Here we are, folks: the End of Season Post-Mortem series. If you're new here (which about 50% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from playoff contention, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated.
With a massive payroll and huge expectations, the Dodgers had a roller coaster of a season. From struggling so badly out of the gate that manager Don Mattingly came within days of getting fired to calling up a rookie phenom and finishing the season as arguably the best team in baseball before finally running into the buzzsaw that is Michael Wacha in the NLCS. While they didn't achieve their ultimate goal, this whole season played out as a prelude to great things that are still to come.
Preseason Prediction: There is probably enough question marks in the Dodgers lineup to prevent us from already anointing them the NL West champs, but there is still a lot of talent. The real strength of the team lies in the rotation though. Kershaw and Greinke could be the best rotation pair in baseball and the back end of the rotation should shape up nicely if only because they have so many options to chose from that they should be able to get three decent seasons out of the six remaining options. So even if Gonzalez's power doesn't come back or HanRam misses a month or two, there is little reason to think that LA won't be in the hunt for the division right up until the very end.
What Went Right: The first thing that went right for the Dodgers was having their payroll be the same size as the gross domestic product of Argentina. That massive payroll allowed the Dodgers to build up the depth that it turned out they would very much need. They survived Hanley Ramirez missing half the season, but their patience was rewarded by HanRam returning to MVP-caliber form that he hasn't shown since 2010. Their previous investment in Yasiel Puig also paid off in a big way as he was able to step in and replace, if not exceed, the production lost when Matt Kemp went down with injury. They also got solid work out of the Carl Crawford reclamation project and even saw Juan Uribe magically pull a 5.1 fWAR season out of his own backside.
That's a lot of good things going down and we haven't even talked about the pitching yet. Korean rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu was seemingly signed as an insurance policy, but won't up establishing himself as a rotation stalwart with a 3.00 ERA in his rookie campaign. Zack Greinke gave the Dodgers exactly what they paid for as their second rotation ace, plus he started a bloodfeud with Carlos Quentin for some reason. That counts for something, right? Oh, and Clayton Kershaw is probably still the best pitcher in the world.
What Went Wrong: For a team that won 92 games, easily won their division and came within two wins the NL pennant quite a bit actually went wrong. First and foremost, they got nothing out of Matt Kemp. Actually, they got less than nothing with Kemp posting a -0.4 WAR in an injury-ravaged 73 games of action. Their nominal third starter Chad Billingsley only gave them 12 innings before being felled by arm problems while Josh Beckett toiled through 43.1 terrible innings before joining him on the DL. Finally, an otherwise lights out bullpen was nearly sabotaged from within by the team's insistence on going with the truly terrible Brandon League at closer all the way into mid-June despite having Kenley Jansen on staff. Losing your franchise player, two-fifths of your rotation and having a terrible closer would submarining most teams, but it turns out having access to Scrooge McDuck's money vault helps you overcome that.
Most Surprising Player: It can't be overstated enough how amazing Yasiel Puig's emergence as a superstar is. It isn't even that he didn't have the latent talent, more so that nobody saw him putting it all together so quickly. His monster spring training certainly got people excited, but for him to put up a 4 win season in just 104 games played despite having all of 63 gams experience in the minors is nothing anyone could have projected.
Most Disappointing Player: It is a bit of a cop out because he was injured from Opening Day on, but Matt Kemp was a wild disappointment this season. When he played, he was totally ineffective. When he was on the DL, he was always pressing himself to get back as soon as he could, which led to him coming back too soon, being totally ineffective again and ultimately going back on the DL. Rinse and repeat.
The Future: Hold on, let me check. Yep, the Dodgers still have all the money, so they should be just fine going forward. They continue to make bad roster decisions and Don Mattingly probably isn't that great of a manager, but they can just keep buying their way out of their problems. Now they are going to go into the off-season armed with their checkbook again and could add the likes of Robinson Cano, Brian McCann, Matt Garza or all of the above. Even if they don't make any big moves, they still get to look forward to full seasons of Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez and hopefully a fully healthy Matt Kemp. There is little reason to believe that Dodgers won't be peeing in some division rival's pool again next season.