After the big trade with the Boston Red Sox, many members of the media and Dodgers fans thought a division championship was guaranteed. I have watched baseball for more than 35 years, and I have learned nothing is guaranteed in this game. But the trade definitely will help the Dodgers for the near future.
The trade came too late. The players, namely Adrian Gonzalez, needed time to adjust to a new league. The Dodgers won seven of their final eight games, but it was too late to overcome the deficit to earn the second NL Wild Card berth.
Obtaining Josh Beckett when they did allowed the team to remain in the race longer than they would have otherwise. On the same day that the big trade was announced, the Dodgers lost Chad Billingsley for the season. The team still doesn't know if Billingsley can avoid Tommy John elbow surgery and pitch next season.
Going into the offseason, the starting rotation is the biggest question for the Dodgers. General manager Ned Colletti needs to find good starters to go with Clayton Kershaw and Beckett.
Kershaw had another season worthy of the NL Cy Young Award. It is doubtful that he will earn his second straight this year because R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets had a remarkable season, especially for a knuckleball pitcher.
The Dodgers had a terrific bullpen, an enduring strength for the club. The comeback of Ronald Belisario gave the team a reliable setup man. The invitation of Jamey Wright to Spring Training proved to be valuable. The acquisitions of Randy Choate and Brandon League enabled the Dodgers to live with the losses of Scott Elbert and Kenly Jansen. L.A. needs to re-sign League. If Javy Guerra regains the form that he displayed in 2010, when he was the closer, the Dodgers should have the best bullpen in baseball.
Los Angeles must improve its offense to be more competitive. Whereas the Dodgers didn't strike out much, they grounded into the most double plays in the NL. They had the second-fewest home runs in the league.
During many Dodger games, countless scoring opportunities were wasted. If they could have capitalized upon half of their scoring opportunities, L.A. would have won the NL West.
When Matt Kemp misses a lot of games (56 this season), the Dodgers will struggle. Even though he played for the last month of the season, Kamp hasn't been healthy since he collided with the center field wall at Coors Field on Aug. 28. He was scheduled to have shoulder surgery Friday. If Kemp can stay healthy in 2013, the Dodgers will be a better team.
L.A. didn't play well against teams with better than .500 records. At the beginning of this season, the Dodgers had the easiest part of their schedule and they excelled. When they started playing better teams, the Dodgers didn't succeed at the same level. This must change if they expect to win a playoff berth next season.
The Dodgers must find a quality shortstop before they will improve defensively. Dee Gordon's speed electrifies the crowd and is exciting for the team, but having the lowest fielding percentage in baseball for a shortstop who played at least 50 games didn't help his team win and made the pitching staff work harder than it should. Gordon will play winter ball, and if he improves his defense, he can stay at shortstop. However, if he doesn't, the Dodgers must either trade him or find him a new position.
Hanley Ramirez isn't the answer at shortstop. He has an erratic throwing arm and diminished range. However, moving him to third base isn't the answer either. That was a new position this year, and he made nine errors in 98 games there. Those errors, of course, don't count the balls he didn't get to and should have. It is debatable if his current offensive production compensates for his weak defense.
Those who question whether Luis Cruz can perform consistently at the Major League level must not have been watching many games over the last two and a half months. I don't care if Cruz spent a decade in the Minor Leagues; he can play well in the big leagues.
Cruz performs well under pressure, delivering crucial hits almost whenever the Dodgers needed them. Fans chanted, "Cruuuz, Cruuuz!" whenever he did something special, and quickly this 28-year-old became a fan favorite. His defensive play at third base has been outstanding. The Dodgers have looked for an adequate third baseman for many years. They should not move Cruz until he quits performing for at least two months.
The Dodgers had many unsung heroes until the All-Star break, when the new ownership began spending big money. When the lineup became static and filled with superstars, the Dodgers seemed to lose some of the enthusiasm that made them one of the best stories in the first half.
Having new owners who want to spend money on the team excites Dodgers fans everywhere, but they need to remember one of the most endearing aspects of the sport is watching an unknown player become a superstar. The Dodgers need starters, an improved bench and a good leadoff hitter, but they don't need an overhaul. The way that the Dodgers played in their final eight games of the season makes me say, "I can't wait until next year!"