this club has been. Just as we thought all winter, the one-two punch of Kershaw-Greinke proved the means of Dodger progression. On Tuesday, Clayton Kershaw did his Dodger Stadium thing, overpowering the Nationals and ending just one out shy of another masterful shutout. When we most needed somebody to step forward and stymie a dangerous Washington lineup, Clayton was most definitely the man; the poetic southpaw popping the mitt crisply with a sizzling fastball and exhibiting the most devastating slow curve one is ever likely to see. The Nationals couldn’t get anywhere near such filth, flailing for eleven strikeouts as Kershaw earned his fourth win, and lowered his ERA to a MLB-leading 1.40. Without Clayton, this Dodger club would already sunken without trace.
When Greinke returned from the Disabled List Wednesday, we again started to think about resurfacing in the NL West. It was incredibly exciting to see Zack pitching again, after he was so cruelly robbed from us in San Diego. With an aura of determination, Greinke gutted through five-and-a-third controlled innings and handed over a lead to the bullpen which, somewhat incredibly, did a tremendous job; Howell, Guerrier, Rodriguez, Jansen and League combining for three-and-a-third innings of rare shutout baseball. This was a demonstration of what the Dodgers are capable of…but so was Atlanta. Jekyll and Hyde.
The performances of Kershaw and Greinke were so quintessentially ace, thwarting a potential losing streak after the club lost the series opener in ominous fashion. As the Dodgers lost a series opener for the ninth time (now ten of course: thanks a bunch Upton!…), the story was so familiar as to be boring: Beckett went three ineffectual innings, succumbed to injury, left the bullpen to rot, and wasn’t picked up by an improvident offence in an ugly loss. Whilst the bullpen is woeful, one really must ponder the regularity with which it is asked to throw four, five, or even six innings in a game. These guys are only human, and we have to do a greater job of relieving the relievers!
The box score may not show the progression of this Dodger team, and the standings certainly do not, but this week they did look a little more convincing. The trio of Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu will provide a better platform for improvement than in recent weeks, and Capuano has started to look more solid. When players such as Mark Ellis and Hanley Ramirez return from injury, this should be a competitive ballclub. Nonetheless, after witnessing the turbo-charged atmosphere of Turner Field this week, it’s clear that this team just isn’t in the same sphere. The Braves look, feel, and sound like a Championship club. The Dodgers, meanwhile, are just searching for respectability.
The slump is a mysterious malady of sport. In baseball it seems somehow more prevalent, with a whole lexicon describing the phenomena, as teams become mired in a skid, a slide, or even a collapse. Baseball men attempt to ward off these periods of futility in a variety of ways. Some don’t shave until the next hit, the next dinger, the next victory; others shave every day in hope of a fresh outlook. Many burn their bats in abundant anger; others still take their bats to bed as a display of affection. The history of baseball is littered with men changing cleats, swapping sweatshirts, and eating chicken whilst attempting to cure their temporary loss of form. This week, the Dodgers probably tried all of the above whilst struggled to solve a serious losing streak.
The week began on the back of an ignominious sweep in San Francisco; a sweep which dropped the club five-and-a-half games out in the West, and into another four-game losing streak. If it wasn’t enough pain that the Dodgers were swept by the nemesis, World Champion Giants, Dodger fans saw their hurt compounded when Don Mattingly actually tried to defend his team. Somewhat incredibly, the manager spoke of how he felt “better about our club walking out of here than I did walking in.” Its hard to even comprehend such a statement when you’ve just been swept by the San Francisco Giants!
Thus, Monday brought its own brand of pressure: a $230 million baseball team attempting to avoid falling into last place. With Guggenheim advisor Gerry Hunsicker in attendance, the Dodgers produced their worst performance yet; a messy, error-strewn display of amateurish baseball which deservedly amounted to a 9-2 loss against the Diamondbacks. In a sparsely-attended Dodger Stadium, Carl Crawford made two outfield misplays costing two runs, Dee Gordon double-clutched twice to prevent two double-plays, and Matt Kemp made the kind of blatant base-running blunder more at home in Albuquerque than Los Angeles. For good measure, For good measure, Hunsicker was able to witness Chris Capuano’s ERA explode above 10.00 with four horrible innings of six-run ball, Javy Guerra melt with two of the worst relief innings your ever likely to encounter, and Don Mattingly somehow fail to get ejected when arguing an umpiring miscall on a Carl Crawford ‘catch.’ The Dodgers’ slide continued.
The following day, I became entirely fed up with this Dodgers team. After six passable innings from Josh Beckett and rare bullpen continuity from Howell to Jansen, the Dodgers were pushing their minuscule pitching luck by the time Brandon League entered in the ninth. Thus, it was left to the closer to pour another one down the drain; League walking the leadoff man, before grooving his trademark gopher ball to Paul Goldschmidt, Dodger Killer. The big Diamondbacks first baseman tattooed the ball out for a dreary two-run, go-ahead homer, as the boos rung out over Chavez Ravine. As we trudged to bed following another disenchanting defeat, two questions were no doubt ubiquitous in the minds of Dodger fans everywhere. The first: how can we even compete from this position? The second: why on earth did Ned give League three years and $22.5 million?
As game time approached the next day, the Dodgers called upon their most trusted slumpbuster. However, even Clayton Kershaw couldn’t stop the rot, which hit seven games. At that point, we were left wandering how anybody was going to win if Clayton couldn’t when allowing just two runs! Kershaw churned out seven gutsy innings, as the Dodgers looked in a position to finally win a game. However, Goldschmidt had other ideas. Firstly, the impressive Delawarean launched another two-run bomb to tie the game off Kershaw. Then, when we could stand the sight of him no longer, he did it again, sending Kenley Jansen deep in the eighth, providing the winning margin in a narrow 3-2 Dodger loss. When the season began, we had high hopes of a playoff drive in the West. By the end of play Wednesday, we had been swept back-to-back by San Francisco and Arizona.
After a much-needed off-day contemplating, amongst other things, an unlikely trade for Mike Scioscia, we began to focus on the next series. In the world of slump-breaking, perhaps one thing is certain to work, even more so than setting fire to equipment and turning to Jesus: playing the Miami Marlins.
The Marlins are awful. The Marlins possess the worst record in the National League, have a manager who barely knows the rulebook, and already look set for the offseason. On Friday, the Marlins beat LA. The beginning of that particular game could at least constitute progress; its just the middle and end which needed extra work. Adrian Gonzalez provided a 3-0 lead before an out was even made when rocking one out to right field, and Matt Magill was steady…..before giving the runs back with a rocky fourth inning. After Howell was again effective, before Ronald Belisario experienced the latest in a series of erratic implosions. Ronald came into the game, promptly allowed two runs on three hits and a walk, and personally created the Marlins victory margin in another humiliating 5-4 defeat. The entire baseball universe let rip a chuckle. Dodgers fans could only cry.
