Sun Is Shining In The Sky…

…there ain’t a cloud in sight.
It’s stopped raining,
Everybody’s out and playing

That’s right: Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness – the only Dodgers blog where you can get musical references as varied as the Sex Pistols to House of Pain and now to Electric Light Orchestra. If I may continue…

Hey there, Mr. Blue
you did it right
But soon comes Mr. Night
Creepin’ over
Now his hand is on your shoulder

Now, I look at Mr. Blue and I see a team that’s gone 15-3 over its last 18 games to put a complete stranglehold on the NL West, moving from 4.5 games out to 3.5 up with just 9 games to play. Mr. Blue, you did it right! But soon comes Mr. Night.

There’s a lot of things that can still go wrong for the Dodgers
They lead the National League West by 31/2 games, but like in 1982, nothing is secure.

Couldn’t help yourself, could you, Bill Plaschke? Is it that you just can’t stand the thought of success because it’s so much harder to write articles praising people than bashing them? Believe me – I know it is, but when the team is winning, I’m more than happy to write positive articles. Is it because you’ve so relentlessly bashed everything and anything Dodger-related that if they were to succeed in the face of your protests, it would sort of make it look like… you have no idea what you’re talking about?

No. It couldn’t be that.

Anyway, after quickly recapping how the 1982 Dodgers blew a 3 game lead with 10 to play to Joe Torre’s Atlanta Braves, Plaschke moves on to the meat, listing nine things that still could go wrong. I love articles in a list format, it makes things so easy on me.

Cory Wade’s arm: After retiring 24 consecutive hitters, he looked tired Thursday, allowing hits to three consecutive Pirates in nearly blowing the game.

Wade has become Joe Torre’s new Jeff Nelson, an important middle reliever who will be constantly used down the stretch, a kid who “wows” but also makes you wonder.

How many innings has he pitched this late in a season before?

Answer: None.

It’s nice to get a “fail” right off the bat. First of all, Wade didn’t retire 24 consecutive batters, because there were walks involved. He didn’t allow a hit to 24 consecutive batters, which is a small yet important difference. Secondly, Wade hadn’t allowed a hit to 24 consecutive batters! This kid has been absolutely a revelation this year, posting a 2.32 ERA in a season in which no one expected anything from him other than perhaps a September cup of coffee. We’re going to kill him over one lousy inning? The best part is, I know what you’re saying – “But MSTI, you’ve been railing for weeks about Kershaw going over his innings limit, why doesn’t that apply to Wade?” Part of that is because Cory Wade is 25 and nowhere near as valuable or inexperienced as 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw, but it’s mostly because Wade has pitched fewer innings this season (81.2 combined) than he has in any season since his first year of pro ball in 2004 (99, 133, 92.1, 47, going back from 2007). That’s a good reason too.

Answer: Wade still has plenty of innings left on his arm. Knock it off.

Chad Billingsley’s legs: He has now pitched 45 2/3 innings more than he has ever pitched in a season, every throw placing him on new ground, and how long can he stand?

In his last two starts, he has given up eight runs in 10 2/3 innings.

If that happens in his next two starts, it will be the Dodgers who stumble.

On its face, this is a fair point, because as we’ve already said both he and Kershaw are into new terrority – and I suggested earlier this month that Billingsley get to skip a start or two, which hasn’t happened. But it’s somewhat disingenous to say that “in his last two starts, he has given up eight runs in 10 2/3 innings”, like he’s falling apart. The first of those starts was in Colorado, in which he gave up only 2 runs over 6 innings while getting the victory. You have a problem with that? I sure don’t. Sure, he was lousy in Pittsburgh the other day. It was also the first time in over two months (since July 8th) that he’d given up more than 3 earned runs in a start. I hardly think it’s time to panic.

Derek Lowe’s mortality: As I understand it, that is the only thing keeping him from starting and pitching in each of the last nine games, right?

Darn.

Wait, what? On the list of “things that could still go wrong” Derek Lowe being human is one of them? Setting aside for the moment whether being human is wrong (though, this could explain so much about Plaschke) wasn’t that already settled about 36 years ago? I think this is supposed to be some sort of weird compliment meaning that he wishes Lowe could go every night… but what an odd way to put it.

Matt Kemp’s mind: He has had a terrific summer as a good clubhouse citizen and emerging player.

But he still blunders on the bases — his attempt to steal third with two out in the eighth inning and the score tied Thursday was a doozy.

And the more he struggles on the base paths, it seems the more he struggles at the plate. He has not hit a home run in nearly three weeks, with only two doubles and two runs batted in during that time.

It doesn’t help that he is only four strikeouts shy of the Los Angeles record of 149 set by Billy Grabarkewitz 28 years ago.

A strikeout record is considered so psychologically damaging, some front offices bench players who are close to breaking one.

Um, the Dodgers can’t afford to bench Matt Kemp.

