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MLB preview 2019: Los Angeles Dodgers hoping third time is the charm

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Ryan Walton of True Blue LA tells us everything we need to know about the Dodgers heading into 2019

With the 2019 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 2018? What, ultimately, went wrong?

2018 was a test of patience for those interested in the Dodgers. It’s hard to say a whole lot went wrong in a year that resulted in sixth straight division title and a second consecutive trip to the World Series, but they had their share of ups and downs all season. There was no telling what team would show up each night.

There was always a feeling they would turn it around at some point, but watching them lose 16 of 21 between late April and the middle of May didn’t exactly instill confidence in what was ahead for the 16-26 last-place Dodgers. Overall, they lost 10 of 13 games to the not very good Marlins and Reds (1-6 vs Cincinnati) and couldn’t seem to get out of their own way. Getting Justin Turner back on May 15 was what eventually pushed the team to play better, going 76-45 over their last 121 games. That’s a 101-win pace if they played that way from the start.

The pitching was solid throughout the year, especially the starters who finished with the second lowest ERA in baseball (3.19), behind only the Astros (3.16). The incredible depth in the organization allowed them to get through injuries all season long, including the diminishing Clayton Kershaw spending two long trips on the injured list. It helps when a guy like Ross Stripling can start the year in the bullpen and step into the rotation to reel off a 2.01 ERA in 13 starts leading up to making the All-Star team. (We won’t discuss Stripling’s performance in that All-Star appearance.)

Every professional sports team is looking for a guy that comes out of nowhere to put up big numbers. The Dodgers have had good success with finding those guys over the last few years and Max Muncy was the surprise of 2018. The SpongeBob-like first baseman smashed 35 homers with a .973 OPS in 481 plate appearances. Without Muncy, the offense would’ve had some struggles that surely would’ve cost the Dodgers the division.

As for the World Series, the Red Sox were just the better team. Say what you want about the platoons and lineup adjustments, the Dodgers were within a few outs of tying the series when they had a 4-0 lead as they entered the seventh. It just wasn’t Rich Hill’s time to leave the game yet. What a mess that was.

The Rockies took your division title streak to the brink last year. Were those in Dodgers-land ever in any real doubt? Remember that this answer is going up on a Rockies site.

If I’m being completely honest, there was real doubt all year long. The bad start created an uphill climb that the Dodgers had to fight to get out from underneath. The Diamondbacks looked like they might be the team to win the division when they had control for a while, but they found a way to delightfully mess it up.

The Rockies were the bigger threat as the season played on and I had conceded the fact that the Dodgers would have to settle for the wild card when the Rockies had a one-game lead heading into the last series of the year. And how could there not be any doubt going into Game 163?

It felt good to have Walker Buehler on the mound for that game as one of the more dominant pitchers in baseball down the stretch. The Rockies were a good team and definitely deserved to win the division. They just came up a few runs short. And they look like they will be the only other team that wants to win this year in the NL West, outside of a Padres surprise. But we can all LOL at that last part.

Two World Series appearances in a row and two losses seems pretty hard. Which of the two was harder to digest?

The loss to the Astros was by far harder to take, given the mistakes that were made in order to lose Game 5 and 7. 2018 was hard to take after coming so close to tying things up at two games apiece, but the series always felt like it was Boston’s to lose.

The back-and-forth of Game 5 against the Astros felt like the series hung in the balance. It didn’t matter that the last two games were in Los Angeles, the Dodgers needed Game 5. And they should have won. With leads of 4-0 and 7-4, Kershaw and the bullpen blew it. As exciting as the game was, it was nearly the end of me. I was tasked with creating celebratory content for the winning team after each game of the series for SB Nation. Having to create for the Astros winning felt cruel.

A prior engagement nearly five hours from my house left me watching Game 7 from an empty hotel room. I was supposed to drive home the next day but after the loss, I was upset enough to drive the five hours home after I published content for Crawfish Boxes. It was a series I felt they should’ve won. It was 30 years in the making. I was three when they last won a World Series and it felt like it slipped through their hands.

The Dodgers were much busier this offseason than they were last offseason, but this time mostly on the trade market. Can you explain why they seem to go to the trouble of trading away two outfielders only to sign another one in AJ Pollock?