On the ninth day, salvation! Finally, the Dodgers were able to snap their slump at eight Saturday when everything came together in a refreshing 7-1 victory. Hyun-Jin Ryu, fast becoming the most consistent stopper on the Dodgers staff, demonstrated his usual mastery of pace and movement when taking a shutout into the seventh inning; the Korean backed by a resurgent offence and some exquisite defence to earn his fourth win on the season. On offence, Adrian Gonzalez had two more hits, Matt Kemp extended his hit streak to nine games, and Andre Ethier broke out of his own personal slide with an encouraging 4-for-4 day. In the field, Skip Schumaker, Carl Crawford and Ethier each made dazzling plays to save runs and inspire hope. However, the highlight of the day was Dee Gordon’s first home run on the year. Its always fun when Dee Gordon goes yard; on Saturday, he went down for a breaking ball and, using all his might, scooped a flare out over the right-field power alley! We love to see Gordon flashing the bat.
For the Dodgers, the long-awaited victory was somewhat cathartic. One could see the pressure lifted from the shoulder of these Dodger players. It was the most we’ve ever seen this group smile. Such is the stress and uncertainty of any slump, it can begin to weigh heavy on the baseball mind. This was one gigantic losing streak for the Dodgers, but they eventually pulled through. Now, they must do to the Nationals and Braves what they’ve done to the Marlins…..
The sky is falling in. After another week in which the Dodgers were decimated by injury, luck and mismanagement, anguish reigns supreme. After an unmitigated disaster at home to the Rockies, Don Mattingly took his beleaguered team north to San Francisco, where only trauma awaited. The Dodgers lost back-to-back games to their nemesis in cruel walk-off fashion, fell to 5-12 against Western opposition, and witnessed yet more stars reclaimed by its incredible injury curse. In short, this season is fast becoming a train-wreck.
As Buster Posey lined a game-winning home run over the left-field fence at AT & T Park Friday, Dodger fans were still grappling with earlier disappointments. In the sixth inning, Hanley Ramirez, back with the club just three days, pulled up abruptly attempting to take third base on an AJ Ellis single; the Dominican sustaining a serious hamstring injury which later sent him back to the Disabled List. Thus, the majority of Dodger fans were still cursing and hollering when Posey led off the home ninth by depositing a tailing Belisario cut-fastball into the seats. Such an ending was but salt in the wound.
The Dodgers picked themselves up off the floor, rustled together the most patchwork of lineups, and went again on Saturday. At times, they just looked like a minor league team. In the sequel to his promising Major League debut, Matt Magill was simply found out by the World Champion Giants, who knocked him around for five runs on six hits and four walks through one-and-a-third abysmal innings. Only an aberrational seven-run fifth inning, highlighted by an electrifying go-ahead Dee Gordon triple, made this game respectable.
However, even after working exceptionally hard to regain a foundation within a tough game, the Dodgers managed to snatch defeat from the verge of victory. As the game progressed, runs continued to trickle through the Los Angeles’ bullpen like rain through a cardboard roof, before Brandon League hung the definitive tenth-inning split-fingered fastball. Guillermo Quiroz, a corpulent minor league catcher who goes yard once every five years, golfed League’s offering out for another walk-off home-run. As the Giants cavorted in celebration, as San Francisco rocked to its silly ‘Beat LA’ anthem, the Dodgers’ demise appeared inexorable.
At present, I don’t see management doing enough to stem the tide. Whilst Don Mattingly seems content to swat ‘injury questions’ away on a daily basis, and the media continues to portray Los Angeles as victims of blind luck, I feel that chronic mismanagement has exaggerated the problem. Why is Mark Ellis still active despite missing seven straight games with a quad injury? What is really behind Adrian Gonzalez’ mysterious neck injury? How was Chad Billingsley allowed to miss Tommy John Surgery in the offseason? Ted Lilly succeeded in disclosing an injury from coaches…and went on to make a start? Such questions would not be arise within an organisation serious about October.
It looks like the Dodgers are going to struggle in the West once again. Whilst Los Angeles sits just four-and-a-half back of Colorado mathematically, they’re a world away in reality. This much was demonstrated in the home series which preceded the San Francisco debacle; the Rockies issuing a real statement of intent with two commanding victories in Chavez Ravine.
The aforementioned Lilly, foolishly disguising back tightness which ultimately landed him back on the DL, managed just three atrocious innings Monday, during which Colorado scored five runs on eight hits, including two home runs, and two walks. Josh Wall was The Sacrificial Lamb of that particular disaster; the reliever left out to dry with two cruel innings of truly sickening baseball. In the ninth inning, with Skip Schumaker on the mound, the stands at Dodger Stadium empty, and the scoreboard aglow with Rockies runs, this ballclub looked like a cellar-dweller, not the most-expensive team in National League history.
Nonetheless, there was excitement the following day; Hanley Ramirez excitement which, in the context of his latest injury, now seems perverse. In his return, on his own Bobblehead Night, Ramirez put on a show! After launching a prodigious home run and backing a phenomenal Hyun-Jin Ryu with a further double, Hanley Ramirez had Dodgerdom dreaming once more; his intoxicating swagger, positive arrogance and infectious enthusiasm seemingly the antidote to kick-start a faltering team. Thus, now that Hanley has been lost for what looks sure to be another month, the pain of Dodger fans everywhere is augmented manifold.
This team is hurting right now. Even more so, this fandom has rarely experienced such consistent trauma. Its time to buckle-up, close our eyes, and prey that this team escapes San Francisco alive.
The Dodgers continue to take two steps forward before one step back. All too often, they look ready to compete, before another bullpen meltdown brings about the same sense of dissatisfaction. At times, this club appears to have the requisite energy, determination, and talent to create a season-changing streak. At other times, it just looks horrible. Such is the agnosticism of Dodger fans momentarily; we don’t really know what to think about our team this year.
The Dodgers flirted with competitive baseball this week, but were again hampered by momentum-sapping defeats just as excitement grew. As the club snapped a nasty six-game losing streak last Sunday in Baltimore, many felt that a corner had been turned. In that game, all the components which make a sound baseball team worked in wonderful coherence. Stephen Fife gave a solid performance on the mound, and was backed by solid defense, timely hitting, and a sublime bullpen effort in a 7-4 victory.
