Loaded on the mound and sporting a veteran lineup in the field, the Dodgers look for back-to-back postseason appearances this season.
The Dodgers are hoping to break about a 30-year string this season and make the playoffs for the second time in as many seasons that didn’t involve a strike that shortened one of the seasons. And they’ve assembled a talented pitching staff and veteran lineup to try and accomplish a back-to-back postseason ending.
The last time Los Angeles played on in October at the end of consecutive, 162-game seasons was 1977-78 when the Dodgers won the NL Pennant both seasons but fell in the World Series to the Yankees.
Since stunning the Athletics in the 1988 World Series, the Dodgers have been to the postseason just four times. That includes last year when they technically tied the Padres for the NL West crown but were seeded in the NL playoffs as the wildcard entry. Two of the other playoff showings came in 1995-96, with the ’95 campaign shortened due to the lingering 1994 strike that canceled that year’s autumn arrangement, with the fourth postseason appearance as NL West champs in 2004 when Jim Tracy was the manager.
Grady Little is the field boss now and is hoping to build on the team’s 88-74 record in 2006, his first at the helm. Little & Co. will be expected to win the West in the National League this year as the Dodgers are the favorites. And you know what? Even with Little on the dugout’s top step, the Dodgers seem more than capable of following through on the predictions.
Let’s start behind the plate where da’ Bums have assembled an odd, but very deep group of catchers. All signs point to the youngest of the LA catchers, Russell Martin, playing in the #1 role. The 24-year-old, a former 17th-round pick by Los Angeles in 2002, had a very nifty rookie season that largely went unnoticed. A .282 average and .891 OPS were accompanied by 10 dongs and 10 steals in 121 games.
Mike Lieberthal will be the #2 guy to start the season, and the Dodgers will have the luxury of also having veteran backstops Kelly Stinnett and Ken Huckaby down on their Triple-A club in Las Vegas. Not necessarily guys you want to use for a lengthy stay in your everyday lineup, but good veteran backups in addition to being a bit like assistance pitching coaches for your younger arms, a la Crash Davis, the character in the movie and not the one who really did play pro baseball.
The infield is at least 75% full with solid, hardened quality veterans Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent and Rafael Furcal. Ok, we know that Nomar and Kent will miss 10-20 games apiece and have lost a step or two. But they’re very dependable sticks in the lineup, and Furcal should be reaching his peak about now.
Wilson Betemit will be the third baseman on Opening Day, but after a tough spring so far he could be on a short leash. Trouble is Andy LaRoche, who they hoped would push Betemit this spring, is also having a tough go in March, especially in the field. LA could shift Garciaparra to third if they got desperate, and that would open the door for Olmedo Saenz at first.
Marlon Anderson and Ramon Martinez join Saenz as reserve infielders. Nothing to write home about, yet still a deep reserve list between the three of them.
The front of the outfield order includes two new guys and one guy who was a new guy last year. Let’s start with him, Adam Ethier, the kid they got from Oakland when they tired of Milton Bradley and shipped him out. Ethier joined Martin in the solid Dodgers rookie campaign club, hitting .308 with 11 flies and 55 driven in during his 126 games. He’ll move to right this year to make room for Luis Gonzalez, over from Arizona on a free agent deal. And Juan Pierre, the free agent from the Cubs, will be in center and leading off.
The Dodgers have a good group of outfield reserves with Larry Bigbie either on the roster or dealt away in a late spring deal. Jason Repko should also stick.
The player who could turn a lot of this a different way is James Loney. As they say on Sportscenter, "Dude got game." Loney could figure into the outfield mix a lot since he’s a right-handed bat in an all-lefty outfield. And the former high school phenom and first round pick out of Missouri City, Texas, could get some ABs at first occasionally with Nomar at third.
How nice is it to have Jason Schmidt as your third starter? That’s how it appears the Dodgers will come out to open the season, Schmidt behind Randy Wolf who will follow Derek Lowe on Opening Day. And Brad Penny will pitch fourth.
Schmidt is the ace by contract, but Lowe will get the initial nod. Lowe and Penny combined for 32 wins and a little under 4.00 in the ERA column last year, the only two to start more than 16 games for the rotation. Schmidt was inked away from the rival Giants in the offseason, signing a 3-year deal for nearly $50 mil.
If Wolf has anything left and can make 25-30 starts, it’s a very nice staff 4-deep.
The fifth spot in the order is up for grabs between a couple of left-handers, apparently, with a few right-handers on the outside looking in. Big Mark Hendrickson and Hong-Chih Kuo were the leading candidates until the past weekend started, and with Kuo’s legal troubles springing up, along with getting shelled, he could be out of the race.
Problem is Hendrickson has done nothing to claim the job on his own this spring. That could open the door for either Brett Tomko or Chad Billingsley.
Takashi Saito is the closer after claiming the job in impressive fashion well into the ’06 season. He didn’t pick up his first big league save until mid-May, and added 23 more after that with a 2.07 ERA. Impressive numbers by themselves, but even more so when you think how well he did once the closer’s job was his: 1.85 ERA from May 15, the night of his first save, to the end of the season.
Not sure how many relievers the Dodgers are planning to carry, but they have a lot of arms to choose from. Not counting the ‘losers’ of the fifth starter’s job, Jonathan Broxton, Rudy Seanez, Elmer Dessens and Chin-Hui Tsao are right-handers with Eric Stultz and Joe Beimel the leading left-handed candidates. Yhency Brazoban is someone who could join the team sometime in May, with the righty coming off elbow surgery.
Key Player(s): This is an easy team to figure in many ways. They’ve got an enviable first three in the rotation that could become a solid foursome if Wolf contributes. There is a core - - Nomar, Kent, Furcal, Pierre - - quartet, meaning they have to stay healthy and someone like Luis Gonzalez has to have one more hurrah or a Martin or an Ethier needs to enjoy a good sophomore season to make the offense dangerous. And the bullpen, though possibly lacking in Madison Avenue names, is still a deep and potentially very solid group.
Futures: Win totals range from 88½ at The Greek and Pinnacle to 90 at Bodog. The Greek lists LA at +1025 to win the World Series, with Bodog at 10:1 and Pinnacle at +1408. Pinnacle has the Dodgers at +147 in the NL West, and +683 in the NL. Bodog has Los Angeles 10:11 to win the NL West and 7:2 to take home the Senior Circuit pennant.
A strange team in my sims, going a very consistent 88-92 win season in nine of the 10 runs. The other mark was 80 wins for the low. I’m putting them a solid bet to go 90 and probably more than that. Like I said, I think they can win a lot of games despite having Little for their manager.
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