2013 Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Big Question: Will the big spending lead the Dodgers back to the postseason?

It’s a new world in MLB and the Dodgers are playing by their own rules. While the mighty Yankees are making plans to get under the luxury tax threshold, that’s not a concern for the new ownership group in Los Angeles. The Dodgers are projected to have a payroll around $225 million this season, the highest in major league history. Having a new $7 billion cable deal helps.

After adding big names like Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett in trades last season, the Dodgers signed Zack Greinke to a six-year, $147 million contract over the winter and committed $61.7 million to sign Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu. But for all the spending, the Dodgers still have their fair share of questions.

After ranking 26th in runs scored last season, the offense should be better, but by how much? Matt Kemp is coming off shoulder surgery while Crawford is still rehabbing his elbow following Tommy John surgery. Adrian Gonzalez is healthy by all accounts, but he hasn’t shown much power since his shoulder surgery two offseasons ago. Luis Cruz has a lot to prove after playing well in a small sample last year. And yes, Andre Ethier still can’t hit lefties.

Clayton Kershaw is arguably the game’s best starting pitcher, ranking second in the majors in ERA and first in WHIP and strikeouts over the past two seasons. Greinke’s upside is obvious, but it looks like he’ll get a late start to the season following a sore elbow. Beckett had better results after coming over from the Red Sox last season and should benefit with a full season in the easier league. However, things get a little dicey after that. Ryu is an unknown quantity and hasn’t been overly impressive this spring. The Dodgers are hoping that the ulnar collateral ligament in Chad Billingsley’s elbow will hold up, but they have Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly in reserve in case things go awry.

It’s easy to envision a scenario where the Dodgers run away with things in the National League West, but like with any team, there are also ways that things could go wrong here. Injuries. Underperformance. It happens. This is baseball. Still, the pressure will be on after they came up short last year. If the Dodgers aren’t playing in October, manager Don Mattingly will likely be out of a job.

What else is going on? 

  • The Dodgers’ spending hasn’t been exclusive to the talent on the field. They have also directed roughly $100 million in improvements to Dodger Stadium, including the return of hexagonal scoreboards, upgrades to the sound system, bathrooms, and concourses, the construction of a new clubhouse for players and bullpen overlooks which will create standing-room views for the game. Much-needed upgrades for a stadium which is now the third oldest in the majors behind Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.
  • Can Luis Cruz keep the starting third base job? There’s reason to be skeptical. After hitting just .261/.296/.394 over 12 seasons in the minor leagues, the 29-year-old delivered a surprising .297/.332/.431 batting line in 78 games with the Dodgers last season. The crash back to Earth could be ugly. Moving Hanley Ramirez back to third base (where he likely belongs) could give Dee Gordon another chance at shortstop, but the young speedster still carries plenty of questions of his own.
  • After posting a 2.30 ERA in 28 appearances after coming over from the Mariners last July, Brandon League was retained this winter on a three-year, $22.5 million deal and is expected to open the season as the Dodgers’ closer. The contract is questionable enough, but Kenley Jansen is the best pitcher in this bullpen if healthy. The contract probably gives League some job security out of the gate, but with the Dodgers determined to win now, don’t be surprised if there’s a change at some point.
  • With all the money flying out the door, when will Kershaw get his piece of the pie? The soon-to-be 25-year-old is under team control through 2014, but there is mutual interest in getting a long-term extension done. He remains the best bet to be the game’s first $200 million pitcher.
  • Vin Scully, 85, is set to begin his 64th season of announcing Dodgers games. Enjoy it.

Prediction: It should be a close race with the Giants, but I have the Dodgers in second place in the NL West. They will secure one of the two Wild Card spots, though.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Dodgers 12, Rockies 6: Cody Bellinger hit two homers and drove in four and now he’s slugging a ridiculous .679. He also made news over the weekend by saying that he did not know who Jerry Seinfeld was. I’ll have some more thoughts on that later this morning. In other news, Colorado blew an early 5-0 lead and a later 6-4 lead and the Dodgers piled it on late with three in the seventh and five in the eighth. Oh, and closer Kenley Jansen doubled, driving in a run. It was only his eighth plate appearance in his career. Of course, dude used to be a catcher, so he knows which end of the bat is which.

Twins 4, Indians 0: Last weekend the Indians swept the Twins in Minnesota and took over first place in the AL Central. This weekend the Twins sweep the Indians in Cleveland and took over first place in the AL Central. Which means that you can probably ignore that stuff I said about last week being a turning point or order being restored or whatever the hell else I said. Probably a good policy regardless. Ervin Santana tossed six shutout innings and Jason Castro drove in three of the four runs. The fourth came via an Eddie Rosario homer.

Rangers 7, Yankees 6: It was Old Timers Day at Yankee Stadium, and Whitey Ford, Ron Guidry and Sparky Lyle were all on hand. Too bad they didn’t stick around because the Yankees might’ve been better off with them on the bump for the game that counted. Texas scored six runs off of Michael Pineda in the first two innings and seven over four, thanks in parts to homers by Adrian Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo and Drew Robinson. The Yankees made it close, adding four in the fifth and two in the seventh, but they’d fall one short. Next time, give it to Whitey.

