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CNN/SI Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

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Posted: Thursday March 18, 1999 11:38 PM

  Kevin Brown's 2.33 ERA over the last three years is the best in baseball. AP

By Ryan Hunt, CNN/SI

Player to Watch: Kevin Brown, P

You are a pitcher who has won more than 20 games just once in his career. You are a pitcher who has never won a Cy Young Award. You are a pitcher who has never won a World Series game.

You just signed a $105 million, seven-year contract and carry the hopes of one of the baseball's most storied franchises on your 34-year-old shoulders.

Life is good if you are Kevin Brown. But not if you are the rest of the National League.

Just ask the Astros or the Braves, perhaps Los Angeles' chief competitors for the NL pennant in 1999 and Brown's previous NLCS victims, why the Dodgers mortgaged so much to acquire one of the game's most feared pitchers, despite his relatively empty career résumé.

However, over the last five years, Brown's numbers (51 wins, 2.32 ERA) are as good as or better than Greg Maddux (52, 2.38) and Roger Clemens (51, 2.75) -- who have won a combined nine Cy Youngs.

But it is a another piece of hardware the Dodgers are most concerned about. Brown may very well be the last piece to L.A.'s championship puzzle, if he performs up to the standards he set over the last three years.

In that span, he led both the Marlins and Padres to the World Series. Once he gets there is another story.

1998 Recap (83-79, 3rd place NL West)

It was an end of era for the Dodgers in 1998. First, Peter O'Malley's relationship with the Dodgers came to a painful end, selling the team to mega-mogul Rupert Murdoch. Then came the Mike Piazza saga.

Piazza, who was the Dodgers' most popular player, didn't receive the kind of money Los Angeles would eventually give to Brown and was traded in midseason to the Marlins for Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla and Charles Johnson.

With all of the turnover a major distraction, it was a year of mediocrity for the new-look Dodgers. At no point in the entire 1998 season was Los Angeles more than either five games over or five games under .500.

1999 Season

Los Angeles GM Kevin Malone already has thrown the gauntlet for his team's success this season, predicting a Dodgers-Yankees World Series. He may be right. Too bad for Malone that Dodger Stadium wasn't built on paper.

His Dodgers definitely have been recycled, though. Only two players who started on Opening Day last year -- 2B Eric Young and RF Raul Mondesi -- are scheduled to be in the lineup again this year. (1B Eric Karros began last season on the disabled list.)

Since the beginning of last season, Malone has dramatically improved his already competitive club, adding a dominant ace (Brown), a consistent closer (Jeff Shaw), a speedy center fielder (Devon White) and a one-time 40-homer guy behind the plate (Todd Hundley). If super phenom 3B Adrian Beltre pans out this season, watch out.

Roster roundup
Who's new
P Kevin Brown, C Todd Hundley, OF Devon White, P Mel Rojas, P Alan Mills, Manager Davey Johnson

Who's gone
OF Bobby Bonilla, C Charles Johnson, OF Roger Cedeno, P Scott Radinsky, P Brian Bohanon, P Mark Guthrie, OF Matt Luke, P Darren Hall, C Tom Prince


Hundley, though, remains the biggest question mark. With the trade of Piazza and then the trade of his replacement, Charles Johnson, the Dodgers' catching slot will be one of the most scrutinized positions on the club. If the former Met can regain his stroke of 1996, when he smashed 41 homers and drove in 112 runs, Los Angeles will have a very potent lineup. Same goes for LF Gary Sheffield.

But pitching will remain the main factor which determines if the Dodgers can live up to Malone's forecast. Even with Brown, the rotation (Chan Ho Park, Darren Dreifort, Ismael Valdes and Carlos Perez) still lags behind the Cy Young-laden staffs in Atlanta.

Those four pitchers combined to win 45 games last season and they will determine whether the Dodgers are just competing for just the NL West trophy or for the World Series one.

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