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Know your enemy: Los Angeles Dodgers

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The Dodgers will be a formidable foe again this year.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The Dodgers spent a lot of money over the last several seasons trying to buy a pennant. Their salary spree peaked in 2015, when their end-of-year payroll topped $291 million.

Until last year, all they got for that was division titles. In 2017, they reached the World Series for the first time in 30 years, and as you know, came agonizingly close to winning, losing Game 7 in part because new Cub Yu Darvish was tipping his pitches.

Now the Dodgers are trying to get frugal. They dumped a number of bad contracts and didn’t re-sign Darvish and a couple other free agents and, along with the Cubs and Yankees, have made a stated goal of staying under the luxury tax limit this year, presumably so they can make a run at Bryce Harper next offseason.

None of this changes the Dodgers’ powerful lineup and excellent rotation, both of which should lead them to another N.L. West title.

But the Dodgers had a weird season in 2017. On August 25 they were 91-36 and led their division by 21 games. Their division-clinching magic number was 14.

They then lost five in a row, won a game 1-0 and then lost 11 more in a row, several of those by blowout scores (13-0, 9-1, 8-1). They blew more than half of that 21-game lead and when it got to nine games after the 11th straight loss, some thought they might continue losing and blow the entire lead, which would have been the biggest blown lead in MLB history.

Of course, they didn’t; they righted their ship and finished on a 12-6 run before sweeping the Diamondbacks in the division series and taking four of five from the Cubs in the NLCS.

Like the Cubs’ 2016 season, L.A.’s 2017 was almost a perfect storm (apart from the losing 15 of 16 thing). It’s not likely to go as perfectly this year. They used the new 10-day disabled list to rest their starters; six L.A. starters made at least 16 starts and none of them started more than 27 times or threw more than 175 innings (Clayton Kershaw). This kept them well-rested for the postseason. Watch for more teams to try this in 2018.

Without Darvish, though, their starting pitching depth isn’t what it was and they actually have to hope their starters will be healthy. They lost prime setup man Brandon Morrow to the Cubs, and while Kenley Jansen should be excellent again, it’s hard to believe he can go through another full season issuing just seven walks, or matching his career high 14.4 SO/9 ratio. Here’s an interesting note about Jansen:

Apparently Jansen and the Dodgers feel he can get his work done on the back fields at Camelback Ranch and be ready for the season.

I also find myself skeptical that Chris Taylor, who had never hit more than eight home runs in any of his five minor-league seasons but suddenly pounded 21 last year, can do that again.

Don’t get me wrong. The Dodgers will be good again. They just probably won’t be otherworldly good the way they were in 2017.

The Cubs and Dodgers will play their entire seven-game season series in an 11-day period in June. The Dodgers will be at Wrigley Field June 18-19-20 and the Cubs go to Dodger Stadium June 25-26-27-28. Of course, it’s entirely possible these two teams will have another October date this year.