The Los Angeles Dodgers are coming off a 92-win season in 2013, but are also just months removed from their third National League Championship Series defeat in six years.
Still, with a boatload of talent at their disposal and a massive payroll, the reigning NL West champions enter 2014 with lofty expectations.
Manager Don Mattingly is back for another season after signing an extension through 2016, and 2013 NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw returns to the mound after signing a seven-year, $215 million extension this past offseason.
"It's not a normal Spring Training. Tomorrow we're, in a sense, in the middle of things. We've got 19 [days of exhibition games] before we play a game that counts. We've got to feel some sense of urgency."
The health of outfielder Matt Kemp and the development of superstar Yasiel Puig remain huge question marks for the Dodgers ahead of Opening Day, but also point to the club's seemingly endless potential.
With spring training underway, let's take a closer look at the Dodgers' latest preseason results and what fans can expect in 2014.
|Wed, Feb. 26||Arizona Diamondbacks||3:10 p.m.||L, 4-1|
|Thu, Feb. 27||Arizona Diamondbacks||3:05 p.m.||W, 4-3|
|Fri, Feb. 28||Chicago White Sox||3:05 p.m.||W, 5-0|
|Sat, March 1||Milwaukee Brewers||3:05 p.m.||L, 6-5|
|Sun, March 2||San Diego Padres||3:05 p.m.||D, 3-3|
|Mon, March 3||Oakland Athletics||3:05 p.m.||L, 7-3|
|Tue, March 4||Seattle Mariners||3:05 p.m.||L, 4-1|
|Wed, March 5||Cincinnati Reds||9:05 p.m.||W, 10-3|
|Thu, March 6||Los Angeles Angels||3:05 p.m.||4-4|
|Fri, March 7||Texas Rangers||3:05 p.m.||W, 2-1|
|Sat, March 8||Texas Rangers||3:05 p.m.||T, 5-5|
|Sat, March 8||Seattle Mariners||9:05 p.m.||L, 8-5|
|Sun, March 9||San Francisco Giants||4:05 p.m.||L, 3-2|
|Mon, March 10||Oakland Athletics||4:05 p.m.||T, 8-8|
|Tue, March 11||Kansas City Royals||4:05 p.m.||W, 7-5|
|Wed, March 12||Arizona Diamondbacks||4:05 p.m.||L, 9-2|
|Thu, March 13||Cincinnati Reds||4:05 p.m.||W, 8-2|
|Fri, March 14||Chicago Cubs||4:05 p.m.||L, 5-4|
|Sat, March 15||San Diego Padres||4:05 p.m.|
|Sat, March 15||Chicago White Sox||10:05 p.m.|
|Sun, March 16||Colorado Rockies||4:05 p.m.|
|Thu, March 20||Australia||4 a.m.|
|Thu, March 27||Los Angeles Angels||10:10 p.m.|
|Fri, March 28||Los Angeles Angels||10:10 p.m.|
|Sat, March 29||Los Angeles Angels||9:05 p.m.|
March 14: Josh Beckett Makes Early Exit as Cubs Top Dodgers, 5-4
Josh Beckett was scheduled to go four innings against the Chicago Cubs on Friday, but managed just three before he had to leave with an injured thumb. The two sides made history in the process:
Beckett gave up one hit, walked two and fanned one over the course of those three scoreless innings, but told the media afterward that the issue is making no progress, via Steve Dilbeck of The Los Angeles Times:
“It’s just sore,” Beckett said. “It’s not getting worse, but it’s not getting better.”
A trip to the disabled list to start the season appears in the cards for Beckett.
The negative pitching news did not stop there for the Dodgers on Friday. Reliever Jamey Wright gave up four runs in the sixth to up his spring ERA to 10.50.
It was not all bad for the Dodgers at the plate, although they were shut out through three frames by prospect Kyle Hendricks. Still, Luis Valbuena had four hits and knocked a two-run homer and Alex Guerrero notched two RBI in the seventh via a double to close the gap. Despite the late fireworks, Chicago did not need its half of the ninth to secure the win.
March 13: Paul Maholm Has Tough Outing as Dodgers Fall to Reds, 8-2
Another day, another starter that gets blistered by the opposing offense.
The 31-year-old journeyman gave up two home runs and a total of six earned runs in just 2.2 innings in the start. With Maholm fighting for the fifth spot in the rotation, he said he just tries to put the bad starts behind him, according to Mike Petriello of Dodgersdigest.com:
Maholm: "you learn from it, and you try to forget it pretty quick."— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) March 13, 2014
While it was another lackluster day for the Dodgers starting pitching, the offense got a good sign from a superstar infielder. Hanley Ramirez got a hold of a pitch in the bottom of the fifth inning with two outs and scored just the second run of the game for L.A. with the solo shot.
