Happy Spring Training eve! As pitchers and catchers begin working out at Camelback Ranch tomorrow, I’d like to outline 17 improvements which could elevate the Dodgers from middle-of-the-pack to postseason contender next year. In honor of our hard-working catcher A.J. Ellis who will be reigning in the stray pitches from all eight starting Dodger hurlers along with the myriad of returning relievers and hopeful non-roster invites, I have jotted down 17 ways in which the new Dodgers could regain their rightful place in first place in the National League West.
A.J. Ellis begins his season tomorrow in Arizona as pitchers and catcher report Tuesday for the Dodgers. Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
1. Less Injuries– I think a part of me died that cold day when Matt Kemp pulled his hamstring in Chicago last season. Injuries plagued the 2012 Dodgers throughout the year, and if the 2013 Dodgers want to be successful the most important goal is to avoid the injury bug.
2. More homeruns– There were windows of time last season where the Dodgers would go a week without hitting a homerun. The glaring lack of power really put them at the bottom of the league in this category. I’m looking to Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Adrian Gonzalez to have powerful hitting seasons in order to vastly improve the Dodgers homerun count in 2013 thus gaining them more runs.
3. Be more aggressive– We all saw what an aggressive hitting team the San Francisco Giants were last season, and if the Dodgers want to mount an attack on their championship toting enemy, they will need to take less pitches and be more aggressive at the plate.
4. Be smarter on the base path– I’m not sure what Davey Lopes was telling the guys last year, but the mistakes on the base path were inexcusable. It all culminated in the atrocious TOOTBLAN from Mark Ellis which essentially ended the Dodgers run at the Wild Card spot last September.
5. Airtight Defense– While the Dodgers weren’t terrible on the defensive side last season, there is always room for improvement. Adrian Gonzalez will lend his golden glove at first, but Hanley Ramirez will need to step up his game at shortstop.
6. Less bunting– I’m okay with using the bunt when a pitcher is at the plate, but in most cases last season Don Mattingly‘s usage of bunting was more or less a disaster. The Dodgers need to utilize every precious out.
7. Consistent lineup– Spring Training is a perfect time to try out different lineup configurations, but by the time April rolls around I’d like to see a solidified lineup. One of the “gelling” problems last season could be partly due to Mattingly’s constant tinkering with the lineup.
8. Win at home– The Dodgers started off the 2012 season as the best home team in all of baseball, but that record quickly deteriorated as the season wore on. The Dodgers need to make sure that they dominate at home.
9. Do Something with the bench– The season start is just around the corner, and I’m still very concerned about this current bench configuration. The Dodgers must finally get rid of Juan Uribe, and they should try to bolster the bench at some point to really build the perfect roster.
10. Play every game like it’s October– Last season there were many games where the Dodgers seemingly threw in the towel at some point. Don Mattingly would bring in the mop-up man Jamey Wright or perhaps Matt Guerrier towards the end of the season when the going got rough. This year the Dodgers need to battle to the end in each and every game. After all, if the Dodgers had won a couple more games last season, they could have been in the playoffs.
11. Beat the Giants– This goes without saying, but it must be done.
12. No bullpen meltdowns– Things have gotten a lot better since the days of Broxton meltdowns, but we shouldn’t let our guard down in this department either. Pitching, both starting and relief, is where the Dodgers can really pull ahead of the league.
13. Matt Kemp needs to regain his Beastmode– Without a healthy and strong Matt Kemp, the team will not be firing on all cylinders. The Dodgers’ success is directly correlated to Kemp’s success.
14. Mow down would-be base stealers– This small nuance in the game ends up being very important. Especially in one run games, which the Dodgers find themselves in frequently, is when throwing out base runners becomes crucial. A.J. Ellis and Tim Federowicz will need to make sure this item line is handled this season.
15. More Vin Scully and less everyone else– Can we hear more Vin Scully, please? That’s something that I will always ask for. Maybe Time Warner will hire new broadcasters for 2014. Steve Lyons is on the bubble.
16. Win the division– Second place is not acceptable. I want to see the Dodgers in the postseason.
17. Get the fans back to Dodger Stadium– The new ownership has been working on this since last season and throughout this offseason. With improvements to Dodger Stadium, a winning product on the field, and an overall positive aura around the team, the fans should come flocking back. I’d like to see the fans come regardless if it is a bobblehead game or not. 2013 is our year. Let’s start out strong and never let up!