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?

“The Season Depends on Vicente Padilla Beating Pedro Martinez”

Say that phrase to yourself. Roll it around your mouth, let it dangle on the tip of your tongue. The season depends on Vicente Padilla beating Pedro Martinez. It’s so absurd that it doesn’t even seem to make sense, at first. What would that have meant to you three months ago?

“Uh, the Rangers are playing San Pedro de Macoris?”

“Dear god, the Dodgers really did sign Pedro?! And… we’re playing Texas in the World Series?!”

“What season is that? Is there some sort of off-season shuffleboard tournament?”

pedroIn an October filled with top-line aces (Cliff Lee, C.C. Sabathia) and a multitude of incredibly talented starters both young and old (Clayton Kershaw, Cole Hamels, John Lackey, A.J. Burnett, etc.) the Dodger season hinges on… Vicente Padilla vs. Pedro Martinez. A Pedro Martinez who hasn’t even pitched since in over two weeks, since Sept. 30.

No, losing today and being down 2-0 isn’t completely insurmountable, but I don’t think I really need to go look up the history to tell you that teams which drop the first 2 games (at home!) don’t have a great legacy of coming back to win. So, yes, the season does depend on today’s game.

I think the real question is, is it sadder that our Game 2 starter is Vicente Padilla… or that the best the Phillies can come up with is Pedro Martinez?

Battle of the Titans, indeed.

Going From Bad to Worse?

Out with the old…

Schmidt out of running for fifth starter’s spot

Joe Torre made that pronouncement BEFORE today’s game, which means before Jason took the mound. The rationale is that Schmidt’s pitch count isn’t progressing and that he needed the extra day off between starts. He isn’t expected to throw more than 35-40 pitches today, roughly the same number he threw last Monday against Texas.
“I would say at this juncture … there is no way we can count on him for that right now, just because of the fact we are in that period of less than three weeks until opening day.”

And in with the… also old?

martinez_p.jpgWhile the Dodgers may be the most likely landing spot for Cooperstown-bound pitcher Pedro Martinez, the Mets can’t quite be ruled out yet. The Dodgers’ situation at the back end of their rotation may actually be even more dire. “We need another starter,” one Dodgers official said, flat out.

Right now Eric Milton, Claudio Vargas and James McDonald are among several candidates for the Dodgers’ No. 5 starting job, but 20-year-old phenom Clayton Kershaw, who’s penciled in to one of the four certain spots, so far is still “hit and miss,” according to another Dodgers official. The Indians and Pirates are known to be two more teams monitoring Pedro’s progress, and agent Fern Cuza said there are a couple others in the mix after Pedro looked great in three innings in the World Baseball Classic, but a person close to Martinez said that he would favor the National League and is insistent on playing for a contender, which may mean it’ll come down to the Dodgers and Mets.

I did say the other day that I wasn’t all that interested in the idea of Pedro’s return from a baseball perspective, because I think he’s hardly the solution to the our problems. The fanboy in me would still be entertained, but how sad is it that he’s rapidly becoming the best solution to this hole?

(P.S., Free James McDonald. There, I said it.)

Somewhere, Jon Lester Sheds a Tear

papeljig.jpgLook at that! Two Jon Lester posts in four days. By now, you’ve probably heard about Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon’s comments about Manny Ramirez to Esquire

So Manny was tough for us. You have somebody like him, you know at any point in the ball game, he can dictate the outcome of the game. And for him not to be on the same page as the rest of the team was a killer, man! It just takes one guy to bring an entire team down, and that’s exactly what was happening. Once we saw that, we weren’t afraid to get rid of him. It’s like cancer. That’s what he was. Cancer. He had to go.

Now, I normally wouldn’t comment on such a thing, because it’s not really baseball-related and sorting out the truths from the rumors about that situation is often impossible. Hey, maybe he’s right, and maybe he’s not. But I can’t help but point out that… hey, Jonathan. Your boy over there in the corner? Jon Lester, one of the best young pitchers in baseball? Just signed a big contract this week? Yeah, he had cancer. So I’m just going to go out on a limb and say that maybe making cancer jokes around your locker room, maybe not the best idea. Besides, do we really want to be taking advice from the jackass shown at right doing the Riverdance?

