NLCS Game 4: Just Look at These Two

Who do you feel more confident in? The Jedi Warrior with the full power of the Force:

wolfstarwars

Or this fat kid who does hand puppets with his eyes closed?

blantonhandpuppet

Yeah, me too. But Randy? Stay away from Pedro Feliz, would you? (3 homers and an 1.140 OPS lifetime.)

The official blog has the lineup, and it’s noteworthy mostly because Casey Blake’s been bumped all the way down to 8th (something to do with his 1-21 career line against Blanton, I’d think), with Matt Kemp back up to 2nd.

Game 3 Aftermath: The Sky is Falling!

Well, I suppose this was predictable. I’ve been trying to make an active effort not to focus on the crazy ramblings of one Mr. Plaschke over at the LAT, because I feel like whenever I talk about him, it just brings more attention to him that he clearly doesn’t deserve.

However, sometimes he just goes off the rails so far that I feel like I wouldn’t be doing my job here if I didn’t present a counter-argument that contained a little bit more, what’s the word? Oh yes. Truth.

Okay, Bill. Get on with it. Go all Chicken Little on us here.

On a blustery night featuring timid Dodgers offerings and furious Phillies hacks amid an angry stadium awash in blue blood, you know what I would have liked to see?

I would have liked to see those Dodgers prospects whom they liked more than Cliff Lee.

Now that would have been ugly.

Who are those guys? Where were those guys?

It’s good that we’re starting off with a supremely important point – who were the prospects that were offered to Cleveland in July? The answer is, “we don’t know for sure,” and keep that in mind, because it’s going to come back to bite Bill here shortly.

They needed to stand amid the ruins of Sunday’s 11-0 Philadelphia Phillies victory to witness what the organization sacrificed to keep them.

They need to be part of this Dodgers tumble into the ropes in the National League Championship Series, the team falling behind two games to one after the franchise’s worst postseason loss in 50 years.

They needed to be here, and we needed to see why.

leephilliesDidn’t realize the NLCS had now turned into a best of three, where being down 2-1 automatically disqualifies you from victory. I won’t pretend that yesterday’s disaster wasn’t ugly – it was – but one of the 78,234,871 reasons I like baseball better than soccer is that there’s no such thing as “total runs” being a tiebreaker. Regardless of whether you lose 11-0 or 1-0, it’s still just one loss in the books.

Oh, and way to throw 19 year old kids who had nothing to do with this under the bus. Real nice.

Why did the Dodgers sacrifice the chance to acquire Lee, the starter stolen instead by the Phillies at the trading deadline, the guy who brilliantly held the Dodgers to three singles in eight innings of puzzled stares?

Yes, I’m sure it was as simple as, “ehh… no thanks.” We’ll get back to this in a second.

Why did the Dodgers sacrifice a sensible postseason rotation, forcing Joe Torre to hand the ball to a spooked Hiroki Kuroda, who threw it well for all of about one batter?

No. False. First of all, Kuroda’s been a very reliable starter when healthy since coming to LA, and as I wrote yesterday, there were several reasons to believe in him against the Phillies. You could make the case that Randy Wolf should have recieved this start, or even Chad Billingsley, but there’s nothing wrong with giving a guy like Kuroda a start. And if there was, you certainly didn’t mention it before he got shelled, did you? Besides, if the Dodgers did get Lee, they likely don’t feel the need to go get Vicente Padilla, meaning Kuroda gets this start anyway.

Why must this season now rest on the shoulders of Randy Wolf, tonight’s Game 4 starter, in whom Torre has so little confidence that in the fourth inning of the division series opener he was yanked with a lead?

Also false. Torre was universally praised for taking advantage of his huge bullpen advantage and not sticking with a starter for too long. I don’t see that so much as “lack of faith” as “going with your strength.” So, this is a faulty point.

Was it worth this? Were these players worth this?

These have been questions asked several times in this space since Ned Colletti’s trade-deadline whiff, and Sunday’s embarrassment makes it perfectly fair to ask it again.

