I’m holding a stuffed toy baseball with a rattle inside. I think my friend Jim gave it to me, decades ago. We weren’t children anymore, but he knew I liked baseball things, and I believe it was just a fun or funny thing he spotted somewhere and decided just to pass along to me as a token. I kept it. The kids played with it when they were younger, then it went into a storage cabinet in the garage. Sometime this month, I pulled it out. It’s been my rally tool. I’ve been shaking it to celebrate the Dodgers doing something well or to try to stop their opponents from doing well.
Author: Jon Weisman (Page 1 of 374)
Kenley Jansen ended a stirring comeback victory by the Dodgers in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on a high note, reaching vintage velocity as he struck out the side to finish the Dodgers’ 7-3 win Friday.
As the Dodgers head into this afternoon’s Game 6, still needing to win today and Sunday to advance to the World Series, the bullpen is coming off seven innings of one-run ball with no reliever throwing more than 20 pitches. But even if Walker Buehler overcomes his blister issues to give the Dodgers length today, the Dodger pitching staff is walking a tightrope.
Woke up at 2 a.m., still imagining A.J. Pollock getting a hit to complete that comeback. A single through the hole. A double down the line. A home run to walk off something incredible. I can see it so clearly. I feel like I can reach out and touch it.
It’s so beautiful. I can see the celebration. I can picture myself flying off the couch and scaring my children with my happiness. I can see it. I can feel it. I almost can’t believe it didn’t happen. A 6 in the bottom of the ninth column of the linescore. It’s right in front of me.
Just one more baseball eluding a fielder.
In sports with a clock, a big comeback often becomes impossible at a certain point, before the game is over. In baseball, it never does. Even in defeat, even as others were spitting on the idea, I was reminded why I cherish that.
Please don’t comment on this if you’re going to be negative. I’ve gotten enough of that elsewhere. If you are angry, I understand — but just leave me out of it.
We know the Dodgers are a great team. That’s been proven over and over again.
To be a champion is something different. In some ways, it’s a lesser accomplishment. You don’t need to be a great team to be a champion. But when there is nowhere else to turn, champions overcome every bit of adversity that comes their way.
I’m eager to find out if the 2020 Dodgers can be champions. Every lost opportunity for Clayton Kershaw saddens me, but I’m every bit as excited right now for Tony Gonsolin and tonight’s game as I’ve been for any game since the season started.
Genuinely, I'm excited for today's game. Not because I didn't want to see Kershaw pitch — I live for his starts — but because this could really be an inspiring moment for the 2020 Dodgers. I believe this team can rally behind Gonsolin today and use it for a new going forward.
— Jon Weisman (@jonweisman) October 13, 2020
Let’s start by looking ahead at the Dodger pitching, before we look back.
Cody Bellinger’s catch Wednesday in Game 2 of the National League Division Series might have been his greatest play in his young but fertile postseason career, but there are several contenders. I put together this highlight reel of five of them.
In the video above, you can see five actual home runs that the Dodgers hit in two August nights at the seemingly impregnable new ballpark in Arlington, Texas: Globe Life Field.
They stand in contrast to the five long outs the Dodgers made in their otherwise satisfactory 5-1 victory tonight in Game 1 of the National League Division Series over the Padres.
What does depth bring the Dodgers? They can cover the 45 innings* of the NLDS with these 14 pitchers on relatively easy inning loads:
6 Clayton Kershaw
5 Tony Gonsolin
4 Walker Buehler
4 Dustin May
4 Julio Urías
3 Victor González
3 Brusdar Graterol
3 Kenley Jansen
3 Blake Treinen
2 Pedro Báez
2 Dylan Floro
2 Joe Kelly
2 Adam Kolarek
2 Jake McGee
*That’s 45 innings, give or take — but it accounts for the series going five games with two extra innings, if the Padres win their designated home games (Games 3 and 4) without batting in the bottom of the ninth.
Perhaps Kershaw only goes five innings. Perhaps Gonsolin, May or Urías gives you a solid six. Perhaps Buehler’s blister takes him out after two innings tonight, but that leaves him available to give you another two innings three days later. Perhaps one game goes into the 13th, 14th, 15th … you tell me. There’s no predicting the specifics.
The point is, every one of those 14 pitchers is capable of giving you effective innings. There isn’t a weak spot. You don’t need to lean extra heavy on Kershaw or Jansen. No one would have to throw 20-plus pitches on back-to-back days until an all-hands-on-deck Game 5.
