Phillies/Dodgers Series Preview

Despite that Manny Ramirez will not be in the Los Angeles lineup for a rematch of last year’s NLDS, the Phillies still have their work cut out for them against the 22-11 Dodgers. They’ll be facing starters Clayton Kershaw (4.91 ERA), Randy Wolf (2.95 ERA), and Chad Billingsley (2.45 ERA) as well as the best bullpen in baseball (3.85 runs per game).

You see that two of the three slated Dodger starters have an ERA under 3. Well, the Phillies are going to counter with three starters with ERA’s over 6: Chan Ho Park (6.67), Jamie Moyer (7.26), and Cole Hamels (6.17). Oh, and the National League’s second-worst bullpen (5.38 runs per game).

The two have comparable offenses: the Phils average 5.66 runs per game and the Dodgers average 5.58. Of course, the absence of Manny Ramirez widens that gap. He last played on May 6. Since then, the Dodgers have lost three of four, but surprisingly have averaged 5.75 runs per game. Their pitching has allowed 21 runs in that span, contributing greatly to the skid.

Time for data. I’ve made another “upgrade” — I’ve added in the number of plate appearances for each hitter against each pitcher, found to the right of their OPS. As usual, only regular season stats are included, so no NLCS stuff.

The hitting:

Los Angeles Dodgers @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 12-14

The Phillies have hit quite well off of the Dodgers’ pitchers historically. Small samples, of course, but still a great sign. Even ignoring post-season numbers, Chad Billingsley has been lit up. Yet, as you will see below, his ERA would tell you differently.

Los Angeles Dodgers @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 12-14

Those who have had more exposure to Chan Ho Park have had decent success against him, especially Juan Pierre. Moyer generally has handled the Dodgers well.  He tends to have more success against younger, more aggressive teams. And expectedly, Cole Hamels keeps his opponents under control.

The pitching:

Los Angeles Dodgers @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 12-14

Even though he was great in his last start, Park could still be pitching for his starting job. The Phillies have a double-header against the Washington Nationals on May 16 and it’s likely that J.A. Happ will get a spot start so as not to upset the amount of rest the other starters get. If Park pitches poorly against the Dodgers and Happ pitches well against the Nationals, that could provide more than enough incentive for the old switcheroo in the rotation.

Despite the 5.19 ERA, Moyer has handled the current batch of Dodgers effectively.

Cole Hamels is Cole Hamels. Just hold your breath and hope that bad luck doesn’t continue to follow him: hope that a shard of wood from a broken bat doesn’t impale him through his pitching arm.

Los Angeles Dodgers @ Philadelphia Phillies, May 12-14

Despite what you might judge from the ERA, Kershaw has pitched well against the Phillies. They faced him twice last year in the span of about ten days. The first start was of the quality nature: 6 innings, three earned runs. It was when they faced him in Philadelphia that they really got to him.

They have only faced former Phillie Randy Wolf once and it was last year when he was a member of the San Diego Padres. Wolf pitched well but only earned a no-decision.

Billingsley was battered around by Phillies hitters in the playoffs last season, but in the regular season, he’s been decent against them.

The Phillies next face the Dodgers in a four-game set in Los Angeles June 4-7. Manny Ramirez will still be serving his suspension, so the Phillies are fortunate in that regard, especially when you figure that the Phillies not only faced Manny Ramirez eight times in two four-game series last year against the Dodgers, but three other times earlier in the season when he was still with the Boston Red Sox.

On behalf of all Phillies fans, I say to Ramirez: thanks for using women’s fertility drugs. Thank you.

My Soapbox, Please

Hat tip to both Deadspin and The Hardball Times for this: Angry Journalist is Angry!

Kurt Streeter of the L.A. Times is wondering why a large segment of the Dodgers fan base isn’t more upset about Manny Ramirez failing a drug test. Colin Wyers pretty much summed up the reason at THT:

[...] a fan has only a few limited options in how to deal with this. He could turn into a perpetual fountain of outrage – but that’s not very condusive to the enjoyment of baseball. He could quit baseball altogether – but again, that (without it being a massive, widespread action) deprives the fan of enjoyment without really punishing the player or the sport.

Or he could become calloused. He could stop caring about steroids. And he can sit down and enjoy watching a baseball game.

That just about sums it up. Yep, that’s it.

