From absolute madness to epic disappointment

Photo: Stacie Wheeler

29 years in the making, it was a World Series that would go down as one of the most thrilling but also the most heartbreaking for Dodger fans. For the first time, Dodger fans who were lucky enough to watch the great teams of the 1950s and 60s, those who last saw a championship team in 1988 and young fans who hadn’t even been born yet were able to experience a World Series team together.

Unfortunately, like many great sports teams in history that failed in an elimination game, the 2017 Dodgers weren’t able to edge out the Houston Astros in Game 7 to capture that elusive World Series win.

It’s going to take time to get over the emotional avalanche Game 7 and the World Series loss triggered. I’ve been in a numb state of acceptance since Wednesday night. While I remained cautiously optimistic over the course of the season, even during the high points and record-breaking moments, I allowed myself to believe momentarily. After Justin Turner‘s walk-off home run against the Cubs to win NLCS Game 2, I believed. I shed some tears of joy, and I really did think that I would be crying at least one more time when the Dodgers won it all. Those long-awaited happy tears never came.

It should get easier, but it never does. As Dodger fans, we’ve had to experience a lot of postseason pain over the last five years. Five consecutive elimination game defeats can really deplete one of optimism. The Dodgers’ pattern of postseason problems has culminated in this year’s World Series Game 7 loss. It’s been a pattern of sorts. They only mustered two hits in Game 6 of the 2013 NLCS, two runs in Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS, two runs in Game 5 of the 2015 NLDS and two hits in Game 6 of the NLCS last year against the Cubs. Even going back to 2008 and 2009, those were excruciating playoff eliminations as well.

In hindsight, we can analyze the series and try to reimagine the management of the games they lost. Maybe Kenley Jansen should have started with a clean inning in Game 2, and maybe Yu Darvish should have been yanked earlier in Game 7 after he had runners at second and third with George Springer looming. Those are valid questions in a series where one defensive mistake, one poor managerial choice or one broken rib could be the difference in such a close contest between two very talented baseball teams. But at some point, you have to move on and accept what transpired in order to make the necessary adjustments going into the offseason and 2018. Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t still feel frustrated over the outcome.

Ultimately, I’ve concluded that the players who had been so good throughout the season, those who carried this team all the way to Game 7 of the World Series, failed to perform when it mattered most. Jansen, one of the best pitchers in the game, failed in Game 2. That Marwin Gonzalez game-tying ninth-inning home run, a catastrophic series-changer I witnessed in person at Dodger Stadium, will go down as one of the most agonizing postseason home runs allowed by a Dodger pitcher since the likes of Matt Adams‘ three-run home run against Kershaw in Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS. As much as I admire Jansen and what he has done as the Dodgers’ closer, that 0-2 mistake was, well, a big mistake. The Dodgers needed the normal Kenley in that moment, the pitcher with the wicked cutter who won the NL Reliever Of The Year Award and struck out 109 batters in 68 1/3 innings during the regular season. They got the human Kenley in Game 2, one who made a bad pitch and changed the trajectory of the series.

It also didn’t help that Josh Fields immediately allowed two home runs without getting an out in Game 2, and Brandon Morrow had a horrendous relief appearance in Game 5 when he allowed two home runs, a double and a single, and also threw a wild pitch on six pitches. Morrow was pushed to the brink after pitching in all seven World Series games. When you’re best two pitchers are struggling, more pressure is put on the rest of the bullpen, and it’s very difficult to win.

There were standout performances that came along with the bad ones as well. Kenta Maeda was great, pitching in four games and allowing one run in 5 2/3 innings. It will be interesting to see how the Dodgers use him going forward, but he’s proven his value as a strong relief option this season. Alex Wood also stepped up to make an impressive start in Game 4 and a scoreless pair of innings out of the bullpen in Game 7. Like Maeda, Wood’s been a versatile arm who can start and pitch out of relief. Rich Hill was the veteran you wanted on the mound in a series like this, and he was arguably the best starter for the Dodgers with two solid starts despite the Game 2 loss.

Then there was the story of Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’ ace seeking postseason redemption. Game 1 went swimmingly well for Kersh when he pitched seven innings of one-run ball, striking out 11 and walking none. That was the Kershaw the Dodgers needed for at least one more start in the series in order to defeat A.J. Hinch‘s crew. When Kershaw floundered in that mess of a baseball game, Game 5, it really did put the pressure on an overextended bullpen. Kershaw came back and redeemed himself with a masterful relief appearance in Game 7, but this time even Kershaw’s tenacity couldn’t overcome a second disastrous start by Yu Darvish and an offense that never found that big hit.

