The Los Angeles Dodgers season has turned into a riddle so difficult to crack that only the Riddler himself could have thought it up.
It has become a guessing game as to which club will show up for the playoffs: the one that went 56-32 in the first half of the season, or the one that has regressed to a 37-34 second-half record.
Joe Torre’s club clinched a playoff berth with an 8-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates last Saturday night, and the Dodgers neglected to celebrate because they wanted to wait for the division title to pop bottles.
But that champagne has been on ice for almost a week now, and the possibility remains that the Dodgers could enter the post-season as the Wild Card team instead of NL West champs.
Now, the looming post-season looks more and more like an execution date rather than a celebration, after losing four games in a row and dropping six out of their last eight contests.
In fact, the past two nights show the lack of determination in the club, as the last five hitters of the game have struck out on back-to-back nights for the Blue Crew; a far cry from the “Comeback Kids” I came to know earlier in the season.
Maybe it was the long road trip at the end of the season.
Maybe it was the poor competition.
No matter what the excuse, the Dodgers haven’t shown a drop of emotion during this recent swoon, instead showing a truly ugly side: the side that gives up.
The Dodgers I knew earlier in the season would have battled to at least put some pressure on an inexperienced Padres club, knowing that just one victory would seal the deal on the NL West.
But with no gas visible in the tank, the Dodgers return to the City of Angels in what has suddenly become reminiscent of a dark and gloomy Gotham, with the townspeople dreading their impending fate.
Someone needs to be a superhero and end this madness before it turns into a tragedy.
This year’s Dodgers team is incredibly talented and has all the pieces to win a championship, but the worst thing a team can do in the postseason is have inconsistent play—whether it’s in the field, on the mound, or at the plate.
And that’s exactly what the trouble is—the Dodgers are struggling at all aspects of the game right now, and to make things worse, the injuries keep adding up.
Casey Blake. Ronnie Belliard. Clayton Kershaw. Hong Chi-Kuo. Jim Thome. Guillermo Mota.
All of those players have some sort of ailment, and they’re not going to have the luxury of finding their timing when they come back—because it’s going to be the post-season by time they do.
Kershaw will throw this weekend, probably around 90 pitches, but is that enough to get him comfortable going into the NLDS?
Blake and Belliard will pinch-hit this weekend, but Blake has missed 12 games this month alone with a hamstring problem.
Kuo’s elbow is so unpredictable that trainer Stan Conte lists him as being on a “pitch-to-pitch” basis, and lately the southpaw has experienced a bout of wild pitches.
When a team gets into a short five-game series, like in the divisional round, it can ill afford to fall behind early, and the Dodgers are showing every indication that they might have the juice to make a push for the World Series.
So tomorrow night, the Blue Crew turns to the steady hand of Randy Wolf in the opener of a three-game weekend tilt with the second-place Colorado Rockies.
If the Rockies win tomorrow while the Dodgers have a day off, the Rox will pull to within two games of the Dodgers in the NL West.
But one win.
Yet if Los Angeles doesn’t get that win, the series will send shock waves throughout Major League Baseball because the NL seeding picture is still up for grabs.
The Phillies (92-66) are just a half game behind the Dodgers (93-66) for the best record in the Senior Circuit, and any slip-ups this weekend could cost the Dodgers home-field advantage for the NLCS, should they get there.
Look, I understand that last year the team went into the playoffs with a 5-5 record in their last 10 games—but they also took care of business and clinched the division before the final weekend last year.
I hope the Comeback Kids, not this "new" team, boarded that short flight from San Diego to L.A., because as I continue to grow more frustrated with this club, it continues to fall farther and farther from the championship-caliber team it once was.
So turn over that face, Dodgers.
Show me the one with some fight in it.
PJ Ross is a Featured Columnist for the Los Angeles Dodgers