An astonishing 104-win regular season led to a fifth consecutive National League West Division Championship for the Los Angeles Dodgers. They proceeded bulldoze the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS. They dethroned the defending champion Chicago Cubs within five games in the NLCS to secure their first pennant in 29 years. The road to the World Series might have looked easy for the Dodgers but it was evident that the entire team was simply firing on all cylinders. Manager Dave Roberts had all the components and assembled them strategically for a mean, blue winning machine. Arguably, there was no other team more deserving than the Dodgers to represent the National League in the World Series. It was only fitting that their counterpart was truly the best of the American League, as well.
There were only three teams that eclipsed the 100-win mark in the regular season; the other two being the Cleveland Indians (102 wins) and the Houston Astros (101 wins). Cleveland once steamrolled through a 22-game winning streak for most of September but was sent to an early elimination by the New York Yankees in the Division Series. Houston meanwhile, quickly dispatched of the Boston Red Sox. In the ALCS, the Astros erased a 3-2 series advantage from the resilient Yankees to claim the American League pennant in seven hard-fought games.
The date was then set for the World Series, with the first two games in Los Angeles. One team was well-rested and had lots of practice time while the other was slightly more fatigued and battle-hardened. Two of the best teams during the regular season had finally met each other, setting the stage (in Hollywood, no less) for a titanic match-up.
The first six games were fought tooth-and-nail between the two teams. Game 2 was crazy. Game 5 was manic. In both of those clashes, the Astros emerged victorious. Game 6 saw the series move back to Dodger Stadium for the potential final two games. On the brink of elimination, the Dodgers stared down Astros ace pitcher Justin Verlander on the mound. Verlander blinked first. The win infused new life to the Dodgers, as they waited to bring home one final win the following night.
I may be repeating a cliche, but in American sports, there’s nothing bigger than Game Seven. Winner-take-all. Do or die. A blockbuster of a Fall Classic was about to culminate in Hollywood. The script that had written itself through the first six games was already unimaginable.
The Game 7 pitching match-up was similar to that from Game 3—Yu Darvish for the Dodgers and Lance McCullers Jr. for the Astros. Darvish struggled mightily in a short outing in Game 3 but this time around, at least he has more relief pitching available for backup, including Clayton Kershaw. The same can be said for the Astros but McCullers pitched decently in Game 3. I felt confident that the Dodgers had the advantage in terms of pitching, provided that the offense can duly recover any squandered lead.
In the first inning, Darvish quickly gave up two runs to the Astros, who started with a frenetic aggression. Moving on to the bottom half with an immediate deficit, the Dodgers managed to load the bases but failed to score a run despite Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig getting hit by pitches from McCullers.
Darvish continued to struggle in the second inning, giving up another run before the dagger came with two outs. George Springer launched a two-run home run, his record-tying fifth of the series, to give the Astros a 5-0 lead. Just like in his previous start, Darvish was pulled after only 1.2 innings. Brandon Morrow took over to end the inning without further damage. For the rest of the game, Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, and Alex Wood combined to shut down the Astros lineup. Not bad, right?
The problem was that the Dodgers lineup was likewise shut down. Heading to the bottom of the second inning trailing by five, the Dodgers offense had all night–eight half innings, to be exact–to at least erase the deficit but they couldn’t. The Astros pitchers stepped up and the Dodgers had no answer, save for a solitary run batted in by Andre Ethier in the sixth inning. Contrary to my expectations, the Dodgers offense looked impotent. Rookie sensation Cody Bellinger struck out three times in four at-bats, again looking completely helpless against McCullers’ curveball. NLCS co-MVP Justin Turner’s bat remained cold at the plate. Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson were held at bay. The once dingy Astros bullpen was stable when it mattered most.
McCullers lasted 2.1 innings and was relieved from the mound by Brad Peacock, who recorded the next six outs, followed by Francisco Liriano and Chris Devenski for one out each, completing the first five innings. In the sixth inning, the Astros turned to Charlie Morton, the Game 4 starter, to continue the good work. Suffice it to say that Morton was on fire, despite being the one to give up the lone Dodgers run. He worked the final four innings for the Astros, getting better as the night progressed. Dodger bats were completely neutralized, and some were even pulverized, quite literally. For the final out, Morton got Corey Seager to hit a groundball into a defensive shift in shallow right field to end the game.
The Houston Astros are World Series champions for the first time in their franchise’s history.
While there’s no shame in the Dodgers losing against an equally tremendous opponent that they stretched to its limits through seven games, I just couldn’t help but feel slight disappointment that the Boys in Blue played arguably their worst game of this year’s postseason. The two most glaring statistics for the Dodgers were: (a) 10 runners left stranded on base, (b) 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position. Stranding baserunners, combined with not getting hits in clutch situations, has been a familiar way to see the Dodgers lose. I’ve seen it through the years. And this had to happen in Game Seven of the World Series. It’s incredibly frustrating that it all fell apart at just the most inopportune time.
The Dodgers made it to baseball’s biggest stage with all the right pieces to the puzzle. They had a full deck of cards to finally win a World Series title for the first time in 29 years. This year may not have finished in complete triumph (I started believing in a championship win as early as June and I’m sure other fans felt the same), I still have confidence that they are perennial contenders in the playoffs, considering what the future holds.
Dave Roberts has shown trustworthy competence in just his first two years as manager. Yasiel Puig, “the wild horse”, has found plate discipline. Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager, the franchise cornerstones, will also mature over the years. Clayton Kershaw will remain one of the best in the business, as will Kenley Jansen in closing out games. Joc Pederson picked no better time to reemerge than in the World Series. Chris Taylor and Justin Turner, the MVPs of the NLCS, will still be important veterans in the lineup. Julio Urias, not a teenager anymore, will return and should be ready next season. I could go on with some more names: Rich Hill, Kike Hernandez, Austin Barnes, Logan Forsythe, Brandon Morrow. All the pieces of this team clicked with the entire roster moving like clockwork. Sadly, they just couldn’t seal the deal.
If this was the Dodgers’ winning formula, the Astros (I wouldn’t necessarily label them the “antidote”) simply had the more effective formula that got the job done. Look no further than the top of their lineup: George Springer (the World Series MVP), Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and Carlos Correa. Even Yuli Gurriel, who I hope has sincerely learned to avoid making racist gestures, is actually a decent hitter in the fifth spot. Their pitching staff has young arms, spearheaded by former Cy Young Award-winner Dallas Keuchel. And if Justin Verlander decides to sign a new deal with them, they are downright dangerous. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they follow one World Series appearance with another. Given the state of the Dodgers, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to predict next year’s Fall Classic to be a rematch.
I don’t really know what roster moves the Dodgers will make this offseason but I sure hope to see many familiar faces come Opening Day next spring. There’s a lot of talent in this team that can set up together to mount another campaign towards glory. The 2018 season is five months away. “Next year,” is once again a familiar phrase among those on the field and those cheering them on, myself included.
Because I rarely go out of my way to watch regular season games, I always look forward to October as the month of the year to watch a whole load of good quality baseball. Playoff baseball has this uncanny magic to it, a harbinger of some amazing moments. This year, I was once again reminded of the fascinating unpredictability of baseball and why I love to watch it. It has been a thrilling ride through the playoffs and the World Series with this Dodgers team. To commemorate this run, I plan to order the Dodgers on-field hat with the World Series logo. Even in a losing effort, I’m still proud of the way the Boys in Blue played. At times over the past month, I’ve reflected on how or why I’ve become so devoted to a baseball team in the other side of the world, yet I could offer no certain explanation.