After an exemplary performance in Baltimore, the Dodgers moved onto New York for a three-game series, hoping to maintain their new momentum. On Tuesday in Queens, The Ellis Show was illustrative of the fight this Dodger club requires; Mark and AJ combining to spearhead an impressive 7-2 victory. Even Mark Ellis, a renowned player of twelve Major League seasons, has never experienced a better day; the veteran second baseman joining Jackie Robinson and Davey Lopes as the only Dodgers second basemen to collect at least four hits and two home runs in one game. Furthermore, Mark lofted the 100th home run of his career, a real achievement for such a fundamental player. On a day for the scrappy guys, the Dodgers won, filling the fanbase with hope for a winning streak.
Then, just as .500 baseball came back into view, the Dodgers blew a game Wednesday in the grimy drizzle of New York. This defeat was particularly-difficult to swallow; the Dodgers actually played really solid baseball, with an impressive mentality, before succumbing to Jordanny Valdespin’s walk-off, extra-inning Grand Slam into the half-empty stands of Citi Field. It felt like a freak loss; Brandon League’s first blown save encapsulating the frustrations of Dodgerdom. When losing in such fashion to the Mets, a club likely to produce only a .500 season, its difficult not to conclude that the Dodgers have serious problems.
The Jekyll and Hyde Dodgers continued on Thursday. After a bad-news roadtrip, the club finished with all the momentum a tight 3-2 victory will allow. Hyun-Jin Ryu was masterful, with seven innings of three-hit, one-run ball. In his first bite of the Big Apple, Ryu strengthened his legend as the finest kind of escapologist, missing bats and slithering out of jams with ice-cool conviction. Ryu gave the Dodgers just what they needed: an opportunity to win. At times, it looked like LA was primed to fall into the same old situations of defeat, but a two-run, ninth-inning rally was enough to secure victory.
I listened to the final Mets game live on domestic radio here in Britain, a rare treat which I’m still pumped about! After a tough day at the office, it’s always great to relax with radio baseball in the evening, and the Dodgers victory made it even sweeter. With I Love LA blurring following the final out, I was more convinced than ever that the Dodgers were ready to springboard back to normality; that particular victory revitalised my belief.
With the club returning home to take on the Brewers, there was a late-September atmosphere at Dodger Stadium Friday; late inning drama from the fantastic Adrian Gonzalez catapulting the Blue Crew back to the .500 watershed in enthralling style. As the team became more animated, more energetic, more concerned, it looked like a real contender again. AGon tied the game at three in the fifth, before putting the Dodgers ahead with a two-run double in the seventh, as Chavez Ravine rocked jubilantly. I was impressed.
The exciting momentum didn’t last long. A classic bullpen meltdown ruined the fine Major League debut of Matt Magill Saturday, dumping the club back under the .500 precipice and leaving a pall of disappointment above Dodgerdom. Magill, the lithe right-hander called upon to replace the injured Stephen Fife (who replaced the injured Chris Capuano, who replaced the injured Chad Billingsley, who returned after Zack Greinke got injured…..), was composed and effective well into the seventh inning. Magill looked absolutely ready to deal with the challenges of Major League ball; he displayed a confidence in his own ability and the demeanor of a star. Matt Magill just looks like a superstar.
Nonetheless, Matt Guerrier does not. With the former-Twins reliever on the mound, the Dodgers looked like a very poor ballclub with limited expectations. The once-dominant, now-injury-prone righty hung two gopher balls in back-to-back innings and, so swiftly, the Dodgers lead had been erased. Despite a long Ethier home run, the comeback attempts died with the defense of Milwaukee’s Gonzalez. Two steps forward, one implosion back.
There is cause for hope. Hanley Ramirez should return in the coming days, Luis Cruz should disappear, and the Dodgers should look much more balanced. Nonetheless, if Los Angeles is serious about competing deep into the 2013 season, it must locate the type of consistency which all great teams master.
Don Mattingly was in no mood to celebrate his fifty-second birthday. After a difficult week for his tail-spinning Dodgers, Donnie Baseball is beginning to divide fan opinion more than ever. Now, it is becoming essential for Dodger fans to have an opinion on Don Mattingly; some believing that the burden of offseason investment means he must win now, whilst others are satisfied that he’s slowly developing this ballclub. However one breaks it down, Don Mattingly is a manager under pressure.
After limping into Baltimore hoping to improve a dreary Interleague record, the Dodgers only succeeded in digging a deeper hole for themselves. The postponement of Friday’s game necessitated a rare Saturday doubleheader. For Los Angeles’ fans, it made for a double-dose of anguish; the Orioles winning both ends to dump the Dodgers six games back in this formative NL West. It was the sixth straight loss for the most-expensive team in LA Dodgers history.
Even to a Mattingly supporter, it’s obvious that he makes things difficult for himself. An example ripe for analysis was provided during the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader; Donnie leaving Josh Beckett with the ball during a close 3-1 game despite a pitch count exceeding one-hundred and two men on-base. No sooner had he returned to the dugout than Manny Machado clubbed a game-changing three-run homer out to left field. Such are the margins which change games, lose games, and see managers fired.
After the game, Mattingly again spoke of his concern. This is becoming a little tedious; passive words rather than active verbs. The responsibility is upon him to locate the solutions and change the fortunes of this failing team, not merely to sit before the media and share our surprise. In many respects, the first doubleheader game was but a microcosm of this young Dodger season. We mustered plenty of base-runners, yet lacked any semblance of situational hitting to bring them home. With Hyun-Jin Ryu somewhat indifferent on the mound and an untrustworthy bullpen, the offense needed to manufacture. It never did.
I worry that Don doesn’t have the fire to get this ballclub charging. Earlier in the week, when the Dodgers were dismally swept at home by the Padres for the first time since July 2006, we watched the game just yearning for something different! At times, a manager must try a new idea, mix-in a new strategy where possible; a manager must stimulate and generate production from his players. As the Dodgers were outscored 22-7 by the lowly San Diego Padres across three painful games, no change in approach was forthcoming. Mattingly has got to do more.
There are aspects of Mattingly’s management which I really like. When times were lean and his major decisions surrounded whether to hit Aaron Miles or Juan Uribe at cleanup, Don Mattingly did a sensational job to keep this club competitive. I’m a big believer in steady progression and Donnie has delivered that with a year-on-year improvement in win total. However, I yearn for this to continue with the next step: hauling the Los Angeles Dodger back into October. I’m afraid that such a poor start may hamper our chances.
Even on Jackie Robinson Day, the Dodgers remained stuck in the same one-dimensional mode. Chad Billingsley lived a little dangerously around the strike zone but was good enough to win, had the bullpen not allowed three late runs to again seep through. At the time, we were a little disappointed at a 7-6 season record, blissfully unaware of the horrors awaiting.
It is important that we pause for a moment to remember the greatest trailblazer in sporting history; if it wasn’t for Jackie Robinson, many world superstars would never have received the opportunity. Oh, what Mattingly would give to have such an eclectic ballplayer at his disposal!