As for any other notables, Dee Gordon went 2-for-4 at the plate in the leadoff position. Gordon has struggled at the plate this spring and sports a .212 batting average, but could be turning the corner with a few good at bats.
In the bullpen, Red Patterson continued a good spring in relief of Maholm. The righthander threw 3.1 innings out of the pen and didn't surrender a run off of one hit and a strikeout. Patterson lowered his ERA from 1.42 to a 0.93 for the spring.
March 12: Zack Greinke Roughed Up In Return During Loss to Arizona Diamondbacks, 9-2
The Dodgers scored two runs in the first inning but then it was all Diamondbacks as the divisional rivals pulled away for a 9-2 victory.
Zack Greinke got the start for Los Angeles after missing two weeks with a calf injury. He worked around two singles for a scoreless first inning, but he gave up a home run to Andy Marte to start the second. Arizona was able to get two more singles and a sacrifice fly to score two more runs.
In two innings, Greinke allowed three runs on six hits while strikeout out two. He had this to say after the game, via Mark Saxon of ESPN:
Ideally, I'd like to have another start or two in spring, but it's just not going to happen so you just have to get as ready as you can without pushing it too hard and getting hurt again.
My two main goals are getting healthy and then trying to get ready. Right now, I'm neither one of those quite yet, but I'm closer on the calf than actually pitching good.
The rest of the staff did not fare much better. Zach Lee allowed four runs (three earned) in 2.2 innings while Chris Perez gave up two more in two-thirds of an inning. The only one who seemed to have a good day was Kenley Jansen:
Kenley Jansen strikes out the side in the 8th.— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) March 12, 2014
Meanwhile, Andre Ethier was the biggest contributor at the plate thanks to his two-run double in the first inning. He also had a single later in the game but the rest of the lineup only managed four total hits in the losing effort.
Although the loss will not mean much in the long run, this was not an encouraging effort from the Dodgers.
March 11: Dodgers Beat Royals, 7-5
It took the Dodgers' bats a little while to heat up, but they started cooking just on time, as the Dodgers exploded for six runs in the final three innings to beat the Royals, 7-5.
Dan Haren had a rocky outing for the Dodgers although he didn't hurt them in the box score, giving up just one run but seven hits and a walk in four innings. The Dodgers had their chances against Royals' starter Jason Vargas, reaching base five times in the four innings he pitched, but they too mustered just a run out of those opportunities.
The Royals took a 3-1 lead into the top of the seventh, but A.J. Ellis cut the deficit in half in after scoring on a wild pitch from Wade Davis. Scott Van Slyke then gave the Dodgers a one-run lead in the eighth with a two-run homer, though Justin Maxwell gave the Royals the lead right back in the bottom of the inning with a two-run single.
The Dodgers' Twitter account was plenty excited after Van Slyke went deep:
But Louis Coleman couldn't pick up the save for the Royals, giving up a three-run homer to Noel Cuevas in the top of the ninth. Sam Demel then came on and threw a perfect ninth, earning the save for the Dodgers.
It was a disappointing day for several of Los Angeles' stars, however. Carl Crawford left three runners on base, while Adrian Gonzalez stranded two. And Yasiel Puig did manage to get on base once on a walk but went hitless on the afternoon.
March 10: Dodgers Break Down Late, Tie Athletics, 8-8
It was a roller-coaster day for the Dodgers—both offensively and defensively—on Monday. The club started out hot, went on a cold streak, warmed up again, then couldn't hang on to a big lead. The unfortunate result was a tie with the A's.
Andre Either started the game with a bang, as he pummeled a three-run jack to right field in the bottom of the first. Not to be outdone, Juan Uribe smashed a solo shot to left field just after.
Dre Day! Andre Ethier with a three-run home run. #Dodgers lead 3-0.— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) March 10, 2014
Hyun-Jin Ryu had a solid outing on the mound. He went five innings, giving up just three hits and one run while striking out four batters for a 2.45 ERA.
It went well for the Dodgers into the seventh inning, as Miguel Olivo ripped a three-run double to left and Miguel Rojas brought Olivo home soon after on a single to right.
Miguel Olivo clears the bases with a monster double -- #Dodgers lead 7-3.— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) March 10, 2014
Afterward, the rest of the pitching rotation disappointed. Brian Wilson only managed to go 0.1 innings, giving up two runs in the process. It was the same story for Brandon League, who gave up two runs on 0.2 innings pitched. Carlos Frias had the worst day of all, giving up four hits and three runs without recording a single out.
