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Dodgers Season Preview ~ Chavez Ravine

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This year's Dodgers Season Preview is written by Mike of Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness, the best Dodger blog out there...

You know, when TACO asked me about a week ago if I would be willing to provide a preview of the 2008 Dodgers, I was happy to do so. Due to various reasons, I wasn’t able to actually write it until today – and at first I felt bad about holding him up.

But now? Not so much. Because now I’m armed with the knowledge that just tonight, the Dodgers announced that they’re putting Tony Abreu on the disabled list to open the season due to a pulled groin. Tony Abreu is hardly a pillar of the team; he wasn’t even guaranteed a roster spot. So why am I leading off with him? Because he’s a third baseman – and now, with the season starting in less than 72 hours, the Dodgers have absolutely NO idea who their starting third baseman will be.

Just a few weeks ago, with up-and-comer Andy LaRoche and the Corpse of Nomar Garciaparra fighting it out for the job, this would be unthinkable. Now? With the team’s top 3 third basemen likely to start the season on the disabled list, a team with legitimate playoff aspirations may have to start the year with untested 22-year old rookie Blake DeWitt (who’s not ready) or panic and try to pick up some veteran retread like Mark Loretta, or worse, post-steroids Marcus Giles.

Assuming that the curse Adrian Beltre left on third base doesn’t torpedo the entire season, what else should you be looking for?

1. Hey, isn’t Juan Pierre great?

In a word… “no”. In several words, “holy god, no.” Juan Pierre’s been one of the most divisive forces amongst Dodger fans since the Holy War on Paul DePodesta. JP is, statistically, one of the worst hitters in baseball. Sure, he’s awful friendly, and he can steal bases, and that’s nice. He’ll usually get a .300 or so batting average, but that’s where the problems begin. It’s the emptiest .300 batting average around, because he has no power at all. (Literally. He hit zero home runs last year.) Without getting too heavily into the stats, he has been 16% worse at the plate than the rest of the league over his career. Last year, he was a full 25% worse of a hitter than your league-average batsman. Plus, he has one of the worst throwing arms in baseball. Meanwhile, his competition in LF, Andre Ethier, is an above average defender who’s been one of the best hitters in anyone’s camp this spring. Will the Dodgers do the right thing and play the better player over the bigger contract? The answer could determine whether they see the playoffs or not.

2. Andruw Jones is a Dodger now?

Yep. The fact that Jones had the worst season of his career in Atlanta last year (dig that .222 batting average) likely cost him somewhere in the neighborhood of $70 million, as he had to settle for only a 2-year, $36.2 million deal with the Blue. It’s somewhat low-risk for LA, because the short length of the deal means that if he bombs, they’re not stuck with him for half a decade; of course, there’s also the chance that he’s cooked and last year wasn’t just an fluke. That said, his 26 home runs and 94 RBI, in a terrible year for him, would still have made him the most dangerous power hitter on last year’s Dodger team. And as a 10-time Gold Glove winner, he’s a massive upgrade on defense over Pierre.

3. What’s going to be really good about this team?

Well, Dodger Dogs are always good. Vin Scully is a national treasure, so enjoy him while you still can. The starting pitching looks strong, with vets Brad Penny & Derek Lowe, young ace-in-the-making Chad Billingsley, and Japanese import Hiroki Kuroda. Catcher Russell Martin is already amongst the best in the sport, and look for fellow young vets like James Loney, Billingsley, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier – if they let him play – take huge leaps forward this year. This group of young players is going to be the core of this team for a few years, and this is the year they put it all together. Plus, Joe Torre’s been imported from New York to flash all of his rings around. Finally, keep an eye out for 20-year-old uber-prospect Clayton Kershaw, who’s struck out 12 in 6 spring training innings thus far. He won’t start the season in the bigs due to his youth, but don’t be surprised to see him get some time in LA later this year. When he does, drop what you’re doing and run to the stadium.

4. What’s going to be cover-your-eyes bad?

Not to put it too frankly, but every at-bat a mediocre player like Pierre takes away from rising young players like Kemp and Ethier is a crime – not to mention how much it’ll hurt the chances of victory. The third base situation is already an enormous problem (what team loses their top three players at a position to injury in spring training?), but even when Nomar comes back, he’s been pretty terrible for the last year and a half, and who knows what this latest wrist injury will do to his power. Jeff Kent’s a Hall of Famer and he can still hit, but his range at second can be brutal at times, which can’t be helped by his current hamstring injury. The bullpen, which was a strength last year, has looked awful thus far in the spring.

5. So, do they have a chance?

Definitely. The biggest roadblock to success is the fact that the NL West may be the best division in baseball – remember, last year it was two NL West teams (Arizona and Colorado) that were the last two standing. The Giants are going to be abysmal (which is always fun), but any of the other four teams could take the title. Personally, I think Arizona’s the class of the division, but look for the Dodgers to be close behind and in the wild card hunt all season long. Depending on how the Pierre/Ethier situation shakes out, and the health of Kent/Nomar/any one else who dares set foot at third base, the Dodgers could easily win the division, or finish 4th.

But they’ve got as good a shot as anyone else in the West, and isn’t that really all you can ask for? With the young players you’ve heard about for years finally coming into their own, this should be an exciting season all around.

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