The defending National League West champion Dodgers already are off and running in 2014 and the almost always accurate golferswest.com crystal ball envisions a wire-to-wire romp for the spending kings ($235 million player payroll) in the Major Leagues this season.
Well-armed with the most expensive starting rotation in the big-leagues, the Dodgers have every right to believe they are capable of reeling off a string of victories that no one else in the division can match. But the battle for second place, and potential Wild Card playoff berth could be interesting.
A sore back will keep ace left-hander and reigning Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw from starting Sunday night’s opener against the Padres in San Diego, but the ailment appears to be little concern to the organization that dipped into its new $8 billion local TV contract to give Kershaw to a 7-year, $215 million contract extension during the off-season.
The Dodgers opened the regular season in Australia last week with back-to-back wins against the Diamondbacks in games played on a converted cricket field in Sydney. There was some grumbling among some of the Dodgers about having to travel halfway around the world to open the season (crybaby Zack Greinke stayed in Arizona) as did injured outfielder Carl Crawford.
But the post-June 21, 2013 Dodgers team, which suddenly jelled and posted a 40-8 record that turned a last-place, 9 ½ games-behind disaster, into a first-place and 7 ½-game lead, looked nearly as good overall Down Under against the D-Backs as they did in last June-July-August.
Therefore, the smart money says the Dodgers will become the first back-to-back NL West champions since Los Angeles did it in 2007-08.
Here’s what to expect in the National League West:
LOS ANGLES DODGERS
2013 Record/Finish: (92-70, first place).
Rotation: LHP Clayton Kershaw, RHP Zack Greinke, RHP Hyun-Jin Ryu, RHP Dan Haren, RHP Paul Maholm .
Acquisitions: RHP Dan Haren, INF Chone Figgins, RHP Jamey Wright; RHP Chris Perez.
Departures: LHP Chris Capuano; INF Mark Ellis; INF Jerry Hairston; RHP Ricky Nolesco; INF Nick Punto; INF Skip Schumaker.
Comment: The big question is how to replace dependable Mark Ellis at second base. If veteran Chone Figgins, a non-roster invitee, can resume a once-stellar career, there should be no problem. But Figgins is not the same Figgins who played for the Angels. Skipper Don Mattingly also must find a way to harness outfielder Yasiel Puig, who has immense talent but a teenager’s mentality.
Prediction: First Place.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
2013 Record/Finish: (76-86, tied for third).
Rotation: RHP Matt Cain , LHP Madison Bumgarner, RHP Ryan Vogelsong, RHP Tim Lincecum, RHP Tim Hudson.
Acquisitions: OF Michael Morse, RHP Tim Hudson.
Departures: RHP Chad Gaudin, LHP Barry Zito, OF Andres Torres, 1B Brett Pill, OF Francisco Peguero, RHP Guillermo Moscoso, LHP Jose Mijares.
Comment: Re-signing RHP Tim Lincecum and RF Hunter Pence during the off-season were needed for the Giants to have any hope of staying close to their bitter-rival Dodgers this season. Adding OF Michael Morse should boost the offense, but he needs to be a lot healthier for the Giants than he was for the Mariners last season. A bounce-back season Lincecum to something even close to his two Cy Young Award seasons certainly would help.
Prediction: Second Place
2013 Record/Finish: (81-81, third place).
Rotation: RHP Bronson Arroyo, RHP Brandon McCarthy, RHP Trevor Cahill, LHP Wade Miley, RHP Randall Delgado.
Acquisitions: OF Mark Trumbo, RHP Addison Reed, RHP Branson Arroyo, RHP Addison Reed, LHP Oliver Perez.
Departures: INF Willie Bloomquist, 3B Matt Davidson, OF Adam Eaton, LHP Tyler Skaggs, RHP Heath Bell, C Wil Nieves.
Comment: All eyes will be on newcomers Brandon Arroyo, a veteran right-handed starter the D-Backs signed after losing out in the Masahiro Tanaka Sweepstakes, and outfielder Mark Trumbo, acquired in a trade with the Angels.
Prediction: Third Place
SAN DIEGO PADRES
2013 Record/Finish: (76-86, tied for third).
Rotation: RHP Andrew Cashner, RHP Ian Kennedy, LHP Eric Stults, RHP Tyson Ross, RHP Josh Johnson (injured).
Acquisitions: OF Seth Smith, LHP Alex Torres, RHP Josh Johnson, SS Ryan Jackson, LPH Patrick Schuster, RHP Joaquin Benoit.
Departures: INF Logan Forsythe, INF-OF Jesus Guzman, OF Mark Kotsay, RHP Luke Gregorson.
Comment: Watch the first three weeks of the Padres season closely as an early-season stretch the past two seasons that pretty much ruined the regular season before it really got started. Cases in point: The Pads went 9-20 to begin the 2012 season, followed by a 5-15 start a year ago. That kind of put a damper on the entire campaign both seasons and, while bad starts in a horse race isn’t always costly, trying to catch up to some quality NL West teams is no easy task.
Prediction: Fourth Place.
2013 Record/Finish: (74-88, fifth place).
Rotation: LHP Brett Anderson, RHP Jhoulys Chacin (injured), LHP Jorge De LaRosa, RHP Juan Nicasio, RHP Tyler Chatwood.
Acquisitions: LHP Brett Anderson, OF Brandon Barnes, OF Drew Stubbs, RHP LaTroy Hawkins, LHP Boone Logan, RHP Jordan Lyles, LHP Franklin Morales, 1B Justin Morneau.
Departures: LHP Jeff Francis, CF Dexter Fowler, 1B Todd Helton, INF Jonathan Herrera, LHP Josh Outman, C Yorvit Torrealba.
Comment: Perhaps more than any other team in the division, the Rockies must stay healthy to have any chance of escaping the division basement. That means they can’t afford to lose All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzke or All-Star Carlos Gonzalez for long stretches like last season. The bullpen should be improved, but having veteran right-hander LaTroy Hawkins as the primary closer doesn’t match up with other clubs in the tough division,
Prediction: Fifth Place