The Los Angeles Dodgers have had a Sisyphean journey over the last two seasons. In 2017, they played 7 games against the Astros in the World Series before fading 5-1 in the finale.
Despite needing a tiebreaker game against the Rockies for the National League West title, manager Dave Roberts guided his club back to the Fall Classic. The Red Sox, his former team as a player, whipped Los Angeles 4-1. The second-straight failure led to general manager Farhan Zaidi to leave for San Francisco, as well as expensive signings of pitcher Joe Kelly and outfielder A.J. Pollock.
The season starts Thursday versus the Diamondbacks in Chavez Ravine. Los Angeles has gotten off to some slow starts the last few seasons. Michael Wittman of Dodgers Way said it best:
The Dodgers were 12-16 after April of 2018 with a few games coming in March. They went 14-12 in April of 2017 and it took a three-game winning streak to end the month to get the Dodgers over 500. In 2016, the Dodgers went 12-13 in April.
With Zack Greinke on the mound for Arizona, how will Roberts respond in his Opening Day lineup? Who starts on the mound for Los Angeles? Let’s take a look.
Dodgers Opening Day Lineup vs. Diamondbacks
C – Austin Barnes/Russell Martin
1B – Max Muncy/David Freese
2B – Kike Hernandez/Chris Taylor
3B – Justin Turner
SS – Cory Seager
LF – Joc Pederson/Alex Verdugo
CF – A.J. Pollock
RF – Cody Bellinger
Roberts has a few locks in his lineup, but also a lot of room for flexibility and experimentation. Starting with the infield, Justin Turner and Cory Seager are locks for third and shortstop, respectively. Roberts confirmed that Seager would be ready for Opening Day, while Turner is an All-Star with no real competition.
The big questions come everywhere else. Austin Barnes should get the early nod behind the plate due to his recent surge offensively. The 29-year old is hitting .323 with 2 HRs, 3 doubles, and 12 RBIs. Martin is available in case that offense falls to the wayside, as he’s a solid defensive reserve.
Hernandez should get the nod over Taylor due to the latter’s drought at the plate during the spring. In 40 plate appearances, Taylor has struck out over a third of the time and is batting just .184 with a .225 OBP.
Muncy is returning from a top-15 finish in the NL MVP race last year, hitting .263 with 35 homers. He has earned the benefit of the doubt for now, but Freese lies in waiting should production dry up in April.
Switching to the outfield, the big story this week has been Roberts confirming that Pollock has supplanted Pederson at centerfield. Per Dodger Blue:
Not only did Pollock immediately project to unseat Pederson in center field, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said his new outfielder was a natural candidate to bat leadoff.
With that said, he still plans on Pederson in the lineup.
“I think for the time being,” Roberts answered when asked if his intention was to keep Pederson batting leadoff come the regular season.
“And I think with a right-handed pitcher, I see A.J. in the five and Joc in the one. That could change, but right now that’s kind of how it is.”
This would push out Alex Verdugo from a starting role, but expect he and Pederson to jockey for a position all season long.
As far the pitcher, Thursday will mark the first time in 8 years that Clayton Kershaw won’t be the Opening Day starter on the mound. CBS Sports reports that Hyun-Jin Ryu will break the seal on the new season versus Greinke.