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Are the Dodgers Primed to Slug It Out in the Wild Wild NL West?
Posted By Cal Lee On Mar 31 2011 @ 1:42 am In Los Angeles Dodgers | No Comments
The LA Dodgers are a prideful organization. They are one of the oldest baseball franchises that resides in the NL WEST. When you think of the NL WEST, the Dodgers and Giants are the first teams that come to mind. Their rivalries have been intense, and over the last couple years each series played has been a major factor determining the fate of either organizations bid to the postseason.
For the Dodgers to be a NL West Contender, they will have to go back to the kind of baseball that has made them successful back in the Mid to late 80′s. They have to go back to Blue Collar Baseball. Their roster is not filled with 30+ home run caliber hitters. With exception to Matt Kemp and Andre Either, the Dodgers must go back to their “ole reliable” strategy in run manufacturing. Timely hits, hit n runs, Sacrifice bunts,suicide squeezes, stealing bases and leaning on quality pitching and defense to keep them in ball games. The Dodgers must throw back their mentality and the whole team offensively must share in being a “timely threat” offensively. Just as easy as the Dodgers can be at the bottom of the NL West, if they buy into Mattingly’s system and certain players step up like James Loney, and Raphael Furcal [staying healthy] . the Dodgers can be the talk of the NL West.
The Key to the Dodgers Success:
1. Maturity – This is the year for Ethier and Kemp to step up and take over this franchise. No more under the radar. At some point both of these guys have to step out of their personalities and infuse their character to give Dodgers an Offensive Identity. Both of these guys are more than capable bringing that to this team. Last year Matt Kemp hit an abysmal .249 last year. While his 24 homers and 89 RBI’s would be impressive for other budding superstars, take into account he only scored 82 runs last year. That means less contact, less Kemp on the base pads. For this team to be offensively credible he must be on base. He must give Andre Ethier quality at bats, opportunities to drive in runs. If Kemp put together 89 RBI, Ethier must have over 100 by end of the season if the Dodgers expect to take the division. They must be the 1-2 combo that NL West pitching must fear.
2. Pitching – There is no question the Dodgers have a young, vibrant pitching staff primed to open a lot eye lids this year,but will they be consistent, and when it matters most will they be effective. As a staff they ranked in the Top 15 in 3 major pitching categories. ERA, Quality Starts, and Opponents Batting Average. Because this team is not offensively stacked, expect the Dodgers to rely heavily on their pitching to keep them in ball games. This is the year Clayton Kershaw either becomes a household name or household lame. He has the “stuff” 13-10 record last year with a 2.91 ERA. He got off to an excellent start in 2010 racking up 9 wins before the All Star Break, but he struggled in the second half of the season only winning 4 of his 14 starts. Kershaw has to be consistent and the dominant go to “guy” on the mound. He must be the “Bulldog” like Orel Hershiser. He must want the baseball when it matters most, and on Opening Day playing against your most bitter rival in the San Francisco Giants, fresh off a World Series Championship season, would it not be a great statement for the Dodger to send the first warning shot by defeating them Opening Day with their “ACE” on the mound. Thats the mentality Kershaw must carry and instill to the rest of the rotation if there is any hope for the Dodgers to be competitive in this division. Keep a close eye on Chad Billingsley. He just recently signed a contract extension and the question will be is he worth the investment. While Kershaw is the “ACE”. I believe Billingsley must be the “Anchor”. Just as easy as Billingsley can dominate 1 game, he can also disappear for 3. This wont do, for the Boys In Blue.
3. Battery & Management – The one element while it may not statistically impact the Dodgers, i think may have a profound effect on the chemistry this team needs to compete on a nightly basis, will be the battery. The loss of Russell Martin to me may have a significant impact as this season wears along. Rod Barajas and Dioneer Navarro, while are servicable catchers in their own way, may not command the respect Martin did with this young, rising bullpen. It surprises me the Dodgers didnt look to bring someone up from the farm system that they could work in since their rotation is vastly young, and maybe haveull one veteran catcher handling the bullpen duties. Barajas will get the starting nod, and clearly his offense will help him in the starting line up but if he doesnt help the Dodgers continue to improve in their quality starts with the kind of pitching staff they have, it wont be long before a switch will take place and even then Navarro to me isnt the right fit for this situation. This decision process is only but one of a few conundrums Mattingly and his crew will face as they try to out fox and out strategize the rest of the NL to slide their way into contention.
What ever comes of the 2011 season will certainly not diminish the fact, that the McCourts feel they have the right man for the job as Joe Torre’s successor. If he can keep this team competitive and relevant and they hang around during a good portion of the season, do not be surprised if the Dodgers make a move to trade and do whats needed to keep themselves in the play off hunt. The key for Mattingly is knowing how he can maximize his teams potential to be successful in his division. Never mind the National League, cause there will only be 1 team coming out of the division. I dont believe their will be a wild card from the West, so for the Dodgers to get in, they gotta win it all. In order to do that, they have to become something they haven’t been in the last 20 years. “OLD SCHOOL”
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