The Los Angeles Dodgers hope to return to the post season in 2011 after a disappointing 2010 season in which they finished fourth in the National League West. Expectations were high in 2010, coming off a 2009 season in which the Dodgers finished with a 95-67 record and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Multiple starting pitching signings have the Dodgers feeling like one of the National League's best once again. Coming into Spring Training in 2010, the Dodgers starting rotation had several question marks. First of all, who were their fourth and fifth starters after Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, and Hiroki Kuroda? Possibly Vicente Padilla, but then who after him? Secondly, after struggling in the second half of 2009, could Billingsley return to his previously dominant self that carried the Dodgers to a 2008 division title and the best record in baseball in the first half of 2009?
While Padilla pitched well when healthy as the Dodgers fourth starter last season, the Dodgers never found success from their fifth starter in the rotation, which featured a combination of John Ely, Carlos Monasterios, and Charlie Haeger. The three of them combined to finish 7-19 with an ERA well over 5.00. However, this year the Dodgers should be back to their winning ways due to their starting pitching, as they have so many times in their storied history. Here are 10 reasons why:
Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw had another big year in 2010 and figures to be the Dodgers #1 starter in 2011. At just 22 years of age, Kershaw just competed his second straight season with an ERA below 3.00, and he struck out 407 batters in 375.1 innings. Intimidating hitters with a wicked breaking ball and mid-90's fastball, Kershaw has also ranked in the top four in batting average against (BAA) in each of the last two seasons.
Following a poor finish in 2009, Chad Billingsley continued his inconsistencies in the first half of 2010, but turned things around in the second half, posting an ERA of 3.00 after the All-Star Break with just 77 hits given up in 96 innings. Billingsley, now 26 years old, has already gone through several phases during his short career. Billingsley pitching well throughout his first 3.5 seasons, then struggled from mid-2009 until mid-2010, before showing in the second half of 2010 that he has the ability to be one of the more dominating pitchers in baseball.
Kuroda has now pitched three big league seasons, and he has never posted an ERA above 3.76. However, due primarily to poor run support, Kuroda has only a 28-30 career win-loss record, despite pitching for a division winner in 2 of the 3 seasons. Kuroda has an excellent split-fingered fastball, to go along with a combination of sliders and a fastball, usually clocked in the low 90's.
2009 All-Star Ted Lilly figures to be the Dodgers #4 starter. Lilly, while not the flashiest of pitchers, has an excellent curve ball and rarely gets hurt. He has quietly posted 8 straight 10-win seasons, pitching for the A's, Blue Jays, and Cubs, before being traded to the Dodgers in August of 2010.
Garland went 14-7 with a 3.47 era for San Diego last season, and he has now won at least 10 games in 9 straight seasons. Much of his success can be attributed to very good 2-seam and 4-seam fastballs, along with an improved slider. Similar to Lilly, Garland has been very consistent, posting double-digit win totals, even though neither pitcher is particularly dominating. Year after year Lilly and Garland have been locks to be a solid #3 or #4 starter on just about any roster.
At 33 years old, Padilla has had his ups and downs over the years, but he has pitched well in a Dodger uniform, where he is 10-5 with a 3.82 ERA since being traded to the Dodgers towards the end of the 2009 season. Padilla also pitched well for the Dodgers in the 2009 postseason, including a 7-scoreless inning effort in the division series-clinching win over St. Louis.
Say what you want about the Phillies, Giants, Cardinals, and Red Sox, but the Dodgers will enter 2011 with the deepest rotation in baseball. Other than the Phillies, no other team in the Major Leagues has five starting pitchers on their roster that won at least 10 games in 2010. When you factor in Vacente Padilla, the Dodgers have the option to use a rare six-man rotation, if they so choose.
Ismael Valdez had a 2.82 career era at Dodger Stadium in 569 innings, but a career era over 4.00.
This sentence was even more true before much of the foul territory behind the infield was taken up by hundreds of new seats. Even so, there are no cheap home runs at Dodger Stadium, with the dimensions ranging from 330 to 395 feet, complimented by a very smooth and consistent infield. Not only that, but the Dodgers play 38 games every year against the Padres and Giants, two teams that consistently score less runs than almost any MLB team.
Phillies 2B Placido Polanco, upset after striking out.
Last season the Dodgers felt that their biggest flaw was their starting pitching. This was not really the case, as their core (Kershaw, Billingsley and Kuroda) pitched well, while Padilla provided some nice starts as the predominant fourth starter. The major issues with the Dodgers turned out to be a lack of power in their lineup, inconsistencies from their bullpen, and a below average defense. Los Angeles Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt is one of the best in the business, especially considering that the Dodgers starting staff has not had an ERA above 4.00 since 2007.
Not too long ago, it seemed like the Dodgers couldn't keep any player on their roster for more than three or four years. This season, they have several players entering at least their fifth season as a Dodger, including Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton, and James Loney, as well as starting pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley.
Kershaw, Billingsley, and Kuroda have all been Dodger starters for at least three seasons prior to 2011. Billingsley appears content with being the #2 guy on the staff, with Kershaw figuring to be the opening day starter, as well as the playoffs game 1 starter, should the Dodgers make the postseason. Meanwhile, Garland and Padilla both pitched for the 2009 Dodgers that won 95 games and beat St. Louis in the division series. Ted Lilly, traded to the Dodgers in August 2010, says that he is very happy to be in Los Angeles.
Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley should be on their way to their best seasons, as both are entering their prime years and have already been All-Stars. Kuroda is healthy and should continue the success he has had in his first three seasons in the major leagues. The big differences are the additions of Ted Lilly and Jon Garland to a fourth and fifth spot of the rotation, which last year featured a combination of an injured Padilla, as well as the inexperienced (and unsuccessful) attempts from John Ely, Carlos Monasterios and Charlie Haeger. With the additions of Jon Garland and Ted Lilly, the Dodgers should be even better through the first six innings of each ball game than they were last season.