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HERE'S LOOKING AT YOU: Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, along with Andre Ethier, is now the face of the Dodgers and he'll be expected to have a consistent encore in 2010 after his Gold Glove/Silver Slugger 2009 season.
New Decade, Same Dodgers
Questions loom for Black stars in 2010
By Evan BarnesSentinel Sports EditorThe Dodgers' 2010 season started with a whimper on Monday as they lost to the Pirates 11-5 in Pittsburgh, fueling more speculation that pitching will be a bigger concern than hitting this year. There's no reason to panic one game into the season but it's something to keep watch over as the Dodgers face a reloaded division where the Colorado Rockies are favored by many to win it. Fans have their expectations but there are several things to look for among the team's Black players. Let's start with the team's most honored player last season, Matt Kemp. What will Kemp do for an encore? Following up a Gold Glove/Silver Slugger season is a tough task but Kemp by all accounts has shown signs that he's going for consistency. The 25-year-old centerfielder was one of the highlights of Monday's game - going 2-for-5 with two runs batted in - and along with Andre Ethier, he's become the face of the franchise. In the spring, he showed improvement on his plate discipline but by now, fans should worry less about his strikeouts if Kemp continues to produce at the plate. It's not unreal to expect a 30/30 season from Kemp or a trip to Anaheim in July for the All-Star Game. But expect there to be more talk about his game than his relationship with pop singer Rihanna. Will James Loney's new physique increase his power?Loney showed up to training camp leaner and muscular in the hopes of improving his power stroke. His slugging percentage last year was the worst of his brief career (.399). Give the Dodgers' first baseman credit - he's been nothing short of steady (13 home runs and 90 runs batted in for 2008 and 2009). He's been well appreciated for his glove and disciplined approach at the plate. Loney only hit one home run in spring training so don't expect the power surge to come right away. It's safe to bet that we'll see for sure if his power comes around in June/July when his adjusted swing should round into form. The better question will be if he can perform better at Dodger Stadium than the road where his 2009 numbers were drastically better (.309 avg., 12 HR's and 54 RBI's compared to .251/1 HR/36 RBI's at home) Russell Martin - more bulk, bigger injury risk?It feels longer than three years ago when Martin was voted a starter on the National League All-Star team and won both the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Award. Since 2007, Martin's offensive numbers have declined sharply and news before the season that he gained more weight was troubling to fans who yearned for him to regain his stroke. Adding to their concern was a groin injury suffered during spring training, no doubt related to his weight gain.There's nobody in the Dodgers batting order with a bigger bull's eye than Martin. He has to produce this year or else he may find himself on the trading block. On the good side, he showed no sign of his injury in Monday's loss, going 1-for-3 and scoring two runs. Fans can hope that's a good sign instead of a tease of something worse to com. What impact will Garret Anderson have?It's strange to see Anderson in Dodger blue after his legendary career with the Angels. But the 37-year-old is bringing his 2,500+ hits back home after a stint with the Braves last year. Monday showed what Anderson can do, hitting a single in his only bat. He'll be a reliable, veteran hitter off the bench in the vein of Mark Loretta or Juan Pierre last year. Anderson, a Los Angeles native who attended Granada Hills Kennedy High School, will be appreciated by fans who embraced Pierre. A great homecoming for one of the game's most underappreciated players. Will we see much of Xavier Paul or Trayvon Robinson?Paul was supposed to be the frontrunner for the 4th outfielder spot but manager Joe Torre wanted to go with a veteran presence and made Paul one of the last cuts. Chances are we'll see the 25-year-old appear in more than a few games next year to better groom him for a spot on the team.Robinson, a Crenshaw High School alum who was drafted in 2005, had a solid showing in his first Spring Training and it may take a while for fans to see him at the next level. With a loaded outfield, the speedy Robinson - who's slowly developing into a consistent hitter - might not be seen much until next season.But Paul and Robinson are among a crop of young players on the farm who'll ever compete for spots in 2-3 years or be appealing trade bait.The Dodgers open at home on Tuesday. With the off-field distractions and on-field skepticism, it will be a season to watch in the hopes that the team can find a way to start a new decade on a good note.