The L.A. Dodgers were the World Series favorites at sportsbooks entering last year's playoffs but lost in the postseason for the second straight year to the Cardinals. Is a new-look Dodgers team worth early 2015 World Series action on MLB odds?
The Dodgers had their fourth straight winning season under Manager Don Mattingly, winning 94 games and taking the NL West for the second consecutive year. The eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants finished six games back despite leading the division by eight games at the start of June as the Dodgers started slowly.
Los Angeles was the second seed in the National League playoffs and solid series favorites on MLB odds in the NLDS against St. Louis considering the Dodgers had the incomparable Clayton Kershaw, who would win the NL Cy Young and MVP Awards, in line to start twice. No team can touch Kershaw it seems except for the Cardinals. In Game 1 of the NLDS, the Dodgers lost 10-9 despite taking a 6-2 lead behind Kershaw into the top of the seventh inning. The Cardinals put up eight runs in that frame, with Matt Carpenter hitting the go-ahead three-run double off Kershaw. The eight overall earned runs were the most allowed all season by Kershaw and his six earned runs allowed in the seventh were more overall runs than he allowed in 26 of his 27 regular-season starts. It was truly shocking.
The Dodgers won Game 2 and lost Game 3 in St. Louis, so Mattingly opted to bring Kershaw back on three days of rest in a do-or-die Game 4. It looked like a wise move as Kershaw took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh. However, Mattingly perhaps left his ace in for one batter too many as Matt Adams hit a three-run homer off Kershaw to give St. Louis the lead for good. The Cardinals outscored the Dodgers 15-4 in innings 7-9, winning the series despite not leading entering the seventh inning in any game. Kershaw is now just 1-5 with a 5.12 ERA in his playoff career.
The meltdown had some questioning whether the Dodgers might fire Mattingly. They didn't, instead opting to overhaul the front office by hiring Tampa Bay Rays general manager Andrew Friedman as executive vice president of baseball operations. He is reportedly the highest-paid executive in MLB history, and Friedman brought in all new people but also decided to keep Mattingly on even though Friedman's former manager, Joe Maddon, hit the market. Maddon went to the Cubs, boosting their World Series odds at sportsbooks considerably.
Few teams will look more different in 2015 than Los Angeles, and certainly no division winner has changed more. Friedman, no longer hamstrung by a tiny budget as he was with the small-market Rays, has made his mark. They say good defensive teams in the majors are built up the middle, and that's where Friedman and his staff really went to work.
The Dodgers have a new catcher in Yasmani Grandal (from Padres), new second baseman in Howie Kendrick (from Angels), new shortstop in Jimmy Rollins (from Phillies) and new center fielder in Joc Pederson (top Dodgers prospect). The key players Los Angeles moved to get those guys were outfielder Matt Kemp, All-Star second baseman Dee Gordon and starting pitcher Dan Haren -- not to mention lots of cash to cover some of those contracts, especially Kemp's to San Diego. The Dodgers may not be done as they still would like to trade one more outfielder, either Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford. L.A. would have to eat salary on one of those guys -- Ethier is the more likely to go.
The lineup wasn't the only area that was addressed. The Dodgers have perhaps the best 1-2-3 punch atop the rotation in Kershaw, Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, but the Nos. 4-5 spots were questions last year, especially after losing Josh Beckett to injury. Friedman added free-agent right-hander Brandon McCarthy and left-hander Brett Anderson to fill out those spots. Both have question marks but strong upside. McCarthy was terrible last season with Arizona, but after being traded to the Yankees he was 7-5 with a 2.89 ERA in 14 starts. McCarthy has had trouble staying healthy yet the Dodgers gave him four years and $48 million. That surprised many. Anderson has all the talent in the world, but he can't stay healthy, either. The lefty was 1-3 with 2.91 ERA in his only season with the Rockies in 2014. Injuries limited him to eight starts, and Anderson hasn't pitched more than 100 innings since 2010. He is still just 26.
As insurance, the Dodgers acquired starting pitcher Juan Nicasio from the Rockies. He was went 6-6 with a 5.38 ERA last season in relief and as a starter. After the All-Star break last year, he pitched exclusively in relief and had a 3.48 ERA in 19 games. The bullpen also got some help with the trade for Rays right-hander Joel Peralta, and he will set up closer Kenley Jansen. Peralta pitched 69 games for the Rays last season, going 3-4 with a 4.41 ERA.
Currently the Dodgers are +750 favorite on Bovada's MLB odds to win the franchise's first World Series since 1988.
MLB Free Pick: The Dodgers will not win the NL pennant, although it's fairly understandable that L.A. is the overall favorite. It appears that the Dodgers are done adding pieces and this should largely be the group that heads to spring training barring injury or an Ethier/Crawford trade. I still have questions about third base and McCarthy/Anderson. The Washington Nationals look better overall on paper and they could still land Max Scherzer. The St. Louis Cardinals, who already acquired outfielder Jason Heyward, are reportedly interested in Scherzer and James Shields. So those teams' MLB odds could still get a big boost.