Oh, where’s the fun in that? Let’s run over Streeter’s article with a fine-tooth comb and FJM it.

Striking how many are willing to treat their favorite player as if he’s just gone off on a nice holiday. All will be forgiven, as long as No. 99 comes back swinging a fat bat.

It is, after all, only baseball. For as much as we — and I mean we in reference to journalists, bloggers, and fans of any other nature — make each individual baseball game out to be a life-or-death event, they’re really not that meaningful in the long run.

It’s an escape, nothing more and nothing less. They’re fun.

I save my outrage for the times when my taxpayer dollars are being wastefully spent or my country is getting involved in a conflict it can only lose. When you put baseball under the same light as war and human rights, you can see the contrast and how outrage over anything in baseball seems rather excessive.

“Save the moral panic,” read another [e-mail from a reader]. “Most of your readers under the age of 70 have done the same long ago. . . . Is taking steroids cheating? Sure, maybe.”

Sure, maybe? Ho-hum, la-di-da , who cares . . .

How sad.

That’s really the crux of the issue, at least for me. Whenever I write about the steroid “issue” I ask ad nauseam about the evidence that they are performance-enhancing.

I’m completely open to the fact that I could be wrong, but I have not seen any evidence whatsoever that connects steroid use to an increase in performance, whether it’s more home runs or more strikeouts, or something else. We take it on a leap of faith that any time a player uses steroids, they’re magically going to get bigger and faster and stronger, as if it was a mushroom from Super Mario Bros.

The problem, though, is that Manny Ramirez didn’t test positive for steroids; he tested positive for a fertility drug (HCG) used primarily by women. Any connections you make between that drug and steroids are ancillary and assumptive (though I don’t dispute that the connections may be logical).

Did Manny cheat? He used a substance that was on the banned substances list, so by that nature, yes — he did cheat. But did it enhance his performance? We need to see the evidence, and that involves a lot more than saying, “He’s in his late 30′s, there’s no way he can be this productive.”

So, sitting here in the press box during the Dodgers’ Saturday win against the Giants, the question comes. Am I, along with the other journalists who are breathing fire about this sordid story, simply out of touch with a huge slice of our audience, the who-cares-who-takes-what crowd?

Yes. The answer would still be yes if we cut the question down to “Am I, along with the other journalists,  simply out of touch with a huge slice of our audience?”

It’s a fault, but it’s not really one that can be avoided. Journalists are paid to make big issues out of minor details as well as to dwell on the past.

It used to be that journalists had lots of access in areas that their audience simply did not, and that’s what they’d report on. With the advent of 24/7 media coverage by many companies both nationally and locally, blogs, Twitter, social networking and such, the access these journalists have is not nearly as valuable as it was ten years ago.

So, in order to attract readers, they have to make a big deal out of all of the details they get.

Imagine this hypothetical: you, in this case the average consumer of sports media, are presented with two media representatives: one from the L.A. Times and one from ESPN. Both have exclusive details on the Manny Ramirez failed drug test, and they’re both trying to get you to consume their media — in LAT’s case, it’s their newspaper and website; in ESPN’s case, it’s their TV shows and website.

You’ve long known ESPN as the go-to place for anything sports, and you like a few of their shows like Around the Horn and Baseball Tonight. Out of familiarity and comfort, you’re going to choose “the world-wide leader”. But the L.A. Times isn’t done with its sales pitch. In sheer desperation and frustration, the representative shouts, “But they’re not getting upset! This is a big deal! They’re a faceless corporation; I’m a human being with human emotions and I’m mad at Manny!”

You become more interested in the L.A. Times coverage, naturally.

That’s pretty much all it is anymore: who can shout the loudest with the most righteous indignation.

Facts are not valuable anymore because they’re not hard to find. Journalists have to come up with creative ways to attract readers, and going all Bill Plaschke is one way.

[...] it’s important everyone in the media keep laying the wood to the rule-breakers and ne’er-do-wells. Someone has to draw the line. Someone has to keep hold of standards.

I realize the importance of rules in anything, but to lend this level of importance to a game where grown men run around a field while other grown men chase a ball is just absurd.

Different people, but where were the journalists chanting this credo when our Bill of Rights was trampled? When the 2000 and ’04 Presidential elections were stolen?

