Perhaps we should call it the Curse of the 2006 Cardinals instead. Coming off two consecutive triple-digit win seasons, the St. Louis Cardinals expected to coast into another postseason berth. That didn't quite happen, as the reigning best team in the NL squeaked in with 83 wins. Despite that being their lowest win total in seven years, they wound up winning their first and so far only World Series title in he Tony LaRussa era.
It is as though the baseball gods frowned upon this anti-correlation and made certain that if the team with the best record in the NL doesn't win the World Series, they are due for quite a fall. Consider that the 2007 Cardinals continued the decline of the 2006 squad by winning only 78 games. The Redbirds would not see postseason play again until 2009. The New York Mets had the best record in baseball in 2006, boasting 97 victories. They missed the playoffs the following two seasons due to historic September collapses before winning just 70 games last season.
The Arizona Diamondbacks had the best record in the NL back in 2007, then proceeded to win eight fewer games the following season and 20 fewer in 2009. The Chicago Cubs won 97 games in 2008, then fell prey to yet another curse, setting them back to an 83-victory season in 2009. Since the Cardinals won 100 games in 2005, the NL team with the best record has averaged a dropoff of 12 wins the following season. Not a single one got to the World Series in their league-leading season nor made the playoffs the following season.
|2009 Standings - NL East|
How can I write such things? This was not only the winningest team in the National League, but it also had the best run differential in all of baseball. They battled through a 50-game suspension to their best hitter last year. In Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, and Jonathan Broxton, they possess five of the best young players in all of baseball. What's not to like?
Well, pretty much everything outside of those five players and Manny Ramirez. Their infield ranges from old (Casey Blake, Ronnie Belliard) to impotent (Russell Martin, James Loney) plus features Rafael Furcal, who's a little bit of both. Hiroki Kuroda is the only legitimate pitcher behind Billingsley and Kershaw in the rotation. While the earned run averages in the bullpen look swell, their peripheral stats do not (aside from Broxton's, of course). With the defense older and slower, many of these bullpen arms will get exposed.
Even though Manny Ramirez served a 50-game suspension, the offense by and large was remarkably healthy. Even with Manny's missed time, the Dodgers had eight position players play in at least 139 games. That is quite rare, especially for a team peppered with aging players. The team did overcome an injury to Kuroda, but the three most important members of their rotation - Billingsley, Kershaw, and Randy Wolf - all made at least 30 starts. Broxton, one of the hardest throwers in the game and one of the fattest pitchers around, was perfectly healthy, as was most of his supporting cast. This team was unbelievably healthy in 2009; it will have to deal with more injury adversity in 2010.
Having poor depth behind a small core of star players is bad enough, but the Dodgers' emergency plan includes the likes of Russ Ortiz, Josh Towers, and Angel Berroa. These players can turn competitive teams into cellar dwellers all by themselves. We even made a Josh Towers Award for the pitcher in baseball who does the most to keep an otherwise competitive team out of the playoffs. If the Dodgers suffer an average amount of injuries this year, they will be in trouble. If they suffer a lot of injuries and players like these are the fill-ins, the Dodgers could be looking at the worst record in their division.
Problematically, there are even questions surrounding the Dodgers' core of stars. This is thanks in large part to manager Joe Torre. Based on an uncharacteristically bad September by ace Chad Billingsley and an uncharacteristically competent September from journeyman Vicente Padilla, Torre used Padilla over Billingsley in the postseason rotation. This not only cost the Dodgers any chance at winning the NLCS, but it may have cost Billingsley his future confidence. Furthermore, Torre went with the 21-year old Kershaw in game one of that NLCS. Kershaw proceeded to walk six batters, throw three wild pitches, and hit one guy, reminding anyone over 20 of Rick Ankiel's performance in the 2000 postseason. He was inexplicably allowed to face nine batters in the fifth inning. It is unlikely that Kershaw will collapse as completely as Ankiel did, but it is very likely that either Kershaw or Billingsley has a poor season because of Torre's blundering.
Then there's Manny. He's saying that this will be his last season with the Dodgers and perhaps his last, period. There is a very real chance that Mr. Ramirez collects his $20 million and phones in the season. You could argue that he did not try too hard last season, as he hit .269 and slugged .492 in 260 at-bats after his suspension. Given his age, motivation level, and a possible deficit of performance enhancers in his body, there are plenty of reasons to question Ramirez' productivity in 2010. Torre has pretty much let Manny do whatever he wants over the past year-and-a-half, so it's hard to figure that he will be able to motivate Man-Ram.
Rounding out the six stars, Matt Kemp had a PrOPS of just .813 last year. That isn't terrible, and much of Kemp's value comes from speed and defense, but those who expect Kemp to improve upon his 2009 numbers are going to be disappointed. Broxton fanned an absurd 13.5 batters per nine innings last year, but pitchers like him can suddenly lose command or get injured on the turn of a dime. Only Andre Ethier is above reproach, but he has the lowest ceiling of them all.
|Dodgers Team Capsule|
February 27, 2010 - Dodgers Fun Facts - The Los Angeles Dodgers have not won 90 or more games two years in a row since the 1970s. The only time they have ever finished last in their division was during the 1992 season. --KG
Randy Wolf, Orlando Hudson, and Juan Pierre aren't fantastic players, but they all had good seasons for the Dodgers last year. Not only has Ned Colletti and company failed to replace their production, but most of the players that remain aren't likely to repeat their 2009 performances. The Dodgers play in a strong division in which the other four teams either held steady or improved. It's hard to see how the Dodgers can approach .500 this season playing against such formidable foes. They will probably finish in fourth place, assuming one of their rivals suffers more injuries than they do.