Big League Stew - MLB

Sharpen those No. 2 pencils and start brewing your cram coffee, because it's exam time here on Big League Stew! Between now and the start of the postseason, we'll be giving essay-style tests to a blogger from each of the eight teams lucky enough to earn a playoff ticket. Next to take a seat in the classroom are Steve Sax and Orel from the Sons Of Steve Garvey. They finished their work early last week, but it wasn't until Saturday night that their Dodgers allowed them to turn in their work.

Team name: Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles.

GPA/school rank: 3.95 GPA/94-67 record (first in NL West, first in National League, second in majors, first in our hearts).

Accomplishments: Six franchise World Series championships and 21 franchise NL pennants. 42 former Dodger players and six former Dodger managers in the Hall of Fame. Have won the NL West or wild card four of the past six years. Led NL in attendance, 2004-2007.

Special skills: Outstanding in afternoon periods and after-school programs (bullpen leads majors in ERA and BAA). Total drama geeks (41 come-from-behind victories, including 12 walkoffs). Studiously patient (all eight regular starters each have at least 50 walks). Strangers to the infirmary (seven of the eight regular starters have at least 550 PA). Ability to maintain league-leading GPA even when some members are suspended for school code violations.

References: Tutored well by our founder, Jackie Robinson. Warmly appreciated by our headmaster, Vin Scully. Loved by the school cafeteria's Italian chef, Tommy Lasorda. AV Club run by that famous flag-raiser, radio broadcaster Rick Monday.

Financial aid: $100,458,101 (opening day); $107,677,650 (current).

Personal statement: Postseason admission for the Dodgers is a no-brainer; we're basically the kids who don't try all that hard but show up every day — at least those of us who haven't been suspended — turning in a solid performance on the oral report and final exam and at the football state championships. There's no real reason why we should be top of the class, not with a star who's only played two-thirds of the season and a solid but not stratospheric supporting cast. But we've plugged along, quietly and methodically working our way to the best GPA of our class despite a late bout of senioritis. You may hate us because we're Hollywood, or because our success seems effortless or because our manager is a former Yankee, but the truth is, with over three million in attendance (again), there are many more who love us.

What are your biggest strengths? You've heard of closer by committee. But have you ever heard of starter by committee? Don't laugh — it works. The Dodgers have used 12 different starters this season and they've served up a 3.41 ERA (best in the majors) and 1.26 WHIP (best in the majors). The bullpen has been similarly effective (see "Special Skills"). We call Hong-Chih Kuo(notes) in the seventh, George "The Brim Reaper"/"Flat Breezy" Sherrill in the eighth and Jonathan Broxton(notes) in the ninth the "Kevorkian Committee", because they will flat put you down, no questions asked.

Defensively, Gold Glove candidate Matt Kemp(notes) roams center field like a bison roams the plains. Rafael Furcal(notes), with his cannon arm, and Orlando Hudson(notes), who has more range than Meryl Streep, cover the infield. Russell Martin(notes) is second in the majors with 32 runners gunned down.

At the plate, the outfield of Manny Ramirez(notes), Kemp and Andre "Mr. Miracle" Ethier (76 HR combined) provide the bulk of the muscle, while unsung heroes like James Loney(notes) (ask the Cubs about him!) and Casey Blake(notes) are the RBI men. Jim Thome(notes) off the bench can't hurt. (You might remember that we've had decent luck with hobbled pinch hitters in the postseason.)

What's your biggest weakness? It's not exactly the lack of an ace, as many pundits proclaim, but the lack of consistent starting pitching overall. Randy Wolf(notes), who started the season as the third- or fourth-best starter, is now the staff ace. Chad Billingsley(notes) is trying to rediscover his mojo, Clayton Kershaw(notes) is recovering from a (non-throwing) shoulder injury and Hiroki Kuroda(notes) is battling back from that horrendous hit on the head. Fortunately, late-season pickups Jon Garland(notes) and Vicente Padilla(notes) have contributed (the Dodgers have won eight of their 11 starts). Heck, we even squeezed two wins out of Jason Schmidt(notes).

Another worry is a tendency by the Dodgers to play down to the level of their weaker opponents. This shouldn't be an issue in the postseason, but dropping six of nine to the some of the majors' worst teams — which they just did at the end of September — doesn't exactly scream playoff-ready.

How have you changed over the year? In addition to adding tenured faculty in Thome and adjunct professors in Garland and Padilla, Dean Ned Colletti's most notable acquisitions have been Sherrill (who went from being the Orioles' closer to Broxton's setup man) and Ronnie Belliard(notes) (five HR as a Dodger). Super-subs Juan Pierre(notes) and Jeff Weaver(notes) should make the honor roll by dint of being ready anywhere, any time. Oh, and facial hair became all the rage on campus this year.

When did you first start believing in yourself? Setting the modern-day MLB record for most consecutive home wins to open a season (13) was a start. Honestly, we've never stopped believing in ourselves and that's reinforced ad nauseam each home game by the eighth-inning playing of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," which has irked lead singer Steve Perry, who is a Giants fan, as well as most Dodger fans, who don't understand the logic of playing this tune when the team has a lead in the eighth, which it has had many times.

Can you tell us about a time you faced adversity and overcame it? Well, there was this one time when our limousine arrived too early to the stadium, and our first-inning arrival didn't attract the proper amount of paparazzi. But aside from that, the obvious adverse situation happened when Manny was suspended for 50 games for merely dabbling in a female fertility drug (who hasn't?). The Dodgers went 29-21 during his absence.

In one month, where do you see yourself? Look, we've got another red-carpet premiere to attend in mid-November, so we know we'll be sipping Cristal and partying with the stars all winter long. Hopefully, we'll have some World Series bling to wear out on the town as well.

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Previous exams: St. Louis Cardinals (NL Central) New York Yankees (AL East) Boston Red Sox (AL wild card) Los Angeles Angels (AL West)

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