By Jon Weisman
So, something went awry Thursday with the Dodgers’ march to an 0-83 finish. They won.
Does that delay the inevitable? When the news came that Clayton Kershaw was going on the disabled list, that was the final straw on 2016 for some. Maybe many. Los Angeles Dodgers (2016-2016), RIP.
But yes, I’m here to remind you that there is reason not to give up. In fact, here are nine of them, one for every inning of this glorious, vexing game.
I offer these not because I’m blind to what can go wrong, but for those who are blind to what can go right.
1) The Dodgers lead the National League Wild Card race, with a two-game cushion. Mock the Wild Card if you like — the division lead is more valuable, and in any event, each is layers removed from the World Series — but that’s the route the vaunted Giants took to their last World Series title. Win that Wild Card game, and you’re in like everyone else.
2) What about the division? A six-game deficit with 13 weeks remaining is not a mountain. Ask yourself this: If the Dodgers led San Francisco by six games with 81 to play, would you think it was locked up? I know from experience that 99 percent of you would say no, even if the Giants fielded a lineup made completely from the cast of “Fuller House.”
3) The Dodgers are hurting, but the other teams are not bulletproof. San Francisco just gave up 34 runs in a four-game series against Oakland. The Cubs have lost seven of their past 11. Guess what: The whole world has problems.
4) When injury strikes someone, the last person you want it to be is Clayton Kershaw. But when injury strikes someone, the first person you want it to be is Clayton Kershaw. No one in baseball will work harder or have more determination to come back.
5) Contrary to public opinion, the Dodgers have not been a one-man team. Not when Corey Seager and Kenley Jansen give the Dodgers the best shortstop and best closer in the league. Not when Kenta Maeda is rolling with a 2.82 ERA. And so on.
6) Several Dodgers underperformed in the first 81 games. That’s the bad news. The good news: We know they can do better. Justin Turner’s May-June transformation is the perfect example.
7) The depth. It’s what the front office has preached. It gets mocked all the time. But here’s the thing about it. It’s been paying off.
You’ve seen the depth in Trayce Thompson’s 12 home runs, in Julio Urías’ 41 strikeouts, in the 45 2/3 innings Ross Stripling contributed early. None of the above were expected to factor into the Dodgers’ first 81 games, and yet there’s been that and more. You’ve seen the depth in the Dodgers’ ability to make a small trade Thursday and make bigger trades in the coming month.
Do you realize that Kershaw will be the 18th different Dodger to go on the disabled list this year? The Dodgers have an entire starting rotation, without even counting minor-leaguer Frankie Montas, on the DL at this moment. Their starting left fielder, Andre Ethier, has been out the entire season because of a fluke foul ball.
And yet the Dodgers aren’t buried. In fact, they’re the fourth-best team in the NL. There is no way the Dodgers would be in that position without depth. It’s working.
Now, there can be a separate conversation about how the Dodgers ended up with so many injured players. But regardless of the reason, the injuries happened. And regardless of the injuries happening, the Dodgers have gotten this far. Kershaw’s absence is a massive hurdle to overcome, but at some point, the Dodgers should get healthier. Think what happens then.
8) Orel Hershiser isn’t giving up. In fact, he thinks 1988 offers a precedent. Here’s what he said Thursday on SportsNet LA:
Well, we’ve already used nine starting pitchers. Now that Clayton’s out, we’re going to use our 10th starting pitcher come Friday. I think that they do have enough depth. You know, back in 1988, we used a guy named Tim Belcher as a rookie, you know? We had Ramon Martinez come up and make four or five starts as a rookie. We had Bill Brennan have to pitch throughout that year. We’ve had a lot of different guys come up, and you have to patch it together in a season. It is significant when you lose your ace. That year, Fernando Valenzuela went down. We had to trade for John Tudor — John Tudor went down. We still ended up making it through the playoffs and winning the World Series. There’s challenges every year, and the great challenge becomes … this depth is being challenged. We have enough pitching. I’m sure they will look inside the organization, outside the organization, but they will have enough pitching and they will figure out a way.
9) This, ultimately, is most important to me: There is no prize for throwing in the towel early. There’s no reward for getting to say “I told you so.” Come October, fans of 29 other teams will get to do the same thing. It doesn’t make you smarter than anyone else.
You want the Dodgers to win, and it’s frustrating when they lose. You’re tired of rehashing 1988. But do you really want to be the kind of person who’s only in the game through the thick and not the thin?
"I want everything to be completely rational and always go the way I want it to go." — not a reason to become a baseball fan.
— Jon Weisman (@jonweisman) June 30, 2015
The Dodgers are now an underdog. No one sets out to be an underdog. And given the perennial expectations and 28-year frustration among Dodger fans, it’s not exactly a comfortable fit. But now that it’s here, embrace it. If the Dodgers are going to upset the conventional wisdom, it’s fun to get in early.
Just think if the Dodgers were to come through. Who would you rather be, the one who jumped back on the bandwagon late, or the one proudly kept the faith when it was bleak?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If you don’t expect the players to give up on the season, you shouldn’t either. Best of all, you don’t have to.