By Don Wanlass
Tommy Lasorda went to the World Series his first two years as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers (they lost to the Yankees both times) and remains the favorite Los Angeles Dodgers manager of all time, even though Walter Alston won more World Series titles in fewer years.
Dave Roberts won National League West Division titles his first two years as manager, leading the Dodgers to the World Series last year, but with the modern breed of Dodgers fans, Roberts is now the person being blamed the most for the team’s fall into third place, three and a half games out of first place with 35 games to play.
Roberts can surely be blamed for some of the Dodgers’ woes. For a manager with a shaky bullpen, he is too quick to pull his starting pitcher.
In two losses to the St. Louis Cardinals this week, neither Alex Wood or Hyun-Jin Ryu got past the fifth inning before Roberts yanked them.
Wood was trailing 2-0 with two outs in the fifth Aug. 20, when he was pulled. Pedro Baez eventually walked in a run to make it 3-0, but then he retired the next six batters in as good a relief effort as he has had this year.
The Dodgers lost 5-3, when Kenley Jansen stepped off the disabled list and into the frying pan and surrendered home runs on the first two pitches he threw.
Afterwards, fans questioned why Jansen didn’t have a minor league rehab appearance or two before getting back onto a Major League mound.
The next night, Ryu was pulled for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the fourth inning with the bases loaded and the Dodgers trailing 3-0. Pitch hitter Brian Dozier struck out.
Relief pitcher Daniel Hudson gave up a two-run home run in the seventh inning and the Dodgers lost 5-2.
Comparing Lasorda and Roberts isn’t fair. They managed in totally different eras.
If Dodgers President of Baseball Operation Andrew Friedman had tried to tell Lasorda how to fill out his batting order every game, there would have been a major fight.
In those days, the general manager put the roster together and the field manager decided when and where to play the 25 men he was left with.
Nowadays, Friedman gets scouting and analytic reports every day from his staff and sits down with Roberts and they decide who will start, where they will play and discuss how the pitching staff will be managed.
Once the game starts, Roberts has the ultimate say, but he knows what his boss wants and, like any good employee, gives his boss what is expected.
So it was Friedman who decided that Jansen didn’t need a minor league rehab assignment once the doctors cleared him to play again. The Dodgers weren’t going to waste any bullets out of Jansen’s arm in the minor leagues.
Roberts could also point the finger of blame at some of his players. Jansen isn’t the only player not reaching expectations this season.
The productivity of first-year standouts Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor last season has dropped dramatically. Justin Turner, the team’s clubhouse leader, has had a season marred by injuries and his numbers also are down.
Only Joc Pederson and Yasmani Grandal are having better seasons than last season. Max Muncy started off with a bang but has tailed of dramatically since the all-star break. The same with Matt Kemp.
The pitching staff is the same way. Last year, Clayton Kershaw was 18-4. Wood was 16-3.
This year, Kershaw is 6-5. Wood is 7-6. And the Dodgers are still trying to find someone to replace Brandon Morrow in the bullpen where he was 6-0, with a 2.06 earned run average and didn’t give up a home run in any of his 45 appearances.
What many fans don’t realize is that it is hard to repeat as division champions. The Dodgers have won the National League West five years in a row. In their storied history, this is the only time they have gone to the post-season five times in a row.
With 35 games remaining, there is still time to right the ship. They trail Arizona by three and a half games, but have seven games remaining against the Diamondbacks.
There is plenty of blame to go around for the lackluster showing by the team this season.
The Dodgers didn’t make any major off-season acquisitions because ownership didn’t want the team to go over the payroll luxury tax of $197 million this year. That has had a trickle down effect.
Roberts can share some of the blame but Friedman deserves some, too, as does ownership.
A friend threw out another explanation the other day for the Dodgers season: six players got married during the off-season, including Turner and Jansen. Maybe that’s the problem.
WHOSE TOWN IS IT? A few weeks back, I listed the most popular Los Angeles sports teams, starting with the Dodgers, Lakers and USC football. The Rams came in fourth behind the Trojans because the Trojans and Rams play in the same stadium and the Trojans constantly outdraw them.
Using that rationalization, I will now drop the Rams to fifth place. The fourth most popular L.A. sports team is the Oakland Raiders.
I didn’t see much of the exhibition game between the two teams Aug, 18 at the Coliseum but he did see some shots of the crowd. People I know who were there say there were 55,000 fans in attendance and Raider fans accounted for close to 40,000 of them.
Yes, there are still a lot of Raider fans in Los Angeles and no matter what you say about Raider fans, they are passionate about their team.
When the Raiders start playing in Las Vegas in a couple of years, you can expect a lot of local fans to regularly make the trip across the desert to see them.
COLISEUM CONSTRUCTION: That $270 million renovation project at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is moving forward as scheduled, USC officials announced last week.
Most notably, fans are being encouraged more than ever to use public transit or carpool to games. Construction work at the Coliseum and at the site of the future Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts has eliminated all parking on the west side of Exposition Park between Vermont Avenue and Bill Robertson Lane.
Parking lots 4, 5 and 6 south of the Coliseum are all reserved for pass holders, as are the south lawn of the Natural History Museum and the Exposition Park visitor parking structure east of the stadium, USC officials said.
That means people driving to the stadium without passes are being urged to park on the USC campus and walk to the Coliseum. Those lots will open at 6 a.m. on game days, but they will cost $25 and spots are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The elimination of the Exposition Park parking lots also means a reduction in tailgating space. Tailgating will be permitted as usual on the USC campus, but large groups must reserve a spot. There will no longer be a pre-game tailgating event at Galen Center, but the Trojan Fan Fest will be held on Christmas Tree Lane.
Construction work will also limit some pedestrian access to certain sections. There will be no east-west access between tunnels 5 and 9 on the concourse level or outside the south walls on the street level.
Game tickets will include a suggested gate for fans to enter the Coliseum.
SPARKS SOAR: The WNBA playoffs started Aug. 21, with the Los Angeles Sparks playing a first-round elimination game against the Minnesota Lynx, the league’s defending champion. The Sparks prevailed, 75-58, moving on to the quarterfinals elimination game Aug. 23 in Washington, D.C.
If the Sparks win against the Mystics, they face either Seattle or Atlanta in the semifinals, which is a best-of-five series.
The championship series also is best of five.