Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Spirit of '96

I'm going to get off a post on how the final weekend of 2004 is eerily shaping up to be very similar to the final weekend of 1996, although I see that Dodger Thoughts already beat me to it. Both years the Dodgers had the lead going into the final four games of the season, and were playing the final series at home against the very team challenging them for the division title.

In 1996, the result was a catastrophe. Via Jon:

9/25/96: Dodgers lead NL West by 2 1/2 games
9/26/96: Giants 6, Dodgers 1 - Dodgers lead by 2 games
9/27/96: Padres 5, Dodgers 2 (10) - Dodgers lead by 1 game
9/28/96: Padres 4, Dodgers 2 - Dodgers and Padres tied
9/29/96: Padres 2, Dodgers 0 (11) - Padres win NL West by 1 game

The thing was, nobody on the Dodgers seemed to regard at is much of a catastrophe. Both teams clinched playoff berths on Saturday, so even though they were playing heads-up for the division title on Sunday, the game was a snoozer with starters pulled out of the game and no sense of urgency at all. What should have been a hair-raising pennant race climax became an exhibition warm-up for the playoffs. Even worse, I remember some speculation going around that the wild-card might be more advantageous, because it possibly offered a better first-round matchup. (This was, and remains, the absolute low point of the wild-card era.) The Dodgers shrugged off the sweep/collapse and ended up with the wild-card, where the Braves gave them an object lesson in what happens to teams who blithely back into the playoffs.

There will be no backing into the playoffs this year. If the Dodgers don't win again this season, they are going home for the winter. I'm probably worrying too much, but there are already some troubling signs, not the least of which is Eric Gagne's suddenly sore shoulder. I don't like the fact that in our first game without Bradley, the Dodger offense couldn't get more than three hits off of four crappy Rockies pitchers. I don't like the fact that just when we needed him to step up and be K-Rod c. 2002, Yhency Brazoban is suddenly struggling. I don't like that Lima and his broken finger are starting tonight, and I don't like the way the pitching matchups against the Giants on Saturday and Sunday are shaping up. Of course, it just wouldn't be the Dodgers if there weren't controversies and question marks and distractions swirling around the team. We should all be used to it by now.

Hideo Nomo and Darren Dreifort are the only Dodgers left from the 1996 team, hard as it is to believe. However, Nomo is busy practicing his tree-stump impressions, and I don't think Dreifort's wheelchair, full-body cast, iron lung, and inflatable protective bubble can fit down the runway to the dugout, so hopefully Steve Finley, a Padre in '96, can remind the team of past lessons learned and keep them focused on the prize.


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