I’m really torn about Joe Torre’s Dodgers this year. On the one hand, I feel bad for Torre. The Steinbrenners didn’t handle his exit very well last year, and this playoff berth is a bid middle finger to the October-less Yankees. On the other, Torre didn’t impress me in his post-dismissal press conference, and I thought that the Yanks should have moved on after the failures of 2004 when Torre’s managerial flaws were laid out for all to see.
Yesterday, before the Dodgers lost to Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and the Phillies 3-2, Harvey Aarton chatted with the Dodgers’ skipper who feels satisfied with his team’s playoff appearance. Torre was careful to avoid the word vindicated no matter how often Aarton pressed him on it.
Larry Bowa, meanwhile, was the attack dog to Torre’s green tea persona. “I know Joe is never going to admit it, but I think it means a lot to him to be at this stage right now,” said Larry Bowa. “You keep reading that, well, he should have gone to the playoffs because of your payroll in New York. But they had the same payroll this year and they didn’t get in.”
I get where Bowa is coming from. I get where Torre is coming from. And I certainly get why the tabloids are proclaiming the playoffs Yankee fans’ worst nightmare. But it’s a false storyline. Through July 31, the Dodgers were a .500 team, hanging two back behind an underperforming Diamondbacks club. After Manny Ramirez arrived, the team went 30-24 and earned a playoff berth with a record five games worse than the Yankees’.
Maybe it was the presence of Joe Torre in LA. But the 84 wins are his team’s lowest full-season total since he skippered the 1992 Cardinals to an 83-win, third-place finish. I think, on the other hand, that Manny probably played a bigger role in the end that Torre did.
Now don’t get me wrong; I loved Joe Torre while he was in the Bronx. I wish him well during the playoffs, and I don’t begrudge him his playoff spot. I certainly don’t have nightmares about him. I do think it was time for him to leave New York. All good things must end, and Joe Torre’s tenure in the Bronx was no exception.
AzFL Peoria (6-4 win over Pheonix)
Austin Jackson: 0 for 4 - grounded into your garden variety 1-6-5-3-4-3 double play
Juan Miranda: 4 for 4, 2 R, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 RBI – he destroys this league
Kevin Russo: 0 for 1, 1 K – pinch hit late for the Reds’ Justin Turner
HWB Waikiki (4-0 loss to Waikiki in 7 innings) I give up, no friggin’ idea why they’re only playing 7 innings
Damon Sublett: 0 for 3, 1 K – first hitless game since coming to the islands
Andrew Brackman: 3.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 2 WP, 3-3 GB/FB - only 38 of 77 pitches were strikes (49.4%) … in his chat today, Keith Law offered this up: “Brackman is pitching in Hawaii now, also with his old velocity and a good breaking ball, but with the usual command issues for a guy that recently off surgery” … so don’t freak out about the walks, it’s normal for a guy this far out from TJ
Frankie Cervelli & Carlos Mendoza will be suiting up for Cardenales de Lara of the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason. High-A Tampa manager Luis Sojo will manage the team, and old pal Ramiro Mendoza will work out of the bullpen.
Caribbean League rosters are slowly trickling in, I’ll keep you updated where guys are playing.
Both League Championship Series this year are a lesson in player development. The Dodgers flat-out dominated the Cubs using a lineup featuring four homegrown players and a pitching staff again centered around in-house arms. The Phils are built very much in the same way, with five homegrown position players starting for them, as well as staff co-aces Cole Hamels & Brett Myers.
Don’t even get me started with the Rays and Red Sox. Stay the course, built from within. Looks where it gets you.
Just a quick roster note, the Dodgers removed ex-closer Takashi Saito from the playoff roster and replaced him with lights out lefty reliever Hong-Chih Kuo. Saito’s status was questionable because of ongoing elbow troubles, and Kuo (who had a ridiculous season) gives them a third southpaw in the pen (Kershaw & Beimel are the others) to battle Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.
First pitch is scheduled for 8:22pm; Joe Buck & Tim McCarver have the call on FOX. Talk it up here.
1. Rafael Furcal, SS
2. Andre Ethier, RF
3. Manny Ramirez, LF
4. Russ Martin, C
5. James Loney, 1B
6. Matt Kemp, CF
7. Casey Blake, 3B
8. Blake DeWitt, 2B
9. Derek Lowe, P (14-11, 3.24)
1. Jimmy Rollins, SS
2. Shane Victorino, CF
3. Chase Utley, 2B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Pat Burrell, LF
6. Jayson Werth, RF
7. Pedro Feliz, 3B
8. Carlos Ruiz, C
9. Cole Hamels, P (14-10, 3.09)
We’re gearing up for Game 1 of the NLCS this evening, and a game thread is forthcoming. However, in the interim hours, I’d like to discuss an issue I’ve come across a few times today. A number of my friends said they’d like to see the Sox beat the Rays, but get beat by the Sox- and Yanks-alum-filled Dodgers in the World Series. I expressed that I’d rather see the upstart Rays take care of business now, rather than banking on an NL team to beat a powerhouse AL team.
