NLDS Playoffs Preview and Predictions – Atlanta Braves vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

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Atlanta Braves (96-66) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70)

Keys for the Braves: Their young starting pitchers must handle the pressure; get the ball to Craig Kimbrel; hope that B.J. Upton continues his past playoff performances; don’t let etiquette get in the way.

Tim Hudson was lost for the year when his ankle was stepped on by Eric Young Jr. of the Mets. Paul Maholm was left off the division series roster entirely. That leaves the Braves with a preliminary starting rotation for the NLDS of Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and…Freddy Garcia(?). Yes. The Braves left Maholm off the roster in favor of Garcia. In truth, Garcia might actually be a better bet than Maholm. He’s got the experience and won’t be rattled, plus he pitched well in his time with the Braves. We’ll see if the Braves follow through with the decision if they’re down two games to one in Los Angeles.

For the record, I’d have started Teheran in the opening game.

The young pitchers have to pitch well. It sounds simplistic, but it’s true. The Braves offense is shaky and they’ve taken one of the primary home run hitters, Dan Uggla, off the roster in favor of Elliot Johnson. If they don’t get serviceable starting pitching, they’re not going to win.

Kimbrel is a machine in the closer’s role and the rest of the bullpen has been solid. One thing manager Fredi Gonzalez has truly improved upon is how he handles his relievers.

B.J. Upton found himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated along with his brother Justin Upton and Kate Upton. The only reason I can see for this is to sell a few more magazines because Kate Upton is on the cover. If that was the idea, then perhaps they should have put her in a bikini and had her lounging around the batting cage in various states of undress. Otherwise, you can download much racier images of her from the internet and not spend the money to get SI.

On the field, B.J. Upton had a history of doing well in the playoffs with the Rays when he had seven career homers in 25 post-season games. It was also B.J. who didn’t hustle on a double play ball in the World Series against the Phillies five years ago, so either or both of his on-field M.O. – the lazy player or the playoff masher – could show up.

I didn’t discuss this when it happened, but now is as good a time as any: precisely who do the Braves think they are? For the second time in September, the Braves got into a confrontation with the opposing team because of a breach of etiquette. First it was with the Marlins after pitcher Jose Fernandez homered and stood admiring it. The second was with Brewers’ outfielder Carlos Gomez for doing the same thing and yelled at Maholm as he was running around the bases. There was history between the two following a hit by pitcher earlier in the season. Freddie Freeman had a fit, Brian McCann intercepted Gomez before he got to the plate and gave him a loud, red-faced lecture and Reed Johnson took a swing at Gomez.

In both cases, for some inexplicable reason, the opposing teams and players apologized to the Braves.

Why?

This attitude is bringing back memories of the days before Chipper Jones became a respected and popular player throughout baseball and his mouth and overt love for himself made him one of the most reviled players in the game. The Braves of the 1990s were arrogant, condescending and obnoxious. It wasn’t done in a blustery, cocky way either. It was a smug, “we’re better bred than you” type of attitude you might see at Georgia Republican fundraiser where Newt Gingrich was the guest of honor.

Who elected them as keepers of etiquette? And why don’t they pull that stuff with a team like the Phillies who would tell them to go screw themselves if they did?

I’d like to see what the Braves are going to do if Yasiel Puig does a little showboating in the playoffs. Are they going to pull the same nonsense? If they do, someone’s going to get drilled because Zack Greinke doesn’t put up with that stuff and the Dodgers have a few tough guys of their own. Suffice it to say there won’t be an apology.

Keys for the Dodgers: Get good starting pitching; hand the game straight to Kenley Jansen; don’t change their game plan.

With Clayton Kershaw, Greinke an Hyun-Jin Ryu in the first three games of the series, the Dodgers have a distinct advantage over their younger counterparts. Kershaw has been all-but unhittable; Greinke not far behind; and Ryu is the type of pitcher who shines in the post-season with his crafty lefty stuff. All three are mean and all three will only have to worry about certain segments of the Braves lineup.

The Dodgers set-up men have been inconsistent, but their closer is dominating. It’s important to get depth from the starters and try to hand it right over to Jansen.

There has been concern about the potency of the Dodgers’ offense because Matt Kemp is out and Andre Ethier is hurting. It’s not something to worry about. They have enough power with Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Juan Uribe, a player who has hit some big homers in the post-season. They shouldn’t worry about making up for the power that’s missing. They have enough to get by.

What will happen:

The Braves clearly looked at the pluses and minuses of playing Uggla at second base. He’s become like Carlos Pena without the defense. He either hits a home run, walks or strikes out and is a defensive liability. With both Uggla and B.J. Upton batting under .200 this season, much has been made of the combined amounts of money they’re making – over $25 million in 2013 – for that dreadful production. Suffice it to say that if the Braves didn’t win and hadn’t been so adept at developing prospects, GM Frank Wren would have a lot to answer for.

Johnson isn’t a particularly strong defensive second baseman either and he doesn’t hit much. This says more about Uggla at this juncture than it does about Johnson. It’s a risky move to pull and if the other bats don’t hit, they’re going to regret it.

