From Protect the Plate
The Los Angeles Dodgers proved last season that he who laughs, last laughs loudest.
They acquired Manny Ramirez on July 31 when their record was 54-54. From there, the Dodger went 30- 24, passing the Arizona Diamondbacks to win the National League West.
They swept the Chicago Cubs, who posted the NL's best record, before falling to the eventual World Series champion Phillies 4-1 in the NLCS.
With plenty of youth and star power, the Dodgers hope to be the toast of L.A. again in 2009.
Manny in the middle
After a long offseason of negotiations, the Dodgers and slugger Manny Ramirez finally came to terms. After coming to L.A. in a midseason trade with Boston, Ramirez hit .396 with 17 home runs and 53 RBI in 53 games with the Dodgers.
His impact was so impressive that Ramirez finished fourth in NL MVP voting despite playing only half a season in the the NL.
Coming off a 16-win season in which he struck out 201 hitters, Chad Billingsley enters the year as the Dodgers' ace.
The 24-year-old has shown he can get hitters out, as he has posted a 3.33 ERA in three seasons with Los Angeles.
Billingsley ended his year by giving up 10 runs in five innings pitched against the Phillies in the NLCS and suffered a broken fibula in November, so there are question marks looming.
Broxton back as the closer
Jonathan Broxton took over as the closer for Takashi Saito last season, and enters this year in the same role.
The hefty right-hander has just 19 career saves, but has dominated opposing hitters, averaging over 11 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
If Broxton fails to nail down the job, Hong-Chih Kuo would likely fill in.
Kuo had a 2.14 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and a 10.8 K/9 last season.
Along with Billingsley and Broxton—both just 24 years old—along with fellow 24-year-olds James Loney and Matt Kemp all represent a young core of players for the Dodgers who have more Major League experience than most players their age.
Throw in 26-year-old Russell Martin and 27-year-old Andre Ethier and the list of young, but experienced Dodgers looks even more impressive.
With players like Clayton Kershaw and James McDonald expected to become solid Major Leaguers as well, it looks like Joe Torre could have a dynasty in development.
The NL West may be one of the weaker divisions in baseball, but it's littered with star pitchers.
In fact, the past three NL Cy Young Award winners came from the West, as Tim Lincecum, Jake Peavy and Brandon Webb have all taken home the honor in recent years.
Though Billingsley looks like he has a long career as a top of the rotation pitcher in front of him, the Dodger rotation has its share of question marks.
Derek Lowe and Brad Penny departed this offseason, leaving Hiroki Kuroda (9-10, 3.73 ERA) as the No. 2 starter.
Veteran lefty Randy Wolf is back with the Dodgers after spending last year with Houston and San Diego.
Kershaw, who turns 21 this week, is expected to be the fourth starter.
Former 18-game winner Jason Schmidt, who missed all of 2008 and started just six games in 2007, headlines a long list of pitchers battling for the fifth spot.
The Dodgers brought back Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake, and added three-time Gold Glover Orlando Hudson.
With outfielder Juan Pierre, infielder Blake DeWitt and veteran leaders Mark Loretta and Brad Ausmus, the Dodgers also have an impressive bench.
Joining Broxton and Kuo in the bullpen will be Cory Wade, and veterans Guillermo Mota and Claudio Vargas.