With the new additions they've made this winter, the Los Angeles Dodgers have the goods to jet to the top of the NL West in 2013 and stay there for good.
Hmmm...Sounds like something that might have been said about the Dodgers in late August of 2012 after they plundered the Boston Red Sox. They were supposed to be an unstoppable force after that, but ended going "pluh" instead.
To be fair, the Dodgers' schedule played a part in their late-season demise. They had to play six games against the San Francisco Giants down the stretch, and at one point played consecutive series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds.
The Dodgers are going to come across similar challenges as they negotiate their schedule in 2013, and it's already clear when their toughest challenges are going to come.
June 6-23: Start West, Go East and Then Come Back
It was right around the early days of June when things started to take a turn for the worse for the Dodgers in 2012, and the same could happen in 2013 if their schedule gets the better of them.
The Atlanta Braves will come to Chavez Ravine for a four-game series starting on June 6. The Dodgers split their six games with the Braves in 2012, but two of their losses came in a three-game series in LA in August.
The 2013 Braves are going to be a dangerous team. They've made two huge additions to their offense in Justin Upton and B.J. Upton, who will combine with Jason Heyward to form one of the best outfields in baseball. Their pitching should also be dangerous, especially if Kris Medlen picks up where he left off and Craig Kimbrel continues to improve (if that's even possible).
After the Braves leave town, the Dodgers will tackle a four-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Dodgers had a very tough time against Arizona in 2012, losing 12 out of 18. In 2013, the D-Backs may be an even bigger thorn in their side.
The D-Backs have jettisoned some valuable assets this winter, but they acquired an underrated player in Martin Prado and they have a wealth of strong defensive shortstops to draw on. Their starting pitching staff will be elite if Ian Kennedy returns to form, Wade Miley carries over his success from his rookie season, Brandon McCarthy stays healthy and Daniel Hudson gets healthy.
After an off day on June 13, the Dodgers will travel to Pittsburgh for a three-game series against the Pirates. After going 6-1 against Pittsburgh in 2012, the Pirates may not strike the Dodgers as a real threat.
But the Dodgers lucked out in 2012. They didn't catch the Pirates while they were hot in June and July, when they won 34 out of 53. That was largely Andrew McCutchen's doing, as he had a 1.167 OPS in that time span. If he gets hot again this summer, he could do a number on the Dodgers (and everyone else).
The Dodgers then have to go to New York to take on the Yankees for a two-game series starting on June 18. For all the negative buzz surrounding the Yankees, they're still a solid team. CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda anchor a quality starting staff, and they still have plenty of power to go around between Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira.
There will be no rest for the weary after the Dodgers wrap up their two-game series against the Yankees. They'll leave New York on June 19 and start a four-game series in San Diego the next day.
It's going to be a rough couple of weeks for the Dodgers in June, but there are three other stretches in their schedule that look tougher.
September 5-19: Reds, Diamondbacks and Giants in Crunch Time
The Dodgers went through a tough stretch in the early stages of September in 2012, at one point dropping seven out of eight to fall seven-and-a-half games off the pace in the NL West.
They'll be in danger of suffering a similar skid this September when they embark on a two-week stretch of games that will see them face the Reds, Diamondbacks and Giants, all three of whom could be just as hot after a playoff spot as the Dodgers.
The Reds were the most overlooked superpower in baseball in 2012, as they won 97 games and tied with the Washington Nationals for second in the league in ERA. The key members of their vaunted starting pitching staff (Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey) will be back again in 2013, and they could have another ace in their midst if Aroldis Chapman pans out as a starter.
Cincinnati's offense was solid to begin with and should be even better in 2013. The Reds will have the best left-handed hitter in baseball playing for them if Joey Votto stays healthy, and they upgraded their leadoff hole in a big way by trading for Shin-Soo Choo. He had an .881 OPS as a leadoff man in 2012, which looks mighty good next to the .581 OPS compiled by Reds leadoff men last season.
After taking on the Reds in Cincinnati, the Dodgers will head home for a seven-game homestand against the D-Backs and Giants, who are the de facto kings of the NL West until someone knocks them from their throne.
The Giants weren't very active in terms of making upgrades this winter, but they didn't really need to be. They have a very solid starting rotation based around Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong, and it's going to be elite if Tim Lincecum finds his form after a lost 2012 season.
Lincecum still managed to handle the Dodgers even while he was struggling against everyone else, compiling a 2.63 ERA in four starts against Los Angeles. Cain, Vogelsong and Barry Zito also had ERAs under 3.00 in multiple starts against the Dodgers, and Bumgarner's only start against them saw him go eight shutout innings.
Combined, Giants pitchers had a 2.94 ERA against the Dodgers in 2012 that helped them win 10 of 18 meetings. The Dodgers' offense should be more of a threat in 2013, but their bats are still going to be in for a challenge when San Francisco pitchers are on the mound.
The series between the Dodgers and Giants will be a four-game tilt. As soon as it's over, the Dodgers will hit the road for another four-game series against the Diamondbacks in the desert, where the Dodgers had a 3-6 record in 2012.
This will be a tough stretch, but it's nothing compared to what awaits the Dodgers in July and in May.
July 19-31: Post-All-Star Break Gauntlet Run
The Dodgers have a favorable lead-in to the All-Star break lined up for the 2013 season, as they're slated to finish the first half with a four-game home series against the hapless Colorado Rockies.
