It was so for generations. Following whatever pennant-race disappointment came their way, Dodgers fans could always take solace in one thought: “Yeah, well the Giants haven’t won a World Series since 1954.”
Even in a year in which San Francisco managed a division crown – like 1971, 1987, 1989, 1997 or 2000 – L.A. would still counter with, “Oh yeah ‘Frisco? How’s October treating ya?” The response at the close of the 2002 postseason, when San Francisco lost the World Series to Anaheim in seven: “Maybe in another half century, battery chuckers!” It was easy; after all, the Dodgers had won five championships since both teams left New York, while the Giants remained stuck on squat west of the Mississippi.
And then, the unthinkable happened, and the skies over L.A. turned dark and full of terrors.
When (relatively) well-groomed Giants closer Brian Wilson fanned the Rangers’ Nelson Cruz for the final out of the 106th World Series that night in Texas, Dodgers fans across the globe shared a collective punch to the gut, with a magnitude of depression likely not felt since Sandy Koufax retired in 1966. Old-timers recall what was, at the time, an inconceivable seven seasons between pennants post-Koufax, from 1967 to 1973. And yet, here we stand, 26 years and counting since the Dodgers last graced the Fall Classic, with more than a few L.A. fans unable to watch yet another Kirk Gibson replay without harming themselves.
Two years after Magic Johnson said it’s World Series or bust, with both seasons ending in humbling fashion at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals, big boss Stan Kasten went for the complete reboot this past winter.
Ned Colletti was removed as general manager; in to save the day are president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, GM Farhan Zaidi, senior V.P. of operations Josh Byrnes and a team of smart young professionals better suited for the challenges of a 21st century front office. Gone are one-time franchise player Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Dee Gordon and Dan Haren, too. And all this following a 94-win campaign and second consecutive NL West crown.
“Out with old, in with the new,” you might say. The less kind view? Out with the old, in with the new, the old and the infirm.
L.A. went hot and heavy for starters Brandon McCarthy (four years and $48 million) and Brett Anderson (one year at $10 million, plus incentives), whose injury history is so robust it’s best digested in TV factoid form.
Friedman signed every disabled body he could seemingly find, including Mike Adams, Scott Baker, Brandon Beachy, Erik Bedard, Freddy Garcia, Chad Gaudin and Dustin McGowan (some will begin the year in the minors; others, like McGowan, have already been released). The real-world equivalent would probably be a human resources interaction that goes something like this: “I see here you had a spotty attendance record at your last five jobs. Congratulations, you’re just the man we’re looking for!”
In late March the Dodgers outbid the field for Hector Olivera, coughing up $62.5 million for six years, knowing in advance that the 30-year-old Cuban infielder has a partial tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of his right elbow. The deal gives the Dodgers a seventh year of the player’s services for a million bucks if Tommy John surgery is required.
None of this compares to hitting on 18 in blackjack exactly, but the element of risk, especially with the rotation, is rather stunning. I suppose this sounds like a silly sentence, but players who are hurt all the time get hurt all the time. Number three starter Hyun-jin Ryu is already dealing with his third sore shoulder in less than a year, and is lost to the team through at least April.
But despite all that, this is still a good club. In Clayton Kershaw (the reigning NL Cy Young winner and MVP) and Zack Greinke, L.A. has the best ace-deuce tandem in baseball. Though he’ll be sidelined early following foot surgery, Kenley Jansen projects better than most closers.
Defense up the middle was improved exponentially in trades for shortstop Jimmy Rollins and second baseman Howie Kendrick, both of whom will contribute significantly with the bat as well. Iron man first baseman Adrian Gonzalez returns, as does third baseman Juan Uribe, who is backed up ably by Justin Turner.
Yasiel Puig is the breakout star of the club, if not all of Major League Baseball. While his .305/.386/.502 line – and, at times, spectacular defense – make for the fine beginnings of a career, word that Puig has acknowledged his off-the-field shortcomings with a vow to improve was welcomed throughout the organization.
Rookie center fielder Joc Pederson is a most intriguing player. Setting aside his great spring numbers, most pundits place the 2014 Pacific Coast League MVP batting eighth in their lineup predictions – he batted seventh on Opening Day – but I say if he’s good enough to play most days in Chavez Ravine, he’s good enough to bat higher in the lineup, and quite possibly at the top of it. Pederson doesn’t have to win the Dodgers’ industry leading 17th Rookie of the Year Award for his season to be a success, but I wouldn’t put it past him. Anything more than a .270/.330/.440, with 20 homers and 65 RBIs would be gravy.
Despite the best efforts of the San Diego Padres – and they continue to be substantial – I still expect the Dodgers to win the NL West; just not as comfortably as my colleagues predict. But October is what matters most in Los Angeles, and I don’t know if this is a World Series team. Not with the risky rotation as constituted. And not with last year’s troublesome bullpen restructured, though not necessarily improved. Can this new Blueprint work in Los Angeles? I have no idea, and neither does the team’s new regime. The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same.
Predicted Record: 87-75