Direction of season depends on Billingsley

Everybody in baseball now knows that the Dodgers have an unexpected amount of firepower offensively and can score enough runs to win the division and move on. They have been using an even mix of veterans and outstanding minor league players.

Everybody in baseball also knows that the Dodgers only have TWO dependable starters, Lowe and Penny, and a whole lot of crossed fingers thereafter (put about as positively as one can).

Brett Tomko is a number five starter at best. The team got three unexpected wins from Aaron Sele, who is probably best suited to be an occasional starter.

Jay Seo has been a disappointment from coming over from the Mets. He is not the Jay Seo who lit up the National League from the Fourth of July on a year ago. Maybe he's a second half of the season pitcher. Maybe he'll be in Las Vegas. Nobody knows.

Odalis Perez ought to be a number three man, surely a man in the fourth spot and undercast at number five.

He has been lousy at all of them and is now nothing other than a space taker upper, and a massively overpaid one. So the call up of Chad Billingsley was I-M-P-O-R-T-A-N-T. If the kid can match the efforts of Martin, Ethier, Kemp and Aybar, that would be great.

The early callups have all worked out so darned well, the expectation bar is maybe being set too high for Billingsley. Gee, even if he eats innings like Dennis Houlton did a year ago, that would be a pleasant upgrade for the Dodgers.

Billingsley matched the rookie standards set the other callup this season and if that is any inducation of how he will fare, things are going to start looking up.

Because the trade deadline looms and GM Ned Colletti wants and needs to have a winner THIS year, and the cost may have to be figured on how much of the future to part with to stabilize the pitching staff via the trade route. If Billingsley catches on, and it looks as if he will, he'll be the first home grown Dodgers starter of substance in some years.

The Dodgers can and should win this year. They have a level headed manager who works TOGETHER with the GM and the pair have done wonders over last year faster than anybody in baseball expected. And there is more on the way.

One of the sad things about the season enveloping is the continued plight of Eric Gagne. By this point, honesty dictates that anything from the big guy through September has be considered a plus. And we may never, ever see the old Eric Gagne again. It's happened before. He did have a longer run than Karl Spooner, who the elder ones among us saw and loved til he threw his arm out (no Dr. Frank Jobe in those days).

Have you all noticed how the good things on the field have put all the negative press about the Dodgers ownership on the back, back, back burner.

Negative press has been almost nonexistent. The onfield success has even allowed the organization to keep Tommy Lasorda in the cooler. It is a sign when folks need to be distracted, Tommy is called upon for a bigger role.

So far this season, the new ownership is about as low key and behind the scenes as the O'Malley family enjoyed decade after decade after decade.

When the fine gentleman Roland Seidler passed away only a week or so ago, many were hearing about him for the first time. Few would have matched the face to the name. But he and his wife Terry were part owners of the team. They were annual visitors to Vero Beach and other than Dodgers insiders nobody ever knew who he was.

Roland Seidler was a gentleman's gentleman. Like Peter O'Malley's longtime sidekick, Ike Ikuhara, they were part of a family that was marked by civility and integrity and love for the game.

The longtime GM Fred Claire and the best baseball announcer of all time Vince Scully symbolized the O'Malley Dodgers grace and style. They were taciturn, figuring words you never uttered never hurt anybody. Perhaps that was the key contribution of Tommy Lasorda all along.

As long as he was around, the always quotable one distracted everybody and the O'Malley family could quietly go about their business efficiently and with dignity and love.

It was a lot different than the Steinbrenner Yankees or the Dolan Knicks. It was a winner for Dodgers fans anyplace, for LA sports fans, and for baseball. If the 2006 season continues on a positive pace, the current owners can really begin to settle in.

Red Barber and Branch Rickey were not exactly Walter O'Malley fans, as were some of the baseball fans of Brooklyn. But they settled in and had a run of a half a century.

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