Springtime Storylines: How long until new ownership puts the magic back in the Los Angeles Dodgers?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Big Question: How long until new ownership brings back the magic?

Sorry. That was kind of hacky, wasn’t it?  Oh well. I coulda gone with “Showtime,” and I didn’t so consider yourself lucky.

But our hackiness can be forgiven, can it not?  These are heady times for the Dodgers. Frank McCourt’s reign of terror is about to end and in comes the most beloved figure in L.A. sports this side of Vin Scully. And what’s more, Magic Johnson is accompanied by serious money in the form of Guggenheim Partners, and real baseball brains in Stan Kasten.  That stuff has led to a zillion headlines this week, but how long until that translates to success on the field?

Maybe sooner than you think. Here was Magic Johnson early Wednesday morning, when asked if the new ownership group was going to approach things like the Yankees do:

“It’s not just the Yankees. The Angels invested a lot of money into Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. You see what the Tigers just did with Prince Fielder. Teams are investing. That’s what you do when you put a winning team on the field. We’re not going to be any different from those teams.”

Cole Hamles is available next year. So is Matt Cain. So is Josh Hamilton. In not too long Joey Votto will hit the market.  There’s no reason to think that the Dodgers aren’t going to be in on that business.  And if they are, they could start winning a lot of baseball games here pretty soon.

What else is going on?

  • None of that is this year, though. For this year it’s their Cy Young pitcher in Clayton Kershaw, their MVP-caliber center fielder Matt Kemp and … a whole lot of blah. Or, as Jonah Keri put it so succinctly: “2012 could bring the Dodgers another Cy Young, an MVP award, and the league lead for crummy, overpaid starters named Juan.”
  • Dee Gordon is about as exciting as it comes. He hit .304 with a .325 on-base percentage and stole 24 bases in only 56 games.  He may be trouble for the Dodgers at the top of the order given how batting average-heavy that OBP is, but when he does get on base, watch out.
  • Otherwise this is a pretty weak lineup. Outside of Kemp there are very few power threats and the one guy who could maybe turn into one one day — Jerry Sands — was just sent down to the minors. For this lineup to be any kind of respectable, the Dodgers need Andre Ethier, James Loney and Juan Rivera all to remember what they were like when they used to be something. That’s a tall order.
  • Kershaw is less of a lone solider in the rotation, as Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and Aaron Harang all look solid. Not spectacular or anything, but solid.

So how are they gonna do?

Not that great. I really don’t like anyone in this lineup not named Matt Kemp.  The cupboard is basically bare here, as the minor league system atrophied under McCourt and Ned Colletti simply doesn’t appear to know how to assemble useful spare parts.  All of that is a recipe for mediocrity at best.  Even if there is excitement on the horizon.

Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal to be examined for arm tightness

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Cardinal closer Trevor Rosenthal was taken out of last night’s game against the Red Sox after he gave up a big homer and a walk. He velocity was down as well, and Mike Mathney said after the game that he didn’t look right. Now the Cardinals are going to take a closer look at him, and he’ll be examined today for what is being described as “tightness” in his right arm.

Rosenthal is 3-4 with a 3.40 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 76/20 in 47.2 innings. He has 11 saves after regaining the closer’s job from Seung Hwan Oh. Now some combination of Oh, Tyler Lyons, and John Brebbia will fill in for Rosenthal to the extent he needs to miss time.

Aaron Judge broke a dubious record last night

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Aaron Judge hit a monster home run in last night’s win over the Mets, but he also set a dubious record. Judge struck out for the 33rd consecutive game, setting a new mark for a position player in a single season.

Yes, that’s qualified. No pitchers, of course, as I assume many of them have struck out in more than 33 straight games. Also,  Adam Dunn once struck out in 36 straight games, but that straddled two seasons: he struck out in the final four games of 2011 and the first 32 games of 2012. Still, Judge’s feat is impressive, and given the nature of his game and the state of baseball these days, it’s not hard to imagine him striking out in three or four more straight games anyway.

None of which, by the way, should be all that much of a slight on Judge. The guy is still hitting .291/.420/.614, even with his second half slump. If I was a manager I’d happily accept his whiffs in exchange for everything else he brings to the table. It’s not 1959 anymore, and strikeouts are not the worst thing that can happen.