Plaschke: Greatest team or biggest flop? The 2024 Dodgers will decide their place


They opened the season surrounded by strangers in a tiny, rattling dome in South Korea.

They played two games witnessed in Los Angeles only by those fans willing to awaken in the middle of the night.

By the time they embarked on the 6,000-mile flight home, all hell had broken loose.

Shohei Ohtani, their new global superstar, was linked to millions of dollars in lost bets with an allegedly illegal bookmaker who is the target of a federal investigation.

Ippei Mizuhara, Ohtani’s longtime interpreter, claimed responsibility for the lost bets, then was accused of stealing the money and was fired.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto, their new $325-million pitcher, was racked for five runs in the first inning in his major league debut.

Max Muncy, their troublesome third baseman, committed two errors and misplayed another ground ball in that same game.

They staggered back to Chavez Ravine after splitting a series with the San Diego Padres amid what is surely the most distracted start by a major league team before even playing a single inning on North American soil.

Welcome to the 2024 Dodgers.

Unhinged. Unmatched. Unreal.

It could — and should — be the best season in the franchise’s 141-year history.

It could — and might — be the greatest sporting disaster in the annals of Western civilization.

They added nearly $1.2 billion of the best talent available to a team that last year won 100 games and another National League West title.

They also added overwhelming worldwide media attention, outsized fan expectations, and what is surely a record for pure, unadulterated pressure.

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They have three former most valuable players at the top of the lineup, 30-homer hitters deeper in the lineup, and a guy who once hit three home runs in a playoff game coming off the bench.

They also have a left side of an infield that includes an inconsistent third baseman and a Gold Glove outfielder who was hastily moved to shortstop in a sudden spring-training decision that can be best described as dumb.

Their starting rotation is led by a guy who was Japan’s best pitcher for three consecutive years, followed by a heat creator from Tampa Bay and a veteran grinder from Boston.

They also have a bevy of starters who appeared to be either injured, recovering from injury or injury prone.

They are managed by the new Tom Lasorda, a sunny survivor with the best winning percentage in baseball history for managers with 1,000 games.

Yet if they don’t at least advance to the World Series, here’s guessing that guy is going to be fired.

They have made the postseason for 11 consecutive years, advancing to three World Series while winning one.

But in the last two postseasons they have completely collapsed, losing in five games against San Diego, then being swept in three by Arizona in a series in which the Dodgers didn’t lead once.

Bottom line, it’s been three years since they won a playoff series, and yet they are expected to roll through October and win their first full-season World Series title in 36 years.

At least, they’d better…

And, oh boy, if they don’t…

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“We have to win a championship,” manager Dave Roberts agreed this spring.

He followed with a simple yet complicated request of those demanding that championship.

”One of my asks is enjoy this ride, enjoy this team, because we’re getting a chance to see some of the best players to ever wear a Dodger uniform,” he said. “So before we get ahead of ourselves with the World Series, let’s enjoy this great team and brand of baseball.”

Enjoy this ride? So far, it’s been more like endure this ride.

The bumpiness starts with Ohtani, arguably the greatest player in baseball history and the first two-way threat since Babe Ruth pitched and played outfield more than a century ago.

He left the Angels and signed with the Dodgers this winter for $700 million, yet his pristine image and worldwide popularity could not insulate him from the news reports last week that his name was linked to more than $4.5 million in payments to Orange County resident Mathew Bowyer, an alleged illegal bookmaker who reportedly is the target of a federal investigation.

In an initial interview with ESPN, Mizuhara said the money — the amounts of which allegedly were transferred to a Bowyer associate from Ohtani’s account — was used to pay off his own gambling debts.

Less than 24 hours later, Mizuhara changed his story, telling ESPN that Ohtani had no knowledge of his gambling debts nor had he transferred money to Bowyer’s associate.

Mizuhara was then accused of “massive theft” by the West Hollywood law firm Berk Brettler, which represents Ohtani, and the interpreter was fired.

It’s important to note that neither Mizuhara, Ohtani nor Bowyer has been charged with any crimes. Also, none of the alleged bets are believed to have involved baseball games, and nobody has accused Ohtani of placing any bets himself.

Still, it’s a bad look for Ohtani to have his name linked to an alleged illegal bookmaker, and it becomes more problematic with Mizuhara suddenly changing his story about Ohtani’s involvement. As the summer passes, the story may fade, but Ohtani likely will be haunted by speculation indefinitely.

The Dodgers already were a magnet for intense media scrutiny, with dozens of reporters chronicling Ohtani’s every move. This latest news will make the atmosphere even more distracting and difficult for a team that, despite its starry roster, still has proved nothing.

Remember, these are many of the same guys who have spent the last two Octobers flat on their backs. Roberts thinks if there’s one thing that can overcome the distractions, it’s their determination to change that narrative.

“Guys are really obsessed with winning a championship this year. This is as determined of a group as I saw in 2020,” Roberts said, referring to his title team of the pandemic season. “We’re starting the season with a chip on our shoulder and an obsessive mind-set.”

That obsession will focus around a historic lineup led by Mookie Betts, Ohtani and Freddie Freeman. It’s the first time in 41 years that three former MVPs have batted consecutively at the top of the order.

Dodgers star Mookie Betts celebrates after hitting a two-run home run against the San Diego Padres on Thursday.

Dodgers star Mookie Betts celebrates after hitting a two-run home run against the San Diego Padres on Thursday.

(Lee Jin-man / Associated Press)

They are followed by slugging Will Smith and Muncy and newcomer Teoscar Hernández and rookie star James Outman and finally big-swinging Gavin Lux. And don’t forget Kiké Hernández, who is back on the bench for his eighth Dodgers season, seven years after hitting three home runs in a National League Championship Series game against the Chicago Cubs.

You see? Bottomless batting order. No breaks. No rest. Maybe the Dodgers’ deepest lineup ever.

The problem could be, they also have to field and pitch.

Muncy is obviously still an issue at third base, and new shortstop Betts will have to work overtime to master a position he had played for all of 16 major league games before this season. Even Lux, whose move to second base nudged Betts to shortstop, still can bounce throws from there.

The starting pitching is just as shaky, with brittle opening-day starter Tyler Glasnow infamous for having never exceeded 120 innings in nine major league seasons, and Yamamoto immediately raising questions about the Japanese star’s ability to adjust to the major leagues.

“That’s not him,” was the Dodgers’ refrain after his debut meltdown last week, but really, how does anybody yet know who he is?

Then there’s newly acquired starter James Paxton, who fits right in by not having reached 100 innings in the last four years. The rotation also will feature kids Bobby Miller and Gavin Stone and, well, you know kids.

Yeah, Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw are coming back from surgeries, but who knows when, and who knows how they’ll look?

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts stands in the dugout during a game against the San Diego Padres at Gocheok Sky Dome.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts stands in the dugout during a game against the San Diego Padres at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Wednesday.

(Lee Jin-man / Associated Press)

The rotation, which was one of the worst in baseball at the end of last season, is so wobbly, the traditionally problematic Dodgers bullpen is their pitching strength. One could watch four veterans shut down the Padres in four scoreless innings in the opener and think, hey, this could work. Ryan Brasier, Daniel Hudson, Joe Kelly, Evan Phillips … yeah, that makes sense.

Everything the Dodgers did during this Brink’s Truck of an offseason makes sense.

Until it doesn’t.

Prepare to be utterly amazed, or incredibly devastated, or both.

“They’re not being denied this year,” Roberts promised. “The message is, nothing is going to stand in our way.”

Truly, nothing can stop these Dodgers.

Except these Dodgers.



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