Scott Miller's Starting 9: Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs, Nats Look to Solve Problems

Scott MillerNational MLB ColumnistAugust 12, 2015

USA Today

1. Dog Days Alert

Woof, woof, welcome to the dog days of August. These guys in particular are in need of some Scooby snacks, pronto:

 

The Los Angeles Dodgers Bullpen Problem 

After melting like steel in Pittsburgh over the weekend, the Dodgers are working toward answering this question: How many relievers does it take to form a winning bullpen? The current number is seven, but that doesn't include the winning.

As the Dodgers cling to a slim first-place lead over San Francisco, their bullpen continues to rank 14th in the National League, with a 4.16 ERA. Since the All-Star break, it's above 6.0 and the worst in baseball. Yikes. Even the mellow sounds of Vin Scully cannot make that palatable.

Exacerbating the problem in recent days is Mat Latos only lasted four innings Saturday in Pittsburgh, Alex Wood was knocked around and removed after five innings Sunday and Brett Anderson allowed the first seven Nationals who faced him in the sixth inning Monday to reach base and exited to raucous boos.

So an already-shaky bullpen has been overworked and under water.

It is still far too early to judge the July trade-deadline moves, but the Dodgers' decision to go for quantity (Latos, Wood and relievers Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan) over quality (David Price or Cole Hamels) remains very much a debatable topic.

 

The New York Yankees' Canadian Problem 

Beep, beep! What was that that ran over the Yankees so easily over the weekend? A bird? A plane? A…wait a sec, let's go back to that bird thing.

Already an offensive powerhouse, post-trade-deadline Toronto suddenly looks unbeatable. The Yankees dismissed the weekend to just one of those things, which they pretty much had to do. Because to step up and say David Price is the ace they wish they had, and Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson make up the left side of the infield they wish they had and…well, now that wouldn't be good form.

At this point, the Blue Jays believe they can ascend Mt. Everest, let alone the AL East. And watching the Jays and Yankees down the stretch will be riveting. These two still play 10 more times. Toronto, into Tuesday night, had 49 games remaining, and New York had 52.

The Yankees' big trade-deadline acquisition, Dustin Ackley, immediately landed on the disabled list, with a lumbar strain. To hold off Toronto, the Yankees are going to have to figure out a way to add more pitching via the August-waiver trade deadline. Dellin Betances, Justin Wilson and Andrew Miller are terrific in the late innings, but the Yankees risk overworking their bullpen with a shaky rotation. ESPN Stats & Info shared some Yankee stats:

Who in March thought Luis Severino would be one of New York's big keys coming down the stretch?

 

The Washington Nationals Funk Problem 

Will the Nats wake up and snap out of it before the New York Mets steal the NL East crown as deftly as they're stealing hearts across the game? And in a summer in which injuries have devastated the Nationals, will they even get healthy enough to snap out of it?

Aug 10, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Doug Fister (33) pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the ninth inning at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Before the season, we talked at length about the potentially historic rotation the Nationals would have in 2015. Now, Doug Fister is working mop-up innings in blowout games (see his ninth-inning work in Monday night's 8-3 wipeout of the Dodgers in Los Angeles). Stephen Strasburg had a nice outing the other day, but he's been hurt, disappointing or disinterested (often all three) for most of the summer.

Right now, even with Max Scherzer earning his dough, in a head-to-head match, an overwhelming number of folks in the industry would take the Mets' young rotation of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Jonathon Niese and Bartolo Colon (OK, so he's not so young) with Steven Matz on the way.

This has the feeling of yet another disappointing season for the Nationals. The team that shut down Strasburg in 2012 is officially at risk of one day waking up and realizing that was its best chance at the World Series, and it passed the team by. Now? Let's see how far Bryce Harper can carry these guys.

 

Joc Pederson's Strikeout Problem 

Still playing Gold Glove defense, Pederson has dropped to eighth in the lineup and gotten a couple of days off recently, and for good reason: Since the All-Star break, the one-time NL Rookie of the Year favorite is hitting .183/.301/.268, with 26 strikeouts, 10 walks, one homer and three RBI in 20 games.

His fade is making things more difficult than the Dodgers wanted, as they work toward what they hope will be a third consecutive NL West title.

John Bazemore/Associated Press

San Francisco's Cupcake Problem

After getting run out of Wrigley Field via a four-game sweep at the hands of the Cubs over the weekend, the Giants continue to give thanks to the Dodgers for ongoing and myriad bullpen and other issues, glitches that are allowing San Francisco to stay close in the NL West.

But the Giants have a cupcake-less schedule over the next few weeks, a stretch that began Tuesday night at AT&T Park against Houston: Astros, Nationals, at Cardinals, at Pirates, Cubs, Cardinals, at Dodgers. That's 22 consecutive games against upper-echelon clubs built for October. It isn't until Colorado shows up on their schedule like a refreshing, ice-cold glass of lemonade on Sept. 3 that the Giants get a break.

