September 2, 2009
On the Beat
The Dodgers heard the footsteps and decided not to take any chances with possibly losing their grip on a National League West title that it had seemingly put a stranglehold on four months ago. Moving swiftly, general manager Ned Colletti decisively and stealthily bolstered his team's chances of not only winning its second consecutive division title but its first NL pennant since 1988 as the clock wound down on the August 31 deadline for acquiring players who would be eligible for the post-season roster.
Colletti did so by picking up designated hitter Jim Thome from the White Sox and right-hander Jon Garland from the Diamondbacks in a pair of trades. That came two days after he made a lower-profile trade by acquiring infielder Ronnie Belliard from the Nationals. The Dodgers' 5½-game lead over the Rockies in the NL West seems insurmountable, barely more than a week after Dodgers manager Joe Torre said of the Rockies, "We know they have a good ballclub and we hear them coming."
However, the Dodgers then took two of three from the Rockies in Denver last week. While the acquisition of Thome and his 564 career home runs generated more headlines, the Dodgers beat the Rockies again by getting Garland; Colorado also tried to obtain Garland, but instead had to settle for White Sox right-hander Jose Contreras.
Garland isn't the type of pitcher who is going to carry a team through October, as his 2.7 SNLVAR in 167
The Dodgers had not been expected to make any big moves while teams did last-minute shopping on Monday. However, general manager Ned Colletti said he had been trying to acquire a starting pitcher ever since Kuroda was skulled by a line drive off the bat of Diamondbacks rookie second baseman Rusty Ryal on August 15. The Rockies, who lead the wild-card standings by one game over the Giants, had resorted to digging up the remains of Josh Fogg's career to fill the hole in the rotation caused by Aaron Cook's deposit on the DL. Garland certainly would have been a better fit than Contreras, who contributed just 0.8 SNLVAR in 114
The Dodgers' acquisition of Thome was pretty much a bolt out of the blue since their lineup is already set. Colletti says James Loney will remain the starter at first base despite his .266 EqA being 29 points lower than Thome's this season. Instead, Thome will be counted on along with Belliard (.237) to bolster a light-hitting bench that includes catcher Brad Ausmus (.259), infielders Jose Castro (.254) and Mark Loretta (.211), and outfielder Juan Pierre (.283).
"Jim's a great leader who gives us tremendous power coming off the bench," Colletti said. "We're not bringing him over here to play first base. We're bringing him over here to come off the bench and be a great influence in the clubhouse." Added Torre, "Jimmy is a 500-homer guy who knows how to play under pressure."
That could certainly come in handy if the Dodgers reach the World Series, as Games One, Two, Six, and Seven will play in the home ballpark of the American League champion. The designated hitter would be in effect in those games, and Thome would be the logical fit.
The other Los Angeles team-OK, Orange County's team-also bolstered its starting pitching when the Angels acquired left-hander Scott Kazmir from the Rays last weekend. He joins a rotation that has been shaky beyond Jered Weaver (4.6 SNLVAR) and John Lackey (3.1). The Angels have a 4½-game lead on the Rangers in the American League West, and figure to lean on Kazmir should they get to October. He started Game One of the World Series for the Rays last year against the Phillies and also had a 2.53 career ERA against the Yankees in 81
"You really get a lot of adrenaline," Kazmir said of facing the league's top teams. "I really feel comfortable on the big stage. Facing the Yankees, facing the Red Sox at Fenway, you really get that vibe. You get pumped. You really get ready for the game." Kazmir also likes the atmosphere at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, though he has only started there once in his six-year career. "It kind of feels like a playoff atmosphere every time you're here," Kazmir said. "You have the rally monkey, the whole thing going on."
While the Angels bolstered their pitching staff, the Rangers were quiet at the August 31 deadline. However, Rangers manager Ron Washington did not complain since he knows owner Tom Hicks is having financial difficulties. "The Angels have money, and when you have money you can pull off stuff like that," Washington said.
The Royals are 51-81 and thus owners of the worst record in the AL, not to mention 19½ games off the Tigers' plodding division-leading pace in the AL Central. Yet, GM Dayton Moore had his contract extended four years through the 2014 season on Tuesday. Royals owner David Glass said he and his son Dan, the club president, looked more at the long-term picture when evaluating Moore, who took over midway through the 2006 season. The Royals have greatly bolstered their player development system under Moore by adding a farm club, opening an academy in the Dominican Republic and spending in record amounts on draft picks.
"If you change general managers, then you have to start over," David Glass said. "This is not the time to do that. Continuity is very important and I agree with Dan that this is the right time to extend Dayton's contract. I remain convinced that Dayton is the man to get us turned around."
Moore admitted he was caught by surprise when the Glasses first approached him about the extension. He also admits that this season has been a tremendous disappointment. The Royals, who have not been to the postseason since 1985, were the trendy dark horse pick to win the AL Central this season, and raised hopes by getting out of the gate with an 18-11 record before collapsing.
"This year's an example of anything that could go wrong did go wrong," Moore said. "We were very aggressive in knowing that we had, in our minds, a window of opportunity to compete in our division. We went very aggressively this past offseason doing that."
Moore also said that Trey Hillman will return in 2010 for his third season as manager despite his 126-168 career record. "I feel that as we sit here today that Trey is the absolute right person to continue to lead our baseball team in the dugout at the major-league level," Moore said. "With all the injuries and setbacks and disappointments we've had this year, Trey has managed it very well, kept it positive. The work being done is very good."
It is becoming more likely with each passing week that pitching coach Dave Duncan might not return to the Cardinals for a 15th season in 2010. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Joe Strauss that he will make a decision at the end of the season. The reason why is that Duncan is angry at the media in St. Louis for what he felt was unfair criticism of his son Chris, an outfielder who was traded to the Red Sox on July 21 for infielder Julio Lugo, who had been designated for assignment; Chris has since been released. Dave Duncan is also disgruntled that the Cardinals created a minor league pitching philosophy without consulting him or major league bullpen coach Marty Mason.
The younger Duncan had a .311 EqA and hit 22 home runs in 314 plate appearances as a rookie in helping the Cardinals win the World Series in 2006. However, he then suffered through two major injuries in a double hernia and a herniated cervical disc that led to him to become the first American professional athlete to have surgery in which it was replaced by a prosthetic. Dave Duncan believes the Cardinals did not look out for his son's well-being and that the media made him a scapegoat when he was injured. In fairness, Chris Duncan never admitted to being in pain when asked by the media. "At some point the club should protect those who don't protect themselves," Dave Duncan told Strauss. "Chris didn't protect himself and no one else protected him, either."
As far as the pitching philosophy being implemented without his input or being consulted by GM John Mozeliak on personnel moves involving the pitching staff, Duncan said, "It's probably not going to change. It's part of the job. You adjust. It's the way things are done now. You deal with it."
Tony La Russa has never had to deal with another pitching coach since teaming up with Duncan with the White Sox in 1983. However, he has told his trusted lieutenant not to let friendship get in the way of professional decisions. "I've told him that before," La Russa said. "Nothing has changed and nothing will change."
Scouts' takes on various major league players.
Three series to watch this weekend, with probable pitching matchups (all times Eastern):
Red Sox at White Sox, Friday-Monday (September 4-7)