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)
29 – Number of days until Opening Day
48,525 - Number of signatures at www.budweiser.com/openingday to make Opening Day a National Holiday
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS PREVIEW
Key Additions: Addison Reed, Mark Trumbo, Bronson Arroyo
Key Departures: Wil Nieves, Matt Davidson, Tyler Skaggs, Adam Eaton, Heath Bell
This is a team that underperformed in 2013 and will have a chip on its shoulders entering this year. It was a busy winter for the Diamondbacks as they made two big trades, acquiring Mark Trumbo and Addison Reed. Both players have a chance to contribute greatly this year. These moves were about now, not the future. It will be interesting to see how these trades work out, both in the short term and long term.
OFFENSE: When you talk about the Diamondbacks offense, it starts with Paul Goldschmidt. Goldy had an incredible year in 2013 both at the plate and in the field. In 159 games, he hit .302, 36 home runs, and 125 RBI. He led the NL in home runs and just missed out on the NL MVP to Andrew McCutchen. For the Diamondbacks to be successful this year, Goldschmidt has to produce the same type of numbers he did last year. The offense produced the fifth most runs in the league despite not hitting a lot of home runs (130, ties for 11th in the NL). The question is will Trumbo hit 40+ HR season now that he has a home that’s a little more homer friendly? He hit 32 and 34 in the last two seasons, so it's fair to expect him to have a big year.
The player that must improve is Miguel Montero. He didn't exactly follow up on his 2011 and 2012 campaigns as many had thought. He dealt with a lingering back injury that eventually forced him to the disabled list August, limiting him to 116 games for the season. A 100% healthy Montero isn’t only good at the plate, but behind it as well.
PITCHING: After failing to find a front line starting pitcher through trade (they had talks with the Cubs regarding Jeff Samardzija) and free agency (mentioned among the Masahiro Tanaka suitors), the D-backs settled for Bronson Arroyo. With this signing, they added a back-of-the-rotation innings-eater, while correspondingly improving their pitching depth. The starting rotation will be Patrick Corbin, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, Arroyo, and Randall Delgado. Corbin's sophomore seas0n was a bit overlooked due to the breakout campaign from Goldschmidt. Corbin won 14 games and struck out 178 batters while posting a 3.41 ERA. Corbin also finished 9th in the National League in innings thrown - 208.1 in just his second season.
BULLPEN: The Diamondbacks absolutely stole Addison Reed from White Sox. He is a top tier closer that averaged a strike out per inning. In 71 1/3 innings last year, he had 40 saves and struck out 72 batters. I guarantee you that Reed will be an All-Star closer this year for the Diamondbacks. J.J. Putz can certainly fill the ninth inning role if Reed were to stumble, but a more likely role for Putz this year is a set-up role.
2014 Prediction: Can this team break the string of two mediocre seasons in which they finished at .500 (81-81)? I say yes because you would be hard pressed to see a team play .500 baseball in three consecutive seasons. The offense is better as is the pitching staff. The Diamondbacks will strike out a lot and do not have much speed. But, this was one of the best defensive teams in the National League last year and they should continue to be in 2014. The Diamondbacks will fly under the radar and if they venture to the good side of .500, the pitching will need to perform at a higher level than last season. This staff permitted the third worst batting average against among all NL staffs at .257. Their starters allowed the fourth most runs (482), while the bullpen was in the middle of the pack.
FINAL RECORD: 86-76 (2nd place in NL West)