12/25/2013 10:00 A.M. ET
Hollywood Dodgers wrote a heck of a script in '13
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
If Hollywood executives in search of the next blockbuster script had only looked to the nearby Los Angeles neighborhood known as Chavez Ravine, maybe they wouldn't have resorted to that one extra remake of a bad TV sitcom.
As it turned out, "The 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers" turned out to be one heck of a flick, replete with a huge budget, an engaging cast of characters, a plot line nobody could predict, and a pulsating soundtrack of stadium cheers.
The movie, which had a run into deep October, didn't end the way Dodgers fans would have liked, but hey, that's why they make sequels.
"It's disappointing because of all the work that you put in from last winter, planning and trying to put a club together that has some depth," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said after his team was eliminated from the National League Championship Series by the St. Louis Cardinals.
"Going through spring, the long season and then it just comes to a crash ... it's disappointing for all of us."
For a team with a $243 million payroll, a star-studded roster and one of the great ballparks and fan bases in the game, those sentiments came from the heart. The Dodgers were expected to win in 2013, and for the most part they did. After a slow start, they went on an electrifying midsummer run and cruised to the NL West division title. But even after 92 wins in the regular season, a playoff-opening win over the Braves in the NL Division Series, a breakout year by rookie outfielder Yasiel Puig and a second Cy Young Award for ace Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers were left unsatisfied. This can only fuel them for 2014 and beyond.
"What does it really matter, making the playoffs or coming in last place?" Kershaw said after the Cardinals closed them out. "If you don't win the World Series, it doesn't really matter."
But a lot mattered in 2013.
The Dodgers had targets on their classic jerseys from the minute they stepped on the back fields of Camelback Ranch, their Spring Training home. They seemed to be stacked with talent at every position, with a glut of starters and bullpen arms ready to provide the organization with quality depth.
The only thing in their way, it seemed, was bad luck and injuries, and they got plenty of both early in the season. One-time MVP candidate Matt Kemp and starting shortstop Hanley Ramirez were two of several high-profile position players relegated to the sidelines for various lengths of time. Starters Chad Billingsley (Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery) and Josh Beckett (thoracic outlet syndrome) hardly contributed at all, and others, such as outfielder Andre Ethier, were never entirely healthy.
But even though the Dodgers found themselves in last place in their division on June 22, as serious questions about the future of Mattingly hung in the Southern California air, the Dodgers didn't give up.
And they got some help, too.
The Cuban sensation Puig, who had turned heads in Spring Training, was called up from Double-A Chattanooga and immediately put a charge into the team's offense and defense. Puig got the crowds going by hitting for average and power, running the bases with all-out abandon and displaying one of the better outfield arms in baseball -- all at the age of 22 with hardly any American professional experience to speak of.
Kershaw was still Kershaw, starter Zack Greinke was in the midst of an excellent season, Ramirez came back hot, and a switch was flipped. The Dodgers won 42 of their next 50 games -- the best half-century stretch in franchise history -- and practically walked into the postseason, winning the NL West by 11 games, the largest margin in Los Angeles history.
The Dodgers became the first NL team to win 15 consecutive road games in 56 years, the fourth club to finish in first place after being in last place on July 1 or later, and the fourth team to win a division in a season in which they were at least 12 games below .500. They were the third team to rally from at least 9 1/2 games back to win by at least 10 games.
Yes, the ultimate goal for 2013 eluded the Dodgers, and yes, the team and its fans expressed mostly disappointment for a season that had more dramatic up-and-down swings than most two-hour art-house features, but that's what comes in this new high-payroll, high-expectation territory. The Dodgers have already reloaded to some degree in preparation for another run at the title in 2014.
"Obviously, I'm really proud of my club," Mattingly said when the otherwise-very-successful 2013 season ended in the NLCS. "I felt like these guys hung in all year long. They were a great group to be around. I felt like these guys have a lot of fun.
"They do get down to business, sometimes a little unconventional. But they do love to play, and I think they represent the Dodger organization well."