Little worry with Dodgers' lineup
The Dodgers' lineup could be one of the most dangerous in baseball
So why, then, is the Dodgers' shortstop, leadoff man, offensive catalyst and arguably the most important player in the Dodgers' lineup hitting .204 for the spring?
Whatever it is, the Dodgers need him to figure it out quickly. Last year, because he still hadn't fully recovered from the back surgery he had in 2008 or because he was habitually swinging from his heels, his on-base percentage dropped more than 100 points, from .439 in 2008 to .335 -- less than optimal for a leadoff man and less than acceptable for a leadoff man with Furcal's track record.
His batting average also fell dramatically, from .357 to .269, and he walked just once every 11.1 plate appearances, down from once every 8.2 the year before.
The good news is that Furcal was healthy last season, avoiding the disabled list entirely and playing in 150 games. And Dodgers manager Joe Torre said Monday that Furcal, who still has appeared at times this spring to be overswinging, has looked much better at the plate over the past few days. And even without a productive Furcal, a productive Manny Ramirez and a productive Russell Martin, the Dodgers managed to win 95 games last year.
If Furcal can right himself in 2010 and become the table setter he once was, the Dodgers should have one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball. There will be power almost throughout, especially if first baseman James Loney has finally honed the home run stroke Torre has long insisted Loney has in him.
Loney will be followed by, in some order, third baseman Casey Blake, Martin and second baseman Blake DeWitt. DeWitt could be slotted between Blake and Martin to give the batting order an alternating left-right look from the third through eighth spots.
Blake, DeWitt and Martin all have at least some power.
Granted, there are a lot of "ifs" here. If Furcal can find the stroke he was missing last year. If Ramirez can find his motivation. If Martin can find himself after two disappointing seasons in a row.
It has become fashionable this spring to pick against the Dodgers, what with the Colorado Rockies having staked their claim to legitimacy last season and the widespread perception that owner Frank McCourt's divorce will ultimately undermine the team financially. But if the Dodgers' lineup performs to its potential, or close to its potential, this will still be the most potent lineup in the National League West.
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"Last year was a little bit of a tough season for me," he said. "I struggled the whole year. This year, I didn't play winter ball in the Dominican. I just tried to relax, and then I started working out in December and January and February. ... I took about 200 swings a day from both sides. I had one left-handed guy and one right-handed guy throwing me batting practice, and I was out there every morning at 7:30 until 2 or 2:30 in the afternoon so I could come in here and be better. It was my fault, nobody else's fault, that I struggled."
One thing Furcal hasn't lost is the ability to laugh at himself.
"Maybe I'm just getting old," he said. "Maybe I forgot how to hit."
Maybe this year, he will remember again. If so, the Dodgers' lineup will be just fine.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.