I apologize for harping on this but I think it’s important we keep this all in perspective. Baseball is not as important as we’re making it out to be. Yes, it’s a multi-billion dollar enterprise but not at all deserving of wasting taxpayer money and our elected representatives’ time twice in an attempt to clean up steroid use in baseball by holding Congressional hearings.

Someone has to give voice to those who know there’s more to life than winning.

In sports, there is no more important goal than winning. A competition without a winner and a loser is not a competition.

How you win, how you prepare, the ethics you bring to the ballpark and yes, to life . . . guess what? That matters.

It matters if you’re a journalist who covers the same players 162 games year in and year out. You run out of stuff to write about.

Does it really matter who Pat Burrell sleeps with? That Barry Bonds has — um, had — his own recliner in the Giants clubhouse? That MLB players eat a lot of fast food on road trips?

No.

Some players wake up in the morning and can’t wait to show up to the stadium early to take some extra swings and field a few more ground balls. Others show up as late and leave as early as possible. If both of the guys are doing their jobs correctly, their habits aren’t causing a decline in production, and aren’t creating undue stress on the rest of the team, then it doesn’t matter at all.

It’s when we lose track of this, when we as a society are willing to cut too much slack, when we in the press stop drawing a hard line, that deep trouble comes. You get the last eight years, probably longer: a fool’s paradise, not just in sports and entertainment, but in politics and the economy.

It’s not like a lax view on drug use in baseball is linked to a lax view on everything else.

What’s funny is that most of the same people who are for controlling what people put into their bodies (a.k.a. drug prohibitionists) voted for the President responsible for “the last eight years, probably longer.”

I’m not going to turn this into a general “legalize all drugs” screed, but I do want to point out that prohibition (of anything) has never worked. Alcohol prohibition in the 1920′s and ’30′s caused an increase in crime of all kinds; the decriminalization of production, distribution, and consumption of alcohol caused a decline in violent crimes.

Really? My wife teaches third grade at a school a mile from Dodger Stadium. Is this what she should tell her kids, a group that has adored Ramirez since he arrived in town? “Kids, it doesn’t matter if you cheat.”

This is a dishonest argument. No one is advocating that cheating is okay, not even me with my liberal views.

Manny Ramirez was suspended 50 games and stands to lose $7 million from his current two-year deal with the Dodgers, and potentially a lot more in lost endorsements as well as a dry market when he does become a free agent.

Not having righteous indignation towards players who use banned substances isn’t implicitly condoning said use of banned substances. I don’t have righteous indignation towards businesspeople who dupe customers by putting a bunch of clauses in extremely fine print on page 49 of 221, knowing that it will never be read. But that doesn’t mean I condone it.

I say it’s partly because “performance enhancement” is a sin committed in private. We don’t see needles plunging into forearms, don’t watch our favorite slugger downing Dianabol with the morning orange juice.

As mentioned before, we take the term “performance-enhancing” on a leap of faith — that the substances are, in fact, performance-enhancing. I have never seen any evidence connecting steroid use directly to an increase in production. If you have, please send it my way and I will look it over and publish an “I’m sorry” blog.

Streeter says that part of the lack of outrage at Ramirez is because we didn’t get to see him actually take the banned substance. That doesn’t really make sense because we — in general — had a lot of outrage towards Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, right? Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa. We have poured out a lot of rage on athletes and we never got to see them use the drugs either.

We don’t get to witness how this stuff works its magic; helping a guy approaching age 40 wake each and every day during the off-season, spry as a high school senior, primed for two hours of heavy lifting, an hour of sprints, three hours in the batting cage and then more weights.

You also don’t get to see how the other 39-year-old uses steroids, but doesn’t increase his workload by much because he lacks the desire and the work ethic. While his compadre, spry as a high school senior, is working harder and more often, this guy isn’t doing much more and isn’t seeing the results.

As I said, performance-enhancing drugs are not like the mushrooms in Super Mario Bros. where you just take it and poof! You can now hit 50 homers! Steroid use requires a lot of work. It can be said that those who use performance-enhancing drugs work harder than those who do not. You can’t just inject the needle and sit on the couch and watch cartoons.

And even then, even if you work out like a madman, you still may not see the necessary results because you still have to have a lot of talent to play the game of baseball at the Major League Level. Rey Ordonez could take all the steroids left in the world and he still couldn’t hit better than Eric Bruntlett.

