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Dodgers don't have the time to make it right this season

Bill Plaschke

All the Dodgers' big acquisitions need to learn how to play together and by next year they should roll through the division. But for this season, it would be a shock if they make the playoffs.

September 14, 2012|Bill Plaschke
  • Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Cardinals at Dodger Stadium on Thursday.
Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett delivers a pitch in the first inning against… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

Millions, schmillions. Money can't buy you runs. Money can't buy you time. Money can't move a runner or work a pitcher or, as it turns out, win a division.

It's time to look past the dollar signs and face the facts. The Dodgers are baseball's Poor Little Rich Team, their attempts to buy a championship stymied by their hurry to do so.

This will be a very good baseball team. Next year. This will be a team capable of blowing through the National League and winning a World Series with the best lineup in baseball. Next year.

For now, with the heart of their batting order still in its infancy, the Dodgers are crawling through the final days of the season red-faced, colicky and desperate for a growth spurt that's not happening. If they make the playoffs, it will be a shock, and that should not surprise anybody.

Entering the most crucial stretch of their wild-card chase Thursday, the Dodgers drove into another ditch, falling two games behind the St. Louis Cardinals by losing to the Cardinals, 2-1, at Dodger Stadium.

That's seven losses in eight games. That's six hits in nine innings. That's a second consecutive failure by the middle of their order in the pressurized ninth inning, but at least they are lasting longer.

On Wednesday in Arizona, the Dodgers' heart was stopped in 10 pitches. On Thursday, thanks to a double by Hanley Ramirez, it hung in there for 16 pitches.

"There are some issues,'' Manager Don Mattingly said before the game. "There's something to be said for guys being around each other. I can't deny it."

Here's the main issue: The Dodgers' four best hitters are all cornerstone sluggers who wouldn't know a hit-and-run if it hit them and ran. They've made their money bashing in runs, not carefully producing them. They haven't played in the same lineup long enough to know when to instinctively protect each other by taking a pitch or shortening a swing.

The Dodgers and their $300-million worth of acquisitions need two words, and it's not "bling bling" or "tax shelter."

The Dodgers need spring training. It's that simple. Adrian Gonzalez and Ramirez need time to learn Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. A lineup around them needs to be assembled that will complement those four guys. Everyone needs to know each other better. Everyone needs, you know, practice.

In their last six games, , the Dodgers have batted .185 while collecting just three hits in 35 at-bats with runners in scoring position. It is a small sample window into what has been their biggest problem since this full team was assembled.

They don't hit well together. They don't make each other better. They bat like four separate guys in a home-run hitting contest, their only real connection coming during the high-fives after a ball leaves the yard, which has happened rarely.

Since finalizing their playoff roster with the trade that brought the likes of Gonzalez and Josh Beckett, the Dodgers have gone 6-11 and their middle of their order has mostly gone soft.

Ethier is batting .303 since the trade, but Ramirez is hitting .186, Kemp is hitting .188, and Gonzalez is hitting .233.

Most obviously lost has been Gonzalez, who hit a home run on his second pitch as a Dodger, yet has not hit one in the 72 ensuing at-bats since then.

"There's some challenges with it, that's for sure, those problems are there," Mattingly said. "But I don't think they keep you from having success."

It did on Thursday.

In the first inning, the first four hitters took the first pitch from the Cardinals' Lance Lynn and the Dodgers wound up with a run on Mark Ellis' single and an eventual double by Gonzalez. But with Gonzalez on second, Ramirez mindlessly hacked at the first two pitches and struck out looking on the third.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, did everything right, taking the lead in the seventh an opposite-field ground single by Allen Craig, and when is the last time you've seen one of the big Dodgers do that?

"Everybody is trying to be who they are, but it's just not happening for us," said Shane Victorino, shaking his head. "This is not a smarty pants answer — we just need to score runs."

But sometimes runs just don't score themselves. Sometimes they have to be manufactured by wit and unselfishness. Sometimes, as the Cardinals' appearance here reminded us Thursday, a team can win a championship with no 100-RBIs guys and somebody named David Freese being World Series MVP.

Mattingly compared his new players to businessmen who are transferred to an office and expected to immediately excel.

"You don't know anybody, you won't be comfortable," said Mattingly. "You have to become part of each other. ... There's a value in that ... how you quantify that in wins and losses, I don't know."

I know. It's more losses than wins. It's a season that appears beyond fixing, an odd case of adding too much, too late.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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