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MLB preview 2018: Los Angeles Dodgers are World Series or bust

And the Rockies probably finish behind them in the division. Again. Ryan Walton of True Blue LA joins us to talk all about it.

With the 2018 season just around the corner, it’s time to catch up with the other teams around the division. Instead of trying to figure out what we need to know about them ourselves, we thought it would be a good idea to ask our friends at our neighbors here at SBNation to help catch us up.

We asked Ryan Walton of True Blue LA to answer a few questions for us about the upcoming Los Angeles Dodgers season. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

What went right for the Dodgers in 2017? What, ultimately, went wrong?

The Dodgers were at a whole different level in 2017 and there wasn’t much that went wrong. They won 104 games -- bested only by the 1953 Dodgers at 105 -- and it seemed like they were going to win every time they took the field. There was a stretch during the summer that they won 52 of 61 games and during some of that time, it felt like they would never lose again.

Alex Wood didn’t even get a spot in the starting rotation coming out of camp and he ended up 11-0 with a 1.56 ERA around mid-July. Chris Taylor didn’t make the club out of spring training and became one of the best leadoff hitters in the game. Cody Bellinger was called up because of injuries in late April and hit all the homers—39 to be exact.

That’s just the type of depth the Dodgers have built where they just plugged guys in all year and that player would produce.

The team won over 70 percent of their home games and were cruising towards the best record of all time when they reached 91-36 in late August. It was at this point that the Dodgers started a hard nosedive, losing 16 of the next 17 games. All the feeling of the team winning every time they took the field was lost for good.

104 wins in a season is outstanding but given the shape they were in with 55 more wins than losses on August 25, 104 wins sounds like a disappointment.

What was it like living through the chase for the win record? What was it like to follow that up with the ineptitude that followed in August/September? Did winning the pennant wash it all away?

Living through all the winning and sudden losing was just as bipolar as it sounds. How could it not be fun when the team is winning nearly every night? It was a running joke when they would be losing late in a game, we would all try and guess how they were going to come back and win because we all knew they would.

The losing in September was brutal to watch because it didn’t feel real—much like the 91-36 record didn’t either. In August, there were stories of the “best team ever,” while that last month brought out the worst a fan can feel. The division was never in doubt but that didn’t stop fans from having those thoughts creep in. After that 1-16 stretch, the division lead got down to 9.0 games with 17 to go. That would ordinarily be nowhere close but it didn’t seem that way after watching the Dodgers lose 16 of 17.

Nothing was positive no matter where you turned. The playoffs couldn’t start soon enough.

All was right again when they swept the Dbacks in the Divisional Series and it felt like they were back to some extent. Getting to the World Series was great but it’s funny how bad it can feel when you’re not prepared to lose a Game 7. The season comes to an end and your left with an even bigger heartbreak than years past.

What were the most important moves of the offseason?

The biggest move might be letting Brandon Morrow sign with the Cubs. It is still unclear how they will get the ball to Kenley Jansen in the back-end of the bullpen. But then again, that was a question heading into the last two seasons and they filled that hole with Morrow and Joe Blanton. It’s also easy to understand why they would do so considering how much money it would’ve cost to keep him.

The most important move is the financial impact the Matt Kemp deal has on the team. It’s still a shock that Kemp will be on the opening day roster after how he left town but it allows the Dodgers to get under the luxury tax and reset the penalty for going over that threshold as they look to figure out the Clayton Kershaw contract. Kershaw can opt out after this year and having no luxury tax concerns was a must as they start to worry about that in the near future.

The Dodgers didn’t exactly have many holes to fill, but they were still very quiet on the free agent market. What do you think the long game is with the Dodgers and their resources? How much do you/the fans buy the luxury tax gambit?

The long-term plan for the Dodgers has always involved scaling back the payroll. From the moment Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi stepped into the front office, they were open about the fact that they wouldn’t carelessly throw money around and wanted to get rid of the bloated salaries.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the new penalty of losing 10 places on your first draft pick on top of the tens of millions paid out in fees is bad for business. The Dodgers practically print their own money but that still sounds absurd to be that reckless with the check book.

The front office wants to produce young talent while being able to afford to fill holes when needed. In other words, they want to have the best farm system with a wallet to match. The interesting part comes this next offseason when the market is swimming with talent.

Who are some unheralded players we should keep an eye on this season? Prospects, role players, free-agent signees, etc.

