LOS ANGELES – Spend $260 million over a few hours, a $491,000 part comes loose, and the baseball season threatens to go clunky again.
It's that fragile, the Los Angeles Dodgers having recast nearly a third of their roster by lightening their farm system and Guggenheim's wallet, and a few days later their 24-year-old (and minimally paid) closer – Kenley Jansen – is in the hospital with what seems to be a serious heart ailment. He's out of the hospital now, seeing specialists, and his season could be over.
Not only that, but the Dodgers' second-best starting pitcher, Chad Billingsley, hasn't pitched in a week because of a sore right elbow and on Thursday endured a platelet-rich injection in hopes he could pitch again this season.
Yes, general manager plans, baseball god laughs.
The San Francisco Giants lose their No. 3 hitter for 50 games, the Oakland A's have their sturdiest pitcher go poof for 50, Mark Teixeira grabs a calf, Jake Peavy contracts an eye infection, Rafael Furcal is led from the field by a trainer, Stephen Strasburg has a date with an armchair and remote control. Division races rise and fall. Wild-card chases turn colors. Continuity loses ground. And the Dodgers lose again.
Amid that uncertainty then the Dodgers devise contingency plans, and re-devise them, and visualize other men in other roles, and count the days to roster expansion. With barely a month left in the season, they'll rethink the ninth inning, which will require rethinking the innings leading to the ninth inning, and that's a helluva place to be come September.
The changes at Dodger Stadium still jostle the brain. Josh Beckett is in the clubhouse. None of the first four batters in Thursday night's lineup – Nick Punto, Shane Victorino, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez – was here a month ago. Matt Kemp missed another baseball game. The new owner can come out in public, and does. The manager, Don Mattingly, decides enough is enough, that getting thoroughly outplayed again is unacceptable, and afterward gathers his men to remind them what kind of baseball wins games. You know, in order to try out this new ninth inning thing, at some point they're going to need a lead.
Good thing for Dodgers fans they have Vin Scully, who is in his 63rd season of making the home club sound magical, whether it really is or not.
(He'll be back for a 64th. On Thursday he filled the stadium on the occasion of his bobblehead night, and threw out the first pitch in a ceremony that included 15 of his 16 grandchildren.
"One of the reasons I asked to stay on for another year is I just didn't have it in my heart to say goodbye," Scully said. He mentioned the people he sees every day in the press box, from the security men to the chef to the writers to his television crew. "I kept thinking," he said, "are you ready to say goodbye to all those people? Who's going to fill that gap?")
With 24 hours remaining to acquire a reliever who'd still be eligible come October, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti wasn't having much luck. Generally, anyone who's available looks a lot like what Colletti already has. So, the immediate plan is to cling to Ronald Belisario and Brandon League, and maybe some Javy Guerra when he's added to the roster. And, well, that's the whole plan so far.
Over the final five weeks, the Dodgers needed a lot to go right if they were to catch the Giants or out-run the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves. Or if they were to do both. Coming up on September, that's not really how it's gone. Outside of one afternoon in Colorado, the new and improved lineup hasn't produced. The team lost Thursday for the fourth time in five games, and for the seventh time in 10. Their opponent Thursday was the Arizona Diamondbacks, who'd arrived on a six-game losing streak and in serious jeopardy of losing touch with the big boys. They bused back to their hotel thinking, "Well, maybe."
That's because things change. What looked good on the transaction wire still has to work a count or command a fastball or hit a cut-off man.
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Mattingly's not the meeting type, but then these Dodgers weren't supposed to lose 2-0 games either, not after a bunch of other losses, and Mattingly wore a rather stern expression while sorting through a 4½-game deficit in the NL West.
"We just had some things to talk about, that's all," he said. "Where we're at and where we're trying to go."
Before the game, Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers said it was especially difficult at this point to lose players "in the premium positions: a closer, an ace, a shortstop, a center fielder." The Dodgers are down a closer, added a shortstop, and are momentarily without their center fielder. Their ace, Clayton Kershaw, was outpitched by Ian Kennedy.
The Dodgers made the aggressive trades and spent the aggressive dollars. They've lost ground since.
"It'll probably have more impact next year and going forward than this year," Towers said. "But, who knows? We'll probably know more over the next six weeks."
Until then, the Dodgers wait on news from Jansen, and Billingsley, and even Kemp. They wait on the new guys to hit. They wait on the wins. And they hope it isn't as fragile as it suddenly appears.
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