Last week, before the National League Division Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates began, I, a Cardinals fan, asked Dom Cosentino, a Deadspin writer and Pirates fan, a few questions. I saw it as a Heat-esque detente, a moment where two diehard fans could have a rational conversation before heading into battle. It later became clear Dom had a differing viewpoint when I texted him before Game Five.
Alas: That's why you talk before a series rather than after. Now that I've accepted that everyone is cheering against the Cardinals -- and that they're still wrong -- I thought we'd try it again, as a little sidebar before the National League Championship Series begins Friday night.
So I fired some questions off to Jon Weisman, who is a Senior Editor at Variety and a purveyor of Dodger Thoughts, a smart Dodgers blog. We can be civil now, because the series hasn't started yet. But I think we should probably not text over the next week, just to be safe.
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So how greedy are you guys? You won your NLDS: ISN'T THAT ENOUGH? How can you take away this title from the Cardinals, who so clearly deserve it, who clearly have suffered so long?
Ha ha. It is to laugh. Talk about the pot calling the kettle Cardinal. And after torpedoing Pittsburgh's dreams no less. No team entered the playoffs less hungry than the team from St. Louis. The Dodgers haven't won an NLCS in 25 years -- in fact, they've only won two NLCS games in that time. So perhaps it's time for you red-clad rascals to quit projecting.
The Dodgers were THIS close to firing their manager this year. Then, after that ridiculous run, they settled back down. Is Mattingly the manager if that run doesn't come until later in the year? Which are the real Dodgers?
So that's two, two topics in one. Not surprisingly, the truth for each can be found somewhere in between. Mattingly didn't deserve all the hits for the team's injury-riddled 30-42 start, nor does he deserve all the credit for their 42-8 stratospheric revival. I think it's pretty clear he kept the clubhouse together, taking on the brunt of the blame from the mainstream media and much of Twitter in May and early June, enabling the team to have the potential for the comeback. During those next 50 games, pretty much everything worked, with guys as inconsistent as Ronald Belisario even throwing shutout ball time and time again, so that Mattingly's somewhat conventionally oddball strategic choices (like Juan Uribe bunting with a runner on second, none out and Skip Schumaker on deck) didn't matter much.
I do think Mattingly would have been fired if the turnaround hadn't come when it did, and I think Mattingly's future essentially depends on whether the Dodger front office thinks it can do better. And whatever your complaints about Mattingly are, it's hard to look around the landscape and find too many people about whom you can say, "Oh, that available alternative would most certainly be an improvement." (Though if A.J. Ellis is willing to become player-manager, I'd be game.)
As for the Dodgers themselves, I think if Hanley Ramirez stays upright and the middle relief is on its game, they're the best team in this series. But you just don't know.
We know how the rest of baseball feels about Yaisel Puig. Dodgers fans obviously like him more than that, but is he the most popular player on this team? If not, who is? Is there skepticism about him? Or are people just in awe?
The most popular player on the team is Clayton Kershaw, hands down. Kershaw, to quote Diane Chambers, is "a man just like any other man ... you'd find in Greek mythology." Until recently, it was Kershaw vs. Matt Kemp, but Kemp fell out of the picture (with some short-memoried fans turning on him to a disturbing degree.) Most Dodger fans have embraced Puig and have the perspective that his flaws are more than outweighed by his positives, especially considering his youth.
I'm pretty much in awe. It was pretty satisfying to see Puig get off to such a strong start in the NLDS while others who play the game the right way had their issues. The guy has improved his game, even in the short period from June to October. In the end, we recognize that he will make mistakes, but how hard is it to realize that even the best make mistakes? Why on earth should he be immune?
You have so much money tied up in so many players. Is this gonna get capped? Are they willing to pay like crazy forever? Magic Johnson said he's not gonna go after Robinson Cano. Is that true? Does he have that sort of power, or is he a Nolan Ryan-esque figurehead? How about Hanley Ramirez, who is a free agent after next year? Are they thinking they'll sign him long-term?
With Stan Kasten in charge, you can be confident that the long-term plan for the Dodgers is to have the farm system and international scouting play a significant role in the foundation of the team and help mitigate future spending. But no, that doesn't mean that they won't spend. And why shouldn't they? Their spending as a percentage of their TV revenue in the modern age is lower than it was before. The team payroll has doubled since 2012. By some estimates, the Dodgers' cable TV revenue alone next year will multiply by 10. Now, with that comes greater expenses (including the challenge of co-operating their own network) but if you'd rather the remainder ended up in the owners' pockets, you must want Frank McCourt back. And not even you, Cardinal Will, could want that.
Whatever Magic says, there definitely seems to be a coolness from the team toward Cano. That might just be posturing, but it seems more that they're more interested in Puig's Cuban countryman, Alexander Guerrero. We'll see. With Ramirez, I think they'll just be in a wait-and-see mode until next year. His health is a big concern. A high-dollar, short-term extension might be possible, but there's no rush. The real intrigue is whether they finally get the Kershaw extension done this winter.
Who's the X-factor guy, the one who, if he has a great series, the Dodgers can't lose?
Seems like you could put a number of guys in this slot, but Hyun-Jin Ryu? If you assume that the Dodgers win at least three out of the four Kershaw-Zack Greinke starts, then if Ryu has a great series, that would give the Dodgers five wins in the NLCS, which would really be more than enough wins for them to advance the MLBCS, otherwise known as the World Series.
Runner-up in this category: Andre Ethier. Again, if there's adequacy from Puig, Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, than a fifth strong bat from the outfielder who hasn't started in almost a month would really make this a tough lineup.
Has this team taken over the city the way some of those old Dodgers teams did? After all the junk of the McCourt years, have they been fully embraced yet?
Yeah, this team has really helped blunt the McCourt trauma. It doesn't hurt that it coincides with a year of real struggle for the Lakers and, for those who run with that crowd, USC football. But though it might not seem that way back East, this has really been one of the more likeable Dodger teams in general. Say what you will about them, but there aren't too many Jeff Kent or Gary Sheffield-type sourpusses in this bunch. The outpouring of love for Juan Uribe -- aka Uribear -- a guy who was as aggravating on the field as McCourt was as an owner the past two years, but who has had such a remarkable comeback and clearly is just such a great guy, captures the revival.
It was a loud freakin' Dodger Stadium on Sunday and Monday. I went to some tight NLDS games in the 1990s against Atlanta, and the ballpark wasn't like that. Other than the 2009 NLDS Game 2 against ... um, let me try to think of whom the Dodgers played ... it was as loud as it's been.
Boy, the Dodgers really do play the Cardinals a lot in the postseason. Although the Dodgers lost in 2004, I still have such fond memories of Jose Lima's 2004 shutout, as well as the post-series handshakes when the Cardinals closed it out.
Who on the Cardinals terrifies you? Do you guys have any opinion about the Cardinals as rivals at all?
Adam Wainwright looks like a couple of wins practically by himself. Carlos Beltran because it's October, and apparently that's when his powers of omnipotence kick in. But David Freese always seems to be doing something really, really huge whenever I focus on him. In general, the Cardinals have this aura of playoff ownership that is kind of disturbing from outside.
Let's get a series prediction.
Dodgers in six, because I do think they will get at least one good start from Ryu or Ricky Nolasco. But it's a coin toss, right? I just watched the Dodgers nearly lose a Kershaw start because of two Gonzalez errors. Why do we even predict?
Seriously, what's with all the greed?
Greed is ... good? Honestly, if my Dad weren't a Cubs fan still living off his memories of going to the '45 Series, I'd feel pretty deprived.
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