Tuesday, August 7, 2012

For Dodgers and Angels, the Dog Days Produce Fascinating Scenarios

        By Ross Newhan

        Amid the 100 degree dog days of August, I always tend to remember what the late Bill Rigney told me when I was a rookie on the baseball beat in another lifetime.

        "The team that can win in August," Rigney would say, "is the team that will win in September."

       When it comes to winning this month, the Dodgers and Angels are producing a mixed bag, but they have also produced and are producing a fascinating scenario, virtually a new story every day, a series of highs and lows that make it difficult to predict how September will play out amid a new playoff system in which two wild card teams in each league will qualify for a one game play-in to the post-season, enhancing and widening competition.

       Management has done what it can do.

      The new Dodger owners have been on a roll, from Hanley Ramirez to Brandon League, to Shane Victorino to Joe Blanton to a failed waiver claim on Cliff Lee despite the millions he is owed and his comparative ineffectiveness this season.

     The Anges management, pending a possible contract offer, gave up three top prospects for the right to rent potential free agent Zach Greineke amid a rotation collapse--a bit strong, perhaps--that has left Jered Weaver the only sure thing.

     Is a bullpen of musical chairs strong enough and consistent enough--and hasn't that been a concern since opening day?--in a division in which the surprising Oakland A's have emerged with the best overall pitching and the Texas Rangers, seeking a championship three-peat--are battling problems of their own: external, internal and medical.

    In the American League, on the morning of Aug. 7, Texas, Chicago and New York lead their divisions, and six other teams are within four games of each other in the wild card scramble. In the National League, on the morning of Aug. 7, San Francisco, Cincinnati and Washington lead their divisions, and four other teams are within four games of each other in the wild card scramble.

   The standings are much like the Presidential polls. It may not be until the Olympics are over and we have moved past Labor Day that many otherwise interested followers will take a hard and serious look. Nevertheless, for the Dodgers and Angels, with little breathing room amid soaring temperatures and tightening division and wild card races, every game of August has become critical. every game may carry long-term significances beyond the standings and playoffs.

   The work of general manager Ned Colletti and manager Don Mattingly through the stress of the  daily grind and the pressure of the trade deadline under new ownership has seemingly solidified their holds on those key positions with the Dodgers, initially a team of numerous questions, now becoming a contending and believing team.

   In Anaheim, the situation is different.

  The $154 million payroll, the $317.5 million investments in Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, the arrival of Mike Trout and development of Mark Trumbo as key parts of what should be one of the most potent offenses in club history and the hazy relationship between manager Mike Scioscia and general manager Jerry DiPoto--the firing of Scioscia ally and batting coach Mickey Hatcher still lingers--has all served to create an uncertain atmosphere around Scioscia despite a contract extending through 2018 if the Angels don't reach the playoffs. 

    It is difficult to believe Scioscia's job could be at stake given his overall record, the club's 12 years of stability and his long-term security, but with the payroll, the potential and key relationships under question, along with some open second guessing from media and clubhouse, it would not be a total surprise if Arte  Moreno's ultimate question pertains to "what have you done lately?" The Angels had 52 games left as of Tuesday. More so even than the Dodgers under their new ownership, the Angels can not afford to lapse into dog days exhaustion.

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   A group headed by Peter O'Malley, including his sons, Kevin and Brian, and nephews, Peter and Tom, along with Ron Fowler, chief exectuive of San Diego based Liquid Investments, will be approved as new owners of the San Diego Padres at an owners meeting in Denver on Aug. 15-16. The former Dodger owner is purchasing the club from John Moores for about $800 million, with his sons and nephews expected to take on a major leadership role in time, and locally based golfer Phil Mickelson participating on a visible basis.            

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