Will injuries limit Matt Kemp again in 2013?
The Los Angeles Dodgers have the look of a playoff and World Series contender in 2013.
That's certainly the expectation in Chavez Ravine after adding Zack Greinke to their starting rotation, along with trading for Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett last season.
But one of the primary reasons the Dodgers ultimately fell short in both the NL West and wild-card playoff races is because of the multiple injuries the team suffered throughout the season. Very few, if any, MLB clubs could stay competitive while losing their best players for extended periods of time.
Many of those injured players face questions about their health going into the 2013 season, and that could be a major factor in determining whether or not the Dodgers can live up to the expectations created by their numerous additions and seemingly unlimited payroll.
Here are the Dodgers' five biggest injury concerns as spring training approaches, ranked in order of importance for the team's chances to contend this year.
Matt Kemp began the 2012 season in dominating fashion, likely fueled by losing the 2011 NL MVP award to Ryan Braun.
In April, Kemp hit .417 with a 1.383 OPS, 12 home runs and 25 RBI. The NL MVP race wasn't even going to be a competition.
Kemp fought a hamstring strain through May and June, twice going on the disabled list because of the injury.
But Kemp suffered a shoulder injury while crashing into a wall trying to make a catch in Colorado in late August. That's the problem that could linger into 2013 for him.
Kemp underwent surgery on his left shoulder in October. But as ESPN Los Angeles' Mark Saxon explained, the damage was more extensive than originally believed.
"I wish it just would have been a cleanup and taken six weeks," Kemp said in Saxon's report. "They actually had to go repair some things. Now, I think it's going to be closer to January before I'm getting to hit and do a lot of other things."
The Dodgers added Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez to their lineup last season and will get Carl Crawford this year. But Kemp is the team's best hitter and if he's not in MVP form, their offense could struggle to score runs again.
Clayton Kershaw would have been at the top of this list, if not for the Dodgers adding another No. 1 pitcher to their rotation by signing Zack Greinke to a six-year, $147 million contract.
Adding Greinke gave the Dodgers seven starting pitchers, which should give the team plenty of depth if Kershaw has any sort of difficulty or setback in his recovery from a right hip impingement that affected him last September.
However, Kershaw was able to pitch through the injury with rest and strengthening exercises. Continuing to pitch didn't damage his hip enough to require surgery.
As Dodgers trainer Sue Falsone told the Los Angeles Times' Dylan Hernandez, that meant Kershaw would have a regular offseason routine. Had Kershaw needed surgery, he likely would have missed the first month of the 2012 season.
Though he didn't win a second consecutive NL Cy Young Award, Kershaw made a strong case for the honor.
The left-hander led the NL with a 2.53 ERA and 1.02 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched), while finishing with the second-best opponents' batting average at .210. He also finished second in the NL with 229 strikeouts and 227.2 innings pitched.
Last season, Dodgers left fielders combined to hit .254 with a .674 OPS.
Though Carl Crawford may have been a player the Boston Red Sox wanted to unload as part of the Adrian Gonzalez blockbuster trade, he should provide the Dodgers with improved production at that position and the top of the batting order.
However, Crawford is recovering from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. Though the recovery process is less for position players than pitchers, the procedure could keep him out for the beginning of the 2013 season. At the very least, Crawford likely won't be at full strength on Opening Day.
Elbow and wrist injuries limited Crawford to 31 games with the Red Sox last season. But his performance should encourage the Dodgers. Crawford hit .282 with a .785 OPS, 10 doubles, three home runs, 19 RBI and five stolen bases.
Not having Crawford means the Dodgers will get lackluster production from left field in his absence. Additionally, it could prevent general manager Ned Colletti from trading Andre Ethier, if that's his preference.
Though the Dodgers currently have seven pitchers on their roster, that depth will be tested immediately if Chad Billingsley isn't available during the 2013 season.
Billingsley suffered a partially torn ligament in his right elbow last year and faced the possibility of needing reconstructive surgery that would have sidelined him for the entire upcoming season.
Instead, Billingsley avoided Tommy John surgery and the elbow apparently improved through rest and rehabilitation. As the Los Angeles Times' Dylan Hernandez reported, Billingsley threw to hitters in late October for two innings and was able to throw all of his pitches. That would seem to indicate that his elbow is healing as hoped.
Under those circumstances, Billingsley is expected to be ready for Opening Day. In the best-case scenario, he could be the No. 3 starter in the Dodgers' rotation behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
Billingsley finished last season with a 10-9 record and 3.55 ERA, with 128 strikeouts in 149.2 innings.
With seven starting pitchers currently on the Dodgers roster, Ted Lilly's availability shouldn't make or break their season.
Lilly began last year as the Dodgers' fifth starter, but made only eight starts before succumbing to a shoulder injury that eventually required season-ending surgery.
Before he was knocked out for the year, Lilly compiled a 5-1 record and 3.14 ERA, with 31 strikeouts in 48.2 innings.
The left-hander hasn't thrown from a mound yet. But according to The Sporting News, he should be doing so within the next week or so. That would put him on track to be ready for spring training, and if all goes well, should make him available for Opening Day.
Lilly should slot in again as the rotation's fifth starter, depending on whether or not the team is able to trade Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang before the beginning of the season. If he pitches as well as he did before getting hurt, Lilly should give the Dodgers one of the deepest rotations in MLB.
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