Playing Pepper 2021: Los Angeles Dodgers

Opening Day is just around the corner (knock on wood after 2020, of course) and as such, that means it’s time for everyone’s favorite post series!  OK, maybe second favorite after Top Cards on Twitter.  It’s Playing Pepper!  Year 13 of our intrepid series finds us, as always, asking questions of bloggers (both former and current) of other teams, seeing how they view the upcoming season.   I think it’s a solid way of getting a handle on MLB as a whole.  So get your bats and ignore that sign on the fence–let’s play some pepper!

Los Angeles Dodgers
43-17, first in the NL West, won World Series
Website | Twitter
Last year’s Pepper

I mean, it’s a little hard to muster up much sympathy for the Dodgers, given that they’ve won the NL West for the past eight years and have routinely run one of the highest, if not the highest, payrolls in the game.  They can take on terrible contracts to get the player they want.  They added Mookie Betts in part because they could take on David Price and not even blink.  All that is true, but it’s also true that it had been over three decades since they’d brought home a title and that took the magic of Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser‘s career year to pull an upset.  So, even if you don’t want to, perhaps you can be a little happy for these bloggers who saw the long drought come to an end.

Blogger Site Twitter
Scott Andes LA Dodger Report LAdodgerreport
Michael Wittman Call to the Pen Wittman7
Stacie Wheeler Dodgers Digest StacieMWheeler

C70: Baseball in 2020 was like nothing we’ve ever seen before. What are your thoughts on that season? Did you like the rule changes? How was following baseball the same or different during the pandemic?

Scott: I thought the rule changes were stupid and unnecessary. But scummy commissioner Rob Manfred hates baseball and has been trying to turn it into football for years now. If Manfred has his say, baseball will eventually be turned into the NFL with a gridiron, busted union, gutted minor leagues, and game clocks in every game. I can live with the Universal DH, as that is something that is coming at some point, but why affect the integrity of the game? If you don’t want marathon extra innings games, it’s simple, just do what the Japanese leagues do and declare a tie after 12 innings. The runner on second rule was such an horrendously pointless change. All it does is affect outcomes of games. Playing 7-inning double-headers was insane too. Thank goodness there won’t be any expanded playoffs this year. Baseball is different from other sports in that it operates within it’s own cadence. Baseball has it’s own flow and there is no need to alter this. I hope every year that Manfred gets canned. He’s only there to line the pockets of the owners and other greedy executives.

As for how I watched the game this year, that didn’t change much. I watched the games from the safety of my living room couch. But I do miss Dodger Stadium very much. I haven’t been to a game since the end of the 2019 season in the before Covid times. Here’s hoping we can all get back to the ballpark soon.

Michael: The 2020 season was memorable for many reasons. Of course the Dodgers were the champions which is memorable in itself. The pandemic shortened season just added another reason to make it memorable. Following baseball during the pandemic wasn’t too different, if anything there was more time to watch since everything was shut down here in Southern California. With the season being only sixty games, it made every game feel twice as important and made it more compelling to watch every game.

I am a fan of the universal DH. I would rather the Dodgers send up a capable hitter then send up a pitcher who maybe gets a hit every ten at bats or so. As far as the extra innings rule, it didn’t make sense to me to start the innings with no outs and a runner on second base. I think starting the inning with one out would create a quicker finish. Statistically speaking MLB says over 70% of games ended in the first extra inning though so I guess it worked. Going forward I don’t mind either rule but I am looking forward to the return of the universal DH in 2022.

Stacie: I was surprised they were able to get in any sort of MLB season in 2020, even a shortened version. I’m not a fan of expanded playoffs, but I changed my mind a bit on the Universal DH as I watched it play out over the 60-game season.

Following baseball in-person was incredibly different last season. I can’t wait to be able to watch the Dodgers play live and in-person again when it’s safe to do so. Online coverage and social media became that much more important for baseball fans to stay connected to the team and other fans.

Overall, the 2020 season was bittersweet for Dodgers fans. They finally won it all, but we didn’t get the opportunity to be there for it at Dodger Stadium or celebrate together at the parade after.

