Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Category: Status report (Page 1 of 8)

The 17-game Dodgers Rorschach Test

Lucas Stevenson/MLB.com

The moment the final out of the Dodgers’ fourth consecutive victory came Wednesday, I posted a tweet comparing their record this year to last year: 8-9 after 17 games, with only the slightest difference in the standings.

I had a bit of wiggle room. The 2017 Dodgers also began the season 8-10, 9-11 and 10-12. So there was a decent shot that the 2018 Dodgers, even after their 4-9 stumble out of the gate, would match up with their ancestral counterparts from 365 days of yore.

Of course, after the 10-12 opening, the 2017 Dodgers not only won 10 of their next 12 games but ultimately went on a historic 71-24 run that no Dodger team may ever match again, finishing with a 108-54 record and a trip to the seventh game of the World Series. So there was no further editorializing for me in the tweet. No analysis of how the 2017 and 2018 teams got to 8-9, no projection of whether this year’s bunch would any way match last year’s. People who read me or follow me on Twitter know I tend to be an optimist about the Dodgers, but I’m aware of where that can go wrong, as this tweet earlier this week about the 2005 Dodgers shows.

In case you’ve forgotten: 12-2 at the start of the ’05 season, 71-91 at the finish.

Anyway, that made the responses to Wednesday’s 8-9 tweet interesting, and kind of a window into the diverse sensibilities of Dodger fans.

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The Thirty Years War

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Yu Darvish during the Dodgers’ NLCS Game 3 victory. Before his World Series downfall, Darvish allowed two runs in 11 1/3 innings during the NL playoffs, for a 1.59 ERA. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

The anniversary of the Dodgers’ most recent World Series title reaches Carousel this year, and if you’re old enough to get a reference to Logan’s Run without thinking about the team’s current second baseman crossing the plate, perhaps only then are you old enough to remember what it actually felt like to be a Dodger fan triumphant.

To be honest, I don’t think very many people, young or old, want to hear about 1988 anymore, not at least until it has been succeeded by something new. No one holds a grudge against 1981, 1965, 1963, 1959 or 1955, for they were all followed up in due course (though to be honest, the gap between ’65 and ’81 seemed pretty pronounced at the time). But ’88, though it will always be a treasure, has been nearly wrung dry.

At the same time, 1955 is instructive, because it came after an eternity of falling short. The Bridegrooms were bridesmaids for more than half a century. Every unhappy ending through 1954 only increased the desperation for the championship, yet nothing made that championship any easier to come by.

On Tuesday, the Dodgers unveiled the logo celebrating the franchise’s 60th anniversary in Los Angeles, throwing into sharp relief how 1988 cleaves era into two even but unequal parts — the 30 years with nine World Series trips and five titles, and the 30 years with none and none. That is some top-heavy tenure (or if you’re ruefully inclined, bottom-heavy torture) at Chavez Ravine.

But here’s the critical point to take forward into 2018. Our angst, our annoyance, our impatience, our cynicism, our frustration, our exasperation … none of it means anything. There hasn’t been a year in which anyone hasn’t been full-throttle dying to win the World Series.

This isn’t a Thirty Years War. This is an annual war, fought each of the past 30 years.

You can argue that each fall has been more painful than the last, but that doesn’t change what the Dodgers’ mission has been each spring. Despite the scattered criticisms you might find of the current front office, the Dodgers are completely committed to winning it all. Unfortunately, commitment doesn’t mean that your every move is guaranteed to work.

One offseason theme, for example, has been that if the Dodgers were serious about winning, they would have acquired Justin Verlander instead of Yu Darvish, conveniently ignoring the widespread euphoria that followed the Darvish trade. In addition, Darvish isn’t in position to start in the World Series if so many other things hadn’t gone right, including his satisfying playoff performances on the road at Arizona and Chicago.

While Darvish did get blown up twice by the Astros (via tipped pitches or ripped pitches, depending on whom you believe), Verlander was unable to close out either of his two World Series starts as well. That’s not to suggest that Darvish didn’t put the Dodgers behind two gigantic 8-balls, but to remind that baseball is a uniquely peculiar sport, the most unpredictable of them all, less a national pastime than a national butterfly effect.

