Mar 07

Vin Scully will stick to radio on Opening Day

Often when the Dodgers head into the national TV spotlight, such as the playoffs, the question comes up: Why not pass the microphone to Vin Scully?  Even for an inning, we know that there are tons of people across the country who would enjoy hearing him broadcast, and the world could certainly survive for three or six outs without the usual ESPN, Fox or Turner crew.

Kirby Lee/US PresswireVin Scully reacts after throwing out the first pitch before the 2009 Opening Day game against the Giants.

Anyway, I asked an ESPN spokesperson to find out if such a move was being considered for the network’s Opening Day broadcast of the Dodgers against the Giants, and the answer was no. In general, it seemed like a longshot, and in particular, I was told, ESPN is focusing on introducing its new Sunday Night Baseball broadcasting team of Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine, all of whom will be handling the March 31 game.

I have no idea if Scully is even willing to lend himself to the national broadcast, but I still think it’s a good idea at some point, and hopefully sooner than later. In any case, Scully will be heard on the radio on Opening Day this year.

* * *

By the way, some of you might remember when the Dodgers were accused of standing in the way (not without justification) of ESPN moving that Opening Day game from Los Angeles to San Francisco, so that the network could broadcast the Giants’ banner-raising celebration as part of the whole show. Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle now reports that Giants players had just as much of a part in saying no as the Dodgers.

… The schedule called for a four-game opening series in Los Angeles. ESPN wanted to move the first game to AT&T Park on March 31. The teams then would have flown to Los Angeles and played the final three.

“The schedule didn’t seem like everything would work out right,” Giants union representative Matt Cain said. “It’s a short flight, but that’s a lot of traveling so early.”

Feeney said the collective bargaining agreement allows for one-game series in two instances: rainout makeups and Opening Day. The Dodgers did not like the idea of moving the opener to San Francisco, logistically but also on principle.

“They really didn’t want it,” Feeney said, “but Major League Baseball could have told the Dodgers, if the players approved, it was going to happen.” …

Link via Bill Shaikin of the Times. And since we’re on the subject of the Dodgers and the Giants, here’s an on-target “Honeymooners” clip passed along by Ernest Reyes of Blue Heaven.

* * *

Signing Cliff Lee gave the Phillies a great starting rotation, but it did not ward off the injury bug. Not only has Philadelphia lost Dominic Brown (who was slated to replace Jayson Werth in right field) to a broken hand, but star second baseman Chase Utley has a worrisome right knee.

Top alternatives for the Phillies at the keystone sack include ex-Dodgers Wilson Valdez and Delwyn Young, writes Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Daily News.

Mar 03

Looking back on a quake-free year in San Francisco

With Giants righty Matt Cain having to rest an inflamed elbow, Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles uses the occasion to marvel at San Francisco’s 2010:

It’s tough to explain now. The Giants won it all. It’s hard to go back and rediscover that sense of urgency. What were we all worried about? The trick is to start the season with a garbage offense, and then a) hope that a journeyman minor league free agent turns into vintage Carlos Beltran, b) count on a rookie catcher to come up and propel the offense for a month, and c) scour the waiver wire in case there are teams in Florida giving away productive outfielders. It turns out we were just being paranoid.

But when you hear this

“(Cain) has not thrown a baseball since he came down with elbow inflammation on Sunday, making it seem unlikely he will miss only one turn in the rotation. At the same time, he seems totally unconcerned about what he confessed is the first elbow issue of his career.”

… you remember why there was urgency in the first place. The Giants were built around young pitching. Young pitching is beautiful, like, oh, a shiny idol made of solid gold. But while you stand there, mouth agape, marveling at the golden treasure, you hear the boulder. The boulder isn’t evil. It’s just obeying the laws of physics. And it’s going to crush you. It’s going to crush you real dead-like. …

And when I hear that Matt Cain’s elbow is barking, it makes me appreciate just how danged fortunate the Giants and their fans all were. The Giants made it through an entire season with four young starting pitchers, and there weren’t any injury concerns. They didn’t have to recall Todd Wellemeyer. They didn’t have to shoehorn in Henry Sosa for a start or two. The young pitchers were good, and they were healthy. …

It was special. Never take it for granted.

