Kershaw. 7th Inning.

We all saw the monkey, and nobody wanted to address it. It had morphed into an elephant with a HUGE 7 on its side.
Kershaw walks Rizzo. on FOUR pitches. that are NOWHERE near the zone.
“this can’t be happening.”
“this IS happening.”
Rizzo takes first.
Zobrist bats. Frustrating, unorthodox stance. mouth wide open while hitting. really makes for an awkward plate appearance, but the dude can hit. and he’s a righty.
Grandal, spooked by Gonzalez charge from 1B, drops a catcher popup (super-difficult/underrated catch, ps).
“this really is going to happen again, isn’t it?”
Zobrist hits a hard foul ball.
“Dammit.”
Zobrist inexplicably takes a fastball through the heart of the plate for strike three.
HUGE sigh of relief.
Addison Russell. Stud. Struggling, but a stud nonetheless.
1-1 count crack off the bat, flyball to left.
Kiké, positioned perfectly in left, makes the catch. two outs.
 
“He’s gonna do it. Clayton’s gonna get the monkey off his back once and for all.”
But baseball is funny. It really is.
Who steps up – well, it’s Javier Baez. The man that had a superstar-in-the-making reputation for two years without producing. Until this postseason, when he’s become a superstar within a fortnight. And he has one of the two hits on the night off of Kershaw. He’s an immediate Cubs superstar, already entrenched in Cubs lore, especially after his astute play in the field earlier, where he intentionally allowed a pop flare fall in front of him, instead of catching it – the result was a double-play. very heady. 
 
So Baez, the most confident of all Cubs, is at the plate. The air hangs heavy with humidity and bladders are weighed down with beer. Wrigley Field is rollicking.
First pitch to Baez is a ball. The crowd, fervid with excitement, shakes the ancient ballpark.
Kershaw fires a 95-mph fastball letter-high and on the outside half of the plate. Baez takes a mighty rip and CRACKS a bomb deep to center. Every fan, at Wrigley and watching on FS1, takes to their feet. Kershaw huddles over, hands on his knees – this one is gone. The sound, the crowd reaction, Baez’ little hop-step after he hit it –
“We all knew this was going to happen. Damn 7th inning.”
And Joc Pederson, one foot on the warning track, settles under the heavy ball for the third out, excitedly points at Kershaw, who breathes the biggest damn sigh of relief and smiles his way into the dugout.

The monkey? The elephant? They’re gone. Kershaw is the only animal left in these playoffs.

My Vin Post

I’ve had nearly the entire calendar year to internalize the impact of Vin Scully’s retirement.

It’s different than when an athlete opts to end his playing career. Kobe Bryant & Derek Jeter received the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar treatment with tours, gifts, roasts, etc.; others, such as Barry Bonds or Allen Iverson, are forced to abandon their ride into the sunset. Magic Johnson, Barry Sanders & Bo Jackson are examples of retirements that were shocking in their suddenness. Each fantastic playing career carries specific moments over a generation – or if the athlete was particularly transcendent, generations plural – and defines a city, an era, a specific way of playing the game; something that entrenched the athlete in the milieu to the extent that their retirement itself was notable.

But for many Dodger fans and Los Angeles natives – and for me, specifically – the career of Vin Scully is inextricably intertwined with Life in L.A.

There was Vin when I was doing my homework in Mrs. Saunders class in first grade. There was She Is Gone. . .In a Year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened. There were the sombreros being thrown to the sky when old friend Pedro Guerrero made the last out (a GIDP) of Fernando’s no-hitter. There was Vin in Spring for Henry Rodriguez’ four-homerun game. Vin was there when I came home from my first JV game as a 14-year old sophomore. It was Vin, as my Dad would kick back on the floor with his Golden Retriever, Doc, the two of them laying with the screen door ajar, letting the dulcet tones of Vinny complement the perfect San Fernando Valley summer breeze.

Vinny introduced me to Mike Piazza. Hideo Nomo. Ramon and Pedro Martinez. Omar Daal. Ismael Valdes. Vinny was serenading me as Eric Gagné, the mediocre starting pitcher morphed into Eric “Game Over” Gagné, still the most dominating pitcher I’ve seen, asterisk or not. Vin was in love with the O-Dog. Vinny ushered in Mannywood. Yasiel Puig became The Wild Horse.

In recent years, Vin was not there for the playoffs; first because of organizational ineptitude in the 90’s and subsequent Fox era, but mostly because of the Business of Baseball, which precluded ‘local’ broadcasters from doing much of the TV postseason work. Also, Vin’s age (the voice is truly timeless; humans, even a Saint, are not) demanded that the rigors of a baseball travel schedule were simply too much and the road games were increasingly narrated by Rick Monday, Ross Porter, Steve Lyons. Or Charley Steiner. Eric Collins. Recently, L.A. legends Orel Hershiser and Nomar Garciaparra have seen more TV work as Vin only works home games and the occasional trip to San Francisco. And Joe Davis, The Man Who Has to Follow in Scully’s Shoes, does a great job – but he’ll forever live with the moniker he’s no Vin Scully. So there’s less Vin now than ever.

And that’s okay. I’ve become busier. We all have. My son, Felix, is nearly 3 years old. And besides, “baseball is too slow.” But maybe that’s a good thing? When I do get to hear Vin, which I did about 30 times this season, I’ve flashed back to those serene summer nights in Sepulveda. I’d get off of a three-way call on my parent’s landline, run out to do a cannonball in the pool, careen back in the house, grab some Cap’n Crunch and Get Back to This One. You could always Pull Up a Chair, but if you couldn’t, that was okay. Vinny was going to see you again tomorrow night.

I really began to appreciate Vin and think about the dreadful and imminent end of Scully’s magical run a few years ago. I wondered if I’d enjoy Dodger games, or the Dodgers, or honestly, baseball, as much when he was gone. I didn’t want to find out, but knew it would happen. And when Felix was born, I wanted him to be able to hear and recognize Vin’s warm voice and that musical cadence. We sit and listen to games – a few innings, in Felix’s case, and I’m always sure to emphasize Vin Scully. He’s not likely to remember these nascent memories, especially of some old broadcaster, but I’m glad that I did have these years to share, and pass down the tradition.

Vin Scully is the narrator of this City I Love. Vin Scully is not just the voice of Los Angeles, he is Los Angeles. He came west as the city was just finding it’s sea-legs, a post-Baby Boom bastion of suburbs and planned communities that required you to have a car. No, really – that was a novel concept in 1958, and it’s exactly why Vinny became Los Angeles. You were, and still are, in a car all the time, and Vinny was painting games nine months out of the year. Until he’s not. And then what? Life goes on. L.A. will be here, Vinny and my Dad will hopefully live well into retirement, and the Dodgers will continue drawing 3 million fans per year. Baseball will certainly move forward. So will I, so will Felix.

But it will be different, an impact unknown. There may be a void, there will definitely be a ripple in the fabric of my fanmanship. But I do know that Vin Scully’s retirement will be more poignant and powerful than any I’ve experienced in sports.

I sent a letter to Vin during the first Dodgers season after Felix was born. I didn’t expect nor receive a response, and was told that he actually receives more mail than anybody in the organization. Maybe he read it, likely he did not, but the copy is below and the sentiment still holds.

Because Vin Scully really enhanced my life. And proud Los Angeles native or not, I’ve never said that about any type of celebrity before. And I certainly haven’t said it about an athlete. I do have a sombrero, but I’m not going to throw it to the sky, Vin. I’m just hoping that I can enjoy and cherish your five remaining telecasts and maybe, just maybe, the Baseball Gods will reward you and the fans whom you’ve impacted with one more improbable October.

July 15, 2014

Mr. Scully –

I just want to reach out and thank you for your presence within the Dodgers organization and the City of Los Angeles. I am a second generation Los Angeles native, and recently had a son (Felix) that will be the third Lovett male to be serenaded by your voice from April to October of each year. 

You are truly the voice that defines summer and provides the soundtrack to our great city. I am proud to be able to pass on the tradition of ‘listening to Vin’ to my son. 

In short, your legacy and influence is immeasurable and I cherish each of your broadcasts, and I appreciate your commitment to pulling up a chair and ‘getting back to this one’ in beautiful Chavez Ravine.

Enclosed is a picture of the three of us – my father, Stu; my son, Felix & me.

With admiration and appreciation,

 

Evan Lovett

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The Dave Roberts Era

So if there was any question, Dave Roberts not only has put his imprint on this organization but is making it clear that this is an era where on-field management is a conduit for the front office yet still can have a major and positive impact (as opposed to being a puppet).

