Last year was a bit of a surprising one for the Dodgers. No one expected Cody Bellinger to be THAT good, no one expected them to win 104 games and break their own record for wins in a 50 game span. This year was supposed to be more stable, but so far it’s been wilder than last year.
With Chris Taylor a lock for center field, that basically solidified the starting lineup with exception to left field. Entering Spring Training, the Dodgers had four outfielders competing for the same spot: Joc Pederson, Kike Hernandez, Andrew Toles, and Matt Kemp.
Joc struggled all season but came up big in the postseason. Kike also had some key hits throughout the season, but his versatility is more useful up the middle. Andrew Toles is coming back from a season-ending injury so his status is hard to predict. Matt Kemp lost a lot of weight and gained more motivation.
Pederson is struggling early on. He has two hits in 16 at-bats so far, with five strikeouts. If the Dodgers have to wait around until October for Pederson to turn it on, then so be it but he should remain off the 25-man roster until September.
So far, Toles and Kemp lead the race for a spot, which is surprising considering Toles wasn’t expected to come off hot after sitting out all year and Kemp wasn’t even supposed to be on the roster. Toles has collected five hits in 13 at-bats and Kemp smacked two monster home runs, one off Robbie Ray. He’s gotten a positive reception at Camelback Ranch for his early contributions after his exile. The idea that the once-fallen franchise star has returned to help his former team win a long-awaited championship, is starting to paint a fine picture in Dodger fans’ minds. After all, fans know a motivated, happy Matt Kemp is a lethal weapon to have.
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Kike Hernandez has had a very productive six at-bats. Yes, only six. It’s a small sample size, in fact, these are all small sample sizes. This is partly because it’s only a handful of games into Spring Training, but the Dodgers were on the wrong side of one of the strangest epidemics in baseball.
The Dodgers had to send home a roster-sized group of players home with a mysterious illness that plagued the Dodgers locker room. Kike was one of them. In one sweeping motion, the illness almost totaled the number of players the Dodgers put on the DL in the entire 2016 season. Hopefully, everyone will recover quickly and this is nothing to worry about long-term, but it does throw a wrench in the coaching staff’s plans and the players getting back into the swing of things.
The left field situation is a positive question to ask, but there’s still one gaping hole on the pitching side of things. No, it’s not the absence of Yu Darvish. It’s the absence of Brandon Morrow and his replacement. Tom Koehler was acquired by the Dodgers this offseason to take on a similar role Morrow took on in 2017 and Blanton did in 2016. A struggling starter turned elite reliever part three will have to be put on hold as Koehler is predicted to miss significant time with a shoulder injury.
He left Friday’s game after his bicep “locked up” and his arm progressively got worse as he tried to work through it. It was diagnosed as a mild strain of the anterior capsule, an injury with a timetable that varies on how fast it heals. Though this is a blow to the Dodgers plans, Koehler was determined he will pitch in 2018. To put it in perspective, Morrow didn’t pitch a significant number of innings until after the All-Star Break.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers have a number of options to fill the set-up man/high leverage situation man role. Pedro Baez is the top contender considering he filled that role well all of last year until his mid-August meltdown. Tony Cingrani is another promising contender since he was lockdown in October and has a swing and miss fastball. The questions with him are his command, and who will fill his spot since Tony Watson is gone.
The strength of the Dodgers the past two seasons has been its bullpen, so solving this question is the top priority. Luckily, the Dodgers still have the weapons to build an elite bullpen in 2018. Perhaps the answer to the Koehler situation will present itself like Spring Training has gone so far, unexpectedly.