If one thing doesn’t go wrong, it may well be another, even less expected calamity, such as the best reliever in baseball throwing his worst possible cutter.

Management cannot bulletproof a baseball team. Management can only do its best to maximize the team’s chances for winning — and no one looking objectively at the Dodgers’ daily roster manipulations can accuse their front office of trying anything less than the maximum.

Instead of taking bitterness from the past five Octobers and one November, take encouragement. Never in the era of division play have the Dodgers been more consistently in the thick of the race. We remember 1988. But we should also remember the 18 different seasons since then when the Dodgers didn’t make the playoffs at all, including seven in a row during the 1997-2003 seasons.

From 1989-2003, the Dodgers won zero playoff games. From 2004-2012, they won nine. From 2013-17, they won 23. And last year, they not only finally returned to the Fall Classic, they came within a laugh and a tear of winning the damn thing.  Short of the World Series title — and no one is for a moment arguing that the title isn’t the paramount goal — this has been a golden era of Dodger baseball unmatched in more than a generation.

The Dodgers aren’t there yet. It’s a familiar refrain. But don’t make 2018 about 1988. Don’t carry that burden on your shoulders. Let those seasons go. That’s how you win the Thirty Years War.

The coming season is its own beast — ferocious, like they all are, but singular, filled with promise, alive until the very last breath, possibly terminal, but hopefully eternal.

Success and shortcomings alike fuel Dodgers’ 2017 World Series bid

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

By Jon Weisman

When you fall short of a championship, as the Dodgers did this year, there’s a certain game face you’re required to display — a certain stoicism or even gravity.

Show any pride in partial achievement, and you risk conveying that you aren’t committed to the larger goal, that you don’t understand how important a title is, that you just don’t get it.

The reality is, yes, you can feel good about the positives from a season without diminishing the craving — the gut-wrenching craving — for ultimate greatness. Pride and desire aren’t opposites.

Think of your team as you would your child. To want anything less than the best for your kin would be negligent. To dismiss your children’s smaller accomplishments wholesale when they aren’t the best — that’s negligent, too.

You learn from failure, but you can also feed off success.

When Andrew Friedman and Dave Roberts met reporters this afternoon to bring closure to the Dodgers’ season, the different threads were front and center. No one felt ashamed of the effort or the intermediate achievements, even if no one was satisfied with the final result.

In other words, there was no mistaking the determination to go farther. Pride and desire.

“Obviously, the No. 1 goal is to play in the World Series, and we came up short,” said Roberts, who was named Sporting News NL Manager of the Year today. “I think a lot of good things are in place to bring a championship back here to Los Angeles. Since last December, the process of how we go about things as an organization, how the guys on the field play the game … I think we did a lot of good things.

“You can look back at this past series (against Chicago), and we didn’t play our best baseball and certain things could have changed that would have affected the outcome. You can talk about that forever. But I think the time we put into creating an environment, syncing it with the ownership, front office, coaching staff, players, training staff — those are things that are really tangible I think. I think that is something we’re going to hang our hats on, and we’ll be ready to go next spring.”

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One celebration down, ‘three more celebrations’ to go for NL West champion Dodgers

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By Jon Weisman

One of these years, it wasn’t going to happen. One of these years, the National League West title would go to someone else.

Three months ago, 2016 looked dangerously like it would be that year. The Dodgers began the season in pursuit of their fourth straight division championship, but on June 26, eight games down in the division, one ace down on the disabled list — it was a feeding frenzy for those looking to bury Los Angeles.

Exactly three months later, on September 26, the Dodgers will wake up not eight games down in the NL West, but eight games up — and playoff bound.

Instead of surrendering with Clayton Kershaw out, the Dodgers found a deep resolve. Not coincidentally, it came from a deep roster.

“We talked a lot at Spring Training about depth in the organization,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said, in the bombastic clubhouse after today’s clinching victory over Colorado. “It wasn’t something that we were necessarily eager to showcase, as early as we did and as often as we did. But it’s an incredible organization. The number of fingerprints on this division title spans so many different players and so many different departments in our organization. So many people can be proud of it.

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#4peat! Dodgers win NL West again

nl-west-champs-2016-1024x576

By Jon Weisman

Fourmidable!

