Was there any doubt the Los Angeles Dodgers were going to win the NL West?
The Dodgers became the first team to clinch a playoff spot on Monday, and celebrated their ninth National League West division title in the last 10 years on Tuesday after dispatching of the Arizona Diamondbacks 4-0 at Chase Field.
For the Boys in Blue, this was more inevitable than Thanos securing the Infinity Stones, and more of a certainty than the dog that barks at cars as they race past.
In the hearts and minds of the 2022 Dodgers, this moment was set in stone when they took over sole possession of first place in the West on June 18. Since then, they’ve gone 59-19 and have never looked back.
The Dodgers matched the franchise record for wins last season with 106, but still lost the division to the rival San Francisco Giants by one measly game.
Players told NBC LA throughout the season that the one-game difference in the loss column ultimately came back to haunt them in 2021. The fact that they had to chase down the Giants during a grueling final month of the season, followed by an emotional one-game, winner-take all NL Wild Card matchup with the Cardinals, culminating in a five-game dogfight with the Giants in the NLDS, left their gas tanks on empty by the time they squared off the with the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS.
The Boys in Blue wanted to avoid a similar situation in 2022, so they set a goal to do what they do best: dominate any and all competition.
So as the champagne cascaded down the Dodgers’ goggled faces on Tuesday night, for many, it was simply business as usual. This is what the Dodgers do.
They’ve won their division nine out of the last 10 years. They’ve played in the NLCS five of the last six years, and the World Series three of the last five. This is not an amazing accomplishment in their eyes, but merely an expected next step step on their journey back to the Fall Classic.
The Dodgers are on pace to shatter their franchise record for wins, a record they’ve accomplished twice in two of the last three seasons, and were on pace to shatter in 2020 if not for the COVID-19 pandemic shortened 60-game season.
LA just needs to finish the season 9-12 to break their own record and 19-2 to break the all-time record. They will likely enter the postseason with the best record in baseball and home-field advantage throughout.
History suggests that having the best record in baseball, or setting the franchise record for wins does not automatically guarantee you a World Series win. There are over 50 examples of teams who finished with the best record in the league over the last century that did not go onto to lift the Commissioner’s Trophy.
The Dodgers themselves have failed in recent years. They owned the best record in baseball in 2017 and lost in seven games to the Houston Astros (who were eventually found out to be cheating). In 2019, they won 106 games, but blew a two-run lead in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the NLDS to the Washington Nationals and eventually fell in extra innings.
Last year’s team also won 106 games and held the second best record in baseball before falling to the 88-win Atlanta Braves in the NLCS in six games.
This year’s team could suffer the same fate. Preseason Cy Young favorite Walker Buehler was lost for the season after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery. Major bullpen pieces have been lost, and currently All-Star and Cy Young candidate Tony Gonsolin is on the Injured List and may not return in time for the postseason.
Yes, the Dodgers are a regular season winning machine, but the postseason is a whole other beast.
LA will likely meet either the New York Mets or the Atlanta Braves in a five-game NLDS or seven-game NLCS should they advance that far. In either of those series, they will face one of the most formidable starting rotations in recent memory.
The Braves took a commanding 3-1 NLCS lead inside “the Bubble” in 2021, before the grueling COVID-19 schedule of seven consecutive games caught up to them.
They once again went up 3-1 on the Dodgers last year, this time learning from their mistakes and closing out the series in six games at home.
That team has gotten even better since last season. Their vaunted starting rotation includes familiar faces in Max Fried and Charlie Morton, but have the likely NL Rookie of the Year Winner in Spencer Strider, current 17-game winner Kyle Wright, and former Rays’ standout Jake Odorizzi. Not to mention a healthy Ronald Acuña Jr. and former Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen. Atlanta are the reigning champs for a reason and will be a tough-out for any team.
Meanwhile, the New York Mets feature the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball with Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer. If the Dodgers were to see them twice in a series, it could spell disaster.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, have relied mostly on journeymen pitchers who have turned their careers around in Dodger Blue. Tyler Anderson was named an All-Star, he’s won 15 games, and his having a career-year. Andrew Heaney has also seen a resurgence and will taste the postseason for the first time in his career. Clayton Kershaw is in his 15th season and has been on and off the IL all year. Julio Urias has emerged as the Dodgers’ ace and is storming into the Cy Young conversation following a dominant second half. Is this starting rotation strong enough to win a World Series?
Thankfully, we don’t the need answer to that question now. Thanks to the Dodgers clinching so early, they will have plenty of time to figure all these things out as they await their opponent in the NLDS on Tuesday, October 11.
Until then, it’s time to pop the champagne, chug a beer, and tip your cap to the Dodgers decade-long dominance. Because winning like this is not guaranteed, and you’ll never know if you may ever see it again.