Dodgers-Giants Opening Day. Need We Say More?

It is only right that the Dodgers and Giants open the 2005 race butting heads with each other, for it is a battle that has been going on since 1890 and with luck will continue for another 100 years. While some call the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry the best in the game, the Bums and Jints have hated each other since the 1880s.

Brooklyn held an 11-9 record over the NY Giants while the two were kicking and gouging each other for the National League pennant. When both moved West. the Giants have taken five of seven games to hold a slim 14-13 edge in season openers between the two old rivals.

After dropping the 2004 opener to San Diego 8-2, Los Angeles is 25-22 in opening day games and the Brooklyn record was 36-31 with one tie. Overall the franchise is eight games over .500 at 61-53-1 at the opening gun.

Four key players (RHP Eric Gagné, RHP Brad Penny, LF Jayson Werth and LHP Wilson Alvarez) will open the season on the disabled list. In all four cases, spring injuries have proven to be more serious than thought.

The Dodgers figure to be stronger in the pitching department with the addition of Derek Lowe from Boston and may perhaps be the free-agent find of the year in thirty-seven-year-old Scott Erickson. Brad Penny has been slow to heal from a biceps nerve injury but is throwing well and when he is added to the mix, along with 13-game winner Jeff Weaver, the starting rotation seems solid.

Lowe was signed as a free agent because he fits the Dodgers were looking for in a starting pitcher -- a workhorse who keeps the ball on the ground. Moving to the more pitcher-friendly National League with a team that plays 100 games in three of the best pitchers parks in baseball (Dodger Stadium, SBC Park and Petco Park) could play to Lowe's strengths.

Erickson had a remarkable spring. Since 1999, Erickson is 11-24 with a 6.42 earned-run average and has missed two full seasons because of injury. He posted a 2.00 ERA over eight games and 36 innings during spring training.

Penny threw 58 pitches in four innings of an intrasquad game at the Dodgers' minor league camp Sunday (April 3). Penny struck out seven in his first real game action of the spring. He will pitch again on Friday (April 8) either in another intrasquad game or possibly in a Florida State League game. The Dodgers are hopeful that Penny will be ready to join them on April 19. That is the second time the fifth spot in their starting rotation will come up.

Elmer Dessens will take the fifth-starting slot the first time around. He gets the call because left-hander Wilson Alvarez will begin the season on the disabled list while recovering from shoulder tendinitis.

The top four starters rely on their infield to convert ground balls into outs. The Dodger 2005 infield of Shawn Green, Alex Cora, Cesar Izturis and Adrian Beltré set club records for least errors and lowest fielding percentage.

There was a great concern that the new quartet (actually only a trio, since Izturis is still with us) would be average at best but Hee-Seop Choi, Jeff Kent and Jose Valentin, along with gold glover Izturis, has acquitted themselves very well.

The sparkling Dodger bullpen took a hit when Eric Gagné was shelved by a sprained elbow. The injury is not serious but the medical staff will be extra careful to make sure he is healthy when he does return.

"I really feel we have the resources to turn to," Manager Jim Tracy said. "We'll get an opportunity to find out about other things we have. The important thing is we have to keep ourselves afloat and hold serve, knowing it's not months, but a few weeks away."

Gagné said of opening the season on the disabled list, "It's real frustrating. I wish it happened early in spring. I feel I let down the team." Gagné had altered his mechanics to try to pitch with the knee injury. But Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta said it was "just speculation" to think one injury led to the other.

Setup man Yhency Brazoban, a young Guillermo Mota, will step into the stoppers role and should fill in very nicely. Other staff veterans Giovanni Carrara and Duaner Sanchez will handle the right side and side-arming left-hander Kelly Wunsch and side-arming righthander Steve Schmoll add diversity to the pen. Buddy Carlyle and Rule V pickup DJ Houlton will be available to start or relieve.

Schmoll was a surprise addition to the 25-man roster. Undrafted out of the University of Maryland, Schmoll emerged as a top pitching prospect in 2004 when he posted ERAs of 1.80, 1.83 and 1.42 while going from Class A to Double-A to the Arizona Fall League. He was in the Dodgers' minor league camp until the final week of the spring when he was invited to participate in a couple of Grapefruit League games and the Freeway Series in California. He may not be quite ready for prime time, but try telling that to the batters who face his 95-MPH side-wheeling fastball.

