From Bellinger to Betts: how the Dodgers broke out of their World Series blues

“High fly ball into right field. She is … gone!” baseball commentator Vin Scully said, tracing the trajectory of Kirk Gibson’s 1988 game-winning home run.

17 years after the Dodger’s famous World Series win, the franchise finished the 2005 season with a 71-91 record, placing last in the National League (NL) West. That year, a flurry of injuries culminated in the Dodgers’ second-worst record in team history. Manager Jim Tracy and General Manager John DePodesta were both fired and the team was torn down. The team needed to start from scratch. The next season, they managed to improve to a respectable 88-74, getting swept in the NL Wild Card game. They acquired players like Andre Eithier and Matt Kemp to upgrade the team, but by far the best acquisition the Dodgers got was Clayton Kerhsaw, a promising high school pitcher from Texas. Little did they know at that moment that they would piece a team over the next 15 years that would lead them from regular season misery to MLB champions at the end of that period.

In the 2011 to 2015 seasons, there was visible change in the team. In those years, the Dodgers drafted Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, and Walker Buehler, all players with sky-high potential. The Dodgers were slick with some deals, getting Kike Hernandez in free agency and the ever reliable Justin Turner from the Mets. On top of their new signings, Kershaw evolved into the best pitcher in the league, leading the league in Earned Run Average (ERA) for four seasons and winning three Cy Young Awards.

Despite all the raw talent that the Dodgers brought in, they remained heavily reliant on more established players. After all, they were playoff regulars, winning the NL West every year since 2013. Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, and Dee Gordon were still the stars on the Dodgers roster. Taking a riskier route, the Dodgers took their vision of the future a step further in 2015 by getting rid of players to make room for the youngsters. Gordon, Ramirez, and Kemp all left before the season and the Dodgers made it to the NL Division Series only to lose 2-3 to the New York Mets.

Seager and Bellinger had breakout seasons, winning 2016 and 2017 NL Rookie of Year respectively. For the team as a whole, their biggest test was the 2016 NL Championship Series, where they had to face the Chicago Cubs. Off the heels of a league best 103-58 record, the Cubs had a star studded lineup and were on a mission to break their 108 year World Series drought. All the young Dodgers had to do was hold their ground and fight as long as they could. They managed to start off the series tied at two apiece, before letting the series slip out of their fingers and losing in six games. Despite the final result, everyone knew that there was something special brewing in the Dodgers. They had youth, but more importantly, they had heart.

People were right about this promising Dodgers team. The Dodgers finished with a 104-58 record in 2017 and made it to the World Series in the same year and 2018. Unfortunately, the Dodgers came out empty handed, leaving the city of Los Angeles on its knees at the last hurdle both seasons. The situation only worsened in 2019, where the Dodgers were eliminated in the NLDS to the Washington Nationals 2-3 after finishing the regular season with a 106-56 record.

The Dodgers had some introspection to do: was their young core enough to bring the championship home? It certainly made them among the best in the league, but when push came to shove, they failed to find a way to come out on top, especially in the World Series.

That’s when the Dodgers made perhaps the most important trade for the franchise in the last decade. The Red Sox were willing to trade one of the best hitters in the league: Mookie Betts. Betts, who managed to win MVP, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, batting title, and World Series all in 2018, was now a Dodger, after the Red Sox got 3 players in return. This trade, which was an absolute steal in retrospect, helped add even more firepower to the already brilliant Dodgers batting lineup.

With an even stronger hitting lineup, the Dodgers finished the regular season with a league best 43-17 and eventually made it to the 2020 World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Dodgers crumbled the last two times they made it to this stage, but unlike those years, the team was more experienced and they knew the pressures that lay ahead of them.

After strong pitching performances, being able to bounce back from defeats, and some clutch hits and home runs by Betts, the Dodgers finally won the World Series in 2020, finishing the series 4-2. Their dreams of glory were now a reality.

The Dodgers didn’t build a World Series winning team purely out of the farm system, neither was it purely out of trades. The leadership of the franchise struck the perfect balance, where the team was primarily filled with young players that can tear the league apart for another decade along with experienced players that gave immediate results, such as Mookie Betts. Through this intelligent approach of team-building, the 32-year wait for the elusive World Series championship was over and baseball fans all over Los Angeles can celebrate, knowing that Dodger blue is on top of the world.