How can the Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils of the 1999-2000 NHL play a role in the 2018 MLB pennant race?
Bear with me here (I promise a point is coming), because for the life of me I can’t figure out the 2018 Los Angeles Dodgers. Talent-wise they belong in the playoffs for sure, and possibly even the World Series as the National League’s designated patsy. But every time I start to think they have their act together they take two steps back. And then when I throw my arms in the air and write them off as finished, they get up off the canvas and play a few games to their potential (see the last three night’s outcomes against the Cardinals, for example).
All year long I’ve felt that this was just one of those years for the Dodgers, whether it be bad chemistry, terrible karma or just the old injury bug, it wasn’t going to happen for them. Which is what brings to mind the Devils of 2000.
With eight games remaining in the 1999-2000 NHL season, the Devils were in first place in their division, a couple of points ahead of the second place Flyers. They’d won their first cup back in ’95 and had posted strong regular seasons the prior two years, only to wash out quickly in the playoffs.
Worried he was facing a similar outcome in that year’s upcoming postseason, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello pulled a power move and fired Head Coach Robbie Ftorek (remember they were in first place) and replaced him with lead assistant Larry Robinson. With eight games to go in the season.
A gutsy, surprising move that late in the season, and one that worked. Big. Robinson and the Devils raised the cup that June for the second of what would become three Devils Stanley Cup championships over an eight-year period. Back in 2000 Lamoriello knew he had issues despite his first place position, and acted swiftly and with authority. The rest as they say…
Now back to the Dodgers. We’ve already witnessed Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts gift wrap the Astros their World Series title a year ago, and nothing that’s happened thus far in 2018 should give Dodgers brass any reason to believe Roberts will somehow pull a rabbit out of the hat and rally his squad to their first title since 1988.
So message to Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi: Your team is precariously holding on to first place, pending the outcome of today’s Rockies-Giants game and tonight’s Dodgers-Cardinals series finale. Forget about those two games, and forget that there’s only a dozen games or so remaining in the season. Instead, act while you still have Clayton Kershaw healthy and Manny Machado playing shortstop and hitting third. The window of title contention could slam shut on the Dodgers as soon as this winter.
Take out Roberts immediately and replace him with anyone. Bench coach Bob Geren has managerial experience (however his track record doesn’t inspire optimistic expectations). Third base coach Chris Woodward is considered a manager in waiting, perhaps as soon as this offseason. Hitting coach Turner Ward could be the right guy? Bullpen coach Mark Prior? Heck, literally anyone will do, but a change is necessary, and right now.
If it’s me, I’d just let the players circle their wagons and make their own run at it playing for one of their own.
How? Make Kershaw player-manager for the remainder of the season. He’s universally respected in the clubhouse, one of the longest-tenured Dodgers, and only plays every fifth day anyway. And wouldn’t we all like to see how he manages his own innings and pitch counts in the postseason? Why not — desperate times call for desperate measures, and despite trying everything they could to torpedo their 2018 season, the Dodgers remain very much in the thick of things heading into the season’s final two weeks. We’re saying there’s still a chance!
C’mon Zaidi, make the move (and quick footnote — who was the last MLB player-manager? None other than Pete Rose back in 1986. Can’t end up much worse than that one did, right? That’s a low bar Kershaw could hurdle for sure!).
A couple of other quick baseball thoughts —
How did the Tampa Bay Rays become baseball’s best club on September 16th? Yes, it’s too late for them to even make the playoffs, but wow! They just took two out of three from the A’s down in Tampa, essentially dethroning everybody’s choice for hottest team in baseball coming into this weekend, so that gives the Rays the title, right?
On July 1st, the Rays woke up a .500 club, and we all thought that was overachieving. They’ve gone 41-25 since that morning, and let’s not forget, they’ve made this run in the AL East, where the Red Sox and Yankees reside. In fact, the Rays have gone a respectable 16-18 against the two superpowers this season, making even more impressive their 2018 accomplishments.
Through this weekend’s games, the Rays’ record places them merely a half game behind the AL Central-leading Indians, who have feasted on dreadful division opponents all year long. Nope, Tampa won’t make the playoffs, but they’ve knocked off all comers all summer, and as a result I have to give Kevin Cash my vote for AL Manager of the Year (sorry, Bob Melvin, who would run away with the award in any other year).
Everyone knows that SportsAttic hates to kick sand in the Yankees face…okay, we actually love having the opportunity to do that. And while I still think the Yanks will find enough in the tank down the stretch to host the AL Wild Card game, they sure are making things interesting, aren’t they?
Yesterday’s New York Post had a short article on lame-duck Toronto manager John Gibbons, who tossed bouquets the Yankees way (trolling for a first base coach job in ’19, perhaps?) in a story focusing on the challenges of trying to compete in the same division as the Yanks and Red Sox. Obviously emboldened by this unexpected PR, not to mention his looming termination, Gibbons decided to try and do the Yankees one better by managing his own club out of an 8-1 lead last night in the Bronx.
And he damn near did it! The Jays 8-1 lead had become 8-5 thanks to a Miguel Andujar (soon to be AL Rookie of the Year) grand slam, and in an overt attempt to allow the Yankees to reverse their recent bad fortune with an amazing come-from-behind win, Gibbons inserted Tyler Clippard into the game in the 8th.
It’s not true that Clippard took the Yankee Stadium mound armed with a gas can and zippo lighter, but he may as well have. True to form, Clippard threw his collection of off speed crap out of that unorthodox delivery of his (that’s driven fans in multiple cities to despise him these last several years), and next thing you know, it’s 8-7 and the tying run is on second.
Not satisfied with his charity work to this point, Gibbons then summoned Ken Giles to lock down the win. Yes, the same Ken Giles who incited multiple fights at the Yankees batrack during last year’s ALCS, while wearing a Houston Astros uniform. Remarkably (or maybe not, since on this night there was nothing at stake for Mr. Giles), Giles got the final four outs and saved the win. Nice try by Gibbons, but his shameless attempt to curry favor with the Yankees front office fell a run short.
The point here being that something remains badly off in Yankees-land, and Aaron Boone’s increasingly preposterous daily insistence that it all will turn around soon has to be eliciting a smirk or two in the Bombers’ locker room. Somebody get Boonie a fiddle, because Rome is burning here. He’s got a dozen games to turn the tide, and it looks like he’ll have Aaron Judge to help him out, but this is the first time in my memory that a borderline 100-win club has looked this hapless as the postseason approaches.
October baseball is two weeks away, and with the Jets perfect season ruined by the South Florida Fish today, it’s time to turn our attention back to hardball.