There should be no doubt in Dave Roberts’ mind that his job is secure heading into this season. He persevered through a difficult first season as manager dealing with a record amount of injuries (most notably Clayton Kershaw’s back injury) to win the team’s fourth consecutive NL West title. In the NLDS, Roberts out strategized the Nationals by aggressively using Kenley Jansen and Clayton Kershaw to win a decisive and memorable game five. To cap it all off, Dave Roberts won NL Manager of the year last season, deservedly so.
But in professional sports anything can happen. The Dodgers have a roster built to win a World Series, and if the team struggles this year, Roberts’ seat might get a little warm. The season has just started, but like with every major-league team, there are question marks. What can put Dave Roberts on the hot seat?
- Bullpen Depth
Last year Roberts was a master at managing the bullpen, but there is no guarantee he will have the same success this year. Joe Blanton is now on the Nationals and Pedro Baez and Adam Liberatore are starting on the disabled list to begin the season. Chris Hatcher, Luis Avilan, Ross Stripling, Sergio Romo, and Alex Wood fill out the rest of the ‘pen to start this year.
Other than Kenley Jansen, Grant Dayton is the only Dodger reliever to feel confident about right now. The Dodgers heavily relied on their bullpen last season, but with a loss in depth, who is Roberts going to turn to this year?
- Rich Hill’s Health
The Dodgers pitching rotation this year, unlike last year, doesn’t have a steep drop off after Kershaw. Rich Hill deserves a lot of credit for that because when he pitches, he can look like an All-Star.
Hill hasn’t pitched more than 20 games in the majors since he pitched for Cleveland back in 2013. Can he pitch an entire season given his injury history? Roberts is going to have to watch Hill’s health like he did last season, such as when he controversially took Hill out after Hill pitched seven perfect innings last September in Miami.
- Julio Urias’ Development
Surprising to many, Julio Urias is not on the Dodgers opening day roster because the Dodgers are being cautious. This is fine for now, but what if Brandon McCarthy underperforms or Hyun-jin Ryu struggles to find his pre-injured form? How will Roberts handle this situation? Will there be an outcry to bring Urias up to the Dodgers earlier than originally planned? If so, how often does Roberts use Urias? This hypothetical may come into play in May or June.
- Adrian Gonzalez’s Decline
Adrian Gonzalez will be 35 years old on May 8th, which now offers the question, how long is he going to last? Gonzalez’s numbers dipped off in 2016 compared to years prior.
Maybe Gonzalez rests more this season as his games played for the Dodgers (starting in 2013) were 157, 159, 156, and 156. Roberts has a new toy to play with in Cody Bellinger, who is sitting in the minors leagues waiting for his name to be called. It will be interesting to see if Roberts adjusts as the season progresses to keep Gonzalez fresh for the playoffs.
These potential problems are all minor for now, but it is up to Roberts to stay active and aggressive as he leads this team through another long season.