Jansen might be the Dodgers’ biggest question mark — I discussed him in this Twitter thread last week — but Dave Roberts showed in the opening round that he isn’t opposed to warming up another reliever behind him, and that he is willing to sideline him in the ninth inning if he thinks it’s necessary. The key is to treat Jansen like you would treat any other reliever. Use him according to his effectiveness, his ability to execute pitches in the moment, not his reputation. The same, frankly, goes for Kershaw, who dazzled in Game 2 last week but still was left to his own devices in the eighth inning. The Dodgers have the arms — they don’t need to be shy about exploring all of them.
It shouldn’t be.
As Houston Mitchell of the Times reminded me in his morning newsletter, Justin Turner could be playing his final game in Los Angeles as a Dodger tonight. Should the Dodgers beat the Brewers and advance to the National League Division Series, their remaining games will be played not in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains, but in Arlington, Texas. After that, Turner becomes a free agent.
And then, ideally, he’s right back here again next year.
Click the chart below to enlarge.
I created the Clayton Kershaw Postseason Chart two years ago to communicate how Kershaw has been both great and terrible and everywhere in between during the postseason.
The Dodgers’ brief window in the 2019 playoffs didn’t change the narrative. In his first start, he pitched well enough to win but didn’t. Then he had a disastrous relief outing, his first such nightmare out of the bullpen in a decade.
Kershaw has made 25 career playoff starts. Here’s how they break down:
On the final day of January this year, I drove Young Master Weisman to a rehearsal for a cello performance in Calabasas. To bide the hours until he was ready to leave, I went to see the movie 1917 at a nearby theater. Then I drove to the Sagebrush Cantina, the modern-day saloon where I celebrated by 21st birthday on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend in 1988. Now, at age 52, I sat at the bar by myself, ordered one beer and watched the pregame ceremony at the first Laker game at Staples Center following the death of Kobe Bryant. And as I watched, I started to cry.
All the short-season caveats apply, but the Dodger bullpen did set two National League records for the live-ball era (1920-on).
- Dodger relievers set a National League record for the lowest single-season WHIP at 1.044. The bullpen broke the NL mark held by the 2003 Dodgers, who were led by Eric Gagne, Guillermo Mota and Paul Quantrill. Unfortunately, they just missed the major-league record of 1.003, held by the 1965 Chicago White Sox.
- They also broke the NL mark for lowest on-base percentage allowed: .274, also held by the 2003 Dodgers. The ’65 White Sox allowed a .264 OBP.
While the team only played 60 games, Dodger relievers did average an unprecedented 4 1/3 innings per game. In fact, so omnipresent was the Dodger bullpen that for the first time in franchise history, relief pitchers had more than half of the team’s wins — 26 out of 43.
Victor Gonzalez, Adam Kolarek, Jake McGee and Brusdar Graterol each had WHIPs below 1.00.
Obviously, it’s dubious to suggest these records would have held up over 162 games. But in the realm of 2020, we can say this: Dodger relievers were the best.
Edwin Ríos is in position to set a National League record, admittedly one far, far more obscure than Duke Snider’s.
With two days remaining in the 2020 season, no player in NL history with five singles or fewer has ever had more total bases than Ríos. In fact, the only obstacles for Ríos setting the MLB record are 1) Hunter Renfroe of the Rays and 2) the possiblity of hitting a sixth single.
This is useless trivia except for one thing. It illustrates the level of power Ríos brings to the Dodgers and their pursuit of a title in October.
Dave Roberts told reporters Friday that the Dodgers don’t plan to take more than 13 pitchers — and might bring as few as 12 — to the three-game opening round of the playoffs.
This surprised me, because drawing from their quality pitching depth has been fundamental to the Dodgers delivering the best record in baseball this year and the best winning percentage in franchise history. They have spent most of the season with 15 pitchers on their active roster.
Even in a three-game series bracketed by off days, the Dodgers don’t have the kind of guaranteed innings from their starting pitchers that would likely forestall needing a bevy of relievers.
Based on his 2020 performance, Alex Wood is an easy cut. But making a second cut means losing someone like Joe Kelly or Adam Kolarek — someone who has made noteworthy contributions this season, however intermittently.
A four-man bench has been sufficent for the Dodgers this season, so the question is whether two more position players would make a difference. One certainly could — adding a third catcher in Keibert Ruiz would mean that Will Smith could start at designated hitter on his non-catching days without needing to also serve as Austin Barnes’ backup. (If a designated hitter enters a game at a defensive position, the team loses the DH and the pitcher enters the lineup.)
If they added another position player, the leading candidates are Matt Beaty or Zach McKinstry. In a three-game series, neither would get a start except in an absolute emergency. Both are left-handed hitters, so one scenario you might see them in would be if the Dodgers started Joc Pederson, pinch-hit for him with Kiké Hernández and then wanted to hit for Hernández. The Dodgers might also have McKinstry in mind as a pinch-runner.
Here’s how the Dodger roster would appear to shake out for the first round (players at each position are listed in alphabetical order):