30 in 30: Los Angeles Dodgers

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For the second year in a row, the Los Angeles Dodgers made a run to the World Series and were taken down by a 100-win team. After getting thoroughly beaten by the Red Sox in five games, LA lost star shortstop Manny Machado and starting catcher Yasmani Grandal to free agency, as well as trading away power-hitting outfielders Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig and third starter Alex Wood.

But the team shouldn’t take a step back this season despite limited offseason additions. They are getting back former Rookie of the Year Corey Seager to replace Machado, and still have one of the most talented rosters in baseball.

Machado went to division rival San Diego, while Nolan Arenado signed a long extension with the Rockies. But the Dodgers should stay at the top of their division, as they have the best pitcher of our generation in Clayton Kershaw and a lineup that took a hit but doesn’t lack in power.

The biggest move of the offseason in Hollywood was the trade of flashy outfielder Puig with Kemp and Wood to the Reds in exchange for the contract of veteran Homer Bailey and two prospects. The move freed up some salary cap space that led to some pursuing LA would pursue Bryce Harper, but the biggest moves were the signings of CF A.J. Pollock and reliever Joe Kelly.

Of course, the Dodgers will bring back a potent lineup, led by on-base machine Justin Turner and the power of Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy. Muncy had a breakout year last season and will likely play first this season. Kike Hernandez and Chris Taylor remain versatile options anywhere in the field.

As for the pitching staff, the Dodgers have a legitimate argument for the best rotation in baseball. It is led by the best pitcher in the MLB in Kershaw, followed by fellow lefty Rich Hill. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Walker Buehler both had great seasons last year, with Buehler finishing third in NL Rookie of the Year voting and projecting to improve even more.

In the bullpen, Kenley Jansen will be what he has always been. He didn’t pitch as well last season but still came up with along with Pedro Baez in the playoffs. An interesting story will be whether Dave Roberts uses Ross Stripling, a 2018 All-Star, in the bullpen or as a starter. He filled in masterfully for Los Angeles’s injured pitchers last season.

Speaking of Roberts, the manager comes into the season with a pretty good streak of two straight World Series appearances. He was able to guide LA back from a horrible start last season to winning the NL West in Game 163 and outdueling Craig Counsell and the Brewers in seven games in the NLCS. This season, he will be looking to bring these Dodgers to a World Championship, although that will be a tall order with upcoming Braves, Phillies, and Brewers teams along with the ever-dangerous Cubs.

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Seager should be able to continue in his role as one of the top shortstops in the MLB. He will bring a lot to the Dodgers lineup this season. Turner looks to continue being a force near the top of the lineup, but the leadoff spot will be interesting. Joc Pederson doesn’t really fit the role due to his .321 OBP, while Taylor might not have a place to play in the field with Pollock signed and Seager back at short.

I see the Dodgers lineup again being some of the top home run hitters in the league along with the Yankees. But losing the pop of Puig and Kemp will hurt their numbers. I’m not sure how Pederson will hit this season, but watching a whole season of Max Muncy will be a treat.

In the rotation, Buehler should continue to improve, and the LA top four can lay a claim to being one of the best in the league. Kershaw, if he bounces back from injury, can make a run at his fourth NL Cy Young. But that will not be good enough for the best pitcher in the league. He wants a chance to be World Series MVP and turn in a great playoff performance.

The Dodgers should be able to continue their six-year NL West reign, although two of the four largest contracts in the league reside out west in Machado and Arenado. The lineup will regress a little bit, but it won’t matter too much as the Dodgers blossom into the best rotation in baseball. Walker Buehler will continue to shine and challenge Clayton Kershaw as the best pitcher on the Dodgers, with Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu not far behind.

I think the Dodgers’ All-Stars this year will include Corey Seager, Kershaw, Buehler, and, though he should have made it last year for the first time, Max Muncy. The bullpen might be a little shaky in LA, and Kenley Jansen isn’t the best closer in the league anymore. Needless to say, though, this will be one of the best teams in the National League.

I just don’t see them making the World Series again due to the competitiveness of the NL. The Brewers will get even better, and the Braves are up-and-coming, having just signed Josh Donaldson. The Cubs will be hungry to get back, and making the Fall Classic three years in a row is a tall task. Look for the Dodgers to make their fourth NLCS in a row before falling to a talented, young team.

Team Record: 94-68

Team MVP: Walker Buehler

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