Next man up: Walker Buehler debuted in the majors after just 93.2 minor-league innings; Mitchell White has already pitched 95.2 but may not throw too many more. White was a 2016 second-round draft pick who, like Buehler, has already had Tommy John surgery. He threw just 77.2 innings across three levels last year, fanning 88 and compiling a 2.93 ERA. The Dodgers’ rotation is deep, but like Buehler last year, White is available if they need him.
What he said: Justin Turner on the Dodgers’ seven-game World Series loss: “Everybody dealt with it over the winter in his own way.” What he meant: “We won’t have Yu Darvish to kick around this year.”
Three reasons it will be a good year: 1. The Dodgers were the best team in the NL last year and among the best in MLB: they won 104 games, outscored opponents by 190 runs, and won seven of their eight first postseason games. They’re in a similar place to where the Royals were after losing the World Series in 7 in 2014, and their team, its business unfinished, returns virtually intact. 2. Walker Buehler and Alex Verdugo. The Dodgers don’t have to spend much or deal much to upgrade. They have two of MLB’s best prospects ready when they need them. Buehler — cue up the Ferris jokes — pitched 9.1 innings last year to get acclimated; he fanned 125 in 88.2 minor-league innings. He’s 23. Verdugo, a centerfielder, batted 25 times after slashing .314/389/436 in AAA and is why the Dodgers decided Willie Calhoun was expendable. He’s 21. 3. Justin Turner might be the best third baseman in MLB, and is there anyone who better demonstrates the vagaries of the sport? The Reds traded him in a package for catcher Ramon Hernandez, who hasn’t played in a MLB game since 2013. The Orioles waived him. The Mets allowed him to leave as a free agent. The Dodgers signed him for a workingman’s million dollars, and Turner has hit .303/378/502 in four Dodgers seasons. He’s still only 32, and his .932 OPS last year was the best at his position. Is there another pro sport in which someone with that resume would be as good as Turner?
Three reasons it won’t: 1. It’s not easy to repeat. Since 2002 only three teams have played in consecutive World Series (Phillies 2008-09; Rangers 2010-11; Royals 2014-15), and only the Royals have been able to win one after losing the year before. The Indians, 2016 Series runner-up, won 102 games and had an MLB-best run differential of +254 last season; they couldn’t even get back to the ALCS. Before the Royals, the last Series loser to return to the Series and win it the next year was Oakland in 1989, after losing to the Dodgers in five games in 1988. And those A’s weren’t supposed to lose the first time. 2. Matt Kemp is back, and any Dodger fan knows no good can come of that. The Dodgers reacquired Kemp to balance their checkbook — they foisted Adrian Gonzalez on the Braves, who was quickly released. Getting rid of Kemp isn’t so easy because he’s still owed $43.5 million, most of which the Dodgers are responsible for (the Padres owe Kemp $5 million due to A.J. Preller’s misguided attempt to make that team a contender in 2015. The 2015 Padres only finished 14 games under .500 and 18 games out of first). The Dodgers didn’t invite Kemp to their fan gathering, which was a telling welcome. The team said it was to spare Kemp’s feeling from the difficult questions he’d get from fans; the level of accountability at Fan Fests is somewhat below that asked of Marco Rubio at this week’s Town Hall. Kemp told reporters this spring, “I’ve got a lot left in me,” and he may be right, if you believe a weight scale. 3. Any chance Chris Taylor goes back to being … Chris Taylor? He batted .288, hit 21 homers, had an .850 OPS and played five positions. In 291 MLB at-bats before 2017, Taylor had hit one homer and batted .234. The Dodgers acquired Taylor from the Mariners for pitcher Zach Lee, who was waived after 2016. It was the kind of trade for trade’s sake that makes Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto the modern-day “Trader” Frank Lane, who once dealt a manager but never won a pennant, and Dipoto’s trading partner a World Series team.
Team song: Steely Dan: Show Biz Kids