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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Greinke vs. Quentin: Tale of the Tape

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Zack Greinke

6’2”, 195 pounds

vs.

Carlos Quentin

6’2”, 240 pounds

There were multiple levels of ludicrous actions and comments preceding, during and after the Dodgers-Padres brawl in which Quentin charged the mound after being hit by a pitch from Greinke. The most entertaining/laughable (in a tragicomic sort of way) portion of Quentin’s and Greinke’s altercation is that their fighting styles were similar to two semi-brain damaged rams who decided that running into one another was superior to squaring off and trying to throw a punch.

Let’s look at the participants.

Carlos Quentin

There was an angry and indignant reply to Quentin’s decision to charge the mound. There are players who are babies about being hit by pitches and react badly whenever a pitch is anywhere close to them. Manny Ramirez was like that. For some, it might be in part to try and intimidate the pitcher from throwing inside or it might be due to them not being accustomed to pitchers brushing them back. Regardless, Quentin is not one of those players. In fact, if there’s a worthy heir apparent to Don Baylor in today’s game, it’s Quentin. Baylor would regularly lead the American League in getting hit by pitches because he refused to move when the ball was coming toward him. He took the hit and walked to first base. Quentin can be counted on for 20 or so HBPs per season and has led the Major Leagues in getting hit twice. Last season, he played in 86 games for the Padres and still managed to lead the big leagues in getting hit. There weren’t any brawls involving Quentin in 2012. He usually goes to first base without complaint.

With Greinke, Quentin had been hit by him twice before; there’s a history of glaring and near brawls between the two; and it looked as if Quentin was hesitant before charging the mound and attacked when Greinke cursed at him. It’s pure foolishness from people who never played baseball before to wonder why Quentin charged the mound. Much like a stat guy questioning as to why a hitter swung at a 3-2 pitch just off the plate and struck out rather than taking the walk, it’s total ignorance to the reality of the speed of the game. A hitter has a fraction of a second to decide whether or not to swing the bat, take the pitch, or duck. Of course, he’s not thinking about it. It’s automatic and the same was true for Quentin’s decision to step toward the mound. Once his manhood was involved as Greinke essentially challenged him, what choice did he have? In the macho world of baseball, when the overt invitation was made to fight, Quentin had to fully commit or look like a wimp to the rest of baseball and possibly subject himself to beanballs with impunity for the rest of the season.

Greinke probably wasn’t throwing at Quentin and after tempers cool, I’m sure Quentin would admit that privately, but the situation snowballed after Quentin’s visceral response and by then he had no choice but to go after Greinke.

Zack Greinke

For all of Matt Kemp’s ranting and challenging of Quentin after the game culminating with a confrontation in the clubhouse runway, Greinke is probably more at fault for this than Quentin and Greinke is definitely responsible for breaking his own collarbone.

Greinke is willing to pitch inside and with a one-run lead he more than likely wasn’t trying to hit Quentin, but once Quentin took a step toward the mound, Greinke could’ve just waved him off and perhaps Quentin wouldn’t have charged the mound with such fervor. The situation could’ve been defused, but wasn’t.

As for the fighting “style,” Greinke’s not a small man at 6’2” and 195 pounds, but to willingly run into the 6’2”, 240 pound Quentin and then wonder how he broke his collarbone is idiotic. This was a case of ballplayers not being fighters and not knowing what to do when the amount of time they have to tussle is limited to how long it takes for the rest of the benches to empty and engulf them. Greinke might’ve been better-served to bob and weave with his hands up in a boxing position or sidestep Quentin and try a leg sweep. Anything would’ve been a strategic improvement over running into each other like a pair of lobotomized Neanderthals.

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The Red Sox-Dodgers Trade, Part IV—For The Teams, For the Players

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Let’s look at how this affects the teams and the players.

For the Dodgers

The Dodgers are under new ownership and GM Ned Colletti got the nod to go for it now and boy, is he. After trading for Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, and Joe Blanton, he also claimed Cliff Lee on waivers only to see the Phillies pull him back. There’s a difference between “wanting” and being “willing to take”. Colletti wanted Adrian Gonzalez and was willing to take Josh Beckett in order to get it done. Lest anyone believe that the Dodgers weren’t serious about their willingness to take on heavy salary as Colletti claimed both Gonzalez and Beckett. Had a deal not been consummated, there was a real possibility that the Red Sox would simply have given Beckett to the Dodgers. Not so with Gonzalez. Carl Crawford will be in left field for the Dodgers at some point in 2013 replacing the rotating list of names that included Marcus Thames, Juan Rivera, Bobby Abreu and now the pending free agent Victorino, who most assuredly won’t be back with the Dodgers in 2013.

