The 2018 Los Angeles Dodgers
Last year was supposed to be the year.
The Dodgers were the team of destiny — six all-stars, including a revelatory Justin Turner and an incandescent rookie named Cody Bellinger; a 43–7 stretch through summer, the best set of 50 game since 1912; the perfect deadline acquisition in Yu Darvish, a third sure thing starter to pair with Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill; 104 wins, most in the majors even after a late summer slump. The DS went smooth, the Dbax going down in three easy games, the CS almost smoother, the Cubs managing just one win before sinking beneath a barrage of Kiké Hernandez dongs at Wrigley in game five. The Astros would make a formidable opponent in the World Series but it didn’t much matter. It was the Dodgers’ year. That much was confirmed after a tidy Kershaw victory in game one, a two and a half hour lark on a hundred-degree October evening. From there they just had to play .500 ball. It was so easy, so natural, so logical. The narrative wrote itself.
It didn’t, of course. The Astros took two of the next three, then outlasted the Dodgers in a ten inning, twentyfive run tightrope walk that was won and lost by both teams several times over. Rich Hill threw a gem in game six to extend the series one more night, but it wasn’t quite enough. The season ended quietly on November 1st, the Dodgers managing just one run on their home field. Clayton Kershaw did everything he could to make up for his historic game five boner, throwing four scoreless innings in relief, but the game was lost by the second inning. It would be a long hard winter in Los Angeles.
That this would not be the year seemed clear before the season even started. The front office let Brandon Morrow and Yu Darvish walk, ducking under the soft cap for one campaign in the hopes of landing a big fish the next offseason. Two-way Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani signed with the other professional baseball team in Southern California, the one with the single greatest talent since Ruth and absolutely nothing to show for it. Justin Turner broke his wrist in a meaningless spring training game. Matt Kemp went from trade fodder pending DFA to Opening Day starter. This was not the way the script was supposed to go.
During the first week of the season Jordan and I caught a Dodgers/Giants game at AT&T. It was a lovely afternoon, quintessential spring San Francisco, the sky above and the bay below fresh and blue and wide. We ate some hotdogs, drank some beer, remarked on the woman wearing a Dodgers jersey that said “Kike” on the back, the ‘e’ daringly unaccented. I got in a spat with a Giants fan over a Willie Mays bobblehead I thought he had stolen from me (in fact, someone else a few seats over had taken it; I got it back and threw it in the garbage that night). The game went long. We were checked out by the tenth inning, fully invested by the twelfth. The Giants won on a three-run dong off Wilmer Font in the bottom of the fourteenth. We filed out of the stadium and walked back to his place in the Mission and forgot about it. Font was DFA’d ten days later.
The rest of April proceeded along much the same lines. The team played a listless, muddy brand of baseball and limped to a 12–16 record, one of the worst in franchise history. Bats were quiet. Kershaw had lost a step or four. Kenley seemed to have turned into a turkey overnight. It was almost a blessing when it was announced on May 1st that Corey Seager would undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the rest of the season. Temporarily lowered expectations could be made permanent. The offseason was only six months away. Baseball lost the life-or-death quality it had had the whole year previous. It was only a game, after all. What did it matter to me who won the pennant? History was someone else’s problem.
My interests reoriented from reality to fantasy; a stellar middle infield of Francisco Lindor, Didi Gregorious, and Manny Machado had me in first place. I enjoyed enjoying the Dodgers casually, smiling when they won, shrugging when they lost. In May I caught my last home game of the season, again with Jordan. We had great seats for an awful game, a dispiriting 6–2 loss to Cincinnati. We ate some hotdogs, drank some beer, messaged with the other ghouls we played fantasy baseball with. Matt Harvey made his debut as a Red, throwing four scoreless. After the game we filed out of the stadium and drove back to my place in Koreatown and forgot about it. The next month I left Los Angeles, confident I wouldn’t miss anything while I was away.
I did, of course. Baseball is both the most and least predictable sport, exabytes of sabermetrics nullified by a diving catch, a tipped pitch, a broken bat. The Dodgers staunched the bleeding in June, regressed toward the mean in the right direction. Kenley got his fastball back, Kershaw continued to abandon his in favor of a murderous slider. In July they sent the Orioles a package of could-be and probably-won’t prospects in exchange for Machado, the closest thing possible to a Seager replacement. By August, they were in first place — briefly. Another late summer swoon dropped them to second in the division, then third. The Rockies put together a preposterous September, winning 19 of 28 to close the season. It took 163 games for the Dodgers to clinch the NL West, their sixth straight division title. The DS went smooth, the Braves going down in four easy games, the CS not at all, the Brewers bullpenning their way all the way to game seven.
And so here we are, a Tuesday afternoon in late October, four hours away from first pitch at Fenway. Once again, baseball is life-or-death. Once again, I will likely be disappointed. Boston played historically well this season — 108 wins, most in the majors, most of any team since the 2001 Mariners. This is supposed to be the Red Sox’s year. The narrative writes itself.
It doesn’t, of course.