What it comes down to for the Braves is if the Upton brothers hit and Jason Heyward is completely recovered from his beaning. The Braves are notoriously vulnerable to lefties and the Dodgers have two lefty starters and two lefties in the bullpen.

Ramirez has been on a mission this season; Gonzalez is back to the player he was before he joined the Red Sox; Puig is the kind of player who might use the post-season as his grand stage and hit five homers in the series; and the Dodgers starting pitching is simply better.

The Braves have too many holes in the lineup, too many vulnerabilities, too many questions surrounding their young starters and too much animosity has been built up against them throughout baseball for a veteran team like the Dodgers to back down.

The Dodgers will send the Braves back to charm school.

PREDICTION: DODGERS IN FOUR




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Donnie Baseball Is Not The Problem With The Dodgers

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Not being the problem doesn’t necessarily mean that Dodgers manager Don Mattingly won’t take the fall for the club’s 19-26 start with a $217 million payroll and flurry of expensive moves they’ve made since the group fronted by Magic Johnson took control of the club from Frank McCourt. The media is not-too-subtly pushing the Dodgers to fire Mattingly so there will be a juicy story to write about for a few days. I can guarantee you there are writers and bloggers who have already written their epitaph on Mattingly’s managerial tenure with platitudes as to why Mattingly failed: “Great players don’t make great managers.” “He didn’t have any managerial experience.” “The players weren’t afraid of him.” “The team isn’t that good.”

There’s an argument to be made for all of these assertions I suppose, but it comes down to the players. For the same reason rotisserie fanatics and computerized predictions don’t work out in practice, putting a team together by just buying a load of stuff simply because of name recognition, price and the ability to do so doesn’t work either. Like the nouveau riche who have no taste, concept for cohesiveness, nor sense of what will fit together, since the Johnson group took command, the Dodgers have bought or traded for Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon League and Hyun-jin Ryu. They purchased Mark McGwire’s services as hitting coach and made clear that they’re all in for the now and are also stocking up for the future by tossing loads of money around on international signings.

Mattingly was presented with a group of players that he was entrusted to jam together whether the puzzle pieces were from the same box and fit or not. The front office said, “Here. Win with this,” and expected him to do it immediately. And he hasn’t. Therefore he’s the one on the firing line.

Mattingly’s statement yesterday was taken by many as a “Go ahead and fire me,” announcement to the front office. I don’t think it was that. I think it was Mattingly trying something different from enabling and being Mr. Gentility. Blaming Andre Ethier and treating him as if he’s the root of all the Dodgers’ ills was grabbed and run with because he was the one who was benched yesterday and there has been the implication that he’s going to be platooned and the Dodgers would love to be rid of him and his contract. It’s ignored that during the Dodgers slow start Matt Kemp has been far worse than Ethier; that Gonzalez has admitted his power swing has been altered because of shoulder issues; that the entire pitching staff apart from Clayton Kershaw and Ryu has been hurt at one time or another; and that the only name player doing what it was they brought him in to do is Crawford.

If the Dodgers had a name manager in the wings to replace Mattingly—if Tony LaRussa or Lou Piniella wanted to manage—then they’d have fired him already. Who are they replacing him with? Bench coach Trey Hillman? He couldn’t handle the media in Kansas City, what’s he going to do with the worldwide scrutiny of managing the Dodgers? Larry Bowa? They’d tune him out immediately the first time he flipped the food table and rolled his eyes at Beckett for giving him 4 1/3 innings of 8 hit/5 run ball.

Who then?

Nobody. That’s who. They’re only six games out of first place with all of this dysfunction, so a few wins in a row will make the world look much rosier than it currently does.

If the Dodgers turn their season around and Mattingly’s managing the team when they do it, the outburst yesterday will be seen as the turning point. If they don’t and he’s fired, it will be seen as his parting shot at a group of underachievers to whom he gave a long piece of rope and they choked him with it. If they bring in a new manager and win, Mattingly will get the blame for not “reaching” the players; if they don’t, he’ll be exonerated and the players will be seen as a group of fat cats who have their money and no longer care.

In reality, it’s the players who haven’t performed and the front office who brought them in. Blaming Mattingly is easy and he does deserve a portion of it, but don’t think getting someone else will fix the Dodgers current mess because it won’t.

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The Red Sox-Dodgers Trade, Part III—Ned Colletti’s Style On A Larger Scale

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Because Frank McCourt is gone and the Dodgers have a new ownership that’s going all, all, all out to win by taking on massive contracts, players whose reputations had diminished to nothing, and the injured, it’s seen as a change in strategy from the past. Those who believe this nonsense are parachuting in with a perception based on nothing since they don’t know the history and didn’t bother to engage in the simple act of fact-checking of Ned Colletti’s tenure as Dodgers’ GM.

