Buster Olney: Los Angeles Dodgers

Andrew FriedmanKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsLongtime Rays GM Andrew Friedman was hired Tuesday to run the Dodgers' front office.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Andrew Friedman takes over as president of baseball operations for a Los Angeles Dodgers franchise that has a payroll three times larger than what he's worked with in the past, with an all-time great pitcher in Clayton Kershaw and a ton of talent in both the major leagues and the minors.

Here is Friedman's partial to-do list:

1. Work out a deal with his former team, the Tampa Bay Rays, and hire manager Joe Maddon

Dodgers officials made it clear Tuesday that Don Mattingly is their manager, with two years remaining on his contract. Maddon, who has one year left on his contract, is saying all the right things about not wanting to leave Tampa Bay. But what needs to happen next is for Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to sit down with Maddon -- like, today -- and ask him: Will you commit to the Rays with a long-term extension?

Can Andrew Friedman thrive in L.A.? 

October, 10, 2014
Oct 10
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Andrew FriedmanKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsAndrew Friedman is the independent film producer who must decide if his artistic qualities can survive at a big-budget studio.
Editor's note: Buster originally wrote this Friday, Oct. 10. It has been updated to reflect the Dodgers' hiring of Friedman on Tuesday.

L.A. has seen Andrew Friedman's story before. In the movies.

Friedman, the longtime general manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, is the equivalent of the indie film producer who has done masterpieces, the talk of Sundance, of Cannes, work that hardened reviewers love.

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Mattingly/CollettiStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesNed Colletti and Don Mattingly are under fire following the team's NLDS loss, but should they be?
As Bill Shaikin notes, the Dodgers now must decide what to do with general manager Ned Colletti and manager Don Mattingly. If the Dodgers' leadership is honest with itself, it will recognize the circumstances are a whole lot more complicated than whether Mattingly should've used Scott Elbert in Game 3, or if Colletti built an adequate bullpen.

The Dodgers were sold 2½ years ago and their club operation has been in hyper-drive since then, as the organization worked to do everything at once: rebuild the roster and the farm system, rebuild the organization's star power, restore the faith of a dormant fan base, rebuild interest and win.

For the most part, they've been successful in doing all of that. The franchise has been rebuilt as a power, they've filled Dodger Stadium, their farm system has improved dramatically and they've made the playoffs the past two seasons.

There are problems, unquestionably, and inefficiencies and waste along the way.

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10 crucial matchups in the ALCS, NLCS 

October, 8, 2014
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Jarrod Dyson and Caleb JosephGetty Images/USA Today SportsJarrod Dyson and his aggressive Royals are set to take on strong-armed catcher Caleb Joseph.
ST. LOUIS -- Ten key matchups in the AL and NL Championship Series that begin Friday and Saturday, respectively:

1. The Orioles vs. the Kansas City running game: This is like a steel-cage match within the main event. The Royals have run aggressively in the postseason, with 12 stolen bases in 13 attempts, including seven in their wild-card game against Oakland. Terrance Gore and Jarrod Dyson are setting new standards for brazenness.

But the Orioles are excellent at controlling the running game, and with the layoff before the start of the ALCS on Friday, you can bet O's manager Buck Showalter and his staff are preparing for the Royals' roadrunners. They already have some great countermeasures in place, such as:

Chris Tillman: Nobody steals against him because he delivers his pitches to the plate so quickly. Opponents have tried to steal 13 times on him over the past two years and have been successful twice. To repeat, that's two steals in 13 attempts.

Caleb Joseph: The catcher has a great arm, and during the season he threw out 23 of 57 baserunners.

Wei-Yin Chen: He has allowed just nine steals (in 13 tries) over the past two years.

The Royals' best chances may come against the Baltimore bullpen, using Gore and Dyson. Teams try to run on Darren O'Day because of his unconventional delivery (10 steals in 15 attempts over the past two seasons), and there have been only six attempts over the past two years against Andrew Miller (with four steals).

No team stole more bases than the Royals did during the regular season, while only seven teams allowed fewer steals than Baltimore.

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Victor Martinez and Russell MartinGetty ImagesFree agents-to-be Victor Martinez and Russell Martin should be in demand this offseason.
Lockers are being cleaned out these days, first in Oakland, then Pittsburgh, Detroit and Anaheim. Goodbyes are being said, perhaps temporarily or maybe for longer than that.

Victor Martinez's season is over, and maybe his time with the Tigers is finished as well. Russell Martin got a standing ovation in the last inning of the wild-card game last week as the Pirates' season waned to a close, and the fans chanted his name, but nobody knows if he'll be back.

Both will be highly coveted this winter, and with multiple suitors, and while the Tigers and Pirates are expected to pursue their respective veterans, the bidding could be extraordinary.

Martinez is coming off a season in which he was arguably the best pure hitter in the majors, batting .335 with 32 homers, 103 RBIs, 70 walks and 42 strikeouts. Nobody had a greater ratio of walks to strikeouts, and it wasn't even close. Martinez will turn 36 in December and will be viewed as a DH-only player by some teams, at a time when the industry generally is veering away from full-time DHs.

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Jordan ZimmermannPatrick Smith/Getty ImagesJordan Zimmermann was dominating the Giants, but was pulled with two outs in the ninth.
LOS ANGELES -- If there’s a common denominator in the first extraordinary week of the playoffs, it is this: There is no perfect time for a manager to pull his starting pitcher.

On one day, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was criticized for leaving Clayton Kershaw in the game too long, and the next day, he was questioned about perhaps pulling Zack Greinke too soon.

Ned Yost called for relief for James Shields after 88 pitches and would’ve never been forgiven by the Kansas City fan base if the Royals hadn’t come back to win their wild-card game against Oakland. On Saturday, Matt Williams may have unwittingly contributed to the list of longest games in history by removing Jordan Zimmermann after just 100 pitches and a stretch in which he retired 20 of 21 batters.

Generally, there are a few things are at play here

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Josh DonaldsonBob Stanton/USA TODAY SportsIf a teardown of the A's happens, Josh Donaldson is likely to go.
PITTSBURGH -- When you hear Ralph Branca tell the story of Bobby Thomson’s historic home run, he offers a full appreciation of that moment, but the hurt is still there. Dennis Eckersley bears the same tone when speaking of Kirk Gibson’s home run, that small ache about a swing that changed lives.

This is what lies before the Oakland Athletics, whose wild-card game loss to the Kansas City Royals Tuesday night was a microcosm of their season -- the great start, the enormous lead right in the middle, the collapse, the late revival, and then a finish that will forever haunt them.

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Bochy staying positive amid Giants slump 

September, 25, 2014
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San Francisco GiantsAP Photo/David TulisManager Bruce Bochy and the Giants have posted losing records in June, July and now September.
LOS ANGELES -- Hours before the Giants stepped in front of the pitching bulldozer otherwise known as Clayton Kershaw on Wednesday evening, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy had a quandary: What should be done if his team were to lose yet still have a chance to celebrate?

At that moment, it was possible that for only the second time in baseball history, the winning and losing team in the same game would clinch. If the Brewers lost Wednesday and the Dodgers beat the Giants for the NL West title, San Francisco would still have wrapped up a playoff spot. Given Kershaw's lifetime 1.44 ERA against the Giants, this scenario obviously was very possible.

Bochy had watched a lot of this same group of players win the World Series in 2010 and 2012, and on one hand, the notion of donning goggles and spraying champagne right after a loss to the Dodgers might've seemed odd, and maybe a little beneath them.

But Bochy had also seen this group of players journey through a long and difficult season, recovering after the All-Star break after squandering a huge lead in June, playing through injuries to Angel Pagan and Mike Morse. When the season ends, 20 teams will go home, and if the Giants had earned the right to go to the playoffs, Bochy decided, this was something worth celebrating. No matter whether the Giants won or lost Wednesday, they had earned the right to feel good about themselves given the work they had put in over the long spring training and the six-month season.

So win or lose Wednesday, Bochy had given the go-ahead for the champagne to be sprayed in the modest visitors' clubhouse, and why not, given the circumstances? The Giants are limping toward the playoffs, after a lost weekend in San Diego, after learning that Pagan will miss the rest of the season. A celebration might've reminded this group of players just how far they've come, and what's possible moving forward.

In the end, Bochy's deliberations didn't matter. The Brewers won, staying alive in the race, so the only way the Giants would have doused each other Wednesday night would happen if they beat Kershaw, which, even in May, might've earned them a parade, given his dominance. But it was not to be: Kershaw held the Giants to a run over eight innings, lowering his ERA to 1.77, increasing his strikeouts to a staggering 239, improving his final record to 21-3, and he mashed the first triple of his career.

After Tim Hudson departed, the Giants utterly collapsed into a morass of walks and defensive mistakes, and the bottom of the eighth inning lasted more than a half-hour, with a sold-out Dodger Stadium crowd preparing to celebrate.

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Stats versus strengths for Kershaw 

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
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Los Angeles DodgersAP Photo/Mark J. TerrillA.J. Ellis, left, and Clayton Kershaw have forged an excellent working relationship.
Guest bloggers are stepping in for Buster Olney this week to write the lead item, while Buster still has his news and notes below that. Today's guest blogger is Los Angeles Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis.

Almost exactly two hours before he takes the mound every fifth day, Clayton Kershaw lays out the precise game plan he intends to use for each hitter in the opposing starting lineup.

Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and I sit on each side of a training room table as Kersh runs through the batters. Honey and I always come to those meetings armed with information on the tendencies of our opponents: We not only look at what they have done against left-handed pitchers both recently and historically, but how they’ve approached at-bats against our ace specifically.

To fully prepare for his start, Kersh studies the scouting reports we print out prior to each series, and then he goes back and finds the two pitchers most similar to himself, such as Madison Bumgarner and Cole Hamels, and watches their starts versus the given opponent in their entirety. Although Honey and I have done the work and are prepared, Kersh leads the meeting. We try to help by offering up small tidbits on a particular hitter’s strengths and weaknesses, and by filling him in on any personal history that stands out. Kershaw’s tone is always serious. He keeps the conversation brisk. It’s now my job to remember his plan of attack and call pitches accordingly.

In the three years I have been humbled to catch Kersh, I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut and not offer up information that goes against his typical arsenal of pitches. Even though the stats may lead me in a different direction, we are both keenly aware that his strengths are what separate him from the rest. Except for when we forget.

Interleague play usually takes away the most valuable tool of setting any game plan: data on head-to-head matchups. In the recent Freeway Series with the Angels, Kersh and I both fell victim to this trap. Kershaw hadn’t faced the Angels since 2011, and had a limited history with the majority of the Halos. It’s no secret across baseball that Kersh loves to pound right-handed hitters inside. His combination of angle, deception and command make it extremely hard to square up an executed fastball on the inside corner.

The trouble is the Angels have a bunch of great hitters who feast on pitches on the inner half. So in our pregame meeting, we decided to scrap Kersh’s strength and try to work the outer half of the plate toward those hitters' statistical weaknesses. Three innings and three earned runs later, we both realized we compromised our typical game plan in favor of the numbers our computer spewed out regarding hitters' results versus left-handed pitchers who probably do not own two Cy Young Awards or pitch with the will and ferocity Kersh does.

Realizing the error of our ways, we went back to what Kersh does well, and he cruised the rest of the way. After giving up seven hits and striking out just one batter in his first three innings because of our dumb game plan, Kersh allowed no hits and struck out six in his final four frames. Lesson learned.

As a catcher who loves the cerebral side of this great game, I enjoy the patchwork process of preparing a series for each pitcher on his start date. Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus set the example in his two years as a catcher with the Dodgers for exactly what I need to do. To avoid information overload, Brad taught me to run through this checklist:

1. How aggressive is the hitter on the first pitch?
2. Does that change with runners in scoring position?
3. Where exactly does the hitter do his damage?
4. On what types of pitches?
5. In or away?
6. Ahead in the count only?
7. What are the hitter's two-strike chase zones on both fastballs and off-speed pitches?

