Matt Kemp is Los Angeles Dodgers' X factor

Mar 14, 2014 7:18 AM

LOS ANGELES DODGERS (NL WEST)

2013 record: 92-70 (first by 11)

Projected 2014: 93½ wins

World Series odds: 5/1

Key additions: None

X factor: Matt Kemp

Projected starting lineup: Infield: C – AJ Ellis; 1B – A. Gonzalez; 2B – A. Guerrero; 3B J. Uribe; SS – H. Ramirez. Outfield: LF –C. Crawford; CF – A. Ethier; RF – Y. Puig. 

Starting rotation: C. Kershaw, Z. Greinke, HJ Ryu, D. Haren, J. Beckett.

Closer: K. Jansen

It’s Year 2 of the Yasiel Puig project with the initial season good enough that the Los Angeles Dodgers are the preseason favorite to win the World Series.

But that’s what they thought about the Angels last year and look what happened. LVH projects the Dodgers to win 93.5 games, which is good but somewhat less than what the usual major league favorite receives.

Manager Don Mattingly was about ready to be shown the door midway last season with the team struggling, bickering and headed for the NL West cellar. Then came Puig and everything changed.

The Cuban sensation hit over .400, showed an incredible arm in right field and hit bombs. But the biggest impact Puig made was his enthusiasm, which brought back the days of Fernandomania and Manny Ramirez to a team in serious need for an emotional rescue.

There certainly were flaws in Puig’s game, being a raw talent from Cuba. But Puig injected an energy that all of a sudden had Hanley Ramirez was tearing up the league, Adrian Gonzalez back to being his steady self and Clayton Kershaw putting up his usual Cy Young numbers.

The Dodgers went on an incredible 42-8 run to win the West going away by 11 games and earn Mattingly an extension instead of a pink slip.

Now the task at hand is to get off to a good start. And it will be sooner than anyone else with a two-game series March 22-23 in Melbourne, Australia against the Arizona Diamondbacks. In fact the Dodgers and D’backs play eight times in the first 20 games.

The Dodgers have so much talent there really was no need to acquire any more, just make sure what they had injured can now contribute in 2014.

That means Kemp, an MVP candidate who is now the fourth outfielder and not thrilled about it. That means Josh Beckett who led both Florida and Boston to world championships but is now just the fifth starter in the rotation.

That means Carl Crawford, considered the top pick in all of baseball with Tampa Bay, but has never quite lived up to the buildup. No the Dodgers are not the hunters, but the hunted this season.

Those first 20 games are key with all but three within the division. And those three are at Dodger Stadium against the Detroit Tigers in what could be a World Series preview.

The Dodgers are also making Puig more comfortable with two more Cuban players in camp – 2B Alex Guerrero and SS Erisbel Arruebarrena. 

Bottom line: The Dodgers are solid all around and it would be cool to win another world championship for legendary announcer Vin Scully, who has called their games since the team was back in Brooklyn. At 5/1 no team is given a better chance.

On deck: Miami Marlins

Mark Mayer has over 35 years covering sports events and is the sports editor at GT. Reach him at [email protected].

 GamingToday on Facebook      and         GamingToday on Twitter