Even when he was functioning under the disarray of McCourt, he was free with money and prospects operating under the mandated parameters from ownership. If the Dodgers were straddling the line of contender and also-ran, he erred on the side of aggression and brought in veteran players to try and win. You can read about Colletti’s trades here. The difference between then and now is that he has more flexibility to take on money. He exercised that flexibility by agreeing to this gigantic trade with the Red Sox in which the Dodgers acquired Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto for James Loney, Allen Webster, Ivan De Jesus Jr., Jerry Sands and Rubby De La Rosa.

It’s indicative of Colletti’s style and is not a simplistic “take veterans and take money for young players and ignore the future.” If you examine Colletti’s past, he’s never given up any prospects that are regrettable and would be redone if he had the opportunity.

To get Casey Blake, he gave up Carlos Santana, but apart from that he’s never given up anything of note. He was ripped for giving up Santana in that deal’s immediate aftermath, but Santana is a poor defensive catcher whose future is likely to be first base—at first base, he’s a replaceable part. Blake played well for the Dodgers for 2 ½ of the 3 ½ years he spent with them.

In the trades he made and offered to improve the club this year, Dodgers’ top prospect Zach Lee was off the table. It’s a hallmark of Colletti’s limits in trading. He won’t give up the entire house, but will give up what he feels he can replace.

If Colletti claimed Beckett to put an exclamation point on his seriousness in wanting to get Gonzalez, then it was a prescient tactical decision to get them. Beckett was getting through waivers and so was Gonzalez, but Colletti identified what he wanted and took steps to get them. He got the go-ahead from ownership to add this kind of payroll ($261 million to his team) and pulled the trigger. The Red Sox might’ve turned down an offer for Gonzalez alone, but if the Dodgers would take both Beckett and Crawford? They didn’t have a choice but to do it.

It’s safe to expect Gonzalez to be happier and more productive as a background personality and mid-lineup star; for Beckett to keep his mouth shut and behave more professionally (I think); and for Crawford to be relieved to be out of Boston and, once healthy, to return to something reasonably close to his Rays days in 2013 and beyond.

If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, and Andre Ethier are with the club as the foundation for the future and they have a supporting cast locked in as well.

Colletti’s more baseball-savvy than he’s given credit for and in spite of these risky financial and personnel moves, it was more than him agreeing to take the money in a desperate deep strike and spending spree as if he just won the lottery which, with the new ownership, he kinda did.

You can read Part I here and Part II here.

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New Dodgers Ownership Is Giving Similar Free Rein As The Old One

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The only difference between the new Dodgers’ ownership, fronted by Magic Johnson and backed by a lot of rich people, is that they’re more well-liked and aren’t plundering the organization to keep up a lavish lifestyle as the McCourts did. In the personnel department, the GMs have been allowed to do what they wanted in terms of player moves and that extends past current GM Ned Colletti and to former GM Paul DePodesta—Frank McCourt’s first hire.

The Dodgers have made a series of bold deals this season in turning over the roster and adding major money and veteran players Hanley Ramirez, Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino, Brandon League and Randy Choate. They were also willing to take on Cliff Lee’s $87 million contract; signed Matt Kemp (while McCourt was selling the team) and Andre Ethier to contract extensions; and invested $42 million in Cuban defector Yasiel Puig.

But is there a difference between what Colletti/DePodesta did then as to what’s happening now?

In 2004, in his first full season as the Dodgers’ GM and functioning with former GM Dan Evans’s players and manager Jim Tracy, DePodesta had a free hand to do what he wanted and took a sledgehammer to a team that was 60-42 and in first place in the NL West by making a series of disastrous trades, decimating what had been one of the game’s best bullpens by trading righty reliever Guillermo Mota along with catcher Paul LoDuca and outfielder Juan Encarnacion to the Marlins for first baseman Hee-Seop Choi, righty starter Brad Penny and lefty reliever Bill Murphy. The entire intent of these deals was to flip Penny to the Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson—adding more money—but Johnson refused to sign off on the trade. Penny made one start for the Dodgers and got hurt. DePodesta also traded for catcher Brent Mayne and outfielder Steve Finley. The Dodgers staggered to the finish line, made the playoffs and were dispatched in the first round by the Cardinals.

DePodesta was fired after the 2005 season when the club, after a 12-2 start, fell to 71-91 amid infighting among other players he brought in with a tone deafness as to clubhouse chemistry. Milton Bradley and Jeff Kent along with the always charming Penny turned the clubhouse toxic and it showed on the field. After the season, McCourt replaced DePodesta with Colletti.

Colletti has never let the media perception and public demands that he bag a season by selling dissuade him from being aggressive and trying to win when his team is within striking distance of a playoff spot. With the Dodgers in last place and under .500 (though close enough to first place to provide ample justification), he went for it at the deadline in 2006 by acquiring Greg Maddux, Julio Lugo and Wilson Betemit. Benefited by the weak NL, the Dodgers went on a hot streak and won the Wild Card before losing to the Mets in the NLDS.

