Posted: Monday January 23, 2006 1:48PM; Updated: Monday January 23, 2006 3:03PM
Los Angeles Dodgers
J.D. Drew went on the disabled list on July 4 with a broken wrist and sat out the rest of season.
Practically eating themselves alive like some deranged underworld beast, the Dodgers fell to a 71-91 season amid a rash of injuries and clashing philosophies. To accelerate the healing, the team turned over half the starting lineup, plus the general manager and manager.
Although new GM Ned Colletti and manager Grady Little figure to synchronize better than Paul DePodesta and Jim Tracy did, the Dodgers face many of the same questions of durability and talent. Riddled and re-riddled with injuries, Nomar Garciaparra is no lock to improve upon the 31-homer, .828-OPS production L.A. got at first base last year, nor is 38-year-old Kenny Lofton guaranteed to outdo Milton Bradley's short-circuited season.
On the other hand, the Dodgers can expect Rafael Furcal and Bill Mueller to improve the left side of the infield, and the team also hopes to enjoy the return of Eric Gagne and J.D. Drew from injuries. Even with Drew's history of missing games, 72 appearances last season was below average.
Can they win 90? On paper, absolutely. Can they win 82? It's promising.
San Diego Padres
The Padres' 82 victories saved the NL West's face, but not its soul. San Diego joined its brethren in being outscored for the season, so the Padres approached 2006 with work to do as well. They reloaded with ... Shawn Estes (92 ERA+)! And Vinny Castilla (94 OPS+)! And Geoff Blum (74 OPS+)! And Doug Mirabelli (89 OPS+)! Mirabellissimo!
I don't want to sound too negative about the returning division champions. The Padres also added outfielder Mike Cameron (113 OPS+ along with fine defense) and 26-year-old pitcher Chris Young, whose 4.26 ERA and 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings for Texas bode well. But in the process, they discarded right-handers Adam Eaton and Brian Lawrence, catcher Ramon Hernandez, second baseman Mark Loretta, outfielder Xavier Nady and reliever Akinori Otsuka. Legends those guys are not, but their departures make this offseason look like a net loss.
Where there's Jake Peavy (134 ERA+ at age 24), there's always hope. And the Padres suffered many injuries last season, so the scales of health justice could rebalance in their favor as well. But mediocrity probably awaits.
Can they win 90? They have enough working parts to pull it off. Can they win 82? This seems like a more reasonable target.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants have done little to improve since their 75-87 finish, but the return of Barry Bonds from a knee-slapping 2005 restores them as contenders. This is about as scientific as an archeological study of the Flintstones, but you might be able to hand the Giants an extra victory for every 10 games that Bonds plays this year.
San Francisco will also look for a rebound from ace starter Jason Schmidt (94 ERA+), who suffered through his most difficult season since 2000, to lead the young Noah Lowry (110 ERA+) and the younger Matt Cain (178 ERA+ in 46 1/3 innings) as well as free agent Matt Morris (104 ERA+).
The offense, which finished last in the NL in on-base percentage and 13th in slugging percentage, is filled with players who have passed their peaks. But there were some Everestian peaks in there, so they'll have their good days. The question, most notably with Bonds, is whether they will have enough of them.
Can they win 90? Until Bonds retires, it's always possible. Can they win 82? If Schmidt is a hit, they could do this without a typical Bonds year.
Recovering your self-esteem isn't an overnight process. The teams of the NL West might remain wallflowers at the dance for a little while longer. If the injuries return, 2006 could be just as bad as '05. But more likely, the division's biggest shame is behind it, and by 2007, this group should again hold its head high.
A former sportswriter with the Los Angeles Daily News and Los Angeles Times, Jon Weisman writes about the Dodgers and baseball at Dodger Thoughts. His book, The Best of Dodger Thoughts, is on sale now.