Los Angeles Dodgers: Starting Lineup Expectations and Predictions

Ross Huberman@@rosshubermanContributor IApril 5, 2012

Los Angeles Dodgers: Starting Lineup Expectations and Predictions

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    With Opening Day of the 2012 Major League Baseball season upon us, Don Mattingly and the Boys in Blue look to rebound after a disappointing 2011 campaign marred by injuries, poor offensive production and ownership issues.

    The 2012 Dodgers return six starters, including Triple Crown threat Matt Kemp and smooth-swinging lefty Andre Ethier. Two new faces inhabit the Dodger lineup in second baseman Mark Ellis and last year's third-string catcher, A.J. Ellis.

    With new ownership, and more importantly, a new attitude, the Blue Crew looks to restore the magic of yesteryear on Chavez Ravine.   

1. SS, Dee Gordon

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    The son of reliever Tom "Flash" Gordon, Dee comes from baseball lineage. At 23, Gordon has a bright future as the Dodgers' table setter. After Rafael Furcal went down with one of his many injuries as a Dodger, Gordon was called up from AAA Albuquerque.

    Gordon hit safely in his first three major league at-bats and even scored in his ninth-inning pinch-running debut. Gordon played the final 56 games of the season, hitting .304 and stealing 24 bases, tying him for the league lead among rookies.

    As the everyday shortstop, Gordon must pace the Dodger offense, stealing bases and scoring runs. The big bats in the middle of the order are capable of driving in runs, and Gordon's ability to get into scoring position could fuel this run production.

    For an offense that struggled mightily last year, a speedster who can produce and generate runs presents a valuable asset. The Dodgers averaged fewer than four runs a game last year, placing them in the lower half of the league.

    Look to Gordon to use his speed and quickness to generate runs and create RBI opportunities for the middle of the Dodgers' order.    

2. 2B, Mark Ellis

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    The only new face in the 2012 Dodgers lineup, Mark Ellis brings almost a decade's worth of Major League experience to a young ball club lacking a veteran presence in the clubhouse.

    Last season, as a member of the Oakland Athletics and later the Colorado Rockies, Ellis hit .248, about 20 points under his career average. Ellis may not get it done with his bat, but his work defensively is solid.

    The Dodgers need Ellis to groom Dee Gordon defensively while hitting for contact and creating opportunities for Ethier and Kemp hitting behind him.

    For a team so obviously needing offense, the Ellis signing is a bit puzzling. While Ellis won't wow anyone with his play, his consistency and veteran presence are much-needed.           

3. RF, Andre Ethier

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    After a stellar 2010 season, Andre Ethier saw his numbers take a dip during the 2011 campaign. Ethier's slugging percentage and OPS dropped significantly, while home runs and RBIs were also down.

    The sweet-swinging lefty did have a 30-game hitting streak, but the Dodgers' poor offensive production placed a dark cloud over the otherwise impressive feat.   

    The Dodgers sorely lack power bats, and Ethier must produce this season if the Dodgers hope to make a playoff run.

    The health of Ethier's surgically repaired knee has come into question of late, but if this spring is any indication, Ethier has made a full recovery. Look for a healthy Ethier to make noise in the middle of the order and get back to All-Star form.   

4. CF, Matt Kemp

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    Kemp's stellar campaign last season was certainly MVP-worthy, as he flirted with the Triple Crown for most of the year. Kemp's play at the plate and in center field make him one of the most dangerous talents in the league.

    If there is anything positive to take away from the Frank McCourt era, it has to be the eight-year contract extension signed by Kemp.

    With the bold prediction of a 50/50 season, Kemp is obviously primed for his biggest year yet. The Dodgers need their horse more than ever this year and are expecting similar offensive production as last year.

    If Kemp is presented with run-generating opportunities, look for this team to score plenty of runs and win plenty of ballgames.   

5. LF, Juan Rivera

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    Rivera was acquired by the Dodgers midway through the 2011 season in part to provide some power in the middle of the order. He played the first 70 games with the Toronto Blue Jays with his production slacking.

    With a slam in his first at-bat as a Dodger, RIvera's plate presence looked promising. However, as the season drew on, Rivera's power numbers declined, although he did drive in a respectable number of runs.

    This season, the Dodgers will look to the big Venezuelan to provide punch in the middle of the order. Hitting behind Matt Kemp may prove to be a positive and could boost Rivera's numbers.

    All in all, the Dodgers need Rivera's power bat in the middle of the order. At 33, Rivera doesn't present the ball club much upside if his bat can't come alive.     

6. 1B, James Loney

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    Once the Dodgers' young savior at first base, James Loney has left much to be desired. After an impressive first few years in the bigs, Loney's production has slacked.

    He had a dismal start to the 2011 season, hitting under the Mendoza line for the better part of the first half of the year. Loney did pick up the pace down the stretch, but failed to produce in the most pressure-filled situations, driving in only 65 runs.

    Loney's hot streak to end last season could continue, providing the Dodgers a much-needed push. A myriad of factors will have to work in synchrony for this team to have success, and Loney is certainly a cog in that wheel. A full year of consistency will be huge for this team's playoff chances.  

7. 3B, Juan Uribe

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    Coming over from the World Champion San Francisco Giants, the Dodgers had high hopes for Uribe. A solid defender and legitimate power threat, Uribe's play in 2009 and 2010 garnered him a three-year, $21 million contract from Ned Colletti.

    His Dodger tenure has been anything but impressive, as his average dropped to .204 and he hit just four round trippers in 2011. Uribe's health is also a subject of contention, and the Dodgers need him to stay healthy.

    The Dodgers certainly hope Uribe can stir up some of his old magic, knocking some balls out of the park and providing a consistent bat at the bottom of the lineup. Health permitting, Uribe may provide a spark, but if last season is any indication, we could see another Dodger manning the hot corner by season's end.   

8. C, A.J. Ellis

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    The least experienced player in the Dodger lineup, A.J. Ellis has only logged 206 career major league at-bats. In 2011, Ellis appeared in just 31 games as the third-string catcher behind Rod Barajas and Dioner Navarro.

    The Dodgers were almost forced into their current situation at catcher, not baited by Rod Barajas' hefty return fee. 

    Presented with his first true opportunity to start for a Major League club, Ellis could surprise people with his play in 2012. A quality defensive catcher and game manager, Ellis gives the Dodgers a solid backstop.

    Offensively, the Dodgers will look to Ellis to turn over the order for the power guys and get on base. Although his numbers won't blow anyone away, his OBP was over 100 points better than the two men in front of him last season. Ellis is certainly not the catcher of the future, but he could provide surprisingly consistent play.