With the San Francisco Giants three wins away from their second World's Championship in three years, fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers can only shake their heads ruefully. And not just on general principle. Last May, the first-place Dodgers led the second-place Giants in the National League West by 7½ games; a month later, the Dodgers still led the Giants by five games. By season's end, though? The Dodgers were eight games out of first place. And the Giants ... well, the Giants will finish 2012 as, at the very least, National League champions. So which Dodger best symbolizes his team's trip from front-runner to also-ran?
The Dodgers owned that five-game lead on the 18th of June. But that lead, and then some, went away when they lost 11 of their next 12 games. Three of those losses -- all of them shutouts, which made some history -- came in San Francisco, which dropped the Dodgers into a tie with the Giants. And then they fell behind. But momentum is a tricky thing, and the Dodgers did fight their way back into first place for a few days before settling into a relatively stable level, in second place but within hailing distance of first place for a few weeks.
As the July 31 trade deadline approached, the Dodgers were still close. And as they'd been saying since the new Magic Johnson-fronted ownership group had been saying since taking over early in the season, they had money to spend and would be aggressive about spending it.
The first solid evidence of the Dodgers' new ways came on the 26th of July, when the club traded for Marlins third baseman Hanley Ramírez and his contract, which runs through 2014 and will pay him $31.5 million after this year. The Dodgers also gave up right-handed starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, one of their top prospects.
While the deal later in the summer that brought Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers really said something about how the Dodgers would be doing business, trading for Ramírez was the first salvo in the Dodgers' new campaign against the rest of the National League West.
And did the move work? Well, we know the Dodgers fell well short of the Giants. They came fairly close to actually earning a postseason berth, though, finishing only two games behind the Cardinals for the second wild card.
Immediately after trading for Ramírez, the Dodgers exacted some revenge against the Giants, with a three-game sweep in San Francisco (including two shutouts!). That got them into a tie for first place. And for the next three weeks, the race remained in a virtual tie, with nobody taking any sort of control.
Hanley Ramírez was a big reason for the Dodgers' continuing relevance. In his first 28 games with the club, he knocked in 31 runs.
And then in late August, Ramírez basically stopped hitting. In his 36 games from the 25th of August through the end of the season, he drove in only 13 runs and scored 12.
Now, it should be said that the Dodgers did not collapse down the stretch. When Ramírez was hitting, the Dodgers were basically a .500 team. When he wasn't hitting, they were basically a .500 team. It wasn't that the Dodgers played poorly; it was that the Giants went 38-19 in their last 57 games.
But while the Dodgers didn't collapse, neither did they win the two more games they needed to force a wild-card tie with the Cardinals. They spent dearly to acquire Hanley Ramírez, and will spend a great deal more on Hanley Ramírez. To this point, their investment hasn't paid off.
In case you missed any previous entries in this EXCITING SERIES, here's the archive.