And for Vin Scully, unbelievable.

At Vin’s final day broadcasting at Dodger Stadium, as the shadows crept across the infield, Charlie Culberson homered — his first of the season — to give the Dodgers a 4-3 walkoff, 10-inning victory over the Colorado Rockies — and their fourth consecutive National League West title.

After going the life of the franchise without making the playoffs in three straight years until 2015, the Dodgers have extended their streak by one. Dave Roberts joined Tommy Lasorda as the only rookie managers ever to lead the Dodgers to a division title.

The victory sets up a National League Division Series matchup with the Washington Nationals, who clinched the NL East on Saturday. Game 1 of the NLDS will be October 7, with the Dodgers narrowly behind the Nationals in determining home-field advantage. The Dodgers own the tiebreaker if the teams finish with identical records.

In a season replete with resolve, the Dodgers rallied from two deficits — and won without leading until after the final pitch was thrown.

In his first MLB start since August 13, Brandon McCarthy made his longest appearance since July 22. Retiring the first six batters he faced on 25 pitches with four strikeouts, McCarthy then allowed two runs in the third inning, but recovered to face the minimum in the fourth and fifth innings.

For the day, McCarthy threw 79 pitches in 5 1/3 innings with six strikeouts, and notably walked only one. It was his three consecutive starts walking a career-high five in early August that signaled his need to return to the disabled list.

Following a Howie Kendrick single and Justin Turner double to begin the third, the Dodgers cut the Rockies’ lead in half on Yasiel Puig’s sacrifice fly, but couldn’t convert any of their other eight baserunners in the first six innings into runs.

After Turner singled in the seventh, however, Corey Seager ripped a shot down the right-field line — his team-leading fifth triple — and suddenly the Dodgers were tied, at home, with a direct look at the promised land. Then came the final at-bat …

David Dahl’s ninth-inning home run off Kenley Jansen looked to deny the Dodgers their opportunity to win their way into the NL West title. The immediate consolation, as Dahl’s drive sailed over the fence in right-center, was that San Diego took a 4-3 lead over San Francisco in the bottom of the seventh, extending the possibility of a home clinch.

But with two out in the bottom of the ninth, Seager drilled a 112 mph shot off Rockies reliever Adam Ottavino (aiming to rebound from his five-run, ninth-inning meltdown August 31 against the Dodgers) to tie the game again.

Joc Pederson, batting for Yasiel Puig, walked against Boone Logan. Gonzalez came to the plate and hit a solid opposite-field drive but a can of corn nonetheless, and we would play on.

With two out in the bottom of the 10th, Culberson, who spent much of the season in the minors, no-doubted an 0-1 pitch over the fence in left, and the celebration began for the Dodgers — bot thanks to the Giants, but thanks to themselves.

Seemingly lost without Clayton Kershaw, the 2016 Dodgers found themselves

2016-hs11-cover

sans-kershaw-standingsBy Jon Weisman

On Wednesday, the Dodgers played what they hope will be their last game with Clayton Kershaw on the disabled list.

The standings (seen at right) for those 73 days without their incomparable star, at least on the surface, tell as unexpected a story as one has seen from the Dodgers since 1988 — a story equal to if not beyond their 2006 playoff push after going 1-13 to start the second half of the season, the Manny Ramirez-led charge to a division title in 2008 or the 42-8, last-to-first comeback in 2013.

That the Dodgers have gone from eight games behind the Giants in the National League West to five games ahead, without their best pitcher (or double handfuls of other injured players at given moments), speaks to something beyond magic, let alone the Giants collapse. Playing .613 ball, a winning percentage second in MLB only to the Cubs, has been a result of a level of talent and depth that few seemed to appreciate when Kershaw went down.

man-down

In the latest Dodger Insider cover story, we trace the evolution of the 2016 Dodgers from what was perceived to be a one-man team into an all-hands-on-deck, grinding contender.

“I would hope that it was going to come out all along,” Dave Roberts said. “But I do know that when your best player goes down, there was a concerted effort for us to do a little bit more each individually. So it’s hard to say, but the way we have responded with Clayton being down is a testament to our guys.”

Read the entire story by clicking here.

