This Year's Dodgers Have Shades of 1988 Written All Over Them

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There is only one word that can describe the Dodgers 2012 season thus far….magical. It has been a breathtaking display of wins. The Dodgers have made the transformation from second division team with ownership uncertainty, and bankruptcy court battles, to a first place team and the tops in Baseball. Do you believe? We do! This team has shades of 1988 written all over it.

Many teams these days have been crushed by injuries, and the Dodgers are no exception. The Dodgers have four regular starters on the disabled list and five position players total, yet they continue to find ways to score runs and win games. How are they doing it?  Good question. Nobody really knows. It’s just Magic. Blue Magic that is. No, not the book that our good friend David Krell is writing. I am talking about real honest to goodness magic. 88’ magic. Kirk Gibson magic.

Here we are on May 23, after 43 games, and the Dodgers are in first place. They sit seven games in front of the second place Giants at 30-13 with the best record in Baseball. The Dodgers have a better record than the defending world Series Champion Cardinals. They have a better record than the Rangers, and Yankees, and Baltimore. The Dodgers are the best team in Baseball. The way they have been winning games is nothing short of amazing. They are winning without their perennial MVP candidate Matt Kemp. The all-star center fielder strained his left hamstring and was put on the DL after their game on May 13. Since then several more Dodger regulars have gone down with injuries. The long list could make up a Mash Unit.

Each day the Dodgers find a new way to win. Each night there is a new hero. Everyone on the roster has stepped up to contribute.

On Thursday the hero was Aaron Harang and Andre Ethier. Harang throwing seven shutout frames, and Ethier went 3 for 4 with a double in a 8-1 win over San Diego.

On Friday it was A.J. Ellis beating the Cardinals with a walk-off walk.

On Saturday it was Clayton Kershaw and Justin Sellers. Kershaw pitched a complete game six hit shutout, and Sellers hit a home run and made a great running catch while diving into the stands in foul ground.

On Sunday it was Scott Van Slyke. The son of former major leaguer Andy Van Slyke, who hit a game winning pinch-hit three-run home run into the left field pavilion seats to lead the Dodgers to a three game sweep of the defending world series champion St. Louis Cardinals. The home run was on a 3-0 count, and in front of his father who was in the stands.

On Monday it was Chris Capuano and Andre Ethier/Matt Treanor/James Loney. Cappy tossed six innings of one-run ball, and the Dodgers hit three home runs from Ethier, Treanor, and Loney to beat the defending NL west champion Arizona D-backs on the road.

On Tuesday it was failed Dodger prospect Ivan Dejesus Jr. with a clutch two-run double with the Dodgers down to their last out and down by a run. Dejesus was once considered a top prospect until breaking his leg during a spring training game three years ago. Since then to say he had fallen out of favor with the organization would be an understatement. He has underperformed, and he even started out this season on the disabled list. He is only on the team because of all of the injuries suffered over the last couple of weeks. Despite all of that, DeJesus joins the long list of Dodger heroes this week.

The hero yesterday was also Dee Gordon. After being benched for several days and mired in a 2 for 31 slump, he was removed from the lead-off spot and bumped down to eighth in the order. He responded by going 2 for 4 at the plate with a run scored. Gordon also made some kind of mid air contortion like Keanu Reeves from the Matrix in order to throw a one-hop strike to James Loney at first base to record the final out on the game ending double play hit by Jason Kubel to end the game and give the Dodgers an 8-7 win on Tuesday night.

I can see the similarities between this team and the 1988 world championship team. Can’t you? Clayton Kershaw is Orel Hershiser. Matt Kemp is Kirk Gibson. Don Mattingly is Tommy Lasorda. Jerry Hairston is Mickey Hatcher. Kenley Jansen is Alejandro Pena. Do you believe yet? This year’s Dodgers have a better record after 43 games than the 1988 Dodgers did. After 43 games, the 1988 team was 26-17, while the 2012 Dodgers are 30-13.

The Dodgers are ranked in the league top five in nearly every single category and aspect of the game. The pitching has been tremendous. The defense is airtight. The offense has been great as well, despite not hitting a ton of home runs, the Dodgers use on base skills, walks, and timely hits to score a lot of runs. The Dodgers have now scored six or more runs in six straight games. The only other time they have done that was in 2006 and 2001. Kenley Jansen leads all MLB relievers in whiffs. The southpaw squad of Clayton Kershaw, Chris Capuano, and Ted Lilly are a combined 15-2.

