Column: It’s a World Series championship or bust for the Dodgers


There has been champagne, cases and cases of champagne, so much champagne that for an entire month, the tunnels underneath Dodger Stadium reek.

There have been celebrations, countless celebrations, from swimming pools in Arizona to a diamond in San Francisco, so many celebrations that players no longer race into a dog pile, they jog into a hug.

There have been moments, memorable moments, Justin Turner spreading his arms, Clayton Kershaw fighting his tears, Yasiel Puig wagging his tongue, enough moments to fill a scoreboard video that will chill.


For the last five Octobers, the Dodgers have experienced every sort of postseason joy except for the one they covet most.

There have been zero wins on the final day of the season, with awful losses in St. Louis and Chicago and Chavez Ravine.

There have been zero trophy celebrations in the middle of the field at the end of the October, terrible endings turning clubhouses into bitter silence and winters into cold regret.

There have been zero ultimate victories, and it has been 30 years now, and enough is enough.

As the Dodgers enter the playoffs after a sixth consecutive National League West Division championship, their mandate is stronger and more clear than at any time in Los Angeles franchise history.

It’s a World Series championship or bust.

While last season it was enough to reach the World Series, this time, for the sake of their fans and their legacy, they have to win it.


They can’t finish one game short again, not with all this talent, not with all this money, and not with baseball’s savviest front office putting it all together.

Another abbreviated run and the six-year stretch will not be remembered with the greatness it deserves, but with the frustration it has inspired.

They will begin this postseason with the same high hopes of every postseason, favored to extend their journey deep into the month, but this time, it won’t be enough to just get there. This time, they have to finish it.

After a regular season in which they set a Dodger Stadium attendance record, they owe it to their city.

Considering some of their biggest stars are aging or wearing down or potentially leaving, they owe it to themselves.

With Kirk Gibson turning 61 this summer, they also owe it to their history.

I mean, c’mon, 30 years? Really?

”You know our goal,” manager Dave Roberts said while clutching another one of those champagne bottles earlier this week. “When you wear this uniform, the only goal you have is to win a championship, and that hasn’t changed.”


These Dodgers know it. You can tell. They know the opportunity is fleeting. They know their time must be now.

When they clinched a playoff spot last weekend in San Francisco, they calmly shook hands on the field and didn’t celebrate until they reached their clubhouse.

When they won the division title after a playoff victory against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on Monday, it was more of the same subdued field display before they partied at their lockers.

Manny Machado, right, and Matt Kemp enjoy the moment after the Dodgers beat the Rockies on Monday to win the National League West title.
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)

“We’ve been here before, we know what this is,” closer Kenley Jansen said. “This is just a first step.”

Even after watching his creation win a fourth consecutive title in the four years of his regime, baseball operations president Andrew Friedman tempered his Monday celebration with a mission statement.


“Today we’re able to accomplish our regular-season goal, and it puts us in position to accomplish our ultimate goal, which is to bring a world championship back to these fans,” he said.

The upstart Atlanta Braves are directly in their path. The powerful Milwaukee Brewers are down the road. And nobody in their right mind would favor the Dodgers in a World Series against the likes of American League powerhouses Boston Red Sox or Houston Astros.

The journey is going to be tough. But the destination cannot be compromised.

Their roster is deep, the attitude is right, and, after winning each of their final four must-win games by a total of 33-9, they are playing their best baseball at the right time.

“Yeah,” Matt Kemp said. “We know what time it is.”

It’s time to get it done, because their chance may not be this good again.

The starting rotation is loaded, but among its first four starters, future Hall of Famer Kershaw can opt out of his contract and leave town, while next season Rich Hill will be 39.

The bullpen finished the season strong, Kenta Maeda has emerged as a reliable eighth-inning guy, and Jansen remains one of the game’s top closers, but there’s also a hitch. For the first time, Jansen is showing signs of wear after being used in constant tough situations, sometimes for more than three outs, for six consecutive years. When Jansen gave up two homers to the Rockies in the ninth inning Monday, the Dodgers were reminded of his increasing vulnerability.

The Dodgers’ lineup is also formidable, and so deep that they actually have two lineups, one against left-handers, one against right-handers, with only Turner and Manny Machado regularly appearing in both.


But, as with the pitching, it is a lineup that might never have a better chance to make a bigger impact.

Turner will soon be 34, and injuries have prevented him from playing a full season in a couple of years. Machado is a potential free agent who might not return. Another potential free agent is catcher Yasmani Grandal. And outfielder Yasiel Puig, entering the final year of his contract, is once again expected to be the target of winter trade talks.

These Dodgers are at once potentially great and reasonably tenuous. They need to finish the job now while they still have the chance. And, again, they know it.

“The best compliment I can pay this group is that this is not something they take for granted,” Friedman said of the postseason. “The work ethic they show, the grind we’ve put in, that shows the grit and character of this group.”

You don’t go from 16-26 to a division title unless you have a winning clubhouse culture, and the Dodgers certainly do. A hitter will blast two home runs in one game, get benched the next day, and never say a word. A reliever will be used in three different situations in three consecutive days and never make a peep.

”It’s a lot of guys being unselfish,” Kershaw said. “It took a little bit of fortune and a lot of guys who started to play, really well.”


In coming weeks, the Dodgers will need fortune and skill and all of that to fashion a new history out of old nightmares.

The infield will need to cover third base. Kershaw will need to hold a four-run lead. Jansen will need to close every game. Roberts will need to pull pitchers before it’s too late. Yu Darvish will have to … oh wait, whew.

“We know where we’re at,” Jansen said. “At this point, you grab it, and you play it like it’s your last.”

In the past, it was enough for the Dodgers to simply grab it.

This time, they need to grab all of it.

Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke