Tagged: Los Angeles Dodgers

Carlos Beltran and Other MLB Playoff Thoughts

Sorry for being away for so long.  I was writing for another blog, gradingonthecurve.com previewing the Arizona Fall League players for the ten Western Division teams.  The playoffs are in full swing and we are already down to the final four teams.  Here are some of my observations of what we have seen so far.

Carlos Beltran should go to the Hall of Fame.  Image:  espn.com

Carlos Beltran should go to the Hall of Fame. Image: espn.com

-Last week I had posted on Facebook that Carlos Beltran was on his way to the Hall of Fame. This was before Game 1 of the NLCS in which he drove in all three runs and gunned down A.J. Ellis in the Cardinals’ 3-2, 13 inning victory over the Dodgers.  Including this year’s playoffs, Beltran has 156 postseason at-bats with 16 HR’s, 34 RBI’s 11 steals and a slash line of .327/.442/.712.  But does that guarantee a ticket to Cooperstown?

For his career, Beltran was the 1999 AL Rookie of the Year with the Royals.  He is an eight-time All Star with only one top five finish in the MVP race (2006 with the Mets).  100 RBI seasons are usually a good indicator of production; Beltran has eight of them, the last coming in 2008 although he drove in 97 in 2012.  His career numbers after 16 seasons read like this:  358 HR’s, 1,327 RBI’s, 308 stolen bases and a line of .283/.359/.496.

Personally, I think Beltran deserves to get in.  He has had eight dominant seasons even if the results didn’t show up in the MVP race.  Although his career was cut short due to an injury, the reason why Kirby Puckett is in the Hall of Fame is because he has two World series rings and was the best player on those teams.  Beltran has better overall numbers with no title.  If Beltran gets to the Fall Classic, he knocks on the door; if the Cardinals win, the door swings open.

-Since Billy Beane became the general manager in 1998, the Oakland A’s have made six playoff appearances (five division titles and one wild card) and have gotten to the ALCS only once.   Some may consider this a knock on his record.  I do not.  Getting to the playoffs in baseball is the hardest road to travel in any professional sport.  They should be celebrated for their tremendous success over 162 games not maligned for a failure to advance after five games.   What has made the last two seasons hurt is having the Tigers win the decisive Game 5 in both years at Oakland.  They can thank Justin Verlander for shutting them out two straight seasons in the clinchers.

-Speaking of Verlander and the Tigers, there was no way I would have taken him out after eight innings with a 3-0 lead.  He had allowed only two hits and one walk with ten strikeouts on 111 pitches.  That is domination and to me, you allow your star pitcher to finish the game.  It worked out for Jim Leyland but one could only imagine if the A’s rallied.  I am a firm believer of letting your best starting pitcher close out a tight series, like the Cards did with Adam Wainwright in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Pirates.

-I really don’t have too much of a rooting interest but if I had to pick a team, it would be the Dodgers.  Don Mattingly was my favorite player and I want to see him do well after being almost fired earlier this season.  It is hard to root for them given how I write a blog about the Diamondbacks.   However, I can put personal feelings aside in the hopes that Donnie Baseball, who just missed out on a title as player with the Yankees, can get one as a manager.

-Had Torii Hunter made this catch, he would have become a legend.

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Thinking About Steve Kemp

I was standing in line waiting for a ride at Six Flags Great Escape in Lake George, NY on Saturday when I spotted a gentleman wearing one of those classic New York Yankee t-shirts.  You know, the navy blue ones with the white lettering and a player’s name written on the back.  This particular guy had on a CC Sabathia tee which got me to reflecting on my very first New York shirt which was purchased in 1984.  On that particular team, I had my choice of Don Mattingly, Ron Guidry and Dave Winfield among other big names.  So who was the guy I deemed number one during that season?  Why it was none other than the power-hitting lefty known as Steve Kemp.

Steve Kemp's career was derailed by a shoulder injury 4 games into the 1983 season.  Image:  Wikipedia.com

Steve Kemp’s career was derailed by a shoulder injury 4 games into the 1983 season. Image: Wikipedia.com

I know you are probably are wondering why, out of all those stars on the Yankees would I pick a guy who at that point had been a disappointment?  Well, it is probably the same reason why, almost a decade later, my grandmother asked me which player’s jersey would I like to receive from the Dallas Cowboys?  Think about all of the great names on those early to mid 90’s teams like Aikman, Smith, Irvin and Haley.  Yet I chose Ken Norton, Jr for the same reason I chose Steve Kemp.  Everyone has the apparel of the stars, I wanted to go with someone different.