After a disappointing 2007, the Dodgers spent big to hire legendary former Yankees’ manager Joe Torre. In 2008, they traded for Manny Ramirez and all his baggage and Manny went on a tear, leading the Dodgers to the NLCS. They signed him for two more years after that. At the deadline in 2008, they also acquired Casey Blake from the Indians for top prospect Carlos Santana and reacquired Maddux.

In 2009, as they were on the way to winning 95 games and the NL West, they acquired Jim Thome, George Sherrill, Ronnie Belliard and Jon Garland. In 2010, struggling but again in striking distance of the top of the division, they traded for Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot, Octavio Dotel and Scott Podsednik. It didn’t work and Torre’s managerial career ended with an 80-82 season and the first missed playoff season since before he managed the Yankees.

McCourt owned the team that entire time.

Now, with the new ownership and team president Stan Kasten, the Dodgers are being lauded for “going for it” with money as no object. But it’s the same as it’s been for the past eight years. To say that Colletti is a veteran-centric GM who doesn’t care about prospects is ignoring that he refused to surrender top pitching prospect Zach Lee and that the Dodgers have spent big on draft picks and international free agents; that he drafted Clayton Kershaw and developed him into a superstar; that the club has been willing go after veterans from other clubs and act quickly to rectify mistakes by benching struggling, highly-paid vets like Juan Uribe.

It’s easy to credit Dodgers’ new ownership, but the truth is that it’s the GM—decidedly not a stat guy—who is the one who should be recognized for the way he’s running the team and his ability to ignore outsiders telling him what he should do and instead following his own path. It’s no surprise. The evidence is right there in black and white. This is how Colletti runs his team and that’s the way it was then and the way it is now.

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Believe It Or Don’t—The Good

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Let’s take a look at some teams that—based on preseason expectations—are overachieving, how they’re doing it and whether or not it will last.

  • Baltimore Orioles

What they’re doing.

The Orioles are 27-14 and in first place in the tough American League East.

How they’re doing it.

Led by Adam Jones’s 14, the Orioles have the most home runs in the American League. The starting pitching was expected to be led by youngsters Jake Arrieta and Tommy Hunter—they’ve been okay. Two ridiculed acquisitions Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen have been excellent. The bullpen and manager Buck Showalter’s manipulation of it has been the key.

Believe it or don’t?

The Orioles have gotten off to good starts before and wilted in the summer heat. They can hit and hit for power; their defense is bad. But if Arrieta, Hunter and Brian Matusz pick up for Hammel and Chen when they come down to earth and the bullpen is serviceable, they can surprise and finish in the vicinity of .500.

They’re on the right track, but 13 games over .500 is a stretch.

Don’t believe it.

  • Oakland Athletics

What they’re doing.

The A’s are 20-21 after being widely expected to lose 90-100 games following a strange off-season in which they cleaned house of young arms Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey, but signed Yoenis Cespedes and Bartolo Colon.

How they’re doing it.

Slumps and scheduling have greatly assisted the A’s. They caught the Royals, Angels, Orioles, Tigers and Red Sox during lulls.

The starting pitching with youngsters (Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone) and foundlings (Colon, Brandon McCarthy) have been serviceable-to-good. Manager Bob Melvin knows how to run his bullpen.

I was stunned when I looked at the numbers and saw that Josh Reddick has 10 homers.

The Moneyball “stolen bases are a waste” Athletics are leading the American League in stolen bases.

Believe it or don’t?

They’ve lost two straight to the Giants and are heading to Anaheim to play the Angels and New York to play the Yankees. The Manny Ramirez sideshow is coming and no one knows if he can still hit enough to justify his presence. Cespedes’s hand injury saved him from being sent to the minors.

Don’t believe it.

  • Washington Nationals

What they’re doing.

The Nationals are 23-17 and in second place in the National League East.

How they’re doing it.

The Nationals’ starting pitching has been ridiculously good. Gio Gonzalez has been masterful; Stephen Strasburg is unhittable when he’s on (and hard to hit when he’s slightly off); Edwin Jackson, Jordan Zimmerman and Ross Detwiler have been good as well.

The bullpen has been without closer Drew Storen all season, but Henry Rodriguez is filling in capably. Manager Davey Johnson is adept at handling his bullpen.

Injuries have hindered what should’ve been a strong lineup. Mike Morse, Wilson Ramos and Jayson Werth are out. Ramos is gone for the season with knee surgery; Werth broke his wrist and won’t be back until the late summer. 19-year-old Bryce Harper is adapting to the majors and showing exquisite talent and baseball intelligence amid growing pains.

Believe it or don’t?

This is a talented team whose run-scoring ability has been hampered by injuries. They’re 5th in the National League in home runs, but 14th in runs—that will get better once Morse gets back and Harper’s hitting consistently. The loss of Ramos is a big blow. The starting pitching won’t keep up this pace.

Believe it.

  • New York Mets

What they’re doing.

The Mets are 21-19 in an NL East that might be the most talented division in baseball.

How they’re doing it.

The Mets are 4th in the NL in on base percentage. David Wright has been an MVP candidate for the entire first two months; Johan Santana’s been excellent. That they’re managing to stay above .500 with Ike Davis batting .160 is a minor miracle. Everyone—especially the youngsters Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Lucas Duda—is contributing.

