The 2017 Dodgers were an interesting mix. They got off to a slow start, going 10-12 out of the gate. They were 22-18 through May 16 and then went absolutely bonkers. Come Friday, Aug. 25 and the Dodgers' win over the Brewers gave them a 91-36 record, putting them on pace to tie the 2001 Mariners with 116 wins.
Then the Dodgers fell apart for a bit, losing 16 of 17 (their one win was Clayton Kershaw beating the Padres, which was tantamount to a gimme). Then they won four in a row. Then they lost four in a row. Then they closed the season with eight wins in their last 10 games to finish with an MLB-best 104.
Still, they would lose the World Series in seven games, making it five straight postseasons and zero World Series titles.
Can 2018 finally bring the same level of postseason success as the Dodgers have had in the West during the regular season? Let's take a look.
2017 record: 104-58 (plus-190 run differential)
2018 depth chart: Click here
2018 schedule: Click here
2018 team Fantasy outlook:
- Chris Taylor, CF
- Corey Seager, SS
- Justin Turner, 3B
- Cody Bellinger, 1B
- Yasiel Puig, RF
- Austin Barnes, C
- Joc Pederson, LF
- Logan Forsythe, 2B
INJURY UPDATE: Justin Turner has a broken wrist and will start the season on the shelf.. Once he's back, the lineup above applies.
In looking above, you'll see the best pitcher in the world, the best closer in the world, one of the top young players in the game (Seager, and I don't really even need the "young" descriptor in there), a player who just set the NL rookie record for home runs, a top-flight third baseman and more.
That just sounds like a scary-good team, no?
Digging in on the "more," part ...
There's still time for Pederson to blossom into a star. He'll only be 26 this year. When he was 24, he had a 126 OPS+ with 25 homers. He's also coming off a big World Series. He's never going to hit for high average and he'll always strike out a fair share, but he's plenty capable of a 5.0 WAR season (All-Star level) at some point.
Say what you will about Puig, but there's no denying his high level of ability.
Wood broke through last season in a big way, going 16-3 with a 2.72 ERA (154 ERA+) in his age-26 season.
Grandal and Barnes appear capable of forming one of the top catching duos in baseball, too.
We could keep going. There's a reason all the projection systems love the Dodgers (SportsLine has them as the best team in baseball at 101-61 with a 90.3 percent chance to win the West again). They are loaded with talent.
Oh, and ...
Organizational depth for days
How about the Dodgers losing Adrian Gonzalez last year to injury and Bellinger doing what he did?
Something similar could happen again in 2018. The Dodgers aren't just loaded. They are crazy deep.
Remember Andrew Toles? He was leading off in Games 5 and 6 of the NLCS in 2016, coming off a breakout .314/.365/.505 season (in 115 plate appearances, but still). He tore his ACL on May 9 last year. The Dodgers didn't miss a beat, but it's always possible he finds a way to make an impact in 2018.
How about prospect Alex Verdugo? He's ranked as the No. 37 prospect in baseball by Baseball America. He'll turn 22 this season and hit .314/.389/.436 with more walks than strikeouts in Triple-A last year. He'd be set for an early-season callup (after massaging his service time, of course) on many teams. Here, he's buried.
There's a fellow named Tim Locastro who is 25 years old and hit .308/.383/.454 with 34 steals across three minor-league stops last season, including 31 games at Triple-A. He's played second, short, center and left in the minors, so he could be a very valuable bench piece at some point. There just isn't even close to room for him right now in the majors.
Then there's Vanderbilt pitching product Walker Buehler, the club's 2015 first-rounder. Baseball America has Buehler ranked as the 13th best prospect in all of baseball right now. He's shown big-time strikeout potential in the minors (131 K in 93 2/3 IP) and reached the majors for a cup of coffee last season. He's expected to grab some more seasoning in the minors to start the year.
