World Series contender: Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers are in the playoff hunt after loading up on players over the summer.

The Dodgers are in the playoff hunt after loading up on players over the summer.

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:18 PM ET

Released this season from bankruptcy prison into a whole new world of unfathomable wealth where money is no object, no team in baseball has done so little with so much as the Los Angeles Dodgers over the past three months.

The sale of this iconic National League franchise in April for $2.15 billion to the Guggenheim Group was the highest price anyone has ever paid for a professional sports franchise. Forget that Frank McCourt’s stewardship of the Dodgers legacy made Jed Clampett look like a financial genius. Almost by mistake, McCourt made out like a bandit after mismanaging the team for years.

With a massive new television deal waiting in the wings this off-season, the new owners promised to flex their financial might but nobody could have foreseen the shopping spree that ensued. After the team played itself into contention over the course of the first couple of months, the new bosses traded for just about every big salary they could find.

The result? A team that went 43-36 over the first three months of the season has played two games under .500 since July 1. Over that same period, Dodgers management accumulated salary commitments that total nearly $194 million for 2013 alone.

But money does not always buy happiness or, in a baseball sense, victories. As the payroll went up, performance went down. The Dodgers led the NL West Division as recently as August 19 but just this past Sunday slipped out of a wild card position, just as they headed out on what has to be considered a make-or-break, nine-game road trip. Over the next week, they will face the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds, the teams with the two best records in all of Major League Baseball.

Since July 25, when they traded for Hanley Ramirez and Randy Choate from Miami, the Dodgers have added reliever Brandon League, outfielder Shane Victorino, pitcher Joe Blanton and then, in one of the all-time blockbusters, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto from the Boston Red Sox. All those trade partners were more than happy to unload their financial headaches in exchange for even a hint of talent in return.

Of all those players, Ramirez has delivered the most value. He’s hit 10 homers and driven in 38 runs in 49 games, with an OPS of .809. On the other side of the coin, Ramirez has been dreadful at shortstop, which is no longer his best position. Gonzalez, in 21 games, has hit one homer and driven in 16 runs with an OPS of .659, while Victorino has a homer and 11 RBI with a .614 OPS. In Sunday’s series-ending, 12-inning loss to St. Louis, which knocked LA out of the second NL wild card position, Victorino and Gonzalez were a combined 0-for-11 with one ball hit out of the infield between them.

Crawford is, of course, recovering from elbow surgery, League has been solid out of the bullpen, Beckett has been okay, but the team has won only one of his four starts and Blanton hasn’t delivered anything except an ERA over 6.00.

As they head east this week, they have lost eight of their last 11.

On August 14, when MLB dropped a bombshell on the San Francisco Giants with the news that Melky Cabrera, their MVP candidate, would be suspended for 50 games for a positive test for a performance-enhancing drug, the Dodgers and Giants were tied at the top of the NL West and Dodgers fans felt this might be the event that would break the stalemate. They were right.

Since that day, the Giants have pulled away, despite the loss of their best offensive weapon, winning 19 of 29 while the Dodgers have won just 12 of 30, as they pile up one $10-million-a-year acquisition after another.

As if this coming road trip doesn’t look like a big enough mountain to climb, the Dodgers aren’t going to get much comfort looking at the schedule the Cardinals face. While LA tries to get some traction against the Nats and Reds, the teams with the best record in baseball, the Cardinals have to contend with the Astros and Cubs, who happen to have the worst records in baseball.

And if the Cardinals aren’t enough of a concern, the suddenly-competitive Milwaukee Brewers are going to be heard from over the last two weeks of the season as well. The Brewers, who traded away their best pitcher, Zack Greinke, at the deadline, are 18-6 in their last 24 games and 11-4 in September, to sit just 11/2 games back of the Dodgers and 21/2 behind St. Louis.

Maybe the Dodgers should make another deal. Surely Vernon Wells is available, isn’t he?

KERSHAW LOSS WOULD BE HUGE

As if the outlook hasn’t turned dark enough for the Dodgers as they travel east to play the Nationals and Reds this week, the news has potential to get much worse.

Clayton Kershaw, the 24-year-old 2011 NL Cy Young winner might be the best pitcher in baseball. He’s certainly in that conversation but now his immediate future is in some peril.

The lefthander was scratched from his Sunday start against the Cardinals because of hip pain and he’ll see a hip specialist Tuesday to determine if surgery is necessary. If so, the earliest the Dodgers can expect him back into their rotation would be sometime next May.

With a 2.70 ERA and leading the NL in innings pitched (206.2) and strikeouts (206), Kershaw was very much in the Cy Young discussioin again this season and his loss would be a crippling blow to LA’s playoff chances.

The sore hip caused Kershaw to miss an important start against the Giants last Sunday after he had a cortisone injection. He came back to pitch well last Tuesday in Arizona, holding the Diamondbacks to one run and three hits in seven innings.

Kershaw had argued with manager Don Mattingly about the start in San Francisco last week but there was no conversation before the St. Louis game.

“There was no fight,” Mattingly said. “He knows he can’t pitch with it.”

 

 


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