Looking back, looking ahead

A look back at the Dodgers’ season reveals some ups and downs, while a look ahead to next year shows a team without much room to change.

What went well

The starting pitching: The Dodgers’ rotation finished with a 3.41 ERA, third-lowest in the majors behind the Rays and Nationals. Despite winning seven fewer games than he did last season, Clayton Kershaw once again led all of baseball in ERA, the first pitcher to lead the majors in ERA in consecutive seasons since Pedro Martinez in 2002 and '03. Before Chad Billingsley was injured, he had emerged as a legitimate No. 2 behind Kershaw, going 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA in his first six starts after the All-Star break. Chris Capuano, who faded in the second half, still posted a career-best ERA.

The bullpen: In 2011, Dodgers relievers ranked 24th in baseball with a 3.92 ERA. This year, they ranked eighth as they lowered their ERA to 3.23. After missing 2011 with visa problems, Ronald Belisario returned in 2012 as a key piece of the Dodgers’ bullpen, finishing 8-1 with a 2.54 ERA. No Dodgers pitcher since Phil Regan in 1966 (14-1) had finished with as high a winning percentage as Belisario over at least five decisions.

Luis Cruz: He filled a pressing need at third base. In 51 games while playing third, Cruz hit .321 and slugged .449; all other Dodgers third basemen combined to hit .232 and slug .354.

What didn’t go so well

The power: The Dodgers hit 116 home runs, their fewest in a non-strike-shortened season since 1992. Despite hitting just one home run fewer than last season, the Dodgers fell from 23rd in baseball to 29th as the league overall hit almost 400 more home runs this year than in 2011.

Matt Kemp’s health: Kemp’s injuries curtailed his production and cost him more than a third of the season. He hit .359 with 12 home runs in the first 34 games before injuring his hamstring, with the Dodgers going 23-11. The rest of the way, the Dodgers finished 63-65 as Kemp played in 72 games and hit .280 with 11 homers. Along the way, he suffered a shoulder injury that could affect the beginning of his 2013 season.

What comes next:

The massive August trade with the Red Sox filled first base and left field for the foreseeable future, meaning every Dodgers starting position player is potentially under contract or under team control through 2014. The easiest path to a lineup change would be if the Dodgers decide Cruz isn’t the answer at third base; in that case, they’d have the option of acquiring a third baseman or shortstop, depending on where Hanley Ramirez plays. The biggest free-agent names available at those positions are probably Stephen Drew and Kevin Youkilis, both of whom have expensive club options for 2013 that are likely to be declined.

On the pitching side, much depends on the health of Billingsley. If he’s healthy for 2013, the Dodgers would have six starting pitchers under contract, assuming a return to health for Ted Lilly, as well. The bullpen is the one area the Dodgers could add to without displacing a current player on the roster, as both Brandon League and Randy Choate are free agents after the season. Notable right-handed setup men (aside from League) who are free agents after the season include Mike Adams, Jason Grilli, Brandon Lyon and Koji Uehara, while lefties (aside from Choate) include Jeremy Affeldt, Mike Gonzalez and J.P. Howell.