Preview of the 2011 Los Angeles Dodgers


Dodger fans have about had it, and who can blame them. The McCourts are a bit much even for the idiot rich. The fallout has already been felt. Their too-stupid-to-fail behavior has rendered the Dodgers unable to sign, or attract, key free agents until ownership and solvency have been determined.

The Dodgers have had a spotty history since 1988, the year the Orel Hershiser-led Dodgers proved that a modern-era team could have very little hitting and still win a World Series championship on pitching and defense alone.

Did I say “spotty?”  After 1988, the Dodgers didn’t win the NL-West again until 1995, followed by an eight-year period in which they finished second four times and third four times before winning the division in 2004. The following year (’05} they fell to fourth place, then tied for first place in ’06 only to return to fourth place a year later (’07). In ‘08 and’ 09 they bounced back to win the division twice in a row–followed by a fourth place finish in 2010.

In the last eight years, the Dodgers have finished either first (four times) or fourth (four times).  Spotty.

The 2011 Dodgers seem to be mired in mediocrity, with little power, no proven ace and a hamstrung front office. A closer look, however, gives Dodger fans some reasons for optimism.

The much-maligned front office actually has done a decent job making the Dodgers a little better–considering the available talent out there and the team’s financial constraints.

But the single biggest improvement in the Dodgers’ chances for 2011 is the fact that the defending champion Giants did not get better. The only move the Giants made was to replace Juan Uribe with Miguel Tejada. Not a bad replacement, unless his age (37) catches up with him, but even if he matches Uribe’s contribution (24 homers, several of them game-winners, and 85 RBIs), you’re still just staying the same. And if you stay the same, you get worse.

First and foremost, the Dodgers signed their own free agents, Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda to nice contracts. They should be considered the second and third best pitchers available after Cliff Lee. The Dodgers also signed Jon Garland (who has pulled a left oblique muscle and will start the season on the DL) and re-signed Vincent Padilla (who is also out with an elbow injury). With Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley as their #1 and #2 guys, the Dodgers have five legitimate starters who all pitched about 200 innings last year, and Padilla, who, even if he doesn’t return until July, gives them another experienced starter who could also help as a reliever. All five starters are legit but the #3, #4 and #5 guys are a bit old and overworked. That’s why you want depth and the Dodgers have it in Padilla, John Ely, Tim Redding and Rubby De La Rosa, who has been impressive in Arizona.

The bullpen is a bit up in the air but, again, there is depth. Broxton is back and has probably learned a thing or two from the second-half of last season. Hong-Chih Kuo is a very good lefty. Kenley Janson is promising, and they got a couple of new guys that should help—Blake Hawksworth (from the Cardinals for Ryan Theriot) and especially Matt Guerrier, from the Twins, who has pitched 70-plus innings in each of the last three years. The bullpen, like the starting rotation, is deeper and probably better. Ya never know. Work in progress.

The knock on the Dodgers is that they have little power. That’s true, but that doesn’t mean they can’t hit. The key is not to have any holes in the lineup and the Dodgers don’t.  Don Mattingly just has to do a lot of platooning and juggling, but the team has the depth to make it work.

The outfield is anchored by Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, and they will be joined in left field by a platoon of Jay Gibbons and Marcus Thames, it says here. More on Thames later. Tony Gwynn will be valuable for his speed and defense and is a possible everyday centerfielder if he can hit a little (say, .260-.270). Xavier Paul (out of options) and Gabe Kapler will duke it out for the remaining outfield spot. I got a hunch about Kapler. He’s a decent stick and a good outfielder.

Signing Thames is a problem for me. Obviously, he’s a long-ball threat, but this is the National League, and he’s supposed to be a lousy outfielder (I don’t care what he tells T.J. Simers). Manny Ramirez’s antics in left can be tolerated, not Thames’, which also means he probably isn’t a candidate for first base either, which is where he could really help when James Loney is out or rested against tough lefties. Casey Blake would have been good in this role (and platooning in left) because most third basemen make adequate first basemen, but he’s 37 and he’s already got back problems. Big maybe; I would think they’d try Kapler there.

It’s the versatility of Juan Uribe that allows the Dodgers to keep an extra outfielder, which should help the overall offense. Dude can play about equally well at second, short and third (not to mention first base), which gives the team a flexibility it really needs. Loney, Uribe, Rafael Furcal and Jamie Carroll might be the starting infield for awhile because Blake is an unknown right now. They’ll need another utility infielder. Probably Aaron Miles. Ivan DeJesus also looks ready.

Young guys like DeJesus, Dee Gordon, Trayvon Robinson, Jamie Hoffman, Russell Mitchell, Hector Gimenez, Jerry Sands et al could help down the road. In Sands’ case, a slugging outfielder/first baseman, maybe as soon as mid-season.

2011 looms large in a pitching-rich division in which no one, not only the Dodgers, has a major offense.  The Giants pitching was outrageous in 2010. If it is again, the rest of the league will be in trouble as Lincecum and Cain are gonna be very good. And either Sanchez or Bumgarner, or both, are gonna be almost as good. Then there’s Zito who became respectable again as a 5th starter. Not shabby. The Giants staff can even go up against the Phillies’.

After the Giants, the Dodgers will be challenged by the Rockies (the Pads and D-Backs don’t have the pitching to back up their weak offense).

With Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitski, Colorado has a 3-4 combo for the ages, but their overall offense is iffy. And while they do have one great pitcher, Ubaldo Jimenez, no one else is nearly as good, and the Rockies staff has its own injury problems.

As we near the season opener, the Dodgers appear to be not as good as the Giants but probably a little better than the Rockies. As with most teams, if everything goes right, the Dodgers are quite capable of winning the NL-West—McCourts or no McCourts.

March 27, 2011