Toss up or down?
Dodgers-Cards Preview A.J. Preller: It’s a toss-up for this one, but there’s a lot to like about this Dodgers team.
There are plenty of questions, and they’re probably more questions than answers.
So, here’s the thing: No team is going to have the luxury of playing this one without facing its fair share of tough matchups.
The Dodgers are 6-1, and their opponents have averaged nearly a run per game over the last three weeks.
And while there are some tough games in this one — the Rockies and Cubs have both given up runs or more in each game they’ve played, and the Phillies and Rockies have both been scoreless — they’re still ahead of the Cubs in the NL West, the Dodgers in the division and the Cardinals in the AL West.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, have played well, with eight of their last nine victories coming against teams that are in the bottom half of the league in OPS, run differential and run differential.
And, as is usually the case, there is plenty of upside for this Dodgers squad to bounce back.
Clayton Kershaw is coming off a season in which he won a Cy Young Award and won the Cy Young MVP award.
He was one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball during that stretch, pitching to a 2.69 ERA with 8.1 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 in 30 starts, and he has the best strikeout rate of his career.
He’s also a top-10 hitter in terms of average, slugging percentage and OPS.
He has two of the three most powerful hitting seasons of his young career.
And he’s hitting the ball pretty well.
The key to this Dodgers lineup is the bat of Corey Seager.
The 22-year-old has hit a team-best .321 with 15 home runs, 62 RBIs and a .918 OPS in 29 games this season.
He could have an even bigger year this season, with his offensive explosion expected to keep up.
And if he doesn’t hit well, he could be a bargain for a veteran player.
He will be a free agent after this season and, if he’s not traded, the Cardinals can use the $14.8 million remaining on his contract for something like an infielder or an outfielder.
They’ve also made a habit of having a solid center fielder in Justin Upton and, in the case of Matt Carpenter, a top shortstop in Adrian Gonzalez.
This team also has a few talented young pitchers, but none of them are likely to reach a Cy Big League level.
They also don’t have any outfielders who are big-league-ready, so the best way to maximize Seager’s potential is to take advantage of a few players in the outfield.
First, though, we have the bats.
Clayton will start this season with a .262 average, but he has already hit more home runs (30) than anyone in baseball this season (29).
He’s a .400 hitter, too, and, with three of his five homers coming on the road, his average on those occasions has been .457.
He can hit the ball hard, too.
In his first eight games, he has hit .387 with five home runs.
If he keeps that pace, he will have a .380 average this season on the season.
If Clayton is hitting that well and getting on base at a career-high rate, he should hit more homers than anybody in baseball.
And with his power, he’s capable of getting onbase at a clip of .350 or better.
That should make him a plus hitter for the rest of the season, and even if he does regress, his offensive potential will be enough to make up for any potential regression.
Corey Seagers first home run of the year is a nice touch, and that should be enough for a few teams to see this team as a contender.
Justin Upton will be coming off an injury that ended his 2016 season.
But he is also the best offensive player on the Dodgers, with a career .312 average and 16 homers.
His power numbers should improve with his bat, and with the help of some luck, he might even hit more than his career high of 24 home runs in 2015.
The team also gets some help from the return of Jason Heyward, who is coming back after missing the season with an injury.
He hit .294 with three home runs and 14 RBIs last year.
The big question mark is in center field, where Matt Kemp will likely start the season on a one-year, $8.8-million contract.
That could be an issue for teams, especially when the Dodgers have struggled at the position the last two years.
But, even if Kemp does not play much this season because of his injury, he’ll likely get some playing time, and Kemp is a solid defender at