“When adversity strikes, that’s when you have to be the most calm. Take a step back, stay strong, stay grounded and press on.” – LL Cool J
The Los Angeles Dodgers lost their opening day left fielder just 31 games into the season when Andrew Toles tore his ACL crashing into the wall at Dodger Stadium. It was May 10, barely a full month into the 2017 season, and already the Dodgers’ brass was tasked with adversity. Couple the knee of Toles with the groin strain of Joc Pederson, and the Dodgers didn’t have enough healthy outfielders on the bench to field a team.
So they called up a lanky kid making headlines in Oklahoma City for his bat, and his defense. The plan for Cody Bellinger was to play left field, but the emergence of Chris Taylor and his newly minted swing improvement, and the back strain of Adrian Gonzalez, firmly planted Bellinger at first base.
Is 11 Losses Enough to Use the Phoenix Rising from the Ashes Analogy?
Since that day, the Dodgers have gone 66-20 (.767), 40-6 in their last 46 games, and 20-2 in their last 22 games. Toles is out for the season, and Gonzalez has been transferred to the 60-day disabled list.
Now that the trade deadline has passed, we are reminded of Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi‘s brilliance, first in the form of Dodger fans and their discontent, then with a splash and a retrospective that makes everyone feel warm inside once more. You see, the Dodgers currently feature no less than four home-grown talents in their starting lineup. Bellinger, Pederson, Corey Seager, and Yasiel Puig all came through at least three levels of the Dodgers’ minor league system, and were not traded away at the deadline for an expensive rental. The reason Dodgers fans took to Twitter to voice their frustration about trades, is the very same reason why they were in the best possible position this season to handle the myriad of injuries they have faced this season. Look no further than the improved farm and depth of the 2017 Dodgers as the reason they are so much stronger than the 2016 squad that set the record for most players on the disabled list in the history of Major League Baseball.
The End of a Career Brings Rise to the Beginning of Another, The Circle of Baseball Life
We may very well be seeing the end of Adrian Gonzalez’s career. He’s had a good run, he’s a fan favorite, and a team leader. The hard truth is this: When he returns from the disabled list just in time for September, he’ll be a left-handed bat off the bench, that doesn’t really hit anything all that well these days. Prior to his injury, Gonzalez slashed .255/.304/.339 in 49 games this season. Those are career low numbers across the board for A-Gon, and his power has dropped off dramatically in each of the last three years.
Gonzo is a father-figure in the dugout, a mentor for the new generation that is firmly here, but may not be on the roster in the spring. His remaining years will require a designated hitter role, which means he’ll begin by switching leagues altogether.
Bellinger is sporting a 2.8 WAR in 2017, and only stands to increase that number as his strikeout rate is decreasing, and his on-base percentage and OPS are on the rise. Taylor has been holding down left field at or above replacement level all season, and his offensive output is off the chart.
What was the Achilles heal of the 2016 Dodgers has magically been turned into their strength (not the injuries, just the way they’ve recovered from them).
All Hands on Deck
Add some deadline splash in the form of Yu Darvish and a pair of lefty relievers, and the rest might finally be actual Dodgers history. Although Fangraphs says the Dodgers didn’t steal Darvish, it seems even injuries can’t hold down the team with the best record in baseball, and LA is poised to make a run at the World Series this season, and in many seasons to come.
In my years of following and covering professional sports, few teams like this one have come along and baffled the so-called experts looking for a weakness. With the Dodgers now on pace for 115 wins, it’s beyond amazing to look back at the 9-11 April Dodgers, the Toles injury, and Gonzalez’s departure from the lineup.
“Started from the bottom, now we here.” – Drake
(Follow Todd on Twitter: @oddtoddious)