10/03/12 2:53 AM ET
Retooled Dodgers face 'painful' finish to season
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
They went from bankruptcy to flush new ownership and from miserly roster moves to lavish acquisitions. They also went from a 7 1/2-game lead in the National League West on May 27 to being eliminated from the last Wild Card spot by the Giants on Tuesday night.
"Everything comes to a screeching halt," manager Don Mattingly said. "To not have the opportunity to move forward is painful. I felt the guys were totally invested. I'm just really proud of them and we're going to learn from this."
They had a higher winning percentage in April under owner Frank McCourt (.696) than the next five months under Guggenheim Baseball Partners (.500), who anted $2.15 billion to get in the game and pledged another $400 million attempting to improve the talent on the field.
And it didn't work. Curiously, the team collectively played its best when the least was expected.
For example, with modest preseason goals, the Dodgers jumped out to a big early division lead. But injuries and a catastrophic 1-11 collapse at the end of June left the club's confidence shaken.
Turning over one-third of the roster virtually overnight -- designed to assure a postseason berth this year and add star power on the eve of negotiations for the next TV contract -- resulted in pressing and poor play.
And once the Dodgers fell far enough back in the Wild Card race that they could not control their destiny, they played the relaxed and confident baseball that got them the first-half lead.
But it was too late.
"We'll be flat for a week, but when they start training, this feeling they have out there is a feeling they don't want to have again," Mattingly said. "In a sense, this club was put together late. We'll have a shot to start fresh next year."
One common theme of this season was injuries, and none reflected the fortunes of the club like those of Matt Kemp.
Setting the personal bar at 50 steals and 50 home runs, Kemp wound up missing 51 games with a strained hamstring, then struggled through September trying to ignore the lingering damage from a violent collision with the wall at Coors Field.
Like the rest of the hitters, he caught fire too late.
Going to waste was another solid season of pitching, led by Clayton Kershaw, who duplicated his NL Cy Young dominance in every way but wins and losses.
Offseason acquisitions Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang more than made up for the loss of Hiroki Kuroda, and Chad Billingsley had just gotten on a roll when his elbow partially blew. Ted Lilly's best start to a season was cut short with shoulder problems, but the midseason trades for Joe Blanton and Josh Beckett kept games winnable, even if the offense couldn't close the deal often enough.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.