Although many Dodgers fans wanted the club to get a superstar this offseason, superstars don't guarantee world championships. They often perform below their high expectations. The Dodgers have a solid team, with three players poised for greatness. Matt Kemp has more athletic ability than most Major Leaguers, and with his incredible advancement last year, most people think he will have a breakout season in 2010.
Most baseball people don't think Andre Ethier will reach the level of Kemp, but he is vital to the success of the Dodgers. He is the Dodgers' only left-handed power hitter, unless James Loney finds his untouched power. Last year, Ethier, who led the team in home runs, developed confidence in his ability to be a potent offensive force without Manny Ramirez in the lineup. I foresee Ethier having a better season than last year.
At 21, Clayton Kershaw is poised to be the Dodgers' ace. Although he sometimes uses too many pitches, which prevents him from lasting into the late innings of his starts, the quality of his pitches is amazing for someone so young. His fastball is great, probably the second best on the Dodgers' pitching staff, and it is not his best pitch, by any means. His rainbow curve is just unbelievable. I have seen future Hall of Famers frozen at the plate by it. If Kershaw can learn to have consistently good control, he will be a yearly candidate for the Cy Young Award.
Although the Dodgers didn't acquire any big names, they did find players to fill their needs. Most baseball writers believe the Dodgers will repeat as the National League West champions. I think they can, if they find a consistent fifth starter and Ramirez hits better than last season. Manager Joe Torre has said that he must rest Ramirez and Casey Blake more than he did last season. I expect to see Blake DeWitt playing third base at least once a week, and Johnson will be in left field often.
The biggest challenge for the Dodgers is likely to come from the Colorado Rockies, managed by Jim Tracy. Even playing half of their games at Coors Field, the Rockies have a good pitching staff, especially with Jeff Francis coming back. Their offense is strong, but less experienced than the Dodgers. Their re-signing of Jason Giambi gives them a good power hitter coming off the bench. Eric Young Jr. will probably make the team and can give them an added dimension of speed that the Dodgers don't have after trading Juan Pierre. I expect to see a dogfight between the Dodgers and the Rockies for the NL West title.
The San Francisco Giants have improved themselves, but I don't think they will have enough offense to be among the elite teams of baseball. Obtaining Aubrey Huff will help their offense, but scoring enough runs to win still will be a problem. Their starting pitching is excellent. However, their bullpen appears to be weak. I don't think they are a complete team, but the Giants will try to give the Dodgers trouble.
The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired ex-Dodgers starter Edwin Jackson in hopes of strengthening their starting pitching. Brandon Webb is coming off shoulder surgery, but he should be satisfactory. Dan Harden will be tough to beat. Unless the D-backs' young hitters learn to make consistent contact, they won't be a factor in the NL West.
The San Diego Padres haven't recovered from being sold. Everyone knows about Adrian Gonzalez, a great power hitter, but who else do they have to generate offense? David Eckstein will be a pain with his awesome ability to get on base. Other than Chris Young, who is coming off an injury, and closer Heath Bell, the Padres' pitching staff is unproven. With new ownership, many baseball writers think Bud Black will be the first manager to be fired in 2010. I don't think the Padres will be a factor in the division, but they always play the Dodgers tough.
Yes, the Dodgers have shortcomings. They should have had more money that they were willing to spend on the necessary players. However, in these tough economic times, most teams have decreased their payrolls, and this will help the Dodgers to continue to be one of the elite teams in baseball. Hopefully, Colletti will surprise us by getting a new starting pitcher, but I'm not holding my breath about that. The Dodgers appear to be a solid team, but nothing spectacular. No one can predict a world championship. Time will tell how good the Dodgers will be in 2010.
Sarah D. Morris is the editor of Sarah's Dodger Place. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.