Los Angeles Dodgers prove to be MLB’s best in wild, unpredictable 2020 season
By Zach Worden, Sports Editor
The 2020 MLB season will go down in the record books as one of the most unusual seasons in the league’s history. Many doubted the season would even finish after numerous teams and players contracted COVID-19 and were forced to miss and reschedule games.
For better or for worse, baseball finished its season. The Los Angeles Dodgers finally broke through and won their first championship since 1988 in a 4-2 series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Dodgers had won the NL West eight years in a row but couldn’t finish the job come October. Something felt different about the 2020 Dodgers, though. The best team in the league from opening day finished the shortened 60-game regular season with an MLB best of 43 wins. Had the season gone ahead as usual, their winning percentage would have ranked amongst the best teams in MLB history.
For this Dodgers squad, who have suffered postseason heartbreak after postseason heartbreak, the regular season success was great. Still, they had loftier goals awaiting them in October.
This year’s Dodgers team was primarily led by returning faces who had played in two of the last three world series, in which they lost to the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox. From reigning MVP Cody Bellinger to arguably the best pitcher of this generation, Clayton Kershaw, the roster was loaded with talent from top to bottom.
Not only did the Dodgers bring back key players from past postseason runs, but they also added one of the best players in baseball over the offseason. The Red Sox, coming off a disappointing title defence, decided to shed salary in hopes of restructuring their team for sustained future success.
This resulted in 2018 MVP Mookie Betts being put on the trading block. In a move that Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts called “a steal,” Betts was dealt across the country from Boston to Los Angeles. The return to the Red Sox was a package that you could call minimal. The Dodgers sent Alex Verdugo, Connor Wong and Jeter Downs packing in the trade and somehow managed to keep their entire core from the previous seasons.
For a Dodgers team that had struggled in the postseason, adding a former World Series champion and MVP is exactly what they needed to get over the hump and capture that elusive championship.
In the expanded postseason format the MLB presented in 2020, 16 teams qualified for the postseason rather than the usual 10. This meant that the best teams in the league, such as the Dodgers, had to play in the wild-card round in a best-of-three series.
For the top-seeded Dodgers, they matched up with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers snuck in the playoffs with a 29-31 record, one of the worst winning percentages for a team to ever make the postseason.
The series ended in a sweep as the Dodgers’ pitching shut down the Brewers’ offence in the two games. Milwaukee only put up two runs in the series while striking out 28 times. The series was never in question for the Dodgers as along with their strong pitching, they got timely hits from Betts, Corey Seager and Austin Barnes.
In game two of the series, notorious playoff underachiever Kershaw spun one of the best starts in October. He threw eight innings, gave up no runs, three hits and struck out 13 batters in the game. After his dominant outing, he said, “This was a fun night for me, getting the postseason off to a good start.” The excellent start was only a sign of things to come for Kershaw and his teammates.
Moving on to the divisional series, the Dodgers were matched up with NL West rival, the San Diego Padres. The Padres fared as one of the best and arguably most exciting teams in the MLB in 2020, led by MVP candidates Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado. Despite missing their top two pitchers Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet in the wild-card round, the Padres beat the Cardinals in three games and moved on to the second round.
The rest of the MLB playoffs were moved to neutral sites so all the teams could play in a “bubble.” The Dodgers and Padres series took place at the brand new Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
After sweeping the Brewers in the first round, the Dodgers kept on rolling in round two. Despite the Padres owning the second-best record in the National League, they proved to be no match for eventual champs. Without Clevinger and Lamet, the Padres couldn’t hold the Dodgers hitters down as they put up 23 runs in the three-game sweep.
The closest and most intense game of the series came in game two as the Dodgers won 6-5. Of all the stars in the series, Bellinger shined the brightest in the game, hitting a home run in the fourth inning off San Diego starter Zach Davies. He then had the highlight of the playoffs by making a leaping catch at the center-field wall, stealing a home run from Tatis Jr. that would have given the Padres a 5-4 lead heading into the final innings of the game.
After a scare in the ninth from usually reliable closer Kenley Jansen, Joe Kelly got the last out of the game to help the Dodgers take a 2-0 series lead. To move on to the championship series, the Dodgers took game three in a blowout. They won 12-3, highlighted by a four-run ninth inning to remain undefeated in the playoffs.
In the NLCS, the Dodgers matched up with the Atlanta Braves. The Braves came into the postseason with one of the top offences in the league, but a depleted pitching staff after losing numerous starters to injury throughout the season. The Braves had not lost during the first two rounds of the playoffs and ended up giving the Dodgers their biggest scare of the year, despite being underdogs coming into the series.
Atlanta took the first two games of the best-of-seven series. They managed to score the winning runs of both games in the ninth inning. A four-run burst led them to a 5-1 victory in game one, and the Braves avoided a Dodgers’ comeback in game two as they escaped with an 8-7 win.
Game three saw the Dodgers finally break through and take their first win of the series. They blew out the Braves in a 15-3 win. The game was pretty much over before it started as Los Angeles’ offence scored 11 runs in the top of the first. The outburst included home runs from Joc Pederson, Edwin Rios and a grand slam from Max Muncy.
After the blow out in game three, the Braves came right back with a blow out of their own in game four. Bryse Wilson kept the Dodgers to one hit and one run in his six innings of work, while the Braves offence got to Kershaw for four runs over five innings. Marcell Ozuna led the way for Atlanta going four-for-five with two home runs in the game.
With the Braves taking a 3-1 lead in the series, the Dodgers stared at another October collapse in the face, being one game away from elimination. They were able to respond by winning the next two games by a combined score of 10-4. Seager homered three times in games five and six, continuing his outstanding performance throughout the postseason.
After fighting back from being down 3-1 to send the series to a winner-take-all game seven, the Dodgers found themselves losing 2-0 after two innings. Despite being down again, the Dodgers kept at it. A two-out, two-RBI single from Will Smith tied the game in the bottom of the third.
The two teams traded runs to keep the game tied heading into the seventh inning. This set the stage for Bellinger once again. The 2018 NLCS MVP delivered, launching a home run to right field off of Chris Martin to give the Dodgers the lead — eventually giving them a 4-3 win and a trip to their third World Series in the past four years.
Matching up with the American League champion Rays, the Dodgers had the opportunity to break their 32-year World Series drought.
In the first game of the series, the Dodgers came out swinging. Led by Betts, who became the first player in a World Series game to homer, steal two bases and score two runs, the team put up eight runs over the course of three innings on their way to an 8-3 win. Despite losing game two, the Dodgers were able to control the rest of the series. If not for a once-in-a-lifetime ending to game four that saw the Rays score two runs on a defensive series by the Dodgers, the series would have been over in five games.
In game six, the Dodgers offence was stymied by Rays’ starter Blake Snell who threw 5.1 innings before being controversially taken out of the game by manager Kevin Cash. The move proved to backfire for the Rays as the Dodgers immediately scored off new pitcher Nick Anderson.
On the other side, the Dodgers pitching staff held the Tampa Bay offence to five hits and one run in the championship-clinching game. Reliever Julio Urias finished the final 2.1 innings for Los Angeles, striking out Willy Adames to secure the Dodgers’ seventh World Series title.
Seager was named World Series MVP for his outstanding postseason. He became just the eighth player to win MVP for both the Fall Classic and the League Championship Series.
The Dodgers will take the rest of 2020 to celebrate their championship before looking to 2021. They will enter the season as the favourites to repeat.