After a disappointing 2010 season in which many players had downs seasons, the Los Angeles Dodgers hope to make to make it back to the playoffs in 2011.
Coming off a 2009 season in which Los Angeles won 95 games and swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs, the Dodgers had extremely high expectations last season. After all, many Dodger players were still in their mid-20s and had improved year after year, so the assumption was that the team could only get better.
However a combination of a divorce between the owners, to go along with many Dodgers performing worse than expected, led to just an 80-82 record for Los Angeles and a fourth place finish in the NL West .
This season, with a deep roster and many Dodgers entering their prime years, there is no reason to believe that the team should struggle in 2011. If most of the Dodgers play the way you would expect them to play, they could make a lot of noise in the NL.
Here are 10 players who must improve from last season in order for the Dodgers to make the playoffs.
2010 statistics: (.204 BA, 3 HR, 20 RBI)
The son of MLB Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn, Gwynn Jr. has an opportunity to help the Dodgers greatly this season.
With former Dodger outfielders Manny Ramirez, Scott Podsednik and Garret Anderson no longer with the team this season, Gwynn Jr. has become the Dodger's third outfielder, at least against right-handed pitching.
Gwynn Jr. has shown great speed over the last two seasons, having stolen 28 bases while only being caught 11 times. However, he has not been particularly impressive at the plate, hitting just .241 over that span.
If Gwynn Jr. can steal bases, hit .290 and cover a lot of ground in left field, the Dodgers could have a very deep outfield.
2010 statistics: (.240, 17, 47)
With the departure of former Dodger catcher Russell Martin and the recent oblique injury to Dioner Navarro, Rod Barajas has become the Dodgers starting catcher.
Barajas has never been a great hitter throughout his 12-year career, but he has shown power, having hit as many as 21 home runs in 2005.
Batting in the No. 8 spot of the Dodger lineup, Los Angeles will not only need Barajas to improve off of his sub-par batting average from last season but to get more hits with runners in scoring position. Barajas figures to be up frequently with runners on base and the pitcher coming up after him, so timely hits from the 35-year-old catcher will be crucial.
2010 statistics: (.280 BA, 5 HR, 17 RBI)
Gibbons began his major league career with the Baltimore Orioles in 2001 and played very well there for six seasons. He averaged 22 home runs from 2002-2005 and appeared well on his way to a successful major league career.
However, in 2007, Sports Illustrated reported that a source close to an Orlando-based compound pharmacy alleged that Gibbons had received multiple shipments of performance-enhancing steroids and human growth hormone from 2003-2005. He was later cited in the MItchell Report.
Gibbons played poorly during spring training in 2008 and was eventually cut by Baltimore. After a two-year absence from Major League Baseball, Gibbons was signed by the Dodgers before the start of last season.
During limited playing time last season, Gibbons showed he still has the ability to be a major league hitter, hitting .280 and slugging .507 in 37 games. Gibbons is currently on the Disabled List with a vision problem in his left eye, but he is expected to be back soon and could help the Dodgers greatly this season as a third outfielder or pinch hitter.
2010 statistics: 55.1 IP, 5.05 ERA, 1.283 WHIP
Unable to obtain a visa to enter the U.S. from his native country of Venezuela, Belisario was recently placed on the restricted list and may or may not pitch for the Dodgers any time soon. The reasons are unknown, but the move can clear a spot in the 40-man roster for the next two seasons.
Belisario had a disappointing 2010 season but has been one of the Dodgers' most reliable relief pitchers over the last few seasons.
When on his game, Belisario can overpower hitters with a fastball that has been clocked in the mid- to late-90s.
In 2009, Belisario had his best season, posting an ERA of 2.04 in 70.2 innings. The Dodgers hope Belisario can procure a visa sooner than later, but they have little control of the situation.
2010 statistics: (.248, 17, 64)
Since 2003, Casey Blake has been one of the most consistent hitters in the league, having hit at least 17 home runs in each season.
