Let the games begin! The 2009 Major League Baseball season has finally begun, and with it the anticipation of postseason glory for fans of (almost) every team in the league.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are trying to take further step towards another championship this season. After advancing to the National League Championship Series last season before falling to the eventual champion Philadelphia Phillies, the Dodgers hope that 2009 will be “the year.”
For Dodgers’ fans, a World Series title is long overdue. It seems like eons ago when the Dodgers rode Kirk Gibson’s one-handed homer against Dennis Eckersley to the 1988 championship.
A title every 21 years isn’t enough for starving fans in Los Angeles, although Cubs’ fans would take that and be happy.
So, how much hope should fans who bleed Dodger blue have for bringing a championship back to Chavez Ravine? It all depends on the pitching.
Working in the Dodgers’ favor is the fact that they play in the National League West, the weakest division in the league. Sure, the Dodgers don’t have a pitching staff as strong as the Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Francisco Giants. However, the Dodgers have much better hitting than those two clubs.
For the Dodgers to contend for a title in 2009, the following things have to happen:
1. Hiroki Kuroda has to pitch like a No. 1 starter
Kuroda might not strike the same kind of fear into opposing hitters as top-line starters Tim Lincecum of the Giants and Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks, but he was solid over the second-half of the 2008 season. The first two months of the 2008 season, Kuroda was 2-4 with a 3.29 Earned Run Average; the last two months of the season, he improved to 4-2 with a 2.63 ERA. For the Dodgers to have a shot in ’09, Kuroda must be consistent for six months, not two.
2. Clayton Kershaw must be grown up and ready to go
We’ve all seen the video from Spring Training last year when Kershaw’s wicked curveball made Sean Casey look foolish and shake his head in disbelief. But we’ve also seen Kershaw struggle with his control and get rocked in some games. This season, Kershaw has to realize all the potential that has accompanied him during his meteoric rise through the minor league ranks. A 5-5 record and a 4.26 ERA like last season are not going to get the Dodgers into the postseason in ’09. Anything less than 10 wins from Kershaw and it’s going to be a long season in LA.
3. Randy Wolf needs to stay healthy
Wolf is an established veteran who will help settle the Dodgers’ young rotation. But Wolf needs to stay healthy for the entire season if Los Angeles is going to make a postseason run. Wolf had a solid spring, but he is just one sore elbow away from throwing the rotation into flux. If Wolf goes down with an injury, then the Dodgers will be forced to thrust another unproven pitcher into the starting mix.
4. Jonathan Broxton’s time is now and he must seize it
Broxton has the stuff of which good closers are made. He has an above-average curveball to go along with his heater that tops out at close to 100 miles per hour. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, there is no luxury of having another closer like Takashi Saito to step in if Broxton fails. The Dodgers’ chances in the top of the ninth inning in a one-run game begin and end with Broxton. Fans can’t feel too confident about Broxton’s Spring Training performance, either. He struggled this spring and posted an ERA that was over 10.00.
5. The bridge to Broxton needs to be solid
Even if Broxton is lights-out, the Dodgers need for guys like Guillermo Mota, Cory Wade, Will Ohman and Hong-Chih Kuo to carry their weight in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Mota has been impressive this spring, but Wade and Ohman haven’t and Kuo has been battling a sore elbow. Kuo has proven that he can come in and close out a one-run game, but his elbow strength is a serious question mark.