If the Los Angeles Dodgers want to return to the World Series for the first time since 1988, now is the time.
Loaded with talent young and old, along with pitching depth, the Dodgers are geared towards more than a fifth-consecutive NL West pennant. This team has the pieces to win it all.
Clayton Kershaw is always the starting point when measuring up the Dodgers’ chances. The three-time Cy Young Award winner has put up otherworldly numbers in his career, especially the last six seasons. “The Claw” is 100-37 with an ERA of 2.06 in the span of six years, and last season put up a ridiculous 15.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
As brilliant as Kershaw has been in the regular season, critics point out that his postseason numbers are not nearly as spectacular. In nine postseason series Kershaw’s record is 4-7 with a 4.55 ERA, this despite a very good 2016 NLDS against the Nationals, along with a 1-0 shutout of the Cubs in the NLCS.
Kershaw’s numbers also reflect the Dodgers in general over the last 4 years. The Dodgers have won between 91-94 games each of the last four seasons, but have failed to reach the World Series. The championship drought in L.A. now stands at 28 seasons since Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser led the Dodgers to the promised land.
The failures of the past are being wiped away by glimpses of the future. The franchise’s future cornerstone is shortstop Corey Seager. The 22-year old Kannapolis, NC native hit .308 with 26 home runs while winning the NL’s Rookie of the Year. Seager also collected 40 doubles and 5 triples and finished third in the NL MVP voting.
Young lefthander Julio Urias also gave the fans in L.A. something to get excited about. Urias’ rise as a 19-year old harkened many Dodgers fans back to the days of Fernando Valenzuela, another once-young Mexican lefty with nasty stuff. Urias was on a team-implemented innings restriction last season, and manager Dave Roberts has stated that remains the case in 2017. Urias finished 2016 in glowing fashion, going 4-0 with a 1.34 ERA and 33 K’s in 33 2/3 innings pitched.
As hard as it may be to believe, right fielder Yasiel Puig is only 26 years old. The Cuban star splashed on the big stage in 2013 and looked like a surefire superstar in the making. However, after clashes with managers, teammates, and the front office Puig may be down to his last strike with the Dodgers. Puig is said to be in a different mindset since he was sent down to the minors last August, but top prospect Cody Bellinger is waiting in the wings. The Dodgers are hoping Puig earns the right to play out the remaining 2 years and $14 million dollars on his contract.
While the young players offer something new for the Dodgers, the team has tried to balance out the roster with capable veterans to bring order to the clubhouse.
The reliable and steady Adrian Gonzalez anchors the batting order and the defense at first base. The left-handed Gold Glove winner has averaged 23 homers, 90 RBI’s, and has hit .280 over the last two seasons in Los Angeles.
Retaining third baseman Justin Turner was one the biggest offseason moves the Dodgers made. Turner led the Dodgers with 27 home runs while slugging .493 last season and driving in 90 runs. Turner’s two-run triple in Game 5 of the NLDS is the kind of big hit the Dodgers will be expecting after signing the eight-year vet to a 4-year $64 million dollar contract.
The Dodgers also decided to bring back venerable second baseman Chase Utley for a third campaign. Utley’s gritty style and postseason experience became a valuable asset for the club over the last 2 seasons. While Utley may be used more sparingly this season with the acquisition of Logan Forsythe from Tampa Bay, his continued mentorship of Seager and other young players has a spot on the roster.
The Dodgers’ starting pitching staff looks to be full of quality depth, with the potential for more top-flight starters than most teams can muster up. Along with Kershaw and Urias, left-handed curve ball artist Rich Hill returns to the hill for L.A. Hill only started 20 games due to blister issues last season, but is 14-6 with a 2.00 ERA in 139 1/3 innings since returning to starting duty in September 2015. Hill showed his dominant potential throwing six shutout innings against the Cubs in last year’s NLCS. 29-year old rookie Kenta Maeda was a stabilizing force last season for a rotation that was constantly in flux. Maeda went 16-11 with a 3.48 ERA in his first major league season, and the roomy confines of Chavez Ravine should provide improvement upon those stats.
The analysis of the Dodgers’ bullpen begins and ends with Kenley Jansen. The former catching prospect was brought back to the club on a five-year $80 million dollar contract, and may prove to be worth every penny. Jansen had 104 strikeouts against nine unintentional walks along with an ERA of 1.83 last year. His manager rode him hard last postseason as well, as Roberts showed he wasn’t afraid to put his closer out there for more than one inning. In three showings against the Cubs last October, Jansen put up dazzling stats. The stopper pitched 6 1/3 innings, allowed no runs, and struck out 10 while not walking a single Chicago hitter.
The pieces all to seem to be there for a long and deep run into October for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The pressure is on the front office, manager, and players to put it all together and bring a title back to L.A.