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Dodgers a threat to get back to World Series in 2018

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, FIle)

By BETH HARRIS

AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) The Dodgers start a new season with an old burden: they haven't won a World Series since 1988.

Winning 104 games and owning baseball's best record last year didn't get it done.

However, the Dodgers bring back most of their roster and boast depth in the rotation and up and down the lineup. That should allow them to weather potential injuries and slumps.

First baseman Cody Bellinger and shortstop Corey Seager - the last two NL Rookies of the Year - provide a young spark, while outfielder Chris Taylor will be looking to follow up a solid season in which he emerged as an everyday player. Bellinger will get a full season at first after veteran Adrian Gonzalez was traded.

Yasiel Puig is coming off a career-high 28 home runs and his defensive excellence in right field remains intact, having salvaged his career in Los Angeles after being demoted to Triple-A in 2016 and nearly traded.

Dave Roberts enters his third season as skipper with a 195-130 record and two division titles to his credit after being hired without any managerial experience.

Here are some things to watch for this season:

BEST CASE: The Dodgers are favorites to win their sixth straight NL West title. That's after they lost to Houston in Game 7 of the World Series. There's little reason to think they can't get there again. Ace Clayton Kershaw anchors a deep rotation that features Alex Wood, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Closer Kenley Jansen had a career-best 1.32 ERA and 109 strikeouts against just seven walks last year.

WORST CASE: They won an MLB-best 104 games last season - helped by a 43-7 record from early June to early August - and if a World Series hangover is inevitable as history suggests, repeating that total could be difficult. Health is a huge part of the equation, and it's already an issue to start the season.

INJURY CONCERNS: 3B Justin Turner, the team's best hitter last year, is out indefinitely with a broken left wrist after being hit by a pitch in a spring game on March 19. He doesn't need surgery, so it could be only a matter of weeks before he returns, which is good news because the Dodgers are not the same team without him. LHP Julio Urias created a splash last year working limited innings, but he is out until at least May after having left shoulder surgery. RHP Tom Koehler, acquired as a free agent in the offseason, is out indefinitely with a shoulder strain.

INFO AGE: The Dodgers favor a statistic-based approach to almost everything. It's apparent in their rotation, with starters typically pulled after two times through an opposing lineup which helps avoid letdowns and provides extended rest. The team's starters had a collective ERA of 3.39, tops in baseball last year. But they tossed just 885 innings. On the hitting side, Roberts uses platoons and matchup-driven lineups to spread around playing time.

NEW FACE: Well, Matt Kemp is a familiar face to Dodgers fans. The 33-year-old slugger was acquired in a trade with Atlanta that allowed the Dodgers to unload the burdensome contracts of Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy. Kemp was rumored to be traded, but he's had a solid spring in which he hit .302 and has made himself part of the platoon in left field. He can also DH when needed.

PASSPORTS, PLEASE: The Dodgers will play a regular-season series against the San Diego Padres in Monterrey, Mexico, from May 4-6. The series counts as Padres home games. Four years ago, the Dodgers opened the season in Australia against Arizona.

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More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

Updated March 22, 2018

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