Los Angeles Dodgers: Breaking Down the Blueprint for Winning the Division
Okay, now calm down. While many experts view the NL West as a two-horse race between the aforementioned, forgetting about the Diamondbacks, ignoring the Padres, and overlooking that offense in Colorado would be absolutely foolish.
Even with all the offseason additions, the Dodgers will not have an easy road to the division crown. Forget the natural bad breaks all teams need to avoid over the course of a season (injuries, slumps, etc.), and let's focus on the actual on-field performance.
The pitching staff will have to be at least as good, if not better, than it was in 2012. The offense, on paper, is the most dangerous lineup in the league. And manager Don Mattingly will have to juggle a lot of star power on any given day.
Here is a blueprint for winning the West and returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2009:
1. Rotate the Rotation
We know the top three, when healthy, will be Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Josh Beckett. And Hyun-Jin Ryu will get the first shot at the fourth slot in the rotation. Based on his spring performance, Ryu will probably strike out a lot of hitters, but also struggle in the ERA and WHIP departments. Unless he gets completely rocked in regular season play, Ryu will likely spend most of the season in the rotation.
But, there are some other options in the wings just in case. Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang have all proven in the past that they can be more than serviceable starters. As a number four or five, the Dodgers should be happy to get any of these guys. But it would behoove Mattingly to give all of them an occasional string of starts until a fifth starter is officially determined.
Not only does this allow them to play the match ups in certain series, but it will keep the four pitchers happy. We already know that Harang doesn't want to come out of the bullpen (though his spring performance has probably landed him a spot there or on another pitching staff altogether).
With the tenuous health of a couple starters on this staff, keeping the rest of the candidates fresh would be a smart move. Even if Lilly and Billingsley each get a couple starts with extra rest in April, it could give the team an idea of who they want where for the duration of the season.
2. Righty-Adrian Gonzalez-Righty-Andre Ethier
I don't even care what spots they hit in, as long as they are penciled in order this way. There is the obvious benefit of alternating the right-handed and left-handed hitters in the heart of the order, but it also makes life difficult on managers who want to kill rallies by matching up a southpaw reliever with Ethier.
To get to that point, a manager has to roll with facing the other three, or just matching up a lefty with a few of them. Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez crush left-handed pitching, and Gonzalez is a .299 career hitter against his pitching counterparts.
Personally, I'd prefer to see Ramirez in the two-hole, followed by Gonzalez and Kemp. Even though it takes away the guarantee of a first-inning Kemp at-bat, the idea of a guy who can crush and run setting the table for the rest of the guys is exciting to me.
Chances are, Mark Ellis and Carl Crawford will hit first and second, followed by Kemp. I'm totally fine with that too, and truly believe that will be a dynamic leadoff duo. Kemp, Gonzaelz, Ramirez and Ethier should have plenty of RBI opportunities with this lineup in 2013.
3. Hand Kenley Jansen the Keys
Brandon League signed on to be the closer for three years this winter. He was vastly overpaid, but that is no issue in Los Angeles these days. The problem I had with the move was the "closer" label that was immediately stuck to him.
How many games will the Dodgers win this year?
League has had a season and a half or so of good results in that position, and the rest of his relieving career has just been average. I think he has all the tools to be a dominant closer (he might be the only pitcher in the bullpen whose fastball has more movement than Ronald Belisario), and the mental make up to boot.
But Kenley Jansen is a strikeout machine who makes less killer mistakes with location (when Jansen misses, he walks people -- when League misses, the ball lands in the bleachers). I'd prefer having the young Jansen and his dynamite cutter on the bump in the ninth inning.
I've been saying since the League signing that Jansen would supplant him as the closer by the All-Star break this year. I sincerely hope I'm incorrect, because that means League would have been botching games for us in the first half. But when all is said and done, I expect Jansen to be the one throwing the final, clinching pitch for the Dodgers when they win the division in 2013.
You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jamblinman.
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