Will be the Fat Man’s Curse be broken this year?
Hey, we’re pretty stoked around here---SoCal’s got two teams in the post-season this year, and those of us in the L.A. area don’t have watch those crappy expansion teams down south---er, the Padres and Angels, sorry---stealing all of our thunder again. At least not for another week. While Brubaker will cover the Cubs in another blog, and Holman will handle his Angels too, here’s the Bossman’s breakdown on the Boys in Blue.
Hitting: They might not be household names yet, but the Dodgers’ core of young homegrown talent---James Loney, Russell Martin (.385 OBP), Andre Ethier (126 OPS+), Matt Kemp and Blake DeWitt---have all matured into solid everyday players, though none possesses big-time power. Enter Manny (1.232 OPS!) and Casey Blake (10 HR in 58 games), who have given L.A.’s offense the base-clearing dimension it previously lacked while helping the team recover from the midseason losses of Nomar (brittleness), Jeff Kent (crankiness) and Andruw Jones (laziness). The bench is not terribly deep, and cluttered with non-achievers like Juan Pierre and Mark Sweeney, so the Dodgers will need their regulars to all stay healthy and slump-free.
Pitching: The starters are effective if lacking in big-name star power, with Derek Lowe, Hiroki Kuroda and longtime prospect Chad Billingsley (141 ERA+) all posting solid sub-league average ERAs. Jonathan Broxton has picked up where Takashi Saito left off as the closer, Chan Ho Park (3.40 ERA) has become an outstanding fifth starter, and designated hippie Joe Beimel (219 ERA+) has morphed into an ace setup guy. And if you haven’t seen Clayton Kershaw yet, you’re in for a treat. He’s still inconsistent, and he struggles with the strike zone at times, but a 20-year-old kid with a curveball that can make major-league hitters wet their pants is someone to watch in the future.
Defense: Even with Nomar, Kent and Furcal out of the picture, all four infielders are still solid, and noticeably more agile. Angel Berroa at short (4.72 RF) has been particularly good. The outfield is a little slow in the gaps but otherwise reliable. The pitchers as a group had an above-average Range Factor.
Manager: Some dude who used to do color commentary for the Angels on TV. Managed a few teams. Got to the playoffs a time or two. What’s his name again?
Prognosis: As a rule, I’d have a tough time betting against Chicago in the NLDS---they’re simply a deeper, more talent-rich team, on paper and in the standings---but LA closed strong, winning 18 of their last 26. And as we’ve seen in recent years, it’s not always the best team overall that makes it to the World Series---sometimes, it’s simply the team that’s playing the best ball right now. According to Pythagoras, the Dodgers underperformed slightly during the season as well, so they are probably playing up to their true potential now. Chicago should win this series, but this is still L.A.’s best chance to advance to the LCS in 20 years----and this time around, they’ve got their best manager since Walter Alston making the calls. It should be an interesting series.
Trivial Factoid: Talk about an even rivalry. Since 1901, the Cubs have beaten the Dodgers 934 times. The Dodgers have beaten the Cubs 931 times.