“It’s just one loss,” Russell Martin said afterward. “But at this point, every game means the world.”

Well, it’s nice to see that we’re not overreacting based on one loss that probably happens regardless of a trade for Lee or not, isn’t it?

And one trade could have meant this game. Colletti has long said that his offer was better than Philadelphia’s offer, but the Indians obviously didn’t agree, and baseball folks say the Dodgers continue to overvalue their lower-level prospects.

Here’s where we get into the meat of this thing, because remember when I said right off the top that we didn’t know who the Dodger prospects were? So, how are you supposed to judge the failure or success of a deal when you don’t even know what you’d have to give up? Plaschke seems to think that no price was too high for Lee. What if that price was Kershaw, Billingsley, Kemp, and Ethier? Would you have been okay with that? I didn’t think so.

No, there’s two reasons why the deal got made with Philadelphia and not the Dodgers, and neither of them are due to some epic failure by Ned Colletti:

1) The Indians wanted players who were closer to the bigs. The top of the Dodger system has been emptied out by (mostly successful) graduations to the big league team; guys like Kemp, Kershaw, Billingsley, etc. The next wave of Dodger stars (Dee Gordon, Andrew Lambo, Trayvon Robinson, Ethan Martin, etc.) are at least 2 years away, if not more.

2) The Indians chose poorly. By just about any stretch, the Indians accepted a package of players that was not the most they could get for Lee. In addition to the fact that Colletti says his deal was better, you’ve got Indian fans who hated the trade at the time:

“It’s the worst trade they ever made,” Vavra added. “They really got nothing in this deal.”

“Nothing” is four minor-leaguers — pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp, catcher Lou Marson and infielder Jason Donald — but not the Phillies’ top pitching prospect, Kyle Drabek.

Many fans believe their team should have received more, much more, for the popular Lee, winner of last season’s American League Cy Young Award as the league’s best pitcher, and everyday left fielder Francisco.

And those who hated it after they got a look at their new players:

If Indians fans wanted instant gratification from the players they received in return for Lee, it isn’t happening. Righty Carlos Carrasco is 0-2 with a 9.64 ERA (six homers in 14 innings); catcher Lou Marson is hitting .154; shortstop Jason Donald went on the disabled list in Triple A; and righty Jason Knapp underwent surgery to remove fragments from his shoulder.

In addition to not getting Drabek, Cleveland didn’t get any of Philly’s other top prospects, either – outfielders Dominic Brown and Michael Taylor. What did Baseball Prospectus have to say?

Given the valuation of prospects and the cash situation around the industry, you might have expected that the cheaper contract might yield a better package of prospects, but barring the Indians’ scouting achieving some unanticipated coup, that doesn’t look to be the case at first blush.

and…

between J.A. Happ‘s breakthrough and the retention of pitching prospect Kyle Drabek as well as outfielders Dominic Brown and Michael Taylor, the Phillies might just have kept their best stuff for themselves despite making this sort of major move.

The point being, the Indians – for whatever reason – totally boned this one, in nearly every baseball person’s opinion.  It’s hard to say why they chose the offer they did, and impossible to judge whether Colletti “whiffed” when you don’t even know what the Dodger offer was.

Back to Plaschke’s Cavalcade of Wrong:

Here’s hoping those protected kids are named, I don’t know, Koufax and Piazza?

Imagine if Plaschke had been a writer in the late 50s, back when Koufax was a wild fireballer with mediocre results? Koufax was 8-13 in 1960, with 100 BB in 197 IP at the age of 24. You don’t think ole’ Billy would be beating the bandwagon to trade that no-good Koufax? You better believe he would have. Please don’t take this comparison any further than it needs to go, but Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley are both far superior pitchers at their ages than Koufax was at the same ages.

Here’s hoping that one of those protected players wasn’t, as rumored, Chad Billingsley, who was finally forced into a game Sunday and responded by giving up two runs in less than four innings.

Of all the stupid things this sad excuse for a “journalist” has said, this is by far the dumbest. If Billingsley had been traded for Lee, Dodger fans would have turned this city upside down (remember, at the time, Billingsley had barely started his second-half slide yet).  Lee has the right to be a free agent after the season if he chooses, and you want to give away a 24-year-old All Star with all the talent in the world? This is why I hate writing about Plaschke, because he clearly knows nothing about baseball – it’s just unfortunate that so many read him and believe him.

Blah blah blah through another few lines repeating the same point over and over, until:

Lee not only fooled the Dodgers such that only one player reached second base, he also struck out 10, including a memorable punch-out of Manny Ramirez.

Memorable, because it came as the Citizens Bank Park crowd chanted, “You took steroids. You took steroids.”

Manny got 2 of the 3 Dodger hits last night. By this logic, 98% of the blame for the loss lays on him. But knowing that Philly fans – always known as a paragon of class – were chanting at Manny during a big playoff rout, well, that completely changes my opinion.

Skipping a few more lines to…

The Dodgers needed an ace, and Toronto’s Roy Halladay and Cleveland’s Lee were available, yet Colletti decided to fortify the bullpen with George Sherrill instead.

I don’t want to completely rehash July here, but saying “Roy Halladay was available” is bending the truth. We all know that what Toronto was asking for Halladay was astronomical – that’s why he didn’t get dealt! Whatever it would have taken to acquire Lee, it would have been much more to get Doc. No team felt that was the right course of action, not just LA.

For all the ways Colletti has respected Dodgers culture by building with pitching and defense, he has failed to adhere to their most important of traditions.

Did you know that a Dodger, Don Newcombe, was the first winner of the Cy Young Award? Did you know that the Dodgers won five of the first 11 Cy Young Awards?

Completely irrelevant to the 2009 NLCS. We all know how inaccurate the votes of the baseball writers can be for major awards, and besides, three of those five were won by Koufax, who’s only one of the five best pitchers who ever walked the earth. Why, oh why, don’t we still have one of the five best pitchers who ever graced us with his presence? Why? Ridiculous argument.

Yet they have not had a starting pitcher win a Cy Young Award in 21 years. That was also, incidentally, the last time they won the World Series.

Ah, yes. The little-known caveat deep within baseball’s official rules that the team with the Cy Young winner must win the Series. That’s why the Royals, led by Zack Greinke, are doing so well this October, and are on track to face Tim Lincecum’s Giants in the World Series. Right?

The point here is not that the Dodgers couldn’t use a top starting pitcher right now; of couse they could. It’s just that you can’t kill Colletti for not making a move for Lee when A) you don’t know what his offer was and B) the Indians seemed intent (wrongly, it looks) on taking the Phillies package of lower-ceiling guys who were closer to the bigs.

Bill Plaschke: playing “I told you so” even without the facts since 1996.

NLCS Game 3: Toss Kuroda Outside Naked

Torre removes Kuroda
That headline makes a lot more sense if you’d read Dylan Hernandez’ story on him in the LA Times this morning, which included this quote (hat tip, MOKM):

Kuroda said that as a boy, if he disobeyed his mother, she would throw him out of the house at night — naked.

“That would be a crime in this country, right?” Kuroda said, laughing.

Well, Kuroda was certainly naughty tonight, wasn’t he? There was so much fail in this game that it’s not even worth going over. The Dodgers were out of it almost from the very start, as Kuroda was shelled and lasted just 1.1 horrible IP. The Dodger sleepwalked their way through the rest of it, and that was that.

I don’t want to dwell on this disaster any more than you want to read about it, so I’ll leave you with these four points:

1) Yes, Kuroda sucked and needs to bear the brunt of this. Just remember, though, that Cliff Lee was A+ level outstanding. The way he made Dodger bats look, it wouldn’t really have made much of a difference if Kuroda gave up 5 runs or 500 runs. If there was any game this series for a Dodger starter to implode, this was it.

2) This just drives the point home further that pushing Randy Wolf back to Game 4, behind Kuroda, was a huge mistake. Sure, it’s possible that Kuroda would still have been this bad if he’d started tomorrow. It’s just that Wolf is so much more of a sure thing at this point that it never made any sense to start Kuroda ahead of him.

