Reality Check – The Dodgers Are Not As Good As Last Year

As the 2015 major league baseball season is about to begin, the Dodgers face competition in a National League West division that again includes the World Champion San Francisco Giants, and that this season may overall be slightly improved. But the Dodgers themselves, after a whirlwind off season, are clearly not as talented and not as deep a team as they were last season. And, they go into the season with several serious question marks as to

the health of both key players and newcomers that they have positioned themselves to have to rely on in the coming season.

But first, the other guys.

The Giants, winners of three of the last five World Series titles, lost a lot in the off season, in particular third baseman Pablo Sandoval and outfielder-first baseman Mike Morse.
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On the plus side, Matt Cain returns from a season lost to injury, and they figure to have Brandon Belt for the full season. On the first negative side, they are seeking to replace Sandoval and Morse with Casey McGhee and Norichika Aoki. Both of these fellows will do a decent job defensively, will hit for good averages, but the loss of power and run production will be substantial. Last season in 1107 at bats, McGhee and Aoki combined to hit exactly five home runs. Sandoval and Morse, in the regular season, came to bat a hundred less times and hit 32 home runs between them. Then, of course, Sandoval had a pretty good post season, hitting .429 in the World Series. Also, the Giants begin the season without right fielder Hunter Pence who figures to miss the first six weeks of the season while his broken left arm heals. Overall, the Giants do not look quite as strong as last year and with their every-other-year pattern, may possibltmake the playoffs out of a still weak division, but do not figure to go far in the 2015 post season.

While many pundits are waxing poetic about the rebuilt Cubs, it is the San Diego Padres who are the National Leagues’ most improved team. The whole new outfield, led by the 2015 NL MVP Matt Kemp, will be an offensive terror, but must play solid defense as well. That will be the key to the Padres’ success, especially in the pitcher’s haven of Petco Park. They also have a tremendous upgrade at catcher, with Derek Norris replacing Yasmani Grandal. New ace James Shields, fresh off his disappointing performance against the Giants in the 2014 World Series (0-2, 7.00 ERA) while with the AL champion Kansas City Royals, will be the stabilizer among a staff of great young arms. If only they would dump the miserable trojan scum and baseball’s number one headhunter and maleficent pond scum ian kennedy, they’d have a starting staff they could be proud of and that they could ride well into the post season.

The 2015 Major League Baseball Season opens Sunday, April 5, with the St. Louis Cardinals playing against the Cubs in Chicago. The Dodgers open their season the next day, with a game at Dodgers' Stadium against former Dodgers' star Matt Kemp and the San Diego Padres. The Angels open against division rival Seattle Mariners in Seattle also on Monday, April 6, and they have their home opener against the defending American League champion Kansas City Royals on Friday, April 10. Tickets to all these games and to every other home opener are available Right Here, Right Now, from Razorgator.

As usual, the Colorado Rockies spent the off season rattling around deck chairs and have neither improved nor harmed their roster. Based solely on the belief that they will have healthy seasons from last year’s walking wounded, in particular Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzales and Nolan Arenado, they should pick up a handful more wins in 2015.

The pitiful Arizona Diamondbacks have new management in the front office, a new field manager, and still the least talented roster in the National League, if not in all of MLB. What’s worse is that this spring training saw the continuation of their vicious, criminal on-field behavior, apparently endorsed by new manager Chip Hale. The D’Backs go into the season with at best a makeshift pitching staff and an everyday lineup with three legitimate major league starters and a group of high minor league level fill-ins, such as Tuffy Gosewisch, Jake Lamb, and Nick Ahmed, whose lifetime batting averages are, honest to god, .213, .230, and .200, respectively. Their chance of escaping the NL West cellar is nil.

So, back to the Dodgers. There is no need to rehash what I’ve been writing all winter – the Dodgers made a bunch of trades in which they gave away Matt Kemp for a pile of crap, and otherwise improved the team defense while hurting team speed, run production and power. As to the pitching, they have searched far and wide to sign every injured, disabled and unreliable guy whose thrown a pitch in the majors over the last few years.

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The new double play combination of Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick will play excellent defense but not provide the overall offense that Dee Gordon and a healthy Hanley Ramirez can. The real key there is that Ramirez has seldom been healthy, and hopefully the older Rollins will be in the lineup more often than Hanley. The pundits say Gordon was a one-half season wonder and that the team moved him at the right time. I disagree, though I've always liked
Kendrick and am fine with him a second base, but his future with the Dodgers, as is Rollins’, is extremely limited. Yasmani Grandal is no improvement whatsoever behind the plate, and I expect to see him lose his starting spot by mid season, if not sooner. While Kemp is primed for a great full season in San Diego, the Dodgers will be missing his power and run production. To an extent that should be compensated by the all around play of rookie center fielder Joc Pederson. But Pederson’s play does nothing to help out the situation when Yasiel Puig misses games and when Carl Crawford spends a couple of months or more on the disabled list. That outfield surplus that the Dodgers still have will be needed when you have a guy like Crawford who misses more time than he plays, and with a guy like Puig whose reckless play results in frequent bumps and bruises, and resulting time off.

But the lineup is not the real problem, it’s not even number two. Number one is now and has been and will continue to be the fact that the Dodgers have, rather than a major league caliber manager, the empty uniform non-manager don mattingly, who will never, ever “lead” the Dodgers to a championship. Problem number two is the sad, and sorry state of the pitching staff.

The Dodgers face the first two months of the season without closer Kenley Jansen, and the team does not posses ANY pitcher who can close in his place. Apparently the job has been handed to Chris Hatcher to begin the season. Hatcher, one of the bodies acquired from the Padres in the Kemp giveaway, has had two save opportunities in his major league career spanning parts of four seasons and 81 game appearances. He blew both save opportunities. His lifetime record also includes a 4.82 ERA, an awful 1.39 WHIP, and a 0-4 won-loss record. This is THE GUY! Get use to it. And, behind him is a group of long relievers and set-up guys who are just as unqualified. J.P. Howell is the only established, reliable guy in the bullpen, and after him, it’s a crapshoot. As the season is set to begin in two days, the pen will be populated by names that include Pedro Baez, Paco Rodriguez, Sergio Santos who is coming off a season in Toronto in which he compiled an 8.57 ERA, a 2.19 WHIP, and blew 40% of his save attempts. Also in the bullpen and starting the season as a key set-up guy is 39-year-old Joel Peralta who toiled for Andrew Friedman’s Tampa Bay Rays for the last few seasons, including last year when he went 3-4 with a 4.41 ERA and blew SIX OF SEVEN save opportunities.

And then we have the starting rotation. With Hyun-Jin Ryu injured to start the season, the “big three” is a big two, and beyond that, there is a group of recovering re-treads who virtually never have among them gone a single full major league season without a debilitating injury. Brandon McCarthy, who granted did pitch a full season last year, for the first (and only?) time ever, and Brett Anderson, who has never had a full uninjured major league season, are now the number three and four starters, and Joe Wieland,

another of the bodies from San Diego, has been given the fifth spot for now. Wieland, as discussed in the past, at only 25, has also had two elbow surgeries and missed most of two of the last three seasons. Of the group of wounded pitchers the team signed over the off season, three suffered spring training injuries and are out for lengthy periods, and one other was released.

Regardless of the star quality at
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the top of the rotation, this is not the pitching staff of a championship contender.

So, how will it all turn out? Arizona is a lock for last in the NL West, a few games behind Colorado. I’m picking San Diego to win the division in a close, three way battle, with the Dodgers and Giants neck and neck to the end until the ….. Dodgers finish second. Wild Card? Doubtful. Too many good teams in the Central Division.

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