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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

L.A.’s October Demons

How October ends could have big ramifications for Dodgers’ future after two straight World Series losses

In front of an electric crowd at Chavez Ravine in the afternoon of Nov. 1, 2017, the Dodgers stood one win away from capturing their first World Series since 1988. All 54,124 fans were on their feet as Game 7 was about to begin. But in a flash, the dream turned into a nightmare for the Dodgers. They went quietly into the night, and the Houston Astros took home their first-ever World Series, celebrating on LA’s field. 

“We’ve just got to regroup,” said Dodgers’ Manager Dave Roberts in the postgame press conference. “I like our guys, I believe in our team and I expect us to be in the same position next year.”

Nearly exactly a year later, the Dodgers made another run to win the NL West division title, survived a grueling seven-game series in the National League Championship Series with the Milwaukee Brewers and made it back to the World Series — this time facing the Boston Red Sox. After several questionable managing decisions by Roberts, the Dodgers blew a four-run lead in Game 4, and ultimately lost the World Series again, this time in a quick five-game series. 

“We’ve just got to go back out there, and I expect us to be back here next year, but celebrating on the field,” Roberts said after the Game 5 loss at Dodger Stadium. “I don’t think we played our best but part of it, a lot of it, is you’ve got to give credit to the opponent. And we have a lot of time to think about this one. But, again, spring is going to be around the corner.”

For many teams, especially in a sport like baseball, the window for opportunity to win a championship is very small. Typically for teams that make it to back-to-back World Series, that next season spells the beginning of a sharp decline. It is rare for a team in the Major Leagues to hold success for an extended period of time without faltering. That is what makes this Dodgers team so interesting.

For seven straight years, including 2019, the Dodgers have won the National League West Division, and the majority of those wins came in a very comfortable fashion. It is the third-longest division-winning streak of all time, and with every new division title, the pressure builds even higher on the team to finally bring home a world championship for their fans who have waited for 31 years. Over the past six postseasons, the Dodgers have lost in the NLDS, NLCS and World Series twice each in that span. 

A mix of veterans and homegrown talent have passed through the Dodgers organization during this run. Big names like Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Manny Machado and Yu Darvish all donned a Dodger uniform, but what has really helped put LA over the top is its eye for the lesser-known players with potential. Players like Chris Taylor, Max Muncy, Justin Turner and Enrique (Kiké) Hernandez were almost out of the majors, but once they arrived in LA, they became instant contributors. When the big names are not performing, players like these are there to pick up the slack. 

Another huge part of this LA run has been the team’s reluctance to part ways with young prospects for major names. In the past years, they have been linked to ace pitcher Chris Sale, the late Jose Fernandez, JT Realmuto and many other big names across the majors. But the Dodgers have refused to forfeit valuable prospects. The players that opposing teams wanted in return for those stars included now starting shortstop Corey Seager, starting left fielder Joc Pederson, lefty pitcher Julio Urias and 2019 NL MVP candidate Cody Bellinger — all of whom are an enormous contributors to the Dodgers’ success. 

Just 10 years ago, the Dodgers had a chance to acquire Hall of Famer Roy Halladay to help them in their 2009 run. But LA refused to give up a young pitcher in its system. That player was Clayton Kershaw, who has since become one of the greatest pitchers the game has ever seen. 

This year, when the opportunity came to trade for Pirates’ all-star reliever Felipe Vasquez and help out the struggling bullpen, the Dodgers and General Manager Andrew Friedman let it go because they did not want to let go of two highly-rated prospects Dustin May and Gavin Lux. Since then, both players have been called up and have contributed in every facet of the game. They ended the 2019 regular season as the NL’s best team, and as of Aug. 6, according to MLB.com, they had the third-best farm system in the league —  a key indication that the Dodgers may contend for years to come. 

While their eye for talent and building a great farm system have helped them maintain success, the Dodgers still haven’t achieved their primary goal, which is to win a championship. These past two World Series losses have left a mark on the Dodgers, and those still on the team know the dark cloud of pressure that keeps building after each postseason failure. For many teams, especially a relatively young one like the Dodgers, the two losses would lead to absolute ruin. But while losing still hurts, starting third baseman Justin Turner has the mentality that keeps this team going. 

“When you get that close two years in a row, it borderline drives you insane,” Turner told the Los Angeles Times in February. “You’re just psychotic about trying to finish it. So the drive is even greater than it was last year. Do we believe we’re a good team? Absolutely. Every guy in here, to a man, thinks we’re a really, really good team, and have a chance to do something special. At the same time, that doesn’t count for a run. You don’t score runs because you’re supposed to be good. You still have to figure out ways to score runs and throw strikes and play defense. That’s what we have to do.”

As we enter another MLB postseason, the Dodgers will play for the same thing that they have been so close to attaining the past two years. If they do win it all this year, it could be the beginning of a potential dynasty. The youth, the front office and the manager are in place for the long run, and a World Series win would certainly take some of that pressure off their backs. 

But another World Series loss and this team will have to look at themselves in a similar way to the 90s Buffalo Bills, Utah Jazz and 2010-2011 Texas Rangers. A postseason loss would likely result in big changes for the Dodgers, and some that they might not even want.

As much as making the World Series may not be a failure in many of their eyes, this Dodgers team has the potential to go down as one of the best sports teams ever that couldn’t get it done. And for a big market team like them, they may not be able to live it down and survive the pressure of three straight losses. 

All eyes are on LA this October.  A Fall Classic result will have the City of Angels feeling like a dream come true, or a nightmare they cannot awake from.

Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org


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