Sep 14

Piquing too soon: Dodger injuries raise concerns

1) The Dodgers did not start a throwaway lineup Friday. Behind the best pitcher in baseball, they started five regulars.

• Hanley Ramirez sat because of an injury.

• Carl Crawford sat for any or all of three reasons: He had a .569 OPS this season against lefties and a .596 OPS in September, along with a season-long need for rest.

• Adrian Gonzalez is the only name that seemed out of place on the bench, but given that he is also left-handed and Madison Bumgarner was on the mound, you could understand.

2) Before the game Friday, I described the scenario of “a game that was essentially a tossup deciding whether or not Dodger fans would be elated or deflated.” That’s what Friday’s game was.

After Juan Uribe’s two-run homer broke a scoreless tie and Andre Ethier was hit by a pitch with two out, Giants leftfielder Juan Perez made one of the best catches I’ve seen all year (against A.J. Ellis) to rob the Dodgers of a third run and the chance for more.

Moments later, in the following inning, San Francisco scored three runs on four hits against Clayton Kershaw, the last two runs coming on a dink single by Brett Pill. An error by backup leftfielder Scott Van Slyke, fielding the previous hit, didn’t help matters.

Carl Crawford might have made the play that Van Slyke didn’t, and as a result, maybe the Dodgers wouldn’t have lost Friday’s game. On the other hand, Crawford also grounded into a double play as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth inning, right before Ethier doubled.

Most nights since June 22, the Dodgers have cashed in more opportunities than their opponents. On this night, the opposite happened. This is the tightrope we walk.

3) Ramirez is hurt, and it might not be a simple injury – it’s an irritated nerve in his back. Matt Kemp has played 8 1/2 innings since July 5. Though a .210 batting average on balls in play isn’t helping, starting catcher Ellis, with a .281 on-base percentage and .263 slugging since July 24, might be worn down. And now Andre Ethier has a shaky ankle.

Talk all you want about lineups and momentum, but this is the only issue for Dodger fans to worry about as they head toward the playoffs. Will they be at full strength?

* * *

Some fans will look at late-season losses by a playoff-bound team like a leaky gas tank, the idea being that the losses themselves weaken the team. They are not discrete events, but rather events that have impact on the future. Momentum is something that needs to be actively protected, or it will dissipate into the universe like helium from a balloon.

Either that, or the losses reflect a team that has stopped caring about winning, and that apathy is a disease that will carry into the postseason, when you can’t afford it to.

Do either of those scenarios really make sense? Or does it make more sense that the next game is a new game, and the same hunger and talent that fueled a historic midseason run won’t have evaporated just when you need it the most?

It is plausible that the Dodgers are tired. It is evident they are not 100 percent healthy. The best way to deal for Don Mattingly to deal with both those issues is not to overplay his hand. Yes, losing doesn’t feel good, and having a higher playoff seeding could be great. I’m still hoping the team wins 100 games, though they now need to go 14-1 to do it. But we should all agree that it’s not worth wearing down the active roster further if it will weaken the team in the playoffs.

A manager in this situation finds the best possible balance between giving players the rest they need and keeping the fires burning. Some days, it’s debatable how best to find that balance, and if things go wrong for Los Angeles next month, countless among us will look to September for the seeds of self-destruction.

But can you really identify a better strategy right now than:

• Giving injured players time to heal.

• Giving healthy players an occasional rest, and giving bench players an occasional start to keep them fresh.

• Continuing to push those on the field to make the best effort on the field to win.

Any student of 1988 knows that the Dodgers needed their bench to win that World Series. The same was true in 1981. If a championship is the goal in 2013, there are three things you need to do – amass your talent, avoid injuries as much as possible, and be as prepared as you can be to overcome them when they arrive. This is the Dodgers’ challenge, and it’s not an easy one.

Giants at Dodgers, 6:10 p.m.

Aug 07

The summer of bliss

The joy in this Dodger summer is not just in the winning, or being in first place.

It’s that the Dodger summer is about the game.

Three years ago, two years ago, the Dodger universe was mired in L’Affaire McCourt. Even last year, in the months following the ownership change, there was still a detox period.

