It's still the middle of March, but the start of the regular season is quickly creeping up on the Los Angeles Dodgers.
On Sunday night, most of the team packed up their belongings from Camelback Ranch in Arizona and boarded a plane bound for Australia. The Dodgers will battle Team Australia in an exhibition game on Thursday before kicking off the 2014 season against the Arizona Diamondbacks over the weekend.
Three weeks isn't a whole lot of time to shake off the rust from an offseason, but these are the cards the Dodgers were dealt. Fortunately for Los Angeles, a handful of players have already found their rhythm. Others seem like they could have used a few more weeks of spring training.
Let's take a look at which key players have given the Dodgers cause for concern with their underwhelming preseason performances.
The former World Series MVP can't seem to catch a break while donning Dodger blue.
Coming off a surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome that ended his season prematurely last year, Beckett was finally healthy entering spring training. That is, until he jammed his thumb in an accident with a clubhouse door.
He was able to start last Friday but lasted just three innings out of a scheduled four due to discomfort in the thumb. Beckett won't make the trip to Australia and will likely begin the new season where he ended the last one: on the disabled list.
That's not what Dodgers fans want to hear knowing Beckett is owed $15.75 million in 2014.
What's more, his numbers in spring training were nothing to write home about. The 33-year-old gave up five earned runs in a combined eight innings, including three home runs.
With Beckett likely beginning the 2014 campaign on the shelf, Paul Maholm will shift to the back end of the rotation. The problem is that the former Atlanta Brave has not fared much better than Beckett.
Maholm has allowed the second most runs of any other Dodgers pitcher with less than eight innings of work this spring. Let's just say it's not the kind of first impression any player on a new team could hope to make.
Yet, the left-hander will join the team in Australia as an emergency starter in case Clayton Kershaw or Hyun-Jin Ryu are unable to make their scheduled starts.
Brandon League has picked up right where he left off in 2013, and that's not a good thing for the Dodgers.
Entering the second year of a three-year, $22.5-million contract, League has been hit hard this spring. He's allowed five earned runs in less than three innings, and has only struck out one batter while walking four. His ERA stands at 16.87 ERA.
League's struggles may have been due to a strained back muscle that kept him sidelined for the first week of March.
The other theory is that League simply doesn't have it anymore. After he was acquired by the Seattle Mariners near the end of the 2012 season, League put up a 2.30 ERA in 28 games for Los Angeles, including 27 strikeouts in just over 27 innings. The Dodgers rewarded him with the now-regrettable contract, and he proceeded to compile a 5.30 ERA in 58 games last year.
If it weren't for the hefty contract, League would have been a goner long ago. Even the deep-pocketed Dodgers have been patient with League rather than simply eating his contract. The question now is how much patience do the Dodgers have left with an array of talented young arms waiting to be developed.
It has been a tale of two springs for Yasiel Puig.
Last March, the relatively unknown commodity tore up the Cactus League to the tune of a .517 batting average and almost made the Opening Day roster out of nowhere.
This time around, the script has been flipped.
Puig boarded the flight to Australia having only batted .122 in 14 games. He has yet to homer and has struck out five times. These numbers bare disconcerting resemblance to his performance down the stretch of last season when he batted only .214 in September and October combined.
To add insult to injury, those looking to pinpoint the root of these struggles have reasonable fodder in Puig's well-documented weight gain. According to ESPN's Mark Saxson, Puig showed up to camp 26 pounds heavier than he was in 2013
Despite all of this, the Dodgers are planning for Puig to be their Opening Day right fielder. 2014 will be his first full season in the majors, and the young star will need to continue to prove himself.
When Matt Kemp returns to center field, Andre Ethier will most likely be relegated to the bench. Since Ethier is an everyday player, Puig won't have much room for error if he wants to keep the starting job.
Clayton Kershaw has been the Dodgers' biggest disappointment in spring training primarily because his prized left arm carries the highest expectations.
Fresh off inking the richest contract in baseball history, Kershaw has looked anything but deserving through the first few weeks of March.
The reigning Cy Young Award winner has allowed a team-leading 15 earned runs in less than 15 innings at Camelback Ranch.
Should the Dodgers be concerned?
After all, Kershaw's 4.18 ERA last spring was far from stellar, and we all know how last season turned out. Still, his 9.20 ERA so far is more than double last spring's number—albeit in three fewer starts.
His next time on the bump will be this Saturday at the Sydney Cricket Ground against the Arizona Diamondbacks, and it's going to count.
It's easy to brush aside Kershaw's spring hiccups and declare that baseball's best pitcher will be ready when the lights come on. However, the 18-hour time difference between Arizona and Australia is going to make that expected flick of the switch difficult.
“Obviously, I don’t want to have a 9.00 ERA in the regular season, so I’m going to try not to have that,” Kershaw told ESPN's Mark Saxson.
At this point, Dodgers fans just have to take his word for it.
All stats courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.
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