Playing Pepper 2020: Los Angeles Dodgers

If we’re closing in on the regular season, that must mean it’s time to play some pepper!  For the 12th year in a row, I’ve contacted bloggers and writers from around baseball to talk about the team they hold dear.  It’s a good way for folks to get the pulse of other teams around MLB and see what other fanbases are talking about.  It’s a tradition unlike any other (because who would want to copy it): it’s time for Playing Pepper.

These answers were obtained before (or very soon after) spring training was halted and Opening Day was delayed.  Obviously, things may be very different when baseball returns but my hope is that this gives you a good feel for the Dodgers, even if some specific items may be affected.

Los Angeles Dodgers
106-56, first in NL West, lost in NLDS
Website | Twitter
Last year’s Pepper

While teams like Houston and Boston got some black eyes this winter, it wasn’t necessarily a great offseason for Dodgers fans because they found out about what Houston and Boston had been doing.  The sting of coming up short again the playoffs was tough enough, but to find out that they might have been champions the last two years had things been different must have been terribly frustrating.  Of course, sympathy only goes so far when the team’s frustration means they go out and add another MVP.  So many conflicting emotions.  Let’s let our bloggers sort them out.

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

C70: Can’t be much fun to find out the two teams the Dodgers played in the World Series recently were apparently cheating. As a Dodger fan, how did this scandal make you feel? Have the punishments been enough so far?

Scott: No it’s not fun. Especially when scummy and greedy commissioner Rob Manfred does literally nothing to punish them or prevent this from happening in the future. Manfred is a sleazeball. He’s there to maximize profits and perpetuate the analytics movement. While it’s clear that Manfred cares very little about baseball, other teams will likely continue to find new ways to cheat since there are no defense mechanisms in place to protect the integrity of the game. Not only should the Astros have their trophy taken from them (a trophy that Manfred disrespects) but most of the starters, and front office executives should be permanently banned from the game. I recently wrote about the lack of justice for the Dodgers at my blog. Unfortunately no amount of punishment can turn back time and give back to the Dodgers and the fans what we so richly deserve. Our moment was stolen from us and nothing can turn back the clock.

The punishments were merely slaps on the wrist. As a Dodger fan it infuriated me. My blood boils just thinking about it. Imagine if the Cardinals had made it to game 7 of the World Series at home and their opponent, lets say the Yankees, or Royals cheated the red birds into a loss. You guys would probably be enraged too. It’s excruciatingly sad. The key going forward is to continue to publicly shame the Astros and Manfred as much as we can. I hate them so much.

Michael: As a Dodger fan this definitely hurt, especially considering these were the only two World Series that I have seen the Dodgers participate in. There is definitely a feeling of being robbed, at least for the 2017 World Series given that the Astros’ cheating is supposed to be much worse than what the Red Sox did. The only sense of relief from it is that in 2017 it felt like the Dodgers were the best team and considering it went 7 games still, I think most Dodger fans feel confident in saying that the Dodgers would have won the 2017 World Series if the Astros did not cheat.

As far as the punishment goes, I think the Astros losing draft picks was fair but most Dodger fans including myself would’ve liked to see the 2017 WS title vacated. That would hold more value over losing draft picks and firing Luhnow and Hinch. After all, they cheated to win that title, if you take it away then it really leaves a mark on the Astros.

Stacie: As a Dodger fan, I’m still angry at the Astros and MLB. I was at World Series Game 2, the most heart-wrenching game I’ve ever attended.

I wasn’t shocked the Astros stole signs in the 2017 World Series. I’m more disappointed the scandal had to involve the Dodgers, and the MLB did little as far as punishment. The Astros’ ‘punishment’ was weak. The loss of their first and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021 is the most impactful part, but the $5 million fine is a joke. Look at how much money they raked in as a World Series winner.

I’m still bitter about the whole thing, but now I’m just worried I won’t be able to see any baseball for the foreseeable future. If I’m forced to watch old games during baseball’s suspension, it’s not going to be the 2017 World Series.

C70: It’s been a relatively quiet offseason for LA. Was that a surprise? Were there moves they should have made? (Yes, this was written before a certain trade.)

Scott: It was looking like a typically quiet and boring offseason for Dodger’s president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, until that little trade that may have grabbed some attention. Before the Dodgers acquired Mookie Betts and David Price from the Red Sox, they were having the usual winter. Betts (who is going to bat lead-off and play right field) is the first star player he has ever acquired in his five years of front office leadership. This is the guy that normally picks up or signs injury riddled bums, or minor league nobodies like Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, Daniel Coloumbe, etc. the list is endless. For the last four years he has done nothing in the offseason. No top free agents signed, no top players acquired. Every winter is the same in that the Dodgers are rumored to be in on every single free agent star player under the sun, but the moves never come to fruition. There’s almost always an excuse. For instance Gerrit Cole was too expensive. Anthony Rendon didn’t like Los Angeles. Stephen Strasburg was too committed to Washington. Hyun-jin Ryu was a bum, and those excuses went on and on and on and on. But after the Dodgers’ predictable and incompetent exit from the playoffs last season, Friedman and the Guggenheim group knew they had to make some kind of change.