So what was the playing career of Kemp like?  Before he came to the Yankees, he enjoyed a very productive five-year stint with the Detroit Tigers , selected by the team as the number one overall pick in the 1976 draft.  He had a fine rookie season in 1977 with 18 home runs and 88 RBI’s.  He posted back-to-back 20 homer, 100 RBI seasons in 1979 and 1980 with ’79 being his best overall season and his only All-star appearance.  He hit .318 with 26 HR’s and 105 RBI’s.  He was traded to the Chicago White Sox before the 1982 season.  His only season with the Sox was a solid one, belting 19 homers and driving in 98.  He became a free agent and was rewarded with a five-year, $5.45 million dollar deal with the Yanks.

Only four games into his Yankee career, Kemp was involved in a brutal collision with Willie Randolph and Jerry Mumphrey.  It was revealed that Kemp had a bone chip in his shoulder but he played through his injury.  His career was never the same.  He spent only two years in New York, he amassed  only 19 homers and 90 RBI’s in 780 at-bats.  He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates before the 1985 season. He spent a little over one season with the Bucs before being released.  Over the next season and a half, Kemp spent time in the Minor Leagues in the systems of both the San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers.  Kemp batted 39 times with Texas in 1988 before retiring at the tender age of 33.

That awful injury with New York cut short a promising career.  What I remember about Steve Kemp was that he ran out every single ground ball like it was Game 7 of the World Series.  I can still see him hustling down first, batting helmet flying off his head as he just either legged out an infield hit or was thrown out by a half-step.  He also made a nice play in right field during Dave Righetti‘s no-hitter.  That alone should reserve a place in every Yankee fan’s heart for him.

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I have been wrong about many things during the 2013 season.  You can see for yourself by clicking here.  The one that has really put me to shame is my thoughts on the Los Angels Dodgers.  Oh sure, I was looking good for about the first two months of the season.  Then the team called up Yasiel Puig and right around that time Hanley Ramirez got healthy.  Even then I still thought the good times wouldn’t last; I remember when the Arizona Diamondbacks swept the Dodgers in May; LA looked like a Double A squad with shoddy defense and awful baseball awareness.  The Dodgers looked lost.

What a difference seven weeks makes.

After sweeping the hot Tampa Bay Rays this past weekend, the Dodgers are now 37-8 since June 22nd.  An insane 15 game road winning streak was right in the middle of it.  Even though Puig has cooled off somewhat and Matt Kemp is still hurt, Los Angeles is showing a great deal of toughness I didn’t think was there.  The run has lifted the Dodgers to a 7 1/2 game lead over the second place D-Backs.

With Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke leading the rotation, don’t expect the Dodgers to fade anytime soon.  They now have to be considered legitimate World Series threats.  Just ask the St. Louis Cardinals who were recently took only one game in a four game set at home against LA.   Unfortunately for the rest of the National League, Tommy Lasorda is once again singing about Dodger Blue.

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By contrast, one of the few things I have been dead-on about is the play of the Washington Nationals.  They reminded me of Arizona, who went from 65 wins in 2010 to 94 wins and a division title in 2011 to 81 wins in 2012.  It is very hard for a team that comes from nowhere to win big the next season and to retain that excellence the following year.  They don’t get the chance to sneak up on anyone.  Now they become the hunted. That is exactly what happened to the Nats even though they added Rafael Soriano to an already stout bullpen.

It also doesn’t help that Stephen Strasburg only has six wins.  His 2.85 ERA indicates he has pitched well without much support from his offense.  Gio Gonzalez‘s output isn’t much better with only seven victories with an OK 3.52 ERA.  It is the lineup that has doomed Washington. They rank 24th in batting average at .243 and 26th in on base percentage at .303 which is also their ranking in runs scored with 442.  Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper have been both hurt and played under expectations.  It adds up to a 57-60 record, 14 1/2 games back in the National League East and no shot at the playoffs.

Will 2014 be a bounce back year?  They certainly have a good core.  It is hard to imagine the team will not score two seasons in a row for Strasburg.  Then again, we have been saying the same thing for years about the run support for Felix Hernandez.  General Manger Mike Rizzo, flush with his new contract will only have to do some minor tinkering instead of wholesale changes.

