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Dodgers Dugout: Remember that time Joe Morgan almost became Dodgers manager?; previewing Dodgers-Yankees

Bud Selig, Joe Morgan, Jane Forbes Clark
Joe Morgan in 2013.
(Mike Groll / AP)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, and the 2019 Dodgers now have 12 walk-off wins. The 2017 team, which felt like a miracle team, had 10. The 1988 Dodgers had six.

The Yankees are coming to town

Well, what in my opinion is a very important series is upon us: Dodgers versus New York Yankees. Not because I believe that this will show which team is better. It’s because the winner of the series, especially if it is a sweep, will have the upper hand in the race for home-field advantage in the World Series. If the teams finish with the same record, whichever team won the season series gets home field.

Remember, home-field advantage now goes to the team with the best record. And, while playing Games 6 and 7 at home doesn’t guarantee anything (just ask the 2017 Dodgers), it’s nice to have.

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Let’s take a look at the race for best record:

Dodgers, 85-44, ---

Yankees, 83-46, 2 GB

Houston Astros, 82-47, 3 GB

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Minnesota Twins, 77-50, 7 GB

Atlanta Braves, 77-52, 8 GB

And don’t sleep on the Astros. They have the second-easiest schedule in baseball the rest of the season, so they could easily zoom up the list and get the best record.

But let’s look at how the Dodgers and Yankees match up going into this series. Keep in mind that the Yankees should do slightly better offensively because they get to use the DH, and the Dodgers should do slightly better on pitching because they don’t have to face a DH.

There are going to be a lot of stats now, so if you aren’t a fan of stats, please scroll past this and meet me in the next section.

Batting (through Wednesday)

Runs per game
Yankees, 5.88 (1st in majors)
Dodgers, 5.55 (4th)

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Doubles
Dodgers, 238 (8th)
Yankees, 228 (12th)

Triples
Dodgers, 17 (T18th)
Yankees, 13 (T27th)

Home runs
Yankees, 230 (2nd)
Dodgers, 225 (3rd)

Stolen bases
Yankees, 45 (23rd)
Dodgers, 44 (24th)

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Walks
Dodgers, 502 (1st)
Yankees, 462 (7th)

Strikeouts
Yankees, 1,108 (15th)
Dodgers, 1,047 (23rd)

Batting average
Yankees, .272 (3rd)
Dodgers, .261 (9th)

On-base percentage
Yankees, .345 (3rd)
Dodgers, .343 (4th)

Slugging percentage
Yankees, .487 (2nd)
Dodgers, .479 (5th)

Average with runners in scoring position
Yankees, .302 (1st)
Dodgers, .281 (6th)

Average with runners in scoring position and two out
Yankees, .279 (2nd)
Dodgers, .265 (5th)

Pitching (through Wednesday)

ERA
Dodgers, 3.33 (1st)
Yankees, 4.52 (16th)

Starting pitcher ERA
Dodgers, 2.94 (1st)
Yankees, 4.85 (18th)

Bullpen ERA
Yankees, 4.11 (7th)
Dodgers, 4.14 (8th)

Shutouts
Dodgers, 13 (1st)
Yankees, 6 (T15th)

Saves
Yankees, 48 (1st)
Dodgers, 32 (14th)

Blown save opportunities
Dodgers, 22 (T7th)
Yankees, 22 (T7th)

Save percentage
Yankees, 69% (6th)
Dodgers, 59% (20th)

Inherited runner-scored percentage
Yankees, 29.4% (10th)
Dodgers, 41.7% (30th)

Home runs given up
Yankees, 210 (3rd)
Dodgers, 145 (29th)

Walks
Yankees, 396 (21st)
Dodgers, 298 (30th)

Strikeouts
Yankees, 1,169 (6th)
Dodgers, 1,167 (7th)

WHIP
Dodgers, 1.105 (1st)
Yankees, 1.323 (14th)

Best players by WAR

Dodgers
Batters
Cody Bellinger, 8.0
Max Muncy, 5.7
Justin Turner, 3.8
Alex Verdugo, 3.2
Corey Seager, 3.0

Pitchers
Hyun-Jin Ryu, 5.2
Clayton Kershaw, 3.1
Walker Buehler, 1.6
Julio Urias, 1.0
Kenta Maeda, 1.0

Yankees
Batters
DJ LeMahieu, 5.0
Mike Taichman, 3.7
Gio Urshela, 3.5
Brett Gardner, 3.4
Gleyber Torres, 3.0

Pitchers
Adam Ottavino, 2.2
Zack Britton, 1.8
Domingo German, 1.4
Masahiro Tanaka, 1.2
Aroldis Chapman, 1.2

So, the teams are pretty evenly matched. Both teams have high-powered offenses. The Dodgers have a big edge in starting pitching, the Yankees a big edge in the bullpen. It should be a fun series. And I don’t even want to look at my emails if Kenley Jansen blows a game.

Clayton Kershaw vs. Sandy Koufax

Clayton Kershaw surpassed Sandy Koufax in the all-time wins department, leading to a lot of places writing about how the two compare. The comparison to me is simple.

Kershaw is one of the greatest pitchers of all time. First-ballot Hall of Famer. If you want to tell me he is a great regular-season pitcher than Koufax, I’ll listen to your argument. A lot of people bash Kershaw for not pitching complete games, but that’s just the way the game is played now. If it were up to Kershaw, he’d complete almost every game he started. So, I don’t fault him for it. If Koufax were playing now, he’d be taken out after seven innings too, and maybe if that had happened, he wouldn’t have had to retire when he was 30.

So both men were great, great pitchers.

But here’s what definitely puts Koufax on top of Kershaw as far as all-time greats go:

Postseason stats
Kershaw, 9-10, 4.32 ERA, no World Series titles
Koufax, 4-3, 0.95 ERA, three World Series titles (four if you want to count 1955, but most places don’t)

If you want to make it a little more even and just compare World Series stats (Koufax never pitched in an NLDS or NLCS), then that makes it even worse. In the World Series, Kershaw is 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA.

Like I said, I am not going to belittle Kershaw. But Koufax’s postseason puts him a step above Kershaw. Hopefully, Kershaw gets World Series ring No. 1 this season, but until then, Sandy is king. And you know the first person who would tell you that? Kershaw.

You can read more about this, and more elegantly written, in this column by Bill Plaschke.

Kenley Jansen

I was debating whether to write about Kenley Jansen, again, when Jorge Castillo bailed me out by writing a very interesting story about the Dodger closer. Some key highlights:

For the first time in his major-league career, a decade-long period of stable excellence, Kenley Jansen was booed at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday. The fans, after years and years of cascading the closer with cheers, flipped their tone when they watched Jansen surrender a tying home run to Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Rowdy Tellez. It was the latest installment in an unsettling season for the former All-Star. The dissent had been building up. It boiled over Wednesday.

“I get it. Boo me,” Jansen said before the Dodgers’ 3-2 walk-off win over the Blue Jays on Thursday. “Yeah, [shoot], I’d boo myself. I didn’t want the results. I was effing myself out there.”

The Dodgers’ rally on Thursday started with Max Muncy working a leadoff walk. Two batters later, Cody Bellinger smacked a double. Corey Seager followed with another double to score both runners before Kiké Hernandez, on his bobblehead night, cracked a line drive to center field to score Seager.

The win developed without Jansen emerging from the Dodgers’ bullpen. The right-hander’s next performance will come sometime this weekend against the Yankees, the next challenge in a season that has become about adjusting to a thorny reality in preparation for October.

After successfully relying on his cutter so much to dominate for so long, Jansen, recognizing the pitch is not as lethal anymore, has begun acquiescing to the Dodgers’ brass, mixing his pitch selection and sequencing to become more unpredictable. The evolution started with throwing sliders more frequently at the beginning of the campaign. Over the last month, the repertoire has included more four-seam fastballs.

The evolution is a sign of Jansen coming to a realization and it has provided challenges. It requires better preparation, more thinking, and improved execution. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts noted it’s similar to the modifications Clayton Kershaw, another 31-year-old pitcher coming to terms with new limitations, has effectively implemented this season. Roberts, however, indicated Jansen has been more reluctant to expand.

“No, I don’t think so,” Roberts said when asked if Kershaw’s success has left Jansen more open to accept changes. “It should but I don’t think that’s landed with him.”

Jansen said he temporarily forgot about his new blueprint Wednesday. He started the outing by striking out Randal Grichuk on three cutters. It was a brief flashback to vintage Jansen. He explained the moment duped him.

“Sometimes i get myself in trouble because when I [blow by] hitters like that, three pitches, [it’s] like, ‘Ah [shoot], I got it today. Let’s go!” Jansen said.

“It’s a transition,” Roberts said. “The more conversations we have, I think he’s understanding that you can still be just as effective as you have been in the past.”

“They booed me last night, that’s fine, boo me,” Jansen said. “At the end of the day, I’m here trying to help the team win a championship and I’m going to make them cheer.”

Cody Bellinger

His pants fell down while sliding into third for a triple. You can watch that here. As for Cody, let’s hope he watches this video here, as the song is very appropriate.

