Baseball's regular season is over – a bittersweet year for Dodger fans but an extraordinary one for baseball fans.
A year ago, the Dodgers were mired under a nightmare ownership. Now, they are out from that nightmare but still on the outside of the playoffs, watching teams advance from such where-have-they-been cities as Baltimore, Washington and, craziest of all, Oakland – which came back from a 13-game deficit in the American League West and reached first place for the first time in 2012 only when the final out of the season was made.
A year ago, Clayton Kershaw finished his season in dominant fashion and ended up winning the National League Cy Young Award. This year, Kershaw practically did the same thing again, capping his 2012 with eight innings of one-run ball (as well as an RBI single) in the Dodgers' season-ending 5-1 victory over San Francisco. Kershaw finished first in the NL in ERA and WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) for the second year in a row – but will, if I'm any kind of prognosticator, lose the next Cy Young vote to a triumphant, feel-great season from 37-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
A year ago, Matt Kemp came as close as I thought I'd ever see anyone come to winning baseball's Triple Crown since a month before I was born in 1967. Tonight, Miguel Cabrera went and actually won the darn thing, while the Dodgers announced that Kemp would have arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder Friday.
There's been a fervent debate in baseball about the relevance of the Triple Crown to the Most Valuable Player race, and you can count me among the group that feels it shouldn't be the preeminent deciding factor – that you must also seek the best ways to account for the player's complete performance, including on-base percentage, defense and baserunning. That doesn't mean that I don't think what Cabrera did wasn't totally, supremely cool, and my only negative thought is my regret that Kemp didn't get there first.
Instead, Kemp will be treated this week for a torn labrum. In 2003, doctors operated on then-Dodger slugger Shawn Green for a torn labrum and were unable to repair it, instead only removing the damaged cartilage. Researching the subject, I concluded that Green's former power was not likely to return, and that proved to be the case. Dodger fans can only hope Kemp's operation goes better.
So it's not exactly been a Candyland year for the Dodgers, but you could hardly say it's been all bad. The first two months of the season were joyous, the last week of it thrilling. Vin Scully, working toward his 85th birthday, recovered from an early season illness and only seemed to draw more strength as the campaign progressed to its suspenseful if ultimately unfulfilling conclusion.
It was the year of A.J. Ellis and of Luis Cruz. It was a year of constant adjustment, a year of alternating pleasure and disgust. It was the 24th year without a World Series, giving next year a potential silver anniversary in the least rewarding sense. The only team to with more victories than the Dodgers' 168 over the past two seasons while failing to reach the postseason is the Angels.
The franchise has much work to do between now and 2013, from proceeding with Dodger Stadium renovations to recovering from injuries, filling holes on the roster and, if not learning to call for bunts so often, at least learning how to lay them down. (But seriously, let's not call for bunts so often.)
I spent the final month of the season writing as little about the Dodgers and baseball as I have in 10 years. Most of the time, it was a nice change of pace, to simply be able to watch (or not) without the imperative to comment. But the pull of baseball remains a powerful one. Even when your team falls short, there's just so much to savor. How can you not love it?