Dodgers News: 3 Biggest Questions for LA Ahead of Opening Day
The Dodgers enter Opening Day of the 2023 season with a few major question marks. Obviously, they lost a lot of the talent that helped them win 111 games last year, but they did replace them with a few veteran pieces and some up-and-coming stars.
The Dodgers of 2023 are going to look very different than the Dodgers of the last few seasons, but that’s okay. The Dodgers have only won one World Series since their run of dominance began a decade ago, and this change could be exactly what they need to win another.
However, with major changes come major questions, and that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about here. So, as we get set for Opening Day, here are the three biggest questions the Dodgers have this season.
1. The Outfield Mess
The Dodgers have six outfielders on their Opening Day roster, but just one is sure of his role. Mookie Betts is going to be the everyday right fielder (except when he plays some second base), and there’s no question he’ll be in the lineup just about every day. After that, though, there are unknowns.
The Dodgers have three left-handed outfielders and two righties making up the rest of their roster. With a lefty on the mound, it’s pretty safe to assume Chris Taylor and Trayce Thompson will be in left and center field. However, if Thompson continues his reverse splits from last season of being unable to hit lefties, and Taylor continues to struggle with his high strikeout rate and low average, the Dodgers won’t have a ton of great outfield options against a left-handed pitcher.
Conversely, when a righty is on the mound, it sounds like James Outman and David Peralta will get a ton of opportunities, with Jason Heyward filling in, too. None of those three guys are exactly a sure thing, so who knows how they’ll pan out over the course of a long season. Also, if Thompson does continue those aforementioned reverse splits — he hit .308 against righties last season with an OPS of 1.010, and .just 174 against lefties with an OPS of .621 — how can you not give him opportunities against right-handed pitching?
And finally, in the off chance everyone plays well, how the heck does Dave Roberts go about getting everyone enough playing time.
Clearly, the outfield is going to be a big question mark, but if I had to make a prediction, I expect to see a ton of pinch-hitting this season, as Roberts leans into righty-lefty matchups all year long — or at least until there’s more clarity in this outfield.
2. The Thin Bullpen
Last year, the Dodgers bullpen was one of the team’s biggest strengths. Dodgers relievers combined for a 2.87 ERA, which was best in the National League and second in all of baseball just behind the Astros who had a 2.80 combined ERA.
The Dodgers are bringing a lot of those same pieces back, which is why the overall bullpen isn’t too much of a concern. However, the Dodgers bullpen is extremely thin, especially as many of its key contributors are opening the season on the injured list.
In my eyes, there are four sure things in the bullpen in Evan Phillips, Yency Almonte, Brusdar Graterol and Alex Vesia.
Then, there’s Caleb Ferguson, who was dominant to open last season, but then struggled immensely to close it out. After him there’s Phil Bickford, who has had his ups and downs over the course of his major league career. And finally, there are the biggest unknowns in Shelby Miller and Andre Jackson.
I’m personally very high on Jackson, and think he’s going to turn out to be one of the team’s best relievers. But Miller looked pretty bad in spring, and hasn’t exactly been a dominant reliever since transitioning to the bullpen.
If any of those guys struggle, or even worse, if anyone gets hurt, the Dodgers don’t have very many good options to replace them.
When Daniel Hudson and Alex Reyes make their returns, it won’t be as much of an issue. But Jimmy Nelson and Victor Gonzalez have had rough springs coming back from major injuries, Justin Bruihl has been far from a sure thing in his career and, after that, the Dodgers would be relying on young guys.
Gavin Stone may end up being by far the best option as a fill-in reliever for this team, but who knows what their plan is to bring him up.
The bullpen has an opportunity to be a strength again in 2023 — but they better hope to stay healthy.
3. Can J.D. Martinez Fill Justin Turner’s Shoes?
This offseason, the Dodgers elected to say goodbye to longtime team leader Justin Turner. It was not a decision a lot of fans liked, but it was one that the team felt needed to be done. It was time to usher in a new era of Dodger baseball, and the team hoped that J.D. Martinez, who’s both literally and figuratively taking Turner’s role, would be able to do that.
Martinez is coming in as the team’s full-time designated hitter, something Turner did a lot of last season. On the field, the Dodgers felt that they could get the same, if not, better production out of Martinez’s bat, and it’s easy to understand why.
Over the last two seasons, Martinez is hitting .280 with 44 home runs, 161 RBIs, 85 doubles and an OPS of .829. In that same time span, and somehow in the same amount of games (279), Turner is hitting .278 with 40 home runs, 168 RBIs, 58 doubles and an OPS of .811. So, the numbers are similar, but Martinez definitely has a slight edge, especially in the extra-base hits. Martinez is also three years younger than Turner.
So on the field, the impact should be there. However, Martinez also has to try to make an impact off the field. While Martinez isn’t expected to come in and fill JT’s role in the clubhouse, he is definitely expected to be one of the more prominent veteran voices. Martinez has spent 12 years in the MLB, has made five All-Star teams and won a World Series. He has the experience, and will be relied upon to help his team navigate this long season. He’s almost going to be like a coach on the field, who will hopefully continue to rake and drive in runs, as well.
These aren’t the only questions facing the Dodgers, but these are, in my opinion, the three biggest. Hopefully, though, none of them cause too many issues when the season gets underway.
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