As a soccer referee, I have heard it a thousand times.
After a close loss, the coach can generally be heard praising how well the team played; how tough they were. Okay, maybe that b.s. helps the morale of a bunch of 12-year olds whose only concern is what the post-game snack is. But in Major League baseball?
Well, after the Dodgers were swept by the Giants this past weekend, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly sounded like he belonged in the American Youth Soccer Organization.
“I really would like to sit here like I was all disappointed,” Mattingly said. “I’m not at all disappointed with the way we played. I thought we played tough the whole series.” Okay, you can give out the Juicy Juice and doughnuts now, Don.
The fact is the Dodgers rank 15th out of 16 NL teams in runs scored and home runs. Their loss to Arizona Monday night was the team’s fifth in a row and it dropped them into the NL West cellar. Mattingly believes the team is just a couple of clutch hits away from making a run at the division title. Or what he may actually be saying is “It’s not my fault.”
True, the Dodgers disabled list is growing faster than Lindsay Lohan’s rap sheet. The most recent addition to the list is second baseman Mark Ellis who was batting .342 with two home runs. He joins “stars” Hanley Ramirez, who returned from thumb surgery only to pull a hamstring, and pitchers Zack Greinke, still recovering from a broken collarbone, and Chad Billingsley, whose career may be over due to elbow surgery and a recent history of mediocrity. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez has missed a few games due to a stiff neck and could end up on the DL. Maybe the Dodgers roster is thinner than an anorexic giraffe but the replacements show no sign of being able to rise up and “jell” into a unit.
Luis Cruz, who hit .297 in 78 games last year, is hitting .091 and has morphed from the little engine that could back to the player that looks exactly like a player who has toiled in the minor leagues since 2001 yet has played in only 158 games. The Dodgers don’t really have a back-up first baseman to Gonzalez and the last few games has seen the position being handled by Cruz and the pathetic Juan Uribe (.239 BA). Other low-rent infielders include Skip Schumaker, batting .143, and Justin Sellers, mired at .191. Prospect Dee Gordon has recently taken over shortstop duties and is 3 for 10 in what might be his last rodeo as a Dodger.
The pitching depth is also non-existent. Josh Beckett has apparently lost whatever talent he had; he is 7-18 over the last two seasons. Some of what ails him is a poor offense but the fact is he has pitched more than six innings only once in his six starts this season.
I wonder if all the injuries and performance drop-offs can be partly attributed to baseball bearing down on performance enhancing drugs. Remedies that (supposedly) allow players to heal up quicker or even avoid injuries are a lot tougher to come by these days.
I also don’t know if there is such a thing as a “team identity” but the Dodgers certainly don’t have one. The playoff teams of 2008 and 2009 seemed to combine the swagger of the long-gone Manny Ramirez with the super-hero image of outfielders, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Kemp and Ethier are less than super these days-they are hitting .265 and .241, respectively, and have combined for a paltry four home runs.
On the bright side is reliever Paco Rodriguez who has not given up a run in his last four appearances. And the one player in the Red Sox trade the Dodgers were the most uncertain about, at least from a health-wise standpoint, Carl Crawford, is batting .308.
Still, no matter how you slice it, this is a pretty lifeless ballclub right now. Outside of Clayton Kershaw, there is no one to provide a spark. And looking ahead at the schedule, somebody better light a fire soon.
The Dodgers have eight games left in this homestand which includes two more against the D-backs, three against the Triple A Marlins, and three against everyone’s chic World Series pick, the Nationals. Winning of six or seven of the remaining eight is doable.
There are pretty much two types of teams in baseball-Memorial Day teams and Labor Day teams. In other words, a good team is still in the running come Labor Day whereas bad teams usually display their true colors come Memorial Day. And it so happens there is a big soccer tournament over the Memorial weekend. I won’t mind hearing the “we played tough” talk that weekend… as long as it isn’t coming from Mattingly.
And speaking of heroes….
In spite of a tough season, Matt Kemp still has time to say hello to one disabled fan. Click here to see nice guys still exist.