Will there be terror?
Yes, there will be terror.
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.
Because MLB rosters will remain at 28 players for the postseason, there shouldn’t be too much drama for the Dodgers in determining theirs — but that’s not to say there won’t be any. Let’s take a look …
I don’t know if there was anything I liked about working for the Dodgers more than the freedom to roam around the empty stadium. And so as wrong as it feels for there to be ballgames without fans, there’s something that makes me feel wistful about the idea of watching a game there without a crowd.
Jon SooHoo’s latest photographic gem, above, captures my feelings probably as well as anything I could write. But with the 2020 MLB season somehow about to begin, I thought I would share some not entirely random thoughts …
It feels like 10 years since I last saw a Dodger game.
It feels like we’ve lived through an entire era of baseball in the four months and three days the Dodgers last walked off the field, heads bowed. It feels like we’ve aged a generation.
As I hibernated with other activities, I watched Dodger fans descend in to a deep well of anger and despair. The winter of our discontent barely seems adequate to describe it. Behind center field, offseason construction tore a hole in Dodger Stadium, delivered directly from Metaphors ‘R’ Us.
The bitterness of the Dodgers’ shocking Game 5 loss in the National League Division Series lingered like a slow-acting toxin, blackening the rose petals of fandom.
The unrequited pursuit of big-name talent, Gerrit Cole in particular, generated a sense of Kafkaesque imprisonment, blinding the reality that none of the Dodgers’ top rivals except the Yankees had improved their rosters. Then again, if the Yankees become the team to beat, isn’t that anguish enough?
Then the earth trembled, the ground beneath our feet cracked open and the void opened.
Hi ho, it’s February. Dodger pitchers and catchers and other eager beavers are scheduled to report to Camelback Ranch in eight days. The first full squad workout comes two weeks from Tuesday.
Based on their struggles with runners in scoring position and two outs, the Dodgers have grown a reputation as the least clutch team in baseball.
So far in 2018, however, whenever they needed a win — truly, madly, deeply needed a win — they have come through. So far.
As October takes flight, we’ll see how far they can carry forward. But I think it would be worth your time to look back at how far they’ve come. For that, I’ve collected a few Dodger Thoughts pieces here.
By my estimation, here’s the likely 25-man National League Division Series roster for the NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers* …
Catchers (2): Austin Barnes, Yasmani Grandal
Infielders (5): Brian Dozier, David Freese, Manny Machado, Max Muncy, Justin Turner
Infielder-outfielders (3): Cody Bellinger, Kiké Hernandez, Chris Taylor
Outfielders (3): Matt Kemp, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig
Starting pitchers (4): Walker Buehler, Rich Hill, Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu
Relief pitchers (8): Scott Alexander, Pedro Baez, Caleb Ferguson, Kenley Jansen, Ryan Madson, Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling, Alex Wood
Could be considered: Josh Fields, Dylan Floro (if he hadn’t disappeared over the past week, I’d have him instead of Madson), Zac Rosscup, Julio Urías, Pat Venditte, plus position players Tim Locastro or Chase Utley.
In March, Fangraphs projected the Dodgers to win 94 games in 2018. Not 100 or 110, as some are fond of suggesting as a straw man. Los Angeles will end up with somewhere between 89 and 91 wins, not counting any tiebreaker games.
At the same time, Fangraphs projected the Rockies to win 79 games. Colorado will end up with at least 90 wins. (Arizona, by the way, was projected to win 80 and is sitting on 81 this morning.)
I’m not suggesting anyone can’t be disappointed with how the Dodgers’ season has gone so far, but the story of the National League West race isn’t as much about the Dodgers’ shortcomings as it is about Colorado smashing expectations.
Look, I know everyone’s in a panic over their recent collapse, but despite their three-game losing streak, I still think the Boston Red Sox will make the playoffs.
Oh, you were asking about the Dodgers?
Are you impatient that the Dodgers are barely hugging first place in the National League West, let alone struggling to put more distance between themselves and the Diamondbacks, Rockies and Giants?
