Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Dodgers' Epic Season Collapse

At LAT, "How did Dodgers go from possibly the best of all time to, right now, the worst team in the majors?":

The first loss felt innocuous. On Aug. 26, a crisp, clear evening out at Chavez Ravine, there was no way Dodgers manager Dave Roberts could have foreseen the avalanche awaiting his team.

After getting shut out by the Milwaukee Brewers, Roberts wore a smile as he pulled up a chair at his postgame news conference.

“You’re going to have those nights,” he said. “We’ve got a good club.”

At that moment, the start of one of the worst stretches in franchise history, Roberts and the Dodgers stood atop the baseball world. The team had already won 91 games — the same number it won in all of 2016 — with a month remaining in the season. Their lead in the National League West was 20 games, and the primary concern was keeping the regulars fresh and settling the roster for an October playoff run.

The team entertained thoughts about making history: Challenging the major league record of 116 wins in the regular season, then snapping a 28-season World Series drought in October.

The best team in baseball. The sobriquet fit. Those were the 2017 Dodgers, the purported team of a lifetime, a group assembled by a high-powered front office, supported with the sport’s largest payroll, aided by strategic innovations, infused with a rare combination of stardom and depth, and imbued with a flair for the dramatic. No lead felt safe when the Dodgers came to the plate. Anything seemed possible.

Everything, except for what happened next. By losing 10 in a row and 15 of 16 heading into Monday night’s game at San Francisco, the Dodgers shattered the confidence of a fan base wary after four consecutive early playoff exits.

The pitchers have been pummeled. The offense has been silent. Yu Darvish and Curtis Granderson, the two stars acquired by president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman in July and August, have flopped. The losing has become constant, a counterpoint to a summer in which the team appeared incapable of it. And the Dodgers have three weeks to resurrect their morale.

With no answers in sight, fans have cast about for solutions. The explanations vary from the illogical (Roberts juggles his lineup too often) to the inconsequential (the arrival of Granderson hurt the team’s chemistry) to the supernatural (the team was cursed by a Sports Illustrated cover proclaiming “Best. Team. Ever?”).

The actual answer is something that cannot be solved by a ritual burning of a magazine or a campfire “Kumbaya” to build unity or a tough-love speech by a manager. The Dodgers have foundered because of diminished performances from the players they relied upon during their historic summer.

“It’s past the point of anger and frustration now,” All-Star shortstop Corey Seager said Sunday afternoon. “We have to go out and play better.”

The skid occurred in stages, building from a nuisance into a puzzle into a source of full-blown dread for fans and a source of lost sleep for team officials. Sometimes at night, Roberts joked over the weekend, he looks up at the ceiling and reminds himself what his team’s record is. He did not always sound this downtrodden.

After the fifth loss, on Aug. 31, which completed a three-game sweep by Arizona in Phoenix, Roberts offered perspective. The Dodgers had not experienced a three-game losing streak all summer. He was disappointed in his starting pitchers, but all teams, he reasoned, go through times like this. “We just have to turn the page,” he said.

After the eighth loss in nine games, Roberts looked resolute. The Dodgers had dropped three of four to the woeful San Diego Padres, but the manager crossed his arms and declined to overreact. “I can assure you, this won’t break us,” he said.

After the 12th loss in 13 games, Roberts bumped into a reporter outside the clubhouse at Dodger Stadium. The losing had gotten so contagious, even ace Clayton Kershaw was affected. Following another sweep by Arizona, Kershaw got pummeled by Colorado. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” Roberts said...

Also, "Dodgers skip the champagne after their playoff-clinching victory they didn't know about."