Oct 28

The Dodger bullpen is not overworked

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 8.45.04 AM

See the bullpen usage chart above? There is one number in bold. That — the 42 pitches thrown by Kenta Maeda in emergency relief of Yu Darvish during the 5-3, Game 3 loss to Houston, represents the only pitch count that any Dodger reliever has had in the World Series preventing him from pitching in the next game.

The only one. It’s not irrelevant — Maeda has been phenomenal in the playoffs, pitching exactly nine innings and allowing no runs, two singles and a walk with nine strikeouts. Nevertheless, Maeda being extended to 2 2/3 innings Friday represents literally the only moment any of the 12 Dodger pitchers has been asked to go beyond his assigned role.

Kenley Jansen? No. The Dodgers spent the entire season preparing him for longer outings. Throwing 43 pitches in two days after being rested for 120 hours is not overwork. For that matter, the game-tying home run he allowed in the ninth inning of Game 2 came 16 pitches into his outing — there is no way to argue workload was the cause.

The Dodger bullpen is not overworked. It had four days off entering the World Series, a fact everyone talked about before Game 1 but seemed to forget less than 48 hours later. The bullpen wasn’t overworked going into Game 3, even with Rich Hill being pulled after four innings, and with one exception, it isn’t overworked now. If anything, one could argue that the foibles of Ross Stripling, Josh Fields and Brandon McCarthy are the result of underwork. I’m not making that argument, but I’ll listen to it.

Heading into Game 4, the Dodger bullpen is overworked only in the sense that any bullpen would be overworked following a disaster start by an otherwise talented pitcher. And frankly, the fact that only one pitcher is shelved for tonight’s Game 4 is a positive, not a negative, especially when mitigated by Jansen backing into an extra day of rest.

No doubt, there will be some pitchers unavailable for Game 5, but that is always a likelihood when you play three games in a row. Again, Game 2 will have had nothing to do with that. Maeda and Morrow were destined to pitch in Game 2, no matter the inning. And Maeda was used in a situation designed to maximize his effectiveness and efficiency.

There was no domino effect to the workload of the pitching staff from Rich Hill’s early exit in Game 2. None. Every pitcher was primed for Game 3. If Dave Roberts and Rick Honeycutt made any mistake managing the staff, the biggest one would be not recognizing sooner that Darvish was hopeless in Game 3, not taking the same strategy that brought Maeda into Game 2 for Hill and employing it as soon as the Astro lineup turned over, and George Springer came up with two runners on and the Dodgers already trailing, 3-0.

But even then, it ain’t easy to bail out on a starting pitcher after nine batters, and perhaps more importantly, Maeda doesn’t warm up with the snap of your fingers.

I don’t really want to relitigate Game 2, but since many continue to claim the pitching management in that game was as ill-fated as The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeifferlet me put down for the record that it’s aggressive use of the bullpen that got the Dodgers this far, and any situation where the game is handed to Brandon Morrow and Jansen with a 3-1 lead and no more than nine outs to go is a great one for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

That there was one baserunner when Morrow entered the game is a factor, but one that also serves to make the case of why Roberts pulled Hill in the first place. So many people are angry as if Hill was throwing a perfect game, as he has been wont to do. He wasn’t. Yes, he struck out seven, but he also allowed six baserunners (one on an intentional walk) in four innings. He was victimized by a poor fielding play by Chase Utley, but a pitcher who is “dealing” gets around that. Instead, Hill came within Chris Taylor’s hat brim of being down by at least two or quite possibly three runs before getting his seventh out of the game.

Sure, Hill might have pitched a perfect fifth inning, and in my heart I would have liked to have seen that. But if we’re going to bet on “might have,” I’ll bet on Jansen shutting down the bottom of the Astros lineup in his second inning of the night over Hill shutting down the top of the Astros lineup in his fifth. Anyone who is upset that Morrow and Jansen weren’t brought in to start clean innings is on thin ice arguing that Roberts should have waited until Hill was in trouble before brining in Maeda.

More of a concern than the Dodger pitching staff is the offense, which hasn’t been entirely absent — no fewer than three runs in any game, with clutch hitting in Game 1, comeback city in Game 2, the tying run at the plate in Game 3 — but certainly has its big share of ill-timed individual slumps and a .243 on-base percentage in the three games. But this is not a fatal condition, either.

The Dodgers have lost two games they could have won. People are anxious. It was for this very plausible moment that I wrote this paragraph Monday.

There will be moments where things go wrong, maybe too many of them at once, and the reflex will be to assume that your team screwed up — made the wrong decision, swung at the wrong pitch. Sometimes, yeah, it will be on us — who among us hasn’t scolded a child (or a parent) for their numbskull transgressions? One piece of advice: It will help you to remember that the other team is fantastic, genuinely fantastic, earning every bit of its place in this World Series, more likely than not wreaking the havoc, rather than rolling head-first past it.

