OK, the timing and subject of this piece might seem weird considering there are bigger fish to fry today, but hear me out …
First things first: In the world that I’d prefer to live the rest of my life, I still don’t want to see the designated hitter in the National League, primarily for reasons I discussed here. But I’m going to admit that over the past year, I’ve been worn down on this, partly because so many pitchers themselves have completely given up on trying to hit, partly because there are newer, even more cockamamie rules that I’m more eager to get rid of. (Maybe later this year, I’ll write about my grand distaste for the year-old runner-on-second rule in extra innings.)
But in the wake of the exciting reports Thursday about the Dodgers’ apparent acqusition of Max Scherzer and Trea Turner — reports that others are covering at length — I have a more selfish reason to want the DH to arrive in the NL by 2022.
It might be the only way Corey Seager returns to the Dodgers.
We can all acknowledge the value of adding depth to the Dodger pitching staff, let alone the thrill that someone like Max Scherzer would bring,
But some of the Dodgers’ most important midseason trades haven’t been superstars like Yu Darvish or Manny Machado. I’m thinking about guys like Marlon Anderson, Ronnie Belliard, Chase Utley and David Freese. Guys who were role players and/or past their prime, but had a huge domino effect.
This is Dave Roberts’ managerial record with the Dodgers through 162 x 5 games:
2016: 91-71 (.562), NL West champion
2017: 104-58 (.642), NL champion
2018: 92-71 (.564), NL champion
2019: 106-56 (.654), NL West champion
2020-21: 104-57 (.646), World Series champion in 2020
Total: 497-313 (.614), five division titles, three pennants, one World Series
Since 2019, Roberts has essentially produced back-to-back seasons of more than 100 wins, including a World Series title. He has won at least 100 games three times in the equivalent of five seasons. At present, he ranks seventh in major-league history in winning percentage. This week, he will likely win his 500th game, all before turning 50.
The Irony Committee-approved irony about publishing a story about Roberts’ record today is that he would have already hit the impressive 500-win milestone, if not for last week’s unfortunate Dodger meltdowns.
In this year’s new edition of 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, you won’t find very many hot takes. Depending on how you feel about things, you might not find any.
But maybe the closest that I come to offering one is in the book’s new chapter on Roberts, when I make the case that the Dodger manager is on an early path to reach the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Yeah, that’s right.
Let me qualify things in a hurry. First of all, “early” is “early.” Roberts still has a lot to do before he would even be considered for Cooperstown. For all I know, his managerial career could end in three months, and this discussion becomes a speck of dust on the basepath of life.
Second, whether Roberts would be elected is a separate question from whether he is deserving. He could be elected without being deserving, and he could be deserving without being elected.
Nevertheless, it actually seems pretty obvious to me that on his current trajectory, Roberts would be enshrined in the Hall, and the only controversy inherent in this news is that it will come as a shock to a number of fans — perhaps Dodger fans more than any others.
And maybe, just maybe, that means there’s more to Roberts than the managerial decisions that infuriate so many.
To back up my belief, here’s what I wrote about Roberts in 100 Things Dodgers before the season began. I’ll add more thoughts after this excerpt.
Here is a list of every starting pitcher over the past 25 years (two or more starts) that the Dodgers have acquired at midseason, along with the players the Dodgers gave up to get them:
So, the novel that I first described here in 2018 and updated here and here and here in 2019 and here at the end of 2020 … is done. Or, at least, it’s as done as these things get before someone agrees to publish them.
And that’s where things are right now. I have an agent who has begun to pitch the novel to editors, and I’m in the rather nauseating stage of waiting for one or more to bite. I even wonder whether it’s bad luck, bad karma or bad form to talk about it at this stage, but here I go.
On the one hand, 12 Dodger teams have won more of their first 91 games than the 2021 Dodgers have. On the other hand, only one of those 12 teams won a World Series, so it’s not a significant measuring stick.
