2017 Dodgers: The Best Team in the MLB
At the start of the day on the 14th of August, the Los Angeles Dodgers had the best record in the MLB by 11 games over the Houston Astros. Not only are they the second best hitting by wRC+ at 111, they are second in position player fWAR at 24.8, both behind the Astros.
When it comes to their pitching, the Dodgers are tied with the Cleveland Indians atop all of the MLB with 20.1 fWAR. Their pitching has been so good that it leads in ERA by more than half a point at 3.12.
Individually, the Dodgers have 10 players with minimum 100 plate appearances whom have a 100-plus wRC+. Half of these players have at least a 143-plus wRC+. Of those five, only Austin Barnes has less than 380 plate appearances.
Looking back at their individual starting pitchers, six of them have 1.0 or higher fWAR this season. Even newcomer Yu Darvish has amassed 0.6 fWAR in just his first two starts of his Dodgers career. All of these seven starting pitchers have a sub 4.00 ERA, with two of them below 2.50. As we look at the bullpen, Kenley Jansen leads the way with yet another elite year as Dodgers closer with breakout seasons from Brandon Morrow, Josh Fields, and Ross Stripling. Luis Avilan and Pedro Baez continue to do good work like seasons past.
For the first time it seems in decades, the Dodgers have a roster with seemingly zero holes. Anything can happen come October, but this team seems the best built playoff team for the Dodgers in this writer’s lifetime, having been born in 1989.
My Personal Experience
The closest I have seen the Dodgers come to advancing to the World Series was last season against the Chicago Cubs, holding a 2-1 series lead going into Game 4. From there, things went bad for the Dodgers, but I still believed it a great achievement to have made the NLCS for the second time in four seasons and fourth time in nine seasons. Although the Dodgers have not gone further than two wins in the NLCS in my lifetime, I have still be very happy to see the success of the 08-09, then 13-17 teams.
Many people view the ultimate and possibly only goal for a team as getting to and winning the championship of their sport. Growing up with the Dodgers, I’ve learned you can’t put all of your stock into this philosophy or you will constantly be disappointed. Below is a look at how I came to think this way:
Dodgers and 1988
The last time the Dodgers were in the World Series was 1988. They won 94 games and met the powerful Oakland Athletics in the World Series. Thanks to some impossible Game 1 magic from Kirk Gibson, the Dodgers were propelled to win the series in five games over the juggernaut A’s. Since that point, 24 other teams have made the World Series while Dodger fans have been (impatiently) waiting.
1989 through 2003
While the Dodgers won 94 games in 1988, they won only 90-plus games another three times in the next 15 years. In that time, they only made the playoffs twice, getting swept out of the first round of the playoffs in both 1995 and 1996 to the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves.
Despite very little overall team success, the Dodgers had five straight Rookie of the Year award winners from 1992-1996, including Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza. With so many good young players as well as a history of winning, expectations were very high in the 90s as well as the early 00s. In that time they had great players like the previously mentioned Mike Piazza, Gary Sheffield, Shawn Green, Kevin Brown, and 2003 Cy Young closer Eric Gagne.
With all of these stars, the Dodgers still struggled to get anywhere as far as the playoffs are concerned. Dodger fans still got to see many great seasons from individual players in this time, however.
McCourt Era Dodgers 2004 – 2012
In 2004, Frank McCourt purchased the Dodgers after a failed attempt to purchase the Boston Red Sox. In the 2004 season, the Dodgers made the playoffs for the first time since 1996 winning 93 games, led by a future Hall of Famer having the best season he will have ever had in Adrian Beltre. Making the playoffs this season was huge, but they had to then face the 105 win St. Louis Cardinals, and managed just one win, a shutout from the charismatic Jose Lima.
After this the Dodgers suffered huge set-backs in 2005, with seemingly only Jeff Kent healthy all season, winning just 71 games, their fewest in a full season since 1992. The silver lining of this was getting the 7th overall pick in the draft, with Clayton Kershaw falling to them with 1 MVP and 3 Cy Young awards to this point in his career.
2006 was a good year for the team, involving a stretch where the team won 17 of 18 games and another game against the rival San Diego Padres where they blasted four home runs in a row in the 9th inning off of closer Trevor Hoffman to tie the game, then a walk-off home run the next inning to win the game. Even as fun of a season as it was, the Dodgers were bounced from the playoffs in the first round for the 4th consecutive playoff series against the New York Mets in just three games.
In that 2006 season, the Dodgers started a youth revolution with Andre Ethier, Russell Martin, Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, James Loney, and Matt Kemp all starting to play huge parts in the Dodgers history for the next five or so years. 2007 was another year they missed the playoffs, but in 2008 and 2009 this young core, plus the addition of Manny Ramirez and Clayton Kershaw to the fold, the Dodgers made the NLCS back to back seasons, losing in five games both times.