3) Why did Joe Torre pull Chad Billingsley after he gave up a few hits and 2 runs in the 5th? Billingsley had been cruising up until that point, and those 2 runs were hardly huge – they made it 8-0. Without Jeff Weaver, Jon Garland, or James McDonald on the roster, Billingsley is the “long man”, yet Torre pulled him after 3.1 IP. That meant that Ramon Troncoso had to go 2 IP, presumably meaning he’s not available tomorrow, and Ronald Belisario had to make a (disastrous) appearance as well.

Billingsley hadn’t pitched in several weeks, so he was clearly well-rested. If Torre pulled him just because he gave up a few meaningless runs, it could have massive repercussions on tomorrow’s Game 4 bullpen.

4) Silver lining alert: At least Manny got two hits!

Let’s forget this one ever happened, and get back at it tomorrow for a huge Game 4 – Randy Wolf vs. Joe Blanton.

NLCS Game 3: Kuroda > Lee

There’s a lot to be worried about for Hiroki Kuroda today, it seems. There’s the fact that he hasn’t pitched in three weeks and is coming off a neck injury, to be sure, and then there’s the ever-present lazy journalism of trying to drum up stories about last year’s overblown ‘headhunting’ incidents.

But me? I’m nothing but confident. Just look at the facts…

1) Kuroda was excellent after returning from being hit in the head.

Kuroda Fist PumpHis first start back was on September 5, and in five starts he was very effective - a 2.79 ERA in which he allowed opponents to get on base at just a .269 clip. That even includes a lousy outing against Pittsburgh in which he lasted just 4 innings, and even that didn’t push the ERA over 3.

2) Kuroda owns the Phillies.

Hiroki’s got four career starts against Philadelphia:

8/14/08: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 7 K, 0 BB
8/24/08: 6 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 7 K, 2 BB
10/12/08: 6 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 3 K, 1 BB
6/6/09: 6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 5 K, 3 BB

In just two seasons, Kuroda’s built up quite the history of success against the Phillies, plus this won’t even be the first time he’ll face them in October. It’s even more than that though; look at Kuroda against the current members of the Phillies:

kurodavsphils

.179 OBP! .336 OPS! Just two extra-base hits in 58 plate appearances, and Ryan Howard in particular being completely neutralized. How does that not give you confidence? It’s not just Kuroda, too…

3) Cliff Lee hasn’t had the same level of success against Dodger batters.

While Kuroda’s dominated Philly, here’s Lee against the Dodgers he’ll see tonight:

leevsdodgers

That’s 5 times he’s seen one of these men take him deep, as compared to 0 times that Kuroda could count, and an OBP against that eclipses Kuroda’s OPS against – with Manny in particular hitting him hard.

This is not, of course, to say that this game is in the bag – clearly, Lee is a great pitcher, and Citizens Bank Park is going to be cold, wet, and unfriendly tonight. Just don’t forget how much the Dodgers do have going for them – especially when they get into the bullpens.

NLCS Game 2: How Quickly Things Change

And by “quickly”, I of course mean the 8th inning that took about 6 weeks to play. I could watch that 8th inning over, and over, and over again. Intrigue, strategy, failure and pressure – what more could you want from a playoff game?

After 7.5 innings of a very surprising pitching duel – see below – this game just went off the rails in the bottom of that fateful 8th inning. If you were following the brand new MSTI Twitter feed, you’d have noticed that I said this as Pedro Martinez mowed down Dodger hitters:

The only saving grace for the #Dodgers is that Pedro is 140 years old and the #Phillies crappy bullpen has to step up soon.

