Well we've got 15 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Lineup: We're not entirely sure what to make of this group. On the one hand, Matt Kemp is one of the best outfielders in the business, and Andre Ethier has made big strides. Manny Ramirez rounds out this outfield, and while he's the big name, there are questions as to whether he can improve his performance after a lackluster end to the 2009 season. And this is where we get to the question marks: Rafael Furcal has been up-and-down as the shortstop for this squad; when healthy, he's been generally good, but that's hardly a sure thing at this point. Blake DeWitt is probably better than most second basemen, but he's in a competition with Ronnie Belliard, whom Joe Torre inexplicably saw fit to gift the postseason keystone job over Orlando Hudson - who's now a Twin. James Loney is probably an average first baseman, but is that good enough? Casey Blake is certainly in the decline phase of his career, and probably isn't the sort of guy you want manning the hot corner all season long; are they really comfortable with having Jamey Carroll be his backup? And, perhaps most importantly, what happened to Russell Martin? Martin had been one of the better catchers in the league before a shockingly precipitous decline last season - can he return to form, or is he a replacement-level player at this point? If the questions don't answer themselves in a good way - and make no mistake, they very well might do so - then this team could be headed for a bad decline.
Rotation: But it's not all doom and gloom in Chavez Ravine! Clayton Kershaw is one of the best young pitchers in baseball, and only figures to improve. Chad Billingsley has been an excellent #2 starter, and Hiroki Kuroda has performed admirably when healthy. And then...well, it gets kind of ugly. Vicente Padilla? Eric Stults? Those are not 4 and 5 guys. Charlie Haeger, the knuckleballer, deserves a shot at the rotation in our minds, and not just because we have a soft spot for knuckleballers; Haeger has demonstrated better control than most pitchers of his ilk, and, hell, why not give him a shot? Because after him, you're looking at guys like Ramon and Russ Ortiz, either of whom might well be the worst pitchers in MLB at this point, and Josh Towers, who besides being the only pitcher to wear a single digit number (you can read why here) is one of the few pitchers in competition for that lofty title held by the Ortizes. You know, this might actually be all doom and gloom for the Dodgers.
Bullpen: Ah, but then the bullpen. This is a very solid group. Jon Broxton is one of the better closers in the game, with a triple-digit heater and solid control to boot. George Sherrill is an excellent lefty arm, and Ramon Troncoso and Hong-Chi Kuo are two of the better late-inning options you could ask for. Plus, James McDonald and Ronald Bellisario gave them great years last season, and Jeff Weaver provides some innings-eating flexibility. It's odd for a division contender's biggest strength to be their bullpen, but, well, here you are.
Overall: A lot has to go right for the Dodgers to even approach last season's lofty win total (95). And it's odd that we feel that way, since very little has really changed here. But we're not especially confident in the lineup's ability to come together and be a force, nor their ability to overcome a breathtaking dearth of depth in the rotation. Their bullpen should be solid again, but we're extremely loath to rely on relievers repeating good performances, and it certainly shouldn't be the brightest spot on a team that has designs on a division title.
Predicted Record: 87-75, 2nd place NL West
Beer: Anchor's Summer Beer. An American Pale Wheat Ale, it's a bit lacking in body, but has plenty of sweet taste. In this case, the sweet taste is Matt Kemp, Manny Ramirez and Andre Ethier forming a formidable lineup core and Clayton Kershaw and Jon Broxton shutting down opposing hitters. And...well, the 'lacking in body' is somewhat self-explanatory, no?