As baseball begins a new and spring training camps start their exhibition schedules, the Dodgers have opened their Cactus League schedule by losing three of their first four games. That means nothing since exhibition games are meaningless, but the club has a brand new slogan for the 2018 season; Determined. The Dodgers are determined to finally bring home that World Series title that hasn’t been to Chavez Ravine since 1988.
The sting of last year’s game 7 World Series loss to the Astros still leaves a bitter taste in our mouths. The disappointment lingers with the images of the Astros celebrating at Dodger Stadium permeating our thoughts. Even though the Dodgers failed yet again to capture a World Championship and the drought will reach 30 years this October, I’m feeling hopeful for the first time in a long time. I’ll tell you why.
The Dodgers franchise has been through a lot since 1988. From the depressing FOX years, to the debacle of Frank McCourt and the many postseason failures. The team did not reach the postseason for eight consecutive years under FOX ownership. I wondered if they ever would again. Those teams were infuriatingly mediocre. Bad enough to not be competitive yet good enough to not receive a top draft pick. Finally the Dodgers were able to return to the playoffs in 2004, the start of the McCourt era.
That’s when the playoff misery began. That 2004 club was fun yet never had much of a chance against the Cardinals. Yet when Jose Lima danced and gyrated his way to a complete game shutout win in game 3, giving the Dodgers their first postseason win since the 1988 World Series we all felt hopeful. For one night the Dodgers were actually winners in the playoffs. They had staved off a sweep. Even though they were eliminated the following day by a much stronger Cardinals club, we felt a little bit energized. After all instead of being totally embarrassed the Dodgers were merely beaten. Better to be beaten than humiliated.
They hit four consecutive home runs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a game two years later, but finished tied for first place with San Diego. There was no play-in game back then since the Padres had won the regular season series between the two clubs, so the Dodgers entered the playoffs as a wild card. Then they were actually embarrassed after being swept in the division series round by the New York Mets. The humiliation came in the first game when on a base hit two men were thrown out at the plate at the same time.
Two years later the Dodgers returned to the October stage again. This time they were a stronger club indeed. The Manywood era saw the Dodgers reach consecutive National League championship series. This was the first time since 1988 that the Dodgers had gotten to the NLCS. Even Manny Ramirez couldn’t get the Dodgers past those rounds and into the World Series. What resulted were back-to-back five game series losses to the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Dodgers had very good teams those years, especially that 95-win 2009 team. They had a strong lineup anchored by Ramirez and peak years from Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and second baseman Orlando Hudson. The dominant bullpen was a team strength led by closer Jonathon Broxton along with Hong-Chi Kou, Ronald Belisario and Ramon Troncoso. The rotation mainstays were a young Clayton Kershaw, midseason acquisition Vicente Padilla and southpaw Randy Wolf.
Japanese right hander Hiroki Kuroda was unable to pitch after getting hit in the head by a line drive and Chad Billingsley couldn’t put together two good halves of the season. They always seemed one starting pitcher short. But Broxton caught the Broxton disease which was a lack of movement on his pitches and an inability to get outs in crucial spots. A year after Matt Stairs home run crushed the Dodgers hopes; future Dodger Jimmy Rollins did the same with a game-winning RBI double in game 4. The results were the same. The Dodgers couldn’t reach the World Series.
Fast forward to the Don Mattingly era which saw the Dodgers back in the NLCS. Those 2013 Dodgers had gone 42-8 during one incredible stretch of baseball. After Juan Uribe’s failed bunt in game 4 of the NLDS led to his series clinching home run against the Braves, it looked as if the Dodgers might actually get to the Promised Land. Then the Cardinals and Michael Wacha, Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina stood in their way. The Dodgers had good clubs those years but the Cardinals were a more polished, experienced and professional (rolls eyes) team.
The Cardinals knew how to do one thing the Dodgers didn’t, that was win in October. And so the first game of that 2013 NLCS proved it. That ended with a 13-inning marathon loss as Beltran threw out the potential winning run at the plate and then drove in the winning run later in the game. The Dodgers were unable to hit series MVP Wacha and Clayton Kershaw melted down in game 6. The Cardinals beat the Dodgers again the following season in the division series. Whatever hope there was after that 2013 season was quickly dashed after a 4-game NLDS loss. It was so painful.
The Dodgers got back to the playoffs again in 2015, which was Mattingly’s final season as manager, but were ousted in a drama-filled 5 game series by the New York Mets. Without a third starter or deep bullpen they had little chance to beat the Mets. Yet they still battled, forcing a game 5.
The 2016 club set records for most DL trips and injuries in a single season, yet still found a way to advance to the NLCS. They had to go through a tough Washington Nationals club first in order to do it. Then they won the first two out of three games against the Cubs taking their first NLCS series lead since they won the first two games of the 1985 NLCS. Everyone was feeling super confident. Then the Cubs remembered who they were (the best regular season team that year) and won the next three games to take the pennant. The Dodgers were so close, agonizingly close.
The 2017 season saw the Dodgers claim their fifth consecutive NL West division crown. They also finished with 104 wins and the best regular season record in MLB. The Dodgers were once again heavy favorites to win it all. Then a funny thing happened on the way to another soul-crushing defeat; the Dodgers finally won the pennant.
First they disposed of the irritating and trash talking Arizona Dbacks in a very satisfying sweep. That gave them an NLCS rematch against the Cubs. The Dodgers had their season ended in Wrigley Field the year before, but this time the friendly confines was a place of celebration as the Dodgers easily defeated the tired Cubbies in five games. Everything came up roses. Enrique Hernandez hit three home runs in the clinching game five and Justin Turner and Chris Taylor took home Co-MVP honors. Turner’s thrilling walk-off homer in game 2 came 29 years to the day from Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series game 1 home run. The Dodgers had finally done it and punched their ticket into the World Series.
Of course the World Series didn’t go exactly as we had all planned. It was a terrific Fall Classic. Unfortunately the Dodgers came up a smidge short in the end. It hurt. This time though the Dodgers have something to be proud of, a National League championship. National League West titles are banners you throw under the couch cushions. The Dodgers have plenty of those. But a National League pennant is nothing to scoff at. This is why I’m so hopeful for the 2018 season. The Dodgers finally won a pennant, their first in 29 years. That’s something to be proud of. I’ll take something over nothing any day. So you’re hearing it here first. This is the year. The Dodgers of 2018 will win the World Series. And if I’m wrong I’ll just blame it on somebody else.