Between now and the start of the 2007 regular season, I plan on giving previews on some of the more interesting teams around Major League Baseball. While I won’t be covering every team, I will touch on those that either have made significant changes, have interesting stories, or even good chances to win it all this October.
Today’s preview: Los Angeles Dodgers
#5 Nomar Garciaparra | 1B
Last year for the first time since 2003, Garciaparra was finally able to play for the majority of the season. Sure he still missed 40 games, but considering he had played a total of 143 games combined the previous 3 years, that’s quite an accomplishment. In his first season as a Dodger, Nomar showed that given the opportunity to play and be healthy, he can still rack up some impressive numbers. In 2006 the former shortstop hit .303, 20 HR, 93 RBI, and had an OPS of .872 and was a main contributor the Dodgers’ success. This season look for Garciaparra’s numbers to increase even more. With Rafael Furcal (113 runs and 37 stolen bases) and newly acquired leadoff hitter Juan Pierre (87 runs and 58 stolen bases) in front of him, Garciaparra should have plenty more opportunities to drive in runs.
#29 Jason Schmidt | SP
Jason Schmidt’s signing with the Dodgers couldn’t be a bigger deal. Not only did the Dodgers gain one of the best pitchers in the NL (from their arch rival no less), but they also acquired a true ace for their staff allowing Derek Lowe to slide down to where he should be as a number two guy. Last season Schmidt was only able to muster an 11-9 record due to poor run support from his team, but he did have a very strong 3.59 ERA with 180 strikeouts. With a fresh start and a team (who did have trouble scoring runs in stretches last season) that has a nice top of the order, I think it’s possible to see Schmidt return to his success of 2003 (17-5, 2.34 ERA) and 2004 (18-7, 3.20 ERA) and lead the Dodgers towards an NL West title.
PLAYER TO WATCH
#26 Luis Gonzalez | LF
After 16 seasons, the veteran Gonzalez starts over in a new city, same division. The 39 year old saw his power numbers drop a little again when he only mustered 15 homers for Arizona. While he did hit .271 and drive in 73, the Dodgers are going to need him to step it up a little bit. After losing free agent JD Drew to the Boston Red Sox (supposedly), the Dodgers were left with a bit of a hole in the middle of their lineup. While the Dodgers not expecting Gonzalez to hit 57 homers again like he did in 2001, they do have to hope he can get close to 20 and drive in 80 or so to pick up the slack. It will be interesting to see how he fares in this new environment and to see if he is nearing the end of his career.
#9 Juan Pierre | CF
While Juan Pierre was looked at as a failure in Chicago, the Dodgers see him as a great opportunity at the top of their lineup. Pierre did struggle for much of the season for the Cubs (as did most of them), but he did end the season with some fairly solid numbers. He was able to bring his average up from the depths to .292 and had a career high 58 stolen bases. The Dodgers hope that he and Furcal can cause some problems on the bases for pitchers so Garciaparra and Jeff Kent have plenty of RBI chances. I think this will be a good situation for Pierre who is a career .303 hitter. He just needs to start the season off on the right foot.
[Name, Position (2006 stats)]
1. Juan Pierre, CF (.292 AVG, 3 HR, 40 RBI, 58 SB, .718 OPS)
2. Rafael Furcal, SS (.300 AVG, 15 HR, 63 RBI, 37 SB, .814 OPS)
3. Nomar Garciaparra, 1B (.303 AVG, 20 HR, 93 RBI, 3 SB, .872 OPS)
4. Jeff Kent, 2B (.292 AVG, 14 HR, 68 RBI, 1 SB, .860 OPS)
5. Luis Gonzalez, LF (.271 AVG, 15 HR, 73 RBI, 0 SB, .796 OPS)
6. Andre Ethier, RF (.308 AVG, 11 HR, 55 RBI, 5 SB, .842 OPS)
7. Wilson Betemit, 3B (.263 AVG, 18 HR, 53 RBI, 3 SB, .743 OPS)
8. Russell Martin, C (.282 AVG, 10 HR, 65 RBI, 10 SB, .791 OPS)
[Name, Position (2006 stats)]
1. Jason Schmidt, SP (11-9, 3.59 ERA, 180 SO)
2. Derek Lowe, SP (16-8, 3.63 ERA, 123 SO)
3. Brad Penny, SP (16-9, 4.33 ERA, 148 SO)
4. Randy Wolf, SP (4-0, 5.56 ERA, 44 SO)
5. Hong-Chih Kuo, SP (1-5, 4.22 ERA, 71 SO)
KEYS TO SUCCESS
The National League West has become a pitching division. The Dodgers (Schmidt, Wolf), Giants (Zito), Padres (Maddux), and Diamondbacks (Johnson, Davis) have all upgraded themselves to have very solid rotations. For the Dodgers to win the West they will need to have their rotation stand out above the rest. They will also need production out of the top of their lineup in order to manufacture runs against such difficult pitching. They will also look for a little bit of luck and hope a couple of the teams struggle and fall out of contention early because it will make for a long summer if there are four teams contending for the division crown.
2007 Prediction: 92-70 (1st place in NL West)
2007 Strength: Starting Rotation
2007 Weakness: Middle of Lineup
2007 Team MVP: Nomar Garciaparra
2007 Team Cy Young: Jason Schmidt