The Dodgers needed a power-hitting first baseman to replace the light-hitting James Loney; they went after Gonzalez several times when he was still with the Padres; and Beckett is an extra arm in the rotation with post-season success in his past. They have the money and the desire, nor did they give up their top prospects to get this done.

For the Red Sox

This is a housecleaning and fumigation.

Naturally, as is the case with this current Red Sox group, there was additional controversy when closer Alfredo Aceves threw a tantrum and stormed out of manager Bobby Valentine’s office after Andrew Bailey was used to close a game instead of Aceves. It was obscured by the magnitude of this trade, but was a symptom of what’s gone wrong in Boston not just since Valentine took over, but going back to last season. On that note, Aceves is not the long-term Red Sox closer. Bailey is. I don’t think anyone should get worked up over the happiness or unhappiness of a useful journeyman with a long history of injuries like Aceves.

Gonzalez was a bad fit in Boston. He’s quiet and religious and was reluctant to step to the forefront as a leader.

Crawford was miserable and injured.

Beckett had behaved like a spoiled rotten brat and a bully.

Whether the Red Sox are going to keep Valentine for the second year of his contract remains to be seen, but this trade was an admission that they couldn’t go forward with Valentine or anyone else and maintain the construction of the roster and the hierarchy of the clubhouse as it was. They cleared out $261 million and left themselves flexibility to alter the on-field product as much as the poisoned off-field perception that has exemplified their team since 2011.

Let’s say the Red Sox were unable to make a trade like this and they gave in to the complaints of the players regarding Valentine. Then what? What if they hired another manager and that manager irritated the veteran players in a different way. What if he was strategically inept; soft on discipline; unable to handle the media; or what if they just didn’t like him? Then what? Were they going to give the babies another pacifier and fire him too?

They could’ve stuck a mannequin in a Red Sox uniform at the corner of the dugout with the words NOT VALENTINE stitched across his shoulder blades and until those players found a mirror and chose to act and play like professionals, it wouldn’t have made one bit of difference this season or next.

They made a bold decision to cut ties with players who no longer wanted to be with the Red Sox or shouldn’t have been with the Red Sox in the first place. Now they can move on and start again.

Adrian Gonzalez

Gonzalez is a West Coast-type who will be much better off as the silent and powerful lineup partner to Matt Kemp. As gifted a player as he is, he does not want to be the vocal leader. But if he was truly behind the text message to Red Sox ownership complaining about Valentine, then he has to make a decision: either he wants to be a representative of the team and lead or he wants to sit in the background and be left alone and do his job. He can have one or the other, but not both.

Gonzalez will be playing for a kindred spirit in manager Don Mattingly. Gonzalez has been a key member of three separate teams that collapsed in September to blow playoff spots that should have been sewn up. Mattingly’s Yankees teams were forever in turmoil and didn’t turn the corner until Mattingly’s career and greatness were dismantled by injuries. Mattingly wasn’t a vocal leader either in spite of being the captain of the Yankees and when he tried to be, it came out as awkward.

Gonzalez will revert to the MVP-candidate he was with the Padres, back on the Coast he never should have left.

Josh Beckett

It wasn’t his behavior that was the biggest problem with the Red Sox. That’s saying a lot considering how out of shape he was; how unwilling he was to acknowledge any more than the tiniest bit of responsibility nor regret for the Red Sox coming apart under Terry Francona and his part in the debacle.

It was Beckett’s frequent injuries and rancid performances indicative of someone who was saying, “Get me outta here,” in multiple ways.

I’m not prepared to say that Beckett, with his declining velocity, doughy midsection, and injuries will be what the Dodgers want: a post-season performer and ace who loves the spotlight. In fact, I’d expect something close to what he was with the Red Sox for the rest of 2012 at least. Perhaps Kemp and Mattingly can convince Beckett to show up in shape in 2013, but it’s no guarantee.