Blue Jays 8, Royals 2:  Jose Bautista homered and drove in four. Francisco Liriano allowed two runs on six hits while pitching into the seventh to pick up his 100th career victory. In other news, Jays closer Roberto Osuna struck out three in a scoreless ninth inning a day after saying he was dealing with anxiety issues. Everyone is fighting a battle you don’t know anything about. Good to see Osuna having a positive day as he fights his.

Marlins 4, Cubs 2: Addison Russell left with a pain in his shoulder and the Cubs lost a game they probably should’ve won. Three of Miami’s four runs were unearned following a first inning error by Russell and the Cubs managed to turn eight hits and seven walks into only two runs. A Giancarlo Stanton homer in the seventh gave the fish some insurance. Ichiro started in center field, by the way, becoming the oldest man to ever start a game at the 8. He was 43 years, 246 days old yesterday. Rickey Henderson had the previous record for a center field start, doing so on the day he was 43 years and 211 days old back in the 2002 season with the Red Sox.

Orioles 8, Rays 5: It was tied at five heading into the ninth when Caleb Joseph and Seth Smith reached base in front of Joey Rickard‘s tiebreaking double which scored Joseph. Smith came in to score when Jonathan Schoop was hit by a pitch. Then Rickard scored on an Adam Jones sac fly. Joseph, Trey Mancini and Schoop all homered for the Orioles.

Angels 4, Red Sox 2: A week ago Parker Bridwell and Doug Fister were in the same dugout for the Salt Lake City Bees. Yesterday they faced each other following Bridwell’s callup and Fister’s release and signing by the Sox. Bridwell got the better of Fister, allowing two runs while pitching into the seventh. Mitch Moreland and Jackie Bradley Jr. homered for the Sox in a losing cause.

Brewers 7, Braves 0: Zach Davies tossed seven shutout innings, but he didn’t need to be that good given what his teammates did to Julio Teheran. Keon Broxton hit a solo shot and drove in two with a single. Travis Shaw hit a two-run shot to kick off the scoring. The Brewers snap the Braves four-game winning streak and salvage one in the three-game series.

Reds 6, Nationals 2: The Reds got pummeled by the Nats on Saturday night but they came out swinging on Sunday, putting up five runs in the first. Scooter Gennett had an RBI single in the first and hit homered in the second. Scott Feldman allowed two runs over seven innings.

Athletics 5, White Sox 3: There were rumors last week that some contender might trade for Sony Gray and make him a reliever. Seems fine as a starter to me: he pitched four-hit ball over seven innings. Oakland trailed until the eighth but took the lead on Khris Davis and Yonder Alonso RBI singles. They padded the lead in the ninth with homers from Adam Rosales and Matt Joyce.

Mets 8, Giants 2: Rene Rivera hit two homers. Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson each went deep once. Slackers. Or maybe Bruce was just more efficient because he drove in the same number of runs Rivera did — three — with one fewer dinger. Baseball: it’s full of mysteries. Anyway, the Mets sweep the Giants, who have lost five in a row and 12 of 13.

Astros 8, Mariners 2George Springer, Yuli Gurriel and Evan Gattis all went deep as the Astros finish up a 6-1 road trip. Emergency starter Francis Martes had a rough go of it, but four relievers combined to shut out the Mariners on three hits for seven innings. These guys have the best record in the game and, like, 80% of their rotation is hurt. Pretty scary team.

Diamondbacks 2, Phillies 1Daniel Descalso hit a walkoff single, scoring Paul Goldschmidt in the 11th. Goldschmidt knocked in the snakes’ other run earlier in the game. Arizona has won 11 of 13

Tigers 7, Padres 5Mikie Mahtook drove in three runs via an RBI triple in the fourth and a tiebreaking two-run single in the ninth to help the Tigers end their eight game losing streak. The Padres blew 3-0 and 5-3 leads.

Cardinals 8, Pirates 4: Down 4-2 in the sixth, a Randal Grichuk homer and a Jed Gyorko RBI double tied things up and then a four-run seventh inning put things away. Four Cardinal relievers combining to allow only one hit over three scoreless innings helped put it away too.

Giancarlo Stanton will defend his Home Run Derby title

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The Marlins announced on Sunday that outfielder Giancarlo Stanton will defend his Home Run Derby title when the city of Miami host’s the All-Star Game festivities next month.

Stanton, 27, defeated Todd Frazier in the finals of last year’s Home Run Derby at Petco Park, hitting 20 home runs to Frazier’s 13. Stanton hit a total of 61 home runs in the Derby. This will be the third Home Run Derby in which Stanton has participated.

Stanton also went 1-for-3 with a solo home run to help the Marlins defeat the Cubs 4-2 on Sunday. He’s now batting .274/.357/.551 with 20 home runs and 49 RBI in 311 plate appearances.