The reality is sobering. This Dodgers team will take the field in a few hours looking to avoid being swept for the second time in succession. Such failure is never tolerated under the illustrious Dodgers name, but it becomes even more exacerbated after huge financial expenditure. We can say ‘it’s only April’ for just nine more days; Don Mattingly needs to create a winning formula, and fast.
I was sickened by events in San Diego this week. A clinical Dodger victory was marred by the opportunistic thuggery of one player; Padres slugger Carlos Quentin mindlessly storming the mound and breaking Zack Greinke’s collarbone in ugly fracas.
In the sixth inning of Thursday’s game, Quentin worked a 3-2 count with his team guarding a one-run lead. No pitcher would intentionally throw at a batter in that situation, least of all a proud, unassuming ace who suffers from a social anxiety disorder. Nonetheless, Greinke’s next delivery plunked Quentin on the arm, before all hell broke loose.
Carlos Quentin, perhaps jealous of this expensively-assembled Dodger club, saw an opportunity to rebel against the elite. He took it, slamming shoulder-first into Zack as both benches and bullpens raced to the diamond. The San Diego fight was almost apologetic; they could not believe that they’d been dragged onto the field in defence of their teammates blind stupidity. A lot of pushing, shoving, and hollering ensued, with Matt Kemp and Jerry Hairston particularly animated. The greatest loss, however, was Greinke; the Dodgers co-ace, so stellar thus far, requiring surgery and a two-month stint of the Disabled List.
Thus, when Clayton Kershaw took the ball Friday, it felt like deja vu all over again. In the gloomy days of yore, we had Clayton Kershaw and little else besides. Zack Greinke was the solution; his absence gave the Dodgers a retro feel in Arizona. With a struggling offense and an over-dependence on Kershaw, we were missing only Casey Blake and Aaron Miles for an authentic reconstruction of 2011. In a frustrating 3-0 loss, Clayton pitched into the eighth, allowing three runs on six hits whilst striking out nine.
As the dust began to settle on Greinke’s injury, and Quentin’s meek eight-game suspension, Dodgerdom was forced to comprehend a substitute for Zack in the rotation. The long-awaited return of Chad Billingsley was fresh in the mind, with many optimistic that he could step up. We all know that Chad is somewhat enigmatic but, such is his penchant for streaky domination, it was imperative that he started his season off with a firm foundation. A clean six-inning performance, during which he scattered only five hits and one run, was just the kind of start Billingsley needed in victory. Like we have been saying for a half-decade: perhaps this is Chad’s year.
Nonetheless, Hyun-Jin Ryu continues to show the Dodgers that he’s ready to step up. In the continuation of his smart transition to Major League Baseball, Ryu did it all Saturday; the exciting Japanese hurler dazzling with a wide repertoire and fearless persona on the mound, yet also getting it done with the bat! In an important early-season victory over Arizona, Ryu went 3-for-3 with a double and also scored a run. However, it was on the mound that he was most effective in helping Los Angeles snap an unpleasant six-game Chase Field losing streak; his solid six innings earning a second win on the season.
Ryu’s offensive aberration came during a progressive week for Dodger hitters. Aside from a poor showing in ‘support’ of Kershaw against Arizona, the offense is beginning to heat up. At the heart of it all, two mightily-impressive ballplayers: Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.
During the recent series in San Diego, I became convinced that we have Tampa Bay Carl Crawford on our side. The guy is just electric. A paragon of consistency atop the lineup thus far, Crawford has sixteen hits in thirty-nine at-bats over eleven games, good for a searing .410 average. Also, he is beginning to find the same on-base-speed-power combination which made him a menace in the AL East; his leadoff homer against the Padres Wednesday a source of great excitement for Dodger fans. At one point this week, Crawford had a four-game multi-hit streak, and has seven total on the season. Away from the statistics, the calculations, the game notes, Carl just looks like his old self: the speedy swagger on defense, the explosive power about the field, the personification of energy! Carl Crawford is fast becoming the superstar of this Dodgers team.
During the week, many joked of Ned’s genius in eating Adrian Gonzalez’ contract in order to get Carl out of Boston. However, AGon looks to have rekindled the power many thought he had lost. In the San Diego brawl game, he socked an awe-inspiring home run deep to right field; his blow producing the most stomach-tickling, euphoric sound of bat on ball I’ve ever heard. He absolutely crushed it. Adrian also went yard in Arizona, kick-starting the offense in support of Ryu’s 7-5 victory. The guy is an RBI-machine which could drive the Dodgers to great things this year.
This was about as eventful as the second week of any season can be. This week of unpredictable thrills, spills and brawls has been so crazy that even Juan Uribe parked a couple homers! As seasoned competitors prove again their class, Dodger fans rue the loss of the newest star. The absence of Zack Greinke will be difficult to counteract.
This game of baseball has always revolved around the guy atop the mound. As Dodger fans know only too well, starting pitching is king. In the past, Los Angeles has never had enough; last seasons collapse, precipitated by a lack of pitching depth, somewhat quintessential. However, Opening Week 2013 taught us that, for once, the Dodgers have the arms to dominate the race.
A lot of offseason attention was dedicated to the Dodgers ‘one-two’ punch of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. In the opening games, the stellar combination morphed seamlessly from hypothetical excited to tangible brilliance. After so many years of frustration, after so many near-misses, after so many guys named Padilla and Garland and Blanton, this dominant combination has brought an ineffable hysteria to Dodgerdom. Once more, we have excitement, we have power, we have reliability on the mound. We have the best.
That much was certainly proved on a poignant Opening Day. Clayton Kershaw entered an altogether different realm, with a four-hit complete game shutout of the World Champion Giants. In many respects, it was an Opening Day of poetic symmetry; Sandy Koufax threw out the first pitch, Clayton Kershaw the last. Now, the comparisons are becoming even more serious.
A somewhat incredible Opening Day quirk arrived when Kershaw launched his first career home run to jump-start a sleepy Dodger offense. The 53,138 crammed inside a resplendent Dodger Stadium went wild, as Kershaw became the first Dodger pitcher to homer on Opening Day since Don Drysdale in 1965. In that season, the Dodgers went on to win the World Series.
With Kershaw out for the ninth inning, and an incredible miasma permeating Chavez Ravine, one could not fail to believe that this club has everything needed to achieve similar glory. The Dodgers just feel like a championship-calibre outfit. Clayton Kershaw’s imperious complete game shutout had the entire baseball universe in awe again.
However, he was equally dominant against the Pirates in his second 2013 start. After outclassing Matt Cain on Opening Day, Kershaw outshone AJ Burnett on Saturday; the big southpaw powering seven innings of two-hit ball to create a fantastic opportunity for victory. The Pirates’ hitters produced some gruesome swings whilst chasing Kershaw’s devilish arsenal, whilst the Dodgers eventually solved the gutsy Burnett. Ultimately, everything came together nicely as a tough 1-0 win was recorded.
