All Ball Sports: Roberts is Dodgers’ real all-star
by Paul Teetor
Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts is either a miracle worker or the luckiest man in sports.
Let’s go with miracle worker – for now.
But check back in October. That’s when we’ll really know.
When all of Major League Baseball converges on Dodgers Stadium Tuesday night for the All-Star game, they should give the Dodgers manager a special MVM award: Most Valuable Manager.
After stomping the Angels yet again by a score of 7-1 Saturday night, the Dodgers will come into the All-Star break with a record of 60-30, marking only the fifth time in franchise history that the Boys in Blue have put up 60 wins before the All-Star game, traditionally considered the halfway-point of the season even though the raw math – 90 games played, 72 games left – says it is now past the regular season’s mid-point by a full nine games.
For a franchise with the incredible, storied history of the Dodgers – dating back more than 100 years to the Brooklyn days when rabid baseball fans were dodging the borough’s ubiquitous trolley cars on their way to Ebbets Field, thus giving the Dodgers their name – that is quite an achievement no matter what the circumstances.
But this year it is even more impressive than it would normally be, considering all the obstacles Roberts has overcome in his quiet, steady way that seems to have a calming effect on his players, the front office, the fans and even the LA media.
Start with the biggest hurdle he has overcome: a seemingly shaky pitching staff that now looks like one of the best in the majors.
Ever since the Dodgers absorbed a gut punch when 37-year-old Mad Max Scherzer left in the off-season for a $130 million, three-year contract with the New York Mets – an insane deal the Dodgers were smart to want no part of – Roberts’ work with the pitching staff has been just what the doctor ordered.
Their best starter, Walker Buehler, and their best reliever, Blake Treinen, both suffered serious arm injuries early on and have missed big stretches of the season. Buehler is still out and is not projected to come back until sometime in September, hopefully in time for the stretch run and then for the playoffs. Treinen’s prognosis is a little better, with optimism that he could return some time in the next few weeks.
Then Clayton Kershaw, considered their second-best pitcher – at least in the pre-season evaluations – missed an entire month due to injuries but now appears to be back on track. He is winning games regularly and twice has come close to pitching a perfect game. On Monday, he was named the National League starting pitcher for the All-Star Game.
So what did Roberts do when it appeared the Dodgers’ biggest weakness was about to be their downfall?
First and foremost, he has coaxed an all-time season out of 28-year-old Tony Gonsolin, who up until this year had been just another hard-throwing kid warming up in the Dodgers bullpen but rarely seeing actual time on the pitcher’s mound.
For the past few seasons Gonsolin was mostly waiting his turn while Kenley Jansen – the franchise’s all-time leader in saves – and/or Trinen carried the bulk of the reliever’s duties, both in the regular season and the post-season. But Jansen left after signing a one-year $16 million deal with Atlanta in the off-season, and then Treinen had to go on the injured list with arm troubles.
That elevated Gonsolin to sink-or-swim starter’s status in the early season, and he has responded by getting better and better by the game. Last week he was named to his first All-Star team with a Major League best record of 11-0 with a 2.02 earned run average.
Even better, he has earned one of the best nicknames in all of pro sports – Tony Smokes – and is one of those rare athletes actually living up to his nickname.
“The organization, and Dave Roberts, has had faith in me all along,” Gonsolin said. “I’m just glad I could reward that faith this year. He gives me confidence, and I think all the players feel the same way about him.”
Right behind Gonsolin in the season’s-biggest-surprise category is 32-year-old Tyler Anderson, a classic journeyman pitcher the Dodgers signed off the major league scrap heap on a one-year, $8 million deal – cheap by modern standards.
Anderson has responded with a 10-1 record backed up by a 2.98 ERA. He too has been named to the All-Star team, giving the Dodgers two of the most unlikely All-Star players one team has ever produced.
If the gambling crazy-world of pro sports had offered a daily double bet before the season on Gonsolin and Anderson both making the All-Star team, some starry-eyed overly optimistic Dodgers fan could have put down $100 and made themselves a small fortune — not enough to buy a Strand mega-mansion, but certainly enough to buy a top-end Tesla and then a Bentley to put in the garage.
Anderson’s late addition to the All-Star team Sunday night gave the Dodgers three pitchers in the mid-summer classic. But they also have three position players in the game: heavy-hitting first baseman Freddie Freeman, glue-guy outfielder Mookie Betts, and clever shortstop Trae Turner.
All of them benefitted from Roberts’ skillful use of the players available to him on any given day. He just has a knack for pushing the right button at the right time. Always has.
Of course, not everything Roberts has done this year has been perfect. He was guilty of a huge unforced error when he pulled Kershaw a couple of months ago after he had pitched seven innings of a perfect game.
As All Ball pointed out at the time, there have only been 23 perfect games – no runs, no hits, no walks, no men on base, nothing – in more than 120 years of Major League Baseball. Kershaw joining that select group would have been the perfect capstone to his marvelous career, and he deserved the chance to pitch it out.
Roberts’ lame explanation of not wanting to take a chance on Kershaw injuring his arm going into the eighth and ninth innings made no sense. The better choice would have been to let him go hitter to hitter, and the first time a guy got on base then pull Kershaw out to save his arm.
But other than that bad decision, Roberts has truly been the Most Valuable Manager in all of baseball this season.
