The Champagne popped. The fans danced. The Dodgers ran around and sprayed the bubbly all over each other as Tommy Lasorda looked on with pride. Dodger stadium shook and the fireworks exploded in the Chavez Ravine fall sky. The Dodgers had finally done it. They had clinched the National League west division title. They did it in style too, beating their arch rival the San Francisco Giants by a 4-2 score. Southpaw Rich Hill dominated tossing six innings of one-run ball and striking out nine. Mega rookie Cody Bellinger provided the big blow with a three-run home run in the fourth inning, his 39th of the season breaking the National League rookie home run record. All was well with the world.
As the Dodgers celebrated deep into the night and Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig and the rest of the Dodgers shook their asses inside a drenched clubhouse, we look ahead to the real test. The postseason lies ahead with only eight games remaining in the regular season and the Dodgers had best be ready for the fight that is before them.
This year’s celebration seemed a bit subdued to be honest. I wasn’t as jubilant as I had been in previous seasons. Not that I wasn’t happy. Don’t get me wrong here, division titles are always fun and wonderful to recognize. But I like many Dodger fans know that we have been here before. The Dodgers know it too. This is the Dodger’s fifth consecutive NL West title. They’ve dominated the division since 2013, but have yet to win a World Series championship or even make a World Series appearance during that stretch. They’ve come close, but that’s all.
I think this is the Dodger’s best team during this five year run. The talent is deep on this club and Dave Roberts is such a good manager. No other Dodger club is more equipped than ever before. Yet the Dodgers are still coming off one of the worst stretches of baseball we have ever seen. They had lost 20 of their last 25 and have gone 7-20 in their last 27 games. This is the same club that has won 98 games and had three different winning streaks of 10 or more games. This is also the same team that lost 11 consecutive games and were almost swept by the woeful Phillies.
The Dodgers are still the best team in baseball. With a 98-56 record they hold that spot with a 2 game advantage over the Cleveland Indians for home field advantage and a 5.5 game lead over the Nationals for home field advantage in the National League playoffs. There is still something to play for with home field advantage yet to be decided.
The Dodgers came so close last year after losing to the Cubs in the NLCS. Those same stupid Cubs will undoubtedly be back this postseason albeit with a lesser record and lower seed. The defending champions will be just as tough to beat as the Nationals or Snakes.
When a club goes through a long World Series drought as the Dodgers have done it creates a very weird narrative amongst the fans. It’s like a black pall that hangs over the team and their fans. Picture a dark raincloud if you will that constantly urinates failure. So what happens is that it becomes a mental thing. Fans start to expect the team to lose in the playoffs and then when it does we all just nod our heads throw up our hands and say “see! I told you they would choke!” “They always choke”!
Something like that is so hard to overcome because it permeates the players, the team, and the organization. There is nothing worse for any professional team then an extended championship drought. It’s hard to beat. Just ask the Cubs. They had a 108 year drought to get over and an entire century of mythology to get past. It wasn’t easy for them and it won’t be any easier for the Dodgers.
The Dodgers will have to take a page right out of the 1988 team’s playbook. Just ask Tommy Lasorda. You have to have focus on every pitch. Every inning becomes a chess-match. Every play is a battle. You can’t let up even for an instant. One mistake could cost the season. Ask Orel Hershiser, he knows.
So while the Dodgers throw out their day-after clinch post celebration lineup that should see O’koyea Dickson batting third, Rob Segedin batting lead-off and last year’s hero Charlie Culberson batting clean-up just remember one thing.
Temper your expectations. Celebrate, party and praise the Dodgers for being an excellent team this year, which they no doubt are. However just remember that we’ve been here before. We need 11 more wins and three more celebrations. That last celebration will be the one to really let loose. Congratulations Dodgers! Now it’s time to get to work.