Carl Crawford's Return Will Help Los Angeles Dodgers Reach the Playoffs in 2013

Geoff RatliffContributor IIIOctober 20, 2012

The Dodgers hope to have a healthy Carl Crawford rounding third base quite often in 2013.
The Dodgers hope to have a healthy Carl Crawford rounding third base quite often in 2013.Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Dodgers didn’t have Carl Crawford available to help their playoff push this season, but his return in 2013 will help L.A. avoid missing the postseason for a fourth consecutive year. 

Crawford underwent Tommy John surgery on his left elbow in July, shortly before being traded to the Dodgers from the Boston Red Sox in a blockbuster trade in August. The surgery reduced his 2012 campaign to a mere 31 games played, but he’s expected to be fully recovered by the beginning of June at the absolute latest.

Once Crawford returns, he’ll provide another offensive weapon toward the top of a Los Angeles lineup that’s loaded with All-Star-caliber players. He will give the Dodgers five hitters that have made at least two All-Star game appearances since 2009. 

The Dodgers' lineup will be tough on opposing pitchers with Crawford hitting out of the two-hole. His ability to get on base and steal bases eliminates L.A.’s need for a traditional leadoff hitter, and his left-handed bat allows Los Angeles to alternate righties and lefties in the first seven spots of the lineup.

Depending on how the Dodgers sort out their crowded left side of the infield, second baseman Mark Ellis and shortstop Dee Gordon are the most likely candidates to bat leadoff for Los Angeles.

If he can make it back into the starting lineup by opening day, Crawford could eclipse his career high of 110 runs scored with Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier hitting behind him. 

Skeptics will point out that Crawford’s career has recently been marked by injuries and poor performance. There’s reason for Dodgers fans to believe, however, that his failure to produce in Boston was not the beginning of a career in decline.

Crawford only appeared in 161 games for the Red Sox over the past two seasons while battling a combination of hamstring, wrist and elbow injuries. But he began to show flashes of the player Boston thought it was getting when they signed him to a seven-year, $142 million contract in December of 2010 during his abbreviated 2012 campaign.

He hit .282 with three home runs, 23 runs scored, 19 runs batted in and five stolen bases in 117 regular-season at bats.

Crawford never seemed to be a good fit in the intense media environment in Boston. The Los Angeles market will prove to be a much more comfortable fit for the reserved outfielder, especially with player-friendly manager Don Mattingly on the bench.

Still Just 31, and with his health issues finally behind him, Crawford will prove to be more than just a high-risk salary dump included in the Adrian Gonzalez trade. Dodgers fans will be pleased to see the 2010 AL Gold Glove winner patrolling left field every day. He’ll combine with Kemp and Ethier to give Los Angeles MLB’s most complete outfield.

Crawford’s days of stealing 50-plus bases are likely permanently behind him and the Dodgers would be crazy to let him run free with the plethora of run producers hitting behind him. He still has enough speed to score from first base on doubles hit to the gaps, which is sure to be a common occurrence in cavernous Dodgers Stadium.

With Crawford, Ramirez and a healthy Kemp in Los Angeles for an entire season, the Dodgers will steal more than the 104 bases they swiped this season—the eighth-best total in the National League. That’s a much-needed advantage for an offense that finished second-to-last in the league in home runs with 116.   

While the home run total is sure to go up as well, the Dodgers will never be confused with the New York Yankees and their dependence on the long ball to score runs. Besides, the American League Championship Series exposed the folly in building an offense that cannot manufacture runs.

Dodgers fans shouldn’t expect Crawford to be the same player that he was during his best days with the Tampa Bay Rays. But a .290 batting average with 10 home runs, 65 runs batted in, 105 runs scored and 35 stolen bases is a reasonable expectation for his first season in Los Angeles. 

If Crawford comes anywhere close to those numbers while playing in 145 games or more, the Dodgers will be celebrating a NL West division title and their first postseason appearance since 2009.