The Dodgers hopes rest on Joc Pederson

The reviews from computer simulators matched the forecast from the number crunchers in the Dodgers front office. Both think the Dodgers are the best team in baseball. Why, our algorithms match your algorithms! Let’s watch “Big Bang Theory” and imagine Mayim Bialik in a purple teddy!

They’re not the best team in baseball. Oh, the Dodgers are a pretty darn good baseball team, but they’re not the best.

The defending champion Chicago Cubs are better. They didn’t lose talent during the offseason with a young roster that only figures to improve. The Cubs knocked out the Dodgers 4-2 in the National League Championship Series and that divide was larger than two baseball games if you watched it. The Cubs exposed the holes in the Dodgers roster, so it was incumbent on LA to upgrade.

Which the Dodgers did — albeit incrementally by improving their infield. The Dodgers traded for second baseman Logan Forsythe in what could be a genius move. LA has an elite infield to go along with the best starting pitcher in the game, possibly its best closer and depth that is the envy of virtually every front office in baseball.

But its outfield is suspect at best, which is why the Dodgers hopes for ending a World Series drought at 29 years fall on center fielder Joc Pederson.

The Dodgers relied on the depth of their roster to plug outfield holes throughout 2016. Andre Ethier was injured at the start of that season. Ethier was by no means a superior talent but the drop off in performance — from Andrew Toles, Trayce Thompson, Will Venable, Enrique Hernandez and Scott Van Slyke — was stark. A midseason trade for Josh Reddick wasn’t fruitful, and he’s gone.

It’s also time for even the most ardent Yasiel Puig supporter to admit he’s not the Cuban Mike Trout. Relying on Puig to figure out breaking pitches, baserunning and throwing to the right cutoff man is not a reliable wager.

Pederson improving is a bet with the odds more in your favor. Here’s why:

“Young Joc” arrived in Los Angeles two seasons ago with the fanfare befitting a can’t-miss prospect. Only after the All-Star Break of his rookie season, he missed a lot. He struck out 170 times in his rookie year and he average plummeted to a cringe-worthy .210.

Under the radar last season, Pederson’s performance spiked. Believe me, I recognize a .246 average with 130 strikeouts is no reason to crack open a bottle of champagne, but that’s 40 fewer strikeouts and an uptick of about 40 points in batting average. Anything approaching that level of improvement this year will put the 24-year-old on the fringes of being an All-Star because he slugged 51 home runs in his first two seasons. Consistent contact plus power is a frightening combination.

Simply put, Pederson is the only Dodgers outfielder with the potential to help close the gap on the Chicago Cubs. Ethier can’t do it. Puig won’t do it.

And that matters, because winning the National League West again simply won’t cut it.

Forsythe a nice idea, but Dodgers aren’t there yet

Two rites of passage happen for many men every February.

They get optimistic because pitchers and catchers report to spring training in less than three weeks. And the ones who don’t own a glove or bat pull out their spreadsheets and micromanage convoluted theories over which teams can win the World Series.

To wit, a group of well-meaning IT guys created a baseball stats think tank called Fangraphs. At this moment, thanks to the trade that brings second baseman Logan Forsythe to Los Angeles, these guys tell us that the Los Angeles Dodgers project as the best team in baseball for 2017.

It’s not true.

To be clear, I like the Forsythe deal enough. The Dodgers sent top pitching prospect Jose De Leon to Tampa Bay to get the guy, who is an above-average second baseman. It sounds like a lot, but De Leon doesn’t project to be a staff ace. After Clayton Kershaw, the current Dodgers pitching staff is overstocked with guys who project as a No.2 or 3. Another No. 2? 

Before the deal, if somebody hit a ball to the right side of the infield, it would roll all the way to wall. So yeah, De Leon can toil before 5,000 people in that nasty concrete pimple the Rays play in.

I’m OK with Forsythe. I realize fans saw 42 home runs from Brian Dozier in Minnesota and wanted that guy no matter what. Baseball history tells us a lot of guys hit close to 50 home runs in a breakout year and follow it up with 15-18 the next. The ones who consistently push for 45-50 HRs? They’ve either sold their souls to Satan or are on ‘roids.

