In the blink of an eye everything changed. The Los Angeles Dodgers season and quest for a third straight World Series was abruptly halted last Wednesday night. Howie Kendrick’s 10th inning grand slam off of Joe Kelly sent the Washington Nationals to the NLCS in a 7-3 victory. Though a heavy favorite after 106 wins, Los Angeles became a first round upset victim. After holding a 2-1 series lead, LA proceeded to lose games 4 and 5. In doing so, they also coughed up a 3-1 lead in the 8th inning of game 5. The Wild Card Nationals have punched their ticket to the World Series. Meanwhile, the #1 seeded Dodgers, will head home and see their World Series title drought extended to 31 years.
Despite the shocking ending to their season, the Dodgers can hang their hat on a number of bright spots from this 2019 season. For starters, Cody Bellinger turned in an MVP caliber year. The 24-year-old mashed 47 home runs, while also posting a .305 batting average. He wasn’t a strikeout machine either, as he totaled almost as many walks on the season as strikeouts. This was a big reason why Bellinger’s OBP was .406. Bellinger wowed the baseball community his first two MLB seasons, but his 2019 totals were truly something special.
We must not forget the South Korean lefty. Hyun-Jin Ryu turned in by far his best season so far in the United States. It remains to be seen if he will indeed take home CY Young honors, but Ryu is certainly in the mix. His 2.32 ERA led all of baseball, and he even carried a sub 2.00 ERA into the second half of the year. Ryu does not miss a ton of bats, but his control was borderline absurd. In 183 innings pitched, the lefty yielded only 24 walks to opposing batters! Additionally, Ryu set a career best mark in WHIP at 1.01 and tied his career high with 14 wins.
Aside from Cody Bellinger, there was another Dodger hitting homeruns to the moon this season. In year two with the team, Max Muncy did not slow down a bit. In fact, he’s now launched 35 longballs in back to back seasons. Although, Muncy did up his RBI from 79 a year ago, to 98 this year! While his OBP, Slugging, and OPS dropped slightly, Muncy fully backed up his surprising 2018 batting totals. For a guy who produced minimally in an Oakland A’s uniform, Max Muncy has the looks of a lineup necessity for the Dodgers moving forward.
The Dodgers bullpen was the glaring weakness of the team for most of the season. Kenley Jansen and Joe Kelly are two household names, but neither guy was a constant performer this season. The days of dominant Kenley Jansen appear to be no more than a memory. His 3.71 ERA was easily the highest of big league career since he first joined the Dodgers in 2010. He also served up a startling 9 homeruns in 63 innings, and has now allowed 22 homers since the 2018 season.
His bullpen mate Joe Kelly was supposed to be an exciting free agency acquisition for this team. However, he too pitched poorly on many occasions for LA. Even with Jansen’s struggles, Kelly managed to be worse. His 4.56 ERA and 1.38 WHIP made him a liability on most nights, rather than an asset. After collecting 21 holds a year ago as a Red Sox, Kelly only had eight this season. Oh, and how could we forget that NLDS game 5 performance? It was Joe Kelly who served up Howie Kendrick’s 10th inning grand slam, effectively ending the Dodgers season, and title hopes.
There comes a day, where all good things must come to an end. For many years, Clayton Kershaw was the best thing for Dodgers fans. I’m not here to blast a pitcher who remarkably finished with a sub 2.00 ERA, three times in a four year stretch. Though, Kershaw will be 32 in March and past accomplishments should not get in the way of the facts. His 3.03 ERA was still quite good, yet it was his worst mark since his rookie year of 2008. We know that Clayton Kershaw cannot blow you away with heaters these days. This is proven when you look at his 189 strikeouts this season, compared to 301 punch-outs just four years ago.
Kershaw was deemed a postseason “choker” in past seasons. Though, we could never quite figure out why after he pitched dominant regular seasons. Well, this year it may be more obvious. The aging Kershaw was once again snake-bitten in the late innings of the NLDS. While it was Joe Kelly who surrendered the 10th inning grand slam, it was Kershaw who gave up back to back longballs allowing Washington to tie the score. He then sat slumped over in the dugout as if the world was turning upside down right in front of him. Yes, Clayton Kershaw is a Dodgers legend, and fans should remember that. However, there is little doubt that Kershaw’s latest postseason debacle may be the nail in the coffin.
Talk to any Dodgers fan, and they likely won’t be happy for quite some time. A 106 win regular season, and a first round playoff exit will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of players and fans alike. LA fans won’t care to hear this now, but they have a roster capable of winning it all next October. They were better than the Nationals all year long, but sometimes that’s just baseball.
Bringing back free agent Hyun-Jin Ryu will be something to watch this offseason. Ryu, along with flamethrower Walker Buehler, give Los Angeles a top end rotation duo heading into 2020. Their lineup will still be anchored by the likes of Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Max Muncy, and Corey Seager. For LA, it likely comes down to how they go about addressing their bullpen in the offseason. If the Dodgers front office can find a way to strengthen their late inning options, the sky will be the limit for this team in 2020. A third World Series trip in four years must not be ruled out.
What do you make of the Dodgers season overall? What must they do in the offseason in order to make it back to the Fall Classic next season? Discuss that and more on our forums! For more content, check out the rest of Overtime Heroics. Continue the conversation on Twitter, and follow me here!
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