Dodgers braintrust believes the roster is built to thrive in a shortened season
The deep and versatile Dodgers may seem more suited for the marathon of a traditional six-month regular season, but that shouldn’t make them more vulnerable to lesser clubs in a pandemic-shortened, two-month season.
“Yeah, we’ve always talked about the depth of the Dodgers over 162 games, but I think our depth plays just as importantly in a 60-game sprint,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said on a video conference call Thursday.
“I think the [designated hitter] will allow us to tap into our depth on the position-player side, and we have a bench that is more than capable of taking on a certain matchup we see as beneficial. On the pitching side, you don’t know how [starters] will be built up, so to be able to tap into our depth there makes sense.”
The Dodgers did not build a National League West dynasty on talent alone. Their seven consecutive division titles since 2013 also were fueled by the depth among pitchers and position players, and the ability to create favorable matchups on a nightly basis.
That won’t change as players return to Dodger Stadium next week for a second training camp in preparation for a shorter season scheduled to begin about July 24.
A rotation of Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, David Price, Alex Wood and Julio Urias will have capable starters such as Ross Stripling, Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin and Jimmy Nelson — if he recovers from lower-back injuries that slowed him in February and March — in reserve.
Andrew Friedman wouldn’t disclose the number of people who tested positive for coronavirus, but did say that at least one is a Dodgers player. He said none had “problematic” symptoms.
A bullpen anchored by veteran closer Kenley Jansen will have an abundance of flame-throwing, right-handed setup men in Blake Treinen, Pedro Baez, Joe Kelly and Brusdar Graterol, and left-handed options in Adam Kolarek, Scott Alexander and Caleb Ferguson.
The Dodgers have one of baseball’s most prolific outfields with 2019 NL most valuable player Cody Bellinger in center and 2018 American League MVP Mookie Betts, acquired from the Boston Red Sox, in right.
But they’ll have plenty of firepower in left as well, with a platoon of Joc Pederson, who cranked all 36 of his homers off right-handers last season and is recovered from a side injury that slowed him in March, and the right-handed-hitting A.J. Pollock.
A starting infield of Max Muncy (first base), Gavin Lux (second), Corey Seager (shortstop) and Justin Turner (third) will be backed up by the right-handed-hitting Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor — who can play three infield positions and the outfield — and left-handed-hitting Matt Beaty, a corner infielder and outfielder.
Beaty, Taylor, Hernandez, Pederson and Pollock will give Roberts plenty of designated hitter options. Will Smith is the starting catcher with Austin Barnes as a back-up.
“I think it’s all relative,” said Andrew Friedman, the team’s president of baseball operations. “We’re going to be playing the same number of games as our competitors.
“We feel like our depth will help us throughout the season, and at the beginning, when we have 30 guys, with how little we’ll lose night to night if something pops up or we have an injury or fatigue. We can insert guys.”
It will be imperative for teams with World Series aspirations to start well — not always a given with the Dodgers, who won division titles despite 60-game starts of 30-30 in 2018, 32-28 in 2016, 31-29 in 2014 and 27-33 in 2013.
But Friedman believes the Dodgers turned a mental corner with a 41-19 start en route to a franchise-record 106 wins last season.
“I think the most important thing is our players’ mindset,” he said. “We’ve seen it over the last couple years, the culture change that has happened with Doc and the coaches.
“Our players are focused and committed to winning that night, that pitch, that at-bat. That’s not gonna be any different [in a short season]. With our talent and mindset, we feel really good about what’s possible.”
One thing that will be different in 2020: The Dodgers, because of a geographical scheduling adjustment that will pit the NL West against the AL West in interleague play, will face the Houston Astros.
The Astros beat the Dodgers in a seven-game 2017 World Series, a title tainted by a sign-stealing scandal that rocked the sport and cost manager A.J. Hinch, general manager Jeff Luhnow, and Boston Red Sox manager and former Astros bench coach Alex Cora their jobs.
“We talked a lot about this in spring training,” Friedman said, when asked if he was excited about facing the Astros. “It’s human nature to go back and relive and think about 2017. It just couldn’t be less productive at this point in time.
“From our standpoint, they’re a good, talented team. It’s about beating them in 2020. It’s the only thing we can control at this point and where our energy is best spent.”
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