The way the Los Angeles Dodgers finished the 2010 season, you would think that there's no right for someone to be thinking about a World Series championship this year.
The team looked like a complete mess during the second half of the season. Manny Ramirez was given away, Jonathon Broxton was giving games away, and then there's the lingering threat that the McCourts may have to give the whole team away.
But fear not, Dodgers fans. If a few things go better this year, the Dodgers can easily turn things around and do what their rivals from Northern California did last year—surprise everybody and win the whole thing.
Here's a look at the keys for the Dodgers to return to the World Series and end their 23-year title drought.
Andre Ethier began the season looking like the sure-fire MVP, at or near the top of all triple crown categories. He was voted into the All-Star Game despite missing a large number of games due to injury.
Apparently, he came back too soon. He never was able to regain his early-season form even though he finished the season with respectable numbers. If he can be consistent this year the Dodgers may finally have that power bat that's been missing since Manny made his magical run a few seasons ago.
The season didn't start very well for Matt Kemp; he was even called out by GM Ned Colletti, who said that he didn't look like the Gold Glove winner from the past season.
At times Kemp looked like he could still be that player everybody was labeling a future superstar and at other times he looked like a player who thought he already was a superstar and didn't need to try very hard.
Perhaps a season without Manny Ramirez and with fewer distractions will help him to focus and get back to his 2009 form. The Dodgers need consistent production from Kemp if they want to finish above last place.
In the past few years, the Dodgers rotation has been decent, but not good enough to get to the World Series. Chad Billingsley looked like he may be the ace of this rotation, and Clayton Kershaw has showed maturity and for a while last year looked like he could be the Dodgers' version of Tim Lincecum.
Towards the end of year, though, the Dodgers' most consistent starter was Ted Lilly.
This year, the Dodgers have a full rotation and have Vicente Padilla as a backup, so they should be able to endure the long season and finish without fading. That means Kershaw and Billingsley will need to combine for more than the six wins they earned over the last two months of 2010.
Perhaps this season the Dodgers will not be looking for another starter in August as they have had to do the past two seasons.
I expect the Dodgers rotation to be a strength this season, and that will be the biggest reason that they have a chance this year.
Between Jonathon Broxton and George Sherrill, the Dodgers blew a hundred save opportunities last year. Okay, that's a bit of a stretch, but if you were watching them last year than you know how I feel.
They blew games that were nearly statistically impossible to lose. Nothing sums up last year quite like the game against the Phillies in August, when both teams were fighting for a playoff spot. With the Dodgers up 9-2 going into the bottom of the eighth, the Dodgers used three pitchers in the eighth, including Sherrill, and gave up four runs.
Still with a three-run lead, the Dodgers had to feel somewhat confident that Broxton could finish the game. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Big Jon went out and managed to hit batters, walk batters and give up a game-winning double before recording an out.
Here's hoping that the Dodgers bullpen doesn't read any recounts of that day. They weren't officially eliminated from the playoffs by losing that night, but for many fans we knew it was over right then.
The bullpen is still very talented and the Dodgers will need them to get back to being one of the most consistent units in the game like Dodgers fans have been accustomed to since the days of Gagne.
In July of last year, Don Mattingly took over for Joe Torre after his ejection from a game and made everybody question whether he really should be the presumed manager of the future. He made a rookie blunder by accidentally making two "trips" to the mound.
All he really did was step off the dirt and then turn around and step back on it, but still the Dodgers were forced to remove their closer with a two-run lead and would go on to lose the game. Still, others questioned if the Dodgers should give a guy with no managerial experience the reigns instead of pursuing other options.
From the looks of the ballclub, though, this might be exactly what they need. Joe Torre, who was one of the most experienced and decorated managers of his era, seemed to lose the young team as the season slipped away from them last year. Mattingly has been the hitting coach for a couple of years now, and it seems to reason that he has built a good rapport with the players that the Dodgers need to step up this year, mostly Kemp and Ethier.
He'll also get his first chance at managing a pitching staff, but with most of the staff back from last year and Rick Honeycutt staying on as the pitching coach he should have plenty of help in this department. Mattingly's biggest job will be getting the young players to play together and keep their intensity up for an entire season.
The Dodgers have the pieces they need to win a World Series this year, even if they didn't make a big splash in the offseason. But if they are to have any chance of doing it, then these are the keys. Good managing, good pitching, and their two stars need to play like stars.
I may be crazy, but when I think about the Dodgers this season, I can see this being a great year.