After a rough first six weeks of the 2018 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers have made it to World Series for the second straight year.
A spring training wayward pitch struck and cracked Justin Turner’s wrist weakened the Dodger offense for the first six weeks of the season. Corey Seager’s elbow pain that kept him out of most September 2017 returned in April 2017. Seager was lost for the season with Tommy John surgery. This further weakened the Dodger offense.
Cody Bellinger couldn’t distinguish a ball from a strike. Yasiel Puig didn’t have any power in April. The bullpen couldn’t hold onto a lead if its life depended on it. When Clayton Kershaw injured himself and Hyun-Jin Ryu tore his groin, even the most ardent Dodger fan was saying, “Wait until next year.”
This Dodger team had the tenacity to climb back in the standings. Matt Kemp, coming back home from three-year stint with the San Diego Padres and the Atlanta Braves, proved his worth to the Dodgers. Ross Stripling emerged as the starting rotation’s ace, earning him the first All-Star appearance. A virtual unknown Max Muncy became the team’s power leader.
A rookie starter Walker Buehler, probably the NL Rookie Year, rarely demonstrated any nerves on the mound as he dominated the league with his 98-mile-per-hour fastball. Upon his return, Ryu showed his brilliance that he displayed in 2013 and 2014 before arm injuries besieged him. Although Kershaw didn’t dominate the opposition like during his Cy Young award years because of a decreased velocity, Kershaw was still good enough.
The Dodger front office made many moves at the non-waiver trading deadline designed to strengthen the team. As usual, some worked, and some didn’t. Acquiring Manny Machado from the Baltimore Orioles solidified the defense at shortstop while providing a consistent right-handed power hitter.
Although the Dodger front office finally received second baseman Brian Dozier from the Minnesota Twins, his batting average of .182 as a Dodger didn’t help. David Freese’s postseason experience helped as he gave manager Dave Roberts another option for first base, enabling Roberts to play Bellinger in center field.
The bullpen was continual work in progress in 2018. Unlike in 2016 and 2017, it wasn’t a strength for the Dodgers. Kenley Jansen had many struggles in 2018, including a recurrence of an irregular heartbeat in early August while the Dodgers were in Denver, and it will require surgery two weeks after the World Series. The additions of Ryan Madson and Caleb Ferguson have helped to stabilize the bullpen. After the All-Star break, Pedro Baez has been magnificent.
From August, every game was necessary for the Dodgers to win. A sweep of the San Francisco Giants on the last weekend of the regular season forced a 163 game to decide whether the Dodgers or the Colorado Rockies would be the 2018 National League Western Division champion.
The postseason experience aided the Dodgers to win their sixth consecutive NL Western Title.
Playing the surprising Braves in the NLDS proved not difficult for the Dodgers even though Buehler had a bad case of nerves in his start against the Braves.
Coming in the NLCS against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Dodgers were underdogs. The Brewers had a great bullpen which Manager Craig Counsell would go to whenever he wanted to, even in the first inning. The Brewers had a more balanced offensive attack than the Dodgers who led the NL in home runs.
Although both Kershaw and Ryu had rough starts during the NLCS, the Dodger starters performed admirably during the series, saving the bullpen. The Dodgers abandoned many runners on base, wasting many scoring opportunities. The bullpen was excellent. The Dodgers even prevailed in a 13-inning epic thanks to a well-timed single by Bellinger who had struggled during the postseason until then. Bellinger hit a crucial two-run homer in Game 7. This earned Bellinger the NLCS MVP.
Yasmani Grandal, the Dodger regular catcher, had a horrific NLCS. Every time he appeared in a game, the Dodgers lost. He couldn’t contribute anything to the offense. He had many passed balls and committed errors, including catcher’s inference. If the Dodgers want to win a world championship, they can’t play Grandal in the World Series.
Entering the World Series, the Dodgers are underdogs. Does this worry the Dodgers?
Thirty years ago, when the Dodgers won their last world championship, no one expected the Dodgers would beat the powerful Oakland Athletics. With determination, the Dodgers surprised the baseball world with their championship. If their pitching can keep the Boston Red Sox quiet, the Dodgers will have a little magic. Go Dodgers!