Los Angeles Dodgers: 2018 is starting to feel like 2016

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 06: Yasiel Puig #66 of the Los Angeles Dodgers licks his bat after hitting a foul ball during the eighth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on June 6, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 06: Yasiel Puig #66 of the Los Angeles Dodgers licks his bat after hitting a foul ball during the eighth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on June 6, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

The Los Angeles Dodgers, despite every roadblock thrown in the team’s way, have somehow clawed back to .500 with an even 31-31 record.

2018 has been such a weird year for the Los Angeles Dodgers. An early World Series hangover, mixed with some key bats being out, lead to the Dodgers have one of the worst starts in all of baseball.

That bad start hit its worst point when the team was swept by the Cinncinati Reds, at home nonetheless, as well as dropping two straight to the Miami Marlins. The Dodgers lost six consecutive games against two of the worst teams in the National League and were 16-26.

However, that low point also proved to be the Dodgers’ reflection point on the season.

Justin Turner returned to the lineup and had a huge five RBI game to put the Dodgers in the win column in the final game of the Miami Marlins series. Before we knew it, Matt Kemp got exceptionally hot and the Dodgers have won five of their last six series. The lone exception was a four-game series split against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Los Angeles is 15-5 in the last 20 games and is sitting just one and a half games out of first place in the NL West.

Because of this you would think that the Dodgers were finally healthy and were being led by the ace himself, Clayton Kershaw. Except that is not the case, in fact, the Dodgers are making it work with a quirky pitching rotation and a situational offense that is heating up.

Four of the Dodgers’ five starting pitchers are currently on the DL. The only one left standing is Alex Wood. Replacing Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda have been Ross Stripling, Walker Buehler, Dennis Santana, Caleb Ferguson, Brock Stewart and the bullpen.

The team’s best hitter, Corey Seager, is still going to miss the rest of the season due to Tommy John surgery. Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor look nothing like they did in 2017 (although Bellinger has hit three home runs in his last three games). The once lights out bullpen is now filled with new faces that have given the Dodgers a mixed bag of results.

Yet still, the team is scratching their way back to relevancy. Slowly trying to put a bad start, that was a bit unfair, to begin with, in the rear-view mirror. The Dodgers are at a point in the season in which the roster is at its worst state.

Instead of crumbling and chalking the season up to a lost year, bats such as Joc Pederson and Max Muncy are making an impact. Breyvic Valera, who had one MLB hit entering the season, is hitting .333 in the month of June. This team won’t quit.

And that is why this year feels so similar to 2016. It was Dave Roberts‘ first year as a manager. Roberts was greeted in the worst way possible as the Dodgers set the MLB record by sending 28 players to the disabled list over the course of a season. That is an entire MLB roster and then three more.

The 2016 Los Angeles Dodgers finished with a 91-71 record and Dave Roberts won NL Manager of the Year. And while they were slightly better than 2018’s version, through 62 games in 2016 the Dodgers were 33-29.

Much like 2018, that year saw players step up like never before. Rookie Corey Seager carried the load offensively and finished as an MVP finalist. Walker Buehler could finish as a Cy Young finalist.

Justin Turner set a career-high in home runs, RBIs, doubles, hits, runs and games played in that season. All of those highs remain intact.

Veteran Adrian Gonzalez was the main run producer and was the most consistent guy, playing in 156 games. He was not quite 2018 Kemp, but he is the same reliable, veteran bat at the middle of the order than an inexperienced team desperately needed.

Trayce Thompson had some big hits and some walk-offs, rookie pitcher Kenta Maeda had to take over the load and led the team in innings pitched. Ross Stripling had to toss a near no-hitter in his MLB debut. Young phenom Julio Urias got an early call-up and had a 3.39 ERA at 19 years old

I thought I was doing pretty good for being 19.

Failed starter Joe Blanton became the Dodgers’ best bullpen arm. Deadline acquisitions Rich Hill and Josh Reddick played a role down the stretch. Kenley Jansen established himself as the best closer in baseball.

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In many ways, 2016 served as a gatekeeping year into a new generation of the Dodgers. It was the last hoorah for the money bought super team that led the team to the 2013, 2014 and 2015 division crown.

After struggling immensely with injuries and having the new faces claw the team back to the playoffs, it was clear what the direction of the franchise was going.

Perhaps 2018 is the same transition year. Perhaps Clayton Kershaw is no longer the ace in the rotation, maybe it is Walker Buehler. Perhaps guys like Joc Pederson and Matt Kemp reinvented their swings for a second chance.

Even with a battered roster and some key guys struggling, this year is proving that the farm system the Dodgers’ built can carry this team for years.

This is why MLB teams rarely make long postseason runs, each team goes through a two or three-year window before finding a new identity. That new identity often leads to a mixed bag of results.

However, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been able to consistently reinvent themselves on a yearly basis not only to stay relevant but to continue to be successful.

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2018 may not be the magic-filled year that many wanted after such a year in 2017. And that is fine because if 2016 taught us anything, the Los Angeles Dodgers will be just fine.