So the Dodgers, once again, project as a so-called deep roster team with lots of options that will make the playoffs and probably have a showdown with the Chicago Cubs. Vengeance is theirs, project the fearsome mighty slide rulers at Fangraphs!

Nah.

First of all, let’s talk about what the Cubs have — which is everyone from the defending championship roster. Their starting pitching was and is superior to the Dodgers. Their lineup is approaching its physical prime, and it’s hard to believe that Jayson Heyward will have another bad year.

The only everyday position where you look at the Dodgers and say they are superior to the Cubs is at shortstop — Corey Seager over Addison Russell. Everywhere else? The Dodgers at best, match or come close to matching. Chicago’s outfield is better. Every  Angelino loves Justin Turner, but Kris Bryant is better at third base. Adrian Gonzalez might be a hall of famer, but right now Anthony Rizzo is better.

Moreover, the Dodgers’ addiction to analytics means a heavy reliance on the bullpen, which has been shortened by letting reliable Joe Blanton and J.P. Howell walk in free agency.

None of this is to imply the Dodgers suck. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see them win the National League West for a fifth consecutive year. But with no World Series titles, or even World Series appearances, since 1988, winning a division is about as big a deal as being the valedictorian at summer school. Nobody cares.

For the Dodgers to be the best team in baseball, the Cubs have to regress — whether by injury or complacency. Those are things that simply can’t be forecast on Microsoft Excel.

What I think has held up the Dodgers offseason

To say that the Dodgers were just two wins away from the World Series simply doesn’t cut it, anymore.

Not when we are approaching 30 years without the Dodgers in the World Series. Not when every other team in the division has been to the World Series since then. Not since the Angels won the title and the Giants won three.

And definitely not when those two games were a mirage. The suggestion that the Dodgers were just two unlucky games — just a whisker away — from beating the Cubs to get to the Fall Classic is absurd.

So it’s a tad alarming when you realize the team has probably regressed. Much of the roster is mostly intact, except for an abyss at second base since Chase Utley became a free agent and Howie Kendrick was traded to Philadelphia. Rumors online have linked LA to Minnesota’s 42 HR-hitting second baseman Brian Dozier and Logan Forsythe of Tampa Bay.

A Dozier trade would be somewhat costly. Prized prospect Jose DeLeon might be part of a package deal. How good is he? Last spring, he was No.3 on the Dodgers list of most valued minor leaguers. The other two? Corey Seager and Julio Urias are already in the majors. DeLeon is the next impact guy up.

So the question is: Why not add Dozier and be done with it? Especially when you have about a dozen starting pitchers currently under contract led by Clayton Kershaw?

Because the Dodgers see this guy in Tulsa, Okla., as a possible Dozier type if they’re patient.

Willie Calhoun was somewhat unheralded, drafted in the fourth round in 2015 likely because of defensive deficiencies and a poor season playing for the University of Arizona. In the Pac-12, Arizona wanted him to be a contact hitter. Once he left the school and started swinging with a little uppercut, Calhoun started crushing home runs. Last year, he was second in the Texas League with 27 home runs. Compare that with Dodgers first baseman of the future Cody Bellinger, who hit 23 in the same league.

Only Calhoun’s batting average is a somewhat unimpressive .254.

So the Dodgers have a bit of a conundrum. They can afford to wait with Bellinger, because they are happy with Adrian Gonzalez at first. They can keep their No.1 prospect and let Dozier hate life in the Twin Cities. If they do that, however, they take the risk of a platoon situation at second base with a basket of deplorables or rush Calhoun. They also could trade for Dozier. In doing so, the Dodgers lose a likely No.2-level starter in the process and find out that Calhoun was the next Dozier in the first place.

If you’re wondering why the Dodgers are sleeping through the offseason, my guess is this is why.

Because they’re hitting the snooze alarm, which likely means year 30 of the World Series drought is coming sooner than you think.