2014 Dodgers Season Preview: Health Will Be Key To Success
The Los Angeles Dodgers head into 2014 looking to capitalize on the success of 2013, when they came two wins away from a World Series appearance. The Dodgers lineup and pitching staff are stacked and they’re easily favored to win the NL West for a second straight year. However, as Dodgers fans know, one key injury can derail all of that.
Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley are among the key Dodgers who missed considerable time due to injury last season. In fact, the only Dodgers player to play more than 150 games last year was Adrian Gonzalez. The team added depth to the bullpen and starting rotation in the off-season, but the team may not have as much depth on the bench this season.
The majority of games were missed up the middle by Ramirez at short and the departed Mark Ellis at second base. This lead to a bevy of games played by the also now departed Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker. The Dodgers added Cuban second baseman Alex Guerrero, but it’s unclear if he’ll be ready to start the season. Juan Uribe had one of his best seasons last year, but he’s going to be 35 and he hasn’t played in 150 games since 2007 with the White Sox. We’ll find out more as spring training continues but there’s a good possibility the Dodgers starting second baseman on Opening Day could bee Justin Turner or Dee Gordon.
The Dodgers have the luxury of their four All-Star outfielders, but aside from Yasiel Puig, each has dealt with recent injuries. Matt Kemp may not be ready to start the season, so for now, the surplus outfielder problem won’t be an issue. I’m a firm believer that Kemp can regain his 2011 MVP-runner up form, but he’s coming off ankle and shoulder surgeries, so the team will be cautious with Kemp.
Andre Ethier gave the Dodgers capable center field defense last year, but it wasn’t his best offensive year by any stretch (.272/.360/.423 vs. .288/.362/.470 career) and he also dealt with shin splints and other nagging injuries throughout the year. Carl Crawford had a nice comeback year in 2013, but he also only played in 116 games, as he dealt with hamstring and back issues over the course of the season. Crawford won’t turn 33 until August, but at this point, he’s a guy who needs regular rest. Scott Van Slyke should figure to get ample playing time this season and highly touted prospect Joc Pederson could find himself on the big league squad at some point down the line, but that’s probably not something the Dodgers’ front office wants just yet.
The top of the Dodgers’ pitching staff is among the best in baseball, but last year and especially in the playoffs, the team lacked depth at the back end of the rotation. The off-season additions of Dan Haren (30 starts a year, every year since 2005) and Paul Maholm (30 starts a year in five of the last eight seasons), along with the return to health of Josh Beckett should offset that. Chad Billingsley will also return from his elbow injury in May or June.
The bullpen will also remain largely intact as the team re-signed Brian Wilson and added former Indians’ closer Chris Perez to the bullpen, giving the Dodgers one of the deeper bullpens in the game. J.P. Howell, Jamey Wright, Chris Withrow, Paco Rodriguez and Seth Rosin will all have a chance to make an impact in the bullpen this year. The late innings remain a strength for the Dodgers.
The Dodgers have the pieces in place, this year, but they have to remain healthy. Dodger players missed over 200 games due to injury in 2013 and hopefully they won’t have to deal with that this season.
ICYMI: Here’s our Dodgers Nation Week In Review Video