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And Down the Stretch They Go!
Just 13 games remain in the Dodgers season and their division lead (now at just 2 and a half games) looks as tenuous as ever. The Azul have now reshuffled their rotation, hoping that Brad Penny will suddenly be healthy again. With six of the Dodgers final 10 games against the Giants, these next two weeks are extremely crucial. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, September has been cruel month since 1990. Few people realize just how poorly the Dodgers have faired down the stretch in recent years.
So LAist offers a trip down memory lane:
1990- Despite being favored to beat the Reds, the Dodgers are never able to get closer than three and a half games back. Late-season trade of Darrin Fletcher for Dennis Cook backfires as Cook has a 7+ ERA in Dodger Blue. The Reds win the NL West and the World Series.
1991- The Atlanta Braves come out of nowhere to challenge a highly-touted Dodgers team with Daryl Strawberry. Still, LA manages a one game lead with four games to play. The Dodgers wind up losing their next three games, including two to the Giants, and miss the post-season. The Braves haven't lost a division title since.
1994- The Dodgers lead the NL West in August, but a strike wipes away the playoffs and World Series.
1995- The Dodgers struggle to hold off the Colorado Rockies, acquiring Kevin Tapani and Mark Guthrie for the stretch run. Underachieving all season, the Dodgers do capture the NL West while the Rockies take the Wild Card. The Dodgers are then swept by Cincinnati in the NLDS with Tapani pitching out of the bullpen.
1996- The Dodgers struggle to fight off the Padres all season, and manage a two game lead with three games left at home against San Diego. The Dodgers get swept by the Padres and lose the division. In the final game of the series, Pedro Astacio pitches 9 innings (in relief!) but LA falls in 11 innings 2-0 after Mike Piazza strikes out and Eric Karros grounds in a double play. Ken Caminiti (who we now know was on steroids at the time) beats out Piazza for the MVP Award. The Dodgers still make the playoffs as a Wild Card, but are swept by the Atlanta Braves. Late season acquisition Chad Curtis does nothing
1997- The Dodgers underachieve all season and Fred Claire tries a late-season makeover built around speed by acquiring Otis Nixon, Eric Young, and Darren Lewis. The Azul hold a slim two-game lead over the Giants in late-September, entering a two-game series in San Francisco. The Giants sweep the series, tie for the NL West lead, and take advantage of an LA meltdown to easily win the division. In the final game of the series, Mike Piazza fails to score from second on a base hit in extra innings. It probably costs him the MVP Award. So much for team speed. Brian Johnson's walkoff homer gives the Giants the crucial win.
1998- Peter O'Malley sells the team. Fred Claire and Bill Russell are fired. Mike Piazza and Hideo Nomo are traded. Yet the Dodgers, are still in the wild card hunt. Interim GM Tommy Lasorda guarantees the Dodgers will make the playoffs when LA pulls to within three games. Trades for Jeff Shaw, Mark Grudzielanek, and Carlos Perez (for Ted Lilly and prospects) don't help, the Dodgers fail to win four-straight games at any point in the season, and they never catch up the wild card winning Cubs.
2000- A rather non-descript year, except for it being the closest Davey Johnson brought the Dodgers to the postseason--86 wins and 11 games out.
2001- The Dodgers have the best record in baseball in Mid-July, but slowly begin to fade by September. Jim Tracy makes an idiotic decision to go with a four-man rotation down the stretch, and the tired pitchers flop. Arizona wins the NL West and the World Series. The Dodgers finish in third. Late-season acquistions of Mike Trombley and Terry Mulholland prove disastrous. Chan Ho Park gives up Barry Bonds' 71st home run.
2002- The Dodgers lose an NL West lead in the summer to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and then a Wild Card lead to the San Francisco Giants in September thanks to crucial losses at Pac Bell Park. Late season acquisition Paul Shuey has his worst two-month stretch ever. Dan Evans also trades for Tyler Houston who informs the GM that he won't play catcher. The Giants win the NL and lose Game 7 of the World Series to the Angels.
2004- A six-game division lead in August is now just two and a half games, and the late-season trade of Paul Lo Duca, Guillermo Mota, and Juan Encarnacion for Brad Penny and Hee Seop Choi appear to have backfired. Lo Duca is hitting well, Mota remains solid, Choi can't hit his weight, and Penny has been on the DL. (Encarnacion has struggled though).
Will this year be any different? LAist hopes so. But this is such a sad recent history, that even a Red Sox fan might pity the Dodgers. Well, probably not. Let's see if Jim Tracy's bunch can finally hang onto a division lead. Sunday's win over the Rockieswas a good sign.