October marks the road to the baseball World Series. For years, you could count on the Dodgers playing through October and reaching the end of this road. A few glorious times, the Dodgers would come out on top. An outcome most recently experienced in 1988.
Since 1988, the Dodgers embarked on a trajectory far different than the one they had traveled up to that point. Players and coaches got older and eventually changed. Management and ownership also changed and their new objective was profit.
The team traded away prospects and minimized their scouting department. Prospects were traded away for exciting short-term players. Expiring contracts were not renewed and players realized their full potential with other organizations. Even the legendary voice of the team, the incomparable Vin Scully, was seen as replaceable. During the off-season after the Giants won their first of three World Series during the Dodgers drought, season ticket holders received a survey asking for their thoughts on moving forward without Vin Scully behind the microphone. This may have been the final straw for many fans. From that point, wins, viewership, attendance, and profits, all fell.
Eventually, and perhaps because MLB forced his hand, McCourt lost ownership of the team and a frenzy to decide who would take control of the illustrious Los Angeles Dodgers began. The winner was Guggenheim Baseball Management. Angelenos backed the new ownership quickly thanks to the group’s most prominent member, Magic Johnson. But the name that gave Dodgers baseball fans hope was Stan Kasten.
Kasten was President of the Atlanta Braves in the 90’s. This was the most successful era of that organization. The Braves had the best pitching staff in the league, won more games than any other team, and picked up several all-stars. Atlanta enjoyed 14 straight division titles and made the World Series five times, winning one.
Attendance and hope rose immediately. Guggenheim Management promised to revitalize the farm system and pick up high-caliber players when necessary. The initial goal was to put out competitive, complete teams every season. The ultimate goal was to win the World Series.
The Guggenheim Group has not been perfect. Their most questionable move was signing a multi-billion dollar contract to give exclusive broadcast rights to Time Warner Cable at a time when cable companies are struggling to keep subscribers. Time Warner’s competitors were unwilling to pay for the Dodger channel and 70% of the city is now unable to watch the Dodgers as a result. Time Warner refuses to provide a stand-alone streaming option for the channel and the Guggenheim Group has no reason to renegotiate. After all, this deal is what allows Guggenheim to improve the team.
On the field, the ownership group delivered. They went after notable free agents while working to develop draft picks. They refused to give up prospects unless the payoff was absolutely worthwhile–moves the fan base didn’t always understand. The team was competitive and improving with time.
It seemed as though this was the year. This team could be the one to end the drought. As the season moved forward from spring into the summer months, the team got hotter. Perhaps appropriately, they stumbled in August as the weather dipped. By this point, the Dodgers had a stronghold on the division and had become the favorite to win it all.
As September came to a close, the team seemingly worked its way out of the late-season slump and was back on track. It was now time for the playoffs and the first opponent was the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Arizona had been a challenge throughout the regular season. They even managed to sweep the Dodgers twice in the later months. The playoffs were a different story and the Dodgers swept Arizona easily. They scored a total of 17 runs in the first two games at Dodger Stadium. The decisive game in Arizona was a pitching gem in which the Dodgers used five pitchers and allowed only one run.
That series was representative of the game plan Manager Dave Roberts and his coaching staff had set for the remainder of the year. The team was to use power baseball to score runs and seldom resort to small-ball tactics like bunting and running the bases. At the other end, the starting pitchers were to go through the lineup only twice and then hand it off to the bullpen. From then, the team would use every pitcher necessary to get the ball to star closer Kenley Jansen with a lead.
The next opponent was the defending champion Chicago Cubs. Coming off a dream season, the Cubs were not as good as they had been a year prior but certainly still commanded respect. The Dodgers did away with them in only five games. It was now official. After a 29-year drought, a painful downfall, and an exciting climb, the Los Angeles Dodgers were back in the World Series.
The opponent would be the Houston Astros. Like the Dodgers, the Astros success this season was the result of a process started years back. Their moves were so calculated that Sports Illustrated ran a cover story in 2014 crowning them 2017 World Series champions. The Astros had the highest scoring offense in the league and the pitching staff as a whole was good enough to keep them in winning position as long as that offense was scoring.
Game one went exactly as the Dodgers had hoped. Clayton Kershaw was masterful through seven innings. Morrow pitched a hitless eighth and Jansen closed it with a perfect ninth. The Dodgers scored three runs on six hits and the win overshadowed a telling statistic. That night, the core of the power lineup–Bellinger, Seager, Puig, and Turner–combined for a 1-for-13 finish.