That was the second consecutive game in which Pittsburgh was shutout. When preceding Kershaw on Friday evening, Greinke was very convincing in his Dodger debut. At once, Zack looked to be the right-handed power arm we’ve craved for such a long time; a solid, durable craftsmen out their to complement Kershaw. After 6.1 innings of two-hit, six-strikeout ball, Greinke handed a lead over to the bullpen; Andre Ethier’s incredible bomb off lefty Freddy Sanchez mostly responsible. Again, Dodgerdom saw what happens when elite pitchers take the ball: things usually go exactly as planned. The bullpen was flawless, and the Dodgers notched a pleasant, clean victory to inspire momentum.
Thus, it has been demonstrated that, in Kershaw and Greinke, the Dodgers do have an exceptional tandem fronting a deep rotation. However, the team struggled during Opening Week when Clayton or Zack was not on the mound; unanswered questions from Spring Training remaining just that.
In the aftermath of Kershaw’s Opening Day heroics, the club received something of a sober reality check. Madison Bumgarner again validated his reputation as a Dodger Killer, inspiring the Giants very own 2-hit shutout. Hyun-Jin Ryu was fairly solid on his debut, displaying a keen penchant for escapism whilst squirming out of several jams. However, with a lack of run support, he was never dominant enough to back-up the Opening Day victory. Thus, the Dodgers fell back to 1-1 on the season.
Greinke’s debut victory was so cleansing for Dodger fans because it reinvigorated the team after an insipid defeat to the Giants Wednesday. The rubber game featured Josh Beckett against Tim Lincecum; the former was average and homer-happy, whilst the latter was erratic. Nonetheless, I’ve seldom witnessed an offense have so many opportunities yet fail to capitalize; the Dodgers leaving a dozen runners on base, and conspiring to go 1-for-14 with runners-in-scoring-position. It was an incredible frustration. When Lincecum walks seven, you must punish him and bring those runs home. The Dodgers never did.
Therefore, it was left to Greinke to haul the Dodgers back into rhythm. In a portent of this unfurling season, he didn’t let us down. As the season progresses, attention will surely shift from a star-studded offense to best one-two punch anywhere in baseball; the Dodgers will win with Clayton and Zack, which is a welcome relief for veteran fans.
The proximity of Opening Day has the baseball universe abuzz once more. There are very few sporting occasions of more illustrious appeal than Opening Day, when all teams have a chance and all players start afresh. At this time of year, the Internet becomes awash with predictions, of experts and grassroots blogger alike. Therefore, it is our turn to preview the 2013 Dodgers.
After a frustrating end to 2012, the Dodgers have again spent big in search of success. With the Guggenheim group continuing a theme started last July, marquee players were added to an inflated payroll which figures to be the biggest in baseball history. Thus, the consensus holds that the Dodgers need to win. Now.
Here is the initial roster which aims to achieve those rich goals of LA.
The stretch run of 2012 was a testing time for Dodger fans. It seemed that the team never had enough pitching, with injuries to Chad Billingsley, declining performance from Chris Capuano, and the general presence of Joe Blanton. Now, it appears that the organisation has sprung from famine to feast, with a rotation so brimming with talent that a trade may soon be consummated to ease the congestion. Regardless, this rotation figures to be contend with the best in a very pitching-rich National League.
1. Clayton Kershaw
In defence of his well-earned Cy Young Award/Triple Crown combo, Kershaw appeared to struggle at times last season. However, such a perception was precipitated by his own immense self-determination and pride; this guy is a natural born winner. Ultimately, Kershaw posted posted 14 wins against 9 losses, a mightily-impressive 2.53 ERA and a WHIP of 1.023. Again, he went close in the Cy Young voting, falling runner-up to knuckleballer RA Dickey.
Thus, Kershaw, the epitome of ace, came into Spring Training expecting to construct another dominant season. A little adversity greeted him during the exhibition season, with the dynamic southpaw finishing with an ordinary 4.18 ERA and three losses. However, Kershaw is a man of inimitable competitiveness; like all great power pitchers, he thrives on the adrenaline of meaningful ballgames. He will be fine when the season starts tomorrow.
It is expected that Kershaw will benefit from the revamped Dodger lineup. In times of yore, he, along with Matt Kemp, was charged with putting a lacklustre ballclub upon his shoulders and charging for October. He did a sensational job. Now, however, he has assistance from an assortment of stars. There is no doubt that his statistics will spike again, to portray his standing as baseball’s best hurler with even more conviction.
2. Zack Greinke
After spending 2012 between the Brewers and Angels, Greinke struggled to make a seamless transition. A falling strikeout rate from his stellar 2011 season, and abundantly more hits made him appear human again. However, Greinke still posted a huge disparity between wins and losses (15-5), and a progressive 3.48 ERA, before signing a six-year, $147 million deal with the Dodgers in December.
Greinke represented everything the Dodgers yearned for in the offseason. A righty complement to Kershaw, he now provides a Cy-Young winning one-two punch at the top of a deep rotation. A lot is expected of Greinke, with the vast expanses of Dodger Stadium likely to increase his strikeout rate and refine his ERA. Thus, is would be dangerous to read too much into his indifferent Spring results. At times, Greinke has pitched well, in physical terms, without the statistical reward. Also, elbow inflammation set him back for at least a week, which means he figures to miss his first turn in the rotation.
Nonetheless, Greinke will prove a tremendous addition to the Dodgers. It just feels so natural, and so beautifully-inexorable that Kershaw-Greinke will dominate the league this season and for years to come. Zack will undoubtedly compete for more Cy Young Awards with the Dodgers, perhaps starting in 2013.
3. Hyun-Jin Ryu
A pleasant surprise, Ryu took Spring camp by storm. The Korean, signed as part of the Dodgers expanding international drive during the winter, looks most ready for the season to begin. With an infectious personality, the pitcher lit up camp, in terms of comedic value and on-field dominance. A 3.29 Spring ERA was underscored with several spells of dominant pitching which made the fanbase sit up and take notice; his restricting the White Sox to one hit over seven innings last week igniting expectations anew.
Realistically, the Dodgers hope that Ryu will show comfort pitching at the Major League level. He is a long-term investment who will be given time to mature and develop as a starter. At present, he figures to be a solid middle-rotation arm, with plenty of upside in terms of intrigue and star charisma. A potential top-line starter, Ryu will be tasked with solidifying the middle of Los Angeles’ rotation; a challenge which he will show great enthusiasm for.
