The Dodgers record in the postseason over the past several seasons has been disappointing. Since 2013 they have made the Championship Series twice, but have never gone any further.
October is the month Dodgers’ fans all over the world have been waiting for. Finally, October baseball begins this week. And for a team that will only be satisfied by taking home a World Series trophy in 2017, the Dodgers have to be pumped for the start. But on the other hand, Dodgers fans know all too well that their team has a way of disappointing when it matters.
The team has come so close so many times over the past 20 years. And lately, they have a knack for coming so far just to fall short of their World Series goals. In the past few years, the Dodgers have dropped out of the playoffs in the Division Series twice, and the Championship Series twice. So is there anything different about this 2017 squad?
The short answer is yes. This team matched the franchise’s single-season wins record and overcame all sorts of obstacles. As a team that was predicted to win 116 games at one point, the Dodgers finished out the regular season in a skid but still eclipsed 100 wins (104-58). While they may not have reached that ridiculous win total of 116, they are still poised to go all the way. So what makes this team different with the past team?
Let’s start with what kept them from the World Series the past few years. In 2013, they dropped the Championship Series to the Cardinals in 6 games. In the first loss, Chris Withrow gave up the lone run in extra innings on a walk-off single. In the second loss, Kershaw gave up no earned runs, but the team went 0-6 with runners in scoring position and left six men on base. In the third loss, Ricky Nolasco just got flat out beat by the opposing starter. The series concluded when Kershaw gave up seven earned runs in game six, ending the Dodgers’ World Series hopes.
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In 2014, they were knocked out of the Division series, again by the pesky Cardinals. Most of the failures in those games were due to a little bit of bad luck and a whole lot of failure in moving runners over. The Dodgers went 2-18 in the final two games with runners in scoring position, so really their starting rotation had no hope from the get-go.
2015 was more of the same from Los Angeles. They were knocked out of the Division Series by the Mets after tying it up at two games apiece. In the decisive game five, Zack Greinke was out-dueled by Jacob DeGrom, and the Dodgers fell 3-2. In the games they lost in that series, the Dodgers failed to move runners over again. That combined with the fact that their bullpen couldn’t hold the Mets at all, resulted in a very early exit from the postseason.
2016 was a year in which the feeling was the Dodgers were destined for the World Series. They scratched and clawed to knock out a very good Nationals team, and many felt they matched up well with the Cubs. And for a while they did, leading the series two games to one at one point. Then came game 4. Urias got clobbered early on, and the team left nine runners on base. From there, the team fell apart, as Joe Blanton and Pedro Baez combined to give up seven runs. Kershaw got hit hard in game six, and they only managed two hits. Thus, disappointment once again in Los Angeles.
So what’s different this year, what makes them the team of destiny?
Well for starters, they’re almost an entirely different team from the past. A team that has historically relied heavily on its bullpen to hold down small leads, the Dodgers had a +190 run differential in 2017. On top of that, the team ranked in the top six in on-base percentage, walks, runs batted in, home runs, and isolated power. The team had ten guys on their roster who hit 20+ home runs, and five guys with 70+ RBI in 2017. To top it all off, two guys had on-base percentages well over .400 on the year. Oh yeah, and this guy Bellinger is pretty decent too.
As good as their offense has been, their pitching staff has held it all together. Rich Hill and Yu Darvish, in particular, will no doubt be the most significant difference makers this October. The way Alex Wood played all season as well makes for a tough pitching staff to face for any team. Their bullpen has been just as good, with twelve guys below a 2.95 earned run average coming out of the bullpen this year.
The real difference this year is that the Dodgers have been able to get a big lead early and hold it down. In my opinion, this postseason will almost entirely depend on how Clayton Kershaw bounces back. Look for the future hall of fame pitcher to really get it going this postseason.