Heading into the 2009 Season, the Dodger outfield looks primed and ready to break many a pitcher’s hearts. Let’s forget for a moment that Manny Ramirez eats NL pitchers for breakfast. Both Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier have yet to reach their full potential, and with another season under their belt, one which included a trip to the NLCS, these guys are the one-two combination that the Manny upper-cut hungers for.
Andre Ethier came over in 2005 in a trade that sent Milton Bradley to the Oakland A’s, much to the relief of many Dodger fans. He batted .305 in 2006 and though that number fell to .284 the following year, he was able to rebound and post .305 for the 2008 season. No doubt the addition of Manny helped his numbers.
Ethier bounced around the line up in the early part of last year, but then settled into the number two spot, batting in front of Manny. He may not be as powerful as Ramirez or Kemp, but pitchers have to be aggressive when he’s at the plate, you don’t want Manny coming up with a base-runner on, so he gets his fair share of hits, including 20 home runs last year.
Andre Ethier fun-fact: Besides having the dreamiest eyes in baseball, Andre Ethier also writes a food blog called ‘Dinning With Dre’.
Like so many of the Dodger starters, Matt Kemp came up through the Dodger’s farm system. And like so many of the Dodger starters, he was called up in 2006 to provide some much needed rest for injured and overworked regulars, specifically Kenny Lofton and J.D. Drew.
When he first debuted, Kemp made quite an impression. His ability to go deep and be a threat to steal made him an instant celebrity in the NL West. He was only the fifth major leaguer to hit four home runs in his first ten games (the first Dodger to do so). Soon after, however, pitchers figured out he lacks discipline at the plate. He spent the rest of the season bouncing back and forth between the minors and Dodger stadium.
An injury in 2007 kept him out of the lineup until mid-june, after which a new Matt Kemp emerged. One with patience and maturity. He hit .342 with ten home runs, all while splitting time with Andre Ethier.
In 2008, an injury to Andruw Jones made Kemp the regular center fielder and the increase in at-bats helped bring down his strike-out rate, though there’s still room for improvement. Also, for a guy his size, he moves incredibly fast, looking like a train car coming at you. He stole thirty-five bases last year and is expected to be just as aggressive in the coming season.
Last on the list, only because you already know so much about him, is Manny Ramirez. You know the drill: very unhappy in Boston after winning two World Series, came to the Dodgers after the All Star Break last year and batted his way to the NLCS.
The negotiations that brought Manny back to the Dodgers took longer than anyone had expected. Coupled with light injuries and a late arrival to spring training, Manny has had few chances to shine during this off season. Regardless, Manny is a skilled batter with a strong work ethic and an improved attitude. The Dodgers expect him to be ready for opening day and so does he.
The Dodger offense is set and the line up is as mean and threatening as ever. Which is a good thing considering NL rivals sport aces such as Tim Lincecum, Dan Haren, and Brandon Webb in their arsenal.
The only question marks remaining are the fifth spot in the starting rotation and the middle relievers. If spring training is teaching the Dodgers anything, it’s that the departure of Joe Beimel, Chan Ho Park, and Takashi Saito is taking its toll. Joe Torre has expressed confidence in the strength of the new bullpen, but only time will tell.