In Part I of my 2016 season review, I talked about the surprises and disappointments the Dodgers had throughout the year. Here, in part two, we’ll cover the biggest storylines and memorable moments of the season.
There were plenty of highlights in the Dodgers season this year. Some were great, some were sad and some were just flat out strange. Remember Corey Seager breaking up Matt Moore’s no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning? Or what about the Dodgers welcoming back Zack Greinke to L.A by hitting something like 84 home runs off him that night? How cool was it to see Dodgers fans (shout out to Pantone 294) taking over opposing ballparks, everywhere from San Francisco to New York? And who can forget the incident with Madison Bumgarner and his anti-social position with Yasiel Puig? (#DontLookAtMe either Madison.)
Unfortunately, those are just some of the stories that we can’t fully get into. For brevity’s sake, I narrowed it down to a handful of ones that I thought were the most memorable and/or significant this year.
Storylines / Memorable Moments
Dodgers surge without Kershaw’s: When news broke that Clayton Kershaw had a setback in his rehab, and was going to miss a significant amount of time because of a herniated disk in his back, it left Dodgers fans with a…. let’s say “bad” feeling. And I don’t mean a bad feeling like the one you get when you find out that you have to work on the weekend or when you discover that you’re out of Tapatio sauce. I mean bad feeling like, “this may be the worst year of my life” type bad.
It was definitely a turning point in the Dodgers’ season. They could have easily succumbed to the plethora of injuries they suffered culminated with Kershaw going down and no one would have really blamed them. But instead, they rose to the occasion and played the best baseball they had all year.
When Kershaw went down, the Dodgers were eight games behind the San Francisco Giants in the NL West. When he returned two and a half months later, they were five games up. How absurd is that? The Dodgers were somehow able to not only endure Kershaw’s absence, but excel without him. Pretty remarkable.
Acquisition of Rich Hill and Josh Reddick: When the Dodgers front office went out and acquired Rich Hill and Josh Reddick from the Oakland A’s at this year’s trading deadline, some thought they may have overpaid a bit (myself included). They gave up three highly regarded prospects in return, and both Hill and Reddick will be free agents at season’s end, so this could be a rental situation.
And it sure started out rough for both players. Hill’s blister problem lingered and lingered, delaying his debut for the Dodgers for multiple starts. Reddick struggled to get going offensively, hitting .161/.223/.172 with no homeruns and one whole RBI for the month of August.
Since then, things have gotten much better. Hill finally took the mound for the Dodgers and has lived up to the pitcher they traded for, giving up one earned run or less in four of his first five starts. He’s been the legitimate No. 2 guy behind Kershaw that the Dodgers were looking for. Reddick has starting hitting better as well, although he remains in a platoon situation in right field, playing primarily against righties.
The Dodgers needed to make a move at the deadline, no doubt about that. They did that with the Hill/Reddick acquisition and it was going to be a big story in the season, for better or worst. Going into the playoffs let’s hope it continues to be for the better.
Yasiel Puig fiasco: “Wait, what? They’re sending Puig to the minors!?”After hearing the news that Yasiel Puig was demoted to Oklahoma City right after the trading deadline, I believe my initial reaction was something like that… minus maybe a few expletives.
I, like many Dodgers fans, was certainly confused by the whole situation. What exactly was going on? It was no mystery that Puig had long been on the trading block and if the Dodgers went ahead and pulled the trigger on a trade, it wouldn’t have been shocking. In fact, I kind of expected it to happen especially after the Reddick acquisition. But once the deadline passed and the Dodgers hadn’t made a move, I would have never thought a demotion to the minors was in the cards.
Sure, Puig wasn’t playing very well, at least for his standards and expectations. His average hovered around .250-.260 most of the year. He only had seven home runs at the time he was sent down. But he was surely a better option than the guys taking his spot, like Rob Segedin and Kike Hernandez, no? There certainly appeared to be more than meets the eye behind this move. Perhaps some clubhouse and/or off-field issues, that seemed to have plagued Puig throughout his career, played a role.
Confusing the situation even more was false and misleading media reports that Puig had “stormed off” after finding out about being sent down. But truth was, he hadn’t. It was all a very weird situation and left many wondering if we’d ever see Puig in a Dodgers uniform again.
Well we did. Since returning to the club in September, Puig has looked a lot better. He’s still playing in the aforementioned platoon situation that Dave Roberts has employed for a while now and who knows what kind of role he’ll play in the playoffs. But hopefully, that whole fiasco is behind both Puig and the Dodgers. Time to forgive and forget.
Near perfection for Rich Hill: As controversial as it comes. Never in the live-ball era had a pitcher been taken out of a game after pitching seven perfect innings. That was, until earlier this month when Dave Roberts yanked Rich Hill when he was six outs away.