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

Battle for Los Angeles Heating Up Big Time

For over 50 years, both the Dodgers and Angels have called Los Angeles home.  Sure, the Angels started off as the Los Angeles Angels before becoming the California Angels for most of their history.  They then morphed into the Anaheim Angels before settling into the simple title of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  Up until 2002, they were almost an afterthought in LA baseball, mainly known for coughing up playoff leads of epic proportions (1982 to the Milwaukee Brewers and 1986 to the Boston Red Sox) as well as a meltdown in 1995 allowing the Seattle Mariners to win the American League West.   The Halos won the World Series in 2002 and since then have won five division titles.  Meanwhile, the Dodgers owned the LA sports scene for a long time and still own a sizable amount of it.  They have won five World Championships since leaving Brooklyn while capturing an additional four National League pennants.  However, recent years haven’t been kind in Dodgertown with the bungled ownership of Frank and Jamie McCourt the biggest blight on the organization since deserting New York 55 years ago.  It seems both teams were never really good at the same time nor have both been considered World Series contenders at the same time heading into Spring Training.

That should change in 2013.

Mikw Trout, one of the many stars playing Major League Baseball in Los Angels.  Image:  sportsillustrated.cnn.com

Mike Trout, one of the many stars playing Major League Baseball in Los Angeles. Image: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

The Dodgers now have Magic Johnson as an owner creating a buzz around the team that has been absent since long-time manager Tommy Lasorda retired in 1996.   AL Rookie of the Year Mike Trout became the most talked-about Halo since Wally Joyner.  Both teams are flush with cash thanks to multibillion dollar deals with FOX Sports, the Angels at $3 billion for 20 years signed in 2011 and the Dodgers rumored to be doubling that number any day now.  LA American has Albert Pujols.  LA National has Matt Kemp.   The Angels have Jered Weaver.  The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw.  Both teams are heavily pursuing Zack Greinke, whom the Halos traded for during the 2012 season6 years and $150 million dollars is what Greinke is supposedly seeking with the Dodgers allegedly willing to meet that price.  That might scare off that other LA team who binged on Pujols and C.J. Wilson at least year’s General Managers meetings.  Don’t expect the Angels to lay down if outbidded for Greinke.  You can bet GM Jerry DiPoto will have something up his sleeve similar to his stealth negotiations with Pujols and Wilson last year.

With no NFL team in Los Angeles, no Kings to defend the Stanley Cup and the Lakers in disarray, the two baseball teams in LA will be making some major noise in the country’s second biggest market.  I dare say that this two team, city rivalry is poised to overtake the Yankees and Mets in terms of juice if it has not done so already.  Will they meet in the World Series?  My instinct tells me no.  You should mark on your calendars the dates May 27th-May 30th.  That’s when these two teams will meet for the only time in 2013.  Let’s hope the games match the hype surrounding both clubs.

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

Davey Johnson: Good Player, Better Manager

Image: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

One of the best stories in Major League Baseball this season has been the emergence of the Washington Nationals.  Although yours truly picked them to win the National League East, I did not expect them to be this good, this quickly.  Even casual fans are familiar with their young budding superstars Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, not to mention established stars such as Jayson Werth, Gio Gonzalez and Tyler Clippard.  Leading this fast-rising group is (I can’t believe I am using this term) grizzled baseball man Davey Johnson.

For those who are not aware or can’t recall, Davey Johnson was a pretty good player during the late 1960’s and through most of the 1970’s.  At a time when power was not associated with Second Basemen, Johnson hit 15 or more home runs three times, including 43 in 1973, one of three members (Darrell Evans and the legend Hank Aaron being the others) of the Braves to top 40 round-trippers.  He started at Second for the Orioles in four World Series trips, winning two in 1966 and 1970.  Before managing the Mets, their fans best remembered him as the guy who made the last out of the 1969 World Series. 

Aahhh, managing.  This second career is where Davey Johnson  has flourished.  He has won at just about every stop.  In 1984, his first season in New York, he guided the Metsto a 90 win season, their first finish above .500 in eight years.   In 1986, he led the team to its second (and last) World Series title.   His next stop was Cincinnati where in 1995, his Reds won the National League Central title and advanced to the National League Championship Series.  After a falling out with owner Marge Schott, Davey returned home (sort of) to Baltimore where the Orioles made the playoffs in 1996 and 1997.  Those were the O’s last two seasons over .500.  The Dodgers were his least successful stint, finishing two games over .500 in two seasons in Los Angeles. 

