2015 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 2015 season. Next up: The Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Big Question: Will the revamped front office put the Dodgers over the top?

After losing in the NLCS in 2013, the Dodgers won their second straight NL West title last season before being ousted by the Cardinals during the NLDS. It was bitterly disappointing, especially to see the division rival Giants go on to win the World Series, but such is life with the randomness of the playoffs. However, rather than stand pat and hope for better luck in 2015, the Dodgers decided to shake things up by reassigning GM Ned Colletti and giving big money to Andrew Friedman to lure him from the Rays. Friedman, who was hired as president of baseball operations, then brought on Farhan Zaidi from the A’s to serve as general manager and made a host of other changes throughout the organization.

Friedman and Zaidi were accustomed to making the most out of limited resources with their former organizations, so being free from these shackles allowed them to not only improve around the margins with their new team but also make some bold moves. After letting free agent Hanley Ramirez walk, the Dodgers remade their middle infield by acquiring Jimmy Rollins and cashing in on Dee Gordon’s big 2014 to get Andrew Heaney as a chip for Howie Kendrick. They flipped Matt Kemp to the Padres and landed a new primary catcher (Yasmani Grandal) in the process. They threw money at risk with the backend of their rotation by signing Brandon McCarthy to a four-year, $48 million contract, Brett Anderson to a one-year, $10 million deal and the rehabbing Brandon Beachy for $2.75 million. The Dodgers will pay $30.5 million (between Kemp, Dan Haren, and Gordon) for players who aren’t playing for them this season. Talk about a different world.

This is a lot of turnover for a roster that already had some great pieces in place. Clayton Kershaw, with three Cy Young Awards in the last four seasons, is the undisputed best pitcher on the planet. Meanwhile, Zack Greinke has been excellent during his first two seasons in Los Angeles and Hyun-Jin Ryu has gone underappreciated since coming stateside. Yasiel Puig is one of the most talented and exciting players in the game today and will likely face more pressure to be the face of this offense with Kemp and Ramirez elsewhere. Fortunately, Adrian Gonzalez is a durable and consistent force in the middle of the lineup.

Barring something unexpected, like an injury to Kershaw, it’s hard to not see the Dodgers as the overwhelming favorite to win their third straight NL West crown. Perhaps the gambles in the backend of the starting rotation won’t work out, but they have the prospect depth and the money to make a trade if an in-season upgrade is necessary. However, the great unknown of October lingers. And no front office change or player acquisition can bring certainty.

What else is going on?

  • The dynamic between Don Mattingly and the new Dodgers’ front office will be fascinating to follow. After Friedman joined the Dodgers and Joe Maddon opted out of his contract with the Rays, many immediately assumed that they would be reunited in Los Angeles. However, the Dodgers stood behind Don Mattingly while Maddon ended up with the Cubs. Still, Mattingly wasn’t chosen by them. He was a holdover. Mattingly has never been vocal about his use of analytics in the past, but he said back in January that “you’re a fool” if you’re not using them as part of your decision making. He’s talking the talk, which is a good idea for a person who wants to keep his job, but we’ll have to see if he meshes with the new regime.
  • Kenley Jansen underwent surgery in mid-February to remove a growth from his left foot and is expected to miss the first month of the season. Some speculated that the Dodgers would throw money at Francisco Rodriguez (who eventually signed with the Brewers) or Rafael Soriano (who is still a free agent), but they appear content to rely on internal options to fill in. Joel Peralta was acquired from the Rays over the winter and figures to be in the mix, but keep an eye on Chris Hatcher. Hatcher, who came over to the Dodgers in the Gordon trade, is another former catcher (like Jansen) and quietly posted a 3.38 ERA and 60/12 K/BB ratio across 56 innings last season. There’s some uncertainty with this situation, but they should be able to get by for a month.
  • Juan Uribe currently projects to be the regular third baseman if he’s healthy, but the Dodgers are one of the teams who have been linked to Cuban free agent infielder Hector Olivera. In fact, they reportedly made a $77 million offer before Olivera switched agents. Who knows if that offer was legitimate — he’d probably already be a Dodger by now if that was true — but clearly they like him. He’s 29 and was one of the best hitters in Cuba, so he could be ready to make an impact in the majors right away.
  • While Andre Ethier is on the outside looking in for playing time, rookie Joc Pederson is penciled in as the Dodgers’ regular center fielder this season. He turns 23 in April and is coming off a monster season in Triple-A where he batted .303/.435/.582 with 33 home runs and 30 stolen bases across 121 games. Baseball America recently ranked him as the No. 8 prospect in the game. He put up those numbers in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League and strikeouts are an issue for him, so expect some growing pains, but he should be exciting to watch.
  • Zack Greinke is guaranteed $71 million from 2016-2018, but he has the ability to opt out of his contract after this season and test the free agent market. He would almost certainly fetch more if his 2015 is anything close to his first two seasons in Los Angeles. From that perspective, the Dodgers likely won’t be upset if it works out that way. And heck, they certainly have the money to bring him back if they want.
  • Vin Scully is back in the booth for his 66th season, which is a treat for all baseball fans. Don’t take him for granted.

