Los Angeles Dodgers 2014 Team Preview

Yasiel Puig is the Dodgers Straw that Stirs the Drink.
Yasiel Puig is the Dodgers Straw that Stirs the Drink.

It was last season in late June and early July, and we were in Las Vegas sitting in a sportsbook at the Belagio when it hit us: why don’t we take some money out of our emergency savings, and plunk it down on the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the whole damn thing? It almost seemed too easy. The Dodgers were just starting to get on a roll but the oddsmakers really weren’t onto them just yet. A lot stood to be made if someone had the gusto to plunk down the bet.

And as a wise gambler once told us; this is exactly why you do not bet. Luckily, we talked ourselves out of it and stayed away from it. But it was maybe only because we had a marriage to worry about if things didn’t work out for the Dodgers in the postseason.

Los Angeles would soon thereafter go on a 46-10 roll. National League pitchers seemed to figure out Yasiel Puig, but not entirely. The Dodgers ran into a buzzsaw of a team in St. Louis whose rotation got hot at just the right time, and looking back that St. Louis team excelled at all the small things that the star-power Dodgers did not. Small execution, great defense, and exceptional pitching helped the Cardinals prevail.

We were happy to see the legendary Dodgers succeed. We would have been fine with them taking the title last year. It’s good for baseball when the Dodgers are good. In our opinion, they play in America’s most enchanting city, in a gem of a stadium in the sunshine, with the grandfather of baseball calling their games late-night in the Midwest all by himself.

They have an eclectic roster and a charismatic ownership group. Their GM looks like a guy who could have you whacked. There are a lot of things to love about this team heading into 2014.

Major Off-season Moves:

  • Signed Clayton Kershaw to a 7-year, $215 million dollar contract.
  • Michael Young retired.
  • Signed  Don Mattingly to an extension through 2016.
  • Signed Jamey Wright.
  • Signed Chris Perez.
  • Re-signed Juan Uribe to a 2-year, $15 million dollar contract.
  • Signed Alexander Guerrero to a 4-year, $28 million dollar contract.

And you’re damn right we’re bullish on the Dodgers. Did 2013 scare us off a little bit with the way they eroded in the NLCS? Absolutely not. We started with this team because we’re picking them to win the whole damn thing in 2014. As we have been so often in life (and sometimes not enough), we were just a year early on the Dodgers. They’re a year better, a year wiser, and they’re going to still come into your town and stomp your team and probably drink all the tequila your city has to offer this season. Click through the jump to learn more about our projected 2014 champions.

Projected Starting Lineup:

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The Dodgers seem set on entering the season with the dynamic Puig at the top of their order. This probably happens because Don Mattingly says Puig isn’t a classic RBI guy yet, and because Mattingly would like to see him get an extra at-bat per game. It also will happen because Dee Gordon can’t get on base to save his life, and he’s one of the only rivals for the leadoff spot this spring.

We don’t really expect that to stick. Puig will either get off to a slow start hitting lead-off or who knows; the crazy sumbitch might just surprise everyone once again by being so good that his manager decides he’s got ‘middle of the order thumper’ written all over him. One of those two things will happen, and Yasiel Puig’s time as a leadoff man will come to an end.

The rest of the lineup has a nice veteran presence to it. If you watched the playoffs closely you have to believe that Carl Crawford has something left to his game, and he hit .283 last season with 15 steals. Hanley Ramirez also proved that he shouldn’t be forgotten about just yet – he hit .345 last season in 86 games with a 1.040 OPS. Putting those two guys in front of a .300 caliber hitter like Adrian Gonzalez could be a lot of fun for Dodgers fans. Of course of those three, you wonder when a big injury is coming.

And if we’re going to talk Dodgers and injuries, the next guy we mention is Matt Kemp. Kemp appeared in just 73 games last season due to multiple nagging injuries, and finally the Dodgers made the decision that was best for all parties involved by just shutting him down for good. At press time he’s said to be iffy for the opening game; which the Dodgers would tell you is fine because they have the aging Andre Ethier as their fourth outfielder. The truth is Ethier himself began to show his age last season (.272, 12 HR, 53 RBI) and the Dodgers would have loved to have traded him and his large contract this offseason but had no takers. People want to think that Kemp will return and offer the MVP type service he once did, but that isn’t a given for all players. We see Kemp slowly sliding into obscurity with a career that trails off with unflattering numbers. If he can provide the dynamic play that he did in 2009, 2011, or 2012; the Dodgers are going to be even better off. We are telling you not to expect it. And stay the Hell clear of the man in fantasy baseball.

But we’re not done. Because if we were, we wouldn’t get to mention The Uribear. He hit one of the biggest home runs in Los Angeles in the last few decades to send the Dodgers to the NLCS.

He is what he is. He’s about a .260 to .270 hitter with okay defense, but the guy has some pop for the six hole. He hit three homers in a game last September, and if you’re taking Uribear lightly these are reminders that he’ll rip your damn face right off when you least expect it.

A.J. Ellis is a nice backstop who ‘handles the pitching staff well’ – a classic line used by organizations when your catcher has a season to forget with the bat. Ellis hit only .238 and didn’t OPS north of .700, but we expect him to improve these numbers this season a bit. He has the ability to quietly get on base and draw walks. And when that happens a lot of the time he’ll be stranded by Dee Gordon who might be down to last-chance saloon when it comes to proving that he’s a big league regular. You can’t hit in the low .200s and not walk for long, no matter how fast you are.

Projected Pitching Staff:

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Here’s another huge strength for the Dodgers. They play in a park that is as big as Yosemite, and it hides the blemishes of subpar guys like Danny Haren. What we like about the Los Angeles rotation isn’t that they have virtually two aces in Kershaw and Zack Greinke; it’s that for their fifth starter they’ll have the luxury to choose from Josh Beckett, Paul Maholm, Chad Billingsley, and anyone who may really impress out of the minor leagues during spring training.

You’re almost certain to have someone in your rotation get dinged at some point during the long season. The fact that the Dodgers can choose from those experienced guys will serve them mightily at some point this season.

Ryu ended up being about as good as you could have hoped for last season with his 3.00 ERA, 154 to 49 K to BB ratio, and 14-8 record.

Paco Rodriguez, Jamey Wright, Brandon League, J.P. Howell, Chris Withrow, Brian Wilson and the big man at the end of the pen Kenley Jansen make up a really formidable group that doesn’t get talked about enough. We would rank Jensen in our top three closers in all of baseball right now.

If you’re looking for a chink in the armory in Hollywoodland, you won’t find it examining the arms. That was not pun-intended in any way. We’ll just ignore that they signed Chris Perez, because that guy scares the hell out of us. Keep him away from the ninth inning and this could work out.

Predicted Record & Finish:

95-67, First place in the NL West

We say they’ll crush their way past that 92.5 win total that oddsmakers have set before this season gets started, and we like them to go beyond just hanging another division title pennant at Dodger Stadium this year.

If this is Vin Scully’s final season calling Dodger baseball, it’s going to be the most memorable one since that magical 1988 campaign. Sure, Yasiel Puig came into camp overweight. Yes, he drives too fast. The Dodgers won’t be without their questions that every team faces during the course of a long season. But when the sun sets on 2014, we think they’re as strong as anyone in baseball all-around. They’re going to do things their way – with a lot of flash and excitement and with the fans of baseball serving as the ones who benefit most.

Plus in regards to Puig, the media will take those things and use it as a colorful byline when you’re an MVP candidate.