There is a juggernaut being assembled in California. A team absolutely tearing through opponents like Trump goes through Press Secretaries. Piling up wins faster than Vin Diesel can rack up Fast n Furious sequels. The Golden State Warriors and all their fanfare? No, your Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have been very good of late, reaching the playoffs every year since 2013, but never making it passed the National League Championship Series. Their last World Series championship occurred in 1988. That is 29 seasons ago. (Does that make anyone else feel really old? Like I can vividly remember that World Series, especially Kirk Gibson’s classic celebratory home run trot on one leg after besting the absolutely glorious mullet better know as Dennis Eckersley. But if you had asked me about the Dodgers of 29 years before that moment, the 1959 Dodgers, the 2nd year after the team relocated, in the era of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, I would have told you that was ancient history)
Looking back at the ’88 squad, the shining moment that resounds even today, aside from Gibson’s iconic trot, is the 59 scoreless inning streak orchestrated by then ace, Orel Hershiser. In review though, what I also notice is the amount of platoons used by Dodgers skipper Tommy Lasorda. With 8 position spots to manage daily, Lasorda was using platoons at first base (Mike Marshall and Franklin Stubbs), shortstop (Alfredo Griffin and Dave Andersen), third base (Jeff Hamilton and Pedro Guerrero), along with right field (Mike Davis and Mike Marshall).
What also stands out, is that unlike that ’88 Oakland Athletics team the Dodgers defeated which featured hall of fame worthy sluggers such as Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Don Baylor, and Dave Parker, the Lasorda led Dodgers had Kirk Gibson anchoring the line up, and not much else. Mike Marshall was a solid, though unspectacular bat. Steve Sax, before developing issues in the field, was one of the league’s better second baseman. And while Mike Scioscia was known as a coach on the field (a tag that has played out well as the long tenured manager of the Angels), he wasn’t known for his prowess at the plate. Probably the 2nd most accomplished hitter to grace the Dodgers lineup in 1988 (after Gibson) was Pedro Guerreo, who was traded to the Cardinals during the season and wasn’t even around for the championship run.
This current Dodgers line up, though dangerous isn’t exactly littered with surefire hall of famers either. Based upon their current credentials, Chase Utley would likely put up the best fight in an attempt to gain admittance to Cooperstown, and while he is a gritty veteran presence for the Dodgers, and has championship experience, he is a shell of his Phillies self.
Certainly one day Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, and even Cody Bellinger could see their names forever enshrined in upstate New York, but their futures aren’t written in stone. Baseball history is littered with top prospects who plateaued early, or petered out.
So what makes this Dodgers team so special? Why should the sports world be taking notice? Its that boring old cliché that doesn’t capture ratings, only wins. These Dodgers are making their bones with pitching and defense. Through 105 games this season the Dodgers have surrendered 352 runs. That is total runs, earned, or otherwise. The next closest team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, have allowed their opponent to cross homeplate 404 times.
Since 1958, the year the bums up and left Brooklyn for the beaches of L.A., the most wins a Dodgers squad has managed was 102. That was accomplished twice, once in 1962, where they still missed the playoffs in spite of crossing the century mark (remember, the field was not expanded then as it is now), and again in 1974 where they eventually lost the World Series.
This year’s team sits at 74-31 through 105 games. To break the previous record they would have to go 29-28. Considering they’re 43 games above .500 thus far, its fairly reasonable to expect that they’ll exceed the 29-28 mark the rest of the way. In fact, at their current pace they’re on track to come in at 114-48 for the season, just shy of the major league record 116 wins (accomplished by the 1906 Cubs, and the 2001 Mariners). I imagine that their race to at least 103 wins will look a lot like if I raced Usain Bolt in a 100 meter dash and he spotted me 95 meters…. he’d still blow by me before the finish line. With ease.
In 1988, through the same 105 games, the Dodgers were 60-45, very good baseball to be sure, but not world class. This current squad could, neigh, should, go down at the best team to ever wear Los Angeles across their chest.
As good as Orel Hershiser was back then, Clayton Kershaw is easily the best pitcher for the Dodgers since the legendary Sandy Koufax, and to be honest there isn’t really anyone else in the discussion (keep in mind that the Dodgers made the mistake of shipping Pedro Martinez to Montreal in exchange for Delino Deshields… yeah, Delino Deshields Jr.’s dad… damn this whole thing makes me feel old, when Pedro was a wee youngin). While they don’t have a second arm of the caliber of Don Drysdale, like Koufax had, they can match or exceed the veterans that the ’88 squad trotted out to the mound. By ’88 Fernando Valenzuela was still a valuable pitcher, but the mania had long since ceased, and Don Sutton’s best years were during the free loving 70’s.
This years team has been anchored by the outstanding year of Alex Wood, while also having the benefit of having the skilled, though injury prone, warhorses such as Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu around. The trade deadline acquisition of Rangers ace Yu Darvish is just another notch on General Manager Farhan Zaidi’s bedpost. He is gambling that at least one of the Maeda/Hill/McCarthy/Ryu/Darvish group is healthy come playoff time. And make no mistake, its a matter of health. Talent wise, any one of those arms is capable of being an absolutely outstanding #3 starter in a playoff rotation. I can only assume Zaidi is a fan of Costco shopping, because he has bought pitching in bulk.
Baseball has progressed a lot since 1988. Consider that Fernando Valenzuela was the highest paid Dodger that year, making a whopping $2,050,000. Compare that to Clayton Kershaw’s $35,500,000 annual salary. Or to the $21,000,000 the Dodgers are paying Carl Crawford to not play baseball for them (For all the Sox fans still upset over Pablo Sandoval’s contract… and you should be, I hated that signing from the get go, when they signed Hanley a few days earlier, I assumed it was for him to play third base, the follow up of then inking Sandoval never made sense to me… consider that Carl Crawford is still getting paid).
The bottom line is that special things are happening in Los Angeles this year. With their moves to shore up the bullpen at the trade deadline, the addition of Yu Darvish, and the momentum they’ve built up in the first couple thirds of the season, anything less than a World Series Championship this year has got to be considered a disappointment.
Just remember, in 1959 the Dodgers took home the trophy, 29 years later the ’88 Dodgers came out on top. Its now been 29 years, time for Kershaw and crew to make the leap into the history books as the best Los Angeles Dodgers squad of all time.
- Jason Sullivan
- Find me on Twitter @TopDucker