LOS ANGELES (AP) -The Dodgers counted on a blend of talented youngsters and proven veterans to help them reach the playoffs for the third time in four years.
Instead, chemistry became an issue during a massive collapse down the stretch.
``Good chemistry doesn't happen until you start winning, play the game the right way,'' manager Grady Little said. ``There wasn't any more chemistry problems here than with any other club. When you win, they're overshadowed. When you lose, they're blown up.''
The problems with the Dodgers blew up down the stretch, while they lost 11 of their last 14 games and dropped from contention.
The Dodgers' 54-41 record July 18 was the NL's best, and they still had a reasonable shot at a playoff berth two weeks ago following a four-game winning streak that left them at 79-69 - 2 1/2 games behind NL West-champion Arizona, and 1 1/2 games off the pace in the wild-card race.
Then came a loss to the Diamondbacks and four straight setbacks at Colorado. Following the series at the Rockies, Jeff Kent expressed dismay and frustration - understandable considering that at age 39, he's at or near the end of a successful career that doesn't include a World Series ring.
``We have some good kids, so don't get me wrong,'' Kent said. ``But it's hard to translate experience, and I don't know why they don't get it. It's just a lot of things. It's professionalism, it's knowing how to manufacture runs, it's knowing how to keep your emotions in it.''
Luis Gonzalez, who became a part-time player in the second half of the season and doesn't expect to return, didn't believe there were any ``cancers'' in the clubhouse.
``Everybody gets along,'' he said. ``(But) this team is lacking life.''
Nomar Garciaparra didn't think Kent was trying to put his youthful teammates down.
``What Jeff was saying was you have to get the experience to learn,'' Garciaparra said. ``Every veteran in here is going to blame themselves. There's not a dislike. We have genuinely good people here. They get along. We're unhappy we didn't reach our goal.''
Andre Ethier, in his second big league season, said Kent approached him after expressing his frustrations to reporters.
``He was man enough to tell me what he meant by saying what he said, clarifying that,'' Ethier said. ``It wasn't just a stab. You need your veteran people to help you along, but they can't do it for you.''
Ethier explained the difficulty a lot of young players go through - focusing on winning and trying to establish themselves as major leaguers at the same time.
``They're here to win right away,'' Ethier said regarding the veterans. ``That's a fine line to walk - helping your team win and wanting to do what you have to do to stay here.''
Ultimately, the Dodgers had a lot to overcome. Injuries to starting pitchers Jason Schmidt, Randy Wolf and Hong-Chih Kuo and the ineffectiveness of Mark Hendrickson and Brett Tomko turned what appeared to be one of the game's better pitching staffs into a shaky one.
Garciaparra, so solid last season, didn't contribute much this year, in part due to injuries.
The Dodgers overcame a lack of power last season to reach the playoffs. It seemed more damaging this year, with their 129 homers ranking next-to-last in the NL.
Shortstop Rafael Furcal severely sprained his left ankle late in spring training, and although he played in 138 games, he never felt close to 100 percent.
Furcal sparked the Dodgers to the playoffs last year, hitting .300 with 113 runs and 37 stolen bases. He hit .270 this season with 87 runs and 25 steals.
Kent has a $9 million option for next season and hasn't decided whether he'll return, though general manager Ned Colletti expects Kent back. And the GM expressed optimism despite the fade.
``You can lose, but you never lose the lesson learned from losing,'' he said. ``We're going to continue to play young players. We're going to continue to get more young players involved. That doesn't mean we're not trying to win. We are.
``If you haven't drafted them and you haven't developed them, you're going to have a hard time getting them. We haven't locked everybody in. (But) we're not just going to trade somebody to trade somebody.''
The Dodgers haven't won the World Series since 1988. They've won only one playoff game since that time.
Colletti pointed to three young players he believes have come of age - first baseman James Loney, outfielder Matt Kemp and catcher Russell Martin. Loney hit .331 with 15 homers and 67 RBIs in 96 games; Kemp hit .342 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs in 97 games, and Martin hit .293 with 19 homers and 87 RBIs in 151 games.
``We didn't execute as much as we needed to execute, whether it was at the plate, in the field, on the mound,'' Colletti said. ``I know I didn't have a great year, and I'm standing here saying it.''

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