2009 LOS ANGELES DODGERS PREVIEW
Normally, when a team wins 84 games during the regular season, there isn’t a lot to celebrate. However, the Dodgers’ 84 wins last season were enough to earn them the NL West crown, as the West was by far the worst division in all of baseball. L.A.’s season turned when they acquired slugger Manny Ramirez at the trade deadline and Joe Torre’s team vaulted into the postseason thanks to Ramirez’s blistering bat.
Things look equally promising this fall at Chavez Ravine. The Dodgers bring back most of their key players in the field and a good pitching staff. They also jettisoned some of their older players and are a much younger team. However, the domino has not yet fallen on Manny Ramirez, who is a free agent and waiting for a bigger contract offer. The Dodgers’ ability to return to the postseason will be very closely tied to their ability to bring him back.
The Dodgers have a young but talented rotation. Erstwhile staff ace Chad Billingsley (16-10, 3.14 ERA, 32 starts, 200 IP, 201 K last year) broke his leg in a freak accident back in November but is expected to be ready for Spring Training and will hopefully show no ill signs. Japanese import Hiroki Kuroda (9-10, 3.73 ERA, 31 starts, 183 IP) was stellar in his first season for the Dodgers and should be even better this fall. The Dodgers also brought back Randy Wolf (12-12, 4.30 ERA, 33 starts, 190 IP) after a year away to shore up the rotation. He should be solid in the spacious confines of Dodger Stadium. The fourth spot in the rotation will likely belong to young Clayton Kershaw (5-5, 4.26 ERA, 27 starts) and the Dodger brass thinks very highly of him. Expect him to improve this year. The fifth spot is up for grabs between veterans Shawn Estes (2-3, 4.74 ERA, 9 starts) and Jason Schmidt, who is hoping to regain his elite form after two injury-riddled years. Eric Stults (2-3, 3.49 ERA, 7 starts) also will have a chance to make the club. Expect the Dodgers’ rotation to be solid with the potential to be excellent if Schmidt can return to health and form.
The Dodgers have a solid bullpen, anchored by young closer Jonathan Broxton (3.13 ERA, 70 games, 88 K, 14 SV in 22 SVO). Broxton is a prototypical flamethrower and blows opponents away with ease. The bullpen also features a number of talented pitchers to get the game to him. Hong-Chih Kuo (2.14 ERA), Ramon Trancoso (4.26 ERA), Guillermo Mota (4.11 ERA), and Cory Wade (2.27 ERA) are the foundations of an excellent bullpen. This group is the NL West’s best.
Los Angeles is also very good in the infield. Catcher Russell Martin (.280, 13 HR, 69 RBI, .385 OBP, 18 SB) is one of the best in baseball and is still quite young while first baseman James Loney (.289, 13 HR, 90 RBI, .338 OBP) broke out in a big way last year. Both should improve their power numbers this year. Shortstop Rafael Furcal (.357, 5 HR, 16 RBI, .439 OBP, 8 SB in 36 games) missed a large portion of last season but was extremely effective when he was on the field. While it is unlikely that his .357 average will hold up over a full year, he is an excellent leadoff hitter and will be a huge asset this year. Second base features two solid performers in Blake DeWitt (.264, 9 HR, 52 RBI, .344 OBP) and Mark Loretta (.280, 4 HR, 38 RBI, .350 OBP), both of whom could also find playing time at third base behind Casey Blake (.274, 21 HR, 84 RBI, .345 OBP). Blake provided some pop after being acquired from Cleveland last year. Overall, the Dodgers have a very good infield.
The Dodgers’ outfield also has a number of solid performers. Right fielder Andre Ethier (.305, 20 HR, 77 RBI, .375 OBP), centerfielder Matt Kemp (.290, 18 HR, 76 RBI, .340 OBP, 35 SB) and Juan Pierre(.283, 1 HR, 28 RBI, .327 OBP, 40 SB) are speedy players who can get on base. Ethier and Kemp could also easily improve upon their power numbers and will be featured in the heart of the order. However, this outfield would go from very good to excellent if the Dodgers can lure back Ramirez. Manny hit .396, 17 Home Runs, 53 RBIs and had a .489 OBP in only fifty three games for the Dodgers last year! That is an incredible stat line and if the Dodgers add his bat then this is definitely the best outfield in the division.
Overall, Chavez Ravine has a ton of talent on hand this year. Regardless of whether the Boys in Blue can sign Ramirez, they should improve upon their 84 win total from a year ago. However, they do have some questions in their starting rotation and their lineup is somewhat lacking in the power department without Manny.
However, the Dodgers are still the favorites to retain his services for this season and if they bring him back, they are definitely the class of the division. With Ramirez, the Dodgers win 90-95 games and are a shoo-in for the NL West crown. However, without Ramirez they have a tough up-and-coming Diamondbacks team breathing down their necks and Arizona boasts a superior starting rotation. The Manny-less Dodgers are probably going to seriously struggle to hold off the desert snakes and probably only win 85-90 games.
Is it ridiculous to say that one player alone could be a ten win swing? Not when that player is Manny Ramirez and his statistics from two months with the team last year project out to 51 Home Runs, 159 RBI and a near .400 batting average. Plain and simple, the Dodgers win the division with Manny Ramirez. Without him, it will be a lot more difficult. Expect L.A. to realize all his importance and ink him to a contract before the season begins.
By Matt Baxendell
> View all of the 2009 MLB team previews from Pro Baseball Fans