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|Kemp, Kershaw Need Support For Blue Crew To Compete|
|Written by San Fernando Valley Sun|
|Thursday, 05 April 2012 01:52|
JAE C. HONG/AP PHOTO
Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers
Don Mattingly no longer has to talk about what kind of distraction the Frank McCourt saga is, of fans being assaulted in the parking lot after games, or how he is coping as rookie manager.
The new Dodger ownership group, which spent a staggering $2.15 billion to acquire the club and surrounding properties (although McCourt still figures in the stadium parking lots), will spend most of this year deciding what needs to be done with the front office, farm system, upgrading an aging stadium celebrating its 50th anniversary, and bringing back fans who showed their displeasure with McCourt and all the surrounding drama of divorce and bankruptcy court by staying away in droves.
This year, the only focus for Mattingly is baseball, and how to get past Arizona and San Francisco in the NL West.
"I take the experience [of last season] and a lot more comfort in dealing with the whole club, and them knowing the way I want them to play and the way we go about our business. That's kind of been established now," Mattingly said.
"A lot of people talked about us at the end, and what's that do for you; at the end of the day it built a little character for us, and these guys came together as a team. We've got a lot of that same core group back, and they have a feeling they can do some things. But … you've gotta put wins on the board. So we're back to square one when the season starts. But I think we have a little confidence on what kind of club we're going to be, and the kind of club we have a chance to be, if we play hard."
Mattingly is referring to the team's 45-28 mark over the last 73 games, which helped the Dodgers finish 82-79 overall. The problem: Los Angeles was never a factor in the NL West race, finishing 11½ games behind Arizona.
So it's time for Dodger baseball to be about more than Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully continuing to broadcast games on radio and TV.
Hopefully, this will be the last time General Manager Ned Colletti has to throw around nickels like they were manhole covers. Among the latest bargain basement acquisitions were infielders Jerry Hairston, who played for Washington and Milwaukee; Mark Ellis, who was with Oakland and Colorado; and Adam Kennedy from Seattle. Also joining the team are right-hander Aaron Harang (14-7 with a 3.64 ERA with San Diego), and left-hander Chris Capuano (11-12, 4.55 with the Mets).
Serviceable veterans all, but not one of them makes you sit up and go 'wow.'
Kemp's monster 2011 season (.324, 39 homers, 126 RBIs), in which he led the league in homers and RBIs and finished third in batting average, was even more remarkable when you look at how little the rest of the lineup did around him.
Outfielder Andre Ethier (.292, 11 home runs, 62 RBIs) had a 30-game hitting streak but injuries restricted him to 135 games and robbed him of his power. First baseman James Looney (.288, 12 homers, 65 RBIs) had a good second half, but his RBI totals have declined the past two years. Third baseman Juan Uribe (.204, 4 homers, 28 RBIs) looked out of shape, missed more than 100 games with injuries, and should have given back the first year of his three-year, $21 million contract. Projected starting catcher A.J. Ellis (.271, 2 homers, 11 RBI in 31 games) … well, at least he can catch.
On the other hand, shortstop Dee Gordon (.304, 0 homers, 11 RBIs in 56 games) gets a full season to jumpstart the top of the lineup with his speed. And maybe veteran outfielder Juan Rivera (.274, 5 home runs, 46 RBIs in 60 games) can also provide a spark over a full season in Dodger Blue.
At age 23, Kershaw (21-5, 2.28), led the league in earned run average, strikeouts (248) and tied for the league lead in wins. He has many Dodger fans believing he's the second coming of Sandy Koufax, another legendary L.A. lefthander.
But Koufax had another great arm beside him in the 1960s – Don Drysdale. In present time, the Dodgers are still waiting for Chad Billingsley (11-11, 4.21) to prove he is more than a .500 career pitcher, or that his 16- win season in 2008 is the best they will get out of him. Ted Lilly (12-14, 3.97) is also part of the rotation; he will open the season on the disabled list because of a stiff neck, but should be able to pitch on April 14, the first day the Dodgers need a fifth starter.
Last year's closer Jonathan Braxton is gone. Javy Guerra (2-2, 2.31, 21 saves), who made the jump to the majors last season from Double-A, takes over that role although the team also likes Kenley Janson (2-1, 2.85, 5 saves). The rest of the bullpen wasn't fully decided until after Wednesday's Freeway Series game against the Angels.
Can this team get to meaningful games in September? In the NL West, only San Diego doesn't look able to compete. But whatever the Dodgers do, it will be done primarily with pitching and defense.
If nothing else, however, this season will be about the game, and not what else is swirling around it.