Shall we just get on the crazy bus right now? I mean, can things get any worse for the Los Angeles Dodgers franchise?
Just when we were starting to think this sorry ship of an organization could not sink lower, we find out that the current owners may still be around come Opening Day of next year because the courts have yet to decide which McCourt actually owns the team. Isn’t that like being forced to eat your peas when you were seven?
I spent two nights this week at Chavez Ravine watching the Dodgers try their level best to keep up with best team in baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s really hard to fault the product on the field—the boys in blue try hard, but overall, together, they’re not very good.
Thanks to the selfish ways of owner Frank McCourt, the Dodgers of today are not the iconic Dodgers of baseball history.
In a recent column for ESPN.com, writer Buster Olney lamented the state of the team and called their immediate future bleak: “No matter who the owner is a year from now, the Dodgers will need years -- years -- to fix the damage that has been done to their franchise. Not since the days before Branch Rickey took over the organization has anyone ever thought of the Dodgers as a team that needed to rebuild from the ground up, but they're not that far from that.”
Being the eternal optimist and a passionate baseball fan living in Los Angeles, I like to think this team is not that far away from getting its collective spirit and winning ways back sooner than later. Despite a terrible three-game series sweep to the Phillies this week, I can see a few bright spots that most teams would love to have.
First things first, though: The owner needs to go. If Frank McCourt truly cares about the Dodgers and the great fans that support them better than any city in America, he will do the right thing and sell the team. I could have sworn I heard fans this week singing a new version of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," their sentiments being directed towards the man who so desperately continues to hold the franchise by its neck:
Take him out of the ballgame,
Throw him out of the park.
Buy him a one-way to Beantown
We don’t care if he ever comes ‘round.
And it’s boo, boo, boo to the swindler
What he has done is a shame.
For it’s one, two, three strikes get out
Of our old ballgame.
Three months ago Javy Guerra was pitching for the Dodgers' minor league club in Chattanooga. Manager Don Mattingly called him up in May, and all he's done is go a perfect 10-of-10 in save opportunities.
The farm system is a shell of its former self, but every once in a while a gem surfaces. Guerra is more than a pleasant surprise; he's a keeper.
In the 28 games he's pitched in since May, Guerra has posted a 1.63 ERA, striking out 23 batters in 27.2 innings and giving up just five earned runs. He is 2-0 and what's even more remarkable is how poised he appears on the mound.
The 25-year-old rookie was brought up with the thought that he'd fill in for a while and then head back to the minors. Three months later Guerra has become the shining star of a bullpen that's been in disarray for the better part of three seasons.
As Mattingly told writer Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times recently, "Javy has weapons. He's got a quick arm, he has a good slider, he's got a cutter he throws 95, 96 [mph]. He's a tough pick-up."
What a difference a year and a new set of eyes make.
Dodgers infielder Aaron Miles hit just .185 two years ago while playing for the Chicago Cubs. His eyes were giving him a lot of trouble, and even though he wore contacts, his astigmatism in one eye was a major problem.
A career .282 hitter, Miles decided to undergo laser eye surgery, and the results were eye-opening, to say the least. Now sporting 20/15 vision, Miles can see pitches sooner and better, and the results have been outstanding at the plate.
Miles has played in 97 games for the Dodgers, splitting time between second and third base. His batting average has hovered around .300 (currently .292) all year, and he's been a more than pleasant surprise for a weak-hitting Dodgers lineup.
At 33, Miles is not being counted on as a player for the future, but he certainly has been a steady bat and given a lift to a team that has struggled all season to hit and score runs.
Miles has been counted out before and when he came to camp this spring probably thought the club had him penciled in for Albuquerque. He proved them and a lot of fans wrong; he's a gritty player who works hard and carries enthusiasm onto the field every night.
He's about as old school as you can get in today's fast-paced, take the biggest check and run world of professional sports. Hiroki Kuroda could have gone to a big contender this summer—the Dodgers were fine to let him go—only he chose to stay put in Los Angeles and finish out the campaign with his teammates.
