Do better, but how?

“We’ve got to do better.”

— Don Mattingly

“I did my best, but I guess my best wasn’t good enough.”

— James Ingram

* * *

I tell myself to do better all the time. I do it so often that for the most part, other people don’t have to. Not that it does a whole lot of good.

Thursday, just as the rainbow was receding from Dodger Stadium, I was leaving a film screening that, as happens from time to time, left me really inspired to do exactly that with my life. Do better.

Basically, there are three ways to “do better.”

  1. Try harder.
  2. Be smarter.
  3. Have better luck.

I don’t see any indication that Dodger players are doing any less than the best they can on the first two points. The third, of course, is out of their control.

In the Dodgers’ latest loss, 2-0 to Arizona on Thursday, Clayton Kershaw had a good but not great game. He allowed only two runs, but it could have been worse, given that he served up 12 baserunners in six innings. You want him to do better, but do you really think he could have consciously, proactively done anything more to make himself do better?

The Dodger offense had a poor game, against a great 2011 pitcher having a not-so-great 2012 season. In nine innings, the Dodgers had five singles, two walks and no hits with runners in scoring position. Their best chance to score was thwarted by Arizona second baseman Aaron Hill, whose full-body diving stop of a Juan Rivera grounder up the middle turned what would have been a one-out RBI single into an inning-ending double play.

Was the Dodgers’ effort not there? The first thing many people do when a theoretically talented team is losing is conclude that the team is playing with no heart, no fire, no guts. But not succeeding doesn’t mean you’re not trying.

These guys know what’s at stake, individually and collectively. They know they’re behind.  Show me where there was a lack of effort. Show me where they made a mental mistake that made the difference. Show me something meaningful that you’re not just imagining out of frustration.

Now maybe Don Mattingly sees something that I can’t see, and that’s what prompted his closed-door clubhouse exhortation after Thursday’s game. Perhaps he saw something we didn’t in the shadows of pregame preparation, rather than in the gametime spotlight.

More likely is that he is telling his players to “do better” because there’s nothing else really to say. And it’s a little ironic, because, although I’m generally supportive of Mattingly’s efforts as a manager, probably the easiest way for a Dodger to do better might be Mattingly in some of his batting order choices and strategic decisions. But even that’s pretty small potatoes.

Last night, I arrived home hoping to do better. By the time I went to sleep, I was exactly who I was. The Dodgers will do as well as they can, and then they’ll see if that’s good enough.  Because everyone can try to do better, but only one can be the best.

  • Anonymous

    LAT’d*:

    A week after the trade, and I’m losing interest in this team.  I tried but just couldn’t make myself watch the game last night.  For me, it’s more about the players and less the name on the front of the jersey.  Who are these guys?  The chemistry is gone, and I don’t feel the same enthusiasm I felt earlier in the season, even when they were losing.  I’d rather have something to root for than just high expectations.  Is it just me?Offseason signings are different.  This kind of late-season roster turnover can have disatrous consequences.* I still don’t know what this means.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

       If anything twaseverthus, it’s roster turnover on a baseball team.  Turnover is a yearly event.

    • foul tip

      A commenter some years back, screen name LAT, posted so often on dead threads (after Jon’s NPUT) through bad luck or bad timing that it became standard for those to whom this happened to say they were “LATd” as they repeated their own dead-thread posts on the next thread.

      Been known to be there and do that myself.  There for a while I thought of changing my screen name to LATd2.

      These days LAT posts only very rarely.

    • Anonymous

      Winning cures a lot of things.  I imagine this included.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Terry-Pruett/1707390003 Terry Pruett

    There are actually 4 ways to do better: the three you mentioned and one more…RELAX. I would bet my last dollar that the subject matter of the clubhouse chat was somthing like “Stay within yourself; focus on one pitch at a time; the entire season does NOT rest on each at bat, so stop trying to win the World Series every time you come up. Just do what got you here.”

    I think that, because of the way the team came together, it would only be natural for each major player to feel increased pressure, which only builds with every loss. My guess is that they need to forget about the standings, forget about the circumstances, and just play.

  • Anonymous

    As Homer Simpson might say, “Be more funny.”

  • Anonymous

    I will add another one: FOCUS.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

       Where do you think they’re focusing or not focusing?

