It’s been a week since the team I grew up watching was eliminated from the postseason. For the first time in my lifetime, they were true favorites heading into an MLB season. When turning on the television or radio, I no longer had to wait hours or days to hear people talking about them. The pundits were talking about them constantly.
They said repeating was not going to be easy. However, they said this team could be the one to do it for the first time in 21 years. They said this team had the potential to feature the greatest rotation in the history of the game. They said this team had the potential to become a true dynasty. They said these things, but words can only mean so much. There’s a reason why there are 162 games in a regular season. There’s a reason why there are playoff games played in a series. We are so quick to jump the gun and crown the on-paper champion that we seem to forget that there is a human element to the greatest game in sports.
The Los Angeles Dodgers went into the 2021 season with insanely high expectations. Coming off a World Series title in a 60-game shortened season, many people assumed this team would repeat when they added 2020 Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer to their already dominant rotation. The Dodgers lost platoon and bench players Kiké Hernandez and Joc Pederson, but come on, how big of losses could they possibly be?
The Dodgers caught the big fish in the offseason and brought Bauer to Los Angeles, a return to home of sorts after being born and raised in Santa Clarita, California while growing up a Dodgers fan. It was the perfect match and the Dodgers rotation was primed to repeat.
However, certain scripts can’t always be written on paper. For the Dodgers, the strength of their roster from a health perspective was paper-thin. The injury bug found its way to Los Angeles quickly to start the season, beginning on May 15th.
Dustin May, their impressive young righty destined to be a future ace was placed on the 60-day IL following a May 3rd start against the Milwaukee Brewers. He would need Tommy John surgery and was declared out for the rest of the year. At this time, the rotation was still strong with Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Trevor Bauer, and Julio Urias.
The dominoes would continue to fall, with Scott Alexander missing the majority of the season due to left shoulder inflammation. Jimmy Nelson was having a great bounce-back season before an injury required a repair of his right flexor tendon. He was placed on the IL on August 4th before being ruled out for the year a few days later. The Dodgers were dropping like flies. Cole Hamels, who didn’t even throw a pitch for the Dodgers, was signed on August 4th and was placed on the 60-day IL after suffering an injury in his simulated game at Dodger Stadium.
While that is the list of the players that were placed on the injured list for the season (not including Tommy Kahnle, who was signed with the intention of pitching in 2022), the Dodgers lost plenty of players for extended stretches throughout the season. Joe Kelly and Brusdar Graterol began the trend on April 1st with IL stints. Kelly would not return until May 6th. Graterol was activated on April 18th before being placed back on the injured list April 29th and would not be re-activated until June 4th. Tony Gonsolin hit the injured list April 4th and did not return until June 9th.
Cody Bellinger may have had one of the worst regular seasons of any hyped up player in baseball history, all beginning on Opening Day when his first home run of the season turned into a single.
On April 6th, Bellinger was placed on the injured list with a left calf contusion. Bellinger would be out until May 29th after it was discovered the injury was actually a hairline fracture in his left leg. On June 15th, Bellinger was placed on the injured list with left hamstring tightness before returning on time ten days after the injury was sustained.
This list goes on and on. Gavin Lux, Zach McKinstry (who was looking like the Rookie of Year at the start of the season), Dennis Santana, David Price, Victor Gonzalez, and Mitch White all hit the injured list in April alone.
Corey Knebel, who was dominant in his start with the Dodgers, hit the 60-day injured list May 2nd with a right lat strain. AJ Pollock hit the injured list May 15th with a left hamstring strain and would be out until June 3rd. Corey Seager on May 16th after being hit with a pitch that would fracture his right hand and would be out until July 30th after many believed he would be a potential MVP candidate.
Max Muncy hit the injured list for the first time June 12th after putting together an MVP-like resume to start the year. Muncy would return 10 days later following his oblique strain. July 7th was a day many Dodgers fans feared as Clayton Kershaw hit the injured list with left elbow inflammation and would be out until September 13th. Mookie Betts hit the injured list July 25th with a nagging hip injury that kept him out until August 1st. Betts would be placed on the injured list again 10 days later and was out until August 26th. The Dodgers acquired Danny Duffy in a trade at the deadline only to find him join Cole Hamels on the shelf with a season-ending injury with a left flexor strain.
Players that may be forgotten who played with the Dodgers during the regular season included Sheldon Neuse, Keibert Ruiz, Yoshi Tsutsugo, Edwin Uceta, Luke Raley, Zach Reks, Kevin Quackenbush, and Andy Burns. The team was running thin on depth and injuries continued to rise throughout the season.
Despite the litany of injuries, the Dodgers had enough talent to pace the Padres throughout the majority of the season. However, it was the San Francisco Giants that would surge into first place and refused to lose ball games late in the season. The Dodgers received valiant efforts from Chris Taylor, a first-time All-Star, as well as unknown players heading into the season such as Alex Vesia, Justin Bruihl, and Evan Phillips. Kenley Jansen, who had a rough start the season, had a resurgence in the second half of the year, returning to form many remembered him to have throughout his time in Los Angeles.
