Peter Gammons: Historic view of the state of the Dodgers

Earlier this week, Joe Sheehan looked at the nine teams that had .700 winning percentages. The two best, the 1906 Cubs (.763) and 1909 Pirates (.724) played more than a century ago, played a far different game, but helped make his point, because the .763 Cubs lost the World Series. In fact, four of the nine teams that had 700+ seasons did not win the World Series.

In fact if we look at the last 70 years, since the end of World War II and the integration of the game thanks to Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey, two of the three teams that finished above .700 did not win it all.

The 1954 Indians, who finished 111-43, .721, were swept in the World Series by Willie Mays, Dusty Rhodes and the New York Giants in the World Series. The 2001 Seattle Mariners, who were 116-46, .716, beat the Indians in the ALDS in five games, but the Yankees knocked them out in the ALCS in five games en route to the post-9/11 World Series that made Derek Jeter “Mr. November.”

Which brings us to the 2017 Dodgers, who after finishing their series in Pittsburgh, had a .714 (90-36) winning percentage. Remember, Mays’ two unforgettable plays off Vic Wertz and Rhodes’ 10th inning home run resulted in the Giants stealing Game One in unpredictable fashion and began the sweep. So it can happen, even to a team with four Hall of Fame pitchers (Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Bob Feller, Hal Newhouser) like the Indians.

Not that these Dodgers won’t win the World Series. They should have the best starting pitcher of this era, Clayton Kershaw, back and, importantly, rested. They have Rich Hill, Yu Darvish, Alex Wood, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda to start. They seem to have a small village of pitchers leading up to Kenley Jansen. They will bring up Walker Buehler in September to see if his 107 strikeout/83 IP power plays in one or two inning stints.

The commonality with those 1954 Indians, 1998 Yankees and 2001 Mariners is their depth. The ’98 Yankees got 54 wins and 737.2 innings out of David Cone, David Wells and Andy Pettitte, had a superb walk up line to Mariano Rivera, and because they had a fourth starter in El Duque Hernandez who was an October giant, survived after going to 2-0 to the Indians in the ALCS when El Duque fired seven dominating innings to even the series and allowed the Yankees to win it in The Stadium. But remember: Tino Martinez led them in homers with 28, but they had Chili Davis, Joe Girardi and a long bench, not to mention players who understand winning like Scott Brosius.

That Yankee team seemed to be the ultimate in professionalism, from Jeter to Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill to Jorge Posada, and when they finished sweeping the San Diego Padres in the World Series there was a legitimate debate between the 1939 Yankees (106-45 and a run differential over 300) and that ’98 team.

As Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi took the Dodgers from the McCourt Era to a younger, more flexible, less costly team, there were obvious key players. Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager are young stars with .968 and .900 OPS numbers. Justin Turner, a brilliant signing after being released by the Mets, is a legitimate MVP candidate.

In little-noticed trades, they got Chris Taylor, who has 17 homers, a .927 OPS and can play everywhere except catcher and pitcher; Austin Barnes, on the other hand, is an extraordinary defensive catcher before Yasmani Grandal, but can play every infield position and has a .928 OPS. Enrique Hernández hammers lefthanded pitching. Curtis Granderson and Chase Utley are the ultimate professional people.

Then look at the pitching. They got to 90 wins Thursday without one starter having thrown 150 innings, but with four starters (Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Yu Darvish, Alex Wood) with more than a strikeout an inning. Kenta Maeda, Ryu and Brandon McCarthy have been willing to pitch out of the bullpen, when needed. The view right now is that Kerhsaw, Darvish and Hill will be at their peak in terms of usage come October.

Utley and Granderson have been late season clubhouse moves; last winter, Hill and Kershaw called Friedman to argue how much the team needs Utley, which Friedman already appreciated. Hill tells friends that this is the best collective team in terms of atmosphere and accountability that he’s ever seen. After losing out on his perfect game, no-hitter and win in the 10th inning Wednesday, Hill said, “we have something here that’s bigger than any individual. We all realize and have to understand that tomorrow’s another day and a big day to come back and win the series.” As one fellow Michigander said of Hill’s reaction, “sounds like something Bo Schembechler would be proud of.”

The classic case is how Yasiel Puig is riding the current of this river. He has fun. He hustles. “He is the best defensive right fielder in the game and has to win a gold glove,” says Dave Roberts. Well, Mookie Betts’ 28 Defensive Runs Saved argues that he is the game’s premier right fielder, but the point is that Puig, who told George Lombard in spring training, 2016, that his goal was to win a gold glove. And has set out to get one. Puig also has terrific relationship with hitting coach Turner Ward. He has hit righthanders (.289/360/.544/.904, 21 homers), has not hit lefties (.152/.301/.217/.518  1 homer). That will come. He is 26 years old.

Most players will credit Roberts—and his energetic, tireless coaching staff—with changing the Dodgers from a mercenary territory to the first cousins of the 2015-17 Kansas City Royals. Sure, the Dodgers have a far greater payroll than the Royals, but they are succeeding in their scouting and development, the biggest Friedman/Zaidi contracts have gone to their own veterans (Kershaw, Jansen, Hill) and they have acquired Wood, Taylor, Barnes, Hernandez, Grandal and Forsythe with underestimated deals.

Will they win the World Series? Something can happen against the Nationals or the Astros, the Cubs or Indians or Red Sox). That will not make this season a “failure,” any more than the New York Giants sweep of the Indians in 1954.

What is in place is essentially a young team with a blooming developmental system that may make the Dodgers with their market and resources a major power for the next few years. The ’54 Indians didn’t win another pennant for 31 years, the 2001 Mariners haven’t been in the post-season since, the ’98 Yankees won the next two World Series and went to an unforgettable seventh game in 2001.

This Dodger team is unique and possibly historic. From Friedman and Zaidi to Roberts, this organization may be, as well.

Comments

  1. Mike Driber says:

    That 01 Mariners team will always be my favorite team, if only they kept Griffey… great piece Peter

    • This dodger team will be remembered, for good or bad. Just like the Mariners, we’ll either talk about how they were one of the most dominant teams of all-time, or we’ll remember what a let down their postseason run was after such a polarizing 162

  2. Bob Bennett says:

    This team MAY be historic. The ’55 Dodgers ARE.

  3. Bob Bennett says:

    Not Mike. Bob Bennett rabbitalogue@hotmail.com