I’m feelin’ mighty Mani-low.
Two seasons ago, when the Dodgers were the best team in the National League for much of the season and reached Major League Baseball’s Final Four, they had …
- a below-average season for a first baseman by James Loney (.756 OPS).
- nothing special offensively from their shortstop, Rafael Furcal (.711) or their catcher, Russell Martin (.680 OPS).
- a strong but not superhuman season from their center fielder, Matt Kemp (.842).
- 11 home runs all year from their bench.
- an up-and-down campaign from Chad Billingsley (4.03 ERA).
- an injury-hampered season from Hiroki Kuroda (3.76 ERA in 20 starts).
- 10 starts by Eric Stults, seven by Jeff Weaver, five by Eric Milton, four by Jason Schmidt and three by Charlie Haeger before the late-season acquisitions of Vicente Padilla and Jon Garland stabilized matters.
The keys to that team, in retrospect, were Andre Ethier having his best year with an .869 OPS, matched with precision by the left-field duo of Manny Ramirez and Juan Pierre (.869 OPS), and a strong season by Casey Blake at third base (.832 OPS). It didn’t hurt that the team caught lightning in a sippy cup with Ronald Belisario (2.04 ERA), Ramon Troncoso (2.72 ERA) and midseason pickup George Sherrill (0.65 ERA). And Orlando Hudson made some nice contributions before giving way to Ronnie Belliard down the stretch.
Randy Wolf (3.23 ERA) and Clayton Kershaw (2.79 ERA) were the Dodgers’ only two starting pitchers in 2009 who were above-average for a full season.
As the 2012 Dodgers near the horizon of the coming baseball season, you can weaknesses similar to their division-winning forerunners from 2009. The problem is not that the ’09 team was perfect. The problem, for now, is that the ’12 weaknesses don’t really stop there – in particular, third base and left field are exceptional worry spots.
Jerry Sands and Juan Rivera really need to meet the best of expectations – which could happen, but I hope you’ve trained in the pool to hold your breath. As for third baseman Juan Uribe … the hopes dim, though either of the two seasons he had in San Francisco (.824 OPS with 16 homers, .749 OPS with 24 homers) would be a welcome start.
In order to make the playoffs, the 2012 Dodgers will need some help from some very unexpected sources, either within the organization or from the outside. The possibility should keep things interesting for a while, but that’s about all you can guarantee.