Steady Torre makes the difference
How big a difference has Joe Torre made with the Dodgers? One Torre intimate said the great manager possibly called more meetings this year with the Dodgers than during his whole 12-year tenure with the Yankees.
While clubhouse meetings can be overrated, the Dodgers began the year with a messy clubhouse situation and now enter the NLCS as a relaxed unit, according to those in the know. "They are as loose as can be,'' one Dodgers observer said.
Manny Ramirez, who may be the best mid-year pickup ever, surely improved the environment around the talented team. But Torre helped it even more.
The Dodgers clubhouse was divided to start the year, a carry-over from last year's negative situation, team sources said. So while Torre and other Dodgers people don't mention it publicly now, he spent a good part of the year trying to bring things together.
There has been a huge generational gap, and one Dodgers person said, "At the start of the year the young guys didn't like the old guys and vice versa. I'm still not sure if they like each other now. But at least now they deal with each other.''
People connected to the team say the genesis of the division is that a few key young stars have acquired outsized egos, possibly from years of praise and kid-glove treatment. (That group is said to include Andre Ethier, Russell Martin and Matt Kemp but not James Loney, who is said to be more level-headed than the others). "They are constantly saying inappropriate things,'' one Dodger intimate said of the young stars.
And what exacerbates the problem is that a few of the Dodgers' big-name veterans are not by nature understanding of the quirks of youth (that group includes Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra, and last year included Luis Gonzalez).
Kent is the most extreme case and practically a non-entity now, as he sits and sulks by himself as a glum bench player. "He doesn't talk to anyone,'' a Dodgers insider said.
That's actually not quite true. The truth is, Kent shouldn't talk to anyone. When he does, he says dumb things like, "Vin Scully talks too much.'' Kent is also extremely close to owner Frank McCourt's wife, Jamie, who's also the club president. So in other words, the ornery pinch-hitter has the ability to double as a clubhouse informant -- more potential for messiness.
Torre's job was boosted by the acquisition of Ramirez, who went from barely trying in Boston to becoming a force in L.A. According to the insiders, the cocky young players were at least wise enough to take note of what Ramirez was doing. "They thought they were hot stuff,'' the source said, "but then they saw first-hand what hot stuff was really like when Manny got here.''
But mostly it's Joe. "Joe keeps righting the ship,'' Dodgers hitting coach Don Mattingly said. "He keeps talking, keeps communicating. In New York, they said he didn't have discipline. But he doesn't let anything slide, he doesn't let anything go.''
Scout: Dodgers will keep winning
The Phillies are a fine team. But according to one scout, the Dodgers are simply too hot and too good right now.
"They're talented and they're loose,'' said the scout, who is now predicting a Dodgers-Red Sox World Series.
He saw the Dodgers earlier this year ago and determined they were terrible. But now he loves their pitching. "[Derek] Lowe, [Chad] Billingsley and [Hiroki] Kuroda are all good. Kuroda is nasty. [Closer Jonathan] Broxton is awesome. He throws 100 mph and he has a 90-mph slider. He's better than [Jonathan] Papelbon.''
Sabathia's words put Yankees in play
Superstar free agent CC Sabathia's contention on Sunday that "I'll play anywhere'' would seem to bode well for the Yankees, who are expected to be the most lucrative possible destination. When asked about it, Sabathia also mentioned that he liked New York and considered the new Yankee Stadium a plus.
The Yankees are going all in for Sabathia, according to people familiar with their thinking, so if he means what he says, he can expect an attractive offer. Sabathia said he believes his great time in Milwaukee proved to him that he'd enjoy playing in most, if not all, places.
He's become "more open-minded,'' said a person close to Sabathia, meaning he'll consider places outside his native California. Which would also seem to suggest he's more willing to consider the Yankees.
While Sabathia didn't rule out anyone or anything while discussing where he might go as a free agent following the Brewers' elimination, he did suggest how much he liked the opportunity to bat in the National League -- though, he said that desire will not eliminate AL teams.
The Angels are expected to make a pitch, while the Dodgers, Mets and possibly the hometown Giants might, too. And several others may give it a shot. Sabathia raised his value with his huge year, and once again showed he is a team man and quite durable by starting four straight games on three days' rest, a tough run he seemed to survive nicely. "I feel really good,'' he said. "I thought I'd be a little more sore.''
While Sabathia's remarks suggest that the Brewers may have to compete with the Yankees, the small-market team will still give Sabathia a shot. "I'm not ready to give up on anything just yet,'' the Brewers' aggressive owner Mark Attanasio said.
I'm not going to read anything into Sabathia's use of the past tense while saying how much he liked Milwaukee. "I enjoyed my time here,'' he said several times. But if Attanasio can pull off this second miracle -- the first was acquiring Sabathia and pushing the payroll to an unheard-of $90 million -- they should build a statue for him outside Miller Park (or rename it Attanasio Park).
While Brewers people aren't ruling it out, the idea of spending $25 million of a $90 million payroll on one player does seem unrealistic. Some Brewers people expressed hope that a long playoff run might enhance their chances, but ownership sources indicate that a World Series appearance would barely make a dent in Sabathia's expected haul, pegging a long postseason run at perhaps an extra $8 or $9 million, tops.