In the eighth inning of Game 2, things could hardly have looked more dire for Houston. Baseball has a way of flipping the table.

Oct 23

Hello, World Series … goodbye, Earth

Mikey Williams/Los Angeles Dodgers

Mikey Williams/Los Angeles Dodgers

The past 100 hours since the Dodgers captured the pennant, the verifiable, officially viable National League pennant, those have been the air-conditioned portion of their fanbase’s trip to the World Series.

Feel the breeze. Luxuriate in the cool, refreshing praise from around the baseball world. Revel in the stories telling you how great you are. (Technically, it’s “how great the team you root for is,” but really, what’s the difference?) It’s climate-controlled, baby.

But come 5:09 p.m. Tuesday, we’ll open the sliding door and step right into the heat — the literal heat, yes, but even more scorching, the metaphorical heat. This week’s 100-degree temperatures are unseemly for fall, even in Los Angeles, but they’re entirely appropriate. We will be sweating this one out long after the Tuesday sun sets.

This is what we asked for. For 29 years, we begged, we pleaded for this return to this heavenly ballfield, heated by hell’s furnace.

Sitting on the edge of our seat? No, we’re just sitting on the edge — living on it, nothing to lean back on, no cushion, no backrest. Thrust into orbit and hoping, praying we don’t incinerate upon reentry. We’re on top of the world, ma, with a long way to fall.

You dreamed about this for so long. Now experience weightlessness and terror all at once.

Your team needs to win four games out of seven. There’s no prescription for how exactly that gets done. You can win those games by staking out an early lead or coming back late. You can drop one at home and win two on the road, or you can sweep at home and come home needing to sweep again. You will need 20 runs if the other team scores 19. You can bask in a single run if you hold the other team to none.

There will be moments where things go wrong, maybe too many of them at once, and the reflex will be to assume that your team screwed up — made the wrong decision, swung at the wrong pitch. Sometimes, yeah, it will be on us — who among us hasn’t scolded a child (or a parent) for their numbskull transgressions? One piece of advice: It will help you to remember that the other team is fantastic, genuinely fantastic, earning every bit of its place in this World Series, more likely than not wreaking the havoc, rather than rolling head-first past it.

I like the Dodgers’ chances. I really do. But we are explorers, on a visionquest unseen in this city in some lifetimes. Maybe, over the course of the coming years, the frightening will become familiar. But for now, there is no preparing for the extreme adventure we are about to undertake, no warding off each trembling, pulsating, head-rattling moment. It’s a sensation we can only hope will prove sensational. We are livin’ now, friends.

Oct 05

Schrodinger’s postseason

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Every year, each year more than the last, comes the refrain: “The Dodgers have to win the World Series this year.”

And every year I wonder, “or what?”

Not far in the future, there are books and newspapers and Baseball Reference pages imprinted with the result of the 2017 playoffs. Less than a month from now, there will have been a parade downtown with “I Love L.A.” blaring non-stop, or there won’t have been.

It won’t be because the Dodgers tried any more or any less than their best. It will be because along their best effort, they finally caught the breaks that have flown by for the past 29 seasons.

The playoffs are in Schrodinger’s box, and it’s just waiting to be unlocked.

It’s not that the Dodgers have no control over their fate. But they can only control what they can control. And they can’t control everything. No team can.

The World Series isn’t a morality play, you can’t will yourself to victory, and neither the Dodgers nor their fans are owed anything. And even if that mattered, what of it? Cleveland, Washington and Houston have all gone longer — in some cases forever — without winning a World Series. Just because the people of Los Angeles feels boundlessly deprived doesn’t mean they are.

The “We’re the Dodgers, we’re a big city, we’re a hallowed franchise, we deserve this” mentality — no one cares.

That doesn’t mean surrender. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t believe. The Dodgers are equipped to go all the way. They’re certainly no longer the hip pick to do it — I dare say a ton of people are on board with Arizona ending the Dodgers season sometime in the next week, let alone the Nationals, Cubs or American League champs. But there is talent and leadership and impatience and desire and more talent up and down the Dodger roster. There are mountains ready to be scaled and primal screams waiting to be unleashed.

If you’re a Dodger fan, go open-hearted and full-throated into these playoffs. Just understand that seven other fan bases can rightfully do the same.

As much as you might have dreamed of it, I don’t think there’s any fathoming what a World Series title will feel like in Los Angeles. The fans of this team haven’t gone this long without that elation since 1955. Putting aside the specific utopia of Kirk Gibson’s home run, there hasn’t been an emotional euphoria to match ’55 in more than seven decades.

But if not …

What can we do? We’ll try to understand. We’ll agonize, pick up the pieces, call for changes. Many will demand firings, purgings, blood. All trying to make sense of a purely irrational moment in a purely irrational game.

And then we’ll start over again. We’re baseball fans. It’s what we do. Or else.