The starting pitching is short-handed and the bullpen has been, at best, inconsistent.

Believe it or don’t?

Unless Davis starts hitting when Wright cools down; unless the rest of the starting rotation and bullpen pick up for Santana when he slows down, they can’t maintain this pace especially when the Phillies get their bats back.

Don’t believe it.

  • Los Angeles Dodgers

What they’re doing.

The Dodgers are 27-13 and in first place by six games in the NL West.

How they’re doing it.

Matt Kemp was laying the foundation for a run at the triple crown and the MVP before he strained a hamstring. Andre Ethier is having an All-Star comeback season. Their starting pitching has been a wonder; the defense has been good. The entire organization breathed a sigh of relief when the reign of owner Frank McCourt came to an end. They’ve been reinvigorated by the enthusiastic presence of Magic Johnson as the ownership front man and the competent organizational skills of Stan Kasten.

Believe it or don’t.

Believe it within reason. They’ll be aggressive at the trading deadline to improve and are in for the long haul, but Chris Capuano and A.J. Ellis aren’t going to be as good as they’ve been so far. They’re going to need a bat and probably a starting pitcher. Ned Colletti will get what he feels the team needs to win.

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National League Fantasy Sleepers

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Let’s look at some fantasy sleepers in the National League.

Mike Minor, LHP—Atlanta Braves

He got a lot of grief for what was perceived to be a “play me or trade me” demand that he start the season in the big leagues in the Braves’ starting rotation.

It wasn’t that kind of demand at all, but that’s how it was taken.

Putting that aside, with Tim Hudson recovering from back surgery Minor is going to have to start the season in the big leagues. He’ll want to get off to a good start to stake his claim in the rotation and validate his assertion that he belongs.

He racks up the strikeouts, hits hits/innings pitched ratio is great and he doesn’t allow a lot of home runs or walks.

John Mayberry Jr., OF/1B—Philadelphia Phillies

Mayberry has never gotten the chance to play regularly from the start of the season onward, but will in 2012.

With Ryan Howard’s return date increasingly uncertain after the procedure to clean up the infection in his surgical wound, there’s even more reason to pick up Mayberry. The Phillies’ situation in left field is in flux and he’ll also play some first base.

He has 25-30 homer potential.

Chase Utley, 2B—Philadelphia Phillies

Looking at his basic stats, it appears as if he’s on the decline due to age and injury.

It’s nonsense.

Utley has hit in notoriously bad luck in the past two seasons. His BAbip was .288 in 2010, .269 in 2011. He stole 14 bases without getting caught after returning from his knee injury. His power numbers were right in line with what he normally produces.

Utley’s going to have a big comeback year.

Chris Coghlan, INF/OF—Miami Marlins

He may have worn out his welcome with the newly star-studded Marlins, as injuries and bickering with the front office have diminished the former NL Rookie of the Year to a forgotten man.

The Marlins don’t have a prototypical centerfielder on the roster (they’re intent on going with Emilio Bonifacio), Coghlan can play the position defensively and his bat can rebound. He’ll get one last shot with the Marlins; otherwise he’s trade bait and is worth the risk in the hopes of a return to what he once was.

Frank Francisco, RHP—New York Mets

He’s not a great closer, but he strikes out over a batter an inning. If you need someone to get you some saves and don’t want to pay for them, he’s going to be cheap.

These are the Mets and fantasy mirrors reality.

Or reality mirrors fantasy.

Or both reflect a nightmare. Or circumstances.

Or all of the above.

Jonathan Lucroy, C—Milwaukee Brewers

Lucroy has a career minor league OPS of .838 and an OBP of .379. He’s hit 20 homers in a season in the minors and hit 12 in the big leagues last season.

He’ll be cheap and there’s major room for improvement.

Alex Presley, OF—Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates’ outfield situation flanking Andrew McCutchen isn’t set. Presley can run and had an .804 OPS in 231 plate appearances in the big leagues last season.

Jeff Samardzija, RHP—Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are going to trade Carlos Marmol at some point and someone—either Samardzija or Kerry Wood—will have to take over as closer. It makes no sense to use Wood at this stage of his career.

Samardzija overcame his control issues for the most part and struck out 87 in 88 innings last season.

Bud Norris, RHP—Houston Astros

Norris isn’t going to win many games for the Astros, but he strikes out close to a batter per inning and has had excellent hits/innings pitched ratios at every level.

David Hernandez, RHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

I don’t trust J.J. Putz to stay healthy and Hernandez saved 11 games in Putz’s absence last season.

Hernandez struck out 77 in 69 innings and allowed 49 hits.

Cory Luebke, LHP—San Diego Padres

Luebke struck out 154 in 139 innings last season and allowed 105 hits.

He began 2011 in the bullpen, but moved to the starting rotation in the second half. He’ll be a full-time starter in 2012.

Jerry Sands, OF—Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers circumstances in left and right field aren’t settled. Juan Rivera is slated to start in left and Andre Ethier is a free agent at the end of the season and is a good bet to be traded.

