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?
Category: Status report (Page 1 of 9)
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.
Four weeks ago today, with two outs and two strikes in the top of the 12th inning, Arizona utilityman Daniel Descalso lifted a three-run home run over the right-field wall at Dodger Stadium. Minutes later, the Diamondbacks wrapped up their 24th victory in the first 35 games of the season, bolstering their position atop all teams in the National League and kicking sand in the face of the Dodgers, nine games behind.
On April 24, the Dodgers were …
- 11-10 (.524), in second place in the NL West
- winners of seven of their past eight games
- leading the Marlins by one run in the eighth inning
- putting Clayton Kershaw (2.45 ERA, 0.97 WHIP) on the mound the next day.
I did not see this coming. I didn’t see a lot of this coming. I didn’t see two 1-0 losses to the Giants to open the season, and just when things truly seemed to be falling into place, the white-uniformed cream rising toward the top, I definitely didn’t see 13 losses in 18 games coming — turning those 11-10 Dodgers into these 16-23 Dodgers.
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.
The anniversary of the Dodgers’ most recent World Series title reaches Carousel this year, and if you’re old enough to get a reference to Logan’s Run without thinking about the team’s current second baseman crossing the plate, perhaps only then are you old enough to remember what it actually felt like to be a Dodger fan triumphant.
To be honest, I don’t think very many people, young or old, want to hear about 1988 anymore, not at least until it has been succeeded by something new. No one holds a grudge against 1981, 1965, 1963, 1959 or 1955, for they were all followed up in due course (though to be honest, the gap between ’65 and ’81 seemed pretty pronounced at the time). But ’88, though it will always be a treasure, has been nearly wrung dry.
At the same time, 1955 is instructive, because it came after an eternity of falling short. The Bridegrooms were bridesmaids for more than half a century. Every unhappy ending through 1954 only increased the desperation for the championship, yet nothing made that championship any easier to come by.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) January 23, 2018
On Tuesday, the Dodgers unveiled the logo celebrating the franchise’s 60th anniversary in Los Angeles, throwing into sharp relief how 1988 cleaves era into two even but unequal parts — the 30 years with nine World Series trips and five titles, and the 30 years with none and none. That is some top-heavy tenure (or if you’re ruefully inclined, bottom-heavy torture) at Chavez Ravine.
But here’s the critical point to take forward into 2018. Our angst, our annoyance, our impatience, our cynicism, our frustration, our exasperation … none of it means anything. There hasn’t been a year in which anyone hasn’t been full-throttle dying to win the World Series.
This isn’t a Thirty Years War. This is an annual war, fought each of the past 30 years.
You can argue that each fall has been more painful than the last, but that doesn’t change what the Dodgers’ mission has been each spring. Despite the scattered criticisms you might find of the current front office, the Dodgers are completely committed to winning it all. Unfortunately, commitment doesn’t mean that your every move is guaranteed to work.
One offseason theme, for example, has been that if the Dodgers were serious about winning, they would have acquired Justin Verlander instead of Yu Darvish, conveniently ignoring the widespread euphoria that followed the Darvish trade. In addition, Darvish isn’t in position to start in the World Series if so many other things hadn’t gone right, including his satisfying playoff performances on the road at Arizona and Chicago.
While Darvish did get blown up twice by the Astros (via tipped pitches or ripped pitches, depending on whom you believe), Verlander was unable to close out either of his two World Series starts as well. That’s not to suggest that Darvish didn’t put the Dodgers behind two gigantic 8-balls, but to remind that baseball is a uniquely peculiar sport, the most unpredictable of them all, less a national pastime than a national butterfly effect.
If one thing doesn’t go wrong, it may well be another, even less expected calamity, such as the best reliever in baseball throwing his worst possible cutter.
Management cannot bulletproof a baseball team. Management can only do its best to maximize the team’s chances for winning — and no one looking objectively at the Dodgers’ daily roster manipulations can accuse their front office of trying anything less than the maximum.
