Every new season marks a chance for improvement for any team, whether it’s a last-place squad looking to take a step forward or a World Series winner seeking to avoid a championship hangover. In their quest to purge three decades without a trophy, the first area of improvement for the Dodgers in 2019 is winning at a consistent clip, and doing it right from the start.
I realize this article is saying the painfully obvious. It goes without saying any team should aim to win consistently at any point of the season. Furthermore, the Dodgers tend to get off to slow starts EVERY year, even in 2017. Yet the fact that the 2018 squad made it to the World Series can easily obscure just how maddeningly inconsistent they were throughout the season. Even after escaping the cellar, they never hit a groove like 42-8 or Codymania. They were downright whiplash-inducing to the end, avoiding potential elimination with a sweep of the Giants and winning game 163 to barely win the division.
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For all the questions revolving around a potentially Kershaw-less rotation and a capable-if-questionable bullpen, the key to winning consistently lies primarily in one thing: hitting. As you may recall, the 2018 Dodgers were historically un-clutch with RISP. One could blame the loss of Corey Seager to an extent, but this awful trend continued even after they acquired Manny Machado. It was no surprise they were well below the Mendoza Line as a team in the World Series.
Just as sluggish as the hitting was the team’s attitude. As another fan pointed out in a conversation on Twitter, the players seemed rather despondent for the first few months of the season, as if the division was just going to be handed to them. The team weirdly attributed it to a “World Series hangover,” a term usually employed to refer to those who actually won it. After making it to a second consecutive WS, that excuse won’t fly this year.
Personally, I think they will correct both of these flaws in 2019. They have a new hitting coach, the vaunted batting guru Robert Van Scoyoc, and plan on a more strategic approach that will include more bunting. Full health for Seager, Justin Turner and A.J. Pollock, as well as Max Muncy avoiding regression and Cody Bellinger going full 2017, will stabilize an excellent lineup. The year-long presence of Seager, Walker Buehler and David Freese will help shape a much tougher, hungrier attitude.
If anything, L.A. has to win at a consistent clip from the opening pop simply because their schedule in the first half will be relentlessly challenging. Last year’s team hit “rock bottom” in early May after a string of humiliating defeats at the hands of the lowly Padres, Marlins and Reds. The opening months of 2019 will be far, far tougher. April has a four-game series in St. Louis, two series against the Brewers, one against an improved Reds team, and one against the Cubs. May is no less forgiving, with the Braves, Nationals, Reds and Mets on the dock. If the Dodgers are sluggish and mopey like they were last year, this stretch could put them in a similar hole.
If the Dodgers wish to finally grab that World Series trophy in 2019, they must show the hungry attitude and resolution necessary immediately. Many N.L. contenders have improved, and are not going to simply lay down for the back-to-back National League champions. We all know the MLB regular season is long, and allows for ebbs and flows for even the best teams. But this would nonetheless be the perfect time for the Dodgers to skip their ritual cold start.