One of the most underrated and well-liked players the Dodgers have is Andrew Toles. It was unfortunate that Tolesy—as he is known around these parts—missed most of last year with a torn ligament in his right knee. It would not be shocking at all to see Toles hit 20 homers this year. That is, if he gets enough playing time with Matt Kemp in the fold. Toles will spend the first part of the season in Triple-A so that he can play everyday.

Another player to watch might be reliever J.T. Chargois. The Dodgers really liked the way he looked in spring and the right-hander could be a big contributor to the bullpen to fill the hole left by Morrow’s departure. Chargois doesn’t throw nearly as hard as Morrow but the team likes his makeup just the same.

Justin Turner has had an excellent run since he’s been with the Dodgers, but he reached another level last season. How badly does the wrist injury hurt the Dodgers this year? Who will replace him? And does this pose concerns for the final two years of his contract?

It’s too early to tell if the wrist will bother Turner over the long haul but his bat will be missed in the first month or so while he heals. It’s hard to see a scenario where missing one of the best bats in the lineup doesn’t make you worse as a team but the Dodgers have proven that their depth can overcome a great deal.

Just like last year, the Dodgers will insert somebody else in to fill the time until Turner is healthy. Logan Forsythe will slide over to third base while Kiké Hernandez will play the bulk of the second base duties. If Hernandez hits like he did towards the end of the 2017 season and spring training, Turner will hardly be missed.

How long did it take to get over the World Series loss? What’s the biggest impediment between them and getting back this year?

I still haven’t seen the final out and don’t care to ever see it. The World Series loss was tough to swallow after feeling like it was their time for the fifth year in a row. As hard as Game 7 was to watch, it was Game 5 that nearly killed me. Part of what I do at SB Nation is to make videos on Facebook for all our baseball sites. That meant that for Game 5 and Game 7, I was making videos to celebrate the Astros winning.

I was out of town for Game 7 and watched from my hotel room as Houston got the best of Yu Darvish and the Dodgers. As soon as the fate of the game was sealed, I turned the television off, posted the Astros championship video and put my family in a car to drive five hours to arrive home at two in the morning. It probably took too long to get over it and I’m really not sure I truly am.

There are so many things that have to fall in the right order for a team to make the playoffs each year. Keeping Kershaw healthy and needing Alex Wood to be the same pitcher he was last year are key factors for 2018. The rotation could make or break the Dodgers as the game moves away from starters going a third time through the order.

Rich Hill, Hyun-jin Ryu, and Kenta Maeda aren’t going to go deep in games most of the time, making it hard on the bullpen. Finding guys to fill roles in the pen has been a strength of the current front office and they will need to have more success in that area if the Dodgers want to go deep in the postseason again.

What do you think is a realistic best case scenario for Dodgers this year? What’s the worst case scenario? What would a successful season look like for Dodgers?

The bar has been set at nothing less than a World Series Championship. Is it realistic to expect that? Not at all. That doesn’t mean the expectations won’t be there all year. They will be going for their sixth straight division title and they will look to finally end the 30-year drought.

The worst thing that could happen to the Dodgers would be for Kershaw to go out for an extended amount of time or lose him for the year at some point. That would not only make things difficult on the team as it’s currently constructed, it would also be hard because they would have to get pretty creative in order to fill his spot with a trade since they don’t necessarily have room to add a decent amount of salary.

It would be a successful season to once again win the division and compete in the postseason despite what fans will tell you. Expecting a World Series victory would be too much.

What will be the best part of watching the Dodgers this year? Or, put another way, why should the casual fan (who’s not scoreboard watching) watch a Dodgers game this season?

Between Kiké Hernandez and Yasiel Puig, there is never a dull moment in the dugout or on the field. The entertainment value alone is worth flipping on the television and checking out what they’re doing. Puig has been in and out of the doghouse since he got to the big leagues but he has made such an effort over the last couple years, it’s fun to watch him play. One minute he is licking his bat in between pitches, the next he is throwing a strike to third base from 300 feet away.

Tuning in each night to see how many homers Bellinger will hit or how many strikeouts Kershaw will have are also excellent reasons. This Dodgers team is as close as they’ve ever been and it makes for great theater.

There is also an extra layer to the Dodgers outfield in 2018 with Kemp back in the mix. There is no telling which way that will turn out, although he seems genuinely happy he is back in Dodger blue. Who wouldn’t be, really?