On Monday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers ended another unpleasant trip to the East Coast, blowing a 3-1 lead in the ninth inning at Atlanta, as reliever Hong-Chih Kuo and Octavio Dotel could record but one out in a game the Braves won 4-3.
The Dodgers should have arrived back in Los Angeles in the wee hours of the morning on Tuesday to start a homestand with a three-game series against Colorado.
Although I cannot say this for certain, it would be a fairly safe guess that most of the Dodgers traveling party will not be arriving in the best of moods. But, that seems normal for this season. 2010 is a season where little has gone right for the Dodgers, and most of the reaction to it from the team and the media covering the Dodgers has been one of crabbiness. From all of my years of watching the Dodgers (and I started paying attention in 1971), I have never seen a year marked by such whining and complaining by players, coaches, executives, and even fans.
And yet, I cannot turn away from a game when it's on television to watch. Or turn down tickets to a game, like the ones I received for Thursday. Although this doesn't mean I might not be crabby.
Perhaps the crabbiness of 2010 was presaged last season when the Dodgers NLCS loss to the Phillies was overshadowed by the announcement that the Dodgers owners, Frank and Jamie McCourt, were divorcing.
I don't need to get into the details of l'affaire McCourt as there is already a blog devoted almost exclusively to the topic and Bill Shaikin of the Times seems to have a similar task.
The Dodgers have been beset by injuries, most notably to Manny Ramirez, but also to Rafael Furcal and Russell Martin. While the absences of Ramirez and Furcal are reportedly temporary, the injury to Martin (a torn labrum in his hip) has knocked him out for the season. This has forced Dodgers manager Joe Torre to use Brad Ausmus and A.J. Ellis as his starting catchers. And neither one is quite up to the task.
Jonathan Broxton, who saved the All-Star game for the National League, somehow lost his ability to command his pitches, leading to some horrific blown saves, including a 10-9 loss at Philadelphia last Thursday. The Dodgers lead that game 9-2 going to the bottom of the eighth. Broxton lost his job as closer after that game to the combination of Kuo and Dotel, the villains of Monday's loss.
Center fielder Matt Kemp (who will receive bobblehead treatment at Dodger Stadium Tuesday night) has received public criticism from general manager Ned Colletti in April and third base coach Larry Bowa in August *. Kemp, who has not had a good year by the standard he set in 2009, nevertheless has been one of the team's best hitters. But, his inconsistent fielding and baserunning have been magnified in the light of the public comments by Colletti and Bowa.
Kemp's agent Dave Stewart used Plaschke to air out his client's displeasure with the front office and coaches Bowa and Bob Schaefer (whose criticism of Kemp's back in the late June series against the Yankees led to Kemp being benched for a brief period). Bowa and Schaefer then had to reply to defend their names.
Bowa, who thought Jim Edmonds didn't try hard enough when he was on the Angels, and thought Scott Rolen didn't apply himself well enough when he was on the Phillies, has come across as one of the least happy and most unreasonable of any member of the Dodgers coaching staff since Leo Durocher worked under Walter Alston. Bowa's continued employment by the Dodgers (or by any team) is a tribute to the sport's time-honored tradition of hiring hard-ass coaches to do the dirty work of managers. It has been difficult to see what sort of tangible benefit the Dodgers get from employing Bowa. Aside from runners being told when to try to score from second on a single.
* Interestingly, sometime this year the Dodgers nominated Kemp for a fairly meaningless award given out by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association called "The Heart and Hustle Award."
So much of the Dodgers sins this year are laid at the feet of Kemp and Broxton. However, the team has underachievers to spare. Third baseman Casey Blake has produced only 12 home runs and walked just 35 times compared to 96 strikeouts, while batting .247. First baseman James Loney, playing a position that almost demands power, has but eight home runs.
Right fielder Andre Ethier hit 11 home runs in the first 31 games of the season and then went on to hit just five in the next 51 games he played. Ethier, who has defensive shortcomings even worse than Kemp's, has managed to avoid much of the finger-pointing for the Dodgers 60-58 record.
But there is always finger-pointing. For the majority of fans, the McCourts are the primary culprits. They are viewed as greedy social climbers, who used the Dodgers solely as a way to make money, not build a winning team. It's a convenient excuse that covers lots of problems. Except for the problem of the players not performing well.
For other people, Ned Colletti and the Dodgers front office are to blame. Either Colletti has been afraid to make a trade for a big name starting pitcher, such as Cliff Lee (dealt from Philadelphia to Seattle to Texas this year) or Roy Oswalt (dealt from Houston to Philadelphia.)
Joe Torre is another culprit. Supposedly, Torre is inept at bullpen management, costing the Dodgers games by misusing Broxton. That explanation then fails to explain why Broxton's replacements, Kuo and Dotel, performed almost exactly like Broxton did against Philadelphia. Other crimes on the bill of indictments against Torre include: relying on veterans over younger players, and not appearing to look like he cares much during games. Torre's status for 2011 will be known once the Dodgers clinch a playoff spot or are mathematically eliminated.
There are other players who have been blamed for the Dodgers problem. Reserve outfielder Garret Anderson was a popular scapegoat in the Dodgers blogosphere. Anderson was give ample opportunities to show that he wasn't through, but he certainly looked to be over the hill, batting just .181.
Anderson's replacement on the roster was Jay Gibbons, who was out of the majors since 2007. Gibbons was a principal figure in the Mitchell Report on PEDs and was named as a recipient of shipments of human growth hormone. The Orioles released Gibbons in 2008, and it took until 2010 before Gibbons made it back to the majors. So far, Gibbons has not faced much scrutiny from the press about his involvement with HGH. And the fans seem to like him. Mainly because he has hit better than Garret Anderson did.
It's pretty likely that the Dodgers will be missing out on the playoffs in 2010 after winning the division in 2008 and 2009. (The Angels are going to miss out on the playoffs too, although this doesn't seem to be create as much crabbiness.) Fans and the media will crab about how Frank McCourt didn't spend enough money or that Ned Colletti would only make trades for veterans that only made dubious marginal gains in team quality (Ted Lilly, Scott Podsednik, Ryan Theriot, as well as Dotel.)
What most fail to recognize is that sometimes in baseball, like in all other sports, you're just not going to be able to win every year. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes players underperform. Sometimes other teams are better than you thought (yes, I'm looking at you San Diego, with your best record in the National League.)
It's not the end of the world. It's not a reason to give up being a fan. If you only want to root for a team that is guaranteed to finish first, you will never be happy as a fan. (I am good friends with a Yankees fan who seems unhappy frequently about the Yankees play this season.) There are still games to be played. The Dodgers have a faint hope of making the playoffs, but probably the best they can do is make it harder for either the Giants or Phillies to make the postseason.
I can only predict that the final weeks of the 2010 regular season will bring about even more crabbiness from the Dodgers and their fans. It may occasionally have some grousing mixed in as well. There likely won't be much joy, but I sometimes think that a lot of people just want it to be that way.