Now that the NFL season is in the books, everyone can concentrate on what is important. Baseball. I am so hungry for Spring, and I feel like there is some unfinished business to attend to for the Dodgers in 2014. I’m getting giddy thinking about that Opening Day lineup card, and Don Mattingly is no doubt contemplating the very same thing right now.
While many things can change during Spring Training like unexpected injuries or surprise performances, the Dodgers Opening Day roster is just about set other than a couple of spots which will go to a bench player and a fifth starter. Decisions on a 25-man Opening Day roster will have to be made earlier than usual this year since the Dodgers will be heading to Australia at the end of March. Usually the roster finalization doesn’t come until the last moment after the Freeway Series, but with that cross-town series scheduled after the Opening Series, we will know Mattingly’s picks around March 16th.
Assuming that everyone stays healthy this Spring and Matt Kemp is able to play in the Opening Series, which remains doubtful right now, we can start to project the Opening Day lineup. With the departure of Mark Ellis, there will be a new 1-2 top of the order situation which could be the most arguable question mark in the order if there even is one.
Lead-off [Yasiel Puig]- The Dodgers still do not have a true lead-off hitter, but they have a couple of great choices. While Carl Crawford seems to be the logical pick here, I’m leaning toward giving the Wild Horse the top of the order slot. Puig’s fiery aggressiveness and speed could be the spark at the top of the order which could ignite this batting order like a wick to a candle. Puig lead-off in 28 games for the Dodgers last season while hitting .333 with 8 homeruns and 18 RBIs. Out of the second spot, he hit .299 with 9 homeruns and 17 RBIs. Puig really was impressive when it came to going after the first pitch, and the Cuban dynamo hit .551 with an incredible 9 homeruns and 22 RBIs on the first pitch last year. More lead-off hits and extra speed at the top could really give the Dodgers a lot more scoring opportunities. Whether he hits first or second in the order, Puig’s presence really injects this Dodgers lineup with speed, power, and fierceness.
Second [Carl Crawford]- Carl Crawford most likely will be penciled in at the top spot come Opening Day, but let me suggest that he should bat second instead. Not only would that give Mattingly a order which would have a right-hander followed by a left-hander and then followed by another right-hander at the top of the order, which is always a great way to keep an opposing pitcher off balance, but CC is not that great of a lead-off hitter. We saw him swing away at too many pitches out of the lead-off spot last season. I know what you’re thinking, Yasiel Puig is the biggest free swinger of them all. Very true, but Crawford is also a lot less speedy then he was earlier in his career which could give the lead-off edge to Puig in that respect. Crawford actually has hit best out of the second spot over the course of his career. In 644 games hitting second, he has a .300 batting average with 65 homeruns and 213 stolen bases.
Third [Hanley Ramirez]- Your best hitter should hit third. Hanley is the Dodgers most talented hitter right now. His beautiful
swing is a sight to see. Even though Mattingly mostly batted Hanley clean-up last season, by hitting Hanley third it allows more speed toward the top of the lineup. Hanley has actually hit out of the third spot more than any other spot in his career (431 games) and holds a .302/.374/.483 career slashline there. He also has hit 66 career homeruns out of the third spot.
Fourth [Adrian Gonzalez]- Adrian Gonzalez should hit clean-up. The butter and eggs man for the Dodgers in 2013, mostly batted third for the Dodgers. With Gonzo’s molasses like speed, it is much easier for Gonzalez to advance the faster Ramirez than the other way around. Even though Gonzalez was the offensive rock for the Dodgers last year, we often saw him clog up the bases far too often. In fact, Gonzo hit .100 points higher (.368) batting fourth than when he hit third (.268).
Fifth [Matt Kemp]- If Matt Kemp returns to Beastmode this season, the heart of the Dodgers order would be potent indeed. During Kemp’s good years he was solid in the number three position, but two years of injuries have left a big question mark on whether his power will return to form. Now with the recent explanation of his ankle injury, which was a fracture of the talus bone requiring specialized surgery, his running game may be all but gone. It’s quite sad since I really loved watching The Bison stampeding around the base path. If Kemp isn’t good to go when Sydney rolls around, Andre Ethier would take his place batting either fifth or sixth depending on if there is a left-hander on the mound.
Sixth [Juan Uribe]- Juan Uribe’s return means that his jazzy swing will be slotted around sixth in the batting order. He batted seventh mostly in 2013, but during his 26 games in the sixth slot he hit .308 with twice as many homeruns (4) than in the seventh spot (2) where he was penciled in 40 times. Depending on the Guerrero factor, the two may be interchangeable in the sixth and seventh spot if Donnie pleases.
Seventh [Alexander Guerrero]- Alexander Guerrero might be the wild card on this list, and depending on his Spring he could slot higher or even in the lead-off or second spots. Guerrero has some power, and he hit 21 homeruns with Las Tunas in 2012. I see him hitting further down in the order to start off the season, but as the season progresses Mattingly may try some other options. We all know how Mattingly loves to put out new batting orders on a daily basis.
Eighth [A.J. Ellis]- A.J. Ellis had a down year last season with the bat, but with a clean bill of health in 2014 should return to his patient ways at the plate. While we have all been clamoring for Mattingly to bat A.J. higher in the lineup, I doubt that will happen. Having A.J. bat eighth is almost cemented going into 2014.
Ninth [Pitcher]- The Dodgers may have a secret weapon in the lineup with their excellent hitting starting pitchers. They will have Silver Slugger Zack Greinke looking to once again put up historic numbers for his position, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-jin Ryu also hit very well, and even Dan Haren is decent at the plate with a career batting average of .215. Haren hit over .300 from 2010-2011 as well. The Dodgers will also have Chad Billingsley back in the mix mid-summer who also hits well for a pitcher.
It will be interesting to see whether Mattingly sticks with a consistent lineup this season or if he fiddles around with it a lot again. One thing that is great is that now with Mark Ellis out of the picture, he won’t automatically place his second baseman in the second hole. There’s still some question marks surrounding the batting order, but overall it looks to be the strongest lineup in the division.