Last season the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated headlines for everything other than baseball.
The team was still at the mercy of now ex-owner Frank McCourt, whose divorce was a literal soap opera and the team took the fall too.
Still, the team put up an 82-79 record thanks to a great second-half of 2011, and finished a respectable third place in the NL West.
The fact that the Dodgers pulled it together and played just shy of .600 baseball after the 2011 All-Star break largely flew under the radar due to the off the field mess.
So, now this leaves the question of whether the Dodgers can carry that stellar second-half surge into 2012 season?
Let’s take a peek…
The Dodgers finally got sold and not just to any old group of rich-guys. The new ownership group, which includes ex-Lakers star and local hero Magic Johnson, paid north of $2 billion dollars to own one of the most historic franchises in sports. This has already boosted ticket sales, as the timing could not have been more perfect and deserved. The Dodgers have suffered under reckless ex-owner Frank McCourt for way to long already, so this can only give the players a boost out of Spring Training.
Not many teams have the current CY Young recipient, and arguably MVP winner both on their rosters. The Dodgers have this luxury with ace Clayton Kershaw and superstar Matt Kemp. Both are young, healthy, play hard and love being wearing the Dodger uniform. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Can the Dodgers finish what they started? After the 2011 All-Star break the Dodgers went 41-28, which flew under the radar as the media had turned their attention completely on McCourt’s nasty divorce battle, after going 41-51 in the first-half.
So, while everyone else had written them off, the team quietly put together a solid effort, and at best hope that continues into 2012. Motivation is something no team can ever have enough of, and playing through adversity is never easy so lets the players can thrive without it too.
There are still a ton of questions surrounding this team, as both offensively and defensively the Dodgers are top-heavy with Kemp and Kershaw, but after that there are questions. If either of the two get injured and land on the DL, the Dodgers are as good as dead.
The Dodgers did not add other players in the off-season in addition to the two stars. Taking the quantity over quality approach in the off-season is not going to cut. They lost Hiroki Kuroda in free agency to the Yankees, and the innings eater threw 202 in total last season, with a 3.02 ERA but did nothing significant to off-set the loss.
PLAYER(s)/GAME-CHANGERS TO WATCH:
1) Dee Gordon, the Dodgers 23-year old shortstop will soon be known as the fastest guy in baseball. This kid wreaks absolute havoc on the base pads; and if you have not see how fast he runs, check it out. So far, Gordon has played in 56 games and stole 24 bases. I can’t even imagine how many bags Gordon could steal in a full season, but some scouts are saying 60-70 but that entails Gordon getting on base first. Gordon struggled at the plate, which is hard to imagine looking at his .304 batting average from 2011. This is a prime example of why I am not a fan of using BA as a stat, as Gordon only drove in 11 runs total in 68 hits, and hit zero homers. He worked his butt off and showed up to camp six weeks early to work on getting better. If Gordon can just make contact with the ball, he can hit single after single and always have the advantage. Mattingly has made it clear that Gordon will leadoff for the Dodgers this season and he is a game changer, but whether he can handle it just yet is another story.
2) Andre Ethier and James Loney need to step it up in 2012 and be more effective at the plate. Ethier hit 11 homers last season, after hitting 31 in 2009, and 23 in 2010; so the two-time All-Star needs to figure himself out. As for Loney, he started last season hot as in the first 35 games he had a .388 batting average, but after that it dropped to a .256. Bottom-line is other than Kemp, the Dodgers offense was weak in 2011 but if these two start to hit it would make a huge difference. Both are free agents next season, which means they are pitching for their futures and usually players step it up when money is at stake. Hey whatever works right?
Without a doubt the Los Angeles Dodgers are finally back on track and will become a marquee franchise once again, but this season might be too soon as they are still relishing in the aftermath of McCourt.
The question that I can’t answer is, which half of 2011 Dodgers will show up in 2012?
It is doubtful that they will ever be as bad as the first-half of 2011.
Still, if the post All-Star break team shows-up, I think the Dodgers could be a sleeper team. As, that group is capable of making a late season push into the postseason and could end up with one of the two NL wild card spots.
It is hard to make a prediction not knowing so much.
My gut is telling me that third place in the NL West is the most likely scenario. I would not be shocked if they moved ahead of the Giants to second place, but I think winning the division is out-of-the-question as the Diamondbacks are just to strong.
The Dodgers are one of my top five teams to watch in 2012, as finally the organization will be focused on baseball again.
As for Dodger fans, they should be very excited because this team is finally under the new ownership and are a few steps away from thriving again, just maybe not as immediately as they might hope.