COMMENTARY | Ever since the departure of Manny Ramirez in 2010, the Los Angeles Dodgers have had to rely on Matt Kemp to carry the offensive load. Although the All-Star center fielder has averaged 31 home runs over the last two seasons, he hasn't had much help. No other Dodgers player hit over 20 home runs in 2011 or 2012.
However, thanks to a flurry of moves made over the last nine months, the 2013 Dodgers lineup packs a punch that hasn't been experienced since the Mannywood era.
The projected leadoff hitter will make his regular-season debut with the Dodgers after being acquired from the Boston Red Sox last August. Crawford underwent Tommy John surgery before the trade last summer and has only played in a few spring training games with Los Angeles since then. While his arm strength is a concern coming off the procedure, the Dodgers are hoping Crawford can stay healthy and provide some speed and some pop at the top of the order.
2. Mark Ellis
The second baseman finished last season with a .258 average and seven home runs. These numbers don't stand out, but Ellis does have a knack for hitting in clutch and doing the things that don't show up in the box score, such as moving a runner into scoring position.
3. Matt Kemp
The primary offensive force for the Dodgers over the past two seasons will be back with a hunger in 2013 after playing only 106 games last year -- his fewest since 2007. Kemp underwent offseason surgery to repair his shoulder and will be looking to re-establish himself as the MVP runner-up that he was in 2011. With less pressure on him in a more balanced lineup, Kemp should be primed for success at the plate.
Although his home run totals have dwindled each of the past four seasons, Gonzalez still collected 188 hits last season, proving that he is still a reliable hitter and definitely an upgrade over last season's opening-day first baseman, James Loney.
5. Andre Ethier
The right fielder has been the second most productive offensive force behind Kemp in recent years, but he still struggles against left-handed pitching. The last time Ethier was surrounded with this much talent in a lineup was in 2009 when he batted behind Manny Ramirez and hit a career-high 31 home runs. If there's ever been a time for Ethier to reach those power numbers again, it's in 2013, as he will be nestled behind Kemp and Gonzalez.
6. Hanley Ramirez/Luis Cruz
The sixth spot in the order was supposed to belong to Hanley Ramirez, but the shortstop is expected to miss the first two months of the season after tearing a ligament in his thumb. When healthy, Ramirez has the capability to hit more than 20 home runs and drive in over 80 runs ,although his average has dipped considerably since winning the batting title in 2009.
Replacing Ramirez at shortstop will be Luis Cruz, whom was originally penciled in as the starting third baseman. Cruz made a name for himself last season by batting .297 with 6 homers and 40 RBIs in 78 games. Whether or not his performance was a fluke or not remains to be seen, but the infielder has already launched four home runs in his first 50 spring at-bats.
7. A.J. Ellis
Every manager and hitting coach preaches patience at the plate, and A.J. Ellis is definitely a batter who waits for his pitch. The Dodgers' catcher saw an average of 4.42 pitchers per plate appearance in 2012, the second-most in the majors. He also drew more walks than anyone else on the Dodgers. When Ellis did swing, it led to a respectable .270 average to go along with 13 dingers and 52 runs batted in. Look for more of the same in 2013.
8. Juan Uribe/Nick Punto/Skip Schumaker
The eighth spot in the order will be manned by a platoon of Juan Uribe, Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker until Hanley Ramirez returns from injury. Uribe will be entering the third year of what has been an abysmal stint with the Dodgers. The veteran third baseman has simply not been able to hit worth a lick since he first arrived in Los Angeles. Punto and Schumaker are both reliable utility players who won't hit for power but can play all over the infield. Between the three of them, the Dodgers should be able to construct a formidable stopgap until Ramirez returns.
9. Clayton Kershaw
To put Juan Uribe's struggles into perspective, Clayton Kershaw batted .207 last season while the beleaguered third baseman could only muster a .191 average.
Nick Ostiller was born and raised in Los Angeles and currently lives in Santa Clara. He is a sports reporter at The Santa Clara and has also worked for Outlook Newspapers.
Follow him on Twitter @nicko229.
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