Dominant Dodgers Are Not Getting Ahead of Themselves
A very strange thing happened to the Los Angeles Dodgershere Wednesday night. They lost.
The Dodgers almost never lose. They win so often they seem not to know how to handle defeat. As his teammates dressed to leave SunTrust Park, closer Kenley Jansen poked around his phone to find the perfect mood music to blast through the clubhouse speakers: “Por Ti Volare,” by Andrea Bocelli, the Italian classical crossover tenor.
“Hey,” Jansen shouted, “we got to play something when we lose!”
An incongruous choice? Sure. Out of step with baseball tradition? No doubt. But so is the Dodgers’ performance this season. After a 7-4 victory over the Braves on Thursday, their 76-32 record was the best in the National League through this many games since the 1944 St. Louis Cardinals.
That team won the World Series. So did the 1998 Yankees, who won 114 regular-season games — a total these Dodgers would match at their current pace.
“Great teams are streaky — they’ll have unbelievable months, and they’ll have an O.K. month,” said Alex Wood, the All-Star left-hander. “For us now, it’s way past the point of, ‘They’re just hot.’ That’s just who we’ve become and who we are. You start getting into August, September and into October, and you want to get hot at that time. But it’s not really a matter of getting hot. It’s just playing the way we’ve been playing all year.”
Until Wednesday, the Dodgers had won a major league-record 53 games in a row in which they held a lead at any point. They are 41-7 since June 7, the best 48-game stretch in the majors in 75 years. They had outscored their opponents by 187 runs, and their 3.11 earned run average is by far the best in the majors.
“We thought we were going to end up winning the division, for sure,” Jansen said. “That’s the confidence we carry. But this is like moving to the next level.”
The view from their recent plateau has grown tiresome to the Dodgers, who visit the Mets this weekend at Citi Field. They have won four N.L. West division titles in a row without advancing to the World Series. This version might be their best ever; no Dodger team, in Brooklyn or Los Angeles, has ever topped 105 victories. But validation could be elusive.
Stan Kasten, the Dodgers’ president, knows that all too well. When Kasten worked in Atlanta, for the Braves, he presided over a dozen playoff teams stacked with Hall of Famers, yet collected just one championship ring.
“The best team we had was the team in ’96 that lost to the Yankees,” Kasten said. “We were up two-zip going home. I was sure we were never getting on another plane. I was sure. So you know what they say — it’s become kind of a cliché now, to call the playoffs a crapshoot. I think we win any 25-game series, but they’re not 25-game series. They’re fives and sevens. That’s harder. That’s just reality.”
The Dodgers have not reached the World Series since winning it in 1988, making this their longest stretch without a pennant. Anything less would be a bitter disappointment now, but other teams have been burdened by similar demands.
Manager Dave Roberts — known as Doc to the players — was a member of the 2004 Boston Red Sox, with whom he famously stole second off the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera to ignite a comeback that culminated in the franchise’s first title in 86 years. He sees a similar approach in these Dodgers.
“What I draw off our ’04 team is that the guys in the clubhouse focused on each day,” Roberts said. “And everybody outside of the clubhouse focuses on the World Series, but in the clubhouse, that is the least of our concerns, because we can’t control it. That’s the thing that people outside the clubhouse don’t understand: we can’t get past each day.”
Most days start with a dominant pitcher. The Dodgers are missing their ace, Clayton Kershaw, whose back injury halted his latest sublime season (15-2, 2.04 E.R.A.) and could keep him out until early September. But Wood was a first-time All-Star, and the left-hander Rich Hill was the N.L. pitcher of the month in July.
On Monday, the Dodgers added another ace, Yu Darvish, in a deadline deal with Texas. They also acquired the left-handed relievers Tony Watson from Pittsburgh and Tony Cingrani from Cincinnati, pulling off the trades while the team was flying here from Los Angeles.
“Me and J. T. were sitting next to other, refreshing Twitter,” Wood said, referring to third baseman Justin Turner, who led the majors in hitting through Wednesday, at .353. “We kind of anticipated we were going to do something — didn’t know how small or how big, but you just want to know. We saw we got both Tonys, and then at the last minute, Doc came in the back and said we got Darvish. Everybody was pretty excited.”
Darvish joined the team in Atlanta on Wednesday and will start against the Mets on Friday. At the All-Star Game, he said, Kershaw offered a tantalizing hint.