By Jon Weisman
Well, here we are at the end of the 1988 regular season, and pennant fever is high in Los Angeles. And why not?
It’s been seven long years since the Dodgers went to and won the 1981 World Series. In the 26 years since Dodger Stadium opened, the Dodgers remain stuck on seven trips to the Fall Classic — barely one every four years — and a mere three World Series titles. That kind of drought just isn’t the Dodgers’ style.
Now, led by shutout streaker Orel Hershiser and the gritty but productive Kirk Gibson, the Dodgers are back in baseball’s Final Four, four games away from a National League pennant and eight games away from a parade. There’s no limit to what the Dodgers can do in the coming postseason.
But just as a reality check, here are 10 reasons that the Dodgers will have to wait another year to hang any banners. Take a deep breath and read on …
1) Dodgers vs. Mets in 1988: one win, 10 losses. Now, they say you can throw out the regular season records when the playoffs start, but no matter how far out on the curb you put that garbage, the stink still remains.
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2) Hershiser’s fantastic, but at some point the law of averages will kick in, when you least expect it or really least can handle it. I’d hate to think what it would mean for the Dodgers if, say, Hershiser threw eight shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLCS, took a 2-0 lead into the ninth at home — and just then gave up three runs and the ballgame.
3) Does that .248 team batting average impress you? It’s actually not that bad — fifth in the NL. But delve a little deeper into a more advanced stat: a .305 on-base percentage, 11th out of the 12 NL teams. Walks aren’t glamorous, but if you’ve heard of Bill James or Branch Rickey, they’d tell you that walks matter. And this Dodger team does not walk.
4) Three-fourths of the Dodger starting infield is hitting below .240: Jeff Hamilton (.236), Franklin Stubbs (.223) and Alfredo Griffin (.199).
5) How healthy is Gibson? The Dodger (and possibly National League) Most Valuable Player played in two of the Dodgers’ last nine regular-season games and finished none. He’s had five hits (all singles) in the past 17 days. Sure, Gibson’s set to go in Game 1 of the NLCS, but how long will he last?
6) Depth. Pedro Guerrero isn’t walking back through that door. Your top reserves include Dave Anderson (.249), the disappointing free-agent signee Mike Davis (.196), Tracy Woodson (.249), Danny Heep (.242) and Jose Gonzalez (.083), a robust quintet that combined for seven homers in 912 at-bats. Mickey Hatcher (.293) and Rick Dempsey (.251 with seven homers) offer a little more encouragement, and in a pinch, pitcher Tim Leary (.269) can come up to hit, but one injury and these guys might be cooked.
7) OK, we love the Dodger pitching. Second-best ERA in the NL. But who was first? The Mets, who will be starting Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Ron Darling and Bob Ojeda. The Mets also have a higher batting average than the Dodgers, and feature a guy who New York thinks deserves the MVP: Darryl Strawberry (.269, 39 homers, 101 RBI). They hit 53 more home runs than the Dodgers. They stole more bases than the Dodgers. And, of course, they won more regular-season games than the Dodgers, albeit in an easier division. Honestly, I’m as big a Dodger booster as they come, but why would you think the Dodgers would win?
8) The Mets also have all that postseason experience from their seven-game triumph in the 1986 World Series. Two of the key starting pitchers behind Hershiser, Tim Belcher and Leary, have never played in a postseason game. Hershiser himself is the guy who couldn’t put away the Cardinals in Game 6 of the 1985 NLCS, setting the stage for Tom Niedenfuer vs. Jack Clark.
9) Guess which NL team had the fewest errors in 1988. Guess which team almost had the most. You’re not gonna like the answers.
10) Team chemistry. You’ll hear that the eyeblack incident between Jesse Orosco and Gibson has ultimately brought the team together and heightened their focus. But when the inevitable struggles come, we’ll see how true that is.
But hey, don’t give up. The Dodgers still might win — that’s why you play the games, as they say. Just don’t get me started about their chances against the mighty Oakland A’s.