Dodgers may be investing for future longterm gains
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FRANCISCO -- Since taking $270 million in salary commitments off the hands of the Boston Red Sox, the Los Angeles Dodgers have gone 6-8.
While it is obviously too early to make any lasting judgment about the long-term effects of this move, it may not be too early to note that the 2012 Dodgers have not exactly been transformed by the trade with Boston. They have a genuine shot at qualifying for the postseason, but their chance of attaining that status as winners of the National League West remains a long shot.
The Dodgers took a step forward on Saturday with a nifty 3-2 victory over the San Francisco Giants. The victory brought the Dodgers to within 4 1/2 games of the first-place Giants in the NL West. Many people suggested after the Dodgers picked up Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto from Boston that they had become postseason locks. But that status is neither automatically nor easily reached.
You can see how Gonzalez, a proven, professional hitter and an accomplished defensive first baseman, will be of help to the Dodgers for years to come. And when Crawford returns from Tommy John surgery next season, there should be enough of his career left for him to offer substantial assistance. There can be less certainty regarding Beckett's contributions, given how badly he pitched in Boston this season (5-11, 5.23 ERA). His early returns for the Dodgers -- 1-2 with a 3.86 ERA in three starts -- can be fairly categorized as OK.
But in 2012, it does not seem likely that the Dodgers will catch the Giants. With Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley on the shelf with an elbow injury, the Giants have a significant edge in the starting rotation. And while the Giants' lineup still doesn't provide much in the way of raw power, it has become much more productive in the second half of the season.
The remaining schedules offer no solace for the Dodgers. The only games the Giants have against a team that currently owns a winning record are the four remaining games against the Dodgers. Los Angeles, conversely, has four games against the Cardinals, and three on the road against both Cincinnati and Washington, each of whom is a likely division winner.
The Dodgers' situation has become more difficult due to a left shoulder injury suffered by center fielder Matt Kemp, sustained when he ran into a wall on Aug. 28. With the shoulder problem lingering, Kemp, after undergoing an MRI, missed Saturday's game and is expected to miss the series finale on Sunday night.
A loss on Saturday would have been truly damaging, but the Dodgers received a very sturdy pitching performance from starter Chris Capuano. Matched against Matt Cain, in a September game with something of substance on the line, Capuano fully appreciated the circumstances and rose to the occasion.
"It was awesome," he said. "We're at the point where every game is a must-win for us. Beautiful day today, packed house, couldn't ask for a better setting for a baseball game than today."
"Adrian's going to hit, it's just a matter of time."
-- Don Mattingly
Also encouraging was the way the winning run was scored in the ninth; a leadoff triple by Gonzalez, followed by an RBI double from another 2012 acquisition, shortstop Hanley Ramirez. Gonzalez has hit only .241 since joining the Dodgers, but a better performance from him, according to manager Don Mattingly, is a question of when, not if.
"Adrian's going to hit, it's just a matter of time," Mattingly said.
Earlier in the day, Mattingly had been asked by a Los Angeles columnist when Gonzalez was going to show up. "Today," Mattingly responded. "I really have no worries about Adrian. Adrian's going to be really, really good."
In the same vein, Mattingly was asked if the race in the NL West was over.
"I don't feel like it's over at all," Mattingly said. "Heck, no. Are you kidding me? ... It's a matter of us getting going, win today, and we've got a chance to win the series tomorrow. To me, it doesn't feel like it's over at all. We've just got to keep a perspective on where we're at."
To illustrate that point, Mattingly recalled a series against the Cardinals in the second half last season.
"We went to St. Louis last year, swept those guys four straight," Mattingly said. "They're getting booed. They look like a dead team. And the next thing you know, two weeks later they caught fire and they rolled right through it all. We've got to get on that roll."
The Dodgers obviously have a better shot at qualifying for the postseason as one of two NL Wild Card teams. With the victory on Saturday, the Dodgers were one game behind St. Louis for the second Wild Card spot, pending the outcome of the Cardinals' game against Milwaukee.
But with the new postseason format, the two Wild Card teams will meet in a one-game playoff. For anyone who thought that Wild Card teams weren't being punished enough for not winning a division title, here's the punishment.
"We don't want to fool with the Wild Card," Kemp said. "We want to win the NL West."
Of course. And the Dodgers will have a legitimate shot at winning this series with ace Clayton Kershaw on the mound Sunday night against the Giants. But the road to a division title remains uphill for the 2012 Dodgers.
The big payoff for the big payout may have to wait for a future season.