The Los Angeles Dodgers are going to the World Series.
We’ve been lucky enough to say this three times in the last four years, but this time things are a little different. We as fans have been used to heartache year after year after year. Poor bullpen management, offense going into hiding, a championship literally stolen from underneath them.
The 2017 team was good and should have won. The 2018 team was exhausted and ran into a buzz saw in the Boston Red Sox. The 2019 team didn’t have the bullpen, setting up Clayton Kershaw to fail, yet again. But this team, even though it’s mostly the same players and coaches, is different.
The biggest difference is the presence of Mookie Betts. While he might not be red hot at the plate, his defense has saved multiple runs and has stopped multiple rallies. His sage advice has stretched from helping Austin Barnes with his batting, to telling teammates to pump Kenley Jansen up so he would know they have his back.
And, so far, it’s worked. Kenley looked the best he’s looked in months in Games 5 and 6. Barnes has held his own and hasn’t looked completely lost at the plate, which is a definite improvement from last year.
The NLCS itself has gone differently. In 2017, they lost only one game. In 2018, they eeked it out, coming back from 3-2, but were in control of Game 7 when Yasiel Puig came up with a huge homer. This year, the were down 2-0, and 3-1, and had to scratch and battle and claw their way back. They haven’t seen that big a deficit in a playoff run in awhile.
Being down 3-1 after losing a Kershaw start lit a fire under them. The recognized that they are a great team, and as Cody Bellinger said, why couldn’t they come back?
And they did so without leaving Kershaw and Kenley to be the only ones to do it. Yes, Jansen was brought in to close in Games 5 and 6 and some worried it would be the same disappointment again, but Kenley came through. Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, and Pedro Báez all did their job when it counted, after having flubbed the Kershaw game. And Manager Dave Roberts didn’t panic, trusting Julio Urías to stay on the mound and finish Game 7.
Maybe, just maybe, they’ve learned from all their past mistakes and heartbreak.
The Dodgers are lauded for their offense and pitching, but defense really helped win that series. When your bats go silent for long stretches, you have to do everything you can to stymie the other team’s offense. Without Betts’s huge home run robbery and snagging of other would-be big hits, the series is different. Without Justin Turner’s heads up play in Game 7 to lay out and tag Dansby Swanson, and then whip around and gun it to third where Corey Seager was waiting to tag out Austin Riley, its quite possibly a different outcome.
The Dodgers do all the big things, as well as the little things, well. They’re doing just enough to get the wins they need. But the competition only gets better, and they’ll have to again step up their game. The Tampa Bay Rays also do all the same things as well as the Dodgers. So far, they’ve shown that they can do that. The Dodgers now have been battle tested and came out on the winning side. This year will be the year if they keep learning from their mistakes and improve on what they’ve already done.