Here are the five questions the Dodgers must answer to end their World Series drought
As the Dodgers go for their sixth consecutive National League West title and aim to end a streak of 29 seasons without a World Series title, here are five questions which must be answered.
1. How will the Dodgers handle Justin Turner’s absence?
An otherwise placid spring training imploded Monday when a fastball from Oakland starter Kendall Graveman collided with the left wrist of third baseman Justin Turner. The baseball fractured bone, and fractured the team’s plans for the start of the season. In recent years, the Dodgers have weathered significant injury concerns — they played most of the summer of 2016 without Clayton Kershaw, and lost him for five more weeks in 2017. But Turner has been one of the constants in the lineup and in the clubhouse, emerging as a vocal leader and a clutch performer. He made his first All-Star team in 2017 while leading the Dodgers in on-base plus slugging percentage. His absence will sting. With Turner on the shelf, the team planned to use Logan Forsythe at third base, with Enrique Hernandez and Chase Utley splitting time at second base. Hernandez will get a chance to face more right-handed pitchers after revamping his swing over the winter.
2. Who will be the latest Dodgers rookie to star?
In 2016, Corey Seager was the unanimous National League Rookie of the Year. A year later, Cody Bellinger earned the same honor. The Dodgers have been buoyed in recent years by a bountiful farm system, which has also produced useful players such as Joc Pederson, Ross Stripling and Andrew Toles. Not all the high-level talent on the farm has arrived at the majors yet. Both pitcher Walker Buehler and outfielder Alex Verdugo debuted in 2017, but neither appeared in the postseason. That could change this year. Buehler earned raves for the life on his fastball, which hummed at 97 mph, during his Cactus League outings. Verdugo is a quality defender who can handle both right-handed and left-handed pitchers.
3. Can Seager’s elbow hold up?
By the second half of 2017, every time Corey Seager threw a baseball he felt pain in his right elbow. An MRI revealed inflammation, he explained at the time. The discomfort required daily management and led to Seager getting 10 days off late in the season. Seager suggested the lengthy break contributed to his sluggish production at the plate as the year came to a close. The team’s medical staff decided Seager would not require offseason surgery, but the Dodgers managed Seager closely upon his arrival at Camelback Ranch. He did not throw a baseball in a game until March 12. Seager has maintained that his arm feels healthy and strong, but it will require monitoring throughout the season. The team can afford to spell Seager for brief periods, with both Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez capable of playing shortstop. But the Dodgers would prefer not to be without their two-time All-Star shortstop for a significant amount of time.
4. Who will replace Brandon Morrow?
A few days after the Dodgers watched Morrow, their most reliable reliever besides Kenley Jansen in 2017, sign with the Cubs, the team finalized a one-year contract for right-handed pitcher Tom Koehler. The front office had targeted Koehler for years, intrigued by the shape of his curveball and his potential as a shut-down reliever. The plan for Koehler to slip into Morrow’s place lasted only a couple weeks — Koehler suffered a shoulder strain in the first week of March, and the team has not identified his replacement. With Koehler on the shelf, the Dodgers will once more utilize the duo of Josh Fields and Pedro Baez as Jansen’s primary right-handed setup men. In October, Kenta Maeda should shift back into the bullpen, but until then, the Dodgers will hope for pitchers like Yimi Garcia or Wilmer Font to fill the void created by Morrow’s exit and Koehler’s injury. The left-handed duo of Tony Cingrani and Scott Alexander could be dynamic. But the pitchers from the right side remain in question.
5. Is Matt Kemp here to stay?
The trade looked like a spoof. It seemed like something cooked up by bored fantasy baseball aficionados. Except it was real. The deal sent four Dodgers — Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir and Charlie Culberson — to Atlanta. In return, the team reunited with outfielder Matt Kemp, a two-time All-Star who nearly won an MVP in 2011. When the deal was completed, the Dodgers did not hide their intentions: They were looking to move Kemp and his $43 million elsewhere. When no suitors emerged, the team brought Kemp into camp, where he arrived in improved shape, thrilled to be back with the team who drafted him, and still capable of doing damage to opposing pitchers. Kemp appeared eager for extra work in the outfield, which had concerned Dodgers officials. While he may not be the force he was a few years ago, Kemp remains a dangerous hitter, a right-handed stick who can help balance a lineup with plenty of left-handed power. But if the Dodgers receive a tempting offer from another team, someone willing to absorb a significant portion of his salary, will they ship him back out?
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