The Los Angeles Dodgers were heralded as the BEST team in baseball for the first half of the season. At times they were at least twenty five games over five hundred and had a lengthy fifteen game lead over the now second place Colorado Rockies. The division had been all but handed to the Dodgers on a silver platter, the only question that remained worth asking in the National League West was the potential for the Giants to claim the Wild Card. So, what happened? The Rockies, as of late, have been fluxuating from being as few as two games back of the Dodgers to as far as five and a half games back with a strangle hold set on the wild card. The Dodgers are nineteen games above five hundred, but something doesn’t seem right in Dodgertown, does it? The games being played now should be next to meaningless for the Dodgers and yet every game seems like a life and death struggle with the Rockies to stave off what would be the Dodgers worst collapse since 1951 when the team was still in Brooklyn.

So, what went wrong?

One problem, that is clear to any Dodger fan paying attention, is the sudden weakness of the bullpen. Remember in the first half when the Dodgers had a lead and Ramon Troncoso and Ronald Belisario were called in? There was no safer feeling in the world. Even if the Dodgers weren’t winning, you could almost guarantee a hold to a close game. The problem was how often Dodger fans saw that scenario. Don’t forget, in the first half of the season the Dodger starting pitching staff was struggling to get a starter to go deep, and when I say deep I mean five solid innings, and every other game Belisario and Troncoso had to hang in and hold the opposing team while the Dodger bats got them back in the game. For the longest time the Dodger’s bullpen had the most innings pitched by a bullpen by a WIDE margin.

Why does that matter? Because when you force that much work on your bullpen early in the season then take a wild guess what happens around, oh…say…this time of year? Exactly. They falter because their arms have been so overused by this time in the season. So, now we have the exact opposite problem we had, now the starters are going deep into the sixth and seventh inning with Kershaw coming into his own, Randy Wolf finding his stride, and now the bullpen is having issues holding the opposition. It shouldn’t be that surprising since Eric Karros practically said the same prophetic thing week in and week out before every Dodger game and basically lectured the Dodgers for killing the arms of their relievers. Plus, their “ace” Chad Billingsley just hasn’t been the same since the All Star Break. He has had some decent starts here and there but for the most part he looks tired or like something is just off with his pitching. Billinglsey needs to find his stride again because he needs to be the backbone of the Dodger’s rotation.

But, to say that it’s all their fault would be fraudulent and untrue. The Dodgers did acquire George Sherril for their weakened bullpen and, for the most part, he has done an amazing job of setting up for the off again, on again closer Jonathan Broxton.  Another problem, and I hate to say it because Mannywood might come after me, is Manny Ramirez. No, not because of the female fertility drug thing and not because he isn’t one of the most prolific hitters in the game either, because let’s be honest…he is. But the problem with Manny Ramirez right now is he isn’t nearly as productive as he used to be. Granted, he still knocks in a few homers every now and again, but I’d dare say Juan Pierre, in just pinch hitting, has been more productive than Manny Ramirez has since he came back from his suspension. His timing looks to be getting a little better but you can just tell that Manny just isn’t the same Manny from the first half of the season. Plus, if he isn’t steady with the bat…give me Juan Pierre in the field. Sorry, Manny, we aren’t paying you however many millions because you’re a gold glover, we’re paying you to hit the ball into next Thursday.

If it was just Manny, that would be one thing, but it seemed like all the Dodger bats died down after the All Star Break. Sure, recently Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and James Loney have found their stride again but there was a stretch far too long when their big bats were dead flat. Not only that, Orlando Hudson’s bat still hasn’t recovered from his latest slump, however, his priceless glove makes up for a lot of that.  But, when those bats die and Manny is still slumping from his fifty game break…horrid losing streaks are going to happen.

Now, even while slumping, the Dodgers weren’t playing terrible baseball. It wasn’t great, it was a little under and a little over .500 baseball for the most part. So, again, not great baseball but they weren’t a terrible club either. The biggest problem for the Dodgers was the amazing resurgence of the Colorado Rockies. While the Dodgers were struggling to play .500 ball, the Rockies went ahead and went on a streak that saw them win 21 of 22 games. That will close the gap rather quickly and put a sizeable dent in the mightiest of leads. The Dodgers were lucky they had built up such an enormous lead otherwise it would be the Dodgers chasing the Rockies right now.

But, here we are now and the Dodgers are five games in front of the Rockies and eight and a half games in front of the Giants. Their lead is slowly starting to get back to where it should be as the pieces are starting to come back together again. Andre Ethier has started smacking the ball out of the field at the most opportune of times and Matt Kemp is doing just about everything with the glove, stealing bases, and hitting the ball. Clayton Kershaw remains solid, but a touch inconsistent at times, for such a young pitcher, Hiroki Kuroda pitched magnificently in his first return after suffering a concussion, and Randy Wolf, after a rough start against the Pirates, is remaining steady and solid. The addition of Ronnie Beliard is proving to have instant gratification as he remains steady both with the bat and on the field at just about every position on the infield. John Gallard is pitching…solid, despite my qualms with his mediocre pitching. The Dodgers have faced the bumpy road and perservered through it to find their stride once again. What happened? Determination happened.

Also, while not on the field, Vin Scully gets special mention because even if the Dodgers are getting blasted it’s more than worth sticking it out to hear Vin’s commentary. If you haven’t heard a Dodger game called by the legendary Vin Scully then take a trip to Los Angeles, don’t worry about Chavez Ravine just yet the parking is horrible anyway, and tune to KCAL 9 or Fox Sports West and just listen. Listen to a man that has been calling games for at least the last fifty years. Listen to a man that really loves baseball and everything about it. You know those times you spend with your grandfather when he sits you on his knee and tells you a story that has you mystified and befuddled? The story that makes you question how much passion and drive you really have? Listening to Vin Scully is kinda like that. He’s that guy that has forgotten more about baseball than you’ll ever know. The last remaining link between Brooklyn and Los Angeles…Vincent Edward Scully. He announced his retirement after the 2010 season and already a petition among Dodger fans has started in hopes to keep Scully around even longer. It doesn’t matter if the Dodgers are twenty games ahead or twenty games back, with Vin Scully well…It’s time for Dodger baseball and that’s more than enough.