Commentary

Dodgers' debacle hard to figure

L.A.'s official elimination from playoff race highlights what was a disappointing season

Updated: September 22, 2010, 10:58 AM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- With apologies to Vin Scully, in a year that has been so inconceivable, the inevitable has happened.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were mathematically eliminated from the National League West division race Tuesday night, two days after they were mathematically eliminated from the NL wild-card chase. On the minuscule chance there was any lingering ray of hope on the part of the most optimistic of fans, it has now been officially snuffed out.

The end came in a way that typified the Dodgers' season. They were shut out, this time 6-0 by the playoff-contending San Diego Padres before 44,166 at Dodger Stadium. The game marked the 17th time this year the Dodgers have been blanked. This loss came courtesy of Padres left-hander Clayton Richard, one of the league's most promising young pitchers. Clayton turned in his first shutout and first nine-inning complete game.

[+] EnlargeCasey Blake
Kirby Lee/US PresswireDodgers third baseman Casey Blake says of the team this season: "Basically, we were swimming upstream."

The Dodgers went hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position, grounding into double plays in two of those at-bats. They hit into three double plays in all. They stranded seven baserunners. And once the Padres took a 2-0 lead on a two-out, two-run single by Ryan Ludwick in the third inning, there was a sense the Dodgers were done for the evening.

And, for that matter, the season.

"It was pretty much an uphill battle the whole year," Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake said. "Basically, we were swimming upstream. In this game, you can't do that for very long."

The Dodgers (73-78) entered the season fresh off reaching the NL Championship Series each of the past two years, but it was clear they would have a tougher road this season, simply because the division appeared to have become stronger over the winter while the Dodgers basically stood pat. But no one saw this disaster coming, and certainly no one could have predicted the primary reason for it.

"The one thing I wasn't concerned about when we left spring training was that I knew we would score runs, but that hasn't been the case," said outgoing Dodgers manager Joe Torre, whose personal streak of 14 consecutive seasons in the playoffs came to an end. (He is tied with retiring Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox for the record.)

The fourth-place Dodgers, who fell 12 games behind the division-leading San Francisco Giants, began the day 12 of 16 NL teams in runs scored.

"In order to be a championship team, you obviously have to play well, but you have to have some things go your way, too," Blake said. "It seemed like we didn't have either of those things happen for us. There wasn't a lot of luck involved. Nobody really had the kind of year they were capable of having. We had down years up and down the lineup. Jamey Carroll has been our most consistent player all year."

It's not a good sign when your most consistent player is a utility infielder.

The Dodgers had plenty of starting pitching, the area that was their biggest question mark in the spring, but beyond the offense, a lot of the failure can be pinned on the bullpen, which was arguably the best in the league a year ago and basically returned everyone except Guillermo Mota, who signed as a free agent with the Giants.

Jonathan Broxton, the closer, made the All-Star team for the second time, but was so bad in the second half that he lost the job. Ronald Belisario, a key middle reliever as a rookie last season, was on the restricted list twice, once after he showed up five weeks late to spring training and again in July and part of August for reasons that still haven't come to light. George Sherrill, last year's reliable setup man, struggled the first half of the season before finally fixing his mechanics. Ramon Troncoso, another dependable middle man, simply wasn't the same this year, possibly because of overwork.

As for the offense, Andre Ethier looked like a Most Valuable Player in the making until he broke a bone in his pinky in May during batting practice. He was back a couple of weeks later, but he was never the same. Matt Kemp, who took a gigantic leap forward in 2009, took an even bigger one backward in 2010. Blake slumped at various times, and currently has four hits in his past 40 at-bats, with 19 strikeouts. Russell Martin's offensive numbers fell off for the third year in a row, and he is missing the final two months because of a hip injury.

Meanwhile, Rafael Furcal and Manny Ramirez (remember him?) missed significant time because of injuries, creating gaping holes in the lineup the Dodgers couldn't afford.

All that is left for the Dodgers to do now is play out the string. They have 11 more games, five of them against contending clubs and six against the last-place Arizona Diamondbacks.

"It's still our job," Blake said. "We just have to try to get back to having fun and end on a positive note so we can hopefully build something toward next year."

Key performance

Chad Billingsley wasn't good for the Dodgers on Tuesday, lasting just five innings and giving up five runs. And he hit two batters in the Padres' three-run fifth, one of them with the bases loaded. This defeat for Billingsley (11-11) can't be chalked up to a lack of run support, but it can't be ignored that, well, Billingsley once again was a victim of poor run support. He has lost his past three starts, but the Dodgers have scored a total of one run in those three games, and that run came in the ninth inning Wednesday night at San Francisco, well after Billingsley left that game.

Trends

Since being moved back to the bullpen after a brief stint in the rotation (0-2 with a 7.50 ERA in four starts), Carlos Monasterios has pitched four shutout innings, has allowed just three singles and has struck out five batters over two appearances. He relieved Billingsley in the sixth and retired six of seven batters, striking out three of them.

A rookie Rule 5 selection, Monasterios has been two different pitchers this season. As a starter, he is 2-5 with a 5.55 ERA in 12 starts. As a reliever, he has a 2.06 ERA in 19 appearances. Even though the Dodgers will not be bound by the Rule 5 situation next year and can send Monasterios to the minors, he certainly has done nothing to hurt his chances of beginning next season in the big league bullpen.

By the numbers

0 -- times in their long, storied history, in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, that the Dodgers have reached the postseason three years in a row. They have come tantalizingly close on three occasions.

The first stint was from 1951 to '53, when the World Series was the only round of postseason play and long before a multi-tiered postseason was introduced for the first time in 1969. Bobby Thomson's famed Shot Heard 'Round the World, a three-run, walkoff homer in the third game of a best-of-three tiebreaker series, gave the New York Giants a 5-4 victory over the Dodgers for the '53 pennant. The Dodgers went to the World Series each of the next two years.

The second was from 1981 to '83. The Dodgers won the World Series in 1981, finished second, one game back in the NL West to the Atlanta Braves, in 1982, after being eliminated on the final day of the season in a loss to the Giants and won the division again in 1983.

The third was from 1994 to '96. The Dodgers led the NL West by 3 1/2 games in 1994, when a players' strike wiped out the rest of the season. The Dodgers won the NL West in 1995 and the NL wild card in 1996.

Quote of the day

"Oh, then I can announce my plans," Torre said when told before the game that the Dodgers could have been mathematically eliminated by the end of the day. Torre said a while ago he wouldn't announce whether he planned to return for another season as the Dodgers manager until the team either clinched a playoff spot or was mathematically eliminated. Torre actually announced last Friday that he was stepping down.

Looking ahead

Dodgers left-hander Ted Lilly (8-11, 3.83) won each of his first five starts for the Dodgers after they acquired him from the Chicago Cubs on July 31, but he hasn't won in four subsequent starts, two of which saw him fail to go more than four innings, and he has a 7.97 ERA in those starts. Padres right-hander Tim Stauffer (4-4, 1.99), who is primarily a reliever but has been in the rotation since early this month, has pitched San Diego to a win in each of his past three starts against the Dodgers, dating to 2006.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com