Prediction: The Dodgers will win the NL West handily.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Mets 6, Nationals 4: Carlos Gómez hit the big blast here, socking an eighth inning, go-ahead three-run homer. This after the Nats themselves had come behind following Dave Martinez getting ejected. Maybe there’s something to the whole idea of the Nats playing better without Martinez, but it’s trumped by the unreliability of the Washington bullpen, who would probably even make Casey Stengel look bad. So it would seem, at the moment anyway, the conditions for testing that idea are scientifically are not optimal. Washington should probably fix both of those things, though. Maybe they’ll have something if the season is not already lost by now.

Now let’s watch Carlos Gomez (a) lose his shoe running first to third; and (b) be all Carlos Gomez-y on that home run trot:

Pirates 14, Rockies 6: Pittsburgh was leading 8-0 when the Rockies put up a six-run sixth to make things interesting, but a big seventh featuring homers from Josh BellBryan Reynolds and Starling Marte put things back out of reach. Josh Bell on the season: .339/.408/.718 and he’s on pace for 55 homers and 162 RBI. Holy Moly.

Yankees 6, Orioles 5: New York took a 5-1 lead into the eighth and it looked like another cakewalk, but the O’s at least made it interesting with a four-run eighth to tie things up. Brandon Hyde sent reliever Mychal Givens out for the top of the ninth and . . . it didn’t go well. Well, it went well at first, as Givens struck out the first two batters he faced. Then:

If I’m an Orioles fan I suppose I’m happy that game-losing rally didn’t come via even more dinger — at least in the ninth; Clint Frazier and Luke Voit homered earlier — but I suppose that’s cold comfort. Hell, at this point of the season if I’m an Orioles fan I probably want dingers because the infamy of shattering the all-time single season home runs allowed record is gonna be a season highlight. Of sorts.

Red Sox 8, Blue Jays 2: Close for the first two thirds of the game but, unfortunately for the Jays, we usually play three-thirds in this game. Boston scored two in the sixth, one each in the seventh and eighth and then opened up with a three-run ninth to make this one not-so-close. Sox starter Ryan Weber allowed one run over six to give a breather to a bullpen which pitched in a thirteen inning game the night before and Steve Pearce homered and had three RBI. The highlight of the game, though, came from a Jays player. Watch Vlad Jr. through out Rafael Devers from his butt:

Marlins 5, Tigers 2: Make it six straight wins for the Marlins. This one was particularly fun for the Fish and particularly gutting for the Tigers, as Detroit took a 2-0 lead into the ninth only to see reliever Shane Greene cough up all five of the runs Miami would score on the day. First an RBI single to Neil Walker to made it 2-1. A few batters later Ron Gardenhire intentionally walked Curtis Granderson to load the bases, setting up Garrett Cooper for his two-out grand slam. Cooper hit his first big league dinger on Wednesday, so I guess he’s getting the hang of this game. That’s nine straight losses for Detroit. Could’ve been ten as they were trailing in a game against Oakland last weekend that got suspended. Of course it probably feels like 25.

Phillies 9, Cubs 7: Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto homered and Andrew McCutchen had two hits and two RBI as a fairly wild series ends up in a split. Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber homered for Chicago but Jon Lester was kinda shaky. Philly has won five of seven.

Braves 5, Giants 4: Austin Riley hit a game-tying home run in the eighth and then drove in the go-ahead run in the 13th with an RBI single. The kid just got called up nine days ago but he’s already got five homers in those nine games while hitting .389/.421/.833. Someone tell him this game at that easy. Riley and Ozzie Albies each had three hits and Tyler Flowers homered too. The Braves have won 10 of 13 and have pulled to within a game and a half of Philly.

Twins 16, Angels 7: The Angels probably would’ve preferred another rainout. No dice, though, and as it was they gave up eight — 8! VIII! — homers to the Twins. Four of those were surrendered by Matt Harvey, who couldn’t get out of the third inning and whose ERA ballooned to 7.50 on the season. So, um, yeah, that whole experiment has not worked out too well. As for the dingers: Miguel Sanó and Jonathan Schoop went deep twice while C.J. Cron, Max KeplerJorge Polanco and Eddie Rosario had a homer a piece. It was the second time this year Minnesota hit eight homers in a game. The Twins are on pace for 324 homers. The all-time record was set by the Yankees last year with 267. Minnesota is likewise only the second team to hit eight homers in a game twice in a season. The last was the 2005 Rangers. Which, yeah, every game these days sort of feels like old Rangers games. Not that that’s really a compliment, aesthetically speaking. Indeed, longtime readers will know that I tend to default to “1990s-2000s Rangers” as a shorthand for rather boring, offense-heavy baseball. Not that Twins fans should mind, of course.

Rays 7, Indians 2: The “highlight” of this one was a Kevin Kiermaeir inside-the-park homer which was, in reality, a real drag of a play given that it only happened because Tribe outfielders Oscar Mercado and Leonys Martín slammed into each other and got hurt:

Each of the outfielders would stay in the game, thankfully. Both for their own sake and because the Indians are probably one injury or cold streak away from activating Cory Snyder or Albert Belle or someone to play outfield. The Rays got more conventional homers from Tommy Pham, Avisail García and Willy Adames.

White Sox 4, Astros 0: Lucas Giolio went the distance, spinning a four-hit shutout while striking out nine to help the Chisox earn a series split. That’s two straight complete games for Giolito. The last one was a rain-shortened four and a half inning number, but CGs are rare these days. He should own it.