With likely better health, Dodgers favorites to win NL West
LOS ANGELES (AP) Clayton Kershaw was lost for 10 weeks in the second half of the season, they had a record 28 players go on the disabled list, and the Los Angeles Dodgers still won 91 games and their fourth consecutive NL West title last season.
Dave Roberts survived plenty of adversity in his first year as manager while having his optimism regularly tested.
With likely better health this season, the Dodgers have to be considered favorites to repeat as division champions.
Their farm system is deep - witness Corey Seager's rise to prominence - and they have enough veteran talent to withstand the ups and downs.
The team re-signed closer Kenley Jansen as the bullpen anchor, kept third baseman Justin Turner as a leader in the clubhouse and re-signed lefty Rich Hill as No. 2 in the rotation.
Here are some things to watch for this season:
NEW LOOK: The Dodgers fulfilled a need at second base to upgrade their hitting against left-handed pitching by acquiring Logan Forsythe from Tampa Bay in exchange for pitcher Jose De Leon. Forsythe hit .264 with 20 homers, 52 RBIs and 76 runs scored last season for the Rays. Leading off the Dodgers' lineup, he has potential to score 90 runs despite having three injections in his arthritic right knee during spring training.
HEALTHY ROTATION: Kershaw is set to make his seventh consecutive opening day start against San Diego on April 3. The left-hander is healthy after missing 2 + months last year with a herniated disk. That's welcome news to a team that endured a parade of pitchers on the disabled list last season. Kershaw was 12-4 with a 1.69 ERA and 172 strikeouts in 149 innings, the best ERA of his nine-year career. Rich Hill will have his first full season in the Dodgers' rotation as the No. 2 starter with Kenta Maeda slotted in at No. 3. The fourth and fifth spots will be up for grabs among Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Alex Wood and Hyun-Jin Ryu, all of whom were injured last year. Julio Urias, the 20-year-old who made an exciting big-league debut last year, figures to be held back in extended spring training as the front office carefully manages his arm with September and October in mind.
SUPER SEAGER: SS Seager exceeded the front office timeline in becoming the franchise's best young player, hitting .308 with 26 home runs to win NL Rookie of the Year. He led NL shortstops in batting average, slugging, runs, total bases and hits. Veteran 2B Chase Utley mentored him and was re-signed to maintain the improved clubhouse culture. Seager has been sidelined by a strained oblique since early March, but he expects to be ready by opening day. With another year of maturity for the 22-year-old, it's a matter of whether he can top his performance.
OUTFIELD LOGJAM: A deep outfield corps will force the Dodgers to platoon heavily, using a mix-and-match approach that means no one is likely to get more than 450 at-bats. The choices among right-handed hitters include Yasiel Puig, Trayce Thompson, Scott Van Slyke and Kike Hernandez; left-handed hitters include Andre Ethier, Joc Pederson and Andrew Toles. Ethier could miss his second straight opening day because of mild disk herniation in his lower back, similar to the injury that derailed Kershaw last year. The 34-year-old Ethier missed most of last season with a broken leg. Puig hasn't consistently performed to the level he showed as an All-Star during his first two seasons, which could relegate him to role player status in the crowded outfield if the team doesn't try to trade him.
YOUNGSTERS TO WATCH: 1B-OF Cody Bellinger hit 56 home runs in his last two pro seasons after reaching Triple-A at age 21. The son of Clay Bellinger, who won two World Series titles with the Yankees, possesses a smooth left-handed stroke and patient approach at the plate. Defensively, Bellinger moves and throws well, and he's played all three outfield positions, giving him versatility and No. 1 status among Dodgers prospects. He could land on the big-league roster this season, and is already regarded as the heir apparent to 34-year-old All-Star 1B Adrian Gonzalez. RHP Yadier Alvarez had a 2.12 ERA in Class A during his pro debut last season. The Dodgers spent $16 million to sign the 21-year-old Cuban during their international binge two years ago. His fastball has topped 100 mph.
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