Editor’s note: This is the Tuesday, Oct. 27 edition of the Inside the Dodgers newsletter from reporter J.P. Hoornstra. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.
I opined in yesterday’s newsletter about the weirdness of the 2020 baseball calendar. My very subjective experience of the shortened regular season and expanded playoffs was, well, very subjective. In the spirit of atonement, here’s a more objective month-by-month look at 2020, excluding May and June, when there was no baseball. It’s the story of how the Dodgers got to the precipice of a championship in the middle of a global pandemic. Enjoy.
You might have been glued to a screen or two on February 4, watching the Mookie Betts trade unfold. One could make the argument this was the most important day of the Dodgers’ season. I would argue it was Feb. 10, when the terms of the trade (Alex Verdugo, Connor Wong and Jeter Downs to Boston, Betts, David Price and cash to the Dodgers) became official. This was also the day the Kenta Maeda/Brusdar Graterol trade with the Twins became official.
During the six days in between, the Angels backed out of a trade that reportedly would have sent Ross Stripling, Joc Pederson and prospect Andy Pages to Anaheim for Luis Rengifo and two prospects. Pederson and Stripling remained Dodgers, and one of them would play an integral role in the eventual run to the World Series. Was the day Arte Moreno backed out of that trade the Dodgers’ most important day of 2020?
In any event, we know the most important day was not the commencement of spring training. Back then, if you recall, one of the bigger questions was whether Jimmy Nelson or Alex Wood might claim the fifth starter’s job. Little did we all know …
It was fitting that the Dodgers’ spring training facility shuttered on Friday the 13th. From there, things got weird in a hurry. Players and coaches dispersed. Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association began to wander through a desert of negotiations to salvage a season amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Opening Day had been scheduled for March 26. That didn’t happen. For a few months, nothing happened.
Dodger Stadium was scheduled to host an All-Star Game on July 14. That didn’t happen, either. After months of back-and-forth bickering with union chief Tony Clark, commissioner Rob Manfred imposed a 60-game regular season ― the maximum possible under the circumstances, he would say later. Fans would have until the end of September to grow accustomed to empty stadiums, cardboard cutouts, and regional play among the West, Central and East divisions only.
Players reported to summer camp but were given the opportunity to opt out of the season. Price was the only Dodger to exercise that right. On July 21, the Dodgers signed recently released Rockies left-hander Jake McGee. But that’s not the contract that made July 2020 a franchise-altering month.
The Dodgers finalized a 12-year contract extension with Mookie Betts on July 22. It was the second-largest contract in the sport’s history, and it made Betts a Dodger through 2032 before he even played a game that counted.
One day before the regular season began, on July 23, MLB announced it was expanding the postseason to four rounds and 16 teams.
The Dodgers never spent a day of the season under .500. They beat the Padres on Aug. 13 to win a closely contested series against their nearest challenger, getting three home runs from Betts. They assumed first place in the National League West the very next day and never looked back.
On Aug. 26, the Dodgers and Giants postponed their scheduled game at Oracle Park in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake.
At the Aug. 31 trade deadline, the Dodgers made only one move. Stripling was traded to the Blue Jays for minor leaguer Kendall Williams and another player to be named later. The Dodgers effectively subtracted from their major league roster in preparation for a deep playoff run. Who does that?
The best regular-season Dodger team since forever, that’s who. Their 43-17 record equated to a franchise-record .717 winning percentage. That’s a 116-win pace over 162 games, and it exceeded even the Dodgers’ lofty preseason projections.
The month’s only downer: Caleb Ferguson suffered an elbow injury Sept. 15 and underwent Tommy John surgery. He finished the season with a 2.89 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings. The left-hander figured to be integral to the postseason fate of a bullpen that looked pretty good on paper.
The Dodgers swept a forgettable best-of-three series against the Brewers in the first round. They moved into an Arlington, Texas hotel for the next three weeks and swept the Padres in a much more memorable best-of-five series at Globe Life Field.
The Dodgers needed the full seven games to beat an upstart Atlanta Braves team in the NLCS. They ultimately came back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 in the series, and got a big lift from Julio Urías and Cody Bellinger in the finale.
Back in the World Series for the third time in four years, the Dodgers faced a Tampa Bay Rays club that posted the American League’s best regular-season record (40-20) before eliminating the Astros in a seven-game ALCS. It was at once a clash of opposites and look-alikes.
It’s been a good series through Game 5. Game 6 is tonight. “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards,” Kirkegaard once wrote, and if I can’t help you see this season to the finish line, perhaps a 19th-century Danish philosopher can.
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