Column: It’s OK to celebrate Dodgers’ latest accomplishment, even if it is only September
The last time the Dodgers failed to win a National League West championship, the opening-day owner was Frank McCourt.
The last time the Dodgers didn’t paint a clubhouse with champagne in September, the opening-day infield was James Loney, Mark Ellis, Dee Gordon and Juan Uribe.
The last time the Dodgers finished in second place, the opening-day winning pitcher was Josh Lindblom and the save was recorded by Javy Guerra.
The season was 2012. The Dodgers finished eight games behind the San Francisco Giants. It was a baseball lifetime ago.
Since then, in one of the most amazing streaks in the history of Los Angeles sports, the winning started and never has stopped.
The Dodgers did it again Tuesday night, this time in Baltimore, pouring it on the Orioles in a 7-3 victory then soaking each other in a mad celebration upon clinching their seventh consecutive NL West championship.
Gavin Lux hit his first career homer in the Dodgers’ 7-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles and the team clinched its seventh consecutive NL West title.
Think about that. Put aside October for one second, check out the seven fingers held up by the players during the postgame photo, and think about it.
That’s seven consecutive seasons of grueling 162-game races — 163 games last year — in which the Dodgers lunged over the finish line first. That’s seven consecutive years of domination over four major league teams, including their oldest rival in San Francisco and their peskiest rival in Arizona.
This space has railed endlessly about the Dodgers’ necessity to follow up one of these championships with their first World Series title since 1988. Their legacy will be indeed defined by those final games. These journeys will never truly be considered of value until one of them ends in the ultimate destination. Everyone in that clubhouse knows it. An entire city feels it.
But, for once, maybe it’s worth pausing a moment to reflect on seven years of regular-season accomplishments that have filled Los Angeles summers with the most sustained drama and delirium in team history.
Wow. Just wow.
The Dodgers become only the third team to win seven or more consecutive division titles. Only the Atlanta Braves from 1991 to 2005 and New York Yankees from 1998 to 2006 have won more.
Those Yankees clubs won three World Series championships and are remembered as one of the greatest teams ever. The Braves won only once and are considered historic underachievers, such is the importance of that final hurdle.
The Dodgers understand that but, for one mid-September moment in Baltimore, they still had much to celebrate.
Dave Roberts, who took over the Dodgers in 2016, becomes the first manager to lead his team to division titles in his first four seasons as a big league manager.
Andrew Friedman, the baseball boss who built upon the strong foundation laid by Ned Colletti, is a neat five for five in division championships since coming to Los Angeles from the Tampa Bay Rays.
Then there’s Guggenheim Baseball Management, the owners who officially took over from McCourt in May 2012. Every full season under their watch has resulted in a division championship. This still doesn’t absolve them from the stain of the ongoing television debacle, one that prevented thousands of Angelenos from watching the clinching win Tuesday. But their record on the field and in the Dodger Stadium renovations has been impressive.
Finally, of course, there’s the three players who have been on all seven title teams, players who will still have major impact this October: Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Despite their recent struggles, the club has bounced on the shoulders of all three.
It has been a sustained group effort from all levels of the organization, resulting in seven years of so much fun, the Dodgers have led baseball in attendance during each year of the streak. They are on a pace to set a Dodger Stadium attendance record for a second consecutive year by selling nearly 4 million tickets.
“The amount of work that goes into this, from so many different people coming together, makes it extremely rewarding,” said Friedman in a phone interview from Baltimore. “We all know there is a lot of work left to do, but we don’t take these accomplishments for granted. The frequency with which we’ve been able to do this speaks volumes about our organization.”
Those accomplishments perhaps have never spoken louder than this season, one that many fans consider the most fun of the seven. There were bunches of home runs, a dozen walk-off victories, a handful of shiny rookies, and summer-long basking in the sounds of “Hotel California” and the swings of Cody Bellinger.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said rookie outfielder Alex Verdugo’s lack of progress from his back injury prompted the return of utility man Edwin Rios.
Rarely has a regular season been so powerful. The offense began the year with a major league-record eight home runs on opening day and never slowed. Yet, rarely has a regular season been so quaint, with rookies Alex Verdugo, Will Smith, Matt Beaty, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May, Gavin Lux and Kyle Garlick showing up with infectious smiles and huge moments.
There was the usual starry starting pitching, this time from Ryu, who seemed unhittable until he hit that recent wall. There was the usual bullpen fretting, with Joe Kelly’s early struggles and Jansen’s late loss of steam causing much worry even as the Dodgers kept winning.
That’s the thing. They keep winning. Every player seemingly plays every position, every pitcher fills almost any role, the kids constantly rotate from the minors to the injured list to the lineup, nobody is a star, everyone is a star, and they keep winning.
“The group dynamics are probably the best I’ve ever been around,” Friedman said. “The number of fingerprints on this team’s success is extremely rewarding, a bunch of different departments firing on all cylinders has allowed this to come together.”
The most visible successful department has been the clubhouse, which, under the leadership of Kershaw and Justin Turner, has never been more businesslike and focused. There was no World Series hangover like last season, none of the constant distractions of previous seasons, everyone seemingly realizing this World Series mission is bigger than themselves.
When is the last time you’ve read about a player conflict? On such a successful team in such a giant market, there should be controversy, right? Where is the controversy?
“One of our greatest organizational accomplishments in the last five years is what has taken place in our culture,” Friedman said. “There are no surprises, guys understand how things are done and why, we have a very open environment where guys ask questions, offer opinions, collectively we make decisions, people respect each other ... this plays no small part in the success we have had.”
Before Tuesday, my favorite Dodgers moment this season wasby rookies Beaty, Verdugo and Smith.
But then Roberts topped that Tuesday night in the Baltimore visiting clubhouse when he asked his champagne-bottle-clutching team to delay the postgame celebration until somebody could face-time injured Verdugo and Max Muncy. Only when they appeared on raised smartphones was the champagne popped, at which point it was sprayed all over their video faces.
“No man left behind,” Roberts screamed, and that is how you win seven titles in a row.
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