Sands has posted huge power numbers in the minors—stats—and has the speed to steal 15-20 bases.

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Mid-Season Trade Candidates for 2012—Andre Ethier

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Andre Ethier is a free agent at the end of 2012; the Dodgers are fringe contenders at best; their ownership is in flux; and the relationship between team and player is not good.

That makes Ethier a mid-season trade candidate.

Playing in a pitchers park, Ethier has thrived at Dodger Stadium; in fact, for his career, he’s hit much better at home (career OPS .897) than he has on the road (.791). The lefty-swinging Ethier doesn’t hit lefties very well and is a poor defensive right fielder. But if you put him in a hitters park with a predominately ground ball throwing pitching staff (as the Rockies have with Michael Cuddyer), his offensive production would improve and the other factors would mitigate his flaws.

In spite of the flurry of moves the Dodgers have made this winter, they’re not any better than the 82-79 they were in 2011; if anything, they’re probably worse. The NL West is stronger; they can’t expect Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw to repeat their top-of-the-league performances and the rotation is weaker with the departure of Hiroki Kuroda.

Having signed Kemp to a long-term contract extension, the Dodgers made their choice between keeping Kemp and Ethier. Even if a new owner with deep pockets buys the team, there’s little chance that Ethier stays whether Ned Colletti is the GM or not.

A new owner might prefer to bring a more progressive thinker in as GM to replace the old-school Colletti, and by that rationale, they’ll see Ethier’s flaws defensively and lack of ability in hitting lefties as a reason for letting him go. With Colletti and manager Don Mattingly, the relationship is fractured and presumably beyond repair. Ethier missed substantial time with knee issues and accused the organization of forcing him to play hurt.

Given his own history with injuries hampering his career, it’s hard to see Mattingly doing that.

Ethier’s pending free agency and knee problems will be watched closely as the season moves along; if he’s hitting, he’d be a boost to a contending team in need of a short-term bat. The Dodgers probably won’t get anything more than a couple of decent prospects for him, but they’re not contending and if they run the risk of waiting until the end of the season and offer Ethier arbitration to get the draft picks, there’s a chance he’d accept it—that’s the last thing they’ll want.

It’s wiser to trade him and get something tangible; the time to do it is in June or July.

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Prince Fielder’s Free Agent Possibilities

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Prince Fielder will not be back with the Brewers.

And I don’t want to hear how he’d “love” to stay in Milwaukee; if he truly wants to stay in Milwaukee, I’m sure he could find a way to live on the $100 million or whatever amount of deranged sum they offer. Part of the reason players generally shun their original, mid-market home is due to union pressure to take the largest offer; and that they want to outdo their peers in terms of zeroes on the check.

It’s the same form of egomania that was evident in Moneyball as Billy Beane wants a monetary value on what it is he does. (And what it is he does is becoming increasingly mysterious as time passes; it’s an existential question: what does Billy Beane do? I dunno—he’s becoming Kim Kardashian; he’s famous and we don’t really know why.)

You can forget about the Yankees and Red Sox being in on Fielder despite fan greed about bringing in another $140 million bat. Fielder won’t want to DH, the Yankees have a first baseman and don’t want to clog up the DH spot with another immobile body and onerous contract. They have to re-sign CC Sabathia and/or bring in some better starting pitching.

With the Red Sox, owner John Henry openly regretted the Carl Crawford contract and expressed his wariness at the whole free agent process—do you really think they’re going to bring in an $140 million DH? Really? They, like the Yankees, need pitching.

With that established, let’s handicap and eliminate Fielder’s possible landing spots based on who could use him and who can afford him.

Teams that could use him, but can’t pay him.

Oakland Athletics: It’s pretty funny (no, it’s very funny) that Fielder was singled out in Moneyball as being “too fat” for the team that was portrayed as openly looking for fat players, and Fielder wound up being the most productive bat in the draft.

He’s not going to Oakland and it’s not because of the ballpark or that he doesn’t appreciate the value of being around “genius”; it’s because they can’t pay him.

Pittsburgh Pirates: After their mid-summer flirtation with contention, it only took a few short weeks for whatever spell had been aiding them to wear off and they reverted back into being…the Pirates.

They were 14th in runs scored in the National League in 2011, but they’re supposedly about to ridiculously repeat the same mistake they made with Matt Capps (they non-tendered him) and decline the option on a useful arm in Paul Maholm.

Um, he’s a guy you can trade, y’know? Sort of the way the Nationals traded Capps for a starting catcher they’ll have for the next 10 years in Wilson Ramos? Get it?

Why would anyone with options want to go to Pittsburgh?

San Francisco Giants: There’s a bit of an upheaval and apparent tightening of the pursestrings with Bill Neukom forced out as CEO. They’re more likely to keep Carlos Beltran than bring in any difference-making free agent. They also have to sign Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson in the coming years, so forget Fielder.

