With the regular season over, teams are facing an offseason filled with golf rounds and hot-stove strategy.
But we're not going to let them get off that easy. No sir. No way. In an attempt to bring some closure between franchise and follower, we're giving a blogger from each team the opportunity to give a concession speech for this year's squad. Before we get to the Yankees, we're circling back to southern California so the Sons of Steve Garvey can have their say on an altogether-not-lost season from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
My fellow Dodger fans:
It is with heavy heart that we, the Sons of Steve Garvey, formally concede our team's candidacy for 2012 World Series champion. This season was quite a roller coaster, with plenty of insane highs and ridiculous lows involved.
But what started out with some shocking surprises (Magic Johnson is buying the Dodgers?!) and some extremely positive momentum (best record in baseball through June 19) suddenly gave way to a quick downward spiral (a plague of injuries, most notably to franchise foundation Matt Kemp), and not even the late presence of a potent "final five" (Hanley Ramirez, Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett) could abate a dirge through the second half of the run (an impotent offense through most of August and September dropped us from the division lead to 11 games back), which finally culminated with a "what the heck just happened there?" surprise (winning eight of our last 10 games of the season).
Come to think of it, the Dodgers' 2012 plotline almost directly follows the story arc of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series (and I still can't get over the Kara-Thrace-suddenly-disappears-in-a-poof-of-smoke thing, but that's another story altogether).
But let's focus on the good. And the season definitely started out well, beginning with the long-overdue eviction of the scourge that was the Frank and Jamie McCourt circus. Even in a city founded on vanity, the McCourts' penchant for using the Dodgers organization (and real estate) as a capital source to fund their excessive wealth, personal privilege, and deplorable behavior had turned most of Dodger fans away from the organization in protest (even boycotting the Stadium, dropping 2011 attendance levels below 3 million for the first time this century). Despite a handful of playoff appearances and executing the early stages of a Dodger Stadium renovation plan, the McCourts had worn out their welcome, to the point that they were driven out with torches and pitchforks.
In their wake came a new ownership team that was almost too good to believe. Magic Johnson, Lakers royalty, as the public face. Stan Kasten, proven baseball guru, as the insider. Guggenheim Partners, with $2.15 billion to spend, as the moneymen. Peter Guber, former Hollywood executive, as the slicked-back hair guy. They committed to upgrading the stadium, improving the fan experience (starting by dropping parking fees from $15 to $10), and investing in the team on the field. Los Angeles fans couldn't believe it. Finally, we had a new campaign management team with the proven chops to win the race.
Nor could we believe the results of the product on the field. Powered by a torrid start by Matt Kemp (batting over .400, with a 1.305 OPS through May 8) and Clayton Kershaw (4-1 with a 1.90 ERA through May 19), the Dodgers took off like a rocket, almost as if a heavy weight had been removed from their collective shoulders. It was frakkin' unbelievable.
And despite the organization's lack of investment in the campaign team during the offseason, everyday players stepped up and over-performed in the early days. Catcher AJ Ellis, batting eighth, had a .464 OBP through mid-May. Chris Capuano opened up the season a remarkable 8-2. Jerry Hairston Jr. batted .373 through the end of May, giving some power at third base. Andre Ethier, always streaky, was heading on a positive trajectory. And when retreads like Juan Rivera and DFAd-by-the-Angels Bobby Abreu managed to not fully embarrass the team, it seemed like this just might be an incredible season. The Dodgers opened up a seven-game lead on the NL West and were rolling. What could possibly go wrong?
By mid-June, we found out. The wheels not only fell off the wagon, they drove into a sewer and were spit out into a chasm filled with molten lava and the used syringes of 2012 Giants players. It didn't help that, at a time when our own candidate was plummeting in the polls, our opponent could seemingly do no wrong. Not even a drug scandal (and the ensuing coverup) could reverse that trend. Though we came in to this campaign as dark-horse candidates, our meteoric rise to the top revised our hopes and expectations. When some of that (lower-case "m") magic evaporated, it was a loss much harder to bear, having once been at the top.
Kemp's recurrent hamstring and knee injuries (two DL stints) were the first blows in a combination of punches that the team just couldn't absorb. Hairston went down, but he gave way to Luis Cruz, the Dodgers' best story of the season, who overcame 12 years of stints in the minors to shine as an everyday player, batting .297 with a 106 OPS+ not to mention outstanding glove work at third. Second baseman Mark Ellis was not only taken out on a defensive play, he almost lost his whole leg as a result.
The Dodgers treaded water through June, July, and most of August, with the offense (and fans) somnambulating through many of those games. Still, the Dodgers' postseason chances were surprisingly still within reach. They just needed some revitalization; an injection of money into the campaign, one might say.
New ownership came through in spades, demonstrating a willingness to spend money and take on contracts, but also to invest in a team that had been undernourished for years. Former All-Star Hanley Ramirez was picked up from the Marlins in late July, with the Dodgers hoping that a change of scenery away from a watery Art Deco-designed grave might spark his bat. Dodger thorns Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton came over from the Phillies. And finally, the Red Sox unloaded Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto, giving the Dodgers an immediate upgrade at first base after suffering through years of James Loney (a nice, albeit punchless, guy).
These moves clearly upgraded the Dodgers on paper, and doubtless set a solid foundation for future seasons (certainly in the case of Crawford, who spent the 2012 season recovering from injury). But the 2012 result was mixed at best. Ramirez finished his Dodger stint with a 112 OPS+ and had a litany of defensive miscues—and that was the most positive result of the mid-season pickups. Gonzalez homered in his first at-bat as a Dodger, but took the rest of the season to re-find his swing. Victorino brought none of his vitality, ending the season with the lowest OPS+ of his career. And Blanton went 2-4 over 10 starts with a 5 ERA.
But it was maladies to the Dodgers stalwarts, and not a flawed campaign strategy, which really did us in. When Kemp ran into the Coors Field wall in center at full speed on August 28, injuring the labrum on his shoulder in a vicious hit, the Dodgers' chances were torn as well. Kemp was never the same the rest of the season, and had surgery two days after our final game. Chad Billingsley won his last six starts and was on a roll before injuring his elbow; Bills is still awaiting a verdict to see if Tommy John surgery, which would knock him out for all of 2013, is required. Kershaw was the only full-season Dodgers workhorse in 2012, as he ended up 14-9, as well as his second straight season with the NL's best ERA (2.53).
And thus, the Dodgers' season, full of ups and downs, finally evaporated, extinguished for good in the 161st game of the season.
It is difficult to give a concession speech after such a tumultuous season, one which repeatedly toyed with our emotions and tested our faith and sanity. But at least the future holds a lot of potential, both in the marquee players we've got on the roster, the youth of the core (Kershaw, Kemp, and Ethier), and the willingness of Dodgers ownership to spend money and swing for the fences. (Heck, they had me at "reduced parking fees.") Maybe our campaign managers were planning for the win in 2013, all along?
There is no doubt better days are to come in 2013.
So say we all.
Coming Monday: New York Yankees
Previous Concession Speeches: Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, Oakland A's, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels,Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves, Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Pittsburgh Pirates,Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Miami Marlins, Chicago Cubs, Toronto Blue Jays, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros