Well, it's no longer a "forgone" conclusion. The Dodgers are, for the 8th year in a row, division champions. And while it's obviously not even close to the team's main goal of winning the World Series, this is the first step in that process, and it should be celebrated and appreciated. The Dodgers' current streak of division dominance is the third best in the history of Major League Baseball, second to only the 90s Yankees and Braves (who, by the way, also took forever to win a title). That's really, really, impressive.
And yes, I know the Dodgers were dubbed favorites ever since the minute after 2019 NLDS Game 5, but it hasn't exactly been a straightforward path this year. Delayed, shortened season, new daily protocols, injuries to key players, and a surprise team giving the Dodgers a run for their money up until about a week ago.
So where do we go from here? How can the Dodgers translate their regular season dominance into a title? The short answer is, there is nothing they can do. They just have to play well enough to beat every team in their path (which they did in 2017). There's no secret key to the championship, no strategy to be employed. Hell, half of it is luck! Howie Kendrick's homer off the foul poll, Ian Kinsler slipping on some grass in the Dodger Stadium infield (with a tip of the hat to the grounds crew!), and Joc Pederson's line drive against Scherzer landing JUST foul in Game 4 last year.
While there is a lot that is out of the Dodgers' control, they've done everything they possibly can to give themselves the best shot they could possibly have. Loaded lineup? Check. Dominant pitching? Check. Effective bullpen? Check. Depth? Check. Acquire a superstar. Uh, check, and then some!
The team's done all they can. The front office has done all they can. The players just need to perform and have some luck go their way. I do believe, however, that if they can get past the nightmare Wild Card Round (which I think they will be able to do). They have a better chance to win than they ever have during their recent regime over the National League. No team in the league is even in their stratosphere, talent and experience, and while that hasn't really mattered in the past, this year it does.
There are no off days in the NLDS or NLCS, which means teams will have to use all 5 of their starters, which is a ginormous advantage for the Dodgers. Their worst starter this year has been Walker Buehler, a man who literally has the ability to put the team on his back and carry them to the title. The stuff rivals that of deGrom and Scherzer, and he turns it up to 11 in October.
Clayton Kershaw is healthy and has better fastball velocity than he has in years. He'll barely have 60 innings on his arm heading into October, which, during this short season, lines up with the June-July portion of the regular season, where he usually dominates. I don't want to hear about his being a choker in the playoffs; it's simply a false narrative. He's been mismanaged, left out to die on the mound, and taken accountability for it. The dominance has been there in October before, that's undeniable. Kershaw, this year, has a 199 ERA+, second best of his Hall of Fame career, and half of the runs he's given up have barely even been his fault. He's been absolutely dominant, whether he be giving the business to Arizona, Seattle, Anaheim, Colorado, San Francisco or San Diego, the guy just goes out there and shoves. I want him starting Game 1, because I want to win Game 1. It's that simple.
The bullpen's faltered at times, but recently they've been good again, with Joe Kelly, Blake Treinen, and Kenley Jansen anchoring the back end, with unknowns such as Victor Gonzales and Dylan Floro, along with Brusdar "The Bazooka" Graterol and Jake McGee. If Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin, and Julio Urias are thrown in there, it's just icing on the cake. I trust those guys with the ball, no question about it. The numbers speak for themselves.
Everybody knows the lineup. Betts and Seager are the best 1-2 punch in baseball and Muncy and Bellinger are heating up at the right time. Chris Taylor and AJ Pollock are having monster seasons that nobody's noticing (did somebody say "secret weapon?"). Just Turner is Justin Turner. Will Smith is always in a 3-2 count and then obliterates the baseball.
This team is just so, so, good. They're playing with so much intensity right now. I just can't imagine a scenario where they drop dead in the water next week. As long as the luck doesn't flip completely out of their favor and no really dumb managerial decisions are made, I think this team is going to do something special.
Photo Credit: Dodgers Twitter