Dodgers eager to defend World Series title in full season

Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler throwing
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Dodgers finally have something besides eight straight NL West titles to brag about. They head into this season’s full 162-game schedule as defending World Series champions, having ended a 32-year drought during the pandemic.

With the addition of right-hander Trevor Bauer, they’ve also got baseball’s best rotation that boasts three Cy Young Award winners. It’s also the biggest intrigue involving the team. Bauer, Walker Buehler and veteran Clayton Kershaw are locks to start.

David Price will make his Dodgers debut after opting out last season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it could come out of the bullpen. The former AL Cy Young Award winner has told the team he’s open to whatever role they need him in, and he could provide valuable left-handed relief.

If Price comes out of the `pen, Tony Gonsolin could be a starter, as well as Julio Urias, who has made a strong case to become a full-time starter with his spring performance.

Once again, the Dodgers boast tremendous depth and figure to platoon at various positions.

NEW LOOK

Bauer’s 1.73 ERA led the NL last season and he won the NL Cy Young with Cincinnati. After signing a $102 million, three-year deal in February, he’s already turned heads by pitching with one of his eyes closed in spring training. The Dodgers lost Joc Pederson and Kike Hernandez in free agency. Pederson’s time in the outfield will go to Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and AJ Pollock, and there are others who can fill in whenever needed. Hernandez’s presence on offense and defense, as well as his high spirits in the clubhouse, will be missed. But Zach McKinstry has had a strong spring and the utilityman can play second base, shortstop and center field. Former top prospect Gavin Lux figures to be a regular at second base and he gives the team a left-handed option in the lineup. Once again, Chris Taylor‘s versatility will have him all over the field, but he’ll also get time at second base.

OL’ RELIABLE

The Dodgers could give any number of aces on their staff the ball on opening day. But manager Dave Roberts chose three-time NL Cy Young Award winner Kershaw, who is set to start his franchise-record ninth opening day on April 1 at Colorado. Buehler and Bauer were under consideration, too. Kershaw is heading into the final year of his current contract. The left-hander is 11-5 with a 4.44 ERA when pitching at Coors Field.

ROOKIES TO WATCH

C Keibert Ruiz and RHP Josiah Gray are considered the top two prospects in the organization, but neither made the major-league roster out of spring training. Ruiz is behind Will Smith and Austin Barnes on the depth chart. He missed most of camp because of a visa issue, but will be a reliable option in the minors. Gray will start the season at the alternate training site and figures to be part of the Dodgers’ Triple-A rotation. He’s likely to be called upon to provide depth to the team’s powerhouse rotation during the season. Roberts is impressed with both players. 2B Michael Busch and 3B Kody Hoese were both first-round picks in 2019 and could contribute this season.

BELLI ON WAY BACK

Bellinger had arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder during the offseason and he spent spring training working his way back. He’ll have had just two weeks of games to get ready for the season, but the team expects the 2019 NL MVP to be starting in center field on opening day. If for some reason he can’t go, DJ Peters has had a solid spring at the plate and in the field.

HOME OPENER

After a weeklong road trip to start the season, the Dodgers open at home on April 9 against Washington. They’ll receive their World Series rings that night and celebrate winning the franchise’s first championship since 1988. They won the World Series in Texas last fall with limited fans on hand. They expect to have their own fans back in the stands for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic took hold a year ago. Los Angeles County has eased restrictions on outdoor attendance, which means 25% capacity – about 11,000 fans – could be allowed.