Plaschke: Dodgers open season unsettled and uncertain. And that's a good thing

·7 min read

They lost their cornerstone, their shaggy leader, Justin Turner heading off to hated Boston.

They lost their spark, their infield core, Trea Turner fleeing for Philly.

They lost their MVP, their homegrown hero, Cody Bellinger scooting over to Chicago.

They lost their hope, Gavin Lux, knee injury, gone for the season.

They lost their minds, this winter, failing to land any of baseball’s top free agents, bystanders to the San Diego Padres’ impressive shopping spree.

For the first time in more than a decade, the team with nine National League West Division crowns in those last 10 years enters a season with an overwhelming sense of loss.

So much loss, in fact, that one might miss what they gained.

Uncertainty. Suspense. Chaos. Fun.

Why the long face? Why the dark cloud?

Two years after using this column to predict the Dodgers would be the best team in baseball history, your humble prognosticator would like to tweak that, but only slightly.

This season, the Dodgers could be the most exciting team in club history.

Six rookies could make an impact. Their middle infield is a mosh pit. Their outfield is an Erector Set. Their starting rotation has two bold exclamation points and a series of fuzzy question marks.

Admit it, you have no idea what is going to happen during the next six months, and doesn’t that make it interesting? And, seriously, when is the last time these dominant Dodgers have done anything between April and October that was truly interesting?

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts watches from the dugout during Game 3 of the NLDS against the San Diego Padres in October.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts watches from the dugout during Game 3 of the NLDS against the San Diego Padres in October. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Following the Dodgers in the regular season has often been a simple, eventually suffocating exercise. Watch them beat the hell out of teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies and wait for the playoffs.

Following the Dodgers this season will be a vastly different equation. Watch them try to sort out a middle infield, piece together an outfield, find five live arms that can give them five decent innings … and pray for the playoffs.

The traditionally smooth ride will be a bumpy one. The corporate baseball will be replaced by dirt-stained hardball. It should be captivating. It will be tricky. It could be a blast.

Weren’t you just a bit weary of watching All-Star lineups dominate summers just before autumn knocked them flat on their faces? Weren’t you just a bit bored at all the steamrolling just before the flattening? Haven’t you been thinking, there has to be a better way?

In this space last year I wrote these words:

The Dodgers enter the 2022 season with surely the best team in baseball, obviously one of the best in baseball history, and seemingly destined for a World Series title.

Turns out, they weren’t the best team in baseball, they were not one of the best teams in history, and they were destined only for a gut-wrenching, first-round playoff loss to the Padres.

Two years ago, I wrote these words:

This season they're going to be the best team in baseball history. Clip this claim. Print it out. Tape it up. You read it here first. You'll read it here last.

Dodgers players look on during the ninth inning of Game 4 of the NLDS against the Padres on Oct. 15, 2022, in San Diego.
Dodgers players look on during the ninth inning of Game 4 of the NLDS against the San Diego Padres on Oct. 15, 2022. After a 111-win regular season, the Dodgers were eliminated in four games in the postseason. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

You read it here never. You needed not to clip it but trash it. This historic team couldn’t even get to the World Series.

Riding this team’s annual shooting star has become wearisome. Believing that baseball’s best lineup could bring home baseball’s biggest trophy has become drudgery.

This year’s team will be anything but wearisome, and watching them will be anything but drudgery, and doesn’t that already feel like a cool October breeze cutting through stale summer air? And, just saying, maybe six months of torture will better prepare them for a torturous postseason?

Already, manager Dave Roberts sounded delightfully human when he was asked by reporters whether he would guarantee a World Series victory as he did before last season.

“I’m not gonna guarantee it this year, I’m not going to do that,” he said. “But, again, I still expect to win the World Series, I do.”

Guaranteeing is a far cry from expecting, the theme of this year’s Dodgers is expect the unexpected, and yeah, that works.

“You just don't know until you know,” said Roberts. “And I think that any team that has a chance to contend for the World Series, there's got to be some surprises or people that you don't expect to make contributions.”

With the exception of 2020, the only surprise in the past decade was the name of the team that would eliminate the Dodgers in the playoffs.

This year, potential surprises are everywhere.

Surprise! The Dodgers have no set outfield!

There will be platoons everywhere and danger at every corner and the sort of ambiguity that will make each game an adventure.

Mookie Betts was supposed to be good for 162 in right field, but the injury to Lux is going to force him to second base for up to a quarter of the games, meaning more potential time for rookie James Outman, and who doesn’t like to cheer for rookies?

James Outman connects for a single during a Dodgers spring training game.
James Outman connects for a single during a Dodgers spring training game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on March 2. (Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Center field will be manned by desperately-in-need-of-a-comeback Chris Taylor, except when he’s playing shortstop or right field or left field, no load management here, and that should be fascinating.

Left field could be Trayce Thompson and David Peralta, two guys capable of big swings and even bigger misses, they’ll lead the team in gasps, not an entirely bad thing.

Surprise! The Dodgers have a makeshift middle infield!

Freddie Freeman will play first and Max Muncy will play third and the rest of the ground around those big basemen is going to be rumbling.

Miguel Rojas will start at shortstop, but he won’t contribute much offensively. Rookie Miguel Vargas will start at second base, but can he catch the ball well enough to stay there? Then there’s Betts and Taylor and the infield could look different every day and, hey, at least that will be worth watching.

Surprise! The Dodgers starting rotation offers no guarantees!

The best starters in baseball are now some of the most unpredictable starters in baseball, and watching that evolution is going to be a kick.

Julio Urías should eat up innings as the ace, but, in a contract year, he may play it safe, who knows? Can Clayton Kershaw still be effective at age 35 and with a history of injuries? No idea. Are Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin ready to take the next step?

We’ll see. Will Ryan Pepiot, Michael Grove, Gavin Stone and Bobby Miller get big-league moments? One can only hope.

The Dodgers roster feels so patchwork and unsteady, one of the most stabilizing forces could be new designated hitter J.D. Martinez. The most solid group on the team is — and this is the real surprise — the bullpen. They don’t have a closer, but as long as they have Evan Phillips and Alex Vesia and Brusdar Graterol and a healthy Daniel Hudson, they should be fine.

This will be a season unlike any other Andrew Friedman-constructed season with one exception. This season, once again, expect Friedman to fix whatever giant holes exist with some big midseason trade.

Wait a minute. He didn’t do that last year, did he? And the lack of another starting pitcher helped doom them in the playoffs, didn’t it?

So, in this year of uncertainty, even the trade deadline will be a surprise, and that’s cool.

In recent years, the biggest complaint from Dodgers fans was that the regular season felt irrelevant. Not this season. This Dodgers team will be worth watching from this week's first pitch to October’s last out, even if you’re covering your eyes.

When it comes to the 2023 Dodgers, Roberts is right, you just don’t know until you know.

And, for once, it’s kind of nice not knowing.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.