2016 Los Angeles Dodgers: Why Dave Roberts is set for success


Phil Oretga

Phil Ortega helped the Dodgers win the 1965 World Series, even as a Washington Senator. Ortega was one of four players the Dodgers traded (slugger Frank Howard, third baseman Ken McMullen and lefty Pete Richert) to acquire Claude Osteen, whose Game 3 Series win was critical. Ortega came up as reliever with the Dodgers in 1960 and earned his first save in 1962. He spent most of ’63 — as the Dodgers won the World Series — in AAA as a starter and was 7-9 with a 4.00 ERA with the Dodgers in 1964, helping prompt the trade. With the Senators, Ortega was a 12-game winner in ’65 and ’66, and was 10-10 but had his best season in 1967. He pitched a career-high 219.2 innings, made 34 starts and had a 3.03 ERA. He struggled in ’68 (5-12 with a 4.98 ERA), and pitched eight more innings for the Angels in 1970. Ortega, a native of Arizona, is of Yaqui Indian descent (major-league infielder Marty Perez of the 1970s is also of Yaqui descent’ the two were teammates at AAA Hawaii in 1969-70). Career numbers: 46-62, 4.43 ERA, 204 games, 9 shutouts, 2 saves, 951.2 innings, 884 hits, 378 walks, 549 strikeouts, 75 ERA+, 4.46 FIP, 1.5 WAR (3.5 in ’67).

On deck: For his 16th birthday Julio Urias got a professional contract and a summer in the Midwest League. For his 20th birthday the Dodgers might give him a promotion to the majors. Urias won’t turn 20 until Aug. 12, and if he pitches in AAA as he has in lower levels, the only rushing will be done by Urias’ fastball, not the Dodgers. Urias has a career 2.91 ERA and 264 strikeouts in 222.1 innings and the Dodgers can hardly be accused of overusing him. He hasn’t thrown more than 87.2 innings in a season; last year he made 18 starts — he was out for a month or so because of cosmetic eye surgery to mend a droopy eyelid — but only pitched 80.1 innings, or little more than 4.1 per start.

2015 Stat: Rookie Joc Pederson struck out 170 times last season. No Dodger hitter has ever struck out more in a season, though Matt Kemp is tied with Pederson for the all-time record (Kemp did it in 602 at-bats, Pederson just 470 because he hit .210). Kemp holds three of the top four seasons in all-time strikeouts by a Dodgers batter (170 in 2010, 159 in 2011 and 153 in 2008) and five of the top 8 (seventh with 145 in 2014 and eighth with 139 in 2009). The rest of the top 10 includes Billy Grabarkewitz (fifth with 149 in 1970), Cory Snyder (sixth with 147 in 1993), Casey Blake (ninth with 138 in 2010) and Mike Marshall (137 in 1985).

What he said: Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman on not allowing Urias to pitch for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic: “We’re big advocates for the WBC, in a general sense. It does wonders for expanding the game internationally and increasing our footprint.” What he meant: “His loyalty will be to Dodger Nation.”

Outlook: New Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said the team has “unfinished business.” He may have spent the last couple of years as a Padres’ bench coach, but he could see  clearly from there.

The Dodgers have won 90 games for three straight seasons, but they’re just 8-11 in the postseason, losing three out of four series. Ultimately, it cost Don Mattingly his job, as perhaps it should.

Roberts said in spring training he wanted to give outfielder Yasiel Puig a “clean slate;” it will be more important to start over with Clayton Kershaw in October. Because what’s beaten the Dodgers in all of the last three Octobers is Kershaw’s 4.19 ERA (4.59 postseason for his career) and  a limited bullpen (the Dodgers’ bullpen has a 3.98 ERA over the last three seasons but 5.32 over the last two; they’ve used 16 relievers over the last three postseasons and four starters).

Timing might be everything, but sometimes you make your own. Roberts is heroic in Boston because he snuck his hand into second base in 2004 an instant before Derek Jeter could get a tag on it; he might someday be in L.A. because he took the Dodgers job at the right time.

The Dodgers not only have 90-win talent in the majors, but they have it in the minors, too. Their farm system is ranked No. 2 by ESPN.com’s Keith Law and Roberts stands to benefit from it when Mattingly couldn’t. 

Corey Seager  will open the season, knee permitting, at shortstop, where Jimmy Rollins hit .224 with a .643 OPS last year; Urias might be up in August to claim a spot in the rotation, and if not Urias, then perhaps Jose De Leon, 23, who’s fanned 335 in 244.1 minor-league innings, or Zach Lee, who had a 2.70 ERA last year in AAA (the Dodgers moved their AAA team to Oklahoma City in 2015 from Albuqurque, where Lee’s 2014 ERA was 5.38. Altitude matters.)

And somehow the Dodgers snuck into the three-way Todd Frazier trade to make off with Frankie Montas for the perenially overrated Jose Peraza, who the Braves once overhyped with Dodgers-like fervor (so much so the Dodgers traded for him).

Montas is  a 23-year-old who debuted with the White Sox last year and fanned 20 in 15 innings. Montas has made 80 of his 92 minor-league appearances as a starter, but the Dodgers seem intent on bringing him out of the bullpen when he returns from a rib injury. Given their postseason failures there, it seems a good idea.

The Dodgers lost Zack Greinke to free agency and the unfortunate Brett Anderson to yet another injury, but added free agent Scott Kazmir and Japan’s Kenta Maeda and hope to return Hyun-Jin Ryu. As long as Kershaw goes every fifth day, the rotation won’t be too bad.

The lineup is the same collection of overpaid outfielders who, like the plaid shirt you wear on the wrong day, clash with their platoons.

We’ll see how Roberts does when Joc Pederson starts striking out, or Puig gets thrown out trying to take third with two outs, or Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier start grousing about their roles.

Maybe that’s what he meant by “unfinished business.”

Team Song: Isley Brothers: Work to Do

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