* * *

Beginning this year, the Dodgers merged their previously separate Playbill and Dodger Insider magazines into one publication (at least 80 pages per issue) with a new edition available each homestand plus one in October, 13 issues total. It is distributed at auto gates (one per vehicle) and via Fan Services for those who use alternate transportation. Dodger Insider magazine includes news, features, analysis, photos, games, stadium information and more. Fans who still wish to subscribe can do so at dodgers.com/magazine

In case you missed it: 29 games to go

Remaining schedule - September

By Jon Weisman

Two games in the National League West separate the Dodgers and Giants, who each have 29 games remaining in the regular season — six against each other — and nearly identical schedules.

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NL Westworld: Dodgers return to first

NL West standings after games of June 26.

NL West standings after games of June 26

By Jon Weisman

Eighty-five games after they last held the lead, 41 games after Clayton Kershaw last held the mound, the Dodgers have returned to first place in the National League West.

Three hours after the Dodgers pounded the Phillies, 15-5, San Francisco put runners on second and third with one out in the ninth inning but fell to Pittsburgh, 4-3, giving Los Angeles a view atop the division for the first time since May 10.

The bookends? Home runs by Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard, who hit two off Kenta Maeda on May 11 to knock the Dodgers into second place. Tonight in Arizona, Syndergaard hit his third homer of the year, heralding the Dodgers’ re-ascension.

Since June 26, the Dodgers have gone 25-16 (.610), while the Giants are 17-25 (.405).

The Dodgers have 44 games to play, and nine of them — more than 20 percent — against the Giants.

The Johnny Wholestaff Dodgers: Just get the outs

PIRATES VS DODGERS

By Jon Weisman

The 1916 National League champion Brooklyn Superbas used 10 pitchers to throw their 1,427 1/3 innings.

The 2016 Los Angeles Dodgers used 15 pitchers to throw 54 innings last week.

Some people — even those under the age of 100, have noticed the difference.

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The latest turn in Yasiel Puig’s story isn’t the last

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

By Jon Weisman

Let’s separate Yasiel Puig’s fate as a baseball player from his fate with the Dodgers for a moment.

It’s certainly a convenient time to do it, with Puig on his way to Triple-A for the first time. He is a Dodger, and yet not a Dodger, and to say the least the baseball world is still processing it.

First comes the blame. Some say Puig had this demotion coming. Some say the Dodgers have mishandled his development. It’s easy to throw stones when there’s a free pile of ’em lining both sides of the Internet. No one’s claiming to be perfect, but no one should think it was easy.

What seems relevant to me is that it has never been in anyone’s interest to see Puig be anything less than the best he can be. That remains the case.

Maybe Puig’s next Major League game will be in another uniform. Maybe it’ll be in familiar, cozy L.A. whites before the next homestand is over. Maybe his next chapter won’t be written until 2017.

Even then, the next chapter will only be a chapter.

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Live-blog: Farhan Zaidi talks post-deadline Dodgers

By Jon Weisman

Farhan Zaidi is speaking to reporters today about the state of the Dodgers after today’s three trades that yielded Rich Hill and Josh Reddick, Jesse Chavez and Josh Fields, at the cost of Jharel Cotton, Grant Holmes, Frankie Montas, Mike Bolsinger and Yordan Alvarez. We’ll live-blog his comments as they come, beginning shortly after 3:30 p.m. …

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As 2006 reminds us, NL West race just getting started

Nomar Garciaparra Los Angeles Dodgers vs San Francisco Giants Saturday, May 13, 2006 in San Francisco,California. The Giants beat the Dodgers 6-5. © Jon SooHoo

In a season of downs and ups, Nomar Garciaparra stews after the Dodgers blew a 5-2, ninth-inning lead at San Francisco on May 13, 2006. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

By Jon Weisman

On this day 10 years ago, the 2006 National League West champion* Dodgers lost their eighth game in a row.

It’s a contradiction that, frankly, should provide comfort to the 2016 NL West-leading San Francisco Giants, who have lost eight of nine games since the All-Star Break, allowing the Dodgers to come with 2 1/2 games of first place for the first time since May 18.

But the larger point is that even with four months of baseball nearly in the books, nothing is decided.