After five runs scored by the A's in the eighth to tie things up, both teams bats went dead. No runs were scored in the ninth inning and the result was an 8-8 tie.
March 9: Clayton Kershaw Improves, Dodgers Fall to Giants, 3-2
Clayton Kershaw was named the starter for opening day at Camelback Ranch on Sunday before throwing 70 pitches in five innings.
While far from perfect, it was a step in the right direction for Kershaw. He allowed five hits, struck out one and gave up a two-run homer to Brandon Hicks before exiting the mound. He told reporters after the game, via Steve Dilbeck of The Los Angeles Times, that he was happy with the progress:
“Definitely the results were a little bit better,” Kershaw said to reporters in Phoenix. “Still some things I need to work on. But for the most part, it was a positive step in the right direction.”
That ends the positives on the day. The offense was once again woeful at best with six hits against as many pitchers. Yasiel Puig was the long bright spot as he went 1-for-3 with a double, but it does little to cover up the fact the team went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left 12 runners on base.
The Dodgers are running out of time to get things right, especially with a lengthy trip to Australia on deck.
March 8: Poor Relief Work Leads to 5-5 Tie against Rangers, 8-5 Loss to Mariners
Saturday's contest against Texas appeared to be in the bag when the Dodgers took a 5-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning.
Unfortunately, veteran relief pitcher Henry Sosa was unable to keep the Rangers at bay, allowing three runs in that final stanza. He allowed a two-run double to Bryan Peterson and then gave up a triple to Mitch Moreland before being replaced by Sam Demel, who allowed Moreland to score on a sacrifice fly.
As pointed out by Dodgers Nation, it was the third tie since the start of spring training, moving the team's record to 4-4-3:
And the Dodgers tie another. Now 4-4-3 for the spring.— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) March 8, 2014
Los Angeles' batters were active throughout the game, as the Dodgers racked up nine hits and six walks. However, with only two extra-base hits coming, the team was unable to truly capitalize on its scoring opportunities.
In the second game of the night in split-squad action, Dodgers' starter Josh Beckett allowed three home runs in as many innings en route to an 8-4 loss to the Seattle Mariners. Jesus Montero, Stefen Romero and Justin Smoak all got in on the action by going yard in the contest.
March 7: Ramirez Belts First HR of Spring to Key Dodgers 2-1 Win over Rangers
On Thursday, Hanley Ramirez was beaned with a pitch and left the game as a precaution. I think it's safe to say he is fine. In the first inning of Friday's game against the Texas Rangers, Ramirez jacked a two-run home run off of Martin Perez.
Carl Crawford was on base after drawing a walk. The Dodgers happily tweeted out the blast:
Hanley Ramirez got ALL of this one. Watch: http://t.co/4ceevjUboD— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) March 7, 2014
That was all of the scoring the Dodgers would get in this game and all they would need.
Zach Lee started for the Dodgers and went two innings while allowing a run and surrendering two hits. In all, the Dodgers used seven pitchers. Tom Windle went two scoreless innings to pick up the save.
March 5: Guerrero's Slam Propels Dodgers to 10-3 Win over Reds
Hyun-Jin Ryu wasn't razor sharp on the mound, but Alex Guerrero and the Dodgers offense bailed him out in a 10-3 victory against the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday night.
The 26-year-old righty surrendered two runs on four hits and two walks through four innings, leaving with a 2-0 deficit as Homer Bailey breezed through the Dodgers' lineup.
But Guerrero, a 27-year-old import from Cuba who is battling for a starting job, crushed a grand slam in the top of the fifth to put Ryu in position for the victory, and Adrian Gonzalez added a homer in the sixth as L.A.'s offense made easy work of Cincinnati's bullpen.
"Home runs always help psychologically," Guerrero said, via MLB.com's Mark Sheldon. "I just want to make good contact, that helps my mindset. I feel happy, my first home run in the U.S. at this level."
Mike Baxter and Juan Uribe each had two hits for the Dodgers, and Matt Magill pitched three innings of one-run ball for the save.
March 4: Dodgers' bats go quiet in 4-1 loss vs. Mariners
The Dodgers were all out of whack in Tuesday's game against the Seattle Mariners. Zack Greinke was scheduled to start, but the calf injury he suffered in his first spring outing meant manager Don Mattingly went with an all-reliever crew led by Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen.
That two-headed monster looked good, striking out three in two innings of work. It was J.P. Howell (four hits, three runs) and Jamey Wright (two hits, one run) that struggled to make it through their innings.
