LOS ANGELES -- The expectations for the Dodgers never change. It’s all about winning the World Series. That’s been the expectation for decades, and especially over the last few seasons. In 2021, as they look to be the first repeat champs since the 1998-2000 Yankees, it’ll be the expectation once again.
On paper, the Dodgers should repeat. But it’s hardly ever that easy.
“We have a chance to do something really special and win a championship,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “That’s part of the fun -- you don’t play the game on paper, and you have to play 162 games this year and see where we end up. But if you look at the talent, potentially, it could be as good as any team that the Dodgers have ever fielded.”
Becoming the best Dodgers team ever is a tough task, but it’s a goal this team is certainly capable of achieving. Los Angeles is returning most of the core from the 2020 team that snapped the organization’s 32-year World Series drought. On top of that, the club added NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer and got David Price back after the veteran left-hander sat out last season due to COVID-19 concerns.
The Dodgers arguably have one of the best lineups, one of the best pitching staffs and the deepest roster in the National League. That’s a formula that usually results in a lot of wins. The Dodgers are hoping it results in back-to-back World Series trophies.
“We finally accomplished what we were trying to accomplish over my last seven years,” said Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner. “Seeing the banner go up, getting that ring, is going to be a good feeling. That’s what every kid dreams of, winning the World Series. We were able to accomplish that last year and now the goal is to win a few more.”
But while the Dodgers are the favorites to make their fourth World Series appearance in five seasons, they’ll have their fair share of challenges. The Padres are much improved and are poised to challenge Los Angeles for the division title. The Braves, Mets and Cardinals also made many key additions this offseason.
What needs to go right?
The Dodgers have all the pieces in place to repeat, but it’ll all come down to health. Los Angeles has played a lot of baseball over the last five years, playing into the World Series in 2017, '18 and '20. That’s a tremendous accomplishment, but also taxing on the body.
There’s also the unknown of how players will react to jumping from a shortened 60-game season in 2020 to a regular 162-game schedule this season. Multiple executives around the league believe that teams with superb depth will be at an advantage in '21. The good news for the Dodgers is they have, arguably, the most depth in the Majors.
The Dodgers have eight capable starters on the roster, and very few weaknesses in their lineup. That should help them keep players like Clayton Kershaw, Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen healthy into October. It looks like Los Angeles is poised to win another division title -- even with the Padres knocking on the door. The one thing that could prevent them from accomplishing this is if they have to withstand serious injuries.
Great unknown: Kenley Jansen
If you ask the Dodgers, they still believe Jansen has what it takes to be an elite closer. That’s why they wasted no time in naming him the closer this season. If you ask Jansen, he believes the same. But if the way last year ended is any indication of what’s to come, there are some question marks surrounding Jansen heading into the 2021 season.
After battling COVID-19, Jansen came back and was dominant for the first month of the season, posting a 1.23 ERA with nine saves in 16 appearances. Things started to change in September. Jansen battled command issues (he finished with a career high 1.151 WHIP) and his velocity kept declining. Because of that, the Dodgers frequently turned to Julio Urías when it mattered the most in the postseason.
Roberts has continuously said that the Dodgers’ bullpen is better when Jansen is pitching well in the ninth. That’s why it’ll be Jansen’s job again in 2021. But with a plethora of quality options in the bullpen, Los Angeles will continue to monitor Jansen, who looked sharp this spring.
Team MVP will be: Mookie Betts
Mookie Betts. There are about four or five right answers here, which is why the Dodgers are the betting favorites to win the World Series. But Betts is the best of them all, and that’s why it’s tough to pick against him.
Team Cy Young will be: Trevor Bauer
Trevor Bauer. He likely won’t have the same Cy Young season he had last year, but there’s some pressure on Bauer to prove he’s worth the $40 million the Dodgers are set to pay him this season. Bauer believes he’s still getting better as a pitcher and said he expects his 30s to be better than his 20s. Now it’s up to him to show it.
Bold prediction: The Dodgers will win 110 games.
Somehow, this doesn’t feel bold enough. That’s all you need to know about the talent on this year’s Dodgers team. But the franchise’s single-season wins record is 106 (set in 2019), so that should give everyone some perspective on just how difficult it is to win that many games in the Majors. If this Dodgers team stays healthy for most of the season, they have a chance to break multiple franchise records. If a couple of things go their way, the Dodgers could make a run at the 2001 Mariners' all-time record of 116 regular-season wins.