Breaking Down the Lineup
By Jeremy Dorn
Last season was rough. Amid all the McCourt drama, Matt Kemp and…well, nobody, was hitting. Until the Juan Rivera trade and resulting scalding hot streak the offense went on, we were forced to look forward to every fifth day, when Clayton Kershaw would take the hill.
So what’s going down in 2012? Can we expect a breakout year from Dee Gordon in the
lead off spot? Can Andre Ethier stay healthy? Will James Loney produce all season long? These are just some of the many questions circling the Dodger offense this season. And I’m here to break it down for you, position-by-position.
First, we have Gordon. He electrified the team last year when he came up late and started getting on base like crazy. He’s got incredible speed and is an ideal contact guy. Avoiding a sophomore slump will be huge for Gordon. But as pitchers begin to figure out the holes in Gordon’s swing, he’ll have an easier time adjusting than guys like Jason Heyward who hit for more power. At the very least, Gordon will have a year similar to last, where he’s getting on base a lot and getting himself into scoring position with ease.
Our first potential flaw comes in the number two hole. That’s assuming Juan Uribe hits there. Personally, I’d prefer Loney slide up to that spot, because despite his size, he’s much more of a contact, hit-for-average, lots of doubles kind of guy. Not a bad option at two. But assuming Uribe’s there, let’s just hope he’s fully healthy and swinging the bat like he did for the Giants in 2010. Uribe is really clutch, but he’s mostly good for some power and a pretty awful average. I don’t expect anything huge out of him and I’m not necessarily the biggest fan. But if he can maintain about a .270 average in the two hole and just cut down on swinging for the fences, I’ll be satisfied.
Hitting third should be Beastmode himself, Kemp. I’m a big fan of slotting your best hitter third. The extra plate appearances he gets over the course of a season will add up and you’ll truly get a few extra wins just out of that strategy alone. I’m not sure what to say here – the supporting cast is healthier and stronger than last year, so I have to expect numbers at least at the same level as 2011 from Kemp. He personally predicted an unprecedented 50/50 season, and while it may seem impossible, Kemp might be the only guy in all of baseball who possesses the power, speed, consistency and make-up to have such a historic season. I’ll say Kemp hits .325/44/120 with 51 steals. No doubt, that’ll drop him right at the front of the pack for MVP consideration again.
This is where things get tricky. I’m putting my faith in Andre Ethier to take care of the cleanup spot. When healthy, this is one of the best hitters in baseball and certainly the most clutch. Before he got hit with a string of bad luck injuries, Ethier tore it up to the tune of six walk-off hits two seasons ago and a red-hot start in 2011. I think he’ll revert to form this year and be a huge boost to Kemp. Give me a .295 average, around 30 home runs and over 100 RBI and I’ll be absolutely floored.
I’m putting the combination of Juan Rivera and Jerry Sands in the fifth spot. I like what Rivera did last year when he had a big batter in front of him. He’s a career .277 hitter and has surprising power, so people who were doubting this re-signing need to chickity chickity check themselves before they wrickity wrickity wreck themselves! Besides, he really seemed to find his groove in L.A. as a catalyst to the winning streak at the end of 2011. Sands proved himself in his second go-round in the bigs as a legit Major League outfielder. The only problem might be finding a spot for him to play. Clearly, he’ll be the first guy off the bench at any of the three positions, but if he has a strong Spring, can Don Mattingly actually sit him to start the season? Time will tell. I’m happy with either guy hitting fifth and it feels like a wealth of riches that we have here.
Sixth is Loney. I love this guy. I own his jersey. I am a huge apologist, much like I am for Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers. In my opinion, Loney gets a bad rap because he doesn’t hit 30 home runs a year, despite being a big, strong first baseman. Home runs are overrated. I don’t care if he launches the ball into the bullpen if he’s driving in two at a time with gappers. Loney is good for 80+ RBI and a solid average every single season. Plus, he’s got a good glove, gets on base a TON and is very quietly clutch. I think this year he’s good for 35 doubles, a .280 average and 80 RBI. I’ll take that ALL DAY from the sixth spot in the order.
I could go with Mark Ellis or A.J. Ellis in the seven/eight here and it wouldn’t make a difference in my opinion. I like the improvements A.J. has made, but he’s still in there for defense. I surely hope he proves me wrong this season, but I’m not expecting a big offensive output. Raise your hand if you miss Russell Martin! If you aren’t raising your hand right now, I hate your guts.
I’d almost consider hitting Mark Ellis in the nine-hole to be like another lead off (albeit, not so fast lead off) guy. Ellis does make good contact and is very clutch himself. So he’s not a horrible number eight, but his best years are definitely behind him. The top six of the order this year will definitely be the bread and butter of the Dodger offense, and if we get anything above .265 from either Ellis, it’ll be an added bonus. But the defense at their respective positions more than makes up for a lack of pop.
There you have it – my breakdown of the Dodgers projected 2012 lineup and how I think everyone will fare. If my high expectations are met, this lineup will definitely be dangerous and probably keep them in the hunt down the stretch. But let’s just cross our fingers and hope Ethier can stay healthy and Loney gets off to a hot start instead of being his normal streaky self.
Feel free to comment with your suggestions for any lineup changes! I can’t wait to see this team in action on Opening Day!