Umpires deal with Jeff Kent's wrath after every called third strike. Today, it's his Dodger teammates who feel it. After four straight losses in Colorado all but eliminated the Dodgers from playoff contention, second baseman Jeff Kent criticized the team's young players.
"I don't know what it is, especially when you have a lot" of young players, said Kent, whose double Thursday raised his average to .298 to go along with a team-high 20 home runs and 78 runs batted in. "It's hard to influence a big group. We've got some good kids on the team. Don't get me wrong, please don't misinterpret my impressions. [But] it's hard to translate experience.
"I don't know why they don't get it."
Asked what they don't get, Kent said: "A lot of things. Professionalism. How to manufacture a run. How to keep your emotions in it. There's just a lot of things that go on with playing 162 games.
"But I think experience can help more than inexperience. And it's hard to give a young kid experience."
Kent also made a few slightly slightly veiled critiques of manager Grady Little, and indicated that he might retire after this season instead of making $9 million.
It's an interesting take from Kent, considering that some view the youth movement has been the best thing about the 2007 Dodgers season. As Bill Plaschke wrote today:
Although they won't say it publicly, neither Kent nor Luis Gonzalez nor Nomar Garciaparra is thrilled that they have lost playing time to the kids, even though most of the kids were outplaying them.
It's true. The veteran players should take some blame for the Dodgers record. Garciaparra has been a major disappointment. Gonzalez has not hit well since the All-Star break. Juan Pierre is second in the majors in outs and is often criticized for his defense. Rafael Furcal has been playing hurt for much of the season and his numbers are below his career averages. Kent is a future Hall-of-Famer, and his offensive numbers continue to be strong, but he has limited range at second base.
In the meantime, Russell Martin, James Loney, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Chad Billingsley have played well for much of the season and helped keep the team in contention. Any look at the Dodger message boards will show fans bashing Little for not playing the kids enough. Still, if they are being unprofessional off-the-field, in their preparation, or elsewhere (as Kent suggests), then that needs to change. Young players do take time to learn certain things. But Kent probably should have let Little and Ned Colletti handle those issues internally instead of criticizing the kids in the media. I'm not sure if Kent has tried reaching out to the young players in any way. Maybe he has and he feels they haven't listened, so this is his recourse. It doesn't come across well though.
Meanwhile, across the Colorado River, the Arizona Diamondbacks have led the NL West for weeks, boasting a team that is much younger and less experienced than the Dodgers. In the middle of a pennant race, the Diamondbacks are regularly starting "kids" such as Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, Conor Jackson, Chris Young, Chris Snyder, Mark Reynolds, Carlos Quentin, and Micah Owings. While the D'Backs do have a relatively experienced pitching staff, the only real veteran in their offensive lineup right now is Eric Byrnes as Arizona has dealt with its own spate of injuries to Orlando Hudson, Chad Tracy, and Randy Johnson. They also made no major moves at the trade deadline. So while some blame the Dodgers struggles on youth and inexperience, the Diamondbacks are winning with it.
And what about Grady Little? Jon Weisman has an interesting column about the Dodgers manager on SI.com, breaking down some of his recent strategic decisions and lineup cards. Managers will always be criticized for tactical moves made when they have more information than the general public. But unfortunately for Little, he's still labeled as the guy who left Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Weisman writes:
If Grady Little hasn't worn out his welcome in Los Angeles yet, he has worn it down. Thanks to the development of sassily talented young players such as James Loney, Matt Kemp, Russell Martin and Chad Billingsley, there's plenty of hope for the Dodgers in 2008. But after a honeymoon in 2006 that saw Los Angeles reach the playoffs, there's also plenty of doubt as to whether Little is the right manager for the job.
The Dodgers will likely miss the playoffs, but they remain one of the most talented teams in the National League. It will be interesting see how they handle the fall-out from this year's disappointment.