Consider these two baseball lineups:
Gwynn Jr. cf, Herrera 3b, Ethier rf, Van Slyke lf, Sands 1b, DeJesus Jr. 2b, Treanor c, Sellers ss, Capuano p.
Sax 2b, Stubbs 1b, Hatcher lf, Marshall rf, Shelby cf, Davis dh, Dempsey c, Hamilton 3b, Griffin ss (Hershiser p).
Both are pretty limp collections of players, no?
The first looks like a team destined to finish last.
If your baseball memory extends back a quarter of a century, and you can fit those players into their time and place, the second looks like an also-ran club, at best.
The first is the lineup the Dodgers used tonight to defeat the Arizona Diamondbacks 6-1.
The second is the lineup the Dodgers ran out for Game 5 of the 1988 World Series, a game they won 5-2 over the Bash Brothers/Oakland Athletics to clinch the club’s most recent championship.
The current Dodgers and their illustrious forebears have more than a little in common. Both are thoroughly unimpressive groups. On paper. Both have played winning baseball. And if the 2012 Dodgers somehow keep up what they are doing … are they World Series material, as well?
Let’s consider some of the many similarities:
Each has three pretty good starting pitchers: Kershaw, Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly, now; Hershiser, Tim Belcher and Tim O’Leary, then.
Each has two live arms in the bullpen: Kenley Jansen and Javy Guerra, now; Jay Howell and Alejandro Pena, then.
Each is otherwise a collection of talent to which the terms “castoff”, “has-been” and “never-was” could be applied.
And each is overachieving like crazy.
The 1988 Dodgers somehow went 94-67, third-best record in baseball. The 2012 Dodgers are 29-13, the best record in baseball. Both owe it more to their pitching, second-best in the league (in ERA) in each case, than to their league-average hitting.
The 1988 Dodgers got an MVP season from Gibson, who scored 106 runs, drove in 76, hit 25 homers with 28 doubles and stole 31 bases. After him, the next best hitter over the course of the season was Mike Marshall, who hit 20 homers and 27 doubles, drove in 82 and scored 63 times. Then came a really deep drop to whomever you think might have been their third-best hitter. Steve Sax, maybe.
The 2012 Dodgers had Matt Kemp tearing it up, until he got hurt, and one more professional hitter in Andre Ethier. And No. 3? Pick a name.
Both clubs made heavy use of “role players” (to give their limited talents a positive spin). Both clubs have only a handful of guys who play every day.
For the 1988 Dodgers, only Sax, Mike Scioscia and John Shelby played in 130 games — in addition to Gibson and Marshall. For the 2012 Dodgers, only Dee Gordon, Mark Ellis, James Loney and Tony Gwynn Jr. have played in at least 35 games — in addition to Kemp and Ethier.
In either case, the Dodgers were running all sorts of random guys in and out of the lineup. Some of the names from 1988: Jeff Hamilton, Mike Davis, Mickey Hatcher, Rick Dempsey. Some of the names from 2012: A.J. Ellis, Matt Treanor, Juan Uribe, Juan Rivera, Adam Kennedy.
One of the reasons the 1988 Dodgers still come up in the discussion of “worst World Series winners” is that few of the players on that team had serious careers. It would be difficult to project that many from 2012 will, either.
Those 1988 Dodgers can serve as an inspiration to the 2012 Dodgers. Perhaps it already has been remarked upon, talked about. For me, the connection popped into my head when looking at recent Dodgers lineups and trying to turn those names into 29-13. It makes no sense. Neither did the 1988 Dodgers.
Both teams very much are “the whole is greater than its parts” clubs, so far.
This Dodgers team, in fact, if it can keep up its winning ways, is almost perfectly constructed to bring back fans and support in Southern California that was squandered during the second half of the McCourt Regime.
Fans like the idea of Matt Treanor being a hero. Or Scott Van Slyke. Or even Bobby Abreu, the player the Angels liked so much that they waived him.
When guys like that win games, it becomes easy to attach endearing concepts like “scrappy” and “gamer” to them. And fans like that, the idea of people with marginal talent succeeding.
These Dodgers certainly are not impressive. They might be if three of their players (Scott Van Slyke, Tony Gwynn Jr., Ivan DeJesus Jr.) were ballplayers as capable as their fathers were. Or if Loney ever had amounted to much. Or if so many guys weren’t already hurt.
But at 29-13, they could go 59-61 from here on out and finish 88-74, which very well could be good enough to win a weak NL West, and put them into the postseason.
They would need some magic from their stars to advance, but the 1988 Dodgers got the Gibson walkoff homer in Game 1 of the World Series and the two great Hershiser outings, and they won the whole thing.
These Dodgers seem to have the same sort of DNA as that team did. It isn’t the way to bet, and “regression to the mean” probably best describes their prospects … but perhaps they could end up touched by fate, like that 1988 club was.