I am a glutton like all fans. I want to win every game. But over 162 game season, to be at the pinnacle for every game is nigh on impossible. And yet this year marks 3 of the last 6 years, when the Dodgers have had huge leads in September heading into the playoffs.
In 2017, the Dodgers had a 21.0 game lead on August 25, before they lost 16 of the next 17, including 11 straight games (September 2 thru September 11). They limped home going 13-22 after August 25.
In 2019, the Dodgers also had a 21.0 game, but it was much later in the season…September 29. They were 18-6 in September, their best record for a single month that year.
Contrarily, the team fought and scratched all the way into the 2018 playoffs needing a win in Game 163 against Colorado to win the Division, and avoid the Wild Card. That was the game that Walker Buehler became synonymous with clutch pitching. He pitched 6.1 scoreless innings allowing 1 hit and 3 walks to win the Division.
But perhaps they needed that game 163 to stay sharp. Maybe, maybe not.
In 2017, limping home after August 25, I remember clearly the calls for Dave Roberts’ head for taking the foot off the pedal. While I was not calling for his head, I was certainly in the group that did not want the Dodgers to let up. Fans were screaming that it is the team that is hot going into the playoffs that overwhelmingly succeeds. At the same time as the Dodgers were 13 – 22 after August 25, the DBacks went 22-11. The Dodgers faced the hot DBacks in the NLDS with an even hotter JD Martinez. Result – 3 game sweep by LAD.
After August 25, the Cubs also got hot and went 24 – 11. They beat a team (Nationals) in the NLDS that was five games better than they were over the 162 game season, but not quite as hot at the end, as were the Cubs. In the NLCS, the Dodgers trounced the Cubs 4 games to 1.
So after going 13-22 post August 25, and a 21.0 game lead, the Dodgers easily dispatched Arizona and the Chicago Cubs 7 games to 1 to move into the World Series, where they would have beat the Houston Asterisks if not for the cheating. Yes, pure conjecture on my part, but I cannot be convinced that Clayton Kershaw loses Game 5, and the Dodgers would not have overcome the bullpen mismanagement earlier in the series.
In 2018, the Dodgers never got hot during the season. Their biggest lead of the season was 2.5 games, in mid-September. They fought their way to the final weekend of the season, down by a game to the Colorado Rockies. The Dodgers went into SF and swept the Giants, while Colorado beat Washington 2 games out of 3 at home to tie the Dodgers after 162 games. And then behind Walker Buehler, Max Muncy, and Cody Bellinger they beat Colorado 5-2 in Game 163 to win the Division. The Dodgers never had more than a 5 game winning streak all year. The most games over .500 they ever got was on October 1, after Game 163 (21 games). They were actually 10 games under .500 in mid-May. They lost Corey Seager for the season, and had to play with the anti-Johnny Hustle malcontent, Manny Machado.
LAD went on to beat Atlanta 3 games to 1 in the NLDS and followed up by beating Milwaukee in a fantastic and thrilling NLCS, 4 games to 3. The Cinderella story ended when Boston handily beat the Dodgers 4 games to 1 in the WS.
In 2019, the Dodgers were the hot team facing off against a lesser manned but fortuitous Washington Nationals club in the NLDS. The Dodgers were undoubtedly planning on playing the Milwaukee Brewers, but a Trent Grisham 8th inning fielding error and a Josh Hader blown save, gave the Nats the lead and a Daniel Hudson save away from facing the Dodgers. In the NLDS, the Dodgers were outplayed and outmanaged by the lesser Nationals, and lost in their 1st round of the playoffs after winning 106 games, including their last 7 consecutively.
- The Dodgers limp into the playoffs and get to the WS.
- The Dodgers scratch and claw to get into Game 163. Never too hot, and eventually get to WS.
- The Dodgers were the best team in MLB and hot going into the playoffs, and get bounced in the NLDS.
Can we draw any conclusions from any of this? For me, only one. It is meaningless to worry about whether the team is taking their foot off the gas pedal while they are so far out in front of the Division, the League, and MLB. It is highly doubtful that NYM will catch them, just as it is doubtful that Houston can catch them. The magic number to clinch home field for the NLCS is 1, and 5 for the World Series.
They are 2 wins away from setting their single season record of 107 wins, and should clear that objective rather easily. They need to go 5-5 the rest of the way to get to 110 wins. Doc is going to continue to rest players, and pitchers. Michael Grove is starting against Adam Wainwright on Sunday instead of Tyler Anderson.
The LAD offense will go as far as the top 6 in the order will take them. Mookie, Trea, Freddie, Will Smith, JT, Max. Undoubtedly, 1 or 2 of those will sit for one game at a time, leaving 4 or 5 (and sometimes all 6) always in the lineup. Freeman has been out the last two nights but because of illness, not manager’s choice. I suspect Belli and CT3 will get more than their fair share of opportunities to show they belong in the starting lineup beginning October 11. I can also see Miguel Vargas getting more starts against LHP. It is not the days off that are causing the LAD offensive lethargy, but rather the lack of incentive and adrenaline that comes when the games do not mean much of anything. Of course they are professionals, and try to win, but it is without that competitive spark. The offense will (should) kick in when the games do matter.
Houston was shutout two straight games by Baltimore (Thursday and Friday). Should they be concerned?
The first of many to come…Miguel Vargas!!!
Finally, on April 13, 2022, MLB’s Greg Amsinger said the following:
"He's going to hit his 700th career home run on the road. Friday night in Los Angeles in September…" – Greg Amsinger on April 13th, 2022
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) September 24, 2022
Everybody is making too much out of the prediction. Amsinger said #700 was going to be off Clayton Kershaw. WRONG!! 😉