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BILL SHAIKIN / ON BASEBALL

Manny Ramirez will help the lineup, but can he pitch?

The Dodgers' fate ultimately lies in a staff filled with unproven youngsters and veterans trying to prove they have something left.

March 05, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN | ON BASEBALL

FROM TEMPE, ARIZ. — Manny doesn't do losers.

Full seasons in the major leagues: 15. Teams with a losing record: 0.

So put the Dodgers down for a winning record this season, but don't put down your deposit for playoff tickets just yet. Manny Ramirez guarantees the Dodgers a potent offense, but a potent offense by itself guarantees the Dodgers nothing.

Ramirez can pitch in, but the Dodgers still have to pitch.

This is a pretty sweet lineup to start, with Ramirez, Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake for the whole season, with Angel Berroa, Pablo Ozuna and Andruw Jones nowhere to be seen.

There are no easy outs, not with Furcal and Orlando Hudson preceding Andre Ethier, Ramirez, Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, James Loney and Blake.

"It always looks good on paper," Angels closer Brian Fuentes said. "But there are a lot of teams that come in with heavy lineups that don't reach their potential."

This was the heaviest lineup in baseball last spring: Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco, Gary Sheffield, Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Ivan Rodriguez, Brandon Inge.

The Detroit Tigers, with a lineup billed as one of the scariest in baseball history, finished in last place in the American League Central.

The offense did its job. The pitchers did not do theirs. The Tigers became the first team in five years to finish behind the Kansas City Royals.

Without Ramirez, the Dodgers played .500 ball. With him, they advanced to the National League Championship Series for the first time in 20 years.

"He kind of put the offense on his back," Dodgers pitcher Randy Wolf said.

He'll be very good again, but not that good.

The numbers Ramirez put up for the Dodgers in two months, projected over a full season: .396 batting average, 51 home runs, 159 runs batted in. The number of players to put up those numbers in a full season, in major league history: Zero.

As Ramirez carried the offense, the pitchers shouldered their own load, with distinction. The Dodgers had the lowest earned-run average in the National League.

Yet they have lost 211 innings from Derek Lowe and a combined 170 appearances from Takashi Saito, Joe Beimel and Chan Ho Park. None of those pitchers had an ERA above 3.40.

The Dodgers propose to close with Jonathan Broxton, in whom they had such supreme confidence that they offered a contract to Trevor Hoffman.

The No. 1 starter is Chad Billingsley, 24, whose workload soared from 147 innings in 2007 to 212 last year.

The No. 2 starter is Hiroki Kuroda, 34, who never started more than 28 games in Japan but started 33 last year.

The No. 3 starter is Clayton Kershaw, 20, whose workload jumped from 125 innings in 2007 to 171 last year.

The No. 4 starter is Wolf, 32, who has made 30 starts once in the last five years.

No Tim Lincecum or Brandon Webb in that group, not even a workhorse such as Lowe or Jon Garland to assure 200 innings.

So the Dodgers' depth figures to be tested, and the depth chart is heavy on prospects and suspects: James McDonald, Ramon Troncoso and Eric Stults among the former; Jason Schmidt, Shawn Estes, Eric Milton, Claudio Vargas, Jeff Weaver among the latter.

The San Francisco Giants would have won the NL West with Ramirez and an elite starting rotation. The Giants said a lot of nice things about Ramirez, but they kept their wallets shut, and now the Dodgers are the favorites in the division.

"Wherever he went, he was probably bringing that with him," Giants pitcher Barry Zito said.

This is March. By July, Billingsley and Kershaw could emerge as the Dodgers' answer to Lincecum and Matt Cain, to Webb and Dan Haren. Kuroda and Wolf could endure every five days, and perhaps the Dodgers could relieve a last-place team of one of its starting pitchers around the trade deadline.

However, by July, the Dodgers' rotation also could be a shambles, wrecked by young pitchers who failed to develop and old pitchers who failed to last.

If the Dodgers fall out of the playoffs, no one will be buying tickets to see Manny.

They might be buying big-screen televisions, the better to see CC Sabathia.

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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