I can say with little hyperbole that 2011 had some of the lowest and most exhausting moments I can ever remember in my years of following this club. Every time you thought it was as bad as it could get, it would get worse. I mean, bad enough where we were pining for the good old simple days of a bitterly public divorce that was threatening to tear the organization apart. That was before Frank McCourt made as many deals with the devil to make payroll as he could, before MLB took steps to take over the club, before McCourt then took the club into bankruptcy to save his skin, before a list of his many embarrassments became the most-read post in this history of this site, before court dates became more important than playoff dates, before Bryan Stow was nearly beaten to death in the parking lot, and before thousands upon thousands of empty, empty Dodger Stadium seats.
That’s also all before we even got to baseball. A team largely built on older players who couldn’t get on base… got hurt and didn’t get on base. The projected starting infield foursome started all of two games together. Casey Blake couldn’t stay healthy. Rafael Furcal couldn’t stay healthy or perform before being traded. Juan Uribe, when he wasn’t busy also not staying healthy, was an expensive and horrific disaster. James Loney looked to threaten records for offensive futility, and the question was less “will he be non-tendered” and more “will he even make it through the season?” Andre Ethier complained about his contract status, had a 30-game hitting streak, and then hit just .265 with 8 homers over the next four months while continuing to say stupid things before ending his season early to have knee surgery. Eugenio Velez existed. Dioner Navarro got hurt, was awful, and then was cut due to a poor work ethic. Aaron Miles got nearly 500 plate appearances. The three-headed left field monster of JaMarcus Gwybbons, Jr., which was never ever going to work, didn’t work. Trayvon Robinson was traded in a deal that just about no one outside of Ned Colletti seemed to like. Ted Lilly kicked off his $33m deal by serving mostly as a butt of jokes about how many dingers or stolen bases he’d allow that day. Chad Billingsley infuriated us by continuing to be consistently inconsistent, and Hiroki Kuroda refused to be traded. Jonathan Broxton never recovered from Joe Torre’s abuse. Hong-Chih Kuo‘s demons returned. Ronald Belisario didn’t. Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla combined to throw just 62.2 innings, while Kenley Jansen had to deal with a heart condition. Rubby De La Rosa made a smashing debut and was then cruelly snatched away from us for a year or more.
By July, they were 14 games under and 14.5 out, lows that hadn’t been reached in years, and it was somehow even worse than that. It’s one thing to follow a bad team; Pirates fans, among others, have been doing that for decades. But the off-field disasters combined with an on-field product that was not only lousy but just flat out boring made for the worst combination of all. It was hard to care. That’s how you know the season has gotten away from you, when you’ve got the option to flip on the Dodger game, watch yet another rerun of “the Simpsons”, or just go to bed, and the Dodger game is no longer a no-brainer choice.
And yet, as the season slowly droned on… there was hope. Not off the field, perhaps, as the legal battles have no end in sight and long-time communications honcho and all-around good guy Josh Rawitch departed for Arizona, though Stow is thankfully showing signs of recovery. But on the field, things turned around. At one point starting in late August, they won 11 of 12 games; their 34-20 record in August and September was among the best in baseball. Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw busted out to battle for the highest individual awards and produce seasons that will go down in team history. Loney suddenly became the best hitter on the planet, while Juan Rivera came over from Toronto to give Kemp some much-needed aid. Even Lilly turned it around, finishing the year with six consecutive homer-free starts after having allowed 16 in his previous 12. On the bench, Don Mattingly began to earn our respect. Young arms like Nathan Eovaldi, Scott Elbert, Josh Lindblom, and particularly Javy Guerra arrived to join the unhittable and record-setting Jansen to reinforce what was a tattered relief staff. The next wave of hitters made their debuts, generally forced to do so ahead of schedule, and Dee Gordon, Jerry Sands, Tim Federowicz, & Justin Sellers all look like they could be contributors in 2012. Perhaps most importantly of all, Vin Scully announced that he’d be so kind as to grace us with his presence for at least one more season.
A season that could have easily been a 61-101 debacle turned into an 82-79 revelation – an actual winning season, which in itself is a minor miracle considering all that happened. While there’s a ton of uncertainty headed into the offseason, this is at least a team where if you squint hard enough and jam your fingers in your ears deep enough to drown out the courtroom battles, you could possibly see a playoff contender next year. That might not sound like much, but it’s something, and that’s a whole lot more than we had just a while ago. (I, uh, didn’t mean to paraphrase a semi-obscure punk rock band there, but it just sort of happened.) Where once there was merely despair and hopelessness, the second half rebound at least provided some measure of joy and a possible light at the end of the tunnel.
As for this side of the screen, it’s been a good year. The blog has broken every previous traffic record it ever had, thanks to you all, and I was lucky enough to win an award I had no business winning, to be interviewed on SNY, do a few video podcasts with Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts (yes, you can all relax, my goofy beard is long gone), and fulfill a lifelong dream of being called a goof on the radio by Pat O’Brien. Yes, that Pat O’Brien. I was also able to conduct a fun interview with Christopher Jackson of the Albuquerque Baseball Examiner (who provided invaluable AAA insight all season), get interviewed a few times on Sirius / XM radio, and continue my duties at Baseball Prospectus.
All of which is to say… it might not have been the brightest year on the field, but sometimes that makes it all the more fun. Cheers to all of you for sticking it out with me and keeping me honest. Baseball never stops, of course; we’ll be starting to look at arbitration decisions, 2011 reviews, and 2012 plans before you know it, probably early next week. See you there.