Even with their 4-2 loss to the Phillies last night, the Nationals took a step closer to the playoffs. The Giants beat the Braves in San Francisco, dropping the Nationals’ magic number to win the National League to 31, with 37 games to play.
The postseason picture shifted in a much more splashy, glittery way with another rumbling out in California. The Dodgers shook the National League with their Fantasyland trade with the Red Sox, which may or may not have included a couple of the Pops and a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise.
The free-wheeling, wild-spending Dodgers received, according to multiple reports, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, injured outfielder Carl Crawford, disgruntled former ace Josh Beckett and throw-in utilityman Nick Punto. The Red Sox received James Loney, three top prospects, about $250 million in present and future salary relief and a much-needed clubhouse facelift.
It is an insane trade, the kind you would not be bold enough to make in your own keeper league. The Dodgers, now led by a hedge fund billionaire, Lakers legend Magic Johnson and former Nationals president Stan Kasten, went beyond bold, somewhere between audacious and nuts.
(As if there was doubt before, we can know say for certain it was not Kasten who wanted to keep the Nationals’ payroll at the bottom of baseball as the Nationals moved into Nationals Park.)
For the future, the Dodgers have become the financial colossus of the National League, the Hollywood answer to the Yankees’ deep pockets. In the present, they have built a hell of hurdle for the Nationals to leap over if they want to reach the World Series.
The Dodgers, at the moment, are not even in the playoff picture. They trail the Giants by three games in the NL West and the Cardinals by 1 ½ games in the wild card. But they have built a team dotted with stars. Their marquee acquisitions have all been diminished from their best form, but on paper their lineup boggles the mind.
The first five hitters in the Dodgers’ lineup could be Shane Victorino, Andre Ethier, Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez. They added Beckett to a staff that needed depth desperately. He has been abominable this season, but moving from the cauldron of Boston to the tranquility of Los Angeles – not to mention facing pitchers instead of DHs – could help him approach his prior, dominant form.
Gonzalez could be a similar case. He had a 113 OPS+ this year, dismal compared to his high standard. From 2009 through 2011, he punched up a 156 OPS+. He is a native Southern Californian, and he had been painted as a player fed up with the scrutiny and politics of Boston baseball. A hitting maestro receives a fresh start in an ideal setting.
The Braves had better watch their backs. The Cardinals, with a majors-best run differential of 126, do not seem to be going anywhere but up, and the Dodgers are clearly set for a September run. The Dodgers are three games behind Atlanta, the Cardinals are 1 ½ games back and the West-leading Giants are tied with them. The Braves will need to play at a high level, it seems, to avoid their second straight September collapse.
The Nationals, for now, remain above that fray. They still have the best record in the majors at 77-48, and they are eight games clear of the second wild card. But the Dodgers have raised the stakes in the National League, for the present and the future, and the Nationals will have to deal with them sooner or later.
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