C70: After 32 years, the championship trophy finally returned to Chavez Ravine (even if the World Series didn’t). What’s the dominant emotion–excitement, happiness, relief, or something else?

Scott: It’s hard to put into words what an incredibly special moment it was for all of the Dodger family. I can say that it was the culmination of a number of emotions. Joy, relief, excitement, were all part of the experience of watching our beloved Dodgers finally win the World Series for the first time in 32 years. It felt like a black cloud was lifted from the organization and everyone could breathe again. It was a surreal experience and something we all will never forget.

But it was so much more than that. I know you can understand since you have seen a couple of championship runs. For Dodger fans that grew up in the post Kirk Gibson era, this was the first time seeing greatness. We dreamed of this moment for so long and it felt like it would never happen and then it finally did. How can I describe the pain and suffering Dodger fans have experienced over the last 32 years of losing? We’ve certainly been through a lot over the years. Bankruptcies, soul-crushing playoff losses, poor luck, injuries, and what else? Think of it this way….Imagine that the Cardinals lost in the playoffs for seven consecutive years. Picture that for a moment. For seven consecutive years, your Cardinals lost in the most agonizing way imaginable. Meanwhile your most hated rivals, (let’s say the stupid Cubs) won three championships in five years. Imagine having to live through something like this, seven straight years of losing, every single damn year, while the Cubs won three titles in five years. The Giants fans trolled us. The baseball gods hated us. But that all changed last fall. So when Julio Urias struck out Willy Adames and catcher Austin Barnes gloved that final out and the great drought mercifully came to an end, I cried. Many Dodger fans cried.

But it was so much more than that. When that last out was recorded, and I started crying, fireworks could be heard from all across Los Angeles for miles. Me and my girlfriend stepped out onto our patio, (our complex is filled with mostly hardcore Dodger fans) and all of our neighbors stepped out as well. While the fireworks continued to go off everyone was hugging each other, yelling and screaming with Joy. Some of my neighbors were crying too. It was hard being stuck at home and unable to celebrate like we would in normal years, but that wrinkle faded into the background of our swelling emotions. Hopefully they can do it again in 2021 and Dodger fans can have a championship at Dodger Stadium, something we so richly deserve. The Dodgers are World Series champions and thank goodness Vin Scully, and Tommy Lasorda got to see it. RIP Tommy.

Michael: I think the scene of Clayton Kershaw running onto the field from the dugout and lifting his hands over his head was probably symbolic of how most Dodger fans including myself felt. The dominant emotion seemed to be relief. After all the postseason failures (and getting cheated against) the Dodgers finally won a World Series. With every postseason failure it started to feel like the Dodgers would never finish the deal and only exacerbate the anger of that 2017 World Series defeat in which the Astros cheated. It would have been sickening if Clayton Kershaw ended his career without a ring and now that is no longer a worry.

It does feel like as Dodger fans we were robbed of some of the things that typically come with a World Series title like a parade, fan fest and getting to see the trophy, etc. Those may come at a later date but if the Dodgers win another World Series title in the coming years, it will feel different.

Stacie: It’s a mixture of elation, relief and outright giddiness. It was special to share a Dodgers World Series championship with my daughters even if we couldn’t be there. It’s satisfying, because it was a long and overdue accomplishment by one of the most storied sports franchises in history. Many fans have been born after 1988, those who have lived literally their entire life without witnessing the Dodgers win a World Series. Multiple generations of Dodgers fans were able to celebrate this one together. It was an emotional moment I’ll never forget.

C70: The Trever Bauer contract was definitely a unique one. What are your thoughts about adding the pitcher to the Dodgers’ rotation?

Scott: The guy is kind of nuts, but he’s a great pitcher. It seemed like a good fit on paper for both sides. Bauer, a southern California native, seemed to have the Dodgers in mind from the start. His addition is going to improve the already very good starting rotation immensely. If Bauer can stay out of trouble on social media, he’ll anchor a very strong Dodgers rotation in 2021. I’m all for it. I don’t care how crazy he is, or how big of a headcase he is, if he helps us win another World Series. I’ve been through watching mentally troubled Dodgers since I was a child. Nothing fazes me anymore. He can’t be any worse than some of the others that I have seen throughout my Dodger fandom. Someday I will sit you down and tell you the tales of guys like Milton Bradley, or Darryl Strawberry, or Kevin Brown. It would make your head spin.

