1 LOS ANGELES DODGERS

April 05, 2009

Reason toCelebrate
Manny brings the fear in a lineup that's as good as it gets—now about thatpitching

EVER SINCE MannyRamirez declared, "I'm baaaaack," following the club's most celebratedspring holdout since Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale held out in 1966, theDodgers haven't been able to keep Ramirez away from Camelback Ranch, the team'snew spring training home in Glendale, Ariz. The superstar, who signed atwo-year, $45 million deal (with an opt-out clause after this season) threeweeks into camp, would arrive at the ballpark at 6:30 each morning to run withstrength-and-conditioning coach Brendon Huttman before heading to the battingcage. "He's like a big kid, and he loves to play baseball," sayscenterfielder Matt Kemp, "and that's kind of rubbed off on [the rest of]us."

A slugging savantwho won two World Series titles with the Red Sox, Ramirez is equally rememberedin Boston as an erratic malcontent. But one team's cancer, it turns out, can beanother's cure.

Not that Ramirezdoesn't still stir up anxiety. Even unflappable manager Joe Torre was lookingoddly concerned in the days before Manny re-signed. "We couldn't winwithout him," one Dodger said shortly after the signing. "Everyone inhere knows that."

To bring Ramirezback, Dodgers G.M. Ned Colletti says he negotiated with agent Scott Boras for141 straight days, holidays included. But now that he's got his man, the L.A.lineup is as good as any in the National League one though eight. It looks alot like the one that reached the NLCS last season, except upbeat secondbaseman Orlando Hudson (maybe the steal of the winter's free-agent signings atone-year, $3.4 million guaranteed) replaces the dour Jeff Kent, whoretired.

Ramirez won'tduplicate the otherworldly .396 (.410 including postseason) he hit after comingover to the NL on July 31, but the Dodgers' quartet of emerging, under-27stars—first baseman James Loney, outfielders Andre Ethier and Kemp, and catcherRussell Martin—should all improve with Manny anchoring the middle of thelineup. Los Angeles was 54--54 at the time of the swap, but it averaged nearlyhalf a home run more and four tenths of a run a game more after Ramirezarrived. "I don't think we were lacking confidence, but it gives you alittle extra confidence knowing you have Manny on your side," saysEthier.

Now the biggestconcern for Dodgers officials is the pitching staff. It led the league in ERAlast year but over the winter lost key starter Derek Lowe and much of itsbullpen (Takashi Saito, Chan Ho Park, Joe Beimel and Scott Proctor). Even withthe free-agent signing of serviceable, if injury-prone, veteran Randy Wolf, oneL.A. official says, "We need another starter."

The continueddevelopment of 21-year-old lefthanded phenom Clayton Kershaw would help.Kershaw, who throws 95 mph with a plus breaking ball, was hit or miss in earlyspring, according to one Dodgers official, but he finished strong. "Helooks like he's ready to take the next step," a rival G.M. says.

The bullpen hasno such immediate reinforcement. Jonathan Broxton, the new full-time closer,was 14 of 17 in save opportunities after Saito went down with an elbow injurylast year, but he looked better as a setup man. Replacing him in that role islefty Hong-Chih Kuo, who has filthy stuff (96 strikeouts in 80 innings and a2.14 ERA) but is brittle (two Tommy John surgeries already at age 27). Thefront office is counting on strong-armed youngsters James McDonald and CoryWade to fill the void left by the many pen departures. "We knew we'd haveto address the pitching, and we addressed it somewhat," Colletti says."But we're a young, inexperienced staff."

The youngpitchers should benefit from a tight defense that's especially strong up themiddle, with returning shortstop Rafael Furcal, plus Hudson and Martin. (Theathletic Kemp is still a work in progress in center.) But L.A.'s main goal isto beat up teams up with its bats, and while that's an unusual plan in adivision of spacious ballparks, including Dodger Stadium, it may work. WithRamirez back to help that talented quartet of young position players, theDodgers are the class of a division that has no lineup to match theirs.

CONSIDER THIS AModest Proposal ...

