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03/28/08 10:00 AM ET

Dodgers Opening Day outlook

Injuries to veterans could force young players to step up

The Dodgers changed managers after a disappointing 2007 season, but how much the results will change in 2008 is tough to judge. While the Dodgers believe they've improved the roster with the additions of Andruw Jones and Hiroki Kuroda, an already-tough division hasn't gotten any easier.

Los Angeles is still dependent on the youth movement being the real deal, but the club is also counting on veterans like Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra and Esteban Loaiza to buy time until the next wave of talent is Major League-ready.

A Spring Training that figured to be unusual also has proved costly, as Kent, Garciaparra and Andy LaRoche have dealt with injuries that have put the infield under siege. The logistical nightmare of a camp held in three states and two continents has made preparations, particularly for pitchers, especially challenging.

With that as a backdrop, 67-year-old manager Joe Torre takes over, offering no excuses and apparently warming to the challenge. He has a feisty alter-ego in third-base coach Larry Bowa, the designated clubhouse policeman entrusted to ensure that last year's late-season turmoil is not repeated.

Admittedly, the scrambled Spring Training has hampered Torre's ability to get familiar with a new set of players and could impact early-season player evaluation. Nonetheless, as general manager Ned Colletti said at the introductory press conference, the Dodgers didn't hire Joe Torre to finish .500. Already high expectations were underscored this spring when owner Frank McCourt said, "It's time to win."

Calling card
Traditionally, the Dodgers win with pitching. Same story will probably be true with this version, as the starting rotation is deep and the bullpen experienced.

Projected starting lineup
1. SS Rafael Furcal
2. LF Andre Ethier
3. RF Matt Kemp
4. 2B Jeff Kent
5. CF Andruw Jones
6. C Russell Martin
7. 1B James Loney
8. 3B Blake DeWitt
Projected rotation
1. RHP Brad Penny
2. RHP Derek Lowe
3. RHP Chad Billingsley
4. RHP Hiroki Kuroda
5. RHP Esteban Loaiza
Projected bullpen
Closer: RHP Takashi Saito
Setup: RHP Jonathan Broxton
Setup: LHP Joe Beimel
Middle: RHP Scott Proctor
Long: LHP Hong-Chih Kuo

Achilles' Heel


The infield, specifically second and third base. Kent is a possible Hall of Famer, but he's 40 years old and already slowed by a hamstring that doesn't want to heal. Garciaparra hasn't had a healthy season since 2003 and he's already hurt. LaRoche was having a good spring until tearing a thumb ligament.

You'll know they're rollin' if ...
The offense is consistent enough that the new manager can stick with one lineup and avoid the kind of juggling that's become commonplace in recent years.

You'll know they're in trouble if ...
The starting pitchers don't live up to their hefty share of the payroll.

Testing, testing
The third series of the season will be in Arizona on April 7-9. The Diamondbacks showed last year they are a team on the rise. In this series, the Dodgers expect to use their fifth starter for the first time.

Interleague Play
The Dodgers' Interleague schedule this year includes the Tigers on the road, as well as the White Sox at home, in addition to the two series against traditional regional rival Angels. Going up against the loaded Tigers and the designated hitter should not be fun. And Torre has frequently referred to the trouble the Yankees had handling the Angels' aggressive style of play under manager Mike Scioscia.

The Bottom Line
The Dodgers are counting on continued improvement from their youth movement, as well as impact from free-agent signings Jones and Kuroda. However, they have essentially the same core of players as last year and the same potential vulnerabilities. They could go either way.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.