General managers never fire themselves. When a team doesn’t hit, the hitting coach is likely to be replaced. When the pitching falls apart, the pitching coach may find himself on the chopping block. When an entire team fails to gel, for whatever reason it might be, it’s usually the manager who needs to find a winning streak fast.
With each win he buys himself a little breathing room, and with each loss he knows he’s digging his grave a little bit deeper. For Mike Scioscia of the Angels it’s time to breath a little easier. The team just won eight in a row and everything suddenly is looking up. Over his tenure he also earned a bit of leeway, so he might have survived the struggles of Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Jered Weaver and Joe Blanton.
His National League LA counterpart, Don Mattingly, might not be so lucky. He’s early in his managerial career, owns no championships in that time and was blessed with a roster that every manager in baseball envied going into the season. Yet Mattingly’s Dodgers are vying with the likes of the Cubs, Mets and Marlins for the title of worst team in the NL. They’ve certainly got the most disappointing title nailed down so far.
But the Dodgers have plenty of time to turn things around. The return of Zack Greinke and Hanley Ramirez should help on two fronts, and Mattingly can’t really be held accountable for the struggles of Matt Kemp, and the lack of power that Adrian Gonzalez has had thus far into the season. Or can he?
General manager Ned Colletti isn’t going to fire himself if this team fails to come together. And it’s not the hitting instructor who’s gone wrong with Gonzalez, who's leading the team in batting average, but the power simply hasn’t been there. Maybe that’s age and the inevitable decline that starts after age 30. And Kemp has just struggled across the board and he’s the franchise player in LA.
So when ownership isn’t happy and the pressure to make changes starts coming down on Colletti he’s got to look for someone to blame and the guy most likely to take the fall is Mattingly -- the guy who’s benched one of the high priced stars, Andre Eithier, who the Dodgers owe $85 million, and recently double switched out Kemp. He’s also just about called out Colletti, over the the assembled team and level of talent. Certainly that’s baiting the shark, but why not? Mattingly has little to lose.
Some of the media are virtually chomping at the bit waiting for the ax to fall, others are actively calling for his head. While most don’t fully see the Dodgers woes as his fault, Mattingly is feeling the pressure from every spoken and written word that incites more and more negative public opinion.
He’s probably got a little bit of rope, but a little bit only. The injuries to Hanley, Greinke, and Chad Billingsley, not to mention those to the supporting cast, certainly have bought him a bit more time. Upper management could of course throw batting coach Mark McGwire to the wolves and blame him for the team’s offensive woes instead of Mattingly. But McGwire is no more to blame for the fact that too many of the team’s hitters just haven’t been healthy than Mattingly is.
As of Monday the Dodgers are just seven games back. They could erase that deficit in just a week or two of solid baseball. Right now that might be the biggest factor saving Mattingly’s job. If the team continues to slip and that deficit reaches double digits you’d have to think that change won’t be far off.
What Mattingly needs right now is a winning streak. After all, even though he didn’t pick the players on the team, Colletti isn’t going to fire himself.