The Dodgers Just Won 106 Games. Now the Hard Part Begins.
Los Angeles will hand the ball to Max Scherzer Wednesday with its season on the line against the Cardinals
Thank you to everyone who joined our live game-162 thread yesterday. It was a lot of fun and I was pleased by the positive spirit of the conversation and complete absence of trolls. We will do it again Wednesday night during the Dodgers vs. Cardinals wild card game. I’ll send out the live link Wednesday at 4:45 PM PT and we’ll chat until the game ends. Let’s all melt down together!
This is a weird edition of this newsletter to write. I do a Dodger Diary every Monday and the focus right now should be on Max Scherzer, who will take the ball for the Dodgers in that do-or-die wild card game. But I can’t stop thinking about the Dodgers’ other Max (Muncy) and the injury he suffered on Sunday. If you missed the game (and please don’t look at the replay) Muncy hurt his left arm catching a ball when the Brewers’ Jace Peterson plowed into it at first base. Peterson was called out for interference, but that’s little consolation for the Dodgers who may lose Muncy for the postseason. I’m not a doctor, but watching Muncy writhe in pain on the ground does not bode well for LA. At minimum, Dave Roberts said Muncy would be out Wednesday, which is terrible. The Dodgers will need all the help they can get to beat Adam Wainwright.
There’s a lot to like about these 106 win Dodgers, even if they did lose the NL West race by a game to the Giants, which we kinda knew a week ago would happen. For starters, 106 games is the most the Dodgers have won in a season in team history. Since they traded for Trea Turner and Scherzer at the end of July they’ve gone 45-14. That includes winning 9 of their last 10. They’ve also scored at least 8 runs in their last five games. But this weekend was the roughest sweep I can remember. They beat the Brewers three times but they also lost Clayton Kershaw to (probably a) season ending injury on Friday night, and Max Muncy to a similar fate on Sunday.
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The Dodgers traded for Scherzer to paper over the horrendous Trevor Bauer mistake they made last offseason. As it turns out, he is going to have to replace both Bauer and Kershaw. The way Scherzer is pitching lately, he might be the only man alive who can do it. In 11 starts for the Dodgers, Scherzer has posted a 1.98 ERA with 89 strikeouts and just 8 walks in 68.1 innings. The Dodgers have won all 11 of those games. So if he loses on Wednesday it will be his first loss as a Dodger, which doesn’t seem likely to happen. Except…
No team has been hotter than the Cardinals down the stretch. My friend Jay Jaffe has been writing for the last decade about how momentum does not matter heading into the postseason. Dodger fans may not remember that the 2017 club lost 16 of 17 over a span of games in August and September. Then, when October began they flipped the “LFG” switch and made it all the way to the World Series. Momentum is only as strong as that day’s starting pitcher which means the Dodgers are well-positioned for Wednesday.
Unfortunately so are the Cardinals. Adam Wainwright, still older than me, is having his best season since 2014 when he led the league in innings pitched and played for a Cardinals’ team that knocked the Dodgers out in the first round. Wainwright has been excellent in the postseason throughout his career, with a 2.89 ERA in 109 playoff innings to show for it. Over the weekend I watched as Wainwright told the Cardinals television TV announcers that the ball hasn’t felt this good leaving his hand in at least seven years. This doesn’t sound good for the Dodgers at all.
The other thing you need to know about the Cardinals is that Tyler O’Neill is one of the most underrated players in MLB, and is a prime candidate to rip out Dodger hearts. That dude has 34 home runs this year in just 138 games. He strikes out a lot, but in a game like Scherzer v Wainwright, one random solo home run could be the difference.
As for the Dodgers? You never want to be a 106-win wild card team, obviously, But there’s no one in baseball I’d rather give the ball to right now with the season on the line than Scherzer. Losing Muncy is awful because he hits fourth and the Dodgers especially need his left handed bat with Cody Bellinger mired in such a dreadful slump. With Muncy out and a righty on the mound, Bellinger might have to play first base with Chris Taylor in center. Or, you could play Bellinger in center and put Matt Beaty at first. Or you could play Gavin Lux in center with Bellinger at first. Or you could put Taylor in center with Beaty at first. None of these options are as good as Muncy at first and any live body in center, though. With Scherzer on the mound I think I’d put Taylor in center, Beatty at first, and then sub in Bellinger for Taylor in center in the late innings for defense. But I would not want to be Dave Roberts here.
I’m going to write about baseball every day in October. If you signed up for this newsletter to read about anything other than baseball, I appreciate you hanging in there for the next 30 days! Tomorrow we will have a choose-your-adventure playoff rooting guide. Wednesday I will post my Dodger Stadium food tour for those of you venturing to the game. The rest of my coverage will be dictated by what happens on the field.
Finally, congratulations to the Giants for winning one hell of an NL West division battle and stopping the Dodgers NL West title run at eight years. Apologies to Cardinal fans, but I would like nothing more than to see the Dodgers and Giants play each other for the first time in the postseason. I’m still not comfortable flying during this pandemic, but rest assured I’ll be loading up my Prius with Red Bull and snacks and driving to SF if the Dodgers do advance this weekend. As much as I hate the lonely drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco through California’s dusty farmland, I can’t wait.