The first pitch of the Los Angeles Dodgers 2011 season is less than 36 hours away. The players have all been profiled on TBLA. All but the final roster moves have been made. Chad Billingsley has a shiny, new extension. Andre Ethier is psyching himself up for the games that count in his unique way. The time has come to peer into the Dodger Blue tinged crystal ball, invoke the spirits of baseball past (what say thee Silver Fox?) , and foretell the fate of the team General Manager Ned Colletti and Manager Don Mattingly have assembled to carry the hopes and dreams of Dodger fans into the forthcoming season.
Here are the predictions from each of the writers here at TBLA:
The Dodgers have the deepest pitching staff I can remember them ever having. Once Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla get back, I would put up the Dodgers' 1-12 staff against any other team in baseball. I am intrigued by having five established starters, and if Garland can provide his usual steadiness and six innings per start once he returns, that will be miles ahead of the dregs they had at the back end of their rotation last season. I think having the starters go deeper into games will only help the bullpen, too, creating a multiplier effect of sorts.
The pitching staff will need to stay healthy, because the offense will struggle. Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier need to do the heavy lifting and carry the team on their backs. I do think the Dodgers will see improvements at second base and left field (featuring a cast of thousands), but overall the offense won't see much improvement over last year's squad.
I am a big fan of the Dodgers' pitching staff, and I do think they will win 89 games in 2011 (in other words, 53-52 after their 36-21 start). However, I think they fall just shy of the playoffs, but a division title certainly isn't out of the question. They are just good enough, and the division is just weak enough, so that a big acquisition at the trade deadline could swing the balance of power in their favor.
The Dodgers finish 91 - 71.
In a wild finish, the Dodgers clinch the pennant on last game of the year, when One Year Andre inexplicably hits a game winning homer against lefty Ian Kennedy to break up a 0 - 0 game in the top of the sixth. Closer Vicente Padilla shuts the door with 1 2/3 perfect innings. What happens in the post season we will have to wait and see.
How did they get there:
-Last Year Andre hits 32 home runs making the all-star team for the 2nd year in a row and posting another 130+ OPS+ season.
-Kemp refuses to listen to Lopes and eventually breaks his finger in late July when he slides head first into second base trying to get to second when the ball he thought he hit for a home run bounces off the fence.
-Loney leads the league in hitting on May 13th, then tails off so badly he is replaced by Sands after the all-star game. -On Aug 9th, Loney pinch hits a two-run home run to win a game, and is inserted back into the lineup. From Aug 9th until the end of the year Loney hits .329/.393/.521 leading the Dodger to the pennant.
-Furcal does not vest his option, but it works out as Dee Gordon comes up on Aug 12th and along with Loney ignites the Dodger offense.
-Thames does his job against LHP but none of the LH LF options fill the bill. Eventually the Dodgers sign Jeremy Hermida who remembers how to hit, and gives the team a potent L/R platoon in LF.
-No one from the vaunted starting pitching staff wins more then 15 games, but they all end up in double digits except Jon Garland.
The 2011 Dodgers will end the season 85-77, which is enough to finish second in the NL West behind the Colorado Rockies, whose new manager, Bobby Valentine, leads them to the playoffs by overcoming their .350 start under the fired Jim Tracy.
The Dodger starting pitchers hold their own enough to keep the Dodgers in position to win plenty of games, but the offense sputters due to some predictably low OBPs from key starters and untimely injuries to the left side of the infield, which can't be overcome by Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp combining for 71 home runs. The bullpen also takes some of the blame as Jonathan Broxton experiences some tough stretches when he's hit hard, Hong-Chih Kuo never appears in back-to-back contests, Matt Guerrier's arm falls off due to Proctoritis, and during his closer tryout Vicente Padilla shoots himself in the foot.
Of course this scenario could hold as much water as my NCAA March Madness bracket.
I've heard a few times in the comments throughout the off-season that the Dodgers need everything to go right this season in order to be successful. I'm a bit more optimistic than that. I think the NL West will come back down to the Dodgers level and if the Dodgers get the performance we expect out of the team it should work out just fine. We expect the Dodgers to have a solid starting rotation (at worst 4 deep), we expect the bullpen to be deep and talented enough, we expect Andre Ethier to slug around .500 and we expect some added pop from guys like Juan Uribe and Marcus Thames. Should the Dodgers get Matt Kemp of 2009, I think the Dodgers certainly have the talent to win 86+ games even dealing with below average starters like James Loney and Tony Gwynn Jr. I predict a record of 88-74 and win the NL West.
When I think about the upcoming Dodger season, I can see the team finishing anywhere from 1st to 4th in the division. I’m not worried about the starting pitching as I think we have a very solid staff, and I like our bullpen as well. Broxton is still a big question mark, but we have several other good arms in the bullpen who can shorten the game. We also have solid pitching depth in the minor leagues to fill in should injuries occur.
The big X factor for me is our offense; specially the middle of our lineup. I truly believe that if Kemp, Ethier, and Loney all hit to the best of their ability and have big seasons, then we are going to be in contention to win the division. If even just one of them struggles through the season, however, then I don’t think we’ll have a shot to make the playoffs. I’m not necessarily expecting career years out of any of them, but if they can combine for somewhere around 70 homers and 270 RBI’s, then we should be competitive all the way through the season.
My final prediction for the season is that the Dodgers finish the year with a W-L record of 88-74, and while the Dodgers will be battling until the end, unfortunately I’m guessing that will only be good for 2nd place in the division.
The Dodgers struggled quite a bit in 2010, but since they've managed to not only retain but even add on to one of the best pitching staffs in the league, they're a popular pick for a 2011 bounce back.
It's easy to find rays of hope if you look closely. The back of the bullpen remains a strength, rotation depth is matched only by a select few, and with Rafael Furcal, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier bouncing back, the offense could be better than expected.
Unfortunately, 2011 isn't off to a great start for the boys in blue. With Casey Blake's back being 93-years-old, Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla needing new arm parts, Ronald Belisario apparently stranded on the island from "LOST", and Jay Gibbons being unable to tell how far he is from the ledge, it's not exactly the kind of beginning the Dodgers were hoping for.
Perhaps most importantly though, there's a touch too many things that need to go right for the Dodgers in order for their optimistic scenarios to come true, especially for their offense. So for now, I'm forced to give them a solid 85-77 record, place them in second for the NL West, and a close-but-no-cigar playoff bid for both the division and the wild card spot.
I'm sure you hope I'm atrociously wrong, and believe me, nobody hopes I'm wrong more than I do.
Now comes your opportunity to put yourself and you skills of prognostication on the True Blue LA record. Consult your inner soothsayer and tell us in the comments what you foresee to be the future of the 2011 Los Angeles Dodgers. Please make sure to include the team's won-loss record and their finish in the NL West at a minimum.