The countdown has begun, kids. Actually, it’s a little bit past. The opening series (well, the American version) is here, as the Dodgers take on the Padres down in San Diego. To prepare you for the regular season, MAMBINO will tackle 20 of the most important–and some not so important–questions that will get you set up for a year of almost unparalleled expectations. Let’s get it going:
What is the leading reason why this team may not win the World Series?
Last season, the difference between the first Dodgers pennant in 25 years might have been an errant fastball to the ribs and, well, Michael Wacha. Some would say that with a healthy Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez, the Dodgers wouldn’t have had the same flaccid offense that kept them four wins away from winning the World Series. Was LA the better team? I’m not sure. But as I wrote last October, it felt as if the difference between a Dodgers win and a Cardinals win was just a little bit of luck.
So here we are six months later, with the Dodgers healed up and hoping for better breaks. With dominating starting pitching, a powerful bullpen and a star-studded offense, LA is the odds on favorite to win the West and has to be one of the favorites to win the National League pennant. So what could stop them from what’s considered a very, very possible destiny?
It’s certainly not the pitching. As I’ve written before in 20 Days, the Dodgers have an enviable depth of arms in both the starting rotation and bullpen with qualified hurlers like Paul Maholm, Chad Billingsley, Chris Withrow and Paco Rodriguez far away from key roles that they perhaps deserve. Though the Dodgers had the same “issue” last year, in that they started the season with eight starting pitchers and somehow needed to deal for starter Ricky Nolasco before the trade deadline, it seems that the team is even better equipped this year. The starting pitching depth is even richer in the minors, with Zach Lee, Stephen Fife and Matt Magill ready to fill in, and Jose Dominguez pumping 100 MPH gas in anticipation of a bullpen call-up.
Defensively, I’m not terribly worried, though aside from Juan Uribe’s third base glove, no Dodger is overly helping the team. If the problem is a lack of excellence but instead a presence of sheer effectiveness, then that’s certainly a passable qualification.
Offensively? That’s exactly what could keep the Dodgers from the title.
On the surface, this team is absolutely stacked: multiple time All-Stars and past MVP votes at every position except third base, second base and catcher. With the exception of second base, every position player is more than capable of hitting 15 homers and Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez could all hit an OPS north of .850. More to the point, this line-up looks like all the pieces fit: Carl Crawford as the proto-ypical lead-off man (though on the downside of his career), the speed and power of Puig hitting second, and then the 3-4-5 combination of Gonzalez, Kemp and Hanley fortifying the middle of the line-up. Looking at this team on paper, they are a scoring machine.
But the problem is that there may be too many questions revolving around each player.
Ramirez, Kemp and Crawford have so many concerns regarding their health that it’s hard to even begin that discussion without dedicating a few hundred words to it. Uribe was almost a training camp casualty a year ago and could easily revert back to that form in his age-35 season. Second base is already a gigantic problem, with utility man filling in for Cuban import Alexander Guerrero, who may not be ready for the Majors even this season. Puig could battle a serious sophmore slump, as he continues to have difficulty hitting breaking balls while the rest of the league makes him adjust to a massive learning curve.
Essentially, the Dodgers already have a hole at second base and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if they have injury issues at key positions like shortstop and in the outfield. Even if they’re all healthy, LA has far more players on the downside of their primes rather than players coming into it. Gonzalez, Ethier and Crawford are all solid hands right now, but are on the wrong side of 30 with declining power. Kemp has been on the field for parts of the last year and a half, but hasn’t been able to show the same form that made him the league’s best overall player.
Yes, this Dodgers team has a high, high ceiling, but they are also dancing on a fine edge of being mediocre or even terrible. They have many players that could fall of the face of relevance at the drop of a hat, a replacement level player at second base and four players that have been massive injury risks the previous two seasons. While the names on paper look great, I’m worried that there’s too much has to go right for the offense to be great. With the rigors of a 162 game season ahead, that’s asking a whole lot.