Will the Los Angeles Dodgers ever be knocked off their NL West throne?
Based on this season’s results, it’s not looking like that will happen anytime soon.
With Tuesday’s 7-3 win against the Baltimore Orioles, the Dodgers became the first team to clinch a division championship this season. It’s the Dodgers seventh straight NL West title. That’s the longest division championship streak in MLB since the Atlanta Braves won 14 NL East titles in a row from 1991 through 2005.
Although it came against a basement-dwelling team, the continued dominance shown in Tuesday’s clinching victory was fitting of the dominance Los Angeles has shown throughout the entire season, and throughout most of the last decade.
Corey Seager led the way with a pair of home runs, while rookie infielder Gavin Lux launched his first career bomb. Seager being healthy and Lux being a factor just weeks into his MLB career just adds more depth to this dangerous team.
Walker Buehler earned the victory on the hill, tossing seven scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts. He’s tied with the Clayton Kershaw for the team lead with 13 wins.
How the Dodgers won the NL West
Last season the Dodgers were forced to play a tiebreaker game against the Colorado Rockies to determine which team would win the division. This season, Los Angeles steamrolled their NL West foes. The Dodgers have led the division by as many as 21 games, and have maintained at least a 10-game lead every day since June 16.
Disappointing seasons for other NL West teams certainly played into the Dodgers’ hands. Only the Arizona Diamondbacks have remained in the postseason picture. But the Dodgers have managed to overpower nearly every opponent from every division.
The Dodgers’ dominance has been led by a loaded lineup that shattered the NL’s single-season home run record. Cody Bellinger and his revamped swing lead the team with 44 homers. He’s a strong contender to win MVP. Continued contributions from Max Muncy, Justin Turner, and Joc Pederson, and a breakout season from rookie catcher Will Smith have helped fuel a relentless offense that leads MLB with 12 walk-off victories.
Despite taking a step back, Clayton Kershaw is still among the best in MLB. The most pleasant surprise though has been Hyun-Jin Ryu. The oft-injured pitcher has finally flashed his upside, making him a strong Cy Young contender. When you add Buehler into the mix, it’s a frightening trio that’s pitching as well as any other threesome in MLB.
Now the question is: Can the Dodgers finally go the distance and win the franchise’s first World Series title since 1988? Coming off back-to-back losses in the World Series, anything less than that would be a huge disappointment.
What the Dodgers have to do to win the World Series
The Dodgers have to focus on the task at hand. They will continue to be reminded of past postseason failures, but they have to block that noise out.
As in years past, the 2019 squad is brimming with talent. They have quality depth at nearly every spot on the roster. Teams will quickly run out of options to counter that depth. But none of that will matter if the Dodgers get into their own heads.
The bullpen could be the main Achilles heel.
Kenley Jansen has been operating at a notch or two below his usual performance level, and other options like Pedro Baez, Yimi Garcia and Joe Kelly have been up and down.
The Dodgers are hoping the additions of Ross Stripling and Kenta Maeda to the bullpen will help matters, but there’s going to be pressure on manager Dave Roberts to mix, match and ride the hot hands through October.
The health of Max Muncy might be another concern. He’s currently sidelined by a wrist fracture suffered in late August. He’s expected to return before the postseason, but as with any injury there’s always concern until a player shows he’s healthy.
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