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Dodgers ready for another run at NL West crown

MLB.com

While the Los Angeles Dodgers came within one victory of their first World Series championship since 1988 in 2017, the Dodgers want to finish the job in '18. They didn't do much in this offseason, except for a mega trade with the Atlanta Braves where they dumped three large veteran salaries. Still, the Dodgers have the most depth of a team in the National League West.

When spring training began for the Dodgers on Tuesday, they reportedly resigned Chase Utley to a two-year deal. Although Utley probably won't see much playing time unless Logan Forsythe injures himself, the Utley resigning is crucial for the Dodgers being able to repeat as the NL West champions for the sixth consecutive year.

While the Los Angeles Dodgers came within one victory of their first World Series championship since 1988 in 2017, the Dodgers want to finish the job in '18. They didn't do much in this offseason, except for a mega trade with the Atlanta Braves where they dumped three large veteran salaries. Still, the Dodgers have the most depth of a team in the National League West.

When spring training began for the Dodgers on Tuesday, they reportedly resigned Chase Utley to a two-year deal. Although Utley probably won't see much playing time unless Logan Forsythe injures himself, the Utley resigning is crucial for the Dodgers being able to repeat as the NL West champions for the sixth consecutive year.

Utley brings unparalleled professionalism to a reasonably young Dodger clubhouse. He was a member of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008 when the club won the World Series. He always plays with an uncommon intensity seldom seen in baseball. Rarely smiling on the field, Utley does view baseball as a job, but it's clear the 39-year-old enjoys playing the game. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who like Utley is a former UCLA Bruin, describes him as his "favorite player all time."

Video: Roberts, Kershaw playfully quiet on Utley's return

Utley is the only free agent the Dodgers signed in the 2017-18 offseason. Though it would have been nice for the Dodgers to obtain a right-handed starter to give balance to their left-handed predominant starting rotation, they have a veteran rotation. On Tuesday, Roberts named the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw as the Opening Day starter for the unprecedented eighth time in his career. Back injuries in the last two years have limited Kershaw, and they can appear again anytime.

Rich Hill, 38, has been bothered by blisters for the past two years. Last year his mechanical problems made him pitch poorly before the All-Star break, but after the All-Star break, Hill was the best Dodger starter. If he received any kind of offensive support, he would have pitched a no-hitter, perhaps a perfect game, against the Pittsburgh Pirates last August. However, Hill's endurance is questionable.

Video: LAD@PIT: Hill takes no-hitter into 10th in tough loss

In 2017, despite two trips to the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, Alex Wood had a breakout season, earning him the first All-Star selection in his career. His velocity and his effectiveness decreased in the second half, and the Dodgers rarely used him during the postseason. Since his previous physical problems have placed him on the disabled list frequently, Wood's ability to go seven innings consistently is questionable.

After Kenta Maeda's dominance as a reliever during the postseason, many people want Maeda to be used as a reliever. Most right-handed hitters can't be productive against Maeda. However, Maeda wants to be a starter even though his endurance has been a huge factor during his two years in the Majors. His contract with the Dodgers is incentive-laden, and there's no way he can reach any incentive as a reliever. Hyun-Jin Ryu rounds out the Dodger rotation, but since 2015, he has been plagued with various physical ailments.

The Dodgers' rotation is full of veterans, and none of them have the endurance to pitch more than six innings consistently. This puts unusual stress on the bullpen. The Dodgers have had the best bullpen in the NL for the last two seasons, but they lost a crucial piece, Brandon Morrow, to the Chicago Cubs last December. Although Kenley Jansen is the best closer in the game, perhaps the Dodgers will have trouble getting the ball to him with a lead in the ninth. Again, they want to rely on Pedro Baez to be the eighth-inning setup man, but he self-destructed last August and September. He wasn't on the playoff roster for any round. Yimi Garcia might be able to be an effective eighth-inning setup man, but he hasn't pitched since June 2016 because of Tommy John surgery. The Dodgers' bullpen might be an issue in '18.

Offensively, the Dodgers look strong. Justin Turner is the offensive star for the Dodgers. Although the NL Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger struggled mightily during the World Series with making consistent contact, he should be the Dodger left-handed power hitter. Both Chris Taylor and Yasiel Puig will provide power from the right side.

Video: Outlook: Turner continues to make offensive strides

The competition for the starting left fielder is wide open for the Dodgers. Andrew Toles, coming back from a torn right ACL, wants to reclaim his job. After his brilliant World Series performance, Joc Pederson deserves a good opportunity to earn the starting left field job. Many Dodger fans want Alex Verdugo, a rookie, to be the starting left fielder. Although the Dodgers want to unload Matt Kemp's salary, Kemp should have an opportunity to play left field, particularly after a good offensive 2017 season.

The Dodgers should have almost no problem with winning the NL West, but they have questions.

Sarah D. Morris can be reached at sarahmorris27@gmail.com.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Rich Hill, Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Chase Utley