As I often tend to do when starting to write a piece about my beloved Los Angeles Dodgers, I remind my readers (who I would hope love the team just as much as I do) that the Dodgers are a team in flux. The team currently stands at a fork in the road.
If they take one path (which is highly possible), they will become just another team mired in mediocrity year after year as attendance stays consistent, run production drops off, the team ERA skyrockets and the win-loss percentage sits comfortably around .500.
If, however, they take the other path (not as possible or probable, but could be done nonetheless) they could recapture some of that former glory they are so often associated with (think Gibson in ’88 and Ramirez from ’08 through ’09). If they meet this fork in the road head on, with the right frame of mind, they can head down the proper path, and in doing so, vault themselves back into the “contenders” discussion.
That being said, I wrote several months back that I did not like the moves the team made in the offseason (bringing in starting pitchers Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang in addition to infield/utility guys Adam Kennedy and Jerry Hairston Jr.). After watching the Dodgers (notably Harang who I’ve seen start twice, and Kennedy and Hairston who've made regular starts) in person this spring, my opinion of the moves has changed drastically.
Many Dodger fans, if not most Dodger fans (myself included), make it a regular habit to bash general manager Ned Colletti for the job he has done since taking over in 2006. This offseason was a rare exception in the long and well documented history of Colletti’s incompetency.
However, he addressed two of the team’s most pressing issues. They needed starting pitching (especially after losing the league’s most undervalued starter Hiroki Kuroda) and depth in the lineup, dugout and on the field. Colletti did what he could, with the money he had (let us not forget the ownership situation has put a strain on everyone in the organization, particularly Ned).
This spring, all 10 days of it, has raised some “what if” questions for Dodger fans. The Dodgers are 7-2-1 in the Cactus League, having scored 69 runs in their nine games while only allowing 35. They have the National League’s lowest team ERA (2.82), second lowest team WHIP (1.30) and the entire staff has netted a better than 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio (70 to 32).
The “what if” stats only get better at the plate. The Dodgers have the fifth best team batting average (.283) in the National League while having played the fewest number of games possible thus far. The team’s overall OBP is best in the national league while their OPS and slugging percentage are all second best in the National League.
Maybe, and it is a big maybe, the change in ownership and the addition of new faces in the bullpen, clubhouse and on the field are just what the doctor ordered. Maybe a full year of Dee Gordon leading off, a healthy Andre Ethier hitting behind Matt Kemp and a couple new arms in the rotation are the difference between the 2009 Dodgers and the 2011 Dodgers.
The Dodgers are standing at the fork in the road and need to decide which path to take. Maybe they will remember the keys to success are hustle, hard work, camaraderie, sportsmanship and the will to win as a team. Maybe the Dodgers are back.