High Hopes Melt in Summer Heat

The 2006 season began with such high hopes. Great veteran acquisitions, hordes of can't miss rookies finally ready, the excision of players who caused problems, front office harmony, decent spending, a nice mix of players who were healthy. Then as the summer heat exploded across the country, the Dodgers high hopes evaporated into thin air.

What happened?

Well, the old saw is that pitching is 90 per cent of baseball, and nowhere has that been more true than this year for the Dodgers.

A bullpen loaded with young and old talent imploded with sudden ferocity.

Eric Gagne's knee problem of two years ago suddenly became a career-ender with all the impact of Dizzy Dean's broken toe of 70 years ago. The great one's career has been unalterably changed if not ended. Yhency Brazoban -- poof.

The cruel reality of summer showed exactly why the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were willing to move Lance Carter and Dennis Baez (and in midseason Mark Hendrickson). The bullpen has had pitchers with great stuff who couldn't keep it in the strike zone and major leagues (Kuo).

The summary of the bullpen can best be summarized by the improbable return of Gio Carrara. A team that can use a third time retread with an aging body and so-so stuff is a team with a bullpen that is not likely to win anything.

The Dodgers bullpen has also become a place for starters who were so bad at starting, who nobody else wants, yet who are healthy (at least from the neck and heart down) and big contract laden, that the bullpen is wasting space that could desperately used.

We loved the pickup of starter Jae Seo. We were wrong. So good on the east coast, so bad on the west. East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet.

Brad Penny more often than not has been a five inning pitcher. Stopper and number one starter Derek Lowe has spent the season imitating the elder of the Weaver brothers - good start, bad start. That a stopper does not make. And after that, it gets worse. Brett Tomko, instead of being an innings eater, was eaten by innings. Mid-season starter Hendrickson has had a tough time adjusting to the National League. Chad Billingsley to date has thrown too many pitches in too few innings.

The high hopes for the Dodgers pitching this year have disappointed. The only "high" has been the kind induced by upside down cigarettes - purely a pipedream. And this is not to mention or further malign (as much as it is earned) the forgettable Odalis Perez, now hands down the worst Dodgers overpaid pitcher INCLUDING Dave "Full Pack" Stackhouse (remember him?). And the Dodgers respected minor league deck suddenly doesn't appear to be a stacked with pitching prospects as touted.

Where is our Liriano? Where is our Hernandez?

The pitching, injury impacted, dependent upon pitchers who had failed elsewhere already, has been more than rotten. It has stunk, with the fumes heady only to opposing batters. A rhetorical question -- when has the Dodgers pitching ever been worse? A pitching staff that would have been eager to take Jeff Weaver back is a pitching staff going someplace - DOWN.

The 2006 pitching staff has brought the team down. Before its over, it easily could unfortunately cost new pitching coach Rick Honeycutt his job before it begins.

Rebuilding the Dodgers into a winner will now begin and end not with the introduction of the steady stream of can't miss rookies into the big league roster, it will begin and end with the pitching staff. Reluctant to consider trading "can't miss" rookies, the Dodgers are now simply forced to swap hitting talent for pitching talent. Real talent this time. The LaRoche kid. For a pitcher who can pitch, he'll have to go.

The Loney kid. Hitting .390 recently (but without home run power), for a good pitcher, he's got to be on the table. Willy Aybar? Sure.

About the only position player off the table has to be Matt Kemp - IF he can learn to deal with the big league breaking ball.

Second only to the Dodgers pitching has been the outfield. A team depending on Hamstring Ledee and Junior Cruz is a team destined to grubbing for runnerup crumbs at the end of the season. Kenny Lofton and J.D. Drew, mostly healthy, have been mostly mediocre.

Finally the Dodgers have to honestly face the fact that J.D. Drew is NOT and is not likely to ever be a real, honest to God, dependable impact player. Were it not for the spectacular and frankly unexpected dividends from Andre Ethier, the outfield would match the pitching staff for underachieving.

Watchers from afar probably wondered why the Dodgers preferred Ledee over rookie Kemp, he of the seven homers and tremendous upside. The reality?

The old baseball buzzsaw - "Don't rent the room momma, they have commenced to throw the curve!"

The fall and winter of the 2006 Dodgers outfield outlook may depend on Jason Repko, the hard playing kid who really ain't no home run hitter, who doesn't rank as a real tool player, but the kid who does something to help you each and every time he puts on a big league uniform and everytime to gets into a big league game.

Rafael Furcal has been a bust -- at the plate, with the glove. He can't be as bad as he has been to date. Pray God he doesn't turn out to be another J.D. Drew or worse yet another Odalis Perez, a player with once talent who the prescient Atlanta Braves pawned off on the Dodgers. The Dodgers are stuck with Furcal. His salary is too high, his weaknesses are exposed.

Here it is August. The Dodgers leading home run hitter has ten! Ten! This is ridiculous.

There is still hope. The season has time left. The Dodgers play in baseball's weakest and most mediocre division. But a team that can't bubble to the surface in a mediocre environment is worse than mediocre.

It's like waking up in the morning next to a girl who looked so good in the bar last night.

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