Los Angeles Dodgers

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2011 eulogy: Kemp and Kershaw drowned out a symphony of distractions. Offseason to-do list: Exile James Loney to the island of toothpick-bat cornermen. How nice would a Prince Fielder-Matt Kemp-Andre Ethier 3-4-5 look? Super nice, that's how nice ... Do something, anything to let fans know that they're appreciated and won't get their skulls bashed in when they visit the ballpark. To address the former, have Vin Scully call season ticketholders on their birthdays. To address the latter, get Taser Night on the calendar in early April. Odds of achieving Cardinals-like glory in 2012: There's no depth here and the McCourt mess won't be cleaned up in time to get in on the hoTTT free-agent action. Three players can only take you so far.
What went right: After all the injuries, after all the off-field noise and pettiness and penny-pinching, somehow the team finished over .500. We should award them the wild card spot that neither St. Louis nor Atlanta seems to want, just on general principle. What went wrong: I won't rehash the McCourt sideshow, other than to say that his legal minions know their way around a pinstriped business suit. Insert sexygrowl here ... Chad Billingsley hit nearly as well as he pitched ... They drew fewer fans than the Angels for the first time since the two teams started cohabiting in L.A., which says more about the level of fan disgust than any Facebook petition ever could. Regular-season epilogue: Don Mattingly is either a master motivator or a calming force in a world gone mad. Either way, Dodger fans have to be thrilled that at least one guy in a position of organizational power takes pride in what he does for a living.
Clayton Kershaw got ejected in the fifth inning of a one-hit shutout last Wednesday, apparently for settling a days-old grudge by plunking Gerardo Parra. I sense that umpire Bill Welke read some backstory into this that might not have been there, like something involving feuding families, forbidden romance and besmirched daughters. Too bad he didn't let it play out, gangsta-Shakespeare-style. ... In the same game, Dee Gordon affirmed his dumbass bona fides by getting thrown out while attempting to steal third base. But wait, there's more: There was nobody out. There was a runner on first base. And Matt Kemp was at the plate. They should run a remedial baserunning academy concurrent with the Arizona Fall League.
That they're anywhere near .500, given all the injuries and external noise, is a minor miracle. As tempting as it is to credit Don Mattingly for setting the right tone and keeping the players focused -- he's as grounded as his circa-1987 mustache was sturdy -- Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp have made his job far easier than it otherwise might've been. ... Speaking of Kemp, stories about his 2011 resurgence have attributed it to any number of factors: a more focused training regimen, a shift in his gameday routine, the excommunication of the celebrity girlfriend, etc. But not a single word has been written or said about Joe Torre's less-than-deft handling of younger players. I'm not claiming there's a media-favoritism conspiracy or anything like that, but it sure seems curious. Doesn't it?
Reason for optimism: they've played really well of late. Reason for pessimism: the 2010 Orioles played really well at the end of last season ... Man, that Dee Gordon fella can run a little, can't he? It's too bad he doesn't play for a Texas-based team, as his speed would fuel all sorts of nonsensical metaphors ("He's faster'n a hurricane titmouse!" etc.) ... The $1.2 billion offer for the team that emerged last week sounded sketchy, and that was before the details came out (the bid may or may not be backed by a consortium of shadowy operatives from the Chinese government). It figures that the McCourt-era Dodgers won't be able to sell the team without getting an organization like Human Rights Watch involved. That's how they roll.
Oooh, so close. They came within three days of making it all about the on-field action (namely, the five wins in six tries). But then the customer survey asking about Vin Scully's performance leaked out ("Do you prefer his folksy aphorisms or his time-ripened maxims?") and the thing about Andre Ethier's maybe-hurt knee made it sound like the Dodgers have skimped on the medical staff, just as they have on players, coaches and security ... At least Don Mattingly -- who I love blindly, even when he leaves Clayton Kershaw in meaningless games an inning too long -- had the pride to show Dioner Navarro the door. Euphemisms are awesome, because they allow genuinely decent dudes like Mattingly to obscure a raft of insults (in this case, "lazy entitlement case") under the cloak of "philosophical differences." Good riddance.
The off-the-field stuff has largely been muted, which is great for civic pride and Don Mattingly's sanity but bad for this column. You try wringing 125 words out of James Loney's bullpen audition or the horror that is their catching situation. Would it kill Frank McCourt to steal Phil Jackson's girlfriend, or try and sell the team's TV rights to Google?
Well, well, well -- look who was temporarily in third place! Third place in a division populated by underperformers and the chronically pathetic, mind you, but third place nonetheless. Unfortunately, the standing-elevating wins came over the Astros, which may or may not count as official games ... It was a tale of two series. The three games against the Phillies were everything one expects from the 2011 Dodgers: They lost big, they lost close, they lost after blowing a huge early lead, you name it. They were going to find a way to lose, by hook or by crook. And then against the Astros over the weekend, they surrendered a single run in three contests. It turns around just that quickly.
Kenley Jansen begins to throw well again, then his heart starts thumping out the "YYZ" drum solo. They rip off a few wins, then they learn Rubby de la Rosa needs Tommy John surgery. At this point, you can forgive Dodger fans for hoping that nothing goes even half-right, because each positive is swiftly followed by a kidney punch of a negative ... Do not refer to newly elevated starter Nathan Eovaldi as "Nate," in person or from afar. Just don't. Please. Trust me on this.
In the wake of the McCourt idiocy, Ned Colletti was probably thrilled to talk about baseball for a change. Judging by the trade returns, however, his excitement might've gotten the better of him. Is it possible that he wasn't aware who Trayvon Robinson was? ... All that "I can't fathom wearing another uniform" stuff that Hiroki Kuroda said last week will sound even sadder when creditors repo his cleats in a few weeks ... As for on-the-field stuff, the team started Tony Gwynn Jr. 19 times during the month of July. And so ends my one-week streak of writing a Dodgers blurb that doesn't include the word "depressing."
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