Dodgers not driven by distractions
It takes about seven minutes to walk from the home clubhouse at Dodger Stadium to the team offices up on Level 5. But if you believe what everybody down there keeps insisting, what is going on upstairs might as well be happening in a different universe.
To hear them tell it, they aren't worried about whether Frank McCourt is cooperating with Tom Schieffer, whether Bud Selig is going to take McCourt's calls or whether someone else's name will soon appear on the bottom line of their paychecks.
"I don't sit there reading the papers about that stuff," Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier said. "Obviously, Major League Baseball or whoever else, one of them, is going to take care of [payroll] either way. We have been promised there will be no interruptions."
But if the Dodgers have become baseball's biggest circus, the circus is heading into the teeth of the nation's media capital this weekend, kicking off a seven-game trip with a three-game series against the New York Mets beginning Friday night at Citi Field.
It is a trip on which the Dodgers desperately need to perform well, their season thus far having become a testament to injuries, bullpen ineptitude and an offense uglier than those powder-blue 1940s uniforms they have been wearing for weekday-afternoon home games this year. But it also figures to be a minefield of distractions, at least until it moves to Pittsburgh on Sunday night.
Ethier, who sat out Thursday's loss to the Chicago Cubs with left-elbow soreness, is riding a 29-game hitting streak, the longest in the majors in two years. McCourt is holding on for dear life to the team, the centerpiece of his business empire, with Selig, baseball's powerful commissioner, as his apparent nemesis.
Those are things Ethier, manager Don Mattingly and the rest of the players will be asked about. The games -- those little things the players will be trying to focus on -- will be secondary.
"I'm not really worried about it," said Mattingly, who knows a little about the New York media scene. "I really don't think [the ownership issue] has anything to do with what is going on with us. When you're not putting up runs or winning games, I don't think it has anything to do with that.
"I know we're going to have to answer questions about it going to New York and it's going to get old, but none of that has anything to do with how we're playing."
How they are playing is not very well. They are missing two key starters, shortstop Rafael Furcal and third baseman Casey Blake. Ethier and infielder Juan Uribe are day to day with minor injuries of their own. Closer Jonathan Broxton's immediate future is in doubt because of elbow stiffness, but he wasn't very good even before that and neither was the rest of a bullpen, which has an ERA of 5.34 even after Hong-Chih Kuo, Mike MacDougal and Vicente Padilla combined for three shutout innings Wednesday.
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For all that, the Dodgers are a curable 15-17 and still hanging around in the National League West, with almost five months of baseball ahead of them, and with the hope that as their list of walking wounded begins to heal they will become complete. And in a weird way, all the national attention being paid to the McCourt saga could work in their favor by taking some of the spotlight (read: pressure) off the players on the field.
For the moment, though, the landscape is bleak for the Dodgers, who hit the road having lost seven of their past 11. They are coming off a 2-4 homestand in which they scored 12 runs against two teams -- the Cubs and San Diego Padres -- that aren't exactly imposing.
The Mets, who are bringing up the rear in the NL East, would fall into that category as well, but the way the Dodgers are playing, that doesn't mean much. The Pittsburgh Pirates, whom the Dodgers will see for four games beginning Monday, are perennial also-rans, but they have held their own in the NL Central thus far and won't be pushovers.
The apparent quality of the opponent notwithstanding, the path gets no easier for the Dodgers, who will have to muddle through at half-strength for at least a few more weeks. Right now, this team is a long way from being good. In lieu of that, the question is whether the Dodgers can be good enough, for long enough, to stay afloat until the reinforcements come in.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.