Removing Rich Hill yesterday during a perfect game, based on the fact that he was starting to have a little bit of “heat” on the blister finger (causing him to miss three of his last six scheduled starts), the move is objectively understandable. I would be extremely agitated if I was Rich Hill – or, frankly, any other Dodger – but the team won the ballgame and Roberts made the right move.

Roberts earnestly & honestly addressed his decision after the game (“I’m going to lose sleep” “I’ve never had a win feel like a loss”). He is clearly a team-oriented manager that understands what it’s like to be in those players’ cleats, and again, what he is done with such an undermanned, chronically injured, oddly constituted team this year has been nothing short of remarkable.

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Image: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Insane Bolt

Usain Bolt. He continues to amaze, but to me – the fact that he outright dominates his competition is what sets him apart. Check out the 4×100 final in the 2016 Rio Olumpics.
Literal neck and neck and neck and neck and neck until Bolt gets the baton and. . .well, g’night to everybody else
In a seven-second span he creates daylight where there previously was none. Screencap at the 28.2 mark (top pic) showing everybody getting their final leg batons at basically the same time:
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Then, 7 seconds later, against the fastest competition in the WORLD:

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Amazing. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe this guy. One of the greatest athletes ever, certainly. Wow.

The Arm, Jeff Passan

I just finished that book The Arm. If you enjoy baseball, get it.

Jeff Passan takes an excellent approach in focusing individual chapters on the disparate elements of approaches toward pitching; Japan, travel ball/Perfect Game USA, the Trevor Bauer/Driveline method. Additionally, he follows Todd Coffey and Daniel Hudson on the journey back from Tommy John surgery, with intimate access to each on the progression of the injury & its recovery.

Frank Jobe, Neal ElAttrache and even Tommy John Jr, who interestingly enough practices arm medicine with nonsurgical approach, are all frequent subjects. In short, MLB in 2014 finally made a real investment into a database of tracking pitcher activity both subjective and object of including injuries performance and biomechanics, and is building a tremendous database with the help of several esteemed medical institutes, that will hopefully arrive at some sort of conclusions for what type of habits are beneficial and which are detrimental to the state of starting pitching.

For now, Passan leaves us with just the facts and philosophies and some jaw-dropping stats about both the increase in velocity and the frequency and Tommy John surgery at all levels of baseball. Get the book. Read it. Awesome. Baseball (James Earl Jones voice).

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Trade Deadline, Puig’d

My takeaways from this trade deadline:

1) Dodgers. Boring moves. I’d like to think they’re not done; I’d love to see them acquire Archer, whom I really believe has Ace ‘stuff’ without much mileage on his arm. Not to mention his contract; $6mm, then $9mm/year through 2021. Might be the most club-friendly deal in baseball. Reddick is solid, but I really do think Puig will be a star player –  I really do. Maybe it’s just not meant to be in L.A. Rich Hill is a total yawn and totally in the Alex Wood/Brett Anderson/hey-let’s-get-a-solid-but-not-spectacular-fourth-starter-type mold of this front office. Not inspirational. Then again, I’m not in favor of a ‘balls out’ approach if (maybe they know) Kershaw isn’t coming back. Unless you get Archer and Sale, it’s not happening without Kersh.

2) Yankees. Great work. Absolutely awesome hall. The kid Dillon Tate is a legit Ace, I’m hearing good things about their other players – I believe I read five guys in the top 100 in BA’s latest. That’s a haul. Good work Cashman.
3) Giants. I like Matt Moore. Shocked they’d get rid of Duffy, though. Wasn’t he a local kid/fan favorite? Biz is biz, though, and that front office makes quality moves. Nunez was such a great pickup. Dude plays like seven positions and can hit a little bit. Not a ton, but that park is going to play to his game, triples, doubles, etc.
4) Jay Bruce, Meh. He’s good, but he’s not 2015 Cespedes. And now they have like six OF’s, none of whom can play CF? Hmm. . .
5) Rangers. Wow. Lucroy is an a-hole for spurning Cleveland but it worked out. Man that was sneaky good.
6) Adios to Hector Santiago. Not many better dudes in baseball, and he’s a HUGE card collector so he always has my vote. I guess i won’t get to witness his bewildering inconsistency from aclose anymore. . .
7) Don’t sleep on Francisco Liriano to the Jays. I know this one went under the radar, but ‘if’ Liriano recovers what he has last year, maybe by pitching behind his former Pirate buddy J.A. Happ, the Jays might have pulled a coup.
8) Love Cashner to the Marlins.
9) Kemp for Olivera, what a deal. Blech for everybody.
10) Aroldis to the Cubs. Man.
Lastly, Yasiel Puig was sent down to Oklahoma City, perhaps ending an era for the Dodgers. Dylan Hernandez, on Puig, in today’s L.A. Times, explains the factors that led to his sendoff.

