4 Los Angeles Dodgers With a new G.M. and a team in decline, rebuilding plans are in the works

April 04, 2004

Of all the lowly numbers the punchless Dodgers put up last
season--such as 574 runs and a .303 on-base percentage, both
numbers the worst in the National League since 1992--the most
bizarre is zero: games in which third baseman Adrian Beltre wore
a protective cup, extending his major league career record.

"Don't like them," Beltre says. "I'm not comfortable with them.
When you move, it moves around. I never wear one."

Beltre also claims never to have been hit where the cup would
have come in handy, except for the times when he was a teenager
in the Dominican summer league and a coach would tap the knob of
a fungo bat between each player's legs to see if he was wearing
one. Those found to be unprotected received, in addition to the
unpleasant sensation, a small fine. Beltre paid his share.

"Crazy," says Dodgers infielder Robin Ventura. "Shortstop, maybe
I could see. But third base? I guess he's not too worried about
being a father."

Actually, Beltre became a father for the first time last winter.
"That could be a good thing," manager Jim Tracy says. Much of the
Dodgers' season rides on how Beltre has matured. Every year a
mention of his age is usually preceded with only, as in "only 24"
this season. But Beltre has also been around so long that he's
eligible for free agency after this year, and he's played in 149
more games in his career than Mike Lowell, the Marlins'
30-year-old third baseman. Blessed with tremendous power, Beltre
is only a career .262 hitter with a .320 on-base percentage and a
penchant for ignoring the boundaries of the strike zone.

Privately, the Dodgers like to think that Beltre can be a late
bloomer like Sammy Sosa, who also was a streaky, undisciplined
hitter with raw power as a youngster. Says Beltre, who drew only
37 walks last year, "I have to get better, but I cannot change
the way I play. I'm not a rookie anymore. No more excuses about
being young. If I don't do it, I will take all the blame."

Beltre won't have much help around him. Tracy plans to hit him
third, behind Dave Roberts and Cesar Izturis--who had awful 2003
OBPs of .331 and .282, respectively. "He's been a second-half
player," Tracy says. "If we get some consistency from Beltre
starting in April, we have a very interesting number 3 hitter."
The Dodgers did almost nothing to treat their lineup anemia,
mostly because the team's sale to Boston developer Frank McCourt
wasn't finalized until Feb. 13, after much of the winter's trade
and signing activity was completed. New general manager Paul
DePodesta took over two days before spring training. Los Angeles
did add outfielder Juan Encarnacion, who drove in 94 runs for
Florida, but he is yet another player who was worse than the
league average (.332) at getting on base (.313).

"I guarantee we're going to be better than last year," Roberts
says. "Last year was a fluke. Everybody in the lineup had a bad
year. What are the odds that's going to happen two years in a
row? It won't happen."

"We don't have to be the '27 Yankees," DePodesta says. "With our
pitching, if we can just move up to the eighth, ninth, even 10th
spot [in the league] in runs we should be O.K."

So dominant were Dodgers pitchers last year that they had more
strikeouts than hits allowed and posted an ERA (3.16) more than a
run below the league average. They did lose ace Kevin Brown, by
trade, and reliever Paul Quantrill, by free agency, to the
Yankees; Jeff Weaver, a flop in New York, joins the rotation. The
deep bullpen, led by closer Eric Gagne, is fortified by Darren
Dreifort, who was throwing 95 mph again in spring training after
undergoing the sixth and seventh major operations of his career
(knee and hip this time).

"It's going to be tough to score off us in the latter part of the
game," Tracy says. "If a starter has the know-how and capability
of getting 18 outs with a slim lead, we're in pretty good shape."

Generating enough runs to fashion leads, however, remains L.A.'s
biggest challenge. The Dodgers' fate may ultimately rest with how
soon DePodesta, brought up on the religion of on-base percentage
as an assistant G.M. with the Athletics, trades from his pitching
depth to remake the offense. Until then the Dodgers' season could
be like playing third base without a cup: potentially painful,
with little margin for error. --T.V.

COLOR PHOTO: DINO VOURNAS/AP HANGING LOOSE Beltre, who refuses to wear a cup, lacks protection in the field and as the third hitter in an anemic lineup. COLOR PHOTO: JON SOOHOO/WIREIMAGE.COM ENCARNACION

IN FACT
The Dodgers' .368 slugging percentage last season was the lowest
in the major leagues in 10 years.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Dodgers

"This team is in trouble. The offense will be as bad as last
year's, maybe worse. Juan Encarnacion is a nice pickup, but he's
not the big bat they needed. Adrian Beltre is like someone
running on a treadmill: He's not going anywhere.... The rotation
is weaker too, with Kevin Brown gone and Jeff Weaver in his
place. Edwin Jackson is exciting to watch; he has a chance to be
special. They're going to let him get his feet wet as a fifth
starter, but by the end of the season he won't be their Number 5.
He's got a 96-mph fastball and real presence for a 20-year-old.
There's a thought process in his pitching; he doesn't just rely
on his stuff.... Hideo Nomo has not looked sharp. He had a good
year last year, but he looks like he's lost velocity. He's their
Opening Day starter, and he's looking like a Number 3 guy....
Odalis Perez is their best pitcher. He has dominant stuff and has
shown a lot of focus. Kaz Ishii and Weaver are big question
marks.... You just don't see the strength with the rotation that
you saw last year, and that's bad news given their offense."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2003 statistics

BATTING ORDER

CF Roberts
SS Izturis
3B Beltre
RF Green
C Lo Duca
LF Encarnacion
1B Ventura
2B Cora

DAVE ROBERTS

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 147 .250 2 16 40

JUAN ENCARNACION [New acquisition]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 68 .270 19 94 19

SHAWN GREEN

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 72 .280 19 85 6

CESAR IZTURIS

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 299 .251 1 40 10

ALEX CORA

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 350 .249 4 34 4

ADRIAN BELTRE

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 84 .240 23 80 2

ROBIN VENTURA

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 233 .242 14 55 0

PAUL LO DUCA

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 203 .273 7 52 0

BENCH

JOLBERT CABRERA

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 251 .282 6 37 6

DAVE ROSS

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 258 .258 10 18 0

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Hideo Nomo 51 16 13 6.6 1.25 3.09
LH Odalis Perez 30 12 12 6.2 1.28 4.52
LH Kaz Ishii 117 9 7 5.4 1.56 3.86
RH Jeff Weaver 222 7 9 6.6 1.62 5.99
[New acquisition]
RH Edwin Jackson (R) 153 2 1 7.3 1.27 2.45

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Eric Gagne 9 2 3 55 0.69 1.20
RH Guillermo Mota 113 6 3 1 0.99 1.97
LH Wilson Alvarez 131 6 2 1 1.08 2.37

(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 142)

2003 RECORD
85-77
second in NL West

MANAGER
Jim Tracy
fourth season with Los Angeles

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)