Big-spending Dodgers eager for championship
LOS ANGELES (AP) The Dodgers have spent big bucks on their roster, ramping up World Series expectations right along with the payroll. Now they want to produce results.
They'll get the chance starting Saturday in Australia, where they open the season against NL West rival Arizona.
With a payroll in the range of $225 million-plus, the Dodgers have laid the groundwork to get to their first World Series title since 1988, when they won the title. They came up short last year, losing to St. Louis in six games in the NL championship series.
''The expectations going in this time are realistic. We're a talented club and we're capable,'' said manager Don Mattingly, who signed a three-year extension in January.
The Dodgers want to avoid the poor start they had last season, when key players were injured and the team had to rally to get back into the division race. They eventually won the title by 11 games over the Diamondbacks.
''We need to be more consistent,'' Mattingly said. ''I see it as winning every series and you'll be in pretty good shape. The next thing you know, you're 20 games over .500.''
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez is looking to follow up his strong season last year, while shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who was injured in the NL championship series, will be playing to set himself up for impending free agency.
Here are five things to know about the Dodgers going into the season:
LOADED ROTATION: Anchored by NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, the rotation is one of the best. The left-hander is backed by Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and addition Dan Haren, a three-time All-Star. The fifth starter is up for grabs, with former All-Stars Paul Maholm, Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley vying for the spot. Beckett and Billingsley are coming off surgeries that derailed them last season. Kershaw signed a $215 million, seven-year contract in January that made the 25-year-old ace baseball's richest pitcher. ''The expectations I have for myself are such that I don't have to worry about other people's expectations,'' he said. ''But I understand that people will be watching, wondering what a $30 million-a-year pitcher looks like.''
BULLPEN: With Kenley Jansen tabbed as the closer, the bullpen is extremely strong. Brian Wilson returns for his second season with the team, and he's joined by Chris Perez, a five-time All-Star with Cleveland seeking a fresh start out West. J.P. Howell, Brandon League, Jose Dominguez, Paco Rodriguez, Chris Withrow and 39-year-old veteran Jamey Wright, who joined the team in the offseason, add to the depth of the reliever corps.
PUIG TAKE TWO: Yaisel Puig returns for his second season in the majors after being runner-up for the NL Rookie of the Year award. The 23-year-old Cuban defector had a forgettable spring training, batting .122 in 14 games before heading to Australia, well off his .517 average in the exhibition season last year. He was twice arrested for reckless driving last year, when his effort on the field came into question at times. He brings loads of energy and enthusiasm to the team, making him a fan favorite. But the Dodgers want to see Puig grow up, be consistent and show better judgment on and off the field. ''I thought he was painted wrong, misunderstood a little bit,'' Mattingly said. ''He was exciting to watch. It's going to be an interesting year for Yasiel.''
FIGURING OUT SECOND: Dee Gordon appears to have locked up the job at second, completing his transition from shortstop. Alex Guerrero ultimately figures to be the everyday starter, having signed a $28 million, four-year deal. But the 27-year-old Cuban hadn't played much organized baseball in the last year, and he didn't prove himself ready to fill the vacancy left by the departed Mark Ellis.
EARLY START: After the Dodgers' two-game series in Sydney this weekend, they head to San Diego to start MLB's North American portion of the schedule on March 30 - a day earlier than most other big league teams open. Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford didn't travel Down Under. Kemp continues making progress in his comeback from left ankle surgery last year. Crawford, who had a shoulder issue, stayed back to await the birth of his child. Kemp has been on and off the disabled list since 2011, while Crawford missed a month last season because of injury. Others who didn't travel to Australia were Greinke, Haren, Beckett (bruised hand) and League.