I remember growing up and assuming the worst would always happen with the Los Anegles Dodgers. Having been born just a month after the Dodgers’ last World Series, in the first 19 years of my life the team won just three National League West titles.
Over that same span, they won exactly one playoff game — and even that was after going down 2-0 in a best-of-five series. I’ll admit, however, that in recent years, things have changed.
Over the past 10 seasons, the Dodgers have made the playoffs more often than not (seven times) — having never even needed a Wild Card berth to do reach the postseason. As a result, expectations have changed.
In a weird turn of events, I’ve begun to expect — even assume — that good things will happen. For the past five seasons, the Dodgers have won 91-plus games and the NL West title every year.
Sure, they haven’t won the World Series since 1988, but they made their first World Series in 29 years last season and have advanced to the NL Championship Series two other times as well.
Which brings me to 2018 and the question that I keep hearing: Are the Dodgers going to win the NL West again this season? Honestly, it’s a more polite way of asking: Should we be panicking yet?
Heading into the season, only the Houston Astros had better odds of winning the World Series according to most sports books — and that was before the Dodgers traded for Brian Dozier and Manny Machado.
Of course, while there have been some positive surprises (Matt Kemp, Max Muncy, Ross Stripling), there have also been the disappointments as well: Chris Taylor, Cody Bellinger and Yasiel Puig, along with most of the bullpen.
Which brings us back to the question: With 29 games remaining this season, can the Dodgers put it all together and overcome the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks?
Heading into a four-game NL West showdown at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers are just one game behind Arizona and a half-game back Colorado. Of their remaining games, the Dodgers get six more against the Rockies and seven against the Diamondbacks.
So, let’s start with the reasons to believe in the Dodgers…
At the top of the list are Justin Turner, Machado and Muncy. Over the past 14 days, all three guys have taken a step forward, with 13 home runs between them.
In fact, over that stretch they’ve posted the following slash lines: .383/.473/.681 (Turner), .265/.315/.633 (Machado) and .318/.444/.864 (Muncy). Throw in the fact that Bellinger and Kemp aren’t too far behind them, and it appears as if the lineup might finally be hitting their stride.
On the mound, there have been similarly encouraging trends of late. Check out these numbers from the past thirty days: Clayton Kershaw has an ERA of 2.06 and a FIP of 2.27 (five starts), Walker Buehler has an ERA of 1.53 (five starts), Rich Hill has an ERA of 2.76 (five starts) and Hyun-Jin Ryu has an ERA of 2.30 with a 10.34 strikeouts per nine innings (three starts).
Top it all off with the fact that the Dodgers are in the midst of a scheduling stretch that features both divisional rivals and cellar dwelling teams from other divisions, and you’ll find that hope abounds.
And yet, if all that is true then why are the Dodgers still in third place in the division?
According to The Athletic, one reason could be that the Dodgers are one of the “least clutch” teams in recent history. Whether you believe ‘clutch’ is a real skill or not is up to you, but the fact remains that the Dodgers have consistently flopped in the season’s biggest moments.
Another reason is because the Dodgers simply haven’t dominated their own division this season. In 12 games against the Diamondbacks, they’re 4-8 and aside from the San Diego Padres, they’ve got losing records against two of their three divisional rivals (including the San Francisco Giants).
Or how about this: against the Miami Marlins and Cincinnati Reds — the last place teams in the NL East and NL Central — the Dodgers are 2-8.
Having said all that, I’m really not sure what matters and what doesn’t. As it stands, the Dodgers are by far the most talented team in the NL West (and maybe the league). And the only real question is whether they feel like performing as such.
Their rotation (Kershaw, Buehler, Hill, Ryu, Wood) is nasty. Their lineup (Taylor, Puig, Machado, Turner, Bellinger, Dozier, Grandal, Muncy) is even nastier. While it has struggled of late, the bullpen does have the pieces there — it’s just a matter of whether they can find a way to put them all together.
The answer to the question of whether or not this team will win the division, is simply ‘yes.’ And maybe that’s blind optimism or overflowing hope from years past, but maybe it’s not.
Maybe this is a Dodgers team that can turn it on when they need to, or that’s just getting right at the perfect moment. Maybe they know what it takes to make it to the cusp of a World Series, and they’re just beginning to fire up the engines.
We’re about to find out.