Don Mattingly Is An Excellent Manager

As you may know, Don Mattingly is my favorite player of all time. When he and Joe Girardi were the two candidates competing to become Joe Torre‘s successor as the manager of the New York Yankees, I had hoped he wouldn’t get the job simply because there would come a time when some front-running, loud-mouthed Yankee fans would complain about the job he was doing if the team was losing. I wouldn’t be able to stomach that fact he would be booed in Yankee Stadium, something that never happened to him during his playing days.

Don Mattingly may get his World Series ring as a manager.  Image:  si.com

Don Mattingly may get his World Series ring as a manager. Image: si.com

Today, Donnie Baseball is the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that has undergone a ridiculous amount of change and emotion since he was named manager in 2011, finally succeeding Torre.  Los Angeles was owned by Frank McCourt at the time, who was embroiled in a  bitter divorce and later filed for bankruptcy.  As you could imagine,  this was not the best of circumstances for a guy in his first year of his first managerial gig.  Somehow, Donnie was able to get LA to finish with a winning record of 82-79.  The following season, the Dodgers started out red-hot and stayed in first place until June 27th, by which time the wheels had fallen off as the team suffered numerous injuries including one to Matt Kemp who was having an all-time Dodger season up to that point.  Still, the team finished 86-76 and with new ownership in the form of Magic Johnson and a gut-busing payroll, 2013 was expected to be the year of Dodger Blue.

It did not start off that way.  The team was beset by injuries early and honestly, looked totally lost.  I saw them play the Arizona Diamondbacks in May and they looked like a Little League team, making silly errors and countless mental mistakes.  They sank to last place, 10 1/2 games off the National League West lead.  It appeared that Donnie was going to be fired by season’s end.  However, the arrival of Yasiel Puig and the return of Hanley Ramirez gave the Dodgers a jolt.  Led by Mattingly’s even-keeled nature the Dodgers roared back, powered by a 42-8 stretch vaulted the Dodgers to first place with a sizeable 10 game lead.  Much of the credit has to be given to Mattingly, who while not fiery, will bench people if they do not play to his standards as Puig and Andre Either have found out.  He also earned much praise from Kemp and Clayton Kershaw the team’s two biggest stars.

As much as I have a dislike for the Dodgers, I feel great for Don Mattingly.  I am not sure I could root for him in the World Series but I would sure love to see him get there.

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I also cover the Arizona Diamondbacks at venomstrikes.com

August 26th: What a Date in New York Baseball History

From time to time I enjoy getting material for this blog by looking up what happened in baseball history on a particular date.   Although August 26th only has about two hours left in the day, there are lots of goodies that took place on this date particularly those pertaining to the two New York baseball clubs.  The timing may seem particularly cruel for Mets’ fans considering today’s news regarding Matt Harvey but some of these items are too good not to be mentioned.  So here is a rundown of what took place on this date over the years.  A big thanks goes out to http://www.nationalpastime.com

Classic Bobby V.  Image:  usatoday.com

Classic Bobby V. Image: usatoday.com

 

1962-The Yankees were swept in a five game series by the Baltimore Orioles as Robin Roberts outdueled Whitey Ford 2-1 in a battle of future Hall of Famers.  The Yanks would go on to win the World Series later that season but whoever heard of a team dropping all five games of the rare five game series?

1991-Brien Taylor signed a record-setting $1.55 million contract with the Yankees as the number one pick in the June draft.  Taylor, a 19-year old pitcher from East Carteret High School in Beaufort, North Carolina had his price driven up thanks to suspended owner George Steinbrenner who said earlier, “If they (Yankee management) let him go, they ought to be shot”.  Taylor never pitched a game in the Major Leagues as his career was derailed by a shoulder injury suffered in 1993 while defending his brother in a bar fight.

1993-Vince Coleman was placed on administrative leave by the Mets following his admission that he tossed an M-100 firecracker at fans in the Dodger Stadium parking lot.  As result of Coleman’s recklessness, three people were injured in the July 24th.  It was just the latest in a string of embarrassments for a Mets squad that lost 103 games that season.  The atmosphere around the team was so toxic that the organization decided to enlist several eager college students (including yours truly) to create so a more fan-friendly vibe around Shea Stadium.

1996-The Mets replace Dallas Green as manager with Bobby Valentine.  Bobby V becomes one of the most successful managers in team has had and led the club to back-to-back playoff appearances for the only time in franchise history.  The 2000 team advanced to their fourth World Series in its history where it lost 4 games to 1 to the Yankees.  Valentine had many memorable moments as the skipper, perhaps none more so than the glasses and mustache “outfit” he wore in the dugout following an ejection.

2002-Two Yankees made history in the team’s 10-3 victory over the Texas RangersAlfonso Soriano hit is 31st home run of the season, setting a new club record for second basemen.  He surpassed Joe Gordon‘s mark which was set in 1940.  Derek Jeter became only the third player to score 100 or more runs in his first seven seasons.  He joined Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Earle Combs and will join them one day in Cooperstown.  Also noted about this game:  it was the first one where video was streamed over the Internet and was viewed by 30,000 fans.

