They’ve got a 20-game lead in their division. They’ve clinched a playoff spot. They’re most likely going to have home-field advantage for as long as they’re in the postseason. They’re 10 wins away from the most wins in franchise history (which would top last year’s record). We haven’t seen a team this good in a long, long time.
And it’s not going to mean a thing if they don’t win the World Series.
I know I’m not supposed to say that. I know I’m supposed to be all “Appreciate how fantastic this team is!” and “The postseason is random and anything can happen!” and “The Dodgers don’t need a title for us to recognize how incredible they are!” But, for better or worse, the baseball world is now one that values postseason success over regular season success. And as far as postseason success goes… well, that’s why the Dodgers are an NL West dynasty rather than an MLB one. The Dodgers could win 119 games this year — they could have won 162 — and if they don’t win the World Series, they’re going to be viewed the same way as those 1990s and early 2000s Braves teams. I’m not saying it’s fair. I’m just saying it’s true.
For what it’s worth, there are far worse insults to hurl at a team than saying they’re like the 1990s Braves: Those teams were fantastic, very much so, winning 14 straight NL East titles (14 straight!) and a World Series in 1995. The Dodgers haven’t even done that much yet, all told; they won eight straight NL West titles before finishing second last year (despite winning 106 games), and they reached just as many World Series, three, and won as many as those Braves teams did. But admit it: When I said “1990s Braves,” you knew exactly what I was talking about. I was talking about postseason disappointment. Those Braves had 14 consecutive opportunities to win a World Series but only took advantage of one of them. That is, fair or not, how they’ll be remembered.
And the Dodgers are now in Year 10 of a similar streak — they did reach the NLCS in the year they finished second in their division, remember — and they have just as many World Series titles to their name. You could make an argument that their World Series title resonates even less than the Braves’ first-season-after-the-strike title does.
The one Dodgers World Series championship was during the shortened 2020 season, won at a neutral site in the form of Globe Life Stadium. I do believe that title should absolutely count — everybody had a chance to win the World Series that year, and only the Dodgers did — and I’m sympathetic to arguments that it was in fact harder to win the Series that year, considering the small-sample-size season and the extra round of playoffs. But I also think it’s fair to say that the general public doesn’t feel that way about the 2020 World Series.
The last decade of Dodgers postseasons has been a succession of heartbreakers. Crushing losses to the Cardinals in 2013 and ’14. A brutal Game 5 loss to Jacob deGrom and the Mets in the NLDS in ’15. Falling short against the doomed Cubs in ’16. That ’17 World Series loss to the Astros, one of the greatest World Series of all time, but one that’s still marred by the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, which may or may not have contributed to Houston’s championship. (Speaking of teams that the narrative doesn’t do any favors for.)
It’s actually remarkable that there have been six consecutive postseasons in which the Dodgers have either won the World Series (2020) or lost to the team that did (Braves 2021, Nationals 2019, Red Sox 2018, Astros 2017 and Cubs 2016).
Those are a lot of teams making history on the backs of the Dodgers, which also contributes to that idea that the team is a regular season darling but a perpetual postseason also-ran. It also doesn’t help that the Giants, their hated rivals, have two more titles than LA this century despite being wildly inconsistent in their regular season success. All told, who would you rather be: The team that is fantastic every year but keeps falling short in the postseason, or the team that only makes the postseason every few years but wins the World Series a high percentage of the time … or at least two more times than their rivals?
This is all wildly unfair, of course. There isn’t a team in baseball who isn’t envious of the Dodgers. I am not trying to take away from any of the Dodgers’ myriad accomplishments here. And they absolutely should be considered the favorites heading into the postseason. But are they the favorites against the field? I think they are not. This is not the first time they’ve been favorites heading into the postseason, and they have fallen short before.
This Dodgers team is one of the best baseball teams I can remember watching. Then again, the 2021 Dodgers were too. And I remember the ’21 Braves — you know, the team that won the World Series — a lot more than I remember the ’21 Dodgers. Unless they win a World Series, the ’22 Dodgers, no matter how many games they win, will suffer the same fate. It’s not fair. But whoever said baseball was fair?