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Dodgers aren’t devaluing World Series title in coronavirus-shortened season

Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner gestures during practice at Dodger Stadium.
Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner says the coronavirus-shortened season hasn’t hampered the team’s ambitions to win the World Series.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

For three months, as Major League Baseball’s owners and the players’ union snapped public jabs at each other, an uncomfortable reality was again exposed. MLB, above all, is a business, the same as other major professional sports leagues. And before a 2020 season was staged, figuring out how to divide billions of dollars was a struggle even as a global pandemic worsened the optics. Money came first.

Now that the money is squared away, players reported to training camp this weekend to reach the next, more romantic goal in these unprecedented circumstances: winning the World Series.

But what would a championship mean after this strange season, if COVID-19 doesn’t force a shutdown before the World Series? A 60-game season would mark the shortest in MLB history. Rules have been changed, rosters will be expanded, travel will be limited. This season would be unlike any other. Does this new normal diminish the championship?

“I think if there’s a championship to be won, we’re going to do everything in our power to win that championship,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner. “So, people are going to say whatever they’re going to say but if there’s an opportunity to win a championship, we’re going to show up every day and work towards that goal and do everything we can to win it.”

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Ross Stripling didn’t make the Dodgers’ starting rotation in the spring, but David Price’s decision to sit out gives the right-hander a second chance.

A championship this year wouldn’t be the Dodgers’ first in an abbreviated season; the Dodgers won the title at the end of a strike-shortened, 110-game season in 1981.

That year, the standings were divided into halves. Division winners from the halves reached the postseason. The Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals finished with the best records in the National League, but didn’t win their divisions in either half and didn’t make the postseason. The Dodgers beat the New York Yankees in six games to cap off Fernandomania; Fernando Valenzuela won both the NL Cy Young and rookie of the year awards.

The Dodgers expect to contend for the championship 39 years later after seven straight National League West titles without claiming the ultimate prize. Fans are thirsting for the end of a drought going on 32 years. They were teased twice recently, in 2017 and 2018, with World Series appearances. If the Dodgers pull it off this year, there’s a chance none of them will be in attendance.

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Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts, left, runs through team drills during practice at Dodger Stadium.
Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts, left, runs through team drills with teammates at Dodger Stadium on Friday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The truncated season hurts the Dodgers’ chances of reaching the playoffs, where competition would return to a normal format. They were finely tuned for the 162-game marathon better than their peers. Shortening the season reduces the sample size, allowing for less-equipped teams to sneak into the postseason after hot starts. A 60-game sprint comes with different variables.

Those variables don’t include the hoops every person involved in staging the season is required to jump through to attempt to stymie the spread of the novel coronavirus. This season’s champion could wind up being the team that best avoids the virus.

“To say there’s an asterisk on it or things like that, I don’t think is fair,” Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw said. “I think there needs to be a whole different category for what this season is. But at the end of the day, I think if you win this season, it’s going to feel pretty good no matter what.”

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The Dodgers have posted mixed 60-game starts since their division reign began in 2013. They’ve been in first place after 60 games twice (2015 and 2019), second three times (2014, 2016, 2017), third once (2018) and fifth once (2013). They were at or below .500 in 2013 and 2018. Last season’s 41-19 start was the best.

But those 60-game samples didn’t feature the urgency this season’s 60 games would. Each game this season would carry more weight, prompting front offices, coaching staffs and players to handle each differently understanding the stakes.

“I’m not going to say one is more difficult than the other,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I think in our clubhouse, our guys feel that this is what’s in front of us. It’s a level playing field and we’re going to play to win the championship.”

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Roberts spoke Saturday morning, minutes before the Dodgers held their second official workout of training camp. Instead of hosting the Miami Marlins at a packed Dodger Stadium before a Fourth of July fireworks show, as originally scheduled before COVID-19 derailed the country, they conducted drills in an empty ballpark.

It was another reminder of the strange situation. But the ultimate goal, if the season is played after three months of ugly optics, remains the same.

“The only way to look at is it’s a championship potentially to be had,” Roberts said, “and we have to prepare the same we have always prepared.”


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