This year, good or bad, the conversation has been about the game. The worst it has gotten was the debate over the fate of Don Mattingly in the spring (here and here, for example) — a debate that clearly wasn’t a figment of our imagination. There’s been all the injuries, carping out this player’s performance or that one’s. But it’s all about the game.

Meanwhile, baseball at large is enveloped in a conversation about performance-enhancing drugs and punishments that Los Angeles is not really a principal part of. It’s not that Dodger fans don’t have a tangential interest in it, just as it wasn’t that baseball fans didn’t have a tangential interest in the McCourt trauma.

But mainly, we get to go our merry way, winning and losing, living and dying with our team, the way we were meant to, the way we were deprived of from the moment Frank and Jamie figured out they couldn’t make it work.

Of course, the more it remains about winning and not losing, the better.

Jul 23

When season was a disaster, these Dodgers held together

So when the Dodgers were losing game after game for two solid months, why didn’t the team blow up into 25 selfish fireballs like everyone said they would?

Before going 21-5 in their past 26 games, the Dodgers were 30-42. In reality, it was even worse than that. Los Angeles started its season 6-3, then went 24-39, a .381 winning percentage that placed them among the worst teams in baseball.

Through that entire stretch, there were only two off-field issues of any note at all, and each of the people involved handled them gracefully.

Don Mattingly became the subject of daily rumors of his impending firing. Mattingly didn’t lash out, but kept his focus on the task at hand.

Mattingly did say the following on May 22:

“We’re last place in the National League West. Last year, at this point, we’re playing a lineup that basically has nobody in it, that fights and competes and battles you every day for every inch of the field. We talk about it as an organization. We’ve got to find the club with talent that will fight and compete like the club that doesn’t have that talent. If there’s going to be a message sent, it’s going to be over a period of time.”

Though Mattingly was speaking about the entire squad, Andre Ethier was benched the day Mattingly made these statements, something few people thought was a coincidence — including Ethier, who was clearly hurt by the comments.

Whatever negative reaction Ethier might have had after that day, however, he kept in the clubhouse, without pouting or making a stink in the press. And in the past two months, Mattingly has singled Ethier out for praise for his efforts.

And that’s it. No tabloid stories have come out of the Dodger clubhouse. No tales of infighting or finger-pointing. Beset by injuries and slumping players, the losses kept piling up — June began with an 8-14 record — and everyone had every reason to be frustrated. But no one, not even the so-called troublemakers from outside (Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford or Josh Beckett) caused trouble. Yasiel Puig has ruffled feathers, but those angry birds are opponents, not teammates, unless you call statesman Juan Uribe’s reactive counseling a conflict.

Maybe the Dodgers have just become experts at running an airtight clubhouse, but I doubt they’re that competent. More likely, the minor stuff has been settled in-house, but the major conflicts just haven’t happened.

I’m not crediting chemistry for the turnaround. It seems clear that improved health, solid pitching and a red-hot Ramirez have been the keys.

But I do think it’s worth noting that the narrative of the Dodgers as a chemistry-challenged team was severely tested this spring. And like so many other invented tales, it was found false.

Previously on Dodger Thoughts:

March 31: The Giants’ 2012 title: Dealmaking trumps chemistry

May 28: Twenty examples of Dodger grit in five minutes

Jun 22

The Pit of Despair


How low can they go?

The Dodgers’ current .417 winning percentage would be their worst over a full season since 1992, their second-worst since 1944.

Though it’s possible I’m just repressing it, I can’t recall ever expecting a Dodger team to be bad. There have been plenty of times when I wouldn’t have predicted them to win a title, and I was sufficiently skeptical this year, but a truly terrible record always takes me by surprise. That’s one difference I think Dodger fans – even cynical ones – have with fans in Pittsburgh or Kansas City. If you’re predicting horror in a given year, you’re probably in the minority.

The Dodgers won 86 games last year and didn’t hurt themselves in the offseason. Sure, there were weaknesses headed into 2013, but here are the 10 most prominent players the Dodgers shed from 2012: James Loney, Shane Victorino, Juan Rivera, Bobby Abreu, Matt Treanor, Adam Kennedy, Joe Blanton, Nathan Eovaldi, Jamey Wright and Josh Lindblom. Be honest: How could you have expected those departures would put the Dodgers on their current 68-win pace?

