Last week, I started these season previews by looking at the Brewers and the rest of the NL Central. That series bled over into this week, with my preview of the Pirates. I blame Bud Selig, and his reorganization of the Central into a six-team division. Ideally, however, I’d like these previews to cover one division a week. With that in mind, I’m going to jump the gun a little bit and post two previews today so that I can get all 5 NL West teams in before the weekend. We’ll start with the Dodgers, who won their first postseason series in 20 years against the highly favored Cubs last year, before bowing out to the eventual World Series champs.
As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team’s 2009 season. I’ve included quotes and other information from each of the them – Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy’s. I’ve also included some statistics about each magazines’ success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.
My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there’s room for some personal commentary. I think it’ll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don’t want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I’ll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I’ve never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the “combined” team preview for the…
Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Year: 84 – 78, 1st Place, NL West
|This Year||Last Year||Avg Pred.||Avg Finish|
* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2001, 2003 – 2004, 2006 – 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2003, 2006 – 2008
The Dodgers won the NL West last year with only 84 wins, but then went on to sweep the 97-win Cubs in the NLDS. A lot of that can be attributed to the tear that the team went on in September, after the deadline deal for Manny Ramirez invigorated the team. With Manny yet to sign with a team, it seems like a lethal blow to the Dodgers’ division hopes. However, with the weak competition in the NL West, they have as good of a chance as ever to defend their division crown.
“The Dodgers best weapon is still the fact that they play in the NL West. While this appears to be pretty much the same team it was last year – minus one enigmatic slugger – so do the other four clubs in the division, which LA won by two games last year. Given that the Dodgers’ promising stable of young players is now a year older and a little more battle-tested, there is little reason to believe they can’t contend again. The one thing the Dodgers hope to have that they didn’t have much last year will be a healthy Rafael Furcal at the top of the lineup. They also have a more experienced Chad Billingsley at the front of the rotation. (Athlon)”
A big part of the Dodgers chances relies on a few players: rightfielder Matt Kemp, shortstop Rafael Furcal, pitcher Chad Billingsley, and catcher Russell Martin. There are plenty of other players on the team who will contribute to the Dodgers success – Loney, Ethier, Blake to name a few – but they aren’t as integral to the team as these four, and none of them quite as much as Martin:
“How versatile and athletic is Russell Martin? He started eight games at thid base, led all major league catchers with 18 steals, and recorded at least 40 at-bats in each of the first six spots in the batting order. Throw in a second straight All-Star appearance at age 25 and there’s a lot to like. Martin hates taking days off, but those 149 appearances at catcher took a physical and mental toll. His slugging percentage was .436 in the first half of the season, and .336 after the All-Star break. (Lindy’s)”
The team isn’t perfect, though, and the biggest question mark seems to be the pitching. With the losses of Lowe and Penny, the Dodgers lost a lot of veteran leadership and experience. It’ll be up to Billingsley and 34-year-old, 2nd-year Japanese pitcher Kuroda to make up that difference.
“The key will be how the team’s highly regarded young arms step in to fill the rotation needs – particularly the major void created by the loss of the durable and dependable Lowe. And Los Angeles needs to get some sort of contribution from right-hander Jason Schmidt, who’s in the final season of a three-year, $47 million contract. The arm problems that have haunted Schmidt since his days in Pittsburgh have limited him to just six starts and 25.2 innings in two years with the Dodgers.
In just his third big-league season, right-hander Chad Billingsley led the Los Angeles rotation with 16 wins and a 3.14 ERA in 2008, but he also had the security blanket of Lowe being the No. 1 starter. Now the Dodgers are looking for Billingsley to take the next step forward and assume a leadership role on a staff where, barring any late free-agent signings, he’ll rank second to Schmidt in terms of major league service time.
Kuroda came to Los Angeles a year ago and showed he could enjoy the pitching environment of Dodger Stadium (going 6-2 with a 3.68 ERA), but struggled to a 3-8 record on the road – although his ERA only rose to 3.78. (TSN)”
From TSN‘s “View from the Other Dugout”:
“The Dodgers have good young players and they are going to get better. What they went through last September only shows them what they are capable of. Yes, Manny Ramirez was a factor, but he was there the month of August, too, and that didn’t make a difference. What happened with this team was Jeff Kent was removed from the equation. He got hurt, wasn’t with the team and the young kids finally relaxed and found the game fun again. Once they did that it became misery for everybody they were playing.”
The biggest question about the Dodgers, and this is one that we can’t fault the preview magazines for not knowing the answer to since we still don’t know the answer, is whether or not Manny Ramirez will be wearing the Dodger blue at all this year. He provided such a spark for the club last year that it’s hard not to credit their two-game division victory to him. If he does eventually sign with the Dodgers – and the smart money has that happening – then he will obviously be an asset, on and off the field. But the “Manny Watch” ends up obscuring one thing: while his signing will obviously help the team, it is not absolutely required to win the division.
In the weak NL West, the reigning division champions have a good chance at repeating. With their young talent in Russell Martin and Matt Kemp, and with the resigning of shortstop Rafael Furcal, the Dodgers have a solid lineup. Their rotation is suspect, however, especially in comparison to rival San Francisco’s. The Dodgers may not be the perfect team, but in a weak division with no clear competition (Arizona falls into the category of “closest competititon” by default, it seems), they have every chance to win it. Of course, if they do end up signing Manny, then those chances only increase.