Column: Why the 2021 Los Angeles Dodgers will be the greatest team in baseball history
What could be better than a baseball team powerful enough to reach into the heavens and end three decades of drought?
What could be more celebrated than a baseball team that outfought its demons, persisted through a pandemic, and lifted a city?
Quick, hustle in from Vin Scully Avenue, because you’re about to find out.
Meet the 2021 Dodgers, a team that is going to write the kind of stirring sequel rarely seen in Hollywood, an emphatic baseball encore that will lock down Murderer’s Row, smother the Gashouse Gang, and turn the Big Red Machine blue.
Last season they were one of the best teams in Dodgers history.
This season they’re going to be the best team in baseball history.
Clip this claim. Print it out. Tape it up. You read it here first. You’ll read it here last.
The Dodgers will be better than a 1927 New York Yankees team that didn’t play against a representative population. They will be better than a 1976 Cincinnati Reds team that required only seven postseason wins. They will be even better than a 1998 Yankees team that can’t match their starting pitching.
These Dodgers are loaded and stacked. They’re deep and wide. They’re brainy and brawny. They’re competitive and cool.
They have MVPs, Cy Young Award winners and Game 7 heroes scattered about the dugout like sunflower seeds. They have Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers and walk-off homers spread across the batter’s box like cleat marks.
They have hotshot kids and Hall of Fame veterans. They have summer grinders and October heroes. They are shaped by the best mind in the game and commanded by the most resilient manager.
Returning all but two important pieces from last year’s roster — and having countered those platoon pieces with two former Cy Young Award winners — there’s really nothing they can’t do.
They have deep scars. They have long memories. They rely on them both. Nothing fazes them. No bad stretch can rattle them.
You think that’s crazy? Their 43 wins during last year’s 60-game season translated to 116 wins in a full season, and they’ve only gotten better.
These Dodgers also have a legitimate chance to dominate the lousy National League West for a ninth consecutive season — hey Padres, beat them in a big game and then pop off — and roll to the title against American League teams that just don’t compare.
You think that’s being myopic? Las Vegas has installed the Dodgers as clear championship favorites, while the PECOTA projections — a smart analytical model — figures the Dodgers to win six more games than anybody else.
The Dodgers aren’t just good, they’re surreal good, Andrew Friedman having spent the last six years using both bold strokes and intricate sketches to create a roster that resembles a hardball masterpiece.
They have a lock first-ballot Hall of Fame starting pitcher . . . and Clayton Kershaw might be only the third most impactful starter in the rotation, ranking behind big-game Walker Buehler and defending Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer.
They have their franchise’s all-time saves leader . . . and Kenley Jansen isn’t even one of the best pitchers in a bullpen populated by the likes of solid Blake Treinen, tricky Victor González, seemingly resurgent Corey Knebel, and eventually nasty Brusdar Graterol.
The Dodgers are so stocked, the two players featured in last October’s championship clinching video aren’t even prominently featured on the depth chart. Although you wept when you watched them, Julio Urías is just the fourth starter and Austin Barnes the backup catcher.
The Dodgers have so many marquee names, the most anonymous role on the team is manned by a former Cy Young winner. Around here, David Price might be just another long reliever.
Then there is AJ Pollock, who has double-digit homers in five of the last six seasons . . . and is batting at the bottom of the order. Or how about Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, two starting pitchers who had sub-3.00 ERAs last year . . . yet only one can make the rotation.
When last season ended, the Dodgers roster included, among many October stars, one player who had three homers in a clinching postseason game and another who was so clutch in the playoffs it earned him a nickname. Yet the organization is so talented, it let both players walk in free agency, with Kiké Hernandez going to Boston and Joc “Joctober” Pederson going to the Cubs.
The two veterans will be missed. The Dodgers bench is a tad thin and inexperienced. The infield is shakier with former prospect Gavin Lux giving it another shot at second base
But one of the reserves, Edwin Rios, hit two homers in last fall’s National League Championship Series. Another is the ever-dependable Chris Taylor. And still another is everybody’s favorite catcher Barnes.
And this is a team that can handle a question mark. Check out its weathered resume, seven years of postseason failure before last year’s success, their shield in the storm. They have deep scars. They have long memories. They rely on them both. Nothing fazes them. No bad stretch can rattle them. No good week can placate them. Nothing interferes with their vision toward autumn. In the last four years they have either won the World Series, played in the World Series, or lost to the team that eventually won the World Series. The Fall Classic has become their second home. Halloween has been printed on their schedule. They don’t hope for a deep playoff run, they expect it.
This week I asked manager Dave Roberts, how good can this team be?
He knows. He won’t exactly say, but you could hear it in his voice, he knows.
“We have a chance to do something really special and win a championship,” he said in a videoconference. “You don’t play the game on paper, and you have to play 162 games this year, and see where we end up. But I think that if you look at talent, potential, it could be as good as any team the Dodgers have ever fielded.”
Then I asked him, is this the most talented collection of players he’s ever been around?
Roberts has been involved in baseball for most of his 48 years on this earth, and, yeah, he knows. His answer is being written here in one long quote block because of its flourishing finish.
“I think that with what this core group has been through, some tough times, and obviously that elation of last year . . . the pedigree is there, the talent is there, and obviously you bring in Trevor Bauer and you bring back David Price and then the younger players that have gotten even more experience, you would think that makes them even better, yeah, there’s no telling how good this club can be.”
The best team in baseball history, that’s how good.
To be fair, there’s also no telling how many things could trip them up. There is a reason no World Series champion has repeated in 21 years. The Dodgers are great, not bulletproof.
The revival of Kershaw could fade in a full season. The shoulder of Bellinger might be slow to heal. The bat of Max Muncy might never regain its groove. The struggles of Jansen might lead to a complete bullpen collapse. Bauer could be a tweeting distraction. And who knows, maybe Justin Turner is not so good when he’s skinny?
Lots of bad things could happen. They’ve happened before. But the Dodgers are deep enough to absorb any injury, and their clubhouse is wired strongly enough to absorb any Bauer outage.
That would leave one stumbling block. It is one that ultimately trips most defending titlists in all sports. It is motivation. After spending the winter basking in the relief of removing a giant burden, how on this blue earth can the Dodgers avoid a championship hangover?
The Padres might be a rising power in the NL West, but the Dodgers’ enduring rivalry with the Giants spans two states, several Hall of Famers and many decades.
Easy. Two things. They want to prove they can win one over a full season. And they want to win one in front of real live fans.
“We won a championship playing 60 games, we want to win another championship this year playing 162 games,” Jansen said. “That’s what we’re going to do.”
About the fans, Bellinger said last season something was clearly missing.
“I think the parade, I don’t know, it’s got to probably be the coolest part of it all, yeah, it sucked not getting that,” he said, later adding, “Obviously, we want a parade and a champagne shower. So definitely some motivation there.”
Plan on that celebration. Get your seats now. Tell Randy Newman to check his calendar. Figueroa or bust. The best baseball team in history is about to embark on a season that would turn even the most blustery and bellicose of Dodgers hoarse.
This column is for Tommy.
Complete coverage of the Dodgers winning their first World Series championship since 1988 after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2020 World Series.
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