* * *

Alex Belth of Bronx Banter passes along Duke Snider stories from oldtime scribes Roger Angell and Dick Young.

* * *

There will be a $1 Dodger Dog day at Dodger Stadium on May 30 when the Rockies play.

* * *

This morning, the Dodgers played a ‘B’ game in which Ted Lilly made his first spring appearance, as Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com notes. And as Ken Gurnick of MLB.com notes, Lilly’s relief crew included three former No. 1 picks – Zach Lee, Ethan Martin and Aaron Miller – whose signing bonuses alone totaled nearly $8 million. Lee was the only one of the trio to allow a run.

Later on, the Dodgers have their first night game of Spring Training …

Dodgers at Reds, 6:05 p.m.

Feb 08

Could the Giants be even better in 2011?

While determining who will succeed Rob Neyer in his national blogging spot at ESPN.com, members of the Sweet Spot blogging network are rotating through the mix. Today is my day, and I’m starting things off with … a post about the Giants.

Even the best teams usually need a lot of things to go their way to win the World Series, a run of good luck that can come to an abrupt end the following season, especially if you stand pat.

The San Francisco Giants mostly bring back the same team that won the title last fall. Although they no doubt peaked at the right time, there’s actually room for improvement from some key personnel. …

It could go either way for San Francisco, with health perhaps emerging as the biggest factor. Discussion of the Giants still begins with the pitching staff, but the rise of Buster Posey, the possible leap forward of Brandon Belt and the enigma that is Pablo Sandoval have made them much more interesting to me than in past years.

Feb 02

Postseason pitching punishment

Most teams that reach the World Series suffer a falloff in team ERA the following year, writes Tim Kurkjian of ESPN.com. Whether the defending champion San Francisco Giants will succumb to the trend, however, remains to be seen.

… We looked at the World Series participants in the past 10 years, and the effect on the pitching staffs the following seasons to those 20 teams. Fourteen of the 20 — 70 percent — had an ERA increase the next season. Eight of the 20 — 40 percent — had an increase of least a half run, which is substantial. The 10 teams that won the World Series averaged an increase in ERA of .281. The 10 losing teams averaged an increase of .213. The Detroit Tigers went to the World Series in 2006 and compiled a 3.84 ERA, but had a 4.57 ERA the next year, a .73 increase. The St. Louis Cardinals won the 2006 World Series and had a 3.57 ERA, but it increased by 1.08 to 4.65 in 2007. The Chicago White Sox won the World Series in 2005; their team ERA the next year went from 3.61 to 4.61. …

There could be a number of reasons for an ERA increase the year after making it to the World Series. A bigger workload would represent only one of them. Some staffs are damaged by a loss in free agency (Cliff Lee?), or a trade. The ERA for the 2007 Cardinals increased dramatically in part because ace Chris Carpenter missed the season due to an arm injury.

“I believe our ERA went up in 2009 [by .53] because of an ineffective bullpen,” Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said. “When the phone rang down there that year, no one knew who it was for. [Workload] is an issue, but I’d be interested to see about the teams that have been there [the World Series] over and over again, what that does to the ERA the next year. When we made it in 2008, it was the first time for most guys. If the Rays had made it in 2010, we would have been better off because we had been through it once.” …

The Giants and Rangers will need to recover. The Giants played 15 postseason games, a total of 135 innings. Ace Tim Lincecum threw 37 innings in the postseason, raising his season total to 249 1/3, a career high and 22 1/3 more innings than he had ever thrown in a season. Matt Cain pitched 21 1/3 innings in the playoffs, raising his total to 244 2/3, 27 more than he had ever thrown. Jonathan Sanchez threw 20 innings in the postseason, raising his total for the season to 213 1/3, 50 more than he had ever thrown. Madison Bumgarner pitched 20 2/3 innings in the playoffs, raising his total (major and minor leagues) to 214 1/3, 72 more than he had ever thrown in a season. And closer Brian Wilson appeared in 10 games in the postseason, totaling 80 for the season, 12 more than his career high. …

ERA changes for the Dodgers after their most recent World Series appearances:

1988: 2.96 ERA, 114 ERA+
1989: 2.95 ERA, 117 ERA+

1981: 3.01 ERA, 112 ERA+
1982: 3.26 ERA, 107 ERA+

Jan 27

Should we envy the Kansas City Royals?

