“Justin effing Turner,” “We’re gonna win the World Series,” “No, we’re gonna sweep Houston!”. I overheard all of this waiting to board the Dodger Stadium Express to head back home from Game 1 of the 2017 World Series. The excitement was palpable, people were lighting up celebratory joints, a small fire was started somewhere in the parking lot, this was the team that Los Angeles had been waiting 29 years for. A little over a week later those same people felt completely and utterly dejected as the Houston Astros lifted the Commissioner’s Trophy on the sacred ground of Dodger Stadium. Weeks went by and the pain gradually faded from fan’s minds, until November 12, 2019 when The Athletic published an articles about the Astros signing stealing scandal. Even worse, the league’s investigation revealed that the Astros had cheated during the 2017 World Series. All of a sudden a tough, hard-fought World Series loss became one of the biggest what-if’s in team history. Now every time the 2017 Dodgers are brought up the conversation inevitably steers to how they were cheated in the World Series, and would’ve won if the Astros weren’t cheating. However, little is said about the team itself, so 5 years removed from that season let’s try and figure out what this team’s historical footprint will end up being.
Coming off a six game loss to the eventual World Series Champions Cubs, the Dodgers made very few changes to the roster aside from a trade for Logan Forsythe, going into the 2017 season. Expectations remained high for the team as they were expected to compete with the Cubs for not only the NL Pennant, but the World Series. The team did not disappoint. The team won 104 games, and for the season the team had a 104 WRC+ and 82 ERA- both top five in baseball. The only other team in baseball who finished in the top five was Cleveland. Offensively the team was lead by an offensive core of Justin Turner (150 OPS+), Corey Seager (126 OPS+), Yasiel Puig (119 OPS+) and the two-headed catcher tandem of Yasmani Grandal (101 OPS+) and Austin Barnes (138 OPS+). The team then had a few key contributors show up as the season progressed with Chris Taylor (123 OPS+) being called up on April 19th and Cody Bellinger (143 OPS+) being called up on April 25th, both of whom ended up playing huge roles in the team’s success.
Pitching wise the team was led by Clayton Kershaw, who had another Clayton Kershaw-esque season posting a 179 ERA+. Unlike years past, there were genuine reinforcements backing up Kershaw in the rotation with Alex Wood having a career year with a 152 ERA+, Rich Hill was solid posting a 125 ERA+, and then the rotation was bolstered with Yu Darvish being acquired on the day of the trade deadline and putting up a 121 ERA+ forming a dangerous 1-4 with Kenta Maeda, Brandon McCarthy, and Hyun-Jin Ryu making starts as well. The bullpen was also incredibly solid, boasting 4 arms that made at least 40 appearances and had an ERA+ of 110 or better. Brandon Morrow was called up on May 29th and posted an ERA+ of 202 in 45 appearances from that point on. The team then traded for Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani who both posted a minimum 150 ERA+ over at least 20 appearances. All of this paved the way to arguably the best closer in baseball… Kenley Jansen, who put an outstanding 315 ERA+ in 65 appearances for the team. This team was truly an infinity gauntlet of talent in every aspect and combined they all formed a force that Thanos himself would tremble before. Yet despite all this talent the team had assembled not a single player finished in the top five of NL MVP voting. Clayton Kershaw finished a distant second in Cy Young voting, and Dave Roberts finished an even more distant second in Manager of the Year Voting. Which begs the question why is this team so special?
It’s a good question. While mentioning the team’s finishes in wRC+ AND ERA-, they did not lead the league in either category. They weren’t even the only team that finished top 5 in both of those stats as both Cleveland and the Yankees finished top 5 in both stats, and Cleveland were top 3 in both stats as well. So why talk about this team? This team was truly a team in every sense of the word. As they had ten walk-off wins from nine different players, ranging from stars like Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner, and unsung heroes like Austin Barnes and Kyle Farmer. They dealt with a lot of injuries, but managed to thrive when players who were expected to contribute such as Adrián González, Logan Forsythe, and Joc Pederson got injured early. Pressing Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger into service, and they immediately contributed. Even through the team’s famous 51-9 tear through the dog days of summer, the best 60 game stretch in 105 years, Clayton Kershaw wound up missing a lot of time. Cody Bellinger and Alex Wood hit the IL during this run as well. The team was truly an unstoppable force during that summer, and eventually they would reach a record of 91-36 on Friday August 25 with a 3-1 over the Brewers. This gave the team a winning percentage of 0.717, exactly one one-hundredth of a percent better than the 2001 Seattle Mariners, with 35 games to go. However, the team then lost five straight kicking off a 13-22 stretch to close to season.
