The Year Of the Bison
2011 was a roller-coaster of a season that started out abysmal, but finished somewhat better. We witnessed both arguably the best player in baseball, Matt Kemp, and surely the worst player in baseball, Eugenio Velez. We suffered major rustiness and were plagued with many trips to the DL. By the start of the second half of the season we had already lost Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla to season ending injury, and others were soon to follow suit. At the All-Star Break the Dodgers had a disappointing 41-51 record. We basically had no chance at that point of any playoff hopes. We were depressed, rusty, and Ground Ball Loney had yet to reclaim his place as an honest to goodness major league player. Yet with all the losing, Broxton blowouts, Donnie’s love of bunting and allowing Navarro to pinch-hit in the 9th inning, and more losing, we managed to pick ourselves up and actually finish the season with a winning record. How did we do it?
We took out the trash. The first item of business that was announced was on July 12th during the All-Star Break. They finally DFA’d useless Marcus Thames and picked up Juan Rivera from the scrap heap after the Blue Jays let him go. Juan would be integral in the Dodgers turn around in the second half. He finished with a respectable .274 batting average, 5 home runs and 46 RBIs with the Dodgers. Later on we would cut lose the horrid Dioner Navarro as well.
We actually won some games and series. The Dodgers continued to win after the All-Star Break, and won their 5th game in a row off of Kersh’s 10th victory against the D-Backs on July 15th. The newbie Rivera even hit his 7th home run of the season, which was on his first pitch as a Dodger.
We retain our core. By July 22, the Dodgers were mired in last place in the NL West and swirling trade rumors regarding Hiroki Kuroda were rampant. Although many less than blue Dodger fans called for him to allow himself to be traded for perhaps some mediocre prospects, we said he would stay, and he did. His loyalty to the team was refreshing, and his contribution to the team in 2011 was tremendous. Hiro finished the season with a 13-16 record, pitching 202 innings, whiffing 161, and had an impressive 3.07 ERA.
We usher in the new. At the trade deadline, July 31st, we said goodbye to Hit Machine (Rafael Furcal) as it was made official that he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for a minor league outfielder and some cash. Furcal was injury plagued all season and spent a month on the DL for a broken thumb and then another month long stint from a torn oblique. Another trade came seconds before the 1pm deadline and sent shock waves through the Dodger community. Trayvon Robinson, a top prospect, was involved in a 3-way trade between us and Boston and Seattle. Trayvon went to the Mariners and the Dodgers picked up two minor league pitchers and a catcher, FedEx. With the departure of Hit Machine, a new age came upon the Dodgers at shortstop with the rookie debut of Dee Gordon. More about him in a bit.
The Dodgers finished July with a 12-13 record. They had taken over third place, and were 64-70. Hot August would see the rookie debut of yet another pitcher vying for that cursed 5th spot. Nathan Eovaldi who will be making his case for the 5th spot in 2012, made his first start on August 6th vs. the D-Backs. The young 21 year old pitched 5 innings picking up his first win as the Dodgers beat the D-Backs 5-3.
By mid August we found ourselves being swept by the Phillies at home. One of the most sickening games of the season came on August 10th when the Dodgers blew a 6 run lead and lost to the Phillies 9-8. Billingsley was awful in this game, there were some bumbling errors, yada yada and the Dodgers lose in typical 2011 style. After the pathetic series with the Phillies, the Dodgers need some easy wins to make themselves feel better, and playing the Houston Astros always seems to do the trick, right? The Dodgers sweep the Astros and it’s a nice little departure from all the losing.
The Dodgers Beer Trip 2011 began in Milwaukee, and the Dodgers narrowly avoid being swept by the far superior Brew Crew as Clayton Kershaw picks up his 15th win on August 18th. After they chug a Miller, they get on a plane to the Rocky Mountains of Denver to partake in an ice cold Coors. And yes the Dodgers were also ice cold when they lose the series after another crappy Billingsley start in the rubber game. Bills melts down in the 7th, and the Dodgers blow another one. The Dodgers then head to Busch Stadium to beer bong a Budweiser and take on the Red Birds. Sadly we must encounter our friend Hit Machine now wearing a crimson cap, and the likes of former Dodger losers like TOOTBLAN Theriot and Bumtel. Ok, how did they Win the World Series with those two guys? At this point the Cardinals were actually 8.5 games back of Milwaukee in the NL Central. They really turned things around and stole the Wild Card from the Braves. THEN they beat the Phillies, which was wonderfulness so thank you St. Louis, thank you.
