The Los Angeles Dodgers have experienced an unfortunate number of heartbreaking postseason exits over the past decade; while they have reached the playoffs in each of the last seven MLB seasons, they never have been able to secure a championship victory. And several losses have come in demoralizing fashion: A Game 7 World Series defeat at the hands of the Houston Astros in 2017 and last year’s Game Five Division Series choke against the Washington Nationals stand out especially. Yet, as always, the Dodgers have managed to adapt and retool, trading with the Boston Red Sox for superstar Mookie Betts; they now enter the 2020 season as National League favorites. Will this be the year when LA finally wins it all?
With a spectacular lineup, the Dodgers will certainly have a fearsome offense — on paper the best in baseball. They have plenty of star power, as the addition of Betts immediately adds a jolt at the top of Los Angeles’ order. In 2019, the right fielder hit 29 home runs, stole 16 bases and recorded a .915 OPS — and Betts was even better the year prior, when he ended the regular season with a .346 batting average and a 1.078 OPS, winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award. Impressively, Betts isn’t the only Dodger hitter with an MVP campaign on his resume — Cody Bellinger won the National League award just last season, hitting 47 home runs, stealing 15 bases and amassing a 1.035 OPS. The pair of superstars will form a terrifying combination for any pitcher to face.
What makes this batting order really special is the tremendous amount of depth on the team beyond just Betts and Bellinger. The order contains no weak spots; LA will protect the two superstars with first baseman Max Muncy, a 2019 All-Star who hit 35 home runs, and third baseman Justin Turner, a consistent high-level performer with a .887 OPS over his last six MLB seasons combined. Moving on toward the bottom of the lineup, the Dodgers boast two-time All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, the dependable A.J. Pollock, young catcher Will Smith (who had a .907 OPS in limited at-bats last year) and top prospect Gavin Lux, who received his first taste of the big leagues in 2019. That is one impressive offense — every hitter is dangerous.
The major question for the Dodgers, however, will be their pitching. Lefty Hyun-Jin Riu signed with the Toronto Blue Jays this offseason, a loss that has gone under the radar (thanks to the excitement of the Betts trade) but will hurt Los Angeles throughout this year. Riu came in second in the National League Cy Young Award voting in 2019, posting a 2.32 ERA, and the Dodgers simply cannot replace that level of production. Clayton Kershaw can still perform in the regular season, though he moves further and further away from his peak self every year and playoff meltdowns continue to hang over him. Kershaw allowed two home runs in Game 5 of the NLDS, helping the Nationals to mount a shocking comeback victory. 2020 might be Kershaw’s last chance at postseason redemption. Walker Buehler will also have to step up and help make up for Riu’s absence. The 25-year-old amassed a 3.26 ERA in an All-Star campaign this past season, and Los Angeles needs him to take another leap forward in his development.
Ultimately, the middle and bottom of LA’s rotation could decide the season. The Dodgers will need solid starters besides Kershaw and Buehler in the playoffs to make it all the way through October. David Price was acquired from the Red Sox as part of the Betts trade and will look to bounce back from a rough 2019, when he pitched only 107 innings with a 4.28 ERA. Price, like Kershaw, has experienced struggles in the playoffs — he was terrific in the 2018 World Series with Boston against the Dodgers, but has posted a career 4.62 postseason ERA. At the age of 34, Price faces questions about how much he was left in the tank, and LA will need him to be dependable even while running on fumes. Meanwhile, Ross Stripling (who has bounced between the rotation and bullpen), Alex Wood (who missed almost all of 2019 due to injury) and Julio Urias (a reliever for most of last season) will contend for spots at the back end of the rotation. Not exactly an imposing group — LA must be a big player in this year’s trade deadline, looking for pitching help.
Watch out for LA’s bullpen as yet another major point of trouble. Closer Kenley Jansen has declined over his past two seasons and had the worst year of his career in 2019. He’s 32 years old and about to head into his 11th season, so Jansen could be nearing the end of his time as an effective closer for a contending team. The Dodgers signed Blake Treinen in the offseason, a reliever who could emerge as a big part of their bullpen. Treinen struggled last year but dominated in 2018 with a 0.78 ERA, finishing sixth in the AL Cy Young race. If he can regain his form, don’t be surprised to see him begin threatening Jansen for the closer role.
So while the Dodgers will have an incredible offense in 2020, there are plenty of questions that remain about the team. Pitching cost Los Angeles an appearance in the National League Championship Series last year, thanks to a blown Game 5 NLDS lead, and LA’s rotation has only worsened heading into this season. If the Dodgers face the Houston Astros in the World Series again, could David Price and a bunch of questionable performers limit George Springer, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and the rest of Houston’s lineup? Doubtful. Los Angeles will have to add more pitching before the deadline, or 2020 could be the Dodgers’ greatest disappointment yet.
George Klein ’20 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.