Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Big Question: How long until new ownership brings back the magic?
Sorry. That was kind of hacky, wasn’t it? Oh well. I coulda gone with “Showtime,” and I didn’t so consider yourself lucky.
But our hackiness can be forgiven, can it not? These are heady times for the Dodgers. Frank McCourt’s reign of terror is about to end and in comes the most beloved figure in L.A. sports this side of Vin Scully. And what’s more, Magic Johnson is accompanied by serious money in the form of Guggenheim Partners, and real baseball brains in Stan Kasten. That stuff has led to a zillion headlines this week, but how long until that translates to success on the field?
Maybe sooner than you think. Here was Magic Johnson early Wednesday morning, when asked if the new ownership group was going to approach things like the Yankees do:
“It’s not just the Yankees. The Angels invested a lot of money into Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. You see what the Tigers just did with Prince Fielder. Teams are investing. That’s what you do when you put a winning team on the field. We’re not going to be any different from those teams.”
Cole Hamles is available next year. So is Matt Cain. So is Josh Hamilton. In not too long Joey Votto will hit the market. There’s no reason to think that the Dodgers aren’t going to be in on that business. And if they are, they could start winning a lot of baseball games here pretty soon.
What else is going on?
- None of that is this year, though. For this year it’s their Cy Young pitcher in Clayton Kershaw, their MVP-caliber center fielder Matt Kemp and … a whole lot of blah. Or, as Jonah Keri put it so succinctly: “2012 could bring the Dodgers another Cy Young, an MVP award, and the league lead for crummy, overpaid starters named Juan.”
- Dee Gordon is about as exciting as it comes. He hit .304 with a .325 on-base percentage and stole 24 bases in only 56 games. He may be trouble for the Dodgers at the top of the order given how batting average-heavy that OBP is, but when he does get on base, watch out.
- Otherwise this is a pretty weak lineup. Outside of Kemp there are very few power threats and the one guy who could maybe turn into one one day — Jerry Sands — was just sent down to the minors. For this lineup to be any kind of respectable, the Dodgers need Andre Ethier, James Loney and Juan Rivera all to remember what they were like when they used to be something. That’s a tall order.
- Kershaw is less of a lone solider in the rotation, as Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and Aaron Harang all look solid. Not spectacular or anything, but solid.
So how are they gonna do?
Not that great. I really don’t like anyone in this lineup not named Matt Kemp. The cupboard is basically bare here, as the minor league system atrophied under McCourt and Ned Colletti simply doesn’t appear to know how to assemble useful spare parts. All of that is a recipe for mediocrity at best. Even if there is excitement on the horizon.
With their rented ace on the mound and the home crowd riled up, this was supposed to be the Blue Jays’ game. After all, they’re the one overwhelming favorite to win their LDS. Well, they were. After a 5-3 loss to the Rangers on Thursday, the Blue Jays face an uphill climb to advance in the best-of-five series.
It’s not over, obviously. For one thing, the Blue Jays get to face left-handers in at least two of the next three games, and the Jays destroy southpaws. The Jays will have the pitching advantages in Texas after Friday’s Game 2 showdown against Cole Hamels, and they’ll probably have a sharper David Price out there next time if the series goes five games.
How Toronto’s lineup shapes up in the coming days will hinge on the health of Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista. Donaldson passed his initial concussion tests after colliding with Rougned Odor‘s knee, but he’d be far from the first player to experience lasting effects after initially getting the all clear. Bautista, too, is expected to be ready to play Friday after leaving with a hamstring cramp. At this point, there’s no reason to suspect that the Jays are understating the extent of the problem.
If Donaldson is fine, the Jays will have a much better chance of taking down Hamels. Game 2 starter Marcus Stroman has looked outstanding since returning from his torn ACL, and he should be able to hold down the Rangers’ offense better than Price did. He might not even have to face Adrian Beltre, who left Thursday’s game with a back problem.
The Rangers have yet to announce the rest of their rotation, though it sounds like Martin Perez is the favorite to get the ball opposite Marco Estrada in Game 3. It would then be either Colby Lewis, Derek Holland or Yovani Gallardo on three days’ rest in Game 4 (with the Jays starting knuckleballer R.A. Dickey). Lewis seems the more likely choice because of Holland’s inconsistency and the Jays’ dominance of left-handers. Those would both be winnable games for Toronto.
So, what it comes down to is beating Hamels. If the Jays head to Texas tied 1-1, they’re still the favorites to advance to the ALCS. If it’s 2-0 Rangers, three in a row is going to be a lot to ask.
Jon Lester is lined up to pitch against John Lackey in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Cardinals on Friday, but Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com reports that the Cubs will start Kyle Hendricks in Game 2 on Saturday.
Hendricks got the nod over Jason Hammel, would could start Game 4 if he isn’t used out of the bullpen this weekend. Jake Arrieta, coming off his brilliant performance in the Wild Card game against the Pirates, is scheduled to pitch in Game 3 when the series shifts to Chicago.
Hendricks posted a 3.95 ERA and 167/43 K/BB ratio in 180 innings over 32 starts this season. He pitched well down the stretch, including back-to-back scoreless outings to finish the regular season. That ultimately gave him the edge over Hammel, who had a 5.10 ERA during the second half.
With their ace on the mound in front of an electric home crowd, the Blue Jays seemingly came into Game 1 of the ALDS with the advantage over the Rangers. However, as these things often go during the playoffs, it didn’t work out that way.
Robinson Chirinos and Rougned Odor each homered off David Price as the Rangers beat the Blue Jays 5-3 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday.
Price gave up five runs over seven innings in the loss. The Rangers grabbed an early 2-0 lead in the third inning before Chirinos connected for a two-run homer in the fifth. Odor added a solo blast in the seventh inning for some insurance. Playoff success continues to elude Price. He’s now owns a 4.54 ERA in the postseason and is 0-6 as a starter.
Yovani Gallardo got the win after holding the powerful Toronto lineup to two runs over five innings. Jose Bautista took Keone Kela deep in the sixth inning to draw the Blue Jays closer, but Jake Diekman followed with two perfect frames before Sam Dyson tossed a scoreless ninth inning for the save.
A big story in this game was injuries to key players. The Rangers lost Adrian Beltre in the third inning due to lower back stiffness. Meanwhile, Josh Donaldson exited for precautionary reasons in the fifth inning after he took a knee to the head on a takeout slide. The Blue Jays announced that Donaldson passed concussion protocol, but will be reevaluated Friday. Jose Bautista also exited the game after eight innings due to cramping in his right hamstring, but he’s expected to be OK.
Game 2 will take place Friday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. ET. Cole Hamels will pitch for the Rangers while Marcus Stroman will attempt to keep the Blue Jays from going down 0-2 in the series.