In an epic Q&A, Dodger expert Jon Weisman shares why he supports the team’s ace, closer and manager who have come off a record-breaking regular season.
Fans of baseball, and specifically the L.A. Dodgers, would be hard-pressed to find a better person to talk playoff baseball with than Jon Weisman. The longtime writer at Dodger Thoughts (a site he started 17 years ago) which, full disclosure, briefly moved to the Los Angeles Times while I was the paper’s blog editor, and author of 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, has amassed a loyal following thanks to his no-nonsense approach to the game and its rich history.
For three long seasons, Weisman was the Dodgers’ Director of Digital and Print Content where his duties, among many others, meant manning team’s @DodgerInsider tweets from 2014-2017. Now he serves an executive at Showtime but, of course, he still loves to talk baseball.
Let’s start with what it was like doing social media and other things for the Dodgers. That must have been fun?
It was fun. It was just a really grueling schedule. That’s the major thing. You sign up for it, but to be working… like for example if there’s a home game you get into the office at like 8:45 a.m. and you won’t leave work until 11:45 p.m. some nights. I’m not saying that’s every night. But nights where it’s a long home game, that’s a long day, and you’re back the next morning.
How heavy-handed or not heavy-handed were the Dodgers when you did social for them?
Very light-handed. They were clear about what the boundaries were, which was basically, “we don’t want to be the news in a negative way, and if you can steer clear of that, you’re fine.”
One of the benefits must have been to have total access to not only the current players, but all of the Dodger greats?
Yes, which I loved. Fernando, Don Newcomb, Jerry Reuss, Ron Cey, Manny Mota… so many of them, yes. That was such a treat for me.
Were you there for Vin Scully’s last season as well?
It was both of our last seasons. I mean I was thrilled, but it was heart-breaking. But I was thrilled to be there. It was really special. I was glad to be the one who got to chronicle it. I like Joe Davis. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be there for his first full season.
For those who aren’t fans of Joe’s yet, what are they missing?
There’s a couple things. First of all, he’s his own person, which was the key, and obviously the advice Vin would give him. You can’t do Vin, nor should you try. Go and be the best Joe Davis that he can be.
The number two thing is I think he has a really good combination of genuine enthusiasm and curiosity about baseball. I think some broadcasters stop being curious. They don’t want to get out of their comfort zone. And they don’t seem to necessarily want anyone else to get out of their comfort zone. And Joe is very eager for something new.
Starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw
A few days ago on your Dodger Thoughts blog, you put together a chart about Clayton Kershaw, who is every Dodger fan’s greatest concern entering postseason. They worry that their ace isn’t always great when it matters. But you put out a chart that challenges that belief.
Here’s the thing. I’m not under any illusions about what his shortcomings in the playoffs have been. There have been games where he has come up short. That happens. You are playing against the best hitters in baseball — and obviously some pitchers have handled that situation better than others.
He’s had moments, the biggest of those moments being Game 5 of the 2017 World Series, where they twice gave him a lead in a game that would have put them up 3-2 in games, and he couldn’t hold the lead. It happens and he would be the first one to take responsibility for it. So the idea behind my chart is not to paint over the things that went wrong but it is to remind people —because what happens if he does have a bad game is they say, “Clayton Kershaw cannot perform in the postseason.” It’s not true. It’s false. It’s objectively false.
He’s made 24 post-season starts. In 11 of those he’s been dominant, without question. And in another 5 of them, he’s pitched at least 6 innings without allowing more than 2 runs, then he’s gotten in trouble in the 7th. I’m not here saying those 7th innings don’t matter, but in this era they go to the bullpen. Five, six years ago he was expected to the finish line every time he took the mound.
In LeBron James’ first few years in the NBA playoffs they said he couldn’t handle situations in the clutch. I don’t think anyone is saying Kershaw can’t pitch in the clutch-
I think that’s nonsense, because not only in the playoffs, but in the regular season in the past, there have been situations where they have been in do-or-die games and Kershaw has come through. It’s not that he can’t pitch in the clutch. He’s done it too many times.
It’s just wrong to say that during the random times that he’s done something wrong it was a mental deficiency. He’s not perfect… that’s a different thing… he makes mistakes.
Five years ago those things were rare and because he threw so hard he could get away with more mistakes than he can now. He’s throwing softer now, not “soft” he’s still throwing 90 MPH, which, you and I couldn’t see. But for major league hitters, a mistake at 90 is different than a mistake at 94, so you notice the mistake.
