The Dodgers are ready to defend their National League Championship title, but this time around they will have to battle the Brewers and not the Cubs. The Dodgers knocked out a very promising young Braves team on Monday night in Atlanta, a club that is sure to factor into the postseason for years to come. Manny Machado was the player of the game, driving in four runs to help the Dodgers clinch the series with a 6-2 win.
Now Manny and the Dodgers will turn their focus to Milwaukee, a team who was one of several teams pursuing Machado before the July non-waiver trade deadline. The Dodgers got Manny in a blockbuster trade, while the Brewers snatched up NL MVP frontrunner Christian Yelich prior to the season. Now the two talented superstars will battle it out against each other to get to the Fall Classic.
Ten years after the original Manny (Ramirez) became one of the most successful late-season acquisitions in Dodgers history, the front office traded for the most sought-after bat available on the market in mid-summer to make a late-season push toward their sixth consecutive NL West division title.
Machado’s hyped up Dodgers debut, which took place ironically in Milwaukee, lived up to all the expectations. He reached base four times, hitting two singles and walking twice in the 6-4 win over the Brewers.
The Dodgers were only the second major-league team Machado played for since being drafted by the Orioles in 2010 and making his MLB debut at the tender age of 19. After his Dodgers debut, Machado’s numbers slipped. He slashed .273/.338/.487/.825 with 13 home runs and a 121 wRC+ in 66 games, a significant decrease in overall production from his first 96 games with Baltimore (.315/.387/.575/.963 with 24 home runs and a 155 wRC+). He struck out 5.6% more in LA and walked 2.5 % less. His defense at shortstop, that looked surprisingly better than the metrics suggested, was arguably not worth his price alone without the offensive production. Even his seemingly lack of hustle on routine groundouts was magnified.
The Dodgers acquired Machado in order to shore up the infield and provide offense with the absence of their All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, lost for the year after Tommy John surgery. Machado never hit a Ramirez type stride. OG Manny wowed with a 1.232 OPS and 17 home runs over 53 games in late 2008.
Despite the inconsistencies at the plate, LA fans finally got a taste of what Mannywood 2.0 was supposed to be in September. He helped trim the Dodgers’ magic number to 7 for the NL West division title with his three-run home run off Jacob Nix during a five-run third inning, propelling the Dodgers to a 7-2 win over the Padres on his bobblehead night.
Dedicating a bobblehead night to Machado was a questionable promotion considering he had only been with the Dodgers for a brief time and was offensively disappointing since the All-Star break trade. Dave Roberts indicated that Manny could be pressing as a result of adjusting to pitchers in a new league, a transition that doesn’t happen seamlessly with all traded players. His on-base plus slugging percentage with the Dodgers in the regular season ended 138 points lower than it was in Baltimore, and he struggled against right-handed pitching (.253 average vs. RHP in 66 games as a Dodger).
Machado’s iconic bobblehead homer was his 100th RBI of the season, a career-high, on a night that also saw the Dodgers set a new franchise record with 222 home runs on the season. Joc Pederson and Yasmani Grandal also went deep later in the game.
Machado had lofty expectations looming over him going into October. He came into Game 4 of the NLDS just 1-for-12 in the series. He did crush an important two-run home run in Game 2, but that seemed to be quickly forgotten as he swung at balls far out of the zone in the series, racking up seven strikeouts.
Social media is a powerful method of immediate discussion and dissection nowadays, and there’s no question Machado had at least seen or heard about some of the criticism spreading across Twitter and the internet.
Machado was acquired by the Dodgers’ front office exactly for this scenario. The Dodgers were facing a tight NL West race, and he was expected to perform at the highest level in order to lead the Dodgers back to the World Series. Coming into the playoffs, Machado had been good but still underwhelming as far as elite players are concerned, spurring the backlash and criticism from Dodger fans.
Ramirez, who also donned trademark hair, never got a shot at the World Series with the Dodgers. Those Dodger teams infamously fell to the Phillies four games to one in both the 2008 and 2009 NLCS. Now Machado has his own postseason legacy to carve out, and he’s peaking at just the right time.
Machado looked locked in during Game 4 of the NLDS, hitting the ball hard in all of his plate appearances. He finally got his ‘Manny Moment” with his epic three-run home run in Game 4. Now all eyes turn to Milwaukee for perhaps the biggest series of his career. His performance this postseason could solely be what defines his time with the Dodgers.
Manny has been plagued with inconsistency since joining the Dodgers, but the Dodgers themselves as a whole have battled inconsistency throughout the entire season. Inconsistency could be the theme of the 2018 Dodgers. Now Manny and his teammates have found a groove at just the right time, but they still have work to be done to get back to the World Series in order to find redemption from the Game 7 loss. The stinging loss still lives with them, at least a little bit, even if they don’t want to admit it.
Machado is looking to get paid handsomely this offseason, whether it’s with the Dodgers or somewhere else. He really didn’t have much opportunity to play on the biggest stage in October with the Orioles, but now he has the platform to prove his worth as an elite player in a large market atmosphere. He has the infectious smile to light up Dodger Stadium, but the Dodgers look to his bat to light up their opponent.