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Is This the Dodgers’ Year?

October 4th, 2018 · No Comments · Baseball, Dodgers

Probably not. But at least they are in there with a chance.

Dodgers fans have been waiting for a World Series championship since 1988, when Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson led them to glory.

The notion that winning the National League West would translate to World Series victory … well, that has not quite worked out: The Dodgers won the division in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, and only one of those teams got to what Tommy Lasorda always insisted was “the Fall Classic”.

So the fact that the Dodgers have run that NL West mastery to six straight seasons, well, it doesn’t have Dodgers fans planning victory parades. The club may be the best in the NL West, but their inability to seal the deal has led to a sense that they lack that something special to carry them to the top.

Can they overcome that?

A case can be made that the Dodgers have the most flexible team in baseball history, and that has served them well in 2018, when they overcame a 16-26 start to finish 92-71 — including their 163rd-game title-deciding game win over the Colorado Rockies.

Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez can play nearly any position. Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Austin Barnes and Manny Machado all can play at least two positions comfortably.

It gives manager Dave Roberts options most other managers do not have.

Most all of the Dodgers’ position players have another valuable skill: An ability to put baseballs in the seats. Only the New York Yankees hit more home runs than the Dodgers this season, and the lightning bolt of a homer looms when just about any of them is in the batter’s box.

But all the flexibility in the world does not make up for performing when the stakes are highest, and the Dodgers have not quite managed that over the previous 31 seasons.

Some of it is about Clayton Kershaw, one of the greatest pitchers the club has produced — though you wouldn’t know it from his postseason performances. He is 7-7 in his career, with an ERA of 4.35. He battled another spate of back trouble again this season, too.

That makes the club’s decision to start Hyun-jin Ryu in Game 1 tonight a lot less controversial than it would have been a year ago.

Ryu is the club’s hottest pitcher, and that is the guy you want in Game 1 of a best-of-five series. Kershaw backers are not going nuts, however, because their hero will start Game 2 and would be set up to go again in Game 5, on normal rest, if the series lasts that long.

One other mainstay of the pitching staff also has a question mark attached to him, as the series opens, and that is closer Kenley Jansen, who has been rocky for a month — or since medical staff diagnosed the return of a heart condition that will apparently lead to offseason surgery.

Jansen gave up two home runs in the Monday game with Colorado, and has allowed seven long balls in 9.1 innings since missing a week, early last month. To be sure, he remains the Dodgers’ best option out of the bullpen, but there is a hint of vulnerability to him, which is a concern given that the rest of the ever-changing bullpen was rocky most of the season.

Even now, it is not quite clear who would pitch the sixth, seventh or eighth innings. Probably some combination of Scott Alexander, Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling and Pedro Baez. If the Dodgers are up by a run late … well, their fans are going to be nervous. Hopeful, but nervous.

The baseball postseason is notorious for producing heroes from among the ranks of journeymen, and perhaps it is a promising sign that the Dodgers in many ways are a team of journeymen — veterans who know their stuff and have a grasp for the wider game.

Max Muncy might be the leading character there. Muncy did not spend a single day in the Major Leagues a year ago, but this season he was called up and became their most productive hitter over his 137 games, leading the club with 35 home runs. A MLB-best homer every 11.1 at-bats.

Another wild card in the mix could be Yasiel Puig, who has had great moments in his career but not a great series, never a lengthy stretch where he fulfilled the promise he brought with him to the team in 2013 — as a guy who could be one of the greatest players in baseball.

The good news here is the Dodgers are in with a chance to win the World Series. Can’t win it if you don’t reach the playoffs, and the club did so, even though it looked unlikely for a time, following the 106-win victory march of the 2017 season.

The bad news is, they have seemed to find inventive ways to fall short, in their previous five appearances, including last season, when they could not win two high-scoring games and then fell in Game 7, at home, when Yu Darvish went to the mound and had nothing.

The other dark clouds on the horizon? They likely would meet the hottest team in the National League, the Milwaukee Brewers, in the NL Championship Series.

If they survive that, they are nearly certain to face one of three American League teams that each won at least 100 games this season — Boston, New York and the defending champion Houston Astros.

The Dodgers would be underdogs in any series against one of those three, or the Brewers.

Knowing that they are not widely expected to win a World Series, for the first time since 1988, perhaps might be liberating.

Luck certainly is involved, when plowing through three multi-game series. The club had a lot of that in 1988; maybe it is their turn to draw an ace or two at the most propitious moments.


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