The past two Dodger games told us everything we need to know about this year's team and its all-but-imminent elimination from 2012 title contention.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles peppered San Diego with 14 baserunners while allowing only a single earned run — and still lost, 2-1. Two Dodger runners were thrown out between third at home and 11 others were left on base, while the Padres tallied their decisive second run on a throwing error by Dodger starting pitcher Josh Beckett.
On Wednesday came the kind of smashing performance the Dodgers expected to get on a regular basis following their mega-deal with Boston in August: an 8-2 victory, with Matt Kemp going 4 for 5 with a homer and four RBI, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez each knocking two hits and, for a touch of the life's-too-good absurd, even Nick Punto scoring four runs.
The mental beatdown Dodger fans have taken over the past several weeks is such that no one felt assured that the game was locked after the Dodgers took an 8-0 lead in the sixth inning. Since August 15, when they led the National League West by a game, the Dodgers have gone 15-22; Wednesday's victory was their first by at least three runs in more than a month. Injuries to Kemp, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw and others have been a big part of it, but so has a star-quality lineup that responded to the spotlight like Cindy Brady in her stage-fright episode of "The Brady Bunch."
The contrast with May, when an injury-ravaged, star-challenged Dodger squad actually gained ground in the division, couldn't be more stark. The 2012 Dodgers swam when they should have sank, then sank when they should have swam, or at least dog-paddled.
In a way, it's a pretty sensible result for 2012, a year that began — lest we forget — with clouds hovering over their title chances in general and team ownership in particular. This was not a year that began with high on-field expectations of any kind. Consequently, when rays of hope did emerge, we were all led to believe that we would be rewarded for our suffering.
And then, just like that, we were punished for our exultation.
Seven regular-season games remain for the Dodgers, starting with tonight's road finale in San Diego. Los Angeles won six of its first seven regular-season games this season — if they delivered a bookend 6-1 finish, they would still need St. Louis to go 2-4 just to manufacture a tie for the second wild-card playoff spot. What's weird is that this could happen, even though all things sensible tell us it won't — because if the 2012 Los Angeles Dodgers have been anything, they've been contrary.