Dodgers half-year MVP, the inept Dave Roberts and ESPN’s disdain

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Who has been the Dodgers MVP for the first half of the season? While probably nobody would argue against the selection of Justin Turner, who is leading baseball in batting average, he would not be my choice (having missed almost a month due to injury).

In 1988 Dodger outfielder Kirk Gibson was the near unanimous choice as MVP. While Gibson’s contributions to the Dodgers World Series winning year are uncontroverted, I have always felt that second baseman Steve Sax was the most valuable Dodger that year.

Gibson got all the headlines and glory, but Sax was the player who got the hits that kept the innings alive for Gibson to come to bat. In fact, Sax led the major leagues in singles that year, 147 of his 175 hits were one baggers.

Hitting singles is not the way to get headlines. But it’s the guys who hit singles and keep rallies alive that make a winning baseball team. I remember that season well and the image of Sax coming to bat with maybe a runner on first and two out and getting a hit to keep the inning alive for Gibson (who had 105 RBIs on only 157 hits that year). But Gibson was the runaway winner of the MVP and Sax only got a few votes, finishing 18th in the voting.

This year the Dodger headlines have gone to Turner, justifiably so, and home run–bashing Cody Bellinger. Nobody talks about Chris Taylor much, but he is to this team as Sax was to the ‘88 Dodgers, only he also adds power to the mix. If I had to choose between Bellinger and Taylor, I’d pick Taylor.

As long as I’m at it, I might add that Turner is an old school batter. While all of today’s stars strike out much more than the players of yore, Turner strikes out less than 13 percent of the time, contrasted with Bellinger, who strikes out one third of the time, as does Taylor. Further, the player generally regarded as the best in the game, Mike Trout, still strikes out this year 25 percent of the time. Even though he has lowered it from more than a third of the time,  that is still striking out one out of every four at bats which is far too high.

Nobody can convince me that the game they play today, that does not allow starting pitchers to throw complete games and looking the other way as batters strike out at double the rate they did in the ‘50s, is even close to the quality of the game which I grew up loving.

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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has the magic touch if you want to call it that. On Thursday, in a 1-1 tie against Arizona, starting pitcher Rich Hill was dominating. After seven innings he had allowed only two hits and one run while striking out nine without a walk. But, hey, he had thrown 95 pitches, so out he came. In came Luis Avilán with his 4.30 ERA from Roberts’ bullpen. The first batter he faced, Jake Lamb, blasted a huge home run into the right centerfield stands. Two batters later, .250 batting shortstop Ketel Marté hit his first home run of the year. After Roberts had turned a tie game into a two-run deficit by pulling Hill, another of Robert’s bullpen heroes, Josh Fields and his 4.32 ERA, allowed another run in the top of the 9th, giving the Dodgers a three-run deficit going into the bottom of the  9th.

But the problem with Roberts’ inept handling of his pitching staff is that his team is so good that it staged another miracle rally in the bottom of the 9th to win the game, so nobody even commented on the fact that had Hill stayed in the game Arizona would probably have remained scoreless. No, instead everyone gushed about the comeback. I have no problem with the comeback which was exciting. The problem is that because the comeback was so exciting Roberts gets away with murder in the way he continues to foul up Dodgers games by his knee-jerk acceptance of the 100 pitch limit fallacy.

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ESPN’s disdain for tennis is despicable. In the second set of the Roger Federer-Mischa Zverev Wimbledon match on Saturday they cut away from a tight second set cutting the sound of John McEnroe, to show an interview on a split screen with Mischa’s brother, Sasha, while Mischa was gamely fighting to remain in the set. The match was interesting because it was old school Mischa who served and volleyed on every serve vs. new school Federer. But ESPN thought that an interview was more important than concentrating on the game on the field.

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ESPN’s telecast of the World Cup of softball for women was equally amateurish. The announcer gave the score at the end of the second inning as “2 to nil.” Nil? Whoever heard anybody ever give a baseball score as “nil?”

Tony Medley is the author of three books including “UCLA Basketball: The Real Story,” the first book written on UCLA basketball. Visit TonyMedley.com.

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