With the regular season officially over and a franchise record 106 wins, the real work begins this Thursday. Given the multitude of heartbreaks Dodgers fans have suffered the past three decades, there’s understandably much anxiety going into October.
It makes sense, as there are no shortage of question marks. Can Kenley Jansen keep it together? Can Clayton Kershaw finally, finally, finally (FINALLY) slay his postseason struggles? Can Will Smith handle the playoffs?
Yet it would be a mistake to stress out over doubts, as there are plenty of players to be excited about this October. This is a team that’s won seven consecutive division titles and two consecutive pennants, and that doesn’t come without a battle-tested roster.
So to get ready, here’s five performances you should be anticipating eagerly for the next four weeks.
For years, Maeda has tried to cement himself as a starter. But in 2017, he found his true calling (albeit stubbornly) as a reliever. In the Dodgers’ first run to the World Series in 29 years, he looked like an entirely different pitcher. He won two games, had two holds, and allowed just one earned run all postseason long.
Maeda wasn’t quite as dominant in the 2018 postseason, but he still had flashes of brilliance. The best (and my favorite moment of that October) was the 18-inning barn burner in the World Series. Pitching the 15th and 16th innings, he notched five strikeouts (including a clutch one of Mookie Betts) and made a heads-up play at third to preserve the tie.
After more attempts to stay in the rotation, 2019 made the reality of Kenta’s limits in that role crystal clear. Thus, it’s back to the pen this October. Especially alongside a surplus of other starters, look for Maeda to lock down many key innings with his signature changeup.
Even with a few clunky starts, Walker Buehler resoundingly avoided the sophomore slump in 2019, and went to the All-Star Game for the first time. Now it’s time for him to further his postseason resume, and it’s sure to be a treat to watch.
All the more so because, especially for a rookie, he did pretty good last year. Cumulatively, his 2018 playoff performance was a mixed bag. It started rough with the NLDS and game three of the NLCS. But after locking down game seven to win the pennant, Buehler twirled a masterpiece in game three of the World Series. In 7 scoreless innings, he struck out 7 with just 2 hits and no walks.
It’s hard it overstate how incredible it is to get a performance like that in that situation from a rookie.
Altogether, that postseason showed his ability to get better as the stakes grew higher. As long as he trusts his breaking stuff, Buehler should have an even greater run this month. He might just get another ovation from Sandy Koufax…and many others.
Man, the doubt as to whether Big Red could handle relief duties feels like a lifetime ago! Ever since a bump on the noggin in Arizona on September 1, May hasn’t allowed a single run. He’s run his scoreless innings streak up to 10, and mixed in 4 consecutive holds to boot. He has 14 strikeouts in just 9 games this month, and his stuff’s movement is downright filthy, as demonstrated by his season-ending win in SF.
Dustin May, 98mph Sinker and K Hop.
I think the K Hop convinced Manny Gonzalez that it was a strike. ? pic.twitter.com/PURqXcNGN5
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 29, 2019
2019 may be a quest of fulfillment for the veterans, but it’s just as much a test for this superlative rookie corps. May has a chance to make a lasting impression right out of the gate and secure an oft-questioned bullpen. I’m confident he will, given the chance.
There’s no position player who will command a bigger spotlight than Belli. He finished the regular season with a line that’s not just MVP-worthy: it’s in rare company for this decade:
Cody will join Stanton ‘17 as the only players this decade to reach 45 HR, 120 R, 115 RBI w/ an OPS better than 1.000 in a season. No disrespect to other candidates but they also didnt play Gold Glove caliber defense in a variety of positions @Cody_Bellinger is THE #MVP #Dodgers pic.twitter.com/WCh6rLlpqr
— Jerry Hairston, Jr. (@TheRealJHair) September 29, 2019
After his humbling in the 2017 World Series, he showed incredible growth in the 2018 NLCS. He saved game four with the hallowed swan-dive catch and a 13-inning walk-off hit. Then came game seven, when his two-run homer proved the margin of difference. For an encore, he made his mark in the 18-inning WS game by throwing Mookie Betts out at home to preserve a tie.
Now after a season where he improved his regular season play to the highest level, it only makes sense he furthers his October prowess even more. Get ready for plenty of Bellibombs and impossibly athletic plays in the outfield. It’s going to be fun.
While it was fun to watch the 2018 Dodgers get a second consecutive pennant, that team never really did feel like a complete unit. One reason for this was the absence of Corey Seager, lost almost all year to Tommy John surgery. While Manny Machado did do enough to get the team back to the Fall Classic, it just didn’t feel the same.
Now, however, the king of doubles is ready to return to the big stage. Like Bellinger, he had a rough 2017 World Series and is ready to play like a true veteran when it matters most. But in that series, he made for the most electrifying image of Dodger Baseball this decade. You know what it is.
Are you ready for more moments like it? I know I am.