Instead of taking bitterness from the past five Octobers and one November, take encouragement. Never in the era of division play have the Dodgers been more consistently in the thick of the race. We remember 1988. But we should also remember the 18 different seasons since then when the Dodgers didn’t make the playoffs at all, including seven in a row during the 1997-2003 seasons.
From 1989-2003, the Dodgers won zero playoff games. From 2004-2012, they won nine. From 2013-17, they won 23. And last year, they not only finally returned to the Fall Classic, they came within a laugh and a tear of winning the damn thing. Short of the World Series title — and no one is for a moment arguing that the title isn’t the paramount goal — this has been a golden era of Dodger baseball unmatched in more than a generation.
The Dodgers aren’t there yet. It’s a familiar refrain. But don’t make 2018 about 1988. Don’t carry that burden on your shoulders. Let those seasons go. That’s how you win the Thirty Years War.
The coming season is its own beast — ferocious, like they all are, but singular, filled with promise, alive until the very last breath, possibly terminal, but hopefully eternal.
By Jon Weisman
When you fall short of a championship, as the Dodgers did this year, there’s a certain game face you’re required to display — a certain stoicism or even gravity.
Show any pride in partial achievement, and you risk conveying that you aren’t committed to the larger goal, that you don’t understand how important a title is, that you just don’t get it.
The reality is, yes, you can feel good about the positives from a season without diminishing the craving — the gut-wrenching craving — for ultimate greatness. Pride and desire aren’t opposites.
Think of your team as you would your child. To want anything less than the best for your kin would be negligent. To dismiss your children’s smaller accomplishments wholesale when they aren’t the best — that’s negligent, too.
You learn from failure, but you can also feed off success.
When Andrew Friedman and Dave Roberts met reporters this afternoon to bring closure to the Dodgers’ season, the different threads were front and center. No one felt ashamed of the effort or the intermediate achievements, even if no one was satisfied with the final result.
In other words, there was no mistaking the determination to go farther. Pride and desire.
“Obviously, the No. 1 goal is to play in the World Series, and we came up short,” said Roberts, who was named Sporting News NL Manager of the Year today. “I think a lot of good things are in place to bring a championship back here to Los Angeles. Since last December, the process of how we go about things as an organization, how the guys on the field play the game … I think we did a lot of good things.
“You can look back at this past series (against Chicago), and we didn’t play our best baseball and certain things could have changed that would have affected the outcome. You can talk about that forever. But I think the time we put into creating an environment, syncing it with the ownership, front office, coaching staff, players, training staff — those are things that are really tangible I think. I think that is something we’re going to hang our hats on, and we’ll be ready to go next spring.”
By Jon Weisman
One of these years, it wasn’t going to happen. One of these years, the National League West title would go to someone else.
Three months ago, 2016 looked dangerously like it would be that year. The Dodgers began the season in pursuit of their fourth straight division championship, but on June 26, eight games down in the division, one ace down on the disabled list — it was a feeding frenzy for those looking to bury Los Angeles.
Exactly three months later, on September 26, the Dodgers will wake up not eight games down in the NL West, but eight games up — and playoff bound.
Instead of surrendering with Clayton Kershaw out, the Dodgers found a deep resolve. Not coincidentally, it came from a deep roster.
“We talked a lot at Spring Training about depth in the organization,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said, in the bombastic clubhouse after today’s clinching victory over Colorado. “It wasn’t something that we were necessarily eager to showcase, as early as we did and as often as we did. But it’s an incredible organization. The number of fingerprints on this division title spans so many different players and so many different departments in our organization. So many people can be proud of it.
By Jon Weisman
And for Vin Scully, unbelievable.
At Vin’s final day broadcasting at Dodger Stadium, as the shadows crept across the infield, Charlie Culberson homered — his first of the season — to give the Dodgers a 4-3 walkoff, 10-inning victory over the Colorado Rockies — and their fourth consecutive National League West title.
After going the life of the franchise without making the playoffs in three straight years until 2015, the Dodgers have extended their streak by one. Dave Roberts joined Tommy Lasorda as the only rookie managers ever to lead the Dodgers to a division title.
