Monday, June 30, 2014

First Place Sure Smells Sweet -or- How Don Mattingly Saved The Dodgers Season

I was originally going to post yesterday when the Dodgers tied the Giants for first place, but I figured the Boys would win today and take it all. I held off for a First Place post.

At the beginning of June they said the Dodgers were done, finished, kaput! 

The Dodgers had the worst defense in the big leagues, the shabbiest bullpen, and the most underachieving bats in the game. Heck, even their own manager said they were playing like shite. 

They said we smelled like rotten fish. Well, nobody really said that - that's called puffery and artist's liberty - but you get my point. 

The pundits annointed the hated Giants to be the magic team of 2014. SF was steamrolling teams right and left and the writers were all hopping into the bandwagon.

The Dodgers were down by 9 1/2 games; they said it was an insurmountable mountain. The Dodgers would need another 42-8 tear like last season, and that wasn't going to happen again. 

At least they got that part right. It didn't happen again, and yet the Dodgers found a way to chug and scrap and bash their way past the Giants and to return to the top of the division. On the last day of the month, after Dodger pitchers retired the final 18 Cleveland batters in a row, first place belongs solely to the Dodgers. 

But the beginning of the month was another story altogether. On June 4th, clearly showing frustration and barely masking anger in his voice, manger Don Mattingly abruptly called off his post game press interview and retired to the Dodgers clubhouse. It was the end of another horrific homestand and the Dodgers had been knocked around yet again.  

The next morning he refused to answer questions about the team's lousy performance, said the Dodgers were not playing as a team, and directed the reporters to ask the players themselves why they weren't getting the job done. 

Bloggers and some writers were proclaiming Mattingly had given up on the team and started gathering nails for the Dodgers' 2014 coffin.  

That day I wrote a post  addressing Mattingly's statements. I took the opposite route and read it as Mattingly's genius/crazy roll of the dice play.  I figured Mattingly was repeating a play he tried last season when he called out the Dodgers for lacking grit. It worked then to turn the team around, and I bet - along with Mattingly - that it would work again and his team would catch fire. 

It was a brilliant strategy. I don't know if it will work every season, but it sure worked now. It worked because Mattingly threw his Hail Mary pass at precisely the right time. There were three crucial factors that created the perfect storm that Mattingly's plan needed to succeed.

1. He uncharacteristically allowed his frustration and pointed words to be exposed following that final homestand loss,which probably shocked a few Dodgers as much as it shocked me. It was the last thing he left with his players that night. Perhaps a few of them went to bed with those words and images on their minds.

2. The next day was on off day, allowing Mattingly's words to permeate and settle into the players as they posed for modeling gigs and worked with their charities away from the stadium lights and its press corps. I'm sure a few Dodgers spent that day opening their eyes to the ugliness that was the 2014 season up to that point.

3. The Dodgers then left on a road trip, leaving behind the Dodger Stadium press as well as their "Woe is me" recliners and "I'm the only guy working hard on this team" whirlpools in the clubhouse. They were far from the comforts and enablers of home and only had each other to rely on. 

They had one choice. They were either going to all pull together on the rope or lose it all.  

Slowly but surely Brandon League started improving, Matt Kemp accepted his new reality as a left fielder and began hitting again, Justin Turner stepped in for injured Juan Uribe and more than held his own, and the bullpen stopped blowing leads. All the while the starting pitchers were keeping their rhythms and getting stronger. Beckett threw a no-hitter, the Dodgers started scoring runs in bunches and then Kershaw threw a no-hitter.  

 You know how crazy good the Dodgers are right now? Yes, "No-Hitter" Kershaw is great, and Grienke and Ryu and No-Hitter Becket, but there's more. Dan "First Inning Dinger" Haren pitched tonight without giving up multiple home runs. In fact, he pitched shutout ball. 

Even the wounded Hanley Ramirez played a role in tonight's first place win.  He couldn't start, but Mattingly used him as a late inning pinch hitter in a 0-0 game. Cleveland blinked and walked the dangerous Ramirez, to get to our latest rookie call up, Clint Robinson.  The kid got his first major league hit - and RBI - knocking in Andre Ethier (after his triple) to give us the only run we needed to win.  Yup - it's now 24 straight scorelss innings for the Dodgers.

Tommy Lasorda must be proud- the Dodgers are all on the same side of the rope now, and all pulling together.

I'm not a stats guru, but it sure feels like the Dodgers have won every series since Mattingly's roll of the dice. All of this paired with a very welcome meltdown by the Giants has led us to where we are today - 

Planting the Dodgers flag on top of the mountain, all alone in



  1. Diggin' the view up here at the top. It's nice to be one of the fans who didn't panic, isn't it?

    1. I was getting close to panic, though! lol
      But live or die, they're our team and just gotta stick with 'em.
      Looks like they're gonna give us a good second half.