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BILL PLASCHKE

Dodgers, Angels make risky bets

Both decide not to part with the prospects necessary to pick up a top-flight pitcher who would improve their chances of postseason success.

August 01, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

For several years we have heard the local nines celebrate the virtues of kids so homegrown and homespun, you would have thought they came up from triple-A Farmers Market.

Well, stash the nostalgia and stifle the sentiment.

As for today, those kids have become chips in a World-Series-size gamble.

The first-place Dodgers and Angels are betting a championship on them.

The trading deadline flew past the locals Friday without either team picking up the starting pitching piece that many think could have carried them deep into October.

The Dodgers were in on talks for Cleveland ace Cliff Lee but backed off when the price became too high.

Lee now pitches for the Philadelphia Phillies, who, in sending out four prospects, found the price just right.

Guess who could be facing the Dodgers twice in the playoffs? Um, yeah, that guy.

"If you don't trust your own scouts and development people, the whole system is screwed up," said Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti.

The Angels, meanwhile, were in on talks for Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay but also backed off at the last minute when, again, the price was too high.

The Detroit Tigers, however, moved forward in acquiring Seattle's Jarrod Washburn, and the Chicago White Sox were downright giddy in picking up San Diego's Jake Peavy, both deals costing a total of six prospects.

Yes, either guy could be staring down the Angels in October.

"We're confident in the players we have. . . . There is a value in the guys we have," said Angels General Manager Tony Reagins.

Both teams have done this before, refusing to imitate the big-market swagger of the New York Yankees, shunning the win-it-now attitude of the Boston Red Sox, preferring to trust stopwatches instead of wallets.

It suits local fans who feel as if they are growing up with the kids. It suits local bankers by keeping their payrolls manageable.

Problem is, it doesn't do much for the local ring industry.

In the last 21 years, the Dodgers and Angels have combined to win only one championship.

During that same time, the Yankees and Red Sox have combined to win six championships.

The locals have taken this gamble and lost before, but perhaps never have the stakes been so high.

The Dodgers are betting with the expiring bat of Manny Ramirez, the aging interest of Joe Torre, and a restless fan base that knows the time for a long-awaited title is now.

The Angels are betting against the perception that their renowned system is not built for the postseason, with only five wins in 20 playoff games since the 2002 World Series championship.

Both teams obviously agreed that they needed one more starting pitcher. Now both will have to win with the players they protected in failing to acquire that pitcher.

And although both are seemingly playoff-bound in first place -- they're a combined 46 games over .500 -- it's not going to be easy.

"We'll continue to fight through whatever they can fight through," Colletti said.

The Dodgers will fight through with a starting pitching tandem of Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw, both of whom have postseason talent but lack postseason pedigree.

When asked if his team had enough starting pitching, Colletti was chillingly honest, saying, "I guess we're going to find out."

Billingsley has given up 22 runs in his last 26 1/3 innings and was rocked in two NL Championship Series starts last October.

Kershaw, still only 21, has given up only three earned runs in his last 38 innings, but his next playoff start will be his first.

Both will be helped by George Sherrill, the former All-Star late-innings reliever acquired from the Baltimore Orioles. But both will have to carry the biggest postseason load.

"All season long, everyone has said we don't have a No. 1 starter, we don't even have a No. 2 starter, but we're still winning a lot of games," Colletti said.

Billingsley was one player the Dodgers could have traded without much uproar but didn't. Another is catcher Russell Martin. Another is first baseman James Loney.

Colletti stuck with them. He will now have to win with them. "We'll take our chances," he said.

The Angels, meanwhile, will go with starters John Lackey and, well, who knows? The next three starters -- Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana -- had respective July ERAs of 6.88, 8.00 and 7.16.

Even if Reagins couldn't have procured Halladay, would it have cost so much to bolster the bullpen with a much-needed reliever? Like San Diego's Heath Bell, or Joe Beimel, now of the Colorado Rockies, or new Chicago Cub John Grabow?

The Angels won that last World Series championship on the strength of a bullpen, remember? This year's version is not even in the same league, with untested Kevin Jepsen and Jason Bulger set for big October roles whether they are ready or not.

In refusing to offer enough to make a deal, the Angels protected the likes of Weaver, Saunders, Erick Aybar, Brandon Wood and top pitching prospect Trevor Reckling.

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