They are fighting their tattered rotation, their untested bullpen, their shallow lineup.
They are fighting their lousy October history, the flameouts, the implosions, the fact that they haven’t won a full-season title in 35 years.
The San Diego Padres punked them, the Atlanta Braves rolled them, the Washington Nationals stunned them, the baseball world laughed at them.
Entering the 2023 postseason, the Dodgers are fighting against the same sorts of perceptions that have saddled them since they began the 1988 postseason as heavy underdogs.
Remember how that ended? Vin Scully once said it, and these Dodgers are about to relive it.
In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible is about to happen again.
The Dodgers will win the 2023 World Series.
You read it here first, probably because you will likely not read it anywhere else, so maybe you should read it again.
The Dodgers will win the 2023 World Series.
Print it out. Put it in plastic. Bring it to the parade.
The Dodgers are just relentless enough, just resilient enough, and just resourceful enough to survive a postseason that will bend to their undying will.
It happened in 1988 when they overcame tremendous odds to defeat the New York Mets and Oakland Athletics. This looks the same. This feels the same.
These Dodgers will easily win the division series against Arizona because, after last year’s collapse in San Diego, no way will they allow a recurrence of that nightmare. This, and the fact that the Dodgers swept the Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium in a three-game series in late August while hammering their two best pitchers, Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly.
They will then win the National League Championship Series because they can out-pitch the Atlanta Braves and out-hit the Philadelphia Phillies.
The World Series might be the easiest of their challenges. The only American League team that compares is the Houston Astros, and you think the Dodgers would lose a second title to the franchise that cheated them out of the first one? Not a chance.
The title will be won in the first week in November and the team will be tooling down Figueroa shortly thereafter. Leave now. Save your spot. This is happening.
Yes, manager Dave Roberts predicted a World Series title last year and was mocked for it after the Dodgers’ first-round crumble.
He was right, he was just a year too early. This team is not as talented as last year’s 111-win group, but, having been chastened by that stunning failure and energized with new voices, this team is much more together. It is this sort of vibe that survives meltdowns, avoids disasters, and wins rings.
Remember the 1988 Stunt Men? This is a team of Stunt Men.
“This is one of my favorite teams, as far as character, that I’ve ever had,” Robert has told reporters. “That’s why I believe in this team.”
Now listen to Betts, who said, “This is probably my favorite team I’ve ever been on. Teams like this hardly ever get assembled and when they do, you really need to cherish it, enjoy the moments.”
The manager is believing. The best player is cherishing. This is different from recent postseasons. This means something.
Yes, there were questions in this space when the season began with a lineup checkered with so much newness and uncertainty. One hundred victories later, those questions have been answered.
J.D. Martinez knows how to hit. Miguel Rojas knows how to catch. Jason Heyward knows how to lead. David Peralta knows how to focus. And, having played 151 games, Outman knows he belongs.
“I think it’s just as simple as good teams find ways to win,” Roberts said. “And so I feel confident saying our team knows how to win baseball games.”
And yes, there were more questions in this space in August when the Dodgers failed to acquire a starting pitcher, leaving the rotation in a mess that became even more unsettled when Julio Urías was suspended by MLB in the wake of more domestic violence allegations.
But one fabulous bullpen stretch later, with the entire Dodgers pitching staff clearly greater than the sum of its parts, those questions have been answered.
“We feel like we’re going to have a lot of talent on our pitching staff in October,” said Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations, to reporters. “We feel very confident that we will be bringing some big-boy stuff to the table and the ability to match up in different ways to put our offense in a position to shine.”
It is the rotation that has cynics bailing on the Dodgers, who only have one guaranteed strong starter who can eat innings, and that’s the rookie Miller.
So the bullpen will be heavily involved? So what? The Dodgers relievers have been the best in baseball since the middle of June, going 24-11 with a 2.28 ERA while holding hitters to a .197 batting average. Sounds like the numbers of an ace, right?
Besides, look at their history. When they defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series following the abbreviated 2020 season, they used an average of five relievers in each of the six games.
The winning pitcher in the clinching Game 6? A reliever, Victor González. The last reliever in the clinching Game 6? A starter, Urías.
The Dodgers know how to mix and match their pitchers in high-leverage situations, and this autumn’s jigsaw puzzle will have the bonus of one giant inspirational piece.
Kershaw, with his arm hanging by the proverbial thread, has been brilliantly tough in the last month. Even if he only lasts five innings, the Dodgers are going to be energized by his glaring sweat-stained presence.
“It’s just will,” Roberts said of his ace. “He just finds a way to do his job, and do it well. So I just marvel at him.”
The other question is the depth of a Dodgers lineup that conventional wisdom once claimed significantly weakens after MVP candidates Betts and Freddie Freeman. That’s become far from true. You don’t score the second-most runs in the major leagues unless you have a long line of dudes who can hit.
In the Mookie-Freddie shadows, Max Muncy had 36 homers and 105 RBIs, Martinez had 33 homers and 103 RBIs and even Outman had 23 homers and 70 RBIs.
Then there were the two-out hits. Championships are won with two-out hits. And mercy, this team collected a bunch of two-out hits. The Dodgers led the majors with 359 two-out RBIs while ranking second in the National League with 85 two-out homers and 237 two-out walks.
These Dodgers are never out of it. They never roll over. They never give in. In a season that began with a major loss in injured Gavin Lux and ended with a major loss of Urías, they have pieced together the most unsightly, splendid masterpiece.
“The amount that this group has overcome … this feels as together and united of a group that I’ve ever been around,” Friedman told The Times’ Jack Harris on the night in Seattle when they clinched their 10th National League West title in 11 seasons. “It’s been a really special year.”
This columnist was sold on a late July night at Dodger Stadium when the Dodgers entered the ninth trailing the Toronto Blue Jays 7-3.
Here’s what happened next: Single. Infield single. RBI single. Infield single. Walk. Two-run single when Smith ran through a stop sign to score the tying run.
The Dodgers won that game in 10 innings on Outman’s RBI double after Smith’s tremendous home-plate tag in the top of the inning and everything became clear.
This was the piece-by-piece building of an unlikely victory. This was the definition of collective unselfishness and baseball smarts.
This was Kirk Gibson scoring from second base on a wild pitch against the Montreal Expos in August 1988. This was a defining moment. This was a championship moment.
“They really kind of punched us,” Smith said afterward. “But we punched right back.”
No punches pulled here. Beginning this weekend, the Dodgers will jab their way to 11 wins and the franchise’s eighth title.
Improbably, impossibly, inevitably.
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