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Column: Remember the 1990s Braves? Dodgers must win World Series to avoid comparison

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Illustration in comic style of a Dodgers player holding a trophy pointing at a Braves player holding a trophy
The Dodgers need to win another World Series this season to avoid becoming a one-trick act like the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s and early 2000s.
(Davide Barco / For The Times)

This is getting silly. This is getting old.

The Dodgers enter the 2022 season with surely the best team in baseball, obviously one of the best in baseball history, and seemingly destined for a World Series title.

Yet the Dodgers enter the 2022 season as a team on the ropes.

They have made the playoffs nine consecutive years, yet during that time they have won only one title, in a 60-game season, in a World Series played on a neutral field.

That is not a dynasty. That is not history. That is not enough.

How many more times can a team tease its city with April dreams that become October nightmares? How often can glowing spring predictions continue to devolve into dull autumn realities? How many more seasons can a generous ownership group and skilled front office fill the dugout with greatness that begets frustration, that begets failure?

In a blockbuster trade Friday, the Dodgers acquired closer Craig Kimbrel from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for outfielder AJ Pollock.

April 1, 2022

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Since Andrew Friedman became the president of baseball operations in the winter before the 2015 season, he and Guggenheim Baseball Management have combined to spend more money and acquire more stars than anyone in the sport. Yet they have not won a title in a 162-game season, they have not survived a postseason with hostile crowds, they have not ascended to the heights for which they were built.

They’re stronger than that. They’re deeper than that. They’re better than that.

At least, they should be better than that.

Thus, bolstered with four former MVPs and two former Cy Young Award winners, and more combined postseason experience than any current team in any sport, the Dodgers embark on another star-filled summer with enormous expectations and a sobering challenge.

You’ve heard of must-win games? This is a must-championship season.

The Atlanta Braves celebrate after defeating the Cleveland Indians in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series.
The Atlanta Braves celebrate after defeating the Cleveland Indians in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series. It was the Braves’ only World Series championship during their span of consecutive division titles from 1991-2005.
(Andrew Innerarity / Associated Press)

Do they want a nickname like the Big Red Machine, Murderer’s Row, or the Swingin’ A’s? Do they want to be remembered forever like the 1996-2000 New York Yankees or even the 2010-2014 San Francisco Giants?

Or do they want to be a one-trick act like the Atlanta Braves, who won 14 consecutive division championships from 1991 to 2005 yet captured only one World Series championship during that time?

There is much debate about whether that Braves team constituted a dynasty. The correct answer is, they didn’t.

The Merriam-Webster definition of a dynasty is: “A succession of rulers of the same line of descent.” If you don’t win a succession of World Series championships — at least two, OK? — then you’re not ruling.

It’s probably not fair, and it sounds a little harsh, but their 2022 mandate is clear.

Finish the job.

Before dismissing this as hyperbole, listen to what Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said on “The Dan Patrick Show” a couple of weeks ago.

With the changes the Dodgers have made in the offseason, manager Dave Roberts believes his team will win the World Series in 2022.

March 24, 2022

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“We will win the World Series this year, put it on the record. … I’m putting it out there. I’m putting it in the universe,” Roberts said.

When later given a chance by reporters to walk back his statement, Roberts said he was standing by his words.

“I am,” he said, guaranteeing the guarantee. “I’d be crazy not to. I believe in this organization. I believe we’re going to put ourselves in that position and we’ve got to finish it this year. Everyone in this organization better believe that.”

Roberts will be hearing about that statement all summer. This columnist took a similar leap in this space last year, opining that the 2021 Dodgers would be the best team in baseball history, and the flack is still flyingover that one. Despite setting a franchise-tying record with 106 wins, “the best team in baseball history” wasn’t even the best team in its own division, and then they followed their usual death-defying postseason heroics with their usual late collapse.

Cody Bellinger shouts toward the Dodgers' dugout after driving in the go-ahead run against the San Francisco Giants.
Cody Bellinger shouts toward the Dodgers’ dugout after driving in the go-ahead run against the San Francisco Giants in Game 5 of the NLDS in October.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Chris Taylor walked off the St. Louis Cardinals in the wild-card game. Cody Bellinger beat the Giants in the ninth inning of the divisional series. Then all that pressure and passion proved too exhausting, and the Atlanta Braves stomped all over them.