[+] EnlargeZack Greinke
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images"He's a brilliant encyclopedia of information, and he's always looking for more research to gain an advantage," A.J. Ellis says of Zack Greinke.
Whereas we've learned that Kershaw needs to stick with his strengths and do what he does best regardless of the situation, this is a checklist that intrigues Zack Greinke. He’s a brilliant encyclopedia of information, and he’s always looking for more research to gain an advantage. He especially wants to know, and hopefully avoid, the specific areas where each hitter’s power is located. Zack is the most inquisitive student of the game I've ever met, and he breaks down video as well as anyone I've caught.

Zack studies the two-strike chase zone numbers intently. With the arsenal of pitches at his disposal combined with his ability to locate, he relentlessly attacks these zones with two strikes.

All of this information is vital to Honey and I as we try to determine a way to get major league hitters out. I mention Honey again because I must admit that I'm unable to memorize all of these figures as the game and series progress, so I rely on him to give me his notes mid-game. His help is invaluable.

But at the end of the day the question ultimately comes to this, as it did with Kersh versus the Angels: Am I going to rely on a set of numbers, or on my pitcher's strengths? Just because a hitter can do damage against a left-hander's slider in general doesn't mean I'm not calling Kersh's slider. If a hitter has great numbers against split-fingered fastballs, I am still going to work in Dan Haren's split. I've learned there has to be a marriage of stats and strengths. I try to find that balance every time I throw a sign down.

As the game progresses and relief pitchers trot in, the focus always seems to trend toward strengths. Most relievers don’t offer up a big variety of options in their repertoire, but they make it up for it with the velocity and movement of the pitches that they do throw. These last few crucial innings of a game usually turn into a battle of my best against your best. We don’t overthink it. Even if the best fastball hitter in the game is in the box with the game on the line. I’m still going to call for Kenley Jansen to throw his invisible fastball right by him. Those moments are what makes baseball so great.

The caveat in all of this is how fortunate I am to be on the receiving end of this incredible pitching staff. All of my starters have the ability to be creative and adapt from start to start. They can all locate multiple pitches, which affords me the ability to match up their strengths with the stats. Their strengths also change and can be adjusted as a particular game goes on. This speaks to the athleticism and pitch-making ability these starters have.

The relief corps is a collection of seasoned veterans who have each battled through every possible scenario. They each possess put-away weapons for all types of hitters. But when it comes down to it, and the bases are loaded with two out and it’s time to make a pitch, be assured the batting averages, slugging percentage and hard-hit stat rates are all pushed aside, as my teammate on the mound shuts out all the noise and sticks with his strength.


And now we return to Buster's regularly scheduled news and notes …

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MattinglyRichard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsDon Mattingly worked some magic in the second half of 2013; looks like he'll have to do so again in '14.
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has seen this star-driven strategy play out before, back in the 1980s with the New York Yankees. His boss, George Steinbrenner, would collect a bunch of big names on a roster without thorough consideration on whether they could all fit, and then expect his manager to stitch it together.

This is how, in 1988, they wound up with 33-year-old Claudell Washington playing center field, flanked by Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson, with Jack Clark serving as the DH. Rafael Santana was at shortstop, and a young outfielder named Jay Buhner was swapped in a deal for 33-year-old Ken Phelps. The veterans were all good players -- Winfield and Henderson were future Hall of Famers -- but there wasn't a true center fielder, and they really weren't a good match, as their defensive abilities were merely a secondary consideration. The Yankees went 85-76 and finished fifth in the AL East.

Mattingly's current Dodgers team should be better than that because they have much better pitching, with Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Josh Beckett, etc., etc. They also have one of the best young players in the sport in the ever-improving Yasiel Puig.

But they don't fit.

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Yasiel PuigAP Photo/Julie JacobsonEarly results have shown that Yasiel Puig (right) has turned into a better teammate, player in 2014.
LOS ANGELES -- Matt Kemp's mood is measured here daily, like the smog index, and Hanley Ramirez's future is unclear, whether he'll be a shortstop, or even a Dodger. The team's defense is a roll of the dice day to day, and so is the bullpen.