That is, of course, exactly what happened. But before we even get into that, let’s award a nice slice of the playoff shares to Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, doing his best to match Joe Torre’s Game 1 mistake, just in the exact opposite way. While we all grilled Torre for leaving in Clayton Kershaw too long when the Dodgers have such a great pen, Manuel went to the other extreme. Regardless of what sort of smoke and mirrors he was using, Pedro was killing the Dodgers and the Phillies bullpen is lousy; why in the hell would you pull him after 7? At least let him start the 8th and see what he can do. Just an unspeakably bad decision, turning the game over to the Philly bullpen.

EthierGame2NLCSSo in comes Chan Ho Park, sporting a fancy new beard, and after giving up a single to what used to be Casey Blake, the game quickly turned… into an epic bunt-a-thon. First, Ronnie Belliard displays the worst bunting technique I’ve ever seen, before putting one down far too hard… but perfectly placed in between Park and Ryan Howard for a hit. Then, Russell Martin tries the same, except Park can’t get one over – getting a gift strike on what should have been ball four – and Martin finally puts a perfect double play ball to third base… except Chase Utley airmails his second throw to first in two days to allow the tying run to score.

With Martin on first, Scott Eyre enters to allow pinch-hitter to Jim Thome finally become an actual Dodger, and not just “theoretical big bat off the bench,” with a single to right field, moving Martin to third. After Ryan Madson walks Rafael Furcal and a strikes out Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier comes up against Scott Eyre J.A. Happ – the 4th Phillies pitcher of the inning.

Now, we all know Ethier’s penchant for coming through in the clutch… and a walk isn’t quite “a walkoff dinger”, but as it gives the Dodgers the lead, we’ll happily take it. In comes J.A. Happ Chad Durbin – that’s right, the FIFTH pitcher of the inning, who quickly retires Manny on a pop to third.

Jonathan Broxton comes in to save the 9th, and just like that, a series – and a season – that was all but over is tied, headed back to Philadelphia.

*****

utleyerrorWow. Just wow. Manuel’s going to get a lot of heat, as he should. And the various members of the Phillies bullpen who didn’t get the job done are going to hear it, as they should.  But there’s no bigger goat in this game than Chase Utley. If he turns that double play, that inning plays out entirely differently. Worse, that’s the second one he botched in two days! If I’m a Phillies fan, I’m wondering just what in the hell is going on with him right now – and I’m worried. Very, very, worried.

*****

How bad was that 8th inning for the Phillies? Just look at the FanGraphs win chart:

fangraphs-nlcsgame2

*****

As for the 7.5 innings that preceded that…

Pedro Martinez is 48 years old! His fastball tops out at 89 MPH! His bones might literally be made of dust! Didn’t he kill a midget? He hadn’t pitched in three weeks!

pedrophilliesWas there ever any doubt?

It’s exactly when there’s every reason that something shouldn’t work that it does work, and so it was that the old man made the team he’s been torturing for 15 years look foolish, allowing just two hits over seven innings.

I don’t take anything away from Pedro here (what’s the over/under on articles tomorrow that call him “gutsy” or “wily”? 50? 100?), because he’s one of the best ever and he was clearly outstanding. But come on, guys. 2 hits, and neither hit all that hard? (One was a bloop to center by Russell Martin, one was an infield single that Matt Kemp beat out.) From what was supposed to be one of the most dangerous lineups in the league, that’s just embarrassing. If you can’t make solid contact on Corpsey McPedro, then what the hell is going to happen against Cliff Lee on Sunday?

On the other side, let’s not gloss over what Vicente Padilla did through 7.1 IP, matching Pedro save for one pitch that Ryan Howard deposited into the left-field stands. As he’s pitching for a contract this offseason, you could almost hear the “ka-ching! ka-ching!” sound effects each time he got an out, couldn’t you? With how horrified everyone – yes, us too – was about the fact that he was starting Game 2, he was fantastic, again. It’s almost as though he’s figured out that if you just tone down the whole “being a giant dick” thing slightly, your fantastic stuff can really help you succeed.

*****

Hey, between Pedro and Chan Ho Park, how about seeing (nearly) 8 innings of two elderly former Dodgers? Couldn’t they have brought back Rudy Seanez to finish it off? Or Kevin Gross? Where was Roger McDowell?