'Leave Us Not Panic'

There was a ray of pure sunlight in the dreadful road trip to Chicago and New York. Despite playing in Wrigley Field, where the Cubs have the best home record in baseball, and in raucous Shea Stadium before four 50,000+ crowds, the young Dodgers were blown out only once, in the final game, when everything went badly in the first three innings while facing Johan Santana.

As Willard Mullin's remarkable Brooklyn Bum, Flatbush Willie, would say, "Leave Us Not Panic."

Let's look at the recent road trip that seems so ugly on the surface.

The Dodgers lost the first game in Chicago 3-1 when Billingsley served up a two-run homer in the first. They led 1-0 in the second game behind Kuroda before an error cost two unearned runs and another 3-1 loss. The third game saw them take another 1-0 lead into the ninth before losing 2-1 in the 10th.

In the New York opener, Los Angeles led 2-0 into the eighth before the bullpen, their strongest feature for over a month, again imploded, allowing three runs. They won the second game 9-5, despite an ugly performance by Kershaw and then lost when Penny was banged around and in the final game.

Six losses to a couple very good teams, Chicago on fire and New York emerging from a funk that has held them around the .500 mark most of the year.

The Dodgers could have -- should have perhaps -- won all three in Chicago and split with the Mets. And why didn't they?

It seems as if 80% of the rookies who arrived in the Major Leagues suddenly distrust what got them there. The plate looks three inches wide to the pitchers and three feet wide to the hitters.

So, they seem to think, they must be perfect. Throw the ball on the outside 1/8" of the plate and swing harder because those are big league pitchers out there and they just might knock the bat out of your hands.

It takes some time to get over those feelings.

And don't forget: the Dodgers are operating on a $50 million payroll against some clubs spending twice that much, or more. The tab for Jason Schmidt, Rafael Furcal, Andruw Jones, Esteban Loaiza and Nomar Garciaparra tabulates up to nearly $50 million bucks, which if made available over the off season could have purchased a certified veteran starter that would have made the search for a fifth starter superfluous.

But, you might say, Arizona and Florida and Tampa Bay are young, too.

Correct, but they trusted their farm system much earlier than the Dodgers did. The Diamondbacks floundered around half of the 2007 season before falling into to a cooperating mood that allowed the team to pull in the right direction.

Both the Rays and Marlins have struggled mightily before finding the right combination of youth and experience.

And it is the experience part that is jamming up the cogs in the Dodger machine. Jeff Kent, competitor that he is, is also 40 and although he, like Ulysses, continues "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield", yield he may have to as his average drops into the .230's.

Garciaparra may never play another inning for the Dodgers and even if he does, Rookie Blake DeWitt has stolen his position, as well as Andy LaRoche's, and both will have to find another place to play as DeWitt fights his way toward Rookie of the Year consideration.

Veteran pitchers Brad Penny and Derek Lowe, who finished with 28 wins between them last season, are a combined 7-11 with a 5.09 earned run average. And Takashi Saito is not the same oriental "game over" that he has been the last two years.

In summation, the kids are green and the veterans, at least those who aren't disabled, are not really playing that well. And as well as career minor leaguer Luis Maza is playing right now, you won't win a pennant with him at shortstop ... or with a young Chin-Lung Hu at least not right now.

There is a mantra in baseball that says you are never as good as you look when you are winning and you are never as bad as you look when you are losing.

Penny and Lowe haven't forgotten how to pitch. Furcal will eventually heal as will Andruw Jones, although it seems clutching at straws to feel as if his complete ineptness at the plate is due to a bad knee, but well that might be.

Loney will stop trying to emulate Gil Hodges' power. His sweet gap-power swing that resulted in a .331 average last season, was not a complete aberration. Kemp will harness his remarkable talents and start hitting the ball with more power.

Without the steady play of Pierre and Martin, and the pitching of Billingsley, Kuroda (bereft of run support and luck), Kuo, Beimel and Broxton, if he isn't used too often back-to-back, have kept the club in the thick of a division that is struggling, on balance, more than the Dodgers.

Manager Joe Torre has a special touch for young players and General Manager Ned Colletti -- who while taking heat for some of his moves -- to his eternal credit hasn't spent the young talent handed him by previous GMs.

As Colletti pointed out accurately and succinctly the other day, "We are playing with a really young club. But we haven't been run off the field, embarrassed or shown some dramatic disparity between us and our opponents. Not at all. We have to transition to a point where we figure out how to win games, but we're still in the process of doing it. It's not like you're going to go to sleep Thursday night, wake up Friday morning and it's going to be there."

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