COMMENTARY | Though the Los Angeles Dodgers sit in last place in the NL West after an injury-plagued beginning to 2013, a 162-game season allows for ups and downs and injuries to occur without all hope being lost.
Though the Dodgers haven't been much of a threat thus far, things have changed recently and the Blue Crew will be a player down the stretch of 2013, regardless of whether they ultimately make the postseason.
Health Is Here
Matt Kemp, Zack Greinke, Hanley Ramirez, and Chad Billingsley all began the year injured or recovering from serious injury. Greinke and HanRam went down after making their initial returns, Bills is down for the season due to Tommy John surgery, and Kemp suffered a hamstring injury after struggling to open the year.
Zack, Hanley and Matt have all finally returned and already made big impacts in individual games. When they finally play a game together with the rest of the Dodgers' talented crew, look out.
I've written it before, and I'll write it again: the best pitcher in baseball.
He's not going to play to the same level over an entire season that he has through 21 games -- because almost nobody does -- but can he be better than Skip Schumaker/Jerry Hairston, Jr./Scott Van Slyke/Elian Herrera?
Of course he can. Light-tower power, speed, and a bazooka for an arm are aspects most Dodgers position-players lack. At worst, he'll make things exciting with electrifying plays and hilarious miscues mixed in for good measure. At best, he'll be an intricate piece down the stretch as the Dodgers work to claw their way into a playoff spot.
The only reliable reliever in the pen, Jansen coming into a close game is basically Eric Gagne all over again, as in Game Over. He's got electric stuff, a Rivera-like cutter, phenomenal swing-and-miss ability, and can shut down lefties and righties.
Other Injuries in the NL West
The Rockies lost Troy Tulowitzki; the Padres lost Jedd Gyorko, Everth Cabrera, Yonder Alonso, Clayton Richard, and Cameron Maybin (Cory Luebke has been out since last year with Tommy John surgery); the Giants are without Angel Pagan and Ryan Vogelsong (and Marco Scutaro has an injured finger); and the D-Backs are missing Brandon McCarthy, J.J. Putz and Adam Eaton.
The Tulo, Luebke, Putz, and Eaton injuries are longer-term losses, which give the Dodgers a window to make a run while these battered teams experience what L.A. did for the first couple months of the season.
2 Wild Card Spots
An extra opportunity to make the playoffs never hurts, especially when you're digging yourself out of a hole.
Top of The Rotation
The Dodgers boast one of the most dominant 1-2-3 punches at the top of the rotation in all of baseball in Kershaw, Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. This allows for long winning streaks and limiting any losing streaks.
Batting Order Depth
Manager Don Mattingly has plenty of options with his batting order now that everybody shy of Carl Crawford is healthy, which serves to keep other teams off-balance. If one guy slumps, Donnie Baseball has actual major-league starters to shift up or down the order.
It's Not How You Start, It's How You Finish
Of course, playing consistently well throughout the season is the goal and gives you the best chance to make the playoffs, but a slow start won't necessarily doom a team. The Dodgers were 16-7 through April of last year. They finished 2012 with a record of 86-76 and missed the playoffs.
If Matt Kemp is healthy and producing -- even as a less powerful Bison than before his severe shoulder injury -- he can be a difference-maker in any lineup. His ability to hit to all fields, drive the ball, steal a base, and do what he did in 2011 (8.4 fWAR) and the beginning of 2012 is not something every player can do.
A healthy Kemp lengthens the lineup and serves as a stabilizing force as the Dodgers make a mad push for postseason play.
Greg Zakwin is the founder of Plaschke, Thy Sweater Is Argyle, a Dodgers' and sports card blog. He writes with an analytical tilt about The Blue Crew at ChadMoriyama.com. You can find and follow him on Twitter @ArgyledPlaschke. A graduate of UCLA in 2011 with a Bachelor's in History, he's been a follower of the Dodgers since birth and still mourns the loss of both Mike Piazza and Carlos Santana.
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