LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers, the best National League team money can buy, are supposed to be here, playing in the National League Championship Series.
They were constructed, with $234 million worth of parts, to win the World Series.
Even their own owner, Magic Johnson, shouted to the world in spring training that it was World Series or bust and nothing short of a championship would suffice.
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Now the great Titanic looks like a raft drifting out to sea, headed for an oil spill.
Players are openly grumbling about their manager. Management is waiting for its high-priced players to perform. The unrest among fans is percolating in Los Angeles like an oncoming tremor.
The Dodgers are in deep trouble, trailing the St. Louis Cardinals 2-0 with a chance to be embarrassed. They play Game 3 Monday at 8:07 p.m. ET at Dodger Stadium, and unless their offense gets an infusion of life, their season could come to a halt like traffic on the 405.
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"They've got to feel great right now," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said of the Cardinals. "They're up 2-0 and got their ace on the mound.
"We've got to stay positive."
Good luck with that. The Dodgers will be facing 19-game winner Adam Wainwright, who has never lost a postseason game and is salivating at the chance of suffocating the last breath from the Dodgers' body.
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"Whether it's Wainwright or they decide to throw (Hall of Famer) Bob Gibson, it really doesn't matter," Dodgers outfielder Jerry Hairston said. "It's a must-win."
These Dodgers hardly resemble the team that stormed through the NL down the stretch, with veteran players privately complaining about Mattingly's managerial ability. A small group of players actually made it the focal point of their conversation, just 45 minutes before the first pitch of Game 4 of the division series, one player told USA TODAY Sports. He requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic.
Mattingly, well-liked within the game, has his shortcomings, but his job is safe despite the rumors and speculation.
Mattingly might not get his four-year contract, but he will be retained and provided an extension, a high-ranking Dodgers executive told USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity. The executive was not authorized to speak publicly, saying the decision will be announced after the season.
Maybe if the Dodgers had bowed out in the first round against the Atlanta Braves, the executive said, Mattingly might be gone. But not now. He won't be blamed for this NLCS debacle.
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Certainly, it's not Mattingly's fault the Dodgers' season should end this week. Sure, Game 1 of the NLCS was a second-guessing feast, but Mattingly isn't in a lineup that has failed to score in 19 innings and gone 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position.
He isn't the one making Cardinals rookies Michael Wacha and Joe Kelly look like Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. He hasn't turned outfielder Carlos Beltran into Reggie Jackson.
If their season ends this week, the players will have to wear this one.
Maybe management, too.
Sure, they could be playing Monday without center fielder Andre Ethier and shortstop Hanley Ramirez.
"We know the Cardinals won't feel sorry for us," mused Skip Schumaker, their center fielder of the moment.
Hey, why should they? St. Louis has spent its season without starter Chris Carpenter, shortstop Rafael Furcal and closer Jason Motte. Starter Jaime Garcia hasn't pitched since May, and All-Star first baseman Allen Craig has been out for the last six weeks.
Yet, the Dodgers act as if their season hangs on the CT scan results on Ramirez's ribs.
"It's not tennis," Ramirez says, "we've got 25 guys."
No, but it's game, set and match if Ramirez is out of the lineup and dynamic Yasiel Puig (0-for-10, six strikeouts) continues to look lost.
"It's up to us to change the narrative," Ellis said.
But there have been only two teams in the 28-year history of the league championship series to overcome a 2-0 deficit.
The Dodgers vented their frustration and anger on their plane trip back from St. Louis, their charter flight serving as a therapy session.
They reminded one another that they won 92 games during the season. They talked about their historic streak of 42 victories in 50 games.
If they can make a run like that, what's a little four-of-five streak?
"We've been through a lot," Hairston said. "We were counted out in May and June and made that run.
"It's a resilient group."
They have 24 hours before their season could go into foreclosure, spending the winter staring at flaws that suddenly have become exposed.
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