Many people were stunned when Washington asked him to manage the team in the middle of the 2011 season.  After all, he last managed a Major League team in 2000. When you see his winning percentage is .562  (1,226-957) perhaps it shouldn’t be that shocking.  Twenty-six years after the Mets’ title who would be surprised if he did the same with the Nationals?

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

Post Number 50 Honoring Sid Fernandez And Others Who Wore That Number

Image: mentalfloss.com

Congratulations.  You have been selected to take part in the 5oth post of this blog.  You receive no monetary prize, just entertainment or information (or perhaps both) as we look at some Major Leaguers who have worn the uniform number 50.  Of course a big thank you goes out to all of you have started at my very first post and have continued to follow me up to this point.   I hope you have just as much fun reading as I have had in writing.  May there be many more to come.

Back to the business at hand:

Sid Fernandez  El Sid wore #50 as a tribute to his home state of Hawaii which if you couldn’t figure out was the 50th state to enter the Union.   He spent 14 years in the Majors, mostly with the Mets and was death on left-handed hitters.   He was an earlier version of Randy Johnson minus the extra ten inches of height, eight MPH on the fastball and stick frame.  It was a deliberate, side-arm motion that made the lefty difficult to solve even for right-handed batters.  He pitched the most important 2.1 innings in Met history in Game 7 of the 1986 World Series.  After Boston jumped out to a 3-0 lead, Fernandez entered in relief of Ron Darling and allowed just a single walk while striking out four as the Mets finally tied the game in the sixth inning before winning the Championship 8-5.   Sid finished with 114 wins and a 3.36 ERA to go along with 1,743 strikeouts in 1,866.2 innings pitched. 

Image: bleacherreport.com

J.R. Richard  There will come a time where I will devote an entire post to James Rodney.  Right when I started watching baseball, he seemed to me like the most dominant pitcher of all time.   Unfortunately, his career was cut short when he suffered a stroke during the 1980 season.  I vaguely remember the picture of him being carted off the field in the Astrodome.  I seem to think he attempted a comeback in 1981 that was cut short because of the effects of the stroke.  Just think, for half a season, he was on the same staff as Nolan Ryan for the Astros.  Can you imagine facing those two on back to back nights?  Watch this clip of Richard dominating hitters.

Image: bleacherreport.com

Jay Howell  OK, he didn’t wear #50 for his entire career.  He did sport the big 5-0 with the A’s and Dodgers, the teams with whom he had his greatest success.  He came to Oakland from the Yankees in the big Rickey Henderson trade, totaling 61 saves in three seasons with the team.  Howell then landed with the Dodgers in 1988, saving 21 games to go with a 2.08 ERA as Los Angeles shocked the A’s to win the World Series.   For his career, Howell saved 155 games and recorded the victory in 58 other contests.  He made the All-Star team three times and finished with an ERA under 2.00 twice. 

Other famous number 50’s include Jamie Moyer, Matt Lawton  and Mike Timlin.  Let me know if you can think of any others.

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

MLB Extra Innings Worth Every Penny

For the 2012 season, I am going to make a first time purchase, something I probably should have done years ago.  For the low price of $179, I am going to order MLB Extra Innings which will allow me to see as many baseball games as humanly possible for the next seven months.   

Since I have been able to watch the New York Yankees and the New York Mets, Sunday night games on ESPN and since 2009 games on MLB Network, I really didn’t feel as though there was a need to get the Extra Innings package.  However, since I now write a blog about the Arizona Diamondbacks at www.venomstrikes.com, I feel I should watch (at least three or four innings given the time difference) the team I cover.

Another great reason to order Extra Innings can be summed up in two words:  Vin Scully.  Now entering his 62nd year covering the Los Angeles Dodgers,  Scully remains a national treasure and a joy to listen to even if he only broadcasts games west of the Rockies.   Dick Enberg announcing games for the San Diego Padres is also a treat for baseball fans.  I look forward to catching a glimpse of every team every night of the week from now until October.

Hopefully, I have done good job of selling you on the merits of ordering Extra Innings.  I have already convinced my pal Anthony M. to pick it up for another season.  He was on the fence but after I told him how much I was going to enjoy it for the first time, he got it for 2012.  I’ll check back periodically to give an opinion on other teams’ television announcers as well as my overall satisfaction with Extra Innings.  Until then, enjoy Opening Night.

 

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and at www.venomstrikes.com