LOS ANGELES DODGERS 92-70 (First NL West…Won Division & NLDS over Atlanta)
Projected Starting Lineup/Batting Order:
2B Dee Gordon
RF Yasiel Puig
SS Hanley Ramirez
1B Adrian Gonzalez
CF Andre Ethier
LF Carl Crawford/Matt Kemp
3B Juan Uribe
C A.J. Ellis
Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms:
SP Clayton Kershaw
SP Zack Greinke
SP Hyun-jin Ryu
SP Dan Haren
SP Josh Beckett
RP Kenley Jansen
RP Brian Wilson
RP Chris Perez
The Dodgers had the opposite season of the Diamondbacks. They started very slow with expectations out the wazoo with their high profile team and the highest salary in baseball. But in June they added Yasiel Puig to the club and Don Mattingly seemed to take over the locker room. Puig was a spark that got this offense going and the pitching continued to play well. The Dodgers had an incredible second half, soaring up the standings and winning the division with room to spare. This year, they hope they have the chemistry from the beginning and plan to be in control from game 1. We’ll see how it goes. Really the biggest issue going forward, is how are all these good players going to get into one lineup? And unfortunately, that seems to be the one thing that is causing some discord in the locker room as this team is not at the top of the division, where they expected to be.
Offensively they are excited to have a full season of Yasiel Puig. The Cuban defector hit 319 in 104 games last year after starting out hitting around 400 in his first month. He ended the year with 19 HR and 11 SB. He got on base at a 391 clip and will likely hit at the top of the lineup. I think his OBP and AVG will go down considerably in his first full season, but he should still be an exciting player to watch. 25 HR is a real possibility and with that 60-70 RBI. I don’t know how many more SB he’ll get as he only got 11 and was caught 8 times. He may have to earn the SB chances going forward. I’m not as high on him as everyone else is. He has all the talent in the world, but there hasn’t been a player in recent memory that was this good in his rookie year, and as good or better in his next season. I’m expecting his AVG to fall below 300, maybe all the way down to 275. Maybe 20 SB, but that’s his ceiling with his so-so success. Really, I wouldn’t be surprised if he dropped to around 5th in the order to maximize his power potential. We’ll see. I still think he’s a great player with incredible talent and potential. But I’m expecting his numbers to fall off considerably. Carl Crawford was set to start the year hitting second with Puig leading off, but the re-emergence of Dee Gordon changed those plans. Not to mention the injury that Crawford sustained to knock him out of the lineup for a while. He missed time with injury last year too, but acquitted himself well in 116 games hitting 283 with 15 SB. Speed is the name of his game, and he’s still got it as he gets older. He’s not a premier hitter and not a natural leadoff hitter with a career 332 OBP and too many strikeouts. But he’s got some pop, good speed and experience. I’m expecting another 270+ season with 10 HR, 20 SB and 70+ R, depending on health. I put Hanley Ramirez third after his phenomenal half season last year. In 86 games he hit 345 with 20 HR and 57 RBI. That’s on par for 40 HR and 110 RBI. Incredible production from one of the most talented players in the league. He’s playing short and happy in LA, so I think a full season of him will produce incredible results. I put Adrian Gonzalez in the cleanup hole. He’s not the star he once was, but he’s a talented, dependable hitter. He may not hit 30 HR, but an AVG around 300 with 20-25 HR and 100 RBI seems like a lock. After that it gets iffy. Matt Kemp is still around, but missed the beginning of the season with injury. He came back, but was riding the pine for a while. When he was hurt last year, Andre Ethier took over for him in center. And it looks like Ethier will stay there. When Crawford went down, Kemp got a chance to play left, but he’s not happy there. He’s a former Gold Glove winning center fielder, but recent metrics show his defense isn’t great. When he plays, he won’t be in the top third of the order. I expect him to hit 5th or 6th. But I have no idea how he will perform. Last year he played in 73 games hitting 273. But he had only 6 HR and 9 SB. Far off the 50/50 pace he was shooting for after the 2011 season. He’s got a ton of talent, but his speed and power may not return after all his injuries. He’s truly a wildcard now. Andre Ethier will be the other part of the 5/6 tandem in the order. He’s got the ability to hit 260+ with around 15 HR, depending on how much he plays. With Crawford hurt, he’s playing a lot. And with Kemp’s struggles, he may stay in the lineup when Crawford comes back. Beyond those two the Dodgers have re-signed Juan Uribe to play third. In 132 games last year he hit 278 with 12 HR and 50 RBI. He’s a better hitter than people realize, though the AVG will likely come down. Expect 15 HR from him and some RBI production. He’s hurt now, so the Dodgers are using a lot of Justin Turner. I put A.J. Ellis 7th. Ellis is a 250 hitter with 10 HR power. Which is fine for a catcher. The Dodgers signed Alexander Guerrero to play second in the future. Guerrero is another Cuban defector who is a great hitter. He’s a natural shortstop and his defense at second isn’t great right now. They were worried they’d need him in the majors, but Dee Gordon has re-emerged and enabled Guerrero to say in the minors, adjusting to professional ball and his new position. Gordon has been a huge surprise this season, playing great ball and locking up the leadoff spot. He’s come back down to earth some as the season has marched on, but he’s still hitting 274 and getting on at a 321 clip. And he’s swiped 36 bags. That’s the offense. Very loaded, but with some question marks due to health. However they also have plenty of options with Crawford and Guerrero waiting in the wings.
