Regular Season Record: 88-74
2nd in NL West, tied with the San Diego Padres
Home Park: Dodger Stadium
New In Blue:
Juan Pierre (CF) – Free Agency (Chicago Cubs)
Randy Wolf (SP) – Free Agency (Philadelphia Phillies)
Mike Lieberthal (C) – Free Agency (Philadelphia Phillies)
Jason Schmidt (SP) – Free Agency (San Francisco Giants)
Luis Gonzales (OF) – Free Agency (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Chin-Hui Tsao (RP) – Free Agency (Colorado Rockies)
Fernando Tatis (IF) – Minor League Free Agency (Baltimore Orioles)
Rudy Seanez (RP) – Minor League Free Agency (San Diego Padres)
Dodged The Dodgers:
Bill Mueller (3B) – Retired
Julio Lugo (SS) – Free Agency (Boston Red Sox)
J.D. Drew (OF) – Free Agency (Boston Red Sox)
Greg Maddux (SP) – Free Agency (San Diego Padres)
Kenny Lofton (CF) – Free Agency (Texas Rangers)
Eric Gagne (RP) – Free Agency (Texas Rangers)
Toby Hall (C) – Free Agency (Chicago White Sox)
Einar Diaz (C) – Free Agency (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Jayson Werth (OF) – Free Agency (Philadelphia Phillies)
Aaron Sele (SP) – Free Agent (New York Mets)
The Skinny: The Dodgers had a quite interesting off-season. They made some good or at least reasonable signings (mostly because the contracts of Jason Schmidt, Nomar Garciaparra, Luis Gonzales and Randy Wolf were all reasonable short), a very bad one (Juan Pierre, $44 million, five years) and then watched their best overall hitter opt out of his contract and defect to Boston. In the end, it is probably safe to say that overall, the starting pitching should be improved while the offense suffered some.
Strengths: In Derek Lowe, Jason Schmidt, Randy Wolf, Brad Penny and Chad Billingsley, the Dodgers have a rotation that is not without question marks – like for example: which version of Brad Penny will show up? The pre-All-Star-Game ace (10-2, 2.91 ERA) or the post-All-Star-Game bust (6-7, 6.25 ERA)? – but that features a good combination of front line (Schmidt, Lowe), veteran (Wolf), hard throwing (Penny) and young (Billingsley) pitching, that could be the envy of other contenders like St. Louis or New York. They even have some capable back-ups in Brett Tomko and Hong-Chih Kuo.
The Dodgers also can hit the ball as the led the Senior Circuit in batting average (.276) and on-base-percentage (.348). With J.D. Drew and Kenny Lofton gone and the signing of Juan Pierre, the OBP will suffer a bit, but overall, the team should be able to put enough man on to create plenty of scoring opportunities.
You also have to like the depth the Dodgers have piled up. In Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and Jason Repko, the team has three youngsters competing for the third outfield spot, while the losers will still get some playing time of the bench. Behind them, left hitting Marlon Anderson can play second and all outfield positions, while Olmedo Saenz will provide some pop from the other side. And last but not least, catcher Mike Lieberthal can spell sophomore Russel Martin some time behind the plate and maybe teach the kid a trick or two. The only downside of all that depth is that it looks like the Dodgers are really going to need it (more on that later).
Weaknesses: Even after a slow start, lead-off man Rafael Furcal posted a .300/.369/.445 batting line. Why is this mentioned in the weakness section? Because his performance might drop Furcal down in the batting order and open the lead-off spot to out-machine Juan Pierre. However, while Pierre is not the player you want to ignite your offense, the Dodgers have a bigger problem and it is in the power department. Nomar Garciaparra and Drew co-led the team with 20 long balls, which is about half the number you like your home run leader to put up.
Another problem is that the team has some serious age/injury issues. Garciaparra can’t stay healthy, Randy Wolf is coming of a major injury, Brad Penny pitched 25 games or more only in four of his seven seasons while Jeff Kent and Luis Gonzalez are 38 and 39 years old already, respectively. Unfortunately, these five players might very well determine a large part of how the Dodgers’ season will look like.
1. CF: Juan Pierre
2. SS: Rafael Furcal
3. 1B: Nomar Garciaparra
4. LF: Luis Gonzalez
5. 2B: Jeff Kent
6. 3B: Wilson Betemit
7. C: Russel Martin
8. RF: Matt Kemp / Andre Ethier / Jason Repko
Keys to Success: The pitching should be fine if the starters avoid major injuries and Takashi Saito continues to close games like he did last season, although the Dodgers do have other options in Jonathan Broxton or Joe Beimel. A lot will depend on how much power the offense can create and since Garciaparra, Gonzalez or Kent can probably not be counted on to push their home runs production to new (or old) heights, they have to rely on guys like Wilson Betemit (18 dingers in only 373 at-bats last season) or maybe surprise seasons from Matt Kemp or James Loney.Prediction: The NL West has at least three teams that think they have a shot at the division crown. The Padres and Dodgers went head to head last year, but the Diamondbacks have brought in Doug Davis and Randy Johnson and are figureing to be part of the race. It’s hard to predict who will come out on top, because the teams are really close in terms of talent. In the end, it might come down to health and luck and I like the Dodgers to prevail because of their deep bench and their farm. So I put them down for 89 wins, two more than the Padres and D’Backs. And if they really do make the play-offs, the duo of Lowe and Schmidt will give them a fighting chance against everyone.
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