Although an entire year has passed, there’s no more certainty as to what may happen during the 2021 season compared to last year, especially as far as the Los Angeles Dodgers are concerned.
The good news is that some of the rules surrounding the game have recently been made clear, specifically the concept of a 26-man active roster and the absence of a universal designated hitter. However, because there are still a few question marks surrounding the makeup of the Los Angeles roster, the team might conceivably look a bit different when the players take the field on Opening Day in Denver against the Rockies.
Listed below are three potential surprises fans might see at the beginning of the season with regards to the Dodgers’ roster.
Dodgers Employ Six-Man Rotation
While it seemed for some time that teams were beginning to steer away from the traditional sense of starting pitching, the fact that the Dodgers landed Trevor Bauer this winter strengthens their commitment to a conventional rotation. Last year, we saw numerous teams employ the strategy of using an “opener” in bullpen types of games, as the Dodgers were even forced to utilize this tactic at some points in the 2020 postseason.
Nevertheless, due to the shift back to a 162-game schedule this year (hopefully), we could see Los Angeles use a six-man starting pitching rotation, something we have been discussing for a few years here on this website. Giving pitchers an extra-day off limits their workloads, theoretically keeping them healthier and more potent. Plus, with the possibility of more double-headers, the team might be able to take a more strategic approach to the second leg of a double bill.
Should the entire staff be healthy by the time the season begins, the Dodgers could credibly roll out an insanely stacked rotation consisting of Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, David Price, Bauer, Julio Urias and Dustin May or Tony Gonsolin. To boot, youngsters Mitch White and Josiah Gray will be eagerly awaiting at the team’s alternate training site for their respective chances to contribute.
Matt Beaty Sees Increased Playing Time
One name we have not heard discussed much over the winter is Matt Beaty. Because Joc Pederson has departed, it could give the opportunity for the 27-year-old utilityman to see more playing time, especially in the outfield. Although his time in the outfield was limited last year, let’s not forget that Beaty played 34 games in left field and two in right during his 2019 campaign, predominately when regular left fielder AJ Pollock was out with elbow surgery.
Obviously, there won’t be a straight platoon in left field, but Beaty’s lefty bat might bring some much-needed balance on the offensive side. The Dodgers apparently still don’t trust Beaty enough to handle consistent duties at third base, but the idea that he can play there in a pinch might also increase his playing time. Additionally, should Max Muncy need a day off or cover at another defensive spot, Beaty has shown that he can capably handle playing first base.
ZiPS has Beaty playing 109 games and collecting 365 PA this year while slashing .256/.312/.411 with 20 doubles, 10 homers and 44 RBI. Those figures might be about right, although I think the slugging and OBP could end up being several ticks higher.
There’s a New Closer in Town
No question the 2021 Los Angeles bullpen has the potential to be the most effective it’s been in years, if everyone is able to stay relatively healthy throughout the year. And, unquestionably, Kenley Jansen has faced more scrutiny than any other Dodger reliever in recent seasons.
While I believe that there’s a chance Kenley might start the season in the closer’s role, his spot there might be short-lived, whether it results from control issues, faulty mechanics, or simply the inability to effectively perform. Indeed, there are a number of alternate options like Blake Treinen, Corey Knebel, Victor Gonzalez, Brusdar Graterol, or even Urias (which is another topic for another time). Consequently, I believe one of these arms, Treinen in particular, might be called upon early to close down games.
Jansen is beginning the final year of his contract, and chances are virtually nil that the Dodgers bring him back on another deal. In the meantime, the team could decide to begin its search for the closer of the future. Until either Graterol, Gonzalez, or Urias settle into that role, Treinen just might be the man for the job.