San Diego Padres: They just traded a better all-around player in Adrian Gonzalez because they weren’t going to be able to pay him, so it would make zero sense to sign Fielder.

Teams that could use him, pay him and won’t pursue him.

Los Angeles Angels: The Vernon Wells contract is now their problem and it got Tony Reagins ousted. They have two first basemen with Mark Trumbo, the (hopefully) returning Kendrys Morales and Fielder doesn’t want to DH. I would expect them to pursue a trade for the likes of David Wright or chase Jose Reyes instead of jumping in on Fielder.

Chicago Cubs: Theo Epstein has enough problems; they’ve got Carlos Pena, who’s okay; and you can find a first baseman relatively easily.

Baltimore Orioles: Buck Showalter is running things and prefers to have a more versatile, defensively-balanced club with interchangeable parts. Offense wasn’t the Orioles problem, the pitching was.

Teams that could pay him, use him and go after him.

Washington Nationals: Are they agent Scott Boras’s new “go-to guys”? He somehow managed to get them to give Jayson Werth $126 million, are looking to make a splash and rapid leap into contention and have the money.

Adam LaRoche is owed a guaranteed $9 million, but missed most of the 2011 season; the Nats desperately need a bat; they’re better off going after Reyes, but don’t discount them on Fielder.

Los Angeles Dodgers: The McCourts are now divorced and Frank has the Dodgers; but the legal red tape requires a machete to cut through and they have to sign Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier and must begin considering locking up Clayton Kershaw.

I don’t see Fielder going to the Dodgers, but they spent last winter when no one thought they had any money; they have to be considered.

Seattle Mariners: They were last in the AL in runs scored. It’s ironic that the double-dealing they pulled on the Yankees with Cliff Lee looks like they wound up with a worse deal from the Rangers. Will ownership interfere and force GM Jack Zduriencik to keep Ichiro Suzuki rather than look for a legitimate offensive force like Fielder?

Zduriencik drafted Fielder with the Brewers.

They do have the money to sign him and their young pitching can’t go on with a team that simply doesn’t score any runs.

Florida Marlins: They’re repeatedly referenced as teams that are going to go all-in for players in free agency. Albert Pujols has been talked about, but he’s not leaving the Cardinals. One drawback of the Marlins pursuing and getting Fielder would be the homers he’d hit in Florida would be accompanied by this monstrosity.


Here’s my guess: Fielder goes to Seattle for 7-years and $148 million.

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The Aftermath Of Chaos—The Red Sox/Braves Collapses

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Let’s sift through the carnage.

Job security.

It’s fair to examine the whys concerning two teams that seemingly had playoff spots locked up and both fell apart. It’s reasonable to assess everyone’s job performance and come to an unemotional conclusion as to whether minor or major changes should be made.

With the Red Sox, I would expect something blockbuster in player personnel to be done. I’m talking about a massive trade of a name player or players.

With the Braves, don’t be surprised to see them go for an offensive force like Jose Reyes.

As for the managers, the idea that Terry Francona and Fredi Gonzalez should automatically be fired is idiotic; but so is the ironclad assertion that both should return without question.

It has to be analyzed.

Having watched Gonzalez with the Marlins and Braves, I was wrong about him in thinking he’d be fine as Braves manager. He makes too many strategic mistakes that a team fighting for a playoff spot can’t afford to have happen and I’d fire him.

I doubt the Braves will do that. If anything, they’ll make changes on the coaching staff, namely hitting coach Larry Parrish.

With the Red Sox, there’s a possibility that they will fire Francona.

I wouldn’t do that, but it’s their right if they feel it’s necessary to get a new voice in the clubhouse.

The Red Sox have to ask themselves whether they think another manager would’ve done a better job with the starting pitching in disarray; with unlocking Carl Crawford‘s talent; with patching together an injury-riddled bullpen along with handling the stifling, worldwide media attention the Red Sox attract and cultivate.

I don’t see who could’ve or would’ve done any better than Francona, but it’s their call.

If they do decide to make a change, one thing they absolutely cannot do is say something to the tune of, “we decided not to exercise Terry’s contract options; it’s not a firing; it’s moving in a new direction”.

That’s what they did to Grady Little and were hammered for it after the fact.

Fire him if you’re going to fire him. Be done with it and move on.

Michael Kay’s creepy world of “analysis” in the form of sycophancy and self-involved attacks.

In the midst of his rant about the Mets and Reyes’s individual decision to pull himself out of what was possibly his last game as a Met and try (successfully) to win the batting title, Michael Kay also defended the Yankees for their decision to play their regulars sparingly and use 4th tier pitchers in the series against the Rays.

The Yankees owed nothing to the Red Sox nor to the Rays. They didn’t “dump” the games like some latter day group of 1919 Black Sox, but they didn’t go all-out to win.

There’s a difference.

Saying the Yankees were trying as hard as they could needs to be placed in its proper context. By the metric of playing their starters and using their top players as the Phillies did against the Braves, the Yankees didn’t do that. Saying the players they used—Scott Proctor, Ramiro Pena, Greg Golson—tried as hard as they could is akin to saying that the Washington Generals try as hard as they can against the Harlem Globetrotters. Trying is great; winning is unlikely.

