Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Category: Status report (Page 4 of 8)

The simple truth about the ’25’-man roster

Los Angeles Dodgers vs San Francisco Giants

By Jon Weisman

If you think the Dodgers’ 25-man roster only has 25 men, I’ve got some bad news to break to you about the Big Ten Conference.

Because the Dodgers have multiple useful players with options — enough so that they can afford to be without any one of them for the minimum 10 days they need to remain in the minor leagues after being sent down — their 25-man cap is about as meaningful as a speed limit.

Sure, for a given game it’s 25 men, but from day to day, it’s something else.

To call up an outfielder like Chris Heisey for perhaps no more than one day — nothing’s been finalized, but indications are that the Dodgers will need his roster spot for Thursday’s starting pitcher — tells you all you need to know about how seriously the Dodgers are taking roster flexibility and how much they intend to exploit match-ups whenever possible.

This also would appear to include Sunday’s game, for which the Dodgers’ starting pitcher against the Padres is listed in today’s press notes as TBD. Don’t ask me the rationale — maybe it’s as simple as Brett Anderson getting an extra day of rest, or a plan not to waste a groundball pitcher in a San Diego ballpark where a flyball pitcher can thrive. Suffice it to say, this big blue ship is being steered very carefully.

If you’re a minor-leaguer who came up to the Dodgers only to leave days later, you may be gone, but very much not forgotten.

Dodgers make difficult cuts to set 25-man roster

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim vs Los Angeles Dodgers

For more photos from Saturday, visit LA Photog Blog.

By Jon Weisman

Here it is: the Dodgers’ Opening Day 25-man roster …

Starting pitchers (4): Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson

Relief pitchers (7): Pedro Baez, Yimi Garcia, Chris Hatcher, J.P. Howell, Juan Nicasio, Joel Peralta, Paco Rodriguez

Catchers (2): A.J. Ellis, Yasmani Grandal

Infielders (7): Adrian Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins, Juan Uribe, Darwin Barney, Alex Guerrero, Justin Turner

Outfielders (5): Carl Crawford, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke

Disabled list (4): Brandon Beachy, Kenley Jansen, Brandon League, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Chris Withrow

As evidenced by the ninth-inning homer that Kiké Hernandez hit tonight, giving the Dodgers an unreal eighth tie of Spring Training, the Dodgers are sending a lot of talent back to the minors. Hernandez alone hit six home runs during Spring Training.

Chris Heisey, David Aardsma, David Huff, Adam Liberatore and Sergio Santos were also among the last cuts.

“We feel very strongly we sent down some Major League players,” Dodger president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told reporters after the game. “To have that depth is key.”

In the bullpen, the Dodgers kept three relievers who had options remaining — Baez, Garcia and Rodriguez — at the expense of others with more big-league experience, giving them five relievers age 30 or under. Though they released Dustin McGowan earlier this week, the Dodgers lost no other talent at the roster deadline, so their stockpile of relievers remains — and that’s with Jansen, League and Withrow potentially returning at various times later this year.

Liberatore, who struck out nine in 10 1/3 scoreless innings this spring while allowing seven baserunners, was a particularly close call, but as with so many of these players, he’ll likely have his chance. That the 27-year-old hasn’t made his MLB debut yet worked against him for Opening Day, said Friedman, who valued the younger Rodriguez’s experience for the start of the season.

Rodriguez not only matched Liberatore’s scoreless spring, he struck out 13 in 10 2/3 innings. But as the Dodgers have maintained all along, it’s about more than just numbers.

“Paco probably generated some of the worst swings out of hitters this camp,” said Friedman.  “Lib will get his chance.”

Mike Adams, who appears to be contemplating retirement, is technically reassigned to minor-league camp, according to Friedman.

Left unsaid for now is who will be the Dodgers’ fifth starter come April 14. Because that date comes less than 10 days after the start of the season — and the start of his option this year to the minors — Joe Wieland could fill that role only if he replaces a player who goes on the disabled list. A player not currently on the 40-man roster, such as Huff, could have his contract purchased for a spot start if the Dodgers make room for him.

Also delayed: Paring the Dodger bench. The Dodgers will begin the season with 11 pitchers and 14 position players, but by mid-April, the Dodgers figure to go with a 12-man pitching staff. Barney, who has done nothing but impress since becoming a Dodger last year, nevertheless stands as a player who could spend time in the minors, however briefly, if no other moves are made.

In my 14 seasons blogging about the Dodgers (I’m staring at that “14” in disbelief), this is the deepest team they have brought to Opening Day. Not every question has been answered, but no team has ever been bulletproof.  The bench and farm system are as rich as they’ve been since, well, the 1900s. Even starting the season with their No. 3 starter and No. 1 reliever on the disabled list, it’s striking how much talent the 2015 Dodgers have to draw from up and down the line.

