SweetSpot: Frank McCourt

Dodgers still living on the edge

September, 20, 2012

    "I mean, guys, I know how to hit. I promise you, I know how to hit. It’s just right now, it’s been pretty tough."
    -- Matt Kemp to reporters a few days ago

Kemp has not had a good September. He's been mired in such a terrible slump that Cardinals manager Mike Matheny intentionally walked Andre Ethier the other day with runners at second and third and two out in the bottom of the 10th inning. And it worked. Kemp flied out, and the Cardinals eventually won the game in 12 innings.

The 2011 MVP runner-up entered Wednesday's doubleheader in Washington hitting .122 in September, with one walk and 14 strikeouts, an approach conjuring up memories of Kemp's lackluster 2010 season. Going back to Aug. 10, he had one home run and 12 RBIs in 31 games. "The Bison"? This was more like "T-Bone" Shelby.

Kemp went 1-for-4 in the first game as the Nationals won 3-1, dropping the Dodgers to 9-17 since an Aug. 19 victory had left them a half-game up on the Giants in the National League West. They were now two games behind the Cardinals in the crawl to the second wild-card spot. I wouldn't quite label the nightcap a must-win game, but there was at least a certain urgency.

How did this happen? How did the Dodgers get here? On Aug. 20, they lost to the Giants, when Madison Bumgarner outdueled Clayton Kershaw 2-1 (both starters went eight innings, and combined for 20 strikeouts and no walks). The Giants won the next day and the next. A sweep at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers then had an off day, and general manager Ned Colletti spent it finalizing the blockbuster deal to acquire Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett. This would right the ship. It would be a battle to the end against their hated rivals, and in a perfect alignment of the schedule, the teams would finish the season against each other at Dodger Stadium.

Instead, the blockbuster became blockbusted. Gonzalez has been awful since joining the Dodgers, and his batting line stood at .233/.286/.378 (BA/OBP/SLG). Those would be described in the greater L.A. area as "James Loney numbers." Beckett had been inconsistent in four starts with the Dodgers, posting a 3.38 ERA but allowing 27 hits in 24 innings. He'd start the second game.

* * * *

The Dodgers scored three runs in the third inning. Kemp and Gonzalez drew key walks, and Hanley Ramirez and Ethier knocked in runs. They scored three more in the fourth. Kemp had an RBI single. He later scored a controversial run (replays showed he hadn't crossed the plate before a tag was made on Gonzalez). It was just the second time the Dodgers had scored at least six runs in 18 games. They'd scored two or fewer in nine of those games.

* * * *

The Nationals scored six runs in the bottom of the eighth. The home crowd went crazy.

* * * *

The Dodgers were staring down the barrel of one of the season's most bitter defeats that any team had suffered, an absolutely crushing blow considering the timing and circumstances.

Kemp led off the ninth against Nationals closer Tyler Clippard, and fell behind on a called strike for a cutter and two foul balls on a changeup and fastball. Kemp had entered the day hitting .200 on 0-2 counts, with 32 strikeouts in 63 plate appearances. Over the past three seasons, batters were hitting .128 off Clippard when he reached an 0-2 count.

Clippard wanted to elevate a fastball; he didn't elevate enough. Kemp belted a towering fly ball to center field that reached the third row of bleachers. Brandon League had an easy, 12-pitch bottom of the ninth, and the Dodgers had the win 7-6. If the Dodgers somehow find a way to gather up some steam and catch the Cardinals to make the postseason, this will be the game Dodgers fans remember. From nearly falling off the edge of the cliff to catching a branch on the way down. Still hanging in there.

* * * *

This isn't a good team right now, not with Kemp and Gonzalez struggling at the plate. Not with Kershaw indefinitely sidelined -- maybe for the rest of the season -- with his sore hip. The Dodgers haven't been good since that amazing 30-13 start. In truth, the Dodgers' season peaked May 22, when Ivan DeJesus Jr. doubled in two runs in the ninth inning to give the Dodgers an 8-7 victory over the Diamondbacks. They seemed unstoppable at that time, a miracle season in the works. Cue highlights of Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson on the big screen.

The Gonzalez trade was a sign of desperation, a sign of a new ownership group with deep pockets being played the fool. Take on our fading stars! Take on these mammoth contracts! Win back your fans! It will work out for you, trust us!

You know, the funny thing about the Frank McCourt era is that the Dodgers made the playoffs four times in his eight seasons as owner. They even won their first two playoff series since 1988.

I have a feeling they will be 0-for-1 in the Magic Johnson era.

Matt KempHarry E. Walker/Getty ImagesMatt Kemp gets his due for taking the pressure off everyone else with his winning homer in the nightcap.
I'm still pinch-hitting for Eric Karabell but Keith Law was once again batting cleanup. Five reasons to check out Tuesday's Baseball Today podcast :

1. Keith breaks down the Albert Pujols injury, what it means long-term and why Jon Jay isn't the answer Cardinals fans are hoping for.

2. We discuss the disaster that is the Dodgers after Bud Selig vetoed Frank McCourt's proposed TV deal with Fox.

3. The AL continues to kick some NL booty and Keith offers some thoughts on why the AL is so dominant.

4. The College World Series is going on and we have a scouting report on North Carolina freshman Kent Emanuel, who pitched a shutout on Monday.

5. Keith talks about drafting high school players over college players in the wake of the Moneyball-trend to focus on college players.

Plus: Excellent emails, Dillon Gee, Adrian Gonzalez playing the outfield, Keith's best/worst in-game managers and much more! And you can check out all our podcasts at the Baseball Today show page.

Dodger documents reveal discrepancies

September, 2, 2010
Bill Shaikin with some juicy (but not prurient) bits from the McCourt trial:
    Among the promises Frank McCourt made on the day he took over the Dodgers in 2004: He would maintain the Dodgers' player payroll within the top one-quarter of major league teams, and he had no plans to consider selling naming rights to Dodger Stadium.

The business plan he filed with Major League Baseball tells a different story on both counts. In two largely similar versions of the plan, the document explains how he plans to reverse the Dodgers' financial losses in part by slashing payroll -- from $100 million in 2004 to $85 million in 2006 -- and limiting annual growth to about 4 percent.

The document also notes the "iconic status of Dodger Stadium" and says "there may be initial resistance to re-naming the ballpark."

"The Dodgers' ability to remain competitive will rely in part upon the development of this revenue stream," the document reads. "A well thought out naming rights deal presented in this context will be accepted by the Los Angeles market ..."This passage seems to be presented as evidence as evidence of McCourt's perfidy, but shouldn't we worry more about the results than whatever he might have said six years ago in order to gain ownership of a great franchise.

The facts are that McCourt has the Dodgers' stadium is still called Dodger Stadium (thankfully) and that the Dodgers have maintained a payroll in the top one-quarter of major league teams.

Well, not exactly. This year they're 11th -- according to Shaikin; there are different ways of counting payroll -- and obviously 11th isn't in the top quarter. But it's close, and the Dodgers were definitely above that shreshold in 2007 and 2008. I would argue that you have to look at all the seasons since McCourt took over, and the Dodgers are definitely in the top quartile since 2006.

There are, I'm sure, any number of things for which Frank McCourt might deserve to be indicted. By the Court of Public Opinion, I mean. But he's kept the payroll roughly where he said he would, and Dodger Stadium's still Dodger Stadium. Not much to see here, folks.