As we all know, our Dodgers ended 2011 on a tear. Since then, we’ve gained back a (presumably) healthy Andre Ethier and Juan Uribe. We’ve lost Hiroki Kuroda and gained Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano at the back of the rotation. And also a whole bunch of helpful, yet questionable role players.
But to compete in 2012, we can’t rely solely on the bat of Matt Kemp and the arm of Clayton Kershaw like last year. We need to be bold. We need to play small ball, hit some clutch home runs, throw some scoreless innings down the stretch…we need to be a 90-win team.
So, do we have the personnel to win the NL West and return to the playoffs? Absolutely. But certain things need to happen. I believe the Dodgers will make that run. I believe they will be in the playoffs. And I will bet you these five bold predictions are the main reasons why:
Bold Prediction #1: Clayton Kershaw wins his second straight Cy Young Award
The pride and joy of the Dodgers won the pitching Triple Crown last year and waltzed away with his first significant piece of hardware. Kershaw better make room in that trophy case for more, because he’s not done yet. In fact, I think 2012 will be a repeat performance. Kershaw is an unnaturally smart athlete and has improved every single year. I’m willing to bet he wins 23 games this year, keeps his ERA in the mid 2′s, and strikes out 250 batters. That should make him the leading candidate (barring any Justin Verlander-esque years from other top starters) for winning his second straight Cy Young award. We are really going to need him to come through at the top of the rotation if we want to make a run at the division.
Bold Prediction #2: Matt Kemp goes 45/45
I wanted so badly to predict that Kemp would reach the 50/50 milestone he’s been talking about ever since getting snubbed for MVP last season. But I just can’t see it. I don’t think he will boost his power numbers enough to get there. One thing I am sure of though, is Kemp is going to come close. He’ll reach 40/40 for sure and should get that MVP award out of it. I’m thinking he’ll run wild on the bases, especially with a better lineup around him. That could push him over 50 steals easily, but will the power numbers be there? He’s certainly got the tools and he’s got better protection around him with a whole season of Juan Rivera and Ethier. But, asking for 11 more home runs is a hell of a lot. I predict .318/45/125/52 for Kemp in 2012.
Bold Prediction #3: Andre Ethier and Juan Rivera both hit 25 home runs
Say whatttttt? This should be absolutely no problem if they both play a full season. Rivera has always been a power hitter with an underrated eye, and will definitely benefit from hitting in the heart of this lineup. And we all know what Ethier is capable of doing when he’s not hobbled. This prediction definitely hinges on them staying off the DL, but no Dodger fan wants to imagine that, right? I’m thinking the trio of Kemp, Ethier and Rivera will be monstrous this year. I can see Rivera pulling out a nice, fat .270/25/90 line. And honestly, I wouldn’t put 30 jacks past Andre. Give me a .280/28/105 line from him. Boom. Almost 100 homers combined from the middle of the lineup? Don’t mind if I do.
Bold Prediction #4: The rotation behind Kershaw combines for 50 wins
Yikes, this is asking a lot. But that’s why they call them “bold,” folks. I’m really not expecting Chad Billingsley to do anything – if I wasn’t a true blue fan I’d almost be given up on him. But he seems to be consistently good for at least a 10-10 record. Ted Lilly scared me at the beginning of Spring Training with a rough outing, but seems to have recovered. The ageless lefty should be good for at least 10 wins himself. That leaves 30 wins combined between Harang, Capuano and whoever spot starts. My logic behind this choice is that Harang and Capuano are potentially better than Lilly and Billingsley. They have been in the past, it just all depends how they perform for their new team. Dodger Stadium is a notorious pitcher’s park, so that should help. And both have looked good in Spring Training. I can see them both winning anywhere from 12-14 games, with a few wins mixed in from spot starters like John Ely or Nathan Eovaldi.
Bold Prediction #5: Dee Gordon steals 100 bases
This has to be the boldest of all. I mean, 100 steals is absolutely ridiculous in today’s game. But if anyone in baseball can do it, Gordon is the guy. The speedy youngster is unbelievable on the basepaths. He will single-handedly win games this season by interrupting opposing pitchers’ timing when he’s leading off. And even Pudge Rodriguez in his prime would be hard pressed to toss Gordon when he’s stealing. This all depends on Don Mattingly’s willingness to let Gordon run free (my advice: do it – we don’t have any intimidating number two hitters who will lose at-bats and the small ball approach WILL work with this lineup), but I assume he will for the most part. If Spring Training is any indication, Gordon is going to get on base a LOT. And if he can average one steal attempt every two games, I think he’ll reach 100 by mid-September.
There you have it. My five bold predictions for your 2012 Dodgers, and why they will be the main reasons we return to the playoffs. Dodger fans have no reason NOT to be excited this year. With Gordon running wild, Kemp, Ethier, Rivera and James Loney finally meshing for a full, complete season, and Kershaw being his old dominating self, we’re looking at a legit contender. Comment below and let me know if you think my predictions are off-base (pun intended) and give me some predictions of your own! Go Dodgers!
Jeremy can be followed on Twitter @Jamblinman