Matt Meyers of ESPN Insider notes that while the Royals may have the No. 1 farm system in baseball, they might not even win 60 games this season. That’s in part because of trading players like Zack Greinke to boost their future.

As Dodger fans, would you be willing to live through a 100-loss campaign if you had these kinds of hopes for the talent coming up from the system?

On the one hand, it was not long ago that the Dodgers had this kind of talent coming up, when names like Billingsley, Kershaw, Martin and Kemp were all new, and you can see that’s no guarantee of a World Series title. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for having another crack at it.

I’d vote for keeping things the way they are, not because I’m afraid of one 100-loss season, but because I don’t think the potential of the current Blue Crew is tapped out.

Jan 24

The 2011 National League West: A first look


Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesIn 2011, Juan Uribe will be trying to bring at least a division title south to Los Angeles from San Francisco.

With so much attention locally focused on what the Dodgers are or aren’t doing, it’s easy to lose perspective of where they stand relative to their rivals in the National League West. Realizing that we all have higher goals than a division title, let’s nonetheless check in on the coming division race and see where the competition stands heading into spring training.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Brad Mangin/MLB Photos/Getty Images
Justin Upton

On Aug. 30, 2008, Arizona hosted the Dodgers with a 4 1/2-game lead in the NL West and the combination of Dan Haren and Brandon Webb starting the next two games. Since that moment, the Diamondbacks have gone 152-204 and have been by far the worst team in the division. Arizona had a flat-out ugly 2010, finishing 65-97, 15 games behind the fourth-place Dodgers and 27 behind the division-winning Giants. The offense was mediocre, punctuated by 9.4 strikeouts per game. The pitching was worse, with an adjusted ERA of 89 (100 being average) that was 14th in the National League.

Hopes for a turnaround in 2011 are pretty limited, based on an offseason that has only brought names the caliber of Henry Blanco, Willie Bloomquist, Geoff Blum, Zach Duke, Aaron Heilman, Melvin Mora, Xavier Nady, Willy Mo Pena and J.J. Putz. Plus, at least last year they had Haren (and Edwin Jackson) for more than half a season, not to mention 57 homers (and 383 strikeouts) from departed corner infielders Mark Reynolds and Adam LaRoche.

Putz, though he’s about to turn 34, should help last year’s disastrous bullpen, and at age 23, Justin Upton (like his Bison-like counterpart in Los Angeles), could easily bounce back from the setbacks of last season, when his OPS dropped from .899 to .799. Daniel Hudson, acquired at midseason, will try to build upon his 11-start, 1.69-ERA debut. But overall, it’s going to take more than strategically placed eyeblack to make Kirk Gibson a winning manager in his first full season at the helm.

Colorado Rockies

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Troy Tulowitzki

A popular pick to win the NL West entering the 2010 season following their spirited near-miss in 2009, Colorado fell out of the lead on the second day of the season and never returned. They did make a late charge, pulling within a game of the division lead after making up 10 games in the standings in 26 days, capped by a 12-2 thumping of the Dodgers on Sept. 18. They then took a 6-1 second-inning lead against Clayton Kershaw the next afternoon. But if you’ll recall, the Dodgers rallied to win that game in 11 innings, handing the Rockies the first of a stunning 13 losses in their final 14 games of 2010.

That tailspin doesn’t rule out a pennant pursuit in Denver this year. The Rockies return four budding stars in Troy Tulowitzki (26), Carlos Gonzalez (25), Ubaldo Jimenez (27) and Jhoulys Chacin (23, with a second-half ERA of 2.44 and 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings) and complements in Dexter Fowler (25 in March) and Ian Stewart (26 in April). But you also haven’t had much of an offseason when your biggest acquisitions are arguably infielders Ty Wigginton and Jose Lopez.

This is a team that will contend for the division title, and Rockies management has enough faith in it that their main expenditures, at least thus far, were to richly extend the contracts of Tulowitzki and Gonzalez rather than bring in big outside talent. That might well be the right strategy, especially if last year’s stretch crawl was a fluke, but with 37-year-old Todd Helton at first base and question marks elsewhere, Colorado didn’t make itself an obvious favorite this time around.