DAVID BANKS/Associated Press

Starlin Castro's Playing Time Problem 

With a wild-card spot firmly within grasp, the Chicago Cubs have moved into "win now" mode. And that mode doesn't include Castro, whose regression in 2015 has been stunning.

Because nobody's on scholarship here, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has shifted Addison Russell to shortstop and Chris Coghlan to second base, while working to get Kyle Schwarber's bat into the lineup. Maddon squeezed Schwarber into left field, which bumped Coghlan to second base. Castro is hitting just .236, down from .292 last year. Though he has been viewed as a trade chip after the acquisition of Russell, it will be interesting to see if the Cubs find a new home for Castro by the end of this month.

 

David Wright's Back Problem 

Good to see him beginning an injury rehab assignment at Port St. Lucie this week. Given the Mets' ascension this year, the one sad thing is that this longtime Met isn't on the field to enjoy it. Here's to Wright healing quickly and getting back onto the field soon.

 

2. Toronto's Baseball Fever

Apr 13, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New Security measures implemented by Major League Baseball stand ready for screening fans at Gate 10 of the Rogers Centre before the home opener between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays. Mandatory Credit: N
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Since the Blue Jays traded for Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins on July 28, they've sold more than 300,000 tickets. Already, Thursday's afternoon game against Oakland is sold out, and all three games of this weekend's series against the Yankees is sold out.

Meantime, Sportsnet, the Blue Jays' television network, announced Monday that a record number of viewers tuned in to watch the Jays sweep the Yankees over the weekend. For the three games, Sportsnet says it averaged 1.29 million viewers, the most watched Blue Jays series in Sportsnet's history.

 

3. This Winter's Hottest Free Agent

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

Detroit owner Mike Ilitch certainly can do as he wishes. It's his money, and he's spent a ton of it attempting to bring the Tigers a World Series championship over the past many years. But here's a prediction: The firing of president/general manager Dave Dombrowski is the first step of what will be another baseball drought in Detroit.

During his 14 years in charge of the Tigers, few executives in the game have been as sharp, nimble and creative as Dombrowski.

The Miguel Cabrera trade brought one of our generation's greatest right-handed hitters to Detroit. Dombrowski identified a young Max Scherzer as a future star and snapped him up in a three-team deal with Arizona and the New York Yankees. He acquired Doug Fister from Seattle after a relentless pursuit. And even though it didn't work as planned, his strike a year ago July to land David Price was one of the moves of the year.

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

Tigers fans are incredibly frustrated right now. I get that. And manager Brad Ausmus is taking a ton of heat, some of it fair but much of it over the top.

But Dombrowski was the architect of four consecutive AL Central titles in Detroit. His moves helped spur the Tigers to two World Series—2006 and 2010. No, they didn't win (and 1984 remains a special and unreachable summer in Detroit). But under Dombrowski, the past several seasons have been as good a baseball era as there has been in Tigers history.

If I'm Seattle, I'm making a strong pitch to Dombrowski right now. Already, many are linking Dombrowski to Toronto, where the Blue Jays will hire a new president this fall. That makes a lot of sense, especially given Dombrowski's ties to Canadian baseball when he was farm director and then-GM of the Montreal Expos.

Also, currently there is a GM opening in Los Angeles (Angels); though if Dombrowski would land there, it would only be after a restructuring. Wherever he goes, he likely will have a president's title. The Angels probably would have to create a "president of baseball operations" type of role, above the GM, and have a president of business operations as well.

With Larry Lucchino out in Boston after the season and Doug Melvin stepping away from his GM job in Milwaukee into an advisor's role, the executive moves in coming months will be as fascinating as some of the player shuffle.

 

4. Pittsburgh's New Lumber Company

PAUL CANNON/Associated Press

The game has changed immensely since the days of Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen and Dave Parker in Three Rivers Stadium, and one more example comes from Pirates owner Bob Nutting: As his Pirates continue trying to chase down the St. Louis Cardinals, he's swinging away on a side project that he hopes will aid both a local Pittsburgh company and thousands of youth baseball players.

The company is Diamond Kinetics, whose patented "SwingTracker" allows hitters to study their bat speed and swing trajectory and, theoretically, make improvements in real time. Nutting is one of the eager investors.

"It not only promotes that game I love," Nutting wrote in an email, "Diamond Kinetics is one of our North Shore neighbors here in Pittsburgh.

"In both ways it is a strategic investment, and it's one in which both parties can bring real value to the table."

A device with a flexible strap is attached to the knob of the bat, and that feeds information via Bluetooth technology into an app that hitters can download onto their smartphones and tablets. Yes, the Pirates have used the technology, and, no, Roberto Clemente wouldn't recognize it.

