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LA Dodgers looking for comeback season in 2012

Ethier, Loney keys to success

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw (left) celebrates a win with outfielder Matt Kemp (right). (Stephen Dunn/photo).

Ben Sutton | Editor-in-Chief | March 20, 2012

It has been a rough couple of years for the boys in blue.

After Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt announced he was divorcing his wife in October of 2009, the Dodgers finances plummeted and so did their record. In 2009 they finished with 95 wins and 67 losses, and made it to the National League Championship Series for the second year in a row. But in 2010 and 2011, with no power to acquire big-name free agents, they hovered around the .500 mark and missed the playoffs altogether.

Now the ownership issues have been resolved–Major League Baseball has seized control of day-to-day operations of the Dodgers until a new owner buys the team–and optimism is high. 2012 will see the Dodgers trying to re-establish dominance over their rivals from the south, the Angels, and the north, the dreaded San Francisco Giants.

The Angels acquired Albert Pujols, arguably the best hitter in baseball, over the offseason from the Cardinals as well as ace pitcher C.J. Wilson from the Rangers. This gives the Angels–who finished with a commendable record of 86-76 last season–a nice additional boost going into the  2012 season.

The Giants, on the other hand, don’t look quite as strong. The team finished a mere 3.5 games ahead of the bankrupt Dodgers in 2011, despite coming off their first championship season in over half a century. When the biggest name you’ve acquired in the offseason is Melky Cabrera, it’s hard to be happy (haven’t heard of him? exactly).

The Giants’ main hope will come in the form of young baby-faced catcher Buster Posey, who proved himself by winning the 2010 National League Rookie of the Year but had to sit out most of the 2011 season due to injuries from a collision at the plate, and ace Tim Lincecum, who will have to exceed already high expectations if he wants to carry the team.

So what do the Dodgers need to do to keep up? Obviously they’ll need stellar seasons from their two young star players: outfielder Matt Kemp and pitcher Clayton Kershaw.

Matt Kemp, who almost got traded in 2010 because of poor performance (which may or may not have been caused by his relationship with pop star Rihanna), proved himself to be one of the best players in baseball in 2011 with a .324 average, 39 home runs, 40 stolen bases, and 126 runs batted in.

Clayton Kershaw will have to repeat his 2011 performance, where he won the NL Cy Young (the award for the best pitcher) with 21 wins, 248 strikeouts, and a 2.28 earned run average, effectively overthrowing Tim Lincecum as the premiere pitcher in the NL West (despite Lincecum being four years older).

More importantly, though, is how the supporting players will perform around the strong foundation of Kemp and Kershaw. In 2010, it was outfielder Andre Ethier, not Kemp, who was the go-to slugger for the Dodgers. He had a dip in his stats in 2011, but he’ll need to step it up in 2012.

Same goes for first baseman James Loney (whose 12 home runs in 2011 was pathetic for a first baseman, a position usually known for its big, strong power hitters).

Another spot to watch will be closing pitcher Javy Guerra, who is entering into his first full season after taking over for Jonathan Broxton.

Opening Day is April 5th, against the San Diego Padres.

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