Singing the L.A. Blues: Eight Reasons the Dodgers Fell from Contention in 2010

Dennis SchlossmanCorrespondent ISeptember 9, 2010

Singing the L.A. Blues: Eight Reasons the Dodgers Fell from Contention in 2010

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    What a difference a year makes.

    After two consecutive trips to the NLCS in 2008 and 2009, Dodgers fans had even higher hopes for the 2010 season.

    Folks in Dodgertown knew that the divorce between Frank and Jamie McCourt would have some type of effect on the organization, but nobody guessed the 2010 campaign would turn into a struggle on the field.

    For the first two months of the season, the experts were concluding the Dodgers easily had the best offense in the NL West, and they presumed starting pitching would be the downfall for the Boys in Blue. However, those experts were way off the mark with their analysis—the starting pitchers were steady, and the offense was scarce.

    Some critics say it was the overwhelming number of injuries that prevented a successful year, while others insist it was the lack of funds to sign a big market player to put the team over the top. Some even blame the coaches and managers for ineffective guidance and poor decision-making.

    After Tuesday's 2-1 defeat to the San Diego Padres, the Dodgers found themselves under the .500 mark for the first time since May 11. Trailing the division-leading Padres and the Wild Card leaders by 10 games in both categories with only 23 contests remaining, the Dodgers are hoping to close out the year on a high note and build momentum heading into 2011.

    Still, with future management and ownership uncertain, many questions remain to be answered in the off-season, and depending on the outcome of the divorce trial, it may be difficult for the Dodgers to get a fresh start heading into next year.

    The following slides show eight primary reasons why the Los Angeles Dodgers fell from contention 2010. Everyone in Dodgertown hopes to put these horrors and nightmares in the past and start with a new sense of enthusiasm, and a fresh appetite in 2011.

     

Off-season Signings

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    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    After falling ever so short of a World Series appearance in 2009, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti had a busy off-season trying to polish the roster with acquisitions that would complete the club.

    Colletti opted to court veterans hoping that the experience and leadership skills of older players would carry over to a productive performance on the field.

    Instead of utilizing his own farm system, Colletti explored the free-agent market and signed several journeyman, including pitchers Russ and Ramon Ortiz, outfielder Garret Anderson, and infielder Nick Green.

    In the meantime, players like Xavier Paul, Jay Gibbons, Chin-lung Hu, Travis Schlichting, and Jon Link were eagerly awaiting their chances at a shot on the squad.

    Even in the middle of the season, Colletti signed veteran pitchers Jack Taschner, Claudio Vargas, and Kiko Calero in an effort to bolster the struggling bullpen.

    Rather than take a chance on a handful of veterans well past their prime, perhaps things may have turned out differently if the Dodgers would have given opportunities to the youngsters much earlier in the season.

Manny Ramirez's Wheels

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Entering the 2010 season, Manny Ramirez was once again the centerpiece of the Dodgers' lineup.

    Bracketed with Silver Slugger Award winners Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, the Los Angeles outfield promised to be among the most potent offensively in the majors.

    Manny never made it through the first month of the season with a clean bill of health, and was placed on the disabled list on April 23 with an aggravated calf muscle.

    It didn't stop there. In late June, Ramirez landed on the DL again with a hamstring injury, then on July 17 he visited the injured list for a third time with yet another calf strain. Of the 132 games that the Dodgers played before he was claimed off waivers by the Chicago White Sox, Manny competed in a total of 66.

    Ramirez did put up solid numbers when he was healthy, however, and it was obvious that he made everyone around him better when he was a fixture in the lineup. Even at 38 years of age, pitchers threw carefully to Ramirez, which created more desirable hitting situations for the players surrounding him in the batting order. Manny was rumored to study more film of opposing pitchers than even his coaches, and offered invaluable hitting advice to all of his teammates.

    It's difficult to say where the Dodgers would be in the standings if Ramirez would have been healthy all season, but many believe the Dodgers may have been in contention if Manny would have contributed more. 

Andre Ethier's Broken Finger

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Before breaking his right little finger in a batting practice accident on May 15, Andre Ethier was putting together a season which most players dream to have. When he was officially placed on the disabled list on May 17, Ethier led the majors in batting average (.392), home runs (12), RBI (38) and OPS (1.201).

    After 15 days of recovery, Ethier never seemed to fully get his true swing back in order. In the 84 games since his stint on the DL, he batted only .252 with nine home runs and 34 RBI with a .708 OPS.

    If Ethier's early-season form would have been present during July and August, things may have turned out differently for the Dodgers, especially from an offensive standpoint.

The Vladimir Shpunt Revelations

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    Seemingly, the mentalities of those employed by the Los Angeles Dodgers were never the same once the LA Times broke the news story of Vladimir Shpunt on June 10.

    From 2003 to 2008 the Dodgers' organization paid Shpunt, a Russian physicist and faith healer, sums of money "exceeding six figures," to send positive energy waves to the Boys in Blue in order to help elevate their play on the field and win more games.

    The irony of the entire process was that Shpunt did most of the energy transposing more than 2,000 miles away from his home in Boston.