This really kind of ‘breaks my heart’ from a sports perspective. I’ve never been down on Puig’s long-term outlook because the talent – and enthusiasm – are so palpable that he really is, for me, the best singular player to watch in baseball “when things are going well.” We all know what led to this, and some say this was inevitable, but I really, REALLY hope he catches on somewhere and turns into the dominating force I think he can be.

Midseason MVP

National League

I have one large and personal stipulation for the MVP award in the NL:

I have higher standards for Clayton Kershaw MVP than any other candidate. It’s patently unfair, but this is my ‘that’s baseball.’ Until the guy wins, and wins consistently, on a nationally televised basis, I can’t fully endorse his success. Don’t get me wrong – this run he’s been on for a half-decade? It’s likely unparalleled.
And my pops texts me about once per month to reiterate something like this:
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So I love and appreciate what he’s doing; I just think he needs to overshadow the rest of the league to get my MVP ‘vote.’ So what he’s doing this year is amazing, but it’s typical Kershaw – and unless they win the division, I can’t support the candidacy. Yet. Even with a 11-2 record on a mediocre team and a 1.79 ERA, 145 K in 121 innings.
Regarding Kris Bryant – those are some numbers for sure(.278, 21 bombs, 57 RBI). But that entire offense is solid – Rizzo, Zobrist, Fowler are having good years – and the pitching is what’s really carrying the team. He’s a great candidate, and that game last night didn’t hurt, so let’s see this one flesh out while we review the other candidates.
Daniel Murphy is one step away from being a Curt Schilling-caliber PoS, but he’s finally manifesting those early career Don Mattingly comps, and .350 is a gaudy number, especially for a team that is disappointing overall offensively despite high expectations.
Marcell Ozuna (.320, 16 dingers) deserves outside consideration as well for leading the Marlins offense in the wake of Stanton’s (Sherman Oaks, Notre Dame HS) first half slump, but unless they overtake the Nats he’s not going to merit a top three finish. Kudos to Mattingly though on that managing job. Wow.
Jose Fernandez (10 wins, 2.28, 0.99 WHIP, 138 K’s in 94 innings) and Jake Arrieta (12 wins, 2.10, 1.02 WHIP) are both second-tier candidates, but I can’t vote for either in good faith if I won’t vote for Kershaw.
Matt “this guy really, really irks me” Carpenter is leading the league in OPS (.989) and if that club does some special things, he’ll nab a few votes.
Brandon Belt (.301, 10 jacks, 38 RBI) and Madison Bumgarner (1.02 WHIP) will both receive some votes. And here we go again how damn good is Bruce Bochy, wow.
American League
Jose Altuve pops out for me. I love the way he plays the game, I love his spirit and what that does to his ballclub. And his numbers are sensational – we’re looking at a Hall of Fame career here, and at .348 with 13 bombs in the first half of his age 26 season, he’s only getting better. The Astros will likely win this division, and I’ll likely ‘vote’ for the sparkplug.
Big Papi is playing phenomenally, OPS 1.108. Definitely gets a look, but in that lineup I’m hard-pressed to single out one major bat.
Manny Machado could take the award if the Orioles hold on – .328 with 18 bombs and a .993 OPS. But they won’t win the division; that pitching is too thin and Manny will have to wait; he’ll have plenty of chances.
Ian Desmond, who has a great story with the offseason shunning forcing a position change just to essentially stay on a big league roster, is putting up great numbers in Texas – and playing a mean outfield. Great story of redemption and I hope somebody gives him a long-termer after the season. .321 14 bombs and 13 steals.

Francisco Lindor is turning all kinds of heads in Cleveland, and as a Gold Glove caliber shortstop with .314 avg and 10 dingers & 12 steals, he deserves consideration for another Francona-led division leader.
Chris Sale and his 13 wins are eye-popping, but his ERA is half a run higher than Steven Wright (!!!) and Marco Estrada (!!!, Sylmar HS) has the same WHIP. He’s doing nice things, but not MVP nice. Not with this team in a freefall.