Despite Game 4 blunder, Wade is still valuable relief
The promise of World Series glory for the Dodgers has likely faded into another October nightmare after Games 4 and 5 of the NLCS this week.
You can put the blame on Joe Torre for his decision to switch out Hong Chi-Kuo for Cory Wade, who promptly gave up the tying two-run home run, or for his line-up changes – sitting down James Loney for Nomar Garciaparra.
You can blame the Dodger bats for suddenly getting silent or you can spew hate at the Phillies for having more clutch hitters.
Either way, it’s time to focus on next year and there is plenty of potential to go around and despite their struggles, the pitching staff has promise.
Despite his first postseason blunder, Wade is still a vital part of the Dodgers’ future as one of its solid relievers
Last year at this time, the 25-year-old rookie had just finished his first season with the Dodgers’ double-A-affiliate Jacksonville Suns after being promoted from single A-ball in July 2007.
In his first season, he has displayed excellent control – 15 walks in 71.3 innings – and made few mistakes during the final stretch of the year
In September, that crucial month that turned around the Dodgers’ season, he was credited with seven holds against only one blown save – a game the team later won.
Prior to Game 4, he has given up only one run in five appearances this postseason with no walks, proving himself a steady bridge to hard-throwing closer Jonathan Broxton.
One hallmark of manager Joe Torre’s Yankee teams was its solid middle relief whether it was Mariano Rivera in 1996 or Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton during its World Series runs from 1998-2000.
It’s a positive sign, then, that Torre has leaned on the rookie in those crucial seventh and eighth innings, because Wade is the most valuable arm once the starters give way in the late innings.
The most underrated surprise of the staff might be rookie James McDonald, a September call-up who only appeared in four games after going 7-4 in Jacksonville and triple-A Las Vegas but had a postseason debut was one to remember.
Although the Dodgers fell short in Game 2, it was his effort that inspired the team to get back in the game. The 23-year-old rookie threw 3.1 scoreless innings of relief in with five strikeouts, including his first hitter, Pat Burrell, with the bases loaded.
Not bad, considering he was a longshot to make the postseason roster but earned the team’s final slot.
But McDonald’s early success isn’t a surprise when you consider his athletic roots. His father, James McDonald Sr., was a multi-sport star at Long Beach Poly and later football with USC and the L.A. Rams. One uncle, Ben McDonald, had a brief NBA career while another, Donzell McDonald, spent time in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor league system.
James Jr. would follow in his father’s footsteps by playing basketball at Poly, winning a Southern Section title his senior year in 2002, but he was drafted by the Dodgers that summer in the 11th round despite pitching only the year before.
McDonald spent time in the outfield from 2004 and most of 2005 before returning to the mound. Last season saw his earn his greatest success so far, earning a spot on Baseball America’s Minor League All-Star First Team
Like Wade, the 6-foot-5 right-hander earned praise for his control – allowing one walk in that Game 2 appearance – and his curveball was rated as the best in the team’s system last year.
There is a good chance McDonald may get sent back to the minors after training camp next spring, but you can bet he won’t be there for long because with the steely resolve of a veteran, he can compete as a fifth starter in the rotation.
Just like in the mid-1990’s, the Dodgers are armed with promising young talent in the batting lineup and the pitching staff and although they fell short in this postseason trip, there is plenty to build upon once spring training