Dodgers down to 32 players for 25 spots

TEXAS RANGERS VS LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Dodgers at Angels, 7:05 p.m.
Jimmy Rollins, SS
Carl Crawford, LF
Yasiel Puig, RF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Yasmani Grandal, DH
Juan Uribe, 3B
Joc Pederson, CF
A.J. Ellis, C
(Sergio Santos, P)
Note: This is a bullpen game for the Dodger pitching staff.

By Jon Weisman

We’re now less than 100 hours from Opening Day, and speculation over the 25 players that will greet Dodger fans on Monday is only growing.

Keeping in mind that it won’t take long for things to change after Opening Day, here’s how things stand:

Disabled list: Brandon Beachy and Chris Withrow are on the 60-day disabled list. While no official move has been announced, Kenley Jansen, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon League are expected to begin the year on the 15-day DL.

Starting pitchers: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson are set. Joe Wieland could be on the Opening Day roster if the Dodgers plan to use him as their fifth starter April 14.

Relief pitchers: The following 11 candidates remain for what will probably be seven or eight spots in the bullpen:

  • Right-handed pitchers on 40-man roster: Pedro Baez, Yimi Garcia, Chris Hatcher, Juan Nicasio, Joel Peralta
  • Right-handed pitchers on non-roster deals: David Aardsma, Sergio Santos
  • Left-handed pitchers on 40-man roster: J.P. Howell, Adam Liberatore, Paco Rodriguez
  • Left-handed pitchers on non-roster deals: David Huff

Huff has also been mentioned as someone who could take that April 14 start.

Position players: The following 16 candidates remain for either 13 or 14 slots.

  • Catchers: A.J. Ellis, Yasmani Grandal
  • Infielders: Darwin Barney, Adrian Gonzalez, Alex Guerrero, Kiké Hernandez, Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins, Justin Turner, Juan Uribe
  • Outfielders: Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Chris Heisey, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Scott Van Slyke

Brian Wilson released as turnover continues

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By Jon Weisman

With the official release of Brian Wilson today, preceded by recent acquisition Ryan Lavarnway being claimed on waivers by the Cubs and Kyle (that’s Kyle) Jensen being designated for assignment, the Dodger 40-man roster is back at, well, 40. But it’s not your slightly older sibling’s 40.

Let’s catch up on who’s new:

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For what it’s worth, Dodgers No. 1 in ESPN Future Power Rankings

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By Jon Weisman

Not that it means anything, but the Dodgers are winners of a kind.

Twice a year, in a forward-looking gaze, ESPN.com ranks all 30 Major League teams “in an attempt to measure how well each team is set up for sustained success over the next five years.” In the newest rankings, the Dodgers are No. 1.

It’s a nice reflection of the building strength of the organization and a reminder that, despite the disappointment of the past month, that all is not lost. But it’s admittedly an ephemeral honor.

After all, when ESPN.com debuted its Future Power Rankings in February 2012, the Dodgers were saddled with the 19th spot, so the site wasn’t exactly effective in predicting how the Dodgers would perform over the next three seasons, let alone five. In fact, even that unimpressive ranking was called “a leap of faith,” despite the promise of an impending ownership change.

At the time, under the Dodger Thoughts headline “Changes in MLB come too fast for long-term predictions,” I called the whole thing “folly”  …

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The top myths about the 2014 Dodgers

Colorado Rockies at Los Angeles Dodgers

By Jon Weisman

With the MLB playoffs comes the national spotlight for the Dodgers. With the national spotlight comes the attempts to tell the story of the Dodgers by those who only have a passing acquaintance to them, to those who only have a passing acquaintance with them.

So for the benefit of baseball’s fans and media galaxy-wide, here are three storylines that are sure to be shared about the 2014 Dodgers — and the reasons why they are largely bogus.

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Even the best hit bumps in the road

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Point of parliamentary procedure
On Monday, the Giants completed their May 22 suspended game against Colorado by winning, 4-2. This would seem to mean that the Dodgers’ trailed by 10 games on June 7-8 this year, meaning that they rallied from an even greater hole than in 2013.

By Jon Weisman

At their peak this season, the Dodgers led the Giants in the National League West by 5 1/2 games, on August 12. Five days later, that lead was down to 2 1/2 games after a three-game sweep by Milwaukee, and for some, the roof was caving in.

Ten days later, the lead was back up to 4 1/2 games.

Now, the Dodgers’ lead in the NL West is down to two games, and again, some look up at the ceiling and find it’s hanging a bit low. Maybe this time they’ll be right; maybe it’ll continue to drop and drop until it collapses all around us.

But there isn’t a team in baseball that doesn’t have a house that needs retrofitting from time to time.