2003-It was future Mets trade day as Oliver Perez and Jason Bay were traded by the San Diego Padres to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Brian Giles.  The deal worked out in the Bucs’ favor as Bay would have several productive seasons in Pittsburgh including winning the 2004 National League Rookie of the Year Award.  Perez finished 2004 in the top five in ERA with a nice 2.98 mark.  Unfortunately, this kind of excellence was missing during the duo’s time in New York.

2008-David Wright becomes the first player in Mets’ history to have four 100 RBI seasons.  The euphoria doesn’t last as the Amazins’ blow a 7-0 lead and lose to the Philadelphia Phillies 8-7 in 13 innings.  The victory sent Philly into first place, a half game in front of New York.

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I also cover the Arizona Diamondbacks at venomstrikes.com

Please Send Darren Oliver to a Winner

He was the losing pitcher in the second game of a doubleheader on Tuesday.  He will turn 43 in October and almost did not come back in 2013, which is now his 20th full season in the Big Leagues.  Darren Oliver‘s career hasn’t been spectacular but it has been steady, particularly since his conversion to a strictly relief role in 2006.  He is an easy to guy to root for.  However, Oliver’s career is missing a World Series Championship, something he has come close to, most notably as a member of the 2011 Texas Rangers who were one strike away from winning it all.  So I have one favor to ask of Toronto Blue Jays’ General Manager Alex Anthopoulos:

It would be nice to see Darren  Oliver go out with a ring.  Image:  sportsnet.ca

It would be nice to see Darren Oliver go out with a ring. Image: sportsnet.ca

Please send Darren Oliver to a place where he has a chance to earn a ring.

Surely, some contending team has room for a wily lefty (what a great term) out of the bullpen.  The 3.92 ERA is a bit high but consider the mess that are the Blue Jays, with their underachieving 57-71 record.  Oliver’s ERA has not finished a season over 3.00 since 2007, including 2012’s sparkling 2.06.  Don’t you think the Detroit Tigers despite all of their might and muscle but can’t  find stability in the ‘pen, could use someone like him?  Perhaps Drew Smyly is their answer from the left side but they should think about another lefty out there.  How about the St. Louis Cardinals?  I know Randy Choate has done a nice job for them but picture Oliver going back-to-back with Trevor Rosenthal.  First, you get the 80 MPH junk of Darren followed by the 100 MPH heat of Rosenthal.   Tell opposing batters to have fun with that.

Darren Oliver considered retirement following the 2012 season with a year left on his contract.  However, once the Blue Jays made all of those moves to contend and they increased his salary, he decided to give it one more shot.  I would like Toronto to give him one last World Series opportunity by trading him before August 31st.  Perhaps a third go-round with the Rangers will give him the ring that has eluded him for two decades.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Francisco Liriano is Dealing

He burst onto the scene in 2006 as a member of the Minnesota Twins.  In 121 innings, he struck out 144 batters and sported a 12-3 record with a fantastic 2.16 ERA.  And then, just like that, Francisco Liriano‘s career seemed to take a long drive off a short cliff.   He missed the last seven weeks of the regular season, the divisional playoffs  and all of 2007 because of Tommy John surgery.  He did win 14 games in 2010, earning Comeback Player of the Year honors but at the end of each of the following two seasons, his ERA was over 5.00.   The Pittsburgh Pirates decided to give him a one year guaranteed contract worth $1 million dollars with a club option for 2014 at $8 million dollars.

Francisco Liriano's 14 wins is tied for first in the National League.  Image:  si.com

Francisco Liriano’s 14 wins is tied for first in the National League. Image: si.com

Right now, he is the bargain of the year.

The 29-year old lefty is the rotation’s ace, with a National-League leading 14 wins and an ERA of 2.53, good enough for fifth in the Senior Circuit.   These are outstanding numbers for a guy who started the season on the disabled list and did not make his first appearance until May 11th.  He already has two complete games in 2013, doubling his career total; his only one prior to this season was his no-hitter that he threw on May 3rd, 2011 against the Chicago White Sox.  The Bucs were just coming off a seven loss in nine game stretch when Liriano took the mound last night in San Diego.  Once again, he was brilliant, throwing seven innings of shutout ball allowing only four hits and striking out 13 as the Pirates defeated the Padres 3-1.  The victory enabled Pittsburgh to keep their slim one game lead in the National League Central.  The Pirates are now 3-7 over the last ten games; two of the victories were in large part to Liriano, who could very well be the team’s Most Valuable Player.

At 73-51, the Pirates have the second best record in the National League with 19% of them coming from a player who had his original contract voided by the team in December because of an injury.  It’s hard to imagine a guy in the NL who deserves Comeback Player of the Year more than Nelson Liriano.

