The Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will open their annual exhibition season Freeway Series tonight, March 31, at Dodger Stadium. Two more games are scheduled on Friday at Dodger Stadium, and Saturday at Anaheim Stadium. The Dodgers will open the regular season on Monday, April 4, in San Diego. The Angels’ season opener is also Monday, at home against the Chicago Cubs.
The biggest offseason news for the Dodgers was not the hiring of Dave Roberts, the team’s first African American manager, but the loss of right-hander Zack Greinke via free agency to National League West division rival Arizona. Another departure was shortstop Jimmy Rollins, but the expected emergence of Corey Seager makes that easier to accept.
In Anaheim, the Angels’ biggest overhaul, besides new General Manager Billy Eppler, was Manager Mike Scioscia’s coaching staff. Hitting coach Don Baylor and pitching coach Mike Butcher were replaced by Dave Hansen and Charles Nagy, respectively. They also added former managers Bud Black and Ron Roenicke. The Halos also made one key upgrade trade, sending shortstop Erick Aybar to Atlanta for shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
The Dodgers have been hamstrung early by injuries this spring. The Angels are trying to regroup primarily with last year’s team, which won 13 fewer games than it did in 2014.
DODGERS – A Slow Start Would Not Be Unexpected
What do the Dodgers have up their 2016 sleeves? So far, a bunch of bandages.
They also have them on their shoulders, legs, and other anatomical parts.
The three-time defending National League West champs come out into the Freeway Series as banged up as any team has been to start a season. The 2016 disabled list could begin with a bunch of familiar names — Andre Ethier, Bret Anderson, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy. Others missing spring time because of injury include Corey Seager, Scott Kazmir, Howie Kendrick and Yasiel Puig.
Meaning it is difficult to predict what kind of team will open the regular season on April 4.
Rookie manager Dave Roberts can still turn to stars like left-hander Clayton Kershaw and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, as well as solid role players Justin Turner, Enrique Hernandez, Yasmani Grandal, Carl Crawford and Chase Utley. But it is the youth that needs to energize this team battling San Francisco and an improved Arizona in the West.
Seager has to live up to hype surrounding him that’s guaranteeing greatness. That same buzz used to surround Puig, but it dissipated after injuries and a lack of production reduced him to half a season last year. And then there’s Joc Pederson, who plays Gold Glove quality defense in center, but looked helpless at the plate in the second half as pitchers kept enlarging the hole they found in his swing.
All three are needed to keep the LA’s lineup from being pedestrian.
The pleasant surprise of spring has been Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda, who is probably the No. 3 starter behind Kershaw and Kazmir. The Dodgers are counting on Maeda and Kazmir to cushion the loss of Zack Greinke, who took 19 wins and a 1.66 ERA to Arizona.
Kenley Jansen, Chris Hatcher and J.P. Howell anchor the bullpen.
Having won three consecutive division titles — if not a World Series since 1988 — the Dodgers probably won’t panic if they don’t have a quick start. It might take until the All-Star break to get back all their wounded, and make them a team that can compete for a playoff spot. The main thing is to not let the Giants or Diamondbacks — or even the Padres — get too far out in front.
But the National League has plenty of other postseason contenders in the Nationals, Cardinals, Mets, Cubs, and Pirates.
Of course, the other question is how many people will actually see the Dodgers — at least on local television. In this final summer of Vin Scully broadcasting games, there is still no movement between Time Warner Cable and other cable outlets toward a compatible deal for all.
But who knows? Maybe something does happen by mid-season so the nearly 70 percent of those blacked out viewers can tune in to watch and hear Scully at least one more time.
Maybe by then a full Dodgers team is worth watching.
ANGELS – Halos Trying to Make Do With What They Have
The Angels had to hear about their faults all winter. A supposedly barren farm system. The burdensome contracts of Albert Pujols and (now former Angel) Josh Hamilton. The steep decline in staff ace Jared Weaver’s velocity. The overall decline in offensive production that, in part, saw them fall from first to third in the American League West. How can you have two 40-home run sluggers in Pujols and Mike Trout, and neither drives in 100 runs?
Whether the reason — the $40 million still owed to Hamilton (now with Texas) or a disinterest by owner Arte Moreno to surpass the MLB luxury tax (for payrolls exceeding $189 million) — the Angels didn’t vigorously pursue any high-priced free agents in the off-season. So if the offense struggles again, the team must pitch well and defend well to challenge Texas and Houston, much less Kansas City.
They should defend better, especially at short. Andrelton Simmons will make plays Aybar can only dream about. Outfielder Kole Calhoun won a Gold Glove in right (Trout , in center, should have won one too). And catcher Carlos Perez — at least defensively — is an improvement over the departed Chris Iannetta.
It would help if the increasingly creaky Pujols — who’s coming off foot surgery — would accept a full-time move to DH and let C.J Cron, the DH, play more first base. But with his immovable $240 million contract, which runs through 2021, Pujols still calls those shots.
Pitching is a bigger concern. Garrett Richards may now be fully recovered from his knee injury, and set to deliver the promise his 96-mph fastball and sharp slider suggest. But veteran C.J. Wilson was shut down March 25 because of shoulder problems. And Weaver, in the last year of his contract, might not have much left. Remaining potential starters Andrew Heaney, Hector Santiago, and Matt Shoemaker don’t have a dominant arm between them.
Beyond closer Houston Street and setup man Joe Smith, the bullpen is, at best, enigmatic.
Anaheim still has arguably the game’s best all-around player in Trout who, at only 24, still has his peak years ahead of him. But beyond Trout, Pujols and Calhoun (who hit 26 homers last year), there aren’t many Angel batters who make opposing pitchers tremble — unless the lineup can start stringing hits together the way the defending World Series champion Royals have done so successfully the past two years.
There are other ascending American League teams besides Kansas City — the Rangers, Astros, Yankees, Orioles, Tigers, Blue Jays and Red Sox among them. Even the Twins, White Sox, and Mariners (where departed Angels GM Jerry Dipoto now works) are creating a greater buzz entering the 2016 season.
The Angels did contend for the playoffs until the season’s final week in 2015. But until questions of pitching quality and roster depth in 2016 are answered, even that kind of run might be hard to duplicate.