4. Josh Beckett
Once the dominant ace, Beckett outstayed his welcome in Boston midway through 2012. A mixture of falling velocity, rising clubhouse tension, and depleted luck saw his output decline and his durability questioned. As the Red Sox Nation became awash with scandal, it was best that Beckett leave.
It just so happens that the Dodgers were buying. Involved in the megadeal which also saw Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford venture West, Beckett quietly underwent an improvement back in the National League. The former fireballer honed an ERA of 2.93 in seven Dodger starts, and saw his strikeout-per-nine-innings rate leap from 6.6 to 8.0. Furthermore, his 2-0 record at Dodger Stadium, in addition to a minuscule 1.50 ERA and strikeout-per-nine rate of 10.0 inspired hope for the winter that we could see a Beckett revival in LA.
The signs are there to indicate that Beckett may rebound in 2013; perhaps not to the incredible standard during his pomp in Boston, nor the electricity feats of his spell in Florida, but certainly enough to help him star at the back end of a comprehensive Dodger rotation.
5. Chad Billingsley
In 2012, we saw Chad Billingsley in microcosm. During the first half, he was a 4-9 liability. After the All-Star Break, however, he became the very reason why Dodger fans became so energetic about potentially making the postseason. As Chad began dominating in a manner which we’ve been promised since his very arrival, we began to hope; his perfect 6-0 record, and unbelievable 1.80 ERA affording some pitching quality. There was a period during that stretch whereby Billingsley was automatic. For a spell, he became the Dodgers ace. However, as always appears the case with Chad, disaster was lingering around the corner; a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament putting an end to a promising season.
A difficult Spring Training was used to coax Billingsley back into the pitching rhythm, and he is likely to return to the rotation around April 7. The quintessential question then becomes what are we going to get from Chad Billingsley? The answer to that is perhaps even more difficult to answer than the old chestnut what shall we expect from Chad Billingsley? There is no definitive answer. He will probably deliver his usual ten victories, and equal bouts of domination and frustration.
The Dodgers lineup is loaded. However, it is equally full of question marks as talent; it features a number of players coming off injury, a few returining from poor offensive seasons, and a number of players with a lot to prove. The loss of Hanley Ramirez to a hand injury during the World Baseball Classic will be a major blow for the Dodgers, who will lose a lot more than righty protection for Andre Ethier. This is a lineup with undoubted potential, yet also cause for concern.
1. Carl Crawford, LF
I fondly recall Tampa Bay Carl Crawford. That was one scary ballplayer. For a period between 2004-2010, he was lethal, morphing from the games premier leadoff hitter into a middle-lineup force. He had the wheels, the hose, the bat. The Perfect Storm. Then Boston came calling.
Crawford struggled to adapt; the outfielder batting less, getting on base less, hitting less home runs, and contributing less RBI in two Red Sox seasons combined than in one typical 2010 campaign with the Rays. In Boston, players are often defined, chastised or celebrated depending on their contract; for Crawford, a seven-year, $142 million deal was but a leash around the neck. He became increasingly frustrated and unwelcome, as frequent injuries curtailed his Beantown stay.
A trade to Los Angeles may be the making of Carl Crawford. There has been abundant optimism from management, from Dodgerdom, and from Crawford himself, regarding this step in his career. Once fully healthy, we may very well be treated to the scary Carl Crawford of yore. Don Mattingly, a traditionalist manager, will likely utilise the whole scale of Crawford’s attributes at the top of a stacked lineup; he will be the catalyst for what unfurls below.
2. Mark Ellis, 2B
Ellis was a solid addition to the 2012 Dodgers. A veteran presence, the second baseman was utilised in a number of different roles by Mattingly. A lynch pin within the Dodger offence, Ellis’ true value became apparent when he was sidelined for a spell mid-season last year; without his instinctive craft and influential smarts, the Dodgers saw their Division lead melt away.
By way of statistical amazement, the Dodgers won’t get a lot from Ellis. He will contribute a little dose of everything in moderation, without majoring in any category. A little pop, a little on-base reliability, steady average. However, Ellis is a physical necessity for the Dodgers, a player who can handle the bat and fulfill all the needs of a two-hole hitter; he’ll perform the essential skills which never appear in the boxscore.
3. Matt Kemp, CF
It was difficult to watch Matt Kemp last season. After a record-setting tear out of the blocks, Kemp became consumed in his role as de facto Dodger captain. Much like Kershaw on the mound, Kemp has been almost solely responsible for the Dodgers offensive output in recent seasons; the precocious outfielder contending perennially not only for MVP honours, but also Triple Crowns. In the early months of 2012, Kemp looked likely to deliver on his 40-40 promises with true panache. Then it all got a little too much.
Kemp became hampered by various injuries, which were exacerbated by his determination to get back on the field as quickly as possibly. A player who had missed just eleven games in the previous four seasons, Kemp perhaps jeopardised his season by rushing back too soon; a superstar so prideful of his team that he pushed his body to the limit attempting to help. Any other player batting .303 with 23 home runs, 69 RBI, and .367 OBP in limited playing time would be lauded. Kemp, however, set the tone with his own dissatisfaction. For the first time in a career, he failed to improve on his home run total from the previous campaign; a trivial failure encapsulating the deflation felt by all.
Now, Kemp is back with the advantage of a winters rest. The iconic figurehead of a new Dodger generation, he yearns to return to his elite best. Matt Kemp is determined to succeed and, when that happens, the parameters of baseball history tend to be tested; the captain centre-fielder of the Dodgers may be primed to reassert his dominance as the games greatest active player.
4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Another former jewel in the Red Sox crown, Gonzalez was judged a rough diamond when clashing with embattled skipper Bobby Valentine. In a dramatic season, Gonzalez was too shipped to LA, where he struggled initially to find an offensive groove when dropped cold into a Playoff race. Nonetheless, despite a lot of column inches being dedicated to his purported decline, AGon still posted 100+ RBI for a fifth time in six years and a career-high in doubles.
Similar to Beckett and Crawford, Gonzalez has embraced his move over the winter, often speaking of a fresh start in pastures new. If he can rekindle his former mastery of plate discipline, and rediscover that absolutely clinical power stroke, the big Mexican first baseman could be a difference-maker in the Dodgers Playoff hopes.
5. Andre Ethier, RF
A lot of unfair pessimism enveloped Ethier during last season. The outfielder became a victim of lazy assertion: he can’t hit lefties, he isn’t consistent enough, he should be traded for pitching prospects. In the end, Andre Ethier had a very impressive bounce-back season from a below-par 2011.