We haven't even brought up lefty phenom Julio Urias being on the shelf recovering from shoulder surgery (it's feasible he's ready to return come September, as he had the surgery last June, though I doubt the Dodgers even let him try).
The incredible depth along with the talent make the Dodgers almost injury-proof.
Wait, what? Almost?
Rotation could get thin
Here's where the Diamondbacks, Rockies and Giants fans perk up (sorry, Padres fans, you're still eyeing the future in 2018): There's a chance the Dodgers' rotation falls apart this season, albeit a small one. Let's run through:
Kershaw missed around 12 starts in 2016 and around six starts last year due to back problems. Entering his age-30 season, that has to be a concern moving forward, right?
Hill has long had issues with blisters, is entering his age-38 season and his 135 2/3 innings last season were his high mark there since 2007.
Perhaps Wood turned the corner for good in 2017, but in 2015-16 he was essentially a league average pitcher while dealing with an elbow injury that eventually needed to be surgically-repaired. Decent level of concern here.
Maeda looked better served as a reliever late in the season, especially in the postseason. As a starter last year, Maeda had a 4.35 ERA. He was better down the stretch, but there's still the possibility he's just not a very good starter in 2018.
Through 2015 and 2016, Ryu made just one start, thanks to injuries to the shoulder and elbow, both requiring surgery. He wasn't bad last year, but there's little reason to believe the risk level here is low.
We already mentioned Urias' current injury. Buehler got a quick glimpse in the bigs last year and pitched to a 7.71 ERA and 2.04 WHIP in 9 1/3 innings. Rookies are always unpredictable anyway.
Hey, everything could turn out fine. Kershaw could make his 33 starts, in which case he probably wins Cy Young again, while Wood builds on a great season, Hill works around 150 quality innings, Maeda pitches more like 2016 and Ryu stays healthy. If that's the case, the Dodgers probably win something like 108 games.
There is downside here, though. The rotation is littered with potential pratfalls. It would be folly to ignore.
Setting up for Kenley
As noted, Jansen is the gold standard at closer in all of baseball.
How do they get to him, though?
Baez has been that guy before, but he fell apart down the stretch and didn't even make any of the playoff rosters. Other holdovers like Fields, Cingrani and Stripling weren't exactly manager Dave Roberts' go-to guys in big spots during the playoffs, either. Really, Maeda and Brandon Morrow (with some Tony Watson) were generally his bridge to Jansen.
Scott Alexander can be a guy here. In his first full season, he pitched to a 2.48 ERA for the Royals in 2017. The sinker-heavy southpaw led the majors with a 73.6 percent ground-ball rate last season. He's a strong bet to emerge as the primary setup man for Jansen.
I'm not saying Roberts won't sort things out. He probably will and it's possible the answer is simply some combination of Alexander, Baez, Cingrani, Fields and Stripling. Maybe the group is stellar come October.
I am saying questions need to be answered, though.
Can they finally do it?
The Dodgers won 104 games last year -- the most in baseball -- won their fifth straight NL West title and won the NL pennant. And yet, a sour taste came with the Dodgers into the offseason after losing Game 7 of the World Series and watching the Astros celebrate the championship in Dodger Stadium.
Some might feel like it's unfair, but it's also a testament to the stability of the franchise to say that anything less than winning the World Series is a disappointment. The goal is simple: Win it all for the first time since 1988. That's it. Everything else is ancillary here.
Realistically, it's hard to see the Dodgers missing the playoffs, so it comes down to October. They'll have their hands full, in all likelihood, with someone like the Nationals or Cubs in the NLCS -- the latter would make it three straight NLCS bouts with this being the rubber series, so that's fun. If the Dodgers do repeat as NL champs, a powerhouse like the Astros, Yankees, Indians or Red Sox could be waiting.
It's a tall order, but the Dodgers have to answer the call or be labeled a disappointment. That's the reality this ballclub has created for itself on regular-season success and postseason losses. They're good enough to get it done. Now we watch and see if they do.