  • Anonymous

    I hate to flog it to death, but I think that, offensively speaking, Mattingly is the  the most risk-averse – even timid – manager in baseball. Admittedly, there weren’t many chances last night, but if waiting around isn’t working maybe you’ve gotta roll the dice…

    • Anonymous

      You must have forgotten that Cito Gaston ever managed. His strategy consisted of filling out a lineup card, posting it, and then waiting for his team to win the game.

      • http://www.linkmeister.com/wordpress/ Linkmeister

        And Cito got that from Earl Weaver, until Earl found Roenicke and Lowenstein to platoon in left field.

    • Anonymous

      The Marlins, Padres, and Brewers all have a lot of steals. That must be working out well for them.

      • Anonymous

        It’s not a matter of one or the other, but rather optimizing the available tactics. The 1965 Dodgers stole a lot, and it worked out pretty well for them.

        • Anonymous

          The Dodgers, as they are presently constructed, are very poor at base stealing. Very, very poor.

          • Anonymous

            Victorino is a good base stealer, and so is Ellis in selective spots, but obviously they need to be on base more. But the running game is more than just stealing, presuming you have a reasonable contact hitter at the plate. If the hitter can make contact, the runner doesn’t need to be either fast or a base stealer.

  • Anonymous

    Bum just let an 88mph slider sit in the middle-inside of the plate, and Fonzi let him know what he’s done for a living since Clinton was elected.

    • Anonymous

       I like the 85 pitches in four innings.

      • Anonymous

         About 40 less than what he threw against us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/josh.lingerfelt.3 Josh Lingerfelt

    We could not have Nick Punto hitting leadoff.  In fact why would Nick Punto hit anywhere but near the bottom of the order?

    • Anonymous

      The need was for a back up infielder once JHjr went down, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking Punto is an every day player.

    • Jibin Park

       Seriously.  Mattingly needs to do better and NOT bat Punto leadoff.

  • Anonymous

    Jack Hawkins – you around?

    England finally manage to beat South Africa in a cricket match of some format today, the one-day international at The Oval, by 4 wickets. It’s been as dispiriting following England v. SA this summer as the Dodgers – no respite from losing. Now they won one ODI (with 1 rained out and 1 won by SA), after losing the more important Test match series 0-2 (one drawn), they have a chance to do better. Two more ODIs to go.

    • Anonymous

      SORRY – Jack Dawkins!

      • Anonymous

        About time England won a game :)

        • Anonymous

          Have you forgotten the earlier part of the [English] summer, John from *Australia*?
          (England sweep Australia 4-0.)

          • Anonymous

            Completely out of my memory :)

  • Anonymous

    Giants losing to a pitcher who is 1-9!

  • Anonymous

    Can Jerry Sands be called up tomorrow? Is that allowed?

    • Anonymous

      I would assume he could, but if he is indeed part of the trade, I would think the Sox would need to provide an unofficial blessing.

    • Anonymous

      I’ve been wondering that too.  What a bizarre situation.  Rubby too?

      • Anonymous

        He could.  But I gotta believe this was all worked out as part of the trade agreement.  It undoubtedly specifies what can and can’t be done with the players involved, including the PTBNL (and, if they’re permitted to play, what happens to the trade if they get injured).

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/MW2R2Q72LP22HKPEXB2ZZPHSZM dud dew

    Without spending a lotta time on on it, seems to me baseball, in its central events (the pitcher’s
    dynamics interacting with the ball; the hitter’s dynamics bringing a rounded bat to meet it,
    extraordinary speeds each end of that drama) requires a precision that some other sports don’t.

    Since success for each actor requires great precision, I’m assuming the entire process is
    SOMEWHAT more susceptible to the influence of outside pressures than is the case in those other sports.  In basketball, for instance, a little muscular tightness from the contextual pressure might have a shot that would otherwise hits nothin’ but net glance off the front of the rim, bounce to the glass, and fall thru the net on the way back.  Same for a tightening QB, whose slightly errant throw to the corner
    of the end zone is redeemed by a great twisting, leaping catch by a wideout.

    Adrian, e.g., who does not have great stories to tell coming down the stretch the last couple of seasons,  had a chance, IIRC, to influence an outcome in the eighth inning of a recent loss.
    (two or three guys on base – sorry, that’s the best I can do)  He got what most observers, I think, would have called “good wood” on a two-strike pitch.  Ball carried to warning track, caught.
    Inning over, and game, for all practical purposes.

