As the Dodgers limp towards the finish line with all the swagger of someone sentenced to watch Courtney Love’s return to the stage at Jumbo’s Clown Room rather than a team that should’ve wrapped up the NL West ages ago, the LA Times’ Dylan Hernandez can’t get thru Frank McCourt’s living room without tripping over a very large elephant. Noting “In the 27 games Manny Ramirez played before he was suspended, he hit .348 with six home runs and 20 runs batted in. In the 75 games since his return, he’s hitting .274 with 13 home runs and 42 RBI’s.” Hey, with power numbers like that over 75 games, he’d be the MVP of the ’09 NY Mets.

Ramirez was four for 22 (.182) with no home runs and three runs batted in on a trip that concluded on Wednesday in which the Dodgers were 3-9 against three teams that are a combined 94 games under .500 and dropped the last four games, any of which could have secured the division title.

Scouts say they have noticed an increased willingness on the part of pitchers to challenge Ramirez, particularly on the inside part of the plate. One AL scout pointed out how in the Dodgers’ loss in San Diego on Tuesday, Cesar Ramos — a left-hander! — repeatedly went inside on Ramirez.

“That never would have happened a year ago,” said the scout, who added that Ramirez doesn’t appear to have the same strength or confidence he had last fall.

Is it the 50 games he missed?

Ramirez said no.

Is it age?

Ramirez, who turned 37 in May, said it’s not.

Is it that he might have stopped doing something after he was suspended for 50 games for violating baseball’s drug policy?

Ramirez won’t touch the subject.

On the surface, numbers appear to back the last theory.