San Diego Padres

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Mat Latos

Last year’s guide against wasting your time making predictions, San Diego sat in first place at the end of April, May, June, July and August. Then came the Giants, but even so, the Padres had a chance to tie San Francisco in the 162nd game of the season.

So San Diego was the big surprise team — with Adrian Gonzalez. Can it be without him? Unlike Colorado, San Diego will have lots of new faces, potentially starting Brad Hawpe at first, Orlando Hudson at second, Jason Bartlett at shortstop and Cameron Maybin in center field, almost making July 31 pickup Ryan Ludwick seem like an old-timer. Meanwhile, ex-Cincinnati Red pitcher Aaron Harang will try to help returning starting pitchers Clayton Richard, Wade LeBlanc and most importantly, 23-year-old Mat Latos (2.92 ERA in 2010) absorb the losses of Jon Garland and Kevin Correia.

I’m not going to be the one to argue that the Padres will be better in 2011 after trading Gonzalez for three minor-leaguers and outfielder Eric Patterson (.652 OPS in 179 career games), or that they’ll maintain any of their 10-game advantage over the Dodgers. But I’m also not ready to say they won’t be a thorn in the Dodgers’ side.

San Francisco Giants

Rich Pilling/MLB Photos/Getty Images
Buster Posey

Seven-and-a-half games out of first place and one game over .500 at the midpoint of the 2010 season, San Francisco went 51-30 in the second half to rally to the title and start what I think can objectively be said was a surprising postseason stomp to the World Series title. The Giants went 9-3 against the fading Dodgers in the second half to emphasize their superiority.

Are they still superior? To date, their lone offseason addition of note has been to sign Miguel Tejada (36 in May), and that effectively only supplants the loss of Juan Uribe to the Dodgers. Much like Colorado, San Francisco is putting its faith in the status quo. That status quo, of course, includes their top-flight starting rotation, superb young catcher Buster Posey and third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who has been tweeting photos showing how much weight he has lost this winter. It also includes 30-and-over position players Cody Ross, Andres Torres, Mark DeRosa, Aaron Rowand, Freddy Sanchez and Aubrey Huff.

Much of the Dodgers offseason has seemed an unspoken bid to emulate the Giants’ path to the top: Build a starting rotation that’s competitive every night, and try to sneak by with limited offense. For all the concern about who takes residence in Mannywood, Los Angeles still seems to have the better outfield. But the potential of superstar in Posey and a comeback from Sandoval (not to mention a promotion for minor-league first-baseman Brandon Belt) might give San Francisco the edge elsewhere.

Summary
Eight months from October, the Giants look like the main roadblock for the Dodgers, with the Rockies close behind. With serious questions about a) what kind of production the Dodgers will get at catcher, third base and left field, b) the ongoing health issues of Rafael Furcal and c) the bounce-back potential of Matt Kemp and James Loney, it doesn’t seem inappropriate to pencil the Dodgers in for third place at this time, but they should be in the thick of the race for the division title.

Jan 21

Should Dodger fans be jealous of the Vernon Wells trade?

In a world where money doesn’t matter, newest Angel outfielder Vernon Wells is better than anyone the Dodgers will have playing alongside Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in April.

But even in a world where money doesn’t matter, volunteering to pay $86 million to Wells for his four years from age 32 through age 35 is a staggering amount, considering that even after slugging 31 homers in 2010, Wells only has a .321 on-base percentage and .450 slugging percentage over the past four years from ages 28-31. Both that OBP and slugging are less than what Kemp – labeled by some an underachiever – has produced over his past four years (.339/.474) while playing in a pitchers park, and Kemp’s best four years might still be ahead of him.

And since we live in a world where money does matter – where even under selfless ownership, salaries of more than $20 million per year matter – the idea of taking on Wells’ contract is frightening. Count me among the surprised that the Angels will shoulder it.

