The Los Angeles Dodgers will head into the 2016 season confident yet still missing half of their dynamic pitching duo now that Zack Greinke has split from Clayton Kershaw, leaving Bonnie without his Clyde or peanut butter without his jelly.
There was no surprise that Greinke’s three seasons in a Dodgers uniform translated into three consecutive playoff appearances, the first time the Dodgers have ever made the postseason in three consecutive years.
Greinke is gone now, using the opt-out in his contract to sign a whopping $206.5 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Now it’s time for the Dodgers to prove that they have been more than a pair of aces with a patchwork quilt of complementary pieces to keep them warm.
Just how do the Dodgers overcome the loss of one of the top right-handed pitchers in the game? They have elected to throw numbers at the problem, using the money they would have spent on Greinke to bring talent to several areas on the roster.
While Kershaw’s continued dominance is expected, nobody figures to match the kind of numbers Greinke delivered while finishing runner-up to the Chicago Cubs' Jake Arrieta in last year’s Cy Young Award chase. So they will just have to be better in multiple areas.
To fill Greinke’s void, the Dodgers brought aboard not only left-hander Scott Kazmir, but also right-hander Kenta Maeda, who has been one of the top pitchers in Japan for the past eight seasons with the Hiroshima Carp.
But the Dodgers won’t try to fill Greinke’s void just with the money they spent. They have Joc Pederson, who now is able to hit the reset button after nearly 600 at-bats that started memorably and then turned forgettable. They have young Corey Seager heading into his first full season as the starting shortstop.
And there is not only Hyun-Jin Ryu returning from shoulder surgery, there is Yasmani Grandal, Enrique Hernandez and eventually Brandon McCarthy coming back as well. There is also Yasiel Puig, who played in just 79 games last season.
The closer those players can get to their career norms, the better off the Dodgers will be. But asking recovering players to jump back into their usual production is a dicey proposition. And leaning too hard on kids like Pederson and Seager has its concerns as well.
It’s why Kershaw has been promoting the team aspect, interested in seeing everybody pull their own weight as opposed to a select few carrying the group.
“Zack was obviously an incredible pitcher for us for three years,” Kershaw said during the team’s recent Fan Fest weekend. “Last year, he was arguably one of the best in the game. It’s not easy to replace a guy like that, but you have to look at it as not replacing him with one guy, but replacing him as a staff and bringing in more guys who can fill his void. And I think we have done that.”
So if Greinke was good for 222 2/3 innings and a 1.66 ERA a season ago, the Dodgers figure to be more than happy with Kazmir and Maeda combining for 390 innings and a 3.20 ERA.
But that just covers the starting-rotation aspect of things. The bullpen will need to be better than a 3.91 ERA that was 19th in all of baseball, and 11th of 15 National League teams last season. The defense will have to be better than it was last year, which, in turn, will make the pitching better.
But more than anything, the Dodgers will be able to move forward if they can deliver offense at a more consistent clip. The Dodgers were 19th in runs scored in all of baseball at 667, despite an OPS that was seventh best at .739.
The issue that led to those conflicting numbers turned out to be the Dodgers’ .249 batting average with runners in scoring position (22nd in baseball) and their .393 slugging percentage in the same situation (18th among all teams).
And the Dodgers will look to make those improvements in the clutch with essentially the same offensive group they had last season. With Kendrick back in the fold, the only new regular will be Seager.
Steady veteran Adrian Gonzalez is confident the Dodgers will be a winner, and like Kershaw he is also touting the team’s depth, which was partially developed because Greinke went elsewhere. Even in an improved division, Gonzalez likes the Dodgers’ chances.
“At the end of the day, we know we are going to be a team that is right in the middle of the pennant race come September and we will be in the best position we need to be to get into the playoffs,” Gonzalez said at Fan Fest. “I think we have probably the deepest team in baseball. We will be able to afford basically any injury, and a lot of teams can’t say that.
“Talent wise, we are at the top of all of baseball. As far as other teams improving or people saying they got better, that’s not for us to care about because we know we have the talent we need to have to win the division again.”