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Los Angeles Dodgers: Can they get to World Series in 2016?

By The Sports Xchange   |   Feb. 22, 2016 at 4:55 PM
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Los Angeles Dodgers: Spring training preview 2016 season

For the Los Angeles Dodgers, the more things change, the more the expectations stay the same.

The Dodgers reported to Arizona for spring training with a rookie manager and half of their twin-ace approach at the front of the rotation employed elsewhere in the NL West.

But the payroll remains the highest in baseball, with all the pressure that comes with that.

It's a volatile mix Dave Roberts inherits after replacing Don Mattingly as manager.

"I think that it's fun in a certain sense where you get a young team (as a new manager) that you can cultivate and really mold," Roberts said. "But to have really good players? You're only as good as your players are and we have very good players in that clubhouse.

"For me to be a first-time manager and have very good coaches around me and have very good players -- we're in a pretty good spot."

The Dodgers have ruled the NL West the last three seasons (the first time in franchise history the Dodgers have made the playoffs in three consecutive seasons).

But the division landscape might have shifted with aggressive off-season moves by the Arizona Diamondbacks (Zack Greinke's new employer) and San Francisco Giants.

Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez doesn't want to hear it.

"This team is going to be just as good as it's been in the past if not better," Gonzalez said. "Last year, we were talking about the Padres being so good. You're always going to have teams that the so-called experts are going to say are going to be the team to beat or that they're so improved or this and that.

"But at the end of the day, we know that we're a team that's going to be right in the middle of the pennant race come September and we're going to be in the best position we need to be to get into the playoffs.

"I think we have probably the deepest team in baseball. ... As far as people saying how other teams got better, that's not really for us to care about because we know we have the talent and depth that you need to have to win the division again."

The Dodgers did opt for depth in rebuilding their rotation without Greinke, signing free agent left-hander Scott Kazmir and landing top Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda.

Healthy returns from Hyun-Jin Ryu (shoulder) and Brandon McCarthy (elbow) at some point this season fortify things even further.

Other than that, the talent in the every-day lineup and bullpen should look very familiar, with Rookie of the Year prospect runner Corey Seager the only significant change.

NOTES, QUOTES

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: The main question new manager Dave Roberts will have to answer at some point this spring is who to bat leadoff. The Dodgers have no obvious choice and Roberts said "any number of guys' could fill the role from one day to the next depending on pitching matchups -- Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, Enrique Hernandez, Joc Pederson, even rookie shortstop Corey Seager. A leadoff hitter during his playing career, Roberts said analytics have put less emphasis on finding a specific type of hitter to fill that spot. "I think that nowadays it's just another spot in the order," Roberts said. "Your typical leadoff hitter doesn't have to be Brett Butler hitting every day at the top."

ROOKIE WATCH: The consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball entering 2016, Corey Seager has been handed the shortstop job and status as the frontrunner for the NL's Rookie of the Year award. The fact that he hit .337 with a .986 OPS in 27 games with the Dodgers last September only solidified that standing.

COMEBACK TRAIL: LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu missed the 2015 season after undergoing labrum surgery on his pitching shoulder. The Dodgers are taking a cautious approach to Ryu's return, hedging their bets by building depth in the starting rotation so they aren't dependent on Ryu being ready to take a regular turn in the rotation right from the start of the season. However, the Korean left-hander has had no setbacks in his recovery and should be ready to pitch in a game at some point during the preseason schedule.

PLAYER NOTES

--2B Micah Johnson reported to camp early but will be limited for several days. Johnson needed stitches to close a cut in his left hand. He sustained the injury while trying to remove the pit from an avocado.

--RHP Kenta Maeda has been in Arizona long enough to have thrown two bullpen sessions before pitchers and catchers were required to report on Friday. "I haven't made any changes. I'm basically doing what I did in Japan," the right-hander said of making the jump to the majors in his first spring.

--RHP Louis Coleman agreed to a one-year contract with the Dodgers after being released by the Kansas City Royals earlier this month when the Royals signed veteran starter Ian Kennedy. Coleman is a candidate for a spot in the Dodgers bullpen after posting a 3.20 ERA and 1.25 WHIP over parts of the last five seasons with the Royals.

--3B Justin Turner (microfracture surgery on his left knee) has had no setbacks in his recovery. The Dodgers will manage his workload through the first weeks of spring training but are optimistic he will be ready to play on Opening Day.

--C Yasmani Grandal (left shoulder surgery) has had no setbacks in his recovery. He entered spring training with no restrictions.

--OF-IF Enrique Hernandez (right shoulder surgery) began a throwing program in January and is not expected to have any limitations once spring training begins.

--RHP Frankie Montas had surgery to remove the first rib on his right side after experience a stress reaction in the area during his off-season workouts. Montas is expected to be sidelined for two to four months.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It feels like I'm a rookie again. ... I've never introduced myself this much before in such a short time. But it's been fun. It's a new experience for me." -- Japanese RHP Kenta Maeda (through an interpreter)

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