Those 2006 Dodgers, man, were they a roller-coaster team. After starting the season 12-17 and falling into the division’s basement (remember, this was a team that had gone 71-91 the year before), they won 15 of their next 18 and ultimately moved into first place by early June.

But it was a tight, crazy-making race. On the first four days of July, Los Angeles finished the night in a different position in the division: second place on July 1, fourth place on July 2, third place on July 3, tied for first Independence Day.

Then came the All-Star Break, and a horror show worse than even the Giants have experienced. The Dodgers went from 46-42 to 47-55, losing 13 of 14 to fall back into last, 7 1/2 games behind the Padres. Jake Peavy, who pitched Monday for the Giants, was the winning pitcher for San Diego on July 26, 2006 in the completion of a three-game sweep that seemed to doom Los Angeles.

The next day, July 27, was an off day, and I published a column for SI.com in which I said the Dodgers shouldn’t feel stigmatized about being sellers at the trade deadline.

So what happened next? Oh, nothing much, except the Dodgers won their next 11 games and 17 out of 18, again moving all the way from last place to first. I got to write a whole new column for SI, one that began with a quote from Vin Scully.

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With or without Kershaw, no identity crisis for Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers at St. Louis Cardinals

By Jon Weisman

When the Dodgers have struggled, particularly this year, it’s been said more than once that the problem is a team with no identity outside of Clayton Kershaw.

Fans and media do a lot of weird things when they are frustrated with a team. There’s probably no topping accusing a team of having no heart when it loses a game, no matter how close — this idea that if they didn’t win, they must not have been trying.

But in the ongoing need to psychoanalyze the absence of perfection, the “no identity” crisis is a fine runner-up.

“No identity” wins points because it’s just such an obscure idea to begin with. What player walks into the batter’s box and then stops short, wondering, “Wait. I don’t really know what defines us as a club. So how do I hit that slider? Should I even try? It’s just all so confusing!”

Team identity is make-believe, one of those retroactive rationalizations that insists on turning a game of bats and balls into a Beckett play. You’ve either got guys who can do the job or you don’t.

And so, the idea of the Dodgers having no identity outside of Kershaw was always ridiculously reductive. There’s no denying that Kershaw is the Dodgers’ most valuable, most talented, most everything player — that he has been the face of the franchise for some time now. But it doesn’t mean that the others on the team stop existing.

If there’s one positive that has come in the four weeks that have come since a disc herniation sidelined Kershaw, it’s that it has exposed the lie that the 2016 Dodgers were Kershaw and nothing else.

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Nine reasons not to give up on the Dodgers (for real)

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

By Jon Weisman

So, something went awry Thursday with the Dodgers’ march to an 0-83 finish. They won.

Does that delay the inevitable? When the news came that Clayton Kershaw was going on the disabled list, that was the final straw on 2016 for some. Maybe many. Los Angeles Dodgers (2016-2016), RIP.

But yes, I’m here to remind you that there is reason not to give up. In fact, here are nine of them, one for every inning of this glorious, vexing game.

I offer these not because I’m blind to what can go wrong, but for those who are blind to what can go right.

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Dodgers carry streak of one-run games into reunion with Greinke

Zack Greinke on the mound against the Dodgers. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Zack Greinke on the mound against the Dodgers. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 6:40 p.m.
Chase Utley, 2B
Corey Seager, SS
Justin Turner, 3B
Adrian González, 1B
Trayce Thompson, RF
Joc Pederson, CF
Yasmani Grandal, C
Scott Van Slyke, LF
Mike Bolsinger, P

By Jon Weisman

The more things change … the more things change.

Zack Greinke faces the Dodgers tonight for the first time since he came with the Milwaukee Brewers to Los Angeles on May 31, 2012. That night, the Dodgers offered this starting lineup:

Elian Herrera, CF
A.J. Ellis, C
Bobby Abreu, LF
Andre Ethier, RF
Jerry Hairston Jr., 2B
Adam Kennedy, 3B
Scott Van Slyke, 1B
Dee Gordon, SS
Chad Billingsley, P

One of those Dodgers is in tonight’s starting lineup. Another is on the bench. A third is on the disabled list. That, plus Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen, is all that remains to link that Dodger team and this one, four years later.

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