Oh boy. Here it is. Strap in and put on your positive thinking caps Mambinites. I hate to do it, but we’re about to take a ride to Negativetown, the air conditioners are broken and we only have a Lou Diamond Phillips spoken word CD in the car. Sorry everybody.
|Always the best part of Dodger baseball…but especially in 2012|
Never before have I been so apathetic about a Dodger season. We’re on the precipice of a major change in the organization, but this transition time has paralyzed the team, and locked them into a holding pattern until a new owner is decided upon. The most exciting part of the season might be that we get another year of the ever-immaculate play-calling of the legendary Vin Scully.
- Juan Uribe is coming off a career-worst year, hitting barely above .200 and providing none of the pop the Dodgers thought he would supply when they gave him a $21 million dollar deal last winter. Word is that he’s lost a visible amount of weight in the offseason. Whoops.
- Mark Ellis was signed to a relatively substantial 2-year $8 million dollar pact in the offseason and will start at second base, despite averging 120 games and a .692 OPS the previous 4 seasons. If Mark Ellis’ bat was half as good as his glove, then we’d be in good shape, but since it’s at about 3/8, this is not a good situation.
- Dee Gordon is the incumbent shortstop for the first time in his young career, and even though he has tremendous speed, none of that really matters unless he can get on-base. His .325 on-base percentage last year was about 40 points lower than he needs it to be.
- It’s the same old story for James Loney: in his never-ending quest for the power that every Dodgers coach says “is there”, Big Game James is still striving to crack 15 jakks, a modest total for a first baseman. Though he’s gotten by on 15 homers and 90 RBI year after year, he provided not even that humble sock last year, when he needed a scorching .915 OPS in the second-half of the season to reach 12 homers and 65 RBIs. In his walk-year, Loney needs to return to form and then some if he wants to stay with the Dodgers long-term.
- The platoon of AJ Ellis and Tim Federowicz might be the most unproductive catching duo in the majors. Between the two of them, they’ve produced exactly one major league home run. Great.
That all being said, this is probably the best-fielding infield in the majors. Every single one of these guys carry the descriptive caveat of being “light-hitting, yet slick fielding.” Ground-ball pitchers Chad Billingsley and Aaron Harang will really benefit from a defense that will rarely let them down. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw the Dodgers get 5 Gold Glove awards and less than triple that in home runs.
- It’s now or never for Andre Ethier. On the last year of his rookie deal, Ethier must produce power-wise to secure long-term extension with the team. He’s just two years removed from an Silver-Slugger type season. If he regains form, like he’s shown in Spring Training, he’s one of the keys to being more than just a spoiler in September.
- The real key though, could be the Sandschise, Jerry Sands. Perhaps the Dodgers best positional prospect by default, the left-field job is Sands’ to lose…which is exactly what he’s doing right now in spring training, hitting less than .150 with only 1 extra base hit. If he keeps on stinking up Camelback Ranche, he’ll be sent back down to the farm in lieu of Juan Rivera.
- And then there’s the should-be 2011 NL MVP. What else can you say about Matt Kemp? He’s the best overall player in the majors.
Not much has changed from the previous decade or so of Dodgers baseball – the starting lineup is still the strongest part of the team.
- With the emergence of Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley has been relegated to what he’s been all along; a really steady number 3 starter. Again, he’ll benefit from the fantastic defense behind him, provide sometimes spectacular, but mostly decent innings.
- Ted Lilly is another veteran, who like Chad, can be fantastic to merely good. A very capable number 3 starter.
- Even with the subtraction of Hiroki Kuroda, the team picked up two starters to ably hold up the back of the rotation. Though overpaid, Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano can provide bulk innings and hopefully between 8 and 12 wins. Neither will be competing for an All-Star spot, but are certainly good enough to be a 4 or 5 starter in any rotation.
- And then there’s Clayton. He’s one of the best pitchers in the league, and liable to win anywhere between 20 and 25 wins. Kershaw is a walking no-hitter in waiting and one of the best pitchers I have ever personally witnessed. He anchors the best part of this team.
- Closing duties will go to either Javy Guerra or Kenley Jansen. Though Jansen is the more skilled and terrifying of the two with a 97 MPH fastball and a fullback’s body, Guerra showed juevos of steel in converting all but two of his save chances towards the end of last year. Regardless of who’s finishing the game, the starting rotation should be satisfied with these two holding down the victories.
- The middle relief consists of Ronald Belasario, Matt Guerrier, Todd Coffey, Scott Elbert and Mike MacDougal. This part of the pitching staff is always the biggest crapshoot, and can range from either awful to fantastic regardless of the money owed to them. The biggest concern has to be the lack of any lefty reliever except for Scott Elbert, who’s gone from somewhat effective to somewhat offensively bad. Besides the 15 home run extravaganza known as the Dodgers infield, middle relief is definitely the biggest concern on the minds of Dodger fans.
|Soul patch isn’t as cool as the
There were so many peripheral distractions in LA last year that it’s hard to say how well Donnie Ballgame coached and his impact on the team. Yes, he did take a putrid on-paper roster and bring them to a winning record, even with Frank McCourt’s bankruptcy spectacularly hanging over the team like a sprig of mistletoe…if it were composed of uranium. On the flipside, there were so little expectations placed on the Dodgers that even in a major market like LA, the pressure from the dwindling crowds at Dodger Stadium was at an all-time low. Though the staff undoubtedly had an effect on the level of Clayton Kershaw’s and Matt Kemp’s all-league play, the heights that both men hit last year were at levels everyone thought they could achieve at some point based on pure talent alone.