Carl Crawford

He was terrible offensively. He was terrible defensively. He looked unhappy. And he was constantly injured.

Crawford was a true 5-tool player with the Rays who degenerated to nothing almost immediately upon pulling a Red Sox jersey over his shoulders. Another bad fit who was something of a redundancy with Jacoby Ellsbury already in the Red Sox outfield, Crawford couldn’t get used to the scrutiny that he never experienced in Tampa; and he couldn’t get the hang of the Green Monster.

Crawford’s struggles are one of the reasons that those who criticize Jim Rice as a bad defensive player as an absolutist declaration of his poor Hall of Fame credentials are leaving out facts as convenient to their argument. Rice was a left fielder for the Boston Red Sox meaning that he had to learn to play the quirks and angles of that wall. He did it as well as anyone and found himself on the outside looking in at the Hall of Fame because he wasn’t Dave Winfield defensively.

Crawford might eventually have learned to handle Boston and overcome his injuries to again become the player he was, but this opportunity was too good to pass up for the Red Sox.

As for the Dodgers, they’re getting a great player who can still be a great player once he’s healthy and happy in Southern California.

Nick Punto

Yeah. It’s Nick Punto. He can do some useful things here and there I guess.

James Loney

When Mattingly took over as Dodgers manager I was sure that he was going to exert the same pressure on Loney that Lou Piniella did on Mattingly to turn on the inside pitches and hit for more power. Mattingly did and became an MVP and megastar. Loney got worse under Mattingly.

He’s a first baseman who doesn’t hit for any power at all and is a short-term guest for the Red Sox as a free agent at the end of the season. The Red Sox might spin him off somewhere by August 31st.

Allen Webster

Webster is a right-handed starting pitcher who was picked by the Dodgers in the 18th round of the 2008 draft. He’s put up solid numbers in the minors and, after having watched a YouTube clip of him appears to be a control-type righty with a mechanical, slightly across-his-body motion. Judging from that, he’s a back-of-the-rotation starter and not someone about whom anyone should get into a twist about surrendering…or acquiring.

Ivan de Jesus Jr.

The son of former big league shortstop Ivan de Jesus, De Jesus Jr was the 2nd round pick of the Dodgers in 2005. He’s 25 and was stagnating as a 4-A player. Perhaps he can be a useful utility player.

Jerry Sands

Given the proliferation of statistics, there’s an idea that a player like Sands needs little more than a chance to play and he’ll replicate his massive minor league power numbers with a different organization. Sands has been a big-time power hitter in the minors for the Dodgers (functioning in the light air of Albuquerque) and never gotten a legitimate chance to play in the big leagues.

Think about this for a second. The Dodgers have had a gaping hole in left field going back years and refused to give Sands a chance to play. Doesn’t it make sense that the Dodgers would know more about Sands than some guy studying Sands’s stats and determining that “all he needs is a chance”?

He’s big and he’s righty. Maybe he can benefit from the close proximity of the Green Monster.

Rubby De La Rosa

The Dominican righty is recovering from Tommy John surgery and has put up big strikeout numbers in the minors. The 23-year-old is poised and polished and has a clean motion. Of all the prospects sent to the Red Sox, the one with the highest upside is De La Rosa.

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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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The Red Sox-Dodgers Trade, Part II—The Red Sox Alter Their Reality

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Judging by their actions in recent years of chasing championships at the expense of sanity and common sense and the magnitude of the contracts on their ledger, the conventional wisdom was that the Red Sox would keep the players they had and move forward. They would patch the holes with tape, placate the whiny veterans by changing managers, and concede to having a team in 2013 that was barely distinguishable from the 2011-2012 squads that embarrassed themselves, their organization and their fanbase with unprofessional, self-centered, obnoxious, and disinterested behaviors and hope that they’d somehow take advantage of the second Wild Card to make a playoff run.

Of course there wasn’t going to be a playoff run. When a team collapses amid turmoil and doesn’t drastically change the personnel, it has one way to go: down. That Larry Lucchino was reveling in the departure of Theo Epstein and that he once again held certain sway over the personnel only sped the decline. No one knew who was in charge; what strategies were being deployed; whether the inmates were running the asylum and their disdain for manager Bobby Valentine would predicate a managerial change because it’s easier to hire a new manager than it is to try and get rid of massive contracts for declining players.

