The National League West once again belongs to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers put the finishing touches on their fifth straight division title with a 4-2 victory against the San Francisco Giants on Friday. Remarkable rookie Cody Bellinger fittingly delivered one of the key hits, connecting for NL-rookie record 39th home run of the season. While on the hill, it was Rich Hill spinning another gem.
The clinch didn’t come nearly as early as we anticipated, but the timing still worked out pretty well. The Dodgers were able to clinch on the 90th birthday of legendary manager Tommy Lasorda, giving them two great reasons to celebrate.
Los Angeles gained separation from the division and even threatened to challenge history thanks to their sizzling 69-18 stretch that covered most of the summer. A recent 1-16 slump emphatically halted any chance to match or surpass the Mariners record 116-win campaign in 2001, but it only served to delay the inevitable in the division race.
The Dodgers became the fourth team to clinch their division this season, joining the Nationals, Indians and Astros. Only the AL East and NL Central remain undecided. Los Angeles secured its postseason berth on Sept. 12 and is still positioned to lock up home field advantage throughout the entire postseason.
Of course, the Dodgers success will be measured exclusively by their performance in the postseason. That’s the reality for any team, but it’s especially true when a team builds a perennial contender that continuously falls short of the goal. Just ask the Braves of the 90s and early 2000s how that goes. Despite winning 14 division titles in 15 years, the Braves managed only one World Series championship during that stretch.
The Dodgers have made eight postseason appearances dating back to 2004, getting as far as the NLCS four times. That’s not good enough for this franchise. No one involved will be satisfied with anything less than the franchise’s first World Series championship since 1988.
The good news is this Dodgers squad is much deeper than any of those recent contenders. Manager Dave Roberts can back up Clayton Kershaw with another ace in Yu Darvish, who despite his recent struggles is still capable of dominating an opponent. Then there’s 15-game winner Alex Wood and Friday’s winner Rich Hill. Roberts also has several options to bridge the gap from starter to all-world closer Kenley Jansen, and a versatile lineup that boasts six 20-homer hitters.
It’s a team built to withstand the rigors of the entire baseball season, from March through October, after injuries besieged the roster in the 2016. The added depth helped them overcome injuries this season and the unexpected boosts provided by Bellinger and breakout utility man Chris Taylor have really solidified the roster.
Those are all good things. But everyone knows the postseason is an entirely different ballgame. It’s not often about depth or who dominated the regular season. It’s about which team plays the best baseball when it matters the most, and that’s something that the Dodgers will have to do to make this a truly successful season.
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