As pitchers and catchers are set to report next week and all the NRI’s have been named, I thought I’d shared my five favorite Dodgers going into the 2010 season.
Billingsley is somewhat of a perfect storm for me. It started out that Chad was this top flight pitcher who was performing in the major leagues while nobody else noticed. After 2008 the masses screamed that there was no "true ace" on the squad after losing Lowe, without realizing that Billingsley was a 24 year old who has posted an x-FIP of 3.62. Then the madness began. Billingsley doesn’t throw at the Phillies so he has no heart, no spine, sweats too much, melts down in big games (I guess the playoff series right before the Philadelphia one didn’t matter), and doesn’t have the mindset of a "true ace." Also, Billingsley much discussed 2009 meltdown and Billingsley somehow became the most controversial player on the Dodgers. My job of constantly defending Billinglsey (as he is my favorite player) only served to further cement my appreciation for him, and going into 2010 he is still my favorite player on the Dodgers.
Kuo has had me since he flipped his bat after hitting a home run against the Mets. Kuo is an immensely talented player who I’ve commented several times that if the circumstances were different Kuo could be a professional athlete in other sports. Had he been born in Canada, I believe he could have been a hockey player. Had he been born in Mexico he could have been a professional soccer player. You notice his athleticism in the way he perfect way he fields his position, the way he calmly strokes a home run and flips his bat like he’s Ken Griffey Jr. as the ball leaves his bat. And he’s also a really good pitcher. Injury concerns will always limit Kuo but when he’s healthy he’s as good as anybody. One of my favorite moments from the 2009 season was the series in St. Louis. Kuo had just returned from injury and the Dodgers believing that their setup man (Kuo) may not be counted on during the stretch due to arm issues traded Josh Bell for George Sherrill. With one runner on and two outs, Torre instructed Kuo to walk both Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday to load the bases and face left hander Rick Ankiel. Kuo overpowered Ankiel, with three straight swings and misses, hop, fist pump and exit to the dugout.
McDonald is a bit like Chad Billingsley for me (with less talent.) I don’t think McDonald will be a star like I do with Billingsley, but I do think he can and will be a solid #3 starting pitcher. I think McDonald could be a closer for 10 or so teams in MLB. But like with Chad, McDonald brings out a whole bucket of hate. It doesn’t help that he did melt down in the starting role last year. But he still came back and contributed for the Dodgers, doing a great job as a reliever in 2009 and flaming out as a starter so much that he had to be sent back down to the minors rather than right to the bullpen. He does have good stuff, good velocity on his fastball, a nice 12/6 curve and he is supposed to have a strong changeup though he didn’t show it much in the majors. I feel McDonald got more criticism than he deserved in 2009 as a he’s also apparently a gutless, no heart clown, but I expect solid things from him in 2010, and I’ll continue to have his back.
Whenever I secure tickets to a Dodger game, the first thing I do is roll-forward the pitching rotation and see if I will be watching Billingsley or Kershaw. Every time you watch Kershaw, I believe I am watching the early years of a star. He’s a lefty with great velocity, a devastating curve, and a slider all coming at the same release point. I think Clayton can be the best Dodger pitcher of the next decade, and one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. Even though I believe Kershaw pitched a little over his head last year, I think his talent and continued progression will allow for him to post similar numbers even if the breaks don’t go his way as they did last year. He’s an exciting pitcher, it’s hard not to get caught up in expecting great things from him every time he pitches.
Manny is my guilty pleasure. I have a picture on my desktop of Manny Ramirez sliding into home in Game 3 of the NLDS. For all of the whining from the unbearable Boston media about how Manny never runs out a play or hustle, Manny Ramirez scored from first on a Russell Martin double to take the early lead on Chicago. I felt convinced the Dodgers were going to sweep the Cubs and the sky was the limit at this point. I was initially hesitant to bring back Ramirez after 2008 after I thought the price the Dodgers would have to pay would be far too rich to make it worth it. Even after the steroid suspension, it’s hard for me to get too upset with Manny. I liked the way he’s played in Los Angeles, it genuinely seems like the perfect place for Manny to play (I love LA, I love the beach) and he can still rake with the best of them.
Last year before the season started TBLA commenters shared their five favorite Dodgers in the comment sections and I encourage you to do so here.