Unless it’s the difference between winning and losing a title, or unless we’ve been terribly misinformed about Toronto shouldering more of the burden of Wells’ contract, the level of improvement that Wells’ provides over the status quo is not worth the amount he’s being paid (both before or after you factor in sending off players like Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera and their combined $11 million salary for 2011). Do you think he’s the difference-maker for the Angels or would be for the Dodgers? It’s a roll of the dice to say the least.

“Vernon Wells isn’t a terrible player– he’s a solid player with a terrible contract,” Keith Law of ESPN.com aptly says, before adding “he is absolutely the wrong player right now for the Los Angeles Angels, who have made one the worst desperation moves I can remember.” Law offers the following explanation:

The problem is that Wells is now well below-average in center and probably should be in a corner outfield position, where his bat is less valuable, and where he may not profile offensively by the time he’s a free agent after 2014. His power spike in 2010 coincided with a sudden shift in the Rogers Centre’s park factor and a teamwide rise in home runs. He’s a good fastball hitter who’s not very disciplined and tries to pull the ball on the outer half, resulting in a lot of frustrating rollovers to the shortstop.

The Angels have Peter Bourjos and his 70 (or better) glove to man center, and there’s no way Wells will be worth $18 million more than Bourjos this year. Turning Bobby Abreu, a once-great player now showing his age, into a platoon bat/pinch-hitter would make the best of a bad situation. It’s still a bad situation, though, and doesn’t make the Angels much better off even in 2011.

Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com is more sanguine, only by comparison: “You can make plenty of arguments in favor of Friday’s move, but it certainly had the air of desperation.”

We know the Dodgers are desperate for a left fielder, but I’m glad they’re not (or can’t be) this desperate.

(Meanwhile, Manny Ramirez appears headed to Tampa Bay on a simple one-year, $2 million contract.)

Dec 13

Cliff Lee returns to Philadelphia, but let’s play the 2011 season anyway

Looks like the real deal. Some links before bedtime:

  • From Dave Cameron of Fangraphs

    If there’s a four-man rotation that has ever looked this dominant heading into a new year, I can’t find it. It is almost certainly in the discussion for the greatest four-man rotation of all time.

    There is one big asterisk on all this, though: as those great Braves teams show, a ridiculously great rotation is not enough to start planning a parade. The Phillies are certainly contenders, but they’re going to need more than just their Big Four to win it all.

  • Matthew Pouliot of Hardball Talk

    There’s no doubt that the Phillies’ rotation has a chance to be historically great, with two likely Cy Young candidates and two other starters that could rank among the NL’s 10 best, but this is still a team with issues. …

  • Keith Law of ESPN.com

    Assuming the Phillies don’t do what they did the last time they acquired another No. 1 starter — turn around and trade one of their incumbent aces — they now have a terrifyingly good rotation for the 2011 and 2012 seasons (after which Cole Hamels is a potential free agent) with the addition of Cliff Lee.

    The benefit in October is slimmer — but at least October conversations can already be entertained — since Roy Oswalt suddenly becomes the seldom-used fourth starter, but the Phillies will prevent a lot of runs over the course of the regular season by replacing their fifth-starter mess with Lee.

    As for the apparent size of the contract — five years and $120 million with a vesting option for a sixth, according to ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick — Lee is 32 and had some minor back trouble in 2010, but the best free agent on the market almost never signs for just five years, and other than the back problem Lee is about as low-risk a starter as you’ll find this side of Roy Halladay. It’s actually very good value for the Phillies relative to what Lee-level starters have gotten in free agency, and I like Lee’s chances as a plus-plus command guy to retain most of his value even if he loses one or two mph on his fastball. …

    Given his contract situation, Philly could look to move Hamels for a right-handed hitter for the middle of their lineup, as losing Jayson Werth takes away most of the gain from reacquiring Lee and leaves them very left-handed. Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, and Raul Ibanez are all on the wrong side of 30 and more likely to decline/get hurt than to improve. Rollins has been often hurt and in the midst of a four-year free fall, Utley has foght injuries, and Howard and Ibanez are just declining. Domonic Brown is an outstanding prospect, but won’t match Werth’s production, and Brown is also left-handed. Amaro has put together an enviable rotation, to say the least, but the Phils are oddly unbalanced now and it’s strange (but not bad) to see them commit this money to Lee with an old, injury-prone lineup staring them in the face.

