The misery of last spring, when a cavalcade of injuries set the stage for the Dodgers breaking a major league record for players placed on the disabled list, offers perspective on any misfortune suffered thus far in 2017.
Andre Ethier herniated a disk in his back?
At least it isn’t like last March, when he suffered a broken leg and ended up missing the majority of the season.
Scott Kazmir can’t synchronize his delivery?
At least the team has Alex Wood and Hyun-Jin Ryu ready to replace him in the rotation.
Corey Seager tweaked his oblique?
At least he’s used to missing the Cactus League season, considering how a knee injury sidelined him for two weeks last March.
No team spent more money over the winter than the Dodgers, who shelled out $192 million to re-sign closer Kenley Jansen, third baseman Justin Turner and pitcher Rich Hill. The club returned 21 members of the 25-man roster from the National League Championship Series, where the Dodgers fell in six games to the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs advanced to the World Series and then snapped a 108-year title drought. In order to end their own 29-year dry spell, the Dodgers must go through Chicago.
A baseball season cannot be distilled into a competition between two clubs, but rival executives and scouts consider the Dodgers and Cubs to be the class of the National League. The race will also include the New York Mets and Washington Nationals, who will compete in the East Division.
The Dodgers have won four National League West titles in a row. They are favored to capture a fifth.
San Francisco signed closer Mark Melancon, but one reliever cannot fix their bullpen troubles from 2016. Colorado saw its prized free-agent acquisition, Ian Desmond, suffer a broken hand this spring. Arizona fired its manager and general manager. And the less said about the San Diego Padres the better.
Amid this field, the Dodgers return a lineup that features four players who hit at least 25 homers last season — Yasmani Grandal, Turner, Seager and Joc Pederson. Clayton Kershaw and Hill finished first and second in earned-run average among pitchers who threw at least 100 innings. Jansen is considered the best reliever in the National League.
When the trade deadline arrives, the Dodgers possess a wealth of both prospects and actual wealth, giving them a combination of resources should they choose to pursue Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen or Chicago White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana.
Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, showed his willingness to part with prospects when the team sent three talented young pitchers to Oakland last August in exchange for Hill and outfielder Josh Reddick. This winter, he shipped pitching prospect Jose De Leon to Tampa Bay for second baseman Logan Forsythe, who represents an upgrade at the position while adding some balance to the everyday lineup as a right-handed hitter.
Friedman absorbed a raft of criticism after the team let Zack Greinke depart in free agency before the 2016 season. A year later, after Greinke flopped in his debut with Arizona, Friedman receives praise for his restraint.
Kazmir, one of the pitchers signed to replace Greinke, dealt with injuries for much of 2016. Kenta Maeda, another pitcher brought in after Greinke’s departure, made all 32 starts but faded in the final months.
Maeda proved critical to the rotation as injuries decimated the group. Kershaw missed 2 ½ months with a herniated disk. He adjusted his workout regimen to reduce the strain on his back and returned in time for the playoffs. He did not report any concern about his condition this spring, but the team will remain vigilant in watching him. Hill will merit similar treatment. Sidetracked by injuries for much of his career, he has only logged 610 1/3 innings across 12 big league seasons.
Any starting rotation can be considered susceptible to injury. But the Dodgers proved capable of withstanding a preposterous number of ailments last season,which created a sense of confidence in handling the unknown going forward. What remains unknown is whether this team can break through and return to the World Series for the first time since 1988.
The Dodgers held a 2-1 lead over the Cubs last October before bumbling through three consecutive losses. The club picked a horrific time to play some of its worst baseball. They made errors in the field. They took shoddy at-bats at the plate. And the Cubs walloped Kershaw in Game 6.
The ending brought bitterness. The winter allowed Friedman to get the band back together. And now the team has an opportunity to reach the heights they hovered just beneath for the past four seasons.