Manny Machado occupies an unsettled vortex in Dodgerland, swirling between Kirk Gibson, Andruw Jones, Raul Mondesi, Yu Darvish and Manny Ramirez.
Machado’s body language in failure might be the strangest I’ve seen in a Dodger since Jones, the once-great player from an Eastern division who had this weird coping mechanism of smiling when he struck out. To be clear, I don’t think body language reveals anything significant — an indifferent posture is not a window to the soul. Still, when things go wrong, there’s not exactly inspiration in Machado’s smirk or stride.
Machado has also had some spectacularly awful moments — two of them in a 20-hour Atlanta stretch of the National League Division Series, when he struck out on three outside, outsider, outsidest pitches with NLDS Game 3 there for the taking Sunday, then making an absolutely ominous error to load the bases with the Dodgers trailing in the fifth inning Monday.
But Machado compensates with spectacularly grand plays, firing to first with an arm worthy of Mondesi’s from beyond the hole at shortstop, combined with a Mannywood flair for the dramatic. In the past 10 days, Machado has had the tiebreaking eighth-inning triple that helped lift the Dodgers into a first-place NL West tie with Colorado, the significant two-run homer in NLDS Game 2, the first-inning RBI Monday and the monster three-run home run to give the Dodgers breathing room on their way to clinching the series. Exhale fellow, well met.
For all the talk about Machado being a disappointment as a Dodger, he had a 122 wRC+ after his trade to Los Angeles, and has been utterly striking (in more ways than one) in the postseason. So, by the way, did Darvish, whose regular-season ERA+ as a Dodger was an almost identical 121, and who had a quickly forgotten 1.59 ERA in two playoff starts before his ill-fated World Series.
By now, most of you get that I’m pretty even-keeled in riding the ups and downs of various Dodgers, including the short and ultimately unhappy journeys of Jones and Darvish. But it’s been quite some time since I’ve been as discombobulated by a player as I have been by Manny Machado.
How this ends, I don’t know. I mean, I really don’t know. Looking specifically at the Dodgers’ six World Series title seasons, there hasn’t really been a midseason acquisition the caliber of Machado to take them to the top. He didn’t come through the farm system, or even Spring Training, changing the identity of the team like Gibson. Machado is a microwave treat, two minutes on high. He is the fireworks show building to a climax that leaves us in suspense — will it be a big finish or a big fizzle?
As the Dodgers head into their fourth Final Four in the past six years, taking a desperate fan base along for the ride, it’s really all or nothing for Machado at this point. He could follow Darvish into the world of repressed memory, or he could be a Gibsonian dream come true for Dodger eternity.