Editor’s note: This is the Friday, Oct. 30 edition of the Inside the Dodgers newsletter from reporter J.P. Hoornstra. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.
The Dodgers are World Series champions. How does it feel?
To me it felt like there were infinite layers to this strange little season, this marathon of a neutral-site postseason, and how the Dodgers broke their 32-year title drought. I could fill an entire off-season dissecting all the layers. Fortunately, an entire off-season lies ahead.
By now you’ve probably read about how a ring enhances Clayton Kershaw’s legacy. You know how Corey Seager put the offense on his shoulders. You know about Justin Turner’s positive COVID-19 test, and you probably have an opinion about what he was doing on the field after the game. After taking a day to sleep, and taking stock of what’s left, I was still fascinated by how it all happened.
Here are five things that I think we need to be talking about more:
1. Not everyone showed up on offense, and it didn’t matter.
The Dodgers produced a .251/.336/.483 slash line in the six-game series against the Rays. That looks merely decent until you put it in context. In 2018 against the Red Sox, they slashed .180/.249/.302. In 2017, .205/.290/.393. There are many reasons why the Dodgers did not win the World Series either of those years. One reason is that they didn’t hit well enough.
It should be obvious, but the lineup was the biggest difference when you compare the 2020 team to the Dodgers’ previous two World Series runners-up. Cody Bellinger’s 3-for-22, Will Smith’s 4-for-24, Chris Taylor’s 5-for-23 with 11 strikeouts ― none of these shortcomings mattered in the end because Seager, Joc Pederson, Justin Turner, Max Muncy and Mookie Betts were outstanding from Game 1 to Game 6. For Seager, Turner and Betts, this was a continuation of their regular seasons. For Muncy and Pederson, it was a great leap forward at exactly the right time.
You don’t even have to compare the Dodgers to their recent teams to appreciate how well they hit the Rays. According to Baseball Reference, the Dodgers’ .819 OPS in the series was tied for 21st out of all 232 World Series teams.
2. Julio Urías ditched the kid gloves.
Before he underwent Johan Santana surgery on his left shoulder, Urías projected to be the kind of pitcher who the Dodgers could start Game 4 of a playoff series and bring back in Game 6 on two days’ rest. From 2016-19, he was not that. Finally in 2020 he was, and Urías was on the mound for the final out of the World Series.
You could see this coming. In a 60-game regular season, there was no reason to hold Urías back, as the Dodgers had done for one reason or another since his debut. By October he was still healthy, and the world was watching the full Urías on display at long last.
3. Victor Gonzalez, rare homegrown reliever.
Gonzalez is only 24, but he’d toiled through six minor league seasons before reaching Triple-A midway through last year. In his seventh pro season, Gonzalez was a full-time relief pitcher from start to finish, and he spent all but two weeks on the Dodgers’ major league roster. He became one of the easiest guys to root for in short order.
In the postseason, Gonzalez leapfrogged fellow left-handers Jake McGee and Adam Kolarek on the bullpen depth chart. There were a couple hiccups along the way, but in Game 6 he struck out three of the four batters he faced and was credited with the victory. My favorite Gonzalez stat: in 27 innings between the regular season and postseason, he didn’t allow a home run. No one threw more innings this year without allowing a homer.
Something else to remember about Gonzalez. The Dodgers carried only two other homegrown relievers on their World Series roster: Kenley Jansen and Pedro Baez. All the others were acquired via trade or free agency. Caleb Ferguson would have been the fourth member of that group if he hadn’t undergone Tommy John surgery in September. Injuries happen every year, and not every team will have the depth to overcome them. When Ferguson went down, Gonzalez stepped up. I couldn’t have told you who Victor Gonzalez was a year ago, but today he’s the best healthy left-handed reliever on the Dodgers’ best team in decades.
I get it. I do. Fans don’t cheer analytics. Retired players with strong opinions really don’t cheer analytics. Analytics are like umpires ― if they’re doing their job, you don’t notice them. You just notice the players. The talk in Tampa, now and for years, will focus on how one manager’s faith in the third-time-through-the-order penalty cost his team the World Series. Almost any story about Kevin Cash’s decision to remove Blake Snell in Game 6 was required to mention analytics in the headline. I understand this temptation, too.
I also believe the opposite is necessarily true: if analytics cost the Rays the championship, it helped the Dodgers. While Snell was licking his data-inflicted wounds, the Dodgers did the sort of thing many sabermetrically-oriented analysts advocated years before it was popular. Dave Roberts removed struggling starter Tony Gonsolin in the second inning, trusted his bullpen with the rest of the game, and trusted his information ― that’s all analyticsis, after all ― to tell him which relievers to use and when. The Dodgers have a big research and development team. It’s one of the largest in baseball, if not the largest. They come up with a lot of the information that Roberts uses, and few folks outside the Dodgers’ employ are giving them credit today. I imagine they’ll be OK with that once they get their rings.
Roberts had a relatively difficult thing to screw up. He had a deep lineup. Its few interchangeable parts were pretty straightforward based on handedness. He had the luxury of a DH. He had 15 pitchers on his roster. This wasn’t the platoon-reliant squad of 2018, their ultimate downfall punctuated by the Rich Hill handoff in Game 4 of the World Series. I just can’t get over the hypocrisy of the talking heads who want to have this both ways: The World Series-winning manager, and his analytically progressive president of baseball operations, threw a bullpen game to win a championship … and analytics was the reason the Rays lost, not the reason the Dodgers won? Give me a break.
5. Alex Wood’s redemption tour.
Wood threw four scoreless innings in the World Series and allowed only three baserunners. He tossed two scoreless innings in Game 6. Only Urías got more outs for the Dodgers in the clinching game.
This is the same pitcher who was relegated to mop-up duty in two forgettable NLCS appearances. Before that, Wood hadn’t pitched in the Division Series or Wild Card round. His regular season ended with three consecutive appearances in which he allowed a run. He only made nine regular season appearances in all, going 0-1 with a 6.39 ERA and a blown save. If Wood wasn’t the 28th man included on the 28-man World Series roster, he was close.
I don’t know if you necessarily need an outstanding performance like that from the last guy on the roster to win a playoff series. We easily remember the biggest moments in the careers of men like Mike Brosseau and David Freese. We probably won’t remember what Wood did for the 2020 Dodgers in the same way, but maybe we should.
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Like the flame that burns the candle