The championship drought hangs over the franchise like a black cloud. Fans want a championship right now, this year and if they don’t get one they are likely to revolt, possibly riot. For the record Dodger fans are among the most loyal fans in the game as the Dodgers lead the league (drew 3.9 million in 2019) in attendance every season. No fans in baseball deserve a championship more than Dodger fans. So the trade finally was made, and it was great. The Dodgers did make some other moves and the pitching staff will have a bit of a different look in 2020. Veteran and longtime rotation stalwart Hyun-jin Ryu signed with Toronto. Hill signed with the Twins and Kenta Maeda was traded to Minnesota for flamethrowing prospect Brusdar Graterol, who was the guy the Red Sox didn’t want. The Dodgers are sure to deploy him as a late inning reliever this season and he should greatly help the bullpen if he’s ready. The Dodgers also made attempts to improve that previously dreadful bullpen by signing Blake Treinen to a one-year ten million dollar deal. They also brought back former Dodger Alex Wood and also acquired big starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson. I would have liked to see more pitching moves for younger harder throwing relievers. The hitting is great but the pitching staff is what needs some attention.

Michael: This question was posed before the Mookie Betts and David Price deal. Prior to that trade it feels like it was just a perfect storm against the Dodgers. The Yankees were not going to be outbid for Gerrit Cole and the Dodgers did reportedly offer right years and close to $300 million. Whatever offer the Dodgers made, the Yankees were not going to be beat. Then there was Anthony Rendon who supposedly did not want to play in LA and live the “Hollywood lifestyle”. This off-season felt like it was go big or go home for the Dodgers and that’s what it ended up being. The Mookie Betts deal pretty much fell onto their lap since they had the money to take on David Price which seemed like the only way a Betts deal would happen.

Stacie: To Daniel’s defense, he sent these questions to me before the Mookie Betts trade went down. The offseason started off quiet and boring. The Dodgers didn’t get any of the big free agents. They didn’t bring back Rich Hill or Hyun-Jin Ryu.

It did end up to be a successful winter after all. February 4 ended up Mookie Day for Dodger fans. The three-team trade included Minnesota and the Red Sox. Boston received Alex Verdugo from the Dodgers and a prospect from the Twins. The Twins received Kenta Maeda from the Dodgers. Betts and David Price went to LA. We all waited for what felt like weeks to hear that the trade was finalized. The Red Sox found a “medical issue” with Brusdar Graterol, and the Twins were going to back out. Luckily the Dodgers restructured the deal with the Red Sox, and they worked out a different deal with the Twins. The Dodgers finally did something and acquired outfielder Betts and veteran pitcher David Price and cash in exchange for Alex Verdugo and minor leaguers Jeter Downs and Connor Wong on February 4.

I liked the trade a lot, but now a shortened or canceled season concerns me. Did the Dodgers trade away Verdugo for less than a full season of Betts? It won’t be the only trade value impacted by the suspension of the season. We don’t know the full effect on teams’ both in the short-term and long-term. I just hope I get to see Betts play for the Dodgers…eventually.

C70: Dustin May had a nice start to his career. What are your expectations of him in his first full season at the big league level?

Scott: Dustin May has a lot of potential but is extremely raw. The Dodgers see this and are likely to have him start the season in Oklahoma City. If he can be polished, he could become an extremely strong middle of the rotation guy. The arm is live, but he must work on his command and develop his secondary offerings. At some point depending on how he looks he should be back with the big club during the regular season. Unless he blows everyone away in spring he will be opening the season at Triple-A.

Michael: Dustin May is currently dealing with a side (oblique?) injury and has fallen behind the pack. He was likely to begin the season in Triple-A but his injury all but confirms it. May should be brought back up by June or July in my opinion. Chances are the Dodgers will have some kind of injuries to their starting rotation or as many often speculate, they will use phantom injuries to IL some starters such as Wood or Urias and keep their innings count down.

Even if the starting rotation excels without Dustin May, he could still play a significant role out of the bullpen down the stretch and into the postseason. His fastball has great sinking action and in the upper 90’s it could be a valuable weapon for LA. Given the three batter minimum rule, May becomes an even bigger piece of the Dodger pen. He has a chance to have the type of season that Julio Urias did in 2019 where he becomes a vital piece of the bullpen.

Stacie: Unfortunately Dustin May was shut down for multiple weeks after experiencing soreness in his left side after a bullpen session. May resumed playing catch on March 5, but was subsequently shut down again after feeling lingering discomfort. It’s unlikely May will start the season with the Dodgers in the rotation or bullpen.