That’s right: 68-94.

Here’s one for you: Forget about the playoffs for a moment. Forget about .500. The Dodgers need to play .450 ball over their remaining 90 games to reach 70 wins. Will they do it?

Yes, there have been injuries – Chad Billingsley and Matt Kemp most prominently – but nearly every year has injuries. Team chemistry? The manager? People raise those red flags every time the Dodgers start losing, but are we to believe that this team really has the worst set of intangibles in two decades? You thought the Davey Johnson-Gary Sheffield-Kevin Brown teams were doing a revival of Hair? That Jim Tracy and Paul DePodesta were Romeo and Juliet?

Mediocrity comes with the territory in the post-1988 era. But true awfulness has been a rare thing.

With apologies to the 99-loss season in 1992, the worst stretch of Dodger baseball in my lifetime has probably been 1986-87. That’s the only time since the 1960s that the Dodgers have had back-to-back losing seasons – identical 73-89 campaigns. I know how it began: Pedro Guerrero’s gruesome Spring Training slide into third base – but my memories of 1987, beyond the implosion of Al Campanis, are almost non-existent. Guerrero came back with a vengeance (.416 on-base percentage, .539 slugging), and Orel Hershiser and Bob Welch was steady, but the rest of the team was essentially as incompetent as this year’s.

The core of that awful team won a division title in 1985 and a World Series in 1988. Tommy Lasorda managed every year.

I don’t know when the losing is going to end for this current brand of Big Blue Wrecked Crew. I do know that in Los Angeles, things tend to reverse course in a hurry, good to bad, bad to good. We’ve really seen it all in the past 25 years – all except for a World Series.

Perhaps it will come in a year when we least expect it.

May 28

Twenty examples of Dodger grit in five minutes

1) A.J. Ellis worked his way from fringe prospect to one of the top catchers in the National League, and hasn’t let up at all.

2) Adrian Gonzalez, rather than mailing it in, has gone all-out to carry the Dodgers, even with neck issues.

3) Carl Crawford, probably not 100 percent but essentially the same story as Gonzalez.

4) Nick Punto, scrappy like a cliche, but the cliche fits. The Boston guys are not the problem.

5) Mark Ellis takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

6) Matt Kemp is clearly trying. His struggle is lost mechanics and lost strength, due to his labrum injury. It is not an issue of effort.

7) Luis Cruz can be accused of a lot of things, but not going through the motions. He is a grinder.

8 ) Scott Van Slyke, cast off by the Dodgers only months ago, took it upon himself to take it to another level and resurrect his career.

9) Hanley Ramirez’s biggest sin this year — wanting to play as much baseball as he can, regardless of what his body says.

10) Justin Sellers will literally run through a wall for you.

11) Zack Greinke will literally put a rod through his shoulders for you.

12) Kenley Jansen will literally put his heart on the line for you.

13) The Dodgers would have been happy to pay Ted Lilly to camp out on the disabled list, and Lilly repeatedly refused.

14) Chad Billingsley wanted to pitch through a tendon injury rather than take the year off.

15) Chris Capuano, no prima donna, will take any role you give him and take no offense.

16) Jerry Hairston never met a position he won’t play.

17) Andre Ethier is a pit bull. Don’t know what’s going on between him and Don Mattingly, but he is not taking things lying down. He may be still figuring out how to channel his will to succeed.

18) Matt Magill, Stephen Fife, Shawn Tolleson, Tim Federowicz, etc., etc. – all they want to do is contribute.

19) Hyun-Jin Ryu embraces the challenges of new kid on the continent.

20) Clayton Edward Kershaw.

I could have come up with more examples if I allowed myself more time. But I kept a strict timer on drafting this. Five minutes to write it, five minutes to edit.

There might well be a talent deficit on the Dodgers, especially with injuries and players like Kemp and Ethier struggling to find themselves. But the narrative of the Dodgers failing because they’re a team of all-ego individualists is a false narrative.

Update: Holy cow, I forgot Uribear, reinventing his career.

