Dodgers Tough Schedule Eases in 2011

If the Dodgers were a college basketball team last year, they'd have racked up one of the highest RPIs in the sport and perhaps an at-large berth into the playoffs. But they're a baseball team, and the schedule is out of their control. When you finish with a sub-.500 record, it's hard to make the argument that a tough schedule is the reason you didn't make the playoffs.

Still, a particularly brutal second-half schedule made their tough road even tougher.

The strength of a schedule often isn't even known until a few months into the season, but a look here in late January shows another potentially tough schedule for the Dodgers.

If the National League West is below average, as it was in 2008, the Dodgers' schedule will be a lot easier. If the division is above average -- as it was in 2010 with the surprising Padres, contending Rockies and eventual World Series champion Giants -- then the schedule gets much harder.

Interleague is the other big factor. Last year, the Dodgers' interleague opponents were three teams coming off playoff appearances in 2009 (Yankees, Red Sox, Angels), and the fourth was eliminated in a one-game playoff (Tigers).

The Dodgers will always have a tough interleague schedule simply because they play six games against the Angels. This year, the Dodgers draw mostly the AL Central for interleague play, and they're getting the division's three toughest teams, who are all legitimate playoff contenders.

They'll play at the White Sox and Twins, are home against the Tigers and play their usual home-and-away series against the Angels.

The beginning of the season is brutal, too.

It starts with four games against the Giants at home, followed by a three-city road trip to Colorado, San Diego and San Francisco. Then there are consecutive four-game series against the Cardinals and Braves at home.

So out of the first 20 games, all 20 are against teams that either made the playoffs last year or played meaningful games the final week of the season. --Sports Xchange.

The Dodgers do get some scheduling relief around the All-Star break, however. They end the first half at home and begin the second half at Arizona, where a lot of players spend their offseasons. It's also the site of this year's All-Star Game.

A year ago, the Dodgers had only two days off for the break and traveled to St. Louis on the third day, then were swept in a four-game series to begin the second half. This year, they get three full days off before an easy flight to Phoenix on the fourth day.

The final month could be a grind. They have only two scheduled days off, Sept. 1 and Sept. 19, so that's 17 straight games.

Many of those September opponents are teams that stand a good chance of being eliminated from contention, though: four at the Nationals and four against the Pirates. The season ends with a road trip to San Diego and Arizona.

Quo Signs on Dotted Line
Taiwanese left-handed relief pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo has agreed to a one-year Major League Baseball contract worth $2.725 million with the Los Angeles Dodgers, according to the team. The move means the club and Kuo will avoid having their contract dispute settled through arbitration.

Kuo became the Dodgers' primary closer during the final weeks of last season, and the fact he could inherit that role again if Jonathan Broxton continues to struggle meant that any settlement to avoid arbitration almost had to include bonuses for games finished. As such, he will receive an additional $100,000 for each of 30, 35, 40, 45, 50 and 55 games finished.

Even if he doesn't become the closer, Kuo could earn up to an additional $100,000 based on appearances -- $25,000 each for 50 and 55 games and $50,000 for pitching in 60 games.

Kuo, who made only $975,000 last season, had sought $3.075 million while the Dodgers had been offering only $2.55 million.

He led Major League Baseball last season with a 1.20 earned-run average over 56 games, setting a Dodgers team record in the process. He had 73 strikeouts and 18 walks in 60 innings with opposing batters hitting only .139.

The Asian standout went 3-2, earned a trip to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and took over as the closing relief pitcher for the Dodgers after Jonathan Broxton slumped.

This leaves first baseman James Loney as the team's only unresolved arbitration case. One source said that the sides don't appear close to a settlement, meaning the Dodgers could be heading to a hearing with Loney later this month in which a three-person arbitration panel would be forced to choose one of the two figures, with no room for compromise.

The Dodgers signed signed former San Francisco Giants and Toronto Blue Jays reliever to a minor league contract without giving him an invitation to big-league camp at Spring Training.

