As I watched the last inning of the Dodgers' last game of the season on TV, three things came to mind:
1. That it was nice to see them end the year with a win.
2. The way they hit—or more accurately, didn't hit—they were lucky to have won 80 games, and...
3. Their biggest highlight was Vin Scully, the greatest broadcaster of all time, announcing that he will return for his 62nd season.
The turning point for the Dodgers in 2010 was in the weeks after the All-Star break. Being in solid contention at that time, they proceeded to go on several losing streaks, including a couple stretching six games with some ninth inning blown saves thrown in.
Add to that some sub-par batting averages from some key players and Manny Ramirez (who by Sept. 1 was no longer a Dodger) clearly showing that he is on the decline to the equation, and you have a second division ball club.
Having said that, here's what L.A. should do to make things better in 2011...
The first thing that new manager Don Mattingly needs to do is to hire Tim Wallach as batting instructor.
Wallach did an outstanding job managing in Triple A Albuquerque and has Dodger ties, having played for them in the early '90s. Wallach deserves to coach at the big league level, and he also deserves to manage the Dodgers should Mattingly not work out.
Second, L.A. needs to keep Jay Gibbons and Ted Lilly, and sign them for at least next year.
Gibbons performed brilliantly after being out of baseball for a while and spending some time in the minors, batting a solid .280 with five home runs in his roughly six weeks on the club. He would fit in well in left field and give the Dodgers a capable slugging bat.
As for Lilly, he provided some good innings on the mound after being acquired from the Chicago Cubs, and he would provide some stability in the rotation. Vincente Padilla should be kept as well; when healthy, he eats up innings, too.
Rod Barajas likewise did well in filling in at catcher when Russell Martin went down. I would insist that Barajas be signed for 2011, but Martin is expected back and the Dodgers are high on young A.J. Ellis. Barajas would be seen as a backup, and I have a feeling that he wants to play regularly.
Third, the core of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney, Rafael Furcal, Chad Billingsley, and Clayton Kershaw must be kept together.
While each of those players could have had better overall numbers—Kemp batting a mere .249 on the season as an example—they did do some good things...
Ethier batted .292 after being among the league leaders in most hitting categories early on. Loney led the team in RBIs. Kershaw had over 200 strikeouts for the first time, and Kemp showed what kind of superstar he could be by going deep the last five consecutive games.
Though he's not completely to blame for L.A's sub-.500 record, closer Jonathan Broxton need to bear some of the cross. The majority of his seven blown saves came in the second half, and with his ERA being well above what it should be, I consider him a thrower rather than a pitcher.
He may be able to reach 100 miles an hour on the radar gun, but not only does he not throw enough strikes, he has no effective breaking ball. Major leaguers can hit 100 mile-an-hour fastballs, and that's exactly what happened this year as he blew save after save, eventually giving up the closer role to Hong Chi Kuo.
I'd normally call for the Dodgers to go after some free agents such as Carl Crawford of the Tampa Bay Rays, who will be highly sought after this winter.
However, the divorce of co-owners Frank and Jamie McCourt has pretty much killed that, as the money that could be spent to improve the team is tied up in court.
So as the old saying goes, "We have to play with the hand we're dealt."
If the fans at Chavez Ravine are going to see a contending team in 2011, they need better overall production from their now-veterans like Kemp, Loney and Ethier, and Billingsley.
And in addition to that, young players such as pitchers Kelsey Jansen, John Ely, Ronald Bellasario, and Ramon Troncoso most continue to develop.
The worst case scenario if none of that happens and the Dodgers are also-rans again. Well, at least Vin Scully will be in the booth for another year.
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