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Grady grates on fans (cont.)

Posted: Thursday September 20, 2007 1:33PM; Updated: Thursday September 20, 2007 3:35PM
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Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp
Youngsters Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp have played well enough to deserve more playing time.
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• Sept. 9: Little removed his ace, Brad Penny, after Penny let the tying run reach base on a leadoff eighth-inning double. Penny had thrown 82 pitches. This was more easily explained than what happened with Lowe and Billingsley, since there was no pinch-hitting opportunity immediately preceding. But then Little ended up using lefty Joe Beimel just to give Barry Bonds an intentional walk, before replacing Beimel with righty Jonathan Broxton even though switch-hitting pinch-hitter Ray Durham is a better hitter from the left side.

• Sept. 11: After an off-day the Dodgers faced San Diego in their biggest series of the year. Another waiver claim, Esteban Loaiza, allowed four runs on four walks, two singles and a homer in the first two innings. The Dodgers loaded the bases in the bottom of the second inning, but even with an endless September bullpen to choose from, Little left Loaiza in to bat for himself.

Though the Dodgers won two of those five games, much remaining patience with Little seemed to be lost. The Dodgers were compelled to make statements defending him, suggesting that few if any could have done better in blending the Dodgers' mix of old and young players.

Internet chatters and talk show callers weren't satiated, feeling that Little should have been less concerned about players' feelings and more concerned with just getting the right players in the games. (In fact, dissatisfaction with Little has spun into a separate side battle between the Dodgers and their radio outlet as to whether the host of the team's postgame call-in show should attempt to calm the more exasperated callers.) Reports of anonymous Dodgers questioning Little's lineups fueled the fire.

And so now the Dodgers, a team that went from 1954 to '96 with only two managers, have die-hard fans calling for them to fire their fifth manager since that time. It has been less than two years since the last one, Jim Tracy, was cashiered.

To be sure, not everyone thinks Little is the Dodgers' biggest problem. Some have blamed injuries, but Colletti is also taking a good deal of heat. He has a mixed record at best in player acquisitions, and there's a strong case to be made that most credit for whatever success the Dodgers are having should go to assistant GM of scouting Logan White, the man in charge of drafting most of the team's young talent. White and vice president/assistant GM Kim Ng are among the top candidates for any major league GM openings, and plenty have suggested that the Dodgers would be worse off to lose either of those two than Colletti.

Going into play today, the Dodgers have lost 73 games, six more than the top three teams in the NL, Arizona, San Diego and the New York Mets. Six months of baseball, six extra losses. One extra loss a month could be the difference between the Dodgers playing in October and watching on TV. The difference between center stage and the alley out back. And, perhaps, the difference between the forgivable and the unforgivable.

Little will be back with the Dodgers in 2008, working under Colletti. But the clock is ticking for one if not both. In one respect, Little may have it easier: With the Dodger prospects a year older, some fully blossoming, there should be less uncertainty with the team's daily lineup. However, fans will be expecting Little to put the team back in the playoffs -- and also to change some of his ways.

The latter, at least, is something managers tend not to do. If there isn't measurable improvement for the Dodgers next season -- in an NL West that itself has been measurably improving -- the Dodgers themselves might be fully prepared to do the easiest thing in baseball, before attempting the hardest. Little hasn't lost the game in Los Angeles yet, but trouble is warming up in the bullpen.

Jon Weisman writes about the Dodgers and baseball at Dodger Thoughts.

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