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Celebrating a World Series title in front of fans motivates Dodgers in 2021

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts speaks with Justin Turner and Max Muncy before a spring training game.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, left, speaks with Justin Turner, center, and Max Muncy before a spring training game against the Colorado Rockies on March 1. The Dodgers are looking to repeat as World Series champions.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

A few weeks before the Dodgers reported for spring training, manager Dave Roberts remembered, Walker Buehler explained the motivation behind winning another championship on a conference call.

They won the World Series in October, yes, but they weren’t rewarded with the party they all dream about. No clubhouse champagne showers. No walking off the plane, trophy in hand, to a sea of fans drunk with joy. No parade.

The Dodgers won their first championship since 1988 in Arlington, Texas, 1,400 miles from Vin Scully Avenue, and scattered the next day for the offseason. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t pause when professional sports teams won championships. Instead, it nearly derailed the Dodgers’ pursuit and shrouded their victory in controversy when Justin Turner tested positive, was removed from Game 6 of the World Series, and returned to the field for the postgame celebration.

“We want to do it again to ultimately enjoy all the fruits of winning a championship,” Roberts said. “And I think understanding the situation, what the climate was last year, we couldn’t. But that’s something that’s a carrot out there for all of us to understand, number one, we have a lot of work to do. Long way to go.”

The Dodgers’ Dave Roberts, who is Black and Asian American, says he’d consider declining to manage the NL team after Georgia adopts law making it harder to vote.

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The chase began at Camelback Ranch last month. The Dodgers arrived as the favorites to win the World Series, the darlings of computers and eyeballs alike, fresh off signing Trevor Bauer and re-signing Turner. Every known projection calculates they will win 100-plus games.

Finding holes requires some squinting and context. One could argue the Dodgers have the best lineup and stable of starting pitchers in the major leagues. MLB Network placed nine Dodgers in its top 50 players last month. FanGraphs projects the roster will finish with the highest WAR in the majors. Vegas gives them the best odds — 7-2 — to repeat.

They boast three MVPs — Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, and Clayton Kershaw. That doesn’t include Corey Seager, who claimed the National League Championship Series and World Series MVP in October, and is a popular prediction to win the National League MVP this year with free agency looming.

They feature three Cy Young Award winners — Kershaw, Bauer and David Price — and there’s a strong chance Price won’t even begin the season in the starting rotation. Then there’s Buehler, who could be the best of the bunch if he can spread his October dominance to the regular season for long stretches. Julio Urías, Tony Gonsolin, and Dustin May join Buehler as talented starters yet to hit their primes.

Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler delivers during a game against the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

The front office used the starting pitching surplus to bolster the bullpen in the postseason in 2020 — and that was without Bauer, Price, and Jimmy Nelson. This year, they will use the excess to help the bullpen from the start of the season. Price, Nelson, and either Gonsolin or May are likely to begin as relievers. Dennis Santana, another starter by trade, could join them in the bullpen.

That doesn’t, however, address the uncertainty at the back end. Kenley Jansen enters his 17th season with the organization as the closer again despite being ignored in the most important late-game situation the last two postseasons. In 2019, Roberts chose Joe Kelly in Game 5 of the National League Division Series. Last year, he picked Urías to close out Game 7 of the NLCS and Game 6 of the World Series.

But the Dodgers designated Jansen their closer during the offseason and haven’t budged after not acquiring a bona fide closer to replace him. Jansen is 33. He’ll likely never throw as hard as he threw during his peak, when he was the premier reliever in the majors, leaving him with a slimmer margin for error. Precise command is paramount for his success.

This year, he’s not only pitching for his job, but for a contract. He’s a free agent next winter and the chances of the Dodgers re-signing him are slim to none.

National League West preview: The San Diego Padres are looking to turn the tables on the World Series champion Dodgers, who have won eight straight division titles.

“I don’t want to sound cocky, man, just, to me, I don’t feel like I have anything to prove but to just get better,” Jansen said. “I know who I am and I know what I can do. I know what I’m capable of doing if I’m right, if everything is in its place. To give you an honest answer, no, I don’t feel like I have anything to prove, but to get the job done.”

Should Jansen falter enough during the regular season, the Dodgers could turn to Blake Treinen, Corey Knebel, Brusdar Graterol or one of the converted starters for the ninth inning. The leash would be cut significantly shorter in the postseason — if the Dodgers reach October with Jansen still the closer.

The Dodgers’ other potential shortcoming is the bench. Kiké Hernández and Joc Pederson departed via free agency, leaving the team two holes to fill. Matt Beaty, Edwín Rios, and Zach McKinstry are among the candidates for expanded roles.

Both departments — the bullpen and bench — could be addressed before the trade deadline. The Dodgers have been aggressive to plug holes — big and small — midseason in the past. This year, with a chance to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since 2000, shouldn’t be different. They want another championship and everything that comes with it.


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