Game two proceeded much like game one. In fact, the game was three to one in favor of the Dodgers after seven innings, exactly as it was when Kershaw was pulled the night before. The key difference this night was that after four innings, pitcher Rich Hill had already faced the Astros lineup twice. He was pulled and saw no action in the fifth, much to his displeasure.
This move stands as the turning point of the series. This is when it became obvious Dave Roberts was not playing baseball with baseball players but rather with baseball metrics. This is not to say metrics are not important but ultimately, human beings play the game. The result on any given day is dependent on how that morning begins for each player, what kind of day they have, and how they feel and perform as the game progresses. Roberts failed to recognize this and made a major decision solely on metrics.
Despite the questionable move, Kenta Maeda and Tony Watson combined to keep the Astros down until the seventh inning. With three innings to go, Roberts gave the ball to Ross Stripling. He walked his first batter and Roberts did not give him the chance to correct that mistake. He went to Brandon Morrow to get the three outs needed in the seventh.
The eighth inning was the beginning of a game-two collapse. Morrow was unable to get an out in the eighth and gave up a double to Alex Bregman to score the second run for the Astros. This double was nearly an out but Yasiel Puig was a tenth of a second slow and the ball bounced into the stands. Roberts still made the move to Jansen, asking him for a two-inning save. The plan backfired in dramatic fashion as Jansen made it out of the eighth only to give up the tying home run by way of George Springer.
The Dodgers were unable to muster a walk-off run in the ninth and the game would head to extra innings with the team’s best pitchers already out of the game. The power hitting of the two teams gave the game a wild finish. The Astros scored two runs in the tenth but the Dodgers answered with two runs of their own to keep the game alive. In the eleventh, George Springer homered again, this time with a man on base. The Dodgers would again go to bat with a 2-run deficit.
The team had their power hitters up in the eleventh. Corey Seager lined out in two pitches for out number one, finishing 1 for 5 in the game. Justin Turner finished 0 for 5, lining out for out number two. Charlie Culberson came in to bat for a hitless Cody Bellinger and hit a solo home run. Yasiel Puig, who had homered in the 10th, struck out to end the game. The Astros had won a game in Los Angeles and were now heading to Houston for three straight games.
The series remained competitive and exciting but the Dodgers never regained the position of the team to beat. In winning game two, the Astros exposed the weaknesses in the Dodgers game plan. The Dodgers would need to adjust the plan in order to win but instead doubled down on the original.
Yu Darvish gave up four runs in the second inning of game three and the Dodgers bats remained cold. Game four was scoreless through five thanks to a great start by Alex Wood. The game remained tight until the ninth when the Dodgers exploded for five runs. Game five was the wildest of all with the two aces combining to allow ten runs. The game ended in the 10th with a score of 13 to 12, in favor of the Astros.
Game six was back in Dodger Stadium with Rich Hill once again on the mound. Like in game two, Hill did not have an opportunity to get through the fifth and this time was pulled having not allowed a single run. Roberts then moved to Morrow, Watson, Maeda, and again asked Jansen for two full innings. This time, the plan worked. The Dodgers survived and pushed the series to a decisive game seven thanks to their own three runs.
October had ended. It was November 1st and time for the very first game 7 Dodger Stadium had ever hosted. The anticipation in the City of Angels was palpable. There was blue everywhere and baseball conversations in every establishment. The game was set to start at 5:20 PM. We did not know that unlike the previous six games, this one would be over before sundown.
Despite a masterful performance in game four by Alex Wood, Roberts stuck to the plan and went with Yu Darvish as his starter. After only eight pitches, the Astros had already scored two runs. In the second inning, Darvish continued to have trouble placing his pitches and the Astros jumped on it. His night ended with a 2-run home run by Alex Springer. Statistically, the game was long from over but the Astros were now clearly in control and it was their game to lose.
The Dodgers had runners in scoring position in four of the first five innings. Each time, they failed to capitalize and remained scoreless. Their lone run happened in the sixth inning. Andre Ethier, the longest tenured Dodger, singled in Joc Pederson from second base.
The last three innings were nothing short of a formality and an anticlimactic finish to one of the most exciting World Series in recent history. It’s now November; the leaves are falling, the holidays are upon us, and the baseball season is over. The Dodgers reached the World Series only to watch their opponents hoist the trophy in the air.
The Dodgers have been here before. In fact, they’ve now been to the World Series 22 times and fallen short 16 of those 22. We fans find ourselves in the familiar position of saying, “next year is our year” as we have so many other times. The difference is we now have what was gone for so long: hope. Let us thank the team for a great season and take solace in knowing the years of Fox and McCourt are completely behind us. The city of Los Angeles can once again be proud to be blue.