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Dodgers Season Preview
Clayton Kershaw will have a breakout season for the Dodgers. AP Photo/Gus Ruelas
The Los Angeles Dodgers begin their 51st season in Los Angeles with a team that flies in the face of tradition. When you think about the all-time Dodgers you think Don Newcombe, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser and Eric Gagne - all pitchers. However this year the Dodgers' strength is in their bats with their arms being questionable.
When the last out was made in Game Five of the NLCS, the Dodgers suddenly had a lot of gaps to fill. With Jeff Kent retiring at second base, Manny Ramirez a big question at left field, dumping the waste that was Andruw Jones and Casey Blake's and Rafael Furcal's expired contracts at third and shortstop (not to mention all the pitchers who left), the Dodgers resembled swiss cheese. But Ned Colletti to his credit re-signed Blake, Furcal and Manny and brought in Orlando Hudson at second along with backups Mark Loretta and Brad Ausmus. Look at this line up:
1. Rafael Furcal (SS)
2. Orlando Hudson (2B)
3. Manny Ramirez (LF)
4. Andre Ethier (RF)
5. Russell Martin (C)
6. James Loney (1B)
7. Matt Kemp (CF)
8. Casey Blake (3B)
While 4-8 can change given pitching matchups, this is one hell of a line up. All of the youngsters are one year older and will have better at-bats while the veterans on the team really haven't lost any pop.
And in the NL West where pitching lives in reigning NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, 2007 NL Cy Young winner Brandon Webb, Dan Haren and Jake Peavy, this line up will keep them on their toes. While not Murderers Row, the offense should keep the Dodgers in the game.
Which brings us to the weakness: pitching. The starting rotation is comprised of Hiroki Kuroda, Chad Billingsley, Randy Wolf, Clayton Kershaw and James McDonald. Three guys under the age of 25 (Billingsley, Kershaw and McDonald), a pitcher who has a history of arm problems in Wolf and a pitcher who couldn't win road game last season in Kuroda. While this rotation won't inspire epic tales and legends, the plain truth is they don't have to. If they can hold things together and not come apart at the seams, the offense should help carry the load. It still sounds very weird to say.
Having said that the trading season will start much earlier due to the economy. After about the first month or two teams will see what position they’re in. Teams that have no hope will likely start dumping players left and right in order to maintain some glimmer of profit margin. Come May or June there could be a starter or reliever out there for the taking.
With respect to the NL West, the only other team to worry about is the Arizona Diamondbacks. With a lot of youth in that lineup, it’s hard to tell whether they’ll be great or not. Last season after getting off to the blistering start in April they played sub-.500 ball the rest of the way to give the NL West to the Dodgers. Until the D-Backs can prove they can be consistent, I don’t give them much of a shot to win the division.
As for the Giants, Rockies and Padres, good luck. The Giants will be improved this season but will struggle to be .500. The Rockies and the Padres are just plain horrible with the Padres possibly losing over 100 games.
After saying the Dodgers would finish in third place last season, I should probably say the same thing again. But I honestly don’t see it. The Dodgers will win the NL West with 93 wins.
NL East: Atlanta Braves
NL Central: Chicago Cubs
NL West: LA Dodgers
NL Wild Card: New York Mets
AL East: New York Yankees
AL Central: Minnesota Twins
AL West: Oakland A’s
AL Wild Card: Boston Red Sox
NL Pennant: LA Dodgers
AL Pennant: NY Yankees
World Series: LA Dodgers in six games.
Yes, that’s right. I said it. The Dodgers will bolster their rotation and bullpen with trades in June and July. Clayton Kershaw will have a breakout season, and Chad Billingsley will improve on last year’s results. The bullpen will be better than advertised, and combined the pitching will shut down all hitters in the postseason.