I know some Dodger fans will only be jealous and bitter. Me … I’m jealous, but I won’t be bitter. It won’t be the first time I’ve been on the downside of an uphill battle.

Nov 30

The Dodger-Giant tradeoff


Getty Images“He was sentenced to be my Butler.”

Juan Uribe is poised to become the 47th player to wear both a Giants and Dodgers uniform since 1988, according to Baseball-Reference.com via ESPN Stats and Information (which also provides this analysis of the Uribe signing).

Though signing ex-Giants might seem a Ned Colletti fetish, the players have been going between the two teams in a relatively steady stream over those past 22 years, with hardly a moment, if any, in which at least one player on one team hadn’t at one time played on the other.

If you’ll allow for the somewhat subjective characterizations below, you’ll find that the Giants and Dodgers have had similar success (or lack thereof) with transplants. The number of players who have made relevant contributions to both teams is only five (and that includes Matt Herges and Marquis Grissom as “relevant”). Conversely, nearly half of the players on this list have been pretty much meaningless for both teams.

By the same token, the number of players going from relevancy with one team to irrelevancy with the other, or vice versa, has been practically equal.

If there’s any sort of noteworthy differential, it’s been that the Dodgers have been more likely to make an irrelevant Giant fill the same role in Los Angeles. I mean, really – 15 of these guys?

Anyway, I’m more than a bit concerned that Uribe will become relevant-Giant-turned-irrelevant-Dodger No. 9, but Dodger fans can hope for the best.

Relevant Giant becomes relevant Dodger (2)
Brett Butler
Jeff Kent

Relevant Dodger becomes relevant Giant (3)
Marquis Grissom
Matt Herges
Dave Roberts

Irrelevant Giant becomes irrelevant Dodger (15)
Troy Brohawn
Gary Carter
Dennis Cook (pitched well but briefly for both teams)
Jose Cruz, Jr.
Roberto Hernandez
Shea Hillenbrand
Ricky Ledee
Justin Miller
Terry Mulholland
Rick Parker
F.P. Santangelo
Cory Snyder
Mark Sweeney
Jack Taschner
Rick Wilkins

Irrelevant Dodger becomes irrelevant Giant (6)
Dave Anderson
Todd Benzinger
Eric Davis
Tom Goodwin
Jim Poole
Jose Vizcaino (twice)

Relevant Giant becomes irrelevant Dodger (8)
Brian Johnson (afraid so)
Darren Lewis
Ramon Martinez (II)
Brent Mayne
Bill Mueller
Russ Ortiz
Jason Schmidt
Brett Tomko

Relevant Dodger becomes irrelevant Giant (6)
Steve Finley (a half season in L.A., but a big one)
Orel Hershiser
Guillermo Mota
Brad Penny
Darryl Strawberry (had big ’91 season)
Eric Young

Irrelevant Giant becomes relevant Dodger (3)
Wilson Alvarez
Trenidad Hubbard (hit .304 in 313 at-bats in Los Angeles)
Kenny Lofton (hit .301 in Los Angeles)

Irrelevant Dodger becomes relevant Giant (3)
Stan Javier
Felix Rodriguez
Cody Ross (afraid so)

Nov 01

What the Giants’ ascent tells us about the Dodgers

Giants at Rangers, 4:57 p.m.

A World Series title for the Giants, should it arrive in the next four to 54 hours, will be hateful to many Dodger fans, though others will be above caring. I can’t say I’m looking forward to the potential celebration, though I’ve moved past the cringe phase into acceptance. It really has come to seem like the Giants’ year, and after more than 50 that haven’t been, why shouldn’t it be?

But if I’ve stopped worrying about what this means for me as a Dodger fan, I still am interested in what the Giants have done from a player personnel perspective to get here. And forgive me if I find it instructive.

Every player transaction a front office makes is designed to increase the odds of the team winning on the field. There can be parallel and sometimes competing timetables, short-term vs. long-term, but either way, it’s all about increasing those odds.

