As I sat down on to watch Game 7 of the World Series, I knew I was in for three-plus hours on an emotional rollercoaster that would likely end in tears one way or the other. In some ways, I didn’t want this season to end for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and yet in others (and for health reasons), it couldn’t end quickly enough.
I joked with friends beforehand that I was hoping for a terrible game — a blowout one way or the other to relieve all potential stress and anxiety. Games 2 and 5 will probably be events my doctor asks me about 30 years from now.
After the first two innings on Wednesday night, it appeared as if I might be getting my wish. Another disaster from Yu Darvish combined with the 2017 Dodgers reverting to every-other-incarnation of the Dodgers I had seen in my life (struggling with runners in scoring position).
Fortunately (unfortunately?), the Dodgers kept hanging around. First, thanks to Clayton Kershaw’s brilliance, which was a minor victory in its own right, and then thanks to the bats getting just warm enough to make you believe they had a chance.
And really, that’s what made this team different from any other Dodgers team I’ve ever watched. In fact, it’s what I’m thinking about today instead of who is to blame, what could have been, etc.
Those are easy roads to go down, but the truth is, it won’t help anyone feel better. Combatting anger and sadness with more anger and sadness won’t help. And the good news is you don’t have to feel that. Did you watch the 2017 Dodgers? Can you believe what the 2018 version is going to look like?
In case you forgot, this group was the best team in baseball, amassing 104 wins — the first time they eclipsed 100 wins since 1974, and the most wins since 1953. Plus, Los Angeles claimed a fifth straight National League West title, matching the exact number of division crowns they won from 1988 to 2012.
There was also the memorable 50-game run in which the Dodgers went 43-7 — the best stretch in baseball since 1912. Just think about that. For almost two months, this team was winning seven out of every eight games.
They were so dominant in fact, that they basically took their foot off the gas in the beginning of September, losing 11 straight games. While frustrating, it was a stretch that literally impacted nothing in the long run.
Yes, they Dodgers lost 11 straight games and it didn’t make the slightest difference.
While everyone was panicking, the Dodgers snapped out of it just in time for the playoffs — sweeping the Arizona Diamondbacks (the consensus sleeper in the NL playoffs) and taking down the defending champion Chicago Cubs in five games.
On the individual level, there were noteworthy moments as well. Cody Bellinger’s 39 home runs; Chris Taylor’s .850 on-base plus slugging percentage, 21 home runs and 17 stolen bases; Alex Wood’s 16-3 record with a 2.72 ERA; Kenley Jansen’s dominant 0.75 WHIP and 41 of save opportunities converted; and Justin Turner’s MVP-caliber season: .322/.415/.530 with 21 homers and Gold-Glove caliber defense.
Of course, we can’t forget about Kershaw. He led the league in ERA and wins, and he’s on his way to a seventh-straight top-five finish in Cy Young voting. Who knows, he might even win it for a fourth time.
Obviously, I’m leaving out some important players. Hello, Brandon Morrow, Yasiel Puig and Corey Seager. But the truth is we could go on forever here.
Now, I haven’t even gotten to the best part: Do you realize that this team will probably better next season?
Seager is 23, Bellinger is 22, Taylor is 27, Puig is 26, Joc Pederson is 25, Austin Barnes is 27, Yasmani Grandal is 28, Kershaw is 29, Jansen just turned 30 and Wood is only 26.
And that doesn’t even include the farm system.
Even after Bellinger was called up and the Dodgers traded Willie Calhoun and Co. to Texas, the team still had the 10th-best farm system according to MLB.com midway through the season. That should help as early as next season, when the likes of Alex Verdugo and Walker Buehler may have a real shot at making the team out of Spring Training.
The last bit of good news on this team is that just about everyone is coming back, aside from two key pieces: Morrow and Yu Darvish. Obviously, they both could come back, but even if they don’t, the 2018 Dodgers are plenty talented.
Your starting infield: Bellinger, Forsythe (if the Dodgers pick up his $9 million option), Seager and Turner (plus Barnes, Grandal and Kyle Farmer at catcher). Your outfield: some combination of Puig, Taylor, Pederson, Kiké Hernandez, Andrew Toles, Verdugo and Trayce Thompson.
On the mound, the Dodgers will return Kershaw, Wood, Rich Hill, Brandon McCarthy, Kenta Maeda, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Scott Kazmir, Brock Stewart and Ross Stripling. In the bullpen, they’ll have some combination of Jansen, Tony Cingrani, Josh Fields, Pedro Baez, Luis Avilan, Adam Liberatore, Josh Ravin and whoever doesn’t make the starting rotation.
And that’s not even taking into account potential free-agent signings or trades.
At this point last season, Taylor, Morrow, Tony Cingrani, Forsythe and Darvish weren’t even on our radar, but morphed into key pieces in what was a memorable year.
As I try and process all of this at once, I’ll admit my head starts to hurt. It seems to soon to file away 2017 — the team’s first World Series appearance in 29 years — and move on, and yet, the future is so bright that I feel like a bug attracted to a light bulb at night.
I suppose that at the end of the day this leaves me in the awkward, yet somehow comfortable position, of being able to look forward to the future and look back on the past with equal hints of optimism and joy.
This team was fun to watch, they won lots of games and they’re going to be even more hungry next season.
And, well, while a World Series win would have been great, I suppose I can take all that as enough this morning. Thanks, Dodgers. Can’t wait for next season…