Anyways, the Dodgers are in last place now. August 22nd we witnessed a marvelous come from behind win at the hands of Aaron Miles. Down 1-0 in the top of the 9th inning, Aaron Miles’ game tying hail Mary RBI triple scored Justin Sellers to tie the game, and the winning run scored on the next play, a Fielder’s choice grounder that our beloved former shortstop Hit Machine dropped and threw wide to home plate, allowed Miles to score the winning run. Aaron Miles all surprised us this year with his surprising usefulness. He finished the season with a .275 average, 45 RBIs, and 125 hits.
More rubbish removal is clearly needed. We finally get our wish and Dioner Navarro is cut from the team on August 24th. He was god-awful all season, yet they kept him around for no apparent reason. He hit a paltry .193 in 64 games with only 34 hits, 5 home runs, and 17 RBIs. A true auto out (with apologies to Garret Anderson, the true Auto Out) indeed. He also was supposedly not preparing himself for games, and Donnie ain’t havin’ none of that. That didn’t come soon enough for us though. We had been calling for A.J. Ellis’s return for quite some time.
The Dodgers begin a slight uptick in the latter days of August as they sweep the Cardinals in St. Louis and pick up some momentum. The Dodgers return home for a feel-good game on August 26th. We enjoy the glorious announcement that Vin Scully has decided to come back and grace us with his beautiful voice in 2012. This game also saw a Colorado meltdown, Kemp’s 30th home run and a surging Loney also homers. Miles pulls a Casey Blake and draws a balk to score the tying run. Matt Kemp joins the 30/30 club as the Dodgers beat Colorado and pick up their 4thwin in a row. The next day was equally exciting as Loney homers again and Matt Kemp blasts a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th to win it and give him RBI #100.
Andre Ethier slams critiques in their face. 2011 was also the Dre bashing year. For some unknown reason, some have insisted that Dre wants to be traded or should be traded and his year has been a disappointment. Dre has been known to spew nonsense to the media, but even suggesting that we should trade him is ridiculous. We find out later that Dre has been playing with a bum knee, and later in the season he bows out to have surgery. After a L.A. Times article by T.J. Simers, Dre hits a grand slam against the Padres to lead the Dodgers to victory. They end up sweeping the Padres to end the month. The Dodgers are now 64-70 at this point. They have won 8 of their last 9 games and finish August with a 17-11 record, the first winning month of their season. Our All-Star outfielder finishes the season with a .292 average, 11 home runs, 62 RBIs, 30 doubles, 142 hits, a 3-game hitting streak, 8 assists, and plenty of awesome catches. Next year Dre will be back and even stronger after fixing his knee.
Dead bats came alive. September rolls around, and at this point we are well beyond the acceptance phase when it comes to any hope of a playoff berth. We now are fully in the midst of playing out this last month and counting the games needed to finish the season with a winning record. The month began with a long 11 game road trip starting with a rain-out makeup game in Pittsburgh. We also learned that Rusty Anchor, a.k.a Casey Blake, was going to have season-ending surgery on his neck. The Dodgers also declined his option year for 2012, so Casey Blake’s days as a Dodger and even possibly his baseball career could be over (Editer’s note, Blake signed with Colorado for 2012). Blaker finished the season with a .252 average in 63 games, with just 4 home runs and 26 RBIs. Dana Eveland, called up from AAA helps the Dodgers win the game in Pittsburgh before the Dodgers head down to Atlanta. Loney’s bases clearing three run double helps overcome yet another shaky Billingsley start in the 1st game of the series. The Dodgers extend their winning streak to 6 games by winning game two vs. the Braves in 10 innings. Then they drop the ball in game 3 when Mattingly brings in Hawksworth who proceeds to blow the game in the 9th inning. Hawskworth had a very crappy second half. You can read more about Hawksworth’s inadequacy in Scott’s analysis of him here http://dodgerblueforever.blogspot.com/2011/09/what-has-happened-to-hawk.html.
