The Dodgers have been the class of the NL West in recent years and are looking for a fifth straight season of 90-plus wins. They’ll be looking to achieve that with a new second baseman, having acquired 2B Logan Forsythe from the Rays in exchange for P Jose De Leon. They also re-signed SP Rich Hill, who they traded for in the middle of last season and sits in the middle of a rotation led by SP Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers re-signed RP Kenley Jansen to a new five-year deal that will keep him as the team’s closer for the foreseeable future. Forsythe joins an infield that includes SS Corey Seager, who is coming off a strong rookie season, and veteran 1B Adrian Gonzalez. OF Joc Pederson leads the offensive attack in the outfield, which also includes Yasiel Puig, who has not lived up to the hype when he first entered the league in 2013.
The Dodgers’ .249 average ranked as the ninth-lowest in Major League Baseball, but their 189 home runs put them near the middle of the pack. The team had a .728 OPS, which was in the bottom half of the majors. Seager’s .308 batting average was tops among the team’s starters, and his 26 home runs ranked second on the team. His OPS sat at .877 last season, and he posted an impressive 6.1 WAR — fifth-best in the National League — in his first full season in the majors. Seager ranked seventh in the NL in batting average and his 193 hits were second-most in the NL and sixth in MLB. 3B Justin Turner hit 27 home runs — tied with C Yasmani Grandal for the team lead — with a .275 average and .832 OPS. Pederson hit .246 with 25 home runs in 137 games, and Puig played in 104 games, due to injury and being sent down to the minors in August, with a .263 average and 11 home runs. Gonzalez hit .285, but had 18 home runs, which was a drop-off of 10 from 2015.
Pitching was what led the Dodgers last season, with a 3.70 ERA that ranked fifth in the majors. The pitching staff led all of baseball with 1,510 strikeouts, and the bullpen’s 47 saves were tied for eighth in the majors. Kershaw spent some time on the DL so only started 21 games, but posted an impressive 1.69 ERA in those games with 172 strikeouts in 149 innings. He also tied his career high with 3 shutouts, which was tied for the fifth-most in the majors. In his first season in the majors after coming over from Japan, SP Kenta Maeda put up a 3.48 ERA in 32 starts, with 179 strikeouts in 175.2 innings. He posted a 16-11 record, which tied him with several pitchers for the sixth-most wins in the majors. With the A’s and Dodgers last season, Hill posted a 2.12 ERA in an injury-shortened season — which has been a problem throughout his career — in which he made 20 starts. Jansen continued his streak as one of the game’s best closers, recording all 47 of the team’s saves (in 53 opportunities) while posting a 1.83 ERA and striking out 104 batters in 68.2 innings over 71 appearances.
The offense has a couple of young guys in Pederson and Seager who had breakout years in 2016, but there are also veterans like Gonzalez and OF Andre Ethier who are on the backsides of their careers and have declining production. Then there’s Puig, who has never hit more than 19 home runs in any of his four seasons in the majors and got on the team’s bad side last year, which led to his demotion, and he could see his playing time diminished this season if he doesn’t start to put up better numbers at the plate.
If Kershaw can stay healthy this season, he should be able to have a typically outstanding season, but there are question marks behind him in the rotation. Maeda pitched well last season and will be a viable No. 2 starter if he can repeat that performance this year, but then there are veterans like Hill and SPs Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir who have all spent a lot of time on the disabled list throughout their careers. An X-factor on the pitching staff could be Julio Urias, who posted a 3.39 ERA in limited time in the majors last season. The Dodgers took things very cautiously with him last year and will likely do the same this year with the 20-year-old, who is expected to pitch mainly out of the bullpen but fill-in as a starter as needed, and he likely will be needed with the injury history of some of the starters. When the team gets a lead to Jansen late in the game, he should be able to secure the victory most of the time while racking up the strikeouts.
The Rockies are probably going to be improved this season, but it’s still likely to be the Dodgers and Giants fighting it out for the top spot in the West. I think the Dodgers have the edge, especially if they can get a third starter to put up good numbers behind Kershaw and Maeda. I expect to see the Dodgers playing in the postseason again this year, even if it’s as a wild card if the Giants manage to pass them to win the division.