It’s been 27 years since Los Angeles has seen its Boys in Blue take part in baseball’s biggest spectacle, the Fall Classic.
Marred by mismanagement and kicked down (repeatedly) by the Cardinals, the Dodgers have been stuck in a state that has fluctuated between disappointment and mediocrity for nearly three decades. Remember when Kirk Gibson reached across home plate and sent a two-out pitch into the grandstands, limping around the bases to the tune of a 1-0 World Series lead? Yeah, that was during the Reagan administration.
While the Dodgers won the title in 1988 thanks in large part to Gibson’s heroics, it’s been a slow ride to get back to baseball’s center stage. But this year is different! This will be the year that Los Angeles won’t get derailed by St. Louis or by its own star pitcher, by San Francisco or by its own dearth of power hitting.
The ball club’s fans believe -- nay, know! -- that this is the year that they will see the blur of Dodger Blue in the outfield and on the diamond come late October once more. And we have nine reasons why.
1. They have the best pitcher of the last five seasons on their team.
Clayton Kershaw was selfish last year -- he wasn’t satisfied with simply winning his third Cy Young Award, but had to grab the National League’s MVP trophy, as well. He went 21-3 on the mound in the regular season, becoming the first player ever to notch four-straight ERA titles, giving up only 1.77 runs per nine innings pitched. His 2014 campaign landed him smack dab in the center of the greatest-hurler-in-history debate, somehow finishing the year with a higher on-base percentage than the batters he faced.
And after an un-Kershaw-like beginning to the 2015 season, the reigning MVP is back to form. As of Sept. 30, Kershaw’s ERA is sitting pretty at 2.16, his third best ever, the third best in the majors right now and a vast improvement from the 4.26 mark he posted through his first 44 1/3 innings pitched this year.
2. And they have this season's best pitcher in their dugout, too.
Incredibly, Kershaw hasn’t even been the Dodgers’ most reliable pitcher this summer. That title goes to 31-year-old Zack Greinke, who has amassed an 18-3 record in 2015 despite the Dodgers’ sporadic struggles putting runs on the board. Moreover, Greinke’s 1.68 ERA is one of the 10 best since 1920.
While Kershaw put together a run of 37 consecutive innings pitched without giving up a run, Greinke eclipsed that mark, holding opponents scoreless for 45 2/3 straight innings. And on it went, with two of the best pitchers in recent memory doing record-breaking things one night after the other.
So imagine facing that two-man punch in the NL Division Series, when teams have to win only three games to advance. Or imagine having to go up against each of them multiple times in the longer seven-game affairs that make up the League Championship Series and the World Series. Kershaw has gone 11-1 in his last 15 starts, while Greinke has gone 12-1 in the same span of time. As the Dodgers are likely to earn the W whenever either of their two aces has the ball in his hand, opposing teams face an uphill battle whenever they stare down the pitching mound.
3. Their bet on rookie Joc Pederson has paid enormous dividends.
The Dodgers brass did anything but play it safe last winter. With an abundance of skilled outfielders on their hands -- Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and an untested Joc Pederson, to name a few -- Los Angeles decided to gamble, effectively dealing former MVP runner-up Kemp to the Padres in order to give rookie Pederson room to develop his promising power swing.
Months later, Pederson trails only fellow All-Star Adrian Gonzalez in Dodger home runs hit on the year, tallying 25 thus far (despite recent struggles at the plate). In July, he competed in the Home Run Derby during the MLB's All-Star festivities -- and did a hell of a job against the league's best bats. He cruised through the first two rounds, and lost by just one in the finals, to home crowd favorite Todd Frazier.
4. The other fresh faces in the dugout have lit up Dodger Stadium, too.
On it goes: As of the beginning of October, Howie Kendrick, whom the Dodgers acquired in a deal with Anaheim, is boasting the second best batting average on the team (out of players who have competed in over 80 games). Jimmy Rollins made the move out west from Philadelphia, and is now second -- again behind Gonzalez -- in runs scored. Corey Seager, a rookie shortstop, came into the Sept. 29 game against San Francisco having gotten on base in each of his 20 starts, totaling a .342 batting percentage, three home runs and 14 RBIS in just the 22 contests he had played up to that point, per the Los Angeles Times.
In the many close games the ball club has sweated out this year, the bats of these newly knighted Dodgers have come up huge. This -- in theory -- should continue into postseason play.
5. A-Gon is still A-Gon, year after year.
Adrian Gonzalez is a gem. He's knocked in 100+ RBIs seven different times in his 12-year career. He's hit 30+ home runs in a total of four seasons, and he'll come close to doing the same again this year. It took him only half a week of the 2015 season to break a major league record, punching in five home runs in just the first three games of the year. Gonzalez has shirked the spotlight for years, but if there's anyone Dodger fans want in the lineup when it really counts, it's No. 23: The first baseman with the golden swing and the (four) Gold Gloves.
6. Yasiel Puig is trying to tone down his showmanship.
One bat flip at a time. In April, Puig stated that he “want[ed] to show American baseball” that he isn’t “disrespecting the game” by limiting how often he unleashes his trademark bat flip following big hits.
Sometimes, though, he just can’t help it .
7. This year is the 50th anniversary of another Dodgers title.
Exactly half a century ago, LA snatched the World Series from the Minnesota Twins in a seven-game thriller. If the expression is correct and history really does repeat itself, surely this anniversary means good things are coming for the Dodgers in October this year??
8. They have Magic on their side.
Spoiler alert: Magic exists. And, as a part-owner of the team, he is unabashedly rooting for Dodger Blue to go all the way.
If worse comes to worst for the Dodgers, they can just have Magic Johnson play every position down the stretch as he did in a certain other Los Angeles team’s championship-clinching contest a few decades ago.
9. Kershaw's postseason woes have to end at some point ... right?
He's the best pitcher in the game. So there's no way that he'll break down in the playoffs for the third year in a row. Right? Right!?!?
After drawing the loss in the Dodgers' elimination game against St. Louis in 2013, Kershaw blooped and bled against the Cardinals in 2014. In the two NLDS games he started last season, he pitched nearly immaculate games until the seventh innings. Then, like clockwork, he fell apart. His fastballs had no zing, his curveballs had no drop. While St. Louis hit only .079 against Kershaw through the games' sixth innings, the Cardinals connected 81.8 percent of the time in the seventh, going 9-of-11 over both contests.
He has undeniably, unequivocally, unimaginably fallen apart the past two years as soon as the calendar has shifted to October. So he can't possibly do that again this year. Or at least, Dodgers fans hope he can't.
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