The Dodgers have some unfinished business this October. Coming off back-to-back World Series loses, there’s no “get em’ next year” mentality or moral victories to be had. It’s Championship or bust.
So, the entire team as a whole has something to prove. Yet, there’s still some players that may have a little more weight on their shoulders when the post season begins. Whether it’s due to high expectations or past playoff performances, certain players are likely to be scrutinized more than others. That may or may not be fair but it’s just the reality.
Below, we take a look at which Dodgers are going into this October with the most to prove. If they do well and the team succeeds, they’ll answer a lot of questions. If they don’t, well… criticism is bound to ensue. No pressure, fellas.
Ryu makes this list because the Dodgers are going to need him to pitch like he has over the past year and a half on regular season outings if they want to make a deep playoff run. Last year, Ryu made 4 starts in the playoffs and pitched 5 or more innings in only one of them, posting a 5.21 ERA in the process.
That won’t cut it.
Up until about a month or so ago, Ryu was the consensus “ace” of the Dodgers staff. After his start on August 11th his ERA stood at a minuscule 1.45 and he was the likely front-runner for this year’s Cy Young Award. After a bit of a rough patch, Ryu seems to have bounced back and his numbers for the year are still great. He’s 14-5 with a league-leading 2.32 ERA, 1.007 WHIP and 6.79 K/BB.
That’s the Ryu that will have to show up in October.
The Dodgers got a pretty good steal last off-season when Ryu signed their one-year, ~$18 million qualifying offer. He’s out-pitched that deal for sure and probably set himself up nicely for free agency this off-season. But none of that regular season success is going to matter if he can’t duplicate it in the playoffs now. The Dodgers need him to.
— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) September 28, 2019
Needing your best player to show up in the playoffs is not an exclusive concept and pretty much applies to every team. For the Dodgers, that player will be Cody Bellinger.
Bellinger had an incredible year that may very well earn him the NL MVP Award when it’s all said and done. But with such productivity, comes great expectations. And some are already a little concerned with Bellinger heading into the playoffs after a second half where his OPS fell over 200 points. Of course, a decline had to be expected considering the first half he had and the numbers he put up.
Bellinger has played in 31 post season games with 124 career at-bats. In those games, he’s batting .172/.226/.336 with a .562 OPS. Not great.
He’s obviously a different player this year, and those past numbers won’t mean much if he can play like the MVP-caliber player that he has been during the regular season.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) September 29, 2019
When Bellinger is playing at his peak level, he’s the type of player that can carry a team. He’s done it all year for the Dodgers. But if for some reason he goes cold in October and the Dodgers fall short, don’t be surprised to see a bunch of criticism thrown his way. Again, not saying that’s fair, just that it’s probably the reality.
There’s no debating the success that Dave Roberts has had since joining the Dodgers. There’s been division titles galore and back-to-back World Series appearances, which are all great. The unfortunate reality, however, is that as long as a championship eludes the team, questions and criticism will remain for the Dodgers skipper.
Everything is magnified in the playoffs, especially managerial decisions. It’s true that many fans are often over-critical of managers. They tend to get more blame than they probably deserve when things go bad and don’t get much of the credit when things go good. But that’s part of being a major league manager.
Some of Roberts’ moves over the last two Octobers could certainly be questioned if we’re being honest. Bullpen usage, lineups, and pulling starters too early are just some examples.
I wrote this article last year after the Dodgers lost the first two World Series games to the Red Sox. (And boy, re-reading that opens up some old wounds.) It broke down the moves Roberts made during those first two games, and why some were questionable to say the least.
The “X’s and O’s” part of being a manager is a pretty big deal. Making the right calls and pushing the right buttons in key situations make all the difference in the world. Roberts will surely be in big spots this October that will require important decisions. And the outcome of those decisions will be telling.
Unfortunately, the Clayton Kershaw postseason narrative continues to live on. It’s exhausting, annoying and sometimes just infuriating to talk about. Yet, here we are.
A lot of that narrative is exaggerated by those who prefer to have selective memory. However, we can also agree that much of it is valid. There’s no doubt that Kershaw has struggled at times in the playoffs, especially compared to his regular season dominance. His 4.32 post season ERA is almost two runs higher than his career 2.44 mark.
It’s no secret that Kershaw is not the same pitcher he was a few years ago when he was the best in the league. His fastball velocity is down. His 3.03 ERA on the year is the highest it’s been since his rookie season back in 2008. But the Dodgers don’t need him to be that guy anymore. They won’t need him to come back and pitch Game 4 on short rest or pitch 8 shutout innings. They just need him to be solid when he takes the mound, just as he’s been all season long.
Despite his “down year,” Kershaw finished with 22 Quality Starts this season, 3rd most in the NL. He also went at least 6 innings in 26 of his 28 starts this year. If he can continue to produce like that, the Dodgers will gladly take it.
Going into this post season, Kershaw will once again have a target on his back. He’s had it there for a while. Many times, he’ll quiet his critics with a great start or two in October, only to see them return after he struggles in next start. He’ll need more consistency this post season to silence them for good, and Kershaw will once again have the chance this October.
Kershaw's season is over and he did not get the sub-3.00 ERA.
All good. 3.03 ERA for someone who people said was 'washed'? Damn good.
— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) September 29, 2019
Surprised that Kershaw wasn’t number one? He probably would be on most people’s list, but here, that honor goes to Jansen, who has plenty to prove himself this October.
Jansen claims the top spot for a couple of reasons. For one, just like Kershaw, he has some past October demons to exorcise. We could go into Game 2 of the 2017 World Series, or Games 3 and 4 of last year’s World Series… but let’s not.
To be fair, Jansen has been pretty solid in his playoffs overall, and has a lower post season ERA (2.08) and WHIP (0.818) than he has in his regular season career. With that said, the last two World Series are still fresh in everyone’s mind, and Jansen’s blown saves have come at the absolute worst times for the Dodgers. Game 2 in 2017 and Game 4 in 2018 were critical turning points in the series.
More than past performance though, is Jansen’s ability this year that has many concerned.
Jansen has eight blown saves this year, which is the most in baseball among closers. His 3.71 ERA is by far a career high. He also put up the 2nd highest WHIP, FIP, and HR/9 of his career while posting his second lowest K/9. All trends in the wrong direction.
Dave Roberts has stood by Jansen despite his struggles this year and insists he’ll still be the guy to close out games. This post season, fans will likely be on the edge of the seat when he takes the ball at the end of a close game. Jansen has a lot to prove this October, and we’ll find out soon enough if he’s up to the task.
If these 5 guys perform at or near their regular season levels, chances are the Dodgers are hoisting the World Series trophy for the first time since 1988.