2020 MLB Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

Does L.A. Have The Pitching To Win It All?

The Los Angeles Dodgers made big-time, Yankee-type splashes in the off season, signing perennial MVP-candidate Mookie Betts (.301 career hitter, .374 on-base percentage) and All-Star pitcher David Price. One problem: Price is refusing to play and L.A. already let last year’s ace, Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-5, 2.32 earned-run average) go to Toronto. They also let fellow left-handers Rich Hill go.

I always felt like Hill deserved a little better treatment. The Dodgers didn’t have him on a pitch count so much as a batters-faced count. His numbers were great with the way they used him. He went 30-16 with a 1.079 WHIP and a 3.16 ERA –when he wasn’t suffering from blister problems, or wasn’t being removed in the fourth inning of games because stat geeks saw he was getting hit harder his third time through the lineup. He has a real chance to go on a deep run in the playoffs with his new team, the Minnesota Twins.

The Dodgers still have Walker Buehler –3.26 ERA, 215 strikeouts, 37 walks last year and he’s not the only number-one the team has. They may have four.

Pop quiz. How far down the list of starters with at least 10 starts was Clayton Kershaw‘s earned-run average?

Answer: third, at 3.03. That was behind Ryu and Hill… and ahead of Buehler. Kershaw also scuffled along and won “only” 16 games while striking out 189 and striking out 41. His back though has been a problem the last few years and has cost him time.

Ross Stripling has a high fastball, big curve ball, well-disguised changeup combination that keeps hitters off balance. He is a perfect number-three starter to go with Buehler and Kershaw. L.A. may use him in a Kenta Maeda role –also allowed to leave– as a fifth starter/long reliever. Tony Gonsolin started six games last year and fared well overall with a 2.93 ERA and a walks-plus-hits-per-innings pitched average of 1.03. Julio Urias is far-enough removed from Tommy John surgery that he may be pressed into service to fill the role of Ryu.

Beware of a pending closer issue: Kenley Jansen hasn’t been his dominant self for three seasons now, but no one seemed to see it except me. His 3.79 ERA last year should have everyone in the Dodger organization looking for alternatives, of which there are plenty.

Don’t underestimate the loss of utility player David Freese. It seems like third baseman Justin Turner gets plunked and misses significant time every year and Freese has always been there to hit a big fly or make the key defensive play at third. Infielder Wilmer Flores is decent and adds depth to an already deep infield, but Freese was always the guy around something good. Those guys are hard to find.

I hope MVP Cody Bellinger learned as much from the second half of 2019 as he did the first half, because it was a slow slide downhill from a record-setting opening 100 games. The slide was so steep that Christian Yellich of the Milwaukee Braves would have won the MVP, had he not been injured just prior to the end of the season. Bellinger hit 70 points lower in the second half compared to the first, and his .235 average in August is most concerning considering a third of the season will take place during that month this year.

L.A. won 106 games last year and seem to have the pieces in place to replace the ones that they lost. This feels like a pretty good combination of experience and youth that could carry them to a title with Betts filling in the gaps they may have missed in previous runs. Growing pains may cost them a few wins along the way, but it’s not many: 101 wins.

Coronavirus 60-game prediction: 40-20

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