After emerging from bankruptcy with the $2.15 billion sale to Guggenheim Baseball Partners -- then the midseason spending spree designed to ensure a postseason appearance that would justify the costs and leverage a staggering television deal -- it wasn't supposed to end like this.
"It's a little confusing," said Matt Kemp. "We played so good at the end."
The new owners learned this year that they can buy a lot of things, but not wins. The Dodgers didn't have the depth to survive dozens of lengthy injuries. When they absorbed huge contracts to restock the roster, the makeover was so extreme that the chemistry went flat.
"We've been good, we've been bad," said Mattingly. "We've been different teams: a beginning-of-the-season team, one in the middle and one the last 35 games. You can look at one game, like the loss in St. Louis, and say, 'That changed our season.' But there are so many games. How can one game be that game?"
After a series of meetings in San Diego last week, the team played with a sense of urgency and reeled off six straight wins, but it was too late.
"This last six-game run was awesome," said A.J. Ellis. "It just shows what we could be and what we can be when we have the energy and the sense of urgency we should have all year long. These games always get magnified in September, but the last time I checked, a win in April counts the same as a win in September, and that is the attitude we have to have coming into next year."
Overall lack of clutch offense was the primary diagnosis of the 2012 demise. There had been no announcement on the fate of Mattingly's coaching staff as of Wednesday. The focus is likely to be on hitting coach Dave Hansen after his first full season, even though he didn't leave a runner in scoring position all year.
Former Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher was added as an assistant in June and he'll be a likely candidate if Hansen doesn't return. The Dodgers have had six hitting coaches in general manager Ned Colletti's seven seasons.
In the meantime, everybody wants to know what went wrong, but nobody has a confident answer.
"I have no idea," said Andre Ethier. "There are a lot of theories, but I don't know what it is. Maybe we're over-trying or not trying hard enough because you thought other guys would do it. I don't know what it is, but we know who we have and we know what we got. We know we are moving forward. We're not stagnant or in one place. We build off this and we can build big off this. It's a good feeling to have. You have the parts and the people now."
Somehow, this Dodgers offense was shut out 15 times, five times with Adrian Gonzalez in the lineup, seven times with Hanley Ramirez. The Dodgers lost 27 one-run games, including Tuesday night's.
"No way to put your finger on it," said Mattingly. "You can have theories. You can say they haven't been together, whatever. The only thing we know is they haven't been a consistent club. We've got to be better than this, that's for sure."
Record: 86-76, second in NL West.
Defining moment: It would have been emerging from bankruptcy with the sale from Frank McCourt to Guggenheim Baseball Partners. It should have been the midseason spending spree on marquee acquisitions. It turned out to be the 1-11 tailspin in late June from which the club never really recovered.
What went right: Initial reviews on modest winter acquisitions were underwhelming, but Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang made up for the loss of Hiroki Kuroda from the starting rotation; Mark Ellis upgraded second base; Jamey Wright provided leadership and versatility in the bullpen; Jerry Hairston and Adam Kennedy improved the bench. Clayton Kershaw nearly matched his Cy Young season of 2011. A.J. Ellis established himself as an everyday catcher with surprising power. Ronald Belisario returned from a year off to the nasty form of 2009. Kenley Jansen was dominant as closer when he was healthy.
What went wrong: The midseason spending spree did not result in a postseason return on investment. There were a staggering 26 injuries that involved disabled-list usage (not counting Carl Crawford, who was inherited, and Chris Withrow, who was a roster manipulation) and 10 operations performed. Among those sidelined were starting pitchers Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly; infielders Dee Gordon, Hairston, Kennedy and Justin Sellers; and relievers Jansen, Javy Guerra, Matt Guerrier, Scott Elbert and Todd Coffey. But no injuries were as damaging as those Kemp tried to play through (he will have shoulder surgery Friday). The struggles of infielders James Loney, Juan Uribe and Gordon set in motion the series of midseason trades.
Biggest surprise: After spending a 12-year Minor League apprenticeship and not even making the club out of Spring Training, Luis Cruz emerged as the starting third baseman down the stretch and gave management no reason to think he can't start next season.