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Carl Crawford’s Return Will Help Los Angeles Dodgers Reach the Playoffs in 2013

The Los Angeles Dodgers didn’t have Carl Crawford available to help their playoff push this season, but his return in 2013 will help L.A. avoid missing the postseason for a fourth consecutive year. 

Crawford underwent Tommy John surgery on his left elbow in July, shortly before being traded to the Dodgers from the Boston Red Sox in a blockbuster trade in August. The surgery reduced his 2012 campaign to a mere 31 games played, but he’s expected to be fully recovered by the beginning of June at the absolute latest.

Once Crawford returns, he’ll provide another offensive weapon toward the top of a Los Angeles lineup that’s loaded with All-Star-caliber players. He will give the Dodgers five hitters that have made at least two All-Star game appearances since 2009. 

The Dodgers’ lineup will be tough on opposing pitchers with Crawford hitting out of the two-hole. His ability to get on base and steal bases eliminates L.A.’s need for a traditional leadoff hitter, and his left-handed bat allows Los Angeles to alternate righties and lefties in the first seven spots of the lineup.

Depending on how the Dodgers sort out their crowded left side of the infield, second baseman Mark Ellis and shortstop Dee Gordon are the most likely candidates to bat leadoff for Los Angeles.

If he can make it back into the starting lineup by opening day, Crawford could eclipse his career high of 110 runs scored with Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier hitting behind him. 

Skeptics will point out that Crawford’s career has recently been marked by injuries and poor performance. There’s reason for Dodgers fans to believe, however, that his failure to produce in Boston was not the beginning of a career in decline.

Crawford only appeared in 161 games for the Red Sox over the past two seasons while battling a combination of hamstring, wrist and elbow injuries. But he began to show flashes of the player Boston thought it was getting when they signed him to a seven-year, $142 million contract in December of 2010 during his abbreviated 2012 campaign.

He hit .282 with three home runs, 23 runs scored, 19 runs batted in and five stolen bases in 117 regular-season at bats.

Crawford never seemed to be a good fit in the intense media environment in Boston. The Los Angeles market will prove to be a much more comfortable fit for the reserved outfielder, especially with player-friendly manager Don Mattingly on the bench.

Still Just 31, and with his health issues finally behind him, Crawford will prove to be more than just a high-risk salary dump included in the Adrian Gonzalez trade. Dodgers fans will be pleased to see the 2010 AL Gold Glove winner patrolling left field every day. He’ll combine with Kemp and Ethier to give Los Angeles MLB’s most complete outfield.

Crawford’s days of stealing 50-plus bases are likely permanently behind him and the Dodgers would be crazy to let him run free with the plethora of run producers hitting behind him. He still has enough speed to score from first base on doubles hit to the gaps, which is sure to be a common occurrence in cavernous Dodgers Stadium.

With Crawford, Ramirez and a healthy Kemp in Los Angeles for an entire season, the Dodgers will steal more than the 104 bases they swiped this season—the eighth-best total in the National League. That’s a much-needed advantage for an offense that finished second-to-last in the league in home runs with 116.   

While the home run total is sure to go up as well, the Dodgers will never be confused with the New York Yankees and their dependence on the long ball to score runs. Besides, the American League Championship Series exposed the folly in building an offense that cannot manufacture runs.

Dodgers fans shouldn’t expect Crawford to be the same player that he was during his best days with the Tampa Bay Rays. But a .290 batting average with 10 home runs, 65 runs batted in, 105 runs scored and 35 stolen bases is a reasonable expectation for his first season in Los Angeles. 

If Crawford comes anywhere close to those numbers while playing in 145 games or more, the Dodgers will be celebrating a NL West division title and their first postseason appearance since 2009.

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MLB Playoff Race: 5 Reasons Los Angeles Dodgers Will Overcome Pitching Woes

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitching staff has fallen on tough times recently. But there are reasons to believe that a turnaround is on the horizon, in spite of all that’s occurred over the past two weeks. In that time, the Dodgers have lost two of their most important pitchers to injury, possibly for the rest of the season.

RHP Chad Billingsley has been out indefinitely since leaving in the fourth inning of his August 24 start with discomfort in his pitching elbow. Although he received an injection of platelet-rich plasma last week in an attempt to salvage his season, his return is in serious doubt. Billingsley’s had won all six of his starts since the All-Star break and was easily the Dodgers’ best pitcher during that time. His loss is devastating to a starting rotation that has been without LHP Ted Lilly since early May.

