The Dodgers have crashed into the same road block for two consecutive seasons. This year, if they are going to break through the NLCS and into the World Series a few essential components must fall into place. With the right mixture of youth and experience, this season has the Dodgers poised for another October run. Tyson Qualls provides five keys to a Dodgers World Series berth in 2010.
5. The Return to Form of Chad Billingsley
During the first half of last season, Billingsley was a lights out All Star pitcher. He entered the mid-season break with an impressive record of 9-4 and a 3.14 ERA. Unfortunately, as most Dodger fans are aware of, it was all downhill from there. Billingsley struggled for the remainder of the season, reaching his lowest point when he was relegated to the bullpen for the playoffs.
The Dodgers were rumored to have turned down an offer for Roy Halladay, with Billingsley as the catalyst in the trade. If the Dodgers are going to rebound and claim their spot atop the NL West once again, it will be up to Billingsley to remove any regret management has about that decision.
4. Adding a Quality Starter
Vincente Padilla gave the Dodgers more than they bargained for in last years’ playoffs. While it was a nice story, the Boys in Blue need more help on their pitching staff. Whether it comes from the emergence of a quality youngster like James McDonald or the addition of a crafty veteran, the Dodgers must make a push to discover more help for Kershaw and company.
Kershaw has the making of an ace written all over him, but at 22, it would be unfair to put that kind of burden on him. As it stands now, only Kershaw and Hiroki Kuroda are locks to contribute throughout the season.
3. No Distractions from Man-Ram
Ramirez has ways of making fans forget about his antics with monstrous home runs and countless runs batted in. Showing up at camp and declaring his final season in Los Angeles should have surprised no one. The issue now is at 38 years old, can he still swing the bat enough to stop fans from growing weary of his charades.
Last year, in a suspension shortened season, he posted his lowest batting average since 1994. In the major leagues, you are only as good as your last game and Ramirez has not shown the Dodgers much since getting off the juice (allegedly). Nobody is expecting 40 HRs and 140 plus RBIs, but what fans are expecting is for him to show up, play his game, and provide leadership to the young guys.
2. Joe Torre
If any coach can calm a locker room crisis, it is Torre. His ability to mesh with superstars and rookies, while guiding teams during the course of the regular season is virtually unmatched. He will certainly have his work cut out for him in the upcoming campaign.
His desire to stick around a while longer, shows his belief in the current youth movement of Matt Kemp, Kershaw, Russell Martin, and Jonathan Broxton. If these players get the kind of coaching that Torre is capable of, their development will continue to be ahead of schedule.
1. The Continued Evolution of the Youth
Enough about Ramirez, the real key to the Dodgers future is their stable of youngsters. Currently rising up the ranks of the MLB are a five tool player (Kemp), an ace in the making (Kershaw), a flame throwing closer (Broxton), and a slick fielding first baseman (James Loney). As long as Russell Martin can reverse his recent digression, the Dodgers have potential All Stars at every key position.
If Kemp can build on his epic season in 2009, he has potential to capture baseball’s MVP in the near future. Last year he batted .297 hit 26 HRs and knocked in 101 runs.
Kershaw and his other-worldly curve made their playoff debut and impressed immediately. The seconding coming of Sandy Koufax is merely improving his command away from being a top five pitcher in the National League.
Questions or Comments? Contact Tyson Qualls at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter with @tysonqsports