Winning a division for four straight seasons is a tall task, all you have to do is ask anyone who has ever played a sport at any competitive level. The Los Angeles Dodgers are trying to accomplish that tough achievement this season as they look to claim their first World Series crown since 1988.
To do so, the team must come together and play as a unit while dealing with an unforeseen slate of injuries that would cripple nearly every other team in existence. But, I’m here to tell you why the Dodgers will actually win the National League West for a fourth straight time.
It’s a rather simple formula.
Clayton Kershaw is the linchpin to the success for the starting rotation, and his constant performance is going to drive the Dodgers over the hump in 2016. He’s going to win at least 20 games while compiling a sub-2.00 ERA, much like he did in 2014. In doing so, he catapults himself to the forefront of the National League Most Valuable Player Award race, and he has a chance to steal it away from Bryce Harper.
The rest of the starting rotation pitches like how the front office envisions, as Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda both pitch well as the number two and number three starters. While neither one is able to come close to Zack Greinke’s masterful 2015, as a combination they do quite well on the mound.
Kazmir rekindles his first half of 2015 magic, but does so for the entire season as he now pitches in a pitcher’s park all year long and gets to face National League hitting. Maeda dazzles by keeping hitters off-balance repeatedly, and while he doesn’t strikeout a ton of batters, he induces a lot of easy outs that keep his stressful innings limit to a minimum. The three top-of-the-rotation starters give the Dodgers the league’s best triumvirate, and it paves the way for their 90+ win season.
The back end of the rotation doesn’t fare bad, either. Alex Wood turns back the clock to 2014, and he performs like the front office expected him to when they acquired him in a trade last July. The left-hander compiles a 3.25 ERA in 190 innings, and he genuinely looks good out there. He gives the Dodgers a legitimate number four that they can rely on, and one that helps the team distance themselves from a lot of the other teams in the league.
The fifth starter spot is tossed back and forth between Ross Stripling and Carlos Frias, and they both do solidly out there. While neither one really lights the world on fire, they at least hold down the fort long enough until Mike Bolsinger can come back from his injury. Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy do their best to get back into the rotation in the second half of the season, but Bolsinger pitched well enough to keep the spot for himself.
Kenley Jansen has a dynamite season as he winds up leading the National League in saves. As for the rest of the bullpen, they definitely are an improvement from where they were last season. Louis Coleman is a quality addition to the team, proving to be a pivotal part of the relief corps. J.P. Howell is a shutdown setup man and lefty reliever, Yimi Garcia and Pedro Baez both fare better this season, and Joe Blanton proves to be a major bargain as he shines in a relief role. The bullpen is the most improved part of the team, and they absolutely lock down the opposition.
After A.J. Ellis and Austin Barnes do a valiant job covering for Yasmani Grandal early on in the season, Grandal returns to light the world on fire as he gets healthy. He finishes strong, putting up a .280/.390/.500 slash line over the season. His defense is great, and he becomes a darkhorse candidate for Team MVP because of his contributions in all phases.
Adrian Gonzalez is as consistent as ever, putting up a .275/.340/.480 line and playing his usual 156 games. Howie Kendrick returns from the disabled list after the first couple weeks to hit .300 with 10 home runs. Kike Hernandez and Chase Utley both do solidly in his stead, but neither blows anyone away.
Corey Seager wins Rookie of the Year while putting together a modest .280/.330/.470 line and slugging 18 home runs. His ability both at the plate and in the field win everyone over, and he finishes the season somewhere around five wins above replacement. Justin Turner recovers from his offseason surgery to hit .315 with 15 home runs and 25 doubles. His presence in the middle of the order is greatly talked about all season long.
Carl Crawford doesn’t perform well at all and eventually gets replaced by Scott Van Slyke when it comes to primary duties, and Van Slyke responds with a 15 home run season while providing decent defense and adequate overall offense. That is until Andre Ethier returns from his leg injury in the second half of the season and takes the job back for himself while hitting .270 down the stretch.
Joc Pederson finds a way to pull himself together in 2016, and he hits .240 with a whopping .370 on-base percentage. He also finds a way to slug 20 home runs, but he sacrificed the power in an effort to reduce the amount of strikeouts. And he does just that as he goes from 170 strikeouts in 2015 to 150 in 2016, all while still getting roughly 575 plate appearances.
In right field, Yasiel Puig doesn’t get fully back to his 2014 season, but he also doesn’t perform like it’s 2015 again. The enigmatic outfielder finishes the season with a .275/.350/.450 line and 15 home runs to go with 15 stolen bases. He also slugs 30 doubles. Puig’s defense picks back up, and he finishes the season with another five wins above replacement campaign. Trayce Thompson gets decent playing time, and he finishes with 5 home runs.
The Los Angeles Dodgers cruise to a fourth straight division crown, finishing in first place by at least seven games over the San Francisco Giants. With everything clicking, the Dodgers finish at 92-70, and they face off against the National League East champions in the NLDS. Dave Roberts’ first managerial season is praised as he helps the Dodgers become far more aggressive on the basepaths, and they use that aggressiveness to force their opponents into mistakes that help the Dodgers win a few extra games they might not have otherwise won.