Moving on, I mentioned yesterday that I wasn’t that enthused on signing Pedro Martinez, especially for the price he was asking for. But since this is the story that seems like it just won’t go away, let’s take a second to address it again. Ken Rosenthal seems to agree with me, saying:

The Dodgers’ curiosity about free-agent right-hander Pedro Martinez ends with his asking price. The only way the Dodgers will sign Martinez, major-league sources say, is if he agrees to “pitch for pay,” accepting a low base salary with incentives.

Well, that’s pretty much what I said yesterday – if the price is a lot lower than the $5.5m guaranteed/$5.5m in incentives he’s looking for, I’d be willing to give it a shot. But even then I’m not huge on it, because I think Pedro’s mostly cooked. Eric Seidman over at Baseball Prospectus agrees and adds in with:

Considering his projected performance, there are simply not many teams that would be vastly improving their rosters by adding Martinez, and if the former All-Star is only going to provide a marginal level of production over either prospects or freely available talent, why bother?

When he does sign, the 13-year-old inside me who witnessed the dominance in that 1999 All-Star Game will be pulling for a career renaissance, but at this point, Pedro Martinez is a fifth starter with just a little bit left to contribute, whose past success may garner present and future opportunities even if the actual production fails to justify the playing time.

Exactly. The fact that he was so good in 1997 doesn’t have any bearing on how good he’d be in 2009 (are you listening, Yankee fans? That applies to Derek Jeter, too), so there’s no sense in paying him millions over the replacement-level return he’s likely to give you.

So, we’re all on the same page, right? Right? Oh, Bill Plaschke. When will you learn?

The ghost of Delino DeShields has haunted enough.

It’s time to bring Pedro Martinez home.

One year after an opening day in which the Dodgers ceremonially connected with their past, they could do it for real by turning a humongous mistake into a homecoming king.

So because the Dodgers made a big mistake 15 years ago, they should make another mistake by bringing back a player who’s a shadow of himself? Again, don’t get me wrong – if Pedro’s willing to work for the minimum, I’m not against giving him a shot, but there’s just no valid baseball reason for advocating bringing him back.

But I suppose that was my mistake – why would I expect to see Bill Plaschke having any use for “valid baseball reasons”? Carry on, Bill.

Thanks For Reading, Bill!

Rob over at 6-4-2 brings to my attention something amazing, from Bill Plaschke’s column about Andruw Jones:

Plaschke Steals MSTI’s Gag Line

In today’s column:

“Are you saying you’re sorry?”

Are you sorry for showing up at spring training looking like a blue manatee? Sorry for not working hard enough to fix that weight? Sorry for ripping the fans who booed you for that weight? Sorry for asking to be put on the disabled list so you could disappear from those boos?

Funny, I coulda sworn I’d heard that before… where was it now? Oh, yeah.

Oh, Bill. I never knew you felt that way about me. After all the times I’ve pointed out just how bad you are at your job on this site, I never imagined you actually cared to read the thoughts of, well, someone who uses more than one sentence in a paragraph. Fine, it might not be as egregious as when Scout.com literally plagarized FireNedCollettiNow, but surely the use of the term “blue manatee” can’t be a coincidence, right? Not after I made a Photoshop of an enormous blue manatee to represent Jones? Especially when I made the joke above not because we ever called Andruw Jones a whale, but because the nickname “Hindenburg” had stuck due to both his resemblence to a blimp and the fact that his explosion injured nearly as many people?

Bill, I appreciate your readership. The invoice will be in the mail shortly.

On to far, far more important things, Jon Heyman has some rumors about Dodger third baseman:

There was talk at Dodgers camp that the Yankees might have interest in excellent contact hitter Mark Loretta, who could upgrade their third base situation.