Easier.

That’s been the hallmark of the Red Sox behaviors and player acquisitions since the winter of 2006-2007. It worked in 2007 as they won a second World Series. In 2008, they made it to game 7 of the ALCS. In 2009, they won 95 games but were bounced in 3 straight games by an Angels team that was running on emotion from the death of Nick Adenhart and having had enough of being a punching bag for the Red Sox.

In 2010, they maintained that grinding, gutty persona that had brought them the first championship and had down-and-dirty players who you’d have to kill to make them quit like Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia leading them on the field even though they didn’t make the playoffs; they won 89 games with rampant injuries and a patchwork lineup as their template of on base percentage, power and pitching was still intact, coupled with the steady guidance of manager Terry Francona.

In 2011, they morphed completely into a mirror image of that which they despised more than anything—the Yankees. They spent, spent, spent to fill their holes by trading for Adrian Gonzalez and signing Carl Crawford to join with the remaining star-caliber players. So blinded by the splashy acquisitions, the Red Sox were ludicrously compared to the 1927 Yankees. They started poorly, righted the ship, then collapsed in September amid more injuries—expected occurrences with a veteran roster in the age of drug testing and banned amphetamines—and to make matters worse acted as if they didn’t care. Off the field, the players didn’t like each other, were not cohesive, and behaved as if their playoff spot was a divine right because they were expected to be so good; because the backs of their baseball cards were so gaudy.

We know what happened. Amid chicken, beer, and arrogance, the season came apart at the seams in September of 2011. Following the exodus of Francona and Epstein came the contretemps, blame, pure absence of accountability, the power vacuum and grasping for control. This led to the hiring of Valentine, the players squawking, more injuries, dysfunction and a team that was unlikable on and off the field, one that didn’t understand what it was that made them good nor what it was that made them bad.

Gonzalez is a star player who, in retrospect, was a bad fit for Boston and the poisoned Red Sox culture. As a quiet, subdued, religious person, he constantly appeared uncomfortable as the center of attention. As the star player on not one, not two, but three teams that have collapsed out of playoff spots and one who referenced “God’s plan” when the Red Sox were bounced last September, it was clear that the acquisition had been a mistake. Gonzalez is not a leader, nor is he made to be the “man”. He’s a great player as long as there’s a David Ortiz, a Youkilis, a Pedroia to take the brunt of the media scrutiny. When the media comes to him to ask what happens, he’ll paw at the floor with his foot and utter clichés and religious invocations long enough until the reporter just wanders off. But they’re not going to wander off in Boston as they did in San Diego or as they will in Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, Matt Kemp is the out-front star and the media will leave Gonzalez alone in a way they never would have in Boston. In a way, Gonzalez exemplifies what the Red Sox have become.

Beckett had worn out his welcome in every single aspect. Apart from a rubbernecking at a car crash, “let’s hear what this idiot has to say”, John Rocker-style curiosity, we’ll wait for Beckett to unleash on Boston, on Valentine, on the media, on everyone. The one saving grace he’ll have is if the change in venue reverts him back to the solid pitcher he once was and, the Dodgers hope, a post-season ace.

Crawford is a good guy and, when he’s healthy, a terrific all-around player. He, like Gonzalez, was ill-suited for Boston, tried too hard and got hurt. Also like Gonzalez, he doesn’t need to be the center of attention.

The Red Sox played checkbook, brainless rotisserie baseball in the winter of 2011-2012, drew accolades from all quarters for their aggression but abandoned what it was that helped them build an annual championship contender using intelligence, numbers and good old fashioned instinct, continuity (will this guy fit in Boston?), and scouting acumen.

They became the Red Sox of the 1990s or the Yankees of the 1980s and it showed on and off the field.

The Red Sox had two choices: move forward with the players and the immovable contracts, fire Valentine, give the toy to the tantrum-throwing baby that had become the club’s roster and shut it up, or do what they did. They were lucky that the Dodgers have a new ownership that is willing to do something this lunatic; that in order to get Gonzalez (who they claimed on waivers), the Dodgers were willing to take on both Beckett (who they claimed on waivers as well), and the injured Crawford. They were also lucky that the no-trade clauses in the contracts of Crawford and Beckett weren’t hindrances because they wanted to get out of Boston just as desperately as the Red Sox wanted to be rid of them.

