March 30th-Los Angeles (title page photo courtesy of Bleacherreport.com)
Well, at least Vin is a given. And that may be the only certainty for Dodgers fans in 2011.
Fans breathed a collective sigh of relief this past winter when Vin Scully, 83, said he would remain behind the microphone for his 62nd season as the team’s play by play announcer. In 2011, though, anything else about the Dodgers is a crapshoot. Last season’s disappointing 80-82 finish with pretty much the same team that won division titles in 2008 and 2009 begs the one big question 2011 will definitely answer: Are the Dodgers a good team that simply underachieved or are they a team whose peak has come and gone?
Here is a capsule summary of the 2011 version of the Dodgers:
Best (at least on paper) acquisitions: INF Juan Uribe (24 HR), RP Matt Guerrier (3.17 ERA).
Other acquisitions: Jon Garland(SP), Dioner Navarro(C)*, Blake Hawksworth (RP), Marcus Thames and Tony Gwynn(OF)
Wave bye-bye to: Russell Martin and Brad Aumus(C), George Sherrill(RP), Reed Johnson, Manny Ramirez, and Scott Podesnik (OF), Ronnie Belliard (INF).
Projected starting rotation: Clayton Kershaw (L), Chad Billingsley (R), Ted Lilly(L) Hiroki Kuroda (R), Jon Garland (R)*
Projected starting line-up: Rafael Furcal (SS), Casey Blake (3B)*, Andre Ethier (RF), Matt Kemp (CF), James Loney(1B), Juan Uribe(2B), Platoon in left between Marcus Thames, Tony Gwynn, Jay Gibbons*, and Rod Barajas(C).
Key late inning relievers: Jonathan Broxton, Hong Chih-Kuo, Matt Guerrier
Key middle relievers/spot starters: Blake Hawksworth, Vicente Padilla*.
*Will begin the season on DL
The Elephant in the Room: The ownership situation. Talk about a brewing hatred – Two long-time Dodger season ticket holders, one for 31 years, the other for 23, made local news when they told everyone they were not renewing their order, due solely to owner Frank McCourt. McCourt has kept very quiet this spring when asked about the team’s finances. He has taken some questionable, early payments from FOX and was forced to meet with commissioner Bud Selig. You’d have thought Selig saw the spaceship at Roswell, New Mexico based on how little came from him as well. McCourt’s only statements are that he will be keeping the Dodgers for a long time. McCourt may be forced to prove he does indeed have money sooner rather than later; star outfielder Andre Ethier’s contract expires at the end of this season and Ethier is questioning his future in Los Angeles.
The Dodgers Will Win the NL West if:
1. First baseman James Loney can bounce back. He batted .267 in 2010, his lowest batting average since joining the team in 2006. His average was 300 before the All-Star break last season; it was .211 after. The Dodgers are still waiting for the so-called 20 home run power Loney displayed when he hit 15 in 96 games back in ’07. He has averaged only 12 per year since.
2. Matt Kemp returns to the promise he showed in 2009. In spite of hitting just one home run less in 2010 than 2009 (28 last year, 29 the previous season) Kemp struggled in other areas. He batted only .248 and was thrown out 15 times in 34 steal attempts. New Dodgers coach Davy Lopes, a great base runner during his playing career, has been working, seemingly non-stop, with Kemp in an effort to make him an elite base stealer. Kemp had a solid spring with five home runs and is looking relaxed at the plate. He has also apparently adjusted an attitude that culminated with him screaming at a coach during a game last season.
3.Number one starter Clayton Kershaw (13-10, 2.91 ERA, 214 K’s) is growing into the player the Dodgers envisioned when they made him the seventh overall pick in the 2006 draft. It is the number two man, Chad Billingsley (12-11), the Dodgers need if they want to compete with the Giants. Billingsley, who just signed a three year $35 million deal, is being counted on to return to the form he showed between April, 2008, and the 2009 All-Star break when he compiled a 25-13 record with a 3.14 ERA. He is 15-18 overall since that time. On paper, it looks bad that Billingsley was only 3-6 over the last two months of the 2010 season. On the other hand, his ERA dropped from 3.82 to 3.57 during that time span and the Dodgers scored a total of just six runs in his six losses.
4.The bullpen jells as a unit. Closer Jonathan Broxton has not had a great spring, going 1-2 and giving up 4 runs in 8+ innings (4.32 ERA). Guerrier and Kuo could be forced to step into closer roles meaning the bullpen could be stretched thin The hope is with five regular starters plus Vicente Padilla being a number six if needed, the relief corps will only complement the staff, not be counted on the way has it has been the last couple of years.
5. New manager Don Mattingly can bring the same fire and tenacity to the team as he brought as a player.
The Dodgers will be looking up at Colorado and San Francisco IF:
1. One word-Offense. The Dodgers ranked 15th in the NL in home runs last year and were in the bottom half of all other key offensive categories.
My prediction: 83-79, 2nd or 3rd place in the NL West. I believe the wild card will come out of the NL East.
The Dodgers open at home against the Giants Thursday evening, 3/31, on ESPN