In baseball, things move in slow motion, but can change quickly. Regular season success is measured by the ever-elusive search for consistency and the incremental process of the cream rising to the top.
No better example of that than this season’s LA Dodgers, who have gone from representatives of the LA Zombie–sports scene, to a positive example of what going all in on a winner can produce for a franchise in desperate need of a revival.
At the beginning of the season, LA was struggling, crippled by injuries and seemingly unresponsive to Skipper Don Mattingly. When the Dodgers reached a season-high 12 games under .500 with a loss to the Padres on June 21 and were flirting with last-place in the National League West, Dodgers President Stan Katsen was considering chucking Donny Baseball.
"[Kasten] was really honest, because I think he didn't want to do anything, but he says, 'Donny, at some point I've got to do something,'" Mattingly recently told mlb.com, concerning his sticky late-May conversations with Dodgers brass. "If they're not listening and it's not going good, you've got to make a change just to be making a change"
A May 13th TSL article painted a grim scene of Hollywood’s immediate sports future, but offered a silver lining:
“There is one potential saving grace for the Angels and Dodgers. The beauty of baseball is that the long season allows teams to figure things out. It’s a marathon dictated by patience and strategy. There are over 120 games to go and neither team is out of it.”
The Angels, at 51-61, are looking like a third –place, .500 team at best. Magic Johnson and Co., however, went to the old Lakers playbook and within the midst of that early-season chaos, made a “desperation” maneuver equivalent to Johnson heaving a buzzer-beater to extend the NBA Finals to a Game 7.
They called up prized Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig, who singlehandedly put Dodgers baseball on his back and inspired energy, spirit and passion in his lackluster teammates, and throughout the LA baseball community.
Puig, a wild and free-spirited cat, bum-rushed social media and became the catalyst the Dodgers needed to embark on the 32-8 record since June 21st, which is the best 40-game stretch they’ve have had since Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider led a dope ‘53 Dodgers squad.
With Puig hitting at an immortal pace and key players returning healthy, LA proceeded to stomp past Arizona and embark on an historic 15-game road winning streak, which finally came to an end Tuesday night in a 5-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. It was the longest road winning streak in MLB since 1984 and fourth longest in baseball history.
When Magic and his “deep-pocket posse” bought the franchise from MLB and opened up the piggy bank in historic fashion in hopes of building an “overnight” World Series contender, the five-time NBA champ turned baseball pioneer made his ring aspirations clear.
“We want to go to the World Series. If we don't accomplish that..it is not a good season for us," Johnson said in a February latimes.com article. "Guys should be saying that. As the ownership group, that is what we are saying."
Some folks wondered if Magic understood the deeper difficulties in winning a World Series in baseball. You aren’t relying on five guys, three of whom are among the greatest to ever play the game. The intricacies within the rules and various positions in baseball are a constant challenge to a team’s continuity and chemistry.
They did have the talent on paper though, and honestly speaking, the rest of that division is soft. It’s not remarkable that LA has caught fire and is running away with the division at 62-50, five-games up. It is interesting, however, watching the plan coming together like a Hannibal Smith scheme in an episode of The A-Team.
LA’s players are beaming with confidence these days. With All-Stars Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez inching back to full strength, two Cy Young-caliber cats at the top of the rotation and a legendary baseball figure with a mind to match on bench duty—Magic’s looking like David Copperfield right now.
LA’s no longer grasping for a spark to save them from total embarrassment and financial catastrophe. Win streaks and grand promotions have given way to the playoff push and legitimate World Series aspirations.
"We're not too worried about that streak," Dodgers shortstop Nick Punto told espn.com. "Our goal is to win the division…"
How can you not be feeling gravy, when your lineup features veteran studs like Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzales, Ramirez, and Kemp, plus young-gunners like Puig (still batting .373 by the way) and fleet-footed shortstop Dee Gordon?
The Blue Crew is loaded. They spent the chips to run the strip, Dodgers fans are off the ledge and LA brass is feeling like Frank White in King of New York, screaming from the top of their executive offices, “You’re Welcome. You’re all welcome!!”