After spending millions upon millions and continuously tweaking the roster, the Los Angeles Dodgers finally found the right formula. Now, for the first time since 1988, they are headed to the World Series after overpowering the defending world champion Chicago Cubs in five games in the National League Championship Series.
Now all that stands between them and ending a 29-year championship drought is four wins against either the New York Yankees or Houston Astros.
Completing the journey won’t be as easy as the Dodgers have made it look so far. After winning an MLB best 104 games during the regular season, the Dodgers have started the postseason just as hot. With a sweep against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round included, they are 7-1.
That success puts them in a position now where they can rest, allow nagging injuries to heal — especially to All-Star shortstop Corey Seager — and set the roster up as they wish ahead of Game 1 on Tuesday. It also gives us some time to reflect on what a remarkable ride this has been for the Dodgers so far, and why there’s a really good chance it could pay off with a championship.
Simply put, the Dodgers have been an unstoppable force all season. Well, save for one 1-16 stretch between August and September. But that also highlights the strong mindset that’s taken over in Los Angeles. Rather than allow that stretch to define them, it is now a distant memory for a team that finished first in the National League in team ERA (3.38) and fourth in home runs (221).
There’s no notable weakness to speak of. Just pure domination in every sense and every facet. But it didn’t just come together overnight. Here’s a look at some big reasons why the Dodgers owned the National League.
Cody Bellinger arrives
While Yankees rookie Aaron Judge was tearing up the American League, Cody Bellinger was doing much the same for the Dodgers. Promoted early in the season merely to cover for injuries, Bellinger would connect on 22 homers in his first 52 games. He would become a fixture from that point on, even earning a spot in the Home Run Derby and the All-Star game. Bellinger finished his rookie campaign with 39 homers while providing a dimension to the Dodgers lineup that no one was expecting.
Completed best 50-game stretch since 1912
The Dodgers got on a roll in May and simply dominated baseball the rest of the summer, winning at least 17 games in every month from May to August. That period included the best 50-game stretch in Major League Baseball since 1912, when they went 43-7 from June 17 until Aug. 5. It was then the Dodgers took firm control of the NL West and the top seed in the NL, and they never looked back.
Kenley Jansen’s wedding
An offseason wedding is usually a good time for players to put baseball on the back burner and relax. Kenley Jansen’s wedding was different, though, and the Dodgers are thankful for it. That’s because it marked a turning point in their offseason, as free agents Jansen and Justin Turner came to an agreement that staying in Los Angeles was the right move for them. Before the wedding reception ended, Turner agreed to re-sign. Days later, Jansen followed suit.
Without them, the Dodgers would still be pretty good. With them, they’ve been unstoppable. Look no further than Jansen’s league-leading 41 saves or Turner’s postseason on-base percentage, which is the highest in MLB history.
Went all-in at the trade deadline
Despite having baseball’s best record, the Dodgers were aggressive at the trade deadline, filling out their roster with some critical pieces. The most notable addition was Yu Darvish, who was acquired literally seconds before the deadline from the Texas Rangers. Darvish was up and down during the regular season, but has been on during the postseason. That’s all the Dodgers really cared about. The Dodgers also added a pair of left-handed relievers in Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani to bolster the bullpen, before adding Curtis Granderson in August.
Less Reliance on Clayton Kershaw
Losing the ace is a crippling blow for most MLB teams. For the Dodgers, it was a chance to show off their depth. While Clayton Kershaw missed over five weeks with back problems, including the entire month of August, the Dodgers managed to gain further ground in the standings by going 23-10. That’s because the Dodgers have built a true rotation. Adding Darvish helped, but so did having Rich Hill and Alex Wood. In fact, the rotation is so deep Kenta Maeda has been forced to the bullpen in the postseason, and has excelled there.
Brandow Morrow’s reemergence
The Dodgers didn’t know if Brandon Morrow could be a contributor. After battling valley fever following the 2015 season and dealing with lingering shoulder problems in 2016, he was signed on the chance he might rebound and add something to the bullpen. What they’ve gotten is one of the most dominant relievers in the game. Morrow posted a 2.06 ERA over 43.1 inning this season, striking out 50 and walking just nine. Most impressive, he didn’t allow a home run all season. He’s the perfect set up man before Kenley Jansen.
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