April 1, 2011 Leave a comment
Today on Home Field Advantage Radio, we will be interviewing LA blogger Eric Stephen, covering the likes of the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, Angels, Kings and the lack of an NFL team in LA.
Make sure you tune in! Eric will likely be on around 4:15, so make sure your schedule is clear then.
As always, Kaiti Decker will be hosting and serving as a general goofball while Greg Kaplan provides insight into each of the franchises and serves as an accomplice to Decker’s humor. It’s a fun dynamic. You’re missing out if you’re not listening!
The Dodgers are in as much turmoil right now as the New York Mets seem to be. The owners, Frank and Jamie McCourt are going through a very ugly, very public divorce that has put the franchise directly in the middle of it. While all that is going on, the team is trying to operate normally from day to day, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult, as funds have became a little bit tighter around Dodgertown.
The off-season saw the retirement of Joe Torre and the announcement that bench coach Don Mattingly would take on Torre’s role of manager. Mattingly has long been Torre’s top assistant, going back to their days together with the New York Yankees. As far as the one-field talent goes, the team brought in some important role plays to place around their young talent, including pitcher Jon Garland, utility infielder Juan Uribe, catcher Rod Barajas, and reliever Matt Guerrier.
The most interesting move, however, was the team’s decision to non-tender catcher Russell Martin. Martin had been the exclusive everyday catcher for the Dodgers since 2006, but battled injuries and slumps all season in 2010. He struggled to a tune of .248 with five home runs and 26 runs batted in. Due to make roughly $5 million in arbitration this upcoming season, the team decided to non-tender Martin instead, exposing him to free agency. Martin elected to sign with the New York Yankees, and the Dodgers will now turn to veteran Rod Barajas to fill the void at the back end of the line-up.
Though losing Martin will look awkward to Dodgers fans at first, there is still some young, up-and-coming talent that fills this roster. The most talented of those players may be right fielder Andre Ethier. Though he battled injuries in the middle of the summer, Ethier gained his first All-Star appearance and posted a line of .292 with 23 home runs and 82 runs batted in. Ethier, who also finished sixth in the National League Most Valuable Player voting after mashing 31 home runs in 2009, will look to add onto those numbers for a full season and help lead this Dodgers line-up.
Lining up alongside Ethier in the outfield is center fielder Matt Kemp. Once the organizations top prospects, Kemp back-tracked somewhat last year. After a huge 2009 campaign when he hit .297 with 26 home runs and 101 runs batted in, plus a Gold Glove award for his defense, Kemp saw his batting average drop to .249. The power numbers were still there, hitting a career-high 28 home runs, but Kemp had to battle media criticism that classified him as a lazy fielder and someone that may have accomplished too much too soon. The Dodgers will need the 2009 version of Matt Kemp if they want to compete with the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants.
The team is also going to need a bounce back year from young first baseman James Loney. Though Loney doesn’t showcase the power of a traditional first baseman, he is one of the top fielding first baseman in the National League and usually hits for a significantly high average, having a career average of .288. Last year, though, Loney’s numbers dropped to a .267 average with 10 home runs, numbers that simply won’t cut it from that position.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, in regards to their everyday line-up, that’s where the youth stops. Shortstop Rafael Furcal posted a .300 average last year, but appeared in only 97 games as he continues to battle injuries year in and year out as he ages. Third baseman Casey Blake, in his first full season in LA, hit only .248 with 17 home runs, and will start this season on the disabled list. The leaves the Dodgers to rely heavily on the likes of utility infielders Jamey Carroll and Juan Uribe to fill the void in the absence of Blake and the most likely in-season absence of Furcal.
The team will also start this season fresh without the drama and craziness that is Manny Ramirez in left field. Having traded the slugger to the Chicago White Sox mid-season, the team is hoping former prospect Xavier Paul can step up and provide solid numbers. In limited action last year, Paul hit only .231 with no home runs. The team did sign former New York Yankee outfielder Marcus Thames to add pop to their bench, but many insiders don’t believe Thames is as valuable in an everyday role.
