What are the biggest reasons for the Dodgers' success this year and what are the biggest disappointments they've had to overcome?
-- Michael A., Las Vegas
The positives: Orlando Hudson's remarkable comeback from wrist surgery, Juan Pierre turning into supersub, Chad Billingsley's continued evolution into staff ace, Jonathan Broxton silencing doubters that he could close, Ramon Troncoso's emergence as a reliable setup man, a balanced offense and a much improved bench. On the downside, they've overcome the 50-game loss of Manny Ramirez, the continued deterioration of Russell Martin's offense, Rafael Furcal's inability to regain his pre-surgery form, two months without Opening Day starter Hiroki Kuroda and the loss of setup man Hong-Chih Kuo.
Now that Pierre has produced in such a big way, what do you think the Dodgers will do with the four outfielders when Manny comes back? Are they looking to trade one of them for a starting pitcher at the Trade Deadline?
-- Vince H., Santa Barbara, Calif.
I think Joe Torre will do exactly what he said he'll do -- play all four of them. If Ramirez's suspension proved anything, it's that the Dodgers need Pierre. Trade an outfielder for a starting pitcher? The Dodgers don't need a starting pitcher badly enough to trade Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier to get one. If they deal for a pitcher at the Trade Deadline, they'll probably do it with prospects and young Major Leaguers, as they did last summer to get Ramirez and Casey Blake.
Is Clayton Kershaw another over-hyped Dodgers prospect?
-- Greg G., Studio City, Calif.
He's only 21 years old. Seven of the pitchers drafted in the first round of last week's Draft are already older than Kershaw. Kershaw has 171 2/3 Major League innings and he's still younger than Chad Billingsley was when he made his Major League debut. That was in 2006 and now, three years later, Billingsley has become one of the best starting pitchers in the league. If Kershaw stays healthy, he'll probably become the left-handed equivalent of Billingsley. But probably not at age 21. He's still learning, while being counted on by a first-place club. Four starts back he had a no-hitter through seven innings. Three starts before that he had a shutout through seven innings. In seven of his 12 starts, he's allowed fewer than three earned runs. If he can do that at his young age, imagine how good he might get.
Can you list the best acquisitions, worst acquisitions and the key players lost since Ned Colletti took over as general manager?
-- Jack L., Albany, Calif.
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Best acquisitions: Manny Ramirez, Andre Ethier, Takashi Saito, Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal, Orlando Hudson, Juan Pierre, Hiroki Kuroda, Greg Maddux, Randy Wolf and Chan Ho Park.
Worst acquisitions: Jason Schmidt, Andruw Jones, Brett Tomko, Bill Mueller, Julio Lugo, Jae Seo, Esteban Loaiza, Danny Baez, Gary Bennett and Will Ohman (so far).
Biggest getaways: Derek Lowe, Jason Werth, Dioner Navarro, Edwin Jackson, Cody Ross, Willy Aybar, Carlos Santana (potentially) and Duaner Sanchez.
What does it mean when a team purchases the contract of a Minor League player?
-- Nate S., New Milford, Conn.
Back in the day before affiliations, independently owned Minor League teams employed (controlled) the players and when a MLB team wanted that player, it literally "purchased" his contract for a fee. The term is still used, but now the organizations already employ (control) the Minor League players, loan them to the Minor League team, and "purchasing" is just the "old-school" term meaning he's been added to the 40-man Major League roster, because the Major League club already controls his contract.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.