Call it Summer Training for the Dodger pitching staff, with a cautious eye toward the Fall Classic.
As the month of August dawns, there are 29 pitchers currently in the Dodger organization who have been part of the team’s 40-man roster this year. Yep, 29. But with their July mound acquisitions limited to Dylan Floro, Zach Neal and John Axford, is 29 enough?
Manny Machado’s first 50 plate appearances as a Dodger are now in the books: .400 on-base percentage, .442 slugging percentage. During that time, the Dodgers went 6-4 on a road trip against three playoff contenders, a trip that you could have called a complete success had they won the 16-inning game at Philadelphia and taken all three series.
Nothing that happens at this year’s trade deadline will change the fact that the Dodgers are underdogs to win the World Series.
The Red Sox and Yankees are in a ferocious battle to win the American League East. Boston (66-30) has a chance to become the first major-league team to start a season 70-30 since the 2001 Mariners, and only needs to go 34-32 to win 100 games. Short of the Red Sox collapsing, New York (61-32) will probably need to finish with at least 105 wins to catch them. Both teams are really good.
Over in the AL West, the Astros (63-34) are on pace to win 105 games themselves. Seattle (58-37) has been keeping that division race interesting, and yet by losing six of their past nine games, the Mariners have opened the door for Oakland (53-42) to creep into the wild-card race. But you’d have to imagine a nearly impossible scenario where all three teams collapsed for the AL West champions not to finish comfortably above 95 wins.
And if the AL West champion then derailed the Red Sox and/or Yankees to reach the Fall Classic, you can bet that team would stand as Goliath to whoever comes out of the National League.
It might seem to contradict the premise of this piece, but it’s completely valid to suggest that today the Dodgers (52-42) are the best bet to be that NL opponent. Overall in 2018, they are one of six teams within three games of the best record in the NL. Their current 50-game run of 34-16 is the best the league has seen this year. For their past 54 games — one-third of the season — they are 3 1/2 games better than any other rival.
It’s easy to complain about what the Dodgers aren’t — injury-free for one, uncertain at second base and in the bullpen for another — but is worthwhile to remember what they are. Their nine position players with the most plate appearances each have above-average offensive stats, and the one who has been weighing them down the most, Logan Forsythe, has been benched.
On the mound, people are concerned to various degrees with Clayton Kershaw’s back, Rich Hill’s struggles, Ross Stripling turning into a pumpkin and a bullpen that isn’t as much “lights out” as it is “lights on dimmer.” I could go on. But I don’t think many people realize that despite these and other issues, the Dodgers have the NL’s No. 2 pitching staff in wins above replacement and No. 1 in ERA and fielding-independent pitching. I saw one person Friday on Twitter call Dodger pitching “shaky,” and all I can say is — even conceding that’s true — that only means that every other team’s pitching as shakier.
When you’re out of the blogging groove but the ideas keep coming, the easy thing to do is just dish them off on Twitter. But tweets are like shooting stars, and sometimes you want a constellation. So here I am back at Dodger Thoughts to try to collect some thoughts.
Also, I’m convinced that tons of people bypass the intro to a column and to get straight at the meat, so let’s get right to it.
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Thank You For Not ...
1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
2) personally attacking other commenters
3) baiting other commenters
4) arguing for the sake of arguing
5) discussing politics
6) using hyperbole when something less will suffice
7) using sarcasm in a way that can be misinterpreted negatively
8) making the same point over and over again
9) typing "no-hitter" or "perfect game" to describe either in progress
10) being annoyed by the existence of this list
11) commenting under the obvious influence
12) claiming your opinion isn't allowed when it's just being disagreed with
Dodgers at home: 1,028-812 (.558695)
When Jon attended: 338-267 (.558677)*
When Jon didn’t: 695-554 (.556)
* includes road games attended
Dodgers at home: 51-35 (.593)
When Jon attended: 5-2 (.714)
When Jon didn’t: 46-33 (.582)
Note: I got so busy working for the Dodgers that in 2014, I stopped keeping track, much to my regret.