Well, we're in the playoffs—a year sooner than I expected, thanks to Manny Ramirez!
Like all Los Angeles Dodger fans, I'm incredibly excited. Have they got the stuff to go all the way? Sure! The challenge is, so do all the other teams left. Hurray for October!
I'm a relatively new fan, with five seasons of listening to Vin Scully under my belt, but I know we're not supposed to look past the next game. However, waiting for the NLCS to start is like a cat waiting for a can opener.
In the meantime, my thoughts turn back to where we've been, and where we're headed.
The Dodgers have been through an exasperating season of injuries to established players: Brad Penny, Rafael Furcal, Nomar Garciaparra (as usual), Takashi Saito, and occasionally Jeff Kent, Hiroki Kuroda, Hong-Chih Kuo, and the addition-by-subtraction Andruw Jones.
We've had scrubs substituting for injured scrubs, times when the veterans on the field were sophomores, and times when the lineup's median age was something like 24.
Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and James Loney weren't able to step in and fill the shoes of the vets plus compensate for the sub-Mendoza part of the batting order. How our pitching staff managed to keep us treading water with so little run support, I don't know.
At last the cavalry began to arrive in the form of Angel Berroa (not top-notch, but reliable), Casey Blake (now we're getting somewhere), and finally, the godsend of Manny. Also—not to be forgotten—Greg Maddux alleviated the strain on the bullpen, so Manager Joe Torre didn't have to keep spot-starting relievers like Chan Ho Park at a time when the pen was already stretched by Saito on the Disabled List and Jonathan Broxton closing.
Now, finally, almost everyone we needed is off the DL, the holes are filled, the scrubs are gone, and Nomar and Kent are pinch-hitting instead of Andruw Jones and Mark Sweeny.
Despite Saito's iffy elbow, Broxton's ninth-inning nerves, and the absence of Kuo forcing Torre to overuse Cory Wade—overuse a reliever? Say it ain't so, Joe! The Dodgers are in far better shape than they were all season long.
Will we go all the way? No idea.
What really pleases me is that this is only the beginning. Regardless of where Manny's playing next year, we now have a bunch of proven young players who have been in the postseason once or even twice (those that started mid-2006). Most are around 23-24.
Think what Torre did when he began with Derek Jeter and all the rest of the young Yankees he started with 13 years ago. They were built into a dynasty.
Even if Manny is just a passing thunderbolt, look at the team that's emerging: Martin, Kemp, Ethier, Loney, and Blake DeWitt, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, and Broxton.
And that's not counting Scott Elbert, Chin-Lung Hu (Pacific Coast League Futures game MVP, still needs to adjust to big league pitching), Delwyn Young, Jason Repko, and Tony Abreu. They haven't proven themselves yet (except perhaps Repko), but some will.
Suddenly, Ned Colletti doesn't have many holes left to fill, and the only lingering problem is Jones/Juan Pierre. Signing Manny may lead to problems down the road, but it may be worth the risk to put a promising-looking team over the top.
Either way, this is a team coming of age. Dangerous bats, good pitchers, good defense, and speed.
So regardless of what happens in the playoffs this year, Dodgers fans can feel not only the excitement of these games, but realize that what we're looking at is NOT a fluke: It's the emergence of a team that's going to have a shot at the playoffs for years to come.
Is this the beginning of another Torre dynasty?
Will detractors once again insist that Torre can't manage because he was handed a core of good players who would excel with anyone at the helm?
That's the sort of sour grapes that carry the sweet whiff of victory.