The fans who have not yet lost hope with their beloved Los Angeles Dodgers are pulling out their hair, racking their brains, and seeing their stress levels reach dangerous peaks.
If it was a simple task to isolate one problem area that is causing the Dodgers' horrible play, the coaching staff would have taken care of it already. After all, that's what they get paid to do.
But perhaps the one thing that has plagued the Boys in Blue the most this season is drama—2010 hasn't seen a moment without it.
On top of the McCourt divorce and the potential sale of the club, a supposition the team was controlled by a wizard in years past, a constantly shrinking payroll, and an overpopulated disabled list, the story that is beginning to take center stage now is whether or not Joe Torre will return as the Los Angeles Dodgers' manager.
And if Torre decides to walk away from Los Angeles, more drama surfaces—who becomes the heir to Torre's throne?
Well, that's entirely a whole other can of worms that will be front page news in every paper on the west coast about three weeks from now.
But one of the candidates certainly in front of the pack is current batting coach Don Mattingly. As a matter of fact, Mattingly has been picked apart with endless criticism about his managerial skills—so much so that the organization has assigned him the task of managing the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League once the Dodgers' season ends.
So is it possible that amidst all of these theatrics that Mattingly is slacking with his coaching duties?
Since the All-Star break, the Dodgers have been hitting .199 as a team; and on paper the additions of Scott Podsednik and Ryan Theriot will not help the squad's collective slugging percentage of .297.
The normally hot sticks of James Loney, Casey Blake and Andre Ethier have been silent since the mid-season intermission. Loney is batting .183 with a .317 slugging percentage, Blake is hitting .172 while slugging .293, and Andre Ethier is at a dreadful .135 average with a .269 slugging percentage.
Just looking at those numbers makes Dodger fans want to praise Garret Anderson for his contributions this season.
And up until Monday night, Matt Kemp's bat looked like a fishing pole being cast into the trees. There were no logical mechanics in his swing whatsoever. Somebody must have been giving him somekind of instruction.
Yet through all of this, the Dodgers may have just one small glimmer of hope.
That being in the form of one Manny Ramirez.
Say what you will about Manny's actions off the field; but scores of players around the League will tell you that there are few players who step onto the field more prepared than Ramirez.
Manny probably knows the tendencies of opposing pitchers better than several batting coaches around the Majors.
Ramirez never stops watching film. Most players around the League won't change a thing when they're in the middle of a hot streak, but that's when Manny experiments. He actually plays games with the pitchers within the actual game itself—battles, if you will.
He changes the mood of the team; he reduces the stress level. He may even tell a funny joke at an appropriate time. He informs his teammates what to expect from opposing pitchers. The bottom line is that he creates positive chemistry—he creates an entirely new outlook to the game. All the things that a batting coach is paid to do.
It's tough to even remember looking into the dugout and seeing one of those Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier trademark smiles—or even that shifty little grin from James Loney that Dodger fans all know and love. It's been a long time.
Time and time again, players on championship squads echo the secret to their success, "We just go out there and have fun every night."
The Dodgers' players aren't having fun at all.
Many folks around Dodgertown feel let down by Manny Ramirez. With three trips to the disabled list, they feel he's not contributing to the squad at all. They believe he's old, that his bat has slowed down, and that there's nothing left in the tank.
Still, he's still putting up strong numbers when he's healthy—a .317 average, eight homeruns and 39 RBI. With runners in scoring position he's batting .352 with 29 RBI.
But yet he offers so much more than statistics.
Okay, so maybe he's not going to be the real hitting coach when he returns sometime next week.
But just ask Matt Kemp, Rafael Furcal, Ronnie Belliard, James Loney or Andre Ethier if they would mind having Manny as their hitting instructor. The answer would be unanimous.
The notion of being in the same lineup as one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game will elevate a player's performance in a hurry.
And watch each one of those five guys erupt with a smile when Manny walks back onto the field again.
Sometimes it just takes the littlest of things...
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