Mike Scioscia got a good look at this year's Dodgers when the Angels team he manages played them to a draw in a four-game series in mid-summer, when the eventual National League champions were laying waste to the rest of baseball.
He came away impressed.
"They definitely looked like they had a lot of things going in the right direction," Scioscia said Friday. "They had a lot of depth. And the young talent was really starting to come together."
It is, in short, an exceptional team — one good enough to get the Dodgers back to the World Series for the first time in a generation. Just don't compare it to the Dodgers' last World Series team, the one Scioscia played for in 1988.
"Of all the years I played the game I don't think I've had as special an experience as we did in '88," he said. "I think most guys on that team would agree."
Which team was better? Scioscia will leave that for others to decide — although numerical comparisons appear a bit one-sided.
This year's team sent six players to the All-Star Game, five more than in 1988. This year's team won a baseball-best 104 games and captured the division title by 11 games. The 1988 team won just 94 games and didn't clinch a playoff berth until the final week of the season.
The 1988 team had heart, though. And at least one other thing this year's team doesn't have yet: a World Series title.
But it wasn't so much that his team won a ring that made 1988 special, Scioscia says. Rather it was how it won that ring.
"We did everything," he said. "We bunted. We stole bases. We always felt that somebody was going to come up with key hit or make that key play. Although you really didn't have a lot of household names, as a roster and as a group we felt like we could play with anybody."
It was a blue-collar team with a couple of superstars in Orel Hershiser, who won 23 games and set a record with 59 consecutive scoreless innings, and the National League MVP in Kirk Gibson. But Gibson hit only.185 in the postseason and had only one World Series at-bat — although it was a memorable one, with Gibson slugging a walk-off home run in Game 1 of the World Series.
"I'll tell you one thing," Scioscia said. "A lot of people would look and say, 'Well, that team wasn't very talented.' We were more talented than people give us credit for. But the pieces worked so well that we really had a lot of confidence any time we took the field."
This year the Dodgers have baseball's best pitcher in Clayton Kershaw, the best closer in Kenley Jansen, the league's third-leading hitter in Justin Turner and six players who hit more than 20 home runs and five who drove in at least 71 runs. In 1988, team's leading hitter, Gibson, batted just .290 while shortstop Alfredo Griffin — now Scioscia's first base coach — hit .199.
Only Gibson hit more than 20 homers that season and Mike Marshall led the team with 82 runs batted in.
That team was a like a jigsaw puzzle, Scioscia remembered. And the puzzle master was manager Tommy Lasorda.
"The one guy that kind of bonded us was Tommy," Scioscia said. "It was really fun to see how the pieces fit. We never worried about who we were playing. We just worried about how we were playing."
But if the 1988 Dodgers were a mix of role players, this year's team is a mix of young and old headliners. The world championship team had just two regulars younger than 28; this summer's team has just two starters older than that.
"You could obviously see a lot of the young talent that came up through their organization start to develop and be productive at the major league level," Scioscia said, thinking back to that mid-season matchup with his Angels. "You look at Corey Seager and at [Cody] Bellinger and some of the guys that really started to blossom.
"And you could see there was a great blend of the veterans like Turner and [Chase] Utley. A great blend of young talent with some veterans."
Great enough to match the 1988 team by winning a title? Scioscia wouldn't offer a prediction. But of this he is certain: No one on the '88 team has forgotten that World Series and no one on this year's will forget this fall either.
"You've gone through the grind of the season and want to play well and enjoy your reward," he said. "That's playing for that World Series championship."