2009 Season Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers
- Updated: April 4, 2009
Projected 2009 record: 91-71
Projected finish: First Place, National League West
Key additions: Manny Ramirez, Orlando Hudson, Randy Wolf
Key subtractions: Jeff Kent, Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, Takashi, Saito, Greg Maddux, Andruw Jones
Quick-hit synopsis: Joe Torre will have an almost embarrassing level of riches in his 25-man roster — a hard-hitting starting lineup with a great mix of youth and experience, reliable veterans on the bench, and a solid bullpen. The main concern is the strength and health of the starting rotation. The Dodgers have a very small margin of error for injury. If one or (gasp!) two of the starters go down, this team can start looking very ordinary in a hurry.
Projected starting lineup/batting order:
SS- Rafael Furcal
2B- Orlando Hudson
LF- Manny Ramirez
RF- Andre Ethier
CF- Matt Kemp
C- Russell Martin
1B- James Loney
3B- Casey Blake
This lineup is, without question, the most dangerous in the NL West. One would like to see more power at the corner positions — especially since the long ball has been a weakness of the Dodgers over the last several years. Manny makes up for a lot of that, of course. But he’s 37 years old, an age when non-juiced sluggers cannot be relied upon for 40 bombs anymore. Kemp, however, is a power hitter who should come into his own this year, and 30+ homers are not out of the question.
Manny makes every hitter in the lineup better. Before Manny arrived last year, the Dodgers averaged 4.17 runs per game. With Manny, that number shot to 4.63. And now Manny will have a full season with two of the best table-setters in the game hitting in front of him. Andre Ethier played like an All-Star with Manny hitting in front of him, so expect a break-out year. And if you can find a better bottom-of-the-order than Martin, Loney and Blake, I’d like to see it.
Projected pitching rotation:
No. 1 – Hiroki Kuroda (R)
No. 2 – Randy Wolf (L)
No. 3 – Chad Billingsley (R)
No. 4 – Clayton Kershaw (L)
No. 5 – James McDonald (R)
I’m not grading on a curve, so I’ve gotta be honest: That rotation isn’t going to scare anyone. Kuroda is a solid starter, but would be a No. 3 (at best) on just about any other top-line contender. And one has to be worried about the shoulder trouble that plagued him last year. Randy Wolf had a terrific last few weeks of the season in 2008 with the Astros. But last year was the first time since 2003 Wolf logged more than 23 starts, and a betting man would put the over/under on his starts right about there.
The good news: Chad Billingsley is a legit ace, as he proved last year by pitching 200 innings, striking out a batter per inning and winning 16 games. Hurling in the third slot gives the Dodgers a big advantage over most other teams’ starters, and the mental relief of not going against every other teams’ aces will be a plus for the 24-year-old.
Kershaw, while his stuff is dynamite, is a cause of concern. He’s had a so-so spring with a 5.11 ERA in 25 innings. And for all the buzz around him, Kershaw still finished just 5-5 with a 4.26 ERA in 21 starts and walked 4.35 batters/9IP last year. At only 21 years old, one must also be concerned about his endurance as he’s asked to contribute for a full season. We’ll go out on a limb and say James McDonald has locked down the No. 5 slot, giving Dodger fans a reason to be hopeful for the future. The 24-year-old may never be an ace, but McDonald can be a solid contributor to the rotation for many seasons to come.
Jonathan Broxton (closer)
Broxton has the potential to be a premier closer in the league. The burly, hard-throwing right-hander, though, has to get a little smarter beneath his cap. Broxton’s fastball often arrives at the plate in a straight line — especially when he gets behind in the count. That can spell trouble and is an indication that (unlike the closer he’s replacing, Takashi Saito) he doesn’t have enough trust in his stuff.
Mota, Kuo and Wade are serviceable (if a bit inconsistent) set-up men for Broxton. Torre values veterans and Weaver has had a decent spring and has experience with Torre in New York, so he’s a lock for the long man. The Dodgers signed Will Ohman late in Spring Training, but the lefty needs a little work in the minors to gain his strength, so he won’t be up until the middle of April. That probably means Troncosco breaks camp with the big squad, and maybe Eric Milton, too.
C – Brad Ausmus
IF – Mark Loretta
IF – Doug Mientkiewicz
OF – Juan Pierre
OF – Jason Repko
Torre will enjoy the best bench in the division, and probably in the whole National League. Ausmus will get a start a week, and while an offensive liability, is a great handler of pitchers. Loretta and Mientkiewicz are your veteran bats for pinch-hitting duties, with Pierre (though unhappy about not starting) and Repko serving as excellent pinch runners and spot-starters. There’s a chance that Blake DeWitt and/or Chin-lung Hu could elbow their way in there, as Torre keeps waffling on his final bench.
The success of the 2009 Dodgers season will depend almost entirely on the health of the starting rotation — even more so than other teams. If the Dodgers get through the season with fewer than 10 different pitchers taking a turn in the rotation, they’ll be lucky. You cannot expect Wolf, Kuroda and Kershaw to take the ball for every scheduled start. But if Billingsley goes down on top of that, this team is in big trouble. Expect the Dodgers to be looking to grab another starting pitcher at the trade deadline. Thankfully, they have enough offensive depth to make such a move.