(1) Will the Dodgers live up to lofty expectations?
Under the new ownership group figureheaded by Los Angeles sports legend Magic Johnson, the Dodgers have shown a commitment to shelling out boatloads of money to ensure competitiveness in the National League West this season and in the future. Complete with a new $223 million roster and a recently renovated stadium, the Dodgers are hoping to put behind them the horror that was the final few years of the McCourts' ownership of the franchise.
Matt Kemp hopes to play a full season and lead the team on offense after injuries derailed his quest for a 50/50 season in 2012, and Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Hanley Ramirez (who will be out with injures for a significant portion of the season) had all of the offseason and spring training to gel with the organization after being thrust into a high-pressure situation last July.
Nevertheless, a high payroll is no guarantee for success, and the Dodgers will have to slug through a 162-game regular season just like the other 29 teams. If they struggle, the public scrutiny will be swift and fierce, and the pressure to win will build rapidly on manager Don Mattingly. That might force more knee-jerk moves by the franchise consumed with a win-now attitude.
(2) How will the starting rotation fare?
Clayton Kershaw, fresh off a second-place NL Cy Young finish in 2012 (not to mention his winning the award in 2011), will continue to anchor the rotation, and newcomer Zack Greinke, who has posted sub-4 ERAs each of his last two seasons after a shaky 2010, will back him up. After that, though, question marks begin to emerge. Josh Beckett pitched well in his seven starts with the Dodgers last fall, but that's too small a sample size to assume he'll return to what he was during his best years. Chad Billingsley (10-9, 149 IP, 3.55 ERA in 2012) will be effective for a fourth starter, but he won't be a difference maker for the Dodgers. He'll start the season on the 15-day DL, but is expected to return before his first scheduled start. Hyun-Jin Ryu has shown promise abroad, but success for foreign pitchers in the MLB has proven over the years to be hit and miss.
The Dodgers' rotation has the potential to be one of the deepest in baseball, but it remains to be seen what forms of these pitchers will show up in 2013.
(3) Will the Dodgers avoid injures?
Matt Kemp missed 57 games to injury last year, seriously hamstringing the team's efforts to make a deep playoff run. Already, shortstop Hanley Ramirez is expected to be out until the middle of May thanks to thumb surgery. Carl Crawford is coming off of Tommy John surgery, and that might exacerbate his decline in performance over the last couple of years. Furthermore, starting pitcher Ted Lilly has been placed back on the DL after a setback with surgery on his labrum, and it is unclear when he'll return.
The Dodgers already have a number of injury concerns on their radar, as most clubs do, but they will need to avoid hard-hitting injuries to players like Kemp, Gonzalez, and Andre Ethier to keep themselves in the NL West race with the defending-champion Giants again in 2013. So far, they're not off to a great start in that regard.
(4) How will the Dodgers match up with the Giants?
The MLB wasted no time in treating California to one of the game's better rivalries, pitting the Dodgers against the Giants to open the season. The first game will feature one of the league's most enchanting pitching matchups, with Clayton Kershaw and Matt Cain squaring off. Pitching figures to be a strength for both teams this year, and they will have an opportunity this week to gauge how they can fare against top competition throughout the season. These games might end in low scores, but they're sure to be competitive and fiery, and if either team sweeps this opening series, it will set a mental and emotional tone in the rivalry for the rest of the campaign.