    Just what small fraction did he miss the triumph of a home run by?  .006 of a second on his swing?
    The same fraction of an inch in the placement of the best part of the bat on the fattest part of the ball?

    We might celebrate how well he did, given the inherent tension of the at-bat, the game-on-line context,
    But would the outcome have been better, if, instead of feeling just a little pressure, and getting such a good swing, he had felt less, or almost none (and that .006 change allowed the ball to reach the seats), or, contrarily, could we have hoped he felt just a wee bit more, and his swing was off by
    .012, or twice as much, and the ball was a lucky bloop fallin’ just short of an onrushing outfielder’s grasp, scoring a fortunate run or two, and keeping the inning alive?

    I guess what I’m drivin’ at is the simple fact that in baseball, given the structural math, it doesn’t take nearly as much tension to change critical events.  Players might not even be aware of it.

    What, for amusement purposes only, would Juan Uribe’s time in LA have been like if he hadn’t declared how grateful he was to Ned and the Ds for honoring him with that generous contract, and how much harder (read: put extra pressure on himself) he was gonna apply himself to tasks so easily
    compromised by any extra pressure at all?:-)

    I thought the contract (like most of you, this time) ill-advised before it was given.
    Once Juan declared his intentions, I thought it doomed.

    • Anonymous

      That’s what makes the game compelling.

      It’s also the real subtext of “Moneyball”, if you read the book.  Why was BB unable to relax and perform in the box?  He had the background and athletic talent.  Why was a slob like Babe Ruth the greatest slugger in history?  What was in his mental makeup?

      • Anonymous

        Billy Beane would tell you that scouts regarded him too highly and did a bad job of evaluating his potential.

        • Anonymous

          Prospect vs. Established Player?

    • Anonymous

      What else is a player going to say?

      Thanks for the ridiculous contract.  I’m going to Andruw Jones my way through two years until you release me?

      I realize I don’t deserve this kind of money, so I’m going to forget everything I know about swinging from the heels and learn to be a patient hitter who gets on base?

      So long, suckers!  Little do you know that I’m a mole from the Giants (oops, did I just say that out loud?)

      Can somebody help me back up this Brinks’ truck?  I’ve got a pitch way outside the strike zone I need to swing at, but I’ll be back in the dugout before you know it. 

      • Anonymous

         Number four really made me laugh.

    • Anonymous

      The game of baseball is beautiful!

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    c’mon cubs, 2 more outs

  • Anonymous

    Cubs win.

  • Anonymous

    we gain half a game (you have to start somewhere) ;)

  • http://twitter.com/Greekgeek Greekgeek

    I don’t buy the baloney about players failing to play with heart, but I think that dreaded c-word, chemistry, may be in operation.

    Earlier this season, when it was a bunch of scruffy callups, before Dee went down, I saw a LOT of young guys having fun together. There was a visible bond on the field. I loved watching them come off the field together, playing around and hanging with each other — you could see the cohesion. (Of course, some of it was euphoria from players not expecting to be in the bigs this soon, or who were Crash Davises.)

    The new Dodgers have had so much roster turnover that they’re still getting to know each other. That’s not to say they’re less than professional, or lack heart, or any of that claptrap, but they don’t KNOW each other. It’s like playing at the ASG, where the catcher and pitcher are meeting each other for the first time.

    i don’t see the same enthusiasm now that I did with the scrappies. I think that cohesion will come in time,but it is a different group of guys. i agree with twasverthis that this amount of change would’ve been easier to swallow in the offseason.

    I think they CAN come together in time. We’ve got too many good players now not to have a good chance. But I understand why they’re struggling a bit to coalesce.

    And last night’s game was frustrating. I kept trying to get cheers going during the earlier innings, but it seemed like the fans were just waiting for something to happen, down until the 9th when they hit the “Come ON already… You have the bats to do this!” stage and started cheering loudly enough to make up for previous innings.

    • Anonymous

      I really agree. I was at the Fernando Bobblehead fiasco of a game, as well as last night’s. The former felt like a team asleep on its feet. Last night was better, but the players seemed a bit… disparate. Almost as if they were a team of loners. And me, too, by the way. I could feel myself having to readjust. Who are these new guys? They may be great, but they don’t quite feel like family yet. For some reason, Hanley slipped right into my comfort zone, but I’m not there yet with all the other new additions. I know it will happen – and I believe it will happen for the team as well. Just not sure the gelling will occur soon enough for post-season magic to happen. (And that’s not even factoring in all the recent injuries.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Casey-Barker/100003908968118 Casey Barker

        Maybe Big Game James was the straw that stirred the drink.

