October 31, 2014

Manny Ramirez and Momentum: The Keys to the Dodgers’ Success in the NLDS?

Manny Ramirez

Manny Ramirez

As the Dodgers prepare to face off against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, there are a number of intriguing questions facing the Dodgers, but none more interesting than what is going on with Manny Ramirez and the role momentum plays in the playoffs.

Will the Real Manny Ramirez Show Up?

 It’s becoming increasingly clear that for the Dodgers to win the series and advance to the next round, their bats must come alive against the powerful Cardinal pitching.  We all know about Ethier’s success at home vs. the road (thank God for home field advantage), but the punch Manny can provide can make this series for the Dodgers.  I don’t think he can break the series,  as the Dodgers don’t expect him to be the difference-making he once was.

Consider this: since September 1st, Manny is hitting just .218 with four HR (the last one coming way back on Sept. 18th) and 14 RBI.  He had only two multi-RBI games during this 25 game span.  Ouch.

However, in the playoffs last year, Manny batted .520 with four HR and 10 RBI, and he’s consistently proven to be a player that can deliver in the clutch during the playoffs.  Can he regain the form that opposing pitchers once feared?  Time will tell, but I seriously doubt it.  That role has shifted to Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp.  Opposing pitchers just don’t fear him the way they once did.

Does Momentum Really Matter?

I’ve always found the subject of momentum heading into the playoffs a fascinating topic.  Here’s where I net out on this: momentum from series to series means very little to professional athletes in the playoffs, as each game is broken down into much smaller increments.  In the playoffs, momentum is defined inning to inning, at bat to at bat and pitch to pitch (and sometimes game to game), with incredible individual athletic achievements causing emotional swings that sometimes simply cannot be overcome.

Remember the 1988 New York Mets?  They had beaten the Dodgers 10 out of 11 times during the regular season.  With the Mets up two games to one in the NLCS, game four was in Shea Stadium.  The Dodgers were losing 4-2 in the top of the ninth inning and on the brink of going down three games to one in the series, when they came back to score two runs to tie the game before Kirk Gibson hit a solo home run in the top of the 12th inning to give the team a precarious one run lead.  Orel Hershiser then came into the game in the bottom of the 12th with the bases loaded and two outs.  Remember that Hershiser started the previous day’s game, but he managed to get Kevin McReynolds to fly out to end the game, evening up the series and swinging momentum to the Dodgers from the heavily favored Mets.  The Dodgers rode the momentum generated from these gritty performances and went on to win two of the next three games to dispatch the Mets in a thrilling seven game series.

In game one of the 1988 World Series, Kirk Gibson’s home run over pitcher Dennis Eckersley  shattered the confidence of the much more powerful Oakland lineup, and made the fact that the A’s were a superior offensive team obsolete, beating them in five games.  From Wikipedia:

But anything can happen in a short series, as proven by these 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers,  who out-hit (41–28, .246–.177), out-muscled (5 HRs–2 HRs), and out-pitched (2.03–3.92) the seemingly unbeatable Oakland Athletics, incredibly winning the Series in five games, outscoring the A’s, 21–11.

Momentum can be a fragile and mysterious force with fantastic psychological effects that can hamper or help even the most skilled professional athlete.  All it takes is one swing of the bat or one critical pitch to turn a series on its ear.  While many pundits are picking the powerful Cardinals to place a beat down on the Dodgers, I for one believe that it will be the critical swings of momentum during the game that ultimately will define this series, and if the Dodger bats can respond the way they have in the past (remember Ethier’s incredible number of game-winning home runs?) then they are poised for success .  Let’s go Blue!

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Notes from the Couch…

In my second installment of Notes from the Couch, here are a couple random thoughts about the past couple of weeks for the Boys in Blue…

Trade Talk
While adding Roy Halladay to the starting rotation would be awesome (and keeping him out of the Phillies’ rotation or some other NL team), the asking price will probably be too high…there’s NO WAY I want the Dodgers to even consider Clayton Kershaw in the deal (the prevailing rumor these days)…what Kershaw has done in his last 7 starts is exactly what us fans like to see – domination! (5-0 record, 0.63 ERA – 3 earned runs in 42.2 innings!, 0.98 WHIP, only 21 hits allowed in 42.2 innings)…I like the fact that the Dodgers have been scouting Cliff Lee (Cleveland)…will he come at a cheaper price?

