Seven straight National League West titles and two NL pennants. Those credentials alone are enough to show how much the Dodgers have dominated the senior circuit over the last seven seasons.
However, the club has not secured a World Championship since the 1988 season—a time when some adult fans of the team weren’t even alive. What’s more, many followers of the Dodgers feel that these NL accolades are insignificant until the squad finally hoists a championship trophy.
Pundits have gone as far to say that this 2019 version of the Dodgers has a better chance to win it all more than any of its predecessors. Gone are numerous clubhouse cancers who may have been holding the organization back. Present are strategically placed veterans of the game whose presence shines on the youngsters. As a whole, the determination level of the club is seemingly as high as it’s been in recent seasons.
Many folks who know baseball well will tell you that a perfect storm of sorts needs to exist in order to win a World Championship. Personally, I believe that might be overstating things a bit, but it’s obvious that a team needs to be peaking with all of the rights heavily outweighing the wrongs.
Of course, if the offense is firing on all cylinders, and the pitching staff is in shutdown mode for the whole month of October, there will be little to stop the Dodgers from bringing home their first championship in 31 years. Regardless, I made a list of five specific players/issues which could be the keys for a successful 2019 postseason.
The Catchers—While the catching crew of the Dodgers certainly had its share of ups and downs this year offensively, the playoffs could be a chance for the backstops to leave all doubts in the dust. Absent from the picture is Austin Barnes, who was demoted to Triple-A in the middle of the season after battling to stay above the Mendoza line for the entire first half. Subsequently, Will Smith burst onto the scene and slugged his way into the good graces of the fan base. However, the 24-year-old Kentucky native has since plateaued at a .253/.337/.571 slash line. While veteran Russell Martin has indeed contributed to the team greatly, many wonder how much is left in his offensive tank after hitting just .220 during the regular season.
There are not many worries behind the plate defensively, but if Smith and Martin are able to find their respective grooves with the bat, it could go a long way in making the overall team offense click.
Clayton Kershaw—Speaking of accolades, there’s little that 31-year-old Clayton Kershaw has yet to accomplish in terms of individual awards. Eight All-Star appearances, three Cy Young Awards, a league MVP and one Gold Glove may be enough to have already cemented him a spot in Cooperstown. Still, there will always be a monkey on Kersh’s back until he’s able to consistently deliver throughout an entire postseason. Over his career, he has a 9-10 record with a 4.32 ERA over 24 starts and 30 overall appearances in the playoffs. Needless to say, an effective 2019 postseason from the veteran will be crucial in capturing a championship.
Cody Bellinger—Indeed, chances are still good that Cody Bellinger will bring home the 2019 NL MVP award, but there’s no question that the 24-year-old superstar has regressed during the second half of the season, at least when it comes to OBP. Through June 1, he slashed .379/.465/.743 but hit just .261/.371/..563 thereafter. Put simply, if he’s able to produce close to the way he did during the first three months of the season, he has the ability to carry most of the club on his own shoulders.
Kenley Jansen—Some pundits feel that the Dodgers will go as far as closer Kenley Jansen takes them. I’m not so sure I agree with that statement, though, mainly because the leash on Kenley’s right arm could conceivably be a tight one. His 3.71 ERA this season was by far the worst of his career and his 1.063 WHIP was his worst since 2014. There’s no concrete answer as to who would assume the closer role should Kenley falter, but one thing’s for sure—if there’s a perfect time for Jansen to regain his confidence, his stellar command and the wicked movement on his cutter, the time is definitely now.
Overall Health—While there have been a few minor injury scares in recent games—A.J. Pollock, shin; Corey Seager, hamstring; and Max Muncy, tight quad—the overall health prognosis looks pretty good for the Dodgers heading into the NLDS. Nevertheless, concerns still lurk over the ailments surrounding Justin Turner and Joe Kelly, despite both of them reportedly being ready to go full throttle come Thursday. A clean bill of health for most of the team through October may be of paramount importance for the club’s ultimate success in the postseason.