After a nearly unprecedented June (preceded only by June of 2017) the Dodgers climbed out of the hole they were in and now find themselves neck-and-neck with the Arizona Diamondbacks for first place in the National League West. How they were able to do it is a story in and of itself—one that is always worth telling. The story that I am interested in now, however, is how the Dodgers will fare going forward.
Welcome to July! The month of July means a lot of things in baseball. It’s when the division race starts to take shape. It’s when potential MVP Candidates and Cy Young Award hopefuls start to become clear (I’m looking at you, Matt Kemp and Ross Stripling) and it’s when pennant-winning trades start to happen.
Fans of the Dodgers everywhere expect this team to make it to the postseason each and every fall. Like the Yankees, the Dodgers are not the kind of team that needs a full Theo Epstein or Jeff Luhnow-like rebuild. The Dodgers can rebuild without ever fully falling out of contention. That’s the kind of team the Yankees are, and it’s the kind of team the Dodgers are. The Dodgers, however, are far from rebuilding and are headed at full-speed towards October. This team, how they are now, I think, could beat the Nationals or the Cubs. They could even beat the almighty D-Backs. That’s not what I’m worried about. What I am worried about is the World Series. When it comes to this game, you can’t take it one series at a time. You have to plan for any outcome. The Dodgers’ goal is to win the World Series, so in order to do that, they have to be ready for it, even if they fall short in the end.
Blame is a far more common idea in baseball than people may think. We, as fans, always look for someone, or something to blame, because we have no actual control over the game. We just sit on our couches, or in our seats at the stadium, and yell as the home plate umpire makes a bad call. That is not out of character for fans of baseball, or sports in general. A certain level of complaining is in our nature. Tuesday night, even, I was thinking, or rather critiquing, about how the Dodgers could have won had they taken advantage of the bases loaded situations when they had them.
Say the words “Houston Astros” in L.A., and you’ll get a variety of responses but, more often than not, you’ll hear tales of the 2017 World Series. The cities of Houston and Los Angeles are forever connected and, until the Dodgers get a second chance, Houston will be the hero of that tale. Travel 258 miles North up I-45, however, and you’ll hear a different story.
We all hoped it wouldn’t happen, but it did, and now the Dodgers are dealing with it. Clayton Kershaw is back on the disabled list with, you guessed it, a back injury. This has become a pattern, as Kershaw has hit the DL each of the past two summers with virtually the same injury. However, this season the Dodgers are more prepared.
“Well,” I thought to myself on Monday night, “This isn’t good.” César Hernandez had just launched a 3-run shot in the 2nd inning, extending the Phillies lead over the Dodgers, 4-0. If this was last year, a 4-0 deficit would be nothing. If anything, it meant that the fans were being set up for a riveting comeback by the Boys in Blue. It’s not 2017, though, and not only were the Dodgers facing a daunting deficit, they were in the throws of a bullpen game, and this bullpen is not what it once was.
I, like many, am guilty of this. I won’t stop talking about 2017 because let’s be honest, before Thursday, 2017 was a far prettier thought. The problem with this, however, is that remembering 2017 does next to nothing for the team now. Of course, strategies that worked for the team back then may work again now, so in that case, by all means, think about last year. What I think has made it tough on a lot of people is the losing, and rightly so. In the same week, the Dodgers got swept by the Cincinnati Reds but later swept the Washington Nationals.
Allow me to start off by saying that Justin Turner has only been back for one game, and fans should be under no impression that the Dodgers will turn things around right away. However, Turner’s first game back brought little to no hope to a team stuck in a losing streak.
This year, the Dodgers haven’t looked like themselves. They look lost and out of sync. Using the fact that the season is just beginning is no longer a valid reason for the Dodgers shortcomings, but then again, it may be a little early for them to press the big red button that says PANIC.