We can cuss and dis-cuss what happened in 2011, but the fact of the matter is that the Dodgers stank up the joint. Russ Martin (who is now a Yankee) saw his career continue in a downward spiral for the third consecutive year and ended his season with a busted hip (bad for a catcher). Then he was miffed that the Dodgers didn’t want to pay him more than he got from the Yankees. My Favorite Martin is no longer around. Andre Ethier looked to all the world like he was a Triple Crown Candidate for the first five or six weeks of the season, and Matt Kemp started out like a budding superstar. However, both players proceeded to take a dive for the rest of the season.
James Loney had his fourth consecutive year in which his batting average declined (.331, .289. 281, .267) which is troubling. It looked like he had righted his ship early in the season, when he hit .307 before the All-Star Game, only to hit .211 after that! Rafael Furcal was hitting .383 at the break and barely played the rest of the way. When he played, he was easily the Dodger’s MVP, but he clearly didn’t play much! The Dodgers Superstar (who I repeatedly said it would be a huge mistake to sign) was a total non-factor in his post-steroid era.
Here’s something to think about: Every Dodger Starting Position Player (I said EVERY) declined in batting average after the All-Star Game. In fact, Jon Broxton totally imploded after the All-Star Game, much to Dodger Fans dismay. If just half of the starters had declined, the season would have been different. If Manny was just 70% of himself, the season would have been different… but it wasn’t!
That’s why I have trouble listening to people say “I told you the Dodgers would be a .500 club!” So, you knew that Loney, Theriot, Carroll, Blake, Belliard, Ethier, Manny, Kemp, Podsednik and Martin would all swoon after the All-Star break? EVERYONE OF THEM! You knew that Manny and Raffy would be injured most of the season? You knew that the major league’s best bullpen in 2009 would be one of the worst bullpen’s in 2010? You just knew all that? Because it took every bit of that to derail the Dodgers season.
It was a season derailed shortly after the All-Star break, but the fact of the matter is that nearly everything that happened to the Dodgers in 2010 (outside of starting pitching) was bad. I don’t predict “career years” every year for Dodger players (no matter how many times you say it), but out of nine starters of the caliber the Dodgers had last year, it should have been expected that 2, 3 or 4 might have good years. They have shown they were capable. If you say you saw this coming, I think you are out of touch with the reality of the situation. They all had off years!
However, just because the Dodgers tanked in 2010, there is no reason to assume that it will be “more of the same” in 2011. Let’s take a quick look at possible starters for the 2011 season:
CATCHER – This is an interesting bunch: Barajas will try and win the job based upon his power. Ellis will try and show he’s a major league hitter after showing that defensively he is solid, and Navarro will try and win the job by putting up a high batting average and good defense. It should be an interesting competition. I won’t anoint anyone the favorite. Overall, we should be no worse at catcher than in 2010, probably better.
FIRST BASE – Can James Loney realize his promise or will he continue his decline? Or, is it somewhere in-between? 2011 will determine his future.
SECOND BASE – Can young Ivan De Jesus, Jr. step up and force the Dodgers to play him at 2B or will he head to AAA and 2B be the domain of Juan Uribe? Either way, I think the Dodgers are better for it.
SHORT STOP – Perhaps no player is as important as Raffy. IF – BIG IF’s here. Promise or Pain? I have no clue, but when healthy, he’s one of the best in the game. Whether he can stay healthy is the most important question surrounding the Dodgers.
THIRD BASE – What happens here depends to some degree what happens at 2B, because Juan Uribe is a solid 3B, but I am not as down on Casey Blake as some of you are. He is a pro. He’s good defensively and if he plays 130 games, he can have a nice season. Never bet against a hard worker with character! I have also seen him in the outfield, and if he were to platoon with Gibbons there, he would not be a liability.
LEFT FIELD – As it stands right now, LF could belong to Gibbons/Blake, Paul, Robinson, Sands or maybe even Dye (who is not a good outfielder). This will be an important competition as it now stands.
CENTER FIELD – Losing a girlfriend doesn’t make for a good or bad season. It’s solely up to Matt to become the player he is capable of becoming. Interestingly, the player it was suggested the Yankees would have traded for Kemp (Robinson Cano) had a “down” year after a couple of good ones (he’s much older than Kemp), before breaking out. 50% of the game is 80% mental with Matt. Can he seize the day?
RIGHT FIELD – Simply put, is Andre Ethier a moody streak hitter or can he evolve into that Triple-Crown threat we saw early last season?
The starting pitching and bullpen should be strengths of the Dodgers. There are lots of options. Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley could be one of the elite 1-2 punches in baseball. The Dodgers also have four more solid starters to couple with Clayton and C-Bill. Clayton is married and more mature. He’s ready to be THAT guy. Chad is too. Will they?
For the Dodgers to succeed in 2011, some of the players have to step up. There’s a lot of talent on this team. Can they play up to their talent? Can they improve? Can they be hungry enough to return to the playoffs they tasted? Lots of questions, but lots of answers are available. The Giants had players unexpectedly step-up (Huff and others). The Reds had a guy named Votto step-up “big time.” It would be nice to have Adrian Beltre, but I don’t plan on it. It has to make sense for the Dodgers. I get that!
Know this: In 2011, the Dodgers will have the highest payroll of any team which does not have a TV contract! Does that put things in perspective? The Dodgers can be contenders for the Division and the Pennant. Like every year, lots of good things have to happen before ANY team can win it. I do not like the divorce BS. I do not like the McCourt lifestyle. I do love the Dodgers, and will support them regardless of who owns them, especially if they continue to be a first-class organization that is in the upper echelon of payroll. They are not perfect. They have warts, but they are better (much better) than the naysayers predict. You can do what you want, but when the bell rings, I will be there… because I am a Dodger at heart! I bleed blue. If you don’t, then you just don’t know….