Post-season Game Plans
To get a new perspective on baseball now that we’re officially in the Nats off-season, it might be fun to take a different approach to the playoffs, and the two remaining National League teams. Take a step back and forget about Ryan Zimmerman’s contract, Espinosa’s batting average, Harper’s perplexing season, and Bob Henley‘s wave of misfortune sending Werth to the plate.
In one press conference before the NLDS, Dusty Baker talked about meeting with the coaches and Mike Rizzo to decide the 25-man lineup. That seemed like the most responsible and prudent plan, especially considering that the Dodgers’ entire coaching staff, other than 11- year veteran Rick Hunicutt, consisted of new hires in their first Dodger season along with rookie manager Dave Roberts. Hopeful advantage: Washington Nationals. The games still have to be played.
Then the NLDS games began. Without the MASN TV crew, fans were exposed to somewhat balanced views of both dugouts. After 162 games, Nats fans could judge, or at least make educated guesses, about Baker’s demeanor. At times, Baker was confident, less-confident, brewing and chewing ideas, searching for answers, elated or deflated by the plays on the field. On the other hand, Roberts never seemed to flinch. He maybe looked concerned or disappointed that a game plan wasn’t working, but he never seemed to look unduly distressed. Advantage: Los Angeles Dodgers.
On to the NLCS. How could Roberts – this rookie manager with so many owners and front office bosses – continue to be outwardly confident against the highly successful 2016 Cubs? Sometimes, when you don’t have an obvious answer, it helps to enlarge the scope of the original question. The new question becomes – what do the Dodgers have, if anything, that the Cubs maybe don’t have?
First, in 2014, the Dodgers signed Andrew Friedman to the largest ever front office contract – five years at $35 million plus incentives. Their front office now includes six former general managers plus Greg Maddux and Raúl Ibañez as special assistants, and Sandy Koufax on speed-dial.
Advantage: ?… Let’s look at the Cubs before deciding.
Following his successful Boston years with two World Series wins, Theo Epstein joined the Cubs in 2012. During the 2016 season, Epstein’s contract was renewed for 5 years at an estimated $50 million with incentives – surpassing Friedman’s contract.
“Short of winning a World Series [for the Cubs], Epstein has done everything his owner has wanted in four years on the job. He and his top executives Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod have completely revamped the organization, bringing in top young talent as well as veterans in what projects as sustainable run at playoff baseball every season.”
And then there’s Joe Maddon, who is a natural link between the two powerhouse baseball minds. In 2014, when Friedman left the Rays to take over the Dodgers, Maddon was able to break his Rays’ contract and moved to Chicago as the Cubs’ manager.
“Epstein and Friedman are cut from the same intellectual cloth,” Joe Maddon said. “They’re both way beyond me when it comes to that. I enjoy that. I liked being stretched there (in Tampa Bay) and I’m being stretched here [in Chicago].”
Dodgers’ broadcaster Nomar Garciaparra, whom Epstein traded from the Red Sox to the Cubs in 2004, echoed Maddon’s assessment.
“They’re both extremely intelligent, and both on a daily basis are trying to make the team better,” Garciaparra said. “They surround themselves with every aspect of baseball. It’s not just one-sided where it’s all analytics. They’ll get baseball people and they’ll vote and try to keep a balance between (scouting and analytics).”
Andrew Friedman revisited the Rays for the first time this year, prompting this article. Though working with his bosses and manager Joe Maddon, Friedman was the deal- and decision-maker.
“I think Joe got a lot of credit, but a lot of things that were set up for Joe to be successful came through [Andrew Friedman], came through the whole Sternberg [ownership] group,” said Chris Archer who played for Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay while Andrew Friedman was also there. “And Andrew had the loudest voice out of everybody.”
NLCS Advantage: You decide. The series is tied at 1-1 before tonight’s game, and it seems to be a chess match in a best-of-seven games.
Is Maddon as good as we thought as a manager, or is he the product of other and better baseball minds that taught him and shaped him? Will the Dodgers’ front office inspire rookie Roberts to win the NLCS? If you need more background before deciding which team has the advantage, try this Nightengale article that explains the intertwined fates of the Dodgers and Cubs “with enough subplots to fill a Russian novel.”