More to my point, while it’s easy to be disappointed that the ’21 Dodgers haven’t matched the pace of the ’20 Dodgers or the ’21 San Francisco Giants, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this year’s Dodgers have excelled. Playing .615 ball heading into the All-Star Break is no small accomplishment.
In a sense, the question is to pick your poison. Is it better for your postseason dreams to be a 47-40 team with a four-game lead in your division like the New York Mets, or a 56-35 team with a two-game deficit like the Dodgers? Would you rather be a better team but face a higher chance of Let them eat wild card?
A.J. Pollock is hitting better against right-handed pitching this season (.819 OPS) than Gavin Lux (.769 OPS).
And Pollock is destroying left-handed pitching (.911 OPS), while Lux is downright Joc Pederson-esque (.414 OPS).
Pollock is a streaky hitter — Lux might be as well — and as we’ve learned the hard way, a lot can change while waiting for a player to come off the injured list. But right now, it looks very much like that Lux is going to be the one who will be essentially displaced from the starting lineup when Corey Seager makes his way back to the Dodgers, sometime this month if all goes to plan.
Though Corey Seager is still sidelined for weeks thanks to the hand that rocked the baseball, within a week the Dodgers are expecting to get a major reinforcement with the return of Cody Bellinger, not to mention a key boost from Zack McKinstry.
For a team that has struggled to get production from the back end of its roster, these infusions will have a major impact. Bellinger has played in only four of the team’s 45 games this season, and even while establishing himself as an early season sensation (142 OPS+), McKinstry has only appeared in 17.
Always a streaky hitter, Bellinger might require time to get back into the groove, while the promising McKinstry still needs to prove how productive he can be over the long term. Nevertheless, here’s a quick look at how this revival of the Suite Life of Zach and Cody will transform the Dodger squad we’ve been watching the past month.
Exciting news! For the first time since 2013, a new edition of my book, 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, is about to be released. Updated to include events leading up to the Dodgers’ World Series title, the 2021 version officially publishes June 1, and you can preorder now!
Ever since the first edition came out in 2009, I have always aspired for this book to be the ideal resource for any fan of the Dodgers: young or old, casual or passionate, focused on the present or the past. And now, I can finally say the book has caught up to the most eventful decade of the past half-century in the history of the franchise.
Coming in at a record 368 pages, this new third edition captures all kinds of highlights from the past eight Dodger seasons — the many highs and the devastating lows — culminating in the wonderful catharsis of the 2020 World Series. The new 100 Things Dodgers also offers new chapters and sidebars focused on the more recent Dodger stars and personalities, including Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts, Andre Ethier, Andrew Friedman, Kenley Jansen, Yasiel Puig, Dave Roberts, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Juan Uribe. I have also updated previous material on Jaime Jarrín, Eric Karros, Matt Kemp and much more, including Dodger Stadium itself. And needless to say, after 2020, Clayton Kershaw stands out as someone whose body of work called out for a new look.
Here’s a snippet, from the opening of my new introduction to the third edition, to set the stage:
Officially, Triumph Books published the second edition of 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die the morning of April 1, 2013.
You might say that a lot has happened in Dodger history since then.
In fact, only hours after the previous edition hit the public, Clayton Kershaw took a George Kontos fastball over the center-field wall at Dodger Stadium, breaking a scoreless tie on his way to pitching a shutout against the Giants in the first game of the season. That Opening Day was the opening salvo in an unprecedented run of Dodger history: eight straight National League West titles, including three NL pennants, leading up to the 2020 season that brought—say it with me now—the Dodgers’ first World Series title in 32 years.
I could write an entire book about those eight seasons alone (and hey, maybe I should). At the same time, that octet of excellence deserves a spot not separate from, but rather in context with, the history of a franchise whose roots date back to the 19th century.