It says something about how far Yasiel Puig has come in his development that as June begins, he has become the model of stability within this organization. Every day, he arrives and asks questions, and every day, he seems to get better and better, steadily eroding the mountain of mistakes that he used to make.

"If you see him play every day," said Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, "he's gone up a notch. We needed him to be a little more refined, to make an adjustment."

He's done that. Which is what all the other Dodgers wanted from him: to stop making the same mistakes over and over and over.

Oh sure, it's very possible that when you watch the Dodgers play the Pittsburgh Pirates on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 ET on ESPN and WatchESPN), Puig could make a baserunning mistake, and yes, he could overthrow a cut-off man. But it is apparent to the other players on the team that Puig, who moved at hyperdrive speed in everything when he arrived, is slowing the game down.

Puig's plate discipline has improved dramatically, as shown by the numbers from FanGraphs. The percentage of pitches outside the strike zone at which he has swung has plummeted from 38.9 percent in 2013 to 27.8 percent this season. The percentage of pitches inside the zone at which he has swung has dropped from 79.6 percent to 71.2 percent, which speaks to his selectivity. Overall, he has swung at 45.4 percent of pitches, after swinging at 54.4 percent last year.

Last season, Puig racked up 97 strikeouts and 36 walks. This year, that ratio has changed significantly: He's got 43 strikeouts and 26 walks, and he's on track to accumulate 74 walks this season, which is pretty remarkable for such an aggressive player in his first full season. He's hitting .340, and is on track for 80 extra-base hits.

The other Dodgers say he is much more open to suggestions, to constructive criticism, than he was when he first arrived.

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DodgersStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesHanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig serve as spark plugs for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
LOS ANGELES -- Hanley Ramirez attends the meetings that the Dodgers hold for the hitters at the outset of every series to go over scouting reports, but he does this to be respectful and polite of the process and not because he actually gleans information. He does not study video, either.

“None,” he said Saturday as he waited his turn in batting practice.

He does not care to know the identity of the opponent's starting pitcher, Ramirez said, until he is preparing for his first at-bat -- and even then, as he watches the pitcher throw to the first batters of the game, what Ramirez only wants to know is how hard the pitcher is throwing, and how much his fastball moves.

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Clayton Kershaw's uncertain timeline 

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
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Clayton KershawAP Photo/Gregory BullClayton Kershaw is maintaining a pitching routine, but he may not be starting for a while.
SAN DIEGO -- Clayton Kershaw wants to maintain the five-day regimen that has defined his professional life, and Sunday was the day he was supposed to take the mound, stare toward home plate and cut up the strike zone with his slider and curveball and fastball.

But he can’t really throw the way he needs to, can’t really cut loose, because of a problem with the teres major muscle in his back. So Kershaw -- who was placed on the disabled list Saturday -- decided to simulate the physical exertion required in a start. Early in the afternoon, he ran sprints across left field in Petco Park, one after another, 25 in all; he held a stopwatch, to aid in the timing of his work.

But by 1 p.m. -- four hours before the scheduled first pitch -- a lot of the heavy lifting of his day was over. All he can do is work and heal and wait and root for his teammates, because he cannot pitch right now and there is much uncertainty about when he will pitch again.

"Whatever it is, we're going to take the time to get it right," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.

Andrew Cashner, who started against the Dodgers on Sunday night, suffered an injury similar to Kershaw's two years ago and missed two months. Jurickson Profar, the Rangers second baseman, also has been dealing with the same sort of problem that ails Kershaw, and he will miss a lot of the first half of this season.

Those timelines don’t necessarily apply to Kershaw, but

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What could derail the Dodgers? 

March, 30, 2014
Mar 30
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A.J. Ellis, Adrian Gonzalez, Kenley Jansen, Juan UribeAP Photo/Rick RycroftEleven of ESPN's MLB experts have picked the Dodgers to win the World Series.
SAN DIEGO -- The votes are in, and the Los Angeles Dodgers were picked by more folks at ESPN than any other team to win the World Series; 38 of the 44 ESPN experts who cast ballots chose the Dodgers to win the NL West. Las Vegas is picking them as well, by a solid margin.

