Vin Scully, the inimitable and legendary Dodgers announcer regarded as the best in the history of the game, will be on the mic for his 64th season with the Dodgers, and he will not lack storylines this season.
All eyes on the baseball world will be on Los Angeles. The Dodgers finished 8 games behind the Giants last year in the division, and they faltered down the stretch in crucial head-to-head battles with their hated Northern California rivals, as the Giants manager Bruce Bochy out-managed Los Angeles’s Don Mattingly.
This season, the Dodgers, with their starting rotation and middle of the lineup, may be the most dangerous team in the playoffs. Can the Dodgers make the playoffs? And can they do so with a healthy lineup and rotation? If the Dodgers do not win the World Series, they will be compared to an over-budget box office film that flopped in theaters, especially by those who believe some of the Dodgers do not warrant their lucrative contracts and the Dodgers could have a team just as competitive for half the cost. Of course, winning, as it always does, will take care of a lot of things and justify the contracts of players like Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford.
The Dodgers, under a new ownership group led by Magic Johnson, have put together a payroll north of $200 million. They signed pitcher Zack Greinke for $147 million in the offseason and how he adjusts to Los Angeles may be as important as the inflammation in his elbow. Clayton Kershaw, who will receive a payday similar to Detroit’s Justin Verlander’s, must hope his hip stays healthy. Hanley Ramirez will miss the first six weeks of the season recovering from a thumb injury sustained during the World Baseball Classic. Pitcher Chad Billingsley starts the season on the disabled list, joining Ramirez, and pitcher Ted Lilly. Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, obtained last season from Boston, are “boom or bust” question marks. If both play like they did in their prime, they could propel the Dodgers to the World Series. If not, they will be the poster children for everything that is wrong with the Dodgers freewheeling and free-spending approach.
Adrian Gonzalez, the power-hitting first basemen acquired along with Messrs. Beckett and Crawford, has historically struggled at Dodger Stadium. And while Ramirez recovers, the Dodger infield will consist of journeyman Mark Ellis at second base, Justin Sellers at shortstop, and Luis Cruz, the career minor leaguer who had a solid season last year, most likely at third.
Yasiel Puig lit up Spring Training, hitting over .500, but he will start the season in Double-A. His potential seems limitless, and should someone in L.A.’s star-studded outfield get hurt, Puig may immediately be called up to show what he can do on the biggest stage.
Should the Dodgers make it to the playoffs, though, they may be the most formidable contender. They will potentially have a one-two, left-right combo of Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw that could put away a short series. If Josh Beckett gets his form back, he single-handedly can also carry a team in the postseason. They have so much depth at starting pitching that they can use Capuano and Harang in relief situations in playoffs, or if games go into extra innings. And that’s not even including Chad Billingsley and Korean import Hyun-jin Ryu, a lefty that the Dodgers will rely on, along with Beckett, to get them through the early part of the season.
A.J. Ellis could take one more step to becoming one of the game’s best catchers, as he holds the rotation together. While Ramirez recovers, the Dodgers pitchers must carry the team through the first two months of the season.
If healthy and in the playoffs, the middle of the lineup for the Dodgers looks particularly imposing, with Hanley Ramirez, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, and Adrian Gonzalez making it difficult for teams to pitch around a particular slugger. In addition, the right-left-right-left combination will make it difficult for teams to employ left-handed or right-handed specialists to get one these batters out in late-game situations. Carl Crawford will set the table and give pitchers fits when on base, if he stays healthy.
Under disgraceful former owner Frank McCourt, the Dodgers were derided for being cheap. This year, the Dodgers will be criticized for their sky-high payroll. When McCourt was penny-pinching, the Dodgers had an excuse for losing. There are no more such excuses.
The Dodgers need to just be in survive-and-advance mode from the first game against the Giants. The expectations that burden this team will make even early April games seem important.
To paraphrase former Los Angeles Laker Robert Horry, pressure bursts pipes or creates diamonds. For the Dodgers, anything less than a title will be deemed a failure.
When it comes to Scully, there will be speculation about whether this will be his last season. And the baseball world will wonder if he will travel to New York to call the Dodgers-Yankees game at Yankee Stadium in June, which would be a special treat for every baseball fan, as Scully, the redhead from Fordham, would return to city where he first started calling games for the Brooklyn Dodgers when three baseball teams from New York ruled the baseball world.