Baseball is back! We think. Each day, SportsIntel’s Matt DeSaro will take a look at two of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball as we head toward MLB Opening Day in late July and we continue today in the NL West with the favorite to win it all, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The owners and players agreed in late June to stage a 60-game season, beginning July 24. There are still many hurdles to overcome in this COVID-19 landscape, but for now, the teams are gathering for “Summer Camp,” a Spring Training reboot crammed into three weeks.

MLB Opening Day – Los Angeles Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers | O/U 37 Wins | +375 to win World Series

Coronavirus aside, the Los Angeles Dodgers have to be pretty pleased with what went down this past offseason in the build up to MLB opening day.  After getting beaten by the Astros in the 2017 World Series and the Red Sox in 2018, they again made a run into October the NLDS Game 5 where the Nationals took them out.   It seems after failing the last three seasons despite coming so close, the Dodgers are going for broke in 2020.

This might be the Dodgers year to finally end their 32-year World Series drought and hoist the hardware when all is said and done.  The Dodgers are winners of a staggering seven straight National League West titles but still have to get that final win.  Two World Series losses, two NLCS exits and getting knocked out of the NLDS three times has to sting a bit.

Especially when you take into account that the Dodgers not only had the best record in baseball with 106 wins but were also the best team top to bottom on paper.  Those 106 wins were a franchise-best and one of the best seasons that a modern MLB team has had.

They outscored opponents by 273 runs, had a winning record against all of their NL West rivals and flirted with 110 wins.

Last year’s projected win total of 94.5 was clearly way too light as the Dodgers beat that by 11.5 games.  The Dodgers were “only” able to muster 92 wins the previous year so 94.5 made sense at the time.  In hindsight, the books might be undervaluing this amazing team yet again.  Some experts have even stated that based on some advanced preseason metrics, the Dodgers still underachieved even with those 106 wins.

So where did they get better? Where did they get worse? And can they finally win a World Series in 2020? Let’s explore whether the Dodgers could as we countdown to MLB Opening Day.

Offseason Acquisitions: C Rocky Gale, OF Mookie Betts, OF Terrance Gore, OF Luke Raley, LHP David Price, LHP Alex Wood, LHP Kyle Lobstein, RHP Edubray Ramos, RHP Jimmy Nelson, RHP Blake Treinen, RHP Brusdar Graterol.

Offseason Losses: C Russel Martin, C Connor Wong, C Jair Camargo, 2B Clayton Daniel, 3B Jedd Gyorko, SS Kristopher Negron, INF Jeter Downs, INF David Freese, OF Alex Verdugo, RHP Casey Sadler, RHP Hyun-Jin Ryu, RHP Rich Hill, RHP JT Chargois, RHP Yimi Garcia, RHP Tyler Thornburg, RHP Kenta Maeda,

What Do The Dodgers Do Well?

This section could really be an article in and of itself.  If I wanted to sit and write about the ceiling for that this Dodgers team has, we’d be here until MLB opening day. This was a team that led the league in wins last year and has arguably gotten just a little bit better in the offseason.

This offense already had Cody Bellinger, who might just be one of the best all-around hitters in baseball right now after hitting .305/.406/.629 and a career-high 47 long balls. He has shaved almost 10% off his strikeout rate since 2018 and increased his walk rate by almost 5%.  If it’s possible that we haven’t even seen the best of Bellinger, things could go very well for the Dodgers this year.

Joc Pederson will occupy the left-field spot on the Dodgers after a deal with the Angels fell through.  This is great news for LA as Pederson has been a very strong contributor to this team.  While he didn’t hit the lights out last year, with a .252/.379/.571 slash line, but he smacked 36 long balls and 74 RBIs.

Rounding out this outfield is newly acquired Mookie Betts who will take over in right field.  He hit .295/.391/.524 in 2019 as a member of the Red Sox and might be the missing piece this team needed to put them over the top.  Despite moving on from the hitter-friendly confines of Fenway Park, Betts is still looking to have a WAR over six and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him end with a number closer to eight.

That is a pretty scary outfield on both sides of the ball.

Adding Betts to a team that was already the best in baseball sent them from the clear-cut favorite to win their division to a clear cut favorite to represent the NL in the World Series.

While I love the Additions of Betts, the Dodgers might have done even more to improve with the acquisitions to their pitching staff. While David Price isn’t quite as dominant as he once was, he will fill in perfectly for Ryu who signed with the Blue Jays.  Price will be a success if he can stay healthy and pitch an effective 150+ innings in the process.  He fell out of favor in Boston after having some control issues, but I think he sorts them out and slots nicely into this rotation.  Moving to Dodger Stadium will also help keep his ERA at a minimum.

While Betts and Price get the majority of media attention, the Dodgers also signed another couple of pitchers that will really help this team in depth and skill.  Alex Wood is and has been an underrated option as a starting pitcher.  This is really just based on his health issues in my opinion.  When he is healthy, Wood is a legit No. 2-3 starter and could be a major boon to this rotation.  Jimmy Nelson and Blake Treinen make great additions to the bullpen, adding depth and guys who can really eat innings.

