By Dennis J. Freeman
LOS ANGELES (News4u Online) - It was a good run for the Los Angeles Dodgers. A run, unfortunately, that was not good enough for the Dodgers to repeat as World Series champions.
After recording the second-best mark in all of Major League Baseball during the regular season, after beating the St. Louis Cardinals in a Wild Card playoff game, and after knocking the San Francisco Giants out of the National League Divisional Series, the Dodgers are done for the season after losing the National League Championship Series (NLCS) to the Atlanta Braves.
“I think for my message to our guys, it was basically it was a tremendous season,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after his team dropped Game 6 of the NLS, 4-2. “It was a heck of a year."
Roberts continued, “Going through a lot of different things that we went through that no one talked about, no one needed to talk about, and didn't let it affect our performance, and that's something I was proud of, to win 106 games, to go through a Wild Card game, to then be pushed in a five-game series against a Division rival, to come out of that, and to be two wins away from going to the World Series.”
The Dodgers came into this season with super expectations. And well they should have. After all, the Dodgers claimed the 2020 World Series after beating the Tampa Bay Rays in six games.
Armed with one of the best lineups in all of baseball and an astute manager who always seems to pull the right strings at the right time, the Dodgers sailed into the 2021 Major League Baseball season anchored with the possibility to repeat last year’s championship run.
Outside of not winning the National League West Division title for a ninth straight season, the Dodgers pretty much mirrored their postseason pathway of a year ago, playing in a Wild Card game before moving on to the National League Divisional Series and then earning a spot in the NLCS.
“My household was rooting for the Dodgers, but now you want to beat the best and they're obviously the defending champs and they got a great team, so it's going to be a good test for us,” Atlanta slugger Freddie Freeman said.
Prior to the start of the series, Dodgers’ third baseman Justin Turner said the two teams were up to speed on one another.
“Yeah, obviously it's not going to be as much familiarity as we had with the Giants, but a lot of familiarity with the seven games we played against them last year and having the opportunity to play them here and at home this year, which is different than last year,” Turner said.
Turner continued, “So probably just looking forward to another great series. They probably have a bit of a bad taste in their mouth coming into this and are going to play with some purpose and we got to be ready for that.”
Interestingly enough, the Dodgers got the same opponent as last season: the Braves. The Dodgers wiped away a 3-1 series deficit to win the series, 4-3, and advanced to the World Series where they eventually won the franchise’s seventh world title.
Well, fast forward to the 2021 NLCS.
The Braves, after jumping out to a 2-0 series start, claimed a 3-1 lead just like last season. Before Game 5, which was played at Dodger Stadium, Roberts had a message he sent to his ballclub.
“I think the message is just to play every pitch like it's our last pitch,” Roberts said. “I think that means something different for everyone. But in certain counts where we have to win a pitch, whether it's a take or a foul ball, I think it's just competing every single pitch.
Roberts continued, “And that's on the defensive side too, but specifically to the offensive side is every pitch matters. If we can stress them and grind and make Fried work, it bodes better for us. So I think that would probably be the message.”
Dodgers slugger Mookie Betts said this year’s NLCS matchup with the Braves is unlike last season
“I don't think it feels similar, but we're in the same situation, maybe a little different way,” Betts said. “Right now we just have to figure out a way to win today and we'll worry about tomorrow tomorrow.”
The Dodgers won Game 5 with a thundering 11-2 win that included 17 hits. The Dodgers could have used some of those hits in Game 6. In their final game of the 2021 season, the Dodgers could muster only five hits off the Braves.
“I'm giving credit to the Braves because they outplayed us, plain and simple,” Roberts said.
Yes, this year’s rendezvous with the Braves was indeed different. First, the Dodgers came into the series as well as the playoffs without the services of pitching ace Clayton Kershaw.
Another way this series played out differently on the surface was that the Dodgers were missing the slugging presence of first baseman Max Muncy, who injured himself right on the eve of the postseason.
This has been a weird year for the Dodgers. Despite some of the hiccups they encountered throughout the season, the Dodgers still had the firepower to win it again. Yes, even with no Muncy, with no Kershaw, with no Trevor Bauer (well, not really), and with Cody Bellinger having a forgettable regular season, the Dodgers found themselves on the brink of another World Series appearance.
Eventually, the injuries to Muncy, Kershaw, Turner (hamstring), and reliever Joe Kelly, caught up with the Dodgers.
When they needed him, Bellinger came through in the postseason. Bellinger, who hit 47 home runs and drove in 115 runs in winning the National League MVP in 2019, dipped to hitting .165 with 10 home runs during the 2021 regular season.
When Bellinger came through with the game-winning RBI in the Dodgers’ series-clinching win in Game 5 of the NLDS and stroked a game-tying three-run home run in Game 3 of the NLCS, it marked the return of the left-handed slugger.
“I mean, in a way it's a whole different season,” Bellinger said after the Dodgers beat the Braves 6-5 in Game 3. “Luckily for me I got a clean slate going into the postseason and I was feeling good towards the end of the regular season and I just tried to continue that and continue that feel into the postseason and help this team win.”
If the Giants had not had the out-of-this-world season that they had, the Dodgers would have easily claimed their ninth consecutive division title. The 106 wins represent the third time under the management of Roberts that the Dodgers have recorded 100 or more wins in a season.
What eventually did in the Dodgers was all those maladies the team suffered. Losing Muncy, Kershaw, Turner (hamstring), and reliever Joe Kelly, hurt the Dodgers. Roberts did not offer that as an excuse why the Dodgers could not complete their mission of going to the World Series again.
“I hate conceding that,” Roberts said. “I just felt that we had the players that were active that could still win this series. We were ready to play through October. We just didn't get it done.”
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