The Dodgers come into the All-Star game as the hottest team in baseball, having won 20 of their last 25 games. Their 60 wins puts them second in all of baseball, just three games behind the New York Yankees with 63 wins. Right now, a classic Dodgers-Yankees World Series match-up is more than a vape-dream fantasy. It is a very realistic – maybe even inevitable – possibility.
And if it does happen, Roberts will deserve as much of the credit as any single player.
LeBron, Westbrook: As Cold as Ice
LeBron James made news and helped boost his sagging public image when he played in the Drew League Saturday night and scored 42 points. The game, played at King/ Drew Magnet High in South LA, predictably drew an overflow crowd and provided plenty of in-your-face dunks, retweeted tweets and Me-with-a-celebrity selfies.
It was a major hoops happening, at least in part because LeBron had not played in the Drew League since 2011. He’s been too busy making Space Jam 2 and fulfilling his Lakers shadow general manager duties since then to make a free public appearance.
But the more important game in terms of the Lakers future came earlier in the week when the Lakers Summer League team opened play in Las Vegas. Forget the score – the Lakers lost. And for what it’s worth Max Christie, the guy the Lakers took with the 35th overall pick, their only draft pick, looked awful despite General Manager Rob Pelinka’s draft day assertion that Christie had the makings of a great 3-point shooter.
Even though Christie shot only 31 percent on threes in his lone season at Michigan, Pelinka cited the great arch and rotation on his shot as indicators that he would someday be exactly what the Lakers need – a deadeye outside shooter. But in the summer league, while his shot was indeed high and had great rotation, it hardly ever went in.
On the flip side of the coin, free agent pickup Scotty Pippen Jr., eldest son of the Hall of Famer Scotty Pippen, looked like a keeper as the best player on the Lakers summer team. A savvy ball handler with the ability to get to the hoop and find shooters in their favorite shooting spots, you have to wonder how a guy like that goes undrafted while Christie, who showed nothing to indicate he has a future in the purple and gold uniform, gets drafted so high. Indeed, don’t be surprised if Pippen Jr. – known as Little Pip — actually makes the Lakers roster and plays serious minutes while Christie goes the whole year without seeing a single minute on an NBA court.
But the most newsworthy event had nothing to do with anything that happened on the court. What didn’t happen off the court between Russell Westbrook and LeBron James is what really caught the attention of Lakers fans.
The trouble started even before the game started. Westbrook entered from one side of the packed gym – an overflow crowd of 2,500 in a venue designed to hold a maximum of 1,300 — and his arrival created a minor buzz.
Minutes later LeBron entered from the other side of the gym and created a major buzz.
For the rest of the game King James gave his blessing to a never-ending string of rappers, show biz types, pro football players and fellow NBA players who stopped by to pay their respects and genuflect before his royal, regal presence.
Since all eyes were on LeBron and most eyes were also on Westbrook, as the game went on savvy media types noticed something peculiar: the two stars never interacted or even acknowledged each other with so much as a “What’s up, dawg?”
Westbrook couldn’t be bothered to walk to the other side of the gym and say hello to the superstar teammate who recruited him to come to the Lakers, pressured Lakers management to trade away the core of the 2020 championship team for him, and then was the face of the PR offensive to convince fans that Westbrook had agreed to tone down his reckless, ball-hogging game in the interests of helping the Lakers become championship contenders again after losing in the first round of the 2021 playoffs.
By now, everyone knows how that turned out: horribly.
Westbrook didn’t change his selfish game one iota. And with his advancing age – soon to turn 34 – and his rapidly declining athleticism, all the flaws in his game took center stage. He can’t shoot beyond five feet, insists on bull-rushing the basket even though he no longer has the hops and athletic agility to make that approach work, and he refused to play good team defense, instead roaming around trying to make steals while his guy was busy scoring buckets.
Westbrook left just as the halftime buzzer sounded, so the growing tension was defused.
But the awkward summer league scene was a sharp contrast to the bromance LeBron and Westbrook had at last year’s summer league games, when LeBron showed him off to fans and players like a shiny new toy.
A few days after that game LeBron was on his weekly show “The Shop,” which is set in a barbershop where he and his homies sit around talking hoops, politics and anything else that is on his mind at that moment.
On this day he started reflecting on how much he cares about winning – and some teammates don’t care as much.
“I’m obsessed with win or bust and what gives me sleepless nights is when you don’t have everyone feel the same on your own club,” he said.
To be clear, he did not name Westbrook or any other teammates as being built that way. But it was impossible to forget that after last season Westbrook told the press that all the criticism hurled his way didn’t matter to him because at the end of the day he was cashing in his $47 million paycheck and going home to his family. Basketball, he said, was just not that big a deal in his life.
The reason for the big chill between LeBron and Westbrook?
LeBron has been pressuring the Lakers management team of Pelinka, owner Jeannie Buss and Linda and Kurt Rambis to trade Westbrook to Brooklyn for Kyrie Irving. And if they have to throw in their 2027 first round draft pick and the 2029 first round pick – the only trade assets the Lakers have left after swapping their future to New Orleans for Anthony Davis – then that’s just fine with LeBron. After all, he surely won’t be around in 2029 and almost as surely won’t be around in 2027.
The day of reckoning for this summer of discontent between LeBron and the Lakers will come in two weeks, on August 4, when the Lakers are allowed to offer LeBron a two-year, $97 million extension. They probably will offer it – what other choice do they have? – but if he doesn’t sign it he will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.
If you thought Jaws was a scary summer movie, stay tuned for LeBron versus Lakers.
Contact: email@example.com. Follow: @paulteetor. ER