Michael: I like what the Dodgers did in adding Bauer on a three year deal. It’s essentially a two year contract the way the annual salary goes and the only way he plays the third season of the deal is if he gets seriously injured in year two. While he is getting overpaid, that’s a lot better than paying him a steady rate for five or more years.

Obviously Bauer is quite the character and he isn’t everybody’s cup of tea but on the field I think he can bring the Dodgers a lot of value. An underrated aspect of signing him is getting him to work with younger pitchers like Julio Urias, Dustin May, and Tony Gonsolin to improve their spin rates and maybe tighten up their offspeed pitches. It wouldn’t surprise me if Trevor Bauer finished as the Dodgers’ third best starter in 2021 but he gives the Dodgers a durable innings eater which is going to be even more important in 2021 after jumping back up to 162 games.

Stacie: The addition of reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer to the Dodgers’ rotation clearly strengthens an already top tier collection of pitchers the Dodgers have going into the season. They have the financial clout to pay Bauer over $40 million the next two seasons, so why not? Bauer has harassed women online and has been entangled in other off-the-field messes. Andrew Friedman assured us that he has a good vetting process when asked about Bauer’s problematic online interactions during the press conference to announce the Bauer signing. Bauer declined to address his online behavior at that time.

I can see both sides. Justin Turner, David Price and Mookie Betts are the types of leaders who can offer positive influence. I want to see Bauer succeed on the Dodgers. Putting his personality off the mound aside, I must admit that his pitch repertoire and quirky training methods intrigue me. I’m hoping for the best Bauer with the Dodgers, on and off the field.

C70: Justin Turner is returning to the Dodgers. Did you ever seriously think that he would go somewhere else and is this a good move for the champs?

Scott: I was petrified all winter long that Turner would leave and end up in Toronto or Milwaukee. Thank goodness he stayed put. Not only is this great for the Dodgers, it’s fantastic. Let me put it to you this way. If Clayton Kershaw is the face of the franchise, Justin Turner is the soul of the Dodgers. You just can’t let someone like that walk away in free agency. Turner (and Kershaw too) should never put on another uniform again. Of course there was a little bit of a disconnect during contract negotiations as Turner reportedly wanted a 4-year deal and the Dodgers were only comfortable going for 2 years. Turner is getting old, and his reflexes at third base are not as sharp as they were when he was younger. But he is loved by everyone and one of the best clutch hitters the Dodgers have ever had. The Dodgers do have guys like Edwin Rios and Chris Taylor that can ease the burden at third when Turner needs a rest. I am so glad Turner is still a Dodger.

Michael: Although rumors started flying of the Brewers’ interest at the end of the contract negotiations, it always felt like Justin Turner was destined to return to the Dodgers. It was simply the Dodgers drawing a line in the sand at two guaranteed years and Turner was trying to get three or four years. Even throughout all the postseason failures of the Dodgers, Justin Turner was always one player who seemed to deliver time and time again in October. Add in his leadership and it was absolutely the right move to bring JT back. If the Dodgers had gone three or four guaranteed years it would’ve felt like a reach but at two, it’s a slam dunk move for LA.

Stacie: I expected Justin Turner to re-sign with the Dodgers, but I was puzzled to why the negotiation process dragged out so long. JT’s the heart of the team, and he was never leaving Los Angeles. Turner’s in great shape this spring, helping his third base defense. The Universal DH isn’t going into effect this season, so Turner’s defense at the hot corner is important. Turner’s leadership on this team and his positive impact on the city of Los Angeles is priceless. It was a good move for the Dodgers to re-sign JT to keep his right-handed bat in the lineup, his glove at third and his leadership in the clubhouse.

C70: What is your expectation for this team this coming season?

