After securing their first World Series in 32 years, the Dodgers came into Spring Training with their eyes set on trying to snap another long drought. They want to become the first team since the 1998-00 Yankees to win back-to-back World Series titles.
Winning consecutive titles in baseball is one of the toughest feats in sports. But when you look up and down the Dodgers’ roster, they certainly have the firepower to accomplish the rare feat.
They took the first step toward their goal, securing a ninth consecutive postseason berth with an 8-4 win over the D-backs on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers, however, still have unfinished business in the National League West as they continue to chase the Giants atop the division.
The race between the archrivals will likely come down to the last weekend of the regular season. In the meantime, let’s take a look at how the Dodgers built their latest postseason-worthy roster.
How they were built:
Draft: Walker Buehler, Tony Gonsolin, Andre Jackson, Clayton Kershaw, Mitch White, Will Smith, Gavin Lux, Corey Seager, Matt Beaty, Cody Bellinger, Zach McKinstry
International signings: Victor González, Kenley Jansen, Edwin Uceta, Julio Urías
Free agents: Shane Greene, Joe Kelly, Blake Treinen, Albert Pujols, Justin Turner, AJ Pollock, Max Muncy
Trades: Brusdar Graterol, David Price, Max Scherzer, Corey Knebel, Alex Vesia, Austin Barnes, Sheldon Neuse, Trea Turner, Mookie Betts, Billy McKinney, Chris Taylor
Waivers: Phil Bickford, Evan Phillips
Key acquisition: Max Scherzer
The Dodgers have acquired a handful of key players during the season, but none have been more impactful than Scherzer. The right-hander recorded his 3,000th career strikeout on Sunday against the Padres and put together one of the best eight-game stretches in franchise history. With his eight scoreless innings against San Diego, Scherzer is 6-0 with a 0.88 ERA as a member of the Dodgers.
Managerial decision: Sticking with Kenley Jansen
At the start of Spring Training, the one burning question around the Dodgers centered around whether they would stick with Jansen as their closer. He has been the Dodgers’ closer for nearly a decade, but he struggled at times during the 2020 postseason run. But Dodgers manager Dave Roberts stuck with Jansen. He’s been rewarded. Jansen had a couple of rough outings after the All-Star break, but even with that, the veteran closer has posted a 2.43 ERA with 32 saves in 37 chances this season.
Defining season stretch: Nine straight wins after being no-hit
The Dodgers are winning at a historic pace this season, so you can make an argument that there were numerous defining stretches. But after being swept in San Diego and then being no-hit by the Cubs at home on June 24, the Dodgers needed to find some answers. Things could’ve gone south in a hurry. Instead, the Dodgers responded with nine consecutive wins, quickly getting back on track.
Breakout player: AJ Pollock
Los Angeles has had a couple of players step up into unexpected roles, but Pollock’s value this season can’t be overstated. Pollock is a former All-Star and had a very solid 2020 season, but when healthy, the outfielder has put together one of his best seasons at the plate. He has an .861 OPS this season, which would be his highest in a 162-game season since his All-Star season in ‘15. In a season where the Dodgers have battled a plethora of injuries, Pollock has been a key piece in one of the best offenses in the Majors. Bullpen arms Alex Vesia and Phil Bickford are also deserving of a mention as both have stepped up in high-leverage situations.
Calling card: Pitching staff
Coming into the season, it was almost a given that the Dodgers would once again have one of the best pitching staffs in the Majors. While it hasn’t looked quite as everyone expected, Los Angeles have exceeded all those expectations this season. The Dodgers have been able to withstand injuries to Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin and Clayton Kershaw as well as Trevor Bauer's administrative leave. But in the midst of all of that, Walker Buehler and Julio Urías held their own, taking a giant leap in their respective developments this season. The addition of Scherzer also helped the Dodgers continue their run-prevention dominance. The bullpen has also been a strength: Vesia and Bickford have been breakout players and Blake Treinen and Jansen have been largely dominant in late-inning situations. The Dodgers’ offense steals a lot of the headlines with their star-studded lineup, but the L.A. pitching staff has been the backbone in ‘21.
Memorable moment: Mookie Betts’ walk-off catch
With the tying runs in scoring position in the ninth on April 17, Padres outfielder Tommy Pham laced a liner to right-center field. Off the bat, it looked as if it would land in front of Betts and the game would be tied at 2. Instead, Betts showed off why he has five Gold Glove Awards sitting at his house, as he laid out for a game-winning diving catch. Betts showed his emotion, pounding his chest multiple times in celebration. It was well deserved, as Betts had just a 10 percent chance to make the play, per Statcast.