This series will evaluate one team per day, starting on Jan. 23 and ending on Feb. 22 (the first game of spring training). It is based on last season's performance, the offseason changes since then and the author's outlook for the team in 2013. Please keep in mind that rosters can, and will, change before Opening Day.
We started in the American League East, worked across to the National League, tackled the Central divisions, knocked out the AL West, and now finish with the NL West, going in alphabetical order. Next up, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
2012 finish: 86-76 (2nd place, NL West)
LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP J.P. Howell, LHP Rob Rasmussen, RHP Zach Greinke, RHP Kevin Gregg, RHP Mark Lowe, RHP Peter Moylan, OF Alfredo Amezaga, 2B Skip Schumaker, 3B Dallas McPherson, C Jesus Flores, C Ramon Castro
LHP Randy Choate, RHP Joe Blanton, RHP John Ely, RHP Todd Coffey, RHP Jamey Wright, OF Bobby Abreu, OF Juan Rivera, OF Shane Victorino, 2B Adam Kennedy, SS Jake Lemmerman, C Matt Treanor
Why they will improve this year
If anyone was watching the race for the second NL Wild Card spot down the stretch last year, you saw a new lineup finally clicking in Los Angeles, which should have been signs of a brewing storm for the rest of the league. Though the Dodgers fell just short of sneaking into the playoffs in 2012, all the big bats started getting hot when it was too late.
That kind of production should carry over into 2013, and a full year with Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez could be the makings of a championship contender. Los Angeles returns a pitching staff that was one of the best in the league a year ago, with a couple improvements.
Brandon League will close games out (or he better, for that contract he received!), and Howell gives them another southpaw option out of the bullpen. Former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke joins fellow honoree Clayton Kershaw at the top of the rotation and forms a formidable one-two punch. Closely following are Josh Beckett and Ryu, who are looking at big seasons at pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium.
And the Dodgers have a good problem at the fifth starting spot, as Ted Lilly, Chad Billingsley, Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano all have a shot to fill the gap, and all would be above-average pitchers in that slot. But the real excitement with this team will lie in the offense.
A team that ranked 13th in runs scored last season will have the services of two former All-Stars for a full season in Ramirez and Gonzalez, and could get a healthy season from Kemp, which might put them over the top for the division.
Why they will regress this year
Everybody knows that money doesn't necessarily buy championships. The Dodgers may have blown up their payroll, but did they really acquire enough talent to make the playoffs? First of all, Greinke's value has been inflated since the day he was handed that shiny trophy. Then you have the up-and-down recent career of Beckett, and the complete unknown in Ryu.
Aside from Kershaw, do the Dodgers actually have any consistent starters? The bullpen is anchored by a guy who has limited (and mediocre) closing experience, and their next best option gets rattled after one bad pitch.
The lineup is another big "if." The two best leadoff options are Mark Ellis and Carl Crawford—enough said. The former is an average hitter with no speed, and the latter is coming off an injury and just praying to regain his form after tanking in Boston in 2012. Nobody knows if Ramirez will bring his numbers back up or continue to decline.
Most importantly, Kemp missed significant time with injuries last season and Ethier couldn't hit a pitch thrown by a lefty if it was set on a tee in front of him. If any one of the big four sluggers misses time or slumps horribly, the Dodgers lineup is suddenly a lot more vulnerable.
And if Kershaw's hip injury, which bothered him for a large part of last year, persists, who's to say the Dodgers don't lose their best (by far) pitcher? Even with a good year from their ace, what if Greinke tanks, Ryu struggles to adjust to major-league ball, or Beckett has another disaster of a season? In a worst-case scenario, the Dodgers are the ultimate busts and dip below .500 this year.
The outlook for 2013
The difference between the Dodgers and the pricey, star-studded Yankee regimes is that Los Angeles actually went out and traded for the guys they wanted, instead of only snatching up the biggest free agents every winter. Picking up Gonzalez and Ramirez via trade last year were moves almost any GM would have made if he had the financial capabilities.
Gonzalez is one year removed from hitting over .330, Ramirez had a down year in 2012 and still hit 24 homers and drove in over 90 runs, and Kemp and Ethier are bona fide studs when healthy. This is the best lineup the Dodgers have fielded in years, and it's only made better if Crawford rebounds, as I expect him to.
Whenever a team has Kershaw heading a rotation, they stand a fighting chance. But adding one of the best Korean pitchers in the world with a major-league-ready changeup to a staff that has Kershaw, Greinke and Beckett is heading toward a big improvement. Given that the Dodgers already had one of the better staffs in the league, this is icing on the cake.
Though I don't personally trust League at closer, and expect Kenley Jansen to take over by the All-Star break, the bullpen should be very solid in 2013. The Dodgers have all the pieces in place to take back the division from San Francisco, and it will be a massive disappointment if they don't.
I'm looking forward to Kemp having a big year—closer to 2011 than 2012. Add in above-average years from Gonzalez, Ethier, Ramirez and Crawford means the Dodgers will have one of the best lineups in baseball—perhaps the best. It's my opinion that the Dodgers live up to expectations and claim the NL West title with a win total in the mid-90s.
Potential changes before Opening Day
The Dodgers are pretty much set for 2013, but they might still be in the market for another reliever. Given that they have a plethora of starting pitching at the back end of the rotation, Capuano or Harang could be dealt to acquire more bullpen depth.
Chris Perez has been a name floating around the rumor mill in connection to the Dodgers lately, and Cleveland could definitely use a guy like Capuano in that rotation. I wouldn't be surprised to see a move like that made before Opening Day. Otherwise, they are set.
Biggest surprise: Carl Crawford
Biggest disappointment: Brandon League
Bold prediction: Hanley Ramirez hits .290 with 30 homers and 20 stolen bases
1. Carl Crawford, LF
2. Mark Ellis, 2B
3. Matt Kemp, CF
4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
5. Hanley Ramirez, SS
6. Andre Ethier, RF
7. Luis Cruz, 3B
8. A.J. Ellis, C
1. Clayton Kershaw, LHP
2. Zack Greinke, RHP
3. Josh Beckett, RHP
4. Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP
5. Chad Billingsley, RHP
Projected finish: 94-68, 1st place
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You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jamblinman.