Or putting it another way… Matt Kemp’s hitting .311/.380/.356 over the last two weeks, and even better than that over the last week. Sure looks like he’s heating up to me. So yes, you’ve hit the world’s largest nail on the head – the Dodgers can’t bench Matt Kemp. Congratulations.

Greg Maddux’s umpire: He has two more starts and, let’s face it, he survives only if the plate umpire allows him to survive.

He needs a generous strike zone. But, with the exception of the late Eric Gregg, umpires in big games generally have tight strike zones.

That is only one reason Maddux is a losing postseason pitcher, and an unreliable one in September.

I love how Maddux gets the tag “is a losing postseason pitcher” because his record is a ghastly… 10-11. As if we don’t know how absolutely meaningless wins and losses are for pitchers. It takes all of 10 seconds of research to see that two of those losses came in the 1997 NLCS, where Maddux was absolutely horrible in giving up 2 runs in 13 innings. Or in the 2003 NLDS, where he gave up 2 runs over 6 innings. He sucks!

Also, Greg Maddux career in September (and regular season October games)? 61-48, 3.38 ERA. How unreliable!

Manny Ramirez’s concentration: You never know. You just never know.

Ramirez’s focus can be surreal or spotty, sometimes during the same at-bat, and often during important times of the season.

This is a guy who once batted .412 in the World Series for the Boston Red Sox . . . and also hit .056 in a division series for the Cleveland Indians.

Last month he went nine games without a homer, and the Dodgers won only one of those games.

Currently, he hasn’t hit a homer in a week.

Bench Manny! He’s only hitting .367/.441/.467 over the last week! Boooo! Because somehow, Manny’s only value comes from hitting homers. Not from all the singles and doubles he gets, not from all the times he’s walked, and not from all the value the guys hitting in front of him get in terms of pitches to hit. Manny is Dave Kingman. If he doesn’t homer, he’s useless. Got it.

And not to completely discount his antics in Boston, but the man is playing for a new contract. You don’t think that he’s a little motivated to win a World Series in LA and totally maximize his value?

Russell Martin’s throws: Players are increasingly running on a catcher who seems increasingly arm weary.

Martin has caught more games than anyone in baseball — 143 — and it shows.

He has thrown out only 22% of potential base-stealers, ranking 11th among 14 major league catchers with at least 100 games. This is compounded by some of the slow deliveries of the pitchers, particularly Jonathan Broxton.

With nothing to lose, the San Diego Padres and Giants will be running.

Obviously, running Martin into the ground has been one of our long-running complaints about the season, so I can’t argue this one. Unfortunately, it’s getting to the point where it’s almost too late to do anything about it. But as even Plaschke notes, caught-stealing numbers are almost entirely based on the pitcher, rather than the catcher.

The bench’s splinters: Nobody in the National League is more harmless off the bench in the late innings than the Dodgers.

They are last in the league with only one pinch-hit homer and 16 pinch-hit RBIs.

And if they tell you that this defense-oriented group will be bolstered soon by the veteran bats of Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra, not so fast.

In the last four years in this unfamiliar situation, the two veterans have combined to go five for 26 as pinch-hitters with three RBIs and no extra-base hits.

This is almost entirely the fault of Mark Sweeney though, right? He’s sucked up 73 of those pinch-hitting at-bats. Take him out of the mix, and the batting average leaps 35 points. Besides, I’m not willing to say that having guys like Kent, Nomar, and Pierre off the bench can’t be useful. That’s a pretty good mix of power, defensive flexibility, and speed right there. Either way, if the race is coming down to the bench we’ve got bigger problems.

Those cheating Giants: They stole the signals that led to the 1951 Shot Heard ‘Round the World.

They drowned the base paths that rendered Maury Wills unable to run to a championship.

When they host the Dodgers on the season’s final weekend, if a championship is still at stake, strange things will happen.

Now batting, Barry Bonds.

There’s only one thing to be worried about regarding the Giants, and that’s Tim Lincecum, who the Dodgers might only catch once. You know what will make this point completely moot? Having the NL West clinched before the final series in San Francisco even goes off.

Thanks for being the poo in the fountain, Bill! Just can’t ever enjoy the ride, can you? Although if you see a slightly overweight gray-bearded man rushing the field to take out Manny’s knees with a bat, you’ll know who it is.

* As you’ve probably heard already, the Dodgers have announced that their triple-A affiliate will be moving from Las Vegas, NV to Albuquerque, NM starting in 2009 – restoring an affiliation that had run from 1972-2000.

We here at MSTI are probably more excited about this than just about anyone, because if you’re unaware, the team name “Isotopes” is taken directly from the Simpsons episode “Hungry Hungry Homer”. Clearly, anything that serves to further strengthen the Dodgers/Simpsons relationship is fine by us. Now we just need the official team mascot to be Dancin’ Homer, Ned Colletti to start scouring the American League, the National League and the Negro Leagues for good players – living players! – and for the stadium to start pouring Duff Beer. Duff Beer! Can’t get enough of that wonderful Duff.

 - Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

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