After a rainy series in Washington, the Dodgers head to San Francisco for the last time in 2011. Clayton Kershaw’s magnificence is highlighted as he beats Tim Lincecum for the 4th time in the season and picks up his 18th win on September 9th. The next night Dana Eveland, who pitches well on the road, shuts out the Giants in game 2 getting the Dodgers back to that elusive .500 mark which we hadn’t seen in months. With the loss, the Giants are assured a spot on the couch this postseason. The only time we saw Blackbeard during October was in his annoying Taco Bell commercial.
The Dodgers then returned to Dodger Stadium for their final home stand of the year. 2-run ball was the norm for the Dodgers this season. Other than Kemp and second-half Loney, their offense was lackluster. Then there were the couple of games like the blowout on September 18 vs. the Pirates that totally goes against the reality of the Dodgers non-existent offense. The Dodgers scored 15 runs on 23 hits that day including a Bison blast and a Sandblast. On September 21st Kershaw became the first Dodger since Ramon Martinez in 1990 to win 20 games. Kersh would finish the season with an impressive 21 wins in total. It was quite fitting that Kersh won his 20th vs. Lincecum and once again proved his utter dominance. In the final home game of the year, the Dodgers beat their hated rivals 8-2 as Hiroki Kuroda quite possibly took the mound for his final start at Dodger Stadium. In the 8th inning against Zito, Bison crushes his 36th home run, giving the fans an extra goodbye 2011 treat.
On Sunday, September 25th Clayton Kershaw wins his 21st game and the Dodgers pick up win #80 against San Diego during the final road trip of the season. In the finale series we get one last bullpen meltdown for old times sake. As a Dodger fan we have grown accustomed to bullpen meltdowns ever since the second half of 2010 after Jonathan Broxton’s arm was blown out at the hands of former manager Joe Torre. Since then these oft bottom of the 9th 2-out blown games have become predictable in nature. Mattingly has yet to fully understand the conditions, which create these perfect storms, but us, the fans, are experts in seeing them come from a mile away. As we have said before no lead is enough for the bullpen. Now admittedly the bullpen was very effective in the second half with Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen leading the way, yet you can never let your guard down…there just might be….a meltdown. September 27th, the second to last game of the season, was just that. A 6-1 lead vs. the D-Backs was gone in a blink of an eye with a little help from Guerrier, Hawksworth and Guerra. Tattooed Ryan Roberts hits a game-winning grand slam off Guerra in the 10th inning thanks to Donnie’s poor bullpen management. We were all super angered at this game. Yes, it’s meaningless in the scheme of the season, but every game counts and this game should have been a W and not a L. The finale game of 2011 was indeed a win, complete with a solid Lilly start and Matt Kemp’s 39th home run. For some reason Mattingly brings in Troncoso to serve up many runs in relief, but luckily Jansen comes in to close out the game and the season for the Dodgers.
The Dodgers finish the season 82-79. In August they had a 17-11 record. Undoubtedly the second half was much much better than the disaster we call the first half. Miraculously we end up with a winning record and in 3rd place in the NL West.
Highlights of this season of course include MVP runner-up Matt Kemp’s monster year. He played all 161 games, had 115 runs, 195 hits, 39 home runs, 126 RBIs, 40 stolen bases, and a .324 average. He truly had a historic year. I must say I do not think I have seen a Dodger have such an amazing year since the likes of Mike Piazza back in the day.
Then there was our Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw who dazzled us with his league leading 21-5 record, 2.28 ERA, 248 strikeouts, 2 shutouts, 5 complete games in 233.1 innings pitched. Other bright spots included the fireballer Kenley Jansen’s strong year out of the pen. He battled some heart troubles late in the year, but he has the right stuff to be our future closer. He whiffed 96 batters in only 53.2 innings. Javy Guerra was another pleasant surprise after being called up when Broxton failed. He had 21 saves for the Dodgers this season, and will definitely be important in the bullpen next year.
