The Los Angeles Dodgers won 71.7 percent of their regular-season games, which would’ve been a franchise record had it been a 162-game season. Furthermore, they won the National League West for the eighth consecutive season.
Once more we ask the question: is this season different for the Dodgers?
Los Angeles has totaled three NL Division Series losses, two NL Championship Series losses, and two World Series losses since 2013. In two of those seven seasons they had the best record in the NL, one of them being last season. Their 43-17 record this season was the best in Major League Baseball.
Manager Dave Roberts‘ ballclub has been the most well-rounded team in MLB. The Dodgers offense was first in MLB in runs (349), home runs (118), and slugging (.483). On the hill, they were first in MLB in ERA (3.02), WHIP (1.06), and opponent batting average (.213).
Corey Seager bounced back in epic fashion at the plate in the regular season, hitting .307, posting a .943 OPS, and compiling 41 RBIs; Mookie Betts has been his stellar self, posting a .928 OPS and doing a little bit of everything at a high level; Justin Turner hit .307; Will Smith posted a .980 OPS; Chris Taylor posted an .842 OPS; AJ Pollock blasted 16 home runs.
The Dodgers rotation has been the best in the NL. Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Dustin May, Julio Urias, and Tony Gonsolin respectively recorded ERAs no higher than 3.44, as well as WHIPs no higher than 1.15 while opposing teams hit no higher than .220 against their offerings. They collectively held their own, we’ll say.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers had one of the best bullpens in the sport. The conglomerate of Kenley Jansen, Blake Treinen, Adam Kolarek, Pedro Baez, Joe Kelly, Brusdar Graterol, and others did an exceptional job keeping runners off the basepaths and closing the door in the late innings.
Superficially, they can only get better. That said, there’s a weakness in every Death Star, and the Dodgers are no different.
Bellinger has been more so his 2018 self than his 2019 self, which won the NL MVP Award. He’s whiffing badly at pitches all over the strike zone, seldom getting on base, and has at times looked lost. He hit .239 in the regular season.
Muncy has been all over the place. He’s striking out at a high rate, struggling to put the ball in play, and hit .192. This is one of the best left-handed hitters in the sport, as well as a versatile infielder on the right side. Where has he gone?
Pederson has been a streaky hitter for the bulk of his career. That said, last season was his finest work, cranking out home runs near the top of the order and picking up where his predecessor left matters in the middle of games (Pederson was a frequent defensive replacement last season). Across 43 games, Pederson hit .190 with 16 RBIs.
There’s the element of youth in the Dodgers rotation. May and Gonsolin have never made a postseason start, and Urias hasn’t made a postseason start since 2016. And, of course, there’s the unpredictability of Kershaw, who owns a career 4.43 ERA across 32 career playoff appearances, 25 of which have been starts.
Go back a year: how did you feel and/or what were people saying about the Dodgers?
Sentences along the lines of “no one in the NL is beating them” and “they have no weakness” probably came to mind. At the time, there was reason to believe those propositions. The Dodgers were a well-oiled machine without an alarming weakness.
Then what happened? They lost to the NL Wild Card team, the Washington Nationals, in the first round. In fact, they blew a 2-1 series lead, a 3-1 lead with six outs remaining in Game 5, and lost two of three games at home to a team whose bullpen finished with a 5.68 regular-season ERA. Keep in mind this was a team coming off back-to-back NL pennants facing a team that was yet to escape the first round in its existence.
The Dodgers need to stay the course and think less. Managers and players can change their course in crunch time when the heat turns up. Case in point: many of Roberts’ late-game postseason pitching changes have panned out poorly.
The Dodgers face the Milwaukee Brewers in the first round of the playoffs. The Brewers have ambush potential written all over them. They have an offense of high-octane hitters who have been dragging through the season (Christian Yelich, Keston Hiura, Avisail Garcia, and Ryan Braun), as well as a deep, versatile pitching staff. This is precisely the type of team that ekes out two wins in a best-of-three series against the Dodgers.
The Dodgers can’t have multiple automatic outs in their order; that leads to runners being left on base which comes back to bite a team in the rear late in games. They need depth from their rotation. The bullpen has to finish games. Roberts can’t outthink himself.
This Dodgers team looks different, but does it come with a new fate? Only time will tell.