Before Crawford and Gonzalez, Greinke and Beckett, Puig and Ryu, we had Kershaw, Kemp and Ethier. That is the way many of us were brought up. At times last season, Andre Ethier was forced into the superstar void precipitated by Kemp’s injuries. He is not a spotlight kind of guy. Nonetheless, his final showing was worthy of high praise which strangely never arrived: .284 average, 20 home runs, 89 RBI, .812 OPS. Solid.
Andre had a very productive Spring, with an unusually-high average and very progressive performances against his nemesis lefty pitching. Of all the Dodgers, Ethier deserves to be loved the most; he has always been there when needed, a model of consistency. In 2013, he looks set to find another season to prove the doubters wrong.
6. Luis Cruz, 3B
Cruz was the pleasant surprise on the 2012 Dodgers. Added in hope more than expectation, Cruz transcended convention to produce an infectious season. During an era of Dodger reliance on a core of unspectacular instinct players, Cruz was the inexpensive nugget Ned Colletti arduously tried to unearth.
An unheralded scrub with the Pirates and Brewers early in his career, Cruz took full advantage of a rare opportunity in 2012, batting .297 with 6 home runs and 40 RBI in just 78 games. The guy was clutch; veritable machine of doubles and RBI during an incredible run. Whenever you thought his rise had to end, Luis Cruz would produce something even more unexpected, and get that Dodger Stadium crowd ‘Ccrrruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuzzzzz-in’ once more. He was incredible.
Now, the question arises whether he can produce such inspired play over a full season. The versatile infielder is likely to receive more at-bat this season than in his entire career thus far combined, which will be a major test both physically and psychologically. There is reason to suggest that Cruz may revert to the mean, but he is at his very best when underrated by the mainstream.
7. Justin Sellers, SS
A bright prospect within the system, the Dodgers are still waiting on Sellers to produce at the Major League level. A scrappy middle infielder with plenty of raw potential, Sellers will be given playing time in Ramirez’ absence; an opportunity not only to vindicate Mattingly’s faith in him, but also to redeem an infamous offseason arrest for reckless driving.
8. AJ Ellis, C
Always a fuzzy fan favourite, AJ Ellis finally made it stick in the Majors last season. After years of effort, numerous set backs, and more cups of coffee than he cares to remember, AJ Ellis finally broke the code at the age of 31, becoming the Dodgers everyday catcher and a valuable offensive cog.
At the plate, Ellis is a model of patience. Few players are as deliberate in approach as the backstop, who wears his OBP as a rightful badge of honour. In 2012, Ellis posted comparable numbers to established superstar catchers such as Joe Mauer, Yadier Molina and Miguel Montero; his eventual .373 OBP underscored with 13 home runs and 52 RBI out of the eight-hole. Ellis had a baseball universe waxing lyrical.
The test going forward will be for AJ to master the season-to-season consistency of a top-level catcher. For the first time, he enters a season with a great deal of expectation upon his shoulders; however, after finally discovering the secret to big-league survival, Ellis is not likely to let it go lightly.
The Dodgers always have a core of very recognisable bench players. Ned Colletti likes to fill out a roster with veteran role players with plenty of experience; hustlers who can help in a number of different situations. This season, guys like Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker figure to play multifaceted roles from the bench, aided by Jerry Hairston and Juan Uribe. The back-up catcher is prospect Tim Federowicz, who will add more dynamism than Matt Treanor in 2012 when Ellis is rested.
This is the most complete bullpen Don Mattingly has ever had to work with. Brandon League morphed into the dominant closer LA needed last season, and has been given the role again this term. He will be supported by fireballer Kenley Jansen and the ever-impressive Ronald Belisario in set-up work. Also, the Dodgers carry more left-handers than in recent memory, with new acquisition JP Howell aided by electric prospect Paco Rodriguez and spare starter Chris Capuano. Matt Guerrier and Aaron Harang round out one of the leagues deepest bullpens.
This will be an exciting and intriguing year for the Dodgers. In a division containing the World Champion San Francisco Giants and the re-vamped Arizona Diamondbacks, competition will be more comprehensive in the NL West than in recent history. In addition, the Padres have a youthful, exciting core, and Colorado may bounce-back into contention. Therefore, even the huge expenditure of management will not guarantee success. In the ever-expanding Dodger story, making it back to the postseason for the first time since 2009 will be an adequate next step.
When the Guggenheim group crafted a monstrous seven-year, $42 million contract for an obscure Cuban defector last June, they saw him as the muscular symbol of an expanding Dodger universe. The price tag piqued the chagrin of traditionalists. The name furrowed the brow of the most crusty veteran scout. Yasiel Puig? Exactly. Nine months hence, this prodigious athlete has the entire baseball world agog. The Cactus League has never seen so much excitement.
The enigmatic outfielder, who possesses wide sloping shoulders and the kind of mass athleticism which inspires jealousy, has pounded the cover off the ball this spring. In twenty-five exhibition games, Puig harbours an absurd .527 batting average, a mesmeric .509 ob-base percentage, and has launched three prodigious home runs which have incited the interests of a global sports audience. When refined further, such statistics are even more impressive; the twenty-two year old Cuban going 29-for-55 thus far in the spring! Such performances cease to comprise a baseball players renown; they roar and intensify into an all-encompassing mania. Puigmania.
Born December 7, 1990, Puig was raised in the seductive Cuban bay town of Cienfuegos. A jewel in junior baseball, the phenom would eventually star in the highly-competitive cauldron of Cuban baseball, most pertinently for the National Team. In this regard, Puig was part of the Cuban team which won the 2008 World Junior Baseball Championships; a major springboard for his domestic playing career.
In the Cuban National Series, Puig starred for his regional Cienfuegos team over two impressive seasons. When his dream of professional baseball morphed further into potentiality, Puig attempted to defect on a number of occasions; initial failure costing him the entire 2011-12 season as punishment. However, when finally successful in 2012, Puig settled in Mexico, and awaited a suitable offer from a Major League team.
In a coincidental quirk of fate, it was at this time that the Dodgers became hungrier than ever for Latin American talent. With Magic Johnson and Guggenheim sharing a voracious appetite for the organisations expansion to a global level, Puig was always an intriguing option. A long flirtation ensued, with the eye-popping contract representing the satisfaction of desires for both parties. In a very short span, Yasiel Puig would be transformed from a little-known question mark, to a great big ‘why not?’
Assigned to low-level Rookie ball initially, Puig also saw time at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga, before an elbow infection saw him shut down. After returning, Puig opted to play in Puerto Rico during the winter, before joining up with the Dodgers for Spring Training in Arizona.
Ever since he walked into camp, Puig has been the centre of attention. When not evoking comparisons with Vladimir Guerrero and Bo Jackson, or mashing another pitches into the gap, Puig can usually be found enveloped by a sea of international journalists, eager to send a piece of this phenomenon to those intrigued back home. On Saturday, Puig’s mere presence was enough to elicit the largest crowd in Cactus League history; 13,721 taking in the latest installment of the Yasiel Roadshow. There is just something Ruthian about the Puig legend; a dramatic layer of mythology which often makes reality difficult to decipher.
