The Los Angeles Dodgers experienced a season in 2018 that was almost an exact reflection of the year they endured in 2017. They won the NL West for the 6th time in a row, made a trip back to the World Series for the second time in a row, and once again, came up just short, losing to the Red Sox in 5 games. It has become clear that the Dodgers are the new kings of the NL and taking them down in 2019, will be no easy feat. With this being said, fans should expect to see a new Dodgers team this year that will not feature Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp or Yasmani Grandal, who were all shipped away during the offseason. It should be a fun year for the boys in blue this summer and we start our preview talking about a fresh face who is looking to make an immediate splash.
When the Dodgers signed AJ Pollock to a 4 year, 55 million dollar contract during the 2019 offseason, they felt that they had struck gold. The 31-year-old veteran from Connecticut is in many ways, considered a top 10 center fielder in the game. He is quick, athletic, disciplined at the plate, and is going to be a huge help to the Dodgers durability this summer. In 2018 with the Diamondbacks, Pollock had a somewhat of a down year, hitting for a .257 BA, collecting a .316 OBP and driving in just 65 runs. Pollock also played in just 113 regular season games as for the second straight season, he faced an array of injuries which left him sidelined for quite some time. Pollock also has one of the best gloves in the game and makes an error as often as I eat a salad. Overall, I think this is a great move for the Dodgers and feel that it will benefit them in the long run. I just hope that Pollock can stay healthy because if his patterns of being injury prone continues, he may become one of the most overpaid free agents in the history of baseball.
The player that I feel will have the biggest impact on this Dodgers offense in 2019, is Cody Bellinger. Bellinger burst onto the major league scene in 2017, finishing his rookie year with a .352 OBP, hitting 39 homers and driving in 97 runs. Bellinger had quickly became the new hot topic in baseball and was rewarded both the ROY, as well as a top ten finish in the MVP voting. As 2018 strolled in, Bellinger started to cool off. This was to be expected however, as pitchers now had over a year’s worth of material of Bellinger’s to look over and scout. Bellinger ended up finishing his sophomore campaign with a .260 BA, a .340 OBP and 25 home runs hit. Although this season can be categorized as a solid one, it came with some heavy conflict. Bellinger played in all 162 games last season and did so by playing 4 different positions. In a statement to the media, Bellinger stated that “I should be in the lineup every single day,” “I don’t think there’s a question about that. Even when I’m not good, I’m still really good.” Bellinger also stated:
“I love center field. I love first,” he said. “I will play right. I will do that. Getting in the lineup is important. Because if I play consistently, whether it’s left field, center, right, first base, I know for a fact I would win a Gold Glove anywhere. And they know I’m a Gold Glove anywhere I go. I just need to be in the lineup every day.”
It goes without saying that these comments were not perceived well at all by the media. Any glimpse or perception of humbleness that was previously given to Bellinger, is now gone. He will now be perceived to the general public as a big shot and if he does not back up his words, I promise you, the media will make him pay. Does Bellinger have the talent to back his words up? Of course he does. He’s a gifted ball player, and I would bet that he is going to back these statements up in a big way. But to make those comments so early on in your career, is incredibly ballsy and could come back to haunt you.
The final batter I want to talk about before getting into the meat of the Dodgers Sandwich, is Max Muncy. Muncy, a 28-year-old from Texas, started his major league career as a fly on the wall who was desperate to stick. In his first two years playing at the major league level, Muncy collected just 5 home runs to go along with 96 total games played. Then, in 2018, the fly finally stuck. Muncy had found his home with the Dodgers and had seemingly exploded out of nowhere, finishing the season with a .391 OBP, hitting 35 home runs and driving in 79 runs. By year’s end, Muncy had finished in the top 15 of MVP voting and was no longer a forgotten name. This brings up the question however, was this just a fluke year? Was Muncy juicing? Or is this just a case of a guy who has blossomed a tad late. I am going to go with option C, because I like to always hope for the best in people. Never the less, it will be interesting to see what Muncy brings to the table in 2019 and if he can continue to help the Dodgers, as they make their quest for 7 straight division titles.
Now as far as the Dodgers pitching staff is concerning, we can talk all day about Clayton Kershaw or Kenley Jansen. But they are studs and it is almost a given that they are going to succeed in 2019. I instead want to focus my attention on a guy who I feel has one of the brightest upsides in all of Major League Baseball, Walker Buehler. Buehler, a 24-year-old from Lexington, Kentucky, is everything you could want in a young prospect. He has electrifying stuff, is athletic as hell and goes out and competes every night he toes the rubber. Buehler had a tremendous rookie season in 2017 in which he finished the year with a 8-5 record, had a 2.62 ERA and accumulated an impressive 0.961 WHIP. If this regular season wasn’t enough to buy into the hype, Buehler shined in the postseason, throwing a 7 inning, 2 hit shutout during game 3 of the World Series. Overall, I cannot sell you enough on how good I think this guy is going to be. It takes a special type of player to take the mound in the World Series during your rookie year, and toss an absolute gem. I expect not only huge things from Buehler during the 2019 season, but also throughout his major league career in which he could one day, take home a few Cy Young Awards.
So I know what you are all thinking, are the Dodgers going to be playing in the Fall Classic for the third time in a row this season? And the answer to that is more often than not, yes. Although the NL is a much improved league from a season ago, it is clear that the Dodgers have the most talent and depth in the pool of teams. You can almost pencil the Dodgers in now to win their 7th straight NL West title and I have them finishing the regular season with a 94-68 record. Come postseason time, I feel that the Dodgers may have more trouble with their NLDS opponent then they did a year ago, but ultimately feel that they will come away with a series victory. In the NLCS, I honestly feel that it is a toss-up between a few teams depending on matchups but if I were a betting man, I would have the Dodgers winning the pennant yet again. With success, comes great expectations and that’s what the Dodgers have on their hands this season. Great teams know how to take those expectations and turn them into reality but average teams can crack quicker then a pair of eggs on a hot skillet. It will be fun to see which narrative the Dodgers write for themselves in 2019.