Manny’s Moment, Juan’s Salute
How awesome was Manny’s grand slam moment on Wednesday?…I was feeling somewhat sorry for the sellout crowd who went to the ballpark to get Manny’s bobblehead and of course, see Manny play…he wasn’t in the starting lineup for good reason – sore left hand from being hit the night before…we all know what happened, so I won’t rehash that Gibson-like moment…what I’d like to point out is yet another professional thing Juan Pierre did – allow the fans to cheer and savor the moment…as the guys pointed out on Dodgers Live after the game, if Juan had gone straight to the plate and stepped into the batter’s box for his at bat, the crowd probably would have cheered a little more and sat down to continue watching the game…instead, Juan stayed in the on deck circle and let the fans cheer like crazy, giving Manny the applause he deserved…

Fantasy Baseball Hell
Those of you who participate in head-to-head Fantasy Baseball leagues know what I’m talking about…you are playing an opponent that week who has a Dodger or two…what do you do when you are cheering for the Dodgers, but at the same time, a great performance by a Dodger puts you behind in the standings?…I ran into this on Wednesday when my opponent had Chad Billingsley pitching…I had Manny Ramirez in my lineup, so when Manny hit the grand slam, it was great for me (homer, 4 RBI’s, 5.000 OPS, etc.) and gave the Dodgers the lead, but also great for my opponent because the grand slam led to Billingsley getting the victory…as it stands now, I trail my opponent in victories and am currently behind 7-5 with 3 days left…oh well, it all comes down to Dodger victories…that’s what we all want…that’s what we all need…

The Lucky Charm?
Last Saturday, my wife pulled out our Dodger flag which has been sitting in a closet waiting to be hung for the first time in front of our house…the reason it was in the closet was because it couldn’t hang on our existing flagpole…she needed to sew it so it could…sure enough, she got to work and had it ready in time for the game against the Houston Astros…we hung it, the Dodgers won…same thing on Sunday…we hung it, the Dodgers won…same thing on Monday…same thing on Tuesday…same thing on Wednesday…5 games in a row!…all I know is I will continue to follow a few “rules” when hanging the flag – can’t hang it out all day…it comes out on game day no more than 1 hour before the first pitch…it comes down within an hour after the final pitch (let’s hope I get out of the stadium quickly on Saturday and Sunday)…more rules will probably follow, but I’ll stick to these to start until the Dodgers lose a game with the flag hanging…

My new favorite card…
I’ll have a scan of this shortly, but I got a card recently that has become one of my favorites…an autographed Clayton Kershaw from the 2009 Topps set…this goes quite nicely with the Chad Billingsley jersey/auto card I have from the 2008 Upper Deck Heroes set…will they someday become the Drysdale/Koufax of the 21st century?…we’ll see…

Manny Ramirez Delivers 21st Grand Slam Home Run

WOW – sorry I missed seeing this live. Manny steps in as a pinch hitter on his BOBBLEHEAD night no less and smacks a grand slam HR!

Footage of the hit:

Post-game Interview with Manny and Torre:

<a href="http://msn.foxsports.com/video?vid=00a1be82-771b-4f20-9135-b5d07033395b&#038;from=IV2_en-us_foxsports_articles" onclick="javascript:pageTracker._trackPageview('/outgoing/msn.foxsports.com/video?vid=00a1be82-771b-4f20-9135-b5d07033395b&#038;from=IV2_en-us_foxsports_articles'); _gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'outbound-article', 'http://msn.foxsports.com/video?vid=00a1be82-771b-4f20-9135-b5d07033395b&amp;from=IV2_en-us_foxsports_articles', 'Video: Manny slams Dodgers past Reds']);" target="_new" title="Manny slams Dodgers past Reds">Video: Manny slams Dodgers past Reds</a>

Notes from the couch…

A theater crowd?
On my way to one of my coaching engagements, I was listening to Tuesday’s game against the Mets…it was classic how Rick Monday and Charley Steiner were describing the crowd…particularly when it was dead silent in the stadium…one of them said it was more like a “theater crowd rather than a baseball crowd”…classic!

Perhaps the pricing at Citi Field is to blame…for the game versus the Dodgers (considered a “Gold” game), the cheapest ticket was $23…at Dodger Stadium, the cheapest seats are $9…the equivalent Loge level seats at Dodger Stadium ($60) go for over twice that at Citi Field ($138)…I guess the Mets have priced themselves out of bringing in the true fans…now, they are tailoring their home crowds to the likes of the theater district…the Dodgers have done a great job of keeping prices low for the fans!

Home Field Advantage…on the road!
From watching parts of the recent series at San Diego on TV, it was great to see the Dodger fans out in force…very similar to what I experienced at the Dodgers/Angels game in Anaheim when the Weaver brothers pitched against each other…our Boys in Blue must feel like they are playing in front of the home crowd when chants of “Let’s go Dodgers!” ring throughout the stadium…

Manny makes fantasy owners happy…
As a Yahoo Fantasy Baseball manager who happens to have Manny Ramirez on his roster, I am pleased that he’s back in my lineup…I was beginning to get sick of my replacement outfielder, JD Drew, sitting every other game and not getting stats for me…in the 4 games since Manny returned, the Dodgers are 3-1 as a team and Manny’s given me 3 hits, a homer, 4 RBI’s and a run scored…I’ll take it!

Hoping for a speedy return!
When news hit that Ronald Belisario returned to Los Angeles after complaining of a stiff elbow, my first reaction was, “Uh oh!”…I saw Saturday’s game at San Diego and how he struggled to throw strikes…chalked it up to simply having a bad day, but hearing the news of his elbow has me concerned…he pitched in 43 of the Dodgers’ first 82 games…add to that the number of times he’s had to get up and warmup in the bullpen and you can see that it’s a lot of pitches thrown for a guy who had Tommy John surgery and sat out the 2005 and 2006 seasons…I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this will pass and he’ll be back in the lineup soon…after all, it’s hard to lose a guy with a 2.42 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and a blazing fastball…

I’ve done my part!
Matt Kemp is still in contention for the last roster spot for next week’s All Star Game in St. Louis…I find it amazing that the Dodgers, with the best record in Major League Baseball, have fewer All Stars (3 – Billingsley, Broxton, Hudson) than the New York Mets (4 – Wright, Beltran, Rodriguez, Santana)…didn’t the Dodgers just beat the Mets, 8-0 on Tuesday???…how did the Dodgers build their 53-30 record with just 3 All Stars and the Mets build their not-so-impressive 39-43 record with 4 All Stars?…oh well, I’ve done my part by voting for Matt Kemp over-n-over via mlb.com…have you?

When Manny Returns…

With Manny Ramirez taking his swings in Albuquerque and getting back into shape for his July 3rd return, the big question revolves around Juan Pierre and his role with the Dodgers…

In Manny’s absence, Juan has been a blessing for the team…his 71 hits (4th on the team), .327 average (tops on the team amongst the regulars) and 17 stolen bases (2nd on the team) are great numbers for a leadoff man…

From what I’ve read and heard on the radio, there are some things the Dodgers may consider in the coming weeks…

  • Trade him while is stock is high and reduce our payroll…that seems to be a very logical move and I’m sure some teams would be interested in a quality leadoff guy in their lineup…the positives for the Dodgers would be the reduction in payroll and maybe getting something good in return…
  • Keep him on the roster and relegate him to the bench…the positive for the Dodgers is Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are the top-3 outfielders and deserve their starting roles…my fear is this would take away Juan’s momentum that he has built during Manny’s absence and we may see a drop in his productivity if he’s not in the lineup everyday…
  • Keep him on the roster, but give him a few starts here and there to give Ramirez, Kemp and Ethier a break…this works for me because you want to give guys a day off every once in a while to keep them fresh and allow them to be at full strength for what we all hope will be a long playoff run…PLUS, what if Ethier gets hurt?…what if Kemp runs into the outfield wall and is out for a couple weeks?…having an experienced outfielder available will do nothing but help the team…giving him a few starts here and there will keep him in “game” mode when called upon…

One thing I have thought about is this…

Have Ramirez, Kemp and Ethier be the starting outfield trio with Pierre on the bench…in the 6th or 7th inning, when we often see pinch hitters batting for our pitcher, use that as a time to get Pierre his first at bat of the game…

When the team takes the field for the next half inning, put Pierre into the game in left or center and you can move around the outfielders as you see fit (ie – if he replaces Kemp, Juan can play center…if he replaced Ramirez, Juan can play left…if he replaces Either, Kemp can move to right and Juan plays center)…

This will serve a couple purposes:

  • give one of the outfielders 2-3 innings “off” for that game…rather than having them rest for a whole game, give them their 9 innings of rest over 7-8 games…
  • Pierre will probably get 2 plate appearances per game if he comes in during the 6th or 7th inning…if you figure he does this 5-6 times per week, that’s 10-15 plate appearances per week which is better than giving him 6-10 as a bench player who pinch hits or fills in on occasion as a starter for the starters…
  • If Pierre comes in and pinch hits for the pitcher, most likely that means he’s batting 9th in the order and will bat in front of the projected leadoff man, Rafael Furcal…doesn’t Pierre/Furcal batting back-to-back sound familiar???…that’s what they do now!

Anyway, all this is just talk, but it’s something to think about as we anticipate the return of Manny to the lineup…whatever Joe Torre decides, I’m all for it (so long as we keep winning!).