The moment the final out of the Dodgers’ fourth consecutive victory came Wednesday, I posted a tweet comparing their record this year to last year: 8-9 after 17 games, with only the slightest difference in the standings.
And here we are. After 17 games:
2017 Dodgers: 8-9 3rd 3 GB
2018 Dodgers: 8-9 3rd 4 GB
— Jon Weisman (@jonweisman) April 19, 2018
I had a bit of wiggle room. The 2017 Dodgers also began the season 8-10, 9-11 and 10-12. So there was a decent shot that the 2018 Dodgers, even after their 4-9 stumble out of the gate, would match up with their ancestral counterparts from 365 days of yore.
Of course, after the 10-12 opening, the 2017 Dodgers not only won 10 of their next 12 games but ultimately went on a historic 71-24 run that no Dodger team may ever match again, finishing with a 108-54 record and a trip to the seventh game of the World Series. So there was no further editorializing for me in the tweet. No analysis of how the 2017 and 2018 teams got to 8-9, no projection of whether this year’s bunch would any way match last year’s. People who read me or follow me on Twitter know I tend to be an optimist about the Dodgers, but I’m aware of where that can go wrong, as this tweet earlier this week about the 2005 Dodgers shows.
— Jon Weisman (@jonweisman) April 16, 2018
In case you’ve forgotten: 12-2 at the start of the ’05 season, 71-91 at the finish.
Anyway, that made the responses to Wednesday’s 8-9 tweet interesting, and kind of a window into the diverse sensibilities of Dodger fans.
- A common response was to joke that it meant that the Dodgers would once again lose in the seventh game of the Fall Classic.
- Many drew genuine encouragement from the comparison, either utterly taken by surprise (it’s easy to forget that the 2017 team had such a sluggish opening month) or simply happy to find any common ground between the two editions of the Dodgers.
- Inevitably, a few on Twitter took umbrage with my tweet, assuming I was implying that this year’s team was just as good as last year’s, when of course it is not. One example:
The definition of rose colored glasses. Take them off and really look at the team.
— Hugh Kares (@HughKares) April 19, 2018
I’m wearing contact lenses, but they’re clear, so let’s see what’s out there.
The 2018 Dodgers have more similarities than differences with the 2017 Dodgers, mostly because so many of last year’s group returned. Of the 12 position players who have been on the roster all season, all but Matt Kemp and Kyle Farmer played in the World Series. Same with the 13 pitchers, except for Scott Alexander, JT Chargois and Wilmer Font. That means 20 of the main 25 guys are veterans of last October and 22 of the 25 were in the organization — not counting injured Justin Turner or percolating pros like Andrew Toles. And because of their youth, most stood likely to improve from 2017 to 2018.
That said, there’s a common refrain that the Dodgers didn’t improve themselves during the offseason, which isn’t really true. However unexpected it was, Kemp to date (.981 OPS, 171 OPS+, 173 wRC+) has been huge for the offense to date. His defense is still a liability, though perhaps not as perilous as many feared in the early going. Frankly, given the reviews over the past couple of years, the ease with which Kemp beat out this first-inning grounder Wednesday almost shocked me. While it’s not reasonable to expect his offensive exploits to hold up quite so high, every little bit helps, and there is depth behind him.
On the pitching staff, the most frequent lament — particularly amid Kenley Jansen’s early season difficulties — has been about the departure of set-up reliever Brandon Morrow. Morrow was indeed crazily valuable for the Dodgers last year, considering he was a non-roster pickup who wasn’t even in the majors until late May. But the handwringing over his flight to Chicago seemed to miss the point, one that Jansen’s struggles actually underscores.
With relievers in particular, past performance doesn’t guarantee future results. I’m more willing to bet on Jansen’s resumé than anyone’s, and remain optimistic that what we’ve seen over the first three weeks will ultimately be a blip. But performance has been proven to fluctuate wildly for most relievers, and Morrow’s health history doesn’t necessarily exempt him. So, instead of sending $21 million Morrow’s way, the Dodgers have sought instead to repeat the process that brought him here, with players like Chargois and late-2017 acquisition Tony Cingrani.
In other words, almost no one 12 months ago realized how much the Dodgers had improved their 2017 bullpen. We’ll see what happens, but something similar might well be true today.
Could the Dodgers have done more during the winter? Sure. But a bigger splash could have a) impeded their attempts to retain Clayton Kershaw this coming offseason, and b) showed an unreasonable lack of faith in the group that got them to the Series in ’17, as well as what remains a fertile farm system topped by pitcher Walker Buehler and outfielder Alex Verdugo. (With Rich Hill’s fingernail on the 10-day disabled list, we could see Buehler make his first start as soon as next week.)
It’s true that last year’s 8-9 Dodgers hadn’t yet enjoyed the enormous impact of Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor, among others. But this year’s 8-9 Dodgers have been entirely without Turner, Jansen (as we’ve come to know him) and who knows what else? And if the Dodgers do need more help, they still have the entire summer to make acquisitions.
This is a long way of offering the familiar refrain that yes, it’s early. Any time you can erase a deficit in a week’s time, it’s early. We have no idea how this year’s team will play out, and it doesn’t make sense to be too extreme in our reactions, positive or negative. After all, there was another 17-game stretch last year of note, in which the Dodgers went 1-16. Six weeks later, they were National League champions.