The World Series “rematch” between the Dodgers and Astros stirred up a lot of emotions. The pain of Game 7 still feels raw. It’s been nearly a year, and the Dodgers are battling for first place, looking to win the opportunity to get another shot at that elusive top prize. The players are now the ones who can write their own ending for this season, the blank pages bound and readied by the front office.
The first thing many have done after the last five postseasons is to place blame on the front office. They’re an easy target considering they are the ones constructing the roster and making the deals that bring the players to the Dodgers. Barring any August trades, the front office has done their job. At this juncture in L.A. Dodgers history, fresh off a World Series defeat, the players are the ones who need to step up and perform to expectations and take it to that rare level of championship performance.
Yu Darvish and his disastrous 21.60 ERA in the World Series last year, has been called a mistake acquisition by those who decry the names of Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi. It seems way too easy to forget this same front office was the one that assembled the best team in baseball, at least when it came to record, last year. It was arguably the most talented team in Dodgers’ history.
Fast forward to this season, and the lineup is dripping with even more talent. Losing Corey Seager to Tommy John Surgery was a huge loss to the team, but the front office did everything they could to bring top notch talent back to the middle infield with their acquisitions of Manny Machado and Brian Dozier. This was all done while retaining their top prospects in their farm system and staying under the luxury tax threshold.
Not only does the front office go after elite talent at a reasonable return, they have made some moves that paid off more than anyone expected after they took over from Ned Colletti and company. They seem to have a keen eye for undervalued players who have been written off.
The resurgent 123 wRC+ season of Matt Kemp was a key trade made by the front office that yielded an outcome no one could have expected. The trade that brought Yasmani Grandal, who slugged .727 in July, to the Dodgers is another often overlooked deal that improved their catching talent immensely. Grandal’s one of the most powerful hitting catchers in all of baseball, and he was brought to L.A. by Friedman and Farhan. Paradoxically, they now have both Kemp and Grandal, just like it was written up.
Another significant acquisition that the management doesn’t get more praise for is the one that netted Chris Taylor in exchange for Zach Lee. Taylor’s hit 34 home runs as a Dodger after hitting one major-league home run in 233 at-bats with the Seattle Mariners. Taylor was the NLCS Co-MVP with Turner after hitting .316 with two home runs in the series.
Then there’s Max Muncy’s break out season. Muncy and his 24 home runs is thanks to the front office who took a chance on the Oakland A’s castoff. He seemingly came out of nowhere and is now worth 3.5 WAR. Good pickup, in my opinion. They do seem to have the knack of discovering these tossed aside talents and/or non-roster players like Justin Turner and Muncy who turn into bonafide major-leaguers for the Dodgers.
There’s still question marks and health concerns. Turner’s been hampered by injuries this year, and he still hasn’t hit a stride. Kemp and Muncy have been in slumps, and the Dodgers’ success in the second half depends a lot on their ability to stay healthy and turn recent offensive skids around. Machado isn’t quite firing on all cylinders as a Dodger just yet either. With 49 regular season games left in the season, they’ll need those guys to hit like they did in the first half.
The team’s other weak spot, one that may rear its ugly head as we close in on the postseason, is the proverbial ‘Bridge to Kenley.’ It’s still rickety at times. The front office didn’t bring back setup guy Brandon Morrow or acquire a Zach Britton or Brad Hand. There’s no doubt that this bullpen has its flaws, but they did add some reinforcements with Dylan Floro, Daniel Hudson and the newly acquired Rick Honeycutt project, John Axford. I don’t think they’ll give up on Axford already even after his dreadful Dodger debut Saturday night against the Astros.
The starting and relief corps looks to be more of a mix n’ match situation, and the Dodgers will definitely have some decisions to make down the stretch. They have several starters like Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling, Rich Hill, Caleb Ferguson, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Julio Urias who could potentially be used out of the bullpen. Alex Wood landed on the 10-day disabled list Saturday with left adductor tendonitis. When healthy, Wood could be shifted to the bullpen if needed as well.
The Dodgers have a lot of arms and could potentially add another this month, although unlikely. They’ll need to hone in on their most effective use of their pitching staff over these final two months of the regular season in order shape a successful and reliable starting rotation and bullpen for the postseason.
Kershaw’s postseason legacy is still a work in progress. Being that it is an opt-out year for Kersh, the tough reality is that it could be his final shot at a World Series victory in Dodger Blue. Injuries have interrupted the great Dodgers ace in recent years, but his tenacity on the mound hasn’t wavered. Winning the World Series with Kershaw’s dominance at its peak could eclipse all the postseason disappointments of the past.
Despite all the complaining, the Dodgers lead the NL in ERA (3.53), WHIP (1.19), and strikeouts (1,079). The bullpen has the third-most strikeouts in the league (438) with a 3.85 ERA (8th). The bullpen showed some improvement in the second half, but Axford’s outing on Saturday increased their combined ERA up to 4.45 since the break. Despite the atrocious Axford appearance, Dodger relievers have been striking out batters at a 9.88 K/9 clip since the break.
The Dodgers went all the way to the threshold of a World Series title last season, and this year the goal remains the same as it does every season. The question that remains is whether the front office has done enough to get them back to the Fall Classic.
Offensively they’re stacked, but baseball is a cruel and torturous pastime. This Voltron of a team scored 21 runs on Thursday vs. Milwaukee, but then they disengaged and only scored 4 runs in the three-game series against the Astros this weekend.
Baseball is fickle. Sometimes it seems as though when things go wrong, they really go wrong.
There’s always some sort of obstacle the Dodgers have to face and fail to overcome in the postseason. There was Hanley Ramirez’s broken ribs in 2013, Clayton Kershaw’s disastrous meltdown in Game 1 of the 2014 NLDS, Zack Greinke’s inability to cover third base resulting in Daniel Murphy’s rare steal against the shift in Game 5 of the 2015 NLCS, the failure to dethrone MLB’s golden child Chicago Cubs in 2016, and then the Darvish fiasco in the 2017 World Series and offensive shortcomings in Game 7. There always seems to be something unpredictable that pops up, and in the last five postseason runs they haven’t been able to beat those demons on the diamond.
We can argue over Darvish being a front office mistake, but many of the shortcomings that led to postseason exits by the Dodgers over the last five years have been due to the players’ inability to get the job done on the field.
It was the Dodgers’ players who were outplayed by the Astros’ players on the field, but the blame still fell upon the front office. Many questioned why they didn’t go out and get Cole Hamels, David Price, Ryan Braun, or Andrew Miller. I admittedly wanted the Dodgers to get Cole Hamels back in 2014, but to do that they would have had to give up many of the top prospects that have made integral impacts on the major league team like Joc Pederson, Corey Seager and Julio Urias.
I’ve never been a Braun fan, so the notion of trading for him was never something that I felt would be of the Dodgers’ best interest especially if it cost a Cody Bellinger or more. Hindsight is always 20/20, but ironically the Dodgers have the true 2011 MVP back in the outfield smashing baseballs, even if he is in a slump.
The Tom Koehler injury was unfortunate, but again, no one could have predicted he would not pitch for the Dodgers at all in 2018.
Should the Dodgers get there, the playoffs will once again be a crapshoot. That’s no different than any other year. The difference this season is that the Dodgers have the improved Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies to best in the NL West before they can take on the other strong NL teams like the Phillies, Braves, Brewers, and of course the Cubs. Then they would have to battle a juggernaut in the World Series, likely the Astros, Red Sox or Yankees. Seems like the easier way would have been to win it all last time around, but here we are.
It won’t be easy, but the front office has shaped the team so that they have the depth to compete not only this year, but for years to come. So far they’ve made moves to bolster nearly every position, even if marginally.
Now the ball is literally in the court of the players. It’s their job - after all they make millions to do so - to bring back a championship to L.A. once and for all.