Uh, oh. A certain monster is beginning to rear its ugly head in Los Angeles. And we’re not talking about “Godzilla (2014).“
I am talking about the monster known affectionately as “team meeting.” Sports fans know that term all too well.
When their team is struggling, the players, sometimes sans coaches, have some sort of gathering where, I assume, they have to be reminded what they do for a living. But let’s face it, there are plenty of studies in the “normal” workplace that prove meetings are a waste of time. I guess it is only apropos that the Dodgers followed up this gathering with a 3-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants Thursday night. And what, pray tell, happened at this meeting?
Manager Don Mattingly reportedly called the meeting to call into question the work ethic of some players. In keeping with the old tradition of “what-goes-on-in-the-clubhouse-stays-in-the-clubhouse-until-TMZ-gets-the-tape,” Mattingly would tell inquiring simple minds the meeting was simply about “”where we are going, how we get there.” And they haven’t gotten very far against the Giants who seem to thrive in even numbered years.
The Giants won World Series in 2010, and 2012, not to mention their last title in New York was garnered in 1954. So far this year, the Giants have taken five of seven versus the Dodgers. And what, pray tell, is keeping the Dodgers from playing at a Giant level?
First off, the “re-vitalized” bullpen is looking more vital for the comeback hopes of the opposition than the saviors for an oft-hurting Dodgers starting rotation. The Dodgers bullpen has the most losses in the majors (10) and has only four wins, which ranks 25th. The bullpen ERA is a combined 3.94. Of course, you could balance those numbers against the amount of work the bullpen has been requested to do. The bullpen has thrown more innings than only the cellar dwelling Diamondbacks. The bottom line is this bullpen certainly keeps fans watching to the bitter (or bittersweet) end. Take two of the victories during the most recent 5-4 road trip.
Last Saturday, the Dodgers were nursing a comfortable 7-3 lead after six innings against the Marlins. Manager Don Mattingly pulled starter Paul Maholm and left the rest to the bullpen. Right move, wrong people. His bullpen blew the lead and sent the game into extra innings before the Dodgers squeaked out a 9-7 win. Mattingly was forced to use six pitchers on a night he should have used half that.
Clayton Kershaw returned to the rotation this past Tuesday and left after seven innings with a comfortable 8-0 lead. But again, the Dodgers bullpen made the last two innings like a fire you can’t turn away from. In the bottom of the eighth, the bullpen gave up two hits, three walks, three runs and left the bases loaded before getting the last out of the inning. Okay, so what if the game ended up with the Dodgers winning 8-3. But it was one of the most tension filled 8-3 games I’ve watched in quite awhile.
One of the biggest concerns has been the play of Brian Wilson. Wilson averaged more than 40 saves a year with the Giants between 2008 and 2011. But in 2012, Wilson suffered an arm injury and underwent Tommy John surgery. He was forced to swallow a bit of pride as the Giants won their second World Championship in three seasons with Sergio Romo playing the savior role this time out. Romo earned four postseason saves including notching the save in the final three World Series games. When 2013 rolled around, Wilson’s healing process was met with the Giants bidding him a fond farewell. The Dodgers jumped at a chance to get him hoping he could turn his Dodger-killing form into a Giant killer.
Wilson came back not just strong but Iron Man strong when he joined the Dodgers in late August. He ended up appearing in a total of 24 games, six of those in the postseason, and gave up just a single earned run while striking out 21 batters in only 20+ innings. It was no surprise the Dodgers signed Wilson to a $10 million deal for 2014. He was even rumbling about wanting to replace Kenley Jansen as the closer this season. So much for that boast.
Wilson, who spent some time on the DL earlier this season when his surgically repaired elbow became inflamed, is currently 0-2 with a 10.24 ERA. He says it will be okay once he can get into a “normal rhythm.” He told reporters “I need to get to the point where everything is in sync. I know what I’m capable of doing when everything’s in sync. I just need to get there.” Geez, that quote makes the Chris Martin-Gwyneth Paltrow explanation of their break-up due to a “conscious uncoupling” sound sensible.
Speaking of injuries, the Dodgers are once again too beat up to put the team they have on paper onto the field. Just as Kershaw’s return from a month long stint on the DL offered a shot of adrenaline, it was taken away when Hyun-jin Ryu came up with a bum shoulder.
Ryu entered his April 27th start against the Rockies as hot as a firecracker having given up just two runs total in his previous three starts. So it certainly seemed something was out of whack when Ryu was shelled for nine hits and five runs that evening. Sure enough, his shoulder is sore and there is no timetable for a return. To make matters worse, our friends over at ThinkBlueLa are worried whether Dan Haren is beginning to show signs of wearing down. Outside of Kershaw and Zack Greinke, it seems Josh Beckett may be the third best hope in the rotation.
Beckett’s career appeared over after going 0-5 with a 5.19 ERA in 2013 and beginning 2014 by getting knocked around by the Tigers(5 runs, 4 earned in 4 innings) in his first start. But since then, he has pitched pretty well and is slowly returning to some sort of form. He has given up two runs or less in four of his last five starts. Even when he gave up four runs against the Marlins in 6.2 innings back on May 2nd, he mustered 8 strikeouts. Sadly, Beckett is still just 0-1 but at least he has kept the Dodgers in games.
Another matter of concern is the defense. Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer once mentioned that about a half dozen of his wins each year could be attributed solely to the great Orioles defense behind him. Well, he’d have at least 6 wins less if he was with the Dodgers-the Dodgers currently lead the NL in errors. The good news is those errors may be getting erased quickly. The Dodgers rank third in the majors in double plays turned.
Okay, so maybe a four game series with the Giants in May isn’t so important. After all, the Dodgers get six more shots at them in September when it will really count. And maybe the “Should Don Mattingly be fired?” talk shouldn’t start up quite yet. After all, it wasn’t until June of last year that this team put it all together.
Still, if the Dodgers continue to get rolled over by the Giants, they may look like Tokyo after the Bay area Godzilla leaves town on Sunday.
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