I know there are many out there who defended Roberts decision, and believed his reasoning about it being what’s “best for the team.” But I think those people are missing a couple of huge points. One, this wasn’t like earlier in the year when Roberts had removed Ross Stripling when he was four outs away from a no-hitter. That was a lot more understandable. A rookie pitcher, coming off of Tommy John surgery, who had already thrown 100 pitches, and was visibly getting tired.
Hill was at 89 pitches and dominating. Also, this was not just a no-hitter (which is a very remarkable achievement itself) but a perfect game. Baseball has been played for about 140 years now, and we’ve seen 23 of those. It’s not an insignificant achievement. It’s history and it might be the most prestigious individual accolade in the game. If you can’t understand that, you can’t appreciate the game of baseball.
But what about the blister? All that “individual achievement” nonsense goes out the window once we’re talking about a player’s health and the team’s success. But this is where some are assuming too much. Hill’s blister wasn’t resurfacing and his removal was purely precautionary. Even before the Dodgers trainer said they “felt heat” on Hill’s finger, Roberts already had Grant Dayton warming up in the bullpen an inning before that. Why? It seems like the decision to remove Hill was more of an overall cautious approach with him than an actual tangible reason.
In an otherwise solid rookie year for Roberts, this one of his biggest gaffes in my opinion. Some say it was a gutsy move, but I wholeheartedly disagree. I believe the gutsy move would be to leave Hill in, buck the pre-determined pitch count, trust in your player and let him go for history. Perhaps he gets the next six outs in 20 pitches or so. Or, maybe he gives up a hit in the eighth inning and you can remove him immediately afterwards. We’ll never know and that’s unfortunate. Hill deserved his shot.
Dodgers win fourth straight division title: The Dodgers showed a lot of perseverance, and had to overcome a lot this season in order to defend their NL West reign. I know the ultimate goal is winning a World Series, but that shouldn’t make claiming a fourth straight division crown any less remarkable, especially in the way they did it this season. Coming back from way down in the standings, with so many injuries, was a truly amazing effort by the team.
Four straight division titles is nothing to shrug at. It’s a very notable achievement, and it’s a testament to the Dodgers organization. It’s hard to stay dominate, especially with increased parity in the game. Fans surely won’t be satisfied until the Dodgers claim a long-awaited World Series, and rightfully so. But the unfortunate truth of the matter is that anything can happen in the post season, and you can’t guarantee anything. All you can do is keep giving yourself a shot, and the Dodgers have done that four years straight now.
Finally, the way the Dodgers clinched this year was pretty unforgettable. They were down to their last out, in the bottom of the ninth inning when Corey Seager stepped up. This year’s rookie of the year tied the game with a towering home run into right field, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Then, in the tenth inning, Charlie Culberson came up and whacked his first career home run, giving the Dodgers the win, the division championship, and sending Vin Scully off in the most dramatic way possible…which brings me the last memorable moment of the season.
Vin Scull’s farewell: We all knew it was coming. It was that gloomy cloud on the horizon that we all just wanted to ignore, and hoped would go away. Ever since Vin Scully announced that his departure from the game would be at this season’s end, Dodgers fans have dreaded its arrival. And now it’s here.
We’ve done plenty of great tributes to Vin throughout the season, and there’s not much more to say about the man. He’s the greatest, plain and simple. Over the last 67 years, he’s been the voice of the Dodgers, and he’s meant so much to the fans, it would be impossible to explain to any non-sports entity.
This past weekend’s series was the last for Mr. Scully at Dodgers stadium, and the team paid tribute to him in a very special ceremony on Friday night. Then, on Sunday, for his last home game ever, the baseball Gods reached down from heaven and provided fans with one last memory of the greatest sports broadcaster of all-time. An extra innings, division clinching victory, which we already talked about.
I mean, did you expect anything different for Vinnie’s last game? Of course you didn’t.
After the game, the players and fans all showed their appreciation for Scully, tipping their caps and applauding to the man who’s brought so much to this organization. Scully retuned the appreciation to the fans, treating them to his reenactment of the song, “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” I think I can speak for many when I say my allergies started acting up right about then, and it was a very special moment for Dodgers fans everywhere.
We’ll get to hear Vin one last time this weekend, when he’ll conclude his amazing career in San Francisco, as the Dodgers finish up the year against the Giants. Let’s all savor it. Remember it. And impossible as it may seem, try not to be sad that we’re saying goodbye to such a legend, but thankful that we had him in our lives for such a long time, sharing so many wonderful moments.
Farewell Vin…you’ll be greatly missed old friend.