Now for thing that ultimately defines this team for better and worse, the 2017 World Series. Instead of a doing a blow by blow recap of all 7 games of the series I’m gonna highlight a few key moments from three games of that series, moments that best summarize what the 2017 Dodgers are. We start in the bottom of tenth inning in Game 2 in Los Angeles, José Altuve and Carlos Correa had gone back to back off Josh Fields in the top of the tenth making it a 5-3 game, giving Houston an 91% chance of winning. Due up for the Dodgers: Yasiel Puig, Yasmani Grandal, and Austin Barnes. Puig quickly homers to make it a one run game. However, Grandal and Barnes would strikeout back to back and the Dodgers are quickly backed up against the wall as a 3-2 pitch sails just low as Logan Forsythe sees ball four. A wild pitch quickly moved Forsythe to second, he would score two pitches later on an opposite field single from Kiké Hernández, in one of many big swings he had that postseason. The Dodgers would end up losing that game 7-6, but they showed that they were never gonna quit no matter how dire it seemed.
Before I talk about games 4 and 5, a couple of things must be acknowledged before we continue on. These games took place at Minute Maid Park in Houston, where the infamous sign stealing system was implemented. While for the longest time there was a lot of conjecture about what exactly happened in that ballpark during the 2017 postseason, Rob Manfred’s official statement about the sign stealing scandal ended all the speculation. As attested to by the team’s manager A.J. Hinch, the sign stealing system continued throughout 2017 postseason. One more thing must be acknowledged to, and spoilers to those who aren’t familiar with the 2017 postseason, the Astros went 8-1 at Minute Park during the 2017 playoffs. Going into Game 4, Alex Wood had heard rumors of odd stuff going on in Houston, so him and catcher Austin Barnes had devised a system to change signs during the game. The results: Wood pitched 5 and 2/3 no-hit innings before an unfortunate Fox chyron jinxed Wood, causing him to miss his spot and give up a home run to George Springer. That was the only hit Wood allowed, the Dodgers won that game 6-2, and it would be the only game Houston would lose at home in the 2017 postseason. Finally, we go to to the top of the ninth in Game 5. The Dodgers had blown a 4-0 lead, 7-4 lead, and an 8-7 lead up to this point. On top of that they cut the deficit to 11-9 in the eight inning, only for Brian McCann to bring it back to a three run lead in the bottom of of the eight. However, this team didn’t quit once again. Yasiel Puig hit a two-run home run to cut the deficit to one. Austin Barnes then doubled to give the team hope once again. Then with two outs, down to their final strike, Chris Taylor hits a change-up up the middle to tie the game. Despite all the adversity that the team faced in this game they never gave up and tied it again. They were truly Sisyphus pushing the ball up the hill, but much like Sisyphus them were not allowed to reap the benefits of their labor as the team would go on to lose the game in the tenth.
So what will this team’s legacy be? As much as myself and many others of Los Angeles want to say this team is one of the greatest ever, they are not. Their 11 game losing streak in September ensured that it would no longer be the case. At best they are one of the best teams to never win a World Series, but that’s not why this team is special. This team was supposed to be the one, the one that made all the heartbreak worth it. Dodger fans had waited for a team to finally bring them back to the promised land. They were met with nothing but heartbreak and disappointment, whether it was Joe Kelly breaking Hanley Ramirez’s ribs in 2013, the Matt Adams home run in 2014, the Matt Carpenter double in 2014, the Matt Stairs pinch hit home run in 2008, really any time a left-handed hitter named Matt stepped foot in the batter’s box during the postseason. All of this, on top of the the disastrous McCourt era of team history which would culminate in the team declaring bankruptcy during the 2011 season, Los Angeles was ready for a champion again. This team had the magical moments that every champion has on their way to winning it all. Despite coming one game short, this team made millions believe and fall in love with the Dodgers again, and maybe that’s worth just as much as a World Series ring.
Featured photo; @Dodgers