How would you feel about Tiger Woods if you saw him take a mulligan every time he sprayed a drive? How’d you like it if, when the Cavaliers played the Lakers, they started six players and L.A. started five?

Apples and oranges.

Actually, it’s more like apples and, uh… (come on, think of something completely irrelevant)… the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.

Rules are rules. They exist for a reason. We might not like them. They might make our games less interesting. We might wish they were different, but we either abide by them or we get chaos.

Streeter is right, but we don’t have to burst a blood vessel in our collective forehead every time a rule is broken.

Have you ever had a teacher who was so dictatorial with the enforcement of his or her rules that the class was just alienated? Or, the question should be, have you ever had a teacher who got so upset every single time a rule was broken that the class did not become alienated?

We get Bernie Madoff; fake, flimsy loans; economic Armageddon. We get Bonds, Clemens, A-Rod and now, Manny Ramirez.

This is comparing apples to oranges. Really, really big apples, to smaller-than-average oranges.

The current reality is that any player on the juice is a rule-breaker, a crooked scofflaw getting a leg up on colleagues who rightly won’t go there. Case closed.

It’s not quite as bad as Streeter painted it, but yes, anyone who uses a banned subtance is breaking the rules and should be punished. Who is disputing this?

Even worse, the cheats are sending the ugliest possible message about living healthily, especially to the kids who deify them.

If a kid starts taking steroids because he saw that Rafael Palmeiro tested positive, then that kid has bad parents. That’s not Palmeiro’s fault; that’s his parents’ fault.

Also note that earlier, Streeter said that we never get to see the athletes use the banned substances. So how do “the kids who deify them” get “the ugliest possible message”?

Ah, it’s because we publicize the names of players who test positive and smarmy journalists wax poetic about the days of yore and call for the decapitation of any and all rule-breakers.

Like prohibition creates a black market, baseball’s “prohibition” on these drugs creates a “black market” for messages to be sent to kids. Go back to 1999, the year after McGwire and Sosa broke the single-season home run record of Roger Maris. How many kids do you think knew both were using steroids*?

* It’s still unknown if they were on something. McGwire was found using androstenedione, which was legal at the time. Sosa once corked a bat, that’s about it. Neither have been caught red-handed using an illegal substance.

In short, parents need to take responsibility for their kids and stop placing the blame on celebrities. Kids need to take responsibility for themselves as well. We’re teaching them to place blame on everybody else first before placing it on themselves.

“I’m afraid people don’t really understand how horrific this stuff is, they don’t know what it does, they don’t know that it can kill you,” said Dr. Anthony Butch, director of the UCLA Olympic Analytic Laboratory.

You know, based on the context of what’s been discussed, that Dr. Butch is referring to steroids. Ironically, this is found in an article mainly about Manny Ramirez, who did not test positive for steroids.

Anyway, imagine this quote placed inside an article on another subject, like tobacco, alcohol, fast food, carbon monoxide, high fructose corn syrup, etc.

Yeah, it applies to many different areas. Steroids can kill you, but so can just about everything else. Pillows can kill you, for crying out loud.

[Dr. Butch] equated the amount of steroids most pro athlete abusers take to smoking four packs of cigarettes a day; you don’t die right away, but your chances of making it past age 55 drip away with each puff. Butch ran through the heightened health risks. Out-of-control rage, liver damage, heart damage, lung damage, prostate damage, cancer, diabetes, infertility . . . on and on.

Yes, steroids have lots of potential health risks.

Unfortunately, we’re not really concerned about the health of our athletes. We allow them to get Cortisone shots to get them out on the field faster, knowing that Cortisone is a steroid that suppresses the immune system.

New Phillies left fielder Raul Ibanez is beloved by his new city despite that he always has a wad of tobacco in his mouth.

It took the death of Josh Hancock, who was involved in a fatal car crash while intoxicated,  for some Major League teams to ban alcohol from their clubhouses. Some still have not banned alcohol from their clubhouses.

We say we care about the health of our athletes, but we really don’t. We pick and choose when it’s convenient to care.

. . .

That’s it, I’ll step off of my soapbox for now.

I’ll have a series preview for the Phillies-Dodgers series up between tonight and tomorrow evening.