Closer Kenley Jansen
Let’s move over to the bullpen. If it’s the 9th inning in a close game and Kenley Jansen comes to the mound. Should Dodger fans be nervous?
In 2017, when the bullpen was as good a bullpen as the Dodgers have had in this era, Kenley Jansen at the top of his game, it’s still a game where a fluke hit here and a fluke hit there and you lose, which is what happened. Kenley Jansen gave up an 0-2 home run in Game 2 of the World Series and that changed everything. So here in 2019 Jansen is in the same boat, in a way, as Kershaw is. He throws hard, but not quite as hard and his location has to be right on the money. I think Jansen has more of a challenge than Kershaw does in this respect and that is why people have gotten more nervous when he’s on the mound.
He’s meaning to throw a pitch just outside the strike zone to make someone chase it. That pitch will go six inches or a foot too-far out of the strike zone. It’s not close. That’s a wasted pitch. Now he’s got to really come back and throw a strike. Now he’s in trouble because he doesn’t have the vast repertoire of a Kershaw. He’s basically got cutter and a slider. And if you know he’s throwing it over the plate, you’re sitting on it. I think the bullpen could really surprise people this month, but it doesn’t take much for something to go south and people think it’s awful.
The Dodgers’ 106-wins is a franchise record dating back to 1890. Are they that good?
The Dodgers, this year, had the best record they’ve ever had. Why? Every team with the best record in their league, historically, has a decent pitching staff and a couple of all-star hitters. But the Dodgers just dominated this year, and they could have even had a better record when you look back. And yet, I don’t see the ’27 Yankees, I don’t see the Big Red Machine. Are we overlooking something — or should we be bowing to Dave Roberts?
I think you can praise Dave Roberts, who’s another person getting hammered on social media by a faction of Dodger fans who think he should have won 130 games or who think he should have won two World Series already.
What you might be missing is their defense. They had one period in the middle of the season where they experimented with Joc Peterson at first base and it seemed to throw everything off. Since then the ability that these guys have, guys like Cody Bellinger, is above average and they shift really effectively. It’s not like they don’t give up a hit to a spot where a player might have been, but overall they’re like the most efficient team in baseball — or at least the National League — in preventing offense via the shift.
The starting pitching has been great even without Kershaw being at the very top of his game. You’ve had three very effective pitchers in Kershaw, Hyun-jin Ryu and Walker Buehler plus the mix of Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, Ross Stripling and Julio Urias. There hasn’t been a weak link in that rotation.
And the offense is just relentless in getting on base and has ridiculous power. In an era where lots of teams have power, the Dodgers have the most power. So there’s no Babe Ruth, although Cody Bellinger has done his best to be like Babe Ruth. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but they only look better for 2020 based on how many rookies have contributed this year. Their biggest holes this year were at second base and catcher and now they have Gavin Lux and Will Smith who they didn’t have three months ago. Those guys could play big roles in October.
The 21-year-old rookie, Gavin Lux
Tell us a little more about Lux, who has been getting a lot of buzz recently.
I’m limited in what I can say about him as a major leaguer, but he gets the bat on the ball, he has surprising power, he can run — I don’t want to oversell him because he’s only 21. But he destroyed the minor leagues. He was Baseball America‘s Minor League Player of the Year, but whether or not he’s going to be a monster in October, that may be asking too much of him. But he’s a talented player with a world of potential.
You say “surprising power,” did he not have power in the minors?
He did not have power when his minor league career began, and I don’t think he was expected to get much more than like 10-home run power, 15 in the majors at the most. But like a lot of players in the organization, they have been able to coach power out of players beyond what you would have expected. He hit 26 homers in the minors this year. His first minor league season he hit zero home runs, so we didn’t know that was coming.
Manager on the hot seatDave Roberts
Let’s get back to Dave Roberts. We saw the Cubs announce they were not going to renew the contract of Joe Maddon just a few years after he brought them their first ring in 108 years. And now Dave Roberts is in the hot seat despite that record-breaking regular season campaign and several World Series appearances. Why is the climate in baseball so impatient around winning that title?
Let me start by saying, I wish it weren’t. The regular season is the truer test of the work you do. I understand the goal is to win the World Series and I want them to win it. But only one team can do it. And this year three teams that won 100 or more games will not win the World Series. What do you do? If you go by Twitter, those three teams would have been failures. I don’t see it that way.