The Dodger’s new arms for this season’s MLB join Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, and Julio Urias as the likely opening day rotation.

Kershaw may have lost a step since his dominant days as an annual Cy Young Candidate but he still managed to churn out 178.1 IP last year with solid results.  He ended the season with a 3.03 ERA and saw his strikeout rate rise from 23.3% in the first half of the year to 31.1% in the second half.   So don’t expect the 31-year-old to start his downturn just yet.  He is talented enough to make adjustments as he ages and has proven that he is still a force in the league.  He does need to sort out whatever hinders him in the playoffs, but as far as the regular season goes, Kershaw should be just fine.

Walker Buehler and Julio Urias will likely occupy the last two spots in the rotation.  Buehler is the clear favorite now of the two and might be in for a breakout season in 2020.  I think he has the foundation of an eventual Cy Young contender and this might be the year he makes that big step forward. He had a bit of a rough start to the year, giving up 11 runs in his first 12 innings.  But showed a lot for a 25-year-old and bounced back in a big way after his early-season struggles.  Buehler posted a 2.91 ERA with 206 K in 27 appearances from April 17th on and was a big reason the Dodgers crushed their season win total for 2019.  He posted two games with 15+ strikeouts and looked every bit the ace in training that the Dodgers were hoping he would be. If he can stay healthy, watch out for this guy.

Urias is another intriguing option at their disposal who may or may not start the season as their fifth starter.  He split time in 2019, starting eight games of 37 total appearances.  He posted a very strong 2.49 ERA in 79.2 innings and ended the year with a 3.43 FIP.  His durability has been the only issue for him thus far, if you ignore that arrest and suspension in May of last year.  Let’s remember he heads into his third season in the MLB at the tender age of 23.  He has a lot of growing to do and I think he has a legit shot of developing into a front end starter.

If league-leading potential at the plate and on the mound isn’t enough for you, worry not.  The Dodgers also led the pack in defensive runs saved.  To me, this means that, depending on how you specifically quantify things, the Dodgers might also have the best defense in the MLB.

Where Can They Improve?

If the previous section of this article wasn’t clear enough, it’s hard to find something to criticize with this Dodgers team heading into MLB opening day.  But, if I had to pick something it would be the bullpen.

The loss of Yimi Garcia hurts, with his 3.61 ERA in 64 total appearances.  It’s hard to find guys who can be trusted to go out on such a regular basis and keep things under control.  They do have a good closer, and a good amount of talent, but don’t have the depth I think they would like.  A few injuries to this bullpen could force the Dodgers to make moves to further bolster this group.  They have brought in a number of big question mark guys like Dustin May, Dennis Santana, and Tony Gonsolin.  But who knows what to expect from them.  This won’t be a bad bullpen by any stretch of the imagination, but they are the weakest link on this strong team.

I suppose another small concern I could have for the Dodgers is the danger of becoming complacent.  The regular season means little to this team right now.  To me this means that they are so good, they don’t have to go full-on every night to win enough games to take the NL West.  This is a team that won by 21 games last season and have little to stop them from doing so again this year.  All those wins did them little good and they eventually succumbed to the Nationals in the NLDS.  One could argue that the Dodgers would be smart to pull back on the reigns a bit down the stretch to rest their key players for the playoff push.  This strategy is always one that divides sports fans, but I personally see no reason to need a 21 game lead in the division.  Get the rest when you can.

So I do see a world where this could come into play come to Septemeber if the Dodgers have a double-digit lead again.

While this isn’t exactly a negative of the team in general, it could have negative effects on anyone betting this season win total to go over.

These guys are professional athletes so I don’t expect them to get too jaded or complacent this year that it would affect any wagers.  But I had to come up with something to put in this section.

Dodgers Season Prediction

This season’s Dodgers total is about at the apex of a number I feel comfortable betting the over.  But I thought the same thing about this team last year and got burned when they led the league in wins.  I am not going to make that same mistake this season.

I think this team might be even better than last year’s and maybe one of the best teams the Majors have seen in decades.  Kershaw finds his Cy Young stroke, Buehler and Price both have periods of lights outplay to go along with consistent wins.  The offense does their part and again leads the league in a number of significant categories and everyone stays generally healthy.

This Dodgers team is truly the definition of well rounded. They are the team nobody wants to play. They are terror personified.  They even have a good amount of depth just in case they get hit by the injury bug.  LA was already the best team in baseball and just added Mookie Betts and David Price.  While the loss of Ryu hurts, it’s nothing this team can’t shake off like a case of fleas.  The Dodgers should have little problem going over this win total.

Projected Starters:

C – Will Smith

1B – Max Muncy

2B – Gavin Lux

3B – Justin Turner

SS – Corey Seager

LF – Joc Pederson

CF – Cody Bellinger

RF – Mookie Betts

Projected Rotation:

Clayton Kershaw

Walker Buehler

David Price

Julio Urias

Alex Wood

Closer:

Kenley Jansen