After the All-Star break, however...
First up out of the gate will be a three-game series in Washington against the Nationals, who are easily the league's most talented team from top to bottom.
The Nationals have a rotation trio in Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann as good as any in the game, and it's a scary thought that the training wheels will be coming off Strasburg in 2013. He and Washington's other starters now get to hand the ball off to a bullpen that includes Rafael Soriano, who saved 42 games for the Yankees in 2012.
The Nats also have one of the deepest offenses around, with power on the corners in Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche and tons of athleticism up the middle. Bryce Harper proved to be the real deal in 2012, and expectations for his 2013 season should be sky-high after he finished 2012 by slugging .690 in his final 34 games.
After finishing up their three-gamer in Washington, the Dodgers will go to Toronto to take on the Blue Jays. They've gone all-in this offseason, and their new-look team should be dangerous.
The Jays have dramatically improved a starting rotation that managed a mere 4.82 ERA in 2012, bringing in NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, steady-as-they-come lefty Mark Buehrle and 2010 NL ERA champion Josh Johnson. They also have a right-hander in Brandon Morrow who has filthy stuff and a lefty in Ricky Romero who is not as bad as his 5.77 ERA in 2012 would indicate.
Offensively, the Jays may be able to get 80 home runs out of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio will provide speed and versatility at the top.
The Dodgers will play a getaway game in Toronto on July 24 and then fly all the way back to Los Angeles to start a four-game series against the Reds at Chavez Ravine the next day. Once the Reds leave town, the Yankees will come in for a quick two-game series.
Don't be surprised if the Dodgers' bats go cold in this stretch of games. They'll be facing two pitching staffs that were among the best in the business in 2012, as well as a Blue Jays staff that should be greatly improved in 2013 and a Yankees staff that should be as solid as ever.
We'll know for a fact that the Dodgers will be able to handle themselves, however, if they first handle themselves during a brutal stretch of games in May.
May 13-30: Five Potential Contenders in a Row
The Dodgers are going to have it fairly easy in the first six weeks of the 2013 season, so there's a solid chance that they'll start this season off just as hot as they started off in 2012.
They should hope so. The last thing they want is to still be trying to find their way when the 13th of May rolls around. That's when the Dodgers will begin a stretch of 16 games against five teams that could all be contenders in 2013.
The stretch will start with three games against the Nationals at Dodger Stadium, and then the Dodgers will fly across country for a three-game series against the Braves in Atlanta. From there, it's on to Milwaukee for a three-game series against the Brewers.
The Brewers have been largely overlooked this winter, and they may be just fine with that. It was right around when people stopped paying attention to them in 2012 that they took off, winning 36 of their final 59 games and coming close to snatching a postseason spot.
The Brewers did it mainly with their bats. They scored more runs than any team in the National League in the second half of the season, compiling a .790 OPS and hitting 101 home runs.
Ryan Braun did his part. He hit a career-high 41 home runs in 2012, and also led the National League in OPS for a second straight season. The Brewers had three other players besides him hit at least 20 home runs, and Carlos Gomez just missed with 19.
Milwaukee's arms are merely decent, but not as far as the Dodgers are concerned. Brewers hurlers had a 2.53 ERA against the Dodgers in 2012, a big reason why the club was able to win six of seven against Los Angeles.
After the Dodgers face the Brewers, they'll head home for a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals, another team that packs a punch on offense. Though their offense had a tendency to go into slumps, the Cardinals still finished second in Senior Circuit in runs scored and first in OBP in 2012.
The bigger question mark hovering over the Cardinals is how good their arms are going to be, especially now that Chris Carpenter is doubtful to pitch in 2013. They still have Adam Wainwright, however, who had a 3.18 ERA in his final 16 starts after shaking off some rust left over from his 2011 Tommy John operation.
Beyond him, the Cardinals have two very promising right-handers who could fill Carpenter's shoes. Shelby Miller is widely regarded as one of baseball's top prospects, and Trevor Rosenthal certainly made an impression in the postseason with his 100-MPH heat and nasty hook.
Once the Cardinals leave town, the Dodgers will play four straight games against the Los Angeles Angels in two different stadiums. The first two games will be at Dodger Stadium, and then the battle will shift to Anaheim.
The Angels got the better of their matchups against the Dodgers in 2012, winning four out of six. They should be even better in 2013 after the additions they've made this winter.
Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols should form one of baseball's most lethal middle-of-the-order duos in 2013. Hamilton is coming off a season that saw him hit a career-high 43 homers, and Pujols had a had a .959 OPS in his final 118 games after shrugging off a slow start.
Then there's Mike Trout. He was baseball's best player in 2012, hitting 30 home runs, stealing 49 bags and playing tremendous defense in the outfield. Even if he's not as good in 2013, he should still be one of baseball's elite players with his skill set.
Trout will be a part of an excellent defensive outfield that will be able to help the club's pitchers just as much at Dodger Stadium as it will at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Angels pitchers dominated Dodgers hitters with a 2.89 ERA in six games in 2012, and they have the goods to do so again in 2013.
All told, this stretch of games will be the first real gut check the Dodgers are going to get in 2013, not to mention the toughest.
If they come out clean on the other side, then the other tough stretches they're going to face in 2013 won't scare them in the slightest.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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