“We were gassed,” Roberts acknowledged to reporters this spring. “Having to play tooth-and-nail to ultimately concede the division to the Giants … and then to play a one game do-or-die … then go up to the Bay and play five games … And then to go on the road and play Atlanta, we were gassed.”

It’s a familiar litany with these Dodgers in the playoffs. They reach a crucial moment, and some demon grabs them by the neck and they are stunningly dropped into submission.

The only time they were able to power through an entire postseason and all its vagaries was in 2020, when their veteran arms had the advantage of playing just a 60-game season. This shouldn’t diminish the title, everyone was playing by the same rules, but it also should give them incentive to survive an entire summer and fall to win their first championship in 34 years that includes a full schedule.

These Dodgers need to win at least one more title for the fans who couldn’t be in the stands, for the parade that couldn’t take place, for the city that couldn’t celebrate, for the resume that still feels incomplete, and to buffer a legacy worthy of their greatness.

These Dodgers still need to win to forget …

Forget 2019, when the Washington Nationals shockingly beat Clayton Kershaw out of the bullpen.

Forget 2018, when they won an 18-inning game and still couldn’t pitch their way past the Boston Red Sox.

Forget 2017, when they were blatantly cheated out of a championship by the Houston Astros.

Forget 2016, when they couldn’t overcome the karma of the Chicago Cubs.

Forget 2015, when Corey Seager forgot to cover third base against the New York Mets.

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Forget 2014 and 2013, when, well, St. Louis and St. Louis, Kershaw and Kershaw.

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw sits in the dugout during the team's loss to the Washington Nationals in the 2019 NLDS.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Their defeat to the Braves last season felt all too familiar, another demon. Roberts was right, they were gassed, so much that ace pitcher Max Scherzer tapped out of the deciding game in probably their most shameful postseason chapter yet.

Roberts, however, emphasized he was making no excuses, saying, “We lost to a better team, playing better. But that’s incentive to kind of play at home and get off days and set your rotation, all that stuff.”

With the new playoff format this fall, the Dodgers incentive is to finish not only as the division winner, but as one of two division winners with the best record, thereby earning a bye out of the wild-card round. They’re clearly the best team in the National League, now they must spend the entire season attacking that challenge while dealing with the pressures that seemed to affect them in the past.

The Dodgers have only gotten better since dominating en route to winning 2020 World Series title. In 2021, they’ll become the greatest team in MLB history.

March 29, 2021

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“Every time we play someone, they’re trying to beat the Dodgers,” said Roberts. “It is what it is. People love to beat the Dodgers. And our goal is to win the World Series. It is every single year. So to not shy away from it, run from it. And if guys think that that’s too much pressure, then we have the wrong players. And I don’t believe we do.”

Oh, once again, they have the right players. Goodness, just look around the field, they again have baseball’s best lineup, particularly after replacing the departed Seager with the great Freddie Freeman and the departed Kenley Jansen with the enduring Craig Kimbrel.

Will Smith is one of the game’s best catchers. Freeman is one of the game’s best players. Max Muncy is a home-run machine. Chris Taylor is a team MVP. Trea Turner is a potential league MVP. Justin Turner is their fiery heart. Mookie Betts is a calm cornerstone. Gavin Lux is a budding star.

Cody Bellinger is … well, check back in a month, nobody is quite sure of that yet.

With one week to go before the 2022 season begins, here’s where the Dodgers stand before opening the season against the Colorado Rockies.

March 31, 2022

On the mound, two Cy Young favorites lead the rotation, and neither is named Kershaw, who takes a supporting role to Walker Buehler and Julio Urías. The bullpen is closed by perennial standout Kimbrel, who will be set up by one of the game’s best relievers last year in Blake Treinen.

Yeah, it’s all there, the power, the fielding, the pitching, and even Roberts has a new three-year contract extension to give him the clubhouse stability. Yeah, for a 10th straight year, the Dodgers should make the playoffs while taking nearly four million fans on another wondrous summer journey.

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But this time, they need to complete the trip.

Everyone knows the Dodgers have a chance to become one of sports world’s greatest dynasties.

It’s time they act like it.

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