The victory sets up a National League Division Series matchup with the Washington Nationals, who clinched the NL East on Saturday. Game 1 of the NLDS will be October 7, with the Dodgers narrowly behind the Nationals in determining home-field advantage. The Dodgers own the tiebreaker if the teams finish with identical records.
In a season replete with resolve, the Dodgers rallied from two deficits — and won without leading until after the final pitch was thrown.
In his first MLB start since August 13, Brandon McCarthy made his longest appearance since July 22. Retiring the first six batters he faced on 25 pitches with four strikeouts, McCarthy then allowed two runs in the third inning, but recovered to face the minimum in the fourth and fifth innings.
For the day, McCarthy threw 79 pitches in 5 1/3 innings with six strikeouts, and notably walked only one. It was his three consecutive starts walking a career-high five in early August that signaled his need to return to the disabled list.
Following a Howie Kendrick single and Justin Turner double to begin the third, the Dodgers cut the Rockies’ lead in half on Yasiel Puig’s sacrifice fly, but couldn’t convert any of their other eight baserunners in the first six innings into runs.
After Turner singled in the seventh, however, Corey Seager ripped a shot down the right-field line — his team-leading fifth triple — and suddenly the Dodgers were tied, at home, with a direct look at the promised land. Then came the final at-bat …
David Dahl’s ninth-inning home run off Kenley Jansen looked to deny the Dodgers their opportunity to win their way into the NL West title. The immediate consolation, as Dahl’s drive sailed over the fence in right-center, was that San Diego took a 4-3 lead over San Francisco in the bottom of the seventh, extending the possibility of a home clinch.
But with two out in the bottom of the ninth, Seager drilled a 112 mph shot off Rockies reliever Adam Ottavino (aiming to rebound from his five-run, ninth-inning meltdown August 31 against the Dodgers) to tie the game again.
Joc Pederson, batting for Yasiel Puig, walked against Boone Logan. Gonzalez came to the plate and hit a solid opposite-field drive but a can of corn nonetheless, and we would play on.
Extra Vinnings :)
— Dodger Insider (@DodgerInsider) September 25, 2016
With two out in the bottom of the 10th, Culberson, who spent much of the season in the minors, no-doubted an 0-1 pitch over the fence in left, and the celebration began for the Dodgers — bot thanks to the Giants, but thanks to themselves.
On Wednesday, the Dodgers played what they hope will be their last game with Clayton Kershaw on the disabled list.
The standings (seen at right) for those 73 days without their incomparable star, at least on the surface, tell as unexpected a story as one has seen from the Dodgers since 1988 — a story equal to if not beyond their 2006 playoff push after going 1-13 to start the second half of the season, the Manny Ramirez-led charge to a division title in 2008 or the 42-8, last-to-first comeback in 2013.
That the Dodgers have gone from eight games behind the Giants in the National League West to five games ahead, without their best pitcher (or double handfuls of other injured players at given moments), speaks to something beyond magic, let alone the Giants collapse. Playing .613 ball, a winning percentage second in MLB only to the Cubs, has been a result of a level of talent and depth that few seemed to appreciate when Kershaw went down.
In the latest Dodger Insider cover story, we trace the evolution of the 2016 Dodgers from what was perceived to be a one-man team into an all-hands-on-deck, grinding contender.
“I would hope that it was going to come out all along,” Dave Roberts said. “But I do know that when your best player goes down, there was a concerted effort for us to do a little bit more each individually. So it’s hard to say, but the way we have responded with Clayton being down is a testament to our guys.”
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Beginning this year, the Dodgers merged their previously separate Playbill and Dodger Insider magazines into one publication (at least 80 pages per issue) with a new edition available each homestand plus one in October, 13 issues total. It is distributed at auto gates (one per vehicle) and via Fan Services for those who use alternate transportation. Dodger Insider magazine includes news, features, analysis, photos, games, stadium information and more. Fans who still wish to subscribe can do so at dodgers.com/magazine.