What a relief?

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A strong starting pitcher, a true ace of a rotation, is much more valuable than a good fifth outfielder.  A great leadoff man is more important than the backup catcher.  Let me be clear that more important does not mean that the other position is unimportant.  All positions are important.  Some just have greater importance. 

One of the most important positions on a major league baseball roster in 2011 is the closer.  The guy who comes in for the ninth inning in a close ballgame to get those last few outs and prevents the other team from stealing a win.  Perhaps the worst feeling for a baseball fan is the sinking feeling you get when you root for a team whose closer is erratic. 

The guy has talent so you know that he can close the game out, but is so inconsistent that anything can happen.  You can never relax.  Even when your team has a good lead, you begin to get nervous if a runner gets on because you know that the game can go downhill quickly. 

A dominant closer is the ultimate weapon because he gives his team swagger and confidence.  It is just like of playing Little League and the worst player comes up and everyone yells, “Easy out!”  You feel like every out is an easy out when you have a premiere closer.

So, as we enter Spring Training, many are wondering if the Dodgers are one of those teams who possess a dominant closer.  Do the Dodgers have a beast in the bullpen?  Is their closer going to be a heart stopper for the opposition or a heartbreaker for the boys in blue?

Jonathan Broxton is the man who has owned this role the past few seasons.  At 6’ 4”, 295 lbs, Broxton is a physically imposing presence on the mount.  And he has had considerable success since becoming the closer in 2008.  In 2009 Broxton firmly established himself as a force in the bullpen going 7-2 with a 2.61 ERA while converting 36 of 42 opportunities.  His ability to come in and blow away opposing batters was demonstrated with 114 strikeouts in 76 innings. 

Broxton continued his dominating ways in 2010, converting 19 out of 21 chances through the first half of the season.  But the second half of the season was a disaster.  Some attribute it to a loss of confidence.  Others say that Broxton was out of shape and ran out of gas.  Whatever the reason, Broxton must return to his once dominant form if the Dodgers are going to have a shot to do anything this season.

Knowing that the rest of the bullpen could use a few more quality arms, General Manager Ned Colletti traded for righty Blake Hawksworth from the Cardinals in addition to signing Matt Guerrier as a free agent. 

Vincente Padilla should also add some depth, moving from the rotation to provide middle to long relief while also making the occasional start.  These new additions will join lefty Hong-Chih Kuo, who will be used primarily as a setup man but who could be another option at closer if Broxton should continue to falter. 

Others who will battle for the final roster spots in the bullpen could come from young arms like Ronald Belisario, Kenley Jansen, Ramon Troncoso (who struggled during his sophomore season), Scott Elbert, John Ely, Jon Link, and Carlos Monasterios.

The success of the 2011 Dodgers will depend on a return to form from Jonathan Broxton.  If he is able to regain his dominance, this team has a chance to be competitive and give the Giants a run for the division.  Manager Don Mattingly will have to make sure that Broxton is in shape and mentally ready to take the ball with the game on the line.  Here’s hoping he is ready and will be one of baseball’s best once again in 2011.

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Tags: Blake Hawksworth Cardinals Carlos Moasterios Closer Dodgers Bullpen Don Mattingly Hong-Chih Kuo John Ely John Link Jonathan Broxton Kenley Jansen Los Angeles Dodgers Matt Guerrier Ned Colletti Ramon Troncoso Scott Elbert Vicente Padilla