The Dodgers rank second behind only Washington in staff ERA at 3.04. They rank fourth in whiffs. The rest of the National League is only hitting .227 off of the Dodger pitching staff, ranking them second in the NL. They rank sixth in fielding percentage at .984. Jerry Hairston Jr. was named the NL Defensive player of the month for April. The Dodgers are one of the better teams in stopping the running game. The boys in blue have caught 17 runners trying to steal, good for third in the league.

A.J. Ellis has a lot to do with that. A.J. is a 31-year old career minor league catcher, who has rode to the rescue to save the Dodgers from their catching mediocrity. A.J. has been almost superhuman this season, batting .327, leading all MLB catchers with a .448 OBP and 23 free passes. A.J. has also thrown out over 40% of base runners trying to steal.

On offense the Dodgers rank among the elite in most categories. Perennial MVP and triple crown candidate Matt Kemp hit 12 home runs in April, and was batting .359 before going down with the hamstring injury. All-star right fielder Andre Ethier leads the NL in RBI with 40. The Dodgers offense ranks second in the National League with a .270 batting average and a .342 OBP. The Dodgers rank third in walks with 152, fourth in runs scored with 197.

Let’s not forget the great job that Manager Don Mattingly has done this year. I know I have been very critical of him during his tenure, and sure the bunting is still annoying, but I am ready to admit I was wrong about him. Mattingly since taking over as skipper has 112 wins and a .547 winning percentage as Dodger manager. He should be well on his way to his first manager of the year award, and a big hearty apology from me.  

An improved more patient offense is a big factor in the team’s improvement. What could really be the difference maker is the team’s ability to come up with timely hits. Take a look and compare the 2012 Dodgers with the 1988 Dodgers with runners in scoring position. The Dodgers rank second in the league in hitting with runners in scoring position. Their numbers are even better than that 1988 team, who used a similar type of patchwork lineup.

1988 Dodgers with RISP- .263/.341/.375 23 home runs 472 RBI, 329 hits, 162 walks.

2012 Dodgers with RISP- .277/.375/.440 10 home runs 152 RBI, 102 hits, 63 walks.

This tells a lot here. The 2012 Dodgers are hitting .277 with runners in scoring position, and good lord look at that OBP. That is fantastic. Scoring early, great pitching, and defense, and timely hits has been the Dodgers recipe for success this year.

We may be witnessing something special this year. Something we can tell our children many years from now. Is this the year? The Dodgers are 19-4 at home. If the Dodgers win tonight it will be their sixth, yes (sixth!) sweep this season already, and we haven’t reached memorial day yet. The Dodgers are 15-6 against the NL west.

The Dodgers have vanquished every one of their divisional opponents this year, and have the biggest divisional lead in all of Baseball.

Arizona……..status…….Owned 11.5 games behind the Dodgers.

Colorado…..status…….Buried 14.5 games behind the Dodgers.

San Francisco…status….treading water 7 games behind the Dodgers

The Dodgers are doing this all without Matt Kemp, who is not due back from the DL until May 29. The Dodgers are 7-2 since the day Kemp was put on the DL with his strained hamstring.

Most people never considered the Dodgers a contender this year, just like the 1988 team. My grandfather told my Uncle stories of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodger World Championship team. My Uncle told me stories growing up about the great Dodger teams of 1963, 1965, and 1981. Could we be telling our kids about the great season of 2012? The Dodgers play the D-backs tonight, and a win would be their seventh I a row. Vin Scully called the Dodgers a wonder team. This season has been pure joy.

The Magic of the 2012 season has coincided with the massive wave of relief and joy felt by all Dodger fans after the Magic Johnson group won the bid to buy the Dodgers and eventually took over ownership of the team. All of this is happening during the sacred fiftieth anniversary of Dodger Stadium. Do you believe in miracles Dodger fans? You just can’t stop the blue. Look out National League, we might be heading to October

The similarities are subtle, but all around. The writing is all over the walls. It’s there. Their ability to pitch and make great plays in the field. Their ability to hit with runners in scoring position, and draw walks, and score runs. Their ability to overcome a lot of injuries. Their ability to never give up, and come back from incredible odds. This team has shades of 1988 written all over them.

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Tags: A.J. Ellis Aaron Harang Andre Ethier Bobby Abreu Chris Capuano Clayton Kershaw Dee Gordon Dodgers Don Mattingly Ivan Dejesus Jr James Loney Jerry Hairston Jr. Justin Sellers Kenley Jansen Kirk Gibson Matt Kemp Matt Treanor Orel Hershiser Scott Van Slyke Ted Lilly Tommy Lasorda

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