Lilly’s return is also in question as he’s been slow to recover from soreness in his pitching shoulder.  

The injury news got worse for Los Angeles last week when closer Kenley Jansen was also shelved indefinitely with a recurring heart condition. He is scheduled to find out today if he can return to the Dodgers bullpen as soon as September 7 or if he’ll miss the rest of the 2012 season. 

The injuries alone are a big enough cause for concern, but the Dodgers also endured a 1-3 stretch last week during which they gave up a total of 34 runs. 

The combination of mounting injuries and poor pitching performances are enough to make a Dodgers fan cry. However, the darkest days are behind them, and the sun has already begun to shine on Los Angeles once again.

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MLB Playoff Race: Why the New York Yankees Will Miss the Playoffs

The New York Yankees are in the midst of an epic collapse that is likely to keep them out of the MLB playoffs this year.

New York held a 10-game lead in the AL East on July 18. But it now leads the Baltimore Orioles by just one game, and the Tampa Bay Rays are a mere two-and-a-half games out. 

The Yankees can’t let the Boston Red Sox beat them at anything, including epic failure. If New York manages to lose the division and miss the playoffs entirely, their collapse would easily eclipse that of the 2011 Red Sox.

Boston, as you might recall, missed out on last year’s postseason on the final day of the regular season. A loss to the Orioles that day capped off a 7-20 September that Red Sox fans won’t soon forget.

The Yankees had a golden opportunity to create some distance between themselves and their AL East foes. But they dropped two of three games at home to the Orioles over the weekend.

New York also lost the first game of a three-game series in Tampa Bay yesterday, leaving them in the precarious position that they find themselves in now. 

Third baseman Alex Rodriguez returned to the lineup on Monday after a 37-game absence due to a broken left hand. His return should help, but he wasn’t exactly hitting like the A-Rod of old prior to his injury.

First baseman Mark Teixeira is expected back by the end of the week as well. But his return won’t help cure what really ails the Yankees.

New York’s offense is heavily dependent on the long ball to score runs. The Yankees lead the major leagues with 202 home runs through yesterday, but they are woefully inadequate when it comes to manufacturing runs. 

This weakness has killed the Yankees in close games all year, and will be a crucial factor in their inability to win more of the one-run games that are sure to occur over the season’s final month.

The July trade for Ichiro Suzuki was supposed to address this concern, but so far the results aren’t showing up in the win column.

The Yankees’ pitching is also a mess. C.C. Sabathia has not pitched like the ace that New York needs him to be; stopping losing streaks and invoking confidence in the rest of the team.

Andy Pettitte’s recovery from a fractured ankle suffered in late June has been slow. The veteran left-hander isn’t expected to make more than a couple of starts before the end of the regular season. 

By that time, New York’s playoff fate could be decided.

Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes have been inconsistent this year at best, and can’t be counted on to lead the team out of their recent funk. 

The Yankees are mired in a 4-9 slump dating back to a three-game sweep at the hands of the Chicago White Sox in late August. 

The schedule isn’t getting any easier for New York down the stretch either.

Yesterday’s loss in Tampa began a 10-game road trip that includes four games in Baltimore and three more in Boston. 

The Red Sox have plenty of problems of their own. But they’ll certainly rally around a chance to keep the Yankees out of the postseason. That would make 2012 a mild success for many Boston fans.

Once the Yankees return from the road, the Rays will drop in for a three-game set in New York. 

Tampa’s 2011 miracle run to the playoffs was fueled by a late-game comeback against these Yankees on the season’s final day. They’ll be looking to repeat the feat—albeit a tad bit earlier—again in 2012. 

The Yankees will get a chance to catch their breaths when the Toronto Blue Jays visit the Bronx immediately after Tampa Bay. But New York host the red-hot Oakland A’s in another stern test right after Toronto leaves.

The next 19 games will serve as a stern test of the Yankees’ character and resiliency. But it will also reveal the fact that this team simply isn’t as good as its early-season success indicated.

For all of their big names and hefty contracts, New York has a flawed roster that’s due for a major overhaul this offseason. If the Yankees don’t find a hot streak in them soon, general manager Brian Cashman will get an early start on that rebuilding project.