* * *

Joe Blanton starts for the Angels tonight against the Dodgers. Last time he pitched in Dodger Stadium, on September 29, Blanton threw six shutout innings and Kemp hit two home runs. So you know what to expect.

Angels at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Andre Ethier, RF
Matt Kemp, CF
A.J. Ellis, C
Juan Uribe, 3B
Luis Cruz, SS
Hyun-Jin Ryu, P

 

May 19

Dodgers in a race to the upside down

Sure, OK, we can start with the bullpen. It’s hardly the only thing going on with the Dodgers, but it’s something. Oh yes, it’s something.

You need good relief to win, but you can’t plan for good relief. 

This comes up every year, so it’s tedious to point out, but it doesn’t seem to go without saying.

I’m going to ask take my years-old research into this on faith; whether you choose to do so is up to you. But what you find is that there is virtually no consistency year-to-year among relief pitchers. The best might give you two or three consecutive good years. The very best.

The reasons for this should be clear. You don’t become a reliever unless you are flawed in some way that prevents you from being a starter. That obviously doesn’t mean you can’t be a fantastic reliever in a given year, but for the most part, relievers are pitchers who aren’t designed to be great over the long haul. They typically have a limited number of pitches, which leaves them vulnerable to being figured out over time. The good ones end up getting overworked, or maybe they were never that good in the first place, instead merely a triumph of small sample size. We could go on, but let’s sum it up this way: Mariano Rivera is not reality.

The 2003 Dodger bullpen was incredible. It was also, in many significant ways, an accident.

Staffing a bullpen has always, fascinatingly, been Ned Colletti’s simultaneous strength and weakness. Colletti has had a knack for finding capable non-roster talent (Takashi Saito, Ronald Belisario) over the same years that he has invested multiyear deals in such inconsistent arms as Matt Guerrier and Brandon League. There is no correlation in the Colletti tenure between salary and performance, yet the expensive signings continue.

The point is that you can never feel good about your bullpen entering a season – never. I really believe that. You can’t feel anything at all. The best thing you can do is assemble a number of arms before Spring Training, a combination of youth and experience and promise and reclamation, and then hope for the best.

The peril of having someone with a long-term contract is that you feel obligated to keep him past the point of effectiveness. That’s the boat the Dodgers are in with League and Guerrier, even with a new ownership that doesn’t much worry about player salaries these days.

The Dodger bullpen is leaky through and through. Almost nothing is working right now. Just as you were gaining supreme confidence in Paco Rodriguez and Kenley Jansen, they found growing pains that left them struggling like the more experienced J.P Howell, League, Guerrier and, if you will, Belisario and Javy Guerra.

Fans tend to have unreasonable expectations of bullpens – you see outrage anytime any relief pitcher gives up a run, let alone a lead. I’m not sure where fans get the idea that every reliever on their team should have a 0.00 ERA, but there it is. Every Dodger relief pitcher since the heyday of Eric Gagne and Saito has been attacked for his failings, however momentary, however good that pitcher has been overall.  So when a bullpen is collectively struggling as much as the Dodger bullpen is, it’s frogs and locusts time.

Don Mattingly’s instinct has been correct in general to try to play matchups with his relievers. You can debate the specifics of all his choices – I don’t agree with them all – but the bottom line is, there’s little he can do when no one is reliable.

Mattingly’s bullpen Sunday faced 18 batters and got nine outs. When Jansen entered Saturday’s game in relief of Chris Capuano, he had thrown only 21 pitches in his previous 72 hours. Capuano had pitched well that night, but he was past the 90-pitch mark and going on a balky calf.

But when things are bad, things are bad.

Tim Federowicz is not a martyr.

This morning brought the news that Tim Federowicz, and not Luis Cruz or Ramon Hernandez, had been displaced from the active roster to make room for the return of Mark Ellis from the disabled list. Federowicz is more valuable than Cruz or Hernandez, but the hysteria this caused was rather remarkable.

When I called out this freakout on Twitter, several people lectured me, as if I didn’t know, that it wasn’t just about Federowicz, but that it was symptomatic of the Colletti Dodgers’ larger mismanagement in general or obsession with experience over youth in particular. As if I needed to be told that Colletti values experience, sometimes to the franchise’s detriment.

