The Dodgers are optimistic about the 2001 season but they do have some problems
Yesterday was the first day of spring training. As most teams do, the Los Angeles Dodgers believe they can be the 2001 world champions. Though the Dodgers are confident about their ability, they have not made outlandish predictions as Kevin Malone did in 1999. The Dodgers might be an elite National League team, but they must win more than 90 games to reach the playoffs. They have questions about their offense and defense. To reach the playoffs, they must overcome their weaknesses.
Most baseball people consider the National League Western Division might be the toughest division in baseball. Last season and during the winter both the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies improved themselves. When the Diamondbacks obtained Curt Schilling last July, many thought the Diamondbacks would make a run for the divisional title, but they did not. Although Schilling did not pitch well for the Diamondbacks, he should do better this year, a year removed from shoulder surgery. Many people have compared Randy Johnson, who has won two straight Cy Young awards, and Curt Schilling to the great pitching duos in baseball history. During the winter the Rockies upgraded their starting rotation when they signed Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle. Though the thin air of Denver will affect Hampton and Neagle, they will adjust to it. The Rockies’ starting rotation of Hampton, Neagle, Pedro Astacio, and Brian Bohanon compares to any rotation in the National League. Though the San Francisco Giants do not look as strong as other National League West teams, except for the San Diego Padres, no one can rule out the Giants, who won the most games in the National League in 2000. Because the National League has adopted an unbalanced schedule, the Dodgers will play their Western Division rivals eighteen or nineteen times this year. Therefore, the Dodgers must beat their rivals to go to the playoffs.
Though Jim Tracy, the new Dodger manager, and Kevin Malone believe the Dodger offense will be strong in 2001, most people think the Dodgers will have difficulty scoring runs. Though the Dodgers have three left-handed batters, Tom Goodwin, Shawn Green, and Alex Cora, right handers dominate their lineup still. Tracy plans to bat Goodwin lead off and Cora in the eighth position leaving Green to break up the string of right handers. Because Goodwin has struck out a lot, he has not been a good lead off hitter, but he is the best the Dodgers have. The Dodgers lost Todd Hundley, who became an offensive force in the Dodger lineup in 2000, to free agency and have not replaced his skills.
Shawn Green, Mark Grudzielanek, and Eric Karros will try to rebound from sub standard offensive performances in 2000. Green started the 2000 season great, but in the second half he could not adjust to the new way the opposition pitched him. Hopefully, he will adjust to the National League better in 2001. Grudzielanek had a violent viral infection around the all-star break, and he never regained his strength. He should have his strength in 2001. Nobody knows what caused Karros’ slump and power shortage in the last half of 2000, but the Dodgers and Karros believe he will rebound from it in 2001.
On January 12 Beltre underwent an emergency appendectomy. After spending about a month in the hospital on a clear liquid diet, Beltre still has a drainage bag attached to his stomach. He has lost 24 pounds during this period. Nobody knows when Beltre can participate in workouts. When he returns to the lineup, his statistics will not be good because of his weakened state, and the Dodgers were depending on him to help pick up the slack in Hundley’s absence.
The Dodgers committed 135 errors in 2000 to lead the National League. Though the Dodgers believe their defense will be better this year with new stress on its importance, with the same personnel it is doubtful that their defense improved that much. True, if Tracy keeps defense in mind when choosing a player, it will be a major improvement over Johnson. Both Chad Kreuter and Paul LoDuca are better defensive catchers than Todd Hundley, but most people are worried about LoDuca’s defense if he struggles offensively. First baseman Eric Karros has limited range because of his creaky knee. After a year playing second base, Mark Grudzielanek will be better but not a gold glove second baseman. Alex Cora should be improved after spending a year in the major leagues. Nobody knows who will play third base until Adrian Beltre recovers. Tom Goodwin and Shawn Green are good defensive outfielders, but Gary Sheffield still will be a defensive liability in left field. The Dodgers must improve in this area.
The most wonderful aspect of baseball is its dependence on human beings. Sometimes the media and fans forget baseball is unpredictable. On paper the Dodgers appear to have a strong pitching staff but have questions about their offense and defense. The Dodgers will compete against tough Western Division rivals. Although nobody knows whether the Dodgers will win their divisional title or finish last in their division, something I do know is the 2001 season will be exciting for Dodger fans.