Whilst it’s implausible to argue against Puig’s spring production, so littered with gargantuan feats of athletic prowess, there is still a debate which accompanies him. Can Yasiel Puig make the Opening Day roster? Just as there is no one explanation to the very concept of Yasiel Puig, there is no one answer to this burning question. Even once we separate the mythology from the actuality, the best anybody has ever come up with is a set of pros-and-cons.
Here are the pros. The guy deserves some kind of reward for one of the greatest springs ever recorded, otherwise we see something akin to baseball in a pointless vacuum. Further, with Hanley Ramirez down for two months, Puig is an ideal replacement, both in charismatic star value, and in power from the right side.
…and the cons. Whilst swimming in oodles of raw talent, Puig could do with more seasoning in the minors, to be moulded further it into the quintessential five-tool player. He has searing speed and brute strength, but only experience and baseball smarts, taught in abundance in the minors, will be able to condition such attributes. Further, you do not use such a talented player in a utility role; only by playing everyday will Puig continue to develop into the stratosphere.
Thus, there is no definite answer.
It is possible to make a case that Puig is at least as major league ready as Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, superstar contributors both in 2012. Also, Puig would offer the kind of mania with which the Dodgers are synonymous; a rekindling of Fernandomania or Mannywood for an entirely new Dodger generation. Something just tells you that Yasiel Puig in Los Angeles would be more interesting than any baseball plot-line in the past half-decade; a fun, clean, evocative story which we can all invest in.
Most probably, however, Puig will begin at Class-AA in 2013. As ever, hamstringing contracts and money owed will be assessed before talent in the Dodgers’ roster makeup. With an outfield of Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, Los Angeles’ appears locked. All three must hit the ground running because, down on the farm, a new Dodger icon is being honed into the organisations greatest ever prospect.
An undercurrent of skepticism accompanied the Los Angeles Dodgers all winter. When an organization becomes rich, becomes iconoclastic, becomes prominent again, the media do not like it. At every conceivable juncture, the journalistic core of Major League Baseball has demonstrated a dystopian eagerness to show why the Dodgers will fail, or how the Dodgers will implode. The more ambitious the ballclub, the more severe the scrutiny. Thus, it’s time for us to assess the main problems many foresee for the 2013 Dodgers.
One cutting word seems to be the Dodgers greatest opponent in the forthcoming season: chemistry. The history of North American sports is littered with examples of teams which had too many superstars, with a combustible egotism shrouding the clubhouse and making progress impossible. In various eras, we’ve seen this with the Marlins, the Red Sox and, most pertinently, the cross-town Lakers. In the Dodgers’ case, the fear arises when placing premium superstars, such as Kemp, Kershaw, Gonzalez, Ethier, Ramirez, Greinke, and Beckett, in the same locker room. These guys are accustomed to being the main man, the franchise player, the marquee icon. Here in LA, they are just one expensive cog in the wider Dodger machine; a transition which is notoriously difficult to comprehend. It is all-too-easy for a destructive clubhouse culture to arise, with each man jostling for superstar supremacy more than Dodger ascendancy. The Dodgers must come before any single man; the players, assembled at great expense, must taken responsibility, and coalesce harmoniously around the common goal of success.
In addition to finding a true chemistry, the Dodgers must strike an ideal balance within the offensive lineup. With so many superstar power hitters in a stacked batting order, the Dodgers must resist the temptation to wait in anticipation for somebody to mash one out of the yard. I am yet to see a successful team which didn’t have variety; which is what the Dodgers must find. A clear offensive style needs to be highlighted, and adhered to: the team needs to manufacture runs, to grind pitchers down, to take walks, run a little, play some small ball if necessary. If we’re left hoping for Matt or Andre or Adrian to park one in the Pavillion too often, the Dodgers will fail; in the burden placed on those players, and in the predictability of offensive production, LA will only encounter problems. A blend of scrappers, fighters and hustlers must complement the undoubted superstar factor; different tools in the bag for use in different situations.
The man who is chiefly responsible not only for the creation of aforementioned team chemistry, but for the deployment of these tools, is Don Mattingly. Even he has not escaped the scaremongering media; who seek to accentuate his one-year contract as an inherent Dodger weakness. This is not even a story. The Dodgers have a rich heritage of managers working miracles on one-year deals; the organizations greatest successes arising under the tutelage of Walt Alston and Tommy Lasorda, two managers famed for working on one-year deals. If anything, this whole contract scenario should make Mattingly hungrier than ever.
A legitimate concern, however, is that a large number of his players are entering 2013 after lengthy injury. Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly were extensively injured at the end of last season. Matt Kemp had surgery in the off-season. Kenley Jansen appears increasingly to be a question-mark. Carl Crawford hasn’t played competitive ball in seven months. All of this is concerning for Dodger fans. Earlier this week, of course, our world shuddered with the news that Hanley Ramirez will miss eight weeks with a jarred thumb during the World Baseball Classic Final; a timely reminder that, in baseball, nothing is ever unduly granted without the necessary work. Nobody truly knows how any of these guys will return in 2013. Will Kemp struggle to find his inimitable rhythm? Will Crawford play enough games to have a shot at rekindling his Tampa Bay form? Which Chad Billingsley will show up? The Dodgers must manage injuries more efficiently than in previous years, to keep this core of influential players out there on the field as much as possible.
Even if such aspects of Dodger idealism fall into place, with a beautiful chemistry, a delicate offensive equipoise, and an eager manager selecting healthy players, we cannot legislate for the rest of the league. It will be as competitive as ever. As the Dodgers appear ready to overtake the Yankees in the most hated team sweepstakes, the incentive has never been greater to beat LA; teams will raise their game when playing the Dodgers, because they want to show that they can beat this assemblage of rich guys. Therefore, it will be an arduous, draining season, which will require incredible mental toughness.
That also encompasses the fans. Dodgerdom must not become a problem itself. In other cities where teams have spent exceedingly, their potential is often zapped by a demanding fanbase. We all saw Red Sox Nation become whiny and ruined by success. We all saw Marlins Park empty as the stars were traded away one-by-one. We have to be different. Dodgerdom must not expect too much. After all, this is a club which hasn’t even been to the postseason since 2009; we can only develop in increments, if it’s to be sustainable in the future. We must be supportive of this team, and give them every chance to win; let LA be an incubator of hope rather than the notorious fishbowls of pessimism in Boston, New York and beyond. We will achieve nothing divided but, together, we can solve the potential crises which have marred the gossip columns ever since this club became rich.