Los Angeles Dodgers: Their 10 Biggest Differences from Last Season

Christopher BenvieCorrespondent IIApril 8, 2012

Los Angeles Dodgers: Their 10 Biggest Differences from Last Season

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    What a difference a year makes.

    At the start of the 2011 season, the Dodgers started off on a good foot, winning their first two games of the season against the San Francisco Giants.

    In Game 3, they were routed 10-0.

    From there, through the end of April, the team showed the rest of baseball exactly the type of team they would become for the season: a .500 ball club, closing out the month at 14-14.

    While this season is still very young, the boys in blue are off to a nice 3-0 start (albeit they are playing the Padres.)

    However, they are quietly playing very well.  With so much attention being given to the Los Angeles Angels and the San Francisco Giants locally, along with the Marlins and Cardinals garnering attention throughout the baseball world, the Dodgers get to fly under the radar.

    Even with the team being sold last week, this low-profile approach may be just what the team needs. Here is a look at 10 of the biggest differences facing the Dodgers in the 2012 season.

Clayton Kershaw Didn't Set the Tone, the Bullpen Did

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    March 31, 2011: Clayton Kershaw went seven solid innings giving up just four hits, no runs and striking out nine, leading the Dodgers to their Opening Day win.

    The same could not be said in 2012.

    Kershaw left the game on April 5th after just three innings with a stomach bug.  He managed to give up only two hits and strike out three, but couldn't complete the game.

    From there, the bullpen took over and guided the team to a win.

    Josh Lindblom earned the Opening Day win after coming in for two innings of relief, giving up no hits and striking out one.  Javy Guerra racked up his first save of the season as well.

    Sure, this came against the Padres, but to have a bullpen you can rely on is an extremely valuable commodity.  Just ask the Boston Red Sox.

Matt Kemp Is Proving 2011 Was Not a Fluke

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    Dodger fans are fickle when it comes to Matt Kemp.

    What I mean is, specifically, he's all-too-often referred to as lazy, especially in the outfield.  Questions arise of his defensive skills because of his lack of flashy play (unlike his AL East counterpart, Jacoby Ellsbury.)

    I hate to bring this name up, but Kemp's defense reminds me of JD Drew. He comes across as lackadaisical, however, his natural talent allows him to not have to exert himself fully.

    Would I like to see more effort on the defensive side of the ball?  

    Sure.

    Is it necessary?

    Not really.

    Offensively Matt Kemp is having a stellar start to the season.  In 2011 he started off batting .500 after the first three games, but he only had one RBI.  

    So far, he is off to a red-hot start batting .462 with a league best six RBI and five runs on the back of six hits.

    Sure, he started his poor 2010 season batting .357 with five hits and five RBI—but the feel this season is just very, very different.  The man has something to prove.

Juan Rivera Is a Nice Upgrade over Tony Gwynn

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    Naturally everyone hoped the Tony Gwynn, Jr. was afforded some of his legendary father's baseball talent.

    Nobody could have figured he would't be a fifth of the hitter his father was.  Okay, maybe not a fifth, but certainly a shadow of what his father was.

    Enter Juan Rivera.  

    While the 33-year-old came on board last season and played 62 games with the Dodgers he managed to bat .274 and drive in 46 runs for the team.  

    Now, with a full season to play in LA—Rivera is off to a hot start.

    He is currently batting .400 with a .455 OBP.  He is getting on base and scoring runs.  In his nine at-bats he has four hits, one RBI and three runs scored.

    Going back to the "quietly good" statement I made on the first slide, Juan Rivera fits that mold perfectly.

The Dodgers Are a Sleeper Team

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    Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal believes that the Dodgers are a sleeper team in 2012.

    He among others believe that the team will be in the position to make a move to address their needs prior to the trade deadline and to position themselves for a nice playoff push.

    One area of concern, especially out of the gate, is James Loney and first base.

    I have a better batting average and OBP than James Loney three games in to this season.

    The problem is, the market for a first baseman will be tough to compete with.  Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and now Joey Votto are all locked up for long-term deals with their respective teams.

    This may result in the Dodgers having to be creative.

    I hate to bring up the Red Sox again, but the Dodgers may have to see out a player like Kevin Youkilis to help bolster the lineup for a deep fall-ball push.

    Youkilis would be a perfect fit for the Dodgers.  He could play first and help protect Kemp in the lineup. What the team would lose is a left-handed bat in the lineup, however, what they would gain is a player with a career .390 OBP and the potential of driving in 20+ home runs and 90+ RBI.

AJ Ellis Is a Solid Upgrade over Rod Barajas

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    The fact that the season is young cannot be stressed enough, but as of now, AJ Ellis looks like a brilliant upgrade at catcher over Rod Barajas.

    He has started the season with a .333 batting average in 13 at-bats. That is impressive, let alone the fact that his OBP is team best .538 with a 1.205 OPS, also a team best.

    The career backup is finally getting his shot at playing full-time and is making the absolute most of it.

    Rod Barajas has always been a solid option at catcher, but the young blood is making quite a name for himself.

Javy Guerra Looks to Be Transitioning Nicely

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    When Jonathan Broxton left via free agency for the Kansas City Royals, I was skeptical that Guerra was the right answer at closer.

    How's that working out now?

    The young righty has already racked up two saves with an invisible ERA and a .500 WHIP on the heels of one walk and two strikeouts.

    Broxton, on the other hand, has not had as good of a start in KC.

    In his one game thus far, his ERA is an even 9.00 with a 2.000 WHIP.

Dee Gordon Is on Pace for 162 Stolen Bases

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    Three games played.

    Three stolen bases.

    You see the logic, right?

    Yes, I am kidding, but Dee Gordon is quickly (no pun intended) solidifying himself as one of the premier stolen base threats in all of baseball.

    Baseball-Reference averages out Gordon at 74 stolen bases over the course of 162 games.

    Honestly, I think that is a fantastic over/under figure.  Part of me thinks Gordon is capable of 100 or more swiped bags.

    Would I be disappointed if he "only" took 70?  

    I doubt it.

Chad Billingsley Looked Like a Stud

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    Yes, Billingsley did win his 2011 debut against the Giants.

    He went six innings giving up five hits and three runs.  

    He left after striking out four and posting a 4.50 ERA.  Not bad by any stretch.

    However, his 2012 start was much, much better.

    He went 8.1, allowing just three hits, no runs striking out 11 batters.

    His WHIP was just .480 upon departing the game.

    In other words, Chad Billingsley looked like an ace, finally.  His stuff reminded me of a 2008, 23-year-old version of himself.  You know, the one that went 16-10.

Juan Uribe and Mark Ellis Are Worse Than Juan Uribe and Jamey Carroll

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    *Sigh*

    When the Dodgers have gaps in their lineup, they have pretty stellar gaps.

    Juan Uribe has under-performed in Los Angeles pretty much since day one of being here.  Combined, Uribe and Ellis have a .107 batting average and three hits.

    Maybe it's just me, I've never been a fan of either player, but these are two positions that the Dodgers need to focus on upgrading if they intend to sustain a successful season.  

    A team can survive with one sub-par hitter, but right now there are three on this roster: Uribe, Ellis and Loney.  

    That can't stand.

Magic Means Anything Is Possible

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    Frank McCourt must have a death wish.

    Why else would the man KEEP showing up at Dodgers games?

    With the sale of the team, the fanbase and franchise can breath a sigh of relief and actually relish in the fact that Magic Johnson and Co. will turn this team around.

    Step one should involve banning McCourt from the park.

    Step two... work your, uh, Magic.