So what’s more important to everyone? That the Sox lose in general, or that they lose to the Dodgers in the World Series? · (63) ·
It’s all about the numbers for baseball and TV, and this year, the numbers aren’t looking so hot. TBS’s Division Series rounds saw a ratings drop of 20 percent over 2007. While it’s easy to think that the lack of New York teams is to blame, both Los Angeles and Chicago, two of the biggest media markets in the country, had two teams in the first round. Mostly, politics — the Biden/Palin debate was on during two games — and lackluster games are to blame.
On the Yankee front, Richard Sandomir reports that Yankee ratings were down 10 percent this year. While fans went to the stadium for its final year, the folks at home weren’t so keen on watching a third-place team lumber through the season this year. · (7) ·
After a quick tour through the Yankees fall instructional league, seventh-round pick Kyle Higashioka is heading back to his home in southern California. The team has high hopes for the prep school catcher who, like most high school draftees, is a raw product now. He’ll begin his first full season in pro ball next year, likely starting out at Low-A Charleston, which saw two excellent catching prospects pass through this year in Austin Romine and Jesus Montero. So a once barren system in terms of catching talent is starting to fill out. MLB.com writer Jonathan Mayo has some info on Higashioka up at the official site.
In the quotes department, Higashioka is a lot like catching brother Crash Davis. He comes off as positive, eager, yet unoffensive, which is basically the formula for speaking to the press these days.
“A bunch of people told me how hard it’s going to be once I get into full-season ball,” he said. “I’ll try to get as strong as I can, and keep working on my hitting and catching, maintaining quickness as well as strength. I want to come to Spring Training in really great shape and impress all the coaches and staff, so hopefully they put me in the full-season level.”
“There are certain things that are different in professional baseball that I wasn’t accustomed to,” Higashioka said. “This minicamp helped me adjust to the lifestyle of playing professional baseball.”
Known mostly for his slick defense, he could still be a force with the bat. It’s tough to tell when they’re still 18 years old and not fully developed physically. The Yanks paid $500,000 to keep him away from Cal, so clearly they see something in him. He’ll definitely be one to watch in the 2009 edition of DotF.
On the eve of the NLCS between the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers, FOX broadcaster extraordinaire Tim McCarver ripped into Manny Ramirez. Said the former player, “Some of the things he did were simply despicable, despicable – like not playing, refusing to play. Forgetting what knee to limp on. And now it’s washed, it’s gone.”
Update: Joe Sheehan takes McCarver to task for these comments. While McCarver is certainly free to hold his opinions on Ramirez, some of the facts he asserts in the Inquirer interview are flat-out wrong. · (28) ·
Can a player be too devoted to a team? Can a player’s devotion to a team and his willingness to play through an injury no matter how severe be a detriment? Of course, it can, and this year, the Yanks learned that the hard way.
By his standards, Derek Jeter got off to a slow start. Through May 18, Jeter had been to the 167, and while he was hitting .314, his OBP was just .349 and he was slugging just .429. With just 11 extra-base hits to his name, Jeter was not having the MVP season his teammates had predicted in Spring Training.
Then, on May 20, in a game in which a Jeter error led to six unearned runs, disaster in the form of a Daniel Cabrera fastball struck. Jeter had to leave the game in the third inning, and while X-Rays were negative, the next few weeks were not kind to the Yankee short stop. Between May 20 and June 14 — a span of 111 plate appearances — Jeter hit .198/.291/.292 with 14 runs scored, five extra-base hits and seven RBIs. It would be a brutal 25 games for the Yankee Captain.
After June 14, Jeter turned it all around. He hit .323/.390/.430 over his last 390 plate appearances, and while another HBP against the Orioles ended his season a few days early, he pulled down a .300/.363/.408 line on the year. But Jeter those numbers pale in comparison with his .316/.387/.458 mark. He didn’t score 100 runs for the first time since his injury-shortened 2003 campaign, and he notched full-season career lows in doubles, home runs and hits.
Sabermetrically, Jeter’s numbers were down this year as well. His runs created per game dipped from 6.3 to 5.0. His VORP dropped from 53.3 to 37.5, and his win shares declined from 24 to 18. Overall, his subpar season didn’t impact the team that much; his contributions declined by about two wins over the course of a full season. But if we assume that Jeter was indeed hurt by Cabrera’s fastball, his decision to play through the pain did not help the Yankees this year.
Of course, Jeter’s bad 25 games could have just been that. Perhaps, he just hit a slump, and the HBP was merely coincidental. And perhaps Jeter’s delince, at age 34, isn’t to be unexpected. He’s on the downside of what has been a very productive career. Over the next few seasons, the Yanks will have to grapple with a lot of Derek Jeter-related questions. He’s not really fit for short stop, and his contract will soon end. The team is still relying on him to be that linchpin out of the two hole, and soon we’ll see if that decision may not be the best for the future of the team.