Now at a crossroads, we’re about to learn the true identity the 2019 Los Angeles Dodgers. To be clear, I don’t just mean what their final epitaph will read. I’m interested to see if this team has the grit and guile to overcome their most fatal flaws.
However, I want to preface this by saying the Dodgers are going to win game five of the NLDS in Los Angeles. Truly, I had this series going five games before it started. Without question, I feel that the winner of this series is your NL Champion.
— DodgerHunt27 (@Senseihunter51) October 8, 2019
Remember, last year before game seven of the NLCS; I told you the Dodgers would defeat Milwaukee, on the road as an underdog. Undeniably, I’m here to tell you the same thing happens in this series finale.
Still, I have had my inner doubts about the 2019 Dodgers for a long time.
Sometimes, it’s hard to look in the mirror and be honest with yourself about yourself. Similarly, I think we do that with our favorite sports teams. It’s only human, right? Part of being a fan is always having hope. Without that, what kind of fan are you? This season more than any other, I have seen where having objectivity, subjectivity, and being realistic can make other passionate fans made. Even more, they aren’t afraid to tell you that you’re jaded.
Obviously, I hope with that same amount of joy I did as a kid. Now, the difference is I know when I am lying to myself.
While I have the Dodgers’ escaping the NLDS by the thinnest of margins, I’ll tell you my true feelings on them. How are the 106-win regular season franchise record Dodgers the most flawed 100-win team of my lifetime? Hopefully, you can appreciate my viewpoints I have spent countless hours examining in my own head, the ‘mirror’ so-to-speak.
The Bullpen: Only The Start
Back in September, I debated with some knowledgable Dodgers’ folks about something I felt convicted about. I believe the 2017 Dodgers were a lot better team then the 2019 Dodgers. In fact, I think the 2017 Dodgers were one of the greatest teams of all-time; perhaps the best to not win a title.
Notably, I was asked what did the 2017 Dodgers do better? For starters, I lead with the bullpen. While I have spent spring, summer, and now fall waiting; this bullpen has never shown the ability to be trusted. Sure, you can section off some dates where stats support stability. However, let’s go back to that mirror; it’s just you and the mirror. Do you really trust this bullpen?
Check out the 2017 Dodgers bullpen members here before reading on. Then tell me – do the Dodgers even have a ‘guy’ – a stopper that you can hand the ball to in a big spot and you know he’s going to get it done. Well, the 2017 Dodgers had a couple of them. One of them is still on the roster, and he’s not the same pitcher.
No matter how much hope, write about it, or look for signs of full restoration from Kenley Jansen; the old big man is not walking through that door. From there, the dependable members of the 2019 team give me a whole different wave of emotion then any other group. From Julio Urias to Joe Kelly, to Pedro Baez and the youngsters trying to carry the load; the guy I trust most is a one-out lefty acquired at the deadline named Adam Kolarek.
Truthfully, from night to night, you never know what you’re getting out of any of these guys. The only thing consistent about them since April is they have been inconsistent, and left the organization shuffling furniture to find a true solution out of pieces that aren’t there.
The argument I am countered most with is that all teams have bullpen issues. Clearly, that should be considered. But with all their variables in play, the Dodgers need a more dependable bullpen. Right now, they’re managing around this problem; not thriving because of it.
The Lineup Has Thunder – But Is Banged Up & Without Rhythm
Obviously, the 162-game body of work says the 2019 Dodgers can hit. Statistics blind us to the truth sometimes though – which truth is real? Indeed, the Dodgers led the NL with 279 home runs and an .810 OPS. Moreover, the Dodgers hit pitchers with hard stuff as good as anyone according to ESPN.
Therefore, what is the problem you ask? Several of them exist:
- In a playoff series, power bats can go cold. Especially in a short playoff series.
- The Dodgers’ hitters have battled injuries all year long.
- Currently, players aren’t being used correctly.
- Key players have been a bit of a mirage.
Now, any one of those four quick points could have been put in bold and expanded upon greater. In short, Cody Bellinger should win the MVP award based on a great glove and historic first two months. However, he has failed to stay hot; and it’s continued into the postseason. Equally important, he’s been the only Dodgers’ regular not to face some sort of injury this season.
Corey Seager has felt a bit ‘off’ all year long outside of a few weeks. Justin Turner has shook off the effects of a malady of injuries to have a strong NLDS. The same can be said for Max Muncy. However, how often have the Dodgers’ played at full-strength? The Dodgers appeared to get fully healthy at the right time – with the exception of Alex Verdugo – all ‘major’ contributors are available.
And still, they’re not really hitting a ton. A tremendous amount of weight has been placed upon some superb rookies and a deep bench. Indeed, these are commendable strengths in any team. Even more, a championship can be founded in these things. Though if you’re pointing towards these things while your stars are having issues, it sort of makes a larger point.
Now we’re down to a one game shot – and we all sit and wonder – will Roberts play David Freese over A.J. Pollock? Can an offense that has never really had time to find a rhythm suddenly do it for nine innings? And then, can they ride different hot hands each night to a third straight World Series and then win a title? If you believe so, you are simply more bullish then I am or seeing something I’m not.
It’s been a while since I was at the end of a series and thought to myself that; the Dodgers’ key contributors were all hot and working in unison. It simply hasn’t felt like it’s taken place.
Wrapping Up a Myriad of Issues
Where to begin, and where to finish?
While it would be nice to be writing about whether or not the Dodgers can compete with the AL heavyweights, we’re all waiting to see if they can get through a solid Washington Nationals team. While Walker Buehler has continued his rapid ascent to stardom, Kershaw has a home-run issue. Obviously, he lost what may be his only postseason start; at home and in a game where he could have given Los Angeles command of the series. Then there is Ryu, who put together a Cy Young body of work and got a key victory in game three. But from August 17 onward – spanning seven starts – he posted a 5.40 ERA. It’s reasonable that Ryu be worn down at this stage.
And that’s it. Truly, you have those three starters and the bullpen which was already mentioned. While entering the season appearing to have as much starting pitching depth as anyone in baseball – that sentiment has played itself out to be somewhat hollow. Moving forward you still have those three with their strengths and weaknesses, and talk of bullpen games or Rich Hill (who has struggled with his own health issues) for your fourth.
Manager Dave Roberts continues to do his job in a puzzling manner in the most important month of the year. Until things discontinue like the lack of usage of Freese – one of October’s greatest players ever – he will leave himself open to second-guessing.
Undeniably, the Dodgers could suddenly put it all together and run through the rest of the postseason to make this column look silly. While I hope they do, it doesn’t feel like it’s coming. And if I’m being honest, it hasn’t felt that way for a while to me; one guy looking in the mirror at his team.
A million tiny cuts – that’s how a great baseball team faces it’s final ending. With each of these things I mention, the Dodgers face a piece of adversity. We are about to learn if what I believe to be their best quality, their grit and toughness in the big games; is enough to overcome their flaws.
Yes, the Dodgers will escape game five of the NLDS. But I don’t know if they will outrun the things I’ve seen when I look in the mirror along with them all season long.