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Simulating the 2020 Dodgers season using a video game

There are no real Dodger games right now, so follow along with fictional ones with my dad and me on OOTP! Part 1 of an ongoing series.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Hello True Blue LA! My name is Pete Volk, and I cannot tell you how excited I am to be making my blogging debut around these parts. I’ve worked at SB Nation for nearly a decade in a variety of roles, but my relationship with the network spans back even further. When I was 12, my family moved from LA to Norway. My dad and I are lifelong Dodgers fans, and we needed some sort of connection to that fandom from across the Atlantic Ocean. Luckily, we found True Blue LA, and have been loyal readers ever since (hi Dad!). I never could have imagined I’d end up writing here, and despite over a decade of professional sports writing, this is actually my first foray into writing professionally about my favorite sports team.

With the complete absence of baseball in our lives this March, we’ve been missing our Dodgers terribly. My dad had an idea — let’s play through the 2020 season in Out of the Park Baseball 21, following the real schedule and posting updates. So last night we loaded up a video call and my copy of OOTP 21, did some pre-season roster changes and played out Opening Day vs. the Giants. That game was originally scheduled for this afternoon, and I hope for some of you fictional baseball is at least an acceptable replacement for real baseball.

I’m going to continue to post updates as we progress through the season. Please feel free to share your thoughts and complaints about our decision-making in the comments.

Roster moves

To start things off, here are the goals given to us by the ownership group. Nothing too surprising: they want the Dodgers to compete for championships and to extend Clayton Kershaw’s contract. We agree on those points!

Here’s what the default 26-man roster looks like for the Dodgers when you load up OOTP 21. For those unfamiliar with the game, “OVR” is short for Overall and is a 1-5 star rating system that tells us how good our scouts think these players are. As you can see, Mookie Betts is considered our best player, followed by Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Walker Buehler (who edges out Clayton Kershaw for the team’s best pitcher, per our scouts). I’ve spared you the much larger image with the player’s various ratings, but if you’re curious how specific players rate, let me know in the comments.

So there are a few things we want to do right away. For starters, we’ll DFA Tyler White, just like the Dodgers did in real life, and call up Matt Beatty as our backup first baseman, giving us a left-handed bat off the bench. One other straight forward move: sending down Adam Kolarek for Scott Alexander (this was my dad’s call, and his reasoning was Kolarek is more of a lefty specialist while Alexander can pitch against batters from either side of the plate).

The difficult decisions had to do with service time manipulation. I hate when teams do this in real life, but video game Brusdar Graterol doesn’t have any bills to pay, so he’s getting sent down to AAA for a little while, with Dylan Floro joining the 26-man roster.

The harder choice was Gavin Lux. The default starting lineup had him as the every day second baseman, but we have two other adequate options in Chris Taylor and Kiké Hernández (side note: my favorite current Dodger, and we share a birthday down to the year). We considered sending him down to AAA, but ultimately there weren’t any options to call-up that seemed deserving of major league time (besides Tyler White, who we had just DFA’d — oops!), so we elected to keep Gavin with the big league squad.

Next was setting up our lineups, rotation and bullpen.

The fictional Dodgers’ 2020 starting lineup. Betts (9), Muncy (3), Turner (5), Bellinger (8), Pederson (7), Smith (8) and Lux (4). Against lefties, the last three are Pollock (7), Lux (4), and Smith (8).

We’re platooning in left field, and had planned on doing so at second base, but it turns out Lux is just about as good against lefties as he is against righties, so we’re keeping him there.

Our starting rotation is Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, David Price, Julio Urias and Ross Stripling. The default had Buehler as the Opening Day starter (and one more difference we’ll talk about in a second), but we gave Kershaw the #1 nod.

And here’s the bullpen:

The fictional Dodgers’ bullpen, with Kenley Jansen, Blake Treinen, Pedro Baez, Joe Kelly, Alex Wood, Scott Alexander, Dylan Floro and Caleb Ferguson

We took one pretty big chance here — moving Alex Wood to the bullpen as a setup guy, and putting Ross Stripling in the starting rotation. We did this for two reasons — one, our scouts say our bullpen is our biggest weak spot, and Wood should be a significant upgrade over Scott Alexander and Caleb Ferguson, and two, because with Stripling we no longer have four lefties in the rotation. Our main concern making this move is Wood’s morale, which right now is “Good,” but we’ll keep an eye on that as the season continues.

That wraps up our opening roster moves, time for Game 1 against the Giants!

Opening Day

After a 1-2-3 first inning for Kershaw, Max Muncy delivered with our first hit, run and lead of the season with a solo shot off of Kevin Gausman in the bottom of the first, making it 1-0 Dodgers. Our soaring morale came to a grinding halt soon after, when with two outs in the top of the second, Evan Longoria reached base on a Corey Seager error and Kershaw had to come out of the game with a very early injury. We don’t know the extent of the injury yet — even after the game, Kershaw is still being diagnosed.

We elected to bring in Wood, newly a set-up man but now pressed back basically into starting duties. Wood loaded the bases with one out by walking Billy Hamilton and Buster Posey. He then threw a wild patch to Wilmer Flores, scoring the pitcher Kevin Gausman and tying the game 1-1. Later in the at-bat, Flores sent a shallow fly ball into left field, and if it was literally any base runner but Hamilton, I’m certain Joc Pederson would have nailed him at home plate. Unfortunately, the runner was indeed Hamilton, and the Giants took the lead 2-1.

In the bottom of the third, Muncy once again came through for us with a two-out single that made it through the shift on the right side. Justin Turner followed up with a double to right-center field, scoring Muncy and tying the game 2-2.

From there, the game got quiet for the next few innings. Wood pitched through the fifth inning, ending his day with 3⅓ innings pitched, two runs (one earned), two hits, three strikeouts and three walks. He was starting to tire, so we brought in Caleb Ferguson to pitch the sixth. Ferguson pitched two perfect innings with three strikeouts, bringing the 2-2 tie into the bottom of the seventh.

Corey Seager led off the seventh with a walk, and with one out Will Smith singled him to third. Gavin Lux rewarded our faith in him with a deep fly ball to center, scoring Seager on the sac fly and giving the Dodgers a 3-2 lead.

From that point, it was up to our bullpen — our greatest weakness, according to the scouts — to close the door, because the Dodger offense provided next to nothing for the rest of the game. We brought in Pedro Baez to pitch the eighth, but after walking the second batter we decided it was time for Blake Treinen’s Dodger debut. One problem: we completely forgot about the new pitcher usage rules that required Baez to face three batters. The third batter, Wilmer Flores, reached base on an error, and we brought in Treinen with two on and one out. Thankfully, Treinen induced a double play out of Austin Slater, ending the inning and keeping the lead intact.

Kenley Jansen came in to pitch the ninth, and after hitting Mike Yastrzemski to start off the inning, he calmed down significantly to close it out. Evan Longoria grounded into a double play, and Brandon Crawford popped out to third to end the game 3-2 and give the Dodgers an Opening Day win.

Here’s the final box score:

Thanks all! Feedback appreciated in the comments. There’s also a decent chance I will be streaming future sessions (including the games) live, so follow me on Twitch if you’re interested!