5 Keys to the Dodgers' 2014 Success
David Blumenkrantz/Arroyo Seco Journal
While powerbrokers continue in a never-ending and mostly fruitless search for the world's most precious resource, the stuff bubbles over at Chavez Ravine on a fairly regular basis. It's been the case for over half a century. Pitching. P-I-T-C-H-I-N-G.
So, the five keys to the Dodgers' success in 2014 begin with, drum roll please:
1. Pitching. First and foremost, the Los Angeles Dodgers are about pitching. Today, tomorrow and for-the-rest-of-your-life pitching. The key to the 2014 Dodgers' success is pitching. It's the key key, if you will.
Which is to say, the Boys in Blue will be successful in 2014.
Sure, Clayton Kershaw had a crappy spring (no wins, three losses, a 9.40 ERA and three home runs allowed in 14 innings) but the L.A. ace goes for his third Cy Young Award in four years and he might just get it. Kersh takes the ball opposite Arizona's Wade Miley as the Dodgers open the season in Sydney, Australia, tonight at 1 a.m. PDT on something called on SportsNet LA, currently available on Time Warner Cable only.
Zack Greinke is a tad behind schedule with his minor calf strain, isn't on the Australia trip (and didn't want to be), but will be just fine when he resumes his No. 2 spot in the rotation, possibly as soon as April 1 in San Diego. Hyun-Jin Ryu, slimmed down and coming off a veteran-like rookie campaign, subs for Greinke in Sydney Saturday, 7 p.m. PDT.
Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu make for as good a first three men as you'll find in the game, and while some in the know fret over his signing, I'm confident Monterey Park native Dan Haren will be a solid fourth man. Plus, he's just plain fun to watch pitch.
Josh Beckett, ineffective and injured in 2013, is the presumed fifth starter, recent thumb in a door and not enough work in Spring Training notwithstanding. A nice bounce-back season from the former World Series hero is a reasonable expectation, but if not, the Dodgers have all kinds of options. More than most.
There's left-hander Paul Maholm, there is Chad Billingsley, who is supposedly ahead of schedule on his Tommy John surgery rehab (although it's scary to think about the consequences of a rushed comeback), and there is top prospect Zach Lee. Behind them are Stephen Fife and Matt Magill. That's a ton of arms.
The bullpen is stocked too, with strikeout machine Kenley Jansen primed for his first March-to-October march to October as the closer, Brian Wilson and Chris Perez setting up, lefties J.P Howell and Paco Rodriguez (probably beginning the season at Triple-A Albuquerque; ditto Chris Withrow) and Jamey Wright. The Dodgers also have the fate of Rule-5 reliever Seth Rosin and poor Brandon League to determine by March 30.
So forget the whole you-can-never-enough-arms thing. It doesn't apply in Los Angeles.
2. Catching. According to Casey Stengel, "You have to have a catcher because if you don't you're likely to have a lot of passed balls." Sometimes with a catcher too, unfortunately. A.J. Ellis is everyone's favorite Dodger. He's my favorite Dodger, but he's simply got to catch the baseball.
Ellis led both leagues with 11 PBs in 2012 (Giants' backstop Buster Posey had two in 17 less games), and while he improved to rank seventh last season, Dodger pitchers threw 66 wild pitches in 2013, more than 22 other big league clubs. Consider the habit of dropped balls at home plate as well and it's a problem.
Perhaps in an effort to remain productive with the bat over the course of the long season (.262 first half; .207 second half in 2013), Ellis lost some weight during the winter. I'm not worried about A.J.'s hitting, though. He'll hit. And if you think you can do better than Tim Federowicz (.231, with four homers and 16 RBIs), well, knock yourself out searching for a better and available backup catcher.
3. Minimal Use of the Disabled List. I had a dream last night about the Dodgers home opener. Matt Kemp rips the first pitch he sees into the left field corner, double written all over it, only to fall in a heap rounding first while reaching for his ankle in agony. 56,000 people groan, a fair percentage yelling "just retire already!"
It's cruel to even contemplate such a thing with L.A.'s former franchise player, but we all know it could happen literally at any time. We'll be holding our breath with current franchise player Hanley Ramirez most of the time too, covering our eyes as he goes into the stands after a foul ball, or takes a fastball to the ribs.
Carl Crawford is an injury risk in left field, Juan Uribe is another year older at third base, and God help us if an ironman like first baseman Adrian Gonzalez ever goes down for any length of time. The Dodgers don't really have a second baseman, let alone someone behind him, which brings us to keys four and five.
4. Second base. The Dodgers gave Cuban shortstop Alex Guerrero $28 million to transition to second base, and it might work out long-term, but he hasn't won the job outright, so Dee Gordon will be relied upon in the early going. Gordon is a failed shortstop who hasn't hit consistently in the majors, so draw your own conclusions. A trade for legitimate 2B is a distinct possibility. Los Angeles had a simple and reasonably-priced $5.75 million option on Mark Ellis and passed.
5. The bench. The Dodgers had a chance to re-sign switch-hitting utility infielder Nick Punto for something in the neighborhood of the $2.75 million he got from the A's and passed. They had a chance to sign switch-hitting utility infielders Ramon Santiago and Cesar Izturis to minor league deals and passed. Emilio Bonafacio switches, plays the infield and outfield, was available for major league minimum, and they passed.
Instead Los Angeles seriously contemplated Gordon, Chone Figgins and Miguel Rojas, and decided on the former two, at least for now. Justin Turner is a nice addition to the club, however, both in the field and at the plate, and left-handed swinging Mike Baxter is a surprisingly good pinch hitter. Scott Van Slyke provides oomph off the bench from the right side.
What's missing from the Dodgers bench is great defense, and you'll notice the deficiency in frustrating fashion unless it's addressed. But look, this is a fine Dodgers club we're talking about here, clearly the class of the National League West. Forget what you're hearing about how the San Diego Padres are going to contend because there's no chance of that happening. Zero, zilch, nada.
It's going to be the Dodgers and the Giants battling at Chavez Ravine and AT&T Park all season long. What could be better than that?
And remember, glove conquers all.
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