Saturday, January 31, 2009

Perspective from the cellar

It seems so long since the Los Angeles Dodgers were relevant in the National League West. They won the division title in Season 4, slipping past jclarkbaker's budding San Francisco Giants in the first round before succumbing to viperhoops' Florida Marlins in the second. They claimed a Wild Card berth in Season 7, but lost in four games to the Charlotte Black Knights.

That, in a nutshell too small to be seen with the naked eye, is it. The trophy case is bare, a haven for spiders rather than the sport's ultimate hardware. While the defending world champion Giants have averaged 103 wins over six consecutive division-winning seasons since the Season 4 playoff loss, the Dodgers have averaged nearly 78 -- and that average took a beating with Season 10's franchise-worst 62-100 mark.

The Dodgers rely on barely-above-average pitching from a staff led by veteran lefty Wiki De La Vega (11-11, 3.82 ERA last season) and have been waiting for Carlos Sosa (4-14, 4.38) and Jack Dunston (10-10, 3.92) to mature past the growing-pains stage. Alberto Olivares (7-14, 3.98) deserved better, but his best efforts were consistently undermined. Octavio Calles (5-5, 3.94, mainly in long relief) may be ready to step up and claim a spot in the rotation, and will be given the chance to prove himself in spring training, for whatever that experience is worth.

Below-average fielding and hitting must be addressed before the Dodgers can think of contending. They were among the league's five worst in both categories last season. That's a problem; good-hit, good-glove players are hard to find in abundance or without prohibitive cost, and that's just what the Dodgers need.

The Dodgers are long in the tooth at key spots -- solid catcher J.J. Eaton (.266-19-55) and second baseman Michael Edmonds (.262-7-30) are both 37. Paul Winston, 36, who vetoed a trade to the Yankees two seasons ago and lived to regret it, may have to close again. The rest of the roster doesn't excite, though if chicks dig the long ball, the Dodgers can showcase 1B Sammy Terrero (30 homers last season), 3B Roy Charles (28), SS Ernest Mann (24) and jack-of-all-trades Tori Dickson (24).

Among those showing promise are 2B Pedro Lorenzo (.293-5-24), LF Brent Hoover (.311-11-43) and Damon Negebauer (.302-9-29). SS Daryle Rogers may get a chance to show his stuff after batting .300 in extremely limited expanded-roster time last season. But those are bright spots in a sea of darkness and it'll probably be a while before the light truly shines in L.A.

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