Gonzales: The Dodgers are doing something the Cubs couldn't after 2017. Develop talent and win.

  • Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta leaves in the seventh inning of Game 4 of the 2017 National League Championship Series in the Cubs' win over the Dodgers at Wrigley Field.

    Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta leaves in the seventh inning of Game 4 of the 2017 National League Championship Series in the Cubs' win over the Dodgers at Wrigley Field. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Fans get in the spirit after the Cubs' Game 4 victory in the NLCS Oct. 18, 2017 at Wrigley Field.

    Fans get in the spirit after the Cubs' Game 4 victory in the NLCS Oct. 18, 2017 at Wrigley Field. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 5/5/2022 1:07 PM

After the Dodgers evened the score by winning the 2017 National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field, the Cubs made a series of eye-opening coaching and personnel changes.

But the Dodgers already embarked on the daunting task of winning and developing talent at the same time. The proof is in their three NL West titles, two league titles, a 2020 World Series title, and the nucleus to contend for a 2022 Series title.

 

During that same time, the Cubs have mustered only one NL Central title and haven't won a playoff game since Jake Arrieta threw a crafty 6⅔ innings to stave off a sweep by the Dodgers in Game 4 in 2017. Mainstays Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant were traded in a 24-hour span last July. The Brewers and Cardinals have passed them in NL Central supremacy.

The gulf in talent between the two teams since that series is alarming, and it will be evident this weekend when the Dodgers visit Wrigley for a three-game series.

The Cubs will face three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw -- who pitched the clinching game at Wrigley in 2017 -- and two-time NL All-Star Walker Buehler, who hasn't allowed a run in 14 consecutive innings. Both are homegrown talents, as is Julio Urias.

The Cubs' lack of developing homegrown starting pitching depth has been exploited, especially after relying heavily on the free agent market in recent years. Compounding the problem has been free agent misses, such as Tyler Chatwood and injury-plagued Brandon Morrow.

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The Dodgers have made their share of free agent mistakes, most notably pitchers Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson and Trevor Bauer.

However, those pricey miscalculations haven't slowed the Guggenheim Baseball Management that bought the franchise in 2012. They acquired Red Sox star outfielder Mookie Betts with one year left on his contract and promptly re-signed him to a 12-year, $365 million contact during the 2020 pandemic.

The Dodgers had the prospect surplus to trade outfielder Alex Verdugo, infielder Jeter Downs and catcher Connor Wong. Ownership possessed robust capital to afford Betts as well as half the balance on left-hander David Price's contract (about $32 million in 2021-22).

The baseball operations department also wasn't afraid of reliever Brusdar Graterel's medical history that prevented him from going from the Twins to the Red Sox as part of a three-way trade involving Betts. The Dodgers simply struck a deal with the Twins for Graterol, who has been unscored upon in 17 of 18 postseason appearances.

They're rolling the dice with Tommy Kahnle, who underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2020 with the Yankees. Kahnle recently returned Sunday in the second year of a two-year, $5.25 million contract and hasn't allowed a run in two games.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Cubs made similar attempts in 2018 and 2019 by signing Drew Smyly and Kendall Graveman to one-year deals with team options while recovering from elbow surgeries. But neither pitched for them.

The Dodgers' biggest advantage over the Cubs has been their ability to play the long game. While the Cubs waited until the very end before trading Rizzo, Baez and Bryant last July, the Dodgers already were a step ahead. Catcher Keibert Ruiz, an international signee, was the centerpiece of a six-player trade with the Nationals that landed them Max Scherzer (for the 2021 playoff run) and Trea Turner, who took over at shortstop this spring after 2020 NLCS and World Series most valuable player Corey Seager left via free agency for the Rangers.

In 2016, they acquired fringy prospect Chris Taylor from the Mariners for former No. 1 pick Zach Lee. Taylor instantly carved a niche as a super utility player, shared 2017 NLCS MVP honors with Justin Turner and earned a four-year, $60 million contract last winter.

Throughout Dodger Stadium, members of the analytics department are crunching numbers on teams -- even in the former visitor's clubhouse.

One of their greatest acquisitions was Max Muncy, who was discarded by the Athletics prior to the 2017 season. Muncy has produced 121 home runs with an .879 OPS in 502 games with the Dodgers.

The biggest fear for NL opponents is that the Dodgers are destined to get stronger this season. They could save up to $60 million as the result of a two-year suspension for the recalcitrant Bauer, pending an appeal.

That could allow them to fortify their bullpen for the playoff drive or earmark the money toward re-signing Turner after this season.

Or they could wait for the return of hard-throwing Dustin May, who could return in a relief role later this season after missing all of 2021 due to Tommy John surgery.

May, 24, was drafted behind Gavin Lux and Will Smith in the 2016 draft -- another reminder the Dodgers' long game was in place before the Cubs won their last Series title.

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