Let’s start with Seager. He has stabilized a position lacking for years. He has been the most consistent and dangerous hitter in the Dodger lineup, battling with two strikes on him, hanging very tough against lefthanders, and demonstrating surprising power to all fields. His presence in the line-up after feeble production at his position for years has allowed Justin Turner and Adrian Gonzalez to relax and have solid years, and Kendrick and Grandal to finally get going. Even at his size, Seager is a better than average shortstop with poise and calm and an unusual ability to shake off errors or disappointments for such a young rookie. He has a high baseball IQ and does the right thing at the right time in the field and on the bases and reminds one of Derrick Jeter.
He is in the top five in the National League for MVP.
What Chase Utley brings to this team cannot be quantified by statistics. Remember in junior high, when there were wild, insubordinate boys in classrooms who ran teachers crazy and had to be repeatedly sent to the principal and eventually dropped out and became nothing but societal trouble? And then there was that one teacher who stood in front of the classroom and exuded a certain no-nonsense, very quiet aura of “don’t fuck with my class?” And out of instinct the most incorrigible kids complied, saving their mischief and mayhem for another class? That teacher is Chase Utley.
The class is in session with Chase Utley, and you better pay attention or he might give you a certain look that shrivels up your innards, because Chase Utley is protecting baseball and will stand for no desecration of it. You had better behave like a mature student while in Utley’s classroom and learn and respect the curriculum, which is baseball 101—to be played with ferocious professionalism at ALL times, and especially in the clubhouse, which before he came along was disrupted by pouters, whiners, selfish egomaniacs, divas and overgrown adolescents. Puig was sent down and is now supposedly chastised into maturity, Ethier is on the rack, and these Dodgers watch Utley’s stoic courage and discipline and realize this is the last guy they want to disappoint or piss off and by God you just might learn something and find some passion for your subject in HIS classroom.
Because of Utley, the Dodgers have become all business assassins.
Over the years, as the Dodger pitching coach, Rick Honeycutt has always been able to take certain pitchers, some who have the talent but can’t quite get over the hump, and others who at one time succeeded but are now on the scrap heap, and somehow turn them around into viable contributors. This year, with Kershaw gone around mid season, and injuries to Kazmir (whom he turned around) Wood, McCarthy, Ryu, and Anderson, he has managed to eke out wins with unproven pitchers like Ross Stripling and Joe Blanton, who two years ago couldn’t get a 50 year old softball hitter out. He has done it with a kid named Urias, the occasional minor leaguer, and a relief staff that has allowed the Dodgers to get no more than 5 or 6 innings from any starter but Kershaw and preserved victories when the Dodgers couldn’t hit a lick yet somehow stayed close enough to now catch and pass San Francisco.
Honeycutt, who spent an eternity in the big leagues as both a starter and reliever, has a knack for finding a certain something that gets failing pitchers who’ve lost their confidence back on track. He has been indispensable to Dave Roberts on when to pull pitchers and when to leave them in, how to form a rotation in the bull pen, and what to say on the mound when a pitcher is struggling. Honeycutt has done this year after year, but never with the skill of this year, and what he’s accomplished might just eventually put the Dodgers in the World Series.
The trade of Ellis for Ruiz is a good one. The Dodgers are on a roll and will eventually find out that Ruiz, who was clutch for Philadelphia when they won the World Series, and is in the Utley mold, is a fine receiver and very good hitter, a tough out who can go to all fields and will win them ball games.
Don’t let the home runs and the victories fool you—The Cubs are vulnerable, and especially to the Dodgers, especially if the Dodgers get Kershaw back. Arrieta is not the same pitcher, has lost command and a certain edge where his pitches were un-hittable. Lester is prime to get run on and especially if a team can wear him down. Their best hitters still strike out too much. The home runs that leave the ball park all summer will not go out in the colder October weather when the top pitchers with the best scouting reports hone in on their weaknesses—which is why Kansas City and San Francisco chipped away at pitching staffs with small ball and excellent base running to win World Series the last few years. And the Cub bull pen in the middle is still suspect.
They could be a mirage, but the one asset holding them together is manager Joe Maddon, who has worked miracles in the past, along with one of the great old money pitchers of his era, “Big Game” John Lackey, who has a sore shoulder.
San Francisco, still in freefall, unable to beat bad teams at home, may not be able to recoup with what they’re playing with. This year of the souped-up ball, they have no real power hitters in their spacious ball park and have not adjusted to shifts. Bochy has tried to run to squeeze out runs, but they’re not a running team, and they simply cannot score. And the starting pitching is starting to wilt along with the bullpen, which kept them on top the first half of the season.
Their only hope now seems a wild card victory to get their motor running.
Washington just doesn’t seem to have the right chemistry, and although they play looser under easy-going Dusty Baker after a miserable tyrant like Matt Williams, they seem lacking in the intangibles that win World Series.
The American League has several good teams contending, all with weaknesses, and every one of their pitching staffs is suspect, and especially Baltimore’s. Kansas City is coming on strong but doesn’t have Cueto. Boston has a mid relief bomb squad. Texas has made two great acquisitions—Beltran and Lucroy, both smart hitters with pop, but their staff is also thin after Hammels and Darvish. Houston, if they get in, could actually win the American league. Cleveland’s starting staff looks worn down. Detroit, if they can get some middle relief in their pitching staff, could be the dark horse. Seattle doesn’t have enough. It looks like Toronto, a great line-up with pitching troubles.
Albert Pujols has moved up to 9th in the home ruin category with 589, but should be 6th because Bonds, Sosa and A-Rod do not belong with Ruth, Aaron, Mays, Griffey, or Thome, nor any of the greats Albert has recently passed, like Frank Robinson, Mantle, Foxx and Ted Williams. The homeruns by these cheaters are a sham
Doesn’t it seem like fewer Japanese pitchers go down with Tommy John surgery? Could it be anatomy? Training? Technique? They’re not as big and powerful as American and Latino kids, who throw harder, but go down over the season like bowling pins. A tiny ligament doesn’t have much chance with a body that big and violently explosive.