On top of that, the Dodgers couldn't get anything going offensively with the exception of an eighth-inning opposite field home run from Trayvon Robinson. They scattered five hits in the game.
Aside from Robinson's blast, Yasiel Puig looked like his usual self. He went 1-for-2 with a double and made a very impressive throw from right field that nearly saved a run. The Cuban sensation doesn't appear to be slowing down after an impressive rookie season.
Even though he didn't appear in the game and is still working his way back, Matt Kemp is starting to do more activities, according to Mattingly (h/t Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times)
The Dodgers need Kemp to be healthy if they want to compete for a World Series in 2014. They are good enough to win the NL West without him, but the dynamic he adds with power and speed can't be overstated.
Even on a day where nothing went right on the field for the Dodgers, Kemp's progress is something to be excited about.
March 3: Kershaw Struggles in 7-3 loss to A's
Clayton Kershaw looked dominant in his first two innings against the Oakland Athletics on Monday but was eventually roughed up for five runs in a 7-3 defeat for the Dodgers.
The reigning Cy Young winner collected 1-2-3 innings in each of his first two frames before unraveling in the third. He gave up three walks and two singles without retiring a batter in the third before being replaced by Brandon League. The reliever couldn't do much to stop the bleeding, as he gave up a ground-rule double to Josh Reddick, a hit that drove in two more runs that were charged to Kershaw.
The bad start from Kershaw comes after he struggled in giving up three runs on five hits and a walk in two innings of work against the Arizona Diamondbacks in his spring debut.
According to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, Kershaw was visibly frustrated following Monday's effort.
“Physically, I feel great," Kershaw told Hernandez. "I don’t have any excuses. I don’t know. I’m searching for answers right now. I know it’s spring training and it doesn’t matter, but it matters to me. We have to figure it out."
Even though the day was a gloomy one for Dodgers fans, the team did hold a 2-0 lead after two innings thanks to a two-run triple from Dee Gordon off of A's starter A.J. Griffin.
Dee Gordon pulls a two-run triple into the right field corner. He's put on some weight in the winter; has a shot to be the second baseman.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) March 3, 2014
Andre Ethier also added an RBI single for Los Angeles in the fifth inning but couldn't do much against Oakland's pitching staff, which got scoreless innings from closer Jim Johnson and top lefty southpaw Sean Doolittle.
But there are less than three weeks before the Dodgers open up against the D-Backs on March 22 in Sydney, Australia, so Kershaw only has a few more starts before there are real consequences.
Still, until he struggles like this in the regular season, Dodgers fans shouldn't be concerned.
March 2: Dodgers draw against Padres, 3-3
With no extra innings in store, the Los Angeles Dodgers ended with an unusual tie on Sunday against the San Diego Padres, 3-3.
Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett pitched for the first time in 2014, and looked sharp in taking the mound in his return from rib surgery last summer.
He pitched only two innings, but gave up just one hit and no runs while striking out three batters and walking none.
High praise for Josh Beckett from @OrelHershiser in his Spring Training debut -- one hit, three strikeouts in two scoreless for Beckett.— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) March 2, 2014
Yasiel Puig went 0-for-2 at the plate from the leadoff position, but knocked in a runner on a sacrifice fly for one RBI on the afternoon. Alex Guerrero drove in the game's opening run for L.A.
The Dodgers are back in action against the Oakland Athletics on Monday.
March 1: Dodgers come up short against Brewers, 6-5
Despite a late surge, the Dodgers fell to the Brewers by a score of 6-5 on Saturday, thus ending the club's two-game winning streak.
Los Angeles gave up a run in the first, but regrouped and put up two runs in the third, as Mike Baxter scored on a walk, followed by a Dee Gordon run due to a sacrifice fly from Yasiel Puig.
Unfortunately, the sixth inning was not kind to Dodgers pitcher Chris Reed, as he gave up four runs on five hits, earning the loss for the game.
The Dodgers did rally late, scoring two runs in the eighth on a double from Darnell Sweeney and single from Miguel Rojas. In the ninth, Justin Turner scored on a single from Joc Pederson; however, the offense stopped there and the Brewers earned the one-run win.
Even though the Dodgers recorded a loss, their bats remained hot, as they totaled 10 hits as a team and second-straight game with five runs scored.
Clint Robinson's bat is the hottest of them all. He continued his hot streak by connecting on three hits in as many at bats on Saturday:
Not all pitching was unspectacular for Los Angeles. Dan Haren put on a nice showing in his debut with the team:
Feb. 28: Dodgers blank White Sox, 5-0
The Dodgers won their second game in as many days on Friday, crushing the Chicago White Sox 5-0 thanks to a late offensive surge.
