L.A. story full of plot lines



A Look Inside

August 29, 2004|By JOE CHRISTENSEN

The Los Angeles Dodgers haven't been to the playoffs since 1996 and haven't won a postseason game since Orel Hershiser pitched them to victory in Game 5 of the 1988 World Series.

So September figures to be a spellbinding month at Dodger Stadium, where there are enough plot lines to keep the scriptwriters flocking from the Hollywood Hills.

In Paul DePodesta, they have a first-year general manager who was accused of ripping the heart and soul from the team when he traded All-Star catcher Paul Lo Duca to the Florida Marlins, along with top-flight reliever Guillermo Mota, for starting pitcher Brad Penny and first baseman Hee Sop Choi.

In Jim Tracy, they have a fourth-year manager still waiting for a contract extension, even though he has kept this team in first place for most of the season.

In Adrian Beltre, they have a player who had languished for years before emerging as a Most Valuable Player candidate with 42 home runs. Of course, his success has come in his free-agent walk year, so he could parlay it into a big contract with another team.

But wait, there's more.

After one dazzling start for the Dodgers, Penny left the mound in excruciating pain on Aug. 8, and a right biceps injury that was thought to be muscular in nature is now being related to a nerve problem.

One member of the team's medical staff said he was "pretty confident" Penny would pitch again in 2004 - but probably not until mid-September at the earliest - which is a far cry from the team's initial prediction that he would miss only one or two starts.

Then there are the bullpen issues. Once considered the team's strength, this group lost Mota, and then Darren Dreifort to a season-ending knee injury. That has taken a toll on once-invincible closer Eric Gagne.

After converting a major league-record 84 consecutive save opportunities, Gagne allowed his opponents to take the lead in three consecutive outings. He seems to be wearing down from overuse, but Gagne and pitching coach Jim Colborn insist the problem is with the right-hander's mechanics.

But after scoring the fewest runs in the major leagues last season, at 574, the Dodgers scored 588 runs in their first 125 games this year.

"I think people who continue to try to make an issue out of missing Mota are missing the point," Colborn told the Los Angeles Times. "It's a different kind of team now. We win in a different kind of way.

"There's a different mix now. We don't have the worst offense. We don't have to win games 3-2 and 2-1."

Still, the Dodgers' lead over San Francisco and San Diego was shrinking in the National League West last week, so it promises to be an interesting finish. After Sept. 1, the Dodgers play 19 of their final 31 games against the Padres, Giants and St. Louis Cardinals.

"I would have guessed the Dodgers would have folded by now, but they haven't," said Tony Gwynn, the longtime Padres right fielder who works as an ESPN analyst. "Beltre's having a monster year, and they haven't really had that dry spell yet, so they've got to be the favorites."

Ordonez a 2005 concern?

Chicago White Sox right fielder Magglio Ordonez figures to be one of the Orioles' primary targets on the free-agent market, but he has been on the disabled list since July 22 with a bone marrow edema in his left knee and won't play again this season.

Ordonez had arthroscopic surgery for a small cartilage tear, but that was only part of the problem. After a recent visit to Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., it was determined that Ordonez should miss the rest of the season.

White Sox general manager Kenny Williams refused to speculate if the knee problem could linger into 2005.

"He hasn't been able to do much," Williams said. "If it doesn't start to improve, he may have to have some sort of surgical procedure, from what I understand. But it's just sketchy stuff right now."

Pickering returns

Former Oriole Calvin Pickering could challenge Ken Harvey and Mike Sweeney for the Kansas City Royals' starting first base job next spring.

After hitting .314 with 35 home runs and 79 RBIs for Triple-A Omaha, Pickering had a monster debut for the Royals against the Texas Rangers last Sunday, hitting two home runs and notching a career-high six RBIs.

Sweeney has recurring back problems, and after flirting with the American League batting lead, Harvey has tailed off. At one point last week, Harvey's .783 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) ranked 11th among 17 AL first basemen with at least 200 plate appearances.

With Sweeney seemingly locked in as the team's designated hitter, it might come down to Harvey and Pickering at first base.


In the first fallout from the Arizona Diamondbacks' recent decision to replace CEO Jerry Colangelo with agent Jeff Moorad, the club is expected to lose the rights to first-round pick Stephen Drew.

The two-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference shortstop from Florida State has enrolled in classes and once he attends a class, Arizona loses the right to sign him.

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