The baseball playoffs have begun and this year is the Dodgers’ best chance yet to make their first World Series appearance since 1988. The organization is far removed from what it was in the 80s. Their last connection to that team, Hall of Fame broadcaster and folk hero Vin Scully, retired last year after 67 seasons with the team. The new management company promised a new era in Dodgers baseball and for better or worse (TV deal), it has delivered on that promise.
Winning the division in baseball is an arduous process. One baseball season consists of 162 games over six months. Like any other team, the Dodgers dealt with injuries. They lost Clayton Kershaw in late June and some key bats late in the season. These injuries must have combined with a few unknown factors to create a breakdown of the magical year they had for most of 2017.
The Dodgers were considered the hottest team in baseball as they approached an August 23 meeting against the Pittsburgh Pirates. They had already won the first two games of this 4-game series and were poised to reach the 90-win milestone. Pitcher Rich Hill was enjoying a great season and by all accounts was prepared to take down a sub-500 Pirates team.
It was evident Hill had something special that evening as each batter he faced was sent back to the dugout. Hill seemed loose, comfortable, and in command. The city of Los Angeles watched or listened inning after inning in silence as the game progressed trying not to think of what they could be witnessing.
Unfortunately for Hill, the Dodgers offense was unable to manufacture runs and the game continued scoreless. Despite the cold bats on the field and a stellar pitching performance, manager Dave Roberts refused to bring in any pinch hitters that night. Justin Turner, the team’s star third baseman, had been given the night off but was available and could have made an impact in the game. Ironically, it was the man playing Turner’s position that cost Hill the perfect game in the ninth inning. Logan Forsythe mishandled a high-speed grounder that allowed Jordy Mercer to reach first base. Forsythe was assigned an error and an unfazed Hill retired the next three batters to keep the no-hitter intact into the 10th inning.
The Dodgers sent Granderson, Gonzalez, and Puig to the plate in the 10th and all three recorded outs. The bottom of the inning brought Hill back to the mound having retired 27 of 28 batters using less than 100 pitches. Then came pitch number 99—the costliest of the evening. The crack of the bat echoed thunderously as the ball soared through the air and made its way to the stands. The game was over. A dejected Hill made his way to the locker room with a new loss on his record despite pitching a brilliant game. It was dispiriting to watch but I didn’t realize at the time that it would mark the beginning of something much worse.
The Dodgers seemingly bounced back from the loss, winning the final game of that series against the Pirates and the opener of a 3-game series in L.A. against Milwaukee. That was expected. It was the next five losses that came as a surprise. The Dodgers dropped the two remaining games to the Brewers and then traveled to Arizona, where they finished the month getting swept by the Diamondbacks.
It was a tough way to end the month but September promised a turnaround. After missing over one month of action, Clayton Kershaw was back to face the Padres in Petco Park. This was bound to be the revitalizer the team needed. The Dodgers won that game by doing what they were unable to do one week prior in Pittsburgh: score one—and only one—run.
We thought that was the end but it was not actually the case. The Dodgers inexplicably lost the next 11 games, including the next Kershaw start. The team didn’t win again until Kershaw’s third start on September 12. That was the first of four straight wins; a feat immediately erased when they lost the next four games.
The team went on to win eight of the remaining ten games of the season from that point but the damage was done. They dropped 21 of 28 games between August 23 and September 20. The Dodgers’ September record was a dismal 13 wins and 17 losses. They were no longer the hottest team in a sport where the hottest team tends to win it all and the team with the most regular season wins is often sent home with nothing.
The Dodgers begin the National League Division Series tonight against the Arizona Diamondbacks. These are the same Diamondbacks that beat the Dodgers six times between August 29 and September 6 and outscored the Dodgers 40 to 13 in those six games. We will all be cheering on our beloved boys in blue and hoping the team has corrected whatever went wrong on that near perfect night of August 23.