    Although silent on the matter, Dodgers' players and coaches were completely blown away with the news, and were clearly drained upon learning that ownership would stoop to such levels of stupidity. It changed the players' feelings about the McCourts, and it showed on the diamond as well.

    Perhaps after the news story broke, Shpunt reversed the process and began sending negative energy waves, thus resulting in the substandard play in the second half of the season.

    It was never revealed whether Frank or Jamie McCourt ordered the services from the Russian wizard.

The Kemp and Colletti Episode

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    On April 27, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti appeared on KABC Radio's "The Peter Tilden Show," and when asked about the dismal performance of his team, Colletti was quick to give fault to Matt Kemp.

    Colletti told Tilden that Kemp's defense and base-running were below average, and speculated aloud whether Kemp's new contract, a two-year, $10.95 million deal he signed in his first season of arbitration eligibility, might have made Kemp a little too comfortable.

    Eventually, according to Colletti, the matter was resolved behind closed doors. However, the problems didn't stop for Matt Kemp.

    Throughout the course of the season, Kemp battled conflicts with third base coach Larry Bowa, bench coach Bob Schaefer, and was even thrown in manager Joe Torre's dog house at one point.

    Critics attributed these discords to Matt Kemp's laziness and poor play on the field, but certainly the confrontation with Colletti in April was the catalyst of Kemp's struggles which lasted most of the season.

    Although Kemp has expressed his wishes to remain in Dodger Blue, his agent, Dave Stewart, will certainly be exploring trade possibilities in the off-season.

    Perhaps if the initial disagreement between Colletti and Kemp would have never gone public in the beginning, Kemp's season may have turned out differently.  

The Bullpen

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    It's very difficult to digest the fact that the 2009 Los Angeles Dodgers' bullpen was among the most effective in baseball. At this point in 2010, it's almost safe to say that it is among the worst.

    Lefty George Sherrill was the first to tumble, having seen his 2009 ERA of 0.65 skyrocket to a vile 6.47 this year.

    Ronald Belasario was placed on the restricted list twice due to personal problems, and was never able to develop any consistency after missing the majority of the season.

    Ramon Troncoso's mechanics completely broke down, and up until last week, spent a good portion of the season in the minor leagues trying to rediscover his form.

    And Jonathan Broxton, who was considered by many as one of the top three closers in the game, completely lost any type of effectiveness after the All-Star break.

    Even veteran closer Octavio Dotel, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates just before the trade deadline, has struggled since putting on a Dodger uniform.

    It's understandable that one or two relievers may have rough seasons, but having five key players experience total meltdowns was certainly a nail in the coffin.

The Manager and the Coaches

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Undoubtedly, Joe Torre will be remembered as one of the greatest managers in MLB history.

    However, in his later years, it's showing that his strengths lie within managing a team with talent and potential already in place—not rebuilding. He's a genius at handling conflicting personalities, yet he has no answers for a team trying to dig itself out of a deep hole.

    His questionable ability to manage the Dodger bullpen, and his unorthodox lineup shuffling have raised eyebrows among the Dodger faithful on many occasions this season.

    On the offensive front, many Dodgers' fans were thinking that the team was without a batting coach for the entire season. It was obvious that the younger players, mainly Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, and James Loney, had probably the worst years of their careers offensively.

    Perhaps Don Mattingly's aspirations of managing have impeded his coaching duties. If the Dodgers see Mattingly as part of the future of the organization, perhaps Don should start at the bottom and work his way up, beginning in Single-A. Mattingly plans on managing the Phoenix Desert Dogs, the Dodgers' Arizona Rookie League squad in mid-October, which is a step in the right direction.

    Maybe a completely new coaching staff would benefit the Los Angeles Dodgers in more ways than one.

The Divorce

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    With each passing day of the McCourt divorce trial, more information is revealed that seems to land body blows to the stomachs of every Dodgers' supporter far and wide.

    Six years ago, Frank McCourt bought the Los Angeles Dodgers franchise for $430 million, and now in 2010, the organization is carrying a debt of more than $433 million, according to court documents.

    Bill Shaikin of the LA Times has recently reported that the debt load has limited how the Dodgers can pay the players (deferred contracts), and will likely have an effect on the team's ability to sign new talent next year.

    Shaikin also disclosed in several articles that Frank McCourt was turned down in efforts to secure financing by a Chinese investment group and a television infomercial king.

    To add insult to injury, Frank and Jamie's combined attorney fees for the trial are expected to exceed $21 million.

    In addition, the state of Massachusetts is seeking more than $10 million in taxes from the McCourts, and last week the California attorney general's office began an investigation into the wrongdoings of the team charity, the Dodgers Dream Foundation.

    Despite all of this information being made public, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, Bud Selig, continues to sit idle. For the sake of the Los Angeles Dodgers' franchise, hopefully Judge Scott Gordon reaches a swift and justifiable decision, and orders the sale of the team. A quick sale would not only benefit the fans, the employees, the players, and coaches of the Dodgers, but it would be for the good of Major League Baseball in general.