Few teams can match the Los Angeles Dodgers’ deep starting rotation.
It is lack of offense and uncertainty in management that makes the Dodgers just the third choice to win the National League Western Division.
But if the Dodgers’ promising hitters all step up and first-year manager Don Mattingly can handle the role, Los Angeles just could make it three division titles in the last four years.
Oddsmakers are skeptical following the Dodgers’ 80-82 record and fourth-place showing last season.
The Dodgers remain a huge public team so their odds of winning the World Series aren’t that dramatic at 35/1, according to Bookmaker.com. More telling is their ‘over/under’ win total of 82 ½ and 6/1 odds of taking the division behind favorite San Francisco at minus 115 and second-choice Colorado at plus 120.
The potential is there for Los Angeles to improve on its 27th ranking in home runs (second fewest in the NL), 24th rating in slugging percentage, 21st placing in runs and 19th ranking in batting average.
Outfielders Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and first baseman James Loney are all in their prime and fully capable of big seasons. The 25-year-old Kemp has averaged 27 homers and 26 steals the past two seasons.
The 28-year-old Ethier was leading the NL in homers, RBIs and batting average through mid-May, but suffered a broken pinky finger and never could regain his hot early form finishing with a .292 average, 23 homers and 82 RBI in 139 games.
Loney, 26, has a career batting average of .288. However, he’s never hit more than 15 homers and driven in more than 90 runs in a season.
Shortstop Rafael Furcal is an effective leadoff hitter if fully healthy.
Just two seasons ago, the Dodgers won a National League best 95 games. Their starting pitching remains superb with Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda – all big strikeout pitchers - and Jon Garland looking like the No. 5 starter.
The Dodgers’ staff could be even stronger around mid-season when Vicente Padilla recovers from elbow surgery, which he was scheduled to undergo this week.
Kershaw is the ace. The 22-year-old southpaw made the All-Star team last year. He’s had two straight years of a sub-par 3.00 ERA.
Los Angeles’ bullpen should be solid, too, with closer Jonathan Broxton back to full strength. Broxton slumped during the final six weeks probably because former manager Joe Torre overworked him.
The Dodgers had the second highest attendance in the NL and highest in 2009, but their ability to spend freely is limited by an ownership battle that was caused in part by the divorcee case between Frank and Jamie McCourt.
Los Angeles ownership also is paying off nearly $35 million to former Dodgers players Manny Ramirez, Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones and Jason Schmidt.
So the Dodgers didn’t make their usual huge splash in the off-season bringing in infielder Juan Uribe to play second base, backup catcher Dioner Navarro to help replace traded Russell Martin, along with outfielders Marcus Thames and Tony Gwynn Jr. to compete with Xavier Paul for the starting left field spot.
Serious question marks are at catcher. Rod Barajas is 35 and a lifetime .239 hitter. Navarro batted .194 last year. He has a career batting mark of .249.
Third baseman Casey Blake is 37 and in decline. He had a career-worse 27.1 percent strikeout rate in 2010 while hitting only .234 during the second half of the season.
Managers aren’t a big handicapping factor, if any at all. But Mattingly could figure in the equation. He’s never had any legitimate managerial experience and remains a work in progress.
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