The Los Angeles Dodgers went 91-71 and won the NL West title. They are division champs in part because they had an uncanny ability to continue winning games despite losing key players to injury, and in part because the San Francisco Giants crapped all over themselves in the second half of the season. But who cares how they got here, because the Dodgers are nearly back to full strength and ready to whomp on some fools.
The Dodgers are not exactly the gilded super team you might assume them to be. Their payroll number, a whopping $272 million, certainly harkens back to the Evil Empire Yankees that showed rich teams how to turn dollars into wins, but the money hasn’t been what’s kept the Dodgers afloat.
This season was proof that aside from being stupid rich, the Dodgers are also pretty good at finding and developing young talent. The Dodgers’ three best hitters this year were Corey Seager, Justin Turner, and Joc Pederson. Seager and Pederson are homegrown talents, Turner came from the free-agency dustbin, and the three are earning just over $6 million combined this year.
This isn’t to say the money hasn’t helped at all—walking money pits Adrian Gonzalez and Chase Utley both turned in solid seasons, and Japanese import Kenta Maeda kept the pitching staff afloat while Clayton Kershaw was on the DL—but rich teams like this are often powered by high-priced mercenaries plucked from smaller markets, and those dudes are nowhere to be found on this Dodgers team. At one point, they had to turn to 19-year-old rookie pitcher Julio Urias to keep things moving, and he rewarded them with a solid 3.39 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 77 innings.
Whether you find it inspiring or depressing that rich team can make it to the playoffs despite spending a lot of its money unwisely probably depends on how old and cranky you are, but you can at least feel good about the fact that rooting for the Dodgers means rooting for some young, exciting players.
Shortstop Corey Seager is the best of the Dodgers’ squad of strong young men. This was his first full season in the majors, and the 22-year-old hit .308/.365/.512 with 26 homers and 40 dang doubles. He’s a welcome throwback to the not-so-distant era in which the shortstop position was dominated by big, power-hitting stars. If you’re the type of fan who thinks baseball hasn’t been nearly as much since Miguel Tejada retired and A-Rod got shuffled over the third base, then Seager is your man.
Another guy you should know is Rich Hill, the 36-year-old starter the Dodgers traded for at the deadline to bolster their thinning rotation. You should know Hill because he is good—he posted a 2.12 ERA with 129 strikeouts in 110 innings this season—but also because he is a perfect encapsulation of just how weird and unpredictable baseball is. Here is a dude who spent the first 11 years of his career oscillating between “pretty good” and “really bad,” and then all of a sudden, in his age-36 season, transforme himself into one of the best starters in baseball.
What’s the reason for Hill’s sudden dominance? I’m sure there are plenty of illuminating articles on FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus that can provide empirical answers to that question, but the real answer is that sometimes baseball be crazy. When Hill takes the mound this postseason, he should have “LOL NOTHING MATTERS” on the back of his jersey instead of his name.
Anyway, the Dodgers also have Clayton Kershaw, who is essentially the reincarnation of Sandy Koufax. If Kershaw’s back hadn’t acted like a dickhead and put him on the disabled list for a few weeks in the middle of the season, he probably would have just finished up one of the greatest single-season pitching performances in baseball history. He still finished with 172 strikeouts and just 11 walks in 149 innings pitched, and he’s been lights out in his five starts since returning from the disabled list. With Kershaw, the Dodgers are headed into the playoffs holding the biggest trump card in the deck.
The Cardinals were unable to qualify for the MLB playoffs this season, which means that the Dodgers will not have to bother with beating them if they want to win the World Series.
Justin Turner’s got that big bushy chin.
Because it would be really really funny if Yasiel Puig ended up getting a World Series ring out of this disaster of a season.