2014 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 2014 season. Next up: The Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Big Question: Can the deep-pocketed Dodgers be stopped?

After a midseason turnaround led to 92 wins and a trip to the NLCS last year, the Dodgers had a relatively quiet offseason, at least in terms of bringing in outside talent. Sure, they locked up 2013 NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw with a monster seven-year, $215 million extension to and re-signed Juan Uribe for two years and $15 million, but their two biggest additions were right-hander Dan Haren (one year, $10 million) and Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero (four years, $28 million). While they recently signed another Cuban infielder, Erisbel Arruebarrena, to a five-year, $25 million contract, he’s not expected to contribute in the majors right away. The truth is that they didn’t need to do much in the way of tweaking, because they were already in pretty good shape.

We heard rumors over the winter about the Dodgers potentially trading one of their outfielders, but they ended up hanging on to all of them. Given the injury histories of Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford, that’s probably for the best. The lineup has some potential weak spots between second base, third base, and catcher, but there are plenty of impact bats here. Hanley Ramirez was one of the best hitters in the game when healthy last year and Yasiel Puig was an absolute dynamo after his call-up. Adrian Gonzalez hasn’t surpassed 30 home runs since 2011, but he’s still a solid run producer.

Even though the Dodgers were unable to land Masahiro Tanaka, the rotation is looking potent once again with Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu leading the way. Kenley Jansen has emerged as one of the best closers in the majors and bridge to the ninth inning should be stronger this year with full seasons from both Brian Wilson and Paco Rodriguez. Chris Withrow and J.P. Howell will be back in the bullpen and Chris Perez and Jamey Wright were both added to the fold over the winter. Oh, and Brandon League is still collecting a paycheck.

With a payroll well above $200 million, anything short of the World Series will likely be considered a disappointment. Who knows if the Dodgers can get there, as the playoffs are often a crapshoot, but all signs point to them being a forced to be reckoned with once again.

What else is going on?  

  • Matt Kemp is a big question mark as he makes his way back from ankle surgery. He was recently cleared to increase some baseball activities after an MRI showed proper healing, but he’s not expected to be ready for the start of the season and might not even make an appearance during Cactus League play. With Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, and Andre Ethier in place, the Dodgers don’t have to rush things. Still, a healthy and productive Kemp would make them even scarier.
  • The Dodgers would love for Alexander Guerrero to run away with the starting second base job, but he’s had some issues adjusting to the position and there’s some chatter that he could begin the season in the minors in order to get comfortable. However, if he keeps doing things like this, it’ll be tough to send him down. The possible alternatives at second base include Dee Gordon, Chone Figgins, Justin Turner, Miguel Rojas, and Brendan Harris, which makes the decision to let Mark Ellis walk a little questionable. The Dodgers certainly could have afforded him, even in an insurance role. He’s essentially doing the same thing for the Cardinals right now.
  • Josh Beckett was limited to just eight starts last year prior to undergoing surgery to relieve thoracic outlet syndrome, a procedure which involved having a rib removed to relieve pressure on a nerve which caused numbness in his arms and fingers. The good news is that he hasn’t had any issues this spring and projects to begin the season as the team’s No. 5 starter. The Dodgers have alternatives if things go wrong, as Paul Maholm was added over the winter for depth purposes and Chad Billingsley could be ready to return from Tommy John before the All-Star break.
  • What does Yasiel Puig have in store for an encore? With his all-out style and flair, the 23-year-old outfielder was the talk of baseball as a rookie last year, hitting .319/.391/.534 with 19 home runs, 42 RBI, and 11 stolen bases in 104 games. The Dodgers (and some opponents) would like to see him dial things back somewhat, but you take the good with the bat with this type of talent. Unfortunately, his style of play does put him at a greater risk for injury, which is something to watch this season.
  • Much was made of Don Mattingly’s job status last season and in the aftermath of their loss in the NLCS, but the situation should be less of a distraction now that he has received a contract extension through 2016. Of course, that could always change if the Dodgers flop.

Prediction: I could see the Giants, Diamondbacks, and Padres all competing for a Wild Card spot this season, but the Dodgers are the most well-rounded team here and they have the resources to upgrade as the season moves along. They deserve to be considered heavy favorites to win the division for a second straight year. No surprises here. First place, NL West.

Miguel Sano fouls a ball off his shin, so a columnist slams him for his weight

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As Bill wrote last night, the Twins have placed third baseman Miguel Sano on the 10-day disabled list with a stress reaction in his left shin. He sustained the injury Friday after he fouled a ball off of his leg, attempted to play through it, and left the game on Saturday when the pain became too great.

That’s baseball, though, right? Sometimes you foul a ball off your foot or your shin or something. Stuff happens and you just gotta accept it. Unless, of course, you’re Jim Souhan, columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, in which case you use it as a pretext for going after Sano for his weight:

Souhan acknowledges that Sano injured himself with the foul ball and says that he’s not fat-shaming him. He says he’s merely concerned about him and how well a man of his size can recover from injuries. Maybe that would wash for most columnists, but it doesn’t for Souhan, who has made it his business over the years to treat illness and injuries of sports figures as moral failings and evidence of poor character.

His most famous target has been Joe Mauer, who he has slammed as “fragile” for years, arguing that he was coddled for missing time and losing effectiveness to a concussion — a concussion! — which he compared to “a bruise.” Given that Souhan had a front row seat for a concussion all but destroying the career of Justin Morneau you’d think he’d have a bit more empathy about that, but apparently not. Then again, this is a guy who once wrote that the University of Minnesota football coach should be fired because he has epilepsy, so empathy is not his strong suit.

