I’ve long since surrendered the notion that the way I feel about the Dodgers has any widespread resonance.
At my peak, I had a niche. There’s definitely a segment of readers who tend to relate to me. But if my writing about the team had been any more transcendent than that, I genuinely think I would still be writing about the Dodgers full time. Failing to crack the mainstream wasn’t the reason I shifted gears — it was more about my desire to prioritize other things — but being a more popular voice might have affected those priorities, or at least their timetable.
That’s a long-winded preface for me to say that I wanted to write about my reaction to the absence of a blockbuster move at the trade deadline by the Dodgers, but without the expectation that most people would share my view. I’m not writing to convince you of anything. I’m just expressing myself. If you like, read it as you would the work of an alien.
Here’s what I think.
I was ready for the Dodgers to make a big move, namely for left-handed Pirates reliever Felipe Vazquez. Because the use for such a reliever was so acute, I was ready for the Dodgers to give up a premium prospect, even two (but not three), in order to get him. I was ready for the Dodgers to overpay.
I have a low opinion of relief pitchers as trade targets. I’ve written for years about how unreliable they are over any length of time. Furthermore, because most fans judge them in the postseason by a standard of perfection-or-bust, it seems almost hopeless, pointless. The fact, for example, that so many consider the 2017 Dodger bullpen a failure (including, say, the city’s actual mainstream voice) when that bullpen was so clearly exceptional proves my point. Vazquez could have been outstanding for the Dodgers, but he is only one man, and if that one man is anything less than perfect, it’s very unlikely that he is the difference between winning and losing. In 2017 and 2018, it took mistakes by multiples for the Dodgers to lose.
But you always look to increase your odds, and Vazquez would have done that in 2019. And the Dodgers were in position to pay a premium for that potential. So I saddled up.
Only we didn’t ride.
I don’t doubt for a moment that the Dodger front office was willing to overpay as well, but there was nevertheless a limit, and the team wouldn’t cross it. Were the Dodgers more stubborn than the Pirates, or vice versa? I’m not sure. I’m also not sure it matters.
Instead, the Dodgers came away this week with some moves on the fringes, including left-handed reliever Adam Kolarek and righty Tyler Thornburg, as well as some greater reliance on in-house options like Tony Gonsolin (who tamed Coors Field for four innings Tuesday) and Dustin May, making his major-league debut Friday at age 21.
None of them are Vazquez. The Dodgers are vulnerable. Blah blah 1988 blah blah. So stipulated.
Here’s where I’m just making this about my feelings. I’m not asking you to buy in.
First, it goes without saying that the Dodgers could lose a playoff series to any team, even the Detroit Tigers, because that’s baseball.
That said, I don’t think any team in the National League leapfrogged the Dodgers on July 31. Rivals improved, but I’d still take the Dodgers up against any of them. It shouldn’t be ignored that the Dodgers have dominated the NL this year, even with the bullpen in its 2019 condition. It speaks to the strengths of the rest of the team, and serves as a reminder that if the Dodgers have flaws, other NL teams have more of them.
I also think it’s noteworthy that in the American League, the Yankees whiffed in improving their starting rotation every bit as much as you probably think the Dodgers whiffed with their bullpen. It’s the Astros who, thanks mainly to their trade for old friend Zack Greinke, inspire the most terror. Even without Vazquez in Los Angeles, they may be the only team that does.
So what does that mean? Another bridesmaid finish at best?
I like a great story. And the 2019 Dodgers can still be a great story. They’d be a story of a team that throttled the competition in the regular season, and then turned to some true unexpected heroes to win the World Series — the Mickey Hatchers and Mike Davises of a new generation, bullpen-style.
How sweet would it be if Joe Kelly completed a tale of redemption, or if Dustin May dazzled the uninitiated with fire and deception? Yu Darvish and Manny Machado didn’t bring the magic, flipping from saviors to villains in a couplet of foul Octobers. How glorious if a team dug deep within itself to find the answers it needed?
Rationally, the Dodgers didn’t help themselves much today. And I’m not saying that the answer to acquiring great players and settling for an NL pennant is to avoid acquiring great players.
But I’m already over it. Screw the doomsday talk. This franchise has been on the verge of triumph since 2013. Seven seasons now. Some take that as a failing. I think they’re banging on the door, and I think that door wants to come crashing down.
I love a good cakewalk. I didn’t ask for a challenge, but I won’t run away from it. I’m running right at it. And I believe the Dodgers will too. That’s a tantalizing feeling if you’re willing to give it purchase.
I believe in possibility. When it comes to baseball, possibility is all I need. Possibility is the real glory. Winning is gravy.
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