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2016 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 2016 season. Next up: The Los Angeles Dodgers.

There are always so many expectations when it comes to the Dodgers. Expectations attributable primarily to the team’s payroll, but not solely. You could, if you really tried to, put together a bad $200 million team I suppose. The Dodgers have put together a pretty good one for a few years in a row now, and those good teams have won three straight NL West titles. There have been flaws, of course, and their continue to be flaws, but it seems like the Dodgers will continue to be relevant, if not favorites, in the West for some time.

The lineup returns fully intact from the end of last year, and there is talent there, but the Dodgers will need some underachieving players to live up to their potential and some younger players to take a step forward.

The core of veterans — Adrian Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick and Justin Turner — were solid and at times spectacular last year, but they are all getting up there in years. That means that the younger talent is more significant than ever. If Yasiel Puig isn’t healthy, productive and distraction-free, L.A. is already in a hole. If Joc Pederson doesn’t show that his miserable second half from 2015 was an anomaly there are bigger problems. The biggest change will be Corey Seager replacing Jimmy Rollins at shortstop. He is widely considered to be the top prospect in all of baseball and lived up to the hype in his September call-up last season, hitting.337/.425/.561 with four homers, 17 RBI and a pair of stolen bases in 113 plate appearances. He doesn’t need to be that good for the Dodgers to win the division, but he needs to be solid. He probably will be.

The upside of this lineup is pretty spectacular and there is a lot of depth there in the form of Carl Crawford, Scott Van Slyke, Enrique Hernandez, Chase Utley, and A.J. Ellis. It will give new manager Dave Roberts a lot fewer headaches, however, if he can count on Puig, Pederson, Seager and Gonzalez to carry the load.

Indeed, everyone in that lineup needs to be solid because there are some serious questions in the rotation right now. Best Pitcher on the Planet Clayton Kershaw is not one of them, obviously, nor is closer Kenley Jansen. Losing Zack Greinke, however, was a major blow, as was the rash of injuries suffered by other starters. Brett Anderson is gone for months. One of the guys counted on to be in the rotation, Mike Bolsinger, will start the year on the DL as well. Brandon Beachy has experienced some elbow problems and given is health history that has to be scary. Scott Kazmir was brought in to shore things up, but he was shaky in the second half last year and some have questions about his durability. At some point Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy will return, and newcomer Kenta Maeda is an intriguing addition, but in the meantime it will Kershaw and four days of — wait, it never rains in southern California.

There’s a new attitude in L.A. with Dave Roberts in camp. There is oodles of talent on this roster. But the rotation beyond Kershaw is a concern and betting on all of the Dodgers’ young players to step up while the older guys experience little if any decline is not exactly a sure thing. I think the Dodgers will be a good team this year, and for now I think they’re still the favorites in the division, but they’ll be in a battle with the Giants and the Diamondbacks all year long.

Prediction: First place N.L. West, but expect a dogfight.

Shohei Ohtani no longer facing Masahiro Tanaka on Sunday at Yankee Stadium

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Shohei Ohtani has essentially become the Angels’ designated Sunday starting pitcher, but Angels manager Mike Scioscia announced Thursday morning that the 23-year-old two-way Japanese star will be skipped in the rotation this weekend at Yankee Stadium for “workload management” purposes.

Ohtani is fine to continue hitting, so there’s no sense of any physical ailment.

This decision will rob us — and the Japanese media — of a showdown between Ohtani and countrymate Masahiro Tanaka. And for that we are rather devastated, but you can understand the Angels’ concerns about overuse.

Ohtani has registered a 3.35 ERA, 1.066 WHIP, and 52/14 K/BB ratio through his first 40 1/3 innings (seven starts) as a major league pitcher and he’s slashing .308/.364/.582 with six home runs and 19 RBI in 26 games as a part-time DH.