Valdez is looking to rebuild his career. The 29-year-old righthander pitched 67 games for the Giants from 2004-2008 with a 5.24 ERA, allowing 115 baserunners in 67 innings while striking out 53. Last year, he allowed three runs in 1.1 innings for Toronto while spending most of the season with Triple-A Las Vegas, where he had a 7.91 ERA in 58 innings.

A native of the Dominican Republic, Valdez was originally signed by the Atlanta Braves in 1999, then came to the Giants in 2002 (with Damian Moss) in a trade for Russ Ortiz.

Veteran lefty Ron Mahay agree to a non-roster deal with an invitation to spring training. Mahay will earn $900,000 if he makes the team, a source said.

Mahay, who turns 40 in June, spent last season with Minnesota, where he appeared in 41 games and held left-handed hitters to a .219 average, .239 on-base percentage and .281 slugging percentage.

He may become the second left-hander in the bullpen to complement Kuo, something the Dodgers have looked long and hard for this off-season. If he makes the roster it would be the ninth team Mahay has pitched for in a 15-year career, which he actually began as a position player in the Boston minor league system.

Hardball Talk Posts Spring Depth Chart
Matthew Puuliot of looked at the Dodgers depth chart headed into spring training. Here is his 'take':

 1. Clayton Kershaw
 2. Chad Billingsley
 3. Ted Lilly
 4. Hiroki Kuroda
 5. Jon Garland
 6. Vicente Padilla
 7. John Ely
 8. Blake Hawksworth
 9. Carlos Monasterios
10. Dana Eveland
11. Tim Redding
12. Chris Withrow

 1. Jonathan Broxton
 2. Hong-Chih Kuo
 3. Matt Guerrier
 4. Kenley Jansen
 5. Ramon Troncoso
 6. Vicente Padilla
 7. Blake Hawksworth
 8. Travis Schlichting
 9.  Ronald Belisario
10. Carlos Monasterios
11. Scott Elbert
12. Josh Lindblom
13. Jon Link
14. Tim Redding
15. Oscar Villarreal
16. Roman Colon
17. Jon Huber
(note: the list was prepared 
before LHP Ron Mahay 
or Matt MacDougal signed)

1. Rod Barajas
2. Dioner Navarro
3. A.J. Ellis
4. Hector Gimenez
5. J.D. Closser

First base
1. James Loney
2. Jay Gibbons
3. John Lindsey
4. Marcus Thames

Second base
1. Juan Uribe
2. Jamey Carroll
3. Ivan DeJesus
4. Justin Sellers

Third base
1. Casey Blake
2. Jamey Carroll
3. Juan Uribe
4. Russ Mitchell
5. Justin Sellers

1. Rafael Furcal
2. Juan Uribe
3. Jamey Carroll
4. Ivan DeJesus
5. Juan Castro

Left field
1. Jay Gibbons
2. Marcus Thames
3. Tony Gwynn Jr.
4. Xavier Paul
5. Gabe Kapler
6. Jamie Hoffmann
7. Trent Oeltjen
8. Eugenio Velez

Center field
1. Matt Kemp
2. Tony Gwynn Jr.
3. Eugenio Velez
4. Trayvon Robinson

Right field
1. Andre Ethier
2. Xavier Paul
3. Gabe Kapler
4. Jamie Hoffmann
5. Trent Oeltjen
6. Tony Gwynn Jr.
7. Eugenio Velez
Dodger Blue Notes Free-agent outfielder Germain Dye sat out last season but has made public his desire to return for the 2011 season. He spoke to the Dodgers in December but but has yet to receive a guaranteed major-league offer. Dye's demand for a major-league contract killed the deal. They signed another right-handed hitter, Marcus Thames, to a one-year, $1 million major-league deal. ...Mark Cuban said recently that he no longer will initiate efforts to acquire a major league team. The Dallas Mavericks owner, responding to questions about his possible interest in the New York Mets, said "I'm not going to -- whether it's here or the Dodgers, for that matter -- I'm not going to put myself in a bidding situation. I did that twice and learned my lesson." Cuban bid for the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers but failed to acquire either team. However, if the Dodgers came up for sale, "It's too early to say. Let's see what happens if and when it goes up for sale."

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