Though the line-up appears shaky on paper, the starting rotation the Dodgers command can compete with that of the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies. At the front of that rotation is dynamic 23-year old lefty Clayton Kershaw. A heralded prospect out of high school, Kershaw busted onto the scene in 2008 and came into his own last year. He went 13-10 with a 2.91 ERA, 212 strikeouts in 201 innings and a 1.17 WHIP. At this point in his career, Kershaw is on the cusp of competing each year for the National League Cy Young Award, and should get his first All-Star nod this season with a solid first half.
Serving as the team’s number two starter, Chad Billingsley provides the meat to Kershaw’s lanky craft. A towering figure on the mound at 6’1″ and 245 pounds, Billingsley had a strong 2010 campaign, winning 12 games for a losing team and posting a 3.57 ERA with 171 strikeouts. The Dodgers rewarded Billingsley for his efforts earlier this week with a four-year contract extension that buys out his final year of arbitration and first few years of free agency. The rest of the Dodgers rotation is a good mix of veterans that will compliment the two-headed monster at the top. Japanese import Hiroki Kuroda pitched extremely well last season, sporting a 3.39 ERA, but didn’t get much run support, resulting in only 11 wins. The trade deadline additon of lefty Ted Lily in 2010 will serve a better purpose in 2011, as Lily will look to improve on the seven wins he recorded when he came to the Dodgers. The team will also get a boost when Jon Garland comes off the disabled list, having pitched effectively at the back end of a young San Diego Padres rotation in 2010.
The bullpen has been a point of concern for the Dodgers in recent years. Two-time All-Star closer Jonathan Broxton has looked extremely vulnerable towards the end of the 2010 campaign, and even lost his hold on the full-time closer role at the end of the season. The team has put Broxton back into the full-time job, and will hope that he replicates his numbers from 2009, when he closed out 36 games with a 2.61 ERA. The team absolutely loves lefty specialist Hong-Chi Kuo, but there has been concern in the past of pitching Kuo on back-to-back days because of previous arm troubles. The Dodgers added former Minnesota Twins set-up man Matt Guerrier to help fill the void of getting the ball from the starters to Broxton, and he will be a welcomed addition to a seventh and eighth inning corps that struggled mightily at times in 2010.
Looking at this team as a whole, its hard to see how they could compete with the two dominant teams at the top of the divison, the Rockies and the Giants. They’re not as complete as those two teams are, but that’s not to say there aren’t holes in the Rockies and Giants plans, either. The Dodgers need a lot of things to break correctly for them to regain National League West glory.
Unfortunately, I don’t see this year as the year that happens.
The best part about this article for me: starting next week, we’ll have a “This Season” feature at the top. God, I love baseball season.
Ok, back to the Angels. Last year was a year of utter disappoint for the team, highlighted by power hitting first baseman Kendry Morales breaking his leg at home plate after hitting a walk-off home run. Regardless of the franchise seeing 2010 as a lost season, the Angels still made noise at the trading deadline, acquiring Arizona Diamondbacks ace Dan Haren. The team viewed Haren as a long-term piece the team could slot into the rotation along with the likes of Jared Weaver, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir.
The Angels franchise had huge plans this off-season, targeting outfielder Carl Crawford, third baseman Adrian Beltre and pitcher Cliff Lee as possible additions. Well, Crawford signed with the Boston Red Sox, Beltre upped with the Angels division rival Texas Rangers, and Cliff Lee took his talents to Philadelphia. The only players the team was able to add were two lefty bullpen arms in former New York Met Hisanori Takahashi and former Toronto Blue Jay Scott Downs. Not exactly the off-season haul the team was hoping for. The team also lost clubhouse leader Vladimir Guerrero to the Baltimore Orioles and outfielder/designated hitter Hideki Matsui to the Oakland A’s.
The team’s biggest off-season move came with a surprising trade involving the Toronto Blue Jays. Looking to add pop to their outfield, the Angels acquired three-time All-Star center fielder Vernon Wells for catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera. Though the Angels didn’t give up too much talent wise for Wells, they did take on the entirety of Wells’ massive contract. Wells has $86 million remaining over the next four years, only $5 million which the Blue Jays are on the hook for. While Wells experience a resurgent year last year, he still isn’t the same player that originally signed that huge contract. He posted a .273 batting average with 31 home runs and 88 runs batted in. His .515 slugging percentage was the highest its been since 2006, and the Angels will hope that he can come close to replicating those numbers in the middle of their line-up this season.
