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Dodgers Must Answer Lingering Questions:

With the Dodgers beginning their season, questions enter my mind, but not necessarily answers.I see a productive lineup and the promise of an entertaining team. But I wonder who’ll replace Derek Lowe with 200 solid innings, and I ask: can Hiroki Kuroda, Randy Wolf and Chad Billingsley hold up over the long run?I see Brad Penny earning a place in the Red Sox’ rotation and ask why weren’t the Dodgers more patient with him? I see Jason Schmidt being placed on the Dodgers’ disabled list and wonder if Billingsley and Clayon Kershaw are ready to inherit roles previously reserved for established, long-term major league starting pitchers. Not to mention rookie James McDonald.I see Jonathan Broxton becoming the Dodgers’ closer and ask can he accomplish anything remotely resembling what the Dodgers’ last two guys in that role did — Eric Gagne and Takashi Saito?It’s inspiring to see Manny Ramirez back in a Dodger uniform and it’s likely he’ll have another outstanding season. But how outstanding? Probably not a .396 average again and 53 RBI in 53 games again. That would be expecting too much.I ask how effective will Andre Eithier be hitting behind Ramirez, at least against right-handed pitchers. I expect him to have a lot of RBI because there’ll be men on base frequently when he comes up.I wonder if Rafael Furcal leading off and Orlando Hudson batting second will be as good as I expect. Probably so. But I wonder if Hudson will be able to recover from injuries and play often and I wonder how much the Dodgers will miss Jeff Kent’s power.Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, James Loney and Eithier. As good a foundation of young players any team could expect? Will the Dodgers keep them but trade someone else in the mid-season deal they’ll probably need to go far in the playoffs?I know these are the defending Western Division champions and the Dodgers have an all-time great manager in Joe Torre. But I go back just one year and realize Arizona won this division and Colorado made a late season rush into the World Series. So it isn’t going to be easy.I expect the Padres to struggle but I see that the Giants have improved their roster.My mind then wanders to the American League West. Will the Angels run away with it? They have three injured starting pitchers and will have a makeshift rotation throughout April. And the Athletics have significantly upgraded their lineup, so that race may be close.The answers will be forthcoming, but right now it’s sufficient to say ’play ball.’

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