As The End Of An Era Nears, Dodgers Find Ways To Keep It Going A Little Longer
LOS ANGELES—This may very well be the last run for the Dodgers as we know them.
Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager and Chris Taylor are all free agents after the season. So is mid-season acquisition Max Scherzer. While the Dodgers certainly will never be starved for talent or resources, they are likely to lose at least some of the players who have become synonymous with the franchise during its run as baseball’s pre-eminent superpower.
Kershaw, of course, is the franchise’s all-time leader in wins above replacement by a pitcher and a surefire Hall of Famer. Jansen is the club’s all-time saves leader. Seager is arguably the franchise’s best homegrown position player since Mike Piazza. Taylor’s subtle acquisition has become a measuring stick by which under-the-radar trades are measured.
This could very well be the end of that era. The Dodgers, facing that potential reality, keep finding ways to extend it a little bit longer.
Taylor hit three home runs, A.J. Pollock hit two more and the Dodgers pummeled the Braves, 11-2, in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday night. The Braves, instead of clinching the franchise’s first trip to the World Series since 1999, will instead return to Atlanta with a 3-2 series lead.
“This is why you play the game,” said Taylor, who became the first player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a potential elimination game. “When you look back on all these years playing for the Dodgers, it’s all these big postseason games that are the most special for me. These are moments that we’re going to be able to look back on for the rest of our lives and it’s pretty cool.”
The Dodgers have won seven straight elimination games, including four this postseason.
“I guess when our backs are against the wall we play our best and fight,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “That’s just not an ideal spot to be in. Even right now, elimination game in Game 6. But I guess it brings out the best in us.”
It’s just as well the Dodgers keep it going with this current group as long as they can. While their farm system remains strong with six Top 100 prospects, there is no plug-and-play future star waiting in Triple-A like Seager, Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler and Will Smith in years past. The Dodgers traded their top two, and most advanced, prospects in catcher Keibert Ruiz and righthander Josiah Gray at the trade deadline for Scherzer and Trea Turner—worthy acquisitions without whom the Dodgers likely would not be in the NLCS in the first place. Their current top two prospects, catcher Diego Cartaya and righthander Bobby Miller, have 114 career at-bats and 56.1 professional innings in the full-season minors, respectively. In all, only two of the Dodgers Top 10 Prospects have reached Triple-A.
Which is all to say the Dodgers best chance to win another title, and dispatch any cynical criticisms that they haven’t won a “real” championship due to the circumstances of the 2020 season, may very well be this year with Scherzer, Jansen, Seager and Taylor assured of being in a Dodgers uniform. Kershaw, out for the postseason with left forearm and elbow discomfort, has been forced to watch as a spectator, but was nonetheless integral in getting the Dodgers to the playoffs in the first place.
They now must go to Atlanta, where the Braves won 11 of their final 17 home games during the regular season and are 4-0 in the postseason. The Braves have plenty of motivation of their own, seeking to not only reach their first World Series in 22 years but also avoid a second straight ignominious collapse. It was only last year the Braves blew a 3-1 series lead in the NLCS to these very same Dodgers, a fact that isn’t lost on anyone.
“I mean, it's going to be the narrative it seems because every day it's brought up the last couple days,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “So I don't think we have a choice until we kill that narrative. We're up 3-2 and we're going home. That's a great position to be in.”
For Taylor, if this was his final home game in Dodger Stadium, it was a memorable one. He launched a two-run homer to give the Dodgers the lead in the second inning, added an RBI single in the third inning, hit a three-run homer in the fifth and finished his night with a solo shot in the seventh. He became just the second Dodgers player to hit three home runs in a postseason game, and the first to do it at Dodger Stadium.
After his third homer, he made the first curtain call of his career.
“I think anytime you do something cool, when you do it in Dodger Stadium, it makes it that much sweeter,” Taylor said. “For it to happen for the first time on this stage in front of this crowd, it was a special moment.”
Seager, facing the same possibility, singled in his final at-bat in the eighth inning. Jansen, the Dodgers’ longest-tenured player behind only Kershaw, pitched a perfect ninth to end it.
There is no way to know if this was the final home game at Dodger Stadium for the trio. If all goes the way they hope, the Dodgers will be back in Chavez Ravine for Game 1 of the World Series next week.
But if this was the end, they went out with a flourish.
"I think these are the best fans in the world and anything you do, when you do it here, it feels that much better," Taylor said. "It's really special and it's a dream come true to play here."