The amount of money the Red Sox cleared—$261 million after this season—will allow them to sign players who will fit into what Valentine wants (if they keep him); who will act as if they’re there to play baseball and not bully the front office due to contractual obligations, veteran status, and threats; to re-sign Jacoby Ellsbury and, rather than chase the same stars as the Yankees and overpay to do it just to keep up and one-up, will go back to doing it the way they did it between 2000 and 2010. Most importantly is the off-field dynamic. Red Sox fans cheered for these players wearing Red Sox uniforms, but they didn’t like them—they were unlikable. I’ll discuss the prospects they got in the trade in an upcoming posting, but the players they got are secondary to the message that was sent loudly and clearly with the players they got rid of.

Now they can freshen the polluted air of the attitude of Beckett, the reticence of Gonzalez, and the injuries and desire to depart of Crawford. They sent the message to the players that regardless of how much they complain, they’re not going to decide who the manager is. They got rid of Francona through their actions; they’re not going to get rid of Valentine through holding their breath until they turn blue.

The Red Sox front office could’ve accepted their future, looked at those onerous contracts, shrugged and moved on, keeping on doing the same things and praying for a different result. They didn’t. When the Dodgers’ GM Ned Colletti claimed Gonzalez and Beckett and called to discuss a deal, they didn’t pull the players back and say, “Forget it.” They listened and they acted. They’re more likable, have money available to change the roster and the culture, and have stuck to a principle that looked to have been abandoned and was part of the rise of the Red Sox from for the decade prior to 2011—if you don’t like it here and don’t want to be here, we’ll accommodate you and find people who do.

They’re a better team and, more importantly, a better organization for not bowing to expediency and accepting reality. They changed it. Rightly or wrongly, successfully or unsuccessfully, at least they can look into the mirror. And at least when they look, they’ll no longer see the Yankees.

Self-respect is important too.

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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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2012 Trade Deadline Analysis—Philadelphia Phillies

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The Phillies are kindasorta cleaning house.

Ruben Amaro Jr. is Omar Minaya with a championship ring, a better grasp of the English language and without the scouting skills and likability. It’s easy to say that because Amaro was the GM when the Phillies made 3 or their 5 straight playoff appearances that he’s the one responsible for putting the team together, but what deals did he make that were laudable? He spent money and took the veteran players—Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence, Roy Halladay—other teams were trying to unload while doling out ridiculous contracts on the likes of Ryan Howard. The people who built the Phillies during this run were Pat Gillick, Mike Arbuckle, Chuck LaMar and, while his name is reviled by Phillies’ fans, Ed Wade.

Now Amaro is starting a retool. It’s not a rebuild. He’s trying to change on the fly and that is very hard to do for the better GMs around baseball. Amaro is competent and willing to accept mistakes and adjust accordingly, but that’s doesn’t make him one of the “better” GMs around baseball.

They may not be done dealing because all of their stars are going to get through waivers in August because of their contracts.

OF Shane Victorino was traded to the Dodgers for RHP Ethan Martin and RHP Josh Lindblom. Victorino is a pending free agent and one would assume that he’s going to play leftfield for the Dodgers. Matt Kemp is the alpha-dog in LA and he’s not having his position usurped. Victorino steals bases, racks up the extra base hits and has pop. He’s also accustomed to pressure.

Martin was a 1st round pick (15th overall) of the Dodgers in 2008; he’s been a starter in the minors and has a very simple, gentle motion that bodes well for his durability. He can be wild, but doesn’t allow many homers.

Lindblom throws hard, but gives up a lot of home runs for a reliever, 9 in 47.2 innings this season. He’s effective against righties and lefties and can function as a set-up man for Jonathan Papelbon.

In the other big trade made by Amaro, he sent Pence to the Giants for OF Nate Schierholtz, RHP Seth Rosin and C Tommy Joseph.

Pence is going to get a massive raise in arbitration this winter and is a free agent after 2013. Since the Phillies 2012 season is shot and they’re going to try and contend in 2013, holding onto Pence made little sense (rhyme!!!) if they weren’t willing to sign him long-term and the return on this trade was more than what they’d get for him in the winter or at the 2013 deadline.