  • Washington – the only team in the NL with a better record than the Dodgers, by the way – was swept by last-place Philadelphia one week ago.
  • Milwaukee, which looked like kings of the league after sweeping the Dodgers, is 3-9 since and on a six-game losing streak.
  • St. Louis has popped into first in the NL Central with a three-game winning streak … that immediately followed a four-game losing streak.
  • Kansas City, the underdog delight when it caught and passed Detroit in the AL Central, has lost six of its last nine and all of its three-game lead.
  • Those Tigers are now tied for first place, but only after weathering a 10-17 run.
  • The Angels became the best team in baseball with a 15-4 run … right after losing three straight to the Dodgers and then two of three to the struggling Red Sox.
  • Remember how awful it was that the Dodgers lost two of three to the Cubs? Two weekends ago, maybe the most underrated team in the big leagues, Baltimore, lost three straight to the Cubs.

And then, of course, are the San Francisco Giants, who the national media handed the NL West title to before summer had started. On June 8, they were 42-21. Then on August 25, 27 wins and 41 losses later, they were 69-62.

They win eight straight games, still trail the Dodgers, and now they’re invincible? I’m not quite convinced.

Look, I know that rushing to judgment is irresistible. You see it all the time – people will give up on a game after a bad two innings, so why wouldn’t they give up on a season after a bad couple of losses? The Dodgers trailed the Diamondbacks by 9 1/2 games last year and rallied – that didn’t stop any number of folks from deciding this season was over two months ago. The Dodgers trailed the Nationals in the seventh on Monday, 6-2, then were one Joc Pederson foul ball away from a magical comeback.

I’ve never really known what you gain from the absolute pessimism – it’s one thing to lower expectations, another to eliminate them entirely. But clearly, it’s a thing.

All I can say is this: Baseball is an inherently streaky game, so much so that the 2014 Dodgers’ lack thereof (one winning streak longer than three games, no losing streaks longer) stands out as a true oddity. Los Angeles is 7-8 in its past 15 games, which as lowpoints go, is pretty good.

Over the past week, no doubt, the Giants have been better than the Dodgers. Over the coming weeks, who knows? Enjoy the pennant race.

Greinke’s elbow could further test Dodger depth

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All Wet

The Dodgers might well have caught a break Tuesday from the Wrigley Field grounds crew, whose struggle to effectively put down a tarp during a 10-minute rainstorm left the field unplayable, causing the Giants’ game against the Cubs to end after 4 1/2 innings in a 2-0 loss. There is talk of a protest, but at least for now, San Francisco fell to 4 1/2 games behind Los Angeles in the National League West.

By Jon Weisman

Teams don’t win or lose, organizations do.

Maybe that’s just a matter of semantics, but the point is, every aspect of your organization, top to bottom, plays a role in the fortunes of the team. And sometimes, you need the bottom to carry the top. Or, depending on your point of view, the middle.

That’s what the Dodgers face right now, given the possibility that Zack Greinke will become the fifth Dodger starting pitcher sidelined for at least the short term, following Chad Billingsley, Josh Beckett, Paul Maholm and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

And yes, I think it’s important to include Billingsley in these lists, because when the season began, he was considered likely to be in the rotation in the second half of 2014, certainly more likely than Beckett or Maholm.

Here’s the latest on Greinke from Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:

Greinke is only a “possibility” to make his scheduled start on Thursday, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said after Tuesday night’s 8-6 win over the Padres.

Greinke has been dealing with a tender elbow for the past three weeks, bypassing regular bullpen sessions to throw on flat ground, which puts less of a strain on the arm.

Mattingly would not elaborate on Greinke’s condition or who might replace him, although the Dodgers have few options besides rookie Carlos Frias, who pitched four innings in relief of Dan Haren on Sunday. …

If Greinke misses a start, that would mean each of the Dodgers’ six primary starting pitchers this season has missed at least one turn in the rotation, although Haren’s was outwardly labeled a rest stop.

And so the Dodgers have needed to step up in other places. They’ve made trades to bring in Kevin Correia (who was rocked for three runs before retiring a batter Tuesday, then held San Diego to one run over his next 19 batters) and Roberto Hernandez. They called up Stephen Fife and Red Patterson early in the season and now perhaps will use Frias as a starter as well.

About the only thing that hasn’t happened yet is a sustained turn in the rotation from a minor-leaguer, in part because someone like 2011 first-round pick Zach Lee, who turns 23 next month, hasn’t come on the fast track. Not that he’s been slow. Lee had made midseason leaps to the next level in 2011 (high school to Single-A Great Lakes) and 2012 (High-A Rancho Cucamonga to Double-A Chattanooga) before spending full seasons at Chattanooga in 2013 and, up to now, Triple-A Albuquerque in 2014.

Lee has struggled somewhat predictably in his first Pacific Coast League season (a league Clayton Kershaw bypassed on his way up). It would be nice to see the Dodgers get a youthful infusion in their rotation, but the timing might not be right for Lee. Maybe it will be the 24-year-old Frias, who retired the final 12 batters he faced in long relief Sunday after allowing a solo home run.

