Dodgers Face Obstacles in Quest for Consecutive World Series
As the Dodgers prepare for another run to the World Series in 2018, let us take a serious look at what could happen to the team along the way.
(Editor’s note: The author has been a rabid Dodgers fan since the first time he saw them on television in the summer of 1970. He originally wanted to be Wes Parker or Bobby Valentine when he was a child. He firmly believes the Dodgers will advance to the World Series in 2018)
My mom likes to tell the story about how I would run around the house with a bat and ball at the age of 3, and how I would try my best to hit it. I wasn’t this kid, but I could still hold my own with most 3-year-olds of the time.
That was 1968. I didn’t even know what a Dodger was. Neither my mom nor my dad really knew anything about baseball. Mom was born in Sweden, for Pete’s sake.
When I reached my early teens, my mom told me about the time she saw Sandy Koufax pitch at Dodger Stadium. Oh, how I envied Mom.
Growing up in the San Fernando Valley with a bat in your hand, there was no other option than to become a Dodger fan.
I remember begging my Dad to take me to Dodger Stadium, to buy me season tickets (Reserve Level season tickets were $800 for one seat in the late 70s), and to let me go to baseball camp so I could meet Steve Garvey and get his autograph (I did).
The 70s and 80s were great times for a young Dodger fan: Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey; Hershiser and Gibson; Mike Scioscia vs. Doc Gooden; World Series appearances in 1974, 1977, 1978, 1981 and 1988; titles in ’81 and ’88.
The 90s were hard to swallow, and the 2000s weren’t much of an elixir.
Then came 2012 and something called Guggenheim Partners. The bet here is that the only Guggenheim any Angeleno had ever heard of before then was the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed museum in New York.
Having become a quinquagenarian a couple of years ago, it has become easier and easier for me to look at the realistic side of things, especially when it comes to my greatest passion in all of sports, The Los Angeles Dodgers.
So, as we gear up for another hopeful run to a World Series title, it’s time to take a semi-realistic look at what could happen to the Dodgers in 2018.
The Dodgers have been fairly lucky with regards to long-term injuries the past few years. Yes, Clayton Kershaw has missed significant time each of the past two seasons with his back issues, and Justin Turner had microfracture knee surgery in 2015, but both players were able to answer the bell come playoff time the last two years.
Whenever people talk about the Dodgers these days, all conversations begin and end with Kershaw. And, for the past few seasons, that talk has often centered around his back.
Kershaw will be 30 on March 19. He’s not getting any younger, and his prime is rapidly approaching its end. Unfortunately, backs just don’t get better. All the core training and stretching exercises in the world won’t cure a bad back (at 52, trust me).
In 2016, Kershaw landed on the 60-day disabled list. Late last July, he hit the DL until Sept. 1, his second back-related stint on the DL in two seasons.
Could Kershaw continue to dominate and not feel the effects of the back for several years to come? Yes. Could his back explode in a mountain of pain on his first 12-6 curveball on Opening Day? Yes.
The true answer probably lies somewhere between the two.
Turner’s microfracture knee surgery in October 2015 could have been the end of his power-hitting career. Turner missed the first quarter of the 2016 season rehabbing. Most often, athletes do not get better after such surgeries. Turner actually did.
Now entering his age 33 season, with three years remaining on his contract, and no true third base prospect knocking at the door, Turner’s knee could be a focal point of the Dodgers’ offense for the foreseeable future.
Rich Hill came to the Dodgers with a blister reputation, which the Dodgers saw firsthand in the second half of 2016. The issue never really popped up (pun intended) in 2017, but it could be only a sharp breaking ball away from bursting the Dodgers 2018 bubble (yes, another bad, but appropriate, pun).
Those three players alone will account for more than $64 million of the Dodgers 2018 payroll.
Corey Seager’s elbow could also be a concern. Seager missed the Divisional playoffs last season because of his balky throwing elbow. This didn’t affect the Dodgers’ World Series outcome but, if it lingers or requires surgery at some point this season, it could affect this year’s chances.
