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Dodgers need production from middle of lineup

The Dodgers made no major offensive additions over the winter and will need Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and James Loney to have big years in order to make the playoffs.

March 11, 2012|By Bill Shaikin
  • Left fielder Juan Rivera is congratulated by first baseman James Loney after driving in right fielder Andre Ethier and center fielder Matt Kemp with a home run last season. The foursome will form the middle of the team's batting order this season.
Left fielder Juan Rivera is congratulated by first baseman James Loney… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Phoenix -- The Dodgers advanced to within three games of the World Series in 2008 and 2009, with Manny Ramirez in a starring role. Bear that in mind as Andre Ethier offers his assessment of the 2012 team.

"I think we've definitely got players as good as we've ever had here in the seven years I've been with the Dodgers," Ethier said Sunday.

The Dodgers have lacked a power presence in left field since Ramirez. Their projected lineup includes potential weak spots at catcher and second base, and a shortstop in his first full season.

"We have the main position players," Ethier said. "The pitching is really good.

"There's definitely a feeling of an expectation here. We're not expecting to lose."

General Manager Ned Colletti said before last season that the Dodgers would need big years from Ethier, center fielder Matt Kemp and first baseman James Loney in order to return to the playoffs. Kemp might have been the best player in the major leagues, but Loney did little in the first half and an injury-hampered Ethier did little in the second half.

With no major offensive additions over the winter, the Dodgers again figure to need big years from Ethier, Kemp and Loney.

"I would assume, if guys are hitting in the middle of the lineup, they would be expected to have a lot of production," Ethier said. "You could say that for every team."

Left for good?

The Dodgers are prepared to bench Ethier and Loney against left-handers, but Manager Don Mattingly plans to give both players a chance to produce before considering a platoon at first base or right field.

"I don't want to start off saying, 'We're going to flat-out do that,'" Mattingly said. "I think hitting lefties as a left-handed hitter makes you better against a righty."

Ethier hit .220 against left-handers last season, with a .563 on-base plus slugging percentage. His career numbers are .242 and .661 against left-handers, .309 with a .909 OPS against right-handers.

Loney hit .213 against left-handers last season, with a .561 OPS. His career numbers are .252 with a .677 OPS against left-handers, .300 with an .814 OPS against right-handers.

Under Mattingly's plan to try Ethier and Loney almost every day, the roster spot of Jerry Sands could be in jeopardy. With five days off among the first 35 days of the season, the Dodgers should not have a pressing need for an extra reliever, but they could use the spot to protect a pitcher otherwise subject to waivers.

What does it mean?

The Dodgers have played eight games this spring and lost one. In their first eight games last spring, they lost six.

"I don't really know what it means," Mattingly said. "Last year, I said the games don't really matter."

They don't. The Dodgers were 21-9 in the spring of 1999, their best exhibition record since moving to Los Angeles in 1958. They finished 23 games out of first place that year.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillShaikin

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