Matt Carpenter’s Great Season

The St. Louis Cardinals keep churning out talent.  The latest revelation is Matt Carpenter, a 28-year old second baseman who is playing in his second full Big League season.  Most of America, when hearing about St. Louis in the post-Tony LaRussa era, think about Yadier Molina or Adam Wainwright.  Yet the player who has been just as valuable as Yadi in 2013, is the lefty swinging Carpenter, a 13th round draft pick of the Cards in 2009.   Wainwright, Molina,  Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran grab the headlines but it is Carpenter who has played in 117 of the team’s 122 games who has been the steadying force for the Wild Card-leading Redbirds.

Matt Carpenter leads the NL in three offensive categories.  Image:  rotoanalysis.com

Matt Carpenter leads the NL in three offensive categories. Image: rotoanalysis.com

So how great has Carpenter been this season?  He ranks in the top ten in six National League offensive categories including first in the Senior Circuit in three of them:  91 runs scored, 149 hits and 41 doubles.  Carpenter is also sixth in batting average at .312, eighth in on-base percentage at .387 and ninth in triples with five.  He was selected to his first All Star Game after finishing sixth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2012.  Matty leads the Cards in at-bats with 477 as St. Louis is only a game off the lead in the National League Central and are in prime position to secure their third consecutive playoff berth.

Matt Carpenter is just the latest in a long line of St. Louis Cardinal players who come through their system and continue the team’s winning tradition.  They are the best organization in the sport, consistently in postseason contention year after year.  Helped by their newest star in Carpenter, would you bet against the Cardinals winning their second World Series title in three seasons?

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Thank You, Charlie Manuel

New York Met fans may not agree with me but today was a sad day with the news that Charlie Manuel was dismissed as the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies.   The Phils are heading for a second straight sub par season and rather than dumping several underachieving, expensive contracts, it was much easier to fire one skipper.  While I understand why the move was made (the team promoted Ryne Sandberg  to take Manuel’s place), the game will be a little less fun without good ol’ Charlie in the Philadelphia dugout.

Charlie Manuel was the best manager in Phillies' history.  Image:  phillysportscentral.com

Charlie Manuel was the best manager in Phillies’ history. Image: phillysportscentral.com

Let there be no mistake about it.  Charlie Manuel was the most successful manager in the history of the Phillies.  In almost nine seasons, his record in Philly was a glistening 780-636.  That’s only a quarter of the story.  He led Philadelphia to five straight division titles, a streak that is only rivaled by some great New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves teams.  The only time the Phillies made back-to-back World Series was when Manuel was at the helm.  The 2008 Championship team was only the second World title in the franchise’s 131 year history.

You can say that the organization, originally led by Hall of Fame GM Pat Gillick when Manuel first got there, was largely responsible for the success of the Phillies.  That is a good point but that is diminishing Charlie’s impact.  Let’s compare the two best runs in Phillies baseball.  The Phils from 1976 through 1983 won 5 1/2 (the half is the 1981 strike season) division titles, two pennants and the 1980 World Series.  However, three different managers (Danny Ozark, Dallas Green and Paul Owens led those teams.  Plus, they had legends Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton and later, Pete Rose on those squads.   Philly during Manuel’s tenure has some really good players but it is debatable at best if guys like Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay belong in the Hall.

At age 69, this was probably Charlie Manuel’s last managerial gig.  Even with his excellent 2 1/2 years with the Cleveland Indians, Manuel did not manage long enough to be considered for the Hall of Fame.  I hope he continues to stay in the game in some capacity as he truly is one of the game’s best and most entertaining people.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Jason Giambi’s Flair for the Dramatic

His name will be forever be tarnished by his admitted use of Performance Enhancing Drugs.  He is one of the very few New York Yankee stars not to own a World Series ring.  Yet Jason Giambi has carved out a little bit of a niche as the wise old clubhouse man who can still deliver the occasional big hit.  Today’s three run, eighth inning home run helping the Cleveland Indians get a crucial victory was the latest example of Giambi’s penchant for late innings heroics.

It would be nice to see Jason Giambi make the playoffs one last time.  Image:  Cleveland.com

It would be nice to see Jason Giambi make the playoffs one last time. Image: Cleveland.com

After not being re-signed by the Yankees following the 2008 season, Giambi found his way back to his first home, the Oakland A’s.  He was released by the A’s in August and signed shortly thereafter by the Colorado Rockies.  He helped the Rox with their incredible playoff push garnering many key late game hits as Colorado used an 18-9 September record to become the Wild Card.  Still with the Rockies in 2011, Giambi at age 41 became the second oldest player to hit three home runs in one game, topped only by the legendary Stan Musial.  After the 2012 season, Giambi signed a minor league deal with the Indians and made the club out of Spring Training.   Only July 29th, he became the oldest player to end a game with a home run when he connected off Chicago White Sox reliever Ramon Troncoso.

Although he is batting only.190 on the season, the slugger does have eight home runs.  Part of the reason why the Tribe has stayed within striking distance of first place in the American League Central and in playoff position is the presence of Jason Giambi.  At 42, this may be his last hurrah.  What better way for him to close out a star-crossed career than by smacking the hit that will give Cleveland its first playoff appearance in six years?

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com