However, Blake had just a .727 OPS in 2010, slightly less than the league average. Playing at third base, one of the top hitting positions on the field, the Dodgers would like to get more out of Blake this season.
While Blake is now 37 years old, he didn't play his first full season in the big leagues until 2003, so it is unclear how much he has left in the tank.
2010: (.267, 10, 88)
Since coming up to the big leagues, Loney has been very consistent but never great.
Loney has a solid career batting average of .287 and has hit at least 10 home runs in each of his four full seasons. However, he has not been the type of force at the plate that is necessary for a major league first baseman on a contending team.
With so many other major league first baseman like Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, Joey Votto, Justin Morneau, Miguel Cabrera and Mark Teixeira hitting in the .300 range with 30 to 40 homeruns year after year, it shows how mediocre Loney is for the first baseman position.
Loney, who has shown signs of power, will need to have a career season in order for the Dodgers to stay competitive in the National League.
2010 statistics: (12-11, 3.57 ERA)
While Billingsley had a very solid 2010 season, he could have done a lot better.
Billingsley's career got off to a great start, but he began to struggle in the middle of the 2009 season, going just 3-7 with an ERA of 5.20 after the season's All-Star break. His struggles continued into the first half of 2010, as he had an ERA of 4.61 through mid-July.
But Billingsley pitched very well in August and September, leaving Dodger fans wanting more.
Billingsley has great stuff on the mound, including a mid-90s fastball, a devastating changeup and a great curveball. Thus, his struggles appear to be psychological at times.
Still just 26 years old, Billingsley showed in the second half of last season that he can be one of the better pitchers in all of baseball when on his game. After the 2010 All-Star break, Billingsley posted an impressive 3.00 ERA in 96 innings.
If Billingsley can pitch consistently this season, the Dodgers could have a dominant one-two punch of Clayton Kershaw and Billingsley at the top of the rotation.
2010 statistics: (.292 BA, 23, 82)
Over the last few seasons, Ethier has proven himself to be one of the top power hitters in all of baseball.
In 2009, Ethier had a breakout season, hitting 31 home runs, including a Major League-high 13 walkoff hits.
Ethier continued to wreak havoc on opposing pitchers through the first half of 2010, getting voted into his first All-Star game. However, a broken finger bore trouble for Ethier throughout the second half of the season, and he had just nine home runs and an OPS of .773 after the All-Star break.
Now fully healthy once again this season, Ethier is expected to have a monster year. And for a Dodger team that hit just 120 home runs in 2010, second fewest in the NL, they will need him to have a great season.
2010 statistics: (4.04 ERA, 22 saves, seven blown saves)
As recently as the 2010 All-Star break, Broxton was looking like one of the truly elite closers in all of baseball. He had just turned 26 years old and was pitching in his second All-Star game in as many seasons.
However, Broxton struggled thoroughly in the second half of last season, forcing people around the league to question his future.
In the first half of the 2010 season, Broxton saved 19 games in 21 opportunities with an impressive 2.11 ERA. He also had 55 strikeouts in just 38.1 innings pitched. However, in the second half, Broxton saved just three games in eight chances, while posting an awful ERA of 7.13 ERA and a horrendous WHIP of 2.125.
Like Billingsley, Broxton's struggles appear to be mostly psychological, but if he struggles again this season, the Dodgers may have to find another closer.
2010 statistics: (.249, 28, 89)
Out of every current Dodger hitter, Matt Kemp may be the one with the highest ceiling.
Kemp impressed the baseball world in 2009, hitting .297 with 26 home runs and 97 RBI in just his fourth season. Kemp also stole 34 bases and led the league in outfield assists with 14.
However, Kemp regressed in just about every offensive and defensive category in 2010, leaving Dodger fans baffled.
Still just 26 years old, Kemp should be entering the beginning stages of his prime years. He was a big part of the 2009 Dodger team that won the most games in the entire National League, but he was also a major reason that the Dodgers finished with a losing record last season.
Kemp had a great spring and appears to be playing as well as ever, which the Dodgers will need to have any chance of winning a tough NL West.