The Los Angeles Dodgers were the favorites to win it all when the lockout ended and spring training began. They had signed one of the top free agents on the market, first baseman Freddie Freeman, to bolster an already potent lineup.
But they weren’t satisfied — or done. Last week Los Angeles strengthened the back end of its bullpen by acquiring Craig Kimbrel from the Chicago White Sox. The team with one of baseball’s best lineups and strongest starting rotations became even better.
The Dodgers will show off their talented roster when they open the season Friday at National League West rival Colorado on Friday afternoon.
Los Angeles had to part with outfielder A.J. Pollock to get Kimbrel, but after Kenley Jansen left via free agency for Atlanta the L.A. closer role was unsettled.
Kimbrel fixes that problem.
“As much as the players, clubhouse, manager, staff, the front office loves A.J., we felt like it was a way to balance up the roster, add to our pitching depth,” general manager Brandon Gomes said. “We thought it was the right thing for the team in totality.
“It was an opportunity for us to strengthen our pitching and take from an area that we felt had a little bit more depth.”
The Dodgers won 106 games last year but finished a game behind San Francisco, but then beat the Giants in the NL Divisional round to reach the NLCS. A surprising loss to the Braves, who then won the World Series, led to changes in the roster.
Adding Freeman strengthened the infield and gives Los Angeles four former MVPs — along with Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw has a franchise-record nine Opening Day starts in his career but manager Dave Roberts will give Walker Buehler the ball for Friday. Buehler is 6-2 with 4.20 ERA in 19 games (15 starts) in his lifetime against the Rockies.
Colorado is predicted to finish near the bottom of the division despite making the surprising free agent signing of Kris Bryant. The 2016 National League MVP and World Series champion joined the Rockies on a seven-year, $182-million deal and will play mostly outfield.
Bryant’s bat will replace two-time All-Star Trevor Story, who signed with Boston after six years of manning shortstop for the Rockies. Colorado pivoted to veteran Jose Iglesias, who won’t match Story’s power numbers but has a good glove.
The Rockies also locked up infielder Ryan McMahon with a six-year extension worth $70 million and traded Raimel Tapia to Toronto for outfielder Randal Grichuk. They are hoping the new additions will help strengthen a lineup that includes Brendan Rodgers, C.J. Cron, Charlie Blackmon and Elias Diaz.
If Colorado’s starting rotation excels, the team will have a chance. Hometown favorite Kyle Freeland will make his second Opening Day start, a slight surprise with German Marquez considered the staff ace. Freeland is still in search of his 2018 form when he finished 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA and was fourth in the NL Cy Young voting.
In the last three years Freeland is 12-22, but manager Bud Black said the lefty has looked good in spring training.
“The (Opening Day) experience is there,” Black said. “His work here in the spring has shown that his arm is ready for the season, which is a tribute to his conditioning during the lockout.”
Freeland is 3-7 with a 4.09 ERA in 16 career starts against Los Angeles.
The perennial issue for the Rockies is the bullpen. They signed Alex Colome hoping he can lock down the closer role but the rest of the relief corps has been inconsistent the past couple of years.
–Field Level Media