As the first half of this baseball season drew to a close, the mantra among the Los Angeles Dodgers' broadcasters was a message that had not been heard in many a year: "All theyhave to do is fight complacency." The complacency that seemed such a problem at the time stemmed from the team's absolute dominance of the National League's Western Division and its holding the best record in baseball. (Even at midseason the Dodgers were close to winning double the number of games they had lost.) There was more cautionary advice from this time, although then it had sounded oddly reassuring: All the Dodgers would have to do, following the All Star Game break, was play .500 ball for the rest of the season and they would coast into post-season competition.
Today, fans and players cling to those words for signs of hope, as, indeed, the Dodgers merely have been more or less playing .500 ball since the All Star break. Worse, if anything the return of Manny Ramirez from his unauthorized-substance exile only underscored the team's underperformance. During Ramirez's 50-game suspension, the Dodgers discovered something about themselves - they were completely capable of winning without Manny. But his spotty hitting performance since returning on July 3 has either confirmed suspicions that his previous hitting prowess truly was the result of boosts from banned substances, or he's psyched himself into a hitting slump that now nearly everyone on the team has joined.
Few things epitomize the Dodgers' Sisyphean frustration as the
number of double plays they've been hitting into lately. Every time
they scratch together a base-runner or two, they're erased by double
plays. Last night, against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team tied a
franchise-high record for getting doubled up five times. And yet,
improbably, they rallied to beat the D-backs 5-4. For a moment it seems
as though the club has gotten its charmed mojo back - and none too
soon, with Colorado breathing down the Dodgers' necks from a scant
three and a half games away.
Still, the fact that we're offering grateful sacrifices in exchange
for a cliff-hanger win over lowly Arizona says much about how far the
Dodgers have sunk since the heady days of May and June. Whether the
team really has broken out of its Win One, Lose Two pattern will become
clear by the weekend, when it takes on its eternal nemesis, the
third-place Giants, in San Francisco. My money is still on the Dodgers
making it into post-season play, based on the odds that their cyclical
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losing streak is probably due to end, while the surging Rockies are
most likely to begin their own downward slide, when there won't be
enough time left in the season for them to recover and catch up to the