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SAN FRANCISCO – Last week’s tour through the NL West looked at the arms race between the five division rivals, with the Dodgers emerging as the strongest on paper ahead of the experienced Giants.
This week it’s all about the O.
The Padres, who scored the fewest runs among NL West clubs last year, checked in at No.5 in our rankings. The road-woeful Rockies, now in the post-Helton era, came in at No.4. The Giants, who welcome Michael Morse and his flashback-lunch walk-up music, fall in the middle. Arizona’s power plant of Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo earns the Diamondbacks the No.2 spot.
By process of emilination, then…
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Who’s new: 2B Alexander Guerrero, IF Chone Figgins, IF Justin Turner.
Who’s gone: 2B Mark Ellis, IF Nick Punto, IF/OF Skip Schumaker, IF Jerry Hairston Jr., IF Michael Young.
2013 average (NL rank): .264 (3rd)
2013 on-base percentage (NL rank): .326 (3rd)
2013 slugging (NL rank): .396 (6th)
2013 runs/game (NL rank): 4.01 (7th)
2013 home runs (NL rank): 138 (10th)
Projected lineup: RF Yasiel Puig, LF Carl Crawford, SS Hanley Ramirez, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, CF Matt Kemp, 3B Juan Uribe, 2B Alexander Guerrero, C A.J. Ellis.
Health is a variable that affects every team and the Dodgers are no exception.
Matt Kemp is coming off left ankle surgery in October, as well as a follow-up shoulder procedure. Andre Ethier was hampered by a bad ankle last year, and Hanley Ramirez fractured a rib in the playoffs to finish a season in which he played in just four games before June.
Mental health is part of a player’s well being, too. And given all Yasiel Puig’s on-field outbursts, combined with his off-field reckless driving incidents (110 in a 70-mile zone, really?), you have to wonder if he’s a time bomb waiting to go off.
It’s not like Carl Crawford and Juan Uribe have been iron men in recent years, either.
But the Dodgers have more than a talented core lineup. They also have depth – especially in the outfield, where they’d have four everyday players in Puig, Crawford, Kemp and Ethier. And minor league hitter Joc Pederson’s time is near, too.
The Dodgers have to be ready a week early because they’ll open the season against the Diamondbacks in Sydney. That might make it tougher for GM Ned Colletti to trade one of his everyday outfielders. Then again, Colletti didn’t move any of his superfluous starting pitchers last spring, and he ended up cycling through all of them before acquiring Ricky Nolasco. And with Kemp still touch-and-go to start the spring, you can bet Colletti won’t deal away any of his outfielders unless he sees all four at full strength this spring.
It’s hard to take your eyes off Puig, with his on-field histrionics and his flair for the dramatic. He received the biggest share of credit for helping the Dodgers along a sizzling 42-12 record in July and August. But the true driving force (other than the NL’s best rotation) was Ramirez, who rediscovered his apparent motivation along with his MVP form.
Ramirez began last year on the DL with a torn thumb ligament sustained in the World Baseball Classic, then injured his hamstring in his fourth game back and was lost for another month. But from June 19, when he collected six hits in a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium, Ramirez hit .355/.414/.659 the rest of the season. He hit 19 homers and 22 doubles in just more than 300 plate appearances. If you could base the NL MVP solely on June 1 onward, Ramirez would’ve been the runaway choice.
Adrian Gonzalez quietly knocked in 100 runs, too. Amid all the tumult, he was the steadiest presence in the lineup all season. There’s no reason to expect he’ll be any worse this year. It’s hard to say the same for Juan Uribe, who curiously has monster months just before he’s about to hit free agency.
The Dodgers solved their third base issue by re-signing Uribe but they still have have their share of questions, beginning with their new second baseman. Guerrero, 26, received a four-year, $28 million contract and he’s likely to contribute a bit more with his stick than his glove. It’s not like he’s replacing Ryne Sandberg, but Mark Ellis was a steady presence. So were backups Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker and Jerry Hairston Jr. The Dodgers bench took a beating as a result.
But money is always the easiest way to fix a problem. The Dodgers have plenty of it – along with the division’s best blend of power, speed, steady run producers and game-changing stars.
ANALYSIS: The Dodgers have the NL West’s best offense on paper. Just remember that paper is highly combustible, though.