In a similar sense, the idea that the Red Sox spiral started with a series loss to the Yankees is a nice, neat, “we started this” story to get in on the action. The problem is there’s no factual evidence to support it. The Red Sox came undone because they were giving up 6+ runs every night after that Yankees series; not because of anything the Yankees mythic “aura” created.

Credit to the pursuers.

Much like the Phillies in 2007 against the Mets, the Rays played the Red Sox and beat the Red Sox. By doing that, they made their lives much easier in the chase.

The Braves haven’t hit well all year. Fingers will be pointed at Gonzalez and Parrish for that, but they were playing most of the season without a legitimate center fielder who could hit; with Jason Heyward needing to have the lowest grade dropped after his putrid (and injury-racked) sophomore season; Chipper Jones is more of a “threat emeritus” than someone for a team other than the Mets to be terrified of; and they had black holes in the lineup all year long.

Once they lost Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, the offense couldn’t pick up the slack and the bullpen was tired from Gonzalez’s overuse.

The Cardinals and Rays played well over the final month to stage their comebacks, but neither had a ridiculous 2007 Rockies-style run of never losing a game.

What will happen.

I believe there is a very good chance that Francona will not be back as Red Sox manager.

Jonathan Papelbon will be allowed to leave. J.D. Drew, Marco Scutaro, Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek will be gone. They will listen to some drastic suggestions like trading Kevin Youkilis. And they’ll desperately look for a taker on John Lackey.

Fredi Gonzalez will not be fired; Larry Parrish will be. The Braves will make a move for a bat—they certainly have the organizational depth to trade for someone big like Andre Ethier, Carlos Quentin or see if the Marlins will move Hanley Ramirez (doubtful). Or they could go after Reyes. A trade is far more probable.

I won’t speculate on what either will say to explain themselves and mute the pain and embarrassment.

That, like suggesting the 2011 Red Sox will compete with the 1927 Yankees, is something that will only be judged in hindsight.

Both have long, long, loooooong off-seasons ahead of them and they’re undoubtedly looking for reasonable, believable answers at this very moment.

I wouldn’t expect much in terms of reason and believability. But I’m a cynic. And thankfully don’t live in the fantasy world of Michael Kay.

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Donnie Baseball’s Crisis Control

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We’ll never know what would’ve happened had Don Mattingly gotten the job to manage the Yankees after the 2007 season. Undoubtedly, things would’ve been different—perhaps for the better; perhaps for the worse. He most certainly wouldn’t be on the Yankees firing line as Joe Girardi is for anything he does that is deemed wrong. Whether it’s the handling of the Jorge Posada situation; massaging the massive egos of Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter; or negligible strategic maneuvers, Girardi has run the Yankees about as well as anyone could’ve.

The vitriol that surrounds Girardi is similar to that which accompanied him when he was a light-hitting catcher acquired to replace the power hitting and popular Mike Stanley. Fans expected the worst and were spitting fire before he’d even had a chance to put the uniform on. It turned out that Girardi was exactly what the pitching staff and manager Joe Torre needed—skillful at calling a game and a defensive standout who was a better hitter than he was ever given credit for.

Mattingly was beloved for whatever he did and that would’ve extended to a honeymoon period if he was managing the Yankees. There would’ve been criticisms of his strategy, but not to the extent of Girardi criticism.

Because he had never managed before and was essentially unfireable, Mattingly didn’t get the job.

Girardi has followed organizational edicts and been a cog in the machine rather than the focal point.

These aspects—more than anything—were what drew GM Brian Cashman to Girardi.

Mattingly was more of a gamble.

Beneath that charming, aw shucks persona is an intense competitor who could easily have used his cozy relationship with the media and idol status with the fans to try and marginalize the GM. Who could ever think that Mattingly would be underhanded and sneaky even if he was being underhanded and sneaky?

Cashman made his choice based on maintaining control. You can’t say he was wrong.

Mattingly took over as the Dodgers manager this season and amid all the distractions of the Frank McCourt circus; injuries to key players Andre Ethier, Casey Blake, Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo and Jon Garland; and glaring holes in the roster, he somehow has the team over the .500 mark.

What prepared him for this and allowed him to overcome the clear obstacles?

Was his apprenticeship under Torre part of the reason he was able to stay calm while the Dodgers universe was crumbling around him? Could it have been all those years spent in the Bronx Zoo as the team star and frequent target of owner George Steinbrenner’s capricious lunacy? Has he used his status as a player who was better than anyone currently on the Dodgers roster to subtly let them know that they’re not going to push him around despite his gentle demeanor?

Is it all of the above?

For all the viable reasons Cashman had for selecting Girardi over Mattingly, the way the Dodgers have played and shunned the temptation to go through the motions and get the season over with makes me wonder what would’ve happened had Mattingly gotten the job to manage the Yankees. They could’ve been worse that they’ve been under Girardi. But they also could’ve been better.

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