By Don Wanlass
One of the great things about baseball is that during a long, 162-game season it is interesting to observe the ups and downs a player — and a team, for that matter — can go through.
The season hasn’t been much of a roller-coaster ride for the Dodgers. They started 13-7 in April, hit a bump in the road in June (14-12) and have been coasting downhill ever since (38-9 in July and August so far).
The season couldn’t have gone any different for two members of the Dodgers: pitcher Walker Buehler and outfielder Trayce Thompson.
At 28, Buehler was the Dodgers’ opening-day starter. The Dodgers’ No. 1 draft pick out of Vanderbilt in 2015, he had inherited the role of ace of the rotation from Clayton Kershaw after going 16-4 last year and finishing fourth in voting for the National League Cy Young Award.
He won that opening-day start against Colorado and was 6-3 when he went on the injured list in late June with an injured elbow. At the time, the Dodgers announced that Buehler should return for the September stretch run and be more than ready to go when the playoffs began in October.
On Aug. 23 we got the news that Buehler had undergone Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career and would not only miss the rest of the 2022 season, but probably all of the 2023 season as well.
The Dodgers’ starting rotation, one of the strengths of this team all season, just got a lot weaker and Buehler’s 2022 season is history.
Then there is Trayce Thompson’s 2022 season. He went to spring training with the San Diego Padres, but after starting the season 1-for-14 with seven strikeouts, he got sent to El Paso in the Pacific Coast League.
In 16 games there he hit .316 with 9 home runs and 17 runs batted in, enough to catch the attention of the Detroit Tigers, who relocated him to Toledo, Ohio, in the International League, where he hit .299 with 7 home runs in 25 games.
That wasn’t good enough to get him called up to the Tigers, who, at 47-77, are in last place in the American League Central Division, probably the weakest division in all of baseball.
So in June, when Mookie Betts went on the injured list with a broken rib and after reserve outfielder Kevin Pillar broke his shoulder, the Dodgers reacquired Thompson from the Tigers for cash considerations.
At the time, there was no guarantee that Thompson would have a roster spot when Betts got healthy.
But now, two months later, Thompson is an essential part of the roster, starting in the outfield against left-handed pitchers and even getting an occasional start again right-handers. He has shined at the plate and in the field.
He again had the key hit Aug. 23 in the Dodgers 10-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers and last year’s Cy Young Award winner, Corbin Burnes.
With the Dodgers leading 1-0 with two outs and two on base in the second inning, Thompson took Burnes deep for a three-run home run, his sixth of the season and the Dodgers were on their way to their 85th win of the season.
Thompson showed potential his first go-around with the Dodgers back in 2016 when he hit 13 home runs in 80 games. But he injured his back the next season, spent most of the year in Oklahoma City and was released in spring training in 2018.
Since then, he bounced around to the Oakland A’s, the Chicago White Sox (who drafted him originally in 2009) and the Chicago Cubs, while also spending time with minor league clubs in the Arizona and Cleveland organizations.
The son of former NBA center Mychal Thompson and the brother of Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson, Trayce went to high school in Orange County and is obviously comfortable playing in Southern California for the Dodgers.
Baseball being baseball, Thompson isn’t sure where he will be playing next year. He provides great organizational depth for the Dodgers, which has always been one of the team’s strong points under team President Andrew Friedman.
But Thompson could be persuaded to seek greener (as in richer) pastures next season, after proving his value to a team that figures to be playing deep in the playoffs.
It could be another roller coaster ride for him next season, too.
ROTATION FLIP-FLOP: While Buehler is gone for the season, the Dodgers did add another vital part to the rotation Aug. 20 when Dustin May returned from his own Tommy John surgery to throw five solid innings against the Miami Marlins.
May struck out nine and walked two while throwing 71 pitches. He pitched out of a first-inning jam and retired the last 13 batters he faced.
The Dodgers will need a healthy May if they are going to make a run for another World Series. He might have pitched out of the bullpen in the playoffs, if Buehler had been able to return to the rotation, but now May will be needed along with Julio Urias, Tony Gonsolin, Tyler Anderson and (hopefully) a healthy Clayton Kershaw.
That leaves Andrew Heaney the odd man out come playoff time. Heaney has pitched well when healthy this season, but I don’t see him making any starts in the post-season, unless someone else in the rotation goes down between now and October.
SO LONG, ARTE: The news broke Aug. 23 that Arte Moreno is considering selling the Los Angeles Angels after 19 years of chasing another World Series for his Anaheim-based team.
Unfortunately, when you have owned a team for 19 years and the best thing you are remembered for is lowering the beer prices when you first took over, you haven’t accomplished much.
You can’t say that Moreno hasn’t spent money. He has thrown a lot of it around in 19 years. But most of his big-name signings haven’t panned out. Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols and Anthony Rendon are just three examples.
Moreno also has done a poor job of overseeing the front office. There is no way he should have let manager Mike Scioscia get away after the 2018 season.
Scioscia won a World Series title and made the playoffs lots of time when he had competent general managers building the roster.
But after Bill Stoneman stepped away in 2007, the Angels started going downhill.
They seemed to have righted the ship earlier this season under manager Joe Maddon, but Moreno let general manager Perry Minasian fire Maddon in June after the Angels lost 13 games in a row and the Angels were done for the year.
Moreno has made a lot of money owning the Angels. He paid Disney $185 million to purchase the team in 2003, less than a year after the Angels won their only World Series title.
The team could sell for as much as $3 billion, giving Moreno a huge return on his investment.
But if he bought the team to win championships rather than make money, his ownership will have been a failure. Even with two of the best players in baseball — Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani — the Angels can’t even make it to the post-season, let alone win a playoff series.
And that will be Moreno’s legacy as an owner.