Why the Dodgers young outfield is key to winning the West

After a disappointing 80-82 record and a fourth-place finish to their 2010 campaign, the Dodgers are looking to make this year’s quest for their third NL West pennant in four seasons a more competitive one. As always, the Dodgers have the pitching rotation and bullpen that will rival anyone in baseball with perhaps the exception of the Philadelphia Phillies and the hated San Francisco Giants. But here are three reasons why their young, talented outfield will be the difference between their winning the West and going home this fall dejected . . . again.

Matt Kemp

“The Bison” is one of the brightest, up-and-coming outfielders in the game currently. After a sub-par 2010 season, only batting .249 and striking out a whopping 170 times, look for him to return to 2009 form this year. While the Dodgers are mired in a woeful 4-13 spring training record including a 0-4 split squad mark, Kemp’s leading the team with a .314 batting average along with 2 homers, 7 RBIs, and 3 stolen bases. Since his minor league days, Kemp has always had his critics, though one great note about him: he started every single game last year. His durability was key for a team that was decimated by injuries a year ago. Hopefully, that stamina-and more focus at the plate amidst an on-and-off relationship with Bajan hip-hop hottie Rihanna-will give Kemp his first All-Star nod this July.

Andre Ethier

The 2009 National League All-Star was off to an MVP-type, Triple Crown candidate season this past April and May when a broken pinky finger forced him to miss several weeks of action. Though he finished the season with impressive numbers, he never really recovered the pre-injury tear he had been on. A healthy Ethier spells doom for the Dodgers NL West opponents.

Outfield Depth

Right now in spring training, ex-San Diego Padre Tony Gwinn and Xavier Paul are the frontrunners to join Kemp and Ethier in the outfield at the left field position. Both Gwinn and Paul are young, lightning-fast on the base paths, and hungry for the job. While they are enjoying good, competitive spring trainings, the Dodgers still have Gabe Kapler, Jerry Sands, and Marcus Thames waiting in the wings-which makes first-year manager Don Mattingly’s final 40-man active roster decisions pleasantly tough.

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