Los Angeles Dodgers 2015 Preview

2014 in Review (94-68, 1st in NL West, Eliminated in NLDS)

OF Carl Crawford after the Dodgers were eliminated in the NLDS.

Much like their crosstown rivals, the Angels, the Dodgers enjoyed a phenomenal 2014 season only to see it end in the first series of the postseason. The Dodgers were an offensive juggernaut, finishing in the top 10 in nearly every offensive category, including a league best .333 on-base percentage. Led by National League MVP and Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers were also top 10 in nearly every pitching statistic. Kershaw had a truly historic season accumulating a 21-3 record and an immaculate 1.77 ERA -both numbers that are unheard of in today’s era of baseball. Appearing to be the league’s most well-rounded team, the Dodgers folded in their opening playoff series against the St.Louis Cardinals 3 games to 1. For the second consecutive postseason, Kershaw showed an inability to perform on the big stage, allowing 11 runs in 12 innings pitched in the series. The Dodgers were able to salvage a split in the first two games in Los Angeles, but dropped two in a row in St. Louis to end their season. They enter the new season with a sour taste in their mouth, knowing they can perform much better than last October.

Key Off-Season Losses

SP Josh Beckett, SS Hanley Ramirez, SP Dan Haren, OF Matt Kemp, 2B Dee Gordon

The Dodgers lost some key players this off-season via trades and signings. Josh Beckett announced his retirement from baseball due to a hip injury that ended his season in August, while he was in the midst of his best season since joining Los Angeles. Also departed from the rotation is 3-time All Star pitcher Dan Haren. At age 34, Haren had been showing a decline in his pitching abilities over the past three seasons. Gone are his All Star days, and the Dodgers felt the time was right to acquire an asset in return, trading Haren to the Miami Marlins for some young prospects. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez also left to sign with the Boston Red Sox. Ramirez alternated most of his time between the 2nd and 3rd spots in the Dodgers lineup. While he provided a reliable option at the top of the lineup, Ramirez spent a lot of time on and off of the disabled list, leading to a steady decline in his fielding abilities.

Lifelong Dodger Matt Kemp is now with the San Diego Padres.

Surprisingly missing from the Dodgers lineup will be outfielder Matt Kemp and second baseman Dee Gordon. Kemp has been a fixture in Los Angeles for the last nine seasons as his career flourished. The 30-year-old outfielder enjoyed a bounce back season in 2014 at the plate, but with his age and injury history, the Dodgers opted to sell high on Kemp in exchange for some young talent. Gordon had his breakout season in 2014 as the lead-off hitter for the Dodgers, stealing a remarkable 64 bases and applying constant pressure to opposing defenses. He was part of the trade package that sent Dan Haren to Miami. While the Dodgers lost many key players from last season, they have managed to acquire more than capable replacements to fill the voids.

Key Additions

2B Howie Kendrick, C Yasmani Grandal, SS Jimmy Rollins, SP Brandon McCarthy

Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick join the Dodgers.

Los Angeles quickly replaced their middle infielding duo by filling the roles with established veterans Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins. Kendrick will make the trip crosstown from Anaheim to fill the second base void and Rollins comes from Philadelphia where he has spent the first 15 years of his career. Leading the Angels in hits last season from hitting in the middle of their lineup, it is hard to imagine the Dodgers not giving Kendrick a look at the top of the lineup. Rollins has also spent a majority of his career as a lead-off hitter, giving the Dodgers a very threatening 1-2 punch to set the table for the rest of the lineup. In return for Matt Kemp, Los Angeles received young Cuban catcher Yasmani Grandal from the San Diego Padres. Grandal completed his first full season in the Majors last year with a majority of his at-bats coming out of the cleanup spot. With more established hitters already filling this spot in the lineup, Grandal is expected to hit in the bottom of the lineup where he will possess excellent power for his position. More importantly, the 26-year-old was brought in for his known prowess, as a catcher, in getting “extra” strikes for his pitching staff as recently reported by ESPN’s Mark Saxon. Many executives would consider this an invaluable asset to have on their roster and would explain why the Dodgers had no problems trading their former MVP runner-up for what appears to be an average catcher on the surface. Hoping to benefit from the team’s new catcher is newly signed pitcher Brandon McCarthy. After the nightmarish scene in 2012 where McCarthy took a line drive to the head, he has made the transition into a ground-ball reliant pitcher. This will work out perfectly for the Dodgers as he is projected to be the fourth pitcher in the rotation. McCarthy will look to take on the role of an “inning eater” to get deep into ballgames and relieve some pressure off the bullpen. If the team can get 200 innings out of McCarthy, as he did last season, his signing will be considered a success.

Lineup

Gonzalez and Puig will again lead the Dodgers offense.

The second highest scoring team in the National League returns with many familiar faces missing, but this should be no cause for concern for Dodgers fans. The front office has found suitable replacements and the team should be able to pick up there they left off. Centered around power hitters Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers appear to have the perfect complements from top-to-bottom. Puig is an explosive and exciting player to watch, but has come to be known in his short time in the league as somewhat of a headache for the Dodgers. Now at age 24, Puig has shown some lapses in judgement both on and off the field along with flat-out irresponsibility. The club believes a turning point has been reached in the young Cuban’s career. In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Puig discussed his newly found respect for the game of baseball and a desire to be the face of the sport. He curiously compared this to the role that LeBron James and Kobe Bryant play for the NBA, rather than, say, Derek Jeter before his retirement. If Puig is indeed focused on taking this on as a serious role, the Dodgers will reap the benefits. With his skill-set and a proper state of mind, Puig can achieve true greatness at a young age, and even quite possibly lead his time to a World Series. Recent acquisition Rollins knows a thing or two about winning the World Series and MVP awards, and if he can help mentor Puig into playing like a champion, there is no telling where his career and the team’s future can lead.

Pitching Staff

Kershaw looks to build off his MVP season.

Led by National League MVP Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers look again to have one of the better five-man rotations in the league. Zach Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu both had dominant seasons in their own right in 2014 which were overshadowed by Kershaw’s historic run. McCarthy and Brett Anderson look to complete the rotation. Greinke and McCarthy were both aces previously in their career giving the Dodgers a well rounded rotation with great experience. This will be invaluable over the grind of the 162-game season and especially come postseason time. Kenley Jansen will once again anchor the bullpen after a successful 2014 in which he recorded 44 saves and a 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Jansen recently had some minor surgery on his foot and is listed as day-to-day in Spring Training, leaving an unclear timetable for his return.

Looking to 2015

Seeking to avenge their first round departure from last season’s playoffs, the Dodgers turn to a clean slate in 2015 in hopes of replicating their regular season success. It will not be easy to do in their division, as they must compete with the defending champion San Francisco Giants and the vastly improved San Diego Padres all season. They still have the best pitcher on the planet who all but guarantees a win every fifth day. They should still be able to produce runs at a similar rate, and the pitching staff is much deeper with more of a veteran presence. The Dodgers were not a team in need of drastic improvements, but it appears they have made just enough to take them to the next level.

 

Next team preview: Oakland Athletics

View other NL West Previews on BindleSnitch: San Francisco Giants

Stats provided by ESPN.

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