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RR NL Preview - Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles

Some things just go together; peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and Jerry Narron, and BLee2525 and Hollywood.  From a transplanted Daytonian living as far away from Los Angeles as possible while still in the continental United States, here is your Los Angeles Dodgers 2007 Preview:

2006
Nothing lasts forever in the cold November rain
The Dodgers finished 88-74 last year, putting them in a tie for first in the NL West.  They went 37-19 in August and September, including winning their last 7 to claim a tie with San Diego.  They ended up in the Wild card slot by virtue of losing the tie breaker to the Padres, and were swept by the Mets in the Divisional series.

Like the flower and the scent of summer/ Like the sun and the shine/ Well, the truth may come in strange disguises/ Send the message to your mind
The '06 Dodgers were characterized by balance both offensively and defensively; they were 4th in the NL in runs scored despite nobody cracking 20 homers, and 4th in the NL in runs allowed despite only Derek Lowe exceeding 200 IP.  Having one of the best bullpens in baseball didn't hurt, as Takashi Saito, Jonathan Broxton, and Joe Beimel (yes, that Joe Beimel) all pitched 70+ innings with an ERA of 3.00 or better.  Offensive depth was key as well; only Rafael Furcal and J.D. Drew (did you ever think you'd see his name on a list like this?) played over 130 games.  Rookies Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, and James Loney all were significant contributors, as was trade deadline acquisition Greg Maddux.

Only the end of the red will show you my blueside
The Dodgers had the good fortune of catching the Reds during their season-sinking west coast road trip of late August/early September.  Predictably, the Dodgers swept.  However, the beatdowns were not confined only to Chavez Ravine, as the Dodgers also earned a sweep in their one trip to Cincinnati.

2007
Money, it's a gas/ Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash
Expectations are understandably high in Los Angeles following their playoff appearance of a year ago.  A significant roster turnover has occurred in free agency, adding Jason Schmidt (3yr,$47mil), Randy Wolf (1yr,$8mil+option), Juan Pierre (5yr,$44mil), and Luis Gonzalez (1yr,$7.25mil).  J.D. Drew opted out of the final 3 years of his contract to test free agency, and signed with Boston.

Set 'em up, let 'em fall, turn 'em over as we sing...
The offense will attempt to replicate the balanced attack of a year ago.  SS Rafael Furcal is one of the best in the business at the top of the lineup.  His on-base skills and the havoc he wreaks on the basepaths satisfy both statheads and traditionalists alike.  If the Dodgers are bright, 2B Jeff Kent will hit behind him.  If not, Major League out leader CF Juan Pierre will.  Look for some combination of RF Eithier, 1B Nomar Garciaparra, and LF Gonzalez in the middle of the lineup; a solid, if pedestrian group.  Rookie Andy LaRoche and Wilson Betemit will battle to hold down 3B, and Russell Martin is one of the best young catchers in baseball.  While there is no one batter who strikes fear in the hearts of the opposing pitcher, it's a deep lineup with threats 1-8.

Keep it together/ Can we keep it together?/  We're singing a new song now/ And everything starts today.
Similar to the batting order, the pitching staff doesn't have one dominant ace, but will send a quality pitcher to the hill every night.  Derek Lowe will get the opening day nod, followed by Brad Penny, Jason Schmidt, and Randy Wolf.  With Penny and #5 starter Brett Tomko, the Dodgers' staff was voted "Most Likely to Experience an Emotional Meltdown" for 2007.  Schmidt and Wolf have both experienced injury problems in the past few seasons, so health will likely be the key for the rotation.  The bullpen will be similarly dominant this season, again led by Saito, Broxton, and Beimel.  Top prospect and BLee2525 fantasy keeper Chad Billingsley will join this trio to start the season, but will get the first look in the rotation if one of the starters goes down.

Where do you go when you're loney?/ Where do you go when you're blue/ Where do you go when you're loney?/ I'll follow you when the stars go blue
It is worth noting that the Dodgers have one of the best minor league systems in baseball, thanks to Logan White, the best scouting director there is.  GM Ned Colletti seems intent on keeping this a secret, however, as he has signed the following players over the past 2 seasons:
1B Nomar Garciaparra 2yr,$18.5mil
CF Juan Pierre 5yr,$44mil
LF Luis Gonzalez 1yr,$7.25mil
SP Jason Schmidt 3yr,$47mil
SP Randy Wolf $1yr,$8mil
when he already has the following:
1B James Loney, 22yo, 2006: .380/.426/.546 at AAA, .284/.342/.559 in LA
LF/CF Matt Kemp, 21yo, 2006: .346/.414/.543 AA/AAA, .253/.289/.443 in LA
SP Chad Billingsley, 22yo, 2006: 3.95ERA, 78/32 K/BB in 70 IP at AAA, 3.80, 59/58, 90IP in LA

Put me in, coach.  I'm ready to play today
Still in the stable are 3B LaRoche, SP Clayton Kershaw, and SP Scott Elbert.  No word on whether Colletti will attempt to find some "Veteran Presence," "Veteran Leadership," or both in order to block these prospects from ever getting a full time shot at the major league level.

Reds' Connections
A little voice inside my head says 'don't look back, you can never look back.'"
Tomko, that's it.  I, like the rest of you, would rather not relive the Brett Tomko era.

Outlook
California knows how to party/ California knows how to party/ In the cittttaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyy
The NL West should be competitive in 2007.  The young studs in Arizona are getting a shot, the Padres added Maddux to an already excellent rotation, and even the Rockies have some hope with Tulowitzki and Iannetta coming up to join the breakouts from Holliday and Atkins.  The Dodgers don't have a Holliday in their lineup, or a Peavy or Webb in their rotation, but nobody out West can grind like the Dodgers.  There's nary a hole on the squad, and no one injury can deep-six their season, as capable replacements abound.  Look for the experience of the Dodgers to outlast the Rockies and DBacks, and expect another hard-fought battle between the Pads and Dodgers for the division.  Dodgers win the tie break this time, and take a postseason series along with the West.

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