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

"The team actually got started with Diamond Kinetics nearly a year ago as our video coordinator, Kevin Roach, was interested in the type of impact the program could have," Nutting said during an email exchange with Bleacher Report. "Based on the positive feedback from the staff and enthusiasm for the product, I became engaged in other opportunities for us to help."

Nutting continued: "As we all know, baseball is a complex game. It is a game of science and physics with complex motions. [This] technology helps to simplify that science to help both players and coaches learn and improve.  

"I believe the greatest impact for this technology is in the development of the youth and amateur game. We at the Pirates are committed to building and promoting the game. This is a valuable tool as it can make the game easier to master for kids, more interactive and, as a result, more fun."

So far, according to Nutting and C.J. Handron, co-founder and CEO of Diamond Kinetics, seven major league clubs (including the Pirates) are "integrating this tool on varying levels in their development programs." Because of non-disclosure agreements, the company hasn't released the names of the other six clubs.

Nutting, however, doesn't mind disclosing that his Pirates are embracing it.

"I felt strongly about supporting and investing in this product because of the potential impact it can have on promoting our game at the youth and amateur levels," he wrote. "Today's generation of young players embrace technology. This is a tool that coaches can use to specifically focus their instruction, while at the same time better engage with their players."

Now, about catching those Cardinals….

 

5. Weekly Power Rankings

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

1. Pittsburgh Pirates: Entering the week, they were 52-28 since May 9, best record in the majors. And still, the Cardinals clutch the keys to the NL Central.

2. Toronto Blue Jays: Birds are dominating everywhere. But the Rockies are having a difficult time understanding this we-never-lose-with-Tulowitzki stuff.

3. Summer: Still a bigger juggernaut than any Yankees dynasty. Try to ignore that pigskin stuff (for now) and soak in every last drop of summer before it gets away.

4. Johnny Cueto: A complete-game shutout in his home debut. Big Game James Who?

5. Columbia House: Twelve albums in the mail for a penny! Who remembers those days? Well, the record and tape company filed for bankruptcy the other day. Just like the Phillies, who even knew it still existed?

 

6. David Price: A Story

Aug 8, 2015; Bronx, NY, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting and winning pitcher David Price (14) pitches in the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. The Blue Jays defeated the Yankees 6-0. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Spor
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from his on-field artistry, what Toronto got and what Detroit lost is one of the most well-liked teammates in the game.

"His ability speaks for itself," Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos said at a press conference in Toronto last week. "The intangibles as well."

When I was in Detroit last month for what turned out to be Price's final home start in Comerica Park, Tigers catcher James McCann spoke to those intangibles.

"David is one of the greatest teammates in the game of baseball, if not the greatest teammate, there is," McCann told me. "Words can't explain how much he's meant to this team, and to me, personally."

Wow. Please continue, Mr. McCann.

"He genuinely cares about each individual," McCann said. "He cares about team success, and he takes time out of his personal schedule to make sure each of his teammates is doing OK off the field as well as on the field.

"The days he's not pitching, he's the first one on the dugout steps, celebrating a big home run someone hit or anything else. He's a five-time All-Star, but he invests himself, both in the team and in individuals."

 

7. Back to School

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

If you're a Yankees fan, you're in luck: There are classes for you. Instructor: Mark Teixeira.

Did you see? After Sunday's chaos, in which a fan nailed outfielder Brett Gardner in the head while throwing a home run ball back onto the field and in which another fan mowed over Teixeira while chasing a foul ball in the stands, the Yankees first baseman offered some etiquette tips.

"You can insult. You can't assault," he told reporters (via the New York Post). "We know you are upset; we lost three in a row. Keep it to insults."

And not assaults.

Makes perfect sense, and I have to say, I'm with Teixeira here.

Besides, throwing back home run balls is so unoriginal. Unless you're in Wrigley Field, where it started, give it a rest.

 

8. Mets-alleneous

Following Matt Harvey's win Tuesday night, make it 25-6:

 

9. Brooksie?

Brooks Robinson or…Giovanny Urshela? Hard not to think of the great Brooks Robinson while watching this play.

 

9a. Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day

Dan Hallman/Associated Press

Atlanta Braves fan Jason Isbell is back with an incredibly well-reviewed new record, Something More Than Free. I co-sign on the great reviews.

"I been working here, Monday it'll be a year

"And I can't recall a day when I didn't want to disappear

"But I keep on showing up, hell-bent on growing up

"If it takes a lifetime

"I'm learning how to be alone, I fall asleep with the TV on

"I fight the urge to live inside my telephone

"I keep my spirits high, find happiness by and by

"If it takes a lifetime"

—Jason Isbell, "If It Takes a Lifetime"

 

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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