After an improbable first half, the Los Angeles Dodgers are set to return to the field with, they hope, a rested, rejuvenated and healthy offense.
Earlier, our roundtable of experts gave us perspective on the Dodgers' first half. Now, they talk about how -- and where -- this team will finish.
Which player will have the biggest effect on the team's second half?
Michael Baumann, Crashburn Alley: Matt Kemp and, to a lesser extent, Andre Ethier. The Dodgers have constructed a two-man offense, and the sooner Kemp and Ethier (but particularly Kemp) come back, the less time the Dodgers have to try to hang in a pennant race with James Loney as a primary run producer. Both of them need to come back soon, and Kemp needs to stay in the lineup this time.
Logan Burdine, Blake Street Bulletin: Kemp. If he gets healthy, he will help their playoff chances immensely.
Diane Firstman, Value Over Replacement Grit: The Dodgers' training/rehab staff. Injury management and how fast they can get their key players back on the field will be important.
David Gershman, Marlins Daily: Matt Kemp. He is one of the best players in baseball and is integral to this Dodgers team if they have any idea of reaching the postseason.
Kevin Orris, Capitol Avenue Club: It has to be Matt Kemp, right? With a healthy Kemp, the offense improves significantly. This, of course, is assuming he can remain healthy.
What's the biggest problem this team has to overcome?
Baumann: I keep harping on this, but they need to score runs. The rotation is actually pretty good, and any bullpen anchored by Kenley Jansen will keep runs off the board, but any offense that bats James Loney and Adam Kennedy 4-5 isn't going to put runs on the board. Even when Kemp, Ethier and Mark Ellis are healthy, the Dodgers could lose a lot of low-scoring games.
Burdine: Matt Kemp's hamstring. I think he's really important, in case you can't tell.
Firstman: Even assuming Kemp and Ethier come back soon, they really need to find an upgrade on James Loney and Juan Uribe (at third base!). But who might be out there to trade for before the deadline?
Gershman: The injury bug.
Orris: The infield offense needs to improve in order for this team to continue to contend. Offensive production from the corners has been difficult to come by.
What trade / move would you make to better equip this team?
Baumann: I'd get a bat. Even an average hitter at the right position would make the Dodgers' lineup look much better. They've been linked to Padres third baseman Chase Headley, who would look much better in front of Ethier and Kemp than Gwynn and Gordon. But whomever he goes after, Colletti has to be careful not to give up the entire farm system for a rental. If they play their cards right, the Dodgers could pick up a useful piece without sacrificing the ability to contend in the future.
Burdine: If they could pick up another bat at first base, shortstop or left field, that would be huge, but the trade market is thin at those positions. A play for another reliever would be smart, and they might as well see if they can get Cole Hamels from the Phillies. That could make a lot of sense long term.
Firstman: Of the noncontenders, which team has a first baseman to deal? Of the potential free agents, the best of the bad lot are Carlos Pena, Casey Kotchman and Adam LaRoche, and they all belong to contenders.
Gershman: Probably some infield depth. Adding an offensive-minded shortstop to the mix could prove to be very beneficial to the Dodgers' offense.
Orris: In April, I would have assumed acquiring a starting pitcher at the deadline would be a priority, but that has changed. Acquiring a bat at either first or third base has to be a priority heading into the deadline.
Who is their biggest competition in the division?
Baumann: Arizona. The Diamondbacks have an intriguing young pitching staff, and it's hard to imagine them getting less out of Stephen Drew and Justin Upton in the second half than they have in the first. I could easily see Arizona reeling off nine wins out of 10 and closing that gap in a hurry.
Burdine: The Giants. The Diamondbacks could go on a run, but for the most part it is the Giants. The Rockies and Padres obviously are not a concern.
Firstman: I'm still waiting for the Diamondbacks to resemble their 2011 selves. Will the real Justin Upton show up soon?
Gershman: The San Francisco Giants and their beastly pitching rotation.
Orris: Both the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks could easily overtake the Dodgers at this point. If any of the three teams can land a big bat at the deadline, it could be the difference between winning the NL West and missing out on the playoffs altogether.
Will this team make the playoffs?
Baumann: It's entirely possible, particularly if the Dodgers make the right trade, but I don't think so. I think this is a slightly sub-.500 team that's overachieved huge so far this season. But with that said, the Dodgers are very much in the thick of things, and if there's one division that a mediocre team can steal, it's the NL West. I wouldn't put money on a Dodgers playoff run, but neither would I be shocked if it happened.
Burdine: Yes, I believe they will win the NL West.
Firstman: If they don't win the division, they could miss the playoffs entirely, as there are many other teams with similar records. I'm thinking they hang on for one of the two wild-card spots.
Orris: I don't believe the current team will make the playoffs, but I would listen to an argument. I think the two wild cards come from the NL East and the NL Central, so the Dodgers would have to win the NL West.