2011 pre-season preview: NL West – Los Angeles Dodgers
Dodgers starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda
Los Angeles Dodgers (2010 record: 80-82)
The Dodgers offense would seem to be in a position to improve on its 11th-place finish (runs) in 2010, with the arrival of LF Marcus Thames and Juan Uribe, the ascension of Rod Barajas to the starting role, and the departures of veterans LF Manny Ramirez, INF Ronnie Belliard and C Russell Martin, all of whom showed their age and displayed diminishing skills at the plate. Ramirez managed to hit .311, but continued to demonstrate limited productivity and so was shipped to Chicago. Martin hit only .248, and with the way the season went, Belliard would have been happy to hit THAT.
Thames could end up sharing time with Xavier Paul in left field. While Thames is not a .300 hitter, he still possesses the power in his bat that Ramirez has apparently lost… Paul doesn’t have much in the way of power, but he has hit .300+ for the last three years in the minor leagues and has shown he can run a little bit. Uribe is addition in two respects – he will be much better than Belliard and he is newly-arrived from division-rival (and world champion) San Francisco. Barajas will be a significant improvement over Martin.
Blake, Ethier and Loney had disappointing seasons in 2010. While Blake is older and clearly on the downside of his career, Ethier and Loney are both entering their prime and should be able to perform at least as well as last year, probably better. Furcal hit .300 and stole 22 bases in fewer than 400 AB… the offense would get a significant boost if he remains healthy throughout the season.
The pitching staff:
The starting rotation is formidable. Each of the starters is a proven veteran who sported a sub-4.00 ERA last season. Soon-to-be-23-year-old Clayton Kershaw is coming off his first all-star team selection. He has compiled a 2.86 ERA and a .208 BAA over the last two years, with 397 K in 375 IP. Chad Billingsley rebounded with a solid season after a rough 2009 campaign. While his strikeout rate has been falling, he has proven increasingly capable of inducing ground balls. Kuroda has performed well during his three years in the United States – 28 W, 3.60 ERA, 1.16 WHIP – and should continue to be a reliable No. 3 starter. Ted Lilly was limited to 12 starts in 2010, but went 7-4, while posting a 3.52 ERA and outstanding 0.991 WHIP. Newly-signed Jon Garland rounds out the rotation. He has posted double-digit wins in nine consecutive seasons. He’ll almost-certainly pitch 200 innings (+/-) and win 12-14 games.
The biggest concern for the Dodgers entering the 2011 season may be the relief corps. The club has Hong-Chih-Kuo and Jonathan Broxton at the back end of the bullpen, but it is unclear how they will bridge the gap from the starters to the closer. Enter former Twins set-up man Matt Guerrier, who should be a highly-productive addition to the ‘pen. RHP’s Ronald Belisario, Blake Hawksworth and Ramon Troncoso each followed up excellent 2009 seasons with a sub-par 2010 campaign… the club cannot be certain what they’ll get from any of them in 2011. Beyond Kuo there isn’t a capable left-hander on the horizon.
Prediction for 2011: 3rd place (81-81)
The Dodgers will play for new manager Don Mattingly in 2011, hoping to repeat some of the success recently garnered under old manager Joe Torre. The players seem happy with the selection of Mattingly as the new manager and, as such, they may breathe some new life into their game. Donnie-Baseball has already sent a loud message, stating Jonathan Broxton will get the first shot at retaining the closer’s role while making it clear that nothing is assured. Produce, or else.
Top Five Prospects:
Gordon is the son of former major league closer Tom “Flash” Gordon, who had a 22-year career in the big leagues. He was a 4th round selection out of Seminole Community College in 2008.
He is a highly athletic ballplayer, whose speed is rated a “70″ on the 20-80 scale. He won’t hit for power, but he should be able to hit .300 thanks to a quick bat and the ability to make consistent contact. He uses the entire field from gap-to-gap, and last year learned to incorporate bunting into his offensive game. He made a bunch of errors last year, but scouts believe he should develop into a good defensive shortstop. He has outstanding range and an above-average arm.
Look for him to get a shot in Los Angeles by the middle of the 2012 season.