Ask Ross Porter

Ross Porter will once again answer reader questions this season. All you have to do is email me your question at houston.mitchell@latimes.com. I will forward the email to Ross, and he will answer some each week. Take it away, Ross.

Brook Barefoot of Atlanta asks: Was there ever a time when Tommy Lasorda almost lost his job as manager of the Dodgers?

Ross: Former Dodgers general manager Fred Claire discusses that in his book, “My 30 Years in Dodger Blue.” Fred wrote: “After the conclusion of the 1983 season, Tommy felt it was a good time to ask for more money. The negotiations between Peter O’Malley and Tommy reached an apparent stalemate. After their last meeting, Tommy went downstairs to his office next to the clubhouse to make a few calls. I was summoned to Peter’s office as were general manager Al Campanis and scouting director Ben Wade. Peter told us that Tommy had decided not to sign a new contract. He asked us for our recommendations on a replacement for Tommy. Al suggested Bobby Valentine, I offered my candidate — Joe Morgan. He had just completed his 21st season, and at 40, it was clear his playing career was in its final chapter. Joe had a great knowledge of the game and had earned the respect of everyone. Ben agreed with me, Peter approved, and Al went along.

Joe was still under contract to Philadelphia. With the three of us listening, Peter called Phillies president Bill Giles. The two of them agreed the call was confidential and the Dodgers were given permission to talk to Morgan. As soon as Peter hung up, he was told Tommy was on another line. Lasorda asked O’Malley, ‘Is that offer still on the table?’ Told it was, Tommy said, ‘Then I’ll take it.’ Peter immediately called Giles back and said, ‘Bill, the call I just placed to you never took place.’ Tommy remained the Dodgers manager for another 13 years.”

Richard Kaufman of Encino asks: Hi, Ross. What do you think about Yankees manager Aaron Boone endorsing a mercy rule in the majors after a 19-5 defeat? What are the greatest comebacks in MLB history?

Ross: I like the idea, Richard. The question is how far ahead do you have to be to end the game? Here are the biggest rallies.

1. 1911 Detroit trails Chicago, 13-1 and wins 16-15.

2. 1925 Philadelphia behind Cleveland, 15-3 and wins 17-15.

3. 2001 Cleveland back of Seattle, 14-2, and wins, 15-14. Mariners would have won an MLB record 117 games had they not lost.

Unbelievable finishes:

1901 Cleveland down to Washington, 13-5 with two outs and none on in the ninth, scored nine runs to win, 14-13.

1961 Boston was losing 12-5 to Washington with two outs and none on in the ninth, and tallied eight runs for a 13-12 victory.

1952 Chicago trailed Cincinnati, 8-2 with two outs and none on in the ninth, then came up with seven runs to win, 9-8.

And one Dodgers fans may remember. In 1990, the visiting Phillies were behind, 11-1 after 7, but got 2 in the eighth and nine in the ninth to shock the Dodgers, 12-11.

Robert Puente of San Antonio asks: What is the rule to qualify as a rookie of the year candidate? Do any of the Dodgers qualify?

Ross: In a previous seasons, Robert, a player must have had fewer than 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched, and less than 45 days on an active MLB roster prior to Sept. 1, excluding time on the disabled list. Yes, a few Dodgers qualify, but Pete Alonso of the Mets will win.

In case you missed it

Some stories you might want to catch up on:

Hyun-Jin Ryu is among the most unpredictable pitchers in baseball

Dustin May throws bullpen session under watchful eyes of Dave Roberts and Rick Honeycutt

Kenley Jansen says it’s ‘going to be weird’ after he and Dodgers decided on change

More KTLA games

Five more Dodgers games will be televised on KTLA Channel 5 this season:

Saturday, Aug. 31, 5 p.m. at Arizona

Saturday, Sept. 7, 6 p.m. vs. San Francisco

Saturday, Sept. 14, 4 p.m. at New York Mets

Saturday, Sept. 21, 6 p.m. vs. Colorado Rockies

Saturday, Sept. 28, 1 p.m. at San Francisco

Up next

All times Pacific

Tonight: Yankees (James Paxton*) at Dodgers (Hyun-Jin Ryu*), 7 p.m.

Saturday: Yankees (CC Sabathia*) at Dodgers (Tony Gonsolin), 1 p.m., FS1

Sunday: Yankees (Domingo German) at Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw*), 4 p.m., ESPN

* left-handed

And finally

1963 World Series Game 1, Dodgers vs. Yankees. Watch it here.

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me and follow me on Twitter: @latimeshouston. Subscribe to this newsletter by clicking here.


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