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.