Los Angeles Dodgers 2010 preview

Despite a late-season slide that nearly cost them the division — Los Angeles lost seven of its final 11 regular season games — the Dodgers finished with the National League’s best record (95-67) in 2009. However, they once again fell flat against the Phillies in the NLCS. Perhaps a result of their owners’ pending divorce, the Dodgers lost more talent than they acquired this offseason, costing them their designation of NL West favorites.

Manny Ramirez struggled at the plate after returning from his 50-game suspension.
Manny Ramirez struggled at the plate after returning from his 50-game suspension.

Three questions

1. Which Manny Ramirez will show up?
Ramirez was rolling (.348 average, six homers, 20 RBIs in 27 games) before his shocking 50-game suspension in early May. After returning, he hit .269-13-43 in 77 games. He lost bat speed and confidence, and approaching age 38, there are doubts about whether he can recapture the form that made him an instant sensation/hero upon his arrival in Los Angeles in 2008.

Among the Dodgers’ starting outfielders, Ramirez already was the weakest defensively. Now he enters the season as arguably the third most productive offensively. Andre Ethier (31 homers, 106 RBIs) and Matt Kemp (26 homers, 101 RBIs) both are coming off career years and have yet to peak. "Manny is no different than any other player in that he’s going to have his ups and downs, but I’m not going to change a thing with Manny," hitting coach Don Mattingly said. "Manny is the last player that I’m worried about heading into (this) season."

2. Is the rotation strong enough?
The Dodgers opted not to offer Randy Wolf arbitration and declined their 2010 option on Jon Garland, losing both starters in free agency while getting nothing in return. Wolf led the staff with 34 starts and 214 1/2 innings pitched, while winning 11 games and posting a 3.23 ERA last season. After being acquired from Arizona in late August, Garland went 3-2 with a 2.72 ERA in six starts.

Because they failed to sign/trade for a No. 1 in the offseason, the responsibility will fall on the 22-year-old left shoulder of Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw’s 2.79 ERA and 185 strikeouts led the rotation in 2009, but it would be advantageous to ease him into the No. 1 role. The ideal No. 1 is Chad Billingsley, who faded badly (5.20 ERA) in the second half last season and has yet to solve his consistency issues. Behind them are the oft-injured Hiroki Kuroda, the temperamental Vicente Padilla and a huge void that could be filled by either Ramon or Russ Ortiz.

3. Should Russell Martin lose 25 pounds?
Frustrated by his declining production, Martin packed on 25 pounds this offseason. Early in camp, he suffered a strained groin muscle, which will sideline for the first couple weeks of the regular season. Martin recently told the Los Angeles Times that his extra bulk in no way contributed to his injury, but he has averaged 150 games played the past three season. While you could question his fading offensive output — from 19 homers and 87 RBIs in 2007 to seven homers and 53 RBIs in 2009 — Martin’s durability never was in doubt. Until now.

Projected lineup
1. SS Rafael Furcal: 12 SBs in ’09 were career-low for full season.
2. CF Matt Kemp: 30-30 season is close (26 HRs, 34 SBs) in ’09.
3. RF Andre Ethier: Fourth in MLB with 19 game-winning RBIs.
4. LF Manny Ramirez: .624 career SLG vs. lefties; slugged .514 vs. lefties in ’09.
5. 1B James Loney: 13 HRs, 90 RBIs in ’08 and ’09.
6. 3B Casey Blake: 9 HRs through May; 9 more rest of ’09.
7. C Russell Martin: SLG (.329) lower than his OBP (.352).
8. 2B Blake DeWitt: .276 career AVG at home; .239 on road.

Projected rotation
1. LHP Clayton Kershaw: Allowed no ERs in 9 of his 30 starts.
2. RHP Chad Billingsley: NL-worst 14 wild pitches last season.
3. RHP Hiroki Kuroda: Injuries limited him to 21 games (3.76 ERA).
4. RHP Vicente Padilla: 4-0, 3.20 ERA in eight games with L.A. in ’09.
5. RHP Ramon Ortiz: Last pitched in MLB in ’07 (5.45 ERA).

PROJECTED CLOSER
RHP Jonathan Broxton: Led MLB relievers with 114 K’s in ’09.

Grades

Offense: B. Despite Ramirez’s woes, the Dodgers finished first in the National League in on-base percentage, in a virtual tie for first in batting average and fourth in runs scored. However, they were 23rd in the majors in homers. A return to form by Ramirez and a little more pop from James Loney would be welcome.

Pitching: B. The Dodgers led the majors with a 3.41 staff ERA, and their rotation ERA (3.12) was nearly a half-run better than the next-best team’s (Oakland at 3.46). Their 3.58 rotation ERA ranked behind only the Braves’ 3.52. Anchored by dominant closer Jonathan Broxton the bullpen will be strong again. However, the rotation is weaker.

Bench: A. Newcomer Jamey Carroll can play all over the diamond. Ronnie Belliard (.351-5-17 after joining the Dodgers last August) moves to a reserve infielder role, and Reed Johnson is the fourth outfielder. It remains to be seen whether the bench will be big enough for Garret Anderson and Doug Mientkiewicz.

Manager: A. Torre has reached the playoffs for 14 consecutive seasons but extending that streak to 15 will be challenging. Entering what could be his final season as a manager — there are discussions about a one-year extension that would keep him at the helm through the 2011 season — Torre must be near-flawless in his handling of the pitching staff.

Sporting News prediction: The Dodgers will hang tough in the NL West and NL wild-card races but will fall just short of a third consecutive division title and playoff berth.

Coming Tuesday: Rockies preview.

Chris Bahr is a senior editor for Sporting News. E-mail him at cbahr@sportingnews.com.

Despite a late-season slide that nearly cost them the division — Los Angeles lost seven of its final 11 regular season games — the Dodgers finished with the National League’s best record (95-67) in 2009. However, they once again fell flat against the Phillies in the NLCS. Perhaps a result of their owners’ pending divorce, the Dodgers lost more talent than they acquired this offseason, costing them their designation of NL West favorites.

Manny Ramirez struggled at the plate after returning from his 50-game suspension.
Manny Ramirez struggled at the plate after returning from his 50-game suspension.

Three questions

1. Which Manny Ramirez will show up?
Ramirez was rolling (.348 average, six homers, 20 RBIs in 27 games) before his shocking 50-game suspension in early May. After returning, he hit .269-13-43 in 77 games. He lost bat speed and confidence, and approaching age 38, there are doubts about whether he can recapture the form that made him an instant sensation/hero upon his arrival in Los Angeles in 2008.

Among the Dodgers’ starting outfielders, Ramirez already was the weakest defensively. Now he enters the season as arguably the third most productive offensively. Andre Ethier (31 homers, 106 RBIs) and Matt Kemp (26 homers, 101 RBIs) both are coming off career years and have yet to peak. "Manny is no different than any other player in that he’s going to have his ups and downs, but I’m not going to change a thing with Manny," hitting coach Don Mattingly said. "Manny is the last player that I’m worried about heading into (this) season."

2. Is the rotation strong enough?
The Dodgers opted not to offer Randy Wolf arbitration and declined their 2010 option on Jon Garland, losing both starters in free agency while getting nothing in return. Wolf led the staff with 34 starts and 214 1/2 innings pitched, while winning 11 games and posting a 3.23 ERA last season. After being acquired from Arizona in late August, Garland went 3-2 with a 2.72 ERA in six starts.

Because they failed to sign/trade for a No. 1 in the offseason, the responsibility will fall on the 22-year-old left shoulder of Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw’s 2.79 ERA and 185 strikeouts led the rotation in 2009, but it would be advantageous to ease him into the No. 1 role. The ideal No. 1 is Chad Billingsley, who faded badly (5.20 ERA) in the second half last season and has yet to solve his consistency issues. Behind them are the oft-injured Hiroki Kuroda, the temperamental Vicente Padilla and a huge void that could be filled by either Ramon or Russ Ortiz.

3. Should Russell Martin lose 25 pounds?
Frustrated by his declining production, Martin packed on 25 pounds this offseason. Early in camp, he suffered a strained groin muscle, which will sideline for the first couple weeks of the regular season. Martin recently told the Los Angeles Times that his extra bulk in no way contributed to his injury, but he has averaged 150 games played the past three season. While you could question his fading offensive output — from 19 homers and 87 RBIs in 2007 to seven homers and 53 RBIs in 2009 — Martin’s durability never was in doubt. Until now.

Projected lineup
1. SS Rafael Furcal: 12 SBs in ’09 were career-low for full season.
2. CF Matt Kemp: 30-30 season is close (26 HRs, 34 SBs) in ’09.
3. RF Andre Ethier: Fourth in MLB with 19 game-winning RBIs.
4. LF Manny Ramirez: .624 career SLG vs. lefties; slugged .514 vs. lefties in ’09.
5. 1B James Loney: 13 HRs, 90 RBIs in ’08 and ’09.
6. 3B Casey Blake: 9 HRs through May; 9 more rest of ’09.
7. C Russell Martin: SLG (.329) lower than his OBP (.352).
8. 2B Blake DeWitt: .276 career AVG at home; .239 on road.

Projected rotation
1. LHP Clayton Kershaw: Allowed no ERs in 9 of his 30 starts.
2. RHP Chad Billingsley: NL-worst 14 wild pitches last season.
3. RHP Hiroki Kuroda: Injuries limited him to 21 games (3.76 ERA).
4. RHP Vicente Padilla: 4-0, 3.20 ERA in eight games with L.A. in ’09.
5. RHP Ramon Ortiz: Last pitched in MLB in ’07 (5.45 ERA).

PROJECTED CLOSER
RHP Jonathan Broxton: Led MLB relievers with 114 K’s in ’09.

Grades

Offense: B. Despite Ramirez’s woes, the Dodgers finished first in the National League in on-base percentage, in a virtual tie for first in batting average and fourth in runs scored. However, they were 23rd in the majors in homers. A return to form by Ramirez and a little more pop from James Loney would be welcome.

Pitching: B. The Dodgers led the majors with a 3.41 staff ERA, and their rotation ERA (3.12) was nearly a half-run better than the next-best team’s (Oakland at 3.46). Their 3.58 rotation ERA ranked behind only the Braves’ 3.52. Anchored by dominant closer Jonathan Broxton the bullpen will be strong again. However, the rotation is weaker.

Bench: A. Newcomer Jamey Carroll can play all over the diamond. Ronnie Belliard (.351-5-17 after joining the Dodgers last August) moves to a reserve infielder role, and Reed Johnson is the fourth outfielder. It remains to be seen whether the bench will be big enough for Garret Anderson and Doug Mientkiewicz.

Manager: A. Torre has reached the playoffs for 14 consecutive seasons but extending that streak to 15 will be challenging. Entering what could be his final season as a manager — there are discussions about a one-year extension that would keep him at the helm through the 2011 season — Torre must be near-flawless in his handling of the pitching staff.

Sporting News prediction: The Dodgers will hang tough in the NL West and NL wild-card races but will fall just short of a third consecutive division title and playoff berth.

Coming Tuesday: Rockies preview.

Chris Bahr is a senior editor for Sporting News. E-mail him at cbahr@sportingnews.com.

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