Hitters Getting the Pub, but Josh Beckett Is the Key to Dodgers' Playoff Hopes

Bleacher ReportSenior Writer IAugust 29, 2012

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 27:  Starting pitcher Josh Beckett #61 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers to home plate during the fourth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on August 27, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Since the end of July, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been collecting high-priced talent like Mitt Romney collects luxury homes.

They've acquired a hard-hitting shortstop/third baseman who was once considered the best young player in the game, one of baseball's premier catalysts and a third slugger who many feel is currently the best player in the game. They've done it all in an attempt to get to the 2012 postseason and beyond.

Yet despite all that offensive firepower, the playoff trip hinges on a hero-turned-fried-chicken-eating-beer-swilling-while-clubhouse-sitting pariah also known as Josh Beckett.

That's hard to believe, but it's the inescapable conclusion when you look back on the spending spree and the roster it transformed.

The frenzy started with a bang on July 25 when the Dodgers heisted Hanley Ramirez and Randy Choate from the Miami Marlins, then picked up Brandon League from the Seattle Mariners five days later. The next day, Shane Victorino packed his bags for La La Land after the Philadelphia Phillies shipped him out the door.

The non-waiver wire trade deadline came and went on July 31, but the Bums were only stretching their legs for the big finish.

The Phils sent Joe Blanton chasing after Victorino's LA-bound moving van on August 3.

About three weeks later, general manager Ned Colletti authored what should go down as his signature moment at the helm in Los Angeles. He took on the bloated contracts of Beckett and Carl Crawford from the Boston Red Sox in order to get Nick Punto, $11 million in cash and Adrian Gonzalez, the unquestioned jewel of the trade.

When viewed as a whole, it's clear that los Doyers made upgrading the offense a priority.

Victorino is a two-time All-Star making $9.5 million this season. Ramirez is a three-time All-Star, finished as the runner-up to Albert Pujols in the 2009 National League Most Valuable Player voting and is owed at least $15 million per year for the next two years. Adrian Gonzalez is a four-time All-Star, finished fourth in the 2010 NL MVP voting and is owed at least $21 million per year through 2018.

All that hardware and all that money on the books are not coincidences. The Dodgers aimed at top-tier talent and got it, at least as far as the lumber is concerned.

The new Dodger arms are humble by comparison.

Choate has been an effective reliever for the last couple of years, but his track record is decidedly less glamorous prior to that. League has an All-Star appearance in 2011 on his résumé but not much else. The nicest thing you can say about Blanton is that he's an innings-eater, and even that modest praise might be an exaggeration.

Which brings us back to Beckett.

The right-hander is the lone new Dodger who could improve the team's biggest weakness: starting pitching.

I know, I know, the party line around baseball is that offense is what's holding the boys in Dodger blue back. Furthermore, the numbers support that declaration—pick your stat and the Bums can be found ranked in the bottom half of the Majors.

On the other hand, stroll through the team-pitching numbers and LA's Senior Circuit squad can be found among the top four or five teams (isolating for starters).

To which I respond: Lies, damned lies and statistics.

Numbers are terrific and are especially valuable in baseball as a means of assessing talent and measuring potential. They shouldn't, however, be construed as the entire story...at least not in most cases.

Like this one.

Look at the Dodger lineup even before this latest blockbuster. It boasted Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Ramirez, Victorino and productive role players like A.J. Ellis, Mark Ellis and Luis Cruz. No, they did not have all-world players at each spot, but there was plenty of offensive potential in that group.

It simply wasn't producing whether because of nagging injuries or something less identifiable. Regardless, the next franchise to force production through sheer weight of talent will be the first.

Adrian Gonzalez is a fantastic asset and a multi-tooled one as well, since he's a superlative defender. Adding him to the nucleus cannot be considered a bad thing. His bat almost certainly will help, but he can't be considered a panacea for what's been ailing the Dodger offense since lack of ability wasn't the issue.

Will he come up with the timely hit? Will his presence relax the clubhouse? Will his reputation be the thing that finally unleashes a torrent of runs? Or will the accompanying expectations make the whole thing worse by ratcheting up the scrutiny and pressure?

Who knows, but the answer is unlikely to depend on A-Gon by himself. Nor will it depend on Han-Ram or Victorino or any other individual hitter.

Now, take a look at the Bums' rotation.

Clayton Kershaw is the real deal and Chad Billingsley can legitimately be considered a No. 3 or better, but Billingsley's just gone on the disabled list with an elbow issue. We've already dealt with Blanton, so that leaves Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang.

Thus far in 2012, both have pitched exceptionally well by reasonable standards. Take a gander at the splits (for Capuano and for Harang), however, and you'll see two seasons trending in the wrong direction. If the regressions continue—a possibility which many of the advanced stats and career norms for both players support—LA is staring at a genuine ace and little else in the starting pitching cupboard.

Which brings us back to Beckett (again).

The 32-year-old had become a train wreck in Boston, but Dodger Stadium is not Fenway Park. He won't have the circus-sideshow baggage that he had in Beantown, nor will he have to navigate a relentless media of the same tenor.

You're in focus as a pro athlete in Los Angeles, but it's a soft focus.

The NL West is not the American League East.

He will no longer face DH-reinforced lineups in hitters' havens but will instead get lineups watered down by the pitcher. In addition, he will face them in spacious confines like AT&T Park, PETCO Park and Chavez Ravine.

All of this is good news for the Los Angeles Dodgers because the offense will eventually come around, but no team has averaged six runs or more per game since 2000. That means that even after the bats come around, LA will still need someone to record outs besides Kershaw.

If Josh Beckett can rejuvenate his career and be that guy, the Dodgers should be playoff-bound.

If not, all those trades and all that money will have changed the atmosphere left over from the McCourt Era, but not the results.


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