Happiest of all would be if Greinke wakes up healthy this morning or the next. But if someone takes Greinke’s turn Thursday, that pitcher will be the Dodgers’ No. 11 or No. 12 starter this season. You’re not expecting someone like that to dominate; you’re hoping he keeps you in the game enough for your offense to step up, as it did Tuesday, behind Carl Crawford’s three singles, walk and home run and the pairs of doubles from both Matt Kemp and Justin Turner. One player acquired by trade, one player acquired through the draft, one player a savvy pickup by the front office from the discard pile. Because, like we said, you win or lose with your entire organization.

How easy the Dodgers’ remaining schedule is — and does it matter?

Fans 081714js1761

For photo highlights from Sunday, visit LA Photog Blog.

Pullquote:
The Dodgers have 36 games remaining; 21 of them are at home and 27 of them are against teams with losing records. That’s right: Los Angeles has only nine games remaining against winning teams all season — and only three road games against a winning team (San Francisco, September 12-14).

By Jon Weisman

The most challenging part of the Dodger season is over — on paper.

In reality, every day is its own special challenge.

Los Angeles came out of the All-Star Break having to play 29 games in 31 days, 18 of them on the road, 26 of them against winning teams. That’s a hell of a tough run, and despite the weekend sweep by Milwaukee, the team went 16-13 (.551), an 89-win pace over a 162-game season against some of the best baseball had to offer.

At least in the short term, the Dodgers’ performance did little to support the idea home games are more valuable than road games (Los Angeles is a .500 team at home but has baseball’s best road record, 40-26, and went 11-7 on the road against the above-.500 opponents), or that strength of schedule affects performance.

Against the team that now has the best record in baseball, the Angels, the Dodgers won three out of four. Los Angeles performed its worst against teams that are now No. 1 in the National League (the Brewers) and No. 14 (the Cubs, who beat the Dodgers two out of three.)

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Dodger pitching set up beautifully for San Francisco series

MLB All Star TuesdayBy Jon Weisman

In dropping their final two games at Pittsburgh while the Giants were scoring in the 14th inning Tuesday and the ninth inning Wednesday to defeat the Phillies, the Dodgers have fallen two games behind in the National League West standings. That figure will be 1 1/2 or 2 1/2 games after San Francisco plays a final game today at Philadelphia (and against Cole Hamels) beginning at 10:05 a.m. Pacific.

For the time being, this is the farthest back the Dodgers have been since June 27. Since going 16-6 to gain 10 games on the Giants between June 8-30 and move into first place in the division, the Dodgers are 8-10 in July.

Nevertheless, the Dodgers’ pitching is lined up about as well you could imagine for their three-game series at San Francisco that begins Friday, with Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu taking the mound and relievers Kenley Jansen and J.P. Howell off since Monday.

On top of everything else, the Giants will arrive in San Francisco well after the Dodgers have gotten there.

MLB All Star TuesdayGreinke is scheduled to face Tim Lincecum, who picked up his first career save Tuesday and has been on a roll since throwing his second career no-hitter June 25. Lincecum has an ERA of 0.95 in his past 38 innings with 31 strikeouts against 28 baserunners. The batting average on balls in play against Lincecum during that time, however, is .140.

Saturday figures to pit Kershaw against Ryan Voglesong, who has a 3.99 ERA after allowing 11 hits to the 22 batters he faced in an abbreviated start Monday at Philadelphia — a game the Giants ended up winning, 7-4.

Los Angeles Dodgers at Pittsburgh PiratesSunday’s scheduled pitchers are Ryu and Yusmeiro Petit, who has mostly pitched in relief and would be making his seventh start of the season. Petit has a 6.32 ERA as a starter this season after allowing five runs in five innings at the top of Tuesday’s 14-inning game, his first start since May 31. Petit was replacing Matt Cain, who went on the disabled list Monday.

Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson, the Giants’ two best starting pitchers this season, will have pitched Wednesday and today and therefore should miss the Dodgers. Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles has a nice preview of the upcoming series.

When Kings were fools

STADIUM SERIES-LOS ANGELES KINGS VS ANAHEIM DUCKSBy Jon Weisman

The Los Angeles Kings, the darlings of the city and a sports league right now, played at our fair Dodger Stadium on January 25 and, despite no small amount of pomp and electricity surrounding them, more or less stunk it up. They were shut out, 3-0. It was the Kings’ fifth straight loss, midway through a stretch when they would lose nine out of 10.

If you ignored the NHL’s scoring system for overtime losses and looked strictly at won-lost records, the potential Stanley Cup champions were 30-28 four months ago.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, darlings of no one right now, were 30-28 four days ago.

With many more games to play.

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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.

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.

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

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.

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