Dodgers’ hot streak and the subject of pitching

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The Dodgers are putting on a show not seen since Yasiel Puig broke in with such a bang in 2013. That was a time almost unparalleled in baseball history as Puig, for several months, was a tornado like no one had seen before.

Now, rookie Cody Bellinger, while not equaling Puig’s batting average, is ravishing the National League with an eruption of home runs that seems to have no ending. To date he has hit a home run every nine trips to the plate. Henry Aaron, the all-time home run leader, hit one every 18 trips to the plate.

Pitchers caught up with Puig eventually (today he’s batting .247). It remains to be seen how long Bellinger can continue his assault on NL pitching. Led by Bellinger and Justin Turner, the Dodgers have been the hottest team in baseball for the past month, and the best show in town.

However, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Leading 8-1 going into the bottom of the sixth inning a week ago, Dodgers’ starting pitcher Kenta Maeda seemed to be sailing. He had dominated, as most Dodgers starting pitchers do, scattering only three hits, walking only one while striking out five. Even though Maeda was on top of his game, last year’s Manager of the Year Dave Roberts pulled him, as he is wont to do, for relievers who went on to allow six runs in the remaining four innings as the Dodgers barely squeaked out another win.

The dubious premise upon which today’s managers rely in denigrating the ability of starting pitchers to throw more than 100 pitches in the game seems to be that the third time around in a lineup, batters perform better. Note there is no evidence at all that starting pitchers get weaker. No, all these managers trumpet the sabermetricians’ credo that because batters get better later in games, the answer is to replace the starting pitcher. But since starting pitchers rarely are around by then, how can they prove that the batters’ performance in later innings is due to starting pitchers getting weaker? Don’t these stats just solidify the opinion that starting pitchers getting weaker is not the reason for the performance? In fact, don’t they yell for the proposition that starters should stay in the game?

There have been 1,188 games played in the NL as of the writing of this column. There have been only 17 complete games, or 1.4 percent. This is nothing short of absurd.

I was fortunate to grow up during the Golden Years of baseball in the 1950s when players knew how to play the game. They didn’t strike out that much. In fact, striking out was ignominious. Pitchers’ duels between two starting pitchers were things to be savored. Now there is no such thing as a pitchers’ duel. Pitching is so minimized that manager of the year Roberts actually pulled starting pitcher Ross Stripling four outs away from a perfect game last year, an action that would have been unthinkable in prior years.

One thing that has not changed, however, is that pitching is still 80 percent of the game. The problem is that managers now think that pitchers are wimps who can’t throw more than 100 pitches in a game, so they pull dominating pitchers and let inferior pitchers determine the outcome instead of staying with the star. That’s akin to pulling Steph Curry or LeBron James or Russell Westbrook or Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady in the fourth quarter and let the bench warmers finish the game.

Despite the fact that today’s pitchers are so coddled, they are also the most injury prone baseball players in history. In the days of yore, a pitcher would toil for 15 years, throw complete games 2/3 of the time, and rarely miss a turn. Now, young fuzzy cheeked kids like Julio Arias suffer serious injuries at the drop of a hat. Anybody who doesn’t connect the absurd tenderness of the way pitchers are raised and trained with this epidemic of serious injuries is whistling a tune similar to “Dixie.”

I put it to you, if the score is 1-0, who do you want in the game in the eighth and ninth innings, Clayton Kershaw or Pedro Baez or any other name on the Dodgers roster? I’m willing to bet that anybody with at least half a brain would rather have Kershaw out there. But not Dave Roberts or any of the other 29 major league managers. And the game is much the worse for it.

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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