2017 was a banner year for the Los Angeles Dodgers. For the first time since 1988, the Dodgers made it to the World Series. They appeared destined to win after pushing the Houston Astros to Game 7. Winning just wasn’t in the cards for LAD.
The Dodgers ended up losing 5 to 1 in a game that fell apart on them right from the first inning. Could this be the season where the L.A. Dodgers take the next step and go all the way? Can this once proud franchise finally take home their first World Series since 1988?
L.A. Dodgers 2018 MLB Preview: Will they Finally Win the World Series?
How long ago was 1988? Let’s think about this. I, all 45-years-old of me, was a sophomore in high school. In fact, on the day that Kirk Gibson hit the home run in Game 2 of the Dodgers’ miraculous win over the Oakland Athletics, I was at my friend Barry’s house working on a float for our homecoming football game.
Check out what I think about the Dodgers’ expected batting line-up, starting rotation, and bullpen.
Dodgers Expected Batting Lineup
CF Chris Taylor (R)
SS Corey Seager (L)
3B Justin Turner (R)
1B Cody Bellinger (L)
RF Yasiel Puig (R)
C Austin Barnes (R)
LF Andrew Toles (L)
2B Logan Forsythe (R)
The first thing to notice about this starting line-up is that even though Austin Barnes is listed as the starter, Manager Dave Roberts has stated that Yasmani Grandal will see plenty of action. The reason is because it’s impossible to play your catcher every day. During the regular season, Roberts will start Grandal versus right-handed pitchers. Barnes will get the start versus left-handed pitchers.
That leads me to what’s truly impressive about the Dodgers’ batting line-up. If Roberts sticks to what’s above, with the exception of Grandal and Barnes at catcher, the line-up should be difficult for most starting pitchers to deal with. Right, left, right, left, right: Taylor, Seager, Turner, Bellinger, Puig, makes for one of the best batting lineups in MLB.
All five at the top of the Dodgers’ expected batting lineup can hit for both power and average. Not only that, but most starting pitchers in MLB are better versus right-handed batters, or left-handed batters. There aren’t a lot of pitchers that are equally effective versus both.
The real keys for LAD’s batting lineup are Bellinger and Puig. Puig struck out at a 20% rate. He had 100 strikeouts from his 499 at-bats. Bellinger struck out at a 30% rate this past season. Cody struck out 146 times from 480 at-bats. Both Bellinger and Puig must work on lowering their strikeout percentages. It’s a bad thing when the advantage switches to the pitcher once that pitcher gets to the fourth and fifth spots in the lineup.
Dodgers Expected Starting Rotation
Clayton Kershaw LHP
Rich Hill LHP
Alex Wood LHP
Kenta Maeda RHP
Hyun Jin-Ryu LHP
Yu Darvish signed a huge contract just a week ago with the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs signing Darvish is a big deal based on the rest of the Dodgers’ starting rotation after the great Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw is the most dominant pitcher in baseball.
Last season, Kershaw went 18 and 4 with a 2.31 ERA. He struck out 202 batters in 175 innings pitched. That averages out to 1.15 strikeouts per inning. He walked only 30 batters. He was, like he always is, fantastic. But, during his career Clayton has always had issues in the post-season. This past post-season, he also had issues.
The key game in the 2017 World Series was Game 5 at Minute Maid Park in Houston. The winner of the key Game 5 broke a 2-2 World Series tie. The Dodgers were expected to win because their best pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, was on the mound. Kershaw only lasted 4.6 innings. He allowed 6 earned runs off only 4 hits. The Dodgers rallied, but Houston won a classic 13 to 12 in 10 innings. Game 5 is where the Dodgers lost the 2017 World Series.
The reason it’s so important to bring up Game 5 is because outside of Clayton Kershaw, it’s difficult to find another ace in the rotation. Rich Hill will be 38-years-old on March 11. He was great last season with a 3.32 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. How good will Hill pitch this season?
Alex Wood was unreal in the first half of last season. He slightly imploded in the second half to post a 2.72 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. Not bad, right? However, Wood had a sub 2.00 ERA in the first half of last season. He had a sub 1.00 WHIP in the first half of last season. Wood had a major drop from where he was in the first half of the season to where he ended up in the second half of the season.
Kenta Maeda’s ERA last season was 4.22. That’s not great. He did go 13 and 6 with a 1.15 WHIP. Maeda should have a decent regular season. Still, it’s difficult to see him having much of an impact in the playoffs. Pitchers from Japan often find it tougher to adjust after their first couple of seasons in MLB.
Hyun Jin-Ryu must stay healthy before having any positive impact on the L.A. Dodgers’ starting rotation. Jin-Ryu posted a 5-9 record, a 3.77 ERA, and a 1.37 WHIP last season. LAD hasn’t given up on the talented pitcher. We’ll see if he can bounce back in 2018.
L.A. Dodgers Bullpen Analysis
Kenley Jansen RHP
Josh Fields RHP
Tom Koheler RHP
Pedro Baez RHP
Tony Cingrani LHP
Yimi Garcia RHP
Ross Stripling RHP
In most games, the Dodgers will use Josh Fields to set things up for the brilliant Kenley Jansen. Fields had a 2.84 ERA and a .96 WHIP last season. He has the talent to do a decent job.
Tony Cingrani pitched well in the NLCS. Ross Stripling has starter experience. He gives Roberts an insurance policy for the fifth spot in the rotation just in case Jim-Ryu doesn’t step it up this season. The Dodgers have a decent bullpen, but the truth is that the reason LAD’s bullpen finished first in ERA last season is because of Jansen.
Kenley Jansen is the best closer in MLB. In 2017, Kenley posted 41 saves, a 1.32 ERA, and a .75 WHIP. Jansen is as close to unhittable as any pitcher in MLB. If Roberts puts Jansen in the ninth with a lead, the Dodgers can pretty much chalk up another “W”.
L.A. Dodgers 2018 MLB Prediction:
The Dodgers are easily one of the top teams in MLB this season. Expect LAD to win 100 games again. There are questions, though. First, can the batting lineup improve enough? When everything goes smoothly, the Dodgers score a ton of runs. Everything doesn’t always go smoothly. Both Cody Bellinger and Yasiel Puig have a tendency to chase pitches if they get behind in the count.
The other big question is who steps it up and supports Clayton Kershaw? Rich Hill was fantastic last season. He’s a year older. He’s also spent another year in the NL. Major League Baseball players end up knowing the best way to beat pitchers. The more an MLB hitter has seen a pitcher, the better the hitter gets at knowing that pitcher.
Jansen is fantastic. Knowing who sets Kenley up is the question I have. Will Fields do the best job? If not, who will?
Finally, the Dodgers must get past some awfully talented teams in the National League. Chicago is ready to bounce back and become a force this season. They signed Yu Darvish specifically to make a move for another World Series win. Washington is always a good team while it’s impossible to keep the St. Louis Cardinals down for more than a season.
The deep National League might just be too difficult to win two MLB Seasons in a row. I believe the Dodgers are a good team. I wouldn’t bet on LAD to win the World Series at low odds, though. Since last I checked the Dodgers were at +550 to win the Fall Classic, I’m passing.