SEATTLE — For the 10th time in 11 years, the Los Angeles Dodgers are National League West champions. Clayton Kershaw started the game and the offense ended it with a huge rally in the tenth inning after a back and forth affair.
In what seems to be a microcosm of the 2023 Dodger season, the baton was passed from arm to arm in that pitching staff on Saturday night. Kershaw started and went four scoreless innings in his first start since September 5th. He only threw 56 pitches and allowed only two hits.
After Kershaw, the bullpen was unleashed, with six arms being used to combine for only two runs over seven innings. The most important arm was Emmet Sheehan, who came on in relief after Kershaw to provide three scoreless innings. Sheehan has been used to start for most of the season, but it seems the Dodgers have found another weapon like Ryan Yarbrough who can piggyback.
Although Evan Phillips blew a save in the 10th, the rest of the bullpen was sensational. All arms came in in crucial situations and stopped the Mariners in their tracks.
The offense was dormant for nine innings as the Mariner pitching staff did their job just like the Dodgers. But in the tenth inning, Kolten Wong came in with the opportunity to get redemption on his former squad and delivered. He hit a sacrifice fly to give the game its first run and give the Dodgers the lead.
After the Mariners tied the game in the bottom half of the tenth, the Dodgers absolutely dominated in the top half of the eleventh. Max Muncy singled in the go-ahead run on a chip-shot single and then the floodgates opened. Chris Taylor singled to score two and then Kiké Hernandez put the game out of reach with a two RBI single to make the score 6-1.
Joe Kelly came in with plenty of run support and closed out the game, clinching the division title.
The Dodgers are now 90-57 and have 15 games remaining in the regular season.
Here are my three takeaways:
The Veterans Stepped Up Big
Much was made about the signings of J.D. Martinez, Jason Heyward, David Peralta and the trade of Miguel Rojas. Plenty of the talk before the season was negative, questioning why the front office made these moves, how it would help the team, and why certain players were let go. It goes back to the point of chemistry.
All of the players mentioned have been in big spots in big cities throughout their career. Each and ever one of those players has contributed in major ways both on and off the field. When you bring in so many young faces and players with little major league experience, having guys like Heywad, Peralta, and Martinez are crucial to creating comfortability and confidence. This team would not be in this spot without the leadership that the veterans have showed.
The Dodgers Faced Adversity All Year
Before the season, many members across the media (including myself) had the San Diego Padres winning the division and becoming a World Series contender. What we all underestimated was the power of chemistry. While it may have seemed like the Dodgers had enough talent on paper, the injury bug struck and it struck hard.
Dustin May had season-ending surgery, Walker Buehler was rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery and got shut down for the year, Clayton Kershaw had a long IL stint late in the season, and many more in the bullpen. Heck, even Gavin Lux was hurt before the season even started and has not returned.
This team came together quickly through those hardships and proved that the “Next Man Up” mentality only works if you have trust and faith in the guy you are passing the baton to. Through all of the injuries and off the field issues with members of the team, the Dodgers prevailed to win another division title.
Trade Deadline Moves Fit In
I was the first to mention how much I disliked the moves that the Dodgers made at the deadline in August. I did not believe that bringing in more reclamation projects would be the answer to winning the division and becoming a contender. Although most of the players acquired have struggled at some point, as a whole they have been excellent supplemental pieces to an already good team. Getting someone with postseason experience in Lance Lynn was crucial to add to the staff, familiar faces Kiké Hernandez and Joe Kelly have boosted morale, and newcomers Amed Rosario, Ryan Yarbrough and Kolten Wong have performed in their role. Having a roster filled with guys that are hungry and playing in their specific role is going to be important in October.
The Dodgers will use a bullpen day to face Logan Gilbert for the Mariners. First pitch is set for 1:10 PM PST Sunday.