If they had an award for "Hard Luck Player of the Year," it would have to go to this veteran Japanese import, who has done all the team has asked of him and more. The reason Kuroda's pitching record is a dismal 7-14 is because his wonderful teammates don't score any runs to support his brilliant pitching.
Kuroda has a stellar ERA of 3.01, but when he pitches the team scores an average of just 2.9 runs, which is the second-worst of any National League pitcher with at least 13 starts. His pitching teammates all get a lot more love than that: Clayton Kershaw has 4.2, Ted Lilly has 4.1 and Rubby De La Rosa has 3.7 runs to show for their starts.
Still, when it came time for Kuroda to make a decision on whether to lift the clause that allowed the Dodgers to trade him, he said no. He has only been a Dodger since coming to the team from Japan in 2008, and he said he wanted to remain one until this season ends.
Kuroda is 36 but could easily pitch another couple of years. Aside from the poor won-lost record, he is having the best season of his major league career, still strikes out a lot of hitters, has great stuff and is durable.
Kuroda makes $11 million, and if he decides to stay in L.A. for another year or two, he could probably be signed for less than that. There must be a few pennies lying around somewhere.
The Dodgers might not have a lot of prospects down on the farm, since they have either traded them away or brought them up to the big club early. But they certainly have one of the best young arms in all of baseball in southpaw Clayton Kershaw.
The 23-year-old has three years under his belt and pitches like a crafty veteran. He is the unquestioned leader of the staff with a 13-5 record, 2.79 ERA and 184 strikeouts in 167 innings. Opponents are hitting just .212 against him.
Kershaw is having an MVP-type season and is only going to get better. He won five games his rookie season, eight the next year and 13 in 2010. He has already tied that total and is on pace to go 18-7 this campaign.
Kershaw, on a one-year contract, is making $500,000 this year. The team will need to bump that up significantly if it hopes to keep him. The Dodgers can't afford a cup of coffee these days, but they also cannot afford to lose this prize athlete.
At least Sports Illustrated had the courtesy not to put a photo of Matt Kemp on the cover of the magazine—long considered to be the kiss of death for an athlete on a hot streak.
But a feature in SI on the MVP exploits of this 26-year-old center fielder with the golden arm, sprinter's legs and powerful bat gave credence to what Dodger fans have been noticing all year: Matt Kemp has finally arrived and in a hurry is being touted as one of the best players, period, in the majors.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly recently told Ben Reiter of SI that Kemp is as good as anyone in baseball:
"He's unbelievable. You see him go get balls, you see him run the bases, that's an athlete, and there's no doubt about it. There's some good athletes out there, but right now, I don't think there's anybody that you'd rather have. He's stealing bags, hitting for power hitting for average, doing the whole thing. Right now, there's nobody better."
Last year was a lost season for Kemp—a career-high 28 home runs, 89 RBI and 19 steals. He hit a career-low .249. Many critics pointed to Kemp's tight relationship with pop diva Rihanna as the reason for his "slump." Kemp disputes that.
Nonetheless, Matt Kemp is having a career year this season and is on a pace to capture league MVP while playing for a team with an anemic offense, a bankrupt owner and 7,000 fewer fans in the stands than last season. Kemp is relaxed and having the time of his life—he seems to finally and totally understand the nuances of playing a 162-game season.
Kemp is at .320 with 26 homers and 85 RBI and is on pace to hit 36 home runs with 119 RBI and 42 stolen bases (he's already reached 30 thefts for the season).
So, while Frank and Jamie McCourt continue to battle it out in the courts, doing everything in their power to rip apart one of the storied franchises in all of sports, Matt Kemp carries the torch for the future Dodgers—the team that will one day soon have a new owner, a well-stocked minor league system and a passion for the game that's been missing.
Kuroda, Miles, Guerra, Kershaw, Kemp and embattled yet resilient manager Don Mattingly are all good reasons to keep the hope alive. The real Dodgers will return...as soon as their lame-duck owner can find the nearest freeway on ramp headed east for Beantown.