Wednesday, February 27, 2008

2008 NL West Preview Predicts Dodgers Finish Second

Rich Lederer and Patrick Sullivan of Baseball Analysts broke down the Dodgers, and the NL West, yesterday. Jon Weisman and Russ Oates, a Rockies blogger, guest-starred (I suppose Daryl Hall wasn't available, so they went with Weisman).

Upshot is that the Dodgers have a lot of upside, but are not predicted to win the division. It's a long post, but here's the banter on the boys in blue:

Sully: Switching gears, what do we make of the Los Angeles Dodgers? The run prevention side does not seem to be a problem given the team's bevy of young, durable arms. The Dodgers had an ERA+ of 109 last season and it is hard to see them falling off too far from there (if not improving).

Jon: Chad Billingsley (138 ERA+) could become a staff ace as early as this season. That would be a huge help to a team that doesn't know exactly who its fifth starter will be if Jason Schmidt or Hong-Chih Kuo aren't up to snuff in April (though quality candidates like James McDonald and Clatyon Kershaw are lurking in the minors). There's a lot of mystery centered on Japanese import Hiroki Kuroda, but another question is whether Brad Penny can maintain his high-flying performance (151 ERA+) despite a tumbling strikeout rate. If the Dodger starters can give quality starts, Takashi Saito and Jonathan Broxton form a great one-two combo in the bullpen. On the downside, Dodger defense can be spotty, depending who's in the lineup.

Rich: The Dodgers have a fab four (Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, Chad Billingsley, and newcomer Hideki Kuroda) at the top of the rotation and a fifth (Jason Schmidt) who could be a pleasant surprise if he can begin to earn a fraction of the more than $15 million per season that he is pulling down. Saito and Broxton, who make about $2.5M between them, have given the McCourts a much better return on their investment, combining to strike out 32% of the batters they faced in 2006 and 2007.

Russ: Penny finished an honorable third in the NL Cy Young voting last year and there's as good a chance as any that he'll repeat that finish for another year. Lowe was the victim of poor run support in many games last season, so an improvement in his W-L record isn't out of the question. Hiroki Kuroda isn't on the level of Daisuke Matsuzaka, but he should fit in nicely behind the previous two pitchers and Chad Billingsley. If Jason Schmidt bounces back from his shoulder injury and subsequent surgery, it could be a good season for the Dodgers.

How Joe Torre uses his bullpen will be interesting since he was questioned numerous times in New York for how he managed it there. As Jon and Rich said, Broxton and closer Takashi Saito are a lights-out combination.

Sully: Jon is our Dodgers guy here, so I am interested in his take. What do we think about this offense? It seems like there is talent all over the place on this roster. Can they make it work in 2008?

Jon: Don't laugh, but this is potentially the most dangerous group in the division. If Andy LaRoche and Andre Ethier win starting positions, one of them could easily be the No. 8 hitter in a lineup that could have everyone with an on-base percentage of .350 or more. (Last year, James Loney, Jeff Kent, Matt Kemp, Russell Martin and Ethier all reached that plateau; ex-Braves Andruw Jones and Rafael Furcal need comeback seasons to make it). Los Angeles won't have the most power in the NL West, but the pitching in this division is so strong that a team that can consistently battle offensively might have the best weapon.

Rich: If Joe Torre puts his best eight on the field everyday, the Dodgers should have one of the best offenses in the division and maybe the league. I'm less concerned with the youngsters like Martin, Loney, LaRoche, Ethier and Matt Kemp as I am with the veterans such as Kent, Nomar Garciaparra, Jones, and Juan Pierre. How goes the 40-year-old Kent and Jones, coming off his worst season ever, will go a long way in determining how goes the offense.

Russ: Signing Jones could be a huge boon for the Dodgers, but is it likely for him to rediscover his power with the Dodgers? Having a competition between Ethier and Pierre should hopefully improve the Dodgers. Russell Martin offers the best offense out of all the starting catchers in the division, but Joe Torre could give him a few more games off after catching 145 games last season. The competition at third between LaRoche and Garciaparra will be good for the younger LaRoche.

Sully: This seems like the team in Major League Baseball whose Manager could make the biggest impact. The personnel is there. The question is whether Joe Torre can optimally deploy the resources at hand.

And the predicted divisional finishes:

Sully: [...] As for my predicted order of finish, I am going with the D-Backs (their offense comes alive this season), then LA, San Diego, Colorado and (big, big gap) San Francisco.

Rich: I like Colorado, followed by Los Angeles, San Diego, Arizona, and San Francisco. The Diamondbacks will be closer to first place than last although that says as much about the Giants as anything else.

Jon: I don't think Colorado or Arizona got lucky last year. despite what others might say. There's no reason either of the two couldn't win. But thanks to their addition of Haren to a rising young team, I think the Diamondbacks deserved to be slotted first right now. And given what full seasons from Kemp, Loney, Jones, Billingsley (in the rotation) and maybe Ethier and LaRoche could mean for the Dodgers, I'm gonna put them close behind in second. (Maybe this year, Martin blocks the plate against Holliday in a one-game playoff with the Rockies.) San Diego follows in fourth place, with San Francisco fifth.

Russ: Same as 2007: 1. Arizona 2. Colorado 3. San Diego 4. Los Angeles 5. San Francisco

Do not weep for San Francisco, Dodger fans.


Cesar Garcia said...

Hi, I´ve been a Dodger fan all my life(38 years old) and I really think they will win the world series this season. I am currently living in Guadalajara, Mexico and would like to keep track of all the Dodger updates. Thank You.