On the offensive side of the ledger, the club scored 761 runs last year and allowed 684. That combination gave them a 93-69 record and their first National League West title since 1995. The same combination should earn them a second post-season appearance.

Catcher--When both Paul Bako and David Ross failed to show much punch at the plate, Ross was sold to Pittsburgh and the Dodgers traded 13-game winner Kaz Ishii to the Mets for Jason Phillips. Phillips came to Dodgertown with a glitzy .550 batting average but after being held out of action by the Mets for five days pending the trade, he only started to get his bat back in shape in the Freeway Series. He can hit, can hit with power and performs well back of the plate.

First base-- Hee-Seop Choi has taken to the more aggressive approach Dodgers hitting coach Tim Wallach has been urging on him. Choi began to calm worries with three home runs in the final week of spring training, and Tracy reiterated that "he's the guy" at first base.

Second base--Jeff Kent turned 37 during spring training, but the Dodgers are counting on him to be their cleanup hitter. His power numbers are bound to suffer moving from Minute Maid Park to Dodger Stadium. He doesn't have the same supporting cast as he did in Houston last year where Carlos Beltran, Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman shared the RBI load. With the Dodgers, he could find himself a lone gunman in the middle of the order if J.D. Drew's history of injuries keeps him out of the lineup for extended periods.

Third Base--A platoon of Jose Valentin and Antonio Perez was planned. Valentin handled the defensive chores but hit under .200 for the spring, a bad sign considering the descending batting average he has put up each of the past five seasons. Perez, on the other hand, performed very well offensively but looked awkward and ill-suited defensively at third base.

"We have variables there. Is it completely resolved? Not completely," Tracy said. "You don't have to have it completely resolved by Tuesday or Wednesday of the first week in April. You have to have variables in place, and you see how it goes and how it works out."

Shortstop--Gold Glove Cesar Izturis demonstrated many times during March that the voters didn't make a mistake giving him the award. He got a bit power-mad early in the spring but settled down nicely, spraying the ball all over the park. Expecting another 193-hit season would be a stretch, but he's just a kid and maybe that will be the way he hits from now on. If so, reserve a spot in Cooperstown

Outfield--JD Drew has a reputation as being injury prone. "I know there is the perception of his being banged up fairly regularly. I also know when he is healthy and out there, he may be the best player on the diamond in just about any game we play," DePodesta said. "If we have him for 130 games, that's well worth it. If we get him for more than that, that's a bonus."
Milton Bradley lived up to his troubled past at times in his first season as a Dodger. But when the team broke camp in Florida, it was with Bradley vowing to be more mature in 2005. "With so many new guys coming in, guys are going to be looking to the next guy to say something," Bradley said. "If I have to be the guy who has to step up, then I'll take that on." Bradley said he wants to prove that DePodesta's gamble in trading for him will pay off. "He put a lot of faith and trust in me," Bradley said. "I owe it to him to go out and be the player he expects me to be. I don't feel I've lived up to expectations in my career yet."
Rookie Jason Repko will share left-field duties with veteran Ricky Ledee. Repko was the top rookie in camp during March, winning the Mulvey Award symbolic of just that. He led the team with a .325 average and added three homers and seven RBI to spectacular work in the outfield. Ledee hit .217 with a couple homers and seven ribbies. The two will scrap for playing time until injured Jayson Werth recovers from a chipped bone in his wrist and reclaims the job.
Jason Grabowski added to his value by catching during spring training and will be the left-handed pinch-hitter off the bench as well as playing the outfield.

Bench--INFs Norihiro Nakamura and Oscar Robles played well this spring but did not make the Opening Day roster, losing out to Antonio Perez and Olmedo Saenz as the Dodgers' infield reserves. Robles will be returned to his Mexican League team, but the Dodgers have worked out an agreement by which they can purchase his contract at any time before July 1. Nakamura was upset he didn't make the roster but is expected to accept an assignment to Triple-A.

The Dodgers start with an even dozen new faces on the squad but that will change when those on the DL come back to claim their spots.

DePodesta subscribes to the 'Money Ball' theme that the first two months of the season are for evaluating the team, the next two months for improving it, and the last two months for making a run at a pennant.

An eternal optimist, Tracy said in regard to Gagné, Werth, Alvarez and Penny opening the season on the disable list: "Realizing that we're dealing with some DL situations to start the season, the club can only get better as we go along, and what we're starting out with here is still pretty damned good."