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4 Reasons Why the Los Angeles Dodgers Erred by Not Upgrading Their Rotation

The Los Angeles Dodgers were easily the most active buyers leading up to today’s 4 p.m. ET, MLB non-waiver trade deadline. 

They pulled off a stunning trade last week when they acquired former All-Star Hanley Ramirez and left-handed reliever Randy Choate from the Miami Marlins for 22-year-old pitcher Nate Eovaldi and lightly regarded relief pitching prospect Scott McGough.  

That move was augmented by yesterday’s trade to acquire relief pitcher Brandon League from the Seattle Mariners, which then allowed the Dodgers to flip relief pitcher Josh Lindblom and prospect Ethan Martin to the Philadelphia Phillies for outfielder Shane Victorino. 

Each of those moves dramatically improved the Dodgers’ postseason odds and sent a strong message to the rest of Major League Baseball that the new ownership group in Los Angeles is serious about winning now.

But as savvy as each of those trades were—especially since the Dodgers surrendered none of their top prospects to make the moves happen—there was a glaring hole in the strategy executed by Los Angeles general manager Ned Colletti: he failed to upgrade the starting rotation. 

There’s no question that the Dodgers’ inability to consistently score runs was the biggest issue preventing them from being a legitimate threat to contend for a World Series in 2012 and beyond. But there are four reasons why not upgrading the starting pitching could cost Los Angeles dearly.

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Los Angeles Dodgers: Ned Colletti Must Make Moves Before the All-Star Break

The Los Angeles Dodgers are in a tailspin, and they must do something to stop the bleeding soon.

After dropping the series opener to the San Francisco Giants 8-0 last night, Los Angeles is now in jeopardy of falling into a tie for first place in the NL West by the time the series ends on Wednesday night. The Dodgers are now 11-12 in June and are in danger of having their first losing month since July of 2011.

While injuries to All-Star center fielder Matt Kemp—who’s missed 38 games across two DL stints with an injured hamstring—and starting pitcher Ted Lilly have certainly hurt, it’s more apparent than ever that the Dodgers need to make a trade or two soon if they want to maintain their grip on the division and have a shot at an extended playoff run.

Both the San Francisco Giants—who are now within two games of the first-place Dodgers following Monday night’s win—and the Arizona Diamondbacks—the defending NL West champions—are starting to play like most predicted they would at the start of the 2012 season.

Neither team should be expected to take steps backward during the second half, injuries notwithstanding.

Yesterday I wrote a column outlining eight deadline possibilities for the Dodgers, but now it’s clear that general manager Ned Colletti cannot wait that long before making moves to improve the roster.

The Dodgers hope to have Kemp back after the All-Star break, but there is no definitive timetable for his return. Lilly’s return is not imminent, either, and Nate Eovaldi may not be the long-term solution, as he continues to struggle with his command despite looking good in five of his six starts this year.

Los Angeles knew that it had questions in both the rotation and in the lineup entering the 2012 season, and while their strong start helped to mask some of those deficiencies, it is now time to start plugging those holes in preparation for a second-half playoff run.

The addition of the second Wild Card spot in each league has narrowed the field of teams that are clearly out of contention heading into the July 31st trade deadline. This will create greater competition for the few players that are available via trade, so Colletti would be wise to start working the phones now.

The Dodgers can expect some improvement to occur organically once Kemp and Lilly eventually return. But that likely won’t be enough to hold off second-half surges from the Giants and Diamondbacks, as well as other National League teams that may make moves to improve their postseason chances.

Contact Geoff at, follow him on Twitter @snglemarriedguy and read more about sports and pop culture at

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2012 MLB Spring Training: 8 Position Battles That Will Come Down to the Last Day

A week into March, spring training is well under way. Many veteran players lament having to go through the grind, but for others, this time of year provides hope in many forms.  

Be it a career revival after a down season, a former standout looking to bounce back from a key injury or an unproven player fighting for a roster spot or starting position, spring training provides plenty of reasons for baseball fans to start paying attention early. 

Most teams have at least a handful of players who fall into one or more of the aforementioned categories, leading to some intriguing position battles as we work toward opening day. Here I’ll break down eight of the most interesting competitions heading into the 2012 MLB season.

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