One of the major flaws of this Dodger team may be found on the bench, where they lost three veterans to free agency this past off-season. Gone are Nick Punto, Jerry Hairston, Jr. and Skip Schumaker, replaced by Turner, Gordon and Figgins. One of the three will start at second, while the others will provide flexibility late in games.
Backing up Ellis at catcher will either be Drew Butera or Tim Federowicz. Last season, Federowicz spent the early part of the season moving up and down from Triple-A and the bigs, but ended the season with the team and was expected to take the spot again; however, Butera could take the spot due to his lack of options.
In the outfield, Scott Van Slyke has earned a spot on the bench to provide a big bat and a backup first baseman. While Kemp recovers, it seems as if Mike Baxter will fill the role as fifth outfielder. He brings a speed element that could benefit Mattingly later in the game.
From the bench to the bullpen, the Dodgers go from position of weakness to a position of strength. In the second half of 2013, the bullpen became the team’s greatest asset and was one of the biggest reasons the Dodgers won as much as they did. Closer Kenley Jansen returns with his role cemented behind right-hander Brian Wilson and left-hander J.P. Howell. New signees Chris Perez and Jamey Wright provide two more stable arms for Mattingly to use.
For the final spot, the Dodgers will have to choose between left-hander Paco Rodriguez and right-handers Brandon League, Chris Withrow, Seth Rosin and Jose Dominguez, assuming the Dodgers take Maholm on the roster. League struggled mightily this spring and was left off the Australia roster, possibly foreshadowing his impending release. The final spot will depend on what Mattingly wants in his bullpen: a matchup left-hander in Rodriguez or another middle reliever in the rest.
Expectations and Predictions
The Dodgers head into the season as one of the few favorites for a World Series. They’re expected to repeat as National League West champions and may find themselves taking on the St. Louis Cardinals for NL supremacy again.
If they can remain healthy, the Dodgers will easily win the NL West and will compete for the best record in all of baseball. Kershaw and his seven-year, $215 million deal will repeat as NL Cy Young, with Greinke finishing in the top-five of voting. Ramirez will remain healthy all season and will finish in the top-three of the NL MVP vote, possibly winning it. Also, Kemp will return in May and regain his 2011 form to give the Dodgers one of the most dangerous lineups in the NL. At second base, Guerrero will end the year as the starting second baseman for the Dodgers.
Finally, the Dodgers will get over the hump that is the Cardinals and find themselves in the World Series for the first time since 1988. Dodger fans should expect champagne and a parade in Los Angeles.
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