I’ve spent a lot of time on how to phrase this next section, because I don’t want to give the impression that you shouldn’t try to maximize every advantage you can. Federowicz can’t help the Dodgers that much right now, but sure, I’d rather see him get five at-bats a week over Hernandez, because an on-base percentage over .500 in Albuquerque and above-average defense suggest a better skill set than Hernandez currently offers. Scott Van Slyke’s callup was overdue, not because he was guaranteed to hit two homers in a game, but because he was on a hot streak in the minors that made it clear there was no better time to try him out.

But just as there is with the bullpen, there’s a level of knee-jerk fan reaction with the bench that is out of proportion. When a player is a single game away from having better stats than his competition, as Hernandez is compared with Federowicz (3 for 17 with one walk and no extra-base hits as a major-leaguer in 2013), and neither is projected to be a starter, and the alternatives to Hernandez as backup if A.J. Ellis gets hurt are Jesus Flores, Matt Wallach and Gorman Erickson, the uproar should not be Defcon Anything.

Yeah, Cruz stinks right now, and no one in their right mind would keep him over Juan Uribe – just like no one in their right mind would have argued to keep Uribe over Cruz last summer.

See what I’m getting at?

If you’re not frustrated with the Dodgers right now, you’re either not a Dodger fan or very zen. You’re not wrong if you’re unhappy with Federowicz’s demotion. But if you’re angry over Federowicz being sent down, you’re overreacting. It’s not symptomatic of the Dodgers’ larger problems. You’re not going to plug in Federowicz, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Alex Castellanos into the Dodger bench and as a result see things turn around.

And May 19 is too soon to give up, if only because of one person.

Matt Kemp.

Until Kemp starts hitting, nothing is going to happen with this team. Nothing. The Dodgers cannot win without his bat. And again, it’s not something anger will solve. The effort is there – if anything, he’s trying too hard to get things going. But it is up to Kemp.

It would help if Andre Ethier hit more, but the difference between what Ethier is doing compared to what is expected of him is not what it is with Kemp.

I’m sure Kemp has had all the advice in the world, from Mattingly, Mark McGwire and any number of coaches or people he meets on the street. But no one else can synthesize the good from the bad and put it into action.

You can start firing managers or coaches or trainers. Kemp still needs to hit.

The bullpen can start putting out fires. Kemp still needs to hit.

The defense can stop making two errors a game. Kemp still needs to hit.

But what if he does?

Let me tell you one more thing.  I would love to give up on the 2013 Dodgers. It will be a relief if and when I can. I spent part of my Sunday writing this 1,500-word piece that probably isn’t worth a damn, especially for a team barely winning 40 percent of its games.

And the season might be over, except for this. For all their problems, Los Angeles is still somehow only seven games out of first place. The Giants, in case you haven’t noticed, have their own cauldron of concerns. And Arizona and Colorado … I just don’t know. I can’t see them not hitting their own skid. I can’t see it.

The National League West looks like an 85-win division. That’s still within the Dodgers’ abilities.

The team gets healthier. The bullpen stops being a disaster. Matt Kemp starts to hit. And then …

Honestly, that’s as far as I can go. The team does look awful right now. It looks nothing like a winning team. It’s creaky and crumbly. Race to the bottom or race to the top – I truly can’t decide.

May 04

Today’s the day: Booksigning for 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die


Hope to see as many of you as possible as I sign copies of “100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die” at Barnes & Noble on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, beginning at 2 p.m. The revised version of is on sale now.

The new edition of “100 Things Dodgers” features several new chapters (including Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw) and other tidbits, as well as new information for some existing chapters. I’m looking forward to meeting readers, taking questions and talking Dodgers.

Oh yes, the Dodgers. To describe the state of things, let’s just say that I put out this tweet mid-game Friday, before Hanley Ramirez took himself out of action with the team’s latest injury.


 

The score was 0-0, and Kershaw was working on a perfect game at the time. And yet, the sport was feeling like such a struggle for this team, part of a quarter-century of constantly battling uphill while other teams flit from last to first like it was nothing, that I allowed the fatigued pessimist in me a bit of breathing room.

