In recent months, we’ve gotten a lot of comparisons to 1988, and they’ve been apt- the Dodger team from this year, like the team from that year, seemed to be powering ahead, against all odds. In some ways, they seemed an even MORE unlikely winner. They were also the greatest bullpen-by-committee playoff team in Major League Baseball history, because they were the ONLY bullpen-by-committee playoff team in playoff history. It is amazing that they got this far, and even more amazing to consider that a few bounced balls here, a blown call there, and it really MIGHT have looked more like 1988, instead of 2008, or 2009, or 2013, or 2014, or 2015. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
But getting back to the similarities between this squad and the one from 1988, in some ways, that is the most concerning thing here- part of the REASON for the Dodgers futility after that season was because the team was not built on a strong foundation. The very thing that made them so endearing is the same thing that made them so fleeting- they just weren’t built to last. This team has a little bit more hope for its future, with Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, perhaps Andrew Toles, and a few others. But will it be enough? A lot of the guys who have been so good for the past few years are in their mid-30’s. This team was built by the front office with strong duct tape, but how much longer can that duct tape hold?
Most troubling of all is the starting rotation. In fact, who is the starting rotation? The bullpen was incredible for a long stretch of time, but even in today’s era, having to regularly depend on them before the 7th inning is a really bad sign for the long term. If the 2017 Dodgers have to heavily rely on Adam Liberatore and Joe Blanton again, they are in deep trouble.
And I’m sorry, but we have to talk about Clayton Kershaw. He’s the greatest regular season pitcher in baseball, but how many more years are the majority of Dodger fans going to point their ire in other directions when he comes up short? It’s the manager. It’s the lack of offense behind him. It’s Andrew Toles’ error. STOP. A large section of the fanbase never forgave Chad Billingsley, after one ineffective, weak start against the Phillies. And here we are, after four straight years where Kershaw did not dominate from beginning to end, and most fans want to look everywhere but towards Kershaw himself. This isn’t to say that Kershaw needs to be roasted like so many before him- not just Billingsley, but Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Brandon League, etc.- but it’s time to mix in some criticism with the endless praise. He is the most heralded pitcher in baseball, as well as one of the highest paid. He needs to pitch like it from beginning to end.
As for what next year and beyond hold? It’s difficult to say, but as of now, it feels like if the Dodgers recipe for success in 2016 is not sustainable. The Cubs have a young, strong core that should be together for some time, especially by the standards of today’s wheeling-and-dealing environment. Unlike the Dodgers, the Cubs wouldn’t have had to do much more in the offseason, had they not advanced. Looking within the NL West, even the Giants, with their awful bullpen, seem to have a pretty good core themselves. Andrew Friedman and Fahran Zaidi deserve a bit of a mulligan, with the job they did under some trying circumstances, and Dave Roberts looks like he’s here to stay, which is a good thing. But the front office can’t expect to transact their way to a World Series- their short-term moves worked about as well as anyone could have imagined for the second half of the season, and they STILL came up short. We’ll see how their plan is for building sustainable success for the future. And for crying out loud, Guggenheim, get the team on television already!
’til next year…