COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Dodgers went on a spending spree under the new ownership in 2012 . The days of being penny-wise and pound foolish were over when billionaires bought the team from the bereft and bankrupt McCourts. Dodger fans rejoiced.
It's 2013 and now comes the time to be heavyweight-wise, and not millions-foolish.
In April, with a lineup that resembled a fire-house of star-power and ability, and a strong five-six man rotation topped by two certified Number One starters, this team needed to just start playing their usual, and they'd soon be known as murderers row in blue. With that much fire-power in the middle of the lineup, no one player had to have a career year to go all the way to the World Series. Nothing is ever a sure thing in baseball, but this team was built like a prize fighter.
Spring training got off to a good start. Lots of new talent to evaluate and lots of veterans to mix together. By April, it was hard to fault management for paying so much money to Boston and Boras. Money well spent, right Dodger fans? Thank you Guggenheim for signing Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier and keeping them 3-6 in our lineup.
Hey, wait a minute (as John Madden used to say)! Carl Crawford is hitting way better than predicted coming off an injury year. He'll be an unexpected bonus if he hits us 15 home runs and bats anywhere over .269. Yes, shortstop is a temporary problem caused by Ramirez busting his hand up in the winter games (and then later pulling a hamstring). But, he'll be back in May.
Yes, there have been lots of questions about third base -- and the suspicion that neither Luis Cruz nor Juan Uribe can repeat their once-amazing stats. Meanwhile both can handle the hot-corner defensively, and Cruz can fill in at short as well, while the big guns drive them in. If Mark Ellis, Luis Cruz and Nick Punto stay healthy and get on base like they do, the big guns will get these guys home often enough to give Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu many a three-four run cushion to work with.
Don Mattingly and his coaches seemed to be moving the team along, making all the right moves. Even sending the team's hottest hitter, Yasiel Puig, down to the minors seemed like the right thing to do. The kid from Cuba is new and a little green. He has to play every day here in the USA, and the rules demand he not start the year 2013 on the major league team or his free-agency rights would be accelerated. A few weeks at the start of the season would translate into a full year more before eligibility. It seems like a dumb rule, perhaps, but an easy decision. Send Puig down in April, bring him up in May. It's just business.
Well, it's May now gentlemen, and we need a spark to light the fire that $230 million bought. These guys, Kemp, Ethier, Gonzalez, Crawford, Uribe - they all need a spark to light their slow-burning logs; and I hate to say it but they also need a leader.
I've heard Matt Kemp is the team leader of record, but for a player to be a leader he has to lead at the plate and in the field, not just in the clubhouse. That has been the description of Kemp before, but not for a long while now. Someone else needs to pick up the torch and carry it around the dugout. Light a fire under the others, and make them remember how excited they were to play in the bigs.
This team needs a spark to light that fire, but I don't see him in that dugout right now. I wish it could be Cruz because he was such a great story-- but it's time he go down to Albuquerque to get his head together again. Hopefully he'll come back a better player.
Trade for a spark? The Giants have two; most teams have at least one. Yes, but any real spark player out there now is unavailable. No one is close to giving up the season yet. That's OK , because I believe it would be counter-productive. We need to bring a unifying spirit to the ballclub. Same with firing the hitting coach, or Mattingly. They've all got to be rooting for each other and on the same page. Reaching out to try to bring that in from outside says you lack confidence in this group of players. No, we need the spark to come from within. So, let's bring in the kid.
The spark we need now could be Yasiel Puig. I know he's new, and may have had some issues in Albuquerque, but in spring training he was team leader in several offensive categories and punished the ball doing it. If he's healthy, we need him in the show. Remember Mike Trout, Mickey Mantle, Fernando Valenzuela? Bring in the kid!
As a fourth outfielder, one that can hit for power and for average, he is going to wake up the others to play better to keep their starting jobs. No sitting on the bench, or pinch-hitting him either. Four outfielders could rotate in and out, giving Matt Kemp a chance to regain his strength before he depletes it further. When Hanley Ramirez returns from the DL, he'll be kindling on the fire, and that could get things heating up as we go into the long hot summer, where youth and stamina count.
Here are my three-game series lineup cards:
Game # 1 - 1. Crawford(LF) 2.Puig (RF) 3. Kemp (CF) 4. Gonzalez (1B) 5.AJ Ellis (C) 6.Pinto (2B) 7.Gordon (SS) 8.Uribe(3B)Game # 2 - 1. Gordon (SS) 2. Puig (LF) 3. Kemp (CF) 4. Gonzalez (1B) 5. AJ Ellis (C) 6. Ethier (RF) 7. Punto(2B) 8. Uribe(3B)
Game # 3 - 1. Crawford (LF) 2. Puig (CF) 3. Ethier (RF) 4. Gonzalez (1B) 5. AJ Ellis (C) 6. Punto(2B) 7. Gordon 8. Uribe (3B)
Oh, and I just want to say one more thing about why this Dodger team is losing more than it is winning:
Stop swinging at the first pitch. Please stop now!
Elliot Blinder, a freelance writer, has been following the Dodgers since they played in Brooklyn. He personally witnessed Fernando Valenzuela's opening day shutout, Kirk Gibson's home run in the 1988 World Series, and Orel Hershiser's scoreless innings streak.
Follow him on Twitter @ElliotsWindow.
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- Hanley Ramirez