(Photo Credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP)
It wasn’t long ago that much of the overall success of the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ organization was primarily credited to extremely strong roots in the club’s pitching program. While the main philosophy really hasn’t changed moving forward, the 2016 season deviated a bit from the norm, mainly because of the high number of injuries and the fact that upper management has been entrusting the future of the pitching staff to the youngsters, who may be only a season or two away from stardom.
Despite being just seven games over .500 and trailing the Giants by a full six games at the midway point of the season, the Dodgers were struggling to find any type of consistent identity to build upon and make a strong run at the divisional crown. A determined Japanese rookie became the stalwart of the starting rotation, after injuries to the squad’s resident ace and a handful of potential frontline starters left the front office digging deep into the farm system and opening doors with other clubs in hopes of landing a profitable trade.
It wasn’t long after midseason, however, when the bats began to catch fire. And they held a consistent flame for the majority of the stretch run of the season, recapturing first place in the standings in mid-August and never looking back.
During the time that Clayton Kershaw was on the disabled list, the Dodgers went on an impressive 38-24 run, mostly due to the turnaround on offense. Seemingly, it was the entire team that came to life, although the most impressive turnarounds came from Justin Turner and Howie Kendrick.
Turner’s power stroke came to life on June 7 against the Rockies. At that time he was hitting .225 with only four home runs, but he would then hit four more in a span of nine games. Turner hit eight home runs and collected 23 RBIs in June alone with a .592 slugging percentage. He finished the year hitting .275/.339/.493 with 34 doubles, 27 home runs and 90 RBI.
Kendrick started his own turnaround in late May, but really stepped on the gas with back-to-back multihit games on June 15 and 16. In the beginning of July, he started a streak where he hit safely in 18 of 19 games, rocketing his batting average from .237 to .274.
While rookie sensation Corey Seager was brilliant from mid-May through the end of the regular season, other players contributed mightily was well. Chase Utley found his groove in the second half, as did Joc Pederson, after finally recognizing a few flaws in his swing mechanics. Yasmani Grandal was brilliant in August and beyond, hitting .267/.377/.588 with 21 home runs in the final 70 games of the season. Adrian Gonzalez delivered butter and eggs almost daily, finishing with a slash line of .285/.349/.435. Finally, some farmhand named Andrew Toles, who began the year in High-A ball, climbed the entire organizational ladder and hit .314/.365/.505 over 115 plate appearances in the bigs.
Although they’re indeed great testaments to the team, none of the fairy tale really don’t mean much today as the Dodgers face a winner-take-all situation in the final game of the NLDS. Despite being cool in the early stages of the series, the good news is the club hit .245/.282/.423 in six games against the Nationals during the regular season — a few ticks below their overall numbers — meaning the stats say there’s a good chance they come to life on Thursday. If not, the players will head west, clean out their lockers and pack it in for the year.
As far as Washington starter Max Scherzer goes, he has a career 2-4 record in eight starts against the Dodgers with a 3.29 ERA, a 1.154 WHIP, 49 strikeouts, 11 walks and six long balls surrendered in 54-2/3 total innings — not overly incredible numbers, but very impressive, nonetheless. The fact that the decider is being hosted by the Nationals could conceivably play big in the end.
Whatever the outcome may be, the nerves of Dodgers’ fans everywhere could be soothed early with the help of some finely executed offense. Rich Hill and probably pretty close to the entire bullpen may be used in the finale, and there’s no doubt that they’d be happy with as many runs as the sticks can possibly produce.