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Monday, April 27, 2009
Updated: April 29, 1:40 AM ET
Young pitching will determine how far Dodgers can go

ESPN.com

Tom Szczerbowski/US Presswire

Dodgers will need a consistent effort from Clayton Kershaw to remain among NL's best.

CAN YOUTH CARRY THE DODGERS?

By Tim Kurkjian, ESPN The Magazine

The Dodgers are clearly the best team in the National League West right now. We'll see whether they are going to end up being the best in the National League overall.

We know their lineup is really good. I was there the day Manny Ramirez signed with the team, and we all knew as soon as that happened that the Dodgers would be in decent shape. In talking to the players, I keep hearing that everyone felt a change when Manny joined the team last year. They averaged about half a run higher every game after he came over from Boston. That's a significant boost. And when he re-signed with L.A. this year, all the other hitters exhaled.

The Dodgers have their big guy in the middle, and his presence makes Andre Ethier and James Loney better hitters and drops Casey Blake to eighth in the order. So we knew the Dodgers were taken care offensively once they finally got Manny signed.

The thing that's a little bit lost is how much Orlando Hudson and the return of Rafael Furcal make them a better defensive team. A scout this spring told me that the Dodgers have the best defensive infield in the NL with Blake, Furcal, Hudson and Loney. Jeff Kent wasn't quite as bad defensively as people thought, but he wasn't very good at the end, and they replaced him with a Gold Glove-caliber second baseman, one who has already made a huge impact in all sorts of ways.

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Then you get to their starting pitching, which was the big question on this club to start the season. They didn't have a real ace on the staff, but so far Chad Billingsley, who is 4-0 and starts Tuesday against the Giants, has been an ace in every sense and perhaps, outside of Johan Santana, the best pitcher in the National League this year.

I talked to Billingsley this spring about his recent health issues, and he said he put it all behind him and came into camp 100 percent healthy. He was a very good pitcher last year, and that was kind of missed by most people with the success of Derek Lowe and Manny-mania. He didn't pitch well in the postseason, obviously, but in speaking to some guys with the team, it sounded as though that experience has pushed him forward rather than set him back. Billingsley wasn't very happy with the way the playoffs went and doesn't want to let that happen again.

A friend of mine, before the year even started, picked Billingsley to win the Cy Young this year. I wish I had been that insightful because he has been a Cy Young-caliber pitcher so far.

If the Dodgers are going to win the NL pennant and the World Series, I think they are going to have to add another starting pitcher or see marked improvement from some of the guys on their staff, including Clayton Kershaw who has already had a 13-strikeout performance this season. He was absolutely spectacular that night, but he's been hit hard the past two times out, which is not surprising for a young pitcher.

He just turned 21. I think that's part of the issue with the Dodgers. Can they expect that much from such a young staff? That's why I think they need to add a proven starter. They have the money to do it, and it will be interesting to see whom they get and when they get him. By the way, I wouldn't hold out hope for Jake Peavy. When he became available, I asked someone with the Padres, and they said they weren't sure they were interested in trading him within the division, not to mention only about 100 miles up the road.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: April 26 | April 23 | April 22 | April 21 | April 20

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPPITCHER SITUATION
O. Santos, NYM1FlaSanchezBot 1: 1-1, 2 Outs. Gr. Slam.
R. Zimmerman, Was3PhiBlantonTop 3: 1-1, 0 Outs. 1 on.
E. Dukes, Was3PhiBlantonTop 3: 0-0, 1 Outs. None on.
R. Zimmerman, Was4PhiBlantonTop 5: 2-1, 0 Outs. None on.
R. Braun, Mil5PitKarstensBot 1: 2-1, 2 Outs. None on.

The complete list of Monday's homers

ON DECK: TUESDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Nationals at Phillies

Yes, the Nationals are included among the best pitchers, but let's be honest, the other team is the reason they are getting a mention. Cole Hamels, who is 0-2 with a 9.69 ERA, continues his search for anything resembling last year's form. Hamels has allowed five homers in 13 innings of work this season.

Cardinals at Braves

For those who thought Kyle Lohse's season a year ago -- 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA -- was a fluke, he has offered a pretty convincing counterargument to open 2009. Lohse is 3-0 with a 2.42 ERA through four starts. His opponent Tuesday, Jo-Jo Reyes, was hit hard in his first and only start of the year, giving up five runs over 5 2/3 innings in a 10-0 loss against Pittsburgh.

Mariners at White Sox

The two teams were rained out Monday and will play a pair Tuesday. The nightcap is the one to watch, with John Danks facing Felix Hernandez. Neither has lost, with Danks 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA and Hernandez 3-0 with a 3.12 ERA. Between them, Danks and Hernandez have struck out 43 and walked just 16.

For the rest of Tuesday's schedule, click here.

BBTN ON THE AIR: TUESDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
10 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: Peter Gammons, John Kruk, Chris Singleton

12 a.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: Peter Gammons, John Kruk, Chris Singleton

BBTN MINUTE: BILLINGSLEY'S IMPORTANCE

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he takes a look at Justin Verlander, who struck out nine and did not issue a walk in beating CC Sabathia and the Yankees on Monday:

Verlander vs. Yankees
1st-pitch strike pct. 75.0
Avg. fastball (mph) 95.2
Strikeouts 7
Strikeouts swinging 7

WEB GEMS

MONDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Tim WakefieldTim Wakefield and Cliff Lee both pitched masterpieces on Monday as the Red Sox and Indians played eight scoreless innings before Boston scored three times in the ninth on Jason Bay's three-run shot off Kerry Wood for a 3-1 win. Wakefield allowed just one hit -- that came in the first inning -- over seven innings. Lee scattered five in eight innings.
Dan HarenDan Haren continued his dominance so far this season. Haren tossed a complete game against the Cubs, striking out 10 in the Diamondbacks' 7-2 victory at home. Haren did not issue a walk and has 36 strikeouts against only five walks so far this season.
WORST
Joel Hanrahan• Plenty of pitching choices in the Phillies' game with the Nationals, considering the two teams combined for 24 runs in the Phils' 13-11 win. But the worst line of all belonged to Joel Hanrahan, who gave up the grand slam to Raul Ibanez in the Phillies' six-run eighth.
Anibal Sanchez• The Marlins, once 11-1, are now 11-8. On Monday, the reason for their seventh consecutive loss was starter Anibal Sanchez. The right-hander gave up eight hits and six runs in six innings in a 7-1 defeat against the Mets. He has lost for the second straight time.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Phillies ace Cole Hamels, who faces the Nationals on Tuesday, has not had a dream season to follow up his 2008 World Series MVP performance. He has battled an inflamed left elbow and is 0-2 with a 9.69 ERA.

The left-hander's go-to pitch is his changeup, and he hasn't been able to get it going this season. In 2008, Hamels got batters to swing regularly at changeups that were out of the zone (seventh-most in the majors), but hitters aren't chasing them this season.

Cole Hamels
Cole Hamels' changeup 2008 2009
BA against .204 .316
Chase pct. 44.8 12.5
BA against with 2 strikes .148 .333
W-L 14-10 0-2
ERA 3.09 9.69

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF TUESDAY'S GAMES

AJ Mass examines the nine games on Tuesday's slate.

Fantasy Mass ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Tuesday. Daily Notes