Schierholtz is a journeyman outfielder with occasional power. He’s good defensively and with the Phillies so short-handed, he’s going to get a chance to play semi-regularly. The Phillies have to see what they have in Domonic Brown for an extended period; he’s going to be 25 next month and has done everything he can possibly do at Triple A. Either he’s a 4-A player, won’t make it with the Phillies and needs a change of scenery, or will be an important part of the Phillies 2013 lineup. What use he is to the Phillies has to be determined once and for all.

Rosin is a big (6’5” 250) righty reliever in A ball; he racks up the strikeouts and has been closing. He reminds me of Brad Penny. Joseph is a 21-year-old catcher and former 2nd round draft pick in 2009; he has power and a strong caught stealing percentage behind the plate.

The Phillies took steps to rejuvenate a flagging farm system, but with the commitments they still have to veteran players Rollins, Howard, Chase Utley and Halladay, it’s not clear whether these minor league players they acquired are part of the Phillies’ future or will be auctioned for other veterans to replace the ones they just traded. With Amaro, either is possible.

The worst part of all this is that we’ll no longer see Pence’s acting turn looking like Corky from Life Goes On in pushing bread.

But, as they say, life goes on.

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ESPN, Hamels and the Home Run Derby—Consume Your Empty Calories

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Anderson Cooper just came out of the closet—TheDailyBeast.com.

It’s no issue to me one way or the other.

If he worked for ESPN he probably would’ve done it as a part of the promotional carpetbombing for the All-Star Home Run Derby (brought to you by State Farm).

You’re being fed empty calories of the mind.

Only the people that started ESPN know if their initial intent over 30 years ago was to create a go-to place for sports information. They were visionaries in the explosion of cable TV at a time when wide swaths of the country and world didn’t have it and didn’t know what it was.

There’s a possibility that they were hoping to make a load of money with the endeavor and get out.

It’s doubtful that they were looking that far ahead, but it’s possible.

Of course that’s led to sports content based on public demand that has little-to-nothing to do with sports news.

The network has developed into a cash machine and a caricature of what a sports network that focuses on sports should be. It’s an embarrassing comedy skit. And it’s real.

Presumably it was inevitable when corporate fealty supersedes evenhanded information and analysis.

During last night’s Mets-Dodgers game the inundation of marketing for the insipid Home Run Derby was such that there was a mention of it at every possible opening. Anyone who simply wanted to watch the game was a captive audience and, like something out of A Clockwork Orange, there was no alternative but to watch.

I could almost see the copy placed in front of the broadcasters and hear the control room telling them to talk about the Home Run Derby. Repeatedly there were discussions of this ridiculous and boring display as if we’re supposed to invest ourselves in it from now until it takes place and then eagerly wait until next year to do it all over again.

The new twist is that we’re back in the schoolyard waiting to see who the cool kids select. Who will team captains Robinson Cano and Matt Kemp pick?

Who cares?

ESPN constantly referred to it; the people in the booth Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Terry Francona along with the sideline reporter Buster Olney relentlessly talked about and dissected it as if they really cared about it and weren’t doing what they were told by the network. There were polls for the fans and other interactive gimmicks to generate webhits, viewers, texting fees and other money-accumulating tactics.

Give MLB and ESPN credit for turning the days before the All-Star Game—days that were generally languid affairs—into a way to make a lot of money. Taking their cue from the NFL in terms of gouging fans with junk they don’t need, it’s the American way.

But don’t think for a second that ESPN is still a sports-centric entity. They want money and don’t care how they get it. In the ESPN era, the line between athletes and media is non-existent. Everything is about content designed to generate cash. That’s why you see stories about Tim Tebow and, if you’re paying attention, wonder why there’s a story about Tebow in the middle of the summer when there’s nothing happening with him or the Jets. That’s why there will be rampant discussion of Bryce Harper or Tiger Woods whether they’re doing something worth talking about.

And then there are the trending topics based on what people are searching for through their websearch engines.

Even though the Phillies are performing their due diligence and preparing for the possibility of putting Cole Hamels on the market, there will be endless stories of the “rumors” of Hamels’s potential destinations if and when he’s traded.