And then Ramirez flamed out running from second to third. I didn’t see the play until after the game, but from the tweets I saw beforehand, it sounded as if Ramirez had no business trying to go from first to third. Then I saw the replay, and these things were clear: Even after slowing down to a near jog haflway between second and third because of the injury, the throw from right field didn’t arrive at third base until Ramirez was beginning his slide. He clearly would have made it if he hadn’t gotten hurt – I watched the replay a dozen times and saw each time that his choice to go for the extra base even with none out was sound.

It was small consolation, that Ramirez’s injury came in an effort valiant, not dubious. Kershaw lost the perfect game, the no-hitter, the shutout and the one-run lead that he mainly provided with his bat. The Dodgers lost the game, painfully if un-unexpectedly, in the bottom of the ninth. Ramirez will be out again, likely for weeks, and even after Adrian Gonzalez’s neck self-corrects and Mark Ellis works his way back from his quad injury, the left side of the Dodger infield will still be Scrappy Central, emphasis on Scrap.

The injuries are exhausting. There’s no use feeling sorry for yourself in this world, but you sort of feel that, after watching 20-odd teams make the World Series in the past 24 years and enduring the Fox and McCourt ownerships, we’d catch a break from the suffering. But this season has been Sisyphusian.

If you aren’t packing up your boulder and going home, all you can do is keep pushing. Let’s rally in Pasadena today!

 

May 01

Gratitude for a .500 team on May 1

I’m really not trying to be a wide-eyed Kenneth when I say that I’m happy the Dodgers are a .500 team at the end of April.

For one thing, I look down the interstate and see a truly dyspeptic team, the 9-17 Angels, and say “There but for the grace of Vin …”

But really, for the Dodgers to spend most of the month without Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley and Hanley Ramirez among their many other injuries, for Luis Cruz to morph from folk hero to Eugenio Velez II (more rapidly than even the most sour pessimists predicted) and for the offense and bullpen in general to sputter, it’s hard to be too disappointed that the team is only 2 1/2 games out of first place and 1 1/2 games behind the defending World Series champions.

You can argue about opportunities lost – a relatively tame early season schedule with one East Coast road trip, a chance to put some distance between themselves and the Giants while Matt Cain (6.49 ERA) and Ryan Vogelsong (6.23) struggle, three home games against the last-place Padres turned into three defeats – but the Dodgers displayed a certain level of resiliency in the face of injuries, slumps and a six-game losing streak. The Dodgers are 6-3 since that terrible stretch, despite a patchwork lineup and rotation.

As bad as players and events have looked at times, there has been plenty of compensatory comfort food.

• Carl Crawford, unlikely when he was acquired last summer to even play in April, has sparked the offense with a .905 OPS and 20 runs in 23 games.

• Fellow former Red Sox Adrian Gonzalez (.871 OPS at first base) and Nick Punto (.916 OPS in reserve) have contributed most generously as well.

• A.J. Ellis is third among major-league catchers in on-base percentage (we won’t talk about who’s No. 1), while Mark Ellis shined on offense and defense at second base before running into a right quadricep issue.

• Juan Uribe, for the time being, has resurrected his career as a reserve, posting an .825 OPS and the best walk rate in the majors.

• Hyun-Jin Ryu (3.35 ERA, 46 strikeouts against 43 baserunners in 37 2/3 innings) has pitched – and hit – beyond expectations.

• Kenley Jansen is his reliable self with a 1.29 ERA and 15 strikeouts against 14 baseunners in 14 innings.

• Clayton Edward Kershaw.

Perhaps no one typifies the Dodgers’ mixed status than Matt Kemp. Because of his labrum surgery, Kemp’s power is going to be the last part of his game to return – and to be sure, it’s unlikely to ever be 39-homer power again – but he is making gains with timing and contact. He should continue to improve … if he can avoid further injury. So goes Los Angeles.

It remains as hard to predict the future of the 2013 Dodgers on May 1 as it was on April 1. Their strengths and vulnerabilities walk hand in hand. They are alive and kicking. Whether they’ll be kicking doors down or at the air like an upside-down beetle, no one can say. It’s not a matter of dreaming small or settling for mediocrity, but right now, I’m just grateful they’re kicking at all.