Well you have been an employee of the Dodgers. You’ve been in the building. Should the GM or the team president or the owner give a crap about what’s being said on Twitter?
No. Not in this case. Everyone in that organization wants to win as much as the fans do. I think that’s one of the biggest disconnects out there. The fans think the front office doesn’t care about winning. It’s preposterous. The criticism the fanbase may say is “they could have spent money getting that player — and they didn’t.” And that may be valid.
But there’s teams like the Cubs who did spend the money on the best closer available Craig Kimbrel, and Yu Darvish the year before, and others, and they didn’t even make the playoffs this year. So it isn’t always about the money, right?
Well, they could have signed Kimbrel in April, so there’s always something. But I’d like to bring up Tommy Lasorda. I don’t think Tommy would have survived in the age of Twitter. His first two seasons he went to the World Series — didn’t win — and it was painful. Third season was a disaster, they were in last place at the All-Star break and finished under .500. Fourth season he lost the final game of the season and they lost the division in a tie-breaker game. What do you think Twitter would have been saying then? It’s not to say managers didn’t get fired in the 1970s, but things just seem a little intense these days.
Dodger opponents include a familiar face
As a Dodger fan, who do you fear the most in the postseason?
I fear facing Jack Flaherty of the Cardinals twice in a seven-game series. The way he has pitched, which is like a vintage Kershaw, is scary. But the line-ups of the Yankees and the Astros scare me the most.
Houston’s rotation is unlike anything we’ve seen in a very long time.
There was a rotation in Detroit of Verlander, David Price and Max Scherzer that was pretty good — and they didn’t win.
Which might be why Houston picked up Greinke, right?
It sounds like they got a pretty good deal. They have such a deep organization that they were able to part with guys. I don’t think they parted with their top prospect. But the Dodgers did pretty well against Zach Greinke when he was in Arizona. And Verlander didn’t get a World Series win in 2017. The Astros won — they won one of the two games he pitched — but he was losing both times he left the game. So even he is not unbeatable. But you don’t wanna go up against him.
Weisman warns: Anything can happen in October
Is there anything casual fans might overlook in these postseason games that an expert like you is paying attention to?
There’s not a lot that slips under the radar these days. Baseball is different versus NFL and NBA where if it’s a one-seed like Golden State against a—
Clippers? Pre-Clippers Clippers?
The old Clippers? Yes. Where you can assume Golden State is going to win that series. Baseball at its most lopsided is basically a 60-40 proposition. Whoever the Dodgers face, in any series, probably has a 40% chance — at worse — of winning that series. On merit. The Nationals have a Scherzer / Strasberg / Patrick Corbin rotation. It would be an upset, but these things do happen. The Dodgers have had an ability to avoid upsets for the most part this decade. But you have to be alert to the reality that this is baseball.
Which is why it’s so fun to happen. Kirk Gibson’s home run should have never happened.
I agree. Completely. I love that about the sport.
MLB Division Series schedule: (times in Pacific Time)
Thursday: STL at ATL Game 1, 2:02 p.m., TBS Thursday: WSH at LAD Game 1, 5:37 p.m., TBS Friday: TB at HOU Game 1, 11:05 a.m., FS1 Friday: STL at ATL Game 2, 1:37 p.m., TBS Friday: MIN at NYY Game 1, 4:07 p.m., MLB Network Friday: WSH at LAD Game 2, 5:37 p.m., TBS Saturday: MIN at NYY Game 2, 2:07 p.m, FS1 Saturday: TB at HOU Game 2, 6:07 p.m., FS1 Sunday, Oct. 6: ATL at STL Game 3, 1:10 p.m., TBS Sunday, Oct. 6: LAD at WSH Game 3, 4:45 p.m., TBS Monday, Oct. 7: HOU at TB Game 3, MLB Network Monday, Oct. 7: NYY at MIN Game 3, FS1 Monday, Oct. 7: LAD at WSH G4 (if necessary), TBS Monday, Oct. 7: ATL at STL G4 (if necessary), TBS Tuesday, Oct. 8: HOU at TB G4 (if necessary), FS1 Tuesday, Oct. 8: NYY at MIN G4 (if necessary), FS1 Wednesday, Oct. 9: WSH at LAD G5 (if necessary), TBS