Dodgers need to upgrade roster, attitude to get over the hump
The Dodgers need to toughen up, work harder to advance to World Series in 2010
The team also needs a No. 1 starter and a veteran leader to help young players
Red Sox executive Jed Hoyer still appears to be the favorite for Padres GM job
PHILADELPHIA -- When the NLCS was over, and the Dodgers were done again, eliminated just like the year before in five games by the Phillies, iconic Dodgers manager Joe Torre gathered his mostly young troops together, and he spoke of progress. It seems like a tough sell job, with the result from one year to the next being exactly the same. But Torre could sell parkas in L.A.
"You guys are getting there,'' Torre told them. "You guys are learning.''
He hopes, anyway.
The mostly young Dodgers team is said to have listened intently, and there were suggestions of several moist eyes in the clubhouse. The media was kept out several minutes longer than usual, apparently so the players could compose themselves.
When they were through, the best team in the National League during the regular season was out in a blowout of an NLCS, a resounding defeat that left them reeling. Almost to a man, they conceded that the Phillies were the better team, which is one good sign. (Matt Kemp, who's even younger than most Dodgers, was one exception. "They got hot at the right time,'' is the way he put it.)
The rest of the Dodgers appeared to grasp the obvious: If you're out in five games two straight years to the same team, maybe you're just a little bit short. The Dodgers won 95 games in the best of the three divisions of the National League. But losing the same way year after year in October can be no coincidence.
Here are some things the Dodgers need to do:
1. Time to toughen up. It won't be easy to match the Phillies in this area. "We've got a bunch of nice guys in here,'' one Dodger said. "Those guys over there, they are tough. (Shane) Victorino is a tough SOB. And (Chase) Utley, he drops a knee whenever the runner comes in at second. When Larry Bowa managed those guys he warned (Utley) that guys would get mad if he drops a knee on (baserunners), and Utley told him, "I don't give a ----.'' About the Phillies, Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said, "They're a tough club, not just wins and losses but how they approach the game. They play it hard, and they play it that way all the time. They play with a relentlessness, and they absolutely refuse to be beat.'' Using the Phillies as a measuring stick, the young Dodgers still have a little work to do. One young Dodgers star made it a point before every game to seek out Peter Gammons with the intention of high-fiving him. The Phillies players don't suck up to anyone.
2. Time to work harder. Some of the young Dodgers look happy just to be there. They think they're working. But not like the Phillies, whose intensity is exemplified by Utley and whose hard work is personified by the mildly talented yet long-lasting 46-year-old pitcher Jamie Moyer. When Joe Torre was naming the "serious-minded'' Dodgers while contrasting this loose group to his focused Yankees team of the '90s, Torre named the intellectual bench klatch of Dartmouth man Brad Ausmus and Northwestern product Mark Loretta, plus No. 8 hitter Casey Blake. And nobody's more solid than Jim Thome. A couple Dodgers suggested that a couple of the young stars who gained a rep for liking night life last year are curtailing that instinct now. Nonetheless, one other Dodger said, "You've got to like the work, not just the lifestyle.''
3. Time to get a No. 1 starter. This should probably be No. 1. They tried for Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee this summer. But while they made offers and perhaps even finished second for Lee, they never seemed to get close to either one. The Indians eventually determined that they were going to have to deal with the Phillies if they were going to receive prospects who might be major-league ready by 2010. Dodgers people aren't overly optimistic they're going to be able to pull off a coup to get that No. 1 starter, such as Halladay or free agent John Lackey, as they still don't possess a plethora of upper-level prospects or the big budget it takes. But they also have to know that if they had Lee, things might be different. "They don't have a dominating starter,'' one scout said. "That has to be their No. 1 issue.'' The departure of Derek Lowe left them with a collection of No. 3s, not a bad group at all, but not the kind that will normally carry a team through October. Putting together a playoff rotation, Torre may as well have picked out of a hat. And at times it seemed like he did. He pulled Hiroki Kuroda out of the instructional league in Arizona and Vicente Padilla off a scrap heap (the scrap-heap idea worked much better). Young Clayton Kershaw didn't look quite ready to pitch Game 1 of the NLCS, so perhaps Randy Wolf would have been the better call there. Even their vaunted bullpen looked worn out by the end, possibly the result of overuse necessitated by a rotation without a standout.
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