Cashman wants to guard against an overpay, and opposing teams will be looking to take advantage of the Yankees’ situation. Blake DeWitt is another Dodger who would make sense, but one Dodgers person suggested L.A. might want young pitcher Phil Hughes for DeWitt — which definitely would qualify as an overpay. The Yankees would likely be willing to trade USC product Ian Kennedy but not Hughes, who’s having an excellent spring.

First, let me say that I find all of this incredibly unlikely. As a free agent signed this offseason, Loretta would have to give his consent to be traded before June. I’m not sure I can see a local boy who finally made his way to the Dodgers agreeing to be moved to New York to start for a few weeks just to sit on the bench when A-Rod returns. Besides, even if he did want to go, the Yankees surely wouldn’t want to give up all that much for a 37-year-old stopgap who’s miscast as a starter. Since Loretta is actually pretty valuable to the Dodgers as a backup at all four infield positions and a lefty-masher, whatever the Yankees would be willing to give up probably wouldn’t be worth it. So, scratch that.

iankennedy.jpgAs for DeWitt, well, I’d do DeWitt-for-Hughes in a heartbeat. But the Yankees never would, so we can drop that right now. Ian Kennedy’s an interesting proposition, though. A USC product and a former first-round pick, he’s been dominant in the minors (1.99 career ERA with more than a K per inning!) and got off to a hot start in his 2007 MLB debut, allowing just 4 earned runs in 19 innings. Of course, he got torched when pushed into the rotation in 2008 (8.19 ERA in 39.2 innings). Since he was still pretty good back in the minors (2.35 ERA), I’m willing to chalk that up to a 23-year-old who wilted under the pressure of his first real test in New York City.

Kennedy’s still just 24, and those minor league stats really impress me. And to be honest, while I really like Blake DeWitt, I do think that Dodger fans have overrated his potential slightly just because of how amazing his out-of-nowhere 2008 was. I do think he can be a solid regular, but I really don’t see him being an All-Star. I might say the same for Kennedy, but wouldn’t you rather a solid starting prospect than a solid infield prospect?

The other issue is one of depth. Even with the loss of Ivan DeJesus, Jr., to a broken leg, the Dodgers have plenty of middle infield depth between Loretta, Chin-Lung Hu, Tony Abreu, and perhaps even Juan Castro and Hector Luna, so losing DeWitt’s contributions at second base isn’t an issue. At third base, there’s a nice crop of youngsters coming up like Josh Bell and Pedro Baez, but none who would be ready this year if something were to happen to Casey Blake. If DeWitt were moved and something happened to Blake, you’d likely be looking at Loretta or Abreu playing every day, which isn’t a great situation.

On the other hand, an all 25-and-under group of Billingsley/Kershaw/McDonald/Kennedy, plus Kuroda or another veteran, in 2010 is drool-worthy. I think this is one of those deals I’d be okay with either way – if Kennedy gets added to the crop of pitchers, that’s great and I wouldn’t be crushed at losing DeWitt, and if not, it’s not like I’m dying for Kennedy anyway and then we’d still have DeWitt. But I would probably go ahead and do it, were this offer actually on the table.

Finally, yes, I have heard that Pedro Martinez is interested in coming back to the Dodgers, and no, I’m not all that interested. Yes, it would be nice to bring him back home after all the pain that was caused by the historically bad deal that sent him to Montreal in 1994, but that was fifteen years ago. He’s hardly the same player, and while I wouldn’t object to giving him a look, I do object to the two things he wants: a guaranteed rotation spot, which we don’t have considering that Jason Schmidt is the guaranteed #5 if he’s healthy, and a “Smoltz-like” contract of $5.5m guaranteed with $5.5m in incentives. If he’s willing to work for half of that, say, the possibility of getting to $5.5m total if he gets all his incentives, I might have interest. But even then, that’s still high and he might not sign for that little anyway. So, no.

You really can’t go home again.