The biggest turning point of the season though came right before the trade deadline. After the San Diego Padres had reportedly agreed to a trade for Max Scherzer, Andrew Friedman and the Dodgers swooped in and landed Scherzer right out from under them. He also got shortstop Trea Turner from the Washington Nationals, giving up top prospects Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray as well as Gerardo Carillo and Donovan Casey to make the blockbuster trade of the season.
While the baseball world was stunned, the Dodgers were primed for a serious playoff run.
The Dodgers would creep into first place in a battle with the Giants throughout August and September while the Padres faltered. LA would go 21-6 in August and 19-7 in September, leading the team to a franchise record of 106 regular season wins.
However, the story of the Dodgers season could be defined as having the ball bounce the wrong way. The Giants managed to also post a franchise record with 107 wins, winning the division by just a game and forcing the Dodgers to play the hottest team in baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals, in the Wild Card Game.
Prior to the postseason, the Dodgers lost two key pieces in Clayton Kershaw and Max Muncy during their final regular season series with the Milwaukee Brewers. This would set a trend that continued into the postseason. The Dodgers would lose Justin Turner and Joe Kelly in the NLCS. Max Scherzer would report having a dead arm and would miss his Game 6 start in the NLCS. The Dodgers limped into and throughout the postseason.
The story of the Dodgers postseason began with Chris Taylor hitting a walk-off two-run homer to propel the Dodgers to the NLDS, where they would take on their rivals in San Francisco for the first time in their history during the playoffs.
The Dodgers would fall in Game 1 to San Francisco before evening things up in Game 2, sending the series back to Los Angeles.
In Game 3, the wind decided to show up and hold a potential Gavin Lux tying homer in the stadium, leading to a Giants 1-0 win over the Dodgers and sending LA to their second elimination game of the playoffs. The Dodgers would win behind a Walker Buehler start in Game 4 of the NLDS, meaning all eyes would turn to San Francisco for Game 5.
Heading into the 9th inning tied at one, Cody Bellinger’s postseason return began with a clutch base hit to give LA a 2-1 lead. Max Scherzer would come in for the 9th inning and shut the door, finishing with a strikeout of Wilmer Flores on a debatable check swing that reminded Dodgers fans of a previous matchup in the regular season where Darin Ruf got away with one. The Dodgers would lose the Darin Ruf game. They wouldn’t lose this one. The Dodgers won 2-1 and would move on to face the Braves.
By the time the NLCS hit, exhaustion would kick in for LA. The injuries to Kelly and Turner and the dead arm of Scherzer as well as the bullpen usage proved to be costly for the Dodgers. LA would be walked off in consecutive games on the road in Atlanta to fall to an 0-2 hole in the series before heading back to LA.
In Game 3, the Dodgers World Series hopes looked bleak when the Braves carried a 5-2 lead into the eighth inning, but Cody Bellinger once again came up clutch. Bellinger hit a game-tying three-run homer and a Mookie Betts RBI-double would ultimately lift the Dodgers to a 6-5 win.
However, the Braves would come back in Game 4 to win 9-2 thanks to two homers by NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario. Game 5 was an offensive explosion for the Dodgers, with Chris Taylor hitting three homers and AJ Pollock with two as LA went on to blow out Atlanta 11-2.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, Game 6 was when the ride would come to an end. They were trailing 4-1 in the seventh inning thanks to an Eddie Rosario three-run homer off of Walker Buehler.
AJ Pollock would rip an RBI double to make it a 4-2 game and the Dodgers would have two runners in scoring position for Albert Pujols, Steven Souza Jr., and Mookie Betts with nobody out. but no runs would cross the plate. Will Smith got AJ Pollock to ground out to end the series and the Braves punched their ticket to the World Series for the first time since 1999.
If you’ve made it this far in the article, you may already be feeling some type of way. As a Dodgers fan, probably anger, frustration, and sadness considering how many highs and lows this Dodgers team presented in 2021. While this team struggled to put consecutive impressive offensive performances together, they certainly found ways to win when people wouldn’t expect it.
This was the same team that was no-hit by the Cubs in the summer. This is the same team that also won 106 games. This team was shut down by Antonio Senzatela during the regular season. This team swept the eventual NL champion Braves at home during the regular season. The highs and lows, inconsistent at-bats and breakout performances, injuries and stellar pitching performances all defined what can be considered a failed attempt at repeating as World Series champs.
Heading into the offseason, the Dodgers have their work cut out for them. They will see Corey Seager, Chris Taylor, Albert Pujols, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Kenley Jansen, Joe Kelly, and Corey Knebel all walk as free agents. The core of this team could look different as we approach 2022. The Dodgers are certainly financially capable of bringing any of these guys back. However, keep in mind they’ll soon be stuck in the same situation with Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler, and Julio Urias.
Regardless of who comes back, we know the Dodgers will be in the thick of things again in 2022. The question that many Dodgers fans will be asking all winter, though, is could this have been the end of an era?
Only time will tell.