Exactly how much rope does the Dodgers' skipper have left? Probably not the best choice of words there, because whatever you think of the way Don Mattingly is going about his business, any and all rope is best locked away safe and sound.
Rope, sharp objects, plugged-in radios near bathtubs, adjacent medicine cabinets, tall buildings, you name it. Not for Mattingly, necessarily, but for the inconsolable fan, because things have gone from bad to worse for the Boys in Blue. Including last night's 5-3 defeat at the hands of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles has lost the last three series and six straight games, all within the National League West. They're 5-15 against the division, and God knows what happens if Clayton Kershaw can't pitch and hit his way to a win tonight.
Actually, what'll happen is, the heat under Mattingly's fanny will increase substantially. And it's pretty hot in there already. Click around the Dodgers blogoshere, including the traditional local and national media to see the clamoring. Not for the manager's head, necessarily — not yet — but to raise the question.
Most of my colleagues are either blaming the players (to some degree folly) or preaching patience (a good thing generally in baseball), and while I'm still on the fence, I'm considerably closer to jumping over it than they are (the additional suicide reference is purely intentional).
Certainly, Mattingly has some questions to answer, and he does his level-best following each ballgame, win or lose. His ''I feel better about our club walking out of here right now than I did walking in” comment following the team's sweep in San Francisco has been discussed here already and as a stand-alone remark isn't the end of the world. But last night's postgame provides more fodder for the critics.
From Ken Gurnick's MLB.com piece: “Obviously it's frustrating for this club to lose six in a row two different times…It's hard to imagine this club playing like that. You can bang your head against the wall, but I don't know. We've got to buckle up and turn it around.”
It's the “I don't know” part that bothers me. Not to channel Fritz (“that's what president's supposed to know”) Mondale from his 1984 debate with Ronald Reagan or anything, because that argument didn't go too well, but it's not good when a manager doesn't know.
The admission of not knowing is perhaps more concerning. Look, obviously the team was constructed by others, and Ned Colletti primarily. Of course, there's been an abundance of disabling injuries to key players. But a manager simply has to offer solutions. He has to. You can't just shrug your shoulders and say, “sorry fellas, I don't know what to tell you.”
According to Mark Saxon of ESPN.com, Mattingly also said this last night: “We can try to bring the right people in and get the best pieces you possibly can here and try to put a package together that works. But at the end of the day, once we've cleared all that smoke and all those mirrors are out of the way, we've got to play better.”
Well, the Dodgers need to try harder to “bring the right people in,” they need to be smarter and they need to act more swiftly. Mark Ellis took up roster space for 10 days before finally hitting the DL Monday. Jerry Hairston only sat around for about 48 hours awaiting word on his fate, but it was 24 hours too long. The team simply refuses to replace Luis Cruz with a useful man, and there's not a (s)man on Earth who can explain it.
Again, obviously that's more Colletti's job than Mattingly's — like, duh — but a skipper can, should and often does go to his GM and say, “so-and-so sucks, get me this guy.” Doesn't need to say please, doesn't need to say thank you. Just make the point, make it emphatically and get it done. When there are better pieces available that don't cost you a penny, spare me the excuses. Just do it. There are always things you can do. Always.
Ramon Hernandez continues to flail away at the plate, while the obviously ready and red-hot Tim Federowicz waits for the chance that should be his already. The man's hitting .531 in Albuquerque, with seven homers and 20 RBIs in a measly 49 at bats. Hernandez is at .045 with one RBI in 22 ABs. FedEx is the best defensive catcher in the organization to boot. Flip the backup catchers' spots and move on to the next, more challenging issue.
The media was quick to press the manager on his refusal to pinch hit A.J. Ellis for Hernandez in the eighth, with one out and Matt Kemp on second, which of course is where he was stranded after a leadoff double. Mattingly was correct in saying that wasn't the spot to use Ellis, but the larger point was missed.
The place to use A.J. was an inning earlier, with Nick Punto at second with no outs. Instead of the obligatory and thoroughly-hated-in-this-town bunt (it's called “sacrifice” for a reason) with Justin Sellers you insert Ellis there, look for him to drive the ball to the right side and hopefully through, or work a walk, which is he so adept at doing. And Ellis still gets most of the night off, with Hernandez remaining in the game behind the plate. That was Mattingly's best shot at the go-ahead run and the game, and either it didn't occur to him or he took a pass.
As for the health stuff, I understand that injuries happen and get that to the extent that a problem exists beyond the unavoidable it's an organizational one, but the manager has a say in every personnel decision and makes out the lineup card without assistance.
Remember when Mattingly promised to be smart with his franchise player, and rest him regularly during the season? Well, the Dodgers have played 32 games, and Matt Kemp has appeared in them all, while starting 31 of them. A torn labrum is a serious injury to come back from, and Kemp is being driven into the ground, when it's simply not necessary.
He took a pitched ball to the face and stayed in to play nine in a 12-2 game just last week. Carl Crawford, another player returning from major surgery, went the distance in that game too, and came up lame the next day after diving for a ball in the ninth inning.
Hanley Ramirez returned weeks early from his thumb injury, Zack Greinke's already being counted on to come back from clavicle surgery in record time, Kemp was rushed back once and allowed to play hurt another time last season, Chad Billingsley's season and part of next was foreseeable, and the list goes on and on and on.
I'll keep saying injuries and their treatment are an organizational issue and I'll continue to repeat that health is the number one responsibility of a manager; any manager. This “he said he was fine” and last night's “I don't know” go hand in hand. And it says plenty to me about Don Mattingly.
For years at Dodger Stadium, following the final out, the public address announcer would bellow the phrase, “the scoreboard totals are correct” and then proceed to relay them, concluding with “drive safely on your way home.” Well, baseball's standings are correct. The Dodgers are 13-19, a game and a half behind the fourth place San Diego Padres and rank as the division's worst team.
Two National League clubs have weaker marks. The Chicago Cubs are 13-20. The Miami Marlins are 10-24 and play three in L.A. over the weekend. Maybe the Dodgers win behind Kersh tonight, sweep the awful Fish and put together a fine rest of the season.
It could happen and I hope it does. But if things keep going the way they are, with three or four more losses between now and Sunday, I'm afraid I'll have jumped from that fence. No doubt the fans below will break my fall.