Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Joe Blanton for NLDS MVP

Danville, Kentucky -- Folks, I've always resented the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Brooklyn Dodgers were a classic team. They gave us Ebbets Field, and iconic players like Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, and Sandy Koufax. The Brooklyn Dodgers were like a '57 Thunderbird: effortlessly elegant, classy, timeless, yet understated. Most importantly, the team's fans were great, salt of the Earth people: heavily-accented, hard-nosed, unpretentious.

The Dodgers franchise has been irreversibly altered for the worse by relocating to the Hollywood hills in Los Angeles, the land of Jack Nicholson and the Kardashians. California sports teams are universally over-hyped and overpaid, earning far more media attention than they actually merit. When most people think of Californian athletes, they think of over-rated softies like Mike Trout or Steph Curry.

Yet, the 2016 Dodgers are a break from this unfortunate trend. This iteration of the Dodgers is notable not for its superstars, but for its role-players. I've already profiled Rich Hill -- the team's unheralded ace -- here. Old Richard Hill will be toeing the rubber for the Trolley Dodgers in the pivotal win-or-go-home NLDS Game 5 in D.C. against the Washington Nationals. Rich Hill may not have Kobe Bryant's superstar status, but he's got more than enough dark-horse spirit for one city.

The NLDS is currently knotted at two games a piece. The winner of Thursday's match-up between Rich Hill and Max Scherzer will advance to NLCS to face that team of destiny from the North Side of Chicago. Thus far, the heroes of the Dodgers post-season have caught the sabermetric world by surprise. Clayton Kershaw has continued to stumble in the postseason, allowing 8 earned runs in 11.2 innings so far in the playoffs. Former phenom Yasiel Puig hasn't done much. NL Rookie of the Year front-runner Corey Seager has been a non-factor outside of a few 1st inning knocks.

The Dodgers are not on the precipice of advancing to the NLCS because of the usual star-powered suspects. The Dodgers are, in my opinion, likely to advance to the NLCS because of two unsung heroes: Chase Utley and Joe Blanton. That's right folks: the best hope for the 2016 Dodgers is the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies.

The 2008 Phillies were a blue-collar team, unlike the business-casual/formal attire ethos of Los Angeles. Los Angeles is a city of Thai-fusion and deconstructed molecular gastronomy dishes. Philadelphia is a city where humble folks eat cheese-steaks out of tin pails on their lunch break.

You won't find this in LA, folks
Fortunately for the Dodgers, Utley and Blanton have brought a fierce sense of urgency to a Dodgers team that stands on the brink of October glory, but that also stands on the brink of elimination. Blanton, in particular, has all but single-handedly saved the Dodgers' bacon. He's the grittiest guy to come out of Pennsylvania since "middle-class Joe" Biden, and a key reason the Dodgers have been able to withstand the loss of clubhouse stalwart A.J. Ellis.

In total, Joe Blanton has pitched 3.2 scoreless innings so far in the NLDS. But his 0.00 post-season ERA doesn't tell the whole story: he's entered the game in crucial moments and kept the Nationals off the board. In Game 3, Blanton entered the game with the bases loaded, immediately after the shaky Dodgers bullpen blew a 5-2 lead. The game was knotted at 5-5. Allowing a run could mean watching Swaggy P sink meaningless buckets in Lakers' preseason games for the rest of October.

Blanton did not give in. He quietly recorded an out to escape the bases-loaded jam and then recorded 3 more outs for good measure, bridging the gap to LA's lock-down closer, Kenley Jansen. Blanton saved the Dodgers' season from spiraling out of control and notched a post-season W for his heroic effort. How did he get it done? Pinpoint command and a slippery slider nastier than Chinese food you forgot about and left in your car for a few days.

Blanton is the definition of a Most Valuable Player: without him, the Dodgers likely blow the lead in Game 1 and fail to rally in Game 3. Blanton's maestro relief-pitching efforts are the common thread running through the Dodgers' two victories in the NLDS so far. If they win the make-or-break Game 5 this Thursday, you can bet Blanton's sweaty fingerprints will be all over it.

Joe Blanton, the Dodgers' relief ace, likely won't receive much consideration for NLDS MVP, but he deserves it. Unfortunately they don't even give out an MVP award for the NLDS, folks. They should make one, and give it to Blanton.

Blanton isn't a man suited to the bright lights and flashing cameras. Being overlooked is nothing new to Mr. Blanton. He retired from baseball in 2014, turning his back on the game after ascending to its pinnacle with the Phillies team that won the World Series in 2008. He left baseball with a bitter taste in his mouth, posting a 2-14 record and 6.04 ERA with the Los Angeles Angels in 2013. After getting chewed up and spat out by baseball, Blanton has regained his elite status by sheer force of will. If the Los Angeles Dodgers win their first title since 1988 and regain some of the Brooklyn team's charm, you can sure as hell bet Big Game Blanton will have alot to do with it.