The issue of PEDs may still crop up from time to time. But the steroid-juiced offenses in baseball have been effectively muffled.
Pitching and defense rule the game again. With more and more pitchers reaching the low to mid-90s, and more pitchers being used than ever before, it’s no wonder runs were down to 4.07, the smallest amount since the strike-shortened season of 1981. Hits per game shriveled to 8.56, the lowest figure since 1972. Combined average strikeouts — 7.70 per game in 2014 — have risen every year since 2000.
The Dodgers, who begin the regular season at home on April 6 against San Diego, certainly have noticed.
Their new front office team of president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, formerly with Tampa Bay, and general manager Farhan Zaidi, from Oakland, are fans of advanced analytics in determining worth. But it doesn’t take a statistics nerd to know the Dodgers had weaknesses, defensively and on the mound.
Perhaps the biggest changeover (following the front office) for the Dodgers was up the middle. Centerfielder Matt Kemp was traded to San Diego, and second baseman Dee Gordon was shipped to Miami (along with pitcher Dan Haren). Statue-masquerading-as-a-shortstop Hanley Ramirez was allowed to walk via free agency (signing with and playing left field for Boston). Veterans Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendricks were brought in to form a new double-play combo. Rookie Joc Pederson, who was tearing it up in the minors, goes out to center. And Yasmani Grandal, who came over in the Kemp trade, will push incumbent A.J. Ellis to start at catcher.
Even though lost veterans Haren and Josh Beckett (retired), the starting rotation remains top heavy. Clayton Kershaw (21-3, 1.77) was dominant against everyone but St. Louis in October. Zack Greinke (17-8, 2.71) would be the number one starter and most of the other major league teams. Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-7, 3.38) is a better than average number three starter, but can’t stay healthy; he starts the season on the disabled list due to left shoulder pain. To improve the back end, the Dodgers are counting on new acquisitions Brandon McCarthy, who pitched for Arizona and the Yankees last year, and Brett Anderson, late of Colorado, who also has an ominous injury history. Joe Wieland (if healthy), might get consideration as Ryu’s sub.
The bullpen, despite Kenley Jensen’s 44 saves, was just okay in 2014. Gone is Brian Wilson. The unsteady Brandon League (who could start the season on the disabled list with a bad shoulder) remains, as does Paco Rodriguez and J.P. Howell. Help is supposedly coming from folks like Joel Peralta, Chris Hatcher and Juan Nicosia. Time will tell.
Offensive threats Henley and Kemp will be tough to replace, but the Dodgers still have pop in the lineup. Adrian Gonzalez is 33 but dependable; he hit 27 homers, his 116 RBIs led the majors last year, and he’s a vacuum cleaner defensively at first base. The only thing holding back outfielder Yasiel Puig (.296, 16 homers, 69 RBIs) from being one of the top players in the game is more experience and focus. Both Rollins and Hendricks are proven professional hitters. The only potential holes are at catcher, third baseman Juan Uribe (now 36), and left fielder Carl Crawford only because he, too, seemingly cannot stay healthy for long stretches.
The Dodgers still have Andre Ethier (and his still swollen contract) if they want to make in-season deals. And there are a couple of intriguing side stories in Cuban utility player Alex Guerrero (who can refuse to go to the minors and become a free agent if not on the major league roster), and 20-year-old prospect Corey Seager, who will start the season in the minors but could be recalled if something happens to Rollins. Both could play a pivotal part as 2015 unfolds.
Going 26 years without a World Series appearance isn’t close to matching the Chicago Cubs for futility. But the Dodger faithful is tired of hearing about it just as it is tired of complaining about the team’s television deal with Time Warner Cable has kept approximately 70 percent of the potential viewing audience glued to the radio. (That’s another story.)
To paraphrase broadcasting legend Vin Scully, it’s time for Dodger baseball — to do something that continues their rebirth with the Los Angeles city fan base.
A World Series may be the only answer for Dodger fans.
At least they could read about it.