Scott: My expectations for the Dodgers in 2021 are for them to reach the playoffs again. If we are playing a full season I would imagine they would win anywhere from 95-100 games. They’ve got an excellent roster. They added Bauer, kept Turner in town and are almost bringing back the same roster as last season. They have a strong pitching staff and the position player roster should be good too. They’ll have a full season of Mookie Betts, and honestly I don’t think any other team in baseball let alone the National League can match them talent wise. Surely there will be competition in the NL this year, but a ninth consecutive NL West division title is certainly within their grasp. One of the hardest things to accomplish in sports is winning back-to-back championships, but a fourth National League pennant in five years would be a tremendous achievement. They are good enough to do it.

Michael: Despite the aggressive offseason of the San Diego Padres, I expect the Dodgers to win over 100 games and tack another NL West title onto their current streak. Barring injuries, there isn’t a more talented team in baseball. I hate sounding like a homer but the Dodgers are truly stacked and they have the depth to overcome any injuries or oddities that come to their pitching staff in 2021.

The only true question mark the Dodgers have is at closer. Kenley Jansen has been on the decline for several years but the team has options if Jansen does continue to decline. Corey Knebel, Blake Treinen, Victor Gonzalez, or even a young starter like Urias or May could fill in as closer. Then there are the intriguing minor league invitees such as Brandon Morrow and Jimmy Nelson.

Despite the Padres becoming arguably the second best team in baseball, the rest of the NL West is either tanking or should start tanking. I don’t think it’s a reach for the Dodgers to win 110-115 games in 2021.

Stacie: I expect the Dodgers to remain one of the top teams in baseball. They’re ready to defend their World Series title. Los Angeles will have some stiff competition in the division after the San Diego Padres went for it all this offseason. They traded for Blake Snell then acquired Yu Darvish.

Justin Turner summed up his thoughts on the Padres going into the season. “It was exciting watching what they’re doing. I think it’s good for the game of baseball. They’re going out and being aggressive and going for it, and it’s good to see teams doing that. I think the way I look at it now that I’m back here with the Dodgers is, we’re gonna get 19 World Series games this year.”

The Dodgers should win their ninth (!) consecutive NL West title with my projection of a 102-60. record. The Padres will give them a run, but ultimately the Dodgers will prevail. It can be called a divisional dynasty now, right?

C70: Overall, what sort of grade would you give this organization and why?

Scott: Right now? I would give them an A++++++++++++. It’s hard not to give them an A+ grade after they just won the World Series. They’re not perfect, but honestly they are a great organization. Very well run and filled with smart and capable people. Their history speaks for themselves. They’re one of the greatest and most historic baseball franchises. They’ve pioneered for equality, championed for communities and broken traditions with ground breaking accolades. 

Michael: The Dodgers’ organization gets a solid A grade. While they only have one World Series title to show for their current run, it’d be surprising if the Dodgers do not tack on another title in the next four to five years. Despite having all the financial might in the World, Andrew Friedman hasn’t flexed that until recently with the Bauer and Betts contracts. While you won’t see the Dodgers’ farm system in the top ten rankings, it’s a system that is very deep. Over the next year or two they should see several top 100 prospects emerge and continue to fill the organization with talent from within.

The next few offseasons will be crucial with free agents such as Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager, and eventually Cody Bellinger but the team doesn’t have any big money commitments past 2022 except for Mookie Betts. If Friedman plays his cards right the Dodgers will be able to reload and keep themselves as one of the top organizations in baseball for the next five years.

With few mistakes during the Andrew Friedman era and one World Series title already in the bag, the Dodgers easily get an A grade as an organization.

Stacie: I give the Dodgers’ organization a solid A. They’re coming off their first World Series Championship in 32 years. Andrew Friedman and the
front office built a juggernaut of a baseball team. Their significant depth throughout the organization puts them in position to be a competitively
successful team for years to come. I’m here for the Dodgers to become the 1st MLB team to win consecutive World Series since the 1998-2000 New York Yankees won three straight titles. The Dodgers have never won consecutive championships in their history. I’m here for the Dodgers doubling down on the championships. 

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