Another knock on Wells is that his defense in center has slipped considerably since his prime, during which he won three Gold Gloves. Last years center fielder for the Angels, Torii Hunter, has already agreed to move over to right because of his decline in speed. Hunter had a solid year offensively, hitting .281 with 23 home runs and 90 runs batted in. With Hunter now in right, the team will shift Bobby Abreu into a full-time designated hitter role. The team will need a bounce-back season from Abreu, who had one of his worst offensive seasons, hitting .255 with 20 home runs and 78 runs batted in. However, at age 37, the team may have to come to terms with the fact that Abreu’s productive years are behind him, and should hope for whatever they can get at this point.
Another aspect that hurts this line-up is first baseman Kendry Morales will start the 2011 season on the disabled list. The Cuban defector was on the verge of stardom after his monster 2009 campaign in which he hit .306 with 34 home runs and 108 runs batted in. Those numbers were good enough to place him fifth in the American League Most Valuable Player balloting that year. Before his injury last season, Morales was well on his way towards another fantastic season, connecting on 11 home runs and 39 runs batted in in only 51 games. The Angels will need his bat back in the line-up as soon as possible if they want to compete in the American League West, especially because the rest of the team’s infield is very mediocre offensively. This year’s projecting starting infield of Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis combined to hit just 18 home runs last year. Former top farmhand Brandon Wood also bombed in his first full season in the bigs, hitting a lowly .146 with four home runs. Every game in which the team is without Morales thumping away in the heart of this line-up, the less likely they are to be towards the top of the division.
Pitching wise, the Angels should be better than they were last year. Hard-luck ace Jered Weaver was a victim of the team’s lackluster offense at certain points during the season in 2010. Regardless of his 3.01 ERA, 233 strikeouts and 1.07 WHIP, Weaver posted a very pedestrian 13-12 record. With any sort of offense supporting him this year, it’s not insane to think that Weaver can eventually win 20 games a year. An All-Star last year, Weaver won 16 games in 2009, which is a more appropriate figure given his stuff.
Filling out the rotation behind Weaver, Dan Haren will undergo his first full season of play in the American League, a much more offensive league in comparison to the National League. Haren has plenty of experience pitching in the AL West, winning 43 games in three season with the Oakland A’s from 2005-2007. In his 14 starts with the Angels last year, Haren had a 5-4 record with an impressive 2.87 ERA and 75 strikeouts. Haren should have no problem holding his own on this staff and forming one of the best 1-2 combos in the entire league.
Behind Haren and Weaver, the team will hope that fire-baller Ervin Santana can replicate his season last year. After a horrible 2009, Santana rebounded beautifully, leading the Angels in wins with 17 and posting a 3.92 ERA. The team will also hope for a bounce back year from Scott Kazmir. Once considered one of the best up-and-coming lefty talents in the game, Kazmir has been a mess since the Rays run to the World Series in 2008. Last year, Kazmir may have hit rock bottom, posting a 5.94 ERA on his way to a 9-15 season. His strikeout numbers were way down as well, failing to strikeout more than seven batters per-nine innings for the first time in his career. New addition Hisanori Takahashi will round out the rotation, and though he posted fantastic numbers with the Mets a year ago, his best work came out of the bullpen.
Speaking of bullpens, the Angels transformed their corps from a year ago. They traded away Brian Fuentes at mid-season, and are prepared to go with Fernando Rodney at the closer spot. Scott Downs, the other free agent acquisition, will start this year on the disabled list. So, for the first few weeks, the Angels will use a patch-work, no-name group to get them through the dog days. However, nobody knew who Francisco Rodriguez was when the won the World Series in 2001, so it’s not like manager Mike Scioscia is foreign to using nobodies and proving people wrong.