Those moves made some sense in a few ways for the Dodgers: getting rid of Matt Kemp, freeing up some money, and acquiring a true center fielder. Trading Yasiel Puig hurts from an entertainment standpoint. Say what you will about his attitude at times over the years, the guy had turned that around over the last two to three seasons and was absolutely adored by the fan base. Not to mention the fact he was great on defense for the most part.

They’ve had to platoon so much over the last few years to get the advantage, I think they wanted a right-handed stick that could actually hit left-handers. Puig was never that guy. Plus, Pollock gives them a center fielder rather than always sticking a corner or utility guy out there. But Pollock staying healthy is a completely different question altogether.

It also clears a little of the clogged outfield for Alex Verdugo, who will be fighting to be on the field on most nights. That remains to be seen since manager Dave Roberts has said the move for Pollock allows them to rely on platoons less, trotting out a more consistent lineup.

Two years ago it was Chris Taylor, last year it was Max Muncy. Who did the Dodgers find at a gas station this offseason who’s going to break all of our hearts this year?

The Dodgers have a knack for finding a key player off the scrap heap each year. Trading a former first-round pick for Chris Taylor and picking up Max Muncy after he was released by the Athletics at the end of March 2017. With these two examples come a bunch of others that don’t work out. Players that may have that kind of potential hidden inside them are what every team looks for every year. The Dodgers have just struck gold the last couple seasons.

If they hit on something again this season on the position player side, it would mean something disastrous has happened to the depth chart. I would think a player coming out of nowhere this year would be a reliever. No guesses on my part due to the fact that the Dodgers go through relievers too often.

Clayton Kershaw is already struggling with his health in the first of that 3-year, $93 million deal he signed in the offseason. How concerning is this for the rotation and the fate of the team in general?

The health of Clayton Kershaw has been a concern for most of the last three seasons. It’s become an annual tradition for him to spend time on the injured list. It’s coming at the beginning of the year in 2019 and hopefully that will be it. It’s terrible watching the best pitcher in baseball turn into the not best pitcher in baseball. It hurts even more because it means I’m getting old.

The expectations of what to get out of the lefty are still high but on a much lower scale. Instead of seven guaranteed innings each night, striving for eight or nine, anything above five will be a plus. Kershaw doesn’t think that way and will still have several long outings. I just don’t think his body will let him push as hard as he has in the past.

I almost expect Kershaw to leave Los Angeles at the end of the three years to head back to his hometown Dallas. The Kershaw’s are both from the Dallas area and live there in the offseason. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if they wanted to raise their kids there.

The good thing is the rotation depth the Dodgers have allows for this sort of thing to work itself out occasionally. Kershaw and Rich Hill will start the year on the injured list, clearing the way for Ross Stripling and Julio Urias to start the season in the rotation. Once Kershaw and Hill are healthy, Stripling and Urias will head to the bullpen.

But the depth only works if they shore up the rotation in short bursts, not long periods at a time.

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

After losing the World Series two years in a row and having that expectation of winning one for the last six seasons, the best-case scenario is to win their first championship since 1988. Anything less than the postseason is worst-case, because that means something went horribly wrong with the health of the team.

I know that last sentence sounds like I’m saying there is no way they miss the postseason if everyone is healthy. There are certainly ways of them missing the postseason as the team is currently assembled. They came within a few games of missing last year after that horrendous start. It would just be bad to miss the playoffs in any possible outcome.

The right answer to what a successful season is winning the division for the seventh straight year and giving it their best shot in October. Getting to the postseason is hard over a long season and winning once you get there is even harder. The answer you’ll get from the fan base in regards to a successful season is winning the World Series. It’s not realistic, but the drought has been too long and they’ve been teased the last couple years.

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?

No matter if they win or lose, the Dodgers are always going to be interesting this year. No, there won’t be a Yasiel Puig to laugh at on a nightly basis, but there is still plenty of entertainment to be seen on the field. They will win their fair share of games and when there is a good chance of winning, that’s all you can really ask for. That, and dingers. Lots of dingers. The Dodgers have the most home runs in the National League over the last four seasons combined.