Los Angeles Dodgers: Wait till someday

Los Angeles Dodgers

Time goes by like pouring rain:

Can James Loney get any worse? We’re about to find out. Loney was on a successful career path for a long time — No. 1 draft pick, in the majors by 22, hitting .331 and slugging .538 in 375 at-bats at age 23. After that? He’s been descending as directly as one of the many popups he hits. He’s lowered his OPS every season of the last three — .772 to .756 to .723. If it drops any more, you’ll barely be able to tell the difference between Loney and Juan Castro. Loney will be 27 this May; it’s time for him to make something of his career while he still has one.

I feel I’m knocking on heaven’s door: Outfielder Jerry Sands wasn’t a high draft pick — taken in the 25th round in 2008 — but he’s played like one. He has a career .960 OPS in the minors, and though he’s spent most of it at the lower levels, he did jump to AA last and acquitted himself well, slugging .529 in half a season. If Matt Kemp listens closely enough, he might hear the compliments once said about him being said about Sands. Yes, baseball can be fickle.

What is this man doing here? Having retired once, Gabe Kapler can’t just bring himself to do it again, and he’ll be in camp with the Dodgers. Kapler should remember this: the most success he ever had was coming back after he retired the first time, hitting. 301 in 2008 after sitting out 2007. Since then he’s hit .239 and .210 and been injured more than he’s been effective. Maybe he should aim for 2012 or 2013.

Outlook: New manager Don Mattingly says the Dodgers will be tougher in 2011, and no doubt they will be: tougher to manage. They won 80 games last year and that may seem like a lot come this July.

The roster is overloaded with the downtrodden (Rod Barajas, Dioner Navarro, Tony Gwynn Jr.), the underachievers (Kemp, Loney, Russell Martin where are you?), the elderly (Casey Blake, Jamey Carroll) and the injured (Rafael Furcal, Vicente Padilla).

It seems a lot longer than two years ago that the Dodgers won back-to-back division titles and seemed an up-and-coming team. It’s hard to believe Manny Ramirez took the Dodgers’ mojo with him when he left town.

That being said, there is a path back to contention for the Dodgers that doesn’t require a huge suspension of disbelief: Furcal stays healthy, Kemp and Loney rebound and free-agent signees Barajas and Marcus Thames hit just enough home runs not to weigh down the offense.

If so, there’s plenty of first-rate pitching, both among starters and in the bullpen. Clayton Kershaw is an elite starter, and Chad Billingsley isn’t far behind; Kenley Jansen has thrown only 83.2 professional innings, but he’s fanned 138, and with Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo, the Dodgers have a potentially dominating bullpen. That’s if Kuo can stay healthy, which he only does every other year (this isn’t it).

Of course, Jansen’s success does beg the question of why the Dodgers allowed him to flounder as a minor-league catcher for so long, hitting .229 with 15 home runs for five minor-league seasons. The answer, as Don Mattingly is about to learn the hard way, is because they’re the Dodgers.

Remember when: It’s been 30 years since Fernando Valenzuela’s rookie year, and if you weren’t there, it’s hard to know just how good he was in the first six weeks of 1981. He started on opening day and pitched a five-hit shutout; he went on to win his first eight starts, five by shutouts, seven by complete game (the eighth he went nine and the Dodgers won in 10). It was May 14 before he gave up more than one run in a start, May 18 before he lost. The totals for his first eight starts: 8 wins, 81 innings, 43 hits, 4 earned runs, 17 walks and 68 strikeouts. Add that to the 17.2 innings he threw as a call-up in 1980, and in his first 98.2 innings, he allowed 51 hits and 4 earned runs for an 0.37 ERA. Not surprisingly, he didn’t keep that pace up for the course of his career, though he was Rookie of the Year, Cy Young Award winner and world champion in 1981.

A link below to ESPN’s 30 for 30 on Fernandomania:

Next: San Diego Padres

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