28– Number of days until Opening Day
56,224 – Number of signatures at www.budweiser.com/openingday to make Opening Day a National Holiday
LOS ANGELES DODGERS PREVIEW
Key Additions: Alex Guerrero, Dan Haren, Paul Maholm, Chris Perez
Key Departures: Mark Ellis, Nick Punto, Skip Shumaker, Michael Young, Ricky Nolasco
The Dodgers head into 2014 with the highest expectations of any team. They came two wins away from a World Series appearance. The Dodgers lineup and pitching staff are stacked and they’re easily favored to win the NL West for a second straight year. However, as Dodgers fans know, the key to their success is health. Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley were among the key Dodgers who missed considerable time due to injury last season. In fact, the only Dodgers player to play more than 150 games last year was Adrian Gonzalez. The team added depth to the bullpen and starting rotation in the off-season, but the team may not have as much depth on the bench this season.
OFFENSE: If healthy, the Dodgers everyday lineup is scary and should score a lot of runs. I would like to see Yasiel Puig hit leadoff, but I wouldn't trust him there full-time until he cuts down on his strikeout total. That being said, he showed a remarkable improvement in plate discipline down the stretch and in the playoffs and would likely lead off when Carl Crawford is getting a rest. Crawford will be an integral part of the Dodgers' success in 2014 if he can stay healthy. With so many potent bats immediately following the leadoff hitter and the addition of Alex Guerrero, the Dodgers offense should be even stronger than last year. When Matt Kemp returns to the lineup, expect him to bat 5th and protection for Adrian Gonzalez.
STARTING PITCHING: The top of the Dodgers’ pitching staff is the best in baseball, but last year and especially in the playoffs, the team lacked depth at the back end of the rotation. The off-season additions of Dan Haren and Paul Maholm along with the return of a healthy Josh Beckett should provide that depth the Dodgers need. Clayton Kershaw, who signed his seven-year $215 million deal this offseason, Zack Greinke, and Hyun Jin Ryu make up the top of the rotation.
BULLPEN: The bullpen will also remain largely intact as the team re-signed Brian Wilson and added former Indians’ closer Chris Perez to the bullpen, giving the Dodgers one of the deeper bullpens in the game. J.P. Howell, Jamey Wright, Chris Withrow, Paco Rodriguez and Seth Rosin will all have a chance to make an impact in the bullpen this year. Kenley Jansen is a top tier closer and he blew away hitters last year. If he does falter, the Dodgers have Wilson, Perez, and Brandon League that could fill in. On paper, the Dodgers have one of the best bullpens heading into the season.
2014 Prediction: The Dodgers are a very good team. Their spending has assured them of that. However, they're not World Champs yet. It's going to take a healthy and productive season from up and down the roster. The most realistic scenario probably has Matt Kemp in about 120 games or so, with an outfielder being jettisoned at the trade deadline. Yasiel Puig picks up where he left off, if not just a slight regression. Clayton Kershaw remains dominant at the top of the league's best staff. The Dodgers take the division over the Diamondbacks and fight for the NL pennant.
FINAL RECORD: 96-66 (First place in NL West)