Remember — the “100 Things Dodgers” booksigning is Saturday in Pasadena.

Apr 17

An all-or-something season

In the throes of watching people on Twitter react to Tuesday’s 9-2 pounding by the Padres — the Dodgers’ third loss in a row and worst since August 27 — I mused on what it would be like if those in favor of swift roster moves actually got to run the franchise for a year.

You have to admit, it would be interesting.  Matt Kemp struggles in his first 14 games— and gets demoted to Triple-A. The fascinating, hot-hitting Yasiel Puig is called up, apprenticeship be damned — and becomes the starting third baseman, despite the fact that he’d make Pedro Guerrero look like Graig Nettles. And so on … one reactionary move after another. I really would be curious to see it.

During my full-time days with Dodger Thoughts, this would naturally be the time for me to point out that it’s too soon to despair. Despite all that has gone wrong — and I think it’s fair to say that much more has gone wrong than gone right, since the “gone right” is pretty much limited to Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Clayton Kershaw — the Dodgers remain at .500. San Francisco, in case you haven’t noticed, has its own share of problems, with a starting rotation that is not only thin in depth but struggling to a 4.78 ERA. Arizona and Colorado have their own issues.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles will have Hanley Ramirez’s bat in the lineup sooner than later, a midseason injection of Zack Greinke to look forward to and, yes, the possible promotions of players like Puig and Dee Gordon after they’ve had some more valuable seasoning.

At the same time, there’s no doubt that we knew this was a problematic Dodger team before the season began, that the left side of the infield would be a problem, that Kemp might not be the hitter he was after labrum surgery and so on. If you didn’t know it, you were simply uninformed or deluded, but frankly, I’m almost sure that most were aware. My argument has been that, despite the “World Series or bust” proclamations of Magic Johnson, the new ownership is on a long-term project to make the Dodgers contenders, in which domestic and international scouting and player development becomes every bit as important as the nine-figure contracts being handed out. So though I’m impatient for a title, I wasn’t that preoccupied about what happened in the short term.

You can be forgiven for thinking this should be the Dodgers’ year, with all the spending, not to mention it being the 25th anniversary of the franchise’s last World Series glory. But in reality, the best you could count on is that the Dodgers should be competitive. The fact that Los Angeles could not find players over the winter to displace Cruz from the starting lineup or Juan Uribe from the bench — and I’m not here to bury Uribe, who remains tied for team lead in homers, but to thank him (for the time being) — tells you everything you need to know about any guarantees.

Kemp himself has almost become the embodiment of Dodger hopes and fears. The 14-game milestone in 2013 is particularly interesting for the star outfielder:

– It was after 14 games in 2010 that he had five home runs, a .385 on-base percentage and .740 slugging percentage. Of course, the rest of the year didn’t exactly play out in the same fashion.

– And then the following year, he got off to a sizzling start in his first 14 games (two homers, .534 OBP, .673 slugging — and kept it going to essentially become the National League MVP.

– And then the following year, he was even hotter after 14 games — eight home runs, .525 OBP, 1.000 slugging.  But then it went downhill again, thanks in no small part to his health.

From his way-up and way-down rookie season (six homers, .408 OBP, .795 slugging after 14 games; one homer, .239 OBP, .309 slugging the remainder of the year), Kemp has never been a flatline hitter. He always keeps us guessing.

At the same time, I’m as concerned as anyone that surgery has robbed him of his exceptional greatness. Not once since I heard the words “torn labrum” next to Kemp have I not thought of Shawn Green’s decline after a similar experience (though to be clear, not identical).

The most frightening, melodramatic and almost downright irresponsible comparison you can make is this: Kemp’s OPS after 14 games this season is .483. For Andruw Jones after 14 games in 2009, it was .493. Of course, Jones was about to turn 32 and noticeably out of shape. Kemp is 28 1/2 and still John Henry in a baseball uniform.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you everything’s going to be fine for the Dodgers in 2013, not with players ailing and holes remaining. I still nurse the long-ago expressed notion that the Dodgers could become the Cubs of the 21st century — a hundred years without a title. I’m also not going to sit here and tell you everything’s going to be a disaster.

