Amazing run to division title hard for players to appreciate after NLCS loss
ST. LOUIS -- On the morning of June 22, the Dodgers woke up in last place, a high-salaried wreck with little apparent hope for redemption. Clayton Kershaw had lost the night before, lamenting that "it's no fun coming into this clubhouse every day and losing."
So that evening, the Dodgers started doing something about it, engineering one of the more remarkable midseason comebacks in Major League history. They won 42 of their next 50 games, leaping from last place to first in exactly one month. They made Los Angeles a baseball town again. They brushed off a major injury to superstar Matt Kemp without a second thought.
Then they lost the National League Championship Series in six games to the Cardinals, which overshadowed all the rest.
"What does it really matter, making the playoffs or coming in last place?" Kershaw said. "If you don't win the World Series, it doesn't really matter."
A 92-win season and division title may look fine on paper, but the Dodgers were not having any of it following Friday's 9-0 season-ending loss to the Cardinals. They did not want to focus on Yasiel Puig's standout rookie season, Kershaw's Cy Young-caliber campaign or Zack Greinke's successful first season in blue and white. Even manager Don Mattingly, who battled daily rumors of his imminent dismissal early in the season, did not want to consider the relative successes of a team that improved its win-loss record for the third straight summer.
"It's disappointing because of all the work that you put in from last winter, planning and trying to put a club together that has some depth," said Mattingly, who has never reached the World Series in 24 years as a big league player, coach and manager. "Going through spring, the long season and then it just comes to a crash ... it's disappointing for all of us."
Had the Dodgers entered postseason play with injured stars Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier all at full strength, things might have ended differently. Some of them acknowledged that late Friday night, even if they were unwilling to focus on it.
Little interested the Dodgers other than the scene outside their Busch Stadium clubhouse, where the Cardinals were celebrating their second pennant in three years.
With that as their backdrop, winning streaks no longer mattered to the Dodgers. Individual successes meant little to a group of players who quietly packed their bags and prepared for a long flight home. Ownership's willingness to spend as much as necessary to put a winning product on the field was hardly consolation.
"It's great, but we didn't meet our goal," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "I'm not really in the mood to pull out positives or moral victories right now. This hurts, and it's going to hurt for a long, long time -- probably until we get to Spring Training and we get back together again, we're going to think about this and what could have been."
Perhaps when the Dodgers do reflect on the 2013 season, they will remember a club that defied odds from late June through mid-October, turning a lost season into something far more exciting for their fans and their city.
At least that's the idea. As the Dodgers know now, things do not always work out as planned.
"If you don't win, what's the point?" Kershaw said. "It doesn't really matter, all this other stuff. We had some good moments this year. We put together a good streak there toward the middle. But really, unless you win the whole thing it doesn't really make a difference."