The Dodgers have one of the youngest and certainly the hardest-throwing pitching staffs in the majors. It is not now the best, but the potential is certainly here. Only relievers Clem Labine and Johnny Klippstein—and Carl Erskine—are over 30 (and not by much), while the rest range from 20 to 28. For the 11th year in a row, the staff struck out more batters than any other team in the league. They also had the worst team ERA. The biggest reason for this completely unexpected performance by the highly rated Dodger pitchers was that monstrosity hovering over their shoulders in left field. One pitcher that infamous fence didn't bother, strangely enough, was the left-handed Johnny Podres, at 26 the dean of the starters, who won 11 of his 13 victories in the Coliseum. Tall (6 feet 6), young (22) Don Drysdale had trouble getting started, but was 8-4 with a 2.85 ERA from the All-Star Game on. His sweeping sidearm delivery, by way of third base, is plenty rough; just ask the batters. Left-handed fast-baller Sandy Koufax, at 23, has yet to utilize all his pitching possibilities. Behind these three are such good young men as hard-throwing Stan Williams (22), who only needs a little more finesse; Danny McDevitt (26), whose fast ball sometimes gets out of control; and knuckle-baller Fred Kipp (27), the long-relief man and spot starter. Strongman Clem Labine had arm troubles but was still an effective reliever at times with six wins and 14 saves. The defense is sound and a lot of times brilliant. (The Dodgers set a new National League record with 198 double plays last year.) There is a nice balance of speed and power all the way down the lineup. (The Dodgers led the league in stolen bases and were second in home runs.) Gil Hodges didn't hit 90 homers over the left-field screen, but who's to say he won't this time around? Duke Snider didn't have a chance last year but don't count him out; O'Malley brought in the fence in center and right just for him. Although Carl Furillo is 37, he still batted close to his normal .300 and hit 18 home runs. Infielders Charlie Neal and Don Zimmer are speedy and hit with power, too, while Jim Gilliam, who can play all over, is faster yet and an ideal lead-off man. Catcher John Roseboro adds even more speed to the team and hit pretty well as Campy's replacement last year.
Because of the sore-arm history of such former regulars as Don Bessent, Ed Roebuck, Roger Craig and Carl Erskine, a lot depends upon the youngsters who are expected to round out the pitching staff. Perhaps the odd-shaped Coliseum will still be too much of a handicap for the pitchers no matter how good they are. After all, the Dodgers allowed the most home runs in the league and the most earned runs. Since the staff has so many young, hard-throwing youngsters, it's a tough one to catch well. Campanella would have been just right for it, but Roseboro, as promising as he is, still has a lot to learn. Last year the right-handed hitters didn't hit the screen often enough. Hodges slumped badly, and Neal and Zimmer, despite their power, were .260 hitters. So was Gilliam, who depends on singles and doubles. Snider's bad knee let him down last year as much as the distant right-field fence did; if it fails again, there goes Snider, and without his bat the Dodgers are in trouble.
ROOKIES AND NEW FACES
The addition of left-handed Wally Moon and right-handed Rip Repulski gives the Dodgers two once-good hitters and a chance for more maneuvering in the outfield. Rookie Bob Lillis, the last of a long line of shortstops who waited for Pee Wee Reese to wear out, hit .391 in 20 games with the Dodgers late in the year. If he can hit just some of that for a full season, Manager Walter Alston will have the pleasant problem of trying to figure out where he will play whom in the infield. The most pleasing rookie to land with the Dodgers in years is 20-year-old Ron Fairly, who led the USC team to the NCAA championships less than a year ago. Right now, Fairly seems to have all the know-how of a veteran, and with his great poise and determination will be a Dodger for many years to come.
THE BIG IFS
The main question mark about the Dodgers is the menacing left-field screen, and whether the pitchers and hitters have learned how to get along with it. If they have, and the veterans Hodges, Furillo and Snider are still good for another season, it will be sunny in Los Angeles. If not, and the young pitchers don't develop as expected, Walter O'Malley had better try to lose himself in the smog.
After a decade of great teams in little Ebbets Field, the Dodgers moved into the spacious Coliseum and suddenly were a seventh-place ball club. Despite that finish, none of the other National League teams is taking the Dodgers lightly. It will be no real surprise to anyone if Los Angeles joins San Francisco as the Coast's second pennant contender.
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