It’s as close to a sure thing as anything this side of the Russians interfering.
There are no secrets left in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ clubhouse. They are, to paraphrase the late Dennis Green, who we think they are.
In their case, they are destined for greatness.
At 63-29 approaching the trade deadline, the boys in blue are unequivocally the best team in baseball. Of course, the best team in baseball in July has traditionally meant about as much at the window in late October as having been the best in your high school at something. That’s all changed over the last decade where predictive analytics are manifest on the field. Though Wild Cards can still capture titles, no team more than six games back from a Wild Card berth later than May 30 has scrapped its way into the playoffs since the Detroit Tigers in 2006.
In other words, it’s no longer 1951. Match ups aren’t taking place on an endless pitch known as the Polo Grounds and nobody sprints to the head of the pack from 13.5 back in August to claim the pennant. The fates of franchises are decided, factoring groin pulls and missed starts because of blisters or a blistering night out the evening prior, much sooner than long-suffering wagerers coax themselves into believing.
By the end of last June, the eventual world champion Cubs claimed the best record in baseball at 51–27 as well as the best run differential at plus 169 and even then a conservative buyer could find them at 6-1. The Dodgers this season have eclipsed those Cubs of Destiny in both categories as baseball’s first team to 60 wins by the 4th of July and possessing a run differential (198) approaching 200 just after the break. That’s astonishing.
Cubs fans recall a glorious Bill Murray-infused romp through the playoffs and though Cleveland had a chance to clinch in five, present-day Chicago—counter to the club’s century-plus narrative of lovableness through loserdom—seemed ill-suited for the role of underdog and came back to win the World Series in pro forma fashion.
I would argue that the San Francisco, who was looking to extend their win streak in playoff elimination games to 11 during the NLDS, had the best shot of dethroning Chicago early on in the playoffs. But routinely infallible Giants manager Bruce Bochy put an end to all that after quizzically pulling starter Matt Moore at the end of game four in favor of a shattered bullpen—which turned a 5-2 lead into a 6-5 loss in the for the Cubs—the biggest comeback in postseason-clinching history.
The Cubs marked themselves that moment as a team fated to take what Theo Epstein’s band of bean counters surmised was rightfully theirs all along—and start what many fans came to believe would be a multi-year romp en route to dynastic glory.
But there are calculators in every front office throughout baseball, and, like the tone and temperament of the country the game has always represented, MLB is now a mercurial, unpredictable and ever-changing beast where paths to success are foraged from last season’s basement. Players mature faster, pitchers flame out quicker, veteran help is more disposable and chemistry is only a thing once everything else has fallen into place.
…Which is why the Dodgers’ rise seems at once difficult to envision and inevitable.
After being atop the division for nearly a decade as baseball’s spendthrifts, the Dodgers of the past two seasons have done it with homegrown talent. On Saturday night, the team’s heralded rookie Cody Bellinger went 4-for-5 with a homer, three RBIs and two runs in the Dodgers’ 7-1 win over the hapless Marlins becoming the first rookie in franchise history to hit for the cycle and only the third to do so since the franchise moved to Los Angeles. His home run piece of the four-hit puzzle was also his 26th of the season tying him for the league lead with Giancarlo Stanton and Cincinnati’s Joey Votto—though he’s accomplished it only after being called up in late-May.
Bellinger joins an already established squad anchored by second-year phenom shortstop Cody Seger, on-again bad boy outfielder and Cuban emigre Yasiel Puig (2 monstrous home runs in Friday night’s game), the GOAT ginger Justin Turner at third along with baseball’s intrepid ace-slash-best pitcher for a decade running Clayton Kershaw and a nearly unhittable bullpen headlined by All Star Kenley Jansen and a cast of place-holding veterans, Chase Utley, Adrien Gonzalez and Andre Yes, He’s Still in the League Either to shore up the most complete pre-trade deadline lineup in the game.
Yes, there are a handful of other squads overflowing with talent this season in a year which success seems to belong to the chosen few. Houston, currently at 9-2 to win it all, have even more youth and potent bats throughout their lineup on their side. The Boston Red Sox at 5-1 have the most enviable emerging starting trio in Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz and David Price in the AL. The Washington Nationals (6-1) are superstar laden but have become a team of record when it comes to postseason belly flops and the Cleveland Indians (7-1) are starting to mature into a perennial contender.
But if you’re going to hedge, do so with the Arizona Diamondbacks who I advised to take a flier on in the preseason at 100-1. They are now listed at 18-1 and are division rivals-slash-the biggest playoff threat in the NL to the Dodgers. We’ll likely see their enigmatic ace Zack Greinke (11-4, 2.86) and former Dodger teammate Kershaw square broad shoulders before the narrative has been punctuated this offseason.
But make no mistake, tripling your money on the Dodgers is as close to a sure thing as buying Apple stock at $11 in 2007 or predicting that Tarek and Christina from Flip or Flop would break up.
As for the Cubs, they’ve slipped from preseason favorites at 9-2 to 12-1. Oddsmakers did not adjust their chances of winning after Thursday’s trade brought left-handed starting pitcher Jose Quintana up from the South Side. Some of the most spectacular love affairs, after all, are only meant to last a season.