If you’re a fan of another team, you can admire or resent the Dodgers’ recent spate of success. Since exorcising Frank McCourt in 2012 and donning the New Blue, they’ve won six consecutive NL West titles and two pennants. Dodgers have won two Cy Young awards, two Rookie of the Years, and an MVP. Their .581 winning percentage since 2013 beats Cleveland in second by 19 points. By several measures, they’ve been the best team in the majors for most of the decade.
But if you’re a Dodger fan, this stretch has to feel like a bitter disappointment. Despite being a paragon of baseball, the Dodgers still haven’t won a World Series. They’ve come as close as they could in the past two seasons which is an improvement over getting bounced by Matt Adams dingers and Miguel Montero grand slams. But the Dodgers’ all-or-nothing ethos means that all they’ve earned is the ignominious distinction of losing the World Series at home in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 1936-37 New York Giants.
After rolling over the Braves and staging a comeback against the Brewers, the Dodgers went down more or less quietly against the Red Sox. At first glance, the match-up was a mismatch. The Red Sox won 108 games compared to the Dodgers’ 92, and the Dodgers needed 163 games to make it that close. The Red Sox dominated the season from start to finish, but the Dodgers struggled just to make it into the postseason.
Still, you could make an argument that the Dodgers were better than the Rex Sox. As Luis Torres noted in his World Series Preview, the Dodgers were two games better than the Red Sox by their BaseRuns record. Los Angeles’ 118 non-pitcher wRC+ put them head and shoulders against any other team. The Dodgers’ pitching staff was better than Boston’s by every fielding-independent run estimator. The Dodgers were 77 runs better on defense by defensive runs saved.
In the end, the only game they managed to win was the 18-inning game three that they nearly lost on an Eduardo Núñez squib. They very nearly evened the series in the following game, but the entire bullpen, including Kenley Jansen, couldn’t protect a four-run lead. Not even Kiké Hernández’s ninth-inning homer could bring their win expectancy over five percent.
The bullpen and Dave Roberts’ usage of the bullpen have gotten their share of blame, but the offense didn’t put them in great positions to win. The Dodgers were outscored 28 to 16 in the World Series, and Boston held them to just a .550 OPS. Between the NLCS and the World Series, the Dodgers averaged just 3.25 runs per game. If you factor in that Game Three was two games long, that shrinks to just three runs per game.
If there’s any solace to be found, it’s that the Dodgers are still in tremendous shape to return to the postseason in 2019. If Clayton Kershaw opts out, he’s still likely to re-sign, and he’ll get another chance to kill the “Kershaw can’t pitch in the postseason” narrative.
Manny Machado’s time in LA is probably done, but Corey Seager will return in 2019. The core is still the envy of baseball, and even if Hyun-Jin Ryu leaves in free agency, the rotation will still be in great shape. Walker Buehler is comfortably a top ten pitcher, Julio Urias has returned from shoulder surgery, and the Dodgers have solid options to fill out the back-end with Alex Wood, Ross Stripling, and Kenta Maeda.
The Dodgers will be back. They have financial resources to supplement their needs with free agents, and the baseball acumen to fill out a roster without free agents. But the postseason will remain a crap-shoot, and even if the Dodgers are smart and rich, they haven’t been lucky.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score, McCovey Chronicles, and BP Wrigleyville.