San Francisco is poised to win its first World Series title without having a single player earning more than $10 million this year making a meaningful contribution. The team has two eight-digit earners, both of whom are riding the bench. Barry Zito was a serviceable starter this year but didn’t make the postseason roster, while Aaron Rowand had a .659 OPS in 357 regular-season plate appearances and has one at-bat so far in the Fall Classic.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that high-salaried players can’t be valuable. Furthermore, the Giants aren’t exactly a low-budget team; their payroll trumps that of their World Series opponents from Texas, who had to overcome their own share of ownership strife to make it this far. But it does reinforce in my mind that the notion in recent years that the Dodgers had to get superstar X or superstar Y to win led to a phony hysteria.

If the Giants win the World Series, the principal reason will have been a homegrown foursome of starting pitchers, including three first-round picks in a six-year period, that coalesced in utterly timely fashion with a largely no-name bullpen and arguably the best rookie catcher from the National League West since Mike Piazza. (Quiz question: Do you know the names of the top Giants scouting executives?)

Putting aside how close the Dodgers came to glory in 2008 and 2009, the 2010 Giants could have been the 2010 Dodgers. Oh, it most certainly did not play out that way, but it wasn’t long ago that the Dodgers were the safer bet.

Instead, the Dodgers’ tricycle of homegrown first-round draft choices in the starting rotation busted a wheel when Scott Elbert (or, if you prefer, Greg Miller) flat-tired. Russell Martin — at one point the best rookie catcher from the National League West since Mike Piazza — is now a vapor. A nearly iron-clad bullpen in 2009 fell apart this year despite much the same makeup. And that’s before you even begin talking about what might have been with Matt Kemp and friends.

The core of the Giants is under 27 and entered 2010 with zero postseason experience. And yes, Tim Lincecum is a superstar, but Clayton Kershaw outpitched him this year.

As much as we want to blame everything and global warming on the McCourts, they are not all that went wrong with the Dodgers this year. I want the Dodgers to have better owners, but there is so much more that affects a team’s World Series chances than ownership. Much of the Dodgers’ ill fortunes this year is tied up in the tiniest of fibers, threads that might have held together but simply frayed.

You make the best moves you can make — but those moves include the draft as much as free agency and trades, maybe even more so.  You make the best moves you can make, and then you hope those players execute well and have some good fortune to boot. You make the best moves you can make, and then you play the cards. The Giants might be about to hit 21; the Dodgers busted. That’s the way the game goes every 56 years or so.

Oct 28

Giant chips on their shoulders?

I’ve been noticing a number of San Francisco Giants fans online who either a) are looking to rub in their World Series appearance and potential title on Dodger fans or b) seem annoyed that Dodger fans haven’t given the Giants enough credit.

I say this from the most sincere and truthful place that I can: In all the times the Dodgers have been in the playoffs in my lifetime — 1974, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1988, 1995, 1996, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2009 — I never once gave a thought to how Giants fans felt about it.

Getting to the playoffs and sometimes winning the World Series wasn’t about sticking it the Giants.  It was about getting to the playoffs and sometimes winning the World Series. When the Dodgers popped the champagne in ’81 and ’88, it wasn’t, “Take that, Giants!”  That wouldn’t have even occurred to me. It was, “We are the champions, my friend.”

San Francisco, you deserve congratulations for your great season. But at this point, it has nothing to do with the Dodgers. Most of you probably realize this, but if you’re a Giants fan thinking about Dodger fans this week, I promise you, your attention is in the wrong place.

Rangers at Giants, 4:57 p.m.

Oct 27

Did we lose, or did they win? Both

In the wake of the Yankees’ elimination from the playoffs, Emma Span wrote the following at Bronx Banter:

… I think the tendency of fans — and certainly not just Yankee fans, but perhaps especially Yankee fans — to instinctively blame their own team after a loss, rather than crediting the opponent, is pretty interesting. Obviously not everyone does this, but as an overall fanbase mood I think it rings true, unless maybe some undisputed whiz like Cliff Lee is directly involved.

