Will the good times roll?
Catalyzed by Frank McCourt's sale of the team to the Magic Johnson brigade, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been playing inspired ball to begin the 2012 season. There's new hope in Los Angeles; the boys in blue have taken back the city from the Angels, who are floundering despite their sparkling offseason acquisitions.
But are the Dodgers a mirage? Backed by good pitching and superhuman hitting by Matt Kemp, the Dodgers ended April with a record of 16-7, their best start in over 20 years. How can they keep it up?
Here are five ways:
It' a bird...it's a plane...it's Matt Kemp!
After posting a Wins Over Replacement rating of 10 last year, meaning he was worth 10 wins for the Dodgers over a replacement level player (best WAR in MLB), Matt Kemp has exceeded his torrid 2011 so far in 2012.
Through May 3, the young Oklahoman is hitting .411 with 12 home runs, both tops in the National League. He's highly regarded as the best player in baseball, and in order for the Dodgers to remain a top-tier team, Kemp must retain his superhuman aura.
Rockies manager Jim Tracy recently bestowed the "Barry Bonds treatment" upon Kemp, walking him intentionally to put the tying run on in the ninth inning.
It's most likely that Kemp won't hit .400 all season. That hasn't been done in over 70 years. Other than Kemp and Andre Ethier, the Dodger offense has been anemic. Soon-to-be free agents like Carlos Lee, for instance, would be reasonable targets for the Dodgers before the trade deadline in order to bolster their one-trick offense.
Other potential targets include: Ty Wigginton, Travis Hafner and Scott Rolen.
Gordon may have the stature of a 14-year-old, but he played like a big man last year. He electrified Dodger fans in his limited playing time with a .304 average and 24 stolen bases.
Up till now, his 2012 campaign has been a disappointment; he's hitting merely .217. If Dee can get on base often and start wreaking havoc on the basepaths, expect the Dodgers to score more runs this year.
We knew 2011 Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw would be his usual self, but the mercurial Chad Billingsley has pitched like a new man early in 2012, posting a 2.64 ERA and WHIP below one.
Ted Lilly and Chris Capuano have also been pleasant surprises, each contributing ERAs below three. This wasn't expected, and perhaps it's not sustainable. If they can maintain their dominance, the Dodgers won't have to score many runs to stay in every ballgame they play in 2012.
Call him Mr. Jansen.
Javy Guerra came out of nowhere and closed down 21 games for the Dodgers in 2011, but his ERA in 2012 is sloppy: 5.56. He's already blown two saves, as many as he did in all of 2011.
Kenley Jansen, however, who's closed two games this season, has been impeccable. Last year, the Netherlands Antilles native posted the second-best k/9 innings rate in history with over 15.
Perhaps Don Mattingly would be best suited giving the closer role to the fireballing Jansen, and letting Guerra hammer out his woes in middle relief.