In sum, I don’t see the Angels doing anything special this year. I would be surprised to see them finish above the Texas Rangers or Oakland A’s, to be quite honest. This team got hamstrung when their top free agent targets decided to go elsewhere, and I don’t think they did enough to fill the holes they had. They have a good rotation, which can carry any team to better finishes that expected. But, unless Scott Kazmir regains his form, I think they’re putting way too much hope in a repeat season from Ervin Santana.
The Angels have some work to do, but luckily, they have a very talented farm system. This may not be the year for them, but they’re one of the best-run organizations in baseball. They’ll be back on top in no time, and it will be like they never missed a beat.
For all the hoopla that has been made about the Los Angeles Lakers this year, from how old the team looks to the this team can’t repeat as champions, they seem to be doing just fine. However, one has to admit that the championship window for this squad does have a time limit on it, and that clock doesn’t have all that much time left on it.
Looking at the team this season, the stars are putting up numbers you would anticipate at this point in their careers. All-world talent Kobe Bryant is putting up his routine 25.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists every night. Center Pau Gasol is averaging his typical double-double of 18.9 points and 10.3 rebounds. Rotating between the sixth man position and the starting forward spot, Lamar Odom is having a fine season, posting 14.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and doing everything this team needs from an experienced veteran. Odom does so much of the small things that signify Phil Jackson’s offensive rhythm that he may be this team’s most valuable player this year.
Young center Andrew Bynum continues to struggle with a variety of knee injuries that sidelined him for the first few months of the season this year. When he’s been on the court, Bynum has been a force to be reckon with defensively and has shown flashes of his potential offensively. He had a season-best 22 point, 15 rebound performance earlier this month against the Dallas Mavericks, and his presence inside will serve as the ultimate difference between the Lakers getting back into the NBA Finals and being sent home early from post season play. For the year, he’s averaging 11.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. But, in his last eight appearances, Bynum is up to 12.4 points and 13.6 rebounds. The healthier he gets, the better the Lakers look for a long playoff run.
If there is a huge difference between this year’s team and last year, it is the production from their role players. In 2009-10, forward Ron Artest provided shut down defense on some of the top scorers in the league, while posting a decent 11.0 points. While Artest is still providing strong defense along the wing this year, his points per game have fallen to 8.5 and isn’t filling out the stat sheet like he used to, averaging about three rebounds and two assists.
But, it’s not just Artest. Last year, the team was able to lean on the likes of point guard Jordan Farmer to run the offense off the bench. But, Farmer upped with the New Jersey Nets in the off-season, and the team attempted to replace his minutes by signing Steve Blake to a four-year deal. However, Blake hasn’t performed to the level the Lakers were hoping, and his minutes have begun to dwindle. On the year, Blake is averaging only 20 minutes of action a night, while posting 4.2 points and 2.1 assists. With Blake’s low production, the team has turned to guard Shannon Brown in the hope of picking up the slack on the second unit. But, Brown has under performed to a point as well, as he hasn’t been able to improve on his breakout season from one year ago. He still is averaging a solid 9.0 points in 19 minutes of action a night, but he isn’t as much of a distributor as Phil Jackson would like.
Luckily, in the triangle offense, you don’t need a dominant presence at point guard to succeed. The Lakers rank 12th in the NBA in assists per game, all while having only one player averaging more than four assists a game (Kobe Bryant). With the veteran presence on this roster and the experience of winning multiple championships, this team is poised to make another run for the Bill Russell Trophy. As long as Kobe Bryant is playing at an elite level (which he is) and Phil Jackson is at the helm, nobody should doubt the Lakers at any point in time and think they can’t win it all.
They have. Multiple times. With this core group. So, if I were you, I wouldn’t listen for a second when ESPN analysts talk about this team being old and unable to keep up with the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Chicago Bulls. They have too much guile and might to fall that easily. In order to be the champs, you have to beat the champs.
Until somebody does that, the Lakers will remain the NBA powerhouse franchise.
