2017 MLB Preview: NL West- Los Angeles Dodgers
2016 Record: 91-71 (1st Place)
Manager: Dave Roberts
The Dodgers returned to the National League Championship series last season, only to lose to the eventual champion Cubs in six games. They’re success was fueled by their excellent starting pitching, something that they will continue to benefit them this season.
Clayton Kershaw would only start 21 games for the Dodgers last season, but continued his dominance going 12-4 with a career low 1.69 ERA in those starts. With his back completely healthy, Kershaw is in a good position to win his fourth Cy Young award as he enters his age-29 season. Kenta Maeda will join him at the top of the rotation, who placed second in the NL rookie of the year voting after going 16-11 with a 3.48 ERA in his first season out of Japan. His 175.2 innings pitched is definitely something he could improve upon this season, as the soon to be 29-year-old will look to approach 200 innings with a year of the major leagues under his belt.
The Dodgers decided to bring back veteran southpaw Rich Hill, despite their surplus of starting pitchers on their roster. Hill started just six games for the Dodgers after being acquired at the deadline, yet he posted an impressive 1.83 ERA over 34.1 innings in these starts. Even if it was a puzzling move for the Dodgers, Hill’s ERA has not dropped under 2.25 over the past two seasons, which certainly cannot be ignored even at the age of 37. Brandon McCarthy joins Hill as a veteran in the rotation, as the 33-year-old finally joins the rotation after spending most of his first two years in L.A. on the disabled list. Even when he has pitched McCarthy has struggled, finishing last season with a 4.95 ERA over 40 innings. McCarthy was lights out after being traded to the Yankees in his 200-inning 2014 campaign, as the Dodgers hope he can return to this pitcher that earned him a 4-year contract in the 2015 offseason.
After a strong spring, the last rotation spot looks like it will go to the 26-year-old lefty Alex Wood. Once a top prospect for the Braves, Wood has struggled to stay on the field over his four-year career, missing most of last season with a triceps injury. It’s unfair to call Wood a bust with his 3.35 career ERA, but he will need to show some durability if he wants to establish himself as a legitimate starting pitcher. With Wood in the fifth spot, this leaves two established starters in Scott Kazmir and Hyun-Jin Ryu out of the rotation, in addition to one of the most talented young pitchers in the game Julio Urias, who will begin the season in Triple-A. The 33-year-old Kazmir and his contract could be a burden after a poor performance in 2016, yet Ryu could be a nice midseason addition to the rotation if Wood or McCarthy struggles. Ryu hasn’t really pitched since 2014 (he started one game last season), yet still holds an impressive 3.28 ERA over 57 career starts for the Dodgers.
The Dodgers spent $50 million to bring back their star closer Kenley Jansen, coming off the best season of his career where he put up a 1.83 ERA and recorded 47 saves. They also brought in Sergio Romo to set up for Jansen, who will be joined by an arsenal of talented arms in that bullpen.
The only glaring change the Dodgers made to their lineup this offseason was the acquisition of second baseman Logan Forsythe, who the team acquired from Tampa Bay in January. This is certainly an upgrade from Howie Kendrick, with Forsythe hitting a career-high 20 home runs last season. He will join Corey Seager at the top of the lineup, who met all his high expectations last season hitting .308 with 26 HR and 72 RBI’s. After winning the NL Rookie of the Year award, the 22-year-old has already established himself as perhaps the best shortstop in the game and could now set his sights on an MVP award.
Adrian Gonzalez showed no signs of slowing down last season, who at 34 years old put up a .285 average with 31 HR and 90 RBI’s. This was an improvement on his previous two seasons where he hit around .275, which makes it hard to believe that Gonzalez will perform much worse in the heart of their lineup next season. Justin Turner put up numbers of this caliber last season, setting career highs in home runs (27) and RBI’s (90) in what was essentially his first season as a full-time player. This performance earned Turner a four-year deal this offseason, who looks to be their third baseman of the future after spending the majority of his career as a bench player.
Joc Pederson showed strides last season, hitting 25 home runs in his sophomore season and raising his batting average to .246 as opposed to the .210 he hit in his rookie season. If the soon to be 25-year-old can continue to make strides with his defense and batting average, he could find himself as a five-tool caliber player in a couple of seasons. Catcher Yasmani Grandal will have to make similar strides with his batting average, who established himself as a premier power-hitting catcher last season with 27 home runs but hit just .228. He could find himself losing at bats to the promising young catcher Austin Barnes as the season goes on.
Yasiel Puig will also need to make improvements, who has yet to match his monster 2013 rookie season. Puig has struggled with injuries and failed to hit over 11 home runs in each of the past two seasons, even finding himself in the minor leagues last season which most likely stemmed from character issues. Puig will need to get his act together both on and off to field, as the Dodgers still believe that the 26-year-old out of Cuba could still be a star. Andre Ethier’s glory days look to be over, missing nearly all of last season after breaking his tibia in April. He could give them a decent average as a career .285 hitter, but the injury bug has already shown up for Ethier, who is set to begin the season on the DL.*
Bottom Line: The Dodgers are essentially a lock to have a top-five rotation in baseball, but will need several of the younger players in their lineup make offensive strides if they want to beat out the Giants in the NL West. If their rotation can perform up to standards in the postseason, this team could be looking at their first World Series appearance since 1988.
*Stats and Info from Baseball Reference