Then there was some relievers who struggled out of the pen. Matt Guerrier had a ho-hum season although he was signed for big bucks before joining the Dodgers. Guerrier and Hawksworth both had similar mediocre ERAs at 4.07 & 4.08. They both contributed to quite a few meltdowns. Hong-Chih Kuo had a very tough season as he battled the yips and anxiety. He appeared in 40 games pitching 27 innings and ended up with a very uncharacteristic 9.00 ERA. He also walked 23 batters while striking out 36. There was some glimpses of the old Kuo we enjoyed last season, but his return to the Dodgers or baseball is uncertain. He said if he doesn’t pitch next year he wants to open a restaurant in his native Taiwan.
Mike MacDougal finished up with a low 2.05 ERA, and he appeared in 69 games. He had some ups and downs, but his fastball makes him a possible option next year to return. The other bit players like Scott Elbert and Josh Lindblom have potential as well.
Ted Lilly had a strong second half, and even stopped serving up the home runs. 12-14 was his record with a 3.97 ERA in 192.2 innings pitched. The crafty lefty cannot hold runners on to save his life, and his fastballs are anything but, yet he is pretty dependable and we are stuck with him for a while.
Chad Billingsley had an awful second half, and we are left to wonder whether he can ever pull two good halves together again. He ended with an 11-11 record, pitching 188 innings, whiffing 152 with a 4.21 ERA.
Our catching was pretty atrocious this year. Big Rod hit 16 homers but then there was his awful .230 average. Dioner Navarro doesn’t need any more words wasted on him. A.J. Ellis didn’t get a chance, and FedEx is too new to judge. Sigh.
Offense was at a premium this year, and if your name wasn’t Matt Kemp you pretty much weren’t hitting. James Loney came out of nowhere to finish with a .288 average with 12 home runs and 65 RBIs. That may not sound very impressive, but if you saw the James Loney of the first half you know how incredible his turnaround was. We went from writing him off as a for sure non-tender this off season to actually welcoming his return to first base next year.
Jamey Carroll and Aaron Miles may be short in stature, but they are hugely valuable in their ability to fill-in when needed and we sure needed them. I haven’t even discussed the useless Uribe, and you know what he’s really not even worth mentioning since he was utterly and completely horrid this year. He played in 77 games and barely hit over the Mendoza Line at .204. He had only 4 home runs and 28 RBIs. Where Uribe fell short, Aaron Miles stepped up. He started off slow in the start of the season, but he ended up with a respectable .275 average in 136 games. He had 125 hits and 45 RBIs. Pretty good from a guy who we really didn’t expect much out of. Jamey Carroll also picked up the slack from an injured Furcal. Carroll hit .290 in 146 games with 131 hits.
Dee Gordon dazzled at shortstop after being called up, and he most likely will be making acrobatic plays and sprinting like a cheetah for years to come. When we first saw him, we asked who is this skinny guy? Now he’s made a name for himself in the short time he’s been in the league. In 54 games he hit an impressive .304 with 24 stolen bases. He did have 10 errors, and we hope he can settle down a bit next season. His speed really puts pressure on pitchers, and is truly exciting to watch.
Left field was an interesting potpourri of randomness this season. Jerry Sands also had a couple of stints on the big team this year, and he finally broke out in the last part to get us excited to see what he can do in the future. Tony Gwynn Jr. made some incredible game-saving catches, and he will be a great asset to the team next season.
2011 has been emotionally draining indeed. We never stopped rooting for our boys in blue even in the darkest moments. Don Mattingly still has a lot to learn, but the second-half turnaround gives us hope that he can transcend the Torre tradition and carve out his own path with the Dodgers. We will say goodbye to some players this off season, and we will welcome new ones as well. With some fine tuning, continued offense production from Loney, Kemp, Sands, Rivera, and Dre, and the dominance of Clayton Kershaw we may be able to contend next season Dodger fans. Thank you for reading and remember every season can be the Year of the Bison. Go Blue!