March 30, 2011 Leave a comment
Nobody is surprised to hear that the Los Angeles Clippers won’t qualify for the playoffs this season. However, I think more of you will be surprised when I say this:
Alright, maybe my problem is I’m a delusional Mets fan, and I like to see hope in everything (except the Pittsburgh Pirates). But, when looking closely at this roster, there is a lot of room for improvement from the pieces already in place. This team has moved on from players that were holding the future of this team back, including point guard Baron Davis, power forward Drew Gooden and swingman Al Thornton. Though all three of those players posted points per game above 10 in 2009-10, and Baron Davis seemed to be gelling in with the new system under new coach Vinny Del Negro, these players were holding back the youth that needed playing time to improve. This year, Clippers management gave ample time to the young players that needed.
No player has shocked NBA scouts more so than budding mega-star, forward Blake Griffin. The first overall pick in 2009, Griffin missed his first full season due to a ruptured knee cap that required surgery. Many throughout the league were worried that the injury would limit the explosiveness Griffin showcased while starring at Oklahoma.
Uh, I think his knee is fine.
Griffin is a virtual lock to win this year’s Rookie of the Year award, averaging 22.4 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists while playing a smidge under 38 minutes a night. He also averages 2.4 Top Plays on SportsCenter every night, a league-best. Adding to his growing legend, Griffin won the Slam Dunk contest by dunking over a car (sort of), appeared in the Sophomore/Rookie Challenge and became the first rookie to appear in the All-Star game since Yao Ming. Griffin has proven to everybody in the league that he is a piece to build around and establish as your franchise’s foundation.
What many casual NBA fans don’t know about these Clippers: they have pieces around Griffin in which to build.
To the surprise of many, Blake Griffin is not the Clippers’ leading scorer. That title belongs to third-year shooting guard Eric Gordon. A former Mr. Basketball from Indiana and a product of Coach K’s 2010 Team USA World Champion team, Gordon has developed his game to an All-Star level. Though he’s battled his share of injuries this year, resulting in missing 26 games, Gordon has posted 23.2 points (seven better than his previous career-high), 3.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists, shooting 37% from three-point range and 46.1% from the field, all career-highs. His outside shooting and drive to the basket mentality works perfectly with the inside presence of Griffin, crippling opposing defenses from focusing on either of the two elite talents.
Another player to fly under the radar in Los Angeles has been center DeAndre Jordan. A lottery-pick talent that fell into the Clippers lap in the second round of the 2008 draft, Jordan has been slow in his development out of Texas A&M. However, with starting center Chris Kaman missing significant portions of the season due to injury and the likes of Drew Gooden and Marcus Camby moving onto other teams in the off-season, Jordan got his first true exposure to the starting rotation full time. Starting 61 of the 72 games he’s appeared in, Jordan has posted 6.9 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and shooting 68.4% in 25 minutes of action a night, all career bests. With the aging Kaman serving as a mentor to Jordan, only 22, his game should continue to improve alongside Gordon and Griffin.
The Clippers also imported two players in the first round of last year’s draft. With last year’s eighth overall selection, the team chose foward Al-Farouq Aminu. Though he’s played sporadically throughout the season, Aminu has shown flashes of brilliance and has started 14 games this season. In the long run, Aminu would fit in perfectly at the team’s small forward position as a strong defensive presence. With the 18th overall pick, the Oklahoma City Thunder drafted Kentucky point guard Eric Bledsoe, and immediately traded his rights to the Clippers. Bledsoe has had the benefit of learning under the likes of Baron Davis and trade deadline acquisition Mo Williams. The addition of Williams makes Bledsoe’s transition into the NBA all the easier, since Williams can provide an immediate impact on the starting line-up until Bledsoe is completely ready to take over.
The Clippers, dare I say, are heading in the right direction. How long this will last, nobody knows. But, for the first time in maybe the history of the franchise, things seem to be going right for that other NBA team in Los Angeles.
March 30, 2011 Leave a comment
In the 2009-10 season, the Los Angeles Kings finally snapped their playoff drought with a 101 point season, but fell to the heavily talented Vancouver Canucks. Despite the loss, the Kings organization had reason to believe that better years were ahead of them with all the young talent flooding the professional ranks in the City of Angels. With six games left in the regular season, the Kings have an opportunity to improve on their record last year.