Setting aside for the moment whether or not it’s accurate or fair in a specific instance, what’s the psychological gain here? The outcome of any game depends on the combination of one team’s strength and another’s weakness, of course, and it’s often hard to disentangle a hitter’s success from a pitcher’s failure, or vice versa. How much of Colby Lewis’s kickass performance on Friday night was due to variables he controlled directly, and how much was due to the Yankees’ inadequate approach or execution at the plate? It’s not possible to tell precisely, although a lot of the newer baseball stats our SABR-inclined friends come up with are designed to help sort this out. And my first instinct, like many people in the bar where I was watching, was to yell “C’mon you useless #$&*s, it’s Colby Lewis” at the little pinstriped men on the TV.

I think in the end, it’s mostly about control: the idea that your team mostly controls its fate (like the idea that you yourself mostly control your fate) is generally preferable to the alternative. No one likes feeling helpless to change their situation. Everyone wants to believe that we’re in charge of how our lives turn out, not larger forces we can’t affect. And hey, if the Yankees lost because they failed, well then, they’re still better. They just didn’t show it. There must be something they could have done differently. …

Though it becomes even more New York-centric as it goes on, Span’s entire post is worth reading. I agree that fans have a tendency to turn on their team when things go wrong, out of a belief that the team should be better. No one likes to admit to limitations. To me, the 2009 Dodgers were a vintage illustration of this – even when that team was winning, the slightest, most momentary setback would send many fans into a tizzy. In my mind, that was a mistake. Yes, we all want to win, but losing shouldn’t mean the elimination of all joy.

It’s not necessarily a sign of weakness to tip your hat to your opponent. On some occasions, it could mean that you’re failing to look at your own inadequacies. But I don’t think that’s something Dodger fans are generally at risk of – quite the opposite. Every foible gets a thorough examination.

One thing that the McCourt controversy and the struggles of certain players did to the Dodgers this year, however, was make those limitations that Span talks about feel more real. Against our will, expectations have been lowered. It portends a sour 2011, though at least there’s this: There’s a lot more room to be pleasantly surprised.

* * *

  • I could bring more nuance to this, but this talk of expanding baseball’s playoffs – I’m dead set against it.
  • Life Magazine has released some previously unpublished photos from the 1955 World Series – check ‘em out.
Oct 21

Giants steamrolling through NLCS: Try not to think about it

I’m not someone who lives and breathes the Dodger-Giant rivalry — I’m always more interested in the Dodgers winning than who they’re beating — but I have to admit, each Giants win this past week has been making me cringe.

That being said, it’s not all because of the rivalry, but the second whammy of how close the Dodgers came to winning the National League pennant themselves the previous two seasons.

I’m definitely rooting for the Rangers right now.

Oct 11

This, I like

Sunday’s three-error man Brooks Conrad got a standing ovation today during batting practice from Atlanta Braves fans, reports Jeff Fletcher of AOL Fanhouse. Adds Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk:

… Braves fans, as I have said on numerous occasion, are not the best fans in the world. They have to be cajoled to show up. They have to be cajoled into cheering. In some ways they’re worse than fair weather fans because they don’t even show up in fair weather unless it’s seen as the fashionable thing to do. And don’t even get me started on the Chop. Dear GOD I hate the Chop.

But they’re decent people for the most part. They don’t boo guys. That might offend a lot of you because, hey, sometimes people need booin’, but it fits my temperament just fine. They generally understand that athletes are human beings with their own lives and stresses and concerns. It’s hard to get amped up for a Braves game in that environment, but it’s nice to know that the person sitting next to you is probably a decent human being.

See, there is an alternative to booing. And ask yourself, if Conrad makes it into tonight’s game, is he more or less likely to screw up now that he knows his fan base has his back?

Giants at Braves, 4:37 p.m.

Oct 08

Texas Rangers: Now there’s a postseason drought

It really didn’t dawn on me until recently that the Texas Rangers have never won a postseason series. In fact, dating back to their original days as the (then-new) Washington Senators in 1961, the organization’s all-time record in postseason games was 1-9.

Do Rangers fans ever sit around thinking about 1994 and wonder what might have been?

Meanwhile, it’s a National League day today, with everyone watching to see whether the Phillies and Giants will allow their opponents to score.

Update: Brandon Phillips, who made the final out of the Roy Halladay no-hitter Wednesday, homered off Roy Oswalt to lead off today’s Game 2.

Reds at Phillies, 3:07 p.m.

Braves at Giants, 6:37 p.m.