The Dodgers -- including Dee Gordon, left, Elian Herrera, Andre Ethier… (Elaine Thompson / Associated…)
The dawn of the new season was five days away. The veteran baseball executive took a look at the Dodgers, and he was not impressed.
"It's a .500 team right now," Stan Kasten said.
Kasten and his partners had just agreed to buy the Dodgers. The boys at the top did not believe, and maybe that is as good a reason as any why this town struggles to believe.
The Dodgers have the best record in the major leagues, almost halfway through the season. The Angels rolled into Dodger Stadium last week, and all the talk was about them. Albert Pujols is back on track to Cooperstown, Mike Trout might get there first, on and on it went, and yet the Angels were barely above .500.
"So you're saying we don't have any stars?" Clayton Kershaw said, his eyes smoldering.
Well, no, but Matt Kemp has played in barely half the games. It is difficult to see a lineup in which Andre Ethier is the only known quantity and declare the Dodgers the best team in baseball.
"The expectations were not very high coming into the season, even with Matt," Kershaw said.
That was the outside world. That was Kasten, the incoming team president. That was the fan, slow to return to Dodger Stadium.
That was not Kershaw, or the clubhouse, or the manager.
"I liked our club," Don Mattingly said. "I wasn't going to bang the drum and try to rile everybody up and talk crap. I thought we had a good club.
"Did I think we would have the best record in baseball? I didn't go that far."
And yet this town hesitates to embrace the Dodgers. The Kings' bandwagon might be full, and Trout might be jumping, but the Dodgers' bandwagon has plenty of good seats available.
"I don't look at it that way," General Manager Ned Colletti said. "I don't pay attention to whether people are buying in or not buying in. We played well the last 10 weeks of last season. We hoped it would carry over, and it has."
The Dodgers have played so well they don't have to cherry-pick their statistics any more. In their last 162 games — that is, the length of the regular season — the Dodgers have won 94.
And yet there is Vin Scully, calling the Dodgers a "wonder team" once again on Friday's broadcast.
"You wonder how they do it," Scully said.
They're doing it the way they tried to do it last year, with five quality starters, a good bullpen and just enough offense. Jon Garland and Rubby De La Rosa got injured last year, Jonathan Broxton andHong-Chih Kuo imploded in the bullpen, and there went the season.
The Dodgers this year rank second in the National League in earned-run average and, even with the injury to Kemp and the virtual disappearance of James Loney, fifth in runs scored. They have scored more runs than the other first-place teams in the National League and, for that matter, more than the Angels, with their Pujols and Trout and the designated hitter too.
The Dodgers' run differential is the best in the league. They also have played the most one-run games in the league. That doesn't seem to make sense, much like the Dodgers' place at the top of the baseball world, but there they are.
They realize their margin for error is thin. They say they have money — no more of Frank McCourt killing a trade for CC Sabathia — but the market is overloaded with buyers.
"I honestly don't believe there will be enough players to go around," said the general manager of another major league club.
The second wild card has dampened the trade market, with only six teams starting play Saturday at least seven games out of a playoff spot. If the Dodgers cannot swing a deal with a team in their division, that leaves Colletti to deal with the Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins and Seattle Mariners, at least for now.
The Dodgers would talk Ryan Dempster or Matt Garza today, but the Cubs appear to be in no hurry to move either. The Dodgers could take a run at Twins first baseman Justin Morneau or, if the Milwaukee Brewers fall out of the race, pitcher Zack Greinke.
That is an optimistic agenda, considering Kasten told the New York Daily News in March that he projected the Dodgers as a .500 team.
"I think what I said was true, and not controversial," Kasten said.
If the breaks went the Dodgers' way, he thought, they might be able to contend in a winnable division.
"We could not have predicted we would have the best record in baseball, much less with the loss of the best player in baseball," Kasten said, "and the left fielder, and the third baseman, and the second baseman, and one of our starters.
"It's just a wonderful phenomenon. I can't give you a more scientific explanation. But we are not taking it for granted. We have now been presented with a wonderful opportunity. We will go for it."
Hope so. If Kasten turned out to be right about the Dodgers being a .500 team, that would be a shame.