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OC Register: Alexander: Late October baseball in SoCal again this year? Count on it

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Yes, we overreached a year ago.

You might not remember, and I might be crazy for issuing this reminder, but This Space went out on a limb a few days before the 2018 baseball season began … a thin, shaky, precarious limb:

“It is the beauty of spring training. When it ends, everyone is still undefeated.

“So, in that spirit of optimism, why not indulge that wild dream that Southern California baseball fans have harbored for the better part of six decades.

“The Dodgers and Angels, playing in October. Playing each other in October. SoCal as the epicenter of the baseball world.

“Why not?”

Um, well, I was half right. The Dodgers did get back to late October, though they didn’t stay as long as they did the year before. But I figured the Angels, with a veteran lineup bolstered by a couple of offseason acquisitions and spearheaded by the game’s best player, would sneak in as a wild card and turn October red again.

I didn’t count on a pitching staff that would make what was then known as the disabled list a standing-room-only proposition. To be fair, of course, I didn’t include Shohei Ohtani in that equation, either, since his springtime performances suggested he might start 2018 in Triple-A, rather than becoming American League Rookie of the Year and an international sensation.

So this is a reminder: My predictions are for entertainment purposes only. As we lurch toward the domestic opening of the 2019 season Thursday (and remember, the Seattle Mariners are already 2-0), take these forecasts for what they’re worth.

This we know: The Angels will be different with Brad Ausmus in the dugout instead of Mike Scioscia. Starting pitching will be an issue. And the best player in baseball will have the comfort of knowing he’s not going anywhere for another 12 seasons, which I’m sure Mike Trout will discuss Sunday afternoon when the Angels hold a pep rally disguised as a press conference between the hats outside Angel Stadium.

We know Ohtani will return as a hitter, probably in May, but not as a pitcher until 2020. We also know that what he did in 2018 before Tommy John surgery challenged many preconceived notions, which is why a handful of professional players – including Angels minor leaguers Kaleb Cowart and Jared Walsh – have pursued both pitching and hitting this spring, and why any number of college players who do both realize now they don’t necessarily have to choose one over the other if they’re drafted.

We suspect the Angels will be marginally better than they were in 2018. We figure the A’s, who won a wild card spot last year, won’t be as good, and the Rangers and Mariners will again be pretty far back in the AL West. So no World Series in Anaheim this year, and likely no wild-card berth, but a foundation will be laid that will ultimately get Trout back to the postseason and in a position to do some damage.

As for the team located 31 miles up the freeway, the pessimism over a Bryce Harper-less, Yasiel Puig-less roster is unfounded. The Dodgers again should win the NL West, this time more comfortably, since Colorado’s bullpen isn’t as good as it was in 2018, the Padres are still another year away though significantly improved, and the Giants and Diamondbacks are in various stages of tank – I mean, rebuilding.

The trick here is not to consider what the Dodgers’ roster looks like on Opening Day but to evaluate what it looks like after July 31. Andrew Friedman’s modus operandi in Los Angeles, beyond searching for every edge and using every bit of technological innovation available for player evaluation and improvement, is to strike at the trade deadline. Yu Darvish and Manny Machado didn’t get the Dodgers over the finish line the last two Octobers, but there will be opportunities again this July.

(Of course, with the new rules that eliminate waiver trades in August, Friedman will have to have his shopping done by July 31. Another rule change that could impact the way the Dodgers maneuver their roster, the increase of the minimum injured list stay from 10 to 15 days, won’t take effect until 2020; Friedman’s organization was among the early adopters in exploiting that loophole.)

But the most striking thing about this year’s Dodgers roster? The new guy is Corey Seager, back and apparently fully healthy after his 2018 was shortened by Tommy John surgery. Baseball Reference had Seager at 5.9 WAR in 2016 and 5.7 in 2017, and he received MVP votes both seasons (and was NL Rookie of the Year in 2016). It might take some time for him to hit his stride, but I’m guessing it won’t take long.

Led by a healthy Seager (who turns 25 in late April) and imminent ace Walker Buehler (24), and with the prospect of 2017 Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger (23) figuring out how to hit lefties consistently, the Dodgers have an extended championship window. And there’s no reason they can’t climb through it this year.

The view here? We will have an old-school World Series in 2019, Dodgers vs. Yankees, and when it’s over it will be the home team celebrating on the turf at Dodger Stadium for a change.

Yep, I’m calling my shot. Dodgers in six. Mayor Garcetti, you might want to have someone research the 1988 parade route.


@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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