And so it is with Sano. A guy injured with a foul ball which, apparently, makes him deserving of a sermon about watching his weight. It’s a column I would bet Souhan has had written and saved for months, hoping he could use it in the event Sano went on the disabled list for some conditioning-related ailment or a pulled muscle or something, but which had to be pressed into service for this occasion.

It’s practically pathological. And it’s sad.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Tigers 6, Dodgers 1: Justin Verlander dominated the Dodgers, allowing one run on two hits over eight innings, snapping their six-game winning streak. Audition for Verlander? He lives in L.A. in the offseason and would waive his 10-5 rights to play there, I imagine. Not that the Dodgers really need any help.

Royals 7, Indians 4:  Cheslor Cuthbert homered and drove in three runs for the Royals. Between him and Whit Merrifield, Kansas City has more guys with names that sound like they belong to prep school bad guys from a 1980s snobs vs. slobs movie than any team in baseball history. Add Cam Gallagher to that list. He drove in a run too. Afterwards they had a meeting to try to figure out just how they keep losing to the nerd fraternity/poor kid camp/random band of neighborhood misfits in whatever improbable sporting event they’re all competing in. Thing is, they’ll never figure it out AND the nerds/poor kids are gonna steal their girlfriends. Sad.

Angels 5, Orioles 4:  Kole Calhoun and Andrelton Simmons homered and Cameron Maybin drove in the go-ahead run with a pinch-hit single in the eighth. The Angels have won nine of 11. Orioles pitchers issued nine walks. Yep, the Angels walked nine times.

 

Braves 8, Reds 1: Atlanta rode a six-run fifth inning to victory and that inning was powered largely by a Tyler Flowers grand slam. Braves starter Sean Newcomb tossed five shutout innings, allowing five hits but also walking five guys which is sort of what he does. I don’t have a “five times” GIF.

Twins 12, Diamondbacks 5: The Twins scored nine runs in the first — yes, they scored NINE TIMES — thanks in part to an Eddie Rosario grand slam. Per baseball rules, a forfeited game is scored 9-0 in favor of the winning team. The Dbacks shoulda just thrown in the towel after the first inning and hopped their flight to New York a lot earlier. Really, playing out the rest of this one had to pale compared to 2-3 extra hours to do stuff in New York. In other news, Bartolo Colon won his third game in five starts for the Twins. It’s his first ever win over the Dbacks, which was the last team he had never beaten.

Marlins 6, Mets 4: Giancarlo Stanton hit a three-run homer, turning a 2-1 game into a 5-1 game. It was his 45th dinger of the year. Adam Conley backed him up by allowing one run over seven innings and striking out 11 before the Marlins bullpen got a bit roughed up, but they held on. The Mets have lost six of nine, which is not nice.

Rays 3, Mariners 0: Blake Snell tossed seven shutout innings, allowing only two hits. Kevin Kiermaier homered. He went 5-for-12 with a couple knocked in on his first weekend back following a two-month absence, so he definitely landed on his feet. Seattle took two of three from the Rays, however, and remains one and a half games back of the Angels and Twins for the second Wild Card. Tampa Bay is four back.

Red Sox 5, Yankees 1Jackie Bradley Jr. drove in three with an RBI triple and an RBI single and Rick Porcello and three relievers allowed only one run on three hits. Boston extends its lead over New York to five games after taking two of three from the Yankees.

Athletics 3, Astros 2: How are things going for the Astros lately? Like this, mostly:

That’s how two of the A’s three runs scored. The third: on a passed ball. Woof.

Cubs 6, Blue Jays 5: It was tied 3-3 heading into the 10th inning and then the Jays scored two. Most times that’d be enough to win an extra innings game — in fact, per ESPN, teams with multi-run leads in extra innings were 50-0 this season before yesterday — but the Cubs scored three, with one coming in on a wild pitch and two coming in on Alex Avila‘s walkoff single. Two of the Cubs base runners that frame reached on strikeout/wild pitch combinations too. Not an inning Roberto Osuna will remember fondly.

White Sox 3, Rangers 2: Miguel Gonzalez shut the Rangers out for six and two relievers made it eight shutout innings in all. Texas made it close in the ninth thanks to a two-run homer from Rougned Odor, but it was too little too late. Tyler Saladino doubled in two runs for Chicago in their three-run fourth inning, Omar Narvaez singled in the other one.

Brewers 8, Rockies 4Jesus Aguilar hit two homers, driving in three and scored three times. Keon Broxton knocked in a couple of runs with a single. Chase Anderson allowed one run and two hits in five innings in his first start since late June.

Phillies 5, Giants 2: Pedro Florimon doubled in a run early and hit two-run single late to give the Phillies the lead. Rhys Hoskins homered for some insurance in the ninth, his fifth in 11 games. If you’re really bad, having one young kid come up late in the year and look good is a pretty decent silver lining on that cloud. No word what the Giants are doing for silver linings these days.

Nationals 4, Padres 1: Gio Gonzalez allowed one run on five hits — all singles — and struck out eight in six and two-thirds. Daniel Murphy drove in two of the Nats four runs. The Nats took three of four from San Diego.

Pirates 6, Cardinals 3: Josh Bell homered and drove in four runs in the first ever Little League Classic, which took place on a converted Little League field in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, not far from the Little League World Series. Coolest part, aside from the fact that the players all hung out with Little Leaguers all day and the Little Leaguers getting front row seats at the game: after it was over, the major leaguers lined up on the field and did the “good game” high five line, just like you did when you were 12. The highlights, with the handshake at the end: