As his team came together late in the offseason, a new patchwork of veteran acquisitions, rookie prospects, and carryover star power from last year’s 111-win team, dodgers manager David Roberts I could see what was coming.

He knew that with all cylinders firing, the reconfigured team could still be a behemoth worthy of World Series expectations.

But with so many new faces and a host of question marks in their wake, Roberts warned of the pitfalls ahead.

“Certainly there is much more unknown,” he said before the start of spring. “I think it’s even fair to say volatility.”

That was made clear in the Dodgers’ season-opening series against the Arizona Diamondbacks this weekend.

In two games, dodgers dominatedpounding the Diamondbacks starters early on, producing timely hits to walk away, and cruising to blowout victories that showed his great promise.

In two losses of a race that forced them to settle for a four-game split, however, the potential shortcomings of their 2023 team were revealed.

In both games, they failed to get a hit with runners in scoring position (0-for-7 Friday; 0-for-6 Sunday). Twice, one of his most trusted relievers gave up a go-ahead run late in the game.

While not a bust in the season opener, the Dodgers’ performance did little to assuage the fears that followed them into the new season.

“I still don’t know about the weaknesses,” Roberts said after Sunday’s final loss. “I still like our lineup. I just think there are some guys who haven’t gotten going yet.”

Here are five of the most notable ups and downs of the Dodgers’ opening series:

High: Rookies Miguel Vargas, James Outman adapt quickly

In 50 major league plate appearances during his debut last year, Miguel Vargas drew two walks.

In 13 trips to the plate this season, the team’s new starting second baseman has tied an MLB-high eight.

So what gives?

“I think it’s a combo,” Roberts said.

Dodgers' James Outman, right, celebrates with Miguel Vargas after hitting a home run Thursday against Arizona.

James Outman, right, is greeted by Miguel Vargas after hitting a two-run home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

Yes, the manager thinks it helped that Vargas couldn’t hit for the first two weeks of spring because of a finger injury, forcing him to catch pitches and track the strike zone in a way he hadn’t before.

But also, “he got his feet wet” last year, Roberts said of the 23-year-old. “So he is more, [doesn’t have his] hair on fire in the batter’s box.”

While Vargas is technically still a rookie, he is already showing growth at the MLB level. And he’s not the only one, joining James Outman as perhaps the most surprising players of the opening weekend.

While Vargas went two for five with his eight walks, reaching safe in seven straight plate appearances at one point during the series, Outman showed his own growth since his brief debut last year, going two for seven with three walks and two RBIs highlighted by his first home run at Dodger Stadium on Thursday night.

“I feel like I learned a lot last year and grew as a player,” said Outman, who played four games in late July and early August before ending his 2022 season at triple-A.

Said Vargas: “Playing more games, I’m starting to feel a lot better at the plate, more comfortable.”

Bass: Slow starts by JD Martinez, Max Muncy, Chris Taylor

For the Dodgers to be at their best, they’ll likely need their veteran bats in the middle of the order to help them get there.

Too often against the Diamondbacks, three of the most critical had trouble producing.

Martinez, the newly signed designated hitter who is scheduled to play most days, had three hits in 15 at-bats and struck out seven times.

Chris Taylor strikes out in the ninth inning of the Dodgers' 2-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.

Chris Taylor strikes out in the ninth inning of the Dodgers’ 2-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.

(Sportswire Icon/Sportswire Icon via Getty Images)

Muncy, who was expected to bounce back from last year’s injury-plagued season, went one for 13 with seven strikeouts (including five on opening day).

Taylor had perhaps the most worrying start. Not only did he go hitless in eight plate appearances, but he struck out three times while filling in for an injured Muncy on Sunday, a troubling callback to his strikeout woes last year.

The top of the order remains rich in star power. The bottom of the lineup is using squads to survive. But Martinez, Muncy and Taylor will be counted more than most. And they left themselves plenty of room for improvement after the season-opening act.

High: Will Smith shows star potential

Will Smith has never earned an All-Star selection.

But if his early pace is any indication, the 28-year-old backup could be on his way to a superstar-caliber season.

On Thursday, he collected three hits, four RBIs and high praise from his manager.

“Will Smith really was a star,” Roberts said.

After reaching base three times Friday, even Clayton Kershaw took note of the catcher’s hot start.

“Obviously, what Will is doing is pretty special,” Kershaw said.

And after a day off Saturday, Smith returned to the lineup Sunday with a bang, hitting a high first-inning drive off the left-field foul pole for his first home run of the season.

The weekend didn’t end perfectly for Smith. He struck out on two other key points and threw the ball away while trying to get Corbin Carroll out on back-to-back steals.

But for a player being asked to shoulder a bigger load this year, it was the kind of outburst the Dodgers had been hoping to see, one that hints at a potential breakout season for the fifth-year major leaguer.

Low: Bullpen questions arise

The Dodgers did not have a set closer at the start of the season.

They certainly don’t have one after the weekend.

While the bullpen did well overall, highlighted by a pair of scoreless outings from Evan Phillips and a three-inning save from Andre Jackson, two of his biggest arms suffered losses after tough outings.

Dodgers reliever Brusdar Graterol reacts after giving up the go-ahead run against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.

Dodgers reliever Brusdar Graterol reacts after giving up the go-ahead run against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.

(Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

On Friday, it was Alex Vesia who grounded out against a series of right-handed pinch hitters, giving up a one-run lead on Kyle Lewis’ two-run home run in the eighth inning. On Sunday, Brusdar Graterol couldn’t keep a tie intact in the ninth inning, retiring just two of the six batters he faced and kicking a tricky bunt that scored the winning run.

There aren’t any big concerns coming out of the weekend for either pitcher. But the uncharacteristic blunders highlighted the challenges the Dodgers face as they put together their evolving bullpen plans.

The relief corps should still be a fortress. But in the first weekend it cost them critically on a couple of occasions.

High: Starting pitching continues to shine

One thing that doesn’t seem likely to change about the Dodgers this year: Their starting pitching can be counted on, especially from the core of the rotation.

In the four games, the Dodgers starters allowed just four runs in 25 innings. They combined for 25 strikeouts against just one walk. And after a shift each from Julio Urías, Dustin May, Kershaw and Noah Syndergaard, it’s easy to imagine the club once again with one of the strongest rotations in Major League Baseball.

“You never want to lose games,” Roberts said, “but if you look at how we came out of the first four, I think the starters are continually being built.”

While the Dodgers will have to lean on rookie Michael Grove for the next two weeks as their No. 5 starter, they could also get another major reinforcement at the end of the month.

On Saturday, injured right-hander Tony Gonsolin pitched a bullpen that Roberts described as “really impressive.” And next week, he’s scheduled to face hitters as he continues to target a late-April return to a major league mound.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *