Monday, May 11, 2009

VSR: All Eyes on Pierre/Lakers

With Manny Ramirez out thanks to buying female fertility drugs (I refuse to believe he's a longtime cheater), all eyes are on a guy who two years ago was supposed to be a savior - Juan Pierre. I won't spoil all the goodness from my story on him Thursday but here's why he's gonna be fine as the player with the most to gain.

People have been criticial of him because of what he couldn't do well. Throw anybody out from the outfield, have a low on-base percentage and do more than just hit singles. It wasn't a surprise that the additions of Andruw Jones and Manny Ramirez were curtains for his days in the outfield.

But quietly, Pierre has been a productive Dodger. His first year in 2007, he had nearly 200 hits, 64 steals and almost 100 runs while hitting a respectable .293. 2008 was a step backwards, considering he had to share time in a crowded outfield (106 hits, 44 runs and 40 steals in 119 games). He wasn't used to not playing everyday, having played in 434 straight since 2003, and his play slumped. His spirit didn't.

He was resigned to the same fate this year but a funny thing happened. He started preparing in the spring like he was going to start. He'd show everyone how a veteran adjusts to his new role and this is what came about. When called up to hit, he'd deliver and provide instant offense. In his 5 starts before last Thursday, he hit .444 with 4 runs, picking up 2 hits three times. Then he had to step up for Manny and in his last four games, he's hit .563 with 4 runs, 2 walks, 2 stolen bases and 4 RBI's.

It hit me as I watched him live last Saturday and on May 2. This guy just knows how to make timely hits and how to be a great leadoff man. Then I got reminded of what he CAN do.

Manny was great on the field because of his plate discipline, timely hitting, power, and ability to produce runs. Pierre is great because of his plate discipline, timely hitting, speed and ability to get on base and make things happen. Did I mention Pierre's a much better defender too?

He won't be the charismatic player that Manny is, he let's his play do the talking. He's seen by some as the temporary fix til Mannywood comes back but so far, he's giving fans a reason to call left field JuanPierreWood.

It's a different story for the Lakers, who come back home for Game 5 tomorrow with Houston. The high from Game 3 and the redemption for Jordan Farmar was replaced by the stench and shame of watching Shane Battier and Aaron Brooks pick the Lakers apart. Can someone explain why the Lakers would get intimidated by a Yao-less, T-Mac-less Rockets squad??(Better question, how did Pau Gasol stay quiet until the 4th quarter when it didn't matter despite playing against a smaller Carl Landry?)

*steps up to the podium*

Houston's a deadly combo of being fast and physical. Brooks is too fast for Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown and Battier/Artest bring physical, smart defense along with a solid offensive game. Off the bench, Carl Landry and Karl Lowry are tough players who know how to use their assets instead of be exposed for their weakness (on the same tip, Gasol ain't trying to expose them ).

The Lakers were caught off guard. They came motivated in Game 3 after being thrashed around but somehow they got caught napping big time in Game 4. How do you explain Aaron Brooks' alley-oop? (he never got that high at Oregon!) How does a disciplined team let Shane Battier shoot 3's like he's in practice? For that matter, how does nobody shoot the ball well.

(One more thing, how do you explain Brooks looking like part of the Nation of Islam after the game? Did he have bean pies in his car ready to sell?)

By the way, that little Lakers rally at the end? Meaningless. We know they can do that already (see Game 2 of the last year's Finals). I'm starting to wonder if Phil Jax is contributing to Andrew Bynum's mental prison by not letting play through his mistakes. I realized that in 2007 that he's not the best coach as far as developing young talent. Chicago had veterans, the early Lakers teams had veterans - just look at how Jordan Farmar and Bynum have struggled and been yanked at the first sign of trouble.

And you know things are bad when Magic Johnson called them out for embarrassing the organization and the city. I'm looking dead at D. Fish and Kobe for firing this team up once again because right now we look like Tin Men without a heart.

Game 5 will be at home tonight and with the Lakers regaining home court advantage, the pressure will be on them to perform and I doubt Kobe will have another quiet game in a must win. Phil Jax has to hopefully play Farmar more to neutralize Brooks. Hopefully the players will catch fire on their home court because the Rockets have all the confidence in the world.

Oh yeah, Lamar Odom will most likely hampered with back spasms. Could we see an appearance by DJ Mbenga? Common sense says yeah, but Phil Jax is anything but common. We need another body down low to offset Odom and I'm not looking at Josh Powell to step it up. Bynum isn't ready but he'll have to be counted on for more minutes.

Game 5 isn't about revenge, it's about pride. It's about the 12 players wearing the purple and gold who remember the last time they were blown out. It's about showing themselves worthy to contend for a title when Denver and Cleveland are playing much better defensively. It's about stepping it up and showing some heart. All that parade talk can stop now, it's one game at a time from here on out.

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