While scramblingin the off-season to retain free agents Rafael Furcal and Manny Ramirez, theDodgers neglected their starting rotation, importing past-their-prime hurlersRandy Wolf, Jeff Weaver, Shawn Estes and Eric Milton. Wolf, slotted as thesecond starter, may be fools' gold, the product of a half-season spent inpitcher heaven. At San Diego's Petco Park, Wolf had a 3.17 ERA with 62strikeouts and 23 walks in 65 1/3 innings. Elsewhere, those numbers were 4.90,100 and 48 in 125 IP. Twenty-four-year-old rookie righty James McDonald (left),who was lights-out as a reliever in the League Championship Series against thePhillies (seven K's in 5 1/3 scoreless innings), should get Wolf's slot as soonas possible. Even with Ramirez, L.A. is a slim favorite in a tight race; one ortwo wins could be the difference.

THE NUMBERS

LIE
100

DON'T LIE

Point differencebetween catcher Russell Martin's slugging percentage before the All-Star break(a solid .436) and after it (.336) last season. Before the break, he had oneextra-base hit every 12 at bats; after it, one every 20. That decline can beattributed in part to his considerable workload. He was the only NationalLeague catcher to play more than 140 games at the position in each of the lasttwo seasons.

The Lineup
WITH 2008 STATISTICS

Manager JoeTorre
SECOND SEASON WITH DODGERS

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

RAFAEL FURCAL SS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 75 .357 5 16 8
ORLANDO HUDSON

[NEWACQUISITION]

2B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 157 .305 8 41 4
MANNY RAMIREZ LF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 14 .332 37 121 3
ANDRE ETHIER RF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 89 .305 20 77 6
RUSSELL MARTIN C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 56 .280 13 69 18
JAMES LONEY 1B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 93 .289 13 90 7
MATT KEMP CF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 25 .290 18 76 35
CASEY BLAKE 3B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 136 .274 21 81 3
BENCH
MARK LORETTA

[NEWACQUISITION]

IF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 303 .280 4 38 0
DOUG MIENTKIEWICZ

[NEWACQUISITION]

IF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 382 .277 2 30 0
BRAD AUSMUS

[NEWACQUISITION]

C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 402 .218 3 24 0

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

ROTATION
PITCHER PVR W L K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Hiroki Kuroda 119 9 10 5.7 1.22 3.73
LH Randy Wolf

[NEWACQUISITION]

121 12 12 7.7 1.38 4.30
RH Chad Billingsley 39 16 10 9.0 1.34 3.14
LH Clayton Kershaw 132 5 5 8.4 1.50 4.26
RH Jason Schmidt* 221 0 1 3.6 2.19 7.30
BULLPEN
PITCHER PVR W SV K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Jonathan Broxton 52 3 14 11.5 1.17 3.13
LH Hong-Chih Kuo 198 5 1 10.8 1.01 2.14
RH Guillermo Mota

[NEWACQUISITION]

288 5 1 7.9 1.40 4.11

NEWACQUISITION
*2007 stats
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)

NOW AT SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPTED FROM SI
July 12, 1999

Sandy Koufax was 35, five years since his last pitch,in 1966, when he came eagerly, even dreamily, to Maine, the back booth ofAmerica. He had seen a photo spread in Look magazine about the Down Eastcountry homestead of a man named Blakely Babcock, a 350-pound Burpee Seedsalesman, gentleman farmer and gadfly whom everybody called Tiny. Tiny's NorthEllsworth farmhouse caught Koufax's fancy at just about the same time one ofhis wife's friends was renovating her farmhouse in Maine. Wouldn't it beperfect, Koufax thought, to live quietly, almost anonymously, in an oldfarmhouse just like Tiny's? —TOM VERDUCCI

For free access to all Dodgers stories and photographsfrom the SI archives, plus video clips, go to SI.com/vault.

PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGHINSPIRING DREAD Ramirez won't hit .396 again, but he'll help make teammates such as Martin more productive. PHOTOBRAD MANGIN (MCDONALD) PHOTO

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)