By Jonathan Garza Contributor
The boys are back-–it’s February and spring training is just around the corner. The Los Angeles Dodgers enter the 2018 season with only one goal in mind: winning the World Series.
Three and a half months ago, Dodger Stadium hosted what was arguably the biggest game in 29 years when the Dodgers lost to the Houston Astros in a winner-take-all Game 7 of the World Series. Since then, the Dodgers have made moves that can position them for a consecutive World Series run.
After a lackluster World Series performance, pitcher Yu Darvish signed a six year, $126 million contract with the Chicago Cubs and will only take the mound at Dodger Stadium in an opposing jersey.
Darvish, 31, wasn’t entirely bad for the Dodgers, going 4-3 with a 3.44 ERA in nine regular season starts last season. He got even better in the NLDS and NLCS, going 2-0 with a 1.62 ERA, striking out 14 and walking just one.
But then came the World Series and Darvish did a complete about-face, going 0-2 with a 21.60 ERA (that’s eight earned runs allowed in 3.1 innings pitched), striking no batters out and walking two.
On the other hand, it’s hard for Dodger fans to watch Adrian Gonzalez go, but he will be 36 years old in May and a line of .242/.287/.355 with three home runs and 30 RBIs in 71 games won’t cut it anymore. It’s Cody Bellinger’s time at first, and Gonzalez wasn’t going to sit and watch.
Fans will also be sad to see Andre Ethier and Curtis Culberson go. The former was arguably the most popular Dodger with the ladies since Steve Garvey in the ‘70s, while Culberson will forever be known as the player that propelled the Dodgers to the 2016 National League West championship with his walk-off home run against the Colorado Rockies in Vin Scully’s final game at Dodger Stadium.
While one can’t say for sure that Jake Peter will follow in Chris Taylor’s footsteps, he is an interesting player. Last season he played at both Double-A and Triple-A affiliates of the White Sox, collectively hitting .279/.344/.417 with 13 home runs, 49 RBIs and 11 stolen bases in 17 attempts. Look for him to get a shot at making the club out of spring training, but come up just short. At 25 years old, Peter is likely to start the season at Triple-A Oklahoma City, but gain an opportunity to play in Los Angeles at some point during the season.
The most underrated player of the offseason haul for the Dodgers might be Scott Alexander. The 28-year-old southpaw will likely be the team’s pitcher in high-pressure situations against right-handed pitching.
Alexander isn’t going to strike a lot of guys out, posting a strikeout-per-9 innings ratio of only 7.7, but he has a knock for keeping balls in the yard. Alexander has allowed only four home runs in his 79-game big league career and 28 long balls in 276 professional contests.
A change of scenery helped 31-year-old Tom Koehler land an offer in free agency with the Dodgers. The beginning of his 2017 season was a nightmare; going 1-5 with a 7.92 ERA in 12 starts with the Marlins. He was then traded to the Blue Jays in August and moved to the bullpen. There he pitched in 15 games (one start) and went 0-2, but with a 2.65 ERA, upping his strikeout-to-walk ratio from 1.52 with the Marlins to 3.00 with the Blue Jays.
Pat Venditte, 32, is best known for being a switch pitcher, electing to throw with the hand needed to gain the platoon advantage. In 52 games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley (Phillies affiliate) he went 9-5 with a 3.36 ERA, notching two saves. He last pitched in the majors in 2016 with the Seattle Mariners and will vie for a bullpen spot.
Last but not least, Matt Kemp, 32, is back with the Dodgers, and despite recent trade rumors surfacing with the Brewers in exchange for outfielder Ryan Braun, it looks like Kemp will get a chance to bloom with the team that drafted him. He is owed roughly $43 million over the next two seasons, a huge reason the team is looking to move his contract. If he is not moved, he will be competing for the left field spot, as he hit .276/.318/.463 with 19 home runs and 64 RBIs.
When a team wins 104 games, not much needs to be changed. That’s what President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman stuck by in constructing this seasons squad. That doesn’t mean the team won’t have holes, as they still lack a pitcher to slot behind Clayton Kershaw. Nonetheless, this could allow prospects like Julio Urias and Walker Buehler, who has a filthy 12.7 strikeout-per-9 innings ratio, to get a shot at nabbing a spot in the rotation.
While stars like Bellinger, Corey Seager and Kershaw are going to keep the boys in blue upright throughout the season, the Dodgers have to improve their players conditioning for the long haul.
Friedman solved this issue by adding more depth. If any of the new pieces to fulfill their potential, this Dodgers team should have no problem reaching the World Series for the second season in a row.
Ultimately, a World Series rematch with the Astros is what Dodger fans would like to see. Considering the Astros’ improvement in the offseason, there is no reason to think that a rematch of the 2017 World Series is out of the realm of possibility.
Get ready, folks, it’s almost time for Dodger baseball.