Kemp, Kershaw, Ethier and Gordon Might Not Be Enough for the Dodgers

Harold FriendChief Writer IApril 3, 2012

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 08:  Manager Don Mattingly of the Los Angeles Dodgers watches from the dugout during the spring training game against the Oakland Athletics at Camelback Ranch on March 8, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It is not my purpose to knock the Los Angeles Dodgers. One of my favorite all-time New York Yankees, Don Mattingly, manages them, but the Dodgers probably won't be in the playoffs this season.

I have been rooting for the Yankees for many years. I lived through the Mike Burke era prior to George Steinbrenner purchasing the team. Burke kept telling fans that the Yankees were a good team. He said they only needed two or three players in order to return to the glory days.

Burke never mentioned that for the Yankees of the mid-1960s, those players had to be Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and a young Mickey Mantle.

The 2012 Dodgers really are only two or three players away from being a major force.

First base with James Loney (.288/.339/.416) is fine. Mark Ellis at second base and Jose Uribe at third base are not, but Dee Gordon is a young star that will be the nucleus of the infield for many seasons.

The new ownership must address the infield problems, although both Ellis and Uribe have been on playoff teams, and each is capable of having a good season. Don't expect it, but it could happen.

Matt Kemp (.324/.399/.586) had a season that ranks with some of Mickey Mantle's better years. Andre Ethier is having a great spring, hitting with power (nine doubles, three triples, three home runs) and producing runs. His 16 runs-batted-in lead the Dodgers, and he is showing that his knee injury is healed. Juan Rivera is merely an adequate third-outfielder.

Young A. J. Ellis and veteran Matt Treanor will share the catching duties.

Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in the National League, and because he is only 24-years old, he may be more valuable than even Justin Verlander, who is five years older.

Chad Billingsley is not a No. 2 starter, but he has been in double figures with respect to wins in each of the last four seasons. He claims that his poor spring has been the result of experimenting with new pitches.

Chris Capuano could be a sleeper. He had an underrated season with the New York Mets in 2011 and has proved that he can give his team a good chance to win any game that he starts.

I am quite familiar with Ted Lilly from his Yankees days. He is a gutsy left-hander that is not afraid to defend his teammates if problems with the opposing team arise. He is almost healthy and could have a good year. Knowing when to take Lilly out of a game is a key to his success.

The bullpen is adequate, especially with Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen each having done well last year. Guerra is the closer, but Jansen amazed when he struck out 96 batters in just over 53 innings.

There are no great teams in the National League, much less in the Western Division. It is an exercise in futility to predict how the teams will finish, but now that there are two wild cards, the Dodgers have a decent chance of making the playoffs. The problem is that they probably aren't the fifth-best team in the league.

But, to paraphrase one of Don Mattingly's friends, it won't be over until it's over.