The defense looks okay. Adrian Gonzalez is a former Gold Glover at first and there are 2 shortstops in the middle infield, which bodes well. Uribe isn’t great defensively at third, but Hanley Ramirez is better than advertised with his defense at short. In the outfield, Carl Crawford is great in left, just lacks a powerful arm. Kemp is a good defensive center fielder, but not great. Puig has great speed and a rocket, but makes a lot of mistakes in right. Ethier is dependable in center, but also not great. However he’s very good in right. So while the defense overall isn’t exquisite, it will get the job done. And with these pitchers and this offense, the Dodgers should be fine.
Their pitching is in good shape with the best pitcher in baseball atop their rotation. Clayton Kershaw won another Cy Young last year after going 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA and 232 Ks in 236 IP. His ERA and K numbers were the best in the league. And with numbers like that, you expect more than the 16 Wins. I think he’ll get more this year, though pitching wins are a bit of a wildcard. But expect another season of 200+ IP and Ks with good health (which he hasn’t had all year), not to mention a sub 3 ERA. And that should be good for 15+ Wins. Zack Greinke is the number 2 starter for the Dodgers, and he’s good enough to be an ace on any team. He went 15-4 last season with a 2.63 ERA. And he did all that in only 28 starts. He is an absolute ace with a 234 BAA and 1.11 WHIP to go with 148 Ks in 177 IP. His K totals have dropped in recent years and he wasn’t completely healthy last year. But he should still be a lock for a 200 IP, 170+ K and sub-3 ERA campaign with around 15 Wins again, assuming good health. So they have two legitimate aces at the top of the rotation, and lots of quality arms behind them. Hyun-jin Ryu was phenomenal in his first season out of Korea. He went 14-8 with an ERA right at 3 for the NL West Champs last year. He logged 192 IP with a WHIP that was below the league AVG and a BAA right around the average at 252. He puts some runners on, but did a good job stranding those runs. He may struggle a bit more this year as hitters learn more about him, but he looks like a quality starter, good for a sub 4 ERA and another 200 IP campaign. And that’s his floor with his ceiling considerably higher. The Dodgers signed Dan Haren to come in and be their fourth starter. The veteran struggled with the Nationals last year, going 10-14 with a 4.67 ERA. All his numbers were up from his career norms, but his WHIP was still around league average. If he can give up fewer long balls (and a move to Chavez Ravine will help that) and just give the Dodgers some competitive innings, he should be in for double digit wins and probably an ERA closer to 4. I don’t think he’s going to earn 200 Ks anymore, but he’s a wily veteran with great success. He knows how to pitch. The 5 spot belongs to Josh Beckett but as a 5th starter, the expectations for him are considerably reduced. He missed the early part of the season but came back pitching great and has already gotten himself a no-hitter this year. Eventually the Dodgers will get Chad Billingsley back from Tommy John surgery. Who knows what he’ll produce, but to have 2 strong starting options for the last spot of your rotation is a great luxury. In addition, veteran Paul Maholm can spot start and be the long man out of the bullpen. And that bullpen is stacked. It features Kenley Jansen, who was in the top 5 of reliever strikeouts last year and looks to be a future star closer. He turned in a 1.88 ERA last year with a 177 BAA. Many consider him to be the second best closer in baseball, behind only Craig Kimbrel. To set up, they have a former All Star closer in former Giant Brian Wilson, who is working on pairing a knuckleball with his heat. Chris Perez was an All Star closer in Cleveland, signed to be middle reliever with LA. Brandon League was a good closer in Seattle 2 years ago. He started as the closer last year, but lost the job due to ineffectiveness. He’s still around. That’s 3 former closers supporting the current closer and other quality arms including Maholm and J.P. Howell. As with all other areas of the club, the bullpen is loaded with lots of options.
The Dodgers are the best team on paper in their division. They won the division last year and have to be considered the frontrunners this year. Their future isn’t as bright, as they made a lot of trades to win now. But they seem to have a good chance to do that, so it was probably a worthwhile trade. They have 2 studs in the rotation and great depth beyond them. Their offense is among the best in baseball. And their bullpen is possibly the deepest in the game. While other teams in this division are good, I see no reason to pick against the team that is absolutely the best. I know they’ve come out of the gate slowly this year and they are having locker room issues. But they went through this last year and got it under control. I think they will again this year, and as the most talented team on paper I have a lot of trouble picking against them. I have the Dodgers winning the division and making some serious noise in the playoffs.