The Dodgers are doing a lot right these days. A lot. They have won four straight division titles while forging a nice balance between spending (both money and prospects) on top-of-the-line talent and maintaining a stable of young assets. Deep pockets help. So does calculated restraint.
The past few days, the Dodgers did it again, making major league history with their second can’t-touch-this run in the past five seasons.
This one had nothing to do with Alex Wood winning his career-high 13th game or Yu Darvish and his 10-strikeout victory over the New York Mets on Friday, his first National League start as the final piece (probably) in the Dodgers’ push toward their first World Series appearance in 29 years.
Well, it sort of did.
The Dodgers became the only team in modern history to have won at least 42 games in a 50-game span in two different seasons when they finished their 33rd comeback victory of the season with a 7-4 victory over the Mets on Saturday afternoon. The Dodgers have won 43 of their past 50, the third-best run in major league history and the best in 105 seasons, since the New York Giants did it in 1912.
In a postseason that often seems like a crapshoot, they can only hope it translates better than the last time.
It is not unfamiliar territory.
The Dodgers had a 42-8 burst to take control of the NL West in 2013, when Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig joined the 1-2 pitching punch of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in starring roles for manager Don Mattingly. Those Dodgers went from 12 games under .500, last in the division in June, to 22 games over and an 8.5-game division lead in August.
Five years later, their 43-7 tear used some of the same aspects — strong pitching, success from free agent returnees Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen and new blood in Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor — to take a commanding 14-game lead in the NL West.
Manager Dave Roberts’ Dodgers are 17-3 since the All-Star break and have won 14 of their past 16 series (splitting the other two) after taking the first two games of the three-game series against the Mets. They have not lost a series since dropping two of three at home to Washington from June 5-7, their sweep-avoiding victory in the final game of that series that Sunday kick-starting the current run. Atlanta is the only team to have beaten them since July 4.
The Dodgers have made history by doing the near-impossible.
Only six teams since the modern area began in 1900 have won 42 of 50.
Oddly, recent history suggests that does not guarantee much in the postseason.
Greatness is elusive.
- The 1906 Chicago Cubs had the best 50-game stretch in history, a 45-5 run that began a little after midseason and helped them to a 116-win regular season. But they could not even make that stand up in their hometown after losing to the South Side White Sox in the World Series in six games.
- The 1912 New York Giants had a 43-7 run beginning two weeks into the season and went on to win 103 games, but they lost to the 105-win Boston Red Sox in the World Series in eight games (one tie).
- The 1941 New York Yankees and the 1942 St. Louis Cardinals — who both had 42-8 runs — were the only teams of the previous five to win the World Series. The Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in five games in 1941 and lost to the Cardinals in five games the following year.
- The Dodgers’ 2013 run propelled them to a 92-win season and an 11-game cushion in the division standings, and they celebrated with a dip in the pool at Chase Field after the clinching victory there Sept. 19. The Dodgers dispatched Atlanta in four games before falling to St. Louis in six games in the NLCS. Kershaw lost both his starts in that series, 1-0 in Game 2 and 9-0 in Game 6.
What does this mean?
Baseball is a funny game, as Joe Garagiola advised.
Prolonged winning streaks are not necessarily an indicator of postseason success. Sixteen previous teams have won at least 41 games in a 50-game stretch. Fifteen more have won 40 of 50. Of those 31 teams, 28 made the playoffs and 25 played in the World Series. Fifteen won the World Series.
But much of that came when the playoffs were a simpler proposition — win the league, make the World Series. Division play, and the postseason upsets it produced, did not start until 1969. The extra layers of playoffs makes it more of a high-wire act to make the Series — and from two teams that advanced in 1968 the format has changed to four qualifiers, then eight, now 10.
The 2013 Dodgers were the first team since Oakland in 2005 to win as many as 40 games in a 50-game span, but they lost to the Mets in the NLCS.
That is not an outlier.
The 2005 A’s (88-74) did not make the playoffs despite their 40-10 midseason run, when the Angels (95-67) won the NL West and Boston (95-67) was the wild card. Oakland and Seattle had 40-10 spurts in 2001, Seattle starting early and the A’s closing the season with their run, but neither made the World Series. The Mariners won the AL West with 116 victories but lost to the Yankees in the ALCS after the Yankees had eliminated the wild card A’s (102-60) in the ALDS. (The Jeter flip, the Jeremy Giambi non-slide). The 92-win D-backs rode Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and Luis Gonzalez to the World Series title that year.
The Yankees are the only team since the Big Red Machine in 1975 to streak their way to a championship. The 1998 Yankees used a 41-9 run that began six games into the regular season to beat Kevin Towers’ San Diego Padres for the first of New York’s three straight titles. The 1977 Yankees used a 41-13 finish that included a 40-10 run to make the Series, beating the Dodgers.
These history-making Dodgers seem poised to buck the recent trend.
By Jack Magruder