Andrew Toles should be ready to play full time this season, although he will have to battle for the starting left field spot with about 27 other guys. His knee injury probably wasn’t the difference between winning or losing Game 7 of the World Series, but it sure would have been nice to have his speed and consistency in the lineup.
While the Dodgers continue to infuse younger talent into the starting lineup and pitching staff, they aren’t getting any younger as a whole.
The Dodgers had the ninth youngest team entering 2017, but it’s the key cogs who are aging the fastest: Hill (38 on Opening Day), Turner (33), Kemp (33), Jansen (31), Ryu (31), Forsythe (31), Kershaw (30), Baez (30), Maeda (30 just after Opening Day) and Grandal (29) make up possibly four-fifths of the Opening Day rotation, the closer, a key set-up man and four probable Opening Day starters.
Granted, the average age of the Dodgers’ probable starting eight on March 29 will only be 27.1 (assuming Joc Pederson starts in left), but could be as high as 28.1 if Kemp gets the nod in left.
The Opening Day ages of the Dodgers presumed starting five of Kershaw/Hill/Wood/Maeda/Ryu will be 31. The average presumed bullpen age will be a tick over 29.
Add in a Walker Buehler (23) or Alex Verdugo (21) and those numbers will drop a little.
People like to talk about championship windows. The Dodgers’ isn’t slamming shut by any means, but it is slowly being slid closed for this core group.
Bad luck/down years
The Dodgers haven’t really had any bad luck the past several years. Injured players have recovered, the front office has created a monster amount of depth, management has held onto budding minor league stars and infused them accordingly, and things have gone pretty much according to plan.
Will 2018 contain any bad juju, or will things remain as they should, with L.A. once again dominating the West and the National League?
Regressing to the norm?
Raise your hand if you had ever heard of Chris Taylor before June 19, 2016? I’ll wait … I’m still waiting.
I’ll admit I had never heard of him, and I still held out hope that Zach Lee would at least amount to a decent No. 4 starter.
The question is this: Will 2018 Chris Taylor be 2017 Chris Taylor or 2014-16 Chris Taylor?
Prior to last season, Taylor had accumulated one home run and 17 RBIs in 291 career at-bats with a stout .234 average. Last season, Taylor hit 21 home runs with 72 RBIs and a .288 average in 514 at-bats.
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Which is the norm?
And then there’s Alex Wood, he of the career 27-30 career record and 3.35 earned run average entering 2017, when he went 16-3 with a 2.72 ERA and league-leading .842 winning percentage.
Which is the norm?
And, finally, Yasiel Puig. After four excruciatingly frustrating seasons, something finally clicked. After averaging 14 home runs and 49 RBIs, Puig finished second on the Dodgers in home runs (28) and third in RBIs (74).
Again, which is the norm?
The kid can rake. Who hits a team-leading 39 home runs with a team-leading 97 RBIs on a team stacked like this one … at 22 years old!?
Sitting in the Top Deck for both Games 6 and 7 of the World Series, one couldn’t help but notice that every time Bellinger got two strikes on him, opposing pitchers would throw a breaking ball down and in for a swinging strike three. In fact, Bellinger struck out seven times in eight at-bats in those final two games, four of those with runners in scoring position.
The assumption is that Bellinger will evolve as a hitter as pitchers continue to try to find ways to get him out. A huge sophomore slump would not help the Dodgers’ 2018 chances.
Manager Dave Roberts loves his metrics. As a “younger” manager, that is understandable. This is the 21 century, after all. Home runs are all the rage, and the only way to get all those blasts is to create launch angle and exit velocity.
Here’s hoping that the next time Roberts comes face to face with a Game 7, he relies more on his heart and baseball mind that all those metrics.
Kershaw opting out of the final two years of his contract at the end of 2018 would be the most devastating thing that could happen for any Dodger fan. One popular thought is that he’ll take his wares to his home state Texas Rangers.
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Of course, he could try to renegotiate or extend with the Dodgers. Either way, it’ll be pins and needles time come November.
So many things to worry about. So much stress. One way or another, 2018 will be a thrilling ride.