And the offense is what let them down in Game 7. Justin Turner, who was so consistently good all season and well into the NLCS, suddenly looked beaten. Whether an undisclosed injury is to blame is uncertain, but it’s very hard to win when your top hitter bats .160 with four hits over the entirety of the seven-game set. Corey Seager also didn’t look 100-percent. Chris Taylor also had trouble coming up with enough big hits in the series. Both Seager and Taylor hit .222 in the series with a single home run each. Meanwhile, Cody Bellinger was swinging for the fences and coming up empty, and his inexperience was evident by his 17 strikeouts in 28 at-bats.

Yasiel Puig got rid of the blue hair, and the offensive pizzazz went away with it. Puig was so fun to watch in the NLDS and NLCS, hitting .455 and .389 in the two series. Tongue wagging and bat licking was added to his repertoire that already included his signature bat flip. Puig’s ability to balance his wild nature with renewed focus — with some help from Turner Ward — led to much success in a career-high 28-homer regular season plus a redeeming postseason. It was a memorable postseason performance that finally gave him some positive national attention. Alas, the Wild Horse did not bring his cobalt hair into the World Series, only collecting four hits including two home runs in 27 at-bats (.148).

Yasmani Grandal was like a ghost during the series, only getting three at-bats. I wouldn’t be shocked if he also was banged up after the long season. Austin Barnes, who took over for Grandal as the starting catcher this postseason, hit .174 with four hits. Other than being able to be hit with the ball, Chase Utley never was able to relive any of his glory days with the Phillies this time around. He went hitless in six at-bats. Enrique Hernandez, whose NLCS Game 5 performance will never be forgotten, only collected three hits in the World Series.

When Logan Forsythe, Joc Pederson and Charlie Culberson are carrying your team offensively, it seems like the odds would not be in your favor. In particular, the World Series success of Joc really stands out as one of the great Dodgers’ postseason performances. His six hits included three home runs and two doubles with two walks in 18 at-bats. Andre Ethier also finished up his Dodger career on a high note with the RBI single that drove in the Dodgers’ only run in Game 7, being what probably was his final at-bat as a Dodger. He only played in 22 games in September, but Dre channeled the old “Captain Clutch” one last time to contribute to the team in his first World Series after 12 seasons in the majors.

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It was a quiet ending to such a loud season. A wild ride with a different driver each night. It was the most exciting Dodgers season since I can remember. 114 wins, but one cruel loss. Pederson’s Opening Day grand slam and his comeback World Series appropriately bookended the year. In between was a breakout performance by top rookie Bellinger, the renaissances of Taylor and Morrow, an MVP audition by Turner, a more focused and successful Puig, transitional times for Maeda, Wood and Hyun-Jin Ryu, catching prowess by Grandal and Barnes plus domination from the Dodger bullpen. Some of the signings and trades worked (Tony Cingrani and Tony Watson), some had mixed results (Yu Darvish) and there were those that didn’t pan out (Franklin Gutierrez, Curtis Granderson, Sergio Romo). The Boys In Blue also overcame major injuries that eventually lost them Andrew TolesJulio Urias and Adrian Gonzalez amongst others along the way.

Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi succeeded in building a World Series caliber team, a well-oiled machine that dominated for most of the season. Despite that curious losing streak that sparked a thousand hot takes, this team was a joy to watch.

Although the end result was depressing as hell, there’s a lot to be optimistic about considering that the young core of players will no doubt make the Dodgers October contenders for many years to come. At the same time, you can never take a season like the Dodgers had in 2017 for granted. World Series droughts are not uncommon in baseball. It took the Chicago Cubs 108 years to return to the Fall Classic and win a championship. The Cleveland Indians are sitting on a 69-year World Series drought, and many teams have never won a World Series. The Pirates (38 years), Orioles (34), Tigers (33) and Mets (31) all currently have longer World Series droughts than the Dodgers, and the Astros just ended a drought of their own that lasted the entire history of their franchise.

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It wasn’t all for naught. I got to attend my first World Series game at Dodger Stadium with my family, and I momentarily was that nine-year-old girl again who sat and took score of every game in a notebook on her living room floor. The girl who would daydream about the 1988 World Series team, memorizing the roster printed upon my brother’s championship pennant tacked on the wall in his room.

Perhaps it’s better to have World Series’d and lost than never World Series’d at all.

Now it’s going to be at least a 30-year span between World Series victories for the Dodgers, but here’s hoping that next year will finally be their turn. A World Series victory in the 30th anniversary year of their 1988 championship in 2018 certainly has a nice ring to it.

About Stacie Wheeler

Stacie Wheeler

Stacie Wheeler, born and raised in So Cal, has been writing about the Dodgers since 2010. She wrote daily as the Co-Editor of Lasorda’s Lair for five long years, and she has also written for Dodgers Nation and Dodger Blue 1958. She currently contributes to The Hardball Times. Stacie graduated from the University Of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in Cinema-Television. You can also watch her videos on her YouTube channel, DishingUpTheDodgers.