What I will say, as tired and frustrated as Dodger fans are, is that 2013 is not a “World Series or bust” year. It could be 2013. It could be 2014. It could be soon after or much, much later. But it’s not now or never. It’s whenever it’s going to be.

Mar 30

Marching toward April

Feeling Opening Day excitement and the writing bug late on a Saturday …

• I’m reasonably excited about this year’s Dodger team, but part of that is a perverse excitement about just how bad on offense that left side of the infield might be, at least while Hanley Ramirez is out. That makes the decision to go with Justin Sellers fun for kicks, however dubious. Still, I have always liked the idea of emphasizing defense where offense isn’t an option.

• It only just now occurred to me that I was in the stands last year at the game in which Sellers was hurt and the one in which Dee Gordon was hurt.

• Do you realize this will no doubt be the fourth consecutive year that Kenley Jansen isn’t the Opening Day closer but eventually moves into that role?

• One thing I don’t miss about baseball season is the whining whenever a save gets blown, as if it should never happen. Heaven knows, though, it will happen.

• Carl Crawford has me excited. Truly didn’t think he’d be ready this fast, but this is the one case where I’m allowing myself to be swept away by past success and heady Spring Training numbers.

• I think lingering effects of his labrum injury will keep Matt Kemp below 25 home runs this year, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be productive.

• At first, I thought that with no true right-handed outfielder in reserve, the Dodgers would need to keep Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier spaced out in their lineup, or lefty relievers will just crush the team. But Gonzalez has had success against left-handers, so that helps. It’s still not necessarily a bad idea to insert a right-hander between them, though – as long as it’s a decent one.

• My initial plan for any free writing time that emerged this spring was that I would spend it offline on a long-term project. I did begin work on that project early this month, but with baseball season starting, I’m wavering. What might happen is a mix, where I post on Dodger Thoughts not infrequently, but not comprehensively. The risk is feeling like I’m doing both things halfway.

• Another intervening factor in my life is that Youngest Master Weisman, now 5, is six days away from his first T-ball season, and he is raring to go. (His team: the Tigers.) After playing with a pretend ball inside the house several times, we made it out to the park for the first time, and he was knocking balls through the infield and reaching the grass. Also in the past day, I’ve begun trying to teach him how to scoop balls on defense. It’s crazy.

• Older brother Young Master Weisman, now 8 1/2, took a few swings, but piano is his game. He’s composing his own material for his May recital performance. Young Miss Weisman, a whopping 10 1/2, is also wonderful on the keys.

Mar 27

Dodger pitching: Safety in numbers

‘Twas interesting, in the space of 24 hours, for relief pitcher Mark Lowe to go from Dodger camp to pitching against the Dodgers in the Freeway Series.

That the Dodgers would cut loose the 29-year-old Lowe, who was nothing extraordinary but fits the profile of the Jamey Wright types that annually make the Opening Day roster, was the latest indication of how overflowing the Dodger pitching staff is, five days shy of the 2013 season.

That depth is a key weapon for the team this season, because there is so much uncertainty over how healthy and effective so many of the pitchers will be, whether it’s concerns over Zach Greinke’s elbow, Chad Billingsley’s health and consistency or the legitimacy of Brandon League’s late-2012 revamp.

While roster decisions in general should be made based on talent and capability, I won’t mind if the Dodgers stash such relievers as Paco Rodriguez or Josh Wall in the minors (as they have with Javy Guerra and Shawn Tolleson) in order to test the 2013 mettle of those without minor-league options.

The last thing the Dodgers should do is rush into a low-value trade of one of their excess starting pitchers – Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang or Ted Lilly – just so they can make room for a Wall or Kevin Gregg in the back of their bullpen. If they can make a good deal, super – Los Angeles certainly has weak spots among the position players to address, namely in the infield and on that shaky bench. But the end of March is not time to give away starting pitchers for nothing, especially when the existing Dodger starting rotation has its own set of interrogative punctuation (or as they are popularly known, question marks).

It might mean you don’t have the most exquisite 25-man roster for Opening Day. You need to think about the long haul, and the 2013 season, like every other, will absolutely be a long haul.