2010-2012, The End of the McCourt Era
From there it was a rough stretch, with the McCourts getting cheaper and cheaper finding ways to spend as little money as they could get away with, and the roster suffered. After winning 95 games in 2009, the most in a season since 1985 for Los Angeles, the Dodgers won 80, then 82, then 86 games by 2012. Some of the only fun parts for fans was watching Clayton Kershaw bloom into the best pitcher in baseball and Matt Kemp turn into an MVP runner-up in 2011. But relief was in sight when the team was finally sold in 2012.
2013-2017: The Guggenheim Years
When the team was purchased from Frank McCourt in 2012, Dodger fans rejoiced to get an owner that would actually spend money on this team. In 2012, they traded for Hanley Ramirez from the Florida Marlins, then made an even bigger splash trading for Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto from the Boston Red Sox in what has been lovingly known as the Punto Deal ever since.
The Dodgers still missed the playoffs in 2012, but the new ownership showed that they were going to support the team, and they were headed back in a good direction. The next offseason Zack Greinke was signed to a massive 6 year 147 million dollar deal, with an opt out after three seasons that Greinke did end up exercising. Yet another move to show the fans this group meant business.
This started a string of four straight NL West division titles, something the Dodgers had never done three times in a row let alone four. The Dodgers won 92, 94, 92, and 91 games during that stretch. In the playoffs for those years, the Dodgers won playoff series against the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, while losing in the first round to the Cardinals and Mets, and losing in the NLCS to the Cardinals and Cubs.
Some of these series, specifically the ones with the Cardinals, were heartbreaking for Dodger fans. Watching Kershaw pitching six very good innings only falter in the seventh inning multiple times leading to a huge loss was unbearable. But despite these awful games occurring, the Dodgers never relented and have come back each time hungry for another playoff run.
No World Series is a Failure?
The problem here is that many fans of the club like to say that the 2013-2016 seasons were a failure. Each time this has been said, I shake my head and ask them if watching the best pitcher of this generation, and maybe one of the few best ever did not make it all worth it? I ask if in 2013 if Yasiel Puig’s phenomenal debut season, Hanley Ramirez’s insanely great half-season, or 42 wins in 50 (FIFTY!!!) games did not make the season an overall success? Or again the following season with Kershaw’s dual MVP and Cy Young season? Perhaps maybe in 2015 with Greinke’s 1.66 ERA and Kershaw’s 301 strikeouts? Or in 2016 with Corey Seager’s Rookie of the Year and third in MVP Voting campaigns? Maybe, just maybe, in watching Justin Turner become one of the best third baseman in all of the MLB?
For me, I found value in the overall journey to the end of the season, and the things the Dodgers did to have won four straight NL West division titles. While I was very disappointed that I still have yet to see the Dodgers on the sports biggest stage fighting for the World Series Championship, I know it has not been a failure because of the great things we have seen.
This is underscored even further in 2017, sitting at a more than remarkable 83 wins and 34 losses with 45 games remaining. That is a pace of 115 wins, which would be the most the sport has seen since the Seattle Mariners won 116 games in 2001.
2001 Seattle Mariners
The 2001 Seattle Mariners won 116 games, tying for the best record in MLB history. That team stomped their competition while collecting 44.4 positional fWAR, more than 13 more than second in the league. While their pitching was only 8th in the league, they got MVP level performances out of Brett Boone, Ichiro (the one who actually took home the award), and Edgar Martinez, while getting great production from John Olerud, Mike Cameron, and many, many others. 10 position players on the roster had 2.0-plus fWAR that season.
Of course we all know the Mariners were beaten by the Yankees in the first round and their magical season was spoiled.
Even back then, I had such great admiration for that 2001 Mariners team, and I thought they had nothing to be ashamed of. The Yankees were still in the back end of their late 90s-early 00s dynasty, and being beaten by them should have taken nothing away from that season.
When it comes down to it, we are going to remember the 2001 Mariners much longer than teams like the 2002 Angels, 2006 Cardinals, or 2015 Royals winning it all.
2017 Dodgers Legacy
As of now, the Dodgers are on pace for the third most wins in MLB history. Even if they come down from this historic pace, they have to go 17-28 just to reach 100 wins. It’s likely that the 2017 Dodgers will win somewhere between 105-110 games, and they will have done that without the best pitcher in baseball Clayton Kershaw for about 1/4 of the season.
This team has been so amazing to watch with players like Chris Taylor coming out of nowhere to hit like a superstar or Alex Wood pitching like a Cy Young candidate. With Cody Bellinger closing in on not only the Dodgers rookie home run record, but the National League rookie home run record. Corey Seager and Justin Turner both putting themselves in MVP contention, while having to fight the previously mentioned Taylor and Bellinger to get there. Let us also not forget that Kenley Jansen tried his hardest not to walk a single person all season, yet to fail and have 5 walks by mid August.
I do believe this Dodgers team has the best chance to get to and win the World Series of any team since they last made and won the World Series in 1988, but if they don’t, it will not mean that this season has been failure.