Before Spring Training began, owner Frank McCourt said that if the Dodgers didn't win big-time, he would break up the young nucleus. I know in Major League Baseball, clubs need to have huge expectations, but I think breaking up the young nucleus would be a mistake. It seems to me every time the Dodgers don't do well, people blame the young players. This is unfair to the players.
Although Andre Ethier is the oldest of the group at 26, the young core has sizeable Major League experience. All of them, except Clayton Kershaw, were in the Majors for a part of the 2006 season. During Spring Training, I remember Joe Torre worrying about how James Loney and Matt Kemp would react to being in the Majors for the entire season. After all, they haven't been in that situation before.
I was shocked. Loney and Kemp should have been given more Major League at-bats last season, but the Dodgers went with the experienced players instead. Last Sunday, ESPN's Joe Morgan said that Torre was worried about the inexperience of Russell Martin because he grew up in Canada and he didn't have the opportunity to play baseball as much as Americans. Why? Martin has been in the Majors full-time since May 5, 2006. He has been to two All-Star Games. Yes, he hasn't had a season as good as he did last year. But he is tired.
The Dodgers must quit looking at Ethier, Martin, Loney, Kemp, Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton as inexperienced players. For most of this season, they have done their job. Even on this dreadful road trip, they have performed as well as, or better than, the veterans on the club. Kemp is the only young player who has struggled in the last seven games.
I have heard the Dodgers wanted to dispel the young players' sense of "entitlement." I don't know what that means. Although I am not in the clubhouse, I haven't seen the young players expect the club to give them anything except for an opportunity to play.
The pressure to win has taken away the enjoyment of baseball for the Dodgers. I can see that players view baseball as a job. Although I don't know exactly what makes a championship team, I know no team wins when it views baseball as just a job. I thought that having Torre, who has won many World Series, would lessen the pressure on the team. Apparently, I was wrong.
While many people will blame the young players for this team's struggles, I don't. The veterans haven't played up to their expectations. Although Jeff Kent started August hot, he has cooled off on the current road trip. In the last seven games, Kent has hit .167. He has made mental errors that let the opposition get on the board.
Since Nomar Garciaparra has come off the disabled list, he hasn't hit nearly enough. Friday he made two costly errors. Casey Blake hasn't played well either.
If the Dodgers forget the pressure to win, I think they will play better. Although going to the playoffs is not out of the question yet, I don't think they will make it if they stay on the same path they're on right now. I hope they will improve every facet in the game soon. Watching the Dodgers lose is frustrating for everyone. Hopefully, the Dodgers will begin a long winning streak Saturday.