      • Anonymous

        Are we 0-fer in bobblehead games this season?  I can think of 3 right now (Vin, Fernando, Gibby).

        • Jibin Park

          Wills/Drysdale, 4/28/12: W 4-3 (11 – Kemp Walkoff, Bryce Harper debut)
          Hershiser, 5/15/12: L 1-5
          Infield, 5/29/12: L 1-2
          Scioscia, 6/12/12: W 5-2 (Rivera B8 Bomb)
          Karros, 6/28/12: L 2-3
          Lasorda/Alston, 7/14/12: L 6-7 (Remember when Jansen & Co. snoozed)
          Gibson, 7/31/12: L 2-8
          Koufax, 8/7/12: L 1-3
          Fernando, 8/21/12: L 1-4
          Scully, 8/30: L 0-2

          Bobblehead Record (2-8)

           

          • Anonymous

            Conclusion: Stop having bobblehead games!

          • Jibin Park

             But then, no fans would show up to the game!

    • Anonymous

      Okay good, it’s not just me.  I miss that “wonder team.”  This dugout needs Dee Gordon (Monday) and Tony Gwynn Jr. (tomorrow), and I hope Ned will activate them accordingly.

      • Anonymous

        Don’t count on Gwynn.  There’s no space on the 40-man, and as much as there are a couple of players we’d like to see DFA’ed, if they were willing it would have happened a long time ago.

  • Anonymous

    Holy cow! And thank you :)

  • Anonymous

    The Cubbies’ third-inning rally shows what a liability Le Gran Poseur is behind the plate. Is Wallach watching?

  • Anonymous

    If you need a really good laugh, watch it at http://chicago.cubs.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?c_id=chc

  • Anonymous

    The Cardinals are losing again tonight. If they lose and the Pirates win in Milwaukee (which they almost never due), the Bucs take over WC2.

    • Anonymous

      I hate rooting against the Pirates after all these years, but I’d like to see them both lose.

      • Anonymous

        McCutchen is not starting for the Pirates tonight. He is being given a regular day off.

  • Anonymous

    Kemp is back in the lineup in the cleanup spot. MEllis is leading off.

  • Anonymous

    It’s not that well sourced or documented, but MLTrade Rumours implies D-Backs execs. and writers don’t worry about LA if their young starters hang together. I know the feeling–I expected EO, Webster and RDLR to lift up our team.

    • Anonymous

      Who’s our top pitching prospect now?  Zach Lee, if anyone?  Not a good feeling.

      • Anonymous

        Lee is, and was before the trade, too.  (Rubby is really not a prospect any more.)  Reed is second (some ranked Allen Webster-Watson above him before the trade though).

  • Anonymous

    Also, Jamie Jarrin has reupped for three years.

    • Anonymous

      It amazes me that, having come from a non-baseball country, Jaime could become the Spanish-speaking version of Vin.

      • Anonymous

        It amazes me that we don’t hear more about him.  At least, not in the English-language media; I don’t know about the Spanish-language media but I hope he is as much of a hero there as Vin is here.

  • Anonymous

    As expected, the Pirates have fallen behind in the first inning in Milwaukee.

    If the Dodgers were to actually do something extraordinary, like beat Arizona, they could move to within 1/2 game of a playoff spot.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry if this was already mentioned, but looks like Fookie’s out for the rest of the season. Elbow stuff. I wish him well. 

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    NPUT

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/7TDO4QNNLV7A2QGEMZU6PJY3UI Sam

    What I wish the Dodgers would do better is lay off low off speed pitches, because invariably, they end up being sliders away that the Dodger hitter swing and miss at. I can understand swinging and missing at an off speed pitch that starts up and the drops, but to chase after off speed pitches that are low to begin with? And yes, they are swinging at these balls for a number of reasons, like they’re trying to be a bit too aggressive when all in all, they should try to remember that the lineup is better and that if they walk, there is someone decent coming up after them. The other thing to remember is that the Dodgers were at their best at the beginning of the year when they were working the count and drawing walks. So basically, they are not being patient enough.