In reality, the Phillies are not going to trade Hamels until July 30-31st if they trade him at all. They’re going to wait until then to see where they are in the standings and how they’re playing. They’ll gauge the market, their chances for a playoff run and how Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay are coming back from injuries. The Phillies are just as likely to be buyers at the deadline looking for bullpen help, another starter and a bat as they are to trade Hamels.

The guess here is that if the Phillies are within single digits of a playoff spot, they’ll hold onto their players and be buyers. If they’re facing a double-digit deficit and their veteran players aren’t performing, they’ll sell.

The ambiguity gives the websites—ESPN, MLB Trade Rumors, MLB.com and the team websites—time to blast their webhits up and spur the conversation of what “might” happen. With the increased webhits go increased advertising dollars.

As for the argument that they’re giving the people what they want, if the population is inundated with coverage of an event, a segment of that population is going to purchase it or pay attention to it. Social media like Twitter and Facebook increase the demand regardless of accuracy. That’s why you’ll see as many as five different “rumors” from five different outlets all in one article or blog posting and it doesn’t matter how ridiculous some of them are or that they’re coming from nowhere with imagined “sources” as their catalyst.

It’s circular. It’s an infomercial that they hide with the shady, “It’s what the people are asking for.” But if they’re hypnotizing the viewers into asking for it by hammering them over the head, are they asking for it or are they being tricked?

It’s this type of thing that can drive a person mad.

The key is that the person is still paying attention.

Load up on the brain-sugar. It’s not adding anything of value, but so what? It will satiate your hunger. Never mind if it makes your head fat. You don’t care and, as a result, nor do those feeding you.

Eat up!

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The Dodgers Are Lucky And There’s Nothing Wrong With That

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Are you wondering how the Dodgers are 32-15 and 7 ½ games in front in the National League West?

Here’s how.

Journeyman utility player Jerry Hairston Jr. went 5 for 5 yesterday.

Two-time recipient of Tommy John surgery Chris Capuano pitched 7 innings of 2-hit ball, raised his record to 7-1 and lowered his ERA to 2.14.

Light-hitting veteran backup catcher Matt Treanor homered and is batting .290.

Treanor was playing in place of 31-year-old A.J. Ellis who, after spending 9 years in the minors and 4 in Triple A alone, is getting a chance to play regularly in the majors and has a slash line of .317/.442/.517 with 5 homers. He’s also thrown out 46% of potential basestealers behind the plate.

The Dodgers were flawed and for sale before the season started. They had a decent starting rotation led by reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and veteran Ted Lilly. They signed Aaron Harang and Capuano to fill out the fivesome hoping that both would provide competence. Their bullpen was questionable at closer and they had black holes in the lineup behind Matt Kemp. Kemp was carrying the offense on his back before he got hurt and they’ve held serve while he’s been out.

In spite of the hamstring injury to Kemp; non-existent production from shortstop Dee Gordon and third baseman Juan Uribe; the usual lack of power from James Loney; and a switch at closer from Javy Guerra to the strikeout machine Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers have rolled merrily along taking advantage of slumping divisional rivals the Rockies, Padres and Diamondbacks and riding their starting pitching and surprising contributors to the best record in baseball.

Everything that could conceivably have gone right for the Dodgers has gone right.

The ownership problem was solved when a group fronted by Los Angeles Lakers’ icon Magic Johnson bought the club from Frank McCourt and installed respected sports executive Stan Kasten as the new team CEO. They’re received the above-and-beyond the call performances from Capuano, Hairston and Treanor and have the means to improve during the season. Since they’ve gotten out of the gate so well and no longer have to count their pennies because of ownership disarray, they’ll be able to do what needs to be done to improve the offense and contend for the duration. They need a bat and GM Ned Colletti will get it (Justin Morneau is high risk/high reward) because he has the money to do it. If they get into the playoffs, they have the starting pitching and strikeout closer to do damage once there.

The black clouds that have hovered over Dodger Stadium are lifting and a marquee franchise is back at the top of the standings. The Dodgers are for real and whether they achieved that status through luck and circumstance is irrelevant. They’re here to stay and are very dangerous in part because of pitching in part because of luck—in no particular order or preference. There’s nothing wrong with being lucky.

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