Those facts are understandable. When you attend a Dodgers workout, it’s like watching batting practice the day before the All-Star Game, with big names all over the place. Heck, even their coaches -- Don Mattingly, Davey Lopes, Mark McGwire, John Valentin, Tim Wallach and Rick Honeycutt -- are former stars.

The Dodgers have baseball’s highest payroll, and so for the first time in 15 years, some team other than the New York Yankees will have that title. The Yankees can testify to the Dodgers that this is the blessing and the curse of having a high payroll, and L.A.’s payroll dwarfs that of its division rivals:

Los Angeles: $235 million
San Francisco: $154 million
Arizona: $112 million
Colorado: $95 million
San Diego: $90 million

The Diamondbacks and Padres stretched their payrolls this year in their effort to break into the postseason, and yet both teams will spend less than half of what the Dodgers will spend. And presumably, the Dodgers will have more room for in-season growth in deals than any of the other NL West teams.

I voted with the majority: I picked the Dodgers to win the NL West because their talent reflects their payroll; they are absolutely stacked. Their pitching staff is the deepest in the National League, with a bunch of former closers serving as setup men for Kenley Jansen at top dollar. As soon as Matt Kemp returns, Mattingly will have to decide which of his four star outfielders he will have to bench out of Yasiel Puig, Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford.

But let’s try to imagine the plausible scenarios in which the Dodgers don't win the NL West.

1. Hanley Ramirez and/or Clayton Kershaw are greatly limited by injury

Kershaw will start the season on the disabled list, but the Dodgers don’t believe his injury is serious. Ramirez is healthy, which is a good thing, because the Dodgers are much less of a team when he’s not on the field, as we saw last season. As he’s gotten older and has missed a lot of games:

Games missed by Hanley Ramirez
2010: 20
2011: 70
2012: 5
2013: 76

The Dodgers could lose any of their four outfielders and they would probably be fine, given their depth at that position. They have good defensive catchers behind A.J. Ellis. They would miss Adrian Gonzalez, but have some alternatives.

But if Ramirez goes down, it’s a huge problem for the Dodgers, who are thin in middle infielders. If Kershaw goes down, well, it'd be like the 1962 to '66 Dodgers losing Sandy Koufax.

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Yasiel Puig issues are no myth 

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
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Yasiel PuigBrendon Thorne/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesYasiel Puig is undeniably gifted, but the Dodgers have had internal concerns.
We aim to dispel a handful of myths today. Let's get to it.

Myth No. 1: Controversy swirls around Yasiel Puig because a stodgy media picks on him.

The reality: Controversy swirls around Puig because the media's coverage of him reflects the internal view of a whole lot of folks in the Dodgers organization, and that view is that the right fielder makes too many mistakes.

The team loves his energy, loves his talent and -- at the same time -- there is a growing exasperation among some teammates and members of the front office and staff that he makes the same mistakes over and over again, whether it be in his punctuality or with baserunning. No one is out to get him; no one is trying to repress him; no one is trying to make him look bad. They just want him to take care of business.

As Ramona Shelburne writes, Don Mattingly held a team meeting Tuesday to clear the air with Puig, to wipe the slate clean. Mattingly wouldn't do this if he only thought that a couple of sports writers were being unfair.

And while Mattingly retreated from his comments made in Australia in the past couple of days, it's worth remembering that he played his entire career in New York and dealt with the media a whole lot. He understands how to get a message across through reporters. He made his concerns known with sarcasm -- which, again, reflect the concerns of a whole lot of other folks with the Dodgers who aren't going on the record. In the past week, Mattingly has played both the good cop and bad cop roles, perhaps because some of his players (particularly those who speak only English) aren't comfortable telling Puig directly how they feel. This is what the team meeting was for -- to create an open forum. It's a great sign that Puig welcomed the feedback in the way he did.

If he makes the changes some of his teammates want him to make, they'll respect him like crazy for that. If he doesn't, the exasperation will grow.

Myth No. 2: The players' association has been forced into concessions to make the drug-testing penalties tougher.

The reality: The union

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