Dodgers 2013: Why the Dodgers will win the NL West

Bob Miller

It was hard to tell your Bob Millers apart in the 1950s: there were three of them, all pitchers, though they weren’t all active at the same time (one was in the military in 1957-58, and the Phillies’ Bob Miller, the oldest, retired after 1958). The Bob Miller who pitched for the Dodgers was the best of them, although you couldn’t tell it by his career 69-81 won-loss record. Much of that was thanks to the 1962 Mets, for whom Miller was 1-12 (the remaining other still-active Bob Miller was also with the ’62 Mets, for whom he was 2-2, even though his ERA was 7.08, compared to our Bob Miller’s 4.89). Our Miller went from the worst team in baseball in ’62 to the world champion Dodgers in ’63, and he was a reason why. Miller had a career-high 10 wins and 2.89 ERA for the ’63 Dodgers — one of three world champions he played for: Miller had nine saves and a 2.97 ERA for the ’65 Dodgers, and three saves and a 1.29 ERA in 28 late-season innings for the ’71 Pirates. Hopefully, that made up for the ’62 Mets. Miller pitched for 10 teams in 17 seasons and was included in trades for Mudcat Grant, Zoilo Versalles and Luis Tiant. He finished his career in 1974 with the Mets, ending with 51 saves and a 3.37 ERA. He died in 1993 at age 54.

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: The Dodgers are paying Carl Crawford $20-million plus and Joe Pederson whatever 11th-round picks get, which is still a lot of minus compared to Crawford. Pederson will likely start 2013 in AA, and he does a lot of things well: he has a career .314 average and .907 OPS, conescutive 26-steal seasons, 76 games played last year in center field and a 1992 birthdate. Crawford is signed through 2017 and Andre Ethier through 2018, but Pederson — assuming he’s not like Jerry Sands, the last hot Dodger outfielder prospect, or his NFL namesake, backup QB Doug Pederson — will force a decision well before then.

What is this man doing here? The Dodgers couldn’t bring first baseman James Loney back, so they did the next worst thing: they invited Nick Evans to camp. Evans is a lot like Loney — average hitter, little power, subpar eye. Only worse. Evans’ previous two employers were the Mets and the Pirates and he couldn’t help them. What does that tell the Dodgers? Evans missed most of 2012 with a broken hand; when healthy he hit .195 in the minors. The Dodgers shouldn’t expect much more.

What he said: Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire on batters looking at tape of their at-bats: “You can look at yourself all you want, and you can make stuff up, but look what you’re swinging at. King Kong can’t hit that.” What he meant: “Of course, King Kong would be like Dave Kingman. He’d swing at everything.”

Outlook: A Whole New Blue is the new motto on the Dodgers’ website. The fans just hope it’s not A Whole New Blew It in October.

It shouldn’t be. The Dodgers have spent lots of money in the last 12 months to improve, and they did. But it’s not Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett or even Zack Greinke who should have Dodgers fans smiling like Magic Johnson after his 1987 Game 5 skyhook.

It’s the money they’ve spent internationally — on Cubans Yasiel Puig and Onelki Garcia and Korean pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu (who reportedly weighs 255 pounds despite being listed at 215; the Dodgers might want to look into where his per diem is going).

That bodes well for the Dodgers for the long term, and the only folks who don’t like that are Giants fans and Larry Bird fans (Magic Johnson didn’t get involved to be absent in October).

In the short term, the Dodgers are better than last year and better than the Giants. The latter has great pitching — they were seventh in MLB in ERA in 2012 — but the Dodgers’ is better (third in MLB, a third of a run less). And they’ve added Greinke.

Rebound relationships are usually dangerous, but not for the Dodgers, who picked up a whole lot of them in last year’s trade with the Red Sox. But replacing Loney at first with Gonzalez is as big a difference as that of Malibu and Bakersfield, although not as big as that of Hanley Ramirez and Dee Gordon at short. Thankfully, we won’t have to endure the hype anymore for a shortstop whose minor-league best full-season OPS was an Albuquerque-elevated .783 (.687 in AA).

The Dodgers will have both Gonzalez and Ramirez from Opening Day this year.

They’ll also have Crawford, whose defense will be more valuable in Dodger Stadium than Fenway Park, and Beckett, who might be their fifth starter — if he can hold off Chris Capuano. Beckett can’t hurt the Dodgers as much as he did the Red Sox, and he’s still just a year removed from a 2.89 ERA in 2011 (and if you want to be a real Magic Johnson optimist, Beckett had a 2.93 ERA post-trade in 2012 for the Dodgers).

The Dodgers also have arguably the best pitcher in baseball in Clayton Kershaw (he’s led MLB in ERA for two straight years) and 2011’s best player in Matt Kemp.

That should be enough to win the NL West, even with Luis Cruz at third.

Team song: Steve Miller: Abracadabra.

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