However, the Kings may also boast the most difficult remaining schedule in the NHL. All six of their remaining games are lined up against teams either in the Western Conference playoffs or three points outside of the top eight. That includes a game remaining with the top-seeded Canucks plus a home-and-home with the seventh seeded Anaheim Ducks to cap off the season. Regardless, sitting seven points ahead of the ninth place Dallas Stars with only six games to play, it would be a colossal collapse if the Kings were to find themselves not playing in post-season games.
As far as the on-ice product is concerned, the Kings possess one of the youngest teams in the NHL with talent at each position. 23-year old Anze Kopitar has established himself as an absolute star. He averages just under a point a game for the Kings (73 points in 75 games), which includes his 25 goals and 48 assists. Those figures are good enough to rank him 11th in the league in points and tied for seventh in assists. Unfortunately for the Kings, Kopitar fractured his right ankle Saturday and will require surgery. He is not expected to begin a skating program until the middle of the summer, ruling him out for the upcoming playoffs.
Making matters worse, the team was already playing without their second leading scorer, right winger Justin Williams. Williams dislocated his right shoulder in a game against the Calgary Flames are will require about three to four more weeks of rest before he can start playing in games again. For the season, Williams 22 goals and 35 assists all while averaging over 17 minutes of ice time a night. In order for Williams to return to action this year, the Kings will most likely have to advance past the first round of the playoffs.
In the absence of Kopitar and Williams, the team will rely heavily on the scoring touch of winger Dustin Brown. The 26-year old native of Ithaca, NY leads the team in goals with 27 and has contributed 27 assists as well. Also needing to pick up in the scoring end will be the team’s most veteran presence, 35-year old winger Ryan Smyth. Smyth is the only other healthy player to have scored 20+ goals with the Kings. At the trade deadline, the team acquired winger Dustin Penner from the Edmonton Oilers. Penner had scored 21 goals and recorded 39 points in 62 games this year with the Oilers, but has been less than impressive while in Los Angeles. He’s recorded only two goals to go along with six points in his 13 games. Without Kopitar and Williams in the line-up, a lot more will be expected from Penner.
Luckily for the Kings, much of their success has been derived from their strong play on the blue line and in the crease. Behind Kopitar, the Kings two most talented skaters are defensemen Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty. Johson, 24, has come into his own the last two seasons. An offensive facilitator on the power play, Johnson’s 36 assists are second only to Kopitar on the team. Doughty, 21, plays alongside Johnson on both the five-on-five shifts and on the point for the power play. Doughty is a sharp shooter, providing 11 goals, 11th in the NHL among defenseman, and plays gritty defense as evident by his plus/minus rating of +14. Both players have benefited from playing with the likes of Rob Scuderi, who won the Stanley Cup while playing with the Pittsburgh Penguins and defensive-minded center Michael Handzus.
While Johnson and Doughty provide a safety net for the Kings along the blue line, the play of goalie Jonathan Quick. The 25-year old enjoyed a breakout season in 2009-10, starting 72 games for the Kings while recording 39 wins and four shutouts. This season, Quick has won 33 of his 54 starts, all while posting the NHL’s fourth-best goals allowed average of 2.19. He’s also posted a career-best save percentage of 91.9% and a career-high six shutouts. The playoffs are usually about who has the hottest goalie to carry the rest of the team through. With Quick in the pipes, the Kings boast one of the top-five goalies in the NHL and greatly improve their chances of making a deep run in April. With Kopitar and Williams out for at least the first round, that’s exactly what they’ll need to succeed.
At the end of the day, the success this Kings team can have come down to the scoring power of Dustin Brown and the brilliance in the crease of Jonathan Quick. With the injuries to two of the teams top offensive talents, its hard to predict this team doing anything spectacular in the post-season. But, again, the number one absolute requirement to playoff success is how hot your goalie is. There’s no question Jonathan Quick ranks in the top-five goalies in the NHL alongside New York’s Henrik Lundqvist, Boston’s Tim Thomas and Vancouver’s Roberto Loungo.
Can Quick stay dominant deep into April? Only time will tell.