The Dodgers are going on their 32nd year of trying to win a World Series. Over the last few years they’ve been so close. They were the best team in baseball in 2017 and we know what happened in that World Series. Since 2013 they’ve had a team that could win the World Series but they have not gotten over that hump.
There have been various reasons for that and some of those reasons are addressed in this article. Here are some keys and specific points that the Dodgers need to deal with to raise the Commissioner’s Trophy in November.
That Key Base Hit
How many times have the Dodgers been in a postseason game where one base hit (or even a sacrifice fly) could have made the difference in a series? In my mind, the Dodgers had so many scoring opportunities in the 2017 World Series (games 2 and 7 specifically) that even with the rampant cheating they could have won. Looking back at the 2019 loss to the Nationals, there were so many missed opportunities, especially game 5. Instead, key strikeouts or ground outs to the right side of the infield have dominated those situations.
One common complaint is that there is a lack of a two-strike approach for the Dodgers. They seem to be swinging for the fences (they DO hit a lot of home runs) when all they need is to put the ball in play. After the Wild Card Series, they will play all their games in the new ballpark for the Texas Rangers, which is not a great place for home runs. Those home runs we have seen at Dodger Stadium that barely clear the fence are outs in Texas.
Getting hits into the gaps might be one of the biggest keys for whichever teams end up winning.
One other item that could help in this area would be a dose of small ball. With the extreme shifts, I wouldn’t mind seeing a bunt every once in a while. The Dodgers do have some capable base stealers like Mookie Betts, Chris Taylor, and Cody Bellinger. AJ Pollock and Austin Barnes could be threats also. Maybe hit and run with some of the better contact hitters like Justin Turner, Mookie Betts and Will Smith and take advantage of certain situations.
The Dodgers have some players on offense like Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager and AJ Pollock that have all performed well below their capabilities in the playoffs. I hope they can stay within themselves and change their playoff legacies. If those three can step it up in the playoffs then it could mean a lot more success.
Learning From History
This section is geared towards management. We’ve seen the Dodgers seemingly make the same mistakes over and over. Sometimes it seems the management staff seems to overthink and then there are times where logic seems to be ignored. Some of the key items that I’d not like to see happen again:
- Putting players into a game whether as a starter or as a substitute when another player should be in. One example I cannot forget was when the Dodgers started Chase Utley over Logan Forsythe in game 2 of the 2017 World Series. Forsythe had been playing well in September and throughout the playoffs and was a superior defensive player. The first run the Astros got in that game was started when Josh Reddick hit a ball to the left of Utley that he could not stop. Forsythe would have had a better shot that. Utley also hadn’t had a postseason hit in almost 20 at-bats and was 38 years old and overmatched. The Dodgers put an inferior player in the lineup, and they paid for it.
- Managing the bullpen is my biggest issue. Bringing in Brandon Morrow in the 2017 World Series game 3 when the team is down by three early in the game had ramifications in game five when Morrow was toast. Not using other assets early in the game was costly also for game five. The telegraphing of Kenley Jansen was to go for six outs in the 2018 World Series was beyond silly, especially since he was degraded. They did the same with Clayton Kershaw in the 2019 NLCS game five. Pulling Rich Hill in the 2018 World Series? Using Ryan Madson continually in the 2018 World Series when he was proving that he wasn’t right. The list of pitching management mistakes over the last four postseasons is extensive. I think they actually made the fewest mistakes in 2016. It blows my mind how many bad pitching decisions have been made in the playoffs since they started their playoff run in 2013.
- Some of the lineups in the playoffs have been interesting. They seem to rely too much on the pitching matchups. One of the side effects of that is some poor defensive alignments. I am hopeful that the team they have now has enough players that should not be platooned so the lineup should be balanced between offense and defense.
- When the Dodgers start pulling out their starters too early for pinch hitters they have run out of players and have to live with what is left. I don’t want to see so many substitutions that when the game heads to the ninth the Dodgers are out of options. Remember Andre Ethier in left field in the bottom of the 10th in 2017’s World Series game 5? My great fear is that the tying run is on third base in the ninth inning with a nasty left-hander on the mound and there is nobody available to pinch hit for Joc Pederson. Thankfully, the DH could or should rectify some of these issues.
- All other relief pitchers seem to have a short leash except the closer. If Kenley Jansen is struggling in his warmups, don’t bring him in. If he starts off with not hitting his location then get another reliever up and ready.
- It is obvious that management wants to repair the playoff legacies of players like Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen. The best thing that can be done for them is understanding what they can do now instead of how good they were in the past. Use them as they could best help the team. The legacy they need is to raise the World Series trophy, not excel individually.
The Hot Hand
If a player is in an awful slump, they do not have to bat fourth, even if they have done it all year. Move them down in the lineup or move them to the bench. It’s a strength that Dodgers’ management has faith in their players, but is it worth losing in the playoffs? If a reliever has been bad, then stop using them in crucial situations. Going back to the Utley story above, don’t play someone who is not capable when another player is hot.
Sometimes I think the Dodgers would rather lose with “their guys” than win with a fresh face.
Play the Kids
Speaking of fresh faces, the Dodgers need to play the kids. If a veteran is not doing the job, then go to one of the kids. I hope they don’t hesitate to put Justin Turner at DH in some games and start Edwin Rios at third. JTs bat is invaluable, but his defense has been fading. If a team decides to start bunting with JT at third it almost becomes an automatic hit. They should not hesitate to pitch Victor Gonzalez over someone like Alex Wood. It has been great to see rookie starting pitchers Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May earn regular turns in the rotation. I hope that continues. Brusdar Graterol has done well and he should get a chance at some tough innings.
One Last Chance
After the 2020 season, there are several Dodgers who’ve played major roles on the team becoming free agents. For those guys there may not even be another chance to win a World Series. This could add extra pressure to those players. The soon-to-be free agents are:
- Justin Turner
- Kiké Hernandez
- Joc Pederson
- Pedro Baez
- Alex Wood
After 2021, the contracts of Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, and Corey Seager expire. It would be horrible for this group to not get a World Series championship, especially after getting robbed in 2017. Let’s hope they and the rest of the team can play within themselves.
For the third time in four years, I truly believe the Dodgers have the best team in baseball. It seems the only thing that can stop them is themselves. No team has the 1 through 28 roster depth. The Dodgers might be batting Chris Taylor or AJ Pollock in the nine spot. How many teams are that good? So many of these players have a lot of post-season experience. Sometimes it takes a few failures to finally break through and I think this is the year.