Alexander: Dodgers, Angels seeing red during blue year

Aug 30 2010 - 4:49pm

Conclusive proof that the local baseball landscape has become Dysfunction Junction will be on display in a Los Angeles courtroom starting this week. In fact, the case can be made that McCourt v. McCourt, the divorce trial that started Monday, is the most important baseball competition in greater Los Angeles this season. At stake, besides pride, ego and the privileges of the idle rich: control, and ultimately the future, of the Dodgers franchise. Has 2010 been a whacked-out season, or what?

While Frank and Jamie fight for custody, and Dodgers fans feel like they're the ones who have been orphaned, their team still dares to dream. A recent hot streak has convinced them they can leapfrog four teams and win a wild-card spot, even if few others believe.

Down the freeway, the Angels' status as Big Kahuna in the American League West was wiped out by a brutal July and August. They pretty much hoisted the white flag Friday, trading Brian Fuentes to Minnesota.

Sure, it's possible that the region's six-year streak of postseason baseball could continue, somehow. It's also possible we could get hit with The Big One over the next month.

Realistically, the Dodgers and Angels don't figure to be there. And neither deserves to be there after five months of mostly unsatisfying baseball.

Meanwhile, their plucky low-payroll cousins from San Diego print playoff tickets and hang bunting from the railings of Petco Park.

This is not something we are used to. In seven of the past eight years and every year since 2004, either the Dodgers or Angels have made the playoffs. Both made it in three of those seasons, including each of the past two.

How to explain such unrealized expectations in 2010? The last offseason, when neither team improved itself, seems a good place to start. And one move, in particular, screams "We screwed up!"

Look at who's leading the AL West. Next, look at who is having an MVP-caliber season for that team.

Then, just for kicks, compare Vladimir Guerrero's production in Texas, for one year at $5.5 million, to Hideki Matsui's production in Anaheim, for one year at $6 million.

Ouch.

Flash forward to spring training, and the vision of Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp posing for a GQ photo shoot on the field at Camelback Ranch.

As it turns out, this could be considered the epitome of too much, too soon. For a supposed five-tool player, Kemp misplaced his toolbox a lot in 2010.

Worse, agent Dave Stewart complained about the treatment Kemp received not only from the media and fans but also from coaches Bob Schaefer and Larry Bowa, whose attempts to prod Kemp toward his potential were interpreted as picking on him.

Memo to Stew: You're not some lawyer who has never seen the inside of a major league uniform. You're a four-time 20-game winner, for crying out loud. You, of all people, should understand that the thin-skinned don't last long in this game.

But at least Kemp was around all season.

Manny Ramirez, meanwhile, started spring training by joking (allegedly) about how this was his last year in LA and he was going to enjoy it. The next day he said he'd decided he'd play two more years with the Dodgers and three in Japan. The day after that he decided he was no longer talking to the media.

That's the only thing he's seen to its conclusion this season, spending much of his time on the disabled list in what has become an obvious, if curiously subdued, wind-down of his time in Los Angeles.

In fact, let's make it a clean sweep of the Dodgers outfield with this memorable moment: Andre Ethier, off to a Triple Crown-like start at the plate, breaking a bone in his pinkie through the entirely unnatural act of ... taking a swing in the batting cage.

Back in Anaheim, Mike Scioscia talked incessantly early in the season about "batter's box offense" -- i.e., the Angels using their bats to score runs, rather than just their legs.

But that was before the celebration that brought their offense to a screeching halt: Kendry Morales jumping on home plate after a walkoff homer May 30, only to slip and break a bone in his leg in the celebratory mob scene.

Then there's infielder Brandon Wood, in probably his last chance to make an impact with the Angels, responding with an epic fail: .165 in 63 games. Maybe they should have traded him last year when he still had value.

The Angels also achieved the distinction of going from buyer to seller in a little more than a month, thanks to their 18-31 stretch from July 1 through Friday. On July 24 general manager Tony Reagins acquired Dan Haren from Arizona for Joe Saunders. Two days ago he cried "uncle" with the Fuentes trade, after which he and Scioscia both maintained they weren't conceding anything.

Oh, well, that's what they're supposed to say. It's part of The Code.

There is, at least, one indisputable bright side to the craziness of 2010: Vin Scully will be back in the Dodgers' broadcast booth in '11.

Maybe he can outlast the McCourts.

 

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