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Know Your Enemy: Los Angeles Dodgers 2011 Preview

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2010 Record: 80-82 (4th) - 13-5 vs. Arizona
2010 OPS+ 93
(8th)
2010 ERA+ 96 (12th)
Key departures: Russell Martin (1.9 WAR), Reed Johnson (0.2)
Key arrivals: Juan Uribe (2.0 WAR), Jon Garland (1.8), Matt Guerrier (1.4)
2011 Projection: 82-80 (CAIRO), 87-75 (BP)

The Dodgers should really thank the Diamondbacks for boosting their record, as against everyone else, LA went 67-77. They were in the hunt through the All-Star Game, going into the break just two games back, but had a wretched second-half - the Pirates were the only NL team to lose more contests after that point than the Dodgers' 43. LA ended up below .500 for only the second time since 1999. Will 2011 be any better? Or will the ongoing saga of the McCourt divorce continue to overshadow activities on the field?

At first glance, there doesn't appear to be an issue, with the 2011 Dodgers payroll up to about $110 million, an increase of $15 million on last season. However, Ken Rosenthal recently launched a blistering attack on the way McCourt has handled the team, spitting venomously,

They should be dominating the NL West, a division in which no other team approaches their financial might. .. Imagine if the Dodgers operated like an actual high-revenue team, one that led the majors with a home attendance of 3.7 million last season... People complain about low-revenue teams that pocket revenue-sharing money. The Dodgers represent a different kind of scandal, a high-revenue team that operates with little regard for their fans’ investment.

Ouch. That said, the payroll is still close to the top of the division, and the off-season moves appear to have made the team stronger than they were at the end of 2010. There are some concerns, most notably in left-field, where Jay Gibbons has to step into the shoes occupied on Opening Day last year by Manny Ramirez - other new arrivals, Marcus Thames and Tony Gwynn Jr. may also see playing time there. However, Juan Uribe should be an upgrade at second-base over Blake DeWitt. Russell Martin has also moved on behind the plate, with ex-Diamondback Rod Barajas becoming the most-expensive catcher in the division.

On the pitching side, they'll look to young phenom Clayton Kershaw to anchor the rotation - and emphasis is on 'young', since at time of writing, he is still only 22. Actually, make that equally on "phenom", since he has already piled up almost 500 K's, the most by a player his age in the NL since Dwight Gooden. Only two men in the past fifty years have had a better ERA+ than Kershaw, with 400 IP through their age 22 season. In six starts against the Diamondbacks, Kershaw has a 2.70 ERA, with 40 strikeouts in 33.1 innings, so it's unlikely to be good news when we face him in 2011.

Behind him, the rotation is likely to be filled out by Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Ted Lilly and new arrival Jon Garland, who got his ERA down below 3.50 for the first time in his 11-season career last year. However, that was in Petco, and he profiles to be at or about league average this campaign. The big question is the bullpen, where closer (and recipient of Mark Grace's man-crush) Jonathan Broxton imploded. After his first 33 games, he had an ERA of 0.83; in 31 games the rest of the way, his ERA was 7.58. LA would love to get first-half Broxton back; if not, then lefty Hong-Chih Kuo had a 1.20 ERA in sixty innings, so will likely take over.

Matt Kemp and James Loney are perhaps the key to the Dodgers' season. Both men took steps back in 2010, at an age when they should be entering the prime hitting years - the pair are currently 26. If they can return to the level of production expected of them, the Dodgers could end up pushing the Giants close. If Rafael Furcal - the highest-paid player, at $12m - can remain healthy, that'll help, though he has averaged only 94 games per year since the start of 2008. Another unknown factor is how new manager Don Mattingly will do, replacing the legendary Joe Torre, and taking the helm of a major-league club for the first time.

LA needs better results, both from offense and pitching, but it's not impossible. In Kershaw, they have a potential Cy Young winner, and the trio of Kemp, Loney and Andre Ethier could be a force to reckon with - Kemp will, at least, no longer have to deal with the paparazzi attention of dating Rihanna. If Broxton recovers his control and returns to his best form - and that, it has to be said, remains uncertain - he and Kuo would be an 8th/9th inning duo Dodgers' fans will be very happy with. That said, I think they are too far behind the Giants to catch up, but a rebound to over .500 seems possible - unless the team ends up split in two as part of the divorce settlement. 87 wins and 2nd place.