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Dodgers 2015 season preview: Different, but still best in NL West

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SB Nation 2015 MLB Preview

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It might seem a little early for a season preview, but those 11 days between today and opening day will vanish in a heartbeat. Nothing is likely to dramatically change for the Dodgers during the last week in camp - unless maybe they sign some more Cubans - so here is a look at the 2015 Dodgers.

There are several familiar faces but there is change in the air in Los Angeles, with a new front office and 19 new players on the 40-man roster.

The biggest changes are up the middle, with a new catcher, a new double play combination, and a new center fielder. There is little question the club is better defensively than in 2014, but those four positions will go a long way in also determining how good the offense is as well.

Lineup

The two obvious pieces missing from 2014 are Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez, who combined to hit .285/.356/.480 with 73 doubles and 38 home runs last year. The club also lost leadoff man and second baseman Dee Gordon.

Newcomers include Jimmy Rollins, 36, in a new city after reaching iconic status in Philadelphia; Howie Kendrick, 31, on a contract drive looking to hit free agency for the first time; catcher Yasmani Grandal, 26 and the kid, Joc Pederson, 23, ready to take over center field.

The club will need Grandal and Pederson to hit well to approach the 2014 offense, but it's not out of the question. Manager Don Mattingly thinks the offense is, at the very least, different.

"I think it will be long, with good at-bats throughout. It's going to be a different style, but I feel pretty good about it," Mattingly said. "It's more of a battle-type lineup where guys are grinding out at-bats, and less all-or-nothing."

Expect big things in Year 3 of the Yasiel Puig experience, too.

Bench

We went over this last week. My guess for the five reserves remains the same, with Justin Turner, Scott Van Slyke and A.J. Ellis joined by Andre Ethier and Alex Guerrero. If the Dodgers carry an extra position player until the club needs a fifth starter in the season's second week, I think Darwin Barney gets the call, giving the club a true defensive infielder on the bench.

Rotation

The starting rotation has potential to be great, but the caveat "if healthy" carries quite a bit of weight with this crew. Ryu will start the season on the disabled list, Brett Anderson has 206 innings total in his last four years, Brandon McCarthy reached 200 innings in 2014 but after an exhaustive shoulder injury history, Zack Greinke has had something come up with his elbow every year since joining the Dodgers, and even Clayton Kershaw missed five weeks last year.

Even though the club got relatively good news on Ryu with no structural shoulder damage, consider the alert level here relatively high. It's not quite panic season, but it might not be a bad idea to dip these torches in kerosene ahead of time just in case.

The club has more starting depth in the minors this year, with Joe Wieland leading a group that includes Mike Bolsinger, Carlos Frias and Zach Lee, at the very least providing a buffer before having to dip into the mediocre Fausto/Correia waters.

Bullpen

As of this writing, we are down to 15 pitchers for seven spots. What was a weakness in 2014 could turn into a strength this year, even with closer Kenley Jansen opening the season on the disabled list. There is strength in numbers, with the Dodgers having several options and lots of flexibility - more on that Thursday.

National perception

The PECOTA projections at Baseball Prospectus represent the high end, but have the Dodgers winning 97 games. The folks at PredictionMachine.com ran 50,000 simulations of the 2015 season, and the Dodgers won the World Series 11.7 percent of the time, second only to the Washington Nationals at 16.4 percent. The folks at Bovada.lv have the Dodgers as overwhelming 1/2 favorites to win the division, and 9/2 odds to win the NL pennant, second only to the Nats at 3/1.

Wild guess

The Dodgers in 2015 will score more than the 718 runs they scored in 2014.

Prediction

The Giants and Padres will contend, but the Dodgers remain the class of the NL West. I think the Dodgers win the division, making the playoffs for a third straight year for the first time in franchise history, and follow up 92- and 94-win campaigns with a 96-66 finish in 2015, and a berth in the NLCS.