And that’s where this new edition of 100 Things Dodgers comes in. …
While the new edition of 100 Things Dodgers officially hits the stands on June 1, but you can preorder now from such places as …
If you’ve already enjoyed previous editions of 100 Things Dodgers, I feel confident you’ll be happy to step up to this one. And if you haven’t owned a copy of the book yet, this is the perfect time to buy one, for yourself or your friends and family (especially if you need a belated Mother’s Day gift or an elated Father’s Day present).
Let me close out my pitch by returning to the book’s introduction.
… Having this much exciting material to convey is the kind of problem an author dreams of having. As I said in the introduction to the first edition, “The Dodgers aren’t the only epic story around, but they’re a pretty great one—with fantastic characters, emotions, and plot twists that are nearly impossible to abandon.” I wrote that when the franchise had won exactly one playoff series since 1988. To think what has happened since: The Dodgers are truly the gift that keeps on Dodgering.
Whether you are updating your previous edition of 100 Things Dodgers or opening these pages as a newcomer, I hope you’ll find one constant. You might know who Jackie Robinson and Vin Scully are, what 1951 and 1955 represent, how “Dodgers” itself is a unique name in sports. My mission remains to tell the story behind the story, to inform as well as reminisce, to enlighten and enliven, no matter how casual or diehard a fan you are. The years since 2013 have only made that mission more dear. No matter what brings you to this book, I hope you find memories big and small from throughout the history of the Dodgers to treasure.
And with that, I hope you buy 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die today!
Dodger reserve Edwin Ríos is getting a lot of attention for his struggles, magnified because they are coming at the start of the season. So far in 2021, Ríos is 4 for 44 (a nightmare Moses Malone scenario) with one extra-base hit, and he is hitless in his past 24 at-bats.
But as you can see from the above chart of longest hitless streaks by Dodger position players since 2000, a drought is hardly a death knell for a Dodger career.
Having glanced a snapshot of the position players on the Opening Day roster for the Dodgers, let’s now turn to the pitchers.
Hey there! Since I haven’t actually written much on the defending World Series champions this year, I thought I’d throw down some of the stuff that’s been percolating inside my head about the 2021 Dodgers ahead of Thursday’s Opening Day. Let’s start with the position players. (Note: Some of these thoughts materialized during the chats we’ve had on Clubhouse.)
There has been one durably unifying complaint about baseball in its history: It’s boring. This is not as serious a criticism as, say, banning people with a certain skin color or heritage from the sport until after two World Wars, but it’s one that transcends time and demographics.
Lack of action has long been the Achilles’ bunion of baseball, even before sports like football and basketball emerged from their primordial muck with sprightly feet. Sure, those sports have their own pace-of-play issues — the gridiron is the longtime home of 30-second huddles interrupted by a few moments of fury — but baseball boasts the most obvious perpetual pregnant pause.
Traditionally, the fault line of baseball ennui has been bridged by fans who dismiss the complaints as a lack of sophistication among the complainers. (Translated: “If you’re too dumb to appreciate the greatness, I can’t help you.”) But lately, the uprising has come from within. The loudest cries against the state of baseball have come from some of its most diehard fans or reporters, legions of whom have testified to the lack of action, as Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated described the final game of the 2020 World Series.
Over the final 26 minutes of play, viewers saw only two balls put into play. Over the three hours, 28 minutes it took to play the 8 ½-inning game, they saw 32 balls in play, or one every 6 ½ minutes. They saw more pitchers (12) than hits (10). They saw 27 batters strike out, or 42% of all plate appearances. That is, if they saw anything at all.
I can’t argue the numbers, nor would I argue that the baseball we see today is baseball at its all-time best. If your lifelong devotion to the sport is in jeopardy, I don’t know if I can talk you off the ledge.
But hey, let me try.
Clayton Kershaw will look to put his 10.22 Spring Training ERA behind him by … pitching in the friendly confines of Coors Field for Opening Day on Thursday. Here’s a random set of data points about the 33-year-old’s experiences there, thanks to the database from our friends at Baseball-Reference.com.