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Los Angeles Dodgers Begin Cactus League with World Series Expectations

| Sports | March 10, 2018

Feel that? Spring is in the air, and that means it’s just about time for the first pitch of the MLB season. Last year, Los Angeles flirted with its first World Series win since 1988, but ultimately fell short to the Houston Astros. The Dodgers were able to force the series to go to seven games, including a 3-1 victory in game six that saw LA score three runs in the sixth and seventh innings to seal the win. The Astros got the better of the Dodgers in game seven, jumping out to a 5-0 lead after two innings, an advantage Houston would never lose on their way to a 5-1 title-clinching performance.

The loss left fans wondering if Los Angeles would be able to make it to the World Series again this season. In the offseason, the pitching staff took a hit as Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow sailed ship to the Chicago Cubs. The Dodgers acquired Darvish at the trade deadline last season, and were rewarded with four wins and three losses in Darvish’s nine starts, as well as an ERA of 3.44. In relief, Morrow recorded six wins and no losses with a 2.06 ERA.

The only move that really registered on the Richter scale for Los Angeles this offseason, was the trade that brought back Matt Kemp. The team was forced to part ways with Scott Kazmir, Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, and Charlie Culberson to get the deal done. With so many players moving out, and so few new players coming in, the questions must be asked. Is the 2018 rendition of the Los Angeles Dodgers talented enough to make it to the top of the MLB?

Spring training is not to be used as a true test of what the coming season will look like. However, it is the first time the team will take the field in exhibition, and naturally, fans of the team will be curious to see how well the projected starters perform.

Defense helped define 2017 for the Dodgers, as the team allowed the second least number of runs scored in the regular season, at 580. Los Angeles was also strong at fielding the ball, earning a .985 fielding percentage in 5,789 total chances. So far in spring training, the team has been unable to live up to those lofty numbers.

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Opposing offenses have scored a total of 77 runs against the Dodgers in the Cactus League. Their fielding percentage has also dropped significantly, where they are now at .965, fourth worst in the league. The team numbers haven’t been all that impressive, but individual players are definitely putting on a show, especially amongst the catchers.

Yasmani Grandal, Will Smith, and Kyle Farmer all have perfect fielding percentages on 35, 33 and 26 total chances, respectively. Grandal, who is the regular season starter at catcher, has notched 33 putouts, putting him in 10th place among all players. His at plate appearance has room for improvement, as he has a batting average of just .158 with three hits. Two of his hits have gone for home runs, so he is making the best of the hits he has had.

Farmer has been the real surprise of the bunch. He is slotted at third in the depth chart, and has taken advantage of the large amount of playing time he’s received in the Cactus League. Aside from the 1.000 fielding percentage, he has seven hits at 11 at bats, for a .636 batting average, and he is putting power behind his bat, registering the team’s second best slugging percentage, at 1.091.

Not to be outdone, key members of the team’s outfield are putting up 1.000 fielding percentages as well. Center fielder Curtis Taylor has had 11 total fielding chances, collecting five putouts and six assists, along with a double play. The presumed starter in left field, Joc Pederson, is displaying why he belongs as first string on day one, with 11 putouts and one assist on 12 total chances.

Kemp, who looks to be Pederson’s backup, has demonstrated strong play throughout the Cactus League. He has five hits at 16 at bats for a .353 batting average. Three of his hits have gone for homers, which is tied for most on the team. It may be hard to sneak into the starting lineup, but Kemp is clearly making a case to be a regular in the rotation.

The regular season starting pitchers have made their way to the mound sparingly this spring, but have had good outings when there. Kenta Maeda has seen the most action, with 4.1 innings pitched, and has earned one win with a 2.08 ERA. Alex Wood has the most wins amongst the starting pitchers, with three, but in doing so, has an ERA of 10.80. He has allowed four hits, four earned runs, and a home run in 3.1 innings pitched.

Of course, that leaves Clayton Kershaw to account for. The fan favorite pitcher has played in only three innings, where he has allowed just one hit and no earned runs. The starters are pitching as strong as ever, but when it comes to the bullpen, the Cactus League has not offered the Dodgers many views of their relievers.

Josh Fields, who had five wins in 57 innings pitched last season, reported to camp behind his throwing schedule due to discomforts. This has stopped him from seeing the field this spring. Tony Cingrani also began training camp behind in his throwing schedule from a stiff shoulder, and he too has yet to throw a pitch in a Cactus League game. Last, but certainly not least, is closer Kenley Jensen, who has yet to pitch as he battles an illness.

The only relievers expected to make the regular season roster that have seen any playing time are Scott Alexander, Pedro Baez, and Koehler. Alexander has played the strongest out of the three, striking out five batters with a 3.00 ERA.

LA began a four-game win streak with a 7-6 win over the Cactus League’s first place team, the Chicago White Sox. Chicago boasts an 8-2 record, with both losses coming at the hands of the Dodgers. Los Angeles first played the White Sox in the first game of the league, blowing out Chicago 13-5.

On Opening Day, which falls on Thursday, March 29, the Dodgers take on their longtime rival, the San Francisco Giants, in a four-game series. The Giants picked up some big names in Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen, and San Francisco staple Pablo Sandoval. The three aren’t making a big impact in the Cactus League, but at the very least, Longoria and McCutchen will be starting day one.

It’s a long, long way to the World Series, almost the furthest point possible. High expectations have been bestowed upon the Dodgers to make it back to the championship round. Whether or not they do so remains to be seen, so just sit back and enjoy whatever the season has in store.

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About Keir Chapman

Keir Chapman began his career in sports journalism as Sports Director for iCLU Radio in Thousand Oaks. After graduating from California Lutheran University in 2013, Keir used his experiences as a writer and a college basketball player in a weekly blog for the New York based athletic gear company, True Athelite. Now, Keir makes weekly appearances on the Doug and John show on KHTS as Mr. Sports and is happy to contribute to the Santa Clarita Gazette.

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