Saturday, April 16, 2011
An 11-2 pounding adds to doubt: How much has really changed?
To answer your most burning question: Yes, we all slept ... my kids, my in-laws, my wife and I.
So I can move my attention away from my household and back to Dodger Stadium and a different sort of burning question in the wake of the Dodgers' fourth consecutive defeat, an 11-2 loss to St. Louis that might have been closer than the score indicated, but not much.
One of the storylines that emerged in Spring Training was the idea that this year's Dodger team was going to rehabilitate the heart-and-soul demise of last year's team. We heard that a lack of focus and willingness or ability to go the extra mile wasn't confined to Matt Kemp, but rather spread like a virus through almost every Dodger who wasn't, say, a cagey 37-year-old veteran infielder. The 2011 Dodgers understood these deficiencies and intended to rectify them.
The exhibition season certainly supported this idea - this was the most easygoing, focused camp in memory, with Andre Ethier's contractual omphaloskepsis the minorest of blips. But that still left us with two unanswered questions:
1) Why, when the 2010 playoffs were still in reach, would the Dodgers suddenly decide to try not harder, but softer?
2) Why, when adversity struck again in 2011 as it inevitably would at some point, wouldn't the Dodgers fall into the same bad habits again?
Now, there are potential answers to those questions: 1) immaturity, 2) growth. But there are also alternative theories for last season and this one that invalidate the questions to begin with - namely, the Dodgers collectively were and are doing the best they can, given that they are human beings and not programmable robots, and what you see is what you get.
Yes, Kemp looks like a better player this year, for reasons Dodger fans will debate. By the same token, James Loney looks worse than ever, and I think everyone would agree it's not for lack of trying. Overall, it's not clear to me how much a team can simply will itself to be better when, even in the darkest hours, there is always a baseline of effort.
Growth might help the Dodgers overcome a short stretch that has seen them fall into a virtual tie for last place in the National League West, but my suspicion remains the same: In the end, ballplayers always want to do well, and their fate will come down to their talent, not their desire.