2014 L.A. Dodgers: How the West is won


Joe Moeller was the youngest Dodger pitcher ever at 19 years and two months, a distinction that may not last the decade. Moeller and brother Gary, a catcher, signed for a combined $75,000 in 1960 and Joe was in the majors just 40 minor-league games later. He spent more time in the minors on his way out of baseball than his way into it. Moeller debuted on April 12, 1962 against the Reds, pitching the final four innings to save an 11-7 win. He started less than a week later and didn't get out of the second inning. He was 6-5 for the '62 Dodgers, and 16-11 in 63 back at AAA, then 7-13 for the parent Dodgers in '64. Moeller commuted between Spokane and Los Angeles, much of it depending on the health of Sandy Koufax's arm. Moeller had a 2.52 ERA in '66 and made his only World Series appearance that year. He spent most of '67 and '68 back at Spokane, most of the next three years with the Dodgers and all of '72 and '73 in the minors before retiring for good at age 30. As a youth, Moeller was also an accomplished archer. His final totals: 26-36, 4.01 ERA, .703 OPS against, 583.2 innings, 176 walks, 307 strikeouts, -1.5 WAR. For brother Gary, a .195 average in 87 Class D at-bats in 1961.

Joe Moeller was the youngest Dodger pitcher ever at 19 years and two months, a distinction that may not last the decade. Moeller and brother Gary, a catcher, signed for a combined $75,000 in 1960 and Joe was in the majors just 40 minor-league games later. He spent more time in the minors on his way out of baseball than his way into it. Moeller debuted on April 12, 1962 against the Reds, pitching the final four innings to save an 11-7 win. He started less than a week later and didn’t get out of the second inning. He was 6-5 for the ’62 Dodgers, and 16-11 in 63 back at AAA, then 7-13 for the parent Dodgers in ’64. Moeller commuted between Spokane and Los Angeles, much of it depending on the health of Sandy Koufax’s arm. Moeller had a 2.52 ERA in ’66 and made his only World Series appearance that year. He spent most of ’67 and ’68 back at Spokane, most of the next three years with the Dodgers and all of ’72 and ’73 in the minors before retiring for good at age 30. As a youth, Moeller was also an accomplished archer. His final totals: 26-36, 4.01 ERA, .703 OPS against, 583.2 innings, 176 walks, 307 strikeouts, -1.5 WAR. For brother Gary, a .195 average in 87 Class D at-bats in 1961.

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: Dee Gordon flopped and Jerry Sands whiffed and Ivan de Jesus and Scott Van Slyke weren’t as good as their dads. And might still not be. There’s a way to offset failed draft picks if you have money to spend, and the Dodgers have invested heavily, and well, not on major-league free agents but international ones. Yasiel Puig ($42 million) came from Cuba and was a star on the field, if not the highway, before he turned 23. Hyun-jin Ryu ($36 million) came from South Korea and won 14 games; Puig and Ryu were 2-4 in last year’s Rookie of the Year voting. The Dodgers’ top prospect, Julio Urias, comes from Mexico (terms not revealed, thought to be $1-2 million), though he’s farther away from the big leagues than that. But at age 16, he had a 2.48 ERA in low-level Class A last year, fanning 67 in 54.1 innings (in 18 starts, that was one low pitch count ceiling). Urias is only 5-11, but can reportedly hit 95 mph. He should be a major leaguer while still in his teens. More immediately, Cuban infielder Alex Guerrero ($28 million) is the favorite to beat out Gordon and start at second base. That’s somewhere around $108 million, or a little more than two-thirds of what the Yankees will pay for Jacoby Ellbury. Who spent more wisely?

Trivia: How many Dodgers who started the clinching Game 7 win in the 1955 Series for Brooklyn started the clinching Game 6 Series win in 1959 for Los Angeles? Name them. Answer below.

What he said: Yasiel Puig, after his second arrest for reckless driving: “I’m not going to ever drive fast.” What he meant: “I’ll hire someone to drive faster.”

Outlook: The Dodgers won 92 games and the NL West last season with half a great season from Hanley Ramirez and half a porous one from Matt Kemp, three-quarters of one from Puig, a quarter of one from Josh Beckett and just two starts from Chad Billingsley. That was all they needed to win the division by 11 games and draw 3.7 million fans.

It’s a good time to be a Dodger fan, where they all should be smiling like Magic Johnson. The Dodgers have the best team in the NL West, the 11th-best farm system, the best fan base, money to splurge and a team that reflects the ethnic diversity of both its population and its sport.

The Dodgers have been arguably the National League’s best franchise since they left Brooklyn after the 1957 season. If Walter O’Malley is reviled in Brooklyn, he should be revered in L.A. The Dodgers have won five World Series and nine pennants in those 56 seasons and had more playoff appearances (18) than losing seasons (13).

That ratio won’t change anytime soon, with the Dodgers competing in the NL West. The Giants are viable, but after that the competition falls off precipitously, and the Dodgers figure to be as dominant within their division over the coming years as the Cardinals in the Central and Braves and Nats in the East.

Want some bad news? Matt Kemp isn’t ready to play yet, and the Dodgers won’t be a great team until he is. Juan Uribe is still at third base and will be until the Dodgers bring in someone better than one-dimensional Michael Young. Chris Perez was brought in for the bullpen, although given his arrest on marijuana charges, perhaps he would have been a better fit in Colorado. Beckett is iffy and Billinsgley is out until the All-Star break at best. And Zack Grienke said he didn’t want to go to Australia and that “I can’t think of one reason to be excited about it.”

Yo, Zack, it’s not Fresno. Use your imagination. But even that had a happy ending. Grienke strained a calf and won’t go, so Australian officials don’t have to put on phony smiles and Grienke can stay home and play dominoes or binge-watch True Detective or do whatever it is that his $21 million a year enables him to enjoy.

When the season gets going stateside, and Grienke returns and Matt Kemp gets healthy, the Dodgers are one of the teams with the best chance to win — and by that I mean more than the division.

Trivia answer: Four Dodgers started both clinching games: centerfielder Duke Snider, first baseman Gil Hodges, versatile Jim Gilliam (left field in ’55, third base in ’59) and pitcher Johnny Podres. The latter pitched a six-hit shutout in ’55, but didn’t get out of the fourth inning in ’59, thanks to a Ted Kluszewski home run, despite an 8-3 lead. Larry Sherry, the MVP of the ’59 Series with two wins and two saves, pitched the last 5.1 innings without allowing a run. The other ’55 starters were catcher Roy Campanella, second baseman Don Zimmer, shortstop Pee Wee Reese, third baseman Don Hoak and rightfielder Carl Furillo (Sandy Amoros, who made the famous game-saving catch on Yogi Berra in the sixth, entered that very inning as a defensive replacement for Zimmer, with Gilliam shifting to second). Furillo and Zimmer were on the team in ’59, but on the bench. The other ’59 starters were second baseman Charlie Neal, shortstop Maury Wills, catcher John Roseboro, left fielder Wally Moon and right fielder Norm Larker. Amoros played five games for the ’59 Dodgers, but spent much of the year at AAA Montreal.
Team song Wynton Marsalis: Angel Eyes

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