Say this about the Dodgers over the past decade or so- even though they’ve always had the decency to get eliminated anywhere from fairly early on to VERY early on, they nevertheless find new, creative, and increasingly painful ways to break the spirits of their fanbase. Late inning meltdowns, close plays that don’t break their way- and yes, questionable managerial decisions that come back to haunt them later. But this? A guy stealing third base on a WALK?! That’s a new one.
It’s a shame that all of the great Dodger narratives from 2015 will now be largely overlooked, if not completely buried- Justin Turner’s revenge against his former team in the NLDS, the greatest 1-2 punch in a starting rotation since Koufax and Drysdale, the emergence of a potential superstar shortstop for years to come- even the historic nature of Chase Utley’s slide will be far less impactful than originally thought, outside of some possible rule changes/enforcements to come. It’s hard to imagine there will be even the slightest bit of, “Aw shucks, at least we made it,” sentiment after this season’s end, especially seeing how surprisingly joyless the fanbase generally seemed much of the time, even though the team itself was pretty successful.
There will be two narratives that probably WILL survive the 2015 season- one of them complete nonsense, the other debatable. First, the idea that the Dodgers “should” win because of their gaudy $300+ million payroll was ridiculous. Outside of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, most of that money was going to solid but overpaid, aging veterans (Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford), pitchers that ultimately did not justify their value (Brandon McCarthy and, to a lesser extent, Brett Anderson), guys that weren’t on the team anymore (Matt Kemp, Dan Haren), or even guys that were NEVER on the team to begin with (Bronson Arroyo)! However you may feel about these transactions, the fact that all this money was being doled out shouldn’t make ANYONE feel more entitled to Dodger wins, than if that money was being spent on you and me. From the beginning, the 2015 Dodgers were a good team, but they were NOT a superteam.
The second narrative has to do with how the Dodgers scored their runs throughout 2015- relying on the home run, while disregarding aggressive but smart base running. They did improve on the base running later in the year, with the addition of Ron Roenicke as third base coach, and Chase Utley as backup second baseman. But ultimately, this team did not know how to play “smallball” very well, even with those late season improvements. A lot of people dismissed this theory, but it’s exactly what played out in the NLDS. Against the Mets’ young power arms, they could not hit the ball over the fences (with the exception of game 3, and only after they were already being blown out), and ultimately ended up stranding A LOT of baserunners.
But don’t forget to give credit to the Mets, too. They had deeper starting pitching, and as hot as Justin Turner was, Daniel Murphy was hotter. Almost symbolically, Turner’s shocking steal of third base was one-upped by Daniel Murphy’s steal of third on a WALK, a play that will go down in Mets lore and Dodgers infamy for years to come. The Dodgers’ fate was then sealed when Murphy hit the go-ahead home run (of course he did) in his next at-bat, against Zack Greinke. Although the game still had a long way to go at that point, it sure didn’t feel that way.
And speaking of fate, what of Don Mattingly’s? Right now, it doesn’t look good for him. Is he willing to be a so-called “lame duck” manager in 2016, something he was unwilling to do a couple of years back? He’d better be, because he sure as heck isn’t getting an extension. And even if he IS willing to be a lame duck, would Andrew Friedman’s crew be willing to allow it? DodgersFYI discredited game 1 rant notwithstanding, nothing Mattingly did was particularly egregious this series, even though the endless second guessing will only be amplified at this point. (Until I heard analysts and talking heads criticizing him for taking Kershaw out of game 3 on short rest after a WIN, I assumed unhinged criticism of Mattingly was limited to Dodger fans.) However, the perception of Mattingly as someone who has strategic shortcomings seems to be justified at times. Even if the front office admires Mattingly as a person and former playing great, it’s not hard to imagine that they are looking to install a boss on-the-field, who is more like-minded to the bosses off-the-field.
But what of the minds of these front office guys? They made a lot of moves and spent a lot of money, ultimately resulting in several less wins in the regular season, and one only more in the postseason, than the squad that Ned Colletti put together one season earlier. They gave up a young, rising star in Dee Gordon, and traded a sometimes disgruntled franchise player in Matt Kemp to a team within their own division. It worked out for 2015, as Howie Kendrick was solid as always, Kiké Hernandez was a surprisingly good player, and Yasmani Grandal was the best hitting catcher during the 1st half of the season. But none of that matters now, as the team is going home early, again. These trades will be judged in what happens in the years to come.
Already etched in stone is the pitching situation. Brandon McCarthy was hurt early on, as he has been throughout his career (although this was a new injury), and Brett Anderson, in spite of some good stretches during the season, was nothing special overall- not for the amount of money the Dodgers spent on him, while still paying Dan Haren to pitch elsewhere. There was some high praise for these moves early on from the analytics crowd, but in the end, left the Dodgers with a shallow rotation.
You’ll have to forgive this post for being so grim, but as it’s being written, this is not exactly a time to reflect on the positive. Big changes are coming, and if the people that Guggenheim hired to make those changes do their jobs right, the team will be better for this in the long run. And the foundation isn’t all that bad, with Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager and a few others to build around. Most important of all, though, they better figure out a way to make sure that the rest of Los Angeles actually gets to WATCH this team after these changes are made- hopefully, with a fully recovered Vin Scully at the mic, to let us know about it all as it happens.
Until next season…