Thursday, March 26, 2015

2015 Pre-Season Profile: Los Angeles Dodgers

If championships were won on paper, the Los Angeles Dodgers would currently be working on a dynasty.  Instead they have been a team that has had a string of disappointing seasons because the expectations have been, "World Series or bust."  Will anything change in 2015?

Last Season
94-68, 1st in NL West, Lost to Cardinals in NLDS

After a season that saw them finish with one of the best records in baseball led by the best pitcher on the planet, the Dodgers once again came up short in the playoffs.  Playing St. Louis in the postseason is never a blueprint of success, but when they touched up Clayton Kershaw for 8 earned runs in Game 1 of the NLDS, everyone knew the Dodgers were done.  For many teams out there, this finish would still be viewed as a good season.  They won 90+ games, their roster had the NL Cy Young and NL MVP (both Clayton Kershaw), and they were upended by one of the best postseason teams of the last decade.  It is nothing to hang your head about, unless you are the Dodgers.  Over the last few years, the Dodgers have become the NL version of the Yankees, compiling what appears to be an All Star team year after year.  To not even reach a World Series since 1988 is a stat that needs to change in the next year or two for everyone to keep their jobs.

2015 Additions / Subtractions

The problem with having an All Star roster every year is knowing when and where changes are needed.  The Dodgers were quite active in tweaking their roster to try and find a way to take that next step.  Hanley Ramirez left in free agency, Josh Beckett retired, while Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, and Matt Kemp were traded away.  Joining the Dodgers in 2015 are Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick, Yasmani Grandal, and Brandon McCarthy.  For the most part, the theme seemed to be veteran leadership that are proven winners that can lead the current stars and mentor the young phenoms.

Most Important Hitter
Jimmy Rollins

Jimmy Rollins is far from the player that won the NL MVP in 2007, however his name still garners the respect of a consummate professional.  Coming over from the Phillies, Rollins will be slated in as the Dodgers' new leadoff hitter and will be expected to produce, maybe not at his 2007 level, but definitely at a high level.  Having Rollins be that strong table setter would be just what the offense needs to be elite this year.  If Rollins shows more age than greatness, don't be surprised to see him be benched or released in favor of 20 year-old super prospect Corey Seager.  The pressure is definitely on for Jimmy Rollins to produce.

Most Important Pitcher
Brandon McCarthy

The top of the Dodger rotation is set with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-jin Ryu (once he is healthy) filling the top three spots in the rotation.  Brandon McCarthy has been brought in this year and is being counted on to anchor the back half of the staff vacated by Beckett and Haren.  McCarthy has had an up and down career.  It appears that when he finds the right situation, like Oakland and the Yankees, he has a great deal of success.  When in the wrong situation, like Texas and Arizona, he struggles.  The question is which category will the Dodgers fit into?  Everyone is counting on the former rather than the latter.

Player to Watch
Joc Pederson

As much as I would love to place Corey Seager in this spot, there is no guarantee he will see significant time this season.  Joc Pederson, on the other hand, will start in centerfield on Opening Day.  The Dodgers' #3 prospect, and's #14 prospect overall, gave the Dodgers the confidence that they could move on from Matt Kemp and put Andre Ethier on the trade market or the bench.  Not only is he a player to watch, but the Dodgers are counting on him to live up to his hype this season.  In another "World Series or bust" season, they do not have the time to be patient.

1st in NL West, lose in World Series
(yes, I just went a whole Dodger preview article without mentioning Yasiel Puig ... it can be done)

I think this is the year the Dodgers get over the hump and make it to the World Series.  Their roster appears to be a good balance of veteran leadership and youthful energy.  I see guys like Howie Kendrick and especially Jimmy Rollins (a future big league manager I'm sure) bringing a veteran leadership the clubhouse may have been missing in years past.  As long as Don Mattingly either finds a way to manage the crowded outfield properly or the front office makes some moves to uncrowd it for him, the Dodgers will be back in the position they were last year.  If they are, I wouldn't bet on Clayton Kershaw having a postseason performance like he did in 2014.  He will lead them to the World Series, but not quite all the way to the Promised Land.  However, taking that next step forward will make them even hungrier for the next season, as long as the front office continues to freshen up the lineup every year.

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