Matt Kamlet, CBSLA.com
LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Remember the time the Lakers, stacked with so many all-star names it was inconceivable not to think about a championship, fired Mike Brown, and went on to frustrate fans for the next six months?
Do you think history can repeat itself twice in the same year?
Los Angeles sports fans were almost thankful when the Lakers, who ended up crawling into the playoffs, finished their season. Most felt this merciful sense of relief because the flowers were blooming, Spring beach weather was emerging, and the Dodgers had just dropped enough money to feed a small country for a year on their own roster of all-star names.
Angelinos were shelving the names of Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, and trying to forget the tragic Achilles tendon of Kobe Bryant.
They were making way for the names of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, and Adrian Gonzalez.
More than anything, fans were looking forward to forgetting the financial misuse of former owner Frank McCourt, and coming to the ballpark to see a National League contender, day in and day out.
But something happened.
The Dodgers have plummeted to last place in the National League West. The hitters are not hitting, the bullpen is not maintaining leads, the closer(s) are not closing games, the starting rotation has more traffic between the mound and the disabled list than the I-405 freeway has at 5 p.m.
And the eyes appear to have fallen — on skipper, Don Mattingly.
Donnie Baseball took over as manager in 2011, after the retirement of Joe Torre.
Still dealing with the financial choke hold of McCourt, not to mention the distraction of a highly publicized, Hollywood-style divorce, the Dodgers, pieced together by fill-ins and platoons, finished third in the NL West with a record of 82-79. Matt Kemp was even runner-up for the National League MVP.
The team was sold to Magic Johnson, Stan Kasten, and Mark Walter of Guggenheim Partners, and Mattingly’s club finished second with an 86-76 record in 2012, after starting the season as the best team in baseball.
If the Dodgers started 2012 as the hottest team in the league, only to struggle through summer and miss the playoffs, they are certainly making a case to avoid a repeat.
A lineup that features Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier, and Carl Crawford currently sits at next-to-last in the majors in runs scored.
The club has the Ace of the National League in Clayton Kershaw with his 1.40 ERA, but even that hasn’t inspired the team to live up to potential.
It is near absurdity to believe that Matt Kemp’s shoulder has healed completely from off-season surgery, as he has two home runs by the end of May — one more than the 160-pound Dee Gordon.
With runners in scoring position, Kemp is batting .171.
Andre Ethier is batting a discouraging .255, and all-star shortstop Hanley Ramirez teased fans with a three starts, batting .455 off an early return from thumb surgery — only to go down for another eight weeks with a hamstring injury following one the most awkward slides most blooper reels have ever seen.
In addition to the blame, Mattingly has inherited a managerial reputation for being laid-back, patient, and amiable. Players say they like playing for him.
If they enjoy playing for him, they’re certainly making it difficult for him to keep his job.
Foxsports.com’s Ken Rosenthal is speculating that Mattingly could get the axe sooner rather than later, following another three-game sweep, this one in Atlanta.
However, one thing the Atlanta series showed us, that we had not seen before, is Mattingly publicly criticizing his players.
It takes a lot to get a guy like Mattingly to come out and chastise the players on his club — just as it takes quite a lot to get fans who were calling World Series in March, to resurrect the words “Wait ’til next year” in May.
When Luis Cruz dropped a line drive in Game 1, leading to an eventual bases-loaded situation instead of a double play, Mattingly shared fans’ frustrations with the excruciatingly barren third baseman and said, “guys in the big leagues make that play all day long.”
Will firing Don Mattingly repair Kemp’s shoulder, or get Hanley Ramirez to stay off the DL long enough to unpack his bags in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, or get Andre Ethier to hit consistently, or keep linebacker-sized brutes from charging the mound on ace pitchers?
General Manager Ned Colletti said Monday that, despite the Dodgers 17-25 start, that Mattingly is “doing fine”.
Meanwhile, the series in Milwaukee may result in change by the time the Dodgers come home to Los Angeles.
Yet, if a roster made up of all-stars still doesn’t produce, the Dodgers will look less like “a whole new blue”, and more like recent shades of purple and gold.