Let me start by saying this isn’t a “Remain calm, all is well” post.
All isn’t well for the Dodgers, least of all Corey Seager’s right ulnar collateral ligament, which he will spend the remainder of 2018 on the sidelines trying to bring back to life after Tommy John surgery.
Corey Seager's season ends on a six-game hitting streak with a .915 OPS. Had a .991 OPS in 13 games since April 16. https://t.co/RXC1FzxWwO
— Jon Weisman (@jonweisman) April 30, 2018
Even before that dreadful news came today, with five losses in seven games to the Marlins and Giants and four tough games coming straight up with the red-hot Diamondbacks, I was nursing this post about what it would mean if this truly weren’t the Dodgers’ year.
It sure would qualify as unusual. Not since 2012 have the Dodgers missed the playoffs; not since 2011 have they failed to play meaningful games in September. They haven’t lost more than 82 games in a season since 2005.
It takes a lot for a contending team to fall apart. One thing it usually a lot of is time. Seasons don’t end in April. There is no verdict. Testimony is still being taken.
Dodger fans should know this by now, having seen teams that were seemingly buried in the standings — 10 games back in June 2013 and June 2014, eight games back in late June 2016 with Clayton Kershaw on the disabled list — roar back to life.
One thread of conversation I have completely rejected during these ungainly first 30 days is that this Dodger season seemed dramatically different somehow from those recent comeback years.
Let’s be perfectly clear. In four of the past five National League West-winning seasons came extended stretches where, if you weren’t of an optimistic mindset, the team looked horrific, the injuries devastating and the roof entirely caving in.
The 2018 Dodgers are currently in a 12-15 stretch. The 2017 Dodgers went on a 1-16 stretch and reached Game 7 of the World Series. There’s a bit of a cheat in that comparison, but believe me, there were plenty of people saying last year that losing 16 out of 17 in August and September was worse than doing it in April or May.
Three of the past five Dodger division champions went on extraordinary runs to save their seasons, and the Dodgers, despite all their current woes, remained exactly the kind of organization that could repeat the feat in 2018.
The idea that a Dodger team, even one with a 12-15 record, was doomed in April — knowing full well that its best players were underperforming — was hysteria. It represented no special instinct or insight. It’s wanting to think the worst. Like journalists looking for a scoop, people crave to be the ones to “know” their team is dead before anyone else. After all, with 29 teams falling short by the end of the year, you’re ever so likely to be vindicated.
And yet, think how easily things could turn around.
For example, the Dodger bullpen looks terrible right now. Some pitchers need to pitch like they’re capable of, others might need to be replaced. Five months and 135 games of baseball offers time for both to happen.
Justin Turner, Yasiel Puig, Andrew Toles and Alex Verdugo have combined for zero home runs this year. You can’t deny there’s room for improvement there.
Now Seager goes down, but instead of dissolving, individual Dodgers redouble their efforts. (Or, there’s a blockbuster trade that saves the day.)
When a five-game winning streak can completely change your outlook on the season, your season has barely begun. That’s not spin. That’s reality.
Everyone who is ready to hand the 2018 NL West to Arizona should ask themselves if, the Dodgers were 19-8 with five months to go, they would consider the division clinched. Based upon the tweets I saw last summer during the 1-16 run, I don’t think so.
As far as 2018 goes, here in the final hours of April, I concede nothing.
All that being said …
One of these years, especially after five consecutive terrific seasons, the Dodgers are destined to have a flop of a year, one where the cycle of injuries and inadequacy spins into itself like strands of DNA, genetically destining the team to doom. And there’s certainly no reason it can’t be 2018.
On the disabled list are half the starting lineup (Seager, Turner, Puig and Logan Forsythe) and 40 percent of the starting rotation (Rich Hill and, let’s not forget, the projected No. 2 starter if we were speaking a year ago, Julio Urías). Two potential Hall of Fame pitchers, Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen, are working through issues. Last year’s NL Rookie of the Year, Cody Bellinger, might have his own adjustments to make, and even though he wasn’t a rookie, it would be valid to sign Chris Taylor up for a sophomore slump as well.
Three of the players holding the Dodgers together in April — Yasmani Grandal, Matt Kemp and Chase Utley — are each vulnerable for reasons I don’t think I need to explain. The bullpen might never quite get its act together this year.
For those who consider any season that doesn’t end in a World Series victory a failure, they might soon be reminded that there is something far worse: a year with nothing to celebrate, nothing at all, unless you’re willing to buy into to the Losers Dividend.
It probably will come as small consolation right now that a 2018 washout would most certainly represent a pause in the Dodgers’ march toward an elusive World Series title, rather than a complete reversal. Whatever your position on the Dodgers’ resetting their luxury-tax status this year is, that goal should be fulfilled by year’s end, enabling the team to retain Kershaw, pursue someone along the lines of Bryce Harper or seize upon any number of improvements. The organization remains robust from top to bottom.
If Corey Seager’s damaged elbow turns out to be the blow from which the 2018 Dodgers cannot recover, ask yourselves how you want to spend the remaining five months. Relentlessly bemoaning the Dodgers’ fate, rehashing everything that went wrong that prevented them from winning the World Series in the previous 29 seasons, or seeing this for what it is — an unfortunate moment in Dodger history, but only a moment nonetheless, with a new one soon to come.