By Sammy Bovitz
I’ve been a Los Angeles Dodgers fan since I was three years old. And while there are certainly teams that suffer more, the baseball universe seems like it’s been out to get me since 2011. That was the year that Clayton Kershaw won his first Cy Young award and Matt Kemp finished second in MVP– though he should have finished first– and yet, the Dodgers missed the playoffs. And since 2013, the Dodgers have won the NL West title every year. Yet they always blew it. 2013 saw Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw collapse while the Dodgers lineup was shut down by some guy named Michael Wacha. In 2014, NL MVP Clayton Kershaw had a comfortable 2-0 lead, only to blow it with a 3-run seventh, as our rival Giants won their third championship in 5 years. In 2015, 30-year old Daniel Murphy absolutely exploded and we lost to the Mets of all teams. 2016 saw a National League Championship Series that had Clayton Kershaw blow it with only 2 more wins needed to reach the World Series.
But 2017 felt different, the Dodgers won 104 games and were the best team in all of baseball. They made it all the way to Game 7 of the World Series, where just one win gets them the title Dodgers fans had been waiting for since 1988. Yet midseason trade acquisition Yu Darvish blew it and the opposing Astros won the World Series. Now we know that the Astros were cheating throughout the season and postseason to win it, which added more pain to this 2020 season. Not to mention a thorough loss to the Boston Red Sox in 5 games in the 2018 World Series, or a Division Series loss to the eventual World Series champion, last year’s Nationals, who beat– you guessed it– the Astros. The Dodgers have been contenders for years, but the heartbreak fans feel has been real– and 2020 looked to be more of the same. Most of the 2019 core looked to return, and that core looked like a championship-winning core. But there was no reason to believe the year was going to be any different.
And then the Dodgers traded for Mookie Betts, the second-best player in all of baseball. Of course, a life-altering pandemic delayed the season by a few months, but when the time finally came to fight for, ahem, a “piece of metal,” the Dodgers were ready. They dominated in the regular season, winning 43 of their total 60 games. In baseball, games are grouped into series of 2, 3, or 4. It is normal for even the best of teams to lose tons of these series. The Dodgers lost one all regular season, and Mookie Betts looked incredible. Corey Seager had an MVP level year, and Clayton Kershaw was still brilliant… and yet there were still doubts. 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger regressed, Justin Turner’s age began to show, and Walker Buehler, while still good, did not match the brilliance of his 2019 campaign as a starting pitcher. Not only that, the challenging San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, and Houston Astros were all waiting in the wings to battle the Dodgers in the playoffs, which had been expanded for this bizarre baseball season.
The Dodgers, despite being the number one seed and having the best record in baseball, had to play 10 games in 13 days against the Padres and Braves, and that was only after having to play an extra series against the Brewers. The Dodgers almost blew it against the Braves, as they went down 3-1 in the series. Dodgers fans immediately had their thoughts go to a dark place. But LA came back to face the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series. Now, despite the Rays being the number 1 seed in their league, they didn’t seem like too much of a threat going into the playoffs. But then, Randy Arozarena had possibly the greatest hitting postseason of all time: I was scared. The Dodgers almost blew it again, with a Game 4 heartbreak that felt both eerily familiar and terribly painful. In Game 6, the Dodgers were being shut down by 2019 Cy Young winner Blake Snell, and it seemed like LA may have had to go to another Game 7. But then the Rays took him out of the game, and the Dodgers pounded the bullpen for 3 runs to win the World Series. I am very happy, but now we need to discuss several things that have come up in the aftermath of the weirdest baseball postseason of the century.
First of all, the fact that removing Snell from the game was the only way the Dodgers could have won the Series is wrong. I do agree that it was a terrible decision by manager Kevin Cash, but let’s consider that this perfectly aligns with Cash’s strategy all postseason in terms of how he conserves his starters while emptying his bullpen. Not only that, the Dodgers had the better Series, and won 4 games to the Rays’ 2. But that’s the fan in me, so let’s move past that.
Next is the subject of Mookie Betts. Was he worth 12 years and $365 million dollars? Well, if my reaction was anything to go by, his Game 6 homer was absolutely priceless.
Third was the controversy of veteran leader Justin Turner testing positive for COVID-19 and then running back out on the field to celebrate with his teammates. This was dumb and sets a terrible example. But there’s a reason MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was booed to the heavens when he said this season has been “challenging for all of us.” The MLB’s statement on Wednesday was a farce, and while I’m not excusing Turner, I am certainly not placing the blame squarely on him. Major League Baseball didn’t use a bubble system like the NBA and let in tens of thousands of fans to watch the World Series in the middle of a pandemic.
But now let’s be pragmatic and answer a common question: where do the Dodgers go from here? I’m extremely excited that one of my teams has finally won a championship after all this suffering, but Mookie Betts says they aren’t done. I wish I completely agreed, but looking at this team tells a different story. This winter, Justin Turner, utility player Kike Hernandez, key reliever Blake Treinen, and slugger Joc Pederson are all free agents and could all easily go elsewhere, depleting the Dodgers’ depth. Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, and Walker Buehler are all getting older and will all enter unrestricted free agency. Each of them knows they deserve and will receive tens of millions on the open market, and while the Dodgers are rich, they don’t have unlimited money. I am ridiculously happy for Clayton Kershaw, but he’ll turn 33 before the 2021 season begins. His worst years are better than most pitchers’ best years, but injury concerns means he’ll only be able to pitch as a number two starter for so much longer. Sure, Mookie will still be around– and as long as we have him, we’ve got a shot at the postseason– but the team around him might become real shaky real fast. 2021 is the last year where most of this core looks to be sticking around. Luckily, the Dodgers have a top-class minor league system and they are brilliant at finding diamonds in the rough. Ask Turner himself, who may not even be in the majors right now if not for what the Dodgers have done to his swing. The Dodgers will still be around, and should at least win the division for a little while longer. But the question of what’s next is now going to hang over the coming seasons, and I’m both excited and terrified to find out.