Is it time to panic? I mean, really panic? Now that we've dropped three of four to the Braves, wrapping up a 2-5 homestand? Now that we no longer own the best record in the majors? Now that the comeback wins and late-inning bullpen heroics both look to be a little unhinged?
17 games into our current 20-consecutive game spurt, the Dodgers have gone 6-11 and do not look at all like a championship team. The August games have been especially concerning: besides the 3-6 record, we can't string a two-game winning streak together, and need walk-off heroics from Andre Ethier (Thursday) or once-in-three-decades aberrant outbursts of 17 runs (Tuesday) as two of our three wins.
Our bullpen is clearly tired, or the pendulum of luck is swinging back at us after a fortuitous four months. Ramon Troncoso has lost his groove, and Guillermo Mota, awful in the beginning of the season, and then lights out from about June onward, has reverted to early-season form. Closer Jonathan Broxton looks shaky now, particularly at the two-out juncture when we our victim is listless and we should finish him a la Mortal Kombat. And with starters who are largely effective, but can't go deep into games, it's room for worry.
Meanwhile, the bats are all struggling. James Loney has gotten one hit in his last five games. Russell Martin's bat is showing signs of life, but coming off of a .239 batting average, he's got a lot of road to hoe. And Manny Ramirez has seen his OPS drop below 1.000 for the first time since early this season (remember, it was at a stratospheric 1.163 in May, right before his suspension, but has slowly inched its way down since).
The signs are a little concerning, but what makes it most difficult is that you can't point to anything in particular. To be fair, on the flipside, the signs of the Dodgers being the majors' best team were never really evident, either. It wasn't really clear how we were pulling off all these come-from-behind victories, with a group of unproven youngsters coming into their own, some veteran retreads looking to come back and/or prove themselves, and a manager who stayed calm and cool even when we were tearing ahead of the division.
Ramirez is suspended. We prevail. Martin becomes a huge liability from the plate. We prevail. Hiroki Kuroda goes down, forcing us to use the likes of Jeff Weaver and Mota. Randy Wolf unfortunately takes over the No Decision mantle from the departed Derek Lowe. Orlando Hudson gets hit on the wrist. And still, through all of this, we prevail.
Joe Torre, to his credit, has stayed calm and cool throughout this recent slide, sipping his Bigelow green tea at a measured pace. His seemingly nonsensical lineup changes are infuriating now, but no more infuriating than they have been all year long, to admitted success. And that's just it--it was so difficult to isolate the reason why we were winning so frequently our first four months of the season, that it makes it just as difficult to understand why it seems to be a little outside our grasp right now, this first week of August.
This could be just a phase, a bump on the road that shouldn't cause much alarm. When our postseason odds are still 98% and the highest in the majors, it's hard to start getting really worried. (Even better, the Giants are only at 25%, and that reflects an eight-point increase over the last week.) We're going to win the NL West. And I've got enough confidence in the aces we've got that Bill Plaschke doesn't acknowledge, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Kuroda, and Wolf, to think we can go deep using a four-man rotation when it counts. Most of our players were with the team last year and know what it takes to win a series.
Or, this sorry homestand performance can be the bellwether. We'll limp to the finish line, eke into the playoffs with the barest of margins, and then get blown away in the first round by the Phillies or Cardinals. Despair will be heightened by all the haters looking to see Ramirez, and Dodger fans, get their just desserts. The mainstream media, who never covered us when we were winning, will set their alarm clocks to stay up to write volumes about our crumbling down the stretch.
It could happen that way.
I still think it will turn out the first way.
But with Jonathan Sanchez, Joe Martinez, and Tim Lincecum on point for the next three games at the Big Phone? This series (our last before a welcome day off) will be telling. And then it's three at the BOB (now Chase Field), before coming home against the Cardinals, for a series which I will DEFINITELY attend.
Go get 'em, Blue. We're with you. I'm with you. I still have faith.