Dustin May. Photo: Stacie Wheeler

In addition to the injury and being behind, May is still the odd man out behind Julio Urias and Alex Wood for a spot in the starting rotation. May likely starts the season, if there is one, with AAA-Oklahoma City. May’s a talented youngster who’ll definitely spend time with the big club this season once he’s healthy. The 22-year old right-hander had a 2.90 FIP and 8.3 K/9 in 14 games (4 starts) and 34 2/3 innings last season after making his MLB debut on August 2, 2019. I expect him to pitch more innings this season after his impressive cup of coffee with the Dodgers last summer.

C70: What are your expectations for 2020? Where do you think they’ll finish in the division?

Scott: They’re a lock to win the division. They are way too talented, deep and experienced to not win the division for the eighth consecutive season. Plus with the rest of the division being weak, the Dodgers should walk into the playoffs again. The question is if this is finally the year where they get all the way through and win the World Series. I would say 95+ wins is very likely. After that is anyone’s guess. However if they improve the pitching staff, specifically the bullpen then they have a great chance of winning the World Series. They definitely have the lineup to win, that’s for sure. The pitching just needs a little work.

Michael: The Dodgers are definitely still in World Series or bust mode after adding Mookie Betts to a team that would’ve been one of the best in baseball without him. While the fan in me says they win the World Series, making it back to the World Series should be a minimum requirement to call it a successful season. As we all know, anything can happen in the baseball postseason so even making it back to the World Series is an accomplishment.

As far as the division goes there is no reason why the Dodgers shouldn’t win the NL West. The Diamondbacks got better and so did the Padres but those teams are not on LA’s level. The Dodgers have the depth to withstand injuries so they should win close to if not more than 100 games and that should give them the division title by a healthy margin.

Stacie: Despite the uncertainty of when and how the season will start, I was going into the 2020 season confident that the Dodgers were once again favorites to win the NL West division. They should win their eighth (!) consecutive NL West title. Then again, I’m not very good with predictions. I never saw 2019’s franchise record of 106-56 when I said they’d win 99 games in Playing Pepper 2018. They won 10 games more than I expected in 2017 as well. If we’re basing it on a normal 162-games schedule, then I’d say the Dodgers go 100-62 in 2020.

C70: What’s the main topic Dodgers fans are discussing that maybe isn’t obvious to other teams?

Scott: To be honest it’s mostly all Mookie Betts mania, or hating on the Astros. But let’s not forget that the All-Star game is at Dodger Stadium for the first time since 1980 this summer. They’re renovating the stadium again, adding “home run seats” in center field. It will probably look ghastly, but I think the All-Star game had a lot to do with Betts and Price being acquired. After that incompetent playoff bounce, there was no way that the Dodgers could go into 2020 with Blake Treinen being their big hot stove acquisition. I can’t wait to see the home run derby at Dodger Stadium. I would appreciate it if they would stop gutting Dodger Stadium every few years. Chavez Ravine is classically beautiful just the way it is. 

Michael: The bullpen is always a hot topic for Dodger fans. The bullpen is also a lot better than they are given credit for. In fact, the Dodgers tied for the best bullpen ERA in the National League last season and entering the postseason many thought it was their best bullpen of the last few postseason runs.

Dave Roberts decided to use Clayton Kershaw out of the pen for some reason which cost the Dodgers their season but the bullpen is essentially the same and now they added Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol. Kenley Jansen also went to Driveline during the off-season and in his first few spring outings he has pitched with velocity and looked sharp. The Dodger bullpen could emerge as a strength in 2020 which will surprise many who just follow national headlines in baseball.

Stacie: The Dodgers’ bullpen tweaks and new additions are intriguing. There’s comeback contender Blake Treinen, signed to a 1-year contract this past offseason plus Caleb Ferguson, Scott Alexander and Adam Kolarek remain left-handed bullpen options for Dave Roberts. Tony Gonsolin, Ross Stripling, Brusdar Graterol, Joe Kelly, Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen can all make an impact at the big level out of the bullpen as well. 

C70: What are you looking forward to most about the coming season?

Scott: One thing mostly, and it involves watching the boys in blue hoisting that beautiful trophy and a massive parade through downtown Los Angeles. Mostly I am just looking forward to watching Dodger baseball for another six months. The seasons fly by but my love for Dodger baseball has never been stronger. 

Michael: It may sound funny but I am just looking forward to baseball. It has been months where cheating has been the focus of baseball and the same 2017 World Series clips have been shown hundreds of times online. Just seeing actual baseball and the storylines that come from the season will be a relief.

I am looking forward to seeing Mookie Betts play every day as well. Outside of a few games here and there I have not been able to see him play often but now at least for one season I will get to see his talents on display. I am also looking forward to seeing how Cody Bellinger backs up his MVP season and if Walker Buehler can take that next step like he showed glimpses of in the postseason.

Stacie: I’m looking forward to there being a season. I have no idea what to expect. I know one thing. I miss baseball. I was lucky enough to take my annual spring training trip right before MLB shut the doors on the clubhouse. I was excited to start up the 2020 season, but soon after my trip, everything was shut down.

Now life and baseball are in limbo. I usually rely on baseball to get me through tough times. The only thing we can do is wait to see what form of a season takes shape, if one at all, plays out.

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