With the Dodgers as perennial World Series contenders over the past decade or so, it’s been a common topic to discuss the merits of labeling a season a success or a failure, based on postseason results.
Ultimately, I am of the belief that a cautious and ultimately level-headed approach is needed. No one wants to hear this at the heels of a postseason exit, but yeah, often times the best team may fall because that’s just the way it is.
All that being said, it doesn’t mean one cannot take lessons from October failures, and it certainly doesn’t make it less hurtful for the fan base.
Since 2019 we could venture, the Dodgers have entered the playoffs as the team to beat in the postseason, or at the very least as good as any favorite. In 2019, 2021, and 2022, it didn’t go their way.
Looking at this 2023 team, it is important to gain perspective on where this team currently is, where it was before the season, and what are realistic expectations for the postseason.
I’m not here to portray an image of the underdog, and that hey, now that they’ve got this far whatever comes in October is a bonus. Far from it. However, let’s look at some facts.
Coming into the season, weren’t the San Diego Padres right up there with the Dodgers to win the West? According to most analysts, definitely.
No one was treating LA as the team to win the division in the fashion that it has, and yet they went out and did that, and not because everything went their way. They simply found ways.
Clayton Kershaw once again missed significant time due to injuries, and who knows what he’ll be able to deliver down the stretch.
Tony Gonsolin had regressed significantly based on where he was last season, and was also lost to Tommy John surgery down the stretch.
Dustin May didn’t even make double-digit starts before his year was done. A couple of months into the season, the team lost a burgeoning ace-caliber arm to another elbow surgery.
Julio Urías was also having his worst season yet, before his terrible repeat incident which will most likely result in a heavy suspension under MLB’s joint domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy next year, in a simply pitiful scenario.
Gavin Lux, who was set to replace Trea Turner at shortstop, blew out his knee in spring and was lost for the year. Miguel Vargas was never able to solidify himself as the team’s primary second baseman.
Had I told you all these things would happen before the year started, it would only solidify the majority of takes that had the Padres winning the NL West.
Surely plenty went right as well, most notably Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts putting up numbers which will leave them as maybe the best one-two punch of our generation, across a single season.
This is just to illustrate that the Dodgers did, in fact, overcome a tremendous amount of adversity, and that the current roster entering October might not be the juggernaut of year’s past.
Expectations must be managed for a team on pace to win 95+ games, and that’s because when you look at this pitching staff, do you really see what you’ve been used to?
Kershaw is clearly banged up, and the Dodgers are just hoping he makes it through the end of the year unscathed because if you look beyond him, here’s what you see.
A veteran right-hander with the most home runs in baseball by a wide margin in Lance Lynn. And while those numbers have improved as a Dodger, as we’ve seen lately, Lynn is still very susceptible to the long ball.
Beyond Lynn, you have Bobby Miller as the big hope. While in year’s past, the Dodgers have been able to use even high-performing rookies as surplus, Miller is about the surest thing in this rotation these days.
Buehler ain’t pitching until 2024, so beyond Miller, Kershaw, and Lynn, if you want depth we’re at looking at the likes of Ryan Pepiot, Gavin Stone, Ryan Yarbrough, and Emmett Sheehan.
On the hitting side of things, the situation is a little more promising, especially with a healthy J.D. Martínez.
The goal is to win it all, but for the first time in quite a while, the Dodgers are likely to enter a potential postseason matchup as the underdog, as the Atlanta Braves are playing at an insane level.
Who knows what will actually happen? We expected a Braves-Dodgers matchup last season, and the Padres and Phillies had other plans. Postseason baseball is unpredictable.
This is just about as good a time as any to remind ourselves of all that this team went through, and how it is most definitely a success to be where they are right now, despite it all.