Light infantry (cont.)
Posted: Thursday February 8, 2007 11:58AM; Updated: Thursday February 8, 2007 1:57PM
It's in the outfield where the Dodgers may find their downfall. While Ethier remains promising, the Dodgers have taken a step backward by replacing a Kenny Lofton-led platoon in center field with Pierre, a lesser talent even when you factor in his speed and durability. Pierre had a .255 EQA last season, trailing 2006 Dodgers center fielders Lofton (.278), Jason Repko (.261) and Matt Kemp (.260). And as hinted at before, Gonzalez (.271) is a retreat from Drew (.306), though Gonzalez did make 74 more plate appearances than Drew last season.
In the end, the Dodgers' season might come down to whether Matt Kemp can hit the breaking ball. He blasted seven homers in his first 15 career games before pitchers began crossing him up. He is perhaps the one player in the entire organization that might resemble a conventional power source. Should Gonzalez or even Ethier falter (Pierre has been soldered into the lineup after signing a five-year, $45 million deal), Kemp or 21-year-old James Loney, who EQAed .299 in 111 plate appearances, could become blessings in very thin disguise.
With all the variables at play over the course of a 162-game campaign, the wind is not blowing strongly enough to indicate whether the Dodger offense will improve or decline. But essentially, it is shaping up that the team will have to survive with a similar offense to last year's, one dependent tenuously on age, youth and difficult-to-replicate clutch hitting.
That, in a sense, leads to perhaps the best news of all for Los Angeles: The Dodgers should have more depth on the pitching staff this year. Not only do free agents Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf provide compensation for the departure of Greg Maddux, but while at one point the Dodgers were dependent on Brett Tomko and then Mark Hendrickson in their rotation, those two are likely bullpen-bound to allow up-and-coming Chad Billingsley or Hong-Chih Kuo to ascend. (Scott Elbert is another prospect on the rise, roughly at the point where Billingsley was last season.)
The Dodgers also have more resources to trade pitching for power, though you'll get wide ranges of opinion on whether they should. Kind of like the way you see Hummers and Priuses on the road, side-by-side. Efficiently or not, the Dodgers will be in the thick of the NL West traffic, fighting to get through.
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.