Yeah, yeah, yeah. Matt Kemp’s labrum, Carl Crawford’s elbow. Healthy and ready when the bell rings? Will they or won’t they? And what about that Luis Cruz-as-the-regular-third-baseman idea?
Oh, and can Hanley Ramirez get the ball from short to first before Pablo Sandoval, batting right-handed and slipping coming out of the box, beats the throw?
These are the questions – the only questions – of concern re the lineup the Dodgers expect to field come Opening Day, April 1, San Francisco at Los Angeles.
Upon the publication of my bullpen blog last week, I was accused by a surprisingly baseball savvy Giants fan (yes, they have them) of perhaps being a tad “overly optimistic.” He was talking about my sunny assessment of Brandon League in particular, but point taken.
My response? I’m being “intentionally optimistic,” but not overly optimistic. There’s a difference. It happens every spring, as they say, I make no apologies, and you can expect more of the same below, and in my upcoming bench post in a few days.
Carl Crawford is coming off two 2012 surgeries, a left wrist in January and left Tommy John in August. The Rays’ former All-Star left fielder says he’ll be able to hit the cutoff man by day one, which will make him more capable than an at-full-strength Juan Pierre. It also means there’s a chance of a disabled list stint to begin the season. Or the opponents take some extra bases early on. We’ll live either way.
Who knows about the wrist, but like I said, I’m being optimistic. Let’s recall that Jayson Werth missed a good chunk of 2005 and all of 2006 with a difficult-to-fix wrist injury, and returned a better player than he was to begin with, not that I want to dredge up the 2008-09 National League Championship Series or anything.
It may take him some time, but I’m looking for Carl Crawford to show us plenty in 2013. Say, .285, .350, 100 runs, 60 RBIs and 40 steals. And I absolutely think he can hit leadoff in Los Angeles. In fact, I can’t wait to see it.
Before we go any further, and of course, barring injury, this is how I think Don Mattingly’s first lineup of the year will shake out. And it’s a prediction; mind you, not necessarily a recommendation.
Carl Crawford – LF
Mark Ellis – 2B
Matt Kemp – CF
Adrian Gonzalez – 1B
Hanley Ramirez – SS
Andre Ethier – RF
Luis Cruz – 3B
A.J. Ellis – C
Clayton Kershaw – P
While there’s been no discussion of Mark Ellis losing at bats against right-handers publicly, before long this might be as close as we’ve come to seeing a straight platoon out of Don Mattingly. Although he’s done better in previous seasons, Ellis hit just .228 against righties last season. He hit .321 versus left-handers. Skip Schumaker – bats left, throws right – hit .295 off righties in 2012.
Ellis is 35, has been banged up a bit in recent years and Schumaker is solid in the field, so it makes sense. Just don’t expect to see it right away.
Kemp will be the third man Matt Cain faces in 2013, and it’ll probably be 1-0 one way or another, before Adrian Gonzalez steps in. The man is a complete stud, he’s in incredible shape and the non-throwing shoulder won’t be a problem going forward. He’ll still be able to crash into the occasional fence without issue. .310, .375, 30 and 100, piece of cake.
Gonzalez is going to be the team MVP, however; and an absolute monster. He’ll play 155 games, hit .300 against southpaws and lead the team in runs batted in (and yes, RBIs still matter). They’ll be important RBIs too. And he’ll win a Gold Glove. Next.
Speaking of Gold Gloves…uh, never mind. Hanley Ramirez is a considerably-below-average shortstop, who seems like he can run the ball over to first faster than he can throw it there. Dee Gordon could surprise with a great spring, forcing a move of Ramirez to third, and the Dodgers might yet acquire someone special for the left side of the infield, but it’s too soon to count on any of that.
Do count on Hanley hitting the crap out of the ball, however, and enough to make up for the runs he allows at short. For the time being. Look for .285, .345, 25, 95 and 25 stolen bases.
Andre Ethier recorded an almost unwatchable .222 against left-handers last year, and a .220 in 2011. In 2010 and 2009 it was more of the same, with the right fielder struggling to the tune of .233 and .194 versus southpaws respectively. But he did hit .243 off them in 2008, .279 in ’07 and .351 in 77 at bats of his rookie season of 2006.
So the skill is in there someplace, and maybe new batting coach Mark McGwire can bring it out of him. I’m confident that if Ethier can eke out a .260 – or even a .250 – against left-handers, we’d all take that gladly.
I’m also confident a trade for a solid right-hand hitting fourth outfielder type is coming eventually. But in the meantime all Mattingly has to do is sit Ethier against whatever lefties give him the most trouble. Not a platoon; just spare him his worst matchups, and keep him fresh in the bargain.
Predicted numbers: .285, .350, 20 and 80 in the sixth hole, which is just fine. Ethier’s going to benefit from the move down in the lineup, along the decreased expectations.
(This just in: Ethier rakes in his first spring at bat against a lefty, tripling off White Sox reliever Leyson Septimo at Camelback. Problem solved.)
There’s not a person inside baseball who knows what to expect out of incumbent third baseman Luis Cruz. Outside of baseball either, for that matter. He could hit .350 in the spring and .150 in April, or just as easily the other way around. And they still won’t know. But L.A. can afford to give him his shot, and unless there’s a better offer coming from another club, Cruz gets the nod Opening Day.
Much to the chagrin of Dodgers bloggers everywhere, Mattingly likes A.J. Ellis and his .369 career on base percentage (.406 in the minors) batting eighth. Draw a two-out walk, get the pitcher out of the way and start the next inning with your leadoff man. He’s not going to hit higher than seventh regardless, so why not eighth if that’s what the skipper prefers?
Mattingly also says he’s going to rest his number one catcher more in 2013, but Joe Torre said the same thing about Russell Martin every spring, and ran him into the ground without fail anyway. If he starts 125 games behind the plate, which would be great for all concerned, Ellis will be the exact same hitter he was last season. Say, .270 and .370, with 13 homers and 60 RBIs.
Kershaw gets his first sacrifice attempt of the season down perfectly and drives in a run on Opening Day. Seven innings, four hits, one earned, one walk, 10 strikeouts and the victory. Dodgers 1-0, Giants 0-1. Magic number 161.
Optimistic, but not overly optimistic.
Next up, the Dodger bench. And remember, glove conquers all.