San Diego —
Before the biggest series of the year, I'm getting lip from Jamey Carroll, and I know it's Carroll because the batboy look-alike has his name on the back of his jersey.
First day back from vacation, and it's just like old times when the Dodgers were boring, no good and overloaded with loudmouth bums, this one coming across like a poor knockoff of F.P. Santangelo.
I go away for a month and return to find all it takes is one more Schlichting or Taschner added to this roster and the Dodgers really can start thinking about spring training.
As it is, the team announced Tuesday that Don Mattingly will be managing the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Fall League, obviously to prepare him for managing the Choking Dogs.
One hundred games down, 62 to go and the Dodgers are an embarrassment to date, so close to the World Series the last two years, but instead of building on such momentum, the Dogs are nothing more than blasé underachievers this season.
The Padres are in first place, and what a disgrace that is, and that's with Buddy Black as a manager, who demonstrated Tuesday night he's not ready to handle big-game situations.
The Dogs have a better player at every position than the Padres with the exception of first base, two starting pitchers better than any of their rivals, a comparable closer and yet they have to hope the Padres collapse.
They did in Game 1 of a 13-game series between these two teams, Black allowing right-handed starter Jon Garland, a Dodgers' reject, to throw to pinch-hitter Andre Ethier with the bases loaded and left-hander Joe Thatcher ready in the bullpen.
Ethier's two-run single brought Black out of the dugout, Thatcher into the game and the Dodgers a game closer to the Padres.
Ordinarily at this time of the year a game here would only mean something to the Dodgers, Chargers' training camp drawing more attention from the locals than the low-budget Padres — San Diego 20 games under .500 a year ago this month.
But then the Dogs have been nothing special this season, 5-7 since the All-Star break and seemingly no desire to live up to expectations.
The next nine games, six against the Padres and three against the Giants, will be asking the best the Dodgers can offer, or a long glance at the wild-card standings.
Now I'm probably the last one to give the McCourts any slack, but instead of blaming them for everything gone wrong with the Dogs, it's time the players be held accountable for not showing up.
Where's Manny Ramirez?
The Dogs had to sign Ramirez as their $20-million centerpiece because of what he meant to this team on and off the field, but he hasn't been the man since being caught using female fertility drugs.
He's on the disabled list for the third time, and as a result Matt Kemp has twice as many at bats as Ramirez, not a good thing if anyone is counting on Kemp to carry the Dodgers.
Kemp has league-leading ability but is hitting .264 and retired routinely on the same low-and-away pitch.
Russell Martin, at one time labeled this team's long-range leader, has become a lineup liability, hitting a ghastly .246. Casey Blake, credited by Manager Joe Torre with stabilizing this team two years ago, is hitting. 252.
How mediocre are the Dodgers? The batboy has played in 86 games.
Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla are arguably just as good or better than the Padres' top four starters, and yet San Diego cites their pitching as the reason they sit atop the standings.
The Padres have a better bullpen because George Sherrill has let down the Dogs and Ronald Belisario has personal problems, but the Dogs have some guys who can hit and the Padres can't say that.
James Loney and Ethier are hovering around the .300 mark and Rafael Furcal overcame a slow start while also missing 30 games to lead the team in hitting. But where's the spark, maybe a reason to invest in these Dogs and believe the rest of the season will be any different?
Two years ago the Dodgers were running in place with a .500 record and trailing Arizona in the standings, everything changing when they acquired Blake and Ramirez at the trading deadline — Ramirez then assuming the role of Superman.
But Ramirez hasn't been the same power hitter since getting in touch with his feminine side, and while the trading deadline is Saturday, Torre now mistakenly says the Dodgers will concentrate in acquiring pitching.
He predicts they will get it too and you can just imagine the excitement when the Dodgers announce they have finally found a fifth starter.
"We're going to score runs," Torre says in discounting the need for another hitter.
OK, so the Dodgers got their two runs against the Padres, and played for a night as if they are the better team, which makes me wonder.
While it is hard to believe Carroll could think of himself as a NBA player, it worked for the Lakers, so maybe the Dogs believe in giving it their all only when it really counts.
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