Despite both teams failing to score through the first six innings, a two-run shot from Joc Pederson in the bottom of the seventh provided the deciding jolt for L.A., who piled on three more runs in the eighth inning to run away with a shutout victory.
Right-hander Jamie Wright earned the win for the Dodgers, striking out one batter in an inning pitched.
Joc Pederson is gone! A two-run shot gives the #Dodgers a 2-0 lead.— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) February 28, 2014
In addition to Pederson, Clint Robinson and Mike Baxter provided timely hitting for L.A., who move to 2-1 in spring training. The Dodgers won't have much time to celebrate, though, as they'll return to action this weekend against Milwaukee and San Diego.
Feb. 27: Dodgers outduel D-Backs, 4-3
Following a rough showing from Kershaw during the spring opener against the Diamondbacks, Zack Greinke was hoping to get his spring training season off to a great start against the same opponent.
Unfortunately, that hope lasted only three pitches as Greinke was removed from the mound during the first inning. The Dodgers official Twitter account reported the news immediately following the injury:
Zack Greinke was removed for precautionary reasons -- right calf strain.— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) February 27, 2014
While the injury doesn't sound quite that serious, it certainly wasn't a welcome sight during just the second game of the spring for Los Angeles.
Despite Greinke departing early, the Dodgers stuck with the D-Backs throughout the game thanks to some early fireworks from Juan Uribe, who homered in the fourth, and an eighth-inning surge with two runs to pull away.
The bullpen got plenty of work as seven different pitchers toed the rubber following Greinke's departure. Chris Withrow, Red Patterson, Sam Demel, Daniel Moskos, Pedro Baez and Jarret Martin all got through at least one inning unscathed for the Dodgers following the first.
The Dodgers escaped with a win despite the D-Backs putting one more run on the board in the ninth. MLB's official Twitter account provides a preview of where the two teams will play on March 22 when the two teams play in Sydney, Australia:
With the win, the Dodgers move to 1-1 on the spring season and will face the Chicago White Sox on Friday at 3:05 p.m. ET.
Feb. 26: Diamondbacks defeat Dodgers, 4-1
Clayton Kershaw made his 2014 debut on Wednesday in the Cactus League, pitching two innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks, who held on to win a low-scoring matchup, 4-1.
Despite throwing a limited number of pitches, Kershaw struggled in his first appearance of spring training, giving up three runs before heading to the dugout. The Dodgers would narrow the gap in the top of the third, but were unable to produce enough offense down the stretch.
Kershaw gave up hard-hit balls to all three OF spots in first inning. Nothing new: Last year at ST, he had 4.18 ERA, 1.36 WHIP #Dodgers— Dodger Insider (@DodgerInsider) February 26, 2014
There weren't many bright spots for the Dodgers, but then again, it's only February.
Don Mattingly and his coaching staff can certainly feel good about the performance of Yasiel Puig, who looked confident in his first appearance at the plate, recording a hit and then following it up with a double to score L.A.'s only run in Scottsdale.
The first hit of the Spring belongs to @YasielPuig. Now batting: 1.000.— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) February 26, 2014
A booming double by Yasiel Puig scores Carl Crawford -- he's now 2-for-2 on the afternoon. #Dodgers down 3-1, top 3rd.— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) February 26, 2014
The good news for the Dodgers is that they were able to settle down defensively after Kershaw was rocked early. And fortunately, they won't have to wait very long for a shot to avenge their loss. The two teams will meet again at 3:05 p.m. ET on Thursday.
Pre-Spring Training Prediction for 2014 Season
The Dodgers were two wins away from reaching the World Series last October and bring back a proven core of talent. However, given the amount of cash L.A. has handed out of late and the amount of talent on display, 2014, like 2013, is sure to be title or bust for the Dodgers.
Despite the pressure to win it all, L.A. has the pieces in place to get the job done this time around.
With Kershaw and Zack Greinke anchoring one of the league's top pitching staffs and Hanley Ramirez and Puig leading the way at the plate, the Dodgers look ready to repeat as NL West champs for the first time since 2008-09.
"I’m humbled by this recognition & looking forward to a new season, and hopefully, a World Series championship for the city of LA." -Kershaw— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) January 17, 2014
Once in the postseason, there's no denying that L.A. has the playoff experience and pitching to win close games and advance.
Therefore, with management making it crystal clear that the priority is to win now, watch for the Dodgers to finally get over the hump in 2014, winning their first World Series title since 1988.
Although injuries determine how far any club goes, when at their best, the Dodgers are a championship caliber team with World Series potential.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.