Missed opportunities and heartbreak: The Dodgers title drought continues

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Manny Machado underperformed in the World Series, finishing with a .182 batting average. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

When the last out of the 2018 MLB season was recorded this past Sunday at Dodger Stadium, there were endless cheers, smiles, and hugs being exchanged all throughout the stadium, but none were to be had or shared by a Los Angeles Dodger.

Clayton Kershaw did not pitch well. There were no late inning home runs. The “Boys in Blue” did not rush the field, and most certainly did not celebrate with a parade in downtown LA.

In a season that had been so improbable — they played in game 163 to win the division, clawed back from 10 games under .500 early in the season, and landed the not-so phenomenal superstar Manny Machado at the trade deadline — the impossible did not happen.

“We’ve played with our backs against the wall all season, here we were again tonight, Game Seven, backs against the wall again, and we found a way to get it done,” Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts told NBC Los Angeles after their Game Seven NLCS win two weeks ago.

The Dodgers found themselves even further against the wall this time, squandering a 4-0 lead in Game Four to go down 3-1 to the Boston Red Sox in the series. They didn’t win another game and now enter the offseason 30 years removed from the last time they reached their ultimate goal.

The end of each year always brings new questions. Thinking about what could have been has become an unhealthy coping mechanism that Dodgers fans have learned to revisit when the expected end of season disappointment rolls its way in.

Nothing should be taken away from the Red Sox fourth championship since breaking the Curse of the Bambino in 2004. They proved to be the better team, but just like on that sad Nov. 1 night in 2017, this World Series will haunt the Dodger faithful with endless what-ifs.

What if Rich Hill had stayed in for one more inning in Game Four? What if Kershaw was healthy all season? What if Corey Seager was batting fourth instead of the highly disappointing Machado?

Just like every year, the answer to all these questions rings loud and clear: It doesn’t matter. The end of the past two seasons can’t be changed, and all the Dodgers can do is look at what went wrong and try to fix it.

As the Dodgers enter the winter, they will need to address a number of holes if they ever figure to win the elusive World Series trophy again.

Most visibly, their bullpen needs to be revamped. When their starters shined with near perfect outings in the World Series, their so called “relievers” did anything but relieve.

Game Three saw Walker Buehler, the rookie ace, take a two hit, 1-0 lead all the way until the end of the seventh, but what happened in the eighth? The $80 million dollar reliever, Kenley Jansen, who has gone from unhittable to mediocre at best, gave up a solo shot to the Red Sox eight-hole hitter Jackie Bradley Jr., which tied the game 1-1.

While the Dodgers would actually go on to win this one, their victory was prolonged until the 18th inning, when Max Muncy finally ended a game that really should’ve ended hours before, and only after the bullpen had been taxed an additional nine innings.

Game four’s nightmare was even worse. The Dodgers entered the seventh inning with a 4-0 lead, but after Mitch Moreland’s three-run bomb, barely escaped the inning with the lead.

No person should experience the type of pain and disappointment Dodger fans felt in the eighth and ninth. Long story short, Jansen came in and did his thing, giving up a home run in a clutch situation, and when he was taken out to start the final inning, his replacement gave up five more runs to ensure a Dodgers defeat.

To say that their bullpen will need help if the Dodgers are to win the World Championship next year is a drastic understatement.

Looking past the Dodgers’ bullpen World Series woes, it’s finally possible to examine the problem, or rather problems, behind the plate. The Dodgers’ two catchers combined to go 1-16 in the World Series, and they should undoubtedly look toward an upgrade in the offseason. Could a trade for Marlins All-Star Catcher J.T. Realmuto be in line?

Still, while new relievers and improved production behind the plate sounds exciting, it’s not enough. The front office should feel a responsibility to make a big splash in the winter.

If they don’t, why should fans even believe that next year will be any different than the previous two?

Bryce Harper will be available for a hefty price, but he’s worth it. Noah Syndergaard, Jacob Degrom, and Madison Bumgarner may be on the trading block. They should try to get one of them. The fans deserve another star (they’ve had to endure two straight World Series losses in the midst of a 30 year drought) and the Dodgers should spare no expense.

Notice that Machado’s name is not included above. That was intentional. Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi, please get rid of this bum. Please.

To address the elephant in the room, as painful as it is to say, Kershaw is not what he used to be. Or at least, he didn’t appear to be his normal self this year.

Kershaw has until 1 p.m. Nov. 2 to decide if he will opt out of the final two years of the contract he signed before the 2014 season. It is widely expected that the Dodgers will work out a new deal with him, possibly tacking on one or two more years to his contract.

Despite his most recent struggles, this would be the right move by the team and would be celebrated by their fan base. Kershaw is to the Dodgers as Kobe Bryant is to the Lakers, and when the Dodgers finally do win that last game of the season, it will be much sweeter to celebrate with No. 22. It would not be the same without him.

Despite a second straight World Series loss, the Dodgers have a lot to look forward to. Next year they will be the favorites to take the National League West Division for a seventh straight time, and maybe, just maybe, another World Series clinching celebration will take place at Dodger Stadium. Only this time, it will be their own.

In the meantime, Vin Scully summed it up best in his farewell speech a couple years ago: “There will be a new day, and eventually a new year. And when the upcoming winter gives way to spring, rest assured it will be time for Dodger baseball.”

Yes, it will, Vin. Yes it will.

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