October 16, 2008, 7:26 p.m. Glendale, Arizona, that is. Let's gather in the desert for Spring Training, shall we? Pitchers and catchers and Jason Schmidt report in just 119 days.
So 2008 ended badly. I'm not going to bore you with a micro-analysis of every little (and big) thing that went wrong during the National League Championship Series. I'll bore you with some of it, of course – I mean, I'm a complete idiot – we'll just skip the peek into every nook and cranny of what's over and done with.
But look, you can't minimize the importance of winning the division, no matter how mediocre, and much more importantly, winning a round of playoffs. Sweeping a round of playoffs. Dispensing with the National League-best Chicago team the way the Dodgers did was a genuine accomplishment. Neglecting to celebrate that in the wake of an NLCS disappointment would be a shame.
The Dodgers went farther than they had in twenty years. That matters. It's very big deal. Look at the Phils, last year and now. Vanquished out of the Division Series by Colorado in 2007, pennant winners in 2008. Clichéd perhaps, but teams do learn from the losing experience, and they do come back stronger the next season. Not always, obviously, but often. It's one step at a time, people.
Philadelphia did to L.A. what the Dodgers did to the Cubs, and is more deserving. They're the best possible World Series representative for the NL, and if you detach for a minute, you might agree that the postseason has unfolded precisely as is appropriate.
So while I agree that it's not second guessing if you scream your disapproval at the manager before he makes a move, or as he's making it, the follow-up will be kept to a minimum. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, and what is a textbook example of the second guess, Joe Torre's allowing Derek Lowe to give up those quick three runs in Game One was not a mistake. Leaving Chad Billingsley in for a second helping of four-runs served up to the Phillies in Game Two was. Clearly. You could see that disaster coming 3000 miles away.
Sure, removing Derek Lowe after five innings of Game Four was a misguided, even bizarre call, but if Clayton Kershaw comes up with as little as an opening out or two, it's a non-issue.
All things considered, Torre did a good job in 2008, and deserves praise. Unlike his immediate predecessors, he is a leader of men, which is no small thing.
Torre's managing during the postseason was mostly fine. His in-season moves, more so than his in-games, if you will, regarding playing time in particular, are the items worthy of examination. The club made the playoffs despite them, but let's review anyway, and in "what if" form.
Imagine, if you can, how the Dodger season might have unfolded with Andruw Jones being discarded after, say, 50 or 60 games, instead of nearly a hundred.
What if, instead of being given until the September roster expansion to contribute as much as one homer or even a Jones-like batting average of .160, Mark Sweeney was allowed to pinch-hit until just May or June?
What if Brad Penny had been removed from the rotation or disabled somewhere in the middle of that stretch of absolute poundings he suffered, covering nine starts from May 2 to June 14, which saw his ERA climb from 2.89 to 5.88, instead of at the very end. We're talking 8.82 in May and 6.89 in June, by the way. I mean, really, how complicated is that?
What if Penny had been stopped after his ill-fated 7.88 August return engagement, which he seemed to demand more than anything? Were those final September relief outings (three outs, three runs, and 27.00) really necessary?
What if Russell Martin had been run only partway into the ground, instead of all the way into the ground? What if the poor guy had been given the traditional catcher's day off per week, instead of per month, or actually rested a day game after a night game? Or a day game after an extra inning night game?
Those are some pretty big what-ifs, but all right. What's done is done. I still think the season was a success. Not a great success, but a success nonetheless. It's kinda like what Jerry Lewis said about the Great Wall of China: "It's not a great wall, it's a good wall." The same applies to L.A. baseball. The Dodgers didn't have a great '08, they had a good one.
That's enough postmortem for the moment. We'll detail the outlook for 2009 in the coming weeks. For now, let's just say that the Dodgers do not have to sign Manny Ramirez, nor must they commit the better part of a decade to CC Sabathia. They're not required to rebuild their entire pitching staff or make wholesale changes to the starting lineup, both of